General Pyrhus was drenched from head to toe in as rain continued to fall over the ramparts. He was exhausted and he could tell as he looked around that his men all were as well. He leaned against back crenel of the western wall that looked into the courtyard.
None of the gates had been breached yet but they were all sorely damaged from repeated blows by onagers or assaults from catapults. Several ballistae were destroyed from relentless firing of Trebuchets that were too far away for their own to hit.
He knew deep down it was only a matter of time before a siege tower made it to the wall and poured its soldiers out onto the walls. Or the barrage of rocks that assailed the eastern wall could break through at any time. There were just too many soldiers to fight and Feyraven was running out of energy and time.
A thunderous explosion from behind him echoed off the stone walls. He jerked up as he realized where the sound had come from. He quickly ran south along the parapets to see the truth with his own eyes. Smoke and clouds of debris rushed across the southern courtyard. Men came running from the opposite direction screaming at the top of their lungs.
A messenger boy, covered in dirt and debris bumped into the general, “Oh forgive my lord.” He was shaking from head to toe.
“Relax son, take a deep breath and then exhale,” Pyrhus held the boy’s shoulders in his hands as he looked into his eyes with a smile. “What has happened?”
The boy did as he was told and let out a long, haggard breath, “The eastern wall has been breached my lord. Orcs and goblins are pouring in by the hundreds.” He looked like he was about to cry, and General Pyrhus noted blood on his tattered clothes for the first time.
“Son it will be ok, hurry along the wall and let the other commanders know of what has happened.” He scanned the cloud of dust that hadn’t settled yet. “Tell them to send every able soldier than can to bolster the defense at the breach.”
Soldiers were already rushing to that side of the courtyard as the boy ran off. Kerak appeared suddenly, rushing up the steps of the gatehouse where the general now stood. Pyrhus could see he was badly injured and that he was covered in both his own blood and that of goblins and orcs as well.
Kerak huffed and grabbed his arm as he came up to the general, “Sir they have overrun the defense at the breach.”
The general’s eyes widened in horror and confusion. “I don’t understand I just talked to a boy who said they had just started pouring through. Had could they be overrun?” He was angry now, this made no sense.
Kerak’s head dropped a bit in regret, “Forgive General but we have been betrayed.” He grimaced as he thought over what he had learned.
The rage in Pyrhus was growing steadily by the second, “What do you mean, betrayed?”
“It’s Larsa, my lord. He opened the gates of the northern gatehouse and killed Rhamas.” Kerak gritted his teeth and tightened his fists as he spat out the betrayal.
“Rhamas is dead?”
“Yes general, he was found with his throat slit in the wheelhouse.” Kerak continued.
“Larsa was seen leaving the wheelhouse before Rhamas’ body was found, and when none of the enemy soldiers attacked Larsa when they broke through we knew for sure it was him.”
“Where…is…Larsa now?” General Pyrhus could barely hold it together.
“Somewhere inside the tower, but my lord there is no time for that now. The courtyard is being overrun.” Beyond Kerak the general saw hundreds of goblins and orcs battling with his soldiers. The walls were being overrun one by one and his men were being beaten back to the tower.
“Sound the retreat, Kerak. We shall fall back to the tower and bar the doors.” He said suddenly exhausted and defeated.
So it had come to this.
Betrayal would bring down the walls of his fortress.
He gripped his sword hilt tightly. “You will pay for this Larsa, I will see to it personally.” He promised under his breath as he followed Kerak across the courtyard and toward the doors that led to the cavalry stables.
Arrows suddenly whipped past his head and Pyrhus turned his gaze east to see goblins firing arrow after arrow atop the walls he had just been on. An orc rushed him from behind, but it was Kerak who saved him from being cleaved down his back. Kerak ran past the general and raised his hammer swinging it in an upward arc, catching the orc full in the stomach. The momentum of the hit launched the orc up over the dwarf and it collapsed in a heap behind him.
“Thank you Lieutenant. I owe you one.” The general pulled out his sword as two more orcs came upon them not more than 30 yards from the door. He ran straight at the orc, but sidestepped on the left at the last second. He leapt into the air and shoved his sword into the orc’s neck just above the shoulder. He landed on his feet, the dust kicking up as the orc’s lifeless body fell to the ground.
