16 – Back to the Hall, Battered

While Rakhanar stood, hugging Wildstreak’s neck just to stay on his feet, Ehacofi was chattering away in her excitement. She was a bright-eyed, cheerful little Ratonga with a very simple outlook, it seemed: life was a lot more fun with a fat purse. She had apparently decided that following Rakhanar was the key to achieving that.

“So yous haves friends? Can I meets thems? I haves money, I buys drinks!”

Exhausted, Rakhanar groaned. He really wanted to just call to the guild hall and get out of his battered armor, but he was growing fond of the little Ratonga and didn’t want to leave her behind. He thought of Carroway and the gentle fae priestess, Evaine. It had been a long time since he had seen them, more than a month that he had been roaming Faydwer and fighting orcs, alone but for Wildstreak.

“Aye, I have friends, back at the hall.” His voice was a dull monotone. With an effort, he dragged himself up on Wildstreak’s back and looked down at Ehacofi. “Come…”

Home, Wildstreak.

The Ratonga female hopped up on her little pony’s back and squeaked with glee, falling in behind as Wildstreak moved out. The golden unicorn chose a smooth gait, while the little pony clattered along at a trot behind him.

He headed back to Kelethin with Wildstreak aiming his horn threateningly at any orcs near the path. When Ehacofi noticed how they cringed and scattered, she pulled up beside him, puffing out her chest with pride as if she were the cause of their terror. Rakhanar couldn’t help but chuckle at her antics.

As they neared the tree city, he pulled up his hood, ducking his head to hide his face. He led the little Ratonga to the magic globe, the city guard saluting him as the mysterious warrior who was known to be defending their homeland with great passion.

“New Halas,” he said, glancing toward the little Ratonga as he reached out to touch the globe. She nodded and followed him into the sparkling whiteness of in between.

They came out on the other side as night was falling. The smell of salt air hit him in a blast of freezing wind, and Wildstreak moved into a smooth canter, knowing the way to The Frosted Brew as well as how sensitive Rakhanar was to cold. Actually, Rakhanar found that the brisk air was refreshing, and he found his second wind. Once they made it to the cavern where the living quarters were, Rakhanar slid off of Wildstreak’s back and gave him a grateful pat.

“The Frosted Brew. This is where you can meet some of my friends.” Rakhanar glanced at Ehacofi and nodded up the hill to the sturdy building with its heavy crossbeams high on the peaked roof.

Ehacofi beamed happily and wrapped her pony’s reins around the hitching post. Wildstreak nodded and nuzzled Rakhanar’s shoulder, then trotted into an explosion of sparkles, disappearing.

Rakhanar trudged up the snow-covered stairs to the wide wooden doors and pushed inside the building. He found the door to the tavern and headed in. Immediately, he was met by the warmth and the mouth-watering scents of freshly baked bread and flame-broiled steaks, along with many other enticing odors.

Lord Toran was there, seated at a table upstairs, casually leaning on the rail. He nodded as Rakhanar entered, and Rakhanar waved a casual salute, smiling. Carroway was there also, tending bar as usual, along with quite a few other patrons milling about. Rakhanar pulled up on a stool at the bar and the little Ratonga trotted in after him, then climbed up on the seat next to him.

Carroway smirked at the little Ratonga, then turned to Rakhanar. “You get a new friend there, or have you taken to carrying some smelly cheese in your backpack?”

Ehacofi sniffed and crossed her arms, but Rakhanar couldn’t restrain a chuckle. “This is Ehacofi, and you might want to keep her on your good side. I saw her take down an orc that was about your size not too long ago. Single-handed.”

The little Ratonga looked up at Rakhanar and grinned, pleased that he had taken the role of her champion.

Carroway turned his gaze to her and raised his whiskery eyebrows. “Is that right?”

Not one for humility, she nod nod nodded enthusiastically. “Meeses rodes the orcsie down likes a choppsed tree!”

Now Carroway chuckled. “I would’ve liked to have seen that!”

Lord Toran, done with his business upstairs, had apparently overheard this tale and decided that the ratonga might make a good addition to the guild. He headed down the stairs and made a beeline for Ehacofi. Rakhanar was glad to introduce her to him, and the little ratonga happily followed the Erudite to a table to discuss the matter.

