Sunday, April 13, 2008


"I am disappointed."

The voice followed him as Vertrius soared across the dark gray sky on dragon back, lightning crashing down all around him. His moon-white mount was unafraid of the raging tempest, roaring defiantly each time the clouds above sent arcs of brilliant death to shatter the land below.

"I did what I said I'd do, my lord." Vertrius was inwardly cringing, knowing damned well he had left the job unfinished. Still, one did not admit defeat to the Lord of Whispers. Ever. Doing so was tantamount to asking for execution. "I said I would bring them low for you and I have. Send an army of your rotting minions to finish them off and they will trouble you no more."

"I will take your impudent advice into consideration." It had been impudent but Vertrius also knew the only way to survive long in Vecna's service was to always maintain strength of personality. Will was the only thing that separated lieutenants from lackeys.

And where the Maimed One was concerned, lackeys generally forfeited their pulse upon demotion to that state.

"But the fact remains that you were given a second chance at your life under very strict rules. Rules that you have now broken, have you not?"

Vecna's mental 'voice' was preternaturally quiet and calm, almost sibilant. That was the most disconcerting thing about dealing with the Eye and the Hand - he never lost his temper. Even when he was tearing someone's soul apart, he remained relaxed, almost jovial with the tormented and with anyone unfortunate enough to bear witness.

"Forgive me but I do not see how this is the case, my lord." It was a bold move, calling Vecna on a matter of nuance, but the alternative was getting ripped to shreds by the godstorm all around him. He was fully aware of the knife's edge and how deeply it would cut if it descended. "I acted fully within my bounds."

For a moment, the clouds held their deadly, electrical breath. The storm grew quiet, so much so that Vertrius could not help but wonder if they were, in fact, inhaling to expel a torrent of lightning so massive that there would naught left of him when it was through. Even his ashes would be destroyed, he and his dragon blasted into fine vapor before his next heartbeat.

"Explain how you come to this... conclusion." The god's tone was unmistakable even in its placidity. He had one chance to make his case and if it failed to convince, his moment's imagining would become bitter, brutal reality.

He took a deep breath before continuing, a technically futile act since the entire conversation was taking place in his mind. He would be heard, judged and quite possibly convicted within the court of thought. If found wanting, he would be executed without a single word ever being spoken, a fitting fate for a minion of the Lord of Whispers, he supposed. At least his beloved mount would never know the doom that befell her. She would fly on, ignorant of his failing her until the lightning ended them both.

"Your contract with me stipulates that I be your instrument in dealing with the Elementals, using my special knowledge of their skills and weaknesses to ensure that they do not interfere with your plans." That was the first part of his argument, a simple stating of the facts. As the dragon beneath him started its descent toward their current lair amid the violent peaks below, he steadied his nerves and moved on to the particulars.

"I agreed to strike at them in that regard at any time and place of your choosing, my lord. Is that not correct?" He had to watch his tone. Too apologetic and he would sound weak. Too haughty and he would earn the Lich Lord's wrath out of spite. There had to be a balance, strong while remaining deferential.

"You are correct, but what is your point? They yet live. You failed to slay any of them and one in particular was never even harmed."

Vertrius took another deep breath as his mount navigated the dangerous mountain gap that led to their roost, an abandoned fortress that had once housed giants and their titanic hunting rocs. This next argument would make or break him; if he was to win his survival, this was where it would happen.

"With all due respect, my lord, you are incorrect." Then quickly, before Vecna could take offense, "May I explain?"

"You had best do so extremely well."

"I simply mean to say, my lord, that the Lady Faile may have been left untouched by my weapons but she is far from unharmed. In her case, I am her weakness. She is as disabled at this moment as the rest. I was brought back to serve your interests and so I believe I have."

The pause gave him reason to hope.

"Yet none of them are dead. You failed in your attack."

"Not so, my lord. I humbly submit that you never actually said I had to kill them." Vertrius waited for that point to sink in. Vecna was a very lawful being in his way; the fact that death had never been stipulated might carry some wait. Even so, it was best to make a stronger argument. "Further, I would like to note that what could be a better service than to weaken them and leave them vulnerable? In sparing them, have I not saved the pleasure of the kill for you?"

