The North Wing of the Hebrasil royal palace was the oldest part of the sprawling building. It had started life centuries ago as Bryan the Great’s royal hunting lodge and for decades had been the home to the least fashionable set of quarters available. Protocol dictated that only gentlefolk could be assigned to its rooms. The gentles who got dumped into it didn’t take it gently as they were the worst rooms in palace. Excepting of course the Royal apartments but those were a special form of hell.
The North Wing rooms were so narrow you could almost reach the walls with your outstretched arms, and you could touch the ceiling with your head if you were five foot five. The royal torturer regarded the rooms as a decent effort if nowhere near as good as the furniture in the Royal suite. At least escaping the apartments was no problem because the doors wouldn’t close. That said, the North Wing was conveniently located near the pig sties, where the smell washed over every part of it. However, if the wind shifted, then the residents would be smelling the prisoners at Glass House. And while not in any way, an improvement it was at least variety. The odors mixed freely with the bouquet of the wing’s mildew and mold. The few unfortunate long-term residents developed something they called, “nasal tinnitus.” A more worrying problem was that any prisoner that escaped Glass House would head immediately to the North wing and murder one of the out of favor gentry. At least that was the official story.
Also, the roof leaked.
Consequently, the frightened, soggy, and nostrilly impaired tenants of the North Wing were very much given to minding their own business when major fights broke out in their courtyard. Particularly at night. So long as somebody else was catching the Golden Sling Pebble, it meant they were probably safe.
Being born into the Dark Elf castes, Grod was quartered there. Of course.
Eighteen months to retirement, Grod muttered to himself as his gladius cleared its sheath, snapping it into a high guard, arm extended, sword tip pointed straight overhead. It always happens when you are just eighteen glutching months to retirement!
Grod favored the high guard when he was up against an opponent he’d never fought before. It wasn’t any good, but it was just so out of the box it took the other guy off his game. It was a way to try to take up real estate in his opponent’s head.
Although, that assumed there was room to spare in that head to begin with.
“REALLY G-R-O-O-O-O-O-D?” Malic purred like tree that was being broken in half, then his club streaked towards him, lightning quick.
Grod tried to vault over the shillelagh, and it looked like he was going to make it. But Malic spun the strike into an upward cut. It took a lot of the inertia out of giant club but it also caught Grod flat across the torso.
Grod had never wanted to know what it felt like to be God’s football, but he did now. It hurt too much to actually hurt. When he finally hit ground like a sack of dough, he had to waste precious seconds vomiting. He was seeing yellow and his ears were reporting a non-existent high ringing sound. He was too numb to feel the pain (which was theoretically a plus), but the downside was he couldn’t get his legs to do what he needed them to in any serious way. And he had to be on his feet now.
Just as he struggled up to his knees, he was bowled over again, this time by Duke Bryan’s limp hurtling body.
“ATTACK!” Honor screamed at her recently acquired Swamp Elf Guards. She knew they didn’t really know what was going on, and she was clearly an authority figure. It was a decent gamble.
The Swamp Elves sprung into action.
Instantly falling to their knees and singing their death songs. Which were surprisingly light and cheerful. Life in the Delta swamps being as hideous as it was, the prospect of dying was likely to be the highlight of any Swamp Elf’s day.
There wasn’t a lot of hope at this point. The escape attempt looked like a failure.
Bryan was out cold and bleeding from his scalp. It was three against one and given the size and strength of the opposition, physics were going to count for a lot more than skill this last time out.
“I’m not dying on my knees,” Grod growled to himself as he shoved hard against the ground forcing himself upward. He did a half jump that got his feet under him, then pushed himself up with legs that felt like they were doing a 800-pound squat.
His tomahawk was still in his hand, although the Fallen One only knew where his gladius had gone. “Come on, hamburger-boy I don’t got all night!”
“Gore the orc!” Malic ordered the minotaur nearest to Grod.
The man-beast bellowed in fury and closed in at thundering run. The horns on his head aimed at Grod’s navel.
Asshole, the orc thought to himself. They were going to gut him and leave him die slowly.
He watched as the points of the horn came hurtling at him and he was too hurt to even dodge. If he tried he’d just end up face down on the cobblestones and the minotaur would stab him in the back. Better if the wound is in front, ‘to die with a clean back’ was important to any orc. They won’t be able to say I ran, Grod thought to himself as he tried to take up some kind of guard.
The minotaur was four feet away when an unearthly sound lashed the air. There was painful intensity to the beauty of the sound. Grod was hearing the music that was foundation of all music. Of all art. Of all Science. Of all matter. Of all thought. Of all.
It was notes from the Song of Creation. The chords that weren’t meant to be sung by a human voice, yet this one was managing it.
“DON’T LOOK!” Malic bellowed and turned away.
But the minotaur charging Grod had been too focused on his task. His head was still down and his steel shod hooves were making sparks as they struck the cobble stones. His huge brown eyes widened in horror as his muzzle opened in terrified scream. He frantically tried to turn away. Then his howling changed from fear to agony as his body went stiff and began to shimmer.
Grod begin to instinctively turn his head to the source of the music when his vision vanished as two soft hands covered his eyes.
“Don’t look,” he heard Fanny whisper urgently in his ear. “Medusa Gaze.”
“Tough luck,” Grod gave a pained chuckle. At least their wizard had stuck with them. Usually, those guys first reaction to something like Malic and his friends (or I guess friend (singular by now)) was to bug.
The unearthly music stopped and Fannita’s hands left his eyes. There was an obsidian statue of a minotaur inches from him. Its face forever locked in an agonized rictus of dread.
Horrible but still better than any expressionist art I’ve ever seen, Grod thought to himself.
