This next mission was in the Commonlands as well. Lady Lilithna called Lord Toran to accompany them and he came promptly, but the little fae priestess was nowhere to be seen. That was bad.
Rakhanar felt his control slipping before they even stepped off the docks. A dark elf male, lounging by the magic globe, glared at him as he passed. A tempting fantasy popped into his head – Wham! Right into that arrogant sneer. That would wipe it off his face. He could just see the elf’s eyes crossing as Rakhanar shoved him in the water.
It was close, but he kept his fists clenched at his sides. He stared straight ahead with a tight smile and kept moving.
As the other three called their own mounts, he whistled for Wildstreak and the sight of the unicorn calmed him considerably. The unicorn nodded at him and he swung up onto his golden-hued back.
Refreshed and ready, eh? More orcs to kill?
Rakhanar patted his broad neck and smirked, silently answering. You got it.
The two of them moved out behind the Erudite guild leader, the white-haired dark Lady, and her devoted bodyguard. This time, the savannah crossing went quickly, a little more familiar. They made the journey in comfortable silence, for Rakhanar broken only by the sound of his own heartbeat, rising in tempo to match the beat of Wildstreak’s hooves as excitement overtook him again.
Rakhanar studied the exotic creatures prowling through the grass, and though some were familiar from picture books in his youth – the lions, elephants, hyenas – others were strange and unknown to him. Just as they neared the entrance to the caves, he thought of the unicorn’s comment the last time they were crossing this grassland, about the orc who had met his death at Rakhanar’s hands: Of course he didn’t believe it…
Lord Toran raised a hand, bringing them to a halt before the wide doors, so it was too late to bring up the subject. Did the unicorn think he was that obviously green, or …? His tone didn’t imply that, but Rakhanar couldn’t figure what he could have meant by that.
He chewed his lip as he swung his leg back and slid off the unicorn’s back. Later, Wild… We’ll have a lot to talk about after this, I’m sure. With a last pat on the stallion’s muscled shoulder, he sent Wildstreak trotting off to happyland.
Make sure you don’t get killed, and we will. Wildstreak’s cheerfully delivered parting shot echoed in Rakhanar’s mind as the unicorn faded into a cloud of sparkles and disappeared with a whickering laugh.
Unicorns sure have a strange sense of humor. But Rakhanar was in agreement, in a way, finding it funny how hard it was to believe even now, that he could die. He was more uneasy about the killing he was doing, but he realized as he neared the towering mountainside that he had never known fear. It just was not how he responded. The rage came so fast and so hard that it crowded out anything else.
He followed the group past the thick doors and into the dark interior for his first journey underground. The first thing he noticed was the smell – damp, earthy, cooler than the savannah air, and fetid with the scent of orcs. The walls were roughly hewn from the rock; the passageway ahead wound down into darkness, out of sight.
The group paused at the entrance. Shialli drew her lightning-imbued blades, the crackling purple lighting up the space with an eerie shifting of the shadows, and the darkness flickered with menace. Lord Toran murmured in an arcane language, making elaborate motions with his hands that ended in a fist to his breastbone, his glove clanging on the dull dark, red-piped armor he was fond of wearing. Rakhanar felt the Erudite’s power, strengthening, protecting, and then Lady Lilithna’s softer tones joined in and shot prickles of arcane energy through him. Rakhanar slid his own blade from its sheath. The slicing sound clashed with the heat that flared in his body with its icy whisper.
Moving down into the belly of the orc’s lair, he found himself welcoming the red sheen in his vision, this time, as his breath sped up and time slowed.
It wasn’t long before they encountered the first band of orcs, coming up the passage to investigate. Without the fae priestess to protect, Rakhanar had nothing holding him back. Red rage took over. He rushed up as Shialli met them with her own wild howl, contemptuously calling more orcs in to die on her blades.
Rakhanar, scanning, counted six. In seconds three were down, sliced by Shialli’s spinning blades, almost too quick to follow. Lord Toran threw fire and the fourth orc screamed as his leathers blazed, the metal studs melted into his chest. Lady Lilithna’s dark power converged on the fifth, draining him of life energy, and he died with a whimper.
The sixth orc had slipped past Shialli. Rakhanar met him with a snarl, swinging his heavy sword with sudden ease as adrenaline swept him. The orc’s green skin and piggish eyes registered in the flickering light, his thickly corded arms raised over his head to bring his heavy mace crashing down toward Rakhanar’s skull, but Rakhanar was faster. His sword sliced up to intercept the bash and took the orc’s arms off at the elbows as he spun by, evading the dropping weapon, the amputated limbs, and the gush of blood. Rakhanar stepped past and kept his sword moving effortlessly, merciless in this dance of death as he ended the arc of his second spinning swing with a thrust through the orc’s back, grunting through bared teeth. The orc didn’t have time to mourn the loss of his arms before he lost his life.
Rakhanar didn’t see the creature’s eyes in death. It was getting easier.
