Rush Of Blood To The Head, part 7.5.
Demin wakes from her daze soon enough, but naturally is quite upset about Edwin’s attempt to end her life prematurely. Of course, pressing Edwin to offer his apologies is absolutely impossible, thus of course the job again falls on my shoulders and all credit to the priestess for actually listening to me after our previous outbursts.
“Well, I must thank you for abstaining from killing an injured and helpless woman,” she notes, “I suppose, I can only expect that even the mention of The Exile’s name can trigger such strong emotions in you, that they make you lose your temper.”
“Indeed… you never know with those barbaric races, do you?” I smirk, “now, perhaps you can finish the story you started… and you have my promise that there will be no more interruptions like the one before… so, Ellesime petitioned the gods to strip the elven spirit from them and then cast them out to wreak havoc and horror outside the elven settlements… please, continue.”
“Yes, I shall… of course, they tried to counteract the divine curse, for example, the sister exposed herself to vampirism… but gods are not routed so easily,” Demin coughs briefly, before continuing, “The brother did not risk doing the same. A better man would have learned to appreciate what he had lost, perhaps learning humility and seek to make amends. He did not prove to be a 'better man.'”
“You expected someone like Irenicus to apologize and repent for his sins?” now is Jaheira’s turn to ask in disbelief, “then… then none of you ever truly knew him! He would have never done that, not with his arrogant, unbreakable pride! Foolish… how foolish of you… regardless if your intention was a noble one, the execution of it was… well, it was moronic, and it caused many deaths of innocent people.”
“We will kill him, I promise as much,” Viconia snarls, “but after that, we will kill that Ellesime, too… had it not been for her idiocy, he would have never touched you…” she adds, looking at Imoen.
“It is not Ellesime’s fault… we all hoped this would turn out better,” Demin sighs, “but instead, The Exile has found a way to restore himself, has made pacts with our most despised enemies, and has resumed his original plot – to drain the Tree of Life and gain the divine status.”
“And I suppose that stealing my soul was a part of this plan… or perhaps he just needed it to replace his severed spirit?” I muse.
“I have no way to accurately measure the cost of our decisions on you. Reparations will be made, if there is anyone left here to make them. I... I am still in shock that this happened,” finally Demin says something that doesn’t make me want to smack her in the face.
“So much of Suldanessellar's defenses were away, battling the Drow and their incursion at the temple. We were left weak, which was exactly what Irenicus had hoped for,” Demin continues, “One group of exiles helping another, both so full of their petty hatred and jealousy that they would stop at nothing to strike at our hearts. The Exile brought to the city magical constructs and demons, and a... a black dragon, which landed to the northwest. I have been trying to fight, but there are too many of them.”
“Obviously, we need to defeat the root of all the problems, which is Irenicus,” I conclude, “but we need to get inside the palace, we have a reason to believe that he is inside…”
“If we kill the mage,” Edwin flinches at Keldorn’s words, but this time the paladin does not speak of him, “then his army of minions will become disorganized and will be routed easily.”
“Indeed, he has taken Ellesime into the palace and is preparing for the dark ritual to drain the tree and obtain the divine powers…” Demin confirms our suspicions.
“The gate to the palace is well protected and attacking it openly might prove too dangerous,” Jaheira says, “we came here in hopes that you might provide us with a plan.”
“I have tried to get inside the palace, but it is warded off magically – you would not be able to enter, even if you had fought and defeated the defenders of the gate. But… there is one possible way… it might prove dangerous, but it will offer you a chance to get inside the palace and to help and save those few survivors of the carnage, all at once…” Demin speaks, “of course, you can reclaim the streets from the monsters with brute force, but the solution I suggest would be far more efficient and less risky.”
“Well, anything would be better than a mindless hand-to-hand combat,” I point out, “please, tell us about your plan.”
“Near the palace is a temple, dedicated to Rillifane Rallathil. He can summon the spirit defenders of the forest to protect us... and has the power to break the wards on the palace. But the Leaflord must be awakened and summoned, in order for the spirits to come. The Exile's creatures have desecrated the temple and stolen the artifacts that are needed,” Demin explains, and I gather that we are expected to participate in a merry hunt for the artifacts.
