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TABLE OF CONTENTS PROLOGUE:........................................................................................................ 3 CHESS OF THE YEAR OF LIGHTNING STORMS ......................................... 3

BARBARIAN PRINCE .................................................................................................................................................. 3 BLACKSHADE ............................................................................................................................................................... 7 SAEVEL......................................................................................................................................................................... 11 DRAGON PRINCESS................................................................................................................................................... 32

CHAPTER I:....................................................................................................... 36 TARKASH OF THE YEAR OF LIGHTNING STORM ................................... 36

RIZZEN......................................................................................................................................................................... 36 JEZZARA ...................................................................................................................................................................... 46 DRAGON PRINCESS................................................................................................................................................... 52 SAEVEL......................................................................................................................................................................... 60 JEZZARA ...................................................................................................................................................................... 64 BLACKSHADE ............................................................................................................................................................. 70 SAEVEL......................................................................................................................................................................... 72 SARGENT HELLSPEAR............................................................................................................................................. 77 BAERIC DAGGERFOLD ............................................................................................................................................ 83 DRAGON PRINCESS................................................................................................................................................... 90 RIZZEN......................................................................................................................................................................... 92 SAEVEL......................................................................................................................................................................... 96 DROW QUEEN .......................................................................................................................................................... 101 JEZZARA .................................................................................................................................................................... 108 LADY MOONSHADE ................................................................................................................................................ 111

23rd of Ches in The Year of The Lightning Storms Sun was shining above as the barbarian watched his men gather in the valley. So many were here, more than ten thousand. No. More than fifteen. He remembered his fathers words as he counted men: Remember son, his father once told him.Good commander can estimate his opponents numbers and strength with just a glance. Seventeen thousand men, father, he said to himself. Not as much as you had. Not enough. Yet where his father used strength of numbers, Hubadai used cunning. I shall not do the same mistake as you did, father. I shall not march my horde west on Kara-Tur. Not yet. I shall strengthen my kingdom here, and expand slowly. And then, I shall march on Cormyr, putting every village and town to a torch. I shall have my revenge. He slowly paced down to the valley to greet his men. My forces are fewer than my father had. But again, my father lacked talented men. He did not know of magic-men who can turn the tide of battle with just a tip of their fingers, creatures so powerful that lesser men flee in their sight. He did not travel as I did; wandering across this land they call Faerun, learning their language and their art of war. He did not know his enemy. Yet numbers still did he miss, this new young king of Tuigans, although every day more and more came to his cause. And today, he will speak in front of them, for today is a special day. On this same day more than a decade ago, his father Yamun Khahan marched with his horde, almost hundred thousand big, towards Faerun and conquered nation after nation until he stumbled upon the Alliance host that was led by Azoun IV, king of Cormyr. Azoun killed Yamun and the horde was broken, retreating deep into Endless Wastes. You did not have a nation, father. They did not follow a symbol, they followed you. And when you died, their cause died with you. But Hubadai learned from his fathers mistakes, and created a kingdom.

Kingdom of Yaimmunahar, with him as khan. And now, his men will not go back if he falls. They will continue on, bringing down nation after nation. It was a warm day in the Eyen Horo, or in common tongue The Valley of The God. It was always warm here, and clean springs filled the entire horizon. It was here where the bones of his father were placed, and it was here that Khahans Queraband, tent-city of warriors that traveled with Hubadai wherever he went, came every spring, to give respect to their former king. Young barbarian climbed the center of the camp and prepared to speak. Leader must be loud. Every men that follows him must be able to hear him, so that he can share his vision with them. Men will follow only what they believe in. And Hubadai had a loud, scary voice. True voice of the commander. My Tuigan warriors! My brothers! My sisters! Blood of my blood! It has been over fifteen years since your fathers followed great Yamun west. It has been over fifteen years that your mothers mourned them and cursed at West for making them widows! And today, we rise again. Our numbers grew during these years, and soon we will march as my father marched once. Yet this time, we shall not be stopped! We shall pillage every town westerns built and we shall take their wives in our beds! We shall take their children as our own, raising them as warriors of Yaimmunahar. One day, they shall walk and fight and die with you, my Yunnichar, my elite warriors and backbone of my army. So today, we shall drink and feast for my father, who showed us that if we unite, there is no limit to what we can do. This is for my father and your true Khan, Yamun Khahan. Let us drink for him and let us be worthy to see him in Eternal Plains after we die. Horde has cheered, slamming their axes into their shields. Hubadai drank for his father and left the center of the tents. That was a good speech, hooded figure praised young Khan. Your men are truly yours to command. They are. I have proven my strength, that I am worthy of my fathers position, magic-man. That you have, yet figures move on this board. Game is not won yet. Cormyr will not stop us. Not this time. Yet, Alliance strengthens their position west of here, by Lake of Mists. Becon Cairn is theirs, and villages of Raumvirans extended themselves for them. Lord Donnington made Cairn into real fortress, capable of holding back even the most numerous of foes.

I am aware of that, Amon. And I shall not march west until Cairn is ours. We will find a way to bring the fortress down, and then we shall move on Narfell. From there, I shall pluck down kingdom by kingdom, until Cormyr stands alone. I am at your disposal, Hubadai. I will help you as much as I can. You already did much. Yet what is imperative for our conquest still misses. Things are in motion, young Khahan. Warlocks are here already, as I promised. You will have a force to counter Cormyrs War Wizards. And as for rest. As for rest, I see no result. Patience, Hubadai. It took me five long years just to find the key. And another year to place it where it is needed. Soon, Kara-Tur shall witness the might that has slept for generations. Can he be trusted? My brother? He is a fiend, Hubadai. They must not be trusted. But he will do his role, and then we shall dispose of him, before he has a chance to betray us. If he already didnt do just that. You lost track of him, as well as his companions. Yet I know where he is headed. You must know the path your prey takes only if its destination is not known. And we know where he must take them. Do you think Baga was the right one for the task? Baga Tak is one we can spare. My brothers number is less than three hundred. Baga marches east with five hundred. He will do his job, securing your weapon and ending my dark brother. Have some faith. Although Khahan did not like Baga being given task so great, he knew Amon was right. He needed his men to work against Alliance, as the war was ahead of them. And Baga, even if not the smartest there is, is still good warrior. He should be able to hack down anything Amons brother throws at him. Half-orc, half Tuigan, Baga was hard to keep in line. Only reason he and his men followed Hubadai is because he bested Baga in combat. Yet, even if Baga would fail at his task, Khahan will get rid of a warchief that is hard to control. Baga better not fail. If he does, I shall be in the middle of two enemies. And I need my strength for Alliance.

If Baga fails, I will personally take charge of retrieving it, Amon said and turned away. You better do that, Amon, Khahan thought. You better do that or I shall end your existence. Hubadai was not nave. Do not trust the creatures of the Abyss, his father once told him. And he knew it was well said.

23rd of Ches in The Year of The Lightning Storms I hate forests, Jeremy frowned. And I am starting to hate this one even more. Trees bring life, my love. Do not hate the life; fear it instead. Young sellsword smiled at his priestess. She always had something wise to say. A splendid point of view on this world, and he loved her for that. She was the one who would uncover for him wonders of the world which he was not aware about. In forests, deep down in its heart, lie wondrous creatures that are described in legends of men. Yet Faerun lacks such big forests, for civilized man has cut down ancient forests to build houses and ships, to keep him warm. But here lies wonder of the world, my love. Shalhoond is as old as Faerun itself, and its wilderness is untouched by hand of men, save the road we are on. It was true. Shalhoond, or The Great Wild Forest in common tongue, was a true wilderness. It was a north border of land called Semphar, a land that is too east for Faerunian maps to even show. Its long, wide trees spread for hundred of meters high and dense branches filled with dark-green levees blocked the sunshine. Darkness was all around, at least around the path. Fergana road was built long time ago, as queen of Semphar ordered old trees to be cut so that caravans may pass. Yet it was so long ago that branches of trees that were on the border of the road had already spread over the road, although the sunlight still managed to reach the floor. Sudenly Krelix rode back. He was set to command outriders that rode in front of Blackshades man, to alert them if there was anyone in front. My Lord, riders in front. They are heading towards us. We should go deeper into the forest. Forest is too dense. We could lose ourselves in it if we leave the road, Jeremy answered to his captain. How many are there? There are about hundred, I could not see. We dared not to venture any closer, else we might be seen. Hundred of them, hundred and eighty of us. I think those are pretty odds.

Perhaps there will be no fight, Nymeria intervened, riding her white stallion between Lord and his Captain. Perhaps they are friends. You mean Darkan? Could it be? After so long? Jeremy asked content. This is not the end of the journey, Blackshade. It is just the begging. Jeremys face changed color. He was so angry. It has been almost two years since they left Shaar. They traveled around the Sea of Fallen Stars, from one side to other, always on the move. Nymeria, if that was even her real name, had dragged them around the sea, swearing that soon the time will come for them to head towards her home. And couple of months ago, the letter was found, left from Darkan, telling them that the time is ripe for coming home. He also left instructions where to go, and its instructions lead them here. I was promised much, girl. You better not think for second to. Watch your tone with me, sellsword. My word is sacred, and much you shall get.And soon. You see that I do. Nevertheless, I shall not take my chances. Men, assamble around the trees. Riders, ride back and wait for a sign. We shall take them by surprise. Sellswords gathered around and took formations around trees that surrounded the path. It was easy to hide, for the forest was quite dense and sunlight was dim. So they waited there for the riders to come. Time has almost stoped for Jeremy, as it always did before the raid. You could even say that it was fear in him. Yet once the fighting begins, that fear is never there, for another feeling takes its place. Once he swings his katana and charges into enemy lines, he would feel immortal, as the entire world would not be able to stop him. He would feel content and as he is doing what he was born to do. But now, his guts ached. After long time of waiting, riders finally aproched. There were many riders, about two hundred of them. All wore leather tunics and rode stallions, armed with spears and shields. In front of the collumn, rode an older man. Jeremy could see that it was their commander just by looking at his stature. He was almost fifty, he guessed, with long blond hair made into two braids that fell over his shoulders. His beard was braided too, and over his lightly blue eyes scar ran down the cheek. Steady now, men, Jeremy whispered. Krelix, wait for my mark to engage.

But as he turned around, Nymeria already left the cover of the bushes and stepped in front of the riders. Old commander of the riders raised his hand and his men halted, with their spears ready. Nymeria just stood there, gazing into the eyes of the commander. I would never forget those eyes, my princess, man said. I know Harwin, I have returned. Jeremy, we are with friends. Jeremy stepped on the road and his men followed, ready as ever. Who is this?, Blackshade asked. This is Harwin, my mentor and my father, Nymeria explained. Well, not true father, Harwin said. True father as any man can be. You raised me and protected me since I was a little girl in my cradle. You bled for me, told me stories. You defied your own brother for me. You are my father. Harwins eyes filled with tears. He jumped from his horse and walked towards his daughter. Yet I have failed you, my princess. I was not strong enough to protect you ten years ago. You had to leave your home. Darkan was there for me, father. He protected me and kept me away safe until the time was ripe. And now I come home to reclaim my rightful place. And what place is that? Jeremy asked. He was still with his katana ready for he lived long enough to know that when sellswords service is no longer required, there were no friends. Harwin turned to Jeremy and said: You are looking at Nymeria Drakeblood, rightful heir of the Kingdom of Draconis, The Flame of Birth and Lady of Dragons. Draconis?Never heard of it. Is it some wild tribe or. Kingdom of Draconis is a lost and forgotten kingdom that fell long before this new kingdoms existed. Entire Endless Wastes and East was theirs. As well as all the Faerun. So she is a Queen of some kingdom that does not exist.

Blackshade, Jezzara raged, Hold your tounge. Princess Nymeria, I humbly beg for forgivance as my companion is blind to the events in Faerun. I have seen your kingdom, princess, in the light of the moon. And I have seen myself and Jeremy there. You see much, priestess, Nymeria answered. My kingdom shall live once again. I am the one that has been fortold to raise Draconia out of the ashes. The blood of Astarot shall be the one that will bring Draconia to its former glory, to rule the Faerun as it is just. And what is our role? Jeremy asked. You shall see in time. For now, you have to bring me to my throne. Nymeria climbed her stallion and rode in front with Harwin. Jeremy just stood there, watching them ride. I do not like this for a bit, he finally said. You will, my love, Jezzara told him and took his hand in hers. You will like it a lot.

24th of Ches in The Year of The Lightning Storms Pack your staff, Saevel, dark elf had told him months ago. We ride to see my sister. What do you mean? Old harper has another job for us. We ride east. Saevel could not help himself not to remember the last time Harpers called for assistance. That came with a tremendous cost, for he has lost his brother . Two years ago, In The Year of Wild Magic, Harpers asked his brother to investigate certain tomb in Shaar. After being captured, Saevel went there to find him. And he did, along with army of devils, gnolls and giants that threatened entire Shaar and possibly Faerun. They did prevail, though, but at the cost of his brother, who was last seen battling with pyromancer Amon. Where are you, my brother? Are you still alive? And there was more dead, more than he can count. Gewar, Hapaw, Dai, Tara, Nestor, Varien. Even Samuel can be counted there. Samuel LuVein was a paladin of Helm, sent from Luiren by his father Gerrard to unite the nomads of Shaar and stop the devil prince Valerian. He killed the devil, though he lost all his friends that day, including his father. And while he escorted his fathers bones back home, to be buried in the Hall of Helm, where every true Champion lies, he found out that his mother has passed away from illness. It was too much, my friend. Truly was. Samuel disappeared, riding into the sunset never seen again. And now, new task has awaited him, Saevel Moonshade, half-elf, half-human, son of the powerful mage Islyur and peasant woman Sylvia. But this time, he was not alone, for Harpers have recruited new ranger into their ranks. It was Rizzen Illystin, drow ranger of the Underdark, who came to Toril in search of his sister. He fought alongside Saevel since then, against Devil Prince and giants and gnolls. He stood arm to arm with Samuel in final clash against the devil. That quest might have cost me one brother, but has rewarded me with another. So what is the quest? Saevel asked. Since initiation of Rizzen into the Harpers, it was him who spent more time with their High Harper Berdorien. Berdorien was an old man, though how old it was hard to say. Magic was strong with him, and wizards were known to outlive generations of other ordinary humans. So their

masters age was a true mistery to them. Old wizard always said Saevel was gifted with magic. He must have been, since his father was well-known Archmage Islyur Moonshade. High harper wanted him to study the Art of magic, but Saevel declined him. I am a man of the land, not a wizard, he told him once. Forest is my home, not some old library. But Rizzen was quick to study the Art, for he had magical potential too, being dark elf. Magic is a powerful tool, young drow. Tool for you to utilize for good of Relm. Do not forget that, Berdurien would say. So the days went by, and Rizzen trained to become wizard, while Saevel went ranging around wilderness. We will have to travel way East, my friend, Drow had told him. We shall venture into Hordelands. Hordlands? The Endless Wastes? What is there for us? Saevel knew this place well from tavern tales. Fifteen years ago, Yamun Khahan, leader of Tuigans, the barbarian folk of Hordelands, had marched west towards Faerun. Yet in Cormyr had King Azoun IV stopped him with his host, slaying Khahan and breaking his horde. We must travel to Plesant Vally Gateway Oasis, where my sister now lives with her exile drow. Old harper says that there should lay some old ruins of a city under the mountain. Some old empire built it. Draconia I believe it was called. Saevel knew little about that. That kingdom was too old for even history to record it. He knew many fallen kingdoms that ruled the Faerun, but Draconia was not mentioned a lot. And your sister is there? That is convenient, Saevel told his friend. There are many agents closer to the east, but when Old Harper heard that my sister was there, he decided to send us. Akordia, Rizzens sister was captive during invasion of Lord Valerian on Shaar. After freeing her, they learned that she leads exiled Drow that escaped the Arachne of Lolth to their new home, somewhere far away. She was expecting a child last they saw her, with Zaknefein, a drow that has joined their cause during their venture through underdark, but only to save mother of his child. Then we shall ride there quickly. I know how you missed your sister. I cant wait to see her, to show her my new magical tricks.

But Rizzen was not only spellcaster now. Although Saevel has forfeited the study of Arcane, affinity of magic was too strong in him. He communed with the land, and found himself to be able to control forest life around him. Little by little, he started to master the Gift of Forest, becoming able to control emotions of animals and even trees, amplifying their growth and more. What do we have to do once we get there? Well, Berdorien has instructed me to investigate the ruins. There is little known of Draconia, and never had there been a ruin found. There might be some history there to recollect. So we go book hunting, is that it? Well, that and giving aid to the Alliance there. Alliance? What is Alliance doing there? Saevel asked. He knew that there has been no Alliance there for fifteen years, except for few knights that escorted caravans that traveled The Golden Way, only road that connected to the wonders of the East. There is new Khahan there, mustering his horde. Berdorien does not think we might be of much use there, but we are to contact Lord Estrael Oakspell, a wizard from Neverwinter, who rode there with Alliance. He is High Harper himself, and we are to follow his instructions if he has any at all. Saevel did not like that, for last time some Khahan rose he led hundred thousand men into Faerun. Not another war, I had enough of them already. We fought against devils, is there need for humanity to fight among themselves? So they left Sword Coast, months ago, the party of three. Rizzen Illystin, Saevel Moonshade and his newlywed wife, Anet Moonshade. Anet Moonshade, or Anet Laumee Harr as she was called in Shaar, was a daughter of an old nomad warchief in Shaar. During the war with Devil Prince, her father was slain and she became the leader of her tribe. She joined paladin LuVein in his cause to stop the devil, and there she met Saevel. Though during the war they did not have time to meet properly, only few weeks during the time that paladin ordered building defense near The Great Rift, they spent lot of time together after the war. It was because the First of Nomads, Gewar Cor Marak, died during war and fight for his place started, that the two were broght together. Laskaw Tiaw Harr, young nomad who was given power by Shaarmid, wanted her head or hand, as she was the daughter of one of the greatest nomad warchiefs. She had to flee the Shaar, and Saevel helped her. For months they traveled together, sharing every moment and fell in love. Even

once returned to Sword Coast, they ranged together and she was there to witness the powers that were waking slowly in young Harper. They started their travel from Waterdeep, Swords Coast. From there they traveled The Trade Way south, passing river Delimbyr and marching along Misty Forest and The High Moor. The road was crowded, as it always was there, for this was a merchant path that connected Baldurs Gate to the Sword Coast North. Where The High Moor ended, The Trade Way forked, and there they took the north-east section, which led them over Boareskyr Bridge. There they came to their first town, Soubar, and took shelter in the inn. It was nice to have roof over head, especially since it has been a full month since they left Waterdeep. Having enough rations they decided it would be best to resupply in next town, for it was not far. It took them less than a week to next small town, Triel. There they restacked their supplies and rested for a day for their horses to replenish strength. Triel was a small village, but it was a crossroad as well. From there one could follow the main road east and and reach Scournubel, or take the small road that led south to Elturel and north over River Reaching towards Hills Edge and Corm Orp. They followed the road though from there further east, reaching Scornubel, large town built on fork of River Reaching and outskirts of The Reaching Wood. There Saevel knew it would get rough. They could have traveled north, around the Reaching Wood from Triel, but the path through the wood was faster one. Beware the outlaws, ranger, Innkeeper of Green Leaf Tavern has warned him. There are more than enough of those in The Reaching Wood. And true it seemed to be, for no more than day after they entered the forest, they were attacked by outlaws. Rizzen was rewarded with arrow in his arm, after refusing to give his possessions, but Saevel and Anet made it out without the scratch. It was the last of the outlaws they have seen, but Eslya, Saevels companion wolf, would stay way ahead to scout for more. Though it took them entire week to clear the forest, Saevel thought it was way longer, for entire time Rizzen complained that they should have gone around the forest, as his arm hurt. But even though they left forest, it was not until tenday later that they found first town. It was Hluthvar, town beneath The Far Hills, range of hills that expanded further into Sunset Mountains. Well, from here we cross the Sunset Mountains, my friends, Saevel explained. And where then? Rizzen asked. It has been a long journey already, but it was obvious to him that they are not even half-way there. Will we travel by road all the way to Hordelands?

No, of course not. It would be too hard and too long. We have a hard road ahead, all the way to Tilverton. Tilverton? Anet asked. I have heard of it somewhere. You have, my lady. In History of Cormyr, for it is where Lord Agathorne held back hordes of orks from The Stone Lands. Well, glad that we dont have to cross The Stone Lands then, Rizzen japed. But we do, Saevel told him. The road marches us there, and it is the hardest part of our journey. Are there any orks left there? Anet asked, frightened. She never saw orks before, for there were none in Shaar. Only gnolls. Yet she never traveled by ship either, so it will be kind of special for her once they reach Suizal. Im afraid there are, many. We shall have to be extra careful while there. And why not go around it? Rizzen asked. To go around The Stone Lands you have to enter the Anauroch Desert. And I shall rather take my chances against orks then hot sands of Anauroch. So they traveled, over the Sunset Mountains, followed the road pass Marsh of Tun and Farsea Marshes. They could have already see The Stone Lands in distance when they found the first travelers since Hluthvar. Put your hood up, Rizzen. Saevel told him. We dont want to frighten them. It has been a caravan of ten carts and about thirty riders around. Saevel rode slowly towards them, and riders readied spears. Who goes there? I am Saevel, ranger of the Sword Coast. May I talk to a man in charge? It was Dustin, some merchant from Corm Orp, that led this caravan. He was an older man, in mid forties, with bald head and yellow teeth. Everything about this man was ordinary, except he missed the right ear. Although old, he dressed nicely, in expensive garnet usual for merchant folk of Faerun.

Greetings, stranger, Merchant told him. I am Dustin Longfoot, a humble merchant that trades around these parts. And who might you be? I am Saevel Moonshade, ranger from Sword Coast. I travel with my companions towards Suizal. Cormyr, ha? Well, that is far away from Sword Coast, my friend. I need a worthy boat from there, and I would not risk greedy pirate captains down at Dragon Coast. Cormyr was my best bet. So it is. Though reaching it is tricky indeed. The Stone Lands are no friend to humans. I am well aware of that. Though you seem to be fitted to cross it. Well, I have learned my blood price years ago, when some warchief captured me and took my ear as trophy. Since then, I march there with protection. Few ork chiefs will bother thirty riders, they watch for smaller game. Perhaps we might come to an arrangement that might suit us both. And what is that? Let us join you, and we shall watch over your caravan as good as those sellswords of yours, even better. We have our food and supplies, we just need your protection. Well, since we travel there, I do not see problem to add three more to my protection. Though you shall not be paid for it. Of course not, my friend. Protection is payment more than enough. So they traveled for half a month through wastes of The Stone Land. They heard many stories from Dustin, since he was a common guest in Tilverton. Cormyr marched in war, way east, towards Hordelands. Lord Donnington led the men, along with many knights, war wizards and Purple Dragon Knights, elite warriors of Cormyr and excellent strategists and leaders. Other Alliance Lords followed too, though Dustin did not know which. Old merchant was well guarded, Saevel could see. Bronze Dagger did the sellswords call themselves, and their leader was an one eyed swordsman called Barin.

You have a nice lady, Saevel, Barin told him during their journey. Perhaps I could teach her some self-defense. Beautiful lady like that It would be a tragedy that something happens to her. Saevel disliked the men, for he looked Anet the wrong way. Only after few days of Barins taunting did Anet respond. Perhaps I should take some tips, dont you think so my love? She said. Barin took wooden sword and gave one to Anet. He explained the posture of a swordsman and some regular slices and jabs, and how to parry the blow. Then he told her to try to parry few of his attacks. He slid towards her aiming high, and she reflected the blow and counter-sliced him in his head. Taking advantage of his pain, she jabbed him into his belly and attacked him low, hitting his ankle and throwing him off-balance. Barin fell and she smashed him last time in the head. As you see, I am quite aware how to defend myself. Perhaps I should lecture you. Barin rode in front of them since then he did not bother nor Anet nor Saevel again. Though it did not mean The Stone Lands passed quickly and peacefully. Every day, orks were all around them. Brutes standing on the stony hills of wastes, looking over them. There were corpses too. There was not a day that they would pass by some poor fellow that died, witnessing the arrows that hit him in his heart or his head smashed by some axe. Do you see them there, Saevel? Dustin asked harper. On that hill. There were ten riders there, watching down on them. Saevel has spotted them miles before, and he could swear it were the same ones that they encountered days before. They are following us, Saevel said. Do you think they will attack us? No, orks may be brave but are not so foolish. Ten riders against thirty three. They do not have way to ambush us, and we are armed with bows. They would not even last enough to enter melee. And Dustin was right, for they just followed. For two days, at least, and then they never saw them again. And by midday of next day, they finally cleared the wastes. Welcome to Cormyr, friends, Dustin told them. It has been nice to have a friend to talk with, for the sellswords make poor company for a man such as I.

It was pleasure too, Dustin. These ten days passed quickly in your company. Tomorrow, we shall sleep under the roof, for Tilverton is here. And so they did, on the morrow, for they have reached Tilverton. It was a big fortress, with moat and spikes all around. Saevel knew it was here that ork chieftan, whose name he could not remember, led his band in Cormyr. It was here that Lord Agathorn stood against them, and it was here that todays commander of Purple Dragon Knights, Lord Dragonspear, killed the chieftan. Once inside, castellan of Tilverton greeted them. Greetings Dustin. It is always pleasure to accommodate you here. Greetings, Ser Henry. How fares your father? Any knews. My Lord Father holds Beacon Cairne in east. It is not easy, for he writes that young nomad Hubadai has more riders every day. The Alliance fortifies the strongholds, for they believe that war will break. And if you mind my question, Saevel asked the castellan, who is your Lord Father? Dustin smiled and told the harper: You are speaking to Ser Henry Donnington, castellan of Tilverton and son of the Lord Baelor Donnington. Tales of your fathers bravery have reached the Sword Coast, Ser. I am honored to meet you. They rested for two days here, feasted with Ser Henry and talked about history. Anet was amazed by story of Yamun Khahan, leader of Tuigans from Hordelands, who led more than hundred thousand barbarians on Faerun. It was here that he fell, for his barbarians were no match to knights and war wizards of Cormyr. And she was surprised that it Ser Henrys father fought back then, fifteen years ago. It is symbolic, you see, Ser Henry told them. My father wounded the great Khahan then, weakening him for King Azoun IV, and now he rode to fight his son. I have no doubt that he will win. And on third, they left the Tilverton. Their horses rested and supplies restocked, they prepared for easier part of journey. Farewell my frieds, Dustin told them. And if you ever find yourself in Corm Orp, you are welcome to stay in my manse.

