(Disclaimer contains spoilers and so comes at the end)Shining Light
I met Light of Heavens for the first time in Port Llast.
Ostensibly we’d gone there so that Grobnar could consult with sages who might know where he could find the Wendersnaven. Really, as I was of the firm opinion that the Wendersnaven were mythical and Grobnar was a raving lunatic for believing in them, I’d agreed to the trip primarily so that I could go shopping. Port Llast was a pretty small town but, probably because some ships call in there to avoid paying the tolls charged at the Neverwinter docks, the local merchants sometimes had magic items on sale that weren’t available anywhere else in the region. The other reason for going was to offer Calindra a job. If she really was an expert at smelting steel, as she claimed, she could be a big help with arming and equipping the new Greycloaks. But mainly I was going for the shopping. I needed something to take my mind off Shandra’s death.
Being attacked on the way to Port Llast wasn’t really a big surprise. We get attacked a lot. This particular bunch was trying to collect a bounty put on my head by the Arcane Brotherhood. They were skillful, and well equipped, but they were stupid enough to think that four of them could take on eight of us. After we’d proved them wrong – which took about ten seconds – we stripped them of their armor, Neeshka went through their belongings for valuables, and then we left their corpses in the bushes.
The first time I’d done anything like that I’d had to break off to vomit at the side of the trail. By now I was hardened to fighting and death, almost blasé, and I simply gathered up the armor without turning a hair. We dumped the bodies and moved on.
There are only two taverns in Port Llast. The Jack and Saber doesn’t have beds, it’s only a drinking and eating establishment, and the ceiling beams are so low that the last time we were there I cracked my head open (one down side of being six feet tall) and I had to use a Lay On Hands on myself. This time we went straight to the Alliance Arms, where I could walk to a table without any danger of smashing my skull, and where some of the regular patrons were worth engaging in conversation.
And the Alliance Arms was where we were most likely to find Calindra. Once we’d arranged rooms for the night – I was going to have to share with Neeshka, which I didn’t mind in the slightest, but Elanee whined and moaned about having to share with Qara, and couldn’t she share with me instead, except that Neeshka and Qara probably would kill each other if left alone together for the night – the men headed for the bar and I did a tour of the place looking for the Amnian engineer.
She was there, as I’d expected, but she was sharing a table with two other women and in the middle of an animated conversation. I headed that way, wondering if the conversation was private or if I’d be able to join them; from what I heard as I drew nearer it seemed as if they were just talking about Amn. They looked up as I approached…
…and it felt like a knife in my guts. I looked into the face of one of the women and for a second I thought it was Amie. Blonde hair tied back in exactly the way Amie used to tie hers, the same nose…
…but then the woman turned her head a little further, the light fell more directly on her face, and I saw that the resemblance was superficial. This woman was prettier than Amie, with more clearly-defined features and without Amie’s slight squint, and her eyes were green rather than brown. She was shorter than Amie, I estimated that she’d be barely over five feet tall if she was standing up, and as slim as an elf. She was older than Amie, too, mid to late twenties I’d say, and Amie had just turned seventeen when she was killed. I regained control of myself, managed to smile, and addressed Calindra.
“Greetings, Calindra,” I said. “May I join you, or is your conversation private?”
“Greetings, Temina,” Calindra replied, and her companions pricked up their ears. Actually they didn’t, I don’t think even elves or tieflings can prick up their ears for real, but they certainly swapped glances and then trained intense gazes upon me. “We are merely reminiscing about our homeland. Certainly you may join us, if you wish.”
I took a seat, and a serving wench brought me a drink, and Calindra introduced her dining companions. The blonde went by the rather unusual name of Light of Heavens and the other girl, taller and younger with long chestnut-brown tresses hanging down her back, was called Joy. They knew my name, that was obvious, and they both looked at me with rather disconcerting stares.
I wasn’t overly worried; the two women were armed, and could just possibly have been Luskan assassins merely posing as Amnian, but I had seven friends within call and I’m not exactly a pushover myself. It’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you, however, and so I checked them out with Detect Evil. That’s considered to be rather ill-mannered, in a social situation, but better to offend against polite mores than to get a knife in the back. The spell came up null. The only Evil around was the usual vague aura of low-grade Evil coming from Bishop.
