Once, Haryk had set his pack down in the jungle while scouting a particularly hostile isle full of lizardfolk. The fighting had been intense–he had lost most of his unit. He hadn’t eaten in days. There was no reason to do so. When survival comes into play, there is a hierarchy. Bleeding wounds are first. They must be stopped in any way one can. Air, then water come next. Air and water can be separated by days of time. All the while one must consider the enemy, and where they are. If all those needs are met, one considers food. Food can be given a span of time too he learned. By the time he and what was left of the forces he commanded had been able to break, the thought of food finally struck him. He put his pack down, and went to help another of his men do the same. In the span of time it took him to turn around twice, grubs the size of his fingers had crawled out from the soil and wiggled their way into his food satchel deep within his pack. They were everywhere, coming from everywhere. The little putrid black grubs crawled and wiggled over his entire pack, nearly taking it off into the forest with them. It was many years ago, but he still remembered their numbers, how voracious they were, oblivious to anything but the need to feed.
That was what Haryk saw now. The demons of ket, the spawn of darkness, clawed their way into the tunnel, past the dead dragon, and clamored, unstoppably for him and the others.
But there was one formidable guard left, and Haryk, standing behind the second and last of the dragons, knew he was their only chance. With a strange intelligence that Haryk did not understand, the dragon snaked it’s head around so that it’s eye, one of them at least, could see him. It then opened up it’s jaws and inhaled sharply. Haryk knew it was his sign to run. He turned around, gun holstered so he could pump his arms. With all his might left he clamored down the tunnel after the injured Andril and the Prince and the others.
Only once did he risk a look back. Many in the realm do not know that a dragon’s breath weapon can only be expelled so many times before being depleted. That was the case with the last of the two dragons as well, but somehow it had saved a little extra in reserve. Haryk saw just the beginning of the creature exhaling a stream of burning energy, but not out into the tunnel, up into the stone of the place. The tunnel shook. The spiderlike creatures, and other wicked things squeezed themselves around the dragons. Others slashed and hacked at it. On they clamored chasing the prisoners, the Celns. But the dragon’s final breath brought the roof of the tunnel down upon them. Haryk picked up his feet, running as swiftly as he could, pumping his hands and arms. Behind him, the tunnel, along with the dragon, and the dark creatures spawned in Ket itself, disappeared in a cloud of dust and falling stone.
In a mere matter of seconds, Haryk ran into a larger cave, and sensing movement, he withdrew his gun ready to fire. But he stopped. For there in the space, lit only by a single torch were the prisoners, too many to count. There was also the entirety of the fighting force that remained, most of them the half-men who he had been fighting with. No, thought Haryk, fighting for as well. King Genoran was conversing with several other Celn soldiers, Tahg and Andril were listening. Many of the prisoners they had rescued were near to passing out. Some were still being carried by the half-men, the minotaurs, and lizardfolk. Several tabaxi were pacing back and forth.
There were two other tunnels leading out of the space. Genoran seemed to be deciding which one to go. By the looks of it, they seemed to be looking to Andril!
Haryk came to Andril, who was still listening intently. “What is the plan, mage?”
“I’ll let you know when I know.” Andril winked. Blood was dripping from a gash in his head.
Just then two soldiers came into the space from the second tunnel. One was none other than Commander Fritz. The other, was Governor Canton. Genoran ran to them, Hojo at his side. “Report,” said the King quickly.
“My Lord, the tunnel here leads nowhere. The enemy lies within. We must take the last tunnel and hope for…”
There was a metallic clicking sound, not unlike some of the machinery they had heard earlier only not nearly as loud. Heads lowered instinctively when in flew Scribbles from the third tunnel. Andril’s magical, mechanical scout, the little bird landed on Andril’s shoulder. It squawked in his ear. “Thank you scribbles,” said the mage, “and off you go again.” Off it flew, back into the third tunnel on some other errand.
“The way out is through the tunnel behind us,” Andril said for all to hear. “This way, is death, and it comes for us now. Follow me, if you wish to live.” Andril ran off into the third tunnel. Few waited long. Haryk picked up a young lad, and threw him over his shoulder.
