Koric staggered back into the room, a large trickle of blood running down his side. Sele and Auriana were beside him almost immediately, with cloth bandages and a vial of healing salve at the ready. The moment he was bandaged, Koric pulled his daughter into a reassuring, fatherly embrace. As she sobbed quietly, he looked over at Sele. She met his gaze with a look full of questions. Koric lightly shook his head. He had no idea what just happened, and he was in no mood to question what forces had conspired to save his family.
Their few moments of peace were interrupted by several soldiers at the front door, one of which was out of breath and barely able to speak. The moment the messenger was able to draw enough breath, he relayed more grim news about the invaders. The enemy troops had fallen back to a position a mile from the city, but appeared to be waiting for something. Given the reports from Battlecleft a week earlier, it was safe to assume they were waiting on reinforcements.
Koric listened intently as the messenger relayed the remaining details of the invaders movements and the city's own remaining defenses. Koric managed to compose himself, and after a moment's careful thought, grudgingly gave the order to prepare for an emergency evacuation of the remaining citizens from the city, just in case. Those soldiers not assisting in the evacuation preparations were to continue bolstering the city's defenses against another assault. Should the invaders attack again with replenished numbers, there was no guarantee they could keep the invading army at bay. It would be Koric's sad duty to report the news to Lord Tymor himself, and secure from him the order to evacuate.
Before the guards had a chance to leave, he glanced down at his daughter, and motioned for one of them to remain a moment. His next orders were much harder for him to give, but necessary. He ordered the guard to assemble a personal escort for Sele and his daughter, in case an evacuation became necessary. They were to be taken to the nearest town to the south, where he would meet them in a few days if able. If not, Sele was to take Auriana somewhere where they would be safe.
With that, the guard left, and Koric gathered himself to meet with Tymor. Within minutes, he was walking the halls of the great fortress, heading to the study where Tymor spent most of his evenings. He stopped just outside the door, as the sounds of a heated argument filtered through the thick doors.
"We MUST use it! If the invaders attack again, it may be our only defense!" the voice of Freylin shouted.
"No!" Tymor bellowed back. "Urlfire's Heart must never see the light of day again! Have you gone mad? You of all people should know the evil that thing can do! I've tried to keep its existence and location a secret for good reason, and you have no right to demand I do otherwise!"
There was a moment's pause, followed by an exasperated sigh. "Then, you leave me no other choice..." Freylin announced icily. Next came the sounds of popping bones and tearing cloth, followed by an inhuman voice. "You will TELL me where it IS!"
Koric burst into the room, weapon at the ready. Across the room stood the figure of Freylin, grasping Tymor by the throat and lifting him off the floor. A second later, and the figure finished morphing into the grey, hulking form distinctive to a greater doppleganger. The doppleganger turned and hissed threateningly at Koric, then let out a shriek as Tymor thrust a dagger into its side. It turned back to Tymor, letting out an angry growl before throwing him across the room as though he were no more than a rag doll.
Koric rushed the hulking figure, as the sounds of guards running up the hallway filtered into the study. He was upon the creature a half-second later, slashing furiously at every opportunity. Metal clashed against claw, and patches of human blood mixed with black ichor, spattering the walls and staining the carpet. In the end, Koric struck home one last time with his blade, and followed with a solid kick to the creature's midsection. The force of the blow sent the doppleganger crashing through the window of the study, where it plummeted two stories to the ground below.
Koric fell to the floor a moment later, injured and exhausted. One of the other guards rushed to his side, propping his head up with a rolled-up cloak. Through the haze of pain and exhaustion, Koric managed only one word of question to the guard. "Tymor?" The guard's grim face and slight shake of the head told him all he needed to know. With a groan, he then closed his eyes, and fell into the black pit of unconsciousness.
When Koric regained consciousness, the sounds of chaos surrounded him. He found himself on a makeshift bed consisting of little more than a cot and a blanket, his wounds cleaned and bandaged. All around him, he saw healers rush from patient to patient, their frenzied pace interrupted only by the arrival of more casualties being brought into the city's largest cathedral.
Koric painfully pulled himself up into a sitting position, and attempted to climb out of the bed. Rejick, a dwarven cleric and long-time friend of Baron Tymor, came over to him, trying to coax him back onto the cot. Koric tried to convince Rejick that he was alright, but he could not hold back the wince of pain in his face when he moved.
As best he could, Rejick brought Koric up to speed on the events of the last few hours. The invading army had indeed been waiting on reinforcements. The reinforcements consisted not of goblin-kin as with the first army of attackers, but instead contained seasoned Drow warriors who were now systematically destroying the city one block at a time. The font lines of the city's defenders have been forced back three times, and both military and civilian casualties were mounting.
Even as he finished talking with Koric, the sounds of battle could be heard approaching the cathedral where the wounded had been brought. The clerics were now turning their attention to evacuating the cathedral, coaxing those who could walk to help carry those that could not. As several men came over to help pull Koric from his cot, more bad news reached him.
With the spreading news of Tymor's death and of Freylin having been replaced by a shape shifter, the city was quickly descending into chaos. The evacuation was not going well, with the residents fleeing their homes and crowding the streets in an attempt to avoid the oncoming Drow army. With Koric having been wounded and unable to command the city's troops directly, they were ill prepared to control the mobs now attempting to flee the city.
Rejick had been put in charge of the operations here in the cathedral to tend the wounded, and now was preparing to evacuate everyone as the city's last defenders held the invaders at bay. Even though he seemed to have the situation well in hand within these stone walls, Koric knew the moment they were outside, they would have to contend with the fleeing mobs of people. With some luck, and Rejick's admittedly stubborn nature, perhaps they still had a chance to escape with their lives...
The first light of dawn had come at last. With Auriana wrapped tightly in her arms, Sele watched from atop a still darkened ridge as uncontrolled fires now spread through parts the distant city. She had been watching the unfolding drama for almost two hours now. She watched the faint lights of torches as caravans of citizens fled the city's once protective walls. She watched as flashes of magic extinguished those torches and the lives within the caravans, one by one, until no hint of the refugees remained. And she watched as the invading army massed on the central keep, destroying the last of the city's defenders.
Around her were four guards, among the finest of Koric's men, who stood ever vigilant in their sworn duty to protect her and Auriana. They guarded her as she watched, helpless to do anything else. They had family down there, of that she was certain. And yet they remained here, silently enduring their own pain.
Tymor Keep, once the dream of a man respected by all who knew him, now lie in ruins. Thirty years of building, planning, and dreaming...destroyed in a single night. But much more than stone and mortar had been lost this night. Their home was destroyed. Hundreds of innocents slaughtered. Her family torn asunder. The fragile innocence of her niece, shattered forever.
And she wept for them...