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The Gods' Game, Part 1

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The Gods' Game, Part 1

 

By: Liz Inverse

A spurned Dark Elven woman seeks to take revenge on the god that impregnated her. Little does she know that she's only the first pawn in a game that could mean the end of the world. Written by a former player from Sieghardt, from the MMORPG Lineage II.
 
 
Prologue
"Great Mother of the Abyss..." a young voice whimpered in the darkness, "please hear the plea of your devoted faith-daughter."
The young dark elf, named only Synshlee, kneeled to the floor, her tear-streaked face rising up to look at the statue representing her cardinal goddess. The hardened gaze of the bound Hierarch Mitarell was the only thing that looked upon her as she once again bowed. He stood in silence, secretly wondering what could be troubling a young dark elf so much to the point where she stayed in prayer for hours, showing emotions that dark elves were traditionally never supposed to openly show to anyone. He sighed and shifted slightly, the only movement that the cursed seal upon him would allow, before feeling the statue behind him shudder slightly. A shiver passed through him, and his vision suddenly became dark.
"What would bring a child such as you to my presence for unrelenting hours upon end?" a strong female voice suddenly boomed through the temple. Synshlee's head snapped up and she looked up to the statue, her eyes wide. The voice was coming from the Hierarch's mouth, but was unmistakably the voice of Shilen, although she had never heard Shilen's voice before. Synshlee bowed low once more, her forehead touching the cold stone floor.
"Please, oh great Shilen," she began, shivering with fear, "I was visited and wooed by your brother Sayha who disguised himself as a Dark Elf, as one of your beloved creation-children, and has left his seed within me which has begun to grow. Once he discovered my pregnancy he revealed himself and disappeared, abandoning me, spitting upon me and insulting my weakness. Please oh great Mother..please help your lowly child..." she pleaded, her voice cracking with fresh tears.
There was a small stretch of silence, and then came the noise of Shilen's amused scoff. It was not the reaction Synshlee had expected, and she raised her head quickly to stare at the statue, tears streaming from her eyes.
"So my brother wishes to follow in our father's footsteps. What shame he brings to my cursed mother Einhasad." she mused to herself. To Synshlee she said, "You chose your path when you allowed yourself to be seduced by a stranger. No pity shall you receive from me, as I received none when my father abandoned me after completing his lust."
"But... what shall I do?" Synshlee asked, her voice thick, "I risk the wrath of Einhasad herself... she will surely destroy all of the dark elves in retaliation... I did nothing to deserve this!"
"Surely. But neither did I." Shilen stated almost sadly, her voice fading. Hierarch Mitarell's eyes suddenly lit back to life and he shook his head, as if clearing the remains of Shilen's presence from him. He focused again on Synshlee, who was slowly pushing herself to her feet, sniffling loudly.
"Finally give up?" he asked her in his sharp voice. Synshlee nodded dully, and turned without a word. Unaware of what had just transcended, the Hierarch watched her leave, feeling confusion but not allowing himself to show it.
Nine months later, Synshlee lay tied to the birthing bed, her small body wracked in pain as she gave birth to something she feared. Carrying the child of a lesser god became a frightening experience for the teen, as the effects of its forming power began to do strange things to her body. She seemed immune to sickness or injury. Her skin began to look healthy again, like the tree-dwellers. Those around her whispered that she was never one of them to begin with, just a bewitched spy for the light elves. Others were afraid of her seeming newfound immortal status. Synshlee wanted to be rid of this child, and quickly, so life may return back to what it had been before she had ever laid eyes on the disguised god.
Much like Shilen, as she gave birth she cursed Sayha for the insult of leaving her with his spawn. And she cursed Shilen for her own bitterness. There was a final, burning pain, and then the sounds of a baby crying.
"It's a girl!' the midwife proclaimed, cleaning off the new baby. She laid the baby in a bassinet at the end of Synshlee's bed, untied Synshlee, and rushed out. Superstitions had evolved that, if one remained in Synshlee's room, one might become cursed.
Synshlee lay on her back, her head turned to stare at the wall beside her, trying to ignore the cries of her newborn. She didn't want it. She wanted the frightful thing to disappear. A tear escaped her eye, as she knew it wouldn't be long now before Einhasad discovered the child. Being half-god, it had to be emanating some sort of power.
Synshlee suddenly returned from her thoughts and realized the child had stopped crying. She pushed herself to a sit quickly, maternal instinct worrying for the health of the baby despite herself. What she saw, however, was not what she expected.
Seated quite peacefully at the end of her bed, was what she instinctively knew to be Shilen herself. Her chest was bare, and she was breast-feeding the tiny infant Synshlee had just birthed. This form was most likely not her true form, being a goddess meant she could appear however she pleased. This form resembled something of an elf, but she had a more human-like face than the dainty quality elves had. Her skin was white, with a light green tint, like that of the ocean, the only reminder that she had once been the goddess of water. Her hair was long and black, and spilled past her waist and pooled on the bed like it were made of black water itself.
"S...Shilen...?" Synshlee darely bared to whisper. She knew that it was blasphemy to see the goddess, one such as herself, as she had just cursed her not moments before. She knew she should be bowed low, her eyes diverted, but she couldn't bring herself to move.
Upon hearing her name, Shilen took her eyes off the baby and looked at Synshlee. Her pupils, large and dilated, slitted as their eyes met, like a snakes. The effect made Synshlee inwardly shiver. She sighed and looked back at the baby, who was still nursing.
"So you curse me?" she asked, her voice low. It was not booming and harsh like it had been in the temple this time, rather, smooth and comforting like a cold stone to hot skin. "I can not give blame to you though, I know how it must feel." She stood, cradling the baby, and walked to the bassinet.
"You're going to take the child from me? Synshlee asked, not masking the hope in her voice. Shilen looked at her evenly, her gaze hard. Synshlee felt like disappearing under that gaze. She knew that was a question she should not have uttered.
"When I said you chose your path, I did mean it." she said, her voice even. "But..." She laid the baby down gently, "...my foolish brother should have taken care to not involve my creation-children in his silly affairs. He has his own race he could destroy with foolish actions, I won't allow him to bring the wrath of our cursed mother to mine." There was a flash of light and suddenly the cries of two babies filled the room. Shilen stood again, holding a pink-skinned light elf baby. "I have split the child into two separate entities. The division of power should seal any god-like abilities this child would have otherwise developed, and my cursed mother shall never know of this child's existence, or the faltering of my brother's will. Rest easy, and take care of the half-child I have left you. She will grow and be accepted as one of your race." Shilen's form began to disappear like smoke from a dying fire, taking the other baby with her.
"But...what will you do with..." Synshlee managed to ask, looking at the baby in Shilen's arms. Shilen disappeared then with a mysterious smile.
"Worry not and just live as you would" was the last thing Synshlee heard.

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Chapter 1

 

Synshlee never recovered from her fear of the child, whom she named Vuylay. Even though she was no longer of a god-like physique, she still exuded strange behavior, which caused them both to be ostracized and whispered about behind raised hands. Vuylay came to be thought of as a spoiled child, as she would, at inappropriate times, fall and begin crying in pain, clutching a part of her body that was unharmed, or act as if sick when there was nothing wrong with her, among other things. The only thing that she seemed to do that gained approval from the Elders was a latent ability to heal, but the only Magister that would take Vuylay as a student was Magister Harne. Synshlee hated how Harne and her brother watched them with pity. She let them waste such foolish emotions on Vuylay, but she would take no comfort from it.

Bitterness still boiled inside Synshlee towards Sayha. Perhaps it was the childish part of her that never got a chance to mature properly, it was hard to say. She went through the motions of caring for Vuylay, never showing the girl any affection, but never being harsh and abusive to her either. When the girl wasn't in need of any food or shelter, or wasn't hurt or sick, Synshlee treated her as any other stranger in town.

One night Synshlee dreamt of the past once more, but this time she knew that the beautiful stranger was Sayha, and she took up a sword and slew him as he attempted to bed her. This dream gave her such joy and serenity, that she wept in her sleep, wishing it to be true. Perhaps this was a prayer of some sort, because the moment after she slew the lesser god in her dream, the dream scape faded, and she found herself in a richly decorated chamber lit by yellow firelight coming from what appeared to be lava running down the walls of the room. Before her upon a dais sat the form she remembered of Shilen from the night of Vuylay's birth, smiling at her, amused. She had rich black silk draped over her body in a sultry form of a dress, her neck and chest heavily laden with necklaces. The only other jewelry on her body was a shackle around her ankle, symbolizing her banishment to the underworld. Synshlee's dream-sword clattered to the floor and she fell to her knees, her forehead touching the floor in reverence. Shilen chuckled a sultry laugh and she appeared before Synshlee, lifting her chin with a cool finger.

"Would destroying my brother bring you that much peace, creation-daughter?" Shilen asked, her mouth not moving. The amused smile never left her lips, and she smoothed the hair from Synshlee's face. Unable to speak, Synshlee nodded, unable to break the gaze Shilen held her in. Shilen's eyelids lowered, her smile turning dark, and she stood. From the air around her she materialized a sword, large and jagged, that glimmered with unholy light. "This," she began, shifting the sword from one hand to the other, "is the only sword capable of killing a god. It rests within the bowels of the legacy the Giants left behind. The product of their attempts to thwart my parents and become god-like themselves." She swung the heavy blade as if it were as light as a tiny stick. "The dwarf who forged it all those years ago hid it right under the Giants noses, angry that they did not give him credit for finding the metal that could render the immortal flesh of a god mortal. If you find this sword, I will tell you where my brother sleeps, and you can exact revenge for his transgression against you."

"Why...forgive me Great Mother...but why would you assist me to slay one of your kin...?" Synshlee asked, her voice wavering. Shilen gave her a sly smile before dissolving the sword into dream stuff and leaning down to touch her face once more.

Synshlee awoke just as Shilen revealed to her the reason, and the dream, the sword, everything fading into nothingness. All was forgotten moments after she woke, but Synshlee knew she had dreamt something important, and for days afterwords it troubled her. She felt moody and restless. There was something out there that she wanted to find, although she could not remember what. For nearly a month she endured the feeling, and began training under Master Harant, the brother of Magister Harne, as an attempt to sate the restlessness. The day she became a Palus Knight, she could endure no longer. Taking with her a sword and a simple but effective set of armor, she left without a word to anyone, ducking out on the festivities the Village held for all who were knighted that day. Only Harne saw her leave, and ran to catch up with her, Vuylay close behind.

"Synshlee! Wait! Where are you going?" Harne called, panting slightly from exertion. Synshlee paused and turned to glance over her shoulder at Harne. Vuylay's sullen figure came into view behind her, and Synshlee turned before their eyes met.

"I'm leaving. There's something I need to do out there." she said shortly, shifting her shield, which she wore on her back when not in battle.

"But what about Vuylay? Aren't you taking her with?" Harne asked, not masking the shock on her face. Synshlee scoffed lightly.

