Chapter 20

With un-Elven strength Randow wrenched out of Dinalqua's hands and reached for Starrbolt. A second later Starr was thrown the group of Elves near him. He then grabbed Dinalqua and shoved her aside, slamming her into a wall.

Randow leapt onto the surprised Elves, attempting to kill them with his bare hands. Dazed, Graywolf rolled to the side and got into a fighting stance. Randow grabbed at Tizers throat but was promptly shoved down by Laer. Tizer followed by going with Randow and attempted to pin his arms down. Randow looked directly into Tizer's eyes and glared. Tizer stopped moving and screamed.

Tizer fell back, blood tearing from his eyes. He reached up and covered his eyes as the blood flowed forth. Randow stood and turned to face the next Elf. Just as he turned he saw a chair impact his head, felling him down in a heap. Starr looked somewhat furious as he held the remnants of the chair.

"That's for tossing me." Starr said.

Laer and Gray went over to Tizer and knelt beside him. Tizer's hands were covered in blood. "I cannot see!" Tizer said. "Everything is red."

"Let us look at the damage." Gray said. They pulled his hands away and found that his eyes were intact, though badly damaged. Gray took off a strip of cloth from Randow's cloak and wrapped it around Tizers head to cover his eyes.

He lifted Tizer up onto his feet. "Get him inside Laer's palace, Starr. Find Ilustriel; she knows some healing skills to help him." Starrbolt took Tizer down the hall and into the palace.

Graywolf turned to Randow who lay on the floor unconscious. "Now, shall we end this?" Laerithil looked to Graywolf and smiled.

As Ilustriel healed Tizer somewhat, Marzullix took control of the Company, who were living it up in Laer's pocket palace, and helped to carry an unconscious Randow down into the main Hall while Laer took Graywolf into a side room for last minute instruction. Tyrestrian, already in his latest fashion ceremonial robes, laid Randow out on the floor in a cleaned-out center of the Hall and pinned him in place by making the floor extrude hands to grip his limbs securely.

When Laer and Graywolf came back, Laer told the Company what he had in mind and the risks involved; they told him impatiently to get on with it. He hastily arranged the Elves in a large circle with Laer, Graywolf, and Tyrestrian inside, along with a suddenly awake and howling Randow; Dinalqua kneeled beside him.

First, Laer lit off a censor which started emitting a silvery incense shot through with sparks glowing blue-white. He spun it in a circle around himself and the other core people and then let it go; it then floated out beyond the outer circle of Elves and revolved just behind them, covering them with the thaumaturgic incense that flooded them with mental clarity and the mental attitude for the work ahead. Tizer was the only one excepted, only one eye was really useful, the other covered; he stood next to the mantle, to control the Dome of Defense by the crystal bowl. Both Tyrestrian and Graywolf then pirouetted pointing a finger; a glowing blue line appeared on the floor, tracing out first an inner, then an outer circle. Laer then paced slowly around the inner circle, pronouncing syllables of power that caused symbols to trace themselves between the inner and outer circles, thus completing the thaumaturgic circle.

"Aaaahhh. Soft and tasty minds." Randow had stopped howling, and that peculiar green and purple glow looked out at them from Randow's eyes. His face rippled from alien sensory input. Dinalqua sobbed once, briefly.

Laer, Graywolf and Tyrestrian put their hands out, touching each other over Randow and chanted, along with the rest of the Company:

"Er Quessir, Er Quen, Er Nomin, Er Fea, Er Lindale." And they sang. Dropping into the communal thought of the Elves and focussing on Laer, they sang the enchantment that allowed Laer to pool their collective power.

"Your shell weakens," taunted Randow.

The power built. Continuing to sing, they drew Laer's Elfblade, a peculiar longsword made of a metal that gave it the appearance of being made from stone. As the power grew, it glowed with golden light that arced and crackled like lightning brighter and brighter.

