With both trepidation and anxiety, Morpheus reached the chasm floor. Luckily there had been no sign of the vile spider-like creatures he had sent plummeting over the edge. He looked up as Legion was slowly making his way down the rope. It was just the two of them now, with the decision being made that they would seek out the shard while the Winterguard continued to deal with the drow and Phaervorul.
It did not sit well with Morpheus that he and Legion simply abandon the others. Even though Legion and he were strangers to them, he had begun to feel a kinship to Garrick, Odus, and Isak. It was the type of bond that can only be forged by men who have depended on each other in combat. But Shareen was why he was here, and she was the only reason he existed anymore, and no matter how loyal he may have felt to the Winterguard, that loyalty would never be able to outweigh the last and only duty he carried.
Legion finally reached the bottom, and Morpheus breathed deep and calm, using his monk training to remain patient. He wondered how the others had felt about the shade. Did they ever accept him? The last discussions they had, based on Jhaelant’s revelations, had given them all pause. It was Legion who may have placed the last piece of the puzzle on the table.
“There is no doubt in my mind, that this Zirithian is the very drow that appeared in my vision.” The shade had said to the group. It had drawn all their attention to him.
“There is no finality in death.”
It frustrated Morpheus when Legion was so cryptic. The monk had looked to the others then and found them deep in thought. “Isak,” Odus had been the next to speak, “You had a similar vision, did you not?” The warrior was stoic and quiet for a time. “It was a drow,” was his gruff reply, “but I have no way to know if it was Zirithian. It was the sword I remember. Black and deadly.” Isak had shrugged after that.
“The timing works,” Garrick had added, “The star’s appearance, Zirithian’s banishment and death. It’s too big a coincidence to ignore. Let’s face it; he’d definitely carry a grudge against Urlvrain and Phaervorul if Jhaelant’s tale is true.”
Morpheus simply shook his head at that point perplexed, “But Jhaelant saw him die. If we accept that he somehow found a way to cheat death, then how? Was he randomly picked by Orcus?”
“The shard.” Legion had finally said, “The shard did it.” There was a long moment of silence.
“I thought the shard was just a piece of the container that imprisoned, well… you know.” Odus asked reluctantly, his eyes on Morpheus whose fists clenched angrily while his face maintained its composure. The shade looked away and for a long moment it appeared as though he was contemplating what to say next.
“When I handed the full gem that contained Shareen‘s soul to Blackcross,” Legion said, “I may have underestimated him. It was meant to be held for safekeeping, should anything or anyone come after me.” The shade avoided looking at Morpheus.
“As evil as I am,” Legion continued, “or as evil as my actions have been, you must remember, that what Blackcross has done is worse. And I fear it will be on us to stop it.”
“But you don’t know what he’s done!” Morpheus finally exploded, his face enraged, as he moved towards the shade. “You have no idea what these shards will be once they are re-united!”
“No.” The shade replied quietly, as Odus stepped between the monk and Legion, “I don’t know – which is why we need to get the shard back.” Morpheus stopped his advance, his face melting from anger to anguish as he looked into Odus‘ eyes. The bard reached out, and put his hands on the monk’s shoulders.
“You can’t give up hope,” Odus whispered to him, “You can’t give up on her, or no one can help her. ” The monk buried his face in his hands, and collapsed to his knees amidst the spilt blood of Jhaelant and his minions, and his face was no less defeated than that of the drow necromancer’s had been.
“I’m tired of the manipulations,” Morpheus muttered then, “The drow. The shade. The bonds I’ve placed upon myself. My decisions barely seem like my own anymore. I’m just an arrow in flight, streaking towards its target, but never finding it. The winds move me, but I have no control. What hope does Shareen have, when I can’t even affect where I go next?”
Odus knelt beside the monk, squeezing his arm in reassurance. “I have seen what you can do,” the bard said quietly, “and I know that there is no better person that can save her. If trusting the shade is the only option you have, then take it. Go with him, and find the shard. We will deal with the drow.”
“He won’t.” Garrick responded his eyes locked on Legion, ” And if he does, there will be no where he can hide from us. We will hunt him down, and he’ll pay tenfold for whatever evil deeds he’s done.” Isak glanced at the shade, his face grim, and nodded his agreement with Garrick.
