DAY EIGHTY TWO
I awoke before the sun’s rays rose above the horizon. I was restless the whole night and might as well not have slept at all. I ate a meager breakfast down at the bar. Not even a half a bowl of porridge. With so many soldiers needing to be fed there wasn’t much food to go around. I ate quickly, knowing I had a meeting to attend to. The War Chef, strangely, was no where to be found. Wherever he was, he certainly wasn’t in the inn attending to the customers. I asked an equally tired Cinna if she knew, but she hadn’t seen him since late last night. I shrugged it off and headed out, hopping aboard Socks. As I approached the outskirts of town a shadow descended from the trees. It was Mirath.
“You aren’t going with out me, alright?” He said, grinning. “Thought you might need somebody covering fire.”
In the hour before dawn all those assigned to get Aldoraen into the Queen’s Court gathered around Sandstorm and Malazhar. They asked we hold out our arms. Sandstorm approached me first. “Got these from some of the tattoo makers in the army. Figured they’d be useful.”
Four psionic tattoos sprang up from Sandstorm’s arms. I recognized them all: two of them tattoos of body adjustment, the other two tattoos of skate. They silently crawled onto my arm and made my shoulders and forearms their new homes. Sandstorm went around and gave four tattoos each to Cinna, Ishitari, and Thomytix. Malazhar possessed the same tattoos as Sandstorm and gave his to Pe Ell, Aldoraen, Cehos, and Mirath. They didn’t have enough for Malazhar’s projan brother, Thraenor, or any of Pe Ell’s drow but all seemed fine going with out. The meeting complete before the first light, we returned to town and awaited orders. There we kept mostly to our own group. I watched as the armies made last minute preparations before the battle. Amongst the countless soldiers I noticed Kimber, Cogline’s daughter, in battle-ready gear with Cogline’s panther by her side. She waved to us briefly before I lost sight of her, swallowed up by the maenad portion of our army.
“Thank you for your help, my king.” Came a familiar voice.
I peeked over my shoulder and couldn’t believe my eyes. There, standing before Thraenor, was the life elemental we encountered in the woods near Immos. He bowed his head curtly, the radiant light that naturally emanated from his body only partially masked by the simple clothes he wore. I saw Malazhar’s eyes widen in surprise. Most of us kept to a stunned silence, but not everyone.
“Oh great, look who else has changed on us.” Sandstorm groaned, rolling his eyes.
“Who the fuck is the king, and who the fuck is Malazhar?” Thomytix added. Both the life elemental and Thraenor shot him a look that instantly shut him up from saying anything more.
“Oh, I remember you!” Cinna exclaimed. “You were the one stuck in the pond!”
“Yeah, that’s me!” The elemental grinned. “This gracious one figured out a way to get me out of there.”
“Thraenor you did that?” I said, turning Socks around. I approached the two of them with awe. “How?”
“I asked Veritos if I could use the life crystal he was formerly in, and using that, I transferred the energy of the pond inside of it. I would have used my own,” Thraenor pointed to one of his earrings. “But neither half was large enough to contain the energy. Either way, now he can move around and still be connected to the pond.”
“And now I keep it here.” The projan unbuttoned his shirt. A single life crystal emerged from his chest where his heart would be. “That way I don’t have to hold it, and it looks pretty cool.” He kept the crystal out for a moment or two longer then returned it inside himself. He buttoned his shirt back up and bowed to Thraenor once more before returning to his people. The other projans, who at that moment weren’t in their gaseous forms quite yet, were delighted to see their brother once more.
Shortly after, Amara stopped by to inform Sandstorm she’d sent five thousand of her warriors North to help the Virathians push back the advancing illithids, and wished us good luck on our mission.
While we waited for our armies to head out Sandstorm and some other party members including myself wandered about the camps getting a few more last minute supplies. “Hey, could we possibly have some healing water to take with us?” He asked a maenad medic.
“The greenskins of Sky’s Well were generous enough to supply our medics with healing water, but I’m sorry. We don’t have any we could spare for you.” She replied with a bit of annoyance, “Isn’t your group going to have a projan with you anyways?”
“Are the greenskins not going to fight?” I piped in, a bit surprised.
The maenad shook her head. “They lost their leader not too long ago. Sending us healing water was the best they could do to help. Now if you excuse me, I have a few more things to attend to.”
Less than two hours after sunrise our combined forces marched into the Jerancer Woods towards Nefir. The races of Almendra had amassed an impressive army. Over twenty thousand men, women, and dromites of almost every race in the land had taken up the fight. Half our troops were the mukra at about ten thousand soldiers. The hearty duergar, with the second largest portion of our army, didn’t match half that number. Their gold-skinned kin and thri-kreen from Ishitari’s village were each two thousand strong. The maenads and humans made up another two thousand. Although there were less than a hundred xeph scattered everywhere in the ranks, they were not a force to be reckoned with. Most were natives to Almendra. Well, as native as a xeph could ever be. Those who’d fled from the desert were, for the majority, unarmed citizens with no battle skills.
Thraenor and myself, along with the rest of our troupe, took our places behind the five hundred elans and five thousand mukra leading the way into the city, just as the Druids had instructed us to. Intertwined with the reptilian foot soldiers were the three hundred half giants mostly from Aradi. For a moment I wondered if they would even fit inside the tunnels. Immediately behind us the maeands and humans waited impatiently for the armies to get a move on.
“We haven’t got all morning! What’s the hold up?” Shouted the maenad leader of the diamond knights.
