Wanderlust

Chapter the Fourth

David Lee

Blackrazor@rogers.com

Shusa poked her head out into the hallway, weary eyes squinting into the darkness. The sound of steel clashing against steel echoed from either direction. "What kind of commotion could be caused at this hour?" She grumbled to herself. Two men, clad in heavy, blue robes, dashed by. She called out to them. "What on earth is going on?"

"Nightcloaks!" One gasped in exhaustion, and in an instant, they were off again, the hems of their robes making quick whisking sounds across the floor. Shusaís eyes narrowed at the name. She drew tight the ropes that pulled her white bathrobe closed, then went inside to fetch her daggers. There would be some work to be done tonight. Suddenly, realization caught the Hunterís breath.

"Linnatiel!" She exclaimed. Pulling her low boots on, she ran out into the hallway, a curved elven dagger in each hand, and went off in search of the elf. "Linnatiel!" Shusaís calls bounded into the darkness.

With a defiant scream, Derryn plunged his blade deep into the chest of another black-clad Nightcloak. Pulling the sword free, the wounded assassin stumbled back into its comrades, vainly slashing the air with its knives. The swordsman barely had enough time to whip around and face another Nightcloak. Waste, there are too many of them! He thought gravely, straining his muscles to deflect the lightning-quick dagger slashes. All around him, there were cries of battle and wails of the wounded, as the swordsmen of the Northern Sanctuary fended themselves against the steady pour of Nightcloaks. The mages at the far end of the main chamber continued to weave eye-shredding strands of magic in the air, casting vicious bolts of lightning into the midst of the Nightcloaks. Yet, even as their own kind were flung through the air by the sheer force of the spells, the silent warriors kept pressing onward, and the mages were beginning to use their magic to defend themselves against the onslaught. All was in chaos.

Derryn fell back and tripped over a lifeless form shrouded by a black cloak. Crashing to the ground, his broadsword skittered out of his hands and slid across the marble floor. Raising his head, he saw the Nightcloak loom over him, a situation he remembered all too well. As the assailant leapt at Derryn, daggers bared, a trainee of the Sanctuary threw himself into the Nightcloak, a swirl of black and gray cloth tumbling to the floor. Muttering thanks to the twist of Fate that saved him, Derryn rolled forward, retrieved his weapon, and flipped to his feet. He panted with exhaustion, beads of sweat rolling down his face. How long had he been fighting? Minutes? Hours? He could not remember. A sticky circle of blood stained the side of his shirt, where his previous wound had reopened with the strain. It bit into him whenever he tried to move about, and he was pushed to his limits already, with fighting so many Nightcloaks. He remembered what Tareth first said about them; they did fight like devils. He had only defeated three or four, but he was out of breath.

"For the Sanctuary!" Derryn heard a voice yell, and he took up the cry. Swordsmen around him echoed the words, even as they fought. Bringing his mind back to the battle, he hefted his sword, took a deep breath, and charged back into the roiling mass of chaos.

The mage-apprentices of the Sanctuary pressed their mental strength to the edge, weaving far more strands of magic than normally possible. Hundreds of multicoloured streams wove through the air, a blinding sky to the indoor battlefield. The mages robed in red held the defence, leading the others and guiding the less trained. They were barely out of their teens, the oldest being in his twenties. They were not prepared for a real battle, yet they fought bravely. The line of swordsmen lead by Rathos held their ground, the only thing standing between the mages and the onrushing Nightcloaks. The Waymaster held his blade firmly in his hands, expecting a fight, but the diversion caused by Derryn and his rabble slowed them down. That fool of a nephew, Rathos thought to himself, grimacing. Still, he could not help but feel a flush of pride. Rallying a group of bloodied men and sending them into the teeth of a Nightcloak attack. Even Adakran would have approved. He was snapped out of his thoughts as a white-clad woman appeared at his side. Turning his head, he almost jumped when he saw Shusa, dressed only in a bathrobe and boots, with the drawstring pulled tight around her waist. "Waste, woman! At least come to a battlefield fully clothed!" He gasped. The elf shot a glare that silenced him.

"I had to make sure Princess Linnatiel was safe," she explained, twirling the knives in her hands. "The mages defend her with their lives." She was calm as ever, even in the midst of a broiling battlefield.

"As soon as they realized who she was," Rathos chuckled to himself. "Almost half the male mages began to swear oaths to her."

"Only young Drakelight has a right to that," Shusa said, staring ahead. Shocked for but even a moment, Rathos glanced at her, trying to understand what she said. "Look," she called, pointing. "They come." A sizable chunk of the Nightcloak force had been caught in a brutal melée by Derrynís fighters, but they now began to creep toward the line of swordsmen held by Rathos. The Waymaster raised his sword.

