Written by Daniel Mitchell
Read by Amanda Meuwissen
Droutan and Sidonia dove left. Avorex hurled himself to the right. Being up front, Vlishgnath had little time to react as the sphere of flame expanded almost instantly. More out of reflex than hope that it would do any good, Vlishgnath’s left arm flew up, putting the dragon scale shield in front of him as he dropped to one knee. Turning his face away and trying to compact himself behind the shield as much as possible, he braced for the inevitable. Much to his surprise, however, the flames parted around him, and though he still felt the intense heat, he was spared the brunt of the damage.
“Impossible!” the spindly looking sorcerer shrieked, as the five armored men moved in with their weapons drawn.
Raising his hands up above his head, the sorcerer began conjuring a pair of crackling spheres of red arcane energy, swirling about and encompassing each other. His efforts were cut short, however, as his arm suddenly sprouted feathers, one of Droutan’s arrows easily finding its way through the soft flesh of his right bicep and piercing straight through.
Immediately the sorcerer shrieked horrifically, losing control of the spell he was preparing. The red spheres ricocheted off of each other, one of them sailing into the sky while the other shot straight into the base of a small cottage, exploding in a massive electric discharge that scorched the foundation and caused it to crumble, the house collapsing in on itself and kicking up a massive dust cloud.
“What in the abyss was that?!” Sidonia shouted, her daggers appearing as the house caved in.
Droutan frowned, having meant to put the arrow through the sorcerer’s eye, but his aim had been thrown off as a mercenary in heavy armor came rushing forward, swinging a spiked club at him. Droutan rolled out of the way, slung his bow over his shoulder, and drew a pair of shortswords, turning to face the mercenary just in time to jump back and out of the way of a vicious downward swing.
Meanwhile, Vlishgnath stood up, reaching down and drawing Retribution from its scabbard, the blade ringing out softly as he adjusted his grip on it with a flourish. One of the armored mercenaries rushed in at precisely that moment, swinging wide with a two-handed greataxe. Vlishgnath responded by stepping in, planting his feet, and meeting the swing with his shield, stopping the axe short and following up with a swift chopping motion from Retribution. The keen edge of the sacred blade easily sliced through the wooden haft of the axe, sundering the weapon and leaving the mercenary holding a wooden stick as the axe head fell to the ground.
The mercenary’s eyes grew wide, a stunned expression coming over his face. Pressing his advantage, Vlishgnath spun around, bringing his shield up in a tremendous bash that caught the mercenary in the side of the head, knocking him to the ground.
Across the battlefield, the sorcerer reached up, grasping Droutan’s arrow and snapping off the part that protruded from his shoulder. He screeched orders at the armored men. “Take care of Sylnahram first! Kill the others later!”
The four men still standing seemed to understand, the one that had squared off with Droutan moving to charge past him and head toward Vlishgnath.
Reacting in the blink of an eye, Droutan dropped down, spinning around and slashing out with the short sword in his right hand, catching the mercenary in the back of his knee where the plated armor didn’t protect him. The man roared angrily, dropping down and swinging out wildly at Droutan with his spiked club. But again, Droutan’s reaction speed proved to be too much for the man to handle, and, after ducking down and out of the way of the swing, Droutan stepped up, quickly taking the man’s wrist in his left hand and using the blade in his right to make a precise slice just above the man’s elbow.
The man dropped his weapon as the tendon was severed, the bottom half of his arm going completely limp. The mercenary swore loudly at Droutan, who spat at him before planting his foot on the mercenary’s shoulder and kicking him to the ground.
Nearby, Avorex stepped forward and met two of the men head on, pulling his massive hammeraxes from their holsters and cracking his neck in preparation. Realizing they weren’t going to get around him, the two men instead opted to try to go through him, one wielding a long spear and the other a sword and shield. The one with the spear tightened his grip on the weapon’s shaft, lowering the point at Avorex while the other brought his shield up to ram into the half-orc. Avorex roared loudly, drawing back and throwing the weapon in his right hand at the spear wielder, the weapon soaring end-over-end at the mercenary’s head. Unable to stop due to his own momentum, the man could only drop his weapon, screaming and bringing his hands up as the blade of the weapon sliced through his fingers and continued on into his face, lodging itself in his skull.
