Sat in the darkness at the shore of the lake, Theria and Essika contemplated their next move.
“No boat, no ideas,” murmured Essika. “I guess we have to turn back, then?”
“We can’t turn back!” Theria reprimanded him. “We’re the only ones who know where Vayu’s gone.”
“But we don’t know where he’s gone any more, only where he was a while ago.”
“If we do go back we’ll come out into the lower city, which right now will be full of the enemy.”
“That’s a much more convincing argument,” agreed Essika. “So we’re stuck here until the siege is over, but we have no way of knowing when that’ll be.” Theria looked up at him, then away again; he could see she had thought of something, but something she wasn’t altogether comfortable with. “Theria?”
“Elfsong,” she said. “I can take us to Oakharrow.”
“That won’t be too helpful in the context of the siege, you know,” said Essika, contemplating the consequences of their disappearance.
“More than that, no human has ever set foot within the harrow before. I don’t think the High would be too pleased if we were to break that record.”
“Do we have a choice?” Theria shook her head sadly. “Do you need me to do anything?” he asked.
“Take my hand and be absolutely silent,” she ordered. Her song came gently forth, echoing quietly, warmly, around the dark recesses of the cavern. The sound filled Essika up, took over him, looked deep inside his soul. Before his eyes images flashed of his childhood, his youth, his adulthood, his whole life. He saw Theria the way she had been when first they met, so many years before. She looked no different now, of course, but he did. His hair was darker then, not tinged with grey as it was now, he had been sporting a full beard instead of the short stubble of his middle age. His clothes were cheaper, less well-made, but his sword was of quality steel. Even in his younger days he had understood the virtue of a reliable weapon, and that thought cheered him. Looking upon Theria in his mind’s eye he was entranced once more by her serene beauty. Those deep, soulful green eyes, that flowing, lustrous hair, her lithe, slim body; he could see how perfect she was even under the expansive cloak and her manly attire, boots, leather trews, woven mail cuirass. His memories flashed forward to their first night together. The two of them, out under the stars in the woodlands of Trivandor, a cool summer night, the moon high and almost full, bathing the world in its silvery light, making her elven skin seem all the more desirable. In his rapture he was clumsy, fumbling around, but she laughed and led him in the dance. Bliss such as Essika had forgotten could even exist consumed him, showering him in starlight, surrounding him with the growing, powerful sound of her song. Breath escaped him, words seemed inconsequential, everything but Theria and him, together that night under the stars, together all the other times – the White Dragon, by the waterfall, all the places in Valenti… They all blurred into one as perfect joy engulfed the two of them standing deep beneath the ground by the shores of a subterranean lake, lifting them, carrying them away from their fears, their cares, their tribulations.
“You can open your eyes now,” she whispered. “Welcome to Oakharrow.”
* * * * * * * * *
“What did you do?” demanded one of the magi of Zhar. “Where have you taken us?”
“We’re in the town somewhere, and I just saved all your lives. That was Winter Vayu just came bursting in, you ungrateful little bastard.” Zhar spat; moving so many people had left something awry in his throat, filling it with bile. “Now get back to saving the city or whatever, I’ve got a confrontation to prepare for.”Vayu will find ussssss.
No he won’t. We won’t give him the chance.
Zhar began to laugh, a deep, heartfelt cackle growing into an untamed roar of entertainment. “Winter, old friend, I’m coming for you,” he hissed, and disappeared.
* * * * * * * * *
“Go!” shouted Vayu. “Find him! Find the magi!” He sniffed the air and waved his fingers in a complicated little motion. Closing his eyes, he concentrated for a moment. “They’re somewhere in the town. Burn everything if you have to.” His Paladins left the room and Vayu put his hands to his temples. “Why?” he muttered. “Why couldn’t this have been simple?”
“It’s about to get a lot more complicated,” said a voice from behind him. Vayu spun round, shocked; he hadn’t felt Zhar’s reappearance at all. As he turned, though, the room around him vanished. He blinked, and a moment later when he opened his eyes, the two of them stood atop the tower.
“Is this to be our final battle, then?” he asked, stalling as he worked out a battle plan. Fireballs. Lots of them. Shades, gates, maybe a bit of bad weather.
“I doubt it,” replied Zhar. Just get clossssse enough to use our knifesssss.
“Magi like you and I, we don’t die. Though I seem to recall we killed you once already.” Hissss blood will taste ssssso sweet.
“Something killed you a long time ago, didn’t it?” Vayu shot back. Concentrate… Lightning should do it. Let’s see if we can get that black heart of yours beating again.
