[Fanfiction] Wind-Whisperer (1st book) - Chapter 4

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[Fanfiction] Wind-Whisperer (1st book) - Chapter 4

Post by Ommariuolo »

Chapter 4 – Escape
“Luckily Derata gave us torches.” Darwin Silverhair muttered as they made their way briskly through the narrow low hallway. They followed one another; Goren had taken in the middle.
“And you thought that there is a window?” Master Altar growled and sneezed. “Here the air is stagnant and there’s a lot of dust, I was about to suffocate!”
“If there were windows, we could be open them,” the governor briefly commented. He ran with his arms outstretched to see at least a few steps. Outside the light of the torch, there was pitch-black. The tar-soot under the shine wasn't helping to improve the air.
It went downhill steadily and therefore quickly. The old wizard was groaning and soon gasped; he was no longer used to such an extreme march. Joints of his spindly legs creaked with every step. But Darwin hadn’t experienced problems, his body was in great shape, except for a slight excess of weight because of the addiction to the dark beer. He always liked long walks that promised a break from everyday sedentary work.
Goren just stumbled there; he seemed to have gone blind and deaf. If he stopped for no apparent reason, Master Altar would have to nudge him vigorously to continue. The boy said nothing, and the two men left him alone.
Finally, the passage narrowed and turned into a pipe.
“We have reached the ditch, now it goes under it.” Darwin announced. “We’ll have to crawl.”
“What? But here it’s damp and musty, and it stinks! I'm not dressed for that!” the alchemist complained.
“Neither do I, Altar, and stop complaining like an old goat, it’s now inappropriate! We should be happy that we can save our bare skin.” Darwin Silverhair down on all fours, continuing to pull out his hand, and began to crawl.
The others followed him. After a short time everyone was full of mud and dirt; it was cold and they peered suspiciously up at the ceiling several times, which hopefully held and didn't suddenly collapse. Being crushed, drowned, and torn away by falling water was not a pleasant idea.
Darwin Silverhair appreciated the distance they traveled and was confident. The trench around Lyraine wasn’t wide, just so that it could not simply be overridden. After all, it had served its purpose for two weeks.
Derata originally intended to pour oil on the water and set it on fire, but Ruorim Blackbeard had successfully prevented this with a spell, which Master Altar was still angry about.
“He calls himself a mage!” he snorted loudly when he remembered it. “That will cost him a few days of life, right?”
“He will have time to recover now.” it came from the governor. “Ah! It gets wider there! The ditch is behind us!”
“It’s time,” Altar grumbled. He had just accidentally dropped the torch which had instantly burned down, and it had gone out in the mud bath. The only source of light now came only from the dim light that Darwin was holding ahead.
Altar was the last to come out from the low passage and scrambled to his feet. With a disgusted face he tried to wipe off the mud. He shivered from the cold, the clothes stuck to his skinny body, making him appear even more frail.
In goose march and slightly crouched posture, they went steadily upwards. Master Altar quickly warmed up. He breathed and snorted and stumbled more and more. Suddenly Goren stopped, and Altar almost bumped into him.
“What is –” he began to bicker, but he fell silent when Goren grabbed his arms, turned back and then pulled the little man with a jerk on his broad back like a travel bag. Packed like this, he trotted along the passage silently, followed by Darwin. Altar preferred to remain silent. He got dizzy from the unusual way of getting around, but his feet burned like fire and he was completely out of breath. He didn't want to quarrel with the boy.
“The torch will go out!” the governor warned. “I hope the walk isn’t very long anymore, otherwise we have to keep groping in the pitch dark.”
Goren caught up; he didn't seem to notice his master's weight at all. It was still going uphill.
Then the torch went out and Darwin hit a wall a few moments later with a startled cry.
“The course is over!” he whispered.
Goren took off Master Altar, groped his way to the side of the governor, and touched the wall. His fingers searched for a crack, an opening mechanism, anything.
“I hope you find something soon,” Darwin muttered.
“Hopefully he won't move first the lever that causes the corridor to collapse.” Master Altar remarked with a crackling voice. He cleared his throat and sneezed again. “If I had my wand here, I could turn on a light.”
“If I could do magic, I would lock your mouth,” Darwin Silverhair replied.
