Chapter 9

K'ellz and Rimellyn walked among the dark Elven court, assembled in all their splendor. The columns glistened with purples and oranges, glowing in the relative darkness as the courtiers walked among them. Calcite formations enchanted with faerie fire lit the dark fairyland as the two sipped their spice wine. It was a little bit of Menzoberrazan brought close to the surface. They talked quietly, not wanting to disturb the scene before the throne of Ebonstarr. They were watching an execution. They didn't know what the poor fool had done. Perhaps nothing, and it didn't matter now. The executioner was only six feet tall, but just as wide. Corded muscles stood out all over his upper torso as he smoothly pulled the last finger from the victim's left hand and dropped it in a pile before Ebonstarr. He would continue until every limb had been torn from the victim's body. All that could be seen of the executioner's expression were the small eyes from behind the leather mask. Scraps of Bulette shell, as well as bronze and silver dragon scales decorated his harness. At his belt was a blackened broadsword of an ancient design. It was a weapon of Morgoth, enchanted to drain life and magic. They could feel the chill "aliveness" of it from where they stood.

Spells of privacy guarded their conversation. "A half-giant, Master K'ellz?"

"Awfully small for that, Master Rimellyn. Perhaps an Ogre mercenary."

"Perhaps, Master K'ellz." Rimellyn took a sip of wine. "Still, an odd ally to have joined our merry company."

"She is favored by Lloth, Master Rimellyn, yet turned to a Drider. She is accursed by Lloth, yet draws disciples from across the Underdark. Strange."

"Not so, Master K'ellz, considering the talisman she holds."

"True." Another sip. "Still, Master Rimellyn, it's strange she hasn't shown it."

"Yes Master K'ellz. She wouldn't need these executions."

"Of course, Master Rimellyn." K'ellz gestured towards the screaming victim with his wine glass. "And the selection of the third son of Matron Halazzat...." He shook his head.

"True, Master K'ellz." K'ellz said nodding. "And using a method reserved for the lowest class. There will be... consequences."

"Not quite sane, Master Rimellyn?" He said seriously, his voice lowered.

"No, Master K'ellz." He spoke in a whisper. "Note how she switches from smooth-and-cunning priestess to frothing-at-the-mouth maniac and back again."

"Almost as if, Master Rimellyn, she had more than one personality."

"Yes, Master K'ellz." He said, carefully observing Ebonstarr and the courtiers. "Well, no better time to search than the present; surely it must be in her quarters."

"Indeed, Master Rimellyn, and our Matron's orders were quite explicit." They faded back from the crowd and disappeared.

They had searched most of her quarters when they found the secret entrance. Opening it, they went down the long tunnel, disarming the traps they found along the way. At the end they found a fully-equipped magical lab. Nothing was out of the ordinary except for one large trunk made of a black glassy material. They couldn't open it.

They turned around to find Ebonstarr there not three feet away, smiling serenely. After a frozen moment, Rimellyn said smoothly; "Ah, mistress Ebonstarr; we heard a noise..." She stepped forward. K'ellz said, "And we came to investigate...."

Ebonstarr said serenely, "No need for explanations, beloved of Lloth," She trailed her fingernails across K'ellz's face. Her nails suddenly dug into his cheek and he gasped, his body going rigid; blood started dribbling down his face. Ebonstarrs face underwent a startling transformation as her eyes flared red and her lips drew back in a snarl; revealing very undrowlike fangs. "You came here to steal!" She snarled, stretching his cheek a little farther. "Steal my holy talisman!" She pulled even further, tearing the cheek away from the bone. K'ellz couldn't even scream as he looked on in horror. Rimellyn started forward, but found he was caught also. "Shown to me by Lloth herself!" She screamed, starting to pull K'ellz's face off like a mask. She stopped suddenly, her eyes going black as if some shadow had fallen over her. "Oh, dear; you're wounded. Let me help you." She spoke in a different voice as she gently smoothed K'ellz's face. The savage rents in his face quickly drew together again, leaving nothing but a very thin scar. Ebonstarr turned away to run her hand over the trunk. "The dagger is quite ... safe. No need to further trouble yourselves." Released, K'ellz put a trembling hand to his face, not quite believing what had just happened. "As for this, well, it's a present for a friend of mine; he'll be dropping by any day now." She turned to them again, her eyes gleaming red again. "But first I have a little job for you..."

