Chapter 11

Nalynn sat on her cloak, dreaming in the glade through the morning. The wind picked up, stirring her long black hair, and the fog eventually burned away, but even in the sunlight there was something oppressive in the air.

Something blocked the sunlight on her face. She blinked and looked up in amazement. A huge thunderhead of towering black clouds had arisen; lightning crowned its top, flashing brilliant white and angry red. It came from somewhere south, towards Red Larch. It was moving against the wind.

"Ah, There you are! I've been looking all over for you." Said a merry voice behind her. She spun, a spell forming already, but it was much too late.

She felt herself floating through time and space, blinded by the flash which accompanied the spell which had been cast. Then, a falling sensation as her body lowered onto a firm surface. Still unable to see, Nalynn raised herself up on her knees, graceful Elven fingers exploring the strange ground she now occupied. It was flat and smooth, so unlike the grass upon which she'd so recently been seated. Slowly, she began to crawl, her hands carefully searching for some clue of where she was. Confusion melted into fear as she traversed the endless expanse of nothingness.

After an eternity, her hands bumped against an upright pole. She grasped it and reached beyond it--nothing! Moving her hand to the side, she located another pole. Both were smooth and metallic. Cautiously, she raised herself to her feet, clinging to the poles as she stood. Still feeling the effects of the strange spell, her knees shook as she struggled to support herself. Nalynn rested for a moment, waiting for her strength to return. As she reached out once again, she grasped another pole. Slowly, she made her way as pole after pole emerged.

"I'm getting nowhere," she thought. "Until my eyesight returns, this is futile." Tears of frustration trickled down her cheek, over an ugly wound which now festered and stung as the salty wetness reached it. She groped through her dress and located a handkerchief, which she daubed over the wound. As the stinging abated, she lowered herself back to the ground. Exhaustion overcame her rapidly and she fell into a troubled slumber.

Rayella limped through the crowd of refugees into Longsaddle--upset, scared, still bleeding from a few wounds and limping on a sprained ankle. She worried about her lost stallion, Roland. After those first few mad seconds during that vile magician's attack she realized she couldn't take him and fled, shouting for her companions to flee also. She thought she had heard Roland scream, but she couldn't go back to check. Rayella suddenly stopped and peered through the crowd. Was that Strongbow entering the inn? She started pushing and shoving more rapidly through the crowd, wanting only to feel his touch again.

Strongbow opened the door to the room the men had taken, took a couple of steps in and jolted to a stop as a someone whirled to face him. It was like looking into a mirror.

K'ellz quirked a smile, Strongbow's smile. "What?! Some miscreant has stolen my appearance!" He said as his sword lept out of its sheath and swept toward Strongbow in a red blaze, only to be blocked just inches from his neck. He counterthrust immediately; it was batted aside, but the thrust forced his opponent back into the room.

"Who are you?" Strongbow demanded. His opponent's style was very similar to his own, but there was something unique about it. Anger started to warm him. Whoever this imposter was, he certainly wasn't better than he was. He blocked high and bound; with shear strength he bent his opponent over backwards intending to disarm and beat him to death. The K'ellz waited until he was bent somewhat, then twisted, reversed and slipped out under Strongbow's arm. Only a desperate jackknife saved Strongbow from disembowlment; as it was, he took a serious cut to the short ribs.

"I'm Strongbow Firehand, of course," K'ellz said with a smile and slashed. Strongbow only defended with one hand, his other flailing around as if for balance. They bound, and suddenly K'ellz's eyes grew wide as Strongbow's left hand made a complicated gesture right under his nose.

"No, you're not." Strongbow said as he released the lightning bolt. The crash of thunder echoed throughout the Inn.

On the second floor, Dina was talking to a farmer when the thunder rolled through the Inn. She turned to look down the hallway startled when the farmer pulled two shortswords and attacked her from behind. Intuition warned her as she turned just in time to avoid one blade, but the other scored a shallow hit. She gasped and dropped, her opponent overshooting; she then drew her longsword and slashed while rolling to a standing position. The farmer parried with one blade while cutting with the other. She tried to press, but Dina's longer reach was cancelled by the second sword of the farmer.

