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Hero's Song - Chapter Eighteen

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"You," I said coldly.

Mephasm smiled at me from the center of the binding circle that, once again, caged him. "Ah, my lady. We meet again, I see."

"I think you see a lot more than you tell me, devil. Where is Shandra?"

Mephasm sighed. "She is here, in this Haven, somewhere. She is how you were able to enter here, yes?" He glanced at the open door behind us, leading back out to the mountains. "She will be able to travel this place more...efficiently than you will."

I frowned at him quizzically. "How is it that you're here? I thought I freed you, last time we met."

"Sadly enough, the Master of this place was abe to bind me once again, and this time, my true name will not free me. He has taken...precautions."

"Who is he? Where is he?"

"Ah," the devil grinned at me. "You should know by now that I cannot tell you everything. But I can tell you, he once walked your village, when you were but a babe...and the forces of Neverwinter met him there, in a battle that I'm sure you know all about by now..."

I could feel the blood draining from my face. "The King of Shadows? Here?" My knuckles were bleach white, squeezing the hilt of my swords. "We don't have time; we have to get to Shandra, now. Mephasm, you.."

He chuckled. "Yes, I will aid you. You must get to the labratory of this place; that is where my Master is, and most likely that's where your human will be, as well. See yon portal?" He gestured behind him. "I can open it, for you, and it will link to the place you must go, but by itself it will take you nowhere. You need at least..." he seemed to pause, calcuating something in his head," ...three others to help you as well."

I narrowed my eyes. "Three other what to help me?"

Neeshka touched my elbow lightly. "I wasn't going to inturrupt you, but...there's fiends here. All over the place. My skin feels like it's burning..." her voice sounded shaky, uneven. She glanced at Mephasm in distaste. "I think he means we'll need their help, as well."

My hand covered my eyes for a moment. "I swear, the day something, anything, is uncomplicated and simple, I will eat my own fiddle."

"You better not," growled Bishop dangerously.

"We must hurry," said Elanee, desperation in her voice. "Shandra is alone in this place."

"Oh, I doubt that she is alone; but she is very much in danger," Mephasm intoned gravely. "Your druidess is right. Good luck to you, my lady." He bowed formally to me.

As we left his chamber, walking carefully down the darkened hallway that led to the next room, Khelgar tugged at my arm. I leaned down so he could whisper in my ear, and when he did, the words were "Something ain't right about what that devil told us."

"Well, we have nothing else to go off of. And if he's right, then we have to help Shandra. If he's wrong, what harm will it do?"

Khelgar grunted acquiesence, but his eyes were troubled as I pushed open the next door...

o o o o o o

The Erinyes smiled at her. "Why would I lie to you? Just try it, if you don't believe me. Blood powers this place; your blood. Just think of where you want to go..."

Shandra stayed far back from the winged devil, her hand on her weapon. "Why should I trust you?"

"Oh my dear," she laughed. "You shouldn't. But try it, and you'll see that I'm telling you truth."

Shandra shut her eyes, a flash of light, she dissappeared from the room.

"Ah, and so the chase begins," the erinyes smiled to herself, as the door to her chamber opened...

o o o o o o

I stopped. A winged woman...or close enough to one...was standing in the center of a binding circle, a portal similar to Mephasm's behind her on the wall. She was intensely beautiful, and repulsive at the same time, and she smiled at me in a way that made me want to crawl inside of myself and hide.

"Why, such pretty presents. Are you all here to see me?"

"Something like that." I stepped slightly in front of everyone, more to convince myself that I was still in command of all my faculties (including my courage) rather than as a show of leadership. "We need your help to get into the laboratory."

"Ah yes, I felt Mephasm activate his portal, and now I know why." She eyed me calculatingly. " could be of use to me." She tapped her lips with her forefinger for a moment, then snapped her fingers, smiling. "Ah! There is a demon, Baalbisan, in the next room. His temper is...unseemly, but he sometimes shouts the True Name of his matron in his fits of rage, like a curse. Unfortunately, he becomes infuriatingly tight-lipped when my erinyes try to taunt him. I need you to learn that name for me."

