Friday, January 30, 2015

Hakaar - Chronicle 14.3 - Raid on the Ranch

There was a tap at the window. I awoke with a start, opening my eyes seeing the grainy black and white interior of the dark room. I reached up and put my hand to my greatsword. The crossguard and pommel had acted as an improvised headrest. Silah was there, now in my head.

After better understanding her nature in sword form, I realized that she could rest easily in either form. It was a little better than seeing her sit woodenly in a chair for the entire night.

We were on the second floor, using Bromm's room as a temporary landing place until I had decided I wanted a longer term residence here. Well, that, and being able to afford a longer term residence here.

I reached out to Silah in my mind. There's someone here.

"I don't sense anything malevolent." She whispered closely, she was there the whole time.

I'm going to look around.

"You have pretty interesting dreams." She seemed a little distant.

Uh, should I be worried with you poking around in my head while I'm sleeping?

She fell silent.

I stood, with Silah in my hands. Looking around cautiously.

Another tap at the window. I moved toward it and spotted Floki outside on the rain-soaked street, a dog was sitting next to him, looking uncomfortable in the rain. I moved over to a candle in the room and used a tindertwig to light it. I gently shook Bromm's foot.

"Floki is outside. I'm not sure what time it is." I stated, "I'm going to see what's happening."

Floki had come into town after Rana hadn't shown up. There had been a raid on the ranch where they they both took up time to learn their tradeskills. Many of the ranch hands had died and even the half-Orc that taught Floki and Rana's apprenticeships, Ekror, had perished right in front of him. It was a lot to take in.

"They were tracking refugees across the plains South, South-east. Rana must be with them. I've seen her arrows in more than a few Orc corpses." He recounted.

Good for her. I nodded.

I looked at the dog. Not a dog. It was a wolf. I eyed it warily. In town? Was Floki insane?

"She has got to be running out of arrows." Floki said in passing. His expression unreadable.

I wasn't sure if he was tired, but he seem to be unaffected by the situation beyond knowing his sister was in danger.

"People deal with grief differently." Silah echoed in the distance, "He may be preparing for the worst."

Bromm had joined us downstairs and listened in on part of our conversation. He groggily went back upstairs without saying a word. I followed up after him, finding my armor and putting it in place. I was able to get some of my clothes cleaned last night. It meant I had to be wrapped up in a blanket during the task. At least they looked slightly less grimy than they did before. I took Silah in my hand again after getting equipped.

"At least you're trying." I could feel Silah smirk and her presence coming more to the forefront now, "Where was I when you did all this?"

Not with me?

"Hah. Being coy. It will get you nowhere," she threatened breathlessly. A chuckle shimmered through the blade.

After getting equipped, we visited Danin and Sig, rousing them from their slumber. When we got to the gateway out of the city, the guards were starting to show. Apparently, Floki had warned them ahead of time and a larger contingent were going to attempt to secure the ranch. Floki had the wolf with him, apparently this creature was permanent. It made cautiously wide circles around everyone, but seemed to return to Floki's side readily.

There was a hum of passion coming from the greatsword. I smiled.

We're on our way to fight some Orcs and save the girl!

"I'm ecstatic!" She said with anticipation.

I had walked this road a lot now. I could almost say I was a veteran of the road from the distance between here and Kellas House, but that wasn't saying much for what little had actually happened.

The rain was miserable. It had tamped down my mood considerably. That, and the fact that I didn't know where Rana had ended up. We should have been there. She shouldn't have to face this alone.

I had my hand over my right shoulder, holding the hilt of Silah as I walked. She was in my old scabbard. A poor fit, but with a few lacings, it was adequate for now. I didn't want her walking with the rest of us. If there was anything out there, I didn't want to have to reveal her secret the the guards.

The scene at the ranch was grim. We had followed the path in with the guards leading the way. They began to take notes and the guard in charge called out orders. The bodies were ordered, identified, and put to rest. I had seen this many times before. Many, many times. It put a fiery anger in my gut.

They will pay.

My grip tightened on the hilt.

We were fervently engaged in the chase, moving rapidly to where Floki had last seen them and had to fall back.

"They were on the rocks up there. They shot Ekror with some sort of poison and he couldn't retreat. Then they filled him full of arrows." Floki knelt near the bodies.

