DRUID — Part 2
The small dragon came in again, this time bearing welcome tea. The aroma filled the room, permeating it with a calming feeling of the earth. Senam and Ingan took a welcome break from talking and sipped deeply. Senam had never had Dragon Tea before, and for a moment gasped. The tea felt like fire. For a moment Senam panicked, afraid his throat would burn through. Then the feeling passed into his belly, and his whole body felt so warm and relaxed he almost dozed off. Breathing deeply, he replaced the tea and leaned back in his wicker chair. For a moment he waited, still enjoying the feeling of warmth that made his whole body tingle. Ingan was completely asleep.
With a sigh, Senam shook Ingan awake. Ingan’s eyes fluttered, and then he sat up straight, blushing profusely.
“It’s good tea!” Ingan said defensively, and then sat back in his wicker chair.
Kazung stared at Ingan with a resigned sigh. After a moment he turned to Senam and rumbled, “So, Continue To Tell Of Your Adventures. I Believe You Stopped Right After The Celebration Of Your Defeat Of The Vampire.”
Senam closed his eyes, thinking for a moment, and then resumed his story.
* * *
After the celebration Senam flopped down onto his bed, the taste of exotic fruits still on his tongue. The last of the bustling congratulators were shooed out by an old sprite, and as the door shut with a click, Senam’s forced smile turned into a despairing look of anguish. Not only had he lost Kamfeial, but the magnitude of what he was supposed to do was incredible. Ashan was a wide, and, in some parts, completely unexplored world, full of danger and wild beasts. The Book Of Life could be anywhere, and he had no idea where too look.
Senam woke the next morning in the same position he had fallen to sleep in, fully clothed, and with his worries in no way eliminated. To add to the annoyance, he had a headache, which he felt must have had something to do with the party last night. He couldn’t remember half of it. No, that was too generous. He couldn’t remember any of it at all. Senam gave a grunt of annoyance, and immediately regretted it as a stab of pain shot through his head. Gritting his teeth, Senam rose, (regretting that too) and stumbled over to the bowl of water by the window. It was supposed to be ceremonial, to poor out of the window at high noon, as prayer for rain, but... to blazes with tradition.
The cold water was rather helpful, he could now tell that there was only one window, but the ache in his head was particularly persistent. Well, a little peace and quiet, that should help things. As if on cue of him thinking this, a burst of song rang out from bellow.
All hail the forest warriors,
The Archers and Swordsmen,
The Druids and the Shield bearers
Whose job is to defend.
The enemy is vanquished,
The Shadows have withdrawn,
So let us thank the goddess,
Queen of the golden dawn.
Sing of our great victory,
Of how the undead ran,
For never will any foe
“They’re too happy,” Senam said out loud, he found it easier than thinking. “Don’t they know their king is dead?” Senam realized that he remembered that, and suddenly wished he had had more to drink.
“They all know...” a voice started, and the proximity of the voice was too much for Senam. He reeled, holding his head. The world swam for a moment, and then the pinkish blob with brown around it condensed into the shape of Ingan. Ingan was holding his staff, and looking remarkably smug at Senam’s less-than-dignified expression. For a moment, Senam tried to glare, found it hurt, and just looked at Ingan, who was murmuring the words of an incantation. There was a flash, and a bang, and Senam’s head cleared.
“They all know that King Elnair is only temporarily dead, and that Senam “Shadowsbane” is going to bring him back. They don’t seem to realize how much chaos is going to ensue when they need leadership.”
“What, we don’t have someone standing in for a king?” Senam said, he had thought that was the arrangement.
“They see it as a Druid’s coup, and that you are their leader.”
“Me? I’m King?” Senam’s eyes bulged as he realized the magnitude of what he had done. “I don’t want to wear the crown! My head is misshapen, I’d be a horrible king!”
“I know,” Ingan said dryly. “That is why we should leave now.”
“Tailnel, who at least has the presence of mind to think, instead of celebrate, has decided that I should go with you on your quest, and keep you from running off somewhere, to see that you get The Book Of Life... Or to bring back your body if you fail.” Ingan grimaced. “Why does it always have to be me babysitting the little ones?”
“I’m not little!”