I frowned at her quizzically. "That's all?"

She looked amused. "Would you like something more difficult to do, instead?" She laughed at my stony expression. "Get the name, and I shall help you. Now shoo. Before I grow tired of you and just kill you, instead."

o o o o o o

She stared up...and up...into the wild features of a pit fiend, having appeared almost directly at it's feet. Her toes nearly touched the edge of it's binding circle.

"And what is this? Step forward, little tool, let Koraboros look upon your features." His voice was depthless, rumbling, soothing, and terrifying, and she stepped back quickly from the circle, her eyes wide.

He chuckled at her. "Too smart for that one, little one?" His burning eyes watched her closely, his demeanor deceptively calm. "Tell me, little one, how did you get here?"

Shandra blinked, confused. "I... I'm not sure. A demonness told me I could travel anywhere in this place... and suddenly, I was here."

Koraboros regarded her curiously. "Blood powers this place, girl." He inhaled deeply, sniffing the air. "Aaaah...and you, here, and of your own free will, too? I can feel the balance of this place shifting."

"What balance?" Her voice was high, suspicious.

"This place is powered by the presence of the baatezu and tanar'ri held here. It is what permits you to travel as you will... and grants power to the one who commands us."

Shandra's voice was eager, demanding. "Who? Who commands you?"

"A powerful wizard, one whom your friends have hunted for some time. He is lord and master of this place, and is forever linked to shadow." If the pit fiend could smile, it was doing so now. "I think you know his name already, as do your friends."

She balked, her face going chalk white. "The King of Shadows" She swore vehemently. "Well, he'd better be prepared for a beating, because my friends have ways of defeating him now!"

"My dear," the fiend's voice was deadly serious. "As long as we remain in our summoning circles, the one who commands us will rise from every defeat anew, more powerful than before."

"Wh-what?! But Zhjaeve said...the must be lying!"

"What I speak is the truth, mortal," Koraboros said menacingly. "And it does not bode well for your friends."

o o o o o o

"It steps forward to let Baalbisan see it more clearly, " growled the baalor, eyeing me curiously.

"Careful," whispered Neeshka. "One wrong question, and we won't get a chance to ask another..."

The baalor sniffed disdainfully at Neeshka. "What is this...thin-blooded thing before me, it's flesh reeking of the baatezu? Is it female? It looks too weak to be otherwise."

I narrowed my eyes, ready to retort, but Neeshka beat me to it. "Weak?! Who's the one trapped inside a summoning circle, and who's the one walking free, you half-witted tanar'ri hindlicker?"

Sand groaned behind me. "Next time, can we leave the more impulsive ones behind when we go off galavanting through demon-infested labyrinths of death? Just a suggestion."

"No, she's right; Hezebel said that we needed to antagonize him," I hissed quietly.

Sand sighed, his face the picture of doomed resignation. "All right. Aim the tiefling and fire away."

Baalbisan snarled down at Neeshka, and I felt her shift slightly behind me. "It thinks bold words make it superior? It is a small drop of evil, a random and hissing bloodfly only... weak as a baatezu, weaker as a female."

"And how did you get here?" I shot back, my own anger rising. "Are you stupid enough to be lured here with the promise of blood and sacrifice? If so, I hope that circle fits you nice and tight, because you wear imprisonment like one born to it, demon." Well, what of it? I couldn't stand chauvinists...even if it did happen to be a chauvinist baalor who's head nearly broke the ceiling and who's claws could probably rend me in two with one swing...

"It will leave me now," Baalbisan growled, snorting furiously. "It's presence angers me."

"Hmmm," I said, my voice deceptively cheerful; inside I was blazing. "No, you know what? I think I'll stay right here. I mean, there's really not much you can do about it, is there?"

Behind me, Neeshka smiled at the baalor sweetly. "We might as well make ourselves at home, yes?