I shuddered at the recounting. This was an organized group that came in numbers ready to wipe out the ranch. Apparently, Ekror's offenses against the Orcs had gone too far. I thought a step further and wondered about a potential assault on Kellas House. Duncan could be threatened as well. I felt the heat of rage rise in me again.

"They were led by an Orc with red hair. He seemed to be the one driving them on." Floki said.

Red hair? It was very uncharacteristic. Perhaps he used something alchemical to change it?

"He's mine. I'll make sure he pays." I seethed.

We crested the rocky slope and got a better look at what lay before us. Floki's wolf needed a little help with the climb. He went down and picked it up, and it growled at him the whole way. I raised an eyebrow, waiting for the wolf to deliver a killing blow to his throat as he set it down, but it calmed down, unruffled itself, and kept following him.

We approached a maze of dense trees in the plains. The tracks that Floki followed showed that Rana had moved through the center where two sets of Orcs came to a decision point. One set went through; the other, around.

We followed her tracks into the maze of tree roots and branches. Danin and the others didn't seem to have a problem, but I was in the thick tops of the scrub and it was slowing me down.

I heard a shout from Floki and I turned to see a large spider breaking through the roots, nearly as big as the wolf, rapidly moving toward me. I drew my blade and split it in half just as it bit my foot. I felt weak and woozy as the poison took hold.

"Yes!" Silah whispered.

There was a pause and something changed in the mood coming from the sword.

"Wait. What is it I'm feeling from you?"

The was an edge to her voice, almost accusatory. I furrowed my brow at her delivery.

Poison.

"Well? Kill them!" She urged, pressing in on my mind.

I've got this, just let me work.

Another spider sprung through a trapdoor of moss next to Floki and, a stones throw behind us, I heard Danin call out. I slashed at another one roosting in a tunnel just off the path and it popped and oozed. Another assaulted me from behind bit my right calf. I swung at it weakly, almost dropping the sword.

"You're not even trying! Don't let them get close to you!" She was heated, not making this any easier.

I growled audibly, grinding my teeth through the burning sensations that coursed through me.

What's gotten into you? Back off Silah!


Unexpectedly, Sig bent over and vomited a swarm of smaller spiders that proceeded to cover the larger spider. It twitched, stepping back, but clearly writhing in pain. I was horrified.

I swatted at another two. Another was able to sneak in and clamp on my foot sending another surge of poison into me. I brought the blade down hard and it crumpled.

Even with new death dripping from the blade, Silah seemed insatiable. An exasperated sound fizzled like burning ash over my my skin and I gritted my teeth against her displeasure.

"You could have taken them all. What were you waiting for?" Her anger was sharp and completely out of character for the sweet girl she had been for the past few days. After the first stroke, I could feel a bloodlust rising in her that threatened to engulf me. I swallowed hard, doing my best to ignore the throbbing coming from the blade.

Things calmed down as the last spider was felled. The spider's poison still coursed through me and I winced with each heartbeat. I waited for a minute, while the nauseousness passed. I took a step and stumbled briefly. I was incredibly weak.

I gripped one of the trees and breathed deeply. I turned to Sig.

"That, Sig, was the creepiest thing I've ever seen." Attempting to lighten my mood, but still, it really had been the creepiest thing I'd seen.

A half-smile flickered across Sig's face. At least he was on our side.

"Are you well?" Floki was looking at me. The rest of the group gathered.

"I feel weak, is all. Hopefully it wears off soon," I lied. I didn't expect it to wear off soon. The poison was still in there. If we got in a fight—well, I didn't know what I would do. I wasn't feeling very confident. Danin laid a hand on me that glowed briefly and I saw the bite wounds seal up from their angry red, but the healing went only so deep. I sighed.

"Thank you." I nodded gratefully to Danin.

"You didn't have to let them get to you," Silah seethed, and, in my mind's eye, I swear I could see glowing embers for her eyes.

Fed up, I sheathed her, giving myself some space. She had changed dramatically on the battlefield. An entirely different personality had taken hold. I hadn't expected this, not at all, but I was more angry than worried at the moment. Although, worry wasn't far behind.

We emerged from the tangled scrub forest and saw the tracks of two Orc groups converge. I had seen it from a distance, but what was on the horizon was increasingly obvious. A large set of stone pillars running in a half circle in front of us then just shy of a ridge-line.

