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Rated: 13+ · Chapter · Fantasy · #860197
The heroes return to celebrate Anne's rescue. They are not prepared for what they find.
         “I hope we never see that place again,” Cloey said as she took one last look at the temple. The lone edifice loomed like a dark specter among the broken remnants of the once lively settlement.

         Prescott marched toward the forest. Clouds drifted across the night sky and masked the twinkling heavens; however, a crescent moon penetrated the shadowy gloom of night. The pale illumination served as both their guide and shining hope for a safe return journey.

         Isac dug his staff into the ground and used it to drag his fatigued body through the damp grassland. Cloey kicked at his heels and gave him a slight shove.

         “You’re so slow,” she mumbled. She couldn’t help but keep turning her head behind her to make sure nothing was following them.

         For the first time since meeting the halfling, Isac did not feel like bickering. He was too fatigued from all they endured.

         Grom, who carried the slumbering princess across his back, trudged several paces behind his companions. The added weight caused him some difficulty, so he began to lag behind the rest of the group. When the rest of the party reached the end of their climb, Grom still trailed several paces.

         “Shouldn’t you be used to carrying around extra weight?” Cloey snickered.

         “She isn’t exactly light,” Grom panted. The others just stood and waited until Grom finished making his way to the top of the hill. “Ugh, I’m out of shape.”

         “I’m telling the princess you called her fat,” Cloey squeaked.

         “You do that and I’ll make sure you spend the rest of your life chained to a wall!” he shot back.

         “Please, let us not fight,” Prescott interjected calmly, “We have a long journey back. It took us three days to make it here from Oneria. With Princess Anne in the shape she is, it may take us an additional day so that we may watch over her. It would be wise to utilize all of our energy for our travels.”

         The trek through the woods started slowly. Everyone was fatigued from the three days of traveling and their encounter with the orcs, and Isac and Cloey were quick to suggest that they stop as soon as they find a comfortable place to set up camp. Despite the late hour and their sore feet, Prescott and Grom refused to stop just yet. They continued for a few hours until even Prescott thought it better to get rest until the sun rose the next morning.

         “Let’s just keep going,” Grom protested. His words came out in exhausted huffs, but he kept up his tough front as he plodded past his companions. Princess Anne’s head rested on Grom’s shoulder, and she looked peaceful in her slumbering state.

         “There is no reason to push ourselves any farther,” Prescott said. He unhooked his belt and dropped the sword hanging to it against the trunk of a nearby tree. He sighed as he sunk down besides his weapon. “Anne needs to lie still for a while. All the bouncing of your steps can’t be that relaxing for her.”

         “Yeah you big jerk! Let the princess get some rest! You’d be tired after all that she’s been through!” Cloey chimed in. She had already picked out a comfy patch of grass to serve as her bed and stretched out her limbs with a massive yawn.

         “I hate to say it, but the pipsqueak’s right,” Isac added. Unlike Cloey, he didn’t bother with finding soft ground and merely spread himself out the moment his brother said they should halt.

         Grom tried to block out their words, but the weakness in his legs slowed his movement. He stumbled over a branch and fell forward onto all fours; Princess Anne tumbled to the side off of Grom’s back and landed on her side. Panic spread over Grom as he cradled her head in his lap. Tears fell from the corners of his eyes and moistened Anne’s tangled, unwashed golden hair.

         “Is she injured?” Prescott asked, swooping down by his side. He could not see Grom’s pained countenance nor the tears that he shed, but he could sense the torment that wracked his stout frame and wearied mind. He placed a hand on Grom’s shoulder as an offer of support. “Let me carry Anne over to the others. I’ll find a soft place for her to sleep, and that will give me a chance to look her over for any injuries she might have sustained while being held captive.”

         Without looking up at Prescott, Grom pulled himself up and cautiously helped Prescott cradle the princess in his arms. The half-elf carried Anne back to where his brother and Cloey rested. He laid her down with her neck resting against a patch of thick grass for support and began looking over her arms and face for cuts and bruises.

