|Choices III: Machinations
Author: anesor PM
NWN2 postOC non-MotB AU, third novel, read the others before this intrigue. Elondra and her loves face what may be even more stressful than the King of Shadows had been: Blacklake society.Rated: Fiction M - English - Mystery/Horror - Kalach-Cha/Knight Captain & Casavir - Chapters: 71 - Words: 296,107 - Reviews: 172 - Favs: 5 - Follows: 5 - Updated: 12-24-10 - Published: 04-02-09 - Status: Complete - id: 4964243
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Certain major characters are not mine, though Elondra is mine, among many others in this tale. Language and other stuff warning, just to be safe...
- x x -
Neverwinter, the Golden Goose -
The large chamber had high vaulted arches, and two fight circles, both of them in use. The one had the tall and quiet boarding leader Thandoren, from that ship we'd visited, fighting someone with a strange gray skin. They were beating the hells out of each other. Blood or something blackish sprayed far enough to hit Bishop on the face and he grinned. The other had Rosemar Hanner, in the remains of her fine clothing, clawing at another woman, both of their faces wrecked. They had gouges through the flesh and around their eyes. Their clothing and hair were already ripped with blood soaking it. The other woman had rips where I guessed earrings used to be. I'd never seen any woman dressed like Hanner who was attacking in a berserker rage.
Neither set of fighters seemed to even notice their injuries, but the ferocity of their fighting seemed to increase in only the brief time I'd been watching.
The crowd of maybe a hundred were cheering the fighting even as blood flowed. They looked nearly as feral as the fighters, with spittle and grimaces of hate and bloodlust on their faces. Their shouting was loud and irrational and oh, so eager for death. The nausea in my stomach doubled, and I thought I was going to vomit.
I felt a poke on my head, and caught a glimpse of Neeshka's tail. She and Grobnar looked as sick as I felt at this scene. For an instant I bitterly resented that Sand could look on this display of mob bloodlust and still seem so calm.
Starting to edge around the circle of the audience, I was dismayed when I realized I was the only one to move even this far from the archway where we'd entered.
Casavir was watching the sailor and encouraging him while Bishop was mocking the fighting. They were on the edge of fighting themselves, snarling comments I couldn't really hear over the other noise. I could see that Grobnar's music wasn't helping this time. In fact, his playing seemed to be merging with the blows, despite the disgust on his face. Sand was studying the fights intently as if estimating odds.
A platform and stair on the far side of the room had another man watching the fights with a pleased grin as he tapped the rail to the music. He looked normal enough, with brown hair and dull robes with subtle embroideries, even if I had to doubt what I was seeing.
The sounds of the new shouts and threats from a different direction made me move my gaze back. My throat caught when I saw that Casavir and Bishop were circling each other like in one of their unarmed sparring sessions, but with such anger. Like they wanted to kill each other for real again.
That stranger was beaming at them like they were doing something wonderful. Neither of my husbands reacted at all to my shouts. Grobnar also seemed unaware of events and Sand was just observing. Neeshka looked angry, even if she was the only one to react to my voice at all.
"Neeshka," I said grabbing her arm to fully get her attention, "Get Grobnar to stop playing, he's in harmony somehow with this. Tie his hands, steal his instruments, whatever. Just don't hurt him."
Shaking her head, she looked disappointed for an instant, but then less interested in the fights around us. She grinned, before she faded out of sight saying abstractedly, "Sure."
I rolled between Bishop and Casavir too late, just as they'd committed to their lunges for each other. All the breath was knocked out of my lungs as I tried to brace myself. At least they hadn't pulled weapons. Instants of real pain, and then they let go of me. Glad to be able to breathe again, I was pretty sure my ribs were bruised and my hand... I almost had to laugh, because I knew Cas was going to push for heavier armor for me again after this.
Looking up again from where I was curled up against myself, their faces were still angry even if their eyes looked a little less so. Still bristling, they were glaring at each other, unaware of the people around them. At least they'd stopped their fight.
Cradling my right hand against my front, I snuck a look at the others. Sand now looked to almost be meditating, with an alarmingly nasty curl to his lips. Grobnar seemed to be chasing Neeshka around the outer parts of the hall.
