The remaining half giants from Aradi arrived in town a few hours after I’d eaten breakfast at the inn. The majority of them were women and children, with the few warriors who’d been left behind to defend their village while the rest were at war. I’ll never forget the look of relief on Sandstorm’s face when he saw his mother and siblings. Both him and his father were busy all morning finding a place for them to set up camp amongst the thousands of canvas tents dotting the forest around Aimi. The combined forces are spread out over a couple miles at least.
“The Virathains are actually really good with those purple worms!” I heard Sandstorm’s youngest brother say excitedly as he led his family away. I swear Sandstorm’s eyes grew wide at that.
As the half giants were about done getting settled into their temporary new home the whole earth shook beneath my feet. A massive army of Mukra, more than fifteen thousand strong, marched into Aimi. Leading them was Amara, who looked more than glad to see our troupe once again.
“Wow, we’re going to have quite a push.” Sandstorm said, amazed.
“Yeah, we pulled some in from around here.” She grinned.
With the Mukra here our army was nearly complete. By noon today all but one race had sent troops to join the fight. But just when everyone thought they were never going to show up, five hundred elans rolled into town from Pollt. For some damn reason they felt the need for fireworks and streamers. They made a huge ruckus and a mess we had to clean up later. I could almost see everyone collectively roll their eyes at them.
“I really think they should lead us into battle.” Cinna snickered while we waited for Cogline to return from a meeting with the elan generals. They stood less than a hundred feet away from us and it was getting increasingly difficult for us to contain our laughter.
“Lead the charge, yeah.” Sandstorm chuckled.
“I want to see their glorious fighting prowess that I’ve heard so much about.” Cehos exclaimed obnoxiously over his shoulder so the elans could hear. Cinna clapped a hand over his mouth to hush him up but it didn’t stop her from giggling.
Somehow Cogline managed to keep a cheery demeanor the whole time he chatted with them, but that broke the moment he was done. “Bastards.” He cursed under his breath as he approached us. He confirmed the elans had indeed taken a liking to our idea and wanted to lead the charge, with the Mukra behind them. The duergar were going to work with the earth elementals in setting up the barrier between us and the cannons, and the dromite casters were going to take up the rear. He told us to return to the tent he’d constructed for us and wait for further news.
“I’ve got an idea.” Voltun began as he entered our tent a half hour later. Coming in right behind him was Veritos, no longer the small ball of fire he could fit in the palm of his hand. The fire elemental towered over every one of us. Even Sandstorm by a foot or two. “Why don’t we put me and this big guy right up there on those cannons. He’s got a cool thing he can do too. He can just flow down on all sides of the Queen’s Court. Light all those cannons on fire.”
“That would work.” Sandstord agreed, “But will you burn all the cannons or get access to them?”
“Probably burn most of them. Access isn’t going to be helpful unless we get enough troops there to defend them after we get them. I’d rather just destroy them.”
“Yeah, eliminate them so they don’t have as much fire power.”
The Consort raised an eyebrow. “They probably have archers still.”
“That’s what the thri-kreen are for.” The half giant grinned. “They can jump super high and slice off heads, while duergar are in the back with Vilu’s people. The lizardmen and the elans will be in the front and middle, and we’re coming in right behind the lizardmen.”
Voltun nodded in agreement. “You can sneak past the lizardmen army to where you need to go.”
“Yeah, and the gold dwarves are healers and probably near the back too.”
“Where are the life elementals going to be?” I wondered.
Sandstorm shrugged. “Probably in the back with the gold dwarves healing the wounded.”
“No, they won’t.” Butt in a passerby gold dwarf who’d overheard part of our conversation.
“Interspersed between everyone then?”
“The life elementals are already everywhere around this city, you just can’t see them.” The gold dwarf replied with some annoyance. “They can turn into clouds of gas and heal everyone.”
“Damn, we actually have a chance of taking back the city.” Sandstorm muttered as the golf dwarf left.
