Out of the Darkness Written by Brandy McPherson, copyright 2007; posted with full permissions.
Drip… drip… drip.
The first thing she was aware of was the sound. Drip, drip, drip. It seemed to come from somewhere far away, but was steadily moving closer.
Drip… drip… drip…
Next came smell. A metallic taste hung heavy in the air, along with the smell of dust and forgetfulness, of places that have been sealed closed for a long time.
A soft breeze brushed past her cheek. Only noticeable due to the lack of feeling only a moment before. Behind the breeze came stickiness upon her skin and a great weight pulling at her limbs in a dull ache felt mostly in the bone.
Drip… drip… drip…
Vision comes slowly, like things out of a fog. She is facing down a long dark corridor, lit only by the flickering light of a torch laying on the floor. The walls are of an old dark stone, blocks fitted together so well that the seams are barely visible. A line of script runs about waist level down the corridor as far as she can see. Blood glitters on the walls like bright red jewels.
Drip… drip… drip.
A spray of blood covers much of the wall and a thick stream of it creeps toward her booted foot. Slowly she follows the stream toward the body on the floor. Bodies. There are three bodies in the corridor. One is a large male, most likely human, laying face down on the floor. A short sword is still gripped in his hand. The blood comes from him. One of his companions is a very small female. Her small face is drained of color, eyes staring far off, and her throat has been torn out, covering the front of her in a dark crimson stain.
The third lays upon his side with his back against the wall. A long sword lays near his hands that are slack. His guts spill out upon the floor in a wet mass from a large slash bisecting his stomach.
She turns slowly to see the body of a female hanging from the wall with the length of a bronze spear pinning her to the wall. Her long blonde hair hangs down hiding her face like a curtain. Blood drips down from her chest wound to the floor.
The spear…something about it is familiar. Hot sun beating down. Gritty sand under foot. Sweat trickling into eyes and in the palm of the hand. Hand holding tightly to the haft of a spear. It comes so quickly and is gone just as fast that she is left gasping. What was that?
She steps closer to the body pinned to the wall. The woman is wearing armor she has never seen before. A gray metal sewn onto leather underneath. The spear in her chest looks very old, almost ancient. The wood of the it's length is black with age. The leather on the middle grip is cracked. Except for a bottom portion. The leather wrapped there looks newer. Hands carefully re wrapping new leather. A voice telling her to wrap it tight and keep it smooth, a male voice. This time a pain lances through her head dispelling the vision.
What is going on? The dragging sensation on her body increases. It compels her to travel back down the corridor away from the bodies and to…do what? She shakes her head to dispel the fog that begins to cloud her mind. Something is wrong. She looks down and notices she is holding a sword. A bronze sword with a graceful curve to it's blade. A blade that looks very sharp. A blade that is covered in blood. I killed these people? But why?
Voice raised in alarm and terror, echoing of the corridor's walls. Pale human faces. One with slightly slanted features screams something like a curse and charges. His face crumples into pain as a sword slashed across his belly.
White hot pain lances through her head, stabbing like pikes over the eyes and in the back of the skull. She leans against the wall panting as the lethargy creeps back on her. Come and rest it says.
No… I won't go…
Pain shoots up her arm dispelling the lethargy. She looks down at her fist that has hit the wall and left a mark. Her hand is wrapped in bandages. Old bandages. Bandages used to wrap the dead in for burial. Torch light filling a hall. Glittering of gold and silver. Chanting in the background. Incense thick in the air.
Echoes bounce off the walls and fill the corridor. She realizes she is screaming and clutching her head with her hands. Shivering, she leans back against the wall and slides to sit upon the floor. No voice calls her to rest. What is going on? Am I dead?
A breeze brushes her cheek again. She turns to look up the corridor. Nothing is visible in the darkness beyond the torch light. Out. I must get out to discover what is going on? Maybe someone will know? She climbs to her feet, picks up her sword and begins moving down the corridor toward the bodies. She stops and takes the cloak from the dead human laying face down and swings it around her shoulders. It is bloodstained but she does not care. She hesitates at the boundary of the torch light. Looking out into the darkness she realizes that she can still see. It is not in colors, more like different shades of darkness. Pushing any questions and doubts to the back of her mind she sweeps down the corridor, toward the breeze and hopefully to answers.
The night wind caressed her cheek as she kneeled in the desert sand, gasping for breath. The journey to the surface had been torturous. Not once had the voice in her head relented its attack upon her. Only her will had kept her feet moving toward the surface and away from tomb's mysterious depths. For it was a tomb that she had escaped from, of that she was sure, though she does not remember how she knows this. She is certain of very few things: she had just escaped a tomb that she had been buried in. It was not her tomb, but she can not remember to whom it belonged, nor how large it is, nor where it is located. She couldn't even recall her own name. By the sword upon her hip, the spear in her hand, the shield strapped to her arm, and the breast plate upon her chest she could tell that she was a warrior. Or had been, for the wrappings covering her body told her she was dead.
With her head back, she peers up at the night sky. The stars shone bright against the velvety blackness of the night's sky. Something tells her she has never seen stars this bright before, always they were dimmed by other lights. How many lights would it take to dim out the vibrant stars that she looked upon? Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands? It would take a vast city filled with light to dim the stars. She stares around her looking for such a thing. But empty dark desert is all she sees. Confusion wrinkles her brow. She knows a city should be here, just as she knows how to use the weapons that she carries. No reason for the knowledge, just the knowledge. She stands up and stares intently into the night around her. Turning slowly to take everything in she spies a flickering red light far off into the distance. Light…but not enough for the vast city that should have been here. Light meant people and people meant answers. Answers to questions she could not form to ask, but maybe she would have a question when she got to the light. Maybe… Gods willing.
“You must have T'Kath's on luck, you elf-kisser.”
Iadr chuckled. “If you knew the goddess well, you would know that she has very little to do with luck, and much more to careful planning.” Scooping up his winnings, Iadr grinned at his companions.
“What does careful planning have to do with knuckle bones?” His brother, Irzuq, turned to the side and spat out into the night.
If anything, Iadr's grin grew bigger. “Carefully planning goes into much of knucklebones. You must weigh carefully what to wager, your opponents, and above all, when to leave while the getting is good.”