Randow turned, his sword suddenly in his hands as thunder shocked the air overhead. Suddenly a laundry basket dropped over his head, pinning his arms to his side. The washerwoman! He whirled, awkwardly trying to slash with his sword. The bright gleam of a poinard appeared through the basket right in front of his chin, luckily for him hitting nothing but cloth. His sword useless, he lunged forward with the basket and hit something. There was a shouted curse in feminine Drowish and the poinard suddenly hung loose.

Lyrianda was sitting and reading her spellbook in a room she and the other women took three doors down from Strongbows, when the thunderclap bounced her out of her chair. Cursing she scrambled madly for her sword. She had sent her armor out to the cleaner's to be polished and detailed in the safety of the town thinkig nobody would attack them in town. Clad only in her nightshirt, she cautiously approached the door and listened, trying to get an idea of who and how many. Did that come from Strongbow's room?

K'ellz collapsed to his knees, clutching his stomach.

"But not a Bladesinger," Strongbow said as he raised his sword and brought it down. K'ellz uncoiled, deflected the sweep in a shower of red sparks and caught Strongbow's nose in the backslash.

"No, I'm better," K'ellz said as he pressed his attack. Stunned, Strongbow could do nothing but defend as he backed up until he hit the wall. As K'ellz slashed repeatedly, trying to beat down his defenses, Strongbow gathered his concentration and mindstabbed his enemy. K'ellz reeled back clutching his head.

Tizer suddenly appeared in the doorway, staring back and forth between the two Strongbows.

Rayella paused while moving through the crowd in the common room. She felt the mental attack and knew her lover was in trouble. "Strongbow!" she called out suddenly very scared and charged up the stairs as fast as she could limp.

"Get him!" They both called to Tizer. Down the hallway, Camris came up to the top of the stairway silently and readied his bow.

Disguised as Tizer, Rimellyn called out, "K'ellz! I can't tell which is which!"

Camris shouted, "Tizer!" Rimellyn turned around, suddenly flummoxed by yet a third Strongbow! Realizing that this couldn't be his Captain, Strongbow lunged for a perfect backstab. Knowing that this had to be one of the people who had killed so many at the Drunken Druid, Camris shot an arrow at his throat. But Rimellyn ducked it like a striking snake, while dodging Strongbow's backstab, and the arrow merely pinned Rimellyn's cloak to the wall. Rimellyn drew a wand and lunged down the hall towards Camris, but nearly strangled himself when he was brought up short by his cloak. He spent a wasted second jerking his cloak free, and Camris took the time to draw another arrow. He couldn't cast an effective spell for fear of hitting the real Strongbow.

After his evaded backstab, Strongbow was stretched out and unbalanced. K'ellz recovered and slashed down at the Elf's exposed neck. Strongbow would have been decapitated had he not had a grip on the edge of the central table. He yanked himself back out of line simultaneously hurling it into K'ellz's chest and pinning him to the wall. He then lined up for a final stroke when K'ellz levered the table up to block and kicked it back into Strongbow. Strongbow jumped up and the table sailed underneath to crash into the wall behind. They faced each other again. When Strongbow tried to mindstab again, suddenly there was so much mental static it was hard to think.

"You couldn't even protect Nalynn," K'ellz said, taking a stab in the dark. Panting, bleeding from one ear, and with numerous bruises he was no longer smiling quite so much. They were both bleeding freely now and moved more slowly as exhaustion crept up on them.

"What? What have you done with her?!" shouted Strongbow, suddenly afraid of what had happened while he was away and attacked. "By Lloth's Long Legs," thought K'ellz, defending easily. "They don't have her either!"

