The darkly lit sky was a deep red. There was no visible sun to light the sky. The eerie glow permeated the ground and left only shallow shadows. Riklaun looked on in horror as he took in the view. All around was desolation--more so than what they had just left. The rocks were a bloody red. The mountains a deep black. There were no trees to speak of, no shade from the scarlet glare.
Riklaun turned his attention to the Shadow. It was now completely visible to everyone, and his true form was growing ever so stronger. The creature was not like a shadow anymore. Instead, it looked more like a cross between a wolf and a man, but much larger, and more threatening, than either. It's head was that of a wolf, but it had the body of what looked like human; Riklaun could not be really sure. Ebonstarr raved about the decor of the place, and the Shadow seemed almost pleased about it.
Riklaun looked over at Nalynn. She looked pale, even in the eerie light. Something had happened to her after Ebonstarr had cast the portal spell. It seemed as if her life force was being drained. He had to act, and he had to act quickly. He had watched for too long already But what could he do? Where could he go if he did escape? He did not even know where he was.
With the two assassin drow not around, Rik figured that he'd be able to do at least something. Perhaps even the odds a bit. Riklaun put his arm around Nalynn to help her along. She looked at him and returned a weak smile.
Dralennal prodded the two Elves along. The Shadow had someplace to go and they were moving at a steady pace towards it. Dralennal could barely make out a small mountain in the distance. If he only knew where he was. He had signed on with Ebonstarr, not some fantastic Shadow-beast. It irritated him to no end that he was not in control of anything and had to watch Ebonstarr follow that thing like a lost puppy. For some reason he knew that his usefulness to Ebon would soon come to an end, and he would be disposed of. He planned on not letting that happen.
Riklaun supported her as they moved along, following an unknown path to an unknown destination. If not for his strength, which she felt was waning, she'd have been murdered long ago, left as a message for others. Of this she was certain, for she sensed their captors' growing impatience with each prod of their swords--which was just a little harder and crueler than the one before.
The visions continued unbidden in her mind as Nalynn struggled to keep up. Their intensity had increased after they passed through the portal. Elves in a desperate battle, against an enemy and odds never before experienced. Glimpses of terrible carnage, friends vanquished and more left behind.
"Riklaun," she murmured softly, "the fighting will be terrible. I feel so utterly useless." Her voice quivered with great sorrow.
He squeezed her shoulder gently to acknowledge his understanding, though he wasn't quite certain of what fighting she spoke. The Elf knew she had changed since the crossing. Even before that, her visions were well-documented, though most were skeptical of their veracity--whispering concerns that she might be a little "touched" after her continued encounters with Ebonstarr and her minions.
She stumbled as a little more of her energy dissipated; Riklaun paused to steady himself and her. The drow assassins stopped, jabbing her with their swords once again. Nalynn winced as she felt the piercing of flesh, a small wound, but a clear message that they would not allow her to delay their journey much longer.
Summoning her remaining strength and allowing herself to be helped along by her friend, the trek resumed.
The Shadow walked along towards his old home. His memories came back to him with each moment that he was on his home plane. He remembered the big deal he signed with the Yugoloths' Head of State a little over a millennium ago. That had earned him great respect in his clan, and with it vengeful competitors. One of his colleagues later told him of a meeting with the two warring sides in the Blood War, to be held on neutral territory on the Prime. Little did he know that it was a trap set for him. He was imprisoned by Lloth for over seven hundred years. But now he was home, and revenge he would have upon the one who gave him to Lloth.
Riklaun stood in awe. The building before him looked to be made directly from the ground. A lava flow ran down the side of the mountain alongside the edge of the building. A cliff on the opposite side of the building gave the scene a bizarre symmetry. He noticed Dralennal looking edgy. He definitely did not seem comfortable in these surroundings.
Ebonstarr seemed unfazed by the heat and the terrain. Every once in a while she would converse with the Daemon that stood next to her. "'The Daemon', what else can I call it now?" Riklaun thought. He turned to Nal. She was barely able to walk herself and had to be helped along. Riklaun suspected the Daemon was draining her life force for his own. He had to do something, but could not. Odds were against him in this land. With Nalynn in such a poor condition, he was on his own.
He contemplated several strategies, but rejected them all. At best he could disable one of their captors. At best. He knew he'd never stand a chance against the Daemon now, not without help. Nalynn had spoken of a terrible battle. Riklaun knew that the guild was or soon would be destroyed. Only Nalynn and he lived, and they would not live for much longer.
Riklaun looked back on his life. He remembered the days of his youth, the days just after his decision to leave the city. He remembered the day when he met his teacher of Bladesong, the day that teacher died. He remembered setting foot in Neverwinter for the first time, the beginning of another life.
With the memories of Neverwinter came those of his long time friend Braldt. His late friend Braldt, he sadly amended. Responsibility fell like a weight on his thoughts. He remembered the Drow Dagger of Infinite Slaying, and how it had controlled him. But it was not really the dagger that controlled him, but what was inside of him, a side of him akin to the Shadow. Something pried at his thoughts at that moment.
"That is not wise," the voice said to him.
Riklaun looked around and saw no one speaking directly to him. He tried to remember the dagger and what it felt like.
"Do not go there," the voice said in his mind.
"Who are you and what do you want?" Riklaun whispered quietly, not quite used to communicating with someone without physical effort.
"I am your friend, Elf-man," it said. "I can get you out of this, but you must not think of the controlling device."
"What do you want from me?" Riklaun asked.
