The End of the World - A Lead-in Short Story - Part 4


The iron-headed axe bounced off the chitinous scythe arms of the warrior insect with a loud clang but managed to shove one of the arms to the side. It would not have mattered much because Ran’Garr’s opponent closed up its defenses quickly but the Orc had prepared for this. He delivered a savage kick to the Yrg’s head. The attack could not damage the heavily armored dome, yet it was powerful enough to daze the creature for a few seconds. Ran’Garr’s off-hand already held an obsidian dagger by then. After a lightning fast feint with the axe he rammed the blade into the confused bug’s right compound eye with such force that his fist sank into the ruined socket. The Yrg shuddered violently from the terrible wound, screeching in a high-pitched tone. Abusing the creature’s momentary stun from the pain, the Orc captain let go of the dagger and shoved his own body under the bug’s forward segments, then heaved the insect upwards. The Yrg fell back, blocking the narrow tunnel it had entered through, denying any more warrior insects passage. Ran’Garr finished his helpless opponent off with a merciless two-handed axe blow to its softer underparts.

As the bug was facing its demise, Ran’Garr was already appraising their own plight. He could see Sekethma go down and fall under the giant insect. He could hear Renkailon’s whimpers as he was trying to get acid off his face. He could smell the reek of defeat on the others. He hated defeat. Shouting a war cry, he lunged forward at the warrior Yrg that fell on the vagrus and was still dazed by its collision with the wall. Just shy of reaching his target he leapt and brought his axe down between his opponent’s head and thorax sections. The momentum carried him over the bug, but by not letting go of the axe handle and twisting his body, he managed to pull the insect to its side and off Sekethma. As he landed, he gave the stuck axe a powerful pull using the Yrg’s immense weight as leverage and popped its head clean off.

Ran’Garr glanced briefly at the vagrus then lurched towards the last warrior insect right away. Sekethma was not moving, so it was impossible to tell if she was alive or dead. Charging forward, the Orc could see Dulak sprawled on the ground, with only Tyro and Grea holding their own against the Yrg. The stocky warrior was using Dulak’s shield; his own was lying nearby, already half-eaten by acid. The massive bug’s head was covered in some kind of orange powder and it clearly did not like it – one of the Half-elf’s weird alchemical creations no doubt. Antennae twitching madly and mandibles clacking, the Yrg was attacking with blind flurry of half-assed jabs. Grea was trying to flank it, but it was clear to Ran’Garr that her delicate ivory daggers would do no harm to the creature.

‘Get the fuck back an’ help the vagrus!’ the Orc bellowed, grabbed Grea’s collar, and shoved her back towards Sekethma, avoiding a couple of deadly stabs as he took the Half-elf’s place. The chief-handler scrambled towards their leader’s prone form without a word and Ran’Garr could not see the murderous glance she shot him.

The Orc captain wasted no time before attacking: striking with a one-handed swing, he aimed to sweep one scythe aside to be able to kick the bug in the head just like he did with the first one. But as he was bringing his leg up the Yrg lurched to the side, colliding with Ran’Garr and shouldering him viciously against the close wall. The Orc heard bones cracking as he went down. His head was spinning and there was blood in his mouth. His mind was racing, trying to come to grips with how the insect warrior outplayed him – perhaps even expected this very move. He rolled to the side in the last second, barely avoiding two segmented legs coming down where his head and chest used to be. He realized he was now under the creature. Tyro shouted something and struck the bug in the mandibles with the rim of the shield. His reward was a cut on the shoulder, but by drawing the Yrg’s attention, he gave the reeling Ran’Garr the time he needed. The Orc rolled on his back, drew his legs up, pushing against the Yrg, then lifted the insect’s abdomen with all his strength. This gave him enough space to strike with the axe. He aimed at the opening between the thorax and the abdomen and hit it squarely. There was a sickening squelch and a foul-smelling fluid spewed on the captain. The warrior Yrg shuddered, giving Tyro an opening. The man lunged at the bug’s head and stabbed it right between the mandibles, the gladius blade buried up to the hilt.

