Reacting on instinct, I spun to my right, the arrows missing my body but tearing two holes in my cloak. Two more arrows flew, these with jet black feathers, but Rothe ducked the both of them, firing a brown arrow as he dropped to his knee. Anna swung her silver bow at his arrow like a club, and as soon as the two connected, there was a ringing noise, followed by an explosion of thorny vines. They spread out from Anna's bow, trapping Rothe's arms and pinning them to his chest.
"So this is who you replaced my father with?" I called to Iezora. "Did you hope I would fall to pieces when I saw a cheap imitation of what you took from me?"
"You dare speak to my mistress?" Rothe cried from the ground, Anna's bow trained on him. "You dare address her with your foul voice?" Rothe rolled to his side, and with his legs swept Anna's feet out from under her. I started to run to her aid, but before I could do her any good, her own heel shot out, catching Rothe in his face. The drow reeled back, his nose bleeding.
"This promises to be entertaining," Iezora mused. "You'll forgive me if I provide you with a more appropriate audience." She clapped her hands and the monsters our friends had been fighting disappeared. Ido'bon had a cut above his eyebrow and Azarak was favoring his left leg. Del'var and Herakas seemed untouched, and Buckethead was only now arriving to their aid. All five seized up suddenly, and were marched with invisible hands into a circle, watching Anna and I with Rothe.
A ripping noise caught my attention, and I looked down in time for the hilt of one of Rothe's blades connect with my jaw. White-hot pain shot up from the point of impact, but I saw an opening. I exaggerated my stumble, letting myself fall to the ground. Rothe pounced, but as he did I slapped my own blade into position, catching his and keeping it at bay from my chest, and I shot my feet out, the way I had with the illithid, and sent Rothe flying over my head, landing hard on his back near the edge of the ring our friends had form.
As we both got to our feet, Rothe's eyes narrowed, staring at me with a confused expression. "But…you…?" He shook his head, his eyes shut tightly. "No! I will not fail my mistress! I will do as I must. I will help my mistress to reclaim her stolen items. I will slay the white-haired witch and her elven friend. I will kill she that took everything from me, and anyone else who stands in my way!"
"I will not listen!" he shouted, his dark blue eyes finding mine again. "I will not be swayed! I will remember who I am and what I am!" He charged, and I crossed my blades in front of me, colliding with his and trying to push him backwards.
"And what exactly are you?" I snarled. "A trick to hurt me again? Is this the part where you tell me that you're my father, that somehow you survived a beheading?" I finally managed to shove him away. "She already took him from me once; she won't do it again."
Rothe was back on the offensive, and it was all I could do to move my scimitars quickly enough to match his. Anna's bow was trained on the pair of us, but we were moving so quickly that she couldn't get a clear shot at him without risking hitting me, too.
"Do you expect me to feel sorry for you, Witch?" he spat. "Do you expect sympathy
from me after what you've taken? You stole my entire family away, and because you've had one
casualty you expect me to fight against the woman who saved my life?"
"I've taken nothing from you," I protested, "I have never laid eyes on you before today." I swung my blade near his ribs, but he blocked and I had to flick the other blade as high as I could to block the blow he sent to my head. "And my casualties because of your precious mistress are heavier by far than one."
I leapt back to avoid a blow to my hip, and then I saw my opening. Locking my blades against his as he came in again, instead of pushing back, I simply let my wrists roll, which he didn't expect. I sent his blades careening out of his hands, and the next thing he knew my blades were scissored against his collarbone.
Rothe's angry eyes returned my glare at first, but as he studied my face, his eyes grew distant, as if he were seeing through me, his features curious. Slowly, his eyes turned downward, to the weapons against his throat. His mouth dropped open, and his eyes grew bright. "It can't be," he whispered, his voice shaking. His eyes turned back to me, but it was clear that whatever he had realized, I was not the same person to him as I had been seconds ago. He reached a hand out to me, but I pressed the blades firmly against him, holding him back.
"Move again and I kill you," I warned.
Rothe was speaking very fast, and making very little sense. "I don't understand; How can you be you? I thought she was going to leave you in that prison…she promised me that you would be safe if I agreed and I did. I told her she could have whatever she wanted but why would she want us to meet? Have I gone even more insane than before? Are you even really here?" He tried again to move, and this time Anna called out to him.
"Stay where you are or I will shoot you," She barked.
