The Edge of Empire
The Dark Between the Stars
following the Battle of Moonstair
An Elf in trance is not asleep, but when his wounds are great, when his body and spirit are weak, there can be a parting of consciousness. Those who would follow the mystic’s path are said to seek such a state, consuming poison or undertaking ordeals far beyond the body’s limits, in order to drive the soul from the physical form and into the Dark Between the Stars. It is a place of terror. Mystics seek it, but others find themselves there unwillingly — soldiers gravely injured in battle, victims of accidents and disasters — and many do not survive it. The body heals, but the spirit is never the same.
Of those who survive such a brush with Death, some few, touched by the Gods, live as if one part of their being were always in the Dark Between the Stars. Others grasp life with renewed vigor, though their eyes hold a haunted shimmer. But some who find themselves in the Dark Place through accident, discover in themselves an affinity for the deep places. It awakens in them something that had lain dormant. Angiledhel is one such.
Twice Angiledhel has journeyed to the Starless Dark. The first time was twelve years ago when he, gravely wounded in his escape from Ingerhol’s retainers, and newly come into Druidic power he had not known he possessed, lay near lifeless in a cave barely more than a crevice, high in the Desertmouth Mountains to the west of Myth Dranor. With each weakening heartbeat he felt himself rising, like smoke on a humid night, to hang in a pall above his failing body. Darkness surrounded him, and one by one the stars lit around him. Then came a low, deep growl, and a darkness that consumed the stars. From the heart of the shadow emerged the hard-muscled tawny form of a mountain lion. She stood over the elf’s body, looked into the air where Gil’s spirit shimmered, and let loose a roar as piercing as a woman’s scream. With a menacing growl, she curled herself around Gil’s body like a mother cat nursing a cub, and began to lick the blood from his face. Days later, when Gil came back to himself, he found his wounds cleaned and beginning to heal, and the tracks of a large cat all around him.
The first form his shapeshifting took was that of a mountain lion.
His second journey to the Dark Between the Stars came quietly, when it seemed he had evaded Death. Nargash the Green Dragon had ripped nearly all the life from him, but in that crucial moment, as he drew a last, gurgling breath, the Jade Eye sequestered his spirit, so that Finn’s prayers and Hosvir’s sacrificial magic were able to call Angiledhel back to his body. It was in the night afterward, when all the company lay resting, that Gil slipped into the Dark Place during his nightly trance.
Again he felt the lifting from his body, and a strange, frightened peacefulness. He could see the waxen pallor of his own skin, and the bandages Finn and Hosvir had bound him with stained with princely blood. Shimmering around him he could see a halo of magical light, with slender threads reaching towards Hosvir’s sleeping body. Again, the stars swirled around Gil, and again they were blotted out by an otherworldly blackness. This time there came, on silent wing, a great owl.
It was as large as Gil himself, an ocher and white presence with ivory talons and jewel-black eyes that settled at the elf’s head and spread a mantle of feathery wings over his body. Like the mountain lion before, the night hunter turned its head in that fluid way owls have to look directly at the empty air where Gil’s spirit hovered. Its great beak opened, and a sharp screeching hiss came out, savage and wild. A summons, Gil recognized this time, calling him back to his body. As he fell towards it, he felt himself take, for a moment, the shape of the owl, felt the divinity of the primordial raptor flowing through him.
Gil’s most powerful druidic transformation is to assume the form of that great owl.
In the quiet night after what would in legends to come be called the Battle of Moonstair, Angiledhel, weary from battle, new-healed wounds, and his flight through the mountains to discover what evil had befallen the Scepter Tower at the hands of Waterdeep, lay down in the pose of Fallen Pine, and fell at once into the star-strewn trance of all his kindred. His breathing slowed and deepened; grey eyes lost their focus; pale, chapped lips parted, and hard-angled features relaxed and softened.
In trance, Gil’s consciousness wandered beneath imaginary stars. And something darker than the dark grew, in the space between the stars. A shape he couldn’t quite see. It was strangely comforting and menacing at the same time. A promise that if he slipped into the Dark Place again, he’d be met.
In the dark, silent room, a current of air stirred across the trancing elf, ruffling long brown hair like a mother caressing a child. Angiledhel’s brow creased slightly, and his lips formed a soundless word. “Elchelmon.”
