Of Random Chances
“Follow the wall to the North Watch Tower! Rawan, you and your men head to the gates and patrol the outer wall. He will not leave this city, men. For the Queen!”
“For the Queen,” echoed the reply.
Othan, a sergeant of Thronefast’s army, barked orders to his bright eyed soldiers just after rotation to first watch. The sun was long below the mountain’s silhouette to the west and the darkness would make their duty tonight even worse than it already was.
The order had just come down from a commander that his mentor and hero, E’mani Karos, was a wanted man. Earlier that morning, Karos had still been the shining example of Thronefast’s greatness. He was a man of humble beginnings and had risen through the ranks of the military on his demeanor and his deeds. He was a natural leader and his courage and skill in battle were the inspiration of most every boy in the city. Everyone wanted to be E’mani Karos. Now, it seemed, everyone wanted him. Othan looked back at his men rushing down the corridors on alert to arrest the hero of Thronefast on his orders. And he didn’t even know why.
The water sloshed with every step. It penetrated the shined leather boots, then the warm socks, ran down into his feet and wicked up his pants. E’mani Karos struggled to contain his gag reflex as he trod through the rancid drains in the underbelly of the city of Thronefast. The slight sparkle of moonlit clouds bouncing off of the waters ahead were not sufficient to light his way through the maze of tunnels. He braced himself on the curved walls to his side as he made his way, crouched over. His foot found a hidden stone. He braced against the wall only to find it too slick to support his angle. E’mani stumbled forward and landed chest down in the foul water, feeling it slip past his collar and run into his shirt. He pushed against the sides of the small tunnel in a panic, trying not to submerge any other parts of his body down into the bottom of the drain, but he found no firm place from which to push. Water splashed all over his clothes as he raced to return to his feet. He finally shoved his hands straight down through the water and into a carpet of thick sludge and pushed himself out of the water. He couldn’t see his hands but he felt it. He smelled it. He vomited.
The tunnel lightened in front of E’mani as he made a turn. He heard the trickle of a slow stream ahead and he rushed as quickly as he could toward it. Moonlight bathed the larger passageway ahead and he noticed a steady flow of water racing toward it. The runoff from the mountains found its way into the sewers of Thronefast from drains on the backside of the city where it met the mountain’s base. He played in the grates as a child but never thought about their purpose until now.
He reached the main line for the city and knelt in the flow. He knew it wasn’t clean, but it was better than what he was currently covered in. He washed his body off as best he could and crept to the edge of the drain. He stayed motionless, flat against the walls of the tunnel for several minutes, listening for the sounds of his accusers, his friends, searching him out undoubtedly to drag him to his death. He hadn’t noticed from the adrenaline and his recent conditions, but both his hands were shaking, and his breaths were short sperts as his heart pounded in his chest. He closed his eyes and tried to settle his nerves.
His mind fled back to his routine morning: waking up to the smell of fresh backed rolls and honey, his short field practice on his usual day off, his hot bath right after and his freshly cleaned clothes for an afternoon of leisure in the vast city. His life was everything he could have dreamed. By mere chance, he heard the screams through the grate in the alley behind the bathhouse. And he had later smelled the metallic stench of blood and rotting flesh in the secret caverns under the castle. There was no way to go back now. He did not want to go back.
Kador stared at the red glowing orb on the table in his kitchen. Its intensity increased anytime he was conversing with the ancient one it summoned. The cloaked older gentleman stood as if on his floor but shifted slightly like a leaf on a rippled pond. The edges of his body seemed to blow away into nothing and, when he spoke, it made no echo regardless of the location. That, above everything else, made his conversations with Kador unsettling.
“We have strode hard, the Red Raven and myself, to thwart the current inhabitants of Terminus from reaching the Dragon Accord. But it seems we are moving into a dark age. The Seed of Life that has connected the lives on Terminus since its creation is being severed from its children. With these connections broken, so is the connection to the knowledge and wisdom of the world. Even I, in my state of timelessness, can not make out the consequences of all actions. It seems the broken ties with the pantheons of Terminus are having effects in ways that may not have been planned,” the old one explained.
Kador sat mesmerized by the motion of the light in the orb. All this information was too new to him to make any decisions about the fate of worlds or civilizations. He didn’t know what his father, Kole, was like, but this was beyond him.
“If you’re looking for someone to change the course of fate, you need to move along. I am not my father. In the six moons since his death, I have seen enough to know I don’t want any part of this. I’ll stay right here.”
