Chapter 3

It had been a long haul to Red Larch. Dinalqua and Randow were sent there on a mission of the utmost importance from Tizer. They had left Tel'Mithrim over three days past on horseback. Arriving in the small town nestled in the woods, they left their horses at the stables and made their way to the inn and took a back room. Since their meeting several months ago, Dina and Randow had become fast friends. They were inseparable.

As the hot winds brought about the noon sun, Dina and Randow wandered over to the town well. "If you ask me, Dina, this little town could use some sprucing up." Randow said. "This could be a quaint little resort if it wanted to be."

"I agree. If it was not for the Lifegiver's theft, it would be nice." Dina said. "I've half a mind to settle down here instead of Neverwinter Wood. Too many Dracs live out there."

"Maybe some day we can both get a place out here, possibly on the road southward from here." Randow said.

They brought up the bucket from the bottom of the well and proceeded to pour the water from it. Spilling out of the bucket was a dark sludge, almost pitch black.

"What the?" he inquired.

Dina looked into the pail and scowled. "Ele'Templa..." She chanted. The sludge in the bucket did not move, nor glow with the magic-detection spell she cast. She pulled a dagger out of her belt and dipped it into the bucket. She pulled the dagger from the bucket and the sludge clung to the blade. As she pulled the weapon higher, the sludge leapt from the bucket towards her. "Ed' i' ear ar' elenea!"

Dina clambered back as the sludge flew at her. The sludge missed and hit the ground. Randow already had his blade out and in a fighting stance. He quickly shoved his sword into the black muck. The sludge started up his sword. Randow pulled his sword back and the sludge came with it. He swung his sword quickly through the air and threw the muck off. It impacted a nearby wall and oozed down.

"What is this stuff?" he asked. Dina stood and brushed herself off. "I do not have the slightest idea," she said. They watched as the sludge dribbled down the wall. It found a crack and slid inside the building.

"Quick, inside!" Randow yelled. He rushed into the building only to find that the sludge was flowing over to a terrified barkeep. "Run! Get away from it!" The Elf yelled. He ran to the sludge and started to cast. "Templa Pilini'! " he yelled. Several magic missiles streaked out and hit the sludge. An inhuman shriek could be heard and the thing slithered under a table to the darkness. At the sound of the shriek, the barkeep collected his wits and fled the room.

"Where is it?" he asked. Randow flipped over the table and saw nothing. Dina came up to him.

"Uh, Randow. I think we better leave." Dina said. Randow looked at her.

"Why?" he asked. She pointed over to the wall. The shadows themselves began a dance in the flickering light. "Of all the inhuman..."

The shadows started to gain substance and form. The shadows of tables melded into humanoid form. Dina and Randow stood back to back in the center of the building and watched as they quickly became surrounded.

Lyrianda crossed the threshold of Tel'Mithrim Hall. Her eyes flowed across the many faces of the Elves of The Grey Company. Some who recognized her nodded or smiled. The others she hoped to soon come to know. Walking slowly across the room, she sat quietly by the hearth, knowing she had finally found a home.

Over the weeks that she wandered in and out of Tel'Mithrim Hall, several greeted her warmly offering their hands in friendship. One she hoped would join her in lightening the spirits of the group with music. She smiled brightly when another offered to help her find a place to live. "Perhaps she knows a place to shop for new clothes as well," Lyria wondered. One dark starless evening, a hooded figure approached her. Recognizing him as the one who had touched her mind, Lyrianda rose and met his smile with hers. When he raised his hood once again and bowed to take his leave, her eyes followed him to the great doors.

"Nalynn and I are off to Longsaddle to follow a clue felt behind from last night's murder. Would you like to join us?" VonWildcat said.

"I would be honored." Mounted on horses, they along the forest path. An hour into the journey, Lyrianda felt sleep tug at her eyelids. Although she tried to keep them open, only a minute later her head rested on the back of her mare's neck. Her horse felt an unresistable urge to walk off the path, leaving Strongbow and Nalynn far behind. Lyrianda awakened when her horse dipped its head down to a strea to drink. She dismounted, thoroughly confused. To get her bearings, she glanced up to look upon the sky, but the thick canopy of trees blocked the sun. Thinking that they still headed east to Longsaddle, she followed the path. Hours passed, but still no sight of them.

