Mordekai watched as yet another brick was mortared into the wall’s fortifications. Beside him, the foreman, and expert in these things, continued to blather on about double walls, and how much sand would be between them, and how it will be impregnable. The disinterest on the Seeker’s face was lost on the poor man.

Mordekai looked at the wall again and sighed as the foreman moved back to supervise the workers. They weren’t outside. This wasn’t the outer wall, but rather the vast chamber beneath Dragon’s Roost where Mordekai and his companions had faced off against the dragon. The laborers were sealing the breach that the kobolds had left there that lead to the Underdark. Padraig and Valthrun thought it would be best to fortify it, with a solid gate to allow passage into the tunnels if required, but to also keep anything from easily gaining access to Gardmore.

Never before had Mordekai ever participated or watched the construction of anything. In fact, as a seeker, he was adamantly opposed to any unnatural changes to the environment. And yet, here he was, supervising men who were taking brick, and wood, and all the things he considered an abomination on the land, and making them into a wall.

Who am I now? Mordekai wondered morosely to himself. It was true, he was nowhere near the frightened and naïve purist he was when he left the grove in Gamboge, but he never expected to be where he was now: a voice of influence in Gardmore, and handed authority to lead by Garrick as they left for the Underdark. Cities were not his thing. Leadership was not his thing. The seeker was terrible at it, and terrified of it. This was why he was watching a wall being built. This was why he was hidden away beneath Dragon’s Roost. Because facing a dragon was nothing compared to facing the many voices and people that relied on him in Gardmore. I am a coward, he thought to himself as he watched, joylessly, as the masons put another brick into the structure.

“What kind of man have I become?” Mordekai moaned aloud to himself.

“Who says you’re a man at all?” came the unexpected reply behind him. Startled, the seeker turned to find Bhintel standing behind him. The drow was sporting a smirk on her face, one that Mordekai found both annoying and disturbing all at once. Beyond the rogue, he spied Izera following, her stride purposeful. The githzerai also made Mordekai nervous.

“I’m not sure I like your tone.” The seeker said, trying to regain some measure of authority. The drow simply snorted and said, “I’m not sure I care.” Mordekai‘s face reddened, and just as he felt his anger building, Izera was with them. She looked Mordekai over before finally speaking.

“Shouldn’t you be in the council room?” the avenger asked with her usual direct tone. The anger drained from Mordekai, and his face reddened even more.

“I… I’m making sure that…” The seeker looked around, flustered. Then gesturing at the wall, he answered, “I’m supervising the construction.” Izera‘s eyebrows rose in confusion, and Bhintel snorted her derision at him.

“I thought you were an outdoorsman.” Izera stated her voice flat. “What could you possibly know about walls?”

“Oh give him a break,” Bhintel said, her face smirking, “He misses his boyfriend, Odus.”

“I miss them all!” Mordekai said louder than he intended. He was shocked at how desperate he sounded, but unable to stop himself from speaking. “I worry about them, and where they are.” He said, his voice soft, almost a whisper. “I worry that they won’t come back.”

“They’ve not been gone long.” Izera said with a hint of compassion in her voice as she placed her hand reassuringly on Mordekai‘s shoulder, “And they are capable men, all of them.”

“If you were going to be so worried for them,” Bhintel exclaimed impatiently, “why didn’t you just go with them?”

Mordekai opened his mouth to answer, but froze. What could he say? Because he was afraid? Because being in the Underdark away from the sun for days on end with no familiar environment around him terrified him? No, he thought to himself, she’d mock me even more.

“Someone had to stay,” Mordekai finally replied, defeated. “Why are you here? Am I needed in the council room?”

“We’re here because he asked us to meet him here.” Bhintel said, as she nodded over her shoulder just as Illyn the Red entered the chamber behind her. The Mage of Saruun crossed the chamber quickly to stand with the group. He nodded respectfully at Mordekai, a gesture that just made the seeker feel even more uncomfortable.

“Sir Mordekai of Gamboge,” Illyn said formally, “I apologize for not speaking with you earlier about this, but I could not find you.”

“Please,” Mordekai said, as he raised his hand in protest, “just Mordekai‘. And I’ve been avoiding the council chamber, so it’s not your fault.” Illyn nodded his thanks, and then proceeded to fill in the group.

“There was something odd about the timing of everything that is going on in Phaervorul.” The mage explained, “So I decided I would try some divinations to see if I could uncover anything useful. According to our original correspondence with Orontor, the attacks on the settlement would have begun a month ago. But if that were the case, would it not already be overrun? What is preventing it from being completely destroyed? This is where I began my divinations, and though I am no expert, I came upon a frightening discovery.

“There is a powerful presence behind the attacks; this much we suspected, possibly this presence is the exarch of Orcus. I felt around the edge of this presence, a frightening thing I might add, but what I discovered worried me: It’s waiting for the Winterguard. It needs them. Its whole invasion is being held, waiting for them.

Whatever it is… it wants them in Phaervorul!”

“Are you saying it’s a trap?!” Mordekai exclaimed.

“No,” Illyn said, “no not quite, but the fact that it knows about them, can’t be good.”

“We need to warn them!” the seeker stated, “I need to warn them.”

“No,” Illyn replied, as he tried to calm Mordekai, “You cannot leave Gardmore now. This is why I have asked Izera and Bhintel here.”

“But the Winterguard have too much of a head start,” Izera said, confusion evident in her voice, “Without the journey stones to accelerate us, we’ll never get there in time.”

“Yes, about that…” the mage smiled, “The stones stay functional for quite a bit of time after activation. If one were to move quickly, they could use them to follow.”

“I must gather my things.” Izera said purposefully as she strode out of the room, Illyn quickly following her.

“As do I,” Bhintel said, her eyes locked on Mordekai. The seeker became uncomfortable, unaware that the drow herself was also ill at ease. He looked away from her and back to the wall, his face red.

“Your bird…” the drow said awkwardly. Mordekai winced. He’d left Kayle above, and had forgotten about him, something he thought he’d never be capable of doing. “… it’s waiting for you upstairs. I think it misses you.” All too suddenly Mordekai felt ashamed of his selfishness. Bhintel could see his pain, plain as day, and sighed herself.

“I wasn’t trying to be mean…” she started again, struggling to find the right words. “.. before. I was making a joke, and when you got angry, I just reacted badly. I’m not good at this sort of thing.” The drow punctuated the words with vague gestures between her and Mordekai.

“I’m not good at it either,” Mordekai confessed, a faint smile on his lips. “I’m terrible at it, actually.” Bhintel laughed, and Mordekai shrugged.

“Friendships are always difficult for me.” He said finally.

“Who says we’re friends?” Bhintel smirked and punched him hard in the shoulder as she turned to leave. Mordekai quickly followed her, intent on reuniting with Kayle. “Bring them back,” he said to Bhintel, his voice serious, “You know the drow, you can help. I’m awful at being in charge, and I need Garrick here. ”

“Don’t forget your boyfriend.” She said mockingly. Mordekai sighed and rolled his eyes at her. Maybe friendships were meant to be hard.

Author: Neil