A snort was the only response from the brothers' third player, Uapc. He was a quiet soldier, even before part of his throat was torn by a seriously injured dwarf on the border of Rakore a few years before the beginning of the war. His voice box was mostly ruined, leaving him almost mute.
“I think Uapc wants another chance to win back some of his money before you call it quits,” Irzuq commented with an amused grin. Uapc responded simply with a quick nod.
“So be it, but no hard feelings if you lose what you have left in your gamble, for you must also plan carefully how much you are willing to lose.” With a sly grin Iadr scooped up the small bones and shook them in the crude wooden cup.
Across from the fire from the gamblers were three other figures. One was wrapped up tightly in his cloak, snoring softly. Yeucc was the squads forward scout, a small orc with grey-green skin, a quick eye, quicker wit and quickest pair of knives this side of the mountains. Not to far the Commander and the Sergeant sat close together, discussing their plans for the coming day. The older Sergeant, Zryish, ate stew from his wooden bowl while the younger Qyzex illustrated his plans by drawing in the soft sand. The squad was small, consisting of only eight warriors. Only two were out on guard and set not too far from the edge of the fire light. The Orcs were well back from the front lines of the fighting, with the vast desert hugging them on three sides and huge mountain with sheer side many miles to their south. The squad was taking a rest from scouting operations into the mountains to clear out any Rakorian guerilla fighters hiding in the region. They were waiting to meet up with the rest of their company at the rendezvous point only two more days to the west. Duegg and Lioxxoi were relaxed, but still watchful at their posts on either side of the camp.
Duegg was the first to see the figure approaching out of the night. He was momentarily startled by how the cloaked figure seemed to materialize out of the night so close to the camp. He rose smoothly and quickly to his feet, bringing his bow with it's knocked arrow up to bear. “Halt and be identified.” All activity in the camp halted at his challenge. The figure did not stop, nor did it speak.
“Halt and be identified or I will shoot.” Duegg calmly sighted in on the figure gliding across the sand. He could make little out about the figure: it was tall and maybe slim; it carried a spear in one hand and a shield upon the other. The gamblers were standing now, with hands hovering near weapons. The Sergeant frowned into the night as he tried to see who was approaching. The figure neither spoke nor stopped.
“Your funeral,” Duegg muttered as he loosed his bolt.
The blot flew true to its target; thudding into the figure’s upper left shoulder and jerking it half way around. But the figure did not fall nor cry out.
“By the…” Iadr muttered in awe as the figure straightened. Now there appeared to be two red glowing coals in the hood of the figure at about the height of a tall human.
“Impossible,” Duegg swore as he drew, knocked and loosed another deadly bolt. This too flew true to thud into the opposite shoulder; staggering the terrible figure. And the figure grew even more terrible after this second bolt hit home. The eyes erupted into fiery life and a low hiss of anger could be heard to come from the figure. It raised the fine hairs of all the orcs and even awoken the slumbering Yeucc. Definitely a hiss of anger, not of pain.
“Undead!” Qyzex roared. “To arms! Destroy the creature!”
Hands flew to weapons and unsheathed them with wring hisses as the patrol was snapped out of it’s immobility as the Captain called out his orders. Sergeant Zryish grabbed up a flaming brand from the fire as well as his vicious hand axe as Duegg loosed a third bolt toward the figure as it stalked in like a determined predator, looking for the kill.
The third bolt did not find its target this time, for the medium shield flashed bronze in the light of the fire as the figure closed with inhuman speed and feinted to the right with the spear. Duegg dodged to the left and into the shield bash coming in from his left. The shield impacted with his skull with a wet, cracking thud spinning the archer spun almost fully around to lie dead in the sand.
The two brothers charged in toward the cloaked figure together, but pulled up a bit short of closing with it as they got their first good look at the creature that had previously hidden by the night’s shadows. Iadr and Irzuq had both fought undead before, but had never beheld a creature quite like the one they now faced. Bright red fires burned in the eyes of a face leathery with age and wrapped in ancient bandages. The cloak was spread wide by the warrior stance it adopted; revealing a bronze breast plate, an ancient kilt of leather, bronze greaves, a curved blade sheathed at it’s hip, and more bandages covering it’s body under the armor. By the slight build and gentle curves in the breast plate, the creature appeared to have once been a female elven warrior. A tall elven warrior, for the creature stood at about six feet tall if not a few inches more.
Iadr breathed, “When do desert elves wrap their dead?” Uapc, who had hung back a bit to see which way the brothers would go so he could circle to the other side and flank the creature, grunted in agreement.
“They don’t,” was the grim reply of Zryish. “Drive it to the fire, boys. Mummies are weak against fire.” At least this what the sergeant had heard. He had never faced a mummy before and had hoped to he never would, but such a monster was before him and his men, and he was damned if he wouldn’t do everything in his power to see them through this fight.
Grimly, the two brothers stalked to the creatures shield side as Uapc peeled off toward the right. None in the patrol had ever faced an undead as powerful as a mummy, but they were determined to live to spin this tale around camp fires with their comrades.
The mummy’s gaze focused on the two brothers as they moved into position, Iadr armed with an iron long sword and Irzuq with a great sword. Uapc circled seemingly unnoticed to the creature’s rear armed with an iron short sword and leather shield. Iadr with a quick grunt launched a forward thrust as his brother moved in with an overhand chop slightly behind his brother’s attack. Long sword was deflected by the shield and the great sword’s swing was redirected by the spear.
Dancing to the side with its counters, the creature avoided a diagonal slash from Uapc. Using the shield as the center point, the creature spun around behind Iadr with graceful speed, almost like a dancer, and slashed across the back of the orc’s left knee with the blade of the spear. With a howl, Iadr fell to his knees as his left leg buckled under him. Irzuq with a snarl, spun around, bringing his great weapon around in a powerful diagonal sweep that was countered up high by the shield. Quick as a striking snake, the bronze tipped spear stabbed into his belly below the edge of his armor. A twist of the wrist pulled the spear out, opening up a large gash. Bright blood poured out upon the desert sand and Irzuq doubled over trying to hold his guts in.
