Chapter 16

The four Elves rode quickly towards the guild hall near Floodblest. Knowing they had little time, they decided to take the most direct route. Their ride through the eastern part of Neverwinter woods was very uneventful and fast. Not so much as a troll, ogre or even orcs barred their way. It all seemed so strange.

Atop his galloping steed, Randow looked around at the group. Behind him rode Camris, who seemed to be watching the area around them with concern. Searching for the hidden, no doubt. Beside Camris was Laedrynn, the Wild Elf, who had lost his home to the storm. Despite his stoic mask, Laedrynn's sadness and anger showed through. Soon, they would all be in the same boat as Laedrynn. Randow glanced to his side, to his love, Dinalqua. He hadn't realized how much he loved her until she had almost died. Now he couldn't imagine life without her.

"Something is not right here." Camris remarked. "There are no sounds at all. Not even the chirps of birds are evident." The Elves continued to ride, the only sounds were the horses labored breathing and the clop of their feet as the Elves sped through the forest. They were near the center of the forest when Randow reared his horse back and stopped.

"Wait!" He yelled. The other Elves stopped and turned to Randow. "There is an Elf that lives near here. He is an old member of Tel'Mithrim. We must warn him and his family and bring them to the hall." With that, he turned his horse to the north and sped off, the other three Elves racing after him.

Randow rode right through the clearing and straight up to the door of the cottage. "Lywnis! Are you home?" He yelled. Ilustriel opened the door and looked at the four Elves.

"Randow, how nice to see you. What ever is the matter?"

Randow explained as quickly as he could and the Elves helped Ilustriel gather up what she could. Being that they only had four horses, Ilustriel rode with Camris, and Endril hopped on the horse with Dinalqua. With precious time to spare, they sped off towards the guild hall.

The Elves kept pushing their horses harder and harder. Randow looked back behind him at the ever darkening sky. The storm seemed to have already hit the outskirts of Longsaddle. It pained him to know that they could not help everyone, but who they could save would be most important. He could not fail this time.

Lightning streaked out of the sky and struck the ground in front of the speeding Elves. Randows horse reared back and threw him to the ground and then bolted. Randow got up and brushed himself off. He favored his right side.

"Are lle injured, mellon?" Laedrynn asked.

"I am okay, just a little bruised." Randow turned to where his horse had bolted to and looked. "No…." he said. His horse was surrounded by the shifting black forms of shadows. "Go! Get out of here!" Randow yelled as he pulled out his sword. "Get to the hall!"

Randow held up his sword at the ready stance and advanced on the shadows. Arrows flew past him and thunked through a dark mass on the horse and ended the horse's life mercifully.

"We are not leaving you." Laedrynn said. After a slight scowl, Randow leapt onto Laedrynn's horse and they sped off, putting distance between them and the shadows.

The noise of the storm was deafening. Graywolf and Coriadae stood together on top of Berun Hill. Behind them, Ardanac Harpell and the other Harpell mages were herding the populations of Triboar and Longsaddle through shimmering blue portals. The Longriders were trying desperately to keep the people in orderly lines. Worry creased Ardanac's forehead as he constantly counted the number of people left on the hill. Occasionally he glanced over his shoulder to take in the progress of the destruction.

"It's reached the edge of the Dessarin valley already," Graywolf said quietly. He slipped an arm around Cori's waist and pulled her closer. "I doubt they can get everyone away." He shook his head sadly.

Cori leaned against him wearily. She looked up at him, her emerald eyes hopeful. "Did he get the message to Amlaruil?"

"Yes." Graywolf nodded his head absently, his eyes staring out at the destruction bearing down on them. He sighed heavily and pulled his thoughts back to the task now at hand. "We must go to Evereska. They are evacuating most of the Elves there to Evermeet. We can make the trip across with them." He turned to his wife, searching her face with his eyes. "It's time we were off. The Harpells will do what they can here." He stepped away from her and held out his hand, smiling. "Shall we go, melamin?"

Coriadae returned the smile warmly. "Of course. Lead on, Kalloamin." She took his hand and they moved through the crowds of refugees, working their way down the hill into the woods below. When they reached the bottom of the hill they set off through the trees to the east. The woods protected their ears from the worst of the noise, but they could still hear the storm. After a short walk, Gray found the tree they had been searching for. He grasped Cori's hand tightly and walked into the tree, pulling her along behind him. The bark of the tree shimmered and bent for a moment, then the Elves were gone.

Queen Amlaruil of Evermeet found them in the garden. She glided smoothly towards them, her long, white dress billowing in the wind. "Mae govannen, melloneamin." She smiled warmly. Graywolf and Coriadae bowed to her. She swept her hand through the air, indicating a stone bench by the side of a hedge. "Please, sit, rest. It has been a hard day for you both, I'm sure."