“Spoken like your father, always wanting peace and quiet,” the old man replied. “the world is only ever saved reluctantly. You must stop looking to the end. A castle is built one stone at a time.”
“I don’t want a castle,” Kador said. “I just want a family and a place of my own. It’s not too much to ask for someone who has never had either. Why don’t you look into time, seer, and figure out how I get that!”
“Foolish boy!” the old man grunted. Kador shrugged, not dismissing the charge. “My tragic state is not for parlor tricks or your amusement. We are bound, not by my wishes, but by powers beyond both us us. And it is getting more important by the day. Your father is not the only contact I have lost. There are only three that I have communion with in your time. I have close to a hundred a century before you. The loss hinders my ability to retain what I learn of the future. It all changes so fast, with every blow of the wind! The work of an immortal has been handed to me, and I can only do so much. Blast it, boy, help me!”
Kador stood with his arms crossed, his stubbornness being tested. He knew almost nothing about this apparition. Obviously, he had supernatural abilities so some heed should be paid to him, but his purpose was still unclear to Kador.
Kole, Kador’s father, had been a loyal ally and the old man’s hands and feed after he learned of the corruption of the nations around him. He believed the old man’s tales of destruction if any being on Terminus had the knowledge and power of the Dragon Accord, a contract between the celestial beings and the dragons of Nhystyrrok, their term for Terminus. It pertains to the celestial travel of a few of the races that have been relocated from their world to the current one, in ways and for reasons that were beyond any mortal. Even the language the contract was written with was an unknown language of dragons that imbued magical powers just in its writing and speech.
Kole had worked as a trusted assassin for he Red Raven, a collection of mercenaries whom, to the outside world, seemed enigmatic in their goals, seeming to play for and against all sides at one point or another. The truth was the Red Raven was orchestrated by the Old One, a being caught outside of time and space, though some of Terminus’ inhabitants gained access to state of being, though none knew how or why. He claimed he tried to keep the power of the Dragon Accord out of the hands of the citizens of Terminus until the time came for it to be known. The old one claimed that prior to the appointed time, the knowledge of the Dragon Accord would fracture the relationships of the nations and lead to the destruction of all peace in the world. Kole bought into it fully. Kador, on the other hand, wasn’t sure.
“Look, old man,” Kador said in his young and brash tone, “you’ve been trying to scare me for moons to join your cause. I didn’t know my father. I don’t know you. I don’t even know your name –“
“If I remembered it, I’d tell you,” replied the old one.
“Point is… what’s in it for me? Me, not the whole world and all unborn children everywhere. What do I get out of it?!”
The old one felt Kador’s hardness build up. He was stubborn like his father without doubt. But he also was key in what was to come, in more ways than would ever be known. And it certainly could not be known by Kador.
“You would like something for yourself, yes?”
“I’m not doing anyone’s bidding unless I am getting paid. I’ve been told what to do long enough. Nobody controls me but me. All this talk of fate and future and past; if I’m not here because of random chance, then tell me what is coming to me if I help you.”
The old man’s presence began to flicker as his face disappeared into the darkness of his hood. The echoless voice became deeper somehow as it began to speak.
“You… will get all that you have asked for; a family, a place of your own. You will be rewarded beyond even what the line of Amensol can acquire. And you, Kador, son of Kole, will find peace.”
The old man began to dissipate in a fog as Kador looked on. The weight of the apparition’s words hit him as both relief and fear. Whatever magic engulfed this man, he did not want to test it.
As the light of the orb faded, the room became dark. Kador had not noticed it get dark outside as he was talking to the old man. His hand hesitated over the orb as he went to cover it. He wondered if he believed the old man, or if he just wished it were true. A family, someone who loved him for who he was, not what he could become, it seemed out of reach even now. He didn’t know if what he heard was true, but as much as he brandished a selfish demeanor, a part of him wanted this adventure and chance to become something greater than the thug he would most likely become. He looked around the room and imagined what it would feel like full of kid’s laughing and the smell of fresh bread, and the company of a beautiful woman.
He dropped the cloth over top and slid the rock off the table. He placed it back in the backpack and returned the pack to a trunk in the room. The lid of the trunk slammed down at the same time a huge noise came from outside. Horses squealed. Kador dashed to the door at the back of the house. He shot through the door and saw a small fire at the roofline. Someone was setting his stable on fire.
“Smoke her out!” shouted a soldier wearing the colors of Thronefast, the capitol of Men. “You two, guard the doors on the backside.”
