Warm sunlight penetrated the bedroom's interior through intricately designed windows, small particles of dust and leaf visibly drifting through. The young half-elven man lying on the silken bed slowly opened his eyes, the blurry shapes before him slowly becoming distinct. An elven lady sat at the foot of his bed, hands set in her lap. Her features were faintly familiar... she smiled gently as he looked upon her, just now noticing the crown of the Seldarine that graced her silver hair.
"I see that you have finally come to. We were worried that you would remain lost- it is good to see we were mistaken."
The voice was familiar as well… it began to draw his memories back. The fight with Irenicus at the Tree of Life. Killing him... and being dragged to Hell alongside the mage. The trials of his spirit- Irenicus turning into the Slayer. His soul… he sat up abruptly, his eyes wide, almost unwilling to believe what his heart and his spirit told him. The last thing he could recall was seeing Irenicus crumple before him, finally dead at the hands of him and his companions. His soul had been returned- and life had apparently been restored.
"I almost did not believe it when the priestesses told me that your body was showing signs of life again. Only a handful of our priests have the power to resurrect those who have passed beyond, but when your bodies would not respond to their spells, we moved onto those who could still be saved. Only a dozen or so were brought back, but we feared we had lost all of you. We were about to give up when you began to stir this morning."
"H-how… how long was I…?" Greywulf whispered, Queen Ellesime sitting back with a smile.
"Dead? A couple of days, no more. However you managed to find your way back, it is good that you have done so. You have done a great service for Suldenesselar. You saved the Tree of Life and myself, ending Irenicus' threat. To lose you or any of your companions would have been tragic." Ellesime said softly.
"And it would have made my travels much lonelier, for that matter. I have become... accustomed to your guidance." a deep voice echoed from the opposite side of the room, Greywulf smiling with relief as the scarred visage of Solaufein slid into the room, his dark robes for once illuminated in the light of the dawn. "It is good to see you again."
"Solaufein... feeling better? Things were touch and go for a moment there, that much I remember." Greywulf pushed himself up far enough to shake the drow's hand before wincing at the protesting of his muscles. He lay back down as Solaufein drew back, allowing his body to rest.
"Much, Greywulf. With the Tree healthy and free from Irenicus' assault, my mind is as sharp as ever. But the tales we share must wait for another time; I merely came to offer you my support- we will speak more later." the warrior bowed lightly to both Greywulf and the Queen, then left the room as silently as he had entered.
Ellesime glanced at the portal through which he had left; she turned back to Greywulf and spoke quietly. "That he remains here is a testament to his strength of will and his bravery. He single handedly defended the citizens of Suldenesselar until you defeated Irenicus; without him, the drow forces that remained in the city would have slaughtered us all. Elhan, Demin... all of them watched as he fought his brethren."
"Tell him I owe him a beer." Greywulf sighed quietly, letting the feel of the sun on his face warm his body and relax his spirit. "I know he didn't want to stay behind, but from the sounds of it, everything worked out in the end."
Ellesime paused as though to say something else, then apparently thought better of it and continued. "I have planned a ceremony to reward all of you and to show our gratitude for your actions. You and your companions are heroes to the elves…perhaps even legends in the making. But enough of this, for the moment. You will need to rest and regain your strength. I will send a priestess to awaken you when it is time."
Something in the way Ellesime had chosen her words, the careful way in which she spoke... Greywulf sat up abruptly; a chill passed through his body as he hoped for the words he somehow knew wouldn't come. "Wait! You said... you said we were drawn back, that we were reborn... what about Keldorn? Is he-"
Her eyes betrayed the words she did not say.
Greywulf bowed his head, slumping back down on the bed as the last hopes he had held were dashed from him. "We fought Irenicus again... in whatever Hell he dragged us to, we all battled again. Keldorn… he didn't make it. Irenicus turned into the Slayer and I couldn't do a thing to save him."
