Throne Wars I: The Coin of Bhaal
Soon after destroying Melissan in the Abyss, Onyx ceded the Throne of Bhaal and journeyed with his ally and true love Aerie to the avariel nation of Faenya-Dail to finally marry her. But a mysterious madman has plans of his own...
Onyx awoke to the first rays of the morning sun. It rose so early up this high in the mountains and the clouds, among the avariel, he mused. He rose and squinted east, down upon the lands of Faerun. The cavalier's eyes traced along the curved horizon, eyes adjusting and taking in the beautiful panorama as if still dreaming. He heard a sigh and turned to see Aerie, yet more beautiful still to him, waking, her avariel eyes instantly focused in the beloved morning light and trained upon him. He returned to her and held her protectively, his mind racing back across their lives and his own life before there was a "their".
Wielding a short sword with two hands outside the walls of Candlekeep, puritanically hunting kobolds even as a small child. Attempting to read of the endless arcane lore in the great library, completely befuddled. Playing with Imoen: racing, climbing, hide and seek, damsel and knight, rogue and guard. Thief and Paladin. Games no more, as his thoughts moved to the day strangers in the town began attacking him, the night he and Gorion escaped into the rain and the fatherly man was cut down. By Sarevok. His blood. Of his true father. Bhaal. He and Imoen would travel up and down the Sword Coast to rout Sarevok before discovering this, meeting friends and foiling the Iron Throne along the way. Harper friends of Gorion's, and friends fought alongside and rescued at the gnoll stronghold.
Friends who would be captured along with him by the psychotic archmage Irenicus, some never to see the light of day again. Fond but sad memories of the comical Khalid and the comely Dyanheir. Their experience in Amn had been harder on all of them. Minsc, though reliable as ever, had retreated further into the unique plaes in his mind where only he and Boo could go. Jaheira had become only more bitter and aloof, lashing out at all of them and especially their new friend Aerie, whom Onyx would eventually fall in love with and forsake Jaheira for. Even Imoen began to lose her carefree innocence, scarred across her cheek and her heart, and forced to endure yet more weeks in the grip of Irenicus as they were whisked to Spellhold. And he, Onyx, unsure and confused by the implications of his lineage, frustrated in his quest to avenge fallen comrades and rescue Imoen, betrayed by, furious at, slaying, and then pitying and forgiving the good-humored yet hapless Yoshimo, pulled in all directions by his love for the timid yet loving Aerie, his loyalty to the forthright yet unforgiving Jaheira, the importance of keeping his ever-fracturing party together, and ultimately doing what had to be done. How carefree his party had been in the Sword Coast. It had been so much harder in Amn. Even Nalia's kidnapping, though quickly resolved, had weighed heavy on his heart after the many deaths, imprisonments, kidnappings, squabbles, and betrayals.
And just when he'd gotten Imoen back and was closing in on Irenicus, having Bodhi vampirize his beloved Aerie and having to bring her back! It had almost - almost - been too much for even this cavalier's stamina. And then finally going to hell and back to kill Irenicus, only to have to world nearly torn apart by his other siblings, all warring to become the one who would inherit the throne of Bhaal, yet all deceived by the scheming Melissan. With Aerie pregnant and the world crumbling around them, they had destroyed her in the Abyss.
Onyx had not taken the throne of Bhaal. He could not have given it up solely for Aerie - though he sensed she still believed that in her heart - but because he knew how much good he could still do on Faerun, as a powerful mortal man. The mot powerful paladin in Faerun. He could have done probably yet more good as a god - though it is not always so that a mortal need be less important in the great scheme of things - but he knew that he could accomplish the good of both a powerful man, and a god - if he could find another, pure of heart, to acquire the portfolio of Bhaal. Until it was thus, however, this was Onyx's gamble - a spinning coin - for the throne could still fall into the hands of evil.
