It had been twenty days since the events at Lyn Armaal. Twenty days since the heart of our team had been torn out.
Twenty days since I killed Briar.
I see it every night when I close my eyes. Briar, trapped in the greenhouse, pleading to be let out. The dawning realisation and horror on finding out that the door had been trapped. The protections and wards Fenthwick and Lunar had placed around her to keep her safe.
The devastation when I pushed open the door.
Oh, sure, Jaghol had been there too and he had helped, but deep down I knew it was ultimately my responsibility and my fault.
I see the green deathly lightning blow apart the walls that Fenthwick had conjured and course through Briar’s body. I hear her scream in untold agony and pain. Then I see her body transform back into that of a six-year-old as we lay her down on the grass outside the accursed building. Something died inside me. Something that had only really recently come back to life.
I couldn’t stay. I put my ring – emblazoned with the Raven crest from my old ship the Stormraven – on Briar’s finger, forever claiming her as my sister. I took my scarf from her waist and wrapped it back around my head, trying not to think about how warm it still was. And then I walked away, heading back down to the gryphon cages.
As I started to move I felt a blinding pain in my head. The words of that blasted Tiefling bard Malzire rang in my ears – “Never abandon her or your team ever again.” – but I carried on walking without once looking back. I managed to take one of the gryphons and fly it down to the outskirts of Waterdeep, where I let it go free. Then I entered the city and that’s where I’ve been ever since.
The pain in my head came back every day, a reminder of what I had done. It was no more than I deserved.
Sometimes the dream changed. Instead of Briar in the greenhouse, I saw Astrid, pleading for me and Zhayne to save her. Sometimes I see Briar in the ashes of the hospital I had burned down in Sundabar, her blackened body and dead eyes staring at me accusingly. I wake up every night in a cold sweat, then the reality of the situation comes crashing down on me.
I had to find a way to bring her back. I had to.
I was sitting in a tavern in Waterdeep’s North Ward. It had only recently been renovated and reopened and was even rumoured to be haunted. Rich blue tapestries hung from the wood panelled walls, giving some colour to the place. Not that I cared in the slightest. All I cared about was the tankard on the table in front of me. Ale, not water. Things had changed.
A shadow fell across the table. I didn’t look up. I heard a deep voice.
“Well, well… It looks such a sad sight. Someone who has lost everything… including hope.” I did not reply. The voice continued. “The strong, silent type is it? What if I can tell you, it could all be a little different. If I had the power to change things?”
That was when I looked up. A purple-skinned Tiefling wearing flamboyant clothing sat in the chair opposite me. He was grinning, showing his pointed teeth.
I was in no mood for games. “What are you talking about?” I responded.
The Tiefling leaned forward. “You want things to be different… you are missing something…”
“What would you know about it?” I said sharply. Who was this person? What gave him the right to say things like this?
The Tiefling shrugged. “I’m a simple traveller, from far away. I have seen the same reaction from hundreds of people on my travels. I simply try to do anything in my power to help where I can.”
My patience had reached its limit. “And what makes you think I need your help?” I hissed.
The Tiefling shrugged again. “I don’t know if you do… but I know that you could get to where you are going a lot faster if you take it. You don’t have to say yes just now… I can be… patient when I need to be. Mull it over. My name is Deharrut Mondius and if you need me… you only have to call. I’ll be watching.” With that, he stood, bowed deeply, and left. On the table in front of me was a shiny red apple. I stared at it for a few long moments before picking it up and putting it in my pocket. With that, I left the tavern and returned to the streets.
I made my way to the dock ward, on the other side of the city. I stood at one of the piers, looking out into the Great Harbour. The pocket containing the stranger’s apple felt heavy. I took it out and stared at it.
You only have to call… I’ll be watching…
I heard Malzire’s voice again. Not the words that caused my blinding headaches, but different words.
