The Twisted and the Enlisted
Chapter Seven, Part One
A muscular, bald seven-year-old boy wearing a white toga is carried up a mountain trail by four other boys. The bald boy sits cross-legged atop a bronze tray they balance on their shoulders. His chin raises slightly as they arrive at their destination. A wiry man wearing a loincloth approaches, then stands and stares at them. The bald boy crosses his arms. The wiry man crosses his arms. “Give me the gong!” the man yells, and the boys respond by bursting into laughter. They tip the bald boy off the gong and as he rolls along the ground giggling, they stand up the gong and roll it to the man. “Be careful with that, you little monsters,” the man shouts, as he stops the gong before it tips over. “Go!” he shouts. “Hide in the huts in the woods with the other children. Quickly, now!” As they scamper down the trail, the wiry man sets the gong onto an ancient stand. He averts his eyes as heat blasts from an opening in the side of the mountain next to the gong. He looks at the opening and light flickers within. The opening is at the top of the mountain trail, which is on the side of a mountain, which is capped with lava. At the base of the volcano is a village of thirty huts.
A mile from the village, six horses carrying seven riders approach at a leisurely pace.
“We’re entering into our third day on the road since the Ettin and we’ve not run into any trouble,” SeLiem comments. “I believe the reputation we garnered from slaying that foul monster must precede us.”
Melias laughs. “And how did they learn about that battle, young Cleric?”
“I will make certain all patrons of the next tavern we visit hear of our heroic deed!” Percy announces.
“I think SeLiem is right on both counts, Melias,” Arturus says “Things have been quiet and once word gets out, I think we deserve whatever praise to come our way.”
Rastorn nods, “We did well. I feel we are prepared to take on whatever might come our way.”
Orjulun nods and sits up a little straighter in the saddle.
The air gradually grows dryer and warmer as the group rides west. Ahead, through the trees, they can see the great volcano. It is shorter than most mountains they’ve seen and not as wide, but it demands attention. Fire spits from the peak and lava drizzles down the sides, reaching nearly a quarter of the way to its base.
As the party draws closer, lava stone huts are visible all along the bottom half of the volcano. While still too far away to make the people out in any detail, the group steps into the line that very clearly marks the land called Metava. The woods give way to a great circle of destruction spreading for miles. Every tree was removed, every rock was split, and most foliage was burned. This was not the work of the volcano, but the work of men. They had cleared out and destroyed everything around them.
The start of The Lava Trail was visible, stretching from the volcano, through the barren waste area, to the forest, and eventually to the ocean south of Darkuth. The trail is a twenty-foot high snake made of black, hardened lava, long since cooled after it flowed from its source. A metal bridge straddles the trail.
The far-off villagers begin to move more rapidly. It is obvious they spotted the party.
Orjulun shakes his head. “What is wrong with these people? They act as if they have never seen travelers before, or just assume we’re out to harm them. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m getting tired of being treated this way, or having to watch my step in every city we visit.”
The Elves can now better see some of the inhabitants of Metava. Some wear leather loincloths with bits of metal armor covering only some portion of their bodies, while others wear bright red robes, and still others are completely nude.
A few yards closer and the Elves are pointing out that almost everyone is carrying a weapon of some sort, usually an ax or hammer. They also note everyone is heavily tattooed and some are decorated with bones, including one man who has a helmet on with a rotting human head on top.
Although they are still far away, the Elves spot a wagon cresting the bridge and moving away from them. It carries the ASU banner. The wagon moves freely without any hassle.
Once the party is close enough that even the Humans can make out the villagers, their actions are clear. Most of the people moved into the huts, while a group of twenty large men has gathered near the bridge.
Arturus loosens his sword in its scabbard and lays his bow across his lap. He believes it is more likely they are being cautious, and this isn’t a bullying tactic. If nothing else, it is going to prove to be an interesting day. “So, should we introduce ourselves?” he asks, smirking.
“Yeah . . . you go introduce yourself while I send a Fireball into their midst,” Rastorn mumbles, as he preps the wand for easy retrieval. He isn’t sure of their intent, but these individuals remind him of barbarians and barbarian distaste for magic could prove to be a nightmare if they are of that mindset.
Melias looks around at the desolated land and shakes his head in disgust. “I can see why the Elves choose to stick to the forests.” He looks at those collecting around the bridge. “A welcoming party. How nice. It doesn’t look like they take ‘no’ for an answer, either. I wonder if there’s any way around this village.” He slowly pulls his bow to his lap and shrugs one shoulder to tip his quiver into a position with better accessibility.
