The Priest of the Pit

September 10, 2008
By Colin Sellers, Kennesaw, GA

I. Drunken Drove, Bloody Bellies

"The men of these northern countries are blind and weak!" The Sakson man shouted in the Bull Horn, a tavern in a small border city in Vanadis. "There is no man here who could defeat me and my men, who mark this tavern and take delight in its women. Perhaps in this entire city, my friends!" He laughed priggishly, draining his stein of ale in one gulp. The woman who sat on his lap fell to the floor as he stood quickly, drunkenly, and shouted: "Anyone who believes they can challenge me, come and face me, for you will meet your ancestors!"

The Bull Horn fell silent. The lead mercenary, a man of blond hair and blue eyes, called the challenge in peaceful times. No one moved. Those unfortunate enough to be noticed were beat down by his gaze until that man averted his gaze. The Sakson pulled his sabre free of its sheath, pointing it to each man in the tavern, issuing another challenge: "If no one steps forward, I will pick a man out for all to see. Hark! I see the pig I will choose, now."

The drunken Sakson man strode out to the quietest of corners, which sat a solitary, cloaked being. In the figure's gloved hand was a stein of thickly smelling honey wine, famous in the land of Vanadis. The Sakson roared with mocking laughter. What real man would drink mead instead of frothing ale? As he neared the table, the hood shifted, if only slightly, towards the man. The Sakson's blade slammed down onto the table, cutting deep. The figure was not shaken.

"What ho, darkly clad stranger! Do you accept my challenge, coward? Come now, accept and be slain. It is dignified to die to a Sakson. Might you own a blade to duel?" The figure stayed silent, a strange, powerful air about him. "Why do you stay silent? A mute? My friends, we have a mute in our midst!" The man laughed, to which the crowd laughed, as well. The Sakson pulled his blade free of the table, hefting it above his head. "If you will not fight like a man, then you die like a dog."

The next movement was too quick to seen by the human eye- the stranger shot from under his cloak, smashing his stein against the Sakson's skull. In fluid movement, a streak of metal flashed through the air across the man's waist, followed by a splash of blood and then the form stood in front of the bleeding Sakson. Taller than the blonde man enough for him to look upwards, he gazed into the fiery eyes of a Zenithian dark elf. He gasped for breath - for life - but stumbled backwards, dropping his blade to cover his belly wound. The sabre dropped with a silence-shattering clang, not only signifying the end of the fight, but also what understanding the Bull Horn could surmise. It was not common for Zenithians to leave their country to the west; it was unheard of! In truth, many of those in the tavern could not believe the dark elf was real.

The Bull Horn fell deathly silent and still. There stood a dark elf not hidden by a black cloak: a muscular, handsome figure, young and hale. Brown eyes glared from under locks of snow-white hair, natural and wild. In his hand was a bastard sword, blood still dripping from the dangerous effect. The dark elf wore simple clothes, normally unfit for the frigid cold of Vanadis; a vest of leather and trousers tucked into travel-worn boots, and a scabbard of leather belted to his lean waist. There was no fear in the dark elf's eyes, naught but rage. He looked to the Sakson's fearful gaze knowingly.

Before the Sakson spoke, the dark elf busted through the window beside him, shattered glass raining about him as he hit the cold streets. The hard crunch of snow mixed with the exploding glass under his boots. All were sobered in the Bull Horn. The Sakson yelled, "Bring me bandages, knaves, and his head!"

Nilral the Zenithian sprinted down the street into the city's forum, a wide expanse that housed many shops and alleyways, but no good place to hide in the forum itself. He could hear the ruckus of breaking doors and shouting men behind him. The dark elf kept his deadly blade out in his hand, but could find no welcome alternative to fighting. A barbaric survivalist instinct burst into his soul and he glanced down any open ways to escape.

Of all his options, a thickly rubble-filled alleyway seemed the best course. Nilral, not changing his posture, leapt sideways into the lane. Beyond the threshold of the two buildings that created the thin pass; he ducked under a set of broken crates. A ghastly smell rose up out of them. The Zenithian was not deterred. Then he smelled some potent stench, but not rude as the crates. A certain rosemary scent hit his nostrils.

