Cassie awoke to the subtle hum of voices. Feeling well rested, she sat up and
stretched. The voices stopped, and she turned to see Morgan and Dewrder looking
at her from across a large oak table.
She smiled at them and stood up. "What's the
plan of action?" she asked. "When do we march?"
They looked at each other and then looked back
at her. Sensing a problem, she looked at them suspiciously. "What happened?"
Neither one of them met her gaze, though Morgan
tried. "The army we were promised doesn't exist," said Morgan slowly, "Your
abduction was planned by the mayor Lintereg and Pravus. The troops we were promised
were used as a lure. There aren't seven hundred, there are only about seventy-five,
and they are in pretty poor condition. I guess when you're in league with Pravus,
you don't need troops for protection."
Cassie sighed. The troops had been too good
to be true. Now they would be outnumber 2 to 1 by Pravus's massive army.
"We'll have to make do with what we have. I
won't take Lintereg's troops, they are worthless to me. We will have to turn
elsewhere for help." Cassie stared resolutely out the window for a while, and
then spoke again. "Get the army going, we need to make up for lost time."
"My lord! It was not my fault! She returned
early this morning with the spotted Zafara. I had nothing to do with it. The
one who took her is the one to blame. I…"
"How dare you accuse my warrior of being at
fault!" Lintereg cringed as the black Uni glared at him, eyes burning with hate
and contempt. "I would tend to believe that weak-minded scum such as yourself
would be to blame instead of a cunning WereLupe like the one I sent out."
"My Lord, You must believe me. I had nothing
to do with her coming back! I thought I would never see her again. She had been
successfully taken! Her captain told me!"
"And I supposed he learnt of your alliance."
The words were spoken with a cold malice, "so you snuck away after he left to
"Y-y-yes m-my l-l-lord." Lintereg cowered pathetically
at the Uni's feet quivering in terror as his master glared. "H-he broke my mirror,
so I had to come to you to show that I was still your servant." The shaking
Aisha gulped down his fear and attempted a weak bow.
"I do not know why I bother with filth like
you. You are of no more use to me. Guards!" Lintereg let out a wail of terror
as two black clad Grarrl grabbed his arms and wrenched him away. "Some of my
archers need practice with moving targets. I'm sure you will be a great help
to them today." He laughed as Lintereg's cries faded. All within hearing shuddered
as the malevolent laughter rose into the sky.
Cassie shivered slightly despite the pleasant
temperature of the room. A chill had run up her spine for no apparent reason.
Shaking herself she stood and went to the window.
"When will we be ready to leave?" She asked
anxiously gazing out across the landscape at a small flock of birds that had
bust from the forest. "We need to go as soon as we can."
"We are almost ready miss," a young ixi informed
her, "We will leave in twenty or so minutes."
"Good," Cassie said distractedly. She was worried.
By the time the army was ready to leave, Cassie
had worked herself into a state of agitation. She kept looking over her shoulder
as they walked away from the village. She could feel Pravus pursuing them, and
she didn't like it. It was like having some evil thing breathing foully down
"Morgan, we need to go faster. We have to get
to the plains first, and we can't let him catch us." Morgan saw the urgency
in her stormy eyes and nodded without saying anything. She knew something he
didn't, and he wasn't about to argue.
The pace quickened and the army made good time
across the land. Cassie couldn't shake the fear that ate at the edge of her
mind. It was slowly devouring her thoughts.
She shook her head and fought back at the little
monster in her mind. She was stronger than that. She couldn't let that take
over her senses. She must remain there for her troops.
Morgan trudged alongside Cassie, sensing her
fear and feeling worried. He jumped slightly when she finally spoke, "Morgan,
what do you think is going to happen once we reach the plains?" He looked at
her, and for the first time saw shadowed fears lurking behind her usually confident
"I don't really know," he said, realizing his
own fears were probably far more apparent than hers had been. Ever since they
had started out on this quest, there had been a suppressed terror gnawing at
the back of his mind. It had been intensifying and struggling to break loose
as they neared their destination.
"I want to believe that we are going to be victorious."
Cassie words broke through his troubled thoughts, "But I think Pravus is too
strong. There is no way that I can defeat him. He is too strong for me. How
can I fulfill that prophesy the Kau made in Emrallis, if I can defeat him?"
Cassie struggled to fight back the tide of panic
that was welling up inside her chest. She would have to fights Pravus and her
troops would have to fight a powerful army that was twice the size of them.
It seemed hopeless.
