Saturday, November 27, 2010

ORDER & CHAOS - 108,000 words - Chapter Six

Chapter Six: Into the Maelstrom

Leif spoke to the group of warriors.
“My Friends, I have sensed the return of the Maegar Dwarves to the Mountains in Arkadia. I suggest we seek them out and welcome their return. They have an historical reputation of being formidable fighters. There is great potential for them to help us in our campaign to secure the regions of Gaea.
“I agree with your assessment, Friend Sentinel,” said Lord Taliesin. “We can yet use additional support in our defensive campaign.”
“I also am interested in speaking with the Maegar Dwarves,” stated Claude. “Their presence puts the Arkadian Mountains into a fuller state of transition.”
“I too concur with your observation, Night-Feeder,” added Sharon Redthorne. “The time has come to balance the disparity of alignment in Arkadia. The presence of dwarves and vampires will keep the Stalactite Forces in check. Let us travel with Taliesin to Mount Crow and see if we can meet with the dwarves.”
“We haven’t always agreed with the Maegar,” said Llewellyn. “I acknowledge, however, that communication is essential to any sort of peaceful coexistence. We Qualinesti will accompany you and secure a larger peace with the mountain dwarves.”
The group of warriors traveled north and west from the beach near Tinkerburg. They ascended the foothills by midnight and found themselves face to face with Oxholm and a band of dwarf soldiers.
“Welcome, Fellow Gaeans,” declared the dwarf. “We expected that you would detect our arrival to this Plane. Alas, our King, Grumbold, was slain by the Denizens of Chaos.
“The Council of the Maegar Dwarves forewent the process of electing a new King. Grumbold had no heir or heiress. We have thus adopted a form of democracy for our modest clan. By a sweeping majority the Maegar chose to depart from its settlement in the Gorgon Plane. We dwarves have a reputation as resilient fighters. Nevertheless the ongoing harassment of the beholders, firbolgs and minotaurs was getting out of hand. We have returned to our original dwelling places in the high valley on Mount Crow. If you are here to help us, which you appear to be, you are welcome to visit our town, Umbria.”
“We are gladdened to do so, Brave Dwarf,” replied Lord Taliesin. “Lead us, if you please, and we’ll follow.”
Oxholm led his friends up the steep side of Mount Crow.
“The goblins are traditionally lodged in the southern face of the great mountain. We dwarves have claimed the mines in the north face. Our network of mines and farms is what the Maegar have called Umbria.”
Taliesin observed shallow tracks in the grass hewn by the recent passage of wagons.
“We Maegar are able travelers,” said Oxholm. “We returned to Gaea faster than we left it. The Denizens of Chaos in the Gorgon Plane motivated us to depart from The Spires as quickly as possible.”
“Your settlement will be more practical to guard now that it is located in Gaea,” said Lady Sharon. “We will help you Maegar Dwarves if we are able.”
Oxholm continued to lead the mercenaries up the steep incline. Their warhorses were well-trained and did not falter on the grade. The warriors reached the high, mountain valley that stood before Mount Crow. Several waterfalls descended from the rocks above to form ponds laden with fish and swans.
Dwarf children surrounded Taliesin’s group as they rode into the settlement. The Maegar were busy constructing homes and barns to house their livestock and grain. The sounds of chickens and cattle wafted through the cool, mountain air.
Drumtone approached the group from a stack of lumber he was splitting.
“Greetings, Taliesin, Gilead, Sharon and Friends. We meet again and under much different circumstances,” Drumtone said.
He laid his handiwork aside, strode over to the group and shook hands.
Drumtone addressed the gathering of Maegar Children.
“Run and play, Kids. I have business with these strange-looking visitors.”
The children did as the dwarf warrior suggested and romped to the fields of the valley.
“Rumor has it that you allowed the townsfolk of Mystic Down to bear arms on your behalf, Taliesin. Is this so?”
“Yes,” answered the hazel-eyed Lord. “The Denizens of the Harad Ghul continue to maraud the settlements in Mystic Down, Coermantyr, Arborea and Tinkerburg. It is impossible for we Lieges to police the expansive regions as a single unit. The villagers and farmers are quick learners and have patrolled the regions with a modicum of success. Their efforts have given my group the time to meet with you, Maegar Dwarves. We’ve come from Tinkerburg where we helped the gnomes to secure their city from the Arkadian Guild of Assassins.”
“So I see, Taliesin. As you know we dwarves have not always gotten along with elves. We are united in a common cause now, however, and welcome you Qualinesti to our humble, mountain village. Let us meet with the Dwarf Council. The goblins and orcs are sure to detect our return soon. And there will be a fight.”
“Very well, Drumtone,” replied the Baroness. “Let us confer with the dwarves while the time is ripe.”
The pair of dwarf brothers led the warriors to the largest building of the settlement. It was a circular, wooden edifice with a curved roof and a watchtower. The guards at the entrance recognized Drumtone and Oxholm. They allowed Taliesin and his companions to enter the central structure of Umbria.
Inside the eldest male and female dwarves sat at a round table. The floor of the room was illuminated with beams of light descending from the watchtower in the roof. The stained glass windows created streaks of blue, red, green and yellow within the circular meeting table.
Cooper addressed the others as the Unofficial Leader of the Delegation.
“My Fellow Dwarves, thank you for assembling here on such short notice. The Maegar Clan has done a good job of moving here from the Gorgon Plane in a timely fashion.”
Cooper spoke to the mercenaries and the dwarf brothers.
“Oxholm and Drumtone, you have the appreciation of this Council for your aid in defending and moving our clan to Gaea. You visitors from the other regions of the Realm are here to help us. The Council agrees that it is only a matter of time before the Stalactite Forces of Tiamat intrude upon us. We are better off, however, for the firbolgs, minotaurs and beholders in the Gorgon Plane were exponentially more difficult to repel.
“It is this Council’s request,” continued Cooper, “that you warriors who arrived stay here for the battle to come. We see wood elves within your number and encourage them to stay with us as well. The dwarves will ready their weapons of warfare and sleep with a double watch. If any movement or intrusion occurs during the night the Vampire Lord in our midst will surely awaken us. Their kind has also suffered under the marauding waves of orcs and goblins in the last decade. Partake of our humble fare and get some sleep. I cannot say for how long for the orcs may barge through the mountain at any hour.”
“Thank you for your welcome and information, Cooper,” replied Lord Taliesin. “We will sleep if we are able. My group shall also prepare their weapons and incantations of choice in the event of sudden battle.”
The warriors and Maegar Dwarves slept for a few hours when Claude awoke the mortals with a screeching voice.
“Rise, Friends. The Hordes of Stalactite Orcs are on the move like never before. They pour from the mines within the mountain.”
“You have our thanks, Claude,” answered Cooper. “Maegar Dwarves, our time is at hand. We fled from the Chaotic Denizens of the Gorgon Plane. Now we must assert our belonging to our mines. The goblins and their kin move through the center of Mount Crow.”
“We will catch up on sleep at a later time, My Comrades,” said Gilead.
