The First Time I Ever Saw a Drow

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The First Time I Ever Saw a Drow

Post by Orin »

One day, when I was roughly eleven or twelve years old I discovered something very interesting about myself. I was inside and moping around my house one spring or summer, I can't really remember which it was, because I am neither a fan of the sun, nor am I fond of heat at all. Not dissimilar to some underdark denizens we might know. That said, I do love to go outside, just when it's cool and dark.
At any rate I was looking for something to do and I'd found this bag that my mother bought at Goodwill. For those of you who do not know, Goodwill is a sort of charity shop, where people bring their unwanted items to donate them and they are cleaned, repaired and then resold by the store. None of that's important, except to say that folks that shop there tend to be on the poor side, at least when I was a kid.
So I am going through this bag full of whatever and I'm excited to see is toys and kids’ books for the most part. That's when I come upon this deck of cards. I tell you now that I do not know of the providence of these cards or their origin. I only know that they displayed fantasy artwork of characters on the front and a bio and statistics for said character on the back. I can also tell you that each card had the word Greyhawk emblazoned on it in bold white and blue letters. So I am pretty sure they were associated with the Forgotten Realms to some degree.
I can remember only two cards with clarity. The first was this adorable tomboy pirate, whose name I cannot remember. She dressed in typical pirate attire, with a flowing white shirt, red sash and a dark blue gray bandana. She wore a rapier on her hip and had a shy, but confident smirk upon her face. I thought she was very cute indeed and can remember that in her bio, there was something that read that while her crew thought she was the very soul of boldness and daring, she thought of herself as rather mousy.
The other card that I remember, and the one more important to this story, was one that I do not believe that I will ever forget. As I shuffled through the deck, waiting to see an image of a ravishing woman or a sword fight, or perhaps some kind of magical operation of maximum importance, I was stopped cold by the image of charcoal black skin and a shock of bright white hair. I did not know why I'd been drawn in by such imagery, but I was and strongly.
I stared at the card for long minutes, trying to understand what the creature was. I also remember feeling excited, like I'd caught someone undressing, or some other alluring thing that I wasn't supposed to have seen. The body of the creature was lithe and stretched out across a large rock. It was holding a golden dagger and seemed rather decadent.
It was at this moment that I realized suddenly that the creature in the picture was a male. Now, there isn't anything wrong with finding a male attractive, at all. I wouldn't ever even say such a thing, but I myself am pretty hetero, and knew that I was even at that time. And yes, I did fully understand the difference. All of that in mind, I still stared at the card hard for even longer minutes. I finally read the back and discovered that he was a Dark Elf and I asked absently to myself in the silence of the living room of the house I grew up in.
"I wonder what the girl dark elves look like..."
I told you that, to tell you this.

Orin stood with his back to the wall in some gods-forsaken alley in the Dragon Beach district of Luskan. He knew that someday, he would eventually learn to keep his mouth shut and mind his own business, but despite his situation, he was happy that it was not this day. It was just about dusk and the young warrior hoped to have his current business done with before night fell and the streets were filled with even more unsavory characters than those that currently had him cornered.
Four men stood before Orin, armed and armored to varying degrees, all wearing vicious, angry looks. He'd already killed one of their compatriots — a greasy foul-smelling cad, apparently named Viduk, who'd decided that a fruit vendor's daughter was simply too pretty to leave alone — and they were likely sore about it. Viduk certainly was. Orin being currently unarmed, having had his own sword cut from his belt before the fight even began by a street urchin with a light touch, found their unpleasant looks to be particularly worrisome, but he tried not to dwell on it.
Angry as they were, none of those gathered against the warrior seemed particularly interested in being the first to attack. Orin didn't blame them, he was quite a large and intimidating fellow, after all. Though closer to six foot than to seven, he was broad of shoulder and stouter than most, if a bit portly. While known for being uncommonly kind for a Luskanite, Orin was also known for being horrifically brutal in a fight, especially when outnumbered. The warrior did his best to cultivate both of these reputations, humble and meager though they were. So he understood his opponent's hesitation.
One man, a chubby bald fellow with a scruffy, yellow beard, a red bandana and armed with a cruel looking scimitar, seemed to be goaded by his comrades and lunged at Orin with the intent of gutting him quickly and being done with the whole affair. The young human, eschewing safety, leaned into the thrust but shifted at the last second, letting the blade slip under his left arm. He then gripped the cutthroat's wrist and squeezed, trapping his sword arm and driving his own right fist into the other man's face hard. Orin's opponent released the grip on his weapon, as the youth struck him a second time, knocking him to the ground and slipping his left hand onto the hilt of the scimitar as he fell.
A second of the four assailants, this one a gangly, taller fellow with missing teeth and dark red hair, brandished a whaler's harpoon and thrust in quickly as his ally fell. Orin brought his newfound weapon upward and across in an awkward, underhand parry, knocking the spear in the same direction. This man though, quicker on the downturn than his corpulent fellow, pulled his weapon back quickly and thrust again. This time Orin knew he couldn't dodge or deflect the blow, so he simply dropped his own weapon and caught his opponent's at the spearhead with both hands, holding it fast. Try as he might, the ruffian could not force his weapon forward, nor could he pull it back again from Orin's iron grip. As if in response to this realization, the accosted youth gritted his teeth and snapped both his wrists upward breaking the harpoon tip off of the shaft completely and flipping it in his grip to use as an impromptu dagger. The other man stared at the broken shaft, now not much more than a stick, with a toothless gape and backed away from the large warrior slowly.
A third man, this one clean-shaven and wearing a patchwork green leather doublet, thought to catch his foe off guard. He flicked his wrist, launching a dagger and sending it spinning at Orin end-over-end. The missile struck true into the young man's shoulder, piercing deeply into his cheap, worn leather pauldron. He reeled at the blow, gritting his teeth even more, but managed to stay on his feet. The wound was not deep, but it hurt and Orin could feel the dagger tearing into his flesh even more as he moved. With a growl, he launched the broken spearhead at the man who'd thrown the dagger, striking him awkwardly under his arm, near the ribs. He then reached up with his right hand and pulled the dagger out of his lightly armored shoulder, brandishing the blade kissed with the crimson of his own blood at his opponents, daring them to come forward.
The last man, a large fellow himself with a bald head and dark scruff on his chin, obliged and charged at Orin with a large and gnarled club, seeming to have had enough of the young man's nonsense with respect to not simply dying when he was told. He brought his crude cudgel in hard, swinging at Orin's head sidelong, but connected with his left forearm instead as the youth brought it up to block the blow like a shield. A loud crack, along with his own pained cry, announced to all in attendance that Orin's arm was broken, which brought a smile to his attacker's malicious visage.
The pirate's mirth was short lived though, as instead of crumbling under the blow, Orin screamed in pure rage and brought his dagger up impossibly quick, driving it into the man's throat under the chin and lifting him into the air with his right hand. He dropped the man roughly his body falling to the dirty ground in a heap, along with his crude weapon. The angry youth reached down and picked up the club where it had fallen. He roared again, as he brought it down onto the head of the man who'd held it, who groped at his neck feebly and gurgled with labored breaths. The first blow stopped the man's frantic grasping and a second made him stop moving entirely.
As Orin came back to his feet fully after the exaggerated heavy attacks, his forehead exploded in pain, as the edge of a thrown dagger bit deeply into it in a sidelong graze. He grunted and staggered back, trying to rub at the wound with his broken arm and then feeling pain blast through that as well. He let the useless limb fall to his side, as blood trickled down from the cut on his head into his left eye, blurring his vision partially.
"Now, while he's stunned!" A voice from his left, likely the man who'd thrown the dagger, yelled loudly in a harsh seaman's accent. The man whose scimitar Orin had taken scrambled forward and snatched back his weapon where it had been dropped by the youth. He offered a lazy and non-committal thrust which didn't even come close enough for Orin to attempt to parry it. The man with the broken spear shaft stepped next to him and nodded reassuringly at his fellow and together they stalked toward the injured and bleeding warrior as though approaching a dangerous wild animal.
The man with the stick came first, having more reach than his fellow and thrust at Orin's unarmored chest hard with the blunted nubbin of a tip. The youth accepted the painful blow, knowing there would be a bruise there later, but far more concerned with the second man. As the scimitar surged at Orin's throat, he brought his club up sharply in more of an attack on the other weapon than a proper parry and gasped in a laugh as the curved blade flew out of the man's hand and straight up into the air. The look on the pirate's face was complete astonishment and it brought a happy grin to the youthful warrior's own weary visage.
Orin swung his club in a circular arc and slammed it hard into the weaponless man's head. The youth drove him sideways into his compatriot, who had to cease his pressured, feeble assault on the warrior's chest, as both attackers toppled over into some nearby crates. Both men were forced into an awkward embrace as they squirmed together on the ground. They eyed each other uncomfortably as their faces pressed into one another's intimately.
"Aww, look at you two." Orin cooed with mocking sincerity. "Are you fellows an item? When's the wedding?" He offered them a wink with his working eye as he spoke. Both of the other men scrambled to their feet angrily, as Orin caught movement out of the corner of his eye and brought up his club defensively just in time to meet with the dagger thrower's short-bladed sword. The blade bit into the gnarled wooden cudgel, but didn't sever it. Orin yanked his weapon free of his opponent's and brought it back down quickly at the other man's head...or started to, when he and all three of the remaining men jumped in startled panic as the scimitar that had been flung into the air finally came back down behind the short sword wielder with a loud and sharp, metallic clank that reverberated through the alley like a temple bell.
Recovering from the start faster than the others, Orin took the distraction for what it was and acted quickly. With a bit of a jump, he drove his booted foot into the chest of the man with the short sword, sending him sprawling backwards. He then swung the cudgel around in another arc and connected it with the head of the man who'd lost the scimitar for a second time. The force of the blow sent the man careening backwards into the crates again where he moved no more. Unfortunately the blow also finished the job that the short sword had started and broke Orin's weapon in two.
The man with the harpoon shaft acted next, swinging his own make shift club at Orin in an overhead arc. The warrior half-ran, half-dove forward towards the man he'd kicked in order to dodge the attack. Turning as he did so, he snapped his wrist to launch what was left of the club at the pirate with the harpoon pole, mostly just to get it out of his hand so that he could again pick up the scimitar from where it had fallen. The fact that it struck hard into the side of his target's head was just a bonus — and probably mostly luck.
Before he could even smile at his fortune, Orin felt the booted foot of the man behind him on the ground kick hard at the back of his knee and drive him down to it. He spun as his knee hit the cobblestones of the alley floor in aching pain and turned awkwardly to lash out at the man who'd kicked him. The short sword wielding, green-clad ruffian rolled backwards and was on his feet, just as Orin got to his own.
They squared off, glaring at each other a moment, each man's eyes seething with a hatred born out of only the last few minutes, it seemed. Boiling anger aside, Orin's opponent was no fool and he patiently waited for his opportunity like a hawk, not daring to rush in as his foolish fellows had. Suddenly though, his eyes danced behind Orin for just a breath of a moment, likely watching for one of his compatriot's next move, but Orin didn't wait to see what either of them had in store. He surged forward with several sweeping strikes, causing his foe to scramble a defense and moving his back away from danger.
The two men's small blades rang out in the early evening air, a cacophony of steel on steel. Orin was getting just a bit nervous now, if he was honest with himself. His injuries had multiplied quickly and were, at this point, severe. He wasn't really sure if his opponent was actually a better swordsman or not, but his wounds certainly made it feel that way. He was getting sluggish and tired and just wanted to stop, but he knew he couldn't. He needed to end this quickly.
With a burst of fury, Orin hammered blows onto the smaller man, driving him into the far wall. Every other parry staggered the short sword wielding pirate, until his back finally hit the wall. In an act of impressive speed, the smaller man snapped his wrist out suddenly and disarmed Orin with a strike to his sword hand, the scimitar once again falling to the ground as a line of red appeared on the warrior's forearm. Missing not a moment, the pirate stabbed wildly at the bigger man, himself looking rather tired now. Orin hopped back once and then again, and then, in his own impressive act of agility, reached out a hand to grip the other man's own sword arm at the wrist and shook it violently. The pirate grimaced as his elbow smacked into his ribs where the warrior had injured him with the harpoon head earlier and dropped his weapon.
With a growl, Orin let go of the pirate's wrist and grabbed him brutally by the head, lifted him up into the air and then slammed him down face first into the cobblestones. He bent low then and smashed the man's head into the ground several more times, until the warrior was satisfied that his enemy would not be getting up. He snatched up the man's short blade as he rose again, surveying the alley.
Two of Orin's opponents lay dead on the ground, no longer threats. The red-haired, toothless fool who'd broken his spear held the shaft of the harpoon shakily, as his gaze moved from the warrior, to the toppled pile of crates, where his compatriot had fallen. From his memory of the blow he'd given the yellow-bearded pirate, Orin surmised that the man wouldn't be getting up soon, if at all. At least he hoped so.
The red-haired pirate's shaking was becoming almost comical now and it seemed that the fight was leaving the man. This was the part that Orin always hated. His heart told him to let the fool run if he tried to, for despite his brutality, and his enjoyment of the fury and heat of battle, the warrior was seldom pleased with what was left behind afterward. He often found himself ashamed of what he'd done, even though he knew it was not only necessary, but right in most cases.
On the other hand, Orin's logical mind screamed at him to make sure both men were dead, so that they could not only never again perpetrate the crimes which he knew they were likely guilty of, but also never again retaliate against him for trying to stop them or their cohorts. The four of them had cornered him in an alley, seeking revenge for their friend. A man Orin had killed after pulling him off of a struggling and screaming girl who'd seen only sixteen winters and who was begging the man to stop. Even if they asked for mercy, did they truly deserve it? Could they? Lucky for Orin, his decision was made for him.
The red-haired brigand dove past the carnage of his fallen compatriots, throwing his harpoon shaft at Orin as he went. The warrior was caught completely off guard and the heavy wooden pole struck him right it the face, staggering him backwards to trip over the body of the man he'd just slain. He quickly scrambled to get back up, thinking the toothless pirate would take the opportunity to continue his assault, but the man had run clear past him and was rounding the corner by the time the warrior had gotten to his feet.
With an exasperated sigh, Orin moved over to check the yellow-bearded man who'd fallen behind the crates and found that he was still breathing, but bleeding badly. He decided to leave the man to his fate, whatever that may be and left him where he laid. He turned around and bent down to unbuckle the green-attired man's scabbard. He cleaned the short sword off on the man's tunic and sheathed it, slipping the scabbard and blade under his left armpit. Orin bent down and for the third time picked up the scimitar and slid it through the cord he now used to keep his britches up. He wanted it within easy drawing reach, but hoped it wouldn't slice through the makeshift belt and give him another problem to deal with.
