The sun was beating down on Mer on this scorching day. Just like every other day this year, it sent its merciless rays down through the atmosphere to bake the helpless denizens of the planet as they tried to go through the motions of living in such infernal heat. With The Feast of Winds only days away the normal rains of autumn should have long since come and drenched the lands of Windsong with their cooling, life giving embrace. The Feast of Winds itself was a holiday celebrated throughout the Northern countries to give thanks for the rain already fallen and to appeal to the Gods for protection during the upcoming storm season.
The farmers working the lands around the Western shore of the Moon Sea normally used The Feast of Winds as their last holiday before they commenced the gathering of their crops. The fragile wheat and barley crops of that area would never withstand the ferocious storms that normally would sweep the land shortly after the holiday ended. It appeared that the farmers would get a few more days off this year, albeit unwillingly. The uncommonly dry year made the seeds they had planted many months ago stay in their shells, unwilling to sprout through the hard ground. The gentle rains that would usually cause them to germinate were not going to come in time to prevent them from washing away during the storm season, if there was even to be a storm season this year. That worrisome subject had been the topic of debate over many a mug of ale.
There was, however, one area in the world that was affected only very slightly by the drought that was choking out the rest of Mer: Ravenwood. The sun would, with all of its fury, pound the uppermost boughs of the magnificent trees that comprised the forest, but the thick canopy of densely woven branches and leaves prevented the merciless heat from ever reaching the ground. The ground below remained at an almost pleasant temperature year round. The enormous red-branch, fir, oak, and Crantin trees had stood where they were for centuries and could store away the moisture they needed to survive in their roots, far below the surface of the ground. These majestic trees had withstood many droughts such as this one and were not about to surrender in just one dry season.
Far below that protective canopy, Quillion sat on a log overlooking a small dirt clearing, keeping watch on the sleeping companions, thinking about the change in atmosphere this deep in the forest. This was the companions' first real good luck in quite a while. The lack of heat and absence of the hammering sunlight improved his dark mood a bit as he nibbled at what meager food he had brought with him. Quillion stared at the jerky in his hands with a vague, distant look. His body craved the sustenance it would provide, but the prospect of the lack of food available for the remainder of the trip coupled with the blur of events that had happened to him since arriving in Two Sands had disrupted his appetite. His mind whirled with self-recrimination as he recalled his actions of the past few days. He should have trusted his feeling that he was being followed on the ride into Two Sands. He had done a couple double backs to check his trail and find out if anyone had been following, but the loops back, approximately five domins or so, had revealed no trace of anyone following his tracks. It had added a day or so to his journey, but he always felt better making certain. The feeling had persisted even after he had verified for himself that no one was there, but he had chalked it up to nerves. Understandable considering the daunting task he had laid before himself back then.
He wondered if Emiriak was the one whom rumors whispered to be asking about Oheniies back in Three Corners. If so, then the Czak Myar were most certainly after him for other reasons than just the fact that he had escaped a village under their control long ago. Quillion had to go by the assumption that Emiriak knew about his search for Vormeastion and was attempting to stop him from completing it. If that was true then the companions should definitely know what the stakes were before they took another step towards Haven. He had been about to ask them to volunteer to accompany him on his quest when the flaming Czak Myar had interrupted everything.
The small clearing that Dealyon had led them to was quite comfortable. Of course, a bed of nails would have been comfortable for most of the companions, as beat down and weary as they were now. Dealyon had collapsed shortly after arriving here. It seemed he had exhausted whatever energy he had in reserve by doing whatever druidic thing he did to obscure their trail through Ravenwood. The rest of the companions were in as bad or worse shape. Preosha's unnatural burst of energy from her magical healing had worn out about eight domins back, as had Ell's and Melina's. The three of them now slept the dreamless sleep of exhaustion, curled up into balls with their heads resting on their packs. Luckily, if the usual effects of magical healing occurred, they would awake ready to take on the world.
Quillion wished he had something like a surplus of energy to look forward to. Unfortunately he, as well as the rest of the companions, could afford no such luxury since the only healers in the group had no strength left to spare for them. Aramari was fast asleep, lying on the ground next to Tersiano, exhausted from the labors of battle and the strain of afterward healing the broken bodies of the companions. Ell's injuries, in particular, had been quite severe. She was lucky to have survived the force of Emiriak's magic at that close of a range. The leader of the Czak Myar had probably been just reacting in a purely defensive manner when she attacked him, or Quillion was sure she would have been gravely injured, possibly even killed.
A sound from deeper in the forest brought Quillion back to his task of keeping watch. To his acute Elven hearing it had sounded like a branch snapping. He trusted in his own judgment, as he did not usually guess incorrectly when it came down to the accuracy of his hearing. It had almost sounded like the noise came from above the ground level as well. It could be just some large bird tumbling through the tree branches, but he would keep a more detailed watch, just to be safe.
A few hours later he rose from his perch on the fallen log and gave a soft sound, waking the companions instantly. Tersiano was the first to rise from his soft bed of grass, and he looked about at their surroundings with his usual alertness present in his eyes. Quillion gave a short huff of laughter. In all of the years Quillion had known the wild mage, Tersiano had never had a look of bleariness to him, whether just awakened or not. The rest of the companions were rising and moving around shortly thereafter. Ell was grumbling about getting some breakfast, and Malaryn nodded his head vigorously in agreement.
Quillion waited until all the companions were up before speaking. "Breakfast will have to wait for a bit. First we need to take stock of what food we have so we can ration it for the journey ahead."
Ell did not look happy with the delay, and Quillion understood why. The Yerracht had a very intense metabolism and usually required more than twice the amount of food than an average human did. Ell had been traveling among humans long enough to be able to stretch that a bit, but she was not to be denied for long. Of course, when it came right down to it, Malaryn could probably eat just as much as Ell if he was so inclined. Quillion had seen it happen before. He sighed quietly. This was going to be a long trip with the appetites of these two driving them on.
Quillion continued speaking after breaking his train of thought. "The journey ahead is what I wished to speak to you all about. I did not... do not... want to involve you with something that you do not want to be a part of. It was my intention to ask for volunteers to come with me when we were interrupted by the Czak Myar busting in the door and changing our meeting into a fight for our lives. I've explained before what the importance is of this task I've undertaken. I cannot afford to fail. I ask you all now for your help in finding Vormeastion, if he even still exists, and convincing him to return to the world that needs him."
The silence seemed deafening to Quillion as he watched the faces of the companions. Each one of them seemed to look inward on themselves, as if searching for the words to say. Quillion's heart stopped beating for a moment and his blood turned to ice. They must be thinking of easy ways to tell him they would not go. His mind raced with possibilities for continuing the journey without the aid of his friends.
His frantic thoughts were interrupted by Ephirea, who was speaking softly as if loathe to interrupt the oppressive silence of the forest. "I don't see that we have a whole lot of choice right now. We've got the Czak Myar on our trail, determined to kill all of us. The only real choice we have to survive is to stick together and fight our way through or away from them." The graceful archer would not meet Quillion's eyes as she spoke. She simply sat on the grass, twining her dark hair around her fingers and staring off into the gray haziness of the forest. "You might want to ask us to volunteer again after we get clear of their influence, but I think it's a little early yet." Quillion flinched inwardly hearing the bitterness in Ephirea's voice that she did little to hide.
Ell growled low in her throat in response to Ephirea's words. The Yerracht's voice was a strain of checked anger. "Listen here mercenary!" She filled the word with as much venom as she could. "This is something we have to do and you know it. If you want to blather on and complain about how you got here then go ahead, but don't play stupid and act as if you had no choice in the matter. You could have left at any time. The fate of the world could be at stake here. You can't turn your back on that and you know it! We all know you too well for that."
Ephirea's lips tightened, but she made no response. Quillion decided to stop this argument while he could, before it turned into something that could not be reconciled. "Listen Ell. This is something that everyone has to decide for themselves. If anyone here decides to leave whenever we are clear of the Czak Myar then they can go ahead. I won't blame you at all. I don't really want to be doing this either. However, I agree with Ephirea in that we must stick together until we are out of Ravenwood and are well and gone from Emiriak and his hounds." Ell settled back to where she had been sitting, but her normally blue eyes were still glowing yellow as they did when she was ready to morph.
