Cye'Ren sat at the table, which was teeming with food of all kinds. The ceiling was high, and numerous torches lined the wall, casting a warming light unto those gathered below. Wonderful smelling meat, colorful arrangements of vegetables, an assortment of sweets, and, of course, wine were all part of the feast that had been laid before him and the others.
At the head sat the beautiful dwarven queen, Simoriah, and around the rest of the long table were twenty or so knights, nobles, and mages. All wore jovial faces as they laughed and joked. Cye'Ren, having already finished his meal, looked down at his silver goblet. It was almost empty. As if on a cue, a young elven page, refilled his cup.
Cye'Ren nodded to the page in thanks. He would have to be careful and not drink too much, but it was very fine wine. The page bowed slightly before returning to the kitchen for another pitcher. Before he turned away, Cye'Ren saw a strange tattoo on the young man's arm. He leaned over and tapped the knight next to him on the shoulder. "Who is that young man?" he asked, pointing to the page as he disappeared around the corner.
"Oh, him?" The knight said, trying his best to get some more meat from a greasy bone. He interrupted each phrase with a bite of food or a loud slurp of wine. "That's Don Pepe. He's new around here...came here a few weeks ago...drifted in on some ship wreckage...he's lucky our scout ships spotted him. From Cabeiri, I think."
Cye'Ren chuckled, "Aren't they all?"
The knight laughed loudly, the alcohol obviously taking effect, "Yeah, he's workin' here for awhile to show his gratitude. Strange boy...talked to him once."
Their conversation was cut short as a hush fell over those gathered. Cye'Ren looked up and glanced over the room to see what had happened. At the head of the table Simoriah was standing on her chair with raised hands. Everyone was quiet as all heads turned her way.
She spread her arms. "Welcome. I hope you've enjoyed the feast." She smiled and there were murmurs of approval from the gathered assembly. "The reason I've invited you all here tonight is to give you all some very good news." She paused. "As you all know, our attempts to form the Confederation have so far been unsuccessful. However, thanks to Cye'Ren, we now have a new strategy that has great potential."
All heads turned to look at him, and Cye'Ren smiled slightly.
"In two days, we will send a diplomatic party to Xenora in an attempt to convince them to join the Confederation. With our two kingdoms united, Hiemelia cannot stand outside of us. Then, with the unity of the three kingdoms, we will achieve true peace."
Applause rose from the table and many took hearty swigs of wine in celebration. Simoriah raised her hand for quiet. "Rijer." She looked around. "Rijer..."
"Yes, m'Lady?" It was a centaur who spoke. He was kneeling, rather than sitting at the table. His horse body was the same color as his long hair, which was tied back behind his head; a strange shade somewhere between gray and black. He wore a plain leather tunic on his chest and a simple blanket on his horse torso. The most noticeable characteristic however, was his piercing green eyes, which seemed to shine from a power within.
"Ah. There you are," she said, looking over to him. "I want you to lead the party. Cye'Ren needs some rest."
"Aye, m'Lady," he said bowing his head in acknowledgement.
"Select five others for your group. Let me know the supplies you need and it will be done."
"Well," she said looking back to the others, "I won't keep you any longer. Please, enjoy the feast."
The room was soon full of noisy shouts and laughter once again. Cye'Ren looked down at his half-empty goblet. Downing the rest in one gulp, he stood from the table and walked towards the chamber's exit.
"Cye'Ren!" called a voice behind him. He stopped and turned. The speaker was a tall elf wearing bright red robes. He sat at the table surrounded by several others. "Where are you going? The night is still young and there's plenty of wine!"
Cye'Ren smiled cheerfully. "Ah. I've had enough wine for one day. Besides, my studies kept me up last night, I think I shall retire for the evening."
"Bah. You can never have too much wine. Come join us!"
Cye'Ren chuckled. "No. Thank you though." He bowed slightly before turning and walking out of the chamber. He was very tired, and he headed off down the passage to his quarters.
