It is the lost hours of the night and three figures slink silently among the devastated remains of the once glorious city of Arashkan, deep in the dirty-gray snow.
Young Udoorin Shieldheart, the beautiful Princess Alor’Nadien ne Feymist, and her regal cousin, High Lady Angrellen Sunsear ghost through the dead streets of the city, heading in a particular location; the old hideout of the Thieves Guild in search of a curse..
There are Orken warriors, scouts, hunters, and raiders everywhere, roaming the streets in platoons, seeking possible survivors. It is possible, there are more dangerous places in the world. From a ‘versus’ point of view, however, it is unlikely this place, at this moment, will fall short of the Citadel of Gullem the Damned!
Fate, it would seem, indeed has its own plans..
And an odd, dry sense of humor.
One might even call it ‘backhanded’..
For at this very moment, two Sunsear’s roam the carnage of this dead city; Mother and daughter, each working for quite opposite ends.
This story takes place on the evening of
The Malediction of ‘Rellen.. (Part 3/3)
“Three Dog Curse..”
and shortly after
We Are Not Your Dogs
We Are Not Your Servants
We Are Your Masters!
Here..”, said the large man as quietly as he could, though it mattered little. His ‘quiet’ was like a rumble at best, as he handed a not-so-clean, heavy fur cloak to the slim girl ghosting behind him. “..put this on, if you will, please.”
The slim girl, Princess Alor’Nadien ne stared at the filthy fur cloak questioningly.
“To cover your scent.”, Udoorin Shieldheart rumbled again.
Lorna Feymist arched her eyebrows in amusement.
“Do I smell, Sir Udoorin?”, she asked, the signs of mirth playing around her small, cherry-red mouth.
“I..”, stumbled the young man.
“I sense a nostalgic ‘Deja Vu, here.”, she smiled at him.
“You smell beautiful, my lady..”, he said with a flushed face, recalling his first, not conversation, per se, but interaction with the pretty princess, many months ago, in the depths of the ruins of Themalsar. “..which is the problem.”
“Do dig your own grave, young Udoorin.”, smirked High Lady Angrellen from somewhere in the darkness. “I have heard tell of how you destroyed our princess here, with a similar remark.”
“Please, Auntie H. I haven’t gotten over that particular blunder, yet. Princess Lorna smells wonderful. And anyone who gainsays that will do so only once. But the Orken have a keen sense of smell, unlike the dogs they are. Should they pick up her scent, there will be no getting rid of them.”, he tried to explain.
“Ahhh..”, said Angrellen with comprehension. “Though, for future reference, you should work on giving your reasons early on, preferably before telling us what to do —to fend off misunderstandings, yes?”
“Duly noted.”, Udoorin replied honestly. “Look. I am not good at.. interacting with ladies. I can’t claim any knowledge, nor experience in that area. A bit of understanding my way would be greatly appreciated.”
“Not good at interacting with ladies? I couldn’t disagree with a single sentiment more. You have garnered the affection, and the life-long bond of the heart of High Woods, young man. Suffice to say, ‘Not good with ladies’, is quite the understatement.”, she said with her own, stinging amusement.
So did the princess.
“So, where is my fur cloak, then? Or do I not smell wonderful, too?”, continued the high lady, causing the young man to squirm.
“I.. wouldn’t know, ma’am. You.. will have to find someone else to confirm that!”, Udoorin said with a cough.
“Cousin.”, said Lorna reprovingly, but with a small, quiet laugh. “Why don’t you take mine. I am sure we can find another from a dead Orken, as uncouth as that sounds.”
“No, no.. Young Udoorin here has selected that one specifically for you. We wouldn’t want to find any personal notes in it somewhere. That would really make us all blush, now, wouldn’t it?”, Angrellen teased in a tone, not at all like her usual self.
“I would not put any such notes that would embarrass Lady Lorna’s nor her reputation”, Udoorin said indignantly.
“Ow?”, asked Lorna a bit.. disappointed?
“I would tell it to her.”, mumbled the young man with a horribly failed straight face.
“Ow..”, Lorna said, with a failed straight face of her own.
Anglenna sighed in despair, turned around..
..and a sleety, frigid ray of frost stabbed out of her forefinger and something grunted in the dark. The high lady did not wait for a reaction. She sent a second beam..
..followed by a third, and a fourth!
And a large Orken stumbled out of the night and fell, face down, into the dirty-gray, slushy snow, with a burning-cold hole pierced right through its heart, its stomach, its forehead, and in one of its lungs..
Lorna dashed past her cousin and in black, swirling smoke, a glaive, nearly three yards long and ending in a thirty-inch blade with burning greenish chemical fire appeared in her hands, just as Udoorin rammed into another Orken and hacked it with his two, great battle-axes with unsuppressed fury.
“It would seem, the idea of covering our scents was a good one..”, said Angrellen as she sent a fist-sized bolt of fire flying right over Lorna’s shoulder and struck the Orken trying to come at the princess from her side. “..albeit a tad too late. The dogs are upon us.”
“Sir Udoorin..”, hissed Lorna as she swung her brutal glaive and struck the great Orken facing her, splitting it from groin to hairline, spun around as she ducked under the swing of the Orken that was trying to flank her, and jabbed it, belly first, then pushed the butt end of deadly glaive’s enchanted blade up and through its throat as it stumbled back. “..we had better finish this batch with haste. We lack the time to entertain ourselves with such frivolities.”
“Agreed.”, growled the huge young man, struck one Orken on its shoulder with one of his axes, opening a horrible, diagonal gash, as he head-butted the next, and brought down his other axe when it dropped on the ground. The creature had a bare moment to scream before it fell silent.
By the time they were done, Udoorin was holding Lorna’s hand and rushing down a long, dark alley, followed closely by Angrellen.
“I think we lost them.”, said Udoorin as he breathed harshly. It didn’t matter how strong you were. If you were not born in the wild Northern Tundras, running in full armor and through icy snow wore you down. Then he looked down at the slim girl, who was nursing her hand and wrist. “I am sorry if I was a bit abrupt with your person, Lady Lorna. We just had to get out of there and fast, before more of them arrived.”
“It is alright Dorin. It only hurt a little and only because I was taken by surprise when you grabbed my hand and started running.
“..and nearly dislocated her shoulder.”, added Anglenna with a clearly disapproving tone. “You are aware that the princess can run faster than you, right? Considering she is wearing lighter armor than you are, and because she is a feymist..”
“Uhhmm.. Yes.. She’s better than me in everything she does.. But I like to hold her hand when we run. We can’t get separated that way and it makes me feel she is safer that way. It’s a guy thing!”, said Udoorin a bit flustered.
“A guy thing? Young man, you can’t do your guy things around a princess. And you really should be a bit more gentle with her. The fact that you and she are now bonded and plan a life together, should not diminish that capacity in you, but enhance it, hmm?”
“It really is alright, cousin.”, Lorna tried to object.
“No, dear. It is not. Our young man here is strong. Neither of us has any doubts about that. But uncontrolled strength is harmful.. to your wrists if not to your dignity. One day this war will end, hopefully in our favor. We will then return to High Woods, replant our trees, and rebuild Bari Na-ammen. And young Udoorin here will be sitting next to you in his own throne as Ri.. or King.. I would hazard a guess, it would be rather disgraceful of him, if not awkward, should he manhandle you in public the way he just did, don’t you think?”
“The war is long from over, Anglenna.”, Lorna said quietly. “And we can think of such tender details when their appointed time arrives.”
“No, dear.”, repeated Angrellen and not unlike a harsh matron, who was dismantling a particularly pigheaded and foolish child. Or perhaps, quite like her own mother had done to her, when she, herself, had been particularly dimwitted. “Somethings must be put to practice as early as possible, hence they take hold and such embarrassing accidents are avoided because they never occur. You know what my mother thinks of humans, dear. You certainly know what your father felt about them despite his wife —your mother, and we both know their view was not all that uncommon among the elves of High Woods. Do not give your people any excuse to let your future husband and king besmirch himself, and you, by proxy.”
There was a moment of awkward silence.
“Auntie H. is right.”, came Udoorin’s voice from the darkness. “Personally, I do not care what anybody but you would think of me, one way or the other. But since you have your mind all set on making me a Ri.. or a king.. certain protocols must be observed, for your benefit, if nothing else. Like I said. I do not care what anybody thinks of me, other than you, but I will not have you accused of having a stupid Mox for husband, either.”
