It was a beautiful day. Brilliant sunlight streamed out of the clear, blue sky and filtered down across the green landscape. The birds and the bees murmured softly in the sounds of life as a warm breeze stroked across the trees. A doe stepped out of a copse of trees, blinking away the sleep before gingerly moving toward a clear stream. It's father, a massive buck, watched from a distance, one ear flicking away a horsefly. A small chorus of crickets and other insects fill the the air with their colorful song, letting it echo against the healthy trees and ancient rocks.
A single cloud marred the perfect azure of the sky. It was tiny, barely a speck in the brilliance of nature. The cloud felt it was alone. It bunched itself up, still white and fluffy and scurried along the sky, not stopping to watch life below it.
A mountain range rippled through the land, like a wave caught for thousands of years. Most of the stones were worn smooth from the centuries, but a few sharp points still dotted the horizon.
Roads, worn thin from infrequent travel, lazily crawled up the mountains, feeding the life's blood of small villages and hamlets that called the solid stone home. Some of the paths lead to empty husks of life, from where the inhabitants abandoned their homes or were driven away.
One of the roads led up to a small village of two hundred souls; the village's name was Stone Blood. Stone, as the villagers called it, was founded almost three centuries before and was built from the stone itself. Most of the buildings that dotted the cliff were still in the wall, the back rooms nestled into the comfort of the mountain.
The village consisted of three levels, each one filled with tightly packed buildings. Thick wooden doors made from the local wood bared each entrance, proof against the cold and most vermin.
Numerous tiny paths slid up between some of the buildings, leading deeper into the mountains. Many of those paths were barely worn down areas on the stone, some of them turned into short tunnels and a few led back down, in a different part of the village.
The mood, however, in Stone Blood, was in stark contrast to the rest of the day. It was dark, somber, and hurried. Villagers moved quickly between their houses and the many cards and wheelbarrows that filled the street leading through and deeper in the mountain.
From there actions, it was obvious they were thinking about something else as they threw precious valuables and heirlooms into the wagons with almost a careless need. Their faces were drawn as they ducked back inside to grab another arm-load of belongings.
Back down at the entrance to the village, an old man was talking to a gathered around of men. His voice was strained with age and fear as he leaned against the sturdy stone gate protecting the village; the wooden gate swung loosely on one hinge while the other gate didn't move after years of rusting.
The old man, known as the mayor of Stone Blood, shook his head and looked back down the road, at the village, while not looking into the eyes of the six men watching him.
“I'm sorry. It wasn't suppose to happen this way, but…”
His voice trailed off as he looked the other direction, toward the base of the mountain where small streamers of smoke curled up into the sky. He sniffed hard, imagining the smell of burning smoke and flesh in the cheerful breeze that brushed across him.
His eyes shimmered with unshed tears as he gulped against with frustration. He looked back at the six village defenders, shaking his head, “… I'm sorry.”
The six men nodded, each one lost in their own thoughts as they fumbled with hastily assembled weapons. One man was unarmed, but looked more capable to defend himself than the others. The mayor looked briefly as the unarmed man, then back at the village.
Taking a deep breath, he tried again, “We need at least two of you to protect us while we flee to the mountains. The other four should… stay behind and protect the village and our escape.”
Finally saying it, the mayor looked away from the six doomed men and watched the villagers pack up their final belongings and start their way up the mountain, almost all of them taking the paved road up.
The mayor looked back at the defenders, “Uh… who is going with us?”
An older man, almost fifty winters old, shoved a younger man, in his middle twenties, forward. The younger man stumbled until he caught the side of the gate with his pitchfork. He pushed himself away, protesting, but the older man cleared his throat.
“Protected your mother and wife, Junior.”
“No buts! I brought you into the world, I'll be damned if you leave it before I do!”
The final words came out in a roar and the younger man nodded, his face turning red. He walked around the mayor, putting the old man between him and his father.
Everyone watched for a moment, then the mayor looked at the older man, “Going to come back to us, Sedrick?”
Sedrick nodded and smiled briefly at his son, who was known as Junior. Everyone knew Sedrick was lying, but they let it be. Junior nodded to the silent smile and started back up the road, to help his mother and wife. Sedrick inspected his sword, a barely serviceable weapon crafted over a hundred years ago. Specks of rust coated the blade from where it was kept, underneath a bed for the last decade; a faint shine of fresh oil shimmered on the surface but it did nothing to hide its age.
An uncomfortable silence hung over the five remaining men as the mayor sighed, “One more?”
A middle-aged man, thirty-three winters in age, stepped forward. He spoke to the warriors, not the mayor, “if you don't mind, I would rather protect my wife directly, I'm expecting a son any day now.”
The other four defenders nodded, already expecting him to stay with his family. The mayor spoke up softly, “Thank you, Solan.”
Solan bowed briefly and walked quickly back into the village, to help his wife pack the wagon. The others watched until the sparkle of his weapons disappeared into his house.
The mayor turned back, “Uh… we'll be back… in a few days… if…”
Sedrick stepped forward and patted the mayor on the back, “Don't worry. We'll stop them here, or die trying.”