The gold dwarves alongside them, by contrast, seemed content with sticking around awhile longer. And even though I couldn’t see past the thousands of warriors behind us, I knew my people were in the very back along with many of the fire and air elementals.
“Okay, troops, here is the gist of it.” Amanmal ordered, just before we headed out. “I can speak to you through my mind. This means silent communication. If we can pull this off, the enemy won’t hear me directing. This will be a huge advantage, plus I can direct those of you even really far away. Therefore, if you hear my voice in your head.” Like this. I heard him say inside my mind, “Then don’t be alarmed!”
The silver spiders that months ago blocked my way to Aimi were all gone. I couldn’t find a single one up in trees.
“I guess we don’t really need this door anymore.” Cogline sighed when we reached the door to Nefir. With a flick of his wrist, and with out even touching it, the Druid ripped it clear from its hinges. It flew off a dozen feet away with a clang. “Someone will forget the word in and then there’ll be people stuck outside.” He stepped aside to let others pass. Cogline would remain above ground working the portal, while Amanmal directed troops from the rear.
I nodded at Cogline as we passed by him. He nodded back with a smile. On the surface I almost took the smile as genuine, but it wasn’t enough to hide the sadness in his eyes. In that moment I realized with a heavy heart that would be the last time I would ever see him alive. I pushed the thought from my mind. We had a mission to do. If we were going to succeed I couldn’t let such thoughts overwhelm me just yet.
“Tough skin, tough heart!” The mukra shouted as the darkness of the tunnel consumed them. They pounded their fists to their chests and rattled weapons against their shields. Over the almost deafening chanting came Sandstorm’s cursing. He did his best dodging the roots and boulders along the tunnel ceiling, but with his height it was nearly impossible to avoid getting repeatedly banged up. I imagined the other half giants ahead of us were in the same position as he.
The battle came upon us faster than I anticipated. Not ten minutes into our descent and it had already begun. We couldn’t yet see what was happening, but it was no matter. The deafening roar of the clashing armies rattled the old tunnel walls. Small pebbles and pieces of dirt came loose from the shaking and fell atop of people’s heads. The metallic smell of blood, already unbearably pungent, wafted upwards from down deeper with in the tunnel.
By the time I got a glimpse of Nefir, the last of the mukra up ahead of us had joined the fray. The mukra’s chanting that lead us in had ceased. Replacing them came the cacophony of combat. Flanking the right and left sides of our armies were the water elementals. Their massive liquid bodies shielded hundreds of foot soldiers from the onslaught of sword slashes from the drow determined to break through the lines. Although quite effective at blocking their melee fighters, the water elementals were not enough to prevent the incoming array of thousands arrows and numerous psion blasts.
At times it was difficult to make out what exactly what was happening. Smoke sticks had been deployed and the air hung heavy with smog and smoke. But the smoke sticks weren’t the sole source of smoke. The Queen’s Court had been set ablaze, illuminating the battle like a scene out of the Abyss. Through the fire and fighting a horrifying realization dawned on me. The canons atop the Court were dismantled. But where were they?
Not more than five minutes into combat and the death toll was already enormous. Half the elans and half of the five thousand mukra were already dead, their bodies along with hundreds of drow littering the tunnel floor.
The earth beneath us shook violently. Springing up from the ground came hordes of earth elementals. Upon their backs rode the duergar. Our armies desperate for some sort of cover, the earth elementals quickly erected a dozen or so earthen walls, as we had planned a couple days prior. They became instant targets for the drow, who were determined to stop them from building more barriers.
The drow army numbered in the tens of thousands, and they were everywhere. I had never seen so many people of any race gathered in one place. Off in the distance came more rumbling. It was the second half of the ten thousand Mukra. They materialized behind the drow, part way into the city-hive, and flanked them from behind. Amongst them was the bulk of the duergar army. With the drow sandwiched between two massive forces the casualties on our side seemed to been abated. But the success of the flanking was short lived. A couple more minutes passed and many of the mukra and duergar were dead. Hordes of them began moving back farther into the city-hive, and if they moved much farther they might’ve needed to retreat entirely.
Whizzing by overhead came a barrage of fire balls and lightning bolts from the fire and air elementals from the very back. Accompanying the elemental’s attacks were a couple of Amanmal’s spiders. A few of them landed atop some turrets, but where the others ended up I couldn’t see.
“Everyone, go!” Sandstorm yelled over the deafening sounds of the battlefield. In the quick glimpse I got of his face don’t think I had ever seen Sandstorm look or sound that bothered before. His expression pained and melancholy, his eyes locked on the destruction before us.
Following Sandstorm’s lead we bolted for the entrance to the Power District off to our left. I got one last look at the battle before we passed beneath the archways of the district. To my horror I realized exactly what was decimating so many of our troops. Seated on the outer wall of the city were the cannons Voltun warned us about. The illithids must’ve moved them down from the Queen’s Court. And by the Queen were they effective. About two dozen thri-kreen lept up onto the outer wall in an attempt to disable the cannons, but more than half were shot down before they even reached them. By the time we disappeared from view only two of the cannons had been eliminated by the combined forces of the thri kreen and the maenad’s catapults. As we silently slipped through the side gate unnoticed, thousands of drow flanked the duergar and mukra from behind, trapping them between two oceans of grey and blood.
Judging from my map of the city and Voltun’s word the sewers were twelve hundred feet away. We kept to the side streets, ever watchful for possible enemies all around us. “Wait,” I whispered, holding up my hand. I inhaled deeply and summoned a dimension door on the side of an old warehouse. A trick Cogline taught me a few days ago. I beckoned the others to go through it. “I can get us closer this way. Quickly!” One by one, the members of our troupe disappeared into the portal. When the last of us went in I followed after, reappearing on another side street only five hundred feet away from the sewer grate.