         Grom made sluggish movements back toward his companions and slumped down from the weight of exhaustion. He mustered one final upward glance at Prescott and Anne before succumbing to a heavy slumber.

*                    *                    *

         Grom awoke to the sounds of Prescott gathering his belongings. Feeling a bit groggy, Grom groaned, rubbed his temples, and peered through the early morning light to find Cloey helping Prescott with the preparations. The halfling’s movements seemed anxious; it was obvious that the events of the last night still weighed heavily on her mind.

         “What do you think they were after if it wasn’t Princess Anne?” she whispered up at Prescott. Grom was unsure if her hushed tone came from a desire not to wake him and Isac or simply because she didn’t truly want an answer.

         “Whatever their intent, it seems that they did not discover it,” Prescott answered. He strode several paces toward a light green bush adorned with several purple flowers, freshly opened to meet the new season. With deft hands, he began plucking numerous small red berries from within the vegetation.

         “If they couldn’t find whatever they wanted, then they’ll be leaving Oneria alone now. I mean, we’re going to be safe and sound again, right?” Cloey eagerly asked. She crouched down to tie a loose lace in her boot, and her fingers brushed against the obsidian dagger she had tucked safely away. The biting cold touch of the blade sent a tingling sensation through her fingers.

         “I cannot say with any certainty that Oneria will be safe,” Prescott said, returning with an open palm filled with ripe berries. “All I know is that Princess Anne will be safely under the watch of her father and Oneria’s army once we finish with our journey. There’s no reason for us to worry right now. Have a handful of these.”

         Cloey’s eyes sparkled at the sight of the offered food. She reached for them but hesitated a moment. “These aren’t poisonous or anything, are they?”

         A hint of a smile played on Prescott’s thin lips. “I’ve spent most of my life living off of the land. I can tell the difference between the common fyreberry and something poisonous like the scarlet bloodberry. These have a very sweet taste, though if they aren’t fully ripened they are said to cause just a hint of burning on the tongue and at the roof of the mouth.”

         Narrowing her eyes with distrust, she reluctantly reached out and took one of the small red orbs from Prescott’s hand. She gave him one final glance and popped it into her mouth. All apprehensions faded away instantaneously, and she grabbed the rest of the berries from the half-elf’s hand and greedily shoved them into her mouth. Prescott chuckled and went back to continue harvesting a morning meal for the rest of the party.

         Grom closed his eyes and tried to gather the energy for another day’s journey. Like Cloey, he too wondered about the intent of the dark elf with those menacing, vacant eyes; unlike Cloey, he refused to allow his fear and apprehension to surface.

         Once everyone awoke and had a small breakfast of bread and fyreberries, they started again with a renewed sense of vigor. Each of them longed to be back in Oneria and were determined to get back as fast as they could manage without putting any unnecessary strain on Princess Anne. She awoke briefly when they were readying to leave, and she drank a bit of water but could not manage to eat any of their bread or berries. When Grom realized she was awake, he tried to get her to speak, but all she could do was look up at him with her innocent blue eyes and fall back into her enfeebled dreamworld. Prescott had to stop him from rousing her. Instead he helped lift her across Grom’s back once again.

         They pushed onward with only a few stops until lunch. By the time their stomachs got the better of their feet, they came across a small stream. Pulling his sword from his side, Prescott stopped and sat alongside the running water and cupped some of the liquid into his dirty hands. Seeing that they intended to take a short break, Isac helped take Anne from Grom’s back and aided in placing her down upon the ground.

         “She looks as pale as the moon,” Isac said and glanced at Grom, “Perhaps we should wake her for another drink.” Isac moved to the edge of the flowing water and took the waterskin from his side. He knelt down, pulled its wooden stopper off, and dipped it into the stream. He glanced over his shoulder at his companions and saw that no one was looking, so he snuck a drink for himself. After he filled the skin, he stood and returned to the princess’s side. He lifted her head onto his knee and let a bit of the water trickle into his hand, splashing it onto her forehead. She shifted and murmured but did not open her eyes.

