Not Alone, Chapter 9

Preface: Greetings, all! This is the ninth chapter of the tale that began with “Not Alone – Chapter 1,” comes immediately after “Not Alone – Chapter 8,” and is the second story in a series that began with “What You Don’t Know,” also located on this site, although it features a mostly-different cast of characters.

As always, my standard disclaimer: The monster girls featured in this tale, and many elements of the setting, are based off of the works of Kenkou Cross, and as such this work is intended to be a tribute to his creativity. The characters, however, are my own. Pray neither sue nor steal; I have very little to take, but I love that which is mine.

Not Alone 

Chapter 9 – Nightfall

     The sun plummeted slowly, falling from the heights of the heavens like an angel with a broken wing, spilling rough-edged shadows deep into the crevices of the mountains south of Goslar.  Those steep peaks brought night early to the roads that meandered between them, only the highest extremes still bathing in the dying light until the sun sank below the horizon.  Even on the brightest, driest of days, those mountain roads were far from safe; travelling them at night was to treat one’s own life with callous disregard.

     Yet still the final caravan pressed on.  Those unfortunate stragglers had left the town hours before, but the winding rocky roads were not made for swift transit.  The handful of carts trundled along the stone-ridden roads, their drivers casting wary eyes up at the cliffs above, fearing rockslides, fearing gaps in the road hidden by shadow, fearing what lay behind them.

     One driver in particular kept an eye on the stone slopes above.  Roger had already had enough trouble out of rockslides; while he had no reason to complain about how the last one had changed his life, he preferred not to take his risks with another.  Beside him, Priscilla also kept an eye on the ledges around them, albeit for a different reason than her companion.  In their need for haste, the leaders of this caravan had chosen a particular route through the mountains that would see them reach an open valley sooner, and there they could make camp for the evening.  The road they travelled was decidedly familiar to Priscilla, who knew it to be home to bandits, with one group in particular preferring it as their hunting ground.  She would know; she had scouted these roads many times with her sisters.

     When the hoofbeats of an approaching rider finally pierced the din of rattling wagon wheels, Roger and Priscilla turned anxiously to glance back at the horse galloping towards them.  They relaxed simultaneously when they saw the fiery mane of Lacerta Steelscale streaming behind her as she rode closer.  Her face was set in a scowl, which sparked new fears in the pair, and so Roger called out to her as she drew near.

     The mercenary captain pulled on her reins gently, slowing her steed as she came alongside their cart. “I’m glad to see you both made it out in time,” she spoke, though her relief was overwhelmed by other tension. “They’ve taken the town.  I stayed just long enough to see them arrive.”

     “Are they sending anyone after us?” Priscilla asked, glancing behind them, though the sharp curves of the mountains hid everything only a short distance back.

     Lacerta shook her head in frustration. “I couldn’t stay to see.  They would have followed me otherwise.  I only hope that they get confused by the trails the other caravans left; we sent them down different roads for that purpose.” She looked irritably ahead of them, to the wagons ahead making gradual progress down the road. “You all should be much further away than this.”

     “There was one wagon that nearly went over the edge, and it slowed us all down,” Roger explained, glancing to Priscilla as he felt Lacerta’s anxiety affecting him and his companion.  The orc was sitting with her fists balled in her lap, biting on her lip. “I’m sorry.  I was late coming back from the forest… if I’d come back quicker, we would at least be further in the line.”

     Priscilla didn’t respond at first, instead glancing to the flower that sat in a small clay bowl between them.  Roger had told her everything that had happened once he had returned, as much as he had dreaded to, but she had taken it more calmly than he had expected, though he hadn’t quite deduced why.  She had even expressed her own regret that they had to leave Rosa behind in the forest while they left Goslar.  She had been the one to take the flower from him and had placed it in its new home with a little soil from the narrow alley outside their shop, sensing something special from the delicate bloom, a connection to the alraune that had gifted it to Roger. “No, that wouldn’t have changed anything.  We just can’t afford any more delays.  They’ll send someone after us, I know it.”

     “We didn’t see any bandits on any of our previous trips through this pass with the other caravans, but-” Lacerta froze atop her mount, her eyes narrowed as she stared in dismay at something on a sunlit ledge across the gorge from them.  Roger and Priscilla followed her gaze, taking just a moment to discover a lavender-haired woman standing there.  The woman in question was dressed in crude leather armor that left much of her skin bared, and she held aloft a spear, which she raised twice as she looked directly at them with a broad grin.  Her eyes seemed to peer directly at Priscilla despite the great distance between them, though it took Roger only a moment to notice the floppy porcine ears atop her head, which kindled a slow-burning understanding in the depths of his gut.  He glanced back at his lover to find she was staring fiercely at the other woman, her teeth bared.  Before he could ask her anything, she cursed loudly.

     “Viola,” Priscilla snarled afterwards. “I bet she took my spot as second-in-command.  This isn’t good.  That was a challenge.”

     “Do you think they are going to attack the caravan?” Lacerta asked, her eyes rapidly scanning the bluffs ahead, searching for lurking ambushers.

