It has been ten years since the cataclysm that destroyed the lives of the Elven had occurred. The explosion of Luclin had set their forest ablaze, forcing them to flee to Butcherblock Mountains to survive in small farming communities. Several small towns have arisen around the few farmable areas on the upper plains of the Butcherblock Mountains region. One such town, The Upper Glenn's had several master artisans that had discovered their talents had new levels of demand. One particular fellow, a carpenter by the name of Gregson found he had more work than he could handle. He was also forever short on wood and apprentices to work with and teach.
After dealing with this situation for several years, he finally determined the only way to obtain what he needed; both apprentices and wood would be to see the Captain in charge of the town's security. He was not sure how this meeting would go due to one of his encounters with her some years earlier.
The knock at the door was a welcome interruption to Captain Arrowmark; her daily grind of never ending paperwork and decisions that just had to be made by her were slowly driving her insane. "Come," she barked in a tight voice.
The door opened and her assistant stuck her head in, "There is a Mister Gregson here to see you about the shortage of available building materials ma'am."
Tamalain sighed wearily, "Very well Maggie, send him on in."
Gregson entered the office and tried to put on a brave face. "Ma'am, I know this is a bother, but think I know how we can obtain enough lumber to continue building the homes and items needed for the rest of the town."
"And where is this lumber Mister Gregson?"
"In our old home Captain, The Greater Faydark forest valley. The smoke has cleared on the upper levels and the trees are showing some signs of recovery. There is so much downed wood that we can harvest easily if it has not rotted to badly yet. Just in the area around the old Upper Pass village Crater..." he stopped when he saw the look of pain on her face. "I know Miss Tama, I miss them too."
She looked up at him seriously for the first time. "I do know you, don't I? Gregson, I thought I recognized you." Tamalain got up from her desk and gave him a firm hug, "How has that mouthy son of yours been doing of late? I heard that he had finally found a wife a few years ago."
"Yes, he is married and no longer mouthy. He has two kids of his own that have taken over the mouthy part. His wife Tilly has him well in hand," he replied with a grim smile on his face.
"Gregson, you have no idea how good it is to see somebody I knew from back then. My parents, my little brother Wayne, Elder, The Green brothers, we lost all of them on the first days of sky fall." She returned to her chair and turned away to hide her tears and leafed through a stack of folders until she found the one she needed. "What you're asking is already being planned. We have found several others that survived from my fathers wood clearing groups and they are just about ready to make a trip into the upper regions to map out the best routes and begin a hauling effort on several medium sized trees that are burned and dead, but sound and still standing. One of them believes the smoke and heat may have killed the parasites and insects that would have ruined the wood."
"Since you have this idea as well, I will send a letter with you to Grey Forrester to be included. How does that sound."
Gregson looked shocked at the speed things were moving. He had come with a simple idea only to find out it was already planned and ready to go at a moments notice. "That will be, well, great I guess. I need to get home and tell my wife and pack and close up the shop..."
While he was quietly listing what he needed to do, Tamalain wrote up a fast note for Gray to accept Gregson on the team. A carpenter would be able to judge what wood was good and what was not usable. "Calm down Gregson. Here is the letter of recommendation for the expedition. Understand this though, the reports from deeper in are not promising at all. The Orcs and Undead have been fighting an all out war in several areas between the Loping Plains Pass and the Orcs Tunnel."
"I understand ma'am, we really only need to collect from the edges at first, not deeper in. The further you go, the bigger the tree's tended to be."
"Take that up with Gray. I hate to cut you off, but I am buried in papers here and would love nothing more than to lead this mission myself."
"Yes ma'am, and Tama? Take some time off. I would suggest finding a drawknife and whipping out a new bow just for the hell of it, or go to the gym to work out some of the anger I can see under that calm expression you put on for show."
Tamalain looked at him and smiled sadly. "Now those are wonderful ideas. Thank you for the visit and advise Master Gregson and good luck on this endeavor."
After he left the office she stacked the papers and looked at them thinking how easy it would be to make them flash into ash's. No, I can't do that, all these papers needed to be read, signed and sent back out approved or not approved. She had become what she hated, a paper pusher. "Maggie, come in here for a moment please." She called to her chief assistant.
The door opened and Maggie stuck her head in. Tamalain wondered if she had a body behind the head, as that is just about all she ever saw of her was her head. "Come in Maggie, I need to ask a few questions."
"Yes ma'am." Maggie was worried, this was how jobs started and tended to end. "What do you need to know ma'am."
"I am curious about the paper work load I receive to sign off on. Is this the filtered amount or the entire daily amount coming into the office I receive? Some of this stuff needs to be going to other departments of the command staff, not coming to me first."
"Ma'am, nobody is sure what is supposed to go where, so it all comes here."
"Here is what needs to happen, take the empty table at the side in the front office, set a "In" and an "Out" box for each department. As folks bring in the forms, they will be instructed to place the forms in the "In" box of the section they are for, and to collect and deliver anything in the "Out" box to the proper section. If anybody gives you, no better yet, I will put a bloody looking sword over the baskets and a sign, "Give us and flak and you are next." How does that sound."
"That sounds like it might work Ma'am, all I need to do is look at each pile and send out what does not belong here. Yes, that will work, and I love the sword idea. I will get right on it."
