He felt himself sliding across a smooth surface. All was white before Vhindr’s eyes and his mind was spinning. His skid came to an abrupt end as he thudded into something hard. The impact jolted his bones and he forced himself to regain his senses.
Rubbing his eyes and shaking the cloud from his mind Vhindr staggered to his feet to see Haylien standing ominously before him her swords drawn.
Glancing around Vhindr realised they were back in Gaianaus atop the ruined Nevārancien craft. The cold wind howled around them and the light of the coming dawn shone upon the metal of the ship.
Reaching into his extra-dimensional pouch Vhindr drew out a delicate long sword, encrusted with runes and twirled it in his hand to familiarise himself with his old blade.
Haylien smirked at him, “You are defeated Vhindr. Your ring is empty and your magicks useless. You may as well surrender.”
“Surrender is not a word I know.” Vhindr growled back and readied himself for the fight.
Haylien laughed aloud and shook her head, the feint blue tints in her hair shinning bright in Inüer’s light.
“I don’t like being mocked,” Vhindr said angrily.
“Your magicks are useless.” Haylien continued to laugh at him.
“Then I shall use Void magicks.” Shouted Vhindr and he darted ahead, his deadly sword lunging for the elf’s face.
“Like you can.” Haylien giggled as he dodged to the side and easily slapped away his attack.
“I have done it once. And I can do it again.” Vhindr growled back and he pursued Haylien around the ruined craft.
Their swords clashed and sparks flew as Vhindr forced Haylien backwards towards the long chute that led down to the bottom of the craft. The elf did not seem to realise the direction he was forcing her to retreat, but as her back foot slipped over the edge of the shaft she simply vanished.
Thinking quickly he dived into a roll to the side just as Haylien reappeared behind him and sent a wave of energy that would have surely thrown him into the tube.
Vhindr clenched his jaw in frustration. How could he hope to beat her?
“The essence of life.” Vhindr mumbled to himself as he remembered what the old elf Meil’hiel had said. “Magicks in its most pure form.”
“What are you mumbling about?” Haylien asked in amusement. “Has your inevitable death forced you into insanity?”
“Essence of speed.” Vhindr growled and he sprinted towards the elf.
As their swords clashed once again he focused all his thoughts on speed and his connection to the Fog. His hand moved in a blur and again he forced Haylien to retreat across the smooth floor. A confident smile came to his face as a look of frustration came to the elf’s features and the sharp edge of his sword slipped through her defences.
He nicked her on the shoulder, cutting fabric and drawing blood. Next thrust caught her on the hip and then the thigh. Haylien winced in pain and tried to skip away from this his attacks, but Vhindr chased her down.
His speed was incredible, even Vhindr did not think he could actually tap into the power of Void magicks so quickly. But then again he, and all his siblings, had always been talented in magicks.
His sword locked with Haylien’s across their bodies, but he had the better leverage.
“Strength.” Vhindr growled as he pushed forwards.
Haylien tried to step and twist away, but she was not fast enough. The elf called out in pain as Vhindr’s razor sharp sword sliced through her shoulder cloak and hood drawing a bright line of blood across her shoulder blades.
Again Haylien vanished, but this time it was to simply get further away from him. She reappeared several meters from him and angrily pulled off the tatters of her cloak and tossed it into the wind. Beneath her cloak Hyalien wore but a light top lined with furs, similar to her kin in Bel’dōr’raine, but she did not seem to notice the cold wind that whipped up her hair.
Vhindr was breathing heavily, but a smile spread across his face. He could win this battle, he knew it.
Baring his teeth Vhindr charged back in, instantly putting Hayline on her heels and again his sword slipped through her defences. Clashing steel echoed about the hollow ruins of the ship and Vhindr could see Haylien was tiring. Her breathing was more strained then his and her feet seemed heavy as she continued to retreat from him and into a closed in corner of the craft.
As her back heel touched the wall Haylien did not teleport, clearly exhausted from the fighting, and in vain she attempted to fight back against his superior strength and speed.
But then Vhindr’s sword slipped through and sliced open Haylien wrist. With a cry the elf dropped her sword and shrunk into the corner as the tip of Vhindr’s blade darted within a fingernails width from her delicate neck.
“What were you saying about my inevitable death?” Vhindr asked as he tried to catch his breath.
“Looks like you’ve won,” Haylien said and tossed her other blade to the ground, but suddenly she burst out laughing and her posture became more relaxed. “Sorry, I can’t even say that without laughing.”
Vhindr narrowed his eyes in confusion.
With a gust of wind Haylien was no longer trapped in the corner before him.
