Are you bright enough to shine despite... The Darkness?

The Blood of the Honored, Part 7

Posted on July 3rd, by Kevin Gubernatis in Excerpt, Fantasy, Magic, short story. No Comments

“Make a hole in the turtle!” Grilcor bellowed into the night. “Volley!” Pargnok watched as the command was issued and the shields of his soldiers closest to the center of the ‘turtle shell’ disengaged. Through the opening several of the militia from the fort popped up with their crossbows readied, the quarrels loaded in them tipped with lit Star Stone. The bright white bolts streaked across the night’s sky above Pargnok, as the ranged fighters let loose their bolts at the slavers above.

Pargnok watched some of the elves begin to buckle as some of their comrades fell. The added effect of the Star Stone made many of them back off and shield their eyes. One slaver who had not been very badly wounded, seeing the Star Stone sparking out of the wound, panicked and began screaming uncontrollably and running around on the battlement. One of his comrades shot him with a blowgun and he was silenced. That was when the captain remembered.

“CLOSE THE TURTLE!” Pargnok screamed into the falling rain desperately, but it was too late. He could just make out the hooting whistle of several blowguns firing in quick succession. A deep breath later and his soldier’s formation began to fall apart, as shield bearers were struck with sleep-inducing poisoned darts.

“Tighten the Turtle!” Grilcor called out professionally. “Protect the archers!” As a group, the entire formation moved in closer to each other, making the turtle slightly smaller and keeping those within its center away from anymore darts. They dragged their unconscious companions with them as they moved.

“Fall back to the barracks!” Pargnok commanded. “Form the crescent around me and block the doors!” He then ran, leaving some of his downed foes alive, to stand roughly fifteen feet from the main door of the barracks, crouching and holding his shield up to guard his head. Grilcor and the others moved slowly and methodically towards the door as well, the sound of poisoned darts ringing off their shields mingling with the patter of the rain. When they reached Pargnok, they split and moved around him, absorbing their captain into the fold. Then, as a group, they all fell into a half-moon formation, with Pargnok at its apex and the wounded and non-legionnaires at its back just outside the door to the barracks.

“Damn!” Grilcor exclaimed as he fell in next to his Captain “They were just waiting for us to give them some kind of opening. What do we do now?” The question hung heavy in the air a moment. Pargnok knew that as long as they maintained formation, their enemies could do little but harass them for the time being. He had to find a way to go on the offensive without opening his archers to attack.

“Grobasha, Mettcaff, Broll and Smithson, break formation and form a foreguard before me.” Pargnok bellowed to his soldiers. “The rest of you bring in the crescent to compensate and hold tight!” He heard the shuffle of feet and rustle of chainmail and shields that marked his men following his orders. Pargnok looked between the slit of narrow space between the top of his own shield and the bottom of the shield of the soldier behind him over his head to see an empty courtyard assaulted by rain. Soon though, that view was replaced with that of the backs of the four soldiers he’d called to him and he raised his own shield to protect them, as did Grilcor and the two others to their left and right.

He’d chosen these men, or in the case of Grobasha – women, specifically. Mettcaff and Smithson were human and were likely his most agile and intelligent soldiers, Smithson already well on his way to being an officer. Broll was slighter of build than many of the other orcs under Pargnok’s command and also faster. Grobasha was the most tenacious of his soldiers and also the most protective of her comrades. She was also one of the strongest soldiers he had. If anyone would keep them safe, she would. Pargnok needed a group that could think and be light on their feet for the task he was about to put forth.

“You four are gonna form a sprint shield and go let out the dogs,” Pargnok told the four soldiers in front of him. “Grobasha takes point and lead, the rest of you fall in behind her. If it gets dicey, move back to the crescent and regroup. I want those wolves out there tearing at elves and not drowning in this shit. Acknowledge?”

“Acknowledged,” came the reply from all four soldiers in unison. Then Grobasha moved forward, shield in front of her and blade at the ready. Mettcaff and Smithson fell in just behind and to her left and right respectively, bringing their shields up sideways to guard themselves, Grobasha, and Broll who brought up the rear and walked backwards to protect their flank. The group then moved off toward the north side of the courtyard where the kennels were and Pargnok watched futilely as arrows and darts rained down on them, clanging off their shields.

