As Cyric watched, the panther's fur rippled spasmodically. The beast spread its jaws wide, wider than should have been possible. Two hands, covered with gore, reached out from inside the creature, grabbed its jaws, and forced them even wider. There was a sickening tearing sound, and suddenly the panther's body, starting at the mouth, split in half. The animal half dropped to the ground and instantly started to disintegrate.

A shivering, naked, manlike creature collapsed on the ground beside the pile of disintegrating animal flesh, where the panther had crouched only seconds before. Cyric stood frozen in awe. Though he had witnessed Kelemvor's transformation from panther to man once before, in Tilverton, the thief was both fascinated and revulsed by the spectacle. He found it impossible to turn away. Soon the shape on the ground became thoroughly human.

'Who-who did I kill this time?' Kelemvor asked softly. He tried to lift himself off the ground, but he was too weak.

'A Zhentish soldier. The dalesmen will thank you for it later.' Cyric removed his cloak and wrapped it around Kelemvor's shoulders. 'What caused you to change, Kel?'

'Elminster,' Kelemvor said, shaking his head weakly. 'He promised to remove the curse if I fought for Shadowdale in the battle. But if Elminster's dead, I can't receive my payment.' The fighter glanced at the body of the Zhentish archer and shuddered. 'I'm just glad it wasn't one of the dalesmen.'

'Why? The dalesmen are no different from the Zhentish.' Cyric scowled at the fighter. 'Do you know what I just saw? I saw Forester, that big oaf who fought with me at the bridge, slit the throat of a helpless, wounded Zhentilar rather than take him prisoner.'

'Remember, this is war, Cyric.' The fighter flexed his arms. Finding his strength returned, Kelemvor pushed himself up from the ground. 'You can't expect the dalesmen to tie up troops caring for the wounded of their enemies. Besides, the Zhentish started this. It serves them right.'

'And does it serve Midnight and Adon right to be locked up in the Twisted Tower, waiting for the dalesmen to find them guilty of Elminster's murder?' Cyric snapped. 'You and I know that they didn't kill that old man. It was probably Bane's avatar or a misfired spell. But the villagers need someone to blame, so they'll undoubtedly find our friends guilty.'

'That's not true! Lord Mourngrym will give them a fair trial. Justice will be served.'

Cyric stood in shocked silence for a moment. When he finally spoke, his voice was low, almost a growl. 'Mourngrym will give the dalesmen exactly what they want. The justice served here will be the same as that given at the executions in Bane's temple in Zhentil Keep.'

Kelemvor turned away from the thief and started toward the bushes. 'I need to find my clothes and my armor. Are you coming?'

As the fighter disappeared into the underbrush, Cyric swore softly. Clearly Kelemvor had been fooled by the facade of law and truth the dalesmen had erected for themselves. 'I'll just have to deal with this alone,' the thief vowed to himself as he marched off after the fighter.


The Trial

There were depths to the darkness surrounding Midnight that she feared to explore. The room was perfectly black. It might have been a storage area at one time, or perhaps a large closet. The momentary glimpse that the magic-user had been given of the tiny cell when she and Adon were first locked away had revealed very little. The light from the torch their jailer held hadn't seemed to illuminate the room, and Midnight now wondered if the ceiling, walls, and floor of the cell had been painted black to keep her disoriented.

She'd been bound and gagged to prevent her from casting any spells, but the dalesmen had neglected to blindfold her. She had a horrible feeling of total isolation in the pitch-dark room. Only the sound of Adon's breathing reminded Midnight that she was not alone in the cell.

The network of ropes around the magic-user held her arms behind her back and bound her legs together tightly. Her wrists and ankles had been tied, too, and her fingers awkwardly touched the heels of her feet. Lying with her face pressed half against the floor was the only position that was remotely comfortable. At least it allowed her an occasional hour or so of sleep. Even then, though, pain constantly shot through her body.

After the first few hours in the black room, the magic-user's initial panic began to subside, only to be replaced by a numbing fear. Was it possible that she had been forgotten and left there to die? Again and again, she attempted to scream, but her muffled cries yielded no response. Occasionally she heard Adon shift in the darkness. Midnight wondered if the cleric was awake. He had said nothing since they were taken prisoner at the ruined Temple of Lathander. The mage knew the cleric hadn't been gagged. If he didn't speak, it was probably because he was unconscious or in shock.

As Midnight thought of all that had happened to her and her friends since they had left Arabel less than a month ago, she wondered why she hadn't gone into shock, too. First Mystra, the Goddess of Magic, had entrusted her with a shard of power in the form of a pendant. Then the gods had been thrown out of the Planes because of the theft of the two Tablets of Fate — ancient artifacts that listed the names of all the gods and their spheres of influence. Next Midnight had gone with Kelemvor, Cyric, Adon, and the goddess's intended avatar to save Mystra from Lord Bane, the God of Strife.

When they rescued Mystra, the goddess took back the power she had given to Midnight and tried to enter the Planes using a Celestial Stairway. The stairway, like many others throughout the Realms, was actually a path to the Planes, a direct link from the world to the homes of the gods. But before Mystra could climb the stairway and reach her home in Nirvana, Lord Helm, the God of Guardians, had stopped her.

Though Mystra tried to defeat Helm, the god would not allow her to pass into the Planes without the Tablets of Fate. And because Helm still had much of his godly power, he was able to stop the fallen goddess easily. In the end, Mystra had been killed, but not before she returned the pendant to Midnight, along with instructions to seek out Elminster in Shadowdale and find the lost Tablets of Fate before the Realms suffered even more damage.

While traveling through the chaos-ridden lands of Faerun, Midnight and her companions had been brought together as friends. The magic-user had gained Kelemvor as a lover, and Cyric and Adon as close allies. She had been lucky until now, although she felt she was a mere pawn in the conflicts of the gods, she had lost nothing. Not like Adon.

For clerics, the crisis in Faerun after the night of Arrival had been especially trying. Priests found that they could cast spells only if they were within a mile of their deity.

Worse still, they saw their deities take on flesh and blood to survive. Now the gods had all the limitations of a mortal frame. But Adon seemed to accept all this as the will of the gods.

Until the day the heroes left Tilverton.

On that day, a worshiper of Gond had attacked Adon with a knife and slashed him savagely across the face. Because Midnight and her allies needed to escape into the desolate area around the Shadow Gap in order to lose the mob that followed them out of Tilverton, they could not take the unconscious cleric to a healer. An ugly scar formed on Adon's face. Some might have considered this a mark of glory. Adon, however, was a worshiper of Lady Sune, the Goddess of Beauty.

Suddenly Adon felt as if he had been abandoned by Sune, as if he had done something terribly wrong and deserved to be punished. The once-joyful young cleric grew morose and sullen. Midnight had hoped that helping to save the Dales from the armies of Zhentil Keep would help Adon recover his spirit, but the incidents at the Temple of Lathander, when Elminster and Midnight battled Lord Bane, only deepened the cleric's depression.

And unless I can find a way to prove that it was Bane — not Adon and I — who killed Elminster, Midnight thought, things could get a lot worse for both of us.

Midnight reviewed the battle at the temple over and over again in her mind, examining each minute detail. She knew there had to be some way to prove that she and Adon had not killed the great sage, but she simply couldn't discover it.

She heard a noise at the door: the sound of keys rattling on a chain. The heavy door swung open, and Midnight was forced to squeeze her eyes shut as the bright flame from a torch nearly blinded her.

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