'Get them out.' The voice was deep and resonant, but tinged with pain. 'And be careful.'

Midnight felt strong hands upon her, and she forced her eyes open. Guardsmen had grabbed her from either side. A powerful figure stood in the doorway, a torch held in one hand, a walking stick crowned with a small silver dragon's skull in the other.

'She's shaking,' one of the guards said as they lifted Midnight from the floor. A muffled cry of agony rang out from the magic-user, and the guards hesitated.

'What do you expect?' the man in the doorway snapped 'You've trussed her up like an animal. Her limbs are sore.'

As they dragged Midnight forward, her legs scraping along the floor, the bruised and scarred face of the aging warrior came fully into view. She did not recognize the older man, though she was immediately struck by his sharp blue eyes. He frowned slightly as Midnight was dragged past him.

The mage saw four other guardsmen in the hallway. Two of them entered the black room and retrieved Adon. Then the prisoners were taken past a row of barred cells, through a narrow hallway, and into the cavernous expanse of an outer chamber, where a table and three chairs had been set up.

'Remove the gag,' the older man said as he helped the guards to position Midnight in a large wooden chair.

'But she's a powerful magic-user! Remember, she killed Elminster with her powers,' a short, blond guard snapped as he backed away from Midnight. The other guards reached for their weapons. Adon simply stood where the guards had left him, a blank look on his face.

The older man grimaced. His blue eyes sparked with anger. 'Has she been fed or given water?'

'No,' the blond guard mumbled. 'The risks — '

'The risks will be mine,' the older man growled. He walked out from behind the chair and looked into the dark-haired woman's eyes. 'She knows that I'm here to help her.'

Suspicious glances passed between the guards.

'Do it now!' the older man bellowed. He clutched at the back of the chair as the strain of raising his voice took its toll, and he started to cough uncontrollably. Despite his impressive stature, the man was obviously recovering from a traumatic illness.

The guards removed Midnight's gag, and she opened her mouth wide, gulping in mouthfuls of air. 'Water… water, please,' Midnight croaked, her throat completely raw. The older man nodded, and a guard brought her a ladle full of cool water.

'Cut the bonds on her legs,' the blue-eyed man ordered. 'She can't cast spells with her feet. Besides, I want her to walk to the trial.' The order was obeyed without hesitation, and Midnight relaxed noticeably as circulation began to return to her legs and feet.

'I am Thurbal,' the older man said as Adon was seated next to Midnight. 'I'm captain of the guard. It is important that you pay attention to my every word. In less than an hour, these men will lead you through the Twisted Tower to the audience chambers of Lord Mourngrym, our liege. There you will be tried for the murder of Elminster the sage.

'You must tell me all you can about the events leading up to the death of the mage. I need to know everything if I am to give you a proper defense.' Thurbal gripped the dragon skull of his walking stick as if he were fighting off a wave of pain.

'Why are you helping us?' Midnight asked, curious.

'I was wounded on a mission to Zhentil Keep and lay deep in a healing sleep for most of the time you've been in the dale. Because of this, Mourngrym is convinced that I will be fair and impartial in this matter.'

'But Elminster was your friend,' Midnight said. Her gaze drifted to Adon, who sat staring at the wall behind Thurbal, his eyes glazed, his skin pale and taut.

'Elminster was more than just my friend,' Thurbal replied. 'He was a friend to all the Dales and everyone who loves freedom and knowledge in Faerun. Anyone who knew him would testify to that. That could prove to be unfortunate for you. Time is short. You must tell me your side of the story.'

For the next hour, Midnight recounted the details of her involvement with the elderly sage. She focused on the events that led up to Elminster's death in the Temple of Lathander, of course, but the true story of her involvement with the mage had begun when Mystra gave her the shard of power to safeguard.

