Knightfall's Realmsian Dragonstar (Updated: Sept 08/10)


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    Knightfall's Realmsian Dragonstar (Updated: Sept 08/10)

    Ok, the story you are about to read is actually a planned three book story hour that describes how I am incorporating the Forgotten Realms into my Dragonstar campaign, Arcanum of the Stars. [Book One has been completed for some time now and I'm partially through Book Two.]

    In truth, Arcanum of the Stars will be more than just Toril in the Dragonstar Universe. It is influenced by a great number of roleplaying concepts.

    I wrote Book One of this SH just as the Dragonstar Starfarer's Handbook came out but have now updated it slightly after reading through the Dragonstar Guide to the Galaxy. [Those that have been posting over at the DSD20 Yahoo Group from its inception will likely remember this story.]

    I had planned to write more of this story hour in late 2003 but became distracted by my many other writing projects and Real LifeTM issues. It also didn't help that Fantasy Flight Games decided to cancel the Dragonstar product line.

    However, I am now planning to get back to it. I think the hiatus is over but don't quote me on that.

    Cheers!

    Robert Blezard, a.k.a. Knightfall1972
    Edmonton, Alberta
    Canada

    Updated January 4, 2009
    --------------------------------------------------------

    Go here, to read more about my overall Dragonstar campaign concept.
    Last edited by Knightfall; Wednesday, 8th September, 2010 at 10:51 AM.
    Robert Blezard

 

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    Book One - The Invasion Begins
    Realmsian Dragonstar is the title I have given to the following storyline, which takes place a few years after the current events described in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting hardcover. The story takes place in the year 1374 DR a tenday before Midsummer.

    Prologue

    [The information here was inspired by Mike Bentley's original post, on the DSD20 Yahoo Group, about a Dragon Empire sponsored pirate/privateer fleet causing trouble on the fringe worlds of the Outlands. Eventually, Mike will be posting his on version of the Dragon Brigade on his Website - Mike's Psychotic Dragonstar Page.]

    Thul stood on the bridge of the Warlock, it's adamantium hull gleaming through the polymer steelglass of the starboard bow window, looking out at a world like so many others that he had seen out here in the Outlands. They were all the same of course, primitive, no technology, and easy prey for his Liege. The Empire would widen its grip and bring another world into the fold, whether the people of that world cared or not.

    "Sir, the runnerships have returned from the surface." The human's words cut through Captain Thul Gulokas's thoughts.

    "And what did they find, crewman," Thul didn't move an inch when the human addressed him. "More primitives I take it. Another rout for the Dragon Brigade and the Imperial way of life."

    "Y-yes sir," The officer was afraid. They all feared him. His dragon blood made him stronger and highly intelligent. The 'black dragon' blood also made him cunning and ruthless with those that could not learn to handle that fear.

    "But the world sir, this Breka, as the natives call it. Is rich in magic for an Outlands world. The scryers advise caution."

    Thul turned his head and stared down the young human. The boy shook slightly then steeled himself under the Black Son's gaze. There might be hope for this one yet. "Magic doesn't concern me crewman. All that matters is how much technology the world possesses. The Dragon Brigade fears none with just magic. Do you understand crewman?"

    "Yes sir," the boy stood more at attention and was visible in awe of his commander. Good, the boy did have promise... for a human.

    "Now, what technology do they have?"

    "A basic Medeval structure, commander. And in the more remote regions not even that. They are pitiful underachievers, sir. It is a wonder that they have remained unconquered for so long."

    The boy's words showed his naļveté. Not ever Outlands world was backwater. Indeed, a great deal of them are highly advanced and would be considered a threat if they lay closer to the heart of the Empire.

    "You name crewman," Thul wished to test the human and see if he would ignore his station.

    "S-sir-" The crewman stood there with his mouth wide open. He started to visibly shake again. "I-I cannot. It is forbidden for me to dishonor you with a name as low as mine."

    "Yes, yes," Thul feigned lack of concern. "I know the Code but this is not an Imperial dreadnought, crewman. Now, tell me your name. That is an order."

    The boy faltered for a second and almost spoke. Then he bowed his head and dropped to one knee. "As you know commander, the Code specifically forbids me to speak my name, dreadnought or not."

    Thul puffed out his wings grabbed the crewman by the neck and pulled him upright. The human was little more than 19 cycles old and was like a paper doll in the Captain's clutches. "So you are disobeying a direct order of your captain and your fleet commander! Is that what you're telling me?"

    "Yes sir, Mezzenbone is Emperor of the Galaxy and the Code is the will of the Emperor! I will not dishonor it and neither will you by making me! You can kill me, raise me and kill me again! But I will die a thousand times before dishonoring Empire, Emperor, and family!"

    Thul roared and threw the crewman to the deck. Every head on the bridge had turned to watch the display and had seen their Captain do this before. To an outsider he would appear mad. But each of them had been tested by the Commander of the Dragon Brigade and knew the crewman had just passed.

    Thul ordered the boy out of his sight and continued to rant and rave until the crewman was gone. The crewman would learn the truth in a day or so. But first he would spend some time wondering if his Captain would come for him in the middle of the night. He would fear Thul more then and would know not to show it. Ever.

    "Launch the attack!" Thul gripped the rail of the forward window and watched as the first wave of fighters and dropships were launched. "Rain fire and death on them until there is no resistance left. I want total submission before the end of the week."

    The crewman was right this would be a rout. Thul grinned, his clawed hands crushing the steel rail in front of him. All the while, a world burned before him as if his eyes had set it ablaze with its inner fire.
    Last edited by Knightfall; Wednesday, 31st October, 2007 at 08:00 PM.
    Robert Blezard

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    Part One - Death of a Goddess

    Mystra didn't feel them coming until the ships' starcasters tore through the Weave like sword through flesh. It felt like a part of her was being sucked away into a deep void. Then the three starships' fusion engines ignited and she screamed in agony. The Weave was unraveling around her and her manifestation struggled to appear before the most powerful of her Chosen, Elminster of Shadowdale.

    "You must stop them, they are destroying the Weave!"

    Elminster could feel it to and knew that it meant the Dragon Empire had found Toril. He had known this day would come and had tried to warn his allies all over the world. Only Khelben Arunsun and Vangerdahast had taken a 'serious' interest in the threat and joined the Arcanum with him. The Seven Sisters took a less interested view in the threat trusting in Mystra's power to protect the world from the Empire.

    The members of Arcanum House had warned Elminster that the Dragon Empire would find Toril eventually and send an invasion force to conquer the world. They also told him there was little any could do to stop the invasion from succeeding if the Emperor decided he wanted Toril.

    "Not even your Goddess can stop this," Syrath Erais had spoken these words to him when Elminster and the others had first joined the Arcanum of the Stars, but only now, as he felt the Weave weaken around him did the full weight of his words sink in. Mystra was being forcefully separated from the Weave in front of his very eyes. Something about the technology was disrupting the Weave, breaking it apart.

    "This cannot happen," Elminster tried to steel himself and concentrate on the magic around him. He tried desperately to pull it towards himself and funnel it back into his Goddess, without success.

    "The magic cannot be lost, Elminster. Without it the world is doomed and this Empire will conquer us all. I should have listen to you." Her manifestation was starting to come apart and Elminster knew that she was dying. "I must give a part of my essence to each of my Chosen, as my predecessor did with you during the Time of Troubles."

    "No, the world must not lose its Goddess of Magic again! I-I cannot lose you again!" Elminster couldn't stop himself from weeping. He loved his Goddess, as did all the Chosen.

    The manifestation of Mystra dissipated in front the old mage's eyes. "There is no other way..."

    It was the last thing Elminster heard his Goddess say before she broke apart her essence shattered. Mystra was gone but part of her power flowed into each of her Chosen, as her last act of love for each of them. All over Faerūn, the Chosen of Mystra instantly knew that the Goddess was dead and each had known just before it happened that something was dreadfully wrong. Elminster could feel the Simbul weeping on the floor of her palace of green stone in Velprintalar.

    Elminster trembled, as the power of the Goddess flowed into him and he knew that Mystra, or the human once known as Midnight who became the Lady of Mysteries was gone forever. The old mage also knew that the other Gods of Faerūn would be without access to the Weave and chaos could result if left unchecked by Ao. The higher magic of the world would now be almost impossible to access without the Weave in place and more would turn to the Shadow Weave, if it still existed.

    Then Elminster did something that he never thought ever attempt no matter what. He tried to sense the Shadow Weave, he could not. The old mage shook his head in disgust. Of course he couldn't, only those that Shar, the Mistress of the Night, favored could access the Shadow Weave so he was still uncertain whether or not it, or even its Mistress, still existed.

    The old mage pulled on his robe and high boots and strapped on his thundering long sword. He patted the sword, which was more like an extension of life force than a weapon. "I'm going to need you more now than ever."

    Then Elminster of Shadowdale picked up his Arcanum signet ring and activated its technomagical power of teleportation. "To Charamosh."

    * * *

    The Centurion was the first Imperial starcaster to enter the Amaunator system since the time before the Great War had consumed the galaxy. And its Captain, Gregory Farhand, wasn't happy about being sent there either.

    Farhand considered himself the Emperor's personal whipping boy. He always received the worst assignments and was given the task of bringing pointless, remote worlds under the sway of the Dragon Empire. This Amaunator system was just the latest and wasn't even on the Imperial star charts.

    The Emperor hadn't ever believed the system existed even after hearing the legend. Yet, Mezzenbone had received word from the Commander of the Dragon Brigade, Thul Gulokas, that the system did indeed exist and that a world rich in magic was rumored to exist there. And the Commander's report had indicated that the world had very little technology developed yet and that it should be easy to conquer.

    Even now, as Captain Farhand scanned the report sent to him by the Emperor, along with orders to scout the system, did he realize just how much his Emperor loathed him. Farhand was a half-drow elf and, as such, his blood was considered impure at best by the Emperor and the members of his House considered him bastard spawn. Thus, his drow kin always questioned his loyalty. This had forced him to give up any hope of joining the ISPD and Farhand had settled on being the Captain of the Centurion. A ship without any glorious history or true battle scars.

    And now, the Centurion was little more than a glorified gopher ship sent to poke around in useless systems. Mezzenbone not only believed that this Toril was a waste of time, he was also unwilling to commit 'real' forces to the scouting mission regardless of whether or not the report came from the Dark Son, his favorite in the Imperial fleet.

    Thus, the Centurion was sent alone with two Hammerhead-class drop ships, the Basilisk and the Scorpion, to check out the validity of these rumors and see if this mythical Toril was really as valuable as the legend said or if it really existed at all.

    "I guess we should get this over with," Captain Farhand didn't even lookout the window of his quarters when they entered the system. He activated the Comm Link on his desk and addressed his First Mate who was on the bridge four decks up. "Elgan, send out the runnerships to map the system and head for the third planet. That's supposed to be the one we're looking for.

