Added on November 21-December 01, 1999
Category: Fantasy/Dark Elf
Author: Lledrith RavenWolf

Journeys

Prologue

Part 1: Love
Chapter 1: Not Predictable
Chapter 2: Spontaneous Appearances
Chapter 3: He who enters the Crypt
Chapter 4: We are the Griffins of War
Chapter 5: Are ye a Talon?

[next part]


Prologue

Lieutenant Laradar burst into the officer’s mess, causing the startled Lieutenant Bankan to drop his hand of cards onto the ground.

"What now, that you’d lose all your respect for the lowly door?" Bankan groused, bending down with creaking old bones to pick up his cards.

Laradar ran over to the table. "K’yanae’s been a-quarrelin’ with the Master!"

Bankan sighed. When Laradar was overly agitated, his accent surfaced like a dolphin going up to breathe. "Calm down and have a drink."

"It’s not the first time," Lieutenant Qayin pointed out, "Those two were always rather excitable."

"It doesn’t take a fool to tell that it’s probably more serious this time, Qayin," Terry said amiably. Age and a wife and tempered down on Terry’s rash self. This statement earned Laradar’s grateful nodding, the Lieutenant forgetting that nodding while you’re drinking brandy is never a good idea.

Warrenn pounded Laradar’s back while the Lieutenant coughed and sneezed. "Now you’re going to sit down and calm down and tell us what’s wrong now."

Laradar took a chair. Although in his late thirties or so, he still retained that aura of innocence that Bankan was still striving to corrupt. "K’yanae wus arguin’ aboot... about, that is, er ... About Zak not allowin’ her to go on summat more difficult jobs."

"She is his daughter," Bankan shrugged, "But isn’t this sort of thing picked by drawing lots?"

"She says he’s been using magic or something to prevent her from picking the correct lots," Laradar said.

The lieutenants thought about this for a while. "Well, I don’t see why she should complain," Bankan said.

"She said it wasn’t fair and he had no right to do such a thing," Laradar pointed out helpfully.

"Nothing’s fair," Warrenn said philosophically, "So what did the Master say?"

"He didn’t deny it," Laradar said quietly.

"Well, did you know that the Master did have two kids before all this?" Qayin said, "Both of them came to bad ends. I suppose he’d could’ha been over protective now or something."

"It happens," Warrenn sighed, "But I’d never think he’d be the one to have this type of notion."

"Ain’t no one’s perfect," Bankan said, "And no one, leastways the Master, is predictable. So what’s wrong with K’yanae now?" he added shrewdly.

"She locked herself in the room and ain’t coming out." Laradar said.

"Not even for Game practise?" Bankan asked.

"No," Laradar said. The lieutenants fell silent again. This was not a good sign, for K’yanae’s great passion in life was the Game, where she had been Dragon team’s best Rider when she was a student. Normally she either watched, or played an informal game with a few other graduates.

"Tried talking to her?" Bankan asked.

"She’s not even admitting her mother," Laradar said.

"So what do you think she’s going to do now?" Qayin asked.

"Run away," Warrenn said. The rest looked at him sharply. "That’s what girls do," he said, then grinned.

"It’s not a laughing matter," Laradar said severely.

"I think she’d do that," Bankan said. He was the oldest, silvered hair already taking the place of most of the black, and bones that creaked alarmingly sometimes during weapon practise. "It’s just like her."

"Then we have to stop her," Laradar said.

"How," Qayin said, "Do you stop a werewolf, if he or she does not want to be stopped?"

"We have to try," Terry said.

"Just like the old Terry to say that," Bankan accused, "But I suppose there’s no other way. What time is it now, Laradar?"

"Dark," Laradar said. Normally such a wide answer would have prompted stinging sarcasm from Bankan, but now it elicited no answer. The Lieutenants all had a fondness for the Master’s daughter, and the thought of her leaving the school even before she finished her six year’s compulsory job was not a good one.

"Then she’d be leaving soon," Warrenn said, "Let’s go."

"There are two gates," Laradar said.

"And five of us," Qayin said, "We’d split up. She’d probably be going to the side gate."

"Three there and two for the other," Bankan said authoritatively, "Any objections? No? Let us hurry then."

***

[top]

Part 1: Love

Love can mean an astonishing array of affections, from the material or sentimental to the passionate and practical. Love is but a poor word for the conquering, swelling emotion that is not unique to any creature, which is often the driving force behind a dream. I have not my sister’s remarkable sight for the ways of the heart, but even my own eyes can see that love, though normally a most commendable emotion if well placed, is often as well not. Or if it was, it may be in a ‘wrong’ way.

Love should be affectionate devotion and not smothering, and the volcanic type of passions more often than not burn themselves out like a dying sun, or change to hate, regrettably still something that is forever. Not many loves survive for eternity, but hates often do.

This is not to say I truly hated Father when he did not deny my allegations. I had hoped in my heart that he would, but I knew also that he would not. Father does not lie in such matters – it is not in his soul. He has often said that though small lies may be rectified, a large one will cause you to pile on more and more lies until it collapses and buries you under the rubble. Father has a very true and deep instinct in such matters than I can not hope to have now in my relative youth.

I did hate him for a moment when I saw in his eyes that what I had said was true. What did I do that my whole life would be overshadowed or affected by the shades of two long past? How dared him try to change what may have been fated? Live or die, I would have liked to say I would not see such gross injustice done, but I knew what was true was that I had a reckless and restless soul, and I wanted, craved such risked excitement, like an addict craved cursed opium. I lived on it. How dared him take it from me?

So Father was right in that he understood this in me, and his cruel words later illustrated, hammered home that fact. But he was wrong in using such a way to try and change what I would do. I know that he could not talk me out of doing such a thing, nor could any one else in this world, and perhaps so he used an underhand method. But such a thing was so unlike the Father I knew that for one harsh moment I rebelled and stormed up to face him with accusations.

I did not take the notion of running away lightly. I pride myself that I am not those sniveling, air-headed fools in long dresses with what looks like an upended snow cone on their heads, locked up in towers, running away with their sweet lovers. I considered with my poor mind what I would have to do or take and what would happen if I did go instead of stay. Or where I should go that I would be away from all traces of the spreading Talon power.

Or what would I do. For what can a half drow, a female half drow werewolf at that, truly achieve in this sorry world?

-K’yanae Do’Urden

***

[top]

Chapter 1: Not Predictable

"I suppose I could always buy new clothes when I need to," K’yanae said.

She was inside her bedroom, checking and rechecking what she had to take with studied calm. Agitation only served to make packing longer.

The creature she was apparently talking to watched her with bright amber, round eyes, then ruffled its tawny feathers as if in a shrug. Owl was K’yanae’s inseparable companion, but sometimes too possessive for his own good. It had been the smallest of the fledglings, and would surely have died if not for K’yanae leaving out enough scraps everyday on the Tree. Right now it was about the size of a small barn owl.

She belted on the Demon’s blade, a nasty piece of work for a dagger, then slid the Sembian daggers into her fur-rimmed boots, having considered her plain but light chain mail, but then discarded it for even lighter clothing. K’yanae looked at her cloak last, the stitched Talon’s cloak that the Lieutenants had given her so long ago. She paused for the slightest moment, then picked it up.

Carefully, she hooked the small crossbow of hers onto her belt, then the bag of small bolts. Her eyes turned to the collar on her dresser, which would have been useful for carrying more items, but she did not know if it also contained a tracking device.

"We’d be leaving now, Owl," K’yanae said quietly.

