The Uninvited Guest

((Osilon, Karavoss))

When Kalena awoke, much like the previous day, her vision was blurry and out of focus. She looked around. There were several shapes in the sitting room that should not have been there. As her eyesight cleared the objects resolved into people, and then the events of the previous day instantly came back to her and why five extra people were turning her and Lafayette's home into a flop house. Despite successfully rescuing Gerda, the former assassin found herself quite irritable. It was partly from the pounding headache she had, but mainly her anger over her broken arm.

Why was she, who was easily the most capable and skilled of them all, the one to be most seriously injured? And how the hell was she supposed to keep her horse training job with only one working arm? The answer, she knew, was that she couldn't. Then she remembered Solandriel telling her about how Gerda and him were making a living peddling potions these days. Did that include healing potions? She looked hopefully over at the dwarf and saw Solandriel sitting with Gerda, who was still sleeping.

“Has she not woken up yet?” Kalena asked groggily.

“It's a little hard to wake up when your soul has left your body,” Lafayette said, bringing her a glass of water.

“Her soul isn't in her body? What are you talking about?” Kalena took the glass with her good arm and then suddenly looked hard at Gerda. “Wait, are you saying she's dead?”

“The body is alive I guess, but her soul is in another dimension,” Lafayette explained, his tone of voice suggesting he did not understand any of it himself. “That's if you believe Shade.”


“A shadow demon guy you tangled with back in the good old days.”

“You have to be more specific.”

“You hunted him with Archer Craine.”

“Oh, him... Draken's so-called warden who sprang him from the Queen's dungeons! Yes, I remember that now. What's he got to do with any of this? Whatever you do, you can't trust him.”

“That's what Shade said you'd say, and I don't. He claims to be in the market for a new body and that he stole a book or something. Whatever that has to do with anything I don't know.”

“What book?”

“I don't know that either, but he says Gerda's soul is being held prisoner in a realm called the Endless Dark.”

“Endless Dark? Slow down.” Kalena massaged her temples, her headache flaring worse. “That's why Gerda is unconscious... and that fire breathing man bull... he was from this Endless Dark place I expect.”

“Could be?” Lafayette shrugged, at a loss.

“But you're saying, or rather Shade is claiming, we only recovered... what... her body?”

“It's even better than that, Kalena. In order to rescue Gerda, really rescue her this time, Shade says our souls need to leave our own bodies in order to travel to this endlessly dark place that sounds like a realm of the dead. Shade can get us there, and we have to find her before Gerda's soul is lost forever. But I guess we got until her body starves to death, so we don't have to go right away.”

From across the room Solandriel was listening and the last part caused him to break down in tears.

“We shouldn't have to go at all,” Kalena said, ignoring the crying elf. “This is work for mystics, not sellswords. In fact why can't a mage simply summon Gerda's soul back to her body with a spell or something? I wager Hemlock could do that, or some other necromancer. Yes, that's all we need. A necromancer.”

“And you do realise necromancy and soliciting a necromancer is highly illegal, right?” V said, coming out of his meditation.

“Nah,” Lafayette said. “Hemlock isn’t a ‘necromancer’ she’s a necromancer in the same way a cheesecake is actually a pie.” He looked at V to see if the elf understood. V looked confused. “What I am saying is, way, way back she actually worked for Queen Thalia. Not raising the dead or anything like that. Just communion with spirits. Strictly speaking not totally legal at the moment, but to also be fair we just broke into and helped burn down a warehouse in a fairly populated town and just vanished into the night with the army seeking our arrest. So I think talking with someone who just so happens to be something and ‘suggesting’ they help isn’t as much of a legal issue as you want to make it. Besides, plenty of Clerics talk to ghosts. If it makes you feel better you can just make believe she’s a cleric.”

