The light of day waned as the group rested in the gatehouse. Silas, having taken a surveying position outside, noticed some shuffling and voices from inside the main building, but they were brief and indistinguishable. The spell-thief looked down at the black velvet mask that found its way into his grasp more and more often. Recruitment never sat well with him, and he felt the same about organized religion. But the amount of comfort just holding the mask brought him had Silas rethinking his priorities. As if for the first time he looked at the back of his hand and noticed how pale he had become. Ever since his trip through the gate he'd been feeling colder and colder. Uncomfortably at first, but now it seemed his body had acclimated to the change. But not without consequence; he almost felt numb, now. Looking down over the edge of the roof of the gatehouse he wondered how far he could leap if he had a good running start, and how many shots he could fire from his bow before he reached the ground. The thought thrilled him for a moment and then passed. The main keep was quiet now, almost eerily so. The sounds of the swamp around him came to life as the sun set and strange lights sparked in the distance. Hopefully they'd not have to fight more wisps today. But, strangely, the dying light brought a bit of familiar warmth to Silas.

Aenin sat upright against the interior gatehouse wall, unable to sleep. The pain in his stomach had grown unbearable. Ever since being thrown through the shadowgate and nearly killed, he'd had a slight tinge of pain in his gut, but now it was like a searing hot poker. The pain came in waves, each one stronger than the last. Aenin gripped the hilt of his bastard sword, that vicious undead slaying tool, as each pang wracked his body. He thought of how not long ago he was smacking the heads of gang members with a wooden practice sword for kicks. Now he was facing some of the most foul and evil beings in Faerun; the church of Shar. He thought of his uncle Kenji and wondered how he was faring without his nephew, now half a world away. The next wave of pain shot through Aenin's body like a bolt of lightning and the warblade swore he saw a dark and beautiful woman holding the hilt of a black sword buried in his stomach. She leaned in close and kissed him on the lips as he was frozen in pain. She whispered something he couldn't quite make-out, but sounded like; "Not yet," and she pulled the blade from his guts bringing forth a spew of black feathers. Aenin sat bold upright from his dream. Apparently he had managed to fall asleep, after all. The light outside had long faded, but Helios had lit a candle or two. In the orange light Aenin looked down at his stomach, no longer aching, but saw that there was, in fact, a wound. Tentatively, he traced the outline of the laceration; it brought no pain whatsoever. His attention was drawn to his fingernails; now black and claw-like, and his skin; now pale and mottled. What in the Nine Hells was happening to him?

Helios sat ponderously over a pair of candles, cradling the Harper Pin he'd been given. He'd only heard tales of the infamous freedom fighter group of the Western Heartlands, and from differing perspectives. Helios wasn't sure how he felt about his membership. Pulling out his "spellbook" from his pack, he perused his notes and experimental formulas. The blending of arcane and divine had always intrigued Helios, and if his research were correct he was close to a great breakthrough. The materials he'd been allowed to borrow from the Tower of Knowledge had aided in his artificing, and he now knew the process. Helios had been practicing; scribing tiny arcane runes on material components, converting healing potions to powders and incense, and his new spells- spells he'd composed himself. Wether through divine or fateful inspiration, they just came to him during his studies at the Tower of Knowledge. Adjusting his glowing spear, Archlight, he turned the pages of his book, imagining the possibilities of his discoveries.

Nimmik lay doubled over in the corner of the gatehouse, troubled by nightmares pulled from the depraved imaginations of Graz'zt himself. He dreamt himself being torn limb from limb, over and over and over again. Only to be thrown back together more disfigured every time. The faces of his associates looked-on, apathetic to his agony. The forms of his former pacts passed to watch his agony; Naberius, Amon, Malphas, and Karsus. Karsus. He focused on the stone that even in his dream he remembered he carried. He'd tried to destroy the shadowgate with the karse stone, and succeeded, but not without great cost. Nearly utterly destroyed himself, it was due in part, or in whole, to the contingency spell that he'd survived. His whole persona had changed as he now played host to the conscious of Naberius, the Grinning Hound. His voice grew stronger every day, his influence inescapable. Nimmik was losing himself. The thought of the canine vestige brought him back to his dream and his pain. The Hound looked-on, grinning, of course. Realization dawned on the red wizard as he stared at the imposing being; "my pain is his pain", and he swore he saw Naberius' ever present grin falter for a split second. Fire consumed the wizard, both in his dream and in the gatehouse. Helios sprung up from his studies and rushed over to douse the sudden conflagration. As the smoke cleared and Helios began inspecting the scorched and supine Nimmik, he noticed a distinct change in the red-wizard; he now had curling ram's horns, like the ones he'd manifested when bound to Amon. But, it was more than that; Nimmik's skin now had a distinct red tinge, his eyes now glowed with inner fire, and, probably most noticeable, he now had a long spined tail. Nimmik, by all appearances, now looked to be a tiefling. Movement off to the side drew the mystic theurge's attention; two pinpoints of light, like a small set of glowing eyes, hovered above the smoking carcass of Ren, Nimmik's centipede familiar. The wispy form of a tiny winged demon formed around the glowing eyes as it moved over to the still unconscious red wizard and tried to rouse him.

