The power of one
Ahravan had grown impatient, the hordes of beasts had been drawn away for now and they knew that they would have to travel very fast in order to reach their goal. Everything was prepared and now they only waited for the moon to be in its right position. Wenja was nervous, she knew that this would be dangerous and she had no idea of what they really were to do. Everybody knew of the prophecy, only the one born twice can close the gate. Who was it about? They had to try even if they didn’t know and she had started to feel as if the caves were indeed a safe haven.
Ahravan had been moody, he was determined and yet reluctant to speak much of what he did feel. He had chosen two elven warriors to follow them and also two humans and they too did prepare. One was Khirhien who Wenja knew from her long journey and the other one was a rather stocky built male with very pale skin and hair the colour of autumn leaves. His name was Ayhrandur and he was among Ahravan’s best warriors. The two humans were brothers and they did very much alike with long dark hair in a thin braid and the sides of their heads shaved but covered in tattoos. Wenja learned that they were very brave and good riders and they did serve Ahravan since he had once saved their father’s life. Their names were Gochil and Darush and they were about thirty years of age and experienced warriors.
The last day before they were to leave was very sombre, Wenja had Sefa helping her preparing things to bring, she couldn’t take much and she knew the journey would be challenging no matter what. Sefa was in tears and begged Wenja to return in one piece and Wenja could make no such promises. She was scared and not afraid to admit it. That evening Ahravan and Rhawan did take her to the baths since it would be their last chance to bathe before they left and on the journey they did doubt that anybody of them would have the time to wash themselves. Ahravan had arranged for the baths to be empty and Wenja soon realized why. It wasn’t only bathing the two males had on their minds for also this they would have to put aside during the journey. Wenja hadn’t even had time to shed her heavy coat before Ahravan was kissing her desperately, holding her close as if he was afraid that she would disappear. Rhawan did embrace her from behind and she was almost feeling a bit squashed by the two powerful males. Ahravan did kiss her with a hunger she hadn’t experienced from him before and Rhawan was opening her clothes with nimble fingers, exposing her skin to their eyes. Wenja did gasp as Rhawan did nip at the sensitive skin of her neck and Ahravan started to lick his way down her throat and he pulled down her tunic and started to pay full attention to her breasts. She had realized that he found those parts of her specially enticing since elven women were flat chested and she had to gasp as he lifted her up. He held her close and continued to lick and suck and Rhawan did kned her bottom with long dexterous fingers.
He did arrange her with her legs around Ahravan’s waist and she had to cling to Ahravan’s shoulders as Rhawan did caress her with slow and determined hands.
Wenja felt as if she was on fire, the constant stimulation and the feeling of safety made her let loose and just forget about the world and Ahravan did hold her up. Rhawan did grasp her too and she had to let out a short yell of bliss as Rhawan did enter her from behind, she was so ready and wanted them both so much and didn’t last very long at all. She came with a scream, soaking Ahravan with her juices and Rhawan did groan and gave some hard thrusts before he too came. It made her tremble almost violently and she felt boneless and floating. Rhawan did grasp her and held her up against his own body and now Ahravan did take her, slowly and with a steady rhythm which had her mewling and gasping before much time had passed by. She had to trust that Rhawan was able to hold her up and he was obviously not tired for he held her steady so his Si’ish could pleasure her too.
Ahravan did place a hand under her ass and held her in place and she felt herself clench onto him, not worrying if anybody heard her shouts. The baths were deserted and they had the whole night if they wanted to. In the end all three of them ended up on the benches next to the pools, exhausted and cuddling up to eachother, lost in the moment. Wenja almost wished that the morning wouldn’t come but she knew what was at stake. She had to go, and so did the others, the monsters had to be stopped. She couldn’t imagine what would happen if the beasts did reach the inland, small isolated villages would have no chance at defending themselves and none of them were used to fighting. Finally they did return to the hut and went to bed and Wenja already knew that she would need some time before she could ride on her own, she was stiff and sore and was rather sure that she had been in some positions this day which weren’t believed to be humanly possible.
Resh’kha was very nervous, they couldn’t stay on the island very much longer, they had rested and recouperated and they were ready to go but she had no idea of how to shield them yet. She had Balgar’s amulet and the power he had given her but she was untrained and she had always seen herself as a warrior, not a shaman. The island didn’t provide them with food nor much shelter and it was cold there, and windy. If the wind shifted and brought rain they would freeze and the lake was initself a threat. So they had to leave, cross the shallow inlet and get going but the banks were packed with beasts which seemed to know that there were living beings out there, warm flesh to devour.
How was she to get them past this wall of twisted and evil creatures? She wasn’t Balgar, he would have managed to make them invisible relatively easy. The others did rely on her now and she had already made a startling discovery regarding herself. She was a coward at heart, she had always tried to take the path of least resistance and avoid standing up for anything and maybe that was why the shaman of her tribe had ordered her to leave. She had to find her own purpose and it was a hard truth to digest. But her philosophical ramblings had to wait, they had to get away from there somehow.
Floth’bha laid a hand on her shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. “Just relax sister, let the magic be your guide”
Resh’kha did sigh. “Easier said than done, I have no idea of how to use such power”
Kulkar did walk over and he did lower his voice a bit. “ Use the amulet, it could perhaps show you what to do?”
Resh’kha nodded and grasped the tiny thing with her hand, she felt the power within it and tried to concentrate. There had to be something she could do to help them all? The amulet felt cold in her hand, and then it became warmer and she got a strong and very odd sensation, like somebody was talking to her but out of her hearingrange. Resh’kha did whisper to the thing. “Show me what to do, please”
Suddenly there was a flash of light, the winds seemed to disappear and it got cold, terribly cold but at the same time a sort of glowing orb formed above them, giving off a horribly sharp bluish light. Resh’kha did lower her gaze to protect her eyes and the dwarves did moan, they eyes were very light sensitive since they were adapted to a life underground. But the effect on the beasts was horrific, they stumbled backwards, collided with each other, fell down, clawed at their eyes and tried to run away and it was rather obvious that the light was doing more than blinding them. Some did appear to be on fire and others simply collapsed.
Kulkar did grunt and mounted his pony. “Now is our chance, if that light does follow us it will keep them at bay”
Resh’kha was trembling, she had no idea of whether or not the light would do just that or if it would extinguish itself. Neither did she know if she would be strong enough for this but she had to try. They did ride out, crossed the shallow waters and the beasts didn’t seem to notice them at all, the bright bluish light did apparently shield them well. Kulkar was their guide now and he did lead them in a brisk gallop away from the beach and into the plains again. Here the landscape started to change a bit, the plains became less fertile and the ground was covered with what could only be described as a mixture of gravel and sand.
The hordes of beasts did follow, slowly and with determination and more seemed to come by the hour, drawn inn from near and far. The light kept them at a distance but the urge did drive them on, no matter what. Here there was little grass and Resh’kha did fear for their steeds, her bison could survive for a long time on little food but the horses couldn’t and if they lost them it would be hard to get anywhere fast enough to avoid the monsters.
They rode for most of the day and the light did linger but Resh’kha started to feel the effect of using this sort of power. If this was what Balgar had endured she felt that she had gained even more respect for the dwarf. She did hope that Kulkar knew where to lead them for this flat landscape was confusing to say the least. And where could they stop for the night? They had to stop eventually didn’t they?
