Cye'Ren was awakened by a soft knocking at his door. He slowly opened his eyes and blinked them a few times. The room was dark and no light came in from the window. He sighed and set up in bed, rubbing his eyes. Again the knocking came, this time a bit louder than before. He stood and grabbed one of the many candles next to his bed. The candle immediately lit and filled the room with a faint glow. Rubbing the back of his neck, Cye'Ren walked over to wooden door of his chambers.
He grasped the cold metal handle and slowly swung open the door. In the dark hallway on the other side stood an elf slightly shorter than himself. She was wearing a long white robe and a leather belt with various pouches attached to it. Her hair, a light brown color, was tied back behind her head. As soon as the door had opened, she quickly walked into the room and shut the door behind her.
"Abbess?" said Cye'Ren groggily, looking quite confused. "It's late-what is it?" He released the candle and it floated up to hover near the stone ceiling. The floor was becoming cold to his bare feet.
Abbess' eyes were very wide and she looked nervous. "Its Rijer," she said, clutching her hands nervously.
"Oh," Cye'Ren cut in, "Is he awake?"
Abbess took a deep breath. "Well, that what I came to see you about. He woke up just now and seemed to be doing okay. But when I asked him what happened on the highway, he-he..." Her tone conveyed her worry.
Cye'Ren moved closer. He was wide awake now. "What? What did he do?"
Abbess shook her head slowly. "I don't know exactly. He started having another spasm like he has been."
Cye'Ren nodded. "That's quite common after going through that kind of trauma. I feel sorry for him, but it's really nothing to be worried about."
"Yes, yes. I know. But when I asked him what had happened out on the road he just got this blank look on his face and spoke strange words."
"What did he say?" Cye'Ren asked, cocking his head slightly.
"I'm not sure really. I couldn't understand the language."
"Hmmm, I never knew Rijer to be a person of extensive learning. I was not aware of his knowing any language other than Farsi."
"Me either," Abbess said slowly. "That's what's so strange about it." She paused. "I know this sounds strange, but it sounded like Drow."
"Drow?" Cye'Ren hissed skeptically. "Impossible. How could he know that tongue? Only five of our magi were allowed to learn that accursed language."
"I know it sounds impossible, but I swear that's what it sounded like. I thought maybe you could help."
"Do you remember any of what he said?"
"Only a few words, maybe. Delil, zhahlu, and shal?"
Cye'Ren blinked a few times in confusion. "Where is he? Let me speak with him," Cye'Ren said as gathered up his blue robes and donned them. His eyes flashed briefly in the candlelight as he turned.
"Not now." She shook her head. "He's out cold again. He passed out as soon as he spoke."
"Then we will have to wake him," he said evenly as he started for the door.
"No," she blurted out, a bit too loudly. "He has been through a lot of trauma. You can't wake him up, I-I don't know what it would do to him."
Cye'Ren stopped abruptly and slowly turned back to Abbess. Firmly grasping her shoulders, he looked directly into her eyes. "I don't think you understand exactly what's at stake here. If you're right, and by the gods I hope you're not," he paused, "then Jewel have mercy on us all." With that, he turned to the door and disappeared into the dark hallway beyond.
Abbess stood stunned for a moment, looking at the half-open door. She had never seen him this way before. Suddenly, there was something more powerful behind his usually calm voice, his manner urgent. This was not like him. She pushed the thoughts out of her mind and quickly moved out into the hallway. Cye'Ren was a ways down the dark corridor, and Abbess ran to catch up with him.
He said nothing as she fell in beside him, taking quick steps to keep up with his pace, and the two continued on in silence. The hallway torches were not lit this late at night and the shadows almost seemed to breathe in the cold castle. It was a short trip to the hospital wing, which had purposely been positioned close to the quarters. Cye'Ren pushed open the doors and stepped into the dimly lit chamber.
The room's ceiling was high enough to accommodate even the larger of Merentha's denizens. Bookshelves and cabinets lined the white walls. Flasks of unknown liquids lay about the area and an eerie, unnatural smell seemed to saturate the air. Cots of varying size lay around the edges of the room, allowing working space for the clerics and alchemists in the middle.
Cye'Ren walked quickly over to a large cot on which a centaur lay, unconscious. Rijer was strapped down to the bed with thick white bands. Bandages covered most of his body and traces of red could be seen penetrating the outer layers. Cye'Ren took a deep breath and reached his hands out towards him.
"Wait," Abbess blurted out from behind him. "Let me wake him. The last thing he needs right now is magical trauma. "
Cye'Ren paused, his hands just inches above Rijer's face. "Very well," he said, stepping back. "We wouldn't want to cause any undue stress."