Uapc, with a great war cry leapt over the kneeling Iadr, and waded in with a furious attack with his short sword. The blow would have taken the creature’s head from its shoulders had not the shield come up at the proper angle to deflect the swing over the creature’s head. The brave orc was saved from the creature’s counter attack when Lioxxoi’s arrow zipped in; taking the undead in its thigh.
The creature’s leg seemed to collapse beneath it, but instead it dropped onto its left knee and swung its spear out wide and around; catching Qyzex and Zryish by surprise and spilling them onto the sand. Seeing his commander and the sergeant being dumped onto the ground; he wisely leapt back as the creature continued it’s spin; changing knees as it came back up to it’s feet facing Uapc. Instead of closing with Uapc, as the orc soldier expected; the mummy shifted its grip on the spear and threw it across the fire. The bloody bronze spear tip flashed in the light as it flew across the encampment to bury it’s self in Lioxxoi’s throat and launch the archer back two feet.
Uapc rushed the unarmed creature and tried to shift off to the side to drive the creature toward the fire. Gracefully spinning and dancing; the mummy blocked or deflected his quick jabs and swings with its shield and it’s gracefully drawn curved sword. The orc was one of the quickest blades of the patrol, second only to Yeucc and his daggers, and was the veteran of many fights; but he was stunned at the fluidity of movement the monster before him displayed. Uapc had always thought mummies would be slow shambling things; dragging their legs or walking in a stiff legged gate. Not so with this one. It spun and danced and slashed around him, always staying away from the fire and keeping him between it and his two commanders, whom had regained their feet. Uapc was hard pressed to keep the undead’s dangerous blade in sight. He knew if he should blink at the wrong time, he would die.
Yuecc crouched down, hiding behind the fire. He watched as Qyzec and Zryish tried to maneuver around the fiercely battling orc and mummy; but the two moved too fast and spun around erratically for them to join in. The three arrows protruding from the creature did nothing to slow it, and he knew from experience that it would not tire…ever. The mummy could dance all day and all night with its blade, but Uapc could not continue his brave fight for much longer. Yuecc transferred his grip on one of his many daggers to the tip of its blade and waited for his chance before letting it fly.
The dagger flew through the air like a glittering bird; spinning end over end toward the head of the awful creature that had slew two of his comrades. The bloody bronze shield lifted up at the right time to deflect the missile from its target. Yuecc’s dagger bounced harmlessly of the shield and toward Uapc. Seeing the glittering dagger heading toward his face, Uapc jerked his head back. Quicker than most eyes could follow, the oddly curved bronze blade came up and slashed across the brave soldier’s exposed neck. Blood sprayed forth; cover the front of the mummy and its third victim.
Cursing, Yuecc readied another dagger as Captain Qyzex and Sergeant Zryish circled the creature. “Why won’t this cursed thing die?”
Into the silence of the night broken now only by the pop and crackle of the fire and the wounded Iadr’s heavy breathing came a low hissing voice. “Can’t…”
Both Qyzex and Zryish stopped their circling but did not lower their guards. The voice, a hissing rasp like sand flowing over rocks had come from the creature. Staring at it; they noticed that its eyes no longer blazed like fires but had subsided to bright coals in the interior of the hood.
“Say that again,” Zryish growled.
The mummy still stood ready with the two orcs circling around it, but it turned its gaze to the sergeant and repeated itself. “Can’t.”
Qyzex began to lower his long sword, but not his shield. “Why not?”
“Seeking,” it responded, turning its head to face the captain.
“Seeking what?” the sergeant replied in turn.
“Answers to what?” the captain queried, intrigued by this dialoged.
Sergeant thought this was the craziest conversation he had ever seen let alone participated in, but the mummy did not continue its attack while they talked, so he continued along. “What questions?”
The mummy, standing in a ready position like it could do that until the mountains became dust, swiveled its head back and forth to face the captain and sergeant alternately as it answered. Its eyes glowing like hot coals banked for the night that only took a puff of breath to flare to fiery life again. Each time it had answered readily, but now it paused and its eyes took on a somewhat vacant expression as it stared past the sergeant into the night. Its sword tip even went so far as to dip lower. Hesitantly, as if it took effort, the creature responded, “I have forgotten the questions.”
Yuecc, forgotten on the other side of the camp, during this strange exchange fumed at his commander's failure to close with the creature and slay it. It had already killed three good soldiers and severely injured another. The scout almost trembled with suppressed rage at the deaths of Irzuq, Duegg and Lioxxoi. Most especially the later, for Lioxxoi had many times protected Yuecc’s back and saved his life many times over. That this monster, an undead, was to maybe be bartered with was repugnant to him. As the creature turned away to pause as it considered its answer to the sergeant; Yuecc lined up a throw to the center of the creature’s back and let throw before the captain could continue the questioning.
The mummy let out a terrible roar of mixed anger and confusion, with just a slight mix of pain and even frustration in it, as a dagger blossomed from its back. The captain was so startled by the unexpected roar that he had no time to react as the creature spun around, swinging its deadly sword in a fierce arc that clove the captain’s head from his shoulders before the officer could blink. Sergeant Zryish, who had never let his guard down, quickly leapt in with his fiery brand from the fire leading. The improvised weapon was blocked, but the cloak the mummy wore, swirled around even after the creature had stopped and was showered with sparks from the torch and caught on fire.
Zryish waded in on the monster; torch leading, sword ready to attack, as the creature leapt back. Before he could close with the creature, it spun and launched its sword with such rage born power that it blasted into Yuecc’s chest that the tip burst through his back and he was thrown off his feet.
Axe slashing and torch thrusting; Zryish worked his weapons in a blur as he pushed the mummy toward the camp’s central fire. Over and over again the monster brought its shield up to block most blows; others it side stepped to avoid as its hand worked to release its burning cloak. Finally freeing the cloth; it spun it out as a barrier to keep the sergeant from closing in again. As the creature released the spinning cloak toward the orc, which was batted aside, a quick kick flipped Uapc’s fallen short sword into its waiting grasp. Armed once more with a sword, the creature held its ground against the sergeant’s continuing attacks. Staring into eyes once more burning with fire, the sergeant knew he was surely doomed. He increased his attacks, determined not to fall without harming the creature. What more he thought he could do to a monster that fought with two arrows in its shoulders, one in its thigh, and a dagger protruding from its back was not to be known, for the mummy forced both his weapons low and drove the side of its shield into Zyrish’s temple. The sergeant fell to the sand dead, all his body gone limp as a doll.