The mercenaries strode to the Council Chamber of the dwarves. Over a dozen tunnels leading upward and downward into the mines of Mount Crow gaped in the cavern. Every able-bodied, adult dwarf wielded a weapon in the chamber. Lord Taliesin and his companions also prepared themselves for battle. The goblin and orc voices grew louder until they rushed en masse through the many tunnels. Rauros and Loki led them. A few of the humanoids fired arrows from compound bows and bolt-throwers. The rest of them clambered into the fray in a heated charge.
Llewellyn and his wood elves were familiar with the tactics of the Stalactite Forces. They deflected the arrows with their steel shields and counterattacked with their swords. Ben Frostberry employed his dagger and Bjorn Roundtree his sling. Claude, the Vampire Lord, sunk his fangs into several of the goblins and their Lykanthros mounts, rendering them comatose. Nighthawk and his band were also familiar with the techniques of the goblins and parried their scimitars with ease.
The mages, Reoren, Gilead, Sigrid and Leif encanted an experimental spell.
“Mortis!”
Several of the goblins were thrown from the backs of their steeds as they tumbled with lesions on their limbs. The Lykanthros howled in fear and fled through one of the lower tunnels. The dismounted goblin and orc horde continued their assault on foot.
Lord Taliesin, Bors, Torvald, Lady Sharon, Rodnik and Thorgrym formed a tight circle. Their opponents pressed at them from every side. The casualties of wounded and slain goblins piled up at the striking range of the fighters.
Llewellyn’s Qualinesti Elves were especially driven to repel the orcs. They remembered numerous conflicts with the humanoids in the past and yet sought vengeance for their fallen kindred.
At last the line of attacking goblins subsided. They were desperate to defeat the Maegar Dwarves but could not summon the strength to parry their berserker attacks. The male and female dwarves stepped into the open spaces of the circle, dealing powerful strikes with their hammers and axes.
Oxholm and Drumtone rolled apart and dealt with the goblins two at a time. The Stalactite Hordes continued to lose forces. Despite the crush of screeching humanoids They did not retreat and continued their press into the carnage. The other dwarves were inspired by the heroic efforts of the trolls and elves. Each of the bearded warriors gave a chilling war cry and engaged their opponents with full force.
The goblins continued to fight but their number was significantly reduced. Hundreds of the humanoids from the far side of Mount Crow were slain. And those that lingered did not survive much longer. The bodies of Rauros and Loki were nowhere to be seen.
The dwarf brothers embraced the trolls and elves.
“We are victorious! The Maegar have successfully asserted their claim of Mount Crow. Our move to Gaea has proven wise,” Oxholm declared.
“I salute all of you and commend your bravery,” said Lord Taliesin. “This marks the beginning of a new era of peace for our regions. We now know that there are no challenges to face that are not achievable. You dwarves have our thanks for your support and diligence. We welcome you to contact us at our respective strongholds if the Forces of Tiamat return once more. I am sure I speak for all of us when I say we can use a good night’s rest.”
“Thank you, Mercenaries,” replied Drumtone. “The Maegar Clan is indebted to you for your help. We may indeed take you up on the offer of military support for none of us know how many goblins remain in the deep mines of the Under Earth.”
“Very well, Dwarf Leader,” said Lady Sharon. “We will take the time to clean and oil our weapons. We must attend to the activities of the residents of our respective regions.”
The Baroness of Coermantyr gave a chivalric embrace to each of the fighters. The elves bowed and exited from the Council Chamber. The lich-trolls were soon to follow.
* * * * *
Raven sat with Michelle on the bus to Jefferson Community College. She gazed at the small businesses and cafes as they whizzed by the bus. Despite her best efforts Raven struggled to keep up with the pace of Mrs. Eggnog’s trigonometry class.
“I’m worried, Michelle,” said Raven. “I’ve been trying my best to keep up with the permutations of sine, cosine and tangent in my trig class. I regret that I may not cut the mustard this semester.”
“Don’t sweat it, Rave,” replied Michelle. “I’ve got a staggered list of ‘W’s’ and ‘C’s’ on my transcript. Transfer to a four-year university is worth the patience and effort. Don’t let Mrs. Eggnog’s approach to mathematics bring you down. If you don’t mind my saying so, you’ve looked tired in the last few days. How many exams must you take before the drop deadline?”
“Two, I’m afraid,” Raven responded. “I’m going to ask Mrs. Eggnog today whether I still have a chance for a ‘C’ or should withdraw from the class.”
“Whatever happens I wish you the best,” Michelle said.
The bus reached the college parking lot and rumbled to a stop.
* * * * *
Lord Taliesin of Mystic Down sat impatiently on his Dais. The farmers and merchants of his region initiated an underground correspondence organization. The villagers and hunters kept a network of homing pigeons in cages throughout the region. They let them fly to Taliesin’s Tower with numbers reporting the movements of the Stalactite Forces from the picket line along the Arkadian Border.
The Liege Lord had assembled a table in his Audience Chamber. It bore a large map of Gaea stretched before him. It was marked with miniature figures representing reports received from pigeons and trolls.
This doesn’t bode well, thought the Liege Lord. I must contact Baroness Sharon and Gilead. They should see the gathering forces that oppose we trolls.
Taliesin lit a candelabrum that stood next to his table. He placed the iron container of his sealing wax on the grill over his hearth fire. He opened his jar of ink and scratched a letter to Restadicus.

To the Chief of the Lore Masters, on the 28th day of the Fall Equinox of the Year of the Wolf.
Restadicus, the invasions to the region of Mystic Down continue. My perception of the fluctuations of the Dharmic Equilibrium has made my sleep turbulent and restless. My bond with the preternatural energies of the wold forces me to attend to the ongoing disturbances to our regions.
You are a wise troll and knew the parents of the Baroness and I. My father and mother, Lord Raymond and Lady Elwen would commend you for your recent support of the campaign to bring peace to the entirity of Gaea. It troubles me to think what ancient evils have come to a head in the last few months.
None of us can surmise how long the forces of the Demigod, Thoth and Titan, Tiamat have waited for this moment to strike at the residents of the Higher Planes. I appreciate the efforts of you Lore Masters and Siegemunde in the Martial Academy of the Ghastly Fens to research the histories and memoirs kept in Coermantyr Castle and Lich Town.
I will be so bold as to consider that the imbalance of the Mandala of the Planes is the same one that caused the war with the goblins and stone trolls a generation ago. The size of the populations of troll folk, dwarves, elves and vampires has dwindled since the internecine destruction of the past conflict. I regret that I was but a babe in arms at the time and had no understanding of the dangers my parents faced.
Leif, the half-ghoul Sentinel, and mutual friend of ours, has also theorized that the establishment of his race of trolls was due to the absence of sufficient forces to repel the masses of orcs that poured from the mines in Mount Crow. I agree with his idea and wonder if the time is ripe for the organized regions of Gaea to assemble an official militia such as the one described in the historic tomes.
I volunteer my services before Sharon Redthorne, Baroness of Coermantyr, and the Lore Masters to assemble what farmers, hunters and villagers who reside within the settled regions in an alliance with the existing Lieges of Gaea. Please send me word of your thoughts in this matter. The goblin Guild of Assassins remains and their alliegance with the Stalactite Orcs from the depths of the Under Earth holds strong.
