Coriadae's giggles blended into the roar of the small waterfall. She was standing on a ledge letting the icy water pour over her body. She slowly raised her arms over her head, thoroughly enjoying the little rivers of water that were winding their way along her pale skin.
It was a beautiful day. The faded blue sky was dotted with small snow-white clouds. Dozens of songbirds whistled and chirped happily, flitting back and forth between the branches of the trees that surrounded the little pool. Small gray squirrels chattered crossly at each other as they dove down from the branches to grab nuts from the forest floor and run back up the trunks to store their little brown treasures in their treetop nests.
Amazingly, none of the creatures in the little glade heard him approaching. He came from upwind, seemingly floating over ground that was cluttered with twigs and nuts. With amazing speed he closed in on the pool slipping quietly through the underbrush. He passed like a shadow through the forest, leaving no traces behind him.
He paused at the edge of the glade, peering out through the leaves at the figure in the pool. Oblivious of the shadowy figure that was hovering at the edge of the clearing Coriadae stepped out from under the waterfall. She pushed a long strand of black hair back out of her eyes and stood in the shallow spot of the pool where the water was only up to her ankles. She bent down to the water and scooped handfuls of it up to rinse herself off. When she was finished, she straightened back up and arched her back to stretch cramped muscles.
Without warning the shadowy figure let out a deep rumbling growl and rushed from the tree line towards the pool. Coriadae spun around quickly, her emerald green eyes suddenly wide. She had barely enough time to brace for impact before they fell over backwards into the cold water. The glade was momentarily filled with spray from the thrashing about of limbs.
Coriadae cried out, "Do that to me again and I'll bite your pointy little ears off!"
Graywolf struggled back out of the pool soaked to the bone and laughed. He plopped down with a wet smack into a moss covered stone and looked back in the pool at his wife. She was trying very hard to look angry, but gave up when it was obvious it was not going to work. "Quel andune, melamin. Naa lle tela?" he asked her.
"I was, but now you've got me all muddy again, silly!" She turned, playfully wiggling, and walked back towards the waterfall to rinse off again.
Graywolf leaned back and enjoyed his view. "I really didn't mean ta scare ya. Really," he said sheepishly. "I just couldn't resist." He watched happily as his wife rinsed off and waded over to stretch out next to him. They lay in the soft moss staring up at the sky talking quietly for a time.
Graywolf sat up slowly, a frown forming on his face. Coriadae stopped in mid-sentence and looked at him questioningly. "What's wrong...?" she started but stopped abruptly when Graywolf raised his hand towards her.
"Shhhh... Do you hear that?" he whispered as he glanced around the clearing. His frown deepened. "The birds stopped singing. I really hate to say this, but it's too quiet."
"Yes," she agreed, "and the air feels strange. Almost like a storm is blowing up. But there don't seem to be any clouds on the horizon." They both stood and peered up at the sky. Graywolf spun around slowly to take in the whole clearing. There wasn't an animal in sight where moments before the woods had been teeming with life.
"Cori, that's because you aren't looking in the right direction." His frown deepened even further as he stared dumfounded at the menacing black clouds in the sky that were moving the wrong way.
"What are you talk...," Cori was saying as she turned around to look where he was staring. "Yee! Mani naa tanya?" Her big green eyes showed a hint of fear in them.
"I don't know. Get dressed, we definitely don't want to be outside when that gets here!"
Coriadae didn't need any encouragement. She was already throwing her clothes back on and together they took off through the woods back towards the guild hall as the winds began to whip at the treetops.
Aerrellun had watched as the Elf named Coriadae left her home, suspended in the trees. Several minutes later, her husband had left to follow his wife. When the drow was sure the Elf was far, he crept to the base of the giant tree. He checked the area again and levitated up to the Elven building. A detect spell revealed wards lacing the windows and doors--all entrances to the house. Surely they were designed to notify the owner and seriously wound an intruder. However, none guarded the walls and interior--a detail often dismissed by spellcasters as trivial.