Iadr, using his long sword as a crutch to lever himself up, stared at the mummy exposed in all its power without its covering cloak. The creature stood still staring down at the dead Zryish at its feet. The mummy was most definitely a female elf. She stood a few inches short of six and half feet tall. Bandages did indeed cover its entire body. Some looked cracked and torn. Boots made from odd leather that he could not recognize were upon her feet and no jewelry was present. Some long black hair escaped through gaps and cracks in the wrappings of her head, though it looked dry and brittle. The creature stood still in the fire light; quiet and strangely beautiful in a deadly manner. Like a poisonous snake resting in the sun. To Iadr’s ultimate surprise, she dropped Uapc’s sword and began pulling the arrows from her shoulders. First her left shoulder and then her right, each bolt pulled out easily and was dropped onto the sand. Neither tip nor shaft was stained with blood, but both looked as if they had been aged. The arrow from her thigh was also removed and discarded. Iadr stood there unsteadily, breathing hard from pain as he watched her reach behind her for the dagger. A slight frown marred her impassive face as she twisted a bit to reach the dagger. Once it was free, it too was discarded with out care.
The wounded orc prepared to defend himself, but was surprised as she turned without a word or look to glide across the camp to Yuecc’s body. She wrenched her blade free of his chest with little effort. He watched as she wiped two fingers down the length of the blade through the blood and then reached around to dub the blood onto the dagger wound. He watched in fascination as the rent in the bandages, the blood was absorbed, and the armor closed up. The blade, now magically clean, was sheathed at her hip. Turning, she proceeded over to Lioxxoi’s body and repeated the process, this time rubbing her bloody fingers over the wound in her thigh. She then thrust the spear tip down in the sand, as she reached upon her shield with a wiping motion and then rubbed her shoulders. Turning, Iadr saw that she was healed of all the wounds that she had taken in the brief fight.
Iadr began to tremble and a cold knot spread out from his belly. He was sure he was going to die. She glided a few steps forward and stopped at Yuecc’s discarded cloak. Bending down, she lifted it up and settled it about her slender shoulders. His jaw dropped in astonishment as the mummy once again turned away and retrieved her spear. Without a backward glance, she began to glide off into the night.
“That is it?” Iadr whispered in surprise.
The mummy stopped and turned halfway to face the wounded orc. Her eyes no longer burned with fire, nor glowed like coals. He could not see them under the hood of the cloak she had pulled up, but he could feel them. “That is it,” she replied in a dry whisper.
“But, but…,” he sputtered. “Are you just going to leave me? Alive?”
“I have no quarrel with you, orc.” He voice was no longer a low hiss, but a dry whisper. Like old paper in a dust tome; old and little used.
“What of your questions? Have you remembered them?”
The mummy tilted her head a little to the side. “Some, but I doubt you have the answers.” She turned away once more.
“Where are you going?”
“To somewhere I can find answers.” With that, she glided off into the night.
“What are you?” Iadr whispered into the night.
Without turning or stopping she answered, “A lost Guardian.”
That is what she had told the wounded orc in the camp she had left behind her three days ago. Shah, the term meant guardian in her language, but there was more to it. Always there was more to it and everything. Never enough to give her answers. Little bits and pieces that teased through her mind like images in smoke, hazy and quickly lost to the winds. She did not even remember why see entered the camp. A part of her knew she would not find her answers there, but she now had questions. Questions she still remembered. Seeking… answers… to questions… Who are you? Oh, how she wished she knew the answer to that last question. She remembered not her name, nor her family, nor her people. Only Shah. Guardian.
From her vantage point, crouched on a dune near the foot hills of some mountains to the west, she watched another camp fire burn. This camp also held orc, but was bigger than the last one. It also held others this time: prisoners or slaves. She could not tell which, but something told her she would find something or maybe someone who would lead her one step closer to the answers she sought.
Suddenly, there were many bright blue flashes lighting up the night around the orc encampment. Bright blue ovals of arcane energy popped up around the camp and human, elven and dwarven people began to spill out. First came mages, casting spells such as fireball and lightning bolt from wands and launching magic missiles from outstretched hands. Closely upon their heels were fighters, mainly humans and dwarves, rushing into the surprised orcs caring swords, shields and axes. Portals that remained open had archers around them, firing bolts into the area in front to keep them clear. Other portals winked out and the mages and warriors that came through it ran off and were lost in the melee of the camp.
It was a rescue attempt that much was clear. For there was a large attack coming in at the end opposite where the prisoners were being kept, drawing attention to the north. No portals opened up near the prisoners on the south end of the camp, but she could see guards being quietly cut down from foes who, until their strikes had been dealt, had been invisible. She rose from her crouch and began to jog off toward the escaping prisoners, knowing the time to act had come. She felt a gentle tug that had guided her out of the desert to the west guiding her forward once more.
Lance Vonderheide, a smuggler out of Sandar, sat quietly with his head in his hands; trying to look inconspicuous as he planned his escape. Seems he had been planning one escape after another for the past several weeks. Ever since the Ograns had broken through the mountains and marched into Rakore; his life had been at an all time low. War was murder on trade. Rakore was better off than other nations in part to its mages, but there were still some special items that made smuggling very lucrative. Lance and his partners were more than happy to fill these neglected needs. Along with their exotic supplies that consisted mostly of common and uncommon spell components, they also started trading information. Smugglers routes wound themselves all over the mountains and the enterprising group was able to feed Rakore information on the Ograns.
That was where they had gone wrong. Someone in Rakore, a high ranking official by Lance’s guess, was working for the other side. His first clue to this was when smuggling routes that they had turned over to Rakore for use in guerilla and spying operations were watched and groups taken with hardly a fight. Then his partners began to disappear. First Benny as he led a small patrol to spy on the Ogran forces moving through the North. Benny was always too brave for his own good in Lance’s opinion, but he could smell an ambush a mile away. No one would have known what had become of the patrol; had not another patrol been forced to use the smuggler’s route after being hit themselves. The bodies had been hastily buried, but scavengers had dug them up. Benny's head had been recognizable even with his eyes picked out by crows.