Once I felt confident that I had nothing to worry about from the two girls I got down to business. First I asked Calindra how she was faring.
“Not well,” she replied. “My funds run low. I installed a crucible smelter for Haljal Throndor at the Cracked Anvil, and I was paid well for that, but I have found no other employment and I think that I may have to return to Amn soon.”
“I think I can offer you something that will avoid that necessity,” I said, and went on to make my proposition. Calindra glanced at Light of Heavens before replying, as if seeking permission, and only began negotiating terms after she’d received a nod of assent.
“It is a deal, then,” Calindra said, once we had come to an agreement. “I can produce a hundred and twenty pounds of high-quality steel a day. That should be enough to keep your smithies amply supplied.”
“Indeed so,” I said. With that much steel coming in Jacoby and Edario would be able to equip all the Greycloaks with high-quality weapons and armor before very long. Once the business was out of the way I could relax a little and I turned to the other two Amnians. “You’re called Light of Heavens?” I said to the blonde one. “That’s an unusual name.”
“Says the girl called Kalach-Cha
,” she retorted. I tensed slightly; I hadn’t mentioned the name that the Githyanki had bestowed upon me and it wasn’t common knowledge. However the grin on her face seemed teasing, rather than threatening, and after all she didn’t read as Evil. “It’s a title,” Light of Heavens went on, “just like yours, Knight-Captain – and what’s the thing about K-C with you anyway?”
“If she’s KC would that make them the Sunshine Band?” the younger girl, Joy, said. She waved a hand in the direction of my comrades at the bar, and then she broke into song. “That's the way, uh-huh uh-huh, I like it, uh-huh uh-huh
“I’m surprised you know that one,” Light of Heavens remarked. “Hey, it’s way before my time, let alone yours.”
“Mom liked it,” Joy replied.
I had no idea what they were talking about and so I looked them over more thoroughly. Neither was wearing much in the way of armor; Joy wore a waist-length jerkin that looked to be made of black dragon scales sewn onto leather, with matching wrist bracers, and her companion wore no armor other than forearm bracers checkered in a pattern of red and black – also dragon scales, I thought. Unusual and, no doubt, extremely expensive. The pendant at Light of Heavens’ throat was even more unusual. It was in the shape of a stylized golden sun, with a face embossed on the disc, and I recognized it as being the symbol of the dead god Amaunator. We’d seen that sign a few times, in the Illefarn and Netherese ruins we’d been exploring, but the only other place I’d ever encountered it was in ancient books I’d read as part of my Paladin training.
“Anyway,” Light of Heavens said, turning back to me, “I have many names. Among the Drow, for instance, I’m known as Qilafae.”
“And your real name?” I asked
She shook her head. “Now that would be telling,” she said. “I’m kinda incognito-y right now. I have a lot of enemies and I don’t want any of them hearing about me being here and coming after me. Having to break off from my mission to splat them would complicate things too much. Just call me Light of Heavens for now.”
“Your mission?” I probed.
“That would be you,” she said. “I’m here to make sure you have what it takes to beat the King of Shadows and will be ready to face the next challenge after that.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Thanks,” I said, “but I think I’ve been doing pretty well so far, at least with the aid of my friends. Adding more members to our company would get unwieldy. Already I have to spend far too much time juggling things around to avoid friction.”
“That’s not what I’m here for,” Light of Heavens said. “I don’t want to join your party. I’m offering my services as a trainer. For your companions, and for your soldiers – whatchacallem, Greycloaks, right? – but mostly for you. Although there are certain… conditions attached.”
“I could certainly use another lieutenant to train the Greycloaks,” I said, “but my associates are a somewhat… disparate bunch. Do you have skills that would be relevant to us all? For instance I am a Paladin, as is Casavir, whereas Neeshka is a Thief.”
