A scream pierced the stillness of the forest. The wolf darted through the trees towards it.
The scent of blood filled the night air. It was close. He could taste it in the air.
Another scream. This time a woman. He tried to push himself even harder, trying to get there sooner.
As he approached a clearing, he saw a large beast hunched over a woman. It was part wolf, part man, and completely ferocious. Behind him, the barely identifiable body of a man sat in the mud, torn apart.
The wolf looked up towards the moon, almost as if for guidance. He knew what he had to do. He growled fiercely at the beast and bolted towards it. The beast looked up just as the wolf pounced.
Ieuan opened his eyes, breathing heavily. He rolled onto his back and looked up at the stark ceiling of his bedroom. He could still smell the acrid odor of blood.
“Bad dream again?”
Ieuan sat up in bed and looked over to the half-orc woman standing in the doorway. The morning sun emphasized Nagda’s more delicate, human features in a way that almost made Ieuan immediately forget last night’s dream. Or nightmare.
“The same one.” He pushed himself out of bed and reached for a morning robe. “I cannot help but think that this is some sort of omen, or message from Selune.” Standing from the bed, he walks over to Nagda and puts his arms around her shoulders. “But that is a matter for another time.”
Nagda looks into Ieuan’s eyes and smiles. “Another time, then.” Slapping him lightly on the side, she pushes him away. “You had better get yourself ready. We have a meeting with Lord Neverember in an hour.”
Ieuan sighs deeply, pulling his arms away. “Of course. I had forgotten.” He takes a few steps towards the wardrobe as he looks about the room for his clothes. “It bothers me that we still work with that man. He’s just another Waterdhavian tyrant that pretends to care about the city.”
Shaking her head, Nagda reaches down and picks up Ieuan’s shirt off of the floor. “Better the tyrant than the devil, I suppose.”
“We will see.”
The wind blew across the deck of the airship as it moved through the clouds. The sun shined brightly as it came over the eastern horizon. The raven-haired captain stood at the aft end of the ship, manning the wheel. An old, gray-haired dwarf walks to his side, spear in hand.
“Ye have a fine ship, Capt’n Thorn.” The ship hit a slight current, forcing the stout dwarf to reach for a nearby rail. “She seems a bit…”
The dwarf nodded. “Aye.”
Captain Thorn looked around the deck, observing the many people milling about the ship. Ever since the prisoner breakout from the Inquisitor Tower, the Scrag had felt more like an overstuffed dwelling than an airship. If they picked up any more people, he was not sure where they would go.
“I hear that they’ve found something. A more permanent base of operations, if you will.” Captain Thorn looked down at the wizened dwarf. “They’re meeting in the wardroom in the next hour, if you’re interested.”
Ramirez nodded and smiled. “Whateve’ gits me back ta solid ground is good fer me.”
The two young men walk side-by-side down the tight corridor of the airship’s lower level.
“I don’t really care what you think, Orsino,” the pale man said to the other. “I’m still better with a blade than you are.”
Orsino nodded his head, grinning. “I don’t doubt it, Malvolio. Let’s go topside, in the morning sun, so you can prove it to me.” In his mind, he laughed at the idea.
Malvolio started to respond but stopped himself. He muttered a curse under his breath. “You just reminded me why I hate you.”
Orsino smiled as they walk through the door into the ship’s wardroom. “And that’s why we get along.”
Sitting in a sort of make-shift throne in the great chamber of the Hall of Justice, Lord Dagult Neverember watched as the array of ghostly forms stood before him. His mind wandered to the events of the past few weeks, in which he went from the Open Lord of Waterdeep to a branded traitor and public enemy of the city he had sworn to protect. Yet, no matter the case, he is still a leader and if Waterdeep needed anything right now, it was a leader.
Addressing both the people in the Hall of Justice and the phantasms being projected from the airship Scrag, he stood and spoke: “Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you for coming. Before we commence in earnest, let us hear of events in Waterdeep. Paetr?”