Tersiano looked up at Quillion and said in his ringing voice, "Well now chaps, that's settled. Let's get on to the important issues shall we?" His whirling eyes looked penetratingly at Quillion, "Where exactly are we going?"
Quillion gave Tersiano a quick look of thanks for the change of subject. Tersiano nodded his head ever so slightly in response. Quillion took a deep breath before speaking. "All the sources I've spoken to in Three Corners said the sage we're looking for, Oheniies, is living in Haven. They said he had a large house on the outskirts of the barracks. He has apparently turned into a recluse and rarely, if ever, leaves his home."
"That's not going to make him easy to get to, you know," said Malaryn softly.
"Speak for yourself, big guy," said Scintara, her blue eyes twinkling with amusement.
The companions' banter was broken up by the low voice of Dealyon, who had been standing slightly away from the others, staring off into the woods behind them. "As much as I hate to interrupt this witty exchange, I think you all should know that the Czak Myar have entered Ravenwood and are attempting to pursue us."
Quillion's narrow eyes widened and he stood up quickly. "Are they on our trail?"
Dealyon gave a snort of disgust and said, "Of course not. It will be some time before they manage to stumble upon any sign of us, but they will eventually. It would be wise to stretch the distance between us and them as much as possible before that happens."
"Agreed," said Quillion. He turned to the rest of the companions and jokingly said, "Let's get moving before this haunted forest eats us alive."
The deeper into Ravenwood the companions trekked the thicker the gloom gathered and the darker it became. Quillion kept them moving on a heading to the Northwest and all knew would not be long before they struck upon the River Tym. The gradually fading light was becoming increasingly more depressing to the companions, who were all well aware that it was only slightly before midday and the sun should have been bright and hot. A comment was made by someone during the morning's journey that the lack of light meant less heat, but now that statement was becoming less and less correct as the day wore on. True, the temperature was not as high as it was outside in the plains, but the humidity was beginning to stifle all of the travelers.
The ground below the impenetrable canopy was damp, musty, and soft, having been the recipient of hundreds of years worth of water with almost no sunlight. The richness of the earth and the lack of visible light had led to the evolution of some very strange creatures inside this forest, at least that was what Dealyon had warned. Every now and then one or more of the group would snap their head up, looking about their surroundings for something they had sensed. Nothing was ever there, though.
Lysinthia was growing weary of the whole journey through the foul-smelling muck. She would much rather be in a cool, dry common room singing songs of love and war and all of the things in between. She had been spending a bit of time during the first part of the morning composing a new song in her head. It had been a really stirring melody, but now she had forgotten it a while ago. The miserable humidity that the group was walking in was effectively stifling all of her creative thoughts. How could one compose a song of beauty to inspire wonder in all who heard it when every breath one took in this mire was like taking a drink of some foul tasting stagnant pond water?
In the midst of her misery, a sudden thought occurred to the bard. She did have one thing going for her that the others did not, and that was her frost daggers! Hastily, she pulled one of the enchanted blades from its specially magicked sheath and held it close to her bare forearm, feeling the iciness radiating from the steel cool her hot skin. She was careful not to let the blade touch her flesh lest the deadly cold freeze her skin instantly and strip away her body heat like water through a funnel. The daggers themselves were fairly nondescript, not very covered in fine trappings, though of very high quality make. They were of such craftsmanship that where layman would just see a knife, an expert would see a work of art. Slightly longer than two hands, they made quite a nice hand to hand weapon as well as being excellently balanced for throwing. Lysinthia did not really like to throw them as they were more likely to be lost or stolen that way, and she coveted them far too much to allow that.
Malaryn noticed Lysinthia cooling her face with the dagger's proximity and he made a wistful expression at her, asking, "Hey Lys, can I use one of those too?"