“You all fight,” said Light of Heavens, “and that’s what I do best. And that brings me to the conditions. First, I fight you. Three times. If you beat me even once then you get my services and, hey, maybe I might even let you use my Blessed of Waukeen charge-card once in a while. No weapons, of course, ‘cause cutting you in half would be kinda counter-productive, and I’ll take off all my magic gear; rings and amulets and belt and bracers and stuff. And I won’t use any spells or potions.”
“I’m not sure I see the point,” I said. “I’ll win. Not only am I much bigger than you but I’m much stronger than I look.”
“Size matters not,” she replied. “You let me worry about that, ‘kay?”
“Light of Heavens is a warrior without peer,” Calindra put in. “I am aware of your prowess, Knight-Captain, but you are outmatched.”
I had my own ideas about that. “Very well,” I said, “we’ll do it.”- - - - -
We faced off outside. There was a clear area on the outskirts of town, amply big enough for the purpose, and my bunch gathered on one edge. I gave my armor to Khelgar, my sword to Casavir, and the rest of my magical equipment to Neeshka. Meanwhile Light of Heavens was handing over her swords and magical items to Joy.
“I had reckoned on fighting barefoot,” Light of Heavens remarked, “but it’s friggin’ cold here. There’s actual frost on the ground. Anyone got a pair of non-magical boots or shoes I can borrow? Or, better still, Boots of Winter? They won’t do Jack to affect the fight but at least they’d keep my feet warm.”
“I have Boots of Winter,” Elanee offered, “and you may borrow them. I think they will fit you.”
“Most excellent,” said Light of Heavens. “Stylish, yet affordable.” She donned the boots and took up a position in the centre of the field. “Thanks. Oh, one more thing. No eye-gouging, ‘kay? ‘Cause that’s just, eww, gross.”
“No eye-gouging,” I agreed. I advanced toward her with my fists raised.
I wasn’t expecting this to take long. The only problem I anticipated was that I’d have to be careful not to hurt her too much. Wyl Mossfeld had stayed unconscious for three hours after I’d felled him at the Harvest Brawl and he must have weighed over twice as much as the slim five-foot blonde girl who faced me now. If I killed Light of Heavens by accident, or seriously injured her, we’d have to use up a Raise Dead or a Heal spell and we might need it ourselves if another bunch of assassins turned up during the night. I’d start with a left jab, I decided, and finish her off with a right cross if necessary. I shot out my fist…
She moved so fast she was almost a blur, spinning around with her right foot coming up, and then something struck me across the head with shattering force. It was like being hit by a battering ram. I was knocked from my feet and I went sprawling.
I struggled up to my hands and knees, shaking my head to clear it, and then clambered to my feet. I could taste blood in my mouth from a cut on the inside of my lip.
“Dragon… whips his tail,” Light of Heavens said, in what sounded like a bad impression of a Shou Lung or Kozakuran accent.
She’d kicked me in the head. She was a foot shorter than me and she’d kicked my head before I could block or dodge. “How did you do that?” I asked, and then I spat blood from my mouth out onto the grass.
Light of Heavens answered a question with a question. “Are you ready to be strong?”
The question I’d heard in my mind just before I found that suddenly I was much stronger than anyone else in West Harbor. “How do you know about that?”
“Uh-huh,” she said, shaking a finger at me and grinning enigmatically. “Fight first, answers later. If you beat me, that is. If you lose you’ll just have to go away with your curiosity unsatisfied and then try harder next time.”
Very well. If that was the way she wanted it then indeed I would try harder. She was faster than me, it seemed, and the power behind her kick had been out of all proportion to her size, but there was no way she really could be stronger than me and I had a significant weight advantage. If I could grapple with her I would be able to overcome her in short order. I lunged for her, my arms extended to grab, and braced myself for an attempt to fend me off with another kick.
She caught my wrists, dropped back, and planted a foot in my stomach and thrust upward. I soared into the air, turned over, and crashed down on my back. I had no chance to do any kind of break-fall and I landed hard enough to drive the breath from my body.
By the time I could raise my head Light of Heavens was already back on her feet. “You think you know who you are, what’s to come,” she said, looking down at me. “You haven’t even begun.”
“Hey, no fair teasing,” Joy called out. “You know how much you hated it when the Powers spouted all that cryptic mystical stuff at you.”