An insistent meow from the direction of her bed stopped her, and she turned to see the hypnotic gaze of Morikan and the rest of the cats.

"I know who you really are," she said, with the same studied calm, "What do you want now?"

Silly question. Morikan radiated disapproval like a lamp radiated light in a darkened room.

"I’m going," she repeated, "You’d probably continue to manipulate Father and all the others in here, and perhaps myself as well, but I can’t afford to stay here any more."

Morikan growled. The rest watched unblinkingly.

"What’s that?" K’yanae asked dryly, "So you don’t approve. Well, you know my reply. You can read my mind, can’t you? Yes, I know you can make me stay, but you never interfere. You never have, have you? Right."

Morikan sniffed. K’yanae nodded at them, then put Owl on her shoulder, adjusting the Stone of Wings that hung on its chain around her neck.

"We will meet again," Morikan said suddenly as K’yanae reached the window.

K’yanae turned, not exactly surprised. "I’m counting on it," she said, then smiled for the first time that day. Then she climbed out into the welcoming embrace of the Tree.

***

Diablo was waiting for her at the bottom of the tree, and he too nickered disapproval.

"Is everyone trying to stifle me into staying?" she accused, patting the half-nightmare’s strong shoulder.

Diablo made the equine version of an uncaring shrug. K’yanae nodded at him, then started forward to move to the side gate, then stopped again. She winked at Diablo.

"One last thing, old friend?" she asked.

Diablo flicked both his midnight black ears forward.

K’yanae smiled and lowered her voice. "I knew I could count on you. Go and raise a large enough disruption somewhere else, would you? I’m sure the exits are guarded. Is Soulfire out?"

Soulfire, the half-nightmare gift from her grandfather for doing very well for graduation, trotted out from behind the Tree, and whinnied a soft farewell.

"Sorry I can’t take you," K’yanae said, patting its tensed neck, then she pulled on one of the mare’s ears. Soulfire obligingly lowered her head. "Go and take hold of Namaen there, would you? He’s in that bush over there."

The nightmare nickered wickedly, then gave its mistress one last lick and trotted off. K’yanae turned to look at Diablo. "What are you still doing here?"

Diablo shrugged, then galloped off. K’yanae crept around back up the tree, and waited until the nightmare’s angry screams broke the silence of the night.

Her sharp ears caught hold of hastily stifled protests from Namaen’s bush, and later the sound of pattering feet as people ran to the sound. She dropped down from the tree and ran silently to the front gate.

Normally it was guarded. K’yanae nodded at the Talons on guard authoritatively.

They looked uncertainly at each other. "Do you have a pass?" one of them said at last.

"I am no longer subject to the rules here," K’yanae inclined her head, "When the Lieutenants come do give this to them." She thrust the cloak at one of them.

"Does your..." the other began, then his eyes opened wide.

In front, behind K’yanae, in the night, millions of glittering black eyes.

"Yes," K’yanae said dryly. It was probably true.

"Right," the Talon said hastily, opening the gate and allowing her to slip away onto the cobbled streets of lower Baldur’s Gate.

When he turned around, the eyes were gone, but for a darker shadow over the roofs of the buildings in front of the Citadel.

Somewhere, an owl’s mournful hoot echoed.

***

K’yanae reached the main gate of Baldur’s Gate. The Flaming Fist glanced at her, surprised, but there weren’t that many rules about going out of the city in the night, so they let her pass.

She walked over the massive bridge over the River Chiontar. There wasn’t any point of actually going out of the side gate. It didn’t really lead anywhere important that she wanted to go, but the main gate led to the main roads. And more importantly, to thick forests.

***

The wolf ran through the forests dappled by the faint silver mist of moonlight, Owl ghosting over it on silent wings.

A few easily done up straps by paws, actually K’yanae’s belt, secured some essentials – money, the light but sturdy dress, the fur-rimmed boots, crafted for thieving and thus for lightness and silence. And the weapons, that contributed most of the weight.

K’yanae was a werewolf, and especially in her white-gray wolf form was stronger than most. The wolf was larger still than any normal wolf, and many times stronger, carrying its weight without much thought. The belt chafed, however.

Hours had probably passed, by the count of its other side, but the wolf cared not. Time did not matter to a beast that walked on its outskirts with a carefree lope.

Firelight in front – the wolf perked up its pointed ears and sniffed delicately to sieve out the interesting and often delightful odors of the forest.

She needn’t have bothered. The scent of unwashed hobgoblin permeated the area. The wolf sat down on her haunches and began considering. There were three of them, one with what seemed to be an oiled hardwood thing with old-fashioned gut string – probably a bow of sorts. There was something burnt on the fire, deer. The subtle burnt-like metal smell of rust. Hard leather, probably armor.

She didn’t need to bother them. The wolf stood up, then walked in a careful circle around the camp, before setting off again in her effortless lope.

***

The shallow stream chuckled over smoothened pebbles. If the wolf looked carefully she could see the small silver-sided fish that gathered in tiny schools around the surface of the stream, easily scattered and frightened.

The wolf looked at the stream again. Tentatively, the fish gathered back to swim against the current.

Ah. The time-honored, ancient wolf way of throwing off pursuit. The wolf delicately padded into the stream, shivering at the bite of the snowmelt present in the cold water.

She picked her way downstream; using as many stepping stones that protruded out of the water as possible.

When she had gone down a fair while, she got out of the water and immediately started trying to lick feeling back into her paws.

***

Sorefeet that never saw long journeys, the wolf sighed and hauled herself into the hollow of a tree, chasing out its fox occupant, then tried to lick her tender feet. Running for too long where she had never done before – foolishness! But her other side offered commiseration and interesting but to the wolf, worthless reasons.

She was getting hungry, and would not hope to catch anything with the stupid belt. Or with her tender feet. Her other side offered a plan.

Sleep first. The wolf thought, Rabbits sleep underground until day. The wolf turned her nose at the fox smell inside the hollow, but laid her head tiredly on her paws and fell asleep, curling up to conserve heat.

In the branches of the tree, Owl settled down to an unwary mouse it had caught.

***

Bankan swore at Diablo, who shrugged and shook out his jet-black mane in an act of supreme indifference.

"She made you do it, didn’t she?" he demanded. Diablo flicked an ear at the lieutenant, then trotted off.

Bankan now started to curse in a colorful language, probably picked up in his childhood in his father’s tavern.

Qayin approached, holding a cloak. Bankan cursed again as he recognized it for the one they had given to K’yanae. As he let it unfold a scroll bounced out, which Terry caught deftly, then unrolled.

"Don’t look for me. I know that saying this may make you do so, but it’d be easier for everyone. I will take care, and I hope all of you will do so as well.

-K’yanae"

Bankan started to curse again.

***

K’yanae carefully aimed her hand crossbow, then shot out the small, normal bolt, about the size of a dart, really. It caught a rabbit squarely between the eyes, and the others fled, but not before three more fell.

There were some hasty sounds behind a tree, then the wolf padded out sedately to eat. This was undoubtedly a good arrangement, for either side of a werewolf could eat for the other to feel full, but in this the wolf missed the intense excitement of actual hunting. There was some of that adrenaline surge as a target was hit, but only a fraction compared to physically taking down game.

The wolf padded back to the hollow after she had eaten, wincing at every step, and regretting its ambitious run. She’d have to rest for a while now until the hurt went away. Owl hooted a greeting, then fell silent as the sun began its laborious ascent.

***

Several days? The wolf had forgotten. She headed southwards, to some destination in her other side’s heart.

She was careful enough now to take occasional breaks to rest her paws, but she could feel them hardening already to the strenuous travel.

