Crow stared into the fire and reflected on the day. He was a tall man, lean and wiry, muscular but not musclebound. His yellow eyes reflected the fire, which warmed his skin from its usual pallor. He would have liked to blame his complexion on the year without sun up here in the ass end of the Forgotten Realms. He scoffed to think about it. Forgotten. He’d never thought about Toril growing up, and only the vagaries of Fate had brought him here. Fate… and those damned creatures.
He sat in the common room of the inn, Buried Treasures, in the town of Bremen; one of the Ten Towns of Icewind Dale. He and one other were on watch. That other was a pale skinned dwarf, bald with tattoos on his head, and a bound beard. Skinny for a dwarf, but still huskier than a human of the same proportions would be. He knew the dwarf’s secret, but he and Ripper Cobb had worked out an understanding. They were on watch together, whiling away the middle hours of the night, the Iron Watch. The one that began with the Witching Hour.
It had been a rough day, to say the least. Burying the Fairedylns in their basement, swearing quietly while the wizard pretended not to hear. The taste of the words had hung on his lips. There was something holy about them. They were words he had sworn before, but somehow they had more weight.
Waiting, the boring waiting, the less… scary… members of the party tried to entertain the children.
The children, no, the orphans… gods. His own history played in gory detail behind his eyes. How many orphans were his fault?
And then the meeting. The White Druid and the tiefling spellcaster. Avarice was her name. They’d talked it out, decided that when the druid left they would take down the tiefling. She had been in charge of the bloody pumpkins. She was somehow part of the White Rat network.
That made the White Druid “number 15”. They had charged out, engaged the witch in combat, and then the fire. Flames eating at his skull, burning his flesh. Then darkness, for just a moment.
But in that moment. That feeling, when the blackness had claimed him… something inside… moving…
But the light, that gentle warmth that pulled him back. Warmth he had not felt since his home. And the girl was the source. Her face and her hair danced in his memory. So much like Xylomena. She could be a spitting image. But she could not be a reincarnation. Xylomena was only dead this last year, and the girl, Lumikki, had a much longer life than that.
Crow listened once more to the quiet of the night. The moose call had not repeated itself, but he was certain it was the White Druid’s moose. There was awareness in that thing. Similar to the poor White Rat. He chuckled.
“What are you laughing at?” The dwarf’s drawl, so different than the ones here from Kelvin’s Cairn.
“Just the symmetry of it. The moose, the druid, the rat. All white.”
“Hrm,” Ripper grunted.
Crow’s face itched, the left side, the one facing the witch’s spell.
“Time for another round. How long until we wake Zal and… Mal. Gods, they’d kill me if I said that out loud.”
“One might try,” Ripper laughed.
“Money’s on the barbarian.”
“So the glass says half a bell,” said Ripper.
“Time for one more walk. I’ll be back.” Crow suited action to word and levered his lean frame up out of the chair. He prowled through the lower level of the inn, through the quiet and cold rooms, disturbing only a small mouse as he moved through the area. A pause by the rooms of the inn’s owners to hear quiet snoring. The matronly Cora seemed to be sleeping fitfully. He wondered briefly what the connection to the hag, the witch, and the supposed “black ice” that had been mentioned earlier. How much could he believe that story, if at all? Still, the woman was kind to them, and seemed to be almost a mother to Nikolai and Lumikki, and if the girl was going to trust this woman, Crow decided that he would too.
“What are you doing?” he muttered to himself. Xylomena was dead, and there was nothing he could do about it, except find her and kill her. He’d seen what she’d become. Nothing of who she had been was left.
And you’re next, his darkest fears taunted him.
With a quiet snarl Crow returned from his patrol of the lower level. Back in the common room he took a look at the dwarf again. A strange comrade, but Zak vouched for him. Why and how would have to be a future question, if any of them made it that far. Ripper Cobb was studying his hand, holding it up toward the fire, seemingly mystified by its appearance. It wasn’t the weirdest behavior Crow had ever witnessed in an arcanist.
At the foot of the stairs, Crow shucked his heavy boots, and went up. The heavy soles would cause him to clunk back and forth and maybe wake everyone else. He moved slowly through the halls, mouth slightly open and breathing deeply and slowly. First past Zalefrax and Malser’s room. The strange man was some kind of spellcaster. His sword was uncanny, to say the least, gilt and beautiful.