A half-smile tugged at my lips. “It would be wonderful for my people.”
“It would be.” The half giant agreed. “Plus we get to fight the illithid hive mind.”
“But that’s going to go out of the dimension when it collapses.”
“Yeah, well, we’ll see if it goes alive or dead.” Sandstorm smirked, cracking his knuckles one by one.
“But it won’t be.” Malazhar reminded him, shaking his head. “Aldoraen will be taking its place.”
“Yeah I guess you’re right.” Just about then Amanmal passed by our tent. Sandstorm noticed too, and sprinted outside to catch up to him. “Hey Amanmal, how long would it take you to upgrade everyone’s survivability?”
The Druid gave him a confused look. “Everyone?”
“Well, all of the elite troops going in first.”
“It took awhile to armor up myself. I don’t know what you’re expecting from me, but I’ll do what I can.” The Druid sighed, “So, we have catapults and spiders right?”
Sandstorm’s eyes opened wide. “Spider catapults!?”
“They’re durable enough, they can do it.”
“Well, let’s do it! How many of ’em can go at a time?”
“About eight, I think. But I really must go now, I have a meeting with Cogline.” He waved goodbye to us and disappeared inside a tent a few hundred feet away.
Sandstorm returned a moment later, pulling up a chair. “So, who all is going with us? Pe Ell, do you and your drow want to go?” Pe Ell took one look at his crew, then turned to the half giant and nodded once. “Good. We’re going to need a healer with us though.”
“I agree.” Malazhar stood up from his chair, shield in hand. With a flash and loud pop a naked life elemental emerged from it, smiling broadly. The yanki flung his arms around the elemental and patted him on the back. “Hey bro, what’s up?”
There was a life elemental inside his shield this whole time? By the Queen, how would that have happened? Malazhar later explained the elemental was his brother and he’d willingly gone into the shield.
“I’m going with you too.” Ishitari poked her head in and limped inside.
“If you’re healed enough.” Sandstorm reminded her.
Ishitari smiled tiredly. “I’m good.”
“No, you still need to rest!” I snapped at her.
“Yeah, you sit down.” Sandstorm gently pushed her down into an empty seat beside him. “But maybe if she was healed by a life elemental…” He shot a look at Malazhar’s brother.
“Don’t worry, she should be healed up by the time we go to fight.” The elemental replied calmly.
Later this evening I went out in search of Cogline and Amanmal. I hadn’t seen or heard from either of them since earlier in the day and desperately needed to ask them something. If what they said is true, then…then after tomorrow I’ll never have the chance to talk to them about this again. I eventually found them in a tent not far off from the one we’d been using for meetings.
I poked my head inside, clearing my throat. “Is it alright if I talked to you two for a moment?” The two Druids nodded and welcomed me inside. “Do you know the locations of any other life crystal mines?”
“We have a map of them over in the Forge. You can ask Ith when…” Cogline’s voice caught in his throat and his gaze shifted away from mine for a moment. “After all of this is done.”
“Thank you.” I nodded solemnly, looking down at the ground. I felt wet tear drops fall onto the tops of my feet. I hadn’t noticed I was crying. “And not just for telling me that, but for everything you’ve done for me.”
“You are most welcome little one.” Cogline softly patted me on the head. “I wish you grand journeys in the days to come. For the adventure doesn’t end here, there will be much work to do after we are gone.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” I agreed, wiping some of the tears from my eyes. “I have to help my people reclaim our home. Help rebuild. I still wish things could have turned out differently…” Fresh tears rolled down my cheeks. “That I didn’t have to say goodbye.”
“Our bodies may be destroyed, but our essence should go back into the abyss of the dimensions and rejoin a new one somewhere. We may not have our memories, but that essence will go out again. It may come here after we are gone, we don’t know.”
“Still going to miss you Cogline. You too, Amanmal.”
“And we’ll miss you too, little dromite.” The gold dwarf replied.