Next to disappear was Little Angie and Tomas. Angie was a small dark woman who looked more a child than anything else, but said her age was thirty-two. Thirty-two and she stood no taller than Lance had at eight years old. Tomas was like her giant shadow, at six foot seven he could easily carry Angie on his back in a pack, and had on more than one occasion when speed was necessary. The two had been together for fifteen some odd years. Both veterans well versed in hiding and sneaking. They too were lost. A week after Benny had left on his doomed mission; they were killed in what appeared to be a tavern brawl. Angie had been one of their best sources for information due to her ability to disappear like smoke rings in the dark.
Their best source of information was old Louis M’Treville, a half-elven bard that could charm the beard off a dwarf. Lance believed he could and had seen him come close to accomplishing this feat on two occasions. He was the most senor of the partners and it had been his idea to feed Rakore information. Louis had been the first to suspect a traitor in Rakore, but had feared to tell anyone about it. He told Lance all he suspected after Angie and Tomas were killed and warned him to be ready to flee should things get worse.
Things got worse a few days later. Old Louis was found dying on a smugglers’ trail we had not turned over to Rakore by a ranger walking forest paths unknown to most men. The ranger bandaged Louis’ wounds as best he could and carried him post haste to the nearest Rakoran out post. Louis was unable to talk due to a tongue swollen and black. The cleric at the post had not enough power to cure the bard of the strange poison he had been given. She could only make him comfortable as possible, which not much. Louis began to convulse and foam at the mouth. He suffered for hours before dying.
Once Lance got word of the horrible demise of his last partner, he quit town quickly and quietly. He took great pains to avoid Rakoran patrols and Ogran patrols alike. He spent two weeks on the run. Staying only a few jumps ahead of capture. Sometimes only a hair’s breathe ahead of them. Smuggling runs that he had even mostly forgotten were no longer safe and the Ogran army pushed deeper and deeper into Rakore everyday. His luck ran out when he stumbled into a trio of orcs and their Roc.
They must have been hunting humans, elves, and dwarves for they were all conveniently armed with nets. Lances luck had defiantly deserted him for he fell, quite literally, into their midst from a pile of stones that were the remnants of a landslide years ago. He was climbing these before mentioned rocks to by-pass the orcs in the glen on his way east. At that time he had only seen two. The orcs in question were relaxing at the base on one large boulder, drinking and munching on jerked meat. As Lance was passing above the pair, the rocks that he was crawling across that had seemed so stable when he first tested them began to crumble under him and proceeded to dump him with a hail of rocks into the lap of one of the orcs.
Doshd was a short and very stocky orc. He had often been teased as a green skinned dwarf. A very ugly insult among orcs and dwarves alike. As a consequence of having to defend himself against these regular insults, Doshd had a bad temper, a short fuse, fists of granite and numerous scars. To say Doshd was not happy to have a dirty human male and dozen good sized stones dumped into his lap are putting things mildly. Doshd tossed a befuddled and bruised Lance out of his lap and rose with a great roar. As much as Doshd hated being compared to a dwarf, his fighting style is very like them. He pulled out a long handled Calvary hammer and proceeded to attempt to bash Lance’s head in. Lance must not have run out of luck completely as of yet, for Doshd stepped upon a small stone the wrong way and tumbled to the side.
The other orc was a grayish-blue skinned orc from the far north. What Halgar was doing in the army of sand orcs was his business and Halgar was not sharing. Other than the slightly blue tint to his skin, Halgar was like other orcs except that he was blind in one eye. But he was deadly accurate with his short spear and an excellent trainer of Rocs. Halgar rolled away when the shower of stones began and then came in bearing the net to capture Lance. Lance’s luck once again saved him for as he lay there helplessly dazed from his tumble; Doshd's trip on a rock sent him tumbling into Halgar and they both fell in a tangled heap.
Lance, recovering his scattered wits, found himself in the midst of the orcs he had been taking pains to avoid. He scrambled quickly to his feet as the two orcs untangled themselves from each other and Halgar's net. Heedless of his surroundings, Lance ran for the trees on the far side of the glen. But it seemed that all of the human’s luck had run out; Lance ran head long into the net of the third orc that was coming out of the trees after relieving himself.
This new arrival was the leader of the squad resting in the glen. Ibin was the second son of the leader of the Thunderwing clan. They specialized in the training and riding of the giant Rocs. He was considered handsome for an orc, with thick arms and legs, olive skin and black hair plaited into many tiny braids. Neither of his tusks was broken or chipped, but his nose was a bit lumpy from being broken in several fights of succession. He quickly tied up the exhausted Lance before checking on his two squad mates. Seeing that they suffered no injury and calming Doshd from his murderous rampage, he pulled Lance back across the glen to where the others were once again resting and began a quick questioning of Lance.
He basically was asked who he was and why he was out here. Lance, in a pitiful condition after his weeks in flight; stuttered and trembled, acting like a half-wit that had become lost from those who normally cared for him. Had he not been as tired, hungry, and dirty as he was, there was a chance that Ibin would not have believed him. As it was, the commanding orc just wrinkled his nose at the dirty human and gagged him to stop his pitiful whining. Doshd suggested that they just kill the human for mercy’s sake, but Ibin persisted in bringing him back. “We can use the hands for simple chores, and if he is of no use he will then find himself in a cook pot in short time. Either way this human will be of use to us one way or another.” Doshd spat through a gap in his teeth in answer.
Lance was given food, water and endured a rough washing from the three orcs. Ibin complained he smelled. After that he was tied up as Halgar summoned the Roc using a bone whistle he wore around his neck. In almost no time at all, the great golden bird was back winging in the glen. The Roc was an impressive sight; it resembled an eagle the size of a large house and was able to carry six fully grown orcs with ease. Intelligent, fierce, maneuverable and loyal to their trainers since hatching; they were part of what made the Invasion forces so formidable. Shortly after landing, Lance was secured between Halgar in front and Ibin in back. Doshd rode on one of the bird’s legs with a net at the ready. Lance guessed they were going to try to catch others “on the fly.”
