9 – Fae Firebreak

Rakhanar knew he was at his breaking point when he left the Velvet Lily. Stepping out into the biting cold air to find only big, fur-clad barbarians eyeing him with challenging regard was all it took. He pulled Wildstreak’s whistle from his belt and blew it almost desperately.

Sparkles, shimmering, and there was his friend, Wildstreak. The golden unicorn took one look at him and knew, too. When the stallion stretched out his soft nose to snuffle his shoulder reassuringly, that one act of sympathy nearly broke him. He stepped in to hug the stallion’s broad neck, burying his face in the silky strands of his mane.

It’s alright, Rakh, you just need to take a break. Somewhere safe.

Rakhanar nodded tightly, squeezing his eyes shut to hold back tears of frustration. He was feeling his youth but still his voice came out deep and rough, the voice of the man he was not. “Where? I don’t know…” Biting his lip, he paused to think. “Do you think I could get away with going back to Kelethin? They wouldn’t expect that. It would be like doubling back where they’ve already looked. And if I keep my hood up…”

That should do it. You need to be there, around the fae. Buddy, I can feel it, you’re about to explode.

Rakhanar nodded again, his face still buried in the stallion’s mane. “Yeah. Let’s get out of here.” He tightened his jaw, feeling a wave of heat ripple through him dangerously. “Now.”

He twisted a hank of the stallion’s mane in his fist and hauled himself up on Wildstreak’s back quickly, then pulled his hood up and lowered his head. As Wildstreak spun on his back hooves and moved out, his gait fast but smooth, Rakhanar tried to keep his gaze from falling on the threatening presence of the barbarians around him. If one of them said a word to him…

Red pulsing in his vision made the blue shades of the snow around him a surrealistic violet, and he was barely aware of anything but the icy wind whistling as Wildstreak carried him quickly out of the city of New Halas, through the caves and down the side of the mountain to the docks. At the magic globe he had to focus; he reached down from the unicorn’s back to touch it, his heart yearning for the only home he had ever known.

And then, through the blaze of star-streaks, the in-between, they were there. Surrounded by warmth and the greens and browns of the immense tree city, Rakhanar felt an immediate easing of the tension in his shoulders as he breathed in the sweet scented air of the fae homeland. The fae fluttering about chatting happily, the sparkles in the air, the sound of a flute playing in the distance, all of it worked to calm him. The red receded from his view and he breathed a deep sigh of relief.

Wildstreak stepped away from the teleporter pad at a calm walk, carrying him down the varying levels of the platforms and across the wide hanging bridges that connected them until he found the small, cozy Inn where newcomers were welcomed. Rakhanar kept his hood up and his head down as he negotiated with the treant who was the Innkeeper there, his voice low. Giving Wildstreak one last very grateful hug, he watched as his unicorn friend shimmered off to find a pasture, then turned to walk into one of the huge, hollowed out acorns of the home tree of Kelethin. Just inside the door and down the huge leaf ramp, he slumped down to the naked floor where he could rest unchallenged, exhausted by the struggle against himself.

* * *

In the morning his body was stiff and sore. Although he had always been active, swimming and running as he played in the forests of Faydwer with Siffy, it seemed that wearing armor and swinging a sword used different muscles and every one of them was complaining now.

Rakhanar got up off the floor with a groan, yawned, and stretched. He cracked his neck and rifled his fingers through his dark hair, then turned to rummage in his pack for breakfast. There was nothing but a hunk of bread and a canteen of water that the pixies had given him. That would have to do, for now. Ripping in to the bread with his teeth, he washed it down with the tepid water, then dug his new armor out of the magically enhanced pack. It wasn’t the shiniest set around, but it was practical and well-crafted. He pulled off his robe and shoved it back in the pack, then set to the task of gearing up, taking a little longer at it than he knew it should, but it was only his second time doing this. Leaving the gauntlets until needed, he finished strapping on his bracers, then turned to the door of his empty home, considering.

He didn’t have to go out there and risk being seen. He could use the guild call spell. Maybe there he could find something better than stale bread and plain water for breakfast.

Raising his hands, he drew the energy to him, through him, connecting, and his home disappeared in sparkles. That moment of in between suffused him, then he was there in the guild entranceway. No one there. Heading into the crafting hall, he found the staff already in. He followed the enticing aroma of smoked ham and pastries to find the buffet table between the forge area and the cooking stations freshly stocked. Zeroing in on that, he grabbed a hunk of ham. There was nothing to drink but eggnog, however, and when he leaned over to take a whiff, he could smell that it was laced pretty heavily with rum. None of that.

Wolfing down the ham, he headed into the Tavern, hoping to at least find a fresh supply of water. There he found the two people he least wanted to see: Lady Lilithna and Shialli. They were sitting very close to each other and he had the distinct feeling he was interrupting something intimate.

Rather than stop and make an awkward scene, he gave them a bare glance and kept on past them, aiming for the bar. He thought he might just glance around and head out again since there was no one to tend it this early and, though he was sure that a long-time guild member might be welcome to just hop over the bar and help themselves, he didn’t feel that was an option for him. He leaned over the bar, slapping his hand down on it as he scanned the barrels, licking dry lips, freshly salted from the ham. One was sure to have water, but it might as well be miles out of reach. He shoved himself away from the bar again, heading back for the crafting hall entranceway. It looked like he’d have to scrounge somewhere else to slake his thirst.

“Ah, if it isn’t our new, overly enthusiastic fighter.”

The snide comment came from Lady Lilithna. Rakhanar was almost past them, having adopted Lady Lhasa’s military stride, but at this he stopped and turned slowly on his heel.

The black robed female glared at him, smirking, and Rakhanar just stared back for a moment.

He flicked up an eyebrow. “M’lady.” Don’t let her get to me. Or at least don’t let it show. He laced his fingers in front of him and cracked his knuckles casually. Nodding slightly, slowly, he added, “Need anything else killed?”

She actually looked just a tad taken aback. Then she chuckled, while Shialli, at her side, just continued to glare.

“Might be. We’ll just have to make sure we don’t aim you toward the wrong targets, won’t we?” she purred.

Now he smirked. “That might help.”

“Well then. Orcs. Orcs are always disposable. We were planning a little foray into the belly of a dungeon swarming with them. There shouldn’t be any friendlies popping up for you to ‘accidentally’ slaughter, so… Perhaps you can come along.”

