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In the dead of night, still having been confined to our cells, the four of us were rousted from whatever sleep we'd had, gathered into a room and seated at a round table. Ralenthra and I, refreshed somewhat after a four hour trance, sat on one side, Magnos and Kronk, the former sleep-deprived and the latter rather hung-over, on the other, and Captain Nim Tagen sat between us. Magnos' fingers were tied together. As this was happening, Tagen took a big damn pipe out of his pocket and lit it. Unfortunately, he wasn't smoking halfling leaf, which would have gone a long way in soothing my jangled nerves. I coughed.

Tagen look a long puff on his pipe and spoke. "You may be relieved to know that after your interrogations, it has been decided that the City of Silverymoon will be lenient with you..."

He waited for us all to sigh in relief, which we all did, albeit involuntarily, then he smiled and continued. "And by lenient, I am saying that it has been decided that you will be granted...clemency...if you agree to do something for us. After all, we are not fools. If you choose not to help us, you can expect a long and uncomfortable stay in the palace dungeon."

Ralenthra was rubbing her temples. Kronk scratched his chin. Magnos shifted in his seat. I spoke. "What's the job, Tagen?"

"So blunt, Miss Nailo..."

"I don't think any one of us is going to choose a long prison sentence over performing a service for the city, so I gather that it's best not to waste anyone's time, any more than it already has been."

Captain Tagen frowned. "Perhaps you did not learn your lesson earlier for your impertinence..."

Magnos cleared his throat. "I agree with the lady, Nimmy. I know I don't want to spend any more time here than I have to."

Before Tagen could physically react to Magnos, Ralenthra spoke up. "What my more hotheaded associates are trying to say is that we would be fools to turn down your generous offer, Captain Tagen."

Tagen smiled at Ralenthra and then looked at Kronk. Kronk said, "Kronk glad he not be dead, but like Sel-Sel..."

I helped. "It's Seledra, Kronk."

Kronk nodded, then looked confused. "Now Kronk forget what Kronk was going to say...oh!" He pounded his giant fist down on the table, which shook violently. "Kronk want to know what special favor be."

Magnos piped up, sounding cranky. "Yes, are there rats in the royal cellar that need killing?"

Captain Tagen folded his hands in front of him and began. "A few miles west of town, there is a monastery, well, an abandoned monastery that once housed dwarven monks devoted to Berronar Truesilver."

My ears pricked up at this. Finally! My religious studies would pay off!

Tagen continued, "The current use of the place seems to be a base of operations for some nobles that are seeking to stage a coup and overthrow Lady Alustriel. The scepter that was found in your possession, Kronk, was a fake. The real one is believed to be at the monastery, where enchantments meant to harm Alustriel are to be placed upon it."

Magnos grunted. "You want us to capture a bunch of disgruntled nobles and retrieve a trinket for you? Isn't that a job for the Knights in Silver? Why send us?"

Tagen's eyes darted in Magnos' direction. "Silverymoon is a well-oiled machine. I can't just grab a few parts out of that machine and throw them about at will! Besides, this little mission will prove to us whether you are worthy of mercy or not."

Ralenthra was cracking her knuckles. She spoke again. "So what are we looking at? I doubt those nobles are alone."

Tagen smiled warmly at Ralenthra. "You would be correct. Early intelligence indicates that the nobles have hired goblin and duergar mercenaries as guards. You'll have to get through them, plus the usual traps and other nasty things you might find in an abandoned facility of that size."

I raised an eyebrow. "Such as...?"

Tagen examined his fingernails absentmindedly. "Nothing you can't handle."

I leaned forward and looked into his face."Humor me. I like to be prepared."

Tagen looked up and smirked. "Why don't you ask your diviner?"

I shot back. "Maybe I will."

Magnos objected. "Hey, leave me out of this!"

We both turned and stared at him.

Magnos suddenly became very interested in a spot of grime on the table. "Or not."

Captain Tagen took a few puffs off of his pipe and spoke."Well, you have the necessary information. Do we have a deal?"

As Tagen awaited our replies, the four of us sat in silence. I looked from face to face, and impatient to get this all over with, I offered, "Let's have a vote, shall we? All in favor?"

I rose my hand. Ralenthra rose her hand. Magnos rose his hand slowly. The three of us turned and looked at Kronk.

Magnos pinched the bridge of his nose and squinted. "Kronk?"

Kronk turned to Magnos."What?"

Magnos spoke slowly. "Do you want to do this?"

