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Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Flight of Tierna - Part One

Out in the sunshine of the late autumn afternoon, having left the spiny demons inside the cursed catacombs of Fredregar’s lair, the situation didn’t look as bleak as it had just moments before.  Murook lay in the grass exhausted after stumbling, crawling and then being dragged, for the most part, out of the labyrinth.  He was in pain, but at least he was breathing fine, no longer making the awful gurgling sounds.  Boucher and Aelar tended him for many minutes before deciding that he was indeed recovering fully.  They all took a much needed break, keeping a watchful eye out for anything that might decide to follow them out of the dark tunnels.  None of them were too worried about that though.  Most things they had seen in there preferred the dark places of the world, and would not do well in the light of day.  The three promised themselves that they would be long gone before the sun dropped below the horizon.

A couple of hours later Murook was feeling much better.  He rose to his feet to begin to rouse the others and set about making preparations to leave when he stopped suddenly.  Murook had forgot how injured he was just a few hours before.  What would have happened to him if Boucher and Aelar were not with him?

“I would have died in those tunnels.”

Murook answered his own thoughts aloud, albeit in a hushed whisper that carried with it the weight of the sudden realization that he was fully recovered.  He had always thought of himself as self-sufficient and not one to look to others for any kind of aid.  Murook realized now, perhaps for the first time in his life, that was a mistake.  The power of the divine magic of healing left him in awe.  What must it be like to wield power over life and death?  This realization had him seeing his two companions in a whole new light.

“Did you say something?“  Aelar sat up just then, rubbing the weariness from his eyes.

He did look weary, Murook noted.  Dark circles ringed his eyes and a pale hue replaced the usual tanned, sun drenched color of his skin.  Murook thought that his question was answered then, in part at least.  The furious casting and chanting both of them had done, on his behalf, had taken a visible toll.  Boucher too was a little paler than normal, and seemed to be dragging as he worked at getting his pack in order.

“Just about to say thanks, to both of you, for saving my life.”  Murook said flatly, turning to each of them to show the honesty behind the words.

“Ach!  If  you’d fallen, be sure that we’d have soon followed ya!”  Boucher piped in, after a few moments of complete silence.

After a few more moments Murook pulled out Fredregar’s map and began to study it closely, motioning both of them over to discuss their options.  Traveler was at least twelve hours from being able to transport them back to the town of Highmoon where Mandlebrot and Archelios waited, and none of them wanted to wait out that time anywhere near this place.  It was decided, in short order, that they would start out for the town of Phlan, which was little more than few hours walk from their current location according to Fredregar’s map.  The three companions left a couple of hours before sunset, making their way across the small rolling hills and grasslands leading toward Phlan, hoping the trip would be uneventful and maybe even pleasant.


In his scrying bowl, Zephrum looked upon the fast flowing river of melt water coming from under the rocky cliff face as though it flowed forth from the rock itself.  He surmised that any entrance in the area would likely be under the water or in some cave hidden from his view.  There were no indications of any entrances on the curious map that had led his divination spells to this spot.  Only the small monkey’s paw stamped on the northeastern most point of the Dragonspire Mountains.  The point that now appeared in his magical viewing bowl, to be exact.  Zephrum was certain he had the right location, so it was not completely shocking to the sorcerer when, seemingly out of nowhere, three figures suddenly appeared by the river.  A dwarf, obviously a worshipper of the sun god, Amaunator, judging by the sun symbol emblazoned on the shield strapped across his back.  Draped over the dwarf’s shoulders was a half orc fighter type.  What else but fighting were the dim-witted creatures good at, thought Zephrum.  Moreover, the green skinned creature seemed to be near death, or at least, near unconsciousness.  They were followed closely by an elf dressed in simple leathers.  Probably a forest loving, moon dancing idiot like most elves that he knew of.