My hand must be broken, because I couldn't flex it. I dug in my belt pouch for a potion with my left hand, opening the stopper with my teeth as the cheering reached a new pitch. Then the fighting exploded from the audience and other fighters, swallowing me and probably all of us all up into it.
Getting punched and kicked, too many were surrounding me, trying to pound me to the ground. I pushed enough to step into some shadows, but my healing potion was gone, knocked away before I could drink it.
Looking back where I'd been, now roiling with the brawling mob, I saw that Casavir and Bishop were thrashing anyone else who got close to them. Karnwyr was helping Bishop. Both Neeshka and Grobnar weren't in view, and Sand had some kind of warding magic around him and no one was able to get close, despite several trying. He looked smugly amused and bored. I wondered why he wasn't casting more magic. I'd have to ask later.
With the fighting continuing around me while I was hidden in the shadows, I felt useless and alone. Unmusical sounds came from around me, grating like a metal rake on stone.
That man in the muted robes stepped away through some kind of gate after giving me a mocking bow. I should not have been visible to him. I shrank back into a nook, feeling even more useless right then.
Once their opponents were all on the ground, my husbands traded a few blows, and finally stopped and looked around the hall suspiciously. Casavir straightened up and seemed surprised at the blood that was all over him, then he looked dismayed.
Bishop didn't seem bothered at all and swiped his mouth with the back of his hand, still grinning.
Neeshka and Grobnar had appeared again and were talking quietly on the other side of the room, while Sand was looking over a couple of the bodies.
I moved quietly back against the wall, feeling empty and holding my stomach tight with my arm. I ached, and squatted down, drawing the safe shadows around me tightly, alone in a room crowded with people.
- x -
With that fight over and the wailing impinging on my mind again, I was embarrassed by how I'd become almost mindless as I fought. I prayed I hadn't missed anything else in my haze. I had tried to hit Bishop after my other opponents had fallen, but we both managed to stop.
Looking around the cold hall, my throat ached when I saw that one person was missing. No one else seemed to have any major injury, but Elondra wasn't in the casualties or one of those standing over the bodies. I prayed to Tyr, worrying. Then I dimly remembered the beginnings of the fighting and the sound of bones breaking, and my stomach turned over. Bishop looked fine and I had a sinking feeling about who would have tried to stop us.
"My lady? Elondra?" I called, worried.
Her answer came a bit too late for my comfort, "Yeah?"
I still didn't see her in the direction her voice had come from, but Bishop whistled and Karnwyr went to her. She faded into sight, only just visible around the wolf.
When I went over I was at first glad to see she wasn't bleeding. Then I saw her eyes were glazed from pain and her hand cradled against herself.
Kneeling beside her, I asked carefully, "What happened?"
"Ribs," my lady said faintly. "It's getting harder to breathe. Hand. I'm afraid to cough right now..."
Bishop was swearing from over my head, but I carefully took her hand and healed her successfully on the second attempt, feeling wretched. I prayed I could be forgiven, even if I saw no blame in her eyes. My lady still moved stiffly, and I was worried about touching her, as much as I wanted to.
"Use that blessing, damn it!" Bishop snarled in her face once he'd stopped cursing.
"Have to save it for 'mergency, like when everyone's hurt, not just me," she said carefully, breaking up her statement into pieces.
Touching her cheek, Bishop growled, "Do it, you idiot. I'd like to smack you for being stupid if you weren't already hurt. Don't copy Cas when he's being an idiot."
I had to frown at that, but it did get a small smile from my lady. After a moment I felt the almost tidal feel of the ancient Illefarn healing magic, and I thanked Tyr it had worked.
Helping her stand, she was still being careful, so I started to cast another healing, but she stopped me saying, "We may need it more later."
I spent another few moment checking the others, but they seemed nearly uninjured after the blessing.
- x -
That brawl was actually kind of fun, even if I hadn't meant to hit Cas. Beating the crap out of some bastards from Blacklake was great fun. Maybe I could find a way to do this another time.
After wasn't as great, as I wanted to scoop up Lon for a kiss right away, but I couldn't see her. Karnwyr settled as he moved along her short trail.
Looking close I managed to spot her before the shadows melted away a little. Then I saw she was curled up to protect herself. She didn't say anything about what'd happened and wouldn't, believing it was all from the magic.
Maybe, but I'd always enjoyed a good brawl.