The peaks of the mountains loomed in the horizon; sharp, jagged edges of dagger-like stone, lightly dusted with snow.

***

[top]

Chapter 2: Spontaneous Appearances

K’yanae faced the ogre warily, her fuming wolf partner held closely in check. The idiotic ogre had intercepted the wolf when she had been minding her own business, and tried to turn the wolf into its lunch.

Nevertheless, K’yanae doubted very much that the wolf could somehow bite through, or even touch at all the immense creature’s leathery neck. Or die of food poisoning later, considering the amount of grime and whatnot on it.

She’d somehow managed to dress in time – there were good points about dresses, after all – you just slipped them on. It was the undergarments that took time – while a male werewolf could just put on some shorts and pretend it had been out for a jog.

A few strategic darts had put out an eye and embedded in a hand, though this didn’t seem to affect the ogre other than enrage it.

For a fleeting moment, K’yanae devoutly wished she’d brought something longer than daggers.

The ogre roared, charging clumsily forward, and K’yanae’s heightened sense of smell caught the unpleasant whiff of sweaty, rusty armor that had been salvaged from some corpse. She called forth the wolf’s reflexes, and darted behind the creature, the two Sembian daggers held low, stabbing the creature expertly in the knee joints.

With a bellow that K’yanae believed must have shook the squirrels out of the trees, the ogre collapsed, thundering onto the ground with flailing arms.

K’yanae looked critically at the creature, at its bloodstained hands from it’s last meal – scavenged deer – to its wild, rolling eyes.

The wolf called for a kill.

K’yanae pulled both Sembian daggers out, though not neatly – it’s hard to do that with a hooked dagger, wiping them on the grass. Then she released the Demon’s Blade from its sheath, holding it tightly as its skull hilt shrieked silently for a taste of the ogre’s warm blood.

It tugged violently at her hand, and her knuckles whitened as the wolf joined in to hold the blade in place.

Carefully, she stepped forward, but the ogre, gnashing its teeth, rolled over at the same time and somehow caught her with one of its lashing arms, slamming her hard into a tree and knocking out her breath.

With an angry cry, Owl flew down from where it had been watching to beat at the ogre’s head with its talons and wings.

She lost her concentration for a moment, and with a triumphant baring of its teeth, the Demon’s Blade jerked free, and plunged point first into the ogre’s skull, feeding greedily.

K’yanae tried to get up, and sank back down in pain. She averted her eyes from the gruesome feast and the despairing screams, and methodically checked her belongings. Owl flew back to the branch above her, hooting its concern.

When the screams had stopped she tried to get up again, the wolf lending her strength to her partner, and staggered over to the still corpse. She wrenched out the Demon’s Blade, noting with a sick feeling that the blood had been sucked out of the body, and sank down on the grass for a rest.

There was no blood on the hilt. She sighed and put it into its sheath, then with fingers that trembled slightly filched what money the ogre had stolen from unlucky passers-by into her own pocket.

Carefully she undressed and put strapped back on the clothing, then Changed.

The wolf sat with heaving sides next to the shell of the ogre for a few minutes, then got up and padded southwards, wincing slightly. Werewolves healed quickly, though, so she was not worried.

***

"The birds are all gone?" Bankan asked.

"How did you know?" Qayin countered.

Bankan sighed. "The guards said they saw ‘millions of black eyes’ staring at them. The only millions of eyes I can think of are the birds on her blasted Tree."

"But why?" Laradar asked.

"Symbolism," Warrenn shrugged, "K’yanae’s always been one for theatrics."

"It does seem odd," Bankan said, "The old Tree’s so empty now."

"Not seeing her for Game practise is odd," Terry said. "Did anyone see Namaen?"

"Another idiot there," Bankan said, "The lad’s gone off to find his lady love, I’d expect. Stupid of him. I know K’yanae well enough that if she don’t want to be found, she won’t be."

"Is that why the Master isn’t tracking her?" Laradar asked.

"You don’t even have a grasp of the obvious?" Warrenn asked dryly, "Honestly Laradar, sometimes you disappoint me."

"Well, I’m sorry," Laradar snapped, "But she is his daughter after all."

"He doesn’t see any point in it," Qayin remarked, "She won’t come back whatever he says, so he thinks there’s no point in trying anyway."

"That is a very scary thing to have in a person," Laradar said.

"The Master’s a scary person," Warrenn shrugged, "But I suppose if you live for more than a thousand years you’d tend to see shortcuts."

"You’re all taking this lying down!" Laradar accused.

"Sitting down now," Bankan said. "Sorry about that. But I also see no point. If the Master doesn’t say we go, we don’t go, and that’s that. I reckon she can take care of herself, as can the boy."

"I certainly hope so," Terry said disconsolately.

***

The forest was full of her wild brethren, though they gave her a respectful berth born more of wary fear than that of true respect.

The Demon’s Blade, strapped now in its sheath, was momentarily sated, and was thankfully silent. The birds that had followed her from her Tree had already dispersed into the wild, and she was thankful for the silence, broken only by the barest beat of Owl’s wings as the faithful creature flew from branch to branch above her.

The Stone of Wings burned bright hung around the wolf’s neck, and the birds heralded a good morning to her as she passed. Occasionally she would startle a rabbit, which would dive back into its warren in fear, only to resurface when the wolf passed, with twitching ears and wide, melting black eyes.

Southwards, ever southwards, towards the great mountains.

***

"Now what is that?" GrayWolf demanded, pointing at the bottle in Morikan’s hand. The World-Makers had gathered in the Building for a check on their worlds.

The Building in Sanctuary was one of the most important, well, buildings. It held all the models, or accurate representations of all the worlds of all the World-Makers. Each world was about the size of a tennis ball, to be exact, and each held the color of the World-Maker that had created it.

Morikan glanced at the whitish, wraith-like twisting mist inside the clear glass bottle. "A new type of magic," he said, "And a new experiment, you could say."

"Experiment?" N’avsh inquired.

"On your world, I hope," Rykvaz sniffed, "Forgive me, great leader, but your experiments do tend to develop in the most unexpected directions."

"Tried and forgiven," Morikan said graciously, "But this is an experiment nonetheless. I would check on the results every millennia or so."

"Which world art thou speaking of, mine leader?" Belnarath asked.

"It had better be yours," Shoshuna smiled, "I’m not lending any more."

"It is mine," Morikan snapped, "Honestly, you lot, have you no faith?"

"No," GrayWolf grinned.

"What experiment?" N’avsh asked, to head off an explosion on Morikan’s part.

"It’s a type of magic," Morikan said, mollified, "I’d like to see if spontaneous appearances inside the world that will be accepted in time will affect its history in which type of ways."

"Lots," Rykvaz shrugged, "It’s never been done before, I suppose."

"That is because we’re not supposed to interfere in such a direct manner," Hat’yet provided.

"There is no rule about that," Morikan remarked, "And I’m going to do it anyway."

"So why did you call us here?" Shoshuna asked.

"The world has been our playing board once," Morikan said grandly.

"Lots have," GrayWolf quipped. "Realms243 then?" N’avsh asked, earning a nod from Morikan. "So be it. Why call us?"

Morikan grinned, "Because all seven of us will ‘apply’ a bit of magic in seven places, through which dear K’yanae will travel through in due time."

"She’d showdown in yours though," GrayWolf said sourly.

"How did you know that?" Morikan asked.

"It is obvious, mine brother," Belnarath said.

"Hear, hear," Hat’yet grinned.

"Do you want to do this or not?" Morikan asked.

