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The ancient trees creaked while the wind blew past. The twigs snapped under Goddar’s feet covered in mud, while he ran away from the trodden path away from Vertrock. He looked up at the trees towering around them. He continued to carry Destin, but fatigue was taking over faster than anticipated. “Not far enough yet…” He said checking his surroundings, “Gotta keep moving.”

Knowing the orcs would hunt down every last slave who escaped, Goddar estimated he had mere minutes until the orcs picked up their scent. swift movement he needed to hide fast. He remembered the terrain around him from before Vertrock, but the world around had altered beyond recognition. “Wake up, wake up!” He pleaded.

A roar was heard in the distance not too far from them, Goddar froze a moment, estimating exactly how far he believed the orc was by the sound. His guess, though vague, was too close for comfort, causing him to book it further into the wooded area. Being around orcs for as long as he had been allowed him to know just how lethal and quick they were. If nightfall hit, Destin and him were as good as dead.

They were on the outskirts of the mountain range, and if he had remembered correctly he could travel northeast making it to Orrinshire by the following night. The forest around him confused Goddar’s sense of direction. The trees above him blotting out what little sunlight Vertrock provided.

He paused for a moment checking his surroundings taking note of the thick foliage. Anything to give them a few extra moments for Destin to recover would be more than gracious. “Think, think! Come on Goddar!” he said to himself. He studied the environment until in the distance he noticed a grove of thick bushes. It was better than nothing with how much his energy had been drained. He hobbled over carrying Destin’s body both secluded in the brush, “All I’m saying is if you’re grouchy after your nap, there are going to be problems.”

Destin laid face up motionless, anyone looking at him would believe he was dead. The woodland stood quiet in the overcast of the day not a sound to disturb it's slumber. Now all they had to do was wait, knowing that if anything the search would commence long into the night. The vendetta the orcs possessed would create such a drive that Destin and Goddar would only be safe outside of Perdition.

The grass swayed in the wind with a crack of a twig from a distant tree. Goddar shifted his focus eastward near the edge of the brush trying to pinpoint the cause of the break. He watched careful to not disturb the world around him, hidden, appearing as common as dirt. Orc? No couldn’t be they wouldn’t dare be so careless as to give away their position.

A man stumbled into the grassy field in front of the dwarf, his panicked, sporadic movements causing more noise. Goddar’s anxiety flooded in, begging that the human would stay still, compose himself, anything to not give away his position. The man spoke out in gibberish, his entire body shaking. It was obvious, the man had no idea where he was. He rested against a tree flinching while checking his surroundings.

The tree cover grew thicker the more you ventured into the forest giving you no true point of reference, the trees practically blocked out the misty sky. This made it nearly impossible to spot orcs, let alone any type of life. Like the serpent about to strike its prey, orcs were nearly indiscernible in the darkness.

“Not out in the open!” Goddar said to himself, “You fool! You’re in the open.” His heart pounded knowing the human’s fate was sealed by his own stupidity and panic.

An arrow flew between the trees, hitting its target in the gut as the man cried out in pain. Goddar realized the orcs had taken their longbows which stretched nearly their entire height. The arrows the bows fired were far thicker than the average bow, and a much more dangerous hit. The man was trapped, and his sentence was set. Death. He knew his fate was sealed screaming out in horror as in the darkness appeared the one who fired the shot with a sinister smile.

The dwarf could do nothing to help due to giving his position away. All he could do was watch the man clenched his stomach while his hands held in the blood. The orc came plainly into view walking towards his victim, putting the bow away, and unsheathing his sword. All the man could do was squirm and struggle. He tried to break the arrow but with the leverage he had he was unable to.

Goddar’s breathing became rushed and harsh as he put his head down to not see the finishing blow. The tree trunk shook with the sound of cutting flesh. The leaves fell to the ground around the orc who took another swing at the human’s head, this time fully decapitating the slave. The head rolled to the orcs feet. Picking up his newly acquired prize from the bloodied ground, he let out a roar, raising the severed head high into the air.