Abbess walked quickly across the room and opened a cabinet near the door. Inside were countless vials and flasks, each filled with a strange liquid. She selected a small vial filled with a pearly colored potion and returned to Rijer's bed. Cradling his head in one hand, she put the vial to his mouth, a small amount of the pungent liquid trickling in.
As soon as the liquid had touched his lips, Rijer gasped sharply and his eyes shot open. Breathing rapidly, his eyes darted around the room. He tried to move, but a loud groan betrayed the amount of pain he was in. Abbess laid her hand upon his head and his breathing slowed.
"Wh-where am I?" Rijer asked, squinting up at Abbess.
"You're back in Jewel, the hospital wing."
"What happened to me?"
Abbess started to speak but she was cut off by Cye'Ren. "That's what I want to talk to you about, Rijer."
Rijer slowly turned his head to face Cye'Ren, a grimace of pain crossing his face. "Cye'Ren? What are you doing here?"
Cye'Ren leaned down closer to his face. He spoke slowly and with emphasis on each word. "I need you to tell me exactly what happened on the highway."
A moment of silence followed as Rijer stared back at him with a confused look on his face. That look soon changed to one of horror as memories flooded back to him. Every muscle in his body contracted violently, but relaxed again as Abbess laid her hand on his head. Rijer was breathing heavily and his wide eyes probed the shadows of the dimly lit room.
Abbess stood over him with outstretched hands, eyes closed and muttering softly. Slowly, Rijer's breathing returned to normal and he looked back up at Cye'Ren. There was a moment of intense silence as the two stared at one another.
"We were traveling down the forest road. Going to Xenora, I think." He paused. "Yeah. Xenora. We had been riding for several hours when we saw a figure standing in the road. That's when they ambushed us." He paused and swallowed loudly. His breathing was beginning to quicken again.
"Who?" Cye'Ren said forcefully. "Who ambushed you?"
"They came out of the forest...killed everyone, burned the wagon." He shook his head slowly. He was becoming quite pale.
Cye'Ren leaned down until their faces were just inches apart. "Who attacked you?" he said, grasping Rijer's head with both hands.
Rijer closed his eyes tightly shut, a few beads of sweat running from his brow. "I couldn't believe my eyes at first. Thought it must be some sorcerer's trick. But the speed at which they fought, that wicked laughter, they had to be real. They were..." he trailed off. "Drow," Rijer breathed, almost in a whisper.
Suddenly, he let out a deafening shriek as every muscle in his body spasmed. The white bands, holding him in place stretched and looked as if they were about to snap as the massive centaur strained against them. Both Abbess and Cye'Ren were forced to step back away from the writhing knight.
Then, his body was still. All was quiet for a moment and Cye'Ren and Abbess stood in stunned silence. Suddenly, Rijer's bloodshot eyes shot open and rested on Cye'Ren. A chill ran down his spine and the mage drew a quick breath.
Slowly Rijer spoke, with a pause between each word. His tone seemed to bring a chill to the air. "L'elamshin d'lil Ilythiiri zhah ulu har'luth jal." With that, his eyes closed once more.
Cye'Ren took a deep breath and looked over at Abbess. "So it's true," he said in an even tone. "The Drow have returned, and with a vengeance it would seem."
Abbess stared at Rijer, a look of deep concern on her face. She did not look up. "What did he say? I mean, can you translate it?"
Cye'Ren nodded and looked up at the ceiling. "L'elamshin d'lil Ilythiiri zhah ulu har'luth jal," he repeated to himself. "Mind you, it has been awhile since I've heard the language, much less spoken it." He took and deep breath. "The destiny of the Drow is to conquer all, I believe is an accurate translation, although not one I was hopping to hear."
"I sense foul magic at work here. He is suffering from more than just combat wounds. Do you think perhaps a charm of some sorts was placed upon him?"
"That would be my guess. The Drow are known and feared for their magical skills." He shook his head. "And there would be no other way that he could speak the Drow tongue. Those words must have been magically burned into his brain. Anyone with enough power to cast such a spell would have had no trouble in ending his life. Most likely he was left alive only to deliver that message."
"Is there anything you can do for him? I've tried everything. My healing spells can only mend his wounds; they cannot penetrate what befouls his mind. No form of potion or elixir seems to work either." Abbess placed a cool, damp cloth on Rijer's forehead and began prodding a bandaged wound on his arm.