Angrellen stared at the large young man who favored big, brutal axes over longswords and rapiers, and whom she would have kindly described using words like ‘lump’, ‘oaf’, or even ‘boorish’.
Lorna also stared at him, but with elation.
“I could handle a bit of rough.”, she said with a small voice.
“In private, perhaps. And only if you want to. But you shouldn’t have to handle any ‘rough’ in public. You are what you are, love. And you shouldn’t be less than that to make me appear more. I should raise above, and make you more. When your people look at us, they should say, ‘They go well together and complete one another..'”
“Well.”, said Angrellen, with a voice that sounded surprised and a bit perplexed. “Very good, young man. It is decent of you to see what is right and proper for our princess and act accordingly.”
Young Udoorin grinned.
“But of course, Auntie H.. Henceforth, I shall grab the princess by the waist and carry her off whole! Less chance of wrist injuries that way.”
✱ ✱ ✱
The three stood still and silent as another platoon of heavily armed Orken trampled by. For the past near-six hours, they had made their way from High Spires to what was left of the Lights Temple where they had witnessed hundreds upon hundreds of civilians —men, women, and children— guards, priests, and temple guardians slaughtered and stacked into horrible and ghastly heaps. They had given a wide berth to the shattered and broken First Lord’s Palace where it seemed, some people had remained and were still willing to fight to the inevitable end. Though very much burned down and still smoking, they had traveled through Heaven Park, ran, snuck and cut their way past the totally destroyed Officers District, scathed through the looted Merchants District, and had just dashed past the collapsed Alls Temple where a very large boulder, possibly from an Orken mangonel had landed.
They had ended up backtracking their steps many times to find negotiable paths due to collapsed or still burning walls, homes, and towers, or because there were just too many of the savage Orken troops blocking their way.
The comparison to the many times they had wandered around in this city during their earlier stay as opposed to now was heartbreaking. For Udoorin, the besieging, and consequently, the capturing of a city was understandable and there was bound to be extensive damage to the city walls and some damage to the structures near the city walls due to stray catapult boulders. No one really blamed a catapult operator for being overtly accurate, after all, and when one spoke of mangonels, the word accuracy sort of became moot, as a boulder fired from a house-sized contraption not only crushed its mark but also leveled the block as well, which, by definition, was what ‘collateral damage’ pretty much meant.
This city, however, hadn’t been besieged. Not with the intention of subduing it for political, economical, or even some malignant ideological reasons, nor had there been any punitive intent behind it..
It had been utterly destroyed.
And with her people.
There were indeed no political, economical, and/or ideological reasons —or excuses— behind this destruction. The populace here had never discriminated, suppressed, or exploited the Orken, nor had they, in any way, tried to assimilate them —seeing as their whole existence had hardly even been known to the general populace, and those that did know about them were an extremely small and specific percentage of the said populace.
The Orken had come.
And the Orken had taken..
They had taken the land.
Not Arashkan, not High Woods, nor Bari Na-ammen.
Just the land.
The fact that over a million lives were already living there, and that they had families, homes, and fields had not even been of a moment’s shrug for the Orken.
The Orken had merely cleared the weeds..
..to phrase it in the most brutally inhumane and crude way!
Udoorin’s face turned black at the comprehension of that sinister attitude. And yes. That is exactly what it was. A purely sinister attitude.
Historically speaking, people with low self-esteem did have a tendency to claim a certain superiority in their existence by arrogantly attaching ideologies that always seemed to involve some form of divine favor on their part that, interestingly, never entailed honest, hard work, and then went ahead and tried to justify the whole debacle by way of buffing it further with some form of convoluted philosophies.
However the whole thing was laid out or phrased in a politically correct manner, and at the end of the day, it was a farce; a matter of not high ideals, but a matter of low self-esteems and attitude disorders.
The nuanced difference here was, although the Orken did what they did, and with very bloody and nearly impartial savagery, they hadn’t done it to elevate any such petty existential reasons as ‘low self-esteems’ on their part.
They had done it all with a certain attitude, sure. Just not for low self-esteem.
Udoorin found it quite difficult to correctly describe the difference mainly because it was just too inhuman. Had it been humans who had done this atrocity, he could have easily called it cruel and ‘inhumane’, but that was it, wasn’t it? The Orken was not human in any way to find a common, relatable point.
Which was why, he surmised, they looked upon humans —along with elves, dwarves, gnomes, and other races— as weeds..
True, that young Udoorin himself had entertained every encounter he faced with loosely controlled fury. And also true that he did have a tendency to cut down his opponents to quite a number of unnecessary pieces. But he never went as far as mindlessly chopping any and everyone down to indiscernible parts with such indiscriminate savagery.
For Udoorin, the defining line was clear; if anyone, or anything, came at him or his friends with drawn weapons, claws, or started shooting arrows, bolts, spells, and/or any other bodily or non-bodily parts, or they just needed to be stopped from causing harm to others, namely civilians, he butchered them..
..down to indiscernible parts.
And for the young man, that was quite a philosophical distinction; there was, after all, and obviously, a conflict of interest there, as he strongly believed that he was protecting humanity, and not limited to said race, per se, and that he also represented the law, as loosely as that actually was true.
“Let said blades, claws, or great axes, in his case, decide!”
For the Orken, however, none of such distinctions or definitions existed. They came, they swept the lands of its occupants by way of total and brutal economy and moved on!
Young Udoorin remembered their first true encounter, or rather, their first time being at the recipient end of an ambush by the Orken several months ago somewhere in Two Day Woods. He recalled what the last remaining Orken had said —spat, really— even though he’d been captured, disarmed, and bound by a spell Maser Gnine had cast. He had shown absolutely no fear whatsoever, but rabidly frothed at the mouth as he had cast his spiteful madness at them with pure, unadulterated hatred;
I shall rip out your arms, and shall I watch the face of your pain. Whilst I see, you have thus suffered enough, shall I tear off your legs and gnaw upon them even as you watch. And unto the day I have broken your will and your spirit, thus shall I cut the flesh off your bones! When you have witnessed how thoroughly we have risen above you and yours, shall I know, you are now truly broken. Then, and only then, shall I burn what remains of you, alive, and shall I allow you to die!
And he also remembered, subsequently, how the otherworldly girl, Merisoul Xyrotwu, had stabbed the creature where it lay on the ground with cold and deliberate precision, right through its heart, and very, very slowly.. as she’d explained, in succinct detail, just how these creatures, the Orken, perceived the world; not in black and white, but ONLY IN BLACK!
Udoorin scowled and tried not to show any of his findings on his face. The ladies were troubled enough as they were. Also, the finer points of it all were sort of moot at the moment anyway and the night was almost over. Either they would need to find a very secluded place to hide come dawn, which seemed unlikely, or they really needed to get to the old Thieves Guild’s entrance before said dawn.
Udoorin had never been much of a tracker, nor a pathfinder as he’d never had any such training. He had, however, visited many of the inns in the past months, while he had gone incognito, a bit on Aager’s ‘polite’ orders, trying to learn the whereabouts of the infamous rebellion, Gar Thalot. In the end, they had found the half-orc insurgent.. and played right into his bloody hands..
Pushing Gar Thalot aside, the young man did recognize the area even though it had been leveled downed and into the ground; they were very close to the inn they had stayed in, at The Rundown!
And the area was crawling with Orken..
..or rather trampling.. or even stampeding!
And in the dark, where he and the two ladies stood, silent and still, he rumbled to himself.
“Perhaps Gar Thalot need not be pushed aside..”
“Hmmm?”, asked Lorna whispered from right behind him.
“Gar Thalot.”, Udoorin whispered back. “Just saw him sulking off into that big tent where there is a lot of Orken.”
Both the princess and Anglenna looked at one another with grim, one-thousand-yard stares.
“Bad idea, love.”, inserted Udoorin hastily, showing unexpected wisdom, quite above his usual self. “I would like to hack at him with an axe or three myself, but I do not think it is practical, nor feasible. Not at the moment anyway.”
“If we can kill that murdering bastard..”, hissed Anglenna with vehement heat. “..we could avenge a whole city of people.”
“I very much agree with my cousin.”, added Lorna, her green eyes burning with an uncanny fire of her own.
“Or we could get butchered and neither avenge anyone nor be able to do what we came here to do.”, said Udoorin carefully.
“I think we should ambush him the moment he comes out of the tent.”, said Anglenna, her long, elegant fingers fidgeting with the urge to set something ablaze
“Sir Udoorin could charge him while I could feymist right behind him and skewer him like a stuck pig and cousin Anglenna can burn him where he stands, quite unmoving!”, hissed Lorna, as she summoned her great hexblade!
