Riklaun faced Ebonstarr over his crossed swords, and for a moment, there was nothing in the multiverse but the two of them. They both knew that this was their final meeting. Then Nalynn's hellblade shrieked in from the side as it flashed toward his head; he parried without thinking, leapt over her head parrying twice more in midair, landed and slashed Ebonstarr's leg while still parrying Nalynn's furious blows.
Naylnn came at him like a possessed banshee, the hellblade held high. Riklaun could only parry her attacks as its power drove him backwards. He could not fight Nalynn in her present condition, possessed by the Shadows. There was no way he could come to harm her, he had sworn that much. He parried high with a silver moon flash of his scimitars, easily blocking the blow. But soon he would weaken and slow down. Nalynn's present state would not allow her to tire, so she'd eventually have the upper hand--it was only a matter of time.
Riklaun tried vainly to do anything he could to free Nalynn from the possession of the Shadows. She came at him swinging wildly, her rudimentary training in blade singing was an asset, she knew what to do. Nalynn swung high and at the last minute dove low. Riklaun barely parried with a tight twirl the altered path of the swing, sparks showering off the length of the scimitar.
The combatants split apart and went into defensive stances for a moment. Riklaun's twin scimitars held crossed in the Mantis position in front of him. Naylnn twirled around swinging the hellblade in a wide purple arc. She thrust it towards Riklaun and he snapped up one scimitar to block it. The purplish edge of the hellblade wove a fiery purple trail through the air. The two swords hit and there was an explosive flash. Riklaun tumbled backwards and fell. Nalynn stood there both hands clenched on the hellblade, its purplish hue even brighter than before.
Riklaun had little time to stare at the hilt of his destroyed scimitar, the magic forever gone. Nalynn came at him, her odds a little better at killing her opponent. Riklaun rolled to his feet parrying blow after blow in a shower of sparks.
"Nalynn!" Riklaun yelled. "Don't do this! Stop yourself!" Nalynn came at him again and he backed off. "Nal, I know you're in there. Fight the force of the shadows in your mind. You can resist the effects!" The shadows flowed across her eyes.
Nalynn drove in slashing in a high wide arc. Riklaun brought up his scimitar and down again in a silver "S" barely in time to block the shot aimed at his head and another headed for his abdomen. Riklaun backpedaled as she pressed on the attack.
"Search you feelings, Nalynn. You know you do not want to hurt me." Riklaun said attempting to get her to stop. She dropped low and deep. Riklaun arced down and blocked the blow. Nalynn quickly turned her blade up and high in a purple flash, catching Rik off balance. She raised her foot and kicked Riklaun in the chest. He stumbled back and stopped. His feet were stuck to the ground by a web-like goo. He looked over at Ebonstarr and saw her smile at him. Nalynn saw this and came closer to Riklaun. He quickly slashed at the stuff holding him there in attempt to cut his way free, but the goo latched onto his scimitar and wrested it free of his grip. Nalynn brought the hellblade up high for the killing blow.
"Enough!" Ebon yelled. Nalynn lowered the sword to her side and walked over to Ebonstar to stand next to her. "It looks like I have finally gotten the best of you, my dear Riklaun. She makes a good slave don't you think? I rather like this." Riklaun tried to free himself, but the web-like goo held him fast. He would have tried magic, if he had any left.
"Of course you would", Riklaun shot back, carefully watching for an opening. "You always had a taste for slavery."
"After she slowly cuts you into little pieces, I will force her to eat them one by one." Ebonstarr cruelly said, watching despair slowly creep over Riklaun's face. "Don't worry, she'll live a long time in my cocoon; dying a little day by day, remembering how she killed you!" Staring at the frenzied, inhuman face before him, Riklaun remembered the highborn lady he once courted.
"Do you know, Ebon," he said slowly "That if you had asked, I would have gone willingly? Gone to the ceremony you planned for your accession to priestess. I loved you that much." Ebonstarr just gaped, stunned; for once she was without words. "But you didn't ask, did you?" He growled wrathfully, "You sent your little priest-assassins to take me in chains!"
"Liar!" the drider screamed coming even closer. "You never loved me! You were planning on betraying me with her even then!"
"And I knew then, that all your words of love were lies; that I had always been meant for the altar." Riklaun whispered, knowing the end was near. "I overheard the acolytes talking about the "White offering", but never believed..."
A bright light flashed down from the heavens at that moment and struck a mile away, over a volcanic ridgeline and burst in a white flash. Startled, Ebonstarr whirled to look. Kicking up with his toe under his scimitar, Riklaun flipped the sword into his hand and struck at Ebonstarr with blinding speed; but a thread strung it back and it snapped back before the blow could land. Aghast, Riklaun struggled to free it as Ebonstarr laughed.