Rimellyn ran down the hallway towards Camris, bare steel suddenly in his hand. He triggered off a lightning shot from the wand at Camris, but it just spattered harmlessly off Camris' globe. The archer icily drew to his chin, aimed a killing shot at Rimellyn's chest, and released. Lyrianda, listening at the door, had waited until the running steps had come close enough and slammed the door open in Rimellyn's face, stopping him cold and breaking the wand. Lyrianda, about to charge out, stopped dead as the arrow sprouted in the door right in front of her nose. Rimellyn, enraged, kicked the door shut with such force that Lyrianda was knocked back across the room, tripped over the bed, and hit the floor entangled in bedclothes.

Randow fought desperately after he lost his sword. He tripped the woman just as he heard the magical buzz of a wand of disintegration, and his blood ran cold. He hurled his whole body at the woman, and they both crashed through a door into a bunk room. Screaming erupted from the women cowering inside. They both hit the floor and rolled around, Randow trying to pin her and she trying to shoot him. He heard another buzz and something crashed down on top of them.

Lyrianda had just untangled herself when the floor disintegrated out from underneath her. She landed on a tangle of limbs, but froze when she came nose to tip with the wrong end of a wand of disintegration. Randow rolled away and got to his feet. The wand and Lyri looked towards the man in the basket, and Lyri slashed the wand in half. Randow lunged at where he thought the woman was and stumbled back through the door.

Back down the hallway Dina was struggling with the farmer when she put a foot out and stumbled through a hole that had been disintegrated by the first shot, taking her opponent with her. They landed with a great clatter in the kitchen downstairs. A great vat of soup spilled all over everything and Dina lost her sword.

Randow stumbled down the hallway, trying to put some distance between him and that damned wand and maybe finding someone to get him out of the stupid basket. He reached the top of the stairs and ran into Rayella, who was coming up the stairs.

He yelled, "Help!" but it was muffled by the basket. Desperate to reach Strongbow, Rayella grabbed the lurching obstacle and threw him out of the way. Randow tumbled roughly down the stairs.

As Rimellyn charged down the hallway, Camris dropped his bow and faded back down the hallway until his back was to the door at the far end. All the while he was concentrating on casting his first spell. Rimellyn, confident he could close with this other "Strongbow" before he could pull another weapon, simply ran up to Camris and attacked--and ran smack into the Wall of Force and rebounded. Furious, he immediately began a counterspell to take the wall down. Relying on this, Camris began to sing his serious spell, a spell capable of holding enraptured any living creature. Since it was verbal, it could bypass a wall of force. Too late Rimellyn sensed he was losing control of his limbs. Before he could counter, his eyes slowly lost focus, and his limbs went rigid. After a minute, Camris dropped the wall, and went forward to bind Rimellyn, but on a crystal hanging around Rimellyn's neck, a contingency spell activated. It started glowing brighter and brighter, until it shone through Rimellyn's tunic. Before a horrified Camris could react, he was drawn like smoke into the heart of the crystal, a labyrinth of shifting mirrors, reflecting his image into infinity.

When Rimellyn came to his senses, he was alone. He didn't know how much time had passed. The crystal, still glowing, hung plainly in sight. The tunic that had covered it had burned away. He tore the crystal off in disgust and threw it away. A solid month's work preparing the trap for Nalynn, wasted. Abruptly he remembered K'ellz was in trouble, turned and started running back.

Rayella came to the top of the stairs and looked left. She saw two Strongbows, fighting each other. She didn't know which was which! She tried to mindsend to her lover, but nothing was getting through the synaptic static. She ran towards them, summoning the deadliest spell she was still able to cast.

"Strongbow?" she asked, halting in the doorway, unbelieving as they continued the deadly swirling dance. They stopped suddenly as the apparition appeared in the doorway. Her silver hair descended into a bloody mask, her armor was rent, and tears streamed down the one eye still clear. Only the wall and sheer determination held her up, and neither of them recognized her at first. What captured their undivided attention was in her hand: the telltale crackling blue-yellow glow of a missile spell ordinarily used only against city walls. It was something that would cut through their magical defenses as if they were parchment. Strongbow recognized her first.