The couple dropped wearily to the bench, the Queen slipping onto another that faced them across the path. Graywolf looked at the Queen, a sadness deep in his eyes. "I suppose it was bound to happen, wasn't it? Do the Spellsingers think they can protect Evermeet?"

"Yes. They believe the destruction can be limited to the mainland. But, in case they are wrong, we are making plans to depart. The storm is truly wreaking havoc with the human kingdoms of the North. Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise." She paused a moment, looking at them with caring eyes. "Now, you have a choice to make..."

"No. My choice is made. I came here only to return the Piosenta." Graywolf reached up and began to slide his leather headband off.

Amlaruil gently reached out and touched his wrist, stopping him. She smiled. "No, you are still it's keeper. You recovered it the first time, and the second, and the third. I told you before, you should consider that an omen. I think it must like you. Keep it." She quickly put a finger to his lips to stifle the protest she saw brewing. "That, Thranduil, is an order. Besides, Ornosta would want you to."

He bowed his head, and she gently slipped the leather band back onto him. "You know this might be lost yet again. The Company plans to make a stand at the Hall. We won't be able to hold for long. I don't know what will happen..."

"Thranduil..." The Queen's tone was hard, cutting off his protest. She glanced over at his wife, a wry smile forming on her lips. "Coriadae, make him be quiet." Coriadae smiled happily, threw both arms around his neck, and kissed him long and passionately. The Queen coughed politely after a time. "That was effective enough, dear one."

Sheepishly Coriadae pulled away. "That always works." She grinned at them both, her head tilted slightly down so she had to look up at them through long eyelashes. She held the innocent look for just a moment then winked knowingly. They all laughed, a merry sound in an otherwise dreary day.

The Queen rose from the bench, her smile fading slightly. "Take what supplies you need before making the trip back to Evereska. I'm afraid I have much to do, yet, this day."

The couple got up and bowed to Amlaruil, thanking her. The Queen took them each by the hand, wishing them well. They turned to leave the garden, but Graywolf saw something in the Queen's face and stopped. Coriadae hadn't noticed and was already heading down the path. Amlaruil was staring into Coriadae's back with unfocused eyes. Graywolf waited until Coriadae was far enough away to not hear them, then spoke softly to Amlaruil. "He will come back to you, Arwenamin. He may be here already."

The Queen smiled sadly; a tear trickled down her cheek. "Does she know?" Her eyes were following Coriadae as she walked down the path.

"No, I don't think she does."

"You are a very lucky Elf."

"I don't think you would have said that six hundred years ago. But yes, I am now a very lucky Elf. But I waited a long time..." His voice trailed off and his eyes had a far away look in them.

Amlaruil wiped the tear from her face, regaining her composure. "It may be some time before we meet again. Try and stay out of trouble."

Graywolf smiled. "I always have. Tried, that is." He reached out and took her hand, squeezing it to comfort her. "Sweet water and light laughter."

She squeezed his hand back. "Do not get yourself so lost the Spellsingers can't find you. Now go, be well." She turned away and went back to sit on the stone bench.

Graywolf looked at her a moment longer. He whispered lightly, "Patience, Arwenamin. Elves are nothing if not patient." Then he turned and hurried after his wife.

"That much is certain." Amlaruil looked down at the ground in front of her, tears coming freely now.

Before he slipped into his own reverie, Strongbow took some time and spent the last of his healing magic to mend Tael's leg fully while he slept. Afterwards, he mulled over in his mind what Camris had told them about his experiences in the gem maze trap. From what he had said, the trap was obviously meant for Nalynn; the clues all pointed to that. But Camris had not mentioned seeing her anywhere. He frowned at this. He decided to try a false hope, and even though he thought it may be for naught, he tried to locate Nal's mental signature... but to no avail. Even widening the search pattern proved to be a waste of time. He could only come to one conclusion: the Drow had taken her by some other means. How and where? It was hard to say. Why? One answer came to him before any others: Ebonstarr! Her emnity with Riklaun and Nalynn was well-known to all in Tel'Mithrim, but using others to do her work wasn't like her. Perhaps something had happened to force her to change her usual methods. Another thought occurred to him. The Drow had seemingly just disappeared in the time it took him to get back into the inn after being blown out of the window, and Lyri's mention of the washer woman had the same traits. Teleportation. So tracking them wasn't an option. He couldn't help feeling he was overlooking something, but what, he couldn't figure. Fatigue had crept upon him and he yawned, so he put the thought away for another time and joined his fellow Elves in reverie.

The gryphons arrived just a few hours after midnight and were well rested, as the early dawn slipped in unnoticed to all but a few. Strongbow attached the last of the magical harnesses that enabled communication between mount and rider. The gryphons had born them in their claws on the flight there. In addition, a slight breeze had picked up, bearing the scent of dust, and to Strongbow's innate senses, a faint tinge of decay and death. He looked at the marvelous silver-winged creatures standing there. They too seemed restless. He knew they had to leave, and soon. There was no more time to waste.