"Warriors, ready weapons! Salute your enemy!" He called. Brown-uniformed swordsmen to either side of him raised the hilts of their swords to their faces, showing no fear. The Nightcloaks came closer now; he could feel the gazes hidden by their cowls. "Warriors, defend!" Rathos ordered. At once, a dozen swords swept down in front of their wielders. "Warriors, engage!" The Nightcloaks fell upon them, a wave of black cloaks and sharp steel.

"Theyíre losing," Linnatiel murmured. She stood with her back to the wall, surrounded by a ring of mages not much older-looking than herself, wielding thick, polished wooden magesí staves. "We have to help them!"

"We cannot leave you here, My Lady!" A blue-robed young man barked. "We will defend a Princess of any nation, to the last!" The elf almost screamed in frustration. Clutching her fists in frustration, she marched up to the blue-robe, even though he was a head taller than her. Her green eyes glaring in fury, she snatched the quarterstaff from his hands, amidst his futile protests. With a deft twirl of her hands, the staff whirled lightly in her hands. She was no coward. She would not let Derryn get himself killed.

"If you cannot leave me here, then you will come with me!" She exclaimed. The other mages around her stared in surprise. "I may not be able to weave an inkling of a thread, but I can fight! And fight I will!" Never looking back, Linnatiel strode toward the Nightcloaks, unflinching. Confused, but not lost, the mages wielding staves formed up behind her, taking steps more confidently than they felt.

The first Nightcloak that noticed Linnatiel approaching hissed hungrily and pounced at her. The elf swiftly sidestepped and sent a flurry of staff blows to its head, sending it spinning to the ground. Several more Nightcloaks advanced where one had fell. The mages rushed to meet them, the clacks of wood on steel and bone mixing with the clangs of steel against steel.

The time seemed to drag on by hours, or maybe the weariness in Derrynís bones felt that way. In actuality, the battle only progressed by several minutes. Derryn stood at one end of the chamber amongst several surviving swordsmen; Nightcloaks and humans alike were piled around him, unmoving. A battle still raged at the middle of the chamber, a massive, swirling mélée. The strands of magic had stopped flowing through the air; the Nightcloaks were too close to risk injuring others with the destructive spells. Tareth rested on his sword, panting heavily. Small cuts and slashes adorned his arms, but his own weapon was slick with the blood of Nightcloaks. "The fight continues, little master," he wheezed. Derryn weakly nodded, his eyes almost sliding closed, until familiar figures, glimpses at least, caught his eye. Rathos, elegantly moving from one opponent to the next, dispatched Nightcloaks left and right. But even he was showing signs of weariness. Shusa, the elven Hunter, --dressed in a...bathrobe?ówielded her daggers with menacingly deadly skill. A tiny knot of mages had charged into the battle earlier, but he knew they lacked the skill to contend with the Nightcloaks. Only one remained, surrounded by the assassins. Derryn could almost make out the face as he slowly raised his sword to his waist. A girl, golden-haired and clutching a quarterstaff defiantly. But the look in her eyes was different; fear, utter fear. In those green eyes...

"Linnatiel!!!" Derryn screamed, pushing himself to a run across the marble floor of the chamber, his boots stepping loudly. All but Linnatiel and the several Nightcloaks were drowned out from his vision. She was cornered, backing as far away as she could from the stalking pace of the Nightcloaks. Letting loose a guttural roar, he sped forward, the muscles in his legs burning. The swordsmen leaped, throwing himself on a Nightcloak, sending it and a few of its comrades to the ground. He pushed himself off the Nightcloak, grunting, and whirled around frantically. He staggered in front of Linnatiel, and raised his sword.

"Derryn, donít do this!" He thought he heard the elfís voice exclaiming. He was so tired, but he would die ten times over than let one Nightcloak edge break her skin. The first Nightcloak swept at him, with those fast-moving knives. Almost lazily he knocked both out of the way and thrust his sword into the assassinís heart. Gathering all his strength, he wrenched the blade free; he almost stumbled back when he did. Two more came at him this time, hissing. Derryn didnít move out the way fast enough; he almost felt the sting of steel cutting his flesh, across the shoulder.

"Linnatiel..." Feeling angered for some reason, he stepped smoothly, gracefully, amidst a haze of dizzyness. One Nightcloak went down, then the other; he did not know how, but his sword was more bloodstained than ever. He looked at it almost quizzically, holding up to his face, before he felt another one of those annoying stings cut across his back. Feeling time slow down, he swept around blindly, backhanding the Nightcloak across the face, before running it through with a thrust of his sword. Trusty old sword, youíve never failed me, Derryn mused to himself, blinking. He heard screams, a femaleís screams, but did not feel like listening to them; they battered at his ears so. One more Nightcloak remained, standing before him. He almost felt it quivering in fear, at a human that should have died long ago. It swung at him, snarling with rage. Two more stings found their way to Derrynís skin. More quickly than he realized, he brought his sword up and slashed downward with all his strength. Hot liquid splashed across his face. Wiping a finger across his cheek, he saw it was red. Blood. How interesting. All the sound around him was dead now; all was quiet. Derryn barely stood on two feet, wavering. He felt so dirty, with all this sweat and blood on him. The hilt of his Templar sword slipped from his aching fingers, clattering to the floor. The sound echoed throughout the entire chamber. Raising his head weakly, he saw that everyone in the chamber was staring at him. All was silent. Derryn turned to Linnatiel, almost tripping over as he did. He smiled weakly. At the same moment his legs crumpled; he fell to the ground, but was caught by Linnatiel. She looked at him, with those green eyes that said so much.

