Morandor cursed at the window, cursed at the table, cursed at Mep and Bremmy, and cursed at the door. He even tried cursing at the chair, but when it aloofly ignored him, he contented himself with kicking it clear across the room. The kick hurt his foot, so he let out another long curse, damning the chair and the tree it was carved from to eternal torment.
"Well, we cant wait any longer," he said, for the third time. "We need to go, now." Morandor was loathe to leave Grendel and Maree in a strange town, but if he waited any longer the entire Rhutalathian army would be on them. Besides, as much as he liked Grendel, there were more important things at stake. Zardock must not be allowed to succeed in his maniacal plan. No, Grendel would just have to take his chances with the Inquisition. He was a smart kid, even cunning at times. Morandor was sure hed be alright- if he hadnt already been captured. He pushed that thought away; if Grendel had been captured, there was no telling what tortures he was being subjected to. "We cant wait any longer," he repeated.
He turned to Mep and Bremmy, who were carrying their own small packs, as well as Grendel and Marees. No doubt Maree would protest at Mep rummaging through her small-clothes, to pack them away, but Morandor had no time to preserve a girls decency. Bremmy looked solemn, understanding that they would be forced to leave his friends behind. Mep was smiling still, yet Morandor doubted its sincerity. "Another five minutes?" Mep suggested.
Morandor just shook his head, and give him a sympathetic smile. He bent down, picked up his pack and his staff, and opened the wooden door.
"Morandor," came a shout from down the stairs. "Morandor!"
Morandor smiled- it was Grendel. He half-ran, half-leapt down the stairs, in two minds of whether to chastise the boy for his tardiness, or hug him. As he reached the bar-area, he could see Grendel and Maree, their faces red from hurrying. "Morandor," said Grendel, "Weve got to get out of here- the Inquisitors have found us!"
Morandor simply nodded. "I know," he said, as Mep and Bremmy came running into the room. "Where the hell have you been?" he demanded, noting that Maree was suddenly wearing an obscene amount of jewellery, and very little else. He turned his gaze away from her, and focused intently on Grendel, who was similarly flamboyant, yet a lot more decent.
Grendel opened his mouth to speak, at the same time that the front door of the inn slammed open. An Inquisitor stood there, his face red with anger, and sword in hand. "Stop them," the Inquisitor shouted to the innkeeper. "Theyre witches!"
Morandor had no time to take offence at the term, and instead ushered Grendel and his friends towards the backdoor. The innkeeper was frozen in fear, but the Inquisitor had no such qualms, and was advancing angrily toward them. "Out the back door!" shouted Morandor to Grendel. "Quickly."
Grendel and Mep ran towards the door at the back of the inn, but were stopped suddenly as it flew open, to reveal five Stormcrows. Mep lurched at the Stormcrows, tripping one with his staff, but the other four swarmed over their fallen comrade, forcing their way inside. Mep jumped back, just in time, as a fireball leapt from Grendels outspread fingers towards the Stormcrows. One of the Crows screamed, and fell to the floor, burning like a rag. The innkeeper mirrored the scream, and ran out of the front door.
The Inquisitor waved a hand, sending Grendel flying into the wall. Grendel slumped to the floor, dazed, watching helplessly as the rest of the Stormcrows ran towards him. Maree screamed, both in fear and anger, and ran to Grendels aid brandishing a short sword shed acquired from the fallen Crow. Mep followed suit. Morandor cursed again- Mep and Maree were in his way; he couldnt get a clear shot at the soldiers. He ducked left and right, trying to find an opening, but he was cut short by a kick in the back, which sent him tumbling to the floor. He twisted as he fell, to see the Inquisitor standing over him, his long sword pointed casually towards the Wizards neck. "Come along quietly, Old Man- the hunt is over."
Morandor calmly gazed up at the Inquisitor, listening to the sounds of the fight behind him. Maree yelped in pain, and Mep was laughing insanely at something. He tried to work out if he could cast a spell quickly enough, so that the Inquisitor would have no time to respond. He didnt fancy his chances. He gripped his staff menacingly, preparing to drive it into the Inquisitors crotch.
