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Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Flight of Tierna - Part Two

The three of them stared at the harpy that called herself, Tierna for a long time before anything was said.  Generally harpies were known to be aggressive toward any that were not of their kind, although there were stories of harpy clans that regularly traded goods with the small towns in the northern regions.  Many strange things had happened to all of them since the Academy was attacked little more than three days before, and none of these things claimed to be friendly.  Maybe this winged creature was different.   The curious creature certainly seemed like she meant no harm.  Boucher was baffled at why a harpy would seek him out for any reason.  Murook did not trust her in the least, but he had to admit, he was more than a little curious about what kind of story she had to tell.  Aelar was more pragmatic about the situation, but he had never heard of any harpy speaking the common tongue as well as this one seemed to.

“You came here seeking Boucher?”  Aelar and Murook said in perfect unison.  Each one turned to the other after they had finished, both wearing confused looks on their faces.

“Aye.  Master Boucher I’ve a message for you.  It’s very important. Many lives depend on it.”  Tierna said, growing in volume and speed with every passing syllable until the pain caught up with her and forced her to stop.  She gasped loudly and grabbed at the wound on her side in agony.

“Ok, ok.  Lie still and calm ya’self, ya feathered ninny.  Ya’re sure’in to tear open anything that’ve managed to heal up!”  Boucher scolded the creature, and immediately went back to work with bandages and salves and healing chants.

Aelar gathered lichen and some small flowering plants that grew all around in the rocky soil to make healing poultice wraps for her major wounds.  Murook stood guard over the whole scene.  He expected the dragon to come swooping in at any moment to finish them off with one of those nasty lightning bolts the blue devils were so fond of throwing around.  In the darkness that settled around them now, just after the sun had dipped below the horizon, he would not have much chance to spot the thing before it was on them.  Murook dearly hoped that he had caused enough damage to the blue beast so that it would think twice before trying to finish them off anytime soon.

“We need to move as soon as we can Boucher.”  Murook said, sounding more nervous than he had intended.

“Is he one of  your lieutenants?”  Tierna managed to say between gasps as Boucher continued to poke and wrap her wounds.

“Me lieutenants?  Don’t have no lieutenants girl, er… harpy girl …whatever.  These two be friends, nothin’ more.”  said Boucher, shaking his head, then returning to his work on her wounds.

“Harpy girl?  Whatever you wish, Master Boucher.”  she said with a modest chuckle that made the wound at her side ache more, but not nearly as bad as it had just a few moments before.  “That’s much better.  I’m able to walk now, and  your lieutenant …ah your friend is right.  We need to move now.  We can talk on the way to Phlan.”  Tierna said, as she struggled to her feet.

She felt a little dizzy, but it soon passed and she gathered up her things and started to walk up to where Murook was standing.  She dared to test her wings, but decided against that when she felt the wound start to pinch at her side.  Murook seemed to be lost in his scans of the sky to pay much attention to her, but as she got close he reached out and grabbed her arm stopping her suddenly.

“And just how did you know we were heading to Phlan little harpy girl?”  Murook said, taking his gaze from the sky and lowering it to stare directly into Tierna’s eyes.

“I uh …This is the way to Phlan correct?”  Tierna stuttered and looked away from the large half orc back toward Boucher, as if to cry out for his help.

“You will stay where I can see you creature.  Too many things hunt us now, and you have much explaining to do.”  the half orc said with menacing tones as he jerked the much smaller harpy close to him.

Tierna nodded her head and Murook let go of her arm.  All three started their trek toward Phlan.  A full moon was up this night and it shed enough light to make the going easier, but more importantly, the use of torches was not required.  Torch light would shine as a beacon to whatever was out there for miles around.  None of them wanted that.  Aelar led them, Boucher and Tierna were in the middle and Murook followed, keeping his eyes peeled for any pursuit.

Murook did not have any experience with harpies himself, but he knew the stories that were told of the creatures.  He remembered some of the tales about how the harpies would prey on young children taking them from the banks of streams and rivers as they bathed or fished.  On the other hand, he had also heard of his own people in the north that traded regularly with the harpy clans that were near the Spine of the World mountains.  A curious thought crossed his mind suddenly.  What if his mother had not moved them south to the Dalelands when he was still very young?  Would he have had a harpy friend growing up?  Murook shook that notion from his thoughts quickly, and let out a hearty chuckle at the silly idea.  The others turned to regard him then, and he looked up at them and realized the chuckle had been much louder than he intended.