Zephrum summoned Nabul and Brathus over to his scrying bowl located in the small alcove at the rear of his make shift library.  The three had been tasked by their superiors to locate and procure the boxes that were crafted by the curious wizard turned monkey, turned lich, Fredregar.  They had been told everything that the considerable resources of the Cult of the Dragon had obtained about the enigmatic, little, furry, undead wizard.  Where he laired, and what surprises may await them in the tiny lich’s laboratory.  Not much escaped their attention.

Zephrum was totally bald, and wore fine leather bracers on each of his forearms.  He took much pride in his hairless noggin, routinely rubbing it with salves created from brugen root that was said to stop hair growth and promote shiny, healthy skin.  Nabul was a complete contrast to Zephrum.  He wore his hair long and scraggly, preferring to tie it back rather than cut it most of the time.  Nabul was a master at battle and used the various magic devices he carried to help him shift around the battlefield and attack from unexpected locations.  He wore chain armor that made no sound when he moved, and carried two vicious katana blades at his belt.  The last of the three was Brathus, a true believer.  He wore fine scale armor that had a dark gray hue, and he carried a war hammer on his belt and a shield strapped across his back.  He was much smaller than Zephrum or Nabul, but his foes would do well to discount his size when entering into battle against him.  The small man was quite skilled with his hammer, and he used his clerical magic to bolster his attacks to great effect.

Nabul and Brathus, quickened their pace after noticing the concerned expression on Zephrum‘s face.  They arrived beside the sorcerer in time to see the dwarf and the elf frantically at work tending to the injured half orc.

“How go the portal preparations?”  Zephrum asked pointedly.

“It will be close to nightfall before everything is in place.”  Brathus stated, obviously grasping the urgency of the sorcerer’s question.
“The reagents are still being gathered.”  he continued, correctly predicting the oncoming sigh from the always impatient Zephrum.

“Those are three of the five we were warned of.”  Nabul cut in before another argument about the immediacy of their appointed task erupted between the two men.
He was the tactician of the group, and was always assessing the strengths and weaknesses of opponents and companions alike.  As a result, while Brathus was overseeing the preparations for the casting of the portal that would take them to the spot beside the river, Nabul was busy studying all the information gathered about any potential enemies they might encounter.

“Mistress Azamakianna saw them at the academy.  She said the elf witch and her pet lizard seemed to be protecting them, but I don’t see the other two.  There was a drow and a gnome with them.”  Nabul squinted into the magical bowl to try and discern if the other two were in the area, perhaps hidden in the tall grass.

“Yes, the mistress encountered them again higher in the mountains while she recovered from the battle.”  Brathus recalled.  “But what is their role in this?  Why would they seek the boxes?  For the elf witch?”  he asked, switching his gaze from Zephrum, to Nabul, then back again with each question.

“She knows.”  Nabul said flatly.  “Thaelioth knows our plan and has tasked her minions, just as we have been tasked, to find the boxes.  We must not fail my brothers.  The ritual must…”

“The ritual will succeed.”  Zephrum cut in before Nabul could finish.  “We have the box that was stored at the Academy.  We will shortly have the second box, whether we take it from these fools, or enter the lich’s laboratory ourselves and retrieve it.  The third will be simple enough to obtain.  It will only be a matter of paying that foppish imbecile enough coin to part with it.  No, I believe there is something more going on here.”   Zephrum paused and looked back toward the heavy, ironbound door set into the back wall of his library.

Nabul and Brathus followed his gaze, a wicked grin on each of their faces as they both stepped toward the door.

“The prisoner must know more than she is telling  us.”  Zephrum said.  “Do try and keep her living for as long as possible.”

“It’s my turn brother.”  Nabul said looking at Brathus with one eyebrow raised and the grin now becoming more lewd with every passing moment.

“So it is.”  Brathus conceded, obviously disappointed.  “I have to attend the portal anyway.”