         “I think she’s waking,” Grom whispered. He fought the urge to pry her away from Isac, and his concerned face twisted into one of anticipation.

         Isac put the waterskin to her dry, chapped lips and allowed a little stream of water to enter her mouth. Some of the water beaded along the sides of her face and washed away a line of dirt that spread across her cheeks. After a couple seconds, he stopped to see if Anne had responded, but finding no change, he let a steady flow of water enter this time. With a sudden cough, she clenched her already closed eyelids tightly and turned to her side, sputtering up the last of the liquid. Isac helped her to sit up and covered her mouth to stop her dry choking. When her convulsions subsided, she opened her eyes and gazed around at her surroundings.

         “You ok?” Isac asked.

         She replied with another fit of dry coughing. She placed her hands in front of her face and stared at them for a moment. Slender fingers grasped at her wrists, tracing where the cuffs once held their tight embrace. Her eyes turned upward toward Isac and blinked a few times before whispering in a raspy wheeze. “Who are you?”

         “Well,” Isac began to say but lingered as the reality of whom questioned him sunk in. He gulped and scratched behind his head. “I’m . . . no one special, m’lady Princess.”

         “Am I away from the cold, lonely darkness, or do I dream the colors of green and blue before me?” she asked in a weak voice. Her eyes were wild with wonder as she looked about her. “I have never before seen such a beautiful forest as this one.”

         “This is no dream,” Prescott spoke from his spot in the grass, “We have rescued you from the terrible nightmare and are now to accompany you safely home.”

         She tilted her head toward Prescott, who sat with his legs crossed and eyes closed. Her eyes moved, and she saw Cloey sitting against a tall tree with a trunk much wider than her tiny body. Cloey fished into a pouch at her side and pulled out a bit of crumbled, stale bread that she managed to sneak from the dinner table at the castle.

         “My father sent you, then? Please, tell me your names so that I may thank you all.”

         “The name’s Isac Izula,” he spoke, then motioned toward his meditating sibling, “That’s my brother, Prescott. The girl stuffing her face is Cloey. And over there is . . .”

         “My name is Grom Greystone, m’lady,” Grom interrupted. He took a step forward and dropped down to one knee before her. He bowed his head, partly out of respect and partly to hide his embarrassed face.

         “Thank you all. Your kindness and bravery shall be rewarded,” she whispered. Bracing her hands against the ground, she tried to pull herself up. Her body trembled at the attempt and nearly gave way to the ground below.

         “Be still, princess,” Grom said, placing a hand on her elbow. She looked up at him, her sapphire eyes bright with defiance to his command. “You are still very weak. We don’t want you to overexert yourself.”

         “I don’t wish to be a burden,” she said with a sigh and rested her hands at her side again. Her lips parted to say something else, but her voice trailed off and her eyes drooped closed.

         “Is she . . .” Grom started with widening eyes.

         “She’s sleeping. Poor girl has gone through more than a princess should have to,” Isac said, laying her down to rest.

         “We’ll all be able to relax once we return home,” Grom said to himself. He plopped down on the ground and laid back in rest, staring at the leafy canopy above.

*                    *                    *

         After their rest, they lifted the princess up across Grom’s back and continued once more. Their pace quickened, and they made their way through the maze of trees for several hours before taking another break. They tried to wake the princess for a drink of water, but she could not be roused. They decided it best to hurry back on their way.

         Slowed by their care of Princess Anne, they had to rest two additional nights out in the wilderness. Each night Vision would appear and again guide them toward a safe area to camp. Still fatigued from all she had gone through, Anne awoke only when they stopped for food and rest. She actually ate the food offered to her each time, which Prescott declared was a great sign of her eventual recovery. Despite being much more fatigued from having to carry Anne the entirety of the return trip, Grom fended off sleep as long as he could to keep a watchful eye on her entrancing form.