“Uhhhmm..”, the young man said somewhat taken aback by the vehemence of the two ladies.
“Yes.”, agreed, Anglenna looking eagerly at Lorna. “If you drop everything you got on him—”
“—I can. I am not one hundred percent at the moment but what I do have should suffice.”, said Lorna eagerly.
“Ladies..”, Udoorin said weakly as he scratched his head.
“Once you do skewer him, I can immolate the pig.”
“Nice.. While he burns, I can also curse him. He will be much more susceptible to attacks then!”
“If he still manages to live through that, I could always banish him. When he returns, we can rinse-repeat!”
“I can’t believe this!”, said Udoorin in a slightly freaked tone. “I, of all people, am calling both the ladies here to see reason! Really, now. There is no way we can catch him unawares and bring him down in time before anyone else notices us or he calls for backup. Girls, please!”
“I am slightly put out with you, young man.”, Anglenna said with pursed lips and frowned at him, slightly disappointed.
“As am I, dear Dorin. I would have thought you would shown a bit more brevity on your part.”, Lorna said, clearly heartbroken.
Udoorin’s face went red.
“That.. was very much uncalled for, Lorna. When have you ever seen the lack of courage or brevity on my part?”, he fumed angrily. “We are here to make sure this city becomes uninhabitable by the Orken, not to entertain ourselves by getting sidetracked. And you, Lady Anglenna, of all people, are supposed to be the voice of reason. I know you dislike being made a fool of, but Thalot did not deceive just you, he tricked everyone. Now. I am going to go and look for the entrance to the old Thieves Guild. I would much rather have the two of you come with me, and before dawn, which should happen in less than forty minutes by my estimation because I can’t get to, nor release that ‘Three Dog Curse’ without either of you. And we have yet to find the entrance!”
There was a moment of shameful silence as the two ladies stared at their own feet.
“I apologize, young man.”, Anglenna said after a while. “You are right and admirably task-oriented. We do have a job to do.”
With that, she turned around and silently started towards the alleged entrance to the old Thieves Guild.
“I have shamed myself by shaming you, my Rin. I will make up to you in whatever way I may.”, said Lorna softly and in a barely audible voice.
“Stay focused and stay alive, my Alor’Nadien ne. That is all I wish of you.”, said Udoorin.
Then, with an unexpected show of ‘brevity’, he reached down at the slim girl, and carefully bear-hugged her, and landed a kiss on her surprised, cherry-red mouth.
“And that..”, he said with a flushed face. “..was for questioning my courage!”
✱ ✱ ✱
You are not picking up your calls, daughter. You really shouldn’t ignore your mother..”, came the voice of High Lady Angrellen.
“I am not picking up your calls because you have shamed me, mother. You have shamed us all..”, fumed the high elf girl in silent wrath. “No. You have DAMNED us all, mother!”
“A fine, noblewoman such as yourself, does not get to talk to her mother like that, my daughter. Not after all the trouble, I went through in giving birth to you, raising you, and training you into becoming the strong woman that you are now..”, replied Angrellen with a slightly petulant tone.
“I am shunned and looked upon with spite, and a whole horde of people want me dead wherever I go at the best of times. You think you have given me a life to live for? No, mother. You have ruined everyone against me.”, Anglenna seethed.
“Don’t be naive, my daughter. You are a sorceress by birth because it was I, who chose the correct bloodline for you. You are what you are, because of my blood and because of the father I chose for you. I have made you independent and free of all yokes. You answer to no one, and that is my doing. You have an affinity to fire and that is because of my contacts and my contracts to the Lords of Hell. You blaze like the sun when you bring down your wrath, and that wrath is also my doing. I gave you my own profound knowledge of the arcane arts and made sure you received the best education Bari Na-ammen had to offer, and that too was my doing. You are barely a mature elf girl and look how far you have thus come. Tell me, my daughter, which of those were truly your own doing?”, the voice of Angrellen hissed in her daughter’s mind.
A long pause ensued after that, where Anglenna thought about a suitable answer.
Then it all came to her.
This was what her mother had done all her life.
She had made her feel like she owed everything she had done, every accomplishment and achievement she had attained to her. And she had made her feel like she was nothing, and would stay nothing had it not been for her.
Anglenna let go of her mother’s hook and line, for she woke up to the fact that she had made up her mind, and her choice and she was done with her mother and her machinations..
“Tell me, mother.”, she sent her thought quietly and calmly. “Did you kill my father?”
Apparently, this was not something the former high lady of Bari Na-ammen had expected to be confronted with.
“Let’s not go there, dear.”, replied Angrellen.
“We are there, mother. Did you kill my father?”, repeated Anglenna.
“Your father was a decent man, as men seldom are, my daughter. I think we should leave it at that, why don’t we?”
“No, mother. Let’s not leave it at that. Did you kill my father, or did you not?”
“You are not mature enough to face certain facts of life yet, dear girl. Suffice to say, he did his job giving me a progeny. Beyond that, he was quite useless, and would surely have become an obstacle for my plans..”, sniffed Angrellen.
“To which facts of life are you referring to, that I am not mature enough to face, mother? That you spent your last thousand years plotting and scheming against your own father, then against Alor’Nadien ne’s father —your King, and seeing as how you would refuse to answer a simple question and talk about him as an obstacle, I could safely assume you murdered my father as well because everyone knows what High Lady Angrellen does to things that get in her way.. You, mother, caused the ultimate ruination of High Woods and Bari Na-ammen, the sacred lands of the first high elves since Year One. You, mother, caused the destruction of our homes and our lives. You, mother, annihilated everything that which was sacred and holy and that mattered to us. You, mother, have forever damned the elf race with your selfish machinations. And thanks to you, mother, no one shall ever trust an elf ever again. We shall always be looked upon with mistrust and be forced to seclusion.. and die out alone in this world. You, mother, are a disgrace and an unholy traitor.”, Anglenna burned with hate.
“I would rather you did not talk to me in that tone, my daughter. Come far, you have, but you do not want me seeking you out and reminding you your manners.”, said her mother lightly, though she could not hide the ominous tone in her voice.
Angrellen was angry.
“No, mother. This is the only kind of manners you shall ever receive from me. You have destroyed and murdered everything I valued. From this day forth, my soul purpose shall be making sure the one person you wanted ‘gone’ the most, even more than Grandaleren, is alive, well, and happy. Should the day come and she faces you, I shall be there —between you and her!”
“Should that day come, you too shall die then, my daughter.”, Angrellen’s resigned voice came.
“Then it shall be a good death, for once I am dead, you truly will be alone, and in every sense possible, for whatever promises your demon lords gave, they shall not keep, because you are you and you will make a mistake that will bring their rebuke upon you..”, Anglenna said, trying very hard to stay calm but she couldn’t hide her own smoldering hate either.
Another pause ensued and for a moment, Anglenna thought her mother had cut the connection.
“This can all be fixed, you know?”, said Angrellen unexpectedly. “All you have to do is kill that pretty little creature for me.. You don’t even have to do it yourself. Accidents do happen, after all.”
“You are despicable, mother. That ‘pretty little creature’ saved my life knowing full well that it would end hers. That ‘pretty little creature’ has been the only person that has ever shown me honest and genuine affection, kindness, and friendship. People who would have killed me do not, because of that ‘pretty little creature’ demeaned herself and pleaded them not to.. I shall never betray her.”
“You misunderstand your relation with that half-elf mongrel, my daughter.”, Angrellen said. “The sheep serve. That is their sole purpose in life. And the lion does not owe to the sheep.”
“You are not a lion, mother.”, hissed her daughter.
“I beg to differ, my dear..”
“You, mother, are a jackal, and the last of the Sunsears shall die with you, for I have ceased to be a Sunsear. From this day forth, I shall be known as a Brightleaf, like my father before me.. You, and the line of Sunsears shall be abhorred wherever you go, but the line of Brightleaf shall be honored as the guardians of Rise Alor’Nadien ne Feymist and her line for as long as I live, and through me, for as long as my father’s line shall live..”
The silence that followed was vicious and Anglenna thought she heard her mother breathing harshly as if seething and couldn’t help but feel a certain, child-like elation. She would have given quite a bit to see her mother’s face just then, preferably from a far and safe distance.
“You really want me to come and find you, don’t you, dear?”, said Angrellen finally and it was very clear she was very, very angry now.
