Graywolf, despite his weariness, put his arms around Ilustriel as she wept. Along with Lwynis and Sierra, they strove with their whole spirits to comfort her as she wept like a child being torn to pieces. Even those busy helping the wounded lent what strength they could, for the Elves share a powerful empathy and those in pain do not go unaided; even if they cannot be touched.
"Ilustriel, listen," Graywolf said, his voice pitched to penetrate through her wracking grief. "Before the Shadows overwhelmed us, the gate was open to Evermeet. The Shadows swept him through." He focussed his spirit and all of the Company into a sharing of her pain, taking the burden away from her and reassuring her she wasn't alone with her anguish; he percieved through the Piosenta that his words were having an effect.
"Do you think, maybe, that with the Queen, a dozen odd High Mages, and a regiment of Bladesingers Endril might be better off there than here with us?" He smiled as her anguish lessened somewhat and her weeping stopped, and kissed her gently on the forehead. He and Sierra let her go then, leaving her to her husband Lwynis.
Graywolf made his way over to where both Bloodglade and Coriadae were staring out one of the ruined windows in horror, their mouths agape and (uncharacteristically) speechless. Grey joined them, already knowing what they saw.
The scene outside was an incredible sight. A fantastic hemisphere of glowing light, interwoven of all colors of the rainbow covered the Great Hall like a punchbowl upended. Beyond the protective dome the once pastoral sight of the road to Neverwinter next to the banks of the Floodblest was unrecognizable. All of the buildings were roofless, the smallest were no longer even present. The trees were all stripped bare of leaves and broken, those that weren't toppled. The road was cut in several places by cracks and sudden sinkholes. The once proud stream of the Floodblest was reduced to a muddy trickle in a bed too big for it now, and while the Elves couln't be sure with the storm making things so hard to see, they could swear the riverwater was boiling. The sky was filled with boiling grey and purple glowing clouds, rushing madly to the east. The only light was that from the dome and the strobe of the now continuously striking lightning; a peculiar poisonous green. The power of the storm made the ground tremble underfoot, and the odd orange fogged atmospheric energy coruscated off the surface of the forcedome in sheets of arouric energy.
But perhaps the worse part were the Shadows. The storm had stripped away their protective darkness, the energy filled them and gave them visible substance. They were no longer mysterious and unknowable, having no longer any need for concealment. For they were the Demonic Horde.
An insanity-producing sight they were, all teeth and claws and gullet and maddening eyes, all different sizes and shapes and coloration; they let the wind carry them wherever it would, and when they landed somewhere, they would feed. It mattered not what lay in their path: wood, earth, rock. Flesh. Everything. And what they didn't eat was swept up in the storm to be carried miles before being dropped as unrecognizable debris. And they were everywhere in numbers to make rats look like anendangered species. The dome defeated their attack though, and they bit and clawed in a fury of frustration as they slid off and were swept away again. But more took their place.
"The Horde!" Bloodglade said. "But how...?"
"Elegant." Mused Graywolf, almost to himself. "Diabolically clever. The storm drives off the mages and priests who could stop the Horde and prevents those inside from communicating or teleporting out, while the Horde does the real job of destroying everything in its path. Somebody out there really doesn't like Neverwinter...." He said, half jokingly. What was happening outside was no joke, however. Already large areas were reduced to loose earth and bare gnawed rock. "No way it could be after just us...."
Elsewhere, The Shadow gave a cry that shocked the ears and slashed the vision in front of it in a rage of frustration.
A great green and purple shockwave rushed over the ground towards the Hall, faster than they could move, and struck the protective dome. The coruscating energies, almost like claws, cut nearly halfway through the near two foot thickness of the force dome before passing over and away again. The dome quivered with an unnerving flexibility but was left intact. The Elves, whose hearts nearly stopped with fright, breathed again. The sound of a vast scream came faintly through the dome.
"Then again...." Muttered Graywolf.
"The Demonic Horde!" Tizer exclaimed as he joined the crowd at the window. He remembered the last time such an assault was repelled by the Last Alliance. "But who'd be dumb enough to call up such power? This's way too much, even for the lower Powers to throw at Arda. The counterforce from the higher Powers..." he shook his head "...will be incredible; might even ignite the Final War."
"You don't need to convince me," answered Graywolf. "I sure wish Strongbow were here. Greysavant initiated him into the secrets. Maybe he could figure out who did this in the first place. The storm and the Horde... There is no way it could be a coincidence." He turned and looked at Tizer. "You don't think Ebonstarr...?"
