Shera Aers - Hellbound

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Shera Aers - Hellbound

Post by Aelipse1 » Tue Oct 13, 2020 8:19 pm

Part 1

Bright yellow, orange and with streaks of bloody red at the tips – the leaf was gently coming down the maple tree, dancing in the breeze and tumbling between the branches, until it finally rested on the ground, floating and drowning in the yellow, orange and bloody red ocean around the tree’s foot. A girl of eight years was sitting at a small tree stump nearby and watching the leaves fall with utter fascination. The autumn sun was high in the sky and all the tree crowns around her were glittering and gleaming with gold, as bright as the sun itself and more beautiful than any golden treasure she could imagine.

She turned her gaze up, to the sky, which was now sapphire blue with a handful of funny looking clouds, all as white as snow and forming shapes of all sorts. She raised her arm to keep the blinding sunlight from her eyes and tried to make out a few familiar shapes. There was one that looked like a horse’s head – only it had just two little legs sticking out of it. Another lump of white vapour reminded her of a strange cross-eyed fish with a sad face on it. There was one that looked like a half-eaten loaf of bread, another one like a three-fingered hand and yet another one reminding her of a human face. It was gazing at her just like she was now gazing at it, and at one point she almost thought it blinked. It reminded her of someone. Who was that? She squinted a bit. It was her father. A face of her father was gazing at her from the sky, all white, and she would have sworn it suddenly started to frown in anger.

“Shera!” echoed a man’s voice from the forest behind her. The girl, acting purely on instinct and without thought, turned abruptly around to face the sound. Her heart skipped a beat.

“Shera, where’re ya, you damned brat?!” The voice was coming closer. Shera swallowed. Running was an option, but likely a futile one. She had tried it a few times before, but to no avail. She felt her legs go limp under her and suddenly she felt cold. She stood there, waiting, preparing an excuse, an apology.

Finally a figure appeared among the bushes and trees and went straight for her.

“There ya are, you little goblin. How many times have I told ya not ta run away? Huh? How many times?!”

“I wasn’t running, I was just playing here,” she replied, determined to sound strong and defiant this time, but to her horror her voice came out as a stuttering squeak. The man grabbed her by her shoulder, squeezing so hard she nearly gasped in pain, and jerked her to the side with such force it was hard for her to keep her footing.

“No runnin’!” he said again, his face now so close to hers she could smell the alcohol in his breath. It was suddenly impossible to maintain eye contact. She lowered her head, feeling weak and tiny, and fighting off tears, she finally managed to utter the words she was very familiar with by now:

“Sorry, father.”
Last edited by Aelipse1 on Fri Oct 23, 2020 5:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Shera Aers - Hellbound

Post by Aelipse1 » Thu Oct 15, 2020 10:02 pm

Part 2

The man half dragged, half pushed her a few hundred strides into the forest and did not stop until they were at the camp. The other men that happened to be around the campsite at the moment were silently staring at them, while cooking, drinking, honing their blades or fixing their old shoes.

“Oi, Rico. Told’ya ya needed to chain the pup up!”

“Aye, I will, once ye get me a decent chain, ya moron!” replied her father and they both laughed.

The other man’s name was Edd, but nobody at the camp called him anything other than Grizzly. He was a dirty, smelly tower of a man, the tallest of the band, with a neck as thick as that of an ox. Shera despised him and feared him even more than her father. She was sure that had she been left alone with him, he would have hurt her, if not killed her just for his own amusement. And the worst thought of all – if he had done that, her father Rico would probably not even punish him.

She was seated on a small log next to the campfire, now only dwindling in the daylight (the men were supposed to put the fire out in the morning, but as they were too lazy to start it again every evening, they just maintained it throughout the day) and given an old rusty needle along with a heap of dirty, smelly clothes with holes in them that needed patching up. She got into work without a word, avoiding eye contact with the men around her, and was silently grateful that no one was talking to her.

An hour or two must have passed and her neck was already in pain. Her stomach rumbled in hunger. She hadn’t had anything to eat since the watery cup of porridge she had had that morning, and now it must have been well after lunch time. She thought she might be left to starve for the rest of the day as a punishment for her disobedience, but then decided it was far too painless and therefore unlikely. Her father always liked to turn her punishment into an evening entertainment for the men, so most often he would just beat her with a stick by the campfire while the others would just watch, drink and laugh. That was not only painful – it was embarrassing.

While sewing the last patch on a pair of stinky trousers, a thought crossed her mind that it might be better to be an obedient girl, to do as she was told, do all the work she’s been given and take all the beatings without a word or whimper. Then, however, she remembered she had already tried that and nothing really changed. She had still been treated like a slave, only then she had also become a slave in her own mind.

The men at the camp were violent by nature. They enjoyed torture, as long as it wasn’t them being tortured, and by now, it was also obvious to her that her father deeply and passionately loathed her. She still wasn’t entirely sure why, but it must have had something to do with her mother, who, as she understood it, died during her birth.

Shera finished her job, put the clothes aside and made her way to the tent she shared with her father. She was happy to find it empty, as her father was probably gone scouting or hunting. There was a sack of oats they had bought from a miller in the city not that long ago and Shera helped herself to another cup of it. There was no water within the tent, just rum and some cheap whiskey her father would sip at when around, regardless of the daytime. She sighed and, thinking it might be easier to take the evening beating with her stomach full rather than empty, she proceeded to fill her mouth with the dry, tasteless oats.

She must have been lying in the tent for a good few hours, running her imagination wild, because when she heard voices and finally peeked outside, it was already dark. The campfire was now burning bright, flames leaping from log to log, and most men were already gathered around it and talking. The band, as they liked to refer to themselves, currently consisted of twelve men and her. She remembered it had been fifteen not too long ago, but two men had been ripped apart by trolls while scouting in the forbidden part of the forest, and one had vanished without a trace. She had heard her father call the man a “cowardly runaway” after his disappearance, but she had a panging hunch it had less to do with running away and more to do with being murdered. Especially knowing that the man in question had had some quarrels with her father, who was, after all, the unofficial leader of the gang.

She peeked through the slit in the tent’s door and saw her father, Rico, with Edd “The Grizzly” by his side and other men around them in a close circle. They were hunched over something apparently well worth their attention and talking in hushed, but excited voices. Shera leaned forward and listened.

“The fourth cart had food in it. I saw cheese and salted pork. Hells, I didn’t even need to see it, I could smell it!” laughed one of the men.

“Are you sure there are only three men guarding the whole convoy?” said Rico in an incredulous tone.

“I hear them merchants didnae have a very good year. Bandits and such. Go figure. Probably cannot afford more than three bloody guards now,” said The Grizzly.

“Aye. Besides, they’re not such a big convoy. Four carts and a wagon? Who would bother robbin’ tha’?” chuckled yet another voice.

