22 Almsberth 459
Another trumpet sounded, two quick bursts to carry orders into the castle. The firestorm raged to either side, and Shalosha felt the heat sliding across her skin. The stink of human soldiers and sweat was near to overwhelming. With her soleil palancis bodyguard, the elven princess hovered several feet over the heads of her phalanx of archers. Ragesian soldiers flowed by to either side, forming up in ranks near the entrance to the Sindairi fortress. Her own forces purported themselves well, with a stoicism that only seasoned elves could muster. They were a long way from home, and no one trusted the Ragesians.
Another trumpet sounded from behind them, a half-mile or more along the causeway. General Magdus’s primary force was on the move. Shalosha’s pretty features screwed up in an almost human gesture of consternation; she and the general were allies for this particular mission, but Magdus had yet to accede to any further strategy of complicity. Shalosha knew the man was ambitious, and knew that he hated the empress nearly as much as any man could… but there were limits to ambition, and if war created an environment of opportunities, it also reminded men of their mortality. Shalosha shuddered… that was one of her father’s adages, but when he said it, there was always something sadistic about it.
A sudden shower of fire and stone exploded from a point several dozen meters above the castle entrance. As if propeled by an enormous catapult, some sort of flying vessel shot from the newly formed opening in the castle rock and flung itself along the top of the canyon. Ragesian soldiers had only moments to respond, and shouts erupted the length of the column. Raised fingers and blades followed the course progress of the flying palanquin, and more than a few arrows flew in pursuit. Shalosha was proud to note that her own men were better trained; bows were raised, but no one fired without an order from the princess.
The golden sled was carrying a half dozen or more souls away from the castle at speed, and Shalosha didn’t doubt for an instant that the Torch of the Burning Sky was with them.
Ordering her bodyguard to keep pace, Shalosha rose into the air on the wings of her magic and gave chase, quickly closing the distance with the flying sleigh. As she grew near, one of the vessel’s crew moved to the stern of the craft, the better to intervene should she grow too near. The man did not fit the description she had of the mysterious Stormborn, but he was tall and stately nonetheless, and the weapon he brandished was without doubt an artifact of fey origin.
“I would speak with the Stormborn!” she shouted, struggling to be heard above the wind of their passage. The man shook his head. “Please!” she continued, “I am not in league with these men, but for the need to keep the Coaltongue’s treasure from the hand of the empress!”
The man seemed to consider, raising his voice at last and signaling her to keep her distance.
“Then come to us in Seaquen,” he shouted, “and we shall see!”
Any further conversation was lost as a massive golden drake burst free from the castle behind them and immediately gave chase. Shalosha blinked, unable to comprehend how such a beast could come to be here in the accursed place. Her bodyguard drew near, insisting that they break pursuit. As she and her companion retreated toward the canyon below, the dragon set a steady course on the heels of the strange little airship. Shalosha prayed that they would reach Seaquen at all, should she have any opportunity to continue with her mission.
Eventually leaving their pursuer behind, the party left the area of Castle Korstull and the fiery maelstrom which surrounded it and flew southward until the magic of the palanquin was drained. In the hills of southern Sindaire, the heroes make camp, preparing to return to Seaquen on the morrow.