Two others were captured before the three orc squad returned to their camp. One was a medium slate female with brown hair and big eyes that always looked startled. Ibin kept her very close to him and would disappear into the woods with her in the evenings after camp had been made. After that she began to look more afraid than startled.
Last captured was a surly dwarf. A warrior of the Stonecrusher clan with more gray in his beard than blonde. He spent most of his time hog tied and gagged for he was most disagreeable to his orc captors. Neither of the other two captives were conducive to helping Lance escape nor was he given much time to formulate one, for after the capture of the dwarf the orcs returned to camp with their prizes. The woman went with Ibin into the camp, the dwarf was transferred to a group being sent to the organ mines deeper into the desert, and Lance was given over to the camp cooks.
Lance continued to act the half-wit. He did what he was told as long as he was given simple instructions. If the orders were too complex, he pretended not to understand and usually received a rough cuff upside his head. All this he endured so he was given simple tasks like fetching water, peeling vegetables, or plucking fowls so he would have time to observe the camp, its routines and plan a way to escape. He had been in camp for eight days with no plan in the offing when the attack came.
Sitting with his back against the rough fencing that enclosed the male slave pens, Lance was not the only one startled by the explosion of several fire balls that broke the quiet of the night. Several men in the pen ran toward the gate area to get a better view of what was happening. Lance, rather than trying to push through the milling crowd up front, grabbed as high on the fence as he could and pulled himself up to see over the walls. Lightning bots arced out across the camp at regular intervals. Fireballs exploded in bursts of light and heat; flinging bodies and tents into the air like thrashers with stalks of grain. Bolts of colored lights whizzed through the air, seeking targets Lance could not see. Men and orcs screamed in pain from arrows, swords and axes as much as they did from arcane spells. Lance frowned as he took in all this fighting, across on the far side of the camp.
What in the world are they doing? Lance thought. If it was an attack on the camp, why wasn’t the Rakorians attacking all around?
From his high vantage point he noticed a guard staring toward the fighting stiffened with little noise as his assailant appeared out of no where, holding a hand over his mouth and a dagger buried into his back. The formerly invisible person took a quick scan around, signaled to a pair of fellows that melted out of the shadows, and turned and started off toward the gates.
A rescue attempt! Wonderful! I can finally get out of this hell hole. But I can’t return to Rakore that is sure. Someone wants me dead. Someone with lots of power. I need to be very careful here.
Lance landed quietly and joined the back of the throng as everyone whispered inquiries of what was taking place. A ripple went through the crowd and everyone was told to hush. Straining to hear over the tumult from the fighting, Lance heard a soft female voice giving instructions.
“When a flare of blue is shot up in the sky, we are going to open up these gates. I need those that are able to walk but not fight to help anyone who needs aid walking. I have passed out the guards’ weapons to those who are going to help guard the women and children. When these gates open, run out and turn directly to your left around the pen. There will be others to guide you along. We must head into the dessert as quickly as possible to the point where portals will be opened. Stay together.”
Men asked the woman questions and she murmured her replies, but Lance was not listening. He was trying to see those who had been given weapons. The smuggler was trying to concoct a story to get his hand on one when a bright pale blue flare exploded in the sky and the gates to the pen were thrown wide. Still at the back of the crowd, Lance hurried along behind, trying to find a nice dark shadow to duck into. He was not given much chance, since several hard eyed men were lingering behind to hurry all the prisoners along.
“C’mon, c’mon, we haven’t got all night, ya’ know.”
“Hurry up and for Elinthar’s sake stay together. You there!” This directed at Lance who was looking a bit skittish to the man armed with a wicked long bow. “Hurry up now.”
With a sigh, Lance hurried through the gate and the archer fell in behind him with another armed with spiked club. The three of them had gone no farther then the edge of the pen when a trio orcs burst out of the shadows with vicious howls and attacked. All along the line of fleeing prisoners sprang up small groups of orcs to harass the rescuers and scatter the escapees.
Lance leapt aside with agility as an orc bore down on him swinging a deadly mace. It made a loud whoosh sound as it passed a hand's breath away from the smuggler’s head. The human armed with the club stepped forward to engage the other two orcs before either of them could get to the bowman. The bowman quickly picked off the orc harassing Lance before frowning at the two dealing with his partner. He wished to help his friend, but the human was too closely mingled with his opponents to make a shot safe. Instead, the bowman turned his sight down the line of escapees and began picking off the orcs trying to scatter them.
Blessing his luck, Lance scooped up the fallen orc’s mace and sprinted off into the shadows looking for a place to hide so he could figure out where to go. Unfortunately the camp swarmed with orcs like an ant hill that had been kicked. Not all the orcs had been lured to the main fighting across the camp, and more were rushing to the slave pens in response to a low horn being sounded off somewhere to Lances right. Lance ducked behind a tent as half a dozen orcs ran pass on their way to the pens.
Dodging behind tents, ducking onto shadows, and bashing a few orcs that spotted him; Lance made his way over to the line of wagons and horses on the western edge of the camp. He could only hope there were some horses left alive that would be ride-able after all the noise and smell of blood in the night. If not, well, Lance would head off in the direction some of them had bolted and hope to catch one out in the desert.
It was the best plan he could come up with, with so little time and a battle surrounding him. A pity that it came to nothing in the end; before Lance could reach the line he crossed paths with an orc in company of a large hound and two kobolds.
The large hound let out a low growl as Lance started around a pile of crates that had been off loaded during the day. Coming to a skidding stop; he tried to reverse direction and head back behind the crates. A small javelin whizzed in and embedded itself in the crate with a solid thunk sound right in front of his eyes. Lance spun around quickly in a fighting crouch as the trio approached him.
Lance was facing the fattest orc he had ever seen. He could not ever recall seeing a fat orc, but here was one before him. The ogran stood a good five and half feet tall, with greasy hair that was thin atop and pock marked, green skin. His massive belly strained the front of the leather vest he wore and overlapped his thick belt. He was armed with a wicked looking spiked club in one hand and a nasty short whip in the other.
