Chapter 13

Tears fell on the marble statue of Rayella as Strongbow held her in his arms, his body wracked with sobs as he rocked her gently. His mind was a tumult of emotions; his heart, shattered. His wounds had ceased to be a concern the moment he had entered the room and discovered his beloved, lying on the floor, turned to stone. For him, nothing existed except that room, now a shambles from the earlier conflict, and the statue of his betrothed that he now held. His steel-grey eyes closed in a moment of desparate silent prayer.

"Corellon, hear a heart-felt plea from an unworthy disciple. Aid me, Eru. Grant me insight and knowledge, Atar, that I might help my beloved, blessed of you my Lord. And... strength... to begin the task of vengeance upon the minions of Lloth, the common enemy! This I ask in your name...." And as he finished, one last tear fell...

A faint, bluish glow surrounded Strongbow as he knelt, his eyes still closed, unseeing. Silently, he relaxed as he felt his mind begin to clear, and a sense of things he had known, but forgotten, flooded his memory. Flashes of visions appeared: a scrap of a cloak, pinned to a wall by an Elven arrow; a large, dark, ominous cloud filled the sky as far as the eye could see, flashes of unnatural lightning illuminating it occasionally from within, destroying everything in it's path... then suddenly, a familiar face... Tizer! His Captain, sitting alone, enjoying a glass of Fey. And lastly, the Tel'Mithrim guild hall... abuzz with activity, though none of the faces of the Elves could he see, but there were many, many more than he had seen together in a long, long time...

Strongbow opened his eyes, and as his gaze fell upon Rayella, he smiled softly and whispered, "Do not worry melamin, you will be flesh soon, and we will be together once more." Then, to one that only he could hear, "Diolla lle, Ataramin..." He searched his mind for the words of the spell of transformation. His mouth spoke them quietly as his free hand began weaving the complicated gestures that would fuse the mystic energy with the verbal components of the incantation. As he finished, he grasped the pendant that hung from his neck, a large moonstone in the shape of a quarter moon, set in a circle of gold. The pendant glowed with an internal luminescence. The hard edges of the statue in his arms began to soften, and he felt the warmth of life returning to his beloved's body...

Rayella's mind flickered, on the verge of consciousness. Brief flashes of waking flitted across her bruised and battered psyche... She felt.. Yes! Felt!... A touch against her formerly stony skin, the ever familiar touch of her lover. Oh gods... Von!.. The spell!... She had hit him by accident... He must be horribly hurt! As she tried to force herself into consciousness, a wave of pain broke over her, sending her back into a spiraling blackness.

Slowly her senses returned, and she had a feeling of comfort, even through all of the pain and fright. Rayella opened her eyes and found herself in her lover's arms, Strongbow gently stroking her hair, whispering soft, soothing words to her. He was badly wounded, mostly from her spell she suspected. She spoke, softly, her voice no more than a hoarse whisper, "Strongbow..." She weakly lifted a hand to stroke his bloodied cheek, "Love.... you.. are hurt.." Her hand slowly fell, to rest on his shoulder. Still, she fought to remain conscious, as a lone tear fell down her cheek. "Oh Von... I'm so... sorry...," she managed to whisper, before wearily collapsing into his arms.

Strongbow brushed away the tears of joy that now streaked his face, and lifted Rayella gently. Crossing the room to a bed, he laid her down carefully and began to closely examine her wounds. He sighed in relief, seeing no truly critical injuries. Kneeling beside her, holding her hands in his, he began to whisper a soft prayer of healing, watching with satisfaction as her bruises faded... the cuts and scratches slowly disappearing, healthy color showing once again in her pale, smooth skin, and her breathing gradually returning to normal. He smiled at her with a tenderness born of love and compassion as he pulled a blanket over her, and placing a hand on her forehead he whispered, "Sleep melamin, and be at peace."

Strongbow rose wearily and looked about the room in dismay. It was a mess. Quietly, he began to try to clean up the worst of the debris and put his own bed together. It was then he remembered Tael. The young Elf had been injured the last time Strongbow had seen him. He rose quickly and suddenly felt very light. All of the days previous action had caught up to him, the pain and fatigue finally taking it's toll on the Elven warrior. He sighed wearily as he collapsed onto the partially assembled bed.

As soon as the cook turned his back, Dinalqua stepped out of the kitchen and sprinted towards the staircase leading up towards the second floor. She paused for a moment when she saw Taelsin limp in. Hoping to recover her sword in her room, Dina thrust the mop she carried into Tael's arms. "Here, take this stupid thing."