Placing his heavy blade down to his side, he crept forward to the build facing the Bull Horn. He looked around the twist and saw nothing. He grunted. The fools may have been good hunters here. Nilral could evade them all night, if required. But that moment, hunters did appear, quiet and determined. His emotions rolled, and he cursed vehemently. Gripping his blade violently, the dark elf readied for a guerrilla tactic- rush and kill.

As the plan crossed his mind, the dark elf felt a warm wind float to his back. He turned, but spotted no man, so he turned to face the street once more. The feeling returned. This time, it carried a voice: "Boy! Come here to safety. No man will find you here. Quickly."

Amid the stacked boxes and trash, he made out a cloaked form withdrawing into deeper shadows. Nilral followed, a strange man the better choice than enraged soldiers, with his bastard sword ever at the ready. He entered the door of boxes to a room filled with the same scent he picked up from whence he came.

The room held little in the ways of light. Some crystal fixture on the ceiling, a low purple light shone upon everything. The walls held rows of shelves, purple-tinted trinkets covering every level; each held its own curious trinket and arcane gadget. The dark elf's superstitious nature warned him against approaching the things. Anything could have been magical, thus deadly. The man who obtained the charms must have traveled the world over.

Lush carpets decorated the floor, either black or red in colour. Nilral noticed each step would quickly sink into the thick rug. Near the back of the rectangular room, there sat a darkly painted desk. Numerous effects stayed themselves on the table, a multitude of papers, colourful inks, feathers and other business equipment. The being that called Nilral into safety sat behind the desk. Nilral saw no one else, so he assumed it was the man. He held a long, red quill and wrote on a large scroll. The strange man wore layers of silken robes; the robes were dark blue or purple, but there were other colours Nilral did not recognize. Colour was not prevalent in Zenithia. Even the forests were listless.

He talked with an accent strange to the young Zenithian. As if he owned the tongue of a snake, the man hissed when he spoke, "The Merchant has heard the ruckus from the Bull, little Zenithian. What did you do, I ask?"

The untrustworthiness of civilized man already burned deep in the Zenithian's mind. He stared hard at the Merchant, eyes narrow and wondering. Even though he could not see the Merchant's eyes, Nilral knew the man was meeting him in full. He sheathed his broadsword and began to speak roughly, still learning the language of Vanadi. "A Sakson dog drank himself stupid. While the fires of drink fuelled his bravery - or sharpened his stupidity - he challenged me to a duel. When I did not respond, he hefted his blade. There was not a chance in hell that I would be passive to such a dare. So I wasted my stein and smashed it against his skull, then slit his belly open. I crashed through the window. He sent his soldiers after me for a bounty. When I recovered, I ducked into the alleyway outside of this place. Who are you to request my history?"

"I am the Merchant. That is all you need to know of my name, and yours?"

"I am Nilral, a Zenithian," he grunted.

"You must control your anger, Nilral of Zenithia," the Merchant advised, his voice turned into a calm hiss. "There are men who would not let you escape into a dark alley, such as the drunken Sakson man. A man's head can be rather expensive in these lands. You must watch who you fight and whom you trust."

"You would betray me," the dark elf believed, starting for his blade once more. The Merchant handled the Zenithian with more careful words when seeing the first of the still-bloody metal.

"Nay, nay- I would not betray you, but give you a chance for riches. There is more than snow and broken buildings in this small town. The gods have sent rich men to live here, never to know their true duties."

"Speak straight, so I would know," Nilral demanded, relaxing. He spoke with his own Zenithian accent, sharp and hard.

"There is a man in this city named Gorroth Blackstar. He is rich and considered by the populous to be a holy man. In his house, he has rooms of treasure waiting to be plucked. You are a rogue, now, Zenithian: the gods led you to me for this."

"The gods do not control my destiny," the Zenithian muttered flippantly. "They are children's tales and politician's lies. Where is this Gorroth's house, anyway?"

"I will send you a man to accompany you to aid you in your search. Jerar is his name and he knows the sinister ways of this city. He will show you the path to greatness. The Aurobian is laconic and will not speak much. This is no weakness. Jerar moves with the silence of Death." He clapped his gloved hands, which were oddly shaped to the dark elf, too sharp and thin. A lithe form slipped from a door behind the merchant, a shortsword on his back. He wore the lightly dyed clothing and had skin of light brown, but hair as black as coal. His face was thin and gaunt, scraggly hairs warming his chin and lip. "This is Jerar, a man from Saris Aurobi, a land to the distant south."