Glad for the chance to redeem himself and relieve the tension that was already nagging at him, he gave them a dark smile. He turned smartly and strode away again, his armor shifting with a slicing sound as he moved, its unfamiliar weight not slowing him at all. He felt their eyes burning into his back.

“I’ll get my sword.”

* * *

~Diaman Darshan~

Wizard of Wildfire & Shadow Walker Wordsmith ((a/k/a  The Real Me ))

Diaman Fighting with Fire

 

 

8 – The Velvet Lily

Lord Toran called to the group, “Back to the hall! Use your call spells!”

Rakhanar was only too happy to be done with the night and slink off somewhere to lick his wounded pride. He had never used this spell but what he needed to do seemed to bloom in his mind with the Lord’s command. His bloody, gauntleted hands moved as if of their own accord in graceful movements before his eyes, drawing the glowing energy to him while arcane symbols burned in his mind’s eye. His body began to shimmer as the power infused him, binding the blueprint of his form even as it shattered him. It wasn’t painful – actually it was one of the most blissful feelings he had ever experienced. He was everywhere at once for an instant, timeless and eternal.

And then he saw the grand entranceway of the hall fusing into being before him, the four tapestries fluttering softly with innate power, down from the high round ceiling. He was one of the last to appear. Before him, Lady Lilithna and Shialli headed to the magic globe, along with the Traveler and Lord Banedon. He moved out of the doorway and the fae priestess, Evaine, shimmered into being behind him and fluttered around him slowly.

“You did fine, young man,” she whispered in passing. “You’re good.” She smiled and touched his forearm and the last of the pain in his arm disappeared as she followed the others. He stood for a moment, his emotions roiling inside him. What did she mean by that?

He stormed into the crafting hall with slightly less self-directed disgust than he might have had the little fae not added her encouragement. There was no one in the hall but the hired help, and even they seemed reluctant to meet his gaze. At the counter by the forge, he yanked off his battered armor, stripping all the way down to the loose cloth pants he wore underneath without a thought, and knelt to ram it into the standard issue magic bag that had been the last thing in the box of gear he had been given.

“Tainted Tunare.. Freeport militia? Bunch of thugs…” he grumbled, pulling the robe that Carroway had given him from his bag and wrestling it over his head. He was too wired up to go find a place to sleep and too exhausted to work out his anger at the forge. He needed a drink, and… what? Someone to talk to, maybe… someone soft and sweet…

His mind went straight to Siffy, then caromed off into anywhere-but-there land. With an angry grunt, he jumped to his feet and headed for the Tattered Scroll. It too, was empty at this hour, so he turned on his heel and charged back to the first counter where the little halfling female was busily sorting through a pile that might have contained a kitchen sink or two.

“Where can I get a drink?” he said, giving the counter a solid slap to get her attention as he leaned over it to look down at her. She snapped her head up and shrank back fearfully. Sudden remorse hit him and he barked a short, apologetic laugh, then softened his tone as he added, “There must be some place, little one – I just need to relax.”

“Uhhh.. you might try the Velvet Lily. They cater more to f—females, though,” she squeaked. “In New Halas.”

He nodded and forced himself to smile. It probably didn’t help; in his current mood, he was sure it looked like he was baring his teeth threateningly. “Thanks.”

* * *

The entranceway of the Velvet Lily was flanked by two short, blue-skinned Coldain butlers, and when Rakhanar pushed through the double doors to the main room, he found it to be a nightmare in pink and prettiness, definitely geared to more feminine tastes. Rakhanar hoped that meant there would be more females there – if that turned out to be the case, he could bear the frills and fluff.

There were private alcoves set off to his right, and before him was a long bar, along the back wall. He was surprised to find that Lord Toran and the Traveler were there before him, sitting at the bar to his right. Lady Lhasa, his superior in the Water Element, was standing beside them. To his left sat a fae female and a human woman in a green gown.

Lhasa turned as he entered and stared at him, her hostile gaze softened by the drink in her hand, her stance unsteady. She made her way over to him as he stood there absorbing the atmosphere, her gait apparently meant to be a sultry sway, but the alcohol added a bit of a wobble that spoiled her intended effect. Coming to a stop before him, she reached up and patted his dark bearded cheek, ice clinking in her glass. “You’re cute!” she said, blasting him with alcohol-scented breath.

Rakhanar just stood there and stared at her, speechless. She winked, smirked and wandered past him toward the door, nonplussed, and he doubted she would remember the encounter the next time they met. It occurred to him then that he might just have to forego training at her hands, no matter how capable when she was sober. The price might be too high.

His eyes fell on the fae, who was tossing peanuts in the bouffant hairdo of the green-gowned woman and getting away with it. He decided to head over to her side of the bar, as the Traveler and Lord Toran seemed to have their heads together, plotting. Besides that, he was counting on her calming effect.

The tiny fae looked up at him brightly and he felt the tension ease out of his shoulders immediately. “Need a drink, big guy?” she chirped.

He nodded. “Ale, m’lady fae.”

She hopped over the bar and fetched a frosted mug, stuck it under the tap and filled it to the brim, then headed back to him. “You can call me…”  Just as she handed it to him, she turned into a pinkish-skinned giant, and her voice dropped to a deep growl. “…Xixy.”

That did not help.  Stupid fae. Always with the pranks.  He growled as he took the ale from her massive hamfist as she looked down at him and chuckled, a deep-toned rumble now, and he felt his hackles go up.

Rakhanar leaned over to slap coins on the bar, pointedly not looking at her. He could feel the threat of red humming in his skull. He turned away and took a big gulp of the ale, then found his gaze focused on the Traveler. Suddenly he realized that the Traveler was wearing exactly the same kind of robe that he wore. It was too much. Just too much.

Rakhanar narrowed his gaze at the Traveler. He strode over to the stool where the Traveler was sitting and bumped him off the seat, taking it for himself as if it were a throne.

“Oh. Did I take your seat? Sorry.” Sarcastic.

The Traveler managed to keep his feet under himself and regain his balance. He turned back to look at Rakhanar, his face impassive. Rakhanar glared. The Traveler said nothing.

Just at that moment, another female came into the room from a curtained doorway. Her gown was of high quality and screamed wealth and position. She focused her gaze on the man before Rakhanar.

“Ah, Traveler! Good to see you! Would you like to take a tour?”

