The trip back down through the passages to the commander’s quarters was uneventful, but for Rakhanar, every shadow hid a threat. His blood heated up behind his eyes, welcomed now. He stayed in control, aware in the moment though, listening as Banedon now filled him in on the layout of the dungeon.
The orcs, even the commanders, were stupid. They didn’t expect them back so soon. When they pushed through the door, Shialli rushed the one on the left of the opposite door, running him through before he could move, while Lilithna simply reached out to pull the life from the one on the right. The group dashed across the short length of the rectangular room while the orcs stayed in their quarters. Rakhanar could hear them, still talking in their gutteral way that sounded like snarls, insults and threats, as the four moved through the guarded door to the deeper caves beyond.
There was a short passageway there, not heavily guarded now since none were expected to make it past the commander’s quarters. Shialli dispatched the few orcs they ran into with aplomb. They entered a large room beyond and the smell of old blood hit Rakhanar in the face. There were counters with laboratory instruments all around the walls and a table in the center of the room equipped with shackles. Not the kind of place anyone who didn’t like pain would want to wake up in. The smell of acidic chemicals hung in the air, stinging his nostrils.
Lilithna seemed quite pleased. “Hmm. I could do something with a place like this. Needs more chains. Then all I would need would be a few “test” subjects…”
Rakhanar couldn’t contain a harsh snort. Mistake.
She turned to him hungrily. “Are you volunteering?”
He glanced up, then away again, smirking. “I’ll have to think about it.” Quick pause. “Pass.”
The Lady frowned. “No taste for pain, eh? It can make a man out of you…” She let the thought hang in the air, strangely making the offer sound almost tempting, until she added, “…before you die.”
Rakhanar snorted again. “My taste is for giving pain, if it keeps my mates from death. Not like yours, sweetheart.” As soon as the last word was out of his mouth, he knew he had stepped over a line.
Her eyes blazed. “I don’t have a heart.”
He knew he should just let it go, but he was chafing, red pulsing in his eyes unreleased. He glanced at Shialli, then back at her. “You could’ve fooled me.”
“You would have to have a mind to fool.”
He closed his eyes, sighing. Trading insults was not his strength. It got out of hand for him so fast. Control. Breathe. Control. Cool down, cool down… “I meant your lack of one would break…” He opened his eyes and nodded to Shialli. “… hers.”
He saw nothing wrong with acknowledging the devotion that Shialli obviously had for the Lady. Shialli, however, seemed to find this infuriating beyond belief. She whipped one purple crackling blade from its sheath and had it at his throat before he could even flinch.
“Can I kill him now, my Queen?” She hissed the calm request through clenched teeth and pressed the blade down on his shoulder. Rakhanar had no choice but to sink to his knees, and at the moment he chose that course willingly. He was in trouble and he knew it. Nothing would save him now but mercy.
Lord Toran just stood and watched, that knowing smirk on his face. No help there.
If there were any time for him to feel fear, this would be it. His body was barely warmed by his inner flame; there was no rage to shoulder it out. And yet as he looked into Shialli’s eyes, all he could feel was pity.
He had been wrong. Whatever bond there was between these two, it was not love. This female, in this moment, seemed incapable of it. What kind of life could she have had, never to have known love?
They had that in common, in a way. If not for Siffy’s friendship, he might be just like her.
Rakhanar, stone cold, not daring to twitch, turned his eyes to Lady Lilithna. There was no mercy there. He was going to die. One word…
He was strangely calm, resigned to his fate. It seemed familiar, facing death before he had really known life. He had no idea where the deja vu’ came from, but it was there, an eerie bending of time, backward and forward, across some unknown universe to settle back in this eternal now moment.
He wanted only one thing before he died.
“Forgive me, my Lady. I meant no harm.” His deep, man’s voice was low and even, and he was the only one who knew it wasn’t even the voice of a man, but an untouched youth.
Lady Lilithna’s glowing eyes flickered. Surprise?
She stared at him silently for a moment, then slowly raised her hand. “We… need him. For now.” Then she smirked. “Besides, it would be such a waste. All that … hot… blood…”
Rakhanar didn’t even dare to breathe, much less release his breath in a sigh of relief. The last comment was definitely a jibe, because his blood was anything but hot right now.
Shialli nodded coldly and flicked her wrist, drawing her blade back to sheath in a flash. It was really nothing to her, after all.
He got to his feet carefully and bowed to the Lady. “Thank you,” he said simply.
Lady Lilithna showed her teeth slightly in something that could have been a smile, but was not. “It was nothing,” she purred, but he knew she was really saying, “You are nothing.”
At that moment, orcs burst through the door. Big, from the commander’s quarters. They had tarried too long.
Rakhanar and Shialli moved as one to face them, keeping them pinned to the doorway for the most part, but the first one had slipped past them in the first instant and targeted Lord Toran, apparently figuring him for the mage, the biggest threat but the weakest against his strength, brute force.
Before anyone could move to protect him or Lord Toran himself could get off a spell, the orc clipped him at the temple, dropping him to the blood crusted stone floor. Rakhanar finished off the orc he was facing and spun back, too late to do anything but avenge Lord Toran if he was dead or keep the orc from finishing him off if he wasn’t. He slammed his sword into the orc’s back with a grunt, thrusting all the way through.
Shialli managed to press the rest back into the passageway. She slammed the door, bolting it, and turned her back to it to brace it, her eyes wide.
“We have to leave!” she yelled, focusing on the Erudite on the floor. “Call spells, now!”
Lady Lilithna began the weave of mana immediately, pulling the power to her. Sparkling light converged, even as she swooped down to hoist Lord Toran’s shoulders, connecting with him to pull him with her.
Rakhanar ripped his sword from Lord Toran’s attacker and sheathed it bloody, then followed through the shimmering between as Shialli began to disappear as well.
* * *
Wizard of Wildfire & Shadow Walker Wordsmith ((a/k/a The Real Me ))