Baalbisan let out a roar that nearly shook the room with it's force, and my heart stopped for a moment. But the circle held as he thrashed. "My memory is longer than a thousand of its lifetimes and my wrath is legion!"

"So you'll never forget that we insulted you? Why, that's even better!" I had to admit, Neeshka was in fine form.

"Bethshiva take it! I will see it suffer for its insolence!" Baalbisan snarled, tearing at his own flesh in frustration; I watched disconcertingly as the wounds healed almost immediately. "By the hells! Even the sound of my matron's horrid name drives me mad! Oh, Bethshiva, may the tanar'ri females bind you for their pleasure..."

"And that, I think, is our cue to leave. Are we done baiting demons for now? We've got the damn name," growled Bishop.

"Aye, quick, let's get back to Hezebel," I said, attempting to cool down somewhat; a worried urgency was descending on me. Where the hell was Shandra?

Bishop gestured towards the way we had come with a mocking bow, scowling. "After you, 'my lady'."

o o o o o o

The succubus smiled. "Just reach out with your thoughts; and concentrate."

Shandra focused; it wasn't as hard as she thought it might be, like writing words in the air with her mind's eye. "Harper? Can you hear me?"

Sure enough, the bard's voice echoed through the room, as if coming from a great distance. "Shandra? Is that you?"

"Listen, this place is demons, and devils."

"Oh really? I noticed!"

"Listen to me! They say that their master is unbeatable!"

Shandra could hear the frustration in the elf's voice as it reverberated around the room. "Everyone had a weakness! We've come so far..."

"I know, that's what I say! Just don't do anything crazy until I can find you; I don't think these creatures are lying about this."

The succubus laughed at her in surprise. "Killing our master? Oh, that's not impossible."

Shandra's concentration snapped, and she looked at the succubus wildly. "What?! I-" her words were cut off as another flash of light filled the room, and she teleported once more.

"Humans. So easily distracted!" The succubus yawned. "Now I'll have to wait."

o o o o o o

"Shandra?" I called, but whatever had connected us was gone. "Damn it!"

"Who is that cursing in such a melodious voice?" The words drifted through the open door in front of us. I glanced at my companions despairingly, and stepped into the room. A pit fiend, towering many hands taller than all of us, looked down regally at me as I stepped forward. "Visitors? A rare occurrence indeed, these days." He grinned at me, baring fangs. "What can I do for you?"

"I need your help opening a portal, devil. To the laboratory."

He chuckled. "Ah, a plot to strike at the master, is it? Bold of you. Suicidal. But bold."

My patience, my courage, my sanity, was running thin. Dealing with demons was like trying to dance on a sharpened blade barefoot, without getting cut; sooner or later, no matter how good you are, you're going to lose your toes. My nerves were stretched to the breaking point, and my voice was more than a little sharp. "Will you help me or not?"

"I can help you, yes...but first, there is something you need to help me with, regarding a servant of mine..."

o o o o o o

She stumbled slightly as the succbi's room faded from view, and a new one surrounded her. "Damn it!"

"What is it? What is it that comes before me?" Baalbisan glared down at her, hissing. "It trespasses, but it moves freely in this place. How is it able to do this?"

She squared her shoulders...enough was enough. "I am looking for a way to beat your master. And gods, if you can't help me, then you better shut your mouth, because I'm tired of talking with demons!"

Baalbisan laughed derisively. "Kill our master? It asks too late, too late for it and for the others it has brought."

"Tell me!" She strode forward, as close as she dared, and thrust a finger towards the baalor. "How can he be beaten?"

To her incredible surprise, the demon almost cringed. "Jerro. It speaks as one of his blood. " He regained himself almost instantly, but when he spoke, the writhing anger and mockery was gone from his voice. "As... as long as we are bound, our master cannot be defeated. If we are set free, the master is weakened. "

"Set you free? Not likely!" Shandra scowled. A farm girl she may be, but she wasn't stupid; what kind of a lame demon trick was this?

