As the afternoon sunlight lit the rocky desert, a slight breeze blew only hot air across the ground. Aside from low waves of dust riding the ground, nothing moved. Except a small stone. And then another. Many moments later, a hand reached out from a crevice in the broken land. A ragged, but distinctly Elven curse came as pebbles tumbled into the opening. The first hand's mate came up to grab the ledge. Slowly, Brisid's dirty and bruised face appeared above the surface.
Pulling himself over the edge, the Elf lay on the ground, exhausted. He watched as his sweat dripped to the ground and evaporated a few seconds later. A look of shock filled his face as he gazed at the lifeless landscape.
"Where am I?" he wondered aloud. Nothing returned an answer. He recalled his most recent memories, remembering Edan's mangled body hanging in Triboar, a shadowy being enveloping Riklaun, and then the cave-in... He spun around and looked at the opening in the ground. He was still in Triboar. Or what was left of the once prosperous town. This was what the storm left in its wake: a dead, rocky desert.
The ground was rough, composed only of large chunks of earth and stone. Scattered about the landscape lay splitered tree trunks, cracked clay bricks, and broken bodies. No flies swarmed around the flesh; they too had been scattered. The destruction stretched north and west almost to the horizon, where a dark line marked the storm's location. That was where he had to go.
"Water," Brisid murmured to himself. He had only a half-filled water-skin with him--surely not enough to travel to Floodblest. What did other people do in similar situations? A minute later he decided no one had ever been in such a situation as his.
His decisions made, he crawled back into the opening that had protected him, and prepared.
Riklaun sat inside the cell with Nalynn. He knew time was short, and if they did not try to escape, then Nalynn would be sacrificed. He wondered why he had not seen any of the Grey Company in these last few days. He expected a rescue from them but this was taking too long. Nalynn had informed Rik about the storm and it's ravages of the lands.
Riklaun held Naylnn close as she slept. She had cried herself to sleep and was currently at peace. The whole escapade had taken a huge toll on her as she still did not know why Ebonstarr hated her so much. Riklaun slightly knew why, but even Ebonstarr's logic escaped him at times. With the pact made between Ebon and the shadow creature, he knew their future was bleak. He wondered if they would survive this ordeal.
Riklaun closed his eyes and thought. He quietly said prayers to Tethrin, the patron god of Bladesingers. He had not noticed the time go by when he heard footsteps come down the stairs to the cell. He saw the drow named Dralennal come down the stairs.
"Greetings Riklaun, It has been requested that you join mistress Ebonstarr in the audience hall. "
Riklaun stood up, careful not to wake Nalynn. "What does she want?"
"Not so much as what she wants, but what she is willing to give you." Dral opened the door to the cage carefully and stepped back. "Do not try anything Albino for I am well versed in your tactics and still have all my spells."
Riklaun contemplated jumping the drow but thought better of it when the two assassins seemingly came out of the woodwork. "Bring her too. She may like to see this as well." K'ellz went in and roused Nalynn. Keeping the two Elves together, they marched them up the stairs and into the audience chamber.
Ebonstarr sat on her throne and watched as the two prisoners were brought in. "Bring them up the far stairs to the surface." Ebonstarr got off the throne and strode up the stairs she indicated. Taking advantage of the drider's lapse of attention, Nalynn broke loose from the one who still held her and flew at them in Elven fury. The suddeness of her action caught the assassins by surprise. She jumped K'ellz and attacked him with the only weapons she had, clawing, punching and kicking. Ebonstarr watched in amusement as the assassin struggled against the Elf's rage. With a wave of her hand, she cast a hold spell upon Nalynn, subduing her mid-punch.
"Still a little fight left in you, eh pretty one?" she sneered. "Bind her hands you fools! There is no time to waste with this nonsense! K'ellz, let your bruises and scratches serve as a lesson in vigilance."
"What can you hope to gain from this, Ebonstarr?" Nalynn asked.
"Silence, foolish Elf!" the witch snapped. "I have dallied with you for far too long. Don't you know that you are inconsequential to me? Rest assured, your life will be ended soon, now that I have what I want."
