A Dark Gift
"I don't hear anything," Jamfire said, his ear pressed against the door. "I am sure it is safe to try the key."
Titan emerged with the lantern in one hand and the small ring of iron keys in the other. He handed the lantern to the elf, waiting as Jamfire adjusted it to cast the handle of the door in its pale glow.
"There is certainly a lock here," the dwarf muttered as he traced the outline of a metal plate with his rough fingertips. Just below a cracked and rusted handle, the metal locking mechanism was bolted to the door. It was more elaborate than what would be expected in a place like this.
Thumbing through each key on the ring, Titan chose a couple to try. The third attempt found the small key sliding into the lock easily. He turned the key and felt the bolt pull away from the frame. The full weight of the door dell on the hinges and it shifted slightly on an odd angle.
Standing up and away from the door, Titan pulled his hammer from his belt and nodded to Jamfire. The elf grabbed hold of the handle and dragged the door open, feeling it grate across the stone. He held aloft the lantern to peer into the doorway. Nothing but darkness stared back at them.
"What do you see?" asked Damar, standing well behind Titan, his staff at the ready to protect the nervous bird held under his opposite arm.
"It seems to be a hallway." Jamfire explained. The elf held the lantern away from his face, allowing his keen violet eyes to adjust to the darkness. He blinked away the spots in his vision as he looked into the empty corridor. "Yes, a hallway, about twenty yards. I think there is another closed doorway at the end."
"Well, then that must be the way," clucked Karenna from under Damar's arm.
"Very well, "stated Titan, he pushed into the hallway without another word, keeping his hammer well at the ready. His vision was nearly as good as the elf's in darkness, though it lessened at a much closer distance. He could not see the door at the end of the hall as Jamfire could, but he could navigate well enough in the dark to not need the lantern.
Jamfire followed the dwarf, though he did not need the lantern either, he knew the comfort the light gave to the group. He could see how beneficial it was to the Tar who fell into step behind him. But Damar held Karenna and his only weapon and had no way to carry the lantern as well.
"How did you do that?" Damar asked in a strained whisper.
"Do what?" Jamfire replied, turning slightly to look at the Tar as he entered the dark corridor.
"You killed those things back there...with magic."
"It is something I was taught, though I suppose I have a bit of a talent for picking it up. It was a simple elemental spell."
"But how does it work?"
"To be honest, I am not really sure. My teacher once told me that all magic comes from inside us. That we are all made with the anima force. He believes that the non-human races have a greater chance of being able to tap into the anima force. I don't know if that is true, but you do hear about far fewer human mages."
"Magic users. There are all kinds. Wizards, sorcerers, elementalists. It can get rather confusing to tell them apart. As a Watcher, I was trained in elemental magic. I can manipulate my anima force to mimic the elements of the natural world. I know a few spells of that type, though I will admit a fondness for fire spells." Jamfire had an almost sheepish grin on his face.
"I wish I could do something like that," said Damar shamefully.
Jamfire looked as if he was about to respond when Titan interuptted them by throwing a small purplish mushroom at the elf's back. Jamfire looked down at the little fungous. When he picked it up, it glowed softly in his hand like a tiny purple candle. At first they thought it was the mushroom they were to be paying attention to, and the elf stared at it with interest. But the dwarf's wild silent flailing in the dark caught their attention.
Titan motioned for silence. Then pointing to his ear and then the door behind him. He mimed some strange toothy animal and what looked like someone shouting over a distance. The others approached him.
"Oh, what is it?" Jamfire whispered, impatiently swatting down the dwarf's signals that had drifted into esoteric gestures.
The dwarf sighed and looked up at them with mild annoyance.
"I heard something on the other side of this door. It sounds like voices. A lot like the critters back there," he motioned back to the room they had come from.
Jamfire stared at the door seriously, "how many?"
"I can't say for sure, more than two I think."
The elf held the lantern down to the handle of the door. There was no bolt or lock on it.
"Well, how do we want to play this?" the elf asked, looking to each member of the group. "Karenna, do you recall what lies beyond this door."
The chicken shook her head.
"I say we go in fighting," Titan held up his hammer.
The elf and dwarf looked at Damar. The Tar's eyes shifted around nervously. He bit at his orange-hued lip before deciding. Looking at the two warriors in front of him, he nodded silently.
Damar gripped his staff tightly.
"Just stay behind us," Titan suggested, "We will try our best to keep them off. Use your staff to whack them good if they get too close. Keep the bird safe. If they are little buggers like the last two, watch out, they are quick."
Damar nodded again, adjusting his grip on the chicken.
Titan pulled the door open to hard, it looked as if he could have just ripped it from its hinges. The dwarf went barreling through, dwarven curses and spittle pouring out of his gaping beard. When they all emerged, they found themselves in a large room. Its geometric design and proper archetecture almost pulled Titan from his war-cry revery. The room was like a mockery of a dwarven gathering hall.