Lysinthia looked at him, seeing his vain attempt to use his handsome features to get what he wanted. That might work on the unwary woman, but she had seen that game entirely too many times in too many common rooms for it to work on her. "Give up, muscles," she dead-panned. "The only other person that is nimble fingered enough to handle one of these without freezing themselves is Scintara, and she's not even here. She's off setting traps with Dealyon to slow down the Czak Myar. So you're just going to have to sweat." She gave him another sidelong glance before laughing softly, "Besides, a little sweat never hurt anyone."
Malaryn walked back apart from her a bit, grumbling as he resumed his position in the marching order. Lysinthia smiled as she trudged through the muck that was covering her favorite boots. She had always enjoyed picking on Malaryn. He was like the little brother she never had while she was growing up. Quillion had always given Malaryn a hard time as well, but Lysinthia could take the act of irritating someone and turn it into an art form when she put her mind to it. These thoughts of Quillion put Lysinthia into another emotional tumble.
The five years that had passed since they had last seen one another had been eventful, but not very memorable. Oh, to be certain there had been other men in her life, as there was never a shortage of willing partners, but she had never attached herself to any of them. She had never felt a real draw to anyone like she did to that willowy half breed walking in front of her. She had kept herself busy enough traveling from city to city, going wherever the money was, that thoughts of him had been completely driven from her mind. Well, not completely driven away, but she did not believe she was obsessed or anything.
That year they had spent together after the companions' split was a time of great happiness for her, and for him as well. Yes, she was sure he had been happy with her. They traveled across the world together in those days. With him using his forte of illusion spells to compliment her talents, they had been one of the most popular traveling shows of the region. There were villages in Sondori that would be regaling their children with tales of their show for generations.
Deep in her heart, Lysinthia had known the joyous time the two had together would not last. As the rumors of strife in Windsong filtered South, Quillion had become more and more restless. Lysinthia did not understand why he could not just enjoy the good life they had. Why did he have to get agitated by the news of war? What was happening in the North did not involve either of them so he should have left well enough alone. Lysinthia had relectantly come to the conclusion back then that Quillion needed to be in front of things. He did not like playing a supporting role to anyone, even someone he professed to love. Well, it was true that he had never actually told her that he loved her, but she had known how he felt.
Eventually, on an otherwise gorgeous spring evening five years ago, Lysinthia confronted Quillion, insisting that he stay with her and stop worrying about troubles far away, or go away forever. Her heart had been in her throat as she watched his eyes flare in anger, then relax into resignation. He ever so carefully, as if she was a fragile child's doll, reached out and took her hand and kissed it, always looking into her tearful eyes. He stood back up to his full height slowly, turned, and walked away into the shadows, never to be seen again until last night at The Sinner's Cove.
Lysinthia wished that she and Quillion could have just a moment alone without the rest of the companions hanging around. She was fairly certain that they knew nothing of her and Quillion's time together and its tragic completion, but there was no sense in tempting fate. She had so much she wanted to say to him, but now they were off on another adventure, traipsing through the dark Ravenwood in search of a dead hero. This was not how she had envisioned their reunion. Of course, what in this world ever actually turned out the way it was supposed to.
A tap on her shoulder brought Lysinthia out of her thoughts. She turned to see Melina walking along beside her. The Accabashi tribeswoman smiled and said, "You're lagging behind, Lys. The others are almost out of sight." She pointed ahead towards where the pale green light Tersiano had conjured was disappearing in the trees ahead.
"I'm sorry Melina. Let's get moving before we get kidnapped by the Czak Myar. What do you say?" Lysinthia replied. "Besides, if we lag too far behind, we'll get caught in some of Dealyon and Scintara's traps."
The two women echanged smiles, and quickened their pace to catch up to the rest of the group.
The screams from one of his scouts echoed hollowly through the dark trees of Ravenwood, and Emiriak was in no mood to listen to them. He stormed over to where the Czak Myar soldier was lying with his leg trapped in some kind of device that had been camouflaged by a wealth of bushes. Two small trees had been tied down to the ground and when this fool scout had walked across the trigger, they had been released. The momentum of the trees springing into the air had pulled the ropes on a clever trap that caused two logs with sharpened spikes embedded in them to smash together, effectively impaling their victim's legs between them.