Morandor was spared from his attack by Bremmy who leaped on the Inquisitor, screaming a wild Morrim war-cry. Bremmy dived for the Inquisitors neck, his axe gleaming menacingly in the lantern-light. The Inquisitor managed to avoid the blade, but Bremmys weight unbalanced him, and the two of them crashed to the floor. The Inquisitor struggled to get up, but Bremmy was fighting fiercely, biting at the Inquisitor, and bringing his axe-handle down violently on the priests skull.
Morandor struggled to his feet, and managed to swing his staff round just in time to stop a Stormcrow who had tried to flank him. There was an audible crack as the wizards staff collided with the Crows temple. The Stormcrow fell to his knees, and was quickly dispatched as Morandor sent a bolt of light through the centre of his forehead. The Stormcrow fell backward, the hole in his skull emitting a strange blue smoke.
Morandor returned to the fray- Grendel was still down, though he had managed to erect a small magical field around himself and Maree, who was lying next to him. Marees leg was bleeding from a nasty gash, and she was struggling not to cry. Mep was skilfully dodging the three Stormcrows, leaping around like a frantic puppy, and whooping and laughing like a madman. Morandor watched with admiration as Mep managed to floor two Stormcrows with either end of his staff, yet neither stayed down. One attacked Mep frantically, the shepherd only just escaping being skewered by the Black-blade. Another went after Maree, a lusty look in his eye, manoeuvring deftly around Grendels failing shield. The Stormcrow reached out greedily towards her, but was quickly dispatched by a hard to kick to the groin by one of Marees heeled boots, and a dagger through the neck, thrown by Grendel. The dagger re-materialised magically into Grendels hand, leaving a bloody hole in the Stormcrows neck. The Crows body slumped forward, pinning Grendel to the ground, and crushing Marees already-wounded leg. She stifled a cry of pain, and struggled to get up.
Morandor went to help Mep, who was still fighting two of the Stormcrows. One had lost his sword, and was attempting to wrestle Mep to the ground by his neck. The shepherd was stubbornly refusing to fall, though he couldnt muster the strength to dislodge the soldier. The other Stormcrow was circling viciously, his sword drawn, and didnt see Morandors staff until it was too late. He dropped to the floor, clutching his stomach. Morandor then helped Mep dislodge the Stormcrow, and the Shepherd took great delight in continuously pounding the unfortunate soldiers head with his fist.
Bremmy and the Inquisitor had reached a stand-still; The Morrim had lost his axe, and was backing away from the Inquisitor with wild and terrible eyes. The Inquisitor had the advantage, his sword held casually in front of him, yet he seemed reluctant to attack such a wild creature. Morandor smiled, finally sensing hope.
His short-lived hope vanished when another five Stormcrows stormed into the inn. Surprisingly fast for such heavily-armoured soldiers, they dived on Bremmy, pinning him to the floor. One ruthlessly stabbed the Morrim in the shoulder, and Bremmy grunted with the pain. Then they dragged him to his feet, holding him, with three swords pointed at his throat.
"I said the Hunt is over," the Inquisitor said, smiling at Morandor. Blood was dripping from his ear where Bremmy had bit him, but his eyes showed no indication of the pain. "Come along quietly, or well kill this creature," he added, gesturing to Bremmy.
Morandor looked around wildly, for any chance of escape. Grendel and Maree were still pinned under the Stormcrow, and were struggling to lift him off. Mep was on the floor, mid-punch, staring at the new opponents, blood dripping for his knuckles. Morandor didnt like the odds.
"Well, whats it to be, old man?" asked the Inquisitor. "We can fight if you want, but Im sure youd rather surrender."
Morandor wondered if he could do a quick teleportation spell. Even if he could muster the energy, he wasnt sure he could get everyone out. One or two would be left behind. His mentor had always told him half a victory was better than none at all. But Morandor had never believed it. Half a victory was also half a defeat, and Morandor had vowed never to accept defeat. Besides, he couldnt leave anybody behind. Nobody.
The Inquisitor walked forward slightly, impatient. "Im giving you a chance to live, witch," the priest said. "Surrender now, and I promise well look kindly on it in your trial." Morandor laughed scornfully at that. Trial? He and Grendel would be drained then executed, and the others would be imprisoned indefinitely as conspirators to witchcraft. Thered be no trial.