"You take care of her. You already show more affection towards her than I ever did." Synshlee answered honestly. "Though, who'd want to take care of such a mousy girl anyway? She's more Light Elf than Dark, with the way she carries on." she found herself adding. A tiny part of her wondered what possessed her to say such a thing, as it wasn't true, but she didn't dwell on it. "Take care." With that she walked down the path through the dark forest. After a moment, she heard Vuylay shout "Mommy!" with a tear-choked voice, but she didn't stop, nor show any sign of the cry affecting her. The only thing she focused on was finding whatever it was she was searching for, and feeling peace at last. Maybe then she could return one day as a proper mother. Just maybe.

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Chapter 2

 

For many days, Synshlee traveled the spanse of hilly land called the Neutral Zone on her way to Gludio, hoping for some sort of clue to give her a sense of direction. She'd linger near farmhouses by day, listening to the travelers who would pass by. By night she became a dark shadow of death, never once skipping a day of training her swordsmanship. But still no clue emerged, and she continued to wander without purpose.

"Ne...have you heard?" a farmwife called to her as she passed by their small patch of land one morning. Synshlee paused and glanced at her. The plump, middle-aged woman looked nervously around her and then motioned for Synshlee to come closer. "There are talk of bandits on the loose, a whole clan of them!" Synshlee shrugged to this, as bandits were commonplace in this day and age. The woman continued, wringing her hands in worry, "It's said that they're going to lay siege to Castle Gludio sometime this very day! You should go back and take another route, or you might get killed!"

Synshlee scoffed through her nose and rolled her eyes at the woman, offended by her show of kindness. "Bandits scare me not, old woman. Hurry into your house and lock the doors and bar the windows. I intend to enter Gludio today, and I will. Good day to you." she stated briskly, turning her back on the bewildered human. The woman complied though, and rushed into her house. Bandits don't scare me. she thought, smiling smugly to herself. Although having a bandit king as the lord over Gludio Territory might be an interesting turn of events indeed.

Sure enough, as Synshlee neared Gludio, she caught sight of the bandits, already laying siege to the Castle. Many lay dead in the courtyard from where she could see, but it was hard to tell if they were those protecting the Castle or the Bandit attackers. Battle cries intermingled with the faint howls coming from the abandoned giants tower to the east, creating a hellish atmosphere. The dark part of Synshlee quivered in excitement at the feeling of it. She suddenly wanted nothing more than to cross the river and embroil herself in battle, not caring which side won. It came as no surprise to her when a trio of human onlookers, upon noticing she was alone, approached her with cocky grins and swords drawn.

"Some battle, huh?" one asked, flashing a toothy grin. Synshlee didn't turn to look at him, but glanced in his direction with her eyes half shut.

"Indeed." she murmured, her sword arm tense and ready. Two stood on either side of her, one directly behind her, chuckling to themselves. Synshlee knew what they wanted, either to kill her and pilfer her weapons and armor for adena, or immobilize her, have their way with her, then kill her and pilfer her weapons and armor for adena. She was thrilled for the chance to show off her skills in a real battle and reached for her sword. No sooner than she touched its hilt, she felt the sharp prick of the tip of a dagger in at the top of her spine.

"Ah aaah..." the owner of the dagger said, his smirk apparent even though Synshlee couldn't see his face, "None of that now, don't ruin our fun for us." The other men chuckled.

He wields a dagger...he must be a Rogue... she thought, her hand paused right above her sword. I'll take care of him first. she decided, and quicker than he could react, she drew her sword and opened a deep wound in his side. She jumped back then, ready.

"You bitch!" the Rogue cried, fumbling for a magic elixir that would keep him from dying. Dark Elves were well known to have the skill that struck a major artery with deadly precision whenever they wished it. The Rogue had gotten careless.

The other two closed in on her, and thus began the first battle Synshlee ever had with anything other than a beast or monster. She held up rather marvelously, using magic skills taught to her by Harant to drain life from them when she became weak, or inflicting them all with deep wounds that would slowly kill them if not treated. She thought she would win, until the Rogue recovered enough to land his own blow to her arm. It sliced the tendon and rendered her sword arm useless. Another set of attacks brought her to her knees, and she shut her eyes as they raised their swords again, knowing that there was no way to survive this now.

There was a pause that seemed to stretch for eternity, and then Synshlee felt a rush of air above her head and the cries of all three men. She wearily opened her eyes to see the back of a tall, muscular figure in front of her, wielding a spear with deadly efficiency. Each swing hit her three would-be assailants, and within moments two were on the ground moaning while the third had disappeared over the horizon, running for his life. The person, whom Synshlee blurrily identified as an Orc, then turned around to stare at her for a moment before securing the spear on his back and leaning down to pick her up.

"Don't get ahead of yourself, you're too weak to take on three of them." he murmured, his voice deep and rumbling like thunder. Synshlee attempted to mutter "Mind your own business", but she was too weak to form words, and could only let out a kind of groan. His chuckle was the last thing Synshlee heard as everything went dark with unconsciousness.

It was many days later before Synshlee awoke again. She was comfortably set up in a bed, an elderly human woman dozing in a chair beside her. Her wounds were bandaged, and her armor had been replaced by a soft cotton nightgown of human design. Disgusted by the garment, she grabbed the collar and pulled down, ripping a large opening in it, practically exposing her entire chest. The old woman woke at the sound of tearing fabric and adjusted her glasses before squinting at Synshlee.

"Oh my, you're awake? I'll go let the doctor know and get you some soup." she got up, distastefully eyeing the modification to the nightgown. "Don't even think of escaping, you hear me? You'll stay put in this bed until you've recovered. There's only a few healers pass through here at a time, and until one of them can come do their hocus pocus on you, you're going to stay still." She waddled herself from the room quickly, locking the door behind her.

Synshlee scoffed and looked around, taking in her surroundings. Judging by the appearance of the room she knew she must be in Gludio. The room had one small window set high into the wall. A female Light Elf or Dwarf might be able to squeeze through the small opening, but she knew she'd get embarrassingly stuck if she tried. Grumbling she crossed her arms over her chest and threw herself back against the headboard, pouting. Such a cruel way to treat someone who was injured.

Her thoughts drifted back to the last thing she remembered. It was fuzzy, but she recalled the attacking humans, followed by the help she received from the mysterious Orc. After that, she knew he had said something to her, but all she could recall was the tone of his voice. Her cheeks grew pink at the thought of his arms around her as he carried her into town, despite herself, and she shook her head in embarrassment.

"What am I THINKING of?" she wondered aloud, cross at the way her heart suddenly pitter-pattered for the moment. The old woman wandered back in a moment later carrying a tray with a young light elf girl following her. She set the tray down on the table beside the bed and put an arm around the elf girl.

"This is Glarawen. She's a young mystic right now, but she came to Gludio to study under the Priests here and become an Oracle. I'll leave her here to tend to your wounds." the old woman said, patting Glarawen on the shoulder before turning towards the door. "Oh," she stopped and turned to look Synshlee square in the eye, "And you'll eat that soup unless you want us to tie you down and siphon it down your throat with a tube. You've been asleep for three days and you need to get your strength back. It isn't poisoned, so get that look off your face now." She smiled sweetly at Glarawen once more before shutting and locking the door behind her once more.

"I haven't got much power yet, but I'll do my best" Glarawen said brightly, sitting in the chair the old woman had been seated in before her. Synshlee watched her crossly as she held her hands in front of her in prayer, asking her goddess for strength, before holding them over the first of Synshlee's wounds. A dim glow formed between the wound and Glarawen's hands as her magic went to work.

"How insulting." Synshlee said icily, turning away from the girl. She was bright and full of sunshine. The invisible glow she emanated hurt Synshlee's eyes.

"I'm sorry?" Glarawen asked, looking up to Synshlee, honest concern etched there. Synshlee made a sour face.

"To be healed by the powers of Eva. It's a greater insult than the one her brother gave me." Synshlee spat. The warmth of Glarawen's healing spell stopped, and Synshlee turned to find the girl gripping the edges of her chair, her shoulders scrunched close, large tears welling in her eyes.

"I...I'm sorry!" she said, her voice thick, "I knew you wouldn't like me healing you, I'm really sorry! I'll tell them that I don't have the strength yet to do it, ok? And then I'll try to find you a Shilen healer, ok?" Large droplets rolled down her cheeks. Synshlee looked at her in surprise, as she never thought a Light Elf would be genuinely disappointed to not be able to heal a Dark Elf. Guilt gnawing at her, she sighed in defeat and held out her injured arm.

"Don't worry about it, just finish your work, ok?" she grumbled. It took a moment before her words clicked, and Glarawen's face brightened immediately. Synshlee winced and looked away from the glow.

"Alright!" she said happily and went back to her magic.

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Chapter 3

 

A few days later, Synshlee emerged from the house, thankful to be out of the Old Tyrant Woman's care. She was monitored by the woman constantly, forced to eat foods that the old lady insisted were good for her but tasted less than appetizing. (The later effects on her stomach from the food were less than appetizing as well.) Her arm was healed, but still ached when she lifted her sword. She knew once she got out and began training again the ache would subside. She stayed in the inn for a few days, telling herself she was waiting for clues for her search, but found her heart jumping whenever an Orc entered the pub. This troubled her, so she packed up supplies and left Gludio to make her way to Gludin. Being a port town, surely there had to be something there that would strike familiarity in her and finally give her purpose for her search.

She discovered, while talking to holy warriors clearing out the Ruins of Agony, that the siege on Gludio had failed, and the bandit clan had scattered, the alliance that held the castle was a large one, and now they hunted those who dared to challenge their power. She hunted alongside them for a bit, honing in her skills on the undead that had taken up residence in the once prosperous town of olde.

Much to her dismay she found she could not wield her sword properly due to the pain that did not diminish, so she decided to become a Blade Dancer along the way. The extra blade would make up for the weakness in her primary sword arm. It was nearly a month before she arrived in the busy port town, and she bid goodbye to the holy warriors who agreed to escort her there. (Payments were made up nightly, as much as it disgusted her to give humans that much of her, she vowed that she would kill them later to regain her fallen pride.)

It was a week before her first clue finally made it to her. While in the warehouse one day, the freight men were talking with another traveler about the legend of a great Dwarven smith of ages old. Her heart suddenly began to thud in her chest, and she lingered near them to hear more.

"So it's said that sword still exists even today." The freight man said to the traveler, who nodded vigorously, their beard bobbing. "Some even think that it's within reach of any traveler that will brave that place, isn't that exciting?"

"Think of the money that would come if we Dwarves got a hold of it first! We could break down the construction and make a whole line of swords like that! Then WE could control who was the most powerful as we saw fit, no more exhausting paperwork when we go about switching sides." the other freight man said.

"What sword are you talking about?" she found herself asking excitedly. The dwarves turned to look at her, annoyed with her obvious eavesdropping.

"None of your business." one freight man said, turning away from her.

"Nope, none of your business." the other said, turning his head in the same direction.

"The God-Slayer sword." the traveler dwarf said in a female voice. Synshlee's eyes twitched. She'd forgotten that aged dwarves all looked like men, even if they were female. The two freight man's jaws dropped as they stared bug-eyed at the traveler, shocked that she would speak so openly to a Dark Elf. "The name's Mama. Mama Pixie. You can call me Pixie because you're not even close to being able to call me 'Mama'." the dwarf laughed at her own joke and held out a hand to Synshlee, who didn't mask her disgust and lightly touched the large hand. "Come with me, I'll tell you what I know." she said, motioning towards the door.

