sputtered, 'What happened?'

'I believe the area is magic dead,' Elminster pronounced. 'Nothing magical, not even wizards, can enter it.'

'But how is that possible?' Midnight asked as she sat up. 'I thought the weave touched every part of the Realms.'

Elminster sighed and put out his pipe. 'Once, perhaps,' he said, then helped Midnight to her feet. 'Not since Arrival, though. The death of the gods here may have torn a hole in the weave. Perhaps the magical chaos is unraveling the weave itself.'

'Are there more of these magic dead areas in the Realms?' Midnight asked as they walked back to their horses.

'Aye,' the old sage said. 'In places, they're much larger than this.'

Before she mounted her horse, Midnight looked back to the ruins, a look of fear in her eyes. 'Can the weave be repaired?' she whispered.

Elminster looked away and didn't answer her.

Twenty minutes later, Midnight and the white-bearded sage reached the harbor. Kelemvor and Adon were waiting on the pier where the fighter had first met Alprin, as they had planned earlier in the day. The cleric and the fighter had spent the last few days helping the Tantrasan military to restore order in the city. They served on patrols to stop looting. They helped to move the wounded to the makeshift hospitals set up around the city. They even worked at rebuilding a few important shops so commerce could pick up again.

Now, when the fighter saw his lover, he took her in his arms. They held the embrace until Elminster cleared his throat noisily.

The old sage turned to Midnight, a wicked gleam in his eye. 'As much as I enjoy our little chats, I'm afraid I must depart. Urgent matters require my attention elsewhere. I will see ye all again soon, in Waterdeep.'

'Wait!' Midnight cried as the old sage turned away. 'You can't just go!'

'Oh?' Elminster asked, not stopping to face the heroes. 'Why not?'

'Because you're sending us into danger. You should be there to help!' Kelemvor yelled. Elminster stopped and turned around.

'Ye should understand that the mission ye are going on is vital for the survival of Faerun, but it isn't the only important thing that needs doing!' Elminster snapped. 'I'm needed elsewhere now, but ye'll see me again in Waterdeep.'

Without another word, Elminster walked back toward the city. No one tried to stop him.

Midnight, Kelemvor, and Adon stood silently looking at the ship on which they were to leave Tantras. After a moment, Midnight smiled and said, 'We've done pretty well so far, considering what we're up against. I'm almost looking forward to going to Waterdeep.'

Adon, his clothes cleaner than they had been in a long time, turned to face the Dragon Reach and frowned. 'I wonder if Cyric was on one of those Zhentish ships that got destroyed.'

Midnight shook her head. 'He's still alive. I just know he is.'

'He won't be for long, though,' Kelemvor growled. 'Not when I get my hands on him.' The fighter put his hand on the hilt of his sword.

A cloud of anger crossed Midnight's face. 'You should give him a chance to explain — '

'No!' Kelemvor snapped, turning his back on the raven-haired woman. 'You can't make me believe that Cyric was acting against his will at the Dark Harvest. You didn't see the look of surprise on his face when he saw that I'd survived his trap. You didn't see the smile on his lips when he saw my wounds.'

'You're mistaken,' Midnight said coldly. 'You don't know Cyric.'

'I know that animal better than you do,' Kelemvor growled. He turned around, his green eyes flaring with rage. 'You may have been taken in by Cyric's lies, but I learned long ago never to believe him. The next time we meet, one of us won't walk away.'

Adon nodded. 'Kel's right, Midnight. Cyric is a threat to all of us, to all of Faerun. Do you remember how he acted on the Ashaba? Can you imagine what would happen if he got his hands on the Tablets of Fate?'

Midnight turned away from Kelemvor and Adon and walked toward the ship they had booked passage on. She clutched the pack containing her spellbook and the Tablet of Fate tightly as she climbed aboard.

Kelemvor cursed loudly and stormed to the ship behind the mage. 'Hurry up, Adon,' he grumbled. 'Our mage has decided it's time to go.'

Adon took one last look back at Tantras and thought of Torm's words to him in the temple's garden. The scarred cleric smiled. Yes, he thought, my duty is clear. My friends need me. Adon paused for a moment and straightened his hair, then joined Midnight and Kelemvor aboard the ship.

In the shadows of a warehouse near the pier, the young red-haired man who had helped Elminster earlier watched as the heroes departed. As soon as Adon had climbed aboard the ship, he ran for a small boat that bore a sign declaring it off duty. The red-haired man tore the sign from the boat, threw it into the water, and kicked the brawny man who lay asleep in the bow.

'I was beginning to think you would never show,' the boatman rumbled, rubbing the wart on his bulbous nose.

'You're not being paid to think. Just get this heap of rotting wood moving,' the young man spat. 'You know where to go.' He climbed into the boat, and the brawny man pulled out a set of oars and started to row.

The small boat soon left the harbor and made its way along the shore south of Tantras. A night-black trireme stood in a small cove a few miles away. The red-haired man signaled the ship as he got close, then climbed aboard.

The captain of the Argent was waiting to greet him.

'Sabinus,' Cyric said happily as he helped the red-haired man climb aboard. 'What have you to report?'

The smuggler told all that he had heard and described the ship in which the heroes were leaving Tantras. The young man laughed as he showed Cyric the gold coin Elminster had given him.

Cyric smiled. 'You've done well. You'll most certainly be rewarded.'

'Tantras is no longer safe for me,' the red-haired man told the thief. 'You promised me passage to a place far from here.'

'And I will deliver on my promise,' Cyric said casually, putting his arm around the smuggler's shoulder. 'I always do.'

Sabinus never heard Cyric's dagger leave its sheath, but the smuggler felt the biting pain as the blade bit into his neck. He stumbled. The thief stabbed Sabinus again and pushed him over the railing. The red-haired man was dead before he hit the water.

Cyric looked down at the body. 'Nothing personal,' he muttered. 'But I have no further need of your services.'

Turning from the railing, the hawk-nosed man called for his lieutenant and told him that they were going to follow the ship that carried the heroes. In return, Dalzhel saluted his captain then barked a string of orders to the sole survivors of the Zhentish fleet from Scardale.

Earlier that day, when Cyric saw the strange vortex form above the city, he had ordered the crew to take the Argent out into the Dragon Reach, away from the battling avatars. The ship and its crew survived thanks to that command. Cyric knew that his men's gratitude would serve him well in the days to come.

The thief stared out at the blood-red sun setting over Faerun. He thought of his former allies and all that Sabinus had told him about Kelemvor's threats and Adon's comments. For once, the hawk-nosed man thought sourly, the fighter and the cleric were right.

Cyric had decided days ago that when next he met Midnight and her allies, he would offer them no mercy if they dared to stand in his way.

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