How long have we been here? Where is here? Are we dead AGAIN?
Falling endlessly through the Abyss, you have a lot of time to think about a lot of things that will probably never be important. Some people have all the luck…and then there’re our heroes.
Suddenly shunted sideways, like they’d been shoved through a brick wall, the group found themselves standing on very familiar territory, looking at a face they’d seen before, and ready to follow her every command. Things started to come back, hazily. The Lich. The King’s Highway. Loriana…falling. At least she had been freed. Now, there was more killing to be done—a beholder…another beholder, like before, there in the Dream. Was the Queen dreaming the Beholder now? Unlikely. The sharp command, like the crack of a whip. Almost of its own volition, your flesh moves. You wield your weapons and strike.
She called you here—the Lich you met back there. The one that Krav had promised to do a favor for. This is one hell of a favor, but…beats the hell out of falling into Hell, or wherever it was. The Tyrant was dispatched with ease…but why was it here? Why was the Lich here? The Queen’s dream must be becoming easier to find…or more well-known. That’s a frightening thought. Before you could march forward at her command into the chamber of the Queen, 5 Shadar-Kai solidified into existence.
“We are the Guardians. You have violated the sanctity of Her Sleep. The penalty is death.”
You wanted to shout at them, ‘No, we’re on your Prince’s side!’ But you could not. You are forced, again and again, to attack. Then, a new form wavered and shimmered into existence; a girl, just over the cusp of womanhood, with cool blue skin, and long chestnut auburn hair.
“Keepers of the Queen, Hail! These are under my protection, and defend your Queen by your Prince’s request.” The Shadar-Kai hesitated at her words, uncertain whether to believe her, or to destroy their attackers.
She addressed herself to the fallen. “Be free!”
Enraged, the Lich screamed at the girl, and fired a great bolt of negative energy her way. “Die!”
‘Big Brother,’ said a voice in Krav’s mind. ‘Return to me!’ Krav blinked, freed of the Lich’s control, and directed his glaive at the Lich instead of the Shadar-Kai.
‘Son of the Phoenix, rise!’ In her thoughts, she exhorted Rychard to be free, and he took to freedom like the Phoenix to the sky—setting everything on fire in his wake.
‘Scion of the Stars, this is not your fate.’ The voice of her thoughts was like cool water to Rabadash’s parched soul, and he shook off the shackles of the Lich.
The Shadar-Kai attacked the Lich, eager to be rid of the one whom they understand to be a foe, and nearly cut her down. She was forced to focus her energies on the threat directly before her.
‘Daughter of the Mountain, stand strong! You are more than she can command!’ Heartened, the warden turned her hammer toward the one who would dare violate her will.
The Lich destroyed, Neva interposed herself between the Guardians and her favored ones. “Honored Guardians, we will leave this realm. Take our blessing, and we shall part in peace.” The face of the Witch changed as Neva stared into her eyes, and she bowed her head, although none of them lowered their guard. Krav spoke as they turned to leave.
“Guardians! Tell your Prince that Khor succeeded. He will know what that means.”
“I knew that if I just waited, you would come back here.” Neva said, as her magic bore the heroes’ souls away, back to Ilona’s realm. When they arrived, Neva was gone, and they stood in the great chamber before Ilona, skyclad as ever, surrounded by her servants and acolytes.
“Dead!” she exclaimed, saddened beyond measure. “Oh, great is my grief!”
“Ours is probably a little greater,” muttered Rychard under his breath.
“If only there was a way…my heart says there must be, but I do not have command of the force of Life itself. A black day!”
“Perhaps this would help, My Lady?” Rabadash stepped forward, offering her a little treasure that he had snuck away with from the Raven Queen’s Dream: the Ring of Melora, which glowed with the aura of her power. She gasped, but took the ring and held it in her palm. “Yes,” she said, more to herself than anyone else, with the tone of someone who is trying to convince herself that she is right. “I would say that this is Fate, but…it cannot be. This is a happy chance, and a Good choice. Thus I assume the power of Life itself…” She put it on, and a fresh breeze blew through the chamber, a beautiful Zephyr that brought with it the promise of spring’s rebirth. Eyes closed, Ilona began to dance; though she tried at first to exert control over it, it became wild, unbound and almost frightening as those seized with the will joined the dance, stomping and clapping in a frenzy of energy, like whirling dervishes. Others sang ancient songs they had never known, or drummed life’s rhythm by slapping their arms, breast, or thighs. Life energy was abundant, and ran verdant and sanguine; for those with the Sight, a green vine of energy was moving through each of the dancers, channeled into Ilona, and a little of their life energy was being siphoned into her, and then a little more…and then a little more…
Just as suddenly, the vines were released, their tendrils curling back up whence they had come, and Ilona danced, rising higher and higher in the air, nothing holding back her channeling of the most ancient and primal force. Her hair blazed and whipped wildly, sweat and tears blending with love and flowing from her like glowing silver rivulets, falling onto the assembled dancers and the spirits for whom she danced. Then, all music, chanting, slapping, clapping, and gyration completely ceased, and everyone, including Ilona, collapsed to the floor, exhausted nearly to the point of no return, but feeling more alive than they had ever felt.
Without a thought for their present state, Krav and Rabadash darted forward to catch Ilona, and it was only on holding the goddess’ limp but smiling form in their arms that they realized that they HAD arms—they were alive, and embodied! And…human?!? Rabadash was as elated as Krav was shocked, and they, along with Kuorlai, were entirely bewildered. Rychard smirked at their confusion, and retired to a side chamber.
Krav was poking at his body…it was pink, and squishy in wrong places, and very strange! “How…” he trailed off, then hastily added, “Not that I’m ungrateful, My Lady, but…how did we turn out quite so…human?”
The goddess shrugged, a very human gesture. “Perhaps…because it’s the only form I know instinctively how to embody. I am sorry.”
“No, no! I…if this is to be my new life, so be it! It will just…take some getting used to, that’s all.”
“I’m sure there are plenty of ladies around to…help you adjust.” She teased him gently, still exhausted from the ordeal. The warlord arched an eyebrow at her.
“Well,” Rabadash interrupted hastily, a little discomfited by the thinly veiled innuendo that seemed more come-on than suggestion, “I for one am thrilled! Does this mean the Curse is broken?”
The goddess looked him up and down, studying his aura, then shook her head sadly. “I do not know, Rabadash. There is much about this that I do not know, as I simply did what I was moved to do. But, the divine wisdom within prompts me that your body will, within three days, assume the shape of your soul.”
Very much alive, the warlord and warlock found that the wonder of returning to life was giving way to the awakening of what it meant to be alive…and that their bodies were responding to the presence of the Goddess in ways that are best left undescribed. For Kuorlai, too, the joy of living was underwritten with a need to make up for lost time…
“So,” she offered, “who’s hungry?”