Zephrum did not concern himself with his companions petty appetites.  He had other questions on his mind.  Mistress Azamakianna had insisted that she lead the attack on the old citadel.  Did the ancient blue dragon know that Thaelioth would show herself?  In truth, had she not been there, the attack would have failed miserably.  The dark assassins, employed by the cult, would have never been able to infiltrate the keep were the elf sorceress’ attention not focused solely on the ancient wyrm.  How could the mistress have known these things?  Or, was it something else that motivated the ancient blue to visit her fury upon that old keep.  Zephrum pushed aside those questions for now, promising himself to revisit them later.  He glanced back as Nabul opened the door that led to the small room where the dark elf maiden knelt, her hands and feet chained to the wall, her head lowered and blood oozing from many small wounds.

“Remember… living, if you please Nabul.”  Zephrum reminded the sadistic man as Nabul continued into the room.

Nabul just nodded, not bothering to turn back to his companion, preferring to focus on his new toy.

“Well, Headmistress Tyranna, it seems my turn comes once again.”  Nabul said as he slammed the door shut behind him.

Her stark white hair had turned pink in the spots where it was matted with blood.  Her knees ached terribly.  At least one was dislocated, she thought.  That pain was nothing compared to the sharp burning in her left forearm where she could see the point of the broken bone that nearly broke through her ebony skin.  She could not find the strength to cry out.  Multiple blows to her head made her senses dull and nausea swept over her in great waves making it more than a little difficult to keep from heaving up her last meal which had been more than two days ago now she thought, but wasn‘t at all sure.

Myrann Tyranna, headmistress of the Dalelands Defense Academy, found herself praying for the release of death.

“Goddess of song and sword, hear your servant’s humble plea.  Wrest not from me the strength to endure what is to come.  May my song live on in your silvery halls.”  Myrann whispered low through gasping sobs.  She was near the end now, and could only hope that it would come before she betrayed those young students that now shouldered a burden so great.  At least, she thought, they have not found them yet.  Otherwise there would be no need for them to keep questioning her.

The door to her cell opened, and in walked another of her tormentors.  Nabul was this one’s name.  He was the worst of the three, preferring to take his sick pleasure before the beating began.  The rags that were left of her clothes left nothing to the imagination.  Maybe she could grab one of his daggers while he was in the throws of pleasure.  Not to try to escape, she knew that was impossible.  With one quick thrust between the third and fourth rib, on the left side and angled up to pierce the heart, it would end.  Although taking him with her was a thought she could not resist, it was too risky.  Every moment she delayed gave him a chance to foil her escape to blissful death.  She had to keep her eyes unfocused and wavering so as not to let on that she had her senses about her, which would put the foul man on his guard and possibly doom her plan to failure.

As she saw her opening, something made her hesitate.  She wanted to grab the dagger and end it, but her body would not obey her commands.  Was she enthralled somehow?  Some twisted magic that compelled her to give up her plan of escape?  She cursed herself, believing her own weakness was keeping her from doing what must be done.  Then she realized the soft song flowing through her mind very faintly, but growing stronger every second.  The room, and what was happening to her, faded from her thoughts.  A warmth came over her, and the pain seemed to lessen as the song grew louder.  She looked at her arm and could no longer see the point of the bone just under her skin.

“You must hold on Myrann, my beautiful child.  They will come for you.”  a soft, comforting female voice sang inside her head.

Her goddess had answered her prayer, not with release, but with strength, as was the way of Eilistraee.  Myrann Tyranna was no longer in that room with her battered body, she was in the embrace of her goddess.  She would endure.  She would live.  They were coming for her.


