VI. Final Combat
The five appeared with Solar on a suspended platform in a strange dimension. Amidst a faint azure background, they saw only twisting, connecting, intertwining bridges, platforms and stairways snaking through space. It was endless in every direction, no roof or sky above and no ground or floor below. No mountains or walls. The staircases and walkways merely hung in space, all connected to one another but with huge gaps of emptiness in between, no walls or railing along them and a seemingly endless drop at a single misstep.
Suddenly another conduit opened and Imoen and Jan walked in from Baldur's Gate, led by Elminster himself. The famous wizard conjured another gate and Minsc fell through it, Boo shrieking as the massive ranger plopped onto the platform.
"Where are we, Boo?" he asked his hamster, scratching his tattooed head. "Minsc last remembers smashing the little skull of a very rude tiefling captain! He and his men were asking the way to Baldur's Gate and got very mad when I didn't know which conduit the silly plane-hoppers should take! Minsc was more than happy to kick their butts, but now Minsc is lost in a conduit too!"
"I have summoned you here, brave ranger, to combat a terrible threat to the Realms and indeed the multiverse," Elminster explained.
"Point with your pointy hat and show me this evil!" Minsc cried excitedly and sprang to his feet.
"Irenicus is becoming nearly godlike himself and his terrible magics now threaten the entire Weave," Elminster warned them. "Solar and I must go now and undo them. You must face Irenicus himself here. Onyx, pray for both of your sons." With that Elminster and Solar disappeared.
On a disc-shaped platform far away, the party could see Irenicus waving his arms in the air, powerful currents of lightning and magic flying from his hands. Eryx stood beside him, wings folded down, an intense scowl across his face, bastard swords held crossed and motionless.
Suddenly, parts of the heroes' platform gave way and Onyx, Minsc and Valygar fell onto a wide bridge below which then split into three parallel bridges. Staircases grew out of the flooring under Imoen, Nalia and Jan's feet and escalated them all up to the corners of a triangular surface above. The remainder of their former platform jutted out forward into a bridge, carrying Aerie and Sky on it.
Irenicus pointed towards them with his arms and then his body flew towards all. Floating in space before them, he began opening gates in front of the heroes.
In front of Valygar was gated in a figure which had once been a man but was now a wraith. In life he had been Yoshimo.
"A geas, my friends, a geas, I could not help it!" he mocked.
In front of Minsc was gated in the wraith of a halfling warrior. In life she had been Mazzy Fentan.
"I wanna be a paladin, lemme be a paladin!" she whined.
And in front of Onyx was gated in the wraith of a knight. In life he had been Sir Anomen Delyrn.
"Now Onyx, what kind of paladin are you? Great wealth, a vampiric blade, an illegitimate son and a demonic one?" he scolded.
Through the gate in front of Aerie and Sky walked two drow priestesses. They were Viconia and Luna.
"Face our dark wrath, pale fairies!" they chanted together.
And then Jon Irenicus himself levitated down in the middle of Nalia, Imoen and Jan.
"And now," spoke Irenicus with a voice that was emotionless and yet deafening, "Prepare for final combat!"
Valygar drew Celestial Fury and Hindo's Doom while Yoshimo drew two katanas of his own. The two masters ran at one another and leapt into the air, disappearing in the ethereal shadows of the plane as they did so. An explosion of sword-on-sword and boot-on-armor was heard as they reappeared in a whirlwind of slices and kicks. As they fell, Yoshimo actually ran up Valygar's body and bicycle kicked his chest and face, but as Valygar landed he braced himself with his elbows and one knee while his other leg shot straight up like a piston and smashed into Yoshimo, sending the bounty hunter flying off the bridge. Yoshimo grabbed the edge with his hands as his body fell past it, and pushed off the underside of the bridge with his feet, somersaulting back up on it in a tight ball of katana blades. Hasting himself, Valygar met the blinding speed with numerous slashes of his own. As Yoshimo came out of his spin, Valygar sent a magic missile into the thief's chest, who whipped out a crossbow as he fell back and fired a volley of bolts at the hasted Valygar, who deftly dodged them or deflected them off his katanas.