Kronk nodded his head. "Yeah."

Magnos was gritting his teeth. "Then...raise...your...hand."

Kronk grinned. "Oh. Yeah." Then he raised his hand.

I stood up. "So it's unanimous. Can we go now?"

Tagen grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me back down into my seat. Magnos snorted.

Tagen spoke. "No, you will spend the rest of the night in...slightly more comfortable quarters. You will return to your homes in the morning, where you will be accompanied by armed escort at all times. You have one day to prepare for your journey. At the crack of dawn, you will gather at the west gates of Silverymoon. It should take you no more than a day and a half's march to get to the monastery."

I scoffed. "What, will no horses be provided for us?"

Tagen rolled his eyes. "No, your highness. You will walk. Oh, one more thing."

Magnos, Ralenthra and I collectively groaned.

Tagen continued. "You will be accompanied by Dorn Strabelin, a dwarven mercenary. He's worked for the city several times, enough that I trust him to nanny you lot. Keep you from killing each other or from running off."

Ralenthra cursed under her breath.

~


And so it was that a few hours before dawn, contracts were signed, and we were given rooms for the night. They didn’t lock us up in the rooms, but the windows were barred and there were guards at the end of the hallway, to make sure we didn’t leave. I stood at the barred window in our chamber and stared at the huge bonfire and fireworks that streaked the sky, pretty sure that the step up in accommodations were due to Methrammar’s behind-the-scenes wrangling. Ralenthra stepped out of the chamber she and I shared and walked towards the end of the corridor. I wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t want to speak to me ever again. Indeed, she hadn’t spoken to me since she came back from her interrogation. I heard a familiar voice.

“I'm sorry; I had no choice.” It was Tordrin, coming down the hallway. Then that means…“There are worse things to be wanted for, you know.”

“Than something I didn’t do?” She snapped. The first words I’d heard her say since we got here.

“Than espousing the cause of a good goddess. Look…“ Tordrin tried to counter.

“You betrayed me!” she cried out. Oh no. No, no, no.

“Listen,” he said, “I don’t know what happened at the festival. I’m already working on that. I know you and I know Seledra, and I know Kronk, sort of. I’m sure someone planted those tokens on you, but it’ll take time to find out whom, time the Knights in Silver won’t give. In the meantime, I couldn’t withhold the information they wanted, not this time.”

“This time?”

“You know very well that Thralia and I knew about your other . . . identities . . . since Everlund, and I suspected more, even if I didn't know all of it. The guards here ask questions when there are drow around, even when they've been vouched for. Especially when their activities in the city are slightly suspicious. We’ve been questioned since we came back into the city and our recent association with you became known, and we've covered for you. I've covered for you. A lot."

"Well, of course you did. You hadn't gotten everything you wanted from me, yet." Oh, this is not going well.

Tordrin sounded stricken. “You can't really think that. . . . You must know how much I care about--"

"If you truly cared, you wouldn't have told them everything," she said coldly. "You would have kept your promise. Why couldn't you just tell them that I'm a thief and mercenary from Menzo? Why, if not because exposing me was your plan all along?"

"I had no intention of exposing you. You have to believe me!"

"Then why?"

"Because it was better for you that they know the whole truth."

"How? So they can extradite me back to my own people, as punishment for my crimes here? At least if they just imprisoned me as a thief, I would've had a chance of escaping!"

Tordrin let out a deep breath. "Ralenthra, can't you see that I'm only trying to protect you?”

“Protect me?” she shouted. “I was doing just fine protecting myself, you know!”

“Were you? Your elaborate misdirection a few weeks ago may have thrown people off your scent for a while, but not forever. What are you going to do when they find you again? Because they will. You can’t pull the same trick again. Will you just slip away and move to a new city? How many times can you do that?”

“As many times as it takes.”

“What about the friends you’ve made here? There are people who actually care about you, you know.”

“I’d have been able to hide here longer than I will now that you’ve let everybody know who I am! You may as well have sent a letter to all my enemies inviting them to Silverymoon to kill me! Drow don’t just throw you in a cell and give you bread and water every morning. For all I know, by the time I get back from this—this suicide mission—if I get back—they’ll all be here waiting for me. And it’s your fault! You’ve probably been planning this all this time; you’re just as bad as those people from Olostin’s Hold! I wish I’d never met you!”

I heard Magnos shout from his room, “There are people trying to sleep around here, you know!”

