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Echoes of the Past


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Amitola pursed her soft lips, a sigh barely escaping as she gazed at the desolate ruins before her.  She grimaced as her eyes explored the surroundings, the razed buildings jutting from the ground as so many diseased teeth in a disease-ridden skull.  Amitola raised a strong, deft hand to block the rays of the setting sun, as she took in the full expanse of the desolation, charred, blackened wood breaking up the monotonous landscape of grey and white dust.


 *By the Red Knight, it feels like it was ages ago...and it feels like it was yesterday, all at the same time* she thought despairingly.  


 Amitola stopped by one rubble of building the battered entrance showing that the entire back wall was open to the surroundings.


 Running her hand along the edges of it, she whispered, "I'm sorry I couldn't save you mother, father.  I tried, but there were too many."


 Amitola hesitantly stepped into the interior, then stopped as the crack of burned wood filtered into her ears.  Closing her eyes, the woman knelt down, her red hair falling like a crimson stream around her shoulders, and her nimble fingers closed around a small, circular object with a long, cylindrical stem extending from it.


 "No," Amitola murmured, a single, solitary tear streaking down her left cheek, momentarily diverted by a small, puckered scar on her bronzed cheek.


 Amitola lifted her hand, the small object making a gentle TCH, TCH sound rising to hear ears, the sound soft, but steady as she raised it high.  Amitola opened her piercing misty-grey eyes, and she felt her heart wrench as she beheld the remnants of a child's rattle, a fanciful bear painted in now-dulled colors on one side, gentle indentations of baby's teeth on the other.


 A voice bellowed from behind her, a strong, confident voice, "Lady Amitola, are you here?"


 Amitola stared in silence at the rattle once more, her hands encompassing the tiny rattle, "I'm over here Sir Anomen."


 The clanking of jiggling metal presaged Anomen's appearance by several seconds, allowing Amitola to stare at the rattle for a few more precious seconds.


 "Is anything amiss Lady Amitola?" Anomen's concerned voice questioned in the dying light.


 Amitola twisted her head slightly, seeing the priest's mahogany brown hair almost turn black in the waxing darkness, and she saw the concern heavy in the noble's eyes.  


 Breathlessly, Amitola answered, "His name was to be Aenohe.  It means hawk.  He would have been my nephew.  My sister's second child.  Heh, she joked how her next daughter she would name it after me."


 Amitola opened her hands, allowing the small child's toy to fall back into the grey dust, and turned her back on the rubble of the house.  


 The woman glanced toward the distance, and continued, "Damn it Sir Anomen, it should have been me, not them.  I was the one who went to war, not them.  And in the end, I could do nothing."


 Anomen stood by her side, and quietly said, "I will not gainsay your grief, milady.  I have my own sins to bear, but this, none of this could have been prevented.  It was fore-ordained."


 Amitola twisted on her heels, a snarl starting to grow on her lip.  


 With a visible effort, she regained her composure, "Do...not...say that to me ever again, Sir Anomen.  Not now, not ever.  How would you feel it had been Athkatla razed to the ground instead of Saradush?"


 Anomen blinked coolly at Amitola's question, and answered, "Then I would have moved heaven and earth to punish those who brought the destruction to bear."


 Amitola laughed sharply, her anguish carried on its biting edge, "But we did that, didn't we?  And how much good did it do?"


 The priest of  ran a hand through his own thick hair then, and Amitola couldn't help but notice that he was badly in need of a haircut.


 "Sometimes the results of our actions are immediate, sometimes they are not.  All you can do is have faith," Anomen responded evenly.


 "As you wish," Amitola said distantly, "So, what news do you have to report Sir Anomen?  Have we turned something up, or must we make haste past the Ward this evening?"


 Anomen clanked forward, and stated, "Delainy has found the resting place of Gromnir.  Evidently, after we slew him, the residents just tossed his carcass onto the trash heap.  Not that I could blame them, but it made it hard to isolate his...grave.  The others are already moving into place.  You are the last one Lady Amitola."


 Amitola felt a warm heat momentarily flush her cheeks, then it evaporated as she made her way forward, and said, "Quite right.  We mustn't dawdle, must we?"


 The crimson-haired woman moved forward, her eyes momentarily drawn to the circular nimbus surrounding the ashes of Saradush.


 *The Ward* Amitola thought, putting an emphasis on the second word, *A combined sorcerous and clerical feat, a nimbus of magic to encapsulate the pain, the suffering, the instilled evil from the fall of Saradush.  With that much death, destruction, it shouldn't have come as a surprise that the number of zombies, skeletons, ghosts, all sorts of undead would rise on the site of their demise.  Even worse, the death of so many Bhaalspawn, the Children of the Lord of Murder was bound to leave an almost indelible mark on the land itself.  Each night, each Bhaalspawn, or rather the echo of each Bhaalspawn, rises and reenacts their final moments, only to stop during the light of day, and then rising once more.  Even with the essence of Bhaal gone, the magical scarring persists, even now.  So, to contain the...evil...priests and wizards in a rare act of unity enacted the Ward*  


 Amitola strode forward in her musing, her incarnadine armor the hue of blood-drenched armor, the thick, vital fluid long since dried.  Overlaying the armor was a snow-white tabard, embroidered with the scarlet figurine of a knight chess piece, glistening silver-stars for eyes.  Her right hand rested on the sapphire-colored hilt of her blade.  In the distance she saw a vaguely quadrupedal figure arch its head into the howl, and gave a mournful howl, the sound dancing in the currents of the air, seeming to come from all around her.


 "And that's why we're here," Amitola whispered into the air, "We found a way to lay the Bhaalspawn, the Restless Dead to rest."


 Anomen quickly reached Amitola's side, and he asked, "Are you sure you're alright Lady Amitola?  We can leave this matter off for one more night if you wish."


 Amitola's lips quirked into a humorless smile, and she responded, "I'm sorry Sir Anomen.  Just remembrances of the past.  I am alright...and I would just as soon put this one to rest as well.  If nothing else, that makes it one step closer to finishing."


 Anomen nodded, and replied, "As you will it.  I see the others are taking position, and I must be as well."


