She went to places in her mind that she had loved as a young girl, which, in her case, had been much longer than the span of time a human child would have experienced. As a result, the pleasant memories that filled Aurei's feverish mind as her poisoned body was carried swiftly across the landscape were a scrolling ribbon of peaceful and happy days and nights with the common people of Westmark.
She felt mother Begley's warm and gentle arms around her, snuggling beneath a thick quilt as the evening fire crackled and popped and they looked out of the window to one of the first heavy blizzards of the season. She remembered playing tag with Pectros' grandmother as a young girl out by the millpond in the warm July sun and always evading her attempts to tag her much to her amusement.
She recalled gathering bushels of black walnuts with father Bugley in the large copse of trees west of town, along with a score of other happy townsfolk who were enjoying the cool autumn day, and laughing as father held up his walnut stained hands next to her own naturally black hands. She remembered the first time she and Alis were allowed to ride Firestorm -- Vanyasulie's fiery sire-- and the thrill as they held on for dear life as the stallion blasted through town, nearly knocking down Bellim Morgus and sending all his laundry, which he had just washed as was his custom in the millpond stream, flying all over the muddy road.
Then the vision came to her of the night she first had her bottom pinched while waiting tables and the dismay that had filled her when she realized that the patrons were looking at her as a young woman now and not a dark-skinned little sprite. How she'd cried and cried on mother Bugley's shoulder, who, in spite of the sickness that was slowly robbing her of her life, had hugged her and laughed until she cried at her girl's horror of growing up.
Even recent memories came into her fever dream during the long hours of flight -- she remembered the cold sharpness of the millpond as she sat and talked to Sir Eleazar and found that though she was very uncomfortable with a certain rather shy way he was looking at her, somehow the look thrilled her completely. These were flashes of her life, and as she hung in the clutches of the massive Wyvern's talons, she realized just how wonderful her life had been and how much she had loved it.
A sudden change of altitude cleared her head enough to feebly open her eyes and weakly glance around. It was the heart of night and the air was slightly warmer than it had been when she'd last popped into brief consciousness. The landscape was unfamiliar to her; a heavy wooded landscape of hills and valleys that told her that she was certainly not near Westmark nor most likely in Northmarch any longer. The sky was clear here and the stars were crystal sharp. A waxing third quarter moon gave enough light for the Drow girl to see everything as well as a human in bright sunlight. The Wyvern -- still flying in formation with the other two-- was ascending through the still air and Aurei managed to move her neck enough to see their destination.
It looked at first like a small walled city, simply floating in mid-air. She blinked the blur from her eyes and then she could see that it was not a city but a very large Airship. She looked in wonder as they approached, for she had never seen such a craft. It was much larger than she imagined it would be, seeming to her to be able to hold probably 200 people comfortably. She could not see anything except the top deck, but it was very wide and seemed to be planked with metal flooring, similar to the ship's thick black grey iron hull, but crafted much as the wood deck of a sailing ship. A huge copper ring encircled the craft, joined to the vessel by a curved copper arm that made the whole thing look like a huge sculpture of a rope and lasso frozen in mid-flight constructed of metal. Around the inner side of the copper ring a bright orange and yellow fire burned and flickered and even in her feverish state she knew she had to be looking at a very large Fire Elemental, bound into service to provide propulsion for the craft. She could hear the roaring of the beast that encircled the craft as the Wyverns flew straight as arrows to a large raised section of the deck at the rear of the craft, where a small group of figures stood watching their approach.
As they neared, an overwhelming sense of evil swept over her, nearly making her faint, and without looking she could sense the presence was from one being that stood on the deck with the others waiting for their arrival.
Aurei glanced toward the other two Wyverns, hoping to discern if Brother Darv and Sir Alvis were still alive, but from her angle, she could not see anything other than the wings of the Wyverns that carried them.
Up and up they flew, past the waiting forms, then swooping down until, a few feet from the deck, each Wyvern let loose of its passenger. Aurei plopped headfirst onto the deck, still curled in a tight ball, beside the lifeless form of Brother Darv.