“Turnabout is fair play,” Light of Heavens replied, “and, hey, from this end it’s kind of fun. I can see what they get out of it.”
“Well, it made you pretty mad, and it’ll probably have the same effect on KC,” Joy warned her.
Indeed I was growing annoyed. She had not yet hurt me significantly, I had come out of many battles far more battered and bruised, but never before had I been downed twice without laying a finger on my opponent. And there was an audience. At first it had just been my crew, Joy, and Calindra who watched but now a crowd was assembling around the field to witness my humiliation.
I tried to regain my control, at least sufficiently so that my annoyance would not affect my actions in the combat, and forced myself to think rationally. She was faster than me, which was surprising in itself as even Neeshka couldn’t match me for speed without the aid of a Cat’s Grace potion, and Light of Heavens was using her speed advantage to exploit the holes in my defense that opened when I attacked. So, I would hold back from attacking. If I let her come to me it would be her who was leaving holes in her defenses – and I was certain that if I could land just one blow, or get my hands on her in a hold, that would be the end of the fight.
I waited. Sure enough she came at me, taking off in a flying kick, her foot hurtling toward my face. I caught her leg and turned, intending to hurl her to the ground and knock the breath out of her – but somehow she twisted in mid-air and wrapped her arms around my neck. We both went down but she was on top of me when we hit the ground. It was me who was winded and, before I could get my breath back, she was using her legs to apply a painful lock to my right arm. And she used her hands to bounce my head off the ground three times in quick succession. It hurt.
She released me and rolled away, too quickly for me to do anything to impede her, and rose to her feet in a smooth continuation of the roll. I got up more laboriously and, just as I was rising from my knees, Light of Heavens rushed in and kicked me.
The force of the kick lifted me off the ground and hurled me through the air. I flew for a good fifteen feet and crashed into a wooden fence hard enough to splinter the wood. It didn’t do my ribs a whole lot of good either.
I managed to regain my feet. “How did you do that?” I tried to ask. It came out as “Huuuuhhh… uuhhh?” I sucked in a deep breath of air and tried again. This time I managed to get the words out reasonably intelligibly.
“Now, that would be telling,” Light of Heavens said. “Like I said, first you have to beat me and then I’ll make with the explain-y.”
It wasn’t going to be easy, beating her, but I was still sure that I could do it. I just had to land one good blow. Waiting for her to attack, and thus handing her the initiative, hadn’t worked out too well and so I went forward again. I threw a fast combination of punches, expecting to take a hit or two myself, but I was sure at least one of my blows would get through. It didn’t work out that way.
She deflected my left-hand punch over her shoulder and stepped in close. My right hook was blocked and then she drove the stiffened fingers of her right hand into my stomach. The breath whooshed out of my body and I doubled up. Right into a head-butt to the jaw. Then she hooked a leg behind mine and pushed on my shoulder. I went down yet again.
I grabbed at her as I fell but she caught my hand and wrenched it back. I ended up flat on the ground with my arm stretched out straight and her heel planted firmly in my armpit. I tried to pull free but she had too much leverage and I succeeded only in causing myself a lot of pain.
“It happens to everyone, eventually,” Light of Heavens said in a light, conversational, tone. “No matter how strong, how fast, and how skillful you are one day you meet someone stronger, faster, and… skillful-er. That would be me.”
Certainly she was faster, and more skillful, but I wasn’t yet ready to accept that she could be stronger. I put my free hand to the ground and pushed myself up, pulled my legs under me, and started to rise. Light of Heavens simply wasn’t heavy enough to hold me down. Instead she took her foot out of my armpit, heaved on my arm, and pulled me straight into a blow with her knee that felt as if it cracked a couple of my ribs. She let go of my arm and I fell down again.
The next couple of minutes followed a depressing pattern. I tried to hit Light of Heavens; she dodged, gracefully and with discouraging ease, and riposted with blows of sledgehammer force. Sometimes I stood back and tried to use counters; she slipped past my defenses and slammed punches, kicks, and elbow strikes into everything from my knees to my nose. And all the time she kept talking.