The barbarian was snoring softly. Another strange man. He had none of the tattoos common amongst the Elk tribe that Crow knew, his age indeterminate. He seemed eager for the fight, at least.
Next past Lumikki and Nikolai’s room. He heard one of the wolves shift to the door and snuffle at its base as he passed. Apparently his scent was acceptable, for the wolf yawned and lay down again, its bulk pushing against the door.
He returned to the common area and sat with Ripper for the next half hour. Eventually their watch concluded. They moved upstairs. Cobb retreated to the room while Crow opened Malcer and Zalefrax’s door. He cautiously woke Zalefrax, who was sleeping on his side, cradling his exotic sword like a lover. The human’s eyes snapped open and he locked eyes with Crow. Yellow eyes met yellow, and Crow felt a little of his soul stir. Something in those eyes unsettled him.
The spellcaster came awake without any of the usual sluggishness that most people had. The transition to from fully asleep to fully awake happened instantly, as though he had not been sleeping. “Time for watch?”
“Aye. Nothing happened for ours, just that damn elk squalled a few times. Could mean the that white druid is at it.”
Zalefrax considered Crows words for a moment, but nodded. “I’ll get him up,” the spellcaster nodded toward the gently snoring warrior.
Crow nodded, then left for his shared room. Cobb was already asleep, or whatever passed for sleep with the dwarf. Relaxed, he seemed… very still. Crow stared at him for a few moments, then shucked his boots and took off his armor.
“Ye look like a chicken without a head when you do that,” the dwarf mumbled. Crow growled and shook off the chainmail. He lay down on the straw mattress and pulled over the heavy furs. Three more hours of sleep. Maybe some rest would come of it.
He lay there, eyes closed, shifting every now and then, but sleep was elusive. Positive memories, maybe that would do the trick? Did he have any positive memories anymore? No, not really. Every time he thought of Xylomena he thought about the thing she had become.
“It’s your fault,” whispered a voice in his head.
Go away, Sathiel, he thought back. The presence retreated.
Sleep finally came over him. As the blanket of blackness closed in he felt it, almost dreaded it. Then he was out.
Then he wasn’t in his bed anymore. Soft, gray light without source surrounded him. At first Crow thought he was floating, but then details started to filter in. There was a stone floor under his feet; old, old cobbles, ancient grout made of ages upon ages of wear. The stones were smooth, worn under countless feet. Walls were next. They rose out of the gray light, but they didn’t move. They were there, and had always been. In front of him now was a wall, and two bonfires flanking a dais. An empty throne topped the dais.
White banners hung from the walls flanking the throne, only they weren’t banners, he realized. They were scrolls; scrolls with names on them. So many names… Hundreds, thousands… tens of thousands? He could not count them all.
“You are summoned, Son of Noldovir.” Two figures now stood in front of the empty throne, both dressed in dark plate armor. One male, one female. It was the woman that spoke.
She appraised him frankly, without rancor. Her hair was bound tightly behind her head, iron grey with streaks of silver, but still thick. She stood tall and proud, perhaps more so than her companion, and though her face was lined with age, her eyes carried the weight of experience. Here was a being that had stood her tests, faced her trials, and came out the other side with confidence enough to move mountains.
“How do you know my name?” asked Crow. He had not heard his surname in quite some time.
“Cormorant Noldovir, third son of Neris and Dasorin, from the island of Vedrian, on the planet Coliar. I am Lord Doomwarden Alcon Vex. I speak to you in a dream, as there is presently no way for me to get to you physically.”
Doomwardens! Hoar’s name had come to his lips readily, his pledges had been said in his heart. A divinity that seemed to desire what he desired: vengeance, justice, retribution… but how had he attracted their attention here, of all places. The Ten Towns were about as far removed as it was possible to get from anywhere on Faerun.
Vex turned up the corner of her lip in a smirk. “Your lips to Hoar’s ears, his wish on feathered wings to mine. I can see you have your own guide standing somewhere there, but she can’t interfere with this. Know then that Hoar has heard your prayers, and taken measure of your oath, but most especially he has noticed your willingness to die to see vengeance delivered. Your actions against the wizard this day cemented the decision of the Doombringer. Do you know who we are?”
“Knights of Hoar, carrying vengeance to the wicked.”