Tizer shook his head. "She might be a bloody-minded bitch and a few cards short of a full Kholiast deck, but this..." He waived his hand out at the storm. "Ain't her style. She always liked the slow torture traditions of Lloth." Graywolf could only smile as Tizer's backwoods accent got thicker under stress. "This is somethin' else."
Bloodglade smiled and said with relief. "Well, it's a good thing we have that shield. We'll at least be able to outlast it here..." his voice died away as he saw the look on Tizer's face. "Oh no. Don't tell me." He said, his smile guttering like a candle.
Face impassive Tizer said, "We got an hour. Maybe less."
Bloodglade stopped his ears. "I told you not to tell me!"
Tyrestrian stood over Randow's convulsing body as Dinalqua and Starrbolt held him down. Casting his last abjuration, he saw with a sinking feeling that it hadn't worked. Randow was still raving like a mad human; his eyes turning a glowing violet then shading back to his normal green. Vailant sat a little way down the (now) open-roofed hallway, his face somewhat healed by Tyrestrian's last healing potion. They all looked at him and shared his fear; only a priest could deal with Randow's condition now.
"Master, I obey!" Randow screamed among his ravings; his eyes glowed violet.
"Alright, here's the plan." Tizer rapped out. "A short rest, then we use our remaining power to burrow down into the earth from the cellar, deep as we can, and pull the hole over us. We should be able to last a few hours before we have to come up for air again." Countless if's crowded his thoughts then; if the horde didn't dig them up, if the storm hadn't left by then, if, if, if... "If only Laer hadn't gone to Evermeet..." he mused aloud.
"What?" Graywolf turned a startled glance in his direction. "I just came back from there. Laer wasn't there."
Tizer looked at him, puzzled. "When he left, he said he was going to do some work at his palace. It can't be in Myth Drannor, where else could it be?"
Camris cleared his throat from over by where he stood by Laedrynn and said, "Excuse me, I couldn't help but overhear. Have you tried his room?"
Tizer gave him a long flat stare. "Yes. A couple of times now," he replied.
Camris swallowed but continued. "No, no. I meant his Sanctum Sanctorum." Blanks stares from everyone. "Back in the University of Cormanthyr, he had an extra room accessible only by a magic gate from his dorm room. Popular place too. All those parties..." He trailed off as he realized his audience had disappeared up the stairs. "Hey,wait up!"
Tizer stood in the middle of Prince Laerithil's room on the second floor of the Great Hall and watched as half of the Grey Company went over every inch of it detecting for magic; the other half wedged in the doorway watching. In another time it would have been a very comical scene, but now Tizer could only try to ignore the deadly threat that loomed overhead; literally, as he could see just by glancing up that the storm's fury had only increased. The shield could be seen to vibrate continuously under the pressure now.
Graywolf went over to Tizer and reported. "Nothing. It doesn't look like there has ever been any enchantment here, it's that clean. Not even the Piosenta can pick anything up. Except for the lack of dust, it doesn't look like anyone has ever been here.
Tizer growled back. "Not even the anti-fire enchantment the whole Hall was laid with?" Graywolf looked around, realizing the truth. "No, Camris is right. He's got a hidey hole 'round here somewhere, with a very powerful sequester on it." He called Camris over to question him about his memory of Laer's earlier extradimensional work, but he could only relate some not very credible campus rumors. Then he got an idea.
Marzullix stood in the middle of Laer's room orbited by Graywolf's three Ioun stones. Forcefully he cast the spell Faerie Fire and boosted by the stones, he managed to cover the whole room with a green glowing aura; except for the closet door.
"That must be it." Tizer said, examining the doorway and opening it several times experimentally. It remained stubbornly an ordinary door. "Must be some kind of word or gesture..." He stopped when he saw Graywolf smiling at him.
"How could you even doubt?" Graywolf said as he waved Tizer aside. He cleared his throat and intoned: "Laerithil Irithyl, crown prince of Cormanthyr, High Mage of Evermeet." He then opened the door and beyond, instead of a closet, was a featureless grey corridor, perhaps ten feet long, leading to an ornate bronze door of an ancient Elven design. Graywolf strode down the hallway, followed by the entire Company, and pushed open the door.
Graywolf and Tizer strode through the bronze door and into the two-story vestibule of a palace bigger than the whole Great Hall. They stopped dead as they saw with amazement the silver-veined marble walls, the thousand amythest-glowing chandelier floating in mid air twenty feet overhead, the great pearl snailshell dome, the rose quartz flower (inlaid with the royal arms of Cormanthyr) floor warm to the feet; and everything in the exquisite style of Miyeritar before the Third Crown War, eleven thousand years before.