Tierna stood in the circular audience chamber that was located within the bunker complex that surrounded the underground city of Tsu’Minrok.  Formerly a drow city, now a mustering point for troops heading to the front lines deeper into the underdark.  This meeting was important, Tierna knew, for there were many representatives gathered from all the races that formed the coalition.  There were a dozen or so dwarves standing off to the right.  Mixed among them were the halflings and some deep gnomes.  The elves and humans stood at the back of the chamber not wanting to mix with the bestial races, or at least that was the way Tierna had overheard one haughty, human lord explain to one of the dwarf commanders concerning the arrangement of the barracks.  She had no use for humans or elves, but could not discount the fact that she was glad they had finally decided to join the fight.  Putting up with their insults was going to be a chore, but a chore that she would endure, same as the rest of them, for the sake of the greater good.  A score of drow mingled all around making polite conversation, while trying their best to annoy the surface elves as much as possible.  A fact which made Tierna and the other harpies of her clan, that stood around her, smile.  The elders of her clan tell of a time when the drow made all races uneasy.  The time before their race split into the two distinct factions known today.  The drow here speak of it in glorious terms and refer to it simply as ‘Ay Kovitkitzo Dila,’ or The Coming of Song.  In truth, the same could be said of her own race.  There were still harpy clans out there that hunted most of the other races for food, after all.  Indeed the world had changed dramatically from the old stories.

“Somethin’ big’s afoot ‘ere, eh Tierna?”  came the gruff, scratchy voice of her dear friend Poosh from behind her.

It was only a few weeks ago that Poosh nearly had her throat torn out by one of the trained displacer beasts the cyclopsian shock troops used to test the defenses around the perimeter of the complex.  The problem with these foul beasts was that you were never quite sure exactly where the thing actually stood.  The creatures were cat like in appearance and they used illusory abilities to make themselves appear to be in two or three places at once.  Poosh took on three of the beasts in order to cover the retreat of some dwarves that had been caught out in the open.  She held the beasts off until help could arrive.  She was lucky to survive the encounter, a fact not lost on the dwarves that now regularly seek her out to inquire about how she is doing.

“I know right?  Everyone is here.  It’s startin’ to worry me Poosh.”  Tierna whispered back over her shoulder at her friend.

“Maybe they’re to announce that we’ve won, eh?  Maybe we scared them evil eyes off, eh?”  Poosh stated with obvious sarcasm and finished with a lighthearted chuckle.

That was the essence of the young, battle hardened harpy.  She was only eight years old, yet had already seen more battles than should be possible for one so young.  Harpies matured much faster than humans, or any other race for that matter, and Poosh went on her first patrol mission when she was just six years old.  Yet, through all the bloody battles and the loss of friends and clan alike, she retained her impish wit and impeccable sense of humor.  Tierna was older than Poosh and envied her younger friends ability to rise above the death and destruction that surrounded them.

“Uh oh, that would mean we’re out of a job.  What would we do then?  I hear the dwarves are always looking for some new ventilation engineers.”  came Tierna’s sarcastic reply.

This brought a hearty cackle of laughter from Poosh who immediately grabbed her sore throat wincing in pain, though her smile never faded.

As Tierna moved to help her friend, the assembly bell rang to bring the crowd to order.  High Commander Maitre Boucher D’Terre stepped forth atop the raised dais that stood in the center of  circular chamber.

“Our enemy gains strength with every passing moment.”  the High Commander stated with conviction.  This brought an abrupt silence throughout the chamber.

He continued, “For sometime now, we’ve been hard at work on a device that will allow us to change our fortunes.”

The High Commander looked around the room as he spoke, Tierna noticed.  She also noted the stillness in the room at that moment, as if the whole place suddenly realized the seriousness of this meeting.  It was a mission.  Perhaps THE mission, she thought.

“That device is now complete.  It will be used in a mission that, if successful, could end this war once and for all time!”  High Commander Maitre finished by slamming his fist onto the top of the dais.  After an effective pause, he began to continue but stopped when he noticed the harpy that had stepped forward onto the first step of the raised platform.

“That’s one.  I need two other volunteers.”  the dwarf commander stated flatly as he smiled down at the winged creature and gave an approving nod.


Nabul’s interrogation of the dark elf woman did not take long.  The pitiful creature had passed out almost as soon as he had entered her cell.  It was impressive that she still lived at all, he thought.  Perhaps he would get some of the cult’s healers to tend her so that she would be more compliant next time.  He might even keep her for himself, if his superiors would allow it.  These thoughts had to wait, however, for the portal was almost ready.