Not yet, here is the stamp, use it. I am taking the rest of the day off to go to the gym to burn off this sudden rage I feel building inside of me. I don't know why I haven't thought of this before; it is like my head has suddenly cleared from a fog and I can think and feel again for the first time in years."
"Very good ma'am, have pleasant afternoon," said Maggie without batting an eye. As she stood up to leave and Tamalain saw that she did have a body. She seemed a bit passed her second century and time was slowly catching up with her. She rather sagged from the lack of exercise Tamalain thought.
Tamalain stood up and stretched, looked down at herself and blanched. She found that she has a small paunch of fat on her belly she had never seemed to notice before. She felt her arms and they felt softer than she recalled. Even her breast seemed to have, horror of horrors at her young age of just twenty six, a faint sag to them.
She cleaned up her desk, put the ink, quills, and stamps away, and then she was out the door without another word. She went straight back to her quarters and went through her clothes hoping to find something other than leather armor. No luck in that search, I need to go cloths shopping, she thought grimly. She took off the armor, slipped an undress tunic on, and headed out to the tailoring shop to see if they could supply some good solid cloth shorts and shirts to workout and run in. As she dressed to go out, she noticed a mark on the inside of her left forearm. When she moved into the sunlight at the window to get a better look, part of the mark seemed to fade away. As it faded, she suddenly became aware of her mana pool without having to think about it.
A blocking sigil, she thought. I was being magically controlled and sedated by somebody, and that somebody has the name of Jordan Trueshot. He dies, not right away, but he will pay for this one day, I will personally see to that. The question now is, why is the sigil failing, only the person that placed it can erase it. I will get answers for this mystery later.
The visit from Gregson had helped wake her up. Now she needed to find that girl inside herself again, the hurt lost child and bring her out to face the pain of loss she had been denied from feeling for ten years.
When she arrived at the tailors shop, he had a ready supply of shorts in assorted sizes and matching tunics that also would fit her overly well endowed upper body. She decided she needed a wrap for her breast to keep them from being damaged by the weights and running. The shoes were a bit more of a problem, but he did have one pair that would do until the cobbler could make her the runners she would need for her daily self-abuse.
She returned to her room and changed, then thought about something else. She went into the chest she stored her old life in and looked at the plaque on top. I am failing you on the promise I made. Tamalain is failing you. Tama on the other hand can do something about it. Command can be damned, she was going on that little trip into the Faydark, and High command and Jordan can choke on it. She changed to her new workout cloths, headed to the gym to give her body some real aches and pains to complain about.
When she arrived at the gym, she realized she had no idea how to use some of the newer pieces of weight machinery. The weights were new to her as she had just not had time to come here in all the years she had been helping her people build new lives. In doing so, she had neglected her body and her life. She went to the full body length mirror and what she saw dismayed her. She had lost her toned tight body that caused boys eyes to glaze. The slight bulge in her belly almost made her want to cry.
It was time for her come back to life and rebuild who she once was. The weight room supervisor came over and asked if she needed help. He looked her up and down and judged her to be a young house wife that was bored and wanted to lose the baby making fat that child bearing always leaves behind.
"Yes I do. I seem to have lost the person I used to be. I wish to try to find her and save myself in the process. Is that possible do you think?" She looked at the manager and saw his look of disdain.
"I would guess you just want to lose the bulge," he sighed. "It seems like that is all the women that come in here want anymore."
With a serious frown she replied, "That sir would only be the starting point. I need to rebuild my entire body from the ground up. Run me through the entire regimen, hard upper today, lower in the morning. I will be here and I will need a good running route with few interruptions and a really solid hill, or a small mountain to finish on."
"My, my, ambitious are we." He gave a faint sniff of the elite looking at a peasant, "Hoping to attract certain eyes I would guess," he said in a slightly nasty tone.
His tone changed to a gurgling when she picked him up by the throat, pulled his face up to hers, and said, "Don't you ever, EVER take that tone with me again, I most sincerely hope you understand me. I need to get back into shape as fast it is safely possible to do so." She dropped him to the floor, then going on as if nothing had happened. "Where would you suggest a good place to start at as far as working out?"
When no answer was forth coming, she turned around to discover he had fled the room. Her shoulders drooped and she sighed dejectedly, "Not going to be a good day after all. Temper control Tama, temper control," she thought dejectedly. That sigil did me that one favor of not letting it get out of hand, but now a decades worth of rage is bubbling up.
She picked a bench and started using several dumbbells listed at 30 pounds. They were heavy, but not excessively so. One of the other trainers, a woman kept and eye on her to make sure Tamalain didn't try to do to much all at once. She was into her second set of curl repetitions when the manager returned with several guards.
About fifteen minutes later the manager returned with two city guards in tow. "There," he pointed angrily, "there she is, the mad woman that picked me up and tried to kill me." Tamalain just ignored them and kept slowly curling the weight, breathe in, then back down, exhale. "Well, are you or are you not going to arrest her and lock her away for public safety."
She smiled because she was sure of what was about to be said next. "Sir, please understand that if we were to even consider arresting her, we would be the ones in the stockade, not her. Are you having fun for once Captain Arrowmark?"
"Well guardsman Raulph, what a pleasant surprise," she said, "I was until that Imp got snotty with me."
"Well Captain Arrowmark, try not to cause too much trouble tonight. The paperwork on arresting an officer is a pain to fill out."