Then through one of the five ground level arches came strolling Prince Laerithil, carrying a glass of some pale golden wine and wearing nothing but an iridescent spidersilk robe. As he walked across the floor towards another arch he glanced at the open front door and the Elves there, gave a double take, stopped and gaped open-mouthed at the crowd.
At this point, the Elves filling the corridor and room beyond, dreading the danger without and hopeful of safety within, stampeded through the door and into the palace; trampling Tizer and Graywolf in the process.
Laer shouted, "No! Stop!" to no avail as he was swept away by this invasion of his friends into what he thought was his ultra-secret private retreat.
"Marzullix! Don't look into..." Flash! Marzullix stumbled out of a room blinking, his hair and clothes flash burned.
"Ravagger! Stay out of the wine..." There was a large crash from another room.
A shriek cut the air over a low fizzing sound. "Cori! That's the laundry room!"
"Oh. Ah, nevermind!"
"Hey Laer, your robe's open!" He looked.
"It is not! Bloodglade! Get out of the pool!" He hurriedly retied his robe, avoiding a splash.
He flattened himself against the side of the hall as Kaliastros ran by, being chased by what appeared to be a large, translucent rubber balloon. "I didn't touch it! Nobody saw me! I just wanted to borrow it for a while..."
Suddenly, in the midst of all this chaos, Tizer and Graywolf suddenly appeared next to him, both looking more than a little rumpled.
"Laer!" Tizer growled. "Why didn't you answer? We've been trying to get in touch with you for days!"
Laer's eyes flicked guiltily over to where his crystal ball floated, the "User is Away" symbol glowing within. "Well, uh, Captain, I... I've been busy. With... things. And this really isn't a good time..."
Graywolf oozed charm as he took one of Laer's arms and said, "Laer. A little problem has come up, and we could really use your help."
"But my palace..."
"Now." Tizer said, taking his other arm suddenly Laer found himself back in the Hall outside his room in the Great Hall, where everything was very different.
Laer looked out onto a scene of insanity. Looking out from the window at the end of the hall, he could see that beyond the protective dome there was no longer any recognizable terrain. Demons and less-nameable things flew or crawled beneath a screaming electric storm. It was like the Great Hall had been set down in the middle of hell.
"Mormahaor'Sykerylor" [The Killing Storm] Laer murmured, gazing shocked into the titanic forces outside; the light from the shield playing over his face.
"What?" said Graywolf, startled.
"Laer..." growled Tizer.
Laer found himself on his knees in front of the window. He turned around and sat on the floor, leaning his head back against the wall. "Don't you understand? This is Miyeritar's Bane." Shock stunned Graywolf and Tizer. They had both heard the story of course, how during the Third Crown War a killing storm engulfed the Elven nation of Miyeritar; reducing it to a barren wasteland in three months. The barren area remains to this day as the High Moors, after eleven thousand years.
Tizer shook it off first. "Laer, we have maybe thirty minutes before the protective shield goes down. We were hoping you had some kind of way to transport us out of here. Maybe through your... palace..."
Laer smiled. "'Fraid not dear Captain. I never concieved that I would need anything like that; thought I could improvise my way out of anything. Well..." he said getting up. "Back to work." He made a pass through the air like a magician, and a glowing nimbus surrounded him for a moment, fading away to reveal, instead of his robe, full Elven chain and surcoat, belted with his sword and carrying his staff of Power. "There may be a way..."
Tyrestrian ran up the hall to them. "Captain, Randow's in serious trouble. Something is possessing or controlling him, and I really need help."
Graywolf clutched his head and staggered back from Randow, who was thrashing in the grip of Starrbolt and Dinalqua; the others looking on in concern. Vailant grabbed and steadied him while he leaned against the hallway and recovered somewhat.
Graywolf grimaced somewhat, caught his breath, and concentrated on the Piosenta. "It's not a possession, it's a mind control; something's controlling him from outside." Dinalqua put her hand to her mouth. Tizer looked on gravely. Laer leaned in for a closer look.
Dina said, "Someone please..." tears rolled down her face, feeling utterly helpless.
"His eyes...." Laer said musingly. Then he glanced at the sky overhead. "The Storm! Dina said Randow was exposed to its power!" He dropped his eyes to the others.
"The storm is sentient..." He trailed off, thinking furiously for a minute. Then he took Tizer aside, his eyes gleaming with excitement. "I have an idea. With Randow as a focus, we can simultaneously cure him and get rid of this storm at the same time." Laer continued to explain his idea. Tizer was uneasy seeing that furious energy take hold of Laer again; past experience told him it lead to spectacular disaster. But given the circumstances here, one more would make little difference. He gritted his teeth and nodded.
Continue to Chapter 20