“You’re younger than I am.”
“By, what, eight months?”
“Yes. A lifetime, in other words.”
“Stop being such a teenager and help me think.”
“I’ve done that, incase you haven’t noticed,” Ingan said, with a mirthless smile creeping across his face. “Rule one of questing: Drink after you finish, not before you start. Now come on, before the majority of the town wakes up.”
The leaves were singing with their dry, cackling voices, accompanied by the wind. The sun pierced the canopy where the trees grew thin, but otherwise all was a cool green shade, stretching for miles as far as the eye could see. You could almost smell the trees pushing their way out of the soil. The paths leading east were smooth and straight as a bendy thing, but each curve was long and subtle, so the walk was not unpleasant. Ingan, though snappish to the point of seeming almost human, relaxed once he and Senam had made it out of the city. They set out east, without any clear plan as to where they were going, content to listen to the choirs of birds that soared over head, singing in tune with the wind.
After a while, however, the sun began to slip slowly into her western bed, and the forest was suffused with an amber glow. Ingan suggested that they stop to make camp, so they found a suitable tree and hung their hammocks. As Senam tied off one of his ends Ingan broached the question of where they were going.
“This walk is very nice,” he said, “But all paths lead somewhere, and we need to be there. Soon. Did you come out here with a plan, or were you hoping you would sort of trip over The Book Of Life?”
“Ingan, need you be so belligerent?”
“Yes. I find that it gets results.”
Senam tried to glare at him again, but found that the sun was in his eyes and contented himself with saying, “I thought we would go to the dragons on the Eastern Edge of the forest, and ask for their council.”
Ingan’s face took on an odd look. Could it have been... no, it must have been a trick of the light, Senam thought. But it had looked almost like he was...
“Fair enough, it’s a good plan. Now, if you don’t mind, I need sleep.” Ingan turned his back on Senam and flopped into his hammock.
Senam had an odd dream. He dreamed that he was standing in a room, a large one, elegantly carved, with a sloping ceiling and relief designs of chickens attacking cockatri. The chickens, who were the fathers of the cockatri, expelled them from their kingdom. As the cockatri became sick, and started to die, the chickens burned their Apothecaries and forced them to split up, seeking shelter from the evil chickens.
In front of Senam was a pedestal, which Senam focused on more than the fowl etchings. On the pedestal was The Book Of Life. Senam reached for it, and then reached again, for every time he reached out it moved on him. First to his left, then his right, left, right, back, front, left, right, left, right, back, front, left...
Senam followed the pattern, and snatched The Book when it reappeared to his right. With a shout of triumph, he opened the book, only to find it blank, except for black etchings in an evil looking script.
With a wail Senam dropped The Book, falling to his knees in anguish.
“I’m going to fail?” he asked no one in particular. “I’m just going to get it and fail?”
“You’re missing the point,” a cockatrice answered. Then the room flooded, and Senam’s eyes opened.
“You are impossible to wake up,” Ingan griped as they walked East with the sun in their eyes.
“You didn’t have to dump water on me.”
“Yes I did, you refused to respond to me.”
“How many times did you call out?”
“I appreciate your hard work, I’m sure,” Senam said dryly. “Out of curiosity, is there a reason in particular that we aren’t riding? We’d cover more ground that way.”
“Not to mention making us all that much easier to follow, and making such a ruckus that every Necromancer from here to Karthal will hear us.”
“Yes, because Necromancers have such good hearing,” Senam said, rolling his eyes to the heavens.
“They do actually, don’t mock them.”
“Oh, and are they listening now?” Senam said, an eyebrow raised.
“I’m sure that some Spy or Dark Dendroid or Undead Squirrel is listening as you speak.” Ingan looked around, as if expecting some Specter to appear through the trees. At finding none, he sighed, he’d been hoping for a good fight. “It is said that the powerful Necromancers can hear every word spoken if ever a living being has died near the speaker. That the words of the living are remembered forever in the elephantine memory of the dead. They listen, and they wait, and then when the sun turns her back on you and the moons rise, they strike, quiet as Malassa herself. They bind you, gag you, take you to their dark temples, and extract your soul, and bind it in eternal servitude to the dark sorcerer. Then they take your bones, the better ones, and combine them with others, in dark and unholy union. You can watch, from the temple, as your own body goes to war, slays your friends, and gathers –”
“Be quiet, will you?” Senam was rolling his eyes no longer. The woods seemed darker, the trees more grasping, the light more fleeting. “Stop scaring me. You speak of nothing.”