    "Aye Captain," Farhand noted the lack of enthusiasm in the mate's voice.

    "Elgan, I know these assignments aren't the greatest but try to remember why we're out here. The Emperor will want a 'detailed' report of this system regardless of what we truly find. You know as well as I do that he doesn't accept anything but perfection."

    "Yes sir. Elgan, out." That sounded better. Gregory didn't blame his First Mate for his displeasure regarding the assignments. The entire crew was disgusted. But they believed in their Captain even if the Emperor didn't. Their loyalty had cost many of them promotions and a chance to be assigned to another starship. Captain Farhand let them know that he would stand by the decisions they made because of that loyalty.

    Just then, Captain Farhand felt the fusion engines ignite and a strange shiver ran down his spine. He looked out the Glassteel window and felt his stomach tighten into knots. It was if he could hear a woman screaming, crying out in pain. Then, it stopped and he felt a wave of death wash over him. The half-drow raised an eyebrow then shook his head. He was obviously imagining things and made a mental note to go to the Medlab for his routine checkup a couple of months early this cycle. "I think I need a vacation."
    Last edited by Knightfall; Monday, 2nd September, 2002 at 08:49 AM.
    Robert Blezard

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    Part Two - From Shadow to Dragon

    At the moment that Mystra was being torn apart in front of Elminster's eyes, Hadrhune, of the city of Shade, felt a sensation through the Shadow Weave. Like a spider that felt the trembling of a fly on its web, the sensation was strangely inviting. Hadrhune wasn't even listening to the High Telamont anymore.

    The ruler of Shade wasn't as sensitive to the vibrations of the Shadow Weave as the shade often referred to as his 'right hand'. He continued on speaking to Hadrhune even as the Shadow Adapt stepped away towards an open balcony door of the High Telamont's throne room. Only after Hadrhune had stepped onto the balcony and looked up into the night sky did the High Telamont notice the shades strange behavior.

    "Hadrhune, what are you doing out there? I am speaking to you." His tone was sharp and serious. "I take offense, do I bore you?"

    Hadrhune hadn't even realized he had gone onto the balcony. He shook his head and tried to clear his thoughts. "I am sorry Most High Telamont, no offense to you was intended. It's just, something has happened."

    The ruler of Shade had never heard Hadrhune sound so worried before. Hadrhune was hard to judge, which had convinced the High Telamont that he would be valuable to keep close. But now the shade looked like something had enchanted him.

    "What is it? What has happened, tell me?

    "I-I do not know." Hadrhune was not only a Shadow Adapt but a powerful wizard as well. The Shadow Weave was flowing strangely almost chaotic in its pattern. And then he felt it. His eyes widened with something almost like fear mixed with remorse. "The Weave, I cannot feel the Weave."

    "What?" The High Telamont reached out for the Weave and to his shock found it was indeed gone. "Maybe Mystra blocked our access to it? We should consult with the Oracle."

    "No," Hadrhune was now visibly shaken. "Nothing has blocked our access. It is gone, the Weave is gone."

    "But that's impossible!" The High Telamont was becoming agitated. Hadrhune didn't blame him. Without the Weave the enchantments cast to levitate the city during the time of Netheril might fail. The city would come crashing to the ground regardless of the extra shadow magic enchantments that were added later during the city's time in the Plane of Shadow.

    "We should consider returning to the Shadow at once, Most High Telamont. If the city's magic should fail-"

    "Never, the Empire of Shadows is destined to rule all of Faerūn!" The shade started to pace back and forth. "We will not go back, not when we are so close to our goal!"

    Now he was just ranting. Hadrhune had seen him do this before and knew better than to contradict the 'Shade Emperor' when he became like this. "You are right of course, Most High Telamont."

    The High Telamont always felt reassured when Hadrhune agreed with him. The shadow adapts words were a soothing lullaby to a crying infant. The Shade Emperor was a figurehead, a man appointed to the city of Shade, by the real Shadow Dragon Emperor in the Plane of Shadow. It was for this reason that the shade's title was only Most High Telamont. It was by his own personal whim that he had become known as the Shade Emperor by the populace of the city. They found it easier to remember and say, to the shade's delight.

    "Hadrhune, I want you to find out why Mystra has cut off our access to the Weave and find a way to get it back, regardless of the cost. Do you understand?"

    "Yes, Most High Telamont."

    The shade remained standing with his back to Hadrhune. The Shadow Adapt left his mad ruler to his musings. He would do as he was instructed but was sure that the Weave was gone. His arcane background paved the way towards his training as a Shadow Adapt. The Weave was a part of him even when he was living on the Plane of Shadow.

    Hadrhune would seek the guidance of Shar's faithful and find out what had happened. Only then would the sinking feeling inside him go away. Or at least, Hadrhune hoped so.

    * * *

    The Centurion came into high orbit on the night side of the third planet. The runnerships were still out mapping the rest of the system and would return in a few hours. Elgan had been very precise and thorough in his duties, as he always was.

    Captain Farhand had known that his First Mate would do the job right even without the words of encouragement. His intention had been to boost the man's morale, not threaten him or force him to do better. And Elgan knew this and had been in better spirits since.

    Captain Farhand was seated at his usually station in the center of the bridge skimming through several data pads of information already gathered about the Amaunator system. The system's single star was class G, which Farhand had noticed right away when the report was given to him. Class G, or yellow stars, were often found to have life in them.

    Besides the asteroid field that rings the system's outer edges, the 6 planetary bodies told the half-drow captain a lot about the system's future possibilities. The first planet in the system, a small molten world without an atmosphere, was rich with mineral deposits and suitable for a mining operation. The second world, a huge gas giant, was also suitable for a gas-mining venture, if the rights could be sold to the right buyer.

    The fourth and fifth worlds were completely aquatic. No continents and surprisingly no islands either. Neither world developed intelligent life but both of the ecosystems thrived nonetheless. The fifth one, ice covered, developed life forms that might have achieve sentience in three or four thousand years. The Dragon Empire would harvest these life forms, of course, and send them for xeno-biological research.

    The sixth world was a mystery and an archeologist's dream, come true. Its barren wastes shows no signs of life and its toxic atmosphere would kill any that set foot upon it. Yet the world was once inhabited and had remnants of a worldwide civilization on it. It definitely would require a detailed study.

    But it was the third planet, this Toril that Thul Gulokas had heard rumors of, that shined as the systems true prize. It was indeed inhabited, as Gulokas had suspected. In fact, almost every continent had some sort of thriving Medeval society. All the typical cliche societies existed for a world of its type. Feudal kingdoms and ancestral dynasties, empires of thieves and merchants, dark, savage lands where humans and humanoids are sacrificed on bloody alters, etc.

    What stood out in Captain Farhand's mind was the powerful magic emanating from the world. The Centurion's magic detection sensors had gone haywire when the world was first scanned. Magic was everywhere but very little technology existed alongside it. And there mithral, more than he'd ever seen deposited on one world. It was incredible.

    This Toril would make a fabulous addition to the Empire.

    Captain Farhand thought of the Emperor and of how Mezzenbone had hoped to humiliate him with this assignment. But now, now he would get to lead the invasion of Toril. It was his right as the first captain to chart the system. Not even the Emperor would deny him this, regardless of what Mezzenbone thought of him personally.

    He was already developing the attack scenario in his head and knew that the world could not stand against even one Imperial battleship, let alone a battleship and two Hammerhead-class drop ships. All he needed was the go ahead from the Emperor and once Mezzenbone received Farhand's report the Emperor would not wait to send in reinforcements before ordering Farhand to begin the invasion. And Farhand would not ask the Emperor for reinforcements unless it was absolutely necessary.

    "I will do this on my own," Farhand spoke the words just as several runnerships reported in with their findings of the planet. All looked good for an invasion. The focus of the assault would be two-tiered. The land known as Faerūn would be bombarded first from space and only then would the ground assault begin across the super continent that was the key to capturing the world. Captain Farhand tapped the ansible relay at his station and sent his report and battle plans to the Emperor.

    "Now we wait, Elgan." The Captain of the Centurion leaned back in his flex chair and balled his hands together staring out the forward window at the prize that now glittered, as the sun came across the world's horizon. "It's only a matter of time now."

    "They won't know what hit them, sir." Elgan stood at the side of his captain's station.

    * * *

    Mid-afternoon later that day.

    "Ruby Theragain, you come inside this instant!" Ruby heard her mother's words but ignored them. It was much too nice to be inside, rain or no rain. The little halfling girl skipped down the cobblestone road of Littlewind Street. She had decided to go and visit with Finkel Sunbottle who lived all the way across Beluir in the Pond District.

    She giggled at the thought of the priestesses of Yondalla rushing to cover the picnic area for the Feast of the Morninglord that was being sponsored by the Church of Yondalla and the visiting priests of Lathander. Instead she found the priests and priestesses of the two churches dancing, singing and laughing in the rain. Several Lathanderites were kneeling with their hands stretched out towards the sky. They thanked the Morninglord for blessing them with his life giving rain and Ruby came to the conclusion that these Lathanderites were smart people, for humans.

    Then Ruby heard a tremendous roar and several of the priests screamed in fear as a dark form passed over the District. Ruby had never seen anything move that fast before in her life. The beast, it had to be some sort of beast, was hidden from view in the pounding rain but it's tail seemed to glow as it lifted back into the sky and quickly disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.

    Ruby had never seen a dragon before but the beast must have been a dragon. Nothing else was that big or loud... or frightening. Ruby noticed that the priests were gathering up everything and rushing everyone home. Then Ruby noticed that her heart was beating wildly. She was scared more than she had ever been in her life.

    "Child, what are you still do here?" One of the priests of Yondalla was pulling on her arm. "It isn't safe. That thing might come back. I will take you home. Where do you live?"

    "L-littlewind Street, near Timshal's Bakery," Ruby could barely speak the words and she now realized that her knees were shaking. "W-was that a dragon?"

    "I don't know child," the elderly priestess looked into the sky for a moment. "Now, come. Let's get you home.

    The priestess lead Ruby back towards Littlewind Street just as a massive thunderhead loomed over the city. Lightning played across the sky as the last of the runnerships rocketed back into the void of space.

    * * *

    Mezzenbone could hardly believe his eyes. He should not have doubted the Dark Son. This Toril did exist, Captain Farhand's report was very thorough and the updated star chart he sent showed just exactly where this Amaunator system was. "It's barely on the edge of the galaxy. No wonder it has stayed hidden for so long."

    The dragons attending to the Emperor said nothing in reply. The great red wyrm's words were not an attempt at conversation but too simply hear the sound of his voice. The Dragon Emperor looked over the captain's invasion plans as well. They were good, an excellent design. The Dark Son would even be impressed. "Maybe I have underestimated your value, Captain Farhand. Hmm, we shall see if your 'human blood' will cloud your judgement in the conflict to come. Yes, we shall see."