Legion had done his best to ignore them all.
“Now go,” Odus said as he pulled Morpheus to his feet, “You have a sister to save.” The monk looked at each member of the Winterguard, his eyes intense. “You may never know how much this has meant to me.”
“I won’t falter.” The monk said with determination.
“I know you won’t,” Odus replied, “Now go!”
That was how Legion and Morpheus found themselves alone at the bottom of the chasm, the drow bridge high above them. When Morpheus looked on the shade, he felt less enraged then he had in the past. Odus was right, he had no choice, but he need not be the victim. The shade may indeed be using him and playing his own game, but Morpheus could use the shade too. The shadar-kai felt calm again and his core monk training took over, centering his thoughts and emotions.
I will not fail.
Legion had already begun to move off, with no word to Morpheus, and the monk let it happen. There was no need to demand answers and let his emotions erode his discipline. He followed Legion silently, and calmly.
They arrived at a small shallow crater, as if an impact had punched a cavity in to the chasm floor. Legion moved around rapidly, feeling the ground here, muttering to himself there, and all the while Morpheus watched. After several minutes, the monk began to investigate the surroundings himself.
“It’s not here!” Legion cried out in anguish. He stood at the center of the crater, where a large amount of blood was spread about.
“Zirithian had to have landed here,” Morpheus said.
“As did the shard.” Legion added. “He must have taken it. I feel the faint residue of its presence, so it was here, but nothing more do I sense.”
“Then he took it,” Morpheus stated, “or it took him. If he was dead, then obviously the shard changed him. How else could he have walked away?” The monk gestured to the trail of blood. He started to follow the signs, not caring whether Legion followed, which the shade of course did after a few moments.
At first there was a lot of blood, but then there was less. And the shambling shuffling tracks left behind gradually became the normal walk of a person with no grievous wounds. And then the blood stopped, and the steps became lighter and harder to follow. When Morpheus lost the trail, he was determined not to lose faith.
“Nothing.” The monk said to Legion.
“No,” Legion said, his attention distracted, “This way.” He moved off towards the wall, and in a long forgotten cave that was hard to find, they found what they had been seeking: A pile of bones, ashes and dust. And the shard, lying cold and dead amongst the debris.
“Nothing.” Legion‘s voice was quiet and whispered as he stared into the shard, “I feel no essence within it.” Morpheus kicked around at the bones and dust, his eyes fixating on the patterns in the ashes.
“So Zirithian sucked the life from it?” The monk said amazed at how detached he felt in his failure. “We are too late?” Morpheus stared hard at the signs in the ancient remains, his thoughts unable to focus. Whose remains were these then?
Suddenly the cave was a glow in purple light as the shard pulsed brightly with life. Morpheus turned rapidly, grabbing Legion to get a closer look. The shard pulsed again, stronger. Morpheus was just becoming aware of a low maniacal chuckle that emanated around the chamber when Legion gasped.
“Blackcross…” was all the shade managed to say, before the two of them disappeared suddenly. As the torrent of the planar crossing ripped at the two of them, Legion became aware of the nightmarish laughter of Blackcross in his head followed by the sinister whisper of his former mentor as though he were next to him:
“What darkness have your actions brought upon this place I wonder? Do you even know, the repercussions that you set in motion, the day you gave me that poor girl’s soul? And now you see, the pebble you dropped, the ripples you caused. Here in Phaervorul they became waves, crashing with terrible destructive force.
What other worlds have you affected, I wonder?”
Morpheus had one last thought before he lost himself between worlds: A sword. There had been a sword lying there, perhaps hundreds of years, before Zirithian came to the cave. That’s what the indent in the dust had been, plain as day. A greatsword.
And Zirithian had taken it.
The cave dust and ash whipped into a vortex as the two figured disappeared, bones and debris cracking against the walls of the chamber. Unearthed at the very center of the vortex, uncovered after hundreds of years, were the remains of Thrullzon the last great exarch of Orcus, and his decayed and eroded helm. Carved upon the helm and untouched by the punishing years of erosion, the twisted vile emblem of Orcus remained defiant.