Two soldiers ran to the backside of the stable as another four spread across the front side. Their torches were bright in the darkness and gave Kador the advantage of stealth. He grabbed the knife that was strapped to his side and slid it out of its sheath as he darted for the back of the barn. The two soldiers were up against the side of the doors in anticipation of their catch.
The soldiers turned toward the side of the stable in time to see the knife bounce off the edge of the stone structure and twirl to the ground. Kole emerged from the shadows at full speed and planted his foot against the chest of the closest soldier, which sent him flying into the other, knocking them both to the ground. Kador slid to the ground beside them and knocked them both out in one quick blow each before either one could even draw their weapon.
Stupid knife, he thought to himself. He had been practicing with it since his father left it to him six moons ago, but he wasn’t sure he would ever be able to get the hang of it. His broad and hardened physique had been all he ever needed in a fight. If he could punch harder than the other guy, what else did he need? He picked the knife back up, just in case.
The door to the back of the stable blasted open, hitting Kole in the head as he bent to retrieve his weapon. The force knocked him to the ground and he scrambled to his feet awaiting his next fight. He saw a darkened figure heading toward the house. It seemed like a woman, but the way she moved, definitely a soldier of some kind. The soldiers at the front of the barn noticed her as she swung the door to the house open.
“She’s in the house!” one of them shouted as he gestured for the others to follow. The men raced to the house as Kador stayed in the shadows as he made his way to the back and paused to wait to see which soldiers would come around back.
A soldier circled the back corner and headed for the door as Kador leapt from behind a fence post and slammed his shoulder into the guard. The force lifted the soldier off his feet and he flew headlong into the side of the stone house.
Kador heard the front door open and a soldier shouting taunts at the girl inside. He crouched down behind the half opened back door waiting for an opportunity. He heard a loud commotion that sounded like a kitchen table chair shattering. The closed shutters of the window above his head broke from their hinges as the soldier flew out after them and dropped to the ground, dead.
“Set it on fire!” said the soldier out front. They were not going back in after the disappearance of their comrade. Kador took the opportunity. He raced into the house as quietly as he could and threw open the chest where the backpack was laying. He quickly put it on and went to the kitchen to retrieve the documents his father had left him. He pulled them from a drawer and shoved them into the pack and slung it around his body. He looked around the room for the girl but saw nothing. The few candles he had lit in the house had all been snuffed out. Then he noticed light breathing coming from the corner of the den.
“Quick, come with me. I don’t know why they’re after you but I owe them no loyalty, especially after setting my house on fire,” Kador said. There was no response and no movement.
“Look, lady, I can’t leave you in here to die. Whatever it is, we will fix it. But, we have to go now. I know a way that is hidden.”
Moments passed with no sound except the shouting of the guards outside the house. Kador saw the smoke making its way in through the windows and underneath the thatched room. They were running out of time.
“I follow!”, the reply came. It was an unusual accent, one that Kador could not place. There were several dialects still mixed in the population of men after being transplanted from their home world.
“You forrst! I follow,” the voice came, definitely feminine, but gravely and strong in tone.
Kador could not see her in the dark corner of the house, but he needed to leave before the rest of the guards attacked and he was fairly certain he could best a woman in a fight, and he certainly wouldn’t leave her there. He took his chances.
Kador grabbed a coat laying across a bench by the door and headed out as fast as he figured she could keep up.
The guards were still yelling at the front side of the house. Kador tried to listen as he snuck down the path to the far side of the house headed for the pastures.
“Sir, the other two barns,” came one loud voice. “I’m not sure if she’s in there anymore. Nobody’s seen her.”
“We have this covered. Bar the doors and light them just in case. I’m not dying over some ridiculous order. There’s no intel we can get from her that’s of any value. Not sure what leadership is thinking. She’s better off dead! And if she’s here, she must be in league with the owners.”
“Sir,” and two of the soldiers ran off to the other barns close to the house.
Kador looked over his shoulder at all that had been given to him only six moons ago. It was gone and by the King’s men. He turned back around as he approached the small bridge going across the creek at the far side of the pasture.
“They may be able to track us to here, but we can lose them in the creek. I’ll shoot across the field and circle back to the creek upstream. You follow the creek until you get to a small fall, then head east. There’s a cave in a ridge not too far. I will meet you there,” Kole said without turning to the fugitive.
A yell came from his side as he stepped into the creek. A soldier leapt from the shadows on the bridge and landed on Kador, sword drawn. Kador’s feet slipped out from under him as he crashed face first into the shallow stream. He struggled to get up but the slick rocks were making it difficult to gain grip with his hands. Then the weight lifted.