Taelsin looked rather perplexed and wondered to himself what this was all about. Perhaps he'd never know. He watched her as she rounded the corner to the stairs. Dina stepped over a figure on the floor who looked like he was knocked out from a bad fall down the stairs. She started up the stairs and stopped suddenly. She turned around after realizing who it was at the bottom of the stairs.

Dina looked at Tael. "Get rid of that thing and help me!" She said to him. He looked at the mop and back at her and tossed it away. They helped Randow out of the basket he was stuck in. Dina chanted silently and ran her hand over Randow's head. He slowly stirred awake.

"Did anyone get the color of that Dragon?" He mumbled as he shook his head clear. "Ow, that hurt…" Randow rubbed the lump on his head. He'd ache for a while with that one, Dinalqua judged. He stood wearily.

"Does anything else hurt?" Dinalqua asked.

"Just my ego."

Only the last few sentences of Tael's ravings rang clear in Strongbow's mind, but he was too busy trying to orient himself to guage their import, so he stored them away for later recall. He closed his eyes again to center himself and stop the world from spinning. Gradually, everything came to a stop. He opened his eyes slowl. Two shapely armored legs, emerging from a slitted white dress with ice-blue trim, stood over him. He recognized them immediately. It was Rayella! She was explaining about the imposters. Looking to his left, he saw Randow and Dinalqua standing together. To his right, Tael was lying on the... floor? No, the roof!

"Ray? Melar?" he managed to say. Strongbow definitely did not remember coming to the roof.

"Laedrynn, hold!" Randow's voice rang out.

"Laedrynn? Who's Laedrynn?" thought Strongbow. "And where is Laedrynn?" He leaned to look around Ray's legs. And there, a few feet away was an Elf with a bow; Laedrynn presumably, standing, pointing an arrow straight at him. "Gods..."

"Why do llie protect this... this... uuvanimo?" came a heavily accented voice.

Rayella spoke at this. "There was an imposter pretending to be my love. Certainly it is this pretender that you saw and not melaramin. This is the real Strongbow."

After a moment's hesitation, the point of the arrow lowered, and the bowstring went slack. Strongbow breathed a sigh of relief, and Rayella turned abruptly and knelt in front of him. Setting her katana down she reached out to caress his cheek, then embraced him tightly and kissed him several times.

"Oh Von! Thank the gods you're allright! I was so worried about you." Strongbow grinned,

"Mmmm.. getting wounded does have it's advantages." He then glanced over Ray's shoulder and noticed everyone looking at them. "Ummm... mela..." He flushed visibly and started to rise, then noticed Taelsin again.

"He's injured badly. We tried to stop the bleeding, but the wound is serious," Dinalqua said, noticing Strongbow's stare. He moved to kneel beside his friend and removed the bloody bandage. The arrow had gone straight through. He loosened the tourniquet to allow blood to flow through. After a few moments, Strongbow began a prayer of healing to stop the bleeding and close both sides of the leg wound. He then took a clean sheet from the line, tearing off a large piece for a bandage and dressed Taelsin's leg. He smiled compassionately."

"He'll be okay now. Poor guy... He took that arrow meant for me, and never once complained. I owe him much..."

Strongbow surveyed the group of Elves on the roof. He noticed Lyrianda standing slightly behind Laedrynn, still in her nightshirt. He grinned at her, "Vedui', Lyri.. did we wake you? Or are you doing laundry to help with our room and board?" He winked at her as he finished.

"N'uma, Von. I had chased someone up here during the battle, but she disappeared." She then looked down and realized her attire. "Oh!" Her skin immediately turned a deep pink, and she pulled a sheet down from the line, wrapped it around herself and backed away. "Ummm, I'll be right back. Dont go anywhere!" They chuckled as she left, and Strongbow then turned to the Elf with the bow.

"Laedrynn, I presume?" He extended his hand to the archer.

"Uma. Quel to meet the true Strongbow," replied Laedrynn, accepting the handshake. "Amin am sorry about llie mellon," he said, indicating Taelsin. "Amin was aiming for lle."

Strongbow frowned slightly. "Uma, and that is a curiosity as well."

"Rayella's account of the imposters explains much." replied Randow. "When we arrived, we saw you going into the inn, and not wanting to take any chances Camris decided to..."

"Camris!" exclaimed Strongbow. "He's with you? Then my vision was correct..." He looked around the roof. "By the way, where is Camris?"