You are most generous, Dustin. Farewell. So they traveled the main road, and by next day they reached The Stormhorns. The mountains were well known for their strong wind and rain, but luckily weather served them well that for their entire time there. And then, after just ten days, they reached Arabel, beautiful city on Cormyr Star Lake. They slept in inn, and decided to leave the Arabel first thing in the morning. Though it has been first big city they saw for more than month, they felt that they should hurry for their journey was taking too long already. They followed the road and tenday later the Suizal could be seen on horizon. The great Throne City of Cormyr, Suizal, Saevel announced to his companions. It is beautiful, Anet told him. Look at those white walls and shimmering palaces. And she was right, for Suizal was one of the most beautiful cities in Faerun, with extravagant palaces and beautiful parks. Here we shall find ship, Saevel told them. To where? Rizzen asked. Wherever it can take us. But it has proven to be quite a challenge to find a ship. So far east? I do not sail there, almost every captain told him. Either there was no profit there, or they feared the Pirate Isles that must be crossed in order to reach Sea of Fallen Stars. There was no captain ready to take them so far east. Except for one. Names Captain Gulroy, mate, old seamen told him. And thiss me girl Grey Bastard. Aint as fine as them old big ships those rich fellows sail, but will take you as far east as you would go. All the way to Thesk? Saevel asked. And further, if me friend wants. Could bring ya to Mulhorand if ya wanted to. Thesk will be fine, Tell me, Captain Gulroy, how come you have no fear for pirates around Dragon Isle? Pirates? Hah, I spit on them. No pirate ever bothered to catch Gray Bastard, for Bastard is fast. With right wind my ship cant be matched by any pirate scum.

Saevel did not like that, not a bit. There are only two reasons why Captain of Gray Bastard would take them where no other captain dared; Either to sell them to pirates, for he must be once, or he was insane. Saevel didnt know what he would fear more. But seeing no other way, he boarded the ship. Gray Bastard was, like her master, an old ship. It had sails and with weather on their side, they could travel faster than on their horses. She stank, though, and Saevel thought of swimming to his destination just to free himself from that smell. Its captain was just like her, for old, smelly men rarely washed himself. He had a red beard with few gray hairs, and his hair was long and full of braids. His eyes scared Anet, for his left eye was dead gray, though he did not wear a patch like people usually did. He was missing few digits on his right hand, swearing that he lost them during some storm when the sails crushed on him. All in all, Captain Gulroy was not easy for eyes. And especially for nose. But the ship was fast, or at least the wind was at their side. It took them three days to reach next land. In ya right, theres The Dragon Coast, infamous scoundrels lands. Well take our stop here, at Westgate. Ya captain has some cargo to take there. Saevel told Anet and Rizzen not to leave the ship, for he knew Westgate was dangerous. You dont want to become a slave, do you? Fighting pits of Westgate are always hungry for new recruits. That night a man came aboard, with few guardsmen. They brought twenty crates, and placed them in hull. Then, they all left but one. On the morrow, Gray Bastard left Westgate, continuing his journey east, with her crew increased by one. Saevel saw the thin man on the ship by first light, with his long dark braided hair and pale skin. Good morning to you, ser, Saevel told him. Morning lad, man answered. My name is Seavel Moonshade, I travel far east with this fine ship. Havent seen you around, though. Have you boarded Gray Bastard in Westgate? I have. My name is Danroy, but my friends call me Dan. Or Roy. Depends. And when did you come aboard? We left before dawn so I missed our departure. Just before she departed, my friend.

Saevel did not trust him, not for a second. He must have come with those crates. I have seen no man enter the boat since then. Saevels wolf came to his knees, quietly, for Saevel has not heard her stalk. Now did ya tell you ranger that beast stays down ere, captain yelled. He did so, for Captain Gulroy disliked the beast as he called her. But Saevel knew the wolf is his loyal companion, for she was with him since he was a boy. It was a dark day he found her, trapped in some hunters pit. He wriggled her out, cleaned her wounds and fed her, and after he left her behind she followed him for couple of days. At first, ranger thought she was stalking him, but after she protected him form bear attack, he understood she connected with him. It was more than just some gratitude, for the beast and half-elf connected on spiritual level. He could swear that he felt her anger and hunger, and was certain that his emotions were more than visible to her as well. He named her Eslya, after his stepmother and his fathers first wife Eslya Moonshade, who had died long before he was born. I am sorry, Captain, harper apologized. I shall take her down. For next couple of days, Saevel has tried to figure out who this Dan was, but with no luck. Even Anet could not get anything out of the strange man. After five days, captain called them to the deck. Sailors and friends, ya see the big ol piece of land far ahead? Is Dragon Isle, and ya know what it means. The Pirate Isles are ahead, Dan finished the thought. Aye, and that means we double our guard. Every ship ere is a danger, men. They kept their eyes opened while passing the isles. They were treacherous, for many small isles were perfect place to siege the ambush, and pirates were fond of those. Even the Alliance ships traveled with unease, for Pirate Prince, wealthiest and most influenced pirate of this waters had dozen ships under his command. One morning, while Anet was still asleep, Rizzen and Saevel went top to stretch their legs. Saevel, is this normal? Dont think it is, Saevel answered. We should be sailing around the isles, not through them.

Saevel did not like this, for no sane captain would take his ship in Pirate Isles. Most would travel north around it and anchor in Procampur, and rest would head south and restock in Turmish city Alghon. Wake Anet up, there might be trouble. And bring my sword. I shall talk to Captain. Saevel found Captain Gulroy in his cabin, looking over some charts and eating some boiled fish. It was the first time Saevel has entered his cabin, and couldnt help but notice the stench of rum in the room. Captain, may I have a word with you? If me eye sees bout right, ya have a word already. I will be straight, Captain. How come we entered The Pirate Isles? No captain in his right mind would not dare to venture here. Aye, no but one. Suddenly, yelling could be heard on deck. A SHIP! ALL MEN ON DECK! SOMEONE CALL THE CAPTAIN! Saevel and Gulroy climbed the deck. It was not a ship. There were three ships there, one behind them and two coming from some cove in small isle from sides. Stop me ship, boys. But Captain I said stop me ship. Now The Grey Bastard stopped, and waited. Three ships slowly sailed towards the ship. They all had black flag. Pirates, Saevel knew at once, damn you captain for this. Though he kept his mouth shout, for he knew there was nothing to do. By the size of ships, they were outnumbered at least five to one, and each ship seemed to be better armed than Gray Bastard. As they closed by, Saevel could read the names of the ships. Rotting Lady was first and smallest. By size, it was no larger than Gray Bastard, though still better armed. We could take those on, only if they were alone, Harper thought. Second was Grim Sails, bit larger though still light ship. But the last one, Wailing Death, was remarkable to see. It has been more galley than ship, and sized like three Gray Bastards. He could see the mythical cannons on its starboard, famous

invention of gnomes that many pirates used to get advantage over bigger ships. Cannons used some weird powder that had power to create explosion. But Saevel knew it was no magic, but pure invention. Wailing Death stopped the ship nearby, and three dozen men used ropes to board the ship. Saevel could see that one of them was captain, for he was much different than else. He wasnt clean, but he was cleaner. He wasnt dressed like noble, though he was dressed more royal than rest. Good day to you, Captain, said the man. And who is foolish enough to enter my waters? Me name is Gulroy, Captain of this fine ship. And tell me, o might Captain Gulroy, why do you think that me and my men would let you pass our waters without small. Fee? Me have a specal guest on board, thats why, Captain, Gulroy and pointed on Danroy. Well Ill be damn, said the man. And here I thought youll never come. Danroy came forward and hugged the Captain of Wailling Death. Well, it took time to gather everything. Your wares are not easy to find anymore in Dragon Coast. You heard our friend, boys. Take the cargo to our ship. I hope Black Thumb would fancy dinner with his old friend. We have the time, dont we Captain Gulroy? Aye, ya have all the time in world, Black Thumb. So that night the four ships stayed anchored for a feast. On small isle near ships, sailors turned few chickens on fire, and rum was more than present all around. Saevel, Anet and Rizzen left the boat too, still ready for truble. I dont like this, my love, Anet told him. They can still slit our throats later. We must hope for best, he tried to calm her. For best, dark elf commented, I knew there was something wrong the minute that Captain decided to take us so far east.

Hush now, Saevel told them, for Captain of Wailing Death, Gulroy and Danroy, or what his name is, were coming. You have a nice woman here, half-elf, Captain of Wailing Death told him. I have not introduced myself to you, my lady. How rude of me. You have not, Anet told him. My name is Captain Deathtrap, Captain of Wailing Death and Master of nearby Isles. They call them Isles of Death, after my ship. So notorious pirate? Well, one could say so. And you are? Anet. Anet who? Anet Moonshade. And this is my husband Saevel Moonshade. I dislike husbands. They tend to get in the way of beautiful maids as yourself, yet I find that they make excellent meal for sharks. Well, this ones meat is tough. I fear your sharks may dislike it, Saevel answered angrily. Calm down, husband, for I have only japed. Any friend of Captain Gulroy is my friend. No harm will come to you while under his sails. And besides, my friend Black Thumb likes you. That is enough to make me spare your lives. Well isnt that fortunate, Rizzen commented. Now, now, dark elf. Have you ever considered coming on board. With time, I could give you a ship to command. Imagine the horror of Captains all around the Sea of Fallen Stars when they hear the stories of dark elf raping and butchering. I appreciate the offer, but I am much needed by Saevels side. Though if you ever change your mind, come and find me. Though it would not be so easy to find the ship to carry you here, Deathtrap japed and everyone laughed. He told them the story how Black Thumb was once his sailor and a Captain, until his boat was sink by Alliance war galley Helms Fist. He was taken to Cormyr to be hanged, and managed

to escape the dungeons, but only after losing a thumb to torturer. The Alliance flayed his thumb and when the flesh rotted and died, there was only black digit left there. Since that day, all the pirates know him as Black Thumb. After the feast, most men fell asleep, but Saevel and Rizzen exchanged shifts to guard themselves. They still didnt trust Captain Deathtrap. But as Captain promised, no harm was done to them. In the morning they said farewells and sailed further. For four days they sailed, until they docked Lyrabar, capital city of Implitur. Captain told them that they will stay here for three days, and that they can go walk around the city, but Saevel thought it would be wise to stay aboard, for they had more excitement than they have already anticipated. On last day of their stay Black Thumb managed to talk Saevel into going for a drink in some old, smelly tavern, Green Moss. They had few drinks and talked a bit about pirates, when Saevel finally asked him: Tell me, Black Thumb, why do you venture east? Well I am a pirate, but I also smuggle a bit. East is great place to get some expensive spices, and Captain Deathtrap likes to have someone on land as a spy. I travel around with few captains that head east, asking for transportation in exchange for protection from pirates. And where do you go now, Black? I go to Telflam, local merchant has some crates of spices there for me and more on the way. And Ill see if some ship will sail soon, perhaps to bring them to their doom when they reach Pirate Isles. How come you dont sail again? After I lost my ship, Captain Deathtrap proposed to be First Mate on Wailling Death. I declined, though, for I was Captain once. And until I get new ship, I vowed not to pirate again. So they drinked and drinked, and finally came back aboard. By the time Saevel woke up, Gray Bastard was far from land. And four days later, Gray Bastard reached her final destination, Telflam. Beware Telflam, the city of beautiful land Thesk. She is a real beauty. And real whore. Ya know that The Golden Way ends ere, in er cunt. All the merchants of East come here in search for ship, and few are bold enough as ur Captain Gulroy to take them way back west, to Lands of Alliance.

So they said their farewells, saying goodbye to Captain Gulroy and Black Thumb and went in search of horses. I hope we meet again, half-elf, Black Thumb has told him. And when we do, I hope I will have my own sails then, to take you back west. I hope not, Saevel japed, for that would mean that another pirate sails the sea. Farewell my friend. From Telflam they have traveled further east. They bought themselves horses there, and followed The Golden Way, passing towns of Phent, Phasnt and Tammar, until they reached Two Stars. It was a merchant town, as were others, yet Saevel told his companions that it is here where they resupply. Why here, Saevel, Anet asked him. There were at least three other cities as big as this one, and we used continued on. Why rest here. It is the last city we shall see, my love, for a long time. With good horses that we had, it took us less than tenday to get here from Telflam. But we shall sell our horses here, and continue on foot. What? Rizzen objected. But why? It will take us much longer that way. And there is nice road ahead, if Im not mistaking. In front of us lies Rashemen, Land of The Berserkers as they call it in Sword Coast. There every man is a warrior, looking to prove his might against anyone foolish enough to challenge them. And woman that are adept in magic are witches, and powerful witches if I may add. They hold the power over Rashemen, and are easily offended. And the penalty for offending the witch is death. So we shall leave our horses here, and start afoot keeping down to ourselves. That means no magic Rizzen, and no conversation with anyone until we leave this lands. Fine, Anet told him, but why not resupply in Mulsantir. It is far bigger city. We could sell our horses there. We shall not go there. We shall travel around the city and then towards the Citadel of Rashemen. I have read something about it while in Waterdeep. The citadel fell during Tuigan invasion. Yes, and if we are lucky, it is still empty.

So they traveled on foot for half a day until they reached Lake Mulsantir. There they rented small boat to take them across, but they paid little extra to let them disembark north of the city. By next day, the city was far behind, and day after it eluded from horizon. While they traveled by Lake Tirulag, three little lambs walked around it. Anet was looking at them, holding Saevel by hand, telling him how cute they are, when lambs started to walk over the water, further and further, until they were floating above the center of the lake. They are spirits, my love, Saevel told her. Rashemen is full of them. They are sacred to this land, and quite deadly. Each spirit is governed by an emotion which makes them unpredictable. Sometimes, spirits of dark emotions, like vengeance and hatred attack travelers. We better keep away from them. And so they did, far away from any creature or spirit they encountered until Rizzen saw some riders in front. He wanted them to hide but it was too late. They must have seen them already, for their quickened their gallop. Few minutes later, band of riders was in front of them, some in fur and some in leather, riding on their ponies. Greetings strangers, one of the riders approached them. Greetings to you, Saevel answered. Ah, I hear the accent of West in your tongue, half-elf. Who might you be? I am Saevel, and this are my companions, Rizzen and Anet. We mean you no harm, nor to your people or spirits. Not our people. Not anymore. I am Naarud, once warrior of Rashemen, now hunted by witches for leaving their cause. And what cause is that, oh mighty Naarud? Iron Lord gathers men. The word is Tuigans rise again, under some new Khahan. The Witch Conclave fears that past will repeat itself. But this time, our Iron Lord wants to be ready. He took dozen of his best men and few witches and led them on Citadel Rashemen. Why is that? I thought citadel is long abandoned. It was, and some hags took it for themselves. He cleared it though, and now he commands from there, asking for every able-body Rashemen to pledge his arms to defending the lands. And every men that decides not to do so?

Well, the pointy end of spear for him. He wants to put an example and he bloody did it. Few warriors were bold enough to say no. But you did, didnt you. And this friends of yours. Not yet. We escaped before the recruiters came, but they will find out soon enough. We wont take our chances, so we travel west, far from this land as possible. Why not stay and fight? Rizzen aked. Are you cravens? Why dont you pick your sword, tainted one, and see for yourself! I apologize for my friend, for he meant no ill. I know why you stayed. You look old enough to be here when Tuigans came. Bloody right I was, old enough to see my father butchered and my mother raped. Old enough to see other young children taken, to be trained as one of Yunnicar, and older ones smashed in the wall. I barely escaped them once, and I shall not take my chances again. And there is he, the blue man they call The Godtouched, who cant be defeated by human hand. I still remember him, calm as the water, as ten Iron Lords guards rushed towards him. Never saw a man that fast. It was less than five seconds until all ten guards were on their knees, some with their guts out, some headless. Then the Iron Lord, pride of Rashemen and chosen by Witch Conclave, the greatest warrior in all of Rashemen, charged towards him. He gave few slices, I can still see it clearly as the steel clashed, but the creature parried it off as it was some child attacking him. Then, with a single stroke he decapitated him. It was then that Citadel Rashemen fell, and that my father was killed. Rest was butchery, as Iron Warriors broke and tried to escape, but Tuigan Yunnicar was all over them. No quarter they had for us. So tell me, tainted one, is it worth fighting for? We have perhaps two thousand axes but Khahan shall throw on us hundred thousand. And I shall rather take my chances on some recruiters trying to track me down, than on Tuigan Horde. This will be trouble, Saevel told his companions as the riders rode off. Why do you say that, my love? We cant go through citadel. We shall have to climb over the Sunrise Mountains. You think Iron Lord wont let us pass?

I think he will recruit us too. He seems desperate to increase his axe count. I will not take my chances, not with your life on stake. It didnt take them long to reach mountains from there. Couple of rainy days, which they decided to travel off road, to miss any recruiters they might find. But then, the hard path was ahead. It took them entire tenday to pass the mountains, climbing one peak at the time. Cold wind cut deep in the bones, and rain has made it perilous, for wet surface was no friend to hands of the climber. But it passed and they were on the other side of it. On The Golden Way in Hordelands, close to their goal. It was different here, as if the rainy and wet weather was on the other side. Here was a waste, with no moisture in the air and no water anywhere around. Vegetations was scarce, with few cactus around the path. In the horizon, they saw tents, white tents with Alliance standards mounted around. They walked to it, and guard has led them to the man in charge. He had a biggest tent, though not so glamour. There were maps on small, portable table, and in the center stood two guards around him. Well, who do my eyes see, said the commander. Is that my old friend, Saevel Moonshade. And my dear Lady Anet. Ser Theodore! You are the last person I thought to see here. Ser Theodore Roseburn was a knight Saevel met while in Shaar. He brought him Anet, who young First of Nomads sought, although his liege Lord Donnington told him to stay away. They shared few drinks and talked back then, and Saevel enjoyed his company as much as Anet did. Well, it was when you last saw me that Lord Donnington gave us orders to meet with rest of the Alliance and head here. It has been two years that we are stuck here, and looks as though nothing changed. At least nothing towards good. What is happening? Tell me everything! Not much to tell. It is son of that Khahan that invaded Faerun. His name is Hubadai Khahan. We just heard news that his biggest rival Khan has bend the knee. And you know how it goes. Once Khan bends his knee, his Yunnicar is no longer his, which makes him more or less powerless against his Khahan. And now Hubadai has over fifteen thousand men in his yunnicar. Not to mention other Tuigan warriors that Khans and Chiefs still control. And what does Lord Donnington do?

Well, cant say I am in the loop. He has his ways of taking care of problems, those mages of his. But what I do know is that he is bolstering defenses. He holds Beacon Cairn, not far from here. Lord Oakspell holds a fort way north and Lord Karhold another one, if Hubadai decides to go that way. It is a good decision. Horde will find it hard to march over The Endless East, and an army can cut it off from reaching water supplies that lie west. Hubadai would lose much men that way. Yes, and if he takes The Golden Way, as his father did, he will have to take Beacon Cairne first. Lord Donnington will not let it go without the fight. Then He will have to test his strength against Iron Lord of Rashemen, for I heard they have their Citadel garrisoned again. Donnington sent one of the mages there to organize the Rashemen and convince them to fight once again. I hope she made it. What of Lake of Mists? I do not believe Lord Donnington would leave it behind. Oh no, he has some charismatic Lord Flambard there, getting the Raumivirans that live there under his wing. They hate the Tuigans, you see, and are eager to defend themselves. He has Almorel under him, and some other cities. But main is Drubiev. Yes, Drubiev is important. There is no way over the River Clearflow than Drubiev. If he gets it, and manages to improve defenses, it will wound Hubadais horde. He can ignore Almorel, but not Drubiev. That is exactly what Lord Donnington thinks. He wants to make Hubadain choose the Endless Wastes as his path, and then probably lead his men over Rashemen to meet him. But the plan is solid if he decides to strike soon. I fear what will happen if he gets the numbers his father had. How many does he have now? Who would know, maybe twenty thousand maybe more. Though not less, I fear. I see. Hard times. Yes, hard indeed. But what brings you here old friend? Harper business I fear. Our High Harper sent us here. Harper? So the dark elf managed to get accepted? That is nice. Where are you heading?

We venture far east, some book hunting and similar Harper business. Then we must go to Lord Oakspell to help you here. Well, if you go east, you will go further away from Lord Oakspell. His fort is north. I know, but we have our orders. We would like to finish our business before the war breaks. It might get impossible later. Anet moved forward, taking Saevels hand in her own. He didnt like it. She always did that before saying something he wouldnt like to hear. There might be a way to speed the process, darling. I can go with Ser Roseburn. Once you do your thing, we shall meet. Until then, Ill report to Lord Oakspell and see if there is something to do to help. I dont want you to go through Endless Wastes. She wont, Ser Roseburn told him. We march through Rashemen. Iron Lord is friendly towards us. At least while Tuigans are around. Well, I still dont like it. I am a warrior, my love. Born and bred as one. I can fend for myself. Besides, I have entire army to back me up. He stopped for a second. He saw she was right. Path will get only more dangerous from here. Tuigan warbands raiding all around and monsters of the wastes roaming, not to mention how dangerous the ruins of an ancient city can be. It was for the best. So here they were, Saevel and Anet, alone in their tent for a while. Who knows how many months will pass before he sees here again. After two years, beautiful and full of love, they shall separate. After few long months of travel, they are near their goal. But from here, they travel alone. He took her in his arms and kissed her, while the moon strode over the cloudless sky, and hoped that the night lasts forever.

26th of Ches in The Year of The Lightning Storms Rain poured down the sky for two days now. It had become hard to ride the horse. Ten years away, hiding from my enemies, and now it will be slippery rocks that will end me. It has been two days now that Nymeria rode with her people through the mountains. Fergana Pass is a deadly one, she recalled Harwin saying. Perhaps it would be wise to wait for a clear time to travel. But she would have none of it. It has been ten years and now she was so close. She could not waste a day. She knew it would be better not to think of the fall from the mountain road. So tell me commander, she asked, what is this weapon you cary? It intrests me too. I have never seen one like that. Some kind of strange blade, Harwin added. It is a katana. A sacred weapon to the Samurai. Its masterworked blade cuts deep into the enemy, and its form alows a master to use it with extra force. Samurai? And who are those? Princess asked. Samurai are sacred warriors of the old ways. They are wise and patient, and live for battle. Everything they do, they do with perfection. And are you one? Harwin wanted to know. Samurai? Me? No. Though I was trained by one. During my first years in slavery, while I was a young boy, Master of Arms in pitfights trained with me. He was like a father to me. What was his name? Nymeria asked What difference does it make? Hes long dead. Gave his life for me. That is so sad. Was he your lord? He was a slave, just like me. Brought to the pits of Westgate to live as a gladiator. Soon he became the champion. His family was murdered, his brothers slayen. Yet he was left just because some merchant of slaves saw a profit in him. What about my parents? Do you remember them. No.

Nothing? What are your first memories? Do you want to know the fist thing that is sliced into my memory? It was my father falling besides me after an arrow impaled through his throat, with blood dripping on every side. It is me hiding under the chariot while raiders went on murdering our men. It is my mothers screams as they took turns on her, raping her until she died and then some more. Enough sellsword! You make princess feel uneasy. Harwin interrupted. Old samurai took me in, still soaked in my fathers blood. He trained me in the way of the sword and turned me into warrior. If it wasnt for him, all that would be left of me is my blood soaked deep into the sands of the arena. And Jezzara? How did you meet her? She was a slave too. She remebers little, just that her mother was a priestess.They ment for her to be a slave used for pleasuring men, yet she proven to be a tough nail to crack. So they decided to throw her into the arena. Really? And who does she worship? That no man knows. Not even I, who share her bed. How many men you killed, Blackshade? I do not know. I have battled over thirty battles in pits of Dragon Coast, and many more in Unther. I have fought in a war for Unther after I was freed, and recently against the forces of Abyss, during the raid of the Lord Valerian. I lost my count. Do you remember the first men you killed? First men? It was a boy I killed first, princess. He was little over ten years old and so was I. It was in the pits of Westgate that first man perished of my sword. How did you do it? He came at me with his axe. He was big for his years, desert boy my master said. He will come at you with all he has, he told me, and when he does, counterattack him and sweep him on the ground. There he will have no advantage of his reach due to his size. So I did, and, before even crowd managed to cheer, boy was on the ground. With a single slice I tool of his right hand and

waited. The Lords decided that he deserves no life. So I drove my katana through his guts, watching as life slowly perished from his eyes. Nymeria stopped for a moment. She did not like that story. I havent killed a single men yet. And hope that you wont have to, princess. Yet Harwin says there is no kingdom that foundations are not built on blood. It is true, princess. And if you want to bring an old kingdom back to life, you can be sure that your hands will not be clear of blood for much longer. Jeremy rode off and Nymeria was left alone with her thoughts. She pondered about Jeremys words, wandering if soon her heart would turn to stone as his did. I will never forget how many man died for me or by me. I shall remember. We are all here for now princess, Harwin interrupted her, Not a single soul lost on this damn mountains. We should have waited, as you advised. I was a fool. Now, now. There is no harm done. Weather is improving. Tell me what has changed, Harwin? I have been missing for ten years. Well, you probably heard of my nephew starting his own kingdom. He brings new khans to his cause every day. His horde is over twenty thousand strong and still rising, after his mightiest rival-Khan joined him few weeks ago. It has been brought to attention by Alliance of Faerun, and they have sent Lord Baelor Donnington to hold the east border. He has Towers of Smoke and Ring of Gray Flames under his men, Lord Karhold from Sword Coast and Lord Oakspell from Neverwinter. Lord Donnington holds Beacon Cairn and has built defenses there. He has Raumivirans of the Lake of Mists under him, as they hate us Tuigans. My nephew Hubadai will go to war with them, for sure. Yet he will try to bring them down without the fight, as he will try to hold his strength for Cormyr. He intends to bring them down as quickly as possible, for as you know it was might of Cormyr that killed his father more than fifteen years ago. I remember. So many Tuigans died there.

