Chapter One: Brief Introductions

Tashluta, Ches 1st (The Claw of the Sunsets), 1372 DR (The Year of Wild Magic)

Turtle Harbor lazily slapped against the Tashlutan docks, raising a welcome mist that splashed across Shann Tharden’s tan, unlined face. Standing in front of a small warehouse building at the end of the docks, she turned east to look towards the city’s skyline with its gaudy towers – impressive monuments to the various merchant families that had long ago established Tashluta as the major trading port on the Shining Sea’s southern coast, as well as the nominal capital of the Tashalar. Her gaze was gradually drawn north and west, past the market district and the city center and the Hazur River that separated them from the residential districts, across Turtle Harbor to the lone tower jutting up from the city’s northwestern peninsula that was home to the Urthadar family, the infamous spice merchants who wielded an inordinate amount of power on the Tashlutan Merchant’s Council, the city’s ruling body.

The tower, an impossibly straight column ten stories high, was made of the finest Duergar Marble from the Hazur Mountains and polished to an almost supernatural sheen that reflected both sun and moonlight, serving as a beacon for ships coming to port. There were numerous rumors of its origin as well as of what resided in its upper floors – an evil wizard ancestor of the Urthadars, imprisoned fey creatures whose magic kept the tower shining, a black sheep relative whose secrets threatened the family’s grip on power.

The latter was the most unlikely, she thought as, if there were such a relative it would be the man walking down the boardwalk towards her leading the oddest assortment of men she’d ever seen.

Lord Belgeon Urthadar was most definitely the black sheep of his family and, as much as some of his relatives might have liked to lock him away in their tower, since his ascension to High Cleric of the Tashlutan Reform Church of Waukeen, he’d become a virtually untouchable thorn in their side. He walked with the confidence of someone that was in fact untouchable, as if Waukeen herself were there by his side guarding his every step. His thick dark hair was locked and pulled back exposing a high forehead and prominent cheekbones. His eyes were nearly gray and a perfectly manicured goatee, which was beginning to sprout some gray of its own, surrounded his full lips. That he was relatively young for his lofty position in the fledgling church at 39 years old, not to mention extremely handsome yet unmarried, belied the depth of his devotion to his deity (and hers to him) and often led to his enemies underestimating his capabilities.

The assassins from two tendays prior had found that out rather painfully, returning to their unknown employers to report their failed mission, each with a prominent and permanent limp, one no longer possessing the ability to procreate. Belgeon had not escaped unscathed, though, proudly sporting a thick, ragged scar across his left forearm which he took as a sign of the righteousness of his chosen path.

He was tall, even for a human, but seemed a giant in the company of those trailing behind him – an elf, a Halfling and two dwarves.

Odd company, indeed, Shann thought to herself, even for the Church, well-known for its extremely liberal membership bound solely by the credo, “The bold find gold, the careful keep it, and the timid yield it up.”

The elf was dark-skinned and reasonably attractive, typically aloof, but with an edge about him that suggested a lack of trust in his present surroundings – sensible for one more used to the jungles than the city. Deceptively simple tribal markings cris-crossed his face and his jet black hair was pulled back into a ponytail. He wore a simple brown tunic of soft calfskin, and moccasins that had seen better days.

The Halfling – or hin, as he would often correct – a tiny but solid fellow dressed in loose silk pants and no shirt, with a kitharra strapped to his well-muscled back, moved with the speed and grace only someone of his diminutive stature could manage, singing a joyful song of heroism and hope that brought an appreciative smile to all who heard it, even the gruff dockworkers who paused from their backbreaking work to listen.

The two dwarves were as different as night and day, or more fittingly, evening and night – one typical in these parts with his dark skin, leonine mane and well-manicured beard, a round but firm belly hanging over his belt; the other a rarity with his smoky gray skin, bald head, shockingly white, unkempt beard, and a remarkably slim but solid build. Both were wearing well-worn suits of studded leather armor, dwarven waraxes strapped to their backs, both normally illegal within the city walls but serving as an explanation of their presence in Lord Belgeon’s company.

“Good morning, Lord Belgeon,” Shann called out. “Might I assume this rather interesting band of Faerûnians are your latest converts to the Church?”

“Well met, Sister Tharden,” Belgeon’s deep bass called back. “Indeed, these fine men have newly committed themselves to working towards fair trade in the name Waukeen and, in fact, will be your escorts to the Village Stethlan on this wonderful morning. An odd bunch you’ll make for certain but one worthy of Waukeen’s blessings I have no doubt.”

“I introduce to you Corin of the Black Jungles; Aladren of the storied land of Luiren; Krell of the Firesteap Mountains of the Shaar; and Indo Skulldark—”

“Of nowhere of import,” interrupted the gray dwarf. “I am now of Tashluta and that is what matters most. Well met, my lady.”

“Well said, my friend,” Belgeon laughed sincerely. “And I introduce you all to Shann Tharden, devoted cleric of Waukeen and as close to a daughter as I’m likely to ever have. Especially if the Rundeen have their way!”

“My Lord!” Shann replied tersely. “Such talk is foolish. They failed once despite the advantage of surprise. They are unlikely to try again now that you are fully aware of their plans.”

“Perhaps. But it is more foolish to assume we are ever completely safe from their scheming.” Belgeon’s smile slipped momentarily, as if giving in to a suppressed memory, but he caught himself and put an encouraging arm around his daughter-by-proxy. “Let us get inside and get these fine fellows equipped and ready for their trip!”

Corin, the elf, scanned the city skyline, a wistful look crossing his face, quickly followed by a sudden flare of anger. Tashluta brought out many emotions in him, covetousness and guilt being the strongest and fighting a constant battle in his head. Biting his lip, he turned and followed the rest of the party into the warehouse.

The path he’d chosen to follow, had in fact dedicated his second life to, lie in that direction.

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