As soon as I'd yelled at both of them for not healing, I scanned around us and stepped closer to Lon. "Let me see that your hand is healed," I didn't know what else to say to her right now, so surviving came first. A few test parries and I was convinced she was healed enough for now.
Cas looked pale, too pale and too quiet even for him. I wanted to shake both of them, but this wasn't the time to start another fight.
Moving to the exit of the room we went to the front again. When the door was cracked open, there seemed to be a draft of frigid air blowing over us, and anything downwind might perceive too much. Not that I really worried about that, as the things we'd been fighting were either really sheep or not natural enough for scenting.
This passageway was also dark, but there was a brighter, almost blue light coming from far ahead. Stepping carefully, there was a resonating ringing that almost overwhelmed the constant shrieking that was getting close to feeling like a spike between my eyes.
The light was cold and as we entered, it almost felt like an ice cavern with light reflecting from crystals, some taller and wider than me. I even wondered for a second if that howling was going the make the crystals shatter, but they didn't react to to it.
In the cavern were maybe dozens of people there, just standing around. They did nothing even as we entered. The space was bright, and the crystals had images reflecting back at us. I couldn't see anything that interesting, though the people in the room were looking at them without noticing us. Some looked familiar, even if I didn't remember all the names.
We slowed a little as everyone paused to look around, even Cas. One of the crystals showed me busy on the keep roof with Lon, and I had to smile, remembering how fun that'd been.
Suddenly stumbling, I heard Lon hiss by my ear, "Activate your ring of invisibility, damn it!"
Shadows clustered around Cas's head for an instant as I did, but he took a step forward and smiled broadly. Lon swore.
The images in the crystals were easier to ignore when I wasn't in them, though I caught some glimpses of others' reflections before the crystals became foggy. I saw that everyone else was gazing into the crystals nearest to them, looking pleased, happy or with elven snotty smugness. They'd stopped watching for attacks or even moving as they stared at the crystals. Grobnar had also stopped playing anything that sounded like music. Sand had somehow gotten cleaner and neater and snobbier than he'd been. Neeshka looked like she was gloating about something. Cas just looked pleased, and I wondered what he was seeing.
Karnwyr sat near me and he wriggled, wagging his tail like the puppy I'd never seen him as. That bothered me more than all the others put together.
I shook my head, and asked Lon, "What now?"
No one reacted, still staring at the crystals.
Lon's voice floated to me, saying bleakly, "Don't know. I can't hold their attention long enough, even by blocking their eyes with a shadow illusion."
"Block the crystals, they can't move or resist," I told her.
A moment later the shadows clustered on a bunch of the crystals and Sand started looking puzzled before shifting to view another crystal pillar high up.
"Damn, I can't block them all at once, and I don't know what'll happen with these other people once they can't see the crystals," Lon admitted.
"With how these other rooms have been, they'll attack," I said. "We'll have to break the crystals."
I could hear her digging in our magic bag, before she said, "Hope these aren't unbreakable, this spike hammer's not a magic one."
"Give me some of the spikes and I'll get the higher ones," I said, while eying the ones well out of reach.
It took us a while, breaking what appeared to be crystals as they were not that fragile. After a while, first Cas, then the rest began to help. Eventually, the room had a layer of broken shards and the pup was stepping carefully.
- x -
The earlier prisoners of these mirrors finally started shifting their viewing once some of the crystals were broken. I didn't really know what to do with them, as they'd get snared again if we sent them out the way we came in. There were a few familiar faces, Mother Puffinmiller and Lady Tinieles, but all of them looked bewildered and not dangerous.
They began to whisper to each other, with snobby disdain even while I broke the last crystals. I tried to ignore their snide tones towards me.
A ghost of a melody drifted from the tunnel ahead, and Grobnar began to play again.
I didn't feel any different, but still I asked the others, "What do we do with them?"
Casavir admitted, "This place seems as safe as any in here at the moment. Unless someone has another idea?"
No one did, though we did pull out some waterskins as they seemed thirsty. Casavir spoke to them to encourage them to remain here and out of sight until we returned or other rescuers came. They'd listen to him more.
I felt bad that we couldn't get them out or send them out a safe path, but we didn't know one. I didn't think it would be that long before this was over one way or the other, and I prayed the gods would favor us.