“True, I speak only of dreams.” Ingan said. Then he took off, running through the forest. For a moment, Senam looked about, wondering if Ingan had noticed some danger after all. The woods were empty, except for Ingan, bounding through the aspens. Senam gave up looking and threw himself into the chase. Elves can run for long periods of time, longer than humans, and for a good hour or so Ingan and Senam raced through the cool shade.
Morning faded to noon, and again the sun began to recede into the horizon. Ingan and Senam stopped around three o’ clock by a stream, and doused their faces with the cool water. Senam climbed a nearby outcropping of rock, and watched the water rushing over the little hills. Ingan sat bellow in the shadow of the rock, raising little manifestations of the water out of the stream, only to send them back to the depths.
* * *
In Syris Thalla, a young elf was running up the wooden steps to the newly appointed council chamber where the temporary king, Adlebrann, was in discussion with the council. They stopped as the elf raced in and panted out his message. “There is... another army... of undead coming... on our borders... destroyed the outpost at Denein’s Clearing... Coming this way.”
“Size, strength, leaders?” Adlebrann, the quickest to recover, asked.
“Not as large as the last one, but there are at least a dozen wraiths, and small army of skeletons. Possibly Liches. I don’t know who was leading them, scouts only got a brief glimpse as they came over the ridge.”
Adlebrann was silent, though the other council members talked amongst themselves. Finally he asked, “How many warriors do we have left?”
The reply from General Olania came quickly, she had been expecting the question. “At least six dozen archers and blade dancers, and a contingent of some of our apprentice druids. We can send runners to Ylthia, they have Trained Unicorns I believe, and Sylandale has a platoon of guards they aren’t doing anything with.”
Adlebrann turned next to Elisian, and asked, “How much food do we have in the city? Do we have enough to last a siege?”
Elisian pondered for a moment. “That depends. During the last attack one of our storehouses was destroyed, and some of the undead bast –”
“Um, the undead barbarians, I mean, managed to burn a few fields on their way out of the city. It could take months to clean them out. We have enough to feed the citizens as they have been for at least a week, but after that things are going to get bad. Water’s not an issue, but meat is already pressing, and we’ve lost almost all of our fruit groves.”
Adlebrann turned to Oliana, saying “When you send that runner tell them to send food as well.”
“You can’t.” All assembled turned to the female voice speaking from the doorway. “Some friends and I were out trying to restore a few of the Pear Trees on the Eastern Edge of the city. I was in the tallest one, looking out East, I love that view. But I saw a blockade, as it were, on all sides. Black Tents, and Towers being built, cutting off the roads and burning the forest. I couldn’t evens see the lights of Ylthia. I don’t know if it’s still there or... not.”
* * *
After an hour of meditation on the rock, Senam opened his eyes. The sun had really started to set now, and there was no dinner. Senam stood up, and peered around, looking for a deer trail or a fruit grove. The stream laughed playfully at his search, which turned out fruitless. Senam turned to climb back down off of the rock, and nearly fell off in shock. He hadn’t seen it before because of the sun, and for a moment Senam hoped dearly that he had been imagining it. He held a hand up to the sun, shielding his eyes. After a moment, and two blinks, Senam realized he was not imagining it. Rising high above the trees, with twisting towers and hovering wraiths, was a Necropolis.
* * *
“Ingan! Ingan!” Senam shouted as he leapt off the rock. He landed with a splash in the water. With a groan as he got up, he looked around frantically. Ingan was nowhere to be seen. His pack and staff both lay on the ground, but his rapier was gone. Senam jumped back onto the rock, and stared around him. The Spires of the Necropolis stared down at him like the eyes of a hawk, and Senam wondered how long he could stay there without being noticed. He slipped down off the rock, failing to not panic. As he grabbed his pack and weapons, fully intending to rethink his plans, head home, and ask for an Irollanian Army, Ingan stepped out from the forest. His sword was bloodied, and a deer carcass was slung over his shoulder.