         Following Prescott’s lead, the four traveled in silence on the last of their journey home. After several hours of silence, Cloey threw up her hands and pursed her lips with the intent of breaking the quietude, but when Prescott led them to the edge of the forest and back into the green fields and heat of the near noonday sun, she decided to keep her mouth sealed in silent thanks. By the time they returned to the same fork in the road and proceed in the direction of Oneria, the sun had descended beyond its highest point and shone like a bright red fireball in the west.

         “Now it’s just a straight shot home,” Cloey rang out, clapping her hands together and smiling with a renewed energy.

         Their march back in the direction of Oneria proved much faster and simpler as they traveled down the dirt road. The way brought them up a tall hill. When they neared the crest, they could see the blue flags swaying in the winds atop the tall towers of the castle. The waving banners seemed to be beckoning them toward a grand celebration and the safety of their homes.

         “Princess, your home awaits you,” Grom turned his head and whispered to the sleeping girl.

         “Not exactly,” Prescott gasped. His jaw fell open, and he stopped dead in his tracks ahead of them. The others hurried beside him and gazed at the gates. A stunned silence fell over them.

         The front gates and the surrounding area of the town were reduced to shambles. One of the doors laid broken on the ground, and the other hung by a single iron hinge. The townspeople dashed about in a frenzy. Some raced for safety through the gates while others searched for somewhere to hide. Arrows chased after those fleeing through the gates, sending them collapsing in groups to the ground. A twisting line of fire marched from the north around the side of the gates and into the city like a fiery serpent. The light came from torches held by orc soldiers donning similar armor to those that they had met at the abandoned temple. Guardsmen rushed to the gates with swords and shields, meeting the opposition head-on. Cries of battle rose up into the air, and the scarlet stains of both human and beastly blood spilled onto the soil. Although the men of Oneria fought bravely to defend their home, the sheer number of orc soldiers proved too much for them to handle. The invading orcs cut through the lines of guards and forced them back through the shattered gates.

         “This is terrible,” Grom said in awe.

         “We have to do something!” Cloey squeaked, tugging at Grom’s arm.

         “There goes our rest,” Isac grumbled.

         “They must have returned to make up for the mistakes of which the dark elf spoke,” Prescott shouted, “Hurry!”

         Prescott charged down the hill toward the gates, followed by his brother, Cloey, and Grom. Most of the enemy forces had already broken through the gate’s defenders and found their way inside the town, but a few orcs stood guard at the battered remains. Four orcs stood steadfast, two carrying large axes and the others leaning on wooden spears. Seeing the advancing party, the axe-wielding orcs took a step forward.

         “Halt! This town is now under the control of the . . .” one began to snarl, but he was silenced as a dagger glided through the air and pierced through his right shoulder. He dropped his axe and stepped backward, clutching the dagger’s handle and howling in pain.

         “This town does not belong to your kind! Be gone!” Prescott shouted as he drew his blade. He leapt forward and brought his sword down across the chest of the other orc. The force of the blow sent the orc tumbling backward against the blood-stained ground.

         The remaining two took an advancing step and readied their spears. Isac pointed his staff upward and closed his eyes. A silver light formed at the end of his weapon and shot over the two orc’s heads. Isac winced at the casting, and the two orcs scoffed at his misfire. Unknown to them, the bolt hit its true target and dislodged the remaining hinge holding the hanging gate door. The heavy wooden mass crashed down and flattened the two. The injured orc with the dagger in his shoulder turned to run but fell forward as Prescott’s sword ripped through his back.

         “Why are they attacking the town?” Cloey asked as she bent down to pry her dagger from the dead orc.

         “We can figure that out when we save the villagers,” Prescott answered and wasted no time in passing through the gates.

         The dead bodies of those that tried to flee or defend the city cluttered the road into the town. The scene was reminiscent to what the good people of Oneria had to endure only a week earlier. Most of the residents’ houses remained untouched by the invaders; however, broken and blazing remnants of carts and stands littered the town square. Orcs patrolled the center of the town, and cries for help echoed all around.

