Chapter 18

The Company just stood staring before Tizer roared out, "Close all the shutters and doors! Asca!"

The company scattered like bowling pins in a strike, and there was the sound of shutters slamming and bolts being thrown.

Tizer shouted, "Randow, Dina, Vailant, Starrbolt, get upstairs and close the shutters there!" They ran upstairs. "Light all lightsources!" The company was ahead of him there, the continuous light globes being uncovered, the lamps coming on apparently by themselves and even the central fireplace lighting up; and that had never happened during the entire time Tizer had been captain. Even the solstice holiday lights came up, giving the Hall a multicolored riotus air. "Lwynis, Ilustriel, Camris, Laedrynn, Endril, use the furniture for a barricade at the base of the stairway!" Centuries old works of art quickly piled up like kindling. Tizer knew that such a barricade would be useless against the shadows, but such busy-work would keep their minds off the upcoming battle and would clear the floor for the Bladesingers to be really effective.

Graywolf approached Tizer. "I believe this is our cue to leave," he murmured. Wierd flecks of light caused by rotating prisms on the ceiling moved over both their faces like colorful marching ants.

"Agreed," Tizer said. "Set up the gate inside the barricade; we'll give you the time to do it." Graywolf nodded and withdrew to the center of the barricade. Tizer noted with pride that the Company had already set up positions with archers and mages behind the barricade covering the Bladesingers and warriors scattered outside it in a star pattern. Most everyone had a wand, glowstick, or at least a couple of torches through their belts.

Then the Company went dead silent.

"Here they come," whispered Sierra.

Shadows squeezed under the shutters and rolled down the walls like rain, pooling along the floor to spread out to humanoid forms.

"You heard Tizer, Vailant. We have at least an hour before the storm arrives," Starrbolt said, slamming a shutter closed and bolting it quickly. His eyes gleamed with excitement as the prospect of combat with the enemy filled him with energy. He and Vailant were locking shutters down throughout the upper floor, their team taking the righthand way beyond the stairs, Randow and Dina taking the other.

Vailant muttered darkly under his breath something about staying alive till then, but made no further comment as he efficiently made his way down the hallway and into each room. As he emerged from the last room, he turned down the hall to make some sarcastic remark about finishing before Starrbolt when the words choked in his throat. A wall of shadow forms flowed over Starrbolt and rolled towards him in horrifying silence.

"Dina! Are you done?" Randow called out. Having locked down the shutters on his side he stepped out into the hall. The hallway stretched away to his left, empty. No one was there.

"Dinalqua?" He couldn't hear the crashing of bolts. A feeling like a chill hand squeezing the pit of his stomach took him. He drew wand and sword and carefully opened the door across the way to look for her, and a dozen shadowy fingers reached for him.

Randow bounded back to get some room between him and the Shadows. Quickly he brought up the sword Tizer had given him. It was magical in nature and would be able to cut through the shadows, unlike his other sword which was ordinary steel. Magic was needed to fight the things that came from the darkness.

"Dina!" Randow called out. She did not answer. The Shadows reached for him, and Randow chopped at them. Pieces of the shadowy forms broke off and fell to the floor only to dissipate into nothingness. He back pedaled down the hallway still calling out Dina's name.

He passed an open doorway and looked inside. He saw shadows surround an Elf. They leapt on him, and he screamed. But his scream died out quickly and the shadows pulled off him. Randow got a good look at the Elf's face. He did not know the Elf personally, but did know his name. He went by the name of Tadsbro. His eyes just stared up at the ceiling with a vacant look to them.

Coldness shot up Randows arm and he turned his attention towards the task at hand. The shadows had poured out of the room and joined with the others that were attempting to kill him. He kept swinging his sword at the creatures, holding them at bay. It was then he saw Dina come into the hall with her own group of shadows following her.

"Dina!" He yelled. "Over here!" He waved his sword and she saw him. The shadows were all between them both.

"Let's give them a shock Randow!" She yelled to him.

They both started to summon the magical energies to rid themselves of the threat. "Russe tuulo' moriloomir !" was echoed moments before the loud bang as two identical lightning bolts arced from the Elves and flew through the shadows killing them as they met in the middle.

The smoke cleared and the two Elves were able to see one another clearly. Randow smiled and ran up to Dina and embraced her. "I thought I'd lost you Dina."

Dinalqua looked up into Randow's eyes and smiled. His eyes widened in horror. She turned and saw a horde of shadows coming down the hall at them. They were trapped!