The hound was no cleaner looking than its master. Part of one its ears were missing due to some fight. Its coat was matted with mud. Yellow teeth were displayed in an angry growl as it approached minacity at its’ master’s side.
The two kobolds moved in like scalely chickens. Chickens armed with small javelins and short swords. Their lizard like heads with their large eyes bobbed back and forth in rhythm to their steps. He shivered as one licked its scalely lips with a forked tongue.
“Muwwwaahahahahaha!” laughed the orc. “Gots us a tender little morsel, we do. One that wanting to put up a fight. Can’t be blamed if we kills it since it be self defense, can it boys?”
One of the kobolds gave a yip that sounded too much like agreement for Lance’s liking.
“And fight’n be hungry work, it does.” At a signal from the orc, the kobolds closed in to attack.
The first one threw its second javelin toward Lance’s head. Lance easily dodged the missile. The second one hopped forward to deliver a slash at his thigh, which was parried, and then hopped back. Lance almost followed the creature back, but had to throw his hips out to the side quickly, as the last javelin came in, slicing a line of fire across his thigh. Quick as a wink the first kobold hopped back in. Lance parried the blow and was able to land a glancing blow off the little creature’s shoulder that spun it away. Both kobolds backed off a few steps to regroup.
With just a whistle, the orc sent his hound into the fight. With a mighty leap, it head for Lance’s throat. Lance smacked the lunging hound upside the head with his mace. The hound went rolling off to the side with a yelp.
“Why you dirty, mangy human!” the orc roared. Lifting his whip he landed a stinging blow to Lance’s arm as he raised it to protect his face. One blow came close to his eyes; landing just above his ear and momentarily blinding him with pain. The orc used this distraction to close in with the battered human. Lance fought him as best he could after that last blow, but was disarmed shortly. Breathing heavily, the orc stepped back. An evil grin split his ugly face, showing rotting teeth. The kobolds and the hound began to gather around and surround Lance.
“Now we will be hearing you beg for mercy, we will. Or else we will be hearing you howling in pain.”
As the fat orc lifted his whip again, his hound cast a quick look to the side and began to whimper. The kobolds too shifted nervously, glancing to the same place the hound did.
“What?” the orc asked stupidly staring at his little minions. He glanced also over to where the hound was backing away from with its tail tucked between its legs. The orc saw nothing out of the ordinary for a camp under attack. Fires burned, lighting slashed through the night, men and orcs screamed.
The two kobolds began barking and yipping at each other in agitated voices.
“Don’t you dare be running, you sniveling little runts,” the orc growled. He cuffed the one closest to him up side its boney head. The kobold tumbled over with more energy than the blow warranted. Its companion skittered around the orc and joined it fallen one. The kobolds and the hound then turned tail and ran away.
Lance and the orc watched the three creatures disappear into the night, and then stupidly met each others eyes. As if pulled by an invisible string, both human and orc turned to where the hound and kobolds had run from.
There stood a cloaked figure that had not been there before. It stood six and half feet tall. The cloak it wore was too short for it, revealing boots and bronze greaves. A spear and a bronze shield with spots of blood were its only visible weapons.
Lance stared at the apparition in mute fascination. He felt a strange connection to the odd figure. He squinted as he tried in vain to see beneath the raised cowl of the cloak, but the flickering lights of fires in the camp and the shadow moon did not give off enough light.
“Step away from the human,” a dry voice ordered with deceptive mildness. The voice raised the tiny hairs on the back of Lance’s neck.
The orc gave an audible gulp. He nervously took a step away from the mysterious figure. His eyes darted from Lance to the figure and back again. Then he gave another evil grin. Quick as a snake, his hand darted in and grabbed Lance’s hair and hauled him to his feet and then slammed the human into his chest. The orc then wrapped a meaty hand around to grab the side of Lance’s head and began to turn it in a painful way.
The figure began to stalk forward but was halted by the orc.
“Stop right there stranger. I not be knowing what you be wanting with this wretch, but you be taking one more step this way and I will break his worthless neck.” The orc’s breath was foul and part of Lance’s mind hoped the filthy creature would kill him so he wouldn’t have to breath in its’ stench any more.
“That would be a mistake, orc.” The stranger replied in an empty, dry voice.
The orc licked its lips nervously, much to Lance’s disgust. “A mistake would be you doubting me intentions here. Be dropping your weapons if’n you don’t want to see him dead. Aye, that be good,” he said as the stranger dropped its spear and shield. “Now be moving away from them like good boy.”
The stranger glided away from his dropped items and around so that when he stopped, Lance and the orcs back were turned to the crates.
“No you will be showing me your face, boy.”
“You don’t want me to do that,” was the dry reply, “for I will have to kill you then.”
“And I will have to be killing your buddy here,” he twisted Lance’s head so he growled in pain, “if’n you do not.”
The stranger breathed out a long sigh that sounded like dead leaves twirling in the wind. “Seeing as I plan on killing you for harming the human, I see no reason why not.” Graceful hands lifted up to the cowl; spreading wide the cloak to display an old bronze breast plate and female curves. As the cowl was pushed back, a heavily bandaged face of a desert elf was revealed.
The orc let out a low whistle and Lance turned pale. He had seen a mummy once before when he and a team had broken into a tomb in Al Fahim. The powerful undead creature had killed most of the party before they were able to escape and reseal the tomb. Lance still had nightmares in which he heard the mummy's roar of anger float up from the desert sand. In the flickering light, she almost looked alive, but the orc had to be really dense still not to notice she was standing too still for any living creature.
“It is your lover I got, girlie,” the orc sneered. “But what be with all the wrappings, poppet?”
“To cover an unsightly disfiguration I suffered in my youth.” The mummy replied with a hint of mirth in her dry voice. Lance could swear he saw one side of her lips twitch as if resisting a smile.
“You don’t say, poppet. But what is the life of your dear sweet lover here worth to you, my lovely? Hhhmmmm? How abouts you be removing that unseemly cloak so I can see if you be hiding anything under it.” Lance thought the orc had lost his mind. It couldn’t be thinking along those lines…could it? He did not have too high of an opinion for orcs taste in females, but this was beyond the par.