Goddar head rose from the dirt at the result of the carnage when he saw the head was tied around the orcs belt by the hair. “They are claiming them! A game? That would explain the roars. Every roar is a kill.”

Destin shot upright, gasping for air like he had been submerged under water for an eternity. As swiftly as he rose Goddar covered Destin’s mouth to quiet him, but it was far too late. The orc was fixated on their location already charging. His breath appeared through his nose huffing fast as he briskly sprinted towards the bushes. Sword drawn, he thirsted for more blood. In a instant at the foot of the bushes, another orc charged in tackling the first orc while stabbing him in the arm.

He pushed the enemy away observing the orc’s belt. Two human heads claimed. He pulled the elongated dagger out, showing no signs of pain. He slowly licked the blade with his cerulean tongue while staring down the opposition. With a few beats of his arm against his chest plate he pressed forward, lunging his sword forward before being parried. The clash of metal sounded through the forest, each exchanging blows equal in their ability with the sword. Like two carnivorous animals fighting for the kill these two orcs battled.

Goddar gritted his teeth at the performance he was witnessing, his heart violently racing on the verge of making him sick. Destin had quieted down breathing normally, slowly regaining function of his body as he begun to move more freely. Remaining absolutely silent, he rolled onto his stomach and observed the fight.

The orc staggered back with a strong blow from his opponent who continued to wail on him, blow after blow until he relinquished his sword from his grasps. He was bested, and threw his one sword into the ground before giving up the head he had claimed.

The orc's fearsome roar claimed victory to the battle receiving the severed head. He added it with the others, admiring the trophies he had. Sheathing his sword, he picked up his knife on the ground, and wiped it on the cloth of the orc’s shoulder, rubbing in the defeat. The other could only kneel, taking it. The knife then stabbed the orc under the jaw, the blood pouring out.

The knife was firmly in its skull, his final moments were a death stare down to the bush staring directly at Goddar as his world faded to black with death greeting him. His body slumped over and was thrown violently to the ground by the orc. The victorious orc sprinting off for the hunt of more heads.

Destin and Goddar let out a relieving sign as each rolled onto their backs looking upward. Complete silence. No words could accurately describe the magnitude of what they had been through together. It had began to take its toll. Destin’s eyes couldn’t help but be tearful with the amount of death and horror he had witnessed today. On top of that, the realization of his freedom. No longer would he have to wake up wondering if today was his last day. His life was his again.

His hands gripped the dirt, tears still falling. Still in danger the brunt of it was over. The cool breeze never quite felt so good. A drop of rain hit Destin’s forehead as a smile broke through. He wiped his tears away from his sapphire eyes the world he once knew now fading away into the darkness forever.

“You crying boy?” The dwarf quietly asked.

Destin shoved Goddar playfully, “No! I just had a bunch of rain drops hit my eyes.”

Goddar’s countenance brightened like a new bonfire in a great hall. They realized this new moisture would conceal their scent. He let out a quiet laugh his hand resting on his forehead. Destin watched and begun to quietly laugh as well as they sat back allowing themselves to get soaked in the rain.

They quietly rested for a few hours the rain continuing to pour down. Once Destin was near full strength they both decided to stealthily tread through the forest hoping for some sort of refuge. Managing to hike a number of miles eastward, they hoped to eventually reach Orrinshire. They lost track of the day with the constant cloud cover. Still, Goddar assumed they had traveled roughly three miles away from Vertrock.

The forest began to develop more towards rugged terrain and though the rain had finally stopped, the sense of danger still weighed over them. “We can’t stop yet. The orcs are more dangerous at night and who knows what lengths they will go to find us. Keep moving!” Goddar said assessing the situation. “Just imagine the feast we will have once we are in Orrinshire. I hope the inn is still run by the same lot. Mighty fine meats and brews they have!”

It was a pleasant thought to say the least, but without any money the fact of that said feast to happen was slim to none. Nevertheless, it kept their morale high which was more than needed. Though the strain of long days in the mines conditioned them for this moment. The majority of their energy was used on the fight and seeing as they had no sustenance in some time their energy was greatly diminishing.