“I won’t give you the full explanation until you can beat me,” she said, in between slamming an elbow into my jaw and throwing me over her hip, “but I’ll give you a few hints.” She kicked me in the face as I was getting up. “The ‘ready to be strong’ thing is kinda like Pass the Parcel. Only, instead of when the music stops, it passes on when the holder dies.”
“Pass the Parcel?” I asked. The phrase meant nothing to me. I launched a left-foot kick at her, she caught my foot, and I pivoted on the trapped leg and lashed out with my right. She swayed out of the way, flipped my left leg up, and I was just a little too slow getting my hands into the right position and I landed on my head. Then she rammed a knee into the back of my left leg and paralyzed the muscle.
I tried to get up, my leg gave way under me, and Light of Heavens kicked me in the chest and sent me flying back ten feet. She didn’t follow up but instead spent a moment explaining the children’s game of Pass the Parcel. I used the respite to heal myself up with Lay On Hands; I was so battered and bruised that it was hampering my movements.
“So, anyway,” Light of Heavens went on, once she had told me about Pass the Parcel, “in this case, the parcel is the whole strength, speed, and toughness thing. You’re the Chosen One. That’s not Chosen in the sense that, like, Viconia De’Vir is the Chosen of Shar, or like Qilué Veladorn is the Chosen of Eilistraee; it just means that you got chosen to get the power. And don’t ask me who does the choosing because I don’t know the answer.”
So on top of being the Kalach-Cha
, and having a shard of the Sword of Gith embedded in my chest, I was some sort of chosen warrior. That explained a few things. Of course I still had questions, lots of them, but I had a feeling that asking them wouldn’t get me the answers. Only beating this incredibly fast, supremely skillful, woman would do that.
I tried again. She danced away from my blows and hit me on the nose.
“The first Chosen One in this world was Sorkatani Gorion’s Ward,” Light of Heavens said, picking up the conversation – or lecture – again. “When she… died… it passed to someone in Neverwinter. Kenadi Nefret.”
She mispronounced the name of the Hero of Neverwinter, failing to put the stress on the second syllable, but I let it pass. “She was killed by Cierre of Luruar,” I said. I knew the story well; Neeshka had fought alongside Cierre, in the battle against Queen Morag and her Sarrukh hordes, and had come out with a strong case of hero-worship for the Drow warrior who had given Neeshka her magic sword. “Does that mean that Cierre was the next Chosen One?” If so, then it didn’t explain how I fit into the chain. I certainly hadn’t killed Cierre; in fact the only sentient beings I’d killed before I gained my exceptional strength had been two stray lizard-folk who had invaded Pitney Lannon’s house.
Light of Heavens shook her head. “Uh, so maybe Pass the Parcel wasn’t the best analogy,” she said. “It passes on when you die, yeah, but not to the one who kills you. It goes to the girl who’ll make the best use of it. After Kenadi it went to a girl called Wyndara Arelim in Westgate. She wiped out a nest of vampires there, and pretty much eliminated the Night Masks, but then the vampire lord Orbakh killed her. And then it passed to you.”
“How do you know all this?” I asked. “And what exactly is ‘it’?”
“Beat me and I’ll tell you,” she said. “Bring it on.”
I gritted my teeth and prepared to advance again. Light of Heavens stood, in a perfectly balanced stance, waiting for me. I noticed that she was standing on a patch of frost, where the shadow of the inn’s kitchen wing had kept the sun’s rays from reaching the ground, and I saw the gleam of ice on a frozen puddle. She was from Amn, a thousand miles to the south of Port Llast, and wouldn’t have any experience of moving on ice. This was my chance to seize the advantage. I charged.
She brought up her right foot in a kick that smashed into my jaw. I was braced for it, and managed to keep upright despite the jarring impact, and I swung a punch at her head.
It wasn’t there. She folded over, so far that her hair brushed the ground, and spun around with unbelievable speed. She swapped legs and kicked me with the other foot, spun again, and kicked me for a third time. Then she rose into the air, still spinning, and back-fisted me in the face as she went up. Her foot lashed out once more, catching me full in the face, and then she drove her elbow into the top of my head as she came down. I measured my length on the ground yet again. My vision was blurred, my jaw felt numb, and my teeth didn’t meet when I closed my mouth.
