The Face: 6. Caran

Chapter 6: Caran

            Shards of broken rock sprayed towards Loran as he knelt behind a short wall. The clamor of battle was deafening and fear gripped Loran’s heart. He took a deep breath and glanced over the top of the wall. On the other side, chaos reigned.
            Loran could see Eldaran mounted atop one of the most horrible creatures he’d ever seen. It looked like a very large horse but its various parts were made from the rotting parts of many humanoid corpses. There were two of the monsters. Jax was brandishing his spear and projecting bright beams of light from his palms towards the monstrosity Eldaran was astride. On the other side of the room, Vera, eyes closed, was directing two large snakes with his voice and hands as they wrestled with the other horse creature. Perhaps the most peculiar thing he saw was the small Orc brandishing a sword running amidst the battle.


            They had encountered the Orc when they first entered the room. He had been shackled against the wall but before they could address him, the horse creatures had made themselves known. In the confusion of those first few moments of the battle, Loran had slipped toward the wall out of the way of the combat. In his ear, he heard someone whisper, “I can help you.” Loran gave a start and turned to look closer at the Orc.
            “Excuse me?” he said.
            “Let me go and I can help you. The beasts you fight will not be easily overcome,” said the Orc, sounding surprisingly eloquent through his gruff voice.
            “And you won’t kill us?”
            “My quarrel is with the Consortium, not you lot.”
            Loran paused for a moment, thinking about his options. One of the horses screamed as it was pierced by Jax’s spear jolting out him of his reverie. Loran took out his multitool and started working on the lock holding the Orc captive. After a few moments, the lock gave and the shackles fell away.
            “Thanks friend, now I suggest you find someplace to hide,” said the Orc as he grabbed a sword that was sitting against the wall. He gave a great roar and joined the fray.