 Anomen grinned wryly as the four-legged figure, an immense black wolf whose shoulders came to his waist swipe the ground twice, making an 'X' in the dirt, and then trod to the west of the X.  However, much of the thickness of the wolf was in her width, a girth that one wouldn't expect in her svelte body.  The wolf leaned back, a gross parody of a dog begging, her swollen dugs blatant to Amitola's discerning eye, and slowly the features seemed to melt, the hair receding while height was gained, bones swimming underneath her skin, until a young, brown-haired woman, questing emerald eyes looking at the spot she had marked in wolf form.  The woman's long, brown hair, the color of freshly dug earth, covered her nakedness until clothes slowly appeared on her form, gathering as a slight mist around her until it dissipated, leaving behind a silvery robe that was easily the equal of any plate mail in battle.  Amitola suppressed the momentary concern she felt for the wolf-woman, especially as the wolf woman extended her left hand openly, grasping open air, while the wolf's right hand rested gently on her bulging womb.  Soon, a long, stringy cloud of mist appeared in the woman's hand, and upon leaving, revealed a long spear, its spear head alternating from an ice-blue, freezing the air around it, to a nimbus of fluorescent blue, the crackle of electrical energy breaking apart the ice before alternating back to ice.


 "Everything alright Delainy?" Amitola asked in concern, taking up a position to the south of the X.


 The wolf-woman cocked her head, and closed her eyes as a slight wince passed through her face, but there was also a smile as well, "Yes.  The cubs are getting stronger, more pressing.  Soon, I will have to prepare a den for them."


 Amitola found herself smiling in response, though she couldn't ignore the fact that the werewolf's time drew nearer, and nearer.


 Amitola glanced toward the north, and saw Anomen don his gauntlets, seeing a flash of a stylized eye on the inner palm as he twined his fingers together, and cracked his knuckles outward.  Then, he grasped the hammer hanging from a loop on his belt, the head of it a massive, cracked stone.


 *It has to weight almost a hundred pounds, and yet he wields it as a child would a wooden sword* Amitola thought speculatively.


 Anomen then lowered the hammer to the earth, kneeling as he pressed his head close to the handle, and started to mumble a prayer, the significance of the words meaningless to her ears.


 A snort announced a presence appearing from Amitola's right, and she saw the proud, regal features of a dark-skinned woman make her way to the group.  The long, flowing ivory hair was bound into a single braid with several silver loops.  Anomen raised his head, and frowned in the direction of the ebon-skinned woman, her pointed ears vivid in the day.  She wore a midnight-black set of armor, a rich, if unadorned cloak clasped around the dark elf's throat.  What drew Amitola's attention was the way the elf's hand rested on a solid, oak handle from which emanated five dark chains.  Each of the chains ended with spiked balls, each one a different color from the other.  Two of the heads reacted much like Delainy's spear-head did, one crackling with a luminous blue and crackle of electricity.  The other was a light ice-blue, the warm air fogging at its presence.  A third head glinted with the color of bright sparks, vivid yellow and red coursing along the balls, catching in the points, the glare adding to the promised thread of pain in the spikes of the ball.  The fourth one was quite mundane, a simple green color when compared to the others, but occasionally a caustic green drop would drop from its presence, a smoky black cloud would rise from the scorched ground.  The fifth head was a gangrenous yellowish-green, giving off an odor of rotten wounds.


 "Continue your mutterings, tin-man," the woman derisively said in Anomen's direction, "Maybe your god will give you the strength you lack yourself."


 A bright contralto issued forth from the shadows behind Delainy, and a tanned, muscular woman made her approach as well, her hair the color of sun-ripened wheat, ears angular but not as pointed the dark-skinned elf.  The blond's piercing blue eyes filled with irritation at the antics of the dark-haired woman.  Her features were strong, the delicate, ethereal allure of an elf blended with the vigorous beauty of a human into an exquisite blend of the two.  Adorned in vivid cobalt-blue armor, the armor made a nice contrast to her intense eyes.


 "Stop twitting him, Viconia,' the half-elf growled, "Every night you try his...and my patience, and every night you smirk as peace is made.  It grows tiring, and ill becomes you.  Find your amusement elsewhere."


 The drow arched a white eyebrow, and a sardonic grin crossed her lip, "Ooh, you rise to his defense so quickly Jaheira.  Perhaps you fancy the human for yourself?  Who would have thought that.  Then again, it isn't like you were available.  I mean, even a blind man could see your...attachment...to dear old Phelan?  That would explain his attachment to the...bitch."


 Jaheira's eyes clouded with anger, and she raised a mahogany colored staff, a small assortment of living flowers adorned the staff, the heady scent of their fragrance wafting in the air in a floral perfume.  Amitola turned her head as she heard a murderous growl come from Delainy's direction, and the werewolf moved toward the drow as well.


 "Enough!" echoed a voice that exploded as a crack of thunder, and a glowing purple flash of light whirled along the space between Jaheira and Viconia.  Both Jaheira and Viconia stepped back, as one final figure made her appearance.


 "I swear, you two are almost worse than children," said a chiding, young voice, pushing back her scarlet hood to expose a wrathful, youthful face.  The speaker's hazel eyes carried the anger that didn't dwell on her youthful face, crowned by a short-cut crown of pink hair.  The purplish glow crackled on the woman's hand, and then dwindled into nothingness.  The pink-haired woman moved with the slightest of sounds, her light-green elven chain-mail shirt allowing free movement, while offering a great measure of protection, though her black pants left the woman's legs exposed.  


 Jaheira nodded, "Quite right, Imoen," and made her way back to her position, not sparing Viconia a second glance.


 Imoen stared at Viconia, and a cold smile filled Imoen's earnest face, "You may wish to keep your opinions to yourself, Viconia.  One would think that you were carrying a torch for Anomen by the way you carry on around him."


 Viconia laughed harshly, "Don't think to change the tables with your pathetic mind-games Imoen."


 Imoen's hard smile remained as she countered, "Who said I was playing any games, Viconia?"


 Amitola sighed, and interrupted, "Can we deal with this later?  The sun is setting, and if we don't do it now, then we have to wait for it tomorrow."


 Imoen shrugged, "You're right.  I would just as soon get this done.  Delainy, are you ready?"


 The werewolf inclined her head, and silently made her way toward the X, Amitola and Imoen pressing in close, each standing equidistant from each other.  Jaheira, Anomen, and Viconia positioned themselves in the middle of one of the inner three, but a good ten feet from the three inner people, forming two rings.