The mayor looked up at the village blacksmith and whispered, “Thank you.”
With nothing else to say, he started back up the road. His belongings were already packed and headed up the road with his wife and daughter. His grandson, Fib, and granddaughter, Ceri, should be with them.
Sedrick watched him for a second, then looked back at his three companions. He repeated the same words that many in the village have been saying since they found out about the raiders four hours ago.
“Why are they coming? There is nothing… we have nothing.”
A young-looking man, in his early twenties, looked up from inspecting the fetching on his arrows, “You have women, children, and wine. For slavers, the best currency is still blood and life.”
The man, almost a boy, had the look of someone who knew what he was talking about it; a sense of tiredness clung to him as long as anyone in the village remembered.
A third man, slightly older than Sedrick, growled at him from the rock he was perched on, “You should know, Ulvik.”
Ulvik stood up straighter and almost yelled, “Yes! I do know. I know what happened to villages such as these. I know what they do to your women, your children. I know…” his voice trailed off as a cloud of guilt and sorrow hung over him like a dark cloud.
Sedrick rested his hand on the accuser, “Don't blame him, Pon.”
Pon growled at him, “Why not? He is one of the-”
“No, he isn't,” Sedrick spoke with a knowledge of trust, nothing more, but there was a flat certainty that paused for Pon for a second.
Pon started to say something but Sedrick continued, “If he was with them, he would be on their side, not standing there with a rusty weapon, waiting for his death.”
Pon snarled and stared at the rock, “I still don't trust him,” his voice was harsh and angry; more than a few memories haunted his dreams.
Sedrick whispered softly, “I know.”
Pon grumbled and turned away, looking down the mountain-side and into the sun-filled valley below. At the far end, a thick plume of wood smoke drifted lazily up. Through the smoke, he could see the occasional orange and red of a burning house. Small dots, slavers, were moving in a thin trail toward Stone Blood, almost like an army.
The fourth man said nothing, but watched with shadowed eyes. Loen came to this village many years ago for his own reasons. He had no skill the village could afford, but he didn't mind. After years in a monastery, the bustle of village life was all the payment he needed. He looked down at his hands, rough from practice and learning. His garden this year might finally produce something edible. Then he would have had something for the village, now he only had his martial training.
Silence pooled around the four men as they watch the village drain of life. Villagers didn't look back at their homes or their defenders as they hurried up the road into the mountains.
The cloud above finally drifted behind the mountain as the last village fled Stone Blood. The four defenders waiting a long breath after they no longer heard noises before looking around again. A quiet, futile energy seemed to fill them as they searched for hiding spots, places to defend each other, and places to flee. They talked quietly among themselves, planning strategies and tactics.
Below, the marching army of the slavers grew closer as the hours passed.
Above, in the village and between two buildings, a little head watched the defenders with rapt interest. She was barely eight years of age with a brown splash of hair cascading down her back. Her face and hands still had the softness of youth. Her wide brown eyes watched the defenders as they started to build a barricade over the village's gate.
She was wearing a mud-streaked red skirt which reached half-way between her knees and her bare feet. Her white tank-top was also streaked with mud. In one hand, was her fishing rod and in the other hand, a pair of medium-sized fish. Both were forgotten as she watched.
As she watched, she spied some movement on the far side of the square. Her eyes narrow as she watched a boy, about ten years of age, dart from shadow to shadow, moving closer to the village defenders. Quietly setting down her fish and rod, she sneaks out of the house, heading toward the boy.
As she crept through the village after the boy, and the boy crept after the defenders, the slavers grew closer to the village. From his vantage point on the gate, Pon could make out their banners and symbols.
Calling to the others, he waited for the other warriors get closer before describing the symbol.
“It looks like a white rock, on black, with red something coming out of a crack.”
Pon's voice was strained as he peered, trying to get a better look. Sedrick and the others could just see a wash of colors; Pon's years as a hunter gave him an advantage here.
Ulvik's face, hearing the description, paled. He tightened his grip on his weapon as he spoke in a tense voice, “Rock-Cracker's.”
The other village warriors looked at him and he looked back, gulping hard before continuing, “Rock is a rather large orc leading a group of slavers from Dorza. They are known for their brutality, torture, and lack of mercy. The virgins are safe, for now, but we are as good as dead. They are a well-trained military with a strict line of control. Their second, a former assassin, is a human named Cramar who's been with them for about ten years.”
As he spoke, his eyes were glazed over, as if remembering something horrible. The shadow of guilt and depression seemed to gather around Ulvik, like a dark cloud.
Pon snarled at him, anger and fear tinging his voice, “Friends of yours?”
Ulvik started to say something, then shook his head. Without waiting for a response, he hefted his weapon and turned away. Pon growled, but Ulvik didn't respond. After a second, he went back to inspecting the incoming raiders.
Some distance away, the boy continued to watch. He heard the dead-panned recital by Ulvik, but it still seemed far away and unreal to him. His thoughts were caught in the fantasies of saving the village and being the hero.
So enraptured by his daydreams, he didn't hear the girl sneak up on him. Leaning forward, she whispered loudly in his ear, “Fib!”