"The spell used was quite advanced, but I think I may be able to release him from it. After all, my specialty is the mind and its intricacies." He looked down and the centaur in deep thought. "Go and tell Mish-Rak what has happened. He should know. There is no need to bother the Queen until morning. I shall stay here and try to break Rijer free from this evil that holds him."
Abbess nodded, taking one last look at the sleeping centaur before quietly walking through the doors to the hallway. Cye'Ren took a deep breath and massaged his temples slowly. This was going to be tough. Breaking a spell such as this one often proved to be as much a risk for the dispeller as it did for the inflicted. Finding a chair against the wall, he pulled it over and sat next to Rijer's cot. Slowly he closed his eyes and reached out with his hands, lightly touching the sides of the knight's head.
Cye'Ren let himself relax, and concentrated completely on the spell. The air between the two rippled as though heat waves were passing through it, as he channeled all of his energy into his patient. Rijer inhaled sharply, a faint blue aura enveloping the two. Be calm, Rijer. Be calm. I'm here. I'm trying to help you.
Rijer awoke with a gasp. He was standing in the middle of a forest. Looking around in confusion, he could see nothing but trees. The spinning in his head was gone and he could finally see straight. It was dark; no light penetrated through the thick trees, which seemed to almost bend over him. The wet ground stuck to his hooves. From the dark all around him, Rijer could hear strange noises: noises no natural creature could make.
Suddenly overcome with panic, Rijer ran blindly into the dark forest. The trees themselves seemed to move to block his path. He ducked and dodged from the flailing limbs that seemed to be doing their best to knock him over, but their sharp thorns slashed at his flesh. Behind him, the sound grew louder; whatever it was seemed to be following him.
Rijer could see contorted faces in the darkness all around him. He recognized some of them as his friends and family. He saw his mother and father, their faces twisted in agony. Their mouths were open in a wail but no sound was made. The faces of Gathil and Bundevlin flashed by. The flesh seemed to be melting from their faces. An eyeball hung by a strand from Bundevlin's socket, and Gathil was missing half his jaw. Rijer screamed against the images but their plague continued.
Suddenly, Rijer tripped and crashed to the ground. Skidding across the slick mud, he slammed hard into a tree. Fear raced through him as he scrambled to get back to his feet, but he slipped and fell again. His chest felt as if it would explode as he struggled for breath. Roots shot up from the ground surrounding him and began twisting themselves around his body. Rijer kicked at the writhing roots in an effort to free himself, but to no effect; the roots held fast.
More and more roots emerged from the ground, winding about like serpents. He could feel them cutting into his skin and they twisted and pulled tighter. Rijer yelled, but the horrible sounds from all around him drowned it out. One of the roots lashed out and twisted around his face, pulling his head deeper into the mud. He struggled against the cutting roots with all his might, but it served only to increase the pain.
The demonic vines twisted and dug deeper into his flesh, causing blood to run down into his eyes. Rijer yelled out again, but was silenced as a root gagged his open mouth. Darkness blurred the corners of his vision as the roots pulled him down with crushing force.
Suddenly, a bright flash of light filled the forest. Recoiling from the light, the roots quickly relinquished their grip and retreated back into the slimy soil. Rijer scrambled back to his feet and braced himself against a tree. Before him, dressed in his blue mage robes, stood Cye'Ren. Rijer opened his mouth to speak, but was cut short as a horrific shriek filled the air.
Through the dense trees burst a ghastly creature. The monster was entirely black, so it was hard to make out its exact shape; it was large though. Standing ten feet tall, it was a menacing sight. It looked faintly human, possessing the upper body of a man, but had no legs. Where its legs should have been, there was only a whirling black cloud.
Rijer ripped his silver sword free, its metallic ring echoed in the now-silent trees. Don't let it touch you! The voice echoed through his head. He looked over and saw Cye'Ren nod at him. Rijer had heard of these creatures before. Shades. Essentially living shadows, a shade could suck the life out of a person with a mere touch. Already, Rijer could feel a sharp drop in temperature, and his breath hung in the air like a chill mist.
The shade's form rippled, and Rijer thought he could see a grin flash on what passed for its face. Cye'Ren, his head bowed in concentration, calmly stood off to his right. Rijer took a deep breath and gripped his weapon tightly, waiting for the slightest movement. This was going to be one hell of a fight.
Once again, the shade's image fluctuated, taking away what little outline of it there was. Slowly it moved, like smoke in the breeze, toward Cye'Ren. The mage remain motionless, as the frozen shadow moved upon him. Rijer took a few cautions steps forward, his blade shaking in his hands.