Emiriak examined what he could see of the scout's blood soaked legs for a moment and then looked at Petyon, who was knowledgeable about most things medical. His second in command just shook his head ever so slightly in response to his leader's unasked question. That was good enough for Emiriak as he drew V'cir from its black dyed scabbard. He then casually shoved the point of the scimitar into the scout's back, effectively turning the man's screams of agony in wails of terror. The soldier's clothing touching the weapon tip began to smoke and the man began to writhe about uncontrollably on the impaling blade. His screams reached a fever pitch, so piercing that even Emiriak winced at them. Soon afterward his wailing halted and his body stiffened up, its skin cracking and peeling. After just a few moments of the unnatural sounds of a body withering away, the blade released him, having already drained the soldier of his essence. The man's body slid off the blade, slumping forward, its legs still pinned between the logs of the trap.
Emiriak held the flat of the scimitar's blade up so that he could stare into its depths. There was no reflection staring back at him as there were in other sword blades. No, this cursed blade swallowed up the light that normal steel reflected. Emiriak continued to stare at the inky blackness of the steel waiting for a sign. Ah, there it was. A small outline of the soldier appeared in the blade for just a moment. His face was frozen in a silent scream as he faded into the hungry blade's depths. Emiriak was never sure if he actually saw these images, or if V'cir was just placing them in his mind.
He slammed the sword home in its curved, half moon scabbard and turned to face Petyon. The Czak Myar officer was looking at him with wide eyes and his face was pale and wan. Emiriak snorted in disgust and he gestured towards the withered corpse. "Oh, my apologies. You wanted some of V'cir's leftovers? Well, all right, but I'll have to warn you. It never leaves much left to pick on." Emiriak suddenly burst into a fit of laughter. He had been doing that more and more lately. His mood swings were as wide as they were sudden and one never knew when speaking to him exactly where one stood.
He saw Petyon turning green at his words. "What's wrong with you, you sniveling idiot? This fool would have never have made the journey with his legs like that and I don't like wasting crossbow bolts." He sneered at the officer before continuing, "Besides, everyone must eat on these journeys, even your trusty weaponry." He laughed as he patted the scabbard where V'cir rested, awaiting its next victim.
Emiriak squatted down to look at the mechanism which had triggered the trap that still held his former scout. "Damn ingenious device. This group apparently has a bit of talent in it. I wouldn't doubt if this little trick was that stinking Half-elf's fault. I'm going to feed his hide to my scimitar, Petyon. I swear it to Braquast!"
Petyon had recovered himself enough to answer in his typically droll tone. "Feed the Half-elf's hide to the sword. I've got it, sir. Anything else?"
Emiriak was glad to see that Petyon had recovered, he needed the man after all, but was equally irritated by his second's usual grating manner. "Yes, there is, damn you! We're losing scouts like grapes in a goblin market. If we don't find a way to locate these booby traps the Half-elf's group is setting, we'll never be able to follow them, for we won't have any trackers."
Emiriak was infinitely more concerned about this hunt than he showed his men. This blasted forest was turning into their worse enemy. He had lost five scouts already, though due to their own incompetence, he was certain. There was only one scout left who was qualified to track anyone in this bloody dark forest, and Emiriak could not afford to lose him. If he did not devise a way to find these traps before they killed more of his men, there would be no Czak Myar left to capture the blasted Half-elf and his troop. There must be a way to find them.
A sudden, icy cold chill ran down Emiriak's spine. His eyes grew unfocused and he stood up to his full height, standing on the tips of his toes. He felt a presence envelop his mind like a blanket wrapping around a wet child. He tried to shake off the foreign mind, but was unable to break its terrible embrace. He could feel himself surrendering slowly to its awful grasp, when he felt the familiar touch of Lord Sortinst interpose itself in his brain. His dark lord's magic had disrupted the attack and Emiriak's body finally relaxed, collapsing to the ground.
He quickly stood back up and drew V'cir from its scabbard, holding it in front of him with two shaking hands. The Czak Myar nearby were staring, wide-eyed at Emiriak's pale countenance. Fools! They did not know what was out there, Emiriak did! Oh yes, he knew exactly what had attempted to take over his mind, and he was determined to never give it a second chance. As long as he had the power of V'cir at his command, no Rivanwraith was going to dominate his spirit.
