farther up the road. Forester sat on the back of the wagon as it lurched into motion, and the cleric walked wearily behind, checking and rechecking his list. Before they had gone more than a few yards, though, they heard a shriek from the area they had just cleared. Rhaymon turned in time to see a ghostly image of the Zhentish soldier Forester had just killed rise above its corpse.

'You'll pay for what you've done!' the ghost cried, staring grimly at the man who had murdered him. 'All the Dales will pay!'

Forester lost his balance on the wagon and tumbled into the road. Rhaymon tried to help the fighter to his feet, but before either of the dalesmen could flee, the ghost floated to their side. Forester looked up into the pale, angry eyes of the dead soldier and uttered a silent prayer.

Rhaymon, however, was not so quiet about it. 'Begone!' the cleric shouted, holding his holy symbol — a rosy pink wooden disk — out toward the undead creature. 'Lord Lathander, Morninglord, God of Spring and Renewal, help me to banish this undead creature to the Realm of the Dead!'

The ghost merely laughed, and Forester felt dizzy when he realized that he could see through the undead soldier to the charred ground and burned trees at the side of the road. He considered reaching for his dagger, but he knew that it would be of little use against a spirit.

The ghost smiled broadly. 'Come, come, Lathanderite. The gods are here in Faerun, not in the Planes. Lord Myrkul doesn't inhabit the Realm of the Dead now, so you shouldn't expect me to run off to an empty hell. Besides, since I don't see your god nearby, why do you expect your prayer to be answered?'

A small crowd of dalesmen had gathered around Forester, Rhaymon, and the ghost. Some had their weapons drawn, but most simply stood, watching the spectacle as they would a play at a fair. One man, a lean, hawk-nosed thief in a dark cloak, moved through the crowd to stand at Forester's side.

'So what are you going to do to us?' Cyric asked the ghost, spreading his arms wide. 'No one fears a live Zhentish soldier here. A dead one is even less of a threat.'

Forester looked up at Cyric. The dark-haired thief had been the fighter's commander during the Battle of Shadowdale. Cyric was a brilliant leader and had rallied the dalesmen against a huge force of Zhentish cavalry — a force led by the powerful Zhentish wizard, Fzoul Chembryl. Though Forester considered Cyric a great man and a champion of the dale, there were many who thought him suspect because of his friendship with the cleric and magic-user accused of Elminster's murder.

Rhaymon, who still held his holy symbol in front of him, and Forester, who still sat unceremoniously upon the ground, his hand near his dagger, felt a burst of cold air rush from the ghost as it moved toward Cyric. The crow's- feet around the thief's eyes deepened and multiplied as his eyes narrowed to slits. The ghost spread its arms wide to embrace Cyric as it moved toward him.

Cyric laughed as the ghost passed right through him.

'You're not a real undead creature,' Cyric said through an evil grin. 'You're just another product of the chaos in the Realms.' The thief turned and started to stroll away.

The Zhentish soldier screamed once more, longer and louder than he had when he first emerged from his corpse, but no one paid any attention. Most of the dalesmen returned to their duties. A few headed back toward town. Rhaymon helped Forester up, and as soon as he was on his feet, the fighter ran down the road after Cyric. The apparition of the Zhentilar simply faded from view, whimpering and moaning as it disappeared.

'How… how did you know?' Forester gasped between panted breaths.

Cyric stopped for a moment and turned back to face the fighter. 'Did you see anyone running away? Do you feel any older?'

A look of complete confusion crossed Forester's face. 'Older? Of course not. Do I look older?'

'No. That's how I knew it wasn't an actual ghost. A real ghost, created when a truly evil man dies, is so frightening that those who look upon it age ten years in an instant. Ghosts radiate fear, too.' Cyric shook his head when he saw that the fighter still didn't understand.

'Since you didn't look any older than you did when we were defending the bridge, and since none of the other dalesmen were running away, I figured it couldn't be real.'