Niall strode the halls of the Platinum Temple, one of the many shrines dedicated to Bahamut in St. Balthas. He and the three other devas beside him had urgent business on the battlefield, though their stride was calm yet determined. Their footfalls echoed off of the blue and silver marbled walls and alabaster statuary adorning the hallway. Dawn's light reflected off of the arched ceiling, revealing the beautifully detailed frescoes. As they approached the teleportation circle hidden within an alcove, the lead deva pulled a small bundle from his robes and began the complicated ritual needed to activate the gate. It would be a good 5 minutes, maybe more, before the circle would be ready to transport Niall and his group of deva knights-errant. More undead horrors were ravaging the small towns below the floating city of St. Balthas, and the division of warforged from Sprohm stationed therein were hard-pressed for reinforcements. Reports indicated mummies, wights, and flameskulls as the newest threats on the field. But, that did not deter Niall in the least; he had faced worse. He took a moment to admire the beauty of the architecture of the temple and the colorful patterns that the large stained-glass window painted across the hall. While he was pious, Niall worshipped no individual god. He saw it as his duty to enforce the will of all divine parties for the good of all. Balance concerned the deva invoker more-so than righteousness. Soon the ritual was completed and the lead deva motioned for Niall and the others to step into the circle. As the invoker stepped inside the familiar circle of sigils and runes he caught a shadow of movement out of the corner of his eye. He glanced quickly to try and catch a glimpse, but too late; the circle transported him to his destination.

Unfortunately for Niall, it was not the destination he had expected. The rush of wind greeted the invoker as he materialized. He was falling through a chaotic panorama; free-floating earth and raging firestorms rolled across his vision. Distant forms shot lightning and bolts of force at larger forms, multitudes of them, as they swarmed a lone earth mote. Niall saw no sign of the two devas that had stepped into the circle before him, but he did notice a large toad-like form rushing toward his position. From his studies of the planes, Niall determined that this could only be the Elemental Chaos, and the menacing form approaching him could only be a blue slaad, one of the more dangerous breeds. Niall tried to control his fall, knowing that gravity in the Elemental Chaos was subjective, but it seemed he was being pulled inevitably in one direction. The nadir of his descent was almost as menacing as the slaad; a perfect sphere of black about the size of a small cottage. Seeing that a void awaited his fall he pulled his quarterstaff and prepared to battle the slaad if need be. Faster and faster he fell as the slaad tried to catch-up. It became impossible to tell what would kill Niall first; the void, the slaad, or being torn apart by wind friction. The blue slaad was just about on top of him and it pulled its massive and bladed arm back to swing at the invoker, just as he slipped into the void. The slaad's attack rent only air and it croaked a horrible scream of rage before speeding back to rest of its brood.

Niall hit something solid, and painful. Though, not nearly as painful as it should have been, given his velocity. As he slowly stood he took-in his new surroundings. It appeared to be a ruined keep of some sort. The ceiling had many holes, through which he could see the night sky. This enormous room must once have been impressive in its grandeur. Elegant columns supported the beautifully arching ceiling - except where the columns have crumbled and the ceiling had begun to collapse. Four statues were set into alcoves around two walls, and two more statues stood on raised platforms in corners of the room. The most striking feature of the room, however, was the giant orb of swirling darkness near he center of the room, next to which Niall stood. Huge black tendrils extended from the orb like shadowy cyclones out almost to the walls. The tendrils writhed and twisted, but remained in more or less the same location. They seemed to suck what little light there was from the air. Sounds of a swamp could be heard from outside; the croaking of frogs (which brought back the recent memory of the slaad) and the chirping of large insects. Through the inky darkness of the room, Niall could see a pair of doors. Gathering his staff from the floor, he made his way, cautiously toward one of, what he hoped to be, the exits.

Silas heard some commotion from within the gatehouse. Smoke poured out of small chimney next to him, accompanied by the smell of burning hair. His immediate thought was that Percival was cooking again, but after hearing a startled yell from Helios, he thought it better to investigate. As the spell thief turned to walk to the edge of the roof, he felt the presence of someone else with him. Pulling his bow and nocking an arrow in one fluid motion he turned toward the new threat. It was a woman and she was right in front of him. Her index finger and thumb were grasping the arrow he'd nocked. Knowing it was always better to shoot first and pose questions to the corpse; he loosed the arrow, which the woman easily plucked from the bow and snapped in-two. Silas, while impressed by the dark and beautiful woman, decided to draw another arrow. There was no way she could do that twice - but his quiver was gone. Looking back to the woman he saw that she had it, perched on her shoulder and that she was now also holding his bow. Falling back on his last resort; Silas drew one of his poisoned daggers and hurled it at the strange woman, which she ably caught with her teeth. As she began to approach the spell thief he stumbled and fell, rather undashingly, on his ass. She moved to bend over him as Silas, never one to acquiesce easily, drew his shortsword and plunged it into the breast of the formidable woman. But, she didn't flinch. She didn't even seem to notice. Silas gaped in amazement as the 'blood' that coated his blade reflected the night sky in perfect clarity. The woman extended her hand, and, quite despite himself, Silas flinched. He opened one eye to see that she was offering him a hand-up and held no weapon. Cautiously, he grasped her forearm as she lifted him up. He found himself face to face with a blonde woman with eyes as dark as the void.

