Authors: Richard Baker
By Richard Baker
Print Date: July 2005
Last Mythal series, Book 2
ISBN Number: 0-7869-3756-4
Avalones version 1.1 fixed ocr error and wrong line break
26 Kythorn, the Year of Doom (714 DR)
In a gentle summer rain shower, Fflar Starbrow Melruth and his company fought for their lives on the outskirts of Myth Drannor. The streets of the Sheshyrinnam-the Temple Wardwere choked with blood-maddened throngs of gnolls whose battle cries sounded like the barking and snarling of hyenas. Towering mezzoloths, insectoid fiends armed with heavy iron tridents or simply their own sickle-like claws, waded through the feral gnoll warriors to reach the elven ranks
“There are too many, Fflar! We cannot reach the tower!” cried Elkhazel.
The sun elf swordsman was not generally given to despair, but Fflar could hear the hopelessness in his voice. All morning long the armsmen in Fflar’s command, a sturdy company of Akh Velar infantry, had fought alongside many others to repel the assault on the Temple Ward. But the evil warriors came on without a break, heedless of their own lives.
“We cannot abandon Crownfrost!” Fflar replied. “The arms-major is still fighting inside!”
He turned away from Elkhazel to meet the attack of a pair of axe-wielding gnolls. He cut one down with a quick drop and thrust into the warrior’s midsection, deflecting the blow with an expert turn of his left-hand dagger. The other simply disappeared into the confused melee. Unfortunately, Elkhazel was rightthere were too many foes, more savage warriors and hellspawned fiends than Fflar could have imagined in the whole world. So many gnolls lay dead or dying in the street surrounding Fflar’s company that the elves could not form ranks or fight the battle of maneuver that might have favored their quickness and skill over the gnolls’ brute strength.
Only forty yards ahead of Fflar’s embattled company, the pale walls of Crownfrost Tower rose over the streets. Home to one of the city’s wizard schools, it held no great secrets that Fflar knew ofbut it happened to be a strongly built building on the city’s outskirts. As such, the fiendlord commanding the enemy horde had chosen to launch his assault on that part of the elven city by seizing Crownfrost. Arms-Major Olortynnal had had no choice but to deny it to him. Somewhere in the tower Olortynnal and a small company of elite bladesingers and champions fought to repel the horde’s attack, but the press of gnolls, mezzoloths, and other foul warriors had surrounded Crownfrost, keeping the elf armsmen outside from going to the aid of their commander.
We need a better plan, Fflar thought.
He stepped back from the front ranks, searching for some alternative, some order he could give that would change the character of the fight. As long as his soldiers were under assault from nearly all sides at once, there was little he could do.
He glared at Crownfrost, so near, and yet so unattainable, and to his surprise he spotted a pair of elves fighting desperately on the broken battlements-Arms-Major
Olortynnal himself, commander of Cormanthyr’s army, and his second, Arms-Captain Selorn. Mezzoloths attacked the two recklessly, coming on despite horrible wounds, and nycaloths flapped ponderously in the air above the tower, closing in for the kill.
“Fflar! The arms-major!” Elkhazel called.
“I see him,” Fflar answered. He didn’t know how he could help the beleaguered champions, but he had to do something. Shouting a war cry in Elvish, he dashed forward into the line again, and hurled himself against the press, slashing and cutting on all sides as he struggled step by step for Crownfrost.
By the random opportunities of battle, or by the fury of his own counterattack, Fflar found a narrow space around himself.
“Follow me!” he called, and pressed ahead.
When next he found the chance to look up to Crownfrost, he saw a nycaloth alight behind Selorn and cleave the arms-captain to the breastbone with its heavy axe. The blow crumpled the warrior to the ground at one stroke. Olortynnal half turned to meet the new threat. With his back unguarded, the mezzoloth that had been in front of him stepped close and jammed the points of its trident between the elflord’s shoulders. More weapons flashed, and blood splattered the wet stone of the tower’s top. The arms-major sagged, only to be seized by the nycaloth and hurled down from the battlements with a shout of infernal triumph.
“Arms-Major!” Fflar cried.
Olortynnal struck the white flagstones of the street only a few feet from Fflar and lay still, his sword Keryvian clattering from his loose fingers. The gnolls all around Fflar hooted and yipped, shaking their weapons in delight, while the young captain stared in dismay at the broken body of Cormanthyr’s great champion.