As the Yrg died, it went prone and all its limp weight came crashing down on Ran’Garr, who had no time to free himself from beneath it. His heart was pounding deafeningly in his ears. He tried to lift the insect, but battle fatigue and his injuries finally caught up with him. With air leaving his lungs, he pondered how he may have saved Sekethma only to suffer the same fate. He could hear muffled shouting and felt a strange glee at the thought of at least taking his killer with him. Everything was turning dark.

But before he could pass out, the suffocating weight was lifted off of him. He gasped for air and blinked at the four men standing over him: Tyro was aided by Duro, Vikujambi, and Tovnar in tossing the dead insect aside.

‘The heck you doin’ here, lad?’ Ran’Garr managed as Duro helped him sit.

‘I sensed their minds become agitated as if many lanterns were lit all at once. I convinced the others that something was terribly wrong. That’s how we got here so fast.’ the handler gave him water. Ran’Garr just shook his head and leaped up, already fit for a fight. Orcs were sturdy beyond belief and it took much more than a few bruises and cracked ribs to forestall such a battle-hardened warrior. His light-enhancing eyesight indeed showed the captain that the second team’s members were busy in the gloom of the chamber where the skirmish took place. Akari was peeking into the twilight beyond the broken-wall exit where Sekethma intended to go, while two of the three Ulcasus brothers were securing exits. The third was leaning against the dead body of the Yrg that Ran’Garr used to block the passage they had entered through. Unnerving scratching sounds could be heard from behind it. Aru was deftly gathering discarded but still usable weapons and projectiles. Grea was clearly aggravated, hopping between the prostrate forms of their fallen comes. Of these, only Renkailon showed signs of consciousness, holding a cloth to his acid-scarred left cheek.

‘I dun know how long I can hold this.’ Falco Ulcasus said nervously, wrestling to keep the body of the insect in place.

‘She dead?’ Ran’Garr barked at Grea. The Half-elf woman’s breathing was erratic.

‘No. No, she’ll survive, but she’s in a bad way. And Dulak is gone, bled out.’ she tore her gaze from the mutilated warrior and collapsed next to Sekethma. ‘What… what are we going to do without her?!’

‘Shut up. You’re her lieutenant. Act like one.’ ignoring Grea who was about to burst into tears, the Orc waved his hand at Vikujambi and Tovnar to go help Falco Ulcasus. He turned to Duro. ‘Can you sense ‘em now, lad? Be quick. We need a way out.’

Duro closed his eyes and frowned in concentration. A moment passed and Ran’Garr was about to shake the handler out of his apparent reverie when Aru stepped up to him and offered him the handle of his recovered axe. The captain took it with a scowl and turned back to Duro who opened his eyes.

‘Clustered around the rooms where you came from there are more of these… killer bugs.’ the handler stared at the slain insects. ‘We came here using a different path, one that was relatively free of critters. They haven’t circled back toward that way yet. More activity can be sensed from there and there.’ Duro pointed in another two directions.

‘But not from there?’ Ran’Garr indicated the ancient corridor with a nod. Meanwhile, the men were piling large rocks, wedging them beneath the Yrg carcass to make it more difficult to dislodge it.

‘No, not from there. In fact, I can’t sense any minds in that direction.’ Duro said with a thoughtful expression.

‘How many of these crawlin’ shits could there be?’ the Orc turned to Grea.

‘Hundreds? Thousands? We have no idea how large this nest is.’ the Half-elf said indignantly, clearly upset about the way Ran’Garr had treated her. Yet she seemed less panicked now, which the Orc appreciated more than he cared about her ire. ‘Ren can walk. We can carry Sekethma and... Dulak.’

Ran’Garr only hesitated for a brief moment.

‘Alrite. You do that. Take Ren, Vikujambi, and the brothers. Carry the vagrus to the surface, to safety and keep her alive, you got me? You leave Dulak ‘ere. The lad will show you the way. The rest of you, come with me.’ he was already moving towards the corridor.

‘We’re not leaving him here, to be food for the damn things!’ Grea was flush with anger as she pointed at what was left of Dulak. Though Ran’Garr held the recently hired warrior in little regard, his reasons were different this time: another body would slow the other group down too much and would also keep two fighting men from defending them in any meaningful way.