The other came at Kerak and then exchanged several parries before the dwarf clubbed the orc over the head and crushed his skull down into chest. There own men were retreating in order all around them. Kerak pulled a ivory horn off his belt and began blowing the sound to retreat. He followed the general back toward the tower once more. Many of their men were torn down by arrows and the onslaught of wave after wave of the enemy.
Blood mixed with the dirt and mirrored the violent sky above. The rain didn’t was the blood away but seemed to carry it onward and over the body rushing like a flood toward the tower. It rippled and swirled around the feet of the soldiers. Many soldiers cried out in horror as they saw the actions of what must have been shadow magic.
Kerak and the general were the last ones to the doorway. Arrows blasted into the wood frame over their heads as they raced across the threshold. 6 soldiers quickly rammed against the door to close it before the orcs could fall. Faint thumps of arrows striking the door could be heard from inside. Several more knights were gathering up anything they could to blockade the door.
“Kerak as soon as these men have finished with this door, leave 10 men here and then secure the other doors on this level.”
“Yes general, it will be done,” Kerak turned to the knights, “you heard him, get to work. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, will get through this door.” Several, ‘Yes sirs’, were called out as they got to work.
“Kerak I am heading up to the other levels to make this tower ready for the final stand. Good luck my friend.” He stuck out his hand and Kerak took it with his own. They gripped each other’s arms for a moment as brothers in arms, before departing.
In reality Abydos was two cities in one.
On the top level where all the airships come into port were many districts. The Noblemen’s’ District housed the many royal families of the city. Here you could find large mansions with expansive gardens surrounding an amphitheatre in the middle. There was the Airship District where most of the passenger ships docked. It contained repair and construction hangars as well as a visitor’s center to check people into the city. There was also the residential district, the Guildhall District, Military District and the District of Commerce where the government buildings sat.
On the bottom level you would find the seaport on the western side, filled with warehouses and endless docks for the hundreds of ships that past through each day. To the north and south were the hospitality districts including markets and artisans’ shops. To the east were the farm lands and the university.
It was a massive city and one could get lost down its winding streets but what made it really spectacular, was how it was designed. The “Top” level was actually a massive flat piece of land that had been raised during one of the earlier wars. The land mass sat on two giant pillars of rock protruding from the ground below. In the hollow center of each column was a pair of floating platforms designed by the dwarves and powered by the gnomes. These platforms, when filled, would travel between levels taking travelers to which ever level they needed to get to. From miles away the city looked like a giant stone table with toy buildings surrounding it.
Lord Orin and the others followed Brother Thomas as he made his way through the bustling city. Since the others had never been this far west of Helmcross before, they let the priest lead the way. He slipped in and out of crowds using his staff to part the masses as he made his way down the center street of town.
Many people from all over Anoria walked about, each in their own style of clothes and fashions. Orin looked back to Berwyn and Halfgrim when he overheard them laughing. “What is so funny you two?” He bellowed over the buzzing of noises.
Berwyn pointed while he continued to laugh, “Over there.” Halfgrim said nothing, he just kept laughing.
Lord Orin looked over to the edge of the street and saw where his brother was pointing. Two men stood talking to each other, from their straight demeanor and snub nosed looks at everyone who passed by made Orin think of a couple of politicians or some rich boys. But what was funny were their clothes, both of them wore flamboyant and fluffy pants with shirts that looked like a child could have sewn them together. The one on the left was short and pudgy, and his head looked like a squat pumpkin sitting on flabby shoulders. The other guy was tall, gangly, and had a nose that ended in a dagger like point.
Brother Thomas, having realized that no one was following him, came back to stand next to Orin. “What’s keeping everyone? We need to get to the Blind Gryphon soon so we can find a room for the night. Unoccupied rooms don’t last long in this city.”