"I am here hiding from the paper piles right now guardsman, so no sympathy from me in that corner."
The gym manager almost swallowed his tongue when he heard whom it is he had so blithely insulted. Nobody went out of there way to upset her after what had happened in the earliest days after Sky Fall began.
Ten years earlier.
Cadet Leader Arrowmark had just finished assisting the last known refugee train out of the rising smoke that had once been their homes. Several caravan leaders were upset over the treatment they had received during the long run from the fire and had begun complaining loudly about it. The chief complaint was that they had not been allowed to stop and care for their animals and mounts properly in three days.
Tamalain decided she needed to confront the chief plaintiff of this bunch first. She figured that if she could close him down, the rest would not cause as much trouble later on down the line. "Ok, let me see if I have this straight in my mind," she said absently. She looked at each of them as she spoke. "You wanted to stop and feed and water your beast on the road, correct?" she said, looking the lead pompous ass in the eyes. "Blocking the road, yes?"
"Well, everyone else would have been able to do the same. Rest, eat and maybe sleep a little bit." His bluster was building, he wasn't going to be pushed around by a child.
"Blocking the road and slowing those that could move faster to escape the fire that was closing in on them, making it so that you could all die from the fire and smoke together."
"Well, not stopping those that wanted to waste their energy running. They could just go around the road camps."
"No, they could not, nor would I allow it. It was by my orders nobody be allowed to block the roads. It was by my orders that anybody that did attempt to do so was put to death as a danger to the rest of the Elven people, right then and their, no exceptions would be entertained. I personally shot and killed seven of your fellow drivers that refused to follow that simple order, do not stop on, or block the roads. If a horse or mule stopped and refused to move, or went lame, kill it and get it off the road. If a wheel broke, grab your basic gear off the cart and get it off the road fast. I will, in time have to answer for my actions and orders, but understand this I did it to get as many of our people out of that burning hell alive as well and fast as I could."
"Lady, you may think you are in command here, but you are nothing but an over stuffed kid in a tin suit and are not suited to lead a pack of cats. The merchants will set up a new order in place of the old council and we will see to the rise of the new Elven Trade Empire."
Tamalain was ready to take his head off right then, but stopped when she saw who had just come out of the smoke in the last few minutes. A group of older Elven with over one hundred Guards around them. She also saw the leaders of all the schools and the Elder council where with them.
"Do you care to repeat that last remark for the record caravan leader." The rest of the drivers saw what was about to happen and backed away slowly from the tower of rage facing them.
The caravan leader did, shouting loud enough that he caused the council to stop and turn their way. She looked at the Council president and brought her hand to the center of her chest, first the thumb up, then down. He replied with the thumb down. "Very well sir," she said addressing those behind the now doomed Elven merchant. "By order of the Council president, who is right behind you by the way, you have been sentenced to death this very minute for high treason and willful endangerment of the Elven peoples as a whole."
She did not give him a chance to reply. She drew on her full power of combat skills and flashed her sword across his neck, severing his head from his shoulders before he even realized he had been condemned. She wiped the small amount of blood off on the corpses tunic, returned it to it's sheath then slowed herself back to normal world speeds. It was about then the head finally reached the stony ground.
"Girl, I had heard you were fast, but that is beyond believable," said the president.
Tamalain ignored the praise, came to attention, and marched over to the guard commander, "Sir, I formally ask that I be placed under arrest for unauthorized taking of Elven lives during the exodus sir."
She stood and waited for the guard to arrest her for murder and to be marched away. After several minutes of standing in front of her elders, she began to fear that her actions were even worse than she had known. She tried to recall if any of those she had killed for refusing keep half the road clear had been important in some way.
Jordan Trueshot walked up to the guard, "I will handle her from here, she is a bit shocked from events over the last week or so. Come with me Cadet. We need to have a quiet talk about circumstances of which you may not have been made aware of as yet."
Jordan led Tamalain off a short distance then quietly explained things to her. "Cadet, once it was known it was Luclin that had exploded and caused the heat flash, a plan that had been created quite a few years ago by Commander Eaglesclaw was quickly put into effect. It set in motion the evacuation of the entire Elven race from the Greater Faydark." Seeing the incredulous looks on her face, "Yes Cadet, your old mentor had laid out a plan for this type of event almost twenty years ago. It rather makes one wonder if he knew this event was coming, or one like it. Well to continue, part of the plan included orders on road travel rules and restrictions. One of those orders set limits on cart and caravan travel from blocking the entire road. Any found doing so and refusing to comply with the orders to clear to one side are to be executed on the spot and the second in charge made to understand they are next if they fail to obey the rules of the road use limits."
"So in other words, no one will file charges against you for upholding the standing orders already in place, even though you did not know about them at the time. Are you clear on that cadet?"
Tamalain looked at him for a moment, trying to digest what she had just learned. She then did the only thing her tired body and mind could do as the overload of the last week caught up with her, she fainted.
Tamalain smiled at the gym manager since she could tell from his expression what he was remembering. "Don't worry; I haven't had to do a mindless slaughter in years. I just grumble and things tend to settle down on their own in a hurry. I am here to get back into shape. The desk has ruined my form and strength. It used to be if I dressed like this, it was glazed eyes and drool hitting the floor."