"Tracks go that way." Floki said, then stopped. "As well as that way."

He was looking in two different directions. I could see what he was looking at, but couldn't tell what it meant. He pointed South.

"It looks like about a dozen of them split off before moving into the stones."

He looked up at the stones and pondered them.

"The ones that went South probably wanted nothing to do with those," he nodded toward the monoliths piercing the horizon.

As we approached the stone monoliths, it was immediately obvious that they were impossible creations. Whole stone pillars cut from a single source without any fractures of blemishes and dropped in a line. It was truly a magnificent sight. That is, if it also hadn't made me feel small and insignificant as well. That, and the fact that the air was rife with a smell of charged magic.

I had felt something like this during the battle of the titans. I saw the beast made of lightning blast the wooden hulk into burning chunks. That lightning seemed to hover in the air here. I swore that I could even see it dancing over my hand and between my fingers.

"This way." Floki beckoned.

The sensation between the stones wasn't much different than all around them. In a way, though, it made me feel more alive; more energized. Even with the poison and strangeness with Silah, I felt good. The stones themselves were carved with runes. Sig said that the stones weren't magic, but the runes were. Somehow, those runes had made the stones stretch that magic skyward. It was like a fence, like those at any pasture, but armed with lightning as crossbeams. I was wary while passing through it, but there seemed to be no smoking husks left over from those who passed through before us.

As we crested the hill, the lay of the land unfolded. There was a keep precariously clinging to a cliffside with a chasm dropping quickly out of sight. The cliff reminded me of the open quarry at the Poulterhaud mine. I couldn't tell from here, but it was likely far deeper.

Across a short valley running North along the cliffside from the keep was a dense cluster of trees that could almost be called a small forest.

"That paths diverge here." He pointed toward the keep, "Rana must be in there and the Orcs went into that forest. I'm going to try and sneak up to the keep and get Rana some arrows. If we can get out without being seen, we'll get back and make a plan for the Orcs."

Everyone nodded in agreement.

"If you hear them attack. Come running!" He kept low and darted off toward the keep, it was mere moments before I couldn't see him anymore as he blended into the surroundings.

We had hunkered down, waiting for what was to come next. It was quiet, though. Floki, hopefully, had reached the keep. And, hopefully, Rana was alive and well, even if a bit rattled. Seeing the work she had done on the Orcs that had followed her, I was impressed with how far she'd come. Rana was much more than simply Floki's sister. Standing on her own, putting her neck out to save others; exemplary. I had seen far less honor rewarded greatly on the battlefield. I was going to be sure to tell her that.

Holding this position made my whole frame ache, reminding me of my condition. I looked at my hand and flexed it. I felt weak and I was angry about it. Silah had turned into a relentless demon. I was angry at her, too. Maybe we could work this out? Maybe. The others likely had no idea what had happened to this point.

I decided to step away from the rest of them and draw her out, but only to bring her to human form. The handle smouldered to the touch. I drew her out and immediately thought of her returning her human form giving the blade an indelicate toss in the process.

"Do you have something to say to me?" I hissed, holding a wide stance against her.

She completed her change. Her diminutive form was rigid, eyes locked to mine; wide and angry.

"Perhaps this bond wasn't right after all." She folded her arms and shot me a withering look, her face dangerously clouded.

"Then you shouldn't have given me the choice." I growled low.

This would send lesser men scrambling, but it rolled right off her thick skin. I swatted away the thought to reach out and throttle her.

We sat in a smoldering silence, facing off against each other. I was unsure where things were going but I waited for her acknowledgement. One that never came.

"Let's get through this," I said, through clenched teeth, "Then we'll find you a new master."

I rolled it off my tongue exactly as I hoped, a threat and an insult. I meant every inch of it. She was out of control and it was bleeding into me. I quaked with rage.

She put dropped arms to her sides and leaned at me, her hands balled them up into tight fists, and stomped her foot angrily. The ground trembled, far more than you'd expect such a small figure. I knew that her form belied her strength and I was in no position to test it. She stepped toward me in defiance, but she didn't say a word.

I turned my back on her and walked to the group hoping to calm myself before they could read my mood. I knew I wouldn't get any questions, though, as they already knew I wasn't feeling particularly chipper with this poison running through me.