 Delainy looked toward the horizon with the setting sun, and she started to sway slightly, her eyes closed, and sang in a clear voice,


 "We crave the darkness from the light,

 A twilight of rebirth,

 For the dawn of remembrance to come


 I can hear the empty silence

 Tarnished by deeds of the past

 Arise, until the ending of night"


 With the last of her words, the fiery orb descended for the night, the last, faint rays painting the sky a glowing purple slowing turning to dark.  From the north, a steady thud started slowly, growing in power.  Amitola's gaze flicked over to Anomen where she saw him pounding his hammer to the earth, its massive stone head now glowing a pure snow-driven white.  With each thud, a small circle of white forms around his feet, and a swirling twirl of ivory light climbed into the heavens in a circular pattern.  


 As the thud reached a crescendo, Anomen's clear voice echoed forth, "Helm, I call upon your guardianship, I entreat you for your aid.  You know what we do, and why.  Grant your favor once more, and allow me to do your work.  Allow your ever-seeing eye pierce the most powerful enchantments, and make them undone."


 Viconia shook her head, but raised her flail to the night sky, slowly swirling the multi-headed weapon around.  At first, each ball left a streak of color behind it, but as she picked up speed, the colors merged and became a thick sheath of blackness that enveloped her.  


 "Power is mine to call," the drow said with a deep, husky voice, "I summon you to me, to the darkness that is mine.  You are mine, and mine alone to obey.  By Shar's grace, so let it be done."


 Jaheira used her free hand and pointed at Anomen and the blackness suddenly flickered, and lashed out in his direction.  Grinning grimly, Anomen kept pounding the earth with his hammer, but directed a finger in Viconia's direction, and a lance of white energy rushed to meet hers.


 Amitola looked beyond the drow and knight, and grimaced as she saw cracks slowly appear in the earth, skeletal fingers, some with rotted meat on it, rend the earth asunder.


 *Every night, no matter how many times they are laid to rest, the lesser undead must arise, and they will do so until the Restless Dead are put down* she thought fiercely.


 Jaheira's voice then cut in, and the scent of flowers grew thicker yet, as the half-elf's voice unequivocally stated, "Mine is the balance that separates and unites.  The beginning and the end, that which allows the distinction between night and day, light and dark.  So Silvanus dictates, so let it be done."


 The woman twisted her staff ahead of her, its ends giving off a thick, green light. growing in front of her, and it grew as thickly as Anomen's white light, and Viconia's black light.  The green light then spread forth, meeting the two streams of light in the center, above the center of the X.  When all three lights came together, a solid grey color then rose in the center, moving along the path of its donated energies, reaching Jaheira, Viconia and Anomen at the same time.  From each person, two more lines of vibrant energy then snaked out, two lines moving directly from Anomen to Jaheira and Viconia, a line growing from Jaheira to Anomen and Viconia, and a snake-like growth from Viconia to Jaheira and Anomen, forming a triangular wall of power amongst the three of them; Viconia, Jaheira, and Anomen each a vertex of power.


 The triangle of power formed just as even the last rays of sunlight completely vanished, and suddenly a large, wailing moan escaped from the limits of the tears of the earth, and where the skeletal hands were pulling themselves to the surface, there now stood a large number of undead, a mixture of ghouls, skeletons, zombies, and other more ethereal types.


 Amitola winced as one the horde of undead reached the small group, only to bounce back as they futilely tried to cross the barrier.


 *A ward within the Ward* she thought, *Otherwise, we would be contesting with them all night long*


 Delainy then moved toward the X, the earth of it slowly opening as well, and in a calm, measured voice, spoke, "Arise kin to the children I bear, arise kin to the one who is the father of my cubs.  By the blood of their father, I share with them, and in the ties of blood, I am kin to you.  Arise."  For good measure, Delainy pressed her right hand to the point of the spear, seemingly unaffected by its enchantment, cutting her palm and then squeezing the blood onto the ground, the viscous fluid flowing until it touched the center of the X.


 The earth in the center of the X slowly thrust upward, and a corpse-green hand slowly pressed upward, and another, deeper moan rose from within.  Pulling himself up, in badly rent armor, a porcine face grew, a massive slash down one eye, his left tusk broken, showing death hadn't been kind to Gromnir at all.


 "Kin to me," he moaned, and then grinned, showing a row of teeth, "And enemy to me."


 The undead orc bent in Delainy's direction, and howled when he found his feet refusing to move.  Looking down, he found himself bound to the earth where Delainy's blood touched him.


 Imoen took one step forward, her eyes glittering determinedly, "Come brother, listen.  By the heritage that binds us, I am as you were once more, I will be as you are now.  There is no need for this, we are here to give you surcease."


 The orc let out a laugh that chilled Amitola's spine, and his waist twisted with the grinding of bones breaking until he faced Imoen, Gromnir's feet still rooted to the ground.  Amitola couldn't but feel a wince of disgust at this unnatural display.


 "Surcease?  What do you know of surcease?" the orc grunted, "You still live, touched as you were by the blood of our father.  Why were you so lucky, when I was not?"


 Gromnir threw back his head, and howled at the night sky, "Why you, not me?  It isn't fair!"


 There was another wrench as Amitola suddenly saw Gromnir's torso separate itself from his waist, until he was crawling along the dirt towards Imoen, maddened pain ululating in the night.


 Imoen looked at the orc sadly, and thrust her hands forward, the purplish nimbus of energy growing again, and then unleashed it onto the undead orc.  Gromnir's head echoed with renewed pain as he stopped in his tracks.


 Amitola shook her head, as she rushed over to the orc's torso at the same time as Imoen dropped her spell, and grabbed it in a tight bear-hug from behind.  The orc's shoulders bunched as he tried to move his arms, but Amitola's arms retained their grasp.


 "Let me go!" Gromnir bellowed.


 Amitola, her nostrils thick with the stench of rotten flesh, merely grunted, "No."  Bending at the knees, she lifted the torso straight up, and gave it a rough toss at the orc's bisected legs.  With several grunts, the torso rolled until they came to a stop just behind his knees.  Suddenly, another flash of purple filled the air, this time bathing the torso and legs.  From Delainy's direction, a silvery light filled the air, mingling with the purple.