Shade slithered out from the shadows, "A median would be great if you want to attract spirit predators. The Endless Dark isn't a just a spirit world or an afterlife, it's a nightmarish form of the living world, filled with all kinds of beings who would be more than willing to possess a soulless dwarf woman. Hemlock would be great for finding her, but I did say she was being held prisoner, didn't I? So if you were to break out of the dungeons of Verden, would you send one mage? No, you wouldn't. You would send a team. What I'm suggesting is getting you in there to save her soul, while also giving you a very powerful guide." He turned his attention to Kalena, "Been a while, Miss Valade. Still as skillful as always."

Kalena gave him a hard look, thinking he was making fun of her broken arm.

Before she could tell him off, Shade lifted his hand, "It was you I wanted to make the deal with. How much would you like to have your old life back in Dalen? What if I told you it was highly possible and you didn't have to live in this hovel any more? Did Archer Craine ever tell you the reason why Thalia wanted Draken to be returned, alive?" His voice was calm, collected, not a hint of a quiver is his voice, showing he was serious.

Kalena scowled. “Are you some demon come to tempt us to our doom, is that it?” she said suspiciously, but an unmistakable look of interest stirred in her eyes. Both knew she'd have given just about anything to return to the wonderful life she had in Opra Dale. “Highly possible? It's not possible at all. Dalen doesn't exist any more as a state, nor does the monarchy. It's a broken land of warring factions, full of monsters wreaking havoc on what's left of the populace. It's probably as dangerous to venture into as this Endless Dark realm. Do you want to get me killed?”

She stumbled up from the chair, cradling her splinted arm. “There is nothing for me in that wasteland. My status, my property, all my friends and peers there have been dead now for over a century! Even if I could reclaim my old estate, I don't have the funds to rebuild it. I barely have a copper to my name! And my name means nothing there! In fact it means nothing anywhere, except perhaps in the lands of the Timber Crag and those others long-lived enough to remember the stories about me.” She looked to Gerda and Solandriel before nodding bitterly to V, who, now was standing, turned with an expression on his face as if he had been caught. “But if Mister Blacksparrow here is any indication, the latter generations wouldn't have the faintest idea who I am... or the things I have done.” V’s brows furrowed slightly in confusion, but after a long glance, he wordlessly slipped into the backroom.

Kalena walked over and grabbed a bottle of strong brandy off a shelf, pouring a drink into her empty water glass to take the ache from her arm. “No,” she said, recalling the question Shade had put to her. “But I can rather guess. Her Majesty likely wished for the Black Witch to continue her interrogation of Draken, who at that time was one of the most wanted criminals in Dalen and Verden both.” She sipped the brandy, the fiery sweetness warming her throat. “Why do you come here, Shade. If not to take your amusement with us, what is this all about?”

"Wrong you are Kalena. Draken had no true worth as a criminal. Now, as the son and grandson of the last Sainte, that's worth more." Shade walked around, "Thalia acted strangely once Draken was mentioned or saw Draken. I never made sense of it, but if she just wanted him as a criminal, then why did Archer never hit him, when he easily hit me, a shadow demon. I did my research, the Black Witch was punished greatly for the harm she did to Draken. Then I found something after my departure with him." Shade summoned an image of Zachary and Emilia Sainte. "Silver hair and silver eyes. Do you see? The features, and the biggest connection, Draken was born in 20 YBTR, the same time as when Zachary Sainte and Emilia Sainte were murdered by Verden, Emilia was executed by inquisitors in Verden, soon after Craine nearly wiped out the Inquisition. This is no mere coincidence Kalena. Draken is at Opra Dale, and if the information is correct, being rebuilt as we speak."

"The reason I come here is because I have suffered for over four hundred years, not feeling the warmth of another, the cold winds of winter, the taste of bitter or sweet, the pain of battle, or the rush of something. It's the same feeling, forever. I came for you because I know how you work, you come from not so humble beginnings, what exactly, I'm unsure, however I know that look, the look of rage for what the world has taken from you, how you wish to take back what was taken from you, by force. I know that feeling because it's the same one I feel. We are kindred spirits you and I."

