The Council of Elders convened their meeting the next morning, looking tired and fretful. The party trooped into the council chamber and were asked to sit while the Elders delivered their news.
It was revealed that Cafaror was in the process of becoming one of the undead. The situation was further complicated by the fact that he was an elf, and the council had very little knowledge of elves as they were rumoured to live many miles to the west and none had been seen in town for a long time.
Elysia asked what could be done for Cafaror; the Elders suggested that they take him to the elves and see if they might use their magic to heal the stricken fighter.
All that was known was that the legends spoke of a forest near the Sacred Lakes, a place where once mighty temples had stood. Nobody had any more information than that.
The team prepared themselves and set off that very day, heading north to the Moat House, from where their westward journey would begin. However, it was not long before they spotted something unusual in the fields near the river; a strange fin-like shape ploughing through the earth. Nobody was quite sure what it was and so Ferros, using his Speak with Animals, rode closer to investigate. He was not far from the fin when it changed course to move towards him and finally out of the earth burst a huge creature with a beak, four clawed legs and rows of plate-like scales across its back.
All the creature would say to Ferros was “Want horse! Eat horse!” and it leapt into the attack. Poor Ferros took the brunt of the attack and things were not made better when Alagon tried to fire at the creature and hit Ferros by mistake. With claw gashes, a beak wound and an arrow sticking out of him, Ferros succumbed to his injuries and hit the ground, bleeding profusely. Ferros’ horse was virtually bitten in two by the creature; it was a bad place to be a horse as it was more or less where the party had lost nearly all their mounts in the lion encounter.
Elysia and Alurax swung into action, the former with her magic missile attack, the latter with his trident. Two very accurate attacks sent the creature crashing to the ground, dead.
The party gathered themselves together and started to examine the creature, which was identified as a bulette. Olaf pointed out that the plates behind its head could be used by dwarven smiths to make shields of great strength and power and so Cafaror and the dwarf began to remove them and package them up.
They pressed on and arrived at Wolf Creek (the stream that fed into the river, where they had fought the wolves all those weeks ago) as twilight fell. They had an undisturbed night but at first light, as Alurax’s watch was coming to an end, there was a rustling in the bushes and the trident-wielding fighter went to investigate. The rustling moved further into the woods and Alurax followed it again. Then he found himself facing a tiny figure, no more than perhaps a foot and a half high, who had appeared as if from nowhere. The creature introduced himself as Phelim, a leprechaun and when the rest of the party were roused, they talked with him for quite a while until he started to get mischievous and began to appear and disappear, taking Alurax’s treasured trident with him. The irritated fighter was getting most irate and Elysia took over, talking with Phelim to find out if he knew of any information concerning the elves in the distant west.
He could tell them little, being a bit of a homebody as regards that particular stretch of woods. However, he did say that he believed the elvish homeland be beyond a forest known as the Centaur Woods, over the Golden Hills. Elysia asked him about flying horses, having not forgotten her sight of one in a previous adventure. Phelim looked alarmed at that and would only give some cryptic comments about two towers, one large and one small, with some very bad feelings about them.
The party made it to the Moat House with little more trouble. There had been no damage to their property since their last visit; the goblins across the river had not dared to cross it yet. With the presence of the goblins in mind and with no wish to waste time, the party skirted the region and headed towards the rocky outcrop at the edge of the forest where they had taken on the ogres. Night fell with the party still riding through the forest and they started to look for somewhere to rest up. A search for a suitable place revealed some scattered pieces of goblin armour in the undergrowth. The odd thing about the armour was that it had been crushed and crumpled by something very strong. A set of strange footprints led away from the site but abruptly stopped some way into the trees. As the party was puzzling as to what it could all mean, there was a voice from above their heads and they looked up to find a woody, moss-covered face looking down at them.
The creature revealed himself to be a treant by the name of Ashbone. He it was who had finished off the goblins whose armour the party had found and he assured them that if they chose to rest beside his trunk that night, they would not be disturbed. The party gratefully accepted the offer and Elysia talked with the friendly forest being for some time, gaining more information about their ultimate destination. She also tried to find out more about the two towers and the flying horses but Ashbone was as reluctant to divulge information as Phelim had been. He did however tell her that the elves would not be what she was expecting.
The third day of their journey saw the party come out of the forest and into the rough country that they had visited on their last trip west. They needed to cross it and had no idea what was waiting for them but the opposition soon made its presence felt and the eerie howls of wolves came floating through the badlands. Elysia sent Relic up to scope out the landscape and he reported back that the incoming pack was not just wolves – it was wargs and there were eleven of them.
Our gallant band now began to do something unexpected – plan for the attack. They managed to find a gully and while Elysia took up position with Cafaror and the horses further down the gully, Olaf and Zanurax braced themselves near the entrance. Ferros, Alurax and Alagon clambered up the sides of the gully and readied their bows.