“The artifacts are held by the Exile's minions and because of my connection with the Leaflord I have managed to divine their place of location. One of them is held by the black dragon in the northwest, another one is in a house to the west of the palace and the third is in the Temple, itself… prepare for a fight in order to reclaim them,” Demin says, “These three artifacts are a talisman of Rillifane, a golden cup, and a moonblade. After you have retrieved them, place the items on the statue in the centre of the temple. This will summon the Leaflord to our defense.”
“Oh, and then that Leaflord will clear the streets for us? That would be nice…” Nalia squeaks.
“Yes, it is about time someone would do some work for us, I’m getting terribly annoyed of breaking sweat for someone else, all the time,” Viconia smirks.
“Yes, Rillifane will help… but you must hurry, for the longer you delay, the more elves die… please, go quickly!” Demin exclaims and tries to rise from the chair, but her legs still don’t offer her the usual support…
“Will you be able to make it to the gates on your own?” Jaheira asks as we are about to exit her home, but Demin just waves her hand dismissively and motions us to leave.
Once outside, we decide to make a half-circle around the edge of the city, in order to stay away as far as possible from the centre of the settlement to avoid getting caught up in large battles. Still, from time to time we come across groups of hostile creatures, mostly golems and elementals of various sorts, but nothing that we could not defeat with a little effort.
I am in a bit of incomprehension, wondering exactly where a dragon could have landed in this city, as there is no suitable place for a creature of huge proportions to settle in… so I conclude that it is probably residing just outside the city and my companions agree with my assumption. A couple of elves that we manage to save from being crushed by a towering iron golem, confirm our suspicions and point towards a wide, long air bridge, leading downwards, but the end of the bridge disappears in the thickness of leaves. The elves offer their gratitude in terribly stuttering voices, and then leave as quickly as possible, the proximity of the dragon making them very nervous.
Before we proceed to face the dragon itself, there is a call to stop for a moment in order for mental preparations… In my case it results in realizing how hungry I am and I retrieve some rations from my pack and start to nibble on those, thinking that fighting a dragon on empty stomach is probably a bad omen in any case. Seeing me eating, my friends follow my example and Jaheira feels obliged to remind everyone not to load up their stomachs too much, unless we want to make the dragon very happy…
“I still can’t believe that…” Imoen says, before biting off another lump of bread, “that Irenicus was once normal… honourable or… well, good…”
“It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?” I reply, “It’s quite possible that we would not recognize him, if we were to meet him when he was still a… well, a normal elf. I wonder what changed him the most, the seductive schemes of his sister or that curse of the queen… well, no point in guessing, I suppose.”
“We only know him as a despicable, remorseless beast,” Jaheira speaks, “what was before he became as such… perhaps there is a lesson to learn from all of this, but this is not the time to muse about it. He will pay for what he did to you and Imoen, I will see to that,” she looks at me with a steely determination in her eyes.
“And of course you have a husband to avenge as well, Jaheira,” Nalia adds and her words hit me like a brick in the face and I see that Jaheira is also struggling to find the words…
So… she knows that Khalid did not die in the dungeon… I always suspected that she knew, but now I am sure… and yet, she stood with me, despite that… I wonder… I wonder what it took from her, to make that decision…
“That goes without saying, Nalia,” Viconia chimes in, before someone has picked up on our strange reactions, “and I agree with Jaheira. Irenicus must die. Nothing we learn about his noble deeds in the past will make me reconsider… and I care not of what made him the way he is. He dies, it is decided.”
“I hope you will use this to learn a very good lesson, young Edwin,” Keldorn says admonitory, “powerful magic combined with unhealthy ambition, even obsession, leads to a disaster… remember that, wizard.”
“And what do you propose paladin? That I would be more content as a mere peasant with no ambitions whatsoever?” Edwin sneers, “a man without an ambition is like a… like a fish ashore… helpless, miserable and… ah… dead… (Gah! That parable really didn’t come out as perfect as it was supposed to be… well, nobody is laughing yet. Good.)”
Keldorn only sighs and we resume eating, time from time I throw a glance at Jaheira, trying to read at least some traces of wandering emotion in her eyes, but all I see is determination and assuredness, her thoughts already fixed on the fight with the wyrm. A few moments later we gather our things and leave in the direction the elves pointed us to… the dragon is waiting.
Rush Of Blood To The Head, part 7.5.
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