The hooded man turned to look at her, only too glad to take her offer. He nodded, took her arm and headed out of sight, Rakhanar glowering after him.

Rakhanar took another swig of his ale, smirked, and turned back to see that the fae was still a pink giant. Red throbbed at the edges of his vision, relentless.

Change back… Please…

She didn’t. Rakhanar turned and looked at Lord Toran beside him, meeting the Erudite’s surprised gaze with a snort and a shrug. After a moment, the Traveler came back into the room and took a stool on the other side of Lord Toran.

Rakhanar couldn’t stop himself, the red was threatening, hot in his eyes. He wanted a fight. He turned to stare at the Traveler again.

“What are you hiding under the hood? You bald?” he sneered. The Traveler stared straight ahead, ignoring him.

Rakhanar’s gaze fell on the Erudite between them, bald black pate shining. Lord Toran. Oops. “No offense, m’lord.”

“None taken. I never understood the appeal of hair anyway.” Lord Toran smiled slightly, seeming to enjoy Rakhanar’s baiting of the Traveler.

The Traveler leaned back on the bar, picked up his wine glass and and hailed the barmaid, the fae who was now a fae again, not a pinkish giant. “I’ll take a bottle to go, please,” he said, his lips tight.

She fluttered over to grab a bottle off the rack and set it before him, catching the coin he tossed at her deftly. Rakhanar watched the hooded man head out the door then looked back at the fae, who had settled behind Lord Toran, wiping glasses. Suddenly he felt the rage slip away and regret settled in its place, familiar.

“I… I’m sorry. For chasing off your customer, there.”

The little winged female looked up at him, blinked. “Oh! No! You didn’t. He does that all the time. He prefers to drink alone, that’s all.”

Rakhanar rolled his eyes. She just had to lie to him.

“Right,” he said, sarcastic again.

But he determined to swallow his pride and apologize to the Traveler the next time he saw him. As long as he wasn’t wearing the same robe.

* * *

~Diaman Darshan~

Wizard of Wildfire & Shadow Walker Wordsmith ((a/k/a  The Real Me ))

Diaman Fighting with Fire

7 – Crossed Purposes at the Crossroads

Rakhanar was still standing there, panting, staring down at the mess that he had made of this one orc while the red receded from his view, when the battle around him stilled. It was over in minutes that felt to him like an eternity. It seemed like dozens were downed by Shialli’s spinning violet lightning blades and just as many fried by Lord Toran’s fire-fetching hands. Rakhanar didn’t see the Traveler or Lilithna’s fight since both preferred to move in shadows unseen, but he was sure they had certainly done more damage than he could ever imagine.

He looked up to see the Traveler come into view as if appearing out of nowhere, holding the now glowing lightstone in his hand, and Rakhanar knew that the orc responsible for this encampment, Drull, had killed his last innocent and breathed his last breath.

Behind him, the high tone of the fae priestess brought him out of his almost trancelike state. It was strange how time slowed and his consciousness slipped back to a place of silent witness, watching his body moving as if it belonged to someone else, listening to his own breathing as if from a distance even though it was harsh in his ears, contained by his invisible helm.

“Oh, dear… are you alright, young man?”

He turned and stared into those jewel-like eyes and managed a nod, finally comprehending the meaning of her words.

“You saved my life. There’s no one here to resurrect me.” She smiled, actually giggling. “Thank you.”

Rakhanar nodded again with a slight hitch of his shoulders, saying nothing.

The Traveler conferred with Lord Toran for a moment and the Lord paused to study the glowing lightstone. He pulled a scroll from his magic pouch and snapped it open with one hand while he held the stone in the other, and the scroll blazed with arcane lettering for an instant, then faded to mundane. Satisfied, he rolled it up and returned it to the too small pouch that still held it easily. Then the Lord spoke over the suddenly silent battlefield.

“We have what we came for. Let us depart this place.”

Shialli strolled by, giving Rakhanar a disdainful glare, and the group fell in behind her.

Once clear of the tight ravine, the group summoned their mounts. Wildstreak shimmered into view with a hank of grass still hanging from his mouth, but his ears were perked up with interest.

So… you survived! How did you do?

Rakhanar sheathed his blade at his back and climbed onto the unicorn’s back, snorting, a half smile pulling at his lips. Aye, I’m still alive. I got one.

You did? One? Well, that’s… good. The unicorn’s tone was a bit hesitant. I guess..?

Well, he was about to kill Priestess Evaine… Rakhanar knew his thought tone sounded like a petulant child, but he suddenly felt the need to defend himself. He didn’t know whether he was making excuses to his friend for killing this creature or trying to make his accomplishment seem more important. A little of both, perhaps.

Is that right? Well, then, you saved the day! You should be proud!

The little group of adventurers headed across the plains, now under the cover of dusk, and the stars began to appear overhead. Rakhanar did feel some pride but at the same time, he felt strangely guilty. He kept seeing the look on the orc’s face flashing before his mind’s eye.

That could have been me. Is that how I’ll feel when I die? Just… puzzled? Like… this is it? The end? He couldn’t believe it…

He hadn’t meant to broadcast this thought to Wildstreak but the unicorn answered him nonetheless. The unicorn snorted even as he galloped across the savannah.

Of course he couldn’t believe it…

Rakhanar frowned at this comment but there was no time to pursue the subject further. They had reached their destination, a crossroads near a small settlement. As the group halted, dust settling blue around them in the moonlight, a figure in white moved out from behind a solitary tree near a ridge.

Giving the unicorn a pat, Rakhanar dropped to the ground beside him. Well, Wildstreak, we’ll have to talk about this more later. I need to keep an eye out for ambush…

The Traveler, on foot, approached his contact. Just as he made the exchange, sure enough, several soldiers crested the ridge, swords drawn, torches suddenly blazing in the deepening gloom. Rakhanar didn’t recognize the insignia on their tabards but the drawn swords and the vicious snarls on their faces were enough for him. Red raced into his vision and he charged forward to defend his guildmates and the Traveler’s contact, pulling his sword from his back with a feral growl.

“Wait…! Nooooo!” He heard Lady Lilithna’s sharp cry of rebuke just as he swung his sword to parry a vicious strike from the leading attacker. “Let him die! They’re Freeport militia!”

