Tanis watched the sunrise from the vantage of the Hall of the Sky. The pale beams glinted like copper on the Tower of the Sun and sparked like fire off the city’s crystal and marble buildings. As the sun rose above the horizon, it intercepted a far-off bank of dark clouds that hung low in the sky. The sun set the clouds ablaze, turning them from dull gray to blazing crimson in minutes. The clouds seemed thicker than they had the previous evening. Tanis made his way back to the palace, heading for the stable, where Belthar, his three-year-old chestnut stallion, was quartered.
Outside the gray granite stable, the nobles of Qualinost were already gathered. Tyresian, wearing black leather breeches and steel breastplate, shouted orders to Ulthen from the top of his bay stallion, Primordan. Miral lounged against one wall of the stable, cloth bags of spell-casting items dangling from the belt of the hooded red tunic he had exchanged for his customary robe. The knee-length tunic was split down the middle, allowing the mage to ride a horse comfortably. Several other nobles, whose names Tanis couldn’t remember, chatted in a group to the left of the stable door. Nearby, Litanas saddled the mage’s gelding. Porthios stood off to one side, watching but saying little; his brother, Gilthanas, wearing his black guard’s uniform, mimicked his stance, to Porthios’s apparent discomfiture. Tanis nodded to his cousins as he entered the livery stable to retrieve Belthar. Later, as he led the stallion forth onto the cobblestones of the stable yard, he saw Xenoth approaching from the palace and Flint, on Fleetfoot, riding in from the south, Tanis’s sword flapping at his side. On the other side of the pack animal rested the dwarf’s battle-axe.
“Now there’s a memorable pair—a dwarf on a mule and an elf so old he probably knew Kith-Kanan,” Ulthen shouted to Gilthanas, who glanced at his brother and quickly masked a smile. Porthios looked annoyed. Tanis paused by the Speaker’s heir, holding Belthar by the reins and waiting for Flint to bring him his sword.
Lord Xenoth reached the stable yard first, his ankle-length robes, the color of the storm clouds gathering overhead, fluttering around his legs. He asked Tyresian where he could borrow a horse; apparently the adviser didn’t own one.
“By the gods, Xenoth is going to have to ride sidesaddle in that outfit!” Porthios muttered to Gilthanas and the half-elf. “Even Laurana rides astride. Go give him a hand, Tanis. He can ride the mare Image.”
Tanis handed his reins to Gilthanas and strode off to help Lord Xenoth. Despite the upheaval of the last few days, even though he knew the group of volunteers would seek a deadly beast that already had slain several elves, he was happy to be a part of the hunt. The half-elf felt a twinge of excitement shiver through him. He had never been invited to ride with Tyresian or Porthios on one of the elf lords’ stag hunts—they were reserved for the highest of elven nobility—but this time Tyresian could not stop him. Tanis closed his eyes, imagining the branches whipping green and blurred past him as he galloped with his mount through the forest trails. It was going to be glorious.
In the dim light of the stable, Xenoth peered into stall after stall, apparently seeking a mount that was suitable for him—or, perhaps, suitable for the rider he had been decades earlier. Tanis went over to Image’s stall and called her name, and the mottled head of the elderly mare appeared over the top of the half-door. A gentle creature, she whickered softly in response; Tanis and she had been friends for years, and she pricked her ears now, eyeing his pockets for apples or other delectables. He pulled a carrot out of his tunic, cracked it in half, and offered it on a flattened palm. He watched as her rubbery lips sought out the trifle, fed it into her crunching maw, and snuffled around for the other half.
“Sorry, that half’s for Belthar,” he said, then raised his voice. “Lord Xenoth. I have your horse for you.”
At the other end of the stable, Xenoth paused by the stall of Alliance, a huge warhorse that even Tyresian could barely control. The adviser shook his head, silver hair gleaming in the gray light, and pointed at the beast. “I will ride this one,” Xenoth said. “Get him ready for me.”
Alliance lunged over the partition, teeth narrowly missing the wizened elf’s hand. Xenoth leaped back with a cry. Tanis, shaking his head, led Image out of the stall, and a stableboy leaped to prepare the horse for riding.
