Amensol’s Focus: What Comes Around…
The warm and gentle glow of candles crept into the squinting eyes of E’mani Karos. No forms were visible, just streaks of light across his vision. As his eyes tried to focus, his other senses began functioning. He felt cold. Under his fingers were wood grains. His own weight pressed against his back. He was lying down. His fingers twitched.
He began to smell the earthy scents of moss and lichens. The air was moist. It also carried in it tones of metal and of meat, scents he commonly associated with war. His eyes began to move.
He felt no injuries to his body, no burn of cut wounds, no ache of broken bones. His head began to throb. There was a headache that seemed to come from all over. His mouth was dry all the way down into his throat. He coughed.
He began hearing clicking sounds, but reverberating as if they were on the other side of a massive cave. And they were very faint. Now voices, whispers; at least they sounded like whispers. Were they just far away? He couldn’t tell. His head rolled to its side.
The pressure from his headache eased somewhat, replaced by a sharp pain in the back of his head. It felt like he had been hit. How would that happen, he thought? His mind slowly began reconstituting his last memories.
I am not in Thronefast. I left. I am an outlaw. I saw something. I fled. I came to the Sanctum. I was at the Sanctum and…
His eyes still were trying to regain their normal function as shapes began to emerge from the light. Stones. Were they? They appeared a greenish-gray, lumped up on the other side of the room. His head was beginning to hurt more as his awareness returned to him. He lifted his hand to his head. It stopped. He tried again. He heard a clink. Then he felt the heaviness around his wrist, the harsh edges of metal tugging at his skin. His hands were chained.
As his adrenaline kicked in, his senses rushed back to life. E’mani jerked his head around the room, blinking furiously to awaken his eyes. Table in the northwest corner. Southwest corner empty with a doorway next to it. Southeast wall was a bit farther away. It was a good sized room. The walls were stone, the doorway had no door.
Ugh, my head hurts.
The northeast corner held another large table where the stones were. His eyes flickered and squinted. Stones… not stones. Soft, draped with canvas, leather. A leaf… no. Pointy… an ear? A head. A torso, another head, another torso. Bodies. A pile of bodies. There were dead bodies piled on the table in the corner.
E’mani yanked at his chains furiously. They rattled down the corridor and returned, echoing many times over. He cried out in labor, pulling as hard as he could to free himself from the bonds. He stopped, breathing heavily. Calmness is what separates the living from the dead in most battles, for luck would often enough save a man if his courage held. He tried to regain his composure, thinking through his problem.
Lying on a wooden table. It’s pretty sturdy. Iron shackles. In a room with no cover. Ok, break the table. No, too sturdy. Fire the table. Sconces too far away and no way to not burn myself alive. Break chains. Stupid, think! Shackles… shackles come off. Shackles use keys. Now you’re thinking.
Underneath his waistbelt, his hands felt for the iron pins stashed for occasions needing a sharp tool when none was available. He found them in their thin leather slot sewn to the inside of the leather belt.
“Ah, he awakens,” said a voice from the entryway. E’mani writhed in his chains, his waist tied down from the chain that ran from shackle to shackle through eye hooks mounted to the table. He watched the man walk in, dressed in a fine wool robe, intricately decorated and embroidered. A shawl graced the top of the robe and hung down both sides of his neck with the symbols of Na’dor. He was a priest of The Supremacy, the hub of religious worship for humans in the heart of Thronefast. The priests were inserted into every facet of the lives of men: commerce, legislation, and above all, justice. They wielded the power of magistrates, condemning or freeing those brought up on charges. E’mani had brought many a traitor and murderer to their temple for judgment. They were supposedly men of upstanding reputation and candor, but most were politicians who liked the status and power.
“Right here in my presence, the favored son of Thronefast, E’mani Karos himself,” the man said swinging to the side of the table. “Even though this may look… foreboding, I want you to know that I have always admired you.” His face lifted up as his hands began heralding the words out of his mouth.
“Humble beginnings! An alley vulcher from the tattered hovels of a small town rises up from nothing to gain the admiration of an entire nation. Good looks, an affable spirit that makes way for the feral beast in times of battle. By the gods, you are magnificent. An inspiration to us all, really.”
E’mani watched him as he circled the table in grandiose manor.