Moving forward, it felt strange being invisible routinely again, I'd gotten used to being more in point since... the bridge I guessed, and in social combat in Blacklake. Neeshka and Grobnar were hiding too, leaving only Casavir, Bishop and Sand as our visible group. Bishop had used his ring enough times I wondered if it ran out of charges, and this wasn't the most natural of environments for him to use his own skills to blend in. I didn't like leaving them to be the focus of attacks, but he glared at me when I stopped using the shadows to conceal myself.
We moved onward, into another dark passageway where I felt tense from the sound around us. It was a bit muted by Grobnar's playing, but still somehow reminded me of harpy screeches. This was a long passageway, and strange for being that long without rooms or doors, making me wonder if it was going under the river or city wall.
The music finally faded and the passage began to rise a little according to Grobnar. Everyone was quiet and listening for threats, even if Karnwyr should hear first. No one had worse than minor cuts at the moment so I thought we were ready.
After what felt to be another hour but probably wasn't, I smelled a breath of fresher air and saw very dim light far ahead of us, red light. When we got closer, it wasn't that much light coming in through the opening, just reflected light from those red columns in the sky. We'd come up between some other buildings, not far from the tannery from the rank smell. There was no exit from this space between buildings, and that I didn't like.
That really couldn't be true, this didn't look like some protected garden, and I began to try to look for a hidden door or false wall. I hadn't seen any when I heard Neeshka hiss a warning from behind me. Turning back, I saw that the archway we'd come through was gone.
"Yes, you have wasted almost all the time that was necessary," a new voice with an odd depth said. "It was most amusing to see you fight your way through the fools that feed us so sweetly."
I spun back when he began to speak and it was the man in the dull robes again, now standing in front of the one wall. With a gesture from him, we all were visible again.
"By Tyr's grace, we are here now!" Casavir shouted. He stepped forward, calling for a blessing from his god.
What scared me was that I could feel no effect, even as some testing magic flew from Sand behind me to splash off the man's defenses. The evil bastard made another gesture, and scores of those same creatures we'd seen inside melted out of the walls around us.
- x -
As the closest creatures attacked me, I hadn't been completely surprised my blessing had been disrupted. This mage and manipulator appeared to my eyes as a void darker than the blackness all around us, darker than those from the lower planes, much darker than any mortal should be. The howling now almost seemed to be echoing through my bones, as much as I tried to ignore it.
Our opponent had only seemed amused by my declaration, or the various missiles that came his way in those few instants. His creatures did the attacking, while he only watched them through what seemed to be impenetrable magical shields.
Soon I had no attention to spare from my own fights. I could see spells cast in several directions, but I couldn't spare enough attention from my foes to measure their effectiveness. I tried to watch for my lady and Bishop, but they seemed well enough when I caught glimpses of them. Worried about Grobnar and Neeshka, I was glad to see that they were against a wall and closer to Sand's defenses.
The bodies of my foes began to get in the way, when a magical force started pulling my sword out of my hand. With a prayer for strength, I managed to hold on, even if I was briefly lifted off my feet.
- x -
I could feel a few of those bursts of extra speed as I fought these things, instants when there were stuck like flies in amber and avoiding a kill shot from them was simple. I thought I saw a few from Lon and Cas as well.
After a bit of this I got pissed when some magic kept pulling on my blades in different directions, pulling harder than my weight until my grip was loosened. First one and then the other flew away out of sight.
I switched to that bow I'd started using before that farce trial, and sent a few at that smug ass while I backed up a little. They went through his defenses better than most of Sand's spells, guess he wasn't used to enchanted arrows as a threat. Sand and Grobnar were busy with their magics, and Neeshka was taking care of the ones that got through us.
Lon shouted something about the things' eyes being ice and I took a closer look. The eyes did almost seem to be marbles of clear ice, and my magical arrows were flaming, so I spread my targeting, drawing and aiming as fast as I could.
Then the invisible giant pulled my bow away too, and all I had left were knives. One had poison, which I'd never got around to mentioning to Cas, but too bad. These things were either immune or they were closing too close to me.
That was fine, I still had polymorph left, and tooth and claw were harder to lose than a weapon. When I cast my spell, I picked a form I'd only seen in Carnival once. This exitless pit reminded me of how those prisoners were easily slaughtered and that was enough for me. I wasn't sure if it was a real beast, a mix of big cat and small dragon, but it had taken down a lot of slaves and fighters before dying for the roaring crowd.
