Luc slammed the door behind them and jammed the lock with a smash of his sword. He let his breath out in a rush and gasped in the fresh air as Adder did the same. Hopefully the remorhaz couldn’t follow outside its tunnels, and with any luck the gas would keep it away.
Retracing their steps through the temple was easy enough without an insane monk on their heels, and they emerged with the sun still shining. Sir Nethri remained frozen in stone, and they hadn’t even found the Hammer to make it up to him.
“What now? We can’t carry him back, but we can’t just leave him here.”
“Go back to the camp,” Adder offered, and Luc blanched. He turned to find a shifter standing behind him.
Adder led the way back, Luc following a few steps behind. His mother was going to kill him, he knew it. At the very least, there would be hell to pay. All his hopes had rested on this journey, and he’d gotten one companion cursed and fled the temple before finding what they needed.
They came upon the camp faster than he expected, but the shout of anger he braced himself for didn’t come. Peeking around Adder he realized someone was missing as his sisters and the maid stopped and stared at them. “Where’s Mother?” he asked as he moved away from the changeling.
“Oh, Luc you´re so lucky she is not here. She’s so mad at you,” Amirah said, and S’Jet added “There’s no way you’ll get out of this.”
“Yes, but where did she go? When?”
Amirah pointed at the Spire. “She left about an hour ago to go there looking for you and the others.”
“She what?!” Not that a remorhaz could stop his mother, but the thought of her alone in there chilled Luc’s blood. But without Nethri, they couldn’t go back in there to help her. “…Can any of you remove curses?” he asked, the thought coming to him even as he spoke. The girls exchanged glances.
“Yes, by why should we help you?”
Luc stared in shock. “What? Why wouldn’t you?”
“We’re tired of being left behind,” S’Jet said as Amirah nodded. “Take us on an adventure with you and then we will help.”
“I’m not taking you anywhere dangerous. But I need you to heal Sir Nethri. Please.”
He could have screamed at them. They’d nearly died not two days earlier, and they wanted him to take them on an adventure? When he was already in enough trouble with their mother?! “Please heal Sir Nethri,” he said again, almost pleading.
They looked at each other again, then back to Luc and Adder. Amirah spoke this time. “Take us with you afterwards. Let us follow you so we can get treasure, too.”
“Yes, of course,” he agreed, perhaps a bit too quickly, but they didn’t notice. They giggled amongst each other and grabbed their components and books, and Luc led them back towards the Spire with Adder, all the while keeping an eye out for a flash of brown fur or black leather.
He stood guard as the twins went through their ritual and Adder sat on the steps, gazing out at nothing. Soon enough the feel of magic in the air subsided, and Luc turned to watch as the stone slowly melted away from Nethri. When the grey was completely gone the dwarf fell with a heavy thud, and Luc quickly knelt by his side to check on him.
“Sir Nethri, are you alright?”
“Aye,” he ground out struggling for breath. “What happened?” Luc explained as they helped Nethri to his feet and back to the camp, his sisters pouting the entire way.
Syral found them sitting around the fire a few hours later. Luc jumped to his feet as his mother entered the camp, a bulging pack over her shoulder and blood spattered over her armor. She stopped him with a venomous glare and everyone else remained silent as she set the pack down and walked over to her son.
“You. Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” She didn’t wait for an answer, her anger palpable in the evening air. “You purposely disobeyed me. I told you not to leave my sight, and within an hour I find you gone!?”
“We had to find the Hammer,” Luc said, and instantly regretted it as her eyes flashed. One of the girls squeaked in fear.
“We? We?! Even after all this, you keep— I found a tribe of Ice Barbarians in there, feasting on what was left of a group of adventures. That could have been you, you foolish, stupid child!” She picked up the pack and threw it at Nethri without taking her eyes off her son. The bag crashed against the dwarf’s shield with a heavy thud. “Sir Nethri. What do you make of that?”