Far away on the land below, Cyran stood at the front and center of his army, astride a fearsome black horse and surrounded by a mounted bodyguard of fallen paladins. Stretching for an intimidating distance behind and beside the evil kensai-mage stood fighters, battle mages, and priests of Cyric. Already dashing up stealthily through the tall grasses around them, silently outflanking the opposing Amnish army, were squads of thieves. With a simple hand gesture, Cyran signaled to his head mage, and his battlemages let rip Stoneskin, Mirror Image and various spell protections upon themselves and Haste and Strength upon the fighters, while the priests began to bless his soldiers and chant. Cyran saw the opposing mages making similar preparations, yet only smiled. He had already strategically dealt with the opposing mages. As soon as the Amnish protections went up, thief-mages sprung up around them from the grass and began breaching and dispelling their enchantments and protections, and the other thieves appearing from nowhere and began backstabbing their way through the Amnish back lines.
At Cyran's signal, his archers began firing an arcing cloud of arrows while his mages hurled fireballs, lightning bolts, and ice storms from their fingertips. As the air crackled with magical energy surging towards his foes, Cyran's engineers began firing catapult stones and scorpion bolts toward them as well. The Amnish mages, frail and mostly bereft of magical protections, began dropping and the soldiers, their enhancements dispelled, took casualties and they started charging with mundane speed towards Cyran's army. His own fighters, enchanted and unharmed, blitzed them and cut them to pieces while his priests harmed and held them. The Amnish clerics who had survived the missiles and invocation magics began holding and bludgeoning some of his own warriors, but the mundane and magic missiles shooting forward around Cyran disrupted them and injured them as his intact fighters cut them down. Now outnumbered and disorganized, the Amnish fighters found themselves outnumbered several-to-one in melee combat or fell to arrows in their backs as they tried to flee. The few remaining mages, unable to blast more than a few of Cyran's nimble thieves and strong warriors, were soon slashed down.
Cyran and his bodyguards charged into the middle of the field, smashing their lances through straggling soldiers and priests as they rode towards the opposing general and his retinue of paladins. The noble warriors began charging them, lances forward. Cyran's thieves attempted to fire arrows at them or hack at their horses as they rode past, but only the rogues themselves were felled. As the holy and unholy warriors engaged each other, lance and armor struck and many were thrown from their mounts. Those remaining on horse, including Cyran and the general, turned to ride into the felled knights, who drew their two-handed swords and cleaved at enemy man and horse. Cyran drew the katanas Madness and Lies from their shoulder sheaths and, vaulting off his horse as spheres of protective energy encircled him, landed along the melee a cyclone of blades and invocations. Paladins became evil and insane as the katanas sliced through their armor and horrific utterances sliced through their minds. The general was run through and decapitated by the blades of his own men, who would now ride with Cyran as fallen paladins to replace those they had just killed. As the last Amnish fell, the Cyricist priests, uttering evil incantations, strolled across the field past the dead and they rose, born again into slavery under the Army of Cyran.
After they had held each other in silence for a time, Onyx's thoughts returned to the present as Aerie spoke.
"I sense your feelings," she said. "The same feelings that plagued you as we struggled to rescue your sister and keep our party - and our love - together."
Onyx mused at the uncanny ability of women of all races to carry on such one-sided conversations. Among the powerful mind-reading spellcasters, it was only more so.
"I knew you would prevail from the moment I met you - even though I wore the illusion of an ogre at the time!" she cooed.
I have not yet prevailed, he thought. I have become powerful, but the portfolio remains unclaimed. A coin is spinning through the air, as mine once did. Mine landed on its edge. How this one lands can be influenced. I shall will it to show the face of good when it lands. But I sense other wills at work. Wills that have surged in power just now. Wills that would have it land on the side of evil.
"My love, you have destroyed thousands of monsters and evildoers and become the greatest paladin in Faerun. I know of the undecided fight you have spoken of and which you think of now. Trouble yourself not, my love. Though it is a matter of cosmic proportions, and you may have the power to decide its outcome, as I believe you do, it will not be decided soon."
But forces are in motion, Onyx thought. I have sensed it just now. Somewhere, far below these clouds, on the land below. Perhaps on one of the plains which I now look down upon with my own eyes.