Orin thought about searching the pirates more thoroughly, but reasoned that he was too injured to worry with it and that they didn't likely have much of value if they were trying to rob him. Besides, pirates were usually filthy and he did not relish the idea of bringing fleas home with him...again. He made his way to the mouth of the alley and searched for his sword where it had been cut from his belt. The warrior cursed when it was nowhere to be seen, as the broadsword had been his favored weapon and kept an edge better than any blade he'd ever owned. With another disappointed and exasperated sigh, he turned and stormed off, heading for home...and more disappointment, he feared.
After a long trudge through the streets of the south bank of Luskan and the stares of more than one passerby at his bleeding wounds, Orin had finally found his way to the place he currently called home. Mosath's house was a two story nondescript building attached to the back of a general store in a neighborhood on the other side of The High Captain's Court and thus further away from the lawlessness and violence of the Dragon's Beach. While an auxiliary member of the Spears of Luskan, Mosath spent much of his time on his backside, occasionally doing this odd job or that to pay the rent. Orin had gotten him a part time job at a local brewery, the owners of which the warrior had worked for in the past. This, coupled with the fact that Orin wouldn't rob his friend, had Mosath jumping at the prospect of sharing his living space — and his rent.
After Orin's mother had died the year before, the barristers had wasted no time in selling her home, a ramshackle monstrosity closer to the Market, to the highest bidder. Few folk in Luskan truly owned their homes, most simply renting living space from a wealthy merchant or the like, but Olortta was a former apprentice of the Host Tower of the Arcane and as such was entitled to such privileges. Apparently Orin, not being a former apprentice, was not at all entitled to any of his inheritance as far as the Captains were concerned and that suited him just fine. Though it left him without a place to live.
Orin limped into the narrow alley next to the general store and walked to his door at the back of the building where the alley dead-ended. He burst into the house loudly and slammed the door behind him, latching and bolting it as well. Inside he found a candle lit on the table in the room of the house that could loosely be called the kitchen. After laying down both of his new weapons, Orin poured two cups of water from the pitcher on a nearby counter and placed them on the table. Mosath was coming down the stairs cautiously, a dagger in hand, but relaxed visibly when he saw his friend.
"It's just me," Orin assured almost apologetically, as he snatched up a clean rag and collapsed into one of the three chairs around the table. He dipped the edge of the cloth into one of the cups and wiped the blood away from his eye with it. When he could see again, he lay the cloth on the table and casually sipped water from the other cup.
"What in Tempus' beard happened to you!?" Mosath asked incredulously, sheathing his dagger and snatching a bottle from atop a cabinet. "Did you get mugged, or..." He placed the bottle on the table close to Orin as he grabbed another from a lower shelf, and plopped down into a chair opposite his friend.
"Or," Orin admitted tiredly, as he put down the cup of water and uncorked the bottle in front of him, downing its contents entirely. "Thanks. A group of buccaneers didn't take kindly to my actions." He could feel the healing potion doing its work almost immediately, as the cut on his arm knitted before his eyes and the agony in his left arm became more of a mild suffering. The warrior breathed a bit easier when he realized that he could move it up and down again without much complaint.
"What'd you do this time?" Mosath asked sarcastically after taking a swig from his own bottle. "Try to arrest them for piracy?" He handed the bottle to Orin, who took a long draw. The deep, dark red was a local staple and tasted sweet on the warrior's tongue. He quickly handed it back to Mosath though, as it made him even thirstier, switching back to water instead.
"No, I just removed a boil on the ass of the world, who happened to be vaguely associated with them at one time." Orin explained sardonically, as he shook his head. "Honestly, I think that they just wanted to kill someone and had an excuse." He reached up and wiped a bit more blood off of his eyebrow, showing it to Mosath as though to accentuate his point.
"You can't keep this up, Orin." Mosath shook his head and took another draw himself. "I know that you like to help people, but you're gonna get yourself killed. The Spears don't even go down to the Dragon's Beach. It's too dangerous." It was a point that the sometimes-guard made regularly and it was also a very good point, but it also didn't matter.
"I know, Moss," Orin chuckled helplessly, as he wiped the last bit of blood from his forehead and felt the smoothness of his skin where there had been a deep gash. "I just...can't not. If I see someone in trouble I can't ignore it. Honestly...sometimes I wish I could." He dripped the last drops of the healing potion out of its bottle, hoping it would dull some of his other aches and pains. It didn't. He then drank a deep gulp of water to get the taste out of his mouth.
"You do not." Mosath shot back, dismissively after another sip of wine. "I just think...I dunno. I shouldn't even be saying this, because I'd hate to lose my best bunkmate, but maybe it's time to get out of Luskan? This city's never really been the right place for you and with your ma gone...You know there's still trouble up north in the Ten Towns? The folks in Targos'r havin' goblin troubles and need steady sword arms. Lots of ships leave out of those docks, daily." He shrugged and offered Orin a plaintive look, along with the bottle.
"Yeah and even more come in," the warrior said gruffly, waving away the wine and the comment about his mother. "Did you get that information I wanted?" He'd been waiting for word of a specific shipment of cargo coming in to the docks down at Dragon's Beach. The kind of cargo that Luskanites pretended to not know about. Mosath was loathe to acquire such information, as it had the potential to bring his name to the attention of a few corrupt captains, but Orin had paid the rent in full for the next two months, so he called in the favor.
"I did," Mosath admitted reluctantly with a grimace and swallowed hard before he continued. "Are you sure you want it?" He stared at Orin hard then, his face a mask of serious concern. It was an unusual look for the usually bored-looking Luskanite and Orin found that he didn't like it at all.
"I do." Orin insisted easily after a moment. "What's the name of the ship?"
"It's called the Bitch Queen," the guard shot right back with a sneering grimace and a frown. "It's sitting at the southernmost dock at the end of the pier right now." He half shook his head and then took another swig from his bottle.
"Who in Faerun names a ship after Umberlee?" Orin asked incredulously with a cocked eyebrow.
"Someone who doesn't care who they anger," Mosath replied worriedly, pointing a finger at his friend around the bottle in his hand. "Or what." Orin snatched the bottle back from him and threw back a few gulps. There was nothing for it though. He'd made a commitment, even if it was only to himself and besides...he couldn't ignore it.
"Well, I better head out and see Wvilfurd over at The Hall of Warriors." Orin announced exasperatedly. "Gonna need another potion, I suspect." He frequented the temple of the war god regularly, though he did not worship Tempus in earnest. The first time he'd visited the temple was after a particularly nasty fight with a group of bandits that were trying to shake down his then employer. After hearing from the shopkeeper of how Orin had single-handedly defeated all six men alone, Wvilfurd healed him and gave him a potion without asking payment, saying that 'courage should be rewarded'. The warrior wondered what boon the priest would offer when he found out what Orin was about to attempt.
"You're not seriously still considering this?" Mosath asked in stark incredulity. "You're only one man and that ship is going to be crawling with blades!" He leaned toward him, serious concern moving to frustration.
"I'll only be one man until I get ther-"
"You can't take on a slaver ship by yourself Orin, I don't care HOW tough you think you are!" Mosath cut him off sternly, rising to his feet in a huff. He paced over to the other side of the kitchen, seeming almost embarrassed with his behavior, but still frustrated and worried. He rubbed his chin, roughly, stretching his face oddly. Orin absently thought about suggesting that Mosath join him, but he expected that his friend would not and couldn't bear to hear him say no. Worse yet, he might actually go with him and get himself killed and that Orin could bear even less.
"It doesn't matter if I can or not, Moss." Orin said after a long silence, rising to his feet. "I'm not going to leave a shipload full of people to a life of bondage and torment. Not if I can help them." He moved past Mosath and retrieved a spare sword belt from a hook near the door. It was old, worn and had a bare blade sheath, but it would serve. He untied the cord at his waist and carefully attached the sheath of the short sword, then angled it so that it hung diagonally across his back. He then reached for the scimitar and attempted to slide it gingerly into the sheath on the worn sword belt, which was meant for a much straighter blade.
"What happened to your sword?" Mosath asked confused, his voice returning to its more somber tones. He eyed the nicked and rusted scimitar with a disapproving grimace.
"Stolen." Orin admitted melancholically, with a weak grin. The scimitar just fit through the narrow sheath and hung in place, but rattled around in it a bit as the blade was narrower at the hilt than the type of sword the scabbard was intended for. Upon seeing his friend's struggles, Mosath grimaced and put the bottle down onto the table.
"Just wait a moment." Mosath insisted gruffly as he marched back up the stairs from where he'd come. He returned a moment later holding something in his hands.
"Here," the sometimes Luskan Spear said, frustrated, thrusting a carved wooden stick about the length of a sword hilt at Orin. It was the width of a silver coin, but was otherwise unadorned. Orin recognized it as a Smoke Stick, an alchemically produced item that when exposed to flame created a dense cloud of smoke that could obscure a person's vision and cause coughing and breathing trouble. It was often employed by the Luskan Spears for a number of different uses.
"Thanks." Orin said genuinely, as he closed his hand around the item and tucked it into a pocket of his trousers.
"I figure, if you get into trouble, you can light it up behind you and beat feet before they realize where you've gone." Mosath offered worriedly, looking almost melancholic now. "Just stay alive, friend. I don't want to have to find another roommate." He smirked weakly, trying to make lighter of the situation than he obviously felt.
"I'll be careful." Orin assured him seriously with a wink. With a nod, he turned on his heel and was out the door before either man could say another word. He wasn't even disappointed that his friend didn't want to help him. Mosath was a patrol-walking city guard who worked in one of the safest, most affluent districts in Luskan — part of the year. He spent most of his time chasing and losing cutpurses and giving people directions. There was no reason to think he was even much of a fighter, let alone a brave one.
That was the trouble with Luskan though, wasn't it? A whole lot of people just trying to keep their heads down and get by, while the sharks circled and bit into anyone who came too near the water and a handful of decent people tried to fight back, only to be abandoned by those whose only crime was not wanting to die. That's why Orin always made sure to rely on himself, even if he happened to get help. So few of the people he knew, people he cared for, ever rose to the occasion and worse, when some did, they got killed. So why wouldn't most people not want anything to do with trying to make a difference, when making a difference made no difference?
Orin exited the alley and headed south. He had a stop to make before he headed off to the Bitch Queen and his fate, whatever that may be. As he walked, the dim blue haze of the sky at dusk contrasted the stark monolith that was the Host Tower of the Arcane. He gestured at it rudely as he passed, as he did more often than not when looking at the structure. Not just because he hated the mages that lived there and their endless plots to subvert the freedoms of everyone in Luskan, but also because it was a constant reminder of his mother.
Olortta was a vicious, cruel and bitter woman, who had never really gotten over the fact that she'd been kicked out of the Arcane Brotherhood. What's more was why. She'd been thrown out and humiliated, being forbidden to use any magic stronger than a cantrip within the city walls, because she was reckless with magic. The fact that she was kicked out of a society of mages known for its casual disregard for caution for being too unsafe was a telling thing indeed.
Orin's mother was an alcoholic and would cast spells and perform rituals while inebriated. She regularly summoned extraplanar beings to her chambers for odd purposes and without drawing the circles of protection properly. Once, Orlotta summoned a fiend and it got loose. The demon caused a massive amount of damage to both the Host Tower and those within, causing her master to have to step in and banish it back to the Abyss. She also had a habit of name dropping wizards she only had a passing connection with and when her sycophantic behavior reached the ears of those whose names' she'd used, they would often curse her for the slight without telling her. In short, Orin had learned everything one should never do with respect to spellcraft — and mages in general — from his mother.
Orin had finally reached his destination and the Hall of Warriors loomed before him. The large, stone brick building looked far more like a small fort than it did a temple, even one to the god of battle, and seemed out of place amongst the mortar and wood buildings surrounding it. While a warrior of some skill, even if he did say so himself, Orin had never truly been a follower of Tempus. Not a devout one at any rate. In truth, he knew not which god he would say was his own, but he shared common cause or at least outlook with the worshippers of many faiths. One outlook in particular that had made him a friend within the Church of Tempus was his willingness to fight for the right reason, even and especially when the odds were not at all in his favor.
Orin entered the temple, feeling very much like he was entering the castle of some great lord, and in a way, he was. The great wooden gate opened finally with some effort and offered him a view of the courtyard behind it. Racks upon racks of various weapons and armor adorned the walls around, all in various states of quality and repair. Ahead was another large double door that led to the shrine proper and Orin moved to it directly. With a loud rap of the wood, he announced himself to any who were within and soon the door opened. A pale-skinned man of middling height with a grey beard and hair, and stern grey eyes filled the doorway.
"Orin..." the priest of Tempus began curiously, cocking his head to the side and relaxing visibly. "What battles bring you to the house of the Foehammer?" He moved aside to make room and gestured for Orin to enter the shrine.
"A worthy one I think, Wvilfurd," the warrior offered easily, stepping through the threshold into the shrine. "Though it is a fight that I believe will require some healing afterward." He turned about when Wvilfurd had closed the door to regard the priest directly. The other man wore a suit of chainmail over a red-colored arming jacket and at his side hung a single-bladed fighting axe. The priesthood of Tempus, it was said, almost always dressed for battle and the tired-looking old cleric was no different.
"Most battles do." Wvilfurd stated wearily, with a mirthful chuckle. "Though you look as though you've already seen a battle or two this night." He was looking Orin up and down appraisingly, likely searching for wounds that the warrior had missed. The youth did have a tendency to ignore certain smaller, or less painful cuts and scratches...until they became infected of course.
"I drank an entire healing potion." Orin explained a bit bewildered, looking at his arms for cuts. "Can you really tell?"
"Oh, you look no worse for wear, I'd say." Wvilfurd replied reassuringly, smiling slightly. "It's just that after a lifetime of battle healing, one notices the weary gate and stature of a warrior who's recently fought. Here, this should help with the pain, and the fatigue." He waved his hands slightly in the air and began chanting a battle hymn to Tempus. Soon, soft golden-colored light arched from his hands and into Orin, making him feel less tired and immediately...better. Wvilfurd was an unusually kind man for someone who lived so close to battle and death. Then again, so was Orin.
"Thank you." Orin said, almost energized, while still sounding tired to his own ears. "I'm sorry to bother you, Wvilfurd and I'm even sorrier to be in a hurry, but I am. ...Might you have some healing draughts, or perhaps even a poultice I could...perhaps purchase from you?" He reached down to where his pouch had hung from his old sword belt, then added. "Or perhaps trade for?" The old priest eyed Orin appraisingly again, this time seeming less concerned and more scrutinizing. Then something seemed to hit him and he chuckled slightly before speaking.
"Ah, so you were robbed." Wvilfurd said in realization, as his eyes moved over the rusty scimitar at Orin's hip. "That's a shame. That sword of yours was a fine thing indeed." Orin grimaced, remembering his stolen blade. Weapons that felt right in one's hand were a rare thing indeed.
