• Matt Brown

On the Wind (Part 6)

If only we had more time. She turned to the moon, its pale light shining down over the maze of boulders and rocky terrain. Lisha narrowed her eyes, catching a sliver of something behind it, barely peeking out. Aluna was watching from behind Narune. If I could see you in full, I’d feel more confident, Ancient One.

Stories varied, but many tribes believed Elanthar’s second moon only revealed herself to truly special individuals. The tales said it was to inspire and encourage them in their most difficult moments. She griped the haft of her spear and dug her hooves against the rough terrain.

No, Lisha. Keep faith, she told herself. We haven’t come this far to lose hope now. Lisha closed her eyes, taking a breath. She immersed herself in the soft touch of the cool night air against her skin. She imagined herself swallowed by it, immersing her as if it were a lake.

Once there, she felt a presence. It was warm, compassionate, and assuring. “Courage, young mare,” a gentle voice whispered.

Lisha opened her eyes, casting them at The Elder’s Bones. Its rocky spires and outcroppings seemed more ominous than before. The caves were alight, and at the monolith’s base, other campfires sat scattered across it. Their enemy was waiting, and they were many.

She felt a gentle hand touch her shoulder. The comfort and warm she felt grew. Amanii couldn’t speak while maintaining the enchantment, but it was enough to know she was there. Others were with her, but they too had to remain silent, lest the illusion break.

The elders had decided that if they couldn’t go into the caves, and since the enemy knew of their plans, then it fell to the Windrunners and their magic. It was risky, hiding so many warriors. Few Windrunners could perform Illusions as skillfully as Amanii. Less could conjure fire or other the elements.

Most of them devoted their skills to the healing and preservation of life, not taking it. Once again, Shoshen was the exception. Some of his books contained offensive magic, but there wasn’t enough time to teach them before tonight. As if stood, Lisha knew Amanii and the chiefs had a plan, but they had been silent on the details.

Lisha reached into the satchel handing from her shoulder and pulled the engraved orc tusk from it. She pressed her thumb against its tip, allowing the blood to drain into the arcane script carved into. As before, it glowed crimson, and a presence entered her mind.

So you came… how disappointing. You centaur fold so easily.

You were hoping for a fight.

I had hoped for a challenge, he replied.

Then stop hiding and let us speak. Through the connections, Lisha sensed his amusement.

What is this? A centaur with a spine?

No, a centaur who refuses to live in fear.

Laughter echoed across the link. Oh brave girl, I will own you. Such fire is rare among your people.

Then you know nothing of my people.

We shall see, young mare.

The connection abruptly cut off and, in its wake, drums sounded. She looked to the sky; the moon was in place, but this time Lisha noticed a little more light. The tiny sliver that was Aluna had grown. She had creeped a little further out from behind her brother, Narune.

Lisha plodded through the maze of boulders, keeping her sights set on the Elder’s bones. Once cleared, an open field of rocky terrain and grass lay between the giant monolith and herself. She narrowed her glimpsing movement amid the caves. Even with Narune’s light, and the fires of the encampment, the figures were hard to make out.

She moved closer, meeting them halfway, her heart pounding as the shadows cloaking melted away in the moonlight. Kal Zanjin was huge as were the pair standing with him. He was six and a half feet, all of it muscle. The other two orcs with him shared the same built.

Their skin was like black soot, and their eyes burned with a molten intensity. It was less terrifying than the visions depicted. At least their eyes weren’t on fire. Notably Kal was missing a tusk.

The armor of the pair beside him wasn’t very elaborate. It was a mixture of buffalo hides with metal links woven into it. Kal wore plated armor with odd markings around the collar and two distinct shapes engraved on the breastplate. A wicked winged axe hung from his belt, while the other two shadow orcs carried spears.

“Look at you,” he said. “You have no armor and carry nothing more than a spear. Yet to come to face me.”

“I come to save my people. Wouldn’t you do the same?”

The shadow orc laughed. “Oh, how little you understand us, young mare,” he replied. “The strong survive and the weak die. That is the oldest law among my tribe.”