Isilme hissed gently in her ear as if she could
perceive Cassie's feeling of hopeless defeat. Cassie tilted her head towards
the Magtile and felt her soft scales brush against her cheek. It was amazing
to her how a creature graced with such beauty and intelligence could still possess
lethal venom. She started as a thought struck her.
"Isilme, are there other Reptilliors and Magtiles
in this area?" The milky serpent hissed and nodded. "Would it be possible for
you to gather an army of venomous reptiles." Morgan looked at Cassie with astonishment.
He could see where she was going with this and it was a brilliant idea.
"Yesss. I could easssily convince othersss
to join usss. Many creaturesss would be proud to ssserve the ssstorm." Cassie
smiled, all traces of apprehension gone from her eyes.
"I mussst warn you though. The reptilian
race isss a proud one. Tread lightly or risssk gaining another enemy." "Thank
you Isilme. I'll take that into consideration. For now, get as many recruits
as you can and have them talk to me. We can use them for a bit of guerilla warfare."
Pravus was in a fine mood. His army was moving
quickly north, and he had gotten rid of a particularly annoying servant while
training his troops. Life was good.
"It is about to get better too," he mused to
himself surveying the land he would soon rule.
A small, but prosperous, settlement lay atop
the hill to the left of the army. The citizens scurried around busily doing
their daily tasks, blissfully unaware of the evil dictator who was watching
them with interest. Pravus grinned and chuckled to himself as he observed the
townsfolk. This would be his first victory.
"Halt!" The order was carried out with instantaneous
efficiency. That black flood looked to their leader awaiting the orders that
were sure to follow.
"We need all the supplies we can get. This little
village seems to have more than they need. Take it all." A harsh cheer rose
from the throats of the evil hoard. When it came to pillaging, these vile creatures
had it down to a science.
"March!" With the same deadly efficiency the
black tide flowed in upon the unwary citizens. It was only a matter of hours
before the town had been leveled to no more than a ruin of smoke, ash, and bones.
"We come to ssserve you missstressss."
Cassie acknowledged the coal black Magtile with a nod and a smile. The Magtile
gracefully uncoiled and swayed before Cassie in the serpentine equivalent of
"I am called Issssirith misstresss, and am
in charge of thisss army," the Magtile hissed, eyes glinting coldly, and
"Your service is much appreciated Lord Isirith.
I am pleased to have made this alliance." Saying this, Cassie bowed back to
the snake commander. She had done right.
Seeing that she did not wish to order him around,
Isirith looked at her with more respect. "I am glad to sssee that you respect
our race and itssss independence. I will be much more willing to help you now
that we are alliesss, not ssslavesss."
Cassie breathed a silent sigh of relief. She
had been worried about the negotiations with the snakes after being warned by
Isilme about the reptilian pride. This had gone much better that she had expected.
"I have a favor to ask of you and your people,"
Cassie said cautiously. Isirith nodded and waited for her to continue. "I was
hoping that your army could consent to engaging in a little hit and run combat.
Your people are perfectly suited to attack quickly and escape with little or
no damage done to you. These kinds of tactics could slow Pravus and decrease
his numbers, while we remain unharmed."
The Magtile sat pondering her request, his eyes
glittering. Then he hissed softly and nodded.
"We will do as you ssssuggesst. Thisss plan
isss a good one. I will lead my troopsss out immediately." Cassie bowed
to the snake and watched him slither away towards the mass of scaly bodies gathered
to the right of them.
"That worked well," Morgan said to Cassie as
they watched the writhing group disperse into the grass.
"Yeah it did," Cassie muttered distractedly.
"I only hope it will be enough to help us."
Pravus felt very content. His troops had gained
many new supplies from the village they had plundered and were now relaxing
in a glade near the ruins of the once thriving town. He was not worried about
making good time now. He had already begun to conquer, and his troops would
move faster if they were well rested and fed.
He leaned against the trunk of a slender sapling
and breathed in the acrid scent of burnt wood and flesh. He was a real vanquisher
now. Agrestis was as good as his.
Suddenly, several cries of pain cut through his
lazy reverie. He wanted to pay it no mind, but was forced to open his eyes when
one of his captains came and said, "Wake up, milord. Something is happening!"
Pravus opened an eye and surveyed the Pteri indolently.
It was obviously frightened to have woken him, and did not know what to expect.
"Report soldier," said Pravus idly.
"The troops are falling left and right. They
are being bitten by poisonous snakes while they rest. I have never seen snakes
act like this before sir. They are like an army bent on destroying us."
"The Storm," Pravus growled under his breath
as he rose to his full height. He swept off to look down on his troops.