If you make a deal with a demon she’ll never forgive you…
I knew that Malzire was right. Briar would never forgive me if I made a deal with some creature from the abyss. Not to mention such agreements came with a high cost or some pitfall that caused great misery. No, I had to find a different way to do this. And if it took a longer time, then so be it.
I threw the apple with all my strength into the harbour. It hit the water and hissed, steam rising as it sank out of sight. I turned and was about to make my way back to the main city when my legs gave out from under me. I sat down heavily on the ground, feeling my eyes fill with tears.
What could I do? How could I get Briar back? Whatever sorcery had caused the death curse had put Briar beyond the reach of resurrection magic. She was trapped – or worse – only the gods knew where. I put my face in my hands as the tears finally came.
“Hey! Mister! You okay?” A small voice said from in front of me. I lowered my hands and saw through my blurred vision a young Tiefling girl with red skin, holding a stuffed fluffy unicorn toy.
“You look sad!” she continued, “Do you want to hold Mr Sparklepants?” She held out the stuffed toy to me. “When I get sad, Mr Sparklepants makes me happy again!”
Slowly, almost robotically, I took the toy from her hands and gave it an awkward cuddle. The girl nodded. “That’s it! Now Mr Sparklepants can make you happy!”
I smiled slightly, although the girl couldn’t see it behind my scarf. “I don’t think Mr Sparklepants can help me,” I said.
“Why? What’s wrong?” The girl’s face screwed up into a frown.
I sighed. “I’ve lost my sister. She’s gone.”
Her face brightened. “Oh! Is that all? When I lose Mr Sparklepants, I just look and look and look for him until I find him again.” She smiled widely. “I bet if you look and look and look for your sister you’ll find her too!”
Her eyes lost focus for a moment, then she blinked. “I have to go. My daddy’s calling for me.” She took the unicorn back and leaned in close. “It was nice to meet you mister! I hope you find your sister soon!” Then she reached out her finger and tapped me on the nose with a “Boop!” and skipped away into the crowd.
After a while I rose to my feet, my legs feeling stiff. As I walked back into the city proper I thought about what that little girl had said.
I bet if you look and look and look for your sister you’ll find her!
I didn’t think it would be that simple.
Suddenly something flashed in the corner of my eye. A dark brown ponytail and pointed ears. It looked exactly like Briar had when she used the wristband of mutability to become a different person last time we were here. It couldn’t be… I had to be sure. I pushed and elbowed my way through the crowd, making my way as quickly as I could towards the person I had seen, with many sorry’s and excuse me’s on the way.
I finally reached the person and tapped her on the shoulder. When she turned round I felt my heart skip a beat. It was her! It was Briar! Somehow…
Then she spoke. “Can I help you?”
My heart sank. It wasn’t Briar.
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled, eyes cast down to the ground. “I… I thought you were someone else…”
“Oh,” the elf woman said, “I… er… I see…” Without another word she turned and disappeared into the crowd, leaving me standing there, not knowing what to do.
I don’t know how long I stood in that spot, but I was eventually shaken out of my stupor by a small hand reaching under my cloak from behind me. With a loud “Hey!” I span round, just in time to see a small figure wearing a hooded cloak run away. It looked to be the same size as a gnome or a halfling. Checking my belt I saw that the thief had stolen one of my money pouches, containing about two hundred and fifty gold pieces. Without thinking I gave chase, hoping I wouldn’t lose the figure’s trail.
The halfling led me through a maze of streets, alleys and dead-end roads. Once or twice I thought I had lost them for good before catching sight and renewing my efforts. Eventually, however, I managed to catch up to them and roughly pushed them against a wall in a downtrodden alley. I was extremely surprised to find that the thief wasn’t a halfling as I had thought, nor was it a gnome.
It was a kobold.
The snout peeked out from under its hood. I pulled the hood back and looked it in the face. It was terrified.
“Please! I meant no harm! Please don’t hurt me!” The voice was female and held the same terror as the face. I looked into her wide eyes and saw something there that reminded me of Briar. There was still some innocence about this creature that struck me.