Outside, a hunting owl cast a brief shadow as it crossed the waning moon.
In the Town of Moonstair
In the winter dusk, it is strangely quiet in Moonstair. Fires burn at watchtowers, and on pyres of the dead. A pall of acrid smoke hangs over the town, muting but not eliminating the stench of blood and death. Everywhere Angiledhel turns he sees fear and fresh grief on the faces of those he passes. That and hope, desperate hope, in the eyes of those who recognize him. Even the humans and halflings in the town who do not see him as one of the heroes of the Scepter Tower react to his elven features with a widening of eyes, a watery gratitude, mistaking him for one of Ingerhol’s company from Myth Dranor.
The bitter irony of that error is like salt in a raw wound.
The sun is nearing the horizon and the company is resting: Finn is whoring, Hosvir studying, Ikar is in repose, and Angiledhel supposed to be in trance in his room. But four hours trance and he cannot sit still any longer. With a movement so accustomed it is second nature, he slides into beast form, taking the shape of a housecat, and slips away from the inn. Once outside, though he resumes his own elven form. The Eladrin Renthorn, lately pledged to them, follows, Gil is sure, and he is grateful for his shadow.
There is nowhere to go that is not part of the town. Nowhere to go but the winter-stripped willows at water’s edge. He finds his way there almost without thought, stopping only to purchase a small stoppered bottle of rice wine from a tavern.
He climbs into the branches and stares out across the water, seeing and not seeing the island on which the Moongate stands. Seeing and not seeing the blood red sun reflected on icy water. He drinks. And after long stillness, in elvish, he sings.
Starlight eternal, light your path And guide you to the heart Of all creation, My beloved heart star Elchelmon.
His voice breaks on the name, rough and tight. He swallows, and takes another drink.
So it is true, Elchelmon is dead. Should he be shocked? Twelve years and no word. Twelve years, and last he saw his beloved, Ingerhol’s guard had the upper hand. But twelve years is as nothing in the long life of his kind, and though his head said long ago that Elchelmon was slain, his heart had clung to hope like a shipwrecked sailor to a spar.
Starlight eternal, he starts again, in a voice thick and roughened. Starlight of the First Star Draw you into the heart of hearts But remain in my heart, my—
He cannot continue. His fingers find the hilt of his sword in a touchstone gesture long become unconscious habit. He stares at the water, but sees only a salt-blurred darkness. He sits unmoving, a shadow against the darkening sky.
At the Scepter Tower
My beloved Elchelmon,
Forgive the long delay in this letter. Much has happened since last I wrote, much that I still can scarcely believe. It is Midwinter now, with the dark of the long night unbroken by song, for I am the only one here to sing the new Sun in as is the custom in Myth Dranor. How it came to be so late I cannot tell, for in my adventuring I found myself transported by magic through a demon gate to a plane of existence described to me, and which I truly believed to be, a plane of Hell itself. When I came back to this world the full season had turned and winter was upon the land.
How I came to be transported to Hell is a long story of a battle with terrible foes, and an ignominious loss. Although it seems that even in loss we succeeded. You recall Una, the irksome Halfling of whom I spoke? His quest to find and rescue his mother and his betrothed (I think they were betrothed, though Una certainly was no faithful suitor when he was away from her) was at last a success. Deep in the Underdark, we freed the enslaved Halflings, and through ancient magic of the Minotaurs they were able to flee. Alas, evil, great evil is afoot, and the workings of a powerful Wizard from the Cursed Lands opened a portal to the realm of demons. While Una and his kin, and the Dwarf and a human demon hunter who journeyed with us were saved, the rest of the company — myself, Finn the Holy Scion of Lathander, and Hosvir the wizard — were pulled into the gate.
I woke alone, injured, in a vast desert of rust. Or not alone, for there I met a brave warrior, Kala, a Githzerai, who fought off menacing beasts and protected and cared for me until I could defend myself. Though I mistrusted him at first, he proved to be a true and admirable friend, a hero fighting an impossible battle, a man in whom I could put my trust. You would have liked him, cousin, I am sure of it. He told me this desert was the first plane of Hell, and truly I believed him. There was no water and little life, just endless drifted dunes of rust over a ruined land.