“Mother, why?”, asked Anglenna.
“To teach you some manners. Being away from the refined has apparently made you coarse. You really should be a bit pickier about the company you keep.”
“You misunderstand my question, mother.”, Anglenna said, reflecting her mother’s choice in words. “Why? Why have you done, what you have done? What was lacking in your life that you went thus far to destroy everything and everyone around you to achieve? You had a daughter who loved you. You had a husband who adored you. You had wealth and you had status par to Grandaleren.. What was it that was worth more than all of that?”
The high lady did not immediately give her answer. It seemed she weighed it against some possible weakness she might inadvertently reveal.
Then, as if giving an uncaring shrug, she spoke with calm and distant deliberation.
“Found it!”, came Udoorin’s rumbling voice from just ahead, and in the shallow, pre-dawn light.
We Are Not Your Dogs.
We Are Not Your Servants.
We Are Your Masters!
War comes as we speak.
The folk of Serenity Home, along with the refugees of the deceased Arashkan city and burned Bari Na-ammen work day and night, and desperately, through winter to prepare for what’s coming.
Where the enemy is, and what they are doing, however, remains a mystery..
..to those who do not know!
Rumour has it, a large chunk of it has..
The man in the deep, dark, hooded robes stared at the smoking ruins around him with mild disinterest. There wasn’t a foot’s length of flat, clear space to be seen anywhere. Mass rubble; broken bricks, shattered tiles, splintered and charred wood, glass shards of thousands of broken windows, bent and deformed metal shafts, and upheaved cobblestones littered the ground —all that once used to be houses and homes or public buildings and temples, inns, schools, restaurants, merchant stalls and artisan workshops, hospitals, and mansions —the things that made a great city, turned it all into something that was now sad and indiscernible, making it impossible for a foot to find any flat and clear landing.
The man in his deep, dark hood, raised the guttering torch in his hand, but not to much effect. Even the torch seems unable to breathe at the ghastly sight that went in every direction.. It would have been, he surmised, quite better had the Orken not done such a mess as they had. The brutes, he thought, did nothing without leaving a bloody carnage behind them. And they were despairingly independent and lacked base discipline.
The hooded man also thought perhaps he should count his blessings that they had all moved in the same general direction and that Arashkan just happened to get in the way of their general direction!..
..And that it was night ..and winter ..where slushy, filthy-gray snow covered everything and the darkness hid what the snow couldn’t, and the air was still filled with choking smoke, hiding the sight of thousands of butchered, mutilated, seared and bloated corpses that lay everywhere, and smothered their scent of rotting meat!
Had this been a regular army, he surmised, the city would have been intact, more or less, and they would have had many, many more live and able prisoners put to work fixing the city walls and made some of the buildings habitable again..
But then, had this been a regular army, in all likeliness, the once-great Arashkan would still be here, standing..
The brutality of the Orken was something one just couldn’t dismiss.
When horded together in tens of thousands, it would seem, their brutality was bested only by their savagely..
The hooded man held his steps as another platoon of the beasts trampled past him in harsh grunts, holding tall glaring torches of their own in one hand, jagged-edged axes, frightfully curving arakhs or seemingly similar, but hooked khopeshs in the other..
..and without so much as a cursory glance in his direction.. nor anything that resembled any form of a military salute.
The man in his deep, dark, hooded robes felt.. casually dismissed..
He had no doubt they had recognized him. Those they did not, were all dead, after all..
Not that he cared, but the city, this city had fallen due to his planning, his foresight, his machinations, and his secret, behind-the-scene political maneuvering, hence, being deliberately and so impudently ignored.. not so much bothered, but irritated him.
“Savage brutes..”, he fumed.
“Yes. They are.”, said a cold, imperious feminine voice from somewhere down a dark side-alley. “It would seem your planning has a lot of glaring holes in it.”
The hooded man held his breath for a still second, then breathed.
“High Lady Angrellen Sunsear..”, he said with unveiled disdain..
..and in long, dark blue velvet dress embroidered at its fringes with silver threads of curving and swirling designs, came out the very tall high elf woman, her white-blond hair braided and done up and into an intricate bun, behind and on top of her long, somewhat delicate face. A face that spoke many words varying from hunger that had little to do with nurturing, to lust that had nothing to do with passion.
Perhaps, once, some very, very long time ago, this tall, beautiful, regal woman might have been pretty, in terms of a soul. That soul, however, was long gone. Only said hungers and lusts etched the face of the very beautiful woman now..
“..Or should I just call you Angrellen the Betrayer? That is what you are, after all, aren’t you?”
“No more than you are.”, replied High Lady Angrellen as she strode out of the alley. “Or should I call you—?”
“—You are damned as it is, woman. Should you name me, you shall be dead as well!”, cut in the man in the deep hooded robe.
High Lady Angrellen paused.
But not for long.
As an evil and infuriating smile stretched across her, otherwise coldly beautiful face.
“I do not fear you, mortal.”, she hissed at the man.
“And I care that you do or don’t?”, replied the man with a barely veiled sneer. “Perhaps, by having sold out your own, causing thousands upon thousands of your kin to die and being the architect of the ruination of Bari Na-ammen and High Woods has gained you some small favor in the eyes of my Master, and quite unrestrained airs, apparently.. Should I remind you, however, a betrayer is, and always be just that; a betrayer. Never trusted, never reliable, and always loathed.”
“I have gained my immortality. Hence your petty remarks are just that; petty!”, retorted the high lady viciously.
“No, girl. You have merely gained longevity, not immortality. You can and will still die.. The outcome of your damned soul is sealed.. Do not despair, though. Your long centuries to come will, I am sure, give you much time to contemplate on your long line of betrayals.. I was against the idea of letting you live, and I still believe you should be summarily beheaded and everything about you should be burned with scourging Hell-Fire. I detest harlots!”
“I would have a care to what you say if I were you.”, said High Lady Angrellen ominously. “You are not indispensable.”
“And neither are you. I am ready to face my Master’s wrath. Are you?”, replied the hooded man, and not so diffidently. “Oh wait, you don’t have a master. You, my dear girl, are an ephemeral and glorified tool!“
“No, boy, we serve the same master!”, very nearly spat the high lady.
“I serve.. and as His High Priest, I might add. You, on the other hand, serve only yourself.”, said the man calmly and in a matter-of-fact voice.
Angrellen tried for a shrug, but it was apparent she was much taken by the man’s disgust.
“I can serve me more, should you test my tolerance any further. The Master has many priests, high or otherwise. He has, but only one of me.”, she fumed.
“With nothing more than the Orken —beasts one could hardly do anything that requires surgical precision, I have managed to orchestrate the downfall of the greatest city in the Kingdom of Isles, and in less than fifty years of effort. It was I, who created the whole Gar Thalot concept, his rebellion, and the civil unrest. It was I, who played the political animals of this city with my machinations to make sure the Arashkan army stayed in their own base instead of defending the city walls even though their ARIS had serious suspicions of the potential of an imminent attack. The destruction of their mangonels, the murdering of the First Lord Kaladin, his son and his daughters, and much more that I care to list here, were all my doing. You, on the other hand, had more than a thousand years to work with and unlimited personal funding at your disposal.. One would think you would have made yourself the Rise of Bari Na-ammen by then. But no.. You couldn’t rid your lands off a human strumpet that your Ri took for a wife. Not only did you fail to rid us of Grandaleren in time to be of any significance, but you also allowed his human whore to escape along with his daughter and her daughter’s companions.. You failed to even take High Spires under your command, resulting in thousands of Arashkan civilians and military assets to take refuge there and consequently escape the city via ships. No, wait, allow me to reiterate that for you; you had High Spires under your command, yet you let it get bested out of your hands by your niece —an eighteen-year-old girl! Dammit, woman, you were given a curse to lay waste this entire city, and you let that get stolen. You were supposed to have come to us with your own daughter, yet rumor has it she was sighted in the city —this city— in the company of a large, brute of a man and a certain Princess of Bari Na-ammen, no less, fighting the Orken! Not to mention, you had the one job here and that was to find the last surviving heir to Arashkan, an eight-year-old boy, Prince Korodin, and you botched that job as well, while he escaped right under your nose. I am trying very hard to come up with a polite way to phrase your consecutive, cumulative, and conclusive incompetence, but it just isn’t coming! So do tell me, high lady, to which unique aspect of yourself are you referring to? Other than being a monumental failure, I mean..”, said the man with his calm voice. Yet the loathe in that calm was so palpable, one could almost reach out and hold it.. Then, under his deep hood, he smiled. “Do not despair, though. Your long centuries to come will, I am sure, give you much time to contemplate on your long line of failures, also..”