Just then a small patrol of four drow came around the corner. Aldoraen saw them first. He sprung into action before the rest of us had a chance to react. He bashed one square in the face. A single spike of mind blade energy jutted out from his fist and went through the drow’s skull, killing him instantly. Then the other drow were upon him. Aldoraen grabbed a hold of two by the throat and threw them against the closest wall. His original spike had vanished. The drow suddenly shrieked, blood pouring out of their mouths. Aldoraen let go and the two slumped to the ground. We watched in horror as the drow choked to death on their own blood. They each had a single puncture wound through the jugular. The remaining drow lunged for Aldoraen, screaming furiously over the deaths of his comrades. The maenad easily disarmed him of his longsword and threw him to the ground. Mind blade spikes enveloped Aldoraen’s fist like thorns. He punched the drow over and over, even long after he was already dead.
“Interesting shape. Is that new?” Sandstorm asked, unphased by what we just witnessed.
“No,” Aldoraen shrugged, “I just thought of it.”
The screams of the first patrol must’ve alerted the enemy to our location. The drow spread out along the side streets as well as the main roads, making it increasingly difficult to avoid patrols. We had to move fast. We lost our first troupe member three hundred feet from the sewer. In the midst of another fight with the patrols, one of Pe Ell’s drow who’d taken up the rear was stabbed through the chest.
At about a hundred and fifty feet from the sewers it was nearly impossible to keep to the side streets with out being noticed. We made a bold move and turned onto one of the main roads. As we darted for the entrance I noticed fifteen of our drow weren’t with us. Pe Ell fell behind, running at a slower pace than I’d expect him to. He held up his open hand, turned sideways. He made a quick chopping motion and in the next instant the bloodied bodies of ten drow archers fell from the rooftops. Many had arrows locked and ready, but our drow eliminated them before they’d had a chance to strike.
By the time we’d reached the sewers two more of Pe Ell’s drow were dead. One from an arrow through the neck, the other cut down by the fiery blast from a psion guarding the entrance. We disposed of the psion and other soldiers blocking our way not long after, but from the shouting all around us more were surely on their way.
“You need to go. They know we’re here!” Pe Ell yelled over his shoulder, his sword Dmitri in hand. “Get in the sewers! We’ll cover you at the entrance here. This is where the other drow should be meeting up…Now go!”
There was no time to argue. Sandstorm yanked off the grate and threw it aside. Before he descended the ladder, he tossed Pe Ell all his tangle foot bags. “You can set up traps with these!”
Pe Ell nodded and threw a couple to the drow closest to him. “You heard the man!”
Ishitari and Aldoraen filed in after Sandstorm, followed by the rest of us. “I can carry you down.” Thraenor said into my ear so I could hear him over the shouting. He picked up Socks with ease and cautiously lowered the both of us down into the sewer. I shot one last look at Pe Ell. For a brief moment I wondered if I’d ever see him alive again.
The thought was pushed aside by the overwhelming stench of shit surrounding us in the bowels of the city. Everyone was at least a little queasy from the smell, but Cinna looked like she was ready to puke. We traveled in near darkness for nearly half a mile. The only source of light a single torch held up by Thomytix. Dozens of rats, mice, and Queen knows what else scurried away from our foot falls. Thank the Queen we ran into nothing bigger than that.
“Well that was shitty…” Sandstorm said under his breath when we found our way out.
“Are you trying to be clever?” Thomytix exclaimed, gagging a little.
“Will the both of you shut the fuck up? You really want us to get noticed again?” Aldoraen snarled. For a moment I feared what he might do to them. He shoved both men out of his way and sliced open the grate with a mind blade. He glared at them over his shoulder, his hand on the ladder. “Come on, we’ll be quieter this way.”
Sandstorm shrugged and climbed up after the maenad. Thomytix and the others followed suit. Like before, Thraenor and I went up last. We were close to the secret entrance now. Two hundred feet away at most. It wasn’t long till we ran into more opposition. An illithid and a drow spotted us as we dashed for the closest side street.
We went in for the attack, all except Thomytix. The elan stopped dead in his tracks, his eyes opened wide in shock. Whatever it was, it must’ve been because of the illithid. He wasn’t able to move for the whole battle. Cehos, with arrows already locked, fired two. Both arrows made their marks deep in the illithid’s chest. In the next instant Sandstorm was upon him, and in one fell swoop the illithid’s head was severed from his body. With a torn piece of cloth Sandstorm knelt down and wrapped the bloodied head like a trophy around his sword hilt.
The drow, still alive and fighting, came for me like a demon out of the abyss. She screamed and raised her sword to strike. But I was never struck with her weapon. A couple of Mirath’s acid and fire arrows pierced her in the belly. The drow woman screamed in agony as she burst into flames. In the throes of death her burning corpse collapsed at my feet. Transfixed, I watched her skin and sinews peel away, layer by layer, until only paper white bone was left.
“Hey, let’s go.” Aldoraen shouted at Sandstorm, pushing him to get a move on. Sandstorm growled but did nothing to retaliate. I shook my head to clear the image I knew all too well had already been seared into my memory.