Emiriak could sense the dark, powerful mind of the Rivanwraith lurking in the tree tops above the milling Czak Myar. Even if he wanted warn the troops about its presence, which he did not care to, there was nothing they could do to stop it from killing them all. Only his power and the control that Lord Sortinst exerted over it would keep the beast from laying waste to them. Emiriak knew that even Lord Sortinst's vaunted control of the monster was tenuous at best and only the beast's respect of Emiriak's power would allow him to work with it.
He tracked the air serpent's descent through the trees by the sound of large branches snapping like chicken bones. The men heard it as well and all moved to the far side of the camp. The Czak Myar were too well trained to go into a blind panic, but Emiriak was certain that they felt that evil chill that all living beings felt when a Rivanwraith was near. He heard the crunch of earth turning up as the great claws of the monster dug into the ground. Emiriak still could not see the body of the Rivanwraith since it stayed to the unnaturally thick darkness in the trees. He could, however, see its icy pale eyes reflecting the light of the flickering torches. Its eyes moved as if it was lowering its massive head and Emiriak again felt the immense pressure of the Rivanwraith's mind forcing itself on him. This time he was ready for the assualt and he moved V'cir in a figure eight pattern in front of him, effectively severing contact with the monster.
He heard the sharp hiss coming from the shadows as the creature felt the recoil of its contact being broken. He could feel the wariness now radiating from the beast. Apparently the thing was not expecting to find someone with Emiriak's power. Now Emiriak had to show the beast who was in command of this search. Emiriak approached the shadows where the Rivanwraith awaited him. Soon this beast would be under his control and he would find the Half-elf's pitiful band and crush them with his might.
Ell walked wearily along the forest trail, at least what Dealyon had called a forest trail anyway. She was not physically tired, but felt more of a weariness of spirit. It was more than likely coming from the complete lack of sunlight and fresh air over the past three days. She was stunned at how much she missed the feel of a breeze on her face. Her spirits improved a bit when Dealyon announced that the Czak Myar had stopped pursuing their trail and had moved out of the forest. She meant to find out how he knew these things.
She was becoming especially hungry as well and had long since devoured any of the edible materials from her pack. She eyed Scintara's pack longingly, thinking that the thief had more than likely stolen some food from someone, somewhere, and was just keeping it tucked away to irritate Ell. The thought briefly flashed through her mind that she could just reach out and stick her hand in there and find out for certain. She curtailed the idea quickly as she thought of the many hidden daggers Scintara kept on her person. Besides, she really did not want to start an argument in the middle of Ravenwood anyway.
The slight, curly-haired thief had returned to the companions, along with Dealyon, a day and a half ago. Scintara had worn a very smug look on her face when she told the companions about her and Dealyon's traps that eliminated most of the trackers in the Czak Myar. The way the thief told the story, one would think that Dealyon had just been along for the ride while she did the work, but Ell knew better. She could smell the half-truths Scintara was telling. Dealyon more than likely kept Scintara from getting lost in the forest countless times. Ell knew that she, herself, would never attempt navigating this forest alone. She prided himself on being a good nature woman, but even she knew this forest was beyond her abilities. Though the she never admitted it, Ell suspected that it was beyond Quillion's abilities as well, Half-elf or not. Only Dealyon really seemed at home here in this murky forest.
The day before, Ell had asked Dealyon why Ravenwood had such a stigma about it. Things like the stories of it being haunted and filled with creatures no one had ever seen. Dealyon had responded with a typically terse answer, saying that the creatures existed and were out there, but they stayed too far away for Ell to smell them. They were simply wary of attacking a band as large as the companions. The residents of Two Sands had labeled the forest as being haunted primarily due to the fact that people continually disappeared in it. This, according to the druid, had nothing to do with any spirits haunting the forest. It was because people kept getting lost and wandered around until they starved to death. Ell was beginning to wonder if she was going to join that list of people soon.
