Keromas looked up as Siphidias and Leonidas flew into him from both sides, their weapons raised high. He quickly his sword around and parried both blows in a blink of the eye. They flew past him and turned around in great arcs a few hundred yards away. Leonidas brought his bow to bear once more and fired several shots at the dark creature and his mount.
Keromas swung his drake away and blocked several arrows with his sword. The drake screeched as it turned sharply to the right and rose a few yards before turning back towards the Eschrehim. Its black scales rippled as muscles strained to make the sharp turn. Keromas came around, speaking in the language of the Abyss. The sound of the words made the angelic beings wince and cringe with pain.
Keromas continued to chant as black clouds engulfed the Eschrehim in darkness for a second. Siphidias quickly said a prayer of his own to Eschua and light began to emanate around the two of them, slowly pushing the darkness back. When the walls of darkness were no more than 35 yards away Keromas and his drake burst out of the wall to their right. They flew right between the two Eschrehim and Keromas struck out at Siphidias. Their blades crackled and hissed as they met, lightning seemed to explode from the touch. The drake snapped out at Leonidas on the left. Its teeth bit down on his bow and snapped him back and forth as he held on.
Siphidias swung around again but the two had flown past them. The drake snapped his neck and flung Leonidas and his bow off behind it as the drake pierced the wall of darkness ahead of them. Leonidas regained his balance in the air and quickly fired off three more arrows into the blackness where they had disappeared too.
Leonidas looked around the darkness as Siphidias flew up beside him once more, “Where are they?” Siphidias asked as he too searched the swirling shadows all around them.
Leonidas shook his head, “We need more light, Gammel.” He invoked the angelic name of his fellow brother.
Gammel, the Beacon of Light, smiled, “Indeed brother you shall have it.” He slid his sword into its scabbard and stretched out his hands toward the heavens and looked upward. He began to speak once more in the ancient tongue of the Eschrehim.
Leonidas heard another voice in the shadows around them. It was here and then it was there; rushing up to them and then racing away. The dark voice on the wind was just a tone lower than Gammel’s. He shuddered at the sound but was reassured as he listened to the other eschrehim’s prayer.
A faint glow surrounded Gammel like a white halo. He pulsed and fluctuated at each crescendo in Gammel’s voice. It became brighter and brighter, pushing at the shadowed boundaries around them. The dark fog slowly pulled back from the light as if it was poison to the clouds, but it seemed to fight against the light trying not to give up hard won ground. Gammel stopped praying long enough to see something moving in and out of the shadows to their left. “Over there. Evig, watch over us.” Thunder rumbled around them in the dark clouds rippling around them like a moving creature.
Leonidas’ angelic name had been invoked; Evig, Watcher of the Light. Evig smiled as power surged through his wings down into his angelic form and rose once more as a light that passed through his eyes. His eyes became like pools of liquid yellow light. Looking into them the light would ripple and sway like the surface of a lake.
He turned his gaze 360 degrees and scanned the walls of darkness. Light filtered much of the fog but there was still a great darkness around them. It was deep, maybe a quarter of a mile in all directions around them. But once in a while he saw what Gammel had seen, something flying through the darkness in and out. It circled them like a predator, it was searching for a weakness and the right time to strike.
Gammel finished praying as the walls of darkness had shrank away even farther from them giving them 250 yards of clear skies on all sides. Gammel unsheathed his sword and whispered something as his hand passed over the blade. The blade shimmered and crackled as miniature cords of lightning wrapped itself over the metallic edge.
Evig scanned the walls of darkness once more and noted more shapes moving around. “We have company, brother.” He knocked and arrow onto his bow and pulled the cord tightly to his ear. His eyes sighted down the white shaft the glimmered and gleamed. They both prepared themselves for an attack from any direction; their senses fully attuned and heightened around them.
The attack came from the left and the right as 2 drakes on each side burst from the shadowed walls. Fog swirled around them in wisps as they broke through the barrier. The riders brandished wickedly looking lances, their tips barbed and serrated as their milky black wood shafts seemed to grow in size as they got closer.