"Mela, you're hurt. Let me help...," One strongbow said, taking a step toward her.

"Ray, don't let him get close!" The other said urgently.

"Don't move!" Rayella screamed, trying to think through a cloud of exhaustion, hurt and crawling fear. "I can't tell which of you is real!"

Both Strongbows started talking to her one after the other, trying to convince her that he was the real one, but in her state all they did was make her even more confused. Until one said, "If you have to strike at one, strike us both! Sort out the real one later!" She made her choice and released the spell.

Barratheon's Seige Bolt lanced out in a burst of golden-azure light and slammed into one Strongbow; who was then blown back through the window and fell three stories into a horse trough with a mighty splash. The water revived Strongbow somewhat, and he struggled to his feet, dripping with water. His magical globe had absorbed much of the seige bolt's energy as it collapsed, but it still left him stunned and dazed. The crowd of refugees around him shrank back, and some started muttering amongst themselves angrily and pointing.

"Excellent shot, mellonamin," Strongbow said, turning to her smiling. "Too bad it was the wrong one," K'ellz said as his sword struck...

...And rebounded off of stone hard skin. Only a flake of stone was chipped out of the center of Rayella's statue as K'ellz' sword clattered to the ground from suddenly nerveless fingers.

"Sorry!" A merry voice called out as a Drow popped out from behind Rayella and grinned at a stunned K'ellz. The Drow was an execptionally handsome male, very well dressed and holding an ebony walking stick with a dragon head. The only odd thing about him, besides his presence, was the lurid purple bruise covering his forehead and left eye. "Couldn't resist a marblous opportunity. Whoa!" He shouted, ducking behind Rayella again as K'ellz's blade lept to his hand and thrust. The new Drow grabbed Rayella's statue, picking it up as if it weighed nothing, and used it as to block as K'ellz attacked furiously.

"Stop! Parley! Peace! Ixnay! Pax!" The Drow said as K'ellz finally paused for breath. The fight with Strongbow had taken a lot of energy out of him. Rimellyn appeared in the doorway behind him to stare at the newcomer in astonishment. The Drow set Rayella down, pulled out a white handkerchief and waved it around. "Just want to converse with you for a moment." K'ellz made as if to attack again, but Rimellyn shook his head at him warningly and he stopped, frowning. The Drow stuffed his handkerchief in his pocket again, leaned casually against Rayella's statue and calmly looked at the devastation around him. "By the Many Legs of Lloth, that must have been some party. And to think I missed it!"

Rimellyn cleared his throat and said; "Master K'ellz, may I introduce you to Lord Dralennal Querthas Baenre, son of Matron Baenre and Gomph Baenre's most famous student?."

Dralennal turned to Rimellyn, smiled, tapped his hat with his cane and said, "At your service. Master Rimellyn, isn't it? So this is where you've been hiding since that small incident of the Demon's Heart ruby." Rimellyn gave a little bow in return.

"We don't have time for socializing," snarled K'ellz. "We've spent too much time here already. She isn't here Master Rimellyn. We must return to..."

"Aaaah, actually," interrupted Dralennal, sounding faintly embarressed. "That isn't strictly true. I know where she is." The others went still, fixing their eyes on him. "Gentlemen, I must confess. I have a problem. I need an introduction to your mistress, Lady Ebonstarr." He pulled out his handkerchief and carefully draped it over his hand. "To that end, I have... acquired something she is said to desire." He whipped the handkerchief off his hand to reveal a strange looking birdcage, wrought of black iron, with a six inch miniature of a white stallion inside.

"A horse?" Said K'ellz, deadpan.

Dralennal turned the cage until, revealed on the other side of the horse, a five inch miniature of a woman. Looking closer, they reaized that the figures moved!


Continue to Chapter 12