Blood running down her blade, Meliantha cut down one of the orcs attacking the Lady's Manse, then a second, and then a third, and then, she vanished into a hidden portal, the two she'd helped following her.
An eyeblink later, she appeared in a small anteroom somewhere in the palace, facing two lines of pikemen. She called the pass-phrase as she caught her breath, her clothes steaming a little as if cold, those who followed her repeating it as they appeared as well.
"There you are!" she heard a thundering call, and looked up to see Loran Durtharr coming towards her. He gathered her up in a hug, and put her down. "Good to see you, lass! How was your trip?"
"Illuminating," she replied, a smile creeping onto her face as she saw the other guardians of the door looking amazed at Loran's actions. "But for later. What's --agggh!" She blinked as a burst of magic hit her mind, and staggered against the wall. "Oh, that hurt," she growled.
"Aye," one of the men said. "They've got a bunch of mages of kinds making trouble. Probably used your fighting to find ye and hit ye."
She took a deep breath, composing herself. "Let's return the favors, shall we?" She re-secured her blade and walked with Loran as he talked. The elf and the man followed, apparently not sure what to do next.
"The Manse is secure enough -- you can't get through the wards without a key, and you've got one, so we're safe from teleportations and ethereal walkers. They haven't been able to get any siege engines through, thank Torm, so they've just been charging the doors and trying to climb the walls. They might have some thief-mages or those with magic to go invisible trying to creep, so that's been our worry." He gestured to a guard, who opened a door. "Welcome to the war room, lass." Then he noticed the other two. "Wait, who are you?"
"I came across them where the teleport dropped us, and a mage blasted us with a fireball," Meliatha answered. "What happened there?"
Loran frowned. "We knew they'd put a teleport trap or three down, and it looks like you got caught in one. Lucky you escaped it," he said.
The two finally responded. "Torbille and Jannequine," the man said. "We're out of Gryphon Hill, reporting to Maelphor. We were checking some reports from Slingdyke as ordered, and got the summons for help here." She reached into her pouch and pulled out a token, and he pulled his out of his shirt. "She pretty much saved us completely," he added.
The elven woman's voice was deeper than it looked like her body normally would produce. "Never saw anyone could fight and heal like that."
Loran raised an eyebrow at Meliantha, who clenched her jaw. He read it, then nodded very slightly. "You two get to the muster-room, down that way, get something to eat. I expect we'll need you two soon on the lines." They went off, and he turned to the open door, gesturing at Meliantha to follow.
What was usually a banquet hall was now, indeed, a war room. Maps of the city hung from the walls, with lines drawn on them for she didn't know what yet. A large map, of the area surrounding Arabel, was across from the door.
The Lord of Arabel, Myrmeen Llal, was busy reviewing the maps and their markings, but turned as Meliantha and Loran entered. "Oversword! Where have you been?"
"Reviewing the defenses and getting one of my Dragons," he replied, bowing to her. Meliantha bowed as well.
"She's the one who helped with those Cyricists, right? Good, we could use another strong sword." She turned back to the maps. "While they have a large number here, they tried for a heart-strike first, and we've got enough defenders to keep them in the Ride for now, but if they get reinforcements in, we'll have a mess on our hands. We've cleared out the populace from here to the High Horn gate, and defenders in the houses, but they've got the streets blocked as well. It's going to be a bloodbath."
"We should return the favor," Meliantha said suddenly, her eyes narrowing as a plan sprang into her mind. "A heart-strike."
"What do you mean, lass?" Loran asked, to draw it out.
"They have a commander. Behead the beast, strike the heart, and let their command fall. I saw their colors -- they're at the least Zhent-aligned, if not actually Zhents. Somewhere is a wizard or a priest of Bane whose actually in command."
Loran nodded, glancing at Myrmeen. "First need to find them, then get a party in."
"Leave that to me," Meliantha said. "The defense of this city and its people is the important part." She felt a sudden surge inside her at those words, a sense of power that came with her statement of purpose, and she smiled.
"They won't know what came at them."
Loran and Myrmeen looked at each other, and then he smiled, turning back to Meliantha. "Well, thank you for standing up, but you're going to need this." He opened a drawer and pulled out a folded piece of cloth, then settled the embroidered cloth across her body crosswise from the holder for Chainbreaker. He nodded approvingly, and then saluted. "Welcome to active duty, Ornrion."
Meliantha's jaw dropped. "Loran, I don't deserve that rank!"
"You'll need it, and I'm giving it to you for the duration of the emergency. I have that right, and you'll need the pull, especially since I expect to be handing over to you command of the various irregular forces." By that, he meant adventurers who would not fit the regular army but were patriotic enough to fight.
"On you be it, old man," she said, then gave him a warrior's handgrasp before saluting.
"We'll talk later, lass," Loran said quietly as he returned the salute, "and over good ale."
She strode from the room, and said to the First Sword in charge, "I'm going to need at least two wizards and four bowmen. They've got to be quick and skilled."
