Bad Blood Runs Black - chapter 47 part 2 of 4 by John "Basileus Ioannis"
Vatishehir had reached fifty thousand feet altitude and was cruising at just under the speed of sound. Mundhelm was able to reestablish contact with the capital, allowing a more complete exchange of information. The consul was finishing his report into the crystal set. “Therefore, considering that they departed with speed directly towards the east, I feared they were targeting the Ciulthann.”
“I see,” replied Slesk, the Grand Vizier (writer’s note: from chapter 38, q.v.). “Thank you for your timely notice, Serrasqer Bashal. We have Owl patrols out, I am told up to five hundred kilometers, and we have informed them to use their night vision and ears to detect any sign of the Quzayshehir. So far, we have not detected hide nor hair of them.”
“Intriguing, Saadrezam Bashal...have you heard from any other community? We have been monitoring the Vesterlaendige, but they too have been quiet. I wonder where Viturhimin went?”
Within the crystal sphere, another robed figure stepped up to the advisor and whispered in his ear. Nodding, the Grand Vizier looked up and said, “We have reached out to the other Skibbyen as a precaution, and while Doushehir reports all clear, we are unable to raise Gyneyshehir...”
“The entire Skibbyen? That is certainly alarming...Slesk, may I recommend contacting the Barrier Wall garrison, have them send a probe?”
“Indeed, that is sound advice, Serrasqer Bashal. We shall keep you apprised as reports come in. Thank you, and godsspeed.” With that, the stone went dark.
Mundhelm straightened, and let out his breath. “I have a bad feeling about Gyneyshehir...a city that size, completely unreachable? Improbable, if not impossible...” He put his hand up to his helmet. “Skibsfoorer, maximum speed. And prepare for a course change, if the Quzayshehir is spotted.”
Grand Duke Loewenherz and the Grand Duchess Lilde had finished supping and strolled in the gardens just outside their castle. They walked silently, both still concerned about their daughters, who hadn’t contacted them since the morning. Several paces behind, two royal guards accompanied them, carrying halberds leaned upon their shoulders. Night had fallen, and numerous lit torches lined the walkways.
Loewenherz, staring off into the darkness with knitted brows, produced a rolled up pouch from beneath his cloak. He opened it part way, producing a long, slender pipe of ornately carved wood, and put his hand into the bag and took a pinch of dried flakes and proceeded to press it into the pipe bowl. Finished, he bent down, picked up a twig, and lit it on a torch. Putting the mouthpiece of the pipe between his teeth, he held the lit twig over the bowl and puffed, emitting wisps of smoke.
Lilde stared at her husband, eyes narrowed. “I thought you quit that foul-smelling habit years ago,” she said, her nose wrinkled in disapproval. “Where did you get that Elfweed?”
The Grand Duke raised his eyebrows, looking like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He let out a small cloud, and replied sheepishly, “Oh, well...it helps me relax, dear. These past few days have been more stressful than during my campaigning days...”
“Oh, relaxes you, does it?” she said, raising an eyebrow. “Here.” She held out an open palm.
Realizing that the worry had been as hard on her as on himself, and being a wise man who knew better than to deny his wife, he took his lit pipe and carefully handed it to her. She looked at him as she put it between her plump lips, and took a drag, the pot glowing red. Before he could warn her, she erupted in a coughing fit, barely able to maintain a grip on the utensil.
“*Hack*hack* I fail *cough* to seeheep how this *kaff*kaff* is RELAXING!”
He struggled not to smile as he rubbed her back with one hand, taking the pipe out of her hand with the other. He took one last quick drag on the offending tool before whacking the upturned pot on the sole of his boot, then stomping out the ashes and embers. He waved the pipe in the air to cool it, then replaced it within the pouch, stowing it. “Come dear, perhaps a bit of Schnaps would be better...”
Suddenly a sound like a distant bass drum came from the star lit sky to the north. All eyes except the watering Lilde’s turned to the source, but nothing could be seen but the twinkling stars. That noise again, thought the Grand Duke, I hope it does not portend ill tidings. He turned to one of the guards and ordered, “Go over to Headquarters, see what they know about that sound...I heard it earlier, at sunset.” The guard saluted and ran off to the complex next door, as another guard trotted from the castle entrance to replace him as royal escort.
If Loewenherz and Lilde only knew that the sonic boom they heard was the Vatishehir rushing eastwards, bearing their daughters and their bodyguards, high above. But short of contacting the Skibbyen via crystal ball, there was not a way in the land to spot it.
The High Porte garrison at the Barrier Wall had sent up a flight of four giant owls and dispatched a ground team to find out what happened at Gyneyshehir. The birds reached the site first, and upon seeing the glow from the fires, they knew something was terribly wrong. Flight leader Ohben’himel had the quartet circle the burning city as he looked down at the destruction of the southern Skibbyen. Touching his helmet bubble, he called in. “Grunleder to Ledevaeg, have reached objective, city heavily damaged, many fires, center destroyed, many people on foot...”
