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.”