"Your cooperation when the time is right. I am gathering a small force to rid myself of your captor. You can benefit from this or die."
"What choice do I have?" the drow questioned, although he already knew the answer.
Randow figited. He looked around the room where the Elves of Tel'Mithrim had congregated. Tizer was only able to find a few of the guild. Starrbolt sat at a table with Lwynis and his family. Wild Wil stood leaning against a wall. Several other Elves were gathered here, most he had not seen before, some he adventured with. One in particular he noted was a good friend named Allanen Elendil. Camris, Laedrynn, and Dinalqua sat with Randow as they listened to what Tizer had to say.
"In only a few hours the storm's front will be here in Floodblest. Most of the guild is away on business around the realms, and I have been unable to contact them. I pray to Corellon for their safety. We are scattered my friends. I only hope that the guild can recover from this disaster that threatens the realms."
"But what are we going to do now?" Starrbolt piqued up. "The only option for us now is escape and recoup our losses. The other guilds of Neverwinter have already moved on, Most have found portals to other worlds."
"Who we need is Laerithil. That High Mage is always boasting about his superb spellcrafting abilities," Camris suggested. "What plane has that Elf gone off to?"
"I do not know. He said something last week about going to visit his cousin." Tizer replied. "But yes, we do need him. He is the only Elf that can cast the needed spells."
"Well, we need to do something and soon. At least we can move north towards Port Llast. That should give us some time. If Laer does not get here soon we will be forced to evacuate without him." Tizer said. "Let's start packing only the essentials."
The great gryphon Elwing wheeled sharply at the sudden command of it's rider, and dove, heedless of the danger, towards the evil tempest below. Such was the bond between them that the gryphon would give it's life for his master.
"No!" Rayella's mindspeech screamed through Strongbow's thoughts. "She's gone, mela! There's nothing you can do for her now! Don't waste your life too, ashke'. We need you here. I need you! Everyone needs you!" Realizing the truth of her words, he pulled the gryphon out of it's dive, lightning crackling all around them, singing hair and feathers. Rejoining his comrades, they rode on, silent and brooding, the wind whipping his tears across his cheeks. He couldn't help feeling that the toll for their passage had been high, too high, and he blamed himself, even though it was Lyrianda's own choice to accompany them. Rayella spoke words of comfort to him, trying to soothe and calm him. She knew Lyri had been special to him, but she also knew he had to focus, to be prepared for what may lie ahead.
As they continued on, a feeling of unease and dread crept upon them slowly, and for no apparent reason. Then the lightning ceased, the air was unnervingly calm, and there, below them, was a yawning chasm of empty blackness, emanating a pure malevolence of evil that was almost tangible in it's intensity. The eye of the storm. The moonlight revealed that the void was not large -- only about half a mile in diameter -- and they might have enjoyed the respite from the lightning had it not been for the presence below. A sentient form could be sensed lurking in the darkness. Luckily, for the three Elves above it, it's attention was focused downwards to the destruction it was causing. It's sole purpose could only be to wreak havoc and death upon anything in it's path. Strongbow urged them on to greater speed, passing over it quickly back into the chaos. Several thoughts occured to him. The storm was not purely some weather summoning of great power, nor was it acting alone. It seemed guided somehow, and not by whatever it was they had just seen. It was serving a larger purpose.
The back edge of the storm finally came into view, but any relief they might have felt was immediately replaced by shock and despair as they beheld the sight before them. Having left the green lush forests of Longsaddle just hours earlier, they had expected to return to the same once past the storm, but this was not the case. Stretching as far as the eye could see, was a starlit scene of utter desolation. The land was rocky and barren, featureless, and devoid of life. Only an occasional twisted stump indicated there had been any trees there at all. A knot formed in the pit of Strongbow's stomach, they should have been able to see Triboar, if his judge of the distance they had covered was correct, but there was nothing.
"Gods...." said Rayella quietly, her breath visible in the night air.
"Where's Triboar, Atar?" asked Taelsin. "Are we lost? It was here when I left..."
Strongbow was silent, searching for anything that might still be alive down there. He leaned forward and spoke softly to Elwing, "Use those great eyes of yours my friend, tell me what you see. Is there anything? Anything at all?"
The gryphon's eyes roamed the plain of destruction, he could spot a mouse behind a rock a mile away, but here, there was not even that. "No, I see nothing. Only the light thing."
"The light thing? What do you mean?"
"There is something, a shiny light thing. But no people, no animals, nothing else."
"Take us there, quickly!"
It didn't take long to reach the object Elwing had noticed. Before landing they circled several times, searching the surrounding area, but this was all there was to be seen. The gryphons settled down by a nearby rocky knoll. Strongbow told the others to wait there, unsheathed his sword, and approached the bright ovoid panel of light cautiously. Once close enough, he knew the object for what it was: a portal. But to where? Looking through it, revealed a scene much like the one in which he stood, but he couldn't help feeling it was a very different place indeed. The glowing portal cast an eerie light on the surrounding ground, and Strongbow could see several sets of footprints in the dust. Some were very strange, almost animalistic. In his search of the prints he discovered an entrance underground, perhaps to Triboar Under. These few lucky survivors, whoever they were, came from there to the portal, but they hadn't returned. There was also one other set coming from another area. But there were none that left. He called Rayella and Taelsin over, sensing no immediate danger.
"A portal." stated Strongbow, "Where it leads, I do not know. There were some survivors, perhaps five or six, and one other. But it seems our path ends here, and a new one begins," he indicated to the portal. "There."
Continue to Chapter 18