Rijer's breath hung in the early morning air as he watched the final preparations being made. The sun had not yet risen, but a warm glow could be seen on the horizon. Today, he wore gleaming silver armor and a jewel-encrusted helm. To his side was clipped a sword in an ornate scabbard. A small pack of supplies was strapped to his back, on top of a very colorful blanket.
He pawed the ground in anticipation; they were almost ready to leave. Two human knights lifted the last crate into a horse drawn wagon and lowered a covering over it before walking over to where Rijer stood.
"I think that's it," said the first. He was a short man, but looked very strong. His long face looked rather mouse-ish and he spoke with a high voice. He was equipped with the same style armor and weapon that Rijer was wearing. "Wagon's ready to go."
Rijer nodded. "Good. Go gather the others. We will leave soon."
The two nodded and turned back to the wagon. Off to the west, the palace could be seen faintly in the twilight of the morning, a great forest stretching off to the east and north. The wagon sat on a dirt path at the edge of the city pointing east. The forest trees around them were black and still in the cold morning air. Rijer, too, turned and walked back toward the wagon.
The wagon was a fairly simple combination of wood and wheels that was drawn by a two-horse team. It was fairly small but looked to be in good condition. Some sort of cloth covered its contents. Rijer had just walked up to the thing and was making sure the covering was tight, when four mounted figures rode up. In addition to the two knights he had talked to moments earlier, there was an elf dressed in green robes of varying shades, and a short gnome clothed in white.
The two knights, Gathar and Bundevlin, were experienced warriors of Jewel. The green robed elf was a newly initiated druid called Crothus, and the gnome, a female, was a White order cleric by the name of Sinil. The four rode up and joined Rijer beside the wagon.
"We're all ready," said Gathar. The others nodded. Sinil was shivering quite noticeably.
"Good. Let's get going then. The sooner we leave, the sooner we get out of this cold."
The four turned and rode down the road to the east with the cart following close behind them, driven by an old kender. The party rode on in silence as the sun rose above the horizon, bathing the world in its golden light. Birds began their morning song and the forest was filled with life, looking much less ominous.
The morning passed with little event. They stayed on the dirt path, chatting a bit from time to time. The wagon bounced along behind them, clattering over rocks. They saw not a sign of another person until, up ahead, Rijer noticed a figure standing in the middle of the road.
Riding a bit closer, he could see that the figure was dressed completely in black and seemed to be studying something on the ground near its feet. He brought the party to a halt a few dozen feet from the person, when it did not move from his path.
"Greetings!" He shouted. "Are you in need of some help? We have a healer."
Slowly and silently, the figure lifted its head to face the group. Beneath the dark hood was a sinister ebony mask. Red eyes of pure evil stared back at Rijer and his breath caught in his throat.
"Drow..." he whispered, almost inaudibly to himself. His eyes grew wide as he realized just what was happening. "Draw your swords!" he bellowed, tearing his own blade free from its scabbard and spinning back to the others and the wagon. No sooner had he said this than the forest around him erupted with a chaotic chorus of voices.
From the trees and bushes, armored Drow blazed onto the path, their wicked black swords drawn. Gathar and Bundevlin had managed drawn their swords before the ambush was upon them, but the other two were too shocked to react. The loud clank of metal on metal rang in air as the Drow fell, screaming, upon the party.
"Hold your ground!" shouted Rijer as his blade slammed into the breastplate of an attacker, throwing him to the ground. He spun around, scanning the battle. There were no more than six or eight of them, but the speed and ferocity with which they fought made it seem like there was twice that many.
Rijer galloped back to the wagon, taking a swing at a Drow to his right, but barely missing as it rolled out of the way. He angled his blade upward to block the attack of another in front of him and was forced to stop. These warriors were amazingly quick, and the one in front of him flipped into the air and landed behind him, slashing out before he hit the ground.