"Nalynn, kill him. Slowly." Ebonstarr said lazily, settling back to enjoy the show. Nalynn swung the blade back mechanically, Riklaun following the burning purple edge with his eyes, and with a furious burst of power she drove the blade into Ebonstarr's side.
"This is for my husband Braldt," Nalynn stated calmly as Ebonstarr shrieked and whirled on her; the hellblade was pulled roughly out and Riklaun noticed through a surge of hope that the shadows had cleared from Nal's eyes. Desperately Riklaun levered his left boot out of the web as Ebonstarr grappled with Nal.
"This is for my husband Torm," Nal said as she slashed off a limb. She made no attempt to defend as Ebonstarr plunged her fangs into her, but simply stood her ground and kept her sword free as Ebon tried to entangle her with webbing again.
"And this is for me!" Nalynn shouted as her sword flashed once more and Ebonstarr's head leapt from her shoulders in a gush of dark blood. Both Ebon's body and Nalynn collapsed. Riklaun slipped from his trapped boots and ran over to her.
"Oh Rik, I feel ill..." Nalynn said slowly. The touch of her flesh felt hot under Riklaun's touch. The fell poison was already doing it's work.
"Rest easy, my love." Riklaun said, looking down at Nalynn. He was holding her as she shivered even through the fever. The ground around them shuddered as flames leapt hundreds of feet in the air. Riklaun looked around him, desperate for anything that could help him... And froze as he saw the figure on the ridge. Oh no, he thought despairing. Another drow.
Aerrellun looked down upon his goal, the Elf-woman Nalynn. She was already helpless. The surface Elf with her with the white hair must be the one named Riklaun; he glanced up at Aerrellun suddenly and groped around for a weapon. None was there but the hilt of the hellblade; on Ebonstarr's death the blade had evaporated. Beyond them Aerrellun could see the separated head and body of Ebonstar; her face still in a rictus of surprise and hate. Excellent. He strode easily down towards Nalynn. On noting Riklaun's putting his body between them, he slipped purple and green potions out of his pouches and prepared to deal with him.
And yet... As Aerrellun approached the two, his steps slowed and he gazed into her face. And he remembered the reason he began his long quest. Slowly he put his hand back to his pouches and held up an orange potion, slowly fizzing and glowing with an inner light.
As Riklaun tensed to lunge, Aerrellun spoke. "I came prepared to deal with Ebonstarr." Riklaun stopped dead, hope warring with dread while staring at the vial. "A cure for her deadly poison."
Riklaun spoke thickly, his mouth dry; afraid of the price. "What do you want?"
Rik turned warily and looked down on Nalynn. She still wore that mysterious gold chain with the glittering black Onyx stone she had recovered from the ruins of her old guild house. Thoughts whirled through Rik's head, the danger of betrayal, the true value of the necklace... Staring into the drows merciless cold eyes he ruled out a sudden lunge. But in the end he made the only decision he could.
They both reached out and slowly made the exchange. As Aerrellun grasped the necklace, a strange expression flitted across the cold ebon mask of his face. Riklaun quickly knelt and put the vial to Nal's lips; she barely moved as she swallowed, but the fever cooled almost immediately; and she breathed a little better. He looked up to the drow, but he was gone. He wondered if he would ever know the story behind the necklace, for a drow to follow them down into the netherworld to retrieve it. He shook his head and Brisid leapt over a low ridge, sword drawn and wand darting around looking for a target. After looking at the shocking carnage, he ran over to Rik and they embraced.
"Late again, but it looks like you got her." Brisid said looking at Ebon's body.
"Uma," Rik said, "And she's not coming back." He said grimly as they watched an advancing stream of lava roll up and burn her severed head to ash in a burst of fire. The next wave rolled toward the rest of her body.
"Let's get out of here." Rik picked up Nalynn and followed Brisid. "Where's the rest of the Company?" Brisid stopped at the corpse of Rimellyn and relieved him of the minimus cage. There looked like a small toy horse inside. Brisid smiled and put it away.
"I'll explain it on the way," Brisid responded.
Brisid hurried Riklaun along as he carried Nalynn over the shuddering volcanic stone. Strongbow and Rayella followed with the last hippogriff. Was it his imagination, or were the fountaining jets of lava and earthquakes getting more intense?
"Hurry up! There's a whole lot of those little demons still running around," Brisid said as the regrouped Elves ran toward towards the worldgate leading back to Neverwinter. They came around a small rock formation and ... it was gone.
