followers, Bane knew that a treasure room was located somewhere beneath the temple, and he formed the image of a jade circlet and delivered a spell that would transport the object to his waiting hand. A moment later, armed with the circlet, he began to recite a shape change spell, his movements perfect and graceful, just as the spell required.

He began with the eyes, setting the orbs aflame within the human's skull. The skin surrounding the avatar's eyes could not accept the strain, so Bane altered the pale flesh until it became black and charred, then leathery with flaps that partially revealed secret hidden ruinations. The skull itself then grew sharp spikes that jutted from the blackened flesh, and the visage realigned itself to the most bestial configurations imaginable while still remaining human.

Bane's hands became talons capable of rending flesh and bone or shattering steel. It became painful to wear the gauntlet, but Bane knew he had no choice if he wished to impress his worshipers. And he could already hear the plodding footfalls of his priests, soldiers, and mages as they made their way through the ruins toward the shattered throne room.

Bane sensed that something was wrong with the spell. He was certain he had performed the casting perfectly, yet the force that moved through him, effecting the changes he desired, had built up momentum and would not subside, despite his mental commands. The air surrounding him felt as if it had solidified, and would soon crush the life from him. He knew a moment of pure human panic and sought to end the spell. Instead, Bane found his new form dressed in black leathers and caked with unholy reddish blood.

The Black Lord shattered the circlet in an attempt to negate the spell, which had moved completely beyond his control. Instead of regaining his human form, Bane found that the effects of the spell had not vanished and he retained the monstrous form he had created.

Bane did not have time to ponder the spell's curious behavior. The first of his flock appeared, armed and ready to destroy the desecrater of the Dark Temple. The Black Lord didn't even give his follower a chance to speak before he stood upon the throne and spoke.

'Kneel before your god,' Bane said simply, and held the sacred gauntlet up over the hideously grim head of his avatar. The cleric instantly recognized the artifact and did as he was told, a shocked expression on his face. As more worshipers rushed into the ruined temple, they did the same.

Bane looked into the fearful faces of his followers and held back the laughter that raged within him.

Midnight closed her eyes and felt the morning sun wash over her, gentle fingers of warmth caressing her face. It was in these simple moments when a remembrance of life's tender side overtook the magic-user and she was able to luxuriate in blissful forgetfulness of the trials she had recently faced. For close to twenty-five summers, Midnight had walked the Realms, and there was, she believed, little left that held the power to surprise her. Experience should have taught her better, she knew, especially since her current circumstances were, at the very least, quite unusual.

She had woken in a strange bed, in a place she could not remember coming to. Outside the window she saw a small clearing with a thick forest beyond. Wherever she was, she had not reached her destination: the walled city of Arabel, in northern Cormyr.

Her clothes, armaments, and books had been neatly piled upon a beautifully crafted dresser at the far side of the handsomely adorned room, as if whoever had handled them wanted Midnight's possessions in plain sight. Even her daggers were left within reach. Stranger still, Midnight found herself dressed in a beautiful nightgown made of fine silks, the color of a winter's first frost, white with traces of pale blue.

The young woman immediately examined her books, and was relieved to find them intact. She then went lo the window and opened it, letting in the fresh air. Opening the window took some effort, as if it had been sealed off and left untouched for years. Yet the room itself was immaculate and had obviously been cleaned recently.

Turning from the window, Midnight caught sight of a gold-framed mirror, and the image that confronted her from the glass was startling.

Midnight's waist-length hair had been washed and brushed with meticulous care. Upon her cheeks she saw the artificial, yet subtle blush of a young maiden. Her lips were unusually crimson, and someone had placed an ever so delicate hint of chartreuse above her eyes. Even the carefully maintained tone of her shapely body had softened.

In contrast to the sweaty, disheveled adventurer who had fought an unearthly storm on her way to Arabel the previous night, the woman whose reflection the mirror presented was almost a goddess who could beguile followers with her unnatural allure.

Midnight reached to her throat, and beneath the gown she felt the cold steel of the pendant.

She removed the gown and moved closer to the mirror to examine the pendant more closely. It was a blue and white star, with strands of energy that darted across the surface like tiny streaks of lightning. And as she turned the pendant over to examine its back, she felt a slight tug at the skin on her neck.

The pendant's chain was grafted to her skin.

Casting a simple spell upon the star to detect magic took all of her concentration, but the results of the spell were staggering. A violent blast of light erupted from the pendant and lit up the entire room. The simple piece of jewelry contained a power so great that it left Midnight weak in the knees, with the room slowly spinning about her.

Turning to the bed, Midnight made her way back to the feather-soft mattress and lay upon it before she collapsed. Fingers clutching at the sheets, she squeezed her eyes shut until the dizziness she felt had passed, then she turned over onto her back, and looked at the room once more. Her thoughts drifted back to the incidents of the previous month.

Midnight had joined the Company of the Lynx under the command of Knorrel Talbot less than three weeks ago, in Immersea. Talbot had learned of the death of a great wyrm on the shores of Wyvernwater. Unknown to the valiant heroes who brought the aged dragon down, this particular wyrm had attacked a diplomatic envoy crossing the desert, Anauroch.

From the tale of the sole survivor, the dragon had swallowed the visiting diplomats whole, consuming the vast riches the men had carried with them as gifts for the rulers of Cormyr. Talbot wanted to find the dragon's remains, and retrieve a number of magically sealed pouches the wyrm had swallowed. It was a filthy job, certainly, but also a very lucrative one.

The quest had been successful, and the task of unsealing the pouches had fallen to Midnight. It took her the better part of a day to gently undo the many-layered wards the wizards had placed upon the items. When she finally removed the magical traps, the company was saddened to learn that the contents of the pouches were nothing more than what Talbot interpreted as treaties and promises of trade.

Midnight stayed with the company as Talbot paid their salaries from the gold he had amassed on a previous quest. But it wasn't until that evening that Midnight learned of Talbot's secret agenda.

She had just been relieved of watch duty by Goulart, a burly man who rarely spoke, and was settling into a deep slumber, when the sound of raised voices alerted her. The voices died away instantly, and Midnight feigned sleep as she prepared to defend herself. After a time, the voices resumed, and this time Midnight recognized Talbot's voice. She cast a spell of clairaudience to eavesdrop on the conversation, and learned that their mission had not been a failure after all.

Upon the scrolls were the true names of many of the Red Wizards of Thay. The information on the documents had been collected by various spies in the employ of King Azoun as insurance against the growing threat of the eastern empire. With the information found on the parchments, the Red Wizards could be destroyed.

Midnight had been the last member of the company to be recruited, and for good reason. Parys and Bartholeme Guin, twin brothers, were the company's true magic-users. They had refused to be involved in the opening of the pouches, fearing the superior magic of the far-off empire that had sealed them. They forced Talbot to hire another magic-user for the task, with the intent of slaying the new member of the company when the job was done.

Talbot, however, wanted to tell Midnight the truth and give her the opportunity to join them as they sought the enemies of the Red Wizards and auctioned the parchments to the highest bidder. As the men argued, Midnight used her magic to steal the valuable parchments and make good her escape.

Midnight traveled north from the camp on Calanter's Way, worried over the odd behavior of her mount. Traveling at night had never bothered the beast before; its blood-red mane had risen with the winds even in the

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