“Right. Prepare your weapons, lads. Leave the horses behind. We walk,” said Rico.

“Wha’ about yar little pup?” teased The Grizzly. “Who’s gonna make sure she doesn’t bolt again, eh?” He grinned one of his obnoxious grins.

“I am,” said Rico sternly. “It’s time for her to learn. She’s coming with us.”
Last edited by Aelipse1 on Fri Oct 23, 2020 5:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Shera Aers - Hellbound

Post by Aelipse1 » Tue Oct 20, 2020 12:45 pm

Part 3

They must have been walking for well over an hour. Not that their destination was too far away, but since they were not allowed any torches and had to move as silently as possible through a pitch dark forest, their advancement was slow.

The whole group – all twelve men and little Shera in between – was led by Micah, a man in his early thirties who had dropped out of a Mages Tower scholarship in his youth and had been struggling to find a source of income until joining the gang. He was one of the more amiable members of the group. Though not a wizard, and even barely an apprentice, as he himself liked to point out, he was still likely the most educated man in the group. He could also cast a few basic spells, one of which allowed him to see in the dark.

Shera liked Micah – or more precisely, she hated him less than the others. He would tell her adventurous stories when she was even younger, and even tried to teach her a few simple spells. She wanted to learn, but never quite grasped the concept. She wasn’t sure whether she was too young, too untalented or whether he had been teaching her poorly, but the fact that she was unable to even begin the simplest of incantations made her hate her life even more.

The group made its way through a small forest clearing, illuminated dimly by the crescent moon, and Shera suddenly recognised this place. She had crossed this very spot when she attempted to run away after being beaten by her drunken father a few weeks ago. Running was a foolish endeavour, of course, and she was well aware of it even at her young age. Still, there were moments in her life at the camp when being ripped apart by trolls or breaking her leg and dying slowly of thirst seemed like the more preferable options.

It took them another half an hour before they spotted a campfire among the trees ahead. Shera’s feet were sore by then. The whole group slowed down to a crawl and carefully approached the merchant camp. This was Shera’s first time on a raid like this, but since the men loved to talk about their “hunts”, as they called the ambushes, she had some idea of what to expect. They would literally crawl on their bellies as close to the camp as possible without being heard, do a final head count of all the guards and other fighting fit individuals and wait until all but the one on the watch were asleep. Then they would kill the watchman, silently if possible, by a carefully aimed arrow to the head, sneak upon the rest of the travellers and kill them in their sleep. Guards first, merchants and simple town folk afterwards. Men, women, children. Everyone. No survivors, no witnesses. Such was their credo.

After the massacre, they would search the surroundings to make sure nobody was hiding around, load the bodies onto the merchant horses and wagons and bring them back to their camp. Shera had seen dozens of dead people being brought there – mostly human folk, but here and there there was an elf, a dwarf or even a halfling. The gang would strip them of all the useful possessions and the next morning they would ditch them into the forbidden part of the forest where the trolls lived. This was according to Micah the smartest way to get rid of the bodies as well as the most dangerous part of the whole ordeal. It was in fact not uncommon to be sent to do the job as a punishment for misbehaviour, and when there was nobody to punish, the men would draw straws.

Having crawled slowly for a few more minutes, they were now close enough to discern individual faces around the bonfire. Shera saw three men sitting around it, drinking and talking. Two of them looked like guards, both clad in chainmail, one with a sword and the other with an axe at their belts. The third man was older than the two, unarmed and likely a merchant. The rest of the travellers seemed to be asleep in their tents.

The three men talked for another half an hour, completely oblivious to the fact they were being watched. However, to Shera, who now had to lie there on the cold ground completely motionless, it felt like an eternity. Finally, the merchant got up, burped, went to take a leak and headed for his tent. One of the guards followed suit, leaving only one man to watch over the camp. It took another few minutes to make sure they were all fast asleep, and the bandits now started exchanging instructions in hushed voices. This was it, thought Shera.

Her father pulled a longbow he had been carrying on his back and crawled a few more paces forward to get a good angle. The other men drew their weapons as well – daggers, axes and swords of the crudest kind. Somebody pulled at Shera’s sleeve. It was Micah. He put his face right next to hers and said in a hushed voice:

“You might wanna move a little closer to see this. Your father is the best shot with that bow I have ever seen. You’ll be impressed.”

Shera hesitated for a moment, but then her curiosity overtook her and she moved very slowly ahead to get a better view. As she was crawling through the roots, fallen leaves and broken branches, something bit her in her hand. In a moment shorter than a blink of an eye, a searing pain rushed through her entire arm as if she was stabbed by a thousand blades, all hot enough to glow. She shrieked in agony...

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Re: Shera Aers - Hellbound

Post by Aelipse1 » Fri Oct 23, 2020 5:02 pm

Part 4

Shera shrieked in agony. The guard keeping watch looked in their direction and leapt to his feet. Rico, trying to save the situation by taking him down before he could alarm his companions, let loose of the arrow he had been carefully aiming and preparing for the past few minutes. It made an audible “whoosh” and bit into the guard’s shoulder, digging its way through his chainmail. He staggered with a gasp, reached for his sword and yelled – a shout that felt deafeningly loud after hours of silence.

“Get up! We’re being ambushed! Geeet uuup!”

Shera, to her horror, saw the other men clambering to their feet and reaching for their weapons. The bandits she arrived with were already on the move forward and dashed to meet the guards in battle. Another “whoosh” and an arrow pierced the guard’s throat, sending him to the ground. Shera was so petrified she could not move. Her arm was still throbbing, but that pain paled in comparison to what her father would do to her for ruining the ambush. She remained where she was, her heart pounding like a hammer, and watched the battle unfold.

The two remaining guards stood with their weapons drawn next to the bonfire, their faces illuminated brightly as Grizzly with another half a dozen men descended on them. The one with an axe swung furiously at Grizzly, but his blade was met with Grizzly’s mace, deflected away, and before he had time to prepare another swing, his head exploded with a sickening crunch as the mace landed on his forehead. The other guard leapt back and did his best to maintain distance with his spear. He jabbed at the bandits, who now started to form a circle around him and were slowly closing in. The first man to make a decisive move was Micah, thrusting at him with his short sword, but he did not estimate the distance correctly, missed the guard by a few inches, who turned his spear against him and sent its tip between Micah’s ribs. The other bandits were quick to react, jabbing and stabbing the man in his back, belly, throat and head. The guard and Micah both fell to the ground simultaneously.

In the meantime the merchants were pouring from their tents, wearing only light sleeping clothes and horrified faces. None of them attempted to join the fight. They were all desperately trying to flee. Three men, two women and a boy of around ten years of age. They headed for the dark of the forest, likely hoping to hide there from the assailants and silently crawl away. They were wrong. The other half of the bandit men were already waiting for them near the tents and they stabbed and thrust at the defenceless town folk with no remorse. Blood was spurting, bodies collapsing and cries of shock, horror and pain were echoing through the forest. Shera shut her eyes.

