Chasing the Dawn

by Chris O'kane

This is set right after Experiencing the Dawn. It picks up where that leaves off.

Chasing the Dawn

by Christian O'Kane

  Caroline and Misha arrived to find at the Automata department in a state of chaos. People were running around, shouting, giving orders or just milling about. Others were fighting a fire that engulfed two workbenches. Blue/green smoke slowly wafted off the flames.

  "Get that fire out before it reaches the chemical stores!" Carlisle shouted. "And don't breath the smoke. It's probably poisonous."

  In short order things were brought under control and the chaos reduced to mild confusion. It took longer to put out the fire and clear out the smoke. It revealed a workshop filled with debris and damage. It also revealed something that was NOT there.

  "The lion is gone?" Misha asked, staring at the workbench where the lion automaton usually rested. The bench itself was empty.

  Caroline gently touched the spot on the bench where the lion had been as if to confirm with her sense of touch what her sight had told her. "What happened?"

  "Someone stole it!" Carlisle shouted. The man was busily putting out a fire that was threatening to consume a small table.

  "How could they carry it off?" Idette asked as she walked up to the workbench. "It weighs half a ton."

  Ignoring the smoke and noise Misha knelt down on the floor and examined the marks there carefully. "No one carried off the lion. It walked away."

  "What?" Carlisle finished extinguishing the fire and stepped close to the fox scout.

  The Long scout pointed to a line of marks faintly visible in the ash and dirt on the floor. "These are lion tracks."

  "That's not possible," Carlisle responded slowly as he looked where the fox was pointing. All he could see was strange marks in the dirt and ash. They didn't look like anything in particular.

  "Whether you think it's possible or not they ARE lion prints." Misha tapped one of the marks with his left hand.

  A small group crowded around the fox. "Could it be a real lion? Or someone disguised as one?"

  The Long scout shook his head. "It's wrong for a natural animal. The gait is wrong and the print itself is lacking the natural pad found on a feline's paw," Misha tapped the center of one of the prints. "This was done by an automaton. I recognize its similarity to Madog's and Salona's tracks."

  Caroline knelt down next to her fiancĂ©. "So the lion just walked away on its own? Well it is an automaton. It's supposed to move."

  "How?" Joeline asked as she crowded close. "It doesn't have a mind to move it. The automaton needs someone controlling it."

  Idette shook her head. "It was being controlled. Someone used the control spell to simply order the lion to walk away. Our own magic has been used against us."

  "But how? This is the Menomenta Gul," Carlisle said "The most heavily defended place in the Midlands. How did they get in?"

  Misha stood up. "Save that question for later. We need to get it back."

  "We'll retrieve the lion," Caroline said. "And get your answers."

  Carlisle looked again at the table and then at the door. "The thieves have a good head start."

  Misha looked along the line of marks that lead across the floor and out the door. "How fast can the lion move? I mean at a full run."

  "Not too fast," Carlisle answered. "No faster than a slow human. It was not built for speed."

  "Good! Then let's get going!" Carol said and stood up.

  Headmaster Demarest was halfway down the hallway when his path was blocked by an unexpected object. Father Harson, the Rebuilder bishop was standing there like the barred gates of a besieged castle.

 "Good," the bishop said firmly and folded his arms. "I don't have to go hunting for you."

  "Father," Demarest snarled. "I don't have the time. We've had a theft. We will have to talk later." He took a step to the side to bypass the cleric.

  The pastor clamped a hand onto the mage's arm with a grasp like a metal vise. "No, you will listen NOW."

  Demarest started to reply but stopped. The look on the other man's face made him keep his silence. It had the hardened look of a soldier who had just come from battle. It caught the mage by surprise. It was a side of the cleric he had never seen before. "What's wrong?"

  The priest pointed to the doorway leading to Demarest's office.  "She's waiting in there."

  Stepping into his office Demarest found five people waiting for him. Three he did not know but all were carrying swords and had the look of professional soldiers. The fourth he did recognize as a guild mage. The fifth he knew already. She was a middle aged woman wearing a simple, tan dress. Her hair was cut short and did not contain the usual ribbons that most women in Marigund usually wore. 

  "This is Mother Cassandra, You met her during your recent visit to the Vault," Harson explained. 