Reports remain of Denizens of Chaos lingering in the wilderness beyond the picket line bordering my region with Arkadia. They include enumerations of Lykanthros, firbolgs and beholders that ran astray from the regimented Forces of Tiamat and yet predate my outlying farms and trade houses.
I am sending duplicates of this request to Lady Sharon, Alex in Arborea, Siegemunde in the Ghastly Fens, Miles Davenport in Tinkerburg, Valinor in the Qualinost Valley and Lord Dagon in his ocean region.
You have my thanks, Restadicus. I shall await your word from Coermantyr Castle.

Sincerely,


Lord Taliesin of Mystic Down

Taliesin quickly penned copies of his request for the Leaders of the regions of Gaea. The sealing wax was hot and the Troll Lord secured each scroll with the impression of his signet ring. He attached the folded notes to the legs of carefully selected homing pigeons from the aviary of his Tower. Each bird he chose from a cage labeled with a different region.
The Liege Lord stood at the open window of his Audience Chamber and loosed the birds to the various directions of their homes. The fowl circled his stronghold momentarily then divided their flock as they sought their respective targets over the oak forest.
The troll set himself to a dinner of roast mutton and cauliflower. He attempted to sleep soundly that night but the wavering emanations of Chaotic Magic would not let him rest.
The next morning Taliesin awoke with the dawn and hastened to his aviary once more. Returned birds pecked at seed on the floor of the aviary. The Troll Lord hurried to scatter additional grain before the homing pigeons alighted from his aviary in search of food. All of the regions were successfully contacted and sent their responses to the buttressed Tower of Mystic Down.
The other Lieges and Leaders unanimously approved Taliesin’s idea of a concerted militia. Restadicus’ letter in turn asked for the Liege of Mystic Down to meet with him in the Council Chamber of the Lore Masters. Taliesin was heartened by the responses of his friends and sometime mercenaries.
He sent word to Rex to prepare a pair of warhorses for the journey to Coermantyr. The warriors left the Tower before noon and hastened their steeds to the west. In a matter of hours they reached the city gates of Coermantyr and negotiated their mounts through the rows of booths and narrow streets of the bustling city.
The armored trolls passed the cries of the merchants, lauding their wares for sale. The beasts of burden were another matter. The horses, camels, alpacas and llamas massed in the haphazard boulevards, paying no mind to the desire of the visitors to pass. After an hour of waiting for the herds to clear the way the Liege Lord and his acquaintance reached the preliminary gate of Coermantyr Castle.
A pair of Knights recognized the neighboring Liege and his Sergeant-at-Arms. They gestured for them to venture within and went so far as to use the wooden ends of their lances to push clusters of goats and sheep to the side of the street.
At last the mercenaries arrived at the main gate of Coermantyr Castle. Restadicus was anxious to confer with Lord Taliesin and met him in the courtyard of the stronghold. The grizened, magenta-cloaked wizard shook the visiting Liege’s hand upon his dismount from his warhorse.
“Welcome, Taliesin and Rex. The reports of the homing pigeons throughout the Realm of Gaea speak the same news. The Harad Ghul and hordes of goblins and orcs are abounding once more. We must concert our efforts again to repel them.”
“I agree, Adept Wizard,” replied Lord Taliesin. “I’m sure that Baroness Sharon will support our efforts to restore peace to our regions. Let us venture upward and speak with her at once.”
Castle pages took the reins of the warhorses of the Liege Lord and his Sergeant-at-Arms. The warriors followed the lead of the Chief Wizard into the castle proper. The Baroness of Coermantyr sat on her ivory Dais in the center of the circle of the Lore Masters. Gilead, the Key Mage, sat on a similar Throne at his Lady’s right side. They both rose upon the approach of the traveling residents of Mystic Down.
“Welcome, Taliesin and Rodnik,” Sharon said. “Our network of communication has proven effective I see. Gilead and I have waited to speak with you before leaving on our campaign to confront the Guild of Assassins in Arkadia.”
“Thank you for holding here for us, Sharon,” replied Taliesin. “We would be loath to be left behind. The forces we confronted in the Abyssal Cairn were strong enough to turn us. Our hope is to succeed with greater spells and incantations issued by both the Lore Masters and Siegemunde from the Ghastly Fens. The vampires have secured their grasp of Castle Stammberg in the Arkadian Mountains. Their aid will be welcome along with that of the anthromorphs and Sentinels from the Martial Academy.”
“That is a wise observation, Liege of Mystic Down,” observed Wotan.
He and the two-dozen other magic-users filled the circular table in the Council Chamber of Coermantyr Castle.
“We shall accompany you warriors on your quest. If we are set to receive future invasions from the Chaotic Planes it will bode well for us to diminish the ability of the Harad Ghul to assail our cities and villages.”
“A shrewd observation that is, Blond Wizard,” declared The Watcher. “Record your endeavor in my journal I will. Safe now the Orb of Paryphax is, within its rightful place in the fortress of the wood trolls.”
The aged halfling scratched the minutes of the meeting upon a standing easel at a far corner of the room. He recorded the statements of the speakers in runes to better secure their dispersion to unwanted eyes. The halfling’s scroll glowed with additional security measures cast upon it by Restadicus.
“Accompany you I would, but alas my age will not permit me. Venture to the east with my blessing you must. Stay here I will and hold the fort for the return of the Lore Masters to these hallowed halls.”
“Thank you, Watcher,” answered Sharon. “We would be heartened to have you travel with us but you must conserve your strength. The lich-trolls from the Ghastly Fens and the anthromorph rangers will accompany us in your stead. None of us know the limits of the strength of the dwarves and vampires beyond the picket line of Arkadia. They will prove ready to defend the settlements they have so recently acquired.”
“Don’t forget the Qualinesti Elves who have watched the conflicts in your western regions for some time.”
The mercenaries and sorcerers turned their heads as Llewellyn and a handful of elves entered the Council Chamber. Gearzon and Galatia, the gnome engineers, accompanied them.
“We are ready to fight the forces that oppose us,” declared Gearzon. “The Mayor of Tinkerburg has issued a proclamation that every able-bodied gnome prepare for the defense of our City and the greater regions beyond our borders.”
“You have our thanks and appreciation,” said Restadicus. “I will send letters to Miles Davenport and Valinor, thanking them for sending you, Sturdy Fighters. All of us shall set forth on the road to the Burial Ruins at the Crossroads of the Ghastly Fens. The stone trolls, Fangoz and Cara, remain there and have increased their correspondence with the feline anthromorphs of the Bengal Clan. I have received fresh reports of skirmishes between the Bengal Clan and the carnivorous Lykanthros Hordes.”
“I adjourn this meeting and encourage all of you to get some rest this night. You and we Lore Masters shall hit the road at the dawn. Much effort will be necessary to convince Rauros, Dakros and Loki to leave us be.”
The warriors of various races departed from the Council Chamber of the Lore Masters and took up lodging for the night in separate quarters. They all slept well and awoke refreshed before the dawn.
The mercenaries guided their warhorses to the north and soon reached the edge of the Forest of Coermantyr. They continued east and came upon the Crossroads and Burial Ruins.