"More pick-pocketed, I would say, but at the end of the day I am out a decent sword and a bag of coins." Orin amended matter-of-factly, gesturing in the air with one hand and making a slightly embarrassed face. "I could trade you this, for whatever I can get for it." Orin reached back and pulled forth the rather nice-looking short sword he'd taken off of the buccaneer who’d tried to put it into his ribs.
"I have plenty of weapons, son," Wvilfurd offered almost amused, holding up a hand to Orin's offer. "You do not. Tell me of this battle you move so swiftly to. It may be that Tempus wishes that I help you." He folded his arms across his chest and leveled a discerning gaze at the young warrior, waiting for his reply. In earnest, Orin hoped that Wvilfurd would ask about what he was up to. He knew that even had that street urchin not pilfered his purse, he was still short on funds. While the warrior knew that this was, at least in part, what the Church of Tempus was all about, he still felt like he was being manipulative and he hated it.
"There is a ship full of slaves docked at the south end of the Dragon's Beach." Orin stated flatly, as he looked back into the other man's eyes. "I despise slavery, and so I mean to see those people freed." He left the statement in the air between them, along with all that it implied. The priest looked at him hard for a long moment and then just chuckled heavily and shook his head. He then gestured for Orin to follow him and led him over to a room just off the one they were in. Wvilfurd opened the door to the room and stepped inside, lighting a small wall sconce.
All around the room were small shelves filled with either bottled potions or the ingredients to make them. The priest pulled down three small flasks filled with blue-colored liquid and placed them on the counter in front of him. He looked Orin over once and then nodded upward, as though getting an idea. Wvilfurd reached down underneath the counter to produce a short strap of leather with three small leather hoops stitched into it. He slipped each potion into a loop and forced it through, so that it was held into the strap tightly.
"Slip this through your sword belt securely and you won't need to worry about them breaking during a fight." Wvilfurd instructed as he handed the strap to Orin. "You're welcome to a weapon from the racks outside as fact, please do take one. That rusty picaroon's pig sticker is pitiful." He sneered openly at the scimitar at Orin's hip and the warrior looked down at it and smiled as he remembered it flying up into the air and then scaring the life out of him and his opponents a few heartbeats later.
"Yes, but it's also very funny," the warrior offered casually, knowing that he sounded strange and rather enjoying that fact. "Thank you, Wvilfurd. I truly appreciate this." He offered the other man a grateful and slightly emotional expression with a heartfelt nod.
"Oh, do not thank me, Orin the Brave." the priest of Tempus intoned seriously, using a title that he'd given the warrior in the past and waving a hand to dismiss the gratitude. "Thank the Lord of Battles. It is He who commands me to render this boon. While I am quite fond of you, my lad and I have no love for slavers, I aid you because Tempus finds you to be worthy." He nodded almost curtly, as though that should be the very end of the conversation. Orin was struck hard by the words and knocked completely from his earlier mirth, but swallowed back the tears that threatened to fall from his eyes. Not for any embarrassment on his part, but because he didn't wish to make the old priest uncomfortable.
"Well then I thank him." Orin said solemnly, trying to keep the emotion out of his voice, but then continued more loudly to the hall itself. "Tempus, God of Battle, I thank thee heartily for thine aid." He nodded just as sharply as Wvilfurd had and then offered the priest his hand. The old cleric clasped it firmly and gave it a good shake, then showed him back to the main door to the shrine, where they said their goodbyes. As Orin was crossing the threshold, he wondered if it might not be a better life to throw in with the church of Tempus...with Wvilfurd. He agreed enough with the doctrine to live the life and he wondered what that life might be like.
As if in response to his thoughts, the old Battleguard of Tempus loudly closed shut the door to the shrine and to that avenue of possibility for Orin it seemed. The harsh bang of the door also reminded the young warrior that there were people who needed his help and that this was no time to be wistfully daydreaming about a life that would never be. Orin was always looking for a father - gods be good he was always looking for a mother, too, wasn't he? They were never that though, as they always had someone, or something else that mattered more. For Wvilfurd, it was his faith and Orin couldn't hold it against him. He thought of the look of pride upon the old cleric's face when he'd named him worthy and tried to focus on that as he moved away from the door.
Orin scanned the racks of weapons that lined the courtyard discerningly, trying to bring his mind back to the task at hand. There were people counting on him, whether they knew it or not, and he needed to focus. He'd always preferred blades over axes or maces and almost always preferred long blades. If he'd had his druthers, Orin should love to have a nicely balanced two-handed or bastard sword like the mercenaries from the south often wielded. He wondered now though, if such a weapon would serve him in his current endeavor. Longer blades were gangly and not often fit for stealth, especially if he were going to be fighting in close quarters in the lower decks of the Bitch Queen.
That's when Orin saw it. There, between a long-hafted mace and a rusty battleaxe hung unobtrusively a small bearded hand axe. The blade head was narrow near the handle, then widened outward and bore scratches all over the side, but not a single nick or notch upon its edge. The axe seemed to call to Orin, as though it wanted to be a part of what he were about to do and when he lifted it off of the rack, he found that it fit into his hand comfortably. The warrior slid the axe through the baldric of his sword belt and it hung there with ease, not causing discomfort or seeming to be in danger of slipping off. He then attached the sheath of his taken short sword to the left side of his belt again, just next to where he'd attached the potion strap.
Fully armed and equipped now, Orin was off out the front gate of the Hall of Warriors and straight west, back toward Dragon's Beach. It wasn't long before the somewhat presentable architecture of the south gate district gave way to the more rundown and ramshackle buildings that occupied the most lawless of places in Luskan. Orin passed by many a wary sailor and landsman as he stalked toward the southern pier where his quarry lay docked. He passed, too, many a raucous public house, including the always bustling Cutlass, where most folk who landed on Dragon's Beach stopped to drink and cavort. The warrior momentarily considered stopping in the semi-famous watering hole to slake his own thirst with a shot of liquid courage, but decided against it. He needed his wits about him for what lay ahead.
Soon Orin was almost upon the only wall in Luskan that faced the sea, that of the great expanse that separated the Dragon's Beach district from the rest of Luskan. Ahead of him was the gate that led through into that dangerous place. Instead of passing through the main thoroughfare though, the warrior turned sharply south, on the block just before the wall itself. While the wall did a good job of keeping out the more vicious of Dragon's Beach's denizens and visitors, many still used the gate to gain entry into Luskan proper, and Orin didn't want to have to deal with any annoying ruffians who needed their ears rapped. He had work to do.
As Orin reached the end of the third block from where he’d turned, he noted over the low buildings that the last tower of the Dragon's Beach wall loomed ahead. He made another sharp turn at the next block and headed straight for the tower. While circling the wall was likely to keep his presence in the rough district hidden from the locals and keep him out of the path of any drunken fools or opportunistic muggers, it was also just as dangerous in another way entirely. Where there were patrols near Dragon's Beach, the guards were instructed to detain and question any suspicious persons on sight. When they didn't like the answers they were given, these patrols generally either arrested, beat and arrested, or simply killed the detainees. Orin skulking into Dragon's Beach around the wall after dark for no reason that he was willing to offer was the very soul of suspicion. So he had to be quick, quiet and cautious.
Orin reached the end of the block and found himself face to face with the wall. There were no patrols out just now, which likely meant there soon would be. Looking around, the warrior spied only three other persons nearby; A beggar, who sat slouched and sleeping, likely drunk, next to a barrel outside what appeared to be some kind of tailor's shop. A somewhat rough, but attractive-looking woman was standing on the corner across from him and likely looking for someone to share the evening with in exchange for a bit of coin. And finally, a shadowy figure who stood opposite him near the wall itself seemed to be doing their best to remain undetected and unobtrusive, which Orin was content to let them be.
That's when the sound of heavy boots on earth and chain mail jingling came down the road from the north. Without turning his head to give himself away, Orin turned his eyes toward the sound to find a group of no less than four men moving down the road towards him. He cursed under his breath, wishing he'd taken just a few more seconds to get here. Then, thinking quickly, he turned back to the woman on the corner and reached under his tunic to small pocket hidden there where he kept a stash of monies. He plucked out three silver coins, the last of his wealth, and moved over to the woman.
"Want some company, love?" The woman asked with a sultry grin, popping her hip and cocking her head to the side. While she seemed a bit ragged, likely just from being tired, the woman was not at all uncomely and Orin found that were he so inclined and were he richer, he might just take her up on the offer. Today though, he needed her services in a very different manner.
"Just a kiss tonight, dear, but I'll definitely make in worth your time." Orin whispered pleasantly as he approached, offering her what he hoped was a winning smile. At first, the woman seemed to balk, rolling her eyes at him, but when he thrust the three silvers into her palm, she looked past him, likely also hearing the patrol. When she looked back to Orin, she was grinning knowingly. When she noted the three coins in her hand, she made an impressed face and then shrugged, wrapping her arms around Orin's waist and pulling him close.
They embraced a moment and he leaned in and kissed her fully on the mouth. It was a long, somewhat passionate, and on the part of the warrior at least, eager kiss, and Orin found his mind wandering in it. He thought about abandoning his cause and taking this woman straight back to his home. He thought about the love they might make. He thought about a relationship with her, of taking her away from the vileness of Luskan's vicious streets. Then the patrol passed them both and Orin remembered that he didn't even know her name. When she pulled away from him, it was mechanical. The moment of her distraction had passed and so too had most of her part in the deception. They cooed at one another for a time, clinging and speaking of things they would never do to each other. She caressed his shoulders, running her fingers through his very long brown hair, while he gently held her waist and the moment the patrol was down the road and around the corner, she moved away from him.
"Afraid that's all three silvers buys ya, love," the woman of the night offered almost sympathetically, as she returned to her previous spot almost exactly. She sort of squint-smiled at him, bobbing her head back and forth, as though weighing it all herself. Then shrugged it off and just shook her head.
"I'm afraid that's all I needed, hon," Orin replied in genuine disappointment, shrugging himself as he moved past her. "Thanks for the kiss and I hope you're not lonely for long tonight." His earlier visions of a future with the woman came back to him then and he shook his head at his own imaginative meanderings, but that's just how his mind worked. Orin often lived whole lifetimes in the bat of an eyelash, but that wasn't what was worrisome. What was worrisome was that sometimes he regretted not living those lifetimes that never were.
"Tread safe, love." The woman offered back, sounding almost concerned. Orin turned to regard her and her expression did indeed seem a bit worried. He had that effect sometimes and realized that sometimes he was not the only one who let themselves drift off into a momentary fantasy. He nodded to the woman and then just smiled brightly at her, hoping that if they never met again, that would be how she remembered him. Then Orin was off, as fast as he dared, along the wall. He kept an eye to the south, to be sure that the patrol didn't double back and made it around the south side of the wall within minutes.
Finally, Orin was in Dragon's Beach and he could smell it. The mix of fishy, salty sea stench, urine, stale alcohol and rat feces blended into a perfume of stomach-turning foulness that almost made him heave and he remembered the other reason for the wall. He didn't have time to be disgusted though, so he spat, coughed and moved off into the darkness toward the lights of the boardwalk. Soon he was exactly where he needed to be, right next to a dilapidated warehouse, just across from the marina that lead to the last dock to the south. The warehouse was quiet and dark, likely not currently in use, and Orin found it easy work to heave the large sliding door open as quietly as he could and slip inside.
The interior of the warehouse was almost too dark to navigate, but after a moment, Orin's eyes adjusted to the much as they could at any rate. The very meager light from the boardwalk street showed the vague shapes of large, likely empty, crates all about, but not much more. He stumbled only once as he made his way to one of the front windows on the other side of the warehouse. Most of the windows had dirty, hard to see through glass panes in the little square frames of them, but a few here and there had been broken or otherwise removed. Orin selected one of these and peered out into the foul night air, trying to get a good look at the last southern dock and the Bitch Queen at port there.
When Orin finally laid eyes on the ship, he wished he hadn't. While the street and boardwalk were only sparsely lit, the Bitch Queen was bright indeed. The top deck was swarming with men, and not just the crew at rest, but a cadre of proper guards armed and on patrol. The lanterns that hung about lit up every possible hiding spot on the ship that one of Orin's size might use for cover and the patrolling goons ensured that even one practiced in stealth and slight of frame would be hard-pressed to gain entry to the ship at all, let alone the lower decks. The ship's figurehead, that of Umberlee herself, seemed to sneer sideways at him and his foolhardy aims.
Orin spat out a whispered curse and gritted his teeth at the slave ship that was finally within his reach, but still untouchable. He'd planned to wait until the middle of the night and then sneak aboard whilst most of the crew slept, but of course whoever owned the tub thought that might be likely and stationed guards. He thought about using the smoke stick as a distraction by throwing it onto another nearby boat to simulate a fire, but he knew that would only divert the guards' attention and not get them off the boat.
For a moment, and only a moment, Orin considered calling it bad luck and heading home, but the thought left his mind as quickly as it entered it. This ship was only going to be in Luskan for the night and no one else who knew that fact cared to help the people on board. It was now or never and it was Orin, or no one at all. He knew what he must do, though he wasn't at all sure that he could do it. He also somewhat regretted not grabbing a bigger weapon.
The warrior spat and moved through the darkness of the warehouse, back out into the salty, smelly night. He moved around to the front of the building and crossed the street to the boardwalk and then down the last pier to the Bitch Queen. Just before he reached the pier though, Orin found himself face to face with someone he'd not seen from the warehouse window. The man was of middling height, with dark, messy, curly hair and light-colored skin. He was dressed less as a common buccaneer and more like a true fighter, with chainmail and a blade hanging from both hips and strapped to his back. In truth, Orin tensed just a bit when he put eyes on the fellow, but tried not to show it as he calmly, but steadily walked passed.
"And just where do you think you're going, my son?" The fighter asked as Orin passed him, sounding very amused, but made no move to stop him at all. He had been leaning against a nearby lamp post and shifted slightly so that he could watch Orin's path down the pier. The youth decided to play it smooth for a change and didn't even turn back to the other man as he replied.
"Watch and find out." Orin instructed boldly behind him as he walked by. The sound of a surprised chuckle followed him up the pier, but nothing more and when he finally did look back, the man was still leaning against the lamp post. About halfway to the ship, he altered his stride to a more even, almost casual, pace. He walked straight down the dockway, past all of the other ships with darkened decks, to the gangway of the Bitch Queen where he was greeted roughly by a pair of guards wearing leather jerkins, pauldrons and bracers. Both men were armed and both stared at him incredulously.
