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PostPosted: Tue Nov 26, 2013 4:50 pm 
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 26, 2013 9:29 pm 
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Ultimate End Times Chronicler

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Part 9 – The Canyons


Morning had come once more to Tyr Wadi. The sun rose in the east with the same monolithic urgency as ever, despite the harrowing events of the prior days. The Arakis desert was unchanged: red sand and rock, under skies that only a few minutes after the morning brilliance, burned a bright sapphire blue. So bright that the stones of the Tyr seemed to sweat in crimson rivulets, signaling the onrushing heat that soon followed.

Ailana stood in the courtyard once more, watching the heat distortion pass over the tower stones like an oncoming tide. The cool night air was baked in moments under the Arakis’ sun’s gaze, and the burning dryness that was the day rushed in.

This was her fourth morning in the Arakis. Three full days she had been here….

And still she understood so little….

Yet hopefully that was about to change. She waited in the courtyard with a mixed group of elves: Tytus and Lothello, both garbed for battle once more under their desert robes and hoods. The Minister as well had arisen that morning to see her off, accompanied by a pair of his guards. More had wanted to come; to accompany her, or to wish her well on her journey. The Chracian princess in particular, had beseeched her, but after the ‘incident’ last night when she and surprisingly, the Caledorian cripple, had tried to sneak their way into the Sanatorium, the Minister had ‘asked’ them to remain in their quarters, under guard, for ‘their protection’. Finally it was decided that only this small group would leave the tower’s confines.

Things were mad here in the Arakis, Ailana thought. And it wasn’t just the inmates of the Sanatorium. This is the strangest trade council I have ever attended.

And the most deadly, she reminded herself.

As if summoned by her thoughts the gates to the Sanatorium resounded with a clang from below, and the Minister’s guards went hurriedly to pry the great stone doors into place. Out of the darkness, Harkonn emerged with several of his soldiers. And there amidst them: the prisoner.

Well, he certainly looked Druchii, Ailana thought. He was tall and whip-rod thin, almost lanky in figure. It was impossible to tell what his clothes originally had been; they were little more than rags of a shirt and breeches in grey and brown. His feet were barren, and the ankles bore the red marks of manacles recently removed. The prisoner’s head was shaven, all except a long strip of black hair from forehead to a braided queue in the back. The hair was caked with the grime and dust of the prison.

Ailana had never met a Druchii; never seen one in person. She was too young to remember the Great War and the battles in Saphery, and Druchii raiders were not a problem of the inner seas. But she had heard the stories. The stories of the sadism and cruelty; the barbed edges to their blades and the horrible tortures they inflicted on their prisoners. She had also heard that unlike the Asur, who with the exception of the strange colonial scholar sects, grew their hair long and free, the Druchii often shaved their heads and wore their hair in garish, barbaric fashions. That and they wrote upon their skin with the ink of sea beasts to create fantastic patterns of creatures and runes.

Knowing this she studied the features of the prisoner. There was no skin-writing that she could see. But the face was covered in scars: fine white lines crisscrossed both cheeks, and their was a heavier cleft across the bridge of a broken nose. The tip of one ear was clipped as if from the blow of a blade. Clearly this…creature… had seen hard living. And that observation was made more by the fresh bruises on face, throat and arm. A collar was affixed to the elf’s throat, with a halter run through an iron ring set in its front; the other end of the corded leather rope was in the hands of Harkonn. The prisoner’s hands were manacled behind his back.

And despite all that the elf just stood there…. Eyes and mouth closed, he faced the morning sun, his chin lifted as if welcoming the desert light upon his skin. He breathed slow and deeply, despite the dryness of the air and the stink of desert beasts.

It was a strange creature. This Druchii….

“Lady Ailana,” the Minister said, breaking into her thoughts, “I hereby remand the custody of this prisoner of Tyr Wadi into your hands, as Seeker. It is your responsibility now, Seeker.” The Minister shot one look at the elf prisoner standing nearby, then continued, “However I will dispatch Sentinel Atlan and a guard with you to ensure your personage…and make sure that the prisoner is returned to Tyr Wadi, to stand trial. Do you understand?”

It was the formal speech practiced among Wardens and Seneschals of Ulthuan. It sounded strange here among the sands and pack beasts of the far side of the world. Ailana almost smiled, but the gravity of the situation precluded her, and she merely nodded and replied with the pro forma acceptance of her responsibilities.

The Sentinel Atlan, festooned with tiger’s claws in his long braids stepped forward and received the prisoner’s rope from Warden Harkonn. With a jerk he pulled the prisoner forward and moved towards Ailana’s group. The other colonial warrior came behind the prisoner and with a hand on his back shoved him towards the waiting party.

As the prisoner came towards her, his eyes now open, fixed upon her almost with an idle curiosity. Ailana found herself clearing her throat.

“Prisoner,” she said tentatively, unsure how to begin. “You claimed to know where the other…. I mean the one that escaped was going?” She felt foolish, as she stumbled over her words and inexperience. It didn’t help that it felt like the pale grey eyes of the prisoner were drinking her face in, so fixedly did they watch her. She flushed, and continued, trying to find a firmer tone, “You will guide us to him. Truthfully and without mischief, and…I will speak to clemency on your behalf in your judgment.”

Did a Druchii ever receive anything but death in the courts of the Phoenix? She pondered. But still, this was the Arakis…and far from the halls of Lothern. And she made it in good faith; if the elf helped then she would speak with the Minister before his trial. Though what good that would do, she could scarcely guess.

As if reading her internal conflict, the prisoner made a small, sad smile, and then nodded his head. No word was spoken.

“Lady Ailana. Lord Lothello,” the Minister spoke once more. “I can delay the council for two days more, in your absence. But then, with scarce a week remaining in the fortnight we must return to our discourse, as tradition dictates.”

“Thank you, Minister,” Lothello said. “We will try to return shortly.”

“See that you do,” the colonial responded. “And…be careful. The Arakis wastes are not to be traveled lightly.”

***

They set out into the desert with the prisoner in the lead, held on leash by the Colonial Sentinel. He led them towards the southwest, skirting the edge of the salt flats that the Tyr Wadi stood upon and towards a dark line of broken hills beyond.

Ailana, once more in her traveling garb of cotton robes, hood and veils, walked just behind the Sentinel in his march, with Lothello and Tytus alongside, and the colonial warrior leading their lone packbeast (burdened with gourds of water and sacks of food) in the rear. They marched at a quick pace – the prisoner, despite his bonds, had a loping gait that ate up the passing miles – and by early afternoon, the dark smudge of the hills had swollen to fill much of the horizon. Ailana could now make out the red sandstone canyons and cliffs before her. She could see little among them other than the play of shadow upon rock; such was their height that many of the canyon floors were completely covered in darkness.

“I like this not, my lady,” Tytus grumbled at one point. “If we are being lead into an ambush, this would be the perfect place for it.”

Apparently the same thought had crossed the mind of the colonial Sentinel, for shortly thereafter he came to a halt, jerking upon the halter, forcing the prisoner to come to a stop.

“What is this? What game do you play, dark elf?” Sentinel Atlan snarled, his hand on the sword at his belt. “Where do you take us?”

The prisoner was brought to a staggering stop, but quickly righted himself. With one glare backwards toward the colonial warrior, he turned to gaze at the lines of the canyons.

“I know not where we are headed,” he answered slowly and carefully.

“Then what-?!” Atlan exclaimed.

“I did track the Corsair for eight days, across the waste,” the prisoner continued in the same tone. “He ever made for this direction in all that time. And it was in the shadows of those hills that I finally came upon him…before your patrol seized us both.”

“So you think the Druchii was trying to get into those canyons?” Lothello asked.

“Yes. Most fervently. He was raving when I took him.”

Something about that made Ailana frowned. She tried to put her finger upon it, but before she could, Atlan spoke again:

“Know this, Druchii. If anything unexpected happens, my blade strikes first your neck.”

They moved on again, but this time at a more cautious pace, with the Asur eyeing the shadowy badlands ahead with wary and concern. Only the prisoner marched towards them without fear in his steps. Ailana found herself at the front flank of the line, watching the elf’s face in her peripheral vision. His light eyes would shift and sweep across the hills before them; carefully probing their confines.

He was so strange, she marveled again. As she studied him she came to realize how young he was; possibly younger than she. But the scars... and the cast of his eyes…. Something about his demeanor made him seem oh so much older. She reassessed her appraisal of him: here was an elf that had seen much battle. There was something in his countenance, something hard, or maybe broken…. It reminded her of the elder bladelords of Hoeth. How when they smiled, their eyes did not.

He wasn’t handsome. That was for certain. Even without the scars upon his face he would’ve been a very plain elf. But there was something…. There was a certainty in him that was almost calming. He was like no other elf she had known in Saphery: there was a grimness to him. A resoluteness. She couldn’t find the words to describe it to herself. But if he was Nagarathi…? Then perhaps she could understand her cousin’s affection for them after all.

Suddenly she found herself regretting her absence from the courts of Tor Irian. It had always seemed unimportant to her. Family politics, and Kingdom politics, like this trade mission. Not nearly as engaging as her classes at the White Tower. Or her conversations with the Wardens of Saphery and Yvresse; so full of tales of travel and adventure. Nagarythe, that dead country, the Shadowlands of the far north, had seemed so distant. And when the rare visitor from that forsaken land had visited Tor Irian she had always found herself absent, on other business or studies. She knew no Nagarathi.

Could this one actually be…?

In the late afternoon they found themselves entering the canyons. The walls towered hundreds of feet above the narrow passage on either side. Loose rock and thorn shrubs filled the interior and clung to the cliff faces. The prisoner, despite his bare feet, continued down the canyon. Ailana could see blood upon the stones he crossed; smearings of his feet as he passed over.

“Perhaps we should stop,” she suggested. “It will be night soon, and the dark will come especially fast in these canyons.”

“Yes,” Atlan agreed. “But not here, at the base. We should climb higher, so we can have some awareness of the surroundings.”

So nightfall found them high up in a rocky outcropping overlooking the cliff peaks. Within the folds of the rocks, on a small ledge with an overhang, they made camp. Tytus and the colonial warrior dug and fed the small firepit, while Ailana fed and watered the packbeast (that had proven surprisingly agile, navigating the slender trails up to the peak). Nearby the Sentinel watched Lothello bandage the prisoners feet. The colonial stood eyes never wavering, face hard, hand on his sword hilt, behind the kneeling Eatainian as he applied ointment and gauze cloth to the prisoner’s torn soles. When that was done, none too gently, the Sentinel tied the prisoner to a boulder and then returned to the campfire to collect the evening provisions (bowls of that colonial fish stock, that Ailana still loathed).

“What about him?” Ailana asked as the party ate in silence about the fire.

“He can go hungry for the night,” Atlan responded, sipping his soup. “I will not risk unbinding him.”

“Surely one of us could feed him?” Lothello asked, eyebrows raised.

“He can starve, or eat from the bowl as a dog would, I care not,” Atlan said, not looking up. “I lost two brothers to Druchii. I will not coddle one now.”

The Eatainian looking irritated moved to get up, but Ailana stopped him. “I will do it,” she said. Taking one of the bowls she crossed the camp and walked over to the edge where the prisoner was secured. Sitting down near him she gestured with the bowl and dipping a spoon into the creamy broth, brought it up to his lips. The prisoner sipped of it, without removing his eyes from hers. After a repetition, Ailana produced her water gourd and poured a few drops of the life-giving liquid into the elf’s mouth.

“Thank you,” he said quietly.

She sat back on her haunches, and frowned at the prisoner. “Tell me,” she finally ventured, “Are you truly Nagarathi?”

“Yes.”

“Why are you here?” she quizzed perplexed.

