Chapter VII:

The Dark Lord

The ceiling burst into white-hot flames, expanding like a wheel across the gracefully carved wood. Master Yoda did not have to prompt his young apprentice as to what their next move should be. In fact, all in attendance were of one accord on vacating the Council Chamber forthwith. And none too soon! For the instant all five negotiators raced outside and hurled themselves over the balcony railing, a tremendous explosion rocked the northern region as would a volcanic eruption. Yoda ignited his lightsaber in midair, as did Corintheus, flying through the wind all the faster from the superheated shockwave. The Jedi Master twisted as he fell, deflecting several burning cinders in pursuit of his diminutive frame with frenzied slashes of his humming energy blade. Corintheus mirrored his Master's movements, the long hours of rigorous training back on Coruscant now paying off.

Each member of the small party hit the ground split-seconds apart. The screams of the dying filled the atmosphere as the mightiest tree in this vicinity burned to the ground in a matter of moments. Yoda turned back in time to see a black-robed figure rapidly descending toward the Archmage of Moonwood Forest. And in that instant, everything became crystalline clear to the mind of Master Yoda, an epiphany with regards to this alien version of the Force, called the Weave.

Yoda understood, for example, that most denizens of this planet foolishly believed that a duel between Archmages such as these was normally conducted in a dynamic display of pyrotechnics and creative conjurations, both wizards formally casting their offensive spells at one another until one or the other fell dead. But the truth of the matter was that he who struck first and hardest tended to prevail more often than not. Aside from that, the Jedi Master could sense everything currently transpiring in the woodland domain, along with a series of possible outcomes for each encounter including the overall conflict, which should definitely be drawing toward its final conclusion within the hour.

Presently, the group of five stood spellbound by the descent of what could only be a drow mage of considerable power. The black-skinned elf's stark white hair billowed outward from his narrow head, like the mane of a wild pegasus, crimson eyes flaring angrily, giving the mage the appearance of a marauding demon. Arcs of silvery lightning crackled about the robed figure's lithe body, as the wizard struck the earth and commenced his assault, swinging his left hand in a violent gesture toward the stunned Kandomyr not ten feet away. The moon elf belatedly rambled off the proper incantation for a defensive spell, even as a series of red liquid droplets of some sort careened toward him, elongating and writhing as they approached. Yoda was the first to act on behalf of the apparently doomed wizard, streaking into the path of the flying objects with his lightsaber ignited and twirling about in a defensive blur, trailing green light in the diminishing darkness. The Jedi Master succeeded in deflecting the majority of the peculiar missiles.

But two of the slimy apparitions slipped past Yoda's energy blade to hit their target, hissing and sizzling as they made contact with Kandomyr's exposed neck. Kandomyr's incantation was abruptly cancelled as he began backpedaling, clawing at his fair skin, to no avail. For the creatures - whatever they were - began frantically burrowing into the wizard's flesh in search of major arteries. Next, the sinister black elf stabbed the index finger of his right hand toward Master Yoda, conjuring a neon white thunderbolt, which flashed forth, only to be blocked and absorbed by the Jedi Master's lightsaber.

Kandomyr's agonized scream was deafening, echoing throughout the entire northern region of the sylvan domain.

Belatedly, Corintheus Thoram, Zaknafein Do'Urden, Jae-Deia and Lord Jovell snapped out of their trances, drew their respective weapons and charged the enemy mage from widely opposing angles. Suddenly, the forest exploded about them with the converging forms of allies and enemies alike. Yoda whipped about one last time, releasing his lightsaber with one hand, flinging that one outward toward the enemy wizard, summoning a gale of telekinetic force that hurled the dark elf backward, smashing him against the wide base of the incinerated tree some twenty feet behind him. The drow wizard's breath expelled in a single whoosh from the sickening impact, and he fell face-first into the mud.

Meanwhile, the final battle between dark elves and moon elves commenced as the dawn silvered the sky above the forest. The ensuing melee produced absolute chaos among those present. Zaknafein found himself confronted by not one but two familiar drow. Dantrag and Triel Baenre sported wicked grins as they attacked in unison, forcing the young Do'Urden onto his heels at once. Zak's twin blades darted about in a desperate attempt to block each thrust of first one sword and then the other, as well as the fangs of five writhing serpent heads from the whip of a High Priestess.

Yoda sensed everything, but could ill afford to take his focus off the drow mage who even now hauled himself up from the muddy earth, his grime-covered visage a mask of unbridled fury. Streaking forth to deliver the death blow, the diminutive Jedi raised his lightsaber high above his head, issuing a gravelly war cry as he ran. But the second he reached his intended target, there was suddenly no one there to strike! It was as if the Archmage had simply never existed; just vanished, like the remnants of an obscure dream. Unable to stop his enhanced momentum, Yoda swung his weapon anyway, cutting nothing but air, his lightsaber humming a low tune. Breathing heavily, he looked about for the mysterious assailant, bearing witness to the intense battle taking place in the vast clearing.