     “If they were, she wouldn’t have shown herself to us,” Roger countered, still looking around despite his thoughts.

     “They’re not after the caravan,” Priscilla responded in a deep growl. “She’s calling me out.  They want me, and…” She looked to Roger regretfully, and he swallowed loudly as he caught her meaning.

     “Well, that’s not going to happen,” Lacerta proclaimed. “We don’t have time for anything like that.”

     “And they know it.” Priscilla sighed, gripping the edge of her seat hard enough that her fingernails sank into the wood. “That’s how they intend to lure me out.  If I don’t go, then they will attack the caravan.”

     “That’s insane!” Lacerta snarled, her free hand sinking to the hilt of her sword. “I don’t doubt you, though.  I’ve heard of the leader of these bandits, and she is very bold, and very vindictive.”

     “I have to go.” Priscilla turned and began rummaging in the back of the wagon, searching for her belongings.  Roger turned to her in shock, barely watching their course.

     “No, you aren’t,” he insisted. “How many of them are there?  And against one of you?  No, I am not okay with that.” He watched as she pulled something from the back of the wagon: not the sword he had ordered for her, but two blunted practice blades from her time training with Lacerta. “And you’re taking those, instead?”

     “I can maybe work this out as a duel,” she explained, though doubt was coated thick on her words. “I’m the one Berala wants.  If she just wants to get back at me, then-”

     “Absolutely not!” Roger shouted.  Priscilla gave him a helpless smile and shrug, resigned to her decision.  Furious, he fumbled at his belt, pulling free the short cudgel he had once more belted at his side. “Fine, then I am coming with you.”

     “No!” shouted both girls simultaneously.

     “Priss is going to need someone to watch her back,” Roger explained, glancing to Lacerta, “and Lacy, we need you to stay here in case the Orders send knights after the caravan.  Someone has to try to hold them off, at least.” Roger turned back to Priscilla with a determined glance. “I won’t let you go in there like this, not alone.”

     “Listen,” Lacerta pressed them, “Ceann said her partner had a plan to help make sure that the Orders don’t come after us.  If we can wait long enough for him to do whatever he has planned-”

     “Berala won’t wait that long,” Priscilla responded grimly.

     “But that means we only have to distract her for long enough for him to act,” Roger insisted.  His mind flashed to the heaps of explosives he had crafted for the knight; he had a good idea what the man’s plan was, and it would certainly stall the Orders.  He glanced helplessly back to his belongings in the back of the wagon, but well remembered the crate that held most of his original Diffudozers – dark lavender diffusers, he corrected himself hastily –  was buried too deeply to access without stopping the cart to unload.  With all of those, they could have brute-forced their way into the orcs’ lair, leaving them all sleeping behind them.  Instead, he called ahead for Mithal, and three carts ahead the chef stood in the bed of the goblin’s wagon, glancing back to his friend, who was waving for him to walk back to them. “Mithal can drive our cart.  We will be in and out of there, just long enough to distract the orcs until the caravan is past.  Then we can meet you all in the valley ahead tonight.”

     Lacerta sighed deeply, her face showing all the exhaustion she had forced down over the past week. “I don’t see this working.”

     Roger shrugged at her innocently, handing the reins off to Priscilla as he prepared to hop down and speak to Mithal. “We’ll be fine.  After all, they’re like family to her, right?  They should focus on her, and then I can distract them enough for us to escape.” His forced naiveté did not sway the lizardwoman, who glanced over to Priscilla, discovering that the orc was also shaking her head, trepidation written in bold across her brow.  Roger was oblivious to this as he dropped to the ground, hastening to speak with his human friend.

     “I’m sorry, captain,” Priscilla yielded. “I don’t want him to go either, but I can’t make him stay.  If things get bad…” She swallowed. “If things get bad, I’ll make sure he gets out, okay?”

     Lacerta stared at her friend for a long moment before nodding. “Please.  I can’t stop him either.  I’ll come back for you, if that’s what it takes.  But you know what they will do to him.”

     Priscilla met her look with fire in her eyes. “They’ll have to kill me first.”

     Minutes later, Lacerta rode on, as Mithal drove his friends’ cart, and two forms slipped into the shadows and followed a hidden path down into the ravine, headed for the caverns of the orcish bandits down below.  

 

******

 

     High in the mountains south of Goslar, a knight stood in stoic silence, his eyes searching the narrow crevasses below him.  Easily enough he spotted the line of encumbered beasts and wagons making a trundling pace down the uneven roads; with the fading light, they had been forced to light torches to illuminate the path ahead.  They would be lucky to reach the valley beyond before nightfall pounced, and it would be dangerous indeed to travel those perilous paths without proper light of day. 