Kulkar did turn his head and stared at Resh’kha. “We cannot stop, not yet. This area is too dangerous but the light will keep us safe if we slow down a bit. There is somewhere we can rest but it is still far off”
Resh’kha did grunt, she didn’t doubt that they all were tough enough for this but the ponies were getting tired and so were the horses. The darkness fell and the light did throw a spectacular show for everyone to see, they had to be like a beacon by now, visible from the entire plain. But it did keep the beasts away and Resh’kha was grateful that it didn’t fade. She was feeling light headed and strangely weak and it wasn’t a good feeling at all but she could cope with it. She ate some dried meat and had a quick sip from her flask, it did help her a bit. They rode on, she had no idea of what Kulkar was using for references but she did suspect that the stars were his guide. They were extremely clear and Resh’kha did admire them, in her mind they were the bonfires lit by the ancestors in the spirit world and this night they were especially clear. Kulkar did point forwards. “There is a cliff ahead, in the middle of a gorge, and a bridge leads onto it. If it haven’t fallen that is”
Resh’kha did shudder. “You don’t know?”
The dwarf did shrug. “None of my people have been in this region for at least twelve hundred years, the cliff could be gone too but we have to try, it is the only place we can defend for several hundred miles”
Resh’kha sighed and wondered where a cliff could be hidden out there, it was flat as an ironing board and so very boring with not even a bush in sight. But as the sun slowly started to make its presence noticed again Resh’kha became aware of something new, something out in the distance ahead of them. It was something moving and it was several dark spots. Could it be animals? She doubted it, the plains were evacuated or so it seemed, the wild animals did sense danger and fled them. Geir saw it too and the old mercenary did frown. “What do you think?”
Floth’bha did squint and her eyes were sharp, she did hiss. “At least twenty people, but something aint right. They ought to flee”
Resh’kha got a cold sensation down her back, she could see it too. The small crowd wasn’t moving the way people usually does, there was some sort of slow almost helpless motion there, as if they all were impeded somehow. She turned around, the beasts were behind them with several miles but would catch up fast enough if they were delayed and she didn’t like this at all. The crowd seemed to be set on intercepting them and as the light grew stronger she saw that there were both humans and orcs among them. Kulkar did pull at his own beard. “Curses, what are those? They ought to run!”
Resh’kha did bite her lower lip, in spite of the strange movements the group was fast and now she did see that many appeared to be hurt. There was clearly blood on some of them and others had visible injuries. She swallowed hard. “They aren’t people anymore, we did encounter such on the way to Ohtanar, they are sick, infected!”
Kulkar did frown. “So they are dangerous?”
Resh’kha did nod. “Yes, very. We cannot allow them to get too near. They are a thing of darkness Kulkar, servants of evil. The disease one brought forth by the masters of the monsters back when the gates were open”
The dwarf nodded. “Right, everybody, we need to ride hard now, and stay clear of those then.”
They kicked their steeds into gallop again and Resh’kha didn’t take her eyes of the small crowd even once, they were suddenly moving with a horrible determination and if she hadn’t already realized that these were people no more she would now. Even the wounded did run like an antelope and didn’t appear to feel fatigue nor pain at all. Resh’kha yelled to the men. “If you can hit them with arrows do so, but don’t expect them to be stopped by it”
Geir had already stringed his short rider’s bow and started to shoot. He did hit one of the humans straight in the chest but the person didn’t even make a sound. The greyish face with strangely dark empty eyes didn’t even wince and Resh’kha did feel very frightened now. The crowd was made up from twenty two humans, all adults and clothed like normal nomads and three male orcs who appeared to be very young. Probably hunters out to test their skills and prove themselves to their tribe.
The crowd did stink, a sort of sour scent of decay and something unnatural and Resh’kha did sneeze, it was overwhelming and even now, as their steeds did run as fast as they could the infected people did keep up with them. It wasn’t natural and REsh’kha remembered what she had heard about this from her own mother. It was indeed something born out of darkness and she didn’t doubt even for a second that these humans were slaves to the same will which did drive the monsters. Geir did fire again, the arrow hit one of the three orcs straight between the eyes and the male went down, not moving again. “Shoot them in the head!”
Geir did yell at the others and Floth’bha did release an arrow which flew straight through the skull of one of the humans, as if the very bone itself had somehow gone soft. They shot as fast as they could now and did manage to bring down many of the infected people, the dwarves didn’t use bows but Daran did have a crossbow and he did fire bolts with alarming precision and power. The monsters did keep their distance for the bright light did hover above them still, it just didn’t ward off this new enemy at all.
Suddenly the horse Osbord rode did fall, suddenly and with a sickening yell, the animal did roll and Osbord did get back onto his feet with surprising agility. Resh’kha did turn her buffalo around and hauled him up behind her, the horses weren’t strong enough now to carry two people. The fallen horse had clearly broken a foot and the infected seemed to tear into it the moment they reached the animal. Geir did swear and sent off an arrow to end its sufferings. Kulkar stared at Resh’kha. “Do something lass, and do it now! They are catching up with us, the ponies cannot keep this pace forever”
Resh’kha didn’t know what to do, she felt scared and confused and she was full of disgust and also rather weakened by the use of power. The feeling of doom became too much, she just reacted out of sheer instinct, screaming something in her own tongue and the pursuers did suddenly sink into the ground, as if they had stepped into quicksand. They did sink until their hips were on ground level, then the sand seemed to solidity again and they couldn’t get anywhere. Resh’kha felt faint and had to cling to the rough pelt of her steed, she needed a rest soon or else she would make a fool out of herself.
They continued to ride hard, and suddenly the seemingly flat plains did reveal a secret, and it was a huge one. A canyon with sides which were like a sword cut into the landscape, vertical andn smooth and Resh’kha did yelp when she saw how deep it was. You could barely see the bottom and it was straight as a board and maybe a mile across. You wouldn’t see it until you got really close and Kulkar did look intense. “Now, let us see if we can find that cliff”
Resh’kha frowned. “What use do we have of it if we get trapped on it? Is there a bridge on the other side too?”
Kulkar shook his head. “No, but there is something better. According to our tales the cliff is hollow and from the bottom a tunnel will lead us back onto the plains on the other side of the gorge”
Resh’kha did groan, a tunnel. Why in the name of every deity were the dwarves so obsessed with going underground? She sure as heck wasn’t! Orcs have never been fond of such and avoid even natural caves since they do believe that evil spirits may reside within such places and Resh’kha had often enough seen how terrified underground dwellings made her people. They were the opposite of dwarves in that matter.
They rode along the canyon and Kulkar did explain that it did end abruptly about fifty miles longer north, but if they were to go that way they would encounter a terrain so horrible nobody would dare to enter it. For some reason the bedrock was scoured clean and somehow melted, turned into thousands upon thousands of sharp spikes about a hand in length and both razor sharps and strong. They called it the porcupine’s spine and nobody knew how it had come into being in the first place.