Aerrellun floated to the back of the house. He peered into a room and noted where a piece of furniture lay. He then floated to the side and faced a wall. It was wooden--strong enough to keep out the elements, but easy to remove. He reached into his cloak and pulled out a glass vial--this one a light yellow, unlike the explosive potion he had left at the information trader's headquarters. Carefully he unstoppered the container and moved closer to the wall. Tipping the vial, a drop of the liquid poured out to drip down the wooden wall. Aerrellun quickly floated back a few feet and watched as the wood that had been touched by the potion blackened and crumbled. When the reaction had finished, Aerrellun let another drop roll down the wall, this time a couple feet from the first. Now two black streaks marred the surface. The drow took a small glass rod out of his pocket and dipped an end into the liquid. He traced two lines between the first lines on the wall, forming a rectangle. With encouragement from his dagger blade, the wooden panel popped from the wall and disappeared into the drow's pack.
A dresser in the Draugenmith residence creaked and groaned away from the wall. Aerrellun softly padded through the couple's bedroom. He glanced around and found what he sought: Coriadae's jewelry box. With gloved hands he dug through the expensive Elven jewelry, searching. Suddenly he pulled out a necklace. On the end hung a large black stone. He held it up to the light and stared at it, but finally scowled and tossed it back into the box. After a few more minutes of searching, he replaced everything as he had found it, taking nothing with him. The dresser groaned back to the wall, once again concealing the drow's custom entrance.
"The local matrons seem to wish my honor by sending me followers. If they only knew." Ebonstarr turned and headed back to the makeshift throne room.
She entered the room and saw the "butcher" cleaning up the mess he made of the drow. He looked up and saw Ebonstarr. "Mistress Ebon," he said, "I hope you found my 'handy work' pleasing?"
"Aye, Brendar." She told him, "That usstan have. But now I must go meet a friend of mine. I've been told that he has been waiting for me." She turned to walk away when Brendar stopped her.
"Mistress Ebon, does your friend know that you changed? Would it be wise not to show him your true self?" Brendar asked her.
She turned on Brendar and scowled at him. Her expression faded quickly and became more pleasant. "No, uk dost naut know. And he should not know until the time is right." She quickly cast an illusionary spell of polymorph to change her drider form back into her original drow form.
"Beautiful isn't it?" She asked as she ran her hands down her dress to smooth it.
"Yes, Mistress Ebon," Brendar said.
"If only I could hold the shape for longer than a few hours. It is very taxing on me to concentrate on the shape." she said. She turned and strode away.
Ebonstarr headed down the empty corridor leading towards Triboar. Her friend would still be sitting patiently for her to arrive. This was a good day for her. First she would have Riklaun and second, Nalynn. Ebonstarr cautiously walked down the stairs leading to the cell Riklaun was in.
"Oh, Riklaun, dear, I have finally come for you," she called. Her eyes glanced over the room and saw the cell door open. "What?" She whirled and looked around the room. She saw crumbs on the table and found nothing else. Seething she started to tear the place apart. "Where is he?" she ranted. She heard a faint scream come from near the beholders' room.
"Ah... There you are. The holders must still be home and very hungry." Ebonstarr turned and hurried down the corridor. She neared the room and heard a loud clang and jumped back a step. A scimitar slid on the floor, stopping just a few feet from her. She looked up from the weapon and strode into the room. She saw Riklaun laying on the floor in front of a huge, black creature.
Brisid and Taelsin stared at the enlarging storm.
"You just know that Riklaun is in the middle of it," Brisid remarked. Before Taelsin had muttered a response, his companion was riding down the forest path at a full gallop. Saying a final prayer to Correllon, Taelsin followed after the already distant Elf.
Less than an hour later, the Elves crossed through the gates of Triboar. Through the strangely empty streets, a stench greeted their noses. Brisid slowed his mount, concerned about what the terrible smell might be. Rounding a corner near the town square, the source of the odor became aparent. Taelsin stumbled off his horse and staggered into an alley, losing what little he had eaten to a garbage heap. Brisid turned away, hoping to block out what he had seen but knowing it was far too late.
The wind increased slightly as the storm approached. Edan's rotting body swung from its rope in the breeze.
Having no time to bury the Elf's body, the Elves lay the corpse in a clearing and, speaking a prayer for Edan, cast a fireball onto the body, incinerating it. As they moved back towards the town, the ground began to shake. Older buildings cracked and crumbled under the strain.
"That is no storm," shouted Taelsin, staring at the dark clouds above them. "Storms do not shake the earth like this."
"We must find out what happened to Riklaun!" yelled Brisid. "He would not have let Edan hang like that if he could have done anything about it."
"What if he's... dead?" ventured Taelsin, hesitatingly.
His companion brushed the question away quickly. "Nay, if he were dead, he would have been beside Edan." The Elf hoped he sounded more confident than he felt.