Suddenly someone lobbed a Fireball spell up at the flyers, prompting Ohben’himel to lead his flight upwards to avoid the spells. “Taking ground fire, stand by for identification.” He waved his hands to his subordinates, indicating for them to maintain high altitude, then he talked to his steed. “Sundodger, take us closer to that line of people, there.” He leaned forward to point past the bird’s head at a column of people leaving out a city gate. The giant owl complied without uttering a sound, diving towards them. As the bird zoomed a mere fifty feet above, the flight leader could see that they were High Elf captives tied together, escorted by familiar black armored fiends. Some of the dark warriors shot hand crossbow bolts up at the bird, and one appeared to be motioning to cast a spell.
Ohben’himel saw enough, and urged his mount upwards and to jink. As the bird flapped hard and swung this way and that, a Lightning Bolt spell narrowly missed a wing, causing the feathers to ruffle from static electricity. “A close one, Sundodger! Let us rejoin our friends!” As the giant owl climbed into the night sky, he called in to confirm that Drow have indeed taken Gyneyshehir.
Radica saw the raptor fly overhead, so close that she could clearly make out the saddle harness and the talons tucked away in the white belly feathers. Halka Mal owl rider...we’ve been made! That was fast, let’s see if they are faster than THIS! She raised both of her arms, putting her wrists together while saying an incantation. Her hands glowed blue-white, crackling with electricity. With a thunderclap, a bolt of lightning shot out of her outstretched hands towards the intruder. But the Lightning Bolt spell missed the bird’s furiously flapping wing by a hand’s width as it ascended into the sky.
“Lolth’s midden, that bugger is good! No matter, it will take their ground elements too long to get here, and we’ll be long gone by the time they come to sift through this ash pile. Get the slaves moving, quickly now! You, hurry up with loading those bodies on that wagon! You there, what, you found more rugrats? Those go back to headquarters, unharmed mind you!” She bellowed orders to the Drow soldiers about her, as they hastened to their tasks.
It did not take long for the Barrier Wall garrison to relay the spot report to the capital. The deck officer held his chin with his thumb and forefinger as the report came in. Gods...it is no wonder we were unable to contact them! But no sighting of Quzayshehir...I do not think the Dark Elves have the power to defeat a Skibbyen full of Elves, Viturhimin must have helped them! But why... He stood in silence for but a moment, contemplating, before he snapped off orders. “Notify Veliaat Rohrgrim Bashal about the Nightskins. Update Saadrezam Slesk Bashal and Serrasqer Mundhelm Bashal.”
The Elfin city of the east, Doushehir, had received word from the capital to look out for Quzayshehir.
Owl riders were sent out in shifts, and even ground scout teams went out to nearby high ground. Unfortunately, they were instructed to search far to the west, along the trajectory from the last known position of Viturhimin’s ship-city. That placed the birds nearly halfway between the coastal city and Alfler’Vashqenti, whereas the threat was rapidly closing from several hundred miles to the south.
But fortuitously, there were other communities southwest of Doushehir, and one was the small riverine town of Nehir’limanidir. Atop one of the old-fashioned treehouses the Elves were once renowned for, Sherif Pol’ayr and her mate just happened to be out late, enjoying the star-filled sky from their balcony when they too heard the drumbeat of something breaking the sound barrier overhead. Their sharp eyes managed to see a disc-shaped shadow blotting out starlight as it zipped across the heavens.
“A Skibbyen...here?” said Pol’ayr, rising from her wicker chair. She turned and said, “I have heard nothing about any Skibbyen flying, let alone out here! I wonder if it is Alfler’vashqenti? My love, I must contact the capital and find out...”
“Yes, go on, I will await you here,” said her mate, nodding. He smiled in understanding as he pulled his robes tighter to ward off the night chill.
The Sherif leaned in to his face, touching noses. “I will return shortly.” With that, she took off her robe, letting it fall to the floor, revealing her leather armor. Suddenly she bolted for the railing, grabbing it with both hands, and vaulted over it into the air, twisting gracefully. On her way down, she grabbed a heavy vine, swinging herself onto a platform further down the vast tree.
In the Flag Plot of Alfler’vashqenti, a crystal operator received a message, and his eyes widened. He looked up and shouted, “Daekleder Bashal...we have them!”
The officer in green armor said, “Where?” as he put his hand on the shoulder of one of the plotting specialists seated around the large glowing map of the Elven Nation.
“A ground observer spotted Quzayshehir overflying Nehir’limanidir at supersonic speed...”
The deck officer leaned over the map as the plotter pointed at the riverine settlement. Even before he had to give the order, a straight edge and wax marker had drawn a line from Gyneyshehir to the town, indicating vector. The line pointed right at the eastern Skibbyen. “Doushehir! Alert all commands that Doushehir is the next target!”