It was evening; the afternoon ship had just arrived from Talking Island, young adventurers and merchants pouring off of it, eager to begin on the mainland. Synshlee stood with Mama Pixie on the hill outside of Gludin, watching the travelers make their way into town.

"The God-Slayer..." Pixie began, puffing on a delicate, feminine-looking pipe, "was created eons ago for the Giants by a Dwarven Smith whose name history has long since swallowed. Elmoreden Scholars believe that the sword was never intended to slay any god, it was just a fluke in design." She took a long drag on her pipe before continuing. "The Dwarf Smith smelted together a combination of metals that no one has ever successfully smelted since, so the smiths of now believe something else was in the mix. That sword has been highly sought-after for years, as we dwarves have the knowledge now to break it back down into it's components, and re-creating the sword from there. It would be a very prosperous move for us and benefit our race for years to come.."

"That's nice and all," Synshlee interjected in a sharp tone, "but how do you know that sword can kill gods? As far as I knew the gods were all alive and well in their own little hiding holes scattered about the world."

"Ah...that's the best part!" Pixie said, holding up a finger and shutting one eye in a move too girlish for her appearance, "Did you know Paagrio, in ancient texts, has been recorded to having one eye?" Synshlee responded with a blank stare. "Let's just say he got a little too eager to play with the Giants new toy, the silly boy. I always say if you wave a sharp object around, make sure you're blindfolded and wrapped in heavy sack cloth or you're going to put an eye out!" Synshlee's head began to throb, and a moment of silence passed between them as they watched the next shipload of passengers board the boat, now headed for Giran Harbor.

"Well...I suppose I should get back to my journey." Pixie said, tapping the tobacco ashes from her pipe and stowing it inside her armor. "I looked in the mirror before I left the mountains and I said 'Now Mama, you're going to head to the southern lands and find yourself the best man you can and have the biggest litter of babies Elmore and Aden has ever seen!'" Synshlee frowned and looked at the dwarf fully for the first time to see if she was just joking now or being serious. There was no mischief in Pixie's expression, just pure and honest determination.

"Uh...where have you been looking?" Synshlee asked awkwardly, bewildered.

"Warehouses of course! I want a rich man who will bring me and my babies lots of shinies you silly Dusky Lady! That's the best man there is! Forget if he's good looking or smart, so long as he can give me shinies and babies, I'll be a-ok!" Pixie waddled away from Synshlee, making her way back into town. "Oh...I hear there's going to be a group forming in Giran to search the Giant's legacy for treasure...there was talk about hunting down a certain sword...just thought you'd like to know!" Pixie said slyly, a large grin spreading under her beard. She turned away from Synshlee's surprised look and waved as she entered town. "Better hurry if you want to make the last boat!"

Pulling herself from her bewilderment, Synshlee hurriedly made her way to the harbor and got on the boat just as they were drawing the planks in. She found herself a spot towards the back of the boat and sat, watching the ocean. Things had just happened so fast, it took her a moment to grasp everything.

The knowledge of the sword struck some familiarity in her. She knew that was what she was searching for, but for what purpose? It was something important, something that would bring her a justified feeling, but what it was she could not place. Ah well.. she thought, at least I know what I'm looking for now. Satisfied by this, she propped her sword against the side of the boat and leaned her head on the hilt to doze for a few hours before the boat reached Giran.

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Chapter 4

 

It was late at night when the boat finally arrived in Giran Harbor. Most of the travelers exiting the boat set up camp in the empty storage houses around the harbor, or had enough money to pay the Gatekeeper to use her magic and open the dimensional gate that would bring them to the town. Eager to get to town, but too poor to afford the steep price the Ivory Tower had set for their Gatekeepers, Synshlee took a risk and began walking. It would be morning by the time she reached town, she knew, but she couldn't risk missing the group. It was pitch black along the trail, no houses existed in the spanse of land between the city and the harbor. It was deathly silent along the trail, the only sounds she could hear were the distant chirp of a cricket and the crunch of the dirt beneath her feet. She was tired, but the cool air invigorated her senses and kept her going.

She sighed and looked up to the moon, which was large and full. Once her eyes grew accustomed to the dark (which never took long for her) the moon provided enough light for her to see well enough as if it were day. However, she never heard the sound of footsteps as a Dark Elf Assassin approached her from behind. She smiled to herself, excited at the prospect of hunting out the sword, but she never heard the stretching of his bowstring as he pulled it taut. She never knew what hit her, when she suddenly felt an intense pain in her back, and she fell to her knees, her eyes widening before it all went black.

She awoke sometime later as someone held her head and forced a sweet tasting liquid into her mouth. It was cold, but it burned the back of her throat, and she choked upon it. The instant it hit her stomach, she felt the pain in her back subside, and things began to get clearer for her.

"I told ya, you should've just left her." an annoyed voice came, "I just wasted the scroll, and these things don't come cheap, you know?"

"Shh." came a voice from the one that supported her head. Synshlee groaned and turned her head away from the bottle of liquid, and pushed herself to a sit, holding her head.

"What happened to me..?" she asked, blinking her eyes hard, trying to clear her blurry vision.

"You were almost killed, that's what." the icy voice came again. Synshlee looked up to the owner, and a Dark Elf with oddly colored red hair came into her vision. "I just wasted a magic scroll on you pulling your dying carcass from the other world, you realize that? All because this stupid oaf was feeling sorry for the stupid girl laying in the middle of the road. Don't you know that you can't travel these roads at night, alone? By the looks of your armor I'd say you're still pretty weak in battle. What were you thinking?" he asked, folding his arms across his chest.

"You talk too much..." she grumbled, looking over to her other savior, ignoring the flabbergasted babbling of the first. Her eyes widened and her heart began to beat a little faster as an attractive Orc looked back at her. His hair was in dreadlocks, and pulled up into a high ponytail. He diverted his eyes from her and put a cork back into a bottle of red liquid, and stowed it into his supply bag.

"Can you stand?" the Orc asked, standing and offering his hand to her. His voice had the familiar thundering, yet gentle tone that her savior outside Gludio had. Could he be that Orc? Synshlee, struck dumb for the moment, nodded mechanically and took his hand. He pulled her to her feet with little effort. "Come, we will take you to Giran." he said, turning away from the two elves.

"H...Hey! Oonugh! We just left Giran! I don't want to go back there!" the dark elf said. He shot a glare over his shoulder at Synshlee and then turned away to follow his companion. Synshlee glared back at him, then looked down to grab her sword.

It wasn't there.

"Hey...did either of you grab my sword? If you did, give it back!" Synshlee demanded, holding out her hand. Oonugh and his companion stopped to look at her, then looked at each other. The Dark Elf shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.

"I don't use swords, I'm a Spellhowler, remember?" he said to Oonugh, pointing to his staff. Synshlee's face grew desperate, and she darted off the path to search the bushes near the road. Her sword was nowhere in sight. She raised a hand to her neck in worry, and discovered her jewelry, which protected her from unwanted magic, was gone as well as the accompanying rings. She sunk to her knees as the knowledge of what had happened finally struck through her. She'd been shot, and robbed. Tears sprang unbidden to her eyes and she covered her face to hide it as she wept.

"H...hey..." Oonugh said, taking a step towards her. He grew thoughtful for a moment, then looked to his companion. "Amari, we can help her out back in town." he decided for them, closing the space between he and Synshlee and helping her to her feet once more.

"Wait...WAIT A MINUTE. Don't I get a say in this? I'm not going to waste my money on some idiot girl who was stupid enough to..." his words trailed off as Oonugh gave him a stern look. Amari knew better than to trifle with a muscle-bound Orc wielding a spear. His magic was strong, but Oonugh's muscles were, for the time, stronger. "UGH. Fine. You're going to owe me for the next five years though, you know." he grumbled, defeated. Synshlee sniffled and wiped her nose on her arm, her eyes downcast, embarrassed for showing such a display in front of someone from her own race, no less. Luckily, he was not familiar to her, so she knew he was not from her town, and could not gossip about her later.

The Orc in front of her walked at a steady pace, his muscles flexing under his skin as he lightly swung his arms with the motion. Her cheeks grew pink as she remembered Gludio. He had a spear on his back, he had to be the one who saved her then. She yearned to ask him, but not with the other Dark Elf present. Shooting a glare at him again, she wished he'd miss-step and fall into a hole somewhere. His tone of voice annoyed her, and now he was keeping her from speaking openly to the Orc. She began to imagine delightfully cruel things she could do to him, if she had her sword with her still. A serene smile crossed her face then.

"Your grin is very frightening under these circumstances..." Amari stated, looking over his shoulder at her.</P><P>"I just shaped your ears into a human-shape with my sword…" she sighed dreamily.

"I'm killing you later." Amari said, deadpan.

"It won't happen." Synshlee said in a singsong voice, smiling to herself.

"Won't it?"

"It won't."

"Yes it will."

"Nope"

"Yes. It will."

"You two sound like children." Oonugh observed, not looking at them. Amari clenched his jaw, gritting his teeth, then began imagining delightful new spells he'd invent on Synshlee if the Orc wasn't present. A serene smile crossed his face.

And thus two happy-faced dark elves and a solemn Orc entered Giran that night. Witnesses around them drew frightful conclusions from their expressions, which would never be spoken of in a ladies presence, but the jokes emerging from it would accompany many drunken pub-visitor for years to come.

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Chapter 5

 

She was bought a set of dual swords from a Dwarven merchant the next day, and Amari heckled with the jeweler to lower the price on a set of jewelry for her. She did not show any gratitude to them other than a stiff 'thank you', which caused Amari to grit his teeth, but said nothing in retort.

"What were you coming to Giran for?" Oonugh asked, watching a female Orc casting protective magic upon a group of humans and light elves. They sat, some time later, under the grand statue in the center of Giran's square. Synshlee shrugged, testing one of her swords with her right arm. She frowned, as her arm ached each time she lifted the blade. Perhaps she should've chosen what swords she was given, not left it up to the Orc, as any blade, no matter how heavy for her, would be light for him.

"I was going to join a search for something." she said idly, setting the blade down. Crimson Sword, that was the name of the heavy blade meant for her right hand. It was a beautiful red sword, but much to heavy for her handicap. She pursed her lips, trying to think of a way to trade it in for something lighter. Perhaps she could sell it when the Orc finally left...

"It wasn't a treasure-hunting group searching the different Giant ruins, was it? They left three days ago." Amari stated, walking towards the two. He munched on a piece of smoked Elpy meat on a stick. "They were heading towards Cruma first, if you hurry, you can catch up with them." he said, a wicked grin forming on his face. Without thinking, Synshlee stood up, her eyes wide, ready to take off. Her one chance to find the sword was leaving!

"Amari, don't. You know that bandits hide out in Cruma, waiting for lone travelers." Oonugh said, not looking at the Spellhowler. Amari looked to the sky, aloof.

"Whatever could you mean?" he asked innocently, chewing on the now-empty stick. Oonugh threw him a sidelong glance, and Amari turned away, the wicked grin returning. Synshlee glared at him and sat back down, frowning.

