Chapter 12

The path was dark and movement was slow, as if walking through a tunnel. As Nalynn moved forward, shadows closed in behind her sealing off any possibility of retreat. It seemed a bit brighter just up ahead. Her feet felt leaden, each step made her legs ache with the effort. As she reached the light source, an image appeared--Tarion! She watched in horror as the winsome, smiling Elf turned to blood and bones before her eyes. Turning away, she headed back into the gloomy passage.

She reached another lighted alcove--Elves by the score--mutilated and battered beyond all recognition! Tears welled in her eyes. Further she went along this path of destruction. A figure loomed ahead. As she neared it, she gazed upon the murdered Edan--hung like meat in a slaughterhourse. Her mind screamed in disgust and hopeless rage.

Corellon! Why is this happening? What is this madness?

Detecting movement up ahead, she forged onward, soon trailing a drider and a dark figure carrying a large bundle. As she neared them, she focussed on the bundle--Riklaun, limp and lifeless.

"No," she whispered, "they'd not be carrying him if he were dead!"

She reached for her dagger, but found no sheath, no weapon for attack. The figures disappeared into the looming blackness.

Bravely, she trudged on. Suddenly, excessive brightness, like a thousand torches suddenly lit, surrounded her...

Warm breath and a gentle nuzzling of her cheek awoke her. She opened her eyes, greeted by the sight of the horse.

"Roland? Is it really you? Is Rayella here?"

The horse snorted softly in reply. She sat up and scanned her surroundings--such a barren and strange place. As she looked around, all she could see were metal poles--she was in some sort of enclosure. Beyond the poles loomed vague, indiscernable things. There were sounds, but they were peculiar--not like anything she'd ever heard before. She struggled to comprehend that which she could neither hear nor see clearly.

She recited a chant of looking inward, trying to center herself in this strange environment. As her mind calmed, she realized that what she heard was voices...three of them as near as she could tell--all of them unknown to her. She focused on the most distinctive of the three--it was a charming sound, sweet and melodic. As she opened her eyes to look, she saw a huge figure just beyond the poles. Struggling again to make sense of the image, she gazed upon a handsome Drow who spoke to two others. His language was laced with puns and cruel humor. His arm was extended--holding something out for the other two to see.

She followed the line of his arm, arching upward until she gazed directly above where she stood. The metal poles curved upwards, meeting at a single point. Terror filled her mind as realization dawned.

A cage! I'm in a cage!

Taelsin was finally in sight of the Longsaddle gates. He hoped there was still enough time to find Strongbow, tell him what happened in Triboar, and make it back there in time to rescue Riklaun and Brisid. As Taelsin approached the gates he saw that there were guards stopping those that wished to enter the town and questioning them. Taelsin stood with the others waiting to pass the gates. His patience was starting to wear thin when he noticed he was the target of the stares of people around him.

Taelsin knew he was dirty and sweaty from the long run. Only then he noticed his right hand was covered in dried blood. He followed the blood with his left hand up his arm, past his shoulder, and to where it began on the side of his head. His hair was matted and sticky with blood. Taelsin figured he must have struck his head when his horse went down and threw him to the ground. "What a sight I must be," he thought to himself.

When Taelsin was next in line to the guard he noticed the guard eyed him very closely. It was then Taelsin's turn. The guard stared at Taelsin quietly as if he had forgotten how to speak. The Elf, in turn, stood still looking up into the big guard's eyes, waiting. Finally the guard cleared his throat and spoke in a loud, pompous voice.

"What do you want in our fine city, you disgusting little Elf?" With his patience already thin Taelsin resisted the strong urge to tell to tell the ugly guard a thing or two. With a barely controlled voice, the Elf began to tell the guard of what had happened to Triboar--how it was raining up, the ground was bucking and he needed to find his friend Strongbow quickly.

The guard cut Taelsin off. "Sure, it is right. If that's what you believe then fine, but you won't be doing it in my city. Be off with ya. Get!" Taelsin looked at the importunate guard and replied, "It is true what I say, and you had better let me pass, or I will report you to your supervisor."

The guard was not impressed. Undoubtedly, he was slightly angry about being bothered by a nutty Elf.

"Fine, Elf, " the guard muttered, turned and yelled at another guard standing near. The second guard came over and the two humans spoke to one and another for a few moments. The second guard then spoke to Taelsin.

" I am Anton, Captain of this gate. Why do you insist on bothering my guard with a fairytale?" Taelsin repeated the tale, but the gate captain was as unimpressed as the first guard had been.