"Do not blame yourself, Greywulf." Ellesime comforted, coming back to kneel beside his bed. "He followed his heart... his duty, until the very end. The great cycle of life must inevitably end in death… do not mourn his death, but celebrate his life, Greywulf. Do not mourn…"
Her words soothed his spirit, and he found himself drifting away once more, floating away in the mixture of grief and relief that he felt, back into unconsciousness. Hours passed, and soon turned to days. The six survivors were reunited in both joy and love, their bonds only strengthened by the trials endured. Ellesime was true to her word and a ceremony was eventually held, where every elf in Suldenesselar able to stand, sit, or otherwise attend came, gathered in the palace hall. Ellesime stood before her throne, Greywulf, Imoen, Jaheira, Minsc, Solaufein and Aerie before her. Demin and Elhan flanked the group on either side, honor bearers for this magnificent ceremony. Ellesime bowed to the six outsiders, then looked out amongst the crowd gathered. She took a breath, then proceeded. "Those of you who have survived the return of the Exile to Suldenesselar know me, your Queen… but only some of you know the hero, Greywulf, sorcerer of Candlekeep, who was most instrumental in saving our city and the Tree of Life."
She gestured to Greywulf, speaking to him now, though maintaining a voice loud enough for all to listen. "Such selfless acts almost resulted in the loss of your life, and perhaps much more than that. These deeds were not performed alone… Suldenesselar also extends its gratitude to those who have traveled with you and fought by your side to help save our city."
"Jaheira, warrior druid of the elves of Tethyr." Jaheira remained motionless at the mention of her name; glory had never been what she wanted. This celebration, this ceremony- none of it was necessary for her. All she had wanted was to avenge Khalid... and it was done. Greywulf looked into her eyes, and nodded in satisfaction at what he saw there. Peace.
"Aerie, cleric of Baervan Wildwanderer and Avariel mage." Aerie looked almost as out of place here, at the center of attention, as she had when first joining their group. It seemed like so long ago, even if it had only been several months. Still, the old Aerie would have fainted on the spot, shrunk away and hid from the attention focused on her. Not anymore- Aerie was ready to face the world and every challenge that was headed her way.
"Minsc, Rashemaar ranger." the big ranger grinned broadly at the mention of his name, though he did seem a bit miffed at the lack of mention of his ever-present mentor and guide. Regardless, he simply held Boo in both hands near his chest, remaining quiet as Queen Ellesime spoke. Of all of them, Minsc was quite possibly the only one who truly understood his path. Fight for what was right. Defend the helpless. Do good. Call the man naive, and many did... but never, ever, to his face.
"Imoen, archmage of Candlekeep." the mention of the title 'archmage' brought an enormous grin to the girl's face- it was a mischievous grin that spoke to just how much the title appealed to her sense of pride, and Greywulf knew she'd be harping on it for days, if not weeks to come. Just like the old Imoen, before all of this... it was a welcome change, though one that he knew could never prove permanent. Too many things had happened for Imoen to ever be completely the way she used to be: Spellhold, losing her soul... losing her memory and trust to Greywulf in the Underdark. Things would never quite be the same between them... but it'd be close. And for the two of them, that would be enough.
"Solaufein, warrior of Ust Natha." the drow's face was expressionless; no matter how many accolades Queen Ellesime heaped upon him, Solaufein knew the truth. The elves here would never see him as one whom they could really trust or honor above their own. He was a drow, an invader. Very few on the surface would show him the honor and trust of Greywulf and his company. Perhaps, in another time, this might've bothered him, made him question his decision to venture to the surface. The voice of Eilistraee lingered in his thoughts, the sound of her speaking to him. The edges of his mouth curled up. No- it had all been worth it. Just then, he felt another's gaze resting upon him and he glanced to the right, noting Imoen's gaze resting upon him. She tossed him a wink before turning back to face the crowd. He paused for a moment, then smiled to himself. Definitely worth it.
"All these have suffered, bled… and died." Ellesime looked to the wall behind her, the apex of the grand throne room of the palace. Encased in radiant crystal, the Holy Blade Carsomyr was displayed for all to see, awaiting the next man with courage and righteousness enough to wield its power. "Sir Keldorn Firecam, a paladin of Torm, was the final member of those who fought against Irenicus in mortal combat. He fell in battle against Irenicus himself; the very last victim of Irenicus' terror. He gave his life so that we may live… the ultimate sacrifice. We call those who yet live heroes, but if anyone here is worthy of that title, it is Sir Keldorn. He was but human, and in the end, one of the saviors of elf-kind. His memory will be honored, his deeds never forgotten."