A blight was on the plane, which once was fertile, he told me. Now all things metal come to swift ruin. Alas, the blade you gave me in happier times suffered the same fate, though I was there a short enough time that it was not altogether destroyed. When I expressed my dismay, and Kala saw the fineness of the sword, he was much interested in it, and in turn, in you. He wanted badly to know whether you had been my lover as well as my cousin — I told him it was so — and fell deep into thought when he confirmed that both you and I are male.
He spoke no more of it, though, other than to mention he had heard Elves had customs that allowed for such loves, and I let it pass. He told me the Plane was riddled with portals to other dimensions, and that evil sorcerers were working to open those gates, to pull vile things through from the Beyond. Indeed I saw such things. The Otherworlder, whom our ancestor Thanantilis imprisoned, and whom I and my companions battled again, was but a weak and infant thing compared to the behemoths I saw there in Hell.
Kala and others like him, though I saw no others, are there to try to close those portals they may, and prevent new ones from opening. They stand alone against a tsunami, trying to hold back a tide of evil that threatens to engulf all existence. To this end, he and I sortied to one such portal, where we found a devotee of Shar, a minion of Prince Katahmink of Netheril, engaged in an attempt to unseal a portal. We tried reason, and when that failed, battle. We drove the Netherese off and destroyed what we could of the lock upon the gate, but they will be back. I am sure they will be back.
I took the form of a great owl then, and with Kala, ascended to a high peak where we could survey the waste. He handed me a small glass, like a magnifier on a chain, but made of some crystal like a moonstone, swirling and iridescent like moonlight upon a fog. Looking through, one can see what lies on the other side of any portal. As I held the thing, he bid me peer over the edge with it, and far below I glimpsed a hole that fell through to the Feywild.
I asked him what he would do now. How he would fight the foes that threatened. He gave me no answer but a shake of his head and a squaring of his shoulders. He would, he said, because he must. Then he pulled me into an embrace and kissed me. A true kiss, filled with desire, that left my senses ringing. Before I could pull my wits together to respond, he shoved me off the cliff and into the open portal. I lost consciousness again.
When I came to, I was in the Feywild, near a door. As I passed through the door, hoping to find my way back to him, I cam instead into the natural world once more, to a frozen seashore.
The tale of my journey back to the Scepter Tower is one I will save for another letter, as this grows overlong. There is more, so much more to tell you.
In all things you have my love, dear cousin.
Your most dear, Gil
In the Well of Demons
The ghost of the lady lied. Was it a test? She locked her dead-sighted eyes to mine and swore she and her company had done the deeds I know were done by Thanantilis my cousin. She spoke of the Otherworlder, but only when I mentioned it to her. It cannot be. It is some test. They told us of the objects we must seek in order to open the portal to the Well of Demons and pursue the evil wizard and the slavers. Deeper we go into demon territory, and the more we desperately need allies. Here were some, untrustworthy though they seemed, but Una’s taunts and ranting hardened what hearts they may yet have had against us. Curse him.
I do not understand Una. One moment it is all he can do to contain himself from rushing to his doom in an attempt to save his missing family, and the next he’s picking fights with the very spirits who may be able to give us aid in that rescue attempt.
But still we endeavor to aid him. We gained the objects the spirits told us we must gather: bell, book, sword, and mask, but at the cost of Finn, who vanished, leaving the banner of his god Lathander behind. I took the banner myself, not trusting it to the hands of the others with us.
Hosvir would attempt some magic on it, or his Quasit would sully it, or perhaps thieve it to take to this “master” he keps muttering about.
Adrik is sworn to another god and would not keep it holy. Plus he is a dwarf, and though so far he has proved unlike most of his race, I cannot trust him with something so precious.
Una is far too hot-headed, too irrational, to be entrusted with the keeping of the one thing that may bring Finn back to us.
And the newcomer, Ussan, though a worthy fighter and so far honorable, is certainly not fit to be keeper to Finn’s scroll, not when we know him so little. I, at least, will show what honor is due to Lathander in Finn’s absence, and keep the relic safe.
My own god Erevan Illesere help me, am I somehow becoming converted to Finn’s ways?
But Finn vanished much the same way that Jack Jones had before. I can only hope that as the scroll found its way back to Finn before, when those acolytes of his temple tried to take it from him, that now his God will call him back to us.