Jerar cleared the distance between Nilral and himself as if he had wings on his heels, distrustfully glaring at the dark elf. He held out his hand and Nilral firmly gripped Jerar's forearm. The Aurobian nodded, his distrust lightening, but not disappearing. As he spoke, he betrayed how unsure he was with the language. "My greetings to you, Nilral," he spoke ponderously, thinking over each sentence before he spoke a word. "I have been listening to conversation. Gorroth- his house has secret entrance. We will enter that way, yes?"

"Aye. Merchant-"

The Merchant was gone. Nilral turned to ask Jerar, but the Aurobian was already leaving the building. The dark elf could do nothing but follow.

II. Underneath the Table

The home of Gorroth was much larger than the Zenithian had expected. It was situated in the noble province directly next to the largest temple of the city, and completely made out of marble. A rich man, indeed, Nilral thought, grinning at the thought of riches. The front of Gorroth's house was columned, not unlike the houses in the stories he heard from the men from Romash when he was in the northern climes of Vanadis. Nilral did not think it grand; he thought it brummagem, if anything. There were guards in front of the structure, but Jerar led him far around the front. The two thieves ducked into the alleyway between the temple and Gorroth's home, stopping at the midpoint of the house.

Jerar lifted his thin fingers to his lips, silently bidding Nilral to stay silent. The dark elf had no problem with this order. While the Aurobian placed his hand on a block of the house, Nilral kept lookout for any unfortunate guards who would look down the alley. The moon's light lit the city up, basking it in ethereal light as the thieves did their work.

Within those seconds, Jerar opened a pathway in the very wall itself! Nilral frowned. Eastern magic, no doubt. He bid Nilral once more to follow him. Once more, he complied. They snuck down the hallway, lit by small holes in the ceiling, leaving the small entrance fully open. It was a dusty hallway, not used in a very long time and built for escape more than entering. Gorroth had no reason to escape. The city thought he was a holy man. Nilral knew that those simple enough to believe something holy would be nothing but putty in the man's hands.

Jerar stopped suddenly, running his hands over the cracks of the short hallway. He spoke in whispers, "You and I enter here. We have many hours to find this treasure, yes. Gorroth? Gone to the south on business, or so says the Merchant. He keeps treasure in secret doorway in dungeon."

Dungeon? Nilral thought weirdly. He nodded, though, and pulled his heavy weapon from its scabbard. He grunted.

The Aurobian pushed hard against the stone, his thin arms failing to do much to the thick stone. The dark elf moved him aside, placing his hands against the stone and pushing with much more ease than Jerar. Used to harder work in his young travels already, his corded muscles bulged and a new path way opened. The thieves moved into the new room slowly, crouched and silent. The path was too small to stand upright, and the doorway opened underneath a table. The room looked to be naught but a kitchen; a large cookery stocked with rare spices and foods. Ducks and rabbits hung from ropes over a large blackened stove near the doorway. Fruits and vegetables sat in bowls atop the table they had entered under.

It was not until then that Jerar pulled his short sword. The blade was serrated and single edged, made of metal Nilral did not recognize. His own blade was made from the iron of Zenithia; a hard metal, to be sure, but the blade was crude. He was instantly curious of who the Merchant really was to have associates of thieves and treasure hunters. The dark elf shook away those thoughts for now. He nudged his partner to move into the next room.

The moonlight was pervaded by a giant pane of coloured glass in the ceiling, a room lit by red moonlight. It was a large room with carpets of grey and gold. Couches sat in the middle of the room on top of the carpets. Circling these were thin columns of marble, smaller versions of the columns outside. This room was the hub of the whole house, Nilral reasoned. The front door could be clearly seen, but no guards were about.

The Aurobian snuck into the shadows, clearly seen by his clothing. Nilral followed, but none could see anything but his hair. He had skin as black as obsidian, but hair of snow white. He doubted any would think him more than a trick of the eyes. Jerar saw Nilral well in the dark, his trained eyes to spot such things. The Zenithian moved with inborn grace and skill, unlike his trained abilities. He scowled, envious; Nilral held his weapon naturally, his movements were that of a hunting panther. He had not seen the dark elf fight, but he knew that it would be death if he betrayed Nilral.