  Suddenly a cold shiver ran down the mage's spine. The woman seated in the chair was a far cry from the well dressed and calm person he had met before. She looked haggard, worn and her eyes were bloodshot and it was apparent she had been crying. She didn't look up but instead seemed to stare at a spot in space. When Cassandra did speak it was in a cold tone filled with pain and anger. "I thought our escape from Sathmore four years ago was miraculous. Everything just went so easily. I never suspected it was a trap."

  "When did they first approach you?" The bishop asked. "And ordered you to spy for them?"

  "Last fall," she explained. "They told me . . . My sister and her family," she sobbed. "If I didn't help them. Do as they say they, tell them what I knew . . ." she broke down into weeping and crying and buried her face into her hands.

 Demarest's face clouded into a scowl of anger. "I understand. Resorting to blackmail. I thought they were better than that."

  Evidently not," The father said in cold tones. "I've heard rumors of this happening in other parishes but I never expected it to happen here."

  "Do you know who these people are?" The mage asked.

  She shook her head slowly. "No. They never told me who they were. There was no doubt they had my sister. They had," She hesitated and looked down at the floor. " . . .  proof."

  The archmage nodded his head slowly. A part of him did not want to know what that proof was and yet another part already knew.

  "I kept my silence like they ordered me to," the woman said. "But then I saw the smoke coming from the Mage's Hall and realized they must have caused it."

  "We do not know who attacked the Guild today," Demarest said slowly. "But it's most assuredly the Arenul."

  "We cannot be sure of that," the priest cautioned.

  "Who else would do this?" Demarest countered. "If it is from Sathmore and involved magic it has to be them."

  The cleric had no counter to that at first. "Still. Till we have more information we must not act hastily."

  She grabbed the mage's arm and looked at him. Her face was tear streaked but had a look of determination on it. "They wanted to know about the Vault."

  Demarest stiffened and the color drained from his face. "What did you tell them?"

  The woman shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. "Too much. Too much."

  "Did you give them details of our trip there?" He asked trying to remain calm..

  "S . s .  .some," she stuttered. "I . . . I'm not sure how much."

  "Probably a lot more than you realize," the mage answered and shook his head slowly.

  "He already seemed to know it was in Tol Doron," she said.

  "That makes sense," the headmaster muttered. "They have been after it for a long time. This is not the first attempt to rob that place."

  "They can't be allowed to get hold of Tanach Terea," she said with a tinge of fear in her voice.

  "No one should get hold of anything in the Vault," he countered. "Everything there is too dangerous. That's why they are in the vault."

  Harsen leaned forward. "Will they try and break into it?"

  "Of course!" Demarest answered sarcastically. "They think we have all the great treasures stored there. We need to stop this stupidity immediately."

  The priest hugged Cassandra. "We'll free your sister and her family. Somehow."

  "Where is her family? Those here in Marigund." The mage pointed to Cassandra. "Are they safe?"

  Harson nodded slowly. "Oh yes. They are in a good hiding place."

  Demarest cocked his head to the side. "Are you certain?"

  Harsen stiffened as if insulted. "I spent five years in Sathmore sir," the priest commented calmly. "I know how to hide."

  Demarest stood there for a moment. So many things were going through his head. He needed time to sort them all out but he didn't have time. He walked to the window. From there he could see the entire courtyard and its surrounding buildings. It was one reason this was the Headmasters office. Across the courtyard the mage could see the building holding the Automatia department. The smoke was starting to dissipate. This allowed him to see more clearly that some people were running towards the building and others away from it. Many more were standing at a safe distance watching. It was a large crowd. and it seemed as if the whole guild was there.

Suddenly a realization came to him.

  The mage suddenly stiffened and cursed loudly. He turned to the group still assembled around the distraught woman. "Get her to a safe place right now. And take two of our battle mages. We will talk more when I get back."

  "Where are you going?" Harson asked.

  "To the Vault," Cassandra said in a soft tone answering for him. "All of that," she said and pointed to the chaos across the courtyard. "Was just a distraction for an attack on the Vault."

  The mage didn't answer. He was already halfway across the room and running for the door.