    Mezzenbone sent a mental command to the floating AI ansible in front of him. It immediately powered on and its monotone, electronically induced voice carried across the galaxy's 'largest' throne room. "What is you command. My Emperor."

    "I must dictate a response to Captain Farhand's report and invasion request. Begin recording." The massive great red wyrm raised his head and body, his voice booming across the expanse of the Golden Throne room.

    "Let it be know to Captain Gregory Farhand of the Imperial Battleship Centurion that the assault on the world known as Toril, in the Outlands system of Amaunator, is to commence immediately so that Toril may be brought into the Empire as a petitioner world. Whether it's inhabitants like it or not!"

    The great red wyrm roared for all to hear and then continued. "May the Destroyer watch over you during this mission and know you are fighting for the glory of the Dragon Empire."

    The Emperor lowered himself backed down into a more relaxed position and turned his towards the ansible again. "End Recording. Send that to Captain Gregory Farhand on the Centurion along with an electronic transcript of the message. Sign the transcript as usual. Mezzenbone, Emperor of the Golden Throne, all the worlds of the galaxy, etc, etc. And carbon copy the transcript to Thul Gulokas, Captain of the Warlock."

    Mezzenbone yawned stretching out to lie down for the night. "I wish to be alone, everyone out!"

    Dozens of lesser dragons of every color scrambled out of the Golden Throne Room. Mezzenbone turned himself over like some colossal house cat and stared up at the ceiling. The great red wyrm sent a final mental message to the rooms environmental controls to turn the heat up.

    Instantly, the temperature rose to near volcanic levels. Mezzenbone didn't realize his error until he heard the metal casing of the floating ansible bubbling and dripping onto the floor.

    "Damn, that's the third one this month! Ah well, I'll have my mechanists send me a new model tomorrow morning." Mezzenbone let the ansible melt midair and it soon crashed to the floor, as it's levitation enchantment failed. Mezzenbone rolled over and ignored the molten puddle forming behind him.

    "It's good to be Emperor."
    Last edited by Knightfall; Monday, 2nd September, 2002 at 08:51 AM.
    Robert Blezard

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    Part Three - Prelude to Invasion

    The council was in an uproar. The members from hundreds of affiliate worlds and organizations were yelling to be heard, while Chancellor Syrath Erais tried frantically to regain control. Dozens of skiffs hovered in midair in the building known as Arcanum House. A perfect sphere, Arcanum House was known by all that had seen as a wonder of science and magic combined. The building wasn't just the seat of power of the Arcanum of the Stars; it was also the last hope for some in stopping the Dragon Empire from conquering every Outlands world from the edge of Imperial territory to the end of the galaxy.

    Elminster of Shadowdale was one of those few. Syrath Erais had agreed to let his friend petition the council for aid against the Empire but had warned him ahead of time that nothing would probably come of it.

    "They will not risk bringing the wrath of the Empire down upon their worlds, Elminster." Syrath had spoken those words to the Sage of Shadowdale in the chancellor's private chambers.

    "I must try. These Imperial butchers killed my Goddess. Something must be done. I will make them see reason."

    Now the two stood together on the central skiff of the House, reserved for the chancellor and where individual members of the council are allowed to put forward special petitions to the Arcanum. Syrath watched the chaos unfold after Elminster had pleaded for the Arcanum to intercede in Toril's behalf. The vote hadn't even taken place yet and probably wouldn't take place at all. It was as Syrath had said; they feared the Empire too much.

    Elminster let out a long sigh and leaned on the edge of the skiff with his handed knotted at his chest. The chancellor put a hand on the old mages shoulder. "I am sorry, my friend. But I did warn you this would happen."

    "I can't believe the Arcanum will ignore this tragedy." The old mages voice carried across the council hall through the speaker box, which was used by the chancellor to amplify his voice throughout the House. He had not meant for the entire House to hear his words and he was surprised to hear silence, as all in attendance wished to hear what he might say next. Elminster of Shadowdale was well known and popular with many other members in the Arcanum.

    He took the opportunity, stepped to the podium, and raised his voice louder so that none could say they hadn't heard his words. "Every time a world is threatened or conquered by the Dragon Empire this council does nothing. Every time another race or another merchant house is wiped out this council does nothing."

    "What are we even doing here if we don't attempt to stop these tyrants from enslaving the entire galaxy. The world of Breka fell into ashes because this council failed to help a member world fight off the Dragon Brigade. Now that world's people are enslaved and it member's in the council are now exiles here on Charamosh. If this council fails to act again then I submit that I will never set foot in Arcanum House again."

    "And not a moment to soon." A jet-black skiff designed for the Theraman Trading Collective floated towards the Chancellor's skiff. Its dark member was someone that Elminster knew well. Or at least, Elminster had known the original Manshoon. This Manshoon was different, one of the clones that the 'real' Manshoon had created in case of his death, he knew he wasn't the real Manshoon (unlike the other clones) and had fled Toril to build a new life somewhere else. Eventually, he petitioned and joined the Theraman Trading Collective and soon became one of the affiliation's greatest leaders. He was also the affiliation's mouthpiece in the Arcanum. He cared nothing for Toril and did not associate himself with its politics.

    "Manshoon, I expected more of a retort from you." Elminster and the evil clone had played this game before in the council. They were more than rivals. Each believed that the other didn't deserve to be a member of the House. "Are you slipping? It that copied mind of yours fading?"

    Manshoon boiled beneath the surface but kept his composure. "For years you have whined and complained that the council does nothing. Yet, you were told when you joined this council that starting an interstellar conflict with the Dragon Empire was NOT how the Arcanum works. It is, after all, a secret organization."

    "Well, maybe Elminster has a point." Anther skiff rose just opposite of the TTC skiff. A large half-dragon female spoke for this affiliation. "Maybe it is time for the Arcanum of the Stars to change. Maybe it is time that we do something rather than let worlds like Breka and Toril fall to the Empire."

    "Ah, Arassil," Manshoon bowed in mock humility. "You are indeed one of the most wise amongst the council but your view is tainted by your unique perspective of what happened on Breka."

    "And you are a vicious, slimy viper who wiggles around the galaxy selling overpriced, shoddy merchandise." Arassil's eyes burned with an internal fire and she openly growled at Manshoon. "And for your information, what happened on Breka was that an entire world was wiped out in less than a month by one of the most vicious beings ever."

    "Ah yes, the infamous Thul Gulokas." Manshoon rolled his eyes and chuckled. "Wasn't he your mate at one point?"

    Arassil's eyes bugged out and she spread her wings, as if she would take flight and cross the distance between the two of them and sink her teeth into the evil wizard.

    "Enough!" Syrath Erais had heard enough. "This pointless bickering is giving me a headache! Manshoon, you are out of line and I am fining the Theraman Trading Collective for your insolence! Trade insults someplace else or I will ban you from the council for a year and a day! I have warned you several times not to behave in this manner!"

    "And as for you Arassil," the chancellor had noticed that the half-dragon member had a huge grin on her face. "Wipe that smile off your face because while you are indeed one of the wisest amongst the council, you still could not resist trading barbs with Manshoon. Thus, I am fining you personally and don't want to hear another word out of you for the rest of the day."

    "Now, if we can get back to the manner at hand. Elminster of Shadowdale wishes the council to vote on the manner of what is to be done to prevent the Dragon Empire from conquering Toril. Those that refuse to vote on the manner may leave and as long as two thirds of the council remains in the House then the vote will take place."

    "Chancellor, please don't do this. You know there won't be enough left to vote." Elminster couldn't believe that Syrath had trumped his petition.

    Syrath put one hand over the speaker box and the other on the old mage's right arm. "Elminster, if it was up to me we would have left for Toril three hours ago with every ship the Arcanum has access to. But Manshoon is right, that is NOT what the Arcanum was created for. We oppose the Empire every way we can but we do not confront them ship to ship. Such a fight would be suicide for every affiliated world and organization in this council."

    Elminster noticed while Syrath was speaking to him that more than two-thirds of the council had left Arcanum House. His heart sank with the realization that Syrath had done him a favor. The longer he had tried to convince the council to vote in favor of helping Toril, the longer he would be away from his world and the people he was trying to defend. "Toril is doomed."

    "You don't know that." Syrath had never known the Sage of Shadowdale to give up so easily. "You must not give up hope. Don't let Mystra's death be in vain. Fight if you must but don't ever give up hope."

    The Chancellor's words seem to light a fire in the old mage's eyes. "Aye, you are right Syrath. Giving up would be the last thing she would want me to do. She would have liked you, I think. It is time for me to go home."

    "Not without me you don't." Elminster turned to see Arassil and her freedom fighters floating on her skiff next to the chancellors. "The Arcanum of the Stars might not be willing to get involved but we are!"

    "Arassil, please don't forget that you swore an oath to keep the council a secret." Syrath looked 50 years older at the thought of the Dragon Empire capturing Arassil and prying the existence of the Arcanum from her mind. "You barely escaped from Breka with your mind and body intact."

    "Syrath, you worry too much. I know what I'm doing. And don't tell me you wouldn't jump at the chance to blow a few Imperial lackeys into dust if you weren't stuck here on Charamosh. And don't worry about this silly little secret you've dedicated you life to. My crew and I would never give away the Arcanum even if it is turning into an Old Boy's Club for the insanely paranoid."

    Syrath didn't know why he even bothered anymore. "Forget it, I knew there wasn't any reasoning with you. Be careful and don't get killed, or worse, captured. There aren't any resources I can spare for a rescue mission, alright?"

    "Ah," Arassil and Syrath's relationship was known to only a select few. Elminster wondered why they simply didn't get married. "And here I though you didn't care."

    The large half-dragon elf cooed at her lover making the chancellor turn red as a solar sky. "Time to go El. We're burning starlight."

    "Quite right."

    Arassil turned to her men and gave the usual speech about how this wasn't sanctioned and there wasn't any real chance of rescue if it went bad. All of them had heard it before - Bakner, Caranarth, Marda, and Samuall - all those that had fought on Breka and lived to tell about it.

    Elminster stepped onto the skiff with the resistance members and each one activated their Arcanum signet ring one after the other. Elminster activated his last and closed his eyes and thought of Shadowdale. "To Toril."

    Syrath Erais watched as they vanished, transported instantly to the world of Toril. He could only guess at what would be awaiting them when they arrived. "Please, be careful my friends."

    * * *

    While Elminster of Shadowdale stood next to the chancellor and pleaded his case to the Arcanum, Hadrhune was leaving the Temple of Shadows in the city of Shade. He had asked for an audience with the High Cleric of the temple to discuss the current crisis regarding the Spell Weave and Shadow Weave. The High Cleric's assistant had said that the Lady of Night was unavailable and that he should come back later. This was the High Cleric's way of telling him that not only did she not know anything but that she also didn't think he had a need to know when she did.