“Why were you shouting?” Ingan said, looking at Senam askance. “Did a big scary shadow scare you?”
“Yes, actually,” Senam snapped back. “We’re standing under the shadow of a necropolis, and not just an outpost. There were crypts and mausoleums, and far too many towers.” Senam was panting now. The laughter of the stream seemed to have turned to a malevolent chuckle, and the sunlight in the trees looked like fire. Ingan’s face, turned away from the sun, was in shadow, and Senam could almost have believed he was smiling with triumph. Senam blinked, and the looked seemed less triumphant, but more bloodthirsty.
“Excellent.” Ingan said, drawing his sword. It rang like a death toll on a winter morning. “Shall we destroy it?”
“The Necropolis, you idiot,” Ingan responded with a glare. “Why are you heroes always so stupid?”
“Stupid?” Senam said, temper flaring. “An army of two attacking a city crawling with the undead? Now that seems pretty stupid.”
“This is our homeland,” Ingan said. “It is our duty to remove the menace.”
“Not much point,” Senam said, “If we wouldn’t do more than scratch the walls. Unless you’re carrying a catapult around with you.”
“You wouldn’t be able to do much, but I have some power.”
“You can’t do much more than I can.”
“Knowledge is power, and I know something most don’t.”
“There are dragons a day’s walk north from here.”
Senam looked at him for a moment. His head was suddenly filled with images of dragons crushing the dark spires and haunted mausoleums, with him leading the charge, returning a hero... But the happy image faded. Even dragons, once seen as the mightiest beast in the world, could not destroy a huge necropolis.
“How do you know?” Senam asked.
“I saw a witch in her hut. Crazy old bat, but she made good tea.”
“Okay, so what, we knock on the dragons’ door and ask them for help while being eaten?” Senam asked, feeling his eyebrow rise.
“Dragons are powerful, and wiser, than you think.” Ingan replied. “They’d listen to us, even if they don’t want to help, and they might have magic or weapons we could take with us.”
Senam thought. Reluctant as he was to accept his classmate’s suggestion, it was a good one. “Alright, we can go. But can we start making distance sometime soon? That Necropolis is still there.”
“We have a few hours before nightfall. We can head out for now.”
“Let’s go then.” Senam said. He picked up his staff and pack, and headed north. As he and Ingan walked away, a pair of watchful eyes peered at them, and then headed to the tall city wreathed in shadow...
* * *
Senam bit into the meat, and resisted the temptation to gag. In the darkness under the trees it would be too dangerous to light a fire, for fear of it being seen, so they were only able to do a mediocre warming spell, which failed utterly to cook the meat. Coupled with Senam’s distaste for meat in general and the lack of fruit or good water, it was a very bad meal. Senam did what he could, but it was hard to resist the temptation to set the meat (and possibly Ingan) on fire.
After dinner Senam and Ingan debated about what should be done with the uneatable parts of the deer. Senam said they should give it a proper burial, and thank Sylanna for giving them their food, and pray to the deer’s spirit for forgiveness. Ingan responded that it was ridiculous, digging would take an entire day, and they did not have time for formalities, especially this close to a necropolis. After a while Senam stopped being stubborn and gave in, and Ingan took the corpse off into the woods away from camp. Senam was left to put up the hammocks. After a furtive glance to make sure that Ingan was out of sight, Senam put a spiteful Bed of Thorns spell on Ingan’s bunk.
Ingan returned, and they both slept. Senam had another odd dream. He heard an odd chant, like the ones he had heard back home, but he had never heard the words before.
They run through the last plane
With shadows on their feet,
Curses rip them from their souls,
And their bones from meat.
They lie like assassins, waiting,
Following their prey,
Then they strike from the shadows,
And leave without a fray.
Bereft of Godly Allies,
They invoke darkest spells
To defy the oldest sorrow,
And Mother Asha as well.
Their corruption comes from inside,
And hides behind gentle mask
Then removes it in an instant,
And completes their master’s task.
Beware the oldest sorrow,
Lest it take you too,
Forgive ancient grievances,
And make mighty one from weak two.