  Racing down the hallway the group came to its first sign of the lion. A trio of people lay sprawled on the floor. Broken weapons and splintered shields lay scattered around them. Caroline knelt down next to the men and examined them. Misha stood next to her on guard. In his hands was the massive, black, double bladed battleaxe. His head was swiveling around constantly, looking for any sign of trouble.

  "How are they?" Carlisle asked as he too looked around for any sign of the lion. He had several spells ready.

  "Alive," Caroline answered. She pointed a gloved hand at one woman dressed in a tunic and skirt. On her tunic was the ringed emblem of a guild mage. "This one has a broken leg and a broken arm but that's all. The other two are just stunned. Looks like a simple, stun spell."

  "We know where he's been," the mage said. "We need to know where he is going."

  "That way," Misha said pointing down the corridor with his axe.

  The group took off running down the corridor swerving past mages and staff. They came to a group of young boys and girls. All were about ten or twelve years old and being led by an older man in his 50's.

  "Children?" Salona asked accusatorily. "What are children doing here?"

  "Students," Carlisle said and came to a halt in front of the teacher. "The Guild runs a school of regular education."

  "For a fee?" Salona asked sarcastically.

  "Would you rather we not teach people at all?" Misha shot back. "And it is open to all who can pay. Not just nobility."

  "Education should be free for all," the metal feline answered. "And have an equal chance at life."

  "A noble idea" Misha responded with a nod in agreement. "But who is going to pay for all this free education?"

  Carlisle ignored the argument and walked over to the teacher. "Philip. Have you seen an automaton lion?"

  The man seemed a little flustered but not overly so. "Yes, we did. I assume it's one of your experiments. At least he was polite."

  "Polite?" Caroline asked, surprised.

  "He did say pardon me before barging past," the teacher explained. He scowled at Joeline. "A lot more polite then some guild mages."

  The girl blushed a little and gave a sheepish smile. "At least we have a polite thief."

  A confused look crossed Carlisle's face. "Polite? A polite thief?"

  Finding where the lion had left the grounds wasn't hard. An eight foot tall brick wall circled the edge of the property. It was mostly meant to mark the boundaries then to present a real threat to an intruder. Those defenses started inside the wall which had been stiffened and strengthened with magic. The trail led to a place where the wall had been smashed and a hole at least four feet across created. The bricks and bits of mortar scattered on the outside told Misha and Caroline it had been hit from the inside.

  Misha slowly stepped through the breech and picked his way carefully among the shattered bricks that covered a good part of the street here. He scanned the pavement carefully looking for the slightest sign of their quarry.

  "Here!" Caroline shouted and pointed to the ground.

  To Carlisle all he saw was scratches and marks amidst the dirt and filth that always was on the street. Misha rushed over and examined the spot. "That's him. Those are his prints all right."

  Salona carefully picked her way through the debris and closely examined the spot the fox and otter were pointing to. "Agreed. He went west. What's that way?"

  Carlisle looked closer at the spot where the three were looking at but still only saw scratches and marks. One scratch did seem to vaguely look like a claw mark. He wasn't sure if it was one or just his mind trying to make order of chaos.

  "Athington,"  Misha replied. "At least until you reach the aqueduct. Then we enter Garren. Both are residential neighborhoods. And after Garren is the city wall. He's headed out of the city."

  "And to a rendezvous with someone," Caroline said. "Probably a flier or a mage with teleport."

  "We need to stop him before that!" The man snarled.

  They took off at a run following the strange marks on the pavement.

  The group paused in the middle of a small plaza crowded with people. Around them everyone was stopping and staring. Seeing an anthropomorphic fox and otter and a metal Sabercat was odd, even in Marigund.

  A man with a large pony cart was holding the pony by the halter. Both man and equine were eyeing the new arrivals suspiciously.

  "Where did he go?" Carlisle asked.

  Caroline had her bow in hand and an arrow nocked. "How can we lose a half ton automaton?"

  "Well he is trying to avoid us dear," Misha answered.

  "And doing a good job of it!" She muttered.

  Joeline leaned against a wall to catch her breath. "If this lion is so slow how come we can't catch it?"

  "Magic," Idette answered. "They probably have a haste spell on it."

  Beatrice looked around. "Where is Demarest? Why isn't he helping?"

