Red Tears Hill
They arrived at Everlund after dark. The attack and the loss of Olpara's horse had slowed them a little. Rowan was not about to wait for sunrise and the opening of the gates. Imperious in her demands, she soon had gained them entry.
They rode to the Starmeadow and Misara had junior priests rushing about, collecting the things that they needed. While a priest looked at Olpara's wound and made certain that it was properly healed, Misara called forth the Historian and began to show him the maps of the area.
The library at the Starmeadow had maps that described what the land was like more than six thousand years in the past.
As the Historian looked over the maps, Yeshelné moved up close to Misara. She looked at the Historian and then at Misara. "He really is one of the Ilythirr?"
Misara had removed her armour and some of her clothing so she could treat some of the bruises she had acquired over the past few days. "He really is."
"Punished by the gods, for reasons he can't remember, held in this state until he can redeem himself?"
Misara nodded. She scooped a thick paste from a small jar and began to rub it on an ugly bruise on her arm.
Yeshelné turned to look at the Historian and then back to Misara. "You take some sick joy in springing these little surprises on me, don't you?"
Misara laughed. "I swear on my honour that such a thing has never been my intent."
"I'm surprised I never heard about him before," she said, and then took the jar of salve from Misara and moved around behind her. "How did you get these bruises on your back?"
"I think it is was when the burst of positive energy hurled me some distance," Misara told her as Yeshelné began to apply to salve to her back.
"Never mind. It's not important right now."
"I think I'm going to be having a lot of visitors soon. I'll be happy to see more elves in Everlund."
"Well, a good number of elves interested in ancient history are certain to come here to speak with the Historian."
"He's not staying here."
"What." Yeshelné moved in front of Misara. "Why not here?"
"He's going to the High Forest."
"The High Forest? What is there?" She paused, her lips forming a hard line and her brow furrowed. "Misara you can't seriously be considering..."
"I am. Vilis was the one who told me about him."
"Misara, I'm not prejudiced against the followers of Eilistraee..."
Misara laughed, though not unkindly.
"Alright, perhaps I am, but that is not where my concern lies, I swear."
"What is your concern?"
"As I said, there are a great many elves, and powerful human elf-friends I have no doubt, who will wish to speak with this Historian. If they have to travel into the High Forest and deal with a group of dark elves, well, many of them are not going to be happy."
"What you are saying is that there are going to be many people that are unhappy with me."
She nodded. "There are the politics of the matter to consider."
Misara smiled up at her. "Do you really think I care about politics?"
"I'm not telling you anything that you have not already thought of, am I?" Yeshelné grudgingly smiled.
"As they say, don't try to tell a fox how to steal chickens."
"Charming saying," she said sarcastically.
"The halflings of Lurien say it. Feel free to use it."
"I'm certain that I will the next time that I meet with the other Elders of the city. Kayle Moonwalker will mention something about the elven priests serving with the Army of the Vale and I will say 'don't try to tell a fox how to steal chickens.' It will go over well."
"You try my patience Misara Anor'Esira."
Misara was about to reply when the Historian said, "Here, here it is." She got up and walked over to the table where the maps were spread out, Yeshelné beside her.
"This is the location of the hall," he told them.
"What is the date on this map?" Misara asked.
The junior priestess who had been aiding the Historian said, "It shows the land as it was about five thousand years ago."
None of the current cities in the Silver Marches were on it, and the cities that were marked had long ago disappeared. The rivers were similar in shape, but not the same. The mountains showed only a little change from how they were in present day.
"The Southern Edge of the Moonwood," the priestess said. "Near Silverymoon."
"What is there?" Misara asked.
The priestess grabbed a pile of maps and flipped through them. "A small mountain I believe," she said. "More of a hill really, dwarfed by the Nether Mountains to the west. It was called Caradniire, red tears." She pulled a map free of the pile and spread it out on the table. "Now the humans call it Wolf Hill for the werewolves that once made it their home."
The new map was of the Moonwood, drawn in great detail. Wolf Hill was located near the southernmost edge of the forest.
"We'll leave immediately," Misara said as she reached for her clothing.
"Don't be rash," Yeshelné told her. "If you wait a few hours I can talk to Kayle and arrange for you to travel with members of the army."
"I don't want to wait a few hours," Misara told her. "But if you can convince First Elder Moonwalker to send members of his army to Wolf Hill that would be of value." She pulled on the padded, silk shirt she wore under her armour.
"What can you do by yourself?"
"Whatever is needed."
