Short Story Sunday: Tranquility (Equiroth)

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[I’m late again! This is part three of “Equiroth“, a story set in a fantasy world. Part one of the story can be found at SSS: Betrayal and part two can be found at SSS: Journey. Keep in mind that while the stories are related, they’re not necessarily continuous.]

The journey felt long and exhausting, their supplies dwindling each day and leaving them with barely anything to fill their stomachs with by the sixth day. If we’re lucky enough we will reach our destination today, thought Bryoth the horn-blower. He was riding alongside Kolsyn, the captain of the army, and three mounted soldiers followed behind them. Despite the lack of food and the exhaustion, Bryoth thought things went well, they didn’t have any unpleasant encounters and the weather served them well for the most part. There was a day or so of rain, but it was a very light rain.

“Look up ahead!” shouted one of the soldiers. Just beyond the trees, up high in the air one could see the top of the high stone doors that marked the entrance to the central elven cities. The group urged their horses forward to complete their mission sooner and hoping their journey will end with a hot bowl of broth and a soft bed.

They reached the gate soon enough, but crossing it wasn’t going to be that easy. The area outside the gates was completely swamped with elves from all cities close and far. There were lines and lines of them waiting to enter, and quite a number of traders had set caravans or tents up as an attempt to profit from the situation. It almost looked as if a whole elven city has been moved to the location. Bryoth and Kolsyn left their horses with the soldiers, it was clear that moving with a mount would be next to impossible, and they slowly started making their way through the crowd.

“You two, not a step further!” They had almost reached the gate when someone got in their way. The man was wearing clothes identical to all those serving in the elven army, but for a weapon he had a glaive, a long polearm from dark wood inscribed with decorations on top of which a sharp sword was located. The glaive signified that he was part of the royal guard whose purpose defending the king and keeping watch on the famous elven doors. This poor fella had obviously gotten the shorter end of that stick so Bryoth could understand why he was in a foul mood. “Do you not see the formed lines around you? Get in there and wait your turn.”

Bryoth thought of telling the guard of their mission. “We need to see someone from the royal family.”

The guy gave him a good look, as if he trying to remember if he had seen Bryoth before. “Well I haven’t been notified that they need to see you so it appears the feeling isn’t mutual. Now get in line!”

“I’m afraid you don’t understand,” Kolsyn tried to explain the situation, “We’re here on an important mission under Lord Marioth’s orders, we have news we need to deliver in the capitol.”

“It seems to me you don’t understand you have to get in line and wait.”

“It’s okay,” another elf stepped toward them, “I’ll handle this.” He was wearing fully brown attire, trousers and a woolen tunic with a shirt underneath, while behind him flapped a silk cloak of the same brown color. He was a servant, but one who works for the royal family as given away by the cloak. The guard made some grunting sound and walked away.

“I heard you mention Lord Marioth. Would that be Marioth from the city of Briswift?”

Feeling slightly irritated by the whole situation, Kolsyn replied with a simple “Yes.”

“I apologize I haven’t presented myself, my name is Faoth and I’m one of his grace’s personal servants.”

“I’m Kolsyn, captain of the Briswift army, and this is Bryoth..” he pondered on the title for a bit, “who does quite a bit. Look, we need –“ Marioth’s waving hand interrupted his talk.

“I’m well aware of your mission. Some of your men arrived from the east a few days ago.”

Bryoth cheered up at the thought. “So Marioth has already met with his grace?”

The servant opened his mouth, but no words came out. He looked to the ground for a moment as if searching for his lost words. “I’m afraid not everything has gone according to your plans. I do not have all the details as I’m going on based on a letter, but come, follow me to our encampment, I’ll explain everything on the way there and we’ll use one of our caravans to go meet the rest of your party.”

Bryoth would later realize that Faoth should have probably stared at the ground some more as apparently he hadn’t found quite the right words. The rest of the party meant four remaining elves from the group of forty-seven which departed toward the gate on the east. Two of them uninjured, the third was hit with an arrow in his left arm, and the fourth was barely alive. Faoth told them that it was their leader Marioth who was battling for his life. His whole body had been burnt badly, every inch of skin turned a shade of black and red.

“How is he still alive?” A puzzled Bryoth had asked in a rush, which earned him a clout on the head from Kolsyn. Faoth answered that it’s had to say but based on what was said by the healer who was taking care of Marioth, it’s likely there was an enchantment which forced the fire to burn only the outer layers of their skin. He told them while they’re hopeful that he will survive this, it will be many moons before he can move any part of his body and he would never truly recover from the injuries.