He stepped back, "So why not this group, my old buddies from the time I was alive betrayed me and died for it. The fiends weren't the greatest of people. Draken no longer needs my protection or guidance. I have no allies, never did. I'm giving you something you haven't seen in a while Kalena, the chance to take back what was stolen. That is what I'm here to offer." He snatched the curtains that kept the room dark and pulled them apart, the sunlight burned him, the shadows were blasted away, leaving behind Shade's true visage.

It was a sad sight, in truth. He stared out at the field, his skin was black, besides the few cracks of purple light, his eyes were a pale color, with no pupils. Large wounds of purple could be seen covering his body, the most prominent being a giant gash in his back. He continued to look outside, "What does it look like out there?" He asked them softly, he couldn't see what the outside looked like, the light made him blind.

Kalena was having trouble following all of Shade’s train of thoughts and grandiose statements. “I don't know what you're yammering on about there being no coincidence. Some of what you say resonates, but much of it escapes me. Perhaps I'm too tired from the past forty-eight hours so you must forgive me if my mind is a little dull. Draken? Silver hair? The Sainte family? Opra Dale being rebuilt? By who? Demons?” she scoffed. “The land formerly known as Dalen is plagued with them and is completely unstable and barely habitable from what I have heard. You sound a bit unstable yourself, Shade, if you don't mind me saying. But I did not know that about you. That you were once human. What a sad plight you're in, and that's why you're desiring a new flesh and blood body, is it? To be human once more and be able to feel the warmth of the sun and hear the pretty birds sing? Well, good luck with that. Thanks to you I almost lost my one human life from poison, and for the time being I'm half an invalid.”

Kalena did not have much pity for anyone besides herself at the moment, but spared a momentary thought to Gerda who's soul had apparently flown the coop. As difficult as that was to wrap the head around. She had been interested in hearing more about Maelwin and what Gerda and Solandriel had in mind for compensation, but she could hardly bring up that subject any more. At the thought of compensation she recalled that part of Shade's incoherent rantings. What did he mean that she could have back what had been stolen from her? Could there be any truth to that?

V then returned to the room, his attire noticeably different. His minimal layer of plate armor was all but gone, replaced by a simple black long sleeve shirt, the outfit complete with baggy pants that resembled the Zatarian style, and matching boots. In spite of his casual attire, he still wore straps that held his two blades in place on his back.

“Well, I’m going out…” V said.

“Boring you are we?” Kalena said in an irritable voice.

"Not a morning person, are you?" V said cheerfully.

Lafayette had been sitting in the corner for a short time talking to the woman with red hair in a language likely no one but Kalena understood. “Yeah, wait up,” Lafayette said “I got a few things to take care of too.” He turned to the girl, saying a few more words and getting a nod in response, he gave her a quick hug and slipped on his boots to follow V.

"What, you bored, too?" V said with a small smirk as he held the door open.

“No... I’ve got business I need to attend to,” Lafayette said in a slightly indignant tone.

“Pick up some more food at the market. I don’t think we have enough in the larder for all these people,” Kalena told him.

“J’ai compris,” Lafayette replied as he started out the door.

Shade closed the curtains, allowing his body to reform into shadows. "That language that Lafayette just used, what was it?" he asked inquisitively. He looked at Kalena, "You understood it, did you not?"

Half way out the door Lafayette turned. “It's Merovignian,” he answered. “Kalena speaks a little of it, but not fluently. Passable at best. And it's not like the conversation was much of your business anyway. If it were, I'd have spoken in a more common tongue.”

"I heard it from a man who also had red hair and green eyes. He was with a bunch of other people, wearing thick armor that covered their entire bodies, and they spoke in a very crude language." Shade looked at Lafayette, "Meaning he might be from the same land as you."

“Wouldn’t know, my language isn’t crude, and I've never seen anyone like me in armor,” he said, leaving with V before Shade could talk his ear off anymore with nonsense.