"Well?" asked the Inquisitor again, this time with menace in his voice.
Morandor spat on the Inquisitor.
The priest stared with contempt at Morandor, momentarily stunned by the audacity. Then he turned to the Crows holding Bremmy. "Kill him," he said.
The Stormcrows holding Bremmy raised their swords, ready for the final blow.
Suddenly, there was a loud and deafening rumble, which reverberated around the room. Then a large bolt of lightening, incredibly bright, lanced through the building, destroying the wooden ceiling and striking the Stormcrows. The air pounded, knocking Morandor, Mep and the Inquisitor to the floor, and blinding them all temporarily. The lightening arched, striking all five of the unfortunate Crows, attracted by their heavy armour. They shook violently as the lightening struck through them, their limbs flailing in spasms. The stench of burning skin began to fill the room.
"Who the...?" Morandor said, when his vision finally cleared. All that was left of the Stormcrows were five charred and smoking skeletons, encased in fused black armour. Somehow, Bremmy was untouched, and stood scratching his head in the middle of the carnage. How? Another wizard?
Suddenly, a figure appeared in the doorway, shadowed by the outside gloom. The figure wore full plate armour, and was carrying a long, thick sword, yet Morandor couldnt make out his face, in the shadows.
"Run," said the stranger. "Go, now!"
Morandor didnt wait. He turned quickly, to see that Grendel and Maree had finally dislodged themselves, and were heading towards the back door. Bremmy and Mep were also running for it. Grendels hair was matted with blood, and Maree was leaning heavily on him, blood running down her thigh and onto her white leather boots. Bremmys shoulder was bleeding badly, and Mep was carrying his axe for him. It was bad. But it could have been much worse.
He waited for Mep, the last, to leave the inn, then walked through himself. He turned back just once, to study the carnage, and saw the stranger who had saved them stepping carefully towards the still-prone Inquisitor. The Inquisitors face was peering fearfully at the armoured man.
Morandor allowed himself a little smile, before finally leaving the inn. It could have been much worse. Hed vowed never to accept defeat- he wouldnt have been happy if hed had to break a vow. It would have ruined his day.
The girl screamed as the knife plunged deep into the small of her back. Zardock yanked the knife out again, before puncturing her again, in the ribs. He smiled in satisfaction as the girl slumped to the floor, slipping heavily off his dripping knife. Stupid girl! Things had been going so well; hed even decided he was going to spare her. She was very attractive after all. But curiosity had got the better of her. Hed returned to the room, after relieving himself outside, to find her rummaging through his pack. Well, he wasnt going to stand for that. Not that he had anything to hide- not really- but it was the principle. Besides, for all he knew, she could have been a thief. No, shed deserved the knife!
He became aware that the girl was still alive, and was sobbing on the floor. She lay there, stalk naked, trying to move, and looking at Zardock with a look of fear. He liked the look in her eyes and bent down to her, smiling. "Dont cry, my sweet," he whispered to her. "Its okay." She stifled a sob, trying to hold the blood inside her with her hands. The blood was pouring over her dark fingers, and forming small rivulets on the wooden floor. Zardock admired her naked body, and remembered the last hour with delight. Shed been so willing, so easy. Country girls were like that; they seldom got to see many men, other than their fathers or brothers, and were all eager for anything that came along. Whores. Zardock had merely knocked on the door, looking for somewhere to spend the night, and it hadnt taken her long to lift her skirts. But they were all like that, country girls. Even Maree. He smiled back as he remembered how eager she had seemed when he had first met her. As bad as all the others. Zardock had done nothing about it, of course, though he had enjoyed gloating and lying to Grendel. Though Maree was a fine-looking wench, and he was sure hed have his way with her before long. Hed enjoy that, and not just to annoy Grendel (which would be an added bonus).