Another pause, this one lasting long enough for his beautiful white dragoness to land and fold her wings. Nearby, he could see his other companion, the massive red that served him as steed and her as mate. The crimson dragon was winging towards them, obviously glad to see them both alive.

"You are as eloquent as you are cunning. I have chosen well in you, Vertrius d'Urathym." The sky above the aged stone castle thundered once more in warning. "I shall spare you for now but in the future, I expect the edge of your sword, not its flat."

"Am I clear?"

Vertrius bowed to the churning black heavens. "Of course, sir. I am only watching out for your best interests." Before he could say anything else, his attention was caught by the frantic snarls of the red and the concerned trilling of his white. They were obviously upset about something and, in his partial understanding of their tongue, he could make out that it has something to do with the rookery below.

Racing after them, his conversation with Lord Vecna momentarily forgotten, he reached the huge basalt chamber where his mated pair of dragons had placed their small clutch of eggs. There, where the nest of coins and jewels had been gathered, a strange dark shape was hunched with one long tentacle around each of the five smooth, leathern orbs. A shadowy barrier flickered over the nesting site, a hemisphere of powerful black magic that crackled ominously.

Vertrius shouted for the panicked dragons to get away from the sphere, stopping them just short of making what he feared would be instantly fatal contact. "My lord?!" he questioned angrily. "Is this your doing?"

The answer came almost sweetly, a gentle echo in his mind. "Of course. You desired the eggs remain safe and so I sent a keeper to watch over them. As long as we can avoid any more surprise interpretations of my orders, I assure they they will remain so."

Vertrius felt his stomach lurch as Vecna recalled his own words to him. "After all, I am only watching out for your best interests..."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Razor's Edge

One stroke and the bow was gone, flung many yards away.

A second stroke shattered the arrow, leaving Faile holding only a sparking, splintered haft of once-magical wood.

A third forced her backwards to avoid being cut, making her stumble and fall to the ground, her wings forgotten in the rush of sheer panic.

"Please... please don't do this."

He looked down at her, his contempt and hatred burning through his mind like a dark fire, urging him to finish what he started. No turning back now. Two hands on the hilt of his hellishly enchanted blade, he raised Vyldravendis for the killing stroke.

As the shadow of the runeblade fell across her, the Lady of Air wept. "Please..."

His lips, barely visible in the shadows of his black iron helm, curled in a vicious scowl. "Begging for your life?"

Faile forced herself to look up into his merciless gaze. "No," she whispered, one hand reaching out to touch his chest. "I'm begging for yours."

There was silence.

Utter silence.

And then he lowered his blade, turned away without a word, and walked away.

Faile's tears did not stop until long after the man in black armor had long since disappeared into the storm clouds of the night...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cold Revenge

This battle was not like the last.

There was no hesitation, no holding back on the part of the white haired warrior mage. His spells hissed between his hand and his victims, smashing down the Lord of Oceans and Lady Darkness before they could even turn to react. Azure fell, shuddering and insensate as the magic ripped a terrible price in water from his fey form. Beside him, Nyx writhed in pain as a light as bright as gazing into the sun itself raged around her.

Corundar was the first to clear steel. "Damn it, Vertrius! Your quarrel is with me!" He charged across the broken field towards the pearlescent dragon and her deadly rider. "Leave them out of this!"

Vertrius murmured another spell, one that made his ancient blade shimmer from hilt to tip. "Fool," he spat as he leaped down to meet the juggernaut in battle. "This is no longer about you." He raised his blade to intercept Corundar's, an obvious challenge to the big man's strength. 'Pit your strength against mine,' his pose seemed to taunt.

And at the last possible second, he pivoted low, ducked the world-shattering strike and darted past Corundar with a blurring slash across the Master of Mountain's lower chest. Metal and blood sprayed around the edge of his flashing steel and as Vertrius came to a halt ten feet behind the massive titan, Corundar fell. First to his knees. Then to his face, bleeding out as the passwall energies continued to erode him from within.

