Sai’on’ay gritted his teeth as he headed for the gates at first light. Another town full of useless people. It seemed the whole of Faerûn was like this – either fools or thieves. Nothing in the human nations felt like the civilisation of home, though even that peace had been irrevocably shattered. Still, at least conversation with most Elves of Cormanthor was dignified and respectful, not like what passed for discussion amongst Men here in these parts.
There was no sense in dwelling further on the subject, though, and with little further thought of the denizens within, Sai’on’ay strode beneath the crude stonework of the western gate of Esmeltaran, and resumed his travels.
The contact he had hoped to meet had left over a day ago, a poorly-spoken innkeeper had begrudgingly informed him after some pressure, and had – maybe – headed west, along the caravan routes. Paved roads made for swift passage for anyone in a hurry, and if the man he sought had obtained a cart or better, a fresh horse, Sai’on’ay estimated that he may already be most of the way to Crimmor. Such a route typically would continue thence to Athkatla, and Sai’on’ay knew that if this man’s intent was to escape him, it would be there, with access to other trade roads and the sea, that he would slip away permanently.
He was disturbed from his ruminations by the angry shout of a caravan driver, who had to pull hard on the reins in order to wrench his team of horses around the brooding mage. Sai’on’ay’s head snapped up just in time to see the animals thunder past him, and a squat, ruddy man on the cart who was presently shouting expletives as he went by the Elf.
Glaring back at the man, Sai’on’ay gripped his staff a little tighter and instinctively wove his fingers in a simple pattern often practised, the illusion of a boulder on the path forming in his mind as he scanned the road ahead of the caravan driver for an appropriate place to- perhaps not. After all, the man had done him no harm – quite the opposite, in fact – and there was no sense in making an enemy over such a trivial matter. He lowered his hand, and the Weave smoothed out once more, the caravan continuing unimpeded along the road towards Esmeltaran.
Sai’on’ay shook his head and resumed his march, mentally resolving to disallow contemplations distracting him from potential threats on the road. It would not do to be caught off-guard by brigands here, and though the trade routes through Amn were held in the highest regard, yet still there were places where the opportunistic or malicious could lurk unseen. It would take a day and a half at least to reach Crimmor, and the path would take him through a small but dense thicket of woods near where the river bent towards the road, near as not to dusk.
For now though, the path was clear, and the rising Sun swiftly banished the shadows about, so Sai’on’ay allowed his thoughts to wander once more, while keeping a watch on the road ahead.
The day was uneventful, but as the Sun sunk towards the western horizon, Sai’on’ay approached the woods with a wary eye. The Stunted Oaks, as this area was known, was not truly large enough to be called a forest, and the trees here grew thick, but not tall, causing the canopy to be much lower and feel more oppressive than the massive, glorious forests of his homeland.
The path was reasonable though, and remained clearly cut into the ground, and circumventing the woods would add at least an extra half day to the journey, so the choice was clear. Maintaining the confidence of his stride, the Wizard continued on beneath the foliage.
The shadows deepened as dusk settled, and a soft arrangement of music began from the wildlife beneath the canopy, each tiny creature acknowledging the loss of the Sun and the dropping temperature. Elven eyesight was easily a match for the muted twilight however, and Sai’on’ay pressed on. Making it through the woods before he stopped for the night would gain some much-needed time on his quarry, and by his reckoning it would be safer to camp on the open road than here beneath the trees.
It was only an hour into the night when he first sensed that he may not be the only sentient being in the thicket. Choosing a projection of confidence over obvious caution, he maintained his pace while nonetheless focussing on his senses in efforts to determine the location and possible intent of the intruder. The sounds grew closer, and suddenly he realised there was more than one, and that they were carefully surrounding him.
Tightening his grip on his staff, he came to a halt, and drew his thoughts together into a familiar mindset. The Weave glimmered into view, suffusing all things with its essence, and with his free hand he made a small, regular gesture, waiting until the first assailant entered into view before uttering a single word, and throwing his hand upwards. A spray of glittering sparks flew upward, briefly illuminating the leaves of the canopy before they burst outward from the centre and scattered, fading from view.
“That’s a very pretty trick, Wizard, but we aren’t afraid of tricks here,” the man before him said in a rough voice, smiling at the Elf as he hefted a large axe with both hands, “What we do know, don’t we gentlemen,” he continued, gesturing about as three more men stepped from the shadows with weapons and torches, “Is that your type often comes laden with the kinds of wealth we tend to enjoy taking.” He paused briefly, and, receiving no reply, went on, “Well now, it seems that was all this Elf had to show us. A pity, but no matter. Perhaps he is scared?”
Two of his men chuckled at that, and the leader fixed Sai’on’ay with a look, the smile disappearing. “There is nothing in these woods that scares us, little Wizard. We will happily escort you to its boundary, in exchange for your valuables. We tend to find that people who refuse this generous offer…have difficulty finding their way out,” he said, patting the handle of his axe to emphasise the point.
Sai’on’ay nodded, feigning obedience, and slipping a hand under his cloak, carefully withdrew what appeared to the bandit leader to be a dark, precious jewel, a couple of inches long and cut into careful facets. He stepped forward hesitantly, appearing to falter and stumble, then dropped to the side and flicked his hand out, tendrils of magic extending from his fingertips and causing the underbrush near one of the bandits to burst into flame. The man yelped and dropped his torch, further inflaming the kindling, as he sought frantically to leap out of the range of the fire.