SeLiem eyes the wand Rastorn holds and smiles. “That might not be such a bad idea, Rastorn.” He looks to Percy and says, “Perhaps the two of us could approach these villagers civilly. If they refuse to let us pass, he can use the wand. I can have the protection of the heavens against fire for two of us. If things get ugly, the Wizards can target us with fire, and we’ll only get a little singed from it. What do you think?”
“Sounds like a good plan to me. Sounds like the only plan. I’ll go.” Arturus says.
Melias objects. “No, we would be better keeping you at a distance giving you the full effect of your archery skills. I’ll go.”
Arturus concedes to Melias. Arturus is better with a bow than a sword and they might need ranged attacks. “Both of you be careful,” he says, as he reaches back to adjust his quiver.
“I will stay on the back of Orjulun’s saddle, so I can heal him if they shoot this way,” Red says as she loosens the strap holding her battle ax sheath so it will easily swing down her shoulder.
Percy travels ahead with SeLiem and Melias. Behind them Rastorn, Orjulun, Red, and Arturus move slowly forward, surveying the area as they go.
Melias hears the ‘welcoming party’ muttering. He hears one of them say, ‘It’s them’ in a hushed tone. To either side, the three can see men and women with bows crouching behind their huts. Based on their positions, there is no way the rest of the party can see these archers. In the distance, a slow drumbeat starts.
Looking behind them, Rastorn sees many of the villagers spreading out along the tree line. That certainly wouldn’t be normal procedure – would it? Red and Orjulun follow the direction of Rastorn’s gaze, then all three lock eyes. The two Wizards are stone-faced, but Red beams.
“’Tis nae problem, gents! We can cut through them yahoos without a sweat. Let’s keep going. This might get interesting,” she says.
One of the villagers on the bridge points at Melias causing others to nod.
As he moves closer, Melias can clearly detect what they are saying, but he instantly halts when he realizes one of the voices doesn’t seem to jibe with the others.
It’s a female’s voice.
A little closer. Speaking Elvish! Telling the guards to hold still.
Closer still. He recognizes the voice! A sickening feeling erupts in his stomach.
He knows that voice! Leaning forward, he concentrates on that one voice.
It’s his sister!
“Um… Percy, we should probably reconsider our actions,” Melias says in a near whisper. His face has turned pale. He wonders how much effort the little bitch had gone through to prepare for this. It seems she has managed to organize the entire village. “Nothing good can come of this,” he determines bluntly. “We should just assume these people will not listen to reason and work with the element of surprise – if we can. Do not believe what I am about to say,” he cautions his companions. He spins around, looking at the party behind for an instant, then makes a casual hand gesture indicating bowmen and pointing where they lay in hiding. He turns back and faces the bridge. “Evenliir! Is that you I hear? Please tell me my ears don’t deceive me!” Jogging toward the bridge he shouts, “Sister? Sister? Have you come to show me the way back home? I’ve been longing to return for so long; where are you?”
His eyes wide, Arturus asks, “Did he just say ‘sister’?”
“Red, I’m about to cast a spell and I need you to pretend you’re swatting flies or something to help disguise what I am doing,” Orjulun tells Red. He pulls a copper piece from his pouch and makes intricate hand gestures while reciting magical words to call upon magic which will allow him to hear surface thoughts. He looks intently at the closest villager on the bridge as the spell takes effect.
Melias’ words were etched with sarcasm, so Arturus pulls his bow, notches an arrow, and aims at the best-dressed villager, assuming he is their leader.
Orjulun listens to one man’s thoughts and then another. “Almost there. Yes, that will be a safe vantage point. I should be able to riffle the corpses before anyone else gets there, too. ‘Don’t kill the young mage or the little Elf’,” thinks the first. “Praise Crave, I can’t wait to see the slaughter! I want to kill the Dwarf. Maybe rape it, too. And rape the Half-Elf non-believer. I wish she would let us kill the little Elf and the young Wizard,” thinks the second.
“Quickly, you dolts, destroy the idiot in the heavy armor,” a silky, sing-song, and high-pitched voice with a thick Elvish accent shouts.
“The bowmen are drawing their bows,” Red roars, pointing to the heads and bows peeking out from behind the volcano stone huts. “I will not be target practice,” she screams as she slides off the back of Orjulun’s horse and runs as fast as she can toward the nearest hut while swinging her battle-ax in small circles above her head. Diving over a short lava rock wall, she swipes at the archer beyond. The strike is dodged, but her momentum carries her out of view of most of the archers.
Villagers avoid Melias and run toward Percy.