The companions continued to travel to the Northwest, keeping to the interior of the forest to avoid detection. The intense darkness of Ravenwood was lightening to more of a gray haze the longer they marched. Ell could not be happier about that fact. The Yerracht woman only hoped that there would not be any more rivers to cross. Tersiano had assured her that there were no rivers between them and Haven, but the memory of the last river still made Ell shiver.
They had arrived on the banks of the River Tym that first real day of traveling. Normally it would have taken a healthy man a full day to arrive there, but due to Dealyon's "arrangement" of the undergrowth, the companions had made the journey in only six hours. The silently running river had seemed as black and ominous as the overgrowth above. Ell had been able to hear absolutely no noises coming from the inky water, so she had assumed, as had all the others, that the river was all right to cross.
It had taken them almost an hour to construct a platform from the wood lying around that was large enough to hold the entire group. Lysinthia had then cast a wonderful spell that caused the platform to float about a stride in the air. Unfortunately, the bard had no way to control the direction the thing traveled, but Ell had an idea. She would push it from the bank they were on to build up speed and then jump on as its momentum carried it across the river.
The plan had been working fine and they were hovering gently across the river until something had burst from the water in front of them. They had been unable to see what it was before it ducked back under the water, but it had ran into the platform, slowing its momentum and effectively trapping the companions over the river. Ell had been started looking over the edge of the platform for any signs of the thing that had stopped them.
Ephirea had thought quickly and had taken an arrow fitted with a coil of strong line and shot it into a tree on the far bank. The companions had been pulling the platform across the Tym, and making good headway, when the surface of the water had exploded again and some kind of giant eel loomed over them. Ell knew then that they would never make it to the other side with this thing pursuing them, so she morphed herself, leaping at the beast. In retrospect, it more than likely was not one of the smartest things she had done. She had collided with the snake creature, knocking them both under the surface. She had slashed and clawed at the thing's leathery skin as much as possible, but the only thing she accomplished was to entangle herself in its coils. She had felt her air being forced from her lungs by the beast's constrictive grip and she knew she had only one chance to make it back to the surface. She then morphed herself fully, lashing out with her claws directly in front of her and cutting herself badly in her rage. The snake-thing writhed in pain, releasing its pressure and Ell managed to free herself from the its grip.
Her head had broken the surface of the water and she gulped in a lung full of air, but now she had no idea where she was or where the companions had gone. She had roared with all of her might, and heard their shouts in response about twenty or so lengths away. The current had been much stronger than she had initially thought and she fought it with every ounce of her tiger body. After swimming desperately for a few minutes, which was not easy when one was a tiger and afraid of water, she had reached the bank where the companions were gathering themselves. She had lain there for a while, shivering with fear, cold, and exhaustion before Aramari had arrived and helped her back to the others. No, Ell was definitely not looking forward to ever crossing another river.
All of this remembering fights and rivers was making Ell even more ravenous than before. She began sniffing Scintara's pack, hoping against hope that there was something inside it to eat. Suddenly she felt en evil presence overhead, a cold chill. Instinctively she changed to half-tiger form and crouched down, looking up into the leaves and growling low in her throat. Dealyon and Aramari apparently felt it too as they stopped walking and looked up into the air. Quillion noticed Ell's stance and moved to stand beside her. She knew that Quillion had trusted her Yerracht senses for a long time and generally heeded her warnings about things like this.
"What is it?" asked the Half-elf.
Ell responded guardedly, "I don't know. I can feel something up there. It's.." She rumbled a growl, her eyes faintly glowing. "It's familiar. It's circling above," said Ell. She pointed towards Aramari and said, "Ask her. She can feel it too."
Aramari gave Ell a look of surprise at how she knew these things, but said nothing.
"Mari, what do you feel?" asked Quillion.
"Something very powerful is up there," Aramari said gravely. "I cannot discern if it's looking for us or not, but I do know we do not want to meet it."
Dealyon gave a start as if slapped and then shivered as he said, "It is searching for us. It is using its mind to sweep for our consciousness."
The pieces suddenly came together in Ell's mind as she recognized the feeling she was receiving. It was a feeling she knew from long ago she was hoping never to feel again.
"We've got to find cover now!" she growled to Quillion. "It's a Rivanwraith!"
© 1998   C.A. Lutke