     Still, they were not his concern.  Instead, his eyes were trained further to the north, back towards Goslar.  He glanced to the sides once more, to the places he had marked for his new griffon allies from the mountaintop temple; he could see the packages they had left on the summit nearest to his, and could only hope that the others were similarly prepared.  That meant the rest of his plan would be up to him.  With that in mind, he reached down to a pouch at his side.  From it, he withdrew a small crystal that gleamed a pale blue in the evening sunlight, flickering faintly from within.  He smiled down at the leycrystal he had taken from the ancient temple, smiling bitterly behind his helmet.  So sad, to have fallen so far to have to rely on such a thing.

     He took it into his left palm, and slipped his right hand free of its confining gauntlet.  He savored the rare feeling of the wind on his hand, though he adamantly refused to look at the gnarled wine-dark flesh or the red-hued talons protruding from his fingertips, blunted by his frequent futile efforts at trimming those fatal-looking nails.  He dropped his gauntlet to the ground, then took the crystal into his right hand, feeling the coarse edges against the toughened skin of his palm.  With a spasm, he crushed the crystal into shards, sighing as he felt a rush of potency flow into him.  The energy it gave him was nothing at all to someone used to far greater power, but, for this, it would be enough. 

     He knew he could put his plan into motion now.  With a single snap of his fingers, he could hinder the ambitions of the Orders, leave them simmering in their own impotent frustrations and self-righteous fury.  Still, he bided his time, waiting for just the right moment, waiting to see if he was right about them still.

     Moments later, his suspicions were confirmed.  There, in the distance, was a column of dust rising into the air.  Though the hapless caravanners could not know it, a smaller group of knights rode hard for them, making rapid time despite the darkening paths.  The knights would catch them before long, and then it would likely turn into a massacre, the refugees slaughtered in the mountains with no witnesses to reveal the truth of what had happened.  They would never make it to the valley, if the knights were not stopped.

     The man atop the mountain stared at them with a rare feeling of doubt.  He remembered what the kunoichi had told him.  He remembered Ceann’s words to him.  He could trigger his trap now; the caravan was clear, and the knights would be denied their prize.  Still, even as he struggled with himself, he knew what he had to do.  Even if the caravan survived, these men would soon enough find other sport.

     And so, the knight waited grimly atop the mountain, poised for the perfect moment, waiting for a fatal instant of vengeance.         

 

******

 

     The caves were empty as Roger and Priscilla made their way deeper into the orcs’ stronghold.  Priscilla had led them easily to a hidden entrance to the cavern complex, and from the moment they had left the caravan to now they had yet to see a single orc, let alone evidence of the whole tribe.  Roger was beginning to wonder if the orcs still intended to attack the caravan, having lured off one of its only defenders, but didn’t dare speak to mention the idea to Priscilla.  More likely, he tried to reassure himself without success, this was all just a trap for them in particular.

     Priscilla stayed in front of him, hefting her torch to show him the path over the uneven ground worn smooth in places by trickling water, stony in others.  Roger suspected this wasn’t one of the orc bandits’ usual entrances, judging by the lack of wear from traffic, but Priscilla seemed to know it well, striding with confidence.  The further they made it into the caves, however, the further they were from escape; Roger could not dismiss that notion from his mind.

     At last, they reached an area that showed more signs of habitation: crude sconces had been pounded into the cave walls, holding rough torches that cast dancing lights over the walls.  Priscilla extinguished her torch, handing it back to him, her hands staying tensed by the hilts of the practice blades she had insisted on bringing as her weapons.  He was glad she at least wore her armor, Bronda’s handiwork making her an imposing figure despite what it left uncovered.  The going was easier now, and Roger suspected they had entered the orcs’ living quarters.  His belief was reinforced when they found an opening between chambers that had been walled off with heavy drapes, making a barrier to the wind that still ghosted along the caverns’ halls.  At that entrance, Priscilla turned to face him gravely, nodding her head.  This was where she expected to find the other orcs.

     She reached out, brushing the curtains aside, stepping quietly into the chamber beyond, and he followed, swallowing down his nerves.  Entering behind her, he realized they were entering the orcs’ dining hall, a larger room that reeked of smoke, though he could see the roof angled skyward, presumably offering a vent that kept the orcs’ fires from flooding the chamber with impure air.  The angle of the entrance kept him from seeing much of the room, but as they rounded the bend Priscilla stopped in front of him suddenly, and he nearly collided with her.

     Glancing over her shoulder, he could see why she had frozen in place.  In the middle of the large room beyond stood a crowd of orcs, over a dozen and likely closer to twenty.  They had obviously been waiting for Priscilla; the tables in the room had been shoved back closer to the walls, while the orcs themselves were standing in a crowd in the wide, empty space in front of a crude throne topped with a bull’s skull.  The large chair itself sat empty, and Roger looked about the crowd, wondering which of the milling women was Berala, curious for the first time what a ‘high’ orc would look like.  He had always just pictured a larger Priscilla, maybe with a crown or coronet.

     One of the orcish women stepped forward.  She was attired similarly to the rest, dressed in revealing leather armor with delicately-placed straps covering her most sensual areas.  Roger blushed as he remembered seeing Priscilla for the first time in the same style; he almost wished he could see that again.  Shaking off his lechery, Roger noticed that the woman stepping to the fore was the same lavender-haired orc that had challenged Priscilla from the cliffs above them, presumably a leader or lieutenant of this bandit gang.  Her eyes were narrowed, and her smile was cruel, and like many of the other orcs she now held a makeshift mace, which she used to motion towards Priscilla.