Jae-Deia had joined Zaknafein in his fight against his own kin, the two of them making little progress against what appeared to be equal opposition. Corintheus and Lord Jovell fought back to back, an unfamiliar duo wielding their respective blades with deadly efficiency as they wheeled about, fending off the incoming jabs and thrusts from several opponents at once. Kandomyr, on the other hand, was not so fortunate. His frail body spasmed about on the ground not even three steps away from yet another duel between an axe-wielding moon elf and a dark elf wielding sword and dagger.

Yoda made his way through the writhing throng, fighting to keep from sneezing due to the billowing clouds of dust. He sensed catastrophe a full heartbeat before it struck, but was helpless to prevent it. For no sooner had Kandomyr, his own eyes now glowing crimson red like those of the wizard who'd assaulted him, bounced up and raced across the battlefield toward Corintheus Thoram, hands extended before him, than Master Yoda found himself engaged in mortal combat with a new adversary. In his mind's eye, he could see Kandomyr grab one of the enemy invaders currently fighting Corintheus. The elvish mage hurled the unsuspecting drow backward as though he were nothing more than a lifeless rag, closing the distance between himself and Corintheus so quickly that Corintheus could not react in time to stop him.

Before the Padawan Learner knew what was happening, Kandomyr was right up against him, throttling him while issuing an insane roar, as he wrestled the taller human away from Jovell and the drow aggressors. In the blink of an eye, the Archmage of Moonwood burst into flames, engulfing himself and Corintheus in the magical conflagaration. A duet of earsplitting screams assaulted the morning atmosphere. Almost immediately, the flames died out. Only Corintheus remained, his body severely burned, as were his clothes which smoldered and hung from his body in tatters. The Padawan staggered about in a daze, dropped his weapon to the ground, and fell over backward.

Master Yoda could not help his apprentice. Instead, he focused on the enemy before him, sending his lightsaber into a zig-zagging flurry, batting the dark elf's magical sword high and low and to either side in rapid succession. When he had prepared the position of his adversary's weapon to his liking, he spun right by the stunned warrior, following through with a leaping snap kick to the drow's lower spine, sending him sprawling to the earth. Long ears swivelling, Master Yoda spared his opponent a parting, backward glance before rushing forth to tend to his unconscious apprentice across the way.

Gromph Baenre materialized inside the cavern entrance that led back into the Underdark. A dull ache made its presence felt in his lower back. Who and what was that strange goblinoid creature? he wondered. It was too small for a goblin, but unnaturally powerful, as if it came from some other plane of existence. Perhaps it was a goodly spirit conjured by the moon elves, Gromph supposed.

Surveying the accursed sun inching higher and higher into the heavens, he moved deeper into the protective shadows. He then reached into the folds of his black robes and produced a multifaceted crystal, glowing dimly with its own inner light. The Archmage of Menzoberranzan placed the item to his bloodied lips and spoke into it. "Triel, this is Gromph," he announced gruffly. "My mission was successful, as we agreed it must be. I'm going home now, and I suggest you and the others begin doing the same, unless you relish being caught out in the midday sun."

Moments later, the crystal shone brightly in the palm of Gromph's hand, and the voice of a female emanated from its depths. "We are retreating even now, brother," said Triel. "My congratulations on a job well done. As for Dantrag and myself, we were not able to finish the Do'Urden boy before being separated in the chaos. No matter. As long as Zaknafein lives, I will see to it that he is never forgotten - particularly in light of his sacrilegious acts on behalf of our sworn enemies!"

Gromph let out a soft chuckle at that. "Yes, I am aware that he sided with the moon elves," he replied. "I am certain that his Matron Mother would be very interested in hearing the details of his personal exploits on the surface." That said, he replaced the crystal within the folds of his robes and looked once more to the brightening sky of the outside world. He pondered the effects of his most devastating spell to date. The liquid parasites, designed to drive their host insane, were the agents of an ancient torture method normally reserved for Matron Mothers performing ritual executions or interrogations. No one knew that Gromph Baenre had discovered the secret to conjuring such demons out of thin air.

Not even Matron Baenre herself.

The Archmage smiled wickedly, silently congratulating himself one last time, before turning the bone ring on his finger and vanishing again. The next time he appeared, he would be sitting comfortably back in his padded chair within the confines of his own private study. Minor disturbances aside, this was shaping up to be a good day, after all.