Baalbisan snorted. "It speaks with defiance, but it will soon see truth, truth that only blood will show. It sheds it's blood, Jerro blood, and our circles will dissolve. The Master will lost his power. But such blood required from it...why, it will drain it's life, so that nothing remains."

"I'm not cutting myself for you! Any of you!"

"Then it's friends will die." He stared down at her, his eyes penetrating. "It will watch it's friends suffer, and through suffering, it will know the truth."

o o o o o o

Koraboras' portal was slowly sizzling to life even as we left his chamber. One more to go. I had taken point, and had no sooner turned the corner when a screeching succubus was on me, all claws and snapping tail. I was knocked back into Casavir, who yanked me down just as an arrow whizzed by his shoulder, piercing the thing's eye. Then, fire exploded around us, and three more succubi running down the hall fell to Qara's magic before I even had a chance to blink.

The smell of charred demon-flesh filled my nostrils, making me nauseated. "Thanks," I everyone in general. How many times does someone have to save your life until thanking them becomes repetitive? It was almost a reaction, now.

"I would take that as a warning to proceed carefully," said Sand drily.

"You mean we haven't been this entire time?" quipped Bishop, sarcasm dripping off his voice.

I entered the next chamber to the sound of clapping. "Well done!" announced a distinctly beautiful succubi in the binding circle. "You have earned an audience with me."

"My goodness," murmered Grobnar. "I'm getting a wonderful tingling sensation just looking at her!"

She smiled at me. "Please, speak...and do keep it interesting?" The last was edged with steel in her voice, warning of the consequences if I didn't.

"Who are you?"

She arched an eyebrow imperiously at me. "I am Blooden, mistress of the Deep Crest, the breeding grounds of the Abyss." She paused dramatically, and frowned at the blank looks on our faces. "You haven't heard of me? That is strange." She pouted slighty, her lips full and inviting...did Khelgar just whimper?

"You're a female of your species, I see," she said, sounding more than a little dissapointed. "Did you...did you bring any males with you?" She scoured the figures behind me, and grinned maliciously at Sand. "My, what lovely ears you have; I know much of breeding in your species. You must be a powerful mage, with such ears..." I couldn't believe it. Sand was puffed up almost twice his size, smiling at her foolishly.

"I think I'm going to be sick," muttered Qara.

Blooden's eyes fell on Casavir. "Oh, paladin," she said, her voice husky. "Your leader has done well by bringing you here."

"But do not come to close, 'holy' one," said Casavir in disgust. "Your presence is more than I can bear."

"My presence? Oh, most worthy knight," she pouted at him prettily, "if my form so displeases you, perhaps I shall take another..." her eyes flicked to me, and Casavir nearly snarled at her.

"You will not mock us! Not me...and especially not her!"

"Such passion!" She sighed sadly. "You paladins are always wasted in those temple walls that hold you." She winked at him, and glanced down at Khelgar. "Oh my...what is your name?"

Khelgar stuck his chest out; I could see him flexing his muscles from where I was standing. "Khelgar. Khelgar of the Clan Ironfist."

She cooed, her hand at her throat in delight. "Ironfist...that is such a strong name. Tell me, are you a great warrior?"

I looked over at Qara in askance; she shook her head at me in disbelief. Khelgar opened his mouth, and I could just hear the oncoming tirade about his exploits, when a voice snapped "We don't have time for this shite."

Blooden's head flicked away from Khelgar so fast I almost missed it. She was staring with intense curiousity somewhere behind me...I turned, and saw Bishop, glaring at her, his jaw clenched.

"My," she breathed. "Look at this. Such a specimen you have brought me. And such thoughts...!" She gasped, her smile widening. "Oh my, little human. You seem to have done very, very well for yourself...and your pretty little leader, here. I must applaud you."

"I've got enough demons, witch; taunt and tempt all you want, but your little act bores me." His voice was clipped and cold, his face harder than stone.