The entrance into the Queen’s Court was just up ahead. I cursed under my breath. The illithids must’ve figured out its location too. Guarding the door stood a pair of mind flayers, with ten drow surrounding them. Eight stood in a line, each with a long sword drawn and ready, and behind them two psions with staffs in hand. They hadn’t noticed us quite yet thank the Queen, so Mirath and Cehos took to the rooftops and got in flanking positions. Once up top, Mirath looked down at Sandstorm. He gestured at the enemies and mouthed for him to go. Wasting not a moment of opportunity, Sandstorm popped one of the skate tattoos on his left forearm. He charged ahead, straight for one of the illithids. At the moment of impact Mirath fired a thunderstone arrow into the fray.
In the midst of the chaos I saw Cehos going in for the kill, his arrows dead set on the second illithid. Two or three of his arrows struck their target, but surprisingly the illithid wasn’t dead just yet. He yowled in pain, blood gushing from the arrow wounds in his neck. His eyes darted from rooftop to rooftop but he couldn’t find the perpetrator before it was too late. A second later the illithid was struck again, and this time he was gone for good.
It took a couple seconds for the smoke from the thunderstone arrow to clear, but I could tell Sandstorm had wounded the first mind flayer badly in the gut. He struck again, and the flayer did not rise. Thomytix was at his fellow diamond knight’s side, staving off the drow attacking them. His scythe nicked the drow in the arm, but his second swing missed.
Both casters pointed their staffs at us, their eyes scarlet with rage. Bright flashes of light erupted from the tips of both and I instantly recognized what they were. I cursed again. Those were energy missiles. I raised my hands and erected an intellect fortress around us all. I hoped by the Queen this second trick of Cogline’s would be enough to protect us from most of the damage. I saw as at least two missiles struck nearly everyone in the party, save for Cinna and myself. Thomytix stood in front of Sandstorm and took some of his damage. To make matters worse, Ishitari, Sandstorm, and Thomytix were were all attacked by the drow with long swords seconds later.
I summoned a lance of electricity, and aimed it at the drow. In a moment, two of the swordsmen and one of the casters were electrocuted to death where they stood. Up on rooftops Mirath struck one of the remaining drow fighters. All of a sudden, an explosion engulfed the whole roof of his building. In the moment before the blast I swore I saw him fumbling and drop an arrow from his quiver. Meanwhile, Thraenor had slain two more warriors and severely injured the remaining caster. Sandstorm broke through the melee fighters and cut down the caster with a slice across the chest. Cinna struck another swordsman with an ice ray. On impact, a flurry of ice emerged and froze to death the last three drow surrounding him.
Now unguarded, we sprinted for the secret entrance. But we wouldn’t be alone for much longer. I could hear shouting coming from all around us. Once at the door we waited for Cehos and Mirath to get down from above. Cehos made it, but the fire still ablaze Mirath was pinned to where he was.
“I’ll cover you from here if you cover me!” Mirath shouted from the rooftops, some of the fire right behind him. “But hurry, please!”
“We’ll both cover you guys from here.” Ishitari interjected, mind blades drawn. When we didn’t immediately run inside she shot us a hard look. “Keep going! We’ll slowly go inward after you. But if you don’t get moving it’s going to be a killzone down here.”
“Then take these!” Thomytix told her, handing over his precious alchemic fire bombs.
“Thank you,” Ishitari smiled, “Those will be useful.”
“Stay alive! Run if you can!” Sandstorm called over his shoulder as we ran ahead into the belly of the Queen’s Court.
We were met with not a single patrol on our approach, but I could hear fighting going on up ahead. The whole Court was engulfed in flames. The smell of fire and soot hung heavy in the air around us.
By the entrance were two faces I was glad to see. It was Voltun and Veritos, both busy guarding our way in. The Consort was battered and beaten. One arm hung limp at his side, and his left shin was bent at an unnatural angle. On top of that the whole left half of his body was burned, and his left eye so swollen it looked more like a bruised tumor. Sword in hand, he called out to us. “We’re going to cut you a path. It’s upstairs, not in the mines. We passed it on the way down here.”
“Hey Thraenor!” Veritos exclaimed, “Good to see you again buddy.”
At that moment Thraenor transformed himself into a swirling storm cloud about the same size as Veritos. Coal red eyes emanated from the center, the eyes of a mighty hurricane. Lightning crackled with each movement he made.
Voltun gently slid himself down onto the ground and sat up against the wall behind him. He winced when the cold stone touched his shoulder. “I can’t really run, so you’ll have to keep going. I can keep this place guarded from here.” He put his sword in its sheath and loaded the crossbow strapped to his side. “Is there any more people coming with you all? There’s supposed to be a group of drow with you.”
“Pe Ell and his drow remained behind so we could continue forward.” I said, briefly looking over my shoulder at the tunnel we came out of.
“Same with Ishitari and Mirath.” Sandstorm added.
Crossbow bolt in place, Voltun grinned. “Well, I’m going to chill out in the doorway here.”
“Thank you for covering our asses like everyone else.” Sandstorm said to the Consort.
I wondered if he was really going to be able to defend the door in his state. “Please stay safe my lord.”
“Eh,” Voltun shrugged with his good shoulder, “Veritos will come back over this way later I think.”
Moving on, we left Voltun where he was and followed the two elemental kings to the base of the stairwell. Before we ascended Veritos and Thraenor stopped and turned to us. “We’re going to keep them out of the stairway and clear out this bottom floor. Help keep Voltun and you all safe.”
“Go,” Aldoraen bellowed impatiently, “Let’s get out of here!”
I smiled and nodded at Thraenor before I went with the others. We easily cut down a couple drow as we dashed up the stair case. Beyond that there was surprisingly little resistance. I feared that wouldn’t be the case when we reached the top. Fueling my sense of dread was the lack of commotion coming from the raging battle outside. The clashes of combat had ebbed. The ground no longer shook with the force of the earth elementals.
