The Blast of War
Luckson Hollow, Avendyr’s Pass, 981IH
Three silhouettes approached the open window frame of the stone wall. The stones were overrun by creeping vines but the hole a window once filled was wide open. The silhouettes were backlit by torchlight from inside the foyer of the massive estate. Voices from inside echoed softly through the empty hallways and open rooms large enough to support the trappings of the richest of nobility.
The estate itself was hard to see from the valley floor. A steep ascent and over a hundred years of growth hid the dark stone ruins within their shadows. The formidable size of the estate was juxtaposed by the very narrow paths that led to its perch high on the side of the hollow that bore its name, Luckson Estate. One of the silhouettes waved its hand, backing the others away from the window, hiding them against the stone in the color washing of the moonslight.
“Why… ou… to this,” a low voice echoed through the window. The silhouette closest to the window ducked beneath the light and quickly jaunted to the large broken wooden door hanging from its hinge at the main entrance to the manor. The sound was slightly clearer from the new vantage point.
“What do you mean ‘why did I agree’? You think I had a choice? I didn’t want to go on this impossible task any more than you two did,” said a new voice. The silhouette could see around the corner of the broken door and saw two men and an elf rummaging through piles of trash and debris in the main hall.
“We don’t even know what we’re looking for. This is ridiculous,”
“Look on the bright side, lads,” said the elf, “If we find it, we can leave. If we don’t, they’ll probably just kill us. Either way, we won’t have to endure this torture for long.”
“Why does everything in old ruins smell like urine,” said the taller man.
The silhouettes stayed still and watched for a while, taking time periodically to look over everything within their view for the object of their search. The taller man ran back into the main hall where the other two were still pouring over all the trash in the room.
“Hey, check this out,” he exclaimed as he ran to them. “In the Master’s quarters.”
The three ran up the grand staircase into the main hallway. Their noise faded as the few hiding just outside strained to hear what was going on.
“What should we do,” remarked one of them to the other two.
“We wait for the signal,” replied another.
The master’s quarters upstairs was littered with leaves and dirt and animal fur. The furniture that once adorned the room was no longer there, and the barrenness of the large room made it feel even larger. The tall man brought the others to a certain area along the long wall of the room where a perfect square of weeds were growing out of the side of the wall, surrounding a specific cobblestone that made up the large stone wall.
“Look,” he said with excitement.
“Look at what,” replied the elf. “There’s ;nothing here.
“I thought your people were supposed to know everything about plants and stuff. You don’t find this odd?”
He looked back and forth at the other two, clearly not seeing what he noticed. “Are all splinterfolk as unreliable as you,” he quipped at the elf who was not amused.
“The only way there could get enough dirt around this block to grow weeds is if it was loose. Loose brick? Master’s quarters? Hiding spot?”
“You’re a regular detective, aren’t you,” replied the shorter man sarcastically.
The tall one reached down and pulled the weeds and what dirt he could from the cracks around the brick. It was loose, and as he removed more debris, it started shifting in its place. A dagger wedged itself against its side and drug it out a little at a time until it was far enough to get a finger hold around it. As he gripped it, an oggrym sounded off a roar outside the ruins.
“What the…,” the three men stopped. “What is he doing this far up in the mountains?
“Hey, I hate oggryms,” said the elf, gripping the mace handles ready at his sides. “One of them killed my friend… then ate half of him I didn’t sign up for oggryms.”
“Stop worrying. He can’t get inside. Stop being such a faerie,” said the shorter man. He turned back to the brick in the wall and was shoved to the ground. His shoulder throbbed instantly. He looked down to see an arrowhead sticking out the front of his shoulder.
With a roar, two men jumped through the window of the second story bedroom and were immediately on the three in the room. The elf lunged forward with maces in hand. He swung at the waiting face of E’mani Karos, who dodge the crossing blow by a finger’s width without losing balance and countered the elf’s momentum by shoving him in the side, sending him following his swinging arm right into the stone wall. The other man with E’mani was busy with the tall man; both seemed to be decent swordsmen.
Turc came running into the room from the hallway followed by the other two that had been accompanying him downstairs as scouts, waiting for the call to ring out. He entered, bow nocked once again and pointed straight at the shorter man still grumbling on the ground.