"Why?" She whispered. The whisper became a demand, choked by tears. "Why?!" Derryn blinked, and smiled up at her. Darkness was creeping around the corners of his vision; he wished it wouldnít do so.

"Because," he found himself saying, in a voice strangely wracked with pain, and fatigue, "I said I would carry you back. A hundred times..." he murmured, then spoke with alarming clarity, "Because...I can never stand...the sight... of you being hurt..." His wheeze trailed off, and everything was dark.

**

Adakran strode through the hallways of the Northern Sanctuary, his back straight as if at attention. The chainmail he wore made gentle clinking sounds as he walked. His white cloak, grand as ever, swept about his feet. He passed by the occasional apprentice or two, who awkwardly bowed or deeply curtsied to him. They were never used to seeing, let alone meeting, a soldier-lord of the Templar.

He came upon the main chamber of the Sanctuary, where the polished, marble floor was stained with blood, ash and unmoving bodies. A regiment of Templar worked about, gathering the weapons of the fallen and cleaning the floors, and disposing of the Nightcloak corpses. The Templar were clad in chainmail, with white tunics worn over top. Each had a sword at his waist, and a gleaming helmet on his head. The insignia of the Templar, a circle next to a crescent drawn through by a straight line, adorned the chest of each tunic. At seeing Adakran, they all stood up straight, then fell to one knee. "Continue," he said, and almost at once they resumed their work. Rathos stood in the middle of it, directing the soldiers, his dark garments in stark contrast to that of those around him. Adakran strode to meet him.

"Well met, my brother," the Templar lord said, clasping Rathosí gloved hand. "You have done much in these past years." The black-clad Drakelight returned Adakranís stony expression.

"And you, big brother, have raised a brave fool of a son," he replied. All was silent for a moment, until they both laughed out loud, clapping each other on the back. "He is too much like you, Adakran. Too much like you."

"Everyone seems to say that," Adakran said, smiling. "Yet I do not remember being as...foolish as you say."

"We were all foolish back then, Adakran. You with your talk of honour, and I with mine of acting the wiser. Things may not have changed so much, perhaps." Rathos looked around. "Where is Saryn? I would have expected her to visit me, at least." Adakran shook his head.

"Things have been hectic in the State," he said with a sigh. "Too many disturbances, too little explanations. She must keep an eye out for me. I almost wish she could come in my place; I do not have as much influence on Derryn as she." Rathos patted him on the shoulder.

"Fear not, big brother. Things may get worse, but change is evident. Besides, you do not have to coerce Derryn as much, as long as the Princess is around him. She effects him more than anyone right now." Adakranís eyes twinkled with amusement.

"Yes, I suppose that is so. For the second time in two human generations, a human has fallen for an elven noble. At least, that is what it appears to be." He pondered the thought. "Does Ithralli know of our childrenís reunion?" Rathos nodded.

"Yes, Velena must have sent word to him by now. He, too was worried over his child. What I fear is, what will the Templar factions think of young Derryn running after an elf?" Adakran cast a glance at Rathos, half warning, half consideration. The Waymaster continued, unabated. "Meaning no disrespect to the elves, but most humans have not been as...tolerant as we have, Adakran. Most of the common folk think of them as pointy-eared deceivers, of words and truths. We know better, Adakran, but we do not know much."

Adakran rubbed his chin thoughtfully with a steel-backed glove. "I have been thinking about that since I came here, brother," he replied. "And no doubt the factionsí responses will be...defensive, to say the least. They do not know as much about our elven comrades, but I have learned to know better."

"And about Derryn?"

"Derryn cannot stay here; he will not stay here. I donít know what it was that compelled him to run away, but I fear that he may do so again."

**

Derryn was back in his room, lying on top of the covers on his bed, staring at the dark ceiling. His good hand rested under his head, and his feet, still booted, were crossed. His sword, as usual, hung on the back of a nearby chair. The swordsman found himself thinking of Linnatiel.

"What do I feel for her?" He asked the darkness around him. She was pretty; that was for sure. No, she was beautiful, flawless. Derryn found his cheeks burning as he thought those last words. He formed Linnatielís face in his mind; the long, golden hair streaked with brown, Ėwas her hair naturally like that?ó the emerald eyes that seemed to radiate a soft light on their own. Waste, what am I doing?! "Just friends," Derryn muttered, shaking the thoughts out of his head and turning on his side. "Just friends." Yet, even as he closed his eyes, the thoughts of Linnatiel came drifting back.

-Tuesday, January 22, 2002