“Why are you?” he responded.

She flushed a bit, though she knew not why. “I am here on a trade mission, for Saphery.”

The prisoner closed his eyes and settled his head back against the stone. “It is long since I saw the fields and woods of Saphery last,” he murmured. “Sometimes at night I can hear the breeze off the Sea of Dreams… taste the salt in the air…. I miss... Saphery. Much.”

“You really have been there?” Ailana said frowning.

“Yes,” the prisoner answered, then opening his eyes he looked at her and said, “I am Narrin’Tim. I was born some one hundred and seventy eight winters ago among the skystones of western Nagarythe. I have traveled far, in the service of my prince in that time. But I remember Saphery…the most.”

Ailana thought on that. Something in his expression. Of course. “In Saphery we reckon the years by summer,” she commented.

“In Nagarythe it is the winters that matter.”

She nodded at that and thought some more. “Why are you here, Narrin’Tim?” she asked again.

“I am a Shadow Warrior. I go where my Prince commands me.”

“But why would a Shadow Warrior be here in the colonies? In the desert of Arakis?” she asked, feeling a growing irritation.

“There have been Shadow Warriors in the City of Spires for nearly half a century. Ever since the Battle of the Dragon Isles. It was simply my time,” he finished with a shrug.

She cast her mind back. The Battle of the Dragon Isles. Yes she had heard about it. A short conflict between the Druchii and the Colonial armies here some fifty years prior. The Druchii had tried to land Black Arks upon the isles and seize the drake nests, she had heard. The armies of Spires had repelled them. It had been a week’s talk in the taverns of Lothern and Saphery. Then news turned to other matters. She remembered no mention of Nagarathi in those tales though.

“There were Shadow Warriors at that battle?” she asked.

“Yes. Though my part in it was minor,” he answered.

She thought on that, and then began feeding more of the fish stock to the bound prisoner. “So you were…what on patrol here in the desert?” she asked with a disbelieving shake of her head. A nod. “Alone?” she snorted.

“No, I came with four of my brothers. We separated at the edge of the Arakis. They returned to the Darklands; I pursued the corsair.”

“Why?” she started, then thought about it as she spoke. Of course a Nagarathi would pursue a Druchii. What little she knew of that people was all related to their venomous hatred of their northern kin. What didn’t make sense was….

“Wait. Why didn’t you simply kill the Druchii when you found him? You said you what ‘took’ him, right? When you were captured.”

“I had questions that needed answers,” the prisoner said simply.

“What questions?”

The prisoner said nothing. After a long pause, Ailana settled back again. “I am trying to help you, Narrin’Tim,” she said.

“There is nothing you can do for me,” he said with a sad shake of his head.

“Don’t you understand? The colonials will execute you! For being a Druchii spy! Unless I can convince them otherwise,” she fumed.

The prisoner just stared at her with those calm grey eyes. Ailana bit her lip.

“How can you be so infuriatingly calm right now?” she snapped.

“I am Nagarathi.”

“What is that supposed to mean?!” she fumed.

“It means,” the prisoner said, holding her eyes with his own, “That my brothers will come for me. And if I am dead; they will avenge me.”

“No Nagarathi can ask for more,” he finished.

***

Ailana awoke to shouts and curses.

“You were supposed to be watching him!” Atlan hollered.

“Sentinel, I swear! I heard nothing! I saw nothing! I know not how he slipped his bonds!!” the colonial soldier moaned.

At that Ailana opened her eyes, and rolled over. Her gaze went straight to the boulder on the far side of the camp. The binds were still about the stone. But they held nothing.

Narrin’Tim was gone.


***


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 27, 2013 8:01 am 
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Headshot you are indeed a Master of Scribes. I look forward to your tales and re-read your past tales. Please keep up the good work when time allows

Thank you =D>


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 27, 2013 8:40 am 
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Well played Sir
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Cheeky bastard...

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These may be the last days of the Asur, but if we are to leave this world let us do it as the heroes of old, sword raised against evil!


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 27, 2013 12:06 pm 
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Auctor Aeternitatum
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meh. He'll be back. Probably just gone for a morning stroll.

Besides, staying away would get a lady in trouble. And you know how Tim is when it comes to ladies.

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Please try to remember that, no matter how 'official' the source seems, rumours are basically just a dictionary combined with a random number generator

For Nagarythe: Come to the dark side.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 29, 2013 12:01 am 
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Don't the Caledorians have a saying? "Always keep two sets of eyes on the Nagarathi..." no? lol maybe that's another one from Lothern :lol:

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 29, 2013 10:59 am 
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The Caledorian is: "Always keep two eyes on the dragons mouth."

The one about the Nagarathi is: "Trust a Nagarathi only as far as you can throw him".

Or was it "always throw a Nagarathi as far as you can". Either one of those two.

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Eirik wrote:
Please try to remember that, no matter how 'official' the source seems, rumours are basically just a dictionary combined with a random number generator

For Nagarythe: Come to the dark side.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 29, 2013 12:38 pm 
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Not at all, Rod. The first would be: Always keep one eye on dragon's mouth and the second on its tail. (That's why they look so funny sometimes...)
The second is: Never throw a Nagarathi. If you must, let the dragon do that for you.

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 29, 2013 1:55 pm 
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Don't you think it's a bad idea to give it ideas? I would say the phrase should be "never provoke dragons or Nagarathi." Unless you want a very long run with a high chance of dying that is.


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 29, 2013 5:55 pm 
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Ultimate End Times Chronicler

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@scuba

You are very welcome! Glad you are enjoying these Nagarathi tales. :)

@everyone else

Caledorians have sayings?! :shock:

Does that mean…? They can…? They can talk!

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 29, 2013 9:51 pm 
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Of course they can, it tends to just be about dragons and glories long past :wink:

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Besides, the battle of Finuval Plain was more a minor skirmish anyway. A good enough summary would have been "Teclis and Malekith ran into each other. Teclis cast The Dwellers Below on Malekith with IF, and Malekith failed his Strength test." Not much more to it then that really.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 02, 2013 9:42 pm 
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Part 10 – The Cliffs Above


“He couldn’t have gotten far,” Sentinel Atlan snapped. “We must fan out and search for him.”

Ailana spread out with the rest. Tytus once more did not look pleased; but at her orders he took off in a different direction, leaving her alone to go eastwards.

At least she had a blade now, Ailana thought, glad of the temporary suspension of her duties as envoy and the long blade she had borrowed from Tyr Wadi. She held it before her unsheathed, the hilt held loosely between palm and fingers in her hand, just as her instructors at Tor Irian had shown her, as she scrambled up and into the piles of rocks that littered the top of the canyon wall.

She hadn’t gone far when she heard a voice, speaking slow and softly. Hesitating for but a moment, Ailana dropped into a low crouch and made her way forward. The scrabble trail she was on turned into a small ledge outcropping that marked the edge of another precipitous gorge. There was a stout gorse tree growing there, and next to it on a stone, sat the Nagarathi.

“Well met, Seeker,” he greeted, without turning to look at her.

“I found him!” Ailana called over her shoulder, and then lifting her sword tip higher, advanced carefully onto the ledge. The Nagarathi certainly didn’t look threatening: his wrists were still bound by the manacles behind his back; and even the leather collar remained affixed to his throat, its long leather strap lying upon the rock loosely, making the elf look for all the world like a hound that had slipped its master’s hand.

“Whom were you talking to?” Ailana challenged, cautiously looking about the bare ledge. She could see no one; and the outcropping was so small there was nowhere to hide. She even peeked over the edge into the abyss below: empty of all but shadows and dust. She shot a quizzical look at the prisoner.

“The raven,” he answered and pointed with his chin at the gorse tree. Ailana blinked and turned her head quickly. She saw it now, a black carrion bird, seated in the upper branches of the twisted little tree. The bird cocked its head and looked at her, almost as if amused.

“You were talking to the…bird?”

“Yes. Ravens and the Nagarathi have been friends for a long time.”

She stared at it, wondering if this was some kind of jest. Of course at the Tower there were the giant eagles; but they were the mighty kings of birds, much more intelligent then the rest of their kind. They could understand elf speech, if not speak it themselves. And certain of the magi kept owls or falcons as pets or companions.

But not to speak with!

Ailana flushed and scowled and was about to say something, when she heard a scrambling in the path nearby. Before the newcomer had appeared, the Nagarathi said:

“Your knots are in dire need of work, Sentinel.”

A moment later the Sentinel appeared, blade in hand and face filled with rage. He cast a glance at Ailana, and said, “Are you well, Lady?” At her nod he crossed quickly to the elf seated on the stone and dragged him from his perch, throwing him upon the gravel-strewn ground. The raven gave a raucous squawk and disappeared skywards in a flutter of black feathers.

Standing above the supine elf, blade tip just a hairsbreadth from the knot in his throat, the colonial Sentinel was panting, though it seemed not from his exertions; his face was twisted with rage. The Nagarathi simply lay and gazed upwards with that infuriating calm expression of his.

“I only say in case you were thinking of taking more prisoners. Even Chracians could slip those bonds of yours. Let alone Druchii…”

“Silence, cur!” Atlan swore and kicked the elf on the ground. At the second swing, Ailana interjected.

“Atlan…. Sentinel!” she snapped as his foot drew back once more. “We need him walking.” Tytus, Lothello and the young colonial guard arrived just then and were watching the proceedings. For some reason Ailana felt compelled to add, “And it is unseemly for Asur to treat prisoners so.”

Sentinel Atlan made no response to that, though he stopped his foot. After a moment he reached down, seized the collar of the bound elf, and dragged him to his feet.

“Run again and my sword finds your heart, dark elf,” he whispered with a deadly earnestness, a cold fury in his eyes.

The prisoner stared back, his face blank. No emotion shown in his eyes. After a moment:

“I did not run,” he said.

A pause. “I found your missing Druchii.”

***

“There he is,” Narrin’Tim said.

Ailana was lying flat on her belly between a pair of gore bushes atop the cliff plateau. In the distance she could make out a small cluster of skin-huts, canvas tarps, and shaky looking palisades made from bone and strap. Scattered among them walked a few humanoids.

“What are they?” asked Lothello from where he lay beside her. The entire party of Asur were there hiding among the gorses, watching the distant encampment.

“They are-“ Narrin’Tim began.

“Hobgoblins,” Ailana interrupted. “Out of the Darklands I’d guess, judging from the sigils they bare.” At the Nagarathi’s quizzical look, Ailana added, “All students of the Tower are required to study the language and culture of at least one lesser race. Most choose the men of Elthin-Arvan. I chose goblin-kind,” she finished with a shrug.

Narrin’Tim gave her a reappraising look, and Ailana found herself secretly smiling.

“They are a long way from home,” Lothello commented.

“As are we,” Ailana replied. “But they have what we seek.” Not far from the center of the hobgoblin camp was a small rock mesa some few paces wide and twenty high, and there, at its peak, was raised a trio of interlocking posts. Suspended from the posts was the body of an elf. Ailana had first thought the grisly scene to be one of death; but the elf twitched occasionally, his body convulsing upon the wooden supports causing the hold thing to rattle and shake in the burning sun. The image reminded her of a cruel child pinning the body of an insect upon wooden needles.

“We should leave him,” the young colonial soldier muttered. “What matters if it is by our hands or the hobgoblins’? The Druchii dies either way.”

“That is not the Asur way,” Tytus, the elder bladelord responded softly, his eyes fixed on the distant torture.

To Ailana’s surprise, Atlan too was nodding. “Nor is it the way of Spires, warrior. That Druchii was in our charge, our jurisdiction. He is our responsibility. The warriors of Spires will be the ones to take his head.”