She turned back to the crowd of elves, raising her voice as Priestess Demin stepped forward along with six other elves to offer their gifts to the adventurers. "There is no reward adequate enough for these who have done so much. Let us offer, then, the eternal thanks of our people, alongside amulets of the Seldarine to remind you forever that you are welcome here amongst us."
Ellesime smiled faintly as she watched the amulets bestowed, then turned back to the crowds, her voice barely faltering as the words she spoke became so much harder.
"As for the man whom we once knew as Joneleth, I can only say that he died long ago; he lives in my memory still. To the man he became, the Exile, Irenicus- he who performed atrocities on you, the Tree and his former people… to him I can only send my prayer that he finds the peace in death he never found in life. I feel I must… apologize, on his behalf. For what he put you, the people who trusted me with your safety, through. For his madness, we stripped Joneleth of his elven immortality and exiled him…only to create Irenicus, instead. I cannot help but feel we are partly responsible. It is something I shall have to ponder on. I pray that I shall regain your trust in the days to come."
She raised her hands and bowed to the six before her. "Let all of Suldenesselar raise the cry… these are our saviors. Let us treat them with the respect and the honor they have so rightly earned."
X X X X X X
Heat and flame licked at his body, stirring him from the unconsciousness he had lapsed into for so long. His face contorted into a frown, eyes still closed as he dragged his arms back from their outstretched position, trying to get a grasp of his surroundings. He blinked once, letting his vision return to him.
Irenicus clutched his head as he managed to climb to his feet, looking out before him in horror. He stood on the edge of a precipice, leaning over a lake of fire and brimstone below, belching forth sulfur clouds and ash into the air. He raised one hand, letting ash float down to his palm, as though assuring himself he was truly in such a terrible place. It was true. After everything he had done to avoid it, put it off… he was in the Abyss.
"To end… like *this*?" Irenicus whispered in disbelief, an explosion of molten rock spitting forth lava from the lake below.
A chittering noise and a flash swept behind him in a blur; Irenicus only catching it with the very edges of his vision. The initial sense of panic he felt calmed quickly, Irenicus comforting himself with the fact that despite it all… he still had his power. He could still feel magic coursing through him… destroying something to take out his frustrations would feel so good.
He whirled with a snarl of victory, flashing his palm outward to invoke his powers of destruction… only to have them fizzle worthlessly in his hand. Irenicus looked at his hand with despair, the shouted a word of power and thrust his hand again… once more producing nothing but a purple spark in his hand. He looked up helplessly, his body gripped with fear.
Dozens of chittering, bug like demons snapped and crouched before him, each one eyeing him hungrily. The foremost ones paced back and forth, slowly drawing near to him… one charged from the pack, snapping and clawing voraciously. Irenicus whirled out of the way, slamming one arm into the back of the demon, sending it careening off the cliff to the fires below. Another came, this one stopping short as Irenicus dropped a double fisted blow on its back… only to be pushed forward amidst Irenicus' screams as the whole horde charged, covering the wizard and pushing him backwards until they all fell as one, disappearing into the fires below.
X X X X X X
"Want some company?" Jaheira's voice broke through the fog of memories Greywulf had surrounded himself with, staring out the balcony of the room he was in, overlooking the whole of the city of Suldenesselar from the palace. "You look lonely."
He turned to see her approach, dressed in a long emerald robe, a small wreath of leaves adorning her long brown hair. "Never when you're around." Greywulf returned, embracing her gently with a kiss to the cheek. "Just thinking, that's all."
"Lots of things, I guess." Greywulf shrugged. "What we'll be doing now… where we'll go. I mean, after we help the city clean up a bit. Invading drow… just like invading orcs, both make such a mess. It's been so long since we haven't been driven somewhere or other by people trying to kill us… this is kind of a new feeling."
"A good one, though." Jaheira murmured, laying her head on his shoulder. "The elves are planning a funeral for Keldorn in a matter of days… they say that he'll be the first human ever buried in Suldenesselar."
"Do you think he'd have rather been buried in Athkatla, with his family?" Greywulf asked quietly.
"I thought about mentioning it to them… but then decided against it. He will be with them regardless… and I think he would have liked being buried here. Peaceful- this is what I think he was always looking for, anyway."
