As winter drew steadily nearer, the temperature in Kinsale was dipping dramatically after sundown, making the rain feel like cold steel, and freezing it to the stone of the mountain overlooking the harbor city. Despite the cold and treacherous terrain of the mountain paths, Isenbryn stood upon a rocky outcropping, looming like a gargoyle as he watched the work proceed on the shattered earth below. The kobolds were stepping out of the cave with obvious trepidation, each and every one of them carrying a bulging sack of their belongings, likely all pilfered from Kinsale. Without a leader, the kobolds were scared and anxious, but they had their final orders from the queen, and they would join the mages in the convoy of carriages awaiting them.
A young man knelt at Isenbryn's side, his head lowered in respect. His own cloak did little to protect him from the downpour, but the water ran from his superior's cloak in sheets. Despite the magical property of his wrap, Isenbryn kept the hood down, and the rain plastered his ebony hair to his face in haphazard lines. He knew what the scout came to tell him, felt it like an icy hand closed fist-tight around his heart. With a lifeless motion of his hand, Isenbryn bade the scout to speak.
"Sentinel Avenbryn, Sir," the scout began, and he did an admirable job of keeping his voice even at first, but it soon broke into the quivering tones of a man ready to cry, or to rage. "He is dead. Those damned interlopers – they killed him, Sir!"
Isenbryn closed his eyes, willed himself to stand tall. It wouldn't do to let his scout see weakness in him. Still, his shoulders slumped and the ghoulish grip on his heart tightened.
"How?" he asked, but the word came out like a groan. Isenbryn took in a deep breath; the frigid air did little to comfort him. "Avenbryn was blessed by the moon."
"The goblins say they used fire, Sir." It was the nature of the elves of Grythania to succumb to the extremes of their emotions, and it was clear that the scout was exhausting his resolve to keep himself from screaming. "They barred Sentinel Avenbryn inside the old witch's hut and set it afire."
At last, Isenbryn faltered, and he drove the tip of his spear against the stone so that the blade would support him as he doubled over, so close to tumbling from the precipice. So close to succumbing to his wish to escape the war.
"He battled the witch for a century," Isenbryn muttered with lips that were numbing in the cold, "And still, she contributed to his death."
A long silence stretched out between Isenbryn and the scout. They both grieved, the scout for a fallen hero, and Isenbryn for a brother lost, yet both were aware that tears would do nothing to dull the pain. Action was required if revenge was to be had.
"Prepare Azyoord to depart," Isenbryn instructed, his voice firm, and yet so tired. "We will fly north. I will find the Tal Aeraes, and we will see an end to those blighted sellswords."
"Sentinel!" the scout gasped, naked fear on his voice now. "You would ally yourself with those beasts?"
Isenbryn took one last look at the crater-ridden field far below them, where the final kobolds were finding their seats in the great convoy. "These are desperate times," he explained, voice still heavy with exhaustion. "The Tal Aeraes are beasts, yes, but they live for the hunt, and those sellswords will promise them much sport. I have nothing to fear from them."
"Let me join you, Sentinel Isenbryn!" The scout jumped to his feet in his eagerness, thumping a fist to his chest in a gesture of determination. "I will see you safely to the lair of those devils!"
"No," Isenbryn interrupted gently, a smile gracing his lips, though it was a smile full of sorrow. "I need you here with Davarus. He will need your bow when it comes time to assault their archive. One of their lords rests there already, and a second is on the way. This is our chance to strike the skyking a crippling blow."
The scout's bravado deflated in response to the rejection, but Isenbryn laid a steadying hand upon his slumped shoulder. "You will become a hero to our people while I seek vengeance," the sentinel promised with renewed vigor. "I am a fool to put Kinsale at my back before so decisive a battle, but with Avenbryn joining Savabryn in Melora's gentle embrace, I no longer desire honor."
"Those men have killed many of our fellows," the scout replied firmly. He held Isenbryn's gaze with his own. "There will be great honor for you in seeing them dead, Sir."