A hand grabbed her arm and jerked her up. She looked up, but tears blurred her vision so much she could barely see anything. The hand dragged her forward towards the light, towards the campfire. She heard voices of the men around her as they were loading the dead bodies on the carts. She blinked and saw a familiar face among the dead. It was Micah. His eyes were empty, mouth open and face covered in blood. They were getting rid of him just like they would get rid of the merchants and their guards. She gasped for breath.

The hand that dragged her suddenly released and Shera fell down on the wet ground.

“Get up ye little goblin, get up!” said her father’s voice. Shera had no strength in her left to resist. She clambered up to her shaking feet, only to be slapped in the face so hard she fell again.

“Look what ye did. Look what ye did!” his hand was motioning to Micah’s corpse. “We lost the mage because of ya! And more of us could’ve died!”

“I am sorry, fa...” Another slap to the face silenced her.

“If ya were a man, I’d be gutting ya right now!”

“We should get rid of the little pup, Ric. Before she causes more trouble,” said a raspy voice behind her. Her father hesitated before replying.

“No. She’s me daughter. And more importantly, me wife’s daughter.” Rico almost smiled in a twisted way and looked at the other man. “I said she needed to learn. And teach her I will.”

Back at the bandit camp, Shera was stripped down to a dirty nightgown and tied to a pole, face in. Every time her father leashed at her back with his leather belt, she whimpered, biting her tongue, not daring to scream. Her mind was clenched to a silent prayer as tears were rolling down her cheeks. Like every other time she had been beaten, she now too prayed to all the gods she knew from the scarce visits of the nearby towns.

She prayed to Tyr, asking for justice. She prayed to Lathander to ease her pain. She prayed to Ilmater for protection. She prayed to Kelemvor to end her suffering. She prayed to Torm, to Isis, to Silvanus and Selune. And just like all the previous times, the gods did not answer. She was left alone, naked in the dark.

When her beating was finally over and her garb was soaked with blood, her father dragged the girl to his tent and threw her on the ground.

“Oi! Grizzly!” he yelled outside of the tent. A moment later, her father appeared again, this time with the huge man by his side. He glanced at her, then at Edd “The Grizzly” and said:

“Just don’t kill’er.” And with that he left the tent. Grizzly remained, smiling a sly smile. Shera shrieked.

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Re: Shera Aers - Hellbound

Post by Aelipse1 » Sat Oct 24, 2020 9:35 pm

Part 5

Shera was floating through a pitch black fog, feeling unnaturally light. It took her a moment to realise that she was dreaming, a dream more vivid than any other she had ever had. The pain in her back was still there, but it suddenly wasn’t the dominant sensation. She felt cold - a menacingly chilling cold that sends spikes of frost to the very marrow of one’s bones. As she floated in a void, the black mist around her started to turn brighter, until it reached the colour of icy blue.

“Welcome. Welcome to my domain,” said a voice, echoing all around her, coming from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It was a man’s voice, but nothing like Shera had heard ever before. The tone of it was warm, pleasant and genuinely welcoming, of silky velvet timbre, but strong and confident at the very same time.

“You know you are dreaming,” continued the voice, “but is it really a dream if it... feels so real? And does that even matter?” Shera heard a chuckle followed by a pause. Then the voice continued:

“You are full of pain. You are exhausted by the injustice done to you. You would be full of anger, too, if you had the strength, but for now, you are left with pure, engulfing hate. Do not be afraid, child. I cannot read minds, but I can see it in your eyes.”

Shera looked around her again, her eyes searching for a figure or a face, but nothing but shapeless bluish fog filled her sight.

“You are wondering why such evil is done to you. You are wondering why nobody comes to help you, why nobody saves you. You are wondering why the good gods never answer your pleas, why no holy warriors ever come to your rescue. Why you never get the justice you seek.” The voice paused and then continued in a more determined and serious tone:

“Good gods, evil gods, gods of justice and gods of chaos. They don’t serve any greater purpose. They serve themselves and their own vanity. They only answer those prayers that will gain them more praise, and only help those who would spread the word of their divinity in return. They promise justice, but they only follow desires of their own.

And you, my child, are not desirable enough. You are a losing investment, a bargain not worth their efforts. They never offered you salvation because your contribution to their popularity would be marginal.” There was a longer pause, and when Shera thought this dream might be over, the voice sounded again:

“I am lord Levistus, the Prince of Stygia, the Duke of the Fifth Hell. I do not deal in justice. I do not offer protection to the weak or salvation to the dying. I do not seek praise and do not care for the opinions of mortal beings. I only care for power and only deal in destruction, suffering and death. Here is my offer, my child. You want your father dead. You want all the men around you dead. That would bring justice to your soul and relieve your suffering. I can do that for you. All I need is your consent. If you agree, say yes.”

“Yes!” uttered Shera at the top of her lungs and the word came out louder and more confident than she had expected. The voice laughed and her body began to tremble.

She opened her eyes in the dark of the tent and felt the ground under her actually quake. Was she still dreaming? She sat up, teeth clenching from the pain in her back, and moved as close to the tent’s narrow entrance as the chain holding her wrist would allow. By the time she peeked outside, the tremor in the ground had faded and stopped. She saw four men sat around the bonfire, all of them suddenly silent and all of them gazing into the dark woods, as if frozen or petrified. Shera looked where they were looking and there she saw it.

Just two bright blue dots glowing among the trees and floating high above the ground were quickly approaching the camp. It took another few seconds before the light of the bonfire started to reveal the rest of the shape. An unbelievably huge figure appeared from the forest – taller than two Grizzlies put on top of one another, with skin covered in dark red scales now menacingly gleaming in the light of the campfire, and two huge wings flapping soundlessly on its back. The four men were so shocked by the sight they did not move, until the monster grabbed one of them with its clawed hand, lifted him up like a doll and bit his head off.

At that point, absolute panic broke out at the camp. The remaining three men started screaming and wanted to flee, but the monster’s arms were faster than their legs. It caught one of them by the head and Shera only heard a loud crunch, before the rest of the body collapsed to the ground. Then the creature made one huge step forward, kicking the flaming logs and sending them flying in all directions. One of the logs hit another man in the back and knocked him to the ground. He whimpered in pain.

Grizzly was the first man to appear from his tent. Shera saw him just stand there, petrified with fear. The mighty Edd “The Grizzly”, feared by almost all other men at the camp, was now afraid.

“What in the hells is going on now!” she heard her father Rico behind her. He pushed her out of his way and stepped outside, but was back before she could count to one.

