“The Crushbones are at it again. They’ve got some captives Feir’dal and Fae.” Lady Ceren spoke in a staccato rush, her words blending without pause.
Rakhanar felt the blood drain from his face. The thought of fae being held by those vicious orcs sent a wave of fire through him immediately. The orcs treated them like nothing more than bugs and were known to tear off their wings to sell as novelties. He couldn’t help but see his best friend’s face. Siffy.
His gut twisted painfully when he thought of her, missing her as his best friend and sometimes something more. He knew that was wrong, though; that could never be. Still, he wanted her by his side, and as he had slowly made a home out of his empty little acorn house, he found himself placing the delicate Fae furniture with her in mind.
What if Siffy was one of the captives?
“I’ll get them out.” Rakhanar tapped his amulet, ending the conversation, and turned to Wildstreak. “Did you get that?”
The golden unicorn nodded and pawed the earth. I know the way.
“Good. Let’s go!” Rakhanar swung up onto his back with a clatter of armor and Wildstreak moved out, thundering down the dirt pathways that wound through the green hills and valleys of their magical homeland, even straight through an encampment of orcs. These had come to know them and scattered in terror, cringing.
They plunged into a cave, a pass-through deep into hostile territory. Midpoint, there was a small band of resistance, and as Rakhanar and Wildstreak thundered by they picked up a shadow, a little Ratonga on a pony who squeaked with glee and fell in behind them.
As they neared the keep the orcs were tougher, braver, and much more determined to defend what they considered their territory. They converged on him, snarling insults and threats in their guttural tongue, but Rakhanar slashed his way through them, hacking at their grasping hands as they tried to pull him from Wildstreak’s back, barely slowed in his urgency. Red throbbed in his eyes as they charged up to the Keep and he took out the last of the guards flanking the wide doorway with a final lethal downstroke of his blade. Familiar heat surged through his body and he ached for more, more blood to release this fire inside him. Wildstreak reared, overwhelmed by the contact, empathically picking up his chaotic energy, then slammed his front hooves down hard and stood trembling.
Here… Here… Go, Rakh! Rakhanar could feel Wildstreak’s sides heaving even as he, himself, panted, struggling to bring his rage under control.
“Whoa, Wild, whoa…” Rakhanar sheathed his bloody claymore at his back and leaned forward to pat the stallion’s broad neck. He closed his eyes and consciously slowed his breathing. His control was being tested, but there was also a beautiful intensity in this life that challenged death every day. Though he cherished his memories and it was that magical, peaceful life that he fought to protect, he couldn’t see himself going back to the innocent days with Siffy now.
He turned at the sound of rapid hoofbeats approaching and coming to a halt behind him, opening his eyes as if in a daze. He had forgotten the little Ratonga, who now grinned up at him from a tiny pony.
“Hi, hi!” It was hard to tell with Ratonga, but the voice was feminine. She waved cheerfully. Rakhanar just stared, his body still thrumming with energy.
Then another horse and rider appeared, trotting up the bloodied pathway. It was a slender form astride the dark horse, clad in hooded red robes trimmed in black, feminine. A wand was tucked through her belt.
She brought her mount to a stop before them and looked Rakhanar up and down for a moment before speaking, her eyes shadowed under the hood. “Thank you,” she murmured. “You made it easy to get through.”
Rakhanar barked a short laugh. “My pleasure.”
She glanced over her shoulder at the trail of scattered orc bodies. “Definitely not theirs.”
He followed her gaze but said nothing, then narrowed his eyes. Robes, a wand. A magic user then. The red and black gives her a wicked air. No telling what kind of magic.
“My name is Lily Redbird.” She inclined her head politely as her horse stood stamping and blowing.
The little Ratonga piped up, “Meeses ees Ehacofi.” Her gear was chainmail and leathers. Maybe a scout of some kind.
“Rakhanar.” He nodded in return as he swung his leg back over Wildstreak’s rump and slid to the ground with a clatter. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that Lily, who had been gazing about with a disinterested air, turned to look at him quickly at the mention of his name. He pretended not to notice, but his mind was moving fast. She knows my name. Someone is looking for me. Turning to face her again, he kept his face carefully neutral as he watched her. I doubt she’s from Qeynos.
They dismounted also and dropped the reins where their mounts, who were trained to stay, stood. Wildstreak, on the other hand, trotted off and sparkled into nothingness. Enjoy, Rakh…
Rakhanar had learned some caution. Appearances could be deceiving. He drew his Claymore and turned to wipe it clean on a patch of weeds stubbornly clinging to life at the foot of one of the wide stone balustrades. Turning back, he held the huge blade casually, but at the ready.
“There are captive Fae in there. Are you here to help – or not?”
Lily lifted slender hands to push back her hood, revealing auburn hair and Elven ears. Her eyes flashed at his tone. “There are also Feir’dal.”
He paused, then nodded once.
Ehacofi looked between the two of them. “Meeses helps too! Orsies gotses fat pursies!”
Rakhanar dropped his gaze to the little ratonga and chuckled. “So they do.” He turned and pushed through the wide double doors and the two followed.
* * *
Wizard of Wildfire & Shadow Walker Wordsmith ((a/k/a The Real Me ))