  "He's been delayed by more urgent business," Carlisle responded slowly, trying to catch his breath.

  A look of surprise crossed the girl's face. "More urgent than this?"

  "Focus," Misha ordered. "That's his problem. The lion is ours."

  "This way!" Salona ordered. The metal feline was already moving down one of the side streets. The rest quickly followed.

  As a child Demarest had always found the forest of Tol Doron intimidating. Its tall, wide trees seemed to block out the light, leaving the forest floor bathed in shadow. There were hundreds of myths about the place in Marigund folklore. It had always been a place of mystery and danger, full of strange monsters and ghosts. Yet it was also a place of sanctuary for those without anywhere else left to hide. A wanted person who made it to the woods could by law claim sanctuary there and not be harmed. A tact admission that few law hunters would dare enter the place. There were no wide roads through it and all the paths in had a way of twisting and bending at will. A person traveled the woods at their own risk and only if whatever it that resided there let them. And for the more persistent there were the wolves. The famous Doron wolves who existed nowhere else and who protected their home fiercely.

  Demarest didn't like the Vault being there. He could understand why his predecessors had placed it there but he didn't like it. It felt as if they were contaminating the place somehow. The mage understood that the forest itself didn't want the vault there but tolerated it. Such absurdly dangerous magic HAD to be kept somewhere till a way was found to destroy it.

  Usually finding anything in the forest was almost impossible even using magic. The forest of Tol Doron was old, powerful and guarded its secrets well. But for him this place revealed at least one small secret. A pair of Doron wolves greeted the mage when he arrived at the edge of the woods. He bowed to them and the wolves turned and trotted off into the darkness of the woods. Without hesitating the head of the Marigund Mages guild followed.

  The group raced down an alley jumping over a pile of empty boxes and around a mound of garbage. The alley ended suddenly as the pursuers broke out into a wide street lined with tall, half timbered buildings.

  "Which way?" Carlisle asked. "Left or right."

  Misha, Caroline and Salona stood in the middle of the road examining the pavement.

  "Right," all three scouts said at the same time.


  Quickly the group made its way down the road and came to an intersection with roads leading off in three new directions.

  Smashed fruit and vegetables covered the street in all directions. In the middle of the intersection was a pile of shattered and splintered wood that might have been a small wagon or a large push cart.

  The woman walked over to a group of people standing in the middle of the destruction. Some of them were also covered with bits of smashed plant matter. "Have you seen a . . . "

  "Large metal lion? That way," one of them answered, interrupting the mage. He was covered with bits of smashed and pulped fruit and pointed a hand covered with orange pulp off to the west.

  "I see him!"  Up ahead Carlisle caught a glimpse of something silver and brass weaving amongst the people.

  "I'm not losing him again!" Carlisle snarled. He stopped and spoke a few words in a tone too low for anyone else to understand. The mage dropped to his hands and knees as spotted fur started to cover his body. In moments the man had become a sleek and fast cheetah.

  Carlisle took off down the street using all of the natural speed and grace of the hunter he had become. The cheetah weaved around and through the people and even raced under a large wagon.

  Quickly his target came into view as he saw the metal lion running down the road. the feline put on burst of speed and caught up to the automaton. The metal lion started to turn at the last moment but was too slow. Carlisle lashed out with a front paw and tripped one of the lions back legs.

 The lion stumbled and hit the ground with the loud clattered of metal. With surprising deftness the fall turned into a tumble and the metal feline rolled right back onto his four legs.

  Surprised by the deftness of his opponent Carlisle reacted too slow when the lion lashed out with one of its massive paws. The blow caught the feline mage on the shoulder and sent him tumbling to the pavement.

  The metal feline placed a paw onto Carlisle's back easily pinning the feline mage to the pavement. But it didn't attack him. Those metal jaws could easily rip through his flesh and crush his bones but they didn't. Instead it's powerful leg kept the mage prostrate and helpless.

  The lion turned his metal head to look down the street. Salona was racing up the street towards them. Close behind was Misha and a dozen other people.

  "That's Salona?" The lion asked in a man's voice. In spite of coming from a metal mouth it was filled with amazement. "She's beautiful."

  "Very beautiful," Carlisle managed. 