“Ride Image,” Tanis said. “She’s a fine, gentle horse.”
Xenoth’s face went ruddy with anger. “Are you saying I can’t handle this horse?” he demanded. He gestured again, and Alliance went crazy trying to snap the morsel that the adviser kept waving in front of his face.
Tanis sighed and stepped closer. “I’m saying that Kith-Kanan himself couldn’t handle that horse.” He heard footsteps behind him and guessed that Xenoth’s screechy voice had attracted the attention of the other volunteers.
Xenoth’s blue eyes protruded slightly; his voice trembled. “I was quite the horseman in my prime, half-elf.”
“I’m sure you were, Lord Xenoth.” Tanis tried to keep his tones low and even, on the theory that what would quiet a panicky horse also would work with a hysterical elf. “But you don’t even own a horse now. It’s been awhile since you rode. Why not start out with a slightly … easier … mount?” He heard a muffled snort from behind him; his neck prickled with the realization that quite an audience had gathered. Seeking to end the brouhaha quickly, Tanis reached forward and laid a hand on the adviser’s silken sleeve.
“Leave me be!” Xenoth cried. “I will not be manhandled by a … by a bastard half-elf!”
Several of the elves behind Tanis gasped and others burst into laughter. Tanis felt his chest contract and his hands clench. He took one step toward the adviser, whose eyes widened in fear. Behind Xenoth, Alliance bared his teeth again.
“Tanis. Lord Xenoth.” The words were spoken in a baritone that brooked no disobedience. Tanis turned.
It was Porthios. “Tanis, go out to your horse. Xenoth, you will ride Image or you will not attend this hunt.”
Porthios stood like an avenging god, his golden green hunting garb glittering like the Speaker’s ceremonial robe. His eyes flashed in anger. The other courtiers fell back, looking slightly ashamed. Porthios waited until Xenoth moved from Alliance to Image, now ready for the hunt. Tanis pushed between Ulthen and Miral and stalked toward the stable’s double doors. Porthios’s voice halted him, however.
“Tanis,” the Speaker’s heir said. “I am sorry.”
The half-elf waited, not sure if Porthios intended to say more. Then he shrugged and went out to Belthar.
Half an hour later, the volunteers were ready. Xenoth sat astride Image, the adviser’s robes bulked up around his thighs, revealing long, skinny legs in black leggings. Xenoth, who actually appeared to be a passable horseman, stayed near the back of the group. Tyresian, Porthios, and Gilthanas stood at the front.
Tanis’s stallion pawed at the dewy cobblestones, and it snorted, breath fogging on the cool, damp air. “Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer to ride a horse, Flint?” the half-elf asked.
“You know very well I can’t,” the dwarf said grumpily, his face pale and weary after only three hours of sleep. “I’m deathly afr—er, allergic to horses.”
The dwarf gave a loud sneeze just for emphasis and then blew his nose like a trumpet in his handkerchief. Tanis’s mount nickered, apparently in reply.
“Well, who asked you?” Flint said hotly, glaring at Belthar. The stallion rolled its eyes, showing the whites, and its ears went back as it chomped its bit.
“All right, you two,” Tanis said, giving the reins a tug. “That’s enough.”
The horse snorted again, as if to say he didn’t pretend to understand the peculiarities of dwarves. Nor did Tanis, always.
Tanis glanced at the other courtiers and young nobles who were mounting their steeds in the steadily brightening light, but few paid him much attention. Most likely they had taken his argument with Xenoth as just another sample of his human temper, though for the life of him he couldn’t see that Xenoth had behaved with elven coolness, either.
Still, he felt a pang of excitement. Whatever the events of the last few days, to be finally given the chance to ride alongside the others …
He searched the gathering of elves. Tyresian sat straight and proud upon his mount, clasping the reins in black-gloved hands. Porthios was astride his gray steed next to the elf lord, and Gilthanas waited just behind them on a roan mare, a pretty creature with delicate legs and a finely drawn head.