This left only three. All women. All with a reason not to fight him.

Even as his blade dripped onto the ground, Vertrius saw them rise to defend themselves. Faile took to the air, bow in hand but no arrow nocked. Akasha was instantly wreathed in her armor, her faceplate conveniently covering her sorrowing eyes. And Byrne...

The Lady of Fire half-hearted raised her blazing axe. "You don't have to do this, Vertrius." Shifting one foot behind her in a passable defensive stance, she brought up her red crystal armor, its plates moving intimately over her form. "We wronged you. We know that. Let us try to help you."

Vertrius shook his head and passed one hand over a white gem-inlaid bracer on one arm. "Far too late for that, Byrne. I am quite familiar with the Elementals' help." In a flash of whirling crystal, ornate armor the color of pearls and moonstones appeared around him, concealing him entire. "I have found a new source of assistance, thank you. One that will actually keep his word to me."

It was Akasha that spoke next, her voice dark with derision. "Vecna? You are fool enough to trust Vecna?!"

Vertrius took two steps forward, a vicious set of pale crystal blades emerging over his empty left fist. "I never said a word about trust." He looked right into the slits where Akasha's eyes blinked away an eladrin's tears. "I have learned not to trust words, no matter their source."

"Enough talk then!" Byrne roared forth, igniting herself in a comet's fury and hurling herself at Vertrius. He could see that every part of her attack was wrong. This was not a charge, it was suicide. This woman wanted to end herself in a pyre of glory, making it look like she was giving her life to save her friends. If she killed him while she died, all the better.

He had other plans.

With a flare of moonlight, his wings emerged. Thin membranes of motile pearl, they flexed once and then took him backwards into the air. She chased after him, silently calling forth her own powers of flight. Gravity released its hold on her and she began to rise towards her foe, all her focus on a single exchange of blows. If both fell, the rest could live. Akasha could heal the others and they would survive. All it would cost is the life she no longer wanted...

...and that of the child within her.

Byrne's eyes widened. The baby! She... she couldn't do this! Not the baby; it did not deserve to die for her sin. No.


Having already raced forward almost to melee reach with the hovering Vertrius, she shook her head in horror and flew backwards as fast as flames would take her.

And a moment later, she was engulfed in the bitter, absolute cold of a dragon's deadly breath! Byrne fell from the air, hitting the ground heavily, frozen and encrusted with ice. Unmoving. Armor shattering away. Cold and still...

Akasha flew back as well, shock echoing from her glowing mask of light. "You'll... you'll kill us all."

Vertrius brought up his new sword, a hard won prize wrested from dead hands on a distant world. Looking down its jagged edge at the Lady of Life, he nodded. "And they say you're don't pay attention," he murmured in mocking condescension.

His words and the sight of Byrne's motionless body spurred the Bright Lady into a frenzy of action. Spells, one after the other, surrounded her and began flaring across the dark sky between them. A dozen bolts of healing light, anathema to the undead horror she now faced, streaked from her divine hands, each one strong enough to fell even the strongest of vampires.

As they neared his raised sword, light turned to shadow. Dark power coursed through him, the life energy changed by the magic of his weapon into killing necromancy. To his unliving body, they were the essence of existence itself. Flying straight at Akasha, sword poised for a killing blow, he darted left, blurred right, and suddenly came at her from behind! His lethal edge stopped a foot from her throat, sparking angrily against the curved blade of her own weapon.

"You forget, Vertrius," she told him coolly. "My chakram can block any single weapon, even yours."

Without a word, Vertrius' hair emerged like a living wave from beneath his helmet. A braid on either side lashed forward, diamond and adamantine points like the tails of wyverns hissing at their ends. Both drove deep into either side of Akasha's neck, each injecting a horrific toxin made from vampire blood and lich bone! She jerked once as he answered back, tone just as cold.

"Vyldravendis isn't my only new weapon, Lady Lost." His leg came up, foot turned as he kicked her away. His braid-blades tore free, trailing blood and ichor as Akasha plummeted to earth, light failing as she fell.