"Well-met, Silas," she said in a brassy voice, "Thanks for the pleasant greeting. Is that any way to treat a friend?"

Speechless for a moment, the spell thief could only stare at those dark eyes "Gods," he thought, "they don't even reflect light!"

"I thought I'd drop-in and see how things were progressing." The woman removed Silas' quiver from her shoulder and handed it back to him along with his bow. "It seems you and yours have run into a bit of a tight spot."

"Yeah," was all Silas could muster at the moment.

"Well, I guess that is to be expected. She really isn't one for making things easy." The woman moved to the edge of the roof and began walking it on her hands.

"No, I guess not," the spell thief muttered. Snapping to his senses, he blurted, "Wait, wait! Who in the nine hells are you and how do you know my name?"

"My apologies for my lack of formality," said the woman as she did a perfect handspring into a somersault, to stand before Silas once again. She offered her hand and said, "Prince of Thieves, at your service."

Silas carefully rearranged his gear, strapped his quiver to his belt and slung the bow over one shoulder. "A Prince? You'll forgive me for not bowing, but I can't for the life of me ever remember swearing fealty. And though you certainly have some nice tricks," he looked the woman up and down, his gaze lingering for a moment on her form, "I can't say I'm altogether impressed. Anyway, shouldn't you be a princess?"

"Semantics," she said as she strode back to the edge of the roof. She drew Silas' gaze to the ruined keep across the courtyard, "What awaits you an yours is quite a trifle, my bene-cove. You had best be prepared." She looked back at Silas, and locked his gaze with hers, "I called you into the gate so that I might prepare you. Thats not just a piece of cloth in your pocket, by accepting it you've sworn much more to me than your fealty, Pick Porter."

"And what is it that you might gain by preparing me?" Silas asks. "Surely the Prince of Thieves isn't entirely benevolent."

What does she want from me? Silas thinks to himself. What did I get myself into? He rubs the fabric of the Mask in his hand again, then stops cold and carefully, deliberately, puts it away, hoping the woman didn't notice.

"My guess is that, of course, you won't tell me. And that's fine. Many have tried to use me as their pawn, and some have succeeded, perhaps more than I even know. But I have my own reasons for doing what I do, and frankly I'm not concerned about who's interests I further in the process."

Silas turned his attention again to the keep, straining every sense he had to try and glean some sort of information about what might be happening in there.

"I don't know what you hope to tell me by revealing yourself, but you might want to be quick about it. Something tells me a lot is about to change here real soon." He pulled his cloak around himself, stepped to the edge of the building, and crouched, a pale, shadowy gargoyle.

"Cut to the quick. You're as bad as Cale. That's good," She sat at the edge of the roof next to Silas, "You already know who I am, Four of Five. You ask for my protection and guidance each time you hold that mask, and I hear you, every time."
"There is nothing a pawn can't do that a bishop, knight, or queen can do. Don't be so fast to dismiss the power of the pawn. But, regardless, you are much more than a carved ivory token. A pawn? No. A tool? Never. An instrument? I do like the sound of that better, but still it doesn't begin to describe it."
She turned to look Silas in the eye, "There is nothing you could do that wouldn't further my interests, and before you think too much on that remember what is in your nature, Pick Porter." She pointed to the ring finger on the spell thief's right hand, where, up until just then, he'd worn his Simbulmyn Sigil Ring. It was as naked as the rest of his fingers, "What I have given you is worth much more than copper and gold, and yet, is more costly by the same token. Keep to the shadows, Pick Porter. Trust in their comfort." With that she leapt from the roof to disappear.