"What's yer business here?" one of the two guards asked hostilely, angling the tip of his spear in the general direction of Orin's face as he did. "We got no word of any visitors." He eyed the warrior dangerously, a wicked sneer curling his face up unpleasantly. He was shorter than his partner, pale-skinned and beardless, but wore a thin carpeting of salt and pepper colored bristles that made him look older than he likely was.
This was the part that Orin wasn't at all sure about. Stealth he could pull off to a degree and not at all badly for a man of his size, even if he did say so himself. Fighting, especially against large groups, was also a staple of his repertoire since he could remember. He also wasn't terrible at a bit of deception after a fashion, but this...was something else. While Orin was almost always better off on his own and flying by the wind of his fate, right this moment he very much wished that he simply were not on his own. Even someone to simply cause a distraction would be great...
"I'm here about the merchandise." Orin said nonchalantly, giving the spear a glance, along with the other guard, who nervously thumbed his own weapon, a basket hilt saber, at his side. "Orbald sent me." He shrugged and let his hands slump to his sides as though that should settle the whole matter entirely.
"I don't know no Orbald and there ain't no merchandise for sale," the spear-wielding guard said angrily, edging his weapon closer to Orin. "Now shove off, before I empty your guts into the harb-" The warrior cut short the guard's threat, bringing his right hand up lightning quick to smack the spear tip away and towards the other guard. The man with the saber let go of his weapon then to try and stave off the awkwardly swinging spear, but only managed to catch the tip on his hand and he yelped loudly as blood poured from a cut the spear had made.
Orin's left hand reached down for the short sword at his waist as he lunged toward the guard who held the spear. He brought the blade up in a reverse grip in an attempt to cut the man's throat, but the bastard was quicker and slyer than the warrior expected and he let go of the spear and hopped back, drawing a wide-bladed scimitar as he did. Not wanting to waste the motion, Orin followed through with the arching slice, catching the already bleeding other guard in the shoulder. The man screamed and fell sideways off the gangway and into the water, taking the spear with him.
The yell would draw attention, as would the splash, Orin knew. It was also more than likely that there was another lookout somewhere who had spied the entire exchange and would soon sound the alarm and bring more foes to the fray. The warrior only had moments to ponder these truths, for just as they were entering his mind, the angry, former spear-wielding guard roared furiously and charged at him with a flurry of slashes. Orin defended one with his short sword and danced away from another as he drew his own rusty scimitar with his right hand, but caught a cut to his left unarmored shoulder for his troubles. He snorted wildly and retorted with a slash of his own, followed by a few well-placed lunges to push his opponent back.
The other man, not seeming to have expected Orin to be much of a threat, backpedalled warily, a sudden fear in his eyes. The warrior smiled at his foe's despair, pressed the attack hard and drove the guard clear across the deck, until the man bumped into the railing there. Orin let his dominant hand make the rusty scimitar dance dazzlingly and keep the man off balance, as he righted the grip on his short sword and brought it up to pierce the frightened guard's throat in one fluid motion.
That was the plan at least. Just as the blade was about to strike home, Orin heard a yell and heavy booted footsteps from behind heading for him. He spun left then, letting his rusty scimitar clang off the one the other man was holding as he did, in an attempt to keep him off balance. When Orin turned he was greeted by the visage of another spear-wielding guard charging at him. The warrior snapped his wrist on instinct, to send his short sword out like a thrown dagger. While not the most ideal of missiles, the blade managed to strike the charging guard sideways in the face, leaving a long cut there and distracting the man long enough for Orin to side step his awkward lunge. The warrior had hoped that the running fool would impale his other opponent, but the first guard was lucky again, as he managed to parry the spear upward widely with his own scimitar. The spear wielder, his aim much higher than before, but still unable to slow his momentum, went careening clear over the side of the boat in an even bigger and louder splash than first man to go in the water did and the youth almost laughed aloud at the ridiculousness of it all. As if in response to his manic mirth, two more guards climbed down the nearby steps from the quarterdeck, blades drawn.
Orin charged at them both, slashing wildly as he did. He seemed to catch them somewhat off-guard, as their defense was sloppy and uncoordinated. The warrior pushed them back to the stairs they'd come from, where one of them fell and dropped his weapon. Not missing the opportunity, Orin kicked the fallen man hard in the face, making his head crack on one of the stairs, while the warrior's rusty blade continued to harass the still standing foe.
Suddenly remembering his initial opponent again, Orin used another well-placed kick at the fallen man to pivot sideways. He let his rusty blade slap hard into the dull back of the still standing man's saber, driving it forward - and almost into the face of the first guard, who had indeed been trying to sneak up behind. The man's eyes went wide as his compatriot's blade came within inches of his face. Taking only a moment to enjoy that shocked look, Orin then drove his left fist hard into the frightened man's unshaven face, knocking him onto his back. He then set his attention firmly back to the still-standing guard, who was arching his blade to swipe at Orin's belly. He was leaning too far forward though, so when Orin hopped back a foot to avoid the lazy slash, the warrior brought his own rusty blade across in a hard slash that opened the slaver guard's throat and spilled his lifeblood out over the deck.
The guard's gasping death rattle, coupled with red ruin that was now his neck, brought Orin fully into the reality of the fight before him and the next few moments seemed to all happen at once. First, he turned to the guard who'd fallen on the steps and ran him through the heart to end him quickly before he could get back to his feet. Then, Orin turned to the sound of more shouting and foot falls, though they seemed far away, or quieter somehow. Four more men were charging up from the fore of the ship, all armed and rasping curses. On what he suspected was instinct, the warrior pulled back and launched his rusty scimitar with all of his might at the group as a whole. It flew out end over end whirling through the air and all five men were surprised when the tarnished brass pommel of the weapon struck hard into one of the four guards' head, knocking him into the air and off his feet. It wasn't clean, nor a kill, but Orin would take it.
The other three men looked down at their compatriot and then back at Orin incredulously, then stalked towards him menacingly. He didn't have time to figure on how to deal with them, though, as once again, the angry unshaven guard unleashed a flurry of slashes at him from his right and it was all the warrior could do to jump and dodge out of their reach. Orin tried to reach for his axe and received a nasty cut on his hand for his trouble. Now it was the slaver guard's turn to force Orin against the railing and the warrior almost tripped and fell over the starboard side of the ship, as he bumped into it, but managed to steady himself by gripping the rail.
The unshaven guard did not give him a moment's reprieve and pressed the assault with a wide sweeping strike at Orin's chest. The warrior leaned backwards over the railing, holding onto it as he did, to dodge the incoming attack, his opponent's blade coming within inches of Orin's nose. He came forward with a kick, striking the man weakly in the arm, but pushing him back. The warrior groped the railing for something to throw at his enemy and his hand found the handle of something he found vaguely familiar. When he gave it a shake and heard the even more familiar sound of water sloshing about on wood, Orin grinned openly and slid the implement forward to grip it with both hands.
With a sliding, sweeping motion that offered a sound of wood sliding on wood, Orin snapped the mop upwards and forwards, launching the swabbing bucket it was in straight at his foe, completely soaking him with what he hoped was filthy water and catching him hard on the chin with the edge of the bucket. Orin leaned to his right, let go of the mop with one hand and snatched up the saber of the guard who lay dead on the stairs. He turned around just in time to meet the other three guards who had not ceased their menacing march toward him.
Orin brought up the mop defensively, but its rag head was quickly cut from it by the guard on the left, who was unusually portly, Orin thought, though he did not hold it against the man. The warrior offered a bold, sweeping slash at all three men, causing them to pause, but not much else. That's when Orin heard more movement coming from the quarter deck behind him and realized that the ship's wheel was likely heavily guarded. What was worse was that he could now hear shouting coming from down the dock and the distant calls of alarm, signaling the future arrival of even more foes.
Orin knew that he could simply not handle so many opponents at once and needed to find a way to limit their points of engagement. That's when he noted that the entrance to the lower deck was nearby and that not one guard had come from there since the fighting started. With a slight grin, Orin threw what was left of the mop at the three men in front of him and watched as it clacked and tangled in their weapons. He took the opportunity of the distraction to reach down with his now free hand and snatch one of the potions that Wvilfurd had given him from his belt. He pulled out the cork with his teeth and poured the potion into his mouth, but did not swallow the mixture. Instead, he charged at the group with abandon, throwing the vial the potion came in at the heavyset guard on the left, the glass shattering onto his face.
Orin hacked and sliced with his taken blade, abandoning restraint and caring not if his foes managed to do him harm. The cutlass was a far finer weapon that the old rusty scimitar had been, with a better balance, too, and Orin found that he could make it dance to a much more spirited tempo. The warrior scored two cuts for every cut he took, until finally he was close enough to finalize his tactic. With a grunt and growl, Orin gripped the sword of the man in the middle by its edge, slicing deeply into his own fingers as he ripped it from the man's grasp. The guard's stunned expression only intensified when the warrior, as though repaying him for so rudely stealing the man's weapon, thrust his own cutlass into the guard's neck and left it there. The guard gurgled awfully and then fell backward, quite dead, his compatriots crying out in horror as he fell.
Orin took advantage of the short moment of distraction, for he knew these men were seasoned fighters and even with such a demoralizing tactic, would be on him again swiftly. He swung the fallen man's sword by the blade, tearing into his own flesh even more, and struck the corpulent guard hard in the head with its brass basket hilt, adding to his broken glass cuts, and sending him careening backwards. Then, letting go of the blade, he kicked the last man, this one with a somewhat foppish reed-thin mustache, right in the gut, knocking the wind out of him.
That's when Orin finally swallowed the potion that had been sitting in his mouth. In the span of heartbeats, all of the nicks and cuts he'd just suffered, as well as the deep lacerations on his hands and shoulder, all but disappeared. The magic in the potion knit his wounds together like an invisible surgeon, though the pain from all of them lingered dully. Orin turned about, spotted his short sword where it had fallen and leapt over to snatch it up. He then ran straight for the lower decks, offering the unshaven guard, who was just getting back up to his elbow, a kick to the head as he went.
Once through the entryway, Orin spun about to look for a door to shut and found one. He slammed the heavy wooden barrier shut and barred it from that side. The warrior then turned about immediately, drawing up his axe in his right hand, his short sword back in his left and again gripped in reverse. He didn't think there would be any guards below decks, but he didn't know and he wasn't taking any chances.
Orin moved with purpose down the steps as quietly as he could, though he was sure if there were any guards down here, they probably already knew there was an intruder. At the bottom of the stairs he found what appeared to be a fully stocked galley. Orin sheathed his short sword and snatched up a crust of bread left on a table and popped it into his mouth, not knowing when he'd be able to eat again. He downed a gulp from a nearby bottle of red for similar reasons, but also to numb the pain of his phantom wounds. There didn't seem to be anyone about, so he decided to keep moving to the doorway opposite the staircase.
The doorway led to another switchback staircase that led to a lower deck that Orin hoped housed the people he was looking for. He followed the stairs down where he found a closed wooden door. The warrior listened for just a moment, trying to detect movement on the other side, but jumped back in surprise with a yelp as the door swung open abruptly. Without warning, a guard who was on the other side leveled a crossbow and fired. Orin managed to dodge it, but only enough to avert a mortal wound and he yowled as the quarrel struck hard into his left shoulder. He fell back onto the stairs, but snapped his wrist hard as he did, launching his axe at the man who'd attacked him. Orin was genuinely surprised when the axe flew out from his hand like a bolt and struck the man right between the eyes. He fell to the floor dead, his body holding the door open. The warrior generally was not that good at throwing, but reasoned that everyone got lucky once in awhile.
Inside the room beyond the door lay what appeared to be a cargo hold and Orin hoped that it housed what he sought. He rose to his feet, trying not to bump the bolt in his arm into anything as he did, not daring to take it out, lest he worsen the wound. Orin stepped through the door and retrieved his axe from the dead man's head with some effort. The task sent waves of potent pain through the wound in his shoulder, but he growled through it and found his footing again. Once inside the cargo hold, Orin made a cursory search of the room, but found nothing but crates. He couldn't even find a doorway to a lower deck where the slaves might be being held. In fact, he found no indication at all that any persons, slave or otherwise, were being held captive aboard this ship at all. Orin was suddenly overwhelmed by a sinking feeling that he'd somehow made a terrible mistake, or gotten bad information. Was this just a trade vessel? If it was, then why were there so many guards and why was it moored at the Dragon's Beach? Just as he was trying to wrap his mind around the fact that he may have just killed several innocent men, he heard a sound from below his feet. That of a ragged cough.
Orin cast aside his worries then and followed the sound to a large crate, which he slid out of the way with a grunt. Beneath where the crate had been was a large trap door, bolted and latched. Orin quickly unlocked and opened the trap door to reveal another staircase, this one short and straight. He moved down the steps cautiously, his axe leading the way, and swore loudly when the quarrel that was sticking out of his arm nudged against the trapdoor opening. When he recovered, Orin continued down the stairs to find a small, low-ceilinged hold full of large iron cages. Inside each cage was a person who stared out at him in both hope and fear.
The hold itself was no more than five feet high at the most. Each cage within was at least one foot shorter than that and only wide and deep enough for a narrow man to sit. There were about a half dozen in all at first glance, men, women and at least one child. All half-naked and just crammed into the bottom of the boat like excess cargo being forced to fit. The warrior raged inside when he saw how these people were being held. It was bad enough that their freedom was being taken, but to lock them in a hole like this was just...wrong.
"Don't worry." Orin gasped tiredly, realizing then that he was out of breath. "I'm gonna get you out of here." He moved to the closest cage and found it locked tight. The heavy iron fittings ensured that no manner of prying or bashing would get these cages open. That's when he remembered the guard with the crossbow. "Hang on. I'll be right back."
Orin marched right back up the stairs quickly, deftly missing the trap door frame with his shoulder wound. He leaned down and gripped the guard by his now bloody shoulder and dragged him into the cargo hold with a heave. Once the body was inside the room fully, Orin closed and barred the door that lead to the stairs to the galley. He then turned and searched the guard, finding another saber, a dagger, a bag of coins, the crossbow that had shot him, some quarrels and most importantly, a key ring with two iron keys on it. He cocked and loaded the crossbow, setting it aside along with the saber. The warrior then slid the dagger into his boot and turned about to the trap door.
Orin stared at the small portal for a long hard moment, imagining himself down in the hold unlocking cages and the trap door slamming shut and locking. He did not fancy being trapped on this ship with no way out but to punch a hole in the hull, so without another thought, he gripped the trap door fully between his right arm and shoulder and pulled. He gritted his teeth, grimaced against the pain in his arm and even braced himself against the hull with a foot, but he did not let up until he'd bent the hinges and then broke them. When it was done, he tossed the whole thing aside and went back down into the lower hold.
"Let me out!" A voice in the dim light begged from close by. "Help me, I can lead you to treasure, I swear!"
"Where are we?" asked another, softer voice worriedly.
"How many guards are left?" came still another, more gruff voice. "If you've left too many, this will all be for naught."