But many more survived. They gather again around Hubadai, just as they once gathered around my brother. But Lord Donnington was a best thing that happened to us. Why is that? He is from Cormyr, my princess, and Hubadai despises him. He fought against my brother under King Azoun IV. Some say that it was him that gave the mortal wound to my brother. So Hubadai will be focused of the west border of his kingdom, not giving much thought to the east border where Darkan prepares your throne as we speak. Yet I can not last long against him if he finds out. He will not march his entire army east. He needs them west. Yet without an army of our own, we will not manage to do what we intend to. We shall raise our army. And we shall take your nephews men too. That we will, princess. Or our kingdom will be the shortest one that ever lived upon the Toril.


4th of Tarkash in The Year of Lightning Storms It was a dark misty morning in Almorel, as it often was when the heat vaporized Lake of Mists. Streets were empty, and so were the yards, except for Misty Morning Inns courtyard. There stood the dark elf, all armored in leather and with his shortswords in hand. He loved mornings, for before the sun enlightened the surroundings and humans strode down the streets, there was no need to hide his dark skin as he had to do for the last couple of months. They will hate you and they will hurt you for being drow, my apprentice, Old Harper told him before they departure. Best if you stay hidden. But it was enough of it for him. He traveled with Saevel and Anet, only to be their shadow along the way. I should do the talking, was usual sentence to come from Saevels mouth whenever someone new approached. He could not wait until they reach Plesant Valley Gateway Oasis, where his sister brought her people from exodus. There he shall be able to be himself. But not here. So there he stood, with his swords in hands, holding them up parallel to the ground. Across of him stood Saevel with his bow ready and arrow notched. He aimed at chess of Rizzen and loosen the bow. The arrow traveled fast and precise, heading for the heart of the dark elf, and when it came few inches away, Rizzen clenched his muscles in the arm. The arrow stopped an inch from him, as it hit the hard target, and cracked at half, falling to the ground. Again, said Rizzen. Perhaps you should rest now, my friend. We have a long way to go. Just once more. He practiced every day, just as Berdorien told him. Blocking spell is one of the best friends to a wizard, especially for one that fights with swords. Know it well, and it shall protect you better than the shield. And he has seen that. Berdorien blocked his every parry with ease during their practice, but drow barely managed to deflect an attack or two before

Old Harper hit him in the chest with his staff. It was hard, but now I am more adept with this spell than not. Soon, I shall master it. And so he practiced it, every day few times, so that when he would need it, it would be useful. If I knew this when I fought Lord Valerian, I would have bested him with ease. And he knew he was right. The Devil Lord carried huge greatsword that slashed through small blades like his as through butter. Lord Samuels shield, made of steel, was broken after few attacks, but blocking spell, it can block anything. It does not matter if the attacker has huge weapon, it can still be blocked, and since there is no actual shield, he could do it again and again. Or at least as long as he has the strength to cast the spell. It was tough for him at the beginning. Few blocks and he would gasp for air. But he trained hard, every day while in house of Berdorien, to increase his stamina and endurance. Now, he could block half-dozen arrows without getting dizzy. And I shall be even better. There is time. And time there is, for the end of their journey always seems to be far away. It took them more than tenday to reach Drubiev from Alliance camp. Though it passed much faster than their travels before, for he did not share Saevel with Anet. She left for Rashemen, to cycle around to Tower of Smoke where Lord Oakspell fortified. He wanted to be there, though, for Berdorien told him of Lord Oakspells best knight and his personal guard, Gael Spellshield. He was an elven Spellsword, a warrior wizard, who was adept with the sword and the spells. I train you the same way Lord Oakspell trained Ser Gael. You should see him now, strong with the spells as well as the sword. He can conjure lightning from his eyes or even from his sword. That is what you shall learn too. Yet that has been even harder than blocking. Block was basic spell, lightning was much harder to conjure. To create lightning one must bend the power of the air. To bend power of the air, one must know how to create it. To create it one must know how to seek it. It was round and round, trying to catch the fundaments of School of Air, and yet he could not create it. Not yet. But he learned some interesting spells indeed. He could create strong concentration of air around his hands, using them as jets to knock back his opponents. It was still slow and weak, for it took some channeling to knock back typical human, but Berdorien was able to knock around Rizzen with ease. Then, there was his greatest achievement yet, the body of air. He learned how to transform his body into the air, making himself appear as human-shaped wind. It was marvelous. He could elevate from ground a bit and every attack went through him. He could feel it though, as some small cut was made, but there would be no wounds on the outside once he transformed back. You are wounded from the inside, young dark elf. Take care, for you do not feel it, but you might yet die that way. Use it not for combat much. At least not yet. And Old Harper was right. He had no swords in that form, and could do nothing physical to his opponent. Hell, he didnt even have arms to cast

spells. It will take much more studying to learn the art of silence and still casting of spell. But he will learn it, he told himself. What better way is there to learn, than questing. But it was not so exciting for him. At least not in Drubiev. Alliance is still trying to get the Raumivirans here to bend their knee to them. It would be best if you stay in the room while here. So he did, for two days, while Saevel tried to find out news of Drubiev, Almorel and the lands ahead. He learned much, that Lord Rikard Flambard himself is here, with most of his knights, to persuade Raumiviran Magistrate Heronod to give them control of the city. Rizzen understood the importance of the town, for it was a bridge over River Clearflow. He even overheard Alliance men mentioning that if Lord Rikard gets the city, Lord Donnington might even come here with the main host to greet the Tuigans with steel and blood. There was little talk around the city than this. It was as if all the world ceased to exist while this diplomatic action took place. And then, it took them eight days of marching over The Golden Way to reach next city, and the last one before the wastes of Hordelands truly began. Almorel. It was much bigger city than last one, with Alliance rooted in it. The pits and spikes were made outside the walls, and Alliance archers guarded atop. They joined some beggars and common folk that entered the city. There were many of them, for Hubadai ravaged the lands around. It was safer behind the walls. Or at least it feels like that, Rizzen thought, before the Tuigans bring those walls down. Saevel sked for an decent inn, and they sent him to Misty Morning Inn. It was said to be nice inn, but still cheap. Though pricy enough to have any room left, for the common folk rarely had the coins to buy themselves inn that good. Inn was wooden and nicely decorated, and waitresses were not hard on eyes. They were given single room with two beds, and their left their things there. Rizzen liked being in the city, but often missed his cheetah here. Both Rha and Eslya were left outside each city, to go around and hunt game, for they were never warmly welcomed by common folk. And Saevel felt that here, where the Raumivirans were tried to be reasoned with, it would be even smarter to do the same. Next day they decided to resupply themselves with water and rations. It will be a long march from here, or so it would seem. Saevel overheard that from here to oasis was more than three hundred miles, and they would not try to march it without enough water. Later that evening they decided to gather some information in taverns. Saevel wanted to go alone, but Rizzen wanted to go as well so badly, that the half-elf decided to let him tag along. But wear the hood over you all time. We dont want trouble. So they drank and talked, learned of Tuigan Chief Shanim Hojar raiding The Golden Way around The Firewash, Chief Donozar Chogar camping on the other side of Lake of Mists, along the Syevyer Forest, raiding down

those who venture north from the city. Rizzen did not like that. North and east cut, it will be dangerous to travel unprotected from here. But their ill luck was not over yet. During the evening, one drunkard accidently tripped over Rizzen and knocked him on the ground. His hood fell off and suddenly silence went through the camp. Drow! Get him! shouted one of the Alliance guards in inn. Now now, Saevel tried to calm the situation. He is with me. I assure you, he wants you no harm. We have orders, commoner. Every drow is to be taken before Magistrate Ulron, to be interrogated. Then let us go in peace there. We are friends of the Alliance. So they took them before the magistrate. He was an old, bold man with long white beard. Next to him stood the dark skinned lady, dressed in armor. She had short black hair, and dark brown eyes, and had a broadsword on her pelt. Around them were dozne guards armed with sharp spears, and on the right side six noble figures looked towards them. I am Ulron, Magister of Almorel. This is Lady Amalia Duval, agent of the Alliance left behind as overseer. They do not deserve this courtesy, magistrate! one of the nobles said. Do I have to remind you of the murdering that his brethrens have done in our lands! Silence Councilor Hamad, for every being has right to defend himself, even this drow. Rizzen stepped once foot closer and the guards readied their spears. This is not good, he thought. Oh great Magistrate of Almorel, I beg forgiveness for my folly, but I do not know of what crime I stand accused here. May your greatness enlighten my poor being with an answer? He plays you fool, Hamad yelled. I would have his head! And I would not, magistrate answered. You stand here accused of slaughtering that your kin has done over our people and others who travel The Golden Way. There has never been drow, not this far east, until that self-proclaimed Queen Akordia of House Illistyn came here two years ago. And now Almorel gets numerous notes on caravans slain by your people while they passed Great Valley Gateway Oasis.

With all due respect, magistrate, Saevel spoke, this drow has nothing to do with this Queen. He has traveled with me for months now, and learned the ways of the Harpers before that. We are due there, to the same Oasis, to explore some ancient ruins in the name of the Harpers themselves. This words moved Lady Amalia, Rizzen could see. You mention Harpers and all the doors open for you. Unless you are drow. Harper? This drow? she asked. Yes, he has proven himself in Shaar, as this very dark elf stood with Lord Samuel against Devil Prince himself. He is a valuable part of our organization and has nothing to do with dark deeds that other drow have done. Magistrate sat there in silence, thinking. Magistrate, Amalia finally spoke, The Harpers have been friends and allies The Alliance for generations. And you can see he wears the Harpers pin. It must be truth. And last I saw Lord Oakspell, who is Harper himself, he told me that two Harpers have been dispatched to join our cause. It is true. We are yours to serve, my Lady, Rizzen said. I see. Then we shall make use of you, will we not. I must say, you are foolish to travel that far east. Tuigans raid The Golden Way. Almorel has been cut off from east, south and north. Only the road to Drubiev remains safe, and it is a question how long. Yet if you decide to travel east, I can do nothing to prevent it. Though I may use it, still. What do you mean, great Magistrate? dark elf asked. If you survive your journey to the Oasis, I would like you to do some inquiry there. You are a drow, you can easily make your way through this Oasis. And when you do, I want to know everything there is about this Queen Akordia. If she can be reasoned with, how many drow she has, how are they armed, what are their plans. Everything. And if you decide she poses great threat, I would have you assassinate her. Rizzen didnt like this. Oh dear sister, what have you got yourself into this time? Have you learned nothing from the fall of our House. I shall do so, Magistrate.

Magistrate, Hamad spoke, this is folly! My men already told you everything! We must slay her at once! Enough, councilor. We have more pressing matter. Queen Akordia shall not do much damage, for the trade has stopped. As long as Tuigans raid, no caravan shall be foolish enough to begin the voyage. After we finish with Hubadai, we shall move our hand towards dark elves that plague the Oasis. Now, councilors, I will ask you to leave. I have some personal business with the other Harper. Room cleared, and even guards stepped out. Only Lady Amalia left there with her hand on swords hilt. Now, I have not even heard your names, Harpers. My name is Saevel Moonshade and this is my good friend Rizzen Il Illenae. You drows. All the names sound similar to me. But enough of that, for I have another matter to discuss. Lord Oakspell has a plan, Lady Amalia took over, and told me that I shall be the first one to meet the two Harpers that are to execute it. How did he know that, Rizzen asked. He is wise and knows many things. From his tower, he tries to divine the future and the means to change it. He sees all, though he would tell you he sees little. So what is this plan? He has seen the Horde butchering the land they ride. Death of many knights and lords. Common folk. And he believes there is less bloody path to be taken to stop the war, unlike Lord Donnington who thinks only blood and steel can win. To kill the serpent, you must sever its head. So you want us to kill Hubadai? Saevel asked. Magistrate laughed: Kill? If the death of the Hubadai would win this war, barbarian would be rejoined with his father long time ago. Nay, to understand the quest I bestow upon you, you must understand the history. It all started twenty years ago, on plains of Eyen Horo, when Yamun, great Khan and warrior managed to get hold of the power, naming himself Khahan. The Tuigans loved him, for they have not seen a man more deadly with the axe, nor more

cunning in battle. Honorable and strong he was, a true God to these barbarians. Yamun Khahan he was since then, riding along with strongest Khans in Hordelands and two especially respected Khans, Harwin and Daaron. They were his brothers, by blood and arms, and have seen that Yamun gains influence over all. But when Yamun marched west, in your lands, he had but one brother by his side, and it was Daaron. Why is that? Rizzen asked. That we do not know. Some dispute, over some girl it would seem. Some girl that Harwin, who had no sons, took as his own. So Harwin left his cause, for years there had been no news of him, for his brother asked for his head. He disappeared from the face of earth, along with a child that crushed the bond between brothers. So Yamun left with Daaron west, and Yamuns children followed. Most of them at least. Yamunar, his eldest son and Ganor, second by age rode with him west, and never returned. Along with Yamun and Daaron, they died in Cormyr, as their Horde broke over the host of King Azoun IV. But here, in Hordelands, two childes sharing blood with Yamun left, Hubadai and his younger sister Kyla. And three sons of Daaron under my own roof, Somak, Targ and Kerlon. Kerlon died before even Daaron drew his final breath, from sudden illness. But Somak and Targ lived for couple of years more. Until Hubadai was man-grown and decided to go for the title of Khahan. So he killed cousins? Saevel asked. Patience, for you must understand the post-Yamun Hordelands. Every Khan that did not bend the knee to great Yamum tried to reclaim the title. Most Khans that bend the knee were dead somewhere west, but those who returned thought that by fighting for Yamun they earned their place of power, trying to seize the title for themselves. It was war, one Khan against another, with no victor seen on horizon, but one. It was Khan Hisir who managed to get most Khans and Chiefs under him, until young Hubadai decided to join the game. He was absent, for five years, for he left the wastes. He traveled the Faerun learning of the ways in the west, until he decided to come back and reclaim the throne. First he killed Daarons children, both Somak and Targ. He challenged Somak to duel and killed him on the very place you stand now, Harpers. Then he ordered for Targ to die too. You let him do that? The Alliance had no grip here. I was put to this position by Yamun himself, eighteen years ago. I still remember his words. Rule just and rule in my cause, and no harm shall be done to any Raumiviran that live here. Disobey me or my kin, and I shall bring your city down brick by

brick. So you see, he left me in rule, but my guards that helped me rule were Tuigans. My servants were Tuigans. If I were to disobey one Hubadai Khahan, how long before the Yamun himself tortured me in hell? So I obeyed, and vowed to rid Almorel from Tuigans. So I did, with years of replacing my men and staff with Rauimivirans, until there is not a single Tuigan left in this city. But back to our story. Ah, yes, young Hubadai. You see, he was the only male descendant of Great Yamun, so all the Khans that rode west with his father and survived joined his cause. The Yunnicar that his father possessed followed too, naturally, for once Yunnicar is pledged to a Khahan, it is his forever. And Hubadai was Khahan in their eyes. With his Yunnicar and Khahans, one Khan after another fell. Some lost most of their Chiefs to Hubadai, for fear that he would kill them after their Khan falls, and some ran to hide in the wastes as Tuigans did for thousands of years. In the end, after five long years, Hubadai was true Khahan. He created his kingdom Yammunahar. It was not expected, not from Tuigan Khahan. But that way, even if he died, it would be known who takes the place as new Khahan and would ride on with the last command of Hubadai, to spread the kingdom far west. So you see our problem, the head of the snake. It is a hydra truly, for if one head dies new rises. And what are we to do then? Rizzen asked. If you believe that head of the hydra is deadly for you, you replace it with friendly one. Hubadai did kill Daarons children, but there are two figures in this game that have a claim on the throne if Hubadai dies. First is his sister. Kyla was here name, was it not? Yes, Kyla. She did not ride with Hubadai. She was here when he ordered young Targ beheded. She saw his head that rolled down this hall. And she saw the man Hubadai became, one guided by flame of vengeance. She did not want to be part of that. So she left, taking those who thought the same from here. I remember that day, as I escorted her from the Almorel. She was so young, yet that day she became the woman. She rode north, never to return here nor near her brothers kingdom. And the other is Harwin if I recall the beginning of the story. It is. He was spotted way east, living as any true Tuigan would. Hubadai wanted his head for he feared Harwin has a good claim to the throne. And he decided not to ride west once, so he might do the same again. And he is the poor brick that can bring this war around. If you are

to find Harwin and convince him to take the crown of Tuigans and live in peace with us, we could see Hubadai finally rest beneath the rocks of Eyen Horo and end this war. There is something you forgot, Saevel said, Kyla. Kyla has a better claim, yes, and there is a risk of her walking his brothers and fathers steps. But it is no worry of yours, my friend. I have an agent on a quest ending this problem as we speak. You mean to murder her?! Saevel asked confused. If she proves to be a threat, yes. But if she proves that she could be controlled, she might be as useful as Harwin himself. So Magistrate, Rizzen finally asked, what do we have to do. First continue your travel to Oasis. On your way there learn as much as you can about Tuigans and drows, though drows are not the pressing issue right now. Then, after you do what Harpers sent you for, find Harwin and persuade him on our side. King of Cormyr is ready to reward him with many blessings, even with the hand of his own daughter, though he would prefer not to go that far. We shall do as you bid, Magistrate. It might all be for nothing, for the road is hazardous. It might be that my scouts find you dead just few miles from the city. But if you are to succeed, imagine the bloodshed that would be avoided. You would truly be a hero to Hordelands. And the Alliance, Lady Amalia added. And here they were, stuck in another adventure as the morning slowly worked its way. The mist was still dense, as it was every day once they left Drubiev. Did you not know why they call it The Lake of Mists? Saevel japed once when Rizzen commented on it, The mist from the vaporizing lake is common sight here. Only once in ten days there is still weather. Rizzen stood there, watching Saevel. Do you think its true? About my sister I mean. We shall see my friend. I hope not. I would not trust the stories humans spread about those different than them. Do not lose hope.

And if it is? Then we shall see that it ends. Without blood. Swear to me, Saevel, that you shall not let my sister get hurt. I do, Rizzen. You are my friend and family. And that makes her my sister too. I shall not see her hurt. Saevel sent another arrow towards Rizzen, but he stopped it again with ease. But then, he fell on the knees. You should really rest. We are leaving this city in two hours. Go meditate. And what will you do? I overheard that there is some merchant, Delbert the Great, that is foolish enough to venture east. He has quite the number of sellswords by his side. It is worth to look into in. He leaves Almorel this afternoon, so I shall see if we might join him. Do you believe it is smart? Yes, we would have small band but two can travel unnoticed. Caravan cant. I do not know. I shall see it though, and when I return we shall see if it is wise or not. Saevel left the inns courtyard and so did Rizzen. He was pleased for tomorrow Rha, his cheetah, might join him. Or day after, it was hard to say. Sometimes, he could see her outside the gates, waiting for him, and sometimes it took quite of time for her to join him. As he entered his room and sat on the floor, he could not help himself to think again of his sister. Queen Akordia, is it now?

4th of Tarsakh in The Year of The Lightning Storms So tell me, Harwin, who is our little princess? She is the blood of the dragon that ruled eons ago, priestess. And here is her throne. Fortress of The Old Man. It is an old castle built on ruins of the crowncity of Draconia. The castle was magnificent. Built under he vulcano called Sentinel Spire, with its huge black walls with dragon elements. Molten lave passed under the obsidian moat that connected the castle with exterior world. This fortress is easy to defend and built to last against might of dragons, as this lands were full of them. Amazing. Jezzara loved this place. So dark and twisted, yet full of energy. Who holds it? Why, we do. Darkan is in there, with some Khans that joined our cause. Why would they do that? Why choose Nymeria over Hubadai? Long time ago, dragons were Tuigans gods. They lived and died for them, and they worship them still. And Nymeria is a daughter of a dragon, who is fortold to rise high in glory. If the Old Ways were still spread as they were hundred of years ago, all of Tuigans would bend the knee to her. What happened? To the Old Ways? Time. Our Elders died, dragons were hunt down by Raumivirans and legacy was left on our old ones. So when they died, their children turned to the growing influence of west. Few remain loyal to the dragons. Why did she had to leave? Princess I mean. It was Hubadai and the other Khans that hunted her. She was a natural choice for a leader to be. Born of the dragon, raised by me and my brother. My brother Yamun even wanted her to ride with him, so that all of Tuigans follow. I defied him, and escaped with her. She was only five, and I said to my brother that she is too young to see that blood spill. It was the last time we spoke. Soon he rode with his men west, dying on the battlefield. I heard of him, barbarian king Yamun Khahan, killed by Azoun IV in Cormyr.

Yes, the very one. After his death many Khans wanted to take over. There was no room for a five year old there. I tried to protect her, but soon there were more and more enemies that wanted the hand of the princess or her head. Then there came Darkan. He was a fiend, yet only true friend of hers. I thought he came to kill her and challenged him to combat. He defeated me with his spells and as I laid there helpless and feared for the life of our princess, he told me that he is no foe. He was wise to see all the treachery that built its web around her, so he told me it was for the best that they leave Wastes. So they did. I remember the day that she left. Ten years old girl, with tears in her eyes. So beautiful. I knew she would grow into fine lady. So why now? Why does she return now? All the eyes of the Endless Wastes are turned to the west, as Hubadai Khahan prepares for his assault on Faerun. There is no struggle for leadership, Hubadai saw to that. He killed most Khans that did not bend their knee and others soon joined. And now, Alliance, Tuigans and Raumivirans, are all blind to the true ruler that has returned home. And today her kingdom shall awaken once again. The huge moat was in front them and they dismounted. Jezzara could feel the hot obsidian under her legs as she walked towards the huge dragon-shaped gates. It is so hot. It is, for we walk over the lava. Few fortresses had a better defense. When they entered the castle, she could see rest of the men. There has been about thousand men camping in front of the castle, and hundreds more inside. With army like this, Shaar would have been defended with small effort. At the entrance, dark dragon humanoid statues were positiond as guardians, and Tuigan barbarians between each. Soon, they entered the Throne Room. In right angle of the room stood Krelix and Jeremy with half-dozen of their men. In the opposite side of the room stood two figures, a man and a woman. Man had as blond hair as Harwin and eyes bright blue. His hair was long, though not as long as rest of nomads had. What he lacked was a braid. His face was cold and steady, and his arms strong and able. Barbarian woman next to him was not much different, although Jezzara could see that she was darker than rest of Tuigans. Her hair was white and combed in braid and her eyes dark brown. He would not be considered very beautiful in Faerun, for her body was shaped for battle, yet there was some ferocity about her that Jezzara found attractive.