Strongbow awoke with a start. Something dark and evil had touched his mind, breaking his reverie and leaving him feeling cold. He shivered involuntarily as he rose and dressed. Lyrianda was still asleep, but Nalynn was gone. Perhaps she was having breakfast. Donning his cloak, he made his way to the common room. Glancing around, he found no sign of Nalynn and frowned. He left the Guilded Horseshoe Inn intending to look for her, but first, he needed to refresh himself, and a nearby waterfall he knew of would suit the purpose well. As he made his way towards his destination, a shadow detached itself from the cover of a nearby tree and followed the Elf. The shadow watched as Strongbow shed his clothes and waded to stand under the waterfall, letting the cold refreshing waters wash over him. It was then that the shadow made it's move. Flitting across the water, it enveloped the Elf in its icy grasp. Surprised and off guard, Strongbow lost his balance and plunged into the water, almost warm compared to the shadows touch. He surfaced momentarily, taking a ragged gulp of air before the shady spirit dragged him under once more. They struggled underwater for what seemed like several minutes to the Elf. As Strongbow was losing consiousness, he offered up a final prayer.

"Corellon... Eru... aid me..." There was a blinding flash of bright blue light, and the shadow screamed as it was shredded by the holy light, but Strongbow saw it not. He barely had the strength to drag himself to the edge of the pool. And there he collapsed, exhausted.

The weakened Elf staggered through the forest, barely aware of his surroundings. Somehow he had survived the attack of the shadow, and still wasn't sure how he had avoided drowning in that pool. His dream of a night ago came back to him in dim, but recognizable thoughts. A storm. Strongbow glanced in what he thought was the direction of Red Larch but could see nothing. The trees were too thick, and he was not on high ground. The dark drider form, searching. The last part with he and Rayella came back also, and he suddenly realized how long it had been since he had seen her. Where was she? And was she allright?.

He tried to speak to her through a mental link but could not. He could not concentrate well enough to establish contact, attributing the failure to the recent attack and the tremendous pain it caused.

"Damn," the oath came out in a whisper. Strongbow leaned with his back to a tree to rest a moment. "Some guardian I am," he berated himself. Straightening, he looked around and realized he had wandered off the trail. He knew where he was, but now he would come in on the other side of Longsaddle. There was a clearing he knew of on that side of the settlement. He could rest there, and with his cloak pulled up, be relatively assured he would not be disturbed. Somehow, he didn't want to go back to the inn, and the fresh air would do him good. So with a last thought to his amael's safety, trudged on, seeking the clearing not too far away.

It had been a day since Riklaun had seen the human child. No one had come down to check on him either. He had finally regained some use out of his arm and moved it gingerly. He examined the bars of his cell for the fifth time today, always seeing the same thing but hoping that he'd find something that had eluded him before. Riklaun looked out past the bars at the table where his stuff had been piled. Every time he thought of casting a spell, his head throbbed. That alone was enough to cause him to fail each spell. So he had to use other means to escape. Because of his arm and broken ribs, strength was out of the question.

The humans did not even give him some sort of bed to sleep on. All he had was the harsh, cold stone floor. Riklaun leaned against the bars for support. He did not have a bite to eat in what seemed like days. If only he could get at his bag, there was some fey that would help. But the table was too far away. and he had nothing to reach it. Riklaun slowly slid down the bars until he sat on the ground.

Riklaun bowed his head in despair. "If only someone knew I was here," he thought. He sat for what seemed like hours. He heard a faint noise and his ears perked up. He turned his head in the direction of the stairs. He recogized the noise as that of footsteps, lightly padding on the ground. He shifted his weight and turned to watch the staircase.

Gliding down the stairs in the shadows was a human. He stepped into the room and scanned about. He noticed the table with all of Rik's equipment on it and headed over to it. "Jackpot." He whispered to himself.

Riklaun watched the human as he rifled through his stuff. "Those are my things." Rik deftly said as he stood.

The human jumped and turned around in a flash, dagger in hand. "Who...?" he said. Rik peered at him from behind the bars. "Rik?" he asked.