Thereupon Altar was silent, feeling himself insulted, but nobody noticed in the dark.
Goren breathed shallowly, concentrating on the sense of touch of his fingers and the low, muffled sound of knocking on the wall. It was made of wood, so it had to be the exit.
Suddenly there was a click, and then a narrow door swung open.
The men closed blinded eyes; the light streaming in was painful. But immediately they felt relieved and greedily sucked in the fresh, mildly warm air.
“Quiet,” Goren hissed softly. He pushed out and listen calmly. If they were expected, the enemies had to show their martial art.
When his eyes had become somewhat used to daylight, Goren took a step out.
He paused in amazement. “That’s the Old Man,” he stated; these were his first words since the beginning of the escape. The Old Man was almost as old as the Skystriker, a huge willow, resembling a man long weeping. It had only six strong, spreading branches; the rest had long since been broken up by time and weather. But these remaining branches bore leaves that hung from long twigs like a curtain and obstructed the view of the hollow trunk.
“She always told me that the Old Man devours children,” he murmured. “All the children avoided him, and when I was younger I hardly dared to go near him.”
Darwin Silverhair put a hand on his shoulder: “Your mother thought everything, Goren, and in her wise prevision she planned all in advance.”
“You could say so!” Master Altar giggled from the background. He picked up a leather travel bag that had been hidden in a hollow root. “I bet with you that there are provisions in there!” He opened the bag and brought out dried meat, bread and dried fruit. “Unfortunately, no candied fruit,” he stated grieved. “I could use some of that to strengthen myself, right?”
Goren returned to the secret passage and looked for the latch that Derata had described. Finally his fingers felt a kind of branch that gave way after a short pull. He hastily closed the door when a huge rumble sounded from the inside and the entire corridor collapsed.
“Building a new one will costs a lot again,” Darwin sighed.
“This was probably not expensive,” Goren remarked critically. He took the bag from Altar, stuffed the scattered things back in and shouldered it. “We shouldn't linger too long. Let's find out about that location.”

In these places Goren oriented perfectly; the Old Man grew up on a hill. They climbed back up, trying to hide among the trees. But so far everything has been quiet and peaceful. It was evening, the birds took a short break in singing, and most of the forest animals were somewhere in the thicket.
From the top of the hill they had a good view of Lyraine. On the west side of the hill the Skystriker rose from the forest sea, far beyond the elevation. The city was to the north.
Or rather, what's left of it. Darwin Silverhair’s eyes filled with tears when he saw only black smoke and blazing fire. There were big holes in the city walls; in some sections they had completely collapsed. Many houses were only ruins. Armed with whips, soldiers drove people out of the city like a herd of cattle. The winners found almost no supplies, which led them to devastating tantrums against the fortress. They knocked over statues, threw rotten fruit against the walls, devastated the garden. Master Altar's tower, the highest elevation of the fortress, no longer stood. Soldiers dragged precious carpets, furniture and fine decorative items outdoors and threw everything onto a large pile that they set on fire.
“These uncivilized savages,” alchemist quietly sobbed. “They destroy irreplaceable witnesses of the past that I have collected over decades... and my research... my magic tools... I am the poorest man in Eo...”
“None of us owns anything anymore,” let Goren be heard from the background. He set up an improvised camp by trying to make a kind of tent with cloths and blankets, which he combined with bushes, and collected moss for a somewhat softer surface to lie on. “But are we not born like this?”
“Wise words for a youngster, right?” remarked the Master in a bad mood and turned to Goren. “What are you doing there?”
“We’ll spend the night here, because in two hours the sun will go down,” Goren said. “The place’s very good, there’s an excellent all-round visibility, and anyone who sneaks up will soon be discovered. Although I don’t think that we’ve been looking for; at the moment they’re far too busy with the destruction. They assume that neither of you can get far, and they don't know anything about me.”
“What does he mean?” Altar turned to the governor with an indignant expression on his face.
“He's right,” Darwin Silverhair sighs, “we're scientists, theorists, my dear friend. For decades we have buried ourselves in the libraries and weakened our eyes from reading a lot, but we don't understand the least about warfare and even less about being a nomad. We should be glad that Goren is with us. I actually hope that with him we can escape these rogues.”
