The Genemage Archives: Book One, The Eternal King-Chapter Four

 

You can read Chapters one through three at the links below.

Legends Of The Genemage: The Eternal Sovereign, Chapter One

Legends Of The Genemage: The Eternal King, Chapter Two

Legends Of The Genemage: The Eternal King, Chapter Three

     Prince Vikryn stood in the entranceway to Woodhole prison and watched his houndsmen as they performed their duties.  Each houndsmen slowly walked around the dungeon, smelling the air, touching every surface they could, and focusing their minds on their surroundings.  At first, Vikryn had been convinced that the houndsmen were leading him around in circles, but it was soon evident that the circles were not the work of the houndsmen at all.

       Using their heightened senses combined with their mental abilities, the houndsmen had easily picked up the trail of the escaped prisoner.  The trail had first led the prince and his hunters to a small, quiet hillside village of farmers.   After searching the village, the houndsmen sniffed out the prisoner’s trail, which led to a small hut at the edge of the village.  The hut had been abandoned days before the arrival of the hunting party, left empty and barren by its previous occupants.

     To the dismay and disbelief of the prince, the houndsmen then followed the trail back to Woodhole prison.  At first, the prince thought the houndsmen were playing some type of joke on the prince, a jest they would surely pay dearly for.  When they arrived at the prison, it was immediately obvious that there was no jest when the prince learned that another prisoner had been freed.

   “What have you learned from your investigation,” Vikryn asked as the four houndsmen approached him.

     “This break-in was different than the first,” Kretch said, his eyes glazed over as though he were focusing on something beyond his prince.  “There was no stealth or caution this time.  Instead, they barged right in and took the guards by surprise.  The prisoner was joined by a dwarf and an ogre.  It was the ogre that did the most damage, fighting the guards as the prisoner and the dwarf rushed to the cell and freed the prisoner.  The attack was quick and brutal, and they managed to escape before reinforcements could arrive.”

     “I see,” Vikryn said, glancing around the room at the bloodstains and broken bodies littering the floor.  And what can you tell me of this second prisoner?”

     “A woman named Leighta Anhoam,” Kaishu continued.  “A researcher and educator imprisoned for attempting to spread the forbidden knowledge to the lesser classes.”

      “An educator,” the prince repeated, shaking his head as his mind put the puzzle pieces together.  “This is even worse than we had realized.”

     “What does this mean my liege,” Kretch asked.  “Why is this woman so important?”

     “Because she teaches,” Vikryn replied, letting out an exasperated sigh.  “They plan to use her to teach them the magic of science so that they can try to fight my father again.  It is now more important than ever that we find and kill this madman before he can rebuild any kind of army.”

     “Leave that to us,” Kretch said turning to face the other houndsmen.  “We will find them.”

     The four houndsmen gathered in a circle opposite each other, closed their eyes, and grew quiet as they focused their minds on finding the trail of the prisoners.  Vikryn watched impatiently as the houndsmen silently focused their minds, reaching out with their mental abilities for any evidence they could discover.

     “I found something,” Mooris whispered after a time, his voice cutting through the silence.

     “Disseminate,” Kretch ordered, turning his head slightly to face Mooris.  A moment later, each of the houndsmen began to slowly nod their head, seeming to all come to a simultaneous realization.

     “Yes,” Kaishu said.  “I see it too.  I am getting another vision link from that.”

     “Yes, yes,” Kretch said, clenching his hands into fists.  “The picture is forming.”

     “What do you see,” the prince asked, his impatience growing.

     “A town,” Kretch replied, lifting his head while keeping his eyes closed.  “To the north.  Several days journey.  Our prey is headed there.”

     “A town,” the prince repeated with a sigh.

“Yes,” Kretch replied, nodding slowly.  A town that is both bright, yet dirty at the same time.  A town full of noise and debauchery.  A town-”

“Iniquity,” Vikryn exclaimed, interrupting Kretch.  “The town you are describing is called Iniquity.”

“You know this town,” Daan asked.

“Oh yes,” the prince replied with a smirk.  “I know Iniquity very well.  You could say it is practically my second home.  I have had many, many hours in the town of Iniquity.  Hours filled with very interesting experiences.”  Vikryn paused for a moment, staring off into the distance as memories filled his brain.  The prince then put his hands together in a clap of excitement, and let out a laugh dripping with mischief.  “It has been a bit since I have visited Iniquity.  I get to hunt my prey and have a little fun while I am at it.  I like it.”

“Sire,” Kretch asked in confusion.

“Pack up and get ready to move out,” Vikryn ordered.  “We are heading north for a bit of hunting and debauchery.”

“As you command sire,” Kretch said, bowing to his prince and then turning to face the other houndsmen.  “Houndsmen, prepare to move out.”