     “So, sister, you’ve come back to rejoin us.  And how thoughtful, you’ve bought a gift!” The orc glanced back at Roger, her eyes lighting with an entirely different kind of fire.  Her gaze lingered on him for an uncomfortably long time, especially lower on his body, as if she were trying to peer through his trousers. “We will put him to very good use, won’t we, girls?” The orcs behind her laughed, all of them wearing the same expression, like starving wolves eyeing a beef haunch.            

      “Viola,” Priscilla snarled. “I should have guessed that you would be the only one willing to bow and scrape enough to Berala to get my old place as second-in-command.”

     “You flatter me, sister,” Viola replied, her eyes still caressing Roger before she finally tore them away to glare at Priscilla. “I’ll admit, though, the job isn’t worth the trouble.  You can have it back, if you want it.” She spread her hands wide, proclaiming her generosity in front of all the other orcs. “Just put down your weapons, swear to follow Berala again, and give us him.” Viola’s eyes flicked back to Roger, who frowned as he looked to Priscilla. “We’ll even share, like we are supposed to.”

     Priscilla was quiet for only a moment. “I have a new tribe now.” She looked back to her lover with a soft smile. “You all can’t have him, or me.”

    Viola sighed, her shoulders slumping. “Well, I guess there’s no other way to handle this, is there?” She thrust her stone mace towards Priscilla. “We’ll just take him, then, and you’ll have nothing.  Get ready, sisters.”

     Several of the orc women complied with that order, stepping towards Priscilla with weapons in hand.  Viola was not one of them, standing back with her arms crossed against her chest.  Priscilla’s gaze flew between the handful of women working to surround her, spreading out to flank her. “Looks like you’re as big of a coward as Berala is, Viola.  I bet she won’t even show her face till the fighting is over.”

     “It’s one of the perks of leadership,” Viola confessed, inspecting her nails as the six orcs moved closer to Priscilla, the others still standing ready in the crowd.  Roger swallowed at that; he had counted eighteen heads total among them, including the six that had stepped forward, and he knew that Priscilla was definitely outmatched.  His hand descended towards his waist, but Priscilla looked back to him, warning him to stay back from the fighting.      

     The orcs paused as Priscilla drew both of her practice blades, slipping into a stance that Roger recognized from watching Lacerta fight during their time together.  It seemed more of a surprise to the orcs, who glanced at each other nervously, not having expected their errant sister to have trained during her time away from them.  That moment of hesitation was all Priscilla needed, launching herself at the closest, her weapons blurring through the air.

     In just a moment, one orc lay unconscious upon the floor, and the others surged in, Priscilla laying about her with both dulled blades, her ferocity keeping her sisters back and drawing cries of pain.  The armor Bronda had forged rang out as maces clashed against it, the high notes among the percussion of weapons striking flesh, flesh slamming onto stone.  Roger watched helplessly as the battle continued, as the other orcs began to join the fight, as Priscilla fought for both of their lives.

 

******

 

      Purifier Errant Stefano urged his mount onward, his teeth set as he squinted his eyes against the dirt billowing into his face.  He hated being at the back of the squadron of outriders, but had been ordered to serve among their rearguard by the Lord in charge of these thirty men.  His wound had long healed, but his pride still bled profusely, flowing ever since the day that beast his struck him down with her obscene penis-sword.  He could see the mocking scorn in the eyes of his brothers every time he looked to them, and was certain that was why he had been condemned to the back of the posse of outriders, especially from the laughter his comrades had shared as they had taken to their mounts.

      Only hours before, he and the rest of his brothers had arrived at the forsaken monster den they had been sent to cleanse.  The town had been abandoned, save for a few human men, who had quickly been apprehended.  While they were being questioned, a Warder Lord had discovered fresh tracks leading into the southern mountains, and now he rode at the head of the thirty knights that had been sent to track down the last monsters that had fled from the town.  While it was easier for the Orders to clear the town now that it was abandoned, the insults the beastwomen and their slaves had given the herald of the Orders could not be borne without recompense.  They would carve out their vengeance on these laggard creatures, and leave only enough alive to give warning to those who had wisely fled first that soon the Orders would come for them as well.

     Stefano had wanted to be at the fore of the column.  He still dreamed of getting bloody vengeance on that piggish whore who had struck him down and had embarrassed all of his brothers.  He shuddered to think what the monsters had done to them while they slept off that strange gas, but the priests back in Vindabona had found no sign of contamination upon them.  His soul felt tainted, however, and he intended to wash it clean with her blood.  He only hoped she was among these dawdling cowards, who surely could not lie much further ahead.

