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Throne Wars II: Demonheart


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#1 -Onyx-

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Posted 02 April 2004 - 03:13 PM

Prologue

Following his destruction of Melissan in the Abyss, the cavalier Onyx ceded the throne of Bhaal and journeyed with his ally and true love Aerie to the avariel nation of Faenya-Dail to finally marry her. However, the madman Cyran waged war across Amn in an effort to seize the unclaimed throne, thus beginning the first Throne War, or the war of the Coin of Bhaal. Onyx, his companions, and his long-lost son, the young monk Kan, defeated Cyran's forces at de'Arnise Keep and Paradise. Kan then destroyed Cyran in mortal combat and ascended the throne.
Onyx and Aerie's son was born soon after, and thereafter a daughter as well, and despite the raising of their children they have had many great adventures in the twenty years since. The reign of the lawful and good murder-god Kan has been devoted to the just murder of evil, and between his divine influence and the many victories Onyx and company have since led, it is a time of unprecedented good in the realms. Even as druids and other follows of neutrality have joined the cause of darkness in the name of balance, evil has been driven back into the darkest corners of the world, and innocents all over have been spared slaughter and fear. Yet mysterious forces, unseen and undetected across the planes, devise a nefarious plan to turn the tables upon good. The second Throne War is about to begin.

#2 -Guest-

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Posted 02 April 2004 - 03:18 PM

I. The Battle of the Demongroves

Onyx and Valygar sat atop fearsome white horses at the head of a huge army. It was comprised of Amnish human warriors and Suldanesellar elven archers and spellcasters. Beside Onyx rode a line of paladins of the Order, and beside Valygar a line of rangers of the Lodge. Valygar had left his dreadlocks down and tied iron balls into them, making his own head into a flail. Onyx held aloft the ceremonial Blade of Roses, ready to signal the troops.
Imoen and Nalia stood among the mages; having taken time out from running the Arcane Shadows mage-thieves' guild and the Athkatla Council respectively, ready to help humanity and the cause of good.
Avariel archmage and archpriestess Aerie stood with the clerics, her fingers outstretched and head held high. She was eager to be back with her husband and her kind at their home in Paradise, capital city of Faenya-Dail. But she was also quite eager to smite the day's enemies first.
Valygar, in the past twenty years, had served as a spy, chief inspector, and general at Nalia's appointments. This battle's human force was, in fact, Valygar's army, and he always loved having his former adventuring companions co-lead it. A onetime renegade, Valygar had come to detest authority less. He and Nalia had grown close as they cleansed Amnish politics of its corruption together and saw in themselves and each other what good leadership could and should be.
He and Onyx still felt incomplete without Minsc co-leading the rangers. The Rashemanian had long ago left western Faerun to return to his homeland. They had heard that he had become a hero of the Ice Dragon Berserker lodge, and a great, if quite idiosyncratic and often bewildering, leader. He had started his own adventuring company, the Justice Fist. It and the Rashemanian rangers and paladins at large had been cleansing the eastern lands of evil much as Valygar, Onyx and friends had in the west. Though Minsc had not yet returned, his unique leadership style was known far and wide and adaptations of his slogans were oft repeated by soldiers and bards. "We go now into battle to give evil armies the mass butt-kickings they deserve." "Surrender while you can, evil, we will be less gentle!" "Evil, meet army, army, meet evil!" As Boo gnawed at the faces or other parts of enemies in many a battle, rangers at large had begun taking up familiars, and the custom had spread west. On Valygar's shoulder perched a huge spear-beaked falcon with magically sharpened vorpal-edged wings. It eyed the opposing force - and a certain point in front of them - intently.
The opposition consisted of a huge, loosely organized association of druid groves, led by Grand Druid Faldorn. Many, many animals stood among them, having been charmed, summoned, or transformed into. Among them, towards the back, still in the woods and not actually visible, Onyx could sense and smell demons. Lots of demons. As the heroes and the god Kan had rubbed away evil from the Prime Material Plane, the plane-hopping demons had been busy traveling across the multiverse, gathering disparate and obscure sources of evil and neutrality and mobilizing them. This puzzled and troubled Onyx, who had slain Demogorgon, prince of demons, in Watcher's Keep twenty years ago and had thought the race of demons would be completely unorganized thereafter. He knew that demons were chaotic and normally prone to tear apart one another if they so much as came within smelling distance. Somehow, perhaps by being on the defensive, they were organizing for mutual survival, or being organized. With Demogorgon destroyed, Onyx knew not who - or what - could do such a thing.
Imoen, Nalia and Aerie telepathically read Onyx's mental signal and instructed the clerics and mages to begin casting. The fighters were blessed, hasted, strengthened, given free action, and defensively harmonized. The spellcasters themselves grew stoneskins, barkskins, protection from weapons and missiles, and various spell protections. Onyx gave a raising-and-slashing signal with the Blade of Roses, and paladins began drawing upon holy might while elven archers focused their shooting acumen and other rangers grew barkskins and elemental resistances.
The druids began creeping forward, animals crawling, stepping, or hovering around them. As soon as they passed the point Valygar's falcon had been eyeing, it let out a loud squawk and Onyx gave another mental signal. Aerie commanded the clerics to begin raining flamestrikes, bolts of glory, and hold spells upon the now-in-range druids while Nalia, Imoen and the other mages sent powerful evocations flying over the heads of the fighters and into the opposing army. Many of the druids went down, but most had protected themselves from elemental damage and survived. Druids began casting back. Archers rained arrows upon their enemies, disrupting many of their spells and injuring them.
At Onyx's next signal, he and Valygar began riding hard at the enemy, paladins and rangers holding the line alongside them, foot soldiers running behind. Various forces of nature stormed upon the good warriors, doing minor damage to most and outright enchanting or killing a few.
Onyx sheathed his ceremonial blade and held Blackrazor and the Axe of the Unyielding out to either side and began cutting through enemy druids and animals, slicing them apart cleanly and absorbing their energy. Valygar madly swung the katanas Celestial Fury and Hindo's Doom from horseback, decapitating or halving opponents right and left as his falcon swooped down alongside him doing the same with its wings. The paladins crashed lances and swords into their enemies or held them, and the rangers swung at druids with dual weapons and cast their own druidic magics back at them. As druids and animals, some shapeshifting between the two, passed the line of mounted warriors, they crashed into the dense army of foot soldiers. They covered many with huge entangle spells, killed them with lightning bolts, and conjured elementals in their midst. The hasted fighters were mostly bearing the damage and the free action enhancements saved them from entangle and other spells, and though some fell or were mentally overcome, their superior numbers and combat skills overwhelmed the druids. They and their animals and elementals began getting hacked and crushed. The druids tried to get swarms of insects and other natural disasters at the good spellcasters, who were now casting various enchantments that wouldn't hurt their own intermixed forces. Few druids could manage to get a spell off undisrupted, and the magically protected good mages were nearly untouched.
Onyx was eyeing the hidden demons. As he saw them move, the cavalier mentally signaled a warning to his archmages. The horde of demons flew out of the trees, flying over the battlefield to the weak spellcasters of their opponents. Archers and mages shot arrows and magic missiles high into the air at the demons. Demons were surviving them and getting across the air to dive at the back lines. As they drew nearer, Nalia froze time and cast a string her most powerful evocations in the air at them. Milliseconds later in real time, Imoen and then Aerie each did the same. In the blink of an eye, an awesome fireworks show exploded overhead and demons everywhere were burned, withered, electrified, frozen, and knocked to pieces by comets and meteors. Flaming or frosted chunks of demonflesh fell to earth and spellcasters scattered as a giggling Aerie merely knocked them away from herself with Crom Faeyr.
The warriors were hacking away the last of the animals and druids. As Valygar's horse was charmed out from under him, he leapt off it in a mad somersault of katanas, powerful kicks, and flying dreadlocks and landed amongst a party of druids, who were instantly sliced and crushed to death. As his falcon dived in, slicing and pecking, the stalker continued to dance across the fray with his blades and hair, hasting himself and taking out druids at incredibly speed.
As Onyx rode into the tight back circle of archdruids surrounding Grand Druid Faldorn, he quickly stopped his horse before the druids' spears would have impaled his mount and used the momentum to leap straight over its head, switching out his weapons for Carsomyr in midair and landing amongst the archdruids. He swung the great sword around in a furious whirlwind that dispelled the archdruids' protections and slashed them to pieces as the experienced cavalier's incredible resistances easily protected him from their wrathful spells.
As Valygar flew amongst the last of the archdruids and katanaed and dreadlocked them down, he and Onyx each swung their steel into Faldorn who was instantly cut into four pieces. Spinning around again and finding no more who sided with evil, the heroes faced each other and gave out defining war cries of victory that echoed across the battlefield. Each leapt back up onto his horse, Valygar countercharming his in midair, and rode back towards the main force, who were cheering and high-fiving their swords.
Aerie and the other clerics began raising and healing the fallen as necessary. Permanent fatalities and casualties were very light, and after picking up their dead and the few worthwhile treasures of their enemies, Valygar's army and the elven forces being preparing to march away. The adventuring companions congratulated each other and said their goodbyes until next time. Imoen dimension-doored herself back to her thieves' guild, Nal and Val began to lead the Amnish force back to Athkatla, and Aerie dimension-doored herself and Onyx back to their home in the mountaintop city of Paradise.

***

On a rock, surrounded by a sea of flames, sat a man, a huge warrior with glowing eyes. He cursed as he punched the rock.
On another, far away across the sea, sat a beautiful and cruel drow priestess. She mumbled blasphemy as she scratched the rock with her nails.
On yet a third, far away, sat a disfigured elven sorcerer. He spoke not and moved not. Inside, he felt nothing.
A presence crept into each of their minds. Their thoughts filled with visions of a task and threats to do it. Each cast the thoughts aside. What threat could have meaning from where they were? What could be worse? Then visions of freedom crept into their heads. To walk other planes once more. Yet each still was moved not, having protected themselves from such futile thoughts when they first arrived here two decades ago.
And then, into the mind of the great warrior, crept images of fearsome swords and armor. Piles of gold and scores of slaves. Yet still he despaired. Then he saw himself, flesh, blood and bone again, yet stronger, quicker, and tougher than ever before. A moment of eagerness, but again he despaired.
The priestess saw tomes of forgotten heresy, ancient relics of unholy power, and piles of ornate and magical jewelry. Yet still she despaired. Then she saw herself, corporeal body and mind again, yet wiser in the knowledge of divine evil and even more hypnotic in face and figure than ever before. A moment of excitement, but again she despaired.
Each returned to giving their anger to the rocks with fist and nail. Yet then into their thoughts walked each other. They abused the rocks no more, as the minds of each turned to the possibilities of unleashing their frustration and suffering upon the other. And then Sarevok and Viconia nodded, agreeing to the task.
Into the mind of the insane sorcerer crept images of cryptic scrolls, destructive wands, and powerful rings. Still he felt nothing. Then his mind filled with the image of himself, never disfigured or exiled, greater in intellect than before and possessing terrible arcane insights never before discovered. And yet still he felt nothing. Then the presence showed him more of his task. Exactly what would come of it. And exactly whom it would come upon. The madman recognized the face of the paladin who had slain him long ago. In his mind he saw what he would do in return, he saw the vile torture he would inflict upon him, so much more subtle and yet more painful than the torture which the sorcerer had once inflicted upon the knight. Inflicted now in the way his enemy would least suspect and yet most rue. And for the first time in an age, Jon Irenicus smiled.

