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