‘You can carry him yourself, but the others are fo’bidden to do so.’ it was clear from the way Ran’Garr stepped towards Grea that he was done arguing. Her defiance evaporated in the blink of an eye. She glanced at Dulak’s dead body, then furtively moved away and helped Renkailon to his feet. Everyone else got ready without a word. The alarming scratching behind their stiff barricade became more and more fervent by the minute.

Just as Ran’Garr and his warriors converged on the broken corridor exit and Grea’s group was about to leave the way Duro led them, the young handler approached the Orc.

‘Far be it from me, captain, to contest your orders, but I think you’ll need me and Aru down there.’

‘Do I now? You said no bugs are down there. You go with the others to show the way.’

‘Ren can lead them out without me, captain, it’s one of the paths to the surface we mapped yesterday.’ Duro said as they both looked back at the Dark Elf. Renkailon nodded silently. ‘Aru can fit into places none of us can. And you may need me when we come back up. Who can say where the bugs will be by then?’

Ran’Garr frowned and waved his hand at the other group to depart.

‘Fair enuf. But you look after the little shit and yourself, cuz we got no time to be your wet nurses. You fail me and I’ll feed you to them bugs meself, got me?’

Duro nodded as Akari descended into the shattered corridor beyond the opening.

‘You can count on us.’


When Akari returned silently to the rest of the group from the large room ahead, Ran’Garr could see the terror in her eyes even though the scout kept her composure.

‘The damn things are just standing there.’ the scout whispered, clutching her short spear. ‘I swear they knew I was there… somehow.’

‘Than you failed to hide well enuf.’ the Orc grunted.

‘I don’t think so, captain.’ Duro chimed in. ‘Whatever makes these creatures aware on such a level also makes them much more observant, I think.’

‘You think?’

‘Well, I can’t show it to you in any way. It’s a… sensation. Immaterial. But it’s there and our experiences with the Yrg seem to confirm it.’

Ran’Garr was done with the immaterial. He had to see it with his own eyes. Shoving Duro aside, the Orc crept along the broken corridor after signaling the rest of the team to stay put. The corridor here was much like the others they have explored since coming down into the subterranean Elven ruins half an hour ago. Fine, unbelievably smooth stone covered the walls and ceilings, but after long centuries of neglect and movements of the earth, cracks ran all along them like spiderwebs. Through these fissures, dirt poured into the tunnel and collected in mounds along the walls, covering most of the floor. The stonework looked shaped rather than carved for the most part, with curves and forms that seemed almost organic to Ran’Garr’s eyes. He did not care much for it, nor for the subtle reliefs that covered most of the surfaces mimicking plants, leaves, and running water. If contemporary Elves were any indication to go by, their ancient ancestors were arrogant, cold, and self-absorbed, with no place for them in the new world and as far as Ran’Garr was concerned, a good riddance altogether.

At last he came to a cracked archway on his right and peered into the cavernous hall, half-collapsed on one side. Past the toppled pillars and mounds of dirt the captain could see a break opening into the Yrg tunnels, similar to the one through which they entered the ruins, only larger. His heart skipped a beat. Standing right under the breach, motionless, loomed the insectoid shapes of half a dozen immense warrior Yrg. Their antennae and compound eyes were trained exactly on the dark arch under which Ran’Garr was crouching. Long moments passed. The Orc noticed that he was holding his breath.

But after what seemed like an eternity frozen in time, the Yrg still stood in the opening. Ran’Garr smiled.

‘Sons of bitches.’ he muttered under his breath.

He stood up and casually walked into the hall. After a dozen steps he stopped and looked right at the bugs. Apart from adjusting their sensory organs, the creatures were completely motionless.

‘You can’t enter, can ya? Them Elves mus’ have warded you off.’ the Orc growled at the insects. Several other warrior Yrg arrived and stopped behind the first row. Ran’Garr spat, turned back, and called for the team to move up to the hall.