Nimmik grogily opened his eyes. The nightmares were over, and they were nothing-but. Sitting-up, he lazily groped for Ren. The centipede familiar always brought him comfort. But what greeted his hand was the cold spiny grasp of a shadowy quasit. Nimmik jerked his hand back and stood abruptly, which caused him to trip over his new appendage. With a gasp of pain he reached behind himself to feel the tail now sprouting from just above his posterior. As he looked again at the tiny demon fluttering before him, recognition flashed, that canine face was a tiny version of the face of Naberius. His gaze was drawn to the charred remains of his robes and the red tint of his skin. Nimmik gaped at his hands, now covered in fine scales and tipped with black pointed nails. Standing urgently again, he felt his face to find small spines lining his jaw and the curling rams horns sprouting from his forehead.
"A-a m-mirror?" he asked Helios in a dry, stuttering voice. " A MIRROR!! NOW!" Nimmik boomed, thrusting his open hand toward the mage.
Helios rifled through his bag and shortly brought forth a small mirror. Nimmik snatched it from his grasp before he had even stood. What greeted the red wizard's gaze was unwelcome at best; he was a demon, by all appearances, fresh from the abyss. The strength of his legs failed him as he sat again, awkwardly. Bowing his head and drawing his knees in, Nimmik began to think frantically; "This must be retribution. One of my master's enemies scryed me and the stone and must have polymorphed my being. Nevron? Mythrell'a? Anzar? One of the countless others? … The Stone!" Sitting bolt upright, Nimmik rushed toward the ashy remains of his satchel. Sifting through the debris, he found that only a few things had survived; his book of sketches, a few inkpens, some candles, his money, but no stone. The Karse stone was no longer amongst his belongings. A dark pit opened in his gut as he thought of the repercussions of one such as Nevron or Mythrell'a holding the Karse Stone. A glassy reflection caught his eye as the little quasit flitted over to the remains of his bag. It brushed away a pile of ash to reveal a glass orb, swirling with dark green and mercurial silver. The impish demon began to roll the orb toward Nimmik. The red wizard snatched it up and immediately felt the familiarity of it. This was the Karse Stone, but then again, it wasn't. It was no longer the powerful artifact it had been, it was now a magic orb, an arcane implement. The red wizard relaxed visibly, free of the worry that the Karse Stone lie in an enemy's hands. He sat, still somewhat morose however, and stared into the depths of the orb. Its swirling infinity brought him a bit of peace.

Helios, still a bit unnerved by the sudden transformation of the young red wizard, sat by his tome and tried not to stare at the "newly-birthed" tiefling. He nervously rubbed the Third Eye of Dampening embedded in his forehead. The odd magic item he'd found in the strange demi-plane of the Twilight Tomb had been the subject of some confusion. That was, until the archmagi at the Tower of Knowledge identified it for Helios. The crystal sunk painlessly into his brow when he'd applied it, but now it caused a little discomfort. Even worse, he seemed unable to remove it. It was unlikely that it was cursed, the magi would have caught that, but it still deeply concerned the mystic theurge. He had intended to ask Nimmik for a dispel magic once he had rested and memorized his spells, but now it seemed a bad time to ask the red wizard for favors.

"What!?" snapped Nimmik. Helios only then realized he had been staring at the tiefling.

"Nothing, sorry. Its just… this crystal wont-"

"Dark and empty!! Whats happened to Aenin!?" interrupted the red wizard.

Helios followed Nimmik's gaze to the prostrate warblade, looking thinner, paler, and sporting a head of gray hair. The healer rushed to Aenin's side and Nathan, whom was previously staring out one of the arrow slits, followed. Nimmik got to his feet, careful not to step on his tail this time, and beckoned his quasit to his shoulder. The red wizard, seemingly as collected and composed as ever, walked to the gatehouse door and calmly opened it.

"Silas, you'd better get in here. Strange happenings are afoot," he called to the spell-thief on the roof.

Helios and Nathan inspected Aenin's injuries; the garish wound in his gut looked fatal. Nathan called upon the healing powers of Mystra and closed the wound.

"Aenin, when you're injured, TELL SOMEONE!" snapped the mystic theurge, "It looks as if you've contracted some kind of disease, maybe mummy rot, what did that crocodile-demon do to you?"

The warblade calmly got to his feet and picked up his sword. He noticed immediately that it had changed; it resembled the blade the dark and beautiful woman had held in his dream.
"I'm fine," he said simply, as he tested the heft of his blade, "I just need to get this constricting armor off. She's the only armor i need…"

Helios and Nathan shared a look; "She?".

"Gentlemen, it seems we have been conscripted by the fates," pipped Nimmik, "and it seems they are taking a more direct hand in their investments."

"Tell me something I don't know," came a muttered reply from just inside the doorway, and Silas' form slowly coalesced from the shadows. "Nimmik… is that a new spell you're trying out or something more permanent?" quipped the spell-thief.

"I could ask the same of you; I should think your Ebon Eyes spell would have worn-off by now. But if I'm not mistaken that's not a spell causing your eyes to look as they do," the red wizard shot back.

A loud snore broke the conversation, and everyone's attention was drawn to the sleeping knight in the corner and his diminutive, and similarly comatose, reptilian friend a few feet away.

"Well, it seems the only way to avoid a drastic change to one's mortality in this gatehouse is to be blissfully torpefied," snarked the red wizard. "Would someone please wake our mythril-clad friend and the lizard? Silas, I need to retrieve some clothing from the bag of holding, if you please."