"He was at the top of the stairs when this whole thing started," Dina interjected. "But he was not there when we came up, and that is odd, because he did not come down the stairs either."

"Hmmm," mused Rayella, "Nor was he there when I came up. Although there was someone with a basket over their head, but I didn't see who it was."

"That was me," Randow grinned sheepishly, then rubbed his temple. "My head still hurts from that tumble down the stairs."

"Sorry, I was in kind of a hurry," Ray apologized meekly. Her eyes suddenly widened in remembrance. She clutched Strongbow's arm and continued hurriedly, "Von! Oh Von! There was another Drow! He said his name was Dal... Dran... No, Dral-something! He came into my camp last night and tried to kill me! I got away... barely... He took Roland, and he chased me. I don't know if he followed me all the way, or if I lost him, but he may have followed me all the way here."

Strongbow put his arms comfortingly around Rayella. "Indeed? I did not see anyone up here besides the other me, the Tizer look-alike, and you. He must have come in after you blasted me out the window. It might have been he that turned you to stone, mela, for I doubt that either of the other two have the power to do that."

"Stone?" inquired Randow and Dina together.

"Uma," acknowledged Strongbow. "When I came back up here after melamin... umm... 'removed' me from the room, I found her lying on the floor, a statue." He gazed at Rayella, the pain of the moment showing in his eyes.

Rayella looked up at Strongbow, tears forming, "I couldn't tell who was who, Von! I really couldn't tell...." She buried her face in his chest.

Strongbow hugged her gently, "I know melamin. It's okay now. Really. We're both alive, and it's over. Please, lisseamin, no more tears."

Lyrianda returned just then. "Has anyone seen Nalynn lately? Her gear is still in our room."

Strongbow shook his head. "N'uma, not since the attack..." His mind flashed back to K'ellz saying, "You couldn't even protect Nalynn." Strongbow then realized the importance of those words. "We'll look for her and Camris. He must be around here somewhere, but I have a bad feeling that we won't find Nal."

Taelsin yawned and opened his eyes sleepily. A small crystal tumbled out of his pocket, catching the fading sunlight and the glances of the Elves. "Hey, my crystal..."

Camris blinked his eyes as he slowly recovered control of his body. His perception of the real world stabilized and his eyes felt like they just stopped rolling around in his head. He thought he heard a familiar voice. Realizing he was lying on the ground, he looked up to see a ring of familiar faces around him.

"Strongbow?" He said carefully. He glanced at Randow.

"The real one," Randow said with a smile.

"Thank Eru." Camris said with a smile before letting out a horrible scream and jumping into Strongbows arms, crawling up over his head.

Strongbow staggered back. "What the... Cam! Stop that! You're embarrassing us." He gave a shrug and stepped smoothly out from under Camris, leaving him to flail and crash to the ground.

"Cam, what's wrong?" Randow asked looking around anxiously.

"Sorry," Camris said, rising unsteadily to his feet. "It's just that I saw... In the Maze-prison. The horror..." He whispered, shuddering with the memory.

"What did you see?" Asked Rayella, concerned.

"I wandered the prison for a while. Every time I thought I had found a path out, the maze would shift again." He paused and shook his head.

"Then I found myself in front of an incredibly complicated loom, working as fast as I could. But since I had no idea how to work the thing, it quickly fouled and jammed."

"That was the horror?" Dinalqua asked.

"No. I realized it must have been a programmed illusion, meant for someone specific. But because that person wasn't me, I could just walk away. But then I found myself in a bedroom. A man in the bed beckoned to me and said, 'Come to me, my beloved Nalynn. It is thine husband: Braldt.' Then he started rotting in front of me."

"That was what made you scream?" Asked Lyrianda with considerable sympathy.

"No. I realized it had to be a Shadow monster, meant for this Nalynn. I apologized for intruding and left. But last, and most horrible, I found myself in front of an altar as a priest pronounced the blessings of marriage on me and... Taelsin."

There was a moment of silence from the assembled Company before muffled snorts gave way to gales of laughter, overriding Tael's outraged "Hey! What's so funny about me marrying Nal?" Strongbow nearly bit through his lip trying not to laugh.

"I'm sorry Tael, it must have been a version of Phantasmal Killer, the terror was so bad. It almost broke me. Whoever made the prison simply used handy references known by the intended subject. But I don't know why you should have been used by the spell."

"Probably because Tael had the gem focus in his pocket for a while before we released you." Strongbow said sympathetically, gripping Camris' shoulder. "But enough. We have plans to make..."

Continue to Chapter 14