“Something funny friend Murook?”  Aelar stated, looking at the half orc with the customary one eyebrow raised.

Murook just shrugged and shook his head, not wanting to add anything further.  Boucher smiled, as if he knew what was running through Murook’s mind, then he turned toward Tierna and sighed.

“Well?”  he stated flatly to the harpy, as if she were able to read his thoughts and answer accordingly.  “I think it’s time fer ya’re story girl …er Tierna.”  Boucher added after staring at the harpy for a few long moments.

“Aye it is at that, Master Boucher.  But where to start?”  Tierna said to herself as much as to any of the others, but that did not stop Boucher from answering the rhetorical question.

“I’d say ya’re to start at the beginning girl …uh harpy girl …just start somewhere if ya please.”  Boucher stuttered and spat out finally, which made most of the others, including himself, chuckle a bit.

“First let me say, I’m not from here.”  Tierna stated, her voice low and cracking with uncertainty.  “Well, it would be more correct to say, I’m not from this time.”   she continued as calmly as she could.

“Not from this time, eh?  Well, that’s just great.”  Murook said, as if he were expecting those very words to come out of the harpy’s mouth, and was not the least bit surprised.

“It’ll take some explaining I know, but please hear my words and believe them to be true.”  Tierna begged, while raising her hands and patting at the air before her to try and stop the forthcoming questions.  “All will be explained,  …hopefully.”  she added, and then, after heaving a steadying breath, she began to tell her tale from the beginning.

Tierna told them of the war with the Fomorians, along with their cyclops minions, for the control of something she called, ‘the power.’  She also told them of the alliance that was fighting the Fomorians.  The alliance was formed by the dwarves in the beginning, and now included halflings, drow, elves, humans and, of course, many harpy clans, among other races.  She told them of the way she was sent back in time to find and warn Boucher De Cheval of the Fomorian threat, and that they would be sending their shock troops after them soon.

“They’ll come for the orb you carry soon.  You must…”  Tierna started to finish her story but was interrupted by Aelar and Murook simultaneously.

“What orb?”  Aelar and Murook said at the exact same time.  Aelar’s voice carried more concern, but Murook’s voice was more harsh and filled with accusation.

“The orb you carry with you now.  The orb that calls itself Traveler, correct?”  Tierna stated, looking at each of them not knowing why they were suddenly so defensive.

“And just how are ya knowin’ about the orb miss Tierna?  Boucher said with true concern and growing trepidation evident in his tone.

“How’d you think we knew where and when you’d be?  I’d think that a harpy from the future wouldn’t throw you all into such a tizzy, being that you carry a device that can easily transport you to any place, or any time you choose.”  Tierna said looking at all of them in turn with a confused expression on her face.

“We?  And who is we, exactly?”  Aelar asked pointedly.

“The alliance. My commander, Maitre Boucher De Terre.”  Tierna boldly stated.  She answered Boucher’s unspoken question as she kept walking.  “Aye, he is your descendant Master Boucher.”

The three of them stopped and stared at the curiously composed harpy as she continued to walk a few steps more until she realized they had all frozen in place.  Tierna turned and regarded them with a resigned expression of hopelessness.  The High Commander told her to tell them his name, and about his relationship with Boucher De Cheval if they needed some convincing, but she was not to tell them anything more than she had to.  She wondered now if there was anything left to keep from them.  The High Artificer had told her about paradox and what it could mean if she created one while trying to fulfill her mission.  Her head spun now with all the information she was asked to learn in the few hours before she was transported to this time.  It all seemed like a blur.  She convinced herself that she would make sure that they believed her no matter what she had to tell them.  Everything depended on it.

“My son?”  Boucher asked, cautiously in little more than a whisper.

“Uh no, but he is a close relative Master Boucher.”  Tierna said, realizing now she could keep some things to herself.  “The war will begin in a twenty years or so, but the seeds of it are planted here in this time.  I’m from nearly one hundred years in the future.”  she stated flatly.  After all, they need not know from exactly how far in the future she had come.