"Everyone is getting out of here." Orin began exasperatedly, still feeling tired as he approached the closest cage, which held the second person to have spoken. "We're in Luskan on the Dragon's Beach and there are still quite a few guards, but I'll get you out. I swear." He unlocked the cage and gestured for the woman inside to step out. She took Orin's hand and he guided her to her feet carefully, as her footing was shaky. The woman was human with light brown hair that she wore in a ratty braid and soft, brown eyes. She was covered in dirt and clearly must have been down here for some time. That's when Orin noticed the smell and his heart sank for the poor woman.
"Luskan!" a new voice bellowed irritated. "We're better off in these cages! Someone'll slit our throats the moment we walk off this tub, mark my words!"
"If you'd prefer to stay in there after I unlock it, you're more than welcome to." Orin offered angrily at the stupid man, but tried to keep the bulk of the ire from his voice all the same. These folks had been through enough.
"Listen not to the fool there." A sage voice belonging to an older man in the next cage Orin opened. "He's always seeing the bad side of things. We're very grateful, lad." The man climbed to his feet on his own and clasped Orin on the shoulder in appreciation. The warrior offered him a nod and a wink in response.
"Oh your shoulder!" the woman with the braid exclaimed, her softer tone telling Orin that she was the one to have asked where they all were. "You're hurt badly! Shouldn't you tend to that?" She eyed the crossbow bolt protruding out of Orin's shoulder, which did hurt very badly when he thought on it, in horror. She even raised her hand to make as though to touch it. In truth, the warrior really wanted to take her advice and take the bolt out while downing another potion, but he only had two left and was not sure as to the condition of all of the captives. If one of them could not walk, it might be better to give them a potion to get them on their feet. Not to mention, he'd likely need even more healing when the fighting was finally over. He'd just have to not jostle the damned thing for now.
"I'll be fine." Orin insisted wryly, moving to the next cage. "Listen, there are more guards and I think I can handle most of them myself, but some help might Can any of you fight?" He didn't look up from his task, still moving to unlock the next cage.
"I can!" came the same manic voice that had spoken first. "Give me a blade and we'll fight our way out of here together!"
"Sounds good." Orin agreed earnestly. He turned to regard the person who'd spoken and found a gangly, excited-looking fellow with pale skin and an unkempt beard. His eyes were wild and desperate, but that was to be expected. Orin reached down and unlocked the cage, letting the man out.
"If you go upstairs, you'll find some weapons." Orin explained easily, laying a hand on the man's shoulder. "Go up and arm yourself, but wait for me before you unlock the door." He nodded calmly and gave the man a look, making sure he understood, but the excited former slave just nodded overtly many times, while not looking Orin in the eye, as he pushed his way past the others to get up the stairs.
Orin sighed deeply, suddenly realizing the breadth of this task, this quest of his. Even if he managed to get all of these folks off the boat and away from all the guards...what then? Could he leave them to their own devices? In the City of Sails, they would quickly become the victims of crime, or simply get snatched up again and put on another ship destined for bondage. Perhaps he could lead them out of Luskan and out into the northern sword coast, maybe even all the way to Neverwinter? But these were questions for a different Orin, from a future time. The Orin of the present had much simpler, if impossible tasks that needed his immediate attention.
Orin moved to the cage with the child inside and quickly let the little one out. The poor girl looked to be only about nine or ten winters old and seemed half-starved. When he swung the cage open, the little girl bolted out and ran straight past the warrior to the woman who he'd first released. The child wrapped her arms around the woman's leg and eyed him shyly and somewhat suspiciously from behind her. The older woman seemed almost embarrassed, but patted the girl's head gently all the same.
"It's alright." Orin assured calmly, nodding at the girl approvingly. "You can stand where you like." He wanted her to understand that she would be alright, but also that her behavior didn't upset him. He needed her to trust him and not bolt off into the Dragon's Beach the minute they were above decks.
As the warrior turned to unlock another cage his eyes fell on the occupant and he was stunned by what he saw sitting there quietly in the dark. A humanoid figure with skin the color of a moonless night and a shock of stark white hair sat cross-legged in the center of the cage. They wore a roughspun coverall and had eyes of deep crimson that sparkled like rubies in the dim light. Orin realized with a start that the person inside this cage was a drow of the underdark...and he'd never seen anything quite so lovely in all his days.
Orin was not only stunned by the look of the creature, but also by his own reaction to how they looked. Why was he so gobstruck? He was also nervous, as drow had a reputation for cruelty, treachery and just plain evil. He knew as well, that he was also a fool for a pretty face, which this one had. He had to be careful here, so he decided to move to another cage with a human occupant until he knew more about this new wrinkle to the situation.
"What's her story?" Orin asked the older man he'd released earlier in a whisper as he moved past him toward another cage. "Was she arrested or something? Where did she come from?" The older man stared at him quizzically for a moment, then shrugged and leaned in close.
"Uhh...he's been on the ship as long as I have," the older man corrected casually. "I think he was just grabbed the same as the rest of us. I know not from whence he came." Orin turned back to the drow incredulously, eyeing the dark elf in open shock, quickly snapping his attention back to the old man in embarrassment. The fact that the creature that sat in the cage staring out at him was a male seemed ridiculous, but then he'd never actually seen a drow before. Then he found himself wondering keenly, almost desperately, just what dark elven women looked like.
"Don't release the drow!" came a manic voice from up above that knocked Orin from his excited wonderings. "Evil trickster elves! Nothing good can come from letting him loose! Leave him in his cage to rot!" The wild man seemed to be full of opinions. Orin hoped he would be as full of grit when the fighting started. He turned back to glance at the drow in the cage, but the elf seemed not to react to the words of his detractor.
"He's got a point," came the annoying, droning voice of the man who'd complained about being in Luskan. "Drow are known for their treachery. It might be safer to just leave him there." Orin turned the key in the lock and swung the cage door open. The sneering fellow rose to his feet quickly and joined the others by the staircase the moment the cage was unlocked, as it seemed that staying on the ship was not actually sounding as good as he'd initially thought.
"I'm Jasso, by the way," the older man offered easily from behind Orin, seeming to try and bring a bit of reason to the conversation. "The dour one is Frahnk and the excitable one says that he's called Henroy. You've met Nidri and the little one is called Penelope." He gestured toward the woman and the child at her hip.
"My name's Orin," the youth replied, as he nodded to Jasso, along with the others and turned the key in the lock to the next cage he'd approached. Inside this cage was a somewhat stocky, rough looking woman with tan skin, dark hair and hard features. She stared at Orin as he opened the cage, as though sizing him up for a fight, which made him a bit nervous if he was honest.
"I'm Shambra." The dark haired woman announced abruptly, as she rose out of the cage Orin had just opened. "I can fight too. Likely a shite sight better than the rest of this lot. Ran with a mercenary band out of Athkatla before getting nabbed. I'll need a weapon, though." Her eyes drifted from Orin's, down to his belt where his own weapons hung, then back up. She smirked at him, somewhat playfully and raised an eyebrow. Orin smirked back and reached down for his short sword, slapped the handle of the weapon into her outstretched hand and nodded to her reassuringly. After testing the edge of her new weapon, Shambra moved past the rest of the group, up to the cargo hold above. Orin then turned his attention back to the subject he'd been somewhat avoiding and moved over to the drow's cage to speak with...him… directly.
"So what's your name?" Orin asked the drow nonchalantly, as he approached the cage. "Oh...or do you even speak the common tongue?" He hadn't thought of that, but this whole mess might be that much more complicated if they couldn't communicate. Orin could also see clearly now that the person was a male and remembered why it was so difficult to tell. Elves were just general, especially when compared to humans. The drow was also quite short in stature, he thought, closer to a gnome's height than an elf's.
"I can speak your tongue," the drow admitted dryly in an accent reminiscent of...of nothing at all that Orin had heard before, he realized in awe. "My name is Nalgred, and yes I can fight, before you ask." The drow's smirk revealed a set of bright white teeth that offset the tone of his skin much the same as his hair did. Orin found that he had a difficult time not looking at him, as though if he looked away, he might just miss something he'd wish he hadn't. He kept trying to shake it off, but couldn't and the drow blinked at him slowly, seeming to sense his confliction, but not seeming to understand it.
"I'm gonna cut straight to it, friend." Orin began seriously, looking right into the other man's eyes and trying to use his fascination to channel the intent of his words. "I've known too many light hearted dwarves, petty elves and cruel halflings to make assumptions based on what other folk say a given people are like, and since I truly have no reason not to trust you really, I'm going to let you out. Please...please don't make me regret it?" It was half a plea. Orin already knew he'd not have ever left anyone down in this pit to suffer, but he also knew that he had indeed lived to regret helping individuals in similar situations.
"I think, my new human friend, that before this is over, you will have many regrets." The drow replied matter-of-factly, raising an eyebrow. "Releasing me from this cage will not likely be among them." He cocked his head to the side, smirked and looked back at the warrior as though for the first time. Then he just chuckled and shrugged. If he was honest with himself, Orin rather appreciated the other man's pragmatism.
"Fair enough," Orin granted, shrugging himself, as he unlocked the cage. "Here." As the drow climbed out of the cage, the warrior reached down to his boot and withdrew the dagger he'd taken off of the guard upstairs. When Orin placed the weapon into Nalgred's hand, the drow's ebony fingers made the blade spin and dance until finally it sat vertically, balanced by the tip of the blade on the point of his index finger. He flipped it again and it came to rest gently in his palm.
"It'll do," Nalgred said casually, reversing his grip on the dagger to conceal it. "Thanks."

Somewhere, deep in a realm of dark beauty and splendor, The Dancer danced. As she whirled, she saw his act of uncommon kindness out of the corner of her eye and smiled.

Orin smiled at the man again, despite himself, but immediately turned his attention back to the task at hand. He'd already spent a lot of time getting down here and dealing with the guard, not to mention getting all these people out of their cages. Before he could start thinking about how to approach dealing with the scores of armed men waiting above to kill him, a shout had him storming past everyone to get up the steps.
"I'm not fighting alongside that drow filth!" Henroy bellowed loudly from up the stairs. "To the Abyss with all of you!" Orin could then hear the sound of scuffling and the bar on the upstairs door being lifted. By the time the warrior got up the stairs, the door to the hold was open and Henroy was gone, along with the sword and loaded crossbow Orin had left. He turned to Shambra, who just shrugged incredulously as she blew out an exasperated sigh.
"Damn it," Orin growled frustrated, as he moved to the door and drew his axe again. "Sod it, maybe he'll kill a few of them and save us the trouble. Alright, all of you listen carefully. I go first and then Shambra's behind me. Nalgred's after her. The rest of you just try and stay out of the fighting. Everyone take any opportunity you can to snatch a weapon, there's plenty to be had." With that, he moved through the door and up the stairs, pausing only to snatch the pouch of coins that Henroy had missed, Shambra and the others close on his heel. He looped the pouch of coins to his belt tightly, hoping another urchin would not cut it from him. When he reached the galley, he could hear the sounds of shouting and fighting coming from the opposite staircase.
"Those not fighting, grab some food!" Orin called out behind him and then charged for the other set of stairs. When he got there, he found the door at the top of the staircase wide open and the clear sounds of steel on steel echoing through it. Suddenly the doorway was darkened with the silhouette of what Orin assumed was another guard. When the figure yelled an alarm and surged down the stairs at him, the warrior knew he was correct in his assumption.
The guard came barreling down the stairs, spear point leading his way. Orin decided to let him come, and backed away from the staircase just a bit. The spear-wielding guard didn't come all the way down though, deciding instead on the much more conservative tactic of staying cloistered on the staircase and thrusting out frantically with his weapon. The warrior smacked the spear away a few times, but mostly just avoided it.
Finally, tiring of the man's craven defense, Orin side-stepped one lazy thrust and caught the spear under his arm. That's when he realized that he'd forgotten about his crossbow wound and he growled through gritted teeth as pain shot through his shoulder with the overt movement. Despite the pain, the youth managed to muster his strength and forcefully yank the spear clean out of its owner's possession. He tossed it behind him, hoping one of his new compatriots might pick it up and brought his axe down onto the guard's shoulder in one motion. The blade of the little bearded hand axe bit deeply into the man's exposed collar. The guard screamed as Orin tore the axe free to bring it down once more, this time onto the guard's head. Another quick strike to the head and the warrior's opponent lay dead on the stairs.
Orin belted his axe and pulled the guard's body down into the galley, drawing out a somewhat tarnished looking longsword from a scabbard on the dead man's belt. He turned behind him to find Shambra handing his short sword to Nalgred and taking the spear for herself. Orin nodded to them both and then moved cautiously up the stairs to the top deck, the sounds of battle drawing him ever upward. When he reached the top, he was set upon almost immediately by a pair of guards wielding sabers.
Not wanting to give them any advantage, nor allow them access to the stairs and those he sought to protect, Orin flew into a flurry of wild slashes and lunges, pushing both men back. He pulled up fast a few steps from the doorway to give Shambra and Nalgred enough room to step out, but also keeping any further access to the stairs in his periphery. The warrior scanned the deck and found it mostly as he'd left it. There were many more guards than when he'd gone below decks, though he noted that there were also at least two new corpses as well, one with a crossbow bolt through his eye. Henroy, seeming only a little madder than Orin himself, engaged with three guards over near the fo'c•'sle with one seeming to try and creep up behind him.
Before Orin could even think of a way to help the crazed man, his own situation came crashing back into reality, as both guards that he'd been fighting renewed their own attacks. It was all the warrior could do to get his weapon back up and his mind back in the battle. He parried one guard's strong lunge and leaned away from the other's clumsy downward slash. He used his parry's momentum to shove the foe who'd thrust aside, then slid his blade back across in a whipping motion to slice at the other guard's throat. Orin's cut drew a deep red line that had that opponent groping at his neck as he dropped his weapon. He kicked the man in the face for good measure to ensure he was out of the fight, then turned quickly back to the other guard, half expecting to get a blade to his ribs for his boldness. The warrior was surprised and relieved to find his former foe impaled fully on the end of Shambra's spear. Before the man could do anything in response to her thrust, the southern woman withdrew the spear and thrust three more times in quick succession, perforating her target.
Orin grinned to himself at Shambra's timeliness, but remembered to stay on task. He spied Henroy still engaged with several opponents across the deck, though the man who'd been trying to get him from behind had either changed his mind, or was on the ground, as Orin could not see him. Deciding that Henroy could clearly take care of himself, the warrior opted to deal with the next most obvious threat, that of the larger group of men coming up the gangway to board the Bitch Queen. He dropped his sword and reached into his tunic to withdraw the smoke stick that Mosath had given him.