Yanking his blade from the dead orc, he turned to rush on down the passageway close behind Shialli, his hunger awakened, his heart pounding a slow drumbeat in this focused, nearly timeless state. The pulsing crimson in his eyes matched the beat in his ears. When the next group of orcs came trotting around the corner, armor clanking, he didn’t even hear his own war cry, just that drum of dark fury. The smell of blood in his nostrils was overwhelming, rising like steam from his sword.
This group fell just as quickly under the flashing fire of blade, arcane blaze and siphoned life. The orc Rakhanar charged met him with a sword too, this time. The creature’s weapon clanged as he managed to parry Rakhanar’s first swing, let his blade bounce and come back in at another angle, sacrificing power for speed, but he couldn’t stop Rakhanar’s power-drive. His second swing sang with power as he spun back and around, dropping low. Rakhanar felt a sting as the orc’s blade bit into his forearm, denting the bracer. He growled as a surge of rage flooded him, and his strike took out the orc’s leg. He slammed his sword into the thick thigh, nearly severing it, catching the blade in bone. Blood spurted, black under the flickering torches and the eerie light of the elven female’s blazing purple blades, somewhere to Rakhanar’s left. He lunged up, roaring, and kicked into the orc’s belly, freeing his blade and sending the howling beast crashing backward. Roar still rippling raw in his throat, Rakhanar dove, sword leading, and thrust the blade into the heart of the downed orc.
He stared down at his kill through a veil of black – his hair falling across his vision – then snapped his head up to focus through narrowed eyes on the others, one at a time. The red wave was surging through him and he knew instinctively he had to mark them in his mind now.
Blond elf female. No target.
Freeblood female. No target.
Erudite male. No target.
Then he went blind.
The next thing he knew the group was standing before another door. His breath came loud and fast in his ears, contained by his invisible helm, but his body was thrumming with energy like a snarl vibrating through his entire being. A vague sense of nightmarish memory, of meeting many other groups of orcs, making kill after kill, tickled in his brain.
He was staring at Shialli’s back, and Lady Lilithna was to his left. The white-haired freeblood female leaned forward and hissed in his ear. His mind was an animal’s, innocent of symbolic meaning, and her words were nothing but garbled emotion in sound, matching in truth and out of synch in lies. These words dripped like poison. He lost the first words, then he shook his head, blinking, clearing his thoughts slightly. His jaw was still tight in a grimace, his nostrils flared to take in the needed air to fuel his inner inferno.
“… should be easy enough, right, berserker? Your thirst for blood shall be slaked, no? This place crawls with them, no matter how many times we come to thin their worthless ranks.”
From this he gleaned they had been here many times before. They must think I have, too.
Shialli turned her head, in slow motion, her eyes furious slits over her shoulder as she reached out to push on the heavy door. It swung open silently and Rakhanar pushed forward after her. Berserker. Is that what they call people like me?
The quarters beyond Shialli’s shoulder were tight, sectioned off through the middle of the room with blocking walls. Two orcs were visible, standing against the far wall to the left. They were bigger than the usual, more elaborate in their armor. He didn’t care. Red. The red… Blood and fire. The wave of it crashed over him and he was moving without thought, raising his blade back over his left shoulder for a vicious downward swing, rage ripping from his throat as he charged into the room behind Shialli.
Something slammed into him from the rear, cutting into his armor at his right side. The shockwave blasted through him and he went wild. He spun, swinging, to face the new threat, and his sword clanged into the center wall.
Big, well-armored orcs charged out of the doorways lining the room and his last realization before the red wave swamped him, clearing his mind of coherent thought, was just how cramped the space was, how hard it would be to use his strength and power here.
The orc he faced had a dagger, dripping blood. His blood.
He felt warmth stream down his hip from the now throbbing puncture in his side.
Madness. He ducked his head like a bull charging a flag and pulled his sword in tight to his right side, then dove at the orc, point leading, striking with his whole body, snakelike. He felt the satisfying plunge through steel into flesh as the huge orc went down under his slam, but the canny creature hooked his leg even as he fell, dying, and Rakhanar couldn’t correct his balance. He crashed on top of the orc.
The other orcs were on top of him in a flash, pounding, slicing at his armored but exposed back. He hauled his knees under him and shoved his torso up by the hilt of his sword, still imbedded in the orc’s chest. Howling, he yanked it up with him to his left, only to have it blocked by the center wall. Another cut went into his belly, screaming fire, and the orc’s small, greedy eyes in his face were anything but dazed with disbelief. He was gloating.
Rakhanar stared into the red-rimmed eyes as the pounding in his head slowed even further and wet warmth slid down his body under his armor from the hilt of the dagger in his belly. As if from a distance he could hear the females screaming, yelling, angry, in pain. “… get out! … all over us! Damn that…” And Lord Toran’s voice, still level, rushing through incantations in rising panic.
Still he felt no fear. Nothing but wave after wave of heat, rage, pain throbbing in his belly, at his back…
And then blackness.
* * *
Wizard of Wildfire & Shadow Walker Wordsmith ((a/k/a The Real Me ))