The face of the once high lady turned dark and ugly. Her slender hands clenched into fists and dark shadows gathered around them.
“By all means, girl, try your ‘hands’ on me.. Succeed to slay me, and you shall fail when you face my Master while you try and explain why you slew His High Priest. Fail to slay me and you shall add ‘A Failure’ to your tombstone, right next to ‘The Betrayer Of Her Own Kin’.. And trust me when I say, I shall end up having to explain nothing to my Master should I smite you down and bring your broken corpse to him for display.. or your ashes.. To be honest, I don’t really care, which. Either will do fine. Or perhaps I shall keep you alive and take you to him barely breathing. I know for a fact, He does enjoy mortal wenches screaming bloody in his bed as he rips their legs apart!”, the man said, with barely contained mirth.
For a long, wrathful moment, High Lady Angrellen contemplated murder, High Priest or not.
Then, just like that, she calmed down.
“Your attempts to rile me shall have its consequences, High Priest. But I shall decide when and where.”, she said with an almost pleasant smile.
The hooded man grunted with open disgust.
“Coward.”, he spat.
“You are confusing planning ahead with cowardice.”, she replied with a shrug.
“No. I am not. You. Are. A. Coward..”, he seethed. “Something I truly wished you weren’t and actually did try your hand on me.. But I guess you are just another stupid elf bitch.”
“You really shouldn’t try so hard. You will strain something.. Now, if you are done, perhaps we can go and talk to the Orken Mother and tell her to stop butchering everything they find in this bloody city. We will need many mortal’s souls to summon some demons should we want to conquer the east coast of the kingdom, come spring, and that tends to work better when they are still alive before being sacrificed for the summoning rituals! It’s fine with me though. I gave the Master what he wished of me; High Woods and Bari Na-ammen, even though it took me a thousand years, as you say. My further contributions here are purely voluntary..”, Angrellen said, not reserving her infuriating smile.
“You never do anything that isn’t self-serving, Angrellen. So you can skip with the ‘voluntary’ nonsense.”, growled the man with the deep hood.
The high lady shrugged.
“Perhaps. But I guess you will never know, seeing as you will die of old age, if not in some stinking ditch, slain by your enemies.”, she sneered at him.
“I disliked elves before. I loath them just by knowing you, wench! But I know what you are truly after.. You want Gullem’s spot..”
“That information, I am afraid, is quite above your pay grade, priest. Now, you will either come with me and explain to the Orken Mother why she had better stop the butchery, or you can explain to your Master why we still haven’t started summoning his Infernal Troops into this world yet.”, she replied disdainfully.
“Why don’t you talk to her?”, asked the high priest, and not without spite. “I am sure that conversation will go perfectly well. I can just about imagine the Greater Orken Mother being extremely cordial with the former high lady of Bari Na-ammen.”
“Don’t be senile. I doubt she knows who I am, and I hardly think she will listen to me. You, on the other hand, she knows, and very much dislikes.”, said Angrellen viscously.
“And I need you why, then?”
“I am here merely as your.. how do you humans say? Wingman? Or was it back up?”, she said with an evil smile.
“You? You are going to back me?”, scoffed the hooded man.
“But, of course.. Not! I am here to watch you humiliate yourself!”, she said with lazy laughter.
✱ ✱ ✱
The human with the long talks, the demands, and the machinations is here, again, Mother.”, growled the huge Orken warrior with the many scars on his hands, arms, shoulders, and face. His one eye glared with an unholy light while his other eye, a milky, slashed, and dried mess, stared ahead, quite unmoving and petrified.
“Has he brought us any gifts?”, came the grating voice of the Greater Orken Mother, from the dim canopy of her tribal pavilion, set amongst the ruins of what was once an inn, and behind the shattered Alls Temple, in the slums of the decimated Arashkan city. The pavilion itself was quite large and wide, with many brazers burning fitfully here and there and thick, rich carpets that probably belonged to some fateless noble once, were rolled out on the cleared debris of the inn, and several divans and many colorful cushions gave the ‘tent’ a somewhat ‘deliberately’ over-done appearance.
“It is possible, Mother..”, replied the scared Orken. “..He does have a skinny elf loshka with him.”
“Huh.. Perhaps he thinks my appetites go that way.”, rumbled the voice of the Orken Mother. “Let him in. I tire of his demands and his machinations. But he has proven his mettle and has helped us conquer this great city.”
“You are hoping he will have outlived his ‘mettle’, Mother..”, grinned the milky-eyed Orken.
“Yes. Yes, I do..”, growled the Orken Mother from the dimness of her pavilion.
The scared Orken grinned again and left.
“Humans..”, snorted the Greater Orken Mother in disgust. “..And their endless demands like we owe them something.”
A few moments later, the scared Orken returned, pushing the pavilion’s heavy flaps aside with his large, powerful hands but did not hold them open for the ‘guests’.
The heavy leather flaps swung back and closed..
..right into the the hooded man’s ‘face’ and the former high lady of Bari Na-ammen just stared at the whole thing.
“The lack of base courtesy in your beasts is astounding.”, murmured Angrellen with the slightest sign of irritation.
The hooded man shrugged and pulled the flaps open..
..and let them drop right into the high lady’s face!
“Really? You will go that low?”, fumed Angrellen and pushed the flaps herself and entered the pavilion, seething at the clear disrespect. “This is intolerable.”
“And who gave this runt of an elf loshka, the leave to speak, I wonder?”, said the deep, rumbling voice from the depts of the tent. “I did not. Did you, Kadar’ka?”
“I did not either, Mother. Perhaps, a bit like the human, it too believes we owe it something.”, replied the scared Orken, staring at Angrellen with one glaring and one, milky-white, eye.
“Shall we ask it, then?”, said the Greater Orken Mother..
..and rose from her divan, pushing the lush cushions aside.
What came out of the dim end of the pavilion was..
A hugeness not merely in size, nor in the depth and breadth of her massive arms, shoulders, torso, and legs.
Her hugeness was in her eyes and what they telegraphed;
Unrefined brutality and primeval savagery untouched by anything remotely soft, nor civilized.
This was not a creature that took by the strength of her arms and will.
This was a creature that took.
And when she looked upon those around her with the uncanny intensity of her eyes, she told them, clearly as if by words, should they stand in her way, they would only contribute to ‘collateral damage’ and nothing bloody less.
Seeing as what she had done to Arashkan, a city that had stood for over a thousand years, and in under a week or two, she was probably right.
Angrellen Sunsear arched her brows and cooly gazed at the massive creature..
..and shut up!
The man in the deep, hooded robes coughed.
“Orken Mother. I have come to ask you to seize the butchering of civilians. We need them—”, he began.
“—Your needs are not mine, human.”, cut in the Orken Mother, showing little to no emotion on her brutish face. “We killed and we died to conquer this land. The lives of everything in it are now ours to do as we please. Thus we were promised. And thus shall we reap. Until then, you may either watch the slaughter or be part of it.”
“My Master has His orders given, Orken. Do not get above yourself. You conquered these lands because I willed it so. You won this city because I planed it so. Had you not been given the device to hide you and yours, and the city’s defenses downed, I doubt your victory would have been thus great. Must I remind you just who is in charge, here?”, gritted the man from inside his deep hood.
“And do you feel in charge? Perhaps you are under the misguided impression that because you did what you did, you own us?“, stared the Orken Mother balefully at him.
Then she rose to her full height and gave him, and the skinny elf loshka, her uncanny gaze.
A gaze that said, your lives shall depend on how well you listen..
“You must understand, human, for these are the words of I, Guntha’Shar, the Orken Mother;
We are not your dogs.
We are not your servants.
We are your Masters, now!
Should you want to test us, by all means, do.
Tell your master, the Orken are here to stay. Not here to be pawns. If he wants sacrifices for his rituals, perhaps he should overrun the Demon Wall and conquer his own lands. The humans here, however, are ours. We shall have them for pleasure, we shall work them for labor, or we shall slay them for food and for entertainment. They are all ours to do as we please. And come spring, we shall have more.. They shall see us coming and they shall not, and they shall despair, for we shall stretch from one horizon to the other, and we shall be around them, above them, behind them and among them, for we are!
I shall go forth and make my own and I shall leave a kingdom to rule for my son, Guntha’Gar..”
