Dead of Night
It was the edge of twilight by the time they reached the fork in the road that would take Brother Darv's group back to Westmark and Aurei's band eastward toward Tally Station.
"Why not wait until morning to head out there? I doubt the Guild would bother with such a tiny village." Brother Darv tried one last time to persuade her to abandon her journey. For an instant she considered it, but the memory of the zombified villagers of Thurgood and of Brolen's fate steeled her nerve and so the two groups parted with reluctance.
"Hard decisions." Lute said after a few minutes of riding in silence, "It's been a tough day."
"I'm afraid it's only the beginning." She responded, glancing over suddenly to Siris, who rode in front of her husband on the largest of the horses they had taken from the barn. The Orc woman was doubling over in pain, bowing forward in the saddle, both hands on her belly.
"Are you okay?" Aurei asked at the same time as Sir Eleazar, while Lute held her onto the saddle. Glancing all around, Aurei could not make out anything that could have attacked her. Siris was in too much pain to answer, but waved her hands to indicate she was alright and that they should continue. Of course they didn't, and just gave the Orc woman a minute to regain her composure. She slowly sat upright again in the saddle, her breath coming in pants for a few moments before whatever had come over her had passed.
"Sorry." She said to them all, but especially to her husband, who was leaning over her shoulder deeply worried.
"What was it?" He asked.
"I'm not certain," she said weakly, but with a smile, "but I think it's what the northern Orcs call 'Foshnu-Za' -it means literally 'baby-grab' and I'm told that when an Orc woman has conceived a child it is the pain when the child attaches to his mother in the womb."
Lute let out a deep shout that would have told everything within a ten mile radius that they were there, but in spite of their urgency, at that moment Aurei didn't care. Lute had his wife in a joyous bear-hug and Aurei forced her horse over close so she could offer her the same thing, as Sir Eleazar awkwardly but quietly had to wait for the moment to end.
"Now, I'm not sure!" Siris was telling both her excited husband and Aurei, but by the gleam in her eyes that Aurei could even see in the deepening darkness, she seemed greatly confident. The Drow girl now really regretted not sending Lute and Siris back with Brother Darv and Sir Alvis.
"You know, maybe we should just ride back to Westmark tonight." She said, not wanting the couple's long awaited joy to be diminished by a long ride in the dark after a very terrible day.
"I'm fine to continue on." Siris assured her.
"You should get proper rest -besides, Lute is not comfortable on that horse and by the time we get to Tally Station it will be late. If Sir Eleazar and I rode out there on two horses we might be able to get back to Westmark before too late. Mallo Winnis' farm is just over the hill, maybe he could take you both back to town in his wagon."
"Do you not want us riding with you?" Siris asked her, feeling offended.
"I just don't want you to get too exhausted -I know what a baby means to both of you and if you are indeed pregnant, I want to make sure nothing happens. After the nightmare day we had today, you should rest. Eleazar and I can get there fast on two horses."
Siris nodded, with a tired sigh, "Oh, I guess you're right - okay, if you don't mind then, we'll see what Mallo says."
Aurei smiled, pleased that the Orc lady agreed to her reasoning.
A couple of minutes later they rode up to the Winnis farm -- a typical farmhouse with a large barn and a chicken coop. The light from candles was showing through the cracks underneath the barred windows and door to the farmhouse. As Lute and Eleazar tied up the horses at the hitching post near the well, Aurei and Siris went up onto the front porch, where the Drow girl knocked on the door.
"Mallo? Neara? It's Aurei Bugley."
An instant later a small slot opened in the front door and a crossbow with a bolt in place appeared as a pair of very nervous eyes glanced at them. Then the crossbow was withdrawn, the door's large bolt was slid back and it was flung open by a very anxious looking Mallo Winnis.
"Quick, Duchess, Siris, get inside!" He looked past them at Lute and Eleazar, "You two! Hurry and get in here!"
A question was on Aurei's lips, but the middle-aged man pushed both of them into the farmhouse and then frantically gestured to Lute and Eleazar, who hurried inside. As soon as Lute's large frame squeezed into the doorway, the man quickly shut the door and bolted it with a relieved sigh.
"Mallo, what's going on?" Aurei asked, glancing around the kitchen of the farmhouse. Neara sat by the fire holding their youngest son while their three other boys and two girls sat quietly watching the proceedings in the kitchen.
"You don't know?" Mallo answered her question with one of his own.
"Know what? We've been gone all day to Thurgood."
"My stars! You really don't know, do you?"
"Know what?" Aurei asked again, beginning to grow impatient.
"This afternoon -- a few hours after noon, I'd say -we were bringing hay into the barn for this winter when Henri saw something big flying toward us."
"Airship?" Eleazar asked, alarmed.
"No, it was something living -- then we saw there were about 6 of them; we thought they were dragons at first."
"Dragons?!" Aurei and Siris exclaimed at the same time.
"At first we thought they were. They were flying due north and I got all of my family into the cellar. When they got nearer I could see that they only had two legs and a barbed tail."
"Wyverns!" Eleazar exclaimed.
