While watching the only person he cared about die in front of him, Gohr's new companion is now the nightmare that lives inside his head. His only hope now? - to make his way to Bridgewater - it's what Oriah would have wanted.
THUNDER VEINED THE SKY, while blood painted the ground. Krempo's chest rose and fell with adrenaline as two elven bodies lay dead before him-soldiers of Duaramar's Queen. But that was later in the night.
Earlier, rain cried down in stinging droplets as Grimwood's jungle canopy swayed beautifully in the approaching storm breeze. Two humanoid beings, adorned shoulder to toe in black leather-armor, dodged and weaved through the root-infested floor that enveloped the forest jungle terrain. The shadows created by their assassin-like hoods hid their race, their prominent give-away features. Sharp pointed ears, high cheekbones, and mirroring tightly pulled-back black hair adorned either elf. Their faces were not yet ridden with age lines, as that would be many years from now. For now, their young-adult-like faces were hard with focus, determination.
The two siblings bobbed and weaved as one, snaking through vines effortlessly and, at times, even occasional poisonous shrubbery that would appear out of the blue. Running with this type of alacrity, and nimbleness, seemed as natural as breathing air. Thorns and other annoyances were easily ignored, credit to the pristine craftsmanship of the Irontongue Forge, their boiled leathers worth heavy coin.
The larger of the two High Elves stood six feet tall and had the head of a howling wolf designed into his leather breastplate, an inch or two deep. The smaller-statured female stood five feet four inches and had a hellhound on hers, baring its razor-like teeth and polished horns resembling those of a distinguished ram. Their race might have passed off as human, if in the briefest of encounters, had it not for their piercing eyes that saw more than a human would ever know; their small mouths and awkward proportioned plush lips; their hawk-like curved noses and even their ears-much exaggerated in length, and adapted for keen hearing some time ago, during the creation of the races.
Their father had passed down their armor as a gift for completion of their trials in the Crimson Select, and, had he not, their trip might have been more of a nightmare. Of course, that was a much darker memory, and with brighter summer days. Now, lightning continued to paint the night sky, and the two elves pressed further on away from the horrors of their past and on to a promising future.
Oriah, the female of the two highborn, cradled what appeared to be a small baby, bearing a unique grayish skin tone, held close to her pale chest. She managed to keep her pace, even with the fragileness of the baby clutched close. She wouldn't let the baby be the reason for herself to slow down, to risk losing both their lives. After all, whoever attacked them earlier in their weeks' travel was still out there.
Her brother took the burden of leading the way, having no fear of running into a possible trap of the Queen's soldiers. And, this made Oriah chuckle slightly to herself, was it the lack of fear, or was it a wish for death? Krempo rushed ahead of his sister, leaping over raised rotted roots with practiced ease. She watched as the distance grew greater between them, his strides graceful, calculated-a dance of sorts, a dance with nature.
The way he leaped and ducked without slowing his gait was as though his legs had a mind of their own, as if no sign of strain or ligament pull would ever, and could ever, occur. Strangest of all, he was so self-aware of his steps that he rarely made a sound against the twigs and leaves, whereas Oriah had to give credit to where it was due-her moccasins. Perhaps that's why he lacks fear; he's a shadow in the woods and the storm's wind that brushes past the nape of your neck, Oriah thought. Her eyes lost interest from Krempo's gait when he was a good distance ahead, twenty, thirty paces now, and took, instead, to her surroundings. She still had no idea where they were. The trees looked the same as they did hours ago. But Krempo seemed confident they were headed in the right direction. As the distance between them grew, she didn't bother to dig her toes in to keep pace; rather, she kept her gait consistent-worried that the child she clutched, wrapped in magical cloaks of shadow, would wake.