         “They better not destroy my tavern!” Isac shouted as he hurried after his brother.

         “Split up! Cloey, you and Grom go into the blacksmith’s shop. Isac and I will check out the tavern.” Prescott motioned to his brother, and they rushed toward the doors of the Black Dragon Inn.

         “What am I supposed to do with Princess Anne?” Grom shouted, still carrying her across his back.

         “I’m sure I can handle a few puny orcs,” Cloey started and pushed open the doors of the shop. She took a step in before stumbling back against Grom.

         Inside, two orcs rummaged through weapons that lined the racks along the walls and rested in glass cases, while another stomped into the back room. The orcs smashed the glass tops of each case and reached inside to get a better look at the showcased weaponry. A hideous howl came from the back room, followed by the clattering of metal. The two orcs turned their heads just in time to see a massive man, who carried an even larger sword, charge from the back. With two clean swipes, he dropped the two orcs before they could raise their weapons. He kicked one of the bodies and spat on it, mumbling a curse under his breath. His gaze turned toward the door. He lifted his sword, ready for any other foolish opposition.

         “Nice work. For a human, that is,” Grom said, nodding at the man’s handiwork.

         The shopkeeper shook his head, and his ragged brown locks swayed from side to side. He knelt down and picked up one of the orc’s axes. He tossed it from hand to hand and examined the blade by running his finger down the dulled edge. He let out a harsh laugh and dropped it without a care. “Typical orc blade. They’re crap, but with a little work I should get a few silver pieces for them.”

         “Listen. We’re trying to drive the orcs away from the town. Can you do us a favor?” Cloey squeaked as she peeked her head out from behind one of Grom’s legs.

         “Want me to help smash them? No thanks, I think I’d rather just protect my own investments,” the blacksmith replied. An air of arrogance floated in his voice, but after watching how he disposed of the orcs invading his shop, neither Grom nor Cloey dared to challenge it. He looked about at the damage the orcs had caused and cursed again under his breath. “Damn pigs. It’s gonna cost a day’s wages to replace the glass in those cases.”

         “Good. If you plan to stay here and defend the place with your life, you can also watch over her,” Grom said as he walked toward him. He turned and eased the princess into the arms of the blacksmith. “Take good care of her. We’ll be back shortly.”

         “Wait just a moment! This is Princess Anne! You’d trust the princess of this town with a lowly blacksmith like me?” the tone of his voice matched the perplexed look on his face. He shifted and cradled the sleeping princess in his massive arms.

         “You made short work of those orcs, so I doubt we have much to worry about,” Grom said and began to turn but stopped and looked back. “Thanks a lot. Keep her safe.”

         “Eh, sure thing,” the blacksmith replied, walking across the room with the princess in arms. He disappeared into the back room, and Cloey and Grom hurried through the door into the streets.

*                    *                    *

         A loud scream came from within the tavern, followed by the sound of something heavy being smashed. The Izula brothers hastened to the battered and broken front entrance. Prescott charged inside, his sword ready for battle. The bar resembled how it often looked after a late-night drunken struggle. Fractured pieces of wood from tables and splintered chairs littered the floor. Shards of glass covered the bar top and lay around the hunched form of an orc. Blood oozed from a gash across his face and mixed with the alcohol from the broken bottle, which mingled and created a putrid odor that dominated the air. Another orc held the tavern’s dwarven barmaid against a wall, hairy green fingers curled tightly around her throat. Yet another orc pulled a thick steel chain fastened around the neck of a snarling wolf. It stood larger than most of the wolves Prescott had seen in the wild. A coat of thick and coarse fur covered a hulking upper body, and its red eyes burned like torches as the beast stood with its mouth open, teeth glistening with a coat of saliva in the dull lantern light.

         Isac entered after his brother, and he locked eyes with the orc holding the female. “Let her go!”

