Usaneri Mountains, entering the Ogil Valley
In his anxiety for his brother, Lord Jeneyeru had forgotten about the two yearling dragons that had put them into this predicament in the first place. Now, he had not a moment to curse himself for the lapse as greenish black body came twisting through the trees, one wing tight against its side, the other slightly skewed by its injury and its spine-ridged tail snaking away into the undergrowth. Gouts of steam churned from its nostrils as it carried its heavily armored head low, approaching with a dragon’s version of stealth on their flank.
The older and bigger dragons got, the less they would hunt or attack on the ground, but a young one like this, probably in its first year out of the wyrm weir, was more dangerous here than in flight. Even its sleek, un-inflated shape and the lack of acidic vapor in its breath were no promise for the heroes in its path.
“Into the trees,” cried Jeneyeru, “Fan out, quickly, but do not run.”
The warning came too late. Whether someone broke and ran, triggering the attack by sudden movement, or whether it was Jeneyeru’s own voice, or simply the dragon’s own readiness — whatever the cause, the beast suddenly shot forward into the group. Hissing scalding steam, it thrashed its body and tail about, laying waste to Lafitte’s crewmen in the middle and back of the line.
Jeneyeru threw out an arm to knock Lotye and Thimble out of the way but then found himself face to face with the toothsome end of the dragon. The stench of fire and acid and rotting meat in the putrefying spittle that dripped from its long teeth seared his face. Then the foul breath was drawn back in as the beast inhaled and began to swell.
— — —
Site of the wreck of Raurugia Rail Lines Train No. 47
With the demons banished back to their cards, the black-clad wizard run off, and the Battle of Train No. 47 apparently well over as the Raurugian armed forces arrived at last, the crisis seemed past. Ruili headed back to where he’d left Y’lanna at more of a jog than a sprint. Even when he heard her shout “Your assistance is required” in strident but still calm and measured tones, he merely called back, “Coming!” and followed the sound to her location.
So it was that he got there just in time to see Y’lanna Sparti, newly arrived in Aeldreth and given into his care, tangled up in cobwebs and being dragged under a large rock by a tiny but well organized work crew.
“Brownies!” he exclaimed as he ran after them.
The leader of the crew, perched on Y’lanna’s chest, raised his spear in a derisive gesture, laughing, as he, his men, and Y’lanna all vanished under the boulder.
Ruili dove for the spot, hearing a splash from below. The opening dropped down into an underground stream. He heard their laughter echoing in the blackness as they floated away, no doubt riding Y’lanna like a raft.
“Y’lanna!” Ruili shouted into the cavern. “Fear not! No matter what occurs, I will find you!”
Now where have I heard that line before? He thought, shrugged, then stuck his head back in to hurl a few obscenities after the kidnappers. He then brushed himself off and went in search of guidance.
He soon found the officer in charge of the military response to the train attack, a pink-faced youth in the silver and flash of the Lyrion Royal Marines. Ruili waved off the barrage of questions, challenges and order that came at him as he walked up to the lad.
“Yes, yes, what-have-you and so forth,” he said, passing his diplomatic passport under the officer’s nose. “I am looking for Brownies. Where might I find some?”
— — —
The waterways of Raurugia, above and below, ran swiftly as befitted the largest land in the Realm of Lyr, God of Waters. The Brownies rode the underground stream with Y’lanna like otters sliding down a cascade, too fast for the Zoneloger to take note of much, even if she had been able to see anything or hear or feel anything more than the water rushing over and around her body and face.
Finally, the slick rock sluice opened out into a wide cavern and the stream poured into a river, fed by more streams from fissures in the stone walls. The Brownies set about paddling with sticks, treating Y’lanna like a canoe in the buoyant netting. They steered for the glow of firelight ahead and arrived at an arching chamber all agleam with lanterns and echoing with water and the chirping, twittering, barking and growling of numerous, unseen animals.
“Come in, come in, hurry,” called a soft, female voice.
The Brownies landed Y’lanna upon a half-submerged flat-bed cart, by which they hauled her out of the water and transferred her on squeaking wooden wheels into a bath house of marble and sparkling waterfalls. Healing herbal incense scented the air, and the rock dome above was lit by countless suspended lanterns among which white moths fluttered.
Two figures knelt by Y’lanna and cut away the cobweb bindings at last.
“Welcome to the Temple of Flidais, Mother of Beasts,” said a radiantly beautiful faerie woman. White gossamer hair fell about her shoulders, and her complexion was like moonlight. She was dressed in furs and feathers, and an astute observer, even in the underground darkness, would have noticed she had the legs of a white doe deer. Behind her, some hiding in shadows, others not, were a host of faerie folk, large and small.
“A Swartsalf,” declared Y’lanna’s captor. “This one’s ransom will buy us weapons and even mercenaries, for sure.”
Meanwhile, the other person offered a hand to help Y’lanna up. He was tall and lean, wrapped in a linen drying robe, fresh from a soak in the temple’s medicinal spring which had sped the healing of his bruised ribs. He smiled at the strange young alien.
“Another captive, I see,” said the identical brother of Lord Ruili, Peino Starhand.