Immediately, his body went limp and he fell forward, coming to a sliding stop a full yard from the half-orc’s feet.
Seemingly undaunted, the second mercenary continued his charge, shouting loudly as he braced for impact with the mighty Avorex. Avorex responded simply by stepping in and putting all of his weight into a massive front kick, his foot landing square in the center of the mercenary’s shield and halting the man in his tracks so abruptly that his feet kicked out from underneath him, the man falling to the ground and landing on his back.
Dazed and with the wind knocked out of him, the man could only look up helplessly as Avorex kicked the longsword out of his hand, coming to stand over top of him ominously.
Mustering the will to shake his head, the man gasped for air even as he spoke. “Please…don’t kill me…”
Growling, Avorex knelt down, drew back his massive green fist, and punched the man square in the bridge of the nose, his eyes instantly slamming shut as his world went black.
The last mercenary was not as heavily armored as the rest. Garbed in simple leather armor, he went toward Sidonia, proving to be every bit as nimble as she, as he faked to the right before spinning around to her left and blowing past her. Immediately realizing her mistake, Sidonia countered by spinning around and dropping down in a full leg sweep, catching the light-footed mercenary’s legs and taking them out from underneath him.
In a heartbeat, he was back on his feet, spun around, and lashed out at her with a slash from a kukri in his right hand, his left gripping a stiletto dagger upside down. Sidonia bent backwards, bending her knees and rising up on the balls of her feet to keep her balance as she did so, the kukri sailing harmlessly through the air in front of her. As she straightened back up, the mercenary was already coming in for the follow-up, bringing the point of the stiletto down in a powerful overhead puncturing stab.
Sidonia quickly side-stepped to her right, but the mercenary was ready for her maneuver. Pivoting on his feet to face her, he brought his left knee up hard, catching Sidonia in the stomach. Sidonia doubled over, unable to make a noise as the air was forced from her lungs. Dropping to the ground, she coughed, losing the dagger in her left hand as she brought her hand up to clutch at her stomach.
The mercenary smirked, lifting his foot up and planting it on her shoulder as if to push her over with a kick. But, before he knew what had happened, Sidonia’s right hand sprung up, the point of the dagger driving straight into the man’s groin. His screams of agony were so intense, his vocal chords ripped and his voice soon went silent. The man fell to the ground, dropping his weapons and no longer moving.
Sidonia chuckled, reaching over and retrieving the man’s kukri. “Trade you for the knife.” That said, she stood up, brandishing her new curved blade in her left hand with a twirl.
Watching his hired help get incapacitated in mere moments, the sorcerer snarled as the four of them all turned their attention on him simultaneously. “Your traitorous ways will never be forgotten, Sylnahram! You can’t fight us off forever!”
Vlishgnath’s voice was chillingly calm. “Droutan?”
Already, Droutan had his short swords sheathed, his eyes narrowed on the sorcerer. “Yes?”
“Put an arrow in his other arm.”
With one smooth motion, Droutan’s bow was unslung and an arrow was nocked and trained on the sorcerer. “Just one?”
The sorcerer hissed at them, gesturing quickly with his hand. Instantly, a wide and very tall wall of fire sprouted up in front of him, and, as Droutan’s arrow flew from his bow, it hit the wall and fell to the ground, the fire consuming it.
“Flee, coward! Were I so inclined I could hunt you to the ends of the earth!” Droutan shouted out, the sorcerer turning and taking flight using the wall of flame as cover from further shots.
Vlishgnath sheathed Retribution, moving toward the crumbled house and speaking with great urgency. “Leave him!”
As Vlishgnath spoke, Droutan shouldered his bow with a growl, then joined the rest of them in searching the ruined building.
Before they had a chance to get there, however, Avorex suddenly cried out in dismay as if something had occurred to him. Rushing forward and leaving his weapons behind, the half-orc began lifting huge chunks of rock and debris from the wreckage.
