Catlindra knew the time had come to strike. If she could only distract the filthy creature for a moment, maybe Alustriel would come to herself and offer some sort of resistance. If not, at least one of these hulking demon-things would go down with them.
She gripped both blades tightly, carefully planning where to strike. She had no knowledge of the demons' anatomy or where would be the best place to hit one. Maybe one blow high and one low would cover all the possibilities. She would have to be careful to compensate for the slight balance problem in her new blade...
And then it struck her. The sword was off-balance because it was missing the great gem that fit into its pommel. What were the chances?
She reached inside her cloak, and found the Gem of Truth nestled there where she had stowed it. "Seek the Blade of Truth in the abode of Lord Marogance, the lich," was what Lady Nightbird's note had said.
Catlindra bit her lip, desperate with hope. "Please, Lady Tymora," she whispered. "Let it be."
She pushed the gem into the empty socket on the sword's pommel. It clicked into place as if it had never left.
Blue fire raced up the length of the blade. Catlindra felt an unbelievable exultation at the feeling of power. The tiny hairs on her arms all stood on end. It tickled her, and she giggled like a schoolgirl as she looked around her.
The demons were no longer there; they were illusions, nothing more. Catlindra couldn't believe she had ever been taken in by such a shoddy pantomime. Where Chaldara's gruesomely mangled corpse had been a moment before lay Chaldara herself, apparently in a dead faint, but whole and unbloodied.
The ghouls, unfortunately, were still there. They were all too real. When she looked at Marogance himself, however, she experienced only confusion. She could still see the lich-lord clearly enough, but her mind couldn't recognize or interpret what it saw. It resembled the feeling one gets when one unaccountably can't remember the name of a friend one meets on the street. In this case, however, it was Catlindra's eyes that could not seem to remember.
"What are you doing, fool?" snarled the thing that must be Marogance. "Do you think I'm so improvident that I didn't protect myself against all sorts of weapons, magical and mundane? I shall let the ghouls have you first. You will watch, still alive, while they devour first your arms, then your legs..."
"Alustriel," called Catlindra, desperately. "Lady, you have to take the blade. You must see..."
Alustriel did not turn. Her head bowed a bit more, and two tears splashed upon the paving stones at her feet.
"Lady, please," screamed the warrior woman. "Just catch the blade as I throw it to you! Alustriel, can't you hear me?"
Suddenly, a word sprang into Catlindra's desperately whirling mind. She didn't know what it meant, or why she had thought of it, but she screamed it out, in the throes of mortal desperation. "Dlaertha!"
Catlindra gasped. She knew it had been she who had shouted the word, but the voice had not been her own. It had seemed to resound within her mind from all directions at once.
But Alustriel had heard! She stared wide-eyed at Catlindra, looking as if she had been slapped hard across the face. "You spoke my true name," she said wonderingly.
"Alustriel, catch the sword," cried Catlindra, and threw it pommel-first toward the High Lady.
Alustriel caught it reflexively. As she did so, it was as if layers and layers of clouds fell away from her eyes and her mind. The demons vanished from her imagination. Although the illusion of Chaldara's slaughter had never registered in her own mind, she realized why the others had reacted to her collapse the way they did.
She turned to face Marogance. As Catlindra had seen before her, the lich-lord seemed neither here nor there. She realized that he must be cloaked behind an astonishingly complex web of illusions to resist the power of this blade. Perhaps if it touched him physically...
Alustriel knew that she was no swordswoman. She also knew that even a seasoned warrior like Catlindra could never get close enough to the powerful lich to strike a blow. Alustriel was a mage, not a fighter. Her weapon training was woefully limited, except when it came to...hurling daggers.
She was an expert at the thrown dagger. It had started as a reluctant exercise in self-defense, in case her spells ever failed her, and had gradually become a hobby. Three hundred years and more of practice had made her deadly with the things, and she'd frequently beaten seasoned warriors, rogues and bards in knife-hurling contests. She knew that no single dagger thrust could harm this creature, and she also knew that he would most likely be warded against injury by any sort of physical weapon. Still, if her theory was correct, no actual blood would need to be drawn.
She pronounced the words of a simple spell – one she only bothered to memorize in the hopes of making some mundane daily task easier. The blade shrunk in her hand to a fraction of its normal size...to the size of a dagger.
With blinding speed, she hurled the enchanted blade at her former tutor. As she had guessed, he was warded against it; and fortunate for him that he was, for it struck him hard in the center of his chest – most likely a fatal strike for one without protection.