#3 -Guest-

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Posted 02 April 2004 - 03:19 PM

II. Like Father, Like Son

In crystal avariel-elven chainmail, necessarily quiet but ludicrously light on the giant-strong cavalier, Onyx crept deeper into the white dragon's cave, holding the Dragon Shield and Dragonslayer sword at the ready. His son Eryx crept beside him, sword and shield in his hands, as did several other young warriors. Their swords and shields were the crystal weapons of the avariel, and these swords had been shaped and enchanted specifically towards the slaying of wyrms. Onyx's daughter Sky and her friend Luna crept behind them, similarly equipped except with maces. Like Sky's mother Aerie, they were each studying both divine and arcane magic, but unlike her, they trained in martial combat as well.
"Now," whispered Onyx, "when Sky and Luna cast resist fire and cold upon you, remember that you will still not be impervious to the beast?s icy breath, so be careful. Now how do you strike at it??
"Against the direction of the scales, to get under them," answered the bored young warriors in unison. They were excited by the prospect of their first real dragon kill, but found Onyx's remedial pointers tedious.
"Good," Onyx answered, seeing their impatience. "Sky and Luna, you know what to cast. Everyone else, charging stance." They leaned forward to run at its belly as Sky and Luna cast resist cold, haste, and defensive harmony upon them all. Then each girl fired a delayed blast fireball in front of the dragon's face. Perfect aim, Luna smirked to herself. As soon as it wakes, it'll bump right into them and get torched. They each then cast a live fireball straight at its nose, and they burst, burning and waking the white dragon. Sure enough, its head popped forward and set off the delayed ones. Screaming horribly as its cold flesh burned and the fireballs scattered, Onyx began the first of three shakes of his sword, but after only the first, Eryx charged ahead without them. Ignoring the slight fire damage, he plunged his sword deep into the dragon's exposed belly. It had grown fat on inept adventurers, and Eryx touched but didn't pierce its heart. Onyx cursed as he and the rest charged at the belly. The dragon was already very much aware of them and its claws and jaws moved in. Onyx leapt up and knocked aside its head with Dragonslayer and the other warriors managed to catch its claws on their shields while stabbing at its belly. Luna cast a scorching jet of flame in its face and it screamed, blindly blasting her with icy breath. She ran aside while still sending flames from her fingers to its face and all but avoided the breath. Sky called a flamestrike down on its body, catching its wings on fire. Finally, Eryx used his great strength to push his sword through the dragon's heart, and it gave a dying wail.
Aerie approached from the mouth of their cave. She had been watching this all, impatiently drumming her fingers on Crom Faeyr and thinking, just let me have at it with a few incendiary clouds or a magical fire dragon blasts of my own. But no, her cavalier husband and their son had to bother with brute force even as their daughter and Luna practically cremated it for them. Under the guise of giving the warriors some real monster experience of course, but she knew how much he enjoyed charging in like that. Onyx walked back to her, cleaning off Dragonslayer, and hugged her happily.
Watching their son shearing and claiming some white dragon scales triumphantly, Aerie gripped Onyx's arm. "Like father, like son," she beamed.
"It seems thus," Onyx agreed. His thoughts turned then to his own father. Bhaal. Like father, like son indeed. His other arm reached down and gripped the hilt of Blackrazor.
Years ago, following Irenicus into hell to vanquish him, Onyx had come across this evil sword. Its power had tempted him, but a djinni had bade him give it up to pass the test of Greed. He could have slain the djinni, but the paladin took the noble path and returned it. As he did, he hungered for it still, and bade his sister Imoen pickpocket it back again. None sensed a change in Onyx's aura that day, and his actions had been righteous sense, but when he wielded it in combat, absorbing the strength and life of his enemies like a vampire, his thoughts were not always pure. Hunger. Power. Domination. Wield me and have it all, Onyx. None shall stand in your path and live. And none had. But such thoughts stayed caged in Onyx's mind. He knew he understood, better than the other straight-and-narrow knights who found his use of Blackrazor controversial, that sometimes the path of good meant using - manipulating - reversing - evil power. It is not always best destroyed immediately, but used to turn on other evils, that twice the wrong might be undone. For that was the eternal difference between good and evil. Good stood by good. But evil was the enemy of both good and evil. In many a battle had he seen demons tear their foes and each other apart while leaving he and his good companions alone. This is our advantage, Onyx knew. This is why good shall prevail. We shall stand together and turn evil upon itself, away from the innocent and beloved and good, consuming only itself. It took a strong heart to wield evil, to be tempted not by power for the sake of power, but to use power only for the sake of justice. Onyx knew he had such a heart.

***

"You should not have rushed in," Onyx chastised his son that afternoon.
"The dragon would have been upon us! We all should have rushed," his son countered.
"A valid point - despite the fireballs - but one that is best made in advance with words, not surprises."
"Better late than never! I scarcely got blistered! I know about how you and Minsc would immunize yourselves to fire and rush in while aunt Immy and mother would incinerate your foes!"
Onyx chuckled and softened. His son was as charismatic as he sometimes. "You know, before we had the best gear, we'd run in only partially resistant and just take the damage. No guts, no glory. Well, we always had your mother and Jaheira to heal us up afterwards, so I guess it wasn't so bad. Those were the days." At his careless thought and mention of Jaheira, he detected Aerie's aura growing red from the next room. Eryx detected it too and snickered as Onyx tried to move his thoughts on. He grew faux stern and said, "When you run your own army or adventuring company, such will be your choices. For now, you must do as I say, young squire."
"How come you didn't take me on that last battle with the demons and druids anyway? I would have killed a hundred!" As he saw his father about to give him another lecture on pride, Eryx began to realize the futility of this path. Wisdom and charisma kicked in and he thought up a cleverer approach before his father could speak. "So, were there a lot of druids? Was...JAHEIRA there?" He winked at Onyx.
"Uh, no, I haven't seen ever since the Coin of Bhaal war, before you were born, um, you know," Onyx stammered as he watched Aerie's aura brighten further and felt her senses peering at him and then their son. Oh by Torm, he thought. Not the Coin of Bhaal war. Whatever you do don't let Aerie sense you thinking of the last time you saw Jaheira and she telepathically showed you your alternate future with her. "So, uh yeah, there were thousands of druids and maybe a hundred demons. You should have watched your mother and aunt and Nalia take them out of the sky with huge evocations. Bam, boom, wow." He filled his mind with very positive thoughts of Aerie and relaxed as he saw her aura soften.
"Wow," Eryx mocked. "But don't those druids have some powerful spells too? You always loved talking about the amazing spells JAHEIRA would cast. Like NATURE'S BEAUTY. I bet you really loved that one, father!"
"You know we cavaliers can't be charmed like that!" Onyx shouted and practically squeezed his goblet handle in two - he'd done it a few times - as Aerie's aura burst into flames. Both men could start to feel magical tingling from the next room.
"Hey father, about that fire resistance, I think now might be a good time to have a lot! We cavaliers aren't totally resistant! Did you memorize resist fire last night? Or were you busy dreaming of JAHEIRA again?"
Both ran for cover as a huge illusionary fireball sailed into the room. It burst harmlessly into a mirage of flames and both breathed a sigh of relief.
Returning to their chairs, father and son exchanged nervous looks and muffled chuckles.
"Now seriously, son, you are becoming a great warrior indeed, and I more than understand your impatience ? for me, twenty years in stuffy Candlekeep attacking nothing but training dummies and skittish kobolds was quite boring. But you have had a number of adventures yet with your family or friends in spite of ever-tedious knightly training. But you must learn more control and discipline. Even as you become your own leader, they will serve you well as you engage friends and foes. And it is more than just a cool head - it takes great strength of heart to balance great power and the temptations that come with it."
"Many are the tales of your struggle, father. Always have you held fast Still many, even among mother's people and the Radiant Heart, whisper slanders and lies. Even as you try to protect those you love. Even as I have had to!"
"I know to what you refer. I understand why you beat up the boys who insulted Luna and destroyed the first - last - boy who actually came at her. It galls me too that it is gossiped of wrongly still. Your initiative, aside from protecting her, served as a great example and prevented her - indeed, many others, your own sister perhaps - from bearing much future wrong, I am sure. You made the first the last. But sometimes, son, in a society with rigid laws - this avariel society, or our human one below - we must find the path which best reconciles law and good - I know, son, they do not always perfectly align. Always a paladin must walk such a careful path. It is thus that our profession is entrusted with responsibilities of such gravity. You didn't have to slay the boy - I know, they resurrected him anyway - merely beating him up a little like the others could have spared you much trouble and inconvenience while protecting Luna just as well.?
"The scheming nobility should have been made to see the righteousness in it! And what about you, father? You scold me for how I defended the woman I love, even though no harm ever came to her - but I know you what you did. Revenge for what you couldn't protect. No, I don't blame you for anything father, what happened to mother was before your time - but I heard the rumor of what you did when you found those responsible. And I don't blame you father. I would do the same. Revenge is second only to protection. Indeed, revenge is protection against future wrongs, a warning to all!"
"You sound like me speaking before the Radiant Heart," Onyx chuckled. "The event of which you speak I will now explain. It was immediately following our defeat of Melissan. There was much to be done then, but I had sworn to myself to do this first, even though paradoxically it meant leaving your mother for a short while - in good care, with Nalia, Jaheira and aunt Immy. Minsc and I met back up with Valygar and the two rangers helped me track down the old circus crew. The ones who had - bought - bought, curse it, an abomination! - your mother. With a little information from the new circus ringleader, your "great-uncle" Quayle, we tracked the old ones down - and found them still in the same foul business. We ended that, by Torm, we found them and freed their new circus?s "attractions" and were going to kill them. But we needed information from them too - we had to find the slavers themselves, the capturers and sellers as well as the buyers, we had to kill them all." Onyx's face was set in an intense stare that walked the thin line, the narrow overlap, between resolute righteousness and furious wrath. ?It is moral beyond doubt. They?re slavers. You know that after our marriage Aerie and I set about trying to annihilate slavery from Faerun and ? outside of the Underdark ? have nearly succeeded.?
"I understand father. It would have been justified as revenge alone, but it was more than that. Your wrath saved thousands more from slavery. You did what had to be done."
"You are right on all fronts, son. And what had to be done was find the slave-suppliers of those foul showmen. Where they were now, their ringleader would not say. So we did what had to be done. I don't think Minsc really understood - he's good through and through, but these more complicated things escape him - but Valygar, he's a stalker, you know. A hunter and interrogator. He does the things that need to be done. Then and now. As a lone ranger, as my comrade-in-arms, as Chief Inspector. You know how foul the City of Coin used to be - I can't even count how many times Chancellor Nalia would have been assassinated if he hadn't hunted down the right information and the scum in time to prevent it. He's done it for his reformed nation and for Nalia, as well as for my causes. He helped me rescue Aerie from vampirism and rain vengeance upon Bodhi, and he was determined to help me in this final avenging of your mother as well. When we had what he needed from the ringleader, we slew him quickly and used the information to track down and smite the slavers as well. They all did horrible, horrible things to your mother - no, son, not that, thank Torm - but horrible things, as you know. I wasn?t there at the right time and place to prevent it. Nor was any other good soul. It had to be avenged." Onyx was tightly clenching his fists and jaw, fuming.
"I know father, I'm glad you did," Eryx offered. "I'm sure mother was too. The same thing happened to Luna's father, and you know he was sold to worse than a circus. What you did avenged him and prevented the need to avenge a thousand more."
Onyx sighed. "You are becoming wise. Remember always to wield wrath and destruction for the sake of the innocent and beloved - never for its own sake. Recall this when you face your next foe - be it man or beast."

***

That evening, Luna sat waiting for Eryx in her foster parents' garden. A priest and a wizard, they had taken her in and raised her to be avariel. But she was more than that. She was half drow.
She had come to Paradise as a young girl, after living with the surface elves for a time. Once her wings had started to function, the wood elves realized she belonged among their avariel cousins, and the avariel ambassador to Suldanesellar had mercifully taken her to Paradise and found her a foster home. According to her adopted parents, she had been delivered as a newborn to the surface elves by her avariel father. Like Aerie, his wings had been atrophied and amputated from years of slavery. In fact, the two had been captured on the same raid. Aerie was the luckier one - Luna's father had been sold to the drow. There he became the slave of the drow woman Verania deVir and the recipient of all her bitterness towards land and air elves. After subjecting him to years of unspeakable tortures, she found herself impregnated. Horrified at the thought of being ostracized - and mutilated - for giving birth to a freak, Verania fled the Underdark with her slave and a group of Shar-worshipping religious exiles, all led out by her sister Viconia. She gave birth soon after and abandoned the father and daughter in the woods. Luna's father carried her without rest until finding surface elves. He told them of his story but, weak from starvation and torture, died within hours. And thus, passing from him to them to the ambassador to her foster parents, Luna's knew her own past. She remembered nothing of her mother or father, and little even of the surface elves. Once she came to Paradise, the avariel children had ostracized her, although they quickly stopped insulting her openly thanks to Eryx?s tendency to beat up those who did. She did have a few close friends such as Sky. Though she often disdained the little angel girls, sometimes she envied them, fair and golden. She had the skin and hair of the drow, and her wings her not like those of a soft white dove, but like those of the blackest raven.
Eryx swooped down and landed with a crunch on the stones of the garden. He was the tallest, strongest, and she thought handsomest of the young men of Paradise. It was not surprising, given that he was part human, and the son of Onyx at that. He was more human than half-elven - he had the avariel?s wings and translucent blonde hair, but little else elven, not even the signature ears. And he certainly had the stature of a man. He carried it smoothly now, but it was not always thus. As he had grown heavy in muscle and bone, he had struggled to maintain full use of his wings, and they had had to grow stronger still. Flying avariel warriors never wore anything heavier than elven chain, but the disciplined boy had practiced suiting himself in full plate mail and flapping his wings furiously for hours a day until he could lift himself and do flips and twists in the air, and fly as fast as any. He had to beat his wings more rapidly and could not glide as far between flaps, but he had his father's godlike stamina and could still traverse greater distances aloft than the others.
His wings were huge and he could not turn quite as tightly, however. Most avariel would consider large wings a liability, with wider turns and more target area. Not Eryx. Like a dragon, the young cavalier was known to wing buffet his opponents in both practice and combat, knocking them back and crushing armor and bones. His wings had taken many a slice or puncture, but thick and muscular, they withstood far more than the typical avariel wing while maintaining lift, and like his father, he regenerated most wounds within minutes. He had recently had fashioned a suit of full plate armor which also covered the wings with tight avariel elven chain. She shivered at the thought of his crystal-studded wing buffet now. Then she smirked with fiendish curiosity.
In one smooth movement, his landing became a kneel at her feet. "I am most ashamed, for I have gathered for you, my love, that which I feel is yet unworthy, as it pales in comparison to you. I had meant it to rival, but I have been rapidly learning that a search for such a thing - or person - is futile. Indeed it seems no such thing exists, as I suspected from the start." With that he flipped each hand and drew two handfuls of flowers out of nowhere. In is right hand were a white-golden type that crew on the highest, sunniest outcroppings of rocks. In his left, a blue-silver type that grew in the mountain caves, the darkest places of all, where no light reached.
Initially she giggled and blushed at his overly knightly mannerisms, flattered and pleased. Then a flash of boredom and disgust washed over her. Cut the fluff and grab me now, fool. She blinked her eyes and the feeling flickered past.
"They are beautiful, love," she cooed. "Thank you. Now come sit by me," she demanded. "You must have spent all day to find these, they don't grow in the same places." She blinked. "Too bad you didn't spend that time with me, though."
"Indeed, if only I could find one single place that houses their different appearances and scents. Ah, but then I realized, I have."
She giggled and then bit her tongue. Hurry up.
"I love you, Luna, and I love what you are. It's everything I ever wanted, and it's only you. You know I like coming to see you at night. The way the moonlight catches you your silvery hair. And I can't tell where the night ends and your skin begins." She brushed her hair self-consciously and smiled. No, cut it out, I know why you like coming at night, so get to it already.
His finger glided through the night air and then onto her cheek. Without a further word, he kissed her. She kissed back, first with restraint, then without.

