I was still alive. That surprised me more than the pain of building pieces crushing my limbs. All thanks to the regeneration spell the imp cast on me. For a brief moment I wondered if it knew this might happen, but I quickly disregarded it. There wasn’t time. Transforming into an earth elemental, I dug my way through the collapsed building and recovered my friends’ bodies. When I dragged everyone out of the rubble, clerics were already on the scene.
A wave of relief swept over me when I recognized the goliath twins and the half-orc, Yaup. Their massive frames pushed through the crowd and hurried to my side. I could see the incredulity in their faces as their stares assessed everything, but my pleading voice quickly snapped them out of it. Through divine intervention, they made quick work of restoring our fallen friends. Maziel, Klotonk, Cosmo and Beck once again took deep rhythmic breaths, eyes wearily opening.
It took every ounce of my willpower not to bawl in front of onlookers as I threw my arms around them, pulling them in for a joint embrace.
“That was stupid,” Maziel growled at Klotonk.
“Calculated,” the gnome replied hoarsely. “I figured somebody would revive us.”
I sniffed, then reluctantly let them go. “I have to dig up the power core,” I said, smiling weakly. “It was still glowing when I woke up...I think Snee might be able to repair it. Why don’t you guys head back to the castle? We have some explaining to do.”
My chat with Illium’s council went better than expected. They were happy enough with the recovery of a power core, but were quick to remind me there were three more out there. Somewhere. Still, at least we had one of the titans working again. Besides, we had the metallic dragons on standby should we need support.
As I hurried out of the conference room, I was immediately stopped by the troll Krow, Illium’s fey ambassador.
“Princess Taelim,” he blurted hurriedly, anxiety plain across his features.
“Not for much longer,” I laughed humorlessly, strolling past.
Krow hurried to keep up. “If I might have a moment of your time.”
“I promise I’m listening,” I said, continuing to walk down the hall briskly. My friends had been ushered to one of the dinning rooms, and I was desperate to join them. After nearly dying, who didn’t want to eat and drink?
“If you insist,” Krow said, partially annoyed as he clambered after me. “You see, Queen Titania has summoned an audience with you and your friends.”
I briefly glanced over my shoulder, even I couldn’t hide my surprise. “I can’t imagine what for, but sure, schedule a time for us to go.”
“Ah, that’s just it,” he said just as we reached the door to the dinning hall.
I threw the doors open and my friends were milling about, clearing waiting on me. They had already finished eating, their plates were being cleared away. They looked impatient if anything.
“Taelim!” Klotonk called out. “Let’s go!”
I turned back to Krow. The troll cleared his throat politely. “As I was saying, Queen Titania expects an audience...today.”
Maziel cooly stepped beside me, one hand on my shoulder. “Don’t even think about saying no, Taelim.”
“But--” I tried, then stopped when the drow furrowed her brows.
“You don’t say no to Titania.”
I grumbled under my breath. “Fine. Guess we’re going to the Feywild.”
“Hey,” Maziel prodded my arm. We were rolling along inside an elaborate carriage bound for Titania’s palace.”
“Hm?” I muttered, staring idly out the carriage window.
Klotonk and Beck were lost in their own boisterous conversation off to the side. Both were eager to meet the Queen of the Fairies, even though this wasn’t Klo’s first encounter with her. Cosmo, to everyone's suprise, had opted to stay behind in Illium.
Maziel leaned in close. “I heard you inquired after Lysandra...she’s not in the city.”
I wasn’t particularly great at hiding my emotions, so Maziel definitely noticed every reaction on my face: shock, embarrassment, annoyance. I eventually settled on a phony indifference.
“Your point?” I snapped, like a defensive teenager.
Maziel’s features softened. “Taelim, I know you...care about her deeply.”
I looked away, flushed. “Doesn’t matter anymore. I screwed it up. All for nothing because Illium doesn’t want me there anyway.”
Maziel hesitated, uncertain on which subject she was broaching. She settled on the one I had diverted. “You don’t care she’s not in Illium?”
“No,” I replied. “Maziel, have you seen what’s left of the city? If she got caught up in that…” I shook my head.
“You don’t get it,” the drow grumbled, quickly peeking back at Klo who was still lost in idle chatter. “Lysandra was my point of contact for my Unseelie business. She’s gone off the grid.”
Now Maziel had my full attention as a different feeling took over: concern.
“Relax,” the drow said, slouching back in her seat. “She can handle herself, but I’d like to know more. Mostly why. I figured you’d be interested.”