They climbed down a small cliff side continuing to maneuver in the brush of the now woodland. The stream guided their way towards what they believed to be the Arian River which ultimately lead to Orrinshire. The mountainous region mixed with the forest concealed most ways of judging direction, sound would be their best bet.

“If anything, for tonight the main river should carry with it fish which would still provide a solid meal.” Destin thought out loud.

Goddar agreed wholeheartedly. Looking back at Destin pointing in front of him, “With how we’ve moved it shouldn’t be much further at all, but we will not make it to any port tonight.” He moved a branch higher for the both to safely walk under, “But we will make it by the next night at the latest.”

Rocks toppled down the hillside in the distance as Goddar held back his hand stopping Destin in his tracks. Goddar studied the field around him where he heard the break hoping it was nothing more than an animal. “Back away slowly.” He whispered to Destin moving back.

Attempting to blend into the shadows they leaned against the cliff side they had just climbed down. With no clear picture as to what they were facing, both aimed at striving to stay hidden. The chance of it being an animal was fairly high but no chance was going to be taken.

Crouched down in the bushes, they peered out reading their field of view. Dead silence, not even the birds or the wind made a sound. All at once an arrow darted through the air landing next to Destin’s head in a tree trunk as he flinched away going instantly into a sprint. “Run!” was all he shouted.

Goddar followed suit though kept some distance from Destin as to not be as easy of a target for whatever hunted them. The brush around them rumbled as they distinctly could hear the ground being kicked up in multiple directions. It wasn’t just one. “Go, keep running! Get to the river!”

Destin battled whether to go back and fight or truly leave as his friend suggested. Without much time to react he directly hastened back to Goddar. Another arrow fired, Destin sensed the danger narrowly dashing behind a tree, the arrow impacting where he hid.

Goddar felt a presence behind him slowly turning to face it as the orc hovered above him, his sword at the ready for the kill. Another two stepped up. Both saw one was Druvairuk a grimacing smile across his face. Druvairuk knelt down next to Goddar feeling the dust on the ground next to him. “Tracked you for miles. Longer than anyone else has made it.” His vile toneless voice mocked. “The Highborn will die as well.” he instinctively glanced directly to where Destin was hiding.

Destin appeared from around the tree trunk he held his hands high slowly stepping towards Druvairuk. Hoping there was some solution to this mess, he scanned their surroundings, but to no avail.

“I’ll be sure to kill you dwarf, but the Highborn we have something much worse in mind!” Druvairuk threatened stabbing Goddar in the shoulder crying out in pain. He twisted the knife further until finally releasing his grip leaving the knife in its place. He stood up keeping a close eye on the Highborn commanding, “Kill the dwarf.”

The orc nodded raising his sword ready for the kill when his head flew back, an arrow lodged in his skull collapsing to the ground. Druvairuk looked around, drawing out his bow and firing where the arrow’s origin was. Nothing fell, no movement was sensed in the area.

Destin’s eyes flared charging towards the two orcs, another arrow flying through the air hitting into Druvairuk leg, his stability gave way now partway kneeling on the ground. Destin picked up the orcs sword with the help of his magic and swung downward at Druvairuk, when all he could do was attempt to block.

A clean cut at Druvairuk forearm sliced nearly through the forearm stopping the blade. Druvairuk swung his fist knocking Destin back before grabbing his knife, and finishing the slice through his arm. He was about to throw the knife at Destin when the arrow flew across the captain’s face.

Another arrow from the west this time dashed through the trees narrowly missing the trunks until finding it's target in the other orcs back. Struggling to get onto his feet Druvairuk stumbled away disappearing into the woodland again. Destin had to let him go, already being exhausted from that small use of magic.

“How bad is it?” Destin asked approaching Goddar.

Goddar sat up with some discomfort, “Ultimately, it won’t be the death of me, still whoever shot those arrows odds are will be.” He left the dagger in for a moment knowing that once it was removed the healing would need to be done quickly ensuring as little blood loss as possible.

They looked around the forest without a sound being heard in the trees. The footsteps walked up towards them revealing a cloaked woman standing near them her bow still drawn out. “Why were they tracking you?”

