Author's Note:

Welcome to my first-ever attempt at writing a fanfiction, initiated mainly due to the encouragement and support of Kyn, author of the Aegis of Candlekeep series and a far better writer than I could ever hope to be.

The protagonist Dorean is a Neutral Evil dwarf thief.

I hope you'll enjoy reading this first chapter, and if you haven't, I encourage you to read the BG fics of Kyn and kaispan as well.

..


Dorean smelt the rat before he saw its head emerge from the nearby haystacks. His lips curled into a smile behind his beard.

There you are. Nice to meet you at last.

From his position in the barn rafter, the dwarf watched intently as the rat sniffed the air before shoving its body out of the bale in a small shower of golden strands. At twenty inches long from snout to tail and with a rich, brown coat of hair, it made for an impressive specimen.

Been eating well, haven't you? Must be, from all the forages you've made into the priest's quarters. Then there's the feast you had at poor Dreppin's expense.

At that last thought, Dorean barely suppressed an urge to chuckle. He stayed very still, hands on his lap with only his eyes moving to follow the rat. His eyebrows creased into a frown as he watched it rear up on its hind legs to get a better view of its surroundings.

Smarter than all the others. You've avoided every trap I've laid for you in the past three weeks. Even broke and bypassed a few of them. Very smart.

It was after thirty seconds, during which the rat had not moved at all, that Dorean realized he had been holding his breath.

He saw then that the rat was moving its head very slowly from left to right, scanning the open barn, and he exhaled through his nose, his smile turning into a grimace.

If I don't get you here and now, chances are I never will.

After a few more sweeps of its head, the rat focused its gaze on a half-eaten bread bun lying on the floor in the middle of the barn, directly below where Dorean lurked on the rafter beam. Its whiskers twitched.

There it is. Cheese flavouring with a honeyed centre, ordered from Beregost. Cost me quite a bit to keep it preserved for delivery. Won't find anything like it here in Candlekeep.

At last it moved with alarming speed for its large size, body turning into a brownish blur. It sped across the ground toward its target, whiskers twitching in anticipation.

With a predatory grin almost wide enough to reveal his lips through his beard, Dorean slowly moved his left hand to the knife at his belt. He leaned forward, thigh muscles tensing for the drop.

That's it. Come and get it. The best and last meal you will ever-

It stopped less than a metre away from the bun, rearing up again and swivelling its head rapidly from side to side.

The dwarf froze, his fingers around yet not touching the knife handle. He did not lean back despite the strain threatening to make his drop a premature one. His eyes narrowed to slits as he scrutinized the rat now almost directly below him. Several thoughts raced through his mind.

Do it now? Am I close enough? Would I have to push hard off the beam? Will it hear me if I do?

A dull pain began to build in his bunched-up muscles, but Dorean continued to keep still. He felt a bead of sweat at his eyebrow.

Seconds pass in what seem like minutes before the rat stopped looking around. It lowered its front end and then starred at the bun, its whiskers aquiver. Dorean felt the upper corner of his lip twitching almost to match the rat's, and he barred his teeth in a silent snarl.

It will be dawn soon. What will you do, o brave and smart rat? Do you play it safe and leave your prize behind when it is within your grasp, or do you get greedy?

Finally giving in to temptation, the rat scurried over to the bun, hopped on top of it, and began tearing into the bread with its teeth.

You get greedy. Good boy.

Moving as slowly as he could, all the while keeping his eyes on the target, Dorean leaned back, drew his knife, held it in both hands, and then, with as little movement and effort as possible, pushed himself off of the beam.

The knife blade descended like a guillotine, plunging up to its hilt into the rat's body and pinning it to the bread bun.

Got you at last-

Pain shot through his arms as claws raked at his wrists and a set of molars bit deep into his hand.

"Gods!-"

The rat writhed and squirmed beneath the knife, and Dorean hurriedly gripped it with both hands as it threatened to slip from his grasp, falling to his knees to keep himself from losing his balance. Blood specks and bread crumbs flew into his face as he gritted his teeth and held onto the weapon.