 Gromnir's cries rose heavenward, and Amitola shook her head as she retook her position once more.  She reached down, and pulled out her sword, a rather unremarkable looking blade.  Amitola held the blade before her face, and she grunted, "Yes, Gromnir.  It is time to rest.  By this blade I hold, with the spilt blood of my people, the ashes of their death thick in my nostrils, you shall face oblivion once and for all."


 Taking a gauntleted hand, Amitola hit the flat of her blade with her palm, and a sound, akin to that of a thousand tortured souls, rang throughout the night.  And the sound didn't grow weaker, but louder.  And as it reached a crescendo that overshadowed even the pounding of Anomen's hammer, she then pointed the sword at Gromnir.  His cries were swallowed up with the cries of the blade, and then first his flesh, then his very bone started to turn into dust, being ground down by the force of Amitola's blade, and the magics of Delainy and Imoen.


 "Rest in peace, brother," Imoen said, dropping to her knees in exhaustion when nothing was left but the ashes of Saradush.

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Amitola stared at the spot where Gromnir's body was ground into dust and grim smile grew on the woman's face, as she said, "Yes, it is done."  


She raised her head, and heard the moans of the dead as they futilely pushed against the barrier summoned by Jaheira, Anomen, and Viconia.  Amitola closed her eyes, listening to the wail of their dead voices, the sound a pale echo to that bound within her blade.  


Amitola looked at her companions in each vertex of the triangular barrier, exhaustion etched on their face.  Jaheira's face was flushed red with blood, Anomen had sweat pouring down his face, and Viconia's own haughtiness long since driven away by exhaustion.


Turning on her heels with a dull clank of metal on metal, Amitola refocused her attention back on Delainy and Imoen.  Her eyes darted to Delainy, and she saw that the werewolf panted desperately for air, a hand resting on the curve of her belly.


"Are you alright?" Amitola asked, concern deep in her tone, and she moved to help the pregnant woman, her nostrils filling with the scent of sweat-slicked hair, and the ubiquitous scent of lilac wafted from the werewolf.


Delainy started to wave Amitola off, then changed her mind, clung to Amitola's proffered hand, and growled out, "I will be."  The werewolf bowed her head, her long hair touching the sooty ground, and took a deep breath.


The werewolf exhaled, and repeated, "I will be," and draped a hand along the bulging edge of her belly.  Delainy swayed on her feet slightly, and Amitola saw a small tremor shake the womb of the werewolf's belly.


Soft footfalls announced Imoen's presence, and Amitola stepped aside as the pink-haired mage grasped Delainy's hand.  Immediately, some of the tension eased on Delainy's face, a smile growing on the werewolf's face as she gazed deeply into Imoen's hazel eyes.


Amitola turned her head, allowing the two women a slight modicum of privacy, feeling slightly ill at ease with this small display of affection between the two, and even the faintest tinges of jealousy as well.


*And why should I be jealous,* Amitola thought, *it's not like I'm attracted to either of them.  Or to anyone else for that matter here.  They are necessary for what needs to be done, and we have bled for each other, fought for each other long enough that they are comrades, friends even.  So why should I care what they do?  Or am I just jealous they found each other...*


Amitola stole one more glance, seeing Imoen's fingers entwined around Delainy's free hand, and felt her impatience grow, "The others weaken.  We must be away, or else the undead will swarm us."


Imoen reluctantly pulled her hand apart, and nodded.  Delainy glared briefly at Amitola, then inclined her head as well.  The archmage and the werewolf bard stood apart, and started to chant, Imoen in a tongue that was old when elves themselves were young and Delainy in a language that was replete with yips, growls, and snarls.  As each woman's litany came to an end, they held their arms forth, and with a loud slap clasped their hand to each elbow to finish the spell.  Amitola felt the a warm breeze caress her face as a horizontal nimbus of orange energy grew before both women, displacing the air with its formation, forming a singular, levitating platform of magical energy.  


"Very good," Amitola stated encouragingly, "We know what to do, so let's be about it."


Delainy simply grunted, and with one more fluid motion, she started to drop to the ground, her human form shifting effortlessly into that of a wolf.  The sable-maned wolf raised her face at Imoen, and gave a small whine.  Imoen nodded, and placed her hands on the side of the wolf, intoning words in the same language, but this time of a much shorter duration.  When she finished, Delainy's size slowly grew until she was easily the size of a small horse.  The wolf threw back its head, and let out one, long howl then moved forward, and fastened her jaws on the orange platform.  Rather than biting through it, her mouth gained purchase, and with a fearsome tug, the floating energy started to move forward.  Satisfied with this turn of events, Delainy threw her massive form around, and a small tendril of energy clung to her lips like a leash, and she bounded toward the middle of the triangular ward the three priests were still holding.


"Last one there is a rotten egg," Imoen quipped slightly, and made her way towards Viconia, pulling out a blue bottle, a stylistic muscular arm on its surface.  Imoen's stride grew larger, as her own body seemed to fill out, especially along the thighs and calves of her body, though her shoulders and biceps grew in girth as well.  Viconia's eyes flashed in recognition at Imoen's advance, and the drow's arm dropped, still managing to clutch the flail.  Suddenly, that end of the vertex dropped, and the dark elf stooped forward, Imoen catching.  The mage then looped an arm under Viconia's legs, and another along her back, before sprinting in the direction of the floating platform. The roar of the undead suddenly grew more deafening, but still held back by the flickering remnants of the spell.


Amitola didn't waste any time either as she approached Anomen.  She saw the anguish on his face as he rhythmically kept pounding out the beat with his hammer, the crescendo growing weaker as its wielder did.  However, unlike Viconia, Anomen's eyes were glazed over, lost in the hypnotic beat of his working.


*Damn it, he's fallen under again* Amitola growled to herself, and she advanced on the priest of Helm, knowing that to interrupt someone in a casting could be dangerous, but it would certainly mean his demise to leave him behind to die, either by his heart bursting from the work, or else food for the assorted zombies.


Grasping her gauntlet, Amitola weighed it calculatedly in her hands, and tossed it at Anomen.  The priest didn't even seem to be aware of the metal glove until it hit him square on his forehead.  His eyes suddenly opened, and then he nodded as well when saw Amitola before him.  With a visible wince, and slumped forward as well.  Amitola ran to his side as the last of his magic dissipated, and she scooped up the hammer in one hand, renewed vitality, renewed vitality flowing through her arms as she felt her own strength increase.  With her other free hand, she grabbed the knight, armor and all, and threw him over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes and bounded for the glowing energy platform as well, reaching it at the same time as Imoen.  