"Of course. Why then are we still here?" N’avsh smiled. "Well now. Who goes first?"

***

And so several interestingly odd happenings occurred in the Realms, not far from where our heroine of the story is padding her way onwards.

Several acres of forest turned into dense marshland, where tendrils of life crept forth into many strange forms; quite a bit of forest withered into dark looming forms, and a huge tree somewhere morphed and grew in a burst of life. And many more – as usual some thought the world was ending, but it wasn’t.

The gods knew something was happening but couldn’t do anything about it – the massive movement spread overnight in unseen ripples over the world.

In the morning, things were different, but as if they had always been.

***

The wolf sat down on her haunches to regard the strange structure in front of her. It looked like a ruin – whitewashed stone overgrown with vegetation, what had once been splendid carving now a weathered uneven protuberance.

It was blocky with a few pillars at the porch, which led to a large jagged opening where a door had been, to a dark blackness inside the rest of the building.

There was something strange – the building had been carved from a single block of stone in the middle of a luxuriant, relatively stone-less forest.

Something else was strange – all the symbols of the supposed crypt were of death instead of the usual rebirth, life, sun etc.

K’yanae couldn’t resist taking a look for ‘stuff’. The wolf couldn’t resist taking a look for curiosity’s sake.

Cautiously, the wolf padded forward, noting that no animals stayed in a wide radius around the crypt. There were wordings on the steps that K’yanae could make out:

"In here lies the Dragon’s Bane
Dragon Slayer Yet Unnamed
He who enters his life shalt Wane
For the Curse shall call the Damned
The Walking Dead, the slaves of Cain
So Ware, thy greedy heart
Lest thy soul too joins his undead guards"

Not a good rhyme, K’yanae sniffed. The wolf thought otherwise – undead were foul creatures that couldn’t be killed with a wolf bite. In fact, it wasn’t sure how to kill one in the first place.

One who killed dragons would sure have lots of treasure, K’yanae reasoned. There was a burning desire to find out if undead could be ‘killed’.

The wolf thought not.

The Demon’s Blade?

Perhaps so, the wolf grudgingly agreed.

The wolf padded behind a tree for modesty’s sake, and K’yanae came out gripping the Demon’s Blade firmly, and walked with quick steps towards the crypt.

***

[top]

Chapter 3: He who enters the Crypt

K’yanae stepped carefully and stealthily towards the entrance, noting that the substantial frame was full of strange, malignant carvings, though firmly instructing Owl to stay put outside the crypt.

Once she cautiously stepped in, there was a ‘whoomph’ sound and all the torches held in their rusty brackets along the walls lit up.

After a while, K’yanae approached the entrance again from the pillar she had dived behind, and proceeded again.

Are you sure this is wise? The wolf inquired.

No, K’yanae grinned impishly.

She paid careful attention to the walls around her, for any traps that may have been apparent. Twice the wolf saved her with its heightened reflexes – diving to the ground while a bolt fired from some hidden crossbow whistled overhead. Another time a magic missile streaked overhead to splash in purple and red fireworks on the opposite wall.

No undead yet, K’yanae remarked hopefully.

The place stinks of them. The wolf disagreed.

Indeed, the building had a pervading, heavy reek of rotting flesh, and the subtler hint of bone. The air was thick and musty and stifling, and the wolf could detect strong hints of magic, probably necromancy.

When the builder of the crypt became rather bored with traps, the corridors began to split into passageways leading in opposite directions. Everything also started to angle downwards.

Follow the smells, the wolf advised, It is probable that all these undead will be guarding the actual tomb itself instead of these tunnels.

K’yanae nodded, and wrinkled her nose as the smell heightened dizzily as she proceeded to the wolf’s directions.

The architect had apparently forgotten to include traps in the actual route, probably reserving them for the false tunnels. The ceiling became lower and lower and more claustrophobic, but the torches thankfully stayed at their regular intervals, drenching the walls in seductive flickering firelight and malevolent shadows.

Then the passage branched off to an antechamber, and two red-coated wolves bounded out, burning red eyes fixed on K’yanae, jaws open to show sharp teeth and two unnaturally long canines with the old reek of dried blood on them.

Vampire wolves. K’yanae felt sick, but managed to dodge the first impossibly fast slashing attack. The vampire wolves plunged past and skidded to lunge at her again, but the wolf saved her by allowing her to barely dodge to her left and miss the last wolf, plunging the Demon’s Blade into it as it went past.

They can only be killed by magical weapons, Aunt Verdana had said once, and she swore as she faced the last one with her ordinary Sembian daggers, the Demon’s Blade absorbing the dark magic aura around the other wolf as it jerked and squealed, K’yanae forgotten.

The other wolf lunged, and K’yanae slid to the side again, though catching a nasty scratch as one of the wolf’s long curving claws came lucky. The vampire wolf somehow managed to turn and lunge, too close for K’yanae to react in time, landing on top of her, slavering jaws open.

K’yanae wildly plunged one Sembian dagger upwards into its throat, but this had no effect on the magical creature other than to make its angry attack more furious. Abandoning the dagger, her hands shot out, aided by her wolf partner, trying to push away the immense red head of the evil wolf, one hand using the other dagger to slice vertically upwards through the wolf’s lower jaw, then trying to pull it back raggedly.

The vampire wolf screamed its rage, choking, K’yanae noting that no blood came out of its cuts. Its fetid breath came close as it inexorably pushed its head closer, ignoring the daggers.

K’yanae desperately called the Demon’s Blade to her, and it came quickly, buoyed on by the absorbed magic from the other wolf, to plunge into its favorite position between the vampire wolf’s eyes. The wolf staggered off her, trying to paw off the dagger as it fed and fed again.

As for K’yanae, she could only lie on her back and stare at the dusty ceiling, gasping for breath and in relief, before picking herself up to look at the vampire wolves. Both had crumpled into dust, and the Demon’s Blade lay satisfied and smug in the midst of one pile.

K’yanae sighed and picked up the dagger, and started onwards.

Is this not folly? They may have more of these wolves, the wolf asked.

K’yanae grinned broadly. Excitement, she commented. She paused, and looked into the antechamber from which the vampire wolves had sprung.

There was a large pile of bones and armor, probably remnants of previous would-be crypt thieves. She ventured in cautiously and then, to the wolf’s disgust, sifted through the armor of the various corpses, shaking out one plain chain mail and putting it on, ignoring its stench. It would serve as a shield.

She found one more treasure below all the other normal-issue stuff, and drew it out. Even in death, its owner held on to it tightly with skeletal hands and K’yanae peeled off the fingers as respectfully as she could.

It was a sword, known rather vulgarly as a bastard sword, to be yielded with one hand. It was totally black in color with a single fiery red ruby in its hilt. Its blade was most unusual – in a regular sine wave pattern that resembled one of those facetious drawings of wiggly snakes.

Its sheath was lined in a thick protective, wooly padding so as to allow its blade to slide in and out quickly. K’yanae shrugged, belting on the sheath, though the wolf remonstrated with her – how was she supposed to carry this awkward thing later?

K’yanae smiled. We’d find a way, she said. She hadn’t wanted to bring Soulfire because the nightmare would call enough attention to her, a part drow elf, that she wouldn’t want. Besides, nightmares, even half nightmares, couldn’t come into some places in forests that were inhabited by unicorns, or supposed unicorn habits.

K’yanae couldn’t remember the reason now, so she just went on, gripping the new sword carefully.

***

The passageway eventually opened to a large chamber with an upraised platform in the center, a raised tomb on it with the relief of a warrior lying down with crossed hands over his chest.