And a tall, well-built man and orc also stepped out of the dimness of the pavilion.
A man and orc made of harsh, tight, cord muscle, keen, cunning eyes, and a cruel, sinister face..
A man and orc, no other than Gar Thalot himself!
With his cunning gaze, he stared at the hooded man and the high elf noblewoman.
“Indeed.”, he said with his low, gravelly voice. “I believe we should add them to the pile of corpses we have prepared next to the First Lords shattered palace to match in height. I am sure the wench would make excellent tallow!”
“Have a care, Thalot.”, sneered Angrellen. “Should you raise your hand against me, you will find, I am not one of your usual easy marks.”
“It speaks. And it makes threats.”, Gar Thalot observed with mild amusement. And slowly drew a long, ugly-looking dagger from his belt.
“No, son..”, growled his mother quietly. “Its time will come, for it is shunned by all, disdained by all, and loathed by all.. and no matter where it runs, no matter where it hides, death will find it in due time.. It shall never have a tent to its own, it shall never have mates nor cubs, for its heart is dead and its womb is cold and the only thing that can come out of it are squirming, poisonous bastards. Little pity have I felt for any beast as I have felt for it, for it shall not even have a stone to mark its death. Such is the destiny of betrayers!”
Then she turned to the hooded man.
“I have said my piece, human. Should I want your counsel, I shall summon you.. Its counsel, I doubt even your master shall ever seek. Otherwise, should you and your loshka be here come dawn, you and it shall be tallow.”
For a long moment, the deep, hooded man in his robes stood silent.
When he finally spoke, it was in hushed tones.
“Very well.. I shall convey your words to my Master, Orken Mother.”
Then, without further due, he turned around and left, followed closely by the skinny elf loshka..
✱ ✱ ✱
You know, I disliked humans before. I loathed them after Nadina came to High Woods. Knowing you, I actually pity them now. Your lives are worth nothing, yet you walk this earth as if you own it. You stare at the horizon like it owes you something. And then you look at the heavens and make demands.. Your idiocy is bested only by your base arrogance.. And of all the humans I have thus met, I pity you the most..”
“..You punned me for my failures, but at least Nadina Graciousward was a power in her own right and had strong ties to many known and unknown, yet equally powerful allies all around the kingdom..”
“..And yes, I might have been bested by her eighteen-year-old daughter, back then, considering she comes from a human mother and an incompetent fool of a father, and hence, against all expectations, is in truth a girl of heightened grace, honest elegance, devote sincerely, an iron will, and, young as she may be, a woman of innate insight and wisdom for people.. When that girl speaks, people listen.. When she beckons, they follow.. She could have been the Rise of her people had she so much as sniffed in her father’s direction. But she chose to leave, rather than to confront, overthrow and disgrace him, and both the people and the nobles loved her for it, and so did my own daughter; tossed one hundred and seventy years of indoctrination aside and joined her.. I lost to that!”, the once high lady of Bari Na-Ammen, Angrellen Sunsear, said, openly admitting her failures.
Then she looked at the man in the deep, hooded robes with genuine pity.
“You? You got owned by an animal!”
Loshka: Orcish word for someone that has no home or clan, and hence, is subject to all forms of ridicule and use. It is also a word commonly used among Orcs and the Greater Orken for a whore.
And Just Beyond That (18+)
The prophecy has been heralded.
The choice has been made.
The die has been cast and fates, sealed.
The ‘Chosen Four’ have been sent, through place and time by the proxies of the Celestials to right the wrongs of the unholy Outsiders.
In a wild cacophony of tumbling and painful sliding through the jagged and jarring madness of time, the Tundra Walkers find themselves disoriented, in a place and time quite out of their own..
..by a gross number of centuries.
This story starts 16 years ago, in some tattered tent full of wispy old hags, at a place far, far north of the Great Northern Tundras, in a small village called Star Watchers and ends in the misty haze of the forgotten past, some 820 years further in the line of history.
This story is the (relative) continuation of
Kocakarı Hikayesi (18+)..
What the bloody hell is this?”, the sour voice of the little, pale gnome grudged as she lay flat on her back. “No one said anything about this much hazard! Hells bells, has the term ‘precaution’ or even ‘risk assessment’ ever occur to those stupid old farts? No wonder people seldom return from the past!”
“Old farts?”, snorted a boxy, feminine voice in the dark, from somewhere behind her, also lying on her back.
“Yea, picked it up at the academy. Some of the ghouls used to use that kinda slang. You wouldn’t know..”, she said with a groan.
“I know, what an ‘old fart’ is”, sniffed the voice in the dark, “what surprises me is the fact that you’d be into such vulgar slang. And the proper word is ‘nerd’, not ‘ghoul’..”
“Nerd, ghoul, same difference. Boys who have zero social lives who live underground, play weird games with imaginary characters and cooked up monsters and carry rule books with more reverence than they would carry their holy writs..”, bit back the pale gnome.
“Sounds fun. What was your character?”
Arcantonic Palecog scowled.
“If you must know, I had a very tall, very pretty barbarian girl with thick, white braids and jugs, that smashed everything in her path with a mindless rage..”, she said and hastily added, “..no offense intended!”, giving a sidelong gaze at Cora’s direction.
The squeaky snort of a hobbit came from off, the other side.
“Some taken..”, replied the tall barbarian girl with thick, white braids.
There was a bothersome pause.
“Umm.. Which part?”, asked Arcantonic, tentatively.
“Will let you know when I want something —in mindless rage!”
“Well, shit!”, grumbled the gnome.
“You truly surprise me at times, girl..”, snickered Seressa Wraiven as her dark face appeared over the gnome. “Are you hurt? Other than your head, you seem all in one piece.. Could carry you if you like..”
“You wish..”, said Arcantonic sourly.
✱ ✱ ✱
Someone’s coming”, Cora Sleet whispered harshly as she sprang up and helped the little hobbit to his feet.
Brom Bumblebrim dusted off his pants and coat and mumbled a silent thanks while the very tall, very dark figure of Seressa pulled up her pair.
Arcantonic did not thank.
She just scowled..
The slow, irking hiss of a blade was heard as Cora drew her long, great blade off her back and spread her legs, ready to fight whatever it was that was coming.
Out in the darkness, the marching of many boots in perfect order drew closer and a platoon of tall figures appeared.
Without a pause, the platoon split in two and surrounded the Walkers and than held their ground. They gave no sign of aggression, only that of determination.
They all wore similar, very elaborate, and very beautiful plate armors, high winged helmets and carried a quiver of arrows, a short bow, a half size kite shield, and a long, slender, almost fragile-looking sword..
High Elves, thought Cora for a moment.
High Elves?, she baffled in the next.
‘Great Heavens, where are we?’
“Greetings, Messengers of the Celestials..”, said the leading elf with a curt, formal nod. “If you would be so kind, I pray, follow me and we shall take you to our lord. It is he, with whom you shall speak.”
Cora nodded back, more out of reverence than a formality, for these were High Elves, the highest and noblest of elves.
Without waiting for a reply, the leader of the high elf platoon turned did a quick hand motion, and walked off, back into the darkness..
✱ ✱ ✱
The sight was ghastly. That was the only word Cora could think of.
They had traveled with the high elf platoon for the better part of sixteen hours, trooping, running, hiding, sneaking, and.. fighting..
..and there was less than half of the platoon left.
Cora thought she knew how to fight. But what she knew was nothing like what she saw with these elves in their shiny, beautiful armor. One particular young elf had caught her eyes. He had had an angular face, a straight, noble sort of nose, a dedicated, rich mouth, prominent high brows, and long, braided, pale gold hair.
Cora was never the type of girl to lust over boys, even before the destruction of her village. But the look he had given her with his beautiful, soft, pale green eyes had been solemn, honest, and.. flattering.
The young man had died in the next encounter with what she thought were mountain trolls. The brutish monsters had rushed right into the platoon and one of them had crushed the elf with his eight-foot club that had been thicker than Cora’s waist..
Cora had never seen a mountain troll before.
Cora would never see the young, beautiful elf again after that..
Tired and bloodied, they were met by more elven platoons and soon ushered to the top of a hill where stood a tall, deep maroon-colored tent surrounded by more high elf guards in even greater looking armors, carrying long, curved, two-handed elven scimitars in silver embroidered purple mantles. Up at that hill, Cora and her friends saw the extent of their prophecy.. and the extent of the devastation taking place down below..
Row upon row of elven warriors in tens of thousands stood before and around the hill.