"Gods," Imoen whispered, putting Viconia on the glowing surface as Amitola laid the ragged Anomen, "I wish there was an easier way to do this."


"Tell me about it," Amitola replied, scampering onto the floating ellipse, lending a hand to Imoen and pulling the mage up to the others, while a muffled snarl of agreement emanated from Delainy..


*It's not your fault that the Ward is based, at least in part, on the spell that was cast around Saradush, the one that prevented any kind of translocational spell to work.  If you had tried a teleport, all our guts would be painting the very edges of the spell.* Amitola thought, then shuddered, as she remembered one of the first tests that were used, that of summoned animals, to test the efficacy of the Ward.


*You would think some of those mages and clerics had never saw before,* she mused, *They had the theory, but didn't know if it would actually work.  It worked, beyond their wildest dreams.  And overnight, the predation of the undead was over, confined to the area that was Saradush.  Of course, it seems that every group has its clueless wonders.  Last week we found the remnants of a wizard, not more than a week dead.*


Suddenly, the platform started to move forward, in the direction of Jaheira, her green glow the only manifestation left of the triangle, though a vein throbbed on the druid's forehead, her face now an ashen gray.  


Amitola snorted slightly as she remembered how Anomen first felt about this plan, about his disagreement, complaining that it was up to a man to mount the rear guard, not a woman.


*Even if the woman in question had the greatest endurance of any priest or priestess* Amitola thought deprecatingly.  


Amitola then saw that they were rapidly coming upon Jaheira, but unlike Anomen, she hadn't succumbed to the lure of the beat.  Amitola leaned outward, her arm bent crookedly.  A small smile crept across the druid's face, and she too ceased her spell casting, and then the spell fell in its entirety.  Amitola bent low, catching Jaheira, staff and all, in the crook of her arm, and pulled her onto the platform, and the wolf put on another burst of speed as she made her way to the edges of the Ward.


Amitola gritted her teeth as she saw the blaze of light that marked the boundary of the magical construct, wishing once more that they had thought of a more efficient way to attend to the cleansing of Saradush.


*But what can you do?  It was shown that even after being laid to rest, the lesser undead rose good as new each sunset.  How many warriors, how many priests were lost as they fought the undead only to have them arise once more?  Not to mention, bound as they were to the site of their deaths, the dead Bhaalspawn?* Amitola grunted, *And of course, with each death, it added one more corpse to the pile to rise as well, a sort of undead contagion* she thought, *It wasn't until after three expeditions were lost that another option was sought.  It was theorized that it was the slain Bhaalspawn that was causing the eternal restlessness, and it seemed to be true.  If the Bhaalspawn could be laid to rest, then maybe, just maybe, the rest of the dead would find peace.*


Amitola stopped her train of thought as another large growl came from Delainy's direction.  The follower of the Red Knight gritted her teeth, hating what was to come next.


"Get ready!" she shouted, and then a loud, pain filled scream escaped her lips, mingling with the pain filled cries of the werewolf, and was soon joined by the others.  A flash of searing white light filled Amitola's eyes, and for a moment she thought she had forgotten how to breathe, and then white flashed into blackness, but somehow she retained consciousness.  Then, all pain ceased.


After what seemed like an eternity of aches, a cool calmness filled her body, and she found herself looking up into the face of a young man, his attempts at keeping his face clean shaven looking doomed to failure.  Worry adorned his face, and he ran a hand through his close-cropped blonde hair, then down the side of his pale-green surcoat.  His soft brown eyes took in Amitola's sudden awareness, and he said, "Another successful mission, Lady Amitola?"


Amitola started to speak, but her throat was parched, and the man pressed a canteen of lukewarm water to her lips.  As the liquid welcomingly slid down her throat, she croaked out, "Yes it was Loyans Xerxes."


Xerxes nodded, and pulled back the canteen, his anxious eyes looking at Amitola's prone form, "It is hard to tell from this side of the Ward, but it seems that number of undead rising is actually waning substantially with each Bhaalspawn put down."


"Good," Amitola grunted, placing her hands down on the ground and pushed herself up.  A wave of vertigo hit her, but it quickly dissipated as she groggily made her way to her feet.  Xerxe's hand pushed out to steady her, but Amitola weakly pushed it off.


"I am quite fine, Loyans Xerxes," Amitola said, extending her arm out, and prevented herself from swearing at losing yet another gauntlet.


"It's a shame about the Ward," Xerxes offered conversationally as Amitola then checked the rest of her other bodies, "No magic can go in, no magic can go out, unless it is part of one's nature."


"Indeed," Amitola said, "Of course, the pain filled response doesn't help either, does it?  Good way of keeping people out at night, you must agree.  It is only with forward momentum that we stand a chance of even getting out at night."


Xerxes nodded, his eyes now glued to the glowing magical field that encased the ashes of Saradush, and said, "At least it is weaker in the day."


Amitola shrugged as she finished her personal inspection, "That's because it draws on the daylight for its energy at night, to keep it going.  Like the road to the Abyss, entrance is easy, exit is difficult."


"I will take your word for it," Xerxes replied, "Still, is it absolutely necessary to go there as your opposition gains strength?† 


Amitola looked into the Loyan's youthful eyes, and she had to stifle the urge to chuckle as she thought *Youthful?  He is only three younger than you.  He lacks but one year to celebrate two decades and a half.*


Pausing thoughtfully, straightening out her surcoat, noticing a few more dents in her armor that would need to be hammered out, then answered, “Seek out your opponent’s weakness, that is one of the most basic of our creeds...that and know your own limitations.  They are weakest in the day, yes, but all attempts to bind them in the day have met with failure.  It is only when they are...awakened, that one may bind them.  That means one has to bind them at night.  It’s best to find where they drop during the day, and cast the spells just between the waning of the day, and the waxing of the night.  Imagine trying to go through the Ward as the night came to an end.  One small party tried that.  The pieces were found spread out in a five hundred yard radius the next day.â€Â


*Of course, it doesn’t help that the Ward also prevents all magic but that already within one to enter...or exit.  That is why we are always so sore when we exit the Warded area.  The platform disappears, absorbed by the barrier, our physical momentum the only thing to carry us past the edges...and to be dragged to safety.* she thought, noticing the black and blue edges starting form along the length of her arms.