I knelt down. “I’m not going to hurt you. I just want my money back.”
The kobold looked at the pouch clutched in her tiny hands, then back up at me. She held it out to me. I gently took it. She pulled her hands back quickly as though they had been stung.
“I was only doing what I had to. I just want to survive. The people here don’t like me or my kind.” She looked down to the ground. A pitiful sight.
I stood up and held out my hand to her. “Come with me,” I said, “I’ll get you some food.”
The creature looked up at me, not quite believing at first. I nodded at her. “Don’t be afraid, I won’t hurt you. My name is Talon.”
She slowly took my hand, as though expecting some trick. “I am Nixit,” she said, using her other hand to indicate herself.
“So Nixit,” I said to my new companion, “What do you want to eat?”
We made our way to the Yawning Portal, one of the biggest inns in Waterdeep. There were so many people there of different races, sizes and colours that Nixit barely got a second glance. We found a quiet table overlooking the vast well which served as the entrance to the Undermountain, through which brave – and foolhardy – adventurers would disappear in search of glory and riches. Some of them even came back.
I bought food and drinks for us. Nixit devoured her meal as though she hadn’t eaten for days. Her tiny hands wrapped around her tankard as she drank noisily. I didn’t touch either my food or my drink. Instead, I leaned my head into my hands.
Nixit saw this and put her tankard down. “You’re sad,” she said, putting her hand on my arm, “Why are you sad?”
I sighed. “My sister. She… she’s gone.”
Nixit nodded. “I know how you feel. I had many brothers and sisters. We lived in an old city in the jungle. They were all killed by a party of adventurers. I was the only one left alive. They captured me, questioned me, but they eventually let me go.”
I opened my mouth to respond but we were interrupted by a new tankard slamming down on to our table.
“You know,” a familiar voice said, “It’s very rude to talk to a lady and not give your name at the very least.”
I looked up. It was the woman from earlier, the one I had foolishly mistaken for Briar. She sat down on the chair next to me and smiled. “My name’s Galsori Winseris.”
I blinked. It was the same name Briar had taken when she had looked like this woman. Could she have known her? My mind eventually caught up with me. “Er… I’m Talon… Talon Shadowkin.”
Galsori leaned forward, her elbows on the table. “So, Talon Shadowkin, tell me about this someone else you thought I was.” Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Nixit also lean forward on the table.
I told them the story of how we had met Briar at Xantharl’s Keep, of how we had discovered the death curse on her, of our search for a cure. I talked about how she had taken the identity of Galsori during our mission to save Fenthwick’s mother – Galsori’s eyes went wide at this point. Finally, I told them of how Briar had met her end on the floating castle of Lyn Armaal. By the time I had finished I was crying.
Galsori was silent for a moment. “You know, I think I met her once. Briar, I mean. It was a few years ago. I didn’t think I had made that big an impression on her. And you say you’re trying to get her back? How will you do that with the death curse?”
“I don’t know,” I sighed heavily, “But what I do know is that whatever this death curse is, it’s taken her. Where her soul is now is not where it’s meant to be. She’s trapped and I have to save her.” I looked up to meet Galsori’s gaze. “I made her a promise.”
Galsori was silent again. Nixit was looking down at her tankard. Then, without warning, Galsori picked up her tankard and stretched it over the table. “I’m in.”
I blinked in surprise. “I’m sorry…?”
Galsori grinned, “I haven’t got anything better to do. I’m in. I’ll help you.”
Nixit picked up her tankard in her hands and held it out to meet Galsori’s. “I will help you too!” she said.
I looked at my new friends in surprise. Then a huge smile crossed my face. The first proper smile in too long a time. I picked up my own tankard and bumped it against the others’. As I looked into first Galsori’s eyes and then Nixit’s eyes I started to feel something come back to life inside me.
We will go wherever we have to go. We will do whatever we have to do. Together, we will find Briar, we will save her, and we will bring her home.
Because that’s what big brothers do.