But before their eyes could explore the room any further, they fell on three scrawny kobolds in the centre of the room. They looked as if they had been squabbling over a spear far nicer than the one carried by the guard in the other room. Two of the red fleshed creatures stood froze, their hands locked on opposite sides of the spear. They looked at the newcomers with slack jaws.
The room was suddenly silent. An awkward silence, broken finally by the clatter of the dropped spear. The two kobolds who had been grappling for it, scrambled in confusion. But the third kobold saw his opportunity. Diving between them to get the coveted spear, he picked it up in clawed paws and sprinted straight toward Damar and the others. He covered the distance between them with the speed of a well trained hound.
It stabbed at the air wildly, narrowly missing Titan as the dwarf leaned to his side at the last minute. Shifting his weight to his right foot, he transitioned from the lunging dodge to an arcing attack as his hammer swung around to find the back of the kobolds skull. The creature fell to the ground without so much as a grunt.
The other two kobolds had gathered their senses and drawn the small short swords at their rudimentary belts. Their large crocodilian eyes glistened as their mouths opened wide in a menacing gape. They called to each other quickly with rapid clicks from their snapping jaws.
Each kobold circled around an opposite side of the room, emerging from wide pillars that supported the roof. With lightning movements they struck at the group from the left and right. To the left, Jamfire leapt as a sword swung at his calves. The elf struck out with a kick, but missed the kobold, causing him to land awkwardly. To the right, Titan spun just in time to guard against the pointed blade aimed at his chest. His hammer struck at the sword and knocked it to the side.
Damar stepped back, closer to the door they had entered. Karenna nestled into his arm nervously, as the Tar held out his staff protectively in front of her.
Jamfire turned to strike at his enemy's exposed back after the initial strike, but was surprised to find the kobold already turned and barreling down on him again. Sweeping his staff out at the kobold, the lightning fast creature leapt up into the air, claws and sword arcing toward the elf's face. Jamfire fell backward with the attack, his hand outstretched at the last minute as if to catch the creature midair. A gout of flame jumped from the elf's fingertips, hitting the kobold squarely in the chest. It bounced across the floor, its sword clattering out of its grasp. Angered at pulling itself upright again, Jamfire hit it with another blast of heat. The creature slumped back to the ground, its skin smouldering.
Titan kicked at the kobold, trying angrily to get it under his boot. With every missed strike of the creature's tiny sword, Titan took the chance to swing down with his own weapon. The hammer pounded hard against the stone tiled floor, leaving spidery cracks all around the dwarf.
The kobold finally made its fatal mistake. It screamed out in rage, an ear shattering call. It turned its attention away from the frustrating dwarf and leapt at Damar. The Tar was shocked to suddenly be thrust into the fight he was so desperately trying to avoid. He held out the staff to protect himself and Karenna. But before the creature could reach them, it fell to the floor dead. Titan walked up behind the fallen creature and retrieved his hammer. The pointed back end of the weapon pulled free of the kobolds skull with a wet crack.
"Well that was a close one. These buggers were a lot harder than those sleepy fellas," Titan smiled, wiping the gore from his hammer with a cloth that hung from his side.
"They are certainly more of a challenge than they look," added Jamfire as his pulled himself up from the ground.
"I am just glad it is over," Damar said. But he quickly wished he hadn't, for no sooner than the words left his mouth than the door on the far end of the room burst open, the latch splintering from the frame.
Out stepped nearly a dozen creatures.
"Moradin's Fire!" Titan swore. He gritted his teeth and spat, "I knew I smelled gobbos in this pit!"
Half of the creatures that poured out of the doorway were kobolds, though their red scaly skin was better armored as some were fully clothed and others sported a few pieces of simple leather armor. Behind them emerged larger creatures. Titan was right, there were goblins below the mountain. The green skinned creatures were almost ape-like. They had crooked hunched bodies that were nearly hairless, save patches of quill-like hairs that sprouted from their heads and backs. They were even better armored than the kobolds, many sporting human short swords that they brandished proudly. They grimaced with twisted scarred faces from beneath iron helms. Their flat porcine noses flared with anticipation.
But it wasn't just the eleven goblins and kobolds that scared Damar the most. Behind the four foot goblins stood a solitary mountain of muscle. It looked like a giant goblin, but where the smaller creature was lithe sinew and bone, the larger was built like the largest of human warriors. Nearly naked, except for the drape of fur and leather that wrapped around his lower body and hung above broad flat feet. The six foot behemoth's green skin glistened with sweat. It breathed heavily from a wide tusked mouth. The creature's face was wide. Its flat boar-like nose snorted at gobs of mucus and saliva. The thing looked like a half bald gorilla that had been beaten nearly senseless.
"An orc?!" Jamfire exclaimed, "you have got to be kidding me!"