“And if I were to kill you. What then?”

He balked, his mouth falling open before shifting to a wicken grin. “Well now, look at that,” he said, glancing between the pair beside him. “If you could kill me, then the shaman of the tribe would appoint a new chieftain.”

“And my people? What would become of them?”

Kal narrowed his eyes and stepped closer. “I wouldn’t be here to keep the worst from happening.” The shadow orc reached for her spear, placing the tip against his throat. “Shadow orcs fear nothing, little girl. So take my life, but in doing so, you assure wholesale slaughter.”

It would be so easy. Lisha knew she would never have another opportunity. She gripped the spear, her hands trembling. Push, Lisha, she told herself. The other two aren’t as well armored.

The feeling of being immersed returned, washing over her. Wait, child.

Kal Zanjin smiled wider, the points of canines showing. “You’ve never killed,” he said, shoving the spear aside and stepping back. “So, as entertaining as this is, what is your decision?”

The drums still raged, their rhythm steady and even. “It was decided you will terrorize us no longer after this night.”

The molten tone in his eyes brightened. “Are you declaring war?” he asked. “Do you think you can win? We are many and we outnumber you.”

“I have heeded the call and followed the path before me. I have mended the impossible because I learned to listen. Who are you that I should fear!”

“Ah, Windrunner,” he laughed. “I have of heard your ilk. You are like the shaman, communing with your precious spirits.”

“I know of only one and He has led me this far.”

“Then tell your One before the night is done, I will piss on your grave,” he replied, then turned to the shadow orc at his left. “Kill the stock in the cages.”

The shadow orc paused. “Shakk El will be furious,” the orc said. “He needs the stock.”

Kal Zanjin unhooked his axe, swinging it across the orc’s throat. “Shakk El isn’t here!” He turned to the other shadow orc. “Kill the stock!”

Lisha’s heart raced as she stared at the orc while he bled out. The wound was closing, but not fast enough. He would die from blood loss before it healed completely. She looked up, his order finally registering.

“You can’t! They’ve done nothing!”

He grinned wickedly. “They are the penalty, young mare. I made you an offer, now pay the price.”

Frantically her eyes darted between the dying orc and the one making his way back toward the caves of the Elder’s Bones. She then set them on Kal Zanjin, noting how he was holding his axe. His grin widened.

He expects me to fight. No, he wants me to fight. Lisha backed away, disappointment showing on his face as she did. Please, let my aim be true.

The feeling of being immersed washed over her and she recalled all the moments her father had spent teaching her the spear. They had practiced at varied distances, sometimes in the worst weather. A soft breeze blew at her back and before Kal could stop her, she tossed it at the other orc.

The spear sailed true, sinking deep between the shadow orc’s shoulders. He grunted, falling forward onto the rocky ground. Her heart sank as he worked to push himself up, trying to pull out the spear.

“Don’t look so disappointed,” Kal Zanjin said. “He’ll die if he can’t get it out. We shadow orcs heal quickly. Unfortunately, centaur don’t.”

He roared, then charged, his axe coming in at a wide arc. Lisha turned, trying to keep her footing, the axe narrowly missing her abdomen. She reared, thrusting her front legs out and punting him in the face with her front left hoof.

Kal Zanjin stumbled, and she whirled around, bucking him in the chest with her rear legs. Off balance, he crumbled to the ground, his winged axe falling out of reach. The shadow orc shook his head, then wiping the blood from his mending nose, he touched one of the symbols on his breastplate. Like the tusk, it took on a crimson glow.

“I had this armor made as part of a trade many years ago. It seems the shadow orc who forged it is skilled in a very strange magic. Some whisper he has learned the secrets of the runesmiths.”

Lisha backed away, a sense of dread creeping over her as he approached. She fought to shake it, but felt herself falling into its grasp. She shifted her eyes to the spear belonging to the shadow orc Kal had slain. He smiled in response.

“Go ahead, pick it up. Strike me down if you can.” He backed away; arms spread wide. “I will give you the chance to fight for your life, not that it will change anything.”

