Kiya looked cautiously from the protective cover of the forest, her sharp eyesight gazing across the narrow plain at the towering crags of the Xeuxondran Mountains. Her lithe form shivered as the wind rushed down the rocky peaks, across the Winter barren plain to crash itself to tatters on the ancient trees like a mighty wave dashing itself to pieces on an uncaring headland. She felt the denizens of the forest drowsing in their Winter lodgings and the trees, somnolent until Spring, sleepily glorying in the feel of the freezing wind. She shuddered with cold once more, trying to wrap her fur cloak about her even tighter.
"You are chilled?" her companion asked almost silently, his almond-shaped eyes never leaving the opposite end of the plain and his slim, pointed ears quivering with the intensity of his concentration.
They were ordered here by the priests of Solas and Lunas, sent to meet with possible allies in their long-time enemies, the Dwarves of Xeuxondra. With the inadvertent thought of their Gods, Kiya's eyes rose to the lead gray sky, now patchy with clear areas of blue-green. The bloody orb of Solas and the pale crescent of Lunas were both visible, the manifestations of the Elven deities.
"A little," she answered, her eyes going back to the wasted plain. "We must see them soon or risk being caught by the invaders."
For the first time since they had hidden themselves amongst the protective branches of the serethorns, Mithiyal turned to her with his lustrous rose eyes. "Think you that our contact could have been waylaid?"
Kiya turned back to watching the sere landscape before them. "I worry," she replied softly, fingering the arrow she held in one hand while gripping the comforting weight of her bow. "The Meerzuar have expanded far inland. I think we must assume they might have penetrated the mountains."
They continued to watch the empty plain, grasping at hope as it faded with the light of the setting sun. The shadows of the forest were cast far out onto the dead grasses before them when they saw the first movement. A pair of shadows, darting from boulder to boulder on the rocky border of the far side of the plain, hesitantly made their way to the edge of the coverless tract. With sighs of relief, the Elves noticed that these figures were built close to the ground, a few spans shorter than their own five feet.
With a relieved grin, Kiya hefted her bow and slipped out of the protective embrace of the serethorn bushes, recovering her pack from another bush a few steps away. Mithiyal followed, slinging his own bow and quiver over his shoulder before grabbing his bag. They started out onto the plain, noticing with amusement the instant freezing of the diminutive figures coming towards them. The invasion had made timid rabbits out of even the most notoriously hardy creatures.
At the exact center of the plain, the two pairs of archenemies met, eyeing each other with millennia's worth of mistrust and hatred. "Our King commands us to be here," the taller and bulkier of the Dwarves greeted them in his harsh, dry voice, making it quite plain he would rather be swinging the huge axe on his back at them than speaking peacefully. "We were ordered to inform your priests that the Meerzuar have come to the mountains. The city of Xeuxondra stands as a haunted place now, our people returned to the caves from which we were made."
Dwarves and their caves, Kiya thought derisively to herself. "Our priests offer an alliance with your King until such time that the Meerzuar have been driven back into the sea," she said aloud in formal tones, making it quite plain she wanted to be here even less than did the Dwarves.
"I think we should get off this exposed plain, just for the sake of safety," Mithiyal suggested, trying to be the peacemaker.
"Truly," the second Dwarf agreed, his voice oddly smooth, not the grating sound with which most Dwarves spoke. "There is but little cover behind us. Let us get under your trees."
The Dwarves reluctantly accompanied them, walking at their side since the Elves did not trust them enough to give them their backs. They had just gotten under the canopy of the denuded branches when the first high-pitched yipping was heard. Kiya spun around, looking farther into the forest in panic, for the sounds were those of the huge rodent bettenoire the Meerzuar use as tracking and battle animals.
"How close are they?" the smooth-voiced Dwarf demanded, his voice hoarse with his effort to be quiet.
The more acute ears of the Elves quivered with their efforts to hear their enemies. "No more than a half mile, probably less," Mithiyal replied in a whisper. "The thrice-damned wind is carrying our scent to them."
Kiya whirled on the Dwarves, her metallic blue eyes wide with fear. "Is there no cover across the plain?"