“This is for that happy little dwarf of yours, Jerry. Please let him know for me, darling,” the lady said, then she turned to me and returned the smile I gave. “And what can I do for you, stranger?”

“Jerry told me that I needed to see this amazing shop, but he failed to mention the charming young lady who ran it,” I said, leaning forward on the counter.

“Oh, stop,” she said, placing her hand just below her throat and blushing slightly.

I reached out and plucked a lollipop from the counter close to her arm. “Since I’m here though, I would love one of these.” Her blush deepened as my hand approached.

Although the flirtations were entertaining, after all the recent fighting I had been involved in, I figured I better get something to protect myself as well. “I also need something that I can wear to protect myself a bit better. Do you sell armor? Preferably something darker colored, to help me blend into the shadows.”

She raised a finger as if to say “wait one minute” and walked into the back. I could see her rustling through some items. When she returned, she carried a beautiful leather set of armor, jet black in color.

“Ooh, I like that . . . almost as much as that smile of yours,” I said. “How much would that be?”

“Oh darling, you really need to stop that,” she said, blushing anew. “This armor sells for three hundred gold pieces, but for you, two hundred.”

I balked inside. There’s no way leather armor would cost that much, so I was sure there had to be more to it. Leaning closer and smiling, I said, “That sounds like a great discount! What makes it worth so much?”

She rested her elbow on the counter and placed her chin in her hand. Her face inches from mine, she said, “I’m glad you asked, darling.” Reaching below the counter, she pulled out a small vial with a clear liquid in it, displaying it slightly above her head.

My eyebrow raised inquisitively. For all I knew, it could be a vial of water.

She had to stand upright so she could gently pop the cork. “This is acid, darling. I get these from the local alchemist, and they’re highly caustic.” She poured a few drops onto the armor. When it hit, it hissed for a second, then sizzled away. She wiped the area with an old rag and held up the armor for my inspection.

“Wow, that didn’t even leave a mark.”

“Yes, darling, this armor is enchanted to protect the wearer from acid.”

I wanted it. But I didn’t have the gold. “Here’s the thing, gorgeous. I don’t have that much gold.”

“Oh,” she said, her shoulders dipping dramatically.

“But I really want it. If I gave you fifty gold now, would you save it for me? I should be able to come up with some more gold soon.”

Her smile came back and she winked at me. “I don’t normally do that, but for you, I’ll make an exception.”

Reaching into my coin pouch, I counted out the coins, laying them on the table as I counted. Bearty folded up the armor and placed it under the counter, then gathered up the coin. When the transaction was finished, I laughed and pulled out some more coins. “Now could I get the more mundane version?”

She smiled. “Of course, darling, just wait right here.”  Again she disappeared into the back room, and, after only a few seconds, returned with a regular set of leather armor. “I set this one aside just in case, darling, and I’m pretty sure it will fit you perfectly. Would you like to try it on?”

“Sure,” I said and started removing my tunic.

“What are you doing?!” she admonished.

With my shirt around my wrists, I looked at her and Jerry, who both stared at me incredulously. “I thought you asked me to try it on.”

“I did, darling, but I have a dressing room,” she said, pointing to a paper divider in the corner by the incense displays.

Slinging my shirt over my shoulder, I picked up the armor, winked at Bearty, and slipped into the dressing room. The armor was a little loose at the waist, but a belt would easily keep it in place. The leather had a darker brown tint, and was covered in numerous steel studs. When I finished dressing, I came out, spread my arms, and spun for her appraisal.

“Oh, very handsome, darling,” Bearty said.

“Thank you!” I waltzed back to the counter. “I appreciate your service, love,” I bowed low, “but now I am going to explore this marvelous city.”

She smiled and grabbed a fan. “Oh, please do come back, darling,” she said, fanning herself.

“Of course. I can’t wait to see your dazzling smile again,” I said, and turned to exit the store. I could hear her flustered muttering behind me before the door shut with a jingle. Jerry didn’t follow me out, so I assumed he had stayed to shop some more.

Michael C. Sahd, author of The Unfettered Child and Assassin Marked

I had to stop and let the question register. The captain seemed stressed, and I wasn’t sure if he was being accusatory. “Yes, they’re mine.” I paused, waiting for some response, but the man just kept staring. I could see the despair in his eyes. After a moment, I continued, “I saw them killed by the monster and then they stood up and attacked your men. I was just trying to help.”