“Where’s me bloody bow?!” He fumbled in the dark, found his trusty weapon and stepped outside again. Shera got back to the slit as quickly as she could. By the time she could see outside again, two more men were dead. The monster had stepped into one of the tents on the far side of the campsite and crushed its inhabitants.

Rico was now standing next to Grizzly, desperately trying to knock an arrow, while yelling at the taller man:

“Get yar weapon, ye bloody oaf!”

“Are ye mad?!” barked Grizzly back at him. Rico finally got the arrow ready, drew and released. The arrow hit the monster in its thigh and bounced harmlessly off the thick scales. The creature, however, must have noticed the impact because it dropped the torso of a man it was ripping apart, spun around and went right in their direction with its giant strides. Rico attempted to knock another arrow, but then thought better and turned to run. And so did the Grizzly.

They ran for less than twenty strides before the monster caught up to them. It hit Shera’s father with the back of its huge hand, which sent the man flying with a fleshy thud. Rico remained lying where he hit the ground, motionless. The Grizzly, however, was not so lucky. His arm got caught between the monster’s claws, and with one fluid motion the fiend crushed it. Grizzly screamed like Shera never hoped to hear him scream, and before the man could start whimpering and crying, the creature ended his worthless life with a single bite.

The fiend now went after the few men who actually managed to run into the woods, but since they could not see in the dark, it wasn’t hard for the creature to catch them like little rabbits. Shera could not see it, but she heard screams of pain and knew justice was being served to them.

Rico came to his senses a bit later, being possibly the last man alive. He got up slowly, cradling his left arm, which was apparently broken from the impact, and, thinking the creature gone, limped back to Shera’s tent. She recoiled on instinct, not knowing what he might do to her this time, but before he could get close to her, she heard a growl so deep and loud it shook her chest, followed by her father screaming:

“No! Noo! Pleaaaseee!”

However, there was no negotiating with the giant monster. Shera looked out of the tent again and in a dying light of the burning logs and tents all around she saw in great detail what the fiend did to her father. And when Rico was finally dead, the creature was gone as suddenly as it appeared. Shera sat back, leaned on the pole she was chained to, and smiled.

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Re: Shera Aers - Hellbound

Post by Aelipse1 » Thu Oct 29, 2020 8:20 pm

Part 6

When Shera woke up, the sun was already high up in the sky. Her hand was still chained to the tent’s central pole and her back still throbbed from the last evening’s beating. She hesitated for a moment whether the events of last night had been real or just a strange dream, but one glance out of the tent assured her that the carnage she had witnessed was not a trick of mind.

She looked at the chain that held her – an old rusty thing it was, more likely iron than steel, and dinted at several spots, but still too sturdy for an eight years old girl to tear it in two. Looking around, she spotted an old dagger her father would carry in his boot, and she reached for it, trying to stab at the chain at its weakest spot. She spent a good few minutes gnawing at the rusty metal, gasping for breath and whimpering in agony as every move made her scarred back hurt more. She gave up when she noticed the tip of the blade started to bend, while the chain remained unyielding.

Her stomach rumbled. There was some food around – mainly the sack of dry oats, but she spotted an apple by her father’s sleeping bag, along with a small piece of leftover cheese. The cheese was half eaten, but fresh and savoury smelling compared to the food she was used to. It must have come from the yesterday’s haul and it made Shera’s mouth water. She reached for it, but the chain was too short and she had to come up with a way to use one of the arrows lying around to get it.

After the snack, she felt how dry her mouth now was, but there was no water in the tent, only the spirits her father would keep around, and its smell was enough to make her nauseated. She pictured herself dying there of thirst. After all she had survived – the beatings, the death threats, the never ending guilt trips, the yelling and taunting, the running and more beatings – she would now die because of an old rusty chain. She lay back, her eyes filling with tears from the pain and from the feeling of hopelessness, her mind wandering.

It took her about half an hour before she realised the pole supporting the tent’s cloth was not actually attached to it in any way and the cloth held on it simply by its own weight. If she could lift the cloth up, she might be able to wriggle the chain under it and free it from the pole. There were some small baskets lying around within her reach, as well as the sack of oats and the sleeping bags of her father and herself. She gathered all the items she could reach and began stacking them up on one another. A took her a while to find a combination that remained stable and began climbing it. Finally she managed to reach the pole’s top and it took her all her strength to lift the sturdy cloth for the chain to move under it. The pile collapsed under her and she fell down on her back, nearly blacking out from the pain.

The chain was still attached to her wrist, but the loop at the other end was no longer hugging the pole. She was free to move. A wry smile formed on Shera’s lips as she got up and left the tent, stepping into broad daylight.

The carnage outside was unbelievable. The corpses of men she once knew and hated were now scattered all round the camp. Some were lucky enough to remain in one piece, having died of concussion or a crushed chest. Most, however, were not. She saw limbs torn from the rest of their bodies, torsos split open and gaping like a smashed piece of fruit. The place was ridden with flies and rats feasting on the flesh, and Shera realised with a pang of horror that soon the stench would attract larger creatures – foxes, wolves and perhaps even trolls.

She looked down by her feet where there were lying the remains of Rico Aers, her father. She had hated him for as long as she could remember because his alcohol habits, his raspy insults and threats and frequent beatings were the only things he had ever provided her with. Still, to her surprise, she felt a faint flutter of pity in her heart. She knelt down to him, holding her sleeve over her nose and mouth not to vomit from the stench, and took a silvery ring from his cold dead hand.

The ring was dirty and plain, featuring only a barely visible engraving of two intertwined branches. Shera had seen her father cradle the thing in his more sombre moments, and thought it might have had something to do with her mother, whom Rico had never spoken of. Still, it seemed possible that despite his nature he had actually loved Shera’s mother once. Shera took the ring and put it in her pocket.

She then proceeded to gather food and water, the chain clunking on the ground as she dragged it behind. She filled two small sacks with oats, some cheese and bacon she found on the wagon the men had taken yesterday, a few apples and pears and three flasks of water. Water was perhaps the scarcest commodity at the camp as the men preferred to drink ale or cheap spirits, but she managed to salvage some from the collapsed and burnt tents.

By the time she was ready to leave; the sun was already hanging above the western horizon and painting the sky red. She did not like the prospect of travelling through the forest in the dark, but remaining at the camp was too risky. In the past she had seen wolves roaming around in the dark of the woods when the men left the uneaten remains of deer or boar carcasses lying by the campfire to rot; and she knew they would come again tonight.

The ground felt solid beneath her feet, the air was warm and she was surrounded by lakes of yellow, red and brown as she made her way through the fallen leaves. She was light-headed at the beginning, her mind captivated by the prospect of freedom, by the thought of being able to go anywhere without being hunted down and brought back for a beating. Her optimist though soon turned into insecurity. She thought about where to go and could not find an answer. What would she do? Where would she live?

