The Guardians of Atlantis in:
The Devil's Iceberg
The orc danced around, trying to stay out of Brandon's reach. Brandon preferred to wear heavier armor, despite the fact that it slowed him down. Thus, his opponent was quite a bit faster than he was. Brandon waited, letting the creature tire itself out. Sure enough, it brought its sword in too low, as it darted in for an attack. Brandon slashed at the opening, catching the orc across the head, and opening a massive wound in the side of its face. As the beastly creature howled in pain, Brandon ran his sword through its stomach.
As quickly as he made the maneuver, Brandon brought his broadsword back around, parrying a blow from one of the other orcs. Their group was outnumbered, three to two, but they were still making short work of the attackers. Angus Buchanon was just as dangerous with his massive sword, so although he was not as heavily armored as Brandon, he was still at little risk of being hit. And the elf Arianna was also standing her ground, dodging only when she needed to. She struck with such speed and precision that she rarely needed to move at all. At her side stood Relissan, the priestess guarding her elven friend's back with her war hammer, although Arianna's reach with her long sword kept the orcs away from them both.
And then there was Gaildor, who seemed to be everywhere at once. Brandon had grown used to the elf lad's exuberant fighting style, but it was still amazing to watch him. He darted around the battle field with lightning speed, striking at a weak point with his slender sword, and then leaping away before his opponent could counter attack. Although a rapier was a strange weapon to use in a pitched battle, Gaildor made it work. And in trying to avoid him, the orcs were being driven right back towards his three allies.
Brandon, for his part, was patient. The orcs had to get within reach in order to attack, and even the blows that got past his defenses couldn't penetrate his mail. He didn't even bother to feint, or open holes in his defense to lure them in. The orcs were trying to overwhelm him, and they just charged in for the attack, only to be driven back. Over time, there were fewer and fewer of them to drive back.
Suddenly, Kalgon's voice came from the shack. "Man down! Well, girl down, anyway. We need help in here!"
Brandon glanced back at the decaying door. Gaildor was suddenly there, using his shield to block a blow that had been aimed at Brandon. "Go," he said. "We've got these." He then darted away, as Arianna closed ranks.
Brandon ran back to the shack. He found Malfread, frantically blocking a series of blows from a pair of orcs. Another, enormous orc lay on the floor nearby. Foryncia was pinned underneath him. He could see blood seeping away from the two of them, a mixture of darker, orcish blood, and Foryncia's lighter red. Kalgon stood over them, brandishing a cross-shaped holy symbol. The silver metal of the symbol was glowing brightly, empowered by Kalgon's magic, and a third orc was trying to force his way past, but shying away from the light.
It was a protection spell, Brandon guessed, and a fairly strong one, but it left Kalgon unable to do anything else but chant the spell. He could not heal Foryncia, or help Malfread in his fight. And although Malfread was holding his own, he was outnumbered two to one. If either of the orcs managed to break away from him, it could attack Kalgon, and possibly get past his defenses.
Brandon charged forward, but one of the orcs had made a feint, and Malfread had swung his staff at the opening. The other orc covered for him, and caught Malfread's staff, wrenching it out of his hand. Malfread managed to hang on, but only long enough to be flung into the wall of the shack. The wizard crashed through the rotting wood, landing in a heap outside.
The orc who had made the feint was ready for the charge, and caught Brandon's sword with his own. There was a loud clang as their weapons met. He roared menacingly at Brandon, but his strength was no match for Brandon's size, and his sword was forced away. The other orc, however, stepped in and drove Brandon back.
These were unusual orcs, Brandon noted. Their armor was unusually ornate, although mostly made of leather, and they fought with a definite strategy. They knew how to work as a team, and obviously had quite a bit of practice at it. Brandon noted the similarity between their armor and that of the fallen orc that had pinned down Foryncia. If he was the leader of this squad, then these two must be his seconds.
"Your master is down, orcs," Brandon goaded them. "You're next."
"The elf girl got lucky," one of the orcs answered. "But lost her own life. We will kill all of you, and feast on your bones, and Mozog's death will be avenged!"
"Not likely," Brandon said. "We've come for Morgon. And he will fall, just as your leader did."