Watch for that one. His name is Ulf Alstar, once Khan now outcasted. He was one of the men who tried to take the hand of Nymeria by force. With her gone, his chances of ruling decreased fast. Yet he was stubborn and put everything on wrong brother. He backed Kaland Khahan who was decapitated by his brother Hubadai. After that, Ulf and his men were named outlaws and senticed to death, yet they managed to wriggle from Khahans fingers. So here he is now, with his hopes in last chance of life. And the wench? Oh, she is a story for herself. Hubadai murdered her father and five years ago and took his men. She worked hard to get them to her cause, to betray Hubadai. Yet Darkan learned of that and told her that there would be greater threat to barbarian king if she joins Nymeria. Hubadai left her in command of this fortress, and she has given both me and Darkan free passage inside. But soon, Hubadai will put the pieces together and she will be marked as a traitor. Yet, best thing of her is that she is raised in the Old Way. She will follow Dragon Princess into the hell if she has to. Nymeria entered the throne room with fiendish creature at her side. Jezzara could not believe her eyes, as thirteen year old girl looked as she was twenty now. What in the name of Lady Darkness? It was Darkan, the half-fiend. He has enchanted Nymeria to look younger so that those who seek to kill her would not recognize her. He broke the spell when he saw her. Fiend was a powerful creature, Jezzara knew, and he looked that way too. His purple skin radiated in torchlight and his big bat wings looked as the cloak of some high noble. His long, black hair deflected the glow from his eyes. What is he? A half-fiend. As I said. Yet his cause is unknown. I would never understand why would a half-fiend help our princess, but he has been true ally for a decade now. Powerful spellcaster and wise man. Though I hope we shall not see his arts aimed against us. Meanwhile, Nymeria climbed the steps that led to the throne. Throne itself was built by dragonbone, or better to say dragon skull. Nymeria sat in dragons jaws as Darkan announced her:

Behold Nymeria Drakeblood, The Dragon Princess of Draconia, The Flame of Birth and Lady of the Dragons! All men bowed to the princess and she stood up. She wore a beautiful golden dress with tiles of dragons on it. My fellow Tuigans, Ulf and Gemma. Warriors from distant land, Jeremy and Jezzara. My loyal mentor Harwin. My wise Darkan. It has been ten years since I left my homeland, vowing to return as a princess. And so I have, thanks to you, my friends. I have wandered through Faerun, learning of their ways. I have seen many Lords and Kings, many kingdoms. But now I have returned to bring to life a kingdom as old as the Toril itself. Today, the first pillar of Draconia shall rise, the first of many on which I shall rebuild the empire that was ment to rule all the rest. Today, history shall be rewritten. Princess took a step forward as Darkan offered her a blade. She cut her palm and let the blood fell on the ground bellow. Jezzara couldnt help to notice how the throne room was unusually big. It was big enough to hold almost thousand men. She felt shiver. Then again. Soon, ground started shaking under her feet. From the floor, obsidian brige emerged, cracking the stone that owas over it. Jezzara stepped on it. Warm, as the moat to the castle itself she reflected. Ground shaked more and more, and all the stone around the room soon cracked. Then the earth opened by the corners of the room, and hot magma was visible beneath. Little by little, dirt fell into the magma and the floor aroun the obsidian bridge was soon disappearing. Suddenly, a great black wing rised from the ground. There was wandering around the room, with men and women puzzling at the giant wing. And then the arm came, huge black hand with rending claws sized as elephant. Is it a. It is. Harwin told Jezzara. Little by little, monster was uncovered. Its black fanged head, huge scaled bode, fearsome tail. It was a dragon, an ancient one. Jezzara never saw a dragon, but she could tell by mere size of that creature that it was no young dragon there. It was an Acient Wyrm, she was certain. Beware, Darkan told them. The Julunggul, last of the Draconias guardians. The ancient dragon that once Prince Kezzaroth rode into battle. Last surviving dragon of Draconia. The wyrm spoke with his terrible voice:

I have slepth for eons now, until the blood of my master Astorat woke me. My princess, I am yours to command. As the prophecy fortolds, I shall help you rebuild our great empire. Bring forth the new Dragonlords. Come forth Ulf Alstar, Gemma Bjorn, Harwin Khahan and Blackshade. They walked in front of the great dragon and princess Nymeria and kneeled. Do you sware an oath, in front of the blood of ancient Draconia, to follow the rightfull heir of our sacred kingdom, to bleed and to die for her is she needs you? I sware, Chosen ones answered. Dragon continued: Do you sware an oath, in front of the blood of ancient Draconia, that from now on till your last breath you shall have no other true Queen but the Dragon Princess? I sware. Do you sware an oath, in front of the blood of ancient Draconia, that you shall not willingly work against your Queen, and that if honor demands it, you shall take your own life? I sware. Rise, mortals, for once you have been mere slaves to the Toril, but now you rise as Dragonlords of Draconia, true masters of our sacred empire. I accept you all in my service, Nymeria said. You are the first of my Dragonlords, and you shall be the first to lay foundations to my kingdom. Now for my council. Dragonlord Blackshade, do you accept my offer to seat in my council, to help me rule just? I do. Dragonlord Harwin, do you accept my offer to seat in my council, to help me rule just? I do. Darkan, do you accept my offer to seat in my council, to help me rule just? I do, my princess. Nymeria turned to Jezzara. She did not see that coming. Will she be chosen for a council? Jeremy already took the title of the Dragonlord, and she knew there was no going back. She can leave, but without him. And she could not live without him.

Jezzara, my dear friend. For two years I rode with you, and you gave all your effort to keep me safe. For that I am grateful. I consider you my true friend. Jezzara, do you accept my offet to seat in my council, to help me rule just? Friend, been a while since I heard that, Jezzara reflected. No, I have never heard that. There has been no single soul, part from Jeremy, who found a place for me in his heart. Yet this princess, she gave me all. A place to belong, along with my love Jeremy. I do, she answered.

5th of Tarsakh in The Year of The Lightning Storms My Coucil Masters, let us start, princess said to her men. Yesterday, she started the sparkle of the new kingdom by waking Julunggul, naming new Dragonlords and creating the Council of The Dragon. Draconia has risen once again, but not as she was, vast and powerful, but small and still powerless. So there was much to do today, for the first session of the Council of The Dragon has started. Today, the course of actions by which the kingdom shall rise will be determined. Master Darkan, tell us of our numbers. Half-fiend rose over the map of Endless Wastes and started: We count two thousand men my princess. There is two thousand more mouths around the castle, common folk of Tuigan Khans that joined your cause. If I may say so, they create a problem here. Too much attention. And what would you do about our folk, Darkan, Ulf spoke. He had a cold voice filled with hatred. Shall we put them to the sword perhaps? They can not just disappear. I suggest one of you takes them south, towards Quas Al-Tarik. Khan Darius holds that fort, and he has not yet declared sides. We might still convince him to join our cause. What of the news, where is Hubadai? Where is alliance? Princess asked. Alliance is still holding west, my princess. They have sent Lord Donnington of Cormyr to lead them. Their influence is rising, for west border is secured. Donnington had came with three Lords by his side. And who are this Lords? Jeremy asked. This has caught his attention, Nymeria saw. He wanted to cross his blade with true knights and Lords, to prove that he is better warrior than high-birth nobles. They come from lands of Alliance. First Lord that followed Baeric Donnington was lord Rikard Flambard. He is a Lord of Daggerford, a keep on the Trade Way down in Sword Coast. You might have heard of him if you traveled there, as locals love him. His House has been Protector of Trade for generations, for his duty is to make sure merchants travel safe. Now, he left his oldest son in charge of Daggerford and rode here with his men. Lord Baeric has sent

him to Raumivirans, to get them under the Alliance. As far as I know, he managed to persuade all the smaller town to join Alliance, but Almorel is still not declared. Jeremy looked puzzled. This is still not his homeland, princess thought, he does not know the towns. She told him: I see you have a hard time keeping up, Blackshade. Almorel is largest city around Lake of Mists. It is positioned on east border of the lake, watching over The Gold en Way. If Hubadai were to march west, he needs Almorel. The other crucial town is Drubiev. It is true, Master Blackshade, Darkan continued. And Drubiev is perhaps even more important. That town is a bridge over river Clearflow. Lord Flambard has sent his bannerman Ser Mace Scolland to hold it if Hubadai sends some war party to retake it. Blackshades eyes turne big. Is he some fameous knight? No, or at least I heard none of him. Yet it does not take much to hold the bridge, since no host can reach it without being seen in Almorel. And flanking is hard, as it would mean that you had to lead army through wilderness. And wilderness has a way to be even more deadly than guarded bridges. So this is the first Lord, Nymeria interrupted. Who else is there? Well, second Lord that followed Lord Donnington was Lord Oakspell. Now this is a strange one. And why is that? Jezzara asked. Well, this Lord is an elf. He is Lord from Neverwinter. Old this one is, for he is famous for defeating the Demon Prince Yrglaw over fifty years ago. And where our Lords of Alliance are strong with sword, this one is strong with spells. A wizard? Blackshade asked. A wizard. And a good one, I must say. I hold him the most dangerous of all Lords, not by number of his men, but for his spells that let him see what is hidden to others. If that is so, Nymeria stood up, than he might already know of our plans! Do not worry, Princess. The Fortress of The Old Men is magical keep. I inspected it long time ago and found that no scrying is possible while you are in fortress. We are safe. But what

troubles me is that once you leave the fortress, he might pick you up. If he does, he will send his champion to hunt you down. And who might that be? she asked. Gael Spellshield. Another elf. He is what the western men call a Spellsword. Magical warrior proficient with sword as well as spells. Yet what differs him from Lord Oakspell is that his spells are used in combat, to protect himself and harm others. He is most fearsome of all Lord Oakspells warriors. I would like to test that spells of his. Jeremy taunted. You will, be sure of it. Lord Oakspell will pick up Nymeria, and when he does, it will be on you to defend her from Ser Gael. Master Darkan, if you will be so kind, where can we find this Lord? Why, Mistress Jezzara, he holds one of the two fortresses far west. Tower of Smoke. That is one of the ways into Faerun, and Hubadai must cross it. What are the others? Blackshade asked. Well one can enter Faerun by three ways, though the one that Lord Donnington holds is the best one for an army to march. In order to reach the western lands, one must cross the Lake of Mists and follow Golden Road. You will reach Beacon Cairne, where Lord Donnington has fortified himself and once you pass it comes the hard part. Once you leave the Golden Road, you must cross two hundred and forty miles of wasteland, with limited water sources along the way. There you reach two fortresses, Tower of Smoke and Ring of Gray Flames. Tower of Smoke is defended by Lord Oakspell, while Ring of Gray Flames is under command of another Lord from Sword Coast, Lord Karhold. Lord Karhold? Jeremy interrupted. I heard of some Lord Harold of the House Karhold, Lord of Yaktar. I heard stories of him during my stay in Dragon Coast. He was the one that catched that fameous bandit, Swifthand. It were Swifthands men that told the tales of him. Cruel and brutal, he tortured one prisoner at the time, to get the information about the outlaw king, and he would make the others watch so they know what will happen to them if they do not betray their leader. It was only the matter of time before Swifthand was in his dungeon, tortured and publicly executed.

It was him, true, yet back then he was just Ser Karhold. Now, his father is dead and he is Lord. As my informers tell me, he rode here with his brother, Ser Wade, and his daughter, Lady Viktoria. What are the other ways, Master Darkan? Jezzara interrupted. If there is no will to go through the wasteland, after Beacon Cairne one can stay on Golden Way. But that would mean that one has to pass Citadel Rashamen, which is magical fortress guarded by witches of Rashamen and their spirit-servants. Hubadais father was defeated by wizards in the end, so I doubt he would even consider taking his horde through land of witches. Which brings us to last path. Nymeria said. She knew this one very well. It was the same path we used to escape ten years ago. It is true princess. That path is no less dangerous than the one with witches. So one can slip an army through Ejen Horo. Nymeria continued. Then down the River Ghaast through the wilderness of Shalhoond Shalhoond? Jeremy interrupted. The Great Wild Wood? Yes, the same one we traveled through on our way here. But back then, we followed Ferganas Pass, way east of the forest. Shalhoond is a huge forest, and the pass we took was the most civilized part of the wood. River Ghaast, on the other hand, is wild. It is full of life, that much is true, but creatures that live in that forest are capable of taking out many men. Hubadai would lose much warriors by taking that road. Why not use Ferganas Pass like we did? Jeremy wanted to know. It had its perils, but The road takes you way east from there. If you wanted to pass you would need ships. And to transport over twenty thousand men is no easy task. Yet it is possible. For us. Jeremy said. I do not see twenty thousand, only two. We could outmaneuver the Alliance. Nymeria turned to Jeremy. She knew he does not understand. Nothing at all. Draconias heart was here, so long ago, when Lake of Mist was as big as sea. Here was the capital of Draconia, upon this Volcano. It was a magical city that floated on the water. So

Endless Wastes shall be mine before we take Faerun. I shall have my Tuigans and Raumivirans, as the Dragon had it before. Only then, I shall go for the rest. Entire court was suddenly silent. No Dragonlord dared to speak after the princess. I have to keep my temper down, she thought. Darkan always said it would undo me. Is there anything else we should know of Alliance? she finally said. There is one more matter to address. War Wizards. They had defeated the Horde once, so Cormyr has sent dozen of them to attend here. They are led by Alasdair, old War Wizard. He had led the Cormyrian War Wizards during first war, and overwhelmed the Horde by his firepower. I hate wizards, did I mention that? Jeremy commented. War wizards of Cormyr are trained for combat. They have destructive spells that can decimate entire army. Hubadai fears them, be certain of it. And then there are Purple Dragon Knights of Cormyr. I know that sort. Jeremy frowned. Holy warriors of Cormyr, knights and commanders. Excellent with sword and shield, and great strategists. People follow them, as they are noble and honest. I always wanted to see how good they are in combat. Then you shall have your chance, Master Blackshade. For here came the new Lord Commander of The Purple Dragon Knights, Lord Alexander Dragonspear, famous for more than I can even begin to describe. And half-dragon. Nymerias heart pounced. Half-dragon? He? Is he handsome? They say he is one of the most handsome men in entire Cormyr. Son of a gold dragon, he is stronger than any man alive, though if tales are true you would not see that by looking at him. Can we get him on our side? Nymeria wondered. I do not believe so. Do not worry princess. There will be some high-noble half-dragon. You will find your kin to be your Prince. Jezzara turned towards Nymeria: Your kin?

I am daughter of the dragon, and in my vanes runs the blood of the oldest dragon there is, Astarot, Father of Princes. I am half-dragon, Jezzara, and I need someone just like me to give me heirs to throne of Draconia. Nymeria distanced herself from table. Suddenly, two large wings emerged from her backs and her hands grew into claws. She opened her mouth and they could witness her sharp teeth. Then, she became princess again. The hall was silent again. Let us move on. Hubadai. Ah, yes. Hubadai Khahan, son of Yamunai Khahan, The Khan that united the Horde. After you left, Hubadai got most Khans around him. He defeated his older brother and executed him. One by one, Khans either joined him or were killed. He commands around twenty thousand men. He has five Khans under him, some still defy him. And he has the biggest Yunnicar of all Khans. And what is that? Jeremy asked. Harwin stood up. He was silent entire time, but this he knew well. It is the old way of us Tuigans to raid the nearby kingdoms. Once we kill their warriors, we take their wives for our pleasure and their children with us. They are trained in special camps to become warriors. And so they are, true warriors, loyal to their Khan and Khahan above all. And that loyalty is something peculiar to strangers, as they are loyal to Khan that leads them. And if that Khan bends the knee to another, they become loyal to that Khan. That way, once some Khan decides to join another, to become his chief, the Yunnicar he owned is lost to him forever. So that would mean that there is little for a Chief to rebel against Khan? Yes. And Hubadai has Yunnicar as big as twelve thousand if it to believe the gossip. There is more, Darkan told them. Commander of Hubadais Yunnicar is interesting men. If it can be called that. His name is Zealan. And his race is unknown. He has been leader of Yunnicar for five hundred years at least, Harwin continued, for legend has it that it was Khahan Bokor who found him when he was a blue baby. He is disciplined and breed for combat, with no equal. He survived the battle in Cormyr, taking down many knights, including Lord Commander of The Purple Dragon Knights. That Lord

was replaced by Lord Tiberuis of the House Agathorn, and once he retired, young Lord Alexandar was chosen. Now this is interesting. Sounds like worthy enemy. Jeremy smiled. Yunnicar Master Zealan has never been defeated in combat. You are a fool to think you are a match for him. We shall see, Master Darkan. We shall see. Khans are more or less following Hubadai. He is in Ejen Horo still, last that I heard. There is his father buried. And there he goes every year. Yet his Chief Baga Tak is a problem we face. Who is that? Nymeria asked. She never heard of him, so he must be some new Chief. He is half-orc warrior that some Tuigans follow. He was among first to join Hubadai. They say he is great with his axe, and poor with mind. Yet he rides here with his five hundred barbarians. Why is that? Nymeria asked. Hubadai knows of you. He knows you exist. Yet he thinks you are still away. Baga Tak is sent to secure this place, if you were to return. We have two thousand men, we can take on with him. Jeremy said. And then Hubadai would know that you are here. He wants Nymeria, for she is an icon of Tuigans. With her, he knows he could have an army of dragons. And why dont we have an army of dragons then? Jeremy asked. We will. In time. And that brings me to the last thing. Princess Nymeria must wake our army, before it is too late. As we talked, Darkan, Nymeria took over. I shall ride towards the known crypt of our army and awake first of my generals. Jezzara and Blackshade shall follow me. Blackshade, Darkan said. You are to keep the princess out of harms way. It will be just three of you on your yourney, for that should give you cover from scrying eyes of Cormyr and Tuigans. Tuigans? I thought they have no magic. Jezzara asked.

They HAD no magic, Mistress. Hubadai has traveled for years after his father was defeated and brought many spellcasters and shamans. He has his own mages to fight the war wizards. Great, Jeremy frowned again. More wizards. So three of you shall travel to Pleasant Valley Gateway Oasis and where the spring of oasis is you shall find entrance to the Dragon Crypt. There Princess Nymeria can wake part of her old army. You leave in three days. What of other matters? Harwin asked. What of Chief Baga Tak, what of Quas Al-Tarik? What of this fortress? If I may, princess, Ulf finally spoke, I have proposal. I will march our men on Baga Tak. He would not know I am yours, for they are hunting for my head. That would keep Mistress Gemma still Hubadais ally in his eyes. She can go south to Quas Al-Tarik and try to persuade them to join our cause. Let them speak, Nymeria thought. Just as you taught me Harwin. Let your men speak first and then make a decision, yet keep in mind all you know as well. There is another way, Princess. Harwin said. Let me go towards the Quas Al-Tarik. I might be better suited for the task. Gemma is a woman, but I am brother to Yamun. That weights much in Khans eyes. As for Boga, I do not see how we can fight him without putting the eyes of our enemies upon us. We shall be seen as a threat if we attack, and even more if Baga comes here. I say he must die. I say so too, Darkan spoke. Yet we have a powerful tool of destruction here with us. My Princess, unleash Julunggul on them. That will bring all eyes here, but not for you. For a dragon. Fear would raise and talk of wyrms returning would echo through the Hordelands. Nymeria reflected for a bit on all that was said, and finally said: We shall leave Fortress of the Old Men in three days. While I am absent, Master Darkan is in command as my First Drake. We shall have our session tomorrow and I shall tell you what I decided to do.

10th of Tarsk in The Year of Lightning Storm Well, I did not think it would be this slow, Saevel thought while riding behind the caravan. It has been six days now, six long days, and the distance they crossed was poor indeed. At least we have hundred sellswords by our side. And they were well equipped. Horsmen, pikeman, archers. A small army capable of fighting against anything not too numerous. Yet they do not call them The Horde for their lack of numbers. These sellswords may kill hundred riders, but twice their number, hard. Saevel was almost sorry for the day he met Lieutenant Cayden Brown. It was in Deepguard Inn he found him, due to directions common folk gave him. The bold sellsword who fears no Tuigan, people said. The only one who dares to travel east. Yet Saevel was well aware it was just a illusion. It was not courage that drove that man. It was greed. The same greed that might cost us our lives. Cayden was a young man, with short dark hair and brown eyes. He was always with a smile, and never down. Saevel learned that the man has a stomach for beverage, for the night he met him, young sellsword drank much and more, and one could not even see the effect on him, part of his dyslexic speech. Although young, he was a lieutenant of sellsword company called Black Shields. That night harper found out everything about his precious company, who fought on Mulhorand side for past few years against Unther. You shouldve seen the slave hosts, Cayden boasted, when our Captain drove his heavy cavalry through them. We won every single battle against Unther. Saevel could not help but think of another sellsword who he knew, and who fought at same war. Captain Blackshade. Infamous Captain Blackshade, Captain of Black Marauders. The man that fought Mulhorand hard. And still lived to talk of it. Blackshade? That craven? Cayden told the Saevel during their travel, I wish I had an opportunity to do the dance of swords with him. He killed two of our sergeants, although not with his sword but with arrow in the back of the neck. If I ever find him, I shall make everyone see that he is only good at stabbing people in the back. Once Saevel found out Cayden is to meet with his Company way east of Plesant Valley Gateway Oasis, he thought it would be a good idea to travel with them. It could not hurt now, could it? Hundred men is better than two. Even Rizzen did not manage to change his mind, and next morning they were riding with Cayden and his Black Shields east, escorting the

caravan. Cayden was more than happy to accept them in his ranks. So, you will travel with us, give us your swords for protection, carry your own food and not ask for gold? Sounds like a deal!, he told Saevel the night they met. So six days passed, and only day ago Almorel was out of sight. Yet that at least he was thankful. At least after Cayden told him his doubts. Almorel will fall soon, Cayden told him. I have heard reports that one of the Cheifs took his Horde around Almorel, to harass the road to Drubiev. If that is so, Almorel is cut off from the world. Soon, Hubadai will storm it. As they traveled, Saevel heard the stories of their Captain Dawson Blackcloak, who earned the title of captain after the old one died. I was not with them then, but Dawson was the right hand of Captain Greenhilt. It was two years after the company was created, that Mulhorand signed the contract for us to fight Unther. Invasion was already far in motion, and they were sent to the coast of Unther to disrupt the shipping to their capital city. It was there when first slave host was raised, as slavemaster of Unther promised freedom to every slave that pledges his sword against Mulhorand. First host had 10 000 men. All slaves. Captain Greenhilt had only 4000 then. He ordered attack on the slaves, for he wanted the coast controlled for Mulhorand main host to sail there. It was faster that way, because 15 thousand Mulhorandi warriors would travel for months by foot, but ships would bring them fast. So they charged in the slaves, with Captain Greenhilt in first lines, and Dawson right next to him. Suddenly, they were cut off, two of them, amidst hundred of slaves. They held for long, before rest of their company managed to break their way to them. Dawson carries the scar to this very day, across his left side of the face, which slave spear made. And Greenhilt Well, let us just say he was not that lucky. One of the slaves drove a spear through his eye and brains. Losing their commander, Black Shields wouldve broke, if not for Dawson. He took over command, rallied his men and won the day. Though at great cost. Their number was more than halved, and lost every sergeant they had. But 10 000 slaves were butchered on that day, and the coast was theirs. He took over command, making his new sergeants, and held against Unther for a tenday, before Mulhorand arrived. It was a battle that won the war, everyone said. It was then that Captain freed me from a slaver ship, which did not now it was sailing into enemy territory. He freed me, along with hundred others, and allowed us to join him. Than came the hard road ahead. We spent almost three years hunting down Unther rebels. One of which was Captain Blackshade. That one we never caught, although we reduced his numbers. During his escape, he slew last two sergeants. We were weaken from constant raids, bellow five hundred. Thats when Captain decided to fall back and hire some new men. It was then that Hellspear and John Black joined us, and soon proved to be more than capable to lead us. Entire years we

spent hunting down other outlaws, but the job was done. Hellspear killed in duel three outlaw Captains, and John successfully led entire company for a while, when our Captain was wounded. Must say, although he is missing a hand, I have never seen a strategist as good as him. Dont let the name fool you, for even though men in our company call him One-HandedJohn, he is more dangerous with his one hand, than most men with both. It was interesting to hear those stories, and some made Saevel ponder. One-HandedJhon? And just about the same time Samuel went missing. Could it be? But his thoughts were interrupted by warhorns. Tuigans, all around us! Looks like we have a battle ahead of us, boys, Cayden said, Are they close? Ser, they were trying to sneak around us! To take us by surprise! Well, they failed at that. Form up around caravans. Archers, climb atop the caravans and fortify yourself. Pikeman, form a circle around them. Swordmen, behind them. Horsmen, with me! Who is it? Saevel asked him. It must be Chief Shanim Hojar. He is known to raid this part of Hordelands. Saevel and Rizzen prepared for battle. It started soon. Too soon, if it were up to Cayden. Barbarians were all mounted, to the last man. Saevel knew it was no good. They are double our numbers and all on horses. We have not enough pikemen to counter them. It will be bloody. And so it was, for every Tuigan that fell, at least two sellswords followed. Rizzen fought valiantly, as Saevel observed. His new neat trick of spellcraft and blocking allowed him to go against several barbarians at once. Rha and Eslya hunted down the barbarians that were too foolish to depart from formation. But soon, Saevel saw the battle was lost. If the barbarians win, the common folk in caravans will face a grim future. Then, the shout came. Black Company, fall back! Cayden, Saevel shouted back, We cant leave them behind! We can, for certain. Listen to me for a second! If you dont protect them and run off, it will stain the name of Black Shields! You

Better to have a stain on my name, then bloodstain around my dead body. I would rather live to fight another day. Retreat men, fall back! Saevel was red with anger. That craven excuse of a sellsword! Yet Rizzen pulled his arm: Let us retreat, my friend. Battle is lost. I shall not leave them! What can you do alone against hundred? Run and live to fight another day. He did not like it, though he knew it would mean his life forfeited in vain. So he fell back, like rest of the sellswords. Like craven. After couple of hours of fleeing, Cayden finally stopped survivors. Men, listen to me. Chief Hojar is regrouped by now. He will hunt us down. We must split to ensure most of us escape. So he started to split the survivors, heading them in all directions. That craven. He will ride of with light cavalry away, while those condemned to foot will be hunt down. Though there was nothing he could do. He never felt so powerless. All those poor merchants. Saevel decided not to ride on with Cayden, although the sellsword asked him. If I had no horse, he would leave me behind. He decided to ride east with Rizzen, for two of them will be faster and more covert than a band of craven sellswords. So they said their goodbyes and wished each others luck, though deep down inside Saevel wished for Tuigan Chief to catch the sellsword and make him pay.