“Olortynnal… .” he said.
A gnoll standing near the fallen elflord stooped and split the dead arms-major’s skull with its battle-axe. It howled in delight and shook its gory weapon in the air. Fflar’s momentary horror vanished in an instant, replaced by a white-hot fury. Without even knowing how he did it, he hurled himself through the remaining gnolls and rammed the point of his long sword through the breastbone of the gnoll that had struck the fallen Olortynnal. The creature spun away, Fflar’s blade lodged in its heart, and wrenched Fflar’s sword from his hand.
Gnolls all around the young captain snarled with hate and moved in, axes and maces raised. Fflar found himself standing astride Olortynnal’s body, wielding only a dagger in his left hand.
At least I will die defending a great champion, he told himself.
Then his eye fell on Keryvian, the arms-major’s sword.
Quick as a fox, Fflar discarded his dagger and stooped to pick up Keryvian. It was a heavy hand-and-a-half sword of arcane blue steel, its edges slightly wavy, its hilt worked in the shape of a blue dragon’s head and wings. Whether it was meant for him or not, he was in need of a sword, and better that he should take it than leave it to be stolen by gnolls or broken by demons.
A brilliant azure gleam sprung from the blade as his hand touched the hilt, and a cold steel voice seemed to whisper in his mind. I am Keryvian, last of Demron’s blades. I will not fail in my strike, warrior.
Fflar nearly dropped the weapon in astonishment, but he was already in mid-swing, a wicked uppercut that sliced through the throat of the nearest gnoll and ended by cleaving the snoutlike face of a second one standing nearby. Keryvian burned with holy fire, and Fflar wheeled to face any other gnolls nearby.
They were backing away from him, yellow eyes fixed on the mighty sword. Fflar’s soldiers cried out in acclaim, and surged forward to drive off the savage warriors, cutting down any who did not run. A great shadow fell over Fflar, and he looked up to see the nycaloth who had slain Selorn spiraling down toward him, great black wings spread wide, axe dripping in its claws.
“Get away from my prize, fool!” the monster bellowed. “I slew him. I claim his arms!”
Keryvian burned bright in Fflar’s hands, and the captain raised the sword above his head in a high guard. The big warblade felt as light as a willow switch in his hands, and he could feel it burning with holy wrath against the infernal creature approaching. Fflar met the master with a grim smile.
“There is no prize for you here, hellspawn!” he called to the nycaloth. “Come any closer, and I will send you back to the foul pits from which you crawled!”
The nycaloth roared in wrath and plummeted down on Fflar. Despite his defiant words, terror knotted his chestbut then Keryvian spoke again in his mind.
I will not fail in my strike, the sword promised.
30 Tarsakh, the Year of Lightning Storms (1374 DR)
The high mage’s summons found Araevin Teshurr in his workroom, quietly making ready to leave Tower Reilloch. He was just finishing with the last of his spellbooks, efficiently stowing them in a well-warded magical trunk, when the lilting voice of Kileontheal, last surviving High Mage of Reilloch Domayr, whispered in his mind.
Mage Teshurr, please join us in the great hall, she said. We would speak with you.
Araevin looked up at the interruption, and a flicker of impatience tightened his brow. He had frankly hoped to avoid this leave-taking, when it came down to it. But no elf wizard declined a summons from a high mage, let alone a roomful of them, and he knew that Kileontheal was not alone. He sketched a graceful bow to the empty air. “I will come,” he replied.
That is the second time this year I have been called to the great hall by the high mages, he observed. They are beginning to make a habit of it.
He shook his head and placed the last spellbook in the trunk, closing and locking it with a whisper of powerful magic. Then he straightened and surveyed the workroom with a long, slow gaze. For better than eighty years Araevin had belonged to the Circle of Tower Reilloch, earning the right to call himself Mage, as well as the respect of his fellows. But the time had come for him to leave his studies there.
He caught a glance of his visage in a mirror hanging by the door, and smiled without humor. He looked the same as he had the day he first set foot in the tower, a tall sun elf with a long, sparely built frame, and an intelligent, inquisitive expression to his bronzed face. But his eyes were colder than they used to be, and there was a hardness to his demeanor that hadn’t been there only a few months ago. After arduous travel, great battles, and deadly peril in the wildernesses of Faerun over the past four months, Araevin had become as sharp and unyielding as a blade of fine elven steel, as if fate had conspired to hammer out of him the ease of his former life.