Then something hit him, hard, in the side, and Senam woke up.
There was a terrible sheik echoing all around him, but in the darkness he could barely see his enemy. It hit him again, and Senam fumbled desperately for his sword, his staff, even a rock, anything to hit with, but his hands grasped empty air. Idiot! He thought, as the unseen thing picked him up like a rag doll and threw him against a tree. Why were you sleeping in the open? Why not under cover of the Forrest? The Monster in the dark came at him again, and Senam fumbled desperately for the trunk of the tree. He had read about the use of living trees for spell casting, thus bypassing a staff at all, but the spells were supposed to be sporadic, and hard to control. As the Thing in the shadows shrieked, Senam dodged left, and heard the tree splinter as it was hit. Senam rolled to the left, and then felt something barky hit his back. In desperation he grabbed it, and cast a basic endurance spell on himself. Not only did this give him a few more seconds of life, but the surge of magic cast a golden glow around him, and he got a look at what was attacking him. When he did, he wished it had stayed in the dark.
It was a skeleton. A skeleton of vast proportions, with a huge skull, hooves, and terrible horns arrayed across its head, with two upper legs rearing. The reassuring light faded, and Senam dodged right. The Creature shrieked in annoyance, and Senam heard the sound of hoof beats racing at him. Senam dodged yet again, but this time the undead thing was ready. It hit him hard in the chest, and he flew backwards into what felt like bushes.
Senam could hear the thing feeling around in the brambles around him. The footsteps came nearer. Senam lay very still. The footsteps moved around to the left, and then to the right, tapping gently in the night. Senam was wondering how long he could keep his breathing from giving him away, and hoping against hope that his heart was not beating as loud as he thought. Then the creature, being fed up with waiting, dived into the bush. Senam rolled again, and as the creature screamed again with aggravation at once again losing its prey, Senam’s hands closed on a weapon. He wasn’t sure what it was, but it was long, smooth, and heavy. It was enough for hitting the beast, at any rate. It came at him (Senam wondered how this thing could see, he couldn’t) and as it did, Senam swung the heavy object he was holding.
The Creature screamed as it was hit, and as it was a burst of light told Senam this was his staff. He also got a better look at the creature, and realized what it was. The terrible horns turned out to be antlers, and the huge skull was that of a deer. The deer he had been eating earlier that night. A necromancer must have raised it while he slept.
Senam turned and tried to put distance between himself and the poor thing, and upon reaching an open space used his staff and the adrenaline in his veins to summon a hole into existence. The creature charged at him, and fell headlong into the hole. There was a dull thump, and an angry shriek from below.
“In Sylanna’s Name,” Senam said what he felt that he should have said earlier this evening, “Forgive me for robbing you of life to further my own. Er... Twice.” He closed the hole. The stones and dirt tumbled down onto the Undead Deer beneath him. There was one last dull moan from under the earth, and then silence.
Senam slumped down to the earth, and allowed himself a rest for a few seconds. Then he rose, and began to look for Ingan. After realizing that he still could see very little, he cast an illuminating spell, despite the Necromancers that could still be around. They probably knew he was there already. After walking around camp in widening circles for a while, he saw odd flashes of green light off in the distance. Senam dampened his illumination spell, and crept toward the light. He found Ingan, casting healing spells on himself. An unexpected rage rose in him, and he shouted. “Where the Sheogh have you been?!”
Ingan looked up. “Fighting shadows. Did I wake you up?”
“No, a bone buck did,” Senam responded. “What did you do with that carcass?”
“I threw it onto the riverbank. I figured some passing Roc would consume it.”
“You imbecile, a Necromancer raised it and set it on me. While you, what, did nothing?”
“There were four specters here. They were annoyingly incorporeal.”
“How did you defeat them?”
“They become solid when they attack,” Ingan said. “Now, it’s late, let’s just go to sleep, huh?”
Senam looked at Ingan, wondering why he was being so straightforward, and they nodded.”
“Good. Then let’s move our camp to somewhere less exposed and sleep for a few hours.” Ingan stalked off into the gloom in the direction of camp. Senam wanted to protest, but he found that he felt drained, exhausted. Sleep, at that moment, sounded like a wondrous thing. He followed Ingan back to camp, moved the Hammocks to a more sheltered side of the clearing, and slept.