10th of Tarsakh in The Year of Lightning Storms Tension was in the air, all around her. Priestess and princess stood behind some low bush, watching the riders approaching from front and flanks. They mustve spotted us, priestess thought. She grasped her katana, readying for trouble, and then she realized that Nymeria has done the same ages ago and already had a firm grip of her Dragonspear. It was only four days since they left Fortress of The Old Man, party of four. Princess Nymeria, priestess Jezzara, Dragonlord Blackshade and a Tuigan warrior and wanderer Derek. This is Derek, Harwin has told them the day they were bound to leave, he is my friend and there is no Tuigan who I would trust more in the task of keeping you safe, princess. Nor a man who knows the Wastes better. He shall be your guide to Plesant Valley Gateway Oasis, and he shall be your master-in-arms to teach you the way of the spear. You can learn much from this man. But they were not the only party who left fortress that day. A small party of eleven rode west, to challenge Chief Boga Tak and kill him and his men. It were ten mounted outriders, and their leader was a dragon. The mighty Julunggul shapeshifted into man, to avoid attention, until he comes close to barbarians. He will not fail, my princess. The Tuigans have no chance, Harwin told her. And third party was way bigger, in thousands. It was Ulf Alstar, the new Dragonlord, which took the common folk to Quas Al-Tarik, to win them over to Dragon side. My princess, Jezzara witnessed Ulf saying to Nymeria, I shall not return home until Quas Al-Tarik has bent the knee to our cause. I shall prove you that you are my princess, my life and my longing. So they left, with further events put in motion, and rode north to awaken the Dragon army. Derek proved to be irreplaceable, for he knew every cave and water source in hundred miles, taking them around deadly terrain and fast through the wastes. He proved to be a fine storyteller too, telling them of some Tuigan legends of Dragons and explaining them that the old way of Tuigans is the way of the dragon, and those who stick to them hold dragon sacred. He trained princess in the way of spear every day, and also asked often for Jezzara to duel Nymeria. You are of similar skill and both will learn much from it. And so they did, for three days, each morning and each evening the two dueled, and priestess won more oft than not. Princess has a strong thrust with the spear and her stance is worthy of a warrior, Derek has told them, but you, Jezzara, are more adept of sword techniques. Princess has much to learn

from you, for the way you feint left and then sweep the legs right could trick even the experienced warriors. Derek was an old man, even older than Harwin. He was dark skinned, but not black, for his tan is the work of sun. He had a short, rugged black beard and dark-brown eyes, and his long, black hair was always tied in tail, falling to half the back. He was strong, she could tell. His muscles outlining his beefy shape, which was even more enhanced when he used his spear. He was also wise, for the long years of wandering the wastes and staying alive sharpened his senses. Jezzara felt safe with him, almost as safe when Blackshade was near. She wandered how it would look if her love tried to best this man, this savage spearman. She wandered if he would beat him, or the old man would soon sweep Jeremy from his feet. But now, all she learned from Derek and her duels might come in handy. The riders were closer each second. She realized that there is no mistake; they have been seen. She looked left, and saw Jeremy dug deep in the sands. Right was Derek. At least, they are not seen, she thought. She rose up, making herself visible, and princess followed, still ready with her spear. They are armed with spears too, same as Derek. And there are six of them, to four of us. There is no use for me to ready for them to strike them if they advance. I must defend. Riders dismounted and circled around them, closing by. Well, well, well. What do we have here, one of them said. Some ladies lost in wastes? Dont you know, my ladies, that the wastes are notorious? Not a place for ladies like yourself, second one said. Six of them, four of us, she thought again. Yet Jeremy always said that surprise counts double. So six versus six in that case. One of the riders glanced upon Nymerias spear. I know that spear. Dragonspear it is called. Belongs to Harwin, Hubadais brother. There is a bounty on his head, you know? Tell me, girl, where did you get that spear. I stole it from him, she lied. Fool never saw it coming. Jezzara saw that Tuigan did not believe her. Jeremy mustve seen that too, she thought. And he must have, for before the barbarian made a step closer, Jeremy jumped from the sand and impaled one of the nomads. Derek followed, driving his spear with a warcry through another ones heart. It is now or never, she thought as one of the barbarianas jumped at her with spear. There was fear in her, for often she missed the parry and the spear has hit her when she has dueled Nymeria. But not this time, this time I am ready. She gripped her katana even

firmer, and moved her blade swiftly to divert the attack. But too swiftly, for the blade missed the spear. She felt pain travel over her face, as the spear tore her cheek open, and she could feel the taste of blood in her mouth. She screamed, letting her katana from her hand and falling to the knees, with blood dripping from her face on the ground.

ULF ALSTAR 12th of Tarsk in The Year of Lightning Storm It was about bloody time Overlord decided to see us, blond barbarian thought. I have been rooting in this wretched city for three days now. I hate those games of power. Ulf knew Overlord Darius well, for it was Quas Al-Tarik that he sought refuge after he failed to become Khahan. I was to marry you, princess. By force, true, but nevertheless. He was not much older than she was. Back then, she was ten, and he was thirteen, a young bold boy for whom father wanted an elevation for. After Yamun died, Dogmar Alstar, Ulfs father, Khan to Gray Wolves tribe as was his father and his fathers father, fought against many Khans that sought young Nymeria for themselves. And there were many. She was a half-dragon, by Old Ways a true ruler of Tuigans, with better claim than even Yamun. Yet Harwin escaped with her from Dogmars grasp. Oh how Ulf longed to have young princess back then, at it has not changed to this very day. Harwin proved to be a stealthy man, for Dogmar could not find him. Years have passed, and Ulf was man-grown. His father abandoned all hope of finding princess, but fought nevertheless against others to win the throne by force if not by marriage. But during one battle against most powerful Khan those days, his father died. Khan Hisir has smashed his head with his axe. Ulf swore that day that his death will not be in vain. It was after his fathers death that young barbarian was forced to run, along with most trusted of his fathers Gray Wolves. Hisir eradicated his tribe to the dozen left, all still companions of Ulf. All here, although time and perils of The Hordlands have further decreased their number to six. It was Quas Al-Tarik he ran to, for Khan Darius, now Overlord as people call him, had no interest in becoming Khahan. Overlord Darius was a dark-skinned man, few would say fat. He had no combat experience, or at least not enough to be seen as true Tuigan. But in way of coins, there was no Khan who could match him. He claimed Quas Al-Tarik long ago, what was not so common for Tuigan to do. Hah, let The Fat Khan have his city. True Tuigan has no need for it, most would say. But Darius was smarter than rest. He used great location of the city and declared free pass for merchants, which he raided for decades along Bitter Well Caravan Route. Although he was their enemy for a long time, merchants of both east and west knew that peace comes cheaper. So caravans traveled once again, with the same man that once raided them offering protection. Suddenly, every merchant preferred Tuigans protecting their caravans than sellswords, for statistically speaking, Tuigan protected caravans were raided much less than one protected than sellswords, although Ulf did not doubt Overlord Darius had his fingers mixed in that too.

So when Kahn Wars began, once Yamun died, Darius had all to lose and little to win. He knew no true Tuigan would follow fat Khan, who could hardly pick up his sword, and that compelled him to stick to what he does best; money making. Because of him, Quas Al-Tarik was the richest city in all of Hordelands, and economically speaking the most important one. And what made the city even better, no Tuigan was interested in it. A proof further that Darius is poor excuse for Tuigan is that he decided not to call himself Khan, which is the biggest honor a Tuigan could have apart from Khahan, but took a title Overlord, to appeal to western and eastern civilizations more. I shall prove my loyalty, usefulness and courage to you, princess. I shall stand against Hubadai and his horde alone if it takes. I shall bring you the head of the Darius and mount your standard on Quas Al-Tarik in your name if he decides not to join us. So making Ulf wait for three days before he would be allowed before him was no wander to him. I am lucky. It could have been entire year, for what I heard. It must be Fat Khan is worried about situation north of him. He fears Hubadai. Ulf had his six Gray Wolves with him, whose loyalty he did not doubt. These men will lay their lives for me in the heartbeat, he knew. They entered Overlord Chamber where Darius had his court. Khan changed much. He lost many pounds, yet was still fat. He had his semi-long hair made into hundreds of small braids. Entire court was full of servants. Exotic food all around, with some important merchants enjoying themselves around Tuigan pleasure girls. He made slaves of our women, to do as the westermen command. If only I could take his life for this. Overlord, his body slave spoke, this is Ulf Allstar, last of the Gray Wolves. He comes before you bearing gifts. One of the Gray Wolves brought the bag to Overlords slaves. They opened it and saw beautiful bracelet made of ivory. You call this gift, wolf? I have at least two dozen more beautiful and more expensive bracelets. It is hard to bring a gift for a man who owns everything, sire. That amused him. Good, Ulf thought. There is plenty where that came from. So tell me, wolf, what brings you to my city? It is not Hubadai, I believe. No, only part of you he wants is your head. He would not take you in. You are far too small and insignificant to pardon you for trying to take what is his. Alliance? No, not even you would fall so low to turn to West.

As you have, my Fat Khan, Ulf thought but dared not to say it aloud. I need to win him with peace. So that leaves me puzzled. Who do you come for? Yourself? I hope not, for I would be quick to part your head from rest of your body just to prove to both Alliance and Tuigans that I shall not work against them. So enlighten me, wolf. Why do you come before me? Ulf paused for a moment. This will not end good, he thought. This fat fool is dangerous. I come not for myself, he started, but for a true ruler of all Tuigans. I come for Dragon Princess Nymeria, who returned to us to claim her rightful place. And you are first to be invited to join her cause, oh mighty Overlord. Nymeria? Now you surprise me, Alstar. I did not see that coming. Though it makes little difference from where I stand. If you were here fifteen years ago, then every Tuigan would follow you, and so would I. But today, she means little and less. Tuigans follow Hubadai, and until he has breath in his lungs, they shall. Some long-lost princess makes no difference. Not to him nor to his Yunnicar. Only trouble. Guards! Seize him! And bring me his head. Or rather, bring me his head in pile with his wolf guards. Wait! shouted Ulf, his voice weak as If he is to beg, You are making a mistake! She is not powerless, and I can prove it! Give me few days and I shall bring the proof. Intresting. Let me tell you how it will be. One of your wolfs will bring the proof and rest of you shall root in my dungeon. If I like it, you will live. If not, my gates shall be more decorated for seven heads. Ulf looked around. Six men he had here, all he could trust with his life. He turned to Logar. He was once his master-at-arms. All Ulf knew, Logar taught him. Although old, he would serve well. Logar Thunderwind, Ulf whispered to him, send a raven to Darkan. With what words, my liege? Ulf answered smiling: Tell him to send the dragon.

14th of Tarsakh in The Year of Lightning Storms Advance from right flank, Blackshade whispered to Derek. One spear and one sword on each side. My mind exactly, barbarian agreed. They sneaked carefully towards the campfire, to surprise the men that sit next to it. Only two, he thought. This should be easy. Or at least easier than their last battle, when they encountered six barbarians. He was never as afraid as he was that day, when he saw a spear impaling in Jezzaras flesh four days ago. Just a second after Jezzara got wounded, he rolled towards her opponent, leaving his own behind, and thrusted his blade in his heart. Soon, all six barbarians were dead and Derek helped with Jezzaras wound. It was ugly, her entire cheek wide open from the cut spear made, and hear ear bleeding like nuts. Yet Derek stopped the bleeding and assured that it is only flesh wound, despite nasty appearance. When she came to herself, she casted a spell to help her heal, and at the moment chanting stopped, green energy passed all around her and her cheek started to grow back together. Her wound was no more than a small cut on her face. That night, she chanted some more and entered deep slumber that would heal her quicker. Thank god she is a priest, he thought as he stayed up all night to watch her sleep. Such a close one and all for missed parry. He decided that it shall never happen again, for if a common barbarian, who Blackshade could kill with his eyes closed, can get through her guard, then some skilled chieftain or knight shall surly kill her. So next morning he told her to take her sword and practice parrying. Posture is important, my love. Do not move your front leg back before you parry. It will shorten your reach. Use your blade to deflect attack, and move your body from the line of the attack. She was not bad. Yet he could find dozen holes in her guard. If I were to face her, she would fall in first second, he thought and feared the next battle they will encounter. And there it was, a potential one, though this time odds are in their favor. Only two, he reminded himself. And Derek will be next to her with his spear. That reassured him. Derek fought valiantly with his spear, his thrust strong and precise and his moves hiding the true target he will strike. I could still take him though, but he might shed some of my blood before I do so.

They were close now, only few yards. Blackshade gave the command and the four of them jumped to surprise the campers. Do not move! Jeremy yelled. Then he saw who he was talking to. It were Rizzen Illistyn, drow ranger who was exiled from underdark and fought with Jeremy against Lord Valerian, and Saevel Moonshade, half-elf Harper who commanded men in Council Hills before Lord Gerrard LuVein and his son Ser Samuel arrived. Lady Nymeria? Saevel said astonished. Last I saw you, you looked almost a decade younger and this man has took you away. Only because I commanded him, half-elf. She replied. What are you doing in these lands? This is thousand miles away from your home. It is, my lady. Yet, you know the life of a Harper. There is no home but the road. But surly I could tell you the story by fire, without weapons. I would have it rather now, she said, still ready with her spear same as her companions. Blackshade stood ready to smite dark elf if he even twitched to draw his swords. Well, I am sure that you know that there is war. And when has there been a war that concerns the fate of Faerun amiss of Harpers? My friend here took the vows and joined us, so we were sent to stop this war before it takes its tool. And while here, we are bound to Pleasant Valley Gateway Oasis to see Rizzens sister, as she resides there with her drow. What of you, my lady? What brings you here? I seek my homeland, and travel to the same oasis to find what it is. Perhaps we should travel together? Eight of us will fare better than four. Eight? Nymeria asked? Saevel laughed and then whistled. Suddenly, from darkness came two beasts, a she-wolf that Blackshade saw many times near Saevel, and cheetah that followed Rizzen. How could I been so stupid? Jeremy thought. The beasts could have taken us down without knowing it. She could have died because of my stupidity. Yet they all shared the fire and japed for an hour, and then went to rest.

16th of Tarsakh in The Year of Lightning Storms It has been two more days of travel before they emerged on The Golden Way. Yet as much as they were looking forward to it, it was a grim day, for on the road lied wrecked caravan, all burned and looted, with dead bodies all around. Blackshade and Rizzen held lookout, while Saevel examined the bodies. Dead for little less than tenday, he declared. Looks like the ambush. By whom? Nymeria asked. Drow, I am sure of it. Check the black arrows. I know that design. My sister would never. Rizzen started but found no strength to finish. There must be logical explanation, my friend. And we shall find it together. Rizzen smiled towards Harper, but his smile turned sour before he could thank his friend. Riders on the north! I saw them only now, dark elf, Blackshade said, Keen eyes. Can you see how many? Almost dozen! Saevel looked around and told his companions: Blackshade! Take Nymeria and Jezzara and hide! Derek, follow them. Rizzen, you and I shall stay here. Let us see who they are. So the two adventurers stood there, in ruins of burnt caravan, hidden, until Rizzen walked into the open ground. Rizzen! Saevel whispered. Get back in cover! There are dozen of them and two of us! Yet dark elf ignored him, and just stood there. They must have seen him by now. If they are hostile, he is dead elf. Hooded riders dressed in black rode all around, encircling young Rizzen, with their swords ready. Drow, Saevel thought after witnessing one of the blades. Their leader put down his hood. The two of them inspected each other until Rizzen broke silence.

Zaknefein! Is that really you, my friend? Aye. Rizzen. Its been a while. Two years, was it not? Indeed. Too long. Zaknefein jumped from his steed and greeted Rizzen with a arm shake. He was a dark elf with redish eyes and long, white hair. Beneath the hood, one could observe chainmail, yet he moved swifter than a man encumbered by one. Saevel made himself visible and said: Old friend. Harper! You return to us too. That I do. It has been so long. King, is it? Yes, King Zaknafein, though you surly know that such title is no more than a word. Drow follow Queen, not men. Yet you are a person of importance, are you not? I am sure others heed your words. They do, but not for the name I married. They listen and follow for the deeds I have done. I have proven myself against Lord Valerians army and brought back their beloved Queen. And for that, They call me The Queenwarden. It is that Zaknafein they listen and respect, not the one that is king. Yet it makes little diference. What happened here? This caravan. Is a work of drow. I know. Queen is expecting you. She has seen your arrival in the reflection of a moon. She will want to speak with you. So they rode for few hours north, off the road towards oasis. It was no longer waste here; grass has grown wildly here, and palms could be seen all around. Saevel traveled whole Sword Coast yet this sight he never saw. Palm trees and exotic bushes, blue-green grass. It was marvelous. He looked over his shoulder few times, just to make sure the rest of the party was following. Zaknafein is no ranger. He is warrior, bred to protect the Spider Matrons of Underdark. His skill with blade is exceptional at least, yet his awareness in wild is numb at best. Three riders behind us, trying to stay low, yet he has not seen them. Soon they rode to a Oasis city. It was quite extraordinary, as the architecture of the town was similar to dark elven gothic style yet built from stone. Gray-brown were houses, with flat roof

but spiky doors and windows. Entire city was built around oasis, with mountains as walls. The green of the vegetation that grew over the buildings reflected vastly on spring sun. In middle of a town was a palace, beautiful stone building with standards of a yellow dancing drow on black. It was not as cold here as it was more to the north, where Frozen Bay lay, nor as hot as the part of wastes more to the south. The clime was perfect. As they entered the city, half dozen drow warriors clad in mail stood with their double-bladed longswords, special drow weapon, around a woman all clad in yellow silk with golden crown on her head. It was Queen Akordia, priestess of Dancing Godess and liberator of slave drow. As they closed, Zaknafein finally glimpsed on riders behind them. I shall see who it is. Come on, she is dying to see her brother. Rizzen dismounted and ran to her sister to hug her. She gave him a kiss on a cheek and put his arms around him. Too long, my dear brother, have you left me alone. I am here now, am I not, he smiled and kissed her again on the cheek. I know you have lot of questions. I do. Let me answer them first, and then we shall have a feast. Tell me of the raided caravans. What is there to tell. Somebody attacks them, drow it would seem by the look of arrows. Zaknafein has even found some poison on them. Yet we do not know who it is, just that they try to make it look as we did it. I have ruled here with grace and kindness. I have tried so hard to hold the peace, although the humans do not favor us. And I fear this may ruin my diplomacy efforts. You are right about that, Saevel told her, We had to lie not to know you. Only reason we are here alive is because Almorel magister thinks your brother might be able to assassinate you. It is worse than I feared. I do not have many fighting man. There are only 70 warriors I have, scouts mostly. We are not defended. In best case, I could raise a host of another 400 soldiers, to defend us, but they have no military experience. Well trained army would cut through them like through butter.

What of the war that rages here? Tuigans and Alliance. I have declared for none. I sent messengers to both, claiming to provide hospitality and peaceful travel through our lands, yet will not join either side. Alliance gave no response back. Tuigans however, have taken advantage to their maximum. One of their Chiefs, Boga Tak, ran here with his men after they encountered a black dragon. Their numbers were decimated, yet Chief Boga has about hundred and fifty men here. The alliance might see this as treason. You have opened your land for their enemy. And I would do the same for them. I shall have no part in this war. We have left the darkness of Underdark to leave free in peace. Yet peace is often bought with blood, my Queen. You of all people should know this. We have nothing to give but water and shelter. Although we have enough number to endanger caravans and less protected parties that travel this way, we can never be a threat nor to Alliance nor to Horde. You are wrong here, my Queen. Your land, which you settled here without consent of Alliance or Tuigans, is major body of water in hundred miles. No host can travel either direction without resupplying here. And both sides will try to win you over. Their methods though differing. You are of Alliance, Harper. Yet I am not. Take your message to your Lord. Let him now every army that comes here is more than welcome to resupply on water and even seek healing here. But I shall bend my knee to no man. As you wish, my Queen. Although I do not think that is wise, I shall find respect for your decision. Now, about my second inquiry. We are here on harper business. There are some old ruins beneath these grounds. I found entrance to it long time ago. Though it is dead end. Some scrubbings on the cave wall on some old tongue. I shall take you there first thing in the morning. We would appreciate it much. Now if you may excuse me, I shall see our new guests and their needs. Go to the mansion, I shall join you as soon as my duty allows me.

Saevel and Rizzen walked to the mansion. Harper could not help but notice many barbarians lurking around. I do not like this. This chief has enough muscles to slay all drows. Especially since he is already inside the town. As soon as they were inside, couple of handmaids took them to great hall to have some dinner.

17th of Tarth in The Year of Lightnign Storms Wake up, ser, whispered Ben, Captain Blackcloak has a need of his sergeants. Is it dawn already? asked sergeant. No, ser. But Captain decided to strike fast. So you say, answered sergeant Hellspear, pulling his breeches up. It has been long journey to this Oasis for Black Shields Company. Hellspear was certain Captain would rest his men for few days before ordering attack on Drow Queen. Black Shields Company fought for last three years in Unther, a land far, far away from The Hordelands. They were most famous for battle against Unther slave host, where they emerged victorious and secured north coast of Unther for Mulhorand forces to dock. Most Untherans say that it was Black Shields Company that won the war that day, but Hellspear always thought that they only quickened it. Mulhorand was more than powerful enough to crush Unther resistance, only without sellswords it would take much more. It was hard battle, that one. All sergeants dead, and their late Captain Greenhilt died with his sword in hand, leaving behind his right hand Dawson Blackcloak to claim the title of new Captain. After that battle, Captain Blackcloak led his men in usual hunting games, where they tried to pin down rest of the Unther resistance. Most outlaws, as Mulhorand called them, were caught and hanged with ease, but sooner or later there would be some swift commander that gave significant blow to Black Shields. One of them was notorious Blackshade, a man who Hellspear met on one occasion, whose Black Marauders slew more than two Black Shields man for each of their one fallen. Blackshade even managed to escape, leaving Captain Dawsons vengeance unsatisfied. Soon, Black Shields were diminished to less than fifth of their original size, mere 800 men. So Captain Dawson decided to retreat to Unther capital, occupied by Mulhorand, to recruit more men. It was then that Hellspear and John Black joined them. Hellspear was fully dressed quite fast, and headed out of his tent. In front John Black stood, all geared up for departure. John was a tall and once handsome man. Or he would be, if he ever smiled. He had short, unattended white hair and rough white beard, although he was not old. His eyes were cold and angry, always, thought he did not know why. In fact, he knew little of himself. When Hellspear found him, John was near dead, his torso torn from inside out. His head was wounded, too, with blood spilling from his skull. He was missing his left

hand, though it appeared it was from different battle altogether. Hellspear hid him in nearby caves and tended to his wounds for a tenday, before John regained conciseness. Who who are you? John asked him that day. Do you not recognize me? asked him Hellspear. Who am I? Hellspear knew who he was. Samuel LuVein, now Lord after his fathers passing. Paladin of Helm, Protector of Luiren. Yet all that seemed to be long behind him. And he knew that he would not forget him, a tiefling, son of Valerian, Devil Lord who was more than ready to claim all Faerun for himself. And if the stories were true, than the missing hand was a gift from his brother Valerian, who took his name after their father. Samuel would not forget that. Not unless he forgot everything. I am Kwalu, Hellspear thought,a devil that betrayed all. Who decided to run rather than to fight, fallen monk of The Old Order. But he did not share that with Samuel. They call me Hellspear, he decided quick. It is for the weapon I carry, the demonic dai that people mistake for spear. It was not far from truth, though. During brief time that Kwalu spent in his brothers army, Lord Valerian had special dai be forged for him. We shall call it Hellspear, and it shall end life of many mortal in your hands, brother! Valerian told him when he gave him the weapon. It was remarkable weapon. Its blade swift and sharp, slashing through armor quite deeper than regular blade. And light too, for the blade on top of the staff was incredibly balanced for a weapon like that, which allowed Kwalu to parry without problem after giving a blow to opponent. Do you... cough do you know Who you are? Hellspear finished for him, I have no idea. And it matters not, my friend. For now, whatever led you here is behind you. And so Kwalu, or Hellspear as he called himself from that day, managed to persuade Samuel to leave his life behind, to follow him into adventures north of Shaar. Though you shall have a need of some name, my friend. John. It is simple enough, Samuel told him.

And Black, as a surname. It has some fearsome effect when you say it. John Black. And that day, Hellspear and John Black were born, and started their adventure. They left Shaar, traveling north, and arrived in Unther. There they joined Black Shields Company, in name of glory and fortune, and fought for them against Unther for almost two years. They proved themselves fast, for Kwalu was inhuman and deadly, with his monk training he nourished for his entire life giving him great advantage in combat, and John, with his great strategic skills he learned while still being Ser Samuel LuVein in Luiran Acadamy of War. In couple o months, Captain Blackcloak decided to make them sergeants. John even presumed command of the company while Dawson was wounded in one battle, and he stayed in command for almost a month until Captain healed. Year passed fast, and with it Unther resistance was more than crushed. There was little to fight and less to earn so Blackcloak decided to leave Unther at once. Where shall we go, Captain? John asked him. There are tales of war way north-east. The Hordelands. Some young barbarian prince is mustering a horde of raging barbarians. Lord Donnington of Lords Alliance has traveled there with an army, formidable one. Burning Spears Company already signed contract with King of Cormyr to fight for them against this prince. We shall find contract there, far better than these Mulhorand nobles give us here. So they traveled, for half a year east, then north, then farther east. Captain sent his offer in every city they passed, to be sent further to the Alliance, yet Cormyr did not answer. Captain believed that they would not bring more sellswords in their count, not until the war starts. But John thought that thousand sellswords is not enough to make Cormyr think them worthy. Yet Captain decided to travel further east. And it was a good decision, for a man contacted them. It was a Zenth agent, Black Network as they are called. Organization of powerful merchants with their eye fixed on world economic domination. And they had a contract. They were to travel around The Hordlands, to pass Alliance, and attack Pleasant Valley Gateway Oasis, home to some self-proclaimed drow Queen. She made her city in free oasis, and with that had control of only big enough water source to serve as replenishment and resupplying of trading caravan resources. Zenth claim that she started raids on passing caravans, and that she must be stopped and her city annexed to Councilor Hadam, a noble from city of Almorel, which is located in Hordelands. Entire company was thrilled, for some work has finally came along. And after that, if they were successful, Zent agent promised that Hadam will have another contract for them.