Nilral turned to see Jerar staring back at him. Perplexed, but not bothered, Nilral grinned and ushered the man forward. The Zenithian was having fun. Jerar nearly fell as he hurried himself, the malapropos human not matching Nilral's poise. His partner stifled a great laugh, still grinning. The thieves moved forward past the tapestries and furniture, which was a fortune in itself, to the dungeons.

Nilral was surprised to see the dungeons in dissimilarity to the rest of the house. It was found after a long set of stairs, hidden behind a giant painting. When the painting was moved aside, a mouldering smell bellowed forth hotly from the passage. The mere stench was enough to keep any thieves away.

Lit by only a few torches, the large room and cells were dirty and unkempt. The entire place was made of granite, not marble as the rest of the house. Nilral growled low, his instincts lighting up. He looked to Jerar in question, but the Easterner shrugged his thin shoulders, still moving forward.

Jerar paced the cells, looking for the correct cell. It was not until the very last cell did he stop. The cell was the cleanest, unlike the others, and had shackles connected to the wall. The Aurobian threw open the gate, stepping in. He continued to whisper, as if scared of someone finding him. "Pull these chains. Another passage in this wall."

"By Odin, man, why do you humans wish to hide everything behind trickery?" Nilral grunted, annoyed. "My people are no better. Instead of material things, they hide beneath the comfort of fake gods and lies. They keep themselves busy with politics and knowledge of necromancy. Their idol is a dead god."

Jerar looked to Nilral oddly, uncaringly. He hissed his words now, harsh and sharp, "Quiet! Pull the chains, Zenithian."

Civilized men would continue to puzzle Nilral for years to come, but he acquiesced. The Zenithian grasped the thick metal chains, wrapping them around his unyielding hands and pulled, taking many steps backward. He growled as his steely muscles bulged, his trousers now tight against his muscled legs. With one final, loud grunt of power, he pulled a large block out from the wall. Nilral let go of the chains, knuckles ashy white-gray and breathing laboured. The door opened to another set of stairs.

Jerar took a cloth map from his belt, looking at it quickly in the light of the torches. With a nod, it returned to his sash, quickly moving into the stairway. Nilral followed. The dark elf was unsure of Jerar, but his instincts were blistering; he gripped his sword tight with both hands as he snuck behind Jerar.

Already, Nilral could smell the bloody murk of the rooms. Gorroth was a darker man than he let on.

III. Blackstar's Secret

Before Jerar leapt out of the stairway, Nilral pulled him back into the dark, slamming him against the wall, such he did to himself. Quickly, before Jerar shouted, his gloved hand shot to Jerar's mouth. The Zenithian moved to the edge of the exit, looking around the corner. His pointed ears were sharper than the humans, as well his sense of smell. He was not surprised to find the human confused. Nilral was used to the wilds of Zenithia, a valley and mountainous country. Zenithia was filled with dangers, from the people themselves to the forests of wild animals to the tall mountains that spelled death to the unwary. From birth, he was made to fight the End, Death, he knew, and this was no exception. Nilral's eyes narrowed as he saw the scene before him. Jerar followed Nilral's actions, the lesser man gasped under Nilral's hand.

A woman was tied to an upright pentagram, wholly naked. She was beautiful, soft blond hair and ruby red lips. The woman's body was voluptuous, each curve rousing fire in both thieves' hearts. She was silent, but Nilral could see fear in her eyes.

"That is Gorroth," Jerar gasped in a breathless whisper, his sword loosened in his grasp. It was as if the very sight of the man took all courage from the Aurobian. And if Nilral were a lesser creature, he would have lost his, as well.

Gorroth was a tall man, skin a dusky colour and a head shaved, weird symbols tattooed into his skin. He wore a robe of red and black, holding a curved dagger in one hand and the skin of a snake in the other. The man's very aura was enough to shake anyone, his body nearly as built and powerful as Nilral's own. As he spoke, Nilral felt the dark power from within: "Jormungand, snake god of the north, hear my voice and accept my sacrifice. You ask for virgins and I present the most beautiful of women to you, yet untouched by man. I, Gorroth Blackstar, am your humble servant. I ask you one thing in place of this woman- power to reign over the men of Vanadis! My children," he called to those behind him, "begin the chant to our lord, Jormungand. We are an alien race to his lordship; we must appease him."