The mummy moved her hands up slowly to the simple cloak pin and unfastened it. They heavy fabric fell to pool behind her. Once the cloak was removed, the bandages covering her were all the more apparent as was the antique armor and oddly curved sword at her waist.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk. What is a slight poppet like you doing carrying such a big sword? You’d best lose it too. Wouldn’t want you to be hurting yourself, poppet.”
A grin this time did come to one side of her thin lips, as her hands moved to the buckle of her sword. Never once did her eyes stray from Lance and the orc. Lance fought for all he was worth to keep from making eye contact with the creature across from him.
“Good poppet,” the orc cooed as the sword fell beside her. “Now I be wondering if you have any other little…weapons hidden on ye.” The orc quickly glanced around the area to see if anyone else was coming this way, and then licked his lips once more. “Slowly be taking off ye armor and that leather skirt ye be wearing so I be sure you no be planning anything foolishly heroic to be saving yer lover here.”
Slowly the mummy reached up toward the buckles on the side of her breast plate. Quicker than thought, she flicked her arm and hand out. Something glittered in the fire light from the burning camp and then Lance felt warm blood splatter on his cheek. The orc released him with a howl of pain. Lance dropped to his knees and crawled away as the mummy stooped down to smoothly scoop up her sword. With a low hiss, she drew her weapon as she glided across to the howling orc. The orc was staggering away from the approaching figure, a dagger blooming from his eye, as he saw the truth of the creature before him. With one smooth swing, the orcs’ head was removed from his shoulders to go bouncing out of sight.
Lance turned to face the figure as he continued to scoot on his hands and butt, until his back came into full contact with another pile of crates. The mummy followed him with her awful sword, gleaming with blood upon the blade. He turned pale and then lifted his arm to block the terrible blow that was coming. But the blow did not come. He peeked over his arm to see the creature was holding out her free hand to him. Against his better judgment, Lance’s eyes shot up and locked with the mummy’s. His hazel eyes met the amber gaze of the mummy’s and was drawn in. He saw steely determination, endless patience, and deep inside such terrible sorrow.
“Come. Take my hand.”
“Why,” Lance cracked out through a throat that was tight with fear.
“We must leave. It is not safe for you here.”
“But…you are…I mean, you’re a…” Lance trailed off lamely.
Her lips curved in a gentle and patient smile while that deep sorrow grew brighter before being pushed back again. “It is true that I am not alive as you define it, but I am not undead either. I am something else, but that I will explain somewhere safer.”
“You won’t hurt me?” Lance wished the pathetic words back as soon as he had uttered them. He hated being seen as weak.
“No. I will protect you if you will let me.”
Lance looked deep into her eyes. He saw no lies, no hidden violence, just an endless kind of patience, like she could wait here until the end of time for his answer. He also felt a slight connect to her. Felt a hidden echo of loneliness, confusion and fear from her. And deep sadness. He looked again to her out stretched hand. It was wrapped in bandages that looked old, her skin underneath was like dry leather, but the hand was strong and the fingers still graceful as elven hands always are.
He reached out and clasped her hand. As soon as their hands closed over one another’s, a bond sprung up between them. He could feel her in him and before him, like a fire. Even with your eyes closed you can see the glow through your eyelids and feel its heat beat upon your skin. So it was with her. Lance knew that he would be able to tell where she was and how she was feeling at anytime.
Though she spoke in a language he had never heard before, Lance heard the words echo in his mind. I am your guardian and will give my all to keep you safe.
With the sound of a chiming of a bell, but the feeling of a harp string snapping that was wound too tight; a crystal cracked. This crystal was set into a niche in the wall with many others like. Hundreds, thousands, maybe millions; the exact number was not known since most were still dark and covered with the dust of many ages past. A few hundred glowed with a quiet green light. About ninety shimmered a pale blue. The rarest and most prized, a mere thirty-three glowed a soft red. One a few weeks ago, one had turned a darker red, almost the color of a garnet. Today it cracked and went dark; leaving only thirty-two.
Viewing this was a slim, lovely elven cleric. Born of a noble family and use to having others obey her, she was displeased with this change in the crystal.
“It seems we truly do have traitor, my dear Commander. And one of your own trainees, if I am not mistaken.” Her voice was melodious, and she had spent many years training it. Many men had fought duels and had died of hunger waiting under her window for but one word from her lovely lips. She had long ago crafted it into a tool and a weapon to make kings weep.
“Yes, your Eminence,” the Commander replied with a bow from where he knelt below her dais. “She was not yet fully trained, and should not have had the power to defy you.”
Though her perfect face did not change, the cleric’s voice carried her displeasure. “That as it maybe, Commander, she has still slipped her leash all the same.” The Commander bowed his head at her rebuke.
“Do you wish her to be pursued and destroyed, your Eminence?”
The cleric turned gracefully and paced across the dais with slow regal steps; tapping a lovely finger against her full lower lip. Still not looking at the kneeling Commander she looked upon the other crystals that lined the walls. The twinkled like stars in the stone walls of the chamber. Walls that looked rough, but were actually covered in tiny runes of power. These crystals shone with a pale golden light, and pulsed with life like a heart beat.
“No. We are almost ready. His Majesty will soon be awakened and there is nothing those weak humans can do against him.” With a negligent wave of her slim hand, she dismissed the Commander.
He rose without ever raising his eyes to the cleric on the dais, took three steps back, bowed and then turned for the door and exited the chamber with his back straight.
Once the Commander left, the cleric turned and approached the item that was on display upon the dais. It was a large sarcophagus made of black stone, inlaid with gold and precious stones. Powerful runes danced across its’ surface. The cleric ran her hand over the cover which was carved to resemble the one held with in, gently stroking the strong cheeks, smoothing the stone brow. She leaned close and whispered into the carved ear.
“Soon, my Liege. Soon we will have enough souls and you will rise to rule once again over all Galeth. And this time, your enemies shall be made to serve you in undeath.”
With that parting promise; Lebrange, High Cleric of the Dharveil, kissed the carved brow of the King of the Dharveil.
End of Chapter One.