This dungeon is horrific, full of the traces of great violence and suffering. And the only hope we have to open the door and pursue the wizard is to separate, so I have gone alone to the room with the pools of poison, to place the demon-cursed bell within the sacred circle of runes. Thank all the gods who may be helping us that Adrik was able to allow us to share thoughts so that we may at least coordinate our actions.
I am the scion of a long line of brave and noble elves of house Findwallae, born of the house Angothar, which trace our ancestry back even to Thanantilis the Demon Slayer. Were Elchelmon here, he’d tell me it was telling indeed that I must remind myself of that. And yes, I am afraid. But bravery is not the absence of fear, he would tell me; it is doing what must be done despite your fears. And so I place the bell…
In reference to the events of Calamity
The decision to follow the others onto that teleportation circle was one Angiledhel didn’t make lightly. Following demons through an ancient Minotaur’s portal, with no sure way to return, was beyond foolhardy. But it was a decision he made instantly. He’d thrown in his lot with this company with almost no thought, back at Loudwater. In the course of a few months, he’d lost companions, gained others, faced all manner of evil. Every decision point he’d come to since then, he’d left in his unseen god’s hands. Erevan Ilesere, Elven god of chance and change, was fickle, unpredictable. And Angiledhel was hardly a cleric. But every stumble took the Elf someplace he needed to be, from those fateful days in hiding in the mountains above Myth Dranor, where he’d discovered his druidic power, to the encounter with his own mythic ancestor in the Jade Eye.
That was the crux of it, he thought, feeling the new scar from the dragon’s mouth stretch tight across his belly. Finn had Lathander, and Adrik had his dwarven god, and Gil — he had earth magic, and animal totems, and the raw power of the elements, but he also had Chance on his side.
So he stepped onto the dais and held his breath while Hosvir spoke the word of ancient power.
The room they materialized into was half in ruins, with crumbling stonework behind them, and an uneven, centuries-worn stone floor paved in a spiral pattern that led to encircling walls. Walls with slits, from which came bolts of magic. Angiledhel had barely time to adjust his eyes to the dim light before he saw Hosvir struck with fire, Adrik besieged by snakes. The wizard shrieked an unholy sound, and the dwarf’s voice guttered into an agonized groan as adder poison coursed through him. Samir was struck writhing with black flame; Una was hit by two bolts: burning serpents crawled over his skin, striking at the Halfling’s wide-eyed face.
Hosvir’s quasit cackled and pulled at his leash, yearning for some unseen evil.
Finn was nowhere to be seen.
Gil was the only one still on the Minotaurs’ magic circle — had it protected him? He drew strength from within himself, the strength of all life, contorted his fingers into gnarled hooks, and called forth a wall of tangled, thorn-clad vines, raising it to a hight well over the tallest of their party’s heads. His power was not so great, especially here underground and cut off from the living trees above, and he was only able to protect a segment of their flank, but it gave them a barricade behind which to regroup. With nowhere to run to, and no other cover behind which to shelter, it seemed their only hope.
“Get behind the wall,” he shouted to his companions, Adrik and Hosvir heeded his advice, but Samir charged towards one of the walls and vanished in a swirl of vapor that Angiledhel could only hope was magic of the Genasi’s own working. Una, too, charged towards the wall, hurling a boomerang towards one of the slits. As Gil’s eyes adjusted, he could make out shapes moving behind the encircling walls. And he could smell them: Tieflings.
A second round of enchantments came thrumming from the slits in the wall, and this time one struck Gil, speeding crackling fire over him in an agonizing cascade. He dropped and rolled behind his own wall of thorns, extinguishing the flames. When he stood back up, he saw a vision straight out of a nightmare: the huge bronze statue of one of the Minotaurs who had once built this place, had come to life, swinging a huge axe.
Adrik was struck first, falling with an echoing clang as metal struck metal. Hosvir’s magical fire roared to life, attacking the unseen Tieflings behind the wall. Una raced back over to lend assistance, striking at the behemoth’s legs. Angiledhel called forth more power — the true enchantment of his own Fey blood — and rained Faerie Fire down upon the beast. It limned the bronze, reflecting a pastel rainbow sheen from every surface. The minotaur’s motions slowed.