The only place she knew of was a little village called Port Llast sitting at the coast to the south. Her father and a handful of other men would travel there to trade some of the stolen gold for supplies, get updated on the news of the current political situation and spread lies about trolls extending their territory all the way to the trader’s route, which served as a cover up for the disappearing merchants. On a few occasions he would take little Shera with him, partly to prevent her from running from the camp, and partly to “teach her the bandit ways”.

Port Llast, as far as she could remember, was almost two full days of travel on foot away, and most of it was on a road winding its way through the forest. The armed men of the gang had seemed to be taking the road confidently enough, but a lonesome girl was a different story. As the sky was getting darker and darker, Shera kept persuading herself that the troll’s hunting grounds were located much deeper in the forest and far away from her. However there was still the issue of wolves and rabid dogs, not to mention other gangs of bandits that might be operating further down the road.

She soon stopped, exhausted by the journey, cold and hungry. She ate a bit of cheese and an apple, washed it down with half a flask of water, and dug herself under the fallen leaves to keep warm. She now thought about the town and the people in it. She vaguely remembered the merchants at the stalls, all smiles and grins when you flashed your gold at them, but angry and unpleasant once asked for something free of charge. Shera had nothing to trade on her – no jewels apart from the old silvery ring, no gold and no valuables. The only possessions she had were the bit of food she had taken to keep herself fed and the old rusty chain still hanging from her wrist.

What would she say? What would she ask for? What if the people at the village turned out as greedy and suspicious as her father? What if they took her for a slave runaway or a thief? Her heart sank as she closed her eyes and drifted into sleep.

She was floating again in an endless void, her legs kicking uselessly beneath her. The blackness around her again turned pale blue and she heard a familiar voice.

“Welcome back, my child.” Shera was glad to hear it. The voice was pleasant and reassuring that she was perhaps not alone. The voice continued:

“What I promised is done. You have your freedom, but I wonder – how long will it last? How long before you are enslaved by a pirate, robbed and killed by cutthroats or torn apart by wolves? And do not think you will be any safer in a town or a city. I know the merchants and lords of your realm. I have many of their souls down here with me,” Levistus paused to chuckle.

“Greedy and lustful and selfish – such are the people you seek help from. You remember what I said about the gods the last time we spoke? The mortal races were created by those gods in their own image. The mortals bear the same flaws. They only care for themselves. You will be treated like a slave again. Perhaps not leashed, but commanded and restrained. Your life will be similar to what you already know. I speak to you to offer you a different path. A path of freedom. A path of power.

I will gift you magical powers – such that do not require the arcane and never drain the source dry. Your magic will be limitless. I will grant you with a devil bound to your presence, ready to do your bidding. It will serve you and protect you. The fiend you saw last night was one of my trusted generals. He is known in the infernal tongue as Rmo’ the Tearer, feared even by other devils. If you serve me long and well, I will bind him to your soul, make him your soul mate, your servant and protector.

Your skin will thicken, your senses will sharpen and your mortal aging will come to a crawl. You will be admired and feared. The power I offer you will be the envy of any mortal being.

All I ask in return is your service to me. You will destroy the greedy merchants, the arrogant lords, the violent thugs and thieving pickpockets, the lying diplomats and spoiled brats, the selfish men and careless women. You will crush them all and bring their souls to me. The knights who flaunt their glamour and paladins who swear to protect the innocent, only to protect their own reputation. Those who swear to protect the weak and needy, but never came to your aid when you needed them the most. Those who betrayed you – you want them crushed and so do I. Make a pact with me. Promise me your service and I will give you all I promised and more.”

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Re: Shera Aers - Hellbound

Post by Aelipse1 » Wed Mar 22, 2023 6:39 pm

Part 7

On this day, Shera would have celebrated her tenth birthday, only she didn’t. She didn’t even have the slightest clue it was her birthday. Her father had never told her, never celebrated it, never mentioned it. It did not matter. He had hated her and now he was gone.

She was sitting in her room, wrapped in a warm woolen blanket, staring out of the window and pondering. Usually, she would be either sleeping or reading this late at night, hunched over her candle and an old book. She loved legends and stories of old, they made her thoughts wander and her imagination run wild. She would read all about pirates and bounty hunters, brave knights fighting dragons, paladins hunting for necromancers and elves waging wars on drow. Only instead of reading them to the end, she would close the book right before the catharsis and let her own mind finish the story they way she liked it: the pirates would escape the navy with a prized treasure, the knights were scorched or eaten alive by the dragon they had sought to defeat, the valiant paladin turned to a zombie by the lich and the proud elves overwhelmed and massacred by the forces of the Underdark.

She wasn’t reading tonight. Her mood was very somber this time, her eyes gazing at the full moon behind the window as it was drowning the whole city of Neverwinter in pale blue light. She had been living here for almost a year now, at the small mansion of Lady Clarissa, an elderly woman, lonely and frail. Lady Clarissa was the one to take pity on Shera when she was begging for food in the streets and took her home with her. Shera was supposed to do small chores around the house for food and shelter to help out the house maid, although it was clear to her that the old lady needed love more than dusting her furniture. She had lost her son in a battle almost two decades ago and her husband had died of sickness a few years after that. Lady Clarissa had been living alone since then.

Until the day she took Shera for her own. A dirty little girl from the streets with an innocent smile and curious eyes. At first, lady Clarissa had promised her food and new clothes, then she would offer her shelter for her work around the house and a few copper coins a week as payment. They both called it shelter, but to Shera it felt like home and she sensed that it was secretly intended that way. Clarissa taught her to read, took her to walks and rides and even meetings with her old friends. She presented her as her young maid “in training” and would always laugh off any remarks about Shera being more like her “long lost” daughter.

Shera felt in her heart that even though Lady Clarissa was the closest person she had ever had in her life, indeed very much a mother figure, it was actually her who needed Shera more than Shera needed her. It was this night that she again pondered why people would even seek emotion and comfort from other people, even strangers in the street, and where the Lady’s kindness came from. She had a vague idea deep in her heart of what love and compassion was, or at least what it must be like, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Everytime Clarissa had told her that she was like family to her, Shera couldn’t help but recoil a little, thinking of her abusive father.

The night was calm although chilly, the towers of Castle Never gleaming in the moonlight and only a few torches moved down below in the streets of the Blacklake District. The night was calm. For now.

The next day Shera woke up with a strange boost of energy and eagerness. She went to the dining hall, which was really just a fancy name for a room with a table and some old furniture, to greet Lady Clarissa and prepare breakfast for the two of them. The old Lady was sitting in her favourite cushioned chair, making herself busy with knitting. She gave Shera a warm smile and a nod, quietly humming a tune only she seemed to know. Shera went to the kitchen, started a fire and made a pair of boiled eggs. Now that she was ten years of age and experienced enough, Clarissa asked the house maid, Maria, to only come once per week to do the harder work, while Shera took care of the mundane day to day chores. It was cheaper that way and left Clarissa more time with Shera alone to read, sing and go for walks.