Between the woman and Gorroth was a deep pit, edged with stoned brimming with precious gems. Gorroth was manned by two masked, hooded men, shorter than Gorroth, but armed with a mace each. Behind them, six men kneeled; heads bowed, and chanted strange words. All except for Gorroth and the woman wore full black robes.

The room itself was large. The walls were sculpted to fit the ritual, snakes wrapped about piles of gold and gems, priests of the snake bowing before that picture and other grotesque etchings. The walls were made of some green rock. Nilral knew no stone that looked as such, but he knew the tales of Jormungand well. He continued to watch the ritual with profound curiosity, knowing he should save the woman, but unable to move. Gorroth continued his words, which reverberated deeply in the room:

"I call upon you, Jormungand! Release your holy venom upon me and thus mend my soul to yours. Make me into a god of this world to work for your release!"

"By the gods," Nilral muttered into Jerar's ear. "He is mad. We must stop him, man, lest he becomes a god. He will kill that woman."

"How do we know she is innocent," Jerar asked helplessly, afraid of Gorroth. "She could be a witch!"

"You are a coward." Nilral threw him back against the stairs and leapt into the room, sword leading.

It was too late. A great snake reared out from the gemmed pit, facing the man, Gorroth. He audibly laughed as the snake turned towards the woman, preparing to strike her. She screamed. Nilral had no choice.

"Come face me, reptile!" He roared ferociously as he continued to near Gorroth. He took his blade into both hands; the man was too enraptured in himself to notice the speeding dark elf. He near barrelled into Gorroth Blackstar, but stopped a length from the man, using all his velocity and strength to cleave into the dark priest. The bastard sword sheared into Gorroth's side, blood spurting wildly out from the wound. Nilral kicked Blackstar's back, after. The priest fell against the side of the pit, a vile crack sounded through the room. Blackstar's spine broke, his blood shooting forth onto the stonework pit and beyond. His innards spilled out and he fell into the pit, a horrible, wrenching gurgle scream echoing from the hollow. The kneeling men looked up in horror- a dark apparition killed their master, the snake god was loose and none could control it. They screamed.

The snake turned back on the scene, its reptilian eyes spotting the Zenithian. It hissed loudly. In anger or frustration, Nilral did not know. The two high priests that stood beside Gorroth hefted their maces and ran to Nilral. The dark elf fell back on one leg, his sword raised for defence. The one nearest the door stopped, suddenly, and blood seeped through its mask, falling to the floor. Jerar stood behind him, sword bloody in his hand. Nilral grinned, turning to the single priest.

The masked thing swung its mace downward, but Nilral parried it aside. It moved with the speed of a cougar, though, and brought the mace into Nilral's side, the blunt weapon knocked the breath from the swordsman. He growled viciously, grinning in spite of the pain.

The dark elf kicked out at the lesser priest, catching him in the kneecap to bring him down to one leg. It did not have a chance to recover before Nilral's great weapon sheared through its neck. The neck fell to the floor before the body did. Nilral laughed at the dead thing, and a thing it was- as it fell, its mask fell, too, uncovering the face of a beastly thing. Its face was set in a rabid snarl, a nose flat and piggish and sparse, kinky hair. Its skin was pink and green, a sickening sight.

The kneeling men behind Nilral ran for their lives. The snake, seeing this movement, shot forth to slay them. Two men died then as it caught the two in its jaws, crushing them instantly. They died without a sound. The others ran out successfully, screaming like children to their mothers.

"I doubt you are Jormungand, snake. You are much too small and weak," mocked the Zenithian, grinning viciously. "Now face me, lest I kill you with your back turned."

The snake whipped its great body around to face its next meal- Nilral. The dark elf brandished his Zenithian iron blade, swinging it once in challenge. The snake struck, but not fast enough. Nilral dodged to the side, rolling on impact. He jumped to his feet, but the snake recovered before him. The creature slammed its body into him, slamming the dark elf against the wall. He grunted in pain. The snake was a giant to be sure, and he had never fought one so large. He had an idea, though. Nilral roared and stood in place, waiting for the next strike.

The great snake flew towards the dark elf once more. Its jaws unhinged to take in the Zenithian's height. At the very moment Nilral smelled its fetid breath, he mustered all of his strength and pushed his sword upwards into the snake's skull. The snake stopped its death strike, convulsing wildly and terribly, crashing with Nilral hard against the stone worked floor.