"Yes, at least that is what I thought they looked like. I'd never seen one of course. They were very large and flying in formation, low over the land as if they were searching for something. Maybe they were hunting for something to eat -I don't know- but thank Yesh they didn't take any of my cattle that were out grazing in the west field. When my cows saw them they stampeded to the barn. They were so scared they knocked down the barn lot gate to get inside. I'm glad they did though."
"Which direction did they go?" Eleazar asked Mallo, who seemed rather uneasy talking to the half-Drow whom he had never seen before. But after a questioning glance to Aurei, who gave him a reassuring nod, he answered Eleazar's question.
"Well, that was what was more alarming -- they flew slowly off to the north a-ways and we watched them from the door of the cellar. They were almost out of sight when we could make out that they were changing directions and heading due west as if heading for Westmark."
"But wait, Duchess, they would disappear for a while -maybe an hour or so- and then slowly fly over again still looking for something. We sent word to all our neighbors and everyone brought their animals in and stayed indoors. We're pretty rattled by it and so you scared us to death when you knocked on the door. So you don't know what is going on either?"
Aurei shook her head, looking over to Lute, Siris and Eleazar, who all didn't seem as surprised.
"It's the Guild" Lute said a moment later, "They use Wyverns in the south."
"Guild?" Mallo asked, and Aurei glanced back at his family huddled in a corner, and held up a finger to her lips. Then she gestured to Mallo, and her companions, into the family’s living room to talk.
"I don't want to scare your children." She whispered to Mallo when he and the others followed her into the other room.
"Duchess, what is this 'Guild'?" The farmer asked, greatly concerned.
Aurei just turned to Eleazar, and the knight explained, "The Necromancer's Guild of the southlands -they often use Wyverns to hunt and snatch up someone -or something- that they are looking for and carry them back to their airship. From what you said, sir, it sounds as if that might be what you and your family saw today. They're looking for someone."
"Who?" Mallo was all wide-eyes at the news.
"I'm afraid they are probably looking for my order's commander, Sir Alvis."
"Sir Alvis!" Aurei exclaimed, "He and Brother Darv are probably only halfway to Westmark! We've got to warn them!"
"Aurei wait--" Eleazar grabbed to stop her, but the girl raced out of the farmhouse, and before he, Lute or Siris could stop her, she had leaped on her horse and was galloping flat-out toward the west.
"Stay here!" Eleazar yelled at Lute and Siris, "Protect this family, and pray to Yesh we're not all carried off tonight!" The young half-Drow leaped on Lute and Siris' rather tired horse, and a moment later he was chasing the headstrong Duchess at breakneck speed in the dark.
The land passed by in a blur as Vanyasulie galloped at full speed through the night. Although she hated to press the horse so hard, she was very thankful that Vanyasulie was up to the task and possessed such remarkable night vision that he felt at ease racing through the dark. Her thoughts were as much a blur as the scenery, but she had to try to warn Alvis, Darv and Pectros. Her sensitive eyes scanned the land ahead of them as Vanyasulie blasted down the fencerow between two recently harvested wheat fields. A few minutes later, she heard the sounds of a fierce fight, and as they crested a hill, her heart came up into her throat when she beheld the scene before her.
Six huge, bat-winged forms were soaring and diving in the darkness, claws and fangs grabbing and biting as long scorpion-like stingers zipped out and snapped like whips at their prey. Pectros stood near his fallen horse, the bound Sorceress still tied to the saddle. He was swinging desperately at two of the smaller dragon-like Wyverns that were trying to sting him from two different sides.
Darv and Pectros' horse lay on the ground a short distance away, twitching in pain from a hit by one of the Wyvern's poison stingers. Pectros stood swaying on his feet, a pair of dead Wyverns sprawled dead at his feet, encircling him like a fence, as he struggled to hold his sword and shield to assist in the battle. Two other Wyverns swooped in snapping their barbed tails at the Knight Commander, then soaring out and around for another aerial assault. Darv stood just outside the two fallen beasts, clutching his mace in one hand and the Light of Yesh in his other, which shot forth brilliant light that had apparently been effective enough to keep the Wyvern's attacks off target.
This entire scene Aueri saw in an instant, and she did not hesitate a moment but urged Vanyasulie across the field to the edge of the road to Westmark where Darv, Alvis and Pectros were making their stand. Both she and her horse heard the movement of air of something approaching from behind them and Aurei did not even bother to look, but jerked Vanyasulie's reins to the left, and, just as the horse banked hard that direction, she gracefully slid off the right side, rolling and then jumping to her feet in a low crouch. Her evasive move caused the Wyvern's tail to miss, chipping into the ground like an axe, between her and the rapidly retreating horse. Aurei swung quickly at the end of the tail, but he pulled it free and was soaring back around like a huge reptilian buzzard for another dive at her.
Glancing to make sure Vanyasulie was fleeing the area as she hoped, she ran quickly toward Brother Darv and Sir Alvis, who were the shortest distance away. Aurei knew another attack from the Wyvern would occur any second, but she waited until she heard the movement of wind from its huge leathery bat wings before she reacted. Instead of jumping to either side, she somersaulted forward, coming up on her knees with both of her swords raised above her. Again the tail barb missed -- but this time much closer then before. Yet her upraised swords grazed one of the extended claws of the monster, slicing deep into the palm of its huge foot. The Wyvern gave out an ear-piercing screech, but still stayed airborne, banking up and over the fields to circle around again.