“I know what you tried there, and it was a good thought,” Light of Heavens commented. “You weren’t to know that I used to be a figure skater. Still, at least it shows that you use your head in a fight for more than just head-butts. You’ve got potential.”
I also had a broken jaw. Once again I used Lay on Hands to heal myself, holding my jaw in place with my hands to ensure that it set straight, and then got to my feet. How had a girl from Amn managed to learn how to skate on ice? I doubted if there’d be frozen lakes for any appreciable length of time even in the highest parts of the Cloudpeak Mountains. The things she’d said in our earlier conversation had implied that she’d never been anything like this far north before. And where did she learn to be such an incredibly accomplished fighter?
And how could I beat her? If this had been a real fight she wouldn’t have paused for conversation, giving me the moments of respite I had used to heal myself; she’d have followed up on every advantage and, by now, she might well have beaten me to death. I was completely outclassed. This must be how Khelgar had felt when he fought the monks and they, in his words, used him as a bar-rag before throwing him out of the window.
“What’s Rule One?” Light of Heavens asked.
I was perplexed. “Rule One? In what context?” She replied only with an enigmatic smile. “Uh, never give up?”
She shook her head. “It’s ‘Don’t die’. Okay, so I broke that rule three times but, hey, it’s do as I say, not do as I do.”
‘Okay’? I knew that it meant either ‘yes, I will’ or ‘acceptable’ but only because I’d heard Neeshka using it. She’d never been anywhere remotely near Amn. I was fairly sure that she’d picked up the word from the soldiers from another world, Colonel O’Neil and his men, who had come to Neverwinter and fought against the Luskans and the reptilian Sarrukh. Had Light of Heavens also met those alien soldiers?
Well, if I wanted an answer I had to find some way of beating her. I studied her pose and came up with a plan.
I attacked again but this time I hurled myself at her, turning in the air so that I was parallel with the ground, counting on my six foot of height to make sure that she wouldn’t be able to dodge. Some part of me was bound to make contact, I’d knock her down, and the impact should shake her up enough that I’d be able to get her in a disabling hold and bring the fight to the end.
I was half right. She didn’t even try to evade, I struck her across the chest, and I bowled her over and landed on top of her. So far, so good; and then she brought her hands up and simply tossed me ten feet into the air. I couldn’t believe it. She really was stronger than me. Then the ground rushed towards me and I had more pressing things to think about.
I landed with an impact that jarred the breath from my body. Light of Heavens was already on her feet and she pounced on me before I could recover. She twisted my arms up behind my back, put them in a lock, and wrapped her legs around my neck. She crossed her ankles in front of my chin and began to squeeze.
I struggled to free myself, wrenching against the arm-lock as hard as I could, but agony flooded through me as I succeeded only in dislocating my own right shoulder. I couldn’t hold back a cry of pain. “Sorry,” Light of Heavens said, but she kept right on squeezing. The legs tightening against the sides of my neck felt like steel bars.
“You have some nice moves,” Light of Heavens said in a conversational tone, as the grip of her legs grew inexorably tighter, “and I like your ‘never give up’ attitude.” I kept on trying to struggle free but with only one working arm, and that pinned in a lock that I couldn’t break, there was nothing I could do. “But you still have a lot to learn before you’re up to getting rid of the King of Shadows and facing up to what comes next.” My vision blurred and I heard a roaring in my ears. “I’d like to just get straight to helping you,” Light of Heavens went on, “but my bosses say it has to be this way. Sucks to be you, I guess, but those are the breaks.”
She said something else but I couldn’t make it out. Everything was going dark and then I lost consciousness.- - - - -
I recovered consciousness with a throbbing pain in my shoulder and Khelgar’s bearded face looming over me. “I put your shoulder back into place, lass,” Khelgar told me. “Thought I’d best do it while you were out.”
“Thanks,” I croaked out. My mouth was dry and my throat was sore. “Healing potion, please?”