It must be real as I had the extra limbs again, and a tougher skin. Better yet, I was now even bigger than these creatures than in my own form, and I could sweep them away from me with my wings.
I could see everyone a little better with that extra height, but I couldn't speak to anyone, not even Karnwyr. I hadn't felt this alone in my head for a very long time. I could hear well, down to the breathing Lon and my companion.
Between the other noises of the fight, I thought I heard Neeshka mutter uncertainly like she did when Casavir was too close, "He's not just an ass, but worse. Can we even kill it?"
No one answered her, most probably missed it. But Karnwyr was right, planars tasted bad.
- x -
This wizard must be really arrogant, to have stopped casting his spells, but even so, he didn't seem to be running out of these cold monsters. They weren't that big, but I wasn't sure if they were summoning more or he was. I'd noticed as the fight went on that it kept getting colder around us, despite how hard we were fighting.
After a few bouts close to these things, I realized that their eyes were like frozen ice. Shouting that towards Sand and Grobnar, I wasn't sure if that would help. I also wasn't sure if they could hear me over the combat.
Later I did notice a few fire spells used on the creatures, even if they still didn't die easy. More kept coming from summonings.
Looking around, everyone else looked like they hadn't gotten too hurt or weary. The draconian thing chomping on these creatures must have been Bishop as it was pretty much where I saw him last. I invoked two of the old Illefarn blessings; I wasn't sure they would do much right now. The shield one helped a bit, making me feel warm for the first time in what seemed like forever, despite cold wind from nowhere. If we could keep this up, maybe Neeshka or I could sneak around to kill the bastard, but there were still too many of them to split our defenses.
Sand cast some lightning spells as his bolts and the occasional crossbow bolts from Neeshka were bouncing off some magical wall around the bastard. The ass was smirking at this, his robes unmussed and self unbloodied as he watched us fight his disjointed things.
I got really pissed at that, and 'stepped next to him, swinging for an attack in a direction he shouldn't expect. He stopped smiling, and backed away for a moment, bleeding. He was a lot cannier than the ass who took over the Haven, because he next cast a spell instead of retreating. The spell was a different shielding spell keeping me further away and caught every swing of mine. His smile was nasty, as even my thrown dagger was blocked.
Soon, I knew why he smirked, because my blades were being yanked from my grip. My off hand weapon flew away, even if my buckler's strap helped me keep it. I couldn't attack as many times, though I still had my long sword.
Catching a glimpse of Cas, it looked like he was casting another spell, which did something to his weapon. Good, it worked this time. But that was all the attention I could spare as the pull on my sword dragged me a hop further away from the mage. Holding on, I was being lifted and bounced around to get my sword away from me while the bastard laughed.
"You may have passed my shield, but you are no threat without your weapons. The bindings will finally be broken and we will be free!" He gloated with a deep, hollow voice and red eyes now. I just realized he was throwing of waves of cold whenever I got close.
- x -
Another wave of these dark beasts appeared, and a cry made me look back toward Sand. There I saw that Grobnar had fallen and Neeshka was assisting him. I had to draw more of this wave away from them, and casting a blessing on my sword I charged towards them.
Sand brought forth a wall of fire as Bishop started pushing them into it, and we started making more progress. What worried me was the the fire did not cross through whatever was the defensive wall of our enemy.
Bishop roared after that, even if I couldn't understand anything he said in this form. It probably would have been curses.
Still these dark and cold creatures were attacking. Grobnar was sitting upright behind Sand, and playing again, even if carefully. Neeshka threw me a grin and had just turned to hamstring one of the creatures attacking me. I wondered how long the defensive wall around the mage would last.
Turning my attention fully to the fight again, it wasn't that long until the ground seemed to shake and the evil felt to be straining from underneath us like a waterspout, and I prayed to Tyr that we were ready for this.
- x -
This was a much better form, as I had the bulk to push most of them away. I wasn't all that sure if I'd be able to fly even aside from the close quarters, but I didn't want to give them free shots at my less armored belly.
Sweeping another group away in all directions, I caught another glimpse of Lon. She looked to have reached a stalemate with this ass inside his wall, even if she'd lost her one blade. He didn't seem to be casting any new spells and her skills didn't end like magic spells, so she could wait him out.