Pandemonium had broken loose among them and the
dead lay scattered about the clearing. The ground was rippling as a sea of slithering
bodies swept across it towards the rest of the troops.
"No, This cannot be happening," Pravus bellowed
to no one in particular.
"Sir," whimpered the anxious captain, "The losses
we will have sustained today are going to be considerable, but we will still
have the… the Dynin." The Pteri gasped as if the mere mention of the word had
taken a lot out of him.
"You are right. An army of five hundred Dynin
is worth far more than nine hundred of your worthless scum. I will summon more
to replace the filth that has been lost. Get the remaining men to start marching.
They don't march with me and I will kill them long before the snakes have their
chance. The vile reptiles will feel my wrath before long too. Now be gone!"
The Pteri bowed and hurried down to move out the remaining troops.
The snakes had done their job well. Out of the
nine hundred that had originally settled down in the clearing, only four hundred
or so remained. Before Pravus had a chance to exact his revenge on the serpents
though, they had disappeared as if they never had existed.
Pravus's fine mood had gone. He was now in a
towering rage and needed something, or someone, to take his anger out on. He
would find the Storm and remove her from his way once and for all now. She had
gone farther than was wise, and would feel his fury slowly and infinitely painfully.
Cassie received the report from Isirith with
delight. They had cut his army almost in half with one swift attack. It was
unreal. She thanked the serpentine captain and planned another attack with him.
They would need to diminish Pravus's army as much as possible before they had
any hope of defeating him.
She also received the news of Pravus's attack
on the innocent village. It angered her to no end that he had destroyed an entire
village just for the fun of it. It would be a good thing for all when Pravus
was purged from the land.
One of her captains came to inform her that they
were only a day's march form the northern plains. She was relieved to hear this
because the time she had left, according to the prophesy, was running out. They
had been traveling a week since they had left Emrallis, and she only had one
left before it was too late.
That night Cassie looked up at the moon. It shone
magnificently in the blue-black velvet of the night sky. It was nearly full.
She sighed hoping fervently that this would not be the last time the moon shone
this size over a free and healthy land.
She went to sleep that night feeling sad and
hopeless. Her chances of defeating Pravus seemed very slim indeed, and her chances
of coming out of the conflict alive seemed even more unlikely.
That night, she had another dream. She was,
as always, on the mesa above the village of Quievi. The fresh clean air that
blew from the storm ruffled her fur, and she breathed in its rich fragrance.
From the plateau, she could see across the whole
land to where her army was camped. She could also see a dark place on the landscape
that she assumed was Pravus's army. A column of smoke marked the grave of the
town Pravus had destroyed.
Her anger at seeing it rose freshly in her, and
she wanted nothing more than to rid the land of Pravus's vile presence.
She turned to the storm cloud and waited for
the instructions that she usually received from the cloud, but the familiar
voice did not rumble across the fields as it had before.
Confused, she looked deeper into it and saw those
eyes that she had become accustomed to seeing, but they didn't shine with mighty
brilliance any more. Instead they stared back at her consumed with deep sorrow.
It was painful to look at them.
"What does this mean?!" she shouted to the massive
thunderhead that had begun to diminish in size and power. Her only answer was
a gentle rumble of thunder as the cloud shank and faded away.
As the cloud vanished, the sky went dark. The
sun shone, but through a haze of smoke and ash. The land was bathed in a ghastly
red light. It looked like the earth was bleeding from many wounds.
Cassie looked across the land in horror as a
black tide moved across it. She saw her band of soldiers standing ready in the
northern plains, ready to die trying to stem this flow of evil.
She watched aghast as the two armies met. She
could hear the clash of metal as if she were there, and could smell the dust
and blood. She saw Morgan trying to fight off two brutal Grarrl, and then being
thrown to the ground by a vicious blow. She saw Lana and Anshi fighting side
by side against a mass of dark shapes. She saw creatures falling all around
her, and in the midst of it all, she saw Pravus laughing and enjoying the bloodshed.
This is what would come of Agrestis if she failed
to face him and his brutal horde. The death and destruction would sweep the
land devouring all in its path.
The next morning, Cassie awoke feeling exhausted.
She hadn't slept soundly all night, and the images in her dream were disturbing
her. She kept seeing Morgan being thrown aside and lying motionless on the ground.
Her nose still felt filled with the reeking stench of death and blood.
Morgan noticed that change that had come over
her since the previous night. Her eyes with dulled from lack of sleep, but they
were also haunted by some unknown vision. He walked over to her with the intent
of offering comfort, but stopped when she looked at him.
