“No sign of Mother Eiravain so far,” Besilana said as she oiled her wooden weapon. “But I don’t doubt that she was smart enough to figure out they were down here…”
“I do hope she is safe,” said Felicity. “This place is no place for anyone.”
Furnok looked thoughtful for a moment. “You’ve gone to quite a bit of trouble for this woman. Who is she to you?”
“High Priestess of our temple,” said the paladin. “But more than that, really. Especially to Felicity.”
“Oh?” He turned to the halfling.
Felicity looked like some of the wind had been taken out of her sails. “Well…” she said with a slight lilt in her voice, “she was like a mother to me.”
Taliesin nodded. “I’m learning that just about everyone in Myhalas had some close connection to her. My sister included.”
“The two of them found Felicity wandering the Gnarley when she was barely old enough to walk,” Besilana explained.
“Not… not that I can really remember that,” said the halfling. “But that’s what they told me.”
Furnok smiled. “Elves raising a halfling foundling? What reason would they have to lie?” His tone was half-teasing, like he found the notion preposterous. “Unless … Eiravain doesn’t collect dolls, does she?”
“Does that make me an elfling then?” asked Felicity.
“It makes you Felicity,” said Taliesin. “What more is there need to be?”
The cleric shrugged. “But then again, that’s what happened. Don’t remember my mom or dad, too little to go off of, just stories and the other thing.”
“Oh, right,” said Besilana. “The other thing.”
“The other thing?” Furnok prompted.
“Errrr … a mark,” said Felicity, coughing nervously. “Like a crescent moon with some kind of … hrm, I’ll just show you?” She pulled down her skirt showing her hip and a blue-black crescent moon nested in an opposite pointed crescent moon with a four-pointed star in the middle.
Besilana leaned over to look at the tattoo. “I’ve seen it so many times that I just think of it as part of you.”
The halfling quirked an eyebrow. “It … is a part of me?” she said.
“What does it mean?” asked Furnok.
“I have no idea,” said Felicity. “It’s just always been there.”
“No, we don’t know what it means,” said Besilana, pausing a moment before adding, “Unless the elders did know and chose to keep it from us for some reason?” She didn’t sound like she believed it.
Furnok made a face. “Probably not, aye.”
“It’s nothing I’ve ever seen before,” said Taliesin.
“And you’re probably the most learn-ed among us,” said the rogue.
The druid shrugged. “I agree with Besi. It’s definitely a part of you. It’s good that you just accept it as such. Zebras do not look at tigers and wish they could hunt like tigers. Accept yourself as you are, know your weaknesses and strengths and embrace your unique beauty and gifts.”
“What is a zebra?” asked Felicity.
“A tiger-horse,” said Besilana.
“A what-what? This sounds AMAZING!” Then the halfling muttered, “What’s a tiger though?”
“It’s a zebra-cat,” Taliesin said, smiling.
“So in context, I gather that a tiger is cat-like and a zebra is a horse creature… So that…” The halfling’s expression was one of intense concentration as she tried to imagine these strange animals. After a moment, she said, “I need to see this kitty-horse! Can you change into one Taliesin?”
“Which? The tiger or the zebra?”
“Waaaaaaaaaaaiiit … Yes?”
“How about this: If we encounter any more enemies, I will take the form of a tiger to deal with them. Like the bear and the wolf, they are very good predators,” said Taliesin.
“Soooo. .. it’s like a horse-sized cat, not a cat-sized horse… I think I’m getting the picture.”
The druid smiled. “Getting warmer.”
“So, Eiravain,” said Furnok, coming back to the subject that had started the conversation. “She’s your surrogate mother, Felicity. Your … mentor?” he said, giving Besilana an uncertain look. The half-elf looked even more uncertain than her human companion. Furnok looked over at Taliesin. “And you said something about your sister?”
“Yes. She asked me to help find Eiravain as a personal favor.”
“Well, I hope we find her. For all of your sakes.” His tone was as earnest as they’d ever heard.
Felicity looked downward. “Yeah … She’s the only parent I know.”
“I still hold out hope that your birth parents may yet live,” Besilana told her. To Furnok, she said, “My mother searched for them… for a long time… but found no trace.”
“I remember when she approached my family about it,” said Taliesin. “She asked if we had found any sign of them.” The druid stood up and dusted himself off. “Shall we see what is down this way?” he asked, indicating the passageway leading out of the crypts to the southeast.
After a short distance, the hall ended in a T-intersection. A stairway headed downward to the south, and Besilana mentioned a door to the north at the extent of her darkvision. They opted for the door, passing a hallway that bore southeast (and ended in another door, according to the elves). The northern door opened into a chamber with four other exits: two more doors at the end of short halls to the south, a passage to the north, and a passage to the west.