“What, what,” Master Altar replied indignantly. “Should we rely on have nothing? And spend the night here, in our dirty clothes wet with slime and smell like pig piss? Without a bed, in the open air, right?”
“Much worse,” Goren muttered. “We can’t light a fire to dry clothes and cook the meat. It will be a cold, damp night, and dinner will be very poor.”
“It’s beneath my dignity! I strongly protest!”, Altar whined.
“You’ve no choice,” Goren calmly said. “There’s no cozy hostel within three hours, but rather in thirty or more. And I'm a have-not, unlike you.” He got up and approached the Master, whose eyeglass almost fell from his nose as if Goren were building up before him. “I’m young, I have a sword, a knife and I’m a warrior. I never slept in soft beds and ate at finely set tables. So I must go on with nothing, and now I have more than you.”
“Yes, above all a naughty language, little boy, right?” the little old man growled and narrowed his eyes from which angry flashes shot.
Goren turned away and reached for an empty wineskin that was in a side pocket of the travel bag. “A small stream flows below the other side. I’ll get water. You should pay attention to the environment and hide if necessary, preferably down in the Old Man. I’ll be back soon.”
“Alright, boy,” Darwin Silverhair said and tried a weak smile that should look confident. But his eyes revealed the soul of a broken man.

Goren soon returned with a full wineskin of water and a few wild herbs and edible roots that could slightly vary their meager meal. The two older ones crouched down as best they could and tried to pretend that this was just a common excursion.
“And how should it go on now?” Altar finally asked, chewing on a root with blunt teeth, making a face as if he was biting a dead rat.
“Let's try to get to the south, to Connach,” Darwin Silverhair said. “There we will be kept at least for a few nights. From there I will seek help to get Lyraine back.”
“Connach is located on the edge of the woods, right?” Goren asked.
The governor nodded: “If we're on the move, we need three or four day trips.”
“I've never been so far,” Goren murmured. Especially not on foot. He missed Golenbolt painfully.
“You're still going to leave this summer, boy. Then your journey begins a little earlier,” Darwin said in a comforting tone.
Altar took off his boots and rubbed his blue-frozen feet. “I already have a blister,” he moaned. “Poor me, poor, become a vagabond in old age, instead of sitting peacefully in front of the fireplace and enjoying the long evenings with good readings...”
Young Shaikan was silent, staring at the tips of his boots. The leather armour and the weapon were the only things left as a memory of his mother. He couldn’t even pick up her shirt with the coat of arms. Whether she was buried in an honorable way or simply thrown into a mass grave together with the other victims, like unwanted felons?
Goren felt a quiver that soon spread to his whole body as a tremor. Time and time again he saw Ruorim before him insidiously outsmarting Goren's mother and then cruelly murdering him.
His father.
Since he was a child, Goren had often wished that his father would come one day and then the others would change their minds about him as they realized he was a hero. Goren had never dreamed that his father, of all people, would be the one he hated more than anything in the world, whom he wished to die, and whom he would take vengeance on even before the year ran out. For everything he had done to Goren's mother, he should suffer and regret it before his head rolled off the pavement, separated from his body.
Ruorim Blackbeard, Ruorim Blackbeard, he thought in rotating circles like a meditation lyrics. He’ll never forget this name, he was going to accompany Goren every day from now on, to trace the journeys of his way. He had found his destination faster than he thought.
And when he thought of it, he saw again Derata, his proud mother, as a high and beautiful appearance, until her last moment together, her short but intimate hug. And then her great struggle, dishonored by cowardice and trickery.
Goren hugged his knees, hid his face in them and gave way to tears. He could not restrained. He hadn't cried since that long past day, when he was nine, since the martyrdom of dragging water. He had tried to be as tough and strong as his mother, and he had strived for her to be proud of him, to pay tribute to him one day and to be reconciled with her life.
Now she was dead, and Goren had been largely lonely so far, but peaceful life had been broken up into pieces and burned in the city fire. From one moment to the next.
Mother, Goren thought in despair. He missed her so much. She was always the center of his tiny world, he took her as an example, she shared his loneliness with him. She was still young, in the full bloom of her years, and she could have turned gray in honor. Goren had always wanted his mother to be more gentle and indulgent in old age and still decide to live with a man when Goren had grown up and moved out to honor her.