After an hour of quick riding they did find the cliff, it was like a vertical needle placed in the middle of the gorge, tall and thin and strangely ominous looking and Resh’kha didn’t like it at all. It was rather large, almost blocking the gorge but just as tall as it and she wondered how it had come into being in the first place. It had to have been something spectacular indeed. Kulkar did mumble to himself as they rode closer, the bridge was there, made from stone and from a distance it did look fragile and spindly and very unstable. There was a faint remain of a path leading towards it, and Resh’kha did realize that nobody had used the path for at least several centuries, how in hecks name was she supposed to do this? It was several hundred feet to the bottom of the gorge, probably close to a thousand feet or more and she was afraid of heights. Kulkar did dismount and walked forth, stopped where the bridge reached the edge of the gorge. “Not good, the edge here is fragile, the rock eroded and the bridge itself is…doubtful”
Resh’kha did see that, cracks everywhere, some pieces of the rock had fallen off, it did look as if it was ready to crumble at any minute and Kulkar did spit. “Borosh dwarves made this, and they were never known for building very solid things, pretty yes, but never built for eternity”
The bridge was pretty, even an orc could appreciate the esthetics displayed there. The elegant arches, the thin and yet strong support beams, the many intricate details made to look as if the bridge was natural, a sort of rock spiderweb spun across the open space. But now the impression was of danger and Resh’kha did stare at the two dwarves. “There is no other way?”
Kulkar did shrug and pulled at his bears again, Resh’kha had long understood that this was a symptom of stress to him. “No, not if we doesn’t want to spend an extra two weeks before we reach that forest?”
Resh’kha sighed, it sounded like a snort. “Right, so what do we do then?”
Kulkar petted his pony. “We do cross over one by one, lightest first, heaviest at last”
Resh’kha did groan, that meant her and her buffalo. Dharan did go first, he did lead his pony across towards a sort of opening on the other side and he kept a very frisk pace to avoid putting to much stress on the bridge. Then kulkar did cross running and Geir and Than ran too. Osbord did sprint over and Resh’kha did see that sand and gravel did fall off the bridge, it was trembling ever so little. Floth’bha did lead her horse across and Resh’kha couldn’t help but thinking that if something went wrong they would be stuck there. She managed to persuade her buffalo to follow her across the bridge which by now was croaking and groaning and she heard rocks come loose, falling towards the abyss below. She was feeling cold sweat flowing down her back and she almost screamed with relief the moment her feet were on solid ground again. Her buffalo did snort and the bridge did creak like some dry and dying thing before it simply fell off the ledge on the oppsite side and disintegrated right before their eyes. A cloud of dust and debris flew out of the canyon and Kulkar did growl. “Amazing, no way back now, let’s go and see what we can find in here”
The opening was rather large and very well made, inside they entered a huge chamber with a sort of well in the middle of it. The dwarves did sprint over and checked it but it was dry. The chamber was round and from it another opening could be seen, it did lead into a sort of spiralling stair with very broad steps, it had clearly been made so that animals could walk there without having any problems. In a sort of container by the start of the stair there were torches stored and Kulkar did light up one with his flint and steel. “Let’s go, according to what I know there ought to be a sort of restroom lower down”
Resh’kha hoped that he was right, her body felt as if it weighed several tonnes and her head hurt. At least the monsters couldn’t follow them now, they would have to wander around the canyon. The stair was not very steep at all, you could walk normally and it was easy for the horses too, the animals were exhausted and hungry and Geir did look worried. “We still have many days left of travel aye? I don’t think our steeds will last that long unless there are oats and hay stored in here somewhere”
The cliff did have some openings here and there, tiny windows which let in fresh air and light but as they got further down the light did disappear and the air became raw and a bit moldy. But they did find the room Kulkar had spoken off, a huge chamber with some primitive bunks and huge troths filled with a sort of mix of grains and some hay. The hay was dry and old but still edible and so were the grains, oddly enough. Resh’kha had expected it all to have gone bad due to moisture and rodents but it was rather fresh. Kulkar did look proud. “Protective spells sister orc, very strong protective spells. The makers of this were experts at just that, conserving stuff for a long time. Too bad they weren’t as good at actually building.”
The room had been in use, there was no doubt about that. A few pieces of clothing were left hanging on the bunks and a pair of boots stood underneath one of them. Also, there were scribblings on the wall, in the dwarven alphabet. Resh’kha did find it fascinating and Daran did grin and offered to translate. “There were guards placed here at all times and I bet they got bored.”
Resh’kha had to grin. “I can understand that, what does it say?”
Dharan did giggle. “This one here says; Togush loves to ride Bharan. And this one ; Gagesh is the worst arsehole known to dwarvenkind, may his beard catch fire”
Resh’kha laughed. “Must have been an officer perhaps?”
Daran nodded. “Aye, the name is from the upper class so I bet he was a bit of a bad one”
They did feed the horses and luckily there was water there, in a small well behind the bunks. It wasn’t much but enough and everybody sat down to eat and rest. Resh’kha did lay down, her head was spinning and she felt a bit nauseous. Kulkar did sit down next to her. “Rest sister orc, you need it. The powers work through you now, you need to learn how to distribute your strength”
Resh’kha nodded and closed her eyes. Floth’bha did take her hand. “I will sit here, just sleep if you need to”
Resh’kha sighed and allowed herself to drift off, it felt heavenly.
When she did awaken she realized that she had slept for quite a while, the others slept too and just Floth’bha was awake. It was probably nightime for outside of the tiny window on the wall there was just darkness. Resh’kha did sit up, her headache had dissipated and she felt a lot better. Floth’bha did hand over a bowl with stew. “Here, I made it from dried meat and vegetables, we need something good now”
Resh’kha did eat all of it, it was rather good and very filling and she felt her strength return to her with each mouthful. Floth’bha was whispering not to awaken the others. “We will wait here until the sun rises, we all need the rest and Kulkar is not sure of the state of the tunnels we are to enter. He wants to do it in the daytime”
Resh’kha did frown. “What is the difference? It is dark in there no matter what?”
Floth’bha did shrug. “Yes, but there can be dark powers within such places, Kulkar is afraid of trolls, and other beasts”
Resh’kha did swallow. “Other beasts?”
Floth’bha did just shrug. “Don’t ask me!”
Resh’kha did sit there awake for some hours so Floth’bha could rest and when the sun did start to rise they prepared to move on. The horses were well rested but now they were lacking one and they did place their supplies on the riding horses so Osbord could take the pack animal. He wasn’t too glad for it didn’t have a saddle but it was at least rideable. The stair did continue downwards and now they were below the bottom of the gorge, it felt claustrophobic having that much rock over her head but Resh’kha did push on. The stair ended in a sort of wide chamber which was rectangular in shape and not very embellished and a tunnel did lead out of it. Kulkar was grinning. “I told you so, we can get back onto the plains from here”
Geir made a grimace and Resh’kha did understand him very well.
They started to walk and the tunnel did tilt upwards and it was rather steep at times, then it would become almost flat again and Kulkar did explain that it was because of the different layers of rock. Some were harder to get through than others. They had walked for what felt like an eternity when Kulkar stopped and raised his torch a bit. In front of them in the dust was something grey and white and Resh’kha did gasp when she realized that it was the outer shell of a sort of insect. The size of a large pony. It had been dead for a very long time and was so brittle that a mere touch made it fall apart but she didn’t want to meet the living version for sure.
They had reached a little higher when they heard something which weren’t natural for a tunnel at all, it was a sort of wailing sound and Kulkar did grasp his axe and looked a bit nervous. Resh’kha did walk up to him. “What is it?”