“Then we must enter the camp in secret,” Ailana said. “The sooner the better.”

“Shouldn’t we wait for nightfall?” the Eatainian said with hesitation.


“Hobgoblins are nocturnal. Better to go during the day.”

“Well then why not just attack? There seem very few sentries; its not a large encampment.”

Narrin’Tim was now shaking his head. “You see that entrance over there.” He nodded to a gap in the rocks some hundred paces away. “It looks like a fissure in the rock but I scouted it this morning. It leads to a tunnel that resembles something like a lava tube in the mesa. I did not see how far, but it appears to run deep and straight towards that encampment. There may be others. We have no way of knowing how many hobgoblins sleep below, leaving just this small force to watch their baggage,” he said. “And their Wargs. They have a fair size pack there….”

That was an understatement, Ailana thought. Behind the palisades of bone, she could see dozens of the bristly wolf-jackals sleeping in the morning sun. Each one the size of a large pony…but with the teeth and ferocity of a predator. It was rumored that wargs roamed free in Yvresse and the kingdoms of the north, though she had never seen one. And looking at them now from the distance, she thought she would be just as happy not to have to see one. At least not up close….

“There could be hundreds sleeping in the lava tubes below,” Narrin’Tim finished. “They would come poring forth from many hidden fissures at the first sign of trouble. Like bats bursting forth at dusk.”

“It is not a lava tube. It is Arakis Worm-Tunnel,” Atlan said. The thought of a creature large enough to make that tunnel caused Ailana to shudder. However, before she could give it much thought the colonial continued,

“But…. I agree with your assessment. Hobgoblins would not travel this deep into the Arakis in such a small number as we see.” Scowling, he added, “Why are they here?”

“I know not,” Ailana answered. “But…we need that Druchii. How can we enter unobserved?” she addressed the final question to Narrin’Tim. The young Nagarathi frowned at her, but said after a moment:

“I could lead a small group, by stealth into the camp. Maybe. But not this many… our group is too large even for Nagarathi to move quietly. The hobgoblins may be weak-sighted in the daylight, but their hearing is very sharp.”

“How many would you take if we were Nagarathi?” Ailana asked, curious.

“Five,” the young elf answered without hesitation. “But you are not Nagarathi. You are too loud and clumsy to approach unnoticed.” He pursed his lips and thought a moment. “No more than three: myself included.”

Ailana bristled at that. Loud and clumsy indeed! She was Asur! Weren’t all Asur renowned throughout the world for their grace of movement? And she had studied the arts of Saphery dance when she was a child; decades spent carefully maintaining the poses and positions dictated by tradition, under the watchful eyes of her teachers at Tor Irian. Why even her noble cousin had complimented her on her performance that winterfest….

“Out of the question,” Atlan hissed. “We will not trust you to guide us into danger. No matter what you claim to be!”

“That is not your decision, Sentinel,” Ailana quickly interjected. “I am Seeker here. I will decide.”

“But my lady!” Atlan started, and Tytus looked ready to intervene as well, so Ailana hastily added:

“But I agree, three is too few.” She stopped and considered for a moment. “We will take four. Lothello, you stay here with the warrior from the Tyr Wadi and guard our packs and beast.” At the Eatainian’s expression, Ailana said, “Without our water we will be as good as dead here. So please, do this.” Finally the Eatainian, looking sour faced, nodded, so Ailana finished with, “Narrin’Tim will lead Tytus, Sentinel Atlan, and myself into that camp…. And we will speak with that Dark Elf.”

It seemed fair: with both the bladelord and the colonial veteran, they should be ready to encounter any resistance from the Hobgoblins. Or treachery from within, she thought, eyeing the Nagarathi. So-called Nagarathi. She still was not sure. And she had her blade, her training, and her magic. Though what good that would do in a fight….

No one looked pleased with the decision. But Narrin’Tim stood at last and said, “My hands? A weapon?”

Atlan stood and seized the halter. “You will need neither. Lead on.”

***

In little over a half an hour, Ailana was beginning to doubt her decision. She was walking, eyes half closed, along a narrow track overlooking one of the canyon floors. Hundreds of feet below….

The wind at this height whipped along the canyon’s length with the ferocity of a raptor’s talons. It pulled at her hair and robes with a force that was fearsome, and she feared at any moment that the violence would tear her from the thread-thin trail and send her plummeting into the chasm just past her shoulder.

But she gritted her teeth and closed her eyes even tighter, and moved onwards, using her hands to clutch at any available hold in the stone ahead.

At least she had those she thought, squinting ahead to where Narrin’Tim walked, just in front of Atlan. The elf’s hands and wrists were still manacled, so he only had his rough bandaged feet to hold his balance upon the precarious ledge. And yet he did. How she couldn’t fathom. But somehow the lean Nagarathi walked the narrow path slowly but surely, his feet carefully placed one before the other, as he led in a half crouch.

It was impressive. And annoying, Ailana thought, as she gripped a gorse root with white knuckled hands, and watched a carrion bird pass along the canyon breadth…. below her….

Isha’s many blessings!! Why am I here?!

But just when she thought she could not take any more, the slender Nagarathi entered a narrow fissure in the canyon wall, a crack that ran perpendicular to the ground far below, and putting his back to one side and his feet on the other, began to squirm his way upwards, like an inchworm climbing a tree. The others watched for a moment, and then moved to follow. Using both hands and feet they managed to follow the Nagarathi up the natural chimney, until once more they lay upon the cliff surface….

With the hobgoblin camp just a dozen feet away. Ailana had scarcely finished uttering a silent prayer of gratitude to Asuryan, Isha, and a few of the other divines for not allowing her to become a feature of the canyon floor, when the Nagarathi was once more in a crouch and pushing towards the camp and the small rock spur that was their objective. Atlan was pulled along by the leather tether, like a hunter following a hound.

Cautiously they slipped past a pair of sentries, dozing in the shade of one of the tarps, and entered the camp proper. All Ailana could see were rough spun animal hide tents and the totems of the goblin-kind: posts adorned with skulls and metal sigils, denoting their many kills and spirit protectors both. It was grim business to see up close, nothing like reading about it in Hoeth, or studying the totem examples atop a tabletop in a classroom there. It was even worse when she recognized one of the skulls pierced atop a totem staff as elven….

But then they were at the base of the rock stand near the camp center, and without pausing, Narrin’Tim began to stealthily climb the narrow wooden ramp the hobgoblins had laid to the stand’s peak. The others followed in a crouched line.

And then they were there. Standing atop the small rocky outcrop, with nothing but wind and sun around them. And before them: the Druchii.

Ailana couldn’t tell his age; most of his face was concealed behind a deep black skin drawing of a predator’s jaws. And there was little else to mark him for what he was; he was almost bare, suspended above them by the posts, blistering under the scorching Arakis sun.

However, then the figure moved and let out a small moan, and something in Ailana responded. She stepped forward, looking to free the creature from its bonds. Nothing deserved that suffering. Not even a Druchii.

“Wait,” Narrin’Tim commanded. “Do not touch him.”

Ailana turned, angry. “You would leave him like this?!” she could barely contain her voice.

“To touch him is to risk death,” the young Nagarathi hissed. “Look closely, but do not touch!”

Ailana turned back towards the helpless elf. And then she saw it: small black scarabs crawling about the elf’s legs and torso. Like little black knots on an old sickly oak, they bunched and burrowed deep in the elves skin. And where they sat, trickles of blood oozed.

“By Asuryan! They feed upon him!” she moaned aloud. Narrin’Tim hissed her to silence. Then whispered,

“Arakis beetles. Beware their venom.” Looking up at the Druchii he studied the figure for a few seconds then muttered, “There may not be much mind left.”

“My lady, we must hurry,” Tytus whispered from behind her, his sword was free and he was studying the camp below with concerned eyes. Sentinel Atlan was behind them, crouched and guarding the top of the hobgoblin ramp.

Ailana turned back and saw that the Nagarathi was now standing close to the wretched figure. Dangerously so, she thought. “Druchii,” he called quietly. “I am Shadow Warrior. Answer my questions.” He looked back to her with a blank face. “And we will end it. Quickly.”

An incoherent moan came from above. Ailana thought she saw eyes flicker for a moment.

“Where are you headed Druchii? What brings you to this place? Why come here?” the Nagarathi whispered, watching the other carefully.

There was a sound, down below. A call and some coughing. Ailana started, and looked about. She could see Atlan, sword now bare, watching the camp below with an increased fervency. Tytus too now moved closer to the ramp.

Turning back she could see Narrin’Tim standing even closer to the dying Dark Elf, his face turned upwards, his eyes fixed upon the face that so strangely resembled his own: the same dark hair, the same broken nose, scars on face and torso. It was like they were mirror images of a life spent in battle and pain….

Then in a voice she could barely hear, the Nagarathi asked:

“What were you trading with Spires, Druchii?”

Just then, a shout!

And then the arrows began to fly.


***


Last edited by Headshot on Mon Dec 02, 2013 9:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 02, 2013 9:55 pm 
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Ooo, dramatic.

When I saw the the name Headshot I was reading as fast as a 7th ed swordmaster, it's so awesome.


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 03, 2013 9:09 am 
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Told you Tim wouldn't run and leave a lady to suffer ;)

Let's see how they get out of this one (I'm putting my money on a lot of running ;) )

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 03, 2013 1:36 pm 
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rdghuizing wrote:
Told you Tim wouldn't run and leave a lady to suffer ;)

Let's see how they get out of this one (I'm putting my money on a lot of running ;) )

Rod

Perhaps some jumping too...

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 04, 2013 9:53 pm 
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Part 11 – Inside the Wolfskin Tent


It all happened so fast. The shout. Then the arrows.

The first came with a high-pitched whistle. It passed so close to Ailana’s ear that the whistle became a shriek. For just one moment; the sound and fear seemed to fill her ears, shaking her body to the core. And then it passed behind her, and was gone.

The second one arrived with only a soft, wet thud. She gasped, and looked down. There was nothing. Looking up once more she saw Sentinel Atlan, upon his knees, looking dumbfounded at the short black-feathered shaft protruding from his chest. The white robes he wore over his armor silently and slowly turning a dark crimson.

She think she yelled then. Or screamed. She wasn’t sure. She was sure that she had somehow managed to pull sword from scabbard, and was waving it about. Then something struck her temple. Not an arrow. But it felt as if a hammer had rung on her skull; she was lying on her side on the ground. Her hair splayed across her face. Her thoughts were scattered, all a jumble. She just remembered thinking that her hair felt warm and moist upon brow. Sticky and smelly. There was the taste of salt in her mouth.

Ailana could see out of the corner of her eye, past the lights, past the clops of hair, Lord Tytus, standing tall and proud, his blade flickering about him like a stream of sunlight. He was a lion upon the stone; snarling and roaring his defiance. And all about him, slight gnarled figures, with blade and mace in hand, bedecked in furs black and brown. They swarmed about, like jackals nipping at the lion’s heels. She saw many fall beneath that blade of sunlight….

And then Tytus was down on one knee. His face stretched in a grimace of pain and anger. Blood pouring from the back of his skull, streaming downwards across his cheeks. A hobgoblin stood behind him with a stone headed club in hand. She saw the creature draw it back. Saw the swing.

She closed her eyes then and screamed. She was sure of it. And then she felt strong wiry fingers close about her arms and shoulders. Could smell the stink of fetid breath upon her face. She was dragged upwards, a hand laced through her hair, sending fevered flashes of pain through her head. She heard words then. Not elvish. A tongue both nasal and guttural said something. She tried to think. She recognized something in the words. Tried to push past the throbbing in her head. She heard….

“Garrish tek ok kil’tarn…”

She tried to concentrate. That meant….

“….string these up like the other one?”