Fib jumped up, stifling a yell that would alert the village defenders. His right knee slammed hard against the stone, but he forgot the sharp pain as he struggled to turn around.
He whispered back, angrily, “Ceri!? What are you doing here? Why aren't you with mom?”
The young girl, putting her hands on her hips in imitation of her mother, whispered back, “I could ask the same of you.”
Fib glanced back, but the village warriors appeared to be out of earshot and lost in their own actions. Glaring at his younger sister, he grabbed her shoulder painfully.
“Go back to mom!”
His whisper was a whisper only by the virtue of speaking through clenched teeth. Ceri shot a look of anger back and shoved his hand off her shoulder.
“Not until you do… Fib.”
A faint hint of his daydreams crossed his face and he shook his head, the anger melting away suddenly in the sight of fantasies.
“No, I can't.”
“I'm going to save the village.”
She scoffed, “No, you are not. You can barely hold a dagger. They even turned you down when you stepped forward! You can save the village as much as I-”
Fib turns slightly back, holding up a finger, “Shhh.”
Ceri's lecture trailed off and she cocked her head to listen to whatever Fib was listening to. In the wind, she could hear the first stirrings of battle: war cries and the clash of metal. Unsure of the sounds, she looked up at her older brother. Her confused face met with his ashen expression.
He spun around, peering over some barrels. He saw the village defenders, five brave men, fighting against overwhelming odds. There appeared to be twelve men for every village warrior. Even to Fib's untrained eye, it appeared that the slaver's were better trained than the villagers.
A sensation of fear sunk down his throat and sat in his stomach as he turned around, “They're here.”
“Who's here… oh goddess…”
No longer upset at his sister or caught in fantasies of being a hero, Fib pushed his sister away from the fight. She didn't struggle as he pushed her into the shadows of the building. The screams of the fight faded from her hearing, but Fib could see her remembering them as he lead her along the narrow paths leading away from the village.
Fib's mind raced quickly as he tried to remember the best way from the village. His eyes glanced along the road winding up into the mountains, but realized there was no cover along that path. When the village defenders died, they would easily see the two children fleeing.
Behind him, a scream of agony was cut off suddenly. Ceri whimpered as Fib yanked her along another winding path which climbed further into the mountain. They passed an ancient tree abused by years of children and lovers.
Realizing where he was, Fib smiled. If he followed this path for about an hour, he could race along the old creek bed and meet up with his mother twenty minutes later. His smile dropped from his face as he heard the roar of the slavers. Breathing hard, he dragged his sister up the trail, trying to avoid looking at the village, or the invaders. Ceri's whimpers were unheard as Fib concentrated on moving up and away.
Below, in the village, a massive orc, Rock Cracker, leaned against the post of the broken gate. The dusty gray skin did nothing for his serious expression. Two thick teeth jutted out from his lower jaw, complementing his sloped forehead. Evolution hasn't been kind to his kin, but it made up in viciousness and brutality.
Rock's foot rested on the head of Loen; the martial artist's training did little to save him. He was wearing blood-stained chain-mail and steel-tipped boots. In his hand, a massive double-headed axe was stained with the blood of countless warriors and even more women and children. A series of scratches in the haft marked his conquests, until he ran out of room. Now, he just took and didn't care about today or tomorrow.
Surrounding the gate where his army of men, all looking at him with hard eyes. Many of them were smiling with the rush of power as they cleaned the blood off their weapons and congratulated each other.
The orc looked up at the gate where Ulvik hung from his neck. A playful wind pushed and tugged at the corpse as Rock chuckled. Ulvik's right leg was broken and his hand was smashed. He put up a good fight, right until Rock brought the flat of his axe against his head. His chuckle grew louder as he remembered how much Ulvik struggled before he strangled to death on the noose.
A warrior pushed through the crowd, anger on his face. He was massive against any other, but not against Rock. The ugly orc was almost twice as wide as the human. An angry scar ran from the right side of his throat down his chest; the end of the scar was hidden by a battered, bloody breastplate. At his side, a long sword was held in a functional leather sheath.
“Why'd you kill him, Rock?” The man's accusing tone hushed the crowd.
The orc glared at the human, “Betrayed me, Cramer,” the orc's voice dropped to a growl, “You betray, you join.”
No one ever commented on Rock's broken English, it was part of his nature. And the last person to make fun of it ended up screaming for three days before being allowed to die.
Cramar growled softly to himself, but looked away. Staring into Rock's eyes was an invitation to fight, one that few humans could survive. Rock glare for a few seconds then turned his back on the warrior.
“Rape village. Gather slaves, if they didn't run. Send to base and then we hunt!”
His last words were shouted out over the roar of pleasure. Without another second, the slavers spread out into the village, breaking down doors and grabbing anything they could find.
Rock turned around, his hard muscles flexing underneath gray skin. Cramar was still there, unmoving. Rock stepped forward until his chest was almost into Cramar's face.
Cramar looked up at the low, growling voice. Anger simmered in his eyes as he responded calmly, “No, sir.”
