Rise of the Thrall Lord
Knights of the Couch - Part IX – The Fall of the Couch – Section 7
It was early morning back at the monolith. Lloyd had taken the last watch. He was scanning the skies as the sun rose in the east. Then he saw a tiny black spec in the distance. He didn’t think much of it at first, till he realized it was getting bigger. Whatever it was, it was still far off the warblade reasoned: probably a good ten miles. But it must be huge to be seen from so far away. And whatever it was, it was headed this way. I better go tell the others Lloyd thought. He went to the shaft and took the lift down to the basement.
When he got to the living quarters he found Elvisda, Glorfindel and Martan. When he told them what he had seen, Elvisda said, “We’d better go and have a look.
The four of them went back up together to the top of the monolith. The spec was now noticeably closer. But it was no longer a spec. It had gotten large enough to see clearly in the short time the warblade had taken to get the others. It was an airship! Still several miles away, the vessel seemed to have slowed as it approached the towering stone structure. Perhaps the ship was scouting the area, but if so, they could not spot their scouts.
“What is an airship doing all the way out here?” Glorfindel wondered aloud.
“I’m not sure,” Elvisda replied, “but looks as if it is headed straight for us. I think we need to find out their intentions.”
“And how do are you planning to do that?” the wizard asked
“I’m going to send them a note,” the bard replied. He took out some parchment and a quill and began scribing. When he was done, he reviewed his handiwork and seemed quite pleased with himself. Then he handed the parchment over to Glorfindel and said, “Have your familiar take this over to that ship.”
Glorfindel took a brief look at the note. It read:
Greetings to those in the approaching ship. If your intentions are peaceful, then please halt your approach to the monolith. We will gladly meet with you to parley in a neutral location. However, if your intentions are NOT peaceful, then we will blow you out of the sky.
Elvisda, Master of the Monolith
Glo raised an eyebrow. “You sure you want to send this?”
“Of course,” the bard replied. Then seeing the concern on the wizard’s face he added, “Don’t worry. It’ll be fine. Trust me.”
“Very well,” the wizard said with a sigh. He summoned Raven and handed her the note instructing her to take it to the approaching ship.
Raven took off and winged her way across the sky. The raven’s tiny form dwindled to a dot as it slowly crossed the distance to the airship.
In the interim, Glorfindel took out his pearl of friendship. He stood silently holding it for a few minutes. When he was done he announced, “I’ve just talked with Ruka and Maya. They are on their way with Aksel and Calipherous to the monolith. They will try to get here as fast as possible, but will do their best to remain unseen.”
“Probably a good idea,” Elvisda nodded in approval.
Suddenly Lloyd pointed at the airship and asked, “What’s that?”
The squinted at the airship and could just make out a dark shape launch from the ship. Whatever it was, it was fast.
“Raven says it’s a dragon!” Glorfindel suddenly cried.
“If that’s a dragon,” Elvisda replied, “either it’s tiny or that airship is a lot bigger than we think.”
The dragon was closing on Raven fast. Then the familiar dropped the note and veered off, winging away as fast as it could from the approaching beast. But the dragon did not chase the bird. Instead it dove after the note and fished it from the sky. Then it gracefully turned and flew back to the airship.
A minute or two went by then the airship suddenly slowed and came to a halt.
“See,” Elvisda said, “my note worked.”
Two seconds later, the black dragon launched itself back into the sky. It arced around and headed straight for the monolith.
“Then again, maybe not,” the bard second guessed himself.
As the dragon approached, the companions could see that it was tiny, barely larger than a man, with black scales that glistened in the morning sunlight. The group prepared themselves for battle. But dragon slowed down and made a wide arc past the top of the monolith. It snorted as it flew by and dropped something into the clearing below. Then it headed back to the airship.
“Well that was interesting,” Glorfindel said.
“See,” Elvisda replied. “Nothing to worry about.”
Martan went down below and outside to pick up the object. A few minutes later the archer rejoined them at the top of the tower. He was holding what looked like the same parchment they had originally sent to the ship.
“Let me see that,” Elvisda said. He took the paper, opened it and began to read aloud:
You have made me laugh. If you ever want a job as a jester, please feel free to apply at my court. However, as my intentions are peaceful, I will comply and park my airship. I will set up a meeting place in the meadow south of here. Please be kind enough to join me there in an hour from now.
Anya, Princess of Lanfar
“Princess of Lanfar?” Lloyd said. “That’s on the other side of the Merchant’s Channel. What is she doing here in Thac?”
“And why of all places is she headed straight for this monolith?” Glorfindel added.