Legends Of The Genemage: The Eternal King, Chapter Three

Read Chapter One here

Read Chapter Two Here

Aerron opened his eyes slowly, taking a moment to adjust to the dim light surrounding him.  When he could at last focus his vision, Aerron studied the foreign room he found himself in.  The first thing Aern noticed was that he lay in a soft, comfortable bed, covered in a warm blanket.  To his left, a small fireplace built into the wall of the room provided warmth, as well as the soft light cascading over the room.  To his right, Aerron could see a small wooden nightstand with a glass of water sitting on top.  Beyond the nightstand, a large window built into the wall provided a glimpse of a meager town situated at the bottom of a small hill lit by the light of the moon and stars in the night sky.  Aerron looked past the foot of his bed and saw a large door with a bright light pouring through the gap between it and the floor of the room.

Aerron struggled to sit up in the bed he occupied and cleared his sore throat.  Aerron opened his dry mouth to call out to someone, but could not find his voice.   Instead, the attempted call resulted in a fit of coughing that forced Aerron’s body to convulse so violently he almost fell out his bed.  As he attempted to control his fit of coughing, the door opened, and a woman walked through.  The woman, middle-aged and human with soft, brown hair and green eyes, walked over to Aerron and placed her hand on his chest.  Aerron soon felt his coughing fit subside as a comforting warmth spread out from the woman’s to his chest muscles and down to his very lungs.   Aerron lay back down on the bed and breathed a heavy sigh as the woman smiled down at him.

“It’s good to see you alive,” the woman said, choking back tears of relief.

“Where am I,” Aerron asked, his voice a hoarse struggle.

“You are in my home,” the woman replied.  “Do you remember who I am?”

Aerron looked up at the woman and tried to focus his still blurry eyes on her face.  As his vision began to clear, memories of the woman began to fill Aerron’s mind.  Memories of warmth and kindness, of calmness and caring, and memories of a time lost to Aerron long ago.

“Ielsa,” Aerron whispered at last, finally able to focus both his eyes and his mind on the woman’s face.

“Yes,” Ielsa replied, gently caressing Aerron’s face.  “It’s me.  I’m so happy to see you again.”

“It is good to see you too old friend,” Aerron wheezed.  “But, how did I get here?”

“You can thank Grann, Zigg, and Kierick for that,” Ielsa said with a chuckle.  “They worked tirelessly for the past eight years to find you and then break you out of that dungeon.”

“Of course,” Aerron said with a coughing chuckle.  “I should have known they would dedicate their lives to rescuing me.  I owe them a great debt.”

“You certainly do,” Grann said as he entered the room.  “But you can repay that debt by finishing what you started so long ago.  Destroy the Sovereign and his oppressive empire.”

“Grann my old friend,” Aerron said, smiling at the dwarf weakly.  “It is so good to see you again.”

“Aye,” Grann smiled back.  “And it is good to see you regaining your health.  When Zigg and I busted you out of that dungeon, you looked like a strong wind could break you in half.”

“Well, I am feeling stronger now,” Aerron said.  “But I am still not back to full health.  I was in a sad state back in that dungeon.  They left me so weak that I could barely function.  My mind was so damaged, that I was unsure what was real and what was actually just fever dreams.”

“Well, to be honest,” Grann said grimly, “you were in horrible shape.  I was not sure you would survive.  But Ielsa has been using her powers of healing to bring you back from the brink of death and restore your body to full health.  Or, at least as healthy as she could get you.”

“I am grateful for your healing Ielsa,” Aerron said.  “I can only imagine how difficult and draining that must have been for you.”

“True, the last few weeks have been taxing on my own body,” Ielsa admitted gravely.  “But, your body has an amazing self-healing ability of its own, and that did a lot to ease my burden.”

“Well then,” Aerron said, smiling weakly again, “I’m glad I could help you heal me.”

“Yes,” Ielsa said, “and I will need more help from your body to get you back to full strength.  It is good that you are finally awake, but we will let you rest the night and then try to actually get you back on your feet and walking around tomorrow.”

“Good,” Aerron said, nodding his head in approval.  “Because there is much work to be done before any of us are strong enough to take on the Sovereign again.  To begin with, I need to know everything that has gone on while I was incarcerated.  How long did you say I had been the Sovereign’s captive?”

“Fourteen years,” Grann replied.

“Fourteen years,” Aerron whispered dolefully.  “I have lost fourteen years of my life to that monster.  He took my life and destroyed my family.  For that, I will make him pay.”

“Yes,” Grann said, nodding his head slowly.  “And in that time, he has tightened his grip on my people and on the ogres.  Where once we were simply treated as lesser beings, now the Sovereign has turned many of us into slaves.  My fellow dwarves are forced to serve the higher class citizens as house servants, while the ogres are forced into manual labor for the bastards.”

“That is everything we fought to prevent,” Aerron said grimly.  “How could we have failed so horribly?  This is all my fault.  I led you all down this path.  It is because of my failure that you must suffer.”

“That is nonsense,” Grann barked.  “I will not let you take the blame.  The Sovereign had a more powerful army than any of us could have ever anticipated.  He had a power that we could never have dreamed of.  The power of the ancients that we could not possibly hope to defend against.  It is that power that he now uses to enslave us all.”

“Tecknowlegy,” Aerron stated.  “He gains his power from tecknowlegy, which he keeps for himself, forcing the rest of us to live as animals while he and his ‘nobles’ enjoy the benefits of this tecknowlegy.”