Pargnok breathed a sigh of tempered relief when the four soldiers made it to the kennels uninjured. He watched Grobasha and Broll stand with shields high at the backs of Mettcaff and Smithson as they opened each kennel gate. The thatched overhang of the kennel protected the soldiers from attacks from the north wall, while their comrades protected from the south.

The Worgs slipped out of their enclosures one by one and padded out into the rain looking for prey. Pargnok grinned to himself as he thought of how only moments ago, he felt like the hunted. Now the elves would soon be on the run.

“Do you think they have any idea what’s about to happen to them?” Grilcor asked sarcastically from next to Pargnok.

“Some, I suppose,” Pargnok admitted wryly. “I mean, they have to have known we’d have mounts, so it isn’t outside the realm of contemplation.” Pargnok’s earlier elation at the tables being turned on the elves changed to more somber tone as he watched the elven woman – the druid, he now knew – rise to her feet. A worg was stalking toward her, ready to strike.

Pargnok knew that he hadn’t finished her off, but he also knew from the blood that ran down her face that she was seriously injured. He felt guilty at not giving her a clean end. Not that she’d have offered him the same, but he still felt guilty. While worgs generally killed swiftly, they also killed painfully.

“You know, I wonder,” Grilcor offered to the rain and darkness, obviously not seeing what Pargnok was. “How were they planning on getting all these people BACK to the Dark Forest? I mean, it’s not like they use mounts or anything like that. Do they just drag them back by hand, unconscious?”

“I don’t know,” Pargnok replied, not bothering to explain his distraction. The elven woman’s death held no meaning to anyone but himself and her. He didn’t see any reason to distract Grilcor with it. “I really don’t care much, either.” The worg stalked closer now and she was more steadily on her feet. She shook her head and looked about, finally noticing the animal.

“Yeah, it just kind of bugs me is all,” Grilcor half agreed. “Maybe they planned to steal our mounts, but that’d be unlikely.” Pargnok watched the druid steady her stance as the wolf moved in for the kill. She began to sway her hands back and forth, obviously casting some new sorcery, and began singing like before and the worg who was about to pounce, halted suddenly. It growled, shook its head and moved forward again, but she raised her voice and kept singing. The worg shook its head again and ran off in another direction to look for easier fare.

“What was that all about?” Grilcor asked, finally having taken notice of the scene that Pargnok was. The druid looked right at Pargnok and smiled wickedly, before bounding back up the staircase they’d both come down earlier.

“Nothing good,” Pargnok said grimly, as the rain came down even heavier. The four soldiers he sent to open the kennels had just finished their work and worgs were scattered all over the fort. The sounds of elven hunters screaming in pain as fang rended flesh could be heard through the rain. Just as the four were getting ready to head back to the turtle and safety, a shrill cry went up into the night from above and Pargnok looked up to see the druid woman standing on the north wall, her hands cupped over her mouth. She let loose the piercing cry once more. It was like nothing he’d ever heard before. He imagined the sound the offspring of a frog and an eagle might make.

Suddenly a horrible roar came from the other side of the main gate, followed quickly by the sound of something heavy and large smashing into it. Another roar went out and another smash, this time, wood splintered and shattered and a massive hulking black form stood in the entryway, just behind the portcullis. It was as big as the gate, if not bigger, but Pargnok couldn’t quite make out what it was through the rain.

The creature grabbed the portcullis with sharp, curved, black claws and pulled. At first it looked as though the beast would not be able to move the large metal gate, but after several growls and pulls, the stone above the gate cracked and with it came the entirety of the portcullis itself. The creature threw the bent steel ruin onto the ground inside the courtyard and trampled it as it stepped inside.

Pargnok could see it now. The biggest fiercest bear he’d ever seen in his days stood before him and his soldiers. As tall as the outer walls and with claws the size of swords, but that wasn’t what truly gave Pargnok pause. On the beast’s back was a massive cage made of bone and inside that cage were people, dozens of people. The Captain recognized them from Posha’s description. They villagers from Stonetree.  Aside from the rain, all that could be heard was the loud terrifying roar that echoed out into the starless night.

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