As the words left Neverember’s mouth, a bluish specter of a short cloaked figure appeared in the center of the chamber. It drew back its hood, revealing a young boy not much older than fifteen. The young boy respectfully bowed his head towards Lord Neverember.
“Thank you, my lord. The situation in Waterdeep is grim. The Lords of Waterdeep have given High Inquisitor Prestor authority to purge the Thayan threat, no matter the cost. Arrests of alleged ‘Thayan conspirators’ have become routine. The Inquisitors often round people up for interrogation… or worse.” Paetr lowered his head briefly, thinking of the friends he has seen die since he came to Waterdeep. “Anybody that speaks out against the Inquisitors quickly becomes their next target.”
Dagult Neverember shook his head. Waterdeep was his city. Nobody should have been able to take that away from him, much less some upstart bureaucrat like High Inquisitor Prestor.
“Anything else to report?”
The young boy shook his head slowly. “Nothing else, my lord.”
Neverember nodded, slowly sinking back into his chair. “Thank you, Paetr. I will speak to you soon.” With those words, the phantom image of the young boy disappeared from the center of the chamber. Lord Neverember brought his hand up and stroked his chin contemplatively. He looked across the room at the array of people, both physical and not, standing before him. “Any suggestions?”
Thousands of years of memories, yet everything is new.
The bluish-gray skinned man looked around the wardroom at the strange people he had come to find himself with. Stepping forward, he looked at the phantasm of Lord Neverember. “Yes, Lord Neverember. We…” He stopped. Looking at his new comrades, he thought about his place in these events. He was an outsider, a strange creature that most of these mortals did not understand. “Forgive me. I am Onceval, servant of the Gods and bearer of the spirit of the Blackstaff.”
Nobody understands. These short-lived mortals could never understand me.
Onceval stopped and composed himself. He tried again.
“What I mean to say is that we have found something important. There are indications in the historical record of an old flying fortress in the woods east of Neverwinter.” He paused to think about the words he just spoke and looked around the room for a response.
The ghostly form of Lord Neverember looked towards the strange, angelic creature. “Flying fortress?”
Onceval nodded in approval. “Yes. An ancient artifact. Created by the Netherese, to be sure.”
Do they understand what I am saying? It is a weapon.
A scarred, tattooed man looked up at Onceval from across the wardroom. “Netherese fortresses are weapons of destruction.” Zan grimaced, remembering the destructive power of the fortress constantly attacking his home, Thay. “Are we planning on going to war?”
Onceval shifted his attention to Zan. He paused briefly, thinking. “I believe…”
Malvolio stood quickly. “No! We’re already AT war. And we’re losing.”
Perhaps I was mistaken.
With all eyes on him, Malvolio felt uncomfortable. For a moment, he thought back to the days when he had served Valindra, the leader of the Thayan forces on the Sword Coast.
“Please. You don’t understand Thay. They don’t invade with soldiers and warships. They subvert. They dominate. By the time the legions come, you’ve already lost.” He paused, catching his breath. “And with Valindra in command of the Inquisitor’s Guild, it’s only a matter of time. Couple that with her influence over the Blackstaff and…” His voice trailed off as he thought about his next words for a moment.
“Waterdeep has been lost. Now we need to take it back.”
Dagult Neverember stood from his chair quickly. The vampire was right. Waterdeep had been lost. He lost it, and in doing so failed the people he swore to protect.
“If this flying fortress is a weapon, than it is a weapon that we need.” He looked at the blue phantom of Onceval and pointed at it. “Where can we find this flying fortress?”
“It is in the woods east of Neverwinter, my lord.”
“Then we need a team of people to go recover this fortress.” Neverember looked at Ieuan and Nagda standing to his right. “You’re familiar with these woods, are you not? You’re both from the Gray Wolf tribes?”