He heard her as if from a great distance, through water, but it was too late. Crimson rage pulsed in his vision in time with his hammering heart and he couldn’t stop. His sword clanged against the blade of this soldier; he ducked and spun back around, his body moving almost without thought to take advantage of the rebounding power of this parry, slicing up and coming in from an unexpected angle into the heart of this smoky dark elven soldier. He found himself looking into the elf’s sharp gaze as he died, and again he was met by that look of innocent disbelief. His gut twisted as he yanked his blade free and the elf slumped to the ground at his feet. This time he couldn’t stop to allow himself to feel anything – another soldier was bearing down on him and the red… the red…

This time the soldier’s blade slipped through before he could raise his own and slammed into his shoulder. Dull pain exploded all along his upper arm. Rakhanar roared, instantly blind.

The next thing he knew he was standing over the body, and Lady Lilithna was hissing in his face. “Fool! You haven’t helped your reputation in Freeport this day! Or ours!”

He stared at her as the red slipped back from his vision like an ebbing tide, panting. Shialli stood at her shoulder, scorn searing him. Her eyes blazed with naked hatred. He had no idea why.

“If you’d let them kill him, we’d simply have kept the lightstone, no one would have been the wiser.” Lord Toran’s voice came from behind him, cool and calm, yet no less cutting than the Lady’s.

He turned to look at the Lord in confusion. “Kept…? The stone?” Rakhanar brought his gaze back to where the sage lay face-down in a heap at the Traveler’s feet, a tiny spot of blood just beginning to spread on his white robe, just at the heart.

“They got him anyway,” the Traveler said softly, slipping the lightstone into a pocket in his robe. His other hand was held at his side, the side away from Rakhanar’s view, hidden.

Rakhanar’s face burned with shame and his head throbbed, confusion clouding his thoughts. Only Priestess Evaine showed any compassion with a light touch on his hand, as bloody as it was, on his sword. He looked down at her sparkling eyes and bit his lip. What in the world am I doing here? Who am I fighting for?

He wouldn’t find his answers for a long, long time.

* * *

~Diaman Darshan~

Wizard of Wildfire & Shadow Walker Wordsmith ((a/k/a  The Real Me ))

Diaman Fighting with Fire

6 – Kill in the Commonlands

As the six guildmates sparkled into the new space of the dock of the Commonlands by the magic globe, Rakhanar looked down at his armor and pulled his Claymore from his back sheath, trying to test its balance without appearing to be too obviously novice with every move he made. The glint of the blade, his first real sword, reflected back into his eyes and he couldn’t help but grin and look around at his five companions.

His excitement must have been apparent. Lord Toran glanced over to smirk in his direction as the group moved off the dock, then turned back to continue his conversation in low murmurs with the hooded Traveler.

The fae, Priestess Evaine, seemed to sense that her presence beside him was needed. He looked down at her and barked a short laugh. She just smiled sweetly up at him and turned her gaze to each of the others. It seemed she was assessing them from the inside, Lord Toran, the Traveler, Shialli and Lilithna, and then once again back to him, looking him over as she waved her hands in graceful mystical movements, her wings fluttering. He felt the touch of her power, lending him strength and protection, and saw the shine of it surround the others as well.

“Mount up!” Lord Toran called as they reached the end of the dock. It seemed like a mass of confusion to the young adventurer as the others summoned their mounts at the bottom of the seaside cliff, facing a path winding up off to the right.

Rakhanar pulled his whistle from the pouch at his side and put it to his lips. As the tone faded, Wildstreak appeared before him, sparkling through the ether. The golden unicorn whickered softly in greeting, ears up, and looked around before kneeling to allow Rakhanar to mount.

Although it sounded like a neigh to the others, what Rakh heard in his head was not. You made some friends! Good! A couple of mar… females, even…

Then Wildstreak focused on the black-robed Lilithna, who had at that moment deigned to glance in Rakhanar’s direction, one brow flicking up at his unusual mount. Oh, wait …

“Move out!” Lord Toran ordered, and the group started up the wide dirt path, curving back up to the left as they approached the top of the cliff. There, the view opened out onto a wide rolling savannah, prowling with exotic creatures of all kinds. They crossed the rolling hills swiftly, Shialli leading the way in her dark armor, blades crackling with purple lightning at her hips, her beloved Lilithna riding at her side and slightly behind her, layered black robes flowing around her like the wings of a raven. Lord Toran rode next, his blue-black bald pate shining in the sun, and the Traveler, surprisingly, ran beside him on foot. Beside Rakhanar, Priestess Evaine rode a fae pony, darting along with her wings vibrating in the wind.

Rakhanar could hear Wildstreak’s voice in his head over the sound of pounding hooves as the group galloped across the savannah toward a ridge of towering mountains in the distance. Rakh… That one, the female in the black, with the white hair. Be careful. Who are these people?

He focused his gaze on a spot between Wild’s soft tufted ears and sent his thoughts to his friend as he’d been taught.

I was hoping you could tell me. At least, what two of them are. The bald one… His name is Lord Banedon Toran. That female that makes you nervous? Lady Lilithna. Believe me, she puts me on edge too. The blond female is Shialli. I know she’s elven at least by half. The hooded man appears to be human and is called the Traveler. I’ve got him covered. The fae is our healer, the Priestess Evaine. She doesn’t worry me, she’s a good soul.

Rakhanar paused to get his bearings and look up at the wide expanse of sky, streaked with clouds that gleamed golden in the late afternoon sunlight. Unused to the gauntlets, he twisted a hank of Wild’s mane to strengthen his grip and focused again. Tell me about Lilithna. Red eyes? What in the world is she?

Wildstreak’s voice came to him as an urgent whisper, even though they both knew no one else could hear them. She’s a Freeblood, Rakh. They feed on the blood of others. Don’t let her corner you or get you alone.

Rakhanar couldn’t keep from grimacing, hearing this. And Lord Toran?

He’s an Erudite. They can go either way, to the dark or the Light, but they tend to have a certain obsession with magical power. How did you come to be with these people?

Rakhanar answered, focusing his thoughts, trying not to move his lips. Lord Toran invited me to join his guild, the Elements. They’re adventurers and crafters, and yes, they report to Lord Toran with whatever objects of power they find for his research.

At this point, the group came to the opening of a hidden ravine at the edge of the mountain range. Lord Toran raised a hand, calling for stealth, and the others dismounted and dismissed their mounts.

Wild, I have to go on alone from here… Thank you. Rakhanar bit his lip and gave the unicorn a pat.