    Hadrhune had been worried before, but now he was trying not to panic! Yes, the clerics of Shar were known for being secretive but not with him. He was one of Shar's favorites even if he wasn't one of her Chosen. This brush off was like a slap in the face. Shar had always been fine with the fact that Hadrhune had kept his loyalties divided between the Dark Mistress and Lady of Mysteries. He had to find out what had happened. Was Mystra simply blocking his access to the Weave? Impossible, he secretly visited her temple in Harrowdale, the House of Mystra, ever month.

    "That's it," Hadrhune should have thought of it earlier. "Llewan will know what has happened. She will not turn me away."

    Llewan Aspenwold, the high priest of the House of Mystra, struggled to keep the temple occupied and had accepted Hadrhune when the shade had first come to her. His outlook on life may be different but the high priest had never doubted the shade's devotion to the Lady of Mysteries.

    Hadrhune's Shadow Walk ability allowed him to traverse the distance to the temple in less time than it would take a winged creature to fly from Shade to Harrowdale. He stepped back through the shadow to Toril arriving near the entrance to the temple as he always did, cloaked in the shadow of the building. The shade drew his cloak around him and pulled his deep hood up to hide his shadowy nature. Not that it mattered when dealing with Llewan. She knew what he was and he refused to hide his features unless there were other worshippers in the temple that might be frightened by his visage.

    The shade stopped before the doorway to the temple and spoke the accustomed prayer to the Lady of Mysteries. He then removed his holy symbol of Shar and tucked it into a small alcove that Llewan had built for him so that he could store the symbol near the temple without having to risk losing it. He had agreed to never bring a symbol of Shar into the House of Mystra and would not break his vow now, regardless of the danger he might face without it.

    Then Hadrhune of Shade stepped through the doorway and into the temple. This place was like a second home to him even though it wasn't the most opulent temple in Faerūn. In fact, it was more like a roadside shrine with four walls then a temple. The pews were wooden planks on pulled up stumps and the temple looked more like a temple to one of the gods of nature. Only the banner above the Alter gave away the temples true deity. A circle of seven blue-white stars with red mist flowing from the center, Hadrhune never bored of looking at the symbol of the Lady of Mysteries. He instinctively reached under his cloak and grasped his second holy symbol dedicated to Mystra.

    It was then that Hadrhune noticed two figures sitting together near the front of the temple on the front row of pews. He knew Llewan right away but didn't know the woman sitting next to her. Hadrhune had gotten to know most of the permanent members of Llewan's flock. This woman was obviously not from Harrowdale. Her manner was regal even as she openly wept. She wore the clothes of a minstrel but was armored in some of the finest chain mail Hadrhune had ever seen. Llewan had her arm around the woman and was obviously trying to comfort her. Hadrhune backed into the far corner of the temple and waited. Hadrhune knew better than to expose his face to strangers visiting the temple even those that also worshipped Mystra. Not everyone was as tolerant as Llewan. He tried not to eavesdrop but couldn't help himself once the stranger spoke.

    "How can this be?" Her voice was like a harp being played by a celestial and Hadrhune was instantly mesmerized. "Why did this happen?"

    "I don't know," Llewan hadn't seen Hadrhune come in her attention focused completely on the person beside her. "I miss her too. It isn't the same now that she is gone. I haven't felt this way since the Time of Troubles."

    "What will become of us if the Lady is dead forever this time?"

    Hadrhune's heart sank. He had considered the possibility that the Weave was destroyed but not his Goddess. He felt his knees give out and he stumbled into the back pew. Llewan and the stranger turned. He had his back to them but Llewan knew exactly who he was. Hadrhune with his hands in face started shaking and tried desperately not to cry. He was devoted to Shar but he loved Mystra.

    "Hadrhune, I did not hear you come in."

    The shade tried to remain composed turning to face the two women. Upon seeing her face, Hadrhune knew exactly who the other woman was. He immediately started praying.

    "Storm Silverhand, this is Hadrhune." Llewan noted the look of displeasure on Storm's face and realized she had put Hadrhune in harms way too late. "Oh dear, now Storm lets be reasonable. Hadrhune is welcome here. He is one of my most faithful flock members."

    "I hope you're kidding!" Storm looked like she was ready to flail the shadowed skin off the shade. "This thing does not belong here!"

    "Hello to you to Storm," Hadrhune couldn't help himself. He enjoyed playing this game. How had he missed the fact the Storm Silverhand was in his presence? It must have been the fact that she wasn't hurling magic and insults at him. "It's been a while. Did you miss me?"

    Storm went for her spell component pouch and Hadrhune knew he had gone to far. He dived towards the shadows and shifted to the Plane of Shadow just as Storm's Flashburst spell went off where he had been standing a moment before.

    "Storm, this is the House of Mystra!" Llewan grabbed the Chosen's arm and spun her about. "Hadrhune might be a shade but he is also faithful to the Lady and you will leave him be while he is in this temple!"

    Storm couldn't believe what she was hearing. "I will do no such thing!"

    "Then I must ask you to leave." Llewan might have been young compared to Storm but as the high priest of the House of Mystra she decided what was acceptable behavior in the confines of her temple. She knew that another higher-ranking priest might not have agreed with her allowing Hadrhune to worship at the House of Mystra but they could not force her to ban him.

    Even Storm knew this but it didn't stop her from making her opinion known. "It is a mistake for you to let him enter this temple. Even if he is devoted to the Lady, his heart is an evil twisted thing."

    "I will not turn away the faithful of the Lady regardless of morality." Llewan now spoke as a high priest would to a wayward flock member. "All who love the Lady of Mysteries are welcome here."

    Hadrhune was now listening from the shadows. He had come back from the Plane of Shadow and now stood quietly off to the left of the quarreling women. He did not speak or even move. The shade was still unsure whether or not Storm would attack him again. It had served him right that she had. He had been arrogant and less than pious with his remarks towards the Chosen of Mystra. She deserved his respect while they stood within this temple even if they were enemies.

    Llewan had succeeded in calming Storm down enough that the Chosen had stopped looking for Hadrhune in every shadow. She was still agitated though. "If he is so pious then why is he hiding?"

    "Maybe because he isn't sure whether or not you are going to blown him to ashes." The high priest made Storm take her hand out of her spell pouch. "Now stop that or I'll kick you out on your butt!"

    Storm flushed. Llewan had scolded her like a bad child. "I-I'm sorry Llewan."

    "Fine, fine. Now sit over there and don't move. I may not be a Chosen of Mystra but if you hurl magic in my temple again I swear I'll make you sit the corner. Hadrhune, you can come out now."

    "Thank you Llewan and I am sorry. I behaved badly." The shade stepped out of the shadows. He turned to Storm and sucked in his pride. "I am deeply sorry Chosen. I did not treat you with the respect you deserve as one of Mystra's faithful. My behavior was boorish and unacceptable."

    Storm sat on the pew with her jaw hanging open. It was almost comical. Hadrhune had surprised her. "Thank you, I think."

    "Much better," Llewan put her hand on the Alter and sighed. She looked fatigued.

    Hadrhune stepped quickly to her side and helped support her. "Are you all right Llewan? You don't look well."

    "Oh, I'm just tired. You are about the nineteenth person who has been here today seeking guidance since Mystra died."

    "So it is as you said earlier." Hadrhune helped her sit down next to Storm. He couldn't help keeping one eye on the Chosen. The shade sat on the other side of Llewan. "What do you know about how it happened?"

    "Not much," Llewan put her head on his shoulder and Storm took her hand. "I felt it happen. Then she was simply gone and the Weave with her."

    "I felt it to." Hadrhune now knew what had drawn him onto the balcony. It was the death of the Lady of Mysteries. "What is so powerful that it could destroy a goddess and her magic in one stroke? It doesn't make sense."

    "I been trying to figure that out." Storm voice was forlorn. She sounded more than just a little depressed. "When Mystra perished part of her essence, part of the magic was transferred into me. The other Chosen have also been given a part of her essence."

    Hadrhune perked up at the news. "You have a part of her? Does that mean she might still be resurrected somehow?"

    "We still don't know. It's possible, I guess." Storm felt heavy with burden. "We can hope but I don't think she will come back."

    "The Shadow Weave has also been affected." Hadrhune had been tiptoeing around the subject wondering if he should bring it up.

    "Are you serious," Storm didn't care about Shar but new that if what Hadrhune was saying was indeed true that the world might be in serious jeopardy.

    "Deadly serious," the shade's visage turned grim. "The Shadow Weave is fluctuating wildly and the Lady of Night of the Temple of Shadows in Shade doesn't have a clue what is going on."

    Llewan stood and walked over to the Alter of the temple. "This is not good. If magic is failing all over Faerūn the entire continent is vulnerable. An organized army could conquer everything."

    "And if the worlds magic fails then Shade will crash to the earth." Hadrhune knew that none would mourn the city's destruction. Not even the 'true' Empire of Shadows would care that much about one Vassal State.

    "Is that all you care about, shade." Storm was quickly losing her patience with him again. "Is that all the Lady is to you? A way to keep your precious city in the air."

    "Storm, I warned you!" Llewan grabbed the Chosen by the ear and pulled her off to one side. "You arrogant child, of course he is worried about his city. And you should be concentrating on worrying about the Dalelands. Without magic to protect it the Zhents will overrun every fort, town and farm."

    Storm turned red again, this time in anger, and rubbed her ear. She glared at Hadrhune and the shade knew she would refuse to back down again. So much misplaced aggression and pride.

    "Llewan, it was a joy to see you again but I think it would be better if I went back to Shade. There are still a lot of questions that need answering and I must prepare the city in case its magic fails. Chosen, I am sorry if my words upset you. That was not my intent. It is true that we will never be allies but I do respect your power and envy the love the Lady gave you."

    Hadrhune of Shade turned and walked from the House of Mystra. He stopped and retrieved his Shar holy symbol from the alcove. He tucked it inside his cloak after putting the chain around his neck. Then he did something he never thought he never do. He held both his symbols together and prayed.

    "I will try to find a way to bring you back, Mystra. But if I cannot then I swear will avenge your death even if it cost me my very soul." Hadrhune's eyes glowed with a reddish light, as he stepped into the shadow of the temple and began his journey back to Shade.

    * * *

    Captain Farhand hadn't remained seated for very long. He hated waiting. The Emperor would have the message by now but there still wasn't a reply authorizing him to attack. The world was ripe for the plucking and he intended to use the full might of the starships he had available to him to get the job done.

    Elgan watched as his captain paced back and forth in front of the forward window stopping ever once in a while to look out at Toril and then continue pacing. He had never seen the captain so agitated before and was trying to think of a way to calm him down.