The two ran at each other again and began an intense dance of swordplay and martial arts. At last their arms wrapped around each other and the twisted into a knot, pulling their bodies together with elbows and katanas sticking out to all sides. One rigid mass, they leapt into the air and began kicking at one another's shins and groins. In midair, Yoshimo tried to headbutt Valygar, but the ranger tilted his head back and then whipped forward again, his metal-laden dreadlocks flying forward around his face and wrapping around Yoshimo's head. They tied around each other like a bola behind Yoshimo's ponytail, and as the two began to fall, Valygar twisted his head sideways and back, breaking Yoshimo's neck. The ranger untangled himself at the last moment and landed on his feet as Yoshimo's form crumpled upon the bridge, the wraith killed and gone.
"And now, prepare for final combat!"
At Irenicus's words, Mazzy gave a mighty little undead battle cry and charged Minsc with her shield and short sword raised. The Rashemanian ranger had already drawn Gram the Sword of Grief and swung the great two-handed blade at her, crashing into her shield and knocking her back several feet. He gave another overhead swing but she ran between his legs, slicing his thigh along the way. Minsc spun around, going into a whirlwind attack as Mazzy did the same. Their swords clanged dozens of times and Mazzy got in several nicks, but then Minsc's sword crashed into her back and nearly sent her flying off the bridge. As she ran back and swung her sword at Minsc's waist, he hopped over the slash and stepped off her shoulders into the air. He rolled forward in midjump, pushing his sword back behind him and managing to spear Mazzy through the back with it. He landed on his back, and like a human catapult then pulled his sword up with Mazzy on it and sent her flying down the bridge a ways, landing in a heap. As she began to rise, Minsc ran over, drawing out the Mace of Disruption and bringing it down upon her, smashing the undead energy out of her body.
"And now, prepare for final combat!"
Anomen raised his mace and shield and charged Onyx, muttering more disapproving diatribes. Onyx had drawn the undead-vanquishing sword and axe Daystar and Azuredge. Onyx parried Anomen's mace with his axe and Anomen parried Onyx's sword with his shield. The two circled slowly around each other, exchanging fast and powerful blows. Armor, shield, and weapons rang with metallic crashes. As Anomen's mace came across, Onyx managed to catch the handle of it in the niche between his axeblade and handle, and levered Anomen's mace arm far to the outside. Gaining inside control, he quickly thrust in Daystar and stabbed into the wraith, but its shield knocked Daystar aside before it went deep. Anomen spun and unhooked his weapon. They circled again and as Onyx tried to bring his weapons around his foe's shield, the mace came down on his helmet. His ears rang but he was unharmed. Capitalizing on the downward momentum of the crushing blow, he pulled his own feet out from under him and dropped into a kneel, bringing his blades into Anomen's knees. The wraith screamed as the holy power of Daystar and Azuredge cut into its unnatural form. It pushed the cavalier back with its shield and then brought its mace down again, which Onyx caught between his crossed swordblade and axehandle. With the greater strength, he pulled backwards, stretching Anomen out, and then fell onto his own back in a fluid roll, pushing his feet against Anomen's shield and chest and sending the wraith-knight flying over him. Onyx hopped up and hurled Azuredge, hitting the wraith in midair. It landed with a moan and a clang the enchanted axe reappeared in Onyx’s hand. He lunged over to the wraith and swung Daystar and Azuredge down into Anomen's exposed chest. They pierced the armor and the wraith screamed as its undead heart was overcome by the holy weapons and it was undead no longer.
"And now, prepare for final combat!"
The four elven priestesses began bringing up various spell protections. Aerie froze time and dispelled those of the drow, struggling to do so during her window of stopped time as the magical resistance of the dark elves bounced some of her spells off harmlessly. As time resumed, the four exchanged blasts of holy and unholy smite, harming one another and then healing themselves as quickly. They then traded fiery evocations but the intact spell protections of the avariel women and the magic resistance of the drow women rendered these harmless. At last Aerie raised Crom Faeyr, Sky raised the Flail of Ages, and Viconia and Luna raised matching skull-maces. As the warrior girls charged one another, the women first brought up globes of blades. Maces smashed against hammer and flail and flying blades bounced off shields and armor. Sky and Luna were swinging and deflecting with great speed and martial skill while Aerie and Viconia exchanged slow but astoundingly strong blows.
"It doesn't have to be this way, Luna!" Sky pleaded as their weapons and shields clanged. "I thought we were friends to the end!"