They reached the encampment and got on a very large caravan lead by six Elphorses, large but slim horse-like creatures with long tusks and a very thick mane. Due to its size, the caravan provided a lot of comfort and space for movement, but with the news they had gotten Bryoth and Kolsyn felt they would have preferred a different type of comfort. The worrying news didn’t end there; they learned that Rhissa was the one who attacked their leader’s group, and they learned that most of the elven doors that lead to the capitol have been closed off because there have been repeated attacks over the last few weeks. But worst of all, they learned that the royal family is not here and neither Marioth’s group neither they can deliver the warning message to his grace.

It was a specific time of the year, a festival which lasts almost as long as a whole moon cycle and during that period the whole royal family along with their guards and most of the capitol’s army visit the moon pillars. They are in fact stones which looked like pillars, all of them having specific sizes and arranged in a specific manner in such a way that when one looks through them he or she can see they perfectly match the moon’s progress on the sky during the course of a whole year. No one truly knows how the stones were constructed but there is no record of their construct while they’ve existed as long as any elf can remember. With all that had happened they had forgotten about their race’s culture traditions.

Bryoth concluded that this was the reason why most of the heavy stone doors had been shut off — there were not enough guards and soldiers to arm and defend all of the locations. The elven capitol has never been weak and no type of petty attacks would force them to close those doors, but this was different. The capitol was hosting feasts every day till the royal family returns, and at a time like this it was important for them to regulate who goes out and who goes in. It wasn’t just about protecting the entrances; it was about ensuring no one finds their way inside unnoticed.

Yet Bryoth found the whole thing to be quite disturbing. Rhissa’s betrayal, her attack on Marioth, the royal family being away, and some random attacks on the capitol gates all happening at once. He thought either it was all a scary coincidence or a frightening ploy where all of these things are part of someone’s plan. But what could they hope to achieve? It doesn’t make sense to have the doors closed, it only strengthens the capitol’s defenses till his grace returns. Is this part of Rhissa’s plan and a way to prevent us from warning the royal family? His mind went on and on, running every thought in all possible directions. While he was racking his brain trying to connect all the things and figure everything out, they had arrived at their destination.

Faoth pointed to the house in front of them. “You will find your friends inside. I’ll be a bit behind as I need to take some things from the caravan.” They didn’t need to be told twice, they run off inside. The house had no rooms with the exception of a bathroom, the rest of it was all put together with no walls or doors to separate any parts of the house. Thus, as soon as they were inside they could see their four fellows, three of them sitting on chairs around a fireplace, while Marioth was laid in a very low pool of water at the other side of the room. In the middle of the room was a table where an elf was mixing some herbs.

“We’ve been expecting you.” She gave them a small smile, and the three soldiers stood up but could not bring themselves to say anything. They didn’t have to, you could read all the horror on their grim faces.

Bryoth and Kolsyn went next to the pool to see what had become of their leader. His flesh looked like something from a nightmare, weirdly painted black and red, uneven with apparent burned dead tissue on the surface. It wasn’t a sight one wants to see, and Bryoth figured maybe that’s why the soldiers are sitting over there and not here.

“I’ve managed to clean most of the burned clothing which had melted into his skin,” the healer went on, “he can even open his eyelids pretty quickly now and we managed to feed him today. However, he still has trouble with moving the rest of his body but hopefully the healing water with help him recover more quickly.”

Just about then Bryoth noticed that Marioth, who was wide awake at the moment, appeared to be trying to move his lips. It was a poor attempt which produced an undistinguishable whispering sound, but he was persistently trying to do it even though it clearly pained him as his eyes were red and watery. “Can you understand what he’s trying to say?” He looked at Kolsyn, hoping he was better at that task.

“I can’t be sure, but I think he’s trying to say Stupid.” As Marioth’s lips movement stopped right about then the two men smiled to each other. His body may be scorched but his spirit’s as strong as ever.

Short Story Sunday: Journey (Equiroth)

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[Yes, yes, it’s not Sunday. But I need to catch up. Also, Tarma needs something to keep her busy. This is part two of “Equiroth“, a story set in a fantasy world. Part one can be found at SSS: Betrayal, while part three can be found at SSS: Tranquility. Keep in mind that while the stories are related, they’re not necessarily continuous.]