A trumpet call rang out then, high and sweet on the clear air, and Tanis mounted his horse, reining Belthar in to stand near the others. Tyresian’s gaze flickered in his direction for a moment, but it seemed an uninterested look, and then the elf lord turned his attention back toward his companions.
Tanis checked the arrows in the quiver at his knee; after leaving Flint last night, he’d spent an hour attaching to shafts the steel arrowheads the dwarf had made for him. The hard metal might be just what was needed against the scaly hide of a tylor. Then Tanis adjusted Flint’s sword in its scabbard at his side. It was awkward—a short sword or even a long dagger was a more common blooding knife, used to dispatch, say, a stag that had been brought down with an arrow. But they were after a bloodthirsty lizard as long as several elves. Who knew what weapon would serve the hunters best?
Besides, Tanis was too proud of the sword to have left it behind. Its handguard glimmered coolly in the dawn light, like tendrils of silvery smoke that had somehow been frozen in place. In the middle of the handguard …
The dwarf looked up from his seat on the gray mule’s back.
“You fastened my mother’s amulet to the handguard,” Tanis said. Tyresian and Miral looked aside at the half-elf.
The dwarf sounded petulant. “Well, I told Ailea I would, didn’t I? Spent two hours in the middle of the night on it, too. Poked holes in the handguard—nearly broke my heart to do that, I might add—and the pendant and then ran a chain link through ’em both.” He huffed. “Amazing, the things I’ll do for a damsel in distress.”
Tanis smiled and shrugged. The midwife hadn’t qualified as a “damsel” for some time, but he suspected that the dwarf was just a bit sweet on Eld Ailea, despite the several hundred years that separated them.
Tyresian’s voice broke through the chatter. “Is everyone ready?” he asked quietly. Tanis had to hand it to the elf lord; he had the presence to command.
Tanis patted his sword. In addition to the sword and the quiver of arrows ready by his right knee, he wore his short bow on his back and carried a leather flask of wine, in case the creature injured anyone. Tanis checked everything and then nodded. He was ready.
An elf lord, one of those whose names Tanis didn’t recall, moved his mount forward to face the gathered group, to speak a ceremonial benediction for the start of the hunt. He was a thin, sharp-faced elf with hard gray eyes.
“We pray to Kiri-Jolith today, war god of good,” the gray-eyed elf lord said, as the volunteers bent their heads. “We ask him to stand with us as we search out and face this terrible creature that has plundered our land and killed so many of our kindred elves.”
Tanis heard Flint snort beside him. “Beast almost killed one of their ‘kindred dwarves,’ too, only four days ago,” he muttered. Tanis hushed the dwarf.
“We also ask the intercession of Habbakuk, god of animal life. May your skills of the wild and your knowledge of the harmony within nature be with us today.
“And if one of us fails to return, may you, Habbakuk, receive his soul.”
“So be it.”
“So be it,” the others echoed.
Then the trumpet-bearer gave another call, and the hunters spurred their mounts, guiding them through the streets of Qualinost to the western edge of the city. They clattered past the guard tower at the southwestern corner of the city, where two of Qualinost’s encircling bridges arched toward land, then the horsemen continued past the overhead structure to the foot of the long bridge that crossed the ravine carrying the Ithal-inen, the River of Hope. There they halted at the very edge of the ravine. Out of sight, way off to the right, Tanis knew, was the landing, the Kentommenai-kath, where he and Flint had picnicked not long before. Tanis saw Flint take one look at the five-hundred-foot drop right before him and pull Fleetfoot back to the rear of the crowd. The dwarf’s face carried a sheen of perspiration.
Tyresian nodded to the captain of the palace guard, who nudged his horse forward a pace and called out to the assembled volunteers. His voice echoed in the ravine as the aspens swayed around the hunters. The morning breeze was chilly, but Tanis’s excitement kept the half-elf warm.
“The tylor was last spotted far to the south on the west side of the ravine,” the guard captain said. He pointed, and a dozen pairs of eyes gazed off to the left as though they expected the creature to burst from the shrubs at any second.
The captain continued, and the gazes of the hunters returned to him. “Remember several things: One, tylors’ flesh changes color to match the land on which they travel. It is extremely effective camouflage.”