Nethri quickly opened the pack and took out various magic items and weapons, then settled upon a book and a hammer. Flipping the pages open, he scanned it for a few minutes before looking back at Syral. “This is the Hammer of Gond, Dame.”
“Good. Then we’ll finally put an end to this. Everyone, get some—“
“But where’s the sword?” Luc asked, and S’Jet gasped. Syral narrowed her eyes. “Mother, please, where is the sword?”
“I’m not going to give it to you,” she said, and turned her back on him. Luc stepped towards her, his footsteps echoing in the sudden stillness. “I said I won’t, Luc, now stop. Your part is finished here.”
“No.” He stood defiant. Syral growled low in her throat but he shook his head. “No, I won’t let you.”
“And I won’t let you! You have no choice,” she snapped. “The matter is closed.” She turned to the others. “We’ll be heading back in the morning. I suggest you get some sleep. You,” she said, eyes locked with Luc’s, “can keep watch all night while I think of what to do with you.”
They arrived in Lencia two days later. Syral brought them to the main courtyard of the mansion, and Luc stood back with his sisters as she addressed the others.
“Sir Nethri, do you have a place we can use the Hammer at? Will your House join in with this?”
“Aye, Dame, we do. Give me a few hours to explain to my House, and we’ll have everything prepared.” He bowed. “By your leave Dame.”
She nodded and he trundled off, the Hammer still in his hands. Syral turned to Adder next, and her expression softened. “You’ve been helpful, and I thank you for that, Oaks. But you’re free to do whatever you wish now; this is House business and I won’t keep you here.”
Adder smiled and nodded. He’d explained his reasoning for deceiving Syral, but Luc thought he’d at least tell her the truth at the very end. But instead he just walked away, escorted to the main doors by a servant.
“Come with me,” she told her children and entered the mansion. Once on the second floor she spoke softly to the twins, and they quickly returned to their rooms. Luc stood back feeling awkward, but she gestured for him to follow as his sisters closed their door.
She led him to her room, far back in the Lady’s suite. Drapes covered the windows, leaving the place in shadow. Clothes littered the floor, and weapons sat unsheathed as she’d been cleaning or sharpening them, but the bed looked untouched, and he wondered just how little sleep she’d actually gotten.
Syral led him to a chest near her bed, and quickly shoved some clothes off it. He stood back as she popped the lock and drew out two old, worn gloves. They looked worthless, but he knew better than to question her in the mood she was in. With care she slipped them over her hands, then clasped them together and drew them apart. The air between her palms shimmered and as her hands came to a stop, Raven’s Tooth hovered between them.
He held his hands out, and Syral raised an eyebrow. “We already went over this. I won’t give it to you.”
“But… You have to,” he blurted out, and her golden eyes narrowed. “Somebody needs to go inside it, don’t they? I’m ready.”
Syral held the sword tighter. “I will not send my only son to be sacrificed!”
“Then who’ll do it?” He shook his head. “I can’t let you!”
“You will do as I tell you to do, for once!” Her anger broke slightly as she couldn’t keep her fear at bay. “If something goes wrong—“
“That’s why it has to be me,” he said, his voice soft but adamant. “You would orphan us. They need you, they need your help. I—“
“I’m nothing here without her, and you three have a life ahead of you.” she interrupted, and Luc shook his head in denial. “I already watched her fall, I will not watch my son die. A parent should never outlive their child.” She reached up with a gloved hand to touch his cheek. “Please. Don’t fight me on this, Luc.”
They stood still for a long time. Luc’s hands twitched as he looked at the sword, but Syral’s grip was tight, and in a fight he knew she would always win. “…Alright. But I’m coming.”
She nodded and dropped her hand. “I’m trusting you to break the sword, Luc. We’ll do this together.”
I won’t let her die. “I know.”