“So, even though we are here under unfortunate events, I wanted you to know that what I do, I do ONLY in service to my queen and her wishes.”
“Judge, please, listen,” E’mani began speaking, hoping to find a favorable ear.
“Ah, it’s Justice, Karos, actually,” he said, mocking his own pomposity. “I’m sorry. I did not afford you the courtesy of introduction. I am Luc Demith, the high priest of Ocirico and the head Justice of the Judges of Na’dor. I am an advisor to My Queen Amenthiel, a stalwart defender of humankind…,” he said, then leaned over the table and whispered directly into the ear of E’mani, “and seeker of secret knowledge.”
“Secret knowledge, it appears, is what has brought me into ill favor with my queen,” E’mani responded sharply.
Luc stood up and began pacing again. “That’s the thing about secret knowledge. Once it is no longer secret, there is a fallout, generally some costly consequences. Continue hiding the truth and face being exposed as a liar, losing reputation, livelihood, even life. Coming out with the knowledge and let the commoners sway in the fickle winds of perception. They ask questions, second guess decisions with the aid of hindsight. It’s all just so messy and uncontrollable.”
Luc stopped by the table of dead bodies. E’mani was alert enough now to notice they were orc corpses, some covered in large quantities of blood, some missing body parts. Luc bent over to look into one of their faces as if intrigued by the expression.
“Ocirico likes order, likes control. He fashions everything ahead of time into a plan and the fates carry it out to the letter. That is why we as men pride ourselves on our aggressiveness in accomplishing our goals. We have the drive to see our plans through, to succeed. And when problems arise that stand in the way of the plan, when the rudder is jerked from its set station, we do our part to course correct. Do you sail, Karos?”
E’mani didn’t answer. He rattled his chains, stressing the solid fastenings.
“You, unfortunately, stumbled onto an image that you perceived to be something it was not, Karos.”
“Heh,” E’mani couldn’t withhold the slight chuckle at the priest’s arrogance.
“Whether you think you know what you saw or not is irrelevant to my goal. There is a weapon that the orcs have knowledge of. It is a weapon of unimaginable power, which says a lot knowing what an astute pupil of history you are and your journey into the stories of the Deicide War. So, when I say unimaginable power, I mean a power that threatens to kill every human on… this… rock.
“You see, Karos, if I do not find the location of this weapon and safeguard it from the hands of our enemies, I am doing a disservice to my queen and my people. And, unfortunately, those who know of its existence and whereabouts belong to the North Tusk Orcs, who I am sure you are aware are enemies of our people and would relish the opportunity to destroy us if they ever understood what power they could wield.
“If your quest is so noble, why the subterfuge,” E’mani growled at Luc.
“I thought you not a fool, young Karos. Don’t ask question to which you already know the answers. The orcs can not know of our end goal lest they beat us to it. Our allies can not know lest they want to share it. Our people can not know lest they raze the North Tusk clan and bring about a war with all orcs worldwide. And this is if they don’t start asking question about how we are getting the intelligence. You see, there are scant few orcs who even know of this weapon, and fewer still who know of its history. And in the course of weeding through the prisoners we take from among the enemy, the enemy has been retaliating. Six of their scouts or traders or infantry, if you could call them that, wind up missing in Thronefastian lands, they want retribution. And so they take it out on the public at large: a farm here, a shop there, a schoolhouse there. We can’t tie these heinous crimes back to a tit for tat. It makes us look less than righteous in our quest for peace and safety.
“Hah, peace and safety,” E’mani shouted. “Your goals of favor and power overshadow peace and safety. And you pursue it through torture and the blood of our people! I saw the bodies in that sewer in Thronefast. And they were not all orc, liar! Our kinsmen laid on those tables, and that of elves as well. Orc, men, elves, mutilated and tortured. For what?! Chasing a fairy’s tale of some mythical power lying around for you to take?”
E’mani rattled his chains once more. Luc stopped pacing and turned toward him. A slight grin washed across his face as he stepped toward the table. He placed his hands down on the table and leaned over E’mani.