Many further questions about the alliance and about Boucher’s relative came at her over the next several minutes as they continued heading toward the town of Phlan.  Tierna did her best to answer, but most of the time she found herself telling them of the dangers of paradox, and how she did not feel she should add much detail to her story for fear of creating one.  That seem to satisfy them for the most part.  In truth, even the big half orc had started to come around to believe her story.  She looked at Murook and Aelar then and wondered why the history tales did not mention either of them more prominently.  She was told that Master Boucher would be traveling with two others, one a druid and the other a fighter, but nothing more.  Not even the races of these two were mentioned.  She found that more than a little bit curious, but she had no more time to dwell on that matter.  Tierna topped the hill and stood along side the three companions as they all looked over the town of Phlan.

“A warm bed and a soft meal tonight for sure!”  Aelar stated excitedly.

“I’m thinkin’ ya got that turned ‘round a bit there, don’t ya?”  Boucher said, as he scrunched up his nose while staring at the elf with a confused look on his face.

“It matters not.  I’m too tired to care.”  the elf said.

The conversation between Boucher and Aelar quickly devolved into a good natured argument about how druids should not need the comforts of civilized places, and about how a certain dwarf should go find a soft rock to lay his head on this night.  Murook and Tierna stayed at the top of the hill looking over the town for another few moments.

“The Fomorians will come for the orb soon Murook.  You must keep it from them at all costs.”  Tierna said as she spun around and looked up into the half orcs eyes.

“I’m curious.  How is it that you don’t seem to know anything about Aelar and myself, but you seem to know much about our esteemed dwarf friend?”  Murook said, after staring for what seemed like minutes into the harpy’s eyes.

“I should not add…”  she started to say but was interrupted by Murook.

“Yes, yes …paradox.  You worry me harpy.”  Murook said, shaking his head and looking toward the ground.

“But, I’m speaking the truth.  As much of it as I can.”  Tierna said with a somber tone in her voice.  She had a feeling why the history tales did not mention Aelar or Murook but she kept that to herself.

“I guess it wouldn’t be good to have you come into town with us?”  Murook asked her after many moments of silence had passed.

“No.  I was told my kind would not be welcomed in most towns.”  she grinned as she finished.  “I’ll head to that old tower just to the east there.  I have other things to attend to before I leave.”  Tierna said, as she turned and stared hard at the lonely, ruined tower that stood just outside the town on a small hill.

They said their farewells then and the three companions headed off into the town leaving the harpy alone on the hill under the night sky.

It appeared exactly how she had pictured it from the history tales.  The ruined tower sat on a small hill just to the east of the town of Phlan.  Huge rocks at the base on the seaward side broke the mild surf rolling in from the Moonsea.  This was where she would complete her mission.  This was where they would try to come through.  She fingered the small pouch of magical chalks, just to check to see if they were still there, while she walked toward the tower.  Now it was up to her.  She thought of Geddy, the human that had come with her, and poor Mick the halfling that had taken the bolt of lightning directly in the chest.  They were both dead or captured for sure.  Although she was not briefed on their part of the mission, she knew it had something to do with a drow woman that was held captive by some sort of dragon cult.  She vowed then and there that if she survived the next day, she would set out to discover this drow woman and help her if she could.  She felt as if she owed it to her fallen comrades, however brief a time she might have known them.

As she climbed the stairs to the top of the tower, she realized why the Fomorians would choose this place to open their portal.  The tower still hummed with a familiar energy.  She knew most people would not notice, but she was from a different time.  A time where she had lived her entire life bathed in this energy.  An energy she knew only as ‘the power.’

Aelar did indeed find his warm bed and his soft meal at an inn called The Giant Oak Tavern.  It was not long before Boucher’s familiar snoring echoed from the walls of the spacious bunk room they had procured for the night.  All three were soon in the embrace of much needed sleep.

Boucher awoke during the night and sat up on his bunk.  He looked around the room at his two companions that were still sleeping, and then to the small balcony that overlooked the main street.  He paused for a moment, not sure of what he had seen.  Something was not right.  He got up as quietly as he could and walked toward the balcony still trying to figure out what was so peculiar.  As Boucher looked down at the street, he realized then what was wrong.  Everything was bathed in an eerie, red glow.  He immediately looked up to see the full moon shining crimson red, as if it were covered in blood.  Boucher gasped and fell to his knees to say a prayer to Amanautor, his patron deity, the god of the sun.  Aelar and Murook awoke then to see the dwarf on his knees deep in the chant of prayer to the sun god.  They looked at each other, then slowly, both of them turned back to the dwarf kneeling on the balcony that was bathed in the deep, red glow of the full moon.