Glad to help, Rakh! The unicorn fell silent as Rakhanar slid to the ground beside him, then added in a very serious tone, Be careful. Very.

Fae sparkles enveloped the unicorn and he disappeared into the ether, off to green pastures in the bright lands of Faydwer.

Rakhanar’s heart was still pounding and now the red began to creep into his vision. He was wearing a helm imbued with an invisibility spell so that it would offer protection but not impede his sight. It was a strange sensation – he could feel it, the sense of being contained, and he could hear his own breath loud in his ears, yet it looked like he wasn’t wearing one at all.

When he pulled his sword from his back, a shiver of ice went down his back with the metallic slicing sound. He followed as Shialli led the group in staggered twos along the path which was shadowed by cliffs that blocked the afternoon sun. It was not long before the path opened up into a valley where the orcs’ camp could be seen. Vague human shapes moved around the gathering of tents and the smell of smoke from cooking fires drifted toward them.

Suddenly it hit him. He was here to kill. Although he had spent his sixteen years fighting his rage, he had never actually hurt anyone. He had never killed anything before, much less a humanoid. Although he knew these beings were created for war, incapable of empathy and love, and that they needed to be destroyed, he felt a strange twist in his heart. There was a line here that he was going to cross that would change him forever.

There was no time to think further. Shialli charged across the open space, whipping her purple-gleaming blades out and screaming in blood lust, a war cry that ripped through him, driving any thought of mercy from his mind. He broke into a run, suddenly eager, watching her as she dove into the middle of a converging group of orcs, spinning and slicing, white blond hair flashing in the last rays of sunlight. They grunted and roared and died on her blades in a heartbeat.

Bolts of fire blazed across his sight as Lord Toran jumped into the fray. His black hands flickered in arcane summonings as he murmured in the tongue of the elementals who served him. The orcs went down in waves, fire crackling around them, their armor melted.

 Red pulsed in his vision like a heartbeat and Rakhanar nearly forgot his charge, the fae priestess he had committed to protect. He heard her singsong chant of healing behind him, light tones piercing through the grunts and groans and cries of pain of the battle, and resisted the urge to charge forward, forcing himself to stay by her side.

And then it happened. One big orc, very big, broke through and charged, howling, his mace held over his head for a devastating downstroke, toward the tiny fae whose healing power made this group of six nearly invulnerable. Rakhanar intercepted, swinging his sword with all his might, grunting through clenched teeth.

The orc turned his head toward him, red piggish eyes gleaming over yellowed tusks in mindless rage, but it was too late. Rakhanar’s wild swing sliced up under his arm into his shoulder and up, cleaving him nearly in half. Time seemed to slow and Rakhanar caught the look of surprise on his face, disbelief in its hateful gaze. The orc gurgled strangely but didn’t even have time to scream before the life left his eyes.

Suddenly Rakhanar was drenched in blood. It splashed over his arms, his chest; the metallic smell was in his nostrils, suffocating. He kicked up to the orc’s middle and yanked his sword from its chest, dropping the lifeless corpse. His stomach twisted in disgust as he stared, panting, down at the wrecked mess that had once been a living being, but at the same time he was filled with elation.

Victory. He had made his first kill.

And he was alive.

* * *

~Diaman Darshan~

Wizard of Wildfire & Shadow Walker Wordsmith ((a/k/a  The Real Me ))

Diaman Fighting with Fire

 

 

 

 

5 – First Mission Call

When Rakhanar first came into the crafting hall again, the first thing he saw was a big box on the counter by the forge. There was one of the cat people like Carroway behind the counter, only this one was obviously female. She waved him over with a tight smile.

“Yours. Standard gear. We don’t let our members run around in rags, making us look bad.”

He opened the box to find a full set of armor and a large sword. His eyes lit up as he pulled the huge sword out and hefted it, examining it with awe.

“You weren’t expecting a Claymore?” The Kerran female looked surprised. “You’re certainly big enough to handle a two-handed blade.”

Rakhanar just smiled slightly. He could barely restrain himself from whooping like a kid enjoying Frostfell and gearing up immediately, but he managed to remember that he was supposed to be an adult, used to fighting, maybe even with better gear than this at one time.

“It’ll do,” he said. He put the sword back in the box and closed it firmly again, then turned to the forge and picked up the tongs and hammer on the anvil, determined to work out his excitement.

After a couple of hours of pounding away at hot metal, having little to no idea what he was doing, Rakhanar had released enough of his inner fire to feel a little more in control of himself, not so likely to pounce on some barbarian twice his size for no cause. There was still that driving heat inside, never quite quenched. He thought about what Carroway had said about his rage. Maybe it was time to make it work for him instead of always working against it.

He set aside the hammer and tongs, stretched, twisted and cracked his neck, looking around the hall. The staff was still on duty but no one else was around. Not wanting them to see how unfamiliar he was with gearing up in armor, he turned to the box of gear and hauled it off the counter, heading into the lounge with it for privacy.

Setting the box by the fireplace, he opened it and peered in, then pulled out one piece at at time, wondering just how to wear it. He decided, right or wrong, to put it on over his light leathers so he would have a little padding to keep it from chafing. The last piece, the helm, surprised him: when he settled it over his head, the half-gem in the front lip of the helm clicked into its match on the top of the cuirass and the helm rippled into invisibility. It took him about a half an hour to get to that point, but finally he was ready.

Carroway was right. It was time for a change of plan. Time to jump in with both feet – no turning back. Glancing down at the blue gem in the center of the amulet that hung around his neck, he sighed and put his hand over it. It began to sparkle inside, the blue glow shining purple through his fingers, activated.

Now or never…

“Anybody need anything killed?” he said, with a wry smile that no one saw.

It wasn’t long before a sultry female voice answered. “Hmmm. Who is asking?”

“This is Rakhanar. And who might this be, m’lady?”

“Lady Lilithna. I am sure we can find something to keep you busy.”

“I’ll be ready. Shall I meet you in the entrance hall?”

“That will suffice.”

No sooner had he walked across the crafting hall into the entranceway than a white-haired female appeared before the doors, her skin sallow and bloodless, her eyes faintly glowing crimson. Her clothing was black, draped like shadows. She only took a few steps away from the door but she managed to make this movement a regal stride. This, he assumed, was Lady Lilithna. He had never seen anyone remotely like her before.