"I wish he could have found it in life. It's funny. We had two sparring sessions- we never got around to the third one. He said his last battle would be with Firkraag. But by following us-" Greywulf began before Jaheira shushed him with a finger, her green eyes flashing with a warning.
"By following us he avenged his family and reached the end of his labors on earth. I will hurt you if you try to blame yourself."
"I know I shouldn't… but still, another friend to bury." Greywulf sighed with a smile. "I was thinking earlier about Gorion, too… thinking about what he must have been feeling when he took me and Imoen in… knowing the risks and dangers he faced for it. He must have had every chance and reason in the world to give up on us."
"He didn't, though… and I've never been more thankful." Jaheira said wistfully. "Gorion knew what he was doing. He often spoke to Khalid and me of the day you would surpass him… the day your power and wisdom would exceed his own."
"Yes… it was not spoken with the air of fear or wariness. It was pride. He was proud of you, Greywulf… proud of the man you have grown to be. Keldorn was too."
He smiled with gratitude and kept one hand clutching hers, the two of them looking down at the city view together. "So... about this whole marriage business I brought up before... should we tell the others? I mean, they're going to want to know. Ellesime could probably perform the ceremony for us if we wanted-"
"Are you in some kind of hurry?" Jaheira arched an eyebrow. "Come now- have you ever known me to be impulsive?"
"Not in the least." Greywulf chuckled as she pulled him close. "I suppose we might wait for a bit. At least long enough for me to find a ring and all that."
"Very well then." Jaheira gave him a teasing smile as they broke off a kiss. "After all… for once, we have all the time in the world."
X X X X X X
On a hillside overlooking a small village, five figures stood, quietly watching. Waiting. The giant among them glanced behind at the army gathered at their backs. A mass of bodies, armored and ready to strike at a moment's notice. He growled with impatience, only for one of the others to speak quietly, her soft tones as commanding as they were gentle. "Patience. This is the moment which shall be remembered in history as the beginning of our ascension. Try to savor it."
"Will it?" one of the others muttered, just loudly enough for the man standing beside him to snarl, a guttural growl coming from his hood.
"Having second thoughts, monk? Don't tell me you're losing courage at this juncture."
The monk barely listened, watching the people in the village below scurry about their business, scarcely aware of the danger that lurked so near. Unaware of the death and destruction that was about to reign down upon them so soon. Death that he would bring upon them, whether by his choice or not.
"No. Not at all. What of Gorion's ward? He has become far more powerful than we anticipated..."
"He should have been dealt with sooner." the giant rumbled. "I shall crush him, with or without my armies-"
"He is of no importance. Forget about him." one of the others cut him off, her tones enough to chill any listener in the evening air. "There have been enough delays. Once we begin, we cannot stop until the Throne is ours. You know this..."
The men and women glanced at one another, knowing the truth of this statement. There was no going back, once they gave the word- but it had to be unanimous. They all looked to the monk, awaiting his assent. He took one final look at the village below, as though hoping that they had made a mistake, that the one they sought was not among them... no. He could feel the taint below, the spawn hiding amidst the other villagers. He had no choice. The monk nodded, and the giant grinned as he roared, a booming echo across the hills and into the village. The peasants below who heard the sound were taken by surprise; they looked to the top of the hill- just in time to scream in terror as an army swarmed over the hillside, bent on the destruction of one man and anyone who stood in their path.
The Five turned from the slaughter, each one heading back to their respective strongholds. The Wars of the Bhaalspawn were about to begin...
Author's Post-Script: And with that... I believe we're done! My thanks to everyone who has been kind enough to read and review, and a special thanks to those who have stuck with this through the whole two-year run! A few honorable mentions: thanks to Kyubak for my very first review, and Bjrn Fallqvist for acting as my beta for a time, even if it was a bit short lived! To answer the question, a sequel is coming as soon as Slow Fade(shameless plug) is finished up. Until then, I would welcome and hope to hear from anyone who has yet to review. This was my first fic, after all, so if you haven't done it yet, I'm more than open to ideas, comments, criticism, the whole nine yards. Liked it? Hated it? Think I should never write again? Now's the time to let me know- and until next time, my thanks once again for everyone who read(and hopefully enjoyed) the story!