Khelgar raised his eyebrows. “You’ve used all your Lay On Hands powers?” He produced the healing potion nonetheless.
I gulped it down. “My throat was dry,” I explained.
“I’m not surprised,” Khelgar said. He shook his head. “That blonde lass is beyond formidable,” he said. “Remember the monks who beat me? I think she could have used them
to wipe down the tables. All of them at once.”
“Indeed so,” I said. “She’s Grand Master level. In fact, now I think about it, I might have heard that title ‘Light of Heavens’ in connection with the Order of the Sun Soul. Perhaps I might be able to find a reference to her in the library at the Keep, or Aldanon might know something.”
“Humph. Good luck to you getting anything intelligible out of that old fool in anything less than a ten-day,” Khelgar remarked.
“I might as well ask him, anyway,” I said. I climbed to my feet, with a little help from Khelgar, and began putting my armor back on. I looked across the field and saw that Light of Heavens was talking to Bishop.
“Okay, so you’re a bad boy,” she was saying. “That don’t impress me much. I’ve dated a vampire, a drow, and Artemis Entreri. Been there, seen it, done it.”
Obviously Bishop had been making advances to her. Well, you could say a lot of bad things about Bishop, but that he lacked courage wasn’t one of them. Sense, on the other hand… I didn’t hear his reply to her because at that moment Neeshka arrived at my side and began assisting me with my armor.
“Neeshka,” I said, “I know you’ll have ‘acquired’ several small items from Joy while I was fighting Light of Heavens. Give them back. I really, really, don’t want to get that pair annoyed with us.”
Neeshka pouted. “I didn’t get anything,” she said. “She just… drifted away every time I approached. And then, while you were unconscious, she came over and handed me Breath of the Maiden. I hadn’t even realized it was gone. I hate to say it but… she might just possibly be a better thief than I am. At least as a pickpocket.”
“With a sister like Light of Heavens I think you can assume that she’s just as good at the fighting side of the rogues’ business,” I advised Neeshka. “Don’t start anything.”
“Don’t worry, boss, I won’t,” Neeshka promised. “I want Light of Heavens to teach me, too. She’s even better than Cierre.” She tilted her head to one side and looked up at me. “Of course first you have to beat her in a fist-fight. How are you going to do that?”
I grimaced. “I don’t know,” I admitted. “I really don’t know.”- - - - -
It was one of my prophetic dreams, the ones I’d been having intermittently ever since I’d gained my exceptional strength; although ‘prophetic’ might not be the best way of putting it, as I’d never gained anything useful from them. They might even have made the situation with Amon Jerro worse; the glimpses of him I’d had in my dreams had led me to believe that he was the King of Shadows, whereas in fact he was that being’s most implacable enemy. With the benefit of hindsight I could see how I’d misinterpreted it; of course, everything is obvious with hindsight.
This dream was a little different from the ones I’d had before. In those I’d been a passive spectator as events unfolded in front of me; in this one I was being directly addressed.
I’d gone to bed in the Alliance Arms but now I stood on a hot and arid plain. Southern Tethyr, it might have been, or Calimshan, or perhaps the Anauroch desert. Facing me were two women. One was conventional enough in appearance; in fact she looked rather like Shandra Jerro, with the same tawny hair and elfin features, although this woman was prettier than Shandra and her eyes were blue whereas Shandra’s had been brown. The other… wasn’t conventional at all.
She had deep brown skin, almost black, indicating that she came from very far south indeed; Chult, most probably. Stripes of some white pigment were daubed across her face, and she wore only a loincloth of animal skins, giving her a very wild and savage appearance.
It was the other woman who spoke first. “Help us, Obi-Wan Kenobi,” she said. “You’re our only hope.”
“Obi-Wan Kenobi?” I echoed her. “I don’t know that one.” It sounded as if it might come from the same language as ‘Kalach-Cha.’
“Sorry,” she said. “I couldn’t resist it. I’ll rephrase. Help us, Temina Farlong, the Kalach-Cha, Knight-Captain of Crossroad Keep. You’re our only hope.”
“Save your sister,” said the dark one.
“But I don’t have a sister,” I pointed out.