Tanis, guiding Belthar back toward Flint, noticed the dwarf glance half fearfully at a nearby oak tree, almost as if he thought a tylor could masquerade as a tree.
“These creatures are intelligent,” the captain called. “They can speak Common. Therefore, be careful what you say. Do not, for example, call out strategies to your comrades. The creature will hear and understand you.
Gilthanas pulled his roan to the other side of Flint. The Speaker’s younger son was dressed in the black leather jerkin of the ceremonial guards. The early morning breeze blew his gold hair back from his brow. He looked a great deal like Laurana, Tanis thought, certainly much more so than Porthios did. Gilthanas had changed a good deal himself these past years, though nothing to keep pace with the changes Tanis himself had experienced. Still, Gilthanas was more an elf lord than a child now, and while he looked small, almost lost, within his guard’s uniform, he sat straight upon his roan, his green eyes proud.
“In addition,” the guard captain said, bringing Tanis’s attention back to the fore, “while tylors prefer to kill by biting or by lashing their victims with their tails, they also can use magic. If they are losing a battle, they often will move out of range and use spells. Be aware of that. I am told we have the mage Miral with us today as a protection against the tylor’s magic.”
“Oh, terrific,” Gilthanas muttered. “Miral. We’re doomed.”
Despite himself, Tanis looked across Flint and grinned at Gilthanas, who, obviously surprised, smiled back. Tanis realized that he hardly knew Gilthanas anymore. The two had been so close as children, but they had grown up and grown apart. Gilthanas had spurned Tanis to cast his lot with the court, seeking his friendship and recognition there. And, with Porthios’s help, he had gained both.
“Tylors,” the captain announced, “move very slowly in cold weather. That is why we are leaving so early today. We hope to corner the creature before it warms itself in the sun. And it appears, from the look of the clouds”—and several elves murmured at the gathering of thunderheads to the west—“that we may have the weather on our side.”
The captain saluted to Lord Tyresian, who returned the gesture. Then the elven lord raised one arm to the volunteers, and silence reigned as the hunters waited expectantly.
Faint yellow light suffused the eastern horizon, but to the west, the sky was dark, as if night still reigned there. The storm had been hovering above the distant mountains for several days now, gathering strength, its clouds building higher, growing darker. During the night, it had begun to move eastward, like a great dark wall across the sky, threatening the land. Flashes flickered within the swirling clouds, and already Tanis could feel the faint rumble of thunder, charging the air.
The trumpet called out on the air then, and Lord Tyresian raised a black-sleeved arm to motion the hunters onward across the bridge. With a glorious cry, the elves spurred their mounts, triple-file, onto the bridge, and Tanis felt himself shouting with them, the sound bursting from his lungs onto the morning air. It was a cry as old as the world itself, as old as life and death.
“Reorx save me,” Flint muttered to himself as Fleetfoot, Belthar, and Gilthanas’s mount approached the bridge. “At least I’m in the middle. Lad”—and he turned suddenly to the half-elf—“you will tell me if I’m about to dive over the edge, now, won’t you?” When Tanis agreed, the dwarf tilted his face downward and Tanis saw Flint’s eyes clench shut, just before his hair swung forward to hide his features.
“What’s wrong with him?” Gilthanas asked sharply. “Is he ill?”
Tanis shook his head. “A moment of prayer. It’s a dwarven religious tradition.” He saw a smile flit across Flint’s knobby features. The smile was followed in time by an audible sigh of relief as their mounts’ hooves sounded on wood no longer, but on the beaten rock of the western side of the ravine.
In the green wood, the air was fresh with the fragrances of pine sap and mushrooms, an almost medicinal scent that left his head clear and heightened his senses. He heard every rustle made by the small forest animals in the underbrush, saw the outline of every leaf, sharp against the sky above. The trees moved past him as the elves pressed their mounts along the twisting game trails, deeper and deeper into the forest.