Berwyn and Halfgrim stood on the other side of Lord Orin. Halfgrim piped up, “You know, on that skinny lad’s nose, I could probably slice an apple on it. Just look at how pointy and long it is.” He laughed some more as Berwyn patted him on the back. They watched as a little girl in patchwork clothes and scraggly hair brought a basket of bread to the two men. The tall one yelled something at the girl and grabbed the basket from her; the pudgy one yelled something else and slapped the girl across the face so hard that she fell to her knees whimpering. “Scratch that Berwyn, why don’t you see if you can take this apple I got here and aim for his head. If you can stick it on his nose I will give you two gold pieces.” The dwarf’s blood began to boil and he began to reach for his axe on his back.
Berwyn tossed the apple in the air a couple of times in front of him as he guessed how far the men were from them. “Quite a few people around but I don’t think I will miss.”
Brother Thomas stepped behind the dwarf and grabbed hold of the hand reaching for the axe, “No fighting when in the city unless it’s an emergency, Halfgrim. We don’t want any trouble while we are here looking for the scroll. Right, Orin?” He looked up at the Lord of Helmcross. He could see that Orin was really debating on the inside on what to do. The priest would like nothing better himself to teach those two a lesson for striking a child, but they had more urgent business to attend to.
Lord Orin looked around at the crowd of people that walked back forth around them; no one had seemed to notice but them. No one came to the aid of the child; it’s as if she didn’t even exist. Seeing that flamboyant buffoon hit a child had boiled his insides up to the point where he had even started to reach for his own weapon. However, the priest was right; they didn’t need to bring attention on themselves while here looking for the scroll.
If we were in Helmcross, that act would cost the man his hand. Why doesn’t anyone help her?
He shook his head and let out a low growl. “This isn’t right Brother Thomas; no one should hit a child for what ever the reason. Although I agree with you, I…” Just then as he watched the two men snickering as the little girl held her face gently in her hand he noticed something above them on a second floor balcony. He leaned over to Berwyn and whispered something in his ear.
Brother Thomas and Halfgrim couldn’t make it out but whatever it was caused the two brothers to chuckle. Berwyn nodded his head and wound up his arm before throwing the apple with all his might toward the two men. Brother Thomas shook his head and looked on in dread wondering what would happen next. Halfgrim slapped his hands together and rubbed them in anticipation as he watched the apple soar over the heads of the people walking about.
The apple spun wildly as it soared through the air, until finally it hit its mark. Above their heads sat a bucket of dripping water on a railing of a balcony. The apple hit it square at the base causing it to dump its contents over the side. The two men screamed as they were doused in dirty water and scraps of food. The tall one looked up as the bucket came tumbling down on top of his head causing him to fall to his knees. The little girl began to giggle as she watched the pudgy one slip on the now soaked cobble road as he tried to help his friend up. People all around stopped and began laughing at the two, pointing and making comments as they watched the men scream and cuss at the air, trying to figure out what happened.
Lord Orin and the others made their way through the crowd to find the little girl in the midst of all the people. Berwyn made it to the front of the group and found her sitting on the stone sidewalk at the edge of the crowd giggling and pointing with the rest of the people. She still kept her left hand on her cheek but the pain wasn’t that bad anymore. Berwyn began to make his way around the perimeter of people toward the girl when he was stopped by the shouting of the taller man.
“Grab that little girl, she did this, she did this to us.” He screamed in an irate manner.
His friend helped him up off the ground and wiped some of the scraps of food off his shirt. “Clearly, Percus you are right, she had to have done it. You filthy little peasant girl, you will pay for this mockery by spending time in the dungeon.” He looked around at the people laughing at them and his face turned a beet red, which made the people laugh even more. “Stop that laughing; don’t you know who we are? I could have every one of you thrown in jail along side this maggot of a child.” As he fumed he hopped in place like a little rabbit.
Berwyn giggled a little as he strode up next to the girl; she turned as she noticed his shadow engulf the stones in front of her. She began to tremble as she first noticed his weapons glistening in the sun on his person. Then she trembled even more as she noticed muscles bulging all over his body. But, when her eyes fell on his, she felt a sense of peace well up inside of her. His eyes were kind and blue like an afternoon sky on a cool summer’s day.
Berwyn watched her gaze move along his figure and smiled down at her when their eyes finally met. She stared at him for a moment and then smiled back. Her scraggily brown hair covered her head like a forgotten mop. He giggled again as he looked up at the tirade going on in front of them. The little girl giggled too until the pudgy little man yelled at Berwyn.