The King, Hojo still at his side for some reason, Canton, Fritz and a few soldiers remained to take up the rear position. Noises of movement, sounds of scratching and clawing were coming closer from the tunnel that Canton and Fritz had just inspected.
“They are coming,” said Genoran. “We must hold them off, to give our brothers and sisters a shot at escape. Go!” Genoran shoved Hojo aside and ahead. The jester no longer looked funny in the slightest. “Commander Fritz, I order you to take this man,” he pointed to Hojo, “along with you and keep to the middle position of the others. Help them make it out. Now go!”
Canton, who had been using his elven ears to scan the tunnel from which the enemy came, spun around and withdrew his rapier. He pointed it directly at Fritz’ throat! “No Commander Fritz! It is I, your direct commander who orders you! By the power vested in me, as Governor of this soveriegn isle, I hereby order you to escort this king and yourself out through that tunnel. Do it. Do it now!”
Fritz looked pained and confused. He tried to face Genoran, the rapier point now embedded in his neck, “My Lord?”
Canton, lowered his rapier only slightly and looked in the prince’s eyes. His face was filled with some sad look. Haryk thought he knew what it was–shame. “My lord! You must go. I will hold the bastards.” With his other hand, Canton filled the space behind him with a brilliant shield of magical energy.
“Here they come!” shouted Fritz
Around the corner, several dark beasts emerged from the soot and ashy darkness running directly for them. They hit the shield, trying desperately to claw and tear their way in.
Governor Canton held his hand up, pushing the magical energy he had conjured backwards as hard as he could at the foes. But more and more came, until the tunnel was filled with them. The shield bent but didn’t break, slowly Canton brought his rapier around, and used both hands to guide the forcefield. But more creatures came and struck it, and it inched backwards while the good governor puffed up his face, and dug his heeled boots into the tunnel floor. The enemy gnashed and tore at each other trying to get through. Canton struggled with the effort, sweat beads breaking on his skin. He spoke through gritted teeth. “Go! Now my lord! I have learned a great many things as Lord of this isle, King of the Celns, and for once in this life, I’m going to get my own hands a bit dirty!”
Fritz pulled the King forward, but as he moved onward, several of the warriors moved back. One was a man named Telchar. His companion, Seebo, the Oorstman stayed as well. One last person stopped moving forward, and turned back. It was the faun whom had saved Andril earlier on the ledge. Known as Krinklemouse, his hooved feet trotted over next to Canton and he withdrew his daggers and bellowed more like an animal, than a man. Seebo, his bare feet gripping the tunnel, lifted his bow. Telchar hunched over, spinning his axe. Each looked haggard, forlorn. Haryk knew the look. He had seen it before on the battlefield. It wasn’t the lack of will to go on, it was the desire for pain to end. He watched his fellow soldiers with pride, and then turned away back up the tunnel.
If Canton was thankful for the company, no one would ever know. He screamed and focused on his breathing, dug in as deeply as he could, and held his hands and the entirety of the Ketian forces outwards. This was his final stand.
“I am honored…. to have you here…. by my side, goodly men of the light,” Canton grunted out the words in breaths.
“I always knew you were more pirate than noble, Canton,” gruffed Krinklemouse.
Through the pain of his efforts, a smile broke ever so slightly on the nobleman’s face, and with still not a stain on his attire he’d admit to, Canton roared into the space beyond. Next to him, stood three of the toughest warriors that Far Realm could produce. Wall to wall before them, the tunnel was now filled with the most fiendish of nightmare creatures. Like sharks smelling blood in the water, they frenzied, waiting for what was left of Canton’s defenses to fail. Only his shield now separated them from what would seen be a certain death. Genoran and Fritz had stutter-stepped to move on, but somehow Hojo had not! Genoran screaming at him, the jester ran back and put a hand on Canton’s shoulder. Shaking, trembling, the elf yelled at the fool to run, to run along now!
Hojo brought his mouth close to Canton’s ear, “You did the right thing, sending King Borindin off to the East. The King knows.” Then the hand slipped away, and the jester ran off, into the tunnel along with the others. Haryk followed by behind, holstering his weapon for more speed.