The morning continued chilly, with occasional drizzle as the storm clouds marched in from the west. Trackers from the palace guard moved ahead of the main group of volunteers, but with no success. The only animals the hunters saw were squirrels, chipmunks, and one groundhog, slender from a winter’s hibernation. The squirrels and chipmunks darted away immediately. The groundhog peered over a log atop a hillock and watched until the hunters had passed.
The trail was wide enough to permit only double-file riding. In some stretches, underbrush grew thick, nearly up to the path. “I don’t like this,” Tanis told Flint, who nodded. Time and again, the half-elf found his hand returning to the hilt of his sword, and he caressed the intertwined “E” and “K” on the handguard.
Conversation had long since waned among the hunters. The only sounds were the occasional chatter of birds, the creak of saddle leather, and the sniffling of one allergic dwarf. Once Flint sneezed, and Xenoth turned in his saddle and hissed, “Hush!”
“I can help it?” Flint retorted, too softly to be heard by anyone but Tanis.
Suddenly, Tanis saw Tyresian shoot up one arm, and the line halted. One of the trackers, on foot, was standing next to the elf lord, one hand resting on the glossy neck of Tyresian’s stallion and the other hand gesturing up ahead. Word filtered back through the column.
“They’ve found the first spoor!” Gilthanas whispered back to Tanis and Flint. The dwarf clenched the reins so tightly that his knuckles whitened.
The answer came filtering down the line like the children’s game Gossip: Five-toed tracks, four toes pointed forward, one back, pressed into the damp ground, and only a few hours old. The creature, no doubt, was out looking for food.
“And here we are,” Flint said grimly, looking to each side and clasping his battle-axe like a talisman. “Lunch.”
“Won’t we hear the tylor coming?” Tanis asked.
“Not necessarily,” Flint answered. “It may be lying in wait.”
The volunteers, faces set, moved into single-file; if the monster crashed out of the underbrush, it would carry away fewer hunters. They pressed on, but every man carried a weapon at the ready. Most of the elves carried short swords.
Midday came and passed unnoticed by the hunters. There was no time for thoughts of food and rest. For a long while they lost the trail, but after an hour of searching, they picked it up again, fresher than before. The hunters cantered their mounts down a narrow, muddy trail, following the tracks. Tanis was forced to duck every few seconds to avoid low-hanging branches.
Suddenly, the horses at the front of the party reared as their riders pulled hard on their reins.
“What is it?” Flint hissed from behind Tanis.
The half-elf rose in his stirrups. The trail widened into an opening. Xenoth was waving his arms as the adviser spoke vehemently to Porthios and Lord Tyresian, who looked impassively ahead as though Xenoth weren’t there.
Gilthanas swiveled in his saddle and answered Flint’s question. “There’s a ravine ahead. Xenoth wants to go around. Tyresian thinks we can jump it.”
“Jump it?” Flint demanded. “On a mule?” He looked aghast.
Tanis edged Belthar around Gilthanas, trotted the animal to the front of the line, ignoring the irritable glances of the other hunters, and hailed Tyresian and Porthios. The three studied the ravine—as deep as two elves were tall, its banks too steep to be negotiated by horse or elf. The remains of a bridge lay in splinters at the bottom of the crevasse.
“It’s not that wide,” Tyresian said.
“We could jump it,” Porthios agreed.
“Most of the horses could jump it, certainly,” Tanis said, “but what’s Flint supposed to do?”
Tyresian looked back down the line, past the elven hunters arrayed in leather and silver, their weapons gleaming in the noon light. At the end of the line, Flint and Fleetfoot looked like the runts of an unusually large litter.
“Leave him,” Tyresian stated, his blue eyes hard. “He’ll find a way around.” Porthios shifted uneasily, started to speak, then fell silent.
“Find a way around?” Tanis snapped. “That ravine stretches out of sight in both directions!”
“No one asked the dwarf to come along,” Tyresian answered. “Let him go back.”
“Alone? With a tylor loose in the forest?”
The elf lord’s handsome features tightened. “You’re under my command on this operation,” Tyresian whispered. “You’re also outclassed as a swordsman and as an archer, half-elf.”
“Lord Tyresian,” Porthios said warningly, and the commander turned and faced the nobles.