“I guess you do know what you saw, after all. Just so you know. Those men and elves had been know to conspire with orc from time to time, learning their culture and their histories. Whether for academia or for more sinister reasons, treason is treason, Karos. And treason is the end of your story. The great, great E’mani Karos, ‘fraught with Argos the Mighty’ and ‘kissed by Kocera the Righteous’, as they say. We will mourn the loss of our hero, who tragically had been twisted by many battles into murdering men and elves in secret chambers. Oh, how the… mighty have fallen. Guard! In here. It’s time to meet out this traitor’s punishment.”
Luc chuckled slightly, still leaning over E’mani’s restrained body. “And to your other point, you’re wrong on one account. My master showed me long ago that you don’t need favor when you possess power. I will send your regards to him when I see him again. Don’t worry, we will find the great weapon, and we will harness it, you know, for the good of humankind.”
E’mani raised his head as much as he could and stared the high priest in the eyes. “If the good of humankind is what you seek, I’ve got something.”
A chain rattled as the right shackle fell from the wrist of E’mani. He pinned Luc’s hand to the table with his own left hand using the extra slack. The pins were pulled free from the picked lock of the shackle and E’mani shoved them into Luc’s neck just behind his earlobe.
With the sensitive pressure point ran through, Luc Demith screamed in pain and fell to the floor, holding his neck. E’mani picked the lock on his left hand and darted toward the exit. As he approached, the guard ran in to the screaming priest who had just called for him. E’mani met him in the entryway and ran by him, grabbing the hilt of his sword and unsheathing it as he ran.
E’mani didn’t stop as traversed the cavernous hallways, sword in hand. They were the hallways of a place of which he was all too familiar. The great hall was to the left. He had come from one of the side rooms near the storehouses at the very back of the Silent Sanctum. The guard shouted down the hall hoping to alert other guards. E’mani knew he had the upper hand with speed and surprise. He ran down an adjacent hallway around the backside of the great hall, candlelit but void of any signs of life or goods. Whatever operation the priest had been involved in down here, it didn’t appear he had been here for long.
“Down here,” shouted a guard who came around the bend of the rounded hallway. E’mani ran faster and beat the guard to an entry into the great hall itself. There were tables and chairs set up inside for scholars and the general public to write and congregate. A guard came in the opposite side and headed straight for him. E’mani ran to one side of a large table near the center of the room as the guard followed him to that side. He cut back at the last minute and shoved his corner of the table, effectively cutting off his attacker and simultaneously ramming him with a table corner, sending him to his back.
E’mani ran straight for the far entryway into the great hall. He heard no motion on the other side as he approached and ran straight through. The wide opening to the Silent Sanctum laid in front of him. There was enough maneuverability out here that he was confident he could get away from any ambush.
“Stop,” said the voice of a soldier who ran from outside into the center of the doorway to his freedom. E’mani ran with sword at the ready until the silhouette of the man in front of the bright noonday sky came into focus. E’mani slowed until he stopped within arm’s length of the soldier. It was Turc, E’mani’s closest friend.
“E’mani, what are you doing,” Turc said with a concerned heavy brow fastened above his eyes. E’mani could tell Turc was legitimately worried. Turc was always sincere.
“T, listen to me. These people are lying to you, you know that in your gut. If you believe in me, meet me at Hag Mildred’s in three nights. Just you. It’s… ok… if you don’t. I won’t think less of you. But I could use a friend. Take this, as a sign.”
E’mani flipped the sword into the air hilt up. He grabbed it by the blade and held it out for Turc. It took Turc a moment to reach out and take it, still stunned to see his friend out here when he was told no one had found E’mani Karos, his best friend, since leaving in the middle of the night under suspicious circumstances and being sought after by the Queen herself.
E’mani quickly let go, nodded at his friend, and ran through the door and into the rugged mountainside to the east of the Sanctum. The guards raced past Turc, still standing in the doorway and holding the sword in hand. Turc knew they would not catch him. Nobody could. So, how did they, he wondered.
Kador had followed Val for two days in silence since coming off of the mountain. She would not acknowledge his presence, though she did not try to force him away. He was an outcast, made to feel like an outcast, from an outcast. His stubbornness drove him to continue until she either attacked him or acknowledged him again.
The sounds of the forest at night began in late dusk in the valley. Kador knew the general area they were in but he had never been into the large mountain divide Val was settling into for the night. The mountain walls were steep which led to the valley being darker than normal for most of the day. He’d never seen anyone trek into it. There weren’t even trails worn into the forest at the entrance.
