The air was chilly but calm as Uteri cinched her bag tight. The grey elf tucked her staff between her back and her sack, making sure it would not impede her. She raised her hood and her pointed ears twitched several times from the contact with the wool lining. Content, she started her climbing pilgrimage once more.
It was before dawn and the moonlit stone of Mount Gneise was so cold it stung her fingers even through her gloves. The aspiring monk began to utter the mantra that had kept her warm while she hiked yesterday and the day previous. As the ancient words of a slumbering pantheon tumbled off her pierced tongue and past her lips, she felt heat stir around her.
Despite her faith specifically in Atheek, she did not see the magic nimbus as it thickened around her, though she could catch a glimpse if she moved fast enough. Visible or not, the spell’s effectiveness was unmistakable as the snow melted around her booted feet with each step and her breath stopped rising like fog through her coiled hair and heavy shawl.
Continuing to chant, the grey elf crested the ridge she had stopped at the night previous and paused to take a break. The moment she stopped chanting, the chill returned as the spell unraveled. Her purple-eyed gaze flicked over the mountainside clearing. Something was amiss. Despite having marked the way to the temple’s trail when she turned in last night, her marker was nowhere to be found.
The crack of a twig to her right was her only warning as a goat-boar spang from the bushes. The creature was an ungainly combination, its legs much too long for the portly torso they were attached to. It looked like a fat, shaggy antelope. The tusks and horns though, they worked together quite well.
Her years of training took over, reflexes making her jump out of the way before she had really even figured out what was attacking her. Like a squirrel, she darted up a nearby tree to escape and buy herself time to think.
The goat-boar stabbed and rammed the soft pine tree as it’s bleating grunts echoed down the valley. She had to do something. At this rate, a much more dangerous creature would arrive and she would have to deal with that instead. Putting her pack and staff aside, the elf uttered a chant for durability and dropped from the tree onto the animal.
Uteri grabbed the curved horns and tried her best to stay on the goat-boar’s back. It snarled and snapped and made an effort to unseat her so that it could trample her. She had a skinning knife in a pouch on her belt, but even if the short blade were enough to deal enough pain to scare the creature away, she would have to let go to get it and that would definitely lead her getting stabbed first.
She halted her chant and began another in the same breath. As she exhaled, the words of domination clawed their way out of her throat, bringing the iron tang of blood to her mouth. Forcing her will on another mind was painful, even as one with an aptitude for such things.
Between her knees, the creature’s breathing began to slow, coming into sync with her own. Blood dripped off her chin as she continued to chant. The creature stopped struggling and stood there impassively. The goat-boar’s mind opened to hers. Sure now this was a test, Uteri told it to go back into the woods and return to life as normal.
A wet cough shattered the chant and the animal jerked under her, sending her tumbling in the leaves and snow. The elf lay there until the sound of it crashing through the underbrush faded. She wiped her face clean and then clambered up to get her pack. The moment she gripped her staff, a rough shove sent her forward into the snow once more.
Two spear points pressed into her back. From the smell, her captors were Drachen. “To what end would a heathen like you be here, Yoteni scum?”
“Speak! Your very presence desecrates this holy mountain.”
“I have a letter from my master to Abbot Geoffstad granting me an audience. It’s in my pack.”
The spears withdrew. “You may rise, elf, but be quick with your document or we won’t be held responsible if one of those pointy ears happens to go missing…”
Whispering a prayer to Atheek, Uteri got to her feet and turned to face the warriors.
The remnants of a war long forgotten, the Drachen, as a race, had been created by desperate, lawless mages at the height of the conflict. Their bodies were crafted by injecting the essence of fallen magi into eggs stolen from drakes. While they resembled their sires, with their reptilian features, the creatures were neither dragon nor human.
Two pairs of golden eyes watched her reach into her bag, their pupils just dark slits. She produced the letter and showed the lizardmen the seal. Their reptilian faces were unreadable, but eventually one of them snorted and the duo turned their back to her. “Follow us, Yoteni. We shall convey you to his Holiness…”