“It appears we have come to an impasse,” Tyresian called. “We can cross this ravine and seek out the tylor that has been slaying elves and livestock across this section of Qualinesti. Or we can go back in disgrace.” He took his time surveying the elves, looking each noble full in the face and studying him for a few heartbeats. “Who is willing to continue?”
The group was quiet for a time. Then Gilthanas spurred his roan forward, pounding past Tyresian and Porthios without a look to either side. With a running start, horse and rider jumped gracefully over the ravine, tracing a smooth arc in the air, and then landed with a spray of mud and gravel. Gilthanas wheeled and saluted.
Ulthen, Litanas, Miral, Porthios, and most of the other nobles quickly followed Gilthanas’s lead and waited, milling, on the other side of the ravine. Soon only Tyresian, Tanis, Flint, and Xenoth were left. Tyresian reigned his nervous mount and cast the three an arrogant smile. “Well?”
Xenoth spluttered. “Lord Tyresian, you can’t honestly be thinking of leaving us …”
“Then follow along.” The elf lord’s voice was implacable. “You were the one who wanted to ride Alliance, Xenoth. Certainly you are horseman enough to jump the ravine.”
“But this nag can’t—”
“Try it!” Tyresian slapped Image’s back with the flat of his sword. The horse leaped, Xenoth dropping the reins and clinging to its mane, then balked just feet short of the edge, dumping the Speaker’s elderly adviser unceremoniously on the rocky ground. His silver robes in violent disarray, Xenoth struggled to his feet as Tyresian thundered by on Primordan and almost effortlessly took the ravine, scattering the riders on the other side. Then the elf lord led all but one of the riders on down the trail.
Only Porthios lingered at the ravine. Finally, he cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted, “It’s all right! Go back to the palace!” and followed the other volunteers.
“Tanis,” Flint said, “Go with them. Lord Xenoth and I will go back, as he says.”
“What?” squawked the adviser, who had remounted. “And leave me with a dwarf for a protector?”
Flint snorted. “Protector, what?” the dwarf retorted. “I’d sooner protect Fleetfoot here than you.” He patted the gray mule’s neck. “Tanis, Belthar can easily leap that gap. Go on.”
Tanis narrowed his eyes at the dwarf. “We will not separate. Even Xenoth here could be of some use if we meet the tylor.”
The dwarf didn’t meet Xenoth’s eyes. “Don’t count on it,” Flint said. “Unless you’re thinking about using him as bait.” Flint examined the scrawny adviser. “Even then …”
Xenoth wheeled and kicked Image into a canter down the rocky trail toward Qualinost. Flint and Tanis watched, wordlessly. Finally, as Xenoth was vanishing around a bend, Flint shouted, “Don’t get too far ahead! The tylor may cut you off!”
The day had begun to turn dark, and an eerie, premature twilight was descending upon the forest. The surrounding woods were nearly impenetrable to the eye. No breeze moved the leaves in the aspens. The squirrels, the chipmunks had vanished; only moments before, they had been skittering through the underbrush and darting playfully along the trails that bordered the ravine.
The dwarf already had his battle-axe at the ready. “I know, lad. No birds. No animal noises. As though …” He scanned their surroundings and waved at Xenoth to return.
Tanis finished the sentence for him. “As though the animals had all gone aground.”
A low booming echoed upon the air. Flint and Tanis exchanged glances. “Thunder?” Tanis asked.
“I hope so,” Flint replied.
The storm hit when Xenoth was halfway back, with thirty or forty paces separating them.
But the storm took the form of a tylor.
“Reorx!” thundered the dwarf. The bushes to the left of Xenoth shuddered, and then, with a force that sent stray leaves and twigs fluttering upon the air, a gray-green blur burst from the undergrowth. The adviser shrieked, and Image crumpled beneath the ferocious beast, the mount’s neck broken with one snap of the gaping maw. The adviser, thrown clear, landed hard on his back. He rolled over slowly, pain on his face, as the monster busied itself by tearing at the dead horse. A look of horror froze on Xenoth’s face when he saw what the tylor was doing to the animal. He lunged to his feet and ran frantically to one side, away from Flint and Tanis, and into the underbrush.