"What is this? Another tasty morsel for me..." Randow said, his voice altering timber in a peculiar manner.

They could see the Weave now, like they never could before. Understanding more, they put more effort, tightening here, loosening there, weaving new lines through and around the Storm, and the power built.

"I tasted you once before. Yessss. A whole nation. Long ago..." Randow said.

The thaumaturgic circle blazed floor to ceiling now, the song developed in complexity and nuance, the weave altered into a particular pattern before their very senses, and the power built.

"What are you doing?" For the first time, Randow's voice suggested uncertainty.

The thaumaturgic circle was too bright for mortal eyes now, the song rose to a symphony sung by thousands, they gripped the sun-bright Elfblade with Laer's, Graywolf's and Tyrestrian's hands, and the power built.

"No. No!" Realizing there could be some danger, Randow tried to escape, but only succeeded in breaking his own arms in his struggle. He apparently felt no pain as he ground the ends together.

Tizer shaded his eye from the blue white blaze in the center as the song built to a climax. They slowly, with great effort, turned the sun-bright blade point down over Randow's chest, golden lightning playing over their hands and up their arms. At the very crescendo of the song, they plunged it into Randow's chest. Dinalqua gave a shriek, suddenly choked off.

Tizer brought down the shell.

The golden blaze blasted up through the ceiling and into the very center of the storm. The power released through the thing controlling Randow, and now they controlled it. Using the Storm's own energy, the silver-blue fire expanded around them and out through the walls of the Great Hall like a great bubble. Wherever it passed, grass grew, houses reassembled, trees sprang up.

They had won.

In another place, the Shadow reeled back in shock at the insult to its power; it had lost control of its most powerful weapon, and even worse, it was being used to repair the devastation done! It took hold of the demonskin book chained to its waist, raised it over its head and unleashed a long howl filled with horrible words. The book smoked and flared as the Shadow called in every favor, every pact, bargain, trade, and deal it ever had and would have for a thousand years and put forth every ounce of power, drawing even the heat from the rivers of lava outside its home in order to strike back.

Laer's High Magic was rapidly remaking the desolation outside the Great Hall back into the verdant terrain it was before the storm hit, the Company's communal thought controlling the storm and directing the reweaving as necessary. Laer, Graywolf and Tyrestrian had withdrawn and raised overhead the Elfblade from Randow's chest, leaving no trace of the wound. Dinalqua quickly dragged Randow out of the circle and over to Tizer, who administered the reviving spell. After a minute, he stirred and opened one eye.

"You know, that really hurt." Randow stated weakly. Dinalqua laughed as she cried and covered him with kisses. Tizer frowned suddenly and turned to look back at the circle. He felt something wrong.

Insidiously, there came into the Company group mind evil presences; they sought out the Company's deepest emotional scars and made use of them:

Vailant saw his brother; the family he had searched for the past seventy-five years and was distracted.

Ilustriel was confronted by an image of Endril, just out of reach, and withdrew from the Weave altogether in order to lunge after him, taking her out of the circle.

Sierra was shown a vision of her family as they would have been had they not been murdered, and lost her concentration.

Camris saw the Bladesingers he led into the trap alive again, smiling and filled with the life they had not had for five-hundred years, and fell to his knees weeping.

Laer was suddenly confronted by not one, but five powerful spirits now struggling to take control of the storm away from him. Having felt the circle's power fluctuating and fading, Graywolf was somewhat prepared when he was shown a vision of his concerns for Coriadae. He gritted his teeth and resisted.

"Come on, concentrate!" Laer shouted desperately at his dwindling circle of power as he felt control of the storm slipping. An evil presence flitted across his mind, and suddenly, Laer's Elfblade Ar'Cor'Kerym, one of who's purposes is to judge the blood and rulership potential of the one who holds it, rendered judgment on Graywolf and Tyrestrian, and rejected them. Graywolf, being somewhat protected by his Ioun stones, was blown across the room by an exploding stone, into a wall, slid down and fell over unconscious. Tyrestrian was nearly unmade right there, but a contingency spell allowed him to teleport outside the circle, with the loss of only his right hand. Suddenly bereft of all support, Laer fought a losing battle as control of the storm was stripped from him, and enormous forces bore down on him that he had to take alone.

Tizer saw that Laer was in trouble and moved to help, but the forces gathered around Laer were so intense that he was driven back. The energy was now flowing down through the hole in the floor above, now tinged with green and purple, and Laer was sagging under the attack. Tizer did the only thing he could think of and put the crystal back over the model of the Hall.

The shell sprang back up, the blaze of power focussed on Laer winked out, and Laer collapsed to the floor. Outside the storm quickly overwhelmed and swept away what the ceremony had repaired of the land and redoubled the assault against the shell. Dinalqua dropped Randow's head to the floor, ran over to where Laer lay and checked him out; his skin was grey and mottled and his clothes still smoked.

She looked up dazed and said, "He's dead."

The Company lay on the floor resting after the savage breaking of their magic circle; Elfin and Modar healing Tyrestrian as much as they could and Coriadae helping Graywolf, who was still out cold. They respectfully stayed clear of the center of the circle and it's cloak-covered occupant. Marzullix, laying on his back, closed his eyes and meditated on the trap that was closing even tighter than it was before. He frowned and turned his head, then he turned over and put his ear to the floor, listening.

Springing up, Marzullix said "Captain! They're digging under the shield!"

"Terrific." Muttered Bloodglade sarcastically. "Could it be any better? The Shield of Ultimate defense turns out to have a major flaw in it. And what, five or six minutes of power left in it?"

Tizer, wishing he could explain his feelings in great detail to Dreamsmyth for leaving out that little detail, roared out, "Company, retreat to Laer's palace! Bladesingers, delay the enemy! Asca!" Dinalqua grabbed Randow by herself and carried him up the stairs. Coriadae took Graywolf with ElfPhoenix's help.

Elfin and Modar helped Tyrestrian, who protested he was all right with every stumbling step. The Bladesingers all stampeded down the stairs to the cellar. Camris and Laedrynn stopped at the top of the second floor, and by unspoken agreement, threw debris together to set up archer positions. Tizer went over to Laer's body and heaved it over his shoulder like a sack of cement.

"SwordMagus!" Tizer called. As SwordMagus approached Tizer said, "Pick up Laer's Elfblade and bring it with you." As SwordMagus looked doubtfully at the Elfblade, still crackling with golden lightning, and trying to find an excuse to get out of touching it, Tizer threw him the scabbard and said "Use this." With that Tizer turned and made his way up the stairs. SwordMagus very, very carefully coaxed the Elfblade into the scabbard, wrapped it in his cloak, lifted it and followed holding it as far away from himself as he could.

Down below stairs the Bladesingers took up positions behind the wine racks and spirit barrels that filled much of the cellar and hid. The noise of the digging was loud enough now that they could all hear it. A hole crumbled in the wall as the first demon popped out, and Bloodglade beheaded it from behind a wine rack in utter silence; it burned like paper leaving a sooty mark on the dirt floor. Then another popped out and was taken by Kemosabbi the same way. More popped out of the walls and floor for a while, until something smarter took control of them. Then they stopped attacking.

There was a nerve wracking silence as the pause in the battle lengthened. Then they attacked in a rush! The whole cellar dissolved into utter chaos as attacks were made from all around, underneath and all in utter darkness.

The Bladesingers held out well for long, long minutes; the Bladesong had an advantage that they could tell where each other was at any moment, and where they would be later so they wouldn't hit each other. They also held out longer then they ordinarily would because, for the first time, they had an enemy that they could lay steel to with a satisfying jolt up the arms; feel the spray of blood (or acid or whatever); an enemy they could hate freely for the pain they had suffered and not some insubstantial shadow.

Up at the top of the stairs, Camris and Laedrynn suddenly saw movement as red glowing eyes stared up at them. Laedrynn shot them out, but there were even more behind them. The Bladesingers were being cut off from retreat!

"Lle stay. I'll go warn them," Laedrynn said simultaneously shooting a line arrow into the ceiling over the base of the stairs and tying the other end to a stanchion next to him.

"Let me get some backu... Hey! Wait!" Camris said as Laedrynn hung his bow on the line and started sliding down it. Muttering furiously, Camris drew two very rare arrows and quickly shot them past Laedrynn into the great hall below. The first blew apart into about thirty small one foot arrows that killed or disabled a dozen of the foul creatures, the second hit the floor and blew up into a rapidly expanding cloud of smoke and glowing embers. Laedrynn slid into the smoke and disappeared into the inhuman caterwauling that exploded with the arrows.

Laedrynn made his way through the smoke and press of the horde to where he knew the door to the cellar was. Unable to use his bow, he used a long knife and a high dexterity to make his way through. At the door he shattered it with a kick and shouted, "They're behind ye at the stair!" He then turned and fought against the horde that attacked, attracted by the noise. He fought hard and protected the exit long enough for the Bladesingers to make an orderly retreat up into the great hall before he fell in a spray of blood. Kemosabbi slew the one who did it, while Bloodglade checked for life. There was nothing they could do.

Having agreed on the rallypoint beforehand, the Bladesingers charged into the smoke and pyrotechnics. With everyone blind there was a vicious melee as about 20 horde demons tried to take the stairs up. Many more were dissolving into ooze or burning to ash as Camris above sent a deadly sleet to meet them. The Bladesingers dealt with those and oriented on the stairs by Camris' shouts; they retreated steadily as more and more demons ate their way up through the floor to attack.

As they passed him, Camris asked "Where's Laedrynn?"

Bloodglade said with sympathy "He didn't make it."

Numb now with disbelief, Camris slowly picked up his arrows and walked back into Laer's pocket palace. He set up a shooting stand in the luxurious anteroom mechanically, ignoring everything else.

Two by two the Bladesingers retreated into the palace, their spells used up until at the last only Starrbolt and Vailant were left. Vailant cast Wall of Ice as Starr ran back through the hall to the palace, then Vailant started running.

Down below one of the mindless demons bit through the Crystal shell on the mantle. The Shield went down.

Vailant glanced up, startled that the multicolored glow overhead suddenly went out, and the Company could do nothing but watch as the storm underpressure pulled Valiant up into the storm.

The great bronze doors were slammed shut by the suction with a boom of finality.

In another place, The Shadow howled with savage glee as the image of the Great Hall was pulverized by the storm and blown away. There was nothing left of Neverwinter.

Starrbolt grabbed the door to try to get Vailant out, but he staggered back as the doors dissolved in his hands; there was nothing but the fancy marble walls where the doors used to be.

No longer anchored by the Great Hall, they were adrift in the ethereal plane.

Tizer stood before Laer's bed where Laer lay in state in the Coronal bedroom. Together with Camris and Ilustriel, he led the sadly diminished Company in a hymn for the departed; Laerithil, Laedrynn, and Vailant. Together as the song soared higher, they felt that they could reach out with their combined thought and touch the spirits of the fallen and say, "Farewell, until we meet again." As the song trailed down until it was a single note, Tizer cast a Witchlight on the four posts of the canopied bed; there they would burn without consumption forever. With the end of the song, they filed out quietly and met in what appeared to be an imperial style throneroom; chandelier, flags, inlaid floor, the works.

At Tizer's request, Greywolf spoke. "Before we started the High Magic ceremony to deal with the storm, Laer took me to one of his workrooms and showed me how to open his worldgate. Tomorrow we'll take it to Evermeet after we rest up a bit." There were no objections, and they broke up. Some went exploring, as no one had yet seen the entire palace yet. Some found nooks and crannies to rest in. All were subdued at the violence that they had experienced, the effort they had made to save Neverwinter and themselves, and the losses they had suffered. With all that had happened, they still had no clue as to why.

In another place, the Shadow was amazed at what he had scried. The Grey Company was still alive! And all of his slaves were out of position, on the prime material! That is, all except one, one who could not be used on the prime material at all. He called to it...

Bloodglade, Camris, Kemosabbi, and Starrbolt explored the palace, finding many intriguing small rooms who's purpose they could only speculate.

"That boy sure knew how to overdecorate." Bloodglade said wonderingly. He brushed his hand through his white hair looking at the riches just in the hallway. "Where did he find all this stuff?" He touched a door apparently mad entirely out of oriental green jade, depicting a green oriental dragon entwining around a warrior in a forested glade.

"Oh, I don't know..." Camris said dreamily, his green eyes gazing off into infinity. "It kind of... fits together, you know? Place and personality..." They were walking through a small auditorium, with room for a hundred and a black glass wall behind the podium.

"It's fantastic!" Starrbolt said as they walked through a room with a large Thaumaturgic Triangle on the floor. Prudently skirting it, he said "It would make a magnificent headquarters, the new Great Hall! If we could learn how to get to it and back."

"And maybe it will dissolve with Laer's death, and us with it." Muttered Kemosabbi gloomily, his lifeless coal eyes not noticing anything in particular.

"Thanks for that morale booster, Kemo." Bloodglade said, rolling his blue eyes in sarcasm.

At that moment, two 16 foot wide claws exploded through the far wall of the fountain court they were in, swept the area right to left cutting marble like paper, brushed them aside sprawling like.

"By Illuvatar! An Astral Dreadnaught!" Starrbolt cried out, holding his broken and bleeding arm.

"Impossible! We're on the Ethereal plane!" Kemosabbi said stumbling erect.

"Want to go tell him he's in the wrong dimension? Come on!" Bloodglade hauled Camris to his feet by the back of his shirt. Helping each other and anyone else they came across, they made for the Vestibule.

Deeper in the palace, Tizer only swayed as the floor lurched under his feet knocking several Company members down. He only nodded his head once. He knew that he had expected something like this was going to happen. He turned to Greywolf and said simply, "Open the worldgate. Its time to leave."

As Tizer rallied the Company, and the Dreadnaught repeatedly pounded the palace, Greywolf carefully followed Laer's directions in activating the worldgate. The worldgate was accessed through a thaumaturgic circle inlaid into the floor. Rapidly Greywolf performed the rituals, and a glowing blue oval appeared over the circle. Beyond, he thought he could see the white palace of the Queen on Evermeet.

In another place, The Shadow screamed "No!". Raising it's head, it howled to the smoky sky. "Guardian, I accept your bargain! But in return, the Grey Company must not escape! Stop them!"

Far in the unimaginable depths of the night sky, an immeasurably deeper voice said only "Done."

Laughing softly, the Guardian streched out one long red claw...

In the palace, as Elfin was about to go through, the worldgate turned blood red.

"The gateway! It's getting unstable!" Greywolf shouted. A shock ran through the palace and the floor lurched underfoot, knocking everyone down. Some ceiling tile fell on the Company.

"Too late to do anything else now." Tizer growled. "Just go. Don't stop for anything." With that, the Company went through the portal, one by one. When Swordmagus went through, the floor lurched and he lost his grip on Ar'Cor'Kerym. As the last member went through, Tizer paused and glared back with his single eye.

"I'll find ye, whoever you are." Tizer swore aloud. "Whoever did all this to us, I'll find ye." Then he turned and leapt through the blood red gate.

And by an amazing coincidence, the gate was tuned to a realm called... Brittania.

In another room, an empty bed slid across the floor, out into the gaping hole and into the Ethereal void.

Continue to Chapter 21