         Both orcs turned and caught sight of the two half-elves rushing inward. The one who had a tight grasp on the barmaid was unprepared for Isac’s suicide dive over the counter. Isac barreled into the orc and brought all his weight down upon the assailant, driving him to the ground. Desperate fingers clawed at the orc’s face, but the beast raised a black boot and forced Isac away. As he fell back, Isac’s cloak enveloped the front of his face, and he struggled to pull the material aside. The orc lunged at him, bringing his fist down hard across the side of his covered face. Isac tumbled to his side, whimpering and spitting a mouthful of blood into his tattered clothing.

         Instead of lunging headlong into battle, Prescott stood his ground in front of the massive beast held back by its orc attendant. Prescott took a step back, and the wolf barked and clawed the wooden floor to get closer. With a sinister grin, the orc released his hold of the chain. The wolf lunged forward, dragging its heavy, rattling chain behind him. Prescott hopped up onto a nearby table and narrowly escaped being mauled. The wolf landed and leapt again, turning in the air toward him. With amazing agility, Prescott jumped upward and grabbed hold of a wooden support beam with one hand, the other still holding his sword. The wolf landed on the table, and its sheer weight caused it to crash through the flimsy wood. Prescott dropped from the ceiling and drove the sword down into the back of the wolf’s neck. It let out a shaking howl and tried to resist, but Prescott twisted his blade and caused the beast to fall motionless.

         Isac fought to pull himself up, only to be taken down with another vicious fist to the face. He collapsed once more, a sharp pain shooting through his hands as they came down upon the remnants of a broken glass. The sound of his opponent’s shaking laughter drowned out his whimpering cries of pain. Isac held up a trembling hand and whispered a soft phrase. The orc advanced with his hands outstretched, but he lost his balance as his right leg flew up into the air and sent him crashing down. The orc landed among some sort of slick black substance that covered the ground at his feet. Isac’s body trembled as he pulled himself up, and the pool of black disappeared through the crack’s between the floorboards.

         Prescott pulled his blade from the wolf’s neck and with one quick motion thrust it into the belly of the pet’s owner. The orc’s eyes shot open, and he let out a gurgling gasp. He dropped to his back as soon as Prescott pulled his sword from the now gaping wound.

         The remaining orc slipped and fumbled back to his feet but felt a pressure on his chest and a sharp sensation run across his throat. Pushing the orc over onto the ground, Prescott returned his sword to his side and tilted his head toward Isac. “Are you all right, brother?”

         Isac mustered the strength to nod and felt something grab his hand. He tilted his head and saw the barmaid standing there. He smiled and nodded toward her.

         “We mustn’t linger any longer,” Prescott spoke as he made his way to the door. Isac turned from the dwarf and followed his brother back onto the streets.

*                    *                    *

         With axe in hand, Grom charged straight for the front gates of the castle. Cloey kept a step behind him, moving as fast as her tiny little legs could carry her. They reached the castle doors and found that they were left unguarded. Grom stopped for a moment and peered back at Cloey.

         “I don’t like the look of this. Are you sure you want to go in? You could get yourself hurt.”

         “Are you actually concerned about me?” she mused, turning to face the open doors again, “Let’s go!”

         “For once, I agree with her,” came a voice from behind. Isac and Prescott ran toward them, Isac visibly limping and lagging behind his brother. Cloey’s face soured at Isac’s comment, but it softened for a moment at the sight of his cuts and bruises. Isac ignored her and turned to look at Grom. “Where is Anne?”

         “I left her with the blacksmith. She should be safe there.”

         “There is no time for talk. We must move,” Prescott said as he made his way through the doors of the castle. Grom followed close behind, leaving Isac and Cloey to trail afterwards. They raced through the entry of the castle, disturbing the eerie silence that filled those lovely halls. Unlike the wreckage and destruction they witnessed out in the town, the interior of the castle appeared mostly undisturbed. The only sign of struggle were the slain bodies of soldiers leading toward the staircase. One of the men lay sprawled over the edge of the railing like one of the many hanging banners bearing the Delencor family crest. Following the path of death, the four hurried up the long spiraled flight of stairs, and both Grom and Prescott led the way down a hallway at the top of the stairs. The bloodied faces of two more brave defenders rested at the end of the hall and forced the heroes to stop. The once ornate wooden doors leading to the throne room lay hacked in splintered pieces along the ground.