He did not like the way that felt.
“Enough delay,” he told the face in the mirror. “I am not so important that I can expect high mages to wait on me.”
But Araevin took one more moment to touch his hand to his chest, running his fingers across the smooth purple gemstone that lay embedded there. The selukiira of Saelethil Dlardrageth was invisible to any but a wizard’s eyes, and it lay concealed beneath his clothing, but Araevin found that he was hesitant to appear before Kileontheal and the others with the stone on his person.
They will notice if I do not bring it, he decided.
He frowned into the mirror again then slipped out the door, locking it behind him with another word of power. Even though Tower Reilloch was arguably one of the best-defended places on Evermeet, Araevin had acquired a very active sense of caution of late. Only a few months before, the daemonfey had proved that even a wizards’ tower in Evermeet was not beyond attack.
Araevin strode easily through the familiar halls, strangely ill at ease on the day of departure. But the Queen’s Guards who stood watch before the hall’s doors of blueleaf and mithral greeted him amiably enough, and admitted him to the high mages without hesitation.
Bright sunlight filled the great hall, streaming in through the simple glass panes of the dome overhead. The high hall had been virtually demolished during the daemonfey raid against Tower Reilloch, but in the hundred days since the battle, artificers had worked long and skillfully to repair the battered chamber. The dome was not yet set with magic theurglassthat was the work of years, not monthsbut for the time being mundane glass served well, filling the elegant hall with slanting rays of warm spring daylight.
“Ah. Welcome, Araevin. Thank you for joining us.” High Mage Kileontheal stood amid a half-circle of five high mages, the most Araevin had ever seen together in one place. She was a slender sun elf woman who might have been a girl of thirty, but she was in fact a full five centuries in age. Like all high mages, Kileontheal embodied a spirit of tremendous power in the frail envelope of a mortal, the potency of her Art almost shining from her wise face and slender form. She had been gravely injured by a madness spell during the daemonfey attack on the tower, but she had since been restored to her power and sanity by subtle songs of healing. Kileontheal had been fortunate; the High Mages Philaerin and Aeramma Durothil, the other two high mages of Reilloch Domayr, had not survived the attack.
“I am at your service,” Araevin replied, bowing.
He stole a quick glance at the other high mages who stood with Kileontheal. To his surprise, he recognized the Grand Mage of Evermeet, Breithel Olithir himself. Next to him stood the wry and good-humored moon elf Anfalen, then a cold and distant moon elf diviner named Isilfarrel, and finally a stern old sun elf whom Araevin guessed to be the lorekeeper Haldreithen.
“Are you well?” Kileontheal asked. “How is Ilsevele?”
“I am well enough. Ilsevele is in Silverymoon, visiting the court of Alustriel on behalf of her father. I have not seen her in a couple of tendays now, but we have spoken in sendings.” In truth, Araevin had found that he had become accustomed to being apart from his betrothed. Despite the months they’d traveled together earlier in the year, they had spent years away from each other during their two decades of engagement. “How may I help you, High Mage?”
“I have heard that you intend to leave Tower Reilloch,” Kileontheal said.
“Yes, High Mage. I feel that my studies here are concluded, at least for now. It’s time for me to follow my own road.”
“Where will you go?”
Araevin glanced at the others, who stood watching with impassive faces. High mages did not assemble for small talk, and he could not believe that they were all so interested in his comings or goings.
“The House of Cedars, Lady Kileontheal. I have not kept it up as I should have. And its solitude will suit my researches well.”
“I am sorry to see you depart Reilloch, Araevin. So many of our comrades were lost in the daemonfey raid. Tower Reilloch is not the place it used to be.” Kileontheal studied his face for a moment then added, “But perhaps you are not the mage you used to be, either.”
He looked up sharply at that. Kileontheal did not miss much, did she? He met her gaze levelly.
“No, High Mage. I am not. The trials of the last few months have hardened me, and Saelethil’s selukiira has provided me with whole new fields of lore to decipher, things I could not have imagined before.” He indicated the great hall with a turn of his hand, “I have done everything that I can here at Reilloch.”