“How do you know that,” Grann asked.

“I met someone in that dungeon, a woman who was also a prisoner that explained it all to me.  That woman was a teacher of this tecknowlegy and was imprisoned for trying to spread her teachings to the lower castes.  Something strictly outlawed by the Sovereign himself.”

“Of course,” Grann growled.  “Leave it to the Sovereign to use something like that to keep himself and his family above the common folk.”

“His family,” Aerron repeated quietly.  “That bastard stole my family from me.  Just one more reason for me to destroy him.”

“Yes,” Grann said wistfully.  “We tried to free your family as well, but that proved far more difficult.”

“What do you know about the fate of my wife,” Aerron asked anxiously.

“Your wife was sold into slavery by the Sovereign,” Grann replied.  “She was traded several times to several different masters.  We tried to track her down, but there were just too many leads to follow.  I’m sorry my old friend, but we do not know the current whereabouts of your wife.  We have not been able to find your son either.”

“I know where my son is,” Aerron growled, his eyes turning dark and angry.  “The Sovereign has him.”

“Really,” Grann asked, shocked to hear such news.  “Was your son also a prisoner in that dungeon?  I had no idea.  We would have rescued him as well.”

“No,” Aerron replied.  “My son was never put in that dungeon.  My son suffered a more horrible fate than mere imprisonment.”

“I don’t understand,” Grann said.

Aerron turned his gaze to the night sky outside his window, and let out a deep, sorrowful sigh.  “When they captured me, they tried to torture me to give them answers about our army.  They wanted to know things like the size of our army, where they were located, things like that.  Because of my advanced healing ability, I was able to withstand their torture, and I refused to give them any answers.   For weeks they tried to get the information out of me, but I would not give into the pain they inflicted on me.  Finally, they stopped torturing me and left me to rot in my dungeon.  Sometime later, days, weeks, I could not be sure, they came back to interrogate me again.  This time, however, they did not bother torturing me, knowing it would have no effect.  This time, they brought my son to see me sitting in that dungeon, dirty and beaten.”

Aerron paused at that moment, and Grann could tell that his friend was attempting to hold back tears.  Grann put a comforting hand on Aerron’s shoulder and told his friend to take what time he needed before continuing.  With tears welling in his eyes, Aerron looked to Grann, took a deep, shivering breath, and let it out slowly.

“I hated for my son to see me like that,” Aerron continued.  “But I wouldn’t let even that break me.  That is when they started torturing my son.”

“Oh Aerron,” Grann whispered.  “My friend, I am so sorry.”

“They took a metal knife that had been lying in a nearby fire, and they started burning and cutting my son’s face!  I will never forget the screams of my son being tortured and burnt by the Sovereign and his torturers.  I will never forget the horrors they unleashed on my innocent son.  I will never forget, and I will never forgive them!  I will make them pay for what they have done!”

“You will,” Grann said.  “And we will do all we can to help you.”

“That is when they broke me,” Aerron said, lowering his head into his hands.  “That is when I gave them all the information they asked for.  I’m sorry my old friend.  I am so sorry.  I couldn’t bear to see my son be tortured.  I would have done anything at that moment to save him.  Including putting all of your lives in danger.”

“You don’t need to apologize,” Grann said, patting his friend on the shoulder.  “Any of us would have done the same in your situation.  Any single one of us.”

“Thank you, my friend,” Aerron said, lifting his head and sighing again.

“I hate to ask this,” Grann said cautiously, “but it is important to know.  Did the Sovereign kill you son after that?”

“No,” Aerron said, his voice catching in his throat as he spoke.  “He did something far more horrible.  After torturing my son and getting me to give up my information, the Sovereign then made it his mission to brainwash my son.  Every day he would bring my son to my cell and spend hours tearing down my son’s mind right in front of me until one day my son, my own flesh and blood, no longer recognized me as his father.  The Sovereign broke my son’s mind and rebuilt it so that my son believed himself to be the son of the Sovereign.  Then, the Sovereign convinced my son that I was the one who had tortured him and burnt his face.  The Sovereign brainwashed my own son into thinking that I was an evil man that had hurt him to get to the Sovereign.”

“Your son is the burnt prince,” Grann whispered in shock.  “I don’t believe it.”

“The burnt prince,” Aerron asked, confused.

“The son of the Sovereign,” Grann replied.  “Part of his face is burnt so badly that he hides it behind a mask.  The Sovereign has spread word across the realm that you were the one that damaged his son’s face.  I had no idea the truth behind that story.  Or the horror behind it all.  Aerron my dear friend, I am so very sorry for everything the Sovereign has done to you.”

“And I too am sorry for everything the Sovereign has done to you and your people.  And all the people of the realm.  But, now that I am free, we can rebuild our army and fight back.  This time, we will finally kill the Sovereign and end his cruelty!”

“It will not be easy,” Grann said.  “But you know I will follow you anywhere, as I always have my friend.  But, we have a lot of work ahead of us to rebuild our armies and bring them back to fighting strength.  I don’t even know where we will start.”

