Part 2: Bound
Sitting atop his dire wolf looking down into the waste that was Desolace, the orc thought about the road ahead. South through the hot sands of Desolace and into the wilds of Ferelas, all before nightfall, was no easy task.
“The road is long my love, we must not tarry,” came a hollow voice to his left.
The orc straightened and nodded his approval, then, whispering a words on encouragement to his wolf, the pair took off town the dusty path into the open desert of Desolace.
He glanced to his left and saw his companion bent low over a grey wolf, spurring it on. She looked to him and smiled and urged her wolf forward, past his. It was a game they played, a challenge of stamina and cunning, how to get the most out of your wolf and yourself to reach your destination first. They had played this game when they first met over eight years ago. They had also played it the evening of her death.
It was in the early days of spring, not six months past. They were hired as a part of a garrison to protect local traders as they passed from the Crossroads to Bloodhoof village. She was a huntress and skilled tracker, always sensing danger before it could bring them any harm. Her black tiger, Bast she called her, would prowl the tree lines and flush out any would-be assailants. He on the other hand was an apprentice warlock, dabbling in the dark magics and tricks of the shadow. They were a formidable team.
This particular evening was quiet. There were no traders to be making a nightly run and so the pair set out for a moonlight stroll mostly to enjoy each others company. She had commanded Bast to stay behind with the wolves and together they walked towards the small tree line of a nearby oasis. Deep in conversation, they strayed deeper into the small glade. He was telling her how he had gotten the scar across his jaw, a story she had heard hundreds of times but loved the way he told it. All of a sudden she took off in a dead sprint and he followed, welcoming their game. Through the trees they weaved, trying to gain advantage until he finally caught up to her, wrapping hi massive arms around her as she laughed. He still remembered the warm evening and how her olive-green skin gleamed with a thin layer of sweat. She was smiling, a low growl rumbling deep from her throat when her eyes darted past him and her smile faded. Her muscles tensed and in a flash her bow was off her shoulder with an arrow notched. He turned away from her and spoke in whispers, calling upon his powers, drawing energy into himself, inviting the darkness, the shadows. His breathing slowed and matched hers, together they stood silent, back to back, watching, waiting.
The cry came from his right, a loud challenge from deep inside the trees. A centaur sprang out from the trees and before he could muster a word, she placed an arrow neatly in his eye. More centaur quickly piled into the glade brandishing rusted blades, crude stone axes, warped short bows and long jagged spears. Arrows flew in all directions as did his evil omens and plagues. One centaur was horrified, screaming and clawing out his eyes with his own daggers until she placed two arrows into his chest. The bodies were piling up but their numbers seemed to be increasing and they both knew it was time to make a hasty retreat. She quickly cast a frost trap into the nearest group and he placed a fear curse on a few others. They turned and ran, hearing the dull thunk of arrows as they dug deep into trees on either side.
Only once they cleared the trees and the sound of the angered centaurs died away did he look to her. She was leaning against a tree hunched over slightly, her breath coming in ragged, wet gasps. When he went to her she looked up at him and smiled. Her tunic was covered in blood and three arrowheads poked through; on in her stomach and two in her chest. The fact that she ran to the edge of the glade filled him with awe. She quickly sank to one knee and her smile faded. No words were exchanged as he bent down and took her into his arms. Even with blood pouring from her wounds, she never cried out, never complained. Telling her he would save her, she looked to him, her eyes open, unfocused, and unseeing.
His sadness gave way to rage almost immediately as he cursed the sky and earth. His roars shook the treetops and his body filled with energy. He lay her body on it’s side and removed the arrows. Resting her on her back he knelt over her and glowered. His mind racing for answers, for an explanation of what had happened, of what he could do. And then his mind cleared, his rage ebbed and he began to chant. Slow at first, then more persistent. His words had meaning, had a purpose. The earth under her began to rot and fester, the air began to reek of sulfur and a thin, purple haze of mist seeped from the group an began to envelop her. With his hands placed on her forehead and chest his chanting was now hollow, directed, practised.
A small tear in the earth opened and through it came a hand. A sharp, bony, clawed thing, digging into the earth and pulling behind it a lithe monstrosity. Leathery crimson wings, taloned feet and a face with no eyes, just a mouth with teeth like shards of yellow, broken glass. There were no words spoken between the warlock and this, demon, this, Terrorguard, yet no words were needed. The Terrorguard inclined its head and gave what appeared to be, a crude, knowing smile before it bent over the dead orcs body. It’s mouth opened wide releasing a shrill scream followed by a fetid mist of deep purple and green into her mouth. After a few moments the Terrorguard quieted and backed away. Turning to the warlock, it raised a great clawed finger and sunk it deep within the flesh of the orc’s chest, dragging it across his breast, ripping him open where a dark green ooze poured from the grievous wound. The Fiend’s tongue then lashed out, burning his skin and closing the wound. The tongue entered his great toothed-maw and he reveled in the taste, a slow shudder crossed his body. A voice, deep, powerful but distant, echoed in the warlock’s mind.
When he looked to see where the demon had gone, he was nowhere in sight.
He knelt and picked up his beloved and carried her back to the Crossroads where she lay, unmoving, for days. One evening he was tending to dinner when a cold hand gently touched his shoulder. He turned to see his mate, his Artemis, standing before him. Her skin was paler than he remembered but her smile was the same. She did not speak but merely hugged him and he returned it. When they separated he saw that her usual dark brown eyes were now yellow and her body seemed frail and weak. He pushed the thoughts away and offered her a seat and poured her a hot bowl of zhevra stew. The two sat silently for many hours just happy to be together once again.
“Where are your thoughts?” came a voice. He shook his head and saw Artemis looking at him quizzically.
“Nowhere. Just…” he hesitated, “…it is nothing,” he sighed. Artemis slowed her wolf and he did the same. She circled around to look at him, her face wrinkled, shallow, decaying.
“Do you regret the pact you made?” she asked softly, her voice a mere whisper. He looked into her cold, yellow eyes, void of the spirit of life they once held and gently grasped her hand.
“Never. You are mine and I am yours. If that demon had not done my bidding I would have plunged into the OtherWorld itself and demanded you be returned to me.” Even in death her smile was warm and it reminded him of all the reasons he did what he had done.
“As I did when I heard you call my name,” she said finally.
After a few moments Artemis pulled her hand away, sat up straight and turned to south, towards Ferelas.
“It is getting late my love, I fear we may not make the camp by nightfall,” she spoke over he shoulder watching the setting sun. Bubbaganoosh smiled to himself and brought his black wolf alongside hers and cast her a sideways glance.
“If the hunter is tired,” he said, “perhaps she would care to sleep?”
Artemis gave a loud laugh and kicked her heels into the wolf’s flank setting it wild on the path to Ferelas. Her love trailed close behind and once again they were children playing at The Chase.