After another flurry where Grobnar and Neeshka dropped out of the fight, Sand's wall made a nice place to push them against. Even if it didn't kill them, they were toasted nicely if they'd gone in a couple of times first.
What I didn't like seeing was that Lon had lost her last sword. She didn't have time to get anything out, and all she had now were maybe some daggers and her shield, not very effective. If I could have sworn I would have, but I couldn't change back just for that.
A bolt at the mage changed direction in midair, and I knew the damn forcewall was still there.
- x -
My sword sailed off and I heard the laughter from the mage as the last bit of my grip loosened, and I wanted to howl. With it floating behind him now, it flew into a building, making a horrible screech as it was embedded nearly hilt deep in the wall. No real weapons now, I was in deep shit.
I tried to 'step back to my guys, but nothing happened.
So I could only watch him and hope I could get another weapon, or that his defense would end and I could try to break his arms or hands to prevent him spellcasting.
Then the ground shook and most of what we were standing on shone with a red light, looking like a red liquid about to boil. I wasn't standing in it in here, but the ground no longer looked solid where my guys and friends were fighting. I wanted to warn them, but I wasn't sure they heard me when I did. I hadn't heard hardly anything through the forcewall since I'd gotten inside.
It was like the ground was becoming the base of another pillar, and that light made scary changes in my friends' appearance. The light brightened and seemed to boil upward, burning Bishop's wings and even some of the building we'd just come out of. More of the cold creatures seemed to be boiling out of the ground even as our group had more trouble with their footing.
All warmth fled, and I couldn't even see them hardly at all, only the forming of the pillar where they'd been. I only could hear the ass laughing as I tried again to leap at him. Again and again.
- x -
Even with my current shape, I was starting to get tired. Karnwyr was drooping, and I tried to convince him to help Neeshka protect the spellcasters. He either couldn't hear me still or was ignoring me.
I faintly heard Lon yell something while looking in our direction, but not what.
She was right there, only a few dozen feet away, but I couldn't get to her. Why was I here? Fighting these things was useless, as more kept coming. I just wanted to howl, like Karnwyr was, but I couldn't stop fighting long enough...
- x -
The ground shook again, and it looked like the pillar was starting to grow upwards, like some kind of crystal. A numbing burst of cold and it grew enough that my friends lost their purchase on the ground and skidded off into the mob of creatures.
Less nimble or injured, I didn't see any movement for far too long from where Grobnar and Bishop had each fallen. I had to watch the piles of creatures and got sick when I saw them disperse again, leaving only a smaller, bloody lump at one and a creature waving a ripped off wing like some trophy above the other.
My voice was ragged before I realized I heard its laughter again, full of contempt. My vision swimming, I leaped at him over and over with my daggers, losing each one...
- x -
The glimpses I had of the combat and my lady were alarming enough, but I realized that my footing in the red light was not as secure as it should be. There was no true shaking ground, despite the rumbling I could hear and feel with my feet. The evil was increasing in a torrent all around us. Our enemies were not increasing, their arrival was possibly slowing a little.
A muffled shout from Elondra, and the darkness was far stronger around her. Even through the wall, the evil was rushing out so much I was blinded by it and felt like I was collapsing under its weight on me.
Failing to defend myself in my preoccupation I was wounded, and someone else must have killed my attacker. With a prayer to Tyr and casting my last protection spell I looked around myself again.
The light shed by the pillars had intensified, to the point that I could have easily read very fine calligraphy, if it weren't such a disturbing hue. An updraft of cold surrounded me, like a blizzard gale from an impossible direction. In that flood of evil, I realized some of the attackers were not evil like the others. But if they were summoned, they should be of a like kind in their darkness...
"Some of these are phantasms," I shouted when I could breathe from the flood around me.
Soon Sand and Grobnar disrupted a portion of our attackers, and we were gaining a foothold. The mage seemed to be doing little from what I could see. He seemed to be taunting my lady, even if I could not hear what he said.
"We are on the fulcrum from this pillars' growth, but where is the conspirator for him to sacrifice?" Sand asked in alarm as he cast his spells. "These summonings would not be souled for that kind of magic."
Looking about us, I could see no others present, even with the illusions no longer visible.
After I heard a faint shout from her, Elondra was now attacking him with only daggers, even if with little effect.