Yes, she was sure of it. Though the sounds were strange. Harsh.

A second voice. “No. These ones stink of the tower.” A pause. “We better hold these three until the boss returns.”

That was what was said. And then the hands hauled her up and forwards. She felt her feet wobble beneath her, as she staggered somewhere that she knew not; she was afraid to look.

But in her mind she kept thinking only one thing:

‘These three….’ The hobgoblin had said.


***

“He abandoned us,” Sentinal Atlan whispered in a tiny voice, drained of color and life.

They were inside one of the tents. Tytus, Atlan and she were seated upon the ground, their backs to a single pole, bound well about with cords and rope. The interior was dim and smoke-filled; lit by a pair of coal-filled braziers that gave a ruddy glow. If she turned her head she could just make out the colonial behind her. The arrow was no longer protruding from his chest, but the blood seemed everywhere: the ropes binding him were stained with it. She could even feel the sticky warmth of the Sentinel’s blood upon her own hands behind her back. His face was ever so pale, and his head hung low, as if he had not the strength to lift it.

“He was a Druchii after all,” Ailana mumbled, and something inside her seemed to sink with the saying.

No Asur would have abandoned their kind like that. No one!

Tytus was awake now, but silent. He made no response to her. After a few moments however, he said, “Look outside. Through the tent flap. Do you see?”

She turned her head and peered. Her eyes still hurt, and one was almost closed; caked over with her own dried blood.

“I see nothing,” she whispered. “Just blue sky…and a tarp…”

“Under the tarp,” the swordmaster instructed softly.

“I see…wheels…a carriage of wood…. And black metal….” Ailana managed after a moment. “I do not understand. What does it mean?”

“I saw it when they brought us in,” Tytus answered. “And engraved on the metal I saw a rune of the northern powers…. I fear this is no raiding party…. That is a firethrower of the Darklands out there. A siege weapon capable of toppling stone walls!”

“But there is nothing about here,” Ailana protested softly. “Nothing for miles….”

She stopped. Sentinel Atlan had realized it first. He let out a low moan through his pain.

“Tyr Wadi!” she gasped.

“Quiet you!!” a hobgoblin snarled. “Or I’ll bleed you some more.”

There were vicious teeth and laughter in the darkness. Three of them shared the tent’s interior with them. They stood a half dozen paces away, near one of the other tent supports. The hobgoblins were hunched around a small wooden table. It had been covered with a map when they first came in. She remembered seeing it clearly; surprised by the sight of it. Drawn so carefully and with a skilled hand. But now they stood evaluating a different prize: the Spires’ rose.

Ailana had not known what else to do with it. She hadn’t trusted the colonial staff enough – or her fellow envoys – to leave it behind in her chambers in the Tyr. And so had brought it with her; keeping it wrapped in its satin bag, buried in a fold within her robes. The hobgoblins had found it of course, and now it lay exposed upon the table, the red satin bag tossed to one side; it sat there glowing white and blue, sparkling like a piece of the night sky, despite the smoke and heat within the tent. The three hobgoblins eyed it with longing and avarice, and muttered to each other softly.

What were they thinking?

But more importantly… what was going to happen to them?

She saw then a shadow dislodge itself from the tent wall. A long and lean figure came up behind the hobgoblins….

There was a crack! As the first hobgoblin had the back of its knee caved in, then a knee brought to the back of its head, forcing the leering face into the table edge, and a fountain of blood and broken teeth to follow!

Ailana sat up straighter, her breath caught in her throat. It was Narrin’Tim. Standing there tall, eyes blazing!

But the other two hobgoblins were aware now. And the elf’s hands were still manacled behind his back.

The first hobgoblin leapt back and was drawing a heavy curved blade from its sheath. But the elf warrior was prepared for this: with a kick he sent the table flying into the hobgoblin, sending the smaller creature sprawling.

The ithilmar rose sailed through the air and fell to the ground at Ailana’s feet. She stared at it for a second, then stretched out with her foot, and used her heel to drag it closer….

Looking up she saw the second hobgoblin, a long curved knife in hand coming at the elf warrior. There was quick movement forward and to the side, and the elf was inside the creature’s swing… and a crunch! The elf brought the heel of his foot down hard upon the smaller creature’s instep. The hobgoblin howled in pain, but was quickly interrupted by a knee to the stomach. As it doubled over with a grunt, the knee flew upwards once more landing with a sickening crunch into the creature’s face. Blood filled the air, and the creature collapsed on the ground.

The ithilmar rose was up near her hands now. Ailana could just reach it! Her fingers dragged it into her palm, and twisting she began to use the metal edge of leaf and blossom to work at the cords holding her….

The other hobgoblin was on its feet again; the table tossed aside. Sword in hand it came quickly towards the elf warrior…

And the elf dropped low into a crouch then spun its heel about sweeping the legs out from under the creature! The hobgoblin went sprawling. And the elf leapt forward, and came down with terrific force upon the creature’s throat with one knee. There was a gargle, and then nothing. The elf stood.

Ailana could feel the first rope snap behind her. Tytus took the rose from her hand and began to saw fervently at the second set.

Narrin’Tim claimed one of the hobgoblin’s knives awkwardly behind his back and came over to them, squatted down facing away, and began to saw at the other side.

“We must hurry,” he whispered. “We haven’t much time.”

Already Ailana could hear shouting without. The fight, though short and fierce, had not gone unnoticed.

Soon the binds were upon the ground. She stood up on watery legs, Tytus supporting one side of her.

But Atlan was still upon the ground. “I have not the strength. Leave me.”

“No time for nobility, Sentinel,” Narrin’Tim said, and knelt before the colonial. “On my back,” he commanded.

The sentinel struggled to move forward and wrap his arms about the elf’s shoulders and neck. Then with a heave Narrin’Tim staggered to his feet, hoisting Atlan up upon his back.

The shouts were coming closer. Narrin’Tim lead them to the edge of the tent and pushed his way under the flap. Ailana and Tytus following close on his heels. Outside the late afternoon sun blazed brightly, causing Ailana’s eyes to water.

The shouts and cries of the hobgoblins seemed all about them.

“There is no hope,” Ailana moaned as she staggered.

“Hurry!” Narrin’Tim snapped. “I opened the warg pens. We haven’t much time.”

She could hear the terrifying hiss of arrows in flight now. Her heart seemed to stop as she marveled how never before had she appreciated the violence that such a small device of wood and sinew could do to an Asur body. The ferocity with which a metal tipped shaft could punch through muscle and bone….

Her thoughts morbid, she ran behind the hunched Nagarathi. Making towards the cliff edge. It was close. But too far…. The hobgoblins were all about and shrieking. Any second now and she would feel their hands upon her ankles…..

Then a thunderous roar! And the very earth seemed to shake about her feet, sending her sprawling. A fountain of flame and heat washed up and over her back. She could smell the hair on the back of her head smoldering.

“What was that?!” Tytus roared in the silence that followed the explosion.

“The blackpowder cannon!” the Nagarathi hollered back, as he clambered to his feet still with the colonial on his back. “I pointed it at the ground and lit the long fuse…. Quickly now!”

Terrified by the noise, the wargs went into a wild raving fit! She could hear them baying and snarling, howling and calling, as they scattered throughout the camp, dragging harness and tent alike. Here and there she saw one of the wargs turn upon its fellows, or upon the hobgoblin masters, in a leaping tackle of fur and fangs. Screams filled the daylight.

And then they were at the ledge. Narrin’Tim, still holding Atlan, slid down the narrow chimney and started staggering back the way they had come that morning. Ailana and Tytus followed. For several minutes there was no sound but the cry of the wind and the cacophony of shrieks and bellows from the hobgoblin camp, and the ragged noise of her own breathing. They just ran. Ran as hard as their legs could carry them.

“We will not make it,” Tytus said grimly. “I can hear the sound of the pursuers.”

“Hurry!” the Nagarathi responded. “We are almost there.”

Ailana could see it now. The up-curve to the ledge path, where it met the cliff and the little pile of rocks that had been their camp before.

But it was far. Too far. She could hear it too. The baying. The calling.

And then…. Once more the ground began to shudder. Violently so. Stones about her fell and broke lose, plummeting into the canyon void in spurts of dust and gravel.

“What is that?” she shrieked.

She looked back. And saw a horror out of a nightmare.

Looming up out of the cliff top, a massive armored form of coiled blackness. Hundreds of feet long and dozens wide, it reared up into the sky, all plates and spines, and at its mouth tendrils and curved horns of teeth flailed outwards.

Ailana’s heart seemed to stop. Her breath disappeared. She saw this thing, and yet her mind couldn’t come to terms with the size of the gargantuan. It loomed up and over the hobgoblin camp. And then, slowly, it fell. And as it collided with the ground it was as if the entire plateau became an anvil. The world shuddered and jumped all about her. And behind them, the hobgoblin camp, all about, disappeared within a massive plume of dust and ash.

She didn’t know how she managed to maintain her footing. Didn’t know how she continued to go forward one step at a time. All she could remember ever after about those minutes was the look on the Sentinel’s face, where he lay upon the Nagarathi’s back, looking back past her.

He said, “The Arakis Worm…. I thought it legend….”

And he seemed to marvel, despite it all.


***


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 05, 2013 12:08 am 
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Well played Sir
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That made my morning tea much better ^_^

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 05, 2013 12:47 am 
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Elessehta of Yvresse wrote:
That made my morning tea much better ^_^


Funny I'm finishing my evening cup.

I've never seen such aaccurate goblin archers!

Way to kick ass Narrin'tim

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 06, 2013 6:38 pm 
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Malossar Dragonborne wrote:
I've never seen such aaccurate goblin archers!


6's happen!

And it was only one hit out of all those shots loosed. Poor little green guys.

Besides aren't hobgoblins better with their bows than normal gobbos? I seem to remember a higher BS in their somewhere. Some edition….

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 07, 2013 10:24 pm 
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These Nagarathi are so cool even in Arakis (and they didn't forget what they saw in that druchii warehouse it seems). Yes, and the rose has its uses after all. :D

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Part 12 – The Fires of Tyr Wadi


Ailana staggered forward, one foot after the other.

She was exhausted; and her vision was watery and disturbed. Somewhere during the hours proceeding she had lost the heel of one of her softskin boots making her wobble as she walked.

And the Arakis seemed forever. Rock and sand. Sun and heat. She took what mouthfuls of water were offered her with only the slightest of awareness. There was no time to feel, and no time to think. Just to flee. As fast as they can….

And just when she thought the misery would drive her mad, she would look up. Before her, bowed under the weight of the colonial Sentinel, walked the Shadow Warrior. His hands still manacled. His feet wrapped in filthy blood stained rags. And yet… he walked. He more than walked – he set the pace, forcing the others to broaden their strides just to keep up.

How could any Asur have that kind of endurance…?

Night fell and at first the cold was a relief. Then, as sore muscles began to cramp, and sweat stained robes began to freeze to skin, it became its own misery. Ailana didn’t think she could continue the pace. She wanted to call out for a rest. It was safe now. There was no pursuit. Or they had lost it. But she knew that was folly. Even now she could hear the distant braying of the wargs. And when she looked back, ever so softly in the distance, she thought she saw the crimson flares of torchlight, like fireflies floating upon the night horizon.

“We will never make it,” she groaned feeling the last of her strength drain out through her feet. Tytus gripped her arm.

“The bulwark,” he said. “Tyr Wadi at last.”

She could see it now, the cold blues and yellows of the glow lamps upon the walls of the tower. With renewed vigor she staggered forward, her eyes and feet seeking out the gaping darkness of the bulwark gate. In moments she found it and with a sobbing gasp staggered forward, towards the welcoming light.