That exclamation seemed to be all the encouragement the creatures needed. They leapt into action, a sudden wall of red and green flesh barreling down on them. In less than a couple heartbeats, they were across the room, weapons held high for their first strike.
Jamfire stomped his foot down, pushing his hand and staff forward as if against a wall. A blast of fire tore into the oncoming horde. It radiated out like a wave, diminishing at is cross the room. The first line of creatures fell, tearing at their clothing and armor to remove the burning articles.
The elf slumped forward slightly as if dizzy from the sudden effort. Sweat dripped from his brow as he readied himself again, but was thankful when a goblin, spared from the blast, swung its sword at the elf only to be stopped by Titan. The dwarf parried the goblins strike, pushing the sword back into the creatures face. The goblin squawked as his nose dripped with blood. But it had no time to make a second attack as Titan's hammer caved its ugly visage inward.
Jamfire managed to regain his senses. He held his staff outward, striking at the creatures as they circled around.
"Damar, put Karenna into the hallway! She will be safe enough there. We need,"Jamfire paused to land a well aimed swipe of his staff into the ribs of a kobold, "we need you in here."
The Tartarean put the chicken down. Karenna flapped with fear.
"I don't want to go in there. Don't leave me!" she clucked in a panic.
"You will be alright, " Damar said, "I promise, no harm will come to you."
Without waiting for a reply, Damar turned back to the fight, both hands on his travel worn staff. He pushed back the panic in his mind. He cleared the heavy clouds of fear, gritting his teeth and launched himself at the nearest enemy. His staff nearly cracked when it connected with the armored head of a goblin, sending the helm flying.
He continued to push forward. He felt the intensity of the fight in every dodged attack, but he could feel something else. That feeling that tugged at him. It cloyed to him like a bad smell. Raked at his mind like a nagging question. He could feel some essence emanating from every creature in the room. He swept his staff wide feeling it connect with the jaw of a kobold, breaking it.
There. In that moment. When the staff struck the creature. He concentrated this time as he drove the gnarled wooden top of the staff into the flat face of a goblin. It was like he could sense the strings that held that creature locked in this mortal world. As his staff shattered the goblin's face, its life winking out like a candle in a breeze, he could almost feel the strings being cut. They were so tangible it was as if he could reach out at touch them.
A deafening roar sounded behind him that made him jump. The shadow of the massive orc loomed over him. Damar snapped out of his trance just in time to duck out of the way of the orc's fist. The mass of green knuckles swept over his head in a broad arc. The orc bellowed in anger at missing such an easy target.
Damar rolled out of the way, trying to further himself from the orc, but also to draw him away from the corridor where Karenna stood unprotected. He looked to his companions, but they could not aid him as they fought off the remaining goblins and kobolds. The deep set red eyes of the orc glared at him from under its pronounced brow. It focused squarely on him, moving slowly forward to attack what it saw as defenseless humanoid.
Damar looked at the creature intensely, his mind desperate to fall back into a state of fear. And in that moment he thought of his mother. The dark memories of that final night in the village he had once called home. The event he had tried so hard over the last two years to put behind him. It was almost like a dream now, so unreal that it became easier for him to accept it as having never happened. But that night something had happened. He had felt something. That lifeforce so tangible he could almost touch it. But when he had reached for it...
No he couldn't think about it. But when his mind slid back into reality and focused on the orc about to kill him, he could see something. Some strange light bounced around the head of the creature like a halo. But it didn't appear like any light he had ever seen. It shifted in and out reality. It glowed not with bright white intensity, but with an almost red-black hue. It wasn't his eyes seeing it at all, for no eye could see something glow with such darkness. But in that darkness Damar could sense those tiny filaments of existence. Those fibers of life that held every living in this plane like a puppet on strings.
It was so real, it was almost as if he could touch them. Damar felt himself reaching out, his hand spread, fingertips reaching to touch those unseen strings. But where were they, where did they connect to this hideous being.
The creature screamed in anger as it lifted its clawed hands, each the size of Damar's head. Its gaping maw exposed cracked yellow teeth, spraying saliva as the orc bellowed with exertion. Its arms swung down like giant weights. That was when their eyes met. Damar's sight penetrated like a lance into the small orbs of the orc's eyes.
Jamfire and Titan, striking down their nearest foes, caught a glimpse of the orc as it began to bring its mighty fists down upon the defenseless Tartarean. Damar's eyes glowed with an intense light.
Damar's peircing gaze reached deep within the orc and it was there that he could feel the strings hold up the mighty creature. And like a burning knife his sight cut right through them.
The orc stood still, his attack halted in mid swing. His eyes stared ahead blankly for that brief moment. Then the mass of muscle and anger fell to the ground dead.
Damar's vision tunneled and he struggled to return his mind to reality. Everything went black and he collapsed to the floor.