"Fine. Rush off ill prepared. It won't be the first time. How soon will you leave?"
"As soon as I finish getting dressed," she reached for her hose.
"Very well," Yeshelné strode from the room. "You will have some elves with you. Since I am getting no rest," she called back, "I see no reason why anyone else should."
They rode from Everlund through Silverymoon gate. While most of the city's population slept on, unconcerned, their were those that were not that lucky. Yeshelné had woken the city Elders and other important people. Spells were cast to frustrate scrying attempts and messages passed to the other members of the Silver Marches by means of magic.
Olpara sat upon the back of an elven horse, the beautiful beast speeding down the road, slowed not at all by the darkness. Misara rode ahead of her, perched upon Iron's back. She wore a full suit of elven plate armour, even her head covered by a beautiful helmet. She had never seen Misara so outfitted.
Rowan rode beside Misara, also wearing her full armour. Rose Thorn had been clad in heavy barding, but he ran as if nothing weighed him down.
She looked at the two women, charging forward, and wondered if anything could stop them. It was a silly, romantic notion really, but Olpara thought she could sense the power of their gods on those two women.
Around them were seven other elves, also riding the beautiful elven horses. The high priestess Amrallatha had provided the elves and the mounts. They were there to ensure that Misara and Rowan reached their destinations safely.
What Olpara thought she would remember for the longest time was how silent the night was. The horses were running almost full out, with a stride that made the miles flash by, and yet their hoof beats were nearly soundless.
There was magic in the night, and great things were about to happen.
She was part of it.
Wonder pushed back fear and Olpara remembered why she had first set out to see the world. She wanted to shout with joy. She settled for smiling, and leaning forward into her horse's mane. It smelled of wild flowers and sunshine.
Asharass stood in the huge cavern where her body had stood motionless for millennia. She had been alone and isolated for almost all that time. Even when she had learned to send forth her mind, to take an incorporeal form that might wander beyond her physical body, she had found that she could not leave the hall. The wards had kept her trapped.
The wards had been weakened, but she could still not pass beyond them. Fortunately others were not so constrained. Her first servant had been an explorer with the bad luck to find her prison. He had not lasted long under her mental domination, but long enough to bring others.
That had been more than a decade in the past, but a heartbeat to Asharass' sense of time. Since then she had found those that would serve her without needing to be dominated. They were her eyes and hands beyond the confines of the wards, allowing her to interact, albeit in a limited manner, with the world.
Now the time was coming where she might truly be free. Once her body could move, once it was fully animated, she knew there was nothing that could stop her.
About her was activity. The last of the pieces were being put in place for her freedom. The pace was hectic for she had pushed the schedule up, wanting to complete in days what should have taken weeks, and then asking for even more speed.
It was dangerous. The haste in which she forced her servants and slaves to operate could spoil it all, but she had no choice. The elf and her companions had survived, were last seen entering Everlund. Whatever it was that the elf had discovered was now likely known to all the leaders of the Silver Marches.
Asharass had to act. She would gamble it all on success.
There was a crash, and the sound of glass shattering, followed by a bellow of anger. She was instantly at the sound of the noise, not bound by the constraints of a physical being.
One of the carts had turned over; it appeared as if a wheel had broken. Its load was now spread out on the floor, broken glass that glittered in the mage lights that illuminated the room. A tall, thin guard, a man who likely had some orc in him, stood over a pair of frightened gnomes. He was about to bring a heavy club down one of the gnomes when, at her silent command, a helmed horror, another of her constructs, grabbed the club.
The guard's eyes widened and he turned to look at Asharass. "Great Asharass, these worthless gnomes..."
"Silence," Asharass ordered. She looked about. There were many watching now, to see what she might do. "I do not care whether these gnomes were careless, or if you have harassed them to the point where they made a mistake, or if it was just bad luck. What I do care about is that you were about to beat these gnomes, which would mean they would not be able to work, which means that things would be slowed even more."
The helmed horror grabbed the guard by his head and then snapped his neck. As it carried the lifeless body away Asharass went to stand over the gnomes. "How long to replace this?"
One of the gnomes licked his lips, looked down at the shattered glass. "Two hours mistress."
She might have demanded that he do it faster, but she knew the gnomes were already working as fast as they could and yet still maintain the quality the undertaking demanded. "Very well. Get to work." She left them, walking back across the hall, looking about at the people who had gathered to watch. As soon as her gaze fell upon, if not sooner, they returned to work.
Two hours lost. She could not stand such delays. If only she had more of the gnomes, or any one skilled enough to craft and enchant the glass.