Cramar waited for the yellow eyes of the orc to shift away before moving toward the village. Rock watched, then a movement attracted his eyes. They narrowed as they focused over the village buildings, at two children fleeing into the mountains.
“Cramar,” the orc's growl was deeper, but more predatory.
Cramar slowly turned around, ready to lunge for his sword. Seeing the orc looking over his shoulder, he looked over his shoulder into the mountains. He didn't see anything for a moment, then a flash of Ceri's red skirt caught his eye.
“Two? One girl, don't know the other.”
Rock nodded, his hand stroking the haft of his huge axe. Cramar gazed back at his leader.
“Should I sent a squad?”
Snarling, the orc shook his head, “No. I want,” he rubbed his crotch as he licked his lips, “Come. We have sport.”
Cramar and the orc walked into the village enough to tell the slavers they were going hunting. Many of them smirked and gave them luck before going back to their looting. The human detailed two slavers to be in charge, then headed after the violent orc after grabbing his crossbow.
Fib didn't know his shorter sister's legs were slowing him down until the first cross-bolt whistled through the air. The bolt was off, burying itself into a tree, but he still spun around looking for his attacker.
His eyes probed the area until Cramar stepped out from behind a tree while reloading his crossbow.
Ceri's eyes grew wider, “Oh goddess…”
Fib grabbed her hand and yanked her along as he tried to run up the mountain trail. Ceri stumbled and fell, but Fib half-carried, half-dragged her along the path.
Rock moved up to Cramar and looked at the fleeing children. A sigh of pleasure escaped his often-broken nose. The human didn't look at the orc as he finished reloading his crossbow and brought it up to aim.
Rock whispers, “Good. Shoot the boy's foot.”
Cramar nodded and aimed. After a second, he released the trigger and sent the metal bolt screaming into the air.
Fib heard it, but couldn't respond in time before the bolt slammed into the back of his knee. He screamed out in pain as his leg collapsed underneath him, his body dragging him to the ground. Stars flooded his vision as his chin cracked against the stone.
As he fell, he dragged Ceri down with him. She managed to shove out with her hands, preventing herself from getting hurt, but she tumbled forward a few feet.
Half-scrambling to her feet, she spun around. Her eyes widen as she saw her downed brother and she stumbled over to him to grab his hand.
“Fib… Fib…,” she tugged at his arm, “We got to go. They'll… we… go… Fib!”
Her voice rose to a shrill whine as she yanked his arm. Fib's body, barely moving, was tugged a little bit, but Ceri wasn't strong enough to move him.
Moaning, Fib finally pulled one of his hands underneath him. He pushed against the ground, but couldn't get more than a few centimeters before slamming back into the ground. Ceri continued to tug up at him, watching him frantically.
“Fib! Fib! Move. We have to move, they'll get… Fib!”
Fib's head rolled a little to the side as he brought his one good knee underneath him. With a moan of pain, he manage to bring himself into a sitting position. His fingers clenched around Ceri's arm as the world spun for a second.
Looking down, he saw a growing puddle of blood underneath his knee. The pain seemed to dominate his world as he watched a pulse of blood spurt out from the wound; the bolt hit an artery. A numbness started to crawl up his leg as he struggled to focus on his sister.
The young girl looked into his eyes with her own. Fear boiled in the soft brown eyes as she grasped his hands tightly. A tear trailed down her cheek as she struggled to listen.
“You… have to,” he would have said more, but a wave of pain crashed into him. Ceri started to tug again, but he pulled his hand away from hers.
“Run, Ceri, run. Don't let them get you.”
She shook her head, refusing to leave. Fib tried to push her away, but just managed to rip open the wound even further. His entire leg was soaking with his life fluids and he found himself getting light-headed.
Something inside him seemed to snap and all tension in his body left in a rush. He collapsed to the ground with a moan of escaping air; his head landed in Ceri's lap.
Gasping, she shook her brother while screaming his name. She would have stayed there, but a sudden shadow made her look up. The callused hand of Rock startled a scream out of her and she flung her body away from his grasp.
Her dodge brought her about a meter away. Without waiting, she scrambled up a pile of loose rocks and went around a tree. After catching her breath, she peeked around.
Rock and the human were inspecting her brother. The human was kneeling and wrapping her brother's leg in a white cloth. Looking up, Cramar spoke to both the orc and the girl.
“He's still alive.”
Grunting in surprise, Rock looked up at the girl. Rubbing his crotch with his free hand, he pointed toward Fib with his axe.
Ceri didn't respond for a moment until the orc lifted his foot and set it on Fib's chest. Leaning forward, she heard a rib crack in the unconscious boy's chest. Cramar looked up, an expression of sadness in his eyes, but the orc didn't see it.
Still looking at the girl, Rock repeated himself, “Yours?”
Ceri nodded hesitantly. The orc's wide mouth split into a smile as he beckoned for her, “Why don't you come here, little girl?”
The orc's voice softened slightly, “I won't hurt you…”
The young girl considered coming closer, but a dangerous glint in the gray humanoid's eyes warned her back. Mixed emotions, of her brother and her own safety, fought for a moment, but survival won.