The orc smiled, his expression hideous on such an inhuman face. "Morgon? Never heard of him."
"But he's heard of Ragon," Kalgon put in, still kneeling down next to Foryncia. He was protecting the old man, as well, keeping the orcs away from all three of them. "The old man. He tried to kill him. Would have, too, if Foryncia hadn't gotten in the way of the knife."
Brandon spared a glance for the fallen elf, but the orc was watching for just such an opening. Brandon parried his first blow all right, but his partner's attack caught him across the arm. The slash slipped through a gap in his mail, opening a gash in his bicep.
These two orcs were really good. He had to take them down fast, before they wore him down any further. "Who is this old man?" Brandon asked, more as a distraction than anything else. "Is he someone Morgon wants dead?"
"I told you, I don't know any Morgon." The orc darted in again, and Brandon was forced to back away. The other orc glanced back at Kalgon, as if considering making a lunge for him, and Brandon moved back in again. That bought him a counter attack from the first orc, but Brandon parried it. It was only a matter of time before one of them slipped away, though, or did more damage to him than just a simple cut.
From the wall of the shack, Malfread started into a spell. Neither orc looked back at him, but the one that was speaking shook his head. "No you don't, mage, not unless you want to blow up your friend here as well. You can't possibly hit me and miss him at this range."
Malfread continued his spell anyway, and a bright flash of light erupted from him. The orc turned, startled, but the attack was just a bluff. It was a light spell, and faded quickly. Before the orc could react, though, Brandon darted in, surprisingly fast for someone so heavily armored. He slashed the orc's belly open, then swung the sword back around and took off his head.
The second orc backed away, but Malfread charged up behind him and cracked him across the head with his staff. Brandon then ran him through. That left only the orc that was trying to attack Kalgon. Realizing he was outnumbered, he tried to run. Malfread jumped into his path, though, sweeping the orc off his feet with his staff. As the orc hit the ground, Malfread brought his staff up, as if to smash it down into the creature's face.
"Hold," Brandon said, holding up a hand. "We may be able to question him."
Brandon studied the wizard for a moment, as he drew his staff back to his side, in that strange, fluid style. Then he smiled. "For a minute there, I thought you were actually going to attack me."
"For a minute there, I was."
Brandon laughed, but there was something about Malfread's manner that cut his laughter off short. He almost looked like he was serious.
Deciding that Malfread just had a strange sense of humor, Brandon turned to his other allies. "Kalgon, you okay? How's Foryncia?"
The healer was rolling Mozog's body off of Forynica. Brandon noted that the orc was half human, which explained why he was so huge. That the elf girl had managed to kill him in one blow was a minor miracle. Her dagger still stuck out of his eye socket, making his visage even more horrifying. He was even uglier than his fellow orcs, as his almost human face made him seem all the more deformed.
"She has a serious wound to the shoulder," Kalgon was saying, "but I think I got to her in time. She's breathing, although just barely." He then went into the incantations of a healing spell, and light began to gather around his body. The light flowed down to his hands, and into Foryncia's shoulder, as he laid his hands against her. After a few moments, Foryncia cried out, and her eyes fluttered open.
"The old man. . ." she croaked. "Is he. . . ?"
"He's fine," Brandon told her, and she relaxed. Her breathing grew steadier as Kalgon continued to heal her, until finally she was able to sit up. She flexed her arm, pressing her other hand against the shoulder as if to test it.
"Thank you, Kalgon," she said. "I don't even feel a scar."
"No problem, little lady. All in a day's work."
"Foryncia! What happened?" Gaildor came charging into the room, and knelt down by her side. Arianna wandered in behind him, along with Angus, so it looked like the battle was over. Brandon glanced at the remaining orc, but Malfread was watching him closely, and obviously waiting for him to make a move. The orc just cowered at his feet.
"This guy tried to kill the old man," Foryncia said, motioning at the body of the orc leader. "I just stopped him, that's all."
"She leaped in the way of the attack, is what she did," Kalgon countered, "and took the dagger herself. You'd never see me doing that." He grinned good naturedly at her.