At that moment, the door swung open, and a creature like none Rakhanar had ever seen pushed in from out of the cold. It looked like a dog walking upright. It peered around with bright eyes, sniffing the air.

Rakhanar had never had a dog or any other pet, since his fostering with the fae made that unlikely. Fae folk looked more to a dog like something that should be chased than someone to obey as master, and dogs to fae looked more like something to be teased to wild fury. It wouldn’t be impossible for a fae to raise a dog as a pet, but it was not likely to even occur to them to try. Cats, with their independent natures, were more their style when it came to pets and were often seen mincing about the platforms of Kelethin. Dogs, however, he had only seen from a distance, sometimes serving the elven nobles on a hunt in his foster homeland, and once or twice as a child in Qeynos with human masters. In fact, wanting a puppy of his own had been the trigger for one of the tantrums that led to his fostering.

Some of the patrons turned and gasped at the entrance of this creature. Rakhanar heard snippets of a whisper. “…trouble. What in the… a gnoll just walking in!” One warrior went so far as to reach for a sword that he apparently had forgotten was not at his hip, since the tavern required everyone to disarm on entry.

Rakhanar noted the reaction from the patrons even as the normally smiling Carroway turned a frown on the warrior, staring him down with a shake of his head. He turned a more relaxed gaze on the others, willing them to acceptance as he addressed the creature.

“Grau! Come in, girl, come in, get out of the cold.” Carroway extended his white paw to a seat at the bar, welcoming.

The creature – a gnoll? – fixed bright black eyes on the Kerran and yipped happily. “Yes, yes, yes! Grau come in! Nice warm fuzzy place, yummy food smells…”

Rakhanar smiled in spite of himself as the creature, which he gathered was a female gnoll, inhaled deeply again. “Food! Yes, food! Hungry, happy, happy!” The gnoll trotted over to the bar and pushed between Rakhanar and another customer seated there, pressing her nose into Carroway’s huge furred paw in greeting.

Rakhanar beamed at the gnoll, charmed, his battering forgotten. “I couldn’t have put it better myself.”

The gnoll looked up at his wide smile and nodded vigorously. “Food! Good food! Kitty furr face is friend!” She peered at Rakhanar and tilted her head, reaching up with a paw to curiously pat his beard. “You furr face, too! You like food, too?”

Rakhanar chuckled at the light tickle of her touch. “I do, at that. We seem to have a couple of things in common.” He couldn’t resist reaching over to scratch her scruff. It seemed a natural greeting, and she wiggled appreciatively, tail thumping the stool behind her as she turned to him. “I like wild things like you,” he admitted. “I’ve a bit of a wild streak myself.”

And with that, Rakhanar had sealed their friendship before the little gnoll even knew his name.

* * *

~Diaman Darshan~

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

Diaman Fighting with Fire

 

 

15 – In Crushbone Keep

The first thing that Rakhanar saw as he shoved open the wide double doors to Crushbone Keep was the Fount of Zek. Centrally placed, wide stone steps led up to the huge stone head of Rallos Zek, the god of the orcs.  Its crimson eyes burned dully, molten lava pouring out of its wide open mouth. The lava was contained in a square pool, set off by a fence made of spears. The sulphurous smell was overwhelming, but to his sensitive olfactory sense, it still didn’t mask the thick rancid odor of orc sweat concentrated in the Keep.

He had no time to think about what the Fount might be used for. To his left, four green-skinned, slavering orcs were charging to meet him. He waded into the center of them, setting his rage free, even pushing through them until they turned their backs to his companions. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the little Ratonga shimmer into shadows, disappearing, while Lily began to chant in a sing song voice, her hands moving gracefully in deadly mudras.

Rakhanar kept moving in his sword dance, giving the orcs no time to think about anything but trying to bring him down. He spun, his huge Claymore whistling in a wide arc, slicing right through their armor into their bellies. They howled and grunted, cursing him as they died, and the acrid scent of their blood saturated the dark, smoky air.