  "Her movements are so graceful and fluid. Like a real animal's. My congratulations to you Carl. You do great work!"

  "Thank you but my staff did all the hard work," Carlisle answered.

  "It's incredible that such an artifact survived intact all these centuries," the lion said, the amazement still audible in its voice.

  The mage smiled. "Some assembly was required." He looked at the lion intently trying to gain a measure of who was controlling it. All he saw was a metal face devoid of emotion and shielded by some powerful spells. "Who are you? Who is in there controlling this?"

  "Haven't you guessed yet?" Came the metal feline's enigmatic answer. He turned and saw the group getting closer. "Time to go!" The lion said and leapt off of the mage.

  "You are stealing our lion," Carlisle shouted as he tried to stand up.

  The metal feline looked at the man for a moment. "No. WE built the lion and are just reclaiming it." With that the lion raced off down the street, around a corner and out of sight.

  Moments later Misha ran over to Carlisle. The mage was still a cheetah and the feline was stretched out on the pavement. "Are you all right?" Misha asked as he knelt down.

  Carlisle struggled a bit and tried to stand up again. "I think my shoulder is broken."

  With surprising tenderness Misha gently touched the cheetah's shoulder. Examining it with the practiced eye of an experienced soldier. "Oh yes, it's broken all right."


  The mage shifted back to human form. The magic healing much of the injury as it attempted to return the body to its pre-changed and undamaged state. "That still hurts," he said rubbing his shoulder. "That lion reacted a lot faster than I expected."

  The scout looked at the man's shoulder."There's no telling what he is really capable of."

  Misha looked up and past the mage. "Here comes the Caial."

  The mage turned and saw a half dozen men and woman running up the street towards them. They were dressed in full chainmail armor but instead of the expected swords and spears they were carrying cudgels and staves.

  Misha waved a hand. "Over here!"

  The group came ran over to them and clustered around them. A tall blonde haired man with a tough and grizzled face stepped forward. "Sergeant Wells, City Watch. What's happening?"

  "We're chasing a thief who stole guild property." Misha stood up.

  "Go get him!" Carlisle said. "But a word of warning. Whoever is in that lion is an Automicant, Like you and me."

  Misha slowly nodded his head. "That makes sense. Thanks for the warning." He turned in the direction the lion had gone and raced off down the street. The scout pushed his body hard understanding that if the lion got out of the city the chase was lost.

  He raced down a street weaving past the startled people. The fox scout took a left turn hard, skidding on the pavement for a moment. Ahead of him only a hundred feet in front was the metal lion.

  Behind the lion the city wall loomed up. It's cold, gray stones blocking the path. Without hesitating the feline raced up the stone steps that led to the top of the wall. It leapt onto one of the merlons - the stone blocks that made up the battlements.

  The lion paused on the edge, doing a balancing act as he stood on the stones of the battlements. The metal feline looked down at the ground some thirty feet below. With one last glance at his pursuers he leapt off and into open air.

  Misha reached the battlement followed closely by Idette and Joeline. They looked over just in time to see the lion land with all the grace expected of a feline, metal or otherwise. Seemingly untouched the feline raced off and away from the wall.

  "Wow!" Idette said in amazement. "A thirty foot drop with no damage!"

  Misha hopped onto the parapet. He spoke a few words of magic and his body glowed a light blue. The fox scout stepped off the wall and into open air. Instead of plummeting quickly to the ground Misha slowly drifted downward. After a moment his paws touched the earth at the base of the wall. Without hesitating Misha raced off in the direction the lion had gone.

  The stolen automaton came to a halt on a large open area. Centuries ago this had been a large plaza surrounded by tall buildings. Now it was just a granite platform in a large, grassy field filled with odd shaped bumps and depressions. Standing in the center was a tall woman dressed in a long, flowing, brown robe.

  The woman jumped up into the air as she flapped her arms. Her body shifted, flowed and grew larger as she seemed to hang in the air. Arms that flapped in imitation of wings transformed into real wings. Massive wings that kept growing larger and larger until they had a wingspan of over a hundred feet. As her limbs changed so did her body. her robe flowing and melting into thick, brown feathers that covered her avian form. The woman was now a giant, brown eagle large enough, strong enough to carry a person, or a metal lion.