Lady Lilithna was followed soon after by the same blond-haired elven female he had seen at the Frosted Brew and again here in the Tattered Scroll. The blond moved forward, her eyes searching about the hall in a trained pattern as if she were watching out for snipers, then she immediately dropped to her knee beside the Lady.

The Lady barely acknowledged her as she stood regally before the entranceway, peering about with those eerie eyes. Then her gaze alighted on Rakhanar.

Rakhanar stared into those red-glowing eyes, amazed. Before he could think, he was blurting out what was in his head and should have stayed there.

“Your… eyes…” he stammered, blinking. He felt the blood drop from his face as she lifted a brow. He snapped his mouth shut, then bowed, tearing his gaze from hers. “My Lady,” he said, hoping she would overlook his gaffe.

She didn’t comment but when he finished the bow and raised his eyes again, hers were blazing.

“Rakhanar,” she said with a cold nod, as if she had just lit a torch in a dark room and found, no surprise, roaches scampering to escape. “This is my pet, Shialli.”

Proving her point, she put her hand down and the elven female pushed her head into it to be stroked.

“My Queen,” Shialli whispered, then looked up at her with eyes glazed with adoration.

He just stood, staring. Now he was beginning to understand the female’s rabid reaction to him. Ahhh… that never occurred to me… There are females who prefer females as mates.

Rakhanar looked back up at Lady Lilithna’s narrowed eyes. She was watching him carefully. There was something more to the relationship than even that, he sensed, but he had no idea what kind of being he was dealing with. He was torn between his instinctive reaction to the Lady’s piercing red eyes as a threat and his masculine response to both of them as females, in need of his protection. His temperature was starting to rise…

As soon as he got out in the open, he would have a chance to call Wildstreak. He was determined to ask him to fill him in on these new creatures he was encountering. The unicorn stallion had a grounded sense of the nature of things that had helped him immensely when he had been heartbroken over having to leave Siffy. Though he had spent a couple of days in the Enchanted Grotto with the pixies and his new unicorn friend, only an hour or so seemed to have passed in the fae Nursery. In that time, the unicorn stallion had given him the answers he so desperately needed. I wonder how many people have ever gotten the birds and bees talk from a stallion?

Now he needed that down-to-earth wisdom once again.

To Rakhanar’s immense relief, a shimmer hummed by the globe at the docks, a welcome distraction. He turned to see Lord Banedon Toran appear, interrupting the scenario just as it was becoming unbearably tense for him.

Banedon barely broke stride as he crossed to the center of the entrance hall, closer to the tapestries than the doors. A second after him, another shimmer caught Rakhanar’s eye from behind Shialli and the Lady and a female fae dressed in priestess robes appeared. She fluttered around them with a brief but polite nod of acknowledgment, then turned to Rakhanar.

The little fae beamed up at him with a genuine warmth. “Oh. Hello there. You must be new to Elements…?”

Immediately, Rakhanar felt the tension in his body ease, like rain falling on a fire. He didn’t realize until that moment that he had been holding his breath. He drew in a full lungful and released it slowly as he smiled and bowed to her.

“Aye. I am Rakhanar. And you are, lady fae…?”

“I am the Priestess Evaine. It is a pleasure to meet you, Rakhanar.” She curtsied sweetly, her translucent robes flowing around her, as graceful as wind through willows.

One of the huge double doors behind Lady Lilithna creaked open and a man slipped into the hall wearing a hooded robe. Rakhanar got the barest glimpse of his face as he entered and glanced around, his eyes lighting briefly on each of them and moving on, apparently looking for someone in particular. Then his gaze landed on Lord Toran.

The fae priestess appeared to recognize him, however. She turned to address him.

“Ahhh, Traveler… I see you made your way to our hall.” She nodded at him, then beckoned and fluttered over to Lord Toran with him, the hooded man following.

The man who was apparently known only as the Traveler pulled a lightstone from a pocket of his robe as he approached the Lord.

“Lord Toran, I believe you know the Traveler…?” Priestess Evaine said.

Banedon turned and bowed politely and the Traveler returned the courtesy, holding the lightstone close to his chest.

“Ah. What have you there?” Banedon’s purple eyes twinkled with curiosity.

“A lightstone, my Lord,” the Traveler answered. “I have been entrusted with it, with a mission. It is to be imbued with the life force of a particular orc, name of Drull, who resides in the Commonlands. I have been told you might find this mission of interest and perhaps could assist me?”

The Traveler held out the stone for Banedon’s perusal and the Lord peered at it with a trained eye.

“It is quite… interesting.” He looked around the hall at the group now gathered, then back at the Traveler. “Commonlands, you say?”

The Traveler confirmed this with a nod.

Banedon turned and raised his voice for everyone present. “We appear to have a mission for the Commonlands. Any of you up for it?”

Rakhanar didn’t hesitate. He had no idea where the Commonlands were but he was good to go. He stood straighter and saluted Banedon. “Aye, my Lord. Ready here.”

Lord Toran looked him over and nodded. Priestess Evaine turned to him as well, her gaze gentle as she nodded also.

Rakhanar glanced back to see the Lilithna and Shialli smiling with a dark gleam of anticipation in their eyes.

Pure bloodlust.

Rakhanar’s heart was already starting to pound…

* * *

~Diaman Darshan~

Wizard of Wildfire & Shadow Walker Wordsmith ((a/k/a  The Real Me ))

Diaman Fighting with Fire

 

4 – New Hope at the Tattered Scroll

Rakhanar looked at the globe and chewed his lip, wondering where he could spend the night. He was craving the peace of Faydwer and was wondering if it would be safe yet to go back to Kelethin. The nagging red in his vision was coming back. If he went anywhere else he didn’t know what kind of creature he would run into but the chances were they wouldn’t have a calming influence on him. Going out into the unknown in his state of mind was asking for trouble.

Perhaps the fae guards would not expect him to come back to Kelethin so soon? It would be like doubling back to a place they had already looked for him, wouldn’t it?

He looked down at himself and wished he had some different clothes, perhaps a hooded robe so he could keep his face hidden. A robe would have been nice for New Halas, also.

Just as he was thinking this, Carroway shimmered into view in front of the big double doors, still in his dress blues and jaunty matching hat.

Rakhanar turned and the catman, who was heading toward the crafting hall, noticed him.

“Well! Hello there! What do you think of the hall, young lord?”