Silence fell between the elves again as they regarded one another with respect. Many Ebonhawk would die in the battle to come, and Isenbryn hoped that this one would not be among them. He gripped the scout's shoulder firmly again, then made a dismissive gesture with his chin.
"Go and saddle the manticore. I will be along shortly."
The scout nodded and turned away to navigate his way carefully along the ice-glazed mountain tail. Isenbryn watched him until he was out of sight, then turned to a shadowed space behind him, inside a natural alcove that time had carved into the face of the mountain.
Mother Moon, still wearing the skin of an elf called Calla, stepped out of the shadow with Yzzi at her side. The rain and lightning gave the half-dragon's bronze scales a ghostly light, and yet the water would not dare to touch Mother Moon. Yzzi thought that was a pretty neat trick, but she hadn't been able to do it herself, despite all of her practice.
"What's a 'tallery?'" the little girl asked curiously, looking between Mother Moon and Isenbryn. The sentinel was reluctant to answer the question, and so Mother Moon spoke for him.
"Tal Aeraes is an elvish phrase," she explained. "It means 'man eaters'."
"Yuck!" Yzzi stuck her tongue out at the suggestion.
"You will fail, Isenbryn," Mother Moon said coolly, her eyes still watching the elf with unreadable calm. "My chosen walks with them, as does two sons of Woten. We have plans for them. Why do you choose to throw your life away?"
"I have grown so weary with this war," the elf sighed. At that moment, drenched and exhausted, Isenbryn did look very old. "I never found the human who killed Savabryn all those years ago, and since then, I have seen hundreds of them die – thousands, perhaps – and yet I have never felt avenged." His hand closed into a fist, tight enough to make the leather gloves creak. "Here is an opportunity to satisfy my desire by eliminating those who killed Avenbryn, or to let myself be consumed by it. Either way, it will finally give me peace."
Mother Moon nodded her understanding. She, too, wished to strike back at those who wronged her, took away the only person she ever loved, and imprisoned her in the Shadowfell. Isenbryn would die in his quest for vengeance, there was no question of that, but she would ensure that the elf would at least have a taste of the vengeance he sought.
Stepping forward, Mother Moon lifted her hand and gripped the shaft of Isenbryn's spear. Cold, silvery light poured out of her fist, slowly climbing the haft of the weapon until the spear tip glowed like a torch in the night. A few moments later, the cold light died away, leaving the metal tip glimmering like quicksilver. She released her grip on the weapon and stepped back again.
"The first person you strike with that weapon," she explained in a quiet voice, heavy with the gravity of her act of mercy, "Will die. That is all that I will do for you."
"You are very gracious," Isenbryn said as he knelt before Mother Moon. "May you see your beloved once again. I am sorry that I cannot do more to serve you."
"You have done enough already, Isenbryn. Now, go and seek your solace."
Isenbryn stood, nodded with determination to Mother Moon, then turned his eyes to Yzzi. He considered a moment what he might say to the girl, but he had never sired any children of his own, and he did not wish to speak to her as a soldier.
"Happy hunting, Izzy!" Yzzi chirped eagerly, waving excitedly to Isenbryn. "Tell Azyoord I said goodbye!"
The elf smiled gently in reply, nodded once, and then left Mother Moon and Yzzi alone on the quiet mountain.
"Where to now, Mom?" Yzzi looked up to Mother Moon, her large eyes glittering in the silver light that still drifted in motes like fireflies around the woman.
"We head east, Yzzi." Mother Moon turned her eyes to the horizon, where the sun would rise – if indeed, Grythania were to get any sun that day. "We go to Eastwall, and from there, to the Grimstead Vaults."
"To adventure!" Yzzi called out excitedly, drawing her longsword to point the blade at the sky. "Come along, Sir Glim!"
A third figure hurried out of the shadowed alcove, this one a small kobold, with scales colored of copper and rust. He wore a blue cloak that dragged behind him, and had a short sword on his hip. The scabbard belt was a bit too large and he had to hold it up with both claws.
"To adventure, Queen!" he yipped in agreement.