“No, I mean, thank you. You did good.” He turned toward the dwarf. “And you, I would have a bigger mess if you didn’t step in. Thank you too.”

Waving his hand dismissively, the dwarf said, “It was no problem, just doing my duty. Our offer stands. Can we do anything to help ye?”

“We’ll probably need help investigating this incident,” the captain said. “Come see me tomorrow at the headquarters. Right now, I need to clean up this mess and contact my men’s families. Excuse me.”

Jerry walked over to us while the captain rushed off. When he was out of sight, I turned to the dwarf. “That was terrible. What was that thing?”

“That was a ghast, and we took care of it, didn’t we?” the dwarf exulted. “Aye, we did good!” He clapped me on the back, a smile under his bushy beard.

Although uncharacteristic, his mood was infectious, and I remembered our original goal before the ghast attacked. “Jerry was about to take me to Bearty Bahts. Would you like to come with us?”

“No, I’m goin’ to take a gander at the job board, but it’s a great place to get supplies. Enjoy yerself.” He turned around and went down the street, whistling.

I glanced at Jerry and mouthed, “What’s gotten into him?”

Jerry shrugged. “He gets that way sometimes. Come,” he said, and started down the street.

Glancing around as we walked, I took stock of the different buildings and markings so I wouldn’t get lost in town on my own, but mostly, my thoughts strayed back to the incident that had just occurred. Something like that doesn’t just happen. I had to wonder about the dwarf and Jerry, as they took the incident very nonchalantly. The fight had me a bit shaken, and I knew that I needed some answers before I could let it pass.

Once I finished shopping, I figured that I would head down to the docks and ask around. Maybe somebody could give a clue as to where that monster came from.

Lost in my thoughts, I barely noticed when we reached a street with several small shops and a second floor on each, where the owners probably lived. The buildings had no gaps between them, but you could tell where one started and ended by the different paints and decor on each business face. Jerry led me to one of the bigger ones, which had a wooden sign that hung over the door. Written on the sign in flourishing calligraphy was “Bearty Bahts.”

The door jingled as we opened it, and the smell of incense wafted out. I stepped in while Jerry held the door open, and my jaw dropped. To call the place a general store would be a complete understatement. The place had aisles of racks and displays, with practically everything on them, from food and travel rations in one area to general clothing in another. Tools lined one shelf and basic weapons and armor another.

I found myself perusing the aisles of stuff. None of it was junk. The place catered to the practical side of life, whether you were a traveler or a local, or whether you lived in the city or on a farm. Supplies for canning, pickling, and preserving littered one shelf I passed, and not far from that, shelves dedicated to pickled items had all manner of pickled goods brought in from outlying farms.

Incense sat on a counter in the back of the shop, and I could see more rickarack behind a door that had just opened. Now standing behind the counter stood a stately woman with a wide smile above her double chins. “Hello, darlings!” she said, drawing out the O. “What can I do for you?”

I gave her one of my most endearing smiles, and then she reached below the counter and pulled out a hand ax.

Michael C. Sahd, author of The Unfettered Child and Assassin Marked

Fyre pauses briefly, lost in her thoughts while she stares at the flames dancing in the fireplace. Fedrel watches her jaw tighten with anger and patiently waits for her to continue.

Finally, she sighs and turns to Fedrel, a huge smile covering her face. Fedrel smiles back and says, “I’m sorry for rehashing these terrible memories. However, I find your story absolutely fascinating. If you wish to stop, you can.” He reaches into a bag at his waist and pulls out a book with steel binding and gold trim. “This book you turned in is more than adequate for entry into Candlekeep.”

Fyre shakes her head, declining Fedrel’s invitation to discontinue her story. She takes a small sip of her wine and after, says, “You wanted to know how I ended up in Thay, and I am almost to that part of the tale.” She leans forward in her chair and continues:

 We did indeed get up early, and I joined other slaves to pack Elkzyr’s possessions for the trip. Loading up his lizards and the rothe serving as his pack animals, I was able to avoid Elkzyr for most of the morning, but when it was time to go, he had me riding with him on the lizard while the rest of the caravan walked. Needless to say, it was very uncomfortable sitting behind him. I was afraid of touching him, more than I was afraid of falling off, so I balanced precariously on the back of the lizard.

As we rode through the city, he started talking to me. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed your uncanny memory, beast. This is why you are coming with me. I can use your abilities to obtain information at a discounted price. But you will do exactly as I tell you or your life is forfeit. Do you understand me?”