The horn blow echoed all around them, traveling in all directions and ignoring all obstacles.

Marioth wished he could do that, ignore any limitations set by terrain and constructions made by the land’s inhabitants. Both of those were preventing their path now. Huge mountain ranges lied on either side, while a massive stone door almost thirty feet high blocked the way between. It was one of seven gates constructed a long time ago by their elven brethren with the use of lots of might and magic. Each one was built at a specific location to protect all possible entrances inside the area encircled by the mountain ranges, where their nation’s capitol shined with all its glory. The gates certainly lacked in beauty, but they clearly served their purpose.

The horn-blower was next to Marioth, on top of his horse just like himself and the fifty warriors behind them. They were almost copies of each other, all wearing the same things. Simple wool and brown leather for armor, a wooden bow with arrows on their back and a silver sword on their side for weapons. The elves did not like differences among their outfits. They valued recognition and respect and it was expected for everyone to know the face of those at higher positions. Marioth’s position as their leader, however, was given out by his purple cloak. At least it used to be purple, now it had a whole range of colors — brown and black from mud and dirt because of the journey, red from blood because of unexpected encounters on the road, and it even had some green but one wasn’t quite sure where that came from. The horn kept blowing.

“I think we’ve had enough of that,” said Marioth, “you can stop now.”

Another horn blow came, and he  stretched his arm to hit the horn-blower on the head. “I said no more.”

“I apologize, I got carried away.”

“One of these days you’ll drive me mad.” His eyes were still focused on the heavy gate, as if trying to figure out how exactly it was created. “There’s a large fort with a village behind this gate hosting at least a few thousand elves. If no one answered that horn blowing by now, it means there’s no one close enough to hear it.”

The horn-blower shifted in his saddle. “And what does that tell us?”

“It tells us you ask stupid questions. We can’t go through here. These gates are closed only during feasts in the capitol and during times of war. I’m most displeased I didn’t get my invitation regardless of which of the two forced them to lock the place. But it means everyone has departed for the capitol.”

One of the elves in the group rode ahead to them. “If you don’t mind me asking,” said the captain of the army, “if our mission is that important, why don’t we consider bringing this gate down?” He had a thing for smashing things into pieces. The bigger they are, the harder they hit the ground seemed to be his motto.

“I do mind you asking.” Marioth turned to face him. “But not as much as I mind your ignorance. Have you seen this thing? It’s survived wars, rebellions, even burning stars fallen from the sky. This lot can’t even make a scratch on it, and we don’t have any particular firepower with us either.” He turned toward the horn-blower, who was also the horse carer and note-taker. “How quickly can these mounts take us to the next gate?”

“If we head west, in about two days we’ll make it to one of the caravan roads and from there we should be able to reach the next gate in about four days.”

“So six days at earliest. Too long. Other options?”

“Well…” The horn-blower pondered. “There is no official road on the east side, at least nowhere near. But if we head northeast through the forest we might be able to reach the next gate in three days. If we’re lucky.”

“Sounds better. We’ll take our chances there.”

“If I may say, roads as that one are dangerous and there’s no guarantee they aren’t blocked or closed off by rockfalls or fallen trees. There’s no saying how many of us will make it through, if anyone at all survives.”

Marioth gave him a good long look. “That may be so, but not all of us have to make it through.”

“Sir?” the horn-blower’s said with a worried voice.

“Grab the parchment and make sure everyone has a piece of paper with the following message, ‘Rayhnar worked against us, and so did Rhissa. Beware of the Sorcerers Guild.‘ Our task is to the deliver that message to the royal family, and someone has to do that at all costs. Even if that is the lives of everyone else here.”

The horn-blower nodded, as did the captain of the army.

“You two take three man and head toward the gate on the west side. The rest will go with me to the gate on the east. We ride out in a bit, tell everyone to be ready.”

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

After two long days Marioth and his group of men were making their way out of the forest, which would put them about a day away from their target. Or so they hoped, there was no road there nor any signs, a man could not say where precisely he was or how much longer he had to walk to reach some signs of life. They had to do a bit of walking in between the riding, the forest was too thick and dense at places and elsewhere the terrain was too rocky and covered with rubble. But that was no longer the case and they could even see a valley ahead of them now.

