Authors: Richard Baker
By Richard Baker (2004)
15 Flamerule, The Year of Doom (714 DR)
The end came not at sunset, but an hour after highsun. Nor did mournful rains mark the city’s passing, as the bards later sang. It was a sweltering summer afternoon, the forest air thick and hazy. Myth Drannor was burning, and the acrid smoke of many fires hung heavily in the humid air.
Fflar Starbrow Melruth stood wearily on the shattered flagstones of the courtyard before Castle Cormanthor, and took the measure of
his enemies. Thousands of savage warrior orcs, goblins, gnolls, even ogres-stamped and shouted in the square, roaring and shouting
in their guttural tongues, clashing axes and spears on their hide-covered shields or shaking jagged swords in the air. Like a great black sea of blood and steel the horde roiled and swarmed, clogging the marble streets and clinging to the feet of the white towers. Too many, Filar thought bitterly. And we are too few. BehindFilarstood the tattered heart oftheAkh Velahr, the Army of Cormanthor. A dozen companies defended the broken castle, none with more than a quarter of its strength left. Tall and stern in their shining hauberks
and green cloaks, the soldiers of the city knew they were defeated, but still they held. Each day they fought on, a few more of Myth Drannor’s folk escaped to safety in desperate flights, vanishing through whatever gates could be made to work.
At the head of the enemy host mighty nycaloths crouched eagerly, shadowing their faces with their vast black wings. Each was a great champion of the hells, kindred of the demons and devils whose vile spawn filled the lower planes. To see one such creature free to walk
Faerun was aterrible thing, but there at the head of their army stood gathered more than a dozen ofthe monsters. Hundreds of lesser yugoloths, creatures like the nycaloths but thankfully less powerful, drove the orcs and ogres into battle before them. Despite the painfully bright sunshine in the court, each nycaloth cast a terrifying shadow over the scene, living storm clouds about to break upon
Filar and his soldiers.
“Do not do this, Filar,” said Elkhazel from beside him. The sun elf swordsman stood a few paces behind him, his golden mail gouged in great furrows across his shoulder and breast. “Withdraw your challenge, I beg you. We may yet hold another few days, long enough for the rest of the Flights to escape.”
Fflar kept his eyes on the roaring horde. The orcs and ogres did not advance yet. They held their ground, eager to see the duel to come. Even as he watched, a rift opened in their shouting ranks, and a great shadowed figure, a mighty prince of the nycaloths, made its way deliberately through the ranks. Brazen armor gleamed in the darkness, and a mace as large as a young tree dragged the ground. The bestial roars of the bloodthirsty horde rebounded from the castle walls as their dark captain came forth to battle.
“Nothing but a lord of the infernal realms could hold that horde together,” said Filar. “If I can defeat him, the rest of that rabble may well turn on each other. We could cut our way out of the city while they fight over the spoils.”
“Aulmpiter is a mighty foe,” Elkhazel replied. “If you should fall….”
“Then you will fight on, as you must,” Filar finished for him as he hefted his sword in his hand. “Do not fear, my friend. Keryvian and I have slain more than one mighty foe this summer. Demron crafted his baneblades well.”
“Fflar! Captain of Myth Drannor! Come forth!” bellowed the monstrous figure wading through the enemy ranks. “I will have you answer for your boasts!”
Elkhazel struggled to find words. “Think of Sorenna, and the babe.”
Fflar glanced over at his lieutenant and offered a little smile, and said, “She will understand, Elkhazel. I have seen this. It is my hour.”
He settled his golden helm on his sweat-soaked brow, and swept Keryvian before his feet several times to remind his hand of the sword’s balance, not that he really needed to. The blade seemed to
sense the presence of a worthy foe. Itshivered in his grasp, giving offa cold, pure whisper of hate.
How many of our heroes have fallen this year? Filar thought bleakly.
Josidiah Starym could have carved Aulmpiter to pieces with steel and spell in a deadly bladedance. Kerym Tenyajn would have riddled the infernal lord with his blazing arrows of moonfire, slaying Aulmpiter where he stood. But they were dead, and Filar had to meet the horde’s captain. He was exhausted, wounded already in the fighting at sunrise, but he could not let Aulmpiter detect his weakness.