    "Sir, why don't you go to the ship's temple and speak with Centurion. "The Aspect has never been in a battle like this before. It may be nervous."

    The captain stopped pacing and looked at his First Mate like he had grown a second head. Then he noticed that the crewmen on the bridge were looking at him like he was going crazy.

    "Perhaps you are right." Farhand walked toward the bridge door, pushed a button next to the metal frame and stood there as the hydraulic door slide open with a hiss. "Let me know once the Emperor's reply has arrived through the ansible."

    "Yes sir," Elgan noticed the bridge crew relax a little once the captain stepped through the doorframe and the door slide shut behind him. "Don't relax too much boys. We need to keep the edge keen. I want an update on the planet's defenses within the hour."

    The crew snapped back to attention and Elgan hoped that the ship's patron Aspect could calm his captain down.

    * * *

    Centurion had known this day would come. An Aspect of the True God known as the Destroyer, Centurion relished battle and destruction. The Aspect's Avatar was not nervous in the least. He stood facing the starship's Divine Sphere waiting for Captain Gregory Farhand to arrive at the temple. Being the patron of the ship's entire crew the Aspect was responsible for the morale of the crew, even its captain. It would take some time for the captain to traverse the length of the ship so the Aspect was content to wait.

    Then Centurion felt another divine presence in the temple. "Welcome, Ao of Toril. Come to surrender have you?"

    "It is not my world to surrender," Ao, the Overpower of the Faerūnian Pantheon stood behind the Aspect of the Destroyer. "I have come to enter the Divine Sphere and return back to the Unification Church where I belong."

    Centurion turned around and laughed at Ao. "You take me for a fool, Ao. You are not an Aspect of One of the Twelve. You are an arrogant backwater god with little real power!"

    "If you doubt what I say then look into me and you will see I am telling the truth." Ao locked eyes with Centurion and opened his essence to the Destroyer's Aspect.

    Centurion couldn't believe it. This backwater god was indeed an Aspect of One of the Twelve, an Aspect of the Warrior no less. "Ao, you are indeed one of us. How did you come to be lost out on the rim of the galaxy?"

    "I am not lost, Centurion. I have existed since before your construction, since before the Great War sent this part of the galaxy back into the Dark Ages. I was this world's Primary Aspect before there even was a Dragon Empire."

    "And now that I am here you wish to leave?" Centurion meant it as a rhetorical question. He knew that an Aspect cut-off from the Divine Sphere's was little more than a mortal prisoner stuck in magical stasis.

    "Correct," Ao looked at the Sphere. "I can't even have worshippers on this bloody world. I've been reduced to a watchdog for a bunch of childish wannabe gods."

    "Has it really been that bad, brother?"

    "Yes," Ao was pacing now. "I had to strip them of their godhood once just to keep things from getting boring. I've even had to allow mortals to become gods in order add some variety."

    "Mortals, as gods! Are you insane!" Centurion imposed himself between Ao and the Divine Sphere. "I don't know if I should let you return!"

    "Relax, brother. They are completely under my control. I could strip the lesser gods of their power completely and reduce even the greatest of them to mere shells of divinity."

    "Really," Centurion would test this Aspect's loyalty to the Unification Church. "The coming battle would be a lot easier with you on our side. What do you say, brother?"

    "I have been preparing for this since the galaxy collapsed into war. The world's goddess of magic, Mystra, was linked to the world's very magical essence called the Spell Weave. What she didn't know was that I sabotaged it. I modified the essence to break apart when a starcaster or technological engine were activated in the system. Thus, when you entered the system the resulting shock wave ripped her apart through the Spell Weave and then it collapsed. The mortals are magical paupers now."

    "Ah, you have been planning to betray them from the beginning? I approve, brother. Of course, I will need you to strip these gods of whatever powers you can before I let you through the Divine Sphere."

    "Done," Ao shifted to the Cynosure just before Captain Farhand walked through the archway of the ship's temple. Centurion would ease the captain's mind with the knowledge that conquering this planet would be easier than they had originally thought.

    * * *

    Kelemvor was waiting for Ao in the Cynosure. He had felt Mystra die and wanted to know why. Most of the other greater gods were also manifested in the meeting place of the gods. Bane, Chauntea, Cyric, Lathander, Oghma, Shar, Silvanus, Talos, Tempus and Tyr all awaited their Overpower, as Ao manifested in the center of the circle of the gods. He despised every last one of these backwater deities and would be glad to be rid of them as part of his immortal existence. Immortal Existence, they really didn't understand what that meant. They would learn though. These, of Faerūns most powerful gods, would survive the reckoning but would be little more than demigod paupers. Even some of the remaining mortals would have more power.

    Ao hid it all inside as he always did. They could not see his True Aspect as one of the Twelve. He called out to the remaining gods of the Pantheon and soon the ring of gods was full. They were all insignificant compared to an Aspect of One of the Twelve True Gods. Only Cyric had come close to learning the truth when he had gone mad by reading that infernal book of his. Ao had allowed Bane back to keep Cyric in check, even if Bane was oblivious to the fact.

    "Mystra is dead," Ao thought the words to every god in the Cynosure. Then the Aspect revealed his true self to the Gods of Faerūn. A murmur rose amongst the deities.

    "How did this happen without me knowing?" Kelemvor was upset. Not because Mystra, his former lover, was dead but because death had occurred and he knew nothing about it.

    "Because I did not want you to, you insignificant little cur." Ao was done being diplomatic with these gods. "I killed her and I wanted none of you to know how or why it happened until I dropped it on you."

    If a god could be stunned stupid then the Gods of Faerūn could be described as being such after Ao thought those words in their divine minds.

    "I don't understand." Lathander thought the words before any of the others could fathom a response. "Why? Did she betray us?"

    The Cynosure shook with Ao's laughter. "You stupid little god, you don't get it do you. I am Ao, Aspect of the One Warrior, a True God of the Unification Church. You could never comprehend what I am."

    "We shall see!" The Black Lord didn't like being mocked by anyone. He attempted to shift out of the Cynosure but found himself unable to move.

    "Ah, Bane. You would be interesting as an Aspect of the Destroyer but I have a feeling that my brother Centurion wouldn't approve. Ah well, as the mortals say 'spilt mead and all that'. But I do have something to show you all."

    Ao changed the Cynosure until it was pitch black. Then he related the history of the Unification Church, as he knew it up until the Great War. Then he continued by revealing the little he knew of the galaxy since that time. The Gods of Faerūn watched in horror as he described what would become of Toril once the Dragon Empire was done with it.

    "You see, you really have little choice in the events that are about to unfold. Centurion has asked me to strip you down to your most basic divine abilities and I have agreed."

    "They'll destroy us all!" Tyr struggled to free himself from Ao's mental grip. "They will destroy the world, its culture, it people! How can you do this?"

    "Because I don't care. I cannot have worshippers on this world unless they worship me as my Aspect. And in order for that to happen the world would need to be under the control of the Unification Church and I'd have to want to stay. I do not want to stay here. I will not risk being cutoff from the Divine Spheres again!"

    The Cynosure shifted again and the Gods of Faerūn found themselves standing on a desolate island south of Calimshan. The gods looked around for Ao but the Aspect of the Warrior of the Twelve was gone. Several of the lesser gods cried out as they transformed into dust before the others' eyes. A few of the gods came to the painful realization that they were now mortal. Only Kelemvor, Oghma, Shar, Talos and Tempus had enough power remaining too be considered intermediate gods.

    "Well, this is an interesting development." Oghma, the Lord of Knowledge, took stock of his new form and went through the knowledge that he still remembered. "Unbelievable, I remember knowing so much more. But it isn't there and there isn't any sense of loss. Fascinating."

    "Fascinating!" The Black Lord was furious and kicked at the ashes of Malar. "All of my allies are either dead or are mortal and I've barely the power keep a hold of my realm! Ao shall pay for betraying us!"

    The Black Lord shifted away to seethe in anger.

    "No, don't leave me here alone!" Loviatar was crying. She had become mortal. "I would rather have died than exist in this state."

    "I would grant you death Loviatar, " Kelemvor stood behind the fallen Goddess of Pain, his grim mask showing no emotion. "But you are too valuable to let die. The Goddess of Pain will be needed again. In fact, I believe you will be needed more now than ever."

    Kelemvor was still the Lord of the Dead, even reduced in power as he was. He surveyed what was left of the fallen Gods of Faerūn. Besides he, Oghma and Bane, the only gods with any divinity in them were Akadi, Chauntea, Cyric, Gond, Grumbar, Helm, Ilmater, Istishia, Kossuth, Lathander, Selune, Shar, Silvanus, Sune, Talos, Tempus, Tyr, Ubtao and Mask. Of all the lesser gods only Mask survived with his godhood intact. This didn't surprise Kelemvor. Mask always found a way to survive, it was in his very nature.

    Besides Loviatar, only a few of the remaining lesser gods were transformed into mortal form. Beshaba, Lliira, Milil, Torm and Tymora all became human. Finder was transformed into a wyvern, Mielikki became a unicorn, Nobanion became a dire lion, and Umberlee became a monstrous shark. Umberlee dragged herself from the shore disappearing into the sea, while Finder took flight and headed towards Chult. Nobanion attacked a slew Beshaba before any could stop the beast. Beshaba turned out to have bad luck as a mortal. They chained the great lion was to a large stone. Chauntea tried to comfort Mielikki and Helm watched Cyric with a keen eye making sure he didn't try to kill one of them and take their power.

    "In all there are only 22 of us left, including Bane, with the spark of divinity." Kelemvor seemed destined to lead the new Gods of Faerūn, as the others seemed to be thrusting the mantle upon him. "Another nine could become gods again with a little bit of luck. Finder, Nobanion and Umberlee will be the hardest to raise back to godhood, as their new animalistic natures take over their minds.

    "Mielikki," the Lord of the Dead addressed the now mortal unicorn. "You must hide where no one may find you until we can find a way to restore you. I suggest the Moonshaes or Evermeet. Chauntea, we will leave the task of protecting Mielikki to you. Take her somewhere safe."

    "It will be as you command, Kelemvor." The Earthmother put a hand on the unicorn's back and the two of them shifted away. Kelemvor thought of Jergal and remembered something the Scribe of Death told him once.

    "Leadership is never a choice one makes. Others make you lead so that if you fail, they do not."

    "Cyric and Shar." Kelemvor turned toward the two dark gods. "You don't like me and I don't like you. We all need to get over it and keep this pantheon intact. Case in point, Bane. He is a wildcard in this game. He would sell every last one of us out if he thought it would gain him Faerūn. I need you two to watch him closely. If it goes well then we may be rid of him again and the two of you can divide his essence up however you choose."

    Shar bowed and agreed to the Lord of the Dead's terms. Cyric on the other hand laughed at Kelemvor.