A crowd waited in the courtyard within.

“What has happened?” it was the minister, looking pale and fretful.

“Hobgoblins,” Tytus answered. “A warband follows.”

“We think…we think they aim to take the tower,” Lothello panted, and stooped over his knees.

“What?!” the minster looked startled. “What have you done?” He looked around at their party with anxious eyes. The Nagarathi warrior knelt down and let settle the colonial warrior upon the ground.

“He was struck with a goblin barb. His wounds need tending,” the northerner said.

The Minister scowled at him.

“Seize him,” the colonial lord ordered his surrounding warriors. “Place him in chains and bind him!”

Several of his warriors came forward and grabbed the arms of the unresisting elf.

“But,” Ailana protested, blinking and confused. “He helped us! He carried your warrior here halfway across the desert!!”

“Be that as it may, he is still wanted for crimes against the City,” the minister declared coldly. “Imprison him in the tower store room,” he directed the warriors. “We will deal with him later.”

As Ailana watched the tall northerner hauled off into the tower’s interior, more Asur came pouring out. She could see a mixture of the other envoys. In the lead came the lord from Tiranoc.

“What is this? We see fires on the horizon!”

“The tower faces assault,” the grim faced Warden Harkonn answered. At that there was a bedlam of questions and cries.

“Harkonn, what can we do?” the minister cut through the noise.

The scarred warrior glared at the now closed bone gate. “We can fight. We can run. We can die,” he said after a moment. “There is little else.”

“But how many…?”

“Hundreds,” Tytus answered. “Perhaps as many as a thousand. I am not sure.”

“Then we must flee!” the representative from Ellyrion said. “We must take what water and beasts as we have and fall back into the desert. Outpace these raiders and make for the safety of the City.”

The Minister was shaking his head. “Even if we could outpace the wolf-riders until dawn, we do not have nearly enough beasts to carry water for all the tower’s occupants.”

“Then…then some may have to stay…for the good of the rest. Perhaps the servants and a few warriors. A diversion…,” the Tiranoc lord proposed.

There was a great deal of grumbling and conversation at that; some hopeful, some scathing. But after a few moments, Tytus said, “Whatever we do we must decide quickly.”

The minister’s frown deepened even more, his brow was so furrowed it began to resemble the very canyons of the desert. “We will prepare water and beasts for an evacuation, and….”

“I will stay. With what warriors are willing,” Harkonn interrupted. “I will hold these walls. I will not surrender them to greenskins. Not without a fight.”

“Then…we must see to it. Yes. Summon the garrison! Wake the staff! We must be ready. To fight! To flee! But we must be ready!!!”


***


“It is madness,” Ailana muttered to herself, and wondered how many times she had thought those words since coming to this forsaken desert.

“They simply seek to live, however they can. It is normal,” the voice came from out of the darkness.

She peered through the small grate in the storeroom door, though try as she might she could not see the figure within. It was pitch black inside the storeroom, with only the tiniest slivers of light coming in from the door and a slender window placed high in one wall. She could see the stars outside. Just a fraction of one moon, white and green in the surrounding black.

“But it makes no sense,” she repeated. “Why they should lock you up! You have done nothing!” She could feel the anger in her throat. “All you did was cross the desert. Perhaps without permission, but still… there is no real evidence or charge!”

After a moment, the voice returned. “I am Nagarathi.” A quiet moment and then, sadly, “Sometimes, that is enough.”

“I am…I am sorry, Narrin’Tim,” she said after a moment. “I tried to have you released, but the Minister would hear none of it.”

No reply came. She hadn’t really expected one; wasn’t even sure why she had made her way here from the courtyard. She should be in her quarters, gathering her things. Getting ready to flee with the other envoys…..

Tytus was thinking the same thing. “My lady, we must go. You have a better chance of getting lost in the vastness of the desert than remaining here.”

She could understand the logic of the words: they still had an hour or so head-start on the warg riders. And if they could just elude them until dawn, when the hobgoblins would be forced to seek shelter from the sun. Still…it just seemed wrong.

“He is right,” the disembodied voice came out from the dark. “You should go.”

Ailana peered into the black, unable to make a decision.

“Tell me, Narrin’Tim,” she said. “What would you do? What would a Nagarathi do? Would you flee?”

“That depends,” the voice came back, thoughtful.

“On what?”

“If there was a chance to attack again, from a better advantage. Then, yes,” the voice said. “But…”

“But you see the faces of the ones to be left behind, don’t you? The servants. The young and old. The warriors,” Ailana whispered back. Thinking of the wounded sentinel being held aloft across the desert miles, she said, “You would not abandon them.”

“No.”

“Why not? After all they have done?! Even after how they have treated you!”

“Because…they are my brothers. And sisters….even if… sometimes, sometimes they do not act it,” the voice returned full of weariness. “My prince has told me it is so. And…. And I really want to believe it.”

Ailana stared into the black room, now unable to speak. She couldn’t understand it. Couldn’t understand anything. And she was a Seer! She was supposed to be able to read the Weave, just as others could read ink on parchment.

Yet somehow, this Nagarathi…

He made no sense to her!

Sudden shouts interrupted her reverie. She glanced at Tytus. The elder swordmaster looked pale.

“What is it?” she asked.

“The watchers on the wall,” he answered, his face and voice empty of feeling, “have spotted another body of hobgoblins coming from the north. We are surrounded. There will be no escape now….”


***


She stood at the balcony, facing out into the desert night, and the fires waiting below. It was the freezing midnight hour, and still she almost could feel the heat coming from below; saw the hundreds of torches and burning brands, the siege fires and smoking braziers, and felt her body inundated in the rising smoke. And hatred. The hobgoblins, in their hundreds, appeared to look up at the tower with the red light burning in eyes filled with avarice and seething resentment. They waited.

As did she. Forced into this high chamber with the maiden folk of the Tyr, servant and noble alike, by custom and tradition of the Asur. What had her father once said about it? Oh yes, ‘Warfare becomes ugly when women are involved.’ And so the men-folk of the Asur would go forth and line the walls, fill the levies, of the Grand Armies of the Ever Empire, while the maidens were expected to stay behind, guarding hearth and home – with their lives if need be – but in a secondary, sheltered, support of the warriors. The colonials seemed even more devoted to tradition than the most conservative scion of Tiranoc, and had dutifully rounded up all the women of the tower placing them in this single large chamber, with blades in hand and a guard at the door, to see that they were ‘protected’. Though what good that would do if the tower itself fell to the invaders….

It was a rule that was not applied to all however. From the balcony’s ledge she could see the courtyard before the bone-gate, and standing there was the little Chracian princess alongside her burly White Lion bodyguard, her gender apparently carefully overlooked by the colonial levy.

“A princess can do whatever she wants,” her cousin had once said to her, with a self-mocking grin and a wink. Now more than ever, Ailana desired that privilege. She hated always being told what to do, what to study, what to become…by her House and her masters. And if she was to die…. Well, she wanted to die outside, on her feet, sword in hand, as an Asur warrior. Not cowering in a bedchamber.

“Enough of this!” she said aloud. Drawing her blade she marched to the door, and banged on its back with the hilt. “Let me out! I will fight below!”

The door opened and the tower guardsmen looked at her sheepishly. “My lady, I have orders….”

She pushed the door open wider. “Either run me through with your spear, or stand aside!” Looking aghast, the guardsmen stepped back. Ailana hurried down the hallway and stairs to the tower entrance.

From above the courtyard all had been vision: red heat and glistening blades. But down below, there was the noise: the jangle of armor, and the howl of warg, the grunt hiss of pack beast; shouted orders and murmured prayers to Asuryan and Isha. There were curses, and at least one young warrior was sobbing in the shadows. Spying Lothello aside Tytus she made her way there. Tytus opened his mouth.

“Not one word,” she snarled. “At least let me choose my own death!” The swordmaster’s jaw clamped shut, though he did not look pleased.

“Welcome to the gates of hell, my lady,” Lothello greeted with a friendly smile, though his face was ghastly pale. Gates of Hell indeed, she thought looking to the great ivory bones that composed the macabre gate of Tyr Wadi, and out beyond to the hundreds of glowing eyes amid the firelight. She could now feel the hunger of the coming army, as if it was a giant hand clenched about her chest.

“Why do they wait,” Lothello wondered aloud. “They have the numbers to just scale the walls. We could not stop that many.”

Ailana considered it. “Goblins always tend to maximize their advantages in war,” she said, thinking back to her studies. “They are called cowardly creatures, but cunning nonetheless. They make sure to not take unnecessary risks to themselves. ‘Khal’tal krish gragnuk’,” she quoted. “’Better an enemy blindfolded and sleeping than blindfolded alone’,” she finished.

“Pleasant,” Lothello responded after a moment.

“It is why they have done so well in the forest of Yvresse. Why we cannot simply find and eradicate them,” she added. She knew she was talking to just calm her nerves, so that she wouldn’t have to think of her stomach. But it did help. “That,” she said after another moment, “Or they are waiting for their warboss to arrive….”

“I wish you hadn’t have said that,” Lothello grimaced.

The red eyes were parting in the night, making an avenue of black shadows through the hobgoblin horde. Something was moving in that blackness. Something large. Ungainly.

“Asuryan protect us!” a warrior nearby moaned.

She could see it then, a monstrous figure upon the back of some lumbersome beast. Except the beast moved as if it was all of joints rough and ungainly, a jerking halting motion that came with the grinding sound of metal. Its bulk shone in the firelight, a ruddy mirror of iron, brass and steel. And from its back, great pipes emerge gusting out volumes of smoke and steam as it rumbled forward. In shape it was like the mountain boars of Saphery, though five times their size. Except among the flesh were screws and cogs, metal plates, and jutting nails. It was a monstrous hybrid of flesh and steel, and yet it moved with some unnatural life of its own, reflected in the orange glow of the eyes fixed upon them.

Atop its back was the warlord. An orc, black as the night around him, hunched over with long braided hair, and a visage covered in scars. His small, piggish eyes were fixed upon the tower, and Ailana thought she could see a grimace of contempt behind the protruding tusks of its mouth.

“An Orik-Hai,” she said, a note of awe in her voice. “A Black Orc, from out of the Darklands. The rarest of their breed.” She watched it astonished to see the fables from her textbooks become flesh and blood before her. And so large! Easily a head and a half taller than the tallest elf, and a hundred stones heavier as well. “But…but I thought they were slaves of the Gul’Dawii, the Dwarves that have sold themselves to the Four Powers. Why here?”

The orc drew an axe from its back and raised it towards the tower. Then leaning back atop its monstrous steed began to holler in a guttural hideous roar at the tower.

“What is it saying?” Lothello asked.

“I…it is hard to understand…the dialect is very different from the Yvressi goblins…I,” Ailana said and frowned. “Something about, ‘you betrayed the master’…and ‘waiting’…or ‘no waiting’…. It keeps yelling ‘elf’ over and over again.”

“To us? To someone in the tower? But that makes no sense!” Lothello said with a shake of his head.

But just then the axe swung down with a chopping motion and there was a thunderous roar out in the night. A high pitched, shrieking sound filled the sky, and then high up along the tower exterior a flame appeared, ripping stone from mortar, it rang out across the desert sending fragments of the Tyr raining down into the courtyard below. Elves scattered and broke formation as the debris came crashing down with thunderous force!

Yet there was little time to call order once more, for with one voice the hobgoblins gave cry, shrill and caustic, and Ailana could see the torches and burning eyes come thundering towards the bulwark.

“To battle,” Tytus said calmly. “My lady, stay behind me.”