There was a choice to be made on whether to lie or tell the truth, and seeing as she had the ability to kill either one of them Goddar decided the best thing would be just to plainly explain the situation. “We recently escaped from Vertrock, those were the orcs who had captured us.”

She withdrew her bow, and removed her hood, Goddar noticed her silver hair braided back, eyes darkened like an abyss, her pointed ears declared her race. She was dressed for stealth and dead silent movement as she wore nearly all black. “No one has escaped that stronghold.” She explained in disbelief resting her bow onto her back.

“Ah, well… Yes, we are the first apparently, and possibly the last.” He decided to ask, “You’re Atyri, from the island Galemourne correct?”

Walking up to Goddar and examining the dagger in his shoulder she answered, “Yes, I am. Now brace yourself this will hurt.”

“I thought Atyri never left Galemourne, you haven’t for hundreds of... ” Goddar explanation was cut short with the knife straightway being pulled out. He let out a shrill scream, the blood beginning to flow from the wound. The Atyri searched her satchel for a number of items. She chewed on a herb before spitting it onto her hand and covering the wound. “Nasty.” He said in a high voice.

“It’ll stop the infection and clot the wound, now quiet.” She commanded pulling out a needle and string closing up the last of the wound in a quick stitch.

“And… you are?” Goddar asked. Destin was just watching from afar watching while he recovered his energy.

“I won’t be around long enough for you to remember, now quiet.” She abruptly responded still mending the wound. She laid him back onto the ground to help slow the bleeding. Goddar’s first interaction with any kind of female in a number of years was going about as poorly as could be expected in his opinion.

Goddar watched in complete awe by the workmanship and preciseness she was executing. Questioning internally as to why she was here especially a Atyri. It was understood that the race fully resided in Galemourne. Now to see one in Perdition was exceptionally rare and unusual.

“You’ll live, though I would recommend you not use it for a good while.” She suggested standing up to Destin’s level. Surprisingly, she was about the same height as Destin. It was plainly obvious that he had never seen nor heard of the Atyri.

The dwarf stood up, dusting off his tattered and bloodstained rags. “Thank you for saving us from the orcs.”

“Don’t mention it.” She sternly replied.

“Again, thank…”

Goddar was instantly cut off, “Seriously. Do not mention seeing me.” She checked her surroundings again listening carefully. “I’m not suppose to be here as it were, still it sounds like your orc friend has retreated back, you won’t be seeing him again.”

Turning to Destin with a sigh of relief he said, “Well any more lucky breaks we need to brace ourselves for?”

Cracking a smile Destin just shrugged his shoulders. “Who knows, but we aren’t out of the woods yet.” a slight chuckle broke out between them until Destin felt the world spinning around him. Rushes of light bombarded into Destin’s mind as he attempted to clear the images away. With a whirl of energy concaved into Destin’s mind, he lost his footing and collapsed onto the ground unconscious and shaking profusely.

Goddar in a panic knelt down next to Destin propping his head up as Destin continued violently shook. “Boy? BOY!” He broke into a sweat beginning to panic, he grabbed a stick for Destin to bite on, figuring it was a seizure. “Wake up. Anything?”

Destin’s eyes opened with a piercing blind light making the woodland appear like it was noonday. Goddar quickly bolted up to his feet backing away at the marvel. He shielded his eyes to protect them from the blinding light.

The atyri swooped in from above throwing her dismounted cloak onto Destin’s head partially concealing the light, she drew her daggers out standing in front of Goddar protecting the two, always checking her surroundings. “Explain when this is over.” She commanded without even gazing over to Goddar.

Destin’s mind opened into a vision flooding with images of the environment around him flying above Perdition. He soon found himself hovered above his own body in the sky peering down at his limp body covered by a cloak, Aurella and Goddar protecting his body, though he saw no immediate signs of danger.