She shook her head, then again with more force, “No.”
Quickly, the softness in Rock's expression dropped away, leaving a mask of rage and anger. Ceri looked back up the mountain, toward the little trail leading toward her family.
Rock, seeing her look, laughed loudly, “Run away, you little bitch. When I catch you, I'll teach you how to really scream.”
Ceri started to shiver uncontrollably as her body felt like lead. The orc stepped over her brother slowly and started to walk to her. From between the creature's legs, she could see the human warrior looking at her. Sadness pooled in his eyes, as if he's seen this too much.
As the orc stepped against the base of the rock pile, she saw the human warrior silently speak, “Run.”
A moment's hesitation and Ceri turn and ran for her life. Rock's laughter boomed against the mountain as he watched her legs flash in the sunlight before disappearing behind some trees.
He turned around, still laughing, “Sport!”
Cramar stood up, “Let her go, Rock.”
Rock's laughter died away as the massive orc lunged forward to slam his fist into Cramar's stomach. The metal breastplate protected him from the worse of the damage, but the air was still shoved out of his lungs.
Reaching down, the orc grabbed Cramar's throat and picked him up off the ground.
“No! She will scream!”
With the muscles given to him by his ancestors, Rock threw Cramar hard against the ground and kicked him hard once. Spinning around, he started to walk up the mountain.
After a few steps, he looked over his shoulder, “Bring boy or die.”
The human, clutching his stomach from the pain, looked up and nodded, “Sir.”
As the orc bounded up the mountain, calling loudly for the girl, Cramar checked the bandage on the boy and gently picked him up. With a sigh mixed with more than a little sadness and anger, he started up after his leader.
The next hour for Ceri was filled with pain and struggle. Her lungs screamed for oxygen as she crawled and scrambled up the mountain; she lost the trail almost immediately, but she needed to get away from the horrible stalker behind her. His yelps and calls haunted each agonizing step of the way. More than once he almost got in front of her and only quick thinking saved her from a fate worse than her brother's.
Her legs screamed for a break and a stitch in her side throbbed painfully. As she slid around a large rock, she stopped for a moment's breath. Each shuddering gasp left her body weak and drained. She clutched the rock face for support as she willed her body to slow down, to breath.
Even at the age of eight, she knew what rape was. She also knew that was her fate, if the orc caught her; the half-men were known for their bestial desires.
Rock's yell for her, too close she felt, startled her out of her thinking. She forced herself to move her numb body as she looked around for somewhere to hide. Spying a dark crack in the rock, she prayed to anyone listening that is was something too small for her stalker and big enough for her.
Taking a deep, painful breath, she forced her legs to move toward the opening. They resisted, but her willpower was strong enough to force her to move. Each step seemed harder than the rest. Behind her, she could hear Rock moving closer with each one of his large steps.
The last two meters ended in a slide that left long scratches against her bare legs as she slid into the cave opening. Her hopes sunk as she looked at the massive opening, more than enough for Rock to force his way in.
Struggling to her feet, she looked around outside, trying to find a better place. She leaned over the edge of the cliff, looking around.
Rock's head popped up, less than a meter away, “Boo.”
Ceri screamed and fell back. Her body rolled down the steep incline and further into the cave. She quickly crawled to her feet as the entrance to the cave was blocked by Rock's massive girth.
Feeling trapped, she frantically looked around, but all she could see was darkness. Rock, on the other hand, had a sense of vision even in the dark. He could easily see the terrified girl and it excited him even more. He waited, enjoying the taste of power over her.
“Want to learn something… new?”
Rock's voice was playful, but still carried the threat of violence in it. Ceri, knowing what he was talking about, shook her head and moved away from the voice.
The orc chuckled, enjoying her assumption that if she couldn't see him, he couldn't see her. From the opening of the cave, he watched her stumble against sharp rocks. When she cracked her head against a stalactite, he laughed loudly.
“Careful, don't want to damage anything… yet.”
She disappeared deeper in the cave and Rock waited impatiently. Five minutes later, Cramar came struggling up, still carrying the boy over his shoulder. The bandage was bright red with blood, but Fib was still alive, if barely.
Snarling, Rock smacked Cramar on the shoulder, “Come, trapped girl. We play.”
He shoved himself into the cave without waiting for the human's response. Cramar started to set down the boy but Rock's voice trailed out of the cavern opening, “Bring boy or die.”
Inside, Rock easily moved in the darkness, using his vision to pick out the safest trail. He headed straight for where Ceri disappeared. Sniffing the air, he decided there was only one way out, past him. And he wasn't planning on her leave the cave, ever. A chuckle filtered out of him as he planned his actions for the next couple days.
When he found her, he was surprised. She was hiding against the edge of a smooth bowl in the ground; the back half of the bowl ended at the wall. The lip was about 300 cm above the ground, but was obviously worked. Above it, there was a statue of a human female with four arms and four breasts. His eyes glittered as he looked for places to impale the helpless girl.
His obsession with the girl drifted away as he spotted what appeared to be piles of coins against the walls. Eyes narrowing and his grip tightening on his axe, he softly padded over the piles.