Less than a minute later, aboard the Vatishehir, Mundhelm slapped his comm bubble. “Skibsfoorer! Course change...” It was but a minor directional change, as Doushehir lay just north of due east from the capital. But now the Skibbyen, lighter by half than the Quzayshehir due to the jettisoned sides, was closing on the city at a higher speed.
Closer to the action, giant owls and rocs wearing Darkvision goggles departed Alfler’vashqenti in two flocks, one heading eastward towards Doushehir, the other heading south to strike the Drow invasion. Other High Porte units, of Halflings and humans, were alerted. They scrambled to mobilize and head to both destinations. Half the Barrier Wall garrison now departed for Gyneyshehir. The noose was tightening on the conspirators fast.
Yet, aboard the Quzayshehir, now approaching the eastern Skibbyen at the speed of sound, Viturhimin stood, listening to multiple streams of crystal chatter. He was intercepting the communications between all the High Porte elements, even Vatishehir. He glanced at the glowing map on the table, and was satisfied to see that all the Elven forces were neatly plotted, approaching from the west. I am glad that you could make it, Mundhelm...I knew you were a die-hard. And the capital is now left without air power. By the time the Barrier Wall garrison reaches Gyneyshehir, all they will find are ashes. Not even dead bodies. The Dark Elves, if anything, are quick and efficient. And Rohrgrim, you will be a busy Elf tonight...and your son is tied to Mundhelm’s fate...
He turned to one of the crystal specialists. “How is the weather over our objective?”
The operator said, “Overcast up to six thousand meters, Serrasqer Bashal.”
“Outstanding.” Viturhimin showed no concern over the cloud cover that could interfere with his moonbeam attack.
In the Grand Citadel of Alfler’vashqenti, a contingent of a hundred Band of the Pine, crack fighter-mages, stood in formation. Their leader stood in front and saluted, indicating they were ready. Slesk raised a hand in approval. “Remember, your mission is not to engage the Nightskins, but to find their source. Designate your targets, and the Rocs will do the rest. Good fortune to you all.” He lowered his hand, and the green-clad warriors briefly glowed before winking out of sight.
The grand vizier mentally concentrated on sending a Message spell. Ciulthann Ephendil, the Band of the Pine are dispatched to Gyneyshehir.
A deep voice, powerful and awe-inspiring like that of a god, filled his mind in reply. Excellent, Slesk, I leave the matter in your hands. I will depart as soon as we have Viturhimin.
Yes, Ciulthann Ephendil, sent Slesk, instinctively bowing. Straightening, he raised a hand over his head and snapped his fingers once. The grand vizier also glowed for a moment before disappearing. Where once a hundred and one High Elves had stood but a moment before, there remained a darkened empty plaza, the only sound to be heard being the waters of a nearby fountain gurgling.
Over the sleeping city of Doushehir, the twenty thousand foot overcast began swirling, the clouds moving faster and faster as if stirred by a titanic straw. As the storm appeared to develop, an eye opened up in its midst, a shaft of clear sky piercing eighteen thousand feet of Nimbostratus rain clouds.
Aboard the Quzayshehir, a console operator spoke to Viturhimin, “Serrasqer Bashal, the sky has been opened over the city.”
“Very good...open the Lumina ports...now we wait for our...guests...to arrive.” The consul turned to another helmeted staff member. “How close is Mundhelm now?”
“The Vatishehir should have entered the cloud front, Serrasqer Bashal, it should appear at any moment. However, they are running silently, they have not communicated since the last time they contacted the capital an hour ago.”
Viturhimin chuckled. “A shrewd one, that Mundhelm. Perhaps he realized we could hear everything they were saying?” He thought to himself, No communication means they are not coordinating an attack. By now the capital’s air wing should be approaching, and Doushehir’s own birds will be swarming back to protect their roost. Where is the Vatishehir?
As the holes opened on the underside of Quzayshehir, six circles of moonlight played upon the city below. They began converging towards the center of the city, becoming brighter as the beams were focused. Then suddenly the spots went dark.
A masked console operator shouted, “Serrasqer Bashal, the Lumina beams...they have been interrupted!”
“Interrupted? How? I thought the clouds have been cleared.”
“We are checking the sky above, Serrasqer Bashal...wait, the moon...the moon has disappeared!”
“Mundhelm!” exclaimed the consul. “Rotate...” But before he could finish the order, the ceiling of Flag Plot met the floor, smashing everything in the room.
Mundhelm has a talk with the grand vizier Slesk, who sends forces to Gyneyshehir. a High Porte giant owl recon patrol confirms what happened in the southern city. in a small river town to the east, the local Sherif spots the Quzayshehir flying overhead. these pieces are starting to come together in the puzzle of where Viturhimin will strike next!
forward to chapter 47 part 3 of 4
back to chapter 47 part 1 of 4
forward to chapter 47 part 3 of 4
back to chapter 47 part 1 of 4