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Silver Wolf: Chapter V

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Published: June 24, 2009

Chapter V:  Training, Learning, Planning



Lancer Officer Barracks, Temple of the Red Knight
14 Kythorn

It was barely dawn when Kalir awoke on a bunk.  A bunk?  I don’t even remember going to sleep.  Must have fallen asleep in the library.  She looked around.  Gann still slept soundly beside her, as did several soldiers in the barracks, whose bunkrooms ran to three high, three across, and four deep.  And this one of the officers’ bunkrooms; the enlisted barracks stacked the troops fifty to a room.

Kalir kissed her husband’s cheek, then rolled out of the bed with a thump and walked to the wall, where a clean linen tunic hung.  She dressed quickly and walked out the door and down the hall and a flight of stairs to the practice room, and began her morning ritual of stretches, push-ups, sit-ups and other exercises.

Saladin Dyferras stepped into the room a few minutes later, and spent a moment watching Kalir’s figure as she crouched on the quad with her eyes closed.  Six-foot-one with a dancer’s build, sun-gold hair and deep violet eyes, the eighteen-year-old aasimar was a young woman of singular beauty and grace, qualities that had as much to do with her bearing as they did with her heritage.

Kalir sensed him watching her, and turned her head to glare at him.  “See anything you like, old man?”

The grandmaster held up his hands.  “That is a trap.  If I say yes, you’ll call me a pervert and blow me off my feet with lantern light; if I say no, you’ll be offended and chop my head off with that githyanki sword of yours.”

She grunted and looked away, then sprang to her feet.  “Did you come to do something other than leer at me?” she ground out.  “If so, do it and get out.  I’ve too many books to work through.”

Saladin let out a bark of laughter.  “Actually, I want to see how you’ve improved since we last met.  We didn’t have a chance to spar yesterday.”

Kalir cocked her head.  “Want to ‘watch my form’ some more, eh?”

He snorted, then sobered as he reached for a pair of wooden longswords and shields from the racks on the walls.  “Honestly Kalir, while you’re a delight to the eyes, I’ve no interest in anything that would injure your marriage.  I’ve never thought of you as anything more than a talented niece and student.  And I’ve women aplenty,” he added almost as an afterthought.

Kalir rolled her eyes as she took down a set of padded leathern fencing gear and slipped into it.  He’s not joking.  Old Stormy’s probably slept with half the women on the Sword Coast.  She pulled the cowl on over her head as her old master stepped onto the quad.  “No padding?” she queried him as she caught the sword and shield he tossed her and tested their balance.  “I won’t be holding back, you know.”

“You’ve never beaten me before,” he pointed out.

“We haven’t seen each other in three years,” she retorted.

“We’ll see.  En garde!” he said, and attacked.



Safiya’s concentration was disrupted by a muffled clack of wood on wood.  She listened and heard nothing more, shrugged and returned to her spellbook.  Then the clack came again, followed by a rapid series of impacts.  “Gods-damned—”  She slammed the book shut, opened the door and was nearly knocked over by a fast-moving cluster of Order trainees.  “Damn!”

“Sorry, ma’am—Red Wizard!”  He pulled a knife, but she rolled her eyes and said, “Don’t bother.  A simple ironguard spell is all it takes to block that thing, and I don’t have the patience.  What’s all the noise?”

“Think I’d tell you?”

“Easy, Jem,” one of the others said.  “That’s Safiya, the one who came with Commander Patten.  Pardon my knife-happy friend here.”

“Fine, fine.  What’s going on that’s got you in such a hurry?”

“Old Stormy’s fighting Commander Patten!” another apprentice said excitedly.

“Huh?”

“They’re in the practice room whaling on each other,” the first apprentice explained.

“Who is ‘Old Stormy?’”

“That’s ‘Grandmaster Dyferras’ to you, Cadet Uthelienn,” came a clear contralto voice from down the hall.  Safiya turned and locked eyes with a half-elf woman in a captain’s uniform.  “Lieutenant-Auxiliary Safiya of Lightreach, correct?”

“Yes, Captain … uh—”

“Captain Syluné Evenwood.  Tell me, do you have much interest in the arts martial?”

“I … dabble.”

“Then you might want to see this.  I was about to go see it myself; I hardly want to miss seeing the two top swordsmen in the Order in action.”

The captain and trainees led the way down the corridor to the practice room, where Safiya saw something that brought back old memories.  Kalir and Saladin attacked each other without pause, their wooden blades cracking together again and again, neither granting any quarter.  Safiya was reminded of a fight in the City of Judgment, where Kalir had gone one on one against a master paladin of Kelemvor.

(Of course, that had been a fight to the death; here, no such penalty was on the line.)