     Their column rounded another bend, a mountain rising very steeply to their left, plummeting down into a ravine to their right.  The dying embers of day glowed on them here, and something drew Stefano’s gaze upwards.  After a moment, he spotted something out of place: a dark speck high atop a mountain ahead of them, contrasted with the ruddy glow of the sun upon the mountainside.  That dark figure gestured towards them, and despite his efforts the jostling of his horse and the expanse between them shielded the motion from Stefano’s eyes.  It wouldn’t have mattered to him; he had no way to understand the significance of the man atop the mountain snapping his fingers.

     The sound shook him, a dull low sound like distant thunder, but oddly staccato, sounding again and again before the echoes began.  He and all of the knights gazed upward in surprise, expecting a monstrous ambush, but at first they saw nothing, only massive clouds of dust billowing up from the peaks.  That was when the ground began to rebel under the hooves of their horses, and those looking heavenward noticed the motion rolling their way.  The explosions above them had loosed tons of stone from their homes, and the graven refugees followed the path of gravity, cascading down the mountain like a tumbling tide.

     In a panic, Stefano sawed at the reins of his steed, yanking back.  Already the stones were bouncing and bounding down onto the road ahead of him, and his panicked mount fought against momentum to stop, to turn, not to tumble into the ravine in its terror.  It was all Stefano could do to clutch to his horse as the beast bolted back the way it came, abandoning its kin to the descending veil of earth.  As they ran, stones pelted against him, leaving bruises under his chainmail, sending blood trickling down into his eye, but still he rode like his life depended on it.  It did, as could attest the majority of the knights moments later, were they able to attest anything at all.

     High atop the mountaintop, the knight watching the three fleeing outriders smiled grimly under his helmet, before he turned and walked away.     

 

******

 

          The fight in the caverns far below was not over, but the rumbling in the mountains brought it to a pause, as both sides withdrew a few steps, pale pink chests heaving for breath as the enemies eyed each other warily.  On one side, the orc bandits glowered at their sister, those that could.  Six of them lay on the ground, senseless or too battered to stand, while five others clutched bruised limbs and stared through swollen eyes at the berserker they had not expected to emerge from a woman they had once fought alongside. 

     On the other side stood Priscilla, though only just barely.  She had trained well with Lacerta, had shown promise beyond the short time she had spent with the mercenary company, and that had given her the advantage against the orcs she had grown up with, who had seen decidedly little fighting in the past months.  That advantage did not make up for sheer numbers, however.  Her armor had been battered by crueler strikes than the loving attention Bronda had used to shape the metal, and her bared skin was dirty and darkened by bruises.  She panted for breath, and her crouch was less tension than exhaustion.  The academic part of Roger’s brain had noted that the orcs worked as a pack, and seemed to favor subdual over damaging vitals; he wondered if that came for their usual practice of taking prisoners for ransom and for mating.  Those attacks still left their marks, however, and Priscilla’s blood ran from several places.  When they escaped, Roger swore to himself, he would spend a long time treating those wounds, just like he always had.

     They only had to escape first.  Roger was waiting for one other person, the absent Berala, to make her appearance, but so far the high orc had not revealed herself.  He prayed that the quaking earth hadn’t collapsed any of the caves they would need to flee from these thieves, but right now he had more immediate concerns.  While six of the orcs were down, a dozen still stood, over half of them utterly unscathed, while Priscilla looked on the brink of defeat.  He considered reaching for his cudgel and joining her, but knew doing so would only make things worse.  He had to wait, just until the right moment, and then maybe he could help her.

     “Well, Priscilla,” snarled Viola, stepping to the fore. “It looks like you’re about done.  Why don’t you just lay those swords down?  We’ll let you go free.” Her eyes moved on Roger, and her grin was ravenous. “Not him, though.”

     “Why don’t you step up and let me show you how done I am?” Priscilla suggested, her voice nearly a growl. “How do you feel, following a coward, girls?  Her and Berala both.”

     The battered orcs on either side of Viola shot her bitter glances, and the orc lieutenant stepped back, swallowing.  Before she could answer, however, a low laughing from a different side entrance to the chamber drew everyone’s attention.  The woman that stepped into the room looked very different than the other orcs.  She was taller and leaner, her darker skin tight over her bared stomach, thighs, and upper arms.  ‘Bare’ was one of the first words to Roger’s mind as he looked at her; she wore very little, and her prodigious assets threatened to break free of what little she did.  Her fashion sense tended towards the bestial, skulls capping her head and one shoulder, and what looked to be a skeletal claw cupped one of her imposing breasts.  The other was crisscrossed by a strip of black cloth, and she wore a decidedly-small bottom made of the same cloth, the article brief enough to be called a thong.  A thick mane of white hair cascaded down her back, and a thinner, similarly-colored patch peeked from the front of her panties.  Her forearms and shins were covered with cloth sleeves with fur-tufted ends, though Roger couldn’t imagine they were intended for protection.  This woman looked like she needed little in the way of shielding, judging from the feline grace she showed as she walked towards Priscilla, her hips swaying as if intended to draw his gaze.  Her eyes, a brilliant yellow color that glowed in the light of the room’s bonfires, were wide with dangerous mischief as she stared at Priscilla.  At her side, the newcomer carried an immense axe nearly as tall as herself, the metal of the blade dark enough to be almost black.