The company of five with E’mani surrounded the three goons hired by Count Deviare, weapons drawn. E’mani stepped forward to the three, who appeared ready to fight if it came to it.
“I think a parlay is in order, gents,” he said, sheathing his weapon before his enemy. “I am assuming that the house of Deviare has acquired your services, correct?”
The three looked at each other then back at E’mani, saying nothing.
“And I assume he promised you a decent wage to find a hidden artifact that may still be in this old manor.” He didn’t wait for the response. “I also assume that he didn’t tell you that it is of grave importance that he hides the knowledge of this artifact from absolutely everyone, making you three loose ends that need to be tied up before they fray the cord.”
“You saying that Deviare means to kill us,” asked the elf, forehead bleeding from a small cut from the impact with the stone wall.
“Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying,” Karos responded. He bent down to the arrow wounded man sitting on the ground and grabbed the tip of the man’s drawn sword. “And I mean to set you free.”
E’mani had his men stay their weapons. He talked to the three on the ground for a while, explaining that he was trying to stop Thronefast from acquiring the power to control the continent indefinitely. The three mercenaries listened even more intently once he revealed his name to them. E’mani’s reputation with the underbelly of society had improved as his infamy increased. He was already feared; now, he was respected.
“I must hold Thronefast off from this if we ever have a chance to survive the wars they will bring with a weapon as powerful as the one they seek. This artifact is the key to it. But, I can’t protect it alone. Turc, here, is my best friend and a decorated soldier. Landis, Rufus, and Ephra are three mercs Turc acquired to assist us in getting this far. Now, they are my friends and are bought in to the mission of holding back the rising decay of the house of Avendyr. I’d like to ask if you would join us. If not, I will not stop you from leaving, but if you stay, I promise you a brotherhood, not an overlord, and fair wages, room and board for those that assist in refortifying this estate.”
A breath later, the gang of eight watched as the stone was removed from its location. The hole went back farther than the stone. E’mani stuck his hand into the hole and pulled out a brown, soiled rag. He unfolded it in his hand to reveal a dark stone, jagged on one side, each shard containing glyphic writing etched into the gem. It was the size of a man’s hand and felt as heavy as gold.
“Gentlemen, I think we found it,” E’mani whispered as he held the black crystal. “And welcome home, to the keep of the Black Rose.
Azure Isle Northern Coast, 526IH
Kador turned his head side to side, watching each of his captors closely. To his left, there were two creatures that had the head of a wolf, covered in fur from head to foot, but had the form of a man. Their speech was not guttural, like an animal’s, but smooth and sophisticated. To his right were three beings of distinct races, two of which were not known to him. One appeared as a walking tree branch, also having the form of a man but made of vines and wood. One seemed to be serpentine, the face of a basilisk and covered in scales and walking upright. The other was an elf female, as old an elf as he had ever seen; the war took many of the older generation, and were dying off naturally at this age. She moved easily as though time had weathered her appearance but not her mobility. There was a special quality about those whom surrounded him. Little was spoken, but all spoke to each other in their own languages and seemed to be understood by all but Kador. Val knew several languages but he would be surprised if she knew all of them spoken here. And their demeanor was calm and unassuming, almost soothing, even though by their forms they appeared formidable.
The brush they trudged through began to open, the wild grasses getting shorter around them as a clearing came into view. It was an encampment; orcs on one side and the mixture of wolf and other races on the other. The orc’s side consisted of orcish pitched tents, simplistic for ease of use in traveling, but of a fine quality that he had not seen, even in the Oosharuk’s hall. Leather and canvas of dark, rich colors were tied down with rope of fine smooth cord. Each dwelling had a fur on the ground leading into it. Kador assumed all of the floors of the tents were covered.
The other side were elaborate tented structures with high ceilings and in the shapes of intricately cut round gemstones. The inner boning for the tent ceilings must have been built by something very sturdy, much more complex than moveable tents set on a series of poles. They each had large entryways and appeard mostly uniform. Kador found that odd as some tents even had only wolves trotting in and out of them, and the races camped there varied in size and shape.
The elderly elf slowed down before entering the makeshift village and turned to Kador and Val.