Bolts came hissing from the walls yet again, striking Adrik and Gil, missing Una. Elf and Dwarf shuddered and groaned, feeling and not feeling the hurt, too pressed with the raging minotaur to do more than wince at fresh wounds.
A lucky strike by Una sent the lumbering Minotaur careening into Gil’s wall of thorns, which stuck fast to the seemingly impenetrable surface, scouring its metal hide with poison and ensnaring the beast. Thus pinioned, it was an easy target for Gil’s lightning and Adrik’s hammer.
Fighting alongside the strange dwarf, Angiledhel had to grudgingly admire Adrik’s unstinting courage. Then the Minotaur managed to land a blow, knocking Angiledhel reeling. He rolled to his feet and called down lightning on the minotaur again, smelling ozone all around him, feeling the charge burn through his very bones as he called it forth.
There was a mighty bellow, and the height of the Faerie Fire which had crackled over the Minotaur burst into full radiance, sapping life force, draining it straight away into the land of the Fey. Una and Adrik each struck one last blow, and the beast crumpled, turning to bronze once more. It shuddered to a halt, with one side staved in as if struck by a giant smith’s hammer.
There was no time to savor victory.
Again bolts came from the wall. Hosvir was struck insensate, and his quasit took the opportunity to flee. Una ran toward the wall, disappearing into one of the slits, presumably to seek out their enemy directly. Angiledhel cast lightning into one of the slits, aiming for a Tiefling he could barely see, while Adrik, bleeding and burned himself, saw to Hosvir, reviving the wizard.
Samir remained out of sight, though the sounds of battle raging from the right side of this strange arena, behind one wall, gave Angiledhel a good guess as to where the Genasi had gone. Another bolt struck Gil, drawing blood from already burned flesh. Hosvir groped blindly towards the wall, pressing himself flat between two of the slits, and calling up a demonic-looking maw to protect him while he picked at the stitching on his eyes.
There was a grunt to Gil’s left, a clang of falling metal: the Dwarf had been struck down, and he was still easily within the tiefling’s line of fire. Angiledhel groaned and dragged the unbelievably heavy body behind the wall of thorns, then did what healing he could, binding Adrik’s wounds.
Slowly, surely, their enemies were dropping. But so, too, were they. Angiledhel panted, feeling sick from serpent poison, pain in every limb where fire had traced over his skin, where cuts had spring open, and the Minotaur’s axe had caught him a glancing, half-dodged blow. He just had to hold on, hold out long enough. Aim his bolts true, and trust in the same Chance that had brought him thus far.
Una reappeared, dragging the quasit. Hosvir staggered towards them again, rejoining Elf and Dwarf behind the thorn wall. Samir’s enraged bellow rang in the chamber.
And a Teifling’s magic bolt struck Angiledhel full in the throat. He choked and gagged, clutching at his neck, feeling his vision narrow down to a hazy tunnel. The vine wall evaporated back into the stones from which Angiledhel had conjured it. The last thing Angiledhel saw, as consciousness evaporated, was a blood-streaked vision — an Elven face staring back at him, exhorting him to get up.
In reference to the events of To the Hold.
In the small hours before the company awoke, on the day they set out for the Horned Hold, Angiledhel wrote a letter and summoned a bat to carry it for him. The following is written in elegant Elvish script, but in code such that without the key it means nothing to those for whom it is not intended.
My dear beloved Elchelmon,
Greetings on this last day of the season of ripening grain. Already I believe the aspens of Myth Dranor must be silently gilding themselves, the maples bursting into crimson and vermillion, and frost perhaps rimming the northward sides of pumpkins in the field.
It has been long since I last wrote, and for that I apologize. You know my circumstances, but I have not had time nor wit to spare in sending you more than the barest token to show that I yet live, and the hopes of House Findwallae with me. Though your answer does not come, still I nurture in my heart a seedling of hope that we will embrace one another again in this plane.
You would be surprised, cousin, were you to see what has become of me since last I wrote. The party of travelers I have taken up with is a strange one indeed. There is a human wizard, foul of face and with a soul I fear just as damaged. He is blind, bound to a minor demon — Quasit, in the common tongue — which bears his eyes, while his own sight is demon sight, so repugnant to him that he binds his eyelids shut with stout stitches. Though he has shown me no ill will, still I mistrust him. He hides many secrets and keeps his own counsel as wizards are wont to do.