"Stay here and don't let anyone below decks." Orin instructed his comrades, hoping earnestly that they would listen, but not holding much hope. He darted over to one of the many brightly lit lanterns and ignited the smoke stick on its flames. Soon, gray puffs of smoke billowed off of the tiny cylinder out into the night sky. The warrior tossed the alchemical item over to the ship's entryway lightly, not wanting it to go overboard and be wasted. It landed roughly where he'd hoped and filled the main area of egress onto the Bitch Queen with a cloud of smog.
Orin looked about the deck, hoping to spy a spear, but not seeing one. He shrugged and took up the tarnished sword again, jogging over to the gangway to try and make quick work of some coughing slavers as they tried to move through the smoke. He never got the chance though, as just as he made it to the cloud of smoke, his left thigh exploded in pain as another quarrel impaled it. Orin looked to his right, from where the bolt had come and found a familiar unshaven face smiling cruelly at him. The short guard carried a crossbow and was flanked by two other men wielding spears.
"Now I've got you, you son of a whore," the unshaven guard, who Orin decided to call Grumpy, bellowed as he loaded another bolt into his crossbow. Both other guards held their position, spears at the ready. Clearly, Old Grumpy had instructed them as such and was uninterested in taking chances with the scruffy Luskan youth, which brought a smile to Orin's face.
"What my mother does on her own time is really neither of our business," Orin exclaimed sincerely, as he flipped his sword to his right hand and drew out his axe. Just as Grumpy had gotten his crossbow cocked, Orin launched his own missile. His target was not the unshaven man, or either of his compatriots, but the crossbow itself. The warrior's new axe once again proved its worth and struck home, severing the drawstring and cleaving the other weapon in two.
"By Auril's frozen cunny, KILL THAT MAN!" Grumpy raged, his face turning a delightful shade of crimson-purple as he drew his scimitar for the second time and his two bodyguards charged forward, spears at the ready.
Orin smiled at Grumpy warmly then, suddenly appreciating just how much he'd come to mean to the man in such a short time. He then saluted the trio and half-limped, half-dove straight into the cloud of smoke that he'd just created, trying to land on his right side. The warrior managed to land with little physical complaint, but also managed to lose his grip on his sword. Undaunted, he waited until the two charging guards’ footsteps sounded as though they were right around the entryway and the kicked out toward the ship. Orin's injured thigh definitely connected with one of the two guard's shins. He knew this, because the attack sent waves of pain through him. The man cried out loudly as he collapsed forward onto the warrior, clearly expressing his own suffering.
The man's weight drove the bolt in Orin's thigh further into his flesh. Luckily though, the warrior's own scream of pain was covered by an even louder one coming from somewhere further inside the cloud, telling the youth that his plan had worked, at least in part. He paused a heartbeat, waiting for the other spearman's attack, but it never came. Whether because he could not find Orin within the smoke, or because the man had the sense not to enter the cloud in the first place he did not know.
Suddenly Orin felt the man on top of him groping for something — likely a weapon — and he did not want that man to have such a thing. Orin groped, roughly, at the man's shoulder and when he got a good grip of leather armor he gave him a good hard shove back, squirming out from under him a bit. Then Orin heard the faint, tell-tale whisper of steel on leather and kicked out hard with his good leg at the sound, still not wanting to let the man get to whatever blade he'd reached for. The kick connected with something hard and knocked whatever it was away. The next sound the warrior heard was that of a loud splash and he smiled to himself at his good fortune.
Orin had little time now, as the smoke was beginning to clear. He felt around for his sword and found it, then, as swiftly as he was able, he crawled back out of the smoke towards the ship. He tried to lead with his sword to fend off any would-be attacker that might see him through the smoke, but never found any. What he did find was the slumped body of the other spearman, propped up by another spear that had gone clean through the man. He was very dead, but his eyes were wide open and gave Orin a terrible start. Though the fright he received from the dead spearman didn't trouble him half as much as the boot kick to the head he received just a moment after his vision cleared of smoke.
"You miserable, gods-cursed, bastard!" Grumpy growled from Orin's left, as pain exploded all over the youth's face. "You killed half my men! Who do you think you are? You're never getting these maggots off of this boat, I promise you!" The warrior was just barely aware of the man moving toward him, as all he could see for a moment was stars. Grumpy kicked him again, this time in the thigh and Orin cried out loudly at the pain. His anguished cry drew a chuckle from his malefactor, giving the warrior a general idea of the guard's location compared to his own.
"How did you know my parents were never married?" Orin asked curiously, as he lashed out with an angry slash at where he hoped Grumpy was standing. "You seem to know a lot about my parentage actually...? Oh wait - whore¬¬ - I see now, you were one of her customers then? Oooh, really might want to head to a healer as soon as you can." When his slash didn't connect he swiped again and again, trying to climb to his feet over his japes.
Finally Orin's vision cleared and he saw the unshaven little shit standing just out of his reach. Before either man could make another move, two newcomers exploded out of the waning smoke off of the gangway, weapons at the ready. One of them almost tripped over the impaled guard as they came aboard. Suddenly Orin realized that the spear within the man had probably been thrown by Shambra and he hoped that she'd been able to find another weapon. That was two he owed her. The warrior then found himself doing some quick math, as he remembered Grumpy's angry words to him and realized that there were fewer than ten guards left, not counting any that were being killed currently.
"About time you sods showed y'selves!" Grumpy bellowed in an almost relieved tone, from the other side of the new duo. "Kill that big blighter there, then help us get the rest o' these scum below decks!" The two men, who seemed more sailors than guards, one holding a dirk the other a belaying pin and neither armored, turned to Orin. At first they looked almost concerned, which didn't fill the warrior with confidence, then they looked at each other and nodded, edging toward him carefully. It was almost a reenactment of the fight from earlier today, except Orin was in worse shape than he had been. Gods, that was just today, wasn't it?
Orin was sure he could handle these two fools, but he was just as sure that more would soon arrive. It seemed that his earlier math had not factored in fools, but then math rarely did. He slowly backpedaled away from the sailors and found himself with his back to the stairs, which was also blocked by the bodies of the two guards that he'd killed earlier. Sometimes, Orin could make a mess of things. He was running out of options and was just about to resign himself to standing and fighting, when he caught some rigging line out of the corner of his eye that was secured to the nearby rail and it gave him one of his probably-not-so-great ideas.
Without saying another word, Orin jolted forward to startle his opponents, which worked, and then darted for the tied-off line. He wrapped the rope around his arm and then sliced it free of the railing with his tarnished sword. Suddenly, the youth was flying through the air, pulled upward by the released rigging line. The sheer force of the line going pulled at his shoulder wound and so he was forced to let go almost immediately after he'd cut it, but that was enough to get him over his two assailants and on the other side of Ol' Grumpy.
Orin landed hard on his feet, about twenty or thirty feet away from where he'd been standing, but staggered to his knees. He was quite proud of himself, even though he was in quite a lot of pain, as he'd only heard about such a madcap trick in stories. His mirth vanished again once he realized that at some point in his flight, he'd dropped his sword. Gods he did that a lot, didn't he? That's when he noticed Grumpy, still looking very grumpy and running right at him, scimitar swinging wildly.
Orin managed to dive right toward the railing and avoid a heavy overhand cut from the unshaven guard. He used the railing to hoist himself back to his feet, just in time to see Grumpy lunging for him. He could not fend off the attack and the tip of the scimitar bit hard into his ribs. In retaliation, Orin punched the man as hard as he could in the face, knocking him and his cruelly biting weapon back. When the blade slid out of him, Orin could tell that the stab was not deep enough to have killed him, but was just deep enough to make every movement agony. He scanned around to try and find something to fight with and spotted his axe only a few feet away, but he knew, with all of his injuries, he'd never reach it before Grumpy was on him again and he didn't think he could take another stab.
"You will die!" the unshaven, furious guard growled through gritted teeth, as he got to his feet and found his weapon. He menaced toward Orin slowly, seeming to know he had the upper hand. The youth's breathing was ragged and every step just hurt. He was out of options and seemed to be at the very end of his rope, quite literally after the trick with the rigging. He was going to fail and die and so were the others that had fought, likely. Mosath might also be in danger, if anyone figured out who had told Orin about the ship. The warrior looked again to his axe, wistfully, very much wishing that the weapon were in his hand again. Then, as though answering that wish, it was.
"No!" Grumpy roared insanely, suddenly charging at Orin full tilt, blade slashing with abandon. "DIE!!!" The word came out in what Orin could only describe as a shriek and if he was honest, it frightened him just a little, but not enough. The warrior did not know how the battered axe he'd taken from among the many weapons at the Hall of Warriors had returned to his hand and he didn't care. With another, somewhat more confident, snap of his wrist, the axe soared out, end over end and slammed home right below Grumpy's chin.
The guard was stopped firm in his tracks by the force of the blow and a sudden gushing of red poured out of his neck. He had the presence of mind to reach down and finger a bit of his own blood and look at it. Then he looked at Orin, as though for the first time and as though the very concept of the warrior were an impossibility. Grumpy's scimitar fell from his hand then followed swiftly by all of the rest of him. Red pooled around his head.
"You first," Orin spat angrily at what was swiftly becoming the corpse of a man whose name he didn't know. He used that anger to steel himself and reached down to pull out the missile in his thigh, then again to remove the one in his shoulder. When it was done, the warrior quickly yanked out another of Wvilfurd's potions and downed the whole thing in a gulp. As before, the magical liquid mended his flesh, though this time, several of the minor nicks, cuts and bruises stayed right where they were.
Suddenly, Orin heard movement from behind and saw the two sailors moving cautiously towards him. Casually and with a lot of effort, the youth leaned down to pick up the scimitar where his fallen foe had dropped it and then regarded both men with a look that he hoped begged the question as to whether they were sure of their current course of action. When both men stopped and began backpedaling, Orin knew that he'd been able to communicate with them meaningfully. With a kick, he flipped over the dead body he'd just created and held out his hand to his axe, attempting to call it to his grasp mentally. When it worked, the youth grinned to himself in satisfaction, knowing that the weapon was indeed enchanted. Orin's demonstration of magical aptitude, coupled with the fact that he'd not taken his eyes off of the two dumbfounded sailors, seemed to steal their courage and before he could say 'Boo' both men ran full-tilt back to the gangway.
Orin marveled at his new weapon for a moment, having never even held an enchanted weapon before and the scarred silvery blade seemed to smile right back at him. He then surveyed the situation around him and found it not at all to his liking. Henroy, now up nearer to the fore of the Bitch Queen, still holding his own against his three attackers, but looking almost as haggard and injured as Orin had been. Turning his gaze back to the entrance to the lower decks, the warrior saw Shambra, now armed with a saber engaged with a guard alone, Nalgred nowhere to be seen. He expected that the drow had either gone back below decks, or had slinked off into the night. Either way, he could neither help nor hinder at this point.
Orin weighed the situation a moment. Henroy was clearly in more immediate need of aid, but if Shambra fell, then there was no one protecting the others below decks. Not to mention that, with the exception of two frightened fools, there were still others trying to come up the gangway. Right as he was about to go and support Shambra, Henroy cried out, drawing Orin's attention back to the manic man. He'd been cut badly and was now backed against the railing, his attackers pressing him hard and the warrior dashed into a sprint to get to the fo'c'sle.
Once Orin had made it up the short stair to the very front of the ship, he launched his axe hard at the closest of Henroy's attackers, striking him in the back and taking him out of the fight. He went straight to his knees, sliding across the well swabbed deck on them and struck with his taken scimitar at the back of another guard's leg. The scream of his companions startled the last man long enough for Henroy to put a blade into his gut more than once. The somewhat unsettling giggle he made as he did made Orin feel very uncomfortable about having just saved him, but for now, he was indeed saved.
With a knowing and quick nod, both men were of an understanding and they both moved off back down to mid ship where they found Shambra standing over the body of the guard she'd been fighting. She was breathing heavily, but seemed otherwise unfettered. Across from them, coming off the gangway were number of new faces, likely the new crew that whoever captained this tub had just taken on. Mixed in amongst the gritty-looking sailors were a handful of figures dressed in varying degrees of lighter armor and armed with proper weapons. Likely these were mercenaries called from the same swill pit that the sailors were found in with the promise of coin if they retake the ship.
"Where's Nalgred?" Orin asked seriously as he sized up the posse that was slowly forming in front of them. "Are the others still alright below?" He slipped the scimitar under his arm and reached down to unclasp his last potion, holding it lightly in his hand.
"The drow disappeared after we brought down one of them together." Shambra explained somewhat irritably. "One second he's telling me about you being in trouble near the gangway, then I turn around and he's gone. You alright, by the way?"
"Fine now." The warrior replied calmly, not taking his eyes off of the gang at the gangway. "Thanks for having my back. Did you hit him with that spear from all the way over here?" He turned and handed the potion to Henroy with a silent nod, who accepted it eagerly and downed the magical mixture. The warrior then let the scimitar slip back into his grasp.
"Nailed him, I did," Shambra affirmed proudly, cracking her neck. "Ran him straight through. Got nervous for a moment that it went through too far and hit ya. Glad it didn't." When Orin looked back at her, she raised her eyebrow coyly at him, as she had when asking for his short sword. He smiled and offered her an appreciative wink back.
"I wish Nalgred had stayed," Orin admitted glumly as even more goons filed onto the Bitch Queen. "We could've used another blade. Plus I really liked that short sword, damn it." He grimaced, but supposed that if the drow had used it at all to fight off any guards than it wasn't really a betrayal.
"Good riddance to the filthy dark skin!" Henroy said coldly, snatching up a dagger from the deck where someone had dropped it. "We're better off without him anyway, he's not to be trusted. We'll make short work of these fools." Orin heard the excited man scrape the blades of his weapons together in some kind of intimidating gesture and smirked at Henroy behind him. He was determined, the youth would give him that.
The trio of defenders were just gearing up for the inevitable charge, when a figure blinked into existence on the stairs leading to the quarter deck. The figure was a human man of middling height with dark, short-cropped hair and a round, soft-skinned face. He wore a floor-length azure robe, with gold accents that shimmered as he moved and he carried a staff just a bit taller than himself with a figurehead in the likeness of a manticore. The man's arrival almost took the fight out of Orin completely, as he knew that the figure had to be a brother of the Host Tower of the Arcane and that meant that this battle's dynamics were about to change drastically — and not just tactically.
Orin almost spat at his own stupidity. Of course this ship belonged to a Host Tower wizard, who else would be bold enough to brazenly name a vessel after the fickle goddess of the brine? These people were likely on their way to being test subjects for spells, or worse, within the walls of the Host Tower itself. This information complicated how all of this would play out, but it hardly changed a thing. The youth knew in his heart that he'd be right here, right now, whether he'd known about the Brotherhood's involvement or not. Well...he might have prepared better.