“One could assume that you would take the opportunity to flee while we brought you to our camp. That is why we bound you. One can assume that in the presence of a host this size, the threat of attack or fleeing would seem impossible, so if you don’t mind, I can remove these bonds,” the old elf said, walking towards them. At five paces she brought her hands together, interlocking her fingers and closed her eyes as she continued forward. Before Kador’s eyes, the old elf’’s skin seemed to turn to paper or ash, and fell from her body. Underneath, the shape of the man-type wolf creature emerged, white, black, and grey patched fur. The creature moved toward Val and extended its hands to which Val presented hers. The wolf’ creature extended two digits and sliced through the cord easily with its sharp claws. It then walked toward Kador.
Kador stood looking into the face of the creature, amazed by the transformation that happed so quickly and effortlessly just a moment ago. The creature must have noticed the look of confusion on Kador’s face and spoke, “I hope that didn’t unsettle you too much.” Her voice seemed similar to the elf’’s own but with a smoother sound similar to the other Lyca as Val called them.
“Forgive my brazenness,” she continued. “It isn’t often that I meet someone unfamiliar with the followers of Lycus anymore. I am Yonai.”
Yonai grabbed Kador’s bound hands gently and brought them up near his chest. She then drew back one hand over her shoulder and brought it down with great force toward Kador’s arms. Kador pulled back at the sight, but the grip of the other hand held his arms in place, and the creature’s hand came down onto the cord in the space between his hands and snapped it in two, never touching Kador. He stood there, breathing heavily, as the wolf face in front of his seemed to grin.
“I am no threat to you if you are no threat to me,” Yonai said to Kador. Then, she turned and walked toward the middle of the camp. The other guards waved them on to follow.
Val and Kador were led to table set up outside the tents between the two camps and asked to sit as some others came from various tents and sat among them. Kador watched as Yonai walked past the table and bent over to whisper into the ear of a wolf standing outside one of the tents nearby. She then stood back up and walked to the table and pulled out a chair, standing behind it. The wolf followed behind and when it got to the table, it jumped up, placing its large front paws onto the table. Its fur fell away, similar to Yonai’s skin, and revealed one of the tree folk he had seen escort him to the clearing. Once it gained its new form, it sat at the seat prepared for it and Yonai joined it at its side.
Val watched across the table as very old orc females joined them there, each adorned in the ceremonial dress of Kaa’ruk from different clans. Each clan worshipped a different deity of the orcs, each convinced that theirs was the strongest.
The Council, the highest of the shaman judges, put their differences aside to ensure the longterm existence of their race, only getting involved in orc affairs if it involved more than one clan, and only then if the issue could affect the whole of a clan. In the event of a drastic need, the Council would declare a Right of the Blood Covenant, placing all clans on notice to come to the aid of one, joining all clans for a limited time for a singular purpose. Due to the enduring nature of their role, their whereabouts were largely unknown, even to the Kaa’ruk of the clans. They traveled nomadically between the clans but rarely visited them, opting for the Kaa’ruk priestesses to carry out their written orders.
It had been a long time since the Council was seen by a clan, the reason for Val’s surprise when she learned they had once again visited her clan. After the Deicide War, forty years earlier, the Council visited the North Tusk settlement of Hanggore. It was the last time Val had set foot on her own clan’s land. The Council had discussed the possibility of all orcs going to war against humans. During the War, all clans were united to ensure the viability of the two clans living on the western borders of the Empire of the Ogres. The intense fighting from the Ravaging Lord’s army of the Revenant waging war on the continent threatened their very existence. In their favor, the Ravaging Lord focused his army against the Ogres and the Dark Myr, who formed an unlikely and tenuous alliance to break his reach for power. In the end, the orcs waged a few large battles on their own homeland, but never strayed away to help any other races.
Once the war ended, the clans once again broke fellowship and returned to their own land. By then, Avendyr, the young and assertive king of the humans, had began a new settlement in the most pristine of valleys belonging to the North Tusk. His settlement even used some of the ancient foundation stones of the clan’s ruins at the site. To make matters worse, the newly crowned king had already built alliances with the formidable elves to the west and with the Dwarves across the sea to the south. In the end, the Council voted that it was best for orc to bide their time, allowing the strength of the alliance to fade with passing decades, or centuries, waiting for the right time to strike when humans were at their most vulnerable, and reclaiming their ancestral homelands.