Now Rijir wished he'd been dressed for battle. What he had on now was purely for show, and not very effective in combat. He spun around, barely catching his assailant's sword with his own before it tore into his side. Rijer knew he had the advantage in strength, but damn these masked warriors were fast.
Rijer heard a scream of agony behind him, and he knew one of his comrades had fallen. Pushing it out of his mind, he shoved the Drow off with his sword and lashed out with a series of offensive slashes. Rather that move back, the Drow-elf advanced, parrying the blows with lightning reflexes and regaining the offensive. Rijer once again found himself using his sword for defense as he struggled to block the frenzy of attacks the maniac sent his way.
Again, he thrust the warrior's sword away from his with brute force. Grasping his weapon with both hands, Rijer swung with all his might, letting out a mighty shout. The elf raised his sword in defense but the force of the blow knocked it from his hands. Rijer advanced, sword raised for the kill, but suddenly, the Drow leapt forward at him, whipping up a dagger in a flash of blinding steel.
The warrior smashed into him, knocking him back slightly. Sharp pain surged through his arm as the wicked knife sliced into his flesh. Bellowing with pain and fury, Rijer lashed out with his sword, the blade finding its mark and tearing into the torso of his attacker. Blood splattered on his face as his sword cut deeper into his opponent's chest. He ripped his weapon free and Drow fell to the ground in a lifeless heap.
A wave of nausea washed over him and he staggered slightly. Looking down, he realized that the dagger was still lodged in his arm. He grasped it firmly and jerked it out with a sickening slicing noise. He threw the bloody knife to the ground and shook his head to clear it. Out of the corner of his eye, Rijer saw another Drow running his way, but his charge was halted with a bright flash of light.
Rijer turned and saw Crothus in the midst of the fray, shooting dazzling bolts of energy from his fingertips. Bundevlin had already fallen and Gathar was quickly disappearing under the blades of his attackers. Sinil was nowhere to be seen. The wagon had been set ablaze and dark plumes of smoke were rising into the clear midday sky.
Rijer grasped his sword firmly and charged into the middle of the melee. He swung his blade left and right, meeting only the dark steel of his adversaries. Raring up on his hind legs, he lashed out with his front hooves, knocking one fighter to the ground. He thrust his sword downward as he fell and plunged it into the Drow's chest. More blood splattered over him, speckling his breastplate with crimson.
Rijer heard a wild battle cry behind him, which was followed shortly by agonizing pain as the evil Drow blade ripped through his flank, sending him spinning to the dirt. He gritted his teeth as he struggled to lift himself from the road. Suddenly there was a loud thump and a wave of dust rolled into his eyes. Crothus lay on the ground beside him, three arrow shafts lodged in his back. He wasn't moving.
Rijer dropped back to the ground and stayed perfectly still. All the Drow warriors were standing around them now, their wicked black swords dripping with blood. They spoke, but it was a strange language that Rijer did not understand.
"Usstan orn plynn ukta. Uk zhah ussta elgg," said one, grinning evilly.
"Xun ol nin. Udos inbal ulu alu p'los udos phuul ragarus."
Crothus suddenly coughed and began struggling to stand. His robes were dusty and bloodstained. He had barely raised his head off the dirt, when sword after sword plunged deep into his back, tearing cloth and ripping flesh. The Drow continued the ghoulish onslaught even after they knew he was dead, laughing with demonic bloodlust at the spectacle.
Rijer closed his eyes and prepared for what he knew what coming.
"Xuat," came a voice from behind Rijer. It was soft, yet carried great power. "I want this one alive."
Rijer opened his eyes and boldly staggered to his feet. His vision was blurred and he almost fell again. Before him was a Drow-elf dressed in robes of the deepest black. She had stark white hair tied behind her head and eyes that burned like rubies.
"You fought well," she said, grinning demonically at him. "For that, you shall keep you life."
"Who are you, witch?!" Rijer growled through clenched teeth. "Tell me!"