"There is no treasure in Cruma; it would've been a waste of time anyway." Oonugh said after a bit, attempting to console her. She grunted, not interested in any pity he would offer. "I've been there before, it's where I met Amari." he said, standing. "The bandits are thick in the swamplands, and they're the kind that kill for pleasure, not because they want to rob you." His spear, which laid beside him as he sat, was re-secured to his back. "Amari and I must leave now. I hope your travels will treat you well from now on. Just be sure you stay alert this time." he said kindly, still watching the female Orc. Synshlee rolled her eyes in disgust at the look the woman was giving him back, and the tiny voice inside of her once again spoke up, questioning if she was jealous. Oonugh glanced down at her, his expression unreadable, and he lumbered towards the north entrance, Amari glancing once at her before taking his staff and following behind the large Orc.

Synshlee watched, several minutes later, as the female Orc and a large party left, heading towards the west exit. The female kept looking towards the north exit, obviously pining away for Oonugh, and Synshlee make a disgusted noise.

"Ne, November, do you think they'll find anything?" someone out of Synshlee's sight asked a pretty dual-wielding light elf near her. November shrugged and adjusted her arm guards.

"Probably not. They're a group full of weak, new adventurers. If the monsters the Giants left behind don't get them, Premo Prime will." she said in a low voice, tossing her hair over her shoulder. Synshlee raised her head to look at the elf. Premo Prime was the name of the beast the Giants left behind in Cruma Tower eons prior. "Stupid lot, all of them," November continued, "believing the mischievous tale of Dwarves. Don't they realize that Dwarves would never reveal the location of anything that could benefit them?" she sighed in pity. "May Eva's grace protect them. They'll need it."

"Are you saying they're the treasure-hunting group going after the sword in Cruma Tower?" Synshlee asked, pushing herself to her feet. November turned a cool gaze towards Synshlee for a moment before looking away.

"Don't tell me you believed that story as well." she mused, smiling. "There is no treasure, no swords, nothing left in Cruma Tower except for monsters and a few carvings on the walls. The Ivory Tower has been sending scholars in there for years, if there was anything in there, it would've been long removed before now. And yes, that was the group that has been gathering people for the journey, why were you going to join them?" November turned as she asked this, but Synshlee had disappeared. She stared at the empty spot Synshlee had vacated, then shrugged and returned to her business.

"A~MAR~I~" Synshlee growled, racing out of the north exit. She was angry. She had been played for a fool by the that cursed Mama Pixie, and played for an even bigger fool by that IDIOTIC Spellhowler. This just would not do. And Synshlee will make sure no one ever played her for a fool ever again.

"I think she's following us." Amari grinned, glancing over his shoulder.

"I think it's a little more than just following us." Oonugh stated, walking towards the side of the path and away from Amari.

"Huh?"

"HHRRAAAAAAHHHH!" Synshlee growled, swinging her dual swords at him. Amari blocked the blows with his staff, putting knicks in it's otherwise unscratched surface. Wide-eyed, he barely pulled off a spell that encased her legs in ice before her next set of swings reached him. "HOW DARE YOU LIE TO ME!" Synshlee shouted, trying to run after him.

"You seem to have thought I had a reason to be truthful with you." Amari said lightly, stepping just out of reach of the points of her swords. "You annoy me, woman. It gives me pleasure to see you fail."

"And it'll give me great pleasure to impale you on the ends of my swords!" Synshlee shouted, swinging her blades at him once again. Amari simply yawned and stepped backwards lightly. "You cursed, son of the bastard daughter of EVA! I hope you swallow your own tongue as you sleep! I hope you misfire a spell and catch YOURSELF on fire! I WISH YOU'D DIE!" she cried, swinging with each word. Amari snickered at her.

"Don't strain yourself too hard now. You'll hurt when the feeling returns to your legs." he grinned. Synshlee paused for a moment to look down, then she gripped the hilts of her swords as hard as she could and darted forward, the ice breaking from her legs, and cutting a neat slice into the chest of his tunic. A thin cut appeared underneath the wounded fabric, and he gaped at it in shock. She thrust her swords forward again, but the ends were caught by two large Orc hands, and pulled from her grip.

"Enough. I desire not to see elf kill elf in front of my eyes." he said, holding the swords out of her reach.

"Good show my large friend," Amari panted, a slight grin touching his mouth as he fingered the new hole in his clothes, "I almost got a little care..." His sentence was cut off as Synshlee's fist made contact with his jaw. He stumbled backwards a bit before staring at her in surprise, a tiny bit of blood gracing the corner she hit.

"You did get careless." Oonugh said, giving Synshlee back her blades. She seemed calmer now, her eyes downcast as she snatched the swords from Oonugh's hands. "I figured it would be best if you learned your lesson properly for lying to people." he said, walking ahead of them both. He paused for a moment and said "You may travel with us as long as you need to, until you feel strong enough to be on your own. Call it my apology to you for the mischievousness of my companion." With that he began walking once more.

"Now see here!" Amari shouted, using a quick healing spell on the wound on his chest. "Don't I get a say in this?"

"Not if you want me as your bodyguard." Oonugh stated logically. Amari opened his mouth, then shut it again, glaring sidelong at Synshlee.

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Chapter 6

 

They set up camp that night, in a safe nook against the mountain, off the path of the stretch of road known as "Death Pass". Synshlee could hear the sounds of dragons from the valley beyond the pass crying and flying overhead, but none came near their tiny campfire. Synshlee sat off in the shadows as Amari and Oonugh passed around dried meat and flask of lukewarm cider. She had, in her rage, forgotten to restock her provisions. Her arm had begun to ache from the strain earlier, leaving her hungry and in an overall foul mood. There was no wind in the Pass, as the mountains sheltered them from it, but the air was still cool and she shivered from it, the feeling not making her mood any lighter. The two men talked in low voices about things Synshlee could care less of. It seemed Amari was on his way to the Ivory Tower to study there, and Oonugh was helping him as Amari seemed to have made many enemies along the way since he left his home, and needed the extra protection.

A sudden feminine howl filled the air, and everyone looked up towards the sound. Amari sighed and relaxed, taking another bite out of his jerky, while Oonugh stood.

"Where are you going?" Synshlee asked, sitting up. She wanted to be prepared if it were something that needed to be killed.

"I'll be back later." Oonugh murmured, disappearing into the gloom. Synshlee stretched as far as she could without standing to watch him go, then returned to her sulking sit.

"He gets after me about walking alone at night, and yet he goes off and does it himself..." she grumbled, folding her arms over her chest. Amari snorted and tossed a small bag of dried meat at her.

"Don't mull over it. He'll be back around dawn. He's much more powerful than you or I combined, I regret to say, so he has nothing to worry about. Us, however, have to pray that Shilen's grandchildren will remain in their valley and not find us as tasty midnight snacks." he said, referring to the dragons flying overhead. Synshlee sullenly opened the bag of meat and tried to pretend to be uninterested in the food, but eating because she felt obligated to, not because she was really starving.

"The gods care nothing of us except to use us to please and amuse themselves." Synshlee murmured.

"Heh. Odd that, I agree with you there." Amari said, pulling a blanket out of his pack and laying down, covering himself with it. "We are their pawns I suppose. For now."

All was silent for a few moments, save for the sound of mighty wings beating overhead, when Synshlee suddenly heard the sound of another howl, this one deeper. A few moments went by when the higher-pitched howl responded.

"What IS going on?" she demanded, sitting up and grabbing one of her swords. Amari, his back facing her, waved his hand lazily.

"Orc mating season is the best way to describe it." he said, yawning. "It's been going on for the past week. Oonugh said it's a ritual they perform once every seven years. Don't think about it or it'll churn your stomach." He pulled his blanket higher around his shoulders. "Oonugh will be back by dawn, he always is, without fail. Strangely good natured and loyal for an Orc Titan, lemme tell ya...won't find another one like him anywhere, probably."

Synshlee huddled closer into herself, glaring into the night.How dare he.. she found herself scowling, before blinking in confusion. Wait..why do I care? she asked herself, scooting down and laying on her side. She curled up as much as she could and stubbornly shut her eyes, determined to sleep despite her cold armor.

The eastern horizon was barely growing pink with dawn when she heard heavy footsteps approaching her campsite. So exhausted was she, that she could barely open her eyes to blurrily see the green-tinted figure of Oonugh crouched over the fire, poking the dying ashes with a stick. She shivered and groaned a bit, laying her head back down and attempting to return to slumber. The footsteps came near her, and she felt a heavy fur pelt being pulled over her body, and her head being placed on something soft. She sighed contentedly in her half-sleep and snuggled under the blanket, her body finally relaxing as it became warm.

"You seem like a child still." Oonugh murmured. Synshlee frowned in her sleep.

"S'all Sayha's fault." she slurred, rolling over. "..didn't want what he gave me an he made me grow up 'fore I was ready." She sighed deeply, returning to deeper sleep. "It'll get better when I kill him." she said, her voice fading. She thought Oonugh murmured something else to her, but it faded quickly as deep sleep set in.

The sun was already climbing towards its high point in the sky when Amari finally stood over her, tsking loudly.

"If you're going to go out and do your ritual thing, then come back and cuddle with the dead weight, do it after I'm at the Ivory Tower, mmkay?" he said, not masking the annoyance in his voice. Synshlee pushed herself up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. She was about to fire an acidic retort to him, when she discovered the 'soft pillow' she'd been using since early dawn was the Orc's leg. Her face instantly went a deep shade of crimson, and she jumped to her feet quickly. Oonugh was rubbing the back of his head, which had been leaning against the rock wall they'd camped against.

"She looked uncomfortable." he stated simply, reaching for the pelt blanket she'd discarded.

"Well yeah, but we want her like that." Amari said, grinning wickedly.

"I'm awake enough to carve up some roast Elpy." Synshlee growled, brandishing her swords.

"Enough. Let us leave before the dragons get hungry." Oonugh said, securing his spear to his back and slinging his pack over his shoulder.

Synshlee once again lingered behind the two men, only half listening to their conversations with each other. Being near the Orc made her feel strange, and it bothered her. She felt weaker near him, and she didn't like it. Jealousy ate at her when she thought of his disappearing the night prior, and by late afternoon she found herself asking "What is the 'ritual'?"

Oonugh looked at her in mild surprise while Amari covered his face with his hand and groaned. He shifted his pack in an almost nervous gesture and thought for a moment before answering.

"It's a ritual that honors Paagrio by bringing forth more warriors to bear arms in his honor. The fire god is pleased when there are more to fight in his name." he said uncertainly, unsure of how to explain it politely. Orcs normally used a very rough and brash manner of speaking, but years of travel had wizened him to understand that people responded better to a gentler tone. Explaining the ritual to a lady, however, was something he never expected to do.

"It's exactly what I told you it was." Amari said, folding his arms behind his head. "Orc mating season. Please don't ask for details, because it's embarrassing to see an Orc be awkward." He turned slightly and raised an eyebrow at her. "Why should you care anyway?"

"I don't care!" she said quickly, her voice higher pitched than normal. Amari grinned at her and turned away.