Kulkar frowned and made a grimace. “Troll, that can only be a troll”
Resh’kha did sigh. Brilliant, just what they needed, more danger to slow them down.
The weather had turned against them rather soon, they had barely come more than a few miles away from the city when heavy sleet and strong winds caused problems. Wenja had bid Sefa farewell and gotten several hugs from the others as well and she felt like weeping but knew that she couldn’t. She had to stay strong. Around the city the animals were still gathered and it didn’t seem as if they would leave, even when she was. Frostfoot did gallop over but didn’t do anything except greet them with a loud whinny, then he did run back to lead the other predators and Wenja was almost glad that he would stay and help protect the city.
Their group had left before dawn and with them they brought two pack horses, they had to travel light and Wenja was sitting up with the others. She wasn’t trained enough for this sort of trip yet and she just hoped that she wouldn’t slow them down.
The terrain was easy to begin with and luckily there weren’t that many beasts there now, all had been drawn away by the brave dwarves and their friends and it was a relief but Ahravan didn’t trust that there weren’t any around. All of them wore good clothing now, warm and solid and Wenja had been persuaded into a set of warm pants underneath her riding skirts. She also wore thick tunics, a warm jacket and a cloak so she shouldn’t feel cold but she didn’t really like it. They were all armed and she felt relatively safe but she didn’t look forward to this journey at all. Flint did run next to them and Ahravan had given the great stallion a sort of armour, a thick leather blanket covered with small metal rings. It would protect the torso and the horse had been trained to wear it so it didn’t impede him in any way. Wenja did try to enjoy the landscape but it was hard, she had too many thoughts in her head so she just leaned back against Rhawan and dozed off. Ahravan did ride the huge unicorn and it didn’t allow others to mount it so Ahravan had brought a couple of extra horses for the journey, strong geldings and mares which could run for days. Wenja was impressed by the huge animal and knew that it would fight just like Flint if something happened. She did fall asleep after just a little, and she didn’t even dream.
Back in the city the people were going on with their everyday lives, they were gathering to talk and gossip and share information and the dwarves had quickly gotten organized into groups. The dwarves were often members of different guilds and right now some of the females were gathering outside of the old temple. They were given the task of remembering important dates and making sure that celebrations and such weren’t forgotten and they wanted to prepare the temple for a festival which hadn’t been held for the last centuries but were due soon. They entered the temple but stopped right away, staring with huge eyes. The statue of the giant cat was gone, as if it never had been there and they looked at each other with huge eyes. What in the name of every deity was going on? A giant statue doesn’t just get up and walk away on its own and there was no way anybody would have been able to get it through the doors. One of the females did wander over to the pedestal where it had stood and stared at it, the dust was gone and the stone smooth and flawless, without even a scratch. But she did see something and did lean inn and took the small pieces of something and lifted it. It was hair, black silky hair from some sort of fur and they all let out a gasp. Whatever had happened in there, they were sure the gods had reached out and done the impossible.
Out on the plains Ahravan and the others kept riding through the night, they only made very short stops to let the horses drink and Ahravan was trying to determine the right direction to take. The mountain range was wild and very tall and they knew little about it. The clan of the snowbear had come from further west and they never ventured that far into the wilderness and thus Ahravan had to trust his instincts on this one. He felt insecure but didn’t allow it to show and he just hoped that they would avoid any sort of problems. As they made stops to eat he did use the stars to navigate and one of the older elves there had said that the cliff was said to be in a spot where the great red star was straight north and the constellation of the spider would be due east. That meant that it was rather far north and Ahravan wondered how long it would take them to get there.
They had ridden for two days when Khirhien did turn his horse around and charged backwards, riding very hard. Wenja was shocked but Rhawan did just shrug. “We have been followed for most of the day”
Wenja frowned. “What?!”
The rider did disappear behind a low hill and when he did reemerge he did tow another rider behind him, holding the reins. Wenja didn’t see who it was, the figure was covered with furs and rode a large long coated horse. Ahravan did ride over to greet their pursuer and he did stare at her with narrow eyes. “So, you wasn’t happy staying behind?”
Wenja did see who it was now, it was Yalaih and she gaped and blinked. “Yalaih? What…”
The young elven maiden made a grimace. “Listen, I have lost everything, all of my family. I want to be a part of this, I want to help. The monsters killed my parents, it is my right to seek revenge”
Ahravan sighed. “Good, right, so it is, but you do obey orders from now on, is that clear?”
Yalaih did nod and Wenja saw the determined expression on her face and knew that Ahravan couldn’t make her turn back. Wenja felt a small spark of relief, she wouldn’t be the only female on this expedition after all.
The young elf did ride at the back of the group now, and she had brought lots of equipment which was tied to her horse, she did of course know how to survive within the mountains and thus she could in fact be useful to them. Ahravan had brought the great war hammer he had gotten from Yalaih’s father and Wenja knew that he intended on using it if he had to. They hadn’t seen any monsters since they left and it was a good thing but they had come across evidence of them having been there. Huge packs of slaughtered animals, torn to shreds. In one place they found the remains of a group of travellers, their bones scattered around like some broken jigsaw puzzle. It made bile rise in Wenja’s mouth and she had to look away. Ahravan didn’t say anything and Rhawan tried to act as if he didn’t feel anything at all, he failed for Wenja knew him now and knew how affected he was.
But they did finally find a place to rest and it was a cave not far from a river. They had reached the outskirts of the mountains by now, rolling hills with some steeper smaller cliffs and Wenja saw the silhouette of the mountains and felt terribly small and terribly insignificant. This part of the mountain range was dominated by very steep mountains with narrow valleys in between and also some very fast flowing rivers. In the summer the rivers were very dangerous since they could suddenly swell due to rain elsewhere and nobody wanted to get caught by a flash flood. The cave they had found wasn’t very large and it was more of an overhang than a cave but it did provide them with shelter. Wenja was feeling a bit tired, she wasn’t used to sitting on a horse for that long and her legs felt like jello each time she had to dismount. Ahravan did keep watch as Rhawan did cook and the others did prepare the camp for the night. Yalaih had brought her own sleeping pelts and laid them out, she too appeared to be very sleepy and Wenja did smile at her. “Why did you follow us?”
Yalaih did sigh. “I had to, I have lost everything and I want to make myself useful, and maybe avenge my family.”
Wenja frowned. “Only that?”
Yalaih did look down. “Yes, well, I had a dream…It was strange but…I saw them all again, my brothers and my mother and father and…”
Yalaih did bite her lower lip. “We see such dreams as bad omens, to see those who has died in dreams mean that they are calling for you to join them. “
Wenja gasped. “Yalaih, you shouldn’t have come then, this journey is dangerous!”
The she elf just shook her head. “I have no choice Wenja, if death calls for me I cannot escape, no matter where I am. Better do something important and maybe make a difference”
Wenja couldn’t argue with that, she just sent Yalaih a faint grin and nodded at Rhawan who came with some food. The porridge he had cooked wasn’t too bad but it wasn’t exactly gourmet couisine either, bland was what described it best. All ate though and with some appetite too. Wenja did crawl into her sleeping furs and Ahravan did join her, he wasn’t to stay awake and guard them until later and so he did curl up next to her and fell asleep fast. She felt comforted by his warmth and huge frame so close to her and Wenja did sleep too. She didn’t even notice when Ahravan did get up and Rhawan did take his place after some hours.