“I don’t know,” Elvisda replied, “but she definitely pissed me off. Jester, huh? We’ll just see about that!”
“Well, she wants to meet in an hour,” the wizard said. “Let’s gather the others and decide how we want to handle this meeting.”
“She has a young black dragon at her command?” Cyclone said. “That’s mighty interesting. Probably not the kind of person you want to piss off.”
“Yeah, well she already pissed me off,” Elvisda replied. “Jester. Hah!”
“Yeah, but you don’t have a black dragon as a pet,” Cyclone responded.
“Well I don’t need one,” the bard said peevishly. “I’ve got Lloyd here. And you. That should trump any little black dragon. Plus it was tiny anyway.”
“So,” Donatello said, “how do we want to handle this?”
“Well, Aksel and the dragons won’t be back for another couple of hours,” Glorfindel announced. “In the meantime, I think we should go and meet with her, but not all of us.”
The need to strategize broke Elvisda out of his brooding. Let by the clever bard, the group soon hammered out a plan. The strongest offensive members of the team, Lloyd, Cyclone, and Glorfindle, would be positioned at the apex of the Monolith; a tactic that had worked astoundingly well in their previous battle with a dragon. Alana was sent to guard the lower entrances, and Elistra was delegated to last-ditch Colossus control and defense way down below.
Elvisda carefully handed the seeress the crown that Aksel had entrusted to him. “Be careful with this milday.”
“I can promise you, I won’t be dancing the golem around like some folks,” she said jokingly. She was referring to the previous evening, after Aksel had left and Elvisda had been experimenting with controlling the Colossus. The bard had been playing a tune on his lute and had commanded the giant to dance along to it. The resulting “earthquake” had almost brought the roof down in the living quarters below.
Elvisda laughed. “Ay, that was a bit of fun now wasn’t it?”
“You’ve got a strange definition of fun my friend,” Donnie quipped. I thought the whole monolith was caving in around us!”
The group returned to discussing tactics. Elvisda would go to meet with the Princess of Lanfar. Donatello would join him, but would be invisible and moving stealthily. Martin would follow, keeping to the woods and out of sight, ready to use his bow if necessary.
For a token personal guard, Elvisda recruited one of squires, Lamorn, who was nearly fully recovered from the green dragon attack. Alana strongly protested, but once offered the honor, the squire was the greatest proponent of it, and Alana relented. Lamorn went to dig out his formal gear and returned wearing a bold scarlet tunic. “Now that’s style!” Elvisda exclaimed.
Elvisda strode confidently through the woods in his bright white leather armor, with both his hair and leather fringe dangling in time to the jaunty tune he played. The sparkly gems set in his armor speckling the nearby trees with dancing lights. Lamorn marched just behind the bard in his scarlet red tunic. The two figures made quite a bold sight as they headed towards their meeting with the Princess Anya of Lanfar.
Donatello quietly strode a few paces behind them, both invisible and moving silently. Martan walked with them as they drew closer to the meadow.
The song Elvisda had been playing was slowly having an effect on the party. As he walked, Martan began to believe that anything was possible. That the hands of distant but powerful gods were upon them and they could sweep away all opposition by sheer bravado. He was both confident and emboldened.
“With an earful of this tune, I wouldn’t be afraid of a Super Nova” Donatello’s disembodied voice chuckled to Martin’s right, bringing him back to the desperate task at hand. “You circle the wood line to the left; I’ll scout the meadow itself.”
Only a rustle of a leaf or two, as if by a wayward wind, indicated Donatello’s passage towards the meadow. Martan took to the trees and was soon gone, as silent and invisible as Donnie had been.
Elvisda reached the meadow with Lamorn just behind him. “Steady my boy,” the bard whispered to the exuberant youth. Then they marched forward into the clearing.
The table in the center of the meadow was covered in pure white silk cloth. The heavy chairs of gleaming mahogany were similarly upholstered. The table was set with ornate silver goblets and a crystal decanter glittering in the bright sunlight. A fine woven carpet, with intricate red and black designs was set underneath, creating a strange oval island of luxury in an otherwise rough and unfinished setting. It was an incongruous sight, but fitting for the Anyabarithia Ulteshto Farbican, the Lady of the Amber Mount, Mistress of the Crystal Towers, and Princess and sole heir to the magical Kingdom of Lanfar.
Sigfus, the princess’ wizard, and somewhat personally proclaimed guardian-protector surveyed the royal retinue present.
Princess Anya had instructed the young dragons under her control to hide several hundred yards from the meadow on the far side from the monolith. They would come fast when she called. The Princess often enjoyed such dramatic surprises for guests.