* * *
Dawn broke in an explosion of color, with the sun splitting the sky. The woods were quiet, save for the occasional rustle of wind in the trees and the trickle of the stream. Senam waited for a while before rising from bed. There was something ancient about the silence, something he did not want to disturb. It felt like he was back in a church he had visited in the Holy Griffin Empire, with tall steeples and flying buttresses, and a stern cleric staring down evermore from his colored glass. This was how Senam remembered his visit to the Holy Griffin Empire, the largest human kingdom, when he was younger.
He hadn’t liked it. It was sunny and bright, like Irollan, but the light was hard and rigid, and everything was sharp and carved in stone. The Priests had been almost fearful. They did not laugh, and when they smiled it did not reach their eyes. They had given him and his parents funny looks, and one of them had whispered something to his brother about “Unbelievers” and made an odd sign. His parents went to talk to a local Bishop about some diplomatic matter. Senam had never asked what, and now it was too late. Senam had spent his days in the library, and read a bit of history. The book he had read went something like this:
And it was in this tyme, when the demon incursion was at its hyte, that the Elvyn City of Syris Thalla was burned down. At the tyme, the Elvys blamed the forces of Tuidhana the Elf, as well as her band of miscryants that the Elvys themselves had allowed to form on their sotheryn borders. The Elvys, being flighty and impulsive, much more so than the Falcon Empire, did give these rebels the following choice: They could leave forever and never return, or pass away, into the darkness that awaits all unbelievers. They took the first opshyn, and retreated into the caves.
That was all Senam had read. The book was hard enough to interpret for monks and scholars of the Holy Griffin Empire. For an Elf who had only started learning English two years ago it was a nightmare. Senam had found more recent books, including one with beautifully painted pictures and large letters. Then there were spell books, some of which Senam understood, and large tomes on biology and religion. Senam had skimmed some of those books, and at that time came to the opinion that the Human Religion, worshiping Elrath, seemed complicated, boring, and full of intricacies that canceled each other out and prevented anything from getting done.
Senam got up and splashed water on his face, and tried to steer himself away from memory lane. He had another road to travel.
* * *
“Are you sure we’re going the right way?” Senam asked. Ingan managed to roll his eyes and glare at Senam at the same time.
“Of course we are,” Ingan said after a moment. “As you would see if you would stop asking the same question every five minutes.”
“What makes you so sure this is the right way?” Senam said, stopping and turning to Ingan. “We’ve been walking for hours and I haven’t seen a thing!”
Ingan sighed, and, in the tone of one explaining to a very old person that a mirror is not their long lost twin brother, stated, “Because it makes sense that the necromancers will try to stop us from reaching the Dragons, if they discover our intentions.”
“But they haven’t tried to stop us,” Senam protested.
“Shut up and duck,” Ingan said, and immediately complied with his order as an arrow arched over his head. Senam looked up the path for a moment, then ducked also as another arrow came whizzing at his head. Almost instinctively Senam cast a Barrier Spell between him and the archers, and then he got a good look at them, and almost ran. Four of them, loosely attired with rags and a sickening glow about their skulls, stood up the hill on a low rise, with their bows held taught and full quivers of arrows at their backs. Hollow eye sockets stared out at them, and their jaws hung loosely open, drawing no breath, for they had no lungs, nor heart, nor blood, nor skin, nor any other part belonging to a man or elf, save the bones. Their skulls grinned (then again, what else can skulls do?) at them, and shot more arrows. Senam felt each one that impacted his shield as a sharp prick of pain, and had to wait while Ingan prepared a blinding spell and cast it at the Undead. The moment’s incapacitation was all Ingan needed to rush in and attack, breaking Senam’s shield as he did so. Senam waited to attack directly. There was a spell, still experimental, that he had been wanting to try, but lacking a target had decided not to. He knelt, staff in hand, and called upon a god.
Ingan had dispatched one of the undead, and was working on another while the last two were trying to disentangle themselves from a badly planned attack that left them stuck together. Ingan kicked out at his opponent, and looked back to see what Senam was doing. To his consternation, Senam was just sitting there, muttering. Ingan growled, and shouted, “Could I have some help over here?”
