The gates of the city of Nibenay were intimidating. On either side, carvings of enormous faces, both glowering fiercely, glared at the incoming merchants, slaves, and travelers as they passed beneath. Semi-orderly lines formed to allow the city guards, led by the Templar wives of the Shadow King, to question each traveler entering the gates.
“I don’t remember there being this many guards last time I was here. Are you sure we’ll be ok?” Pa Mela was doing a good job of looking her part, but Dryder could see a little worry beneath her cool façade. She was dressed in extravagantly rich garments, displaying her profession as a performer. Dryder had also dressed well, though less garish than Pa Mela. Behind them, Gundrek carried their equipment and instruments while trying to look meek and downcast. Dryder worried more for him than Pa Mela; Gundrek as a slave and gladiator had killed his former master, and pretending to be a slave again was difficult for the proud Mul.
Their plan was to enter the city as a troupe of minstrels. It was not an uncommon practice among the nobles of the city to hire performers, and Dryder and Pa Mela both were quite talented as musicians and orators. Pa Mela had warned her companions that the Templars were asking around about them, so Dryder thought it best to enter the city separately so that they could meet their contact. In an hour’s time, Tor Val, Kratas, and Katrie would enter through the Western gates, and Dryder hoped to be within the city and in position to help them in case there were any problems.
A bored looking Templar-wife and 4 guards approached them. As the guards gazed appreciatively at Pa Mela’s toned body, she flashed them a dazzling smile, easily falling back into her role.
“State your name and business.” The Templar carefully searched each of their faces, occasionally glancing down at several sheets of parchment in her hands.
“I am Velu, and this is my companion Gord,” Pa Mela smiled and flourished into a deep bow. Unknowingly, a small pouch fell from her flowing blouse to land at the Templar’s feet. A faint tinkle of several ceramic coins could be heard.
As she recovered from her introduction, she gave the guards a smoky glance, her smile never faltering. “We are to give a performance tonight at the House Shom compound. Perhaps you and these handsome gentlemen would be willing to join us tonight as we perform.”
Several of the guards grinned, but the Templar remained uninterested. She carefully observed Pa Mela and Dryder, then looked behind them to Gundrek, still glancing down at her parchment.
“And him?” she asked.
“Oh, I don’t know its name…I just call it mule. A lady has got to have something reliable to carry her things, doesn’t she?”
Dryder could hear a faint growl coming from Gundrek. Apparently, the Templar-wife heard it too, as her scrutiny of Gundrek intensified for a moment. Dryder’s hand twitched and he prepared to pull his weapons if needed.
After a few moments, the Templar finally bent to pick up the small pouch, hefting it in one hand as she nodded.
“Welcome to Nibenay. The Shom compound is on the northern end of the city by the Cliffside. Follow the main road here, then turn north on the Sage road.”
The three of them shuffled through, Pa Mela smiling and flirting with her eyes as they moved past the guards. Soon, they moved into the press of people roaming the main thoroughfare.
“That was a bit close,” Pa Mela sighed as the gates disappeared behind them. “Can you put a muzzle on him or something? I thought he was going to blow the whole thing.”
Gundrek slammed the equipment he was carrying into Pa Mela’s chest, nearly knocking her down as he glared at her.
“Oh, don’t get all offended, dear. I was just playing a part, just like you were,” Pa Mela teased.
Gundrek growled, pushing his way past her and moving through the crowd. Dryder sighed, shaking his head.
“Follow him to the compound. I need to head to the Western gate to make sure Tor Val doesn’t start any trouble,” Dryder could just see it; Kratas and Katrie trying to keep Tor Val calm before he smashes through the Templars and guards at the gate with maniacal glee. “And don’t provoke him, Ok?”
Pa Mela shrugged, and Dryder moved west, dissolving into the crowd.
The Amketch compound was somewhat out of place in the Sage district. Most of the buildings around it were decorated with banners, signs, and bright colors to attract business. The Amketch compound, though, was just large enough to be comfortable and only carried the house arms above the main door.
It was almost as soon as they announced their presence to the guards outside that Marius burst from his offices. The shock on his face said it all; he had written all of them off as dead due to their long absence. His embrace was warm and friendly as he herded them into his compound, shouting for food and wine.
“Where have you been?” Marius Amketch asked as the six companions settled in.
Dryder sighed wearily, “That’s a bit of a long story. I’m sure you heard of our attempt to save Kiris Dahn from the Gith army?”
Marius nodded. Dryder and Kratas began to recount their adventures, explaining what they found in the mines beneath the Black Spine Mountains, of their journey to the outer planes, their capture by the alien Githyanki and their megalomaniacal queen. They showed him the wealth of equipment and treasure that they had found. Finally, they told of their discovery of the destruction of Kiris Dahn, and the loss of the artifact hidden beneath it.
“I’ve heard of the attack on Kiris Dahn. Allkirk, about two weeks after you disappeared, begged me to get everyone out of the village. It wasn’t long after that...”