Suddenly, Cye'Ren's hands shot out and there was a bright flash of blue light. A pulse of energy shot from the sorcerer's fingertips and streaked towards the phantom. The blast gave off no color, but rather seemed to bend reality, much like a ripple through water. The wave slammed into the shade, and a burst of black vapor exploded from its inky form. A hollow scream filled the air as the creature recoiled from the attack.
Rijer felt his fear disappearing, as though the creature's pain had released him of it. He hesitated only a moment, feeling the hold on his mind weaken. Miraculously, all his wounds were gone, the cuts vanishing before his eyes. For the first time in many days, he felt a fire burning deep inside of him. Raising his sword, Rijer let out a mighty warshout and charged into the battle.
The shade, having recovered from the strike, was now advancing much more rapidly towards Cye'Ren. The elf, however, was making no effort to stop it, merely stumbling backwards away from the shadow. Rijer charged toward it, his sword poised for the strike.
Holding up both arms to protect his face, Cye'Ren tripped and fell backwards into the mud. The shade descended upon him and his scream of terror echoed through the darkness. Rijer yelled, letting out all of the energy pent up inside of him, and swung his blade at the demonic creature's form.
A great cloud of murky vapor erupted from the shadow's side as Rijer's blade cleaved through it. The knight continued to charge through, but skidded to a halt and whirled around to face his adversary again. The creature drifted off of Cye'Ren, preferring rather to advance on what appeared to be a greater threat.
Rijer grasped his sword tightly, preparing for another charge. The shade stood motionless, staring at him with burning red eyes. Rijer stared into them and they seemed to absorb him, holding him in place. Moving with blinding speed, it lunged forward. Rijer tried to leap aside, but too late. The shade's arm smashed into him, spinning him to the mud with a splash. A deep cold penetrated deep into his bones as the monster came closer.
Rolling over, he thrust his sword upwards and into the creature's chest. A foul smelling fog gushed out and washed over him. Rijer was paralyzed with cold; his entire body throbbed with it, and he found it almost impossible to move. It felt like a thousand icy needles were stabbing into him.
There was a bright flash of blue light from off to his side and yet more of the evil smog rolled over him. Rijer fought for consciousness as the cold ate into his very being. He could feel something cloud over his mind once more and he was overcome with fear. Again and again the forest was bathed in blue, and the creatures hollow howls rang through the trees.
Off to his side, Cye'Ren heaved yet another psychic blast at the demon shade, watching black vapor shoot from its broken form. His skin was roughly the color of his robes and he was shaking violently. Again, a blast of energy erupted from his hands, slamming into the creature with crushing force and throwing it backwards. It crashed to the ground in a plume of foul mist.
Cye'Ren quickly ran over to where Rijer lay, his feet sliding on the muddy soil. His robes were covered with filth and blood. "Are you alright?" he asked, gasping for breath. "Can you stand?" Rijer could do nothing but stare up at him, his bright green eyes highlighted against dangerously pale flesh. Cye'Ren glanced up to where the creature had fallen. It still lived, but was not moving.
Snatching Rijer's sword from the mud, Cye'Ren ran toward the monster. He paused when he stood next to it, turning the sword over in his hands, then thrust the blade deep into the shade's chest with a rageful shout. Black smoke exploded from the creature, gripping the forest in its freezing embrace.
Cye'Ren struggled against the intense cold that penetrated into his heart, but to no success. A few staggering steps later, he collapsed into the mud as was consumed by darkness.
Abbess frowned as she brushed the back of her finger across Cye'Ren's pale cheek. He way laying, unconscious, on a hospital bed next to Rijer's. He had collapsed while trying to remove the curse from Rijer, and now was in no better condition. She looked down at his ashen face with regret. If only she had been there. Then she could have helped him.
She turned and began to walk away. Hearing a faint moan behind her, she turned quickly. Cye'Ren was awake and looking at her through half open eyes. She quickly walked back over to his bed and placed her hand on his head.
"You're awake," she said soothingly. "How are you feeling?"
"Cold," he breathed softly. "Very cold."
Reaching under the bed, Abbess retrieved a blanket and draped it over his bed.
"What happened? I came in just in time to see you collapse from your chair."
Cye'Ren coughed softly. "I removed the spell..."
Abbess nodded slowly, looking into his eyes with concern. "What happened to you?"
"The spell...turned on me," Cye'Ren wheezed. "I managed to free Rijer..." He trailed off. "I...didn't think...she made it that...strong..." His eyelids fluttered weakly before closing. Abbess frowned and stroked his forehead. The spell had been lifted, but at a great cost. Now, two of Jewel's greatest champions were debilitated, just when their kingdom needed them most.