#4 -Guest-

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Posted 02 April 2004 - 03:21 PM

III. Temptation

In Eryx's dream that night, he was wingless. A pair of glowing eyes appeared high off the ground, and a large man emerged from the shadows. He wielded a sword which was once Soul Reaver, but like him, had been reborn more powerful. It was now Soul Ravager.
"I know who you are, fiend!" Eryx shouted. He saw Daystar plunged in a stone by his feet and drew it out. "Die again, Sarevok!"
He rushed at the large man, who parried his blow without a word. They swiped and evaded and clanged swords, but Sarevok's huge sword and mighty swings knocked him back each time. I need a two-hander or a second sword, Eryx thought. Though unused to single weapon style, he fought cleverly and deftly managed to twist around his foe and tag him several times.
"I see you are becoming powerful, young knight." Sarevok boomed. "You may yet become greatest of all the paladins."
"So I shall. Greater than my father, and greater than you, uncle!" They continued to swordfight, neither gaining clear dominance.
"But you are still under his tutelage and influence." Sarevok sneered. "And yet, hypocritically, he will not let you wield evil as he does."
`"That's because he knows I would be greater! He's jealous and he's holding me back."
"His skills are indeed limited," Sarevok offered, "that's why, as you know, he did not join forces with me in his race to the throne! He knew I would wield him instead and grew jealous!"
"I could have dominated you, uncle! I would have bound your sword to my bidding!"
Sarevok grinned as the young man fell into his setup. ?But could you? We fight now and yet you gain the advantage not!? At Sarevok?s thought, another stone appeared beside a furiously fighting Eryx. Sticking out of it was Blackrazor. ?You must learn to wield evil too! Try it now and defeat me, if you can!?
"I will only when I must, and I need not now!" Eryx leveraged Daystar against Soul Ravager and spun it in Sarevok's grip, then disarmed him with a strong flip and sent Soul Ravager flying.
"Very impressive! But you will fight not always a single foe! And sometimes the stakes will be higher than merely your own life!"
Sarevok backed away as images of Sky and Luna appeared on either side of Eryx, held motionless. Rushing past Sarevok on Sky's side came a stream of young drow men with gleaming swords and grabbing hands, and on Luna's side, the same of avariel.
As the streams of elves ran towards his sister and lover, Eryx rapidly swung Daystar side to side, taking both columns out as they came. Daystar easily slew the evil drow with its holy magic, but to the avariel it was just another mildly enchanted longsword. Still, the sharp blade and his strong, quick blows felled them as fast as they came.
"You are skillful, my nephew, but the worst is yet to come!" Sarevok warned.
The elven assailants began increasing in speed and skill and strength. Still Eryx held both columns from the beloved, but they began to nick at him. Charged by the righteous influence of Daystar, he continued to slay them all.
"You are infused with the power of good, nephew, and the drow cower at its wrath. But the so-called ?good? avariel are smote not!" yelled Sarevok as if reading his thoughts.
"How can these ruffians be what I know as good!?" Eryx screamed. But he detected that it was so. And as his mind flashed over his memories with Luna, and he remembered detecting the auras of the those who sneered or came at her, he knew that it was no dream, it was indeed so.
Sarevok, the boy's dreaming thoughts open to the fighter, smiled as his plan fell into place. "I am afraid it is so, my nephew!" he called. "At last you see what I have seen, how those that we know or detect to be good are yet....fit for punishment!"
"Aye," Eryx battle-cried, "Their actions merit destruction!" He mind replayed his killing of the first - and last - boy who had dared to approach Luna with ignoble intentions. "I regretted I could not slay more!"
Sarevok arched an eyebrow as Eryx seemed to realize his thoughts could be heard.
The boy continued, "All who would have done such a thing deserved death! More would have approached my Luna had it not been for me! I would that I could sensed who that I might have hunted them down! All who would do such a horrible thing deserve death, whether they yet have or not!"
Sarevok bellowed in agreement. He had been waiting to interject those lines but his charge had done it for him.
The elves came faster now, masters with their swords, and Eryx was pushed closer to his limit. Daystar easily held back the drow, but the avariel crept closer and closer to Luna before he could slay them. At last, as a drow was being cut down, he realized he could not get his sword across in time to keep her untouched. With a flash, his left arm reached out and drew Blackrazor and cut the assailant down just before he reached Luna. Evil thoughts, power for sake of power and destruction for the love of destruction, flowed through Eryx's mind as he gripped Blackrazor and easily drove back both columns. Dual-wielding Daystar and Blackrazor, he felt the struggle in his heart between good and evil, heroism and villainy.

***

In Luna's dream, a drow woman whispered "Defend yourself!" in her ear.
Luna saw a horde of skeletons charging at her and easily turned them to dust. Then a pack of evil little goblins appeared, and Luna smote them.
"Who are you, old witch?" the girl asked.
"I, young witch, am Viconia deVir, sister of Verania. Yes, the same. Defend yourself, my niece!"
Then Luna shrieked as she recognized her next wave of attackers. Children from school who had tormented her, and laughed at her strange features and wings. They drew near and jeered. And then older boys appeared, feigning disgust despite secret looks of curiosity and desire flashing across their eyes. They raised their wings and hands and drew near. Luna tried to holy smite them and nothing happened.
"Their alignment is that of good!" the drow woman whispered to her. "What shall you do?"
Luna tried a hold person spell, to no avail.
"No, smite them!"
"It won't work, they're not evil!" Luna cried.
"Smite them like this!!" The priestess cast an unholy smite upon the lot and they fell to the ground.
"But, I...."
"Yes, you can, you must learn, for the so-called 'good' will oft scorn you and attack you, out of both fear and lust."
"I know that! They did that when I first came here! But the first time one grabbed for me, Eryx was nearby. The other boy never got close enough to touch me and they had to carry his body to the temple to resurrect it!" Luna screamed. "Eryx protects me and no one would dare insult or touch me now!"
"Yet they still scorn you, behind your back. They are not your friends."
Luna tried to hold back a sniff. "Sky is. And the others can go straight to the Abyss for all I care! I hope next time Eryx is finished with one they can't even put the body back together!!"
"That's the spirit, girl!" Viconia gleamed. "But what if he weren't there?"
"Now I could disintegrate them with a word! But he would be there! He's mine for all time!!"
"Again, that's the spirit. But suppose he tired of you?"
"He wouldn't!" she looked quite nervous suddenly. "But he'd protect me anyway. He's a paladin."
"Paladins have many duties in many places. And perhaps he will tire of you."
"And why would he do that? He can't resist me, and it'll stay just me, because I'm the only one like myself and that's what he loves. He told me so and you know knights don't lie to ladies. So go away!"
"I'm sure he thinks all that, but you know, my dear," the woman put an arm around her, "the strange thing about young paladins is, though they dare not deceive a lady, they are ever so good at deceiving themselves. As is, say, his father."
"What are you talking about? How do you know?"
"Onyx looked at me like that before. Yes, you know the look of which I speak. I could see the desire in his eyes. I could read his thoughts and stare into his soul. But the do-gooder was self-deceived and would admit it to himself not. He buried it beneath scorn for our kind, and left me by the wayside, carrying that scared little golden-angel-girl all the way. I saw what flashed through his mind. He desired me above her in that moment, but blinded himself to it, the fool! My only comfort is knowing that it was terrible punishment for him that he never experienced my dark pleasures!"
"Eryx has already chosen me. I see no connection."
"He has only for the moment. Look at his father! Look at whom he chose. The fair Aerie, who is yet more sanctimonious still! She is pure avariel at heart. Eryx if of them both and you know where his head will turn. Among all the women of many races Onyx came across, he chose the single diminutive golden avariel!! And yet Eryx, here in Paradise, is surrounded by them! Ask yourself what the father would have done here, and you will divine the actions of the son. Strongest and bravest of the avariel youths, he will have his choice of the fawning angel girls and will pick one of them, ignorantly enamored of their purity and innocence like his father before him! You have been raised to emulate them, but he will soon desire the real thing. You are only to him a curiosity, a trifle, an experiment!"
"No!" Luna cried angrily. "They are weak and he desires them not! He desires me!"
Viconia pulled out a mirror. Its reflection clouded and began to show pictures. "But there is another, strong of head and arm, a half-human like he. As soon as he is bored with you, there will he go and fall in love." Luna gazed into the mirror and saw an agemate she recognized. The girl was tall and proud like a human but graceful and angelic like an avariel. "Yes," sneered Viconia, "you know of whom I speak."
"Never!" Luna yelled as her tears turned to rage. She punched and shattered the mirror, lacerating her knuckles.
"The knight is young and fickle, my dear. Despite your many talents, you cannot hope to compete with her or the others at being a good little avariel girl. For them it is natural, the look and the manner. She would outdo you in this and steal his heart."
"Then tell me what I must do!" Luna screamed, half demanding and half pleading. "There must be some way to bond him to me!"
"Now you're thinking, girl!" Viconia cackled. "Though you cannot compete with such girls as an avariel, we have much that they do not. We are drow women. We have our own wiles. Eryx, like his father, has a dark streak within him."
Luna paused and her mind's eye replayed young Eryx smashing his fists into that elven boy mercilessly, perceptibly enjoying it, crushing and killing him. He could have just knocked the boy aside.
"Yes, you know of what I speak. Is it the Bhaal essence? Perhaps. You must tap into this other side. Slay him with the dual avariel-drow nature, which only you wield, and you will descend from a curiosity into a true love. Chain him to your evil pleasures and your dark nature, and he will be yours for eternity."
"Yes," Luna growled, licking the blood from her hand. "He...he is mine."
"Your what?" Viconia asked, arching an eyebrow.
"My, my..." Luna began. Viconia's grin widened as the girl formulated the word.
"My slave!"

***

Late the next night, just before the sky began to lighten, Eryx flew home and walked into his father's armory, feeling invigorated. Luna had been different this night. Very different. He drew Purifier and Foebane from their storage sheaths and began swinging the powerful bastard swords about, doing needlessly fancy footwork and techniques, throwing in flashy kicks and wing buffets. His mind saw great demons falling before his blows, Luna behind him coaxing him on. Then suddenly she was whipping him and screaming at him to do better. Remembering the night again, he shook out his head and lowered his swords and wings. He thought back. At first it puzzled him, even though he'd heard stories about drow women. He'd even heard rumors about a few of his father's run-ins with them in Athkatla and in the Underdark, though as far as he knew not much had happened. Since father seemed above it, and mother had been there the whole journey, it wasn't likely. Well, his father didn't know what he'd missed! Eryx resumed his shadow-swordfighting. After puzzled, he'd been curious. It had been quite an exciting experience all in all. There were a few times he was - no, terrified wasn't the word. The cavalier had a truly fearless heart. But times he felt he was supposed to be terrified. Anyone else would have been. That's what he loved about it. It made him feel strong. Proud he could bear it with ease, both physically and psychologically. Showing off for Luna how tough he was. Maybe that's what she was looking for? He hoped to be pushed even further to the brink. It had been too easy, if anything. She sure was having the time of her life. Trying to act mean, but unable to help staring at him lovingly no matter what she did. He'd caught her alternately wincing and grinning at her own actions. Nervous one moment, angry the next. He'd also enjoyed Luna's usual beauty and talents, but even that which had not been new, had been better. It was fuller, more three-dimensional, more complicated. It appealed to all parts of him. It fulfilled him and left him hungry for more at the same time.
He sheathed the bastard swords, and turned to retire. He heard a faint hissing voice in his mind and turned. He walked up a different sword and slowly put his hand upon the hilt. Blackrazor. At his father's strictest admonishing, he had never touched it before. The voice became clearer now and called to him. Power. Control. Unleash your very will upon the world and bask in love of domination. Lust of battle. He mind hopped between that and the new dark lust between him and Luna. Was that what it was? The same as bloodlust? Powerlust? He drew his hand away and ran to bed, having dreams both arousing and troubled.