“How are my companions?†she asked worriedly as she suddenly remembered Delainy’s condition.


“The bitc...the drow and Sir Anomen are in their respective tents,†Xerxes answered automatically, “Or, they were.  The guards reported that last night the drow’s tent was empty, and the night before, so was his.â€Â


Amitola shook her head in wonder, finding amusement in the two’s ‘secretive’ affair.  


*Truly an odd couple.  Very dysfunctional, but they do say opposites attract* she reflected with humor.


Xerxes continued, breaking Amitola’s train of thought, “The druid, she’s resting...I won’t say peacefully.  The guards on duty still hear her occasionally cry out at night for one named Khalid, and occasionally...not often...Phelan.  Lady Amitola, Phelan, he was the name of the...â€Â


“Of the Bhaalspawn, yes,†Amitola responded quietly, then the ones she was more concerned about, “Delainy, Imoen, how are they?â€Â


Xerxes’ face blushed this time, and he said, “Both...are resting comfortably in their tent.  The werewolf was still standing as we came out, though a bit crazed when we went to pull Imoen free.  It took a few moments before the wolf came to her senses, but then we had no further problems.  I don’t remember Lady Delainy being this way.â€Â


“Its because she is nearing her time,†Amitola said, now pulling out her blade, examining it for nicks, scrapes, or simple blood stains, “Plus...she was protecting her mate.â€Â


Xerxes paused, then added, “It is true then?  About Delainy that is?  She carries the children of the Bhaalspawn?â€Â


Amitola weighed the blade in the palms of her hand, looking on as the surface rippled with the moonlight shining overhead, the rays turning the blue-steel into the burnished red of blood, and answered, “If you mean Phelan, yes, she was his...lover...and she was his killer.  Her and Imoen.â€Â


Phelan stood triumphantly over the prone form of Melissan, his sword drenched in crimson blood.  The blue-skinned, ivory-winged Solar stood passively nearby, her gaze as cold as a killing frost.


“So, let me get this straight,†Phelan said, disbelief in his voice, “I can choose to become a god?â€Â




“The last of the essence,†Phelan murmured speculatively, “But I am the last Bhaalspawn.â€Â




“Three?†Phelan quizzically mumbled, rubbing his hand along his jaw, “But I don’t have any brothers or sisters left, none but Imoen...†His lips twitched, and he glanced at Imoen.  


Imoen looked back at him nervously, and she whispered, “What...what is wrong Phelan?  Why are you looking at me that way?â€Â


He licked his lips, and a tear rolled down his eye, but he hefted his sword, and said, “I’m sorry Imoen†and strode forward.


At least for a few feet, anyways.  Phelan stopped, then stumbled as he saw he looked down and saw a large pair of hair claws extending outside of his stomach.  He winced, as he fell to the ground, twisting to see Delainy, in a form part-wolf, part-woman, a hybrid of the two, already starting to shift into human form.


Disbelief filled Phelan’s eyes, and he uttered, a bubble of blood coloring his lips, “Why?â€Â


Phelan then rocked on his feet as another welling of blood sprouted from his chest, Imoen’s dagger buried to the breastbone of his chest.  Then he fell to the ground staring straight into the darkened sky overhead.


Delainy glared down, no kindness on her face as she laid a hand on her womb, and spat in a fury at Phelan’s dying form, “She said there was three Bhaalspawn.  Did you forget your cubs already in your rush for power.â€Â


Sorrow creased Phelan’s features, then he grew limp, as his last words died into the floor, “But...I...didn’t...â€Â


Delainy shook her head sorrowfully, and whispered at her dead lover, “The lovesick, the betrayed, and the jealous...all smell alike.â€Â


Delainy then stood up, and resumed a fighting stance, looking at a bewildered Imoen, and the calm Solar, before snarling, “So what now?  I will not allow any to hurt my cubs...â€Â




Disbelief crossed Delainy’s face, as she growled, “You mean...they had a choice?  How could they choose.  Then why...with Imoen...†and then slumped to the ground, her garments getting drenched in Phelan’s spilled blood.




Imoen, the look of confusion rapidly fleeing her face, shouted out, “Take it!  I never wanted it!  Take it and let it be gone...â€Â


“AND SO LET IT BE.†the Solar solemnly stated and disappeared in a flash of light.


“What was that?†Amitola asked, shaking herself free from the memory of the past event, noticing the ache in her arms from keeping them outstretched, the flat of her blade still there.


“I asked,†Xerxes said, “Are you alright?â€Â


“No, not really,†Amitola answered evenly, “But I will be.  I intend to go get some rest right now...unless there is need of me?â€Â


Xerxes shook his head, “No, there isn’t.â€Â


Amitola’s eyes flicked along the length of her blade, the moonlight displaying some lettering that Imoen said was older than even elven, draconic runes, and from what her research could show, spelled out the name of her blade, Serene Elegance, the Soul-Cleaver.

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Amitola stirred slightly in her sleep, the edges of her nose wrinkling as the sweet smell of hyacinth slowly filtered into her unconsciousness.  She turned, pulling her pillow over her head to try to block out the scent, but the cloying odor soon enveloped her, penetrating even the thick fabric of the pillow.


"Damn it, get those flowers out of here," she grumbled, sitting straight up in her bed, only to find that as her eyes opened wide she was still enclosed in darkness.


Amitola tried to glance around, but blackness still enshrouded her, no matter how long she allowed her eyes to adjust.  Taking a deep breath, she almost gagged as the odor of hyacinth was so strong she swore she could taste flowers in her mouth.


The follower of the Red Knight turned on her heels as she heard the light scampering of feet, the gentle footfalls running first toward her, then away.


"Whoever you are, come out where I can see you!" Amitola growled.


Her answer was the sound of a young woman's giggle, the soft noise lulling the red-headed warrior's slightly.


Amitola shook her head, and bit down on her tongue, chiding herself, *Don't fall for it girl...don't you dare."


The brief flash of pain forced out the complacency she felt just moments earlier and Amitola reached out to the front of her bed to the location where she kept her blade.  Her hand grabbed the hilt of her sword, and Amitola regained some of her reassurance at hefting the blade.