"These things gather slowly, my love. Not soon. Not today. But today is our wedding, my love. I cannot tell you how happy I am, though I know you feel it, just as I feel your happiness. Your heart wants, just for now, to set aside this heavy burden. Enjoy yourself in the coming days among my people. Even up here, you have not been content to relax and set aside your quests."
But if I hadn't led an avariel division against those cloud giants when I did, Onyx thought, civilian elves could have lost their lives. Six days ago now, Onyx's blissful stay among Aerie's people had been interrupted when he detected an evil presence near the avariel city of Paradise. He had gone to the paladins at the Order of Righteous Light , and with their backing the ranger lodge had sent scouts at Onyx's directions and they had indeed found a large band of cloud giants, led by a powerful shaman, still far away from the city but moving quickly through the mountains. Decked out in his charisma-enhancing sword, helmet and cloak, he had had to coax the queen of the winged elves - a normally pacifistic race who tend to be slow to anticipate a threat - to send a force to confront them before they could attack the general population.
Flown in the grasp of a summoned deva, he led a division of avariel warriors, mages, and priests to the cloud giants. Attacking their camp at the first light of dawn, they had overcome and slaughtered the giants with light casualties. Hacking and bashing his way through the giant warriors with the Flail of Ages and the Axe of the Unyielding and the crystalline swords of the avariel, he and a squad of fighter-mages quickly penetrated to the center of the giants' camp, where Onyx slaughtered mages and shamans with the magic-dispelling Carsomyr as the fighter-mages breached and incinerated them and hacked them to bits. With a fearsome whirlwind of Carsomyr blade, Onyx had beheaded the leading shaman and the remaining giants quickly fell to scattering and Onyx commanded the avariel soldiers to hunt down every last one.
They had returned to Paradise with wounds already healed by their clerics and Onyx became quite popular with the queen and city in general, and particular within the Order of Righteous Light, despite his wingless and, compared the the light flying elves, almost ogrish stature. Some, however, exploited his controversial reputation on the ground and whispered that this paladin - who brought so much death and destruction wherever he went - was in fact the source of the monsters to begin with.
"Your initiative was invaluable, my dear, but you must leave time for a life of your own - our life - and the life within me," Aerie continued, reading his face and thoughts.
Barring a sudden aerial invasion of Paradise by harpies or griffins, I suppose I can, Onyx thought. If those conniving court members leave me alone. Will some creatures never understand that I may herald carnage - but to evildoers, who would herald it themselves to the innocent? Why can some not make that distinction? His mind raced back to bitter arguments with Jaheira and her obsession with balance. Though she had never wavered in loyalty to their quests, this difference had driven a wedge between them. A wedge which Aerie filled, becoming a recipient of Jaheira's venom. Onyx sensed Aerie's sudden flash of unease and anger - thinking of Jaheira never failed to do that - and quickly tried to occupy his mind with martial tactics and his very nice weapons collection.
"There was nothing special about Jaheira in that respect," said Aerie, now uneasy. "Many, such as some here - the thoughts of whom led your mind to her - think such things."
And some, including Jaheira, would even contend that the portfolio of Bhaal inherently belonged to an evil or neutral god. Having a good god of murder would upset their precious balance. Onyx's nose wrinkled at Jaheira's stupid balance. He smirked as he remembered Keldorn and Anomen at the Radiant Heart suggesting they refer to "neutral" as "half-evil".
"They may be wrong, my love," Aerie continued, now trying to get her lover's mind off the throne as well as Jaheira, "but the throne was in Bhaal's evil hands before, and Jergal's before him, and so you are fighting an aggressive battle to gain ground. Not a defensive one to keep it. That at least should comfort you. Only progress can be made. But it can wait just a little. Let me comfort you for the time to come. Let us face the day and prepare for our wedding."
As he gently lifted Aerie out of bed carried her out of the room, he took a last glance over his shoulder and the land surface far below. He could feel it out there, somewhere, charging across a field or forest towards its objective. Towards its prey. Its adversary. Towards the spinning coin.
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