“Xenoth!” Tanis cried. He jumped off Belthar’s back, and Flint slid off Fleetfoot. The two mounts pounded down one of the paths, the mule leading the way by several lengths.
The tylor dragged its horned body fully into the clearing, lifted its plated, pointed head, and roared a challenge. The animal then took a stance on the rocky earth, opened its mouth, and began to chant words of magic. Chief among the words was the name “Xenoth.”
“By the gods!” The half-elf fell back against Flint. “What is it doing?”
Flint didn’t answer the question, but merely muttered, “It’s an intelligent creature.”
“Can we … Can we reason with it?”
Flint grabbed his arm. “I wouldn’t recommend that just now, lad.”
The creature roared again and continued chanting. “Xenothi tibi, Xenothi duodonem, Xenothi viviarandi, toth,” it called, again and again.
“Flint, we’ve got to alert the others,” the half-elf said.
“I think the beast’s already done that for us,” the dwarf commented, and he pointed back toward the other side of the ravine. Tyresian, Miral, and Litanas were clustered at the edge, seemingly at a loss about what to do. Jumping a horses across the gap would land mount and rider only ten feet from the monster, well within the range of its whipping, deadly tail. Already, the creature’s nervous twitching had shredded the underbrush in a crescent behind the animal.
The three-foot horns on the creature’s head were sharp and wicked-looking. Its eyes, half-shut, showed yellow as it chanted, “Xenothi morandibi, Xenothi darme a te vide, toth.” Its clawed front legs stamped on the rocky ground, sending sprays of pebbles flying into the underbrush.
“Reorx!” the dwarf exclaimed again.
Xenoth, his gray eyes terrified and glassy, stepped out of the underbrush into the clearing. He approached the monster, seemingly unable to resist the creature’s call. The chanting intensified. One of the nobles on the far side of the ravine cried out with the horror. Tanis stood. “Xenoth!”
Tyresian shouted from across the ravine, “Half-elf! Stay where you are!” But Tanis leaped over the log and nocked an arrow as he ran. Flint followed, swinging his battle-axe.
The creature, from its tail to its beaklike snout, was nearly sixty feet long, with scaly armor. Tanis kneeled within the huge curve of the beast’s body, aiming for the tylor’s head, off to the half-elf’s right. He released the arrow just as the creature’s thirty-foot tail whistled through the air, to Tanis’s far left. The razor-sharp appendage slashed through an aspen sapling, then slammed into the adviser. Xenoth’s scream died in a gurgle.
The words “Tanis, don’t move!” came crying from the opposite side of the ravine. The half-elf remained where he was but sent another arrow arcing toward the tylor.
Suddenly, hoofbeats crashed on the mud-splattered rocks near Tanis. Miral, crimson tunic vivid against his white and gray mare, hurtled toward the tylor, chanting as he rode. Lightning burst from his fingers and rocketed toward the animal even as the tylor began a new chant.
The ensuing explosion rocked the clearing, knocking Tanis and Flint into a heap. Dazed, they watched the rest of the hunters pour over the ravine and into the clearing.
The tylor’s screams rent the clearing as its claws dug gashes in the rock-hard earth. It struggled to crawl into the underbrush, away from the arrows that now poured toward it from the phalanx of elven nobles. Tanis and Flint could only sit and watch.
Finally, the tylor was dead, scorch marks visible all along one side, arrows cutting into its hide and another arrow protruding from an eye. It lay on its side. Just ten feet away, Miral was raising himself on bent elbows, his face blackened with ash. One hand was bleeding.
Xenoth lay dead, face down on the muddy, rocky ground of the clearing, a crimson stain soaking his silver robe and seeping into the earth. The tylor’s thrashing tail had crushed his chest. Litanas, Xenoth’s assistant, kneeled beside him, shouting something incoherent.
Then suddenly it seemed as though all the elves were staring at Tanis. Even Flint was looking at him with a disbelieving expression. “What is it?” the half-elf asked.
Litanas moved aside, and Tanis saw.
Protruding from Xenoth’s heart was the half-elf’s arrow.