"Damn you!-"

The pain in his bitten hand had rapidly risen from burning to white-hot. Releasing the knife, he grabbed the rat by the back of its head with his free hand to force open its jaws. He felt the spray of blood in his face as he freed the other hand and clamped it around the animal's neck, wrist bent for a sharp twist.

"Why won't you just-"

The rat's face had been lifted up to his, and the animal immediately ceased all movement.

"...die."

Beady, oily-black eyes starred up into deep set gray. He could feel a thundering pulse through his hands as lifeblood seeped from around the blade buried in its side. Rat and dwarf went still, both breathing heavily.

After a moment, Dorean spoke to it, his voice gentle but firm.

"It's over. Let it go."

The rat's breathing slowly receded, and he felt its muscles relax. Its head rested against his torn hand, and it became still.

After a moment, Dorean lowered the head and neck to the ground, then leaned back with his hands resting palms-up on his knees.

He heard a rustle and looked up to see that Candlekeep's only cow had awoken and risen its head to stare at him through the twin bars of its stall, unblinking and unmoving.

He realized then what a sight he must be; his tunic had been stained red and he could feel blood on his face and neck. The pain in his wrists and hand had settled from sharp needle stabs to a slow, steady burn.

"Morning, Nessa," he said, wincing as another lance of pain shot through his hand.

As Dorean gingerly got to his feet, rays of light travelled along the grass and dirt toward him, and he reflexively blinked as his infravision turned off. He looked up to see the sky fading from dark blue to orange.

Dawn had arrived, and with it a new day in Candlekeep.

..


Having made the rounds in his inn for any early-morning customers, Winthrop walked down a corridor from the common room to find Dorean waiting for him.

The dwarf had taken his usual spot in the kitchen; at the counter next to the back door. Winthrop's round face broke into a smile and he entered the kitchen, nodding his head in greeting.

"Hello there, young one. So how was last night's hunt?"

Dorean raised his cradled arms from behind the counter, revealing the paper-wrapped carcass in them. Winthrop gave a low whistle.

"Got him at last, have ye? Look at the size of it. Fellow must weigh at lea-"

He stopped and looked the dwarf up and down, noting the bloodstains on his face, beard and clothes along with the bandages on his hands and wrists.

"What happened?"

Dorean shrugged nonchalantly, placing the dead rat on the counter.

"He got me too."

At that moment, Imoen walked into the kitchen, took one look at Dorean and jumped.

"Little brother!"

Dorean winced, more from her high-pitched squeak than the label.

"I stopped by the clinic, the healer said I'll be fine," he said quickly.

"Put up quite a fight, didn't it?" Winthrop said, looking down at the stab wound in the side of the carcass along with the blood on its claws and teeth.

"They usually don't, at least not as much as this- ow!"

Imoen had ran over and taken hold of his bandaged wrists.

"How badly were you hurt? Did it bite you? Did you get checked for infections?" She placed a hand on his forehead. "I heard you can get fever from rat bites..."

"I said I'm fine," Dorean exclaimed, pushing her hands away. "Will you stop worrying about me all the time?"

"Of course I'm worried about you!" Imoen waggled her arms. "You're always getting yourself into trouble. Staying up late 'til dawn to kill rats, breaking into Ulraunt's room to leave cow poo under his bed..."

"That was your idea!"

"Yes," said Imoen, crossing her arms, "and it was a bad one, you shouldn't have listened to me!"

"And yet you want to be responsible for me," said Dorean, tilting his head to the side.

"Of course! You're my little brother! Who else would you listen to?" Imoen answered, in a tone that conveyed perfect sense and no argument.

Dorean rubbed his forehead to stave off the incoming headache.

"Imoen, please stop calling me that. I'm nearly twice as old as you."

Imoen placed both hands on her hips, pointing her chin at him. "Only in years and not in maturity!" She gave a toothy grin.