"Yes, yes ma'am," he stammered. "I will be more than happy to assist in any way I can." He looked around the room and saw one of the female trainers he had ignored when he came back in. He called her over, "Lenia, come over here please. I have another victim, I mean another customer for you."
Lenia gave him a dirty look then smiled, came over and asked whom she would get to torture into shape. When he pointed, she smiled even bigger when she saw what she thought to an out of shape homemaker type. Those were her favorites to mess with. She went over to Tamalain and looked at what she was lifting then blanched. She saw that Tamalain had increased the weight to 40 pounds and was doing another set of slow curls, "The 30 pounds didn't seem heavy enough, so I went up to 40 and it feels about right now. What is the next best set of muscle groups in the upper body to work after the arms? It has been far too long since I last really worked out daily."
"I would suggest the shoulders and chest, then working down the back and around to the abdominals. If you do upper today, you know that tomorrow is a hard leg workout and run."
"Yes, I am aware of that. Now about the run, what sort of route do you have set up for the long distance runners? I will also need a good hill or small mountain to finish the run on."
Lenia looked at her employer for help but he just shrugged and smiled, turned away and walked out of the room. The guardsmen also decided that now was a good time to leave. Raulph would never say this out loud, but he thought the Captain still looked pretty damned good. "We do have a track marked off, but it is only a quarter mile around. I find it boring as hell myself."
"Nope, that won't do at all," said Tamalain. "We will need to work out a route that is at least 5 miles and goes up a mountain. It has to be that way, I will also be wearing a pack with water and weights in it. It will have to be somewhere around a quarter of my current weight until I get back up to my old speeds, then we will see how it goes from there."
Even as she was talking, she had continued the shoulder lifts she had started. When she finished with them, she paused and got a bit of water. Tamalain moved her arms in the full range of motion as she could feel them beginning to tighten up. "I will need to work on my stretching too. I am far too much out of shape for someone my age to be."
Lenia had just watched as Tamalain went through each exercise type, then started over and did them all again, with even more weight added on. "Ma'am, I am sorry to be nosy, but what is it you do and how did you get to be able to lift so much weight so easily, yet claim to be out of shape."
"You might say I am the manager of managers, in charge of the town over all. As to how I got in shape in the first place, I started weight training when I was six or seven, and just kept at it. The run I did was at least 5 miles every day and included the switchback path up the mountain behind the old Upper Pass Village. I used to live there when I was growing up. And before you ask how I survived, I was in Kelethin at the Rangers school when Luclin blew up."
"I see, and do you have a name ma'am?"
Tamalain could see this girl was not being sarcastic, she was preparing for the worst. "Call me Tama. That would be easiest on you I think, and I will call you Len, Deal?"
"That works for me Tama. By the way, you need to slow down on the crunch's, you are going to fast and you don't get the full burn. You only come up halfway, hold for a count of five, then exhale slowly as you lower yourself back down."
"Right you are, I get to talking and start speeding up. That is a bad habit of mine that I have never been able to quite break."
"That is why I am here Tama, I see to it that you do the exercises the correct way and not hurt yourself while doing them."
The rest of the workout session went with out incident until near the end her aide Maggie came rushing into the gym in a very upset state. "Captain Arrowmark, Thank goodness I finally found you. News just arrived from the southern Butcherblock region; there has been another Sky Fall Incident ma'am. It seems to have come down in Dagnor's Cauldron. The Dwarves reported in that it seems to have hit near the water line on the ocean side and punched completely through the mountain wall. The lake has been drained into the sea."
It was now Captain Arrowmark that sat back up on the bench, "We will need to have riders ready to head out within the hour to confirm this. We may also need that damned wood sooner than we expected as well. Send Gray word to be ready to depart in two days maximum. Lenia, I have to go, work has called me back, and it is a bitch." She jumped up grabbing her towel to wipe herself down then stopped. "Maggie, give me thirty minutes, I need to go and clean up a bit."
"No problem Ma'am. Everything will be ready when you arrive at the office."
Lenia just stared as both of the women left the room, and wondered what just happened. Her boss came in and asked, "What just happened out here Lenia?"
"Damned if I know boss. Things were going along great, then that other woman comes running in saying something about another rock fall down by Dagnor's cauldron. After that, it was a flurry of orders and out both women went. Who is Tama really boss, I feel like I should know, but just can't quite make the connection."
"You didn't catch the name she was called did you."
Lenia just shook her head in the negative.
"That my dear Lenia is none other than Captain Tamalain Arrowmark. Ring any bells now?"
Lenia went pale and returned to cleaning the equipment as she was doing before things got interesting.
Captain Arrowmark found chaos in her headquarters upon her return. Several Dwarves had arrived with additional information on the Sky Fall event while she was getting ready to face the world.
"It came down hard and fast about six days ago. One of the largest seen in the Butchblock so far. Flaming and smoking all the way down with a roar that sent the Drakes and giants in the hills running for cover. Our scouts tracked it to its impact zone and found most of Dagnor's had already drained. The local wildlife in there is aquatic in nature, so they found themselves in trouble right away. One of the Mer folk that ended up trapped by the water level drop told them that the rest rode with the flow and hit the ocean. Nobody knows if they would have survived the 450 foot drop though. A bit far to fall, even in water if you ask me, and I know you didn't."
