Chapter 3

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Albera was glad to be off. The ride on the dragon was unsettling enough, but standing around, waiting for something to happen was driving her crazy. She made a cursory survey but everything looked normal. Nobody had been around. No tracks. Nothing. But her instincts shouted at her. It felt all wrong. And it was feeling worse as time passed.

Albera turned sharply. She thought she heard something. The sensitivity of the dryad's six senses were immediately turned up a notch. She waited, heard nothing else. She shook her head. "Albera you are getting too old for this," she mumbled to herself. She peered into the night. The effect of the darkness was two-fold: it assisted concealment and increased her apprehension. The light from the twin moons did not offer much help. She moved on in the direction she thought the sound may have come from—if indeed there was a sound. But then she heard it again. Clear. Distinct. Horses footfalls. Should she go back and inform the others? No, better find out who or what it was. She moved in closer, crouched behind some brush. Whatever was out there was making Albera shake with fear. She was nearing the point of hysteria. She abruptly recalled reports of strange deaths in the north, deaths that could not logically be explained, masks of horror on the faces of the dead.

She suddenly felt compelled to move out in the open. Her wide eyes stared unbelievingly at her feet walking out from the brush. She saw them then. She had heard of them, never really believing in their existence. They were something you threatened your children with when they misbehaved. But there they were, two of them. Goddess, were they hideous! Skeletons, wearing the remnants of flesh encased in black armor, riding stallions of the same nature. Both riders and mounts focused on their prey with flames that filled hollow eye sockets. Froth gathered and driveled from what were once mouths.

Albera wanted to run, hide, anything. But the dryad was unable to move. All she could do was stare. Then one of the riders grinned, lifted a hand and pointed the bone of a finger at her. Then it extended the remaining fingers and curled them into a claw. The rider slowly turned its wrist upward and while doing so the claw transformed into a clenched fist. The dryad began to feel her Inner Self torn out of her body. Before she was ingested, Albera managed a scream: "Slayers!"


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