But a treacherous Shaikan had insidiously murdered her, who neither cared for honor nor their connection, belonging to the same people that no one else respected.
With her death, Derata had given to Goren one final lesson: justice didn’t always prevail and one always had to be on guard. Even before blood relatives.

When Goren returned from his immersion into the hollow darkness, he noticed in the dim starlight that Darwin and Altar had laid down on the moss under the makeshift roof and were apparently sleeping. At least the old master, who was lying on his back with his mouth open and snoring softly.
Goren knew he had to get some sleep; the day was long and hard, and from tomorrow there was a dangerous walk ahead of them. But it was cold, and his head was still seething from melancholy thoughts; he was unable to close his eyes now. Especially that at least one of them should have to watch the dawn. One never knew when the soldiers would think to attack.
It was his first night in the open air. Goren watched the distant sparkle of the stars through the open leaf roof. The silver crescent moon was just rising behind Lyraine's burning ruins. Nor, the Renegade, the Silent God, must have enjoyed what his pale eyes saw there. And probably he praised his servant Ruorim for the cruel slaughter and granted him a favor.
Goren put a root in his mouth and bit on it; not out of hunger, but because he wanted to be busy. A mighty fire burned in him, similar to Hargim the Blacksmith's, when he made a piece of armour and needed particularly raging flames. The young Shaikan would have preferred to run down the hill to Lyraine to storm against the enemy until his strength was exhausted.
But now he had to sit still and guard the men Derata had entrusted to him. He had to fulfill this duty; he would take them to safety. But after that he was free and could go on his very own revenge. Derata had warned him not to get too close to his father, but Goren wouldn’t run away. On the contrary.
It was very quiet, now. Even the beasts of the night had gone to rest. The coldest hour was approaching, when the breath of death grazed the living and made them shiver. Goren sat very still, chewing on the root and watching the stars. Only when the night was halfway through did he nod a little as he was sitting.

At dawn Goren woke. He was cold; his limbs were stiff from the uncomfortable posture and he got up heavily. A faint glimmer was visible on the eastern horizon, and the light of the stars slowly went out. Lyraine's fires had ceased to a faint glow, and the smoke grew weaker and narrower. Nothing moved down there anymore. Ruorim might have already moved on because there was nothing to get. That would be at least a weak glimmer of hope for Darwin Silverhair. Then his city wouldn’t be completely lost.
Goren did some exercises, putting in order the muscles and joints. Then he picked the tallest tree and slowly climbed up. Before they left, he wanted to know from the winds whether there was any danger.
But he didn't need to ask anymore. He saw it with his own eyes, without any vision. Towards south and east, as far as the eye could see, a huge blaze ran like a wall along several hundred spear lengths and destroyed everything on the way; trees that had seen for centuries, groves, burrows and animals that couldn’t escape in time.
Goren's heart clenched when he saw that devastation. Burning treetops, old giants that collapsed, screeching birds that rose in flocks and helplessly circled over their destroyed home. He saw how predators and preys fled side by side, away from the sea of flames, which hot breath blew in Goren’s face even up here.
In great hurry he climbed down the tree and woke the two men. “Wake up! We have to go immediately!”
Master Altar sat up, blinking sleepily. “What, without breakfast?”
“You wouldn't care about that because it was just a repeat of last evening,” Goren replied. “Let's put it off later if you're really hungry.” He tapped the moss from the old man's clothes and carefully placed it on the thin legs. Then he held out his hands to Darwin Silverhair.
The governor grabbed them pulled himself up. “What happened?”
“Ruorim must have divided his army, because the forest is burning towards Connach,” Goren replied as he quickly packed up her few belongings. “We must assume that he attacked both cities at the same time – and with success.”
Darwin Silverhair clenched his fists. “Damn,” he said quietly. “I hope that my messenger had time, so they were somehow prepared.”
“Then, north,” Altar noted and adjusted his eyeglass. “Sevenkeeps, or even Norimar. He couldn’t be everywhere, right?” He studied Goren carefully. “You had a difficult night, poor boy,” he said sympathetically. His usual bad mood seemed to be gone, although he was a little crooked; a small miracle after the hard, cold night's sleep. But he seemed to have realized that for the time being they were on their own and dependent on Goren.