Malic roared in fury at the sight, streams of hot drool poured from the side of his muzzle as his hooves pawed the ground.
It improved the odds improved, if reducing them from 900 to 1 to 600 to 1 could be viewed as an improvement.
Grod was displeased to feel Saluriman’s hand clamping his shoulder. He was a lot more displeased to see one of the rings on the wizard’s finger starting to glow with unearthly light. The Sal’s face was slack, he was too far gone in his task to perform mundane tasks like animating his (for values of his) face.
“Go! Get me some time,” Sal voice was more urgent. “Go n-o-o-o-ow!”
His voice appeared to slow down suddenly and go deep as the time dilation spell stored in the ring took hold of Grod.
Fallen One’s asshole, I hate those things, Grod thought to himself as the world slowed to about half its normal speed. Any orc that served with Special Operations was familiar with the things. The problem with them was that it didn’t slow down time, it just felt that way to the guy who had it had been used on. It was actually speeding up his own personal time bubble. The problem with that being, his body would pay for it when the spell broke. Time Dilation (so called) did make his body go faster in the world around him but it was still just his own non-magical orc body doing everything while he was under the spell. The effect of being three times as good as the best athlete in the world, was going to be paid for by the concomitant effects of expending all of the strength and endurance that Grod didn’t have. He was about kite a check his body couldn’t cash.
“I get to live for another minute,” Grod muttered to himself, “joy.” Although to the world around him it sounded like Grod had suddenly developed a fondness for helium and amphetamines.
His first thought was where is my sword? His second thought was, fuck that, where is Bryan’s sword?
Royals always carried magic blades.///rewrite fight with El Ruyeniad to include one/// Magic swords had been the first thing humans had tried to invent the moment they found out that magic was real on the Wide Earth. A thousand years of research and development had turned it into an apex technology.
And naturally, Bryan’s sword was right behind Malic.
While he was now faster than the minotaurs, they were still pretty damn fast. If they guessed what had been done to him, what he was doing, and led their target he could still get pancaked.
But they didn’t know about the Time Dilation spell yet.
Grod took off at what was from his perspective, a stately walk that he was trying to make look like a run.
The man-cattle for their part were charging at Saluriman. Correctly identifying him as the existential threat. Grod would be an amusing distraction after the magician was dead.
When they were 10 feet apart, the orc made his move. Grod’s own body seemed glacially slow to him as he vaulted into a run. So slow. Agonizingly slow as he ran towards the minotaurs. It was like he was trying to jog in thick mud. He couldn’t get his feet off the ground fast enough. Malic had already started his swing before he detected the change in Grod.
His large bovine eyes slowly widened in comprehension and the club shifted its direction, Malic was trying to lead his target and not doing a bad job of it. It would still connect with Grod even if he ducked low, because of his hyper-inertia, the orc was now committed to one direction.
Grod hit the ground in a slide that shot between Malic’s steel shod hooves. He planted his tomahawk right between the cloves of Malic’s left hoof as he slid by. His speed augmenting his strength exponentially, it went in deep. Then he grabbed Bryan’s sword just he cleared Malic’s tail. From his point of view it was as easy as picking an apple off tree but to the rest of the world it had to have looked cool as hell. His plan was to hamstring the monster as soon as he got the sword. Unfortunately, Grod kept sliding.
The minotaur roared at the excruciating pain. Rage banished reason. Killing the wizard was suddenly on a back burner, Malic’s new objective was clearly to pound Grod into a sticky paste.
Grod for his part was still sliding. It wasn’t that the pavement was slippery or anything. It was just that he had drastically underestimated his own inertia. His right trouser leg was shredded, and he suddenly felt a searing pain that informed him that he had skinned his entire leg from ankle to hip. The brand-new pain was just going to have to talk things over with the rest of his previous pains and figure where it rated in this fairly complex neurological relationship. Right now, Grod was coming up on the second minotaur that was right behind Malic and he was already bringing his club down.
The orc wasn’t going to be able to get at this one’s Achilles tendon. Grod rolled into a forward stance, transferred his final bit of momentum into a last second chopping strike aimed at the minotaur’s ankle. Since that ankle was as thick as a tree trunk it wasn’t going to do that much damage but hopefully it would hurt enough to throw off the minotaur’s aim.
The sword flashed like blue lightening, even with Grod’s slowed perspective it looked fast. He felt only a small amount of tugging resistance as the blade passed completely through the minotaur’s ankle. Grod was fascinated by the sight of his enemy’s leg leaving the ground with the hoof still attached by adhesion and then the hoof separated. I’ve got to get me one of these, he thought to himself.
Grod suddenly wished he hadn’t been so focused as the club connected with him. He reacted as quickly as he could moving with the momentum of the shillelagh, but he felt ribs on his left side crack as he jumped out of way.
A new world of pain exploded within the orc when he reflexively took a breath. The agony made him dizzy.
Grod almost shook his head to try and clear it but at the last second remembered that he would give himself whiplash under the current circumstances and settled for clamping his jaw shut hard. And naturally, cracked a tooth.
Grod took two quick sidesteps away from the fallen minotaur. Given his current speed and despite broken ribs and a right leg that felt like it had tried to have sex with a cheese grater, the odds had dropped from 900 to 1 against to just about dead even.
Malic was still titanically strong, but his movement was now impaired. Grod could flank the monster now.
Grod easily skipped out of the way of Malic’s first shot with the club
“Come on, Malic. Let’s not waste all day. You are supposed to be the main course at Benton’s Steakhouse tonight,” Grod taunted.
Sadly, it didn’t have its desired effect. Malic burst out laughing, “D-U-D-E…Y-O-U-R V-O-I-C-E!”
Grod snarled in embarrