Chapter 21

Riklaun supported Nalynn 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 executed long ago. 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, a gate cast and collapsed before many could get through.

"Riklaun," she murmured softly, "the fighting is 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 wouldn't 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.

Many moments later, they rounded a rocky bend, and Riklaun stopped in awe, staring at the structure before them. The building looked to be made directly from the ground. A lava flow ran down the side of the mountain alongside the edge of the building. The building also had a cliff on the other side of the building. He noticed Dral 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 Demon that stood next to her. "The Demon, what else can I call it now?" Rik thought. He turned to Nal. She looked to be very pale. She was barely able to walk herself and had to be helped along. The Demon was draining her life force for his own. Riklaun felt he had to do something, but options came to mind. Odds were against him in this land. He did not even know where to go if he did escape. He was on his own.

He contemplated what to do, but every plan had a common flaw: he could take out one but would be brought down by the rest. He knew he'd never stand a chance against the Demon, not without help. Riklaun knew that the guild was gone now. Only Nalynn and himself 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 in bladesong. He remembered the day his teacher died. He remembered setting foot in Neverwinter for the first time. He remembered when he first started up the Elven Brotherhood, his attempt at creating a guild.

He remembered his long-time friend Braldt, and what had happened to him. He was responsible for all this. He remembered the Drow Dagger of Infinite Slaying, and how it controlled him. But it was not really the dagger that controlled him, but what was inside of him, 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?" Rik said to himself.

"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?" Rik 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?" Rik asked the voice.


Brisid once again snuck behind a rocky outcropping, hidden from Ebonstarr's party who now stood at the entrance of an ominous structure. For hours he had followed them; he was surprised they hadn't detected him yet. He glanced around and noticed a crowd of the plane's denizens--imps and demons mostly--had formed around the group. They did not attack, however. Perhaps they feared the powerful beast beside Ebonstarr, and kept a respectful distance from its wrath. Thankfully, Brisid thought, he was close enough to the group to benefit from the Shadow's "protection".

He wiped his hand across his forehead. Over the miles they had traveled, the ground had become increasingly torrid. The Elf's deerskin boots barely protected his feet. Trying to peer over the rocks, he set his hand on a stone, and the ring on his finger began to burn his skin! He quickly tore it off and threw it to the ground, cursing silently. That ring--the ring that linked to his study--must have heated up from the rock. He knelt to pick it up when a scream pierced the air. He clapped his hands over his ears and searched for its source.

Aerrellun awoke to find himself still in the study of the surface Elf. The cramps in his muscles told him he had been unconscious for many hours. Looking around the room, all seemed intact, except that beyond the windows and doorways shone a wall of light and color. The drow rogue heard nothing except his calm breathing. He stood and slowly approached the barrier at the doorway. He turned and backed away, rubbing his eyes. Even if this magic was not meant as a prison for intruders, the painfully bright light was certainly torture to his kind.

He had to get out of here, wherever he now was. Aerrellun picked up a pen off the desk and experimentally poked it into and through the light barrier. He pulled it back; the pen appeared unaffected. He next tried using one of the numerous books to the same effect. Taking a deep, slow breath, the drow finally moved his hand into the shining wall. His fingers tingled slightly as they passed into the wall, but nothing else happened. He pulled his hand back, and after making sure there were no visible effects, stepped through.

Beyond the white barrier was, to Aerrellun's dismay, even more light, which forced him to walk blindly through the enchanted place. Walking carefully and slowly, the drow kept his balance perfectly for many paces. But one unremarkable step later, he discovered there was no ground to catch his weight, and the drow, with closed eyes, tumbled down into blessed, painless darkness.

Aerrellun found himself sitting on a scorching rocky surface. He didn't even attempt to understand what foul magics had brought him from the Elf-mage's room to this place. The rogue then noticed a most irritating sound pounding at his ears and looked up to see a surface Elf a few steps away from him, his back turned.

"An easy kill," the drow considered, "but unnecessary."

A moment later, when Brisid turned around to retrieve the ring, the drow was nowhere to be seen.

"What is wrong, Shadow?" inquired Ebonstarr, after the demon had halted its terrible howling. "A minor inconvenience. 'Tis nothing."

"Udos continue."

"Nau!" Called out Rimellyn. "Enough of this! I tire of travelling in this distasteful land."

"Dos dare defy ussa?!" screamed the drider. Ebonstarr stared daggers at Rimellyn for several seconds, making the drow almost regret his open rebellion. "You are right. Bring the pretty Elf over there," Ebonstarr commanded.

It took a moment for Rimellyn to collect his wits from his surprise. He had fully expected Ebonstarr to slay him where he stood--he was dead anyway in this terrible land, but the fact that she now followed his wish suggested she was no longer suited to command. But obey Rimellyn did as he tugged Nalynn to where the drider had gestured.

"Shadow, you have stolen enough of this Elf's energies. She must have enough so she can scream her pleas for mercy when I kill her."

Ebonstarr produced a long, dark wand and aimed it at one of the imps in the crowd around the group. A black lance of energy shot out from the device and collided into the creature. At first, no visible effects were to be seen, but the imp began screaming. It fell to the ground and thrashed in pain. Only many seconds later did the imps hands and feet begin to dissolve, and then its arms and legs disintegrated. Riklaun and Nalynn turned away from the gruesome spectacle, wondering if the evil creature deserved such a demise. Fully two minutes later, the cries stopped.

"Impressive, Ebonstarr," the Shadow demon uttered.

"Xas. It burns from the inside-out. A little trinket I found in Menzoberranzen. You recognize it, Dralenal. Nau?"

"I do. You stole it from Matron Baenre! It was to be given to me." Dralenal's increasing fury was visible in his glare.

