Chapter Twenty-Nine: The Horn of Cranus
Efkin parried another blow, and then, without hesitation, leapt from the tower in pursuit of the wraith.
“Shuuel!” he cried.
He fell toward the earth and flung his pendant away. An instant later, he was climbing into the sky on a sentient wind. With a gesture, Vahnd sent the shaith after the elf and then disappeared into his cloak of shadows.
Vahnd waved his hand and the shaith that were gathered around him scattered to pursue the elf as he disappeared into his cloak of shadows.
Lightning flashed as Efkin soared higher, gliding on a sentient wind in pursuit of the demon. He knew his effort was in vain. The poison of the Runes had tainted him. He could not blow the horn, but something compelled him to recover the gift of ancestors, an instinct he could not deny.
The shaith were dashing through the air, spinning in wild patterns and, for a moment, he lost the demon in the confusion. Then a breeze blew him past the twisting shapes, guiding him through the chaos, and he found the demon twirling in the clouds.
The creature darted away as he swept his sword and chased the shrieking ghoul across the heavens. The skies flashed with myriad colors and the air stirred with strange forces.
Harbinger was crooning louder. A black substance still issued from its hilt, spilling like faint smoke into the air. He wondered what sorcery had affected it. Then he gasped with awareness. The sylvan blade was absorbing the poison of sorcery. It had been doing so in the tunnels, drawing the foul power of the Runes away from him.
As if to applaud his insight, Harbinger pierced the air with a keen note. Then a harsh sound came from the blade and, for an instant, it flashed with a black radiance, expunging the last bit of sorcery from its mystic silver. Then it glowed bright white. No trace of poison issued from its hilt.
Efkin was shooting across the sky, driven by a euphoric new hope as he pursued a demon that moved like black mist, slashing the air with his gleaming blade. Below him, the earth glowed with rivers of flame as lava coursed through the Runes.
Suddenly a patch of darkness appeared against the horizon. It hung over the earth like a hole in the sky, shifting and growing as it shaped itself into a sphere. The shaith surrounded the black orb, spinning circles around it, and the sphere grew larger, eclipsing the sun. The shaith were spinning faster and faster, circling the black orb like shadowy ribbons, and the skies darkened with a purple haze as strange energies were released.
Then a grey mass fell out of the spherical void with such force the earth quaked and clouds of dust swept the air. In the midst of the swirling debris, Efkin caught a glimpse of two crimson eyes as a titan emerged from the hole in the sky.
Efkin was flying through the air in a panic, desperate to recover the horn, but the demon had escaped him. He felt despair for a moment. Then a wind stirred and he was blown like a leaf toward the demon. The creature shrieked and, before it could fly away, Efkin slew the black terror with a swift stroke of his crooning blade.
The demon faded and the horn fell to earth. Efkin went swiftly after it, still caught in the grip of breezy spirits who guided his descent. He grasped the horn before it fell into the river of flame.
The earth shook as the Anarkai took another step and Efkin gasped at the sight of the giant, for though he hovered in the clouds he stared up at the titan that loomed over the world. It turned its massive head and its terrible eyes were upon him. He put the horn to his lips and the gift of ancestors rang across the plain. The sound echoed for miles and all the world chimed with the song of the Sylph, a healing note that rang through all of existence, and the land stirred with some hidden force that shook the farthest mountains.
The ground cracked suddenly and parts of the plain crumbled away into a great pit that opened with a flash of light as something emerged out of the earth. It was enormous, a thing of soil and rock that sprouted from the ground and rose high into the air. It climbed higher and higher until it stood like a mountain of dirt, and then it divided into five lengths that spread against the sky and Efkin saw the massive thing was a hand. He stared in wonder at the sight, for the earth itself reached out to save the land.
The hand closed on the Anarkai and the titan fought to break free, but it could not defy the powers summoned against it, and Ggrrom smote the beast with a crack of thunder that boomed through the heavens.
There was a rush of air as powerful energies were released and Efkin was thrown out of the sky and sent hurtling toward the earth. As he fell, he saw no rivers of flame below, for Ggrrom had come through the ground and sundered the plain. The Runes were broken.
The skies were glowing as he fell through the clouds, spiraling toward the earth. A wind sang like a song in his ear and a shimmering breeze slowed his descent so that he drifted like a feather to the ground.
He stared up at the flashing sky, at once mesmerized by the play of colors that washed the heavens. In the distance, the Anarkai fell to earth in pieces, crushed by the hand of soil that stood against the horizon.
The horn was glowing in his hand as Ggrrom descended back into the earth. Then it flashed with a white light and vanished.
“Efkin!” he heard Ebin call.
Below he found Ebin and Colun peering up at him through a crack in the ground. He was about to reply, but his eye caught the glow of lava and he had no time for words as he leapt into the fissure to escape the river of flame.
The three were running down a tunnel as the lava flowed behind them, spilling into the catacombs through cracks that sundered the earth. The ground was shaking as they fled down the twisting passage, dodging rocks that fell in their path, and the walls seemed to blur as they passed into darkness. The cavern shifted and groaned, trembling with forces that stirred in the deepest layers of the earth, and they stumbled in the dark as the passage collapsed around them.
Then light spilled in from a hole above and they climbed the rubble and emerged onto the cobbled street of a walled city. They stood a moment staring up at buildings that touched the sky, impressed by the enormity of the structures.
“There is some sorcery in the tunnels that bends great distances,” Efkin said.