"This is your end, frail angel!" Luna hissed. The began to flap their wings and fly into the air, continuing their bludgeoning. Luna cast harming energy into her mace but as swung it, Sky suddenly let herself drop to the ground. She knelt and began casting. As the winged drow flew down upon her, an imprisonment spell left Sky's hands and swallowed Luna whole.
As Aerie and Viconia continued to crash against one another, whizzing blades began to find elven flesh and the women grimaced.
"Dear Aerie, why are you so angry?" mocked Viconia. "Onyx's Candlekeep bastard will now be deposed by your own son! You should be a proud mother!"
"And what would you know of such things, repulsive wayside witch!?" Aerie screamed. She swung mightily into Viconia's shield, and the blow sent the dark priestess back the very edge of the bridge.
"Well, if you must know..." began Viconia but Aerie cut her off by firing a magic missile that smashed into her helmet and unbalanced her. The drow lady screamed as she fell into the unfathomable depths, out the bottom of the plane and back to the Prime.
"And now, prepare for final combat!"
As Irenicus finished his words, the three thief-mages around him were casting desperately. With alarming alacrity, Irenicus froze time before any of them could complete their spells. He immediately brought up a labyrinth of spell and combat protections and then cast evocations around himself. As time resumed, a sunfire blast and chain lightning rippled out from his body, burning and shocking the three mages around him. As they kneeled in pain but instantly brought up contingencies of spell protections, he gated in three pit fiends, one between him and each of his three assailants. With quick telepathic coordination, the three wizards each shot evocations around Irenicus that failed to harm him but immediately wiped out the demons. Lightning bolts and power words sailed from the mad sorcerer's fingertips, but they did not breach the mages' protections. As they cast back, he sneered and levitated high into the air again, their spells whizzing by harmlessly underneath him.
With superior range, he rained spellstrikes down upon them and dispelled their spell protections. Imoen held the Staff of Striking out and ran to polevault off it, Nalia began channeling her magic through the Staff of the Magi to increase its range, and Jan aimed his crossbow up at Irenicus. As Irenicus was about to rain destruction upon all of them, a spell shot through Nalia's staff and breached Irenicus's combat protections, Jan's flasher master bruiser mate exploded in Irenicus's face and stunned him, and Imoen vaulted up to Irenicus high in the air and swung the quarterstaff into the sorcerer's chest. His spell was disrupted and the powerful staff sent him flying helplessly through the air.
As he recovered from the blows, he began flying of his own accord again, towards the disc where Eryx stood. Onyx, Valygar, Minsc, Aerie, and Sky had each just vanquished their opponents and were running on various paths towards Eryx, across bridges and up and down stairways, and now Imoen, Nalia and Jan began running too. Suddenly the air filled with lightning and a column of light appeared in the center of the disc. As it faded, there stood the avatar of Kan.
"Too late, fools. You are, as ever, worthless," Irenicus stated. He gestured and the bridges and staircases split away from the disc and the eight heroes found themselves at dead-ends. "This will now be decided by the sons of Onyx. One shall perish, one shall ascend."
Eryx raised his bastard swords Foebane and Purifier high and Kan drew his katanas Truth and Clarity. The half-brothers faced each other in combat stances, motionless, steel-blue eyes locked, meeting in the flesh for the first time. Other than Eryx's wings, the two men had virtually identical builds. Kan had short black monk's hair, Eryx's was spiky and blonde. Kan wore only a pure white fighting robe, and Eryx wore his full plate body armor with avariel elven chain over the wings. They crept slowly forward, swords up in high guard stance, and the tips of Purifier and Truth touched one another in the air.