The wargs came in fast and the arrows rained down. Olaf and Zanurax took the brunt of the attack at ground level and Elysia let fly with her Sleep spells, despite the wargs being nearly too powerful to be affected. It was a hard fight made all the more memorable by Alagon attempting to leap from the heights onto his horse and missing. He attracted the less than amorous attentions of two wargs but by then, the party had managed to kill or incapacitate all but three of them, who made a hasty retreat.
The day wore on and soon enough, the party was approaching the ruins of the old watchtower where they had fought the trolls. From a distance, they could see that it was not deserted any longer; there appeared to be somebody on the battlements and from the scale of the ruins, he had to be somewhere in the region of fifteen feet tall. He had long white hair and beard and it took quite some time before the party realised that he was a Frost Giant. Quite what he was doing so far from home was a question that did not get an answer since Alurax and Ferros went riding in, challenging the giant to come down and face them.
Elysia and the rest of the party rolled their eyes at such blatant aggression and headed on their way. The giant ripped a huge chunk of masonry from the walls and hurled it at the two approaching party members but it missed Ferros by a foot or so. A second chunk was about to be thrown when it slipped from the giant’s fingers and crashed to the ground. Alurax and Ferros rode even closer and their goal was achieved when the giant came hurtling out of the gatehouse towards them. He must have been either drunk or ill because he barely got a blow in before he was cut down by the trident and the mace. Alagon and Olaf rode up to see if there was any more combat to be had but they were too late to join in.
Meanwhile, Elysia and Cafaror were galloping on ahead and as the sun started to set ahead of them, the magic user spotted what appeared to be a large carved statue on a rocky outcrop. She approached, trying to see if there was any writing or hieroglyphs to be deciphered when the figure turned its head and greeted her in the common tongue. It was an Androsphinx and although it was wise and powerful, it could do little to help Elysia in her quest. It backed up what Ashbone and Phelim had told her and then, as the rest of the party, the “noisy ones” as it called them, approached, it flapped its huge wings and rose up into the evening sky.
The next day, Elysia picked up the pace, driving the party hard. Cafaror was looking gaunt and hollow-eyed now and had to have his skin covered entirely or it would start to blister. Using Relic again as aerial support and reconnaissance, they managed to avoid a large war party of orcs and some normal wolves. Ahead in the evening light was the edge of the Centaur Woods into which they now plunged, Elysia casting Continual Light on a wooden staff so that she could lead the way into the crepuscular forest.
It was not long after this that they began to get the feeling that they were being watched and followed. Cafaror, despite his increasingly poor state of health spotted several heat sources in the trees and Elysia suddenly remembered that Relic could detect invisible beings. She sent the little pseudo-dragon off to try and make friendly contact with them and quite soon, he returned with two visible creatures, little people with wings, bows, arrows and tiny swords. They introduced themselves as pixies and listened intently as Elysia explained the quest on which the party had embarked. They agreed to escort the party to the far side of the woods, as there were places within the forest where evil lurked and danger lay in wait for unwary travellers.
For a whole day they travelled with their new guides, meeting little in the way of woodland inhabitants. Perhaps the presence of the pixies told others that the party were not hostile; perhaps others stayed out of their way, wary of the newcomers. Whatever the reason, the party eventually arrived at the western edge of the forest, tired and weary and their horses fit to drop. They rested up and as the sun rose the next day, they entered a range of hills where the rocks and soil seemed to glow with a golden yellow hue.
Again, the use of Relic as an airborne scout kept them from running into a pack of hobgoblins who were clearly out for a fight; they did not encounter anything else apart from wildlife in the shape of stags and wild goats. Then, on the evening of the seventh day of their quest, Relic came swooping down to inform Elysia that something wondrous was coming. Down out of the darkening sky came a creature that she had never seen before. Even as it was approaching, the rest of the party suddenly slumped into unconsciousness.
It was a beautiful horse-shaped creature with a long horn in the middle of its forehead, its coat a luminous gold, its mane and tail of darker gold. Its horn and hooves were golden pink and its eyes were of a flashing violet. Where its hooves touched the ground, sparkling pink hung in the evening air. It introduced itself as Ki-Rin, in fact The Ki-Rin. It listened intently to Elysia who begged it plaintively for help and then agreed to take them, on its back, to the forest where the elves lived. Before they set off, the Ki-Rin magically created food and drink for the sleeping party members.
With Elysia and Cafaror on its back, the Ki-Rin lifted off into the sky and flew north-west for quite some considerable time. Below them, they could see the ruins of some kind of monastery building but they were in no position to worry about that now. Some time later, after having seen distant, shining lakes to the north, they touched down in the clearing of a forest. The shadows were long and the gloaming thick. All seemed quiet in the forest. Elysia wondered where the elves were; she was very soon to find out.
New Story Arc Begins In Valiant's X-O Manowar #4 - Out Tomorrow... - As well as new adventures of Aric of Dacia, the collected issues of the first arc of this new run of X-O Manowar (Vol 1: Soldier) will also be available to...
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