He turned his attention back to the girl, who was staring up at him still, tears rolling down her cheeks. He fondled her naked breasts, squeezing them hard to silence her. Such a pretty girl, it was a shame he had to kill her. But it was what she deserved- a thief and a whore. "Hush now, my sweet, itll be over soon." At that the girl started wriggling furiously, her legs and arms flailing. Yet, she could move nowhere, as Zardock had sat atop her, holding her down with his weight. Quickly, he grabbed her cheeks with his left hand, squeezing so she pouted at him. Smiling, he kissed her hard, before slamming her head down hard onto the floor. Her eyes rolled back, and more blood erupted from her head, but she carried on struggling, though weaker now. Her dark skin had gone pale. Zardock brought his knife up, and swiftly dragged it along her neck, slitting her jugular in two. The girl let out one last moan, then stopped flailing, her eyes staring upwards at the ceiling. For a long few moments her throat gargled as she tried to breathe, and she blinked, but eventually she spent her last breath. She lay there, staring unblinkingly at the ceiling.
Zardock stood up and smiled happily at his work, before bending down to wipe his blade clean on a handful of her hair. So lifeless and cold. It was hard to believe that less than a hour ago shed been sprawled under him, clinging to him. Hed grown angry at her, even then, as shed somehow managed to remind him of Maree. These days, Maree wouldnt get out of his head, especially when he lay with another woman. That angered him. She was a comely girl, true enough, but not so much that she should occupy so much of his time. Next time he saw her, hed make sure he got her out of his head. He swore, realising he was again thinking of her, and tried to distract himself.
He looked around the small wooden room. It wasnt a particularly lavish place- a few ornaments of fine porcelain lay on the stone mantle, and a few silk tapestries hung on the wall, near the stairs to the one bedroom. There was a small table with an oil lamp, and a few wooden plates. A small book-shelf held a few books. Nothing much worth taking, he was sure. But it was a cosy place, this farmhouse. Hed been lucky to find it, so far from any city. Hed been in Rhutalath for over a week now, and following the Horn, which guided him to his destination, hed come to the border of Isana and Tyari Tereg. There seemed to be very few people in these parts, and Zardock had cursed Dral when it started to rain. Luckily for him, he espied the lights from the farmhouse, in a small valley below the road. Theyd welcomed him happily, this girl and her sister, and had given him a warm meal, and two cups of wine. The two of them lived alone, their parents having died many years ago.
Zardock walked over to his pack to make sure everything was still there, and that the thieving whore hadnt stolen anything. He had to be quick- the girls sister had gone to the next farm, an hour away, in order to purchase Zardock a horse. His last one had broken a leg in the foot-hills of the Ered Glos, and he had been forced to leave it. The sister had been gone for a couple of hours already, leaving just before the whore had decided to jump on him, so she should be back soon. Zardock was pleased to find that nothing was missing. Indeed, the pack didnt even appear to have been opened. That was good news. Smiling fondly, he took out his Treasure, the whole reason he was in this barbaric country- the unicorns horn. It was glowing slightly as he took it out, a golden spiral tapering to a sharp point, emanating a blue aura. He lifted it up gently, holding it away from him like a wand. He circled the room, slowly, regarding it carefully, and stopped as the horn pointed towards the fireplace. The glow became more intense, and it started humming softly, indicating that that was the direction to the Unicorn Vale. North. It had been glowing more intensely recently, meaning that Zardock was close to his destination. He grinned to himself, before putting the horn back into the pack, cushioning it between his spare clothes. It wouldnt be long now- another few days, and then Zardock would have all the horns. He smiled maniacally at the thought, and of the power they would bestow on him. He wondered if Morandor and his runt were following him; he was sure theyd try to stop him, but he hadnt seen any sign of them so far. Maybe Grendels pathetic sense of moral judgement, and Morandors wishy-washy fear of power were merely fronts, designed to hide their cowardice. Maybe they havent followed him at all, and dont care what Zardock does. For some reason, that last thought made him angry. Damn Grendel, and his pathetic, depressive values. Damn Morandor, with his patronising smirk and his assumed superiority. And damn Maree, the country whore who seemed to have bewitched him! None of them would stop him. They wouldnt dare.
Zardock had another important reason to succeed; he had blatantly ignored his master Kyzak Tor, by embarking on this journey. Kyzak Tor feared Grendel and the prophecies surrounding him, and Zardock had been sent to spy on him, and to sabotage his feeble attempts at magic. Kyzak Tor would very likely destroy Zardock for his treachery. Unless of course, he can bring him back all the Horns. The artifacts would serve as an excellent tribute to His Eminence, and would certainly make reparations. And even if they did not, the power that the horns will bestow on Zardock will give him the strength to easily face any sorcerer. Even the Dreaded Green-Eye of Dral, Kyzak Tor.