He spun again, sprinting into the next room as four more, hidden by the separating wall, converged. The first orc charged, his club held high for a vicious downswing, but Rakhanar hit him first with a full body block, sending him crashing to the floor. Barely breaking his momentum, he whipped the Claymore around as deftly as a baton, slicing it down to skewer the stunned orc.

This gave the others pause, and they began to eye the slender female chanting behind him as easier meat.

Oh no you don’t. Rakhanar found himself barking and growling in their ugly tongue, calling them cowards, threatening them, anything to get them to come at him instead.

It worked. The three remaining orcs looked between each other as if to say, “Can you believe this insolent human?” And then they moved in, snarling and snapping their own insults.

Then, one of them suddenly threw his head back and cried out in pain, a slender blade protruding from his chest. Only when he dropped to his knees and fell forward did the cause of his demise become apparent. Ehacofi rode him down, still clinging to the hilt of her sword.

Rakhanar laughed harshly and spun, his huge blade humming through the air, cleanly decapitating one of the two remaining orcs who faced them, giving the little Ratonga time to melt back into the shadows even as more orcs charged from the dark corners of the other room.

Power surged into him from Lily Redbird’s magic. It had a sickening taint that left a bitter bile at the back of his throat and now he knew for sure that she was not from Qeynos. He didn’t have time to think about that now though. The last orc in the second wave ducked under his blade and through his guard, and he felt the hot sting of its strike cut into his side. Red washed over his vision in his next agonized heartbeat. Fire flashed through him, his rage flaring, wild.

“Rakhanar!” He heard Lily call his name, but as the echo of her voice faded, so did his rational mind, lost in feral fury. Whatever else she might have said, it was nothing but garbled madness to him. He was going blind again.

He thrust his sword through the orc’s chest and turned to stare at her, marking her friendly. The look of fear that crossed her face as she looked into his eyes told him more clearly than any mirror how far gone he was. Ehacofi was cloaked in shadow so he could only hope that her small size would save her.

Blood red flooded his gaze, hot, and rage closed in, black.

* * *

The next thing he knew, he was focused fuzzily on the the line where the rough stone wall met the ceiling, matching stone against his back, breathing like a bellows. A hallway. He was still standing, just barely, leaning against the wall, head back. Every part of his body hurt.

A feminine voice came to his ears. Lily Redbird. “That’s all I have… he’s got to pull through on his own, now. I can’t conjure more blood for him.”

An unfamiliar masculine voice answered her. “Looks like he’s still in one piece. Can’t say the same for his armor. It’s not doing him a lick of good anymore. Barely was when he charged in here, really. He can handle much heavier, I’ll warrant…”

“Well. At least he got us this far. Shouldn’t be a problem getting out. Those poor captives will have to stay alive a little longer without us…”

At that, Rakhanar lowered his head. “No… We have to…” he started, his tongue thick as he groggily focused on the female.

“You can speak again? Something besides orcish insults, even,” Lily interrupted him, returning his gaze with unreadable eyes.

Rakhanar didn’t answer, just turned his head to look for the owner of the masculine voice, to find an armored warrior with light skin and dirty blond hair regarding him with a glint of something that could have been awe in his eyes.

“You have to what? Keep fighting until you bleed to death? That’s what’s going to happen in that wrecked armor.” The warrior chuckled and gave Rakhanar a solid pat on his shoulder, heavy gauntlet clattering against his rent and bloody spaulders. “You cleared a good enough path for today, take a break. You’re not the only one who wants them out.”

Rakhanar managed a nod and took a step away from the wall, looking past the warrior. There were orc bodies strewn down the hallway to his left. Blood that looked black in the torchlight liberally soaked the cobblestones and splattered the walls. He swayed slightly.

“Aye, I’d say you need to head back that way. All clear.” The warrior stepped in under his shoulder to steady him.

Rakhanar never got the man’s name, but he helped him make it back to the entrance of the Keep and gave him a few gold toward a new set of armor, though he didn’t really need the coin. Once outside, as he whistled for Wildstreak, only the little ratonga stayed, grinning ear to ear over her fattened purse, happy to share in her spoils. Lily Redbird mounted her dark horse and with the barest of glances in his direction, trotted away.

She had saved his life with her dark magic.  He never saw her again.

* * *

~Diaman Darshan~

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

Diaman Fighting with Fire