***

Eryx awoke in his dream, wingless again. A laboratory. There were a number of young children, ordinary people he did not recognize, free yet motionless.
"What is it you seek?" asked a haughty voice behind him knowingly. The accent was strange.
Eryx spun around. Before him stood a strange elf. It wore a face that seemed not its own, a face which could seem either very hateful or completely emotionless.
"You are learning much, yet you know yourself not. You hunger, but know not what to consume. And hence, what is it you seek?"
"Speak not in riddles, sorcerer! I know of you, Joneleth Irenicus!" Eryx was prepared to charge him down barehanded.
"It is no riddle, worm. Answer it."
Eryx realized the absurdity of trying to punch out Irenicus in a dream, and stood still. Perhaps I may learn something useful. Like from uncle Sarevok.
"Power," he said simply. "Offer it or be gone."
"Yes, power," said Irenicus. His hand shot out and lightning bolts blasted one of the people into oblivion. "Over the weak."
"No, over the weak-minded - the evil - like you, madman!" screamed Eryx.
Irenicus realized he had overstepped himself and calmly continued. "But that is exactly my point. The weak may easily be turned. They may become your enemies. Your troubles multiply. And what then?"
The frozen children began to grow. Suddenly Eryx recognized them. All the boys he?d beat up over the years. The ones who had taunted him over his Bhaalspawn lineage, or had directed disrespectful looks or words at Luna, and the one who had dared come at her. Others he had known throughout his life that had not lived up to his moral standards, young thieves and such. He remembered what he had told Sarevok he wished he might do to them, and to all to such scum who might become like them.
"Then I shall smite them where they stand, before they may do evil." At Eryx's thought, he found lightning surging from his own hands and annihilating them all.
"Indeed you shall," mused Irenicus. "They are weak. Pathetic. Fools."

***

On the stage of the Five Flagons Theater, two heavily padded actors armed with wooden greatswords faced each other down.
"Your reign of destruction ends now, Sarevok," shouted one.
"No, brother, it has just begun," bellowed the other. "Face the risen LORD OF MURDER!" With that they clambered towards each other. The audience roared as the final duel of "The Brothers Bhaalspawn" commenced.
Suddenly the conduit at the back of the stage opened and a tiefling popped out. He looked around at the packed house, thought quickly, and improvised.
"I, Tazok," he began, "Sarevok's loyal henchman, will now skewer that unsuspecting usurper from behind!" The audience gasped as he grabbed for his sword, but then he suddenly clamped his hand over his heart instead. "Alas," he moaned, "the arrow of his sister Imoen hath struck true, and I am slain." With that he feigned death. As he hit the stage floor, and rolled under the back curtain and out of sight.
As they audience cheered and the scene carried on seamlessly, he began running towards a back window. He had to get to General and Chief Inspector Valygar Corthala in the government district.
Tan'Canis was this tielfing's name. Once a troupemate of the more reckless Haer'Dalis, he was later recruited by Valygar to be a plane-hopping multiverse spy for Amn. He had just returned from Sigil and had urgent and ominous news.
Valygar stood in his strategy room, poring over a tabletop model of Athkatla and a map of Amn, trying to look for a pattern connecting the recent Battle of the Demongroves to the other confrontations of late. Suddenly Tan'Canis, having been let in by the guards, appeared at the door.
"General Corthala," he began, "I bear unfortunate but important news from Sigil."
Nalia, having sensed the disturbance from her quiet study, came through the doorway too.
"The largest tiefling mercenary companies have clearly been hired and are mobilizing," Tan'Canis continued. "I have been unable to detect exactly how their leaders coordinate with a common master or each other, but they are organizing into two armies, each of fighters and fighter-mages. They are also allied with a force of hundreds of demons, though again I know not how they communicate with each other nor who or what may be coordinating them both."
Val and Nal looked at one another, bewildered. They had been puzzling over the mystery of the organized demons for months now. "And you know when and where they will attack?" asked Valygar.
"Yes," gasped Tan'Canis, "in six nights, in a simultaneous aerial invasion of Athkatla and Baldur's Gate."

#5 -Guest-

-Guest-
  • Guest

Posted 02 April 2004 - 03:21 PM

IV. The Battle of Two Cities: Baldur's Gate

On the windy field that stretched east of de?Arnise Keep, a battle had been fought twenty years ago, the last major battle of the Coin of Bhaal war. A conduit opened and Viconia stepped through. The evil cleric closed her eyes and felt the energy of those who had died two decades hence. And she called upon the greatest of them. And they rose at her bidding. But they were living wizards and warriors no more, They were now liches and wraiths.

***

Deep in a virgin wood, in a hidden temple, sat a circle of archdruids upon the ground. Among them sat a warrior-druid, a half-elf. Grand Druid Jaheira. They had inscribed a pentangle upon the ground within their circle. They chanted and a fiery gate opened above it, and through it stepped a demon.
The demon spoke. ?My massster needsss your help, wise druidsss. Oh, those humansss, thossse paladinsss and rangersss, oh, how they exxxterminate usss! Woe is usss, we will ssson be exxxtinct, oh woe!?
?We will soon ssstrike back, however, we musst pressserve ourselvesss! The cccities of Baldur?sss Gate and Athkatla, in five nightsss time! My master sssays we need your aid, we are weak. We are?.unbalanced!?
Jaheira furrowed her brow and spoke.?We understand your kind?s plight, but we are weak ourselves. In the Coin of Bhaal war, we were crushed at the Battle of Cernd?s Gulley. In this war, we have been crushed several times. The Sword Coast groves under Grand Druid Faldorn were annihilated at the Battle of the Demongroves ? despite your master?s promise of demons that would insure the groves? victory. Our numbers grow small and we can ill afford more losses. We believe in your struggle, but there is naught we can do.?
?My massster?sss great heart aches at your plight, truly it doesss, I see how it painsss him,? the demon lied. ?He could not dream of putting you in harm?sss way again. He merely asksss your magical assssissstance?..from a sssafe distance. We will ssstrike the cities, you need only lend the forcesss of nature?.call down boltsss of lightning, cloudsss of fire, rainsss of acid, and plaguesss of pestsss! From afar, by all meansss! ?
?Help usss raze them to the ground! Let nature spring forth from the unnatural abominationsss of those overgrown citiesss! Grow in their place whatever creaturesss and plantsss you would like. Perhapsss?..hatch some demonlingsss? You know how well our young onesss would grow amidst the fresh ruin and carrion?yesss?we are part of nature?s cyclesss, the predator of man?yesss?.pleassse?.?
The other archdruids were nodding. Jaheira?s heart quivered, her stomach churned, and her throat grew dry. She bit her lip as tears began to well. She closes her eyes and choked it all back, scrunching her face and pouring druidic adages into her forethoughts.
She spoke. ?F-for the g-greater balance, we will do such. Tell your master this.?

***

The night of the invasions arrived.
Imoen had been in Neverwinter with Jan Jansen, founding the new Neverwinter branch of her Arcane Shadows mage-thief guild, and they had gotten the news of the invasion and returned to Baldur's Gate. Along with many other mages from their guild and the city at large, they were ready to blast anything.
The paladin Ajantis had become the captain of the Baldurian guard after the death of Scar. He had intended to round out his knightly training in this capacity and shortly return to the Order to petition for full membership and there continue his career at the Order. He had returned and petitioned successfully, but after his master Keldorn's death in the Coin of Bhaal war, Ajantis had decided to reside not with the Order in Athkatla but rather return to the Sword Coast and resume the post of High Protector of Baldur's Gate. This week, after receiving news of the impending invasion, he had done a commendable job of organizing the army and guard for the defense of the city, was charismatic enough to get the priests of the city's many faiths to band together for common defense, and even had managed a very successful militia recruiting operation over the past few days.
In Athkatla, Valygar had readied the Athkatla guard and Amnish soldiers for defense of the city, and Nalia had managed to make the Cowled Wizards useful for a change in providing magical defenses for the citizenry instead of harassing them.
Aerie, Sky, Luna, and the priests of Lathander and Helm were stationed throughout the city to lend their fighting, casting, and healing services as necessary.
Onyx, Eryx, and the full membership of the Most Noble Order of the Radiant Heart were also ready to fight the demonic invaders, as were the Morningknights of Lathander and the Watchers of Helm. The full measure of the Order was stationed throughout the city, resolute in this dark hour.

***

Over each city, huge glowing rifts appeared in the sky and conduits opened. Clouds of multiverse mercenaries dropped out, gliding downward on wyvern-wing parachutes. They were Demoxus tieflings, the most warlike of the tiefling races, the fiend-blood still thick in their veins. Soon after, scores of demons were flying out of the conduits and down towards the cities. Archers and mages shot and cast at the invaders. Many a paratrooper tiefling lost his life or his chute, but for every one that crash-landed, many more hit the ground fighting. The fighters ran at their enemies while the fighter-mages blasted or enchanted them. The defending forces fought and cast back, with greater physical strength and the defending advantage, but the invaders were comparable in number and outmatched them in magical skills and natural resistances. Many went down on both sides and the tiefling fighter-mages were finding time to blast and burn buildings while demons tore whole roofs away and knocked out walls and columns. Demoxus tiefling wild mages ran suicidally at people and buildings, calling unpredictable surging energy about and destroying their surroundings along with themselves.

***

In the Baldur's Gate bazaar The Wide, Jan and Imoen had each other's backs, shooting oncoming enemies with crossbows and casting powerful enchantments to try to turn them against each other. Jan saw a cackling gnome run by, holding soldiers with spells, and chased after him. "Heya, wait for me Jan!" Imoen shouted but the tinkerer was already around the corner.
Jan heard the other gnome raving about this being his chance to rule the world. He pursued him west through Baldur's Gate, taking pot shots at him with his crossbow when he could. He saw the rogue dash into the Hall of Wonders and followed.
"I am Tiax, and I shall rule the world!" the evil gnome screamed as Jan came in after him. Tiax summoned a ghast in his path and ran into the main chamber. Jan quickly blew it apart with a flasher master bruiser mate and ran on. Bonk! As Jan ran through the inner doorway, Tiax clubbed him with his mace and Jan fell onto his back.
"Yes now you bow down good! Kiss the foot of Tiax for he rules all!"
Jan rolled out of the way as the mace came down again. As it smashed through the floor and Tiax struggled to pull it up, Jan cast a lightning bolt at him but Tiax held up a mirrored Shield of Deflection and the lightning bolt bounced off at an angle, zooming around the room.
"Why," Jan exclaimed, "I haven't seen one of those Magical-Reflection-Shield-Device-Things in ages! You know their construction is actually quite complicated I remember by great-great-great second uncle's Encyclopedia of All Things Technical and Magical, Volume CCXVII I believe it was, devoted one-hundred-and-fifty whole pages to it in fact and frankly fellow gnome you really shouldn't just be carelessly waving around one like that especially in a place like this with all these other priceless inventions around and hey where are you going!?"
"All will become implements of the will of Emperor Tiax!" screamed the demented gnome. Or rather, the more demented of the two. He leapt off the balcony and crashed through the glass casing of a machine that had two carriage-like wheels held together by a several bars with a seat on one. Jan ran down the stairs after him and Tiax began riding about on it, hurling sling bullets at his enemy and laughing madly.
"Hey emperor sir that's also really one of a kind it's a Dual-Wheeled-Seat-Carrying-Device which allows you to ride around at great speeds like a horse you never have to feed yes I see you're getting the hang of it you know the say once you learn to ride one of those things you never forget but really you should be more careful especially with that lightning bolt flying around and....oh my!"
Tiax went flying as the lightning bolt did indeed crash through the bicycle and incinerate it. Jan cast a magic missile at the moving target that was Tiax and connected square on his chest, sending him flying up onto the a landing. As Jan ran up the stairs after him, Tiax summoned a ghast and then leapt off the railing onto a contraption hanging from the high ceiling, a canoe-like craft with wings and an engine.
"Now General Tiax shall rule all from the air as well as the land!" he screamed, pulling levers on the winged contraption which began to come to life and break free of its ropes. He flew around the room in it, casting Flamestrikes down on Jan who had to dodge them while taking out the ghast and avoiding the lightning bolt.
"Oh my it's a Heating-Fuel-Powered-Winged-Transport-Gizmo it's like a bird that eats coal come down Tiax you know the steering on those was never perfect that's why it's roped up in this museum!" Jan exclaimed, trying to cast various spells at Tiax and take him out. Finally he hit the aircraft with a Power Word Stun and it suddenly stopped and fell to the floor below. It smashed through display cases and exploded, sending metal and glass and wood and smoke everywhere. Tiax, sitting on his shield and barely burnt, picked up a strange toothed swordlike device from a nearby smashed case and began to push buttons on it and wave it around. Jan slid down the stair railing, grabbed a telescope off the floor and fired a magic missile into the small end. It came out the large end a massive boulder-sized magic missile and flew at Tiax.
"None shall oppose Tiax and live! It is the will of Tiax!" the evil gnome shouted and rolled out of the way. The huge magic missile collapsed the entire stairway behind him. Finally, Tiax pulled a cord on the swordlike thing and its blade came to life, making a deafening roar as the teeth began spinning rapidly along the edge of the blade.
"Now let me see here that must be one of those Easy-Automatic-Axe-Quick-Tree-Feller machines I do remember reading about it in the Annals of Wonderful Time-Saving Gizmos, in the Special Edition for Gizmos That Better Not Fall Into Murderous Hands to be exact, and so I really think that seeing how murderous hands wound probably include you Tiax, in fact I think I remember it was your portrait on the cover on the special edition, so maybe we can just turn that off now just push the little green button oh no here it comes!"
Jan ran out of the way as Tiax started sawing through furniture and display cases, chasing after him and laughing insanely. As Jan was chased around the room, the lightning bolt came by again and shot through the small end of the telescope, coming out a massive snake of lightning on the other side. It continued to reflect around the room, burning up whole tapestries with each bounce. Jan fired off a flasher master bruiser mate at Tiax, who sawed it in half in midair and kept coming. The lightning bolt came by again and Jan pointed his telescope at it again and it came out the size of a veritable dragon on the other side.
"All will be fire and lightning and chaos and then Tiax shall truly rule the world!" the mad gnome screamed as the lightning bolt began to incinerate the entire hall. Finally it crashed into Tiax and sparks flew from his body as he glowed bright white and his grinning skeleton became visible. Tiax was still laughing and taunting as Jan fired a flasher master bruiser mate at him and he exploded in a shower of sparkles.
"Well now that serves him right anyone the least bit familiar with basic rules and laws of certain forces of nature including but not limited to heat magnetism and electricity would know that standing in the path of an oncoming lightning bolt is no way to rule the world. Speaking of which, I wonder how the battle's going outside?"
Jan hopped outside through a gaping hole in the wall as the entire Hall of Wonders collapsed in a smoldering heap behind him.