Shade watched him go before looking around at the others, "It wasn't the same language, it was different. He also was in rags. Kalena, are they something you know? I didn't get a good feeling from those armored warriors."

“You’re asking my opinion about some armoured men you once saw somewhere?” Kalena said, her expression one of bewildered annoyance. Shade was clearly a few arrows short of a full quiver. She poured herself another tall glass of brandy. It was good stuff. “Look, let's get back to what you were saying before about returning to me what was stolen. What did you mean by that?”

Shade gave a small nod, "For starters, I know you obviously lost many things, your position in Dalen, your home, your life as a Dalen socialite. I'm not lying about Draken being a Sainte and Dalen on it's way to being rebuilt. Would you have believed me if I told you a week ago that there is such a thing as a bug mage who serves a formless master?"

Kalena frowned, then realised he must be referring to the nasty little halfling with the insects who had challenged their horned opponent.

Shade leaned against the wall, "Draken, as you obviously know, is the son of Soularous, so fiends would obviously serve under him, would they not?"

A light accented voice broke in. “Don't you understand. You’re just saying a lot of things really fast and expecting that it's just common knowledge. We are all still groggy from getting such little sleep,” Joce said, “I was kidnapped and beaten by thugs and Kalena has been through an ordeal herself. Maybe you can give all of us a few hours to put our pieces back together, and get rid of these aches and pains so she, and the rest of us can understand a single word you're saying?”

Shade looked at the woman, "Apologies, Miss Tailor, it's been so long that I have forgotten that the living need rest and recovery time. Maybe I should go more slowly. Do any of you have any idea what book I stole in the first place?"

Joce let out a sigh and sat back down on the sofa.

“You seem under the impression we know far more than we do,” Kalena said. “I don’t know what book you are referring to and I actually had no idea at all that Draken was the son of Soularous, but I gather this carries great weight to demonkind. What is this about him being a Sainte as well? I know that they were once a very prominent and powerful family in Dalen, but little beyond that. So you're telling us that in addition to being the scion of an infamous demon lord, Draken has become a titled nobleman as well? Let me guess. After all this time he still desires to rule over Dalen and you wish to recruit me to help him seize the throne in exchange for my wealth and property being restored to me? Am I correct?” she asked, finding herself not dismissing the notion entirely out of hand.

"I wouldn't say Draken wants the throne. The last I heard, from a week ago, the remaining nobles wanted Draken to take the throne, after he fought off an army of some mage named Bathlaazar Gelt. What I'm offering is simple: help me steal the body of any individual you want. In return, you get everything back. Maybe more. That is my offer, that and I'll help you with the dwarf on top of that.”

“I’ll probably regret this,” Kalena said. “But one measly body in exchange for everything I lost in Dalen being returned to me? That’s a hard bargain to pass up, Shade. But of course, as you know, the devil is in the details…”

Shade smiled. “It certainly is, but know that I am telling the truth and can deliver on all my promises, Kalena. For four hundred years I have been a bit selfish. So I wanna do a change of pace, kinda, and that means doing things for other people, like you." Shade turned to Joce. "I might have gotten excited and gone too fast. I have just been rethinking my life and I'm probably not acting quite right."

“You don't say,” Kalena murmured.

“The dwarf will be fine. Return to us in a few days after we’ve had time to speak and agree on what we will do,” Shel said grouchily as she walked into the room. “We need everyone on board and having their wits about them so we need time to rest and discuss things. Besides, what’s a few more days after four hundred years?”

"But you need me, you don't know what you're dealing with when it comes to the dwarf. Do you even know what to do if an evil spirit possessed her empty body?" Shade sat down on the sofa next to Joce and made himself comfortable. "Hey Kalena, do you got any board games?"

Shel made to grab him and throw him out of the house, but Kalena waved the half orc off, resignedly accepting yet another house guest.

(JP with Tahjerius, Rosmary, and Ender)

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