The Drow chucked softly. "One in your position should not fling insults around so carelessly." Upon this being said, one of the warriors darted forward and plunged a dagger deep into the side of Rijer's horse torso. His face contorted in pain, but he made no noise as the warrior twisted his sinister blade.
"I have decided to spare you. Don't make me change my mind." She paused, smiling at the look of pain twisting on Rijer's face. "When your comrades find you-and I'm sure they will. Be sure to tell them this..."
She slowly walked forward and stared straight into his eyes. Her eyes seemed to glow as she got closer, and, try as he might, he could not avoid the hypnotic stare. "L'elamshin d'lil Ilythiiri zhah ulu har'luth jal," she whispered softly. Rijer heard the words not only from her mouth, but from inside his head as well.
The words echoed in his brain, building in volume and intensity with each repetition. Soon her voice was joined by others, and others still, until there was a defining roar in his skull; a demonic chorus of shrieks and howls. He yelled out in fear and pain, tearing at his face with bloody hands as the voices continued to get louder. Faces flashed through his mind, demons, monsters, and friends alike, all shouting, screaming, demanding. Their mouths were twisted into grins of pure evil as the barrage continued.
The voices ripped into his mind and tore into his soul. The volume continued to build until it seemed almost too much to bear. Rijer yelled with all his being, clawing furiously at his scalp. The voices continued to grow, and the world around him faded away until all that was left was the chaotic insanity of screeching voices and the sickening whirling of the faces. Rijer could feel the intense pressure grow as it hammered inside his head. The sound was unbearable. It felt like his skull was going to explode.
Letting out one last desperate cry of shrieking agony,
Rijer collapsed into an unconscious heap as the darkness consumed him. Kynnaly looked down at the bloody, still-quaking centaur. Saying not a word, she turned from the road and headed into the forest, the warriors following after her. A few steps later they were gone, vanishing into the trees as if they were the shadows themselves.
Rijer awoke in a large bed suitable for his size with the worst headache he'd ever had in his life. He blinked his eyes a few times in an attempt to clear his vision but to little success. From what he could see, he was in a large white room. Blurry objects lay about, be he couldn't be sure of what they were. The air smelled of pungent herbs and medicine. Running water could be heard nearby. Rijer tried to get up, but found he could not move. Dull pain throbbed throughout his body.
Where am I? He thought to himself, fighting back nausea as he rolled his head to the side. He moaned in pain.
"Ah. You're awake," came a feminine voice from the other side of the room. "Don't move, you'll tear your bandages." The voice was somewhat closer now.
"Bandages?" Rijer wheezed.
"Yes. Here, let me look at you."
Squinting, he could vaguely see the outline of an elf bending over his bed.
"What happened? Where am I?" he choked out.
"You're back in Jewel," she said. "In the hospital wing. You were pretty beat up when you came in. You've been out cold for two days now. I was beginning to worry."
Memories rushed back to Rijer like an avalanche. The forest. The journey. The battle...the Drow. Suddenly Rijer's broke into violent, spastic convulsions. His body struggled against the bonds that held him in the bed as every muscle in his body contracted. He yelled with a hoarse voice until he though his chest would explode, but he was helpless to stop.
The elf placed her hand on his head and Rijer felt a warmth pass from her into him. The spasms slowly stopped, and Rijer collapsed back down to the bad in a cold sweat, panting in severe pain and exhaustion. He moaned loudly and coughed up some blood.
"You've been doing that all day," she said in a concerned voice. "What happened out there? We found the wagon," she paused, "and the bodies. We thought you were dead."
Rijer was shaking quite noticeably and staring blankly at the ceiling. His lower lip quivered when he answered in a raspy voice that was barely audible.
"L'elamshin...d'lil Ilythiri...zhah...ulu har'luth...jal." With that, he lost consciousness again, his head rolling off to the side.
There was a clatter at the elf dropped the tray she was holding. "Oh my god," she gasped, stepping back from Rijer's bed. "It can't be."