Without warning two fists landed hard in my stomach. For such a slim figure he possessed a great deal of strength, and the force of the blows knocked my scimitars out of my hands, and I stumbled backwards, winded. I heard the twang of a bowstring, but Anna's arrows flew in vain as Rothe easily dodged them before pouncing, knocking me onto my back and straddling me with my own scimitars against my throat.
"Drop your bow or I kill her," he growled, his angry look back.
"Let her go or I shoot you again," she countered.
"Do not test me, Archer. Insane or not, I will learn the truth. Drop you bow. Now."
Thump. Anna's bow dropped grudgingly to the ground.
"Tell me your name," Rothe ordered, his eyes boring into mine, refusing to leave my face. The world might have ended around him and he would still have been gazing at me.
"Just do it."
I didn't see what this had to do with his wanting to kill me, but I wasn't exactly in a position to argue. "Ilmra," I snarled at him. "Ilmra Hithwen."
"Hithwen?" His eyes hardened. "Not D'hunnaen?"
"I told you to kill them, not interrogate them, Rothe," the Demon Queen chided, her voice edgy.
More to anger her than to actually satisfy her henchman's curiosity, I answered. "D'hunnaen is my birth name; I was adopted as a Hithwen." Angrily I shouted at Iezora, "But you knew that already, didn't you?" It took me a moment to realize that my weapons were no longer pinning me to the ground. Rothe had released me, and was standing with a hand out to help me up, any sign of malice completely gone. He was not nearly so fierce as he watched me, and even the crazed look in his eyes had lessened.
"Forgive me," he said, his voice soft and even tender.
I jumped to my feet without the queen's hired hand. I knew what she was doing, and I wasn't going to fall into her trap; I watched my father's head roll in Cotsweld, there was no way I was staring at him now. Without my weapons on hand, I threw the only thing I had: my fist.
His eyes widening in surprise, Rothe dropped a scimitar and caught my punch, holding on tight. "Ilmra, stop! I don't want to fight you!" He cried as he caught my other hand. His left hand was curled around my right wrist, his right hand clenching my left, restraining me in a tight embrace, my back to him. "Ilmra, I'm your father!" He held on tightly no matter how hard I fought. "My name is not Rothe; that is only the name she gave me. My name is Súlon D'hunnaen; I am your father!"
I finally escaped with an elbow to "Súlon's" stomach, and as he doubled over I grabbed my blades, falling instinctively into a fighter's stance.
"My father is dead," I growled, "She replaced him with you to try to torture me, but it won't work." I charged him, my scimitars leading the way.
"What you saw in that mirror was staged; she stole another drow from some prison and staged the scene you witnessed. He was the one she maimed, not me! It was I that spoke to you but it was the stolen drow you saw die! I swear by the gods I am your father!" He shouted as he ducked blow after blow, not even trying to pick up his blades, his hands up in surrender. "I was your mother's husband; you were taken from us at birth! You had a sister who was killed along with your mother!"
I heard the laughter, but it took me a moment to realize that it was coming from me. "What, you expect me to believe you because you throw out a few details that she already knew?" I swung my blade in a long arc, forcing him to duck again.
"What else do you want to hear about?" He asked, on his knees in front of me. "I know that you were born in the first light of sunrise; I know that you were named for your Aunt, Matron Ilmra D'hunnaen; I wrote you a letter explaining all of this."
I froze, my blades still up but no longer poised to strike.
"A letter," he repeated in a shaking voice, "written in my native tongue, explaining that whatever the Demon Queen arranged for you to believe my wife and I did not give you away. You were taken from us, and we searched for you until your mother and sister were killed. I wrote the only word I know in the common tongue at the top of the page: your name. And I tied it with a braid of my hair. I told you that insanity took every memory I had, even the names of those we lost, but I promised you that I would remember the letter, and I did." He closed his eyes. "'My Darling Daughter: I do not know what you have been told until now where your birth parents are concerned, but I doubt very much that it was the truth. I hope you find this letter in time to save yourself, to get out while you still can. Please believe me when I tell you that no matter what she might put in your path to tempt you, it is not worth it…' I remember every word I wrote on that page, and I kept it from her eyes." He opened his own eyes again, and I was shocked to see tears in them. "I thought I had lost you," he wept. "I saw your fight in the caves; she was controlling the illithid the entire time. I promised her she could have whatever she wanted if she would only spare your life, and she took me from myself. She made me think it was you who had taken my family. She gave me a new name and planted memories in my head to make me think she'd saved me from you, that I had to destroy you to protect her."