It was just before sunrise, and the early risers in Phlan had been up for almost an hour now.  Everyone of them was out in the street staring up at the spectacle that was in the night sky.  Murook and Aelar grabbed their gear and headed out of the inn and into the street.  Boucher finally coming out of his prayer chant, did the same, and moments later caught up with his two companions.  All three stood there and looked up at the full, red moon.  It was surrounded by clouds that seemed to come from every direction yet did not obscure the moon at all.  They formed an open circle around the moon and stretched from horizon to horizon.  The clouds were roiling and flowing as mighty storm clouds would on the stiff winds that feed them, yet no wind was felt.  A distant sound of thunder could be heard far off in the distance.

In the ruined tower, Tierna watched the clouds build and the moon turn red.  She knew what these clouds heralded, but could not worry about that now.  She turned back to her drawings on the floor of the tower.  The magical grace had to be perfect to be totally effective.  There were varying degrees of this kind of magic, and she needed to be precise to make sure it would be strong enough to completely block the Fomorian portal.  Any misplaced lines in the grace or mispronounced words in the accompanying chants would likely mean her death when the powerful portal began to open.  She thought to herself about where and when she was now.  This time was not her own, and  yet it felt as though it was.  Like she was always supposed to be here, at this time and in this place.  The two most important events that shaped her world were occurring in these few days.  And now, she would play a pivotal role in at least one of them.  She shook the fleeting thoughts from her mind and focused on her appointed task.

“Goddess, I pray your battle goes well.”  Tierna said with a wry smile, as she pulled her gaze away from the sky and back to her work.

Many people now flooded into the streets of Phlan.  It was certainly past sunrise by now, but the thick clouds were keeping most of the suns light at bay.  Many of the people notice Boucher’s holy symbol, and beg the sunlord for guidance.  So many crowd around the dwarven priest that he decides to hold service right there in the street.  Boucher climbs up on one of the raised porches to speak to the frightened people about what is happening.  He fields many questions and tries to reassure them all.  He informs the people that he is investigating the phenomenon, and will not rest until an answer is found.

Murook and Aelar are at a loss to explain what is happening.  They wonder around without a clue as to what is happening, or what, if anything, they can do about it.   The lich, Fredregar was from this town, maybe he returned here.  Maybe he could tell them what is going on.  Aelar and Murook, having no better ideas, decide to search for the undead, monkey wizard.

It was just after midday, and the sun’s rays still did not break the deep cloud cover.  What was more disturbing was that the moon had not moved across the sky.  It was still in the same spot in the sky as it was last night when it had turned red in color.  Many people were starting to panic, and some were running through the streets gathering supplies to load onto wagons in an attempt to flee this red moon.  Boucher rejoined his friends, having nothing else to say to comfort these frightened people.

They all were exiting the alchemist’s shop when a familiar face appeared from the crowd of townsfolk.  Archelios walked up beside the others and greeted them warmly.  He told the them how he and Mandlebrot had spent the last few days researching the orb, and the founder Thaelioth to try and find anything of use to them.  He explained that Mandlebrot had gone to the great library at Mythdrannor to find a rare book that was said to contain information about Thaelioth’s time in the abyss.  Archelios told them how he was concentrating on researching the Guardians of the Balance, and that research had led him to Phlan, where he hoped to regroup with them.  The conversation was furious as each of them had stories to tell about the time they had been apart.   They headed back to their room at the inn to discuss other matters more privately.

They filled Archelios in on the details of the last couple of days.  About Fredregar’s lair and how they actually met the little monkey lich in the flesh, so to speak.  And how he was quite helpful, even pleasant toward them.

“A lich, being helpful and pleasant?”  Archelios blurted out, with an expression of complete amazement displayed on his ebony skinned face.

“Aye.  I believe it was he that unlocked his treasure room for us too.”  Murook added, with a confirming nod of his head.

They also told Archelios about the narrow escape from the lair and how those spiny devils almost did Murook in.  This part of the story had Murook squirming uneasily in his chair.  He knew he never wanted to come that close to death again, and the painful sting of those spines still made his muscles ache.  In fact, he was certain that some of that demonic poison still coursed through his veins just waiting for a vulnerable moment to attack him from within.