The next morning they broke camp and rode on as soon as the sun got up. Wenja was sitting up with Ahravan who rode one of the spare horses now to let the unicorn run free. The animal could sense danger and he did trust the old battle scarred stallion to warn them if anything did approach them. But after just a short while they found something odd, and it was worrisome. A dead goblin which was laying over some bare rocks, obviously crushed by some unknown force and also torn apart. The goblin was rather large, the size of a human and it wore what could only be war paint. The body covered with odd patterns in a dark green tone and it had carried a sort of primitive weapon too. An axe made from stone with a wooden handle, the stone head had been attached to the wood with sinews and glue and it laid next to the body. Khirhien did pick up the axe and stared at it with narrow eyes. “This is poor work, but goblins here?”
Ahravan did frown. “Not normal, they usually stay within their cities and hate daylight.”
Wenja hissed at the sight, the goblin was greyish green in colour with thin dark hair and a face only a mother could love. The features were oddly sharp and bony and the eyes were small and beady. It did remind her a bit of a giant rat if she was to be absolutely honest with herself. Gochil did check the body. “He was attacked by something, something huge. These are claw marks, it could be a S’haga but the size of the marks? If it is then it is a giant one”
Ayhrandur had lifted his bow and the elf did look intense. “There could be such cats here, do you think it can cause us problems?”
He looked at Ahravan who shook his head. “No, we are many and armed, these predators are smart, they go for easy prey and a single goblin isn’t even a challenge. Odd thing it didn’t eat him though, but maybe he was too smelly even for a S’haga”
Rhawan did chuckle. “Yes, the carcass does stink, I do wonder what he was doing here though, alone in the valleys”
Ahravan made his horse move again. “Most likely gotten lost and ended up wandering around.”
Rhawan did toss one last glance at the dead body, he didn’t like the idea of goblins, none of them did. Wenja did ride with him now and she turned her head. “I have never seen a goblin before, I didn’t think they were that large?”
Rhawan did smile. “They are different than gnomes when it comes to size but otherwise they are very similar. Filthy creatures with little intelligence and they are always malicious. They will eat anything they come across and are like magpies when it comes to shiny objects, they will nick everything which isn’t bolted down”
Wenja had to grin, she knew how fond those birds were of shiny things. “But are all as large as that one back there?”
Rhawan shrugged. “No, most are smaller, but not as short as a dwarf, often very lanky looking and sickly too. They stay within their cities all the time and doesn’t venture outside unless they have to, direct sunlight does hurt them.”
Wenja had to make a grimace. “But what do they eat then?”
Rhawan copied her grimace. “Everything they can get their hands on? There are fish in some of the underground rivers, there are insects too in the cave systems and mushrooms and fungi of different sorts, and then of course other weaker goblins. They will cannibalise those who are too weak. I guess they are heading steadily for their own destruction, inbreeding and lack of sunshine usually takes its toll”
Wenja hissed. “I can understand that, it did look very sickly”
Rhawan did steer his horse after Khirhien’s, he did try to make their tracks as hard to spot as possible. “Yes, they aren’t very strong but if they come in numbers they are very tenacious. One or two on the other hand will always flee, they will not attack unless they are sure that they are going to win!”
Ahravan did interrupt them. “We will need to get off the horses soon, if I am not wrong we have a steep hill ahead”
Rhawan did shut up and Wenja did see that Yalaih did stare at the landscape ahead, she looked as if she did find the landscape rather intriguing. She was after all used to this sort of nature and she seemed to be at ease much more than the others. They did indeed enter a steep area and it was rather icy and difficult terrain so they dismounted just to be on the safe side. Wenja was allowed to ride though, she did cling to the saddle and missed having Rhawan behind her for he did keep her very warm and safe. The valley did turn eastwards and became even more ragged and Ahravan was a bit worried. Finding the right area was in itself going to be a challenge and getting lost in there wasn’t very smart. The wind was howling between the cliffs and brought the temperature down, everybody did cover themselves up rather well.
For the next days they did follow this valley and then another which was leading them north and they did see tracks as if from an army, heading south. It had to be all beasts and they had left remains of prey and muck here and there and Ahravan spat and was glad they had gone. It would have been very hard to do this if the area had been teeming with such monsters, at least in the numbers they had experienced lately.
But the mountains weren’t completely deserted after all, one evening they suddenly met a sort of odd six limbed beasts with large square shaped heads and nasty looking teeth and luckily they got too stunned to react before Khirhien and Ayhrandur with the help of Ahravan and his steed killed them all. It was just five in the pack and they were slow and very heavy built and Ahravan guessed that they simply had been left behind since they couldn’t keep up with the others. Whoever created these beasts weren’t always very smart when it came to design.
But the discovery of monsters lead to them moving differently, now one would ride ahead and keep an eye open and often that task did fell on Yalaih since she was used to such landscapes and very good at detecting movement from a great distance. She did prevent them from being seen several times as they met other packs and worryingly enough the numbers seemed to increase again, as if this was some sort of second wave ready to be unleashed upon the plains.
Yalaih did also hunt and brought fresh meat almost every day and often it was hares or some sort of rather large plump ptarmigan like bird which did taste a bit bitter but not bad. She seemed to flourish and would smile and crack jokes and it seemed as if the fact that she did have a task to do now was what she did need.
Wenja was taken very well care off, Rhawan and Ahravan would make sure she never got too cold and they would also make sure that she got the food she needed and she was very grateful, to her the journey didn’t mean much hardship at all. By now they were far into the mountains and Ahravan did guess that they were approaching the right area, the mountains were less steep now and the valleys did seem to tilt northwards. But they couldn’t be too sure, they could only pray that luck was on their side.
Then they met the first real obstacle, the narrow valley was blocked by a waterfall and behind it a frozen lake and they had to use axes to create a path they could use up the frozen water. It did take them two days to get up there and the horses were terrified and shaky. Wenja wasn’t allowed to ride this time and she didn’t want to either, the waterfall wasn’t that high but a fall would kill you nonetheless and she did climb up feeling the cold from the ice like something almost touchable. The landscape on the other side of the waterfall was even more ragged than the one they had previously passed through, the valleys canyons and filled with obstacles of all sorts. The river was frozen so they would often have to use it and they did move forth slowly but steadily. The snow was rather deep in places and they saw tracks of packs of what could only be packs of monsters, it seemed as if they had moved through these valleys just days earlier and it was impossible to determine the numbers.
But monsters weren’t the only inhabitants of these high passes and early one day they did encounter a small herd of rather large wild sheep, all with impressive horns and Ahravan was a bit shocked by the sight. The animals shouldn’t have been this high above the tree line at this time of the year and many of them were visibly weak and starved. Something had most definitely disturbed them and forced them away from the normal grazing areas. The rams were gathering in a wedge formation to protect the ewes if these strangers were predators but Ahravan did manage to calm the animals down. The lead ewe was an old and experienced one and Ahravan got an image of something very dangerous prowling the hills and lower valleys. He did look a bit nervous as he did mount the unicorn once more. “Whatever awaits us at that cliff, it has awakened more than just monsters.”
Rhawan did frown. “What do you mean?”
Ahravan sighed. “They have seen fell trolls, I thought they were extinct ages ago!”