  Hovering over the metal lion the mage turned avian grasped the automaton gently in her massive talons. The beating of her wings whipped up a storm of wind, dust, dirt and grass blocking everyone's view.

  Misha had to stop and cover his eyes for a moment. When the storm settled the bird and it's metal passenger were already several hundred feet in the air and even further away horizontally.

  He stood there staring at the eagle as it flew away, moving at a speed that no real eagle was capable of. In a moment he was joined by Caroline, Idette, Carlisle, Joeline and several of the Cail.

  "I'll bring down that bird!" Carlisle snarled and his hands started to move in the complex gestures of a spell.

  "NO!" Misha shouted and grabbed the mages hands. "You can't!"

  The mage scowled at Misha. "He'll escape!"

  "And if you hit the bird she's liable to drop the lion automaton and the fall will destroy it!" Misha explained.

  Carlisle cursed loudly and slowly lowered his arms. "Damn the Arenul Ceen!" He snarled.

  "How do you know it's them?" Idette asked.

  "Who else would want the unfinished lion?" The man asked. "Who else could have built it?"

  "Who can fly?" Misha asked. He hadn't taken his eyes off the retreating avian and its metal passenger.

  "Define fly," Carlisle responded slowly.

  Misha pointed to the bird/mage flying in the far distance. "Something fast enough to catch that."

  Idette nodded her head. "All right. I have something large and fast." She stepped back a few paces giving herself more room. The mage closed her eyes and she seemed lost in thought for a moment. The change was imperceptible at first. Her brown hair turned gray and the long bangs clumped together forming feathers. These feathers spread down her neck and across her shoulders. As the feathers spread to her arms the limbs widened and grew long and thicker. Human hands soon were engulfed by the quickly spreading feathers.

  The mage's legs grew shorter and thicker as her toes gained long, sharp talons. Idette's human face pushed outward into a sharp, black beak. Even as that was happening her torso got wider, thicker as the feathers covered a body that was no longer human or even mammalian. And as those changes happened she grew larger and larger and larger. Finally the changes slowed and then stopped, her transformation complete.

  What had once been a woman was now a massive falcon that stood over seven feet tall and with a wing span of over fifty feet from wing tip to wing tip. The feathered body weighed almost a ton. Her feathers were the gray of a storm laden cloud but edged the bright silver of a bolt of lightning. Idette's eyes glowed a bright red instead of the black of a normal bird. When she shook her new body lightning danced along the tips of her wings.

  Instinctively the otter scout took a step backward. "What are you?"

  "I'm a Storm Falcon," the massive bird answered with a voice like rumbling thunder. "A creature from Cenetli mythology."

  Misha pointed to Carlisle and Joeline. "You two stay here with the watch."

  Joeline scowled at him. "Why?"

 "He's wounded and you're too young," The fox snapped.

  The girl opened her mouth to complain but Misha pulled his lips back and bared his sharp, vulpine teeth. Her eyes grew wide and she closed her mouth but she kept scowling.

  Caroline and Misha gently climbed onto the back of the massive avian and took a seat straddling her neck like they were riding a horse. "Go easy!" The otter said. "I've never ridden a Storm Falcon before."

  "That's all right. I've never been one before," Idette said and leapt into the air. Her wings beat the air with a sound like the crash of thunder. In moments the massive bird and its passengers were a good distance away. It was moving remarkably fast for something so large.

  The group left behind stood silently for a moment, their eyes fixed on the pursuers.

  "THEY HAVE THE LION!" Joeline shouted in frustration. Frustrated at the theft of the lion and frustrated at being left behind. "They're stealing six months of work."

  "We will get him back," Carlisle responded through clenched teeth as he watched the bird and it's passenger disappear into the distance. "Misha, Caroline and Idette will catch them."

  "And if they don't?" One of the Caial asked.

  Joeline smiled and laughed. The group in unison turned and looked at the young girl as if she had gone crazy.

  "Why are you laughing?" Carlisle asked.

  "I left a little surprise in the lion," Joeline answered. "Just in case."

  Idette looked at the girl with a puzzled expression. "What?"

  "Something Salona taught me."