***

Meanwhile, Imoen was taking out tielfings and demons with huge evocations and deadly necromantics. She was trying to sense the magical forces around her, trying to find the seat of them. Then she sensed a very twisted and very powerful magical tingle from the direction of Sorcerous Sundries. She ran through alleys and came to the huge stained glass dome. She could now even see an unnatural glow coming from inside and charged in. Various summons were patrolling the lower floor and she easily took them out with powerful spells. Running up the stairs, she screamed as she recognized the Thayvian wizard throwing together a vile mixture of potions and ingredients. It was Edwin, but even less human than he had been in life! Now a lich! The undead Red Wizard was preparing a powerful wide-range death spell which would kill almost everyone in the city. Imoen charred Edwin's unfinished concoction with a fireball and he screamed in rage as it was ruined. He turned to face her, nearly skeletal and looking more frightening than ever.
Each mage quickly brought up a wall of spell protections and then set about bringing down the other's. Edwin froze time and renewed his protections while finishing off Imoen's and then cast a Power Word Kill which she was too strong for. Imoen froze time, brought up protections and knocked down Edwin's new ones and then managed to fire off several incendiary evocations before time resumed. Edwin screamed as he came to life again with powerful magical fires burning his undead form. He stunned Imoen with a power word and then shattered the entire dome of Sorcerous Sundries with an awful banshee wail. He called a wyvern which he began riding through the air towards the tallest building in Baldur's Gate, a huge red pagoda-like tower where Onyx and Imoen had slain another evil wizard and rescued a captured nymph almost twenty-two years ago.
As Imoen?s stun passed, she saw Edwin flying to the tower, doubtless hoping to find the ingredients for another citywide death spell. She summoned a winged unicorn, leapt onto it, and flew after the lich. As she neared the top, she leapt from her mount onto the roof as the wyvern engaged the unicorn in aerial combat. Edwin was concocting another spell in a huge cauldron and Imoen tried to toast it but he had surrounded it with a magical protective shield. His next spell bounced off her own globe as she ran to it and began to try to physically tip over the cauldron.
Imoen had never been very strong. Throughout much of her travels, her brother and other companions had even had to help her carry her own gear. The warriors of their party had eventually passed down a girdle, which rendered her giant-strong, but even so she couldn't budge the cauldron. As she struggled in vain, sad memories of all the times she'd felt bad for being a weakling and hindrance to the party washed over her. Onyx and the others - everyone except Jaheira in fact - had been nice about it, but she'd felt weak and said. As she pushed hard, her face reddened and a single tear ran down her cheek, along the tiny canyon of the scar. Then she remembered her brother telling her how it was okay, that's what companions and parties were for, of course everyone didn't have every skill. He'd made his twin sister break from a frown into an amused laugh many times by showing off his own complete inability to grasp the arcane. You can use your fingers and wits instead, he coaxed her. That's what friends are for, he'd said as a boy in Candlekeep and later as a man on the road. That's what brothers and sisters are for, he'd told her.
Imoen smiled and managed to wedge her Staff of Striking under the large cauldron, and started to tip it using a nearby chest as the lever fulcrum. Edwin was frantically trying to complete the complicated spell, hoping it would kill her along with the rest of the city. At last, she let out a mighty little roar and tipped the cauldron over. Its contents doused the lich and he screamed with terrible anger as the spell fizzled and his own hideous form was dissolved. The wyvern was called away as its master vanished, and the unicorn flew down to Imoen. She giggled and gave it a cheerful rubbing on the chin, leapt on it, and rode it down over the city, blasting demons and tieflings out of the streets and the sky with both a child's giddy delight and a good archmage's noble resolve.

***

The front gate of the Ducal Palace had been blown wide open by a kamikaze tiefling wild mage, and soldiers and paladins in the front foyer were struggling to keep the attacking hordes at bay and protect the nobles and other civilians fortressed within. High Protector Ajantis was among them, valiantly cleaving through tiefling warriors with his two-handed sword and buttressing his fellows with both commands and morale. Criminals of Baldur's Gate, seeing a perfect looting opportunity amongst the chaos, had been fighting alongside the tieflings and were fiercely trying to get into the Ducal Palace and steal the riches within.
At last in front of Ajantis stepped Shar-Teel. An evil renegade fighter and now rumored leader of brigands, she had become a known and feared bandit along the Sword Coast. Ajantis had tried in vain to bring the outlaw queen to justice, and now she and her gang stood before him, both to loot the palace and slay the authorities that dogged them year after year. As the paladins engaged the outlaws, the swords of Ajantis and Shar-Teel crashed against one another. The stronger Shar-Teel drove him back against a tapestry and he fought desperately for his nation and his life. She nimbly leapt over his sword as he swung at across her legs, and sidestepped it when he tried to bring it down upon her head. She stabbed back at Ajantis and managed to hit him but not to pierce his armor. She stabbed again and into his side, but he bore the pain and swung back even as she pushed in, beheading her with a clean wide swing.
She fell and Ajantis laid his hands upon his wound and healed them as another famous outlaw stepped into the foyer. It was Kagain, master middleman of the mercenary and slave trades, a dwarven fighter of legendary constitution. Ajantis had even once thought he had slain the criminal. The hardy dwarf had healed where he lay and gotten up again the same night, resuming his business without missing a beat.
Kagain raised his axe overhead and charged Ajantis. The paladin met him with his sword and the two fought, smashing into helmet and breastplate. At last Ajantis cleft into Kagain's shoulder as he felt axeblade swing into his knee. Both warriors backed up, gritting their teeth and regaining their breath.
"Why you do-gooders have to go around putting your nose into my business and ruining good trade, I'll never know," Kagain said as he spat on the carpet.
Ajantis?s mind flashed back to his master Keldorn teaching him how a paladin was a warrior who fought with wisdom and charisma as well as strength, with ideals and words as well as weapons.
"You know we can't condone slavery or some of your mercenaries' less .....honorable. ...jobs, but it is a shame that your business acumen wasn't used elsewhere," Ajantis countered calmly. "You know what a killing, pardon the pun, some of your more upstanding competitors have made these past few days while we hired mercenaries from them for the emergency militia."
Kagain started to back towards the door. "Well, my head's still wanted as it stands. Too bad, I know how you guys could use some more dwarven muscle."
"Well you know that when we don't hear much from someone for a while," Ajantis hinted plainly, "we tend to get preoccupied with more active outlaws."
"Perhaps I'll find some new markets to preoccupy myself with too," Kagain mused gruffly as he backed up further, "'til then, g'luck with the siege. Maybe Kagain Muscle Traders will be selling some Demoxus weapons soon." The dwarf slashed his axe through a few of the tieflings as he left, snatching up their swords and chuckling.
Ajantis breathed a sigh of relief and went back to fighting the next wave of attackers, his line of paladins slowly driving them back down the foyer and out into the night.

#6 -Guest-

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Posted 02 April 2004 - 03:22 PM

V. The Battle of Two Cities: Athkatla

In Athkatla, Aerie stood with Sky and Luna in the middle of Waukeen's Promenade, making a circle and taking out opponents from all angles. Demons were swooping down from the top of the Promenade and multiverse mercenaries were running across the plaza. Any who managed to get past their powerful spells found themselves contending with previously charmed and confused tieflings, and if they got past those they were soon smashed to bits by Crom Faeyr or the girls' weapons.
Suddenly Aerie sensed a massive surge from the negative energy plane. It was emanating from the east. She saw that the girls sensed it too. "It's coming from the graveyard district!" Aerie screamed. "That can only mean one thing! We've got to get there and fast!" She hasted them and they ran quickly out of the promenade and through the slums, taking out as many foes as they could while keeping up their pace.
At last they came to the graveyard. The evil hung thick around them. On top of a large tomb in the middle of the graveyard stood Viconia. Her mace was made of a humanoid skull and femur, and her shield and armor of pure jade. Negative energy swirled around her, flowing and shaping at her every movement, pouring into the tombs and the ground. Aerie and Sky gasped at the sight of the drow priestess who had been slain by stepson and stepbrother Kan, but Luna was most surprised of all as her aunt from her dreams had come to life before her in the flesh. At Viconia's side suddenly arose a figure shrouded in a green robe. Aerie gasped again as she recognized the form of Xzar, but she shrieked out loud when she saw it was, in fact, his lich.
Viconia's thoughts poured into the mind of Luna and Luna alone. Join me, my dear, my niece. Not these air-rivvel who disdain our kind. They think themselves better than us. We must show them otherwise!
No, Luna thought back, they are good to me. Despite the fruits of evil you may have shown me, I cannot let you carry on!
Viconia and the otherworldly necromancer began summoning all manner of undead. Ghouls, ghasts, skeletal warriors, and even vampires clawed their way out of the ground and the crypts while ghosts and specters began taking shape out of the very fog. The good priestesses began turning the undead and destroying them in droves. As the Xzar lich began casting down powerful evocations upon them, they cast protections around themselves and the elemental forces rained upon them harmlessly. Aerie began casting her way through Xzar's protections as Sky and Luna continued to destroy the undead as fast as they appeared. The lich zapped back at their magical defenses and it and Viconia began casting more evocations, enchantments, and necromantics upon their enemies. The good cleric-mages raised more protections as the spells came down and then cast holy smite, fiery evocations, and false dawns back, destroying hordes of undead and damaging the lich. As Aerie took down its last defenses and the girls fired clouds of magic missiles and flame arrows at it, the wizard that was once Xzar let out a final and barely recognizable moan as its body was cremated.
As Xzar?s ashes scattered, Viconia cast a powerful earthquake into the ground. The ensuing tremors knocked down her undead servants but they also tripped and stunned Sky and Luna as well. Aerie ran at her, casting a sunray and destroying the remaining undead around them. The avariel woman lifted Crom Faeyr high and screamed. Viconia raised her mace and wailed back at her. As the strength of the mighty hammer flowed through Aerie's small body, she leapt off the ground and up onto the roof of the tomb, crashing her weapon against Viconia's as she landed. The bone mace seemed to have infusing strength too, and the good and evil archpriestesses circled around each other, smashing into each other's shields and knocking one another back with titanic strength. They swung at each other again and used their strength to brace themselves against impacts, their armor and shields ringing deafeningly with each blow.
As they fought, the avariel and drow women shot all manner of telepathic insults into each other's minds.
Fallen angel! Foul harpy! Prissy wingless wisp! Poison wretched witch! Golden goodie-goodie! Shadowy little sneak! Doe-faced deceiver! Dark-hearted temptress! Airy little fly! Dirty little roach! Pale avariel! Dull drow!
And many, many other untranslatable insults in gnomish, avariel, and drow tongues.
Viconia telepathically showed Aerie how Onyx had looked at her, not once but twice in his life, and tried to make her see the burning lust behind the critical stare.
Aerie would have none of it and showed Viconia how his every thought of her and the drow women they'd met in the Underdark had been a thought of disapproving disgust.
No, Viconia countered, you could not read his mind yet then, only later could you tap his thoughts and had to divine of his imperfect memories! I know how he hid it from himself, as so many self-righteous rivvel knights do! You see only what he made himself believe had happened, you saw not what truly raced through his mind! He desired me in that moment and disdained you!
Aerie screamed out loud and managed to swing Crom Faeyr under Viconia's shield and into her stomach, sending the drow witch flying through the air and crashing into the gravestones below. The fair elf cast spells down after her, but the dark one brought a horde of skeletal warriors out of the ground with a flick of her wrist and their bony bodies absorbed the magics. Viconia continued to summon battalions of undead foes and Aerie struggled to destroy them as fast as they rose. At last Luna, having come to, ran around the tomb and raised her hands to aid her best friend's mother.
Viconia's thoughts pierced her mind again, disrupting her concentration. Look at how the sniveling would-be angel looks down on us so self-righteously! Her tortured past has made her bitter and she hates all of our race for their slaving ways! Think of the things I have shown you, the power you have gained in yourself and over Eryx! Look now at how I summon armies to my aid! Imagine that power at your fingertips, my dear! None would dare scorn you then! Join me and we shall bring all the hateful rivvel and the loathsome men under our deserved yoke, and laugh as they delude themselves with self-superiority no more! All would be made to see you for everything you were and would bow before the unequaled power and beauty of the dark princess Luna!
Luna was torn as she tried still to turn the undead before her. As thoughts of power lust raced through her mind, she felt the turning energy emanate from her to the risen foes, but they were not destroyed. They were brought under her control. Aerie and now Sky gawked in disbelief as the avariel-drow girl, not knowing whom to send her new servants against, bade them crash into each other and the other undead.
Viconia cackled triumphantly and began summoning and commanding many more undead towards the avariel women. Aerie and Sky turned and repulsed them but still they came, popping up all around them. At last Aerie froze time and instantly cast forth storms of fire and sunlight to destroy the undead and perhaps the drow. As time resumed, Viconia saw the energies bearing down upon them. Tearing the amulet from her neck, she raced to Luna and threw it upon the ground. It exploded into a conduit, and no sooner had Viconia grabbed Luna's hand and pulled her through than it closed again behind them as fire billowed over the ground where they had stood.
Aerie and Sky finished destroying the last of the undead and then stared at one another, zombielike themselves with disbelief.