   Even without the constant threat of the murderous insects, scrambling through the once-fabulous but now crumbling Elven architecture proved fairly difficult. Many fallen pillars, deep crevices, and collapsed corridors had to be circumnavigated. The slave boy was surprisingly useful in their endeavors: climbing through holes and into cracks to report what is on the other side proved invaluable. He was also light enough to be lifted up onto ledges to fix ropes for the others to use for climbing. Yet by the time they reached the eerie junction hall somewhere near the astrology tower, even Ran’Garr was exhausted. Their sense of time was also off. How long have they been down here? An hour? A day? It certainly felt like that. They flopped down after a superficial check of the three unexplored corridors – they did not expect any danger since confirming that the Yrg were unable or unwilling to enter the Elven ruins.

   A canteen was passed around as they sat breathing heavily in the cold, dry air of the junction room. Their lanterns illuminated the intricate patterns depicting star signs and cosmic phenomena on the domed ceiling of the hall, painted perhaps thousands of years ago. Slender sculptures of robed Elves lay mutilated along the archways leading out. Ran’Garr glanced up at Aru, who was standing beside him, holding out the canteen. The Orc accepted it after a moment’s hesitation. The boy was useful, quiet, and obedient, true, but the captain could not stand looking at him. It was not fear, no. Orcs were immune to the Taint so he had nothing to fear, even if he believed that it could be contracted from people who already carried it – which he did not. So, what was it? Pity, perhaps? Admittedly, if it was up to him, he would have given the boy a mercy kill while he was transforming into this… thing. It would have been a kindness. Sekethma would not hear of it, of course, soft as she had become. Or perhaps it was just the fact that the vagrus would have tarried to wait for the boy’s fate to reveal itself even if it took much longer. And that would have fucked everything up.

   Ran’Garr glanced at the boy, who was standing, wearing a solemn expression. After a moment’s pause, he tossed the canteen to Aru and stood up. His injuries hurt somewhat but that just made him feel more alive.

   ‘Akari. Tovnar.’ he pointed at two paths that could lead to the artifact chamber. The lean huntress and the bearded mercenary stumbled to their feet amid frowns and grumbles. Ran’Garr walked over to Duro, who was sitting on a mound of rubble, massaging his temples. Aru appeared without a sound and sat down next to the handler. The Orc saw the boy staring at his axe and daggers that were hanging from his belt.

   ‘Feel anythin’? The captain asked Duro.

   ‘Nothing. No minds here.’


   Duro shook his head.

   ‘It’s weird, to be honest. I can pick up on distant activity – outside the Elven tunnels – but in here, it’s just us.’

   ‘Since when can you sense enemies like that, lad?’ Ran’Garr did not like the idea of sorcerous detection. In his view, it took the skill and honor out of skirmishes.

   ‘Minds, not enemies, captain. And I can’t. Well, I mean, I’m not supposed to. But ever since we got here... ‘ he trailed off, stroking the back of his neck.

   Ran’Garr frowned. What he liked even less than sorcerous detection were uncanny abilities occurring without an explanation. Duro must have seen his expression.

   ‘Do not worry, captain, it has happened before.’

   ‘What has?’

   ‘That my mental sense got enhanced. Sometimes by places of power, sometimes it’s a concentration of people, other times I can’t say why. It just happens. But I admit that it has never got so strong before.’ Duro smiled at the Orc. When he saw that Ran’Garr was still scowling, he added: ‘It comes in handy, doesn’t it?’

‘Yes.’ Ran’Garr nodded reluctantly.

‘And it isn’t the only weird thing about this place. I’m fairly sure now that it has something to do with how the Yrg’s behavior is markedly different than usual. With how they ignored the incense all of a sudden, and how they seemed to coordinate their efforts so effectively. We couldn’t have prepared for this, no one could have. Grea and the vagrus did their best, I think.’

   Both of them were silent for a few moments, then Duro spoke softly.

   ‘Aren’t your people familiar with sixth senses like what I possess? Orc tribes have shamans, don’t they, captain?’

   Ran’Garr stared at the handler for a few moments, but at length, looking away, he spoke.