"Brother Darv?" She whispered, her voice coming out in nearly a croak. The Cleric didn't respond.
"Brother Darv? Please! Brother Darv? Oh, dear God, please! Brother Darv, please wake up!" Above her, four black robed figures slowly moved among them, but it was the fifth form that brought a cold chill down Aurei's back. She could not raise her head to look, but she heard the clank of plate armor against the deck as he casually examined them.
"Could it be?" She heard a cold voice from the armored being ask, "Why, what a massive fish you have caught, my pets! How great is our fortune this night! Behold brethren, the beaten form of Sir Alvis, Knight Commander of the Blood Knights of Yesh!"
Aurei tried to turn her neck, but her muscles would not obey her and the crumpled form of Brother Darv blocked the scene from her sight.
"And he still lives!" the armored one said with delight, "Excellent, excellent! You are well met, Sir Alvis, for many, many years I have greatly desired the honor of being the one that captured the great paladin. My master is most eager to meet you and convince you of the error of your faith and show you the true light of the way of death!"
The robed figures around the armored being chuckled at his words.
"Very well done, Thantes, I am very, very surprised by your success, but that does not stifle my generosity -- you shall take the prize back to the Master. Take Pitch -- he is strong enough for the flight-- and carry the Paladin back tonight. I will evaluate these other two and we shall join you in a few days. Give his Reverence my humble honor and respect and tell him that it is with great pleasure that we present to him the chief lieutenant of our great enemy. It is my hope that he will join the ranks of the order of death. Now go at once."
"By your will, lord, may death bow before you."
"And with you. Go!"
One of the robed figures rushed away from the others and a moment later she heard the flap of wings and the scrape of claws on the metal deck as she guessed the Wyvern named 'Pitch' scooped up the form of Sir Alvis and with the swoosh of leather wings, took off to deliver its prize.
"Let us see what else has been caught this night." The armored form said, moving up to Darv's form. She felt the Cleric being rolled over.
"He's dead… how unfortunate." The armored one said, "But he looks to be only a priest of Yesh, so perhaps that is for best. Gregous, Jagg, take his body below and reanimate him… but wait a moment! Look here!"
Suddenly a pair of icy cold hands grabbed her head and pulled it up slightly, "A Drow!" the armored one said and she got the first look at the being. He was certainly not alive, and from his appearance, he had not been alive in many years. He wore black plate armor carved with red glowing runes. His face was that of a skull with lifeless white flesh covering it, while in place of human eyes, his eye sockets were filled by orange points of light like twin candles shining through dark windows. At his touch, her skin cringed and terrible coldness seemed to radiate outward. She had heard nightmarish tales of such creatures, the undead form of tortured and turned Paladins, the unholy Death Knight.
The horrible skull grinned as he leaned in close to her face, her chin still held in his hand, "My, my, my, what an exotic fish my pets have caught this evening! So very, very lovely, even now as she struggles with the poison coursing through her body. But you are no mere Drow, are you, my dear? Your tattered chainmail is not of Dark Elven craftsmanship and you were brought here amidst two humans from the town of Westmark. I think it is safe to assume that I have the great delight to be speaking to none other then the legendary buxom Drow serving wench of the northlands, now raised by the regal decree of Haroldris to the rank of Duchess of Westmark!" With a mocking bow of his head, the Death Knight smiled at her, his face only inches away from her nose.
"You probably are wondering who I am, don't you, Duchess? I am Abbadox, the least of the Death Knights of Soric Potollis."
Aurei found her face growing icy cold from the touch of the undead thing's touch on her chin, "Y-y-you're the one w-who has been harassing Westmark!"
"Well, not me personally, you understand, I leave these trivial jobs to my underlings, but yes, I ordered the campaign against your pitiful little Duchy."
"Ah, that is a very good question, my dear Duchess, and one that I am not prepared to disclose to you, as it is not the will of my master."
"W-who is y-y-your master?" she asked, her lips frozen from his touch.
"Soric Potollis, of course!" The Death Knight laughed at her question, "Surely you've heard of him!"
