“Did he say ‘chopper’ just now?” asked Ares breathlessly.
“Yes, he did,” huffed Theros, running as fast as his feet would carry him.
“What in the blasted night is a chopper?”
“Guess we’ll find out!”
They were through the field, half way at least, maybe 4 miles into their race. It was a race for their very lives. A race against a horde of streaming orcs carrying torches, and a six pack of ice trolls, who thankfully were now kept at bay by a gigantic bird.
“At least we got rid of that necromancer,” moaned Gerrell the only one able to laugh at what a ridiculous end to their escape this had been. Below him, Ares ran on thinking about the absurdity of the race, the pursuers and the odds of making it before any of their enemies had time to kill them. But he couldn’t have laughed. He could barely breath. They were just passing the tree, the lone object in the field. The tower was coming into view. There they could activate the trackway, and in minutes have an entire Celn garrison as backup.
If they could make it. If they could survive long enough.
“To the chopper, recruits!” roared Camouflage, “You bags of soiled bed linens better get there before all these nasties do, or I’m going to kick your asses when you die.”
“Makes sense,” said Theros, racing with what he thought was the last of his strength. But he was wrong of course, he had some more. With Camouflage, there always was more.
None saw it, but Gerrell was wrong of course. For the necromancer, the hooded figure known as Manyara hadn’t been lost. She knew her little pets, the ice trolls, would most likely stop the fools from making it to the scorpion, and calling the power of Lessina’s forces down to the valley floor. But on this she couldn’t take a risk, and so after embarking to Three Bales she had ridden back around the hills. There she observed the small band of would be heroes, racing through the tall grass in the moonlight, in the snow, while the orcs pursued them, while her pets were restrained by the monstrous roc.
She knew they would make it then, and she had no intention of them making it.
She pulled her hood down, and waved her hands in patterns in the night time air. Magical lines of energy formed where her hands had been, like a brilliant paint upon an invisible canvas in front of her. The image she drew was that exactly of the tree before her, miles out in the field. The very tree the heroes now were running past.
Speaking in a strange and guttural tongue, she then breathed upon the tree, and the image came alive. Her voice rose higher and higher, as if commanding it to do what she willed. The image of the tree uprooted itself and took step after step, looking past it she now saw a twin object in the field doing the same. The skeletal tree in the field was now alive! And it was hers to command, to kill the would-be heroes, once and for all.
The ground behind him shook, and then the ground next to him shook, and then the ground in front of him shook. With his legs pumping and his arms swaying, Theros looked upwards and watched in horror as the tree in the field, with it’s twisted branches and weathered bark, came alive and advanced upon them, passing them, passing over them with a step and another step, and stopped in the field like a crouching lion before them.
But this was a tree! A dark, dead, decaying old tree. Whose branches swayed this way and that, ready to strike out.
“Well, I didn’t see that coming,” said Gerrell, who hopped down from Ares back with his help. He walked towards the beast, but only just and conjured a magical ball of fire in his hands, hurtling it at the tree, which shook as if it were hurt or angry. It took a step towards the little man, and then another. Gerrell spun around, limping as he did with his bad leg, knowing that there was no where to go. “We could use a chopper now, couldn’t we fellas?”
Ares covered the distance to the tree quickly enough, and bent forward, opening his snout and breathed a cone of fire which held the tree back for just long enough for Theros to strike it with an arrow. The arrow though bounced off easily, and although the tree was burning in it’s branches, it came forward with a menacing speed and full of life where none should be. It knocked the poor little gnome, Gerrell, aside like an empty water skin. With another motion it struck Ares so forcefully that he flew in the air, and landed in a heap on the field some many feet away.
The thing then bore down upon Theros. That was when Revack planted an axe in one of it’s legs, a portion of it’s trunk that had split in two. Whether he heard Gerrell’s joke or not, this was no joke for it brought the wrath of the beast down upon the orc man. The thing shook forcefully, and spun around, smashing Revack so hard that the orc-child was thrown from his grasp, falling to the snowy ground below. Revack fell to his knees, bleeding and battered, his eyes closed involuntarily with the concussion of the strike. The world slowed down around him.
He looked over at the orc child, the Bol-vist. The only kin he had ever known. He knew what the Orc Father would have done to him, taken from him. He knew because he was a slave. And a slaver never gave anything to the slave, it took. And then it took some more.
And now the child would have it’s life taken from it anyway. It would die here in this field, because he couldn’t protect it.
The tree swirled back around, targeting the small bundle on the ground, a twisted and knobbed branch lurched upward, and then came hurtling down to crush the life from it’s tiny body.