“Well, I should get going.” I said, taking a few deep breaths. I briskly brushed away the remaining tears. “I’m sure you two still have a bit to do tonight. Thank you for letting me talk to you for a little while.”
“Of course,” Cogline smiled. “It was a pleasure.”
I returned to the inn with a heavy thought on my mind. Not on Cogline and Amanmal’s deaths but on something much worse. I’d managed to qualm my fears up till now, but tonight being the last night before the battle I couldn’t stop thinking about it. About killing my own kind. I know for a fact not everyone in Nefir left the city when we fled for the surface. There were a stubborn few who refused to leave and remained behind. And now, with the illithids coming through the portals even as I write this, they would’ve taken some dromites from Osdon with them. How many dromites are in the city now? What hells have they already gone through at the hands of the illithids? How many have already died, and how many more will my comrades and I be forced to kill tomorrow? I sat alone up at the bar lost in my thoughts and said a word to no one. Except Cinna, whom I asked to fill my mug with mead.
“Don’t worry, they most likely won’t be fighting.” Pe Ell reassured me, appearing out of nowhere with his hand on my shoulder. He slipped onto the bar stool next to mine. “More than likely they’ll be using drow for the main fighting force and using the dromites as the work force in the farm lands.”
“I don’t care if there’s half giants,” Sandstorm interrupted, pointing his mug at us before downing a gulp. “I’m cutting them in two.”
Pe Ell glared at Sandstorm, but did not retort. He focused back on me, hunched over with his hands tucked inside his overcoat. “They don’t have direct control over the dromites, and they haven’t had enough time to dominate them via force yet. At least, that’s what I would figure.” The drow cleared his throat nervously. “I mean, a stygian elemental is going to be much more powerful than a dromite.”
“A stygian elemental?” I asked, bewildered. “What are they? I didn’t know they existed.”
“Death elementals, I assume.” Sandstorm said, his eyes still on Pe Ell as he took another sip of his ale.
“What he said.” Pe Ell pointed his thumb at the half giant. “It’s what we are, so. We’re actually a mix between stygian energy and life elementals. The energies cancelled out and gave us physical form and made us natural to the material plane. Elves used to be what elementals were called. At least, the ones that look like us.” He gestured vaguely to his pointed ears. “I mean there are a few, but most can change shape and we can’t anymore because we are physical now. That’s why people called us drow elves.”
Pe Ell sat beside me for awhile longer, saying little else. At one point he ordered a water from Cinna, but beyond that he drank nothing more. No mead, no ale, no wine. Not any alcohol at all. Unlike the majority of the other soldiers busy glowing the night away. I must admit he acted kind of strangely. He picked at a loose string in his overcoat, and I noticed when other patrons walked passed him he grabbed for the bottom edge of his shirt covering his belt. He rung it like a wet towel again and again until the other patron was out of sight. Real fidgety. He did it each time someone came close and I wondered if it was a nervous habit. Was he really that nervous for the battle tomorrow? Or, like me, did he fear killing his own kind too? I wouldn’t blame him if he was. About a half hour later, I’m still not entire sure when, he left as suddenly as he sat down. I didn’t even notice him leave until he was already long gone.
If I die tomorrow and this entry is my last I wish to say that, even after all this strife from living here on the surface, I don’t regret what I did. I don’t regret going against Council law and transforming Thraenor into a tempestan. I don’t regret being punished for my crimes, even if he wasn’t an imprisoned king locked with in my life crystal. I don’t regret being banished here. The surface dwellers are far from perfect, but there are many up here I’ve come to know and love. I don’t regret the choices and mistakes I’ve made along the way, for there’s no turning back now. Tomorrow everything changes.
Tomorrow I fight for the freedom of my city, for all of us in Almendra, and this whole dying dimension. If all goes according to plan, we’ll safely get Aldoraen to where he needs to be when the dimension collapses. But by the Queen, I hope all our efforts won’t be in vain.