Leaving the Canolbarth
The spider's pincer pressed firmly into her neck… just a little more force, she realised, would suffice to pierce her skin.
She focussed and a rock the size of a cat rose several feet into the air before dropping to strike the spider which had draped itself across her shoulder. The creature reacted in surprise but flipped off Lana and tumbled onto its side. As its legs waggled ineffectually, she grasped her opportunity and began a spell, her arms having been freed. In the very same moment she heard a shriek from above:
"Witch! I see what you're doing! You were ordered to -"
A ray of dazzling amber radiance extended from her hand and struck the chief as he descended the tree on his borrowed spider mount, barely visible from Lana's vantage. Amid the resulting flare her heart caught in her throat as she saw wings unfurl from a frame which was suddenly much bigger than it had been… thirty feet high, a pegasus occupied the space where the imp chief had been a heartbeat before. The creature's wings flapped but didn't seem to find purchase and as gravity reasserted itself it dropped, rocklike.
The spiders reacted with hisses and clicks, several of them scarpering into the undergrowth although the same number tensed in position as if ready to pounce.
Lana addressed the animal in a soothing tone, placing her hands upon its side before wrapping her arms around its neck and attempting to lever herself onto the creature's back. It snorted warily at first yet to her astonishment allowed her to mount it. Firmly installed upon her steed, and naked in the extreme, Lana dug in her heels and nearly found herself flung from its back as the pegasus lurched forward, finding no space to extend its wings but eager to cover distance nevertheless. There could be no telling the direction in which the pegasus and wizardess fled. But flee they did, leaving the spiders in their wake. Lana shut her eyes and didn't look back. The pegasus pounded through the undergrowth, finding an opening to spread its wings once or twice to cross a brook or stream, before folding them back. The pair crashed through the dense undergrowth at what seemed a tremendous pace. After what might have been a mile the pair reached a distinctive-looking cave by the river's edge. The dark waters swirled in eddies, deep and unsettling to observe. Nearby lay the cave sat like the yawning maw of some immense beast, waters flowing into it. Lana eyed the cave wondering what perils it might conceal. She dared not investigate as she stooped and drank tentatively from the river, seemingly without ill effect, but thought she and the pegasus might rest by the water's edge for a while. And so they did, Lana waking more times through the night than she cared to recall, hoping beyond hope that her transport would not have departed by the next time she awoke. Mercifully it did not.
When the gloom lightened barely noticeably the next morning it was all she could do to bury her hands in the pegasus' mane again and cling to its back, dismounting now and again to forage for anything edible - nuts, roots, berries, even humus and moss. Some she shared with the pegasus; her stomach growled as if in complaint. Her vision swam and she found it harder and harder to hold on, though she knew there could be no alternative if she was to stand a chance of clearing the forest. Hours passed until eventually the dense undergrowth gave way and the pair emerged into farmland. With no moon in the overcast sky, the pair pressed on in whichever direction it was they had been travelling - all they knew with certainty was they were heading away from the forest. When they entered a field of cabbages Lana practically leapt from her steed and set upon the raw leaves with gusto. Miles later a cluster of dwellings came into sight a way off, Lana gently slapped the flat of the impish blade against the pegasus' flank on one side to bid it change its course. The pair made it to the hamlet and found a number of men and woman garbed in peasant attire, having ceased their toil bringing in the harvest to observe the approaching pair. As Lana nakedly dismounted her knees gave way momentarily and she fell against the pegasus, causing it to rear and spread its wings. She worried that the creature might take to the skies without her, but its wings folded again a moment later. The villagers regarded her dubiously as she called to them in tongues they could not comprehend. They exchanged uneasy glances but eventually seemed to take pity and were content to extend their hospitality. Lana was given clothes and shown to a bed, where she collapsed and slept after taking a few spoonfuls of simple broth.
She awake an indeterminate amount of time later, dazed and delirious, wondering whether the figure perched on the side of her bed was a figment of her fatigued mind. The woman smiled in a kindly manner, rearranging her robes as she did so. Lana thought she observed the emblem of the Church of Darokin before lapsing back into her fevered state.
A day and a half later she awoke feeling considerably better. The pegasus had been stabled and cared for. Lana expressed her thanks to the villagers, knowing they could only comprehend a few of her words. With effort she discerned the whereabouts of the Streel Road and from there approximated the direction of the Darokin Road, considerably further away. It appeared the pair had exited the western end of the Canolbarth, rather than to the south as Lana had hoped they might. Without delay she and the pegasus took to the road in the direction of the village of Wrasseldown. With her health and spirits renewed albeit to a limited degree, Lana let the pegasus reach a natural rhythm as it cantered across the fertile fields and pastureland of the Streel Plain before urging it to take to the air. Finding herself thrown from her nonexistent saddle the first time, she persevered and clung on with greater determination the second time. The pegasus spread its wings and soared.
Field after field sped by, Wrasseldown appeared and passed beneath and soon the Darokin Road came into view with its countless merchant caravans heading in both directions. It would not be long until Dolos, Lana realised. There were no elves to be seen in either direction, though.
Dolos soon arrived, still without an elf to be seen. Lana lost no time seeking out her apprentice Pandita and found her already in the company of the imps' former prisoners - Jeqinny, Tompff and Glyssa. Lana expressed her regret that she had been unable to retrieve her carpet as intended. Jeqinny revealed that the three had resorted to making their way out of the forest on foot and had faced little adversity besides progressively nastier threats from the imp Kulzuk, whose Charm Lana now realised she had inadvertently cancelled by suppressing the effects of her own Growth of Plants spell. It seemed Kulzuk had been biding his time, remaining agreeable while Lana was present and foreseeing the promise of personal gain, but had taken a nastier turn after she departed. Tompff had been obliged to step in and draw a close to the imp's scheming… permanently. A lump rose in Lana's throat as the news was relayed to her.
Glyssa handed across Lana's bag of belongings, eliciting the wizardess' sincere appreciation. The cleric of Benekander informed her fellows that she would head to the town of Favaro. Jeqinny was undecided; Tompff believed no lands other than Darokin would tolerate a 'civilised' orc such as he, but thought he might join the crusading horde of King Thar. Lana listened to this proposal with mixed feelings, trying to imagine Tompff starting over in her village of Glaston. The scene was an agreeable one, until she realised her companion Vasily would inevitably come calling.
For her part, Pandita indicated that she would accompany the others to Darokin City but remain there to be Lana's eyes and ears. The group embraced and wished one another well, before going their separate ways.
Along the road, stopping to speak with travellers, a dark tale reached Lana's ears - that the great swarm of elven refugees had come under attack no fewer than three times, by Shadow Elf forces springing from the forest only to retreat again as rapidly. The reports were confirmed by numerous sources. Some said the ambushes were so well co-ordinated that it seemed the Shadow Elves had gleaned intelligence from some source - tactically planned to have maximum impact, hitting the bands of migrants where they were most vulnerable. Hundreds if not thousands had died with only a handful of casualties among the Shadow Elves.
Lana pressed on through the villages of Halfway and Nemiston, soon reaching Selenica outside which a sprawling camp had been set up - thousands of elves had, in the space of just a few days, doubled the population of the thriving western city. Lana surveyed the camp, realising that the Canolbarth lay mere miles away, and the elven refugees had no defences to hide behind. They seemed perilously exposed.
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