Calming herself, Nalynn studied Ebonstarr. "What is it you want? If I am of so little consequence, then why not release me? Or kill me now? You have murdered and wrought mayhem on the lands. Why keep me prisoner if what you say is true?"
"I hold you because of this one," Ebonstarr replied, gesturing toward Riklaun. "Any fool can see your love for this Elf, and his for you."
"Love? Great Corellon, she's insane!" she thought as realization swept over her like a tidal wave. She could tell by the look on Riklaun's face that he was equally surprised. "Affection? Yes. Caring and concern? Most certainly! But not love in the way she believes. There could be no other answer than the knowledge that the witch was in fact, insane.
"Ebonstarr lives a fantasy; it drives every thought and action she takes. Perhaps herein lies the key to her undoing."
Brendar was following closely behind her. Riklaun followed Ebonstarr up the stairs and stepped out of the dark passage. He had to shield his eyes from the painful light.
Nalynn gasped and put her arms around Riklaun for comfort. What Riklaun's eyes beheld was a devastating sight. What was once lush green pastures and trees was now nothing more than rocks a decaying vegetation. The air had a rotting stench to it. The ground was uneven and rocky, not like it should have been this close to Triboar. The devastation could be seen as far as the eye could see.
"Please look around. You can see for yourself the destruction brought out by the storm," Ebon said. Riklaun stepped away from the drow to get a better look around. He noticed the sky was a bleak amber and cloudless. He walked up to a nearby tree and grabbed a hold of a branch. The branch broke off easily and crumbled in his hands, turning to a fine powder. Carefully he pocketed some.
"Look to the North my dear Riklaun and you will see the storm," Ebonstarr goaded. He turned and looked northward. He saw the storm's edge barely visible over the blurry horizon. "It's past Longsaddle already," he commented.
"Yes, it is, Rik. And your beloved friends who call themselves Tel'Mithrim have been overwhelmed by the storm. They are gone, and you are the only ones left of that sad group.
"As soon as the preparations are made, we can safely gate off this accursed land and back to a world with a new start. And I will have my body back."
The two assassins moved over to Riklaun and grabbed him. He stumbled and fell. The two drow pulled him off the ground, and he caught a glimpse of a signpost. Shocked at its sight, he allowed the drow to drag him back into the labyrinth. The sign had read: "Welcome to Triboar."
Only the clouds observed Aerrellun's entrance. These Elven mages were all the same, the drow observed as he nudged the wood panel out of the wall. This residence, he had observed, was the home of some Elf named Brisid. But more importantly, it was the temporary residence of another female Elf, Nalynn. He had been watching the building for several hours, and was confident no one was inside.
He rather disliked entering every Elven home on his list. It was too... inefficient for his tastes. He would have preferred gaining more information, but all these Elves seemed to be in a hurry--too concerned with what they were doing to let slip secrets in rumor-speak. They certainly did not fit the characteristics of the "generic Elf" as his drow teachers had lectured. Perhaps this band of Elves had broken away from the main group, evolving into what they were now. Aerrellun almost shrugged. What did he care about the lives of these faeries? Yet, he filed this information in the back of his mind. One never knew what facts might come in useful in the future. He walked through the dim hallway, searching for Nalynn's room. He quickly found it and began searching through her belongings.
"Naubol!" he whispered to himself. Nothing. He turned to leave when he saw an old, tattered book lying on the dresser. Intuition told him to open it. He flipped through the pages carefully, but rapidly. They were written in a smooth, flowing script--very characteristic of a female. He glanced through the pages. They told of the writer's romantic hopes and dreams. "Ssinssrigg, ssinssrigg, ssinssrigg..." he mumbled. "All these Elves ever think about is love!" he reflected disdainfully. His hand stopped flipping pages. Love. It had been such a long time... He shook his head. Allowing his emotions to cloud his mind was dangerous and would certainly get him in trouble if he did not control it.
Setting the book on the dresser, he padded back to his makeshift entrance. A closed door at the opposite end of the hallway piqued his curiosity. This, unlike the other internal doors, carried magical wards. Aerrellun smiled. This was the perfect opportunity to field-test his special ward-dispelling magic. Aerrellun cast the spell and anxiously watched as the lock clicked and the door swung open. Many long, uneventful seconds persuaded the drow that his spell had worked flawlessly!