Val dropped her pack and began gathering sticks for a fire. She placed her first pile down, and upon standing back up, Kador dropped another armful on hers. She stared at him for a moment, then took her foot and kicked half the sticks off of the pile, scattering them across the ground. She turned and gathered another pile. Kador began picking up the sticks she had scattered and looked up just in time to see Val dropping her load onto the pile. He met her eyes, stood up and walked over to just on the other side of the pile, held out his arms, and dropped the sticks back onto the pile. Kador held out his arms, antagonizing her to react. It worked.
Val stepped over the fire and shoved Kador, knocking him backwards, him almost stumbling over a root sticking out of the ground.
“What,” Kador asked in a tone more akin to a command.
“Make fire not here,” Val growled.
“I ‘make fire’ wherever I please,” Kador said mockingly.
“No, you go avway!”
“No, no, no. I’m not going anywhere.”
“You go, Uman, orr I cut you,” Val said drawing her dagger from her right side.
Kador startled her, jumping over the pile of sticks and bending her wrist, releasing her grip on the knife which he rolled out of her hand and into his own.
“I’d like to see you try,” Kador replied.
Val growled angrily. Her hands caught fire as she stirred up the magic within her.
“I vwill burn you!”
“I don’t get hot, remember.”
“I vwill… kill you.”
“Not if I die first,” Kador responded, effectively making her pause to think about what he said.
“I need you, you stupid female orc. You know what the giant said and where to go to find what we’re looking for.”
Val snarled at Kador in between her calculations of what he was saying.
“And you need me to talk to “the gods” with my magic rock. And we both know neither of us can succeed on our own!”
Kador picked up a stick and put it in her hand. She held it tightly, glaring at him. He then snatched it from her hand and threw it on the pile of sticks. It was on fire.
“See… we work together. We made fire,” Kador said and walked away from her and sat on the other side of the young flames as they matured around the pile of sticks.
Val stood there, hands still lightly smoldering, an upset look on her face. She didn’t know how to respond. Humans were so different from orc. She was used to being the calculating one over her male counterparts; using them and swaying them. Kador acted more like an orc female, devising ways to counter her actions and words. The only difference was female orcs were generally in competition, not acting together. The kaa’ruk, the leaders, were the ones who ordered the females to work in unison for strategic purposes, but that didn’t carry over into normal life outside of warfare.
Val had never had what humans called friends. She didn’t even understand the concept, but it was something in the realm of someone you worked in unison with and respected for their contributions to your well-being. Why anyone would work for your well-being outside of a mutual benefit didn’t seem logical to her.
She came slowly to the fire and squatted on the opposite side, still tracking Kador.
“Vwhy… vwhy do you not go avway if I fight you,” she said. It was obvious in her tone she was still upset. Kador was getting better at learning her inflections.
“I told you. I need you. You need me.”
Val hesitated. “So, I help you, you help me, then you go avway.”
“What? You don’t like my charming personality?” Kador noticed his sarcasm was not as recognizable by the other species across from him. “Yes. If you want me to go away, I will go away.”
Val sat across from the fire, her mind racing to understand this human.
“I thought you said an orc without a clan had no respect. You don’t have friends? Why don’t you make your own clan?”
“Stupid. Orrc can no make a clan vwith two orrc. I need all clan to respect, to fight, to prosperr.”
“Yeah, that’s where we are different, Val,” Kador said, leaning back on his elbow next to the fire. “I don’t need all the humans to respect me… just the right ones.”
Val tried to understand what he was saying. It was an odd concept to care about what one human though and not another human. How could anything get done if a clan was split on their plans and actions?
“I care about my father’s last request,” Kador continued. “I didn’t know him. So, like Orc want young ones to know what orc believe as a group, humans want their young to know what they believe, just the mother and father. The clan of humans is a combination of many, many clans. The fathers and mothers and their children, then their children. Each believes in something different than the next. But they come together when it is important for their safety and the prosperity of their children. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to go.”
“You have no clan den,” Val said, trying to follow. “You say you fatherr die. You motherr die. You have no clan.”
“So, sometimes people make another clan. They meet each other and have common beliefs and interests. Sometimes they are different, but they come together because of something that is greater than the differences. We call these friends.”
“So you have clan of friend?”