**

Nalia and Valygar stood in the plaza of the government district, surrounded by soldiers and Cowled wizards, taking out tielfings and demons on all sides with spells and arrows. Demons and tiefling fighters crashed into the soldiers, slashing through them and getting cut apart themselves, while warrior-mages cast over their heads and into the circle of Cowled Wizards, dispelling protections and firing damaging spells in after, taking out the frail wizards but leaving the exceedingly strong and well-protected Val and Nal virtually unscathed. Finally a massive onslaught of huge spells exploded around them, destroying the soldiers, wizards, and tieflings alike as, with blinding reflexes, Valygar grabbed Nalia with one arm and pushed off his powerful legs leaping high into the air over billowing clouds of fire and wilting. He grabbed onto a high branch of a now-toppling tree with his other arm and pushed off it with the same-side leg, leaping again to the edge of the plaza and outside of the magical storm. He cradled her as he landed in a roll and popped up again with both of them unharmed. The two then heard a foreign but familiar laugh and saw two figures, one huge and one gaunt, dash into the Council of Six building.
They ran back around the storm and into the front doors. At the other end stood Sarevok and Irenicus. Sarevok drew out a heavy iron crossbow and Valygar his elven court bow, and they began firing missiles at one another as they raced to the center of the room. Irenicus and Nalia each immediately brought up a sequence of magical protections and began casting their most powerful spells.
Time stopped first for all but Irenicus. He zapped away Nalia's protections and then fired dread necromantics at each of them. As time resumed, Nalia completed her spell and time stopped again before Irenicus?s deadly spells could hit. She protected herself again, cast away Irenicus' protections and sent offensive spells at him and Sarevok, but had nothing in her own arsenal to protect Valygar. In the split instant before time resumed, she telepathically commanded him to draw Hindo's Doom.
As time resumed, Valygar received her thought and whipped out the katana in instants. The death magic fizzled against its protective aura as he sheathed his bow and drew out Celestial Fury too. Nalia's spells flew into Irenicus and Sarevok both, weakening them against further weapons and magic. Sarevok switched out his own crossbow for Soul Ravager and began a furious swordfight against Valygar. As the magicians prepared their next spells, the warriors danced around each other, Valygar quickly slashing and evading while Sarevok pushed in with his mighty swings. Nalia sent arcs of lightning jumping through both Sarevok and Irenicus just as the sorcerer managed to get off his spell, which slowed down Valygar. The ranger hasted himself to counteract the effect. He then locked his katanas around Sarevok's greatsword, holding their weapons together with his arms as the rest of his body flew into the air and thrust forceful kicks at Sarevok's head and chest. As Irenicus spawned a simalcrum and Nalia vanquished it with true sight, Valygar landed again and twisted around Soul Ravager, piercing Sarevok's armor with his katanas and plunging them through the great warrior's body. The enhanced Sarevok, beginning to heal already, merely sneered and impaled himself further, reaching for Valygar's neck to crush it with his bare hands. As Irenicus cast even greater strength into Sarevok, Nalia cast a maze spell upon the evil warrior and he suddenly vanished, sent to a faraway labyrinthine plane.
As Valygar dashed at Irenicus with a cheetah's speed, the sorcerer summoned a dimension door and leapt through it moments before the ranger's katanas sliced through the empty air where he had just stood. As Valygar ran back to Nalia, she tossed him a healing potion and he blew her a kiss just before gulping it down. The two then ran back out of the great hall into the warring night.

***

Onyx, Eryx and the other paladins of the Order were in the temple district, defending it from endless oncoming demons. The demons had been flying en masse to the district, drawn there by the strong auras of the Order and the temples of Lathander and Helm. Order paladins, Morningknights of Lathander, and Watchers of Helm all faced them down courageously, hacking the invaders to pieces while clerics from the temples healed them and smote and scorched the demons. Eryx and the paladins' summoned devas flew around the buildings, engaging the demons in deadly aerial duels. The bodies of numerous slain beasts choked the waterways of the district, but many a paladin or priest was struck down as well.
Suddenly, a powerful presence forced its way into Onyx's and Eryx's minds. Their thoughts filled with the idea of a great demon leader, the mightiest the race had ever seen.
"I destroyed you, Demogorgon!" Onyx shouted. "You are no more!"
Then the cavaliers' minds filled with the image of the new Prince of Demons.
It spoke to them. I am Decagorgon, spawn of Demogorgon.
"As my father destroyed yours, so I shall destroy you! Show yourself, hellspawn!" screamed Eryx, whirling around and looking for his foe, and suddenly sensing him.
Eryx pointed overhead as he sensed a conduit about to open above them. Onyx, following with his eyes and astonished at his son's superior perception, watched as a fiery gate soon formed in the sky and Decagorgon stepped through. Like Demogorgon, he was a huge dark beast with two heads like those of a baboon, and forelimbs that were thick whip-lick tentacles.
"Resist fire and electricity son, now!" shouted Onyx. They both cast resist fire upon themselves and drank potions of absorption, augmenting their existing equipment and natural resistances and becoming totally immune. As Decagorgon descended, indeed it willed a massive storm of fireballs and flamestrikes around them, incinerating surrounding knights, tieflings and demons alike. Decagorgon landed in front of them, in the middle of the bridgeway that ran across of the Order's front doors. Onyx and Eryx circled around it, moving to opposite sides, and a head and tentacle of Decagorgon turned to face each. Onyx held Carsomyr out in front of him, and Eryx assumed a fighting stance with Purifier and Foebane.
As Decagorgon screamed terrifyingly and the air above became to cackle, the cavaliers' hearts were unfazed as the Prince of Demons called lightning bolts upon them. Electricity charged the air and jumped between man, weapon, armor, beast, and building, but the two paladins were again immune.
The great beast spoke to them again. We have become the most powerful beings in all the multiverse. We are the greatest of cavalier and demon, eternal archenemies, and yet we are the same. We seek to defend our own race against the other, we seek to champion our own kind. We seek power. Yes, you know. You can feel it in your hearts. Too long have you let the weak slow you down and sap your strength. They must be cast off, enslaved, destroyed! The multiverse belongs to us! Join me, and none will stand in our path as we call upon only the greatest men and beasts the destroy the unworthy. I know that you hunger for this. I can see it in your souls. Manners and chivalry and duty will matter not when you become all-powerful! They are ruses, shackles, nothing!
"You lie!" Onyx shouted. "We crave not power over others, we only seek it to protect the innocent and beloved. It is own chosen duty to protect our countrymen and own natural duty to protect those closest to us!"
And so you seek power, Decagorgon thought to them. With the power I offer, you could do this all and more. You have destroyed all who have threatened your beloved; I offer you the chance to destroy all who might.
"We can protect them," shouted Eryx. "We always have! And we shall start by destroying you!"
I can do more, Decagorgon told them. And no, you have not. I can undo the wrongs that have come upon them. I can unmake them where you failed. Bring back what your holiest priests could not. Into Onyx's mind crept images of Gorion, alive again. And Khalid. And Dyanheir. And Aerie with beautiful wings again, with no scars or nightmares from her slavery. Eryx too saw his mother uncrippled once more. He saw also images of Luna, scorned by none and the awe of all, and her father still alive.
"You speak falsely still," roared Onyx. "Now die!" with that he raised Carsomyr and leapt at his enemy. Eryx charged too, brandishing Purifier and Foebane. Each man hacked into tentacle as they lashed up, but the demonhide was of otherworldly toughness and they could slice it not. Instead, Decagorgon knocked them both back onto the bridgestones with powerful whipping blows. They were up in moments, jumping and ducking and evading around the lashing appendages and trying to cut them. Greatsword and tentacle swung and thrust and hit, but Decagorgon was the stronger and knocked the others about with his blows.
At last Decagorgon's great tentacle snaked past Carsomyr and around Onyx's waist, quickly encircling him several times and squeezing the life out of him through his armor with unbelievable pressure. The cavalier struggled to preserve his air and his ribcage as he slashed into the foul limb with the great strength of desperation, breaking through the hide but making only shallow slices into the dense demonflesh. Eryx screamed with rage at his father's plight, flew over Decagorgon's heads and spun into a whirlwind attack as he dive-bombed. Purifier and Foebane blurred a steel tornado around him as he came down, slicing clean through the beast's tentacle. As the demon prince turned to lash out with the other one, Eryx began spinning each bastard sword around in its own hand, making two blinding circles of flashing steel. Purifier flew over and over through the arm that still hugged Onyx, cutting it apart and off his chest, and Foebane diced the demon's remaining tentacle into segments as it came at him. Onyx pushed the pieces off him and pointed Carsomyr towards what remained of his foe. Eryx swung his bastard swords behind him, prepared to swing them forward again and cleave into his enemy's defenseless body.
Decagorgon's thoughts lashed out at them again. Ah, mighty Eryx, like your father you can smell my kind coming, but beyond him or any other cavalier, you can from across the planes. You feel our conduits snaking around you, about to open. You did so as I emerged today and you have done so before. I know what fills your thoughts and dreams. You detect demons moving across planes beyond yours, you can hear their locations like unseen rats within a wall. You and I truly are the same. Ask yourself, ask your father, of your coming to be. He knows. Think - when was it? Your father and mother were soon to slay Demogorgon and as he did my father's taint crept through him and his companions ? such as your mother. Demogorgon was in your first unborn thoughts, child, demonhood is in your very heart and soul. We are truly the same. You have it in you to throw down the burdens of duty which only hold you back. Seize the power, and remake the world at your will, for good or evil or whatever you may call it. Strike me down, Eryx, in dying I pass to you my power now as my father did at your beginning. Become greater than you could ever have imagined.
"It is all the illusions of the great deceivers, son!" Onyx shouted and lunged at Decagorgon, plunging Carsomyr deep into the demon's heart. Eryx flew up above his father's heard and brought Foebane and Purifier inwards with mighty slashes at Decagorgon's necks, dual-decapitating him. He felt his blood quicken as power surged through him, and powerlust consumed his heart. As he landed, Onyx turned and saw the struggle within his son.
"It is a demon's deceit, my son, let it pass." Onyx coaxed. "The day is ours, let us go home."
Eryx's mind raced over the torture his mother had endured. "Our power is not enough! Where were you when mother was enslaved? Where was almighty Onyx then!?" he asked rhetorically.
"...a boy of twelve who'd hardly left Candlekeep!!" Onyx yelled back. "No harm comes to her now! Let us be off and sheath your bastard swords!"
"Why? You made Kan a bastard, and you put off marrying mother so long I almost was too!" Eryx shot back. "And what about after you die? How will you protect people then? You were weak to stay a mere mortal, father, and I will not be weak!" With that he summoned a conduit, surprising even himself, and jumped through as it closed. Onyx leaned on Carsomyr in total disbelief.