And then it was chaos. The cannon rang forth once more causing a flash atop the bulwark, one that claimed a sentinel atop the wall in a terrifying geyser of flame and screams. Then the wargs arrived. The larger of the pack were able to leap to the top of the bulwark with one bound, scrambling over the thick wall to leer and howl down at the defenders in the courtyard. The archers and spears positioned atop the wall quickly responded with spear tip and bodkin flight, and the first goblin blood was spilled.

Yet in moments the hobgoblins on foot were at the walls, and began to scale the slope of the bulwark with knotted grapples and crude ladders of leather and bone. Try as they might the sentinels atop the wall were too few to meet the coming charge. Harkonn ordered a withdrawal. Then as they joined the company in the courtyard, a half dozen arrows flew out from the ports in the towers lower stories, dropping hobgoblins as they stood exposed atop the wall.

A fire burst atop the bulwark, red and brilliant. Except there was no shriek of cannon this time, just the roaring blaze of a furnace in high heat. Looking back Ailana could see the crippled Caledorian standing at the Tyr’s entrance his hands forming complicated sigils before him.

“I should’ve studied fire magic,” Ailana grumbled. Not for the first time. What good was it to see the stars and the future they withheld if all of them led to one’s death?!

“I don’t suppose you could call down lightning from the heavens,” Lothello said with a smile.

“I’m not that kind of seer,” she answered glumly.

“Pity.”

The goblins were at the gate, hacking and heaving with axe and hammer. Then wargs came forward and pressed and bound against the ties. Each shoulder charge by the massive jackal woof, impacting on the gate like a battering ram. It shook and shot forth dust and fragments.

Then it shattered. And the hobgoblins poured in.

There was little time to think. Little time to look. Blade in hand, Ailana stood her ground. The first two goblins to approach disappeared in broad sweeps of Tytus great sword, but they were soon replaced, and Ailana found herself stabbing and swiping, trying to keep her hair out of her eyes while she maintained her footing in the courtyard dust. There was blood, and screaming. And she wasn’t sure whose was whose. She knew she had stabbed a hobgoblin – a tall leering creature, with a man skull atop its head – but she hadn’t seen it go down. Knew little more than its pained scowl and the geyser of black blood that had sprayed across her arm.

She could hear Tytus’ blade sweep and tear, the sound of its deadly efficacy the only battle cry needed by a Swordmaster of Hoeth. And to the other side she could hear the shouts and catcalls of Lothello, dashing in and out of the fray with the sure and agile stride of a mariner. Every so often, another geyser of flame and fire would erupt behind the melee, so she knew the Caledorian was still at hand. And not far away were the brutal, bestial cries of the northern Highlands, so the Chracians must be holding….

And yet, there were always more of the goblinkind. And in ever greater number.

And then with a shriek of metal upon metal, the black orc and its beast-machine appeared before her, gouting steam and fire into the night. She saw the warlord look down upon her, its great axe already stained red with the blood of battle, it swept the blade towards her. The force of the blow so great as to take head from shoulders…

And she slipped. Or was jerked from her feet. She fell back sprawling as Tytus moved past her, his greatsword rising to meet the massive axe. An explosion of sparks and a clang of steel erupted as the two blades met overhead. Ailana was temporarily blinded. With her free hand she wiped at her eyes. She was yelling something, but she wasn’t sure what she said. Couldn’t hear her own voice above the bedlam around her.

Her eyes watery, but clear she saw Tytus facing off with the black orc. Blade and axe swinging in terrifying speeds. She saw Tytus duck and swing, his great blade aimed in an arc parallel to the ground, ready to cleave neck. But at the last moment the boar-beast reared, and the blade bit deep into shoulder and armored pauldron of the orc. The gargantuan humanoid grunted, but with one hand seized the extended arm of the swordmaster, holding him in place. Then the other… raised the axe. Once. Twice it rained down in ungainly but ferocious blows. Then, the swordmaster, now covered in blood was tossed aside like a ragdoll.

Ailana was screaming now. She knew that. Couldn’t think, couldn’t concentrate on anything. Except Tytus. He that she had known since she was knee high to her father. He who had been pledged to her House as well as the Tower. Who had been to her Coming of Age feast. Had given her a gift on every anniversary of her birth, never missing one. Not even when he had been called away to distant lands; she would always find a wrapped package on that day, waiting for her from him. Always. Always he had been there for her.

And now he was lying in the dust, soaked in bright red blood.

She crawled on hands and knees toward him, hearing the battle raging about her, but not really comprehending it any more.

“Tytus. Please. Please, no!” she called as she reached him. His eyes were fluttering and looking up at her. Or the night sky. His mouth and chin were covered in oozing blood. “Please Tytus, get up!” she held onto him.

“I am sorry little one,” the voice came back weakly as his eyes settled upon her. “You must go on…without me…I am sorry….”

“Please! No!!”

He tried to smile at her then, she could see the light in his eyes rapidly dimming. And then as she wept, just as she thought she could bare no more, his hands reached out for her, taking her face in the rough palms, he held her head and looked deep into her eyes.

“Go, little one! To the tower!” the eyes burned into her as he spoke.

“Release…the Nagarathi! The Shadow Warrior! Tell him…tell him to watch over you…” he said.

“It is your only hope….”

And then the hands fell from her. And the light was gone from his eyes.


***


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 03, 2014 9:52 am 
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Yay, more story!


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 08, 2014 11:02 pm 
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Part 13 – Nagarythe Unleashed!


Tears streaming down her face, Ailana staggered towards the tower entrance. The battle was raging around her – all flashes of metal, shouts and screams. She could hear Harkonn’s voice yelling to ‘fall back’, and then Lothello loomed before her, face covered in black blood, he seized her forearm and seemed to be saying something. All she could hear was the sound of her blood pounding in her ears, she mouthed past the tears:

“Tytus! The prisoner!”

And then she shook herself loose and entered the tower. It was as if a magical barrier had descended: the din of the battle suddenly reduced to a mere echo, and Ailana could hear her breathing and sobbing clearly. And Lothello’s muttering at her heels. But she had no time. She ran, inwards and unpwards. Until she saw the lone guard at the door to the maiden’s chamber.

“The key,” she demanded, panting. “The key to the stockroom with the prisoner!”

The guard stared at her blank faced. “My lady, I was ordered to give it to no one – “

She had no time. Ailana bunched her hand into a fist and let fly. She didn’t think she had hit him very hard, but the warrior reeled and stared at her wide-eyed.

Perhaps he had never been hit by maiden before?

“The key,” she demanded again.

He handed it to her. And Ailana turned and ran thinking that perhaps it would be best if more of the colonial maidenfolk hit their menfolk.

From down below she could hear the sound of a door reverberate under a series of blows. Thud! Thud! Thud! The tower door, must be set and barred, she thought. She could hear the sound of Asur voices shouting. But behind that the ominous thud, thud, thud, over and over again. Then she saw the door that was her objective: the reinforced stockroom door.

Her hands were wet with blood; she fumbled at the keys, nearly dropping them, as she tried to find the one that fit the lock. Dammit! The first wouldn’t turn.

There was a clash and a shattering sound behind and below. Then the battle cries of hobgoblins echoed up the stairs. The sound of metal upon metal soon followed.

“My lady,” Lothello urged.

She tried the next. It didn’t turn.

Gods curse the colonials for not labeling their keys!

The third fit into the lock and with a dry snick, the key turned! She pushed the door open with her shoulder, finding it surprisingly heavy. Light spilled into the room.

She heard screams and shouts from behind her. Lothello cursed and drew his blade. Then a hobgoblin voice shouted.

Ailana hurried into the room. She could see the prisoner then, in the light coming from the corridor. He was pressed up against the far wall, the ropes that were used to tie him already lying in coils about his seated figure. Yet the silver steel manacles that held his hands were still in place, further affixed by a short chain to the wall at his back. She could see his arms and wrists were bloody from trying to wrestle free of the manacles.

Lothello was yelling behind her and she could hear his blade clashing with another, and the shouts of more goblin voices. Ailana crossed the room in record speed, not sure of anything – why she was here? What she was doing? – just knowing that Tytus had told her to free the Nagarathi. And free him she would. Or die trying.

She slid down on her knees next to the figure and tried the next key into the manacle. Lothello was in the room now just a few paces behind, his blade clashing on the curved scimitar of a snarling hobgoblin. More were at the door.

The key turned. A soft, barely heard click echoed, and the manacles fell to the floor.

The Nagarathi was up and past her in a bound. The lean northerner shoulder charged into the heavy door slamming it into the hobgoblin that was still only halfway into the room. Ailana could hear bones snap with the force of the blow, and the hobgoblin went down with a gurgling squeal! Then the Nagarathi, holding the door with one hand, reached through the opening and seized the arm of the next goblin outside! He jerked! The goblin stumbled forward, only its head and one shoulder entering the room. The Nagarathi slammed the door onto the surprised face. Twice. And the goblin was down.

Then he picked up the goblin’s sword and crouched next to the door. It swung open. The third hobgoblin had barely stepped into the room, when the claimed blade went down with terrific force, thrusting through the top of its foot. The creature howled. And the Nagarathi leaped up, drawing the blade free as he did, and in the same pull, drew the blade across the throat of the creature before him.

Blood fountained and geysered. Ailana raised her arm to protect herself. But the Nagarathi was already moving: he plucked a hatchet from the goblin’s belt, and hurled it through the open door and down the corridor. It did not go far: the one goblin in the hall was only a few paces away, when the hatchet impacted into its forehead sending it spinning and gurgling.

The northerner turned, eyes flashing, and saw the final goblin still crossing blades with Lothello. The Nagarathi strode the few steps across the room, then seizing the goblin by the scruff of the neck, slammed its head against the wall! Once. Twice. Thrice! And it went down, still.

It had only taken moments. Lothello was panting, and looking about the room at the fallen bodies quivering and still, covered in their own blood.

“By Asuryan’s Golden Mantle!” he gasped.

The Nagarathi was claiming another blade and making towards the door. “Come,” he said. And then he was racing down the stairs. Lothello shared one look with Ailana and then the two started after.

Ailana could hear the sounds of battle and the cries of hobgoblins in the tower now, all about. It was a chaos and blur of shouts and smoke filled corridors, with the very stones of the Tyr seeming to shake and shudder under the furious onslaught of the devil cannon without. Every crash sent blood into her ears and seemed to pound at the back of her eyeballs. But she tried to focus, tried to concentrate, on just going forward, follow the Nagarathi, as the lithe figure darted and weaved through corridor and room.

And then…they were in the common rooms. A half a dozen hobgoblins were already there. Ailana skidded to a halt, at the top of the stairs, her blood soaked hand clutching at the hilt of her sword, wondering what to do: fight or flee.

And yet the Shadow Warrior didn’t stop. He was already in the room. Already moving across the chamber with the fury of a hurricane. She watched as he leapt over the commons table, landing with both feet upon the head of one goblin with bone crushing force, before sweeping up one of the chairs and smashing it through the parrying blade of another, sending the little creature sprawling and broken. The third the Nagarathi dealt a swift kick between the legs, followed by a knife in the back.

She had just started her second breath, and already half the room’s occupants were upon the ground. Still, there were three hobgoblins to go, now ready with sword and shield raised for the northerner’s onslaught….

But the third goblin had held a bow; an ugly thing of horn and black metal, and a short quiver of arrows. These were now in the Shadow Warrior’s hands.

She had heard a little of the bow-craft of the north. Stories and legends of the skill of their archers; the deadly volleys of the Shadow Warriors. Supposedly only equaled by the elite guards of the Everqueen herself. She had never thought to witness it. Never thought to see the splendor and efficiency of a hand dip into the quiver three times. Three pulls on catgut string; three arches of bone on iron; three heavy thumps as the tortion was released. And the flights, like bolts of thunder! They shrieked across the room and where they landed a hobgoblin was picked up as if by giant’s hand and tossed about, pierced by black shaft!