Wenja did understand that fell trolls were bad, whatever they were. “Are there any here?”
Her voice was low and Ahravan did shrug. “I have no idea, could be. But they prefer darkness or dusk, they aren’t as sensitive to light as other trolls but they don’t appreciate direct sunlight at all. I am glad we are many, and have been warned”
Rhawan did nod. “So no nights without guards being set up, and damn it, we ought to burn some wood but we can’t, it will attract everything within the area”
Wenja did look confused and Rhawan did smile. “They fear fire”
Ahravan did ride on and Wenja saw the tension within him, the tell tale signs of him being nervous. He didn’t show it openly but she could read his body language now and he was scared. The group did spread out and when they made camp that night Ahravan did decide that two and two would stand guard. Wenja didn’t have to do that and she felt a bit spoiled as she went to bed that night. She had slept for some hours when she suddenly woke up, a sound had jerked her out of her sleep and she sat up. It was a sort of roar, hoarse and strangely guttural. Rhawan was by her side, he was silent and like a shadow in the dark. He whispered. “It is a fell troll”
Wenja felt ice cold. “Is it dangerous to us?”
Rhawan nodded. “Yes, they are way more aggressive than normal trolls, and hard to kill. And very bloodthirsty”
Wenja did shiver, Rhawan helped her get up and she put her cloak on, feeling chilled to the bone. “If it does attack stay behind us, do not leave the camp!”
There was a second roar, it did sound almost triumphant and was followed by several odd burping sounds. Rhawan cussed. “It has smelled us, curses!”
Ahravan was holding the war hammer he had gotten from Yalaih’s father and the others had armed themselves too. Rhawan held his bow and had some arrows ready, with very long pointy heads. The roar came once more, and it was close, they heard something massive moving and Ahravan did gesture to the others there, making sure they were ready. “Aim for its eyes, it is the only vulnerable point of the head”
Wenja felt her heart beating wildly and she heard that the horses were moving, nervous and ready to flee. Then there was another roar heard, and a sort of heavy dull sound of something hard hitting flesh and a wail of agony which didn’t come from any human throat. There was growling and roars and the sounds of heavy blows and in the end a sort of gargling hiss which did die down. Then there was silence, absolute silence.
Ahravan did hold his breath, they stared at each other. Something had attacked the troll as it was about to attack them and what in the name of every God had it been? Ahravan did nod at Rhawan. “Forth!”
It was an order and Rhawan did disappear into the darkness, he was extremely hard to see due to his colouring and Wenja held her breath. He was gone for several minutes, then they heard a sort of soft whistle and Ahravan did grasp Wenja by the shoulder and allowed her to follow them, surrounded by him and Khirhien. They stopped just hundred meter from the camp, the remains of the troll were spread out over the rocks and Wenja felt nauseous. The stench was awful and Rhawan stood there and tried to avoid retching. Wenja saw pieces of what could only be thick matted fur, it did look black but probably wasn’t and she did almost step on a severed hand. It was almost human but extremely elongated with strange hard callouses everywhere. She didn’t see as well in the dark as the elves so she had to have things explained to her. Rhawan coughed. “Whatever killed it, it did a heck of a job of it. This place is covered with blood”
Ahravan was impressed. “What in the name of the Goddess can kill such a troll?”
Khirien shrugged and the others did also look perplexed. “It must have been massive”
Wenja got a strange sensation of being watched, she did turn her head around, slowly. There as only darkness but for a fleeting glimpse she could have sworn that she did see a couple of glowing golden eyes up ahead, very large and very fierce looking.
She swallowed hard. “I didn’t know that trolls had fur?”
Ahravan did caress her cheek with a finger, as if to calm her down. “Fell trolls do have thick fur, they are filthy creatures and I have never seen one before.”
Wenja cringed, the smell was still very pungent and they did turn around and returned to the camp. “I think something is watching over us, let us hope it does continue”
Rhawan did only throw a swift glance at her but he did nod and Ahravan did sit down. “We rest until sunrise, we have to keep moving, guardian or no guardian!”
Resh’kha was holding her breath, she had never actually seen trolls and had no idea of what to anticipate and the dwarves did look nervous enough to be ready to flee. The wailing sound was heard again and Kulkar tilted his head. “We have to keep moving, heads up and don’t let anything take you by surprise.”
The tunnel did turn slightly and Floth’bha had stringed her bow and had an arrow knocked, she nodded at Resh’kha who did step forwards, very slowly and silently. The young orc held her axe firmly and peeked forth, the tunnel wasn’t completely dark since they carried torches and there were some sort of moss growing in spots which did give off a faint green light. The tunnel was blocked, not by rocks but by bodies. The source of the wailing was the only troll moving, a smaller less stocky creature sitting on the ground. Resh’kha realized that it had to be a female and it was naked and covered with a thich crust of dust and dried mud. It made the body look as if it had been made from mud altogether. The troll was rocking back and forth, holding something within its grasp and Kulkar whispered. “Beware, even females are horribly strong”
Floth’bha did nod and her eyes were narrow. “It is an infant”
Resh’kha did realize that too, the female did hold a deceased infant in her arms and she felt her heart drop. The grief was obviously very strong and and very real and it was probably the female’s own baby. Dharan did swallow, his beard did move a bit and revealed the movement. “The others are dead, look at them”
Resh’kha did move forth a bit and the troll raised her head and saw them, or rather, noticed them. The eyes were very small and black and it seemed as if the troll used its nose more than its eyes. She made a wail again and bowed forth, hiding the tiny body from sight.
Kulkar did move forth a bit, his hands visible and he did stare at the floor the whole time. It was the way you approach a nervous animal. He did almost sneeze. “They have been dead for a couple of days, the bodies are…bloated”
Resh’kha did follow him, the bodies lay in a pile and appeared to have collapsed on top of each other. They were indeed bloated and grotesque with tongues sticking out of the mouths and bulging eyes and the bellies were distended and sickly green. Resh’kha had never seen anything that disgusting. The female let out another wail and shook herself from one side to the other, her pain obvious. She didn’t move at all as Kulkar did move past her and got close to the dead trolls, he did poke at a couple of them and made a grimace. “They didn’t die from any sort of injury, this must be disease”
Resh’kha remembered what Floth’bha had told her of the journey through the dwarven roads and the half orc was wide eyed and seemed to remember too. “It is the same disease?!”
She did tell Kulkar of the incident and the old dwarf did nod. “Probably, but how?”
The female troll did sob and laid the infant down on the ground in front of her legs, Resh’kha did see that the body was very stocky and yet humanoid in general shape, just very short limbed. She placed her arms around herself and wailed and Kulkar did something odd, he did scratch something into the dust of the floor, a sort of symbol and the female did tilt her head and made a clicking sound. Then she did draw a symbol of her own in the dust. Kulkar answered and Resh’kha realized that the dwarf in fact was communicating with the troll. After a while he did turn around with a faint smile. “She will not leave this place, but she won’t hinder us in any way.”
Geir and the two other men did cringe. “Won’t she die then?”
Kulkar nodded. “Yes, but it is her will. She has lost everything. Trolls are primitive but their clan is everything to them, she will succumb to her grief soon enough.”
Floth’bha did wet her lips. “How did they become ill?”
