Chapter Six: Dire Things
A warm breeze swept through the forest as Lord Wyn galloped into the woods, passing like a wind through the trees astride his pale steed. It was quiet in the forest, but he could hear small creatures scampering on the ground, climbing trees, and sailing through the air. He heard a fox running in the bushes, a squirrel痴 delicate steps, and a prancing deer some yards away. The wind on his face curved slightly and he knew a bird flew near.
He paused a moment, sensing there was something amiss in the forest. He rode to the river that ran at the edge of the wood and stared into the hills. He found no creatures, but felt a presence he did not recognize, a dark thing in the hills, dwelling in the shadows beneath the earth.
He listened to the wind as it blew around him and then his eyes caught something in the river. It floated downstream and he saw it was a torch. No others could have perceived what he saw then, for it was a trace of blood no eyes could discern.
Then his gaze turned north where the river led into a cavernous hill.
At that moment, an elf was overlooking a vast chasm as he scrambled onto a ledge to escape the strange things that pursued him. He hurried down the narrow stretch that wound its way around the chasm, but the rocks collapsed under his weight and he fell, tumbling through the air. His descent stopped suddenly and he found himself suspended with arms and legs splayed against a giant web, staring down at the river below. He was very still, afraid he might tear the web if he moved, but the threads supported his weight. He stood up slowly and inched his way across the web with his sword drawn.
Three creatures crawled onto the web and he saw they were giant spiders. He stood ready to receive the things that came out of shadows and, before they were upon him, another being appeared, floating in the air above him. It came toward him, gliding out of the darkness, and as it passed under a moonbeam, its vile form was revealed. It was a hideous troll with crimson eyes that glowed with a terrible light. He stared up at the troll and suddenly he could not move, held by its terrible gaze. There was movement all around as creatures poured out of the caves, covering the walls with their numbers. Still facing the troll, he tried to tear his eyes away from its gaze, fighting to free himself from its sorcerous hold. He struggled, exerting every part of his mind and body to defy the demonic presence, and then he swept his sword and sliced through the strands.
He fell into the rolling water with a crash. Caught in the current, he tried to keep his head above water, avoiding stalactites that appeared in his path as he was carried down the winding stream.
Suddenly, he was lifted out of the water, seized by some invisible force and held suspended in the air. A strange radiance was spreading around him, coming out of the walls like black flames. He felt a cold, malevolent presence as dark vapors surrounded him. Then he saw two glowing eyes staring at him and knew the troll was near.
He screamed as the black vapors entered his body, sensing vile entities coursing through his being, piercing his soul. The shaith invaded his mind, searching his thoughts and memories, absorbing every part of his consciousness. He felt them twisting inside him, dimly aware of the troll who commanded the wicked things as he cried out. The shaith circled him as he hung in the air, spinning round like wicked shadows, tormenting him with their malice. He was too weak to scream now, drained by sorcerous powers that broke his spirit and siphoned his energy. Barely conscious, he saw the troll before him, and as it came closer, he perceived with horror that its eyes were two red jewels. It raised a withered hand and a horrible croaking issued from its cruel jaw. He could feel his strength waning, his life slipping, dissolving into nothing as he stared into the glaring jewels that eyed him. Behind that crimson gaze, he sensed a presence fouler than any being he could imagine. A terror seized him.
Suddenly, the cavern was alight as something flashed through the darkness. The troll screamed, clutching its neck where a shaft burned with a blue flame, and the shaith scattered as Wyn loosed another arrow.
The troll tore the shaft out, but the blue flame still burned at its throat. Then it fled, passing through a rock wall, and the elf splashed into the water.
Wyn caught the warrior as he floated downstream and pulled him out of the river, barely alive. The shaith were dancing in the air, gathering themselves for another attack. Wyn loosed a blazing shaft into the horde, then took up his sword that flared with a blue flame at his touch.
The beings were upon him and he smote the dire things like a deathly wind, brandishing his flaming sword with a daunting speed and power. The dark things hissed and scattered, shooting back into the cave. Wyn swept his flaming sword and slew three shaith as they fled away into darkness.
He stood for a moment looking into the cave, then sheathed his blade. He lifted the warrior onto his steed and rode swiftly to the palace.