The Sod Stronghold built by the Drystyx Monks broke a dark, jagged outline in the hazy sky. The edifice remained unoccupied and the fighters continued on through the marshes of the Ghastly Fens. After a few hours they reached the home of Cara and Fangoz, the stone trolls. Bjorn Roundtree was surprised to find Satvinder and Jalhi Bengal’s Clan encamped outside of the modest structure. A feline anthromorph pushed aside the beaded curtain of the massive trolls’ home and told them of the arrival of the Lieges and Council of Mages.
“Welcome, My Friends,” said Fangoz as he stuck his head out the door. “It is good to see you all once again. I just finished helping Cara prepare a batch of cinnamon muffins for the anthromorphs here. There is food to spare if you’re hungry.”
The fanged troll stepped inside his abode and emerged with several trays of muffins, still steaming from the hearth.
“This is a favorite recipe of My Love and I. It took us several years to get the seasoning just right. Have a taste and tell me what you think.”
Bjorn Roundtree was the first to reach the home of Cara and Fangoz. He took a muffin from the outstretched hand of the male stone troll. The giant muffin appeared even larger in the pudgy hands of the spry halfling.
“This looks good, Fangoz,” replied the halfling. “It will last me for several days, I’m sure.”
The energetic halfling used a small knife to cut himself a wedge of the heavy loaf. He wrapped the rest of it in a scarf and stored it in his travel pack. The other travelers partook of the baked goods and complimented the baker as he lumbered through the group.
The wild-looking Bengal Rangers introduced themselves to the Qualinesti Elves. Both races preferred longbows and bolt-throwers as a principle means of hunting and defense.
Cara emerged from the house and laughed as she saw the motley crew of fighters as they chatted among themselves.
“What a serious lot you all are,” she scoffed. “I’ll bet that such a group of warriors cannot be found anywhere else in Gaea. I take it you are here to repel the Stalactite Forces who yet harangue us.”
“That is correct, Gentle Lady,” Satvinder replied. “We have our work cut out for us and are grateful for your generous foodstuffs.”
“I’m afraid we must ask to take your husband with us on our campaign once more, My Lady,” said Sharon. “His mace is too large for any of us to wield. Fangoz will prove a securing force in combatting the Stalactite Goblin and Orc Hordes that swarm in Mount Crow.”
“I thought as much would happen today when I saw the tiger-trolls setting camp here at the edge of the Fens. Take him, if you must. Just remember that I expect him to return in one piece after your adventure.”
“You have my word, Lady Stone Troll,” Restadicus vowed. “Your beloved will not be harmed. If the going gets tough the warriors and mages you see before you will retreat as has been the case for them before. Can you give us the direction to the Martial Academy in the north? We also need the help of Siegemunde and his Sentinel Mages.”
“That won’t be necessary, Restadicus,” bellowed Fangoz. “I have a keen memory and can retrace our steps through the dangerous bogs and quagmires.”
“Very well, Stone Troll,” said Lord Taliesin. “Let us be on our way before more of the goblins and Lykanthros create havoc in our regions.”
“I concur with your sentiments, Taliesin,” offered Fangoz. “Cara, I’ll be leaving once more. I’ll return as soon as our mission is completed. Thanks again for helping me with the muffins. They will give us energy on the road ahead.”
“Off you go, then,” said Cara. “I can handle myself quite well and will cherish the time we are apart.”
The stone troll woman hugged her husband and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
The mercenaries and rangers mounted their respective warhorses and followed the long strides of the male stone troll. Restadicus and several of the other Lore Masters incanted a spell of illumination.
“Lumus, luminares!”
The heads of the wizards became surrounded with preternatural halos of golden light. The light created eerie rings in the thick fog of the Fens.
Bjorn Roundtree’s ears prickled as he heard the cries of owls and salamanders in the stagnant pools of the swamp. A number of dragonflies hummed around the pony of the halfling. Bjorn waved the insects off with his cap. The swamp-dwelling dragonflies zoomed away from the traveling party.
Lord Taliesin spoke to Jalhi as he pulled his warhorse alongside hers.
“Is it just me, Jalhi, or have your wyvern familiars grown since I last saw them?”
“I believe they have, Taliesin.”
The ranger addressed her young dragons as they flapped their wings alongside their handler.
“Starfling, Flamering, you eat more than I do now. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to feed the three of us.”
The small dragons growled in reply and pressed at Jalhi’s shoulders, urging her deeper into the Fens.
After several miles on the jagged trail to Lich Town the journeyers reached the grassy hill before the settlement of the ghoul-trolls.
Taliesin recognized Leif, Thorgrym and Einar among the Guards of the City. He addressed them from the base of the hill.
“Greetings, My Half-Ghoul Friends. We are here to petition you and Siegemunde to join us on a mission to secure the hordes of goblins and orcs that run rampant from the Under Earth of Mount Crow. Will you grant us passage?”
“Certainly, My Friends,” Leif answered.
The dark-cloaked Sentinel approached the warriors and shook Taliesin’s hand.
“I’m glad to see you in good health, Liege Lord. There are yet numerous forces that oppose us despite the banishment of the Chaotic Demigod and Titan. I will join your gathering as before. I’m sure that Sigrid can be convinced to lend her aid to our cause as well. Follow Einar and I and we shall march within to Siegemunde’s study.”
The garrison of lich-trolls descended from their position atop the hill and guided the visitors through the wicker gates to Lich Town. Bjorn Roundtree waved in greeting to the traders and food vendors of the marketplace. A few of them waved back with unsure smiles half-curled on their faces.
“It seems that we are developing a positive reputation among these lich folk, Taliesin,” said the enterprising halfling.
“I agree, Bjorn,” replied the Liege Lord. “If we remain dedicated to our mission we may yet win the confidence and friendship of these reticent people.”
The mercenaries continued their movement through the settlement. They halted their warhorses at the base of the Martial Academy and elevated them to the scaffolding above. Assistant lich-trolls took the reins of the steeds and guided them to the stable where they would be fed, watered and groomed. Siegemunde awaited the arrival of the warriors and strode from a nearby platform to greet his friends.
“Taliesin and all, it is good to see you once again. There is yet trouble brewing in the Ghastly Fens as in the other regions of Gaea. I have received word in advance of your intention to establish a roving militia. This will especially enhance the state of affairs here in the vast marshes. Species of humanoids that have warred between themselves will be encouraged to unite to repel the ongoing threat of the Harad Ghul.”
“Such will be the case for the vampires, dwarves, elves and gnomes,” said Claude. “In ages past our various races united under a common cause. This time it will be up to our generation to fill the roles left vacant by our ancestors.”
“We Maegar Dwarves agree with your assessment, Night-Feeder,” declared Oxholm. “The settlement of Mount Crow and the other Mountains of Arkadia is up to us. We must find a way to convince the goblin and orc hordes to leave us in peace. It troubles us that the scrying glass, once used by the Dire Queen, is now in the possession of Rauros, the Leader of the Guild of Assassins.”
“Alas, I regret not seeing the ambitious invaders sooner during their recent infiltration of this place,” said Siegemunde. “Now the risk remains that the Chaotic Humanoids will delve once more into the Nether Realms from whence the two dragons and the Drystyx Monks emerged. The Ephemeral Specters who aided them in previous efforts are evil and must be stopped from coercing the Stalactite Forces to bring back manifestations of the Titan, Tiamat and Demigod, Thoth.”