The top of the stairwell opened up to a room nearly devoid of all its walls. All except for its support beams had been torn out, revealing the fire had spread to other parts of the city-hive. At the room’s center was a giant brain. Guarding the massive organ was a lone drow leaning against the outer door frame. Upon seeing us a mind blade appeared in each hand. One glowed a vibrant purple, the other tinted dark red. He charged right for us. In a flash he slid underneath Sandstorm. A powerful gust erupted from his mind blades, slicing Sandstorm and everyone around him including me.
Reacting quickly, Cehos fired at the attacking drow. The arrows struck him square in the chest. Before he had a chance to strike back Cinna incinerated him with her fire ray. As he lay burning to death on the stone floor I noticed we were not alone. Soon, more encompassed us. One drow loomed behind Cehos about to strike. Before I knew it another was upon Cinna. I barely managed to avoid a strike from that same drow. Seeing an opportunity to attack, Sandstorm stabbed the drow that had gotten Cinna from behind. Cinna easily finished off her attacker herself. An aura of some sort, I assumed one of protection, surrounded Thomytix as his scythe slashed our enemies. Cehos killed off the drow going for him with Malazhar’s help. I shot at another drow with an electric lance. In the midst of the fight I popped one healing tattoo, although it might have been wise to save it. Malazhar’s projan brother swirled around us, patching up some of the damage done.
Aldoraen broke from the group and sprinted toward the unprotected brain. A myriad mind axes burst from his arms, legs, and even his chest. He hacked away and burned it with fire. Sandstorm threw his mind blade at the last drow but missed. The blade disappeared just before it collided with a support beam. He cursed and dashed after Aldoraen, his trusty pick materializing in hand. The drow finally met his end at the hands of Cinna and her ice ray. The rest of us ran toward the brain and began to attack it too. But we had to move quickly. I heard more drow approaching.
“We gotta hurry this up guys!” Sandstorm yelled. He put away his pick and prepared to attack a group of illithids who had just reached the doorway. “Come at me, I’ll kill every single one of you!”
Aldoraen dissipated his mind blades and silently left the now destroyed brain. He approached a strange door located on one of the support beams where the outer walls of the Court had once been. A location where no door should be. “Fine, I guess I’ll go through here.” He sighed, turning to us for the last time. A small knowing smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “Tell Cogline to go ahead and start that up.” He quickly opened the door and shut it behind him. For a brief moment I saw what looked like a room with almost unnaturally bright white walls.
Not a moment or two later Sandstorm shouted he’d sent the go-ahead to Cogline. I inhaled deeply. We did it, we got Aldoraen out of here. I hoped to the Queen that Cogline and Amanmal would have quick, painless deaths. I wondered what the two of them had thought right then, as the dimension finally died. Were they scared? Relieved? Hopeful? I wasn’t even going to die when the dimension did yet I was terrified our dimension might never reawaken again, the lot of us frozen in time forever. I was lost in my own thoughts when a blinding violet light enveloped everything. It reminded me of the light that emanated from Cogline’s necklace. Cogline…
The strange light washed over the city-hive and the Queen’s Court in the matter of seconds. When it washed over me it felt peculiarly warm. Almost but not quite comforting. And just like that, it was done. The purple wave of light was gone. So too was the odd door Aldoraen had been in not even a minute or two ago. It was as if nothing else had happened, and the world was still the way it was.
And yet, everything was different.
In a way I can’t quite describe I felt totally new. Something about me had changed but at first I couldn’t put my finger on how. I looked around. Sandstorm’s pickaxe was gone. I wondered if he had simply dismissed it but he was trying to summon it again but was struggling to do so. Thomytix’s shield was gone too. And where were his tattoos? Sandstorm’s too.
I examined my own shoulders. My psionic tattoos were no more as well. It was then I came to realize why I felt so different than I had just moments ago. I tried summoning a dimension door on the floor but nothing happened. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
My psionic abilities were completely gone, and it seemed everyone else’s was too.
It was then I felt a sudden weight in my hands and looked down. The last thing I expected was a book. The words Artemis’s Apprentice: The Beginner’s Guide to Incantations, Arcana, and Spells were inscribed in faintly glowing font on the cover.
Still disoriented from what just happened we had nearly forgotten that a handful of mind flayers were nearly upon us. They looked about as disoriented and confused as us, if not more so. But when they saw us their determination to tear us apart overtook any doubts. A few pointed their long purple fingers at us and stood there by the door frame for a moment. When nothing happened they snarled and tried again. Still there was nothing. Fear creeped onto their faces. Most stood dumbfounded where they were, while one or two of them fled back down the stairwell. One illithid seemed not as shaken as the rest by the sudden change and got out their sword, about to strike. The illithid froze mid-swing. The tip of a mind blade popped out from between their eyes. It was Ishitari. She tossed the corpse to the side, effectively scattering the remaining flayers. “So I guess I’ll have to teach you a trick or two about making one of these now that there’s magic here.”
Cehos cocked an eyebrow. “What’s magic?”
“It’s a thing Thorumak told me about.” Ishitari responded. “It’s not psionic in nature, and it doesn’t come from your mind. It just comes from the natural world. He said it would probably get here after all of this was over. It’s what he taught me to do. It’s still weak and not very good though since I haven’t been able to try it out.”
Sandstorm looked at her magical blades in awe. “So you’re using magic to manifest your mind blade?”