In a short time, they arrived back at the inn.  Boucher felt the time was right to show Archelios the box they had recovered from Fredregar’s lair.  He slowly pulled out the rune inscribed box and sat it on the small table they had all gathered around.  Archelios looked closely at the box, without touching it.  He was able to read some of the runes inscribed on it, but others were in a language he did not recognize.

“That one means ‘to drain’ or ‘to empty.”  Murook said, pointing at a few of the more obscure runes along the edge of the box.

Archelios stared at him in complete disbelief, with his eyes wide and his mouth agape.  The other two just grinned and shook their head.

“It’s this crystal thing I found in the lich’s lair.  It’s what allowed me to speak with those demons that nearly killed me.”  Murook said shyly, as he noticed Archelios staring and the others grinning at him.

“The language is called, infernal.”  Archelios said, as a wide smile stretched across his face.  “It seems you found some useful things in there after all.”  he finished chuckling, and slapping Murook on the back.

After some small experiments they soon discovered that the box was a tool for draining and storing magical energy from any enchanted item.  The box even grew or shrank to accommodate different sized items.  What it could be used for was still unclear, but Archelios knew, through his research, that many rituals drew power from magic items.  And that some of these rituals needed many powerful items in order to activate.  A device which could store that energy indefinitely would be very useful in those types of rituals.  They all decided to put the box away and study it more closely later.

At last Aelar came to the part about the harpy named Tierna and the young blue dragon that chased her.  Aelar told Archelios her entire story.  How she came from the future to warn them about the Fomorians and how she knew they carried the orb with them.

“Tierna!”  Murook and Boucher said as one, as they turned and looked at each other.

“Aye.  She may know something about this red moon.  Why didn’t we think of it before?” Murook asked, as he scolded himself.

“Sure’in it be a better idea than sittin’ here waitin’ to be squashed by a cyclops!” said Boucher, who always seemed to add a bit of color to his words, as only a dwarf could.

“That is a comforting thought, good dwarf.”  Aelar quipped, rolling his eyes for effect.

“I missed you all so much.”  Archelios sighed.  It was all he could add at that moment.

They hurried out the door of The Great Oak Tavern, and jogged down the street to the eastern gates of Phlan.  The street was clogged with wagons of people fleeing the red moon.  Along the way people grabbed at Boucher and begged the sunlord to pray for the sun to return and burn away the clouds and drive the red moon from the sky.  Boucher offered the few words he could, then hurried to catch up with his companions.  As they neared the eastern gates, the distant thunder that had been rumbling all day was growing noticeably louder every passing moment.  The four of them stood inside the open city gates and gazed out toward the tower in the distance.  Brilliant lights of many colors could be seen coming from the top of the tower.

“I knew that creature was going to be trouble.”  Murook said through gritted teeth.

“I don’t think the harpy girl is behind this.”  said Boucher.  “Call it a hunch.”  he finished, as he noticed Murook looking at him incredulously.

“Aye.  I agree with, ‘Master’ Boucher.”  Aelar quipped sarcastically.

“I didn’t ask to be found by the dern’d harpy from the future, ya flippin’ forest lover.”  Boucher hopped around as he spat out the words.

“Such language, Master Boucher!”  Aelar said wryly.  “I simply meant that it doesn’t make any sense.”  he continued before Boucher could launch into another curse spitting rant.  “Why would she tell us where she was going to be if she intended to do harm?”  Aelar finished, putting his hand on Boucher’s shoulder to calm the dwarf.

“True words, druid.  It doesn’t make any sense at all.”  Archelios said as he walked past the others a few steps then paused and turned back toward them.  “Well?  We’re not to find any answers standing here are we?”  he stated flatly.

The others looked to each other, then nodded in agreement and started off toward the ruined tower at a quickened pace.