Asharass turned and stared up at herself.
Her body, the body the elves had thought to give to Taumon looked like a steel skeleton of an immense dragon. She stood, crouched, as if she were about to pounce. Her wings were spread, the tips nearly touching each side of the hall. Her neck was raised, her head the highest point of her body.
She remembered that day, long ago, as she had stretched out in her new form. She had been about to pounce, to rip into a group of elves that had stared up at her in horror. And then Gond had pronounced his blessing and curse and she had been frozen in that pose: A pose that was causing no end of difficulty.
Her entire body had to be clad in glass, as if it were a skin on her bones. Her legs had been covered, as had her ribs, spine and tail. That left the wings, her neck and her head to be completed. She watched as crane lifted a huge piece of glass towards her head. It was almost finished.
She spotted Cirtimin crossing the floor, moving as fast as his weakened body would allow him. She was instantly by his side, unwilling to let such a valuable servant drive himself too hard.
"What is it?" she asked him.
He leaned on his staff, breathing heavily. "The elf is on the road to Silverymoon, riding hard, with a small force. We also have had news that some of the leaders of the Marches are active, seeking to gather forces."
"She comes here," Asharass said. She looked back at her body. How long would it take to finish? How long before the armies of the Silver Marches stood at the gates of the hall?
"Order the hall secured," she told him. "We will hold it until I am ready."
"Yes Asharass," he said. "Do you wish me to send forces against the elf?"
"Do we have any that are not need to defend the hall, that might be able to defeat her?"
He shook his head.
"Then focus on defending the hall Cirtimin."
Asharass left him, appearing far above the floor, on a platform above her body. A huge bowl of glass was held above her body in a framework of wood and iron. An angled, glass tube connected the bottom of the bowl to the glass about her head.
From the bowl would flow the blood; the blood would fill the glass that surrounded her body. There would not be a part of her that was not anointed in the blood.
I have you beat Gond, she thought, then turned towards Onica.
Onica was scraping the ink from the page of a book. As Asharass watched she poured the dust into a beaker. "Burn this," she said to one of her assistants, giving him the blank page, "put the ashes in the beaker as well."
"Yes Onica," the young man said.
"Onica," Asharass called.
Onica got up from her work stool and turned to face Asharass. She bowed deeply. "Yes Mistress," she said.
"Fill the bowl. Our enemies close on us."
"As you say Mistress." She straightened and turned towards her work crew. "Make certain that the main valve is off, double check the seal when you do so," she told a girl. The girl nodded and went to do as she was told. "Start pouring the oils into the bowl."
Asharass watched as everyone worked, within a minute the barrels of blessed oils were opened, the wax seals, marked with the symbol of Tyr, were cut off, the bungs knocked in. The oils were poured into the bowl, filling only a small part of it. There was much more that needed to be added. Much, much more, Asharass thought, watching the work.
Rowan felt her heart speed up as they came in sight of the lights of Silverymoon. The journey had been long, the distance travelled great, but she was almost home. The quest she had set out on was almost over, and she was certain that it would end successfully. Not bad for a farmer's daughter from Amn.
As the group came closer to the city they slowed and came to a stop. The horses snorted and tossed their heads, all of them anxious to be moving again. Even Rose Thorn had caught the excitement of the elven horses and shifted excitedly underneath her.
"We'll part ways here," Haranye said. He was the scout that had been sent with them.
Off to the west was a path that led to the Moonwood. Rowan would continue on to Silverymoon to raise the forces they would need.
"Fanya and Luva will go with you," Misara told Rowan. "I will see you at Wolf Hill."
"I'm going with Misara," Olpara said.
Rowan turned towards the halfling, surprised by her statement.
"As you wish," Misara said.
Rowan wanted Olpara to stay with her, where it was, she admitted, safer. However she knew that Olpara must believe that she needed to go with Misara and the others. "Save some of the enemy for the rest of us then," Rowan told her, taking off her helmet so Olpara could see her smile.
"I'll try," Olpara told her.
"We must ride," Misara said. Iron started forward, galloping down the side path, Olpara and the five other elves following after them. Rowan raised her hand in farewell before they disappeared into the night. Beside her Luva called out, "Quel fara," to his departing companions. Good hunting.
Rowan put her helmet on. "Let's go," she called out. Rose Thorn leapt forward, running towards Silverymoon.
Asharass stood upon the platform, staring down into the glass bowl. Already it was more than half full with a mixture of blessed oils and blood. She supposed, from the reaction of those people around the bowl, that the scent coming from it was not pleasant.