“With Leighta,” Aerron stated his voice steady and confident.

“With what,” Grann asked.

“Leighta,” Aerron repeated.  “The woman who was a prisoner along with me.  The woman who taught me about the Sovereign’s tecknowlegy.  We need to break her out of that prison too.  She will teach us everything that we need to know to stop the Sovereign.”

“You want us to return to the place that held you prisoner and try to break in again,” Grann asked, shaking his head in disbelief.

“We have to Grann,” Aerron replied.  “She is the key to defeating the Sovereign.  We need her if we are going to have any hope of success this time.”

“I told you I would follow you anywhere,” Grann said.  “So, if that is your plan, then I will be there for you.  But, it is not going to be easy.  I hope you realize that.”

“I know my old friend,” Aerron said.  “But it is necessary.”

“Then we will need a new plan,” Grann stated.  “Because we can’t use the same one we used to break you out again.”

Legends Of The Genemage: The Eternal King, Chapter Two

Read Chapter One here:  https://mindofderrick.wordpress.com/2018/02/15/the-eternal-sovereign-working-title-chapter-one/

     “I have been summoned here by my father,” Prince Vikryn stated coldly to the royal guard standing watch outside the throne room of the Sovereign.

     “Yes Sire,” the guard replied, giving a quick bow to the prince before turning to open the large, ornate doors he stood guard in front of. “I will take you to him.”

     The prince followed the guard into to the cavernous throne room of his father, who sat at the opposite end of the lengthy room. The thumps of their boots echoed through the empty throne room as they walked toward the throne. The Sovereign, a short, portly man, who was the stark opposite of his tall, strapping son, bore an expression of exasperation as he watched the two men approach. When the prince finally reached the raised platform that the throne perched on, he lowered himself on one knee and bowed his head.

     “Rise my son,” the Sovereign said anxiously. “There’s no one here but us. No need for the formalities.”

     “Of course father,” the prince said, rising to his feet and approaching the throne. “Then, may I ask why I have been summoned.”

     The Sovereign paused, and then let out a deep sigh of frustration before continuing. “It seems we had a prison break last night. Someone broke into Woodhole and rescued one of our most dangerous criminals.”

     “I see,” Vikryn said solemnly. “Have you sent the royal constable to investigate yet?”

     “No my son,” The Sovereign replied, taking a deep breath. “I do not want this to be handled by the constable. This must remain a quiet, internal matter. That is why I want you to personally investigate this prison break.”

     “Why me father,” the prince asked, perplexed by his father’s request. “I am not a law enforcer. I know nothing about investigating such a crime.”

     “No,” The Sovereign admitted. “But you are a hunter. And this is a job for a hunter. And, you have a personal stake in this prison break as well.”

     “And what might that be,” the prince inquired.

     “The man that was freed,” the Sovereign said. “It was The Immortal.”

     “Aerron,” Vikryn whispered, the name of the prisoner sending a shiver down his spine.  He could only stare at his father with his jaw hanging open in disbelief as the thought spread through his mind like a morning fog.  “I thought,” the prince began, placing his hand on the white, porcelain mask that covered part of his face. The prince could still remember the pain of his flesh burning when he was child, the result of being tortured by the enemy of his family. “I thought he was dead. I thought he died years ago. I thought you had him executed for what he did to me.”

     The Sovereign let out a long, exasperated sigh before answering his son. “We tried to execute him. But he would not die.”

     “What do you mean,” the prince asked in an accusatory tone. “He wouldn’t die? What does that even mean?”

     “We tried to kill him,” The Sovereign exclaimed. We tried many, many times, in many different ways, to kill him. But, he healed from every wound we gave him, no matter how severe. I believe that Immortal might be more than just a nickname.  I now believe that he will actually live on for eternity.”

     “Impossible,” the prince snapped. “No one is immortal. There’s no such thing.”

     “And yet, despite our best efforts, he still lives,” the Sovereign stated. “So I locked him in a dungeon in Woodhole prison and left him there to rot. Now, someone has found him and set him free. He has been weakened by his time in the dungeons, but he is still extremely dangerous. We need to find him and take care of him quietly so that the masses cannot be reunited under him. If he rebuilds his armies and starts another war, I shudder to think what might happen this time.”

     “I understand father,” Prince Vikryn said, nodding his head slowly. “I owe that man a debt of vengeance for what he has done to me. I shall gladly hunt him down and take care of him, either by returning him to his prison, or killing him myself.”

     “Good,” the Sovereign said, nodding his approval. “Gather up your best Houndsmen for your hunt.  You will also have all the equipment you need from the royal armory and any supplies you need as well. Hunt well my son. The survival of our Kingdom lies in your success.”

     “I will father,” the prince responded, gently caressing the grey mask covering the burnt half of his face. “I will not let you or the Kingdom down. I will not let myself down. I will have the vengeance I have sought since I was a child.”

     “My best assassins and executioners could not kill Aerron in all the time he was locked away in our dungeons,” the Sovereign stated, letting out a sigh of frustration.  “I pray that you will have the talent necessary to end his existence.”