His wings flapped once more, keeping him aloft. Slowly he turned, eyes cast to the thin grey clouds and the woman who remained there. "Please," Faile asked with a trembling voice. She had an arrow in her hand but seemed frozen, unable to bring it to her bowstring.

"Please don't do this."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Mancleaver - The Sword of Lady Darkness

Mancleaver is an ancient blade, forged on a distant world by a sorceress whose broken heart and arcane powers knew no limits. Drawing its strength from the hatred and rage of its creator, Mancleaver existed for thousands of years with the single goal of slaying males of any species. Given a new purpose in the hands of its deific wielder, it has somewhat let go of its blinding fury for all things masculine... but it still prefers to wet its night-black edge on their heart's blood whenever possible.

  • +7 keen bane (male creatures) greatsword of speed.
  • Bearer gains Uncanny Dodge (cannot be flanked and always retains Dexterity bonus to Armor Class) against male creatures.
  • While drawn, Terrasunder grants the bearer darkvision and malesense, both out to 60'.
  • Terrasunder grants the following spell-like powers to its wielder:
    • greater rage, as per the Barbarian class ability (at will)
    • darkness (at will)
    • shadow evocation (at will)
    • Evard's black tentacles (3 / day)
    • greater shadow evocation (3 / day)
    • greater shadow conjuration (1 / day)
  • Mancleaver's wielder becomes immune to any targeted spell with the Light descriptor and can affect non-targeted spells with the Light descriptor on contact as per greater dispelling (CL 20th).
  • Any male creature hit by Mancleaver with a confirmed critical strike suffers the immediate effect of a harm spell (CL 20). Mancleaver's wielder cannot suppress this effect and cannot choose to not confirm critical hits rolled against male targets. Any given target can only be affected by this harm effect once in any given 24 hour period.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Where There's a Whip

"Can we stop now?" Faile asked quietly. Though her voice was soft and slightly muffled by her mask of bandages, the winds that always circled her carried her words to everyone nearby. She did not, and perhaps could not, speak very loudly, it was impossible not to hear her.

"Faile," Azure looked back sympathetically. "I am sorry but we have to press on. Not only have we made the classic mistake of letting the man who cannot get fatigued set the pace of the march, but every moment we delay is another in which we might be discovered." His cyan and white silk robes fluttered in one of Faile's breezes, a random motion on an otherwise serene and utter constant person.

"Yeah!" From the head of the group, Corundar called back without stopping or turning his head. "What Blue said. We gotta get as close as possible to the Citadel before we get spotted. The Lord of this place ain't gonna run out of troops. If we have to fight out way to Cavitas, we won't make it very far."

"If you say so." Nyx punctuated her words with the sound of steel clearing steel. Her runesword now in hand, she kept walking forward at a grim pace, actually passing Faile and falling into step right behind Corundar. "I welcome a fight."

Now in the back of the group, Byrne nodded and murmured, "As do I." Her hand rested over the haft of her axe. Sensing her inner turmoil, her weapon's invisible blade began to pulse with fiery life. It could tell she wanted blood but did not understand its mistress well enough to realize that most what she wanted to do was bleed...

"I cannot say that a battle would be a welcome thing, siblings," Akasha's voice was clear and calm. "But please remember that if we come into conflict too soon, we will be fatigued and battered long before we reach the castle gates."

"That's what you are for."

"My healing is not infinite, Nyx, as you well know. The Dark One's troops are. If we get caught out in the open, we will surely fall before we even see Citadel Cavitas."

"I agree with you in theory, Akasha, but there's one thing you're wrong about." Corundar rumbled, literally and figuratively, to a halt at the edge of a wide crevasse. Before she could ask him to explain, he did so silently by pointing far into the dark distance.

There, surrounded a dim glow of corpselight, a massive tower of pale stone and titanic white columns. Even from miles away in the din of night, they could all tell that those pillars were carved bone. It was a nightmare of architecture, a maddening complex yet viciously simple construction borne from the terrible mind of a vile god.

Citadel Cavitas, the physical seat of Vecna's power.

Nyx was the first to speak. "Fine. We can see it now."

