posted on 04-Jun-2004
In a deep cavern, hidden far from the prying eyes and sharpened steel of Isparians, torchlight flickered across a stone table. Two figures stood there, bent over maps and parchments.
The larger of the two, a gray giant in black and gold armor, stepped back from the table. He stood quietly for a moment and then spoke in a voice that sounded like an avalanche. "Are we ready, then?"
His companion wore a green tunic and yellow sash which stood out in stark contrast from his black fur. His voice was not as deep but held the same note of strength.
"Patience, my friend. I have not finished going through the most recent reports."
The other made a rumbling noise and clenched his fist. "Niarltah, we know what we must do. Let us get on with it!"
"No, Muldaveus. Not yet," Niarltah replied. His eyes remained focused on the page in his hand.
Muldaveus roared with frustration and with one enormous hand swept half the table clear. He slammed his fist down onto the table's surface, took a moment to gather himself, and spoke through clenched teeth. "While you go over these documents, our time is slipping through our fingers! The Isparians have raided the valley fortress and it is almost certain that they know of our plans! We cannot waste any more time!"
Niarltah stood from the table, put down the parchment that he had been reading, smoothed his tunic and looked at Muldaveus. Although the Lugian was much more massive, they stood eye to eye.
"I am well aware of the situation in the Direlands," Niarltah said calmly. "I read it in Kamenua's report. And yes, time may not be on our side, but it would be foolish to make our move without being sure that we have all of the necessary facts."
He picked up a parchment seemingly at random from the stack at his side. He looked down at it and his eyes narrowed. "Example: There are reports that the Burun have begun attacking Isparian settlements. Question: Will this cause the Isparians to increase their counterattacks in the Blackmire and the A'mun?"
Muldaveus began to answer, but Niarltah interrupted him. "I already know the answer, my friend," he said with a malicious grin. He drew another parchment from the stack. "My spies have reported increased activity in the Isparian cities, centered on the large stone halls and the new crystals that their mages and alchemists have created. In addition, my reports state that the Isparians have found means to prepare for battle more quickly, and that they are spending less time in the shops of those who sell magical scrolls." Niarltah waited for Muldaveus to reply.
"But what does this tell us?" Muldaveus asked. "Nothing!"
Niarltah's grin grew wider. "It tells us what they are not doing, my friend. They are not, as yet, attempting to block our plans. They are not increasing their attacks on the newcomers. I believe they are still thinking that they should wait and see."
At this, Muldaveus began to grin himself, a fearsome sight to behold. "And what more do your reports tell you of the newcomers?" he asked.
"They continue to drive the Mosswarts out of the swamps, killing those that linger behind. The survivors have been migrating west and south... there are some rumors of a new cult rising in the midst of the fleeing packs. Interesting..." Niarltah paused briefly, his eyes narrowing. "Apparently a particularly bright Mosswart approached the Isparians, asking for help. According to my spies, the results were mixed. A Mosswart!" Niarltah spat. "On our world some of us hunted them for sport!"
He was reaching for another parchment when there was a knock at the door. A Lugian entered, and his deep voice betrayed his excitement when he addressed Muldaveus. "My Lord, they have all arrived. We are all ready."
The door closed and Niarltah set his pages down on the stone table. "Now. Now it is time."