Alustriel sensed a terrible screaming noise within her consciousness as two mighty magics strove against each other. Marogance staggered back as if grappled by some unseen foe. His eyes squeezed shut, and when he regained his composure a few seconds later and opened them, Alustriel could see that they glowed with a golden light.
"You are not Marogance," she hissed at the thing. "You are a Shadowmaster – a shapeshifting Malaugrym. What have you done with my teacher?"
"What do you think, idiot?" he hissed back. "I destroyed him, right after he so courteously sent you that message summoning you to help him. If he had truly cared for you, he would not have lured you into such danger, would he? And at any rate, destroying a lich is an act of good, by your own ethics. You should count me as a hero."
"And so you thought that by killing me, you would bring about the downfall of Silverymoon and of civilization in the North."
The Shadowmaster laughed. "Not at all!" he howled. "I desire nothing more than to murder you...and all your filthy bitch-sisters, and those fools Elminster and Khelben...when you meddled with us, you opened the doors to things that you must not be allowed to see. You are the only ones who can perceive the Great Secret without being destroyed by it. And so we must destroy you all...now!"
He raised the Great Keystone above his head and hurled it against the pavement at his feet. The gem shattered.
To Catlindra, the next few second seemed to pass in slow motion. Alustriel fell to her knees, screaming in agony as the entire power of the mythal tried to force its way into her. A sudden idea intruded into Catlindra's mind: her catlash, she knew, reacted in an odd way with the magic inside the mythal. Lady Nightbird had mentioned something about the Mulhorandi magic that created the weapon being incompatible with the type of magic that formed the mythal, and that since all magic cast within Myth Drannor was "subsidized" by the mythal, the catlash reacted in an unpredictable and disruptive manner within the ruined city. That was why Catlindra had had to warn Alustriel to stay away from her during the battle with the ghouls.
In one motion, Catlindra pulled her catlash from her belt and sent its tendrils streaking out toward the thing with the golden eyes.
When a large object passes through a whirlpool, the spiral of water is momentarily dispelled until the object passes through, and then resumes once more. So it was with the protective magics that surrounded the Malaugrym. The creature knew what was happening, knew himself to be suddenly vulnerable, and glanced fearfully over his shoulder as his protective magics faltered for just a moment.
That moment was one moment too long. His last sight in life was of Kaldura's mace rapidly approaching between his eyes. Then the paving stones were painted red and pink with his brains and blood.
Everything after that was a blur to Catlindra. She sank dizzily to the floor just as a light burst into the room. She was vaguely aware of the ridiculous Morninglord Sephin rushing into the room, a small army of Lathanderite priests and warriors at his back...among whom were Shaliira and Taruele. Sephin's face was twisted in rage. "Furnace fire and damnation," he screamed, "there shall be no more ghouls here!" He thrust his hands out before him, and a rush of appalling power blasted forth, vaporizing every one of the dozens of undead creatures in the Dome.
Then all was blackness. Catlindra saw nothing, but heard a gentle voice within her mind. She recognized it as the voice that had come from her own mouth when she had called out Alustriel's true name. Now that she had time to think, she realized it was also the voice of the vanished bard, Lady Nightbird.
Afterwards, Catlindra couldn't remember any specific words that had been said to her. But there had been gratitude, and reassurance, and power.
"Lady Mystra," was what she was murmuring to herself when she came back to her senses.
Catlindra looked over at Alustriel and saw that she was dishevelled and sweaty, but was smiling back at her. Mystra had been with her as well. The terrible burden of the mythal had been lifted from her, and all had been set right with it. The Company of the Catlash stood gazing anxiously at her – Chaldara and Catlindra a bit bleary-eyed, but otherwise none the worse for wear. In the background milled various and sundry clergy of Lathander. Morninglord Sephin was blustering loudly around the Dome, searching for any wisp of vapor or fragment of bone that might indicate the presence of more undead.
"How can I begin to thank you all?" Alustriel asked her companions.
They looked at one another. Jandeth was the first to speak.
"Well, Lady, I don't know how to put this, but...I stink. We all do. You wouldn't happen to have a magical bathtub with you, would you?"
They all laughed. "In the basements of my palace in Silverymoon," replied Alustriel, "there's a large pool fed by a hot spring. In the palace above it are many warm rooms with soft feather beds." Six pairs of eyes grew wider with her every word. She held out her unicorn-headed staff. "Anyone who wishes to go, simply place a hand upon my staff and I'll open a gate home."
There was no hesitation. "Catlindra," said Kaldura gruffly, "I knew you'd lead us to glory sooner or later." And then, in the wink of an eye, they were gone.