“We press hard from here, we may even reach the gate before the next day.” Marioth tried to boost their morale. They had lost a couple of good men and their count was closer to thirty. They ran into a group of trolls on their first day, though they managed to get away with injuries and no casualties. But then that same night a den of wildcats took them by surprise. They were large felines, almost as large as their horses, with claws sharper than any steel and teeth strong enough to break some weaker steel. He thought they were fortunate enough with the number of lost men.

Yet the worst things usually happen when you least expect them, and this was no different case. Just as Marioth made it beyond the last trees, a huge ball of fire landed ahead of him, giving his horse a big enough scare that almost threw him off his saddle. An arrow made its way to his left arm as well, and by that time it seemed all hell broke loose — there was fire everywhere, more fiery balls landing left and right, and a rain of arrows was falling everywhere around him. He managed to yell out a simple “Run!” before charging ahead himself.

Once he felt he was in more steady control of his mount, Marioth managed a look back to see what’s happening. Along the trees at the edge of the forest there were people, both elven sorcerers and humans armed with bows and arrows. This plotting and scheming runs deeper than I assumed, he thought to himself. Below, chaos had taken over. There was fire everywhere and the land was covered with arrows. If he didn’t have other things on his mind he’d be pondering how the enemy planned on surviving the fire that was quickly climbing along the trees. His worry was about his men who he could not account for. A few were following him, several lied dead or were burning in flames, but there was no sign of the rest. He decided the fire likely sent them in different directions. Might be for the best, maybe that will give some of us the chance to get away.

He did not have that chance, as he was soon blasted with a fireball himself. His horse fell head-first, throwing Marioth forward and sending him to roll over several feet ahead. His body was broken, he knew that. He was putting all his strength to get up and keep moving, but the pain was too big and he felt too weak, he only managed to slightly raise himself to get a better look of the battlefield. There was no battlefield though, only the remains of one. If any of his men were still alive, he could not say as he could only see bodies and fire. And her. He could see Rhissa standing a few feet to his right.

“You… But how?”

“Your nephews were kind enough to come to my rescue.” She smiled and twirled her dark teal robe as if to imitate a damsel in distress.

Marioth’s eyes were filled with fire, half from rage and half from reflecting the surroundings. “What have you done with them?”

“Oh, nothing. Don’t worry, they’re alive. I only did to them what you did to me, locked them up in that ugly troll residence. They saved me so I figured I owed them something.”

“And you’re working with the humans now, you filthy little witch.”

Rhissa was cackling with laughter. “Me? Work with humankind? No, no. You’ve got this all wrong. They’re working for me and the merry band of witches and wizards you so despise.”

“I do not despise anyone for their abilities, only for how they put them to use.”

She rolled her eyes. “That pile of rubbish wisdom never did you any good.” With a wave of her hand she set him on fire.

As the fire burned and he screamed, only one thing soothed Marioth’s pain — the hope that his horn-blower and captain had a more successful journey that his.

Short Story Sunday: Betrayal (Equiroth)

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[This is part one of “Equiroth“, a story set in a fantasy world. Part two can be found at SSS: Journey and part three can be found at SSS: Tranquility. Keep in mind that while the stories are related, they’re not necessarily continuous.]

She scurried back to the large rocks, making sure not to make any noise. In situations like this she was glad their armor made of wool and leather stayed quiet regardless of their movement pace.

“I count two of them, this one and there is one on the other side of the bridge.” Dalyne told her partner.

Thenael glanced from the side of the rock to get a better view of the surroundings. The first troll was standing a couple of feet away from them, likely guarding the bridge behind it. It was more of a massive chunk of stone that conveniently connected this side of the mountain to the otherwise inaccessible hill on the other side. There were wooden barricades on the other side that prevented him from viewing the second troll.

But the first troll was fully exposed. It was probably twice as tall as Thenael, and twice as big as well. A dark brown monster of extraordinary size and strength, it could easily crush anyone with a single blow. Yet, with large size came a large head and Thenael found those make for an easy target.

“You have a clear shot?” He asked Dalyne.

“I’m good to go whenever you are.”

“Set.” He whispered as he swiftly moved to the side of the rock.

“Ready.” He put up his longbow and positioned an arrow aimed at the troll.

“Go!” He fired the arrow and didn’t waste even a single second but rushed ahead, knowing well enough that they both did their job. As Thenael was running toward the bridge the troll was about to hit the ground, it being dead from the two arrows in its head. Instead of heading toward the bridge he went for the troll, quickly switching his bow for his sword. He used it to impale the troll on his way down, slowing its fall and preventing a hard hit to the ground.