"Then I'd say she deserves this," Brandon said. He knelt down next to the body, pulling the half-breed's dagger out of his neck. "This dagger looks magical." It was extremely ornate, encrusted with jewels, and had writing engraved into it.
Brandon wiped the blood off the dagger, so he could read the writing. "To my loyal servant Mozog." It was signed, "Morgon."
"So. He was the leader of the orcs. And he was working for Morgon, despite what his two henchmen said. And he was trying to kill Ragon. . ."
"Mozog recognized him instantly," Kalgon said. "Actually, one of his orcs did, and then he charged in to kill him. It was very obvious that they were after Ragon. They didn't seem to know he was here, but the moment he saw him, he moved in for the kill."
Brandon handed the dagger to Foryncia. "So Ragon is an enemy of Morgon. Do you think you can wake him?"
Kalgon shook his head. "I'm not sure. He's so weak, even a healing spell could kill him. I swear I don't know what's keeping him alive right now."
"So, that leaves our other source of information." Brandon turned to their orc captive. "Where is Morgon, and who is this Ragon, and what does Morgon have to do with him? Why does he want to kill him?"
The orc looked terrified, but still managed to speak calmly. He spoke in the human tongue, almost as if coached. "I never heard of Morgon. There is no Morgon here."
Malfread reached down and pulled the orc up by his collar, lifting him up to look him in the face. The orc's legs dangled off the ground. "Quit wasting my time," Malfread growled, his voice menacing. "I'd just as soon split your skull open and leave it to rot on the beach."
"Leave him alone, Malfread," Brandon said. He walked over to the orc, as Malfread dropped him on the floor. "You'd better give us some information. If you don't, I might just let Malfread have you. If you aren't of any use to us, well, what's the sense in us talking to you?"
Suddenly, there was a rumbling from underfoot. It was faint, just the slightest tremble in the distance, but it seemed like the volcano was rumbling. The orc's eyes widened in terror, but it was obvious that he was afraid of something else, something other than Malfread. He began to gibber in orcish.
"In the human, tongue, orc!" Brandon yelled at him. "I don't have time to waste!"
"I not tell!" The orc yelled back. "He kill me! Kill me!"
"I've had enough of this," Malfread said, raising his staff to smash the orc's face. "We aren't going to get anything out of this creature..."
"No!!!" With a sudden, unexpected ferocity, the terrified orc leaped at Malfread. The wizard swung his staff at him, as if he'd been expecting the attack, but the creature ducked it, and rolled on the floor. Scurrying like a rat on his hands and knees, the orc weaved around his captors' feet, and escaped out of the hole in the side of the shack.
"Morgon! Morgon!" the orc yelled, as he took off running for the forest. "He here! Ra-" His voice was cut off as one of Arianna's arrows pierced his throat. A heartbeat later, Gaildor was on top of him, slamming his shield into the orc, and knocking him to the ground. He brought his rapier up in front of the orc's face, preventing further retreat.
The orc continued to try to cry out, although with the arrow in his neck he could do no more than gurgle. "So Morgon is alive", Brandon said, as he came up to join them. "You will tell us what we want to know, orc, don't worry about that. Kalgon, do you think you can heal him so he can talk?"
Before the priest could nod his agreement, however, the orc suddenly gasped, and slapped at his neck. His eyes rolled back in his head, and he made more gurgling noises, as he began to foam at the mouth. He jerked around spasmodically for a few moments, and then lay still.
"What the. . ." Brandon stepped back.
"It wasn't me," Arianna said. "My arrows aren't poisoned. . ."
"He didn't slap at the arrow," Brandon said. "He slapped at a different part of his neck."
Cautiously, Brandon turned the orc's head and examined his neck. There was a huge, swollen welt there, a sickly greenish-white against the orc's darker green skin. But there was no sign of what caused it.
"Something bit him," Kalgon also examined the mark. "From the look of it, he died instantly."
Gaildor was looking around at the forest, nervously. The others looked a little uncomfortable as well. "That was too well timed," Arianna commented. "He was silenced, before he could tell us anything."
Brandon nodded. "And he was trying to tell whatever it was about Ragon. If you hadn't hit him with that arrow, he would have."
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