Oripeah was at the edge of the meadow behind the Princess, leaning on a tree, her bow held almost casually. But some of her mage slayer arrows could be in hand in a flash. Perhaps she’d finally get a chance to prove they worked today.
Wandering the meadow like she was some caged animal looking for outlet, Deldrania hands never strayed far from her blades. But her blades remained sheathed; her whip at her belt. Del was known for her sadistic streak; her only problem was she wasn’t real smart, and the Princess had taught her recently about clever cruelty. She seemed more restrained than usual today.
Anya’s personal priestess, Jesira stood at attention to the left and slightly behind the Princess. As a battle maiden of Kord, Jesira was perfectly capable of dealing with enemies with slashing blades or divine magic. Battle capable and eager, Anya had specifically gotten Jez to promise not to attack anyone unless ordered. Although a bit wild in battle, Jez always followed orders from her ‘war mistress’, at least until battle was joined.
To Anya’s right, Mallona casually lounged in a chair. She smiled at the Princess who returned the grin; they always seemed to be sharing some secret joke. The unlikely but strong friendship between these was puzzling, although their capricious, dangerous and occasionally cruel personalities were in as perfect synch as their physical forms were not.
Mallona was currently in human form. Her hair like a wild, red mane, she was sprawled on the chair like some great jungle cat waiting for prey. She couldn’t shape change herself yet; perhaps the juvenile red dragon was just too young to master that feat. But Mallona could maintain a shape that Anya gave her indefinitely. And she was eager to learn, especially since she had discovered that most metallic dragons could shape shift from a young age.
Thinking of metallic dragons, Sigfus looked up towards the area the ship had moved off to. It was partly blocked by trees, but he could still see the command deck clearly from here and thought he caught a glimpse of long red hair. Sigfus was worried about the bronze dragon imprisoned on the ship. She was older and more powerful than any of the other dragons the princess had aboard except, Theriaxus.
A young adult red dragon, Theria had no problem mastering shape change, a good thing since her normal form was so huge it would dominate the main airship deck, with no chance of her getting below decks.
Not that she was likely to go below. Theria intensely disliked to go anywhere near the crystal room, and Sigfus couldn’t blame her. Like the bronze and most of the handful of young dragons currently under the princess’ control, Theria had been captured by the Dragon Master himself, and exposure to the crystal had bonded them to the Princess. Usually it took hours; the bronze had been exposed for three days, and still showed no signs of breaking.
Theria had supposedly succumbed in two days, but unlike the Princess, Sigfus had no delusions that they really controlled Theria. He suspected she played along because they controlled her wyrmling, Scorch. A chaotic dragon could bend under such duress, while a lawful of that power would eventually have to break, go mad, or more likely in this case simply die.
Theria was currently on the ship looking after the youngest dragons and supposedly keeping an eye on the prisoner. The grand, royal airship Wind Hammer is no more than a glorified, airborne dragon daycare Sigfus mused.
All in all, the princess was surrounded by an impressive array of protectors, not even counting the dragons, who Sigfus considered unreliable at best.
Still he was quite surprised when the Princess received the ‘request’ from the Dragon Master to destroy the Colossus under the monolith. It was always a ‘request’; technically the Dragon Master worked for Anya, and a year ago that was certainly the truth. But with each powerful dragon under his control the power shifted a little. That the princess could control young dragons with the help of the crystal was certainly true, and Sigfus had not yet ascertained the nature or full extent of that power. But he suspected it would only be a matter of time before the Dragon Master no longer needed his liege and benefactor. And when that day came, Sigfus, her loyal and powerful wizard protector would be there to deal with the upstart. Then maybe she’d realize that he was…
“Make sure the wine is properly chilled,” Anya commanded to no one in particular.
Each of Princess Anya’s high powered retainers looked at each other; no one moved. They couldn’t see him since he had been invisible the entire time, but they knew he was there. Sigfus sighed to himself and cast a ray of frost on the decanter, and an unseen servant spell to take care of the pouring. Really, the other classes were so useless. He supposed that is why the Princess kept him around.
As usual Princess Anya picked the most elaborate way of dealing with any situation. She never thought these things through, and made it quite difficult for him to keep her safe. Difficult, but always interesting, he thought to himself as he looked her up and down. Being invisible had a few perks, and being able to openly ogle the Princess was his favorite.
The statuesque figure of the Princess stood near the table. She was wearing one of her more revealing outfits, mostly small isolated pieces of black silk held together surprisingly well by strategically placed strings, and no small amount of minor magic. It just perfectly accented her…
I know what you’re thinking, Darilyrus’ words formed in his mind. Her mental tone was playful, so he knew the coming emissaries from the monolith couldn’t be too dangerous. He was going to ask, but she had already read his mind.