There, far across a very bloody field was another army of row upon row of orcs, goblins, ogres, giants, trolls, and what Cora surmised to be shambling ghouls, broken skeletons, moaning zombies, and barking demons, and their numbers seemed to stretch as far as she could see.
And between the two armies was a field of death, all burned, scorched, even, and pitch-black smoke rose from broken and mutilated bodies scattered everywhere.
The sight she looked at was nothing less than ghastly..
..and the more she looked, the more her face paled;
The hill they were standing on, was very much surrounded!
✱ ✱ ✱
On the hilltop, Cora and her companions beheld the bloody battlefield below as thousands of arrows formed an arching bridge over them and fell into the ranks of the enemy horde while elfish wizards and sorcerers launched their deadly spells, raining fire, fist-sized hails, and swirling multi-colored arcane missiles. Batches of temple guardians walked among the wounded, doing their best to keep them alive as groves of druids of many races sent bolts of lightning and hurricanes into the demon ranks.
Something very large groaned and with an earth-shaking thud, a hut-sized rock landed in the middle of a platoon and instantly killed and buried the elves caught under it.
More boulders landed haphazardly into the elfish ranks. The crushed didn’t even have the time to scream.
Orders ran up and down the elf ranks and the first half of a dozen line of elves drew their swords, pulled up their shields, and started out as the following ranks crouched close behind them, bearing long halberds and glaives.
The demon horde charged..
“This way, if you would please.”, said the platoon leader and led Cora and her friends into the tent at the top of the hill.
✱ ✱ ✱
The tall elf guard in purple mantle opened the tent’s flaps for the company, then, without a word, turned and left for his post.
Although the inside of the tent was dimly lit, it appeared to be surprisingly comfortable and richly decorated. The ground was covered with a thick, red carpet that had elegant designs inlaid in it, barely a shade or two darker, or lighter than the base red. Many embroidered tapestries hung on the inside of the tent. There were two comfortable-looking divans, many stools, and a large, portable table placed at the far end, covered with parchments, maps, markers, quills, and writing feathers.
A young, beautiful young elf girl slept peacefully on one of the divans. She had a striking figure, full and healthy. Her face had soft features; smooth skin, rich, vibrant, inviting lips, long eyelashes, and brush-free, slightly wavy, honey-colored hair and she was sleeping in her tight, elf woven lorica.
Cora heard a stifling sound from the other end of the tent, and for the first time, she saw the elf lord, sitting behind the portable table.
Cora did a double-take and silently ‘woa’ed for this was the most beautiful face in a living being that she had ever seen. She just stared at the elf lord..
“So, the Celestials have sent another batch of messengers.”, said the elf lord, in a barely hidden contempt. He had a beckoning voice, rather masculine and resonant but somehow musical in nature. If Cora heard this voice in any other male, she would likely have snorted. With this elf, however, it felt ‘just right’.
“A tundra elf barbarian, a hobbit from Bowling Hills by the looks of it, a half-demon and a deep gnome..”, he said.
“It seems the greats above shall not even bother to hide their pun!”
Cora and Brom bowed before the elf lord.
“We have been sent to right a wrong by the Seers of the Star Watchers, my lord.”, Cora said, in her soft, somewhat throaty voice.
And right then, Seressa and Arcantonic both produced something made from fine leather and folded from their belts, flipped them open, and showed the elf lord, a strange, arrogantly carved badge.
The elf lord’s eyebrows shot up.
“And what business interests does the Academy of Melshieve have here, in this blasted, forsaken battlefield?”, he said in a voice that sounded more tired than of any particular interest.
“Academy business.”, Seressa replied curtly, which was very much unlike her.
“We two are here to observe and preserve.“, added Arcantonic, in a similar curt tone.
“Of course you are..”, replied the elven lord bitterly. “Couldn’t have sent a few of your airships..”
“We are here only to observe and preserve.”, Seressa repeated her pair, speaking with a kindlier voice this time.
“I see.. You are free to observe. There will be no preserving done here today, or anytime soon, I am afraid. The situation stands thus; we are surrounded and outnumbered at a critical level. We can barely open small gaps in the enemy lines at the cost of too many lives that I’d care to count. A few months ago, we sent word to Koruxan, Vodgar, Palantine, and Durkahan pleading for their support. So far, we only have a quarter half of Arashkan forces here, dwarven armored platoons from Scowling and Elder Hills, wood elf support from Dim Woods, druids from Ritual Forest, and gnome sappers from Tinker Hills and Silent Hills.”, said the elven lord quietly.
He paused for a bit as if to gather his thoughts, took a deep breath, and continued.
“We had a great start. Our.. our own rangers kept on harassing the enemy lines from the sides and managed to get to their rear as well. We held the enemy at bay for three years and made them pay a good price for every step they took in any direction. But that was up until some two months ago. Our gnome sappers discovered something we never expected. Turns out, while we were entertaining ourselves up here, they were diligently digging miles and miles of tunnels right under and around us..
We destroyed all the tunnels we found, but not soon enough. And now, they are all around us and their numbers have been growing steadily every day.
For weeks we send messengers to the other cities and yet, no one has responded. I am afraid, we will not last the month. Enemy warlocks have warded the area, making it impossible for us to open portals for new troops to teleport in or take our wounded out, not to mention near to non of our summoning spells work, hence we can get the support of neither the elementals nor the fey.
I will be honest with you. You are not the first Celestial messengers that have arrived here. There were six other groups, though never this many at once. You are the seventh group and they all said it was their destiny to right a wrong. I hope your prophecy was better than theirs.”, he said in the same tired voice and Cora finally recognized the nuance.
The elven lord wasn’t just tired. His was the voice of a man who had lost all hope. It was a defeated man’s voice.
Cora felt a lump at the pit of her stomach.
And she felt a vast sympathy for this beautiful elf.
“If it is possible to reach these people, we shall..”, she said in fierce determination.
The elf lord looked up at Cora and for the briefest of moments, a smile appeared in his handsome face.
“I had heard our long-lost brothers and sisters up in The Great Northern Tundra’s never gave their word for simple tasks. They gave them only for the worthy ones.. and always kept them. Had I, but a thousand like you..”
Cora tried very hard not to, but failed.. and blushed.
Just then, the tent flaps opened and an elf runner dashed inside and in a rushed, terror-stricken voice he said, “My Riverin Grandaleren. Themalsar approaches from the south..”
“What?”, said the elf lord in a shocked voice. “How?”
“By ships. He landed troops to the south by ships!..”, said the runner, his face even more drawn now.
“My Lord, they come!”, he whispered.
Riverin Grandaleren’s shoulders slumped. He turned to the four standing before him.
Cora’s mind reeled..
That was a very old elven name for ‘prince’. It had never really been used by her people, only ‘Rive’ which meant something along the lines of ‘king’ or, more like, ‘chieftain’..
‘Good Heavens..’, she thought. This was no mere elf lord. This was ‘her times’ Ri Grandaleren Feymist of the legendary Bari Na-ammen himself..
..and since he was warring this Themalsar, it had to mean, they had been sent back some 820 years, to the first Battle of Themalsar, as the humans called it..
It was better known among elves as;
“Maeth -o Nev Evan escence”
BATTLE OF NEAR EXTINCTION..
Some innate instinct also prompted Cora that they were at the very northeast edge of the Ritual Forest and that meant; just to their north was the Trapped Mountains.
And just beyond that, her Ironfrost..
It was still there, ‘now’..
Her mother hadn’t been born yet, but her father had. He would be younger than she was now.. but alive..
None of her friends would be around for at least seven hundred years yet, but her home, her Ironfrost would be there.. Now..
For the first time since the death of her beloved father, her beautiful mother, her friends, and her people, the true impact of her loss hit her.
Cora Sleet’s eyes teared and silently, she mourned for Ironfrost and everything that it meant and encompassed for her.
It was so damned close. It was ‘this’ close.. Within her grasp to go, and to see.. And perhaps even to..
If she could just go there, and perhaps warn them of their coming annihilation, even at the cost of being branded as a mad woman..
A hard two weeks trek right now would get her there —much less if she left alone! Yes, these strange ‘soft’ people had fought alongside her, but she owed them nothing..
Certainly not her Ironfrost..
And that is when it hit Cora; she was not with them because of some untold, unnamed or unpaid debt. She was with them because this was her future. This was her now and there really was no going back. These strange, soft, very much unbarbaric people were her new friends..
Her new family.
Her new.. Ironfrost!