Beard bristling, Dorean opened his mouth and pointed his finger for a blistering retort when he saw that Winthrop had been watching their bickering with an elbow on the counter and a smile on his face. He dropped his hand to his lap and glared at the innkeeper.

Still smiling, Winthrop pulled up a chair up to the counter. "Sit down, my girl. Yer brother will be fine, he's a tough kid. S'gonna take more than one rat to get him sick." He gave the dwarf a wink and received a glower in return.

Imoen huffed but accepted the chair, pushing it next to Dorean's before taking her seat. The dwarf rolled his eyes before looking back up to Winthrop.

"You got something for us?" he asked irritably. The day had started with him getting clawed and bitten by a rat, then vexed by Imoen and teased by Winthrop. His mood was far from pleasant now.

Winthrop leaned forward conspiratorially, now sporting his familiar roguish grin.

"Do either of you remember Christian of Waterdeep?"

"Not really," replied Dorean.

Imoen was frowning at his bandaged hands, but perked up at Winthrop's inquiry.

"The green-wearing nobleman who was here last month? Kept to himself a lot?" She turned to Dorean. "Isn't he the one that Ulraunt accused us of pick-pocketing?"

"Yeah, that's him," Winthrop replied, nodding. His grin was still in place, now accompanied by an ominous twinkle in his eyes. "Ol' Tethtoril told me Ulraunt had five watchers turn your room inside out while he questioned the both'a you outside."

"A gold medallion," Dorean answered with a sigh, looking at the dead rat. "After Christian reported it missing, Ulraunt grilled us for over an hour. He wouldn't have suggested using enchantment spells if someone didn't keep making faces at him every time he looked at me." Ignoring the tongue being stuck out at him, the dwarf drew a skinning knife from his belt and set to work on the carcass. Imoen's petulant expression turned to one of revulsion. She averted her eyes and looked back to Winthrop.

"You should have seen the mess they left the room in, pops," she said, waving her arms while leaning away from Dorean. "They even opened up our mattresses! Ulraunt had no proof we took anything."

"Since when has," Dorean paused to cut a slit in the rat's belly, "that ever stopped him? He's the man in charge of Candlekeep, he can do whatever he wants. Besides," he added, glaring pointedly at Imoen, "I'd never hide any stolen items in our room." The pink-clad girl huffed and crossed her arms.

"Good thing you sold the necklace to me then, eh?" said Winthrop. His grinned widened toothily at the duo's reactions; Dorean groaned while Imoen's eyes widened and her body turned in her seat to face her roommate, grabbing him by his shoulder.

"You made a steal without me!?"

"The tavern was busy, you were working. I couldn't wait for you all night." Dorean kept his eyes down on the carcass, holding it in place with one hand while the other held the knife.

"I thought we were a team, little brother." Lips pouted and eyes widened into an expression of hurt and adoration. Without looking up, Dorean placed a linen-wrapped, blood-stained palm in her face. "Mmph!" She batted it away and swatted his shoulder.

"So, about Christian," the dwarf said, giving Winthrop a look that in no uncertain terms told the innkeeper not to reveal any more past capers that may or may not have been committed without Imoen's knowledge.

"He arrived last afternoon. This is his third visit to Candlekeep."

"Third visit," said the dwarf, reaching over and turning the rat carcass around to get a better angle for his knife. He felt Imoen shudder beside him. "That makes him a regular. Add that he was already robbed on his last stay, and that makes him a high risk." After a moment, he looked up at Winthrop. "Alright, give us the room number."

"Ye know me price, children," replied the innkeeper. A large, calloused hand extended toward them, palm up. Dorean bumped Imoen with his hip, and she winced as one of his many belt pouches hit her side.

"You pay him."

"Why do I have to pay him?" she pouted.

"Because you're the responsible one," replied Dorean, smiling at her.

Fuming, Imoen reached into her money pouch and handed Winthrop two gold coins. "There. Charge your own daughter for information, why don't you."