Eryx twisted his ring and became hyper-hasted as Kan focused and began to speed up manifold. In an instant, their forward swords were sliding along one another and their back swords moved in and clashed. They began a lightning-quick blizzard of swings and thrusts and parries, the motion blurred to all watching. Kan began to put quick, powerful kicks into the fray and Eryx's mighty wings swung around their swords. Kan's foot planted on Eryx's right breast, and as he was spun back, the paladin pushed the monk's swords to the right with his own and then his left wing swung into Kan's back and buffeted him powerfully across the disc and to the ground. As Kan sprung up, Eryx glided through the air and was upon him. Kan reversed his sword grips and began fighting behind his own back, parrying the bastard swords and kicking incoming wings out of the way. Kan then somersaulted back and wrapped his legs around Eryx's head as the boy's wings clapped together. Before Kan could twist his waist and break Eryx's neck, the paladin pushed his shoulders up and dropped out of the leg-headlock, trying to impale Kan from each side but having his thrusts parried. As Kan somersaulted back again and landed behind Eryx, the avariel-human's wings pulled back and both smashed into Kan’s chest, snapping back and throwing him high into the air. Kan sheathed his blades in midair and landed in a handstand at the very edge of the disc, artfully twisting to maintain his balance. Eryx was gliding at him angrily, but Kan hopped up, slinging his limbs forward and sending telekinetic projections of his hands and feet flying at the winged paladin, knocking him to the ground bruised. As Eryx got up, Kan leapt and lunged at him, yelling and swinging his katanas wildly. Dark anger coursed through Eryx's veins as he saw the monk flying at him. And he became the Slayer.
Kan flew into the terrible beast, katanas and kicks glancing off its tough hide as it sunk its claws and fangs into his unarmored flesh. The beast continued to tear and gnaw at him, and Kan's speed did not help him escape as he found himself caged within its grasp. After taking grave damage, he managed to break from its grasp and fell to the floor at its feet. As he sprang back to get away from it, the Slayer spun around at crashed its heavy tail into the monk's chest. Kan fell to his knees again, stunned.
The Slayer gave a victorious roar and became Eryx again. He lifted Purifier high and then swung it around, level with Kan's neck and approaching fast. He sneered and lusted for the blood and the throne. Irenicus descended onto the disc just behind Eryx, quietly preparing a spell to blast the knight into oblivion and seize the throne for himself.
And then something happened. It may have been that Eryx detected the sorcerer's true intentions, or perhaps he simply gained insight and wisdom. The mechanics of good and evil flashed through his mind, clear at last, and he thought of something he hadn't before.
At the last moment, Eryx's elbow unstraightened and pulled the sword in. The tip whizzed through the air under Kan's chin. Eryx continued his spin and, pulling the sword towards himself for a thrust, came around again and with a single motion stabbed straight and true through Irenicus's dead heart. As the sorcerer's spell fizzled, he let out a terrible and yet somehow bored groan. Purifier began cleansing away the twisted evil. And yet there was nothing else Jon Irenicus was made of. He stared up at Eryx dispassionately, a careless sneer tearing across his cheek, as he disintegrated and was no more.
All others watched awestruck, and then ran to the disc as the maze of walkways straightened and reconnected. Eryx kneeled in shame and Kan unfroze and stood, merely nodding knowingly. A vision of Torm appeared by Kan, the ghostly form of Keldorn at his right side.
Kan spoke. "Throughout his entire life, my human father Onyx has been told that the violence within his nature as an evil fated upon him. His son Eryx was told to believe it too. Now at last, as Onyx realized this folly over the jeers of the masses, Eryx realizes this on the eve of his own destruction. What all have been told to believe is yet wrong. The so-called dark nature within them - indeed within us all - is not fated upon them, nor is it merely the Bhaal essence or the Demogorgon influence. Though they have carried it within them both, Onyx long ago realized that the Bhaal essence - which did cry out to him with an animal hunger for blood - could be contained. His hundreds of thousands of kills, righteous all, came not from this primitive essence, but from his own conscious human nature, a second dark side if you will. Nor was this nature fated upon him, that too has been a lie."
"Every mortal makes his own path, and Onyx's was to utilize his great capacity for violence to undo evil and to protect his innocent and beloved. Such is the reason humans and all other races have been given their dual nature. Without kindness in our hearts, we would destroy each other in endless violence and bloodshed. Yet without the aggression within, we would leave ourselves and those closest to us vulnerable to those who do possess it, and indeed to the very unthinking violence of beasts and forces of nature. Such is the error of the druids and those who would profess a collective balance. The required balance, rather, is that within each individual."
"Onyx and Eryx channeled both sides, at this point each ultimately for good. All of it, good and evil both, was not the Bhaal essence, nor the Demogorgon influence, nor the temptations of Decagorgon and Irenicus, nor was it fate. Neither prophecy nor parentage may dictate the actions of any mortal. It may influence them, but all is ultimately at the discretion of the individual - Eryx. It was his own mortal choices all."