She cocked an eyebrow in Bishop's direction. "Tell me, male; does she see that soul you hide, like a dagger in a sheath, while you play at seduction? I wonder who's back that dagger is intended for..."

Bishop snarled at her, reaching for an arrow...

"Enough!" I snapped. "I didn't bring him, or anyone, here for your amusement!"

Her eyes went cold. "That's too bad. I was so looking forward to being amused." She yawned. "Servants!"

In response, another small squad of succubi poured from the portal behind Blooden, and ran at us, screeching...

o o o o o o

She stared at the ground, a strange stillness filling her. "It can't just can't be him." She looked up at the baalor. "There is no other way?"

"It stalls, it begs, it queries, and yet it knows the answer to it's question already."

She looked up at the demon. We've come so far, she thought. And we were all wrong...and they're going to die...

She thought of all their faces, their mannerisms, their courage and bloody-mindedness, and Harper at the forefront; the elf woman had brought all of this upon her, and yet...she hadn't regretted any of it, had she? The bard had been like...well, family. More of a family than she'd had for a short time in her youth, at any rate. And Harper was luckless, and sarcastic, and more than a little arrogant; but she was kind, and had a rare courage, and had stood up for her every chance she got, and Shandra had never laughed so hard, or felt anything so hard as when she was traveling with that group of mismatched people. And they had just drawn her into their fold, taken responsibility for her, just like that.

The only thing she had left to lose in the world was...well, them. And her life.

o o o o o o

I gasped for breath as the last succubi fell, glaring at Blooden, who was applauding once more. "Oh yes! That was magnificent. Almost as good as when Koraboros used to send his hell hounds raiding." She sighed in melancholy. "I would ask him to send more, but I'm stuck in this little, tiny circle.."

I gritted my teeth. "What do you want me to do?"

She smiled at me sweetly. "I knew you'd understand! Go ask him to send another pack raiding, like he used to...and if you do, I'll open that little portal over there to the laboratory." She clapped her hands together once, sharply. "Hurry back! I can hardly contain myself..."

o o o o o o

"Through suffering, it will know the truth," the demon repeated. "It will be it's suffering...or theirs."

She eyed him warily. "So what exactly do I have to do?"

o o o o o o

Blooden smiled gleefully at the bloodied corpses surrounding her. "You've made me so happy."

"I'm so glad."

She laughed. "I'm not normally one to honor non-binding contracts...or any contracts, for that matter, but you've entertained me so well that I'm feeling generous." With a wave of her hand, the portal crackled to life behind her, and watched as we moved towards it purposefully.

"You're going to die, you know," she called, as I stepped through. "Too bad I won't get to watch..."

Light and shadow swirled around me, and then I was dumped unceremoniously into a darkened room, stumbling over cracked flagstones. I could hear the others slipping into the room behind me, muttering and cursing. The only illumination in the place was from the various portals spread around the room, glowing softly with a red light that made everything look as if it had been washed in blood. Other than the noise we were making (and I cringed inwardly at the large amount of noise that was) the room was silent, and completely still.

I could see some kind of alchemy bench on the other side of the room, and a desk. Well, we have nothing else to investigate...I stepped forward, and even as my foot touched the ground, I heard Neeshka shout, "Harper, wait, don't-!" and brilliant light filled the room, the keening sound of an alarm reverberating off the walls.

"- step there," Neeshka ended futily.

A rumbling sound filled the chamber, and we huddled closer together, weapons bristling. In front of us, a wizard appeared with a resounding pop; it was the man from the Moonstone Mask. The one who'd hounded the shards I carried, and who'd foiled our attempts to secure the ones I didn't. For a moment, I felt uncertainty cross my mind; this man was the King of Shadows? He was powerful, of that I had no doubt. The tattoo's across his face glowed brilliantly, illuminating him in an obscenely holy glow, and he chuckled at us even as we brandished our weapons in his direction.