"H-he put Yesh to death. But h-he's d-dead."
"Oh yes, quite dead, but then again, so am I, am I not?" Again he smiled his horrible undead smile and Aurei understood his meaning. He was claiming that the arch-enemy of Yesh, Soric Potollis still lived in undead form and apparently was the master of the Necromancer's Guild. A groan escaped her frozen lips.
Abbadox chuckled at her reaction, the orange flame of his eyes flashing at his mirth, "You are quite right to feel that way, for he is most terrible and powerful. I am quite sure he will be most eager to meet you and show you the error of your ways."
Abbadox smiled, "Brave of you, but believe me, Duchess, many far more powerful and righteous than you have been broken by my master. He could turn you into a Death Knight as I am, yet you are certainly no great warrior but merely a wench dreaming she is a knight. Hardly worth my master's attention… except perhaps as an object of pleasure. You seem surprised, my dear Duchess! I assure you, he still desires women and a gift of such a lovely thing as you would do nothing but improve my status with him. But first we must prevent you from trying any sort of noble selfless act to save your virtue. Vawarth, come here." He glanced to his right and one of the robbed forms came forward and bowed before him.
"Vawarth, I think transforming her into a mere Zombie is not appropriate for such a fish as this. I would ask you to bite her and drain her blood - so that her form and loveliness will be preserved for our lord and she may -in the future- even be useable as a spy at Westmark."
Vawarth threw his cowl back and leaned close to her, scrutinizing her with a gleam in his black eyes that chilled her.
"She's been poisoned by a Wyvern." the vampire said in a whisper-like voice to the Death Knight, "If I bite her now, she'll still suffer from the poison when she rises each night. It transfers over into the unlife. She'll have to be purged of the poison first, and by looking at her, I doubt she is strong enough to do that on her own. She has perhaps a day before it takes her. Cast a healing spell upon her and I will bite her -- she won't give us any trouble in her weakened state."
Abbadox sighed, "Oh very well, have Netice begin a Healing chant on the wench."
The Death Knight jerked her head back by her hair and came in close until his horrid face was only inches away from her, "If you have any thought of escape once you are healed, understand that you are a thousand feet in the air over heavily forested hills - you wouldn't survive the fall. And if, instead, you have any thought to throw yourself from this ship in a suicide to save yourself from a fate worse than death, know also that my pets will snatch you up long before you hit the ground and this time I just may allow them to eat on you some before I turn you into something not as noble as a vampire. " He let go of her head and it dropped face forward onto the deck.
"Bring her to me once the transformation is complete; she will have to be properly attired before I present her to our lord." Aurei was relieved to hear the clanking of his armor as he climbed the stairs to the ships' rear quarter deck. But that relief was short lived, for suddenly a couple of rough hands grabbed her feet and dragged her like a broken tree branch being cleared after a storm, toward one edge of the ship. Her face was cut and scratched as she was pulled across the metal planked deck.
"Put her by the railing -- if she tries to run, 'tis less work to catch her." A male voice advised and a moment later her feet were released, which plopped down on the deck.
"She's pretty lifeless, are you sure t'will work."
"Yes" the vampire's voice answered, "Once the healing takes place. Watch her closely, she may panic."
"She'll not go far, sir."
Aurei heard another person join the group standing around her, "Is this what I'm supposed to heal?"
"Yes -- Abbadox will present her to our Master upon our return. He desires me to transform her into one of my kind, but she is full of Wyvern poison which will keep her muscles from functioning even in unlife. She must be healed before I can bite her."
Aurei heard the man began chanting something in a language unfamiliar to her. Suddenly warmth covered her body and every injury disappeared all at once, along with the effects of the Wyvern poison.
She jumped to her feet, but before she could do anything other than stand, she found Vawarth behind her, both of his hands firmly around her throat as he whispered in her ear, "Do not move, girl, and it will not be unpleasant for you."
Aurei knew that her time had come. In an instant, she reflected on her entire life, recalling in a second's time all the joy and happiness she had experienced, even living as a dark elf among humans. Westmark was her home, it was the nucleus of her life, and those people meant everything to her. They were her people. There was absolutely no way she would ever allow herself to be used against them by the Necromancer's Guild. Not if it meant giving up her life for all that she so deeply loved and held dear. She felt the cold hardness of the Light of Yesh, which she had cradled in her hands for hours. She knew any moment the vampire or one of the other undead beings on the airship would notice she was holding something, now that she was no longer curled up in a ball of pain on the deck. Then they'd take that which Brother Darv had said should never fall into the hands of the Necromancer's Guild.
But he'd said something else about the holy piece of quartz, and those words resounded in Aurei's mind, along with memories of peaceful times with those she loved at home. She opened her hands, a sad, far-away smile spreading across her face as a strange peace filled her.
"What bauble do you have there, girl?" the vampire asked, pressing slightly harder against her neck with his strong hands to emphasis her helplessness.
Aurei glanced around, a long last look, and saw the Death Knight standing by the stairs of the Quarterdeck, speaking to an underling.
"I asked you a question, girl!" Vawarth growled in her ear, "You will learn obedience to me soon enough! What is that you are holding?"
Aurei turned to look him square in the eyes and the Vampire flinched at the calmness he saw in her glowing red eyes. She grinned broadly, "You mean this little light of mine? It is the light of all that is good. Let me show you."
With the quickest move of her life, Aurei threw the Light of Yesh
with all of her might at the deck, a few yards off, where the
stairs to the quarterdeck began. Her sudden movement caught
everyone aboard the airship off guard.
Vawarth had time just to begin pressing against her neck, prepared to choke the defiance out of her before it happened.
Aurei closed her eyes, embracing the memory of the warm, happy place in the instant that the Light of Yesh impacted the metal deck of the Necromancer's Airship.
First there was the most brilliant flash of light she had ever seen. Even though her eyes were tightly shut, the white light seared through her, burning her retinas an instant before the explosion threw her off the Airship like a leaf before a hurricane. She did not see the massive destruction wrought by the shattering of the third of the holy gems of the God Yesh. All undead things on the ship, even the horrid shadowy forms hiding in the deepest corner of the hold of the airship were vaporized in an instant. Vawarth had no time to scream before his soul was ripped free from his supernatural form and thrown violently into the darkest pit. Abbadox's life force shattered like the Light of Yesh against the deck, and he had the sensation of falling into white hot fire for a moment before he too fell screaming into the thick smothering blackness of Hell.
Hovering around the vessel, the Fire Elemental experienced for the first time in its existence the sensation of burning pain as the white light consumed it. With a pop it vanished, causing the airship to drop twenty feet before the permanent Anti-Gravity spell cast on the hull kept it from crashing to the forest below.
For those few among the living on the Necromancer's Guild airship, their deaths were no less complete. White fire consumed their bodies in the twinkling of an eye, leaving not even ash or smoke. The mighty Wyverns could not escape complete absorption into the whiteness of the explosion and the beasts died without having time to even cry out in pain.
The body of Brother Darv, faithful servant of Yesh, disappeared in a flash of light - his soul already in the presence of his Lord.
For a hundred miles in all directions, the explosion woke everyone sleeping in villages, caves or towers. In King's Reach, the Night watch screamed out in alarm as the night sky became white as day for an instant. In the Clearing of the Ages, the Faesidhe wizards, busy in their own arcane business, looked up in dismay as the shockwave from the blast threatened to knock their tower to the ground before it died away, leaving them bewildered.
In Westmark, Eleazar the Paladin tightly shut his eyes at the
blast, his horse stopping in the middle of the gateway. He held
his breath until the shockwave threatened to knock him from his
"What was that?!" One of the guards yelled down as the echoes resounded around the hills. The Drow knight slid off his horse, throwing his backpack into the mud, his search mission now no-longer necessary, "It's the sound of the death of our friends, who now stand in the presence of Yesh the merciful; may they find peace in his presence." Eleazar put his head in his hands and wept.