Forester still looked confused, but he nodded his head as if he understood completely. Cyric scowled. These dalesmen are idiots, he thought. 'Look,' the thief said at last, 'I don't have time to give you a treatise about the undead. I need to find Kelemvor. I was told he came this way about two hours ago.'

'He was here,' Forester said, 'but he disappeared into the woods some time back. I haven't seen him since.'

Cyric cursed softly and headed for the trees.

'Be careful!' Forester called as Cyric walked toward the smoky forest. 'We heard some kind of wild animal in there a little while ago.'

Most likely a panther, Cyric thought. At least that means Kelemvor's not far away. The thief drew his sword and cautiously moved into the forest.

Smoke hung in the air deep into the woods, so that Cyric found it difficult to breathe at times. His brown eyes reddened as stinging tears ran down his lean face and streaked the grime still caked there from the battle. The thief squinted and continued to press on through the groves of oak and tangles of vines that filled the forest around him.

After moving east for about an hour, Cyric noticed that the air was clearing and he could breathe more easily. He discovered a tuft of black fur on a large thorny bush, but as the thief was examining the fur, he heard a branch snap loudly to the south, then another. Quickly he ducked behind a tree and gripped his sword more firmly.

Within two minutes, a blood-spattered Zhentish archer rushed past Cyric's hiding place. The archer was breathing hard, his arms and legs pumping frantically. After every two or three steps, he threw a worried glance back over his shoulder. Birds of various shapes and colors erupted from the bushes and shot noisily into the sky as the soldier passed.

Cyric started to scramble up the tree, hoping to avoid whatever was chasing the young archer. Halfway up, thoughts of the Spiderhaunt Woods, where Cyric had tried to escape from some giant spiders by climbing into the tree-tops, rushed into his head. Perhaps this is a mistake, he thought.

Before Cyric could leap to the ground, a large black panther burst from the trees and headed north after the Zhentish archer. The creature's beautiful green eyes were sparkling with malevolent glee as it raced through the forest and out of Cyric's sight.

'Kel,' Cyric muttered softly and started to climb down from the tree. He heard a short, high-pitched screech to the north, followed quickly by the roar of the panther as it savaged its victim.

Cyric's eyes glazed momentarily as pity welled inside him for Kelemvor Lyonsbane, the powerful, highly skilled fighter who had been his companion for nearly a year. Kelemvor had traveled alongside him, along with Adon, a cleric of Sune, and Midnight, a spirited, raven-haired magic-user, on a quest to rescue the Goddess of Magic. Now Adon and Midnight were imprisoned in the dungeon of the Twisted Tower, awaiting trial for the murder of Elminster, while Kelemvor roamed the woods in the form of a panther. But the fighter had no control over his transformation into a beast.

The Lyonsbane family was cursed.

Long ago, one of Kelemvor's ancestors had abandoned a powerful mage during a battle, choosing instead to strike out after a treasure. The mage's dying curse made it impossible for the Lyonsbanes to do anything for less than altruistic reasons. However, over time, the curse reversed itself. Now a Lyonsbane could not do anything except what was in his own best interest. To aid another, he must receive a reward. Kelemvor had no choice but to become a hardened mercenary — or turn into a monster until he killed someone!

I wonder what activated the curse this time? Cyric thought as he crept through the underbrush.

The panther was lying down, licking the blood from its claws, when Cyric entered the small clearing. The torn body of the Zhentish archer was stretched out in front of the animal. As soon as the panther saw Cyric, it tensed, started to rise, and bared its perfect, white teeth in a savage snarl. Cyric leveled his sword defensively and backed up a cautious step.

'It's Cyric, Kel! Stay back! Don't make me hurt you.'

The panther growled deep in its throat and crouched, as if it were about to pounce. Cyric continued to back up slowly until he felt a large oak behind him. Grimly he prepared to run the panther through if it leaped at him. The panther appeared ready to pounce at any instant, but instead it suddenly became very still, then threw back its head and gave a high, piercing yowl.

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