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Chapter 7

 

It was nearly a week before they finally reached the Human city of Oren. The stone city was set high upon a cliff, it's accompanying castle set a bit farther away from it on a hill. As they stood on the outskirts with the city in view, they witnessed three siege golems pounding on the back walls of the castle. People who looked like ants from the distance they stood in scurried around the walls, the bright glint of metal and sparks as blade met blade reaching even their eyes.

"Oh nice. Great day to go into Oren." Amari said, sitting down on a rock near a signpost. He pulled off a boot and emptied rocks from it. Bloodlust suddenly filling her, Synshlee took a step forward, her eyes bright and intense. Oonugh put a heavy hand on her shoulder and shook his head at her when she turned to glare at him.

"Don't get involved." he murmured. She shrugged out from under his grip.

"What would you care? I'll do what I please!" she spat, taking off towards the fray.

"You'd better listen to him, princess. People who just try to go join a fight end up getting killed, no matter how good they are." Amari called, putting his boot back on. "He was part of the bandit clan that attacked Gludio almost two months ago, he knows. You irk a major power, and they're going to hunt you down to the ends of the earth. Heck, you don't even know who's in power and who's attacking, you go in there and cut both sides down, and you're going to get targeted doubly so." Synshlee stuck her nose in the air and continued towards the castle, blatantly ignoring his advice.

As Synshlee neared the castle, she heard the sound of heavy footsteps running behind her. As she turned she saw a very angry Oonugh fast gaining upon her. Fear lighting in her eyes she slid to a stop and blindly swung at him with her duals. One he deflected with his spear, the other knicked a harmless cut into his shoulder. He wrenched the two swords from her with one hand and threw her over his shoulder with the other.

"Put me down!" she exclaimed, struggling against the grip he held on her waist. She kicked him in the chest, but his muscle felt like kicking a metal rock, and she winced as pain shot up her legs. "Put me DOWN I said!"

"SHUT UP." Oonugh said in a rough voice. "You have something you're trying to do, remember? Don't waste your time fighting in petty meaningless fights until you have what you set out to do." he growled at her. He set her down near Amari.

"Give me my swords." she demanded in a quiet voice.

"No." he said, walking away from them.

"GIVE ME BACK MY SWORDS!" She shouted, running up behind him and kicking his leg. Oonugh let out a beastly growl and whipped around, his hand flying out and backhanding her across the jaw. Synshlee spun a few times before hitting the ground, a shocked look upon her face as she looked back up at Oonugh, who looked back at her, panting a bit with anger. He averted her gaze as her eyes welled up.

"Amari, heal her please. Her jaw is broken." He said more than asked, his voice low. Amari let out a noise that sounded like "piff" and stood.

"Why? I've been waiting for someone to put her in her place."

"AMARI. HEAL HER." he growled, his voice growing the rough edge again.

"Ok ok. Clam down." he surrendered, holding up his hands, lest Oonugh break his jaw too. He kneeled beside Synshlee who was still staring at Oonugh, large tears rolling down her face. "I don't have a very strong heal spell, but it should work enough until we get a real healer to have at her." he murmured, the heal glow emanating from his hand as he held it near her face. He turned to glance at the Orc over his shoulder, who was still gripping both of her swords in one hand to the point where they'd snap under the strength of his fist. "Are you ok?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

"I need to calm down." he said in a forced voice. An Orc temper was rarely quelled outside of anything but battle. For Oonugh to attempt to do without was an amazing show of willpower. Synshlee found herself, albeit pride-stung, respecting the man even more. Here was someone who has seen all of Aden, and learned from it. She suddenly felt very ashamed of herself, and of her pride, and turned her gaze downward, feeling unworthy to be in Oonugh's presence.

"I'm sorry." she said, her mending jaw muffling and skewing the apology.

"What was that?" Amari asked, raising his eyebrows. She glared at him, conveying that, if he understood what she said, it wasn't for him.

They eventually snuck their way into Oren a day and a half later. The siege still raged on, neither side relenting. Guards blockaded the attackers from entering the city for fear that they'd take innocent bystanders as bartering tools. A quick visit to a healer mended Synshlee's jaw to new, and the trio stayed in the inn, waiting for the siege to end. It was the night after they entered Oren when Synshlee entered Oonugh's room shyly. She leaned demurely upon the door after she shut it gently, waiting for him to notice her. Oonugh sat up and looked at her, confused, as she averted her eyes from his gaze. She had discarded her armor in her room and wore nothing but strappy undergarments. She took a breath and approached his bed seductively.

"I suppose I owe you for allowing me to travel this far with you...and for the swords before that.." she said in a husky voice, She sat down on the side of his bed and leaned toward him, gazing at him through heavy lids. "Take what payment you will." she murmured, reaching up to touch his face. Oonugh caught her hand and lowered it back down, surprise lighting her face as he turned away from her and laid on his side, facing the wall.

"I don't want 'payment'." he said, shutting his eyes. "I did what I had to." Synshlee stood up, her lips parting and closing in disbelief.

"So a complete stranger is good enough for you to bed, but not someone you've traveled with nearly a month?" she asked, her voice rising. Oonugh turned slightly to gaze at her over a massive shoulder before rolling back to his previous position.

"I find your jealousy over what my race does to prolong our line disconcerting." he said, letting out a great sigh. "Besides, I have no interest in 'payment' of that sort. Age has driven that sort of frivolous idea from me years ago. It would benefit you to learn now and refrain from offering that 'payment', lest you end up with results that will only further hinder your quest."

"I AM NOT JEALOUS!" she shouted, fists balling at her sides. She spun on heel and stomped out of his room, slamming the door behind her. She entered her own room, slamming her own door behind her because it pleased her to do so. She threw herself on her bed and buried her face in the pillow there, groaning out her embarrassment at being rejected. Never, NEVER had anyone rejected her before when she offered her body! Why, it was unheard of for a Dark Elf to be rejected anything when they used their sexual prowess!

It MUST be that cursed Spellhowlers doing. she glowered to herself, his presence has made Oonugh immune to our natural attractiveness. I'll kill him yet. This thought comforted her immensely, having found a scapegoat that wasn't related to anything about her at all, and she snuggled under her blankets to sleep peacefully.

She never got a chance to ever act on this, however, as the next day the siege ended, and the Gatekeepers were given notice by Ivory Tower to open up their dimensional gates once more. Amari bid goodbye to Oonugh, and gave Synshlee one last smirk before departing for the Ivory Tower via the Gatekeeper. Oonugh then passed Synshlee without a word to go speak with the head Prefect of the Orc Guild stationed in Oren. He did not speak nor look at her for several days afterwards, and Synshlee found herself growing increasingly cross with the situation.

What's his problem anyway? she wondered to herself, wandering aimlessly through the square-shaped city. How can anyone possibly resist a chance to take a Dark Elf to the sheets? It's not like our race takes everyone to bed, we're desired by many, but... She began to seethe to herself. That's it, there's something wrong with that Orc! He should be honored that I would even LOOK in his direction!

Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted as a young Dark Elf boy ran into her back. He fell backwards, rubbing the side of his head which smacked into her armor before looking up at her with a glare. Her lips parted as his expression reminded her of the stubborn look that Vuylay used to wear when someone would tell her no.

"STOP THAT THEIF!" a wealthy-dressed merchant shouted. It was then she noticed the boy held a bag heavily laden with jewelry.

"Oh shit!" he said, scrambling to his feet. Without blinking, Synshlee grabbed onto the collar of his tunic, which caused him to let out a choked noise and fall backwards into her armor. She held him in a half headlock as he struggled against her. "Let go you old bag! Let go!" he grunted, trying to get out of her grip, but too stubborn to let his bag of pilfered jewelry drop. Synshlee waited calmly as the merchant jogged up to her, panting from exertion.

"Thank you." the man wheezed, reaching for the boy.

"Wait a minute." she said coolly, moving to the side and bringing the boy further from the merchant's reach. "I require payment for my services. 800,000 adena for the apprehension of your pickpocket please, or a higher quality set of Dual Swords, as mine are getting old." she stated sweetly. The merchants eyes bugged out and his mouth began to open and close like a fishes, trying to grasp her request.

"That's highway robbery! Haven't you ever heard of a little thing called human compassion?" the merchant stuttered. Synshlee gave him a cool smirk.

"No, actually. Humans have given me more trouble than compassion." she said, letting the boy go. He bolted into the crowd and disappeared.

"You selfish wench!" the merchant roared. "How am I supposed to reclaim that much lost money?" he brought his face near hers, and Synshlee's cheek got speckled with spittle. She gave him a tight-lipped smile and kissed his nose before turning on heel away from him.

"If you promise me a new set of blades, I'll go get your jewels back. In full of course, I'm not a petty thief." she said airily, walking away from him slowly.

"You said 800,000 adena before!" the merchant stuttered, once again dumbfounded. Synshlee turned to flash him a sickly sweet smile.

"Of course. That was before I had to go hunt him down. The conditions changed, so my price changed as well." She winked at him.

"Fine." the merchant muttered, glaring at her. Synshlee walked calmly in the direction the boy had disappeared in, pleased that her charms still worked. At least something would go her way for once.

She found the boy ducked under a cart near the edge of the Lizardmen's camp outside of Oren, sifting through the jewelry. She smoothly reached under the cart and snatched the bag from his grasp. "Thank you." she said, hoisting the bag over her shoulder and walking away.

"HEY! I STOLE THAT, IT'S MINE!" the boy cried, hitting his head on the top of the cart as he stood too quickly. Synshlee chuckled to herself as he crouched back down, holding the top of his head.

"What does a boy like you need with this much jewelry?" she asked, leaning over to look at him. He glared at her through bleary eyes. She blinked at him slowly, letting him know that she wasn't leaving without an answer.

"I need it to get to my moms." he grumbled, sitting down and drawing his legs up to him.

"Your mom's?" she asked. "Why, she doesn't live here?" He sighed and rocked on his bottom a bit.

They went to the Giants Cave some time ago and haven't returned. They said they'd come back for me when the next full moon rose, but that's happened and they're still not back. I need to get enough money to hire a bodyguard to take me to the Cave to find them." he muttered, kicking his heel in the dirt. Synshlee stood and raised an eyebrow.

"They?" The boy made an exasperated noise. "Sheesh you're way too full of questions for an old lady. Shouldn't you be out killing monsters or something?" the boy asked, crawling out from under the cart. Synshlee lowered her eyes at him and smacked him on the forming bump on the back of his head. He groaned and crouched down again, holding the spot. "Ok FINE. Gol you're an evil wench. I have two moms. They're twins. One of them was my birth mother, but neither will tell me because they've both taken care of me equally. Happy now? Can I have the jewelry back please?" he asked, reaching for the bag. Synshlee deftly stepped out of his grasp and turned back towards Oren. She held a hand to her chin in thought. She'd forgotten about the Giant's Cave, and the sword was in a place that even Dwarves feared to go...a place where there would still be 'treasure'. It had to be there. But how could she get there? She was not strong enough herself to take on the monsters in that place. However...

"Boy..." she started.

"Terebel." he grumbled, following her with his eyes on the bag. Synshlee frowned at him.

"What's Terrible?"

"That's my name, Terebel."