As she approached in with care, noting no traps in the vicinity that she could sniff out or see, there was a rattling sound like bone cutting against bone.

A rank of six skeletons rose a few meters in front of her, holding swords and wearing helmets – looking ludicrous but dangerous. Behind them were a few zombies, purplish blue flesh in advanced decay, eye sockets blank and horrifying, bone exposed in places. Each held a cleaver – also looking ludicrous, like some undead cook, but K’yanae knew what damage a cleaver could do.

As the first skeleton came on to her, she dove its clumsy swing automatically, hitting away its sword, pushing in the Demon’s Blade. Apparently skeletons did not have as much magic as a vampire wolf, for it collapsed more or less instantly, allowing K’yanae to move on to the skeletons that surrounded her.

She kicked out one of the skeleton’s anklebones, but it only collapsed to try and grab her boots with its hands. The black sword smashed one into pieces which quickly crawled back together to regroup.

With a sigh, K’yanae let go of the Demon’s Blade to allow it to attack by itself. She hated doing that – it only made the blade stronger and faster in the air, and more stubborn in resisting her.

With a triumphant snarl, it danced into one skeleton after another while K’yanae expertly fended off their attacks. The horrid smell from the zombies was overwhelming; forcing her to lose her concentration and take another bad hit on her arm, a laceration that would have to be tended to later.

At least the zombies were easier. Plunge a Sembian dagger into their ‘heart’ and they collapsed. K’yanae managed to deflect a thrust from a skeleton and sidestep an attack from a zombie, plunging in another Sembian dagger. She reached for her throwing daggers and made short work of the other zombies, leaving her free to distract the skeletons long enough for the Demon’s Blade to work on them.

The black blade was certainly quicker and very light – almost as light as the Demon’s Blade. Its ruby burned brightly whenever it made contact with an undead, but otherwise did not seem to have any other magical effects. If K’yanae had not been otherwise engaged with undead, she would have felt vaguely disappointed.

Then she pulled out her various daggers and sheathed them, retrieving the Sembian daggers and the Demon’s Blade, and walked to the crypt.

A few meters in front of her destination, and the sound of bone on bone came again, louder this time. Both K’yanae and the wolf sighed.

Something assembled in front of the crypt, building up from the air itself. In seconds, an apparition formed before the crypt.

It was a skeletal dragon, wings already tattered with decay, towering high over K’yanae, its immense skull brushing the low ceiling. K’yanae immediately threw the Demon’s Blade at the dragon while it roared a silent challenge – then opened its jaws in a soundless shriek as the dagger reached inside its rib cage, magic coagulating around it as it fed on the dragon’s magic.

The dragon vainly tried to reach inside itself to pull out the pulsating dagger, which looked like some morbid heart, lashing out with its tail in fury. K’yanae Changed quickly and ran for it, ducking as the large spiked bony tail swept above her, wrecking the crypt.

At a safer distance, she Changed back, but the dragon somehow seemed convinced that she was the source of its pain and with a single bound and a flap of its great wings it reached her. Its snakelike neck plunged forward and K’yanae leaped into the narrower passageway, the frustrated undead vainly trying to push its immense skull to reach her, jaws gaping wide. K’yanae was very grateful that skeletal dragons could not breath flame.

K’yanae waited for what seemed an eternity until the skull of the dragon stopped its pushing and sank down in the rest of the dead.

There was one problem now – the skull was blocking the entire passage. K’yanae tried to push it away, but it was too heavy for her.

Shuddering, she pushed the jaws open, then stepped inside. Her heart nearly stopped when the jaws, unsupported, slammed shut, but proceeded through the opening of the throat down the neck and out into the chamber.

She picked up the Demon’s Blade and proceeded. K’yanae didn’t know where all the magic and the blood it absorbed went to, but frankly didn’t care at the moment.

K’yanae approached the platform, and put a foot on the stairs.

***

A green, sickly mist swirled up from the inside, seeping out through the lid, coalescing into the shade of a warrior long forgotten.

"Who dares disturb mine rest?" he demanded in a sepulchral tone.

"I do," K’yanae said, with another sigh.

"Thou hast passed mine guardians?" the shade asked, though in a flat tone as if it didn’t care either way.

"Yes," K’yanae said, "Look, is this going to get me into another fight? Honestly, I appreciate the fact you don’t want your rest disturbed, but putting that rhyme on your crypt is asking for trouble."

The shade looked, if shades could, nonplussed. "Thou art drow!" it hissed finally.

"One third drow," K’yanae corrected. "Any more obvious statement’s you’d like to make? Hurry up."

The wolf was mortified. One did not speak to the dead in such a disrespectful manner, but K’yanae was very irritated. Besides, her wounds were smarting.

"It doth not matter," the shade said, "I wilt enter thy body and claim it as mine, so that I may live again on the face of Erathia."

"Where’s Erathia?" K’yanae asked.

The shade looked nonplussed again. "This country is Erathia."

"S’not." K’yanae said, "This is the Sword Coast."

"The Sword Coast, then," the shade sounded out of joint.

"Right," K’yanae said, raising the black sword which she had picked up on her way to the tomb, and the Demon’s Blade, "Come and get it. No doubt you’d feed my dagger like all the rest. What did you do to get shut in this type of place anyway?"

The shade became more apparent as it grew angrier. "My tale is that of sorrow and disgrace, a classic one it may be but a horror it is."

"You mean it’s stereotypical?" K’yanae asked.

"It is," the shade said mournfully, "I journeyed much in mine youth, slaying monsters and the dragons that made up my name. I wed a fair lady by the name of Sylia, and happy I was for her manners well and her nature sweet. Or so I thought."

"Right." K’yanae said, "Who’d she...um.... go out with?"

"Thou knowest of me?" the shade asked.

"Nope," K’yanae said, "But you probably went out much and dear Sylia must have been bored."

"Ah, irony," the shade lamented, "For it was my dear brother, who I loved more than life itself."

"This is stereotypical," K’yanae said.

"I didst warn thee so," the shade said, all thoughts of actually possessing K’yanae apparently forgotten, "The cursed twain poisoned my food and my men, and tossed me in this crypt, my men cursed to defend me forever as undead and the greatest dragon I killed as well."

"The dragon was rather small," K’yanae said.

"It was the largest in the land," the shade said, annoyed, "What year is this?"

K’yanae told it.

"I lived thousands of years before," the shade said proudly. "No doubt the dragons have grown."

"Right," K’yanae said doubtfully.

"Thou dost not seem like any drow," the shade remarked.

"You’ve seen drow?" K’yanae asked.

"They were common once," the shade said, "But when I lived they had already grown more and more evil in their ways, corrupted by Lloth and the other god."

K’yanae shrugged. "Right. You have any treasure?"

The shade’s eyes burned. "A common tomb’s thief you are?"

"No," K’yanae said, "I’m a Master thief, youngest, Baldur’s Gate." She was particularly proud of that title.

"I have never heard of that city," the shade said, then seemed to shake itself. "You will be mine!"

"Oh, what’s the point," K’yanae sighed, throwing the Demon’s Blade forward.

***

K’yanae picked up the Demon’s Blade, glanced at the faint wisps of what was left of the shade, then pushed back the tomb’s lid carefully.

Inside was the skeleton of the Dragon’s Bane, and K’yanae mourned the wreck of what was probably once a fine warrior.

The sentiment, however, lasted only a few minutes. Beside the skeleton were quite a few treasures – a heavy pouch of plain gold coins and gems, emblazoned with the insignia of a dragon – could it be that ‘Sylia’ and the brother had been afraid of what was obviously the Dragon’s Bane’s own crest?