Dropping to one knee, Percy sets his two-handed sword on the ground and pulls his bow. His first arrow misses, but the second strikes a charging villager in the thigh. The attacker continues forward, unfazed. By the time Percy drops his bow and pulls his two-handed sword, the enemy is surrounding him. With a mighty flick of his wrist, the sheath of his sword flies off and strikes at the feet of those to his right, forcing them back a step for a moment. “An entire village of evil-doers, Melias! The Bards will sing of our bravery for years!”
Through the din, Melias hears his sister’s voice again. She is casting.
Orjulun dismounts. “Rastorn, everyone, they mean to kill us all!” He glances around for cover, spotting a large, black rock to hide behind. His back will be exposed, but the enemy behind them are out of range.
Analyzing their predicament, Melias frowns. This wasn’t the best way they could have handled it, but at least he wasn’t caught by surprise. In fact, he predicted this might happen. She wants him back. That’s why the villagers are focusing their attack elsewhere. He continues forth, faking surprise and forcing a smile onto his face as he runs in the direction of his sister’s voice. “Sister,” he calls in Elvish, “where are you?” His weapon must remain sheathed until he gets close enough to use it on her. The idea of leaving Percy to handle the hordes by himself is not something he wants, but if the Wizards are going to follow through with the plan there should be a cleansing fire any time now. It will be easy pickings for Percy after that. An Enchantress hidden and casting without fear is a whole other matter. She must be dealt with. “These men held me captive. I can’t tell you how glad I am that you’ve come for me.” She could be invisible, that sneaky, little bitch.
A gorgeous female Elf in flowing sheer green robes appears out of nowhere, the final syllables of a spell just leaving her lips.
Arturus switches targets to one of the archers aiming at him. His first shot is way off the mark, but his second is perfect. The primitive-looking archer jerks back, his long green and blue hair waving wildly around his head as he clutches the arrow in his chest. Pulling it out, he places it in his teeth and breaks it in half, then falls to his knees and crawls out of sight.
SeLiem lays his hands on Rastorn and prays for Kubri to grant him magical protection against the incoming arrows.
As he spots his sister, Melias’ eyes light up. Despair grows deep inside him as he knows what this might mean should he fail to thwart her. “Evenliir! There you are!” A large smile plays across his lips as he runs to her, arms open and ready to embrace her with a hug. Even with his great speed, he is still yards away when her spell takes effect.
The first two Magic Missiles Orjulun casts slam into an archer, killing him. The third missile knocks a second archer back. The archer stands and looks to see who cast the spell.
Orjulun ducks back behind the rock and readies another Magic Missile spell for his next attack.
Stabbing the wand in the direction of archers to his right, Rastorn shouts the command word, “lawl-fo-mefla!” A Wall of Fire roars to life, blocking the view of any archer who may pose a threat from that direction. Rastorn envisions the Wall of Fire sweeping between him and his enemies . . . but, nothing happens. He tries again, louder, and again nothing happens. A flood of thoughts race through his mind. Did he mispronounce the ancient words? Did he say the correct words? Are the words on the wand command words? Should he speak them in a different language? He realizes he knows far too little about the weapon and now is not the time to experiment.
Percy swings his huge sword around and around as he spins a tight circle amid the throng attacking him. This makes attacks from behind difficult, but even he will tire of such a strenuous task soon. Two men attempt attacks, but both times their weapons are repelled by his two-handed sword.
After racing behind a hut for more cover, Red winds up toe-to-toe with a female archer, who pulls a club and strikes at her. The blow is absorbed by Red’s armor and only results in making her angry. “Oh, are ye going to regret that, missy!”
Three archers circle wide around the rock Orjulun hides behind, but only the one he just attacked shoots at him. The arrow strikes solidly and along with extreme pain, he feels an odd tingle in his extremities. He spots the archer pull out a small sack and dip his next arrowhead into it.
Arturus is busily choosing a new target when eight arrows come at him from various directions. Six penetrate his armor injuring him badly. One hits his horse in the rear. His skill with horses allows him to keep the animal from bolting.
Partially blocked by him and Rastorn’s horses, SeLiem is only hit by one of the three arrows shot at him. The other two strike his horse, causing it to gallop away toward the forest.
Although many more could have, only five archers shoot at Rastorn. He is struck twice. Had it not been for the magical enhancement SeLiem cast on him to make his skin like wood, it would have been four. Numbness spreads quickly through his body.
Arturus realizes the archers are holding back. They are taking their time. Are they savoring the pain they are inflicting or is some more sinister plan at work? Many didn’t fire when they had clear shots!
The drumbeat in the distance increases in speed and volume. All along the perimeter of the open area, villagers are pounding their fists in the air to the beat of the drum and chanting, “Crave, Crave, Crave!”