   ‘My tribe, the Chipped Fang, has no shamans anymore.’ When he saw that Duro looked at him expectantly, he went on. ‘In my father’s time, the tribe was almost exterminated. The ones that lived went on to become merc’naries under… no matter. Pro’bly they paid no heed to the spirit talkers even before tha’.

   Duro opened his mouth to speak after briefly contemplating what he had heard, but before he could say anything, Akari burst into the chamber. Tyro leapt up, gladius in hand, but Ran’Garr had heard and recognized her approach, so he just turned towards the scout intently. Her eyes were gleaming with a mixture of fear and wonder.

   ‘You should come and see this, captain. You should all come and see.’


   After Tovnar returned, the team gathered their gear and followed the discomposed Akari down the corridor to the mysterious location she had discovered. Passing several collapsed side-passages, they turned a corner and stopped abruptly. From beyond another turn in the tunnel came light. It was subtle and light blue, but it was there, and it definitely did not come from the surface. Akari turned to them with a smile.

   ‘It’s coming from torches, magical ones. They came alive as I was getting closer to that corridor.’

   ‘Good. For a moment there, I thought someone still lives down here.’ Duro said. A chill ran down their spines; even Ran’Garr felt uncomfortable, as if an unseen presence was there. He signaled them to move along carefully.

   They turned the corner and presently came into a spacious hall. Stone sconces were sculpted of the very same marble that was used for the walls, placed every dozen meter or so, depicting forest spirits holding tiny spears. On the tips of these hovered fist-sized, pale blue orbs of light. The glow of these arcane lamps was not strong, yet it illuminated the chamber well-enough to see. The right-hand side had no wall and opened to a natural cavern behind a wider, circular ledge with a stone balustrade. The left wall had a large, decorated archway carved in the shape of two trees with intertwining canopies. Another path opened up ahead, leading into darkness.

   ‘How deep are we?’ Tovnar inquired, trying to take it all in.

   ‘It’s hard to say. The astrology tower had chambers and corridors underground according to the vagrus, and as time passed, half of the tower got buried under sand and dirt, so it’s even deeper now.’ Duro told him as he walked slowly, holding Aru’s hand.


   ‘I still don’ get why we couldn’t jus’ enter the damn tower and descend.’ said Tyro, scratching his chin enthusiastically.


   ‘That was the first thing us scouts tried. But the tower interior is all clogged up with dirt and rubble. It was impossible to get down to these lower levels without digging for weeks.’ Akari pointed out.

   ‘This here looks like some kind of… terrace or balcony.’ Tovnar said, most likely to himself.

   ‘Means we gotta go deeper.’ Ran’Garr told them gruffly. ‘Do not gawk. We must leave.’


   After some exploration, the team entered a stairwell through the great arch and descended deeper into the astrology tower’s vaults. The magical torches kept showing up, though about half of them had been destroyed by neglect.

   At length, they came to a circular corridor and followed it to a half-collapsed chamber with an elaborately embossed double door. A narrow, vertical fissure in the wall ran a few meters left of it. The door, framed by a pair of cracked pillars, was closed with no apparent way to open it and upon its wings a magnificent star map was outlined in minute detail. It was not clear if the door was covered in a layer of metal or if it was cast entirely of it: a dark silver alloy that had a cool matte sheen to it in the light of the single surviving arcane torch of the chamber.

   ‘We appear to have arrived, captain.’ said Duro.

   ‘Bugger me sideways!’ added Tyro who was ogling the metal gateway. Ran’Garr was aware that the door would be worth a small fortune in the metal-starved world, should they be able to take it.

   The captain quickly assigned Akari to guard the corridor they had entered through and Tovnar to the other one. The others spent a few minutes straining against the door before giving up. Whether it was stuck, locked, or magically sealed, it wouldn’t budge. Ran’Garr half-entertained the thought of trying to bust the door, but the broken pillars next to it looked like they would not take such a pounding and might fall, collapsing the ceiling.

 ‘Wha’ now?’ Tyro asked, panting and bent from exhaustion.

 Duro stepped up to Ran’Garr.

 ‘Captain. I think Aru could fit through if we broaden the gap it a little.’