Suddenly, a noise grew from the storm.
"Hail," spoke Taelsin, now cupping his hands against Brisid's ear to make himself heard. The latter looked to the storm. Little more than a mile away, small stones were falling from the clouds. But something was wrong. Brisid squinted at the scene, rubbing his eyes when disbelief filled his thoughts.
"It's raining up," responded Brisid.
"What?" screamed Taelsin. "It doesn't rain up!"
"It's not rain," Brisid corrected himself. "Stones."
After a moment, Taelsin believed his friend. In the distance, rocks, trees and earth were being propelled miles from the ground into the sky. Dust formed a thick wall in front of the line of destruction. Already, the Elves throats were becoming sore from the polluted air.
"We have maybe five minutes before that... that... whatever it is hits Triboar," shouted Brisid, coughing in the dust.
"Then maybe we should follow the trail of blood!" Taelsin waved to an unmistakable streak of red staining the cobblestones. Brisid could almost have smiled if their situation was not so dire. The two Elves led their horses down the red trail, holding cloths over their mouths so they could breathe. The blood stains disappeared into a poorly-concealed trap door on the ground. Tethering their horses, they hefted open the doors exposing stairs leading into the earth. The trail of blood was once again apparent. After a moment's hesitation, the two ran down the stairs, mindful that being underground was one of the worst places they could be.
"No, no," berated Ebonstarr, still disguised as a drow. "Do not hurt my prize."
A deep growl escaped the giant shadow, but it did not attack the prone Elf. As if echoing the immortal growl, the underground walls trembled. Small stones fell onto the three.
"Quickly, pick him up and follow me. And do not harm him," commanded Ebonstarr.
Brisid rounded a corner and froze in shock. Taelsin bumped into his back, but Brisid ignored him. A figure was floating down the cave, surrounded by a fog of black.
"Riklaun," Brisid called, running down the corridor. The body stopped, hovering in the shadow. A pair of eyes locked onto the Elf's. Brisid looked into the depths of darkness and saw only pure evil. He tried tearing his gaze away, but he was helpless. The ground heaved, throwing him to the ground and freeing him from the shadow's stare. When Brisid glanced up again, a wall of rubble had sealed the corridor to Riklaun.
"We have to get out of here," yelled Taelsin. "We can't do anything for Riklan now!" Taelsin tugged at Brisid's arm, and soon the Elves were stumbling back to the entrance.
Brisid followed Taelsin through the underground caverns, trying to stay balanced as the ground shook violently. Suddenly the stone floor threw the Elf into a wall, and pain burst through the Elf's head. He felt himself falling and rolling and tumbling, and then darkness.
Taelsin stumbled out of the trap door just as fine pebbles began raining from the sky. He saw, slightly over a thousand feet away, the ground was being rended as if a giant, invisible hand was digging into the earth. A cloud of dust rushed at his back, making him cough. He turned around to help Brisid but saw only the stones of a collapsed entrance. The Elf was nowhere to be seen.
Only the fearful nickers of his horse brought him out of his horror. Blindly, he untethered both steeds, mounted and rode away from the storm.
Taelsin was starting to panic, for to him the storm seemed to be gaining on him, and the horses were begining to be hard to control. Taelsin was heading to Longsaddle--where he thought that was where Strongbow was heading. The young Elf needed to tell everyone of the storm, Riklauns capture and the death of Edan and organize a rescue party for Brisid.
"I'narr en gothrim glinuva nuin I'anor" Taelsin said outloud to himself hoping to ease the fear that had risen in his heart. Taelsin rode the horses hard, not letting up as one should to conserve the horses' energies. Time was short, however, and he needed to find Strongbow quickly. Then his horse stumbled and fell, throwing Taelsin heavily to ground. Taelsin rolled as he hit the ground and regained his footing in seconds. Unfortunately, his horse was still down, struggling to get to its feet. Taelsin saw that the creature wouldn't be able to for its left front leg was broken. Taelsin glanced around for the other horse, but there was no sign of it. He pulled a blanket out of his saddlebags and covered he panicking horse's eyes to help it relax then pulled out his longsword and placed it over the horses heart. After a short prayer to Correllon, the sword pushed through the horse's heart, ending its pain and suffering.
Taelsin removed his saddlebags from the now still horse, glanced around and headed in a jog toward Longsaddle, hoping he would make it in time to be of any help for Riklaun and Brisid.
Continue to Chapter 11