"Intruders." His voice was like crunching gravel, and it was angry. "Unbidden, and unwelcome. How you got here is a mystery, but it won't matter to you very soon..." He stopped and stared, his eyes falling on me in recogniztion, his tirade abruptly cut off. "You?"

"Yes, me. You think I'd just let you leave with the shard? After you murdered Mira? After everything you've done?" I pointed a scimitar at him. "You won't get away from us so easily this time!"

He didn't seem to hear my words...he waved a hand at me, leaving a trail of glowing light in the air, and his smile was sinister and completely unconcerned. "Why, you have brought gifts. You carry the shards I have sought... and one is even lodged inside you." He stepped forward, raising his hands...magic crackled between them, and his eyes glowed a radiant blue. "Let me take them off your hands...and from your corpse!"

o o o o o o

"It must hurry," said Baalbisan, as Shandra drew her sword. "It's friends are fighting...and losing. It can feel it, in it's blood; it's friends lives are about to be snuffed out completely."

She hesitated, her mind racing with everything the baalor had just told her. "How do I know everything you've told me isn't a lie?"

"Shandra," he said slowly, his voice low, seductive, "even you know the truth can wound more than a falsehood. Believe me; the one your friends face even now is the blood of Jerro."

His uncharacteristic use of her actual name struck her to the core, and suddenly she felt it; she felt their pain as they fought him, felt them growing weaker, their wounds sapping their strength, and in the middle of it all...was her grandfather, Ammon, laughing as he killed them...

She concentrated, reached out in her head. "Harper...!"

o o o o o o

I gasped from where I lay, where the mage had thrown body was still reverberating from the impact with stone, and my vision was spinning. Shandra's voice pierced through my head, and I called out her name in shock. She's still alive!

"You can't beat him!" her voice echoed around me. "Only freeing the demons will stop him! They grant his power as long as they're here, but I can free them!"

"Don't..." I gasped, " anything rash! Shandra...!"

But her voice, her presence, was gone, and I felt a distinct emptiness in the pit of my stomach. I stood, and steadied myself; Qara was blasting the mage with all she had, but he was gaining the upper-hand, and with a quick gesture Qara was lifted off her feet and tossed across the room, slamming into the far wall.

He was laughing with pure, unadulterated joy, lifting his hands to cast a spell as we all attempted to stagger to our feet...and then suddenly, he choked on his laughter, deflating...

"What...what is happening?!"

o o o o o o

"Oh my dear," said Blooden, her eyes hooded and sly. "You've cut yourself." She watched as Shandra approached her, pale-faced, her wrist sliced open, crimson liquid dripping across her hand. "Now, why would you do a thing like that?"

Shandra merely stared at her while she lifted her arm, blood raining down on the edge of the binding sizzled where it fell, and the markings gouged in the stone began to fade...

o o o o o o

I watched in disbelief as the mage clutched at his head, his face contorted in pain. "What...what have you done?!" In an instant, he raised his arms and dissappeared in a flash of light.

o o o o o o

Ammon Jerro appeared in Zaxis' chamber. "You!! You will stay!! That circle binds you, and it..." He stared down at the floor in shock.

The binding circle was gone.

Zaxis roared. "Zaxis will regain his strength, and will destroy you, Jerro!" The hezrou turned and dissappeared into it's portal, flames crackling around it, and the portal burst into flames at his passing, the magical energy it contained flickering weakly before dissappearing altogether. It's shell remained, charred, lifeless, and utterly useless.

o o o o o o

"Someone find a damn portal that works!" I shouted desperately. They were blinking out, one by one, and the room was descending into darkness. What the hell has that girl just done?

Grobnar piped up from the other side of the room. "Here, this one seems to be glowing quite frantically!" He glanced nervously at the fading portals as we sprinted towards him, the sound of energy popping out of existence filling the room. "I think we must hurry!"

o o o o o o

Mephasm looked down at her, his voice matter-of fact. "What you have done is brave, but foolish, Shandra Jerro."

