The wind howled outside, causing the innkeeper to turn his head in alarm, deflecting his aim and decanting a goblet's worth of wine into Karnus Perdissium's lap. "Oh, for the love of Rad!" exclaimed the outraged wizard as, sitting opposite, Urmahid Krinagar snorted his own wine in laughter at his companion's misfortune. "Sorry, my lord," exclaimed the barkeep, dabbing ineffectually at the mage's soaking crotch.
"Give it here," snapped Karnus, snatching the rag from the innkeeper, who stood back and gestured to one of his assistants to bring a replacement jug of his finest wine. As anxious as the man was at that moment not to be transformed into a toad, yet another gust of wind battered the building, shaking the shutters and causing the man to rush to check the window.
"What is it with you people anyway?" asked Karnus, standing and following the innkeep to the window, "every one of you has been nervous all evening."
"Dark times, my lord," replied the worried man, staring into the darkness beyond the window. "The weather be only the half of it. They say travellers have been disapearing on the road, and nearby villages are suddenly deserted. We've even had one or two riderless horses show up, no sign of their owner to be found..."
Karnus stared out the window, contemplating the moonlit night beyond. He and Urmahid had noticed the dark forest through which they had ridden to reach the Fursty Ferret, an unremarkable inn on the way through Machetos, the woods much darker than the wizard had remembered when last he passed this way. Karnus had chalked it up to the intervening years and the season, though he couldn't help but feel a deep sense of malignance from the dark forest, and had been glad when the solitary building of the inn had come into view.
Urmahid, having recovered from his laughing fit, joined his fellow wizard at the window as the innkeeper continued to stare out. The wind rushed through the trees, howling round the building, yet above that cacophany of rushing air Karnus could just make out howling of a different nature. "The pack hunts tonight," mumbled the barkeep, moving way from the window while shaking his head. "The immortals help those who might be their prey..."
The wizards finished their dinner in silence, absorbed in the brooding atmosphere of the inn. There were few other patrons that night; a merchant from Machetos who had been turned back from the Karameikan border; a pair of drovers worried for their cattle out in the storm; a group of young friends travelling to Kerendas. All were distracted by the howling of the wind and the cold that seemed to defy the attempts of the hearth to warm the common room.
"They should see a blizzard in Skullhorn Pass," said Urmahid.
Karnus smiled at the remark, but felt the local's concerns were more than justified. "It is unusually strong wind, for the season," remarked the wizard. "I just hope the roof in our room doesn't spring a leak."
"You're sleeping under it if it does," joked the Wizard Prince, rising from the table. "Given that this isn't exactly a hive of activity, I shall retire for the night." The howling from outside redoubled in strength as the man pushed back his stool.
"Not a bad idea," commented Karnus, as he too began to rise. Suddenly, the door to the inn flew open, allowing the wind to ravage the interior of the inn. As the candles guttered in the breeze and the patrons shrieked with alarm a cloaked figure staggered through the open door, holding up another who seemed barely able to walk. As the pair fell over the threshold a third cloaked figure darted through the portal and hauled the door closed against the wind. As the injured member of the group was deposited on a nearby table the one who had closed the door threw her back against it and pulled back the hood of her cloak, revealing a beautiful elf maiden, her face contorted in a mixture of fear and resolve.
For a moment the elf stood there, panting and staring about the room. Her eyes fixed on Karnus and Urmahid, still half risen from their table. "You!" she exclaimed, evidently recognizing Karnus' wizarding credentials from the staff he carried, "help me or we're all dead!"
Karnus glanced at Urmahid with a raised eyebrow. "You don't hear that every day," mused the Wizard Prince.
"You'd be surprised," muttered Karnus before stepping towards the elfmaiden. "What seems to be the prob..."
Something hit the door with a mighty thump, sending the spry form of the elf sprawling into the taproom. The bar on the oak door held, but Karnus could see the wood around the hinges had already splintered. Instinctually he levelled his staff at the door as he knelt to help the elf maiden up. Suddenly convinced that the situation was more grave than he first thought, the wizard took the elf's hand and hauled her back to her feet. "What's out there?" asked Karnus.
"Wolves," gasped the elf.
Karnus raised an eyebrow and smiled, reminded of the day when he too would have been scared of a few wolves.