“You slept surprisingly well,” Goren slipped out involuntarily.
“That was the despair,” the old mage grinned. “In addition, I am still quite exhausted from the hard protective spells.”
“Come on,” Darwin hurry them. He seemed calm and balanced, as always. But the shine was gone from his eyes. “Maybe down the road we’ll meet someone from the lucky ones who managed to escape death.”
“We’ll keep an eye out for them,” the young Shaikan promised. “But if I can suggest, we shouldn't venture too close to Lyraine. Even if Ruorim departed, he's guaranteed to leave some guards looking for you.”
“Then it’s better to make a detour through the rapids,” Altar said. “From there, a narrow path leads through thick forest into the grass steps, which aren’t accessible to riders. Only a few people still know this old way today, so it could be safe.”

For most of the day they walked in silence. Everyone tried to cope with the tragedy in their own way and wondered the chances of reaching alive Sevenkeeps or Norimar. And what they might find there.
Goren found it difficult to adapt to the step of the older men. He repeatedly fell into wolf-like trot and ran ahead to scout the area. He was nervous because he felt responsible for them, but hadn't really grow this task. Tonight, he knew, he would have to light a fire and hunt for fresh meat, otherwise Darwin and Altar couldn’t hold out much longer. Above all, he had to offer them a little comfort in this dark hour so that they didn't give up on themselves. Because in such case Ruorim had finally won.
At lunchtime they took only a short break. Darwin and Altar were so exhausted that they didn't want to eat, but at least they drank plenty. Tiara danced across the cloudless sky and sent springlike warmth down to the continent. After all, the billowing green, leafy roof offered protection from the strong rays and conjured up light and shadow images on the floor that were constantly changing due to gently rocking movements. A sight that the three escaped had enjoyed very much under normal circumstances. But nobody seemed to be feeling exuberant today, even the bird's constant wedding song was almost silent, only in between there was a quiet cheep. That was probably due to the slight smell of smoke in the air, and there was probably more to be felt for more sophisticated senses – fear and suffering.
Although Goren advised a longer break, Darwin and Altar wanted to continue; they already seemed to be beyond exhaustion and pain. So they continued the march through the leafy woods, sometimes gratefully feeling thick moss carpets under their feet, which steamed and gave way to their steps, or rustling through the leaves of past years, which smelled pleasantly of earth and mushrooms.
During the afternoon they walked undisturbed. Lyraine’s smoldering ruins were left far behind. Goren would like to leave behind his memories and look calmly into the future.
When he noticed that Altar almost fell asleep while walking, he quickly ran ahead and looked for a good place to camp. He actually discovered a small place nearby, surrounded by mighty old trees, the leaf roof of which offered good protection from the weather from above. To get there, they had to fight their way through dry thickets that no attacker could pass unheard of. In the middle, Goren was able to dig out a hollow for a fireplace, and if he did it skillfully, he could keep the flames small and the smoke as low as possible. He returned and told the two men that he had found a good place – and that there would be fresh venison tonight. “The hares often have their burrows under the roots of such large, old trees. Surely I can kill one.”
They didn't admit it, but Altar and Darwin were happy to finally be allowed to rest, in a sheltered place, and possibly by the fire. The sun had long dried their clothes and warmed them sufficiently, but soon the damp coolness of the night would fall again.
“We can really relax there,” Master Altar sighs, just plopped down on the floor and stretched out all four. “With a warm meal in the belly and a quiet night, we’ll definitely make headway tomorrow, right?”
“Especially you, codger,” Darwin Silverhair said. “You’ve to eat a lot today, your bones are only held together by your old skin.”
But the old mage no longer heard him; he was already asleep.
Goren distributed the blankets, got a little moss as a mat and gave Darwin the storage bag. “We'll only make fire when I get back,” he said. “It’s still warm enough. Keep quiet. I’ll be back soon.”

Goren found a small stump from which he carefully poured water, and then he stopped to look for a hare’s burrow. His mother had often sent him away with a hunter when he was thirteen so that he could learn the secrets of the forest. That benefited him now.
Yes, she always thought of everything, he considered and felt a short, painful stab in the chest, which he immediately pushed away vigorously.