“Did you really think you had me defeated?” the elf asked with a laugh from the other side of the ship, one of her swords somehow back in her hand. “That is priceless.”
The elf laughed aloud again and Vhindr gritted his teeth angrily as he moved towards her.
“Essence of speed. Essence of strength.” Haylien mocked him, “Do you really imagine that simply thinking about the purest forms of magicks would allow you to use their power?”
The elf continued to laugh, causing Vhindr’s anger to rise.
“Alright.” Haylien said as she finished laughing, “I have had my fun. Let us end this.”
An evil look came to elf’s green eye as she looked to Vhindr and readied her sword. Suddenly she was gone. Vhindr’s eyes widened in shock and lifted his sword defensively before him. But the strike came from behind and a fist blasted him in the kidney, dropping him to one knee. An eruption of pain darted across his shoulder blades as Haylien’s sword cut through his leather coat and bit into his flesh.
Staggering to his feet Vhindr glanced around the ruined ship trying to discern which direction the elf would come from next. Suddenly his defensively held sword was knocked high and the flash of steel darted in quick succession towards him, cutting his skin and ruining his coat and top.
Vhindr staggered back a step and readied his sword again, but the assault was already over and he was bleeding from a dozen shallow cuts across his torso and thighs.
“Now we are even.” Haylien said as she appeared a few steps in front of him and a delighted smiled came to her pretty features. “Time for you to die.”
In a flash of light and a gust of wind Haylien was no longer there and Vhindr fell into defensive crouch his sword before him. Desperately he glanced around the ruined craft knowing well that the next attack to come from the elf would be the last.
Strangely he began to see motion through the air, like feint streams of Fog darting through the air. The scar over his right began to tingle and he felt a slight painful sensation in his eye. The river of Fog suddenly rushed towards him and the glowing form of a sword dived for his chest. Vhindr’s eyes widened and he quickly pirouetted to the side, his sword deflecting the Fog blade. To his great relief the sound of metal rang out and Haylien reappeared several meters ahead of him, a perplexed expression on her face.
“You have been holding out on me Vhindr,” Haylien pouted, “Not nice. It seems the Fog in that scarred eyes of yours has saved your life. This time.”
Again Haylien vanished and Vhindr dived into a roll to the right as the stream of Fog shot straight for him. He felt the gust of wind as Haylien darted passed him and the stab of pain as her sword nicked him on the hip. Vhindr barely got back to his feet when Haylien scorched through the air back towards him. Acting on instinct he managed to block the thrust. Again the elf shot towards him from a different angle her glowing blade diving for the kill with each pass. Metal rung out in quick succession and Vhindr somehow managed to defend himself. Sparks flew with each clash and Vhindr arms ached from the heavy impacts.
Suddenly there was no glowing sword diving for his face and instead something thundered into his gut lifting him off his feet and blasting the air from his lunges. Before he had a chance to crumble to the floor he was sailing backwards through the air. His flight stopped abruptly as he crashed into a metal pole that sent him spinning awkwardly to the side. His mind reeling and his lunges begging for air Vhindr had no idea what was happening. He felt another hit in the torso followed closely by a heavy impact between his shoulder blades.
Coughing and gasping for breath Vhindr’s mind managed to orientate itself and it was then he realised that he was lying on the ground at the base of a wall. Struggling into a sitting position he saw Haylien appear standing before him. His hand instinctively tried to move his sword up in defence but it was then he realised his blade had gone from his grasp.
Haylien stood calmly before him, the dawning light reflecting in her eyes and making her hair shimmer. Her sword was in a relaxed position by her side, but her face was like a mask of death. She knew she had him defeated, and Vhindr had no more tricks to save him.
“Good bye Vhindr,” Haylien said with deathly calm, “It has been fun, well for me anyway. Now you shall die knowing I will not only kill you and your father, but your whole family, right down to the last Varrintine. And then I think I will go and kill your friends you journeyed to Issia with, except for Rhalin. I think I would like to see her sold to the rough islanders of Divarn.”
With each word Haylien spoke anger boiled within Vhindr to the point he did not notice the elf’s sword dive for his chest.
Something burst within Vhindr as he heard Haylien’s plans for his family and friends and as fire erupted across his shoulders. In a burst of power and speed Vhindr dived forwards, grabbing Haylien’s wrist that held the sword and twisting under arm he forced the elf’s sword through her chest, right between the breasts.
Vhindr had no idea what had happened as he stumbled back from Haylien as she collapsed to her knees, struggling for breath.
Sucking in a deep breath Vhindr steadied himself, the fire about his figure disappearing, and he turned from the dying elf.