Dryder interrupted, “Wait, Allkirk cleared Kiris Dahn? Why?”
“He didn’t say. He seemed distracted, though. I took as many as I could into my service. It wasn’t too long after that, however, that the Templars started really harassing the local Veiled Alliance. Pulling people from their shops and homes, killing them in the streets, things like that. Allkirk and most of the surviving Veiled Alliance members left the city.”
The companions looked at each other. The same thought went through their heads, and Pa Mela voiced it, “They were betrayed, weren’t they?”
Marius nodded, “It’s likely. The Templars and guards started passing these out soon after.” He handed them sheets of parchment. On the sheets were very accurate drawings of Tor Val, Katrie, Gundrek, and Kratas, all listed as persons of interest and criminal collaborators.
“That’s why they were so interested in Gundrek,” Dryder mused. Kratas mentioned that there was a bit of scrutiny for him as well, but he was able to talk his way through.
“Good thing he was my slave then, huh? Slaves are beneath notice,” Pa Mela chirped. Gundrek kicked her chair.
“I think its best that you remain here in the compound until I can sell everything. I’ll have comfortable rooms readied for you.”
“Where is he?” Dryder asked.
Marius looked at the group quietly for a moment, “I know you wish him ill. I’ve told him that you were displeased with him, and left it at that. Whatever it is, I ask that you don’t involve me. You are all my friends, and I would not be caught in the middle.”
“Our argument is between us and Allkirk, I assure you,” Tor Val growled, his fists clenching.
Marius easily guessed the meaning. “There’s more. My last few messages from him have been…odd. For a while, he would contact me and inform me of his whereabouts, but soon, he stopped. For a long time, I did not know what was happening. Then last week, out of the blue, he contacted me twice. One message said that he was near Tyr, and that he had found one. He seemed very excited when he said this, something about how the metamorphosis was almost complete, and that now the world could finally start healing. His second message was a few days later. It said that if you were still alive, I was to give you something important. He said that “She” was not to have it or find it, and that you would keep it safe.”
“She?” Katrie asked.
Marius shrugged, “The nature of the Sending ritual, or so my ritualist says. There is only so much that can be said in so few words. He did tell me to give you a command word, though. Mihi Viam.”
Dryder looked over at Marius, “Do you know where he was hiding here in the city before he left?”
Marius chuckled, “No. But, I’m sure a man of your considerable talents can probably find out.”
Dryder nodded, glancing over at Kratas, “I think that the rest of you should stay here, especially since they are looking for you. Pa Mela and I can look for Allkirk’s hideout.”
“I don’t like just the two of you going out there by yourselves,” Gundrek muttered.
“The Templars aren’t familiar with their faces,” Kratas replied. “Besides, this command word is bound to do something, right?”
If there was one thing Dryder excelled at, it was finding things. It took most of the following day to discover where Allkirk was hiding; a ruined hovel near the Reservoir district. However, he was pretty sure it had been picked clean by the Templars. Tables, furniture, clothing, all covered the floor, broken and torn. Whoever had searched the hovel had done a thorough job.
After about an hour of searching, Pa Mela finally threw up her hands in disgust, “It’s useless. Whoever searched this place would have found whatever it is he left and taken it.”
Dryder reluctantly agreed. “Can you detect any magic in here? Anything at all?”
Pa Mela shook her head.
Dryder asked, “What was that command word again? Maybe if we used it, it’ll point us in the right direction.”
As soon as Pa Mela uttered the command word, a small section of the floor by the destroyed bed glowed, then faded.
“Nice trick,” Dryder muttered.
Looking into the compartment, he pulled out a long, slender wooden box, about three feet long. Opening it, Dryder gave a low whistle.
Within was a magnificent metal longsword. Glowing runes adorned the blade, and the hilt was made of elaborate bronze work. As he pulled the blade from the case, the runes flared, burning with a dull red fire.
“I think we’d better bring this back to the group, don’t you?” He asked Pa Mela.
Kratas was bent over the blade, carefully scrutinizing the runework.
“Look here. See these runes?” He was pointing to a long string of symbols along one side of the blade. “I recognize these. These are the same runes that were in the room beneath Kiris Dahn, the one that held the Eye. These represent nondetection. My guess is that whoever holds this weapon will not be able to be scryed upon. These here,” he pointed to another series of runes, “represent protection from death magic and psychic attack.”
The runes were familiar, and a dreadful realization crept into Dryder’s thoughts.
“Do you think he made this weapon out of the Eye?”
Kratas nodded slowly, “I’d certainly think that it’s possible. The real question is what would this weapon do if one of us tried to use it?”
Tor Val gave a low grunt, then stood up, grabbing his weapons and armor. “Tyr it is, then.”
Dryder and Kratas looked at each other, nodding. It was time to head to Tyr to find Allkirk.