"Thank you for the update. Will we be seeing any refugees from that area in the near future."
"Doubtful Captain, anybody that did not get out before impact died from the heat flash, the rest washed out or will suffocate in stale water before to much longer. As I said, most life in there are water breathers."
Tamalain thought about it for a moment, "Then go get cleaned up, have some food, get some sleep before heading back out. We still need to get things going up here that we all have been putting off. That rock did me favor really, it got me off my ass and moving again."
After the dwarves and other department heads had departed, Tamalain sat in her all too comfortable chair and thought. She thought about her position here, how she got it and what she intended to do to escape it. "Maggie," she called.
The head appeared in the door, "Yes ma'am?"
"Send a runner to find Lieutenant De'var and have him report to me soonest."
"Yes ma'am. Finally going to grab a mission and high tale it to the back of the beyond?"
"You better believe it. Gray is going to have one more body with him, and he better not complain about it."
"I am sure he will be delighted to have you along. Will you be taking over as scout leader on this mission Ma'am?"
"I am not sure on that, I just need to get away from here before this desk and chair kill me. I have finally figured out why I was shoved into this assignment over all my objections, it was to keep me out of trouble, that's why. Well Trouble, look out, I am coming to find you."
Nine years earlier
"Captain Arrowmark, you are being assigned to get this town in order and the people back to living, not just existing."
"But sir, I am just a third year. I haven't finished basic scouting school, I haven't had any formal command and leadership training, I am not up to this task sir. Besides, who will listen to a wet behind the ears kid around here."
"That Captain Arrowmark is where you are wrong. You don't see it because you are to close too the problem," said Jordan. "I have been watching how things have been going here for several weeks now. You have been in charge in one way or another for nearly a year."
Before she could start more objections he continued, "All this does is make official what you have been doing, getting this town built and going. I am very curious about one thing I have seen though. How did you get that old necromancer to use his talents to help out with the farmers plowing needs?"
Tamalain smiled and explained the old necromancer in question. "It turns out he was a friend of Elder's. He had been living in a gold mine a few miles inside Butcherblock from Upper Pass. He used stone golems exclusively for his work in gathering the metals that he traded with for food and supplies. My first encounter with him was just after the first rock falls as we were leaving the Greater Faydark."
"As to how he ended up here assisting the farmers is easy to explain. His cave collapsed from all the impacts and shaking, so he figured he would come here to see if he could find a simple place to live nearby and live out his life in peace. I gave him a counter offer instead. I asked if the golems would be able to pull plows, when he said that would be trivial to set up, I suggested he make the farmers an offer they could not afford to refuse. He could supply plow golems in return for food and supplies in payment."
"A few days later several of the farmers came to me in hysterics that a Necromancer wanted to kill them and take their fields. It took some doing to get them to listen to me about what he had to offer them. Several of the Elven refused to listen at all, even after I explained the benefits of using a stone golem to pull the plow rather than the horses and oxen. One farmer though, almost still a boy really, he asked what the Old fellow wanted and what the golems would need in order to function. I told him that it was a service for food exchange mostly and the farmer was all for it."
"Why did he jump at this opportunity right away, and the others did not accept the offer."
"It came down to animal limits and economics in his view, and fear of the unknown in the rest. He told me that once he saw that a golem did not need to stop to be watered and fed three or four times a day, that it could pull a furrow twice as long in half of the time an oxen would take, well it was a sealed deal as far as he was concerned. That young Elven plowed and planted 150 acres to everybody else's 30 to 40 acres. The golems became a cherished family tool to his wife and kids. They were always finding new things it could do around the farm to make chores easier. She invited the old fellow over for dinner at least twice a week, and with his help they found new ways a golem could help around the farm."
"Well I can see where using them to assist around the farm and take the animal cost down is a help. But how did you convince the rest to start using them."
"I didn't have to do anything, it was the kids big payout from his crops that did it in the end. That kid and his wife had a food surplus that saved the lives of hundreds that first winter. After that, several more went and politely asked for the old Necromage's help. The one that was rude to him, he sent to me to deal with. I had to explain to him about how manners are important when dealing with a retired mage with necromancer leanings, briefly at the point of a sword when he tried to take a swing at me for being a mouthy inconsiderate kid as far as he was concerned. Now, back the original subject, why me. Why not send somebody that is trained as an administrator to handle matters."
"I already did explain it. You have been in charge here since the day you led most of these folks out of hell. They follow you, listen to you, and respect you. Build on those and you will be able to raise up the best community in the Butcherblock. These folks need you Tamalain, they need you to lead them and help them adapt to their new world away from the trees."
"I don't want to be tied down. I wanted to be scout and a ranger. Why did those supposed gods go and do this to all of us. What did we do to them to make them hate us so much." Tamalain was nearly in tears by now. She really did not want this duty, but it seemed she was not being given a choice on the matter. "Very well, I will accept the duty for the time being. I don't want to be stuck here forever though."
"I can't say how long it will last, but it will not be forever," said council President Jordan. She didn't notice when he pressed a medallion to the inner side of her left arm.
Tamalain figured life was just going to be unfair to her in one way or another no matter what she did. No sooner had she started arranging for her second in command to take over when a military courier arrived with a sealed packet for her eyes only. She took this as a provable sign that her office was being magically watched in some manner and they had a post nearby with these packets ready to go to derail any plans she had made to escape her fate as a desk sitter for life.