Nabul rushed to join Zephrum and Brathus, who were already gathered beside the portal along with one of Azamakianna’s brood, a young blue dragon eager for blood.  The time was near.  They would use the portal to transport themselves to the lair of the monkey-lich’s laboratory.  Zephrum’s plan was to use the broodling to track the trio from the air, while they entered the lab and made sure the box was not still in there.  Everything was prepared.  The transportation spell gathered energy and the portal slowly crackled into existence.  The group stepped through and were gone.


“Are ya nuts?”  Poosh whispered harshly at Tierna, when she emerged from the audience chamber at long last.

“Maybe so.  I just felt… I had to.”  were the only words that came to Tierna at that moment.

She honestly did not know exactly why she had been so quick to volunteer.  In truth it was usually she that grabbed at the younger harpy’s wing to keep Poosh from running off to do battle with whatever the Cyclops would send against them.

“Now ya’ve gone and dun it good, eh!?  How in tha nine ‘ells am I to help ya, when I’ll not be gone with ya, eh!?”  even though she was whispering, it was loud enough to catch the attention of the guards that were more than twenty paces down the corridor.  After she finished, she grabbed at her wounded throat in agony.

“Take it easy my friend.  You act as though I’ll not be coming back?  Bad luck that is, ya know?  Tierna did her best to sound jovial, but in truth she knew what lay ahead.

Geddy, a human warrior, and Mick, an accomplished halfling scout, had joined Tierna as volunteers and all three stayed in the chamber with High Commander Maitre to be informed about the mission after all the others had left.  The three were sworn to secrecy, and were told to prepare to leave within the next few hours.  They would be given final instructions just before being transported.  Tierna was uneasy about the secrecy, but she understood the need for it.  Despite Poosh’s unending questions, she told her nothing but minor, generic details.

“Ya’re not goin’ to tell me, are  ya?”  Poosh’s disappointment was evident.

“I cannot!  I told ya as much as I can.  We’ll just have to go over the whole thing when I return.”  she smiled as genuinely as she could manage as she spoke those last words.

“Sure’n it’ll be me that pays, eh?”  Poosh said with a chuckle, that she felt inside her aching throat once again.

The two of them said their goodbyes right then in the corridor and parted ways, promising to catch back up when Tierna had returned.  She went to her quarters and donned her battle gear, grabbed her weapon, then walked back to the portal casting room where they were to meet up before leaving.  The others had just arrived and were gathered around the High Commander that stood next to a drow artificer that held a small black orb in his hand.

The dwarf High Commander Maitre Boucher De Terre laid out the plan to the trio that stood unmoving and unblinking through it all.  In truth, they could scarcely believe what they were hearing, let alone why someone so far removed would have any impact on their struggle against the Fomorian hordes that they now faced.  The High Commander assured them all that this mission was of the utmost importance, and that they must succeed.  Failure would bring destruction upon all who were left behind.

The danger did not bother Tierna.  Nor did the way she would be traveling.  They all were told they would not be able to bring their trusted weapons, or wear their battle gear.  Instead they were issued new gear that would better blend into the world they were about to enter.  The same world, but very different, Tierna told herself.  None of these things worried her in the least.  What did worry her was the fact that she could not tell her dear friend that she would likely never see her again.

“Remember, say no more than you must to convince your targets of your sincerity.”  said the High Commander once again.  “Tierna, you must convince my ancestor of the danger that comes for him.  Geddy and Mick, you must save the drow female from the cultists.  She must survive at all costs.  If you feel you need to tell them you come from the future, do so, but do not tell them what year you come from.  The less they know of us here the better for all, and it would undoubtedly make them think you are quite mad.”  Maitre finished with a sorrowful expression as he looked at each of their faces.

“Have you said your goodbyes?”  the dwarf commander asked them with a pained look in his eyes.

They all nodded in agreement.

“The Head Artificer will open the portal for you.  You will all step through and begin your various missions.  Although you will not be able to return by means of this portal, there are certainly other methods of returning home.   Remember the meeting place.  Good luck to you all.”  the High Commander finished with a stiff salute, which was immediately returned by all three.