The snake slammed its gigantic head against the floor, intending to save itself from the pain, but truthfully only deepening its wound. Nilral could see his blade no longer, only the hilt in the top of the snake's mouth. Its fangs dripped its deadly venom to the floor. In turn, the floor melted away, the acidic liquid too much for the strange, alien stone. Its tail whipped across the floor, too quickly for any to dodge. Jerar was struck murderously against the wall, a loud crack sounding from the small human. It was not long until the snake stopped moving all together.

Nilral lay on the floor for a moment, his body aching. The swordsman stood after a spell and ran to Jerar, checking the man's pulse. It was still there, but he had a deep gash on his head. Nilral laid him back down onto the floor and went to the woman. She was more dazzling up close- crystal clear blue eyes, blonde hair like gold, skin soft and a sensual gaze. The woman's body was shapely, a heaving bosom and the body of a goddess. What good man would sacrifice this beauty?

She looked to him in fear, trying to hide her unmentionables, but failing. "What do you want from me," she frighteningly asked. "I was drugged and taken here. Gorroth is dead, now. Oh gods, help me!"

"Quiet, woman," Nilral demanded, his ears still ringing from the battle. "I was here for treasure, but you are more than saved, now. Who are you, anyway?"

"My name is Trameira, a woman brought from the south to this cold land. I was kept in the dungeon for weeks before they decided to kill me," she cried, trying to tear at the ropes that kept her bound to the pentagram. "Cut the ropes! The other men are sure to call for aid."

Nilral cursed- his blade was still in the snake. He jogged quickly to Jerar and tore free is shortsword. As if it was a heated blade to butter, the ropes cut. He caught her as she fell from the pentagram, holding her in his strong arms. The Zenithian carried her to Jerar. He called out to the man and slapped his cheeks to wake him. "Wake up, man. We will be killed if you do not. The Merchant waits. We have no treasure, but we will have our lives. Wake and give this woman your tunic."

The Aurobian groaned, while feeling his bloodied head. Nilral pulled him to his feet, forcing him to move. They had no time to waste. He pulled off the man's tunic, handing it to the woman. Trameira stood on her own and so did Jerar. He handed the rogue his serrated shortsword and ran to the snake. Opening the giant thing's mouth, he wrenched free his bastard sword.

"We go," he shouted, running for the stair.

The two followed as fast as possible. Jerar noticed a change in the dark elf; an adaptation to the danger, to the fear and to the blood. He was truly a natural. Again, he felt jealous, but could not help admiring the Zenithian. Jerar sheathed his blade and ran.

IV. A Holy Man Dead, A Dark Elf's Escape

The run up was much different than sneaking down. Nilral heard the angry shouts of citizens led by vaguely familiar voices. Jerar cursed, still groaning from time to time. Trameira let out a frantic cry of fear as they entered the atrium of the house, still doused with the red-tinted moonlight. The dark elf saw the angry crowds as he skidded to a stop in front of the entrance to the home. He looked to Jerar and the woman, and pointed to the secret exit. There was no point in keeping them there to die, he reasoned.

"But will I ever see you again, Nilral?" Trameira asked sadly, pouting. "You saved me from a fate worse than death alone. Don't leave me now to face them. Leave with us!"

He paid her no heed. "Go to the Merchant, Jerar. Tell him to fetch a week's rations and me a horse. I do not know the countries to the south. They are far better than this border, no doubt. By Odin, this country just got too hot for me to stay in. If I am not there in an hour, tell the Merchant to keep Trameira safe."

The Aurobian nodded grimly, gripping Trameira's wrist tight with his hand. He led her into the kitchen and that was the last Nilral saw of them before leaving the house by the front, facing the crowd's torches and various weapons. He glared at them, bloody sword in hand.

"That's th' devil that killed Master Blackstar in cold blood, ‘fraid of his holy powers. ‘E was callin' the forces that be t' give him the courage and power t' protect us all. Outta nowhere did he slay him from behind, the beast." One man said, a portly, short man that seemed to be lacking hair on top of his head, but nowhere else. "Poor Master Blackstar. Kill the damned devil!"

Nilral stood there, motionless but also fearless and intimidating. None of the men in the crowd struck forward; they had heard the tales of the dark elf who had slain a brigand in the Bull Horn. Nilral was coated in blood and gore of his own, sweat and spit of the giant snake. He must have seemed like an apparition of Hell to them all. Unlike the true Vanadi, the men of the north, brave men sworn to their honour and tribes, these that faced him were cowards and pigs in their own rite.

