The Box (Part IV)

The sounds of his armor had been nullified, as had those of his companions, and while this allowed for them the peace of being able to approach quietly, it did nothing to quell his thoughts.  

Elladuer thought back to the last time he had rode with his company, the Gryphon Riders, before they had fallen.  He did so with a heavy heart, one that was near its breaking point, and he fought silently to keep his emotions in check.

Every member of his company had been like family to him.  He had known them since their mounts had been fledglings, and had flown by their sides through countless missions for nearly a century.  They were the fiercest warriors in King Altherak’s army, and during their long tenure, they had never met with defeat.

Until, that is, the night that the Death Knight, Faomyr, arose from legend and began spreading a plague of death across the countryside.

It had been a night like any other.  The only sound was the soft beating of wings beneath them as they glided across the starlit sky.  Each of the three moons were at various points in the sky, with Nanthuur being the closest, giving them plenty of light by which to see.  The landscape rolled by beneath them, deep in the slumber that came with these late hours.  Only the darkest of souls were awake at this hour, and it was the Gryphon Riders job to defend against them, if need be.

“Elladuer, my brother!  Come near, that we may speak easily!”

The voice belonged to his oldest sibling, Sartha’ak, his closest and most trusted friend.  Together, they had trained as riders.  They had shown a natural affinity for their beasts, and it was through their instruction that the next generation of riders had been born.

Like himself, Sartha’ak had trained to be a holy warrior.  Their techniques were very similar with the blade, making it very difficult to tell the two apart on the battlefield.  If one didn’t know it was Sartha’ak who preferred to use the great sword, it was nearly impossible to do so.  

This was something of their own design.  While they excelled with their arms of choice, each could ready trade with the other and still fight with more competence than most.

With a gentle nudge, he guided his beast towards his brother.

“What troubles you, brother,” Elladuer called out once he was near.

“There, over the hills.  Do you see that?”

He followed his brother’s direction and looked ahead.  He could see it.  There were several columns of smoke rising in the air.  While he couldn’t see what was burning, he already knew that they had to be coming from the small farm community that resided there.  It was mostly populated by humans, but it was one of many such places that lived beneath the protection of the Riders.

“I do!  Praise Torm, I hope we’re not too late!”

Elladuer again nudged his gryphon, gently coaxing her to return to formation.  It wasn’t long before they could see the orange glow of the flames.  They were too late!  The flames had hungrily consumed most of the structures and were now dancing in celebration as they began to crumble.

Each of the five riders looked on with grim expressions, all noting the absence of those who should be fleeing to safety.  Their mounts began to tense beneath them, screeching uncomfortably from the heat that was now beneath them.  While they were flying over a hundred feet above the flames, the heat licked at them as if they were standing right next to it.

“Brother, look,” Sartha’ak yelled.

Elladuer, who had been concentrating on not only keeping his mount calm, but had also been searching through the haze for any survivors, snapped his attention ahead at the warning.

Standing in the main road through the community, between two of the brightest fires, stood a huge man wearing full plate armor.  The metal was the color of midnight, a darkness so black that to stare at it too long was to invite oneself in.  The wearer’s head was covered as completely as the rest of him, by a horned helmet.  Two glowing red eyes gauged their approach from the shadows behind the eye ports.

As one, Elladuer and Sartha’ak silently agreed to land and meet this one on the ground.  Leaning forward, each softly whispered to their commands to their respective mounts, the latter of which were immediately obedient.  Following suit, the others set down as well.  

“Stay here.  I will determine if he is friend or foe.” 

Elleduer nodded and turned to the other riders as they dismounted and approached.

Diona, was the first to reach his position.  Unlike the other riders, she was the only one who wasn’t a pure blooded elf.  Her mother had fallen in love with her human guardsman and it was their union which had brought her forth.  While many of the other elves treated her with indifference, it was Elladuer who had first seen her skill with the bow.  

Maurir was next to reach him.  Though haughty at times, Maurir’s knowledge for things magical was unmatched.  He had learned all of what his masters had taught him with-in half the time his peers had taken and it was rumored that he had surpassed them in skill long before being released as a Wizard of his own right.

Last to approach was Lynneth, their healer.  She was the most soft spoken of the three, but one would be a fool to think that this made her the least powerful.  Elladuer had seen her faith heal those on the brink of death, as well as take others beyond it, with only a few simple words to her goddess.  Unlike the others, who were adorned with magical weapons, armors and various other items to aid them in battle, she wore only a simple white robe, tied at the waist by a golden, braided rope.

It had only taken a few seconds for them to come together and each watched as Sartha’ak approached the dark knight.  

“Ho there, stranger,” he called out in greeting.  His words were friendly, but guarded.  Each of the company noticed that he, at some time, had removed the strap holding his sword in place.  

“That’s close enough,” came the hollow reply.  It was a sound that none were familiar with, with the exception of one: Lynneth.  As soon as the Death Knight spoke, her training took over.  Before the others could react, she was shoving past them and running toward Sartha’ak; the beginnings of a prayer on her lips and her hands outstretched.

It was too late.

With a snarl, the Death Knight drew his blade; one that all immediately recognized as an unholy Vorpal.  

Sartha’ak never saw it coming.  His head flew from his shoulders with a warm smile still frozen on his lips.  

“NOOOO,” Elladuer and Diona screamed simultaneously.  He jumped from his mount, pausing only to strap on his shield, and began to run to his brother.  Everything was happening in slow motion.  He could see the robes of Lynneth billowing out before him, so white and pure.  As he reached up to close his visor, three arrows sailed overhead from behind him.  To his right, light green magical arrow sailed toward its target.  It sizzled, dripping acid onto the ground that ate away whatever it touched.

And then it happened.  

The billowing robes suddenly burst red from a crimson spray.  Lynneth sudden stopped in her tracks, frozen by the hand of death.  She slowly turned and met his eyes with a look of sadness that he will never forget, and he watched as the upper half of her body slid free from the rest of her and fell to the ground.  She had been sliced from her right shoulder to her left hip.

He screamed with pure visceral rage and charged, but he never made it to his intended target.  The last thing he saw was the bright explosion of a fireball as it slammed into the chest of their aggressor.

He was thankful that he wore his helmet with his visor down, even in these shadows of the underdark, for it hid well the tears of sadness that now wet his cheeks.  It wouldn’t do for either of his companions to see this sign of weakness during a time when both were counting on him the most.

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