"I would still rather not fight anyone until we get to it, Nyx. Every battle before we reach the Dark Lord himself will only sap our strength and drain our resources."

"Your resources, perhaps. Every death makes me stronger. "

Azure spoke up again, trying as always to diffuse the impending argument. "Ladies, please. I think we can all agree that we would be better off getting to the Citadel as quickly as possible. Can we please no argue and just move on?"

The quiet winds rose up, moving along everyone's faces in gentle but insistent lashes. "Yes. We need to keep going. We cannot fight the Lord of Secrets and each other if we hope to survive this."

Byrne, quietly, murmured something under her breath. Unfortunately, she did so at precisely the moment when no one else was talking and there was still, empty air between her and the others. Everyone heard her voice but no one could make it out.

"What was that, Lady Fire?" Azure asked in concern.


"No, seriously. What did you say?" Corundar stared at her, his brow furrowed. "If you've got something to add, just do so."

She shook her head. "It wasn't important."

The winds flared again, this time carrying Faile's words like a small clap of thunder.


Byrne winced. Then, taking in a deep breath and looking down at the ground, she spoke just loud enough to be heard. "I said, 'Some of us don't deserve to survive.' That's all. Maybe some of us should die."

Before anyone could respond with more that a shocked look or grim eyes, a blur of iridescent white came shooting up over the edge of the cliff right in front of Corundar, soaring high over head to hover on wings of shimmering pearl. From the back of the sudden dragon, its rider shouted down to all of them with words of resigned hatred.

"Perhaps I can be of assistance with that!"

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Riddle of Regret

He watched from the parapet, his only companion sound the hiss of scale on scale as one of his bonded mount shifted in her sleep. Sylfrost was as white as her mate was red, slumbering over a nest of crystal, dark iron and glittering ruby-pearl eggs.

Above him, Sangwynn was keeping guard as well, the flares on either side of the dragon's muzzle wide and open. Both dragon and rider were alert for the same thing, looking for the same quarry, but for very different reasons. The dragon was the more honest of the two. All Sanwynn wanted to do was tear the Elementals apart, ending any threat they might pose to his mate, his eggs or his bonded master.

The master, on the other hand, was no longer as simple in his desires. He was here because he had been called across the multiverse to serve the only being capable of doing such a thing, of compelling him to once again being someone's slave.

It was Tenebrous that had pulled him from the aether, forcing him to leave his private exile and returning him to the terrible state of undeath that had been his Hell for so long before. All Vertrius had wanted was to be left alone. Betrayed by those he'd loved and stripped of his powers, he had just wanted to be away from them... to not be a liability to them... to not have to look at them every day and feel his poisoned adoration curdling into hate.

But no, the Lord of the Undead had not forgotten him and, only a few days after he'd found a small world in Wildspace to call home, Vertrius had been forced by the ancient pact his father wrought with Tenebrous, then Orcus, to leave peace behind and return once more into the fold of evil.

The Shadowed Lord had wasted no time stripping him of the humanity he'd so long wished for and only just achieved. The dark kiss of a pale woman had drained his life and replaced it with the red mockery of unlife eternal. It had amused Tenebrous to make him kill his new sire, moving him like a cursing, cursed puppet to tear out her unbeating heart and suffer through a weeping feast.

But Tenebrous' plans for him, whatever they might have been, were quickly dashed by the plots of Vecna, the Maimed One. Vecna had come to him in dreams during the single hour of day that existed in the Dark Realm. The Lord of Secrets had promised him freedom in exchange for an oath of a year's service and one... small... favor.

Vertruis had been utterly eager to strike such a bargain. At the right moment, Vertrius cast a secret spell to transpose the doomed goddess Kiaransalee with a drow pawn "raised" to godhood by Vecna for the sole purpose of existing just long enough for Tenebrous to think he'd slain his hated rival. What happened to Kiaransalee after the spell, Vertrius neither knew nor cared. His part in the masquerade was done.

Surprisingly, Vecna had upheld his end of the bargain. Pretending to slay Vertrius during a mock raid of Orcus' newly reformed Bone Citadel, the Maimed Lord spirited him away and conscripted him for one soul-ensured year as a general in his lifeless armies.