Ceri's whimper was ignored as he leaned over and grabbed a handful of the heavy coins. His muscles strained slightly as he hefted a large handful—they felt heavy like gold. Dropping all but one, he fingered it between two fingers. There was some sort of relief design on both sides, but his dark vision wasn't sharp enough to make it out.
Rock quickly glanced around the room, identifying the single exit out. Ceri, still blind, was crawling in the wrong direction, but he still kept an eye on the only exit to the room.
He was still inspecting the coins when Cramar, followed by a soft golden light, stumbled into the room. With the light, colors burst and flooded the room. The coins, a dull gold, seem to sparkle in the mage light as Cramar skidded to a halt.
His light also illuminated the golden statue and the bowl, also made of the dull gold. Rock's eyes grew wider in greed as he calculated the price of the room.
Ceri, now shown by the light, screeched and tried to crawl tighter against the edge of the bowl. Cramar looked around, a mix of emotions stirring on his face.
Rock pointed to Ceri, “Put boy with girl. Look.”
Cramar sighed and moved toward the girl, her brother heavy on his shoulder. As he got closer, her whimpers started to get more frantic as she found herself caught in the corner of the bowl lip and the back of the room.
The warrior looked briefly in the bowl and spied a clear liquid almost filling it. He nodded and stepped quickly toward the girl. She shrieked and started to crawl into the liquid, but Cramar's hand grabbed her.
She screamed louder and started to flail at him, pounding her fists against the hard metal breastplate. Cramar patiently waited a few seconds, then slapped her hard.
Ceri stopped, shocked, and held her face. The warrior smiled grimly and set her brother down. Still keeping her eyes on Cramar, she curled up against her brother.
“What's your name, little one?”
Cramar's voice was soft and caring. The sadness in his eyes felt real enough to Ceri to respond.
“And your… brother?”
He knelt in front of her, pushing his sword away from her sight, “I need you to do something. Can you do it?”
Still frightened, but feeling a little hope, she nodded hesitatingly. Cramar smiled, the sadness still hanging over him, “I need you to clean your brother's wounds. Use that rag,” he pointed to a rag on Fib's belt, “and what's in the bowl. Don't remove the rag, he might start bleeding again-”
From across the room, near the entrance, Rock spoke sharply in his guttural language. Cramar patted her on the head, a single tear sparkled in his eye, “… I'm sorry.”
Ceri wanted to ask what he was sorry about, but the warrior stood up and went over to Rock. She watched the retreating warrior for a second, then fumbled at the rag. Pulling it off, she felt herself being filled with fear at her unmoving brother.
Reaching over the lip, she dipped the rag into the surprisingly-warm liquid and shook it slightly. The clear fluid was thick, almost a light syrup, but she didn't care. She gently wiped away the blood and started to clean the wound.
As she moved, Fib stirred and moaned softly. Ceri stopped, watching her brother cautiously. One eye opened, then the other. A few breaths later, Fib managed to focus on his sister.
“Y-you were right, sis.”
Her hand clenched the rag tightly as tears started to roll down her cheeks. Fib smiled, but didn't have the energy to brush them away.
“I'm not going to save the village.”
The rag was forgotten as Ceri hugged her brother tightly, afraid to lose him.
From across the room, Cramar watched for a moment before turning back to the gold coins. On each side of the coin, there was a face. Some of them were sad, some happy, some angry, but they all were done in realistic detail. Something troubled Cramar, but he figured it was the children, and Rock's plans.
He stared at the bright bits for a moment then spoke, “There is enough to stop being slavers.”
Rock glared at him and scoffed, “No, enough to expand. More slavers, more women, more children. More power.”
The last little bit ended in a chuckle as Rock glanced back at the innocent girl. Cramar then watched as greed possessed Rock; the orc started shoving as much gold coins into his pockets as possible. Rock looked back and noticed that Cramar wasn't grabbing anything, just staring at the coins in his hands.
“Grab. Be rich.”
Cramar thought for a moment, then let the gold coins fall the the floor. Rock didn't hear the coins for a moment, then looked up at his second-in-command.
Cramar shook his head, “Let's get the others, it'll be faster.”
Rock growled and clutched some of the coins, “Mine! Go away if you want, but mine!”
Cramar nodded, happier suddenly. He started to move toward the children but the orc's snarl told him he was treading on thin ice. He nodded again, to himself, and looked one last time at the girl. She looked at him with a questioning look, but Cramar couldn't stand to look into her brown eyes.
He didn't quite run when he left, but he held his head down in shame. If he fought Rock, he would die and the girl would still suffer. Cramar was tired, of Rock, of being a slaver, and of watching those innocent eyes.
As he left, the light followed him. The orc didn't care, his night vision was more than enough to gather the coins. At the edge of the pool, Ceri watched the fading light.
“Why? Where?” she watched her only hope leave her behind with a horrible monster and her brother dying in her arms.
Fib opened one eye and gazed up into his younger sister, “If he stayed, the orc would have killed him.”
Ceri looked sharply down at her brother, “Orc?”
Fib looked over at Rock, each motion a struggle for him, “Him.”