Kulkar did sigh. “They found a sort of jewel, it was hollow and they broke it apart and then they all became sick. She is the only one who haven’t died yet, why she doesn’t know”
Resh’kha did stare at the grieving female, the troll couldn’t be that old and her body was strong but Resh’kha felt something strange there. She did touch her amulet and suddenly she saw light swirling around the trolls, as if they were surrounded by a sort of living sentient mist. The light was spinning around the female as if it was frustrated and then it raced around again. Resh’kha did realize what it was, a sort of spirit. Had it made the trolls ill? Was it malicious then? The light did stop, it did hover like glowing mist above the grieving female and Resh’kha got a strong sensation of sorrow, regret. The thing was sentient whatever it was and it didn’t mean to harm anyone. It just needed its home back and Resh’kha did whisper to Kulkar. “The heartstone, bring it forth”
Kulkar did look at her with disbelief but opened his bag and held the gem up. The light did suddenly start to pulse and Resh’kha felt a strong sense of relief and gratitude coming from it, then it sort of disappeared into the gem and was gone. There was an audible poof and everybody stared at her. She swallowed. “It was a spirit, a sort of elemental I think. It had lived in the ground and the trolls did disturbed it. It didn’t mean to harm anyone but for some reason trolls get sick when in contact with such a spirit.”
Kulkar stared at the heart stone. “And now it is within the heartstone? Is it wise?”
Resh’kha did nod. “Yes, it wanted a new home, I can feel that it wishes to help us”
The dwarf frowned but didn’t say anything more, he did trust her new abilities. Dharan was more practical. “We do still have a pile of corpses to pass by?”
Floth’bha did scoff. “We have room, let’s go, this place gives me the creeps”
The troll female didn’t move from her spot but she did suddenly reach out towards Resh’kha, she held something in her hand and Resh’kha did take it hesitantly. It was a very small and very primitive looking bone flute, with just three holes and it did look as if a child had carved it. The troll did make a whining sound and Resh’kha did put the tiny flute into her pocket. “I will take care of it”
The female made a gesture as if she was playing and leaned forth again, drawing something in the dirt. Resh’kha blinked, it was hard to tell but it did look a bit like a sort of snake? With legs? Kulkar did frown. “Centipedes, damn it, I was afraid of something like that”
Resh’kha did grunt. “Centipedes aren’t that dangerous?”
Kulkar let out a humourless laughter. “Ah, the type you think of aren’t no, smaller than a hand and hiding underneath rocks. But imagine them longer than a grown man and with pincers strong enough to cut through steel”
Resh’kha did gasp and Geir cringed. “Okay, we have been warned, let’s go”
They did manage to get their steeds by the dead and the tunnel was relatively straight now, but rather narrow. Floth’bha did pet Resh’kha on her back. “You are coming into your own friend, your powers are waxing”
Resh’kha did blush slightly. “I just…it feels more natural now”
Floth’bha did grin. “Of course, you are here for a reason, I bet this is it, to become a good shaman”
They moved forth and now Resh’kha was allowed to lead. The tunnel was long and winding and some places very wet too. It was unpleasant but she did feel a draft all of a sudden and a sting of cold. The tunnel did turn abruptly and they saw a huge cave in front of them. It was natural, filled with stalagmites and the roof was way up there. A small river did cross it and the tunnel did continue on the other side. Kulkar did take the lead again, he did stare at the walls and the roof and his expression was serious. “This cave is unstable, see those cracks in the ceiling? This is what we dwarves call bad rock”
Geir did touch the wall of the tunnel and the rock was indeed rather soft and fragile, as if it was rotten. The dwarf did wander forth, very carefully. “We have to cross fast, the ones who dug the tunnel must have found this cave by accident, it isn’t safe at all. The river is to blame for that, the water dissolves the very rock itself”
They walked on but the cave was surprisintly large and the river was not very deep but freezing cold. They had managed to get across when suddenly Than let out a shriek and he fell down as if struck by something hard. The reason was suddenly very visible, a sort of dark oily thing did protrude from his back and it did in fact lift him up again, swinging him back and forth. The man was screaming in agony and flailing around but then he suddenly went limp and Geir let out a roar and ran forth. He did swing his blade with might and cut through the dark snake with one move, the thing collapsed onto the floor, blood spurting from it and Kulkar was swearing. “Leave him, he is dead. It was a giant leech, this cave is dangerous”
Geir touched Than gently, the face was ghostly pale and Resh’kha felt sick to the gut, the body seemed to have shrunk, as if the leech had managed to suck up all body fluids within a few seconds. It had been laying in waiting behind a rock and Resh’kha did shudder, it was disgusting.
They didn’t have time to bury the dead man, they just had to leave him there and Geir didn’t like it but there was no way around it. They had to get going. They reached the tunnel on the other side but now Resh’kha did see what Kulkar had meant by giant centipedes, the tunnel was crawling with them. Each one perhaps five foot long and extremely fast and they were heading towards them. The dwarves did gasp and looked petrified and Resh’kha did realize that dwarves do fear these creatures. The horses and ponies did whinny and trample and Resh’kha did remember the flute. She had been given it for a reason and she did find the small instrument and put it to her lips, tried to make a sound. At first she only managed to create some very thin notes and they did make everybody cringe but then she hit the right tones and a sort of harmony could be heard. It was atonal and odd and terribly shrill and yet it was obviously meant to be that way for it did make the centipedes go haywire. The nasty critters did shriek in agony, banging themselves against the walls, attacking each other and tearing into their own flesh with their pincers.
Resh’kha continued to play, the sound was horrible but they endured since it did chase the beasts away. Before long the centipedes were either dead or dying and they did manage to pass them by. Dharan did cut off the pincers of some of them and put them carefully into a small sack. “They are poisonous and can be used as a weapon”
Resh’kha nodded, she felt a bit shocked still, the adrenaline hadn’t left her yet. “You are familiar with those beasts?”
Dharan nodded. “Yes, we dwarves hate them, they tend to occupy the cities we build, creeping inn and feeding off our livestock and sometimes our young. We hate them”
Resh’kha did sigh. “Understandable”
Kulkar did smile. “We will soon get out of here, I can smell fresh air”
Resh’kha felt like hugging him, she was so tired of the darkness now.
Kulkar was right, a short half an hour later they did see that the tunnel did end in open air and everybody did speed up. They entered the plains again from a cliff and behind them they could see the canyon in the distance. Kulkar did caress the bag with the heartstone. “It will still draw upon the monsters, they will have to get around the canyon so now we have to get as much distance between us and them as possible”
Geir did sigh, he did mourn Than and Osbord did look gloomy. “We shouldn’t have left him, no honour in that, no proper funeral”
Kulkar shrugged. “I am sorry, but it would have been the death of us had we stayed, the cave had more leeches for sure and the roof was very unstabile.”
Now they had a horse for Osbord since Than was dead and they did ride on, Resh’kha was glad she didn’t have to hide them at the moment. The monsters were way behind them but would soon catch up again and they did allow their steeds to eat for a while before heading further westwards.