A flat full of large, glass jugs had been lifted from the floor to the platform. In each of the jugs was the blood of a paladin, or a priest of one of the good gods. For years her agents had been waylaying such individuals and bringing them to the hall where their blood was drained. Drained for this day.
As the contents of the jars were poured into the bowl men with long poles stirred the mixture. They kept the liquid in constant motion so that it would not coagulate.
There was an etched line near the lip of the bowl. When the blood reached that level there would be enough to completely fill the glass that surrounded her body. She moved to the side of the platform and stared down at herself.
She was almost completely clad in the glass. Only a few of the bones in the wing and the head remained to be covered. Soon. Very soon.
"Majestic Asharass, Cirtimin sends a message," someone said from behind her.
She turned to look on a young man. He had bowed deeply, his eyes on the ground. "What is it?"
"The elf Paladin, the halfling, and five other elves approach. Cirtimin says they will reach the hill shortly after sunrise."
"Very well. You are dismissed."
"Thank you Majestic Asharass." He stepped back, not looking up.
She turned her back on him and looked down at her body. She smiled.
Darkness formed beside her and her finest construct stepped from it. She looked at it, noting the weld in its chest. The elf had breached the once perfect surface and the seal she had put on it was like a scar.
"Do you think you might best the elf?" she asked.
The construct did not answer, but she could sense the desire within. It wanted to challenge the elf, to beat her. It was certain it would succeed.
"Take ten of the helmed horrors with you. Strike when she and her companions get close." She looked over at the bowl. "If you can, bring her here, alive. I'll have her throat cut and pour her warm blood into the mix. Surely her blood will be of value."
The construct did not say anything. The darkness gathered around it and it was gone.
Though the sun had risen it was still dark under the dense canopy of the Moonwood. Evergreens, shadowtops and duskwoods rose high around them, the branches above alive with the sound of birds and animals. Misara almost relaxed as she rode amidst the trees.
"Wolf Hill is not too far from here," Haranye said as he brought his horse to a stop and then swung down from its back. "We should continue on foot."
Misara and the others dismounted, leaving their horses behind as they pushed further into the forest. The ground cover grew thicker but Haranye found them an animal trail that they followed easily enough. In the shadow of the trees the elves were all but invisible. Olpara was not quite as stealthy, but Misara did not fear that the halfling might give them away.
They climbed a small raise, and stopped at the edge of a clearing. Ahead of her Misara could see Wolf Hill. It was tall, with steep slopes. In some parts of Faerûn it might indeed be considered a mountain. Still, had she not known what was buried beneath it she probably would not have given it a second glance.
"Why do they call it Wolf Hill?" Olpara asked.
"Two decades ago a pack of werewolves claimed it and the surrounding area as their own," Haranye told her. "A decade ago a group of adventures and a small force from Quaervar came here with silver and fire and killed most of the pack."
Misara had been looking at the hill, searching for signs of the hall underneath or a way in. She looked over at Haranye. "They set fire to the forest?"
"Mostly to the scrub in the area, and close to the hill."
"Interesting," she said.
"Why?" Olpara asked her.
"It opens the hill up for easier access about ten years ago. It might be a coincidence, but..." She shrugged her shoulders.
"There is an old trail nearby. It may have once been a road." Haranye set off, skirting the edge of the clearing. The rest followed him, entering the forest once more.
They did not have to travel too far before they came out on the trail that Haranye had told them about. It was narrow; the ground was rough and covered with scrub. It did not appear as if anything had used the trail in a long time. That seemed odd to Misara.
Acting on a hunch she drew her sword and invoked its ability to dispel magic. Around her, in a perfect circle, the ground became smooth, a road of stone flags, easily wide enough for a wagon to travel on. She could tell the road was ancient, the flags cracked and chipped, but it was in surprisingly good shape.
"I never knew of this," Haranye said, kneeling down to look at the stone.
"I think it may be as old as the hall."
"Perhaps," he said, brushing his fingers along a stone flag, "but this road had been used as recently as a week ago." He pointed to a scratch on the surface. "A heavily laden wagon."
Misara let her sword's power fade. The road disappeared, replaced by the old, narrow path. Haranye, who was suddenly part way in a tree, let out a small gasp of surprise and quickly moved away from the tree. "Illusion or not, that felt strange."
"Let's go. I suspect that this will lead us to the hall's main gates."