Two more hobgoblins burst through the opposite door. The Nagarathi’s hand dipped once and pulled out two arrows from the quiver, setting both on string….

The release! And then the hobgoblins stood there looking as stunned as she felt staring down at the feathered shafts that protruded from their sternums, before topling in gurgling heaps.

And the Nagarathi was already tearing across the room, a snarl on his lips, and a blood curling howl in his throat!

“Gods blood and Khaine’s mighty fangs!” Lothello said from beside her. “Never anger the Nagarathi indeed!”

“Come on!” Ailana shouted, running. “We have to keep up!”

“Indeed!” Lothello answered. “I’m going to stay behind THAT one!”

And once more they were in the ash and bedlam of the corridors and starewells of the Tyr on fire. But now there was a new sound added to the cacophony: every where she went, Ailana could hear new cries coming from the hobgoblins.

“NAGGA’RATHEE!! NAGGA’RATHEE!!!”

And then:

“TULEK’VARN!!!” came a terrified voice.

Tulek’varn? Yes, Ailana thought…. the Shadow Warrior….

The Shadow Warriors of Nagarythe were in the tower and that was more than the hobgoblins had expected. Or could bare. She heard the sound of their squeals and the patter of their fleeing feet. And as she progressed trying to find the Nagarathi once more, she and Lothello stumbled across the goblins bodies, in ones and twos, lying supine in the corridor, bodies pierced by black shafts. Up ahead, it sounded as if a stampede was heading down the tower’s stairs.

And then they were at the base, inside the Garden of the Water. Now rewrit in the horrors of flame and war. One tree burned as a brand, and the strings of round lanterns, delicately wrought in distant Saphery, were pulled down and scattered. Bodies lay strewn about, elf and goblin alike. And finally she could see the bulk of the defenders drawn in shaky ranks. The Chracians, the tall White Lion and the tiny princess, both snarling like beasts, stood at the center. Behind them sweat strewn and face bloodied, the tiny cripple from Caledor, and about these the remainder of the swords of the envoys and the guard of the tower, arranged in serried lines.

But they were surrounded by a pressing mob of goblins on three sides. And at their center, the hulking mass of the boar-beast and its black rider.

The Nagarathi was at the top of the stairs. With a vault, he leapt upon the banister and slid down, colliding with the hobgoblins below. Then up and running once more Ailana saw him make towards the center of the line and….

He stopped. He stood standing in the no man’s area between orc, goblin and the waiting elves, a solitary figure in rags and black bow. His eyes set upon the red-pig eyes of the mounted warboss across the way. Strangely a silence descended about the room, as the two sides drew breath and watched this strange spectacle.

“I am Narrin’Tim,” the northerner declared. “Shadow Warrior of the Host of Nagarythe.”

The orc watched him, face inscrutable.

“I bring word from my Prince. This Tyr,” the tall northerner continued, “This tower, is under Nagarythe’s protection! Turn back…

“…or face the consequences.”

The goblins emboldened by their towering master giggled and chortled at the elf’s words. The orc pushed his metal beast forward.

“Stand aside, Nagga’Rathee,” it said in the speech of the western lands, thick and guttural. “We have no quarrel with you. Stand aside. Or die with the rest.”

“I challenge you then,” the Shadow Warrior said and pointed with his blade to the chest of the towering black orc.

The beast’s mouth curled back halfway between a grin and a snarl. It held its meaty hands up ordering his lines of warriors back, and advanced further into the field. A pair of massive broad axes unfurled in its hands, each blade glistening with blood and firelight. Each blade the size of a Lothern shield. And below it the metal beast gnashed and pawed at the ground, steam and flame escaping from its maw and vents.

And before this monstrous spectacle… the lone elf stood, shoeless and dressed in rags. A knife in one hand; a bow in the other. Ailana looked. The leather quiver upon his shoulder was nearly empty: only a single feathered shaft remained.

The orc bellowed. The metal beast lurched forward, its blade tusks lowered to gore, rend and tear!

The Nagarathi stood. Crouched and waiting.

The beast charged forward, pummeling the earth as it moved with the sound of thunder!

And then….

“Now Tarabeth!!!”

The Nagarathi dove to the side and the little Chracian princess drew back her arm. A hatchet was in hand. She flung it, and as it spun it gathered light to itself, until it resembled a disc, made of spinning liquid gold, flaring and sputtering as it traveled through the air….

Then it slammed into the metal boar, with the force of a battering ram! The creature’s head was torn from its shoulders. Its legs continued to churn for a moment then went still as its charging girth slammed into the earth, and dug a great furrow before grinding to a halt.

From out of the detritus and dust rose the figure of the Orc Warlord, eyes ferocious with hatred. It roared and bellowed, and raised its axes. The Nagarathi was running towards it.

One axe blade in a great swipe.

Ailana watched it move as if caught in a dream. There parallel to the ground, swinging like a guillotine. She had seen that blow only minutes before…

Tytus! NO!!

But Narrin’Tim slid under the blade, churning up dirt on the ground as the axe spun harmlessly overhead.

Yet the orc’s other blade was coming about now, as the beast turned about with surprising agility. It swept low over the ground, aimed at waist height ready to cleave pelvis and snap spine.

She could see it. Hear the ferocious force. Watch it aim towards the northerner. Her gift with the sight saw it all so clearly. Death written in muscle, bone and steel. She could see the orc’s ferocity. Its decades of murder and battle behind it. See the cruel eyes of the forgemasters in the north, as they hammered upon the great black blades, pouring their malice and hatred into every blow. She could see the savagery. See the surety of it all. See the hours of brutal training that fashioned the slave orcs into a fearsome warrior of the Chaos Dawii. See the pain and the suffering, and the thousands of slaves sacrificed to the axes before her….

But the one thing she couldn’t see…. The Shadow Warrior. He…he flickered in and out of her sight, the sight of destiny and stars, as if, as if…a shadow!!

And the axe blade swung, and the warrior was not there.

She could barely see him. Barely find him in the smoke and confusion of her sight. He was there one moment. And then the next, he was… leaping! Leaping over the blade, legs and back arched! She saw the blade pass beneath him, ever so slowly, almost cutting the tip of his long black queue as he passed overhead. And then… there! His feet landed on the trunk of one tree and he kicked off it, hands grasping, he seized one of the light strands hung from ceiling, and in a smooth arc swung through the air!!! Back around the flailing orc. One hand on the rope, the other…extended with the bow in hand! He hooked the bow over the orc’s head, and flung himself from the rope.

For the rest of her long life, Ailana remembered that moment. She saw it sometimes in the years to come in her dreams. The Nagarathi flying through the air, carried aloft by the momentum of his swing. The bow hooked about the roaring beast’s neck. The force of the elf’s swing bending the metal and bone of the bow to almost the breaking point; the catgut string stretching and stretching to madness….

And the last arrow, there set on string. Fierce grey eyes looking down the length of the shaft.

The bow released! And the Nagarathi went sailing through the air, landing in a crouch in the mud on the ground.

The bow, collapsed on itself with a fearsome twang! Plunging the metal tip shaft forward with ferocious speed. Maybe three stones of weight were focused by that goblin bow: focused upon the tip of the arrow head. All that weight upon the sharpened metal of the punch-bolt head. All focused to one tiny, hardened point.

And it drove forward into the back of the black orc’s skull. Not stopping until it emerged out the other side: out of the creature’s gullet.

The orc went silent. Its face seeming to not register the horrible damage done to the back of its skull.

And then slowly, first one knee then the other, it toppled and fell, and lay still in the mud….

With a shriek the hobgoblins turned in mass and fled the tower. Their voices filled with terror and horror. She could hear their cries. Hear them shout. Hear the calls of ‘Tulek’Varn’ as they disappeared into the desert night.

Until only elves remained in the Garden of the Water.

And standing at the gate, looking out past the blaze, the solitary figure of the Shadow Warrior….


***






Hehe!

Sorry about the long delay! Had a move in there and no internet for a couple of weeks (thanks to the provider semi monopoly in these parts….grumble :evil: ). But I'm back now and hopefully can post with a bit more alacrity. :)

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 10, 2014 1:25 am 
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Oh Tim, picking up the ladies with fancy ninja moves.. Well done :D

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 10, 2014 7:28 am 
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What part of Cali Cali did you move to?

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 10, 2014 8:42 am 
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I forgive you your absence, as long as the stories keep comming... ;)

It does show again that you do not want to piss off a Nagarathi ninja.

No internet? That's harsh.

Rod

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 15, 2014 1:17 am 
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@Cal

PM me for the details.

@Larose and Rod

It's 'Shadow Warrior', gentlemen. Shadow Warrior. 8)

rdghuizing wrote:
No internet? That's harsh.


It was all very 1991! :shock: I had to use dead plant matter cut in block shapes for entertainment. And one night, instead of watching streaming videos, the Everqueen and I had to… *gasp!*…talk over dinner!!

Thank god that is over…. [-o<

Back to the world wide web. :)

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 15, 2014 1:19 am 
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Part 14 – The Tower restored…. Mostly.



“He cheated!”

Ailana rolled her eyes and continued to stride down the corridor. Not to be ignored, the lord from Tiranoc repeated himself:

“He cheated!” The lord took a deep breath while simultaneously rubbing the bruise at his temple, and continued, “I’m just saying the challenge is an ancient tradition always to be seen as trial by combat one on one! The Nagarathi had help from that Chracian witch! And therefore… he cheated!!”

Lothello was pacing along her other side. With a chuckle the Eatainian said, “Well what do you expect, m’lord? He IS Nagarathi after all….”

“And he managed to save the tower,” Ailana said, in no mood to entertain the pleasantries of soft speech. She was in a hurry.

“He could’ve acted with honor. As an Asur should,” the Tiranoc lord grumbled. “And I certainly wouldn’t credit ‘saving of the tower’ to him. It was more of an action of the stalwart defenders, I’m sure… Those of us in the line….”

Ailana rolled her eyes again. The vanity of this elf seemed to know no bounds. Barely twelve hours had passed since their lives were in mortal peril, and already his pride and confidence had returned, and seemingly doubled.

“Did you hear, my lords and lady?” Lothello said diplomatically, obviously trying to change the subject. “The lord from Ellyrion has offered a cousin’s hand in marriage to Spires.”

“What?! How uncouth!” the Tiranoc lord said aghast, nose wrinkled. “A lady of the House? To a colonial?! Why the breeding…! Its repulsive! What does he hope to gain?”

Ailana knew and inwardly winced. So, she thought, perhaps the Minister had made Spires’ desire openly known in her absence over the past days. Which means…? That perhaps others will follow the Ellyrion lord’s example soon….

Which means…?

She wasn’t sure. The ithilmar she thought, and reached into her under-robe pocket, and felt the reassuring weight of the gilded rose lying there. All this for the starlight metal….

But a marriage?

Her thoughts were a jumble. Then she heard shouting from further ahead and remembered her purpose this morning. She redoubled her pace.

And soon the trio of elves entered the corridor before the Minister’s chambers. There she saw a handful of the Colonial guard standing about, looking trepidatious. Including the bandaged figure of Atlan, the Sentinel. The object of their trepidation was readily apparent: the rag clad Nagarathi was standing in their midst. Once more bound and manacled. And looking so oddly docile. He was just quietly standing there, eyes fixed on the floor a few paces away. His face glum, resigned even. But Ailana had seen the ferocity of those eyes; seen the savagery of the warrior. He was a hardened killer! And now he stood so passive.

This Nagarathi befuddled her.

“Return him to the Sanitorium,” the Minister intoned. “I will pass judgment tomorrow.” He gestured to the guards, who hesitantly stepped towards the bound and manacled figure.