“I gave myself willingly.” Cut off his head! Blast him! Freeze him! Taste his bloodsssss! Torture him first! SILENCE! We will have him together.
“Nobody dies willingly, Zhar.” The clouds began to circle above the tower as Vayu’s magic took hold of the elements.
“I gave myself so that I would never die, Winter. It’s called a sacrifice.” Zhar clapped his hands together and a beam of white light shot up, desiccating and dispersing the gathering cloud. “You’re going to have to do better than that.” He is pathetic! Kill him now! Drain him dry! Maybe he’s holding back? Maybe he has nothing more to offer? Maybe we could possess his body! It issss too crowded here, I will claim hissss body when we have tasssssted his blood!
“You know nothing of sacrifice,” said Vayu, his voice low and cold. “This is sacrifice.” Vayu turned and leapt, twisting in the wind as he started to fall.
“No!” Zhar dived after him, kriss in hand. “Coward!”
Vayu worked quickly; he had just seconds before his body would be dashed to pieces on the cobbles below. He cast out, searching for a new host, covering as much of the battleground before him as he could without spreading himself too thin. There.
A weak mind, injured but not too badly, easy to fix. Human, male, strong enough. Vayu gathered himself together and launched at the target, leaving his body empty as it fell to its death. For a moment there was a struggle as the incumbent mind fought the nascent intruder, but Vayu was far too powerful to be cast out.
He stood up in his new body and flexed his fingers. Green light began to crawl across his skin, repairing the damage. He strode from the building where the man had been hiding away. It was time to find those accursed magi himself.
* * * * * * * * *
Illyriel was right where he wanted to be: in the centre of the fighting. He had long since given up keeping score after he got past fifty. He was doing what he could to keep the line solid on the third wall, having already conceded the first two, but he was struggling. Too many of the defenders had already fallen, but Illyriel knew that the weakest would always be the first to fall. What remained were the hardened veterans, the professional soldiers, the uncompassionate killers. And he was one of them.
Rindar and Byron fought back to back some way to Illyriel’s right, Rindar taking great pleasure in dealing as much death as he could among the mercenary Deathknelve, all in search of Tom who, after his little display to focus their attention, had merged back into the throng. Ducking under a slashing blade, Illyriel thrust his left sword into the man’s belly, his right crushing against his assailant’s knee, crippling him and leaving him to bleed out on the rampart.
The majority of the melds had decided they were going to feed, not fight, on the vast stores of dead flesh lying between the first and third walls. Only a few of them were actively involved in the battle, and it was towards them that Illyriel now turned. Two reared up side by side, a black bear-beast and a golden-maned lion-man. The lion stumbled as an arrow drove into its midriff, closely followed by another. A man dealt it a fierce blow with a mace, sending it toppling back over the crenellations, but the creature caught hold of the man with its claws as it fell, dragging him to his death. The bear roared, spittle flying from its maw as it faced down the defenders, challenging them to face it. Another arrow hit the bear in the shoulder but barely gave it pause for thought. With a mighty paw it brushed the missile away, swiping one of Murad’s Janizars aside on the return swing.
Steeling himself, Illyriel broke through a pair of Deathknelve seeking blood, merely pushing them aside. Making full use of his elven agility, he leapt atop the piecemeal crenellations and from there to the beast’s back, plunging both swords in as deep as his remaining strength would permit. The beast howled and spun around, trying to dislodge its assailant, but Illyriel clung on. He pulled one sword out and stabbed down again, aiming for the heart or lungs, or somewhere fatal anyway. The beast screamed, a painful, feral sound, and threw itself from the wall. Caught by surprise, Illyriel froze, just for a moment, but enough to leave him tumbling down on the back of his prey. The bear-meld cushioned Illyriel’s fall, but it was still far enough to knock the wind out of him.
He stood up, poking the bear-meld with his toe: it remained still and dead. Only then did he look around, and found himself the subject of several intense, animal glares. His fall had interrupted the melds’ feeding frenzy.
“Well that’s definitely not good,” he announced, mainly to himself. For a few seconds that seemed like an eternity, melds and elf were in a standoff. Then they returned to their food. Anything skilful enough to kill one of their kind was not worth bothering with when there was fresh meat aplenty all around them. Illyriel dragged his swords clear of the fallen beast and set about finding a way back to safety before the melds changed their minds.
I hope I am a good enough writer that some day dwarves kill me and drink my blood for wisdom.