In a way, Vertrius wished he had been betrayed by Vecna. Now he felt honorbound to serve, to fulfill the rest of his oath. One year of unquestioning service, doing as his master bids, with no magical coercion existing or needed. The Master of Whispers obvious knew him well; Vertrius would never break a vow. Not even to save his own life...

And that loyalty had brought him here, to Cavitus to stand guard at the top of the Bleak Tower. His red dragon was perched above him, scanning the dismal horizon with sight unrivalled by any living creature.

Vertrius, however, was no living creature and his vision revealed things even draconic eyes could not see. He prayed under his breath to no god in particular that as acute as his sight was, it would fail to perceive what he was here to guard against. If the Elementals somehow managed to find the lost portal stone and get to his Dark Lord's godly realm, it was his duty to ensure they never reached the fortress.

"Kill them. Quick if you must but kill them all. When next you meet, either they fall or you do. I will accept no other outcome."

The Maimed One indeed knew him well. Vecna's orders left no room for interpretation. He had hesitated before, something his divine master would not tolerate or forgive again. If those he had once loved made their way here, he would have to fight them.

He would have to kill them. Even Akasha.

Even Faile.

For that reason if for no other, he hoped against hope that his vigil would go undisturbed. Let them be on any other world, please. Let them wander, lost but alive. forever. Let the portal stone from Tovag Baragu remain in obscurity, discovered by no one and forgotten until the end of days...

A sharp hiss broke his prayer. He was almost afraid to look, suspecting grimly what he would see.

Sangwynn was pointing with one adamantine-laced talon, snarling in warning to him. "Six come, Whitehair. Six come!"

Vertrius raised his head and let his profane sight show him what he already knew to be true. They were leagues away, moving through the Ashcrags on foot. Clever of them, really; flight would only have made them easier to spot. But they had been spotted and as such his duty was clear. There would be no escaping it this time.

"You are still wounded, Sangwynn. Stay with your eggs. I will take Sylfrost into battle."


Vertrius looked up into the angry eyes of his dragon, letting his own flare with unholy, blood-crimson power.

"If we need you, I will send for you. Be ready to teleport on my command."

The red juggernaut growled again but nodded, cowed by the twin impact of his bond with Vertrius and the force of the vampire's unimaginably strong will. Few could tame a dragon with a thought, but only someone that potent could rightfully tame a beast such as Sangwynn.

"Yessss... Master."

By the time the scarlet male was coiled protectively over his precious clutch, his beloved was already taking wing, their shared lord astride her back. Sylfrost was the color of opals, complete with the inner fire that ignited within her scales the first time they'd mated. Hissing the first part of a teleportation spell over and over, Sangwynn waited for the call.

His master was powerful but the vampire was also soft when it came to these foes. Lord Vertrius might have trouble finishing this battle...

...but if any of them harmed Sylfrost, the horror of their deaths would become legend.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Dark Days

"Has anyone else noticed something?"

They had been walking a long time. So long that they had made camp, broken camp, walked until they were tired, and did so again. There was nothing to eat but Akasha's magic was capable of creating food, even if it had basically no flavor and the consistency of lumpy mud.

Azure was the first one to answer Corundar's question. "I have noticed that I am proud of my aestetic lifestyle."

"Why's that?"

"Because that way, I am not disappointed that the inside of my mouth tastes like a quarry."

The Lady of Light scowled. "Would you rather starve?"

The blue elven monk shook his head. "No, I wouldn't. I was commenting because of the chorus of complaints at last night's repast."

Corundar pointed at Azure. "There! That's what I am talking about!"

The monk master looked confused, an all too common expression of late. "You were wondering if we'd noticed how much we complained lately?"

The big man sighed, his massive shoulders slumping in exasperation. "No. You know, for a paragon of wisdom, you can be pretty damn dumb at times. Where is all that monastic insight when we need it?"

Without missing a heartbeat, Azure replied, "You are calling me stupid?" One pale white eyebrow raised, letting everyone around him know that the Lord of Water was about to open up a verbal fire hose.