The paladin led the others into the room, scanning it for whatever she might find. “These passages keep going,” she reported of the north and west passages, while Taliesin inspected the nearby door. She joined the druid and pulled open the door. The portal proved to be fake. When pulled open, a bare stone wall was revealed behind it. At the same time, a distant clangor sounded from the north. An inquisitive yip sounded from the west.
“Oh, Hells,” Besilana swore. “That could be the gnolls. Let me get in front.” As the adventurers positioned themselves, the elves noted four hyena-headed humanoids in the shadows of the western chamber. “It’s the gnolls,” said the paladin.
The creatures narrowed their eyes at the sight of the heroes in cultist cloaks but made no move to reach for their weapons. One barked out something in a harsh tongue. When none of the intruders responded, the gnoll tried again in what might have been a different language, but with the creature’s “accent”, it was difficult to tell.
“I hope one of you is a better liar than I am,” Besilana whispered to her friends.
“How can I lie if I can’t understand them?” Felicity whispered back.
“Might as well take them before more come along,” advised Taliesin.
The lead gnoll grew impatient and snarled one final challenge, as its companions reach for the bows on their backs.
“Get behind me, Felicity!” ordered the paladin. The halfling complied and prayed to Ehlonna to bless her companions for the coming conflict. The gnolls opened fire, and Besilana took an arrow to the shoulder, wincing in pain. After their volley, two of the gnolls took cover to the sides of the hall.
“HOLY HECK!” cried the halfling as Taliesin shapeshifted into a tiger, as promised. The giant cat leapt forward and cleared the defensive line completely, landing on the other side. Furnok snatched the torch out of Felicity’s hand and tossed it forward, where it landed on the floor near the western hallway, illuminating the surprised gnolls and wildshaped druid. Then the rogue advanced, taking cover north of the same hall, and using Taliesin’s maneuver to cover his own. Besilana raised Starsong above her head and advanced on the gnolls in a defensive stance.
Felicity prayed for a sacred flame to strike the nearest gnoll, but the creature dodged aside. It and its fellows dropped their bows and drew spears, trying to murder the tiger in their midst. Taliesin was stabbed three times, once quite deeply. The druid roared defiantly, and some of his wounds closed up. He then took a bite out of the gnoll flanked by Besilana.
Furnok peeked around the corner, aiming for the wounded gnoll and putting an arrow between its shoulder blades. The rogue ducked back around the corner as his target fell dead to the stone floor. Besilana rounded the tiger to get to her quarry, slicing the gnoll that had shot her across its back viciously. The cleric’s holy fire missed the wounded gnoll, even as the creature wheeled on Besilana and tried to stab her. She swatted the spear aside contemptuously with her shield.
The other two gnolls focused on bringing the tiger down. They managed to stab the druid, but his wounds kept slowly healing as he poured more spell power into maintaining his form. In retaliation, he bit the wounded gnoll, spilling more of its blood on the dungeon floor. The rogue popped out again and shot one of the unwounded gnolls before ducking back out of sight again. Besilana pressed the attack on her opponent with renewed ferocity, striking it down before advancing on the next enemy.
Furnok’s latest target could not avoid the halfling’s next sacred flame, and the gnoll yelped in pain as the radiant energy burned. The creature maneuvered around the tiger to get to Felicity, stabbing her with its spear. Its only surviving companion continued trying to kill the tiger, but Taliesin stepped aside, growing more accustomed to his feline body. The druid would not tolerate the gnoll attacking Felicity, and literally bit its head off, whirling on the last enemy and dropping the head at its feet.
The rogue paled at the ultra-violence of the druid’s attack, but managed to steel himself enough to take aim at the remaining gnoll. Furnok’s arrow sank into the creature’s guts, even as he pivoted across the hallway to try to take cover behind the south corner. Besilana’s blade sang as she struck the last gnoll, and it staggered but remained standing, cursing the adventures in its barking native tongue.
The creature handily evaded Felicity’s sacred flame then continued trying to kill Taliesin, who had so monstrously killed its companion. He stabbed the druid, but not deeply enough to bring him down. It was to be the gnoll’s final act as the tiger reared up and swatted it fiercely across the face, claws raking deep gashes. Overcome, the last of the hyena-men fell dead.
“Ow,” said Besilana. The druid reverted back to elven form, his wounds disappearing.
“Cuthbert’s stony visage!” Furnok swore. “That was brutal, ’Sin!”
“THAT’S A ZEBRA!?!” cried Felicity.