“I am here, Aulmpiter!” he cried. “Your foul minions may have broken our walls and burned our homes, but you will not live to savor your victories! Today Keryvian will send you back to whatever black hells spawned you, monster!”
The nycaloth lord fixed his smoldering gaze on Fflar. Despite his words of bravado, the elf captain could not still a quiver of terror deep in his belly.
“Bold words, elf,” Aulmpiter hissed. “I have slain a hundred of your kind this year. They died screaming for mercy. How will you die, I wonder?”
Fflar chose not to answer. He steeled himself, forcing the pain ofhis wounds and the heavy weight ofhis fatigue to a place where he would not feel them. Then, with a high, clear cry, he hurled himself at his vast foe, his feet flying over the broken flagstones of the square, the day spinning into timelessness as the chanting orcs fell silent and his heart, his will, his very life narrowed into a brilliant
point. Keryvian sang in his hand and Fflar laughed aloud in fey delight.
Aulmpiter roared in rage and threw himself into the air with a powerful sweep of his mighty wings. Fflar leaped up to hew at the nycaloth lord with his brilliant blade. Then Aulmpiter’s giant mace came crashing down at him, a thunderbolt ofinfernal power.
Elf-wrought steel, holy and true, met the brazen maul of the nycaloth lord, and darkness fell in Myth Drannor.
Midwinter, the Year of Lightning Storms (1374 DR)
Angry winter surf boomed and thundered against Tower Reilloch’s headland as Araevin Teshurr answered the high mage’s summons. He turned his feet to the familiar halls and staircases, stretching out his legs with the long and quick stride he’d learned in countless years of devouring roads and paths in distant Faerun. Tower Reilloch had been Araevin’s home for more than eighty years, but in thoseeight decades he’d been away on far travels more often than not. Araevin was tall for a sun elf, with all the height of a human but with a slender and more graceful build. He stood half a head higher than most other elves he met. Humans sometimes mistook his manner for cool disdain, but in truth he was simply thoughtful, in the sense that his mind was often engaged on distant things.
He was keenly interested in everything he saw, and he habitually studied his surroundings with an uncanny intensity. His face set in a small frown, he came to the marble steps leading up to the great hall. Four elfwarriors stood watch at the main door, dressed in green cloaks embroidered with a silver starburst nsignia over coats of shining mail-Queen’s Guards, assigned to Reilloch’s garrison.
“Good day,” Araevin said to the warriors. “Philaerin
has summoned me.”
The guard sergeant, a lithe young moon elf, nodded and replied, “Go on in, Mage Araevin. They’re expecting you.”
He returned her smile awkwardly, then swiftly took the last steps. He was still unused to the simple routine of passing the Tower guards. Three years ago, he thought, we would have laughed at the notion that Evermeet’s Towers required guards.
But in the Year of the Unstrung Harp renegade sun elves had joined forces with human sea-wolves and drow from the deep tunnels ofthe Underdark to launch a great assault against the island kingdom. A terrible spell launched from a traitorous Tower had obliterated the
Tower of the Sun, home to the greatest mage circle of Evermeet. Queen Amlaruil and her supporters had defeated the attack, but a third or more of Evermeet’s best mages did not survive the battle against the invaders. Since then soldiers of the queen protected the invaluable remaining Towers against any future attacks … and perhaps kept an eye on the circles themselves to make sure that no more scheming mages could gather undetected.
The great doors of blueleafwood, bound with mithral, opened silently for Araevin. Hesitating only to draw a deep breath and calm his nervousness, he strode into the hall and stood before the Circle of Reilloch Domayr.
Three high mages awaited him near the center of the tall chamber, standing beneath the theurglass and mithral dome that crowned the hall. In Araevin’s experience, high mages had no need to resort to trappings such as ceremony or thrones in order to express the power they wielded. Each was a wizard of tremendous accomplishment, the youngest more than five hundred years old, the least among them capable of dueling a dragon and perhaps living to tell the tale. Araevin could sense the Art they wielded as a bright white flame, hidden from sight but powerful nonetheless.