And as if on cue, a small, warm, delicate hand reached up to her and held hers.
She looked down to see Brom Bumblebrim looking up to her, his eyes also glistening. He smiled at her and kindly patted her hand, squeezed it once, and let it go..
This was her new Ironfrost, alright..
Brom, her talkative little brother who never shut up. Tonic, her grumpy little baby sister who hadn’t yet gotten passed her ‘NO’ phase, and Seressa, her other sister.. the odd one in the family. Every family had one of those, right? She had been the odd one in her family, hadn’t she? Many people had said so.. Yes, she certainly hadn’t been odd at Seressa’s level, nor had she ever worn laced, pink, almost see-through.. things! But there really was no scale for odity, was there? The moment you stepped out of the boundaries of common, you were odd.
And now she was given the new position as the eldest sister. Seressa had merely swooped down and happily claimed her abandoned seat!
Here, some eight hundred years in the murky mists of a forgotten time, in one of the bloodiest battlefields in known history, up against impossible odds, Cora Sleet had found her new family, and in doing so, she found herself.
“GO.. NOW.. Our time is up. If Themalsar gets here, we will lose any chance to break any openings for you.”, said the prince harshly. He turned to the runner. “Get Selvius Brightleaf, my general, and Aramlerien, my master wizard here immediately. Then go and ask Master Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig, the head of the druid groves and General Drills, the gnome sappers’ general, if they would be so kind as to join us. Send for Decona Dwarwic, the dwarven dreadnaught leader as well. We will need her ‘meatgrinders’ sooner than planned.”
The prince paused for a notable breath.
“Please inform Archangel Priceptine of the situation and ask him if he would grace us with his presence and wisdom..”, he added somewhat grudgingly.
“At once, my Riverin..”, the runner bowed and dashed back out of the tent.
“Well, I suppose this was a short-lived encounter.”, Grandaleren said, with an ironic and bitter voice. “I would know your names if you would honor me.”
“No!”, jumped in Seressa. “No names.. I am sorry Riverin of Bari Na-ammen. But those are the rules; under no circumstance may our names be revealed nor recorded!”
“It appears the academy has an answer for everything. Just no solution. So be it. You will be noted as ‘a tundra elf’, ‘a hobbit’, and ‘an academy pair’ who were here to observe and preserve! Now, go..”
Cora and Brom bowed once more to the Prince of Bari Na-ammen and turned to leave.
And that is when Cora realized something else;
The beautiful elf girl sleeping on the divan in her linen-like lorica had not moved, at all..
In fact, she was not breathing.
The hoarse voice of the prince of the high elves came from behind them.
“Selendenien Sindarin.. My sister. She.. she was killed late last night by Themalsar himself. Her life ebbed away by Malocchio, an entropy death curse, particular to his master.. She was the heart of High Woods and the jewel of Bari Na-ammen. The Sunlight of Selendenien shall never bless this world again..”
Riverin Grandaleren choked.
“Now please.. Go.. Give this man a few moments of peace to grieve over a beloved one..”
✱ ✱ ✱
The company moved silently and swiftly, hidden among burly dwarves and nibble gnomes.. That had been the plan; if they were to escape through the encircling army, they would have a better chance with the dwarves and gnomes, in particular, since the enemy was seeking high elves..
..And they had to use the tunnels dug by the gnome sappers.
Seressa had given one look at the small, tight, gnome size tunnels and groaned.
“Ow bugger..”, she’d said, “..not again!”
That had cheered Tonic a bit.
For three days, they ran, hid, slid, rolled, and tumbles through dark, musty, stuffy tunnels, and then over and under heavy brush and mud and reached somewhere near a cluster of rolling hills known as Ogre’s Foot, at which point they got ambush by half the ogre population living in the hills.
“Here..”, said a young, handsome gnome; the captain, of the gnomic company and the de facto leader of the dwarven contingency, as he handed a sealed, rolled-up parchment to Arcantonic. “..if you ever manage to get the chance, give this to my father please.”
Arcantonic just stared at the gnome boy.
“Who the hell are you and why are you giving this to me? You don’t even know me..”, she inadvertently blurted out.
Seressa smacked her forehead with her hand.
If the handsome gnome was taken aback by Tonic’s language or her brute attitude, he showed it with a dazzling, infectious smile.
“I, the hell, am Prince Gordigon Tinkerdome. Son of King Drine Tinkerdome and the apparent heir to the throne of Silent Hills.”, he said.
Arcantonic ogled at the gnome.
All things considered, he was a rather handsome devil. Pretty, even.
If the gnomes smile was dazzling, however, it certainly flew right past the gnomic girl standing before him.. and the infection failed all efforts on her as well.
“It is likely this is where you and your friends will depart, as we are surrounded, outnumbered, and outsized, but not quite bested. We need to make enough of a ruckus here, so they won’t go looking for your, there!“, he said pointing in the general direction of Dim Woods.
“Hence, it is unlikely any of us shall survive. You, on the other hand, must, my lady!”
Arcantonic ogled at the gnome..
Somewhere deep inside her mind, a squeaky, irritated voice said, “Did you.. Did he just ‘lady’ us?”
“Thought I’d give you this letter to be handed to my father, in case of an unexpected demise on my part, and if you would, I would also like to have your name, my lady, and your hand, of which, I promise, I shall keep only one, though I would very much like to keep both..”
“Yep..”, the squeaky voice in her mind confirmed. “..the idiot just ‘lady’ed us —again! And he wants our hand. Why does he want our hand?”
“I.. I can’t give you my name. That.. that is forbidden. And what do you want my hand for? Are they dirty?”, stammered Tonic as she blushed with a tone of pink that would have made her pair proud.
“Oh, for everything that’s good and not..!”, exclaimed Seressa with an exasperated voice, and smacked her forehead with her other hand..
Brom snickered from the side and Cora just stared at Tonic like she was some kind of strange contraption and she just couldn’t figure out what its purpose was.
“I do not know.”, smiled the gnome prince. “Hard to see from here. Must look at it from a closer angle.”
Whatever was going through Tonics mind at that very moment, it was hard to say.
Her face, however, said ‘What the hell kind of an idiot is this?’
Or perhaps, ‘Why is it always the weird ones?’
The prince reached out, took the little gnome girl’s hand, gracefully bent over and..
Seressa held her breath.
Brom bit his knuckles.
Cora cocked an eyebrow and eagled down on them..
..And Tonic smacked the prince of the gnomes..
..over the head..
..with her wrench!
“WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?!“, she blared. “MY HANDS ARE DIRTY AND YOU WANT TO SNIFF THEM? WHAT KIND OF AN IDIOT ARE YOU?“
With that, she stomped off..
The combined company of gnomes and dwarves burst out in gleeful laughter as the prince picked himself off the ground, very much dazed, obviously in pain and thoroughly embarrassed, he said “I suppose, I had that coming.. But wow, that there is one blazing girl and very hard to get; the best kind there is.. Too bad my times up. I would have loved to have stolen a kiss of ‘farewell to life’ from a girl as beautiful and fiery as her..”
The laughter died and every dwarf and gnome picked up their weapons and shields.
“Dwarves at the center. Sappers cover the flanks.. and careful with the mortars and the gnowitzers.. I want carpet-bombing thirty paces in front of the dwarves at all times. No need to be shy with the ammo.. Artificers, with me.. Boomsticks at the ready..”, he barked his orders.
Prince Gordigon Tinkerdome, son of King Drine and apparent heir to the throne of Silent Hills gave the still scowling Tonic one last, toothy glance, than shrieked like a hawk.
Ri: elvish for a king.
Rise: elvish for a queen.
Riverin: elvish for the prince (usually used for the likely future Ri).
Riserin: elvish for a princess (usually used for the likely future Rise).
Selendenien Sindarin: one of the three children of the current king of the high elves of Bari Na-ammen, Ri Lienierre Moonlight. The eldest of the three is High Lady Angrellen Sunsear, followed by Riverin Grandarelen, and the youngest, Ranger Marshal Selendenien Sindarin (Sunlight).
Malocchio: ‘Evil Eye’, in Italian. In-game terminology, an evil, forbidden, very destructive, and an almost always deadly spell. Anyone caught casting or possessing the spell is instantly executed in the Kingdom. Requires a complicated ritual to cast. The end result can vary depending on how it was cast, the intensity of the intent of the caster, and how badly the caster wants the intended to die. The end results can change from something as simple as a heart attack to causing the heart to physically explode, ripping open the rib cage of the person..