The harpy, the man and the halfling joined hands and stood very still.  The drow artificer held out the orb and issued the final command.  The three disappeared with a faint pop.

The two portals opened nearly simultaneously and no more than thirty feet from each other.  Tierna was the first to see the three men exit from the other portal only ten paces from her.  She shouted a warning at her companions just as the young blue dragon came through the other portal, spread its wings wide and let loose a blood curdling roar that sounded much like thunder.  The shock of seeing a dragon did not phase the battle hardened harpy as much as it did her two companions that were now standing too close together.  The lightning breath of the beast struck the halfling in the chest and then jumped into the human standing next to him.  Both of them convulsed violently and then fell to the ground.  Tierna did not know if they were dead or merely unconscious, but she had no time to find out.  Her wings sprang out instinctively, and she was air born almost instantly.  Luckily, she caught the faint sign of a camp and a trail of bent grass leading off in the distance.  She was told her target, Boucher De Cheval, would be in the area.  The harpy could only hope her wings could carry her fast enough to find him before the blue beasts lightning caught up to her.

“Zetyrannus, do not let that creature live!”  Zephrum barked out orders to the  young blue, and immediately it took flight in pursuit of the harpy.

“The human is dead, but the little one still lives.”  Brathus said after the blue had left them.

“Get him up and send him back through before the portal closes.”  Zephrum ordered.

“The three were indeed here, just a few hours before.”  Nabul stated, having finished a quick look around the sight.  “They could already have the box with them.”

“Yes, but it could also still be inside the lich’s lair.”  Zephrum said.  “We must make sure its gone before we go after those fools.  Zetyrannus will keep an eye on them after he deals with that harpy.”  Zephrum motions for both of them to follow  him toward the cliff face beside the fast flowing river.

“And just who in the nine hells were those three from the portal?”  Brathus called back to them after shoving the unconscious halfling back through their portal.

“A good question, my friend.  Hopefully the halfling will live long enough to answer that.”  Zephrum said as he continued to walk toward the cliff face.


The sun was hovering just above the horizon when the sound of thunder reached their ears.  Distant and booming, it was coming from behind them.  Murook, at first, thought it may be a storm, but Aelar quickly dismissed that.  Using his innate senses so attuned to the natural world, Aelar knew that the sound had not been of any storm, and furthermore, it had come from precisely where they had left.  Fredregar’s lair.  The three quickened their pace considerably.

As dusk fell, and the light was fading, they jogged where they could and ran flat out where the rocky ground permitted good footing.  The thunder chased them.  None of them looked back, as if looking back gave strength and speed to whatever was pursuing them.  The memories of the attack at the Academy began to well up within each of the companions, for they all now knew that they had heard that particular type of thunder before.  The sound was unmistakable.  A short boom, followed by the eerie crackling sound of the air being burned and sundered.  The ancient blue dragon that attacked the fortress which housed the Dalelands Defense Academy just a couple days before, spewed forth lightning breath that crackled and boomed as it sizzled through the air.  They remembered the sound was deafening and shook the very ground upon which they fled that day.  That day now seemed a lifetime ago, and yet it was less than three days before.  Time had an interesting and nasty habit of slowing to a crawl when all you want it to do is pass and make the memories fade and the painful thoughts dull.  None of that really mattered now.  Whether they looked back or not didn’t matter either.  The thing that chased them now needed no extra speed, and certainly needed no boost of strength to catch them.

The thing that chased them now …was a harpy?

She flew just above the tops of the small copse of trees that the trio had run into for cover.  She flapped her exhausted wings furiously in a desperate attempt to get her message to her intended target that she hoped was one of the three she had seen enter the trees below.  Another lightning bolt sizzled past, stinging her left wing and sending the smell of burning feathers into her nostrils.  She was wounded, far too wounded to still be able to fly, but somehow she continued.  A hard, banking right hand turn dipping below the last of the taller trees saved her life as the next bolt of lightning sang passed above and just to the left of her.  She took a quick glance into the stand of trees, but could only make out one of the figures, the big one, she surmised.  Thinking the others would not be far away, she loosened the small pouch containing the message she had hastily scrawled and let it fly toward the darkened silhouette that stood behind a tree much too small to even come close to hiding its form.

