Enna awoke with a start as a clap of thunder peeled through the sky. The presence of thunder in the middle of winter was her first indication that something was very wrong. She was not the only one. Enna could hear the groggy moans and mumbles of some of the other wayward travelers who had taken up temporary residence in the Fletchers' modest farmhouse. Through the darkness, she could only barely make out the shapes of some of those who had now begun to groggily rise, as the sound had startled many of the animals out in the stables and barn. A pinpoint of light began to glow suddenly, illuminating the corner of the makeshift sleeping quarters. Many of the refugees began to groan irritably and voice their disapproval of the sudden light.
"Keep quiet, you fools!" Zarah's voice hissed a harsh whisper. As Enna's eyes adjusted she could see that the other elf was the one holding the lantern. Enna could see that, though Zarah wore her cloak around her body, her lower legs and feet were bare. She had needed to dress in a hurry. "Shut up!" she continued, only slightly louder now. "They are trying to get your attention, determine our numbers!"
"The hells are you on about?" one of the men, looking to be in the dawn of his middle age, whispered back, his annoyance plain. "It's just some thunder spooked the livestock. Leave us to go calm them, or they'll not sleep, be useless in the morning."
"When have you heard of thunder during high winter?" Zarah spat back. "It's a trap. We're surrounded by Lohvastine warmages right now."
"Pah!" another of the refugees scoffed, less concerned with his volume than the first had been. "You're cracked! The Lohvastines have no business this far east. They mean to make for Rheth, anyone with a brain can see that."
"A human brain, maybe..." Enna caught the quieter refugee's wife whisper to him. The barb was so blatant and disdainful that Enna found herself taken aback, nearly missing what Zarah had said next.
"There is a squadron of ten warmages around the perimeter of this farm that beg to differ with you." Zarah retorted, still maintaining the whisper. "And I should think you would be more inclined to trust the brain of the elf who was out patrolling the area than the brain of a man who was snoring like a bear not moments before I woke you." Zarah looked pointedly at the first man's wife as she said this, who shrunk behind her husband somewhat as the elf's gaze befell her.
The Overhills, Erasmus, Falken, and Enna's parents had all roused at this point and found their way to where Enna was amid the makeshift sleeping quarters. Some other lamps had been lit now, making it all the more clear that Zarah and the refugees with whom she had been arguing were eyeing each other heatedly. Through the soft din of the waking bodies, coupled with a second crack of thunder, Enna could not make out the last few whispered words Zarah and the rowdier of the men had exchanged before she stormed over to join the other companions.
"Gather your things." she said shortly to the group. "We need to leave, quickly and quietly."
"What's going on?" Randis asked, pulling Tessa into him.
"Warmages." Enna replied, a knot forming in her stomach. "Zarah said she saw a squadron of them surrounding the farm. They're creating the thunder to spook the animals, to try and draw people out."
A third clap rang through the night sky, resulting in more panicked noises, both from the animals outside and some of the people within.
"But all these people are refugees, driven from their homes with little force, from what I had heard." Odonwa spoke. "Why would the Lohvastine troops suddenly decide to draw innocent blood?"
Zarah shrugged. "Boredom, lust for power maybe? What happens to a hound on a fox hunt when there are no foxes to be found? It starts chasing rabbits." She shook her head and crouched down, gathering up her belongings. "The point is that we are in danger, and we need to leave."
"What about all the others?" Randis protested. "You just want to leave these poor people to the mercy of a pack of crazed arcanists?"
"I warned them as best I could." Zarah replied, not looking up. "They seem to be of the mind that they can confront those warmages and succeed by way of superior numbers."
"And you're just going to let them do that?!" Randis replied, disgust evident in his voice.
Zarah stood now, slinging a pack over her shoulder and looking Randis in the eye. "I have lived a dangerous, difficult life so far, Summerlark, and I have managed to survive by avoiding stupid decisions. Facing down ten arcanists who have been trained from a very young age in the art of arcane warfare would very much be one of those decisions." She started for a nearby door. "I am getting back on the road as quietly as possible, and then making for the walls of Rheth. The rest of you can do as you please."