“Yes,” I blurted at once. “
“Good,” Maziel smiled thinly. “First, let’s see what this is all about with Titania, then we’ll discuss next steps.”
Like that the drow said no more, preferring to brood silently and leave me harping on my own volatile thoughts until we arrived.
Not once in my entire life had I been to the elite corners of the Feywild. Even though half of my family were elven royalty of the Green Court, I only ever knew my mother, and she had raised me in Illium. As the carriage pulled to a halt on the cobbled road, I had to admit what stood before me was nothing short of imposing. The palace was stunning, embellished and intricate to such a degree it made Illium’s castle appear homely in comparison. The castle grounds were immaculate, as were the servants who hustled up to our party.
We were quickly whisked away inside, each of us separated and led off to our own chamber. The reason was obvious: we stood out like the ragtag adventurers we were, not fit to mingle in high fey society. Yet. I begrudgingly allowed myself to be cleaned, dressed and glamoured, taking in the intricate dress and hairdo with silent compliance. When they were finished, and even I couldn’t recognize myself, I was finally reunited with my friends.
I grinned despite myself. I had never seen them dressed so formally before. Even Maziel had been forced into a tailored suit. She probably threatened the servant who offered a dress. I stifled a laugh at the thought as the drow continued to tug at her ensemble, evidently uncomfortable.
An attendant approached, bowing with a flourish. “Queen Titania will see you now.” With that, we were collected and led down a long hall. At the end, two immense and elegantly detailed doors were thrown open as we approached.
The throne room was as impressive as the rest of the palace. Even though I had spent most of my life around high society, the crowd of nobles that waited on either side of the rolled out carpet made for a daunting audience. I tried to ignore my unease, especially since my friends seemed to handle the situation, if a little uncomfortably. As we continued toward the throne, I caught a glimpse of the familiar face of a beautiful elven woman: my mother. She smiled as we passed, and I resisted the urge to run to her. Instead, we were pushed forward, halting at the dais.
Titania, Queen of the Fairies, must have been at least twelve feet tall. That fact wasn’t what forced me to avert my gaze, fearing I had stared too long. She was hauntingly beautiful, like all the fey of the Seelie court, yet far superior. She sat on her throne with such composure and authority I wondered who might dare to oppose her. Then she smiled, and something inside me eased.
“Heroes of the realm, a heartfelt welcome!” Titania said. Her warm gaze studied us calmly. “You must be wondering why I summoned you here on such short notice.”
I dared to peek at my friends. We were indeed wondering why.
Titania laughed softly, sweetly. “When I discovered you were responsible for defeating Orcus once and for all, I sent for you immediately.”
I forgot every lesson in propriety at that moment and turned, mouth open, to my friends. I met Klotonk’s confused stare, then a thought struck him and he mouthed the answer: the phylactery.
“Modest heroes,” Titania spoke up gently. “In destroying Orcus’s phylactery you have eliminated his threat from this world. You’ve eased a great burden on the fey, one I cannot thank you enough for.”
Gracefully, Titania rose to her full height. She approached, then kissed each one of us on the cheek. “From this moment on, you are knights of the Seelie court. You bear our aura and protection.”
Titania turned, and a regal elf-looking fey stepped forward. He introduced himself as Lord Oran of the Green Court, and he also presented us with a boon of his thanks. No beast of the multiverse would willingly attack us. Other high lords came to bestow gifts in praise, but it was a veiled gloaming fey that caught my attention. Her boon allowed us to travel through fey gates without the repercussion of time distortion. When she was finished, I got the feeling something else was left unsaid, but she had already stepped back into the circle of high lords and ladies.
With the stream of gifts done, Titania returned to her throne and threw open her arms. Beaming widely, her voice boomed. “Thank you again, heroes. Now, let us all enjoy the festivities we’ve prepared in your honor!”
With that, the crowd burst into applause. Suddenly, we were being carted off to another room. It was the biggest dining hall I had ever known. The aroma of food filled the air, and music echoed off the walls merrily. One moment I was with my friends, and the next I was being pulled into a dozen different conversations about how my friends and I killed Orcus.
I was saved at last when my mother, Irielya, requested a moment with her daughter, earning reluctant nods from the crowd as she pulled me into seclusion. I threw my arms around her at once; it had been almost a year since I saw her.
“Look at you, my beautiful daughter, continuing to be the hero.” She patted my cheek lovingly, then stopped and frowned as she noticed my expression.
I did try to hide it, to compose myself. My mother seemed so happy away from Illium, with those who loved and respected her. I didn’t want to shatter that. She saw right through me, and at that moment I was in her arms again.