Once she opened it though, she got a surprise that sent her mind reeling in disbelief.
Captain Arrowmark, you are relieved of your current command station for an indefinite period. You are to assume command of all scouting missions into and around the Greater Faydark. Further instructions will follow as needed.
Signed central command, Council president Jordan.
PS. They promised me this would be a short term job too.
She just sat there a moment before rereading the letter. At first, it was a faint giggle. Then she exploded into a complete hysterical laughter so loud Maggie came to see if she was going to be all right or she needed help. Tamalain just slid the letter across the desk and pointed at it for Maggie to read it. She read it, almost hurting herself trying to get out of the office she was laughing so hard.
"I just know somebody is listening, so I will say this, THANK YOU!"
Two days later the first major mission back to the Greater Faydark set out at dawn as planned. Gray was more than happy to hand the reins of leadership over to Tamalain for the duration of the mission.
Captain Arrowmark had found a new problem of her own making. She no longer fit in her old armor. One reason was the gain in weight that she had hoped to be able to burn off at the gym, the second a more embarrassing reason, the one her mother had warned her about. Her breast had grown to heroic proportions over the years and she had not kept her leather and chain armor size updated. To say the least, she was feeling the pressure and it was harder to breathe than it should have been.
Most of the party moved out on foot, using the animals as pack bearers. This actually helped in making good distance the first day. Gray gave a briefing before everybody bedded down for the night. "If we maintain this rate of travel, we should reach the Lower pass into the Faydark in four more days. We are not going to the Lower pass though. That leads down into the smoke filled levels too quickly. By midday tomorrow, we will reach the turn off to the old Upper Pass. I know for some of us here that will be a painful visit. I will allow Captain Arrowmark continue from here."
"Everybody, there are several reasons for going to the Upper Pass. Number one and most important, it is a full day closer and two, that is where the wood we are after is standing, laying or hanging. Another and more personal reason is a promise I made to the Valley the day I left it for the final time." She pulled out the ancient plaque and held it up in the fading light. "This plaque was placed as a memorial at the location it is believed the first Elven explorers saw the greater Faydark from. It was part a marker cairn on the mountain ridge directly behind the destroyed Upper Pass Village."
This announcement caused a bit of a stir, "I collected it to prevent it's destruction by the elements. Its protective carne had been tumbled over and it was exposed to the sun and elements. Part of my promise on my return was to make it a new home at its old location with a newly built carne, and that is a promise I intend to keep."
"What then Captain," asked one of the loggers.
"Then we all follow the old road as far as it still goes. A separate team will follow our markers in a few days. Their job will be to rebuild the road and link it back to the main cross-valley road if conditions and safety permit. We in the mean time will head to the ridgeline set up new home for the plaque, rest for a day and regroup for the actual search for useful lumber." She looked around for a minute, "Get some sleep people, I have the feeling this plan will last exactly one night."
She looked at the guards, "Wake me one hour before first call. I have a
bad feeling about what is out there."
"Yes ma'am, one hour wake up for you before first call, got it." He moved off to assume his assign post.
Before she went to her sleeping role, she activated a little used ability, Infravision. This allowed her to see heat signatures in the dark. She looked around the camp and saw only her people and a few small animals in the surrounding brush. "Something isn't right, I just know it." She lay down and went to sleep immediately.
She felt as if she had just closed her eyes when a hand started shaking her shoulder. "Ma'am, one hour to first call, just as requested," said the on duty guard in a low voice.
"I'm awake." She slowly set up and tried to stretch, only to find her entire body felt like it was bruised. "Oh brother, am I out of shape. I never used to have this problem on field exercises."
"That happens to all of us at one time or another ma'am." He reached down and helped her get to her feet. "Try stretching again then do a few flexing moves. Those will help get the blood flowing again."
She glanced at him and smiled, "Thanks, I'll do that. Return to your post."
He nodded then moved carefully through the camp so as not to wake anybody else yet. Tamalain slowly went through her old routine of stretching and flexing. Very quickly, most of the aches faded to a mere background annoyance. Once she had that out of the way, she slipped into her travel leathers; she decided to leave the chain mail off for the day.
She moved out of the main camp to the point were one of the guards was on watch. "Anything to report," she asked.
"Ma'am, it is like every rabbit and deer in the region is running away from something. They are going the same way, the way we came from. That is a touch worrisome to me ma'am."
"A touch, I would call it serious if there is a mass migration away from the Upper Pass. Any odd sounds, effects or events that would normally worry you more?"
"Ma'am, I would say it is the lack of sounds that have me worried. Crickets and frogs should be in full song right now. Listen to the night sounds and you will hear what I mean."
She stopped and listened with her ears, felt the night with other senses. It was all wrong, there was not a single night singer out now. "You are right, way to quiet out here. Carry on."
Tamalain then walked over to the tent that was the camps field kitchen. As she entered, the smell of heating food made her stomach growl in its demand. She went to a heating pot over a low fire and saw it was an herbal morning tea with enough caffeine to wake the dead. She ladled out a mug full and sipped while watching the cooks do their work.
"Good morning Captain Arrowmark, how can I help you this morning," asked the head cook when he noticed her in the tent.