“That is a concern shared by all of us, Bald Wizard,” offered Sharon. “Don’t despair for the Lore Masters are with us today and I’m sure bear strategic ideas more adaptive than their earlier approaches to magic.”
“That is true, Baroness,” added Restadicus. “We Wizards of Coermantyr have had a change of mind since our conflict with the ruthless dragons. Wotan has volunteered to contribute a rotating escort of ten mages of our region. They will participate in the roving militia that the recent letters from Taliesin have requested. I volunteer myself to direct the first group.”
“We will join you on your mission, Restadicus,” said Sigrid, the Sentinel. “I speak for Leif and Reoren. Thorgrym from the City Guards will travel with us as well.”
“We anthromorphs are ready for a fight,” growled a feline voice.
Satvinder and Jalhi Bengal arose from the elevator of the Martial Academy.
“My brothers and I regret missing the earlier round of battle with the Forces of Chaos. We are here, now, and ready to contribute our share of defense from the orcs and goblins.”
“You have our thanks in advance, Satvinder,” said Sigrid. “It warms us that you are willing to accompany us with Fangoz, the stone troll, in our midst.”
“Our disagreements are long gone, Sentinel Woman. We look to the future now and have foregone the feuding of our past generations.”
“I agree,” Fangoz said.
“Let us be on our way, then,” said Siegemunde. “I take personal responsibility for the loss of the Arkadian scrying glass. I will accompany this group of warriors and mages and apply my research to a real purpose at last.”
The Director of the Martial Academy gestured for his friends to accompany him to the ground level of the city of the lich-trolls. The Gaeans followed the bald mage and the Sentinels to the waterlogged soil below. Handfuls of the ghoul-trolls went so far as to approach the passing warriors and shake their hands in support.
As the fighters and magic-users passed out of the wicker gate lich-troll fishermen and farmers waved their support from their boats and wagons. The group headed south and east to the Arkadian Mountain Range, which formed a line of jagged shadows on the horizon. The nearly omnipresent mist and fog of the northern region dissipated briefly under the warmth of the setting sun. Kingfishers and hawks swept to the surface of a nearby lake to arise with shiny fish in their beaks and talons.
The warhorses ambled swiftly along the vague trail before them. Once twilight fell the travelers relied on the light of the two crescent moons orbiting their planet. The numerous mages ignited Ethereal Halos of Light for supplemental illumination.
“I am yet concerned for the welfare of my gnome cousins in Tinkerburg,” said Bjorn Roundtree.
“As are we all, Brave Halfling,” replied Restadicus. “We will move on the main body of the Stalactite Forces. If the need arises we will be quick to bring support to your enterprising relatives.”
“Thank you, Lore Master,” answered Bjorn. “Your words give me hope for the state of affairs in the south.”
The adventurers rode through the night without interception. At dawn the massive foothills of the Arkadian Mountains loomed close to the makeshift road. Claude, the vampire, continued his reconnaissance from the skies above.
Rex, Taliesin’s Sergeant-at-Arms, marveled at the vigor of the Vampire Lord.
“Siegemunde, I thought vampires need to sleep during the day. Is Claude not affected by the sun’s light?”
“Strangely this does not appear to be the case for our carnivorous friend,” the Director answered. “Many of my scrolls reported of hostile vampires destroyed in their sleep in the dungeons of their castles. Perhaps Claude has transcended this physical limitation due to his experience and preternatural strength.”
“Clearly this must be the case,” Rex replied. “Whatever forces drive our night-feeding friend He is a valuable scout to our cause.”
* * * * *
The situation in the Gorgon Plane had gone from bad to worse. The Morphozoid Entity was aware of the exodus of the Maegar Dwarves. The conglomeration of life forms also detected the movement of the Hive Builders to a distant location. The disturbance within the lakes above and below sent tendrils of neuron-laden tissue parallel with the stalagmites and stalactites of the vast cavern. The rate of communication reached critical mass.
Something must be done to secure the future of the Morphozoids.
This was a recurring theme that echoed through the radiant pools. The surfaces of the viscous lakes on the ground and ceiling merged at several locations until two figures separated from the group of googly nuclei that served as the eyes of the amorphous creatures.
Two individual Morphozoids set foot on the shore of the lake. Their names were Formshift and Swirlmass. The creatures set forth in search of Driptwist and a safe haven for the Morphozoids of The Spires.
The arbitrarily amorphous creatures had not traveled far through the Under Earth when they detected the presence of Driptwist. The gelatinous life form was engaged in a lengthy conversation with Petra, the Terranoid. The jewels and precious metals within the cavern and the body of the female stone giant continued to sparkle and emit eerie rays of multicolored light.
The two newcomers to the vast cave introduced themselves to the stone giant.
“Greetings, My Kindred,” said Driptwist. “I was just speaking with Petra here about the need to secure a greater peace for all of us stationed in The Spires.”
“Hello, Shape-Shifters,” Petra declared. “The Terranoids and Morphozoids have come to an agreement of sorts. I have relayed the details of our dialogue to the dormant stone giants in the Midden below. They concur that the Gorgon Plane is no longer a safe haven for our posterity.
“We have chosen to follow the exit of Claude, the once banished Vampire Lord,” Petra continued. “The Maegar Dwarves also have left this Plane in the pursuit of a more feasible abode. The stone giants have magical resources yet untested. If you are willing we extend an offer to your Morphozoid Colony to accompany us to Gaea. Once combined, the magical resources of we stone giants will generate a spatial rift large enough for us to escape from this hostile, mountain stronghold.”
“Your plan has solvency, Petra and Driptwist,” hummed Swirlmass. “We will convey the message to the Principle Amoebids of our Colony. Formshift and I agree that the time has come for us to pursue a more secure location for our life pools.”
“Very well, Swirlmass,” answered Petra. “We Terranoids wish to depart from The Spires as soon as possible. We will create the spatial portals as soon as your Colony returns to the cave of our Midden.”
“You have our thanks, Petra,” replied Driptwist. “Our Colony will assume humanoid forms and return on the hour. We appreciate your offer to open a temporary spatial rift to Gaea. I’m sure our troll friends will be glad to see us.”
The shape-shifters departed from the broad cavern and returned to the location of the radiant pools. The menisci of the upper and lower lakes roiled and bubbled with activity.
“It seems our Elders already have knowledge of the decision of the Terranoids to move from this Plane,” said Driptwist.
“That is clear, Brother,” replied Formshift. “Word travels faster than lightning in these parts.”
The Morphozoids watched in amazement as the entirity of their species dropped from the lake on the ceiling and rose from the lake on the floor. In a matter of moments the quivering masses of amorphous beings divided repeatedly until they created a small army of translucent humanoids.
The humming voices of the entourage carried a combined interest to move on.
Driptwist, Formshift and Swirlmass led their kindred to the Midden of the Terranoids. Petra, Volcan and the other stone giants were awake and awaited the arrival of the shape-shifters. Upon the entrance of Driptwist and his acquaintances the Terranoids established a spatial rift.