Chuckling, Winthrop pocketed the money. "Noble suite, first door on the right. In the last two times he's been here, he always stayed up late in the libraries, so you should have plenty of time to make the steal."

"Anything else?" asked Dorean. He heard a "Yech!" from beside him as he slowly began peeling the skin off of the carcass.

"No, that's it. If any other potential marks show up, I'll pass whatever I learn to Imoen here, same as usual."

"Of course, this means I'll be paying for it too," Imoen grumbled. Dorean reached over and patted her shoulder, leaving a bloody hand-print on her tunic. "Hey!" She protested.

"I'll reimburse you, quit complaining." Setting down his knife, Dorean placed the rat skin next to the carcass and leaned back in his seat. "I need to get cleaned up. Could you get this and Gorion's breakfast ready by the time I get back?"

"That'll cost you 3 gold," Winthrop said. He laughed and raised his hands at the dwarf's piercing glare. "I'm sorry, that was a joke!"

Imoen laughed as well and placed an arm around Dorean's back.

"You take everything way too seriously, little brother."

"Someone around here has to," grumbled the dwarf, irritated by the combined joviality.

"As if I would charge you fer what you do every day. Yer old man would have my hide if I did!" said Winthrop, still shaking in mirth at Dorean's reaction. Then he looked at the rat on the counter. "Ooh, wrong choice of words there." He turned away and reached for a white apron hanging on the wall. "The usual, then?"

"Add some fish and red meat. He's been staying up later than ever lately."

When Winthrop had moved away to begin his work, Dorean looked at Imoen and then at the now-skinned rat. "You know, I almost regret having to eat this thing."

"'Almost?' "I'll never understand why you like them at all."

"Aren't rats supposed to be a delicacy to dwarves?" Dorean asked, turning to look at her.

"Reevor doesn't eat them, he just likes killing them." Imoen answered. "And he's the only other dwarf we know, so we don't have a lot to go on." She paused in thought. "The ones who visit Candlekeep never asked about there being rat on the menu, as far as I can remember." She looked back at the skinned carcass, now no longer shuddering.

"So why do you like them? You've never told me why."

Dorean paused, looking up at nothing in particular. "There's just...something. About eating an animal you have killed yourself." He did not turn to see Imoen's expression. After a moment, he shrugged. "That sounds morbid, I know."

"Imoen!" they heard Winthrop call from the common room. She reached over and tousled his hair.

"I gotta get to work. You get cleaned up and make sure to redress your wounds afterwards, alright?"

"Yes, yes," Dorean sighed irritably, not looking at her. The pink girl gave him a hug, hopped off her chair, grabbed a pink-coloured apron off the wall, and hurried to join the innkeeper.

Now alone in the kitchen, he looked down at the carcass and recalled Winthrop's comment.

"Yeah. You did put up quite a fight."

He stepped off the chair, onto the fruit crate next to it and then to the floor, pushing open and walking through the door leading out to the backyard of the inn.

..


Dorean stopped outside the door to Gorion's room, hearing hushed voices within. He hesitated before knocking twice and pushing it open.

Gorion was seated behind his desk, and Tethtoril standing in front of it.

The dwarf stood awkwardly at the doorway, a basket in the crook of his arm.

The warm smile from Gorion did not quite reach his eyes; Dorean had become accustomed to seeing it every morning, and he immediately picked up that something was wrong. His eyes darted to the priest.

"Good morning, Tethtoril," he greeted cautiously. Despite the gentle and soft-spoken general demeanour of the First Reader of Candlekeep, Dorean had always felt that this man is the real person in charge of the library fortress and not Ulraunt.

"Good morning, young one," Tethtoril replied. "Your father and I were just talking about you, actually." The man shifted slightly, but not before Dorean saw Gorion taking a letter from his desk, folding and replacing it in its envelope before tucking it into his robes.

"Me? What was it, exactly, if you will forgive me asking?" he said, slowly approaching the desk. At their respective heights, both Gorion and Tethtoril tower over him.