“What are you going to do this evening, my dear?” asked the Lady, when Shera put a plate with the boiled egg, a strip of bacon, a slice of bread and a cup of water in front of her. She was giving Shera this warm smile, hanging on every word the young maid might utter, clearly enjoying her presence and the conversation. Shera took seat with her plate at the opposite side of the round table, pondering for a moment before answering. She was allowed to go wherever she wanted in the afternoon after the house work has been done, even though it was often palpable that Clarissa would prefer Shera stay with her instead.

“There is a new trade ship at the docks. I’d like to see it up close.”

“Ah, my dear Shera,” Lady Clarissa leaned back, “always curious about the world. Well, you know what I am going to ask you. Be careful and stay safe. These sailors are rough people. Stay close to the guards.”

“I will, my Lady,” noded the girl with her mouth full.

The rest of the morning was mundane and nothing out of the ordinary: Shera was cooking, washing and cleaning, went to the market to buy food and some clothes Lady asked her to get, and before long it was afternoon and Shera’s time off. She wished Lady Clarissa a pleasant evening, promised again to be careful and off she went.

She made her way through the wide roads of Blacklake, dashed among the merchant stalls under the castle and then turned to the Beggar’s Nest instead of the docks. She hadn’t been there for almost a week now and was curious what new life was there to find.

The beggars were of all sorts. All of them poor and smelly, of course, but some were proud men that used to be merchants or soldiers before misfortune befell them, others were sick or lazy and uneducated to the point of being unemployable. Either way, they were all people that had nothing left, no one to look after them and most importantly, the Nest wasn’t a place to be patrolled by the city guards too eagerly. In fact, most guards serving duty here would just drink in the nearby tavern, letting the low life have their quarrels and brawls and sort their disputes out themselves. A perfect place for a head hunter.

Shera was clad in common clothes, better looking than that of the usual inhabitants of the Beggar’s Nest, but far too drab to be ever stopped by anyone, asked for a coin or even robbed. She was like a grey mouse in a rat house. She moved slowly now, observing her surroundings, making sure not to bump into anyone as the people here were quick to anger. She passed a place where she had been jumped by a rabid dog two weeks ago. The nasty thing bit her cloak and refused to let go, so she incinerated its head with an eldritch blast and threw its body in the sewers where it would be consumed by rats. She could still see the scorch marks on the pavement, left there by the intense heat. The worst thing was to mask the smell of burnt flesh caught by her clothes. She hunted here quite often, but she would blast her victims from at least a dozen strides away if she could help it, not allowing anyone to get near her.

There was a bearded man in a grey cloak and a hood over his head. He was standing away from all the other beggars and homeless people, which was uncommon, as in this time of the year they would usually gather around fires to keep warm. This man was obviously cold, but did not dare approach the others. From that, and from the fact that Shera did not recognise the man, she judged that he must have been new here. Possibly a soldier that lost his job or a merchant that got robbed of all his wealth. A bankrupt sailor hoping to start a new life in a new city. Either way, he didn’t seem to know anyone here, and nobody seemed to know him or care about him. An ideal target.

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Re: Shera Aers - Hellbound

Post by Aelipse1 » Mon Apr 10, 2023 12:50 pm

Part 8


“Garhyysa,” repeated Shera slowly.

“Garh’yza.” The imp was perched on the old wardrobe of Shera’s room, its wings folded, eyes shimmering in the dark. Shera, sitting on her bed, now leaned back on the wall and sighed.

“This is difficult.”

“Nobody said it would be easy,” said the imp without opening its mouth. Shera and Dorzo, as the little devil was called, shared a very special bond. He was her soul mate, bound to her. She was able to talk to him in a universal language of pure thought, without having to move her lips or use words of any particular tongue. She knew what he was feeling and could almost see through his eyes. The bond worked both ways, allowing Dorzo to know what his little twelve-years old mistress was thinking whenever she so desired.

“Tell me stories of Stygia and the Blood War.”

The imp stared at her blankly from the dark corner under the ceiling for a moment.

“It’s cold,” he conveyed finally, through his thought. “Think of the coldest you have ever been in your life, and now consider that to be warm and pleasant compared to plains of Stygia. There is no place on Toril that comes even remotely close to it in harshness and hostility. It’s where souls of warm-loving creatures are sent to suffer. The plains seem to be infinite in size and many believe that they indeed are, although I personally think that that is impossible. Nevertheless, everywhere you look, everywhere you travel, there is nothing but ice, blue and white, with stalactites rising from the ground, sharp as swords, towering high into the sky under an unchanging dark layer of clouds.”

“Have you seen much of Toril? Surely there must be places where it gets hellishly cold as well? I heard stories of giant glaciers and cold plains far in the north.”

Dorzo waited patiently for Shera to finish her question before answering.

“I have not been to the north of your world personally, no, but I just know that the Fifth Hell is and always will be colder. For us Baatezu, some things are just common knowledge. Would you like to proceed with our lesson now?”

Shera yawned.

“Tomorrow. I am tired now.”

The winged creature nodded and disappeared into thin air as Shera waved him away with a motion of her hand.

The next day she was woken up by birds chirping and sunlight emanating into the room through the thick windows. It was Spring time and the sun was already fairly high in the sky, even though it was still quite early in the morning. This was the first sunny day after a tenday of mostly just rain.

Shera got up and went to prepare breakfast for Lady Clarissa and herself, just as she had been doing almost every day for the past two years. The Lady was in a good mood today, smiling from ear to ear at the sight of her young maid, and after the usual chit-chat about the weather, Lady Clarissa invited Shera for a walk to the market. She was close to seventy years old now, but still surprisingly energetic and eager to live each day to the fullest – a life style that Shera had observed to grow in her mistress since the day she adopted her from the streets.

After about an hour outside, when they were leaving the market and heading to the city gate to extend their walk into the nearby woods, Clarissa turned to Shera:

“How do you wish to spend your life, my dear?” Shera was taken aback by the sudden shift of Lady’s tone, from the usual banter about jewelery, horses and flowers to a more serious, even sombre mood.

“What do you mean, my lady?” replied Shera. She chose an innocent and sheepish tone of voice, while secretly searching in her mistress’ eyes for any hints of suspicion regarding her connections to the Baatezu or her nightly murderous excursions. “No, she has no idea,” thought Shera to herself with relief.

“What I mean by that, my child, is that I am old and won’t be around for very much longer. You will of course inherit the mansion and whatever wealth is left...”

“My lady!”