"I...see..." Synshlee said carefully, wondering what kind of..people..his mothers were. "Terebel, what would you say if I went to the Giants Cave to find and send your mothers back here? I have the means to do it, there's no reason for a young boy like yourself to risk the rest of his life." she asked, looking down at him. Terebel scoffed and rolled his eyes.

"Yeah right, like you'd help me out of the 'goodness' in your heart. You're from the "Home" Village aren't you? My moms warned me about your type. All stuck up because you weren't raised around any other races. If you're going, you're going because you have some ulterior motive, not because you feel sorry for the poor lonely boy." he said icily, reaching for the bag. Synshlee glared at him and smacked his hand. She wished to say something in retort, but sadly he had brought her up short. She sighed in exasperation and stopped walking to turn and face him.

"Ok FINE. I'm going to the Caves because you reminded me that I'm looking for something. Happy now? I figured since I was going that I would see if I saw your moms there. Now take it or leave it, because I'm not giving you this jewelry back. I need the Dual Swords more than you need money as I see you're not starving or in any need of clothes or medicines." she snapped. Terebel stuck his tongue out at her and kicked her in the shin before taking off back into town. Sucking in her breath in pain, she reached down to rub the tender spot. Ok fine, she thought, I really won't look for your mothers then.

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Chapter 8

 

An hour later (and two swords newer), Synshlee shyly entered Oonugh's inn room once more. This time, however, it was still daylight, and she was fully clothed. He looked up from polishing his spear blade as she entered, only to disregard her and return to his task. Synshlee's temper rose a notch, but she forced herself to keep a mask of cool.

"I have a request to make of you." she began, walking to a writing desk and sitting at the chair there, "Another bodyguard job." He paused in polishing to cast her a sidelong glance. She wet her lips and took a breath before continuing. "I don't have much money to pay you with, but I can..."

"I'm not interested in that kind of payment." he said in a dismissing tone. Synshlee clenched her mouth shut for a moment before letting out a short laugh.

"I wasn't going to offer that, just for the record. But I have reason to believe the thing I'm searching for is in the Giant's Cave, and you said that I could travel with you until I found it, so I'm asking you to accompany me so I can retrieve it." she paused, suppressing the urge to wince and said "Please."

Oonugh slowly set his spear to the side and shifted to look at her in the eye. She gazed back at him, unblinking, letting him know she was serious. He looked away and sighed. "Fine. But we're going to have to travel through the mountains. Aden Castle is under siege by a large alliance, and it'd be too dangerous to try to cross straight over."

"Fine then, when do we leave?" she asked, standing.

"Right now."

The moon was rising by the time they left, and they traveled for several hours through Skyshadow Meadow before finally reaching the Plains of the Lizardmen and setting up camp in the church ruins there until daylight. It was eerily quiet, not even the Lizardmen seemed to be making rounds this night. A storm formed to the north, raining large purple lightning bolts to the ground below. Synshlee could feel the earth shaking from it, even from so far away.

"Some fool woke the ancient Lord Baium again…" Oonugh murmured, poking the fire with a stick. Synshlee glanced at him, confused.

"Again? He wakes frequently?" She asked, watching the sky.

"Once every few years a foolhardy traveler will climb the Tower of Insolence and awaken Baium from his sleep. The trespasser usually dies right away, and the angels descend and seal him back in stone before he can cause any harm to others." he said. "Some believe there is a way to finally put Baium to eternal sleep, but there has been no one strong enough to do so yet."

"Not even you?" she asked seriously. He looked at her, his surprise apparent, before offering her a humanesque amused half grin.

"No. Not even me. I'm not that strong." he smiled, reaching for his pack.

"Yes you are." Synshlee said, her own pride wondering in confusion why she was opening up so easily to him after the rejection he gave her. "I've never met someone stronger than you." Her expression was solemn, and there was no haughtiness or bitterness in her voice. They were silent for a bit, the only noise the receding thunder and the crackle of the fire before he finally said;

"Thank you."

Oonugh woke them up after only a few hours of rest, telling a sleepy Synshlee that they had to get moving before the Lizardmen began scouting the region again. He guided her up a long slope and into a cave tunnel, promising her that she could rest once they reached the next village. She shielded her eyes from the sun as they emerged from the long cave to find herself standing on a path running along the edge of a cliff and then looked at Oonugh with wide eyes.

"Er...what village are we going to, exactly..?" she asked, her voice wavering.

"Hunters Village, why?" he looked at her over his shoulder. Synshlee smiled nervously and waved her hands.

"Uh...no reason, just wondering is all...heheh..." she said, her voice forced. Oonugh frowned at her as she stiffly walked ahead of him. She was acting strange..

A day's worth of travel later, they reached the edge of the solid cliff path and the start of the wooden suspension bridge paths. Synshlee stood at the edge of the first bridge and stared over the edge with wide eyes. The bottom of the chasm was nearly dark, and she heard the sounds of monsters growling below her. Oonugh paused halfway across the bridge to turn and look at her.

"Aren't you coming?" he asked, tilting his head at her. Synshlee's head snapped up to stare at him like she'd never seen him before.

"Huh?" she asked, fear apparent in her voice. Oonugh frowned and walked back to her, taking her hand and pulling her to the bridge.

"Come, it'll be too dark to see the path properly, we have to get to Hunters Village quickly." he said, tugging her along. The instant Synshlee's shoe touched the edge of the first wooden plank, she stubbornly rooted her feet and jerked her hand from his grip and backed up. Getting irritated, Oonugh turned to glare at her. Synshlee sank to her knees, her large eyes welling up with tears.

"I'm afraid of heights!" she suddenly exclaimed, and began crying loudly, like a child. Oonugh stared at her in surprise before his expression softened, and he sighed, shaking his head. Of all things...a Dark Elf afraid of heights.

"Come on." he said gently, and picked her up like a child. "Just hide your face if it's too much to see." Synshlee buried her face in her hands and pressed that against his chest.

"Oh gods I can feel the bridge swaying..." she choked, her body tensing up. Oonugh chuckled low in his throat. He carried her the rest of the way to the Village, which was a tiny place made of wooden houses nestled into the mountain on either side of a great chasm. There was only one cliff path to the village, the rest of the entrances were by suspension bridge across the chasm. Half of the village itself was built into the mountainside and only reachable by bridge. Clearly it was the worst place anyone with Acrophobia could ever visit. Synshlee was clinging to his shoulders, her head buried in his neck, by the time they crossed the archway into it. He set her down almost reluctantly and set off to find them lodging for the night. The village was strangely busy for the time of night, warriors rushed around barking commands at each other. Synshlee could only assume they were on their way to join the siege on Aden. Normally the desire to join them would've sprung forth instantly at the thought of embroiling herself in battle, but the only thing she could worry about now was getting on even land. Imagine...a Blade Dancer like me...afraid of a little bit of elevation.. she thought to herself bitterly. Trying to conquer her fear, she inched her way towards the edge of town and looked over the side of the cliff. The world seemed to spin suddenly and she groaned, falling to her knees. Ok...I get it... she told herself, shutting her eyes.

A familiar cool chuckle met her ears above the din of clattering armor and shouting warriors. Synshlee's head snapped up and her eyes darted around wildly, looking for the owner. She shakingly pushed herself to her feet and stumbled through the crowd.

"Watch it, slut!" an Orc shouted, pushing her away from himself roughly as she accidentally bumped into him. She fell to the ground and woozily raised her head. In blurring vision she saw the familiar cold smirk, and slitted gaze of Shilen watching her from the houses along the upper cliff of the village. Synshlee's eyes widened and she stood shakily once again, walking towards her goddess.

"Shilen..." she said weakly, tripping once, but not falling. Shilen turned away from her and disappeared among the people running along the high balcony. "Shilen, wait!" Synshlee said louder, reaching out. Her next step met air, and Synshlee's eyes widened as a full view of the chasm suddenly came into her vision. A large hand went around her waist, catching her imminent fall and pulling her back. She found herself clutched protectively to Oonugh's body, and she drew in a few shocked breaths at what almost happened.

What were you thinking?" Oonugh asked, his voice thick with fear. His clutch turned into a tight hug as she began to shiver. Shock finally set in fully, and she fainted dead away in his arms.

She woke up a bit later with a shocked gasp, sitting up quickly. Oonugh got up from his place on the floor and sat on the side of her bed to gently push her back down

"Are you ok now?" he asked, genuinely concerned for her. She looked up at him with a mournful expression, the realization that her goddess almost killed her setting in. Tears began rolling down her face and she rolled away from him, embarrassed to be seen. Unsure of what to do, Oonugh put a large hand on her shoulder and patted it gently, trying to console her. A new Synshlee seemed to emerge in that moment, and she darted up quickly and latched onto him in a fierce hug, all of her sadness for the past, her guilt for leaving her daughter, her frustration at the present and her fear for the future all poured out in that one moment. Oonugh hugged her back gently, letting her cry until the tears stopped coming. She stayed hugging him long after the tears faded, letting herself come back to her senses in his embrace. As reality returned, she loosened her hug and pulled back to look into his eyes, trying to convey the confusion he put her heart into. She didn't understand the feelings she felt when she was with him, and she wanted him to tell her what to do about them. He seemed to understand the unspoken plea, and leaned into her, catching her in a kiss that quickly turned fevered.

And what happened after this holds no recording, as private experiences should remain as such, especially when there is so much emotion involved. Did they discover some unspoken love for each other? Perhaps they did, for neither had experienced such feelings before as they did that night. They remained in Hunters Village for several weeks thereafter, making love every moment they could grasp, and honing in their fighting skills in every other moment. When they finally did leave, something had changed within Synshlee, but it would be awhile before either discovered what.

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Chapter 9

 

It had been close to a month since Synshlee and Oonugh left Hunter's Village and began the long trek through the Forest of Mirrors. It was a dangerous detour, and Oonugh warned her that their journey would be prolonged through it, as the forest liked to shift and warp paths, making them much longer than necessary. They had stocked wisely before leaving the Village, but Synshlee found herself growing increasingly weary with every day they fought against the ghosts and spirits of the forest. Her right arm was becoming increasingly stiff every day she lifted her swords, and her balance was being thrown off when she put herself in battle. Oonugh knelt beside her as she tried to catch her breath, the Lizardman Shaman she had just killed groaning and twitching near her as death approached it.

"Are you going to be ok?" he asked, looking at her in gentle concern. Synshlee smiled weakly at him, a single drop of sweat dripping off her chin as she raised her head.

"I'll be fine. Just an old annoyance paining me." she managed out. Oonugh said nothing to this, but held a hand out help her stand. Ever since they left Hunters Village, she had been growing strangely...feminine, was the only word he could think to describe it. It was a noticeable difference from the loud, spoiled girl she'd been prior. No longer did she rush headlong into battle, but lingered back a bit, fully sizing up the monster's capability before taking it on in a fight. She seemed to walk slower as well, but her determination to enter the Giants Cave had not wavered.

They finally exited the Forest one bright morning, Synshlee not masking her relief and laughing happily. It was only a full day of travel from there on until they reached the Cave she knew. Her journey was going to end soon. She would find the sword, and her purpose would be clear, and then she would have peace. Oonugh watched as she danced and twirled in the meadow outside of the forest with an unreadable expression. She laughed and danced like her ancestors once did with their Light Elf brethren, unashamed and unburdened.