"We were just discussing your hunt for the rodent that has been terrorizing the priest's quarters," Tethtoril replied.

Frowning, Dorean reached into the basket and drew out a large shape wrapped in brown paper.

"Oh! Well done, child. I trust it wasn't too difficult?"

"A bit more than the others were, but not too much trouble," Dorean answered. He was starting to feel awkward, and from Tethtoril's fidgeting it was mutual. After a moment, the man rubbed his hands together.

"Well, I must be going before Ulraunt decides to make inquiries as to my whereabouts." He took a few steps toward the door, paused, and leaned down to pat the dwarf on his shoulder.

"You've grown into a fine young man, Dorean. I'm proud of you."

The dwarf could only blink and look up at Tethtoril's face.

"I'll leave you two alone now. Enjoy your breakfast."

Giving his shoulder another pat, Tethtoril walked out of the room and closed the door behind him.

Turning back to look at Gorion, Dorean thought of asking him about their conversation, then decided against it. Holding the basket in both hands and over his head, he placed it on the desk and then climbed onto the chair in front of it.

"I'm ready," he said, settling comfortably into the seat.

Gorion nodded and reached down at the foot of his desk, picking up and placing a satchel on his lap. From it, he drew one of several vials, holding it out to his ward.

Taking the vial, Dorean held it up to the light. The liquid within had a slight brownish tinge.

"I remember this one." Removing the stopper, he placed his large, hooked nose over the narrow lid and sniffed. No odour, as expected. "I took it just two days ago and had no symptoms at all."

"Yes. That is why I believe you should take a slightly higher dose this time." Keeping his eyes on the vial, Gorion removed from his desk drawer a ceramic cup and spoon. "It is gaining popularity among Calishite assassins and is now likely to be mixed with other substances to mask its colour."

Dorean looked at him, nodded and reached for the cup. Gorion beat him to it, then held out his other hand for the vial. The dwarf sighed.

"Father, we've been doing this for years. Your food's getting cold."

Gorion only smiled and continued to extend his open palm. Huffing, his young ward handed him the vial.

A minute later, the vial was half-empty and Dorean was sitting back in his chair, blinking slowly and counting quietly to a hundred while Gorion stood waiting in front of him. After another minute, the dwarf looked up at him.

"Not much. A little dizzy and my vision's a bit blurry, just around the edges."

The instant he said 'vision', Gorion stooped to bring his face close and level with Dorean's, gently pulling back his eyelids. The dwarf did not lean back, calmly allowing the examination. After a moment, Gorion stood up, placing his hands on his ward's shoulders.

"If it persists, or you feel any other symptoms..."

"Drop everything and go straight to a healer, yes," Dorean finished for him. He blinked a few times, and then frowned. This close to Gorion's face, he noticed the dark circles around the wizard's eyes. Did he sleep at all last night?

"Father, what is wrong? What were you discussing with Tethtoril? And what was in that letter you were reading?"

Gorion simply smiled, gave his shoulders an affectionate squeeze, then stood and walked back around the desk.

"Let's have our breakfast, son."

Dorean frowned before quietly setting the dishes from the basket while Gorion brewed their morning tea. The effects of the poison still lingered and his vision was still blurry around the edges, but at least the dizziness was already receding.

"Ah, I see Imoen's made her own additions," said Gorion when Dorean removed several muffins from the basket, all with bright pink icing.

"She's as humble as ever about it too," Dorean said, unable to keep himself from smiling. "Always going on about how thin you are. I tell her it's just the robes and that you jog every morning."

Gorion chuckled, then paused when Dorean unwrapped his own dish; the rat, now stewed, salted, and accompanied by vegetables and an apple. The dwarf noticed his eyes move to the rat and then to his face. He looked down at it and back up.

"I cleaned it thoroughly before I gave it to Winthrop, and I've yet to get sick from eating one of these."

Gorion's eyes moved to his hands. "You were hurt."

The dwarf suppressed a groan; removing the bandages had done no good.