Evig fired the arrow at the one on his left, the shaft digging deeply into the stomach of the rider. The drake continued riderless toward them as his former master spiraled away below them. The other shot forward as his partner had distracted the Eschrehim for a moment. The rider’s lance jabbed forward as the drake flew past Evig’s right side. Evig barely had time to block the shot and the lance went glancing away from his chest to scrape across his arm. The barbs dragged across his robes tearing the sleeve off and biting momentarily into his flesh. Evig winced as he realized the tips had been imbued with shadow poison.
Gammel snapped his wings twice and shot forward directly at the rider on his left. His sword held high above him he plowed into the rider, nearly knocking him off his saddle. The lance went spinning away into the fog from the attack. The rider screamed in anger as he tried to grab hold of his sword but Gammel put his silvered boot down on his hand. He stepped down hard crushing the rider’s clawed fingers against the hilt of the sword.
The other drake rider had swung around and was now bearing down on them both, hoping to dislodge Gammel from atop the drake’s back. Gammel quickly swung his sword from left to right, slicing the rider’s head off of its robed body in front of him. Seconds later the other drake bore down on the Eschrehim and Gammel barely had time to bring his sword to bare, slicing across the neck and underbelly of the drake as it tried to knock him off.
The creature cried out as its life force spilt freely from several gashes. It wiped its tail as it flew past trying vainly one last time to knock Gammel away, but Gammel batted it aside with his sword. He then quickly turned around to face forward on the drake he was standing on and reared back before plunging his sword up to its hilt into the base of the neck of the serpent.
The blade punctured a lung and the creature’s wails fell silent as it struggled to breathe.
Gammel leapt from its back and flew after the second drake. Its body was becoming limp in several places and its flapping was haggard. He knew it wouldn’t live much longer, but the rider still had his mount under control.
Evig took off after his attacker, firing arrow after arrow, but they only seemed to glance off the drake’s body or miss completely.
The shadow poison…He thought as he snapped his wings twice to catch up to the rider. He could see only empty sockets for eyes as the rider glanced back at him.
Dakkas riders, only they would be able to stand the evil of a Dark Messenger.
Their unholy creation was a baptism in tainted holy water. The shadow powers that swirled in those waters, ripped your soul from you and turned your skin color to bleached bone. Their eyes were taken as a payment for their initiation and so they only saw through shadow. They whole world was devoid of color and instead they only saw a dull and dreary gradient around them.
Evig shuddered at the thought of the ritual they went through. Its very existence was sacrilege to the Light. He pulled forth his sword and landed on the back of the drake, swinging down at the rider. The Dakkas swung his lance around and stopped the sword inches from his head. He spoke in the dark speech of his master as he snapped his wrists to push the sword and Evig backward and up. The Dakkas quickly swung the lance around at blinding speed and jabbed forward at Evig’s right leg.
Evig tried to regain his balance in time but the poison was slowing him down. Before his sword could block the shot the serrated tip sunk deeply into his calf and exploded out the back. He cried out in agony, the scream piercing every corner of the battlefield below. The soldiers on the ramparts of the fortress below covered their ears, trying to block out the scream.
Gammel snapped around to find Evig, and gave up chase of the wounded drake. He flew quickly back toward Evig and the other rider. Something suddenly shot out of the wall of shadow to his left and grabbed hold of wrist ripping back the other way in a violent motion. The barbed edges of a whip’s cord had wrapped around and bit deeply into his flesh. Ash and embers flickered and flitted away as if the whip itself was smoldering.
Gammel brought his sword around to cut it as Keromas burst through the shadowed wall diving straight for him. Keromas yanked hard on the whip snapping Gammel’s arm away as his drake shot its neck forward trying to bite at Gammel’s face.
Gammel brought his sword forward in an upward slashing momentum and cut into the drake’s chin cutting off one of the tentacle like tendrils that dangled there. It snapped its head back in pain and screeched, shuddering its head and neck. The electricity that ran up and down Gammel’s sword shot forward and blasted the creature in the face, burning out its eyes and searing its leathery face. It bellowed and screamed and snapped its wings to pull back. Keromas had a hard time controlling it in the air as he still held onto the whip. Gammel took the momentary distraction and cut the whip with his sword. Fiery embers shot out from the frayed end of the cord and then snapped back toward Keromas as he recoiled the damaged weapon.