Niall slowly approached the doorway. Voices, distant and muffled, could be heard beyond. He carefully opened the portal only to be greeted by the sight of three freshly-dead bodies. The deva calmly moved to inspect their vitals, not really expecting any of them to have a pulse, as he noticed a strange symbol bourne by all three; A pair of female eyes surrounded by seven blue stars. While Niall was familiar with all of the holy symbols of the major gods, this symbol's significance eluded him. After a quick prayer for each of the departed he scanned this new room, which turned out to be a hallway running perpendicular to the room he'd just exited. Another set of double-doors sat directly across from the ones he'd just used. Starlight could be seen seeping-in through the cracks in the door-jamb. With little desire to continue searching in the dark, the invoker made his way out to the courtyard beyond. Overgrown and caked with algae, this keep had been abandoned for quite some time. A high wall, choked with ivy, surrounded the courtyard and a gatehouse could be seen a short distance away. It was from this gatehouse that Niall heard the voices of conversation. The door was slightly ajar, and dim orange light and the shadows of figures flitted past. Desperate for answers, Niall strode toward the dimly-lit set-up.

Closing-in on the gatehouse, Niall could hear a somewhat muffled conversation between two parties and the indistinct voices of more beings behind them;

-"What do you mean 'its all gone'?"
-"Just what I said, they're not here, all of the extra sets of clothing, the weapons, nothing. I keep putting my hand in to retrieve one of the extra robes we kept, but it comes back empty."
-"Don't joke around, Nimmik, there was a lot of shit in this bag! If its gone I'll have to steal a lot of stuff to make up for it."
-"Here, this trick always works with these things…"

Niall could hear the clatter of multitudes of items hitting the gatehouse floor it rapid succession, as if someone had opened an over-stuffed pantry.

-"There we are. See? Nothing to worry about, it was just being stub- Silas, you are sure this is our bag?"
-"Of course I'm sure, what's the problem?"
-"Well, one issue comes immediately to mind. Do you recognize any of this?"

A long painful pause followed. Niall could almost feel the tension building in the one called Silas. The shadows around the doorway seemed to deepen.

-"Now hang-on a tick; this is some nice swag! I don't know who you lifted this from, my larcenous ally, but you've done well. Here now! There's a robe befitting my person, its even red."
-"I told you, 'sergeant sunburn', this bag hasn't been out of my sigh-"

There was another pause in the conversation, which allowed for Niall to hear someone else in the room say;

-"Sir Percival? Sir Percival, wake up. You need to see th-."

A loud retort interrupted the distant voice.

-"THAT THIEVING BITCH! SHE FUCKED WITH MY STUFF!! This isn't my bow! Where the hell did this sword come from?! If she touched my hat or my boots… *Sigh* Ok, at least she didn't take the good stuff. What in the nine hells?! Is this bow made of clay!?

As Nathan woke Percival and !Chk, Helios stared out of one of the arrow slits to the east. He dimly caught the conversation between Nimmik and Silas, but it seemed distant and was slowly growing quieter. By the time he noticed that the sound had stopped, he turned to see that he was alone in the gatehouse. Thinking that they had simply stepped outside, he moved to open the door. But, it was not the Lost Refuge that greeted his eyes on the other side; A swirling vortex of silver fire seemed to surround the gatehouse. It was floating in an endless panorama of silver chaos. There was no sign of the courtyard, the keep, or his allies. It was eerily silent, despite the churning madness. The mystic theurge slowly shut the door and rubbed his eyes.

"You are not hallucinating, Helios of Velprintilar," came a voice from behind him.

Lamenting not having prepared his spells yet, Helios quickly brought his javelin to bear and turn to face the potential threat. What stood before him was the quintessential embodiment of his goddess. Almost every tome that spoke of Mystra's avatar described this exact woman, with small varied details. She was tall, about seven feet, and had deep black, almost blue hair, that spilled to her waist. She wore a simple gown and a necklace of seven brightly shining blue gems. Instinctively, the mystic theurge dropped to his knees in reverence.

"There is no need for that, Helios," said the goddess, and she calmly walked toward the prostrate mage. As she moved closer her size seemed to shrink to that of an average woman. "Please, stand, and greet me as an equal. I was human once, you know."

Helios slowly stood and gazed upon the image of his goddess. She was beautiful. More beautiful than any bit of holy text could describe. However, she seemed sad. Behind the placid smile on her face, Helios could see a deep sadness.

"M-my Lady," he stuttered, then cleared his throat, "something troubles you?"

She visibly frowned at the question, but quickly recovered. "I am a goddess, Helios, something is always troubling me," she said in a joking tone that did little to hide her pain. She searched the mage's face for a moment and seemed to drop any pretense as she continued, "You are correct, though, I am more trouble than usual. Knowledge is a heavy burden. I sometimes wonder how Oghma manages. Let me first thank you for all of your efforts in my name. You have no idea how important your current quest is to me. My Chosen are all currently preoccupied, even my beloved El. You and your allies are all that stands between the goddess of magic and oblivion."