"Enough, pest. Be off, or I will have you arrested and thrown behind bars." Taelsin had had enough of the two and yelled back at the gate captain.

"Listen here, you sad excuse for a captain, yo... "

The captain cut the Elf off and commanded his guard. "Arrest this pest and toss him in the dungeon." The bug ugly guard reached for Taelsin.

The Elf ducked away, scrambled past the two guards and started to sprint away. He got fifty paces away when two more guards walked around the corner a distance in front of him. The gate captain saw the two other guards and yelled for them to stop the fleeing Elf.

The four guards began to spread out, trying to block any escape. Taelsin was trapped, and he knew it. The guards moved slowly in on the pesky Elf, ready to leap on him if he tried to run past them. But Taelsin had another idea for escape. Reaching into the pouch that hung from his side, he felt around for the one with the spider web and tree gum in it. Taelsin squeezed it in his left hand and started to whisper the words of the arcane. He tried not to be to obvious about what he was doing untill it would be too late for the guards to react. Just as Taelsin started the final hand motions, Anton realized what the Elf doing.

"Get the Elf, lads! He is about to cast a spell on us!" The four guards started to run at Taelsin, but the Elf had already finished. The spell had started its work.

At first Taelsin thought he had done something wrong because the guards were still running at him. Suddenly, Taelsin felt his body tingle as the spell's magic drew the forces of the gods and nature into his body, mixing with his blood and soul. When Taelsin felt the tingling reach its peak, he pointed at the guards one after another and said "N'Tess gothamin." The magic sprang like a leopard at each of the guards. One by one the guards froze in their tracks until all were still.

Taelsin didn't waste any time admiring his work. He dashed off into the alleys and headed for the inn where he hoped to find Strongbow, Nalynn and Tizer. Along the way, he stopped at a horse trough and rinsed off as much of the blood and dirt as he could, hoping to be not as noticeable in the crowds. Continuing on his way, the Elf kept in mind that the spell was only a delay--the guards would soon be free and start searching for him.

Lyrianda rolled to her feet to parry the womans slash. The woman threw a chair at her. The Elf jumped but caught her left foot and crashed to the ground. She rolled to her feet, but the woman had gone. Lyrianda ran to the door, quickly peeked out the door, then stepped out into the hall. It was empty. The woman couldn't have gone very far, so the only other place she coud have gone was through the opposite door. She flattened herself against the wall next to the door and gingerly opened it. Nothing happened and she rushed through. Screams erupted around her as she found herself in the middle of one of the larger common rooms filled with refugees. Her quarry wasn't here, and there was only one other way out: an open doorway cut crudely into the wall. She poked her head through and saw that it led to a landing for an outside stairway leading to the roof. She scampered up quickly. As she emerged onto the roof, she saw that the refugees had strung up laundry lines to dry their clothing. She was in a maze of white sheets, clothing and towels. Carefully, she poked her sword through the first line, separated a towel and eased through. She glanced up and down the clear space between lines, but no one was there. Then a longsword blade thrust through a sheet in front of her, she ducked just in time and slashed through the sheet at the figure behind the blade, but hit nothing. She rolled under the sheet, but no one was there. They played a game of cat and mouse amidst the drying laundry--a furious stab at a shadow, a parry, then a quick maneuver to hide again. Lyrianda took a sheet to parry with the left hand. Finally at the far end of the roof, they engaged in a duel at the edge of the roof. After a furious engagement, Lyrianda managed to entangle the woman's sword with the sheet and disarm her.

Lyrianda said tensely; "Now, I have some questions for you, 'washerwoman,' and you're going to tell me..."

The woman laughed, unconcerned. "Too late, pitiful Elf, or haven't you noticed your doom bearing down on you?" She glanced off to the south. Lyrianda threw a wary glance in that direction, which became a horrified stare as she saw an incredible thundercloud bearing down on Longsaddle. Even though it was still some forty miles distant, she could plainly see the unnatural lightning display in the top of the thunderhead, the debris being pulled up and flung away by the violent winds, and the total blackness at ground level. Lyrianda finally turned back towards the woman, only to see her step back off the edge of the roof and disappear. Lyri lunged to the edge and looked down, but there was no trace of her.

Dinalqua had been fighting the farmer for some time in the kitchen. Without her sword, she had improvised several weapons and ended up using a pot lid as a shield and a long handled spoon as a sword. The spilled soup made everything slippery, and they each had great difficulty landing their blows solidly. All of a sudden, in the middle of a sliding windmill attack, the farmer disappeared. She gaped for a moment, disbelieving, then collapsed and closed her eyes with relief. She looked up to see the biggest cook she had ever seen in her long life smacking a rolling pin into his hand while moving purposefully towards her.