She knelt at the edge of his circle, watching as her blood pooled on the stone, the marks fading before her eyes. Her body shook with terrible weakness, like a newborn lamb barely able to walk...she tried to speak, but her voice betrayed her, and she merely struggled for breath, her vision hazy.

A flash of light filled the room, and a man stood there, furious. "You, girl! You did this!"

She gasped. "My friends...are they...?"

"They will live, fool. But you will not!" His hands stretched towards her, and energy shot from his fingers like lightning, lancing through Shandra's body. She screamed, while he ranted on. "You have destroyed my summoning circles! You have set the deadliest creatures in the Lower Realms free! You have weakened me..." she collapsed to the ground as Ammon's spell was spent. He stood over her, his eyes burning into hers like two blue flames, a terrible coldness rising in them. "For that, girl, you have earned death."

Her face was contorted with pain, but her eyes were calm...Ammon could see the life slipping from them even as she gazed up into his face. "I...know. I'm sorry, grandfather. I'm...I'm so sorry..."

And quietly, with only a sigh to mark her passing, she closed her eyes, laid back against the stones, and died.

Silence descended on the chamber. Ammon felt a terrible panic rising in his chest as he looked down on her body, realization dawning on him. She destroyed the circles... he whirled, staring at Mephasm. "Grandfather? What is the meaning of this, devil?!"

"It is truth," said Mephasm coldly. "And by such truths is one damned. She is...was...of your blood. There are laws, kinslayer, and when these laws are broken, they will take you where I go now." And he turned to his portal, just as a group of bodies poured through it, into the room.

The elf, the one that had challenged him in his own laboratory. The paladin, the wizard, the ranger, the gnome...all of them, spread out behind her, as she stared at the girl's body still lying at his feet. When she finally looked up at Ammon, he spell he could think of would protect him from the raw fury that burned in her grey eyes...

o o o o o o

Mephasm walked towards the portal we had just entered. He glanced at me as he passed. "I shall see you again, I think." In a crackle of flames, he was gone, the portal dying as he left. The room gave a great lurch, and a low rumbling started in the distance, slowly building...

"Shandra?" Grobnar pushed his way to the front. "I'm sorry but...could you get up, please? We've won, we've come all this way to save you..."

"Grobnar," I said quietly. "Stop."

There was steel in my words, and he complied. I stared into the wizard's face, not able to think, not able to move, not able to look at Shandra lying there on the stone cold floor, her body ravaged by magefire and her face pale and bloodless.

Neeshka snarled. "He killed her!"

"Get up and face us, you cowardly dog!" Khelgar bellowed, his face nearly purple with rage.

"If he does not surrender, we will fight. It is his choice," said Casavir, his voice so brittle I thought it might break.

Bishop's voice was at my ear. "Ignore that fool! I say we kill him now, to the hells with surrender! Do to him what he did to her!"

"Face me, Jerro," I said, my voice quiet, even, calm. "Face me, or die where you stand." I was vaguely registering that the room was starting to vibrate around us.

He looked me in the eyes, then. "Kill me now, and this place will collapse around us." He gaze fell once more on Shandra's body. "In my blindness I have...done a great wrong. But perhaps I might save you all, where one was lost." When he looked up once more, his jaw was set, his voice firm. "Gather around me...I have enough power to take us from this place."

Part of the ceiling chose that moment to collapse, and Elanee let out an involuntary, short shriek as it crashed to the floor near her. I gritted my teeth. Revenge or survival, take your pick. "All right!" I shouted over the gathering din. "You heard him! Move, now!"

We all clustered around him, and as he lifted his hands, chanting, a brilliant light encircled us. My eyes were on Shandra until the last, lying sprawled on the floor, her lifeless gaze falling on me even as the room began to collapse. Then the chanting cut off abruptly as the spell was completed, and she faded from view, replaced by searing, white hot nothingness.

Hero's Song - Chapter 18 © Avariel

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