At the top of the ruined tower, Tierna watched as the Fomorian portal burst into existence.  The magical grace she had spent most of the morning preparing immediately started glowing brightly, as the magical forces slammed against one another.  Her magical circles, constructed in concentric rings on the stone floor, struggled to hold against the immense power that the Fomorian battle mages were sending into the portal.  By now, they would suspect something was trying to close this portal down, and were most likely attempting to counter the unseen force.  Usually magic of this power was reserved for the most highly trained mages and sorcerers, but Tierna came from a time when almost everyone she knew had to master such magical graces as part of their battle training.  Closing transport portals and enacted holding spell traps was normal duty for most every patrol squad she was assigned to.  But, this portal would be many times stronger than those she was used to.  This one, she knew, was being created and sustained by Fomorian battle mages.  It was not the weaker transport portals created from the orb devices that the cyclops soldiers used to cross the battlefield.  This portal would be able to adapt and overcome many defenses.  Her magical graces had to be perfect if they were going to hold out against the onslaught.

Tierna gasped when she noticed the outermost of her circles go dark and cease to function.  The portal immediately sent out a charge of power that struck the wall just above her head, causing the stone wall to splinter and crack.  She knew then that her circles would not hold for long, and it was only a matter of time until the portal would be complete enough for something to come through.  She had to go find Boucher and warn him and his lieutenants about the coming danger.  She turned for the stairs and was instantly struck by another powerful surge that burst forth from the portal.  Another of her circles had failed.  The surge hit her in the back and blasted her against the stone wall.  Sub Commander Tierna Whisperwind, of the Fighting 58th Infantry ASD, (Air Support Division) slumped to the floor.  Her neck snapped instantly.

Some minutes later Boucher topped the stairs and stepped into the room where the portal was still growing in strength.  He saw the lifeless body of the harpy girl slumped against the wall, her head leaning much too far to the side to be natural.  Boucher glanced back at the portal and saw the enormous shape lurking just inside the magical portal.  The thing was huge, perhaps three times his size with one gigantic eye in the center of its elongated forehead.  He thought it best to make a quick withdraw, seeing no point in going up against such a foe.

“We need be goin’ from this place lads!  Sooner rather than later, I’d suggest.”  Boucher said when he past Archelios and Aelar on the stairs.  “Gonna be too much for us up there ina short time.”  the dwarf finished and continued to move quickly down the stairs.

“What of Tierna?”  asked Aelar.

“Neck broke.  Deader than a sack o’ anvils.”  Boucher yelled back at them.  He was already around the next turn in the spiral stairs.

Aelar looked to Archelios and Archelios stared back at Aelar for just a few moments, then both of them turned and followed the speedy dwarf back down the stairs and into the large room at the bottom where Murook waited.  The four of them regrouped and Boucher let them all know what was about to step through that portal.  It only took a few heartbeats to decide that none of them wanted to go up against a cyclops.  They all turned as one and headed out the arched entranceway, but were stopped moments later, when they saw three men standing in the courtyard just outside.  Everything seemed to stop for a few moments, as the two groups eyed each other cautiously.   The thunder bellowed much louder now and the skies seemed to grow darker by the minute, even though the sun should be high in the sky.

The man in the middle had a bald head and wore light clothes with leather bracers on each forearm.  To his right was a much larger man wearing chain armor and carrying magnificent looking swords with curved blades in each of his hands.  On the bald man’s left stood a smaller man who wore fine scale armor and carried a war hammer and shield at the ready.  After what seemed like an eternity, the bald man thrust out his arm toward Boucher.  A sickly green ray shot forth and hit the stone steps between Aelar and Boucher.  It began to spread decay across the ground like ripples on still water.  Aelar began to choke and Boucher felt like his last meal wanted to escape from his stomach.

The battle was joined.

The bald man continued to unleash spells against Aelar and Boucher which had them both unable to move.  The man in the scale rushed forward and engaged Boucher directly with his war hammer.  Boucher was completely defensive and was barely holding his own.  Murook had to make a quick decision, charge forward and stop the bald sorcerer or move to help his friends.  Being half orc, Murook’s decision was made for him.  He started his charge toward the sorcerer but was stopped short when he noticed the larger man vanish from sight.  It only took a few moments for him to realize where the larger man had gone.  Murook felt the sting of the nasty swords from behind him.  One of the swords glowed with a green hue and from that vile weapon oozed a viscous, acidic substance that seemed to eat Murook’s armor.  He spun around and managed to deflect the second sword as it came slicing in from the right side, with energy crackling along the length of its curved blade.

