Once the hooded figure realized the fort was empty, she sent her pets ahead to find the scent of those who had alluded her this night. Certain she would find them, she was ill tempered when they did not. There could be only one answer she knew, since even with magical means of an escape her pets should have found some clue of their disappearance. They could not have gone up and out of the fort, she would have seen them. They could not have left in any of the cardinal directions, she would have picked up their trail. If they had died, she could have called them to her.
They must have gone down, and going down meant that they would ultimately find their way out of the only exit that these hills knew; the river which wound below and through the hills themselves.
“They have help,” she spoke aloud to her pets. The dumb brutes grunted, waiting for their mistress to give them orders. They were only too happy to please.
“We will move around and cut them off before they can reach the scorpion. There you will can lie in wait. Do not be seen. The moonlight is not strong this eve, and you can lie among the boulders on the hillside. When they exit the hills, run them down. Do not destroy them as I have much to know. I will arrive shortly. First, I wish to make sure the plans go well at Three Bales.”
“Yes, Manyara,” spat the largest of the trolls. Another hissed at him, jealousy spread across it’s ugly face. The larger snapped out at it with his giant snout and fangs.
“Peace, my pets,” said the silky voice of Manyara. “Soon, you will be given the best treats there are. You will be given the food of the gods.”
Her laughter echoed across the fort, again and again, and again.
When Theros walked into the night time sky, leaving the caves and tunnels of the orcs behind him, he knew that they were doomed. He smelled the fresh air, and the night time sounds of crickets and chirping beetles and that told him everything he needed to know. There was now no way to escape for those foes chasing them would now have an open space and all night to pursue.
Camouflage stood upon a grassy ridge, and swiveled his torso back at them. Most of the feathers and the blood and grime that had been caked on him had either been blown off, or had been cleared off by the dripping water along the trackway ride. When it came to a halt, it ended at the river mouth, and wading through, they had all felt the blood of their recent battles clear away as well. It felt amazing, like starting again, like they’d have a real chance of eluding this nightmare that had started at the gates of Akra. And they couldn’t have been more wrong.
“Well, dragon shit, boys,” sighed Camouflage in the most unsympathetic attempt at sympathy that a Celn drill sergeant could muster. “Looks like we’ve got a whole six to seven mile field to cross, fully geared with an orc tribe of pissed off uglies right on our tail. And these uglies can move at night under the stars and they ain’t going for a stroll in the moonlight if you know what I mean. So we’re screwed worse than a shepherd’s goat.” He began to undo the straps to what he called non-essentials, and recommended they do the same. Then, without further ado, he ran off into the field, in the direction of a small tower and structure on the far side that was only a faint outline under the moon and starlight. The field was bare, miles and miles of silver grass swaying in the breeze, save for a lone tree. Dead and lifeless, it stood like a statue, silent. The structure beyond was barely noticeable, but it was there. “The scorpion! It’s time to finish this tour!” yelled Camouflage.
Gerrell sat atop Ares shoulders, and kicked out, timing his feet with the large man’s strides through grass. “Onward,” he shouted in his shrill cry. He had looked back and noticed lights, possibly torch light coming from the river mouth they had left just minutes before. But he didn’t say what he saw to Ares, nor anyone. There wasn’t making any of them going any faster. Not after the Ketian hell they had just been through. The orc, whom he figured must be known as Revack after he shouted it back in the tunnel, ran wildly, and quickly. The small orc-child nestled in front, Revack never took his hand away. It was clearly a precious cargo. The orc was frothing at the mouth and Gerrell thought he had never seen such determination, such pain and anguish. Whatever happened this night, the orc, he knew, would give anything and everything to save this creature.
He wondered if they would or could do the same for themselves.
Theros was last, refusing to relinquish some of his gear, especially the book, the Hammer of Ket. A vast and large tome, it was one of only hundreds and only read by that number, and now even more valuable to the Inquisitioner. Whatever fate had befallen him at Akra, he knew answers might be found within. He intended to know, he needed to know, whether the light would still have him or not.
Onward each ran, the field was a jumble of dead grass, and snow, holes from the many creatures that inhabited the field in warmer climes riddled the ground and made them stumble. They passed along a series of boulders that the wind and weather had eroded over the eons, and as they passed the last of them, one of them rose and sprouted arms, and legs, followed by a head and a neck with a spiked collar on it.
“Capture the fools!” It yelled and the other boulders around rose as well, six in total, the necromancers’ ice trolls lying in wait for them. They were trapped, these creatures were built to move over this terrain, there was no out pacing them.
The trolls tore through the field, sending snow, grass and earth flying sideways and backwards. Their claws flashed with every pounce, and all too soon, the distance evaporated as did their hopes.
Gerrell twisted around to see Revack, foaming at the mouth, eyes wide and holding tightly to the child in his arms. Behind him one of the beasts gained, it’s claws stretching out for him with every lunge. He’d be the first victim, but they’d all suffer the same fate soon enough. One misstep, and Freak the Mighty would be next. He turned back around, trying to make it easier for his stead to run, and in so doing he happened to look up into the sky. It was only the second time he had seen what the surface dwellers called “night”. The twinkling lights scattered here and there he had learned were called stars. Amazing he thought, like blinking gems along a ceiling, placed here and there. He noticed in one place that there were no stars, and because he knew he was about to die, he let his inquisitive mind ponder that a minute.
And it did. His mind realized with a deep fascination that the stars were missing in one particular area and that area was shaped exactly like a….
“Screeeeecchhh!!!!!!!!!!!!” came the shrillest of cries. And instinctively, Camouflage and the others fell to the ground.
As Ares fell, Gerrell’s eyes traced the path of the starless sky, until at last the outline of a gigantic bird, it’s talons outstretched streaked overhead. With a ground shuddering smack, it’s claws struck the nearest troll, that which had been about to rip into Revack, and it threw it around like a dog would a snake. The ice troll struck the ground and lay still, while the others skidded to a halt in front of it. Each growled but stepped back for the roc bent forward and screeched with a mighty sound. It’s wings held out, the size of the thing incredible to behold.
“Now,” whispered Camouflage. “Run to the chopper!” And he began to run with his back bent over.
Chopper? thought Theros, What in the light is he talking about? But there was no time for any other thoughts and no energy to say it out loud. He bent his back over as well, staying as low as he could in the grass, and ran on towards the scorpion.