He stepped into the room and gazed around. Another door stood at the opposite end of the well-sized room. BookshElves of large, leather-bound books lined three walls. By the fourth sat an oaken desk with writing materials. On a gold and marble pedestal sat a small basin of water. The faint glow of light coming from the water clearly showed it was a scrying pool. Many of the objects in the room were magical--clearly these items were extremely valuable.
He took another step into the room, and the glow from the scrying pool suddenly increased. The light quickly became blinding, and fear tugged at his heart. Had he not dispelled all of the wards on the door? Perhaps now an unknown magic was affecting him--maybe trapping or killing him. The white light spread to flood the entire room. Dizziness swept over Aerrellun, knocking him to the ground. And then he fell unconscious.
Brisid opened his eyes in the small rocky cavity. He picked up a ring adorned by a glowing saphire off the floor and slipped it onto his finger. His spell that transported his study and its valuable contents had been successful. A slight disturbance during the spell interested him, but he had more pressing matters to consider.
The sun was on its descent in the sky, barely visible through the polluted air. Most of the dust the "storm" had lifted lingered in the air, tracing out lines of dim sunlight. It was a surreal sight--almost beautiful if it were not for the pure distruction spread throughout the land. The air was terribly hot--much too torrid for travelling. Brisid was about to return to his rocky shelter when he noticed something in the distance: motion. Barely visible through the dust, something large and very dark was moving about a mile from where the Elf stood. He doubted that the creature was good news and began moving towards it.
"Soon, my dear Riklaun. Soon, this will all come to an end," came a voice. Ebonstarr's voice, Brisid realized as he neared his destination. Suddenly a profoud feeling of coldness swept over him making him shiver despite the heat of the surrounding air. The Elf cautiously peeked over a hill of rubble. Barely twenty paces away stood a small group. An enormous drider, its back turned to him, was closest. Riklaun was heavily shackled, sat on the ground in front of the drider. Beside him, was another Elf, also heavily bound. Brisid peered through the dust, but could not make out the face. Nearby, four drow males stood, guarding the two captives. The most impressive of the group, however, was the large, black creature the Elf had initially noticed. It appeared to be ignoring the rest of the group, concentrating... on a spell.
"Bring Nalynn here," snapped the drider. Brisid looked back to the drider who had turned to the three drow. He almost gasped as he realized the drider was Ebonstarr! The drow responded by lifting up their second captive. Nalynn! They had captured Nalynn. This time the Elf did gasp, attracting the attention of the group.
"A spy!" called Ebonstarr.
"Amazing. A survivor," spoke one of the drow. "Come, K'ellz. Let us hunt this intruder!"
"Hold!" came a deep voice. "Whoever it is can do nothing against us." The Elf dared to peer over the hill again. The Shadow was speaking. "My spells are complete. Ebon, if you would finish it with your own?"
Wordlessly, the drider crawled to the Shadow and began her own spells. Soon, a small light appeared a small distance in front of Ebonstarr. Slowly, the light expanded into a long, glowing crack, floating in the air. The drider's chantings became louder and the rift widened to span several paces. She ceased her spellcasting, and the portal stayed.
Brisid squinted, trying to see what lay beyond the fissure. A desolate scene, even moreso than the one they stood in, awaited on the other side of the opening.
"At last! Home," the Shadow spoke softly as it moved through the portal. The maneuver was remarkable. As the dark being crossed the boundary between planes, insubstantial darkness was replaced by black skin and fur. Next stepped Ebonstarr, and a drow, prodding Riklaun and Nalynn ahead.
"Such a charming place," K'ellz muttered.
The land looked just as dismal up close as it did through the portal, reflected Brisid as he emerged from the magical rift. The group stood near the edge of a cliff, drawing in the mountainous scene. The sky had a deep red tint that spread to the rock surfaces. Brisid quickly moved behind a large boulder. Besides the evil group nearby, the Elf saw no other life in the environment--no plants, no animals.
"Welcome to my home, my friends," uttered the now-corporeal Shadow. His laughter grew and echoed between the mountaintops. "Welcome to Gehenna!"
Continue to Chapter 16