“Spiros!” cried the stone giants.
The residents of The Spires marched through the enchanted gateway. They found themselves at the Burial Ruins in the Ghastly Fens.
“Wary we are of this flat land, Morphozoids,” Volcan entoned. “Let us venture east to the mountains on the horizon. We should seek sanctuary in the Under Earth a fair distance from the Maegar Dwarves and the strong vampires.”
“My kindred agree with your suggestion, Volcan,” declared Driptwist. “They too are uncomfortable in the open spaces of this marsh land.”
The humanoids set forth on their journey to the Arkadian Mountains. They remained on their guard for none of them knew when the Stalactite Forces of Tiamat might attack.
* * * * *
Raphael, Claude’s assistant focused the large telescope to the west from the topmost tower in Castle Stammberg. The crimson light of the rift formed by the Terranoids was a shimmering point of incandescence in the dusk. He hastened to the Throne Room of the fortress and addressed his Leader.
“Claude, a large portal has been generated in the Ghastly Fens. The stone giants and shape-shifters have arrived in our Plane and are moving toward the foothills of this mountain range. I suspect that they will prove to be formidable allies, like the Maegar Clan.”
“I concur with your assessment, Raphael,” answered Claude. “I shall fly to Lord Taliesin’s band of mercenaries and inform his gathering of warriors and mages of the presence of these much-needed reinforcements to our defensive campaign.”
“Very well, Lord Claude,” Raphael responded. “I will maintain the watch of the castle in your absence. May your mission of peace prove fruitful.”
The Vampire Lord embraced Raphael and Gabrielle farewell. He leapt from the open window and assumed his leathery, bat-like wings. His silvery hair billowed in the twilight air as he flew toward the militia of Taliesin and Sharon’s allies. A number of the Lore Masters bore Ethereal Halos, making them easy to spot by the keen night vision of the vampire.
“Ah, our vampire friend returns again from his visit to Castle Stammberg,” Siegemunde said. “I have detected magical movements from the Crossroads of the Fens. I’m sure that Claude will provide us with intelligence on this matter.”
True to the word of the Director of the Martial Academy, Claude’s eyes flared with excitement over the news he bore.
“Taliesin and Sharon, you will be heartened to know that the Terranoids and Morphozoids from the Gorgon Plane have opted to move to Gaea. This must have been a decision reached by the staunch warriors after lengthy deliberation.”
“That is surely the truth, Claude,” replied Gilead. “No lawful race is glad to leave the Plane of their Creation. I move that we set camp and allow these new arrivals to Gaea time to join with us and enforce our respective causes in one fell swoop.”
“That is a prudent suggestion, Key Mage of Coermantyr,” said Restadicus. “The stone giants and shape-shifters have proven themselves to be formidable fighters when the situation beckons. They may bear the strength that will turn the tide of battle in our favor.”
Rodnik, the Sergeant-at-Arms of Coermantyr, watered the numerous warhorses of the group of mercenaries. Wotan assisted Sharon’s energetic aid by using his magic to ignite a modest campfire for the band. After a few hours the Morphozoids and Terranoids cried out as they approached the gathering of Gaeans.
“Hello there,” declared a booming voice. “It is I, Volcan of the Terranoids. Our Morphozoid friends chose to migrate with us to your Plane. We were swayed by the descriptions of this vast Realm by the halfling, Bjorn Roundtree.”
“A wise decision you have made, Sturdy Terranoid,” anwered Restadicus. “That is with all due respect for your Native Plane, of course.”
Volcan and the other stone giants chuckled.
“Don’t worry, Lore Master,” Petra rumbled. “We will not propose that we stay at the settlements of Mystic Down or Coermantyr. We are too big. Our objective, along with helping your cause, is to move deep into the Under Earth of the Arkadian Mountain Range. The Maegar Dwarves spoke many times of the tactical merits of living in caves and mines. This has been a tradition for the shape-shifters and we stone giants since eons beyond memory.”
“We seek to renew our alliance with Cooper and the Dwarf Council,” Volcan said. “They joined with us to turn the firbolgs, gargoyles and minotaurs in previous engagements. Their detailed knowledge of the naturally occurring and hand-made caves will enhance our plan to avoid disturbance by the Forces of Tiamat.”
“Let us be on our way,” Gilead offered. “We must remain expeditious if we wish to take the Guild of Assassins and their cohorts unawares.”
“You speak sound advice, Key Mage of Coermantyr,” anwered Petra. “All of us should move on and test the full mettle of the Harad Ghul and their kin.”
The fighters and magic-users followed the recommendation of the female stone giant and set forth on the ambling trail east. There was no paved road but the warhorses of the Gaeans had become familiar with the rocky path over the past weeks.
Lord Taliesin and his Comrades-in-Arms rode for a few hours when they ran headlong into the chill wind of the Arkadian Mountains. The tops of the mountains held patches of snow all year long and the warriors were quick to pull their cloaks and jackets tightly about themselves.
The trolls and humanoids began their trek through the clinging brambles and nettles at the picket line of Arkadia. A gathering of dwarves and elves stepped out from behind the pines. Bjorn Roundtree recognized Llewellyn and Drumtone among their number. Many of the residents of the eastern regions wore formidable-looking battle masks. These they unstrapped upon recognizing the Lieges and Lore Masters in their midst.
Taliesin shook hands with the appearing warriors.
“We are honored by your presence. We welcome you sturdy fighters to join us on our mission to quell the uprisings of the goblin hordes and retrieve the scrying glass taken from Lich Town.”
“That is a wise plan, Troll Lord,” Llewellyn answered. “The Qualinesti Elves look forward to helping the members of this campaign in bringing tranquility to the regions west of our valley.”
The elves and dwarves joined with the sizable group of adventurers. Their warhorses were also well-trained and did not falter on the cumbersome grade. They rode through the untamed wilderness of Arkadia and soon stood before the outer gate of the Abyssal Cairn.
“We will not be turned by the greater number of the Stalactite Forces of Tiamat this time, My Friends,” declared Taliesin.
“I agree, Liege Lord,” said Fangoz. “I am ready for the fight and will do my best to aid your intentions on this mission.”
“A victory here will assuredly decrease the pressure of the invaders upon Torvald’s militia in Wood’s End,” Bors grumbled. “Let us be on our way, Taliesin.”
“Your advice is sound, Burly Burgomeister,” the Liege replied. “We are all heartened by your enthusiasm.”
Baroness Sharon saw that the increased size of the Stalactite Forces remained. They had hardly neared the cast-iron gate when an organized troop of goblins formed a semicircle before them. The determined humanoids bore a variety of weapons ranging from lances and pikes to crossbows and short swords.
“Be steady, My Comrades,” Restadicus said. “The Lore Masters will generate a shield.”
In unison the robed Wizards of Coermantyr uttered a powerful, Ethereal Spell.
“Protex!”
A red ring of warding formed around the sizable group of Gaean mercenaries.
The greater caches of energy of the two-dozen Lore Masters, although used by the Sentinels earlier, enhanced the enchantment. The magical barrier hummed and shook with turbulent energy. The goblins charged on foot with a scattering of riderless Lykanthros.