Ieuan the Devout, only passively listening to the conversation, suddenly realized he was being addressed. “Yes, Neverember. I am of the Gray Wolf. But no longer.” Nagda nodded slowly in agreement. “My people rejected me.”
Neverember stepped closer to Ieuan. “I’m not asking you to go make nice with your old tribe, priest. I need you to help us locate this flying fortress. Can you do that?”
Ieuan looked to Nagda. She had been his only real connection to the Gray Wolf, but she too had been expelled from her tribe. Now he was being asked to go back there by Neverember, the usurper from Waterdeep.
He wrapped his hand around his holy symbol of Selune, in search of inspiration. His mind wandered to his recent dreams, of wolves. Could this be a message? Were the creatures in his dream a sign from Selune?
“We’ll do it. We’ll lead your expedition.”
An elbow to the side brought Orsino back to the meeting. It would be wrong to say that Orsino had been sleeping, but he certainly had not been paying attention. He looked at Malvolio, the source of the intruding elbow. “What?” we whispered. “You upset my concentration.”
“Orsino. We need to go with them.”
Orsino shook his head. “No. We don’t.”
Malvolio shook his head at Orsino. “Fine. I need to go. And I need you to go with me.”
Orsino cocked his head, staring at Malvolio. “Why? This is an expedition into the woods. Nature. Outside. There will probably be a lot of sun involved, as well. I can’t believe that any of that sounds compelling to you.”
Malvolio sighed. “Listen. I realize that nobody here trusts me. I’m a vampire. I was an agent of Thay, working for the very people that we’re now trying to defeat. I even tried to kill you. Twice.” He put his hand on Orsino’s shoulder. “But I can help. I’ve dealt with the Netherese before. And the Gray Wolf tribes. I just need the chance.”
Orsino continued to stare. “And what does this have to do with me?”
“Because I can’t do it without you.”
Orsino’s mind went back to their days as young men. The Academy. Pranks and tricks. Viola. Then he thought of the last two weeks with Malvolio. Breaking out of the Inquisitor’s Tower. Going back to the Academy. The mind flayer. As much as he hated to admit it, he’d come to almost like having Malvolio around. Almost.
“Please. I’ll owe you one.”
Orsino lowered his face into his hand, shaking his head slowly. If nothing else, at least Malvolio would owe him for this. He raised his other hand up, signalling. “We’re in.”
“And ye have my spear!”
Ramirez didn’t know much about flying fortresses or the forest, but he knew one thing: dwarves do not belong on airships. At this point, he just wanted to get his feet back on the ground. Besides, looking over the four volunteers, we realized that these children needed adult supervision.
“Jis tell me whar ta go an’ I’ll be there.” He looked over to the woodsman, Craig Arrowman, sitting next to him. Was he asleep? Ramirez never knew what to make of him, but none of these children had any real knowledge of the forests. They were no woodsmen. The last thing Ramirez wanted to do was get lost in a forest.
“An’ the Arrowman’ll come along, too!” If anything else, Craig Arrowman was a crack shot with his bow. That gave Ramirez some comfort.
“Very well. If there is nothing else, I wish you all good luck.”
Dagult sat as the images of the people aboard the airship faded from view. He looked over to Ieuan. It surprised him that the Priest of Selune had so quickly accepted his request. Nevertheless, he had agreed.
“Do you have a plan, Priest?”
Ieuan thought. So many memories flooded through his mind. The tribes. His family. The hunt. Suddenly, it was as if everything made sense. “Yes, Neverember. I know exactly where to begin.” He felt as if Selune’s inspiration filled him with knowledge of what to do.
Neverember looked at him and raised an eyebrow. “So quickly?”
“I’m going to find my tribe.”
Onceval quickly headed out of the wardroom and up the stairs to the main deck. The wind blew across his face and ruffled his robes.
“Captain Thorn! it is imperative that you change course. Take us to Neverwinter!”