Kulkar did look very snug, he was pleased with the progress and Resh’kha did admire the landscape. It was flat but here and there grooves of small trees could be seen and in the distance they saw a row of mountains. The dwarf did grin at her. “The forest lay in that direction, within the mountains. It is a hidden valley but we can find it, it is rather…peculiar”
Resh’kha didn’t doubt his words at all, if the forest was to destroy the beasts it had to be something spectacular indeed. The distance didn’t seem to be that great but Resh’kha knew that the clear air made it seem closer than it was. She was afraid that the monsters would catch up with them soon, but they couldn’t push their steeds too hard. Resh’kha felt that she was regaining her strength now that she didn’t have to shield them the whole time, it was a good thing but the Gods alone knew for how long it would last.
It didn’t last long, the monsters were not creatures which needed rest nor sleep, they were relentless and unstoppable. They had ridden through the night and crossed over a low crested hill when Geir did raise a hand and pointed at the horizon. They saw a dark line followed by dust and Resh’kha did moan. It was the beasts, and there were even more of them than before, thousands! It did look like a giant herd of some sort of animal from a distance, like a herd of buffalo or antelope but these were not natural. Resh’kha saw the speed with which they were moving and she felt a shiver running down her spine. There was no way they would reach the forest in time, the beasts would catch up with them within a mere day’s ride. She couldn’t hope to shield them from this many monsters, she wasn’t trained, she didn’t know her new powers and she did doubt herself. What in the name of the Gods was she to do now?
Floth’bha did see the expression within her eyes, she rode over and placed a hand on Resh’kha’s knee. “You can do it sister, do not doubt yourself”
Resh’kha did swallow hard. “I don’t know how!”
Floth’bha did stare at her, eyes hard. “You are a shaman now, what would Balgar have done?”
Kulkar did ride up to them too, he did nod in the direction of their pursuers. “Remember, nature does abhor these creatures.”
Resh’kha did whimper. “Oh Gods, I…”
She did stare at the naked landscape around her, was there anything there at all? The land was locked in the long sleep of winter but…She saw the snowdrifts which had gathered here and there and got an idea. She got down from Steelhoof and grasped some snow in her hand. It was powdery and fluffy and light and she tried to concentrate. The amulet was glowing against her skin and she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The wind did pick up a bit, was this working? She could only hope that it was, snow started to drift around them and Kulkar did grin. “A snowstorm, it will block us from their view for sure”
Resh’kha was panting, wind was howling over the plains now, lifting a wall of swirling snow and she felt strange, stretched somehow. The snow was very cold and the wall not at all transparent. Kulkar did nod, his beard did almost camouflage the movement. “Good, let us ride. The wall will hide us for a while”
Resh’kha did get up onto her buffalo again and they did ride, it felt better not seeing their pursuers but the snow wouldn’t hold them back for very long. Resh’kha did stare ahead, the day was coming to an end soon and it would get dark, she felt a surge of despair. “How far away is the forest?”
Kulkar did grunt. “Three days hard ride, no less”
Resh’kha did make a grimace. “We won’t make it, it is impossible. They will catch up with us”
Kulkar did shrug. “They haven’t yet, the gods are with us sister orc, do not doubt them. The monsters has to be destroyed, remember that. If they are freed from the pull from the heartstone they will turn around and kill every living soul on the plains, and then the mountain areas will be next. The population of the highlands have no chance, we have to complete our task. No price is too great.”
Resh’kha did shiver, she could imagine what would happen if the monsters did find her tribe, it would be slaughter. Orcs are strong and fierce but even they would be no match against such hordes. “The forest, something lives there yes? Something which will destroy the beasts? Do you know what it is?”
Kulkar shook his head. “Only that it is something which was released when the gates where opened the last time, something on the side of good and yet terribly dangerous. It has changed the forest”
Resh’kha had a hard time imagining what could change a forest and how that could happen but alright, she did trust Kulkar. The darkness did fall very fast and they did ride in a line now, Kulkar did hold the lead still and he was very determined. The ponies the dwarves did ride were tough but the animals were getting more and more tired since there wasn’t that much food to be found and they couldn’t really stop that often. The snowstorm was behind them and Resh’kha didn’t believe that it would delay the monsters very much at all, it would most certainly slow them down for a while but it wouldn’t stop them at all.
The idea of starting a wild fire did touch her mind but the thin dead grass wasn’t going to burn and the snowdrifts would stop any fire very fast. They had ridden for a few hours when they heard distant howls and Resh’kha whimpered. The beasts were close again, and there was yet a long way to go. “Oh gods help us”
She only whispered it and wished that the power had been given someone else than her, she had no idea of what to do with it!
They pushed their steeds to their limits and Resh’kha did try to shield them again but it didn’t work, the magic wasn’t strong enough at the moment and she was too scared and confused to really be able to concentrate. Kulkar was swearing. “They will catch up with us soon, do something”
Resh’kha was sweating, trying to think. Then a memory suddenly slammed into her head, of herself as a youngling following her father on a hunting trip. He had shown her how to trap animals and told her a lot of tricks and now one of them did come to her mind, but it was a dangerous one and one which would require something almost unthinkable. She took a deep breath, was she strong enough? Could she trust her self enough to do this? She had to! She turned to Kulkar. “There is one thing I can do, but…”
The old dwarf did smile, a somewhat sad smile. “I know young one, I understand. You are right, know your enemy like your self.”
Resh’kha did watch as he did pull the pouch with the heartstone free from his belt. “You have to get to the forest and do not fear what you see there, stay strong, it will respect your strength”
Resh’kha did bite her lower lip. “I am not sure if I am strong enough…!”
Kulkar did grin. “We will find out soon enough won’t we? Do it sister orc. We won’t all make it to the forest but you have to, it is our only hope”
Resh’kha did turn to Floth’bha. “I will need you with me, to protect my back…”
Floth’bha did nod. “I am ready sister.”
Resh’kha did stare at the small group. “I cannot shield us all, but I can camouflage you as beasts, for a while. Until they have passed you by”
Geir sent her a crooked grin. “Very smart young one, it will be dangerous but you are to become bait yourself, are you sure your beast can run fast enough?”
Resh’kha did nod. “He has to, there is no other way. You aren’t fast enough and I cannot uphold a shield for several days, but for a few hours I can make the beasts believe that you are other beasts”
They did dismount and Kulkar did lead them to a small cliff, he did grin and told them to tie their ponies and horses to the cliff, then he did take out their tents and he and Dharan did form one large tent from the smaller ones and placed it over them all, both people and horses. The tent was dark and uneven in colour and didn’t look that different from the cliff itself. Resh’kha did swallow, Floth’bha had traded her horse for the pack animal which was more rested than the one she had been riding and Resh’kha did gather her thoughts and tried to remember the feeling and scent of the monsters, the way they appeared as something utterly unnatural and terrifying. She then tried to place the same feeling over the tent and its inhabitants and the air did shiver a bit, she did step back and grinned. The tent did look like a piece of the rock now and if somebody got closer it felt as if there were monsters there. Hopefully the real ones wouldn’t stop to investigate.
Kulkar did bow his head. “We will follow, when it is safe, have a safe journey sister orc, and may the goddess be with you”
Resh’kha got back up on her buffalo and she took a deep breath. “Stay safe friends, and do not move until the monsters have passed you by.”
She put the pouch with the heartstone into her tunic next to the amulet and it felt alive, like a living thinking thing. Floth’bha did spur her horse and Resh’kha did follow her, the buffalo was fast too and they thundered out over the plains, heading for the mysterious forest which was hidden ahead of them.