Siegemunde and the Sentinels waited for the few goblins that managed to wrestle themselves through the shield spell of the adept mages. They issued an offensive incantation within the roiling barrier.
“Nechros!”
A whirling cone of spinning, blue blades flew under the guidance of the Sentinels and their teacher. These Ethereal Glaives slashed and gouged the ruthless goblins, obliterating those that ventured so far.
Lord Taliesin, the dwarves and elves hewed into the energy matrix of the Lore Masters from the lee side. Their polished blades brought their opponents down two and three at a time.
The initial Stalactite Forces were no match for the combined spells and experience of the fighters. They fell quickly and left the entrance to the Abyssal Cairn unattended.
“Let us move on, My Friends,” said Bjorn Roundtree. “The scrying glass taken from the Martial Academy awaits us.”
“I agree, Brave Halfling,” Gilead responded. “We must continue on our quest despite the conflict that lies within.”
“Very well, Key Mage,” replied Bjorn. “Ben, the anthromorphs and I will cover your approach with our projectile weapons.”
“Aye, I’m getting the hang of this dagger as well, Nephew,” offered Ben Frostberry. “Let us go while the getting is good.”
The various races from territories within and without the maps of the Liege Lords marched past the looming statues in the central courtyard of the castle. They tried their best to ignore the ominous and intimidating expressions of the carvings resembling titanic gryphons. They dismounted from their warhorses and Restadicus surrounded the steeds with an impenetrable magic shield.
“Protex!”
The Harad Ghul did not favor advancing large groups of Stalactite Forces into battle before them. Rauros, Dakros and Loki headed a second wave of goblin and orc soldiers mounted upon growling Lykanthros.
Blueblood and his orc assassins moved in on the Gaeans at their flanks. They employed both single and double-edged swords to follow up a preliminary volley of crossbow bolts. The ring of steel upon steel echoed through the colonnades of the Gothic structure. Neither side expected defeat.
The conflict that ensued was intense. Taliesin recognized a number of the Harad Ghul in his midst. He hewed at the Stalactite Forces on his left and right. The other warriors were inspired by the valiance of the Lord of Mystic Down. The Terranoids employed their steel-covered limbs to destroy several of the screeching orcs. Blueblood witnessed the carnage and opted to steer clear of the valiant giants.
The goblins and their kin adopted the whirling stratagem of their Leaders. They scrambled and twisted in a massive circle of armed bodies around the Gaean mercenaries. Their scimitars reached inward at the warriors. The eyes of the lingering Lykanthros rolled white with the intensity of the ensuing melee.
Continuous waves of goblins and orcs pressed in from the sides of the spacious Throne Room of the Abyssal Cairn. Battalions encamped in tunnels within the Under Earth rose from their hiding places to provide reinforcement to the battle at hand. Other groups of goblins and orcs lowered themselves from gaping tunnels in the ceiling and walls. The Qualinesti Elves quickly capitalized upon these aerial movements. Llewellyn and his companions fired successive volleys of arrows from their enchanted bows. Several of the aggressive humanoids were shot as they descended from the higher levels of the Chaotic Fortress via crampons and rappel lines.
The Lore Masters also seized the moment and uttered a powerful binding spell.
“Chronos!”
Sticky clouds emanated from the hands of the adept Wizards of Coermantyr. Dozens of goblins and orcs were captivated by the dense mist and struggled to move against their opponents.
The halflings and Maegar Dwarves moved in a united, parallel attack. Driptwist, Formshift and Swirlmass followed suit. They punched holes in the surrounding forces, giving the wizards and fighters of their party time to regroup.
Lord Taliesin and the other fighters of Gaea hewed into the melee. The dragon sword of the Liege of Mystic Down flared with green light as it compromised the plate and chain mail of the orcs. Blueblood rushed close to his battling kindred. The strength of the trolls of Gaea was too great and the orc conscript of the Harad Ghul fell to Taliesin’s magic weapon. The struggle went on, however, as the seemingly limitless crush of Stalactite Forces formed a surreal spiral with the Lieges and their friends at the center.
A number of the Lore Masters loosed independent incantations into the gibbering horde. Their arcane spells created bursts of multicolored vapor when they collided with the Denizens of the Harad Ghul and the lingering Lykanthros.
“Quickly, My Friends,” said Rodnik. “Let us contend with the red-painted Leaders of this Stalactite Army!”
“Verily, Rodnik,” replied Gilead.
The Key Mage of Coermantyr uttered a harnessing spell.
“Captros!”
A half-dozen of the nearby Harad Ghul and their cohorts were captured in a binding ring of variegated color. The goblins and orcs struggled valiantly against their Ethereal Bonds to no avail. The Warriors of Gaea destroyed them expeditiously. The outer spiral of whirling attackers continued nonetheless.
The Baroness fought alongside her male companions. Her armor was splattered with green blood from her opponents. In the light of the halos of the Sentinels Sharon spotted the scrying glass once owned by the Dire Queen of Arkadia as it swayed from a chain around the neck of Rauros.
“The glass taken from the Martial Academy in the Ghastly Fens is here, My Friends. The Leader on the wolf-beast yon carries it!”
Restadicus and Wotan, along with the other Lore Masters focused their attention on the object in question. They responded quickly and encanted another sorcery.
“Zonex!”
Bolts of lightning extended from the fingertips of the adept wizards. The various electric charges snaked over and through the echelons of Stalactite Forces to lick and twine around the highly charged magical artifact.
Enraged Lykanthros devoid of saddles gnawed and slashed at the invasive bolts only to be thrown back by the explosive power of the Lore Masters.
Above all the Maegar Dwarves fought in a berserker state.
“We have nothing to lose, My Dwarves,” bellowed Oxholm. “This is the hour of our final stand! For the sake of the future of the Maegar Clan and its holdings let us end this conflict once and for all!”
The fierce dwarves were familiar with the battle strategies of the Stalactite Forces of Tiamat. The male and female warriors tumbled and writhed their bodies in a twisting technique that took both sides of the engagement by surprise. The burly, bearded fighters swung their war hammers and swords to the left and right, slashing and hewing goblins two and three at a time.
Bjorn Roundtree and his halfling comrades were inspired by the selfless charge of the dwarves and loaded their slings with two shots at a time. They had become excellent marksmen over the journeys of recent months and created a wave of turbulence within the circling Denizens of the Under Earth.
Ben Frostberry wielded his glinting short sword and entered the fray. The other warriors, including the Morphozoids, Qualinesti Elves and members of the Bengal Clan contended with their adversaries wholeheartedly.
Dakros, Loki and other members of the Harad Ghul recognized the desire of the Gaeans to reclaim the scrying glass on Rauros’ chest.
Fangoz, Bors and the Terranoids followed the guiding light of the encantation of the Lore Masters. They used their superior girth and drive to push through the inner rings of the crowd and contend with the Leaders of the Stalactite Horde. Loki and Dakros also identified the targeting of their Leader and drove their Lykanthros steeds directly at the large stone troll and sometime Burgomeister. The skirmish that ensued was intense and relentless on both sides.
At last Dakros and Loki were batted down by Fangoz’ massive club and Bors’ mace. They were struck directly by the bludgeoning weapons of the united mercenaries and were trampled beneath the swarming mass of lesser goblins.