Colun nodded as he scanned the area. They heard the trample of feet and drew their swords. Armored soldiers came running into the square, spilling out of one of the buildings. There was a burst of fire behind them and they shouted as licks of flame whipped their backs. Some of the men scattered in terror down the street, but some others turned and stood waiting to receive a slender being who walked through the flames. They faced Lord Chaelos as he came into their midst; beside him, Lord Wyn appeared in a flash of blue flame that curled from his lithe form.
The men formed a circle around the elves and prepared to attack. Chaelos raised a glowing hand and sent them running with a fiery burst.
Efkin approached the two lords. “What are you doing here?”
“The druid appeared to us at sea and said we should find you here,” said Wyn.
“And others are coming,” said Chaelos. “You have blown the horn?”
“Then we must make haste. The dark lords marshal their forces as we speak.”
Arrows whistled through the air and Chaelos caught the shafts in a cloud of flame that burst over their heads. There was movement in the buildings as archers lined the rooftops and a column of soldiers appeared across the square. More soldiers came and the streets rang with the clatter of armored men.
A black thing darted past them. Wyn raised his bow and loosed an arrow that flared with a blue flame at his touch and the creature fell out of the sky with a shriek. The archer looked up and saw shaith spinning in the air.
Harbinger hummed and the ground shook as a shadow fell over the square. Efkin turned his gaze up and was gripped with terror when he saw the creatures that had come. Giant wolves with eyes like red fires leapt into the square and charged them.
Chaelos blasted his flames and vaporized one of the wolves before it hit the ground. Efkin swept Harbinger up and slew another wolf in a flash of silver. He leapt aside as a wolf bounded toward him and crashed into a column, tearing the support from its foundation so that part of a building collapsed on the mad thing. The wolf emerged from the debris, snarling and kicking in a rage as it tried to catch Wyn with its clashing jaws, but the archer moved with an otherworldly speed, almost invisible as he stabbed and slashed the beast in a whirl of blue flame, and the wolf fell with a crash that broke the paved square.
Harbinger was still humming when they slew the last of the wolves. More creatures were coming. They saw the horde advancing, a mass of sorcerous beasts with ghastly forms spread against the horizon; there were dragons with black wings that darkened the sky, strange beasts with many heads and limbs, and other terrors none had seen or imagined, an army of dire things they could not hope to defeat.
Chaelos was glowing and his face was grim as he summoned all his fiery might, waiting to receive the horde. Wyn aimed his bow high, ready to meet the beasts with arrows that were lit with the Flame of ancestors. Efkin stood with Ebin and Colun, his crooning blade gripped in both hands as he waited for the end. He did not fear death, for he had stood between the planes and seen what lies beyond the material realm, yet while he lived his natural instinct was to stay alive in this familiar sphere. They had won a great victory and, if he died, he would leave this world knowing the poison of the Runes had been cast from the earth.
And then they heard a sound. Behind them, the city gate was rising, seeming to move of its own volition and, as it lifted, a white light spilled into the streets. They stared into the brightness and saw many forms entering the citadel with silver blades glinting in the light of dusk. A team of elven archers quickly took positions in the square as the warriors poured out of the gate, filling the streets with their numbers, led by a group of elf lords who glowed with the light of ancestors. The great force swept into the city, and at once the elves stood against the dark things.
The horde was almost upon them. They held their position, swords and pikes braced to meet the strange creatures that came, knowing that no weapon they had forged could stave off the sorceries these dark lords would unleash, yet they did not falter. In this land of shadows where their enemy had terrible strength, the elves stood fast and without fear, prepared to fight an army of impossible horrors.
A dark thing came into their midst. It moved with speed, darting in and out of their ranks, but for an instant it was still and they could see its crimson eyes peering at them. It hissed and spun upward, and then more shaith came. The elves were startled by the shrieking things, but gave no ground, holding their position. The wraiths were all around them, their forms difficult to perceive as they dashed back and forth. Peledomn raised a glowing hand to dispel the demons and they scattered, sensing his power. As they dashed away, Efkin felt Harbinger stir in his grip and suddenly felt compelled to raise the sword. He lifted the blade high, a blind thrust, and instantly pierced one of the wraiths. He stood a moment, staring at the thing as it writhed on his sword like a curl of black smoke, and then Harbinger was humming. He raised the sword higher in a gesture of defiance that gave courage to the elves. Less poised were the soldiers of Mor, ill at ease with this scarlet elf waving his sword with a demon spitted on the singing blade.
Peledomn came forward, glowing with a white light, and their attention quickly turned to him. His light spread over the elves so that a bright radiance hung over the entire company and the beasts halted. He spoke and his voice rang in the air like a clap of thunder. “Hold! We come seeking three travelers who have strayed into this territory. Come no closer and the elves will leave this land in peace. Challenge us and your cities will crumble with the battles that will be fought.”
The White Lord stood facing the horde for some moments as the dire things stirred with restless movement, casting shadows over the square with their hideous forms. Somewhere amidst the beastly din, a captain conferred with his soldiers. The elves stood ready, waiting for the attack, holding a tight formation with shields raised, staring at an army that glinted with thousands of swords. The cobbled streets clattered as troops moved to surround the square. A grey mist formed in the air; it fell over the city like a thin veil of smoke, but then it grew thicker so that all visibility was obscured in a murky haze. The elves could see nothing in the sorcerous fog, but they heard sounds all around them, howling and snarling, the scrape of massive claws on stone, and they waited for the dire things to come. Harbinger was still humming and some noticed the sword was glowing dimly in the mist. Peledomn waved his hand and the fog dissolved and, to their surprise, the horde was gone. The beasts and their masters had turned away.