 

“Alaaf,” Vikryn called out as he thrust open the door to the antechamber of the Houndsmen kennel.  “Where are you, my old friend?”

“Here Sire,” Alaaf called back as he entered the antechamber from the opposite end of the room.  “I was in the kennel preparing your Houndsmen squad.”

“Excellent,” Vikryn smiled.  “I knew you would be ready for me.  Show me what you have.”

“Of course Sire.  As soon as I received your request, I began to assemble your squad.  Come, let me show you who you will be taking with you.”

     Alaaf led the prince through the back door of the antechamber, and into the main room of the kennel.  The kennel itself was a similar to a dungeon, with a dozen cages lining the walls on each side of the room.  While some of the cages were empty, most of them housed a single occupant each.  The occupants of the cages, both men and women of varying ages, were all dressed in dark grey, tightly fitting, single piece uniforms, designed for utility over style or comfort.  The head of each occupant was completely shaven bald, giving the group a sense of conformity that helped to strip away their individuality.  Though locked in cages, the occupants were allowed unusually comfortable conditions inside their cages, including comfortable bedding, and any other accouterments that would be found in any ordinary bedroom.  As Alaaf led the prince down the hallway of cells, some of the occupants rose to their feet to watch the men walk by, while others remained in their beds, ignoring the procession, and others still buried their noses in books or other forms of entertainment.

     At the end of the hall, Alaaf led Prince Vikryn through a doorway, into another large room.  The walls of the room were lined with racks of various types of weapons, both hand to hand, as well as bows and crossbows.  The center of the room was and empty dirt circle, that encompassed every available space not taken up by the racks of weapons.  Standing in the center of the dirt circle, a group of three people, two men and one woman, all dressed in grey uniforms and shaven heads.  A tall man, dressed in full leather armor, his head missing all sign of hair as well, though a result of natural loss, stood beside the group of three.  As the prince entered the room, all four lowered themselves down to one knee, bowing their heads in reverence.

     “My prince,” Alaaf said loudly, gesturing towards the group before them, “As you have requested, I present you with my very best squad of Houndsmen, led by one of my most experienced hunters, Kretch.”

     “My liege,” the elder man said, crossing his right arm over his chest in salute.  Kretch, a man in his fifties, had been a hunter and trainer of Houndsmen for most of his life.  The man prided himself on his knowledge and experience training the Houndsmen, and was well respected among his fellow hunters.

     “Behind Kretch we have Mooris and Daan, two of our most exceptional Houndsmen.”
As Alaaf announced them, each man in turn saluted. Mooris was a tall, massively brawny man of obvious great strength. In contrast, Daan was a thin man of average height and average build.

     “And finally,” Alaaf announced, gesturing to the young woman kneeling quietly beside her comrades, “we have the youngest member of this squad, Kaishu.”

     “Your Highness,” Kaishu said, looking up at Vikryn with cold, steel blue eyes. Kaishu’s appearance seem of her comrades, tall and thin with a strong musculature, and a face that was calm yet austere. Vikryn could tell instantly that Kaishu’s mind was sharp, and she had quickly analyzed every detail of her current situation.

“It is an honor my prince,” Kaishu said quietly, as she gave Vikryn a rigid salute.

     “An interesting selection,” Prince Vikryn said, walking around the group, studying each member as he passed. “I look forward to hunting with you all.”

     “Now then,” Alaaf said, gesturing for his squad to rise to their feet, “let us discuss your hunt.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legends Of The Genemage: The Eternal Sovereign, Chapter One

Mathus let out a triumphant shout as he thrust his sword deep into his opponent’s chest. A wicked grin crossed his face as Mathus watched the fire in his opponent’s eyes slip away, leaving behind only the cold stare of death. Mathus pulled his sword back with a grunt, kicked his opponent’s dead body to the ground, and turned to face the crowd of people watching him. Slowly, Mathus moved his gaze to each member of the crowd, judging each person’s reaction, before raising his sword above his head and shouting his victory to the heavens. The crowd around Mathus burst out in cheers, filling his heart with pride. As the crowd continued to cheer, a young woman broke free and ran up to Mathus, circling her arms around him in a tight embrace. Mathus reached down, picked the young woman up into his arms, and gave her a deep, passionate kiss, causing the crowd to cheer even louder. Mathus stood proudly, his arm around the waist of the young woman, soaking in the cheers of his adoring fans when he began to feel a tapping sensation on his arm. Mathus looked down at the young lady standing near him who seemed to be saying something to him, though her voice could not be heard over the din of the crowd. Mathus leaned down closer to the woman, and tried to focus on her voice, but was surprised to find the woman saying his name repeatedly in what sounded like a distinctly masculine voice. The shock of hearing such a beautiful woman speak in a male voice, that also sounded rather familiar, was enough to shake Mathus out of his dream state, and pull him back to the real world. Mathus groaned as the crowd of cheering people melted away into the pale grey stone walls of the dungeon Mathus guarded in his real life.

“Mathus,” Merrick growled, poking Mathus in the arm repeatedly. “Wake up man. It’s time for dinner. Come on! Wake up already.”