The child had been in a deep sleep for some time now. Two, three hours? She lost track when their horses got attacked and they had to travel the rest of the distance on foot. Had it not been for the charm spell Krempo put over the baby, the sound of the storm would have made the baby scream like a stuck pig. Still, running was rather brutal, exhausting too. Gods. the running. Her knees ached and her shins screamed. She would do anything for a small break. Perhaps a nap. But she couldn't stop-they couldn't stop. Not now. To stop meant to die. To stop meant the child would fall into the wrong side of the war.
How Krempo managed to pull himself together and show no signs of distress, she would never understand. Perhaps he hid it all away by screaming curses in his head and faking a smile on the outside. That would be more practical. Or, maybe he was as her father always told her, as he traced his blade up and down her inner thigh, "He will always be better than you. And you will always be the soot that man scrapes from his boot. Admit it." She couldn't. She didn't then, and she would never now. Besides, Krempo would never want them to compare each other in such a negative way. He was always the light in her world of darkness. It's no wonder why she held that secret of their father from him; he would have mutilated the man and they wouldn't have received the training that they needed.
She looked down and away from haunting thoughts, keeping her pace the same throughout. Now they were entering a clearing, free from distracting terrain. She could feel the grass tickle and kiss her shins, as rainwater splashed in response to each footfall. Oriah moved aside the ovulating folds of shadows that covered the baby, clutched tightly and securely to her person. Her eyes dilated with joy at the sight of the small demon face. A baby from the race of the Fallen. And, with this moment of joy, a smile. A smile that may very well be her last, if they don't reach the Shadow Stride. But, in this moment, in this smile, pain that numbed her shins, her feet, her thoughts, didn't feel so bad.
Krempo was still in view, and now they were leaving the small clearing and wandering back into the woods. Thunder welcomed them back inside, as did the reason for their journey. Her father, the creator of the Crimson Select, assigned her the task of keeping this baby alive. Word somehow spread to Duaramar's Queen- a Queen who had been hunting members of the Crimson Select guild for years and, eventually, had taken the life of Krempo and Oriah's father, Horos. It was unfortunate, yes-their last parent killed off. But also a blessing in disguise to be rid of the man, if you could call him a man. Often torturing Krempo and Oriah until they perfected their skills. In fact, the only time Oriah actually saw him smile was when he was striking them with the flat of a blade, or scaring Krempo with dagger cuts, tallying his mistakes and, at times, detaching fingernails to make sure the lesson was driven home. It was Oriah's task to hone her skills as a healer to seal the wounds, though the scars would remain to tell their story.
Oriah thought of her loving mother. A shame that she was taken before Oriah could really have a conversation with her, as she died when she was a few years old. But even then, it was apparent that her mom was a stark contrast to her father. But like her loving mother, she too would eventually bring children into this world-a thought that had grown on her as soon as she became acquainted with the small baby, Gohr. She might want a child of her own, someday. Protecting this child just felt. it felt like her destiny, her purpose. She laughed, her purpose. She hadn't known what she was born to do, not until she met Gohr. Still, she was young. Young in the elves' viewment, but in terms of human years she was already in her early twenties. Deep down, she knew she would be great with Gohr, great at teaching this child the magic of the world that created them.
She thought of the Eastern Coastlands and how tribes that bore children of talent and skill would be brutally mutilated and outcasted, for fear of that which they did not understand-magic. Then she thought about the three members of the Crimson Select that totaled its ranks, as the rest were amongst the dead. Their friend, who was of the lizard-folk, herself, and Krempo. That was all that remained. Though their father was the originator of the guild, he lost interest and decided to pick up a hammer, joining the blacksmiths guild at the Irontongue Forge.
If they survived this journey, the future of the Crimson Select recruiting their numbers would be in their hands, and those recruited would be taught their way-not their father's. Bridgewater University had promising talent, and she supposed that was why Kyla invaded Grimwood in the first place. She remembered when her father brought them into The Order. The Crimson Select was the most elite of the elite. Oriah and Krempo showed such an early promise that bringing them into the Guild wasn't even a question, no matter if they were the blood of Horos-that didn't hold prejudice to the members that once lived. They knew their father was an instructor who taught everyone with the same...