Keromas whipped his mount around and flew off into the dark fog around them, the screams of his drake could still be heard all around. Gammel grabbed his wrist and rolled it around as pain shot up and through his arm. Shadow poison coursed through his angelic body, blurring his vision and causing his wings to stiffen.
Gammel quickly said a prayer to Eschua, “Father, bathe me in light…” His wings and arms outstretched toward the heavens. A cone of brilliant light broke through the fog above them. Its beautiful light, blinding to mortals, washed over him. The light seemed to be alive as it became like liquid and rushed around his body, finding every scrape and cut. It rushed into the wounds and coursed through his body like a tidal wave. Light poured out of every wound as they healed one by one. The shadow poison retreated from the liquid light coursing through his body until finally it was driven from his body.
He felt refreshed as he turned to find Evig. He searched around until he saw the drake with Evig on its back heading toward the opposite wall of darkness. Gammel snapped his wings and shot across the empty expanse, drawing his sword out as he closed the distance. Evig was struggling to defend against the Dakkas. The wound of his leg was so severe that several times he had almost past out and fallen away.
Gammel came upon the group and sliced down hard onto the head of the Dakkas. So mighty and so powerful was the blow that it split straight down through its skull to its shoulders. Gammel then ripped the sword out and spun around for one last attack and stabbed with all his might into the back of the drake. The assault was so powerful that he buried the sword all the way past the hilt, piercing both lungs and its heart. The drake died immediately and fell limp in the air. It began to plummet toward the ground with Evig still on its back.
Gammel quickly followed down after them, trying to find away around its spastic barbed tail and dangling clawed feet. The dropped at incredible speeds and Gammel could see the battlefield far below rushing up to meet them as they pierced through the fog of darkness.
The battle below had been raging for some time now. Gammel saw that the fortress was hard pressed on all sides and that the eastern wall was taking such a beating from catapults it was no wonder that there hadn’t been a breech yet.
Evig began to close his eyes, he fought with all his might against it but the shadow poison had been in his system for too long. The shadow attack was such a violation to the being of Light that Evig was quickly passing into shadow himself.
“I am almost there brother,” Gammel said as he raced onward trying to catch up to them. He snapped his wings twice more and whispered an ancient prayer. He was suddenly covered in light from head to toe, completely bathed in it. It was so bright that the soldiers below stopped fighting for it blinded them; it blinded everyone. Gammel shot forward reaching out for Evig whose body had gone limp. He caught hold of him under his shoulders and yanked back hard. He flapped his wings relentlessly trying to slow them down and change their course away from the ground.
The strain on his wings and the weight of Evig took every ounce of energy from Gammel. The drake crashed into the a group of soldiers seconds later, the force from the bombardment of such a large mass crushed 15 soldiers and blasted a hundred more off their feet in all directions. The light around Gammel and Evig still blinded everyone else as Gammel pulled with all his might. Just 20 feet above the ground they leveled off and Gammel sped away for the tower balconies.
“I’ve got you brother, the Almighty has heard my prayers.” He flew them toward the chapel balcony near the top. As he reached its railing Aeromas appeared with the orb as Gammel touched down on the stone flooring. Evig was carefully placed on the ground as Aeromas came forward. Boono and Bleeji appeared a moment later.
Gammel was not happy, “You were supposed to be safely gone, you have a errand to see through.” He laid Evig’s arms over his chest and looked over his wounds.
Bleeji came forward, “We are sorry my lord but we were helping with the wounded below.” Boono came to the other side of Evig, “It’s true my lord, we are very sorry.”
Gammel shook his head, “I am sorry my friends, I didn’t mean to snap. But you can help now, both of you must hurry to my quarters and find a sapphire blue vial.” He looked down at Evig, “I need it for Evig, the poison has spread too far through his system and he is quickly falling into shadow.
The gnomes gasped, Bleeji stepped forward, “We will hurry.” With that, Bleeji pulled Boono away and they quickly headed through the chapel to the staircase beyond.
Gammel turned back to Evig, “I am sorry my friend, I have used so much power in our fight, that I barely have anything left.” He whispered another prayer and placed both hands on either side of Evig’s face. His hands glowed and he could see some color coming back into the pallid skin. He knew it wasn’t enough though, “Just hold on for a little while longer.”
