You parry the Guildmaster’s next furious slash, twist to the side, and sidestep. The Guildmaster snarls in rage…and then his eyes widen as he goes one step too far, right over the edge of the Tomb’s roof.
You hear a brief scream, followed shortly thereafter by a very terminal-sounding crunch.
“Ha! Well done,” says Lady Miranda.
You turn, and see something fly overhead.
Griffins, dozens of them. On the back of each rides one of the Cintarra Guard, and you remember that the Prince maintains an elite band of griffin-riding soldiers for dangerous missions. Ankylon rides the lead griffin, sword in his right hand, and dagger in his left, and even as his mount swoops to a landing on the Tomb’s roof, he leaps free and charges into the melee. The sword in his right hand begins to burn with a strange silver fire, and the ghouls cringe away from the light. The Guards land nearby, dismount, and storm into the battle. You see Mulgo among them, laughing maniacally as he lays about with a nail-studded wooden club.
In retrospect, sending Mulgo to Ankylon with Coriolus’s letters was a very good idea. And as you watch Ankylon mow his way through soldiers and ghouls alike, you are very glad you didn’t try to fight him.
In a matter of moments it is over, with the ghouls destroyed or driven off, the soldiers slain or surrendered, and Baron Coriolus standing with his hands open, two Guards holding their blades at his throat. Ankylon stalks in your direction, his sword still flickering with silver fire, his scarred face stern.
“Lady Miranda,” he calls. “Are you injured?”
“No, I am quite all right,” she says. “Thanks to Sidorna and the master thief here.”
Ankylon’s cold eyes flick in your direction, and he almost smiles. “Indeed. He must be a clever fellow. He got away from me, did he not?”
“Quite,” says Lady Miranda. “Indeed, he saved my life at considerable risk to his own. Now, High Captain, if you would be so good as to deal with the Baron?”
“Of course,” says Ankylon. “Baron Coriolus! In the of the Prince, I arrest you for treason, kidnapping, conspiracy against the lawful government of Cintarra, and attempted murder.”
Coriolus sneers, and opens his mouth to answer…and then his face drains of all color.
The wind picks up.
All at once every single griffin begins to shift and look back and forth, some shrieking as if threatened.
And a black shape drops from the sky.
It looks like a great black horse with enormous leathery wings. Fires dance in its eyes and nostrils, outlining the jagged fangs filling its mouth. You recognize the creature as a nightmare, a horror conjured by magicians steeped in the darkest spells. Malureon sits upon the creature’s back, his robes flying in the wind, the black veins beneath his skin throbbing and pulsing.
Coriolus laughs. “My magician! Kill them, I command you! Kill them all, and Lady Miranda shall be yours as…”
Malureon’s eyes narrow, and his shadow billows out like a wind-tossed cloak. It wraps around Coriolus, and the Baron barely has time to scream before the shadow snaps his neck, dropping him to a lifeless heap against the Tomb’s roof.
“Useless idiot,” mutters the elven magician.
The nightmare hovers over Coriolus’s corpse, and Malureon’s mercury-colored eyes shift to Lady Miranda.
“Malureon!” says Ankylon, astonished. “You are still alive after all these centuries? I had thought you perished in the fall of the elven kingdom.”
“Ankylon,” says Malureon. “We are of the same kindred. And for that, I shall give you this chance. Give Lady Miranda to me, leave Cintarra, and your life shall be spared.”
“What is the meaning of this?” says Ankylon.
“Have you not realized it?” says Malureon. “Lady Miranda Aventine is the last descendant of King Aventine, he who bound the Great Dragon in its sleep below this city. By the shedding of her blood, I shall awaken the Great Dragon, and loose it upon the world once more.”
“Are you mad?” shouts Sidorna. “That would…that would destroy the entire city! Tens of thousands of people would die. And a Great Dragon would not stop there. Everything within a thousand miles would be laid waste!”
“Yes!” hisses Malureon. “I remember when Cintarra was an elven city, a city of music, of light, of beauty and art. And I remember when the elven kingdom stretched from the sunrise to the sunset, and my wife and children lived in eternal harmony with others of our kind. And then the lesser races came. And now look at Cintarra! A stinking cesspit, a slum filled with human vermin and orcish maggots and dwarven rodents! No!” His voice rises to a scream of fury. “I will see the world burn rather than allow this travesty to continue. You will burn! You all will burn!”
“The elven kingdom is lost!” says Ankylon. “It can never be restored. And will you slay tens of thousands, drown your hands in innocent blood, all to stay your pain?”
“You would stand with these maggots against one of your own race?” says Malureon. He draws himself up, hands hooked into claws, his shadow circling like a hunting hawk. “Then perish with them!”
“Take him down!” shouts Ankylon.
The Guards, and even a few of the Baron’s surviving men, raise their crossbows and fire. Some of the bolts strike the nightmare, and bounce harmlessly away. A dozen slam into Malureon’s chest and stomach. But black slime, not blood, issues from his wounds, and the bolts dissolve into ash. Malureon screams an incantation, thrusting his hands to the sky, and dazzling green fire blazes around his fingers, throwing stark shadows behind most of the soldiers and the griffins.
And the shadows come to life and attack. The Tomb’s roof dissolves into chaos as men and griffins struggle against their own shadows. Malureon gestures again, and his shadow shoots out, flying past you, and wraps around the Lady Heir like a rope.
“Miranda!” shouts Sidorna, but the nightmare takes to the sky again, Malureon dragging Miranda behind him like a fish caught upon a hook.
You brace yourself for the attack of your shadow, but nothing happens. You realize that you and Sidorna were standing at the edge of the Tomb’s roof, and were too far away for Malureon’s spell to effect you.
“Jaeger!” says Sidorna, pointing at one of the griffins. The griffin, likewise, seems to have been far enough away to escape Malureon’s spell. “I know where that magician is going to cast the ritual! He has to do it from the top of the Red Dragon Tower in the Prince’s palace. The Great Dragon is imprisoned underneath it. We have to take that griffin and stop him!”
She’s right, but you hesitate. The scepter in your left hand started to vibrate the instant Malureon cast his spell, and you might be able to use it to command the enchanted shadows. And then Ankylon and the Guard would be free to help you against Malureon. Which would be good, as you wouldn’t last very long against Malureon in a direct fight.
But if you delay too long, Malureon will kill Lady Miranda and finish his ritual – and you suspect that would be very, very bad.