The woods seemed unusually quiet for this time of year, the familiar sounds of the creatures noticeably absent. The silence unnerved her, yet she continued along the winding trail, pulling her cloak more tightly around her. Determined to reach Longsaddle by sunset, she did not stop to make camp.

Even as the sun broke the canopy, the tree limbs looming above enshrouded the woods in dark shadows, and a cold fear clutched her soul. "What was that?" she thought as a fleeting scream broke the silence. Seeing and hearing nothing more, she continued on through the thick brush, thinking her imagination played tricks on her. A few feet ahead, she rounded a large tree, and a silent scream escaped her lips.

The creatures formed from the very shadows on the walls circled and taunted the two Elves. Dinalqua held a Continual Light spell above them so they could see the attackers. The Shadows did not make a move to kill them.

"We need to get out of here." Dina said.

"Aye, I totally agree with you, Dina," Randow said. "How do you propose that we leave? Through these creatures? I have been unable to harm them except with my limited magic abilities. We do not stand a chance against them."

"We cannot just stay here and get slaughtered. Something is holding them back from attacking us directly." Dinalqua said as she whirled, keeping the shadows in view at all times.

The shadows started to close the circle around the two Elves. As they advanced, a small blue cat flew into the room, raking it's claws across one of the shadows. Dina and Randow looked to the door and saw a Wind Elf standing there.

"Don't let the party start without me, mellonea," Sheilandri said. She crouched low and sprung, whipping out her sword in a devilish arc slicing across two shadows. Enraged, the shadows attacked. Dinalqua pulled out her sword and started to cast a spell. The familiar arc of magic missiles flew towards the shadow Sheilandri had hit. The shadow screamed and dissipated.

"It seems that magic is the only way of stopping these creatures. If you have a magic sword, use it!" Sheilandri called. She danced an exotic dance with two shadows. Dinalqua twirled her blade in front of her, keeping the shadow at bay. She did not notice one on the ceiling as it dropped onto her.

"Dina!" Randow yelled. Dinalqua dropped her sword to the floor and clutched at the inhuman being that surrounded her. The familiar blue cat leapt onto Dina and began raking his claws over the shadow. The shadow screamed and disappeared. "Dina," Randow asked, "are you okay?" Dinalqua sat on the ground shuddering.

"Cold. So very cold." Dinalqua mumbled. "I f-feel weak." Randow looked at her as she huddled on the ground. "Don't let them touch you!" he told Sheilandri. Sheilandri jumped over one shadow and slammed her blade through another.

"Randow, get her out of here! Take her back to Tel'Mithrim!" A shadow swung his claws at Sheilandri and nicked her. She almost lost her grip on her weapon.

"No, you need help!" Randow said. Randow summoned up a lightning bolt and let it fly. Several Shadows were caught in the bolt and disappeared.

"Get her to safety. I can handle these things!" Sheilandri said. She cast a magic missile into the shadow in front of her. "Go!"

Randow reluctantly sheathed his sword and picked up Dina in his arms. She clutched onto him for the warmth he gave. Randow hustled out the door of the inn and into the noon sun. He stepped into the forest and looked back at the inn. The building looked as if covered by shadows, all trying to get in. He turned to set Dina down and return to the inn when a terrible explosion buffeted the Elves. The windows and door of the inn blew outward, flames lapping at them.

Randow stared at the burning building in shock. "Sheilandri..."

In the thick woods surrounding the town of Red Larch stalked a predator and its prey. Laedrynn Lomear glided from one tree to the next, always invisible to the target. Despite his best efforts to conceal himself, the Wild Elf knew his target was toying with him. He had been led in wide curves, with no apparent destination. Laedrynn had too many questions, however, to let his quarry escape.

He did not know what his target was but only how it felt. The Elf had been walking through the woods around his home, admiring the forest's beauty. He had stooped by a small stream to drink when the woods became silent. Immediately he leapt up to the relative safety of the branches. He saw nothing but the shadows of the trees, but he felt a presence below him. The feeling of absolute evil flooded over him. He gripped the branch that supported him tightly, hoping the feeling would pass. The presence fled from the stream into the forest. The Wild Elf could not allow such a hideous being to run rampant through his home. He pursued it, tracking it closely, but staying far enough away so he was not overwhelmed by the trail of evil.