"Hundreds of wolves."
The smile faded from the wizard's face. "Hundreds?" he exclaimed.
Another thump came at the door. The elf pulled out a fine elven blade as a smashing sound heralded the destruction on one of the windows, the shutters barely holding. "Wolves, dire wolves, maybe even a werewolf or two. It's the biggest pack I've ever seen, and they've been stalking us for days." She looked round in alarm as another window shattered and the shutters buckled. The barkeep and several other patrons, suddenly aware of the mortal peril they were in, hefted a table onto its side and braced it against the broken window. A deafening howl came from outside the inn, piercing through the whistling of the wind.
The elf's companion stepped away from his moaning companion and turned to the patrons of the inn. "If you cannot fight, I recommend you retreat to the upper floor." A second of silence followed, culminating in a stampede of people that left only the three newcomers and the two wizards alone in the taproom. "Brilliant," murmured Karnus. Urmahid gave the wizard a grim smile as he clicked his knuckles and deftly drew his dagger.
The door smashed inwards, knocked off its hinges by a massive dire wolf that charged into the room, followed by a handful of normal wolves. Karnus had been ready for the oncoming wolves, though and with a deft flick of his fingers and a hastily spoken syllable of magic an imperceptible field of confusion was placed around the door, extending well out into the baying mob of wolves. The closely packed creatures immediately broke into a jumble of fangs and claws, turning on one another, leaping away from the melee or merely sitting down and wagging their tales. The lead dire wolf was beset by two of his accompanying minions and turned to fight them off, its animal instinct making up for its resistance to Karnus' spell. Only one or two wolves actually attempted to attack the elf or the humans, and a few deft sword swipes from the elfmaiden and her human companion put an end to that.
A series of smashing sounds came from the left, and Karnus and Urmahid turned to see several of the windows had been breached, allowing a number of wolves and dire wolves to stream into the room. As the creatures leapt into the inn Karnus raised an outstretched palm to deal with them, but Urmahid reached out with his own hand and said "I've got this one." With a sweeping gesture the Wizard Prince coated the interior walls of the inn with a wall of ice, sealing the breached portals and preventing ingress via any other windows. "Nice," murmured Karnus.
The five wolves inside, now cut off from the rest of their pack by the ice barrier, pounced towards the wizards. Karnus raised a hand and spoke a few words of magic. A point of bright light coalesced into being just in front of the charging wolves, bursting into a riotous explosion of colour just as the onrushing creatures passed into the area. With howls, the creatures flailed for seconds in the vortex of colours, before collapsing into unconsciousness.
"Oh, now that is good," said Urmahid as Karnus flashed him a smile. "I like that one..."
"Will you two stop showing off to one another and kill some of these damn things?" the elf maiden glared at the wizards in astonishment. Several of the four legged creatures had made it past Karnus' confusion spell and were advancing on the group, growling and snarling as they came. Chief amongst them was a massive wolf, greater than even the dire wolves in the pack. Karnus guessed that this must be one of the werewolves the elf had mentioned. Not wishing to see it savage anyone, the wizard unleashed a spell and shattered the lycanthrope's sanity. The creature howled furiously, thrashing around at its minions before charging headlong into the wall of ice, which shattered under the creature's momentum, revealing the solid wooden wall beneath. The werewolf bounced back from the impact, shaking its head in confusion, then stepped back and charged at the wall again. Time after time the creature dashed its head against the same spot on the wall, until the ice shards and the wood underneath ran slick with its blood.
As the wizards stood back to back unleashing their spells at the oncoming hoard, the elf and her companion wove a skilful dance of death in a ring around the mages and their prone companion, deftly defending the wizards as they crafted their dweomers and dispatched the pack. With a smashing sound Karnus glanced over his shoulder to find that several dire wolves had broken through Urmahid's wall of ice, allowing more of their fellows to pour into the room, though grievously harming themselves in the process. There seemed no end to the creatures, and though the group was holding its own for now the wizard feared they would be overwhelmed if they didn't step up their defence a notch. Karnus launched a fireball out of the open door to blossom into deathly rapture just beyond, engulfing a good number of wolves and setting the building aflame, the latter effect being intended prevent more wolves from gaining ingress. Urmahid evidently shared Karnus' concern, for a blizzard sprang into being behind the wizard, freezing half an inn's worth of wolves solid.