Droutan came up behind him, putting a hand on his shoulder and sounding very worried when he spoke. “Avorex! What’s wrong?!”
Avorex roared out once more, shaking Droutan’s hand from his shoulder violently and continuing to lift massive pieces of stone and heave them out into the road.
Vlishgnath looked over to Droutan, who shrugged in response. Vlishgnath motioned towards Avorex with a nod of his head, and the two of them stepped in and helped Avorex lift a mostly intact wall that had fallen in. As they lifted the wall, the crushed figure of a person was seen.
Looking to be small, frail, female, and human, Avorex heaved with all of his strength when she came into sight, carrying the wall out of Vlishgnath and Droutan’s hands and shoving it away in a burst of adrenaline.
Sinking to his knees, Avorex gently placed a hand on the woman’s back, nudging her gently. “Mom…”
Sidonia gasped, a tear streaking down her cheek as she covered her mouth. Droutan closed his eyes, averting his gaze. Vlishgnath looked on, silent and unmoving. Avorex sobbed, gathering the body of the brunette woman up in his arms and holding her close.
Meanwhile, the townsfolk began gathering around, one of them stepping forward and peering in. “Oh…it’s Maevyn. For a minute I was worried.”
Vlishgnath’s gaze abruptly rounded on the man, the steel in his voice unsettling to such an extent that the man actually took a step back. “And what exactly do you mean by that, stranger?”
“Whoa, easy now…I’m just saying it’s a good thing it wasn’t another house. Really did her a favor, actually. She claims she was raped by an orc, but we all knew better. Gave birth to a bastard half-breed. Kid’s probably around town somewhere, hiding on account of the noise.”
Sidonia, now crying openly, grew red with anger, shouting at the man. “How is it a good thing this happened to her instead of anyone else?!”
The man held his hands up innocently. “Look, all I’m saying is it’s a good thing it wasn’t the blacksmith or someone important. No man in town would have her, so she had to whore herself out just to—”
Avorex’s voice bellowed out, his vision going red as his rage took over. In an instant, Avorex had his powerful hands wrapped around the man’s throat, lifting the man off the ground to the point where his feet were dangling a couple feet in the air. The man clawed futilely at Avorex’s arms, unable to even cough or choke with Avorex’s grip so tight around his throat. The man’s face immediately began turning red, his eyes bulging from his skull.
Droutan rushed forward, grabbing ahold of Avorex’s arm and shouting at the top of his lungs. “No! Don’t kill him!”
For a moment that felt a lot longer than it was, Avorex held on, the man locking eyes with Avorex and looking completely horrified. Then, Avorex’s fingers released him from their grasp, his hands trembling as the man dropped to the ground, gasping and sputtering vehemently as he tried to suck in air.
Droutan stepped forward, kneeling down next to him, his words dripping with venom. “Make no mistake, friend. I place no value on your life; were circumstances different, I’d have let him put an end to your miserable existence. But, given the predisposition to racial bigotry you and the simpletons that occupy this backwater mud hole are prone to, he would be branded the villain while you died a martyr, and I’m not about to let that happen. But if you ever…make an ignorant remark like that again…” As he spoke, he drew a large hunting knife from a sheathe in his boot, brandishing it in the man’s face with a well-practiced hand. “…I’ll cut your slanderous tongue from your mouth. Do we understand each other?”
The man continued to cough for a moment, shaking his head. “G-get that monster out of here!”
Sidonia lunged for the man, but Vlishgnath caught her in his arm, restraining her as she flailed wildly.
Droutan stood up, sheathing the hunting knife as he swore at the man in the elvish tongue. Avorex stood, his hands still trembling, large salty tears running down his dark green cheeks.
Placing a hand on Avorex’s wrist, Droutan spoke softly. “Come on, Avorex. Let’s get her out of here. She deserves better than to be left here for these vultures.”
Avorex turned, walking past the man on the ground who scampered to get away as the half-orc went by. Carefully, he lifted the body from the ground, holding it close to him, and began making his way out of town.