Zarah had all but reached the side door when, accompanying yet another crack of thunder, the wall opposite it vibrated, dust and debris beginning to rumble off it. All noise, and all movement ceased for only a breath, until with another thunderous crack an entire section of the wall crumbled, whole pieces of stone being thrown across the room as the section of wall was obliterated. People screamed and darted as far away from the collapsed section of wall as possible, a chill winter gust blowing through, knocking over and snuffing out what lamps and candles that had not already been extinguished.
Enna dropped quickly to her knees and started feeling around for her belongings. finding them quickly, she rifled through her own pack until she felt the cool stone of her dwarven pendant, pulling it from the pack and quickly slipping it over her neck. Still crouching over her belongings, she saw the darkness give way to the strange azure dark vision that the runemagery granted her, and scanned the area. Most were in a panic, clutching to their loved ones. O'doc and Erasmus had already managed to arm themselves, the former helping his sister and the professor feel about the ground, no doubt for their own implements, and the latter trying to guide her parents away from the source of the carnage. There was no sign of Zarah.
Standing in the jagged mouth of the destroyed wall Enna saw what, in any other circumstance, would have looked completely unassuming. It was impossible to tell anything about the person who stood there, the thick wool and fur robes covering them betraying nothing but their height, which was certainly not remarkable in any sense. In truth, the person who Enna assumed was a warmage was shorter than she had expected. The warmage drew back the long sleeves of the robes, revealing slender hands, perhaps a woman's, with rings on each finger. The hands raised and drew back the thick hood, the head underneath shaved bald, causing the tall points of the warmage's ears to be all the more prominent.
The warmage mouthed a word softly, the word for a light evocation, Enna recognized. The rings on her, or possibly his, fingers started to glow faintly, until searching for a moment, the warmage touched a nearby supporting pillar, causing a bright light to emanate from it, illuminating the room completely. Enna quickly removed the pendant, her eyes adjusting to the light amid the gasps and cries of the frightened Hallowspiran refugees. Arcana had become so part and parcel to Enna's life, it took her a moment to remember that most of the people huddled in the room had probably never seen so much as a simple light spell.
Enna could see the warmage surveying the room now, completely expressionless. It kept one hand on the pillar, maintaining the light, saying nothing as it looked about. Once the initial panic had died down, if only in place of a less active form of fear, there was complete silence for a moment, until finally the refugee who had been arguing with Zarah stood.
"Is this some kind of joke?" he demanded. "Does Queen Merrian really think us so simple that she expects to have us running off our land with this?" The warmage remained expressionless, eyes fixed on the man as he continued his tirade. "I suppose all the soldiers Lohvast brought in to send us cowering in the first place had actual fighting to do," he turned to the other refugees, motioning his hand behind him to where the warmage stood. "so they sent out a bunch of nancy little fae-folk to make some lights and noises and make sure we all keep spooked like the horses, running off to Ghest." The man bent over and picked up a stool, then turned to face the still-faced warmage. "Well I have had it with running, and I'll be damned if me and my kin are going to be frightened anymore, least of all by..."
The man was interrupted as the stool began to emanate a soft golden light, the same as was coming off the warmage's rings, Enna noticed. During the man's rant, the warmage must have mouthed the words to another spell, and currently held its free hand aloft. The man's panic became all the more evident as he tried, and failed, to drop the glowing stool. With a flick of the warmage's wrist, the stool quickly rotated, causing the man to howl in pain as several bones in his wrists and arms snapped loudly. A second hand gesture from the warmage lifted the man in the air by way of the stool, and a third sent him careening into the stone of the far wall, a torrent of cracking noises accompanying his impact. The warmage released its hold on the stool as the man hit the wall, and he fell like a ragdoll onto the ground. Enna found herself hoping the impact killed the man, sheerly out of mercy.