Without thinking, I dropped my blades. It still seemed foolish to believe, and yet I did believe him. Without weapons to keep him still, Súlon stood slowly.
"Believe me, Ilmra," he begged, "I am your father." He reached out slowly, looking scared, as if he thought I might disappear. When his fingers brushed my cheek, more tears fell from his eyes.
"I believe you," I said.
"I have waited twenty-one years to hold you again," he breathed, and the next thing I knew I was pressed against his chest, his arms clinging to me as though ne never meant to let go.
"You couldn't just leave it alone, could you Súlon?"
Father and I both jumped; I had almost forgotten where we were and what was happening.
"If you had kept up your end of the bargain, I would have kept her alive," Iezora called coldly.
"Living as your slave is no life," he retorted, turning to stand at my side, facing her, his blue eyes blazing.
"Fine," she clicked her fingers, and my friends were all blasted backwards, including Anna, landing sprawled and spread out from each other. "If instead of survival, you would prefer that I kill all of you, so be it." She clapped her hands, and the monsters reappeared near my friends, all attacking simultaneously.
Father scooped up my blades and handed them back to me, then bent to pick up his own. "Care to dance with me?" He asked, his eyes glinting excitedly. There was still some of that strange, near-insane look about him, but he seemed completely in his element with the blades in hand, facing down his former tormentor. "Let me stand and fight with you."
I nodded, and together we entered the fray.
His style was very different than my own. Papa had taught me with a style that focused mostly on defense, on blocking and redirecting whenever possible and only going on the offensive when necessary, using your opponent's flaws and momentum against them. Father's style alternated between striking and retreating, dancing in and out of his enemy's reach, taking a bite of them with his deadly sharp weapons each time. Every strike was measured, every turn planned, every movement flawless. He systematically took down opponent after opponent, and although Iezora summoned more creatures to counter us, he seemed to be matching and even besting her pace as enemy after enemy fell before him.
The troll he'd been fighting suddenly lunged forward, and Father retreated backwards. Suddenly he turned, facing the troll, and ran at him, dropping to his knees. He slid under the creature, and thrust his blades backwards, planting them in the back of its legs. The monster screamed and fell forward.
"Duul'sso a vaen!" He shouted joyfully, spinning as he leapt to his feet and beaming at me. "I saw you fight in the cave; I thought I would try my hand at your creativity."
"You saw me fight?" I asked, forcing a gith opponent backwards with a flick of one blade and slicing through a second with a spin of the other.
"In the cave, and in the Underdark when you stole the staff." He swung his blade in a tight arc, beheading a goblin. "You fight well; a bit cautious, but a master nonetheless."
"That is high praise indeed, after watching you."
I heard the cry from behind, and I forced Father's shoulders down as a flaming phoenix soared over our heads, blinding the orc that had just turned to approach us.
"What the-?" His eyes widened and he whistled. "Remind me never to anger your companions," he muttered.
I chuckled as we stood, an absurd sense of invincibility settling over me.
Father was smiling at me, but his gaze had drifted just above my shoulder, and I had a split second where the happiness flew from him.
"Look out!" Súlon grabbed me without warning around the waist, pulling me back to the ground with him. I heard the blast find its mark, but my father accepted the blow without uttering a single sound.
We rolled for several feet, and when we stopped, I looked up to see Súlon laying on his side, eyes half-open, his shoulders smoking.
Before I could react, another flash struck, missing us by inches.
"Go…" he moaned, pushing my hands away as I tried to drag him towards the war ship.
I ducked another blast, covering his head and shoulders with mine. "I spent almost twenty years wondering how you and Mother could have abandoned me, and I've spent the last six months trying to find you; I am not losing you now!" I looped one of my arms under his, and we began a sort of awkward crawl towards the ship. As fast as we were going, I knew we had little chance of making it without being hit again.
Without warning, my father disappeared from my arms, flying up through the air. I looked up, ready for a fight, but relief swept over me when I saw the familiar shadow, holding Súlon gently in one arm and hoisting me to my feet with his other.
"I be getting' him teh the ship safely!" Buckethead cried, easily outdistancing me as he sprinted away. "Ye be takin' care of that cursed Demon Queen!"
Don't let him die, I prayed as I nodded to Buckethead, I just found him; don't take him away now.
Distracted, I didn't see the flash until after the light landed right next to me, missing me by inches but sending me staggering back.
