Amensol’s Focus: What Goes Around
After centuries of neglect and conflict over its ownership, the Silent Sanctum stood megalithically against the backdrop of the Roan Mountains. It could be seen from the high plains in the east, from the edges of the forest of Faerthale in the west, and was a waypoint to those traveling through the dry plains with little else to guide them in that wilderness. The white stone was covered in dirt closer to the ground and beaten by sand as it rose. The partially arid climate did not allow for much foliage creeping its way up the face of the massive stone walls, but time and little care had allowed some trees and shrubs to fill in between the concentric rings of walls around the entrance.
E’mani gazed across the vast maze of ramparts finally breaking on the entrance to the Sanctum; a large arching entryway with no door and wide enough for twelve men to march through comfortably. A well-worn path made its way through the outer ramparts and up through the entryway to the Sanctum itself. It was a common pilgrimage for many, even other than Elves and Men. Many came to admire the complexity of the structure, some to reflect on its historicity. But every now and again, it was visited by more nefarious persons who took up residence in its defensible walls.
There had been many groups throughout the years who had used it for bandit encampments, illegal mining operations, or seditionists who were trying to carve out a kingdom to call their own. Each was ultimately met with however much might it took from the armies of Men and Elves to keep it a sanctuary for travelers and historians. E’mani lived in a time where the Sanctum had seen much peace.
The first time he visited the Sanctum, he was thirteen years of age and without a family. He had taken a few odd jobs since living on his own from the age of ten to try and support himself. Orphanages were little better than labor camps, and very few saw fit to take care of freeloading grifter children. So, he had fled the orphanage of his youth and had lived in an abandoned stone shelter south of Demith. The village had enough business that couriering goods and parcels kept him fed at least.
He had taken a package that needed to be delivered to a merchant who was to meet him halfway from Faerthale at the edge of the Silent Sanctum. Once he had delivered the package, he spent several days walking through the cavernous hallways and old rooms, finding arrowheads and spearheads and other ancient debris under years of dirt and growth.
It wasn’t until he ran into a historian by the name of Festus Ravell that he knew what he would do with his life. Over the course of an afternoon, Festus walked him around the grounds regailing him with stories of bravery and loss and the magnificence of the great king Avendyr. E’mani looked at the beaten path, remembering the way he felt about the honor and courage of the heroes of battle. It’s what made him return immediately to Thronefast and work solely for the King’s army from then on.
The wind shifted slightly as the afternoon sun retreated behind the face of the Roans enough to shade his spot in the tall grass far off to the side of the main entrance and up the side of the mountain a bit for some perspective of the landscape. He reached his hand down and grabbed his pack…
Kador grabbed the arm of the wild ratkin as its claws narrowly missed his face. He side stepped quickly, firmly grasping a sensitive spot in the joint of the Ratkin’s arm allowing him the leverage to pull the Ratkin past him as he brought his fist down on an exposed neckbone just beyond the skull. A sickening crack followed as the Ratkin fell quickly at his feet.
“How many more?” Kador shouted through the trees to Val. Val was the first to encounter the Ratkin mischief. They were pack hunters, numbering anywhere between four and forty. They generally nested in sparsely traveled areas to ensure they never encountered more than they could handle.
“Derr is many, but not so many,” Val shouted back as she thrust her blade into the back of a fallen Ratkin. She immediately turned and set a dead fallen log on fire with one push of her hand. As the log went up in flames, several of the remaining Ratkin scurried off, as some Ratkin are wary of fire as a seasoned hunter such as Valgrugthrinostek Baa’luvanooshava would know. She looked over her shoulder to find Kador amassing a pile of dead bodies of his own in a circle around his body.