By then, Sidonia had stopped struggling, and Vlishgnath released her, leaning in and speaking quietly to her. “Let’s get his weapons.”
Wiping the tears from her face, Sidonia nodded, still glaring furiously at the man on the ground.
Using a shovel they found propped up against a house on their way out of town, they buried the woman under a large tree outside of town that Avorex picked out. Vlishgnath and Sidonia stood back, giving Avorex some time and space. Avorex kneeled over the unmarked grave, stones piled on top of it in the customary fashion.
Watching on, Sidonia spoke in a soft tone. “Does this mean Sylnahram was indirectly responsible for the death of Avorex’s mother?”
Vlishgnath sighed, shaking his head. “He may have been there, but he couldn’t have known an unpredictable attempt on his life would end in her death. Clearly it’s something he hasn’t forgotten if it still haunts him in his dreams.”
Sidonia sniffled and nodded. Droutan stood up, patting Avorex on the shoulder a few times before making his way over to them.
For several long moments, none of them said anything until finally Droutan spoke. “I, ah…happened to spot the door off in the distance…out there a ways.”
Vlishgnath followed the direction Droutan was pointing and, sure enough, a solitary door stood in the middle of the open plain. Nodding, Vlishgnath looked back to Droutan. “We’re going to give him all the time he needs. No one should have to experience the death of their mother twice.”
Droutan smiled faintly. “Thanks. That means a lot. To both of us.”
Sidonia smiled, still sniffing heavily. “He’s lucky to have you as a friend, Droutan.”
Droutan shook his head, chuckling and looking over to Avorex. “In all my years, I’ve never known a more loyal friend and companion. If anyone is lucky, it’s me.”
With a heavy sigh, Avorex stood up and moved over to rejoin the group. His eyes were dried, but still slightly bloodshot.
Vlishgnath waited a moment, then spoke. “Take all the time you need.”
Avorex shook his head, picking his hammeraxes up off the ground and holstering them. “Ready.”
Vlishgnath nodded and the four of them made their way to the door. Turning the handle, the door clicked open and Sidonia stepped through, followed by Avorex and then Droutan. Looking back one last time, Vlishgnath furrowed his eyebrows, spotting the silhouette of a pointy-eared wide-framed child darting behind the tree to avoid being spotted.
Shaking his head, Vlishgnath spoke to himself as he stepped through the door. “Just hang in there, kid. It’ll get better, I promise.”
Closing the door, Vlishgnath almost bumped into Droutan as he turned around. They were in a vast, open room, a cool mist hanging in the air and obscuring one’s vision. Still clearly visible in the center, however, was a wide pedestal with a flight of shallow steps leading up to it. Atop the pedestal stood a plain-looking golden pitcher, and standing in front of the pitcher was the unmistakable figure of Roderick, garbed in the same clothes they’d seen him wearing in the ballroom. Mystere was standing with them, and was eyeing the pitcher eagerly, wringing his hands and nodding enthusiastically.
After several seconds, Roderick turned around, looking to Vlishgnath. “It’s definitely set to trigger a trap if it’s removed, although I’m not entirely certain I can disarm it.”
Vlishgnath hesitated for a moment, then nodded. “Oh. Well, perhaps we should leave it be, then?”
Roderick grimaced, clearly not happy with admitting defeat. “I suppose that would be wise, but it seems such a waste to leave it when we’ve worked so hard to get here.”
Then, without warning, Mystere looked over at the group, his voice incredulous. “Yeah right! There’s no way we’re leaving that thing here!”
That said, Mystere took off, hovering quickly over to the pitcher and snatching it from the pedestal in the moment it took the group to cry out, “NO!”
Immediately, the whole room began to shake, the walls trembling violently and the ceiling threatening to collapse.
“Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhh! I’m too handsome to die!” Mystere wailed.
Roderick glared at him irritably before looking around, assessing the situation as quickly as he could.
The group tensed up, Sidonia shouting out angrily as the room continued to quake. “Ugh! I hate that guy!”
© 2012 Copyright Daniel Mitchell
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