Rakhanar smiled in spite of himself. Carroway was hard not to like. He was a bit of a puzzle for Rakh because he was so disarmingly friendly and yet he was a big male and obviously equipped to fight. The type that usually got Rakh’s ire up.

Although Rakh was tired and on edge, he knew he needed help. He took a deep breath before answering. Not wanting to give away his complete ignorance, he struggled for a description.

“It’s … big.” He left his tone ambiguous.

Carroway grinned his fanged grin. “Aye, it is that. There’s bigger, of course, but we’ve got room to grow and we’re always building on.”

Rakhanar nodded and looked down at his worn leathers, designed for Faydwer’s gentle climate. “You happen to know where I can get some warmer clothes? I might want to go back to New Halas…”

Carroway lifted a brow, which was strange on his white furred face where his brows were whiskerlike. “Ah! I just happen to be a tailor, by trade. When I’m not cooking. I’m sure I’ve got something around here somewhere in your size.” He looked Rakh up and down, appraising.

Beckoning, he headed back into the crafting hall. Rakhanar followed, gritting his teeth as he realized he was going to have to look Reade in the eye again and not start a fight with him.

Sure enough, Carroway headed right up to the banker and asked for access to his own storage box. Rakhanar followed slowly and stopped a good bit behind, crossing his arms over his chest and looking anywhere but at the banker.

Carroway wasn’t long with his business. Reade delivered the robe quickly and Carroway, in turn, handed it to Rakhanar with his friendly fangs gleaming.

“Here you go, lad! That’ll keep ye much warmer than those leathers.”

Rakhanar thanked him and looked around, still anxious.

“Feeling like a drink before heading out? Might take the edge off,” Carroway said, nodding toward the lounge.

Glancing toward the lounge, Rakhanar bit his lip. He needed to get moving, but he found that he really didn’t want to be alone, after all.

At that moment, the light-haired elven woman strolled into the crafting hall, nodding to Carroway and giving Rakhanar the barest of glances as she headed into the lounge. His gaze was drawn after her, caught by the sway of her stride, dangerously accentuated by those purple-glowing blades. Perhaps he could also find out what it was about him that made the elven female dislike him so much on first sight.

“Maybe…” he answered, doubtfully.

Carroway grinned and headed toward the lounge. “Ah, c’mon…” he urged, with one last wink over his shoulder.

Shrugging, Rakhanar followed him in and couldn’t help but smile. That tail…! He took a seat on one of the benches by the table closest to the bar, laying the robe beside him, and immediately found himself fidgeting, rubbing his arms, thrumming his boot heel against the floor. Anything to burn off the energy that was starting to build up inside him.

The blond elf female had taken a seat at the bar and helped herself to a tall glass of wine, which she was sipping calmly, delicately.

Carroway headed back behind the bar and set to checking the stock, pulling up one bottle after another, checking its level, settling it back again.

“What’ll ye have? Something a little stronger this time?”

Rakhanar frowned slightly, now unsure how the alcohol would affect his control.

“On second thought, I… I’m not sure that’s good idea.” He looked down at his feet, still aware of the warning pulse of red creeping into the corners of his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he looked back up at the catman.

Carroway narrowed his eyes and tilted his head at him. “Ye got something going on with ye, laddie?”

Rakhanar released his breath slowly and nodded. If not now, when? He had to learn to control his destructive power in new places and circumstances, perhaps direct the energy in a better way. If he couldn’t do it here, then he needed to know now. He glanced over at the silently brooding female, then back at Carroway.

“Aye. I have a problem, uh… controlling myself… I have these… rages…” he admitted, finally. “It might be better if I don’t drink at the moment.”

Carroway put the bottle he was holding down thoughtfully, then nodded. “If you say so, lad. How long have you been having this problem?”

Rakhanar plunged on, needing to talk to someone. “All my life. That’s why I was sent to be fostered with the fae. This fae priestess came to visit my family in Qeynos when I was five and she was the only one I could control myself around.” He paused and looked at his feet again, remembering. “She looked so … delicate… I knew I had to.”

At this he couldn’t help but let his glance stray for a microsecond to the elven female at the bar, who was pointedly ignoring him. It was Siffy he was thinking of in that instant, though. He bit his lip and looked away.

The catman nodded. “Ah. You might find these ‘rages’ of yours to be a benefit. Sounds like you have some control. If you can direct them at, say, a few orcs or other nasties…”

Rakhanar looked up at him hopefully. “You think so?”

Carroway grinned and nodded again. “You just talk to Lady Lhasa about your rages. She’ll set you straight. You might find your weakness among the fae to be your greatest strength, here.” He turned back to the bar and grabbed a towel to wipe down the counter. “In the meantime, how do you feel about cooking? Want to give me a hand around here?” Carroway’s smile was dubiously hopeful as he glanced over his shoulder.

Rakhanar made a moue. “I hate to disappoint you but I haven’t a clue about cooking. I’d love to help, but… I think I need to throw myself into something a little more… strenuous. Exhausting, even.”

Carroway nodded back towards the crafting hall. “Sounds like the forge would be the place for you, then. Might be you could try your hand as a weaponsmith. Or an armorer.”

He tilted his head, running fingers through his rough cut black hair. “That might just do the trick.” Rakhanar thought about it for a moment, then nodded and grinned more broadly. “I think I’ll give that a shot.”

He snatched up his new robe and sprang to his feet, eager to throw himself into anything that would drain off the anxiety that was threatening to break loose. Heading toward the crafting hall again, he paused to turn back to the catman.

“Thanks, Carroway. You’re a champ.”

* * *

~Diaman Darshan~

Wizard of Wildfire & Shadow Walker Wordsmith ((a/k/a  The Real Me ))

Diaman Fighting with Fire

 

3 – Elements

Rakhanar came out in an immense circular hallway, the biggest building he had ever been in that he could remember. There was a small fountain centerpiece in the middle of a large round rug that covered nearly the entire floor, but what instantly drew the eyes on entry were the four huge tapestries hung on the opposite wall, stretching all the way up to the high domed ceiling.

The first depicted Fire, not in a static picture but in two flickering, moving swirls of orange yellow. The second breathed living Air, a peaceful blue sky with light, white clouds moving through it. The third was Earth, a living mosaic of huge green vines and flowers, and the fourth, the last, was the element that Lord Toran had assigned to him, Water. This tapestry flowed clear, with rippling reflections against a dark background.