Another massive wolf, probably a werewolf, burst through the flaming door, eager to avenge his annihilated brethren. With a gesture of dismissal and a sentence of magic, Karnus sent the creature to the outskirts of the Alphatian town of Hady, unconcerned for its safe arrival. "Beginning to run out of options," Karnus called out to his fellow combatants. Urmahid nodded in acknowledgement before sweeping his hand around him and imbuing the group with increased speed. A group of wolves bowled the elf maiden to the ground, but Karnus launched a flight of magic missiles at the creatures, striking two of them dead and allowing a sword swipe from the warrior to deal with the last one.
The momentary breach in the ring of defence meant that a group of wolves were able to close on Urmahid and Karnus. His companions distracted, the wizard postponed his spell casting and hefted his staff, ready to defend himself and the Prince. The wolves dove at Karnus together, and though he was able to turn aside the slavering jaws of two of the creatures, a third dipped in and bit his leg savagely. Crying out in pain, the wizard bludgeoned the wolf with his staff, forcing it to release its bite.
An arrow whistled by at waist height, and Karnus glanced round to see the third of the newcomers had propped himself up on his table and had strung a beautifully crafted bow. He sighted along a knocked arrow and loosed it into the group of wolves besetting the wizard, catching one in the side and causing it to howl and draw away.
The wolves regrouped and leapt at Karnus, but the wizard had been expecting their attack and summoned a duet of mirror images before they could complete their strike. Blocking one of the wolves with his staff he saw out of the corner of his eye one of the illusory replicas fade as a wolf bit through a phantasmal arm, shaking its head in confusion when its prey vanished. Occupied as he was, Karnus could ill afford to glance over his shoulder, curious though he was to see the unbridled powers of a Wizard Prince, but he was far too concerned with the onrushing wolves to gawk at Urmahid's prowess, and had to contend with the occasional flash of curiously coloured energy as the Prince's spells fired off behind Karnus' back.
Having despatched his own foes the elfmaiden's warrior companion stepped to Karnus side and hefted his blade, attracting the attention of the wolves. Karnus made the most of the distraction by whipping out a wand and firing it at the group of wolves directly in front of him, all but one of whom yelped in fear and fled from the inn, fighting against the stream of their inrushing brethren.
As yet another wave of wolves clambered over the corpses of their brothers the elf and warrior resumed their defensive stance, joined by Karnus who hefted his staff in both hands. As the wolves poured in, growling and pacing around the group the elfmaiden looked around grimly and said, “their numbers are too great. I fear we have brought doom upon you.”
“We're not done by a long shot,” replied Karnus through gritted teeth. “Stand close to me.” He gripped his staff with both hands, rapped its end against the floor, then brought his hands apart. A spiralling wall of flame grew up around the embattled group, forming a column that reached to the ceiling. With a gesture Karnus expanded the swirling vortex of flame until the entire room was engulfed in the phantasmal immolation. Wolves howled as their minds told them they were being burnt alive, and the elfmaiden gasped and stepped back from the swirling fire. “The heat…” she murmured.
Karnus maintained the phantasm for long moments, before letting the illusory flames subside to reveal a room littered with unconscious wolves. The wizard sighed and looked around - it appeared the phantasmal display had broken the charge of the wolves. Karnus glanced at his companions as they shared a smile of relief.
Suddenly a mighty howling noise shook the building. With a splintering sound, a hulking creature burst through the remains of the door, shouldering aside the door frame. Taking the form of a tall, muscular humanoid creature, its fur covered body was topped by the slavering head of a wolf. Karnus surmised that this must be a werewolf in hybrid form, much like the dreaded Silvereye. “The prime,” whispered the elfmaiden in horror as the creature surveyed the ruination of its pack, looking to the wizards, elves and warrior with fury burning in its eyes. As it dropped its head and charged at the group a barrage of arcane projectiles arced from the hands of Karnus, both elves, and the warrior, shrieking through the air in an array of colours and pummelling the wolfman. The magic missiles it shrugged aside defiantly, but Karnus' projectiles had been stunbolts, which caused the creature to reel and stagger, momentarily overcome by the magic.