The Forge area was larger than Luc expected, and the amassing dwarves more witnesses than he’d like. They stood in silence until the large doors opened again and Nethri entered in his robes, the Hammer in his hand. The dwarf stopped behind the central anvil and gave Raven´s Tooth a strange look, but the sword had that effect on others and Luc couldn’t blame the Runepriest; he was about to help destroy something he’d been actively searching for.
The gallery of dwarves hushed as Nethri approached Luc and Syral, each giving a slight bow to the other. “Whenever you’re ready,” Syral said, and Nethri stepped away back to the anvil as Luc hefted Raven’s Tooth in his gloved hands. It sang to him, whispered in his mind, and he did his best to block it.
Syral stood a sword’s length away, her hands held calmly at her sides. She nodded and gave him a small smile as he lifted the blade towards her chest. “It’ll be alright.”
No, it won’t be alright, he wanted to shout at her, and he adjusted his grip as his palms began to sweat. His eyes darted back and forth, from her to Nethri to the sword. I can’t kill you. he thought. I won’t kill my mother.
“I know,” he whispered back, and in one swift motion reversed his grip and drove the sword point towards his stomach. Syral screamed and lunged, faster than he’d expected, her claws latching onto his hands as she tried to wrench the sword away from him.
Dwarves in the gallery began shouting as Luc and his mother locked together, her claws digging at his skin as he tried desperately to shake her off. He twisted and lunged and used all his strength, but still she clung on, and slowly, gradually, Raven’s Tooth began to slip from his hands. “No!” he screamed and wrenched his arms back, twisting the sword in one final, desperate move.
Syral gasped and shuddered, and time suddenly stood still. Her grip loosened and Luc stared in horror as she slowly fell back, Raven’s Tooth sliding from her chest, the black blade slick with her blood. She collapsed in a heap, blood pooling beneath her but a relieved smile gracing her face.
“No! NO!!” Luc fell to his knees at her side, Raven’s Tooth forgotten as he shook her to no avail. Reason rushed back as the sword began to hum in his hands, and he forced himself to his feet, slipping in his mother’s blood as he dashed towards Nethri and the Hammer.
“Smash it! Hurry!”
Nethri nodded and Luc surrendered the blade to the dwarf. Panic threatened to overwhelm him, and it was with effort that he forced himself to look away from his mother’s body and back to the anvil and the sword’s destruction.
The Hammer of Gond rose, ready to sunder Raven´s Tooth, and then descended, striking metal with a resounding clang. But the sword was intact. Nethri purposely missed his blow.
“What are you doing?!” Luc reached for the sword but Nethri pulled back, wielding the Hammer as he did his usual weapon. The fighter managed to dodge the first blow and get a hand on Raven’s Tooth, but they were matched in strength and neither would give up the prize. Nethri continued to strike him, the hammer scarily precise as he laid blow after blow on the young man. Luc eventually took out one of his short swords to slash at the Runepriest, throwing them into a battle of attrition.
The room stood aghast. No one moved to stop them. How could they? The two hacked and stabbed at each other, with Nethri landing a hit nearly every time. Luc abandoned his poisoned sword for his father’s, and finally found a way to exploit the dwarf’s weaknesses just before the other attacked. But Nethri healed himself, drawing on the powers of his runes, and the battle dragged out as Syral grew cold on the ground behind them.
“Give me the sword!” Luc shouted in desperation, stabbing as hard as he could to force the dwarf to let go. Nethri grunted and heaved, and Luc felt himself lose his grip on Raven’s Tooth. “No!” The sword snapped free of the fighter’s hand, and Nethri instantly brought it to the attack.
Rage burst through the fighter as he drew his long sword and launched into an all-out attack against the dwarf. Sparks flew as they parried and blocked each other’s attacks. Luc felt himself growing weaker with each attack and started fearing that he was going to lose, then caught a glimpse of Syral. This is all I have left… Putting everything he had into his last attack, Luc brought his sword down towards Nethri’s head, managing at the last second to turn to blade to spare his companion’s life. The flat of his sword smashed into Nethri’s head, and the dwarf fell to a heap on the ground, unconscious.