"Aaah, I can explain..." said Dinalqua weakly.

Nalynn gaped at the sight of Strongbow's room, and her chest tightened with fear at the sight of Rayella's obviously petrified form. "Monster!" screamed Nalynn. "What have you done to Rayella?" She pulled at the deceptively frail looking bars again; they didn't budge. This whole morning had been frustrating. First her humiliating capture. Then realizing that she was well and truly helpless in here. She couldn't cast any spells, none of her enchanted devices were working, and the cage was utterly impervious to any physical force either she or the horse could generate. How could this thing dampen all magic and keep her five inches tall both?

"Why, I simply stopped her from bleeding to death. Any gentleman would do the same." Dralennal said merrily, tapping the now chipped Rayella with his cane. "She's just feeling a little rocky at the moment." He said and laughed. K'ellz shifted slightly, about to try to take the cage away from Dral, but Rimellyn shook his head again in warning, and he desisted.

"Very wise of you Master K'ellz," Dralennal said pleasantly, not even looking back as he poked his finger through the bars. Nalynn moved away from him as the stallion reared and struck at him, striking sparks from the bars as he jerked the finger away.

K'ellz's eyes narrowed. "The bruises on your face bear a pattern remarkably like the bark of the Highforest Oak, Master Dralennal." He drawled out insultingly. Dralennal's hand froze for a moment. Nalynn got a good look at something homicidal as it flitted over Dralennal's face. He straightened up and turned around to stare K'ellz right in the eye. Rimellyn rubbed at his own forehead, getting a headache at his partner's lets-poke-the-dragon-while-its-sleeping impulse.

"I would have to say that the horse scraped you off under a treebranch, after allowing you to think you had broken it to your riding it." K'ellz continued, pushing it right to the breaking point. "You were outthought by a horse." There was a deadly dangerous moment as the two locked gazes--K'ellz's sword utterly still, Dralennal's cane twirling lazily. Then Dralennal burst out laughing.

"Oh, well done, Master K'ellz!" Dral said clapping. "Very well played! I simply must introduce you at court one of these days. The entertainment alone would amply repay me for your insolence."

"I think the mistress would be very interested in meeting to ... discuss your proposal. Don't you, Master K'ellz?" Rimellyn asked pointedly.

"Mistress?" thought Nalynn, then she realized who that must mean. She shrank back against the stallion, white faced and clutching at her necklace. The stallion nuzzeled at her.

K'ellz whipped his sword through the air, causing a momentary flinch from the others, but he only sheathed his sword in a single smooth motion. "I think we have wasted enough time here, Master Rimellyn." K'ellz said.

"Until next time, my lady;" Dralennal said as he bowed and made the cage disappear back to where he had it stored. He then swept Rayella into his arms, dipped, and planted a solid kiss on her lips. "We will continue this later." He then dropped her on the ground. K'ellz pulled a pendant from his tunic, traced the rune engraved thereon, said, "Recall," and with a flash, the three disappeared.

Strongbow still stood, trying to concentrate as a nasty crowd formed. Many refugees saw in front of them the attacker that had caused them so much suffering, no one realizing the deception that had taken place. Also not realizing the deception, the Wild Elf, Laedrynn had seen Strongbow and drew his bow to his cheek. The signal had not been given; this must be the impostor. Clods of earth started to fly, the crowd surged forward, then suddenly Taelsin charged in on his horse, shouting something in one big run-on sentence. The crowd was thrown into disarray, and many fled, fearing the horseman was shouting orders to hidden troops. Laedrynn shot. Tael leaned forward to pull Strongbow into the saddle, but Laedrynn's arrow sank through his thigh, saddle and an inch into his horse. The horse reared up, screamed along with Tael, and started running flat out down the street.

Strongbow was startled out of his mental fog, someone had taken a shot at him! Almost without thinking he evoked a ball of fire and threw. Laedrynn, frustrated at the incredibly bad luck of the first shot, was setting up the second when he spotted the fireball coming his way. Fireballs were the perfect anti-sniper weapon: one didn't need to know exactly where the sniper was. Laedrynn did the only thing he could: he jumped. The fireball hit the top of the building and exploded, lighting the whole upper story on fire.

Strongbow pulled his sword out of the ground and was about to follow up on the sniper when he suddenly remembered: Rayella! Later he wouldn't even remember how he got back up to his room. All he could do was sink to his knees and hold her petrified body in his arms.

Continue to Chapter 13