Senam looked up, and odd look in his eyes. His staff was glowing, and the twilighten woods seemed to have clouded over unexpectedly. Ingan looked back to his opponent, and as it came at him again there was a flash in the forest. A streak of white fire, called lightning by the Humans, impacted one of the skeletons, at last untangled, and rent it into fragments. The other skeleton saw, and raced at Senam. Senam raised his staff, and swung it with little accuracy. The Skeleton ducked, and knocked the staff away with its sword. Senam was unable to respond fast enough, and found the bony hand upon his neck before he could do a thing. The Skeleton raised its sword.
* * *
“Stupid, Stupid, Stupid!” Lian kicked the council building repeatedly. It was a day since she had told them about the destruction of Ylthia. The Undead Horde seemed to be sitting on the edges of the city’s line of sight, with a snappy concealment spell to veil their forces. “Stupid, Stupid, Stupid.”
“Lian, stop, you’re acting like a human.” The speaker was Fyalla, another Elvin Maiden, with white hair and long legs.
“Good!” Lian exploded. “The council is acting about as... slow as they could get! At least humans would be doing something. They’d charge off blindly and get themselves killed, but they’d do something! Stupid...” She kicked. “...Urging...” She kicked again. “...Elders!” She kicked a third time.
“If you want to bring the building down, you might as well burn it, there’s enough fire about,” Tiana said, walking over. It saddened Lian to see that her usually springy step had fallen to a dejected trudge, and her hair, usually plaited each morning with blue flowers, was now ragged and unadorned.
“Just venting.” Lian said.
“That’s odd in itself,” Tiana said. “You never got angry before.”
“I know,” Lian said. “I just feel...vengeful. I want to do something, like forge weapons or make arrows, but I cant!”
“Why not?” Fyalla asked. “I mean, apart from there being nothing we know how to do.”
“Speak for yourself,” Tiana said, “I can’t forge weapons, but I can grow trees till the cows come home.”
There was a silence for a moment. Then Fyalla asked, “Er, Tiana? What are cows?”
“Oh, they’re something I read about in a book from the Holy Griffin Empire,” Tiana responded. “I only heard the expression once. I think that a cow is another word for a child that runs away from home or something.”
“And they don’t come home?”
“I think that’s how they achieve cow status,” Tiana said knowledgeably.
“But what if the child eventually does come home? Do they stop being a cow? And are they a cow in other places, or just to the people at home? And don’t they have herds of cows? I heard about them. If they have herds of cows, and people know where they are, then couldn’t the parents come for their children and decow them?”
“Look,” Lian said, Trying to prevent Fyalla from getting them too far off track. “This is all very fascinating, but we need to do something or we will all be cows!”
“Why?” Fyalla asked.
“Because the undead are seigeing our city and we need to figure out how to stop them from killing us all, including our parents, and us thus having to be cows. So, besides growing trees and trying to interpret human culture, what can we do?”
The silence lengthened. Then Tiana said, with some guilt in her voice, “I looked through Senam’s notes. They were rather messy, but I figured out how to make spells work more rapidly. That’ got to be worth something.”
Fyalla brightened. “Hey, if we set up a search spell at rapid speed, we could send all the cows home to their parents and then they might help us!” Fyalla said, with the air of one reaching an undeniable conclusion. The others looked at her with raised eyebrows.
“That’s an idea,” Tiana said, “That you would have, but wouldn’t it make more sense to just make the cows grow up and be warriors without having to wait for them to get home?”
“That’s it!” Lian said, “I’ve got it! Tiana, go get Senam’s notes. Fyalla, go get everyone together. I think I have an Idea.” And despite the looming danger of the undead on their borders, despite the smell of death lingering on the air, Tiana’s face broke into a wide, wicked smile...
* * *
The last skull fell to the ground and rolled down the path. When it stopped its eyes were still facing Senam, and seemed to glare at him reproachfully. Senam sighed and diffused the Magic built up in his staff. Ingan got up, shaking himself off.
“There, see, told you I had a plan. I distract it, you kill it.”
“I had a plan too,” Senam replied sourly. “It kills you, and I kill it while it’s distracted.”