Merwenna sat beside her mother in the great hall of Helmcross. Father Tillman stood beside her mother and they conversed quietly as everyone waited for the next order of business.
Cristiana was a few steps behind Merwenna keeping an ever watchful eye on all exits. Her hand sat rigidly on the hilt of her sword ready to strike at a moment’s notice. Mariana did the same off to Lady Alicia’s left; things had been rough since her father and brother had left. Constable Jotham and the other soldiers did not approve of all of them leaving together. They felt at least the dwarf or Berwyn should have stayed to run things while Lord Orin was away.
Although Constable Jotham was a good man he did not believe that a woman should be looking to the preparations of Helmcross on the eve of war. Some of the other soldiers agreed but there had only been grumbling amongst everyone. The last meeting at least had gone better than the previous ones.
The soldiers were armed and ready for battle. All walls and gates had double the guards and round the clock patrols. Constable Jotham had rounded up every able body man that could fight. A new militia had now bolstered the ranks even more and had allowed for everyone to receive ample rotation on and off.
Hammerfell Keep was the busiest it had ever been. Truth of darker times was realized in the increase of messengers from villages and farther off towns. People had seen an increase of attacks on the Greymist Pass and other roads on either side of the Reach. Sir Redwald and his knights had worked tirelessly side by side with Constable Jotham and his guard setting the defenses and training the militia. Everything had been efficiently and effortlessly conducted when word went out that Lord Orin was leaving on a quest. Mordecai, a Dwarven rogue, and Drogo, a Dwarven guard, were sent immediately south through the tunnels to warn the Dwarven capital of Uruk. They had made haste with several other Dwarven merchants who had abandoned their routes over the pass to spread the word. Odon Birchwood, a human blacksmith, and Theros Ironforge, a Dwarven blacksmith, kept the forges running day and night to produce extra armor and weapons for the weeks to come.
And Merwenna had sat through every meeting and oversaw every implementation with her mother. She was exhausted and she knew her mother was too, even if she didn’t show it. Looking at her mother she wondered how even now she looked so regal.
What is your secret mother?
How do you keep from exploding inside?
She gripped her stomach as it groaned and complained inside from the stress of everything. She looked back at Cristiana for a moment who shot her a reassuring smile before going back to her duties. Merwenna shot a smile back and then turned back to see the great hall doors swing wide open.
Barbossa, the commander of the Geldwheel Tunnel Gate deep in the rock just north of the town, came rushing in. Behind him a gaggle of gnomes hurried after him, doing their best to keep pace. They quickly covered the distance to the foot of the throne steps. Barbossa immediately took a knee, bowing his head deeply. “Forgive me, my lady, for this intrusion but there is urgent news from the north.” His long black locks swept across his face as he looked up at Lady Alicia. Merwenna noted his seasoned skin and the ghostly look of a man who has spent a great deal of time beneath the surface.
Lady Alicia straightened her dress as she leaned forward. “Who is it that comes rushing in with you without an introduction?” She pointed to the 3 gnomes who now stood side by side each one bowing low. The round ears and button noses were bright red with embarrassment.
One looked up, “Forgive me, Lady Alicia Greystoke of Helmcross,” he bowed once more and then continued, “I am high magus Adoril Millstone. And these,” he motioned to the other two, “are Lebus and Roono, respectively.” Lebus’ curly red hair poked out from under his pointy hat in several places. Roono had sandy blonde hair that was cut short and Merwenna could tell he was a warrior of sorts. He had two short swords crossed over his back and a tiny buckler attached to his left arm.
Merwenna looked back to Adoril as he continued, “We are emissaries from Geldwheel, and we seek the help of the great Lord Orin and the might of Helmcross.” He took a deep breath as he paused for a second before continuing, “We have just come all the way from Mudhaven to the far north. We had been their on a political quest, one that would hopefully unite our two cities against the rising threat in the Mud Bogs.”
A few nobles murmured off to the sides of the hall, dignitaries from other towns in need of help. Lady Alicia raised her hand for silence, “I am sorry Ambassador Adoril, but Lord Orin is away on an urgent quest. We are preparing our own defenses against the rising threats here in the Reach.” She glanced at Father Tillman who nodded in agreement, “Tell me, ambassador, what is this threat you speak of?”