Archelios found his target immediately.  He unleashed a barrage of spells against the bald sorcerer that had the man reeling backward and unable to continue his assault on Boucher and Aelar.  The relief came just in time, as Boucher was sorely pressed by the mighty swings from the small man’s war hammer.  Aelar was nearly helpless, his muscles cramped up and his head was spinning as he struggled to get clear of the ring of decay that had spread out around the both of them.  Boucher stumbled on a raised stone as he backed away from his attacker and fell to the ground directly on his backpack.  Both of the straps broke away and out tumbled the Box of Fredregar that he had stuffed in there earlier.  The small man’s eyes widened with glee as he noticed the box lying on the ground beside the prone dwarf.  So focused was he on that box that he never saw the six hundred pound, silverback ape plow into him from behind.  Aelar had managed to regain enough of his senses to complete the transformation into the great ape just moments before.  Boucher used the distraction to gather up the box and quickly get back to his feet.

Archelios and Murook had the bald man on the defensive.  Murook had taken some nasty hits from those vicious, curved blades of the larger man, but kept his focus on the spell slinging sorcerer.  Both he and Archelios were concentrating on the bald man, trying to take him out of the fight quickly before he managed to have them all crippled and weakened.  Murook did his best to dodge the attacks from the shifting man and his two devilish blades, but it was difficult not knowing where the man would appear and from what angle the attacks would come.  Soon enough, they both had the sorcerer wounded badly and looking for an escape.  Murook then turned his attention fully on the vanishing assassin.

Meanwhile, Boucher and the great ape, Aelar, had been slowly gaining the upper hand against the scale armor clad man.  Each of them weaving their attacks in and around each other as openings were created and closed by the small man as he back peddled away from the two.  Then, just when Boucher knew he had him, he turned on the ape and spoke a command word.  Instantly Aelar’s feet rooted to the ground.  The small man backed away from the ape and turned back to Boucher, who was readying a viscous strike.  He pointed at the dwarf priest and spoke.

“Give me the box dwarf friend.”  Brathus said, weighting his words with magic through the spell he was casting.

“Oh, of course.  Just lemme fish it out of me pack here.”  Boucher immediately responded.

The domination spell had penetrated the priests defenses perfectly.  Boucher now realized that these three men were trying to save him from this evil ape, and the ugly half orc and that sinister drow wizard.  He had to make sure they survived long enough to escape with the box that he had been holding for them.  Boucher immediately handed the box to the smaller man, turned toward the ugly half orc, and charged.

Aelar could not believe what he just saw.  Was Boucher mad?  It had to be some spell that gripped the dwarf, Aelar thought.  He could not move.  He shifted back to his elf form, but it was too late.  The smaller man had taken the box from Boucher and had retreated from the battle field back toward the town of Phlan.  The little man must have had some sort of magic enhancing his speed, for in just a few minutes, he was already near the eastern gates of Phlan far in the distance.

The larger man faced off with Murook, trying to get around the half orc to attend the bald man, who had lapsed into unconsciousness, and lay over by the steps leading up to the tower.  They had got what they came for and it was now time to withdraw.  Archelios saw the large man’s attempt to reach his fallen comrade.  He was closer.  He moved over to the bald sorcerer and delivered a killing blow to the defenseless man, ending any threat that might come to revisit them in the future from that one at least.  The large man in chain armor snarled at Archelios as he backed away from the half orc that was ready to cut him in half.

Murook turned from the retreating man just in time to intercept the overhead swing of Boucher’s war mace.  The thunder was louder now and made communicating difficult.  Murook happened to glance back at the entrance to the ruined tower to see the gigantic form of the cyclops that had reached the bottom of the stairs.  Murook managed to fend off the few viscous attacks from Boucher until the dwarf finally snapped out of his stupor.  He yelled at the top of his lungs for them all to gather together to leave this place.  Aelar and Archelios had both seen the cyclops emerging from the tower’s entrance and ran toward Murook who was dragging a very confused dwarf with him.  They all met up in the path of a charging cyclops.  The huge, one eyed giant wielded a club as big as a tree trunk, with spikes adorning the head of it.  It lifted its massive club to strike, just as Aelar pulled the orb from his pack.  The companions all locked hands and Aelar activated Traveler.

Instantly they were all standing in the streets of Highmoon, the town that sat in the valley below the Dalelands Defense Academy.  A town they all knew well.  Yet, people here ran panicked through the streets just as they did in Phlan.  The four of them looked up at the sky to see the blood red moon surrounded by thick dark clouds, and they all heard the deafening roar of thunder.

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