It was almost dawn of the next morning when they came upon the Cave entrance. "Cave" would probably not be the best describing word of this place, as it was built of strange blocks that had green glowing, pulsating veins etched into the stone. Strange symbols decorated the rocks. The bridges leading to the cave seemed to hover of their own accord, held up by invisible forces that no one had the knowledge to even begin to fathom. Large cat beasts and bear beasts milled about outside of the bridges with strange demons that looked to be one giant eye with four claws drawn up close to it's body. Among both all of these were large balls that hummed and glowed with ethereal light. Synshlee gulped while looking at the beasts, her heart suddenly pounding in what she couldn't distinguish as anticipation or fear. She and Oonugh were crouched behind a large..plant of some sort. It had a trunk with a circular top, so it was hard to say what it was exactly.

"These beasts won't be a problem to get by." Oonugh murmured. "It's what's inside the cave that you have to worry about. Just stay with me, we're going to have to fight our way through until the very end." He looked at her fully then, concerned. "Can you manage it?"

"I can do anything by you." Synshlee said, smiling genuinely. Oonugh gave her a half-smile and touched her cheek with his great hand before standing.

"Let's go." he commanded, taking his spear into his hand. Synshlee nodded and they both bolted towards the bridge that would lead them into the cave. Too intelligent to just be mere monsters, the beasts guarding the bridges came at them growling and swiping. Synshlee cried out as the paw of one cat-beast caught her back, but didn't stop running unless it were to finish off a beast that Oonugh couldn't handle. Synshlee's arm burned, but she persevered, despite the wounds she was receiving. The fighting seemed to slow then, for a moment, and through blurring vision, she saw Shilen standing peacefully on the bridge leading into the caves. Shilen held her arms out, her face kind, like a mother reaching for her child. Synshlee's breath was loud in her ears, the only sound she heard as she blindly ran towards the bridge, away from Oonugh's protection. She didn't hear him shout, nor see the beasts coming for her, she could only see her Mother Goddess reaching for her. The image disappeared as Synshlee reached the bridge, and she collapsed into an unmoving heap.

She roused to consciousness again some time later, and found herself lying across the lap of a dark elf healer who had her eyes shut in concentration as she healed Synshlee's wounds. She sat up holding her head, shaking the fuzziness from it and looked around her. They were in a large room, strange carvings and the pulsing, glowing veins criss-crossing the walls.

"You're in the Giants Caves." a woman said, answering before Synshlee even formed the words. Synshlee's eyes widened and she looked around, frightened.

"Oonugh?" she called, her heart pounding.

"I'm here." he said, right next to her. Synshlee shut her eyes hard and re-opened them. She could see the healer, and the room..but why couldn't she see anyone else?

"Your spirit is returning to you, please hold still." the healer said. "You will not be able to see the living until you've completely returned."

"The living? Are you saying I'm dead?" Synshlee cried, trying to stand up. She felt the familiar warmth of Oonugh's hand as he gently clasped her arm and pulled her to him in a gentle, yet protective hug. She tried to find comfort from this, but it was hard, as it appeared to her that she was being embraced by air.

"You were dead, yes." Came the first female voice. "But not completely. Zraa managed to bring you back from Shilen before she completely embraced you." A sharp pain shot through Synshlee's right eye, and she clenched both eyes shut until it subsided. When she opened them again, Oonugh and a Dark Elven fighter with spiked bangs hanging over her face came into view. Zraa, the healer, stood up next to the fighter, her hair different but her face identical to the warrior's.

"You...you're Terebel's mothers." she exclaimed, sitting up and pushing herself from Oonugh gently. The twins looked at each other expressionlessly.

"Yes, we are." Zraa said. "I am Zraa, and this is my sister. You may call her Hydrosfear." the healer introduced, her voice strangely emotionless.

"That's a strange name…" Synshlee thought aloud.

"It is not my real name." Hydrosfear said. Oonugh helped Synshlee to her feet, but the instant she stood straight, she bent over in pain once again. Her arm and her stomach hurt her. The arm she could understand, but why her stomach..?

"Yes. You should leave this place." Zraa stated, watching her with an unblinking stare. "You are pregnant. It was unhealthy for the child to go through the stress of its parent dying, you should leave here and rest someplace until it can be safely born." With that, she and her sister turned away from the dumbstruck Orc and Elf and walked deeper into the Cave.

"W...Wait!" Synshlee cried, taking a step after them. They paused and turned to look at her in unison. "I came here for a reason, and I've traveled long months to get here. I won't leave until I find it!" she said boldly, waving an arm in emphasis. The twins glanced at each other.

"There is nothing for you here." Hydrosfear said.

"Yes, nothing. The Giants have nothing you could wish. Leave them in peace." Zraa agreed.

"Yes they do!" Synshlee shouted stubbornly. She was silent for a moment as the twins stared at her blankly, their gaze chilling. "A sword!" she finally said. "A sword that can kill a god. I left my homeland and my child behind to search out this sword..." Suddenly the dream that Shilen had given Synshlee came back to her in startling clarity, and she remembered exactly what she had set out to do. "I've been seeking out this sword to destroy the wind god Sayha for the insult of leaving me pregnant with his child years ago when I was but an innocent girl." she said, her voice strangely calm and mature. "The sword is said to be left in the legacy the giants left behind. There is nothing in Cruma, this place is the last possible place it could be." Oonugh's eyes widened in surprise, as she had never told him that she had a child before. Let alone the child of a god. The twins looked at each other again.

"You believe the Giants have this that you seek?" Zraa asked. Synshlee nodded once.

"Come with us then. We shall lead you to them." Hydrosfear said, taking the lead. Zraa waited until Oonugh and Synshlee had begun walking before taking up a position behind them.

Synshlee noticed as the walked, that the beasts and lesser giants scattered about the caves were strangely blind to their presence and milled about as if it were completely natural that they were there. She gave Oonugh a questioning look, and he shook his head. "The beasts scattered when the one known as Hydrosfear came out of the caves as well." Oonugh murmured.

"The beasts will not harm you while we are here." Zraa said from behind Oonugh.

"But why not..?" Synshlee asked curiously, looking around him at her.

"We are the messengers the Giants have set out into the world." Hydrosfear answered for her.

"We came here some time ago to seek out the wisdom of the Giants, and became their handmaidens." Zraa finished, in the same tone. Oonugh inhaled a sharp breath, an expression Synshlee had become familiar with as his gasp.

"But what of your son?" Synshlee asked, looking at Hydrosfear.

"We have since dispatched someone to care for him, as our calling is here now." Zraa answered. Had it been any other circumstance, Synshlee knew her temper would've flared up at their strange turn-speaking long ago, but for some reason it didn't seem to bother her as much. Perhaps it was the anticipation of finally getting sword, or her newfound 'condition'. The twins led them deep into the caves, until they faced a large hole that labored breathing emanated from. Hydrosfear and Zraa stood on either side of the hole, facing the pair, and Synshlee slowly made her way forward. Oonugh reluctantly let go over shoulders, his own eyes wide at being face-to-face with something of ancient times. There was a loud intake of breath, and the thing inside of the hole began speaking in a raspy, slurred voice.

"Who goes there?" Hydrosfear said mechanically, in translation. "Why have you come this far into our home, Elf? Have you come to laugh at our misfortunes? Have you come to try and slay us in the name of Einhasad?" Synshlee took a breath, her legs shaking with fear that she didn't even realize she felt.

"No, Ancient One, I have come seeking the blade that the Dwarven Smith created for you, ages ago, that is said to hold the power to slay a god." she managed to say in a bold tone, her voice wavering just a little. There was another sharp intake of breath from the hole, and then the unmistakable sound of laughter.

"Seek the blade?" Zraa said this time. "Foolish little one. That blade has not been in our possession for years. Do you think, you disgusting little ant, that if we had the blade, we would have submitted to Einhasads wrath all those years ago? Do you think we would be huddled in here, hiding in fear as our kin, one by one, goes mad, if we had a blade such as that?" There was more laughter.

"Get out." Hydrosfear said now. "Get out before I call my kin to eat you and your companion. You were lucky our messengers brought you to me, as I am the only one left who would've wasted their time speaking with foolhardy beings like you."

"But where is the blade then, if it is not here?" Synshlee asked, despite the insistent tugging on her arm from Oonugh. There was a rumbling as the Giant in the hole shifted, and Synshlee saw the glint of red-lit eyes as it looked at her for the first time. It came forward just enough so she could see it's face, and her eyes widened in fear. A scream choked inside her throat, and she took a few steps backwards.

"GET OUT!" Both Zraa and Hydrosfear shouted in concordinance to the Giant's roar. The whole cave began to shake, and Synshlee found her legs would not move. Oonugh picked her up and bolted for the entrance. Now without the Giant-blessed escorts, the monsters noticed them, and took off in close chase.

"Synshlee, reach into my pack and get the scroll with the key on its seal." Oonugh shouted, blows from the monsters falling on his back. It had been a long time since he feared for his life in battle, but he had to make sure Synshlee...and their child...lived. Synshlee fumbled for the scroll with numb fingers and pulled it out. She recognized it, it was the spell for the dimensional magic that the Gatekeepers used. Such a scroll was rare, and highly expensive. Without a second thought she broke the seal upon it and read the incantation there, just as beasts blocked their exit, slowly converging upon the pair.

"HURRY!" he roared. Synshlee sped through the last line, and light surrounded her, taking her away from the cave and leaving her blinking in the bright light of the City of Aden. She pushed herself to her feet shakily, and scanned the market square she'd landed in for Oonugh. The spell was to take both of them, wasn't it?

"Oonugh?" She called, her voice cracking. She blindly ran through the crowd milling around the merchants set up about the square. "Oonugh?" she cried, louder. She panted a few times, scanning with her eyes before sinking to her knees. "NOOO!" she shouted at the top of her lungs, before curling up and crying mournfully. Several people stepped out of the crowd and reached out to her, but Synshlee didn't feel their hands or hear their voices. She could only hear herself, crying like some wild thing.

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Chapter 10

 

Close to two years later, Synshlee stood on a cliff outside the Orcish Village, holding her pale-skinned daughter, whom she'd named Sprissa. The baby was paler than normal Orcs, and her ears just a little longer, but other than that she was hard to distinguish from any other Orcish child. Her hair was the same brown-black that Oonugh's had been, and Synshlee styled it in a miniature version of Oonugh's dreded ponytail. She shifted the girl in her arms and pointed to the south of them.

"And see that? That's where mommy came from, just past those mountains and over the ocean." she looked down at the baby who had her fingers jammed into her mouth and was reaching in the direction that Synshlee had pointed. "You have a big sister there, you know?" Synshlee looked into the sky and sighed deeply. "She's probably a great Oracle by now." she murmured, her eyes gazing over the horizon. Sprissa fussed and wiggled, returning Synshlee's attention to her. She smiled at her child. "Come on, let's go back into town. It's getting cold."

As she entered, a younger Orc fighter, who was in his first year of being out in the world, rushed by her. "Good Eve, Synshlee!" he said in a friendly tone.