Tizer bent and spun in the deadly dance of the Bladesinger, his sword, blazing with a light spell, passed through shadowy forms and disrupted them. Taking a moment to bound back and take a look around, his heart filled with pride in the Company as he saw the plan was working very well; they had stopped the Shadow attack cold. The Bladesingers and warriors dancing among the shadows out in front while the rest backed them up with arrows and a very sparing use of spells from the barricade. He could swear that some of them were deliberately shooting past his ears though; judging by the bone freezing hiss as they flew past him (Sierra's lavender eyes had an suspiciously innocent look about them). In the strobing, flickering light he had a quick impression of:

Grim Kemosabbi scything his way through the shadows with great sweeps of his sword;

The renegade drow Marzullix, scarred and predatory, spinning his scimitars like some juggling act as he carved his way through the bodiless enemy;

Red flashes of a grinning Bloodglade, moving in and out of a crowd of shadows;

Jared Syn's snow white hair as he teetered precariously on one foot on top of the barricade of furniture, shooting down into the shadows;

Ravagger's sword tracing a glowing figure-eight almost lazily in the air about him;

Lwynis, Wild Wil, and the half-kender Kaliastros apparently playing a wild form of tag team combat.

In fact, it was their very success that worried him. No shadow he had ever heard of could be disrupted by a simple arrow; but these quite definately could. Still, more and more forms slid through the many openings in the windows and doors to advance relentlessly, and he could tell that the warriors were gradually tiring. The forest of arrows jutting out like broken branches was being covered in gloom as the shadows inched up the walls. One by one the lamps and glowlights were swallowed up by the advancing darkness, leaving the Great Hall more and more in shadow. It seemed only a matter of time until the company would be overwhelmed.

Vaguely he wondered where in the hells Laer was; they could certainly use his power right about now.

Meanwhile, in his Sanctum Sanctorum, our hero Laerithil Silverbow sat at his ease in an absurdly comfortable chair floating in mid air and lazily swirling golden Evermead around in a crystal goblet. Surrounded by exceptionally sumptuous furnishings (replicate of the glassine palace of Ithilien), he was sitting in what would be the Solarium if this had been an ordinary structure. Dressed in a spidersilk robe of vibrant color and magically enhanced comfort he thoughtfully looked out through the great windows on a sea of nothing but slowly shifting clouds and mist: the near Ethereal plane. He was dictating to a semitransparent servator who was writing on a scroll.

"... and weaken the imperialist running dogs of the House of Lords by cutting them off from their financial base.

"Yours in the Revolution, Laerithil Silverbow, Prince of Cormanthyr, High Mage of Evermeet, Aredhel, Ar'Istar, etc. etc.

"Oh, P.S. My love to Princess Ithiliel.

He stopped, savored a sip from his goblet and waved a hand. The scroll rolled up by itself and the servitor held it out for Laer to seal it with his ring. As he did so he said, "Deliver to Lord Amanatar as usual and have the Laboratory prepared; time to do a little tinkering I think."

He turned away then and strolled through the archway leading to the interior of the mansion. Behind him, through the great windows onto the ethereal plane, something moved beneath the cover of the clouds.

Graywolf and Tyrestrian stood facing each other in the middle of the barricaded area at the foot of the stairs and struggled to open the gate that would take them to the safety of Evermeet. Graywolf had never experienced such difficulty opening a gate before. Without Tyrestrian's help, and the three glowing magical prisms orbiting him, he would have simply failed. It didn't help to see beyond Tyrestrian where his wife Coriadae was darting around amidst the shadows like a demented purple hummingbird. She was laughing as she deliberately brushed close to the deadly chill of the shadows and away again, never in a predictable path. Camris was in a cold sweat shooting to miss her and hit the shadows moving on her from behind.

The great glowing blue disc slowly formed in mid air to a six foot diameter, wobbled a bit, then stabilized. As Graywolf and Tyrestrian lowered their arms and took in a great breath of relief, the blue disc cleared to show the other end: a beautiful grassy sward under a perfect blue sky, in the background the great spires of the crystal palace showed bright under the afternoon sun there, the white clad form of the Queen waiting expectantly, a half dozen of her High Mages, and a number of Bladesingers positioned discreetly about the field. Odd little distortions rolled slowly across the gate; the effect of the storm no doubt, thought Graywolf. But even as the thought crossed his mind, his eye percieved an odd jerkiness about the figures moving around the field beyond the gate.

On the other side, by where Tyrestrian knelt breathing deeply, some sixth sense made Laedrynn snap his head to look up the stairs as a wave of shadows rushed down on top of everyone inside the barricade. Endril gave a scream, suddenly cut off.

The light of the gate was snuffed out.

In a fighting retreat from the press of the Shadows, Tizer heard Endril's scream and glanced back. His blood froze as he comprehended the horrible danger of the shadows pouring down the stairway behind the slowly closing line of the fighters.

Ilustriel swung out of the line of battle at Endril's scream and hurled herself with amazing ferocity towards the inky shadows that had swallowed up her child.

Tizer roared out "Valme'a vair!" and hit the deck, along with everyone else. At that prearranged command, everyone cast a lightning bolt at a prearranged target: one of the solid silver arrows cunningly placed into the walls and ceilings by the archers. For just an instant, a blindingly bright blue-white spiderweb of arcs laced the Great Hall, seeming for an instant to light the Shadows from inside. Then with an earsplitting crack, every Shadow in the room dissolved and Ilustriel fell to the floor twitching; caught in midair by the lightning. At the base of the stairs, the Shadows that had swarmed down the stairs to assault the Company from behind dissolved from the inside as Tyrestrian thrust a wand blazing green-white star over his head.