A gruff voice called out “What’s going on out there? Tordrin, d’ya need some help?” I could stand it no longer. I walked out of our chamber and stood in the doorway. Tordrin turned to respond to the guard, “I’ve got it covered, thanks.” His momentary lapse of attention allowed Ralenthra to wriggle out of his grip, and she ran toward me.

“If you want to protect me, leave me the hell alone!” she shouted as she flung her arms around my neck. My arms went around her instinctively. I gazed over Ralenthra’s head at Tordrin and locked eyes with him for a moment. He looked at me pleadingly, almost helplessly, appealing to me as only one fair elf can to another. But she was too raw now for me to make the peace between them. I shook my head and watched his heart break before my eyes. Quietly, I drew Ralenthra into the room and locked the door behind us. I sat her down on a bed and held her as she sobbed for what felt like hours.

Finally, it seemed right to speak. I gently smoothed her hair out of her face with my hand. “Why does it matter, that anyone knows your real name? The people from Menzo are after Corael, aren’t they? They won’t keep coming after you just because you’re involved with Eilestraeeans, will they?”

“Them? Probably not for that. But they’ll find out that Corael and I are the same person, and Corael made them lose favor with Llolth. It’s a big deal. They may stop looking for me eventually, if I can keep away from them. It’s a waste of resources. Besides, I’ve heard the House regained favor recently, so they may not care about me so much. But they won’t hesitate to kill me if I run into any of them”

But as things stood right now, with Ralenthra in Silverymoon she would be untouchable by the Menzo drow. Any drow trying to enter the city requires a vouching for his or her character from a reputable citizen. They are the only race to have to go through this screening process. “Then what are you so worried about?”

“My father. You think your family is messed up? My mother wanted to kill me when I was a small child, because I was too small and weak.” I couldn’t hide my shock. How could a mother want to kill her own child? Ralenthra shrugged. “It’s the drow way. Someone, I don’t even remember who, convinced my father not to, that he should wait until I grew some more, to see if I had other talents that made up for it.

“My mother was furious, but my father forbade her to harm me. He’s a high priest of Vhaeraun, so he had enough authority in the clan to make that decision. My mother left soon after; she had never fully bought into the idea of equality, and she rankled under the authority of a male. She went back to the Underdark, I’m not sure where, to serve Llolth.

“But my father let me live, at a time when the Auskovyn were struggling to carve out a home on the surface. He gave me precious resources that could have gone to someone who would’ve better benefited the clan. He invested in me. When I was training to be a ranger, he knew I cheated, but he let it go on, because I’d finally proven I had a skill that could be valuable. When he caught me with the Eilestraeeans, it was more than a crime; it was personal. He will never stop hunting me, because he invested in me, and I proved to be a waste. Maybe he was right.” She paused. "I told him, you know."

She didn’t have to say it, in fact, I wish she hadn’t. I tensed, despite myself. "I told Tordrin everything. And he used it against me, the first chance he got. He told me he'd never tell anyone, and I believed him. I'm such a fool, Seledra. Such a fool." It was unfortunate, the timing of this whole matter, to say the least. By the look in Tordrin’s eyes, he was living in a terrible nightmare come to life, forced to choose between keeping his word and doing what he believed to be in everyone’s best interests, only to lose what he cared about most. But I knew it took a lot for Ralenthra to put her heart out there after so long, perhaps for the first time ever. She took a chance and it cost her. It wasn’t right that fate itself seemed to be conspiring against the both of them and their happiness. And I couldn’t help feeling somewhat responsible. After all, I’d introduced her to Thralia.

It was fortunate for me that she again leaned into my shoulder for comfort, so she could not see my face. What could I say in the face of her despair? How could I restore her faith in her own self-worth when I knew so much of what she’d done to survive for so long might now be rendered as only merely delaying the inevitable? Even if I had the perfect words, she was so raw, so heartbroken that I wasn’t sure they would have any effect.

“Maybe this mission is a…blessing in disguise for you. If you stay moving with the rest of us there to all watch each others backs…okay, Magnos will probably only be looking to save his own skin, but still…on the run or in Silverymoon, you will be safe with us. Maybe you’ll be able to keep using ‘Mayurra’ as your identity here. Maybe the Captain will keep his word and ‘Ralenthra’ will remain a secret.”

The rising sun outside our window hit Ralenthra’s hair, giving her a pinkish-orange halo. She sighed. “That’s a lot of maybes, Seledra.”

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March 2016

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