“Enough of this,” murmured Urmahid, resting a hand on Karnus' shoulder. With the other hand he gestured at the werewolf and spoke a few words of magic. An invisible force slammed into the creature, and Karnus watched fascinated as it was shredded to annihilation by the unseen wave of magical energy. A few motes of dust fell to the ground.
The alpha male dead, the fight left the remaining wolves. Growling and barking at the victorious elves and humans the remains of the pack tucked their tales and ran, retreating in a cacophony of howls into the forest from whence they had come.
Karnus' shoulder slumped as the wolves departed. He turned to Urmahid with an exhausted smile, noticing the energetic glow of accumulated spellcasting dissipating about the Wizard Princes' hands. The Prince of Bramyra smiled back as Karnus stepped toward the elfmaiden, limping and leaning heavily on his staff. “You fought well,” the wizard said to the three cloaked adventurers.
”You have our thanks, master wizard,” replied the elf woman, “Ilsundal must have favoured our lives to place such formidable mages as yourselves in our path.”
Karnus winced and glanced at Urmahid, hoping the Prince wouldn't be offended at the notion of Ilsundal placing the two of them anywhere. The Wizard Prince was, however, not paying attention, having sidled up to the human who accompanied the elves.
“I noticed you casting spells throughout the combat.” Urmahid turned his head to one side as he glanced from the man's sword to his now lowered hand. "You... are an arcaner?"
"I suppose that I am, my lord, if I understand your terminology correctly.” The tall human smiled at Urmahid's interest.
The Prince paced around the warrior, regarding him as one would watch a lab experiment. "Yet you wield the weapons of a fighter. How can this be?"
The warrior seemed uncomfortable with the question, and glanced away. His elven companions similarly remained silent. Karnus, who was watching with interest, decided to join the conversation. "He is a Forester," said the wizard, "a warrior who has been taken in by the elves of this region. I am unaware of the details of the process, but they somehow imbue them with that aspect of the infinite which we arcaners share with the elven folk."
"Fascinating!" exclaimed Urmahid, his gaze moving up and down over the forester. "How is this achieved?" The wizard prince looked up and Karnus with a look of deep interest. "I have read of such things being attempted in the past in Glantri. Those experiments... did not end well, however."
Karnus chose not to follow up on that statement. He could well imagine the zeal with which an enterprising wizard may have experimented upon unfortunate mundaners in an attempt to bestow them with arcane power. Instead, the wizard cleared his throat and said, "I believe there is some immortal intervention involved." The wizard gave the prince a half smile. "Cheating, in other words."
"How distasteful," replied Urmahid, clearly disappointed.
"Enough!" The shorter elf rose painfully from his prone position, clearly angered by the conversation. "The Grace of Ilsundal is not to be pondered upon by ignorant outsiders."
"Lie still Telyrindel," commanded the elf maiden, who had remained stoically silent thus far. "Their curiousity is to be understood, and they have just saved our lives.” She stepped forward and raised a hand in what Karnus recognised to be an elven gesture of greeting. "I," she began, "am Lassandra Diamarak. These are my companions Athol Selantarius, whom you have correctly determined is a Forester, and Telyrindel.”
“Telyrindel Feadil,” corrected the dark haired elf as he winced and gripped the injury on his side.
Karnus raised an eyebrow. “Feadil? What brings an elf of Alfheim to Thyatis?”
The elf returned Karnus question with a dispassionate gaze. It became clear to Karnus that his and Urmahid's assistance with the pack had done nothing to ingratiate himself with this member of the Feadil clan. Karnus recalled from his brief time in Alfheim that the clan didn't particularly value the manifold qualities of humanity.
“Telyrindel,” said Lassandra, “is here to advise on a matter of great concern to my people.” She moved to the dark elf's side and, cleaning her sword of the wolf gore upon it, laid the flat of the blade across the elf's torso. With a few mumbled words the blade glowed brightly for an instant, and the pain on the Alfheim elf's face faded. He looked to his Diamarak cousin and gave a curt nod of thanks. “And your name?” the sardonic elf asked of Karnus.
“I am Karnus Perdissium. This is my companion Ralindi Gandamak.” Urmahid nodded at the elves and their companion.
Return to the Vault Homepage or the Site Overview