Completing a spin, Percy spots an attacker lunging at his back with a hammer. He lifts his six-foot-long sword over his head and leaps straight up twisting his hips around so he can bring his full strength into the blow. He cuts through the man’s thin armor, then uses his skill and strength to twist the sword free and cause greater damage to his opponent. The man shuffles back hurt but smiles broadly as if he enjoys the pain!
Red wields her magical battle-ax in a series of short chops causing the archer to back up against the hut. When the archer bumps into the hut, she stumbles and momentarily drops her guard. One quick, sideways hack, and Red slays her.
Evenliir’s spell locks Melias in place, unable to move. He was running up the bridge with outstretched arms, so he is terribly off-balance. After falling forward, he slides and tumbles down the rounded bridge while retaining the same pose he was in when the spell struck. Although unharmed, his body is rigid like a statue. He cannot speak or move. Although he is aware of everything around him and able to see what is happening to his party, he is unable to help.
Percy is surrounded by eleven large warriors.
Red has several archers stalking her as she searches for an easily defensible location.
Rastorn is staring at his wand as arrows fly at him from all directions.
SeLiem is trying to reach Orjulun through a gauntlet of archers.
Orjulun is pinned down behind a rock by six archers who are closing in.
Poor Arturus looks like a pincushion.
The sinister acts of Melias’ family are once again causing pain to those around him. In this case, maybe even death.
Orjulun knows he is in trouble. He can’t risk another Magic Missile spell, as there are too many archers around him. Wait! He heard the archers thinking about having to keep the young mage alive. That was him! Well, let’s make them squirm a bit then. He held his wound where the arrow struck and looked at the man who shot him. He mouthed some words, then fell over, convulsing and struggling to breathe. Just in case, he drools, coughs, hacks, flails his arms, rolls around, and kicks his feet.
After storing the wand in his belt, Rastorn holds his hands up in deference. He slowly backs his horse a few feet and remains there, calm, and unmoving.
Like any Warrior faced with dire straits, Arturus is determined to die on his feet with his boots on. He chooses another target and fires another two shots, knowing they could be the last shots he ever takes. The first arrow bounces off the metal helm of his target, but the second penetrates the man’s leather vest, injuring him, but not slaying him.
After casting Bark Skin on Orjulun, SeLiem wanted to cast Silence on Evenliir to keep her from casting more spells. When he sees Orjulun convulsing, he changes tactics. As he reaches the rock, he says, “Orjulun, don’t die! If you’ve been poisoned, I can perhaps magically slow the poison with prayer.” He realizes Orjulun is faking and hopes to trick the archers into assuming the Silence spell he is about to cast is a Slow Poison spell. As he leans on the rock to lower himself next to Orjulun, his legs stop working and he collapses. A mob of villagers gag him and bind his hands, which does little, since, by then, he is unable to move his arms or legs or mouth.
Seeing Orjulun in such apparent agony, Red ignores the danger of her own situation and runs to his aid. The archers, who had been slowly positioning themselves around her, are almost ready to leap when she runs around the corner of a hut and right into one of them. That archer holds her and soon others join in and drag her down by weight of numbers. They tie her up and begin beating her with their fists and kicking her.
Orjulun feels his arms and legs go numb. Whatever poison is going through his system is having a paralyzing effect on him. His false cries no longer emanate from his throat as his vocal cords tighten. Looking up at the Metavians, he cannot move to stop them from sweeping him up above their heads. They carry his immobile body toward the bridge.
Closer to the bridge, Rastorn’s experience is the same as Orjulun’s. He stiffens like a corpse and falls backward off his horse. The archers are there to catch him and carry him toward the bridge.
Melias watches as his companions are hauled forward and dumped unceremoniously onto the bridge. His sister whispers down to him in Elvish. “See, dear brother, see how aspiring to be something different from us has led you to failure and death for those around you? After we stop in Dumas to get the reward for the apprentice, I will take you home so I may practice the most forbidden of magic on you. You can’t imagine the pain and torture we will put you through.” She straightens her back and casts a spell at Arturus.
Just as the archers are set to send another volley of arrows at Arturus, he turns completely stiff. Due to his awkward pose, they know he has fallen victim to Evenliir’s magic and they quickly knock him off his stead and carry him to the bridge.
As the last one standing, Percy makes a desperate bid for the lives of his fellow travelers. “Hear me! I wish to parley! I will go willingly with you and face whatever tortures you have in mind. You can strip each of my friends of all their belongings and keep it all for yourself. I will tell you all I know of the magic and treasures each has hidden on them, if – in exchange – you will let them go free.” The crowd smiles as one and turns to face the bridge. Atop the bridge, Evenliir seems to bask in the attention. She laughs a wicked laugh and makes overly animated gestures in the air with her arms as if she has just heard the funniest joke ever. The crowd cheers and jumps about. “See, brother, see how easily I’ve gained the love and admiration of these simple-minded Humans.”