And today, they were here, couple of hours away from Pleasant Valley Gateway Oasis. The way they arrived here, from east, traveling around Hubadai Khahan, barbarian prince, allowed them to reach oasis without notice. Drow Queen had no knowledge of them here, so close to her precious town. Hellspear and John walked to the Captains tent along with Ben. Ben was old sellsword, though not old in age as in experience. He was made lieutenant by Hellspear after proving himself capable of leading small group of men. Tactician, though not strategist, Hellspear remembered himself describing the man to Captain, he would make fine lieutenant, though not sergeant. In tent there were five more men. Big Dan, strong as a ox, but smart as hollow tree, thought even Hellspear would not dare to mock the man for his lack of wits. Jory, another lieutenant who held his title even before Hellspear and John joined the Black Shields. And three men Hellspear knew from sight, but not their names. Green boys, not seasoned fighters. But they will serve well. Hellspear, John, Captain started even before they had a chance to greet him, we move in few hours. Captain? John asked, suspiciously. My scouts report there is thick fog around oasis. We shall make use of it. I thought we were to wait for our three bands that you sent to scout and gather information before us. Cayden has fallen, as I have heard. They took contract from some foolish merchants to protect their caravans that were heading this way. Yesterday, some wanderers told me the story of how Chief Hojar killed all sellswords and raided caravan. As for other two, they are before you. This night they came, bringing news of Almorel. City is cut off, and soon to be besieged. That changes a lot, Hellspear said. That changes nothing! We have our contract and we proceed with it. If Hadam is not able to pay, Zentharim shall. They need these lands. So what is the plan, Captain, asked John. We strike drow with breaking dawn. We strike them hard. But, our scouts bring me stories of more than two thousand drow here. Truth be told, there are not many warriors, but Queen

Akordia might call to arms commoners. We are superior, but they might make us bleed. So we shall proceed with cunning. All lieutenants stood in silence. He will send me and John in, Hellspear realized. Yet what puzzled him was the name of this drow Queen. Akordia? he thought,could it be the same one? The one Rizzen tried to find? One enchanted by Arachne of Lolth to stasis? Did they managed to free her of curse? Still, makes no difference. Samuel was long left before it happened, and she never saw him. She would not recognize him. But if Rizzen is there Now that would be unfortunate. His thoughts wandered on the day he escaped captivity of Samuel and his father Gerrard. It was Samuels father who decided to give him his weapon back, during the battle for Council Keep. Gewar shall bring you your dai once the battle is lost. Then you must choose. Lord Valerian or humanity. Stand with us and die with honor, perhaps even giving the final blow to Lord of Devils himself. So when battle was almost lost, right after the keep was stormed, Gewar Cor Marak, The First of Nomads of Shaar, came into his chamber and threw him his Dai. "Did you make your decision? Gewar asked him then, Will you fight with us or against us? Your brother is here, winning. All you have to do is to kill me and you will be free to join your brother. Or stand with me against him, and perhaps it will be you and me that end this war." Kwalu remembered that day very well, for it was the day his destiny was sealed. I have made my decision long ago, he told him, I shall stand with you. But as soon as Gewar turned his back, Kwalu drove his dai into his neck. But he did not join his brother. He sneaked out, and hid beneath the keep. Only after Lord Valerian has left the keep for the ruins of the old city in heart of Council Keep to finish of human resistance, led by Samuel, did Kwalu dare to escape. In the end, humans did prevail, and he knew they would kill him on sight. He killed many nomads, chieftains even. They would not forget. But he had to, to survive. But that was another tiefling, another devil. Kwalu was weak and unsecure. He was torn between survival and duty. He died. He truly did. On the day he saved Samuel, on the day Samuel died too, only to reborn as John Black.

Hellspear, One-Handed-John, Captain continued. One-Handed-John, Hellspear laughed in himself, only Captain is allowed to call John Black like that, at least in his face. No common sellsword dares to jest at sergeants missing hand. Two of you shall take Ben, Big Dan, Jory, Marcus , Dustin and Tomas and sneak into drow city.

With what end? John asked. Find your way into palace. The fog is thick, so eight men should have no problem reaching it. Relive the drow guards of their duty and secure the Queen. When you do, light the torch and stand on terrace. We shall strike then with our force to crush their military. With Queen alive and well, under our strings, we shall control her city with ease until Hamad arrives. Do not fail me, sergeants. We need Queen alive. Drow follow her like godess, and if she dies, we shall have two thousand angry drows charging in our lines. Is she guarded well? Hellspear asked. As our scouts managed to learn, she has four drow champions by her side always. Some guards inside palace too, but they should not pose threat to you. You are both much experienced warriors to be stopped by mere drow. And champions? John wandered. Well, they are armored in elven plate. Fast and deadly. If there wasnt for them, two of you would be sent alone. Just be careful, for if you blow your surprise, youll be dead before we arrive to save you. Then we must not fail, Hellspear decided.

17th of Tarth in The Year of Lightning Storms City was still silent, apart for few commoners that made their way to the work. It was too early for a city to wake, for streets to be filled with common folk that lived their lives, yet even if the hour was right, not many Raumivirans stayed in Almorel. Once the city was cut off from three sides, it was plain obvious that it is only matter of time before Hubadai takes siege against the city. So common folk left, in great numbers, though more than one would think decided to stay behind. It is no small wander so many stayed, Baeric thought, All they posses stand in this city, and if they left, they would probably die. Its fight or starve. Yet Baelor stayed, even when Lady Amalia gave public speech about dangers of staying. Tuigans come, my friends, she said days ago, and they will lay siege on this city. Weather they will try to starve us or swarm us with mere numbers, I do not know. What I do know is that every man who stays has a good chance of laying their life forfeit against more powerful enemy. So I say, go. Leave Almorel. Let Alliance prove as true friend and let us fight in your name. Let us die for you, if it comes for that. Let us starve for you. Let us protect you and save you. Though Alliance was indeed noble in few cases, or at least more than that Tuigan loot, Baelor knew there is more to it. This would say Alliance expects siege. And in that case, fewer the mouths to feed, the better. I wander if they would be all so noble if they fought Hubadai would go all-out on them. Then they would want every blade there is to wound The Horde more. Yet Hubadai was no fool, at least as rumors say. He knows charging a city as fortified as Almorel takes its tool, and he will not pay it. He needs his warriors for Lord Donnington. He would not sacrifice them for Almorel. Yet if it came to that, if he saw no other way, he would certainly do it. If Almorel falls, more Tuigans would come to his cause for sure. Thousands more. But Almorel held little and less for Baeric. He was not here because he loved the city, he was here because his mark is here, and he stayed for so long because his mark did. He spent hours on this roof, stealthed behind a chimney. It was cold, yet what made him even more anxious was the mist. As morning came, mist followed from the lake, engoulfing the city. And nowhere was it more true than here, in Rugged Quarter, where beggars and thievs worked the streets. It was bad idea to walk through the mist here, for chance was that some cutthroat would kill you for few copper pieces. Yet the man he seaked was here, at courtesan house called Tankard Skirt. And it was past time he came out.

Baeric almost decided to give up waiting for the man, when finally he came out the building. Even in such fog, there was no mistake, for his councilor toga glamoured even in this weather. Four sellswords at his side. Two more than usually. Yet it was too late to back off now. He had to move on with the plan. He prepared his crossbow and soaked the arrow in poison. There we go. Just few more steps. He aimed and waited as the five man walked down the street. And then, the sound of bolt thumped and sellsword was down. One down, three to go. Watch out, councilor! yelled one of his guards, Take shelter in this building! The doors are open! Higgs, cover us! As two sellswords took councilor to the safety of the building to their right, one took a crossbow and aimed at assassin. He was too quick to respond, for Baelor barely had time to reload his crossbow before sellsword loosen the bolt. Yet it struck chimney, and not a man hiding behind it. You had your chance, lad. Baeric left cover and aimed. He could see young sellsword reloading in cover of the doors with haste. Damn it, no clear shot. Cmon, lad, hurry up! Im off my schedule. So he waited for few seconds before sellsword ducked from cover to find his target. Got you know, he thought as he loosen a bolt. It hit the man right in his face. He could see him twitching on the ground. No time to loose. Baelor charged to the end of the roof and jumped across to roof of the other building. From there he ran towards the small improvised bridge that he made to connect this building with the one his targets entered for cover. As he was running, he heard a painfull cry from the building. I knew youd fall for that one. Cry turned into scream and air filled with burning scent. Scent of the burning human flesh. Few moments later, a man engoulfed in flames jumped out of the window, scattering on road bellow. Thats three. One left. Baeric ran to the rope he left on that roof, securing his reloaded crossbow on his back. Then, he swinged down the rope and broke through the window into the building, tumbling forward and fast drawing his knife. Councilor and his guard were here, just as he planed, yet they did not expect him here. It gave him enough time to throw the knife at sellsword and knife impaled right in his left arm, forcing the sellsword to drop the crossbow. Yet sellsword recovered from pain quick, more quickly than Baeric enticipated, and drew his longsword. Baeric did the same, unsheating his greatsword. Strange weapon for an assassin, cunt, said the sellsword, yet let us see if your trickery will get you out of this! Sellsword attacked, and Baeric moved his sword to parry a slash. With his sword in position, he made a circular move and disarmed the sellsword with ease.

Fuck, sellsword said and second later greatsword smashed into his head, killing him instantly. Councilor just stood there, paralyzed in fear. Baeric sheated his sword and took out his crossbow again, watching his mark as he observed the sellswords crossbow at his feet. Councilor Hamad was poor excuse for a man. He was politician, not warrior. Although he carried his sword around with him, Baelor did not think he ever used it. He always had others do his dirty job. He had a bit taner skin than regular human, yet when you live so far east, it is to be expected. He had dark brown hair and matching eyes. There was nothing noble in his looks, except for expensive toga that made him distinct as councilor of Almorel. Yet his personality was not noble at all. In fact, he was a living proof toga doesnt make a man. He was callous and selfish, and his thirst for young courtesans was a flaw that would cost him dear in the end. It was that flaw that made it possible for Baeric to lay such a good trap for him and his guards. I would not go for that, councilor Hamad, he told him as he aimed in his heart, you would be dead before you even touched it. Who are you? What do you want? Do you even know who I am? Oh I know who you are, councilor Hamad. You are Zenth. Zenth? Me? I think you have mistaken me with some. I do not do mistakes, councilor. It is you who made a mistake. What are you talking about? I am talking about your little personal army you purchased. The Black Shields. What I do, I do for the good of the realm. You must see these dark elves for what they are! It is not Drow that moved my hand. It was moved by more divine source. What? Who? Now, now. We shall have a little conversation now. There is more than meets the eye, councilor. You did not ask for those Drow to be annihilated just to control the oasis. Nor for the good of the war. No, there is something else in stake. Something much bigger. No, I swear. It is for control of the oasis. One who holds it has the control of the trade along

There is no logic in exterminating the drow now, councilor. There is no profit in it, ony expenses. You know well that as long as war goes on, there will be no trade. And if Tuigans win, not even peace will restore it. On the other hand if Alliance win the battle for western border, Hubadai will retreat east, and oasis will fall to his forces, only to be retaken by alliance. So whatever happens, Black Network would never manage to hold the ruins for long. Which leaves me to guess that you have some short-term goal there. So tell me what is it, and Ill let you keep your life. No I cant Theyll kill me if they find out.. Ill kill you now if you dont tell me. Better live today with hope of life than abandon all hope on this day. I I There are ruins there. Old ruins. Dragon ruins. And there might be a way to rise some long lost dragons. For Zenth. To fight Alliance one more time. And how do you wake them? The girl She is the key. Nymeria Hubadai is looking for her and so are we And where can I find her? I do not know, but she seeks to awake them too. She will come there sooner or later. And we we will get here there. We must. Baeric could here the voices and clanking of steel. Guards, probably Alliance, he thought, I better be quick. They will be here any minute. And he could not risk being seen by Alliance. One wrong man, just one who saw his wanted picture, and entire city would be on to him. And there was more to do in this city. Ser Gregory, inside here, he could hear,they went inside! It wasnt good. If Ser Gregory was here, that would mean that he discerned his location. Ser Gregory has hunted Baelor throughout his entire journey east. He almost caught him in Drubiev, where Baelor executed three Zenth agents that gave him Hamads identity. And Gregory was no man to be trifled with. Ser Gregory Harth was a zeleous man, holy paladin and enforcer of law. He was bald and his face was proof that he was a veteran, part due to the wrinkles of his age and part of the scars that it bore. He fought valiantly with his greatsword, beautifly ornated as curved-like

blade that always remainded Baeric of snakes movement. Yet they say the blade is as deadly as the hand that wields it, and his hand was deadly alright, as he had chance to witness himself. In Drubiev, the two clashed their swords. And it was mere luck that Baeric still lives. He was no ordinary knight, although each knight in direct combat was dangerous. He was true holy warrior. Baeric fought few knights in his time, and beat them all, but Gregory proved to be tough nut to crack. Usually, Baeric would use his wits to talk his opponent into lowering their guard. He always knew where to hit them, where they were vulnerable. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me, people usually say. Yet with Baeric, it is words that hurt his opponents most, and sword that finishies them. But not with Ser Gregory. No matter what Baeric told him, no matter how he tried to confuse the knight, he was of single mind; to strike down assassin. In the end, it was a jump off the wall into the river that saved his skin that day. He hoped Ser Gregory presumed him dead, but it would appear that this knight leaves nothing to chance. He knew he had to hurry. Tell me one last thing, councilor. Have you met with Captain of Black Shields? Me? No. My agents did it for me. Why? So no person from the Black Shields knows how you look? Well, no. But what difference thas it make? Oh it makes all difference to me, said Baelor losing a quarrel into Hamads heart. You said.., Hamad managed to squeeze from his lips with last of his strength as he fell on the knees. I lied, Baeric told him, reloading his crossbow and picking up the knife from dead sellswords hand. Hamad fell down on his belly, dead. Baeric moved to the widow from where he came and took the rope in his hand. Assassin! yelled Ser Gregory Harth just as he entered the building. He had three guards with him, ready with crossbows. Dj vu, Greg, Baeric smiled jumping through the window. Guards fired at him, but he was out of their line of fire before quarrels even flied towards him. He repeled to the ground, running into nearest ally. From there he ran from one alley into next until he reached old monastery. He entered, moving quickly to the confession closet. He could here guards enter, asking if anyone entered.

No man entered this monastery tonight, ser, old blind monk told him. There is no one here but me and my brothers.Guards left, and monk entered the closet where Baelor hid. Forgive me, brother, for I have sinned, Baeric told him. The Lord of Whispers will hear your sins, my brother, blind monk replied. I have killed a man. Five of them actually. And has The Lord whispered their death to your ears? He had, brother. Then no sin is done, only will of The Whisperer. Information is power, my brother. And it is information that is whispered in the final moments of dying sould. Tell me, Baeric, what whispers did the man have for you. Baeric told the monk of Zenth plans, Nymeria and dragons. Afterwards, blind man sat there in silence until he finally decided to speak. We had some more whispers from east. Dragon killing Tuigans, reports of Hubadais uncle returning, some Tuigans gathering at Fortress of The Old Man. We heard whispers of Nymeria. And Lord of Whispers tells us that she will play important role in events to come. And we need someone we can trust around her, to do as the Lord of Whispers tells us when the time is ripe. It must be you, my friend. You must find that girl, protect her. Hubadai wants her and Zenth wants her, yet none may have her until our Lord whispers us his will. I shall find her and get her trust, brother. I shall be her shadow and guard her. And when you tell me what has to be done, I shall do it. Yes, it has to be you. You are best this church has. I still remember when they left you at our gates, small wrinkly baby. Yet soon you proved to be best of our trained children. We taught you everything you know, how to use sword, how to open lock. Art of poisons. Trapmaking. We made you into what you are. And as operative of Church of Whispers, you are second to none. You are our future, Baeric. Our champion. You always have been. And in these dark times, we turn to you to do the will of Lord of Whispers, Father of Mystery and Bringer of Deception. Find Nymeria. Protect her. And if Lord wills it, kill her or save her.

Then I best be on my way. I should make haste before word of death of councilor Hamad reaches Captain of the Black Shields. He might wonder then who is it that is standing next to him. I see. We shall detain the information as long as we can. We shall give you time to impose as him. But you should be careful. We wont be able to buy you much time. Raumivirans we control. Alliance we do not. I know. Yet I am afraid there is still one problem left. I have to find a way out of the city. Ah, yes. The Tuigans are here, encircling us. It will be no easy task. I shall find the way. You do that. May the Lord whisper to you, Baeric Daggerfold. And may you find power in his whisper to do as he wills. Baelor went down to the catacombs to grab some sleep. He would need it to evade those Tuigans. Riding into the wild was one thing. But riding into the wild where Tuigans hunt for their enemy, well that is venture you need all your strength for.

17th of Tarth in The Year of Lightnign Storms The fog was thick, all around the mansion. One could barely see the tip of the spear they were holding, let alone a man sneaking beside him. Jezzara was dressing up, taking her cloth for dungeon crawling. Nymeria was already prepared and so was Jeremy. Derek gave last few words of wisdom to his princess. Remember all you have learned. Who knows what will you find down there. And when you find your army and they are ready, you know what to do. I know, Nymeria answered, though with sour smile. She did not like the idea of betraying Queen Akordia, not after she gave them her hospitality. I will do what I must, but no drow is to fall. I am certain that Akordia can be controlled peacefully. I shall leave my army here, to keep her people under our control. She will not like it, Jezzara told her, less if any of her drow falls. And not to mention if her King dies. If her king dies, I might as well kill all drow. There will be no peace if we kill her husband. Jeremy was walking around the room, anxious. Poor man, he has been afraid for Jezzara even since she almost died to the spear thrust. If it was his call, she would stay behind. We are ready, Princess. I have summoned the fog to help us move unnoticed. It will last for an hour or so. We better hurry. Then, my dearest, let us move fast and awake my army. Let the Dawn of Draconia begin. I shall see what is of this Chief Baga, Derek told her. He was sent after you. It would be wise to keep an eye on him. You do that Derek. Thank you for everything. Your counsel was more than helpful during this journey. I am here to serve, my lady. Then I have a task for you. Bold one. What is it?

I need you to be next to Queen when we emerge. To seize her if needed. It might prevent some bloodshed. I am your man, princess. Yet the task will not be so easy. She has four Wardens at her side. They are armored in mithril. As tough as plate, yet twice as light. You must be ready in case I fail. I shall. Dont you die on me, Derek. If you find it impossible, I shall not judge you if you forfeit the task. I shall do my best. That is all I ask. Three of them left the mansion through window. It is for the best, Jeremy claimed. Once outside, we have fog to protect our steps. Mansion, however has its eyes and ears. There was no problem on their way to cave. All guards barely saw in front of them, so sneaking next to them was a childs task. Even the two guards in front of cave never saw them coming. They moved through the cave, step by step, until they were far inside. Soon they reached glyphed wall where two adventurers stood, Rizzen and Saevel. Who goes there? Rizzen yelled. Damn, this drow is perceptive, Princess thought. Yet she told them that it is here that her ancestors came for. I believe that here I might find answer to where I belong to. How did you come here? Pass the guards? Queen told us nothing of this. We just persuaded her to let us into these caverns. It is family matter after all. Queen has a. soft spot for those. Then go with us, young lady, Saevel told her, We would be happy to be of assistance. So they did, and as she closed to the cave wall, gyphs turned red, glowing and wall opened. They went through and followed cave down for about half an hour. Suddenly, there were upon the brige over some rift to oblivion. The bottom of the pit was nowhere to be seen, and the bridge was as old as the mountains themselves. Ill go first, Rizzen declared. He stepped on the bridge and walked slowly, step by step. She could hear the sound of cracking under his feet, as well as the tight sound of overstretched rope. Then, the bridge collapsed.

17th of Tarth in The Year of Lightnign Storms

Sweat poured down his face, black from flames. This was close, he thought as he dodged the last flame. At least I was not like that fool Saevel, jumping right in flames. It was second time today his life was in peril. Minutes ago, the bridge collapsed under him, and he barely caught the firm rope that managed to stay firmly bound to higher ground. Little by little he climbed up, while his companions crossed over slowly. Only Nymeria had a easy crossing. Rizzen stood mesmerized as she grew dragon wings from her back and flew over. And not long after, they walked into another deadly room. This time there was no mistake; the floors, walls and ceilings were no more mere natural cave. They were carefully carved and built, with stanch of oldness about them. Yet in front of them laid a room hot as the Nine Hells. From the walls the fire blasts roared to the other side of the room. Who shall go first? Rizzen japed. He looked towards Saevel. He is always first to jump in, drow thought, full of confidence this one. I shall go, Saevel said as he observed the patterns of the flame bursts to anticipate their next burst. Once he was certain that he knows what he is doing, he jumped into the room. But it looked as though he miscalculated his steps, for the very first burst of flames caught him unaware. As he jumped to evade it, the flame burned his foot. Then the second burst came and a third. Saevel ducked then jumped, evading each flame only by an inch. Yet in the end he crossed over. Are you allright, Saevel! Rizzen yelled throughout the room. Im fine. My boots guard me well. So whos next? Drow looked the flames, careful not to underestimate the complexity of the trap ahead. I shall go, he said. He knew this was his chance to prove himself better than his companion. He always enjoyed this moments, for he liked competitiveness between them.

He decided just to jump in, and as he did, flame has burst again. Yet the speed of flame was no match for drow, for he evaded each blow with ease. Jumping back and forth, ducking and dodging, he crossed over, without any sign of ever going through something deadly apart for black sweat on his face. So who goes next? Blackshade? Rizzen asked. Sellsword followed Rizzens steps and jumped into the room. Flame did hit him few times, but in his chests, where scale armor was more than enough of protection. All along, Jezzara was observing the flames. After Blackshade crossed, she just smiled and waited for few seconds. Then she slowly walked through the room, with flames bursting all around her but not at her. This one is quite intelligent to find the pattern in this burst, drow thought, They seemed random to me. And finally, Nymeria was due to pass. She walked through room too, as Jezzara did, but the bursts hit her more than not. Bloody hell, drow thought as the flames failed to even make an expression on her face as they bursted into her, fire can not hurt her! So after two deadly rooms, here stood the third. But this time there was no flame. It were spears that thrusted throughout the room. I shall go first this time, Rizzen said before Saevel took on. Fine, Harper answered. So as Rizzen entered the room, first spear was at him. He tried to dodge it, and almost succeded, if only he moved his hand away fast enough with the rest of the body. But the tip of the spear has made a nasty cut on his left hand. And then, before he had even had chance to glance at his wound, another spear was at him, this time cutting his right leg. It hurt a lot, but he tumbled fast and was at other side. Moments after, Saevel was on the other side as well. Rizzen did not even see him cross, for he was checking his wounds. Are you allright, now? Harper asked. I am, only flesh wound. Let me see, Saevel said and took his first aid package from his backpack. He cleaned his wound and put fresh cloth around it. It hurt drow a lot, but the pain was soon gone. And in the meantime, rest of his party crossed over. Blackshade was slashed few times too, but his armor was more than rigid enough to keep him out of harms way. As for Jezzara, she was hit in the skull by one spear, but fortunately it was not a clean hit, for her brains would be on the floor of the room and not in hear head. It merely knocked her out, and Jeremy jumped in to get her out. It was incredible how he managed to dodge spears much better when it was Jezzaras

life at stake. And Nymeria got hit few times too, but her hard skin saved her from real wounds. So they stood in next room, bigger than last, with glyph on the floor and on huge doors. As they walked in, the glyph started to shine. It drains us! Rizzen yelled. It does. We have couple of minutes, Jezzara continued, or the magic shall see us unconscious! And they tried to get the sense of glyphs on the doors, as quickly as possible, yet Rizzen coud not find any. Damn magic! he thought, damn wizards and their wards! But after a minute, just as the drow started feeling weaker and weaker, Jezzara managed to find correct combination and opened the doors. Hurry in, she yelled. This time, the room was well lit from magical torches. And the only glyph was on huge doors in front of them. It started glowing, more and more, as Nymeria got near. Before she touched it, the doors glowed as bright as the stars. But after she touched it the glow disappeared. Instead, from nearby walls, two large guardians emerged from stone. They were the size of the oger, with dragon-like features. They had a head of the dragon, tail of the dragon, even the legs and claws. But their posture was humanoid. They were armed with large broadsword and iron shields, with plate vanbraces and bracers to protect their arms and legs. Dragonkins, Saevel roared. The Saevel, Rizzen and Nymeria turned to one dragonkin, while Blackshade stepped in front of other to protect Jezzara. He slashed at the beast, only to find his shield where the blow landed. Suddenly, Nymeria tumbled away from her opponent and landed right behind other dragonkin, and drove her spear int his back, right into beasts heart. Dragonkin roared in pain, and Blackshade exploited the opportunity to open his chests with his katana. Meanwhile, both Saevel and Rizzen were slashing at their dragonkin. Saevel gave two good blows into his legs, but one blade met the plate armor of the leg while other failed to cut hard enough to slash through the scales of the monster. Dragonkin hacked at Rizzen, and drow parried it, only to find his arm shaken from the blow. I was lucky my blade did not brake! he thought. Slice after slice came, but the beast was not even wounded. It is of no use! We can not penetrate his scales!But then, dragonkins shadow came alive and attacked his, slashing through his body. No wound was left behind, but the pain on beasts face was unmistakable. Suddenly, Blackshade was on him giving blows. Rizzen and Saevel flurried their attacks against the creature, making him barely parrying and blocking the blows. And then,

Nymeria jumped towards him and once again drove her spear through its heart. The beast fell on knees, only to find Blaskshades katana slashing at its neck. We did it, Rizzen said. Barely, Saevel answered. Rizzen did not like this. Blackshade proved to be formidable ally, yet it only made him dangerous as enemy. He did not trust him, for in the past the sellsword proved to be treacherous. The doors opened, and in front of them was huge hall, as big as some village. Maybe bigger. The torches started to burn suddenly. Magic again, drow thought. They slowly paced through the hall, step by step, wary of their surroundings. When they crossed some thirty feet, the ground started shaking. Then some more. Suddenly, floor opened all across the hall, and dragonkin arms started to emerge from the rifts. Hundreds. Then thousands. There are about two thousand of them! Rizzen yelled, People, what do we do? Yet Nymeria and Jezzara were still, without expression of fear on them. Dragonkins rose and circled around them. They just stood there, until biggest of them all walked in front of them. This one was red, as others, big and strong. He was clad in plate from heel to head. And his voice was deep and disturbing. I am Darigazz, The Commander of Drakes. Let the blood of the Draconia step forward. Nymeria took a sure step forward and said, I am Nymeria. I come before you as was foretold. Princess Nymeria of The Draconian empire, The dragonkin said as he kneeled before her, lowering his head, Your army is ready for your command. So am I. Princess? Saevel asked. This slave speaks, princess, dragonkin obsevered. He does, does he? she said. She took a pause and then gave the command, Seize the elves!