"Aye. That is my name." Riklaun responded. "Is that you, Gman?"

"Yes. What happened to you?" Gmanfandan asked. "Why are you down here?"

"A long story of which I know not the beginning. Can you get me out of here?"

"Sure. Anything for an old friend. " Gmanfandan went over to the lock on the door and broke it off. "You look terrible." he said as he swung the door open.

"I've felt worse," Rik said as he left the cage and headed over to his pack. Sitting on the table he pulled out the bottle of Fey and opened it. He managed to guzzle it down.

"How long have you been here? The town's been deserted for a day." Gmanfandan said.

"A day?" Rik asked. Riklaun searched his pack for something

"Yea." Gmanfandan replied. "I've been here looting the place. I've gotten some great things."

"But you are an information dealer." Rik said, "Why do this looting?"

"Because it's easy when no one is around." Gmanfandan told Rik with a smile.

"It's not here." Rik said as he rummaged through his bag. "Have you by chance seen an amulet around? It has two swords and a circle on it."

"Not off hand. This place is empty. Haven't been down near the old beholders' room. Maybe it's there." Gmanfandan said.

"Could be. It's probably with my two scimitars." Riklaun said. He slid the pack over his good shoulder and started to walk towards a passage. Gmanfandan strode up to the Elf.

"Rik, stay here. If that amulet is what I think it is, I will retrieve it. You'd be no match for the holders if they are still there." Gmanfandan said. "I'll be right back."

Gmanfandan started off in the direction of the holders. He stopped and turned to Rik. "Here, drink this for now. it will help get your strength back." He tossed Riklaun a vial.

Riklaun caught it and opened it. It had the familiar smell of a healing potion. Riklaun downed it in one gulp. He could feel the power of the potion work it's magic inside him. He felt better as the pains and aches were subdued. He moved around the table and could still feel his ribs grinding on one another.

"It's a good thing I did not have a punchtured lung," he said to himself. He pulled out the chair and slumped into it. He opened his spell book and started to read it. "Better try to regain my spells while I wait."

A few hours later Riklaun finished his memorizing and closed his book. He placed his book away in the hidden pocket inside his bag. The potion that Gmanfandan had given him was starting to wear off. Thinking of the human, Riklaun became worried about his friend's absence. The Elf stood, put his pack over his good shoulder and unsheathed his scimitar. Riklaun started down the corridor in the direction Gmanfandan had walked.

Riklaun moved at a slow pace, almost groaning from his injuries. As he neared the holders room, he noticed that the door was open. He slid up to the door and silently prepared himself for anything that might come out at him. He peered into the room and stopped in shock. Gmanfandan lay on the floor near the stairs.

Riklaun glanced about the room for any signs of other life and found none. He moved into the room and headed over to the human. He reached the body and found it mangled and torn. He averted his eyes from the gruesome site and saw dark shapes moving along the wall. Riklaun steadied himself and cast a light spell. The magical illumination exploded into the room and cast an eerie light on everything. The dark shapes on the wall disappeared as quickly as the light had entered the room.

"I must be seeing things," Rik mumbled to himself. He turned back to corpse on the ground and saw that the human clutched his amulet. Riklaun reached for the amulet and was struck from the side. He stumbled to the left and stood.

"What?" he gasped as he was hit again this time from the front and stumbled backwards. Riklaun brought up his scimitar in a defensive stance but was hit on his left side. He stumbled right and lost his footing. Rik crashed to the ground on his wounded shoulder.

"Augh...," he screamed as pain shot through his body. He shrugged off the pack and began to swing wildly. "Show yourselves!" He yelled. All he got in reply was a strange baying. He rolled onto his stomach and rose to his knees. Once on his feet he twirled around to strike at something. He was hit from behind and shoved forward.

Riklaun regained his footing and twirled. His sword arced in and stopped, catching on something. For a moment , that something became visible. A large dark being stood in front of Riklaun, with glowing red eyes that seemed to pierce Riklaun's soul. The Elf tried to move his sword but could not. The dark creature grabbed the sword and wrenched it from Riklaun's grasp. The sword flew through the air and landed with a clang on the stone floor on the other side of the room. Riklaun's exhausted body soon met the floor as well.

Continue to Chapter 10