In a moment of sudden silence, Tizer sprang to his feet and quickly turned around in a circle, looking for shadows in the sudden light. They were all gone. Glaring in fury, Tyrestrian leapt up the stairs with green-white fire in his hand.

With no immediate threat, Tizer quickly organized the healers among them to help Ilustriel, as well as Sierra, Laedrynn, Camris, and Graywolf, who had all emerged from the clutches of the Shadows curled up in a ball on the floor severely chilled and drained of vitality. Illustrial wept in Lwynis' arms, desolate with Endril's loss; it was plain now that the child had fled through the gate, pursued by a large number of shadows before it collapsed.

As one of Elfin's healing potions took effect, Graywolf clutched at Tizer and spoke.

"Tizer..." His look was one of horror and astonishment mixed. "I ... understand them now..." He had come into close physical contact with the Shadows, and the Piosenta had revealed their true nature to him.

He was interrupted by Modar, who was over by one of the shuttered windows, partly opened and looking through. "The storm!" He turned towards Tizer. "It's..." The windows and doors blew in with a purple-green flash and flung Modar across the Hall as the storm hit and peeled the roof off...

Vailant backed up to the end of the hall and put his back against where the great window looked out over the road to Neverwinter. The shadows were still approaching in an unstoppable wall after consuming Starrbolt. He sheathed his sword and cast a basic spell of defense before the fell attack came...

...from the inside. The shadows stopped. The center of the cloud of shadows glowed a dull red, then yellow, then blazing white as Starrbolt dove out, sword extended, and rolled to a crouch glowing like a star.

"Starr!" Vailant shouted gladly, both pleased at his survival and angry that he had been frightened. Shading his eyes from the dying glare of the sun spell, Vailant could see Starr's sword was held upright, in position to attack or defend, but by the way the tip quivered he could tell he was dangerously exhausted. Starr turned a quick glance and a grin in Vailant's direction that changed as he looked past him.

As Vailant turned to look behind him, the window exploded inward, flinging shards of glass that slashed open the left side of his face and swept him down the hallway along with the tattered remnants of the shadows. As the roof peeled away overhead, Starrbolt looked astonished as he was lofted into the air and away.

In a hallway upstairs, as Randow and Dinalqua ready themselves for the next assault of the shadows when the roof was peeled off over their heads. They were sucked off their feet and into the air, but Dina got her right foot and arm around a doorjamb and grabbed Randow's foot as it went by her. Her arm was almost wrenched out of it's socket by the cruel force of the storm and she screamed with the pain, the sound whipped away by the wind. Randow, now the highest point of the Great Hall, had green and purple lightning crawling all over his body, but with his eyes wide open, he screamed for very different reasons.

In the Great Hall pandemonium reigned as broken glass, arrows and furniture whipped back and forth through the air by the storm, injuring the Company members as they clung together and hid behind anything that could give shelter. The screaming of the wind couldn't completely cover the groaning of the timber construction giving way above them and the shudder of the floor underneath.

While the others tried as best they could to cast defensive spells, Tizer half stumbled and half flew to the mantle where, untouched by the storm, a small scale model of the Great Hall sat next to a crystal bowl. With a desperate lunge, Tizer flipped the bowl over the model... and the storm stopped.

All the airborne debris, and Company members, dropped to the floor. As Tizer slowly slumped down the wall to sit, he looked out on an appalling scene of disaster; debris littered the floor; doors and windows gaping holes; all lit by a steady rose light from outside, suffused by the dust still suspended in the air.

Upstairs, Vailant slowly relaxed from the position where he had wedged himself in a doorway. Half blinded, he looked around in amazement: at being alive; at the roofless hallway; at the rosy red dome that arced over the Great Hall, apparently protecting it from the storm outside; and at a battered Starrbolt, who was wrapped around a heavy support beam, his sword embedded halfway through it.

Starr raised his head and said, "Could someone get me down?"

Marzullix stepped carefully over the debris and reported to Tizer, the scars on his black face even paler than ususal.

"All of the Company is injured to some exent, a couple of broken bones, but no fatalities, aside from Endril." said Marzullix. They glanced over to where Ilustriel was weeping and being hugged by Lwynis, Sierra, and Graywolf.

Modar's eyes pinned Tizer. "Why are we still alive?"

Tizer was silent for a moment. "One of old Captain Dreamsmyth's 'Acquisitions', before he became Captain. The way I heard it, he got it off of some undead Red Wizard in 1740 and donated it to the Company."

He leaned his head back against the cool stone and stared at the softly glowing crystal bowl. "A 'Dome of Invulnerable Defense' he called it. Thought it might be useful someday and passed it on to each succeeding Captain. You just turn the bowl over a replica of whatever, and we are protected by the most powerful area defensive spells known."

Marzullix looked puzzled. "Why didn't you use it when the Shadows attacked?"

Tizer slowly looked over to him. "Because, as an unfortunate side effect of nothing being able to get in, nothing can get out. Not us, not magic," he gazed off in the distance. "Not even air."

Continue to Chapter 19