         “Somehow I don’t think one of those orc did that,” Grom commented with a bit of concern. Prescott and he moved onward with Isac and Cloey following behind them. Prescott’s ears perked up at the sound of some commotion some ways ahead. They turned a corner, and another set of doors lay off their hinges. As they reached the doorway, they could all hear the sound of metal clashing with metal. They ran through the doorway into the elaborate throne room of King Gregory Delencor. The once pristine red carpet, now torn and resting at a strange angle like another casualty of war, led up to a tall-backed throne made of dark wood and covered with blue cushioning. Leaning with one arm thrown over an arm of the throne, Jonathan clutched a large wound cleaved through his once glorious armor with his other hand. Two orc bodies, casualties of Jonathan’s trained hand, ornamented the room. Grom and Prescott rushed to his side. Jonathan opened his eyes, and a smile formed on his face.

         “Grom . . . thank the gods that you have come . . . please help the king . . .” he uttered. His hand drew to the wound on his chest, and he took in a long, labored breath.

         “Do not try to speak,” Grom said, eyeing the gash.

         Cloey ran over and settled down in front of Jonathan. He looked over at her, wincing in pain. She rested a hand on his shoulder and turned to Grom. “You guys go on ahead. I’ll make sure he’s ok.”

         Jonathan turned his gaze toward the halfling, who looked with concern into his pain-filled eyes, and for the first time he didn’t show any disdain for being near the thief. Instead he stared back into her eyes and attempted to ignore the searing pain overwhelming his senses.

         Grom nodded and rose to his feet. Followed closely by the Izula brothers, he ran down the hall and into the next room. Bodies of both men and orcs lie strewn in a sea of red. The smell of fresh blood rose and almost caused Grom to gag.

         The sounds of a struggle stirred the three from their daze, and they raced forward into the king’s chambers. As they entered, they witnessed King Gregory standing stoically in the center of the room with his weapon drawn. The unmoving bodies of two of his personal guards rested at his feet. An orc standing at least a foot taller than any of the others Grom had witnessed fighting in the town stood opposite the king. Black hair ran down his back in three long braids decorated with red and black beads. Two tusks protruded along either side of a sinister sneer, and his dark gray eyes remained focused on his opposition. Before Grom or anyone else could react, the bloodthirsty beast bore the hefty, gleaming blade of its axe sharply downward and cut a long gash across King Gregory’s unarmored chest.

         No one could muster up even the smallest cry. The king dropped to his knees, his jewel-encrusted sword slipping from his grasp, and collapsed to the floor.

         Before the killer could turn around, Grom let out a howl and lunged forward with his own axe. Grom’s blade tore through a tough layer of leather and ripped into the monster’s side. The assailant took the blow but returned a swing of his own, striking the flat of his axe against the side of Grom’s face. The blow sent Grom collapsing onto his side, dropping his axe beside him.

         “A moment too late, dwarf,” the orc snarled in a deep, echoing boom.

         Prescott lunged forward with sword in hand, but before he could strike, a dark veil of thick smoke rose like a wall in front of the massive orc. As Prescott came through it with his blade, he smote only the air. The smoke dissipated, showing no sign of the beast.

         Grom pulled himself up with trembling arms, his vision blurred after the bludgeoning blow to the side of his skull. He stumbled a bit, and clouded memories drifted throughout his mind. He looked over to see Isac kneeling beside the body of King Gregory. Prescott moved beside his brother and began chanting in a strange tongue. A flash of white light filled the outstretched palms of Prescott’s hands and radiated over the body of the fallen king.

         Grom took a step forward before his legs buckled, and he collided with the cold ground. His eyes closed, and he slipped unconscious once more.

 Chapter 5: Mourning  (13+)
The town mourns the death of the king. Grom decides his path.
#870433 by The Lemon
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