"What happened?" Morgan asked shocked at the
pain in her gaze. Cassie hesitated before speaking.
"I… I had another dream last night." Morgan
looked at her, unsure why a dream would shake her up this badly. From what he
knew of her, it would have to be something very serious.
"Was it more instructions from Agrestis?" She
winced slightly when he mentioned Agrestis, and this confused him all the more.
"I dreamt of Agrestis last night, but it was
not like the other dreams." She went on to explain the rest of the dream to
him, and Morgan realized why she was so disturbed by it.
"That sounds awful!" he exclaimed when she finished.
"Do you think it means we are destined to fail?"
"No," Cassie replied with some certainty, "I
think what I saw is what will happen if I don't take a stand against Pravus.
The land will fall. I think last night; I saw the silencing of the storm."
Morgan shivered at the familiar phrase. "We
still have a week left before the time from the prophesy runs out. That's plenty
"The prophesy said that if the shadow was not
driven out by then than the storm would definitely be silenced, but it could
happen before then." Cassie paused for a second before continuing. "If I'm not
strong enough to beat Pravus, than all that could happen before the twelfth
moon shines. If he kills me before I can destroy him, then it could happen sooner
"Cassie, don't say things like that!" Morgan
said looking at her desperately. "You will defeat Pravus and save us all. I
have no doubt about that."
She looked back at him sadly. "Thanks for your
confidence, Morgan. I need all of that I can get."
Morgan watched her as she stood up and walked
away. It tore at him to see her so broken. That dream had dimmed her spirit
and shattered her courage. He had to do something to help. She needed to become
the vivacious Zafara he had joked and laughed with a few short weeks ago.
With this in mind, he went to talk to Dewrder.
The old Lupe was seated on a cot looking over a chart of battle maneuvers. He
was so absorbed in this that he started slightly when Morgan cleared his throat
to announce his presence.
"Dewrder, we need to do something for Cassie.
She is cracking under all this pressure, and it is draining her of that life
that she had such an abundance of at one time." Morgan was clearly distraught
by this, and Dewrder listened concernedly to his words. He cared about the little
Zafara like a father would for his daughter, even though he had only known her
a few short days. She had that effect on people.
"I have an idea. Tonight, once we get to the
Plains, we can throw her a party. From what I know of Cassie, being surrounded
by cheerful pets will lift her spirits. She likes seeing others happy."
Morgan nodded. "That is a good idea. The only
problem is she cares more for the well-being of her army far beyond what she
cares for herself. We should throw the party with her in mind, but don't let
her know it's for her. Make it seem like something that we are doing for the
troops in order to give them a good time before the battle."
Dewrder saw the wisdom in this and agreed. "Tonight
The trip across the land to the plains was uneventful.
Isirith returned to Cassie around midday and informed her that another hundred
or so of Pravus's troops had been picked off. This information caused her to
smile, but failed to bring light back to her eyes.
Cassie sighed when they reached the plains. They
had obviously reached them first, and that would give them time to relax a little
before the battle. The captains gave the order to set up camp, and Cassie wandered
aimlessly about thinking about what was to come. Because of this, she didn't
notice Morgan and Dewrder setting up a large tent.
Cassie didn't notice a lot of other things that
afternoon either. She failed to sense the excitement of the troops as they received
the news of the upcoming party. She missed seeing Anshi and Lana decked out
in large white aprons. She probably wouldn't have noticed the party at all if
Morgan hadn't mentioned it to her.
"We're putting on a party for the troops. Are
you coming?" She looked up at him disoriented.
"What?" she said with confusion. It was obvious
she hadn't heard a thing he had said.
"There's going to be a party. You know great
food, a few speeches, the works." Cassie's brain cleared and comprehension dawned.
"Oh, right. I'm sorry. I've been in a daze all
day. I think that dream got to me more than I wanted it to," Cassie said apologetically.
Morgan smiled as her face once again showed a glimmer of its original light.
The party turned out to be just the thing Cassie
needed. She talked and laughed with some of the troops, and even started a small
war by hitting Morgan full in the face with a spoonful of custard.
Dewrder watched laughing as industrial quantities
of food became airborne between the two tables that had been set up. Cassie
had been given back her old spark, and it was a relief to see her glowing with
life. Her fiery spirit had once again been rekindled.
The war finally ended when Morgan, Anshi, and
Lana ganged up on Cassie and doused her with a pot of the same custard she had
begun the fight with. Laughter rang throughout the camp, and all seemed well.
None of them knew what the next day would bring, and frankly, none of them cared.
To be continued…