“Oh hush now, my dear. I have already made up my mind. There is no one else I have left and I really want you to have a bright future. However, living a life of a noble of not for everyone, and besides, there is not enough wealth left to last a lifetime. You have your entire life in front of you and there is also eagerness, a thirst for adventure and excitement in your eyes. I know, I used to be young as well,” she chuckled and looked away. “Tobiah, who is a dear friend of mine, as you know, is acquainted with an archmage from the Tower. You are old enough to join the ranks of mages if you desire to learn magic. I can arrange it.”

Shera took a moment to answer. She was eager to learn more magic and grow in power, of course, but she knew that experienced mages could reveal her true nature given enough time and that she just could not risk.

“I appraciate the offer, my lady, I really do, but I don’t feel that magic is really my domain. I have always been more attracted to music and art and would perhaps like to persue that path instead.”

“Oh? I had no idea that our little harp sessions would have such an impact on you,” Clarissa now smiled with her eyes. “I will talk to my friends and see if there is a school for talented artists we could send you to.”

Shera blushed. She had obviously no intention of studying music, even though she had to admit it to herself that music did soothe her. She would now have to come up with an excuse not to attend any school that Clarissa might find for her for two reasons. Firstly, her hunger for power was growing, which meant that she needed to kill more people and gather more souls every day, and that was too time-consuming already, and secondly, getting to know other people like lecturers and classmates was dangerous.

In the course of the past two years or so she had taken souls of too many beggars and vagabonds to pass unnoticed by the authorities, not to mention the occasional slip when she would incinerate a drunk merchant whom she mistook for a homeless person or a guard that caught her in the act and had to be silenced before he could alarm the others. She noticed that the number of watchmen in the Beggar’s Nest had increased during the past year, and there also have been various rumours circulating the city, ranging from complete nonsense about hungry trolls to fairly close ones about a witch roaming the streets under the veil of the dark and taking lives of people for her own amusement. Under these circumstances it was incredibly dangerous to regularly meet with people that could soon start noticing her strange habits and ask inconvenient questions, before putting the pieces together.

Clarissa and herself did not mention the topic of future or education for the rest of the walk, returning to the more light-hearted topic of gardening and pets on their way back to the mansion, but Shera felt that this was something she would have to spend more time thinking through.

The sun was still high in the sky when they returned from the walk. The air was filled with fragrance of blossoming trees and the city river shined and glittered with golden sunlight. “It was a beautiful day,” said Shera when she was preparing supper. Clarissa cheerfully agreed.

After the meal the Lady asked Shera to play the harp with her. There were two harps in the guest room next to the fireplace. One belonged to the mistress and had been there since her youth, the other one Lady Clarissa bought for Shera to teach her to play. At this point Shera was proficient enough to be able to accompany the Lady or even play duets with her, playing and singing known songs or just improvising. This day was no different. Lady Clarissa started with her favourite song while Shera joined in, then they played a song Shera liked and the rest of the evening was spent in sombre, delightful improvisation.

“I think you have chosen a beautiful path, Shera. You really do have talent,” concluded the mistress when the last note was still hanging in the air, slowly dying away and disappearing into silence.

“I really do have a great teacher,” replied Shera with a warm smile.

That night Shera lay on her bed in thoughts, staring at the ceiling, her mind wondering. She thought about other girls of her age, what they were doing and what they were like. Probably studying or training some skill if they were lucky, working in the fields if less so, or even worse: begging in the streets, just like Shera used to. She owed her food and the roof over her hear to Lady Clarissa, just like now she owed her her future – the promised heritage and the possibility of education. Yet, she couldn’t bring herself to feel grateful, not in all honesty. Instead she was worried that her life style might be disrupted by having to attend to whatever lessons Lady Clarissa finds for her.

“Do you wish to start with new vocabulary?” conveyed Dorzo to Shera telepathically. The imp was, as per usual, perched on the top of the old wardrobe opposite to Shera’s bed.

“Not today. No lessons for me today, please,” answered Shera without speaking a single word out loud.

“Why have you summoned me then?”

“I like your company.”

The imp did not reply to that, only remained staring at her with his tiny shining eyes. Shera sighed.

“Garh’yza,” said the girl finally, pronouncing the word loud and clear.

“Well done,” said Dorzo in the Infernal tongue. His voice was high-pitched and raspy, like croaking of a raven, but more menacing.

“How many more words do I need to know in the Infernal tongue?” asked Shera, again fully in the language of Baatezu.

“Many many more. Learning a language is a long process. But you will need it. You are already making a great progress.”

“Progress,” repeated the girl in the foreign language to practice the pronunciation. The door creaked and opened.

“Shera? Who are you talking t...” breath left Lady Clarissa mid-sentence as her eyes met with those of the imp. She was standing there in her nightdress, petrified, her face turning even paler in the moonlight. “What is that?” stuttered the woman, taking a step back.

“No,” conveyed the girl telepathically to Dorzo when she noticed him preparing to attack. Then she turned to Clarissa: “My lady!”

The elderly noble shook her head in disbelief and turned to run down the hallway. Shera sprang out of the bed and persued the old woman with Dorzo’s wings flapping right behind her. Clarissa was surprisingly quick for her age, being scared to death probably playing a role, but Dorzo was quicker. She was just about to reach the main door when the imp’s body slammed into her head. She was flung onto the floor and before she could move, Shera was on top of her.

“What... are you?” let Clarissa out when her eyes met with Shera’s. The girl didn’t answer, instead her hands found their way around the Lady’s throat. “Please, don’t hurt me. I won’t tell anyone, I swear,” pleaded the woman, tears now rolling down her cheeks. Shera squeezed harder. ,,Shera, my dear,” whispered the old Lady, her voice muffled by the lack of breath, “please, pleaaaaase...” Shera held firmly. The woman’s arms flailed uselessly for a moment, but no more words came out of her mouth. After a few seconds she was motionless, her eyes idly fixed on the ceiling. Shera released her grip and climbed down from her. The imp stared at her, radiating excitement.

“Help me drag her to the cellar,” she conveyed to Dorzo soundlessly and they both began to move the still warm limp body on the old carpet, down the flight of stairs and left her at the coolest place of the mansion where Clarissa stored wine.

“I am impressed with your efficiency,” said the imp finally when Shera closed the cellar door and locked it. “Most of your kind would hesitate.”

“There is no time for that,” replied the girl. “I need to gather my thoughts now and get some sleep. I will summon you tomorrow.” The winged devil nodded to that and disappeared as Shera waved him away with a familiar gesture.

That night she spent almost an hour staring out of the window. In was a warm night, the first one after almost half a year of cold and bleak weather, and people were still outside, drinking and talking around the taverns. Lady Clarissa used to love warm evenings like this, and in the summer, they would both stay up late, playing music, telling stories or chatting with her like-minded friends. All those memories now merely flashed through Shera’s mind as she was focusing on her next course of action.