Orin saw the wizard begin to move his hands in the casting of a spell and knew he had to stop whatever that spell might be. Drawing on what bits of magical knowledge his mother had managed to learn correctly and pass to him, the youth screamed suddenly and very loudly at the casting mage, spewing gibberish words out of his mouth that were meant to confuse and distract a wizard attempting to try to concentrate. To his relief, and to his surprise, the tactic worked and the mage's spell fizzled out into nothing.
The mage sneered at Orin openly and raised his staff into the air. A coalescence of red energy formed around the manticore head of the staff and roiled there a moment. Orin launched his axe, almost completely on reflex and it would have hit home, but the wizard saw the throw and dismissed the red cloud, holding the staff out before him. The enchanted axe bounced noisily off of some invisible magical shield that the mage had conjured into existence. The aegis shimmered into visibility when struck by the arcing blade.
"You are trying my patience!" The round-faced mage yelled, frustrated, and Orin could now make out the man's thick, bushy eyebrows that knitted together as his face scrunched up in consternation. He suddenly got the impression that this mage was less a Brother of the Host Tower and more a second cousin twice-removed.
"I get that a lot," Orin admitted wryly, offering a slight shrug, as he called his axe back to his hand. "Usually right before I win." It was a bit of a bluff, but it seemed to work, not on the wizard at all, but on the gang amassed on the other side of the ship. At the warrior's words the group ceased their movement and looked to the mage, seemingly to see how he would respond.
"Is that so?" the bushy-eyed spellcaster asked contemptibly, letting his staff tap off the wooden deck. "Let us see just who will be winning this night. You there, who were held below? I have been instructed that the apprehension of this man is worth more than the lot of you all as product. If you kill him now, with no further losses on our part, you will not only be set free, you will be rewarded greatly." He smile-sneered then, as though he'd already won and for just a moment, Orin almost laughed. He then remembered that his compatriots were a mad man and a mercenary and he found himself spinning about, somehow sensing the betrayal.
Henroy's raised cutlass struck hard into Orin's left arm, as the warrior spun and would have pierced him clean through the back had he not turned around. The youth looked then to Shambra, whose eyes were wide, as though not knowing what to do next. Henroy jerked his sword and giggled manically, sending tremors of pain through the warrior's arm, as he pulled back his dagger to thrust. Shambra looked back and forth between them both a moment, then to the wizard, then back to Orin once again.
"I'm sorry." The mercenary said coldly after a breath, as her eyes went from wide and shocked to narrow and steely. She'd made her decision and proved it as she raised her own weapon to strike at Orin. He cursed them both and tried to get his own scimitar up to parry Shambra's attack at least. Of course he'd come this far in this mad errand, only to fail now.
Just as Orin was about to genuinely cry at the unfairness of it all, Henroy screamed out loudly in pain, as a familiar, narrow blade burst out of his chest. His own weapon fell out of his hand and out of Orin's arm at the same time, opening the wound it had made a little further. The youth was utterly confused as to what was happening, but his confusion turned to complete shock when he saw the white hair and dark skin of a familiar, narrow face rise up over Henroy's shoulder, as he fell to his knees.
"I told you I would repay your treachery, Hen," Nalgred told the manic betrayer in an almost sing-song tone, as he twisted Orin's short sword in the man's back. "I always keep my promises." He kicked Henroy off of the blade to fall onto the deck of the Bitch Queen, wheezing and gasping. Shaking off his surprise, Orin turned his attention back to Shambra, who now backed off completely and, seeming totally out of options, turned about and dove headlong into the waters of the sword coast. A loud splash announced her exodus.
Orin then turned his attention back to Nalgred to find the lithe elf standing over Henroy looking rather pleased with himself. He looked up at the warrior for a moment and grinned widely, but his mirth was short-lived, as the elf dove backward after looking past Orin and what was behind him. Suddenly Orin's back exploded in pain and he was spun about to face the mage again. Just as he saw the round-faced little man, another of the brightly colored missiles from a spell that the warrior knew could not miss smacked into his face. The spell was accurate and tactical, but not very powerful. Orin would have a bruise on his back and a shiner on that eye tomorrow for sure, but not much more. This mage was starting to get on his nerves.
Orin had had enough and was running out of options...again. He thought of surrendering, of perhaps offering his own life for the lives of Nalgred and the others below, but he knew that the minute he was captive, those he'd saved would be dead, or worse, back in the cages he'd found them in. He was also getting tired and with every injury, fighting his way through the riff-raff that was amassed across the ship was sounding less and less likely to succeed. He cursed Henroy again for his betrayal and cursed himself for giving the man his last potion.
"Enough of this!" the blue-garbed wizard bellowed across the deck in anger. "There is no escape. You will be captured and you will suffer for your arrogance." He gestured to the sailors and mercenaries standing at the ready, and as a group, they moved straight for Orin. The warrior looked about for a solution to his many, many problems and found one, but did not care for it. Out of options now and with a heavy sigh, the warrior belted his axe, sprinted to a lantern hook on the nearby mizzen mast and lifted down the clay pot lantern that hung upon it. The same lantern pots he'd seen from the warehouse on shore so long ago, it seemed.
Orin held the lantern aloft, raising it up for all of his gathered foes to see clearly. Several of the seamen in the large group stopped in their tracks when they witnessed the warrior's actions, others simply had looks of dismissal or confusion. The only face about with an ounce of real panic was that of the mage, who swiftly began reciting the words of another spell. Without another word, Orin cast the clay lantern down at the deck hard, striking at a spot near to several piles of ropes. The oil splattered all over the wooden deck and the ropes, and the flame ignited said oil, setting a large portion of the Bitch Queen ablaze.
"No ship, no job!" Orin yelled angrily at the gathered fighters and sailors, who were now backing swiftly away from the flames. "No job, no pay. You do that math." With that, he bolted straight for the entrance to the lower decks. Not one man tried to stop him, most now swarming back for the gangway to get as far as they could from the flames. Just as the warrior got to the portal though, he was stopped in his tracks by a sudden feeling of fatigue and he knew he'd been hit by another spell. When he turned slowly, he found the mage was upon him now. The wizard gripped the warrior by his wrist and tendrils of blue white lightning coursed over the mage's hand and into Orin. The youth screamed aloud, the magical attack wracking his body with pain and went down to one knee in front of the door, dropping his scimitar.
Orin just wanted to stop now, wanted to just close his eyes and finally go to sleep. He'd suffered too much injury, magically cured or not, and it had taken its toll. He knew that part of this feeling was the bushy-eyed little bastard's initial spell, sapping his energy, but he didn't care. The youth was tired and ready to be done with this whole mess that he'd brought on himself. Then he heard a sound coming from below and in front of him. When he opened his eyes to see what had made the noise, he saw Jasso, Penelope, Nidri and Frahnk looking up at him from the galley with a mixture of fear and hope, much as they had when they'd first laid eyes on him.

Again from that shadowed, joyous place, the Dancer danced and as she leapt, she felt his pain and worried.

"That's it, brute," the mage sneered from above Orin, still holding the warrior's wrist. "Let go. Fall into the sleep of oblivi- hurlk!" The wizard's demoralizing words were cut off by the warrior's free hand squeezing his neck tightly. Orin rose to his feet and lifted the man up by his neck, pushing through his fatigue with pure adrenaline and fury. He shook off the mage's electric grip and grabbed at his jugular with both hands, bashing him fully into a nearby wall, once, twice and then a third time. When the mage was no longer moving he dropped him to the deck and then snatched up his dropped scimitar. The warrior put the blade through the wizard's heart and left it there to make sure he would be casting no more spells. The wizard never moved as the blade went in.
"Get up here, hurry!" Orin called down to Jasso and the others waiting in the darkness of the galley. "We have to get off of this ship and now!" He staggered then, suddenly almost falling down tired, but braced himself on the door jam. The mage's spell still sapping his strength some.
"You alright, lad - oh!" Jasso asked concerned, steadying Orin with a hand on the warrior's shoulder, as he reached the top of the steps. He was jarred by the fire, Orin could tell, and well he should be, but now was not the time to panic.
"I'll be fine." Orin insisted dismissively, as he watched the others reach the top of the stairs. "We have to get off of this ship and well away from Dragon's Beach quickly." He shook off his fatigue and looked around for anything that might help him in his task. The youth thought about taking the wizard's staff, but reasoned against it, as the thing might be warded, or worse, cursed. He thought too about rifling through the mage's person, but knew there wasn't time for that. Instead, he snatched up the dagger Henroy had taken earlier, as well as his cutlass.
"What happened?" Jasso asked downtrodden, looking down at Henroy's corpse. "Where's Shambra?"
"We were betrayed." Orin replied seriously, looking around for Nalgred as he spoke, hoping the dark elf didn't get harmed by the flames, or some other spell of the mage's he'd not accounted for. "It doesn't matter, we need to leave, now." He darted for the gangway, which was thankfully currently not overpopulated with the scum of Dragon's Beach, though the warrior could see some of those that had lingered, standing along the dock, watching the fire.
"We heard someone try and offer freedom." Jasso acknowledged in realization, pausing to grab a blade where it had been dropped. "I can't believe anyone was foolish enough to trust it." Orin looked at him sidelong as they reached the gangway and at the weapon that was now in his hand. The old man was shaking his head, though the youth wondered if Jasso might have done the same thing in Henroy's position, but shook the thought away and turned about to head toward the gangway, swiftly.
"Blasted drow," Franhk spat derisively from behind Orin. "I warned you he could not be trusted." The youth glanced back as he moved, offering the unpleasant man a shake of his head.
"It was Henroy who turned on me." Orin corrected just as derisively, sliding the dagger into his boot and drawing out his axe. "If not for that blasted drow, I'd be dead and you all would be back in those cages." The fire roared behind them and the warrior wasted no time in getting his charges off of the Bitch Queen. When they were all safely on the dock, Orin paused and turned about to scan the deck of the ship for Nalgred. He saw no sign of the drow, not even a charred body and called out for the dark elf, hoping to draw him out. The warrior thought of searching the deck properly, but the flames he'd started had gotten out of control. With a heavy sigh, Orin crossed over to the dock as well and then cut free the boarding ramp and kicked it off into the water. He cut the rope that tethered the ship to the dock as well, hoping to stop the fire from spreading to the dock and hoping even more that the drow had made it to safety.
"Well...?" Frahnk asked somewhat less exasperatedly then Orin was expecting. "What do we do now?" The warrior sighed deeply as he turned from the flames and looked down the dock toward the boardwalk beyond. Most of the rabble that had thought to seize the Bitch Queen had dispersed into the night of Luskan. Only a few stragglers remained and those seemed more interested in watching the fire than in bringing any ill will to bear upon Orin, or those he'd saved. He hoped that was the case anyway, as it was a long way to the city gates.
"We need to get you all somewhere hidden, or clear out of the city." Orin explained calmly, as he belted his axe and lead them down the dock. "Where are all of you from, anyway?" He wanted to keep them talking now, if for no other reason than that it would stop them from asking him anymore questions he didn't have answers to. The warrior kept the saber he'd taken at the ready, just in case any of the gawkers decided to try anything. Though, if he was honest with himself, the youth wasn't in much shape to fight at all and hoped it would not at all come to another battle.
"Most of us were picked up near to Port Llast," Jasso informed him, gesturing to Nidri and Penelope. "I know that they found Henroy in the Mere of Dead Men and Shambra said that she came from even farther south but I know not where the drow boarded." Orin slowed as they approached a group of ne're do wells who were sizing them up. He cocked his head to the side and brandished his blade provocatively, while smiling in a manner most unpleasant. To a man, they all swiftly bolted down the docks away from the warrior and for that, the warrior was grateful.
"I was robbed and assaulted on the road south of Neverwinter," Frahnk told no one in particular as they moved along the dock. "One of the brutes knocked me unconscious and when I came to, I was in that cage. All of my wares are now likely sold off, or about to burn up on that ship back there." Orin grimaced at the man's words, feeling both annoyed at the man's priorities and genuinely guilty at potentially having destroyed Frahnk's merchandise. The fact that he was in fact a merchant or trader of some kind gave the warrior cause for hope at any rate. If Frahnk had connections, then perhaps getting these folks out of the city would be easier than he first thought.
The group finally reached the end of the dock and found the boardwalk far busier than Orin had left it earlier when he'd first approached the Bitch Queen. It seemed like the day before at least, that he'd even made his way to the Dragon's Beach, let alone left it in the first place after his earlier battle with the pirates who'd robbed and tried murder him. Was this to be his life then? One unfair fight after another against the scum of Luskan until he finally slipped up, or was outmatched? As if in response to these thoughts, a gravelly and smoky voice spoke out from near to one of the streetlamps.
"I watched and I saw," announced the same man who'd been leaning against the streetlamp earlier. "You certainly know how to pick a fight lad, I'll give you that " Orin tensed as he saw him, leveling his blade cross-wise in warning. The other man eyed the weapon, but made no other indication that he'd even noticed the gesture.
"I'm pretty good at finishing them too." Orin assured the nonplussed fighter half-heartedly. He reached his other hand down to the head of his axe, thinking to end the fight quickly if the man made a move. The other man grinned at the gesture then nodded, almost approvingly, which Orin found almost heartening. Almost.
"Relax, lad," the fighter insisted almost reassuringly, as he stood up a bit straighter. "I've no interest in a fight with you. You seem like you'll make me earn whatever coin I might get and I don't really like to work hard for the coin I earn." He turned his eyes back to the burning mass of the Bitch Queen, the light of the fire reflecting in his dark eyes.
"Good," Orin affirmed, a bit more harshly than he'd meant to. "I don't care who tries to stop me, I'm getting these people to safety."
"Is that what you're about?" the fighter asked the air in disbelief, as he turned his gaze back to Orin. "If that's the case, then you'd better get them to the wall and get as far away from them as possible. Black Bess's Bodice, you have no idea whose ship that is, do you? No idea who you've crossed?" His expression was incredulous, almost worried.
"Who owns the ship?" Frahnk asked, more curious than worried, but still a fair share worried by Orin's hearing. If the youth was honest, he was a bit worried himself and less and less curious by the minute.
"The Bitch Queen, and everythin' aboard 'er, is the property of the wizard Terno Ventlima." the fighter announced knowingly, as his gaze shifted from Orin to the others gathered around him. "You just started a war with the Arcane Brotherhood, my son. Were I you, I'd get the 'ell out o' Luskan whilst I could." With that, the other man offered a curt nod and a wink, and turned on his heal to walk off into the humid Luskan night.
So there it was. All of Orin's worst fears since seeing the mage appear upon the ship's deck earlier were coming true. He did not recognize the name of the wizard, but he was clearly a high ranking member of The Brotherhood. Which meant that Orin was very much in over his head. Far, far deeper than he'd ever been before. He had to get out of the city, fast, and his options for where to head next were a short list of unappealing possibilities. The shadow of the Host Tower would loom over his destiny once again, it seemed, and this time he did not know if he could find his way out from beneath that shadow.