Misara led, certain in the path. She marvelled at the illusion's quality. The ground felt rough and uneven beneath her feet, and the trees solid. She wondered if it was something that Asharass had arranged or if it was part of the ancient wards her people had placed there.
The path lead closer to the hill, into the area that had been burnt clear a decade before. It was as Haranye had told her. The trees remained, but the scrub had been burnt away.
"Something comes," Varatel said.
The warning gave them a moment to prepare themselves, and they were not taken completely by surprise when several constructs appeared close to them. Misara recognised the one she had fought only a day before. The other ten she suspected were constructs known as helmed horrors.
The helmed horrors had crossbows ready, and fired them almost as soon as they appeared. Behind her Misara head Varatel speak words of magic. There was the sound of a tempest and the crossbow bolts were blown upwards and away from them.
Misara leapt through the wall of wind, her cloak flying above her as she passed through. The closest of helmed horror hurled its empty crossbow at her, which she easily dodged, and then drew its sword. The blade of the creature's sword ignited, swathed in flames. Misara could feel the heat from the sword as she dodged around the helmed horror's attack.
Three of the helmed horrors began to walk into the air, reloading their crossbows as they climbed towards the canopy. The other seven remained on the ground, flaming swords ready. The superior construct came straight at Misara.
Misara and the superior construct traded blows, a series of rapid attacks and counters that spun them about, away from where the battle had started.
Haranye and Estai had drawn their bows and were running through the forest, firing arrows up at the helmed horrors that had taken the sky. Varatel was in the process of casting another spell, Olpara and Kir'Mana had moved to protect her should any try to attack the wizard. Barith had a kukri in each hand, blue arcs of electricity danced on the inside curves of the knives' blades.
She only had a moment to see what the others were doing before the superior construct was on her again, its rapid attacks testing her defences, searching for a hole. She was doing the same. She knew she would defeat it. She had done it once already.
She caught fragments of the rest of the battle as she fought the superior construct and two to three other helmed horrors at any time.
One of the helmed horrors that had taken to the air fell to the forest floor, its body pieced with so many arrows that it looked like a porcupine.
Estai fell as a crossbow bolt pierced his shoulder.
Barith spun about two of the helmed horrors, using each one to tie up the other as his kukri stabbed and slashed.
Misara caught the heavy blade of the superior construct across her sword, turning her weapon so the construct's weapon slid off, almost hitting a helmed horror. That helmed horror was forced to back up, giving her some much-needed space.
Varatel stepped between Olpara and Kir'Mana, from her hands a blast like a blizzard leapt forth, the cone of freezing death rolling over two of the helmed horrors. One of the constructs was frozen in place but the other came forward, apparently unaffected by the spell.
It was Olpara who leapt in front of Varatel, her short sword drawn. The helmed horror's flaming blade lashed out and Olpara's body was sent flying back. Before Misara could tell what had happened to the halfling the superior construct was once more pressing her and she had to focus her entire attention on her fight.
There was a booming, and Misara caught sight of a helmed horror's helmet flying by. As she spun around her opponents, working their swords away from her as she went, she saw Barith fell one of his opponents, the kukri in his left hand buried in its back.
They would win, Misara thought. There would be wounded, perhaps even lives lost, but they would win. She kicked out at a helmed horror, knocking it back, then moved forward, pressing an attack against the superior construct.
It raised its sword to block a downward swing. Then it did something that she had not expected. It dropped the hilt, bringing the pommel around in a tight circle that caught her blade, knocking it up. With its left hand it grabbed her right wrist, spun around her, so they stood back to back to back, its solid grip on her wrist holding her sword out.
She was amazed that it had managed to make the manoeuvre work, and on her no less. It was the one with the solid ground and the better balance. She had no way to counter the move, was not even certain is such a counter existed.
There was no sense in what it did. None of her allies were close enough to be threatened, and the hold, while solid, did not allow it to attack. Then it slammed its elbow into her head with enough force to knock her helmet free. Well, there was that, the thought went through her dazed mind.
One of the helmed horrors charged her, running straight at her sword. Her addled thoughts were too slow for her to puzzle out its actions, and even if she had known, she could not have done anything to stop it.
The helmed horror impaled itself on her sword, moving up its entire length. It would not survive long, but it grabbed she sword, where the blade joined the hilt, and twisted it out of her hands.
As the fatally wounded horror fell away she felt another grab her arm, and the superior construct released its hold on her, but grabbed her other arm before she could break away. Even as she felt a third one grabbing her legs blackness was growing around her and the forest was fading away.