There was a suit of armor, dusty but usable – K’yanae stripped off her chain mail thankfully and put it on. Overlapping black dragon scales with mithril trimmings, the symbols on it smelt magical. The armor was as light as that of chain mail.

Similar greaves from more dragon scales went onto her legs, as well as a dragon’s wing tabard that went onto her shoulders. Dragons were probably a good enterprise, K’yanae speculated, as she secreted a few more baubles about her person. Under the skeleton’s hands were two gloves of soft deerskin. Somehow they still had not decayed, and K’yanae put them on. They fitted magically, and K’yanae’s hands felt very comfortable as she checked the tomb once more then walked on out of the chamber, through the dragon’s mouth, through the maze, and out of the crypt.

Owl flew down with a joyful hoot to settle on her shoulders as she half ran out of the crypt, breathing in the clean forest air. Her wounds were already closing, though would smart badly for a few more days.

This is too much things to travel without being awkward, the wolf informed K’yanae dryly, You’d have to walk.

I suppose I would have to sooner or later, K’yanae replied with a smile, and set off, stroking Owl’s feathers, towards the tall mountains.

***

[top]

Chapter 4: We are the Griffins of War

K’yanae scrupulously avoided the more popular roads, sure that she cut a very noticeable personage.

Thankfully the tabard, which went over the dragon-scale armor, was not emblazoned with any insignia as tabards usually were. K’yanae was sure that the Dragon’s Bane was burdened with the need to make people aware of his symbol – many of his possessions had it stitched on, or stamped on if it was not possible.

The short coat was light but sturdy, rough and leathery to the touch but very flexible and stretchable. Nevertheless, K’yanae had to face the notion that she might actually freeze when she reached the cold mountains.

She had to pass through the mountains if she didn’t want to take a long detour around them, which would take months. The other option was to get a ship, but that was also not available, as no respectable ship hereabouts would take a drow passenger. Well, part drow.

As the ground became steeper and steeper, the forests changed noticeably into dense pines and very rough terrain. K’yanae cut a rough staff to aid her in her climb.

She retired early in the evening to stash her stuff in the branches of a tree, then Change into the wolf to hunt, and scout the ground until morning. Then the wolf would return to the tree and Change back to K’yanae, who’d retrieve her stuff and Owl.

Owl would have hunted too in the night and would spend the morning asleep on her shoulder. This arrangement suited K’yanae as she would rest while the wolf ‘took over’, and the wolf would rest when she walked in the morning. When she Changed her wounds healed faster, and the wolf did enjoy hunting undisturbed by her partner.

***

Namaen’s wolf partner padded to the crypt, nose twitching uncertainly. It detected two sets of tracks, both K’yanae’s, leading to and away from the crypt.

Well, that certainly simplified matters. The wolf followed the second set of footprints, padding effortlessly southwards. The wolf wore the collar of the Acheron family, which greatly simplified things for it, in which it did not have to carry anything.

The stream had been difficult. Namaen was sure that they would not have found the tracks if not for the fact that K’yanae had forgotten that even if she stepped on wet stone she would leave some scent on it. And she had used quite a few stepping stones.

Still, the trail was several days cold, but Namaen felt hopeful in which his wolf partner told him that K’yanae was traveling now and not the wolf.

***

The comforting, clean scent of pine pervaded the air as K’yanae walked on. The irritating thing about dresses is that they tended to be colder as opposed to trousers, but she bore with it until her fingernails were a shade of blue and so were her lips. With a sigh, she adjusted the sheath of the sword such that it angled vertically downwards in a fixed position.

Then she took off the dress under the armor and packed it neatly into the pouch she had brought for her clothing, took off the gloves and boots and hung them on her belt, then Changed.

The armor stayed on, but it then did a strange thing by fitting itself quickly to the wolf’s shape. The wolf considered this for a moment, then padded on, not even noticing the extra weight.

Soon it had geared into a comfortable, effortless lope.

***

Namaen’s wolf partner was feeling tired, so he reluctantly retired in a sheltered overhang of rock. He wondered why in the world was K’yanae heading south – southwards led to Amn. And after Amn was disreputable Calimshan. Not to mention the treacherous mountains that bordered Amn... why was she heading there?

He didn’t profess to understand her motives, but he understood her very well. She would do whatever she wanted to do, and there wasn’t any way that he could dissuade her from it. Namaen would be the first to admit he was not the smartest person in the world, but he would try to help her, if she was willing or not.

Feeling comfortable with this notion, his wolf partner curled up to rest.

***

The wolf followed the mountain pass, hiding from any passing merchants, though these traders were few and far between.

She came to a familiar scent one day, and sat down on her haunches to try and identify it before arriving at the answer.

It was the smell of a griffin – many griffins, apparently. That was strange – K’yanae never remembered Aunt Verdana saying anything about griffins living this far south. Odd, to say the least – and these griffins did not ‘smell’ exactly like normal griffins. They smelt larger.

Most odd.

***

K’yanae’s wolf partner came on the next merchant caravan at dusk, and kept well out of the way to lie down. The horses neighed an alarm, but quieted down eventually.

The wolf’s ears pricked up at the sound of conversation. There were quite a few humans and humanoid guards, and she easily distinguished who were the more ‘important’ people in the camp.

"Will ye be stoppin’ in the Griffin Bastion then?" this gruff voice was thick with a dwarfish accent and K’yanae assumed one of the short tribe was present, and made a note not to show herself to this particular caravan. Dwarves were very quick with their throwing axes.

"Undoubtedly," this speaker had the smooth, polished voice of merchants. "The griffins are very interested in jewelry, and they always have items of interest."

"Amazing how much raw materials they can find in this desolate place," another merchant spoke up.

"Aye," the dwarf said, "The mountains’ harsh, but she always gives."

"Ye’re goin’ ta find somethin’ in the Bastion then?" this voice was odd. It had the dwarfish accent, but was female and also sounded human.

"Of course," the dwarf said, "Griffins don’t look much in the intelligence department but they’re suren got extensive records."

"But you yourself said that the Griffins near the troll moors said they were unaware of these Griffins. They’d only... only appeared in the last...last few years ago," the man sounded vague about the topic.

K’yanae instantly had a very bad suspicion about everything she had encountered on the way.

"No stone unturned," the dwarf said firmly, "Mithril Hall must be found."

"And what if they don’t know anything?" the other merchant asked.

"Then I’d ask the werewolves," the dwarf said, "Strange buggers, but they live for a long time. Mayhap the Acheron Baron will know something."

The wolf twitched at the mention of her grandfather’s name. Mithril Hall? Aunt Verdana had mentioned something or other about it before, but K’yanae had not been paying attention. Come to think of it, Taenan had also spoken of it, but she believed that only K’yanne had really paid attention.

Why was the dwarf even bothering to look for the place? Oh, Mithril was all very well, but K’yanae was sure that the hall was already taken. By a dragon, if she remembered rightly. K’yanae had a fascination about anything that flew, and this was the only fact she could remember about Mithril Hall.

"This Griffin Bastion’s a regular hotel," one of the merchants cautioned. "The Griffins are very unprejudiced in who they take in, so long as the creature behaves himself or herself, so be prepared to see creatures you usually don’t see in normal hotels."

Unprejudiced, eh? K’yanae felt like finding out exactly how unprejudiced they were.

***

She followed the merchant caravan at a far enough distance so as not to alarm the horses at all.