***

A large pack of animals was running to the top of a tall but rolling mountain. As they reached the peak, they shapeshifted into druids and could barely make out the fire and noise from Athkatla to the south. With their druidic magics, they could see and hear through the eyes and ears of birds flying far in the north, and thus sense the same from Baldur?s Gate.
The druids began casting together. Massive clouds formed over each city, ready to strike down with great bolts of lightning, pour out acidic rain, billow down as fogs of fire, or even shapeshift into plagues of insects and diseases.
Then Jaheira began sensing through eyes and ears within the cities. Many buildings were already on fire. Devilish tielfings were running through the streets, casting fireballs into buildings and setting them alight, and slashing down soldiers and civilians alike. Demons were tearing apart homes and people with single swipes. Jaheira could see as them all. Hear, smell and even feel as they did. The tieflings and demons were diminishing in number as the mightiest warriors, priests and wizards stood their ground and slew them. The invaders would soon be annihilated, but the damage and death left in their wake would be great, indeed it already was.
Jaheira bit into her lip, trying to hold back tears as she continued to lead the casting. The clouds were beginning to tingle with static charge, heat up and ignite, or condense into insects or acid. Jaheira then sensed her old companions Onyx and Valygar and Ajantis, roaring like lions as they stood their ground in front of discovered pockets of civilians and cleaved through oncoming enemies. She could feel within their hearts the desire to protect. Jaheira then sensed her old companions Imoen and Aerie and Nalia, blasting away enemies, using ice and water evocations to put out fires, and casting abjurative and healing spells to shield and restore the wounded. She could feel within their hearts the desire to preserve. At last Jaheira could hold back no longer and let the tears flow down her cheeks. She then began to move her hands and alter her casting.
Manipulating the forming magic of the other druids, she redirected the lightning, fire, acid, and plagues. The static equalized, the fires went out, the acid neutralized, and the plagues died. All of them became water droplets instead. Tears flowed down Jaheira?s cheeks onto the ground and out of her clouds onto the cities. Every fire was soon put out. Jaheira began casting healing magics into the clouds, and the rain fell to the cities, healing the humanoid defenders and harming the demonic invaders. The final demon, the very one that had coaxed and deceived Jaheira, looked around and screamed in rage, the deceiver deceived. It was then cleaved in two by Carsomyr as it reeled from the surprise, and its halves dissolved as they fell into the holy waterway outside the Order. The surviving defenders looked about, saw the enemy was vanquished, and led the fortressed civilians out into the healing rain.
The archdruids had been helpless as Jaheira manipulated their magic and drew it from them. They collapsed as the great spell finished, exhausted and overextended. The strong Jaheira dropped into a kneel, regaining her strength first, and then ran off. Scimitars and pack tight on her back, she ran and ran, crying bittersweet tears. Crying tears for the unsteady but sweet feelings of goodness in her heart, for the unsteady and bitter questions of balance in her head. Crying tears for seeing, for the first time in twenty years, into the minds and new memories of her former adventuring companions. Companions who had all been so close to her but from whom she had grown apart. Companions who still thought of her and wished well for her. Companions who still missed her very much.

***

Defenders and civilians went about the aftermath. The Tears of Jaheira, as they would become known, had infused them with a mood of kindness as well as healing them, and for a rare moment in the history of the City of Coin, its citizens went about helping lost and injured strangers as they sought out their own loved ones.
The Athkatla heroes converged in the middle of the burnt and battered bridge district. Panting, they exchanged news of damages and losses, new and old archenemies they had encountered, and the running off of Luna and Eryx.
A column of light appeared amongst them and in it stood Solar. "You have fought well, brave companions, but all is not over," she sang. "A demon and thus unable to seize the throne of Kan for himself, Decagorgon searched for one who could in the name of chaos and evil. He brought forth your vanquished foes Sarevok, Viconia and Irenicus to corrupt Eryx and Luna in their dreams, and now in the flesh. Though Decagorgon had to face Eryx himself today and died in trying to control him, he influenced and empowered the youth in dying and may yet succeed an evil martyr of his greater goal. Irenicus, now free of Decagorgon's geas, is taking it upon himself to finish his work, for what vile reasons of his own I know not. He is showing Eryx the path to the throne, which lies through Kan. It is fated not, Onyx, which one of your sons shall win."
"Nothing is fated between mortals," bellowed Onyx, plunging Carsomyr into the cobblestones, "take me now to Irenicus, who must be stopped." His companions nodded and cheered in support as he resheathed the holy avenger.
"Very well, noble heroes, to Irenicus's twisted pocket plane we will now go."

#7 -Guest-

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Posted 02 April 2004 - 03:23 PM

VI. Final Combat

The five appeared with Solar on a suspended platform in a strange dimension. Amidst a faint azure background, they saw only twisting, connecting, intertwining bridges, platforms and stairways snaking through space. It was endless in every direction, no roof or sky above and no ground or floor below. No mountains or walls. The staircases and walkways merely hung in space, all connected to one another but with huge gaps of emptiness in between, no walls or railing along them and a seemingly endless drop at a single misstep.
Suddenly another conduit opened and Imoen and Jan walked in from Baldur's Gate, led by Elminster himself. The famous wizard conjured another gate and Minsc fell through it, Boo shrieking as the massive ranger plopped onto the platform.
"Where are we, Boo?" he asked his hamster, scratching his tattooed head. "Minsc last remembers smashing the little skull of a very rude tiefling captain! He and his men were asking the way to Baldur's Gate and got very mad when I didn't know which conduit the silly plane-hoppers should take! Minsc was more than happy to kick their butts, but now Minsc is lost in a conduit too!"
"I have summoned you here, brave ranger, to combat a terrible threat to the Realms and indeed the multiverse," Elminster explained.
"Point with your pointy hat and show me this evil!" Minsc cried excitedly and sprang to his feet.
"Irenicus is becoming nearly godlike himself and his terrible magics now threaten the entire Weave," Elminster warned them. "Solar and I must go now and undo them. You must face Irenicus himself here. Onyx, pray for both of your sons." With that Elminster and Solar disappeared.
On a disc-shaped platform far away, the party could see Irenicus waving his arms in the air, powerful currents of lightning and magic flying from his hands. Eryx stood beside him, wings folded down, an intense scowl across his face, bastard swords held crossed and motionless.
Suddenly, parts of the heroes' platform gave way and Onyx, Minsc and Valygar fell onto a wide bridge below which then split into three parallel bridges. Staircases grew out of the flooring under Imoen, Nalia and Jan's feet and escalated them all up to the corners of a triangular surface above. The remainder of their former platform jutted out forward into a bridge, carrying Aerie and Sky on it.
Irenicus pointed towards them with his arms and then his body flew towards all. Floating in space before them, he began opening gates in front of the heroes.
In front of Valygar was gated in a figure which had once been a man but was now a wraith. In life he had been Yoshimo.
"A geas, my friends, a geas, I could not help it!" he mocked.
In front of Minsc was gated in the wraith of a halfling warrior. In life she had been Mazzy Fentan.
"I wanna be a paladin, lemme be a paladin!" she whined.
And in front of Onyx was gated in the wraith of a knight. In life he had been Sir Anomen Delyrn.
"Now Onyx, what kind of paladin are you? Great wealth, a vampiric blade, an illegitimate son and a demonic one?" he scolded.
Through the gate in front of Aerie and Sky walked two drow priestesses. They were Viconia and Luna.
"Face our dark wrath, pale fairies!" they chanted together.
And then Jon Irenicus himself levitated down in the middle of Nalia, Imoen and Jan.
"And now," spoke Irenicus with a voice that was emotionless and yet deafening, "Prepare for final combat!"
Valygar drew Celestial Fury and Hindo's Doom while Yoshimo drew two katanas of his own. The two masters ran at one another and leapt into the air, disappearing in the ethereal shadows of the plane as they did so. An explosion of sword-on-sword and boot-on-armor was heard as they reappeared in a whirlwind of slices and kicks. As they fell, Yoshimo actually ran up Valygar's body and bicycle kicked his chest and face, but as Valygar landed he braced himself with his elbows and one knee while his other leg shot straight up like a piston and smashed into Yoshimo, sending the bounty hunter flying off the bridge. Yoshimo grabbed the edge with his hands as his body fell past it, and pushed off the underside of the bridge with his feet, somersaulting back up on it in a tight ball of katana blades. Hasting himself, Valygar met the blinding speed with numerous slashes of his own. As Yoshimo came out of his spin, Valygar sent a magic missile into the thief's chest, who whipped out a crossbow as he fell back and fired a volley of bolts at the hasted Valygar, who deftly dodged them or deflected them off his katanas.
The two ran at each other again and began an intense dance of swordplay and martial arts. At last their arms wrapped around each other and the twisted into a knot, pulling their bodies together with elbows and katanas sticking out to all sides. One rigid mass, they leapt into the air and began kicking at one another's shins and groins. In midair, Yoshimo tried to headbutt Valygar, but the ranger tilted his head back and then whipped forward again, his metal-laden dreadlocks flying forward around his face and wrapping around Yoshimo's head. They tied around each other like a bola behind Yoshimo's ponytail, and as the two began to fall, Valygar twisted his head sideways and back, breaking Yoshimo's neck. The ranger untangled himself at the last moment and landed on his feet as Yoshimo's form crumpled upon the bridge, the wraith killed and gone.

"And now, prepare for final combat!"
At Irenicus's words, Mazzy gave a mighty little undead battle cry and charged Minsc with her shield and short sword raised. The Rashemanian ranger had already drawn Gram the Sword of Grief and swung the great two-handed blade at her, crashing into her shield and knocking her back several feet. He gave another overhead swing but she ran between his legs, slicing his thigh along the way. Minsc spun around, going into a whirlwind attack as Mazzy did the same. Their swords clanged dozens of times and Mazzy got in several nicks, but then Minsc's sword crashed into her back and nearly sent her flying off the bridge. As she ran back and swung her sword at Minsc's waist, he hopped over the slash and stepped off her shoulders into the air. He rolled forward in midjump, pushing his sword back behind him and managing to spear Mazzy through the back with it. He landed on his back, and like a human catapult then pulled his sword up with Mazzy on it and sent her flying down the bridge a ways, landing in a heap. As she began to rise, Minsc ran over, drawing out the Mace of Disruption and bringing it down upon her, smashing the undead energy out of her body.

"And now, prepare for final combat!"
Anomen raised his mace and shield and charged Onyx, muttering more disapproving diatribes. Onyx had drawn the undead-vanquishing sword and axe Daystar and Azuredge. Onyx parried Anomen's mace with his axe and Anomen parried Onyx's sword with his shield. The two circled slowly around each other, exchanging fast and powerful blows. Armor, shield, and weapons rang with metallic crashes. As Anomen's mace came across, Onyx managed to catch the handle of it in the niche between his axeblade and handle, and levered Anomen's mace arm far to the outside. Gaining inside control, he quickly thrust in Daystar and stabbed into the wraith, but its shield knocked Daystar aside before it went deep. Anomen spun and unhooked his weapon. They circled again and as Onyx tried to bring his weapons around his foe's shield, the mace came down on his helmet. His ears rang but he was unharmed. Capitalizing on the downward momentum of the crushing blow, he pulled his own feet out from under him and dropped into a kneel, bringing his blades into Anomen's knees. The wraith screamed as the holy power of Daystar and Azuredge cut into its unnatural form. It pushed the cavalier back with its shield and then brought its mace down again, which Onyx caught between his crossed swordblade and axehandle. With the greater strength, he pulled backwards, stretching Anomen out, and then fell onto his own back in a fluid roll, pushing his feet against Anomen's shield and chest and sending the wraith-knight flying over him. Onyx hopped up and hurled Azuredge, hitting the wraith in midair. It landed with a moan and a clang the enchanted axe reappeared in Onyx?s hand. He lunged over to the wraith and swung Daystar and Azuredge down into Anomen's exposed chest. They pierced the armor and the wraith screamed as its undead heart was overcome by the holy weapons and it was undead no longer.