“Yeah,” Mathus moaned, sitting up in his hard, wooden chair. “I’m awake. I’m awake.”

“Good,” Merrick growled again. “Tired of listening to you snoring anyway.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mathus growled back. “You aren’t exactly a silent sleeper either you know.”

“Whatever man,” Merrick said gruffly. “Wipe the drool off your face and get ready to eat.”

“Fine,” Mathus grunted. “You know, you woke me up from a really good dream.”

“Oh, boo hoo,” Merrick said with a laugh. “Did you get the girl this time at least?”

“Yeah,” Mathus replied with an air of pride, and then quickly lowered his head in dejection. “Well, almost. I had the girl, but you woke me up before anything good could happen.”

“Aw, I’m sorry pal,” Merrick said, trying as hard as he could to hold back his laughter.

“Are you boys done arguing now,” A woman’s voice said abruptly.

Mathus looked to the direction that the female voice originated to see a short woman pushing a cart towards him. The woman stood approximately three feet, eight inches tall, with broad shoulders, and short arms and legs, the woman was a member of the dwarven race, and was therefore considered a lower class in society.  As a result of her class, one of the few jobs she would be considered qualified for was a food servant.

“Evening Zigg” Mathus said, smiling at the woman. “What’s on the menu for tonight?”

“Only the best for my boys,” Zigg said, placing a plate of food on the wooden table in front of Mathus. “Boiled meat and potatoes. I know it’s your favorite.”

“Yeah,” Mathus said, pawing at the meat in front of him with a look of distaste on his face. “My absolute favorite. I hope you have plenty of salt to go with it.”

“Oh,” Zigg said with a hint of glee as she pulled a flask out from under a napkin. “I’ve got something much better than salt. I brought you boys a little something to get you through the night. I know how boring guard duty in a dungeon must be. So, I brought you a bit of spirits to keep you guys in a good mood.”

“You are the best Zigg,” Mathus said with a wide grin, his mood instantly improving. “I think I might be in love with you.”

“Oh stop,” Zigg said, blushing from the attention. “You know how I feel about you boys. Now, eat, drink, be as merry as you can in a dump like this. I’m going to feed the prisoners, and then I’ll be back to clean up after you boys.”

“Hey Zigg,” Merrick said with a salacious grin. “When are you gonna be on this menu?”

“Man, don’t do that,” Mathus scolded.  “Don’t be such a gross pig.”

“Come on,” Merrick laughed. “Live a little, will ya? I’m just havin’ some fun with our girl Zigg. She knows I’m just kidding around.”

“It’s okay Matty,” Zigg said. “I know he’s just kidding. Besides, the truth is that ol’ Merrick here couldn’t handle all of this on his best day.”

“Well played Zigg,’ Merrick said with a laugh. “You got me good on that one.”

Zigg shook her head and then turned to walk down a long hallway of barred doors to bring food to the prisoners being held in the dungeon. Mathus and Merrick, still laughing, focused on the meals in front of them, and the bourbon Zigg had snuck in for them.

“All kidding aside,” Merrick said through a mouthful of food, “what do you think? Would you?”

“Would I what?” Mathus asked, eying Merrick warily.

“Would you ever…you know…with Zigg?”

“What are you talking about,” Mathus asked, not sure he wanted to hear the answer.

“Do it,” Merrick blurted out. “With Zigg? You know, would you fuck her?”

Mathus shook his head and let out a long sigh before attempting to answer Merrick’s question. “First of all, crossbreeding with a member of the dwarven race is against the law, with rather severe punishment attached. Second of all, you should not be talking like that about Zigg. She is always good to us, and you should not be treating her that way. If someone heard you say things like that, if she heard you say things like that, you could be in really big trouble. Then again, you are a pig, so I really can’t say I am surprised to hear garbage like that come out of your mouth.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Merrick said, waving his hand as if to swat away an annoying fly. “Illegal, blah, blah, blah. I’m a pig, blah, blah, blah. Whatever. Come on man, just answer the question.”

Mathus let out another sigh and opened his mouth to answer Merrick when he realized that his mouth had become incredibly dry. Mathus stuck his tongue out to lick his dry lips, but noticed that his tongue had begun to swell in his mouth. Mathus attempted to swallow, but noticed that his throat felt like it had begun to tighten as well. Mathus looked up at Merrick, and noticed immediately that his vision had become blurred to the point that he could not focus on anything. A sudden pain in his chest caused Mathus to lurch forward and fall out of his chair onto the floor. Mathus began writing on the floor, clawing at his throat and chest as his lungs began to burn as if they had been lit on fire inside him. The last thing Mathus saw through his blurred vision, was the image of Merrick lying on the floor across from him, foam pouring out of his mouth as his body convulsed in the throes of death. Mathus’ vision continued to blur until all he could see were blobs of color, which then morphed into blobs of black and grays before turning into complete darkness. Soon after that, Mathus slipped into unconsciousness, as his heart seized completely.