The boy was already sniffing around the crack in the wall. Ran’Garr had to admit that it was their best prospect even though he somehow resented the idea of the boy encountering the artifact first. However, time was running short, so they set to work on widening the gap with all the tools they had at hand. When someone got too tired, they changed posts with one of the others guarding the corridors. Fortunately, the nether regions here seemed abandoned, just like the tunnels and chambers above. Yet, Ran’Garr could not shake the feeling that they were not alone in these forsaken halls.

After a while, Aru deemed the hole large enough to fit through and started wiggling himself inwards. It took a while for him to pass through because the wall was surprisingly thick and they could not broaden it too far back. The slave boy took some scratches and cuts from the broken rock but he endured without a sound, which impressed Ran’Garr quite a lot. He was starting to think that Aru was the bravest of the bunch he had with him. Eventually, the boy disappeared in the darkness on the other side and soon after a pale light appeared.

‘Wha’doyou see, boy?’ Ran’Garr was getting more and more impatient. ‘Can it be opened?’

When no answer came, the Orc sighed angrily. But before he could shout into the hole, Duro knelt beside him.

‘Let me talk to him.’

When Ran’Garr nodded reluctantly, the handler leaned closer to the fissure and cocked his head as if listening intently.

‘Aru, is everything alright?’

‘Ask ‘im if he sees the artifact!’ the captain growled impatiently. ‘Make ‘im open the door!’

Duro raised a finger. There was a faint answer from the other side Ran’Garr could not make out.

‘You need not be afraid, parvus. We are right here. Can you let us in?’ the handler was talking slowly and calmly. The Orc could almost feel his words soothing his own mind. The lad must have been using his abilities in some way.

‘Moghak.’ came a faint, terrified answer.

‘Whass that?’ Ran’Garr asked Duro. The handler just shook his head before speaking to the boy again.

‘Aru, you have to let us in so that we can help you.’

Silence. Or perhaps whispers. But was it the boy? Ran’Garr suddenly realized that his hairs were standing on end. He leapt up and observed the others. Apart from Duro, who was still listening intently by the gap, everyone else was distracted: Tyro was biting his knuckle, Tovnar’s eyes darted from side to side, while Akari was crouching like a scared beast, muttering to herself with closed eyes. Something was wrong. An unnatural terror was settling on them all.

Quite suddenly, the door gave a loud creak and one of its wings started to slowly open outwards; Aru’s head peaked out a moment later. And then, all hell broke loose. What started as a faint whispering sound bolstered into a terrifying high-pitched scream in a matter of seconds. Ran’Garr and the others turned around to come face to face with a pale, transparent shape that looked like thick, phosphorescent fog in vaguely humanoid form. Its eyes were the only features on an otherwise blank visage, eyes that radiated unfathomable horror. Tyro shrieked and ran for it. Akari went white with fear as the specter turned on her. She raised her spear for a throw.

   ‘No! Don’t…’ but the Orc could not finish the warning. Akari hurled the spear with a scream. It flew through the shape without inflicting any harm and struck the flat-footed Tovnar square in the chest. The bearded mercenary gave a short, shocked yell, then fell over. The wraith spoke in a tongue unknown to Ran’Garr and lunged after the fleeing Tyro down the unexplored corridor. 

The captain never learned why the undead terror did not pursue him. It’s not that he did not fear the thing. Perhaps because he did not move; yet he stood closest to it apart from the unlucky Tovnar. Perhaps it is unwise to expect rational demeanor from unliving entities. Orcs have a special relationship with the spirit world due to the way they entered the world of the living, at least according to their shamans. Although Ran’Garr’s tribe was not a particularly worshipful one, most Orcs followed the guidance of spirits, believed in visions and premonitions sent by the ghosts of departed ancestors, and sought to win their rightful place in the afterlife. What that entailed, however, was a matter of debate, or, since Orcs were concerned, constant strife and outright war. Most of Ran’Garr’s race believed that by living a life of battle and seeking challenge, their spirits can eventually return to the Windswept Plains in the Outer Realms, whence their souls came. Perhaps it was because of this unique link to the spirit world that Ran’Garr was spared by the specter.