Rakhanar stepped forward, awed, as Lord Toran shimmered into the space behind him, his hand over his own amulet on his chest, still speaking.

“… could be so kind as to meet us at the front entrance, please, Lady Lhasa?”

Behind him were two tall double doors, and to the left of that a strange-looking ornament, a white, weirdly twisted tripodish piece with three prongs holding an onyx ball.

Banedon noticed his gaze. “Yes. Go ahead, touch it. It is imbued with the guild call spell.” Rakhanar stepped up to it as he was told and placed his hand on the onyx ball, shivering slightly as a buzzing zapped through his body. “Whoa…” he murmured.

He looked up at the double door entrance. Lord Toran caught this look also. “Do not ever go out these doors. The Freeport guards are known to strike first and ask questions later, if they get around to asking at all. And you couldn’t answer anyway. We do not need any extra attention from them.”

Rakhanar nodded, adding a salute for good measure, just so the Lord would know he took the warning seriously.

At that moment, an elven female strutted into the room. Rakhanar turned, noting the blue-black skin and white hair, and bowed politely.

Lord Toran made the introductions. “Lady Lhasa, this is Rakhanar, our new member. One for your ranks.” This was said with a slightly deprecating tone.

Lady Lhasa shot him a withering look and turned to Rakhanar with a smile. She curtsied politely, but was giving him a once over similar to Lord Toran’s appraisal even as she straightened. “Hmmm. You’ll do, I suppose,” she said, but there was a gleam in her eye as she flicked one brow up.

Turning to Lord Toran, she nodded curtly. “I’ll take it from here.” Back to Rakhanar, she inclined her head to the archway that she had just come through, on his right. “Come, young fighter, I will give you the tour.” Snapping off a smart salute to Lord Toran, she turned on her heel and headed off at a military clip.

Rakhanar managed a bow to Banedon even as he was turning to follow the unusual, to him, dark-skinned elf female.

“This is our crafting hall,” she said, waving a hand about her as she entered the large rectangular room. “It’s fully equipped for all professions.” Rakhanar noted the workstations and clipboards all around the walls.

Lady Lhasa nodded to a staffed counter to her left. “This is Qinefer and Morbier. Qinefer will take just about anything off your hands.” She smiled coldly at Qinefer, who was a very small but human looking female. She looked up from sorting a bag overflowing with strange oddities. Rakhanar noted teeth, feathers, hooves, bones – really, just about anything. The little female nodded shyly up at him. He didn’t realize how tensely he had been holding his shoulders until he looked at her and found that she evoked the same reaction from him as the fae. Little people calmed him.

“Morbier, on the other hand, has some connections with quite specific tastes and the gold to satisfy them.” Lady Lhasa smiled a little more generously at the broker. Morbier was a little furred fellow, like a rat walking upright. He showed his little ratty teeth in a grin. “Meeses gots the goods,” he said with a sassy salute. Rakhanar smiled wryly back at him.

Crossing to the other wall, Lady Lhasa brought him to another counter, behind which was a huge vault. “The guild bank. If you find something in your travels that you can’t use, feel free to put it in the vault here so someone else can. And if you need something, a tradeskill book or spell or some such, you may find it here yourself.”

Standing in front of the vault was a huge, red-headed, red-bearded man. Rakhanar instinctively bristled. “Just ask Reade. He’s our banker.”

Rakhanar nodded curtly, and Reade gave him a nod just as perfunctory, crossing thickly muscled arms over his wide chest. Apparently he doubled as the bank guard, as well. Very well.

I hope he can count. Rakhanar couldn’t keep the snide thought out of his mind. He was getting slightly overwhelmed and his control was beginning to break. It had been a long time since his discipline had been tested to this degree. Huge males just made him want to fight.

Lady Lhasa gave him a sharp glance. As a fighter whose life depended on catching details before those details skewered her, she didn’t miss much.

“Well. Do you do anything besides fight?”

Rakhanar looked at her and chewed his lip before answering. “I.. uh, haven’t really thought much about a crafting profession.”

She nodded. “’Then this isn’t a whole lot of good to you just yet. Quick tour then. I’ll introduce you to the others later.”

There were two other staffed counters, but she just waved and headed past, with a quick nod to a big box on counter at the far end of the crafting hall. “You will want to use that. We keep all our harvested materials there, so whatever you pick up on your travels, we’d like you to contribute. It’s magical, so it can hold much much more than it looks like it could.” She smiled tightly. “We all benefit, we all contribute. Except very rare materials. You can do what you like with those.”

They headed into another large room, more dimly lit, at the far corner of the crafting hall.

“This is the Tattered Scroll Tavern, named for our fearless leader’s tendency to spill things on very valuable reading material that he has not completely translated yet.” She snorted. “I’m quite fond of this place, actually.”

It was decorated tastefully as well, in warm, subdued browns and reds, with a well-stocked bar on the wall to their left. Large kegs of ale hung from the ceiling behind the counter, which was lined with low, sturdy barstools. There was a massive granite fireplace on the wall to the right of the entrance, with cozy chairs close before it. The long wall before them was lined with card tables, and the far end wall to the right had a raised platform with a grand piano before the bay window.

Rakhanar was beginning to feel the stress of the day creeping up on him. He hid this with a lazy stretch, which actually helped him to release a bit of the tension, and a yawn, totally forced.

The red haze that sneaked up from the corners of his eyes backed off a bit.

Lhasa watched him carefully. He suspected she knew more than she let on and could probably even tell him his temperature to within an eighth of a degree as it rose from this nagging near rage.

She said, simply, “Enough for your first day, eh? I’ll show you to the docks, then, where you can use the globe to get back to your home. Which is..?”

He couldn’t think of a plausible lie, so he told a short version of the truth. “Qeynos.” That was, after all, where he had been born.

She looked surprised at that. “You are a long way from home,” she said, as she turned and led him back through the crafting hall to the circular entranceway. There was a short hallway on the left that he had not had a chance to investigate, before. It was lined with boxes and at the end was a transporter globe.

“Well. Here we are. It’s been a long day and I still have more to do. Good night, soldier.” She saluted smartly, he returned the salute respectfully and she turned and left him to ponder his next move.

* * *

~Diaman Darshan~

Wizard of Wildfire & Shadow Walker Wordsmith ((a/k/a  The Real Me ))

Diaman Fighting with Fire