Zigg walked up to the two guards lying dead on the floor, and gave each one a quick kick to check for movement.  Satisfied that both men were dead, Zigg then walked to the dungeon entrance, and pulled open the large, wooden door with a loud grunt.  On the other side of the door, a male dwarf dressed in a black cloak waited, a look of impatience on his gruff face.

“Did the poison work,” the male dwarf asked abruptly.

“Yes Grann,” Zigg replied. “Just like promised. I enjoyed watching those bastards choke on their own tongues.”

“Easy Zigg,” Grann said. “Don’t get overexcited. This is a rescue mission. We are not here for revenge.”

“I know,” Zigg sighed. “But, you don’t know how those guards used to treat me. It was gross. It was……”

Zigg paused, choking back tears as she stared down at the dead guards. Grann walked up to Zigg, and give her a strong embrace.

“I know Zigg,” Grann whispered. “They treat us like animals. Or worse. But that’s why we have been searching for him for so long. He can help us heal. He can help us get a better life.”

“You really still believe in him after everything that happened Grann?”

“I never stopped,” Gran replied. “You never knew him like I did, but I would gladly give my life for him. That’s why I never stopped searching for him. Now, let’s go get him.”

Zigg nodded her head, and led Grann down the long, dark hallway of dungeon cells. As the two dwarves passed by the dead guards, Zigg gave one guard another swift kick, and then quickly grabbed a ring of keys from his belt. As they walked down the hallway, the horrid odor of death and decay assaulted Grann’s nose, causing him to choke back the urge to vomit. Grann shook his head in disgust at the squalid conditions of each cell he passed.

“Even the worst criminal does not deserve to be treated like this,” Grann whispered in disgust.

“I have to walk these halls every day delivering barely edible slop to these prisoners,” Zigg said. “I have seen the worst treatment you can possibly imagine down here. I have seen things that no one should be forced to witness. This place is far worse than you can imagine.”

Grann solemnly shook his head as he followed Zigg to the final cell at the end of the hallway. Once there, Grann turned back to keep watch as Zigg fumbled with the stolen key ring. Once she found the correct key, Zigg unlocked the heavy wooden cell door. Grann walked up to the door, leaned against it, and let out a grunt as he shoved the door open to reveal one lone prisoner in the cell behind it. The prisoner appeared to be an old man, frail and emaciated, with long, scraggly hair that seemed to be swallowing his gaunt face. Grann choked from the odor wafting out from the prisoner’s soiled clothing, and he had to again fight back the urge to vomit.

“Are you sure this is the right guy,” Zigg asked, failing to hide her doubt.

“I don’t know,” Grann replied, his voice muffled beneath his hand as it attempted to block the foul odor in the cell. “It’s hard to tell. He looks so…different.”

“Yes, well, twelve years of prison will do that to a guy I suppose,” Zigg said. “Especially when they are treated so horribly.”

Grann walked up to the prisoner, leaned as close as he could stomach, and stared into the man’s lifeless eyes.

“Nothing,” Grann said, waving his hand in front of the prisoner’s eyes. “His eyes are wide open, but his mind seems to be somewhere else entirely.”

“I’m not surprised,” Zigg said sadly. “His mind has probably shut down to escape the horror of this place. We may not be able to get him back. If that is even him at all. I knew this was a bad plan! I have been saying that from the beginning.”

“Woman, please be quiet,” Grann snapped. “I don’t need your negativity right now. It’s not helping at all.”

“I’m sorry Grann,” Zigg said. “But you have to admit that this is not good. We still don’t even know if this is the right guy or not.”

Grann held up his index finger, signaling Zigg to pause for a minute, then turned back to the prisoner. Taking a deep breath and holding it, Grann reached down, grabbed the prisoner’s shirt, and roughly tore it open to reveal a large, grotesque scar on his chest.

“What is that,” Zigg asked, horrified by the sight.

“That my dear,” Grann replied feeling his confidence grow, “is the evidence I needed to see. That my dear is the proof that this is the man we are looking for. That my dear is my long lost friend and our former leader.  That is the man known as Aerron The Immortal.”

“So,” Zigg said, pausing to study the sickly, repugnant prisoner before her, “this miserable wretch is the great general that led our people into the Doomed Rebellion against the Sovereign? Seriously?”

Grann let out a loud sigh that was a mix of frustration and great amusement at his comrade. “Yes. This is our brilliant leader. We have found him at last. We can rescue him from this vile place and he will bring our armies down upon the head of the Sovereign once again!”

“Which we will probably lose again,” Zigg said quietly.

Grann shot an angry glance at Zigg, then let out another deep sigh. “Yes, well, we have to do something. We can’t continue living as servants to the humans. That’s no kind of life for any of us.”

“You don’t have to tell me that,” Zigg stated. “I have been serving slop to prisoners in this cursed dungeon for the last year! No one knows more about the pains of servitude than me, I assure you.”

Grann walked over to Zigg, gave her a kiss on the cheek, and then embraced her. “I’m sorry my love. I meant no disrespect. I know you have suffered here. As I know you have also seen suffering here that no loving soul should be forced to witness. That’s why I know you understand how important it is that we take Aerron out of this damned place.”