Keldorn spoke. "The True God judges actions, young paladin. And though your heart struggled with Bhaal and Decagorgon and its own human fallibility, and nearly slain your noble brother, you have yet murdered wrongly not. Be wise and thoughtful henceforth."
Eryx rose and spoke. "I consider myself fortunate even to have still my life and soul, my lord. A force of order and good I will henceforth be as I wander the multiverse. And when enough demons have died, I shall return."
Kan bowed in approval and, folding his hands in meditation, faded and returned to the pantheon with Torm and Keldorn. Aerie and Sky and Imoen rushed to Eryx and hugged him, as Onyx caught his gaze and peered at him with both furious anger and new respect. Valygar and Minsc tossed Jan back and forth in revelry. Nalia sensed something and looked over her shoulder.
Behind them three figures walked onto the disc. They had been, and now were again, Anomen, Mazzy, and Yoshimo, human or halfling once more. Minsc lifted up Mazzy and spun her around, chuckling happily and tossing her to Valygar who tossed back Jan. Anomen walked up to Onyx with a disapproving smirk but friendly eyes, and Yoshimo nervously looked at the knights.
Onyx began to scowl but Anomen put a hand on the bounty hunter's shoulders and spoke. "Ilmater forgave your heart long ago, wayward rogue," he said condescendingly. "Return and devote your skills to good," he continued with more warmth. Yoshimo bowed politely.
"Heya, Yoshi," Imoen piped up, "ever wanted to learn magic?" She grinned at the other two thief-mages, who were rolling their eyes. "What?" she giggled. "Dontcha know ya can never have too many thief-mages?"
"I think we all could use a vacation first," one of them, Nalia, chimed in.
"Especially those of us who have twenty years of mortal affairs to catch up to," Valygar mused as he and Yoshimo were appraising each other's katanas.
"And what better place than our usual getaway from the City of Coin?" Nalia offered.
"My cabin would never hold us all!" Valygar protested.
"No, silly, the other one - de'Arnise Keep!" Nalia scolded playfully.
"That's where Ano and I got killed in the last war!" Mazzy shrieked.
"And what better place to pray and reflect upon our merciful resurrection, dear truesword?" preached Anomen.
"You know the Battle of de'Arnise Keep during the Coin of Bhaal war was actually not the first Battle of de'Arnise Keep I think it was the fifth." lectured Jan. "It's all explained and recorded in Jabak Yammerson's History of Weapons, Armor, Catapults, Castles, Strongholds, Chokepoints, Generals, Spies, Training, Battles and Wars he's my fourth cousin once removed on my father's father's mother's father's side you know and...."
Though his goggles, Jan saw Anomen scowling furiously at him and leapt behind Minsc. Boo squeaked and scampered to Minsc's other shoulders. "Boo says it is going to be very nice to see his hamster friends at the Keep again. He even reminded me we have some Rashemanian cheese to share with them. Boo is so smart. Maybe we can make him a tiny Flail of Ages while we're there."
"Come, son, we have much to discuss and you need time to rest and think," Onyx offered, removing his right gauntlet and holding out the hand to his son.
"You all go, adventurers of lore, I would have a word with Sky," Eryx requested.
Both the spellcasters with their senses and the warriors without surely knew Eryx's mind, but they merely turned to the conduit to the Keep the boy was opening, smiling and chatting and catching up. Arms over each other, Anomen hugging Yoshimo hugging Mazzy hugging Valygar hugging Nalia hugging Imoen hugging Onyx hugging Aerie hugging Minsc hugging Jan, the ten walked through the portal and back to the Prime.
Eryx tried to speak, but his sister hugged him tightly and both began to cry.
"I know you mean not to return with us," she began. "As did our parents. I know that you will walk the world, indeed the worlds, a powerful force of good. I know you will return to us at times and I hope it won't be long."
Eryx nodded into her shoulder though he knew he need not.
Sky withdrew a scroll of freedom from her scroll case. "Luna, your love and my closest friend, lies yet imprisoned within this temporary plane. Once we leave, we will not be able to return and she would remain here for all time. Perhaps with evil it is better thus. Or is she truly good?"
"I believe she is." Eryx said to his sister. "It is her choice. Let's find out."
VI. Final Combat
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