But whatever the reason, the wraith left the chamber, leaving the captain, the noisily dying Tovnar, and Akari, who was whimpering face down on the ground. Ran’Garr could not see Duro or Aru. He shook his head, slapped himself once or twice, then rushed into the room beyond the double door.

The handler and the slave boy were inside the large, circular chamber. Lit by several arcane lights, the room’s domed ceiling was supported by arching metal stilts twisted and distorted by countless centuries. Most of the walls were decorated with elaborate paintings of stars and cosmic bodies. Intricate Elven writing covered the floor. Lightwells that now opened onto pitch darkness were placed all around the base of the dome. All three of them were now looking at the marble pedestal in the center of the chamber. Upon it, in a socket of bronze, a slender silver scepter stood; it was adorned with winding Elven runes and small blue gemstones. Duro turned to Ran’Garr but his gaze immediately went behind the Orc and his pupils widened. The handler opened and closed his mouth like a fish out of water and was trying to flee while he pushed Aru away. To no avail. The wraith lurched forward, right past Ran’Garr, and reached the screaming Duro in seconds. The young handler fell on his knees as the fog-like entity enveloped him.

Realizing that this was his best chance, the Orc captain charged to the pedestal, grabbed the scepter, yanked it out of its socket, turned, and rushed towards the door in bounding leaps. He stopped briefly at the metal doors to kick savagely at the crumbling pillar next to the entrance. His cracked ribs echoed the pain from the collision. He could swear later that thunder rumbled in the corridors. Before the arch collapsed, Ran’Garr glanced briefly into the room. He could not see Aru, but Duro was there, shaking in agony, on his knees, his eyes aglow, as the apparition was floating in front of him. It looked like the wraith grew arms of smoke to hold the handler’s head. The Orc pitied the lad, yet he was thankful that his unwilling sacrifice granted him enough time to elope with the relic. He fled the crumbling hall, running back the way they came.


Ran’Garr smiled, he couldn’t help himself. Although he was exhausted and in considerable pain, he successfully navigated the subterranean Elven ruins and the Yrg tunnels by memory, avoiding any incidents or encounters, and finally emerged at the egress that Grea took her team towards after they had parted ways.

Judging by the position of the sun, it was afternoon. Dust flew among the wind-swept ruins. The faint sound of fighting could be heard from further away, from the general direction of their camp. Still blinded by the powerful sunlight after ascending from the depths of the earth, Ran’Garr heard running footsteps. He turned to face whoever was approaching. It was Ordis, running out from behind a still standing wall section.

‘Captain! Capt…! Captain!’ the handler yelled when he saw Ran’Garr and rushed towards him. He was sweating profusely and looked panicked.

‘Calm down. Whass wrong?’ the Orc walked slowly towards him.

‘They came out of nowhere! They killed… Varro… and others. We’re under attack! They attacked the damn western outpost. Thank the Emperor you’re here, cuz’ we need you for sure, captain. I ran away, I may be the only one who got away!’

‘Hold it, hold it. Who attacked us? Where are they?’

‘I don’t know. But they’re tough. They ambushed the outpost! I saw a few, they were Orcs.’ the handler said, panting, then turned, pointing in the direction of the camp’s west side. ‘Thereabouts. But they can be anywhere by now, maybe moving on the camp.’ Ran’Garr’s left hand had found the handle of a dagger on his belt by the time Ordis turned back.

   ‘We gotta warn the comi…’ Ordis looked down. The dagger was wedged between his ribs by his heart, up to the hilt. He looked up at Ran’Garr’s face. The Orc could see the utter shock spreading on the handler’s plain features. By the time he opened his mouth, he was dead.

   Ran’Garr removed his dagger, wiped it clean on Ordis’ tunic, sheathed it, then stepped over the limp body and set out towards the camp. The fuck they are thinkin’? This was not what we agreed. All of a sudden, the sun hid, covering the city that has not seen a single cloud since the Calamity in twilight. Distant thunder murmured. A cold wind rose and a shiver ran down Ran’Garr’s spine.

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#calamity #comitatus #rivenrealms #shortstory #vagrus