“Uh, no. No, so it’s not that easy. So, I lived… I lived way out in, in the… You know what, never mind that. Look, the point is neither one of us need to be disrespected because our clans have shunned us. We can respect each other, be our own clan, fight together for the goals we share.”
Val sat silent for a long moment thinking through what he was saying.
“But I don’t respect you,” Val said, thinking she was following.
“Ugh, you’re not going to make this easy, are you. Yes, I know, I remember what you said. I’m saying we CAN respect… Ok, here. New plan. I understand what you are saying about respect. And I think I know of a way to earn your respect and for us to work together to both get what we want. But it’s going to hurt me, a lot. And I might die if you don’t do your part to save me. So, I’m trusting you to save me. Can I trust you to save me?”
Val sat back, more relaxed than before and her mannerisms relaxed. She thought about it for a moment and responded.
“Tell me morre about de hurrting.”
The full moon of Lauta blazed through the opening in the 4th floor room where Luc Demith lay, trying to sleep off his wounds. His head throbbed, even after taking several herbal teas to dull the intense pain of the injury to his neck. The injury to his pride was just as intense with the unbelievable escape of E’mani Karos. He even delivered himself into Luc’s hands and still managed to get away. That was a problem for the morning, Luc thought to himself. The interrogations had finally seen some useful intel about a known location of the stone over a hundred years ago. He hoped they would find clues to its whereabouts after conducting a full investigation of the site that was named. But, for now, he needed rest and for this pain to go away.
The room seemed to darken slightly as Luc began to close his eyes.
“Good evening, Justice,” said a low voice, with the crisp musical quality known to be of one particular race. Luc turned over to see a tall shrouded figure standing in front of the window.
“Oh, it’s you,” Luc said, pulling himself up to a partially sitting position on the bed. “Here to gloat over the embarrassing escape or over my injuries. You’d never miss an opportunity to relish in someone’s misfortunes.”
“Ooh, how right you are, Justice. But, no, I’m not here to gloat, or relish, or chat about your problems. I’ve been sent to resolve them.”
“What, did he send you to track Karos,” Luc asked. “I’d usually despise the lack of faith in my efforts, but to be honest, Karos is a warrior’s warrior and I could use all the help I can get.”
“Yes, indeed. You do need someone else to hunt Karos, but you again miss the point of my visit. I was sent by our employer, but not for Karos, no.”
Luc’s face became serious immediately.
“He has sent me for you…”
Luc looked around, wondering how far away his guards were right now.
“He said you were now a liability that needed to be managed before the errors became to numerous to explain away. Oh, and you know I couldn’t miss an opportunity to, as you say, relish in other’s misfortunes, mmm-hmm.”
“Guar…”, Luc began to yell, but as fast as he could get it out, the cloaked assassin was at his side, covering his mouth, as Luc felt a hot pressure on the side of his neck.
“Oh, no, Justice,” he said, still cupping Luc’s mouth, “don’t make this hard. I bring you relief from your troubles. Once I remove this scalpel from your neck, your agony will melt away. Rest in the belief that your Ocirico wrote this in the stars countless years ago, and now you are able to finish his plan for you.”
He removed his hand from his mouth confident that the pressure building up around the artery he severed would keep him from making to much movement.
“But, alas, into the waiting arms of your Korcera you will not fly. For your deeds have been weighed on the scales, and your trespasses have outweighed your good intentions. Yes, I’m afraid to Ulthiros’ bosom you will fly, and be tormented…”
The assassin leaned in close to Luc as he struggled for breath while his face turned pale.
“For my brother was found in your chamber of questioning, and he was not living. He had been tortured by your command. Pity you did not know we were related. For if you had, you would have known not to tamper with the family of a Myr… as dark… as me.”
The Myr slid his scalpel out of the side of Luc’s neck and stood by watching the pressure release and blood spill out in waves onto Luc’s robe. Luc had enough time to contemplate his last few missteps before the last beat of his heart was felt. The assassin removed a smooth river stone from his pocket and tossed it into Luc’s lap and disappeared as silently through the window as he had entered. The stone lay on Luc face up with a intricately carved “M” filling the top, the calling card of the infamous mercenary in the employ of Luc Demith’s master, who was resting peacefully in his grand bedroom back in Thronefast.