The First Sword nodded. "Give me a moment." He called, and moments later four men with stout bows jogged around the corner. "The wizards will be here shortly," one of them said, saluting. His eyes widened as he recognized her rank from the baldrick and then he continued, "ma'am."
"Good. We're going to behead the attacking army. Up for that?"
"Good enough, ma'am," said a second, then added, "without dying, I hope."
"That's the goal, yes," Meliantha replied dryly.
Three War Wizards in their purple robes strode up. "Who summons us?" one sneered. Meliantha gestured to the embroidered baldric she wore.
"I am Ornrion Meliantha, directly reporting to Oversword Durtharr, and for the duration of the emergency in command of irregular units, which you are now part of for the duration of this mission," she replied, looking the wizard in the eyes. He stared for a moment, trying to assert his dominance, then settled as he realized he wasn't going to get it.
"Fine, fine. What do you need?"
"I am going to strike at the commanders of the invaders. So: we are going to make our way to a place we can see their command post within the city, get on the roof of a building nearby, I am going to kill their commander, at which point the soldiers apply arrows to his underlings and you three mages bring destruction to them, be it by fire, by lightning, or something else. A good fireball, really, would be best, take as many as possible down, and leave them be. Then while they're confused and in discord, you lot escape back here."
"And yourself, ma'am?" asked the man who had been there first.
"I'll find my own way out," she smiled.
It was the work of an hour to make their way through alleys and secret passages to get to the part of the city nearest the invading force. They had set up a group of tents and a small platform with a speaker's stand on it, and there were a number of the orcs and humans waiting, apparently for someone to show up.
"Good," she said, looking over the edge of the roof. "I'm going to want one blast right in front, biggest and best, then two on either side, not overlapping much if you can do it." The wizards, Plaget (the ranking), Milbar and Zum, nodded, then discussed amongst themselves the best option. She turned to the bowmen. "You four puncture any spellcasters you see. Before all the shock resolves itself, the lot of you head out, and keep your heads. Understood?"
All of them nodded in understanding. Then a roaring came from the crowd, and suddenly silenced.
"That'll be the commander," she said, and climbed back up to look over the edge of the roof. Indeed, a tall, stout man in plate mail, the breastplate embossed and lacquered with the symbol of Bane, had come out of a tent, and raised his hands for silence.
"HAIL BANE!" He called, and the crowd yelled back, "HAIL THE BLACK HAND!"
He began a speech about their attack, starting to motivate the crowd, and she slid back down.
"Good, he's out. Two last things. First, the cue for your attack is when he takes a sudden wound. The other…" She drew Chainbreaker, whose blade glimmered with sparkles of violet. That was new, she thought, and then spoke. "In the name of Helm, I ask we be protected; in the name of Helm, let our blades and spells and arrows strike true, that we strike to protect hose that depend on us to be their shield."
"By the Gauntlet," two of the archers said, and a faint shimmer covered all of them for a moment, before fading.
"How will you strike him, Lady?" Plaget asked, curiously.
She drew out a ring and prepared to put it on her finger. "Painfully," she said, and vanished. Before they could even seem startled, there was a gentle puff of cold air.
"Invisibility, and a misty step," Plaget mused. "Well. Let's be ready. Milbar, Zum, standard preparation. Hold for effect." The other two wizards nodded, Zum pulling out a stick of ornately carved wood from where it was strapped to his arm under a sleeve, passing it to Plaget.
"Gives your spells a bit of thunder," he said.
The step dropped Meliantha just where she wanted -- about fifteen feet behind the priest. Chainbreaker shifted, and she knew he burned with fire. She smiled, a cruel smile, then dropped it and took a deep breath. She was acting to save, not out of pure malice. There was a sudden sense of peace from within her, as she moved forwards to stand just behind the priest as he continued his sermon.
"And once the weak, foolish rules of Arabel and of Cormyr have fallen to the power of Bane, he will greet us and put us above those we slew! In his kingdom, we will rule, and their subjects will be our slaves, and we will rule in his name, and he will know our devotion and lay his hands on us and grant us blessings from the throne we will build for him!" The crowd roared, and Meliantha thought that the time was just perfect.
She had studied the priest and his armor, and so was ready. She drew back, and with a single thrust, a single breath, buried Chainbreaker up to the hilt in his back. She appeared, holding the priest up, a blade burning with purple fire puncturing his armor, and as he gasped his last, she said to him, "If you wish to meet your god, it is my honor to expedite your travels."
Any reply was lost as three fireballs crashed into the square, the center one releasing a thundering blast that sent both corpses and living flying through the air. Before any of the Zhentish mages could act, they found their throats and chests pierced with arrows. The shock even drove Meliantha back a few feet, and as her ears cleared, she heard the once-devoted army devolving into panic at this sudden attack.
She threw the body off her blade, and she noted with a grim smile that the stab had gone through and made a crack through the symbol of Bane enameled into the armor. With the forces scattered and panicking, she made her way to a place she could reactivate the ring and slip through the crowd. Her path was blocked, unfortunately, by a half-dozen orcs. They raised their swords and shields.