"Good Eve, Damascus." she murmured, nodding to him. He was the only one of the Village who actively spoke with her, and she'd come to think of him as a friend. He held great promise in battle, she was told, and would be a mighty warrior one day. Synshlee entered the hut she shared with an elderly female Orcish Shaman, and laid Sprissa in a niche in the wall, covered with straw and feathers, that served as her cradle. Synshlee had come to the Village not long after her arrival in Aden, and had stayed there since. The elderly Orc had been some relation to Oonugh, and took her in without question once Synshlee told her of Oonugh's death in the Giants Cave, and that she carried his child. There had been some skepticism among the Orcs, until she gave birth to the child, and saw that it held the memories of their lineage. Life was peaceful there, but Synshlee did not feel it. She felt empty, and like she was going through the motions of living.

That night she dreamt she was walking along one of the high paths of the mountains, but she felt no fear at being so high up. A small, red-haired, childlike girl appeared ghost-like in front of her and giggled before twirling and running ahead of her. Synshlee blinked in surprise as the girl disappeared, then re-appeared again a bit ahead of her.

"Come on!" the girl giggled, motioning her to follow.

"Maphr..." Synshlee found herself saying, and ran after the girl. The girl danced along the path, blinking in and out of sight, until she led her to the mouth of the Cave of Trials. She pointed down the steep slope leading into the first chamber.

"It's in there." she said, disappearing again, and reappearing inside the cave. "Come on!" Synshlee stepped inside the cave, and suddenly the pathways rushed about her, although she did not move herself. When all became still again, she found herself in a tiny side-chamber, a root-covered wall in front of her. Maphr was already there waiting for her, sitting on a rock jutting from the wall, swinging one leg which dangled over the edge. She giggled and pointed to the center of the roots, which suddenly parted away, and the unholy glow of the God Slayer met her widening eyes. Synshlee gaped at it and looked up to Maphr, who giggled once and then waved her hand, mouthing "Bye bye!". Synshlee suddenly felt herself being pulled backwards, the tunnels rushing about her until she jerked awake as if she hit a brick wall. Synshlee got up and dressed quickly, her heart pounding. She kissed Sprissa's head before taking up her long-unused dual blades and rushing out of the hut without a word. Was her dream real? And if so, why was Maphr helping her?

She darted along the path, the moonlight barely lighting her dark figure, as she ran towards the boars-head shaped rock that marked the location of the Cave of Trials. She had never been in the place, as it was highly sacred to Paagrio, and seen as blasphemy for any race other than Orcs to enter. Without stopping she darted inside and through the first chamber, a stunned Damascus turning from his pummeling of a beast to gape at her.

"Synshlee?" he exclaimed, finishing off the monster. She didn't answer him and instead continued onward, taking down a few monsters in her path without much thought. "Hey! Synshlee!" he shouted, lumbering after her. Maphr had not shown Synshlee the way to the small off-chamber, but Synshlee instinctively knew which way to go. She slowly entered it, the root-covered wall exactly as the goddess had shown her. She took careful steps up to the wall, her heart pounding so loud she was sure it could be heard by Damascus, who was still curiously following her. Taking a breath, she raised her swords and began cutting at the thick roots covering the wall. Loose gravel fell as the roots holding it in were cut away, and Synshlee soon exposed a narrow space where the rock had been chipped away. Barely breathing, she reached a shaky hand into the crevice, and as Damascus watched, pulled out the large golden sword that she had searched so long for. She had but a moment to gaze at it before she was bombarded by a series of images within her mind, showing her where Sayha slept. She blinked several times, then looked to Damascus, who stared at the God-Slayer with his mouth agape

"You mean that's been in here all this time and I...I mean, nobody ever knew? How'd you find it?" Damascus asked, not masking the envy in his voice. Synshlee didn't answer him, but lifted the blade easily, the pain in her arm seemingly healed.

"Damascus..." she started, her voice distant."Would you like to accompany me to Cruma Tower?" He blinked at her in confusion for a few moments before shrugging.

"I suppose...what are you going to do there?" he asked, rubbing the back of his head.

"I'm going to kill a god." Synshlee stated, her expression growing dark.

The trip to Dion was surprisingly quick, when one took the Gatekeepers. From there, she and Damascus set off for Cruma Marshlands, the swamp that surrounding the Tower. They ran for a full day without rest, hardly speaking to each other along the way. Synshlee's goal was in sight, and she would not fail now. She and Damascus fought their way through bandits and monsters outside the Tower, the sword wrapped in linen and secured to Synshlee's back. She was surprised at how light it was, she thought it would be a great heavy thing, by its size. She paused outside of the tower and looked up its great expanse as Damascus caught up with her

"How far are we going up?" he asked, panting slightly from exertion. Synshlee pointed with one of her swords.

"To the top." she murmured, and ran into the Tower.

"Why are you in such a hurry?" Damascus asked her a bit later as they fought through strange looking monsters that the Giants had left behind.

"There was something I set out long ago, and now I can finish it." she said in a low voice, not looking at him.

"But you know there's only a strange orb on the top floor, right? Nothing else is up there.." Damascus said, beating down a strange insect-looking monster that shot beams of light at him. Synshlee didn't respond or give any indication that she heard him, and pressed onward. When she finally reached the female mage guarding the entrance to the final level, her heart began to pound.

"Damascus, stay here." Synshlee commanded, moving forward.

"W...What?" he stuttered. "What are you talking about? I just helped you plow down half of this tower and you're going to make me stay here? Are you MAD?" He exclaimed, stomping a foot down. Synshlee sighed, not looking at him.

"Do what you wish then." she said quietly, and moved through the strange device that brought her to the next floor.

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Chapter 11

 

The first thing Synshlee noticed about this floor is that it was circular. It was devoid of any monsters save for a large orb in the center of the room. The second thing she noticed was the person seated on the farthest side of the room from her, that stood as she entered. The person was most definitely male, as he only wore a white robe tied around his waist, his chest bare. His head was covered with a large helmet, his face not visible through it. Upon his back were large, snow-white wings, like that of a birds. He took a few slow steps towards her, and she saw that he was tall, probably taller than even Damascus, who stood behind her in awe.

"Is that an Arteias?" Damascus breathed, referring to the winged race that no one had seen for generations, and only spoke of in legends.

"No." Synshlee said darkly, laying her swords on the ground and taking the God-Slayer from her back. "It's their creator." She unwrapped the sword and brandished it with both hands, her body tense and ready. "I've been waiting years for this, Sayha." she said loudly to the advancing god. Sayha paused for a moment, then held out a hand to her, motioning her to come forth. "Don't mock me!" Synshlee shouted, then let out a battle yell and ran towards him, sword ready.

"SYNSHLEE!" Damascus shouted as there was a flash of light, and the Dark Elf found herself impaled through the stomach on the end of a long pike that the god had summoned into existence. Her arms slowly relaxed, the God-Slayer dropping from her grip and clattering to the ground. Sayha drew the pike towards him, her with it, and withdrew it from her body slowly, one foot upon her chest. He turned away from her silently, as she dropped to the floor of the Tower, one hand to her wound. Without a backwards glance, a bright portal of light opened up, and Sayha stepped through it, disappearing. Damascus ran to her once the god was out of sight, and lifted her head up. Blood was slowly pooling around her, and a thin stream ran from her mouth. She gave Damascus a weak smile. "Let's get you out of here.." he said, lifting her.

"Damascus..." she started in a weak voice, "...I want to see my daughter."

"Alright. Let's get you to a healer and we'll take you back to Sprissa..." he began, putting one of her arms over his shoulder.

"No...not Sprissa...take me to the Dark Elf Village..."

The journey back was slow. Damascus fed her low quality healing potions to keep her going, as it was all they had. On the journey from Cruma to Gludio, she told him of her life. The daughter Sayha left her with, and her foolish journey to mend her wounded pride by destroying him. It all seemed so silly now, as she thought back on it. But it would be alright soon...she would reunite with Vuylay, and take her to the Orc Village and raise both of her daughters as a proper mother should. It was funny, she couldn't remember how old Vuylay was now. Ten perhaps? Or was she that old when Synshlee left?

In Gludio they took the gatekeeper to the crossroads of the neutral zone, where the paths from the Dark Elf and Light Elf village met, and walked the rest of the way to the Dark Elf Village. Synshlee sighed, her eyes glazed over, as the cool breeze blew through the trees of the Dark Forest and caressed her face.

"I'd almost forgotten how nice it was here..." she said, her voice distant, like she were talking in a dream. The large peaked mountain that the Dark Elf Village housed itself under was in view, warriors and mages could be seen fighting imps and goblins under the watchful eyes of their teachers. Damascus walked, holding Synshlee up as she didn't want to be carried, and she smiled like a child. "I can hear them...tell me Damascus, can you see my daughter? Is Vuylay out there? For some reason my eyes won't focus..." she asked, gazing ahead, her eyes glassy. Damascus shut his eyes, Synshlee's body growing limp under his grasp.

"Yes. She's out there." he lied, not looking at the practicing students. "She's become a great Oracle, just like you thought. She's happy too, but I think she misses you." he finished, looking at her. Synshlee's head slowly drooped downward, and she smiled

"I'm so glad..." she whispered, shutting her eyes.

"Hey Vuylay, who do you think that is?" a mage named Dasniall asked, tapping the healer's shoulder. Vuylay, now a girl of thirteen, finished her spell that would kill the Imp flying towards them and turned. A large Orc lumbered away from them, carrying something that they couldn't distinguish. Upon his back glinted a large golden blade. She shrugged.

"Beats me, just so long as he doesn't try to kill us with that big ol' sword." she said, forming a wind spell aimed at the wolf that the teachers had just chased from the forest for the students to kill. "Come on, don't worry about random passerby's, Magister Harne will pinch your ears if you don't get studying." she scolded him. Fearing any punishment from the Magister, Dasniall whipped back around and began firing spells at the wolf with more enthusiasm than anyone else was displaying. Vuylay turned and looked towards the Orc again, but he had disappeared over the mountain.

"Ah well." she said, and returned to her studies.

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Epilogue

"Was it your intent to kill me, sister?" Sayha said in a voice that sounded like the howling wind, to Shilen. She smiled mysteriously at him, reclining upon her dais.

Perhaps, my brother, but that's part of the fun, isn't it? It's been so long since any of us have had to fight for our lives...it just spices things up a bit in our long existence, don't you think?" she murmured, fingering the end of one of his wing feathers. "Besides, you started the game when you impregnated the girl." She stood and stretched. "Look how much fun we had though, even Maphr joined in when it seemed like the game was dying." she mused.

"Was it really right to play with their lives as such? I lost a great warrior." Paagrio stated, entering Shilen's chamber in a ball of fire.

"Or did you?" she smirked. Paagrio's hand balled into a fist at his side.

"He is as good as lost." the god said in a voice that sounded like the roaring flame. "Enough with your games, sister. Do not involve any more of my creation-children in them." With that he disappeared in a roar of flame.

"So who will start the next game?" Sayha asked as Shilen returned to her dais. She sat and crossed her legs in one graceful motion, her mysterious smile returning.

"Tsk tsk my brother, the next game has already begun. Let us sit back and watch, shall we?"

There would never be a smile more sinister and dark ever known to reality as the one Shilen smiled at that moment.

 

 

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