The being had continued slowly and aimlessly through the woods, tagging the Elf along seemingly at its leisure. Two hours passed without event, and the Elf began to tire. Suddenly, a shriek reached the Elf's sensitive ears. Laedrynn paused and determined it had come from the town. Looking back to his quarry, the Elf discovered the evil presence was moving rapidly towards Red Larch. Laedrynn abandoned all attempts at secrecy and dropped to the ground to sprint after the being.

It quickly reached the town and entered a building through a wall. The Elf stopped at the edge of trees. Breathless, he climbed into the branches to watch. A minute later he saw a female Gray Elf enter the building. Laedrynn heard magical explosions from the building. Two gray Elves fled and the building exploded, sending fragments of wood into the air. A broken timber flew into the Wild Elf's tree, snapping his branch. Laedrynn grabbed a small branch and cursed as it broke from his weight. The Elf closed his eyes and felt the ground slam into his back. He blinked in surprise, noticing that no bones were broken.

Remembering the situation, he returned to the branches and glided closer to the two Elves that had fled. He halted in the branches a slight distance away from the two. He noticed one was male, the other was female.

"You can't go back there, Randow. It's too dangerous, and she could not have survived!" said the female.

"Yes, she could have survived, Dina! I have to try to get her!" replied the other Elf.

Laedrynn glanced back at the burning building. Dark forms moved visibly against the bright flames. Randow drew a magical dagger and headed toward the inn. Laedrynn quickly dropped down from the trees and landed silently a few steps behind Randow.

"Amin would n'go there, toror'!" the Wild Elf called. Hearing an unfamiliar voice behind him, Randow spun around, his dagger held ready. He lowered it when he noticed the speaker.

"I have to go back into that building, Taur'Quessir. My friend is in there!"

"Lle cannot fight against such... 'ksh... Re cast that spell to save lle. Do n'waste the sacrifice of mellonlle." Laedrynn gestured to Dinalqua who lay on the ground shivering. "Lle have another mellon who needs you."

Randow stared at the Wild Elf for a moment and spoke.

"You speak wisely, Wild Elf. My name is Randow. What should I call you?"

"Amin am known as Laedrynn. Lye must get mellonlle to a healer. Where would lle suggest?"

After a few seconds, Randow replied. "With the Lifegiver missing, there are no healers in Westbridge. We must go to Triboar. If we push the horses hard enough, we can get there before noon tomorrow."

Laedrynn hesistated. Such a hard ride would seriously hurt if not kill the horses. Seeing the Wild Elf's irresolution, Randow interrupted.

"You do not have to come with us. I can take Dina to Triboar by myself."

"Amin will come with lle. Amin have spells that will ease the horses' suffering."

Randow nodded stoically. Laedrynn could see the Elf was fighting a battle: a battle of emotions. Such battles, the Wild Elf reflected, were never resolved positively.

With the wind at their backs, two Elves moved quickly through the woods of Floodblest. Brisid focused on his steps, carefully monitoring his environment. His footsteps fell silently on the soft earth, not betraying his presence.

"So, Brisid, where are we going?" Taelsin called.

"Neverwinter," came a slightly irritated response.

"Yeah, I know that! I mean, where in Neverwinter are we going?" Taelsin asked impatiently. Brisid thought he heard the other Elf's high pitched voice echo throughout the forest.

"Could you please keep your voice down," he whispered back. "We are going to obtain some information."

"From who?" Taelsin spoke quietly.

"I have a source." When it became apparent that the older Elf would not say more, Taelsin just uttered a simple, "Oh."

The sun was low in the sky as the Elves approached the city gates. People of all races bustled about the area. Although he knew none of them, Brisid found one characteristic common among the people: fear. The two Elves made their way slowly through the crowd. A hand grabbed Taelsin's arm and spun him around. He found himself staring at the face of a wizened old man.

"Save yourself, good man! The end of the world is coming!" The man raised a large paper sign he had been carrying and held it up for the Elf to see.

"Please excuse us, sir. We must be going," Brisid said, tugging Taelsin after him. The old man reiterated his prophecy at the Elves' backs.

"What is going on?" wondered Taelsin. Brisid responded with a shrug. Brisid led them to an inn. After speaking with the innkeeper, Brisid turned to Taelsin.

"Here is your key," he said, handing the young Elf a bronze key. "Meet outside an hour before dawn. Then we shall discover what is happening."

Continue to Chapter 4