Bors managed to squeeze himself through the crush of Chaotic Warriors and ripped the dangling shard from Rauros’ blood-stained neck. The experienced Leader of the Harad Ghul counterattacked the rotund warrior with a sharp dagger hidden in his armor. Bors was cut a glancing wound to his abdomen once more. He stumbled and attempted to regain his balance unsuccessfully. As he was about to fall the lich-troll Sentinels, Leif, Sigrid and Siegemunde rushed to his aid and formed a protective triangle around their fallen friend.
“Protex!”
A wavering, red ring of energy formed a shielding nucleus around the separated group.
“Here, take this bauble from me, Friend Ghoul-Troll,” Bors grunted.
The Burgomeister handed the chained shard to Leif.
“I take it unwillingly, Bors. We must return to the center of this maelstrom if we hope to yet emerge victorious with our companions in this undertaking. You will set foot in Bard’s Inn and tend to us all.”
Fangoz lumbered from his position against Rauros to help his friend to his feet.
The Sentinels encanted a protective spell as they strove to push their way through the Stalactite Mob and join their companions at the front line.
Nighthawk and his band of defected goblins moved in a manner similar to the Maegar Dwarves. They too knew the battle tactics of their Chaotic Kindred and contended with them tactfully.
The battle continued without end in sight. The Sentinels succeeded in bringing their wounded comrade into the main group of fighters.
The anthromorph rangers and Qualinesti Elves united with the two dragonlings under Jalhi’s direction. They destroyed several of the Harad Ghul with their enchanted bows and fireballs.
Claude, the vampire, was unfettered by the draining isolation of the Gorgon Plane. He flew at full power over the raucous melee. He drank the blood of many goblins and orcs.
“At last my fallen vampires are avenged.”
The irises of the Undead Lord dilated with preternatural strength.
The Stalactite Forces began to doubt the outcome of the battle. They shied away from the clinging magic of the Lore Masters and turned from the bursts of arcane light.
Restadicus addressed the war group.
“My Friends, let us exit from this cairn. We will not terminate every Chaotic Humanoid that stands before us this night. Leif has given me the scrying glass of the deceased Dire Queen. We have what we came here for and must withdraw lest more of us are injured.”
“I concur, Restadicus,” said Taliesin. “We have convinced the Harad Ghul of the seriousness of our intentions to protect our respective regions. They will think twice the next time they consider intruding upon our humble domiciles.”
The Gaeans followed the lead of the Liege of Mystic Down and ran to the gates of the Abyssal Cairn. They entered the outer courtyard and mounted their warhorses who had remained safe within the Ethereal Shield generated by the various mages of the contingent.
The enraged Forces of Tiamat pursued the group of trolls and humanoids from their circling position. Their efforts proved insufficient to hinder the determined mercenaries. Those goblins that leapt before the steeds of the united allies were trampled by the steel-shod hooves of the warhorses.
Lord Taliesin, the Lore Masters and the rest continued on to their predetermined rendezvous point at the dwarven stronghold of Umbria. There they met with Cooper and the Maegar Chieftains.
Numbers of armed guards surrounded the warriors as they entered the newly-built settlement of the mountain dwarves. They eyed the Qualinesti Elves in the group with suspicion but allowed them to enter under the clearance of Oxholm and Drumtone.
The Maegar Villagers cheered upon the arrival of their protectors and embraced the trolls and others as they dismounted.
“You have our utmost gratitude, Tall Fighters,” said Cooper. “My people report that you successfully retrieved the scrying glass once used by Ankharet, the Dire Queen of Arkadia.”
“That is the truth, Brave Dwarf,” said Restadicus. “I have taken the scrying glass for safekeeping and to allow it to ‘cool off,’ as it were, in Coermantyr Castle. The Stalactite Forces will be less likely to take it from our number of adept wizards. We are on the lookout now for the alien invasions prompted by the maverick Summoners and Demigods of Chaos. Thoth and Tiamat themselves will think twice before attempting to breach the Gong Seal in Mount Crow. They now know that we have a renewed alliance with Hydro and the lawful dragons of that Plane.”
“Very well, Hoary Mage,” Cooper replied. “As our amorphous friends and stone giant visitors reveal there are bound to be additional races and types of creatures anxious to exit the tyranny manifested in the Nether Planes. I won’t be surprised if the aforementioned Hive Builders soon appear in search of safer residence in the expanses of Gaea. You are welcome to stay with us here in Umbria. I expect that most of you sturdy warriors are desirous of returning to your native regions.”
“Alas, such is the case for us, Cooper,” said Satvinder. “Jalhi and the other anthromorph rangers have much catching up to do in the Ghastly Fens. If you need our aid contact us with the homing pigeons. Their network of communication has proven remarkably reliable in recent weeks. Siegemunde too must recuperate and return to his duties as the Director of the Martial Academy in the City of the Lich-Trolls.”
“We must rest, also,” declared Volcan. “We were glad to help you hold the ground in the recent fight but must construct a new Midden where we can regenerate for a time.”
“Thank you all,” offered Restadicus. “It seems the Arkadian Mountains are set to become populated by a motley group of residents. This will yet impinge on the imbalance of power that existed under the invasive goblins and orcs of the Under Earth.”
“We will return to our mines,” stated Drumtone. “If the Stalactite Hordes again venture into our territory within the Under Earth we will inform you immediately.”
“The Qualinesti Elves will continue their patrols of the woods of Fangorien. The Qualinost Valley will remain prepared to assist you as we did your ancestors during the past wars,” promised Llewellyn.
“And I will intensify my training of the dragonlings, Flamering and Starfling,” said Jalhi. “The wyverns are practically fire drakes now. With the guidance of Siegemunde we will create a ranch appropriate for the education of lawful dragons.”
“That is a splendid idea, Tiger-Woman,” said Wotan. “Let us know how their education progresses.”
The warriors of the various regions gave the dwarves a final embrace and headed their separate ways.
* * * * *
Raven sat with Michelle once more on the bus to Jefferson Community College.
“I ended up taking a ‘W’ in Mrs. Eggnog’s trigonometry class, Michelle. I wouldn’t have lasted as long as I did without your help.”
“That’s all right, Rave,” replied Michelle. “Math and science courses are reputably the most challenging curricula in this country and abroad. Give it another shot next semester with a different professor. Each teacher has his or her own approach to the prerequisites for transfer. I could go on about the difficulties I faced in statistics. My advice is to take each day as it comes and hope for the best.”
The bus shook as the driver shifted the vehicle into high gear. The two friends were the last stop before the return to the campus parking lot.
Raven thought about the troll woman, Sharon Redthorne, in her dreams. She identified with the Baroness the more she thought about the recent adventures the Liege Lady faced in the imaginary Realm of Gaea.
“Alas, ours is an Age of Perseverance,” Raven observed out loud. “My parents wish for me to be resilient, like the Baroness of Coermantyr. My best plan is to assert myself continually. I’m sure that I’ll get a hand of the formulas and theorems of trigonometry as time goes by.”

(THE END)

About the Author

Matt Darrow is a 36-year-old college student born and raised in California. He has an Associate in Arts degree from El Camino College.

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