“Orc? Where did you learn that word?”
“I-I don't know.”
“Fib?” Ceri's voice was soft and scared.
“What is going to happen to us?”
There was no response for a long time, then Fib softly answered as if he was falling asleep, “I'll die. You'll die too, but after a long time.”
Tears started to roll down her cheeks in a flood, “Will I ever see mom or grandfather again?”
Fib answered after a very long time, his voice was barely audible, “No.”
She sniffed and rubbed her running nose, “Why?”
There was no response. Ceri waited a couple long breaths, then pushed her brother. He rolled to the floor, limp. A sob caught in her throat as she poked him again. When he didn't move, she screamed out his name, “Fib!”
Rock looked up from his coins, annoyed at the interruption, “He died? Good. You join him soon, just wait, bitch.”
Ceri looked in shock in the direction of the voice and the orc laughed. Ignoring her again, he plunged his hands into the heavy coins and shoveled more into his overflowing pockets. More coins fell out of his chain-mail shirt and even the tops of his boots were filled with the heavy coins.
The young girl felt for her brother's pulse and was thankful to find one. It was feeble, barely moving in slow strokes. She looked up at the statue she knew was there and whispered softly into the darkness, “Help me.”
The air in her blind vision seemed to waver for a moment, but there was no other response. She blinked back the tears and held her brother tightly.
As she crooned to him, trying to wake him, she realized she could help herself. In the dark, she frowned and tried to figure out how.
Memories flooded into her, memories of something old, terrible and… loving. Ceri tried to say something, or even to move, but her body was being held down by some invisible force as she remembered things she never experienced in her eight years. Images of violence, war, and destruction forced their way into her young mind, tearing away her innocent like a tissue and forcing the horrible reality.
Tears that stopped started to flow again, as Ceri felt her entire world being ripped out from under her and a new, more painful, world shoved into its place.
Finally, she could move again, she looked around, “How?”
Another memory, this one tender compared to the horrible violence that swirled in her mind. It was an image of the stone statue and her asking for help.
She gasped as the world seemed more alive to her. Rock's body flared up with a whitish glow of life. A fainter glow hung around the coins. She looked around, surprised to see that she saw the walls, the statue, everything. Her body almost glowed with a white energy that boiled inside her.
Looking down, she saw the last of Fib's life force expend itself. With a twinkle, she watched her brother die and it brought a heavy sadness to her heart. More memories, of a better place, filtered into her mind, but they were lost in the rage and sadness that consumed the young girl.
Pulling on the memories of war and violence, she stood up, letting the empty corpse of her brother fall to the ground. Next to her, the clear liquid was filled with hundreds of different colors, all shifting slowly.
She ignored it, her world focusing in on the orc that killed her brother. Memories and energies slammed together inside her, thrown into a pattern by her unconscious.
She took a step toward the orc.
Rock continued to shove coins into his pockets.
She took another.
Rock, feeling her presence, stood up and looked at her. He couldn't see the energy flaring inside the little girl. He just saw an angry girl he had plans for.
She took another step.
Laughing, he stood up straighter and walked over to her.
She took another until she was staring up at the orc, anger filling her eyes.
Rock laughed again, a humorless sound that echoed off the walls, “You want to learn now?”
She said nothing, just glared at him.
Rock, his greed forgotten in a lust for the angry girl, shrugged. To teach her a lesson, he drew back his hand and slapped her as hard as he could.
The sound of his own hand breaking against her jaw stunned him long before the pain arced through his arm. As he drew back his hand, he could see almost every bone was shattered. The pain started to tingle in his hand as a rage possessed him.
With a single movement, he jumped back and grabbed his double-headed axe from the ground. His knees sunk slightly as he faced an enemy; Rock has fought too many years to underestimate someone twice.
Even though he could only get one hand around the haft of his horrible weapon, he knew he could still cut the frail girl in half. With a scream of anger and rage, he lunged forward, arcing a powerful blow to cut her in half.
Ceri grabbed the blade in mid-air, stopping its motion. Rock's momentum continued forward and he felt his shoulder pop from the force of his blow and the unmoving axe. More pain, but he ignored it.
Drawing back, he kept his hand on the axe and tried to yank it away.
It wouldn't move.
He yanked again, harder.
It wouldn't move.
With a snarl, he put all of his weight into pulling back the blade.
Ceri let go.
The double-head axe flung back. Rock's dislocated shoulder arced it around his body until the blood-stained blade buried itself into his side. The orc was stunned into stillness for a second, feeling the blade scrape against his spine.
Then, logic came to him. There was no way the blade could have swung that way.
He yanked at his blade, ignoring the pain of his dislocated shoulder. The stained metal slide wetly out of his side and fell to the ground as the orc's fingers lost their feeling.
A puzzled expression crossed Rock's face as he collapsed to the ground. Still conscious, he pushed himself off the ground to hear tiny tinkling sounds hit the ground. Confused, he looked down at the grievous wound in his side.
Where there should be great gouts of blood pouring out of his side, there was only a steady stream of coins pouring out of his chain-mail. Amusement filled him as he realized the coins saved his life from this possessed girl.