“I get it,” Zigg said. “I know how important this is to you. I truly do. So, let’s get him out of here then. We can figure out the rest after that.”

Grann removed a leather harness he had been wearing under his cloak, handed it to Zigg, and then reached down to pull Aerron away from the wall. The moment Aerron felt Grann touch him, he seemed to instantly snap to life, letting out a guttural moan. Grann grabbed Aerron’s head in his hands and forced the decrepit prisoner to focus on his face.

“Aerron, my old friend,” Grann said, staring into the wild eyes of the prisoner. “It’s me, Grann.  Focus on me, my friend.  Focus! I’m not here to hurt you. We are here to rescue from this place.”

Grann was relieved to see a hint of recognition fill his friend’s eyes, and he felt tears well up in his own eyes even as his mouth formed a jubilant smile. Grann then slid Aerron away from the cold stone wall he had been propped up against, and signaled for Zigg to bring the harness over. Zigg quickly complied, moving behind Aerron and sliding the harness around him. Grann watched anxiously as Zigg tightened three buckles around Aerron’s chest and arms, then nodded his head at Zigg. Zigg then grabbed onto Aerron with one arm, holding him up in a sitting position, while Grann moved behind him. Zigg helped Grann put the harness back on with her other hand as she leaned Aerron forward.  Once the harness was back on Grann, Zigg helped him tighten four more buckles around his chest and torso. When both Zigg and Grann were satisfied that the harness was secure around both men, Grann began dragging Aerron out of the cell with Zigg walking ahead of them. The pair exited down down the dungeon hallway, past the poisoned guards, and proceeded to drag Aerron’s frail body up a small flight of stairs and out into the cool night air outside. Zigg and Grann paused once they reached the outer courtyard of the dungeon, and began inspecting the area around them through the moonlit darkness. Grann could hear the raspy hiss of Aerron’s breath as he took in the fresh air for the first time in possibly years, and his heart began to fill with hope.

“Kierick,” Grann called out, his voice nothing more than a loud whisper. “Where are you?”

“I’m here,” a deep voice called back. “behind this shed.”

Grann chuckled as he and Zigg moved towards the shed near one of the massive stone walls surrounding the courtyard of the prison. As they approached, a tall man, approximately nine feet in height with a robust build and shoulders almost as wide as he was tall, stood up, towering over both of the dwarves as well as the shed he had been attempting to hide behind.

“What are you doing Kierick,” Grann asked with a laugh.

“Trying to hide,” Kierick replied. “It’s not easy for us big guys to find good hiding spots you know. Luckily it is dark out, so that makes it a little better.  I did run into a couple of guards though.  Don’t worry, I took care of them.”

“Sure, sure,” Grann said, his laughter increasing. “Good job my friend.”

“Is that him,” Kierick asked, pointing his meaty finger in the direction of the passenger on Grann’s back.

“Is that him,” Grann repeated, his tone laced with mockery. “You know, just because you ogres have the reputation of being stupid, doesn’t mean you have to prove it right.”

“Watch it, runt,” Kierick bellowed. “Or I will squash you like a tiny little bug.”

“Will you two keep it down,” Zigg hissed. “We are trying to avoid alerting anyone that we are here.”

“Relax Zigg,” Grann said, waving a hand towards the female dwarf. “We are just fooling around. But, she’s right Kierick, we need to keep quiet and get out of here as quickly as we can.”

“No problem,” Kierick whispered as quietly as his deep voice would allow. “I’m ready. Let’s get loaded up and go.”

Kierick knelt down beside the dwarves, and Gran and Zigg worked together to pull Aerron out of Grann’s harness, and slide him into a large basket attached to Kierick’s back. Once Aerron was secured in the basket, Gran and Zigg then climbed in. When all three passengers were safely tucked away in the basket, Kierick rose to his feet and left the courtyard as quickly and quietly as he could. The dungeon that Aerron had been locked away in had been located in a remote, wooded area, a factor which facilitated the group’s escape. Once Kierick had brought the group deep into the forest surrounding the dungeon, they all breathed a deep sigh of relief.

“By the sake of the ancients, we made it,” Grann said unable to hold back the tears that streamed down his face. “It’s so good to see my old friend again!”

“Old is right,” Zigg said, casting a disapproving glance towards Aerron’s feeble form. “He doesn’t look like he has much life left in him. I hope he was worth all the trouble it took finding him and getting him out of that prison.”

“Have some faith woman,” Grann barked. “If not in Aerron, then at least in me. Is that so much to ask?”

“No my love,” Zigg replied, letting out a long sigh. “I do have faith in you. I always have. That’s why I went along with this plan. If you say that Aerron will help our people fight back against the Sovereign, then I believe you. And I will stay by your side no matter what barriers we face.”

“Thank you, my love,” Grann said, placing his hand on Zigg’s cheek. “That is all I ask for.”

“So then,” Zigg said, her demeanor perking up. “What is our next step?”

“Ah yes,” Grann replied, clasping his hands together excitedly. “Kierick, take us to the Healer!”

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