Uncaging the beast
In the steep, but rather puny, eroded mountains south of Westmark called The Rattooth Mountains, nearly fifteen miles from the sight of the night sentries on the town walls, a wondrous sight filled the deep darkness of the valleys with an eerie blue glow. Over some of the flatter knobs of the Rattooth hovered a strange craft. It was kept aloft by magic, a swirling underneath the craft’s hull betraying the ridiculously expensive enchantment cast on it to make it float on the air as if it were water. It resembled a large merchant sailing ship, yet not exactly, for it was much larger then any vessel that sailed the seas and its bottom was flat so it could, if needed, land safely on the ground. The propulsion was by the wind, just like a sea ship, though the wizards that manned it could fill the sails even on the calmest days.
The strange craft hovered over the top of one of the smaller mountains of the range, about 10 feet off the ground, and near it stood a small group of black robbed figures, waiting very nervously as a cargo door slowly slid inward to reveal the hold of the ship. From within the hold, chanting could be heard, a unison of hoarse male voices that changed tempo a moment or two after the door was fully open. The figures on the ground backed away from the vessel and suddenly a ball of green glowing light seemed to float through the doorway and then travel a short distance away from the ship, as the figures on the ground made way for it to pass them. The ball was followed by six more black robed figures, each chanting and gesturing in the intricate hand maneuvers that were part of the joint containment spell they were generating.
One of the six chanters broke away from the others and approached the first group that had watched them disembark.
"It is in the sphere." the man said in a voice that was nearly spent, "As soon as we stop chanting, it will be free, so get your men on board immediately, before our voices are completely gone."
The others immediately hurried toward the floating airship as a small rope ladder was dangled from the edge of the hatchway so they could climb inside. Overhead the sky was pulsing with lightning from a summer thunderstorm that was preparing to unleash its fury. All the black robbed figures looked anxiously at the approaching storm, for their task had to be completed before it hit, so the airship could rise above the front.
The last two of the men who had been waiting for the airship were preparing for their chance to climb the ladder into the hold of the magic craft when there was a brilliant flash of lightning and an immediate boom of thunder that stunned them all. On the summit of the neighboring mountain, a tree exploded into sparks from the lightning strike, but that was of no concern to them. For the lightning had made the six mages falter – just for an instant— in their spell, and the blue magic sphere disappeared like a popped bubble. Before any of them could scream out a warning, the beast that had been encased in the containment spell sprang forth, leaping high on very muscular legs, to knock down the mage nearest to it. The man only managed a short yelp of horror before the large, pointed, beak-like mouth filled with an army of razor sharp teeth, closed around the wizard’s head.
A second Mage began quickly chanting a spell as the other four raced toward the ladder hanging from the airship. The two on the ladder had quickly scrambled up into the hold of the craft and were yelling for the helmsman to lift off. Slowly the craft inched upward, as the beast quickly consumed the fallen mage. Suddenly it seemed to notice the chanting mage and it leaped forward, just as the wizard finished casting his spell. A glowing red arrow of light slammed into the monster squarely between its eyes, but the spell did not seem to even stun the beast, which reared on its hind legs and slashed at the wizard. The magic-user managed to jump backward in time to avoid the first swipe, only to be shredded by the thing’s other set of claws. The man fell dead, but the creature had now spotted the airship with the dangling wizards who were frantically trying to climb up the swaying rope ladder. With an elephant-like trumpeting, the beast leaped over the second dead wizard and dashed toward the craft.
"GO, GO, GO!!! GET US OUT OF HERE!!!" ,screamed the men in the hold and on the ladder, unified in their terror. Arrows from archers on the deck above whizzed through the air, some impacting harmlessly against the rock-hard, shell-like scales of the monster. The helmsmen on the desk were joined by several wizards who were frantically chanting spells to assist in the slow rise of the craft. But it wasn’t quick enough. The creature made a massive leap, its claws fully extended and mouth gaping wide. The ship itself was out of the beast’s range, but it wasn’t the monster’s goal. The maw snapped shut tightly on the legs of the last mage on the ladder, pulling him violently to the ground, as the ferocity of its attack tore the ladder free, sending two others tumbling off as well.
The fall stunned both wizards, but the thing had paused to chew up the mage it had grabbed from the ladder, so they had a moment to recover. Both scrambled to get to their feet, one hobbling on one leg as he managed to stand. The men cried out to their companions in the airship, but the craft was now beyond their reach and both knew they would not be rescued. Before a plan of action could be spoken, the terrible monstrosity had finished its victim and glanced over toward them, its mouth gaping wide as if giving a horrible toothy grin. The mage hobbling on one leg began chanting a spell, while the other one pulled a wand from his robes. As the beast bounded the short distance toward them, the second mage flicked the wand at the monster and a glowing hot ball of fire shot forth from the end with a *swoosh!*. The fireball hit the thing squarely on the left shoulder with a loud explosion and for an instant it was engulfed in red and orange flames.
The creature howled loud with pain, but instead of stopping it, the spell seemed to enrage it, for with a loud trumpeting sound it sprang the last few feet and knocked the wobbly legged wizard to the ground, breaking his spell casting. The beast ignored the man though and stepped on his chest as it faced the second wizard who had hurt it with his wand. The wounded mage’s chest cavity caved in as the beast pushed off of his body to lunge at the second mage. The man tried to activate the wand a second time, but the monster snapped its jaws on the wand, ripping it free from the hands of the wizard. The spell-caster flashed out with an enchanted dagger, stabbing frantically at the beady eyes of the creature. The dagger bounced off the heavy scales of the head, deflecting without any harm and missing the monster’s eye. Four times the mage managed to stab at the eyes of the beast before it raked him down with its razor sharp claws. It was over a moment later and the nightmarish creature seemed content to completely forget the airship now hovering some sixty feet above it as it hungrily tore into the flesh of its victims.
High above, peering over the sides, a small crowd of black robed mages and armored guards glanced at the carnage below. An elderly man wearing black robes trimmed with ornate silver designs smiled at the scene, "It is a success. A pity we had to lose those men, but that just shows the ferocity of the Ah’ndengin-mat. No doubt the poor fools in Westmark will learn this very soon."
Another mage, slightly younger, stood next to the elder mage, also looking over the edge of the ship at the creature below, "How do we know it will go to the town?"
"It will smell the scent of many humans – they are always attracted by that. It is a stupid beast, but very vicious. It is not a natural creature – the first was bred centuries ago, this is one of only a handful of its clones. Not an easy enchantment, cloning such a terrible thing as the Ah’ndengin-mat. The word means "To rage, slay and eat" in Elven, and it describes it flawlessly. Those in the southlands refer to them as "Awinjin". They devastate a region when set loose. I almost feel sorrow for those who stumble upon its path."
"But won’t it be eventually killed? Is it worth the loss of such a creature? We cannot surely reanimate it."
"No, certainly not reanimated. But the council feels the loss is worth it as long as it kills many, and they may not be able to kill it, at least not until it has left much destruction. They will have no idea what it is or how to defeat it. Either way, it will achieve our Guild’s purposes. Tell the pilot to set sail back to base, regrettably, we won’t see the creature’s fury, but we shall enjoy the fruit of its labor."