Feeling disturbed by the way it was focusing only on her, I was afraid we'd fallen into a trap. I shouted that she come out. She didn't react to my shout and I was sure this was not an accident.
"Sand! You have to take that wall down," I called, unable to turn my attention away.
A muttered word I hadn't learned yet, and he said with an edge of concern, "I used my last disintegration earlier."
That left... and I moved over to Bishop, knocking some of his attackers off their feet by plowing through them with my shield up. I shouted, "She can't hear me, someone has to get in there. Do it."
Sweeping through his other attackers so they were turning to me, Bishop became a bat and flew towards our lady.
- x -
His shielding spell kept me away. I caught glimpses of Cas and the others, still fighting, but they were losing slowly as the ground shook and they were getting hemmed in.
I had to pause in my attacks, as the shield kept me away, even if I attacked from a different direction. Maybe the spell that pulled my weapons away had run out, but I wasn't sure...
His voice was amused, and he told me, "You will have an excellent view tonight. Once the last binding has been removed, I will be finally free of those staples tying me down to the Sword Coast. I can leave this shell and wander these realms and planes, making you little mayflies destroy yourselves for my amusement."
This time when I hit him it wasn't blocked, but he barely bled. He waved a hand and I quickly lost my last daggers. When I looked around for anything to use as a weapon, I couldn't see outside the forcewall sphere I was in. I didn't hear anything for the last little while, but the entire courtyard was full of the glowing red light as the new pillar climbed towards the moon.
I didn't even see when it happened, when the others died, and my heart lurched.
There was no one left and I wailed until my voice was completely gone, trying to pound his face in. I wasn't even hurting him, and his face was the same glowing, glass-like red of the pillars. All he did was smirk at me like I was some child with a tantrum.
- x -
I changed to something small and less of a target and looked for the borders of the forcewall. There wasn't any I could see or hear from the echoes, it seemed to merge with the ground and buildings around them. Lon didn't even notice my bouncing off it as she attacked.
He wasn't even casting much magic on her, not if he could hold off Sand. How could I get in?
Thinking over the forms I'd already tried, and the ones I'd seem before, nothing came to me for endless seconds. Elanee was much more experienced with animal forms, and I wished she was here. Then I remembered Naloch, who could burrow very well.
Changing to a badger was easy and the ground wasn't that hard to dig, so I started a trench opposite Lon and behind the bastard. I could faintly smell my Lon now, even if not see her as well through the damned wall.
- x -
He even stopped pretending to be casting more spells. Grinning, he'd only crossed his arms when I had to pause my swings. "Every show needs an audience, doesn't it? None appreciated my skill in removing the other bindings, and I will just have to settle for a pathetic slut who has no power of her own to witness my escape. I would have preferred an equal, or at least one more powerful than a half-hearted wench who can't even keep a single one of her lovers alive... I don't even need to kill you, you'll fade into nothingness on your own."
Nothing... no one and nothing left, and it felt like I'd been gutted and hollow.
I wasn't even invisible, but useless and unable to stop him while the world was falling down around me. His laughter at that was like acid pouring into my ears and I wanted anything to wipe that smile off his face. I thought I'd disintegrate, I wanted to kill him so badly. Blindly reaching around for one of the blades he'd knocked away, I felt a familiar hilt slid into my hand with a grating sound and I was unable to even scream my anger and loss as I took a firmer grip.
- x -
We'd finished the creatures only instants before a flash of white light came from inside the force wall. I knew Elondra had no scrolls that would do that.
Blinded for a moment, the first thing I heard was an "Uh-oh," from Neeshka. "I think that was like a gate."
We'd all turned towards the the sphere, and my lady had the Sword of Gith again, after so many months without it. She had paused in whatever she'd been planning, and took one stiff and awkward step.
She spoke, but her voice sounded like metal scraping on metal and carried perfectly to me, to my growing horror.
Flat and emotionless, she stated, "We knew slavers of your ilk, stealing the innocent and warping the minds and souls for your play. We will destroy you at any cost."
The smile on the mage was unchanged, still gloating...
Great Tyr, no! "He is the sacrifice, it's all for this!" I shouted as I beat on the force wall and Elondra began to attack. I prayed that Tyr would intercede as I tried to get her attention.