    "Who died and made you boss?" Cyric was eyeing his old friend with a lust for vengeance. "What's to stop me from taking your essence?"

    "Not what Cyric, but who." Kelemvor called over the Lord of Shadows. "Mask, I need you to do the pantheon a favor. I need you to keep an eye on this jackal."

    "Yes Lord Kelemvor. It will be my pleasure." Mask wasn't fond of Kelemvor but he knew the Lord of the Dead would not betray him. He was too honorable. Cyric and Bane, on the other hand, he had bowed and scrapped to because he had feared them. Now that the two gods weren't more powerful than he was, they were not valuable allies.

    Cyric growled at Mask and told him it was the Lord of Shadows who would have to be watching his own back. "Lest Razor's Edge find you." He then shifted away. Kelemvor asked Shar to watch Cyric as well.

    Mask watched Shar shift away. He wasn't worried about Cyric. The Lord of Shadows was hiding his true power and none knew that he was still, in fact, a lesser god, even after Ao's reckoning. A secret cache of essence along with several quick thrusts from Stealthwhisper had kept him alive. Several of the other lesser gods had died by Mask's sword before Ao took their essence. Instead of them turning to ash they had been quickly absorbed by the Lord of Shadows keeping his true power from being siphoned off by Ao.

    It had been a great plan and he had executed it perfectly. And as a result, he had taken out Gargauth, Hoar, Savras and Talona. He had lost very little of his own essence and gained the portfolios of four gods, which he let Ao have without a second thought. While still only a lesser god, he could handle Cyric.

    "Gond and Oghma, we need you to learn as much as you can about this Dragon Empire. We cannot fight something we know very little about."

    "Knowledge is power." Oghma bowed to his new Overpower. "It will be as you say Kelemvor."

    The two gods vanished together.

    "Now, I need a new Scribe of Death." Mortals are going to start dying soon and I need to keep track of everything. Milil, you are only mortal now but I think you will do."

    "Scribe of Death?" The once god thought for a second and then shook his head. "I don't think I would like that at all. You should pick someone else."

    "I didn't ask you whether or not you wanted the job, Milil. I need a scribe and you are it."

    Milil looked to the remaining gods. "Can he do that?"

    "Yes," Tyr's thoughts echoed through Milil's head. "Or would you rather join my flock and fight to a glorious death."

    "Well, when you put it that way." Milil stepped away from Tyr and stood next to the new leader of the Faerūnian Pantheon. "How could I refuse Kelemvor's offer?"

    "The remaining once gods shall remain in hiding until they can be restored." Kelemvor turned to elemental gods. "Akadi, Grumbar, Istishia and Kossuth. Each of you will be responsible for keeping one of the once gods safe from harm. Akadi will take Tymora, Grumbar will hide Torm, Istishia is responsible for Lliira, and Kossuth will keep Loviatar safe."

    "I will not hide like some lowly cur!" Torm the True believed in duty and honor. "I may be mortal but I can still fight! Would you ask the mortals that will risk their lives in to run away and hide?"

    "Very well, Torm. But if you die, I will not bring you back."

    "I understand."

    "Grumbar, you will hide Nobanion from our enemies."

    "Yes, Lord Kelemvor." Grumbar grabbed the chain that held the once god now dire lion and separated it from the stone with a mere thought. He and Nobanion shifted away, as well as the other elemental gods and their charges.

    "The rest of you must go and prepare the world for the battle to come. I must find out if the other gods of Toril are still alive. We may need their help if we are going to stand a chance."

    The remaining Gods of Faerūn shifted away to warn their faithful of the Dragon Empire. Kelemvor, the new leader of the Faerūnian Pantheon shifted to Mulhorand to speak with Horus-Re and the other Old Gods of the Mulhorandi. He would need their help and hoped he could convince the rival pantheon that an alliance was vital to the world's survival.

    * * *

    Captain Farhand stood on the bridge of the Centurion with the full knowledge that the Aspect of the Warrior, Ao, had stripped the Faerūnian Pantheon of their most powerful abilities. The Aspect was gone now - merged with the Divine Sphere to rejoin the One Warrior. It would not be back.

    The reply from the Emperor had arrived shortly after the ship's Aspect had told him the good new and Farhand now watched as the Hammerhead drop ships moved into place above the continent of Faerūn. Then the ships systematically began to separate section by section. The resulting section ships were like floating armories, each one carrying ground forces and a plasma cannon that could be fired from space.

    "Launch all interceptors, deploy the plasma cannon platforms and charge the main gun." Farhand gave the order in a calm monotone voice and his crewmen were now confident that their captain was himself again. A dozen interceptors rocketed out of the ship's custom designed fighter bays. They grouped themselves into perfect V formations and held their position. They would not attack the surface until the bombardment from above the planet took out the major cities.

    Farhand then heard the detachable weapon platforms separate one after another from the outer hull of the ship. A design he chose himself for the Centurion, the 10 platforms each had a single plasma cannon and could be automated or operated remotely. The nearest one could be seen to rocket forward with its propulsion system and then open up and fold itself back to reveal its huge plasma cannon, extending out from its center. The platforms maneuvered and systematically placed themselves between the gaps left between the twenty four drop ship sectionals.

    "Is everything in position?" Farhand knew it was but wanted to hear the words.

    "Yes Sir! The weapons are charged and fire control awaits your command."

    Captain Gregory Farhand stepped to the forward window and looked at the array of weaponry at his command. They had no idea how much their world was about to change. "Fire."
    Last edited by Knightfall; Monday, 2nd September, 2002 at 08:55 AM.
    Robert Blezard

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    Well, that's it for tonight. Stay tuned. Tomorrow I will post the conclusion of Book One.
    Robert Blezard

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    Wow! That was simply genial

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    Thanks Horacio!

    Originally posted by Horacio
    Wow! That was simply genial
    Heh, just you wait. Here's part four. I think I'll make everyone sweat for part five. Heh!
    -------------------------------

    Part Four - Unlikely Heroes

    Just before Farhand ordered for the assault to begin, Elminster, Arassil and her Soldiers of Freedom arrived in Shadowdale at the foot of the Twisted Tower. The two guards in front of the jumped to attention and drew their swords. Then Elminster stepped out of the smoke that accompanied the Transport spell embedded into the Arcanum signet rings, an effect he wished had been left out of the design of the ring. The smoke was disgusting and tended to cling to a person.

    "Hail and well-," Elminster didn't get a chance to finish. Powerful bolts of plasma energy scream down from the sky, impacting the ground all around them. The Twisted Tower shook, as several plasma bursts slammed into the ground several feet away.

    "What the-" One of the guards moved out from under the tower to peer into the sky. Arassil knocked him down to the ground and ordered everyone to take cover.

    "Damn, it's starting!" The half-dragon hissed, pushing the guardsman to the ground again, as he tried to stand. "I'd hoped we'd have more time!"

    "Aye. Even I didn't think it would start this soon." Elminster watched as Dalesfolk ran screaming in every direction. A small family exited their home just before a plasma blot incinerated it. Others were not as lucky. "We have to protect them."

    "Already thought of that," Arassil hunched over and sprinted across the open road deftly dodged fleeing Dalesfolk and deadly plasma energy. Elminster watched as she dove under a rocky outcropping where Bakner and Samuall had taken cover. She yelled something into Bakner's ear and he nodded his head, took off his pack and pulled out three large, metal cylinders. Samuall instinctively followed his older brother's lead and soon had his pack off removing three more cylinders. Elminster had seen these devices before and knew that Arassil was going to have the mechanists setup a perimeter defense shield around Shadowdale.

    The two clasped hands for a second then each scrambled out from under the outcropping in opposite directions. Arassil waved her arm as a signal for Elminster, Caranarth and Marda to run across the road toward the outcropping. The two freedom fighters didn't hesitate but Elminster found himself unable to move. The two guardsmen remained huddled against the stone of helix-shaped tower next to him. They were terrified and surprisingly so was he. The old mage grabbed the guard closest to him, shaking the man.

    "Pull yourself together." The guardsman's head was watching as bolts of plasma slammed into the earth all around them. "I need you to go inside and tell Lord Mourngrym to get out of the tower before one of these bolts destroy it. Not even its magic can protect those inside!"

    "I don't understand," the guard was a little more lucid but still terrified. "What is happening? What kind of magic is this? Are the Zhents responsible for this?"

    "No," the Zhents are not behind this. The Zhents are likely getting pummeled just like we are."

    The guardsman raised an eyebrow and looked at the old mage like he was crazy. He didn't understand and Elminster didn't have time to explain it to him. "Just get Mourngrym out of the tower."

    As if on cue, the double doors of the Twisted Tower opened and a force of Mourngrym's finest stood in the archway. Mourngrym stood in front in his finest armor. He had heard the old mage's words and looked Elminster directly in the eye.

    "What in name of the Nine Hells is going on, Elminster?" The Lord of Shadowdale was in a foul mood but Elminster didn't blame him. Half of Shadowdale was already in ruins and the forest was burning all around them.

    "Mourngrym," Elminster looked over his shoulder and saw that Arassil was setting up her command post and having Marda and Caranarth hollow out a bunker under the outcropping. She was setting up some sort of mechanical device that Elminster didn't recognize. "I don't have time to explain in detail. All you need to know for now is that a hostile force known as the Dragon Empire wishes to conquer the Dales. This Empire exists beyond our world and rules most of the stars visible in the sky at night. They are ruthless and will not accept surrender. I humbly suggest you and you're men find appropriate cover until my associates can get proper defenses setup against their weapons."

    "I am not going to hide under some rock, old mage." Mourngrym looked at Arassil with a note of disdain and then unsheathed his sword with a flourish. "This is the only protection I need!"

    The Lord of Shadowdale was stupid as a rock. Elminster had always considered the man a bit of a loose cannon. The Lord of Shadowdale ordered the two guardsmen to join the column and the entire company marched out of the tower with their heads down and shields raised. Elminster watched in horror as Mourngrym led his men out of full cover of the tower.

    Plasma bolts slammed into the earth near the soldiers, as they started to spread out to assess the damage to Shadowdale. A plasma bolt came down amongst them and three of the men were incinerated. The remaining soldiers scattered for cover and Mourngrym dropped his shield and ran back towards the Twisted Tower. A plasma bolt landed a few feet behind him and the force of the impact knocked him off his feet.

    Just as Elminster was sure the Lord of Shadowdale would be incinerated, Arassil ran through the chaos of plasma fire and fleeing soldiers and picked the Lord of Shadowdale up with one hand. She ran back under cover with the man draped over her shoulder. Once under the outcropping she again signaled to Elminster to cross the road. The old mage knew he'd never make it without magical aid and activated his ring.

    "To Arassil." The mage appeared next to the half-dragon in a puff of smoke.

    Arassil coughed and waved her hands in the air. "Yuck, did you have to use the ring."