Val never assumed they would react so rashly with the prospect of a powerful weapon of ancient time that was not more than heresay in their time. But, she did understand that their action meant there was a very real probability that the weapon existed, and they were on the verge of obtaining it.
The elderly spriggan, that is what the treefolk were called, raised her appendage to silence the gathering of leaders around the table.
Kador watched as each of the wolf-headed creatures shed their fur for the appearance of different races as they sat around the table. It seemed that each one had the ability to take the form of a different race. He just couldn’t figure the purpose.
“I, Mel’ela, follower of Lycus the All-Knowing, greet you. We are gathered on this sacred island of Noa Umen to discuss the transition of power from the Elvonnen to the Orc,” said the leader.
“De time of de Elvanu is overr,” one of the orc leaders cut in. “Dey have choose to end. De time of Orrc on Noa is now.”
This interruption sent many of the Orc Council into several outbursts, all in a language Kole did not understand.
Mel’ela held her arm up again to settle the council members. “We all recognize the coming extinction of the Elvonnen Giants, and grieve their passing. They were good stewards of the land for millenia. This was the reason they were part of the Accord brokered with Rok’Nilthamos, may he be cursed, and the Celestial Infinite, that ushered in the migration of these new races to the land of our ancestors.
Kador felt small sitting at this table. His people had lived here on this world sixty-seven years, a blink in terms of the other races sitting around the table, he thought to himself. Even the elves, who had also been brought here by the unknown power had been here almost 500 years. As a child, his studies included the fables of the creation of this world which mentioned the spriggan’s creation tale where they were created to keep and nurture Noa, the original name for Terminus, and protect it. Even the orc had an origin story for Noa that involved them. At the same time, humans never asked to come here and they certainly had no choice when they were thrust here by means and for reasons unknown.
Yonai, sitting beside Mel’ela, spoke up, “The rights in question today are for the sanctity and protection of our world, not an individual race, Judge Threskred,” she said looking at the instigating elderly orc. “There are many who would acknowledge their rights to take part in Noa’s future. It is our collective task to find those who hold to the convictions of the duty that goes with it.”
“We have broken our rules in ourder to meet vwith outsiderrs out of respect. Now, you question our allegiance to de prosperity of Noa, elf,” she shot back, sending the other orcs into another frenzy.
“This is why we can’t idly give this task to orc,” said one reptilian race at the end of the table. “Their wounds are still fresh from the overreach of the humans.”
“Veistress, this is no time to stir pots,” said Mel’ela, trying to ease the tensions.
“I still don’t know vwhy de Lyca think dey know betterr dan de orc who should keep de Stone. It is not yourrs,” Threskred said, leaning back in her chair, trying not to let her emotions be a weakness the others could exploit.
“Is it not enough that we Lycandrells, as followers of Lycus, hold the knowledge of history, present, and future above all else as our sole purpose, and that our master has granted us his enlightenment and form as witness to these gifts,” said one creature at the end of the table. Kador noticed there was no others of its race anywhere in camp. “My people, Tholen, have spent millenia cataloguing the comings and goings of this world and its inhabitants, and even they hold no candle to the knowledge given us by Lycus.”
“Knowledge is not de same as wisdom, Tholen,” said another Orc judge.
Kador looked across the table as Mel’ela sat back and watched as the talks broke down into chaos. It seemed to him that she was waiting for them to tire out before resuming. He was never one for patience.
Kador stood up from his seat, stood on it, and stepped up onto the top of the large stone table in the middle of all the pious and important leaders around the table. Audible gasps went out from around the table.
“Vwhat is dis Uman doing in ourr meeting, anyway,” came a comment from an orc at the table, then another, “He defiles our sacred birthplace and our lands!”
Kador ignored all those who beckoned him down from the tabletop as he reached into the knapsack on his back and pulled from it the old tattered rag, bulging from its contents. Some of the Lycandrell at the table changed to their half-wolf forms and snarled in his direction, not knowing if his intentions were violent. He lifted the cloth from the large reddish gem and threw it down in the dirt beside the table. Upon seeing the orb, Val immediately stood from her chain and knelt on one knee beside it, in reverence to the one who comes from the orb.