They came to the Griffin Bastion late the next afternoon. The Bastion was of massive carved blocks of stone, with blue flags hanging from it with a crest of a griffin rampant. The road branched off to its courtyard, and griffins came to lead the caravans to the large parking space, and escorted the dwarf, the woman with the dwarf accent and the various merchants towards the Bastion itself. The air was biting, so K’yanae did not see any of the ‘undesirable’ creatures around.

The wolf padded over to a private spot to Change, and waited as the armor fitted itself to K’yanae, then she walked boldly towards the Bastion.

***

The Griffin that accosted her looked exceedingly startled for a moment, then recovered its poise in an admirable instant. It looked different from the griffin that stayed at her grandfather’s castle – its coat of feathers was thicker. The top half of it was white, and the lion half a light bay. Its eyes were a fierce eagle amber, and stared down at K’yanae. It was much larger than that the griffin that stayed with her Baron Grandfather – the said griffin was already taller than K’yanae by several heads.

"We are the Griffins of war," the Griffin bowed, extending its large wings, "And welcome to our Bastion, dark elf. No misbehavior is allowed, and you are to leave your weapons in your rooms."

"Armor?" K’yanae asked.

"That is allowed," the Griffin said smoothly, "Are you staying long?"

"Only a night," K’yanae said, "Are meals provided?"

"Yes," the Griffin said.

"Do you have a library?" K’yanae asked.

"An extensive one of the Realms," the Griffin replied, "But you would have to pay to get in. Are in mind of any books?"

"Calimshan geography," K’yanae said.

"We have a number on those," the Griffin said.

"One more question," K’yanae asked, "Why are you called Griffins of war?"

"Because once we were bred from normal griffins for the purpose of carrying knights to war," the Griffin said, "Our intelligence was developed as were our skills in battle, and we were made larger and stronger. We also have a passable skill in war magic."

"Admirable," K’yanae murmured. "Do you still take riders?"

"We choose them," the Griffin said loftily, "And when we do it is considered an honor. I myself have a rider."

K’yanae nodded. "How much is a room?"

"Are you alone?" the Griffin asked, staring at her eyes. "Hmph. A werewolf?"

"Yes," K’yanae admitted.

"Of what house?" the Griffin asked, "I do not recall any House of drow werewolves. Or are you from the Underdark?"

"Never been there," K’yanae said, then decided to test out the point on how far the Talon’s influence reached. "My father is Zaknafein Do’Urden, Master of the Talons."

"It is an honor to meet you," the Griffin said perfunctorily, as it knew of her Father but was not exactly very impressed. "The Talons have spread their influence greatly in the last years but have not touched these mountains as yet."

"Ah," K’yanae said, secretly pleased.

"Will you be checking in now?" the Griffin asked politely.

"Yes," K’yanae smiled.

***

[top]

Chapter 5: Are ye a Talon?

The Bastion was large and sturdy, with rough floors mostly for Griffin convenience. The Griffin escorted her to the Reception, where she paid for her room, wincing inwardly at the price, and was given a small key for the door.

There was a number carved into the tag of the key, 25. K’yanae wandered up into the room areas until she reached hers, and looked around. Then she deftly picked the lock with her skeleton keys instead, trying to keep in practise.

The lock was not a very complicated one. The door swung open, and K’yanae looked in a rather cramped, plain but comfortable room, built more for warmth than grandeur. There was a fireplace and a small wardrobe for her clothing, which also contained bathrobes of many designs and sizes, and a few towels. There was a bath with piped water, K’yanae noting the small stamp under one, obviously of Kalain’s making.

She walked over to the window and opened it, allowing a grumbling Owl to fly in and land on the bedpost. She was not sure how ‘pets’ were treated, but she didn’t want to add more expense to that of the bare necessities.

K’yanae smiled to herself. Why not enjoy a warm bath while she could?

The wolf scorned that idea. Wolves did not take baths except when running in the rain or swimming across streams.

K’yanae stuck a mental tongue at her partner and turned on the hot water while the wolf rose and sniffed disdainfully.

***

You must have taken an hour in there, the wolf complained.

Not true, K’yanae protested as she walked down towards the eating place in her polished armor,Half an hour.

Have you forgotten everything I have taught you? The wolf asked.

No. But I would not like to stink anyway. K’yanae pointed out mildly.

You do that in any case, the wolf stated firmly.

I most certainly do not! K’yanae protested vigorously.

Yes you do. The wolf said.

No I don’t. K’yanae continued.

K’yanae was saved from this as she came in sight of the eating place and firmly pushed down the wolf’s presence.

Various humans and humanoids and Griffins had already arrived, and the place was bustling, if anything else. K’yanae studied it for a while, noted that the bar was not as full, and walked in dramatically. It was a weakness.

The chatter died down as all eyes turned on her. She paused again rather dramatically, the setting sun framing her in its red glow, then walked calmly towards the bar. The chatter rose again, though now in slightly shriller tones.

K’yanae was always one for being practical. It was obvious what a drow’s welcome would be anywhere in the Realms, so she wore her dress along with her armor. It wasn’t like she had anything else to wear, but what was most important was that the stitched symbol of the Talon was embroidered on the lower front of the dress, near the hem, to offset (hopefully) the fact that she looked like a dark elf.

Dresses did have their advantages, as K’yanae had said so before – while one fought with them her opponent would not be able to see where the legs were, if the dress was long and flowing enough. Until it hit them on a delicate part of their anatomy, like kneecaps or somewhere higher up.

The barman was an elderly looking Griffin, who fixed her with a stern amber eye. "And what’d it be, Talon?"

"What do you have?" K’yanae grinned.

"The usual," the Griffin said sourly, and his eyes dared her to ask another question.

She did. "What’s that?"

"Ale, wine, mead, beer," the Griffin said grudgingly, "Ham and cheese sandwiches. Stew. Goat. Deer."

"I’d have the sandwiches," K’yanae said. "And ale."

The Griffin grunted, then his deft ‘hands’ located a clean tankard and dumped it in front of her then poured in the foamy, dark burnt amber drink. Then he paced to the sliding panel in the wall, and knocked on it. It opened, and he told whoever was inside it her order.

Human woman, by the smell of it, the wolf concluded.

K’yanae looked around. The eating place was large, and a space at the end was taken for Griffins, whose eating habits were still rather messy. The floor was covered with even, clean white sand, and the tables were spaced out carefully. The tables themselves were stone, as were the seats, though cushions were provided. The varied patrons included other elves, gnomes, orcs, goblins, and the dwarf and girl and merchants K’yanae had eavesdropped on earlier.

The walls were a different, light beige shade of rough sandstone, and there were various paintings hung on, along with works like an intricate sword, and a bow. All of them held the crest of the Bastion, signifying that they were Griffin made.

The centerpiece of the bar was directly behind the taciturn Griffin ‘barman’, a huge full-length portrait of a Griffin with a formal, ornate saddle on, snug on his shoulders, a small crown nestling on between his ear tufts. His rider was standing at ease next to him, a faintly smiling man, also with a crown on his head.

K’yanae’s gaze traveled down to the small plaque below the portrait:

King Michel Gryphonheart and King N’yararr Gryphonheart
Founders of the Griffin Bastion
1819 – 1880

The panel slid open smoothly and a plain plate with two sandwiches was pushed out. The Griffin ‘barman’ dumped it unceremoniously in front of her then stalked to take another order.

The sandwiches were most satisfactory, and K’yanae again took a cursory glance at her surroundings. Then, as she had known he would, the dwarf walked up to her.

"Are ye a Talon?" he asked.