“It’s my fault,” I said, voice trembling. “I almost destroyed Illium because I played hero. Now, I have to leave. Every time I try to do the right thing, I make things worse. I don’t know where I stand anymore…”
Gently, my mother pulled me away and looked in my eyes, smiling softly. “You help more people than you know, Taelim. You’ve brought a light to so many in darkness. What happened to Illium wasn’t your doing.” She paused, squeezing my hands. “If you are to leave, then do so, and let it bring you peace. Find your calling, daughter, because perhaps it was never Illium.” She held me close, and gestured to the faces in the crowd, to my friends. “Those of us who love you will always stand beside you. With that you can never be lost.”
I smiled despite myself. My mother had a talent for making me feel better when I was at my worst. I let my eyes take in the party, as I pondered her words. Maybe I would follow my own road and see where it took me. It was more promising than my past.
Though the night came to a close for the partygoers, it wasn’t over for us. Titania had drawn us into a private grove where a gorgeous drow woman and the veiled gloaming fey waited.
The veiled woman went by the name of Sehanine Moonbow, the Lady of Dreams. To Maziel’s gasping surprise, the drow woman beside Sehanine introduced herself as Eilistraee, daughter of Lolth.
“My new knights,” Titania began calmly. “I’ve called you here privately for a reason. It was a matter I didn’t wish to disclose in front of an audience.” Her voice had grown somber, her features, contemplative. “You see, while you did in fact remove the threat of Orcus from our world, you did so during a reincarnation ritual. While Orcus’s form is gone, the power that was to be his has...transferred to another.”
My friends and I exchanged glances, but waited for the facts they clearly knew.
“Torog has inherited that power. With it, the determination to break onto the Material Plane.”
Shiiiiit. I closed my eyes and squeezed my hands into fists. Torog was responsible for the Wroth that plagued Illium’s southern lands, the nemesis that kept on coming. With twice as much power in Torog’s command, Illium was a prime target for revenge.
“What are you expecting us to do about it?” Maziel cut right to the chase.
Eilistraee stepped forward, and I could see Maziel’s posture go rigid. “I think it obvious. One of you has the power to kill a god.” While Eilistraee suggested all of us, she looked directly at Maziel.
That’s right. Maziel could have killed Lolth. I tried to scrounge my memories for past mentions about her boon, but the reasoning and her withholding of that Primordial power eluded me for the moment.
“And why would I use it on Torog?” Maziel asked dryly.
“Maziel,” Eilistraee said, coming closer. “My mother has encouraged our people to do as you dared, to live for the drow and not against them. Your fight is not with her, but with Torog, the one who threatens us all.”
“Why can’t Lolth deal with Torog?” Maziel answered. “She’s held her own against him before.”
Eilistraee and Sehanine turned to Titania, but it was Sehanine who spoke to the group. “True. While Lolth still maintains her powers, she hasn’t answered our calls.”
Maziel said nothing, but I could see that an interest was sparked, no matter how hard she tried to hide it. This had her name written all over it.
“All we ask, Maziel,” Eilistraee tried softly, “is that you go to the holy city, Szith Morcane, and speak with Lolth at her shrine. There she cannot refuse to answer your call.”
“And then?” Maziel quired calmly.
Sehanine responded. “We honestly believe if you were to use your...power to kill Torog, Lolth would join our alliance, and peace would follow.”
Maziel lingered in silence, pondering her options. At last, she turned toward us. “If I were to do this...would you all join me?”
Beck shrugged happily. “Yeah sure! You guys haven’t been boring so far, I’m collecting quite the collection of stories.”
Klotonk’s studious eyes evaluated the fey women, then Maziel. He sighed. “I think it’s the right call.”
Maziel nodded once, but not in affirmative to his statement. She turned to me. “Taelim?”
For once I hesitated, not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t think I could. “Illium…” I started in a quiet voice. “They’re defenseless right now. I need to find the remaining power cores, otherwise I’d follow you in a heartbeat.”
Titania’s voice interrupted hurriedly. “Were I to supply a temporary solution for your constructs, would you join Maziel on this journey?”
I blinked at the Queen of Fairies. “Really? I mean, yes! Without a doubt.”
Titania beamed. “I’ll see to it Illium has nothing to fear while you’re gone.” She turned and watched Maziel, waiting for the definitive answer.
Maziel folded her arms across her chest and sighed. “Fine, but we’re taking the route through the Feydark. I’m not about to get killed trying to sneak through the Underdark.” She shifted back to us, shaking her head, yet somehow eager. “This...this isn’t going to be easy.”