17th of Tarth in The Year of Lightnign Storms Now this I did not see coming, said the half-elf to his friend. I told you I didnt trust her, drow responded. Well, at least we still live, Saevel smiled while trying to make himself more comfortable in bondages. But it didnt do for him, as the rope was firmly tied by Blackshade himself. Apart from aching of the rope, they did no harm to us, he thought. It has been an hour at least, or it seemed that way. Yet it was hard to track time in caverns deep below ground while waiting for your destiny to reveal itself. And that is exactly what they waited for, ever since Nymeria ordered dragonkins to capture them. Afterwards the three of them, Blackshade, Jezzara and Nymeria, left for the surface, leaving two Harpers waiting. While waiting, Saevel took time to observe a rising host of dragonkins. There were two thousand of them, perhaps more. Some big, at least few hundred of them, and as strong as the guards they fought at entrance of this crypt. Would not like to stand against them on battlefield. At least not without some formidable host. Yet more and more have awaken from the ground. Largest of them all, the one that calls himself Darigazz, has been inspecting his legion around the hall. And most definitely, would not like to stand against that one. Saevel was no fool. Sometimes, his confidence in himself was high, even too high, but large dragonkin commander all armored in plate with broadsword large enough to shatter his arms is no opponent to rush at. He could barely scratch his guards, who proved to be adept in combat. He could only imagine the strength of their commander. We must do something, Rizzen said. We will. But now we wait. I do not wish to wait any longer. Blackshade will pay this time. Blackshade? This is second time he proved himself treacherous. The man will die from my blades. He did no harm to us, my friend. As you can see, we are well treated still. And do not forget what we owe to this man. If there wasnt for him, you would all perish against Lord Valerian. Perhaps, but.

There is no but here. We shall wait to see what is behind this all. And if there is trouble, I shall help you kill Blackshade. But until that time, we wait. Well, it is not like we have anything else to do. Yet not long after, the three companions returned, escorted by two drow warriors. This is intresting, Saevel thought as he watched two drow with their weapons in their hilts. He knew it would be now or never to get some answers. Dear Lady, he yelled across the hall, might I have your presence? You might, Saevel. We come to talk with you. And your friend. What is the meaning of this, my Lady? Have we done something to offend you? I am sorry for the inconvenience, but it was a necessity to prevent the news of my new host reaching outer world before I had a chance to talk to Queen. Yet I fear the unpredictable hand of fortune has made a cruel jape on me. What do you mean? While we were down here, a sellsword company, calling themselves Black Shields, led by Captain Blackcloak , has taken the village under their command and took Queen as hostage. What?! Rizzen yelled rising on his knees. Two dragonkins closed by to return him to ground if he decided to do something reckless. Do not worry, drow, for your sister is safe, said Jezzara. At least as long there is no opposition to the sellswords from drow. Are all drow captured? asked Rizzen, Zaknefein? Is he still alive? He is alive yet wounded. He took a arrow to a arm while escaping. It seems that Queen had her warriors prepared for this situation. They were ordered to escape the village and hide. Most of them made it, along with Tuigan chieftain Boga Tak and his barbarians. They took refuge in these very caves, to hide against sellswords. Fortunately for them, Black Company is still securing the village and making fortifications and has not sent a chase after them. Yet it is matter of time, Saevel concluded. Yes it is, dragon princess said, Yet we shall make our move before they have a chance to fortify their position.

We would help, Saevel said raising to his feet, set us free and we shall help you in your plot. I need your assistance, Harper, to be truthful. And you shall have it. Although there is a important matter to discuss. And what is that? Your intentions with drow Queen. My intentions are not hostile, I assure you. I have all the reasons to see Akordia live as much as you do. Then why capture us? It was Rizzen we needed. He is her brother, after all. A leverage to be used well in negotiations with the Queen. I see. And to what end? On whose side do you fight, my Lady? Your army is most formidable but Tuigans outnumber you ten to one. And alliance could crush you. Do I need a side, Harper? I fight for my own. So you are no ally to Tuigan. That is good. But are you enemy of alliance? I have nothing against you, Harper. I am my own. Then we shall help you, my Lady. No we wont! Rizzen yelled, They captured us! Yet here we are, Saevel continued, on the same side. Bound to work together if we are to save your sister, Rizzen. There is no other way. I will not work along with those who stabbed me in my back! I Then your sister is dead, Saevel told him. Rizzen had nothing to say to that, just lowered his head down. Saevel could see his anger. This is not good, he thought, Rizzen is chaotic. There is no knowing how he might react in future. Best to keep eye on that one. If I am to prevent bloodshed. So what is your plan, princess? Saevel asked.

Jezzara shall bring the fog again Fog?! Rizzen raged, The same fog that allowed those sellswords to take her in the first place? It is, Jezzara answered him, though we did not think anyone would get hurt by it. There is a good side to that, Rizzen, Saevel added, If it was not for fog, many drow would die in battle. And many sellswords as well, Rizzen said. Do you want dead sellswords or alive drow, Nymeria intervened, For you can not have both. Rizzen silenced for a moment. Saevel knew Nymeria was right, and he knew Rizzen saw that too. Yet drow was fierce and wild, and it was hard to reason with him, yet Harper knew that in crisis, he could count on him. So how do we do it? Rizzen finally said. Nymeria cut them lose and gave them their weapons. It was a sign of trust, or it looked like that from Saevels perspective. So Jezzara will bring the fog, Nymeria continued on her plan, and we shall use it to sneak into the mansion. There is another way, Saevel interrupted, During our travel here, we met a sellsword called Cayden Brown. He is a lieutenant in Black Shields and he made contract with some merchants to escort them east. We joined the company in their travel, for we thought hundred men would give enough protection through desert. Yet we were wrong. Tuigan warband raided us, and as the Black Company was losing the battle, Cayden ordered retreat. They left caravans with innocent people still in it to the barbarians. Then, to ensure his survival, he ordered foot soldiers that survived to travel east while he headed north with mounted warriors. And Tuigans were all horsemen, so it is certain that those soldiers that lacked their mounts are dead as well. Yet, I do believe word of Cayden Brown did not reach his Captain. There is where we come in. Rizzen and I could ask to speak with Captain, to bring him the information about his lieutenant. That will put us directly in room with their Captain when you come in. Meanwhile, use the fog to sneak into the mansion and charge into the room. We shall use distraction to quickly dispose of Captains guards. Then we can use him as the hostage to make Black Shields leave city. Once they are out, defending the city would prove easy enough, since you have a dragonkin army, and only few drow would lose their lives.

Silence echoed throughout the room once again, yet Saevel could see that the plan was solid. He knew that this was their best chance. Alright, Nymeria finally said, I like your plan. Let us do it that way. So three of us shall sneak in Princess! Blackshade objected, Three of us? But you would be safer here than. I shall fight my own battles and not hide behind my men. In order to prove my goodwill to the drow, it will be me who shall risk my life to save their Queen. Saevel was impressed. Few leaders were righteous as that. It reminded him of Shaar and paladins of Luiren, Samuel and his father Gerrard. They were true heroes and they gave everything for the sake of humanity. Both of them would look the death in the eye and offered themselves in place of their men. He wandered where Samuel was. It has been two years, my friend. I hope that you are still alive. Then it is settled, Saevel said, We should hurry before the sellswords organize.

17th of Tarth in The Year of Lightnign Storms It has been a hard morning, stained with death and blood. Yet the terror was almost done. At least for her, for she was free. She has seen it days ago, in her moonlight. She has seen a dark shield covering over her city, and her drow dead. She has seen a dragon rising from her mountains, black as demons blood. Yet she did not understand it. How was I to know there was Black Shields company of sellswords out there, she kept thinking, If I did, I would send many outriders to screen the outskirts of my city. I would raise my defenses, be on my guard. I have mistaken the signs, as I have done many times before. I always thought it was the war that would find its place here, and I tried so hard to prevent it, yet the humans hate us too much. It has been this morning that elite team of Black Shields sneaked unaware into her city. It was eight of them, and one of them was a demon-blood. Tiefling. Sargent Hellspear they called him. They used the fog to sneak in, and killed her guards silently. Then they made their way into her mansion and worked their way to her chambers. Eight of them, and she was guarded with four Queenwardens. She remembered when they broke in her chambers. Her warriors were too good to be surprised by ease, and they reacted quickly. Their double-bladed swords were ready even before the doors opened fully, and first two sellswords that ran into the room were sliced down. But then Hellspear was on one, hitting him hard and pushing him back, and one handed sellsword, who they called One-Handed John, was on the other. That left four sellswords on two of the wardens. One warden died quickly, for an axe has hit him across the face, stunning the poor drow while other one knocked him down. Other drow was more fortunate, yet not enough. Sellswords wounded him, but he managed to slit the throat of one and stabed the second. But Hellspear finished his opponent with ease and quickness, and rolled behind wounded warden driving his spear, or whatever weapon was that, into the small area beneath his shoulder where mithril armor did not protect. Last warden fought one handed sellsword, yet that one proved as deadly as his companions that didnt lack hands. Slowly but surely One-Handed John gave many blows to armored drow, in the end knocking him on the ground and driving his longsword into his face. Yet she was helpless, for before she could react, Hellspear was on her, with his spear under her chin. She had no choice but to yield. Not even ten minutes after, their Captain rode into the city with thousand men. He threatened everyone that he shall kill the Queen if anyone tries to resist. Luckily, her husband, Zaknafein, retreated once he heard the Queen was taken, and she knew he was somewhere plotting her rescue. It happened she was right.

Even before sellswords fortified themselves in her city and made a perimeter, Rizzen and Saevel came to see the Captain, talking about some lost lieutenant that Captain Blackcloak was curious about. And then, fighting began. Nymeria, Blackshade and Jezzara stormed in, attacking Captains guards, and Saevel and Rizzen took the opportunity to kill fast few guards and capture Blackcloak. She was impressed with her brother once again, as she was two years ago when he headed into the tomb to face Lord Valerian. He used cunning and trickery, casting darkness on Captain, to ensure he would be captured alive. And Jezzara used her powerful spell to revive his shadow which decreased his strength fast. As fast as she was captured, she was saved. She knew they would find a way to free her, without shedding too much blood. And if some blood should be spilled, thank god it is not drow. Yet battle was not without cost; Blackshade was badly wounded, for one sellsword has left him with deep cut on his arm and even bigger on his chest. So while Rizzen cut her lose and Saevel held sellsword Captain on swordpoint, Jezzara and Nymeria were mending Blackshades wounds. He is lucky that both of them are priestesses. That wound might be deadly otherwise. As she removed gag from her mouth, Saevel was already questioning sellsword. Now you and I shall have some conversation, sellsword. You picked a wrong town to sack. Tell me, who is your employer? What is your contract? My contract, half-elf, said the Captain with weak voice, result of being drained by shadow, is simple and righteous. We were to capture Pleasant Valley Gateway Oasis and to hold it until our contractor arrived. And tell me, Captain, who is your contractor? Black Network. The Zenth?! said Saevel surprised. Queen knew little of Zenth, for she has been on Toril for mere two years. Yet both Red Wizards of Thay and Zenth had already made their impression on young queen. Red Wizards were evil, she knew, for the land of Thay is homeworld to suffering. Only high-born wizards, who had highest rank in that land, had good life. Others lived just as her drow once did; in fear and bondage. They were traders, with intrest in gold and magic items. And their market was not only west; it was east too. Which was a problem since her town was built right at biggest oasis in the wastelands. And to travel east, you need this oasis. That is why she knew it were them who already put the tale of evil drow in human mind, to make them appear as danger to humanity and to ensure their eradication. Other

faction was even worse. The Zentharim. Or how the humans often called them Black Network. These worshipers of Bain, evil god of destruction, are amongst other things merchants too. Yet where Red Wizards would use cunning and deception to make things go their way, Zenth would use force. She knew that this could have ended badly, for it this were sellswords led by Zenth agent, her town would already been burned down and every drow put to sword. Luckily, this sellsword had more chivalry than that, and took the town with minimal casualties. But if Black Network did this, she knew they would strike again. Yes, Zentharim, said Captain, yet they did not specify whether to kill every drow or just capture town. So I decided to go for the less bloody option. Might be that I was wrong. You were not, for it might just save your life. Tell me, who is this contractor who should come here? He is councilor of Almorel, called Hadam. I know the man, said Rizzen, we met him during our brief stay at Almorel. He was determined to destroy this town. Yet he will not come soon, said sellsword, last reports I had, Almorel is cut off from all sides. Tuigans make their moves. Chief Shanim Hojar raids to the east, as you have witnessed yourself. And the north is held by Chief Donozar Chogar, to make sure no boat or supply reach Almorel. Yet the fresh news is that Eke Hojar, Shanims sister, has her barbarians south and Chief Desnar Lomar has few days ago traveled past Almorel to plague it from west. If the tidings are true, then Khan Hisir, who is superior to Shanim, Eke and Desnar, is marching on Almorel from Eyen Horo as we speak with more than thousand Yunnicar. Which leaves you without your contractor, commented Saevel. If he already did not leave the city, said sellsword surly, Do not underestimate Black Network. He is not a stupid man. If there was a chance to flee the city, he did take it. Even if he did, he would not last long in wilderness with Tuigans around. We shall see. Yet would you bet your life on it, sellsword? Saevel pointed out, Would you bet life of your men? Why die unnecessary for some man who might be already dead. I do not plan so.

That is an answer I wanted to hear, Captain, said Harper happily, Here is my offer. Tell your men to stand down. Bring some high-rank soldiers of yours as hostages to be held until every sellsword left the camp. Then we shall let you go, if you swear an oath not to come in this town again. I could do that. Then it shall be like that. That is if both Queen and Nymeria agree. I do, said Nymeria. I do too, said Akordia thinking of all bloodshead prevented today. If human holds to his word, though, she thought. Afterwards, Rizzen and Saevel left to take hostages and to make sure every sellsword kept his side of bargain. That is when Nymeria came to her. My Queen, might I have a word with you? Of course, my dear. As you might have heard, I have awaken my army here. Two thousand dragonkin, at my command. Yet, I want to inform you that my intentions are not hostile. In fact, I need your help. What sort of help would that be, Princess? My water and food are yours, if you need them. I need more. I would like you to join my cause. Time for hiding and peace are over. War is here, and there is no place in Hordelands safe from it. You must choose your side. I can not do that, Princess. I will not bring my people in some war that natives and westerman are fighting. Yet they are involved already, for your town lies on important strategic resource. I do not ask you to give me your drow to command them into the battle. I merely ask that you give us your support. And in what way do I do that? I can not march my forces yet. They are too big and too strange to not cause unnecessary attention. I need them to stay here. So I would like you to deny your hospitality to both Tuigan and Alliance and for my armies to stay here. And for that, I shall give you protection. Two thousand dragonkin warriors could defend this Oasis even against Hubadai and his horde.

It was tempting, for sure. Protection for her drow, at her grasp, just as she always dreamed of. Yet the cost was still high. To choose a side means that if that side loses, her drow go with her to land of the dead. It was too big price to pay. I am pacifist, my dear. And I shall not deny the water that means life here to any being, be it human, Tuigan or dragon. There is another deal we could struck. I shall hide your armies here, away from prying eyes. And if Tuigans or Alliance decide to strike against us, I shall use them in defense. Your host would be safe here, as long as you need them to be. Yet water and supplies shall be given to any who venture here. Queen saw that Nymeria did not like it. She thinks of me as a coward, yet she does not understand. She does not lead a nation of commoners. She has only warriors. But in the end, smile appeared on her face. Fine, have it your way. Your hospitality and discretion in return for protection. Yet there is one thing that must be done. I know. Boga Tak. Queen knew it would come to this. She has seen in her moonlight Boga Tak hunting young Princess down, she knew he was here for her. And she knew what Nymeria would ask of her. I need Tuigan and his barbarians killed. The word of my presence must never reach Hubadai. That again I can not do. But there is another way. I shall hold Boga Tak and his commanding barbarians as hostages, giving them freedom of wandering in my mansion yet not outside. And no barbarian might leave the town. My drow will guard all exits from oasis, and I plan to build a wall around. You flee from blood, but that will undo you, Queen of Drow. There are hundred Tuigans here. It will not be easy to keep them at bay. It will not, yet it would be right. There will be no bloodshed in my town. Fine. Have it your way, but know that if Hubadai hears of this, your town will be his target. You will be marked as the enemy of The Horde and there will be no turning back. And in that case, you shall have my full support. My drow will fight alongside your dragons. You have my word on it.

I can live with that, my Queen. Then it is arranged. Now if you excuse me, I have some business to attend to. As she left, Rizzen and Saevel came back. They were tired. She knew they had a hard day. Tomb, sellswords it was not a small matter to deal with. Brother, do you have anything to report? All goes smoothly. Zaknafein has returned and oversees the sellswords. He will be here soon, as he can not wait to witness himself that you are well. That is good to hear. So I hear our friend has strong host here. She does indeed, Saevel said, yet she lacks numbers to pose significant threat to both Hubadai and Alliance. Yet she did offer much to me to see me as her friend. And so she told them of the deal they struck, Boga Tak, dragonkin warriors and everything, and when she finished, Saevel commented, Alliance would give you same terms, my Queen. And they will emerge victorious. You must understand, harper, that Alliance is far from us. War is at their doorstep. And they have no men to spare. How long would it pass for Hubadai to send few thousand of his Yunnicar to wipe us out? I need Princess Nymeria, just as much as she needs me. And she has proven to me that she is not some Lord who sits behind his high walls waiting for his soldiers to do the job. She was here, in first lines, fighting for me. I have given her my word that her secret will not see the light of day. She seems trustworthy, and I hope your deal will work out well. I hope too. So now that you are here, what is your plan? Will you head west again? To join Alliance. No, said Saevel, I have promised your brother to help you. Two of us shall search for the drow that are raiding caravans, making your peaceful people look like crazed killers. And we shall stop it. I hope we will be able to borrow some warriors. Thank you, Saevel. Even with your elf blood in you, you find more compassion for our race than any human ever has. If you do this, I would be eternally grateful.

You are too kind, my Queen. You are kind and just, and I would hate to see you fall because of some Zenth trickery. As soon as our wounds are healed, we shall depart east, in hope to find some tracks. Zaknafein has tried already. East, west. South. Yet he did not find anything. With all due respect, sister, Rizzen said, Zaknafein is a warrior. Saevel and me, well. We are of wilderness. If there is anyone who can find tracks, it is us. And our companions. Companions? My wolf, Eslya, can follow a scent if it is there, Saevel told her, And do not underestimate your brothers cheetah. Rha has sharper senses than most animals. We shall find them and make them stop. One way or the other.

18th of Tarth in The Year of Lightnign Storms It was same as three nights ago. Shadows moved and jumped and priestess concentrated. She saw the mountain pass clearly, with dark blooded shield. On the shield skull was engraved. There must be something there to the east. I would not see it again if not so. She wandered what it could be. Could it be drow that Saevel will search for? If so, Princess should know. If it were them, she could lead them there. She would find it, for she has seen many signs in her vision. Godess of Darkness deems it important. But for whom? For Nymeria? For me? Perhaps for Godess herself? Visions were always hard to understand, as she knew for a while. They show me signs and warnings, yet I am unable to decipher them in time. She has seen the dark shield before, yet she did not understand it. Yet neither has Queen Akordia, if it was to judge for her capture day before. So she knew that shield means sellswords, but what does it mean? Skull? They had no skulls engrave on their shields. Could it be something different? Or perhaps their death? She could not say, but she knew it was important. Let us try something different. She added some wood in her fire, to enlarge the shadows they cast on the wall. And she looked in those shadows. Lady of Darkness, Godess of Shadow. Grant me wisdom to see past the veil of time and glance on the events to come. She chanted and chanted, and soon, shadows started dancing on the wall. Little by little, the shapes held meaning. Same vision since I came to Hordelands, she thought. Ruined keep, skulls all around it. Then more. And more. A dragon emerged from the keep, flying over the land, and as the shadow of the dragon passed, skulls remained. Death, it must be that. But whose? She some some figures. Most of them she did not recognized. All of them were pale. All were dead. If I only knew what does it mean. Her vision was interrupted by sound of opening doors. A man came in, walking slowly. His hand was bandaged and his posture was low due to his chest wound. My love? man said walking slowly towards her. Jeremy? I shall be in bed in a second. It is almost dawn. You said that hours ago. I dazed off.

It was my spell. In couple of hours I shall recast healing on you. You should be fully healed then. She was proud of herself. The art of healing, although not popular by Priestess of Darkness, was one of her handy talents. Along with animating shadows that slowly drain your life force. With healing, even most grievous wounds could be mended, and deadly results of the wounds, such as infections, could be kept at bay. If there wasnt for her, Jeremy might have lost his arm by now. And she could have lost her face. Nymeria summons us. Darkan contacted her. Then we shall not keep her waiting. They walked through the mansion to her room. Derek was already there. His head was bit swollen, as some sellsword knocked him at his head. Yet the swell was almost done, again due to magic. My princess, both of them said, We hear you have new tidings. Yes, Darkan has contacted me in dreams, as we arranged. He has the location of next tomb. And where is it? Blackshade asked. Well, cant say I like it. Though it is not far. The place is called Akhrasut Neth, old spirit groove located in The Shay Hills west of here. Do we leave on morrow? Derek asked. Not we, Nymeria told him, I need you here Derek, with Drow. You have proven yourself more than able to lead, and I need you to stay behind as my ambassador. But Princess, I am here to protect you. Blackshade will see to that. I can not leave my dragons in charge. They have little respect for others, for once they were rulers of these lands. I need a human here. I need you. Then I shall do as you bid, Princess. Thank you Derek. I shall tell Commander Darigazz that you are in charge, yet in battle he has the last word. You know he will not follow your orders, for it is beneath him. You will have to prove yourself to him.

Do not worry Princess. I shall hold this peace for you. I expect nothing less. Meanwhile, Darkan tells us that Ulf managed to take Quas Al-Tarik, without a single pint of blood spilled. Harwin still doesnt believe that that barbarian was capable of it. Though he says he cheated, for he sent for dragon. Dragon? Was it wise? asked priestess. She knew if Nymeria was to be connected with Ulf and the dragon, it would not be long before Hubadai found out what was happening behind him. It was not wise, but necessary. Darkan ensures me that he will be able to prevent the word of the dragon spreading. So now we hold Fortress of The Old Man and Quas Al-Tarik, and we have alliance with drow. East border of Hubadais kingdom is ours. Yet there is much more to do. We must raise more dragonkin. Pardon me princess, Jezzara told her, but Lady of Darkness has shown me some insight in darkness. We know already that Hubadai is moving against Almorel. Perhaps dragonkin could wait. For few days. We should concentrate on our drow alliance. What do you mean? What is there more that we could do? Saevel and Rizzen ride tomorrow in search for those drow that raided caravans. If we are to help them, we could have a better grip on the Queen. I see. And how are we to help? We are no rangers. I have seen something in shadows. It might be drow. We could join the search with Saevel and Rizzen. It would be good to show our goodwill and help them. Little kindness now will go a long way later. I am certain of this. So you believe you could guide us to drow? Are you certain? I am certain that I can help. And any help we provide will go long way. I see. Let me think of this. There is wisdom in your words, Jezzara. Perhaps this path will be more fruitful in long run. Godess sends me these visions, my Princess, for days now. I think we should see it out.

18th of Tarth in The Year of Lightnign Storms This is for you, my love, said the nomad princess overlooking barbarians from nearby tree, These savages took you from me, now I shall repay debt. Yet still she did not believe the news that ravaged through Drubiev on that cold morning. They were all around us, barbarians of Hubadai I tell you, said one of the surviving Black Shields sellsword, We did our best to protect the caravan, but the damned savages overwhelmed us. I was lucky to survive. I attacked Hubadai himself, and his axe found my face. You can see the scar here, right over the eye. Luckily, they all took me for dead and left me behind, and I managed to find my way to Almorel and then Drubiev. Anet knew he boasted without cause. The man was a liar. Everybody in the Wastes know that Hubadai fights with his sword, Bloodletter, and his axe, Savager. Both Bloodletter and Savager are magical weapons, made to cut through everything with ease. If Savager has found this sellswords head, he would be missing it. And since the head is still on his shoulders, more likely some not so sharp axe marked it. Yet she knew Saevel traveled with these lot, and had to know what happened to him. The half-elf, my Lady? Dead I tell you. I saw him fall with my own eyes. Bowman took the man down as they surprised us. Was it true or not, it was hard to tell. No survivors, apart from few soldiers that arrived in Almorel, lived to fight another day. My love fought against devils and giants. He opposed Valerian and his armies. He would not fall due to simple barbarians. Yet she could not help herself but to fear for the worst; her husband dead. But time for sorrow and fear was not now. Not long after Saevel and her split their ways, Ser Theoden Roseburn was contacted by Lord Oakspell. He has seen much and had a job for Anet. Important one. One that would put her in battle once again, after two years of calm life along her beloved husband Saevel. Lord Oakspell believes you can find someone for us, Ser Theoden told her that day, that you are the person for the job. And who might that be? Anet asked the knight. He is an orc, my Lady. Zax is his name. Zax Hordebane as they call him. And who might that be?