He laid out a trap and went in wait. And after a while a sniffing, lively nose actually appeared at the entrance to the building. Followed shortly afterwards by a spherical, round body with powerful hind feet and a steeply raised curly tail. The hare raised his huge ears, stood on his hind legs and secured himself in the area.
Goren held his breath.
Hares were curious and never averse to pleasurable things. Goren had dug out a truffle bulb, the scent of which made his mouth water.
The hare couldn't resist either. It slowly pushed towards the truffle bulb, sniffed and toothed with powerful, pointed long front teeth. It began to drool greedily. Then all caution was gone and it fell on the bulb.
Goren hastily pulled on the sling.
“Today there’s hare filled with truffles,” he murmured as he pulled the wriggling animal towards him and ended his life quickly and painlessly with a clean cut.
Satisfied, almost cheerful, he made his way back – and by no means too early, because the shadows were getting longer.

Halfway he heard a noise.
A cry that came from the depth of the pain.
Goren dropped the hare, drawn his sword from its scabbard and stormed off. He appeared unexpectedly to the attackers on the battlefield and fell upon them like an angry storm. They were orcs and a troll, and the first two fell quickly, as long as Goren had the advantage of surprise on his side. Goren's sword was sharp, his arm strong, and above all he was driven by hatred and anger.
They had dragged Master Altar and Darwin Silverhair out of their hiding place; presumably the troll's fine nose had made out the smell of human beings, and like Gorem at the hare burrow they ambushed and waited for the most favorable moment.
Goren roared with physical strength to make it clear that he couldn’t be handled as easily as with the unarmed old men. After slicing open the belly of the first orc and knocking off the head of the second, he turned to the next, but he was already expecting his attack and fending it off with a roughly-forged, heavy broadsword. The others let go Altar and Silverhair and turned against Goren, who was now facing four opponents.
It was hardly conceivable that these hulking orcs, created only for war, had once derived from the ethereal elves. They weren't even a distorted image of them anymore, apart from the long, pointed ears, maybe. Their skin was a poison green shade, their eyes sparkled red and evil, and they had broad jaws with strong teeth. They were heavy and sturdy, but still perfect in combat, fast and accurate.
Goren had no choice but to quickly dive under their blows and make sure that they were mutilated.
In the days of the siege of Lyraine, he had learned to fight seriously and to kill quickly. He didn’t allow himself to be distracted by his feelings, but concentrated solely on not taking his eyes off his opponents and anticipating their next steps.
They were outnumbered, and each and every one of them was stronger and more powerful than he was. But they had no particular fighting style. They just went briskly and hit. So Goren put himself on the defensive, avoided them, set cunning and strategy against pure physical strength.
He also noticed that Master Altar held Darwin Silverhair by the hand, raised the other hand and moved his lips. He probably tried to put a protective spell around both of them, and he would certainly have succeeded on a rested day that had not been preceded by strenuous magical spells. But so a blue field flickered only briefly, which immediately collapsed again. Altar staggered wearily, and Darwin support him. He moved his lips a second time and made signs in the air with his hand, and again a faintly shimmering field formed.
Goren tried to distract the orcs so long that his master had enough time to summon the spell.
But there was still the troll. A primitive, stupid creature with rock-gray skin and blunt eyes, but one and a half man-tall and incredibly violent. When the field went out again, he didn’t dither for long. He raised his huge spiked club and struck.
No!” Goren cried. Desperation gave him immense power, and he threw himself on the orcs like a berserker and instantly struck down two others who, in this condition, could no longer resist.
But then something hit him on the back of the head. His eyes darkened and he fell to the ground, panting. But he didn't give up that easily. He crawled a little way towards the two old men. Darwin Silverhair laid on its back and didn’t move. Master Altar stared directly into Goren's eyes. The boy saw that his teacher's gaze clouded with pain. The blood flowed from his left cheek in streams.
“Master,” Goren whispered falling into despair.
Master Altar barely smiled. “Brave boy,” he burst out. A fine red stream ran from the corner of his mouth. “Never forget who you really are and trust...”
He couldn't finish speaking. Goren tried to pull himself up to stop the troll who took the second hit. “Please!” he pleaded, pain and fear obscured his vision, and full of gray he saw the club go down a second time. And again.
A second blow also hit Goren; his world finally turned black and he fell forward.
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