Zardock noticed the sun coming up over the distant hills, through the windows. A faint reddish glow illuminated the room, making the lantern obsolete. He picked up his back-pack and decided it was time to continue. With any look, in a few days hed have no worries- no fear of Kyzak Tor, no images of that fat wench, Maree. No worries at all- he would be the Master of Everything, and all would grovel before him. Especially that fool Grendel.
Zardock walked over to the books on the shelf, briefly glancing at the titles. The Adventures of Rolando. He threw that on the floor, next to the corpse. The Ghosts of the Bulltombs. That was thrown on top of the other. The Story of Khanus. That too went on the pile. Zardock hated books. He loathed them with a passion. They had little use, other than relating small and pointless tales to small and pointless people. Some magicians, the weak ones, learned their spells from books. But Zardock believed that real magic came from within, and it was up to the magician himself to discover his own source of power, and his own abilities. And books revealed secrets and arcane lore to the masses- secrets which should be possessed only by those powerful enough to use them. Even a country bumpkin could pretend to be a wizard these days. Grendel was living proof of that. No, books had only one real use, and Zardock was going to make the most of it. When the last book was on the pile, covering the corpse, he threw the oil lantern upon them. It smashed violently, splashing oil across the room, and igniting the books. Within a few moments, the books and the corpse were burning with an intense heat. As Zardock watched, the tapestries caught light, as did the curtains. Zardock helped the fire along by adding his own Flame, Wizards fire, to the inferno. Soon, the table was also engulfed, and the wooden walls started to blacken.
Pleased with his handiwork, Zardock left the burning house, and ventured out of the front door, into the farm yard. A few chickens ran, dismayed by the sudden flames, and a cow brayed mournfully in the barn. Zardock watched for a while, smiling, enjoying the warmth. As the first wall crashed down, bringing half the ceiling with it, he turned away and started up the hill, towards the barn, and the road north.
As he reached the top of the hill he saw the other girl, the sister, returning. She was riding up the hill on Zardocks new horse, the one shed just purchased for him. The nerve of her, riding his horse! It was a fine-looking steed, though. Large and muscular, and a deep grey colour. It probably cost a small fortune. The girl, suddenly noticing the flames emerging from the crest of the hill, set the horse into a run towards her burning home. Zardock hid behind a hay-stack near the barn, and waited for the sister to get close.
As the girl reached the top of the hill, she dismounted, and gazed forlornly down at her burning house. "Lisabella!!" she screamed, before running down to the inferno.
She didnt get far, however, as Zardock jumped from behind the haystack, and grabbed her. Putting his hand over her mouth, he dragged her, kicking and screaming, into the barn. The barn was dark, and lit only by a small window high above which let the dawn-light in. Zardock casually threw her onto a pile of hay, and waited for her to stop screaming. When she had he smiled at her. "Your sister is dead," he said coldy. "I had her, then I killed her, then I burnt her," he confided. The sister shook her head in disbelief, then suddenly started screaming again. Zardock sighed, wondering who she expected to actually hear her. She herself had said the nearest farm was an hour away. He punched her soundly in the jaw, to stop her screaming. She stopped obediently, instead whimpering. The cow, nearer now, brayed again, hidden by the piles of hay.
"Now, Im going to do exactly the same to you," he said, smiling. This girl wasnt quite as pretty as her sister, nor anywhere near as good-looking as Maree- that thought angered him again- but shed certainly do. He quickly dived on her, ripping at her clothes, and hitting her every time she screamed. Then he had his way with her, all the time thinking of that accursed Maree. When he had finished, and was tired of listening to her crying, he casually slit her throat, wiping his knife on the blood-stained hay. Then he rummaged through her discarded clothes, and retrieved ten gold pieces from her pocket. That would half-compensate for the twenty he had given her for the horse. Then, whistling to himself, he made some more wizards fire.
Within moments he was riding his new stallion down the hill, back towards the road. Behind him, the barn burned violently, at the same time as the house collapsed inwards on itself. Zardock began to sing, loudly and jovially, as he made his way north..........