They died bravely. But they died.
As she shook the blood from her blade, she heard a roaring sound, and watched a massive orc stride into the middle of the chaos. His skin was a bright red, and he carried a huge warhammer. Her eyes narrowed as she recognized the ridges on the side of his head, and the burning around his hands -- the blood of demons ran through him.
"GATHER!" It roared out, and the orcs began to stop panicking, to organize, to pull their ranks together, as someone finally took charge. She abandoned her plan and strode out.
Fire won't do anything to that brute, Chainbreaker warned her.
No, she thought back, freeze him.
With a surge of amusement, the blade developed a bluish sheen.
The huge creature turned to look at her, and she took a moment to look at the tanarukk. It wasn't a pure orc-descended one; it was too large. A momentary glance told her the monster had both demon and ogre blood in its veins.
"I am the Fist of Bane!" It roared out, pounding on its chest with one fist, which emitted a foul smoke and scorched the leather stretched across the broad space. "I will destroy you, assassin!"
Meliantha raised her sword in a salute and smiled thinly. "I am Meliantha, Chosen of Helm, and I invite you to try."
He roared again, taking up the massive hammer, and charged her. She faded backwards and to the right, ahead of the swing of the massive hammer, and struck at him. The blade cut into him, but he seemed to ignore the frigid aura it held.
Yes! She said hurriedly, then had to dive out of the way of the hammer, which left a massive hole in the ground. The orc howled, and for a moment, she felt a shiver of fear. It disappeared, as a cool shielding presence entered her mind. She threw herself aside again, leaving Chainbreaker behind, and rolled to her feet, then threw herself forwards, just past the orc-ogre-demon, but that wasn't enough to escape a stunning, agonizing slam of the hammer against her side. She felt the air pushed out as she slammed into the ground, heard the sound of bone cracking, felt things tear inside her, and then her head hit the pavement and she saw stars. She lost her grip on Chainbreaker, and heard it clang against the pavement.
As she tried to get her wind and bearings back, she heard the Fist of Bane roar something, and a howling cheer from the crowd.
He's coming to finish you, came Chainbreaker's voice.
Not like this, she thought. Come!
Here, came the voice of the sword, and as she rolled over onto her back, the sword appeared in her hand. The scream of the sword matched the scream of the Fist as she put all her strength into the prone swing —
--and cut his legs off at the knee. He fell to the side, blood gouting from the severed stumps, and howled his rage. She silenced him with a strike to the throat, and as the blood ran from the wounds, the hammer dropped to the ground inches from her leg. There was silence, and she rose, pushing past the pain in her head and the agony in her side, then turned to regard the motley crowd.
She took a step, and then another, and then, suddenly, was gone in a twinkle of light.
When Meliantha next opened her eyes, she felt much better, but very hungry. She found herself surrounded by a group of attendants, people she knew.
"Well, now. Rauthinger and Picodil, didn't know you were about. Ravenbrow, I see you've taken the oath too." She let her head go back on the pillow. "How bad is it?"
Picodil shook his head. "About as bad as it could be. You were working on pure bravado. Thankfully, Rauthinger's got the best healing skills about, and pulled you through."
The other cleric smiled warmly. "Two of your ribs went into your lungs. What hit you, a titan?"
She sighed, wincing slightly. "A tanarukk-ogre crossbreed calling itself the Fist of Bane, and his hammer. I left him dead, along with the priest that was leading them."
"It did a great deal more," a familiar voice came from behind the surrounding group, and they rearranged itself to let Loran move in. "You broke their will there, and they've left the city. A lot of damage, but that bit of inspired madness helped."
She shrugged, then winced, still not completely healed. "Seemed to be a good plan, one for a small group instead of an army."
"Indeed," he said, "but we'll need an army anyway. The Regent's sending the army here, as we can't be sure they won't try again when someone else shows up to lead them, and Arabel's gates are being closed, only opened after inspections. The trade costers -- well, most of them, one of them's had their warehouse destroyed and another cast out for working with the Zhents -- are negotiating for space in the city." He shook his head. "Going to be a hard winter. But we're going to need more help, lass."
She pulled herself up to a sitting position, noting that someone had at least been kind enough to give her a shift. "My oaths are stronger than ever, Oversword Durtharr -- to my god, and then to Cormyr." She raised one hand in the traditional gesture of oathswearing. "To protect this city and this land, my blade is yours, Oversword." As she did, a steel gauntlet flickered into view over her swearing-hand, and then faded away.
"Witnessed," said Rauthinger in an awed voice. "Witnessed by Helm himself. And so I will follow."
"I also," said Picodil. "We've got no choice, eh, Rauth?"
"None at all," the other priest said.
"Well, then." She rose from the sickbed. "Tomorrow we prepare, and the day after… I think we're going to have to gather all the adventurers in the city and see what they can do." She shook her head, and looked at Loran. "So this is command."
He smiled. "Aye. Welcome to it, lass. Welcome to command of the Cormyrian Irregulars."