“You there,” He pointed at Berwyn and took a few steps toward the two of them, the tall one straggling behind him.
Berwyn looked down at the girl and then back at the man as he pointed to his own chest, “Me? What do you want with me?”
The little girl slid a few inches back on the sidewalk as the two men walked toward them, she tried to cower behind the legs of a few of the people in the crowd.
They stomped right up to Berwyn and the pudgy one put his grubby hands on his ridiculously covered outfit. “Are you a mercenary boy?” He bellowed toward Berwyn.
Berwyn was getting agitated by this man’s attitude. He looked to Orin for ideas, but Orin just shrugged. Berwyn closed his eyes and inhaled deeply as he cleared his mind. “What’s it to you, little man?” Berwyn leaned over the man and looked him right in the eye.
Percus came around his friend and scoffed, “Do you know who we are?”
“No. Do you know who I am?” Berwyn taunted back, Orin and the others were walking up behind him. The two men saw the size of Lord Orin and the weapons of both Berwyn and Halfgrim.
Their hot air of nobility deflated a bit. Percus tried to sound authoritative but his voice faltered as he stared at Berwyn’s curved blades, “We will not stand for this kind of humiliation and lack of respect. That girl will pay for what she has done.” Caccus nodded as he tried to look high and mighty with letting others see his unease of these men before them.
Berwyn looked down at the girl and then up at the railing. “Please explain to me and everyone here, how a little girl could knock a bucket off from way up there?” He crossed his arms over his chest smiling .
Caccus bore daggers into Berwyn but knew they would get no where with this man, “If she didn’t do it than someone else here did, and when we find out who that person is,” he pointed his finger at Berwyn and then his friends, “they will pay for this affront to our honor.” Percus nodded in agreement before his slipped on another wet cobbled stone in his silk boots. More people laughed and pointed as the two men stomped off down the street, muttering curses along the way.
Brother Thomas knelt down beside the girl as the crowd began to disperse. “Are you ok, little one?” He helped her up and brushed some dirt off her tattered clothes. He smiled at her and it made her feel better a bit.
“I will…be fine,” she stuttered, as she looked at Berwyn’s blades.
Berwyn looked down at where she stared. “Don’t worry girl, we won’t hurt you. You have nothing to fear from us.”
Halfgrim stepped forward and put out his hand, “I am Halfgrim and these are me friends. What’s your name?”
“Lina,” she said as she shook the dwarf’s hand nervously. “I never met a dwarf before,” she leaned closer and whispered, “I like your beard, sir.”
Halfgrim howled with joy and put his hands on his hips, “I like this girl, Berwyn.”
Berwyn nodded in agreement, “She is a funny one.”
Lord Orin knelt beside her, his body still overshadowing her by two feet at least. “Where are your parents? Can we escort you home?”
Lina got very quiet and looked down at the cobbled road. “I have no parents, and I am their slave.” She half whispered pointing in the direction of the two flamboyant men.
Lord Orin’s temper began to rise, “Slave? I thought slavery had been banded.” He stood up and looked at the others as he spoke.
Brother Thomas shook his head, “The law was passed in Othar, but it seems it is taking awhile to get around.” He looked down at the girl and then looked around, thinking for a moment. “You definitely can’t go back to those men.” He nodded in the direction they had left, “You will have to stay with us until we can find you some place safe to stay.” He looked to the others to see their expressions.
They all nodded in agreement as Halfgrim turned back to the girl, “Well you must know everything there is to know about this town, right?”
The girl was beaming now from ear to ear, “Yes master dwarf, I know every nook and cranny from here down to the harbor.”
“Well then, Lina. Can you show us the way to the Blind Griffin Hall East?” Lord Orin asked as he rose to his full height once more and settled his left arm on the hilt of his axe.
“Yes sir, I know that one very well. It is not far from the university and overlooks several gardens.” She grabbed Halfgrim’s hand and began pulling him down the road away from the airship platforms. Halfgrim hurried along and followed her.
“Welcome to Abydos indeed.” Brother Thomas watched them go and then scanned the crowds around him. What else awaits us in this grand city?
What else indeed…He shook his head and followed after the others.