"I don't understand," Jasso admitted confused from behind the warrior. "Who are the Arcane Brotherhood?"
"They're the power that truly rules Luskan, or they soon will be," Frahnk explained seriously, his usually biting tone now full of grimness. "They're a cadre of powerful, evil wizards who want to rule the north and they have a reputation for being ruthless." Orin looked back at him then and the merchant took a large step away from the warrior, as though he were now somehow sick with contagion. Next to him Nidri pulled Penelope close to her, as the child hid her little dirt-covered face from view. Even Jasso looked at him with apprehension now. That quickly, their savior had become a pariah. Such is life, the warrior supposed.
Orin stared past the tiny group of liberated souls to the burning wreck of the Bitch Queen and processed all of it for a long moment. In truth, he was glad of their new found apprehension of him, he realized. As it meant that it wouldn't take much to convince them to push on without him. His own actions had brought him to this point and he could accept that, but he could not accept further harm or suffering to come to these people because of his choices.
"Here," Orin said tiredly with a heavy sigh, as he reached under his shirt and withdrew the pouch of coins that he'd taken from the guard who'd shot him below decks. "Get to the city's southern gate, that way." He paused, thrusting the pouch into Jasso's hand and pointing vaguely toward Luskan's southern wall. "Do your best to avoid the guard, it shouldn't be difficult this time of night anyway. If you do get stopped, try and talk your way out of it, or bribe them, but do not tell them who you really are or how you came to be here. You might be able to buy passage on a caravan headed to Neverwinter or Waterdeep, as they are often headed out from that gate. No matter what, do not stop until you are well outside the city and far to the south."
"I don't understand," Nidri uttered weakly, still seeming a bit confused." You're not coming with us then?" She shook her head almost pleadingly, the jostle of her matted brown hair almost brought a tear to Orin's eye. He wondered in earnest how one person could leave another person in such a situation for weeks on end, but then he wondered at much of what people did to one another and their reasons why.
"I'm afraid so, dear," Orin explained, offering the woman a weary shake of his head. "They have ways of tracking using magic. If you are with me when they find me, and they will eventually find me, they will kill us all. I won't allow that. If I'm alone, then it's just me and I'm hoping this Ventlima will be so angry that I scuttled his vessel that he'll forget all about the loss of some slaves. It isn't at all what I was hoping for, but it's what's happening. You have to go. Now."
"If we can meet up with a caravan headed south, I'm sure I can convince them to take us along," Frahnk suggested almost reassuringly, as he offered Orin a serious and appreciative nod. "If we can hold on to the coin till then, it will help as well." While it seemed that releasing him from a cage in the belly of a briny barnacle colony had not cracked the surly merchant's hard bitter exterior, apparently a small bag of gold had done the trick. Then again, perhaps it was simply a language he could understand. That of commerce and barter, rather than steel and blood. The warrior almost envied him. Almost.
"Thanks be to you, lad," Jasso said fervently, gripping Orin's shoulder yet again and looking him right in the eyes. "No matter what happens, ye have my gratitude." He seemed somewhat overwhelmed by it all and his fervor shifted to sadness and then worry, but no longer for himself or the others.
"Thank you, Orin," Nidri offered as well, bowing her head and placing her hand to her heart. "We'll not forget your kindness, nor your courage!" She seemed to regret having recoiled from him earlier and almost want run up and embrace the warrior, but then thought better of it and laid a hand to Penelope's head, who was looking right at Orin then, seeming a little sad, poor thing. When he grinned and winked at her, she smiled and hid her face again.
"Yes, yes - Thank you," Frahnk interjected curtly, his earlier softness completely gone now, as he moved past them all to stand on the boardwalk proper. "Should we not be going though? We're all grateful, but if we get caught together with him, his kindness and sacrifice will be for nothing, yes? Let us away then and swiftly." He gestured to Jasso hurriedly and shuffled off in the direction that Orin had indicated. As he passed Orin, the merchant offered him a knowing look and another appreciative nod.
"Where will you go?" Jasso asked as he moved over nearer to Frahnk and gestured for Nidri to follow.
"The less you know the better," Orin said wryly, with a slight wince. "Suffice it to say that my only real chance is to move swiftly and get as far away from the city as possible. Just like you four. Now go, and may the gods watch over you all." He waved sharply and watched as the four lives he'd just saved disappeared into the humid Luskan night. He stood there watching them go until he could no longer see them to make sure they were long gone. So intent was he on making sure they were well away, that it was quite a start when he heard a somewhat familiar and appealing voice speak out from the shadows nearby.
"Was that all of the coin you had left?" Nalgred asked almost incredulously from the darkness, as he stepped out of the shadows. The drow seemed no worse for wear and now wore a studded leather jerkin and a heavy hood that covered his lustrous white hair. His eyes regarded Orin from beneath the hood, their deep crimson seeming to draw him into them.
"I...yes!" Orin managed awkwardly, trying hard to shake off his initial surprise. While he was very glad indeed to see Nalgred alive, being greeted from the shadows by anyone at all after everything that had happened was enough to startle anyone, but once again the youth was faced with this uncanny attraction he had for the dark elf. He found himself constantly imagining Nalgred as a woman and having no idea at all where those thoughts were coming from.
"Amazing," the drow exclaimed earnestly, as he silently padded over to the youth and eyed him as though he were some rare specimen of an animal he'd only heard of before. "You truly are what you appear to be, aren't you?" His mouth hung open a bit in what Orin assumed was disbelief and he cocked his head to the side like a dog that had heard something it wasn't sure of.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Orin asked almost indignantly, as he looked down at the much smaller man bewildered, still struggling to hide his inner awkwardness.
"Well, you're like - a do-gooder, right?" Nalgred elaborated almost condescendingly, twiddling his fingers at Orin playfully. "The one who always does the right thing. What my people would call a waeles. A hero." He smirked mischievously, then winked and chuckled at the warrior.
"Well, I clearly don't do the right thing, or I wouldn't be in this predicament," Orin shot back mirthfully, pointing at the drow to accentuate his point. "And I'm nobody's hero." He looked back at the burning ship and all of the mess he'd caused and wondered if any of this was worth it, then dismissed the thought. Then the warrior wondered absently if his actions would somehow cause trouble for Mosath, since the Luskan Spear had told him where to find the ship. He hoped not.
"You're their hero." the dark elf insisted matter-of-factly, gesturing in the direction that Jasso and the others had gone and drawing Orin from his guilt spiral. "Those four will be telling the tale of your rescue of them for the rest of their lives. I know I will, though I expect it will be more of a comedy on my own tongue, but that sort of makes you my hero as well. Hah, I have a hero now! Such strange fortune I have met with since coming to the surface. Regardless, you have my thanks for saving me from that cage. It was getting cramped, even for a drow." He rubbed his shoulder, almost in embarrassment, then shrugged.
"Well you're definitely my hero today." Orin offered enthusiastically, smiling tiredly at the drow. "Thanks for having my back, back there. When Henroy and Shambra turned on me, I thought it was the end of my tale." He winked back at Nalgred and nodded reassuringly, but held back his eagerness a bit, trying not to seem over-enthused.
"Oh, that was just a bit of recompense," the drow replied dismissively, waving away the warrior's thanks, but also seeming less embarrassed. "Nothing more nor less than what he was owed. I met that srow in a place you surfacers call The Mere of Dead Men. I found myself there due to again, strange, though in this case also ill, fate. Henroy offered assistance in the form of shelter from the swamps and nourishment. At the time, I'd assumed him a gullible surface yokel and thought to perhaps rob him after staying a few days, but then I woke up one day tied to a stake with all of my possessions missing and realized who'd actually been gullible."
"I see, so that's why he was so adamant that I not let you free," Orin said in realization, remembering the manic man throwing out accusations and slurs left and right before charging off into a battle to get away from Nalgred.
"Indeed, but you did set me free and here we are." Nelgred went on pleasantly, then gestured to the now almost half-sunken vision of the Bitch Queen. "And there Henroy is." He smiled wistfully at the flames in a way that Orin found at once sinister and endearing. It was a few heartbeats before either of them spoke again.
"Where will you go then?" the drow asked absently, finally taking his eyes away from the fire to rest back on Orin, which made the youth uncomfortable and excited at the same time. Orin stared at the dark elf for a long and hard moment in thought. Not worried now about his strange feelings, nor even if Nalgred picked up on them, but trying seriously to decide both where in fact he would go and whether he would tell the dark elf the truth about his destination. Orin thought he had no reason to trust this man at all, but when he thought on it, he realized - almost stunningly - that he actually had every reason to trust him.
"I'm going to Icewind Dale," Orin admitted freely to his new dark elven friend. "To Ten Towns. More and more mercenaries leave every day and I might as well be among them. Besides, it sounds like the folk up north truly need help with the goblin threat." He shrugged, but then nodded to himself in assurance. Ten Towns was far enough from Luskan and in a very inhospitable locale. That would in fact be the best choice.
"You see?" Nelgred announced humorously, with an exuberant smile. "Even in your exile, you still seek to aid others. Hero, I say." He laughed then, heartily and loudly, as though the very idea of it all were absolutely hilarious to him. Orin laughed as well and thought about asking the drow to come along with him, but knew that he'd be in just as much danger as the others if he were found by the eyes of the Host Tower. Maybe a bit less, but still. He was also just a bit afraid that the dark elf might say yes.
"Whatever you say, Nalgred," Orin said tiredly, once Nalgred's laughter had calmed. "Are you going to head south with the others then?" He did need to go, but he also knew he'd worry about the drow if he didn't ask.
"Oh, no," Nalgred insisted exactingly, folding his arms across his chest and smiling, as he gazed about darkened buildings of Luskan. "I think that a drow like myself can find many ways to gain in a city like this one. The rules here make more sense to me than other places on the surface, at least." He nodded approvingly, letting his hands fall to his hips, as he seemed to come to the same conclusion Orin had about his own choice of where to go.
"You might visit Thay, then," Orin offered with half-hearted mirth and then wished he hadn't. "What about the Brotherhood? They can use magic to find you. Is staying here in the city wise?"
"They can only find me if they're looking for me," the drow countered playfully with a wagged finger. "I'm hoping they'll be busy chasing you all over the frozen north to even notice me prowling about. Besides, if I'm not operating right under their noses, where's the fun to be had I ask you?" He shook his head and wrinkled his nose at the idea, before winking back at Orin. The warrior, despite himself, was taken off guard by the gesture this time and smiled, half-embarrassed, back at the drow.
"Well, be careful," Orin told him casually, as he realized that Nalgred was going to be just fine. "I wonder if you'd be willing to do me a favor — since you're going to be in the city anyway — could you just keep an eye on them and make sure they get out of the city safely?" He paused and gestured into the darkness in the direction that the other survivors of the Bitch Queen had gone. "There's also a friend of mine. Mosath is his name. He's a member of the local guard and the one who told me where to find you all. If you're going to make a go of it in Luskan, he'd be a good person to know and I'd feel better knowing you had his back." When he looked back into the drow's eyes he saw not frustration, as he'd expected, but curiosity.
"You're trusting me with a lot," Nelgred pointed out forebodingly. "I could easily follow our former companions and rob them of the coin you've given, or actively turn this Mosath over to this Arcane Brotherhood in the hopes of a reward. I could also quite simply inform your pursuers of your destination, since you've trusted me with that as well and I might be inclined to, as they would definitely offer a reward. Why so much faith in a person you barely know?" The question was not at all playful. The drow wasn't trying to be sardonic, he seriously wanted to know why and the warrior thought about his answer carefully for a moment before he spoke.
"I could give you the practicalities of it," Orin began thoughtfully, gesturing as he spoke, as he often did. "I could say that it would not be worth your time to do any of those things, as robbing the others would draw unwanted attention to you, or that trusting the Brotherhood is a choice for fools. I could point out that you were already offered a reward to turn on me and you didn't take it. I could even tell you that I feel the pull of a higher power beseeching me to do so, but the truth is, Nalgred..." He paused, feeling a lump building in his throat as he remembered why he had every reason to trust this man. "Of all the people I've dealt with today — who were not actively trying to kill me, of course — you're the only one who has neither betrayed me, nor abandoned me." Orin felt like crying when he realized the words were true.

Beneath the light of an eternal moon, The Dancer paused ever so briefly and saw his sorrow and as his soul wept, she wept with him.

The dark elf just stood stunned for a moment, then nodded slowly while still wearing a look of bewilderment. Once again, Orin had shaken this person’s world view, he knew. The first time it had been about the existence of decent people, the second had been the supposition that the drow himself might be one. For that gift, Orin knew that he would be forever grateful, especially since Nalgred would never know that he'd given it to the warrior. He reached out and offered the drow his hand and after examining it for a moment curiously, the drow clasped it awkwardly.
"Besides, like you said, I'm regretting a lot of things today and letting you out of that cage isn't one of them." Orin smiled earnestly, giving the drow's hand a light shake as he did. "Good luck, my friend."
"Aluv..." Nalgred started, but then seemed to change his mind and went on. "Farewell and safe journey, my — hah! — my hero." He made himself laugh again and Orin knew that all would be well then, if only for Nalgred himself, and for that he was grateful. He released the drow's hand and then nodded to him one last time before turning on his heel to storm across the city as fast as he could to reach Whitesails Harbor and a vessel that would take him far from Luskan to the cold of the true North. Before he managed to sprint away though, the dark elf called out to him one last time.
"You really shouldn't trust my people, Orin," Nalgred told him abruptly, seeming to be drawn out of his own inner thoughts suddenly. "I mean, you can trust me, of course. I'm not threatening you. I just mean people...they are treacherous. Tread lightly if you meet any other drow in your travels. Especially the females — in fact, Orin...if you encounter any drow women at would do well to simply avoid any contact with them. They are likelier to kill you than...anything else you might expect of them." His tone was deadly serious and the youth knew that he meant every word of what he'd just said, knew that it was the most honest Nalgred had been with him up to then.
"I'll keep that in mind," Orin assured him sagely, nodding back at his new friend over his shoulder, wondering if he'd ever see him again. "Goodbye, Nalgred." The drow nodded back, but said nothing and just watched Orin start his trek across the breadth of Luskan.
As he ran, Orin mulled over the drow's parting words somewhat overmuch, as they'd confirmed that there were in fact drow women, which of course there were, but still. He knew that Nalgred's claims were likely very true and that he should heed them. Then his mind began to meander, as it often did, imagining many unlived lifetimes and he knew for sure that he would not heed them at all.

Let not the biting, callous and sometimes cruel words of unenlightened and uncaring minds sway your heart from your passions. For it is your passions that are the language with which your soul speaks to the world.
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