“It’s just a scratch. Neither deep as well nor wide as a church door, and definitely not enough to kill me.”
“I can hope,” Senam said with a shrug.
“Why did I volunteer for this?” Ingan said as Senam started to head back along the path in the direction he had been heading. “I could be back at home preparing for siege, but no, I have to trek, on foot, for miles and miles with you! I swear there’s a god out to get me. Have I offended Sylanna? Arkath? Seldath?”
“Ingan – ”
“Come on, let’s get to that cave. I’d like to stop having these annoying breaks in the plan.”
* * *
“And that was it, really,” Senam said, and took a sip of his tea again. “We found your cave about half an hour after that.”
The dragons in the room sat back on their haunches, contemplating. The one with the pearly neck spines was the first to speak. “So...” she said, with the smugness of a prophet who was right about Armageddon. A smile curled across her face, showing sharp fangs. Senam was very glad the Dragons were on his side. “So. It Seems I Was Right. The Dark Lords Are Back, As I Said They Would Be.”
“Do Not Flaunt Your Predictions When Death Knocks At The Door,” Said the dragon with the feathers. “We Must Decide How To Act.”
“I Suggest,” another one said, he was older looking, with white tufts of fur sprouting from his chin, and a sort of windiness in his voice, like an old accordion. “That We Should Find Out More About The Nature Of The Threat. How Big Is Their Army? What Magics Do They Command? Are You Facing Experienced Generals, Or A Rag Tag Band Preparing For Further Assaults?”
Ingan and Senam both tried to speak at the same time. Ingan blundered in with “Forget scouting, let’s destroy them!” While Senam asked “What do you mean, ‘you?’”
The Pearly One answered Ingan first. “It is not safe to attack unless we know what we are fighting. We are strong, but we cannot plow through a city alone. We may try to get word to our brethren in other places.”
“But you’re Dragons!” Ingan shouted. “You’re the descendants of the gods themselves! Attack! Fight! Kill!”
“WE DID!” The Dragon Bellowed. “WE ATTACKED A NECROPOLIS ONCE BEFORE THIS! WHY DO YOU THINK WE ARE SO WEAK NOW?! OUR COMRADES FELL TO THE UNHALLOWED GROUND. THE ACCURSED SORCERORS RAISED THEM MINUTES AFTER THEY DIED! WE REJOICED IN THEIR SURVIVAL UNTIL WE REALIZED THAT THEY WERE ATTACKING US, NOT THE OPPONENTS. WE KILLED OUR SISTERS, OUR CHILDREN, OUR NEIGHBORS, KILLED THEM MORE THAN THEY DESREVED AND THEY KEPT COMING BACK. WE ONLY SURVIVED BECAUSE THE NECROPOLIS WAS SET UPON BY A RIVAL SORCEROR. WE FLED. WE FLED AND OUR FRIENDS WERE LOST. IT HAS TAKEN US THREE CENTURIES TO REBUILD. That Is Why We Will Not Blunder In. You Will.”
“Which brings me back to my question,” Senam muttered.
“We will?” Ingan said. “We will what?”
“You Will Sneak Into The City And Learn All You Can. When You Know Enough, You Will Report Back To Us.”
Ingan sat back in his chair looking sour. Senam leaned forward. “I don’t mean to be ungracious, but is there anything you could help us with? Spells, Weapons, perhaps a helm of invisibility if you have one lying about?”
The old dragon chuckled. “We Do Not Leave Powerful Artifacts Lying About, Little One. But We Will Help You However We Can. You Must Leave Tomorrow, Though. From What You Have Said, The Necromancers Will Know You Are Here, And The Longer You Stay In One Place The More You Are In Danger. ELEDANUS!” His shout was so loud that Senam covered his long ears, which were ringing like bells. A dragon, presumably Eledanus, entered the room, and bowed to the Old Dragon. He waited for the smaller (by comparison) dragon to rise, and then said, “Eledanus, tell everyone in the complex to prepare whatever they can muster: Weapons, Spells, and even artifacts of magic, if they can bear to part them from their hordes. We have one night to prepare.”
Eledanus went out, and Senam rose, dreading the dawn, yet eager to begin.