Kador stayed in his stance and let the Ratkin bandits come to him. He had been trained as a small boy that simple small movements made the difference in achieving your goals, on the field of battle and off. His hand was fairly decent with a bow. He never had the knack for blades as his father did, although he carried his family’s elongated dagger everywhere he went. The old man that had trained him after his mother passed had recognized his affinity for hand-to-hand combat and had hired an Archai expatriate soldier to train him in close quarters combat. The Archai was strong and thick-skinned, unlike Humans and their tender flesh. He had beat, bruised, bloodied, and broken him for three years as an adolescent until his hide was almost as tough as an Archai. It was where he gained his considerable muscular build. The Archai’s techniques had been modified slightly since Kador’s stature was smaller than an average Archai and it worked well for him.
Another Ratkin lunged at his face, leaping off the ground. Kador pulled his body to the ground, keeping eye contact with his prey as it flew overhead. Kador managed to grab one paw as it passed, and let the Ratkin fall to the ground. He raised his heel and brought it down on top of the back left hip bone of his enemy, instantly dislocating it. He reached to his side and drew the dagger as he rolled lengthwise down the back of the broken ratkin and sank the blade just under the back of the skull. As he jumped up, something crashed into his back, screaming into his ear. He spun around, hands up and ready, as the Ratkin writhed past him with fur ablaze and dropped to the ground dead just passed him. Kador looked back past him and saw Val with her hand shrouded in flame as she nodded in his direction.
After the last one had fallen, the remaining handful of Ratkin retreated into the woods. It would take them a few month to recoup their numbers to be able to attack travelers again, at least in this mischief. There could be several mischiefs, or Ratkin clans, in the region, as long as there were no blood feuds between them.
Val wiped her blade off across the makeshift vest of a fallen foe and sheathed it at her side.
“Through derr is de ment’ruk forr de giants,” she said, pointing up the mountainside toward an outcropping of large boulders that created a makeshift fortress surrounded by forest.
Kador followed Val up the slope noticing the rather large path that was worn in the undergrowth. If he didn’t know better, he would assume this was a road worn by wide rows of marching soldiers, not solitary giants. At once, Val’s pace quickened as she reached the boulders. Kador sped up and followed her into an alcove in the heart of the large stones. Ritualistic materials were around a vast round stone in the middle of the expanse. A sacrifice of some kind of animal laid charred on the top of the boulder, and wilting blue flowers were scattered all over the ground. Val ran into some high brush where the belly of a giant was seen slowly lifting and lowering above the grasses. Kador walked over to a pile of the blue flowers bunched up on the ground. They had been mangled, rather crushed apparently for medicinal purposes. A smeared blue patch on the side of the large altar signaled the location the flowers were being ground into a paste.
Kador walked over to where Val was bending beside the lying giant’s head. Kador had never been close to an Elvonnen before. They were similar in look to a human, but at the same time very distinct, in the same way the elves were. The wince on the giant’s face was clearly a sign of pain. Kador looked over the giant and saw no apparent injuries, save some blood on his face around his mouth. His skin seemed pale, even though Kador was unfamiliar with their natural coloring. It was obvious that he was not in good condition.
“He is poison,” Val said under her breath. She was poking around his mouth, smelling whatever odors were emanating from it. Kador looked on, having no idea what to do.
“He eat flowers, but dey no vwork,” she noted. “He is to die.”
Val said something in a tongue unknown to Kador and the Elvonnen responded in a voice that seemed to shake Kador’s insides. Even in this pitiful state, the giant’s presence was frightening. Kador had positioned himself just outside of the giant’s reach, out of habit. Val continued to speak to the giant and he seemed to become less upset and his demeanor calmed slightly. Kador had not seen a side of Val that was compassionate in nature, only calculating. Whatever she was saying to the giant appeared to be words of kindness.
Val stood up from the giant’s side and stepped back. The giant lifted both his hands and placed them on his chest and took a deep breath. He then let out a long sigh, low and rumbling and somehow soothing to Kador. Then Val said something to him, bent over him while unsheathing her dagger, and slit the giant’s neck as deep as her knife could go. Within a matter of seconds, the giant lay dead.
Kador stood very shocked. Replaying the events, he could understand what had happened, but without the context of the conversation, this act of mercy was startling. And then it dawned on him.
We didn’t get the item the Old Man had sent us for.