He thought about saying something witty or arrogant, but in the end he just decided to leave. He knew Haylien would not survive her wound and he turned for the shaft leading down to the bottom of the ship. A sudden wave of exhaustion gripped Vhindr and he fell to his knees. Sweat streamed down his face as his breathing came in gasps. The sky above him grew brighter as it faded into white and Vhindr lost consciousness.
* * *
Rhalin let out a deep breath and leaned forward to rest her elbows on her knees as she sat on the small cot in the cell. The air was moist down here like all subterranean parts of Issia. Wetness trickled down the stone walls and seeped through the floor, but thankfully it was not cold. In fact it was quite humid. There was mold and fungi growing in the corners of the cell and on the old fabric of the bed sheet and pillow.
She would have laid down and relaxed, maybe tried to get some sleep, but every time she looked at the green and black rot running through the pillow and sheet she simply could not bring herself lie down despite how tired she was.
“Get some rest m’lady.” Chuckled one guard as he passed by her cell.
Rhalin ignored the man.
“Hey, I’m talkin’ to you,” snapped the guard irritably, “Special orders say we can’t have any fun with you. But down here who’s to know ay?”
“Everyone, when I tell them.” Rhalin replied without looking at the man.
“As if they would believe a traitor?”
“I’m no traitor.” Rhalin flared angrily and glared at the guard.
“That’s what all traitors say,” chuckled the man, “Lord Roht made the arrest warrant himself, so I’m goin’ to believe him over you. Traitor.”
Rhalin clenched her jaw and looked away.
“Maybe I’ll come back later,” smirked the guard before he moved away, rattling his blackjack on the bars of her cell as he did.
Rhalin let out a deep breath and ran a hand over her face. What was going to happen to her?
“Roht wouldn’t have me executed, would he?” Rhalin wondered aloud.
She truly did not know to what extent the man would go to to ensure his position and the security of Gaianaus, as he put it, was secure. Roht had his own brother killed for his ambition what was she?
After Barron Ellengar and Roht found her and her mother and brought them to Issia castle they had been like a father to her. Though it had been the Baron who had looked after her with more interest as he had not children of his own, Roht was like an uncle.
“And he betrayed me.” Rhalin stated flatly with despair. “Like everyone else in my life.”
Rhalin dropped her head to her hands and took another slow breath as she tried to subdue the tears that were building within.
A slow rattle of a baton across the bars of a cell caught her attention and she looked up in confusion.
“Sure the guard would not be so stupid.” Rhalin tried to convince herself.
The rattling drew closer and a wave of dread washed over her as the grotesque guard appeared at her cell door, his expression deadly seriously. Slowly the man took the keys from his belt and the bolt of the door unlocked with a loud clank. The cell door squealed as it swung out and Rhalin’s heart pounded in her chest in fear.
Suddenly someone grabbed the back of the guards head and slammed him against the stone of the door frame. Jumping to her feet Rhalin watched the guard tumble to the ground and looked in surprise as a Nevārancien woman moved in front of the door.
“You coming?” the warrior asked casually.
Closing her mouth Rhalin gathered her composure and carefully stepped over the unconscious guard and out of the cell.
“You are Bea’trix, yes?” Rhalin asked curiously, “You were head of arms for Baron Barrgarah.”
“No longer,” Bea’trix replied simple, “Here.”
The Nevārancien handed Rhalin’s belt and sword to her and she slowly took it and wrapped it around her hips.
“Why?” Rhalin wondered as she regarded the warrior closely.
“Because I know you are no traitor.” Bea’trix shrugged and motioned Rhalin to follow her.
“Wait. How do you know?” Rhalin asked as she fell in beside the woman.
“Because Barrgarah had previously told me everything,” Bea’trix said, “About his and Roht’s plan to kill Baron Ellengar, how they planned to pay the assassin, and how they thought to rule Gaianaus together.”
“Why would Barrgarah tell you that?”
“Because he needed my help,” Bea’trix replied casually, “I was to kill Hazeldin, his bandits, and the assassin. But as it turned out they were already dead. I suspected then that something awry had happened, and those suspicions were confirmed when I returned to Issia and learned of Barragrah’s murder.
“Quiet.” Bea’trix said as they came to the end of a corridor and she suddenly pulled Rhalin to the side and against the wall.
Rhalin held her breath as the sound of voices and heavy boots echoed off the stone.
“They have gone,” Rhalin remarked as the sound died down. “Your hand, do you mind?”
Bea’trix gave her a curious look and Rhalin indicated to the warrior’s arm that was still firmly across her breasts.