The girl grabbed the soldier by the collar of his armor and pulled him backwards into the water on his back. He swung his sword up to defend off his aggressor and caught the girl mid-thigh. The cut was superficial but painful. With his sword now open, she took her foot and slammed it down on his wrist, pinning his arm to the stream bed. In one quick motion, she pulled the serrated blade from a belt under her black cloak, crouched down and thrust it through his left breast. She instinctively covered his mouth with her hand and waited.
Kador finally made it back to his feet as the fugitive was crouched over the dead soldier, still covered by her cloak. He could barely see anything on the moonless night, but there was something strange about her manners, her movements, even her stronger frame. She seemed slender, but much more muscular than most female soldiers he’d seen. The way she had ripped the soldier off of him would have taken a decent amount of strength, even by his better than average standards.
“Thanks for the help,” Kador said, dripping but trying his best not to look foolish. “What’s you name, so I can thank you properly.”
The girl removed the knife from the body with a jerk and hesitated. Kador knew she was trying to hide her identity. Little did she know he had no knowledge of wanted persons in the area and he certainly had no sense of duty or allegiance to Thronefast. He could not care less if she was a mercenary on the run.
The girls started to rise. She stopped several times as she stood, obviously torn between revealing her identity and… something else. Kador kept one eye on the knife sticking out of the long sleeves under her cloak. She finally stood up and faced him, still slightly leaning forward in a fighting position but with her hands down. It was already dark outside and he couldn’t see her face underneath her large hood. She was taller than him, he could tell even with her bent at the knee.
She cleaned off her knife on her leather coat and slipped it back down into her belt that hung loosely off her hips. Her sleeves slid down her arms as her hands came up to remove her hood. Her arms were dark like Kador’s, but not slender as he expected. Her large forearm muscles were well-defined and her hands seemed unusually large for her size. As she slid her hood back, her long, black hair fell from underneath it. Even in the darkness, he could see small strands of braided hair and beads tied up and mixed in with the loose hair. Her head ducked as she drew back her hood and Kador first noticed the tips of her ears cutting through her hair and coming to a sharp point. Her right ear was full of ivory and silver hoops wrapping around the edges. Something was strange about their tint. Color was almost impossibly to tell on such a dark night, but it was not the dark red clay color like Kador’s skin.
Finally, after much stalling, she lifted her head and caught Kador’s eyes. Her eyes were big under a slightly larger brown than you would find on a human or elf. He could faintly make out tattoos stretching in lines around her face in strange shapes. A horse’s shoe shaped ornament was hanging from her nose. Her lip, also was pierced on one side of her mouth. And something else about her mouth.
Kador froze and said nothing for a moment.
The girl looked back at him, and after a brief second, she scowled at him and let out a fierce grunt, then turned and ran down the creek at an amazing speed.
Kador stood, taking in what was happening. Her mouth. Her mouth. At first, he though she had other piercings on both sides of her bottom lip, but the shape was all wrong. They weren’t piercings. They were teeth.
“Gods…” Kador whispered to himself. “She’s an orc.”
Kador looked back to the northwest, seeing the warm glow of the fires burning everything he had owned, weighing his options. Unfortunately, it was not the only time he had nothing. He had been there before. But the old man had told him that he would have what he had asked for. To see what he wanted burning down on the order of Thronefast confused his worldview. It was seeming that some of what his father had said to him was true. Maybe the nobility of Thronefast did do whatever they wanted at the expense of the masses. And why send an entire platoon of soldiers after one orc? True, he had never seen a female orc, but why would that be so special?
He thought back to the last thing the soldiers said as they were fleeing. They assumed he was conspiring with some orc. Ten guards’ word against his. And three of them he had knocked unconscious. Did the old man know about this? Was fate pushing him toward something or was this random chance? Kador decided he’d not let anyone tell him what to do ever again. Fate would not rule him. One decision at a time.
He checked his pack to make sure nothing had fallen out. It was fortuitous that he had landed face down. None of his father’s papers had been ruined by his fall into the stream. He slung the bag back on his back and looked down the stream in the direction of the fleeing orc. Then he looked back in the direction of his family’s land. He wanted to know more about what happened, and he didn’t think he could find out from the soldiers. That left him one option. Could she even speak to him. She knew a few words of his tongue, but he’d never met an orc before and was ignorant of all but the common knowledge that they are murderous barbarians. This orc had not killed him when she had the chance. Why? He looked back one more time at the orange smoke in the distance. There was no way to go back now. He did not want to go back.