"And now, prepare for final combat!"
The four elven priestesses began bringing up various spell protections. Aerie froze time and dispelled those of the drow, struggling to do so during her window of stopped time as the magical resistance of the dark elves bounced some of her spells off harmlessly. As time resumed, the four exchanged blasts of holy and unholy smite, harming one another and then healing themselves as quickly. They then traded fiery evocations but the intact spell protections of the avariel women and the magic resistance of the drow women rendered these harmless. At last Aerie raised Crom Faeyr, Sky raised the Flail of Ages, and Viconia and Luna raised matching skull-maces. As the warrior girls charged one another, the women first brought up globes of blades. Maces smashed against hammer and flail and flying blades bounced off shields and armor. Sky and Luna were swinging and deflecting with great speed and martial skill while Aerie and Viconia exchanged slow but astoundingly strong blows.
"It doesn't have to be this way, Luna!" Sky pleaded as their weapons and shields clanged. "I thought we were friends to the end!"
"This is your end, frail angel!" Luna hissed. The began to flap their wings and fly into the air, continuing their bludgeoning. Luna cast harming energy into her mace but as swung it, Sky suddenly let herself drop to the ground. She knelt and began casting. As the winged drow flew down upon her, an imprisonment spell left Sky's hands and swallowed Luna whole.
As Aerie and Viconia continued to crash against one another, whizzing blades began to find elven flesh and the women grimaced.
"Dear Aerie, why are you so angry?" mocked Viconia. "Onyx's Candlekeep bastard will now be deposed by your own son! You should be a proud mother!"
"And what would you know of such things, repulsive wayside witch!?" Aerie screamed. She swung mightily into Viconia's shield, and the blow sent the dark priestess back the very edge of the bridge.
"Well, if you must know..." began Viconia but Aerie cut her off by firing a magic missile that smashed into her helmet and unbalanced her. The drow lady screamed as she fell into the unfathomable depths, out the bottom of the plane and back to the Prime.

"And now, prepare for final combat!"
As Irenicus finished his words, the three thief-mages around him were casting desperately. With alarming alacrity, Irenicus froze time before any of them could complete their spells. He immediately brought up a labyrinth of spell and combat protections and then cast evocations around himself. As time resumed, a sunfire blast and chain lightning rippled out from his body, burning and shocking the three mages around him. As they kneeled in pain but instantly brought up contingencies of spell protections, he gated in three pit fiends, one between him and each of his three assailants. With quick telepathic coordination, the three wizards each shot evocations around Irenicus that failed to harm him but immediately wiped out the demons. Lightning bolts and power words sailed from the mad sorcerer's fingertips, but they did not breach the mages' protections. As they cast back, he sneered and levitated high into the air again, their spells whizzing by harmlessly underneath him.
With superior range, he rained spellstrikes down upon them and dispelled their spell protections. Imoen held the Staff of Striking out and ran to polevault off it, Nalia began channeling her magic through the Staff of the Magi to increase its range, and Jan aimed his crossbow up at Irenicus. As Irenicus was about to rain destruction upon all of them, a spell shot through Nalia's staff and breached Irenicus's combat protections, Jan's flasher master bruiser mate exploded in Irenicus's face and stunned him, and Imoen vaulted up to Irenicus high in the air and swung the quarterstaff into the sorcerer's chest. His spell was disrupted and the powerful staff sent him flying helplessly through the air.
As he recovered from the blows, he began flying of his own accord again, towards the disc where Eryx stood. Onyx, Valygar, Minsc, Aerie, and Sky had each just vanquished their opponents and were running on various paths towards Eryx, across bridges and up and down stairways, and now Imoen, Nalia and Jan began running too. Suddenly the air filled with lightning and a column of light appeared in the center of the disc. As it faded, there stood the avatar of Kan.
"Too late, fools. You are, as ever, worthless," Irenicus stated. He gestured and the bridges and staircases split away from the disc and the eight heroes found themselves at dead-ends. "This will now be decided by the sons of Onyx. One shall perish, one shall ascend."
Eryx raised his bastard swords Foebane and Purifier high and Kan drew his katanas Truth and Clarity. The half-brothers faced each other in combat stances, motionless, steel-blue eyes locked, meeting in the flesh for the first time. Other than Eryx's wings, the two men had virtually identical builds. Kan had short black monk's hair, Eryx's was spiky and blonde. Kan wore only a pure white fighting robe, and Eryx wore his full plate body armor with avariel elven chain over the wings. They crept slowly forward, swords up in high guard stance, and the tips of Purifier and Truth touched one another in the air.
Eryx twisted his ring and became hyper-hasted as Kan focused and began to speed up manifold. In an instant, their forward swords were sliding along one another and their back swords moved in and clashed. They began a lightning-quick blizzard of swings and thrusts and parries, the motion blurred to all watching. Kan began to put quick, powerful kicks into the fray and Eryx's mighty wings swung around their swords. Kan's foot planted on Eryx's right breast, and as he was spun back, the paladin pushed the monk's swords to the right with his own and then his left wing swung into Kan's back and buffeted him powerfully across the disc and to the ground. As Kan sprung up, Eryx glided through the air and was upon him. Kan reversed his sword grips and began fighting behind his own back, parrying the bastard swords and kicking incoming wings out of the way. Kan then somersaulted back and wrapped his legs around Eryx's head as the boy's wings clapped together. Before Kan could twist his waist and break Eryx's neck, the paladin pushed his shoulders up and dropped out of the leg-headlock, trying to impale Kan from each side but having his thrusts parried. As Kan somersaulted back again and landed behind Eryx, the avariel-human's wings pulled back and both smashed into Kan?s chest, snapping back and throwing him high into the air. Kan sheathed his blades in midair and landed in a handstand at the very edge of the disc, artfully twisting to maintain his balance. Eryx was gliding at him angrily, but Kan hopped up, slinging his limbs forward and sending telekinetic projections of his hands and feet flying at the winged paladin, knocking him to the ground bruised. As Eryx got up, Kan leapt and lunged at him, yelling and swinging his katanas wildly. Dark anger coursed through Eryx's veins as he saw the monk flying at him. And he became the Slayer.
Kan flew into the terrible beast, katanas and kicks glancing off its tough hide as it sunk its claws and fangs into his unarmored flesh. The beast continued to tear and gnaw at him, and Kan's speed did not help him escape as he found himself caged within its grasp. After taking grave damage, he managed to break from its grasp and fell to the floor at its feet. As he sprang back to get away from it, the Slayer spun around at crashed its heavy tail into the monk's chest. Kan fell to his knees again, stunned.
The Slayer gave a victorious roar and became Eryx again. He lifted Purifier high and then swung it around, level with Kan's neck and approaching fast. He sneered and lusted for the blood and the throne. Irenicus descended onto the disc just behind Eryx, quietly preparing a spell to blast the knight into oblivion and seize the throne for himself.
And then something happened. It may have been that Eryx detected the sorcerer's true intentions, or perhaps he simply gained insight and wisdom. The mechanics of good and evil flashed through his mind, clear at last, and he thought of something he hadn't before.
At the last moment, Eryx's elbow unstraightened and pulled the sword in. The tip whizzed through the air under Kan's chin. Eryx continued his spin and, pulling the sword towards himself for a thrust, came around again and with a single motion stabbed straight and true through Irenicus's dead heart. As the sorcerer's spell fizzled, he let out a terrible and yet somehow bored groan. Purifier began cleansing away the twisted evil. And yet there was nothing else Jon Irenicus was made of. He stared up at Eryx dispassionately, a careless sneer tearing across his cheek, as he disintegrated and was no more.
All others watched awestruck, and then ran to the disc as the maze of walkways straightened and reconnected. Eryx kneeled in shame and Kan unfroze and stood, merely nodding knowingly. A vision of Torm appeared by Kan, the ghostly form of Keldorn at his right side.
Kan spoke. "Throughout his entire life, my human father Onyx has been told that the violence within his nature as an evil fated upon him. His son Eryx was told to believe it too. Now at last, as Onyx realized this folly over the jeers of the masses, Eryx realizes this on the eve of his own destruction. What all have been told to believe is yet wrong. The so-called dark nature within them - indeed within us all - is not fated upon them, nor is it merely the Bhaal essence or the Demogorgon influence. Though they have carried it within them both, Onyx long ago realized that the Bhaal essence - which did cry out to him with an animal hunger for blood - could be contained. His hundreds of thousands of kills, righteous all, came not from this primitive essence, but from his own conscious human nature, a second dark side if you will. Nor was this nature fated upon him, that too has been a lie."
"Every mortal makes his own path, and Onyx's was to utilize his great capacity for violence to undo evil and to protect his innocent and beloved. Such is the reason humans and all other races have been given their dual nature. Without kindness in our hearts, we would destroy each other in endless violence and bloodshed. Yet without the aggression within, we would leave ourselves and those closest to us vulnerable to those who do possess it, and indeed to the very unthinking violence of beasts and forces of nature. Such is the error of the druids and those who would profess a collective balance. The required balance, rather, is that within each individual."
"Onyx and Eryx channeled both sides, at this point each ultimately for good. All of it, good and evil both, was not the Bhaal essence, nor the Demogorgon influence, nor the temptations of Decagorgon and Irenicus, nor was it fate. Neither prophecy nor parentage may dictate the actions of any mortal. It may influence them, but all is ultimately at the discretion of the individual - Eryx. It was his own mortal choices all."
Keldorn spoke. "The True God judges actions, young paladin. And though your heart struggled with Bhaal and Decagorgon and its own human fallibility, and nearly slain your noble brother, you have yet murdered wrongly not. Be wise and thoughtful henceforth."
Eryx rose and spoke. "I consider myself fortunate even to have still my life and soul, my lord. A force of order and good I will henceforth be as I wander the multiverse. And when enough demons have died, I shall return."
Kan bowed in approval and, folding his hands in meditation, faded and returned to the pantheon with Torm and Keldorn. Aerie and Sky and Imoen rushed to Eryx and hugged him, as Onyx caught his gaze and peered at him with both furious anger and new respect. Valygar and Minsc tossed Jan back and forth in revelry. Nalia sensed something and looked over her shoulder.
Behind them three figures walked onto the disc. They had been, and now were again, Anomen, Mazzy, and Yoshimo, human or halfling once more. Minsc lifted up Mazzy and spun her around, chuckling happily and tossing her to Valygar who tossed back Jan. Anomen walked up to Onyx with a disapproving smirk but friendly eyes, and Yoshimo nervously looked at the knights.
Onyx began to scowl but Anomen put a hand on the bounty hunter's shoulders and spoke. "Ilmater forgave your heart long ago, wayward rogue," he said condescendingly. "Return and devote your skills to good," he continued with more warmth. Yoshimo bowed politely.
"Heya, Yoshi," Imoen piped up, "ever wanted to learn magic?" She grinned at the other two thief-mages, who were rolling their eyes. "What?" she giggled. "Dontcha know ya can never have too many thief-mages?"
"I think we all could use a vacation first," one of them, Nalia, chimed in.
"Especially those of us who have twenty years of mortal affairs to catch up to," Valygar mused as he and Yoshimo were appraising each other's katanas.
"And what better place than our usual getaway from the City of Coin?" Nalia offered.
"My cabin would never hold us all!" Valygar protested.
"No, silly, the other one - de'Arnise Keep!" Nalia scolded playfully.
"That's where Ano and I got killed in the last war!" Mazzy shrieked.
"And what better place to pray and reflect upon our merciful resurrection, dear truesword?" preached Anomen.
"You know the Battle of de'Arnise Keep during the Coin of Bhaal war was actually not the first Battle of de'Arnise Keep I think it was the fifth." lectured Jan. "It's all explained and recorded in Jabak Yammerson's History of Weapons, Armor, Catapults, Castles, Strongholds, Chokepoints, Generals, Spies, Training, Battles and Wars he's my fourth cousin once removed on my father's father's mother's father's side you know and...."
Though his goggles, Jan saw Anomen scowling furiously at him and leapt behind Minsc. Boo squeaked and scampered to Minsc's other shoulders. "Boo says it is going to be very nice to see his hamster friends at the Keep again. He even reminded me we have some Rashemanian cheese to share with them. Boo is so smart. Maybe we can make him a tiny Flail of Ages while we're there."
"Come, son, we have much to discuss and you need time to rest and think," Onyx offered, removing his right gauntlet and holding out the hand to his son.
"You all go, adventurers of lore, I would have a word with Sky," Eryx requested.
Both the spellcasters with their senses and the warriors without surely knew Eryx's mind, but they merely turned to the conduit to the Keep the boy was opening, smiling and chatting and catching up. Arms over each other, Anomen hugging Yoshimo hugging Mazzy hugging Valygar hugging Nalia hugging Imoen hugging Onyx hugging Aerie hugging Minsc hugging Jan, the ten walked through the portal and back to the Prime.
Eryx tried to speak, but his sister hugged him tightly and both began to cry.
"I know you mean not to return with us," she began. "As did our parents. I know that you will walk the world, indeed the worlds, a powerful force of good. I know you will return to us at times and I hope it won't be long."
Eryx nodded into her shoulder though he knew he need not.
Sky withdrew a scroll of freedom from her scroll case. "Luna, your love and my closest friend, lies yet imprisoned within this temporary plane. Once we leave, we will not be able to return and she would remain here for all time. Perhaps with evil it is better thus. Or is she truly good?"
"I believe she is." Eryx said to his sister. "It is her choice. Let's find out."



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