- x -
I slid under the wall just as there was a flash, and I heard another new voice from ahead of me. Looking at my Lon, she had that damn sword again and sent the cloud of blade fragments at the mage. He deserved to be filleted.
She sent the shards at him, even as I noticed Cas was beating on the force wall, shouting that she stop.
Looking closer, her eyes no longer had whites and irises, they were completely gray like woodsmoke as she flayed that bastard from a distance. That wasn't my deer and I wanted her back. Changing forms again, I heard the faintest sound of one of Grobnar's new songs as I did.
Lon paused in her attack, blinking.
Charging at her with my antlers down, I had to get her away from this ass. I hated the feel of trapping her against the wall, and she stiffened as one of my points found a gap in her armor.
When she dropped the Sword hilt, I changed back and wrapped my arms around her to kiss her hard, saying, "Don't."
Her eyes still a flat gray, she finally seemed to see me and she wrapped one arm around me too.
Then I realized which song it was the bard was playing, and barely managed to pull away from her.
The wizard was looking less pleased and not far from dying. He began casting again, but slowly due to how Lon had hurt him. I changed to a gelatinous cube, so he wasn't going to be brought back and he wasn't going to be a threat while he died. He tasted cold.
I bandaged Lon up and healed her after setting her on my lap. The wall would go away, but I already felt warmer from holding her close. Cas was holding his hand up on the wall near hers, and she matched him with a weak smile on her face.
- x -
One arm around my ranger, I hated the fractions of an inch between me and my paladin. He didn't even seem to notice his minor scrapes and injuries from the fight. I refused to even look at the Sword, though I could feel it there without touching it, and see the dim light of its glow.
Everyone seemed okay, and not long before the forcewall disappeared, the red light faded from the sky and even the ground felt less cold. I knew the wall was gone when Cas's hand touched mine and he pulled us into his arms. Then with their arms around me, I cried.
In a few minutes, I stopped as it was beginning to feel silly, saying, "I thought you were dead."
With a faint smile Cas said, "That will come some day, my lady. But you wanted us to promise not throw our lives away, and that same applies to you."
Sighing, I had to say, "I'll try," around the lump in my throat. It really sank in they were going different ways after death, and all I had was while we lived.
Clearing his throat to get my attention, Sand offered sourly, "The threat seems to have passed, with the pillars and associated effects gone. It is too bad that we do not have the instigator to learn more of what it was. Perhaps we can learn more from survivors already imprisoned, as it was not destroyed, only its priest or proxy."
Grobnar looked tired, but pleased with himself as he drank a soothing potion, winking at us before testing his fingers and tuning.
"I believe we have time, Sand, to investigate properly," Cas announced, "The evil is fading as is the howling I've been hearing for some time."
"We could look for goodies on the way out," Neeshka said with a grin.
Pulling me to my feet, we started to retrace out way back inside the Goose.
- x -
We finally made it back to the Flagon at nearly noon, falling into bed. We'd been exhausted and didn't speak much aside from washing off a little. Bishop was the first asleep, with his head settled on me.
Casavir also looked drained, but he traced my cheek and said, "We need to speak about it as soon as we can."
Looking at the Sword where it hung with my others, I had to say slowly, "I don't know anything, it just appeared when I was..."
With a snarl, Bishop added, "Your eyes were wrong when you spoke."
I could feel myself cringe, but Cas ran his hand over my hair until I could slow my breathing. No one said anything else and sleep pulled me down quickly.
We'd been woken by Pameran who was worried we were going to miss the event at Castle Never. We weren't late, even if I was still exhausted when I was dressed in my teal dress with that heavy embroidery for the ball. Cas and Bishop didn't look any less tired in their matching outfits.
I wasn't on duty, but I felt like I had a hangover and hoped there'd be some good food or cider.
Once we got there, I wasn't much more than half awake and didn't feel like talking. I'd explained some last night and details could wait now. A few threats and promises from me, and Nevalle left us alone.
For all my exhaustion, not much happened, and I was almost counting the minutes until I could leave and go back to sleep. The only thing I remembered was the shocked look on Nevalle's face when Nasher named his heir.
- x -
A/N: Thanks to my beta reader, who's been kind enough to point out stupid flubs. Any typos that remain are not intentional... Reviews or a PM to let me know what you think would be very appreciated.