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