    "Elminster, what is that thing?" Mourngrym was still lucid but his manners failed him. Arassil growled at him. She didn't like being referred to as 'that thing'.

    "This is Arassil. She is a half-dragon. And I suggest you be more polite Mourngrym Amcathra. She saved your life."

    The Lord of Shadowdale considered himself a tolerant man and flushed at his lack of etiquette. He stood and brushed himself off. Then he bowed with as much flourish as he had used to draw his sword. "I am sorry. Thank you for saving my life."

    "You're welcome," Arassil shook her head in disgust. "Now don't do that again or I'll shoot you myself."

    Elminster smiled, as Mourngrym look of apology changed to one of shock. No one spoke to him like that except his wife. He was about to retort when Elminster laid a hand on the man's arm. "I'm sure Lord Mourngrym regrets his actions and will not put any more lives in jeopardy."

    The words were for Mourngrym, not Arassil. The Lord of Shadowdale hung his head knowing he should have listened to the old mage. " Elminster, this Empire is too powerful for Shadowdale to resist. We can't fight this kind of magic."

    "Don't be so sure," Arassil continued to assemble the device she was working with just as Bakner and Samuall both appeared together running for the bunker. The two brothers dove into the makeshift bunker just as a plasma bolt slammed into the top of the Twisted Tower. The top half of the structure exploded and bits of debris came down all around them.

    "Damn, that was close!" Bakner coughed, as smoke billowed into the bunker. "Sammy, you ok?"

    "Piece of cake, dude!" Samuall slapped his brother on the back. "Arassil, the energy field rods are in place. It won't protect the entire town but it will have to do."

    "Yes," Arassil flipped a switch on her belt and the energy blasts stopped hitting the ground around them. "Caranarth, check the field strength."

    "It's got enough power for at least two of this world's solar days. It won't be long before the Empire realizes we're here."

    "I know."

    "So what's the plan, chief?" Samuall wasn't known for his etiquette but then neither were any of them. "The four of us can't stop an entire planetary invasion. We don't have any air support or ground forces. And these backworlders aren't going to be much help. We don't have time to train them even if we did have the weaponry."

    Arassil took Samuall's words in stride. She expected the question to be asked and had been preparing her answer for some time. Longer than any of them realized.

    "You're right, we don't have time to train them. But then again we won't need their help. The Victory is hiding in the system behind Toril's sun. We have three Saber-class corvettes to support her and an entire ground regiment on a ship called the Deva Wing."

    "Where did you get three corvettes and this other ship? Not even you have those kind of personal resources." Caranarth didn't like being kept in the dark by his commander.

    "They aren't my ships. I discovered that Gulokas had found out about Toril and that it would only be a matter of time before the Empire came here. Toril is too valuable to lose. I learned of a militant group starting up in the Outlands called the Freedom League. The ships belong to the League."

    "You should have told me." Elminster hadn't even suspected there were starships in Amaunator.

    "Your pain in the House had to be genuine, my friend. If anyone had suspected the truth the Arcanum would have voted to remove Toril's seats in the House and Syrath would have been dismissed as chancellor. "

    "And Syrath agreed to this?"

    "He doesn't know anything about it. The League is not sanctioned by the Arcanum. I am leaving the Arcanum and joining the League."

    "You're not serious." Elminster counted Arassil as one of the few allies he had in the council. "The council needs you."

    "Please, the council is full of back-stabbing charlatans and spineless diplomats. They will never stand against the Empire unless cold, hard reality is shoved down their throats. I plan to do the shoving!"

    "Alright, we're going on the offensive!" Bakner high-fived his brother and started checking his gear. The other members of Arassil's Soldiers of Freedom started digging in for the long haul.

    Elminster and Mourngrym stared at each other, each wondering what this Freedom League could possibly do against the Empire.

    * * *

    Command Madden watched the assault begin through the hovering Vid-Screen in front of him on the bridge of the Deva Wing. They needed to get moving but had still not heard anything from Arassil. The half-dragon captain of the Victory had told him that she would send him the data the small fleet would need to take on the Imperial forces. Shield codes, weapon schematics, personal details, etc.

    The half-dragon's spy on the Basilisk had prevented the runnerships from spotting the small fleet behind the system's sun by providing the exact sensor settings and frequencies used by the scout ships. It was this same spy who would supply the information needed to bring down these jackals. Of course, Arassil's spy would land on the planet's surface with the rest of the section ships before the fleet attacked. Madden knew that the fleets four ships would barely be a match for this Imperial battleship let alone two Hammerhead-class drop ships.

    The Freedom League was supporting this operation at the behalf of Arassil. It was the only way to convince the half-dragon to join the League. In reality, the League needed her almost as much as she needed them right now. The Victory would be the first cruiser added to the fleet. Madden was sure that others would follow if they could take out the Imperials. Madden had been one of them once. A captain of an Imperial battleship, his family had been so proud. Then the Red Age began and his people began to suffer under the tyrant Mezzenbone. He finished his last Tour of Duty, cashed his pension and left for the Outlands. He had not looked back since.

    The Qesemet should have continued to rule the Empire. But no, they handed Mezzenbone the keys to the Empire without even a thought and now people everywhere suffered because of it. He had come out of retirement to send those scaly bastards a message they would not soon forget. Commander Davis Madden was the Freedom League. It had been his plan, his goal and his resources that had led them to this day. Of course, he shared control of the League with the League's Directorate but in a fight they would always turn to him.

    "What is taking so long?" Madden was not a patient man. He couldn't understand why Arassil hadn't contacted him yet. Had she or her spy been captured. He didn't want to even think about the possibility. "Lieutenant Railer, an update on the current situation!"

    The dwarven officer punched several buttons at his station and touched the tactile interface of his monitor. "The battleships design is unique Commander. The main plasma cannons have separated from the ship and have placed themselves in geo-synchronous orbit over the main continent of the planet. Several of the larger cities have been targeted so far. The planet hasn't any defenses, they are being wiped out."

    "I'm not waiting any longer."

    "Might I remind you sir, that is a Imperial battleship out there. Not to mention the drop ships. Without the proper shield frequencies, they will blow us to atoms."

    "I know Railer," Madden strode to the front of the bridge, turned and addressed the bridge crew. "However, this is what you all signed on for, too kick some Imperial scale. We can either sit here all cycle and watch them blow this world into nothing or we can give 'em some payback!"

    The bridge crew raised their fists in union and cheered. Lt. Railer smiled and nodded his head. "Aye, sir."

    "Alert the fleet. We're going in."

    * * *

    Kelemvor appeared at the center of the City of the Gods in the Mulhorandi City of Skuld. Several priests fainted at the site of the Death God, while the rest ran away shrieking in fear. Kelemvor didn't give them a second thought. They weren't dead yet.

    "Kelemvor," the Death God had known he was there before the Avatar of Horus-Re had spoke. "I was expecting you."

    "So you know what has happened then? You know that Ao has betrayed us to this Empire from the stars?"

    "He betrayed you and your fellow pantheon members, Kelemvor. Not the Mulhorandi."

    Kelemvor shifted his Avatar so that the two gods now faced each other. True, but the fact remains that this Empire is posed above us about to rain death down upon the people of Toril. All of them, Horus-Re!"

    The Avatar of the Mulhorandi greater god looked down upon his people who had know gathered around the two gods at a respectful distance. Their fear of Kelemvor was nothing compared to the awe they felt towards Horus-Re. Several of the priests were praying on their knees trying to fathom what was happening in front of their eyes.

    "You may have a point." Horus-Re felt the presence in his mind but his stare gave away nothing. "The Gods of the Mulhorandi will stand with you Kelemvor. We don't have much of a choice if we are to keep our followers safe from these invaders."

    Kelemvor would have been more suspicious if he hadn't seen the Mulhorandi God look upon his followers with so much love. "You will not regret it."

    The Death God's Avatar left the mortal plane for the Outer Planes to prepare his followers for the conflict to come. Horus-Re heard the voice in his head and greeted it with reverence.

    "Yes Centurion, I understand." He had lied to the Death God about helping the other people of Toril but it had been the truth when he had said that the pantheon didn't have much of a choice. "No choice at all."

    The new Aspect of the Father and the Judge strode towards the masses of Skuld proclaiming the new era that was about to be heralded in for Mulhorand and its people. "The Empire has handed us the world."

    * * *

    Captain Farhand was pleased with the progress of the bombardment. Dozens of cities burned or had been completely vaporized. Of course, Farhand knew that he had to leave the main cities still standing if there was to be anything left to build upon after the invasion. One of the larger cities on the coast was vital to that region and would be the new Imperial capital. Maybe the Emperor would allow him to rename it.

    "Sir, sir-" one of the crewman had been trying to get his attention for over a minute.

    "What is it?" Farhand didn't like to have his thoughts interrupted.

    The crewman was visible nervous as he held out a datapad to his captain. "A energy shield has been raised over one section of the forest lands these people calls the Dales. It is strong enough to stop any bombardment."

    "Impossible!" Farhand grabbed the datapad and skimmed the report coming in from sectional ship firing on that target. "They are not supposed to have any sort of advanced technology!"

    Farhand was fuming and threw the datapad across the bridge. "Why wasn't I told of this sooner?"

    "But sir, the report just came in moments ago."

    Farhand did not abuse his crew but his half-drow heritage took over and he drew his rapier and skewered the man where he stood. He wiped the blade on the dead man's uniform and ordered two soldiers to take the crewman away.

    "Does anybody else want to test my patience today!" The bridge went silent. They had never seen him like this. Even Elgan was speechless. "Now, I want someone to find a way through that energy shield. Throw everything we've got in that sector at it until it is gone. Turn the ship and prepare to fire the main gun."

    The crewmen jumped to do their captains bidding. None of them wanted to be the next one to taste the reinforced edge of Farhand's rapier. Centurion felt its captain's rage and was pleased. He would make a fine priest of the Destroyer someday.

    "Sir!" One of the crew yelled out from the other side of the bridge. "We have ships coming in from sector 27."

    Farhand couldn't believe his ears. He ran across the bridge to the far end where he could get a better look in that area of space. The crewman hadn't been lying. Four starships appeared out of the glare of the sun with nearly 40 interceptors.

    "Damn it!"

    "They are locking on sir!"

    "Raise shields. Forget the planet, turn the ship around and move to intercept. Have our interceptors move in and engage the incoming hostiles. I'm ordering the second wave assault on the planet. Tell the drop ship sectionals to land and turn those weapon platforms around into a defensive grid above the planet."

    The bridge crew followed his orders like a well-oiled machine. Soon the weapon platforms were in place and the interceptors moved out to handle this unknown factor. This was not going as planned at all. He was alone with one battleship against four starships. Yes they were smaller but there was a cruiser and carrier, as well as two smaller corvettes out there. He was outgunned but he refused to accept defeat. This was, after all, an Imperial battleship.