The sun sank a little lower in the sky as we waited. Silah had tempered herself to mingle with the group, but I kept my distance. Whatever was coming next, I wanted to have a clear mind to engage.

Floki seemed to appear at the edge of our circle with a weathered Rana right behind him. I smiled, feeling reassured. She looked haggard and hungry, but not beaten. I stood and brought myself into the circle of conversation. Silah's dark mood was tempered by the company. She didn't stand close, as I had gotten used to, but still remained at the length of my arm's reach.

"Thank the gods you showed up when you did. It took you long enough! I was out of arrows and they seemed to be gearing up for another assault on the keep."

She looked back at the stone building and then again to us with a wide-eyed, haunted expression.

"There's something down there. Down in that chasm. I don't know what it is. It's kept me awake at night. I am now more afraid of it than I'm afraid of them. We have got to get out of here."

She shook herself and continued.

"There are some survivors still in the keep. But we can't get them with the Orcs in sight. We'll need to ambush them and take them out."

She looked down and took a moment to catch her breath, she looked exhausted. Running on the rush of fear and danger for so long, her exhaustion was clear.

"There are twelve of them," she continued, "And that red haired bastard is leading them."

The others nodded, but something in me clicked and Floki and Rana's voices dimmed. They continued to make plans. Sig and Floki scratching out a strategy in a bare patch of soil while Bromm, Danin, and Rana watched. I was only half there, feeling my pulse rising. All of this anger and frustration would be carved on my half-brothers and ... Red would be the first to fall.

He was mine.

"And, who is that?" Rana motioned toward Silah, bringing me back, looking slightly offended that there was another woman with her boys.

"Just someone we picked up along the way," Floki answered with a chuckle, "That's what happens when you go off on your own like that."

"We'll do introductions later," I asserted, perhaps a little too curtly.

I avoided Silah's gaze, though I knew she was still within arms reach beside me. I couldn't count on her, but she was all I had. We'd go our separate ways after this, me with a perpetual hole in my gut from my sacrifice to her as painful lesson. And she'd lose me—the only one, it seemed, that considered her an equal; not just a prize.

They led us to the forest's edge. We moved into the trees without being spotted and hunkered down. Floki and Rana took up positions at the mouth of the camp, where the trees had thinned allowing for visibility to the keep. Both of them had put their backs trees covering this exit. These trees were far different than the scrub that we had traversed earlier. They were taller and thicker providing more cover.

I stooped to the ground, peering across the field. Silah was behind me. Still in arms reach. I would have take her into battle, doing my best to ignore her stomping and scraping around in my head. I still felt weak, but I wasn't going to let that stop me.

Such a shame. I ground my teeth and spat. Disgusted with myself for being lured into caring for her. Frustrated that I took the chance bonding with her in the first place.

There was a thud and a grunt as arrows lanced through the air, burying themselves into a few of the Orcs with bows. There was a shout from the camp and a clatter of arms as they hurriedly prepared for the ambush.

Another round of arrows whispered through the air, and arrows began to return from the Orc nest. I heard Rana cry out. There was movement as they gained their bearings and bent to attack. I saw him, the red haired Orc, it was pulled into a topknot and was far from natural, as I suspected. He was leading the charge with the melee forces.

Sig raised his hands and a burst of light struck a group of Orcs right behind Red, leaving them rubbing at their eyes. More arrows sped through the air and I watched Red cast a menacing eye toward the Floki and Rana.

"Hakaar! What are you doing?" Sig shouted after me.

I was already running across the field. Focused, enraged. Silah was in my hand, already a sword as I sped across the battlefield. I brought the tip of my sword down hard across the front of him, cleaving through armor and skin. He flayed open, nicking ribs and nearly exposing his gut. I watched his wide eyes with a grim satisfaction as panic rippled across his face. He clutched at his stomach, attempting to keep everything in place.

I was about to attempt a second blow, when a shot rang out and Red's face and left shoulder burst into a red mist. I roared; angry that I didn't get to finish him off.

He was mine!

"Yes!" Silah smouldered gleefully, "But there are others!"

I began to turn to the next target, when three arrow plumes lanced into me. One had even penetrated my breastplate. I struggled to breathe. My awareness was no longer distant and the pain was very, very real.