Well, he is a Captain of Iron Brothers Company, peculiar sellswords that operate in Wastes. They have still not taken sides nor with Alliance nor with Horde. And if Zax earned his nickname with blood, he would not pick Horde it seems to me. He was Yunnicar once, trained and bred for war under Zelean himself, the Yunnicar Master. Yet he and his bretheren left the Horde, defected, and he started his own sellsword company, the Iron Brothers. They protected merchants and travelers on Golden Way, and fought Tuigans hard, for they hate them for enslaving them. Yet their love for Alliance is not formidable, either. Lord Oakspell believes you may sway them to join our cause. Because I am savage and wild, just like them. Ser Theoden had no answer for that, yet she knew she was right. Send a savage to win affections of another savage. Sounds like right. Yet she traveled to Drubiev alone, asking in local taverns for Iron Brothers. It seemed they were somewhere in wastes, or common folk believed it so. So she traveled north and searched for clues, any camp, tracks or anything to bring her closer to Zax and his sellswords. Yet days passed, with no luck. Not until one morning, that she found elephant tracks. This must be it. If stories were to be believed, Zax commands three dozen war elephants. In two days, she found their camp. They looked like Tuigans, in every way. With leather armor on themselves, some even without any protection, with spears or axes and small shields, these sellswords were nothing like armored troops of Alliance. Yet by stories heard, they sere fierce warriors. She was taken to command tent, where Captain Zax stood with his loyal Sargent Kain Nidirag. Captain was strong, she could see. Stronger than most men Anet met. He had no armor on him, apart for plate bracers and vanguards. He had sandals on his feet and some cloth to cover his male parts, with his torso bare to witness green orc skin. On his hips, two longswords were holstered. It made Anet wander if Zax was so good warrior that he would give up armor for speed, or was he just fool. She hoped first, at least if the man decides to join Alliance. Other man looked even more dangerous. He was huge, bigger than any nomad in her homeland Shaar. And stronger. Stronger than Zax for sure. He had some armor on himself and huge greataxe. Semi-long black hair fell to his shoulders, unattained and wild. So who do we have here? asked Captain. My name is Anet Moonshade, and I come in the name of Alliance.

Anet is it? And tell me Anet, what does a Lady like yourself seek so far from safety of walled city? I am no Lady. I was born as Anet Laumee Harr, leader of Mawaki tribe of nomads in Shaar. Nomads well known for their skill with spear. And this is my greatsword. My father gave it to me the day he died in battle against devils that invaded Shaar. So you see, I am no meek woman. I am a warrior princess, able to protect my self. No walls are needed around me. That amused Zax, she could tell. It took some more ferocity and convincing, yet sellsword decided to follow her, and only her. No pissboy Alliance knight that hides behind his plate will give commands to me. I shall listen only to brave Lady. And so the Company was hers. Men were ready. All they needed was a target to attack and to prove their allegiance. And she had a target. Hubadai made a move against Alliance. One of the Chiefs harassed the road to the East, the same one that possibly robbed her husband of his life. One held west, to prevent supplies to reach Almorel by road. One held south, to control the path for Hubadai to travel to siege the city. And finally, one controlled north of the city, to make sure no ship comes over lake into the city, bringing supplies. Although she would go after Shanim Hojar, who held east, she knew north was more important. Chief Donozar Chogar. If he would fall. Almorel might be supplied with ships. And it would make impossible to siege it, unless moving to control the north again. She knew it was a smart move. So they marched south-east, towards Lake of Mists and Syevyer Forest, to challenge Donozar and his barbarians. It took few days, yet they passed with interesting stories which made her time run faster. She has heard of Zax and his combat prowness, as he killed four Khans in his lifetime. He told her that only man he fears is Zelean, the Yunnicar Master. You see, this man is no ordinary man. He is a god. Or at least offspring of one. Zelean The Godtouched people call him. And once you see the man fight, you would know why. He is strong, yet no stronger than most men. But he is faster than lightning itself. The way he doges the blows and parries them, it truly looks as the dance of gods. He wears no armor, only sandals and cloth to cover his manhood. Which I can tell you is something that is no simple task to hide, if you know what I mean. He fights with two short swords, crafted to near perfection by Hubadais father. And he is skilled, more skilled than any man I have ever met. I seen him beat dozen of enemies without suffering a single blow. I seen him kill hundred of knights claded in plate with deadly precision of blows. And I tell you, I would not want to find myself against him, for I would die for certain.

Yet stories of other Iron Brothers were more than interesting. She learned that the big man that follows Zax everywhere, called Kain Nidirag, was a berserker that Hubadais father captured from barbarian tribe that lived way north. And his blood is said to be poisoned by berserker curse. He felt no pain whatsoever, and in his rage sometimes chopped down even his brothers in arms. If you see Kain charging, better move away. Do not worry, he will cut down with his greataxe everything on his path. So try to stay away from it. Other man Anet found interesting was Bardan Goodwyn, sergeant and Chief of Intelligence. He was a handsom man, with small goat-beard and long black hair. His dark brown eyes felt always warm, and his sense of humor bosted moral of Iron Brothers. He had some nasty scars on his chest, from days of his early youth, when he challenged Yunnicar chieftain Vyper, strong warrior that had tortured young human during his training and had taken Bardans sister Maya for his bedwhore. Vyer slashed his greataxe in Bardans chest and left him there to soak in blood and dishonor, making fun of him and took his sister in front of him one last time before he chopped her head off. It was then that Bardan decided to leave. I am no great warrior, he told Anet on one occasion,yet my strength lies in my mind. I win by trickery, every time, and Zax knows how usefull I tend to be. And he proved to be usefull, for he kept entire company together during their march through Syevyer Forest, making smart scout routes to screen for any sign of Tuigans and Chief Donozar. And then, when the scouts found them, he advised Zax to didvide his forces and surprise assault the Tuigans. And so Zax did, leading some heavy infantry and cavalry alongside with elephants to attack barbarian camp from north, while Bardan led the scouts and light infantry through forest to strike from ambush. Once they damaged the Tuigans, Donozar would try to rally his forces and chase them back into the forest. Then, Zax would hit them from flank with elephants and crush them. And here she was, on a tree scouting before the battle. My love, I hope you are alive, for this world is dark without you, she fought as Bardan gave signal to commence attack. She climbed down from a tree and readied her greatsword. I am a warrior princess, and I fight with other men. On first signal, archers fired volleys of arrows upon unready Tuigans. Anet could see Donozar yelling orders and commanding his troops to form and charge, and they did. Faster than we expected. Yet it was no surprise, for every warrior Donozar had burned with furry. Bardan was right. They will definitely chase us. And so they did, charging in all-out attack on Bardans scouts. Kain and Anet led the front warriors to crush into charging barbarians to protect archers. Yet she felt fear, for the sight of hundreds of raging barbarians charging towards her took her breath away. But not Kains. They collided, and Kain had a

first kill. Or better to say, double-kill. He took down two barbarians with single cut. Kain, stay with us, she yelled, yet barbarian cut his way deeper into enemy lines, hitting with his legs and elbows as well with his axe. And then Donozar was on her. He was a strong man armed with greataxe and clad in some scale and mail. She deflected the first attack, but barely. Second one cought her off balance, and third knocked her on the ground. Luckly, some Iron Brother was on him, but Donozar chopped him in few seconds. Yet it gave Anet enough time to regain her footing though as she moved to attack Donozar from behind, a thump sound echoed in her ears. It was an arrow, piercing her into shoulder. She screamed in pain and not a second after another arrowhit her, this time in leg. She fell to her knees, trying to decern location of archer. She saw the barbarian, aiming at her with his bow. I am done, she thought as she tried to find some strength in her to jump aside. Yet sound of warhorn distracted the archer. It is Zax! she saw. Zax charged in front of his elephants into the barbarians and started slicing them. Elephants ramed down warriors and this time fear was all around the Tuigans. Yet too late for her. Donozar killed fifth Iron Brother already and moved towards her again. She stood up raising her greatsword. It is now or never, she fough as the barbarian sliced with his greatsword at her. The blow was so hard that it yanked the greatsword out of her grip, and as she battled not to drop it, Donozar stomped at her knocking her far back. She fell on her back, losing her greatsword. It is over, she thought. As barbarian jumped towards her. But there was that sound again, that thump echoe. Yet this time, arrow did not hit her. It impaled Donozar in his neck, right beneath his helm. Then another one, right in his face. And another one, again in face. Anets vision became blurry. She lost a lot of blood, she knew. Yet she managed to see Donozar fall on his knees, then chest. She looked behind her and saw Bardan put away his longbow and running towards her. It will be allright, he yelled, putting pressure on her wound, I have you now. She felt safe. She remembered her husband, Saevel, as darkness covered her eyes. Saevel, where are you? Are you alive?

19th of Tarth in The Year of Lightning Storms It has been less than an hour after they made it when Captain Blackcloak summoned him. It was costly, their venture. Eight men made it in, yet only four returned alive. It had been hard fight, Hellspear remembered, for drow wardens that guarded the Queen Akordia had been exceptional fighters, and there were no less than four guarding her. Two of his bretheren dead in seconds, another soon followed. Tomas and Marcus were first to fall, for foolish boys had little patience and charged in. Wardens were more than ready for them, and they were cut down in a split second. Hellspear attacked one drow, hitting him hard and trying to take him off balance. Jhon was on another one, with his longsword slicing at warden fast and hard, letting dark elfs blood little by little. Dustin and Jory were on one, and Big Dan and Ben on other. Ben proved to improve his skill with axe, for one his attack passed wardens guard and hit him right in the helmet. It stunned him and Big Dan, huge as he is, crushed poor elf with his huge maul. But Dustin and Jory were not so lucky to best their opponent. Drow opened Dustins throat and soon overpowered Jory, impaling his double-bladed sword in armpit of poor Jory. Hellspear took his one out, with nice thrust right in drows face, and charged at that drow, slicing his knee and impaling his heart. Then he captured the Queen, while Jhon finished his warden with help of Ben and Big Dan. I shouldve been faster, and at least Jory and Dustin might have been alive. But they were gone, and there was no use in denying it. Yet that is four dead. And it prevented death of hundreds, for once Queen was captured, Black Shields took the city without the fight. Captain was more than pleased, yet it seemed he had more to do for his best sergeant. Perhaps when Jhon had his hand, he was better than me. But as a one-handed Jhon, I shall always outperform him. Captain ordered Hellspear to do a little scouting. It seemed that it was not Queen Akordia who attacked nearby caravans. It had to be someone else. And by the look at the dead they left behind, they were not to be ignored. If we want to hold this city, we must terminate those drow that might harass us. We are in unfriendly territory, and we can not have enemy force taking us little by little. And trust me, drow are masters of harassment. So Hellspear took two dozen men with him. He wanted to bring on Jhon, yet there was another task for him, it seemed. Jhon has a knack of saying the right thing when it counts. I have more delicate task for him to the west. You will have to take someone else. So he picked two dozen men and led them east, to follow the trail of dead. But what he did not know is that he led the men to their death.

Same day that they left, when they decided to camp for the night, they were ambushed. Drow came from the dark, taking them unaware. Arrows flied and hit his men more often than not. He remembered Gerion, who often played a game of chess with Hellspear, as the arrow pierced right through his eye. If it was few inch to the left, it would be me dead. He yelled to regroup, and by the time his sellswords did, drow were gone. Eight of them survived, only eight, yet only three of them were not wounded. Those who were faced terrible fate. Just minutes later, pain reeked in them. Hellspear knew what it was; poisoned arrows. There was no help for them, at least not so far away from help. Hour later, after hellish fight to keep wounded alive, only one survived the perils of the poison. Only Big Dan. He was stronger than bull. It weakened him, yet there would have to be at least triple dose to keep him down. Big Dan was gigantly big, two heads above Hellspear. With his chainmail under black cloth, he could whitstand lot of punishment. And his weapon of choice, huge maul. Hellspear saw Big Dan fight many times, and he was always more than happy not to be on the other side of battlefield against giant. His bash is strong, and one wrong hit would tear my spine. Gregory survived two, for he was not wounded by arrow. It was due to lack of curage, for once battle began, he hid away. Yet Hellspear could not blame him for he was branded for life for his actions against Lord Valerian, when his trying to escape cost some good men their lives. Yet that green boy had nothing to do here, for he knew that this journey would only cost him his life. So Hellspear ordered the boy to take his report back to Captain, for he had to know what happened. Yet the person Hellspear could not bear to lose was Diana. She was beautiful and full of compassion. Once high-born, daughter of some Lord down in Sword Coast, she left her home for glory and adventure. Her father found it outrageous for a proper lady to go and on and play a knight. He threatened her that if she leaves her home, she would not be welcome back. Yet she did not care, left with no more than a sword on the back riding her favorite horse. She traveled the Faerun, adventuring and exploring. She came long way in six years of her wandering, mastering her techniques with flail and shield, uncommon weapon for a lady. Yet she was no true lady, but a true knight and warrior. Soon she was as good with a sword as most knights, and with flail in her hands, many would be ashamed. Black Shields wandered upon her on their way to Hordelands. She traveled with them part of the way, for traveling with sellsword company was safer than alone. There Hellspear met her, and they often spent nights talking of wanders that lurk in Faerun. He grew fond of her, perhaps even more than he would let himself. And she grew fond of him. It was new for him, for not many women would find his red skin not revolting, and he always wandered if it was because of him that she enlisted the company.

Hellspear would not risk her life. Yet young lad called Ben, who has been Hellspears helper for some time now, has been missing since the battle. There was still hope, though. If he was dead, drow would leave him behind. He had to be alive. And Hellspear had to find him. He was my responsibility, he thought, I was the one who was to train the boy. I cant leave him behind to these drow. If the tales are true, it is a fate worse than death. After the battle, just before he sent Gregory away, he spoke to his last survivors. He told them that he shall go and find poor lad, and that they are welcome to return to Captain with Gregory. But both of them would hear nothing of that. Ben is our brother too, they both agreed, and we leave no brother behind. And thus, with Gregory gone, three bold adventurers journeyed forth to find and rescue poor lad. It was high noon already, but nevertheless it was cold. Big Dan checked some tracks on the ground while Diana kept a watch. Fresh tracks, sergeant, giant told him, we are few hours away. What of Ben? Hellspear asked. Well, I see few signs of dragging. It might be him. Then walking. Probably pace of march was too hard for lad. I think I saw something, said Diana, over there! I dont see a thing, said Hellspear, I doubt drow would come during the day. Why is that, sergeant? asked the lady. We are at advantage. Sun hurts their eyes. If they come, it will be night. Yet he could see Diana was still weary. It is different for her, here, he thought, she adventured. This is war. And it will only get worse. Yet he is here, to protect her and to be here for her when the troubles of war start to have impact on her soul. Nothing would harm her. As long as he breaths.

19th of Tarth in The Year of Lightning Storms Well, what do you know, thought the half-elf, she will stay and help. He did not think so, not by long shot. She had other business to attend, and he was certain that she would leave drow city to pursue her agenda. Yet not only she stayed, but her priestess, Jezzara helped them find the trail. She sees things, said the princess to harper as they were to leave Pleasant Valley Gateway Oasis. She saw your drow raiders. We must travel east. Not only Nymeria helped them with information, but Dragon Princess decided to go with them, along with Jezzara and Blackshade. Better to have them, than few drow warriors, Saevel thought,Blackshade is great fighter, there is no doubt. And both Nymeria and Jezzara proved to be good with weapon in hand. In the end, it was Nymeria that slew those dragonkin guards. So did the party of five leave, with Eslya and Rha by their side. Rha, Rizzens cheetah, was first to leave the party to hunt. Eslya left soon, too. They had no time for hunt, Saevel reflected, it will take some time for them before they return. Party traveled east for hours, before first tracks came aware. Yet it was no drow; armored man traveled here. After another hour of trailing the party, which was about two dozen big, adventurers came upon fresh dig graves. Saevel examined them, and found out that they were no other than Black Shields. Killed by drow arrow and poison, all of them, Saevel told his companions back then. Yet their research was disrupted by approaching rider. It turned out to be member of Black Shileds. Saevel and Rizzen ambushed the man and interrogated him under arrowpoint. If his story was to believe, Captain Blackcloak has sent the party of twenty four to scout the east for drow raiders. That seemed true, for if Captain did hold drow city, any raiders would undermine his strength and numbers fast enough. But from entire party, only few survived. His sergeant and two more. He was sent to report back to Captain about the dreadful events that had happened. Harpers saw no reasen not to let young sellsword go. Yet they knew his sergeant had to be near and that it would probably be smart to keep low, else their party might share the fate of sellswords. And hour later, Saevels assumption has proven to be true; on the road, three sellswords stood. One huge with big maul on his back and crossbow in arms leaning over some tracks probably trying to find right direction of drow heading. One hooded with long spear-like weapon observing left and right, and one lady with crossbow covering the two. Sneak around, Saevel commanded, But do not start some skirmish unless they fire upon us.

Eslya and Rha, who returned not too long before from hunt, moved silently with Rizzen over the close-by hill to take the sellswords by flank. Rest sneaked forward to get as close as possible. But somehow, lady-sellsword has seen them skulking around and warned her friends. It seemed that they were well trained in tactics and reaction, for all three of the sellswords grabbed near cover. Saevel, Blackshade, Jezzara and Nymeria did the same, though not as nearly as fast as sellswords. Good, thought Saevel, Rizzen remains undetected. Who goes there? yelled the sellsword sergeant. My name is Saevel Moonshade, agent of Harpers, and this is my party. We mean you no harm. Then lower your weapons and show yourselves. Only if you do the same. We met your companion who was due to Captain. We even met the Captain Blackcloak himself. And our quest is same as yours. To find drow that raid travelers along the road. As he talked, he saw Rizzen and beasts take position right above three sellswords. Got you now, he thought. Come out of cover, said Saevel, and well talk. How can I trust it is no trick. If it was trick, Rizzen said, showing himself with ready bow above and two beasts by his side, youd already be dead. Now put them down. Sellswords obliged and dropped their crossbows, stepping out of cover. As they did it, Saevel gave signal and his party too left the cover, lowering their weapons. See? he told them, We mean you no harm. As sergeant approached, Saevel finally recognized the man. Or better to say, the tiefling. Kwalu? Is that you? Sergeant Hellspear now, said sellsword. I changed my name after.. After Shaar? We thought you were dead! How did you survive? I I I ran. I left all behind. It was either that or death.

You did what you had to do. To survive. Gods know we all did. They decided to travel together, to find drow together. Nymeria did not trust sellswords at first, but Saevel made her understand that if two dozen sellswords died with ease, every sword will come in handy. They learned that Kwalu, or Hellspear as he calls himself now, is searching for his young squire, Ben. Boy was lost during attack and he believed he was still alive. His companions were Lady Diana and Big Dan. Diana was expert with Morningstar and Big Dan was simply big, and if you add that big maul he carried, big and tough. They traveled until sun set down, when they decided to make camp. Let us see ourselves camped here, Saevel told them, We will take three shifts I dont think it would be necessary, said the priestess, chanting words. Suddenly, a thck fog came up, but what Saevel found amazing is that he could see right through it. It had to be magic. It will protect us from unwanted visitors. No living being would enter it, for the fog makes them uneasy. And although you might think that it is transparent, it is not. Except you here, no being can see farther than one yard. Rizzen would be enough to guard it. Saevel was amazed. Such a handy spell. I wander what else the priestess has in her sleeve.

20th of Tarth in The Year of Lightning Storms Damn the light! It had to be warded, thought the priestess, There is no other way that they would know we were here. Yet it made no difference. Footsteps were louder and louder, and voices closer and closer. There must be hundreds of them. They all ran as fast as they could, deeper into the cave. It was a dire situation, there was no doubt. And nothing that happened that day indicated that it would get so complicated. It all started during night, when patrol of drow passed by area warded by her Mystic Mist. Ofcourse, patrol did not enter the area, for the nature of spell is to repel beings without their knowing, but they left clear tracks to their camp. As soon as all woke, they traced the patrolmen to few houres away caves. It has to be where they lurk, said Blackshade at once, this would be best time to enter. It is day. But as they entered the caves, Jezzara could feel magic around her. At first she thought it was nautral magical aura of the caves, for ever since she came to Hordelands, there was faint touch of magic all around her. But not a minute after, the warhorn was sounded. Then another one. Then another. Sounds of steel and footsteps, voices. They were all around. Our presence is known! said Saevel. There was no going back, she knew, for the sound of running was there. They are being hunted. They ran deeper and deeper, faster and faster, but it was of no use. Sound of enemy approaching was closer and closer. Go on, find their leader, said Saevel, it is our only chance. They may back down afterwards. What about you? asked Nymeria, holding Saevel by hand. We will hold them back! There are too many! said Jezzara. Dont worry, my Lady. This passages are tight. There will be no more than one drow on each of us at any time. We will hold. Just hurry. They continued, leaving two brave Harpers to block the passage. Too bad their beasts were not here, they would certainly help, thought the priestess. But they would not enter cave. As if they were afraid. But there was no time to ponder on. They had to run, and so they did. But then, they came to a fork in the cave, where another passage joined this one. Big Dan was first in their line, and as he reached it, he changed his direction and charged into the passage with

his maul ready. As priestess reached the fork, she could see hundreds of drow being pushed back by Big Dan. Our turn, yelled Hellspear, Diana and me will help him. Go. And find Ben for us. Please. Tiefling and Diana charged into the ranks of drows, cutting and crushing one at the time. It is no wider than last one. They will hold it. Nymeria, Blackshade and Jezzara continued on. Until they entered a huge cavern hall. It was dark, yet Nymerias staff gave enough light to show entire room. By the sides, many humans were chained to the wall. Jezzara could see one clad in black armor, no doubt Ben. And in middle stood a drow priestess with three guards by her side. She knew her. She has seen her before, in Shaar. Chalistrae was here name. It was the one that put Nymerai and Akordia in slumber, from which Jezzara has awaken them. It is no simple thing to do that, priestess reflected, She is powerful. Ah, of all the people in Faerun, you three were the last I expected, dark priestess said, I saw Rizzen in my dreams coming to Hordelands, but rest of you escaped my divinations. You! said Nymeria, Youre the one that captured me! It was Akordia I needed. Yet to get her, I had to take you for Amon. Only then he would help me get the last drow of House Illystin. Looks like you failed, Princess said raising her spear. I did. We tried to provoke humans into attacking Akordia. And we did. But youre dragonkin were not expected. There is little to do now, when youre holding the city. Then call off your drow. Retreat. I could do that. Or there is another way. I see before me princess of Dragonkins. If you are to die here, your army would shatter. And Akordia would be ripe for taking once again. Perhaps some enraged soldier of yours would start a fight, which would result in eradication of House Illystin. There was no mistake; dark priestess would not back down. Not a moment later, her guards were on them. One jumped on Jezzara. He had double-bladed sword, a drow weapon, and he was fast. Blade was about to impale the priestess as she yelled: Drop! Just like that, drow warrior dropped his weapon. She looked to the left, and saw Blackshade cut down his opponent. But behind him, there was something wrong. His shadow. It turned towards him, raising its shadowy katana and sliced at him. Watch out! she yelled, and just in time, for

Jeremy turned quickly and parried the blow. She turned behind, to see Nymeria, and she saw she is fighting with her shadow too and with drow warrior. And her warrior was on her again. Drop, she yelled again, and he again dropped his weapon. I cant look up for everyone, she though as she tried to hit her opponent. But he dodged and rolled to his weapan again. I cant go on like this forever. I already feal weak. She prepared her katana to block , when her shadow turned on her too. It hit her across the back, and she felt her arms getting heavy. Drow was at her too, and as the dark elf swinged to hit her, time slowed. She tried to rise defense, but no use. Her arms were just too heavy. She was too tired and she thought her opponent would end here then and there. But before the attack hit her, dark elfs head flew off his body, as Jeremy sliced it with a single blow. She delfected a shadow attack, barely, and glanced behind her to see if Nymeria was well. Princess was tired, she saw. It must have been from shadow draining. Fire was around her and her spear burned stronger than ever. Drow that attacked her was on the ground, all in fire. Suddenly, laughter was heard. It was Chalistrae, laughing as the fog rose around her. Shadows that were attacking them slowly returned to normal. No you wont, yelled Blackshade and ran into the fog, trying to find priestess. Jezzaras heart beat thumped up, beating so hard that she thought it would rip out from the chest. Laddy of Darkness, protect him, she thought, fearing for her lovers life as she lost vision to him in the fog. Then, a howling of a warhorn was heard. Fog dissipated, and in the center of the room, Blackshade stood with his katana up and ready. Damn it, he yelled. It was no use. The priestess was gone. But Jezzara was certain it was not last of her. Quickly, free the people, Nymeria ordered with faint voice. She was drained hard and rest of the strength she had she used in combat casting spells. Even Blackshade was tired. Jezzara closed her arms around him, kissing him on the cheek. Im fine, he told her, for he certainly saw her worried expression on her face,shadow gave me one good blow I failed to stop. But Im still standing. There will be time for that later, Nymeria hurried them, we have to get away from here! Start freeing hostages. It took them few minutes to free all of them. Many words of gratitude flinged around, tears of solace dripping from tortured faces, but in the end all were free. They all paced as fast as they could towards exit of the cave. Afterwhile, they returned to the fork, where Hellspear and his sellswords stayed to fight. Sergeant was there, bloody to the neck, what from drow blood, what from his own. Diana was next to him, as bloody as he was.

Where is Big Dan? asked Nymeria. Hellspear just pointed to the side, where huge human layed, covered in blood so much that Hellspear and Diana both looked like theyve been just sprinkled a bit. His face was unrecognizable, as drow double-bladed sword stood there impaled right through his nose. Yet his heart seemed pierced too. I had to put him down, said Hellspear. There was nothing I could do for him. Sword was impaled too deep. He was beyond saving, said princess, awing over the dead body. We shall burry him outside. Can you two carry him? We will. He will not be left behind. Then, two figures were seen running towards them. As they entered closed, Jezzara could see that it was Rizzen and Saevel. At least you still live, thought priestess. Is anybody hurt? yelled Saevel across the passage. Big Dan is dead, said Nymeria, rest of us little winded, but alive. What happened? Drow were on us, hundreds of them, explained Rizzen, We held our ground and cut many down, before their sergeant was on us. He held us back for a while, and then a warhorn was heard in distance. They started to back down and retreat. Did you find their leader? Who was it? Chalistrae, said Nymeria, and she escaped us.