The harpy passed just above them and the lightning soon followed her.  Boucher was sure the bolt had hit her, but was surprised to see the stubborn creature still flying.  The surprise left quickly as Boucher remembered that it was not the harpy he had to worry about, it was the source of the lightning that had them all looking for a place to bury themselves.  Just as quickly as the lightning flashed above them, it was followed by the blue dragon that had unleashed it.  Something was not right.  The behemoth was not nearly as large as they had remembered.  As the harpy went into a hard right turn, clawing desperately at the air as if she were trying to find something tangible to help her turn sharper, they all noticed it wasn’t the same blue dragon.  This one was much smaller.

“A young one, very dangerous still, but not the ancient wyrm of certain death we’d feared!”  Aelar yelled at the others, trying to be heard over the cacophonous thunder that filled the air around them now.

Boucher figured it was time to call upon the curious suit of armor he had picked up in Fredregar’s lair.  He had donned it in favor of his usual chain shirt for one specific and very interesting ability it offered.  Boucher had only to think of the command word and instantly he was transformed, along with all the items he carried, into a normal sized, ordinary looking rat.  Murook knew about the leather cuirass’ unique power, but that didn’t make seeing the dwarf suddenly morph into a small, ugly rodent any less unsettling.  Aelar was too busy spell casting to notice the dwarf-rat that now skittered about the leaves trying to hide itself.  He had a transformation of his own to complete.  The druid reached within himself and called upon the Forest Father, Silvanus to make him a swarm of insects.  Almost instantly where Aelar had stood there were now a few dozen locusts hoping around the area.

And there stood Murook.  There were no trees big enough to hide his massive frame.  No rocks to take cover behind.  He had to hope that the dragon was too busy with the harpy to bother with them.  That hope was fleeting, however, as the situation sunk in.  Another blue dragon?  Here! Now!  It had to be connected to the attack at the Academy.  What were the odds of coming into contact with two blue dragons in less than a tenday?  That thought vanished when a small leather pouch hit the forest floor right next to the dwarf-rat that was now hiding under a fallen branch.  Boucher immediately scurried out from his hiding place and pawed at the little pouch to get it open.  His little rat fingers working in cooperation with his sizable incisors to get the knot undone.  In nearly any other circumstance, it would be one of the more comical sites he had ever witnessed, Murook thought, but this was no time for levity.  The little rat had quickly finished his task and had pulled out a scrap of paper.  The message, written in the common tongue, was simple enough.

“Help me!  I seek the dwarf named Boucher.”

The pouch had flown true and she knew it had landed at the feet of the large figure inside the copse of trees.  The blue beast that pursued her had closed the distance considerably while she had been focusing on delivering the pouch to the target area.  As soon as she saw the pouch land, her head snapped around behind her just in time to see the gaping maw of the blue beast nearly on top of her ready to snap her in half.  A quick dive and right hand bank saved her at first, but the dragon let loose another bolt of deadly lightning that sent her plummeting toward the ground.  She managed to roll when she hit to lessen the effect of the impact.  She scrambled to her feet and drew the two short swords she had been given, as she spun back to face the menacing beast that would surely be upon her in an instant.  She was right and barely managed to bring the two blades around in time to block the dragons claw to the left side and then again with the other claw scything in from the right.  The dragons maw came next, heading directly for her midsection.  Overbalanced and out of position, she was done.