He went to Rayella, gazing at her, resting peacefully. Smiling, he caressed her cheek then kissed her lightly on the forehead. "Melamin," he whispered urgently, "It's time to go. Help me wake the others, we must prepare quickly."

Rayella opened her eyes and smiled up at him. "Mmmm, quel amrun melar. Very well." She sat up yawning and stretched. "Oooh, it's windy today...", she commented.

"Uma. It's the storm lisseamin. It's nearly here," Strongbow replied and turned to wake Taelsin. Rayella rose and went to Lyrianda, waking her gently, meanwhile, Tael was exclaiming about some miracle that had happened to his leg overnight. Strongbow smiled inwardly. "Truly Tael, Eru's blessings are indeed a miracle."

They ate a quick meal from their hastily gathered belongings and readied themselves for the flight. Strongbow gave a quick tutorial of the harness' properties and assured Taelsin and Lyrianda the gryphons would bear them with no problems; he had worked with them for over a year. This being done, they all mounted up and took to the skies.

Rising above the treetops, the first thing that came into view was the huge, dark stormcloud, dominating the horizon as far as the eye could see -- the top a halo of lightning, and the bottom an ever-moving blur of destruction. Nothing could have prepared them for the horribly unnerving sight that filled their vision. Even the fragments of the frightening cloud Strongbow had seen in his mind was dwarfed compared to this. Strongbow circled his gryphon around his companions, yelling instructions, "We will try to skirt this monstrosity as close as possible, but we may have to go over the top. Have your most powerful protection spells ready. Stay close together. I'll lead!"

Strongbow gave a silent command to Elwing who shrieked a reply, and the gryphons assumed a diamond formation as the four Elf-bearing beasts flew swiftly, and unerringly, straight towards the storm.

The immense, dark, airborne maelstrom loomed in front of the four gryphon-riding Elves, an impenetrable wall of fury. The great winds from the storm were ripping at them threateningly, even from a mile away as they were. The nearer they approached, the more obvious it became that they could not get much closer without being drawn into the violent atmospheric entity.

Strongbow veered off, paralleling the front of the storm. He patted Elwing's neck soothingly, "Well my stalwart friend, what do you think? How long to go around this?"

The mighty gryphon tossed his head, it's thoughts returning to Strongbow through the magical harness, "A sun's turning or more. It moves toward us. If we fly along front, we lose ground. It's too large."

Strongbow thought about this for a moment. "Hmmm, I know it's extremely wide, but not that tall. I wonder how deep it is." He looked back at the others. Lyrianda was hunched over, hugging the neck of her mount, her face hidden, Tael was staring in awe at the dark cloud, seemingly oblivious too any danger, and Rayella's face was one of a calm serenity, being used to flight as she was. But as he gazed back, her eyes caught his, indicating Lyri, signalling some concern. He nodded to Rayella and spoke to her with mind-speech, "Melamin, I think we have no choice in the matter. We have to go over the top of the storm. Elwing has told me it will take a day at least to go around it, if not more. I'll try to help Lyri, melar. I will talk to her and place a fear-block in her mind. And Ray? Amin mela lle, cormlina, whatever happens, amin mela lle."

Strongbow closed his eyes and concentrated on Lyrianda's now-familiar thought patterns, her mind sending back the same fear he had felt when he had first taken flight upon Elwing. "Lyri, it is going to be fine arwenamin. Hear me. I am going to help you, but you must try to relax. And let go your fear..." There was a slight easing of tension as she acknowledged his presence, and the moment he felt it lessen, he placed the block in her mind. He opened his eyes and looked back, she had risen slightly and smiled weakly at him, "Know my dear, this is only a temporary respite, only time and practice can truly cure you of your fear of flying. If it helps, I felt the same way at first." He returned her smile, then gazed at the top of the cloud that hovered all too closely.

The gryphons gained altitude, and strangely, the winds seemed to lessen the higher they climbed. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning streaked in front of the group, causing the group to scatter momentarily. Strongbow grimaced.

"No need for the gales with that up here," he grumbled. He urged Elwing to greater height, they were over the top holocaustic thunderhead now. The air was heavy with the smell of ozone from the lightning storm raging below. Occasional bolts shot skyward as they made their way across, still seeing no sign of an end to the evil tempest. Abruptly, and without warning, two major streaks shot through their formation. Strongbow immediately looked back and gasped, seeing just two riders behind him. His eyes widened, and his heart stopped. Lyrianda was gone! He looked down quickly, his steel-grey eyes searching the lower sky, and just at that moment, saw a gryphon and it's rider spiralling earthward, only to disappear into the dark surface of the roiling mass of clouds and lightning below.


Continue to Chapter 17