"Gorroth Blackstar was a dark-hearted man," he yelled to them. "He led a sacrifice to the snake Jormungand together with eight others. Search the house, if you do not believe me. Far beneath the house is a dungeon, in the last cell a set of stairs leading to the gore. I slew the beast with wit, his priests with my sword." He pointed his broad sword at the crowd, the tip gleaming in the torchlight. "I dare any of you to come and face me, you dogs! The dark gods could not save your Blackstar, so what chance do any of you have?"

Nilral lowered his blade, his face once again set in stone. He moved to the side to let any brave enough to go past. One man, a bearded, one-eyed beggar with a walking stick, stepped forward and struck into the house. It was not long until he came back, wise and knowing. The beggar's words rang like bells to the men in the crowd: "The swordsman speaks the truth- I have seen the giant snake and ritual room. Blackstar was a snake worshipper! Come see, if you do not believe with your eyes."

"Are we to trust a beggar?" One man said in the crowd, his voice cracking with fear. By then, though, all had entered the house.

The many men who came to kill Nilral now silently thanked him, but none could find the dark elf once they left Gorroth's home. He sped off into the shadows, some speculated. Some doubted the dark elf ever truly existed; a lie brought forth by the fat, bald man. Few looked for the dark elf at all, not willing to be bothered by the weird happening. The men of the Bull Horn who had lost a leader kept their traps shut, speaking no ill word of the elf. If one did, he was instantly shunned. The city would never call the dark elf a hero, but they would neither say a word against him.

The next day the city was alight by tales of the murder of Gorroth Blackstar, the dark ritual of the snake and the gigantic snake, itself. The unfortunate guard who found the goblin-faced high priest were perplexed of its origin; some cursed the sunken shores of Antil for the beast.

There was also one story from a guard late on duty at the southern gates, strangest of all the stories, if possible, and most important of all. The guard told of two forms slipping onto a horse; an obsidian skinned elf and woman being bid away by two thin, robed men; one man being of the east and the other a wholly robed and hidden man. After the horse had begun its running the two men disappeared in a puff of smoke! The horse rode until the guard could not see them anymore, being carried far to the south.

"Good-bye, Nilral," Jerar spoke stoically; his head and body bandaged in many places. He handed the Zenithian his short sword and scabbard. "A gift between thieves."

Nilral nodded his thanks, sitting up right in the saddle of the horse; Trameira nestled safely in front of him and a bag of rations in front of her. He smirked, looking back to the woman. "How many days will we ride, Merchant?"

"Four, Zenithian. When you get to the fork, take whichever way the wind blows- you will find that destiny is found whimsically and wildly as the wind blows. Remember that." He cackled wildly, his voice turning into a well-meant hiss again. "You did us all a favour tonight, Nilral. To me, most of all. Gorroth was a thorn in my side. Jerar and yourself performed perfectly."

"There was no treasure at all," stated Nilral, fine with the fact, but annoyed at the trickery.

The Merchant tilted his head, as if in confusion. "Do you not have a beautiful woman holding onto you, a new blade and horse to call your own? The city will spread word of the Zenithian and slain dark priest. You found your treasure. It is not always material, as you think. Remember that!"

The Zenithian nodded once more, and he did intend to remember that. He looked far down the road; the snow was fresh on the trail. Trameira spoke, now, her head leaning on Nilral's powerful chest. "What will happen to the living snake priests?" She asked, honestly worried.

"Leave me to that," Jerar awkwardly assured. "I will hunt all down, slay them with new weapon. It is easy."

Though he said that, she held close to Nilral.

"Yah!" Nilral yelled, spurring his horse forward. He was not one for good-byes. He did not look back to see neither the Merchant, nor Jerar. The dark elf knew he would never see them again. If for good or ill, he would never see Vanadis again until he was much older, when the realm was mad with war. The dark elf grinned as he rode, now free of his lands and the cares of the world. He spurred the horse once more, quickening its pace down the trail.

The wind at his back, Nilral rode.

The author's comments:
This may be the second Zenithian tale I had ever finished. The first is the 'Treasure of Null', but I like this yarn far better than Null.

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