I turned and saw William crawling towards me. Somehow, he had brought himself outside of the ship.
"Dagger…" he panted, cradling himself, "vhere…ees…my dagger?"
My mouth still open in shock, I pointed to my boot.
William threw up his hand suddenly, and I watched the streak of energy that Iezora had sent our way bounce off of an invisible barrier.
"Give me…ze dagger…" he asked, one arm still raised to keep the barrier in place, the other reluctantly stretching out its hand.
"It isn't yours," I protested. "What right do you have-"
"Damn you, you stubborn voman!" He growled, his teeth clenched in pain. "Trust me! Del'var 'as ze Eye; eet vill allow ze dagger to vork correctly. I can disable her majeek, but I need
I did not want to trust this man; I did not want to become friends with him. He had enslaved people because they were not human. He had sent my friends and I on a suicide errand to pay a debt to a demon. He had betrayed his friends and abandoned them to seek his own glory. He had built his kingdom in debt to the woman who killed my mother. He had set my friends and I up to be murdered by Iezora. He had saved my life on the rooftops in Cotsweld when he did not have to. He had followed us into Elemental Chaos just to have a chance of making up for his mistakes. He had promised to release his prisoners when this was over. He had disguised us so that we might have a chance, however small that might be, of gaining an advantage over Iezora. He had gone out with me into the unknown in case I needed help, hoping to buy me some time before the Demon Queen tried to kill me. He had defied Iezora and tried to fight against her to save my life.
My hand retrieved the dagger from my boot, and slowly I extended it to him.
William grabbed the dagger with difficulty. "I…vill need you…to cover me…" he gasped, crawling across the grass towards Iezora.
I stood, and realized suddenly that my scimitars were not with me, but discarded far across the field when I had pushed Father out of the way of Anna's flame phoenix.
Something warm glowed against my chest; the amethyst pendant from my aunt was beginning to emit a strange humming noise, and I watched my blades rise from the ground and zoom gracefully back into their sheaths. Drawing them out once more, I followed William's path, watching for any approaching enemy.
Iezora spotted us when William was ten feet from her. She took in his desperate struggle, crawling helplessly across the ground, unable to do more than this because of his injuries, her eyes glinted with amusement.
"Pity," she mused, "it was almost a good plan, Sir William."
William sat up as straight as he could. "Eet…still ees…" He choked, and quick as a flash he raised his hand and flung the dagger from him, missing Iezora by inches.
Iezora suppressed a chuckle. "Now that that is over…" she slammed an open palm outwards.
Lightning just like the kind William fought with flew from her, landing squarely in William's belly. He jerked and twitched, and after a moment fell face-down on the ground, alive, but only just.
"Come and get me, then, Witch!"
Iezora turned, and snorted when she saw the culprit. William had not intended to strike
her after all. He had flung the dagger not at Iezora…
…but to Del'var.
Del'var's face was still paler than ever, shining whip in one hand and the dagger now in the other, but despite all of this there was a fierce, resigned determination in his eyes.
Iezora snorted. "With pleasure," she answered, gliding in his direction.
The monsters disappeared, all of her attention now on getting the dagger from Del'var. We watched in horror as she drew closer and closer. Del'var dismissed his whip, closed his eyes, and mouthed wordlessly.
She was almost on top of him.
Del'var's eyes snapped open. One strong hand, his missing hand, the one that he had covered with the gauntlet meant to carry heavy loads, closed around her thin wrist. Iezora gasped, her eyes flashed, and she raised her hand as Del'var raised the dagger.
The dagger touched Iezora's chest a moment before her spell released.
There was no sound, but a bright white light flew from Iezora, engulfing both her and Del'var, spreading out like a ripple in the water, knocking those of us on our feet to the ground and blinding everyone for several minutes.
When I was finally able to open my eyes, I felt my mouth drop as well.
Iezora was still there, her angry expression, her arm still raised to cast a spell, but her spell would never take effect. Her eyes had become vacant, empty, her arms, already marble-white, were now as hard as stone as well. Even her hair would not move, although the gentle breeze still drifted lazily through, as though it were oblivious to the battle that had been raging around it. Iezora was a statue, nothing more than a hunk of elaborately carved marble. As shocking as that was, seeing our enemy defeated was not what made my mouth open, nor was it what made Anna begin to call his name, as though hoping he would suddenly appear, as though it were simply a terrible trick:
Del'var was gone.