Nyx cut the moment of silence with a hiss and a hollow rasp. She spent most of her time in armor these days, something that quite rightfully unnerved her siblings. "Stop it."

Corundar blinked and looked to his dark sister. "What?"

"I am getting tired of the fighting. If we insist on attacking each other, perhaps we should just do so honestly and get it over with."

Akasha shook her head frantically, light pouring from her hands as she held them up. "No! No fighting. Please! I don't like it when we get like this. I won't have any of my sisters or brothers hurting each other!"

Under her breath, Faile murmured, "Too late." No one around her heard it but all the way at the other end of the group, Byrne caught the comment. Inwardly, she died just a little bit more.

Oblivious, Corundar rumbled a quiet apology and looked back up at the shadowy night sky. Perhaps the comment was sincere, perhaps it was just a token to satisfy Akasha, but it was said all the same and it seemed to defuse the situation. For now. Nyx glowered, the black flames around the eye slits of her helm burning a little smaller as she pressed on down what passed for a path in this endless wasteland.

They had been heading towards what seemed like a coastline on the horizon. The thought had been, 'find water and follow the coast, eventually you'll find civilization'. After all this time, however, they weren't any closer to the coast... assuming the end of visible land far in the distance even was a coast. They had been to planes where the world just ended.

"I do not know if I can take much more of this," Akasha said quietly. She might have been referring to the walk, the fighting, or both. "This would be so much easier if we could still..."

The Lady of Light trailed off, but everyone knew what she was going to say and why she didn't say it. They had been able to travel between the planes without needing a portal or gate. That was before they had betrayed a loved one's trust and before Akasha herself had broken his heart. That had been before a lot of things...

"That was then, sister. This is now." That was Faile, talking softly. Her offering comfort in this was surprising to most of them. It was no secret that Akasha's driving Vertrius away had also driven a rift between Light and Air. The pale, gentle vampire had been loved by them all but none had cared for him as much as Faile. "Talking about it won't get us through another day."

"There! That's it exactly!" Again Corundar was shouting and again he was pointing.

Faile frowned visibly, even through her bandages. "Cor, give it a rest. I wasn't complaining."

The Lord of Earth stomped his iron-shrouded foot and shook the ground, nearly toppling them all. "I am not talking about complaining! Haven't any of you noticed something about this place?"

"It's dark?"

"It's gloomy?"

"There's nothing good to eat?"

"Screw you, Azure!"

"Don't. She'll only leave you too."

"And you, Fay!"


Corundar pointed at the sky. "We've been here a long damn time and it's still night. There haven't been any days. There isn't a moon or stars. There's no life at all and no light except those bands of magic in the sky."

"What is your point, Corundar?" Akasha was clearly at the edge of her patience. "Quickly."

"My point is that we were all in the last monolith when Tovag Baragu exploded, remember? We were almost to Vecna's realm when everything went boom."

Azure rubbed his side; there was a wound there from part of the funeral bier of Tharuzdin. That cut would never completely heal - not while the Lord of All Destruction was partially free. "Don't remind me."

"Well apparently I do... because I think I figured out what you all haven't."


Corundar chose to ignore the insult and press on. "Look, I think I know where we are."

Byrne growled. "Then enlighten us..."

"I think we've spent all this time looking for the monolith to get to Tovag Cavitus when all we had to do was what we did. Teleport without a destination again." He pointed to the sky. "Remember the glimpse we got through the portal before it closed and we got thrown into the Astral? It looked just like that!"

They all stared. They stared hard.

Then they looked back at Corundar.

Azure thought out loud. "We must have carried the monolith with us magically. We were in it... and now it is inside us."

Nyx unsheathed Mancleaver and stared down the runesword's glittering black edge. "Then we are finally at the end at the journey."

"Well, sort of."

They all stared at Corundar again. Azure said what they were all thinking. "What do you mean, 'sort of'?"

A man that size should never be able to look that sheepish, but somehow the titan of Earth managed to do so. "Ummmm... does anyone know which direction to go now?"

The silence was epic.