"I'm fine." Imoen fussing over him was bad enough; Gorion would be even worse. "The healer found no lasting damage or infection. It dosen't even hurt now. Please, father, the food's getting cold."

In the moment that passed next, Dorean thought he saw a cloud pass over Gorion's eyes, but it was gone just before he could be sure of it.

Maybe the poison's still messing with my vision. Might have to make a note of that.

"...you're right, yes. Your lessons will be starting in two hours. We should eat," said the wizard.

As they ate their breakfast, Dorean watched Gorion pick at his food, clearly distracted, and reflected on his own history with the man.

Gorion clearly knew more about Dorean than he had ever told him, and any inquiries from the dwarf had always been answered with a promise to tell him when he was older and ready to hear it.

It was often frustrating, sometimes infuriating, to know that Gorion had been withholding information about him from the moment they had first met. That he had always been honest about this information-withholding only made it worse and yet, in some ways, also endearing.

And yet I've never seen him this troubled before.

Once Dorean had finished his meal and wiped his hands on a cloth from the basket, Gorion stood up and cleared his throat almost nervously, shaking the dwarf from his thoughts.

"I have something for you."

Smiling at his ward's expression of wide-eyed surprise, Gorion reached into his desk drawer once again (Dorean and Imoen had come to suspect years ago that the dimensions within it are larger than that of the average drawer; all subsequent attempts to break into it have been in vain) and removed what was unmistakably a cloak, holding it out to the dwarf and turning it so he could see both sides; one gray, the other brown.

Gorion gave him a nod, and Dorean reached out to take the cloak, turning it over in his hands. He stopped upon seeing that from the length, it had been designed for shorter races.

"This belonged to her," said Dorean.

"Yes, it did," he heard the wizard."The last time I...met her, she told me that she wanted you to have it."

The dwarf continued to examine the gift, noting the neckline.

"This is a halfling cloak."

Gorion hesitated before answering.

"Yes, and I don't know why; she never wore it, but she had it with her. I never found out how she got it or who she may have gotten it from."

At these words, Dorean stopped examining the cloak and simply held it in his hands. He kept his eyes on it, not wanting his face to betray his emotions.

"I wish you could tell me more about her," he said, failing to mask the bitterness in his voice and hating himself for it. He did not have to look up to know of the man's reaction his words; he had seen it before.

"Thank you for this. It means a lot," he added quietly. "But why did you wait until now to give it me?"

The next moment passed in silence long enough that Dorean became worried that he may have gone too far. He was about to lift his gaze from the cloak to apologize when Gorion finally spoke.

"I felt that it would be best to give it to you when the time came to use it."

Gray eyes rose to meet blue.

"This is a travelling cloak." Dorean realized his own voice had dropped almost to a whisper.

Gorion looked away from him and slowly moved to stand at the window. His room on the 5th floor of the library was high enough to allow him a view of the Sea of Swords beyond Candlekeep's walls. The morning sunrays reflected off of his light blue robes.

After a long moment, he let out a long, drawn-out sigh.

Dorean had heard it on a few occasions, when he and Imoen had been caught or suspected of doing something highly dangerous and illegal. The longest and most pronounced one until now was after the two thieves had broken into Ulraunt's office and attempted to steal a trunk filled with wands, scrolls, rings, amulets and potions. It still remained their second-most ambitious and disastrous caper to date, and Dorean had never dared to go near Ulraunt's office again afterward.

But this was different; it sounded like one of resignation. He felt a chill run from his spine to his feet.

At last, Gorion spoke, in a voice just as resigned:

"I have reason to believe that Candlekeep may not be safe for us any longer. We will have to leave soon."

Dorean froze in his seat, both hands holding the cloak.

He had been waiting for Gorion to say those words for years. At times, he had looked forward to it; twenty years in Candlekeep without ever stepping foot outside its walls had taken their toll on him.

He had never expected to feel so struck by them.

The dwarf felt his own lips move.