Aurei was up and running immediately, hoping to cover the rest of the distance to the injured knight and Brother Darv before the Wyvern attacked again. Glancing back to track the flight of the creature she'd wounded, she only caught the last terrible moment of the Cleric's battle when she turned forward again. From behind him, one of the two smaller Wyverns that had been attacking Pectros suddenly broke off of that attack and came rapidly in at him, while the Cleric was frantically trying to keep track of both the larger one still making dives at him, as well as the one now after Aurei. He heard it at the last second and spun around with the Light of Yesh held high, but the creature was too close. The barbed tail cracked like a whip and Brother Darv flipped end over end twice from the impact, with a large gash in his left cheek from where the barb had made contact.
"NOOOO!" Aurei screamed as she covered the last few yards to them, but she had to dive forward in a roll as her Wyvern dove over her, this time with claws extended, trying to snatch her up like an eagle with a fish.
Although she was very quick, the beast's claws raked her back and shoulders as it passed overhead, ripping her chainmail like it was cloth. She had no time to cry out in pain but stumbled forward as the creature again swooped back for another attack.
"Sir Alvis, get down!" She screamed at the knight, who stood there looking as if he was in shock or had been hit with a Wyvern barb. She hoped he'd comply as she had to rush over to Brother Darv's crumpled form. Just as she reached out to turn him over, there came the familiar sound of wings and she dove backwards just in time as the Wyvern that had been battling the Cleric snagged the man's limp form off the ground as if it were a ragdoll and pumped its wings to gain altitude. Aurei was so surprised by the act that she had no time to avoid her own foe. The Wyvern's talons ripped at her arms, knocking her forward as it's tail lashed out at her. She felt an explosion of pain in her ankle, but she frantically swung her long sword at the tail before he could retract the barb. Her Drow blade sliced through the tip of the tail and the barb fell out but her sword was jerked from her grasp, sending it flying out of her reach several yards away. She felt a warm numbness slowly creeping up her body from her ankle and she dropped her short sword as she felt at her foot.
The barb had been partially deflected by her heavy leather boot and the chainmail underneath, but it still had pricked her skin. She looked around desperately for anything to help her stop the spread of the poison, but all she saw was the rapidly dimming Light of Yesh lying next to her where Brother Darv had dropped it. Aurei reached for the holy piece of quartz and pulled it to her chest as the warm numbness flowed up her belly and over the rest of her. As it washed over her, she found it hard to breathe and her arms and legs began jerking in spasms. All of her nerve endings began tingling and that tingling grew more and more violent. She could not do anything but lay there gasping for breath, and tightly clutching the Light of Yesh while her legs jerked and trembled beyond her control.
Glancing around, she saw Eleazar finally arrive on the exhausted horse that had earlier carried both the heavy half-Ogre and Siris. He entered the battle near Pectros' position and at once a Wyvern swooped down on him. But the Knight was ready and with a massive swing of his great sword, he took two of the talons of the beast's right claw off, and then leaped off the weary horse. The pain of the wound caused the Wyvern to come to a sliding stop on the ground nearby and Eleazar lunged forward at the creature.
The Wyvern tried to use its wings to buffet the half-Drow, but Eleazar seemed prepared for that reaction and chopped down and up with his sword, ripping several deep wounds in one of the monster's wings. The thing let out a howl and whipped its tail around to strike at the knight, but he rolled out of range and then forward, hacking at its neck, while at the same time, Pectros thrust his sword at the beast's eyes. The Wyvern jerked its head back out of Pectros' way, but could not avoid Eleazar's chop and it flopped to the ground, dead.
But before either man could do anything else, two of the surviving three Wyverns dove down at Aurei and Sir Alvis, who now had slid down onto his knees, still clutching his sword and shield. The Wyvern attacking Sir Alvis hit first, not with its tail, but with both claws wide, grabbing at his chest which sent the Knight Commander sprawling on his back.
Aurei tried to rise, but could not and the second Wyvern grabbed her with both talons. Her arms were pinned to her chest, her hands still clutching the Light of Yesh. With a stomach-lurching rush, the creature was airborne with her hanging below, the land rapidly growing smaller as the monster climbed to an amazing height. If she had not been wracked in pain and struggling desperately just to control her breathing, she would have greatly enjoyed the wondrous night scenery as the dragon-like beast flew like lightning in a southeast direction through the cold evening air.
Finally the last remaining Wyvern broke off its attack and swept around, coming down like a bird of prey at Sir Alvis from his blind side. A moment later the Paladin commander was clutched completely in the talons of the Wyvern, who fiercely pumped its wings as it joined its fellows on their nighttime flight.
Aurei caught one last glimpse of Eleazar and Pectros, far, far below, waving their swords and howling something she could not understand, as she was carried out of sight. Aurei suspected it would be the last time she saw them or her home again.