With one, quick fluid motion she pulled out Soul Cleaver with the littlest of sounds.  A vivid light-blue slowly danced along the edges of her blade, highlighting the imbedded runes once more.  The contents of her tent were shown in the dim luminescence of her sword.  The woman shivered as the shadows flickered and capered in the unnatural light of her sword, seeming to take the shape of claws and teeth, reaching out to embrace her.


Amitola snorted, *Getting skittish in my old age...* when the laugh returned, this time a bit louder, and behind her.


In one quick motion, Amitola pivoted on her foot, rolling onto her cot before coming to a stop on the other side.  She looked warily around her, but saw nothing untoward.


*Not that it would have done you any good,* the analytical portion of her mind thought with deep chagrin, *By the time you heard the laughter, someone could have stuck a dagger deep into you.*


Amitola paced the confines of her small tent, looking for the smallest clue as to who, or what was bedeviling her.  However, there was no disturbance in her belongings, no displacement of dirt from someone sneaking in through a tent flap, nothing that could be considered the slightest of tracks.


"Must be imagining things," Amitola whispered to herself, though the idea left a bad tasted in her mouth.


*You can't trust a commander who is seeing things.  And if you can't trust yourself, you certainly can't afford to lead troops out into the field.* she thought.


Amitola shook her head once more, and opened her tent flap.


*Fresh air, to clear my head, that could do the job,* she considered, *Too stuffy anyways, and whoever brought those flowers is due for a major ass-chewing."


Amitola parted the tent flap, when she heard the child's chortle once more, and the lady knight felt a chill run up her spine.


"One last time, who are you?" Amitola asked, glancing around her encampment, her eyes drawn to the blazing fire that was kept going all night.


*Where are the guards?  Surely there would have been some alarm from the sentries if nothing else...* she thought warily.


Amitola felt a slight change in the air, a small burst of cold from her left side.  Immediately, the knight rolled to the side, bringing her sword up in a protective gesture as she completed her maneuver, only to see nothing there.


"I am definitely losing it," she muttered.


Amitola's head perked up when she heard the laugh for a third time, this time seeming to come from all around her.


"Ha ha...I hope you are having a good time.  I certainly don't think it's so funny," the woman said to the empty air.  


Amitola waited patiently for another disturbance, but none came.  Warily she started to stride around the fire, looking for the source of the laughter, or signs of the others in camp.


Once upon a time, there was a beautiful doll who sat on a child's shelf...


Amitola whirled around, her blade glowing more vibrantly, and she uttered, "So, you can speak after all."


Of course, as she was a doll, there wasn't much she could do other than sit and watch the world go by.


"What are you talking about?" Amitola shouted out, grasping her sword now with both hands, trying desperately to find the source of the voice.


This doll had the most pretty eyes.  They were made of grey glass, but the pupils...the pupils were painted the most vivid of reds.


A harsh cry of anguish left Amitola's mouth as her hands grasped desperately for her eyes.  A sudden flare of pain filled her head, as if someone jabbed a burning poker into her eye-socket.  Amitola's sword dropped to the earth, and it landed vertically, its point buried several inches into the ground.  The red-headed woman fell to the ground, and she rolled on the ground until the pain subsided, leaving her as quickly as it came.  


Gingerly, she lifted her head and found herself staring at her wavering reflection on the blade of her sword.  Staring back at her were two eyes of the hue of the grayest ash, two crimson dots peering back at her.


With all that she had seen, the doll had a lot to tell.  Sadly, she couldn't, for her mouth was sewn on.


"Mmmm....mmm...." Amitola tried to scream as the same intense anguish as before filled her mouth, centered on her lips, but found her orifice sealed shut.


For years, and years she did not move.  How could she?  She was nothing but a child's plaything.


Amitola fell to the ground with a loud, meaty thud.  She tried to stir herself, to roll away, to do anything, but found her body resisting her very command.


*Lady above, help me!" Amitola desperately pleaded.


Then, one day, the doll's child came to her, picked her up, and looked at her plaything.  After several minutes, the child decided that the doll really wasn't that beautiful.  In fact, she hated the way the doll looked at her mutely, judging her.  So, the child took the doll by the head, placed her two hand's around the plaything's head, and started to twist...


Amitola desperately tried to gasp for air as a great weight was exerted over her chest, while massive pressure was applied to her throat.  Through the haze of pain, Amitola realized with great clarity that her head was slowly moving to the left.


And twisted it clear off...


The need to breath grew stronger and stronger,  the force was almost too much for Amitola to bear.  Deep within, her lungs bellowed for more air, rebelling at the blackness overcoming her, causing a mouthless scream to seek release...


...and Amitola sat upright, a long, loud scream issuing from her mouth, thrusting her covers aside.

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The flaps of Amitola's tent opened with a great flurry.  Xerxes rushed in, two other men close on his heels, their weapons drawn.  Xerxes' eyes shifted back and forth dangerously as he examined the tent, looking for any possible trouble.


"Is everything alright Lady Amitola?" asked the follower of Torm, his gaze now focusing on her.  A faint pink  slowly grew on his face, and Xerxes turned his head to the side, averting his stare from Amitola's now exposed breasts.


Amitola, rattled as she was from the dream, had started to take deep breaths until she regained her composure.   However, a small part of her mind, that which was trained to keep a close awareness of all that transpired around her, made note that even with his head cast aside, Xerxes was sneaking glances in her direction.


"Yes, Loyans Xerxes," Amitola answered carefully, pulling up the covers to hide her partial nakedness, "It was just a dream.  A very bad one, but a dream nonetheless."


Xerxes nodded, and then replied, "As you say milady.  Still, at this time, in this place.  Well, sometimes our dreams are just that, dreams.  Other times they can be a premonition, a warning if you will.  Maybe if you told me what it was, we could divine hte meaning of the dream."


Amitola gave Xerxes a withering look, and stated, "Maybe we will, but not until I put on a change of clothes.  Do you mind, good sir?"


Xerxes coughed, the pink intensifying to a scarlet red, and he mumbled, "I'm sorry Lady Amitola, I didn't realize."  Xerxes then bowed low and slowly backed out of the tent.