Helios stood stunned for a moment, almost brought to tears by Mystra's sincerity. He half-bowed, "My Lady, it is a privilege to be in your service, and an honor to quest in your name."

That brought a wide, sincere smile to the avatar's face, "Lady Varda did well to inculcate you to the church. I must remember thank her. I came here now, to ask something of you. More accurately; to exchange something with you. It will sound absurd, but it is extremely necessary if you are to face what is to come." She paused for a long moment, staring at the floor of the gatehouse, "I must ask of you, your humanity and skill, in exchange for an enlightened existence."

The mage stood, astonished, for a moment before replying, "Of course, my Lady."

Mystra frowned a bit at the abruptness of Helios' response, "Please, do not be so hasty to accept, this is not a test of your faith. I do not ask this of you lightly. You will cease to be as you are now. Your prayers and spells will be replaced forever. Those new dweomers you have been concocting; that is all you will know. And while you will not receive spells from me any longer, I have given you inspiration in the ways of artifice that will last for the rest of your life. Your consciousness will be dulled, yet enhanced at the same time. I am not saying you will become exalted, just that you will change, forever."

Helios began to reply but was cut-off as Mystra continued, "Please, take all the time you need to decide. While you are here, no time shall pass for your friends."

Continuing his thought, the mystic thuerge said, "My, Lady, I need no time to decide. The answer is yes. If doing this means I can better serve you and the church then I needn't a second thought."

Mystra turned her head to the side and visibly winced. In a voice strained by tears she said, "I am overjoyed at you decision, yet also profoundly saddened by it. You have been given a choice, which was more than I was given, and made the ultimate sacrifice." Tears spilled from the avatar's eyes as she turned back to face Helios. She lifted one hand to place two fingers on the crystal embedded in Helios' brow, "Goodbye, Helios Marten. I am proud of you."

With that, Helios' world erupted in silver fire. He could feel his soul being burned away, reduced to a wispy memory, as something else filled his being; Strength, confidence, and serenity. Another consciousness found its place in Helios. Dominant and forthright.

As his vision cleared he saw that his allies were standing above him. Nathan was digging through his satchel for a healing potion, while Nimmik and Silas were debating who got what of the supine mage's belongings if he didn't make it.

Percival saw Helios open his eyes, "Easy, Helios, you fainted. You should get more re-." The knight stopped mid-sentence as he noticed the silver fire burning in the mage's eyes and the crystal on his forehead.

In a calm and reserved voice, Helios said, "Sir Percival, We are fine. You needn't concern yourself over us."

Helios' reference to himself as 'We' wasn't nearly as disquieting as the fact that he didn't move his mouth to do so. Percival heard the mage's voice clearly in his mind.

He stood and calmly walked over to the pile of items on the floor. After some sifting he came away with a fine suit of leather armor, an odd mechanical-looking rod, and a small box. He moved over to his tome, opened the box, and began setting to work on what looked to be a very important project.

"*Ahem*," the demonic red wizard cleared his throat, "Anyone else wishing to partake in the impromptu generosity of "not Silas'" bag of holding, I suggest you make haste before all of the best treasures are taken. Helios has the right idea." The tiefling adjusted his newly acquired robes, the wicked-looking dagger at his hip, and the rod resting next to the orb that used to be the Karse Stone. "Now, like our Mystraan friend, I have much work to do, please do not disturb us unless it is of vital importance." With that, he retrieved his sketchbook and began scribing.

Sensing no harm or malice from the occupants of the room, Niall makes a decision to announce himself to the occupants. He can not deny the urge its almost as if the Gods he keeps close commune with are pushing him to this decision. Always their faithful servant, Niall will not deny their wishes, but will remain cautious, he knows he can teleport himself away from danger if his intuition is wrong about the occupants of the room.

Summoning all his courage Niall stretches out his left arm, hand upturned as a sign of peace. Pushing open the door with his quarterstaff in his right hand, the gray Deva brings his tall frame down to one knee (setting the quarterstaff at his feet and holding up his right hand as well to show he intentions of peace) and says with his thunderous voice…..
"Fellow travelers! I am Niall Zachar, Invoker of the Gods will! I wish no harm or ill will for I am lost and in need of help, could I trouble you with some questions to help me find my way in this strange place I find myself?"

With that, he bows his head slightly as a sign of respect, making sure to keep his eyes up and focused on the occupants of the room. He waits for their response…

"Oh, for the sake of Kossuth's hearth! What fresh hell is this?" snaps the rather frustrated tiefling sitting on the floor. The shadowy quasit perched between his horns glares at the deva with its yellow pin-light eyes.

"As I said Friend, I am lost and in need of help. I hope you kind souls would be willing to help me"

Niall remains kneeling to reaffirm his intentions of peace.