"Nothing right now chief, I will eat when the rest are up and about. I might as well give you a heads up on the travel plans for today; we will be stopping earlier tonight. I have a funny feeling about what is up there waiting for us, will that be a problem for you?"
"No problem at all ma'am, none at all. You aren't the only one with that feeling either, it was way to quiet around here all night. Now if you will excuse me, I have a meal to get ready. Are we still moving by the third hour?"
"I have high hopes for, but low expectations on that. If Gray can get this bunch out by the forth hour, I will be happy."
"The kitchen will be ready to move on time ma'am."
"Good enough. Maybe I should have you move out and tell everybody they don't eat again until they catch up to you," she thought about that for a second, "Nope, wouldn't work."
She exited the tent and saw a faint line of dawns light on the eastern horizon. She sipped her tea then moved towards a small tent that Gray was using. As she arrived she heard a grown from inside the tent and a head slowly oozed out of the opening.
"This is to damned early Tam, why are you up already?"
"I'm up to see that the rest of you get up on time for once in your lives." She went over to a gong and started banging on it and yelling, "Every body up and at them! We have a long day and roll out is in three hours. One hour for chow then pack it up to roll by third hour."
"See Gray, that wasn't hard at all now, was it."
"Do you see all the living dead you just woke up, be ready to watch your back all day." Tamalain chuckle and gave the gong a few more solid hits then moved around the camp to get those up that had not shown any sign of life as yet. "Come on folks, we have a lot to do today, and a long ways to go, so up and at them," she called out again.
The moans and groans of displeasure seemed to escalate for a few minutes then settles back to a dull rumble as everybody began preparing for the day. The field latrines had lines for a few minutes then settled down as well once folks moved off for breakfast. Tamalain decided she needed something a little more substantial than tea to get her moving better. Her arrival at the chow tent earned her a few stares that seemed to say, 'death to you for waking us in such an evil way.' She just smiled and waited in line like everybody else.
Breakfast consisted of blackberry porridge and biscuits with melted butter and honey. The tea was a hit with everybody as it helped almost all of to them wake up to face another day on the road. Those assigned to help quickly got everybody through the line and eating. Clean up went quickly as everybody carried there own eating bowls.
Once the clean up and packing for the days movement had been completed, she called everybody together to explain the days march. "When we set out from here we will continue until midday to water the animals. We will then continue to a clearing below a small ridge that will give us some shelter from the wind. We should arrive about four hours before sundown."
"Once there, every body will set up as instructed by Lieutenant Averin and Master Gray. Most of you will remain at that location until a scouting team can move ahead to the crater and look the area over in advance for unexpected dangers and threats. So be ready to make a long term camp, I figure three to five days total before the main group will move ahead. Let's move out people."
The Exploration party set out at a steady pace that ate up the miles even faster than Tamalain had anticipated. They arrived at the planned location almost an hour ahead of the planned time of arrival. They used that extra time to get a better setup than originally planned on for the first day.
When nightfall finally arrived, everybody settled down and went to sleep early as they knew they would be up early again. Tamalain had made sure the guards knew to wake her if anything started to happen. "Ma'am, wake up please, we have a really big problem." The guard sounded frightened and desperate.
"What is it," she asked trying to wake up enough to understand his problem.
"We have company ma'am, up on the slope. They moved in so quietly none of us heard them until one made a barking sound at us. We think they are Kobolds. A large troop too."
At that revelation, Tamalain was fully awake and putting on her under cloths and squeezing into her leather armor. Once suited up, she activated her infravision and looked at the slope in question. "Wake all the guards, now. Keep it quiet though, no alarms."
He carefully moved off into the dark to start getting all the guards awake and suited up. Tamalain did a count and was dismayed that they where out numbered almost five to one in bodies. Yet the Kobolds where all hunkered down, as if they were trying to hide, not attacking. That made her think of something Elder had taught her about this species. If they are going to attack, they will do so as soon as they see you. If they wait, single for the chief to come forward and find out what they want.
Tamalain quickly went to the nearest guard and whispered that she was going to parlay with the kobold chief and find out what was going on. He told her too please be careful. All she did was nod at him then walked slowly towards the slope with her hands extended out from her side to show she meant no harm. In a low voice in rough Kobold she asked that the chief come forward.
"Why are you hiding up there, you could have taken us before we even knew you had come."
He growled in a rough form of common, "We hide, you protect us. Bad things with wings, claws, teeth in hole in ground. Chase us away, eat many cub. We run to safer place far away." He turned and went back up the slope and hid in the brush, he would not say anything more.
She returned to the camp and told the others to go to full alert. If something could chase a full tribe of Kobolds out of their territory, then that something was to be concerned about. She went and woke Gray and told him the situation as it stands. "Most likely they will be gone just before sunrise. I don't see them as a threat though. What ever is up there in the hole has scared them into running away."
"What can we do about it Tamalain, we are not a war party, just explorers and scouts."
"It is the scouting part that I will handle Gray. I will take the two best of the scouts we have and move ahead. Hopefully we will be able to find out what the source of the Kobolds fear is and make it back to report it, or at least if one of us makes it back to tell you to run for your lives."
"Tam, you know better than that, you will be fine and you know it."
"Damn it Gray I don't know that. I am ten years out of practice and shape. I am scared spitliss over what I think may be up there. No, don't ask me yet, I can't prove anything until I go up and look for myself."