"Get them!" Silah roared, her presence poured like lava through my head and coursed down my arms.

Sig's voice rose above the din, sounding both cross and concerned, "Come back! Danin can help!"

The lava poured on hotter as Silah pressed her influence on me.

"No, Silah," I said under my breath through gritted teeth, "You don't rule me."

I pressed back with my mind and the lava cooled, loosing the grip she had on me. I hobbled back to the forest edge where the rest of the group waited met with an incredulous Sig who immediately berated me.

"What happened to the plan?" He shouted.

The others looked at me.

"What plan?" I blurted without thinking.

He turned back to the battlefield, scowling, speaking quietly and making signs sending an Orc tumbling with his words..

Danin put his hands on me, and I felt a surge of energy, much more potent than before. The arrows dropped from me harmlessly, but the wounds hadn't entirely closed.

Then I had a strange realization. Silah was quiet and inert.

Peace and quiet for once. I gritted my teeth through a smile.

I moved to Sig's side, feeling a little fatigue from my initial rush, as Orcs descended on us. Shots rang out from Bromm's pistols interspersed with the whispers of arrows. Floki and Rana were bloodied, but still engaged. Floki had been fighting in close quarters, but he and his sister dispatched the foes who had assaulted them.

Others had descended on our position in the forest. Danin stood between us and let loose a call to his god that brought a wave of warmth over me and, it appeared, everyone else.

Feeling renewed, I stepped up to do the job I was meant to do. My military training came to bear, placing an even stance on both defense and offense. Stand with the others. Work as a team. Each blow I took, I dealt twice the damage in return. Two Orcs were felled at my feet in short order and I moved to an archer who shot me point blank, with little effect, as Danin and I closed in and decimated him.

Floki and Rana put down the remaining archers and, within moments, all fell quiet.

That is, with the exception of Sig, a spear point positioned at the neck of a prone enemy. The Orc seemed to be sleeping. We all watched and waited.

The others began to walk slowly to the scene. There was a tremor in my blade, perhaps Silah was waking up? I thought of her as a human and let her drop from my hand, indifferent. She took human form and almost raced over to his side.

"What are you waiting for?" Silah was manic, eyes wide from the kill, "Kill him!"

"I've never killed before," Sig said aloud.

I knew this feeling. I watched how it changed others. I had nothing to say that wasn't already going through his head, but I nodded with understanding.

The prone figure began to stir.

Making his decision, Sig pressed the point into the Orc's throat and leaned on it. The Orc thrashed and gurgled fervently until life ebbed from him. I watched, feeling every moment up until now. Wondering what war had done to me. How it made me think that death dealing was a common and good thing. I bowed my head with the weight of the thought.

Silah dropped to her knees near the body, soiling her new purple gown in the blood and dirt of the scene. She pined at the loss, getting nothing from the Orcs demise.

"You could have taken him," She sounded pathetic, turning to face me, almost on the verge of tears, "You could have taken him for me."

My anger was replaced by a tenuous pity. I touched her shoulder and thought of her in sword form then sheathed her immediately.

There was a series of awkward looks that ran through the party.

"I can't even begin to explain." I said with a sigh.

Sig turned to me, his face flushed. I could tell he was about to let loose on me, but I put up a hand.

"I know. It was an ignorant and risky thing I did." My shoulders slumped with the admission, "Can we talk about this back in town. I want nothing more than to get out of here."

He saw my contrition and let his hand drop.

"Tonight, we'll talk." Sig said sternly.

"Yes. I understand." I closed my eyes as I spoke.

Rana and looked at Floki with a wide expression that said everything, but kept silent.

"I guess we'll get the others?" Rana probed breaking the awkward silence.

Floki and her parted from the group to retrieve the others and Sig bent down over his first kill and harvested a knuckle. Was it a trophy or a reminder? I wasn't in the place to venture a guess.

I sat against one of the trees while the others checked what the Orcs had left behind. A warm bed and good weather, that's all I wanted now. I needed to understand my role in this new world. I wanted to fret about it right now, but decided I needed to let my mind be quiet. It had been a while since I was actually alone.

Oh, Silah, what am I going to do with you.

I sighed heavily and leaned my head backwards on the tree.

(Get to know Akeron.)