“Not at all,” Bea’trix smiled back, her arm lingering, “But we should move on.”
With that the Nevārancien stealthily led the way along the corridors and deeper into the prison blocks.
“This is not the way out.” Rhalin said seriously as Bea’trix began down a flight of stairs.
“It is too risky headed above ground,” Bea’trix replied without slowing.
“Don’t tell me we are going through the sewers?”
“Alright, I won’t tell you,” the Nevārancien flashed a smile at her over her shoulder.
The hallways grew darker as they moved further down and the steam clouds became thicker. There were no guards down in this part of the prison but the cells were not empty, and Rhalin passed by a few dank cells that held forgotten individuals looking at them with dead eyes, or the dead body of another left to rot.
The creaking hinges of an old and rusted door echoed through the mist as Bea’trix opened the way into the sewers.
“Be on the lookout for drowners,” Rhalin remarked seriously as they came to the bottom of the stairs and were met with the overpowering smell of refuse.
From her pack Bea’trix pulled forth a crystal lantern and hooked it on her belt before she set off confidently through the muck.
Chilling screeches sounded out to them through the darkness making Rhalin and Bea’trix stop in their track and hastily draw their weapons. And not a moment too soon for several drowners clawed out of the sewerage ahead of them, their pale blue bodies and large eyes shimmering in the light of the lantern.
“Hold this.” Bea’trix said calmly and handed Rhalin the lantern before racing towards the monsters with gleeful abandon.
The Nevārancien’s six-foot glaive spun in dazzling circles as she cut into the drowners. The monsters never stood a chance and as Rhalin rushed to help it was already over. Limbs and heads flew through the air as blood splattered the walls and curved ceiling.
With a smile on her face Bea’trix turned back to Rhalin and returned her weapon to the clips that held it at her back.
“Come on.” Bea’trix waved her on.
Sheathing her sword Rhalin shook her head in bewilderment as she followed the Nevārancien’s lead through the tunnels. For many more hours they walked the sewers, moving through metal barred doors and trying not to step in the slowing flowing putrid water.
It came as an incredible relief when Rhalin followed Bea’trix from the sewers and up a carved stair case to meet a fresh breeze drifted along the narrow tunnel. Finally Rhalin saw light at the end of the tunnel and together they moved out of the mouth of a cave and into a wide clearing.
It was early morning with Inüer just cresting the eastern horizon and Rhalin closed her eyes and turned her face towards the sky. The cold wind blew through the trees and shrubs, tossing about her long braid and cutting through her clothes.
“I guess I can never return to Issia,” Rhalin remarked sadly as she and Bea’trix headed along the trail leading into the mountains.
“But think of everywhere else you can go,” the Nevārancien smiled back, a glint of excitement in her blue-grey eyes. “You are free to do whatever you want, and to go wherever you want.”
“I guess,” Rhalin smiled, “What will you do?”
“Can’t go back to Issia either,” Bea’trix stated, “Roht will know I was the one to help you escape. Though I doubt he will be too upset about that. Maybe I’ll join the Grey Rangers like the rest of my kin, I hear Kil’dar is running quite the enterprise down in Sparren. You would be welcome as well I’m sure, and your investigative skills would be invaluable.”
Rhalin nodded slightly and regarded Bea’trix curiously as they walked along.
“I think I will head to Port Na’brath first,” Rhalin said resolutely, “I must know how Vhidnr fared against the assassin.”
“Not good, would be my bet,” Bea’trix replied casually, “That elf could wield some serious power. But I hope I will lose that bet.”
“So do I,” Rhalin agreed with concern.
She wished that she could reach Vhindr right away and find out what happened, but her magicks were lost two years ago, like many others. She would have to go by foot, and pray that Vhindr succeeded.
“Are you?” Rhalin spoke up awkwardly, trying to move her thoughts away from Vhindr’s troubles. “I mean do you prefer … you know, back in the prison cells …”
“I am open to many things,” Bea’trix smiled at her, “And I know what you mean, I like both men and women.”
“I see,” Rhalin replied awkwardly.
“No one knows a woman’s body like another woman,” Bea’trix said, her eyes shimmering.
“I’ll take your word for it.” Rhalin replied and gave a slight laugh.
“You know,” Bea’trix said happily, drawing Rhalin’s eyes to hers, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Rhalin did not argue the point, nor did she think to. She was free to go her own way, and new friendships were welcome. Rhalin glanced over her shoulder as she thought of Issia, the place that had been her home for so many years, and decided she would never again walk the streets of that city. A smile spread across her face as she turned back to the path ahead of her and Bea’trix.