He bowed and said, “You sent for me, Eldest?”
“Welcome, Araevin,” said Philaerin. The Eldest of Reilloch Domayr, Philaerin was a moon elf, pale of skin and dark ofhair. His expression was grave, but his eyes were kind and thoughtful. He was almost six hundred years old, a very great age for a moon elf, but his face was smooth and unlined. Elves were not truly ageless, of course. The spirit grew stronger, burning brighter and clearer as the years passed, until at last the frail body was no more than a thin envelope through which a brilliant soul shone. “I hope we didn’t interrupt anything important.”
“Not at all,” Araevin replied. “I was inscribing a new wand to sell in Leuthilspar, but it will wait.”
“How is Ilsevele?”
“I have not seen her for some time. Her duties lie in Leuthilspar. When I finish the wand I am working on, I think I will visit her.”
Araevin smiled as Philaerin’s courtesy reminded him of Ilsevele Miritar, his betrothed. It had been several months-or was it a year already?-since Araevin had last seen her. Too long, he decided.
“Your talents as an artificer are well known,” said High Mage Kileontheal.
Araevin turned his attention to Philaerin’s companions. Kileontheal was a small sun elfseemingly no more than a girl, but she was an illusionist ofgreat power. High Mage Aeramma Durothil was a proud sorcerer from the high born Durothil family, utterly confident in his powers.
“Craftingwands and such devices supports my studies and travels, High Mage,” he answered.
“Your studies and travels,” repeated Aeramma.
His manner was brusque and direct. Araevin felt an it is not true that I despoiled elven tombs, or allowed my companions to do so.”
“Did you remove valuables and magical artifacts from places abandoned by the People, or not?” Aeramma demanded.
“What is inherently sacred about a place we have abandoned?” Araevin countered. “Many of our old cities and palaces in Faerun have become dangerous places. Some are haunted by monsters, some are defended by decaying old spell wards that endanger any who come near, and some were dark and deadly places even before our People left them.” He looked away from Aeramma to the other high mages, and said, “We opened no tombs, that I can promise you.”
Aeramma seemed unsatisfied by Araevin’s answer, but Philaerin chose that moment to step in. The Durothil high mage subsided as the Eldest spoke.
“Ancient ruins and broken mythals are the extent of your interest in Faerun, then?” asked Philaerin.
“To be honest, no. I have spent a great deal oftime traveling the human realms, simply to see them. That was not my intent when I first went to Faerun to find our lost portals, but you cannot seek out the old places of Illefarn or other elven lands without coming to know the human cities that have grown up along the Sword Coast.”
“What do you think ofour human friends?”
Araevin considered his answer carefully before replying, “They are a strange folk, so like us in some ways, so different in others … a race of young giants who know not their own strength. Once I thought I was jealous of them. Why should humans inherit the lands where our ancestors lived, after all? But in the course of my travels I made the acquaintance of many humans, and I found among them friends whose wisdom would reflect well on any elf five times their age.”
“I am sure that there are individuals of outstanding character among humans, Araevin,” Kileontheal said. “Yet, as a race, do they not pose a grave danger? Their numbers grow every year. Their realms spring up with the speed of unspoken exchange between the three high mages, as if their thoughts darted one to the other in a tangible but unseen form.
They mean to test me, he realized. Not a test of skill, or knowledge, simply … personality. What qualities are they looking for? he wondered. What recourse will I have if they do not approve of me?
He calmed his mind with a conscious effort of will as Aeramma continued, “Tell us a little of your journeys in Faerun, Araevin. You have spent many years away from Evermeet, and we are not familiar with your interests.”
Araevin met Aeramma’s measuring look with a steady gaze, refusing to show any lack ofconfidence. “I have spent some years studying elven portals and spell structures throughout northwest Faerun. Most are relics of Illefarn
“Evermeet’s libraries were not sufficient for this task?” Kileontheal asked.
“The old elfgates are in Faerun, not here. Besides, while the Tower’s records have often provided me with useful clues, there is no substitute for experience.” Araevin glanced at the tiny high mage and added, “As it turns