'They are retreating!' Mourngrym cried out. 'We've won!'

Kelemvor could not believe the words so easily. Many of the Zhentilar would stay and fight until their last breath had been taken from them. The skirmishes had led into the forest, and small fires burned there already, threatening to grow out of control. If nothing else, Shadowdale had lost far too many men to deal with even a small forest fire well.

Kelemvor looked around the battlefield, but didn't see any of his friends. 'Lord Mourngrym, where are Cyric and Hawksguard?'

Mourngrym's triumphant expression vanished. 'They are at the crossroads,' the dalelord said softly. 'Cyric is fine, save for a few scratches. Hawksguard…'

Kelemvor looked into the eyes of the lord of Shadowdale.

'It was Bane,' Mourngrym said at last. 'He had me within his grasp and Hawksguard saved me.'

Kelemvor turned and spurred the horse into a gallop as he rode to the crossroads. The fighter passed Cyric and a handful of his men as they rode into the woods to chase down retreating Zhentish soldiers, but he didn't even hear Cyric's cries of greeting.

When Kelemvor finally reached the center of Shadowdale, he found the dead being carted away and the injured being tended where they fell. He saw Hawksguard almost immediately, laid out with the other officers.

Kelemvor made his way to the side of the older warrior. Hawksguard was not dead, but there could be no doubt that he would not survive the day. Bane's taloned hands had cut deeply into his chest, and it was a miracle that he was not dead already. Kelemvor took Hawksguard's hand and looked into his eyes.

'They'll pay for this,' Kelemvor growled. 'I will hunt them down and slay them all!'

Hawksguard grasped Kelemvor's arm, smiled weakly, and shook his head. 'Don't be melodramatic,' he said. 'This life… is too short…'

'This isn't fair,' Kelemvor said.

Hawksguard coughed, and a deep spasm shook his body. 'Closer,' Hawksguard said. 'Something you must know.'

His voice had become a whisper.

'Important,' Hawksguard said.

Kelemvor leaned close.

And Hawksguard told him a joke.

Kelemvor felt his lower lip tremble, but finally, he laughed. Hawksguard had driven out the thoughts of death and blood that Kelemvor felt welling up inside of him by reminding him of something he had almost lost:


The Battle of Shadowdale was over. Bane's forces had retreated into the forest, although many found only a fiery death instead of the escape they hoped for. The blaze was spreading, but there was little the tired dalesmen could do to contain the fire.

Sharantyr, a ranger with the Knights of Myth Drannor, rode to the Temple of Lathander, along with the Harper bard Storm Silverhand, to investigate the explosion and fire there, and to check on Elminster and the two strangers to Shadowdale he had with him.

As they approached, Sharantyr and Storm saw Midnight and Adon stumble from the wreckage of the temple. Then a fireball erupted from within the ruins and shot into the air.

Sharantyr had to leap from her mount and drag Storm to the ground to prevent her from riding into the inferno.

'Elminster,' Storm cried, her gaze fixed on the destruction. A bubble of blue-white energy enshrouded the cleric and the mage who had escaped, and the Knights watched as a wall of debris was vaporized when it hit the shield. Finally, when the earth settled and all that remained of the Temple of Lathander was a shattered ruin, the Knights ran to the strangers, who lay untouched by the destruction.

After seeing if the cleric and mage were alive, Storm ran past into the temple. Within the flaming ruins, navigating past the debris-filled antechamber, Storm forced a fallen support beam out of her way and entered what was left of the main room of worship. The silver-haired bard felt her heart beat faster as she searched through the wreckage for some sign that Elminster had survived. At the far side of the room, she found fragments of his ancient spell books and even tattered pieces of his robe.

Blood and bits of bone were splattered on the walls that still stood in the temple.

Storm screamed from the depths of her heart. Her rage consumed her and she ran from the flaming temple to face the strangers.

When the silver-haired bard got outside, she saw that Sharantyr was talking to the cleric and mage who had fled from the temple. The ranger was about to question the dark-haired woman when Storm appeared before them, sword in hand.

'Elminster,' she said, her voice low and tinged with hatred. 'Elminster is dead. Murdered.'

Storm lunged forward, and Sharantyr had to hold her back and disarm her before she could let Storm go again. Then, a great shadow passed over the temple, and the air grew thin and cold. In seconds, the perfect blue of the sky became a steel-gray, and storm clouds converged at the head of the blazing Celestial Stairway. A huge eye appeared at the apex of the clouds, and a single tear left the eye as it blinked and vanished. The tear became a flood of unnatural rain that burst from the heavens, drenching the entire dale. Bluish white wisps of smoke rose from the stairway as the flames that had destroyed it were extinguished, and far from the temple, in the forest near Krag Pool, the fires died away beneath the torrents of rain.

Storm Silverhand had seemed to calm as the wall of rain fell, but then she saw the face of the young, scarred cleric.

'He was — he was at the Temple of Tymora,' the bard whispered, breathlessly. 'He was there right after the murders!'

Sharantyr moved forward, and this time she had her sword drawn. 'I am Sharantyr of the Knights of Myth Drannor,' she said. 'It is my solemn duty to place you both under arrest for the murder of Elminster the Sage…' About The Author

The Avatar project, which consists of both game and book releases, is the combined effort of a number of TSR staff members and talented freelance authors. Richard Awlinson is the pseudonym of Shadowdale's author, Scott Ciencin.

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