     Something else about the woman struck Roger as surprising: as she entered the room, a scent began to overpower the reek of smoke.  It was musky and dark, a smell that reminded him of nothing more than Priscilla’s sex, and despite the danger they were in Roger noticed his pants felt tight at the crotch, and he shifted his stance, lowering a hand to cover the appearing bulge.  He was pleased for a half-instant to notice he wasn’t the only one affected, as the other orcs had a new lust on their flushed faces, tongues moistening their lips as their unencumbered hands slid over their skin, wandering under their leather straps to seek sensitive regions.  His relief vanished as he noticed their attention was refocused on him specifically, and he could tell very little was keeping the orcish women from rushing him and leaving their clothing behind.
     The only person in the room unaffected by the high orc’s musk was Priscilla, who straightened slightly, her eyes flaring with a different kind of lust. “So, Berala, decide to finally stop hiding and come out and face me?” Priscilla challenged, her hands wringing at the grips of her practice blades.  The high orc smiled at her in response, displaying her gleaming teeth in what was only nominally a smile.

     “Well, well, ya finally showed up, little sis.  I’ve missed ya.” Berala shrugged casually, stepping closer to Viola, maintaining a distance from her former lieutenant. “’Bout time you remembered us.”

    “Priscilla, we need to go.” Roger’s eyes darted about the crowd of orc women, noticing the way they were tensed to pounce.  The smell in the air was dizzying, and he knew it would take little for the bandits to overwhelm his lover if the high orc called for it. “They’re all here, I can-”

     “Roger.” Priscilla looked back to him, and his heart collapsed at the stubborn expression she wore. “I have to do this.  Run and get help.”

     “Priss, no, that isn’t-”

     “Ya think ya’ll make it?” Berala taunted them. “These are our caves.  The girls’ll get ya before ya get three rooms away.  Naw, jus’ stay and watch.” For the first time, Berala’s eyes turned to Roger, and he shivered at the intensity of her gaze.  He felt vaguely like her eyes were pressing against his flesh, roughly handling him as if taking his measure, and her grin revealed she liked what she had discovered. “Ya can stay for the victory feast.”

    “Over my dead body.”

    “Aww, so serious, sis.” Berala sighed and shrugged, closing her eyes as she lifted her axe to point vertically before extending it out for Viola to take. “This isn’t like that.  It’ll be like before.” The high orc’s empty hands flexed as she walked closer, and her eyes opened to half-lidded. “Ya remember, the last time I beat yer sorry ass into the mud.”

     Roger buried his face in his palm as Priscilla’s two practice blades clattered to the stone floor of the cave.  This was not what he had planned.  Instead, Priscilla crouched in a wrestler’s stance, waving the high orc forward. “I’m not drunk this time, Berala.”

    “Jus’ as cocky, though,” Berala mocked her.  As she drew nearer, Priscilla began to approach as well, their pace slowing, both women beginning to turn in a circle like wary predators.  As they turned, Roger swallowed as he noticed that the high orc was nearer to him than Priscilla, who in turn was closer to the other orcs.  It would have been easy for them to attack her from behind, and for Berala to subdue him, but instead the orcs were all focused on the fight, their breath caught in their chests as they waited for the struggle to begin.

     It commenced with a rush, a collision of two female bodies as they grappled with each other, trying to get enough of a hold to force the other down.  Their feet pressed hard against the ground as they strained, shifting their weight, their hands slapping in blows that their opponent would twist to weaken.  For just a moment, it looked like Berala’s height was giving her the immediate upper hand, but Priscilla’s forearm flashed up, her metal bracer catching the high orc’s eyebrow, knocking her back with a cry of fury.  Priscilla pressed her advantage, pulling her arm back for a full punch, but Berala advanced, stepping into the strike and trying to use it to force Priscilla off balance as her knee launched at Priscilla’s stomach.  A loud cough exploded from the orc as she doubled over, and with a feral grin Berala raised her linked hands in a hammer-blow.  It was instead her chest that met Priscilla’s helmet as the orc tackled the bandit lord, forcing her back enough for Priscilla to rise with a vicious left punch that left Berala staggering.

     Berala wiped a hand across her mouth, grinning at the dark blood painted on the back of her hand by the motion. “Ya jus’ never know when to quit.” Before her opponent could reply, the high orc charged, hammering her face forward.  The sound of that collision was like thunder, boar skull slamming into casque, face into face.  Both women staggered back drunkenly after that, but Berala proved to have the denser skull, throwing herself against Priscilla once more, carrying her enemy to the ground with her.
     The battle dissolved into chaos, fists and elbows flying like raindrops in a storm, both women grunting in pain.  Roger struggled not to interfere, but a glance at the other spectators kept him in check.  Viola, out of the entire group, was watching him closely, daring him to intervene.  Swallowing, he turned his gaze back to the fight, praying that Priscilla would emerge victorious.

