of black smoke. The stench wrinkled Marrec’s nose. He grinned nonetheless, but the sound of the dizheri, as it bashed and battered against the flesh of blighted volodnis, was yet audible. Apparently the corrupted forest folk, like the troll, were unconcerned that their master was no more, but only a few remained standing. Gunggari and Elowen then appeared on perimeter of the Mucklestones, fighting their way into the bowl. A final few thrusts with Elowen’s sword, a wild swing with Gunggari’s warclub, and finally some unlooked for assistance by Marrec from behind ended the threat for good. Nothing stirred in the bowl. Marrec’s blood cooled. He stowed Justlance.
CHAPTER 1Q pulled Briartan down from his cruel shackles. Marrec thought life had fled, but after feeling for a pulse, he detected a faint beat. He wondered if the time had come to use the last few healing spells he’d been saving up for a dire circumstance. Briartan was the only one around who could answer his questions. He glanced at Ashthe girl studied the supine form, but she made no move to use her healing gift. It was up to him then. He mouthed the words of healing and touched the wounded druid’s forehead. The glowing blue threads of healing power rippled from Marrec’s arm and wound into Briartan’s body. Marrec could feel torn tissues knitting and depleted stores of energy rebounding, but he also immediately realized the truth. Briartan’s spirit was wounded to the core. The druid sought only release. Marrec fought with Briartan’s desire. They battled to a temporary compromise. It was the best Marrec could accomplish. He had but one spell of healing remaining. He knew he must choose wisely when and how he would use it. Briartan’s eyes fluttered open. Elowen grabbed the fallen man’s hand. “You’re going to be all right, Briartan.” Marrec quietly shook his hood, but Elowen didn’t see. The wounded druid responded, “Elowen. I’m afraid I can’t stay much longer. I’ve glimpsed higher realms and the promise of infinite plains of green…” Elowen squeezed the druid’s hand “The world needs you here, Briartan. The blightlord is defeated. Stay with us, won’t you?” The druid found the elfs eyes as she leaned over his prostrate form. He said softly, “I will answer your questions, that you may have some aid of me, but more than that I cannot promise.” Elowen stifled a gasp, looking for confirmation from Marrec and found it in the’cleric’s sad nod. The elfs eyes began to shimmer with retained tears. She squeezed Briartan’s hand all the tighter. Marrec began to phrase his questions internally, but Ususi moved in, undeterred by Marrec’s need or Briartan’s fragile-state. She said, “What did Gameliel want here? How did he overcome your defenses of the Mucklestones?” Briartan gave a weak chuckle. “Ususi, I knew I’d see you before the end. Too bad you couldn’t have arrived earlier. What does anyone want with the Mucklestones? Control. The kind of control one might gain if he had quick access to all corners of Faerun.” Briartan ended with a cough. “How did Gameliel overcomeyou?” repeated Ususi. “Why, he surprised me. He sent the sickened pine folk to me. I thought they were seeking a cure. I labored for days on reversing the rot which afflicted them, before I realized the truth; they would never be cured. What I didn’t realize was that their sickness was aimed like an arrow at me and my hospitality. By letting them breach the circle, I also allowed in Gameliel. He overcame me and wrested from me control over the Keystone.” Ususi started, then rose from her haunches. She moved toward where Gameliel had last stood. “Briartan?” Elowen breathed. “Are you in too much pain?” The druid turned his head so that his gaze could rest more easily on the hunter. “Ah, Elowen, don’t be sad. I am so glad that you are here, that you are here to see me off. Please, explain my fate to the