There are four of them, two elves, two humans; Dari entered the other end of the meadow, her invisible form appearing translucent to his eyes. She had taken the shape of the Princess; an exact replica, except the outfit was not so well secured. She wouldn’t dare take that shape if not cloaked in invisibility; the Princess wasn’t the forgiving sort.
Couldn’t pick up much from the elves, one is a bard and the other some kind of rogue/fighter. The rogue was invisible or darn good at hiding; didn’t pick up his thoughts too clearly either. All I got from the bard was music and some lewd daydreaming about the Princess… and he hasn’t even seen her in this outfit yet! Dari spun around, her top falling off in exactly the way Princess Anya’s wouldn’t.
One of the humans seems smart, Dari continued, seemingly unaware the dress had completely fallen off her assumed form. He’s appropriately worried and paranoid about everything… maybe he’s psychic. The other is a knightly squire, all for the glory… too boring to live. Can I have some fun with him?
Not yet my pet, Sigfus thought at her. Now enough play. Take a shape that is a little less distracting.
Dari assumed the form of a serving maid and stood by the table, still invisible. That girl had caught his eye in a tavern in Palt a few weeks ago. He hadn’t thought Dari knew about it at the time, and had subsequently forgotten about her. The girl was probably dead now, all because she smiled at him and he had a careless thought about it later.
It was possible the bard could see invisible Sigfus thought; but he couldn’t be sure. So much about this group didn’t make sense. But the conversations he had picked up from the Pearl so far led him to believe that they did not have very skilled spell casters with them.
The bard Elvisda entered the clearing with a jaunty walk, his lute strumming and a grin on his face. Even from this distance, Sigfus could see his grin spread when he caught sight of the Princess. His bright-white outfit in stark contrast to the red-shirted follower behind him, the bard strutted up to the table like a rooster on parade.
The Princess watched him approach almost hungrily, and Sigfus wished against all logic that she would strike him dead on the spot. He had immediately taken a disliking to the bard and everything about him, from his ridiculous hair style down to his exaggerated cod piece.
It’s not a cod piece, Dari’s appreciative thought invaded his mind. She did like to tease him about that one small matter.
Enough! Focus on the job at hand, he thought at her exasperatedly.
The other elf had entered the clearing, his invisible form also appearing semi-translucent to Sigfus’ sight. He wondered if they could see them. He waved at the elves, and then gave them the finger. Obviously they couldn’t, or were really good at bluffing.
Only one way to find out, Dari thought. She flashed the bard her cleavage. When no reaction was forth coming, Dari concluded definitely can’t see invisible.
I wouldn’t be so sure, Sigfus thought at her, with the Princess in front of him, why would he look at lesser merchandise? He knew he would pay for that comment later.
Do you know what he is thinking of doing with the Princess? Dari thought slyly. Oh! We should try that! But I’m not sure you’d be up for it…
Enough! Sigfus tried to make his thoughts feel irritated to her. When serious, he knew that Dari was a formidable adversary. But when feeling playful she could be so distracting. She seemed to think this group no threat, but there was still something that bothered him. Maybe they were something more than bumbling fools who had somehow gotten control of a Colossus.
Sigfus switched to arcane sight, quickly categorizing every magic item in the meadow. Not much on the bard, a ring, an instrument, a wand, all dim glowing. The buffoon behind him had nothing except a holy symbol under his shirt. The rogue’s shoes and gloves also gave off a dim glow, his short sword a little brighter, but the dagger was like a pinpoint of intense light. Very interesting he thought, at least Magi level power crafted that one and it had a hint of both evocation and conjuration enchantments to it.
I claim it! Dari thought at him. Can I kill him now? She wasn’t serious he knew, no one killed anyone until the Princess said so.
Dari, where is the fourth one? He thought at her. I can’t spot any of his gear, he could be shielding against my sight somehow.
He’s just a country bumpkin Siggy. Really, he was super easy to read, his name is Martan, he’s scared, and the only danger is his thoughts could put you to sleep. He’s out of my range now, but if he’s near the meadow, he should be in yours. Now where is the rogue? I can’t see him like you can, and he is really quiet; even his thoughts are quiet when he sneaks.
Sigfus finished his search of the meadow while Dari rambled. No sign of any unaccounted for magic enchantments. Now he was worried, anyone capable of shielding from arcane sight had to be pretty powerful; perhaps the mastermind of this group.
Dari, find me this Martan. I want to know what he’s really thinking.