It did the trick as their position wasn’t given out. Dalyne had managed to cross the bridge and jump at the second troll, slashing the back of its head with her sword. Thenael was making his way there when a third troll came out, waving a heavy wooden club in an attempt to hit Dalyne. She was escaping his swings, but had no space for an attack. Thenael grabbed his bow and fired a single shot at the troll. The troll being in movement, the arrow barely hit its left shoulder, yet it proved to be enough of a distraction to let Dalyne cut its stomach wide open.

Whether the roar or the battle sounds gave them away, one couldn’t know, but two more trolls were charging their way. Thenael managed to hit one in the left with an arrow before switching to his melee weapon, but Dalyne wasn’t that lucky. Caught by surprise, the troll managed to hit her with a club, throwing her back near the edge of the hill. Thenael moved forward to distract the troll, yet unable to manage a blow to it, the whole thing looked like dancing where the elf moved away just before the club hit him.

Dalyne managed to get up in time to avoid an attack from the limping troll, and him not being armed with anything she found it easy enough to manage a small slash in their own dancing routine. Soon enough the limping troll was tired and hurt enough to allow her a final slash. She grabbed her bow and shot an arrow at the back of the other troll, giving Thenael the chance to slide his sword inside the troll.

“Is that all of them?” He asked as he pulled his sword out of the troll’s chest.

Dalyne simply nodded. “We better get moving though,” she said and made her way inside the cave on the hill. It was a dark place, its only source of light being whatever came from the outside and it was clear trolls have no sense for organizing. Everything was throwing around, and that everything seemed to be whatever the trolls managed to get their hands on. There were weapons, but also furniture and pieces of furniture; there were barrels and boxes filled with food, rocks, coal, but also branches and other pieces of wood.

“I’m over here!” A voice yelled from the back of the cave. It was Rhissa, the sorceress tasked with providing counsel to their leader and magical aid to all within their city. She was wearing iron shackles and the chain was tied to the wall of the cave.

“Step back.” Dalyne told her, raising her sword to hit the shackles.

“No, don’t do that!” The sorceress stopped her. “These have been enchanted with a spell and cannot be broken with simple weapons. Only magic which does not belong to the wearer can break them.”

“Here, try with this,” said Thenael as he passed her a small crystal bottle with blue liquid, “it’s a healing potion but it might do the trick.”

As Dalyne poured the potion over the shackles, their silvery color turned darker and darker until they became fully black. At that point the sorceress easily broke them free with her magic. “Thank you, I am finally free.”

“Let’s go, we don’t have a lot of time to waste.” Thenael made his way out of the cave first, but the others were following right behind. But just as they made their way out, the rock acting as a bridge cracked and broke into many pieces which all fell down and left them with no way out of there.

Standing there shocked, Thenael and Dalyne both turned to the sorceress for an answer, only to find she’s no longer there. “What did just happen here?” Dalyne asked him, but received no answer from Thenael.

Instead, the answer came from the other side of where the bridge was. “In short, you’ve been played.” The sorceress could not be found behind them because she was in front of them. “Which is not to say I didn’t need your help, I am still grateful for that. It was your uncle who got me locked up here though.”

“No.” Dalyne responded, “My uncle would have no reason to lock you here and he left for the capitol this morning.”

“He did.” The sorceress nodded. “Except, I tried to stop him and in the process I revealed my true position and intensions. Unfortunately I underestimated the power of our troops, or well, the power of his troops. I was never one of you.”

“It’s a good thing you got away with betrayal then, my uncle does not take betrayal lightly.” Said Thenael.

“I didn’t get away with anything. He only locked me here temporarily; it was his intention to judge me only after he returns from his mission at the capitol. You see, with my plan revealed, there were far more pressing matters for him than my fate.”

“And what would that be?” asked Dalyne.

Rhissa looked at her for a moment, as if pondering what to tell her. “Nothing that concerns you, and it’s a story I have no time for. You fancy elves enjoy your time together, I’ll be back to have fun with you once I’ve handled your uncle.” And with a grin on her face, the sorceress disappeared into thin air. There was no puff of smoke to announce her disappearance; she simply faded away, becoming more and more transparent until there was no sign of her.

“That bitch!” yelled Thenael, while Dalyne just fired an arrow where the sorceress was standing, but the arrow hit a tree several feet further away.

“So what now?” she asked him.

He glanced at her with a worried look, “I guess now we pray someone finds us here.”