Midnight closed her eyes as she recalled Bane's attack on the Temple of Lathander. 'Elminster tried to summon a powerful force from another plane to deal with Bane,' she began. 'But the spell went awry. The rift he opened allowed Mystra — or more precisely, a fragment of Mystra's essence — to escape from the magical weave around Faerun.'

'But I thought you said Mystra died back at Castle Kilgrave in Cormyr?' Thurbal asked.

'Yes, that's right. But when Helm destroyed her avatar, her energy must have been absorbed by the weave. She was more like a magic elemental when she appeared… a force rather than a person.' Midnight let her head loll back to relieve the tension from her neck before continuing.

'But even Mystra couldn't save Elminster from Bane. The Black Lord forced Elminster into the rift before he was destroyed. Adon and I tried to save him, but we couldn't.' Midnight opened her eyes once more and found Thurbal staring at the cleric.

'Well, Adon,' the older man said, 'what have you to say? Did you try to save Elminster?'

Adon had remained completely still as Midnight related the story of Bane's attack on the temple. The cleric sat with his hands bound tightly together, resting on his lap. Occasionally Adon would reach up to cover the scar on his face, but a guard would quickly push his hands back down. When Thurbal addressed Adon, the cleric slowly turned to look at the captain and simply stared at him, glassy-eyed and silent.

Thurbal shook his head and ran his hands through his thinning brown hair. 'His silence certainly won't help us during the trial,' he said. 'Can't you get him to talk?'

Midnight looked at the young cleric. The man she saw before her was hardly the cleric she had met in Arabel. Adon's face was pale, and his light brown hair was a mess, something he never would have tolerated before he was wounded. The most disturbing thing to Midnight, however, was the lifelessness in his once-shining green eyes. 'No,' she sighed softly. 'It's probably best if I do all the talking.'

'Very well,' Thurbal said. He rose from the table and nodded to a guardsman who had moved behind the magic-user. The guard replaced the gag just as Midnight attempted a cry of protest. 'I'm sorry,' Thurbal said, 'but I have my orders. The town fears your powers, and Lord Mourngrym refuses to allow the possibility that you will create havoc at the trial with your spells.'

The prisoners were taken up the stairway of the Twisted Tower. They passed through a stone arch and stood on aching legs in the central corridor of the tower as Thurbal conferred with one of his guards. The corridor led from the main entrance and traversed two thirds of the tower's length; its width was so great that five people could have walked side by side without difficulty.

Just then the door to Mourngrym's audience chamber burst open, and a chorus of outraged protests erupted from within. The prisoners were taken through the audience chamber with a show of force that brought cheers from the massive crowd gathered in the makeshift courtroom. Despite the thick stone walls of the fortress, the sounds of the outraged villagers outside added to the pandemonium. Chaos threatened to overtake the proceedings.

A dais lay at the head of the room, and Lord Mourngrym stood at the center of the platform, a small lectern before him. Dalesmen of noble blood were seated behind him. The ruler of the dales clutched the edges of the lectern until his knuckles grew white as the prisoners were prodded up the narrow stairs and deposited before him. Thurbal followed the prisoners and took his place at Mourngrym's left.

Storm Silverhand, the famous female bard and adventurer, stepped forward from the crowd and moved to Mourngrym's right. Light from the open shutters and the few torches scattered around the room reflected in her silver-hued hair, and hatred flashed in her blue-gray eyes. Storm and Sharantyr, a ranger with the Knights of Myth Drannor, had discovered Midnight and Adon lying unhurt outside the shattered Temple of Lathander. They also had discovered the fragments of a body that must have been Elminster's, along with cloth from his robe and pages from one of the sage's spellbooks.

As the prisoners knelt before Mourngrym, the noise from the crowd in the audience chamber began to swell. Much of the surviving populace of Shadowdale had turned out for the trial, and both the courtroom and the area outside the tower were crowded with angry men and women who shouted curses at Midnight and Adon. The soldiers of Mourngrym's guard found it difficult to contain the crowd.

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