"*Sigh*," the tiefling cradles his face in his hand for a moment as the quasit on his crown bobs its head excitedly. He lifts his face with a polite smile, "My apologies, its been a rather difficult few hours, my name is Nimmik Sarlaeozar of Eltabbar. This rather occupied young man before me is Helios. The rest, I would assume, are capable their own introduction. Had you arrived any earlier you would have seemed sorely out of place. But seeing as how the ratio of humans in this room has shifted somewhat dramatically as of late, you should fell right at home. Please, get off your knees for flame-sake! This isn't a bleeding throne room."

Grabbing his quarterstaff off the floor, Niall rises up to his full 6'6'' height speaking now in his normal, quiet tone….

"Nimmik it is a pleasure to meet you. I am curious to your comments on the human ratio decline in the room, quite odd. However, having last stepped into a portal spell with two of my fellow brethren, I find that I have not arrived at the expected destination. Quite honestly, I have no clue where I am and how I ended up here but let me tell you it was a strange and perilous journey that nearly ended my existence on this plane. Might I inquire as to what part of the world this is?"

"This, my winged friend, is the arse-hole of Cormyr, the Vast Swamp. From what I can figure, this is an abandoned keep, one of the nation's lost refuges. From what part of Faerun do you hail?" Nimmik stands and closes the tome in which he was writing. The tiny shadowy demon shifts to his shoulder and appears to whisper something in the tiefling's ear.

"Faerun? I am unfamiliar with that name…I hail from no city or land but my last place of residence was the floating city of St. Balthas."

Percival replies, "I think you are a ways from home then since the last floating cities here were destroyed millennia ago. Might I ask where you expected to arrive?"

"We were simply teleporting to the towns below St. Balthas, the undead population had become unruly and I was among those charged with putting them in their place. I do not know what went wrong with the teleportation circle, a strange shadow caught my attention as I entered. Next I knew, I was tumbling through Elemental Chaos, avoiding a slaad and landing in a room next to an orb shrouded in darkness. While my story may sound strange, it is true as spoken."

Pausing briefly to let his story sink in and gathering his thoughts for a moment, Niall continues…

"It is my duty to serve and enforce the will of the Gods, it is not my place to question why I have been brought to this strange place but simply to perform what it is they desire of me."

"While I always welcome help in Kelemvor's crusade against the undead," Percival responds to the apparent motives, "it seems as though that is not my fate here either. Unfortunately, it seems we are pitted against certain other gods though. Which of them do you serve?"

!Chk the lizardman seems to be stirring, but seems unfocused. The unnatural glow of his eyes has mostly faded, but from his head you also notice ram's horns flickering in and out of existence.

Niall calmly replies…

"Serve? I do not serve a God. Through me the Gods invoke their will. My powers come from the whole therefore I respect the ways of all the Gods. My honor binds me to do what is considered 'good' but I do not reserve my piety for a single God, I respect the will of all the Gods."

"I noticed a strange symbol on some perished bodies in one of the other rooms of this keep. Perhaps you could enlighten me; what is the meaning of the symbol of a pair of female eyes surrounded by seven blue stars?"

"A poly-pantheistic free agent. Interesting," says the tiefling, "Do they not worship Mystra, mother of all magic, where you are from, this, 'Saint Bulbous'? That would be her holy symbol."
"It seems the Sharrans had hostages, a pity." Despite his wise-cracking attitude, Nimmik seems truly saddened by the news of the dead clerics, "Tell me, Niall, was there anything else in that keep besides the bodies and the 'shadowy orb'? We've been battling the minions of the Lady of Loss; a rather nihilistic deity bent on oblivion, and the Lord of Lies; a mad god preoccupied with deicide."

Turning his attention to the tiefling…

"You are correct my friend, but I would call myself an agent, I do not turn from the side of good I simply recognize and respect the ways of the evil Gods. While I am familiar with all of the major Gods and their symbols, knowledge of Mystra eludes me. Other the the light sucking tendrils reaching out from the orb, I saw nothing else of importance."

Niall approaches a nearby stool and sits….

"A God on the path of oblivion saddens me. That is a nasty path to travel and preventing this Lady of Loss sounds like a harrowing task. What else can you tell me of this Faerun and its Gods?"

"The information I am able to offer you on the Faerunian pantheon as a whole would be horribly abridged," says the tiefling as his quasit crawls down to his crossed arms, "what I can inform you of are the gods to which we pay homage; I have always worshiped Kossuth, Lord of Fire; Sir Percival is a crusader of Kelemvor, god of the dead; Silas here has never said a word about his devotions; Aenin there was recently babbling about some female in a reverent fashion, to which female deity he currently subscribes is unknown to me; the lizard… I have no clue; and Helios and Nathan here are devoutly Mystraan."

"Interesting, I do not seem familiar with any of these Gods. I will have to meditate and see if I am able to commune with these Gods and ascertain why they brought me to Faerun." replies Niall.

"Your party seems to be in a bot of disarray…did you recently survive a battle of some sort or is there some other strange happenings occurring here?"