Raven’s Tooth and the Hammer clattered to the ground, and Luc lunged for the black sword. Dark mist coalesced around Nethri’s chest, expanding, and it lashed out and sent Luc flying back as it grabbed the sword.
“Serve him, serve Vecna!” the voice exalted in his head, and Luc screamed and lunged for the sword. The dark angel, still not fully formed, fell to the fighter’s attack moments before it could use Raven’s Tooth to end Nethri’s life.
Strength nearly spent, Luc hefted the blade and Hammer and staggered to the anvil, protection circles completely forgotten.
I’ll save you, I’ll save you, I’ll…
He brought the Hammer of Gond down with all his strength, and the sword snapped sending a pillar of light through the ceiling that blinded everybody. Energy coursing through his body, Luc could only feel the enormous roar of thousands of howling souls escaping the sundered sword. The soulstorm circled around him, trying to carry him away, and he started screaming trying to drown out the horrible screams of the damned.
He woke to find the Forge in shambles. Nothing remained of the anvil or Raven’s Tooth but dust, and dwarves all around were either coming to or tending to others. Nethri remained in a heap on the floor, and Luc pushed himself to his feet, intent on the dwarf, when a sound to his right drew his attention.
Syral gasped, forcing some air in her lungs, and Nethri and the dwarves were forgotten as Luc rushed to her side. He knelt beside her and cradled her head, tears streaming down his face as she slowly opened her eyes.
“Luc…? I-I saw her…” She clung to him, her voice hoarse as she fought back tears. “She was surrounded by drow—the last ones she’d killed. Trapped in amber, and I-I tried to free her… I really tried.” Luc rocked her back and forth as she talked, unable to understand her words. She’d found Miria, she’d freed her, then why did she sound so broken? “Then there was light, and… I-I said goodbye to her, Luc… She had to go with the others… She couldn’t come with me.”
“No,” he ground out, his throat and chest tight. “She’ll come back, she has to come back…!” They couldn’t have failed. They couldn’t have! Everything he’d done, everything he’d gone through for this one moment, and to have it all disappear before him? The gods couldn’t be that cruel.
Something almost invisible fluttered insistently just outside his line of sight, coming and going, and Luc gently laid his mother down as it beckoned him to follow. His steps were slow, his body numb, but the translucent small lizard creature led him to the Hammer of Gond and what was left of Raven’s Tooth. Mixed in with the dust and shards was a small, tiny piece of glowing amber.
A voice invaded Luc´s thoughts. A debt was owed. Now it is paid. She awaits.
Miria’s body lay as it had for the past month, the soft glow of the spell illuminating her features. Already the magic was fading; she had perhaps a day or two more. Syral stood back as Luc pulled back the shroud covering his Lady Mother and pressed the piece of amber to her chest.
“…I don’t understand,” he choked out when Miria remained still. His body shook and Syral wept softly behind him as he slowly drew the shroud over his mother’s features once again. “He said she was waiting. Was this all a lie, too?!” His hands clenched at his sides and something stabbed his palm. He opened his hand to stare blankly at the piece of amber, then quickly looked from Miria to Syral. She was trapped in amber. Maybe…? But if he was wrong…
With a deep breath Luc took the shard in both hands and held it above Miria’s chest, then slowly, deliberately, broke it in two. Immediatly the shroud slowly sank to the table as her body turned to dust and then was no more. Luc staggered back, trembling, and Syral let out a wail of grief.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean..” Luc rambled and stumbled back towards the door. Syral reached for him and they both staggered from the tomb. I killed her. I let her die and now I’ve killed her and—
Syral gasped suddenly and cried out, darting away on all fours towards the hill in the distance. Luc looked and his breath caught in his throat.
A figure sat at the top of Miria’s favorite hill, the sunlight reflecting a vibrant pink as it touched her hair. She turned to wave towards them and opened her arms as Syral tackled her to the ground, Luc close on her heels.