    "Load the torpedo bays and prepare to fire."

    Several plasma bolts bounced harmlessly off the Centurion's shields.

    "All bays loaded, Captain." Elgan stood near fire control ready to signal the crewmen to fire the forward torpedoes.

    Captain Farhand gave the order to fire just as the drop ship sectionals descended into the planet's upper atmosphere.

    * * *

    Hadrhune watched in disbelief as fiery bolts of energy descended from the heavens. He knew what they were even as the populace of Shade panicked. Several of the more powerful bolts had come down directly into the Shadow Sea around Shade but the Imperials above could not lock on to the city, as it moved further north. He had watched, as half the Dalelands had been destroyed. Of course, he didn't really care about Dalesfolk but he was worried about the House of Mystra.

    Hadrhune was a shade who had been born on the Plane of Shadow. He was a child of the true Empire of Shadows. The Shadow Dragon Emperor would have to be told that the Empire had come to Toril. It had been the Emperor's plan to seize this world and move it into the Plane of Shadow like Hadrhune's ancestors had with the planet Lorestin during the last Age. Also called Shade now, the planet had returned triumphantly to the galaxy with over 10 percent of its population transformed into shades. Hadrhune had been born on Lorestin while it existed in the Plane of Shadow and that world was as more his home, then this city that now stood perilously on the edge of being conquered by the Dragon Empire.

    Llewan had been worried about the Zhents conquering the Dales. He hadn't the heart to tell her what he suspected the real danger was. He had suspected the truth when he had been drawn out on the balcony of the High Telamont's throne room. Now, with the plasma bolts, it was definite. Toril would fall to the Empire. Hadrhune had heard of very few worlds that successfully resisted the Empire and most of those had developed technology, as well as magic. Toril had little technology regardless of what the faithful of Gond believed.

    Hadrhune had tried, once again, to get the High Telamont to shift the city back to the Plane of Shadow. But not even the threat of the Dragon Empire snapped the cities mad ruler out of his own little world. Hadrhune loved the city of Shade but he wouldn't die for it. The planet of Shade was his home, as was the Plane of Shadow. However, if he left Toril to its fate to soon he would be humiliated and probably be sent back to the Planet of Shade to live in squalor. That he would enjoy less then dying here. Besides, this city had more tricks then just shifting place to place. Not even the Shade Emperor knew its true secrets.

    Hadrhune would gather those in his confidence together and teleport to the very interior of the city where its secret control center was hidden. The dampening shield that hid the powerful technology there had obviously prevented the Imperials from detecting the plasma cannons and shadow strikers. They would not surrender Toril to the Imperials without a fight.

    Then, all of a sudden, the plasma bolts stopped raining down on the planet's surface. Hadrhune looked skyward and noted that several landing ships were descending towards the planets surface. Hadrhune raised an eyebrow. It was to soon for ground forces. Something had happened. Regardless, they were landing with at least one vessel coming down in the area of Anauroch known as the Sword.

    The shade man thought of the Bedine living there. He smiled at the thought of the nomads riding against Imperial Legionnaires with swords and shields. Then he thought of the possibility that the Legions would convince the Bedine that they came in the name of their god. Hadrhune's smile turned into a scowl. Of course, that's what would happen. That's why they were landing there. The ruse had worked before and the Bedine would become slaves of the Empire before they even knew what was happening. Hadrhune didn't have any love for the Bedine, or the Dragon Empire for that matter. What he had loved was Mystra and it was these Imperial bastards that had killed his Goddess. She hadn't been an Aspect of the Magus but she had been loyal to him regardless of his morality.

    "You decided to land in the wrong place!" Hadrhune shifted to the Plane of Shadow and then swiftly moved to the secret control facility. He started the sequence that would activate the facility and the city's defenses. The Shadow Adapt then spoke the words to activate his follower's Teleport remotes. "It is time."

    A dozen citizens of the city of Shade appeared in a circle around the control room. The lights of the secret chamber stayed dimly lit, as not to blind the eyes of the shades. "At your command, Hadrhune."

    The shades were well trained and spoke in unison.

    "Take you battle stations, the Dragon Empire has come to Toril and I plan to send them to their room without supper." Hadrhune's voiced echoed through the cavernous facility.

    The shades each took a station and the lights shut off altogether. A three dimensional holograph of the continent of Faerūn appeared in the center of the chamber. Hadrhune and his fellow shades each put on a Comm headset. The shadow spoke the voice command for all of them to hear. "Anauroch sector, sub-sector 12."

    The holographic image shifted and loaded the area known as the Sword. The shades had been using the sensors to gather data all over Toril but the data on Anauroch sector was already substantial - population density, resources and possible threats. The scholars of Candlekeep would be envious of the information the shades had already gathered. Powerful sensors, computers and data gathering probes, in less than a year accomplished what took them centuries.

    "Show me all hostile Imperial vessels in this region." The shades sat silently, as the main computer did all the processing work by interpreting Hadrhune's voice commands. Two red blinking dots appeared in the holographic representation. "Hmm, more than one. This might actually be challenging. Have they detected us?"

    "No Hadrhune." The shade nearest to him spoke the words. The shades knew not speak unless spoken to. Discipline was very important to the Shadow Empire.

    "Excellent! Open up weapon hatches 5, 6 and 7. Bring the plasma cannons and missile launchers online."

    "Missile launchers armed an ready, Hadrhune. Plasma cannons at 70% and rising." Red lights began to flash throughout the chamber and the alarm sounded. "They have detected our energy signatures. One of the ships is moving in to investigate, no active weapons or shields."

    "Piece of cake," Hadrhune turned towards his fire control team. "Let it get a little closer then incinerate the thing. As for the other one, lock on with the launcher. Make sure you have a good lock. We wouldn't want any stray missiles coming down in Cormyr now would we."

    "Yes, Hadrhune."

    * * *

    A moment before…

    "Lander 29 to lander 6, check your scope. We have some strange energy reading coming from the northwest. Check it out." The voice came over the Comm bringing Disan out of his stupor.

    The Imperial pilot yawned and tapped his Comm channel button. "It's probably just a dormant volcano, Taggs. Leave me alone and let me drop of the grounders. This tub is like a slow slug to nowhere when it is so heavily weighed down."

    Taggs was a career Imperial pilot and could be such a pain in the ass sometimes. He just couldn't leave well enough alone.

    "Shut up and do your job Disan, don't make me order you." The two pilots were friends but Disan had the misfortune of being lower in rank than his friend. "Remember what happened to Chambers?"

    "Alright, alright." Disan rolled his eyes and took the drop ship sectional off autopilot. The human pilot changed course and mapped out the shortest route to the energy fluctuation showing on his display. The colossal sectional flew like a lame duck with so many people on board. He heard men shout and complain as the severe tilt in the ships path dumped them around. The pilot twisted and turned a few more times just to tick them off even more, as he pasted over a small mountain range. "Damn grounders."

    Beyond the mountains a land-locked sea covered in mist came into view. Disan stayed well above the dark water, it reminded him of the seas of Levinthal 9. The water was eerily calm and Disan felt a shiver up his back. "I don't like this. I don't like this at all."

    Then he saw it. A huge, floating city rising out of the mist above the water. Disan had seen magic before but not like this. "Cool, I wonder if they like visitors. Take me to your leader and all that."

    Disan tapped his Comm channel button. "Disan to Taggs, guess what I found?"

    "Just tell me you little twit."

    "Come on, it's more fun if you guess."

    "Buddy, don't make me come over there." Taggs had that tone in his voice. He wouldn't report Disan or anything but playtime was over. "I've got grounders unloading right now. Now give me a threat assessment."

    "I found a city that wasn't mapped on the charts. And guess what, it floats."

    "Well, the high ups missed something. This could look good in our dossier."

    "Taggs," Disan noticed the energy reading getting higher. "We may have a problem. The energy being put out by the city is way too high, even for a floating magical one. There's tech here somewhere. Oh, crap!"

    Two plasma bolts hit the sectional dead on and Disan tried to swerve the ship to avoid the next volley. His Imperial training took over and he activated the sectional's shields and barked into the Comm. "Lander 29, I am under attack! I have incoming weapons fire. Two plasma cannons, this city is packing."

    The shields stopped the next plasma bolt and another missed his port side. "Lander 29, please advise."

    "Easy Disan, you're ok. Retreat to my position and unload your grounders. The last of mine just got off. I'll cover you."

    Disan dipped his sectional lander towards the water and skimmed the surface. Plasma bolts hit the water on both sides spraying his window. One bolt grazed the ship's stern and he noticed one of his stabilizers was gone. Then his display beeped at him and he knew he was under weapon lock.

    "Oh crap, Lander 29 the city has missile emplacements and I have been locked on to. Deploying countermeasures." Disan banked the sectional to the left, while his countermeasures went off above him. Three missiles homed in on the countermeasures and exploded in a blast of energy. "That was close."

    He didn't see the fourth missile until it was too late. The explosive device impacted the back of the lander and Disan heard the soldiers scream in the back. The ship's engines started to overload and an elemental shock wave ripped through the ship. Disan looked up to see Lander 29 take three direct missile hit and explode in front of his eyes. Taggs was gone.

    He instinctively tightened the straps on his chair, pulled the ejection lever. The entire front half of the ship exploded upward and then chair rocketed up into the sky. Disan hung their looking down on a alien world for what felt like forever then gravity pulled the chair towards the earth and the motion activated the parachute strapped to the pilots back. The chair fell away in the dark sea below and Disan's chute opened. The lander pitched out of control and went down near the shore of the sea, erupting in a huge fire cloud, as it hit the ground.

    Disan thought of Taggs and his family - his wife and his two girls - as he guided his chute down near the mountains ringing the water. Disan fought back the sadness he felt swelling up inside. He couldn't believe Taggs was gone. Then he remembered what his friend would always say when things didn't go the way you planned. "This was not in brochure."
    Last edited by Knightfall; Monday, 2nd September, 2002 at 11:56 PM.
    Robert Blezard

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    Arcanum of the Stars map

    I figured I post the regional map for my Dragonstar campaign. You'll not only find the Amaunator system (the name I'm using for the Realms system) but a few other familiar names as well.

    Aegis (Bluefall - Star*Drive)
    Kurg's Star (Weren - Star*Drive)
    Liga (Greyhawk)
    Sirion (Dragonlance)
    Tassa (T'sa - Star*Drive)

    Cheers!
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    Robert Blezard

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    Truely excellent. I told you if you keep this up I'll never get any updates done on my own! Now I've got to get busy writing!

    Good job, I'm looking forward to reading the next one. I don't know how you keep 'em coming.
    Please visit my story:
    From Slaves to Heroes in the Making

    And the Heroes of Haven:
    The Heroes of Haven

    Visit our webpage: The Heroes of Haven

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