He struggled to his feet, growling. The pain bothered him, both in his side, shoulder, and broken hand. Even though the wound didn't appear to mortally wound him, it still hurt more than anything ever hurt before.
As he reached his feet, he swayed unsteadily. Behind her, the pool of liquid flared with a golden light, flooding the room in brilliant color. The golden light shone off the golden coins.
Rock clutched his side, halting the almost constantly flow of coins from his side. He started to move toward the girl, then stopped, another puzzled look on his face.
Pulling his hand from his wound, he looked at one of the gold coins closely in the light.
It has his face.
Gasping, the orc turned it over and saw his face on the other side. Looking down, he saw more coins falling out of his side. More coins that he ever shoved into his chain-mail. As he watched, he saw drops of blood turn into golden coins before spilling to the ground.
Feeling his life start to drain away, Rock snarled and lunged for the girl. His hands reaching for her neck.
He never made it.
As he left the ground, he felt his body grow colder and heavier as the blood in his veins turned to stone. With a horrible crash, he slammed into the ground.
Ceri turned around and returned to her brother's body. Leaning down, she gently picked him up with more strength than she ever hand. A single tear rolled down her cheek.
Rock, caught by his own weight, watched as the girl placed her brother in the pool. As he floated to the bottom, she watched as he dissolved into the clear liquid. Small fragments of life swirled around his body, then merged with the liquid.
A memory of thanks drifted across her mind. She thought of a few questions and got memories in return.
Ignoring the struggling orc, she left the cave. Behind her, Rock felt the last of his blood turn to stone and waited to die.
He felt his mind merge with the coins as his body felt apart. Each coin was conscious and aware. Then he became aware of the other coins, each one filled with the emotions, anger, and pain of murderers, rapists, and slavers.
His mind screamed for a very long time.
Outside, Cramar watched the sunset, crying. When he left the cave, he started to shiver and hasn't been able to stop. Sadness and guilt hung over him like storm clouds. Since then, he's been watching the sunset, marveling at the purity of it's colors and what he did inside.
That is how she found him. Spying her, Cramar felt a wave of anger crash into him and saw his own death in her golden eyes. Wondering if it was a trick of the light, he stood up, but the eyes remained golden and very angry.
Sighing, he stood in front of her, “I won't resist.”
She looked him over, almost measuring him. As she spoke, Cramar heard another voice, a more mature woman's voice overlapping with the girls, “No. Death will not absolve you of your crimes.”
A sob caught in his throat as the girl possessed by a goddess started to walk down the mountain. Before she went ten meters, she turned around and looked at him with an expression of seriousness.
“You now have the penance of your brother on your shoulder, Cramar Yendarin.”
Without another word, she walked down the mountain.
Cramar spent the night on the mountain, thinking about a great deal of things. He went into the cave and saw what happened to Rock. He begged the statue for forgiveness, but there was no response.
Then, with a heavy heart, he found himself at the edge of town. There was silence that was unnatural as he walked through the empty streets. His boots tapped an uneven sound against the walls as he saw what happened.
There were piles of golden coins everywhere. Buried in the piles was armor, weapons, and stolen loot. Without a doubt, Cramar realized that the same fate that Rock suffered so did the slavers.
At the town gate, at the lowest point of the village, he saw the girl. Her hair was blowing in the playful breeze as she near the bodies of the five village defenders. Another sob caught in his throat, but there were no more tears.
Taking a deep breath, he walked over to the young girl. As he approached, she looked at him with golden eyes. A soft smile crossed her face as he got closer.
Suddenly, a memory of Ulvik and him, during their childhood burst into his mind. Then, a rapid series of memories, none of them of his own, flashed through his mind. Of Ulvik leaving Rock's gang and seeking redemption in this town, Stone Blood.
Cramar nodded, “Thank you,” but realized he was talking to a golden statue of a half-women, half-girl. The bodies of the village warriors, at her feet, slowly turned to gold as he watched, their wounds healing as they solidified into stone.
He whispered again, “Thank you,” and looked up into the clear blue sky, suddenly thankful he was alive. The joy grew in his chest as he realized was was just given a second chance.
Kneeling, he gently pulled a pendant off his brother's chest. Unlike the rest of the bodies, the pendant didn't turn to gold. The tarnished silver pendant was of a moon. Fishing under his breastplate, Cramar pulled out a sun pendant and fitted the two together.
Two weeks later, the villagers came back to their homes, cautiously. Most of them were amazed that the village wasn't looted. Most of their belongs were returned to their front doors and some repairs were done to the more functional items. In addition, a large pile of gold was neatly placed next to each door, a fortune's worth to the poor villagers.
The two remaining warriors, Solan and Sedrick Junior, led the group into the town square, their weapons ready for anything. Their eyes searched for the slavers, even though there was no hint of them anywhere.
What they found was an unarmed man, wearing nothing but some simple robes. On his chest, a sun and moon pendant glinted in the sunlight.
Solan stepped forward, his weapon ready to strike.
“Who are you?”
Cramar responded quietly, his eyes staring hard at the ground.
“I am need of penance.”