There were a handful of screams as the man's body hit the ground, surprised yips of terror that were quickly replaced once more by the terrified silence. The warmage scanned the refugees once more, almost as if to challenge them. When no one moved, it turned its attention to Enna and the others. Its stoic expression finally broke as it set its gaze upon the group, a curious look overtaking the previously expressionless facade.
Everyone was still. Falken and Odonwa stood closest to the warmage, O'doc stood next to Enna, who remained on hands and knees, one hand resting on her club, hidden under the folds of her bedroll. Erasmus and her parents stood behind them, and Enna silently thanked whichever god had placed Tessa and Randis the greatest distance from the mysterious elf. Enna only barely noticed the shared glances between the halflings and the professor before the stillness broke.
With all the swiftness Enna had come to expect of him, O'doc released a dagger, sending it spinning toward the warmage. With a wave of its free hand and the utterance of the same words as earlier, the dagger lit a golden hue and swiftly reversed direction before reaching its target, spinning now back toward O'doc. In that same instant, Falken and Odonwa, having drawn forth their arcane implements, spoke in unison "SUULE RAM", their implements glowing as an arcane shield was quickly thrown up to stop the returned dagger short.
"Run!" O'doc cried out to the refugees. "Get out of here, now!" The panicked Hallowspirans needed no further encouragement, all beginning to hurriedly clamor toward the only free door.
A look of annoyance passed over the warmage's face now, and its free hand turned back toward the frightened throng. Another mumbled utterance resulted in the conjuration of several bolts of lightning streaking out from the warmage's fingertips, toward the escaping refugees. The bolts came up short, however, striking another arcane barrier before dissipating harmlessly. A quick glance, and Enna had realized that while both Falken and Odonwa had cast the same spell, the professor had focused it on the exit.
Enna let out a breath of relief, and began to concentrate on her implement as she had while fighting the goblins. Uttering the spell, she felt the arcane energy pulse through her body and into the club, its glowing green simulacrum coalescing behind the warmage, whose arcane lightning was starting to exert more power than Falken's barrier could withstand, causing the invisible shield to begin retreating closer to the refugees, who were still bottlenecked at the door and trying to escape. Enna raised her club high, its counterpart now floating overtop the distracted warmage. She could bring the club down on its head with all her might, she mused. One precise strike would snap the warmage's neck, or perhaps shatter its skull.
She shuddered inwardly at how easily the thought crossed her mind. She would not allow herself to kill, not when there were other options present. She swung hard, arcing the swing just enough that it came down squarely on the arm that had not left the supporting beam. Enna could feel the meaty popping of bones and joints being broken and torn, and with a howl of pain from the warmage both light and lightning ceased, the panicked screams of the refugees never receding. In the darkness, Enna could see that in spite of the confusion some semblance of order had taken over the crowd, allowing everyone to exit more quickly. Her parents and her companions, though at the back of the group, seemed unharmed, and intent on flight as well. Enna rushed over to them, giving acknowledgement to her own well-being as only the barest sliver of moonlight allowed the others to see that she was unharmed. Looking back, Enna saw the warmage, still crying out in agony as it lay on the ground, grasping its right arm, which Enna could see was broken in multiple places, twisting and bending at unnatural angles. The warmage's slender elven face was a contorted mask of pain and rage, eyes darting about, searching in vain for a target for its enmity. Enna's blood ran cold, and she hoped that what she had done had bought everyone enough time to escape.
The crowd dispersed chaotically as Enna and the others exited. Though it pained her to admit it, there was no use trying to corral the refugees at this point, and so she and the others simply began to run toward the woods from whence they had emerged two nights prior, Enna leading the way, with Odonwa closely in tow, light from the halfling's orb illuminating the path. Traversing the thicket in the dark was fairly easy for Enna with the dark vision necklace, until she noticed something just ahead of Odonwa's light's reach, and forced herself to muffle a startled scream before calling for the halfling to slow.