"How soon?"

"A few days. Perhaps three at most. I have made arrangements this past week. A few old contacts of mine have agreed to meet us a short journey away. I would prefer that they not meet us anywhere near here, in case anyone might be watching the roads to Candlekeep."

Dorean opened his mouth to ask about these contacts, but found that he could not form the words. He remained frozen in place, starring up at his foster father.

Seeing this, Gorion's expression and voice became startlingly gentle, more so than the dwarf had ever seen or heard from anyone, even Tethtoril for whom Imoen had invented several nicknames, all of which include a variant of the word 'soft'.

"You have stayed here long enough in any case, Dorean. Thirty-nine years is no age for one to be cooped up in a library." He walked around the desk and kneeled in front of Dorean's chair. Their respective heights allowed their faces to be level with each other.

"These contacts of mine are Harpers, like me. I have pledged my assistance to them in a matter they are currently looking into in exchange for their help. I have told them of you as well, and they have expressed just as much interest in meeting you as they had in seeing me again."

Dorean again tried to speak, this time to inquire further into Gorion's latest line of explanation. Harpers? Matter? Assistance?

Gorion gently patted his hand; the rat-bitten one. This time, the dwarf did not even wince.

"After I have paid my debt to them, perhaps I would fulfil my promise to you; we could go to Mithral Hall."

Upon hearing this, Dorean looked up, and was finally able to articulate words.

"Is Imoen coming with us?"

Gorion smiled sadly, his hand still on Dorean's.

"I do not know. That will be up to Winthrop. I will speak to him later today. I promise."

His hands again moved onto the dwarf's shoulders, and his voice dropped to a whisper.

"Remember what I told you, child; you must tell no one. Not Winthrop, not Tethtoril, not even Imoen. No one must know of our intention before we depart. This must be kept secret. You never know who might be listening."

"Are we in danger?" Dorean was surprised by how calm he sounded.

"I do not know. Perhaps not. However, if it turns out that we are, I will hasten our departure. My priority right now is your safety. Be on your guard until we leave. If you see or hear anything out of the ordinary, or you feel that someone may intend you harm, you come straight to me and no one else. No one else but me, Dorean. Do you understand?"

The dwarf nodded immediately, though slowly. The seriousness in Gorion's voice was almost overwhelming.

"Good." Gorion looked down at the cloak. "You should put that in your cupboard. Do not wear or show it to anyone."

"I'll have to put it somewhere else, Imoen keeps borrowing things from my cupboard." Dorean said automatically.

Gorion gave a short and audible laugh, his hands still on Dorean's shoulders.

"You have made good friends here. I am sorry for doing this to you, son; that you would have to leave without saying goodbye."

He leaned forward and pulled Dorean into a hug. The dwarf remained still, blinking quickly and unsure of what to do; he was still holding onto the cloak. Before he could place it onto his lap in order to return the hug, Gorion had released it. The old wizard kissed his forehead. Dorean could only blink further in response.

"I will see if I could get both of you to be excused from your chores for today. Though Your training and lessons will still be in place." He smiled warmly and stood up, releasing Dorean's shoulders.

It was only several minutes later, after he had left Gorion's room, entered his own and hidden the cloak, that Dorean finally felt the numbness fading from his mind. He recalled the last thing Gorion had said to him before he left the room.

"Imoen's working in the inn now. You have time left before your lessons. Go on, child."

Dorean usually walked the halls of Candlekeep quietly, even when not on a caper. An extended lecture and scolding from Ulraunt was enough for him to remember not to disrupt the atmosphere of quiet reading and study. Now the sounds of his boots echoed off the walls of the keep as he descended its levels, ignoring the scowls and glares of the priests, scribes and visitors.

In his room, Gorion placed the dishes, wrapping paper and food remains back in the basket. He paused upon picking up Dorean's plate.

He looked at the door through which his ward had earlier exited the room, and his eyes clouded up again; the expression that Dorean had caught but chose not to address.

I am sorry, child.