Amitola, the last ill-effects of her dream fading, chuckled at his behavior, but stopped suddenly as she thought, *Then again, wouldn't you also be just as embarrassed if you rushed into his tent, and found him naked, screaming from a dream?*


With that sobering consideration, Amitola rose out of bed, and slowly started to get dress, sniffing the air as she put on her gambeson.


*It really could do with a wash,* she thought, *And not just with dunking it in the river.  How is that old saying...ah yes, one can tell the quality of the warrior by the care she gives her equipment.*


Buckling her sword last, Amitola gave one last quick sweep of her tent, and her lips curled at the accommodations that had been her home for the last several months.


*Of course, it is the lot of a soldier to gripe,* she contemplated, *If everything is going perfectly, that's when you can tell that the shit is about to come down in waves.*


The red-headed woman stepped outside, and had to blink several times as her eyes adjusted to the light.


*Great, not only did I sleep badly, but it already past mid-morning.  It feels like I slept half the day away, yet I could crawl back into bed* she growled in her mind.


She stepped forward, and saw that the others were already awake, and most of them reflected how she felt.  Each had dark circles under their eyes, and their clothing hung loosely on them.


"Good morning," Amitola said quietly.


"And what is so good about it?" Viconia darkly murmured.


Amitola ignored the vitriol that was part and parcel of Viconia's demeanor, though she noticed that even the drow was haggard this morning.


*Too tired to fight maybe?* Amitola thought, *Or did Anomen wear her out last night.*


The follower of the Red Knight shook her head, once more not understanding the relationship between the two of them.


*Then again, it really isn't my place to say, now is it?* she reflected.


Curbing that thought, Amitola looked around at the others, and said, "So, with laying Gromnir to rest, that leaves..."


"Just one," Jaheira said, "One left, and then we will be done.  He will be the toughest one of..."  


Jaheira yawned before she could finish her sentence, and said, "Pardon me, I didn't sleep well last night.  It's taking its toll on me this morning."


Anomen grumbled, "Tell me about it.  Viconia was...even I could hear her swears coming from her tent."


Imoen chirped in, "Then you must try harder Anomen.  You should never leave your woman wanting more.."


Anomen pivoted on his heel, and said, "What in the Nine Hells are you prattling about now?"


Imoen's eyes flashed angrily, and she said, "Oh come now Anomen, it isn't like everyone doesn't know about you and..."


"Enough," Jaheira cried, whirling around, and anger mounting on her face as well, "We have one last task to complete, and then, if you wish to fight like children, then you can."


Delainy tried to stand, her face the most wan of all, and tottered briefly as she yelped quietly, "Imoen."


The fight suddenly left the pink-haired woman's face, and she quickly moved to the werewolf's side, offering what support that she could.


"Hey, take it easy," replied the arch-mage, aiding Delainy back to sit down again, "What were you doing getting up anyways?"


*I guess that's one way to defuse the situation* mused Amitola.


Delainy answered, "Tell them about the dreams, love.  I think it's important.  I can't recall off-hand the last time we all looked like death warmed over."


Imoen twined her fingers with the werewolf's, and said, "Do you think it matters?"


"I don't know," Delainy murmured, then winced as if someone had kicked her in the stomach, "But it could."


Imoen sighed, "Okay."


The pink-haired arch-mage sat down once more, her gaze occasionally moving over to settle on Delainy, when she spoke up, "I...think it is obvious that none of us slept well last night.  I know that I woke up...not screaming, like you did Amitola, but wake up I did.  And about the same time so did Del."


The werewolf gritted her teeth at hearing her name shortened, but remained silent as Imoen continued, "I dreamt that I was back at the asylum.  That Irenicus...had me all over again."


Imoen's face fell slightly, and she resumed, "Except my tormentor was faceless.  Each time I was cut, I heard this child's voice, a girl's really giggle, saying, 'This will hurt me a lot more than it hurts you.'  After the fifth strike, the voice laughed again, and said, 'I lied.  This is going to hurt you a lot more.'"


The young woman remained silent for a few seconds, then softly said, "That's when I woke up."


Delainy tightened her hold on Imoen's hand, and said, "Mine...was different, but not too much so.  It ended with a voice coming from the darkness, stroking and patting my head, saying, 'Good doggie.'  Then, I felt something enter my mouth, something I couldn't see press down on it.  I heard the crack of bone, felt the flash of pain as my jaw separated, and heard the voice giggle, 'Don't bite.'"


The small party remained silent, when Amitola offered, "I had a dream too..." and quickly explained about the voice telling a story, and with each line, she found her body reacting to the tale, before waking up before having her head being wrenched entirely off.


Imoen grimaced, and a dangerous edge crept into her voice, "It sounds like someone is playing with us.  All dreams different, but the same voice?  Viconia, Anomen, Jaheira, did you have a similar dream?"


Viconia shrugged, "Now that you mention it surfacer, yes, even I dreamed of something untoward."


Another few seconds passed when Amitola impatiently asked, "And what was it about?"


Viconia was reticent for a few seconds, then said, "I was scourging a slave, but there was something wrong.  With each strike, this young girl, for female she was, though I never saw her face.  She would tell me that I was doing it wrong.  Even as the blood pooled at my feet, she would deride me, whether with 'You need to use your wrist more,' or 'Don't bend your elbow.'  Suddenly, the whip was pulled from my hands, and then applied to my backside.  After...some time...much as you, I awakened."


Amitola nodded at Viconia's responses, then asked Jaheira and Anomen, "You two, was it much the same?"


Jaheira affirmed, "Yes, a voice in the darkness of my dreams, taunting me."


Anomen interrupted, "Mine was much the same.  Except there was a garrote made from my hair, and I felt a stick beating me on the sides.  The voice kept asking when the goodies would fall out..."


The cleric bunched his hand into a fist, and slammed it heavily into the palm of his other hand, and barked, "I swear by Helm that I will find whoever is responsible for this and put an end to it."


Amitola remained silent while Anomen continued to vent.


*And what if that was the intent of the dreams?  To put us off balance?  In a straight fight, there is very little that can face us and survive.* Amitola pondered.


The acolyte of the Red Knight allowed further discussion to continue, but eventual she said, "I don't know what we are to do about this, but we have one final task left lest we forget."


Jaheira cocked her head, and said, "Yes, the last Bhaalspawn slain at Saradush.  Yaga-Sura."

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