She nodded. “I’ll teach you how to do it too.”
“So,” Cehos continued, still intrigued. “Is this just another way to use psionics?”
“It’s not psionics.” Ishitari reminded him, “Magic is a totally different type of energy from psionics. It’s why the mind flayers can’t do anything. All of their power came from psionics and they don’t have that anymore.”
“Let’s worry about this later,” I interjected, anxious to get to a safer location. “We need to get the hell out of here.”
But it was like Cehos hadn’t heard me at all. He seemed preoccupied with something else entirely. He stared off into nowhere in particular, his expression a mixture of wonder and confusion. He shot a look at Cinna, who I then noticed had the same dumbfounded but elated expression as Cehos. “Is this the effect of the magic?” Cehos asked Ishitari, his eyes wide. “We can somehow hear the voices of other synads around the world now.” Ishitari shook her head. She was as clueless as the two synads were.
“Hey, what’s up?” I heard an unfamiliar voice say. It was an elegant shield hovering in front of Thomytix. “Somebody told me to come here to you. I came with the book,” It turned briefly to the tome in my hands, “But the book’s not intelligent like me. I don’t even know who sent me here. I couldn’t see him. But he told me ‘Hey, you’re going to go serve this guy well. He’s a cool dude.’”
“But shouldn’t we get out of here though?” Ishitari interjected, gesturing to the stairwell. “Mirath is just outside.”
Before we could make a move for the stairwell the floors and the support beams began shaking violently. Over by the support beam where Aldoraen’s door had been just minutes before was a small section of the walls that had not been torn out by the illithids. It was the epicenter of the shaking and for a moment I feared it had something to do with the battle. That is until with a thunderous crack that last remaining section of the walls was torn from the support beam. Floating in midair like a crackling thundercloud was Thraenor. “You guys should see this. We’re winning!” He said with a grin. Not far behind him was Veritos, who appeared a moment or two later. He unlike Thraenor couldn’t fly and instead had climbed his way up here. Veritos clung to the support beam with long claws of flame. “The drow are fighting on our side now!”
“What, why?” Cehos exclaimed in disbelief.
Thraenor shrugged. “Because they don’t like the illithids I guess.”
“You broke the fuckin’ wall, man!” A shout came from behind. It was Voltun leaning against the door frame. He managed to hobble up the stairwell after Ishitari and Mirath.
Thraenor laughed with a sheepish grin. “Oh, uh, sorry.”
Upon seeing him Veritos immediately went over to Voltun. The elemental king gingerly took the Consort’s good arm and helped him lower himself down onto the floor. Malazhar’s projan brother materialized beside them and began tending to Voltun’s many wounds. Veritos remained by his friend’s side as the projan worked, quietly talking into the Consort’s ear. Whatever it was they were talking about I couldn’t hear, nor would I have wanted to. I felt like I was prying just by staring at them too long.
“Will psionics ever come back?” Cehos continued.
“I hope not.” Ishitari replied, “Psionics came about because of problems of some kind with in this dimension. I don’t really know what exactly. We weren’t supposed to have magic either. We didn’t at first. But something went wrong and psionics came about. Now that it’s gone we don’t really want it to come back because that means that things are going wrong again.”
Sandstorm sighed in frustration. “Cogline isn’t responding to my missive!”
“Cogline’s dead.” I said to him, almost angrily. The words stung like a bitter venom. “Him and Amanmal are both dead.”
“So is Thorumak and all the other gods.” Ishitari added solemnly. “The planeswalkers and the gods are the ones who die when a dimension dies.”
“Who was the person who did that last thing that changed us? That killed the dimension?” Cehos continued.
“From what Cogline was telling you guys before, he said that some of you met this guy named Tyler.” She answered, “Tyler was able to planeshift and if he did it enough that shot him out of the dimension. He used up what remaining energy the dimension had, killing it. This dimension could have been in stasis for thousands of years, we’ll never know how much time has passed. But somebody brought the dimension back. Either Aldoraen or Tyler gave it energy again, allowing it to fix itself. It’s why the psionics went away.”
“We could’ve been in stasis for thousands of years?”
Ishitari nodded. “And we wouldn’t have even known.”
Sandstorm looked on edge and wanting to leave. “Well, we should worry about this magic stuff later. We need to get out of here.”
Malazhar approached the support beams and looked down through the area of the wall Thraenor had torn out. “We can’t get out of here now.” He said to Sandstorm, beckoning him over to where he stood. “Look at all the chaos down there. Looks like there’s some fire near the entrance too…”
Whatever more the two diamond knights were saying with each other I didn’t catch. If we truly weren’t going anywhere any time soon I figured someone should go check on Mirath. Just as Ishitari said I found him sitting on the marble floor just outside the doorframe. He didn’t look too great. Stabbed deep in his gut were two arrows, both wounds still oozing a bit of blood. A far worse sword slash to his right leg had cut him nearly to the bone, and it was bleeding even more so than the arrow wounds. A puddle of dark red blood about the size of a small child’s head had already pooled around where Mirath sat. I hopped off of Socks and dashed over to him.
Mirath looked up at me. “Didn’t feel like movin’ very much.”
“I can tell. Those arrows look like they’re in pretty deep.”
“Yeah. Can’t really take them out just yet though.” Mirath gingerly touched the feathered end of one of the arrows.
I nodded in agreement. “Well, it seems like we’re going to have to wait a little while before we can get out of here anyways, so you can rest for now.”
“What do you think I’m doing?” He laughed a little, but that only made him wince in pain. I sat down on the cold stone beside him.