"Then take it," Ebon said as she held it out to the drow mage. "It matters to me not whether Nalynn dies by my actions or yours. So long as she suffers."

Dralenal approached the drider slowly, eyeing Ebonstarr suspiciously. She appeared sincere, and he grasped the wand. The wrong end! The drow discovered too late as the disruptive energies filled his body. He jerked back in pain as his lungs began to burn. He tried to scream but found no breath. Bones melted, and he fell to the ground. Muscles spasmed, but without supporting structure, just made his already dissolving limbs quiver. The smell of burnt flesh spread to the group, and Nalynn fought her nausea.

"Such a naive one. Always willing to please," spoke the drider.

After the once-powerful mage had been reduced to a pile of smoking flesh, Ebonstarr turned her attention to Nalynn.

"Your turn, my dear. For so long have you been a thorn in my side. And now it ends." Ebonstarr nodded to Rimellyn, and the drow shoved Nalynn to the ground and stepped away. "Watch closely, Riklaun. Watch your lover die."

Ebonstarr slowly raised the wand on Nalynn's kneeling form. The Elf maiden looked up with tears streaking her face. She was too weak to do anything else. A pendant slipped out of her tunic; the polished onyx stone catching the red light from the surrounding air.

The drider smiled at how events had turned out. "I cannot say I have been glad to know you, Nalynn. Have a painful death."

A couple hundred paces away, just behind a mound of red dirt, Aerrellun saw the black sparkle from the Elf-maiden's necklace. He had been watching the proceedings with interest. And after so many years of searching, he had finally found his goal. There was no mistaking the sparkle from the magical onyx. He knew what had to be done.

Three tiny blurs flitted through the air in rapid succession, and Ebonstarr found a small dart in her hand and two in her legs. She began to exclaim her outrage when pain ripped through her body. The darts exploded, destroying the drider's hand and sending the unnatural beast to the ground. She screamed in pain as much as in anger, but suddenly her single yell was lost among the war cries of the demonic crowd that surrounded the group. As one, the army surged forward towards the group, their weapons held high and bloodlust in their eyes.

It took only seconds for the army to converge on the group, but their obvious single target was the Shadow. The drow and Elves were almost completely ignored by the horde of imps and demons, but surprisingly the army flowed around them. This close to their target, the horde would waste no time on such minor distractions.

The Shadow flung off an imp that had succeeded on attaching itself to his arm. He bellowed with rage. Two imps leapt at him and he grabbed each in mid-flight. He brought them together, crushing bone. He tossed the lifeless corpses away.

"Tar'Rohk!" He yelled, "Show yourself!!"

The imps all disappeared in a blinding flash of light. Smoke started billowing from in front of the Shadow. From inside the smoke appeared a figure. "I am here." The figure stepped out of the cloud and the cloud disappeared. The figure looked just like the Shadow. The only difference was that his creature had dark brown fur instead of black.

"Why, Tar'Rohk?" The Shadow asked. "Why did you betray me?

"My position in the hierarchy was assured!" Tar'Rohk said. "With you gone, my place was at the General's side. But now that you have returned, I can kill you once and for all!"

Tar'Rohk took a swipe at the Shadow. The Shadow turned just in time to avoid the claw. "I thought you better than that, Tar'Rohk--to submit to treachery against our own kind." He countered with a swipe of his own claw.

"It's all about power, Jas'Sanoth." Tar'Rohk said. "It's all about power." He faked a swing with his right claw and dropped in low with his left. He claw raked across Jas'Sanoth's abdomen. Jas'Sanoth bellowed in pain as the poison worked its way quickly through his system. He twirled around and launched out several magic missiles at Tar'Rohk. They connected, but only singed his fur.

Tar'Rohk countered with his own set of magic missiles that connected with Jas'Sanoth hard. Tar'Rohk muttered something and two sets of claws broke through the ground grabbing at Jas'Sanoth. Jas'Sanoth felt the claws grab him and hold him to the ground. He swiped at one and removed the claw from his leg. He then kicked at the other and cast a spell. Jas'Sanoth started to fly up into the air.

The claws that surfaced from the ground started to pull themselves out of the ground. The two creatures that surfaced looked like humanoid insects covered in great chitinous plates. Their arms were long and lanky and they had wide armored skulls. The color of their armor plating was a dirty ivory.

"Only two mezzoloths, Tar'Rohk? I'd have thought you would bring more!" Jas'Sanoth taunted, but an underlying tone betrayed his concern.

One of these beings pointed a finger at Jas'Sanoth and his flight spell dissipated, dropping him to the ground. The other being pulled out a sword that was strapped to his back. Tar'Rohk fired off another set of magic missiles at Jas'Sanoth. Jas'Sanoth stumbled back a few steps and started to cast another spell.

The mezzoloth with the sword came in swinging his weapon in attempt to slice Jas'Sanoth in half. The other cast a spell at Jas'Sanoth which enveloped the beast with a column of flame. Jas'Sanoth reached out of the searing fire and grabbed the first mezzoloth. He grabbed the sword, tossed it over the edge of the cliff, and decided to throw the mezzoloth after it. The mezzoloth never hit bottom as his body was seared away by the intense heat of the lava flow. The column of flame dissipated and Jas'Sanoth growled. The other mezzoloths eyes widened and he scurried away.

"Your fear does not affect me, Jas'Sanoth." Tar'Rohk said. "Remember, I am immune. I have improved my skills since we last met. Your years on the prime in the Lloth's service has weakened you. You have no chance."

Tar'Rohk, paused for a second, calculating his odds. Scowling, he finally replied. "This is not over." He then quickly muttered a spell, teleporting to a place where he could observe the his oponent safely.

Continue to Chapter 22