"Naturally." Muttered Brisid. They gathered around to discuss what to do next. "Good thing I brought a spare worldgate to the Great Hall." Brisid brought forth a wand tipped with rubies at both ends. Murmuring deeply but powerfully, he twirled the wand in mid-air, which drew a fiery circle that expanded until it was ten feet across. But as it filled with red light, it wavered violently and shattered into a million sparks that sprayed in all directions before winking out. The party stood in shocked silence as they all gazed at the useless wand.
"The Hall has fallen..."
Brisid sat cross-legged inside the thaumaturgic triangle glowing on the floor of his study; his posture was perfectly relaxed as he concentrated with his inner sight into the crystal ball hovering before him. Time does not flow for Elves as for other beings tied closer to the world, so he could not say when the piece of cloth in his hands first shifted, twitched and then leapt to the crystal ball to cling tightly. He smiled as he rose to his feet and stretched; took the ball and left through the doorway.
Brisid emerged into Strongbow's sacred glade from a doorway standing all by itself, unattached to any structure. As always, the sight and sound was comforting, but he had to stop for a moment and drink in the glorious rich smell of green growing things; made all the more savory after the endless stink of the netherhell where the Shadow had made his home.
Brisid turned and looked out the side of the giant sphere that contained the sacred glade. Stepping closer to the edge of the glade, his Elven sight pierced the gray fog that surrounded the outside of their refuge to gaze on the destruction of Neverwinter. Somehow Strongbow had obeyed an impulse he couldn't explain and had transported this glade to the near ethereal plane the night before they had left to rescue Nalynn.
After Strongbow had transported the survivors to his sacred glade, they had all rested and revived; Nalynn especially grew stronger after her ordeal, hovered over by an anxious Riklaun. It was strange to Brisid, but it seemed to him as if the destruction of Ebonstarr and her near death had taken something from her; it was as if Nalynn were a different person.
Brisid walked over to where Strongbow and Rayella were tending to their remaining griffon. He presented the glowing ball to them and said, "I have found him." They all gazed into the ball to see a richly forested land spotted with huge yew trees rolling toward a large lake or sea. From their viewpoint on a small grassy peninsula they could gaze across a bay to see a white colonnaded shrine far in the distance.
Brisid said, "Taelsin is on the world called Brittainia. The barriers are formidable, but there is nothing else for us here. And," he added, smiling, "I saw Bloodglade there. The rest of the Company must be there also!"
Strongbow nodded distractedly. "Yes. That is our destiny. I feel it." He looked up. "Tonight, after I have rested; we will begin."
That night, the sky was a diamond-studded blanket of black velvet. In the distance, the musical tones of a small waterfall was the only sound to break the stillness. Several Elves sat expectantly in a huddled group on a grassy hillock, silent and subdued. Strongbow's steel-grey eyes surveyed the glade. Everything was in place, and the time for leaving was at hand. The sense of urgency within his heart mixed with feelings of sorrow and loss at what must happen next. There would be no turning back.
Strongbow lit the brazier that sat embedded in stone in the exact center of the glade. Raising his arms, he began to chant in a whisper, slowly, his voice barely audible. With each repetition of the chant, his voice gained strength. Nine times through, towards every major turn of the compass, and while not quite a yell, at the end of the ninth verse, Strongbow's voice held terrible power, then ceased. Holding his arms straight out in front of him he turned, counterclockwise, pointing at the 100 yard diameter circle of stones. At once the blocks of magma surrounding the glade began to glow , pulsing a soft white. An azure beam of light traced the perimeter connecting each stone block then, from the north block to the south block, a jet of blue and scarlet flame shot upwards, arcing through the sky, forming a perfect sphere with the azure light.
"Eru... Sana Lye Eska....." At these words, the flaming rainbow overhead began to spin around like a gyro, cleaving throught the earth and solid rock like it was butter, faster and faster. When it had finally severed the glade free, the flame abruptly died. Then the entire glade began to rise, and the water continued to fall over the rocks into the pond below it. If a person did not look directly out of the glade, a thin spheroid sheet of flame could be seen in his or her peripheral vision, surrounding the grove, creating it's own little pocket of the prime material. All of the Elves wandered towards various spots near the circle of stones, watching the planet Toril fall away from them, a perfect hemisperical crater, the only evidence of their escape. If any of them could have seen the glade from the outside, it would appears to just be a large ball of blue and scarlet fire, rolling slowly across the elemental plane of fire, the inner beauty visible only to those within.
Strongbow stood near the top of the waterfall, Rayella came over to to him, and without saying a word, slipped her arms around his waist, her head resting on his chest. Strongbow smiled down at her, wrapping his arms around her and holding her close, her presence reassuring. The black wolf Lightning padded up silently, standing few yards in front of them like a protective shadowy sentinel. Tears began to stream down their cheeks as the planet that they had called home for so many years faded into the distance. They could see the large scar of the storm growing, a haze of destruction.
Continue to Epilogue