“What manner of stunt is this, human,” said Mel’ela, recognizably disrespected by his brazenness. “You are here as a guest only since you happened to be seeking the Stone in the presence of this Kaa’ruk. You have no authority here.”
Kador ignored here as he rubbed the side of the orb. One of the Lycandrells reached for Kador’s leg to drag him off the table. Val jumped from her knee onto the tabletop beside Kador and drew her dagger.
“Everrybody is back,” Val growled. Her unarmed hand began glowing with soft embers, causing other Orc leaders to brandish their magic abilities as well. Val did not back down. “You vwait! Listen to de god he summons. He show us de vway to de Stone and our mission.”
“I told you, Valgrugthrinostek, I am no god,” a voice said coming from a vapor forming to her side on top of the table. The form of an elderly human appeared in the smoke. Instantly, Mel’ela boomed in a voice unlike the one she had been speaking with. It resonated throughout the entire camp, pounding in Kador’s chest. It silenced those around the table.
“It is a Timeless One,” Mel’ela said in her soft voice again, now that the table had grown silent. “Do you see?”
Threskred looked around at her people. “Vwhat do you say, Mel’ela? See vwhat?”
“You do not have the eyes to behold his image. It is said only those who have sought the meaning of their life may see them if they choose to be seen,” Mel’ela said.
“That is astute, Governess Mel’ela. I am pleased to have the opportunity to commune with one such as yourself. My interactions are… limited, you could say,” the Old One said.
“Can they see you, old man,” Kador said, pointing at the Lycandrells.
“Only a few,” he replied. “It is more than I have had at once in the last few moments of connection.
“Who do you talk to,” Threskred said, still snarling with her hands swirling with unresting lightning. “You fabricate to mock us?”
“Hardly, Threskred,” Mel’ela responded, still beholding the one before her. “You can see if you allow yourself. Go beyond the fleeting needs of your clan to the true nature of this world and your role in it.”
“Mel’ela, we do not have much time to right this course. It is not time for this knowledge to be spread. I have sent Kador and Valgrugthrinostek on a task to gain control of the Stone. It must be lost once again, for a time.”
Yonai beside her broke in, holding out her hands, “Timeless One, we seek your counsel. Who should be given the Stone? Where will it be safe? The humans lust for power, the Orc hold vengeance in their hearts; even my people have lost their way, seeking to deal death in the name of security, as I once did. I would dare say even in the Lycandrell’s enlightened state, we may be to weak to resist using its power to defeat Nocht’s agents in order to bring harmony back to the Twin-Head god.”
Threskred, in her ancient years, jumped back behind her chair and grabbed the hair of the Lycandrell member beside her and drug him to the ground.
“Vwhat is this foul ploy,” she yelled as the male orc guards who were nearly twice her size rushed in with swords brandished. All the Orc Council followed her lead, threatening their hosts with violence.
“None of you must get it,” the Old One said, still trying to give guidance in the midst of the commotion. “There is a chance if the human and the Oosharuk take the Stone. It is small, but it is the future’s best chance.”
Kador already had his dagger out, still standing on the table between the orcs and the Lycandrell. He glanced over at Val, weighing her reactions. Val turned to him and nodded, ready for whatever came next.
“The Timeless One has spoke,” Mel’ela shouted over the ruckus. “The Stone must be given to Kador and Valgrugthrinostek!”
“That vweapon vwill neverr go to de outcast, or a Uman,” Threskred shouted back.
An orc sitting near one end of the table reached over to grab the Stone from in front of Mel’ela. At first sight, each Lycandrell sitting at the table transformed into their half-wolf forms and roared at the top of their lungs. Mel’ela herself stayed Spriggan and grabbed the Stone as her fingers grew long like vines and engulfed it in mere seconds.
Then, the first blow was struck.
An orc judge hurled a ball of fire in Mel’ela’s direction. It landed on Yonai beside her as she jumped into the path. It caught her fur on fire as an agonizing howl went out. One Lycandrell on their side sprang over the entire table, digging their claws into the instigator. He was immediately engulfed in large orc bodyguards, beating and kicking at him as they pulled their kaa’ruk to safety.
A battle erupted instantly as Mel’ela fled in the direction of her camp and the others of her order joined the fray.