The next morning she woke up surprisingly fresh and full of life. She jumped out of bed and went to the kitchen to make some breakfast. The house was completely quiet and empty. It was just her and nobody else. The feeling of freedom was envigorating.

When chewing on a slice of cheese at the dining table, she waved her hand and uttered the incantation in the Infernal tongue. There was a flash of light and Dorzo appeared next to her.

“I want to discuss my plan with you,” said Shera, using the language of Baatezu. The Imp settled on the backrest of the opposite chair, listening. “It’s the Third day of the tenday. Maria comes in every Ninth day to wash the bed sheets. That gives us six days before anyone notices that something is amiss.”

“Do you wish to leave?”

“Is there any other option? We could arrange it in such a way that Clarissa died of natural causes or got lost on a walk, never to be seen again, but that is far too risky. Besides, I had no intention of staying anyway. People in the city are already suspicious.”

“Very well. Where do you intend to go then?”

“There is a couple of merchant... how do you say...”

“Krykk. Ships,” answered the imp, reading the thoughts that Shera allowed him to read.

“Ah, yes. Most of the ships sail the routes to other cities along the Sword Coast. There is a good chance that we might catch one to Luskan or Waterdeep. Truth be told, I would prefer south over north, and I have also heard a lot of fantastic stories about Waterdeep.

I have a favour to ask, Dorzo. I need you to help me wrap Clarissa in as many layers of cloth as we can find. Since it’s finally getting warmer outside, the body will be decomposing quicker and the stench could give us away.”

“I have a better idea,” said Dorzo, grinning a wicked grin.

Last edited by Aelipse1 on Sun Sep 10, 2023 2:14 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Shera Aers - Hellbound

Post by Aelipse1 » Sat Sep 09, 2023 7:58 pm

Part 9

Creaking of the bed underneath her was the first thing Shera heard when she woke up. She rubbed her eyes and sat up. The smell of cheese hit her nose almost at the same time as her belly rumbled from hunger. The mouth-watering fragrance was pouring through the old wooden door and filling her entire cabin. She yawned, got up, got dressed and went out to join the others for breakfast.

Today’s speciality was grilled cheese with fresh white bread, honey and grapes. She bid good morning to the two men sitting at the table, filled her plate and started feasting. The grapes were not as fresh as the day before but they tasted good nonetheless. Shera thought to herself that it’s only logical for the crew to serve the short-lasting fruit first and leave the more durable edibles for later. She savoured every bite to the fullest, thinking how lucky she was that her plan had worked out.

“Is everything to your satisfaction, miss Nora?” asked the cook of her when he came out of the kitchen to bring more warm, freshly baked bread.

“Oh, absolutely!” replied Shera eagerly, adding a whiff of the noble accent she had picked up from lady Clarissa. “I shall definitely recommend your services to my father.” The cook smiled, bowed his head and disappeared behind the kitchen door again.

After breakfast, Shera climbed to the deck to enjoy a bit of sunlight and the chilly morning breeze. The weather was impeccable. The sky was all the bright shades of blue she could have imagined with an occasional cloud sailing across, much like the ship she was now sailing across the Sea of Swords. Dwindle Star, as she was called, was a galleon of middle class, although to Shera, who had never sailed before in her life, the vessel looked overwhelmingly huge. At times she was pondering how something as massive as two large houses can even stay afloat, and how the gentle sea wind can push it so fast across the waters.

She leaned on the railing and gazed into the distance, seeing nothing but waves and clouds in a never-ending palette of blue. She was wondering how far she was from the city of Neverwinter now, on the third day of the voyage. A hundred miles perhaps? That seemed far enough from all the people that might be looking for her now, back in Neverwinter, if anyone was searching for her at all.

Shera smiled a wicked smile when she was sure nobody was looking, proud of herself for outsmarting so many people. Her plan was going so well that it almost seemed too perfect to be true. The day after she had killed lady Clarissa, she went to the city bank to withdraw some gold on her lady’s behalf. She was pretty good at faking her signature, and since Shera’s running errands for the old lady had been a common sight for a long time in the city, it didn’t occur to anyone that something might be amiss. She obviously couldn’t have withdrawn too much as that would raise suspicion, so she decided to further improve upon her financial situation by selling some of the valuables she found around the mansion. Jewellery was easy to sell, even though she was selling probably significantly under price. For clothes and silverware it was a little bit more difficult to find a buyer, but to her surprise it ended up making more money than the jewels.

Getting rid of the evidence and setting the crime scene was partially Dorzo’s idea. She had spent two afternoons on her knees wiping the blood off the floor, which was annoying, but not as annoying as trying to write a ‘goodbye letter’ in Clarissa’s handwriting. The letter was meant to reach Clarissa’s old friends that had known her for decades, so it was important that the handwriting was impeccable. She had produced so many copies of it before she was satisfied with it that the content of the letter remained imprinted in her mind. It read:

“My most beloved friends, with excited yet serious heart I bid goodbye to you. We laughed together, shared memories and enjoyed each other’s company for years and I cherished every moment of it. Now that I have Shera in my life, who, as you know, is like a daughter to me, I want to indulge in that youthful eagerness to discover the world once more. She and I will be embarking on a journey to destinations even I do not dare predict. I do hope to return to you to share the stories of our adventures soon. Keep me in your thoughts as I will keep you in mine, and forgive me the means of this goodbye as I didn’t have the heart to say it in person. With lots of love, Clarissa.”

Shera suspected that the recipients might not fall for the letter that easily, but even if it sowed a tiny seed of doubt in their minds it would have been a success. By the time maid Maria would discover the letter in the empty mansion, Shera would have been hundreds of miles away anyway, known to the people around her as Nora, a daughter of a wealthy merchant from the south.

And Clarissa’s body? Shera and Dorzo didn’t leave it hidden in the mansion, wrapped in blankets to contain the stench, nor did they drag the body to the docks at night to dump it in the dark murky waters. No. Dorzo had come up with a far more grisly way of disposing of the remains of the kind old lady, and Shera liked it. She shuddered with excitement only thinking about it. Let’s just say that the rats in the docks would take too long to consume the body in one piece and they’d leave a full skeleton behind. Their appetite was therefore satiated in much more manageable portions.

Shera fixed her rather expensive dress and exhaled quietly to relieve her excitement somewhat. She had enough gold to buy a small house and all the freedom to do as she wished. All she needed was a believable story to tell to the inquiring minds and enough caution when getting rid of them. While many of her peers were still playing with sticks in mud, her life had already taught her to only look forward and never stop in front of anything.

Two men, wealthy passengers, standing at the port side were pointing at something in the distance. Shera squinted. It looked like a tooth rising up from the horizon, so far away it was barely visible against the white-blue hue of the air. The Sword Mountains, she heard one of the men say to the other. If she remembered the map correctly, that was almost half-way to her destination. Waterdeep was likely within four more days of voyage and closer with every minute.

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