  The wind roared past them as Idette flew faster and faster in an attempt to catch up to the eagle. She flew into a cloud and the everything vanished into a world of swirling white. In a few moments they broke out of the clouds and into the sunshine.

  "Where are they?" Caroline shouted, trying to be heard over the roaring wind. All three scanned the skies around them.

  "We have to be close," Idette squawked. "We were only a few minutes behind them."

  "THERE!" Misha shouted and pointed off to the right.

  The two females looked where he pointed. It took several seconds before they located it. A small, black spot several miles away and slightly below them.

  Slowly the black spot grew in size as they got closer. Soon it grew into a massive brown eagle with something clutched in its talons.

  "We're catching them!":Idette shouted. "Another few minutes."

  "How do we do this?" Caroline asked. "What do we do when we catch up? We can't just shoot them down. That would destroy the lion."

  "We need to wound the eagle enough to force her to land," Misha shouted his response.

  "And how do we do that?" Caroline asked.

  The fox leaned forward, towards Idette's head. "Go lower. Come down on them from above. Maybe we can force them down."

  "Wait!" Caroline shouted. "They're sure to have an escort." She suddenly looked off to the left and cursed loudly. "And there they are!"

  A dozen creatures burst out of the clouds above and to the left of them. They were each as large as Idette's avian form and seemed to be all scales, wings, claws and wickedly sharp talons.

  Caroline's bow twanged loudly and an arrow raced out and caught the lead reptile in the head. It just crumbled into dust and disappeared.

  Without hesitating a dozen other creatures raced upwards towards them wings flapping and talons extended.

  "What are they?" Misha pulled our his own bow and loosed an arrow. "They're not like any living creature I've ever seen."

  "They don't look natural," Caroline asked as she snapped off more missiles.

  "They aren't natural," Idette answered. "They're Summonings. Creatures created totally from magic. They'll only last a few minutes before fading away."

  "That's long enough kill us," the fox answered.

  Idette seemed to hesitate and she let loose with a loud squawk and a bolt of lightning shot out of her beak. In the blink of an eye it traveled the distance between her and her attackers. It struck the lead Summoning and the creature exploded into flames before the flames leapt out to catch others. Both scouts kept shooting and in moments a half dozen of them also exploded in flames. Burning bits and debris fell from the sky. But for every one they killed there seemed to be a dozen more to replace it.

  The creatures swarmed around the giant bird, engulfing Idette and her passengers like a traveler caught in a storm. They snapped, slashed and bit at the three relentlessly as they pressed closer and closer.

  In the midst of the chaos Misha stood up on the falcon's back with the powerful axe Whisper in his hands. The small foxman twirled and twisted and spun the axe with an unimaginable ease and grace. It's jet black blades sliced through the creatures with frightening ease.

  Caroline sat behind him working her bow with frantic speed. A creature rushed straight at her and slashed at the otter with foot long claws. The otter snapped an arrow off straight into the creature and it fell away and dropped from sight. Another took its place grabbing hold of her tunic, the claws slashing though the chainmail underneath.

  With a deft flip of the wrist Misha sent his massive axe slashing downward. The magically sharp blade easy cut through creature but missed the love of his life by mere inches.

  Idette bit down on one of the attackers with her massive beak and the creature exploded in a spray of smoke and dust.

  The wind was rushing, the creatures screaming and shrieking as they slashed and ripped and tore at the three. Misha axe slashed as Caroline's bow snapped. Lightning danced along Idette's wings, lancing out to catch any attacker that came too close.

  Then suddenly it was over. Idette was flying in slow circles in a sky empty of anything, even clouds. They were alone.

  "The bird! The lion! Where are they?" Quite a few feathers were missing from her feathered head and blood sprayed from open wounds as Idette whipped her head about.

  "Long gone," the otter answered. She had her bow in hand and an arrow nocked as she slowly scanned the sky around them.

  "Let's go after them," Idette said. "Where did they go?"

  Misha shook his head slowly. "I don't know. I lost track of the eagle during the fight."

  "That was the intention of the attack." Caroline was looking all around.

 "They're nowhere to be seen," Idette commented. "And I cannot sense them with magic."

  Misha returned the axe to the straps on his back. "Probably a long way away by now."

  "This chase is over," Caroline said in a tired tone. "Let's go home."

The End