A little while later Malazhar’s brother showed up with a look of concern. “Hey Mirath are you okay? Had to come check up on everybody.”
“Not doing too bad except for some arrow wounds here, but those can be taken out later. You can help heal the sword cut on my leg.”
The projan didn’t argue and began working on patching up Mirath’s leg wound. “That’s a pretty gnarly cut you got.” He noted. I watched as golden light sewed the flesh and muscle back together again. Once that was healed he moved on to the arrow wounds. After a few moments of prodding and investigating Malazhar’s brother sighed. “Yeah, I can’t take out the arrows yet. Might mess you up internally.”
In the midst of the projan healing Mirath, nearly about when he was done, Thraenor emerged from the brain room. He was about human sized again by then. He got down on one knee and gently put his hand on my shoulder. “Hey. Came over to see how you two were doing.”
“I’m fine.” I replied, looking up at him. “But Mirath…not so much.”
“Ah, I see.” Thraenor said, getting a quick glance at Mirath and the projan before his gaze returning to me. “We’ll get you out of here as soon as we can, okay?”
“I appreciate it.” Mirath piped in, smiling.
A half an hour passed before the rest of the others came out of the brain room telling Mirath and me it was safe enough to leave the Queen’s Court. Carried in Veritos’s arms was a still very injured Voltun. He looked exhausted. Barely able to keep himself awake. Even after the projan’s help, his wounds were too severe for him to walk too far on his own. I brought Socks over to me and told him to lie down. I motioned to Mirath to climb aboard. He agreed with out protest and with my help got himself into the saddle. His leg wasn’t fully healed yet and this way Mirath didn’t have to put weight on it as we got ourselves the hell out of there.
With the drow now on our side and the illithids either having already fled, killed, or captured the journey out of the Queen’s Court took little time and was spent mostly in solemn silence. Everyone was lost in their own thoughts it seemed, including me. I wasn’t surprised. We meandered back nearly the same way we had come, sans a trip down in the sewers. Bodies were strewn in piles in the streets and alleyways. Some the remains of those we had killed. The overwhelming smell of death was pungent, and it only got worse as we approached the Western tunnel.
I wanted to faint the moment we passed through the gates out of the Power District to the tunnel. The awful stench hit us like a stone wall. But I don’t know what was worse, that smell or what we saw. I can hardly begin to describe the utter destruction. If I thought the piles of corpses we passed in the streets of the Power District were bad, they were only the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of bodies of numerous races coated the floor of the tunnel, in some places piled so high they reached more than half way up the outer walls. So extensive was the amount of dead it was unavoidable to not step on some if we were to make our way from the gates to the rest of the tunnel. I fought back tears and whispered frantic apologies under my breath with each step. Some steps were nearly mush, while others crunched loudly as bones snapped under our weight. I felt blood and Queen knows what other fluids coat the bottoms of my feet. I covered my mouth with one hand and took deep breaths, desperate to not puke all over. Both in the distance and close by came the terrified cries of the injured. Projans whizzed by overhead, busy scouring the battle field looking for them.
Up farther ahead in the tunnel were signs of life. Dozens of tents had already been set up. Medical tents. The base of operations for the projans and medics in a frenzy assisting the hundreds of wounded. And it was up there we figured we should go. Mirath and Voltun needed more medics than the sole projan amongst us.
Standing outside one of the first canvas tents was a sight for sore eyes. It was Pe Ell. He looked tense and on edge, with a few bruises and scratches here and there, but thank the Queen he had nothing more serious than that. He hastily beckoned us over upon picking us out from the droves of medics and wounded passing him by. “Come on over here, there’s extra beds in this tent. Did everything work out fine?” He asked with trepidation as we approached the tent, “Is everyone safe?”
“Yeah, we got Aldoraen out of here.” Malazhar confirmed.
“How about you?” Sandstorm asked Pe Ell.
“Not too great.” he replied, “Only three of us made it out, and one of us has major injuries. We are inside here, treating her wounds.”
“We got two wounded dromties with us,” proclaimed Veritos to the medics inside the tent. “And one of them is the Consort.”
They sprang into action at the word Consort. “Bring them over here.” A gold dwarf replied.
Veritos gingerly placed Voltun onto one of the beds. Upon doing so Veritos shrunk down to the original hand-sized elemental we met him as. He clambered over to the Consort’s ear, I imagine to whisper words of encouragement as the medics worked on him. A couple times the Consort yelled out in pain, particularly as they cleaned his burns. The elemental king remained by Voltun’s side for the rest of the day. I don’t think he left not one time to go do anything else.
Word of Voltun’s survival spread around to the other dromites rapidly. Many swung by in an attempt to gain a visitation with the Consort, but were shooed away by healers. Voltun was in no condition for an audience. But despite this and the amount of death most of the other dromites I saw were in good spirits. We had driven the illithids out, reclaimed our city-hive, and our Consort was still alive. Queen Nera I’m sure has already been told the news.
I guided Socks over to the other available bed. A projan lifted Mirath from the saddle and had him lie down. As the medics began working on removing his arrows I briefly looked over my shoulder to see Pe Ell return to where the other two drow were being treated. One of them I recognized. She was the bald woman we had met back in the Forge. She was sitting upright with her right arm bandaged in a sling. A badly broken arm shattered by an illithid I was told awhile later. The other drow was another woman, and the seriously injured one Pe Ell had told us about. Her left leg was nothing but a stump from the knee down, the bandages covering it stained with dark red blood. The handiwork of a psion’s blast. It appeared she’d lost a lot of blood from the wound already. She was in and out of consciousness and at that moment lie sleeping on her cot. As I write this she is still hanging on, but barely. I hope by the Queen she survives the night.