Seeking to capitalise on the disturbance, Sai’on’ay sprang to his feet and made to escape, but his path was swiftly blocked by the bandit leader, his powerful frame closing the distance quicker than expected. “Wrong choice,” he said, unconcealed eagerness in his voice, as he brought the axe to bear and swung at the Elf. It went wide, however, as Sai’on’ay hurriedly stepped away from the assailant, and turned to come face to face with another of the bandits.
The man raised his mace but the Wizard was quicker, surprising him by leaping forward and touching a crude necklace on the bandit’s neck, speaking rapid words of command as his arcane focus flared with brilliance. The incandescent gem swiftly faded as it was channelled into the necklace, and the bandit reared back as bright light emanating from his good luck charm blinded him before he could land a blow. Sai’on’ay ducked away from the man then cried out as pain lanced his arm, a crossbow bolt slicing his flesh as it narrowly avoided burying itself in his shoulder.
He looked up to see the fourth man reloading his crossbow, and hurriedly spoke the words of command as he tugged urgently at the Weave with his fingertips. The flames licking the bandits’ torches shuddered and drew inwards towards the mage, flickering out of existence before they reached him. The thicket suddenly grew dimmer with only the flames in the underbrush for illumination, then became a lot dimmer for Sai’on’ay as the haft of the leader’s axe slammed into the back of his head, and the Wizard collapsed to the ground, fighting for consciousness.
With the magically-contrived fire gutting out, the crossbowman sought to reignite his torch as the bandit leader stepped towards the groaning Elf. Sai’on’ay pulled his cloak about himself a little, trying to regain composure as his head pounded, the Weave fading from view with his concentration lost. He sensed the leader approaching, and winced as he forced his mind back into order, and twirled his hand in a brief but complex motion. The arcane focus glowed briefly beneath the cloak, then faded once more.
Raising his axe triumphantly over the Wizard, the bandit leader prepared to end his life, but stopped suddenly as the sound of trumpets came from the north-west. Familiar trumpets. The call of the Flaming Fist, on patrol and beginning a new march to keep the trade routes clear. Cursing his luck, he and the other bandits began looking around rapidly for cover, hiding amongst the trees once more as the sound of armoured men began to approach.
Sai’on’ay took the opportunity to pull himself to his feet, and stagger off in the opposite direction, leaning on his staff for support and keeping a tight hold of his arcane focus with the other hand. As the illusory reinforcements faded from earshot with the spell’s expiration, he sunk to the ground once more, his head wracked with pain. Leaning up against a boulder, and with significant effort, he wove illusions about his resting place, concealing himself from further intrusion.
This was not a good place, but it would have to do. Sai’on’ay slipped into his reverie, sinking a little deeper than usual, but nonetheless keeping his senses as alert as he was able through the pain.
Unaccosted for the remainder of the night, with the bandits choosing to cross the river and hide their tracks, Sai’on’ay rose from his reverie in the morning, shoulder stinging and head still pounding, but alive and able to resume his journey. The night’s experience had chosen caution for him this morning, and after a wary track through the trees, he emerged gratefully on the other side before the Sun reached its zenith.
With the outskirts of vague civilisation beginning to appear in the distance, Sai’on’ay continued past the occasional farm and homestead, and traffic increased on the road once more. He passed caravans and travellers alike, eschewing conversation with all, until at last, after a curt conversation with a member of the Town Guard and the transfer of a few coins from the Elf’s pouch to the guard’s hand, he entered Crimmor, the Caravan Capital of Amn.
Seeking to tarry only one night, rest and heal, then make it to Athkatla by the following afternoon, the Wizard strode through the aptly named Tent District, a large marketplace full of temporary stalls for travelling merchants to seek to lighten their loads before continuing to the nation’s capital. He passed eager salespeople, busy servants, the occasional pampered noble issuing orders, and spied a sign advertising a room broker for temporary accommodation.
As he headed towards the broker, he overheard snippets of conversation from various sources. Largely mercantile chatter and the reproach of servants, then filtering through that, a voice distinctly Elven, protesting the not-unkind teasing of a Halfling who appeared older than her.
“You do realise that every time you give these urchins your food, more are going to ask you to feed them?” said the Halfling, smiling as he pulled his cloak around him.
“But they look so hungry Emil… They have nothing here in the city. At least in the forest it’s easy to find good food; here they have to beg for scraps,” the Elven girl said, gesturing around, before her face broke into a huge grin, “Besides, did you see that last one? He was so happy for a piece of bread that he hugged me!”
Her companion, Emil, laughed, “Actually, he stole your purse.”
“What? No…but…” she said, as her face fell.
Sai’on’ay shook his head at the naïveté, and continued, only to be stopped moments later as a young child suddenly crashed into him, wobbling as he tried to recover balance, and clutching a purse tightly to his chest. The tall Elf glared down at the boy, briefly taking in that the purse looked too ornate to be of human design, before flicking his hand and scattering angry red sparks at his feet, causing the boy to yelp and stumble backwards in fear.
“Hey, don’t hurt him!” came the voice of the Elven girl, rushing over to the commotion, “He’s just a- hey, that IS my purse!”
She checked the boy over to ensure he was not hurt, gently retrieving her purse in the process, and looked up at Sai’on’ay. “He’s just a boy; you don’t have to scare him like that,” she said.
The Wizard affixed her with a look. “You should pay more attention to your belongings, rather than worrying about the fate of petty thieves,” he said, and dismissed them both, turning on his heel to head off and engage the room broker in conversation. The Elven girl made a face at his back, and headed back to her mentor to continue their business.
A few minutes and ten silver later, and Sai’on’ay was being shown to a nearby inn, and a room promised to be secluded and comfortable, somewhere an Elf could rest and recover for the night.
Having largely recovered from his wounds through the benefit of an unimpeded rest, Sai’on’ay rose in the morning and