Safiya noted a great contrast between the fighting styles.  Kalir moved with lithe grace, using speed and agility; the taller, bigger grandmaster fought back with pure brute power.  The blades clashed once, twice, three times, then the combatants moved in close, to grappling distance, each trying to push the other back, neither succeeding; they stepped inside each other’s legs, almost dancing as each tried for better footing.

The grapple ended abruptly.  The grandmaster jumped backwards, then charged and brought his blade up and over in a two-handed vertical slash.  Kalir dodged sideways and parried the next blow with her shield, sweeping the sword aside and thrusting high.  Saladin blocked, whirled and slashed low left-to-right, but Kalir jumped the attack, braced her shield arm against her chest and drove it hard into her opponent’s midsection.  Saladin let out a loud “Oof!” and staggered backwards, but he still managed to bring up his shield to block the finishing strike.  He stepped back, took a breath, and said,  “Good one, girl.”

Kalir wiped her brow, breathed deeply, and said, “Shall we continue, old man?”

“No, let’s leave it at that,” he said, and shook his head, pulling off his fencing mask.  “You’ve improved beyond all recognition, Commander Patten.”

“Thank you, Grandmaster Dyferras.”

“Not only have you beaten me hand-to-hand, you’re running your own war in Thay, and your men are winning nine out of ten engagements.”

“I didn’t beat you yet.”

“No, but you would have.  These old bones aren’t what they used to be.  ‘To learn to use a sword, one must first master when to use a sword.’”

“Drizzt Do’Urden,” Kalir said automatically, identifying the source of the quote.

“Aye.  I wish I’d been there when he helped plan the defense of Ten-Towns.  His handiwork has taught our order much about discretionary warfare.”  He brandished the wooden sword again, but the blade snapped off at the hilt.  “Damn.  We really beat these things to death, didn’t we.”  He tossed the broken handle aside and suggested they go to breakfast.



Following a filling breakfast of fruit, meat, eggs and milk, Kalir returned to the library and began reading once more.

17 Mirtul:</i>

Valen, Nathyrra and I reached Lith My’athar last night and are preparing the defenses.  Our scouts report that the Valsharess’ forces are composed of mainly drow, not surprisingly.  The enemies’ mind flayers are located …

Nothing useful here, Kalir thought, and flipped ahead a few pages.  Then she spotted something, backtracked, and stopped when she found the word ‘Cania’.  Pay dirt.

2 Kythorn:</i>

Abyss take that damned archdevil!  One second, I have the Valsharess at my feet, the next, Mephistopheles is leering at me.  Apparently the Reaper is one of his slaves, and the artifact I found in the Plane of Shadow belonged to him.  Then he blew me clear to Cania.

Damn, it’s cold here.  My ink’s beginning to fr

Here the writing medium changed to pencil.

4 Kythorn:

Found a pencil to continue this journal at what passes for an inn in this wasteland.  I also found a viewing crystal that shows the Underdark.  After killing off the entire armies of both the Valsharess and Lith My’athar, Mephistopheles has raised them as undead.  Death tyrants, undead illithids, drow, everything except Valen and Nathyrra, whom he killed and sent to Cania to keep me company.

I swear on the name of the Red Knight, he’ll pay for this.

5 Kythorn:</i>

I’ve learned a secret that Mephistopheles didn’t want anyone to know.  There is a woman on this layer of Hell called the Knower of Names, who fell in love with Mephistopheles millennia ago.  She is a primordial being of pure life and magic, who knows the true names of everything, living or dead.  The Words of Creation, the language Lord Ao used to create the universe itself.  She’s in the wastelands beyond the settlement of the Lost, supposedly unreachable by mortals, but I will find her.

No, I must find her.  Mephistopheles has taken Lith My’athar and is preparing to invade the surface.  Luckily, the Seer, her entourage, most of the civilians, and that astral deva I rescued managed to escape into the wilds.  But when the archdevil attacks, he’ll come through Undermountain, right into the heart of Waterdeep.  Not even Khelben Arunsun will be able to fight him off.  And Nehr’bak will be next.

Kalir continued reading, but it quickly became clear how Esmerelle Patten had bound Mephistopheles:  she had tricked the Knower of Names into giving up Mephistopheles’ true name, by which she commanded the archdevil to never again leave Cania.  Other names she learned included her own, and those of her companions.  She used Valen’s to free him from the demonic taint in his blood, and used Nathyrra’s to free her from the guilt of her past.

By the Lady…  Kalir snapped the book shut and dashed up the aisles to Archivist Lamstrand’s desk.  “Give me everything you have on the Words of Creation.”

“Words of Creation, eh?  Hmmm…  Now there’s a magic that is as wondrous as it is dangerous.  Did you know—”

“Just give it to me, and save the babble.”