I don’t know how much time had passed, but sometime later a familiar mukra entered the tent. It was Amara’s tactician. He beckoned the party and Pe Ell to walk outside with him, a melancholy look in his eyes. I braced for the worst.
“Hello, I’m Aduras. I’m the tactician from the mukra army. You may remember me. I have some grave news to tell you…” He began, his voice somber. His eyes were on Pe Ell. It was almost as if Aduras was talking to just Pe Ell and we weren’t even there. “The leader of the mukra company, Amara, has not survived the battle.” Aduras hung his head and closed his eyes briefly, “She was a great friend and a leader to all of us. I figured that you would want to know of this, seeing as you knew her and brought her to the surface.”
Pe Ell nodded once, his expression grave. “Thank you. She was a good friend to me too. Tough skin, tough heart.” He put his hand to his heart just as the mukra had at the start of the battle. Aduras proudly did the same. The tactician didn’t stick around much longer than that. Just long enough to break the news to us, and I’m sure he had others to go tell.
Around the same time Aduras left so had Sandstorm. I recalled he had been uncharacteristically nervous the whole journey from the Queen’s Court to the medical tents. He had us move fast without any stops the entire way there. It was then it hit me as to why. His dad fought in the battle, and I’m sure he went off to discover his father’s status. For hours we saw nor heard anything from Sandstorm until he briefly stopped by about an hour ago to say something to Malazhar. I didn’t mean to overhear them, but I heard enough to know he had indeed found his dad who was seriously hurt, but alive.
In the meantime Cinna, Malazhar, Ishitari and I assisted the medics inside the tent. With so many injured it was difficult for the medics to attend to all of them. We helped the wounded as best we could, often back and forth between different tents grabbing supplies for the healers. Thomytix also tried helping out, but being his elan self he ignored the medics’ orders a couple times. It annoyed the healers immensely, but try as they might they couldn’t get him to listen to them. At one point Thomytix ran into Malazhar, spilling the medical supplies in his hands.
Malazhar had enough of his shit and elbowed the elan hard in the gut. “If you’re not going to really help then don’t help at all.” He hissed.
“I know what I’m doing. I don’t need people ordering me around.” Thomytix retorted.
Without hesitation Malazhar punched Thomytix square in the face, knocking him out cold. Malazhar dragged the unconscious elan outside the tent and left him there. Cehos went around helping the healers a little bit, but what else he did I am unsure. He was often gone for long periods of time. Shortly after Malazhar put Thomytix outside Cehos left the tent with an empty mug in hand. Upon his return the mug was gone. It wasn’t seen again until Thomytix stumbled back inside with it in hand.
It must be late into the night by now. Time flew me by while helping healers, and now I am exhausted. The number of injured and dead is staggering. With hushed voices I heard some of the medics say the dead reached the tens of thousands. They estimated a bit over ten thousand had perished fighting on our side. The drow had suffered even greater casualties. From what they said, fifteen thousand drow lay dead, and the numbers for both sides might climb even higher as the days went on and more bodies were accounted for.
But really, the drow are no longer our enemies. I saw just as many drow as the rest of us assisting and healing the wounded. The removal of psionics shattered the iron hold the illithids had on them. I’m sure Pe Ell is pleased his people cannot be controlled by the mind flayers any longer. His people are finally free.
My home, the great city-hive of Nefir, has been changed forever by this battle. The area around the Western exit lies in complete ruin. We shall have to rebuild nearly everything there. The outer walls have crumbled and numerous buildings were scorched by flame. But we dromites are not alone in the rebuilding effort. We have the rest of Almendra to help us.
We cannot go back to the way things were. We can no longer shut ourselves off from the surface world. We cannot reject or deny any longer that we are tied to this world just the same as the surface dwellers are.
The surface dwellers are not a hopeless cause. I have suffered greatly during my banishment, but I have also learned there is just as much goodness and kindness with in the surface dwellers as there is evil and cruelty. Us dromites cannot flee from their evil any longer. If we want peace we must face it head on, together, alongside the other races of Almendra. That is what we accomplished today. The races of Almendra stood together, resolute, to put an end to a great monstrosity plaguing our land.
I myself have changed over these past couple months. I began this journal frightened of anything and everything up on the surface. Now, I am no long as fearful of the surface dwellers as I had been in days past. I have grown stronger, both in mind and spirit. The surface and its people challenged me in more ways I can account for, and in a way I am forever grateful for my experiences.
I should head off to bed soon. There is so much more work to be done here in Nefir. It might take years for the city-hive to be fully repaired from today’s events. Just removing all the dead from inside here is a monumental task in of itself. And the illithid threat still has not completely been extinguished. We need to find out what’s going on in Osdon and the rest of the world. Has the rest of the world broken free of their grasp as well?
There is so much work to do I am unsure if I can continue writing in this journal. Why should I, if the other dromites and I are now tied to the surface world? It seems silly to continue writing about my days on the surface world if we are all a part of it now.
There’s been so much death and suffering around me, but strangely, I feel hopeful for a greater tomorrow. My people have our city-hive back. The drow are no longer slaves. All the races of Almendra have a chance now to establish peace with one another. It will be a difficult and challenging road ahead of us, but not impossible. This dromite learned to love the surface, and I think the other dromites can too. Nothing is impossible.
Farewell my journal, and to whomever may read it someday. May The Queen give you prosperity for the rest of your days.
— Vilu Kethech