Magus Adoril was taken aback at first and the missing presence of Lord Orin, “Forgive me, my lady, but I was assured that Lord Orin would be here to plead my case too. We have become hard pressed across the bogs and the edges of the Northern Reach by a growing army out of Moss Haven.” More murmuring from the nobles around them frustrated Lady Alicia.
Merwenna glanced at her mother, watching her reaction, doing her best to determine her next action. Lady Alicia seemed to be lost in deep thought, though she seemed to look to Father Tillman every so often for reassurance. Lady Alicia cleared her throat to silence the buzzing around the hall, “How sure are you about this army? It isn’t just a few bands of orcs and trolls causing havoc?” She waved her hand dismissively in the air.
“No, my lady, Geldwheel has already had several assaults against its northern gate by armed soldiers numbering in the thousands.” His features saddened as he thought of the last battle he had witnessed before being sent here. He had lost his brother, Hertford Millstone, to a goblin arrow. “The gnomes have lost good citizens in these attacks, but Mudhaven has been all but overrun. They will not last a fortnight if something isn’t done soon.”
Father Tillman leaned in to whisper to Lady Alicia, Merwenna did her best to overhear. “My lady, we have enough men here to guard Helmcross.” He looked around the room, stopping at Merwenna’s gaze before turning back, “We could send a few men with an envoy to see what is going on. If it’s not too bad, we could then send more troops.”
Lady Alicia continued his thought, “If it’s worse, then we can do nothing but send word to the other towns.” She looked down at the gnomes and saw the sadness in their eyes. She thought it over for a moment and noticed Father Tillman looking at Merwenna. She seemed to read his thoughts, “Absolutely not Father. I will not send Merwenna out there into the dangers beyond.” Her voice was still a whisper but dangerously becoming something more. “Her place is here with me, tending to the needs of Helmcross. I will not send her to her death in some far off country side.”
Merwenna couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
Father Tillman believes I can be the emissary?
Her heart fluttered with joy and fear all in the same moment. She was still upset with not being able to go with her father. But now she felt she could do some real work for she knew everything here was ready. She was not needed here right now, her mother could handle things.
Father Tillman smiled at Lady Alicia, seeing the fire in her eyes. He knew she meant well, but he also knew that Merwenna was more than capable of being an ambassador. “Lady Alicia, you would not be sending her into direct danger. She would just be going to assess the threat and return here immediately afterward.” He glanced back at the gnomes for a moment, thinking, “My lady, your daughter will be alright. We both know how well she can take care of herself. And you know how good she is in politics.” He gestured to both of them as he talked, “This is her chance to do some good and get out of here for a bit. Everything that can be done here is done.” He laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder, “Let her do this Lady Alicia, let her prove to you, and to herself how good she is.”
Lady Alicia bit her lip as she thought over the priest’s words. She shook her head and smiled before glancing at Merwenna. She was looking at her intently; obviously she had heard all or some of the conversation. “Ok,” she whispered to herself. She looked back to Adoril and the other gnomes, “I can spare 10 knights, and my daughter will act as emissary for Helmcross to ascertain the situation.” She could tell Merwenna was beaming without even looking over. She turned her gaze toward Barbossa, “Commander Barbossa, you and Sir Gavland will take 8 other men, and escort Merwenna and Cristiana to Geldwheel.”
Barbossa stood up straight and slammed his fist against his chest, “It will be done my lady.” With that he quickly turned and swiftly walked out of the hall.
“Everyone else is dismissed for the day,” she waved her left hand toward the doors. The gnomes looked at one another in astonishment and then waited for instructions, “Ambassadors of Geldwheel, you shall rest tonight here in Hammerfell Keep and then tomorrow you shall make the journey back.”
The gnomes bowed, as High Magus Adoril spoke, “thank you Lady Greystoke for your assistance and hospitality.” With that they too turned and headed out of the hall.
Merwenna waited until they had left before standing and rushing over to her mother. She quickly remembered her manners and slowed to a walk before bowing before her mother, “Thank you mother, I will not disappoint you.” She was shocked when Lady Alicia surged up out of her seat and wrapped her arms around her daughter.
“I know you will be fine with the others at your side. Be safe daughter,” she whispered into Merwenna’s ear and then quickly turned and headed for the door that led to the private quarters.