“Stop her,” cried Threskred as she retreated behind her foot soldiers. The burnt Yonai growled furiously, pulling two swords from her side as her wolf-like form bounded across the table into a pack of orc guards, their blood spattering her fur. Two orcs pursued Mel’ela, running around the end of the table. Val saw immediately and was within range from the top of the table to cut the first one off. She leapt from the table and struck a blow with her dagger right at the side of the head of the orc guard. He was able to get his defenses up in time and her blade glanced off the thick leather armor wrapped around his forearm. Her momentum carried Val through the strike as she grabbed the collar of his armor while bouncing off, and tugged him hard enough to throw him to the ground. Kador was right behind her, leaping from the table, only to be tripped at the last moment by an orc already entrenched in the fight. Kador focused all his concentration on one spot on the ground as his feet went up over his head wildly. A few awkward jerking motions righted his descent as he landed backwards on his feet and let his momentum carry his body onto his back. He rolled right out, end over end and wound up back on his feet and changed direction to pursue the orc he missed, now only a few steps from catching Mel’ela.
The orc roared as he approached the Spriggan and brought his long sword down on her appendage as she ran, severing the arm as the rest of his weight lumbered forward into her, driving them both to the ground. Kador was right behind and dove to the ground for the Stone still in the clutches of the Spriggan’s dismembered hand. As Kador picked up the still twitching arm, its once vibrant green hues faded to brown as Kador watched it turn into a lifeless piece of branch, the Stone stuck in a ball of twigs.
The orc, up from falling over Mel’ela, swung his large sword down toward Kador’s chest. Kador rolled across the ground onto his stomach as he watched the blade’s tip strike the ground and sink in. He compacted, then released from his legs into the side of the much larger orc, driving him from his ribs and underneath his arm sideways until the orc lost his footing and spun to the ground. A stray bolt of lightning cracked by his head as his momentum carried him toward the reeling orc. He caught himself with one firmly planted foot just before his enemy, and put the rest of the momentum into a vertical leap, swinging his legs up over his head, then extending one on the descent, driving his heel into the side of the orc’s face, feeling the weaker jaw bones shatter under his harder heel bone.
“VAL,” Kador screamed, as a kaa’ruk who was yelling something in her direction formed a massive fireball between her hands and flung it in Val’s direction. She heard Kador just in time to drop flat to the ground as the massive attack landed squarely into the back of the orc guard getting up from where she knocked him over. The explosion blew all the armor and clothing from his torso, leaving nothing but blackened, burning flesh as he cried out, falling back to the ground.
“Run!,” Val shouted back at Kador. Kador noticed a few kaa’ruks motioning to his location while the majority of forces were in a heated exchange with the ferocious Lycandrell, who were tearing the flesh from their prey as they fought.
The tall grass lay in front of Kador and Val as they pushed hard to return to the beach where they landed. They heard sounds close behind them slicing at the brush. The way had been hard to navigate, maneuvering through the thick growth on their way to the camp, Kador was afraid he would not be able to navigate back to their landing. A large tree to his right had an outcropping of very large roots. He jumped over them and ducked down on the other side, hoping Val would follow suit. It was well hidden from the way they came, but he picked up a broked branch from beside him and threw it ahead into the brush ahead of them. The branch made adequate sounds down the trail. Kador quickly grabbed a long slender branch to his side, torn off by a storm, no doubt. It was a good length, four cubits, and still mostly green. He pulled some cord from a pocket in his trousers and unsheathed his dagger.
Val jumped beside him in the dirt, listening to the growing sounds of footsteps behind them. She looked at Kador in frustration.
“Vwhat are you doing,” she whispered as angrily as she could.
Kador did not answer her. He finished tying the knot of the cord he had wrapped around the end of the staff and his family’s long dagger.
Two large orc males in full iron armor clanged past them, followed by one female kaa’ruk, a younger priestess serving the council. As soon as they passed, Kador shot up and chased behind them, as fast as Val had ever seen him move.
Kador blew by the female and jumped in the air as he came up to the rear large orc’s side. He thrust his left leg into the hip of the orc as he passed him, sending him into the dirt as his hips gave way in full stride. As Kador landed he twirled his staff around the side of the front orc and it caught him in the throat. His arms flailed as one hand came up to tend to his windpipe. The kaa’ruk had began casting a spell of her own as she saw Kador race past her. An incantation began coming from her mouth, a host of smoke gathering from thin air around her. Her voice boomed in an unnatural low tone as lightning flashed inside the swirling smoke. Then a scream.