There is also a halfling with a sharper temper and more full of bloodlust than even Amon our lance master ever was. He suffers from a strange compulsion that I can only describe as a hunger for death, for he takes rash actions and hurls himself and others into danger’s path. Only after the battle is over, dead bodies stinking, his friends bleeding, does he look about him and sigh with remorse. He mislikes me greatly, perhaps because one night I took it on myself to see he did not find his way through death’s door by way of drink or highwayman. Why I did this for him I can only ascribe to a capricious whim placed in my heart by Ereval Illesere himself.
My friend the young goliath Lo’Kag, of whom I have written before, was gravely injured, his leg shattered, but as it happened there was a safe place where he now rests, guard to a keep that was deeded to myself and these other companions for safekeeping.
The cleric who traveled with us a while walks now in the realms of twilight. Wizardry preserves his body, in case his god should see fit to return his soul.
The half-elf bard I wrote you of before continues to suffer some disappearing curse. She — or he, I am unsure which she would prefer. She dresses as a man and goes by a man’s name, even acts as a man, seducing maidens, and yet I find it awkward to refer to her as he… He. The bard. Has disappeared again, leaving little clue as to where, but my senses tell me it is not deceit on the bard’s part, but a curse or the hand of a meddling god at work.
In pursuit of our missing bard, we were joined by one of the Elemental People, a Genasi male. Though his element is air, his spirit is rough basalt. He is a hard man, with a cruel bent, I think. An able commander and tactician, who is under some obligation to House Azaer.
Then there is Finn, a young fighter sworn to the old sun god of the plans people. He is a simpleton and yet full of wisdom. A good soul, he inspires in me a strange feeling of protectiveness, which bears no understanding, for he outstrips me in all measures physical. But there is something in him that draws from me a tenderness I have not felt since last you and I were together. Simply put, I am fond of him. He makes me feel at ease in a way few others but the animals of the field ever have.
Perhaps, though, my journeys are telling on me. These later days I find myself in the company of a dwarf — a strange one who has spent long years above the surface, in the company of men/ He is a cleric like our fallen friend, though sworn to a different god. A dwarves god, with an unpronounceable name, no doubt. He shocked me to the bones by speaking elvish t me, and talking of common purpose.
If you recall the tale of Thanantilis, and the strange company he is said to have journeyed with… Well, perhaps that is a tale left to another day, accompanied by strong drink. But I will tell you, Chel, the story that Thanantilis was my ancestor, I no longer doubt. He did indeed journey with a dwarf as his companion and beloved friend. I have witnessed strange things, cousin, and I know the truth of that myth.
I would tell you more, of the wonders I have seen, and the terrors, but my time is short, and I do not wish to burden the bat I have summoned to carry this message to you with too great a weight. Today we leave on a journey into the Under Dark, to the stronghold of durgar. It is a frightful thing, and you must trust me that my purpose in undertaking such a quest is one of great urgency. Again, I tell you, look to the tale of Thanantilis the Death Cheater. I can speak with confidence when I tell you a green dragon’s bite is a terrible thing. I survived it. It gives me hope that you, too, survive.
Remember me fondly, cousin. Beloved. Let every time a hunting owl flies near remind you that Angiledhel thinks of you.
Your noble and most loving friend, Gil
In reference to the events of The Death of Angiledhel.
Those who are dead are not dead
They’re just living in my head
And since I fell for that spell
I am living there as well
Time is so short and I’m sure
There must be something more
You thought you might be a ghost
You didn’t get to heaven but you made it close
You didn’t get to heaven but you made it close
—”42” by Coldplay—
The pain was unimaginable.
In the space between one breath and the next, the dragon’s claws caught Angiledhel in the side, tearing through hide armour, rending elven weave, cutting cruelly into already bruised flesh and bone. He felt ribs flex, splinter, and give way. Felt searing heat where her scything claws raked his belly open.
He fell, staring at her, mesmerized by gleaming black-edged-green scales, enraged golden eyes, gaping jaws full of serrated teeth dripping with the acrid poison of her kind.
She was ancient. Ancient and beautiful and terrible. A vision of death.