"Very well Tam, We will wait here for your return. I will also advise everybody that if the word to move is given, we have to be gone in less than an hour. Will that do?"
"I hope so Gray, I certainly hope so."
A shadowy form appeared in the castle that Tunare called home on the Plane of Growth. "Sister," said Tunare in surprise. "I did not expect to see you again for at least another mortal century."
"So thought I as well," replied Luclin in a whisper. "Veeshan took one look at me and sent me packing with a new avatar form almost as soon as Rallos and I arrived in the astral plane."
"What of Rallos, has he been returned as well?"
"I doubt it very much. She had him in a claw and seemed to be reading him a riot act that would go down in history if it were recorded anywhere."
"Good, the longer he out of the picture, the more we can try to undue some of the damage he did."
"I have already started that myself, I found that almost two thirds of the core survived the blast. It is cracked, but I can fuse it and make it work again. We can set the stage for a new portal network, but it will be up to the mortals to put it all together this time. I did reactive one aspect of the porting ability, I restored escape so that those that have it will be able to use it again."
"The timing couldn't be better Luclin. Thank you for not being angry at all of us for what happened."
"Oh don't be to sure of that, I am livid over the actions and lack of actions on yours and the others parts. There will be an accounting one day, be sure of that." With that, Luclin faded in to a shadowy mist and vanished.
Tunare looked at the spot Luclin had occupied and sighed, "That could have gone worse."
Same day, after sunrise.
Tamalain finished the briefing with the two scouts that would accompany her on this mission. "Now, I really hope you are as good as you think you are. If you aren't, we all die."
They both looked at each other then back at her, "The taller one spoke, we are the best on this assignment ma'am."
"Very well, but if I say hide, you hide and don't make a sound." Even as she finished talking, a sudden sharp pain struck in her head and she suddenly found herself standing in front of her old workbench with the wall hooks and ability strings. She had not used this image in years. She didn't need it anymore, yet here she was, seeing it more clearly than at anytime in the past. A new string was sitting on the table, waiting to be picked up and studied. She carefully picked it up and when nothing blew up, she felt for its signature. No way could this be she thought. This ability died with Luclin, how could it be here now? Best to not question a true gift from the gods, she thought. If it works, it may save her life, and those two clumsy kids she had been saddled with as well.
When her vision cleared, she realized this event had taken no more than a few seconds. "Ok you two, grab your overnight bag's and let us get moving."
Neither said anything, they got their light packs and joined her at the ridgeline were the road crossed it. She asked if they had mastered Journeyman's run, they both had so she had them kick it in and they ate up the miles. By the late afternoon, thirty miles on, they were five miles from the Upper Pass crater.
"Now you two listen carefully, if I am not back in twelve hours, you both run as fast as you can back to the camp and tell them to move out back to town. No argument, tell them to move as fast as they can, and don't spare the beast. If what ever is up there takes me out, then you are in grave danger."
"But what are we to do while we wait."
"You two find a bush, crawl under it, camouflage up, and don't move a muscle, and stay dead silent. If a mouse pisses on you, ignore it. Now get under cover, both of you."
They both hid and tried to get comfortable before fading from normal sight. Tamalain could still see them and chided them, "Stop wriggling around. The bush is moving in an unnatural manner." They both froze, and hoped she would leave soon.
Rather than leave right away, Tamalain had another thought. She took out a medallion given to her by the old Necromancer before his age had finally caught up to him a few years earlier. He had told her, "Keep this with you child, there will come a day you will need to be able to find a place you once visited, this will do the trick to let you come back to that place if the need is great."
She concentrated on it for a moment, thought the word bind. She felt a tug and this spot was now tied to the new string. Fantastic she thought, I can return to this spot if the need arises.
She then activated her Camo and moved out at a rate the other two could never hope to match. Half way up she realized she had forgotten one aspect of sneaking and hiding, a good sense of smell could give her away. She diverted to a stream that flowed down from the hills further along the range and quickly bathed. Using a scentless soap, she removed as much of her body odor she could. That was when she saw the spot of red on her under garments. 'Oh why now, why did I have to reach first fertility now.' She padded herself a well as she could in hopes of keeping the scent covered. For her leather armor, she used leafs from shrubs rubbed all over to mask the scent as much as possible. Now she felt she was as ready to approach the dangerous valley as she could be.
She slowed down to a near crawl as she approached the ridge that once stood above her home village. She stopped well short then just listened and smelled the air. There was a continuous rumbling from up ahead she had never heard before. The air had a smell of a sort she was not familiar with. She went down on her belly and slowly low crawled her way to the top of the crater lip not leaving so much as a scuff mark in her wake.
What she saw when she looked over the edge made her heart nearly climb out of her chest. Her breath caught and an absolute feeling of raw terror nearly overcame her. The feeling of fear she knew was not her own, it is being forced on her by what was below. Dragon types from what she could see in the mass of scales, teeth, claws and wings. They are way to big to be drakes, far too small for dragons, what are they. Then she saw something even worse. Egg pits, hundreds of them. Each egg pit had a dozen giant eggs laying in them. She just had to get back and report this to the council, Jordan had to be warned of a new dragon threat.
Just as she started to back away, a gravely yet soft hissing voice right behind her head said, "Did you see what you wanted to see little Elven girl?"