Canton, now sweating profusely, trying desperately to keep his shield up as long as he could, turned to Krinklemouse and the others. Each stamped and yelled their battle cries, pawed the ground, daggers, axe and bow at the ready. On the other side of the shield, the mutilated faces of what may have once been men growled and hissed. Their bodies, in many cases not those of men at all, clamored over one another, pushing against the magical power of the shield. There were cracks now appearing along it’s edge where it met the tunnel’s stone walls and ceiling.
With hands outstretched, Canton blasted out a monstrous cry. His shield finally gave way.
“Long live Cellinor! Long live good King….”
Meanwhile, Haryk ran as fast as he could, following the others down a winding passage. Andril, he knew, had sent scribbles ahead into the darkness that lay before them. Andril could not speak to the conjuration as though it were alive, because it wasn’t. There however was a sort of dialogue between the two. Scribbles came back once more and landed on Andril’s shoulder. Quickly, while they rounded an intersection, Andril called for the King, and the others to stop. Genoran walked over to Andril and spoke fast.
“Which way do we go, Andril?” he asked breathlessly.
Andril was expressionless. “Scribbles has found the way out. Ahead,” Andril pointed past the crowd, “You will find the gate. You will recognize it,” said the mage, and this time, he turned to Hojo! “You will recognize it?”
“Aye, Master Mage,” said Hojo. Something passed between them, but Haryk wasn’t sure what it was.
“Good,” said Andril and he patted the King on the shoulder as if he were a child. “But Haryk and I, and Boy Wonder here, we are not going that way.”
Genoran’s eyes grew wide, and his face grew angry. “Andril, no! I command you. I know I can not ask for your allegiance, but surely these people. The last of Far Realm, surely you can…”
“Hush, my king,” said Andril and he put a finger to Genoran’s lips. With the other, he held up a scroll tube. He shook it in front of the King’s eyes. “Take this scroll. Read from it but once, Do not stutter, do not stop, do not repeat. But do not do so until you have come as close to the gate ahead as you can. There are guardian’s there. Although they will be formidable, they cannot access the gate, without aid from something far more…” Andril hesitated. “I should think it will take them a while to find one. Now pay attention goodly King! This scroll will use it’s enchantment to take you to the gate, even if you cannot stand upon it. When you see yourself there, read from the next portion, you will activate it, all of you, alone, and us last. If we survive that is, which given our luck tonight seems surprisingly better than impossible.”
Genoran was about to protest, but Haryk waved a finger. “We aren’t here for you, Lord, you’ll have to accept that.” The fighter turned to Andril, “You know, he’s just so needy.”
Genoran looked out at all the soldiers, the dying prisoners. Then he saw the mage, the old fighter, and the boy druid standing in front of him. “Thank you, Masters of Three Harbors. I will hold the gate as long as I can.”
Just then Canton’s cry carried down the hallway, “For Cellinor!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” It was faint, but it sent a chill up Haryl’s spine. Several of the women and children began to cry again.
Andril spoke quickly. “We will be but less than four minutes of the King’s time behind you, or else we will not be at all. Wait that long on the other side–it will take that long for the enemy to break the enchantment I have placed on the teleportation– then speak the closing password written at the bottom. If we have not come through by then, the gate will seal, keeping these foul bastards from defiling Cillandar. Perhaps, though, we shall make it!
“How do you know it will work?” Asked Genoran quickly too. He took the scroll from the mage’s hand.
“I figured out the King’s, your father’s, little trick months ago Genbaby.” Andril winked at Hojo.”I’ve been working on this little gem since then,” he tapped the scroll, now in Genoran’s hand. “It was my get out of Ket free card. Now, it’s yours.”
Genoran raised his hand and made a circular motion with his index finger facing upward. Then, he pointed down the hall where Andril said the gate lay. Commander Fritz shouted at the others and began to move them down the tunnel. Behind him ran the prisoners, and half-folk. Genoran and Hojo were the last to go.
“King of Cellinor,” said Andril with a flourish of the hands. The scroll flew from Genoran into Hojo’s hands. “Something tells me, that you don’t always play the fool, Hojo. I imagine good king Genoran will be busy ahead. Be sure to take your time and read it well.”