Without warning, the view changed to look at the horizon with the sun just beginning to set as the sky glowed vibrantly the peak of Mount Ezor jagged standing above all other landmarks. Go! The disembodied husky voice echoed in Destin’s mind. He suddenly took flight towards the basin of the tallest mountain in the land finding himself in a hidden cavern concealed by the colossal waterfall. Search for me. Watch for the Signal.

Destin abruptly woke gasping for air like a dead man finding breath, his eyes again returning to normal. He noticed that he was being helped up almost aggressively by Aurella. “Now. Explain Highborn!” Her tone strident as she gripped his shirt as it ripping even further. “Why are you here?”

“Why is it suddenly everyone knows this term in the past two days except me?” Destin questioned. Destin looked into her amber eyes distracted slightly by the images of what he had just seen flashing into his mind. Once he was finally able to gather his thoughts together he responded, “You pretty much summed it up. We escaped from Vertrock hours before you found us. As to me being a Highborn, I mean what do you need to know? It's all new to me.”

The atyri lifted him up to his feet causing Destin a little dizziness from the unexpected rush. “I haven’t seen a Highborn in Perdition or the main land in over a hundred years. You don’t know what happened?”

“What do you mean, what happened to y’all?” Goddar intervened, “You’ve been on your island for hundreds of years never so much as leavin’ and now you prancin’ around Perdition?”

Destin knew they both were talking about the history of the land but to him there was nothing odd or in question about it. History was history and it was in the past, and he knew some of it. What they were acting like was a huge part of it was missing.

“What happened to the Highborn? The Magi Syndicate? Any of this ring a bell?! It was only three hundred years ago for crying out loud!” Aurella yelled. With the moment open she fell silent. All Goddar knew is that she seemed like she was going to stick around, to follow Destin to whatever length were possible, that this sight was rare. This opportunity was something her kind had waited centuries for?

“We need to move. The sun will set any moment, what was the vision? She said.

“It was me just flying over this island, I went to a mountain that seemed to be the tallest one around. We apparently need to go there.” Destin explained.

Aurella began walking away northward in the forest. Goddar and Destin didn’t quite know how to react to the sudden abandonment. Turning back she looked at Destin and Goddar confused as to why they weren’t taking point just yet, “We are headed to Mount Eznor.” she said while they stood there unsure of what she was talking about. She sighed in disappointment, “It's the tallest peak in Perdition. I figured the dwarf would recognize such a place!”

“Ha! You’d think that, but eh, never much for that sort of geography around here. The mountains all blend in once you begin to live in them.” He responded starting to follow Aurella.

Catching on to this underlying hint he promptly picked up his pace leading the way to the mountain, their ultimate destination. Destin was caught off guard though, wondering what Aurella was still doing here, leading and protecting them towards a mountain from a vision of his. What caused such a change? Still, he felt following her would bring the fastest way of finding out as the three of them marched northward out of the woodland and towards Mount Eznor.

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A note from Jordan Stufflebeam

This was my first big hurdle to overcome as a writer and kinda a checkpoint of sorts for me to judge progress. I mean these first seven chapters alone were more of a short story in and of themselves and we could already see a growth in the characters by this point, but now I had a greater challenge, and that was opening up the world, because so far we have seen so little of it, and learned next to none of the history... so where do we go from here? This was a great question and a blast to answer. Time will tell. I have up to Chapter 11 written and 35 Chapters summarized.


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About the author

Jordan Stufflebeam

  • United States

Bio: Storytelling is my passion. From when I was little I always found myself telling stories in any way that I could. I continuously entered writing contests, would create little animation booklets (Which for a six year old was horrendous looking.) and would draw to the best of my ability stick man comics. However I could write, I would.

I will forever be grateful to my father who helped develop this passion of mine. He from the very beginning helped me learn and grow while always encouraging me to story tell any way I could imagine.

From Utah to Louisiana, Arizona, Nebraska and Iowa, I found myself in vastly different areas meeting countless types of people who I have grown and love. I cannot wait to see what stories unfold as I sit here and write late into the night.

The audience I reach is what gets me excited, especially seeing something I created take them on an emotional journey with my main characters as they learn and grow together, and in the end become better because of it. They are why I write. Its one grand adventure that the world can share in!

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