“What is going on here?!” Ailana burst onto the scene. “I demand an answer!”

“Justice,” the Minister responded laconically. “And the rule of law, my lady. Please don’t interfere.”

Ailana put her hands on her hips. “This is getting ridiculous, Minister. This elf. This Asur! Nearly single handedly saved the Tower! And all our lives! And you would see him bound in chains?!”

“The laws of the City of Spires are clear,” the Minister responded. “And I cannot go against my Prince’s will. Now stand aside.”

“No.” She declared and planted herself firmly in the guard’s path. She noticed that the lord of Tiranoc had quietly disappeared to one side. At least Lothello still stood next to her, though he muttered:

“I hope you know what you are doing…”

She did.

“You respect the rule of law so much, Minister?” she snapped. “Well I am invoking the Right of the Scabbard. Here and now.”

“What?” the Minister scoffed. “You can’t be serious.”

“Oh I am,” she said heavily. “I am the representative of Tor Irian and Saphery at his Council. And I have no sword….”

She pointed to the tall Nagarathi who was standing there looking as befuddled as the rest.

Good, she thought, and inwardly smirked.

“I appoint this one…Narrin’Tim of Nagarythe… as my new Sword! He shall defend my personage throughout this Council, and the Embassy of Saphery!” she declared aloud formally. Then turning once more to the Minister said slowly, “And as such, is to be granted all the diplomatic privileges entitled to the post….”

“Release him,” she finished, hands once more on her hips.

The Minister hesitated for one long moment, then gestured to the guards who stepped forward and began to remove the binds from about the northerner. “I recognize your right and authority in this matter,” he said. “Though not your wisdom…. But he is granted that right, and immunity to the prosecution of the City’s laws….

“…for the duration of this Council, of course,” he finished, fixing her with a meaning laden stare. It was the best she could do, for now, and so Ailana nodded.

“A Nagarathi Shadow Warrior as Sword…?” Lothello muttered softly from beside her. “I hope you know what you are doing,” he repeated himself.

So did she. The Nagarathi was freed. And Ailana turned to the guards and said, “Return whatever was taken from him upon his arrival here and allow him access to the chambers of my embassy,” she hoped she sounded confident in her declarations. At least a few of the guards moved to act.

“Now my lady,” the Minister interrupted, “If you and your fellows would walk with me, I wish to discuss matters with you.” He gestured towards his office door where the grim faced Harkonn stood, and Atlan and a pair of warriors fell in step behind him. Ailana and Lothello moved to follow.

As they entered the office the Minister said, “So much has passed over the last day, I did not have a chance to discuss with you the results of your investigation…Seeker.”

Ailana nodded and sat down in a chair facing the desk as the Minister claimed his own. “Were you successful in finding the missing Druchii…? And was it a Druchii??” the Minister asked, and looked very weary. His once clean shaven dome was beginning to show the signs of new growth; his face looked lined and worrisome.

“Yes we did,” Ailana answered. “In the camp of the hobgoblins. Though what he was doing there…. I think they must have come upon him in the desert… But there may be more to it,” she was rambling and she knew it. She needed time to organize her own thoughts. So she focused on the Minister’s other question: “And yes, he was Druchii. He didn’t deny the accusation. And the Shadow Warrior…err, Narrin’Tim, labeled him as such. Said he had been pursuing him for some time actually.”

“Interesting,” the Minister commented.

“Were you able to speak with the Druchii?” the Warden Harkonn asked.

“Briefly,” AIlana answered. “Some things were made to light. Though many more questions were raised. I…. I am still Seeker in this matter and will continue to prosecute the threads of Fate until I know the meaning of the deaths.”

The Minister sighed. “I had hoped we could blame the events on the Hobgoblins. No such luck then…?”

“No,” Ailana said with a shake of her head. “There is something at work here. The Druchii knew something…and… and I will say no more. Not now.”

“I see,” the Minister answered. “But…the end of the Council fortnight is fast approaching. And we have no decision in those matters rendered. I cannot postpone the Council any further. I must see to my Prince’s will. We will begin again tonight at moonrise.”

Ailana hesitated, not wanting to deal with the complexity of the negotiations while she was still investigating, but she could see no reason to oppose the Minister’s decision. She would just have to cope. She nodded.

“Good,” he answered. “Then I will see the rest of you in the Chambers of the Pinnacle then.”

***

Ailana sat in her bedchambers, feeling the late afternoon desert light warm on her cheeks. She was in a chair before the small fireplace The lights of the room were otherwise dim. The last servant had left an hour before, after cleaning and scrubbing for most of the day. It amazed her how quickly the Tower was returning to ‘normal’. The resiliency of the Colonials was a marvel. And perhaps that wasn’t surprising; they lived in uncertain lands where much change occurred. Not like Ulthuan…

She glanced at the rose in her lap. The ithilmar shone brightly still. The blue diamonds set perfectly.

Perhaps change wasn’t so bad…. The colonials seemed immune to it. And at least the tower staff had been spared in the battle; having been hidden for the most part deep within the Tyr. Most of the deaths had occurred among the guards of the tower, and two more swords of the envoys. Besides Tytus….

That thought cut her, and she winced. She wondered what Tytus would’ve thought of the ithilmar rose. She wished she had asked his opinion before….

She sighed. And felt sorely, and truly alone.

There was a knock at her door. Now by habit, she reached for the sword beside her chair, before saying, “Enter.”

The Nagarathi came through the door. He was dressed and bathed now. And…looked hardly improved, she thought and chuckled. He was standing there looking awkward, dressed in black and brown leathers, faded and sand caked, with a long cloak that might once have been grey but was now so mottled with stains that it was hard to say what color it was. At least he wore boots now; though those too were cracked from heavy wear. He looked nothing like an envoy should. In fact the only finery she could detect about him was the bow upon his back; it was white, and seemed to glisten in the fading light. She could see elegant swans carved along its length.

“Perhaps,” Ailana said slowly, “You should borrow some things from Tytus’ wardrobe. Some robes maybe.”

“Why?” the Nagarathi frowned and looked confused. “What is wrong with what I am wearing?”

Ailana laughed. “Well you are an envoy now,” she said. “You should look the part!”

The Shadow Warrior frowned and looked down at his robes. He pulled at the corner of his weathered leather jerkin which creaked at the touch. “I’ve never been an envoy before,” he mumbled. He looked up at her and there was concern in his face. “I don’t know how,” he finished, almost pleadingly.

She smiled at him. “Don’t worry,” she reassured. “I will do all the talking. As the Sword, you just need to stand there and look intimidating.”

The Nagarathi’s frown deepened. “How do I do that?”

Ailana laughed again. “I don’t know…. Just. Just be yourself.”

Looking perplexed, the Nagarathi said, “How would I be anyone else?”

Ailana shook her head and stood. She glanced one last time at her own sword, but no, the rules of the Council were very clear: she left it next to her chair and made towards the door. “Come, we should start up. The Council begins early tonight.”

Narrin’Tim fell in step beside her as she made her way down the corridor. “What is being discussed?” he asked.

“The heart of the matter is Ithilmar,” Ailana answered. “A deposit, the largest seen in many a century, has been found here in the Arakis. The City of Spires is looking for a partner to help develop and trade the source in Ulthuan.”

The Shadow Warrior nodded. “So what is the problem?” he said after a moment.

Ailana thought on that for a few seconds before answering. “The problem is that everyone wants to be the partner. This much ithilmar…it would certainly enrich the House involved… But to work with Spires…. The colonials are asking a high price….” She finished, nonspecifically.

Narrin’Tim nodded and said nothing. After a minute, Ailana added. “I am not sure it is worth it.”

They were at the upper reaches of the Tyr now, upon the stairs carved into the tower exterior. The Arakis was once again laid out spectacularly about them, and the bulwark and courtyard were small below. The sun had set and the sky had returned to its speckled diamonds and deep indigos. Ailana paused to take in the view. The Nagarathi stopped beside her, and looked up at the heavens above, not saying anything.

“But that much ithilmar,” AIlana muttered and gripped her shoulders against the night cold. “I don’t see what choice we have in the matter….”

The Nagarathi reached up and unclasped his tattered cloak. He passed it over towards her.

“Do without,” he said, and shrugged. Ailana hesitated then accepted the cloak.

“Without the ithilmar?!” she said and scowled. “But…but that is madness! Ithilmar is everything to the Asur. Why it is used in swords and armor, ships and sorcery! In every part of our way of life!”

“In Nagarythe we have no ithilmar veins,” Narrin’Tim answered. “We use wood and leather, iron and stone, instead.”

“But yes,” Ailana answered perplexed. “But that is one thing. But Saphery. We need ithilmar! I mean…for everything! And…and how…. I mean how could we be Asur without it?!”

Narrin’Tim looked thoughtful and began to climb the steps once more. Ailana hesitated and then followed him. They had followed the curve of the stairs about the tower when he finally spoke:

“A friend once told me….”

He paused, and looked at the stairs before him before continuing,
”… that it is our hearts that make us Asur. Not what we hold in our hands,” the young Shadow Warrior said slowly. Turning to her he asked:

“Was he wrong?”

Ailana blinked at him. “No. But… but it is not that simple,” she said feeling flushed. She stared out at the desert night, turning from him, scowling, and strangely, feeling angry.

“Maybe it is that simple in Nagarythe,” she said, with resentment. “But Nagarythe is not Saphery. We need the metal…and the coin. Lest our rivals receive both!”

“I see.”

Her scowl deepened. She glared at him. “Do you? Do you understand the complexity of my position? The demands of the negotiations? And the needs of my House?”

“No,” the northerner said shaking his head. “I was never given much schooling. I’ve read only one book…given to me by a friend long ago,” he said and his face twisted into an expression of pain and longing. “I know little of what happens outside Nagarythe.” He thought a moment. “I’ve been to Saphery though…and it is lovely. I would like to see it again. Someday…if I live… And I would like it to be as I remember it…beautiful and…and elegant….”

She winced, and put her hand on his arm. “I am sorry, Narrin’Tim,” she said softly. “I didn’t mean it. I… it is hard to know what is best here.” She shook her head. “And Spires…wants so much… and yet so little! There is much in the offer…. And yet…yet I do not trust Spires….”

The Nagarathi nodded and started climbing the stairs once more.

“It is wise to not trust the Prince of Spires,” he said, his face cold and expressionless.


***


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 15, 2014 10:19 am 
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Headshot wrote:
It's 'Shadow Warrior', gentlemen. Shadow Warrior. 8)

I was considering a bunch of names, and that was the best I could do. Scum of the earth and Cheating basterd where the next 2 in line. So I thought this was the best one... ;)

As for talking to your Everqueen over diner. That's a shocking revelation. I hope you haven't become too mentally unstable by the experience. Or (perhaps just as bad) end up with a little shadow warrior of your own in 9 months time... ;) Who knows what talking can lead to.

As for the piece, the part where Tim is trying to figure out what an envoy does is just brilliant.

And as Spires' official spokesperson, let me just state that the ithilmar is of course worth every price you pay for it. Spires always takes care of his partners and the best deal is one where both sides profit (though of course, Spires should profit more... ;) ). As for trusting him, the Asur society is one where you can't trust your own neighbour or child in such matters. So he takes the statement as a compliment. Though I must say that Spires will honour whatever agreement is made. He is good for his word.

Rod

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For Nagarythe: Come to the dark side.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 17, 2014 9:06 pm 
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rdghuizing wrote:
And as Spires' official spokesperson…long drawn-out colonial apologia


Yes, yes.

I just want to know why Radiohead's 'Creep' starts to play whenever Spires enters the room.

:wink:

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