Turning the Tide "Look to your flank!", shouted a mercenary from somewhere amongst the trees of the western woods of Yew. Lord Maplestone heard the words but kept his eye on the wavering daemon, teetering on the brink of collapse as the nefarious creature's healing flames contested against Maplestone's icy strikes upon it's thoughts. He did not see the arc of the halberd until it was almost too late. At the moment he leaned, the blow crashed against his breastplate, carrying to the ground. His faithful ostard Hopscotch, looking thin and emaciated from the grueling toil of battle after battle, stood dazed and hobbled. Crossing swords defensively before him, arcane magic flowed through the blades to deflect the blow. Then with words of power they channeled the magic flowing from Maplestone's hands and spirit into energetic whirlwinds drawn from the ether. The first spell fizzled out in a harmless puff, but the second tore the air with a powerful vortex that crashed in upon the frothing madman wearing blood-red plate and a general's insignia. The general ignored the vortex tearing away at his body until Maplestone dazed him momentarily with a loud whistle through a heartwood flute. As Maplestone scrambled back and summoned a second vortex, the general now focused his attention on one of the magical storms as if Maplestone no longer existed. Then with a pat of poor Hopscotch's leathery neck, Maplestone remounted the ostard and stepped back to survey the battlefield. The daemons were falling quickly and the remaining Felucian exiles were slowly falling, though their long years of that savage land had evidently left them with reserves of endurance that awed the local militia and mercenaries. But they fought without strategy, merely fury ... fortunate since had they any wits it is unlikely the defenders could have hope of prevailing. At the center of the city, the air began to twist and quiver like a funhouse mirror. "It comes!", shouted one of the guards in terror, knowing well that behind the invaders were the masters of the portal they used to cross over, the true generals, creatures of such power that they made mighty drakes of Destard quake like hatchling lizard men. Only once the armies of the shadowlords had failed would pride and anger provoke these crimson dragons to take the field in person. Maplestone sighed deeply and readied one of Woodwalker's enchanted apples, the only defense he knew against the mind-numbing horror the crimsons provoked. But, as the last general fell to the defenders, the air stilled instead of tearing. Silence fell upon the town and hesitantly healers emerged to tend the shocked and frightened citizens whose minds had again been invaded with shadows of cowardice, hatred and falsehood. * * * "Was it you?", asked Maplestone to Lord Salthook as members of the high council of the Myth and Peace Lords briefly crossed paths by Minoc Moongate while the guild members gathered to compare news with one of Sherry's messengers. The crusty old craftsman shook his head. "Nay, the magic those dragons wield to move armies across planes is beyond anything we could hope to block - they cut through the teleport barriers as if they didn't exist. But Woodwalker reports that the siege of Moonglow has also lifted. And the dragon that was holding Vesper is nowhere to be found." "We haven't won by force", observed Lord Sergonar who had been organizing supply lines and training far from the front lines. "I've seen no sign of any drop in their numbers and we'd failed to break any sieges in the past two weeks. I sent word to King Casca that for whatever reason it appears the crimson dragons have abandoned the enemy." "Dissent amongst the ranks?", asked Lord Tempest, still half-disguised as an enemy soldier. "Or something new?" "Unknown", stated Sergonar. "But I need to get to New Haven - I heard that Clainin has awoken from his long coma and need to see if I can be any help." "You're too late", replied Tempest. "He's gone - I don't know where." * * * "Hello", greeted Lord Maplestone, riding up to the figure at the edge of Yew Abbey. "Has Clanin been brought here?", he asked without waiting for a return greeting. As he dismounted and gave Hopscoth an apple, he noticed there had been no response. He turned to see that he had not been talking to a monk, but rather a silver-blue clad lady with a strangely aloof look, examining Maplestone as if he were something new. "I'm sorry, I don't believe we've met?", he asked. Fayaxion gave no reply that Maplestone remembered hearing, but he felt suddenly confident that he knew that was her name. He felt a strange tingling sensation in the back of his mind, calming, uplifting and he reflexively looked down at his pocket to make sure he had not just sampled a fermented apple. When he looked back up, he heard music, flute sounds clear and crisp, first melodies he had himself played, then a slight variation of it, richer and deeper than anything he had ever achieved. He looked down at the flute fastened his belt, checking that it was still there. Suddenly he became aware that he was no longer alone. Others were gathering on the grounds between the Abbey and the winery, mercenary commanders, captains of the guard and even officers of the allied Felucian factions. He bowed to Fayaxion and took his leave, quickly discovering that Casca had called a gathering of all Britannia's allies. Maplestone made himself useful opening gates and exchanging words with several lords and ladies of great houses, but it appeared the summons had come too quickly for any other members of the Myth and Peace Lords to hear. The din of swords and cheers drowned out the extact words Casca spoke, but the gist was clear as the makeshift army readied themselves and followed Casca's gate to a staging area and quickly on again to battle. To dark and dusty halls the heroes charged with a wall of swords and spells crashing through once-smug legions of liches and balrons. Maplestone, swept up in the tide of battle attempted to heal, to strike, to block stray undead from reaching where healers tended the gravely injured. He was still far back from the front lines when a thundering crash of shattering crystal echoed through the halls. By the time he reached the inner sanctum, the battlefield had cooled, been scoured and the victors mostly withdrawn. He examined the crimson pillar on which the crystal had rested, wishing he had Woodwalker or Salthook present to make sense of it. "Something's not right here", Maplestone muttered to himself. "This isn't what let the crimsons ..." He's words trailed off and he felt a nervous rush of adrenalin. He hurried back to one of the last gates lingering open back to Yew Abbey just in time to see a triumphant Casca and his cheering supporters overshadowed by a great crimson form larger than any he had seen before, rearing with disdain. Visions of Sergonar's description of the bloody royal council hall welled up in Maplestone's heart. He fumbled for his flute, but felt like he was going in slow motion. Out of the corner of the crowd, Maplestone's eyes met Fayaxion's and felt a wave of calm wash over him. She then turned and with a step moved threateningly towards the crimson Synak. As she moved, the crowd was pushed back, her hair and cloths flared with gleaming light. Then with a flash, there was a new form, metallic and brilliant and equal in size and majesty to Synak's fearful shadow. The two gigantic dragons faced off in the midst of the crowd in clashing auras of fire and ice. Harsh words were exchanged followed by thunderous spells and an implosion of wind that appeared to move their battle elsewhere. Maplestone stood stunned, uncertain of what to say or do, uncertain what he had just seen. Casca was nowhere to be seen. Warlords scattered quickly to report or gather forces. To the side a merchant shouted offers to allow access to one of the crystal shards ... if anyone was willing to part with a king's ransom.