The tips of Val’s daggers both found daylight out the kaa’ruk’s sternum. She looked down at the blades protruding from her chest cavity, then in an instant they were gone.
Val kicked the priestess in the spine, sending her face first into the trodden grasses. Val looked up to engage the other two orcs and saw Kador spring to the rear orc’s position with the tip of his makeshift spear. It was rebutted, but his momentum brought him inside the open orc’s stance, allowing his fist to find the chin of the orc. The orc stumbled backward as Kador switched directions, bringing the spear back around toward the face of the incoming enemy. The other orc blocked it, leaving him unprepared for Kador’s strong kick to his chest. The orc was pushed back several steps, but he was able to steady himself with his arms. By then, Kador had brought his spear back around with sufficient clearance for the blade at the end to make contact with the throat of the recovering orc. Blood sprayed out as Kador continued in his direction spinning his body around, planting and launching his speeding leg around his frame and into the head of the dying orc. The blow crumpled the orc to the ground. The other orc charged Kador’s back. Kador heard him coming and slipped to the left side of the passing orc, the side free of a blade. He threw out his leg as the guard missed his attack, tripping him and sending him to the ground. Kador spun his spear around in his hand rushing to the falling orc. The blade met the back of his neck just as his body hit the ground, and did not stop until it was stuck in the soil beneath.
Kador looked back at Val, noticeably impressed with the quickness and power of Kador’s surprising skill. It was the first time she had seen him fight without wielding the dagger.
“I’m winning, that’s what I’m doing,” Kador said taking a deep breath, trying to settle.
The two raced back to the skiff they came in as the sun fell below the horizon. Kador and Val both grabbed oars and helped get underway as quickly as they could. The quicker they could get out of sight, the better.
As the island turned into a hand-sized mound in the distance, Kador pulled the stick that once was the Spriggan’s arm from his trousers.
Val watched as he broke away the vines engulfing it. “The Stone is seal of pact made by Draiku and gods. Ooshava spare Orrc by taking Draiku king from us. All disappear, not to be back.”
Kador listened as he worked, having to cut many of the very hard branches away.
“De Stone of Promise, Krav Druma, was given to de giant, de Spriganu, de Tholanu, and de Draiku. It has vwords carve into in tongue of Draiku says dey no come here for time, dat we rule each ourr own.”
Kador grunted as he bent one piece of wood back until it finally snapped and released pressure on the gem. Kador pulled it from the wood and held it up in the waning sunlight and waxing moonlight. It seemed…
“Is not!,” Val’s voice rose.
“What? It has to be! We all saw it on the table! If this isn’t it, then where is it,” Kador said, looking around the craft for no logical reason. Then something else dawned on him. “And where is my orb?”
Threskred sat at the table, looking at the old elf, changed back from her ferocious wolf form. She had a bandage wrapped around the left side of her face, blood seeping through the bandage. Orc fighters and priestesses grabbed their fallen and were loading them and their tents back onto the vessels in the inlet beside them. The handful of Lycandrell that were left alive had been bound and let return to their tents until the orc party was gone. Yonai was left to tend to herself, Threskred knowing she knew the ways of war. Today, the Lycandrell had been outnumbered. The sun was not quite up but was bathing the early morning sky in hues of light green and pink.
The old elf stared back at Threskred, sipping hot tea in silence, her own bloody wounds throbbing with pain while the rest of her body ached from the exertion. It had been a very long time since the blast of war had called her to action.
Threskred finally spoke up, turning her head slightly, motioning her words to those behind her as she kept her eyes on the elf, “Vwe leave forr Hanggore.”
“I implore you, Councilor, do not carry that artifact into battle. No good will come of it,” she said with somber eyes. The orcs had found the misdirected gem in the end, given to an unlikely servant, hoping to go unnoticed.
“Do not vworry about it. You vwill see, my old friend. De curse of de Uman will be overr.”
She spun the dark, jagged-topped crystal in her fingers, her long nails clicking on the surface as they made contact.
“De time of de Orrc is here again…”