"Funny you should ask," Nimmik chuckles, "up until about an hour ago I was a member of the human race. How I came to resemble some demonic minion; I attribute that occurrence to my poor judgment in mixing magical energies and making pacts with entities beyond my understanding. However ultimately successful it may have been."

The quasit grins wickedly at the mention of 'entities beyond my understanding' and bobs its head excitedly. Its canine features and downward-curving horns give it an odd appearance, and its shadowy form seems to fade and coalesce in a random cycle.

"Silas looks a bit worse for wear; much paler than usual. But, walking through a Shadow Gate has that effect, I suppose," says the tiefling gesturing to the heavily cloaked archer in the doorway.

You notice his features bear a stark similarity to the descriptions of Shadar-Kai you've read or heard about. While not an evil race, they do tend to the extreme, often daring much and caring little.

The one called Aenin is sifting through a small pile of equipment on the floor of the gatehouse. While youthful he sports a head of grey hair and his skin is deathly pale. Like Silas, his eyes lack any pupil. They are two black orbs that remind you of the void that brought you here. As he pulls a tattered-looking robe from the pile he hefts the massive black sword in his grip to his shoulder and inspects the garment. While obviously moving and fit, Niall has yet to see the man draw a breath. You suspect him to be some kind of undead.

Helios, still preoccupied with his projects, appears to be inscribing magical runes along the shaft of an impressive-looking javelin. The odd gem on his forehead and his half-closed eyes swirl with silver fire. That gem, in its placement, seems an unblinking third-eye. Niall has heard stories of an enlightened race of humanoids that sometimes visit St. Balthas; Kalashtar, they are called. They often aid in any way they can against the minions of Ckalle and Gardusk, but their homeland is unknown.

The knight appears to be the only human in the gatehouse. He and his lizard friend are in the corner, the lizard seems to be drawing a large intricate circle on the floor with chalk. As the halfling-sized lizard person finishes his drawing he says something in draconic that you fail to recognize, but by his tone and demeanor it seems he is invoking the name of some otherworldly power. The light in the room seems to dim slightly as the form of a large bleeding rock appears within the circle. The lizardman looks confused and casts a concerned glance at Nimmik.

The tiefling looks up from his studies at the strange entity within the circle as it booms in a regal voice, "I AM KARSUS, THE HUBRIS IN THE BLOOD. WHO DARES BID ME HERE?" As it speaks the stream of blood flowing from the top of the rock spurts to the floor within the circle. The massive boulder towers over everyone, nearly touching the ceiling.

Chk! says something in draconic to the boulder, seemingly bargaining with it. Percival stands nearby, interested in the strange display. Suddenly a shadow flashes past the image of the boulder and its form wavers and shifts. A howling wind kicks-up, sucking everything in the room toward the circle. Chk! and Percival, closest to the circle, are immediately pulled into the chaotic image of Karsus. A flash of red light temporarily blinds everyone within the gatehouse.

When their vision returned they saw a supine form within the circle. A reptilian humanoid with black-silver scales lay in the fetal position upon the chalk circle.

The tiefling rushes to the edge of the chalk outline inspecting the person and the circle, "Percival? Chk?" The imp on his shoulder jumps to the floor and sniffs around the chalk outlines. After a moment it climbs back up to Nimmik's shoulder to whisper in his ear as it points at the circle. Nimmik turns to the group, "Chk, wasn't trying to summon Karsus. This binding circle is for Marduk. What in the nine hells!? Helios I think the person in this circle may need some medical attention."

Silas looks over at what used to be Percival and !Chk with what can only be described as indifference.

"Again? Of course. It seemed too good to be true that at least one of our party might remain human." His dark eyes shift to the window and through it, searching the darkness outside for something. "We've been too focused on what's happening inside. If I were the bad guys, I would probably pick now to attack. If anybody needs me, I'll be back on the roof." Silas briefly glances Niall up and down, then takes a step back, disappearing into the shadows.

Silas's disembodied voice seems to come out of nowhere. "And Helios, you might want to hurry. I fear we've lingered here long enough." The shadows near the doorway lengthen upward towards the ceiling, then suddenly snap back into place, leaving no trace of the spellthief.

The Mystraan kalashtar speaks to all as he finally stands. His odd dual voice echoing in everyone's mind, "You are right, Silas. My work is completed." Archlight, which up until now had been a standard yet enchanted javelin, now had deep runes etched into its long metal shaft. Helios raps the butt of the wicked looking missile on the floor and the entire javelin turns into blue, pulsating force, illuminating the entire gatehouse in bright blue light. He walks calmly over to the draconic humanoid in the circle, whom was still unconscious but breathing. As Helios moves an intricate-looking suit of leather armor appears on his person. He speaks again in everyone's mind as he checks the humanoid's vitals, "He is wounded, but nothing I cannot aid." He removes a red stone inscribed with runes from one of his belt pouches, and with a few arcane words the stone turns to a fine red dust filling the air in the entire room. As quick as it appeared, the dust was gone and the draconic being on the floor stirred.

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