I was certain that this would probably be my last day, and it terrified me. “Y-yes, Master,” I stammered.

After that, he ceased talking to me and we continued through the city. At the same time that I felt this impending doom, I also couldn’t help feeling a bit of wonder at seeing the city. Since I had first arrived, I had not been outside of the Mlezzond compound, and despite the cruelty and evil of the drow, Menzoberranzan was truly a beautiful city. Many lights dotted the city despite the fact that drow, and many of the slaves, did not need light to see. Towers and homes were carved out of stalagmites, with spider motif’s decorating everything.

I carefully looked around from behind Elkzyr’s back, looking down only when we passed other drow. Eventually, we reached a building nestled into a stalagmite, where we were met with a checkpoint.  Elkzyr dismounted and stepped up to the guards. They exchanged coins. As my master returned, I lowered my gaze back to the saddle and didn’t look up again until I saw the feet of the guards pass.

We entered a large room with a circular pedestal in the center. A glowing sliver of light spiralled around the base. When two of Elkzyr’s guards stepped onto the platform, they started glowing, then disappeared. I gasped as they vanished, then cringed when my gasp sounded amidst the silence. Fortunately, Elkzyr must have been in a good mood because he merely smirked. However, he turned and grabbed my arm, lifting me onto my tip toes. “Your turn, beast!” Then he flung me at the portal, and I felt his boot propel me faster when it struck my back.

I landed at the base of the platform and quickly crawled up onto it, despite my fear. What happened next, I was hardly prepared for. It felt like my body was trapped in a twister, and my stomach was left behind.

Michael C. Sahd, author of The Unfettered Child and Assassin Marked

Her angry glare stays with her as she tells of the drow. She pauses to empty her glass of wine, barely sipped upon until now. Fedrel quickly grabs a bottle and lifts it up. “Please, let me fill your glass.”

The angry fire in Fyre’s golden eyes flits away briefly while she smiles at Fedrel and brings her glass to receive the proffered wine. “Thank you,” she says, then sighs, leaning back in her seat with her freshly poured wine. After taking a few breaths, she delves back into her tale:

I guess I should provide more context. The incident with Elkzyr occured when I was 12. I had already spent many years with House Mlezzond, and before I served Elkzyr, I slaved with a duergar, Jinris, who oversaw the creation and mending of clothing in House Mlezzond.

Jinris had taught me to survive as a slave and how to care for myself. In a way, the short amount of time I spent with her was almost like having a mother again. For what it was worth, she treated me with kindness. Not nearly as kind as my mother had, but better than my father had. She kept me out of trouble and did her best to curb our masters’ anger. However, when it came to their cruelty, she could not prevent all of it.

We were not allowed to look our masters in the eyes, and when they entered the room, we had to drop to the floor and keep our heads down. For the slightest offense, they would beat us nearly to death, whereupon a priestess would then use her magic to heal us and then, if they were angry enough, they might beat us again.

I don’t know how many times I had been beaten by my drow masters. That day with Elkzyr was just one of many, but rarely had I been beaten for being helpful before.

After slapping me to the ground, he grabbed me by my hair and pulled me to the door of his study. He threw me into the hall, shouting, “You will show me respect, you beast.” Then he proceeded to kick me repeatedly. I remember the pain being excruciating before I lost consciousness.

When I came to, the matron mother Beslae stood over me, smiling. I immediately dropped my gaze and noticed Elkzyr standing behind her. “You’re very fortunate, beast,” she said. “Elkzyr found his book and was kind enough to request that you be healed. Perhaps you should show him your appreciation.”

I wanted to rebel, but had I, they would most assuredly have killed me then and there, so I dropped to the floor and groveled over to him. “Thank you, Master!” I repeated, trying really hard to sound convincing. After he tired of it, he sneered and said, “Get up and return to your quarters. I want you to prepare for a trip. You’re coming with me to the market. We will leave tomorrow.” At that, they left me in the infirmary.

The injuries I had obtained from his earlier beating had all been healed, but I felt very sore. I hastened to the slave quarters and dropped onto my bed, crying. I didn’t need to pack anything except for some clothes. I didn’t have anything else.

I couldn’t imagine what he wanted me to accompany him for, or where we were going. However, I felt terrified by the prospects and vowed to myself to keep my mouth shut and keep my distance from him.

Michael C. Sahd, author of The Unfettered Child and Assassin Marked