In the space between one gasping scream and the next, the elf knew what it was to be a mouse facing the hunting owl’s talons. He thought of his own owl companion, and the wretched way they had parted last, with her terrible fear and his terrible curse. A curse lifted only moments before, by this same dragon.
Her claws reached for him a second time. Her voice echoed in the chamber as she shrieked in outrage at her betrayal. Her wrath-filled gaze fell on Una. “Your friend will pay the price of your treachery!” The halfling looked stunned. Bloodied and impossibly small next to the reptilian behemoth, Una raised his dagger, protesting, but the dragon was already turning back to her prey. Her claws caught Angiledhel again, crushing him.
He felt cold stone at his back, the breath driven out of failing lungs. Felt the fountain of his own blood welling up through the wounds her claws raked into him. It was beyond his endurance. Beyond any endurance. He could hear nothing but his own screams. See nothing but the dragon’s massive head.
In the space between one heartbeat and the next, silence fell. I am going to die now, Angiledhel thought. Knew. Knew in that instant that his father would go unavenged, his sister unrescued, his homeland unsaved, and his own name unredeemed. He had time to draw one last, desperate, burbling breath. To groan half a name in prayer. “Ereval—” and then it was over.
He felt nothing. The pain was gone, and the terror, replaced by a strange detachment. He looked dispassionately down on a scene of chaos. A gravely wounded green dragon was biting savagely at the body of an elf—it lay in a pool of dark blood, with pink loops of intestine showing glossy and surreal between the dragons’ talons, where she held the unmoving form.
To the right was a halfling, covered in blood, screaming and running towards the dragon with a curved dagger in hand. Behind the dragon, a fighter in rag-tag armor, glowing with holy fire, raised a gleaming sword to strike at the beast. A wizard half-dressed and clutching his robes held his staff aloft, directing a ghostly hand of ice that reached for the dragon. The bodies of two dead kobolds lay in the ruin of what had once been a mighty temple, near to a shattered throne and fallen pillars.
I just died. That’s my body, he told himself, staring at the broken elf. He felt pity for it. And regret. He was sorry to his mother. To Enchelmon, and the other elves of Myth Dranor. Sorry to his owl, and to Lo’Kag. To Dosithius. We found Eutocius, and we saved him. Could Dosithius hear him now? But Eutocius had abandoned them in disgust. The dragon lied to us first, Angiledhel thought. And her purpose, to revive Skulous, was one of unfathomable evil. Is it so shocking that Una would not let her flee?
The wizard’s conjured fist caught the base of the dragon’s tail, rimming it with hoarfrost that crackled over her scales. The fighter—Finn. Angiledhel felt another pang of remorse. Finn. He’d liked Finn—Finn’s weapon cleaved into the dragon’s side. The halfling’s dagger drove between the dragon’s eyes, pushed deep with a furious cry.
The dragon screamed her last, shuddered, and died. Her claws loosened and she fell away. Angiledhel’s body shivered in some last spasm as she released it.
The elf felt a tug of something pulling him back towards that lifeless body when Finn called his name. “Angiledhel. Angiledhel, are you okay?” Trusting, sweet-voiced Fin, standing there in blood-smeared armor, pale and sweating, reaching out to touch Angiledhel’s unmoving form. “He’s dead.” The young cleric sounded shocked. Bewildered.
Hosvir limped towards them, holding the glowing Jade Eye in one hand, leaning heavily on his staff. Would the wizard know what to do with it? Would he be willing to do what was needed, to keep the Otherworlder imprisoned? But Angiledhel was dead. Whether the quest succeeded or failed was out of his hands now.
Una stared at his shaking hands, at the dagger still there, dripping black dragon’s blood, and at the bodies: the dragon to whom he had struck the killing blow, and the elf whose fate he had just as surely sealed as the dragon’s. “I’ll get Eutocius. Maybe he can help. He has to help,” he shouted, sprinting for the door.
What help could there be? Ereval-Illesere, god of chaos and chance, guide my spirit, Angiledhel prayed. Guide my friends, these here as well as those I left behind in Myth Dranor. Earth spirits, animal spirits, fold me in the wings of the owl my Mother, and let me know peace.
But there was no peace. Just a dreadful ache.