            Presently, Loran was considering what he should do in the midst of this skirmish. He didn’t think he was much of a fighter although he did carry a weapon, a small hand crossbow. Moreover, it seemed like his companions were much more experienced in adventuring than he was. Either way, Loran knew that he was in way over his head and as soon as they returned to the Mages Guild, he would be leaving his companions and finding another way to restore his memories.
            Just then, one of the great snakes that Vera had summoned, seemingly from nowhere, crashed to the ground next to Loran writhing in pain. The undead horse the snakes had been grappling with had shaken them both loose and had focused its blood red eyes on Loran. It gave a loud snort and started moving forward. With a trembling hand, Loran reached into his bag and pulled out his crossbow. It had been months since he last shot it, but he readied the weapon as if he were a professional soldier. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Time seemed to slow down and his senses sharpened. Loran pulled the whipcord bow string back and locked it into firing position. He took a bolt and fed it through the nut at the front of the bow, resting it on the primed string. He gripped the yew handle and rested his finger on the trigger.
            A sharp memory came rushing back to him. His father’s rough but strong hands guiding his own hands as he took ahold of his new crossbow. He was six and his father had taken them into the wilderness to practice with it. They had shot and killed a rabbit and had eaten it for dinner that night.
            He opened his eyes.
            The horse was bearing down on him. He quickly sighted in on one of the horse’s knees and gently put pressure on the trigger. The bolt flew down the shaft of the bow and out the nut toward its target. Loran saw his bolt pierce the knee of the monster but it did not flinch or slow its movement. The undead horse was just a few feet away now. He quickly reset his bow and reached for another bolt. The horse reared up on its hind legs, ready to crush him under its weight. Loran closed his eyes and braced for the impact that did not come.
            As he opened his eyes, he saw the Orc driving the horse to the ground on its side. The Orc took up his sword and struck downward into the monster’s neck. There was no spray of blood, no outburst of escaping air, the creature just shuddered and fell limp, pieces of it falling away as if it were made of dust. Loran stared at the Orc, its chest rising and falling with each deep breath. The Orc turned toward Loran, its eyes were glazed over with the red fury of a berserker rage. It took two slow steps forward and then suddenly it jerked to a halt. The Orc’s pupils dilated and it dropped the sword out of its hand. Loran exhaled a breath he didn’t remember holding in.
            “Are you guys alright over there?” That was Jax’s voice, cutting through the silence that had befallen the room.
            “Yeah, we’re all fine here. Just great. How’re you?” replied Loran, the adrenaline fueled words spilling out of his mouth.
            “Who’s your friend here?” asked Eldaran as he slowly approached the Orc, rapier drawn.
            “Oh him, he’s not dangerous. Well, not exactly. He’s a friend,” said Loran, his words were slowing down as he gained control of his body.
            “My name is Caran and I have been a prisoner for a long time. Your friend set me free,” replied the Orc, sounding as eloquent as before, no hint of his berserker rage left.
            “Interesting,” said Eldaran as he sheathed his rapier.
            “Guys, I think you had better come look at this,” Syre’s voice rang out across the room near the center. She was standing over a small wooden table. On top of the table were a number of odd looking devices, no doubt the very magical devices they had been sent to find.
            “Is there anything else in here?” asked Eldaran sounding very disappointed. He was probably hoping for more stacks of gold bricks.
            “Just this old boat,” said Jax from the back of the room. He was standing next to an old wooden rowboat that had seen better days. There were holes in the bottom of it and the wood looked like it was rotting. Syre joined Jax near the boat and Loran and Caran walked over to examine it too. As soon as Syre spotted Caran, every muscle in her body tensed up and she grew visibly on edge.
            “What is that, thing, doing here?” she said through gritted teeth.
            “That “thing” is a friend, not to worry,” replied Loran.
            “No Orc is a friend of mine,” she spat back and stormed off towards the entrance to the room.
            “Look, it looks like there are markings on the floor. It looks like this boat has been dragged along here many times,” said Eldaran. He was kneeling near the front of the boat and sure enough, there were gouges and groves leading from the boat towards the portal to the large cavern.
            “What do we do with it?” asked Vera motioning toward the boat.
            “Nothing for now, just leave it. Eldaran, you go gather those magical devices and let’s get out of here,” said Jax.
            Eldaran walked over to the wooden table and placed all of the stolen objects into his pack. The rest of them walked out of the hollow into the larger cavern. They found Syre looking around the edge of the landing where the torches that had lit the way should have been. They were no where to be seen. In fact, the large cavern seemed to be devoid of anything, the other pillars of stone were lost in the dark. Even the column of light where the trapdoor had been, all the way across the cavern, was gone.
            “We have to go find those torches we brought with us in to that room,” called Syre.
            “It’s too late for that,” said Jax, nodding back into the cavern. The light from the trapdoor had returned and four small figures descended as though carried by the air itself. “Quick, Caran, with me. We need to figure out what that boat is all about.”
            Caran retreated into the hollow with Jax as Eldaran walked out onto the landing. Loran looked at his hand crossbow in his hand and started to reload it with a fresh bolt.
            “I don’t think that’ll do much good,” said Eldaran staring at the four figures closing swiftly. They were still being carried upon the air and had crossed almost half the cavern. Loran looked over at Syre who also had her own crossbow out and was in the process of loading it. He returned to his own crossbow and continued to prepare for another round, better to be prepared than to be caught off guard. A dull thump sounded from behind them, Jax and Caran had returned with the old boat.
            “Come on, get in,” called Jax.
            The six of them piled into the boat so that they were all standing shoulder to shoulder. They stood there in silence for a few moments, waiting for something to happen. The four figures grew ever closer, they were only a couple hundred feet away now.
            “Maybe there’s a word that activates it?” said Eldaran breaking their confusion.
            At once they all started shouting words that might be connected with a magic portal or a boat.
            “Ascend!” “Up, up and away!”
            Nothing happened.
            “Seafell!” “Land Ho!”
            One of the four figures had sprouted wings and was growing in size and length, the figure was transforming into a small dragon.
            “Go boat, go!” “Teleport us now!”
            At the moment the four figures reached the landing Loran could hear Vera reciting some magical incantation. Suddenly the cavern blinked away and Loran could feel himself being pulled though time and space.

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