“She’s speaking metaphorically,” the tawny-haired woman said. She made a gesture and two more young women appeared at her side. I recognized one of them; I’d never met her but I’d seen a painting of her in Neverwinter Keep. Kenadi Nefret, the Hero of Neverwinter. The other girl was dark-haired, clad in black leather, and she wore a domino mask that obscured her face. I deduced, from the context, that she must be the girl from Westgate who Light of Heavens had mentioned.
“Sister Slayers,” said the dark-skinned woman. “Two of those that went before you.”
“They’re already dead,” I reminded her. “I’d have saved them if I could but it’s too late now.”
The Hero of Neverwinter spoke to me. “I have no need of rescue,” she said. “I am well content in the realm of Mielikki. Death is not the worst fate that can befall one. And my mission was completed, after my death, and Neverwinter was saved after all.”
“I wouldn’t mind a second round against Orbakh,” said the girl from Westgate, “but only for pride’s sake. I am content now. Except for knowing about… that.” She turned and pointed at something in the distance.
The scene had changed as they spoke, without me noticing, and no longer were we surrounded by arid, sandy, soil and scrub grass. Now we stood upon an equally barren waste but this was grey and featureless. In the distance stood a high tower seemingly made of smoked glass and, between us and the tower, there was a wall.
Something about the wall set my teeth on edge. It was greenish-grey, as if covered in moss or slime, and the irregularly-shaped stones seemed to move slightly as I watched. It had to be the Wall of the Faithless.
“She freed a lot of people,” the fair-haired girl said, “but it seems the good die young. I just looked around and she was gone.” She shuddered. “And not to the afterlife she deserves but to that… abomination.”
“Are you saying that Sorkatani
is in the Wall of the Faithless?” I asked.
“Indeed so,” said Kenadi Nefret. “She chose no patron deity and thus Kelemvor deemed her to be Faithless.”
“Even though at least five deities counted her as a friend,” said the fair woman, her voice filled with bitterness. “And she had the chance to become a god herself but she turned it down. And that…” she pointed at the Wall, “is her reward.”
“You want me to rescue her from the Wall of the Faithless
?” I could hardly believe what I was hearing. “Look, I’m pretty tough, although perhaps not as tough as I thought I was before I met Light of Heavens, but I can’t go against a god.”
“Why not?” the young woman asked. “I’ve done it. Admittedly she sucked my brains out, and I wasn’t much use for a while, but my friends cured me and killed the bitch. But you’re thinking too small. Sorkatani is not the only one unjustly condemned to the Wall – not that such a horrible punishment, for such a trivial fault, could ever be just. Yoshimo’s sister is in there too, and the hero Valaderion, and hundreds of thousands of decent ordinary folk who simply never gave thought to gods. No, we don’t want you just to rescue one person from the Wall – we want you to tear the whole thing down.”
I raised my eyebrows. “And just how am I supposed to do that?”
“You’ll have help,” she told me. “A whole Crusade of help. But you’ll have to take the lead and it won’t be an easy path. Will you do it?”
“How can I say no when the Hero of Neverwinter herself is among those asking me?” I replied. “But it will have to wait until I’ve dealt with the King of Shadows.”
“Of course,” the honey-blonde woman said. “I knew we could count on you. Okay…”
There was that word ‘okay’ again. It seemed as if everyone was using it. Perhaps West Harbor was the only place on the Sword Coast where it wasn’t part of everyday speech.
“…I’ll see you in Rashemen.”- - - - -
Disclaimer: the characters in this story (other than Temina Farlong and Kenadi Nefret) do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only and all rights remain with their creators. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (c) 2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox. ‘Neverwinter Nights 2’ is the property of Obsidian Entertainment and Atari; ‘Neverwinter Nights 2: Mysteries of Westgate’ is the property of Ossian Studios and Atari. Dawn (aka Joy) quotes from “That’s the Way (I Like It)” by KC and the Sunshine Band, written by H. W. (KC) Casey and Richard Finch, and Tara quotes from “Abraham, Martin and John”, written by Dick Holler; lyrics used without permission and with no intent to profit.