     The combatants had separated, trying to climb to their feet as they panted for breath, shaking their heads in vain attempts at clearing their vision.  His stomach sinking, Roger could already see there was trouble.  Priscilla’s earlier fight had already left her exhausted, and her eyes were unfocused, her form trembling as she tried to force herself off the ground.  Berala staggered back, her legs as unsteady as a newborn fawn’s, but Priscilla was still laying on the floor of the cave.  With a full-lunged shout, Berala pulled her fist back and threw herself forward, the punch descending like a meteor.  Priscilla collapsed prone onto her back, her eyes blank, and Berala’s chest heaved for the long minute it took her to move once more.

     Priscilla’s fingers twitched, but she couldn’t move before Berala’s foot fell onto her throat.  Roger growled deep in his throat as his lover clawed at the cloth covering Berala’s ankle, her face reddening as she fought for air.  Her futile attempts weakened to slaps, until finally her hand slumped to the ground, and Berala removed her foot.  Immediately Priscilla’s lungs sucked in air with a great heave, and a fit of coughing left her thrashing on the floor.

     Berala looked down at her vanquished sister with a deeply satisfied grin. “Get her,” she snapped at the others, and several of the orcs rushed to grab Priscilla, dragging her up by the arms.  Priscilla wobbled as they forced her to her feet, most of her weight supported by the women to either side of her as she stared at the ground without seeing.

     “This wasn’t a fair fight.” Turning at his voice, Berala looked with a smile at the man in the room, her tongue working at a split in her lip. “She was nearly exhausted before you even came in.  You cheated.”

     “Maybe,” Berala shrugged indifferently.  Her smile was hungry as she met Roger’s disgusted gaze. “Ya’ll cheat too, on her.  Every night.  Every day.”

     “-touch him.” Shocked, Berala whirled to look at Priscilla, whose head was fighting to rise. “Don’t you dare touch him.”

     “Well, well, little Piss.” Berala spat onto the ground, her words angrier as she faced her still-defiant rival. “Don’t worry.  Ya can watch.” Furiously, Berala turned towards Roger, hooking her thumb under the waiststrap of her thong. “Ya can stay here till yer an aunt nineteen times over, and then we’ll let ya go so ya can find a new man that someone else can take from ya.”

    “Don’t!” Priscilla screamed, tears blossoming at the corners of her eyes as she threw herself against the women holding her, all four orcs struggling to keep her in check. “I swear, I’ll kill you if you touch him!”

     Berala snarled at her, turning and pulling her fist back as the other orcs tightened their grips on Priscilla’s arms. “Stop.” As if by that desperate command, Berala paused, turning to look at Roger.  She found him with his hands lowered in front of him, his head hanging. “Don’t hurt her any more.  I’ll… I’ll do whatever you want.  I’ll stay here, if that’s what it takes.  Just let her go.” As if to give proof of his offer, Roger grabbed the front of his pants, as if preparing to lower them.

     “Yeah, well, ya’ll do it anyways.  But since ya asked so sweet, why don’tcha show yer new mates what ya have to offer?” Behind her, all of the orcs leaned forward, their eyes focused entirely on his hands, pleading them to do as Berala asked.  For a long moment, they stayed still, not moving an inch.

     Instead, his hands turned.  Berala frowned at the two clay orbs he was displaying to her. “Those ain’t the balls I’m wantin’, boy,” she chided him.

     Roger gave her his sharpest grin as the orbs, the same ones he had carried ever since the fight in the town square, began to shriek a whistle that echoed off the cave walls. “Are you sure?  ‘Cause these are Diffudozers, and they’re great!” His hands flew forward as he tossed them underhanded into the group of orcs.  Berala watched them come, turning her body so they passed neatly on either side of her, but as they did they erupted with dark purple smoke, billowing around her and deep into the swarm of orcs, who immediately began coughing.  Berala did not wait to figure out what he had done, instead lunging forward, her hand grabbing his shirt at the throat.

     “Jes’ for that, yer gonna be with me all night, until there’s nothing of her scent left on ya,” she snarled.  Still, her eyes blinked, then lowered to half-lids. “I’m gonna ride ya till…” She swayed side to side, shaking her head slowly. “Till I…”

     “Sorry,” Roger apologized.  He gently pulled her unresisting hand from his shirt, almost having to support her as she leaned forward. “I already have a girlfriend.” He reached out to her, planting his hand on her chest and shoving back softly.  She topped back like a stricken oak tree, crashing to the ground numbly, already asleep.

     The cave was dense with the sound of orcs snoring, a cacophonous symphony leagues beyond his worst nights with Priscilla after they had first met.  His love was adding her own sweet tones to the mix, laying in the heap with the others, mostly obscured by the smoke still billowing from the diffusers.  None of the orcs were left standing, and Roger took a moment to cover his face with a heavy cloth from his pocket, bracing for what came next.