Revack knew not where the strength came from, but at that very moment, it came to him nevertheless. A voice, unlike any other he had heard before, a voice that felt like it was inside of him, the voice of a woman, like a mother he had never known. “The child, Revack. Protect the child,” it said.
And Revack did. With the last of his strength, or perhaps with a strength from someone else, for he had none left, he threw himself over the child. The branch struck his spinal cord, snapping it like a twig, ending his miserable existence upon, or below this cruel world.
The last thing Revack saw, as his eyes closed, was the gigantic thing falling over, striking the earth so hard that frozen dirt and ice blasted out for many feet, and then below him, the child’s eyes opened.
“Ain’t nobody got time for that, recruit, leave it!” piped Camouflage.
“Blast you, I shall not!” roared Theros. He leaned over and picked up the orc child, draping it across his shoulders, and raced on, towards the tower. He lagged but only just, and he arrived at the small guard tower in just enough time to bar the entrance with a large block of wood meant for that purpose. The race was won. Now would the lion be awoken. The lion of the Great Realm of Cellinor! He wasted little time looking around for whatever lever or switch needed to be activated, but all he could take in were the decaying and decomposing bodies littering the floor. The enemy had killed the station guards here. “So this is why Lessina never came!”
“The chopper!” yelled Camouflage, “Get to the damn chopper recruit!” He was pointing at an axe on the wall. Theros turned towards the sergeant. He had had enough of his insults for one night.
“You know, you old grisly bag of bones, I’ve had enough of you for one night.” He snatched the axe off the wall and walked over to a piece of timber about 2 inches around and three feet long. The timber was positioned into two round slots in two stones, and tied to the timber, in the very middle was a cable of somekind that stretched upwards through a hole in the stone structure.
“The chopper,” whispered Theros. He swung the axe around and snapped the beam in two. A whizzing sound sang out as the cable flew backwards into some mechanism. This was followed by a colossal banging and creaking noise, which grew louder and louder and faster and faster. He raced up a ladder and threw open a trap door in the ceiling. Above the tower was an enormous trackway of metal which made the one they had escaped along in their basket look like a child’s toy. And up, perhaps a thousand feet above in the icy clouds, the wintery wind, a barge, drifted along it, down, down towards them, snaking it’s way through the air. It creaked and groaned like some gigantic creature. Until it careened to a stop next to a landing set into the stone cliff. The top of the barge then came into view. There was a railing all around it and inside the rectangular barge, were hundreds of Celn soldiers, armed and ready for battle!
“You done good recruits, it’s about fucking time too,” said Camouflage’s voice. Theros turned around to punch him in the face, but the grisly old man wasn’t there.
He was gone.
The commander of the emergency garrison at Lessina stepped forward, “Who in the Ketian hells are you lot? And why have you activated the Scorpion this night?”
Theros stood there, the wintry air whipping around him. In his arms, under the makeshift bundle, the orc-child stirred, awake from whatever spell had been placed upon him at last. Next to him stood Ares, his copper scales covered in snowflakes, atop his shoulders sat the little gnome, his hood up, he was trying to stay warm with the last of his energy.
“We followed orders, we did as we were told.”
The commander was human and wore a large moustache. His plate mail was emblazed with the Tree of Awakening. He was a member of the Order of Iron. A paladin of the Flame. “You are Theros, of the crimson order.”
“And what manner of events has led to you being here this eve, Brother Theros? Are these your prisoners, they seem a ragtag assembly. I hope you have not activated the scorpion for an Inquisition, the resources needed for such a…”
“Lord Malcolm, Akra is destroyed,” said the inquisitioner. “This lot, this ragtag assembly as you call them, is the only reason we now have a chance to save the other forts of the valley.”
Malcolm’s eyes grew wide, his moustache curled as his lips quivered with anger. He yelled for his troops to unload, and barked orders to secure the perimeter, he wanted a full report. Then, he turned back to Theros. “Who, who has attacked us?”
“Maybe Ket itself, my Lord, I know not. All I know is that if it were not for these next to me, were it not for Camouflage, I would not be…”
“Did you say Camouflage, son?”
“Yes, that old bastard is around here somewhere I am sure. Nastiest drill sergeant we’ve got in the Lighted Infantry, Commander. It’s no wonder he was the only one in the Keep to survive. Besides us of course.”
Commander Malcolm listened as Theros described their escape, explaining how Camouflage urged them on, even saved them.
“Camouflage died some 10 years ago, boy.” Said Malcolm. “He died upon the battlements of Akra, defending her from an invasion of giants. I know, I fought next to that old bag of soiled linens. And I was there when they buried him under the Keep too.”
Ohhhhhhhh oohhhhhhh Camouflage, things are never quite the way they seem….
Ohhhhhhh oohhhh Camouflage, he was an awful big marine….