“Punishing those who do wrong. We are less concerned with the niceties than those spotless fools who bow and scrape to Tyr. We are not the arbiters of the law, we are its executioners.”
“And you know of those who have wronged me, whom I am pledged to destroy?”
“I do. I also know that you fear they have wounded you deeper than you know. Know then that your fears have merit. But then, you already knew that, or so I was told.” She paced a little and then turned to look at
Crow again. “I like what I see, I like what I have heard. You stood down a creature that by all rights was the death of you, but you have also shirked your duty in the past.”
Crow winced, then nodded. “And I was punished for it as well,” he admitted. Sachiel’s words of condemnation hung in his heart.
“The light has abandoned you, and your darkness reigns instead. But I can use that. Embrace it, Cormorant Noldovir. Feel that despair and turn that into rage, fury. That fury will burn away your foes, reduce them to ash, and dispense Vengeance where it is most sorely needed.”
He had already experienced this, and the power had been growing. More and more with each passing day until it almost felt to him that… something… something would come bursting out of him if he just let it. The thought scared him, yes, but it also excited him.
“I hear you, Doomwarden,” he replied, bowing his head to show his acquiescence to her advice.
She nodded and stepped back in front of him. To her left side, the man who had made the journey with her moved up toward the both, taking a position to her left, Crow’s right. He had a massive sword at his hip, far too large to be a longsword, sized more for a two-handed grip. Its crossguard was, now that he looked at it, remarkably ornate. As he looked into the man’s eyes he realized that he couldn’t really see the face. His eyes wouldn’t focus.
“Will you accept this invitation to join the ranks of the Doomwardens, fallen one?” Alcon Vex asked. Her words snapped his attention back to her. She intoned the words with great solemnity, an oath she had delivered many times before.
“I swear,” Crow said, feeling something stir within him, an excitement that grew.
“Will you be forthright and direct? When given the choice between two foes will you always fight the greater evil?”
“I swear so.” The stirring took on greater energy in his mind’s eye, but also the eyes of the man next to him seemed to gain a glow.
“Will you forswear mercy for the wicked, and never swerve from your duty to deliver vengeance to your sworn enemies?” Alcon’s head tilted up, and a fervor or zeal showed in her own eyes.
“I swear,” Crow replied. The knight to his right inhaled sharply, his left hand tightly gripping the sword at his belt.
“Do you swear to set aside your qualms and do whatever is necessary to exterminate your foes?”
Crow’s knuckles popped as he clenched his fist. “I so swear, enthusiastically,”
Alcon smiled a bitter, wintry smile at that response. The male knight’s presence increased yet again.
“When you foes wreck ruin upon the world, it is because you failed to stop them. Do you swear to help those harmed by the unjust, and the betrayers?”
“With all my heart, I swear so.”
The energy writhing in his mind popped, and he shuddered as it left raised hairs all across his body. The male knight breathed out a drawn out and ecstatic, “Yes,” and Crow felt what he could only imagine to be a bond between himself and the being, and the High Doomwarden.
Vex stepped to the side and the other knight took her place. When Crow looked on him now he saw the hint of great feathered wings beating at his back, emerald skin, and eyes of gold. “I am Thareniel, Warden of Hoar, Messenger of Vengeance. My voice carries doom to the wicked, succor to the injured, and death to betrayers. You have sealed yourself to the will of Hoar, aasimar. Break these oaths at your peril.”
Crow stood frozen under the weight of the angel’s judgement. Such power as he could scarcely have imagined washed over him, rooting him to his place in the dream. The sword was out now, springing from its scabbard with a high pitched ring that pierced Crow’s ears. The angel placed the sword first on Crow’s left shoulder, then on his right.
“You have taken your oath, and with your oath been made new in the eyes of Hoar’s Wrath.”
In a blinding flash the creature backhanded Crow across the mouth. Searing pain flared in his jaw and he collapsed to the ground. He groaned in agony, but pushed through the pain and looked up at the creature, anger flaring in his eyes and soul.
Joy suffused the angel’s essence, a white smile that looked as though the sun was rising split his face. “Good! That is the last blow you are obliged to suffer. None now have the right to strike you, ever again. Rise anew, paladin of Hoar.”
The High Doomwarden reached out her hand to his. Crow accepted the grip and with her aid rose to his feet.
Vex smiled at him, cold and fierce. “Rise anew, Doomwarden.”