     Priscilla had ruined his plan.  If she had been beside him, as they had discussed before entering the cave, then she would have been away from the smoke.  Now, though, he was going to have to go in to get her out.  He would have to carry her clear, out of the cave itself, before the others woke up.  His heart pounded against his chest as he realized how hard that was going to be.  He didn’t have time to strip the armor from her, could only hope that the cloth he carried would keep the worst of the smoke from his lungs.

     As he dashed into the cloud, he immediately realized that it wouldn’t be enough as the cloying scent of dark lavender penetrated the cloth, seeping into his mouth, his nostrils, his lungs.  He struggled to lift Priscilla’s dead weight, the cloth slipping away from his face as he fought to hold his breath.  Tripping over the leg of one of the orcs, he gasped out his air, and dark lavender flooded in, already working its insidious magic on his mind.

     Roger stumbled out of the orc bandits’ dining hall, his eyelids heavy.  Priscilla lay heavily across his back, her breastplate mashed against his spine, and he tried to use that pain to keep him aware.  It wasn’t nearly enough, and he staggered against one of the cave walls, blearily trying to divine where they were, futilely struggling to remember the path they had taken to enter these caves.  Surely they were close to the entrance.  Surely they were almost there.

     His eyes were heavy, and the rooms were dark, but he was sure they were in the rougher caverns just near the entrance.  He would just have to carry Priscilla up the hill towards the road, but as he tilted forward, pressing against the incline, he thought he could do it.  If they could get to the road, then Lacerta would find them.  He swore he could feel the chill wind of the mountains against his skin as he stumbled, desperately pressing onward as gravity dragged at his shoulders.

     In reality, Roger was only a single room away from the dining hall when he slumped to the ground, his mutinous eyelids pressed together despite his furious will.  He lurched forward, crawling, Priscilla still draped atop him.  They could still make it out.  They could-

     Roger collapsed forward, his face resting against the ground as his fingers tried to pull his body onward. ‘I’m sorry, Priss.  I’m sorry.  I’m…’

     He heard the soft tread of feet on the ground ahead of him, but was asleep before he could even consider what that meant.

 

******

 

     Berala smacked her lips together, one of her hands coming up to numbly rub the drool from the corner of her mouth.  The sting of pain from one lip jolted her, and her eyes cracked open.  She dumbly stared at the far ceiling for long moments before she realized that she was not in her chamber, not laying atop the pile of skins she kept as a bed.  Her head was too murky for her to remember why this could be important, so she started to close her eyes once more.

     Priscilla.  Her eyes snapped open, and she fought her slumbering muscles, throwing her weight enough to roll onto her side.  She had fought Priscilla, and won again, and then she had gone for that man.  There had been… balls?  Smoke?  He had touched her breast, she remembered with a warm blush.

     She forced herself up, shaking her head against the drowsy confusion.  How long ago had that been?  Were Priscilla and her lover still there?  She peered across the room, noting the piles of sleeping, snoring orcs, not seeing any sign of Priscilla’s light brown hair.  Her fury lighting a fire in her muscles, she tried to stand, determined to chase after the woman that had just stolen her would-be mate from her.

     Instead, she noticed something else amiss with the room.  The light was wrong.  The torches were… she squinted at one of them.  It burned with a cerulean flame.  It, Berala’s sleep-muddled mind assured her, did not usually do that.

     The soft sound of a throat clearing brought Berala’s head pivoting slowly towards her throne.  Her eyes at last opened as she noticed someone sitting in it.  No one else had done that since Priscilla had challenged her by plopping down into in front of all of the others.  Berala started to growl out a threat, but the fog in her brain was clearing rapidly now, and she noticed that the woman sitting there was no one she knew.

     The woman on the throne looked at her with a regal smile.  She was fully armored, the platemail far more ornate than anything Berala had seen before, and the sword balanced across her lap looked ornate, gems shining in the dancing unnatural light.  The insignia on the woman’s breast, too, glowed as if with an internal flame, and the woman’s crimson eyes also burned in the darkness.  Her hair was the same color of the fires, and ghostlights seemed to dance around her, blinking in and out of existence.   

     Berala’s eyes widened as she looked again to the crest on the woman’s chest, and she gaped at the monster sitting on her throne.  In response, the demonic knight smiled at her, but the expression held the same edge as the sword in her lap. “Berala Blackaxe.  It seems we need to have a little chat about your recent activities.”

     Berala swallowed loudly, staring in despair at the other woman while her subordinates slumbered loudly all around her.  Briefly, she lamented having woken up at all.  This, she decided with cold certainty, had not been a good day for her.

Continued in “Not Alone, Chapter 10

Author’s Note: And so only one chapter remains.  I shall return in two days for the conclusion, and hope you all shall rejoin me to see this particular tale to its end.   Pray feel free to let me know what you think of the action in this chapter; it was important to me that I got it right.

Already I have begun work on the second long work in this series, the sequel to this tale.  I hope to have the first chapter done today, and will press onward, though I shall save further discussion of that story for next time.

Once more, thank you all for reading, and for your kind words.  I shall fling myself onward, and pray this and my future endeavors meet with your approval.

But, for now, I need to sleep…

~Wynn Pendragon 

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