Lisha dug her rear hooves into her ground, fighting against the fear settling over her. Can I even win? She reached for the spear, her hand shaking and heart racing.

“Something wrong, young mare?” he cackled.

Lisha took the spear in hand and stared at him. There was so much malice in him. She put her front hooves forward when something tugged at her heart. Lisha paused, searching out what she was feeling. “It’s not time yet,” she whispered.

Kal Zanjin narrowed his eyes. “You seem to think you’re in control, girl.”

“No monster, neither of us are. But if you want us, come get us.” She turned away, fighting hard not to look back. The drums continued their rhythmic beat, but the magic he used no longer held her. Shadow orcs are impatient. Prone to sudden rage. Amanii had this said it many times.

“I’m not through with you, girl! Fight me!”

Lisha tensed, gripping the shaft of the spear in her right hand, and flattening it against the back of her arm. “No, Kal Zanjin. The fight won’t be until dawn.”

He roared, screaming in fury.

Just wait… the need for patience resonated within her. Lisha kept walking, keeping each breath even and her steps purposeful. Like the drums, her heart thrummed in her ears. Just wait, she reminded herself.

“Get back here!”

She didn’t see him move, but could somehow feel it. It was like the air between them was being displaced or drawn it away. Her back tingled the closer the shadow orc drew. Kal was incredibly light on his feet for his size.

Though fear gripped her, Lisha knew this was the moment. It was kill or be killed, and she spun, spear firmly locked against her arm. Kal’s eyes widened in surprise. He tried to pull himself from its path, but it was too late.

As the spear tip sank into his throat, Lisha felt a chill wash over her. The sensation of it cutting through flesh reverberated through the shaft. But when Kal Zanjin smiled while the light drained from his eyes, Lisha thought she might vomit.

“Now you’ve taken a life,” he gurgled. “You won’t be the same after this.”

Lisha pulled the spear, backing away. The drums abruptly stopped, and an eerie silence settled over the Elder’s Bones. Kal Zanjin lay on the ground, blood pooling from his throat, the light gone from his yellow eyes.

The sound of a horn from the encampment around the monolith caught her attention. The drums resumed. Among the flickering flames of the campfires and shadows, Lisha made out faint traces of movement.

They’re coming.

She bolted, navigating through the rough maze of boulders toward her people. Once clear, she looked back, her mouth falling open. Thirty orcs were coming for her. Some had already reached the maze.

Lisha jumped when she felt someone touch her shoulder. “Easy young mare,” Amanii said, appearing beside her. “We have the terrain.”

“There are more at the encampment. We can’t fight them all head on, Amanii…”

“We don’t have to,” the old mare replied. “We just need to wound them.”

Lisha looked at the maze, orcs were funneling through it. Once halfway, they slowed their advance.

“Now!” Amanii shouted.

War cries erupted from the maze of boulders, as warriors from the allied tribes suddenly appeared. They had skillfully maneuvered into the maze, catching the orcs off guard. The orc’s attempted to backtrack and regroup, only to meet with spears from behind.

Amanii was clever, using her illusions to keep their warriors hidden and the tight quarters to cut the orcs off. They were surrounded without knowing what happened. The skirmish ended quickly, and she sounded a horn, calling for a retreat. Aside from a few injuries, no one was seriously harmed.

Lisha noted how tired Amanii looked and moved closer to offer the old mare some support. Amanii waved her off. Keeping her attention focused on the maze of boulders and the shadow orc encampment.

She’s been maintaining the magic of her incants this whole time!

“In this war,” the old mare said. “Each life lost matters on both sides.” Another horn sounded from the shadow orc encampment. “It’s time to leave, the battle of our lives had begun.”

As if on que, dozens of warriors appeared, each carrying longbows. They were broken into two groups of thirty, each positioned around the outer edged of the boulder maze on the left and right. The warriors took aim, angling their shots in a high arc and loosed. After three volleys, the archers withdrew into the night.

“Lisha, make haste. You have played your part, now let them play theirs.”

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