The librarian harrumphed and got up, going to a locked cabinet, grumbling under his breath all the while.  He unlocked the cabinet and took out a tome, then locked it back up.  “This is all we’ve got, all anyone has ever written.  The Book of Exalted Deeds.”

“This will help a great deal.”

“Hope you’re no evildoer,” he said, smiling.

Kalir took the book from him.  “If I were, I wouldn’t be in the Order, number one, and number two, this tome of yours would blow me clear to Luskan.”

“True enough.”

Kalir flipped through the book and found the reference.  “May I borrow this?”

“Of course, Commander, but be sure to return it.  That particular specimen is the only survivor of five; the Zhents destroyed the others in that lot.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t let anyone get their hands on it.”



“You’re not serious, right, Kalir?” a disbelieving Gann said as they sat around a mess hall table.  “You can’t possibly be planning to go to Cania.”

“I already planned to go to the Abyss,” the paladin reminded him.  “Besides, if my mother can survive that ice block, so can I.  Ammon, what do you think?”

“I think you have little choice.  And I daresay that dealing with Mephistopheles will be safer than the trip to the Abyss.”

“I’m not sure I see the difference,” Gann said.

Kalir explained.  “The main difference between the devils and the demons is that, while both are at heart supremely self-interested and after their own gain, devils hold to the bargains they make.  Demons don’t unless it’s in their own best interest, and sometimes not even then.”

“Correct,” Ammon said, pleased.

“Well, I learned plenty from dealing with Mephasm back at Crossroad Keep,” Kalir pointed out.  “But it’s still tricky.  Devils don’t necessarily keep to the spirit of their bargains, just the letter.  It takes an agile mind to deal with them and stay on top.”

“What about yugoloths?” Safiya asked out of curiosity.

“They’re just about in the middle, which makes them even more unpredictable than demons.  You really need to be careful when dealing with them.”

“All right, so we have a plan,” Gann said, and took a sip of his tea.  “Safiya or one of her subordinates contacts Mephistopheles, we work out a deal, and find our way to the Knower of Names.”

Safiya shook her head.  “Sorry, but that won’t work.  We have to physically go to Cania for both tasks.”

“Why?  Can’t you cast ‘contact other plane’?”

“First off, Divination is a school I’m essentially useless in.  Secondly, that spell is unreliable as a source of information, and can only get us a one-word answer even when it does work.”

“Even I knew that,” Kalir commented to no one in particular.

“Have you a better idea, love?”

“It’s simple enough.  Ammon here is our resident fiend expert.  We use his diabolic contacts to set up a meeting with Mephistopheles, then gate to Cania, make the deal, head over to the Knower of Names, then return to Lightreach and plan our expedition into the Abyss.”

Everyone stared at her.  “What?”

“Do you really think we can pull that off?” Safiya asked.  “Not the interplanar transit, I mean; that’s easy.  But do you really think Mephistopheles will agree to a deal with the daughter of the one who humiliated him?

“I don’t know, but I have a fair idea of which buttons to push.  Devils hate demons even more than they hate paladins.”



To be continued...

Chapter V: Training, Learning, Planning

Kalir hits pay dirt in her mother's journals.

I almost had Saladin promote Kalir to Knight-Commander in this chapter, but then I checked my existing Kalir Patten biography on the Forgotten Realms wiki and discovered that I'd already placed that promotion in 1383 DR. Oh well.

By the way, I named Order Captain Syluné Evenwood (LG female half-elf Warmage [link] 9/Eldritch Knight 3) after an existing FR character, Syluné Silverhand [link] of the Seven Sisters (NG female human spectral harpist Wiz20/Sor2/Ftr2).

Previous Chapter:
Chapter IV: A Mother's Memories [link]
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Background:

1. Spells: Contact other plane is a 5th-level Divination spell that lets the caster ask a small number of questions of a powerful being from another plane (typically a deity). The trouble is, the being contacted generally dislikes being bothered by creatures from the prime, and is loath to give anything but a one-word answer. They may even lie to you.
Gate is a 9th-level Conjuration spell that opens a temporary gateway to another plane of existence. This has two primary purposes: travel to other planes (as in this instance), or calling extraplanar creatures bodily onto the caster's plane.
Lesser ironguard (mentioned only) is a 5th-level Abjuration spell that makes the subject immune to nonmagical metal. Mundane metallic objects will simply pass through as if one was not there, letting one perform feats such as passing through iron bars. Magicked metals, and things such as poisons on daggers, affect the subject normally. (Source: Player's Handbook 3.5.)

2. Organizations: The Zhentarim are a mercenary company cum trade consortium that has existed in Faerûn for over two hundred years. They are largely evil, and have invaded other nations several times in the last two decades alone. See this [link] for more information. (Source: Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting.)