“NO,” Kador flew to the giant’s side, looking for any way to undo what had been done. Val ripped a small fraction of the Elvonnen’s tunic off and ran it down her blade, removing the blood from her weapon before putting it away.
“I needed him,” Kador exclaimed, too distraught to even turn to face her. His mind raced. What was it the Old One had said to them in the cave; something about the lost signet stone and the Elvonnen giant of the plains. It was the job. Retrieve this item. It’s importance was obvious from the conversation they had with him. Kador started rummaging through the many pockets that donned the giant’s trousers and vest. He had never seen so many pockets on clothing before. And from the looks of the layers of stitching, they had been used often and mended. He flew through one pocket after another, looking for something, anything, that could be the stone they were after.
“You no find here,” Val said, stepping back from the body and looking around the enclosure for something.
“You don’t know! You don’t know that. Why? Because you killed the only thing that knew what we were looking for,” Kador shouted. He exaggerated every movement while sifting through the Elvonnen’s clothes in aggravation.
“This was my task, mine! I can trade this stupid stone for a normal life, the only thing I’ve ever wanted. And instead I have an orc, a stupid, barbaric orc throwing away my one chance.” Kador stood up and moved from the vest to the pants and resumed his digging.
“Taught all my life not to trust anyone. Stupid old man, sitting around the house with his books and his maps telling me everyday for six years to look tough, be smart, and don’t put your trust in men. Every day… and for what? The one important thing that I must do to earn my way out of this horrible life, what do I do? I trust, heh. Oh, but not just one of my own, not a friend, not even a human, not even an ally!” Kador stood up again and walked to the other side and began the other leg’s search.
Kador noticed Val didn’t seem to be paying attention to his rant, which actually made him more upset as he thought about it. “Yeah, not just not an ally. I picked the sworn enemy of my people to pal around with, get her involved. And what does she do? She sabotages me on the precipice of climbing out of the hell my life has been. And she’s so stupid, she doesn’t even realize it. You know what? No wonder we took your land away. You’re too stupid to know how to protect it, just killing everything you see out of ignorance! Argh!”
Kador rose, finding nothing of use on he dead Elvonnen. He breathed out trying to calm down and think of options. He put his hands on his hips, looking down at the giant. A sharp pain erupted in the middle of his back as Val’s boot made impact. Kador tripped over the large legs and braced himself before landing on his face in the grass. He spun quickly on the ground but Val was already straddling his body on her feet. She brandished no weapon, which gave Kador a moment to assess. He paused instead of fighting back.
Val grabbed him by his shirt and tugged him toward her face as she bent over his body. “You think you so smarrt, Uman. De Elvanu, he said to me in his language dat I know and you don’t, derr vwas attack on him and dey take de stone vwit dem. Is Ooshavan Orrc, my people. Dey attack giant for ferrst time. Dey vwant use power against man. Den he say he hurts and he ask to take his pain. I keep respect with Elvanu.” Val’s usual gruff expression was not there, replaced with the snarling of a beast, her voice deeper with growls mixed in with words. It had a feral quality that made Kador more uneasy than he was originally.
“Now, I, Valgrugthrinostek, have to go to my people who do not respect me forr being like Uman and say do not use de stone against de Uman. I must take from dem. I must fight de Oosha’ruk. Dey hate me morr dan dey do and now I never go live with dem again. I humiliated; Orrc with no clan. And why, like you say? I share fire vwith a man who vwhine like dog if he vwork and do not get ferrst time. He vwhine about harrd life and get no respect from Uman vwhile my people hunt me for fifty yearrs.”
Val spit in his face and stood up looking straight down at him. “Stupid man. No vwonderr Uman can no beat Ooshavan Orrc. Dey cry like babies if dey lose a fight. Orrc die vwith respect in de fight, never give up. You have no respect.”
Kador laid on the ground, nothing bruised but his pride. He stared into the sky as he heard Val packing away what goods the giant had lying around that would carry. His hand found his trouser pocket and pulled out a cloth. “I… might have deserved some of that,” he said under his breath, then wiped his face.