“Those are good terms,” a booming voice shouts from behind Evenliir.
She spins quickly around as if startled. Strolling over the bridge is a rugged-looking man whose body looks to be constructed of solid muscle. He wears a long, bright red mohawk and little else and his body is covered in baroque tattoos. Two elderly men in robes follow two steps behind him with their heads bowed. Evenliir’s face reveals her embarrassment. She suddenly realizes the cheers were not for her, but for the ruler of Metava.
“Swordmaster Creole, the prey has come, as I foretold,” Evenliir says with a slight bow.
“I have eyes, witch,” Creole remarks off-handedly.
“Then you are pleased, fair king?” she asks, with still a hint of her usual smugness. When he does not answer, she continues, “I have completed my part of the bargain. Take just the knight or take them all, I care not, but the Invoker and Melias are mine.”
His eyes narrow at this and she quickly amends her statement. “As was our-”
Creole cuts her off, saying loudly to the masses below, “I agreed what the knight suggested were good terms! If we are to know about everything his group is carrying, everything needs to be left where it sits on their persons! If any of you maggots took anything from these corpses, return it to where you found it, or face my wrath!”
Apparently, Creole’s wrath is something the villagers do not want to face, for they quickly return coins, weapons, and other items they took from the party.
“I am grateful you took my offer, generous ruler of Metava,” Percy says, as he sheaths his two-handed sword and tosses it onto the bridge. Several of the men Percy had been battling, come forward with iron chains and cuff his hands and feet, then remove his helm.
“I’m sorry, knight, what did you say?” Creole asks with a twinkle in his eye.
Percy begins to repeat what he had said but is unable to finish when he is hit in the back of the head with a sap. As he loses consciousness, he hears Creole say, “I said it was ‘good’ terms, sir knight, but I am anything but ‘good’!”
The village roars wildly with laughter and cheers, but stop when he addresses them again. “My warriors, what now shall we do with these foes of Crave? Shall we rape, torture, and slay them outright? Shall we place them in pits to fight duels until slain? Or shall we finally make a worthy sacrifice to our allies within the great volcano, thus hiding any trace of the strangers ever being here!”
The crowd chant as one, “Rape, torture, kill, kill, kill!” Creole places his head in his hand and whispers to himself, “Fucking idiots.” He looks back at them and shouts loudly, “Then it is decided! They shall be thrown into the volcano!” The crowd seems ready to erupt into cheers, but this puzzles them and causes a pause while they glance around at one another before deciding to cheer anyway. Swordmaster Creole bellows, “Quickly now, gather up all of them and follow me to the peak!”
“Wait, make sure they realize which two are mine,” Evenliir interjects.
“Grab all eight,” Creole answers, a smile creeping onto his face.
“Stupid Humans can’t even count,” she whispers to Melias through her hand. The moment it takes her to realize what he meant is too long and she is grabbed and gagged by three large villagers. She screams into her gag and kicks at the men, but they soon have her hands bound behind her back and secure her fingers as well.
The crowd goes wild!
Melias smiles internally. How he wishes he could laugh in Evenliir’s face. If he is going to die, it will be a better ending to his life than suffering her torture. He’s seen her in action before. It is not a pretty sight.
SeLiem calls out to his god, begging for intervention, to smite the heathens that would thwart the harbingers of his god’s will and give them an untimely ending. Try as he might, not a peep left his lips.
The party and Melias’ sister are paraded up the side of the volcano. Halfway up Creole and all but sixteen men stop. Those sixteen carry the sacrifices the rest of the way. Once there, a large gong is rung as each person is laid down near a fissure and kicked into the volcano. First, Percy, then Melias and his sister, then SeLiem, then Rastorn, then Arturus. By the time they get to Red and Orjulun, most of the men are walking back down. “Check her knots. And hurry up,” the gong man says to the man preparing to roll Red and Orjulun in. It is loud so close to the smoking open mouth of the volcano, but Orjulun hears the beaten, bloody, and battered Red say a single word to the man checking her knots. The gong man runs down the short natural ramp atop where the gong hangs and kicks Red, then Orjulun into the volcano. “I said hurry,” he grumbles.
Orjulun falls helplessly through the smoke and flying ash, not knowing where he will land. He is frightened for his life and silently praying for Scorses to guide or save him. A question also runs through his mind, “Did Red just Command that man. Did she say ‘Untie’?”
To be continued in Chapter Seven, Part Two next week!
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