"Graduate," K’yanae admitted, deliberately leaving out the fact that she had not completed her six compulsory years.

The dwarf squinted at her. "Yer related to the Talon Master? A werewolf?"

K’yanae gambled. "Yes, why?"

The dwarf grunted. "Ye think he’d be interested in lookin’ fer me ancestral home?"

"If the price was good enough," K’yanae said truthfully. Her Father was rather single-minded in that aspect.

"Price?" the dwarf said suspiciously, affirming K’yanae’s suspicion that dwarves were born with a thrifty attitude that bordered on miserly.

"Usually in gold," K’yanae shrugged. "For a job like this, more than several thousand, I’d believe."

"Yer sure he will find it?" the dwarf asked.

"He may," K’yanae said, "I’d be interested myself if the price was good enough."

"How can ye help me?" the dwarf again looked at her critically.

K’yanae looked modest. "I have an ability with birds," she said, cupping the Stone of Wings, "And I’d be willing to accept payment after results."

"That the Stone of Wings?" the dwarf asked, looking at the stone, its heart flaring into a cold green color.

"How did you know?" K’yanae asked.

"It is obvious from the way ye speak," the dwarf said, "The reward will be summat of the treasure from me ancestral hall when we find it. ‘Tis Mithril Hall, and me name be Bruenor Battlehammer."

"My name is K’yanae," K’yanae said. "When will you be leaving this place?"

"Soon as me merchant friends finish their tradin’," Bruenor said in his gruff voice, "Ye may need introductions."

The dwarf led her to his table. "The young lady’s me adopted daughter Catti-Brie," he said, after K’yanae told them her first name, "The tall merchant’s known as Hurst, the other one’s Motrin."

"You’re K’yanae Do’Urden," Hurst stated.

"Guilty," K’yanae admitted.

"May we ask what are you doing so far from Baldur’s Gate?" Motrin asked.

K’yanae shrugged. "That is my own business." "Me an’ Catti-Brie will be lookin’ up Mithril Hall in the library hereabouts," Bruenor said.

"I was interested to go to Calimport," K’yanae said, "But that can possibly wait."

"Calimport is not a place for lone adventurers," Hurst warned, "It’s a city of thieves."

"And I’d fit right in," K’yanae grinned.

"Yer a thief?" Catti-Brie asked, with a smile.

"Possibly," K’yanae said playfully, though part of her lighthearted tone died down. There is such thing as dislike at first sight, and K’yanae had instantly disliked Catti-Brie. There was an irritating air around her, a more-innocent-than-thou aura that K’yanae immediately loathed and the wolf immediately turned up her nose at.

As for Catti-Brie, she found that K’yanae exhibited a worldly manner that she found irking, and a sly, frank look of a true thief. Catti-Brie, like most dwarves, disliked that particular class.

Catti-Brie looked to her with an intuitive stare, and for a moment the auburn, light skinned girl locked gazes with the white haired, ebony dark K’yanae, then both looked away to the gossip of the merchants.

Normally at this point it would be stated that even though the two did not know it, they had a lot in common. Actually, they didn’t.

For your information, they weren’t flip sides of the same coin either.

***

K’yanae lengthened her rent of her room, wincing slightly as she did so, then spent the evening wandering around the large stone Bastion.

She rested for a while at a large whitewashed balcony; its railing exquisitely carved, with marble benches arranged at careful positions so as to allow its occupants a good view of the majestic vistas beyond the high balcony.

The moon was overhead, though it was an unsymmetrical blob. K’yanae could feel the lure of its silvery moonlight, but firmly told the wolf to stay put. She did not know precisely what the rules of the Griffin Bastion were pertaining to Changing and running loose in the corridors, but she suspected it wasn’t exactly tolerant.

"Actually, there is no such rule," a light, intensely musical and controlled voice spoke up behind her.

K’yanae whirled, hands groping automatically for absent daggers.

She faced a griffin, which looked down literally at her with an amused twinkle in its amber eyes. There was a similarity in its silvery ruff and sleek tawny lion half that suggested a relation to the Griffin King in the portrait at the eating place. The massive eagle wings were folded against its back, long secondary feathers barred with black feather paint and lightly brushing the slate ground.

"You can read minds?" she asked suspiciously. Mischievously, she added mentally: You flying oversized chicken.

"Affirmative," the griffin chuckled, "Though I doubt my ancestry touches on common farmyard livestock."

"I was not aware that griffins could do that," K’yanae commented, changing mental gear to something touching vaguely on politeness, as she espied the gold chain with the sapphires that hung half obscured against the griffin’s neck, which spoke of some kind of importance.

"Only the royalty of the war griffins can," the griffin said modestly, "But all war griffins can do a bit of magic."

"Who are you?" K’yanae asked bluntly.

"Ah," the griffin said, "The famed Do’Urden straightforwardness." At K’yanae’s surprised expression, the griffin continued, "We have a habit of keeping tabs with parts of the world that may affect us, and we have sometimes looked at your erstwhile Father and your family."

"Don’t you know what privacy means?" K’yanae asked acidly.

"Yes," the griffin said imperturbably, "It means personal seclusion. I assure you it was merely in the spirit of inquiry, like the thief spies in the ducal palace. But enough diversions for now?"

"Enough for the rest of the day, short as it is," K’yanae bantered.

"The night is forever to the werewolf," the griffin quoted.

"You’ve been looking in on Grandfather as well?" K’yanae asked in interest.

"Obviously," the griffin said dryly.

"Well then, what’s your name?" K’yanae asked.

"I am Lord S’vanarr Lionheart," the griffin bowed. You mind reading feathered cushion.

The griffin made a sound suspiciously like laughter. "You are a most scintillating companion, K’yanae."

"S’ every ‘royal’ griffin something-heart?" K’yanae asked.

To S’vanarr’s credit, he understood this. "Yes," he said, "Though actually Lionheart is a house of Griffin Wingleaders, sort of like human dukes. House Gryphonheart is the ruling house."

"Why do the founders have the same surname?" K’yanae asked. A really odd pair of parents they must have.

"It was a symbol of their union as mount and rider," S’vanarr said, raising a figurative eyebrow.

"What does a lord do?" K’yanae asked. Strut around like peacocks.

"Hardly," S’vanarr grinned, "Though there is some of that. I am actually only a ‘son’ far back in the hierarchy to be considered for Wingleader position."

"Why were you looking for me?" K’yanae asked.

"I was going to ask you for the honor of becoming your mount," S’vanarr said seriously.

"Why?" K’yanae asked.

"Although you are temporarily estranged from your Father," S’vanarr said, and noted that K’yanae flinched, "You are still a connection to two powers in the Sword Coast that are growing meteorically."

"And so this is all political?" K’yanae asked. I hate politics.

"I can hardly claim that," S’vanarr said, "I find it exciting. The choice would lie with me, though my Father and representatives from other royal houses gave me a strong ‘push’ in that direction, yes."

"Why you?" K’yanae asked bluntly.

"Several reasons," S’vanarr said, holding out his claw, and ticking off the reasons, "One, that I was technically surplus and not exactly incredibly important, two that I am well qualified in telepathy and also in some war magic, three that..."

"You are somewhat of a troublemaker here and they are anxious to be rid of your presence," K’yanae said.

"Precisely," S’vanarr said, exhibiting no embarrassment at all. "And also it was ascertained that you wanted to ride a griffin. Well?"

The wolf nodded agreement – it was curious, and it did like the debonair griffin ‘lord’. "Very well," K’yanae smiled.

[next part]

Lledrith RavenWolf

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