The dragon was surprised when the great, silverback ape landed on top of its head forcing its attack to fail and instead of a mouthful of juicy harpy, it got a mouthful of dirt and rocks.  In fact, had it been looking passed its intended victim, the dragon would have seen the swarm of insects fly up in the air and coalesce into the six hundred pound ape that slammed down on its head.  From the trees, Murook sprinted a few steps then launched into the air, pulling his great axe from its sheath on his back as he flew toward the dragon.  Behind him, a small rodent burst forth from the leaves and leaped along the ground a few times before becoming a full sized dwarf with mace and shield in hand.  Boucher, not missing a stride, raised his mace high as he charged forward.

That must be the druid, she thought.  Her message had indeed found its mark.  She recovered quickly, determined not to waste the reprieve she had been given.  The large half orc arrived then with a flurry of swipes from his enormous axe most of which hit home and bit deeply into the tough hide of the beast.  Then she saw him.  Boucher De Cheval.  It had been true.  The appointed time and place had been correct.  Her mission would not fail, if they could somehow drive this beast away.  Hope swelled inside her then.  The pain of the many electrical burns she had endured seemed to melt away and she was filled with a new sense of purpose.  At that moment the dragon seemed to turn its attention toward the half orc, and his biting axe.  But it was only a feint.  At the last moment the dragon turned back on  her leading with its horns.  She hoped out to her left and nearly managed to avoid the attack.  The dragons right horn skewered neatly through her right side just above the hip.  She was impaled, and was being lifted from the ground.

The dragon snapped its mighty head around and flung the thrashing harpy to the ground some twenty feet away where she lay unmoving.  Murook unleashed a flurry of attacks, Aelar backed off and shifted his form from ape back to elf and Boucher moved to cover him.  Murook’s fury would not last forever, and while he was striking home and causing some grievous wounds to the beast, the dragon showed no signs of slowing.  Murook’s furious assault gave Aelar the opportunity he needed to turn the tide of this battle.  He began chanting softly, his right foot looping around to scratch a half circle in the dirt.  His left foot following suit to complete and close the circle around him.  As Murook’s attacks seemed to weaken, Aelar’s spell seemed to gather strength.  Moss and grass started to grow slowly at first, then faster.  Leaves that were on the ground lifted into the air and even the smaller stones around them started to float upward.  The energy of nature burst forth into Murook at the precise moment of the downward swing of his mighty axe.  The axe struck home and bit deeply into the dragon’s neck.  Scales flew and hide separated as the wound opened up around the blade.  The dragon roared and threw open its mighty wings.  Just then Aelar completed his spell and the stored energy that he’d been gathering was released as waves of warm healing power that rolled out from the circle beneath him.  It washed over Boucher and then Murook, and even over the badly wounded harpy.

She thought of her home.  Of her dear friend Poosh.  Of all the things that she would never see again.  The darkness of oblivion beckoned to her from just beyond.  There was no pain.  The searing burns on her wings and back seemed a distant memory.  The darkness was closer now.  She felt only the warm, wet sensation of what she knew was her own life blood flowing freely from the mortal wound in her side.

“I found him Poosh.” she whispered to no one in particular as the darkness closed in.

The next moment, warm waves of healing energy rolled over her.  She was jolted awake.  The blood from her wound had stopped flowing and new life had entered her.  The energy was just enough to keep her alive.  The pain of her many injuries rushed back into her body nearly overwhelming her, but she welcomed the pain.  The pain meant she was alive.  The pain meant she would not fail her mission.  She opened her eyes in time to see the dragon lifting into the air and fleeing toward the northwest.

The great beast spread its massive wings and with one mighty beat rose into the air and let loose a burst of lightning at the feet of Murook and Boucher which knocked them to the ground.  Then it fled back in the direction it had come.  The two scrambled to their feet and rushed over to gather up the weakened Aelar, then proceeded to move toward the curious harpy.  Murook stood back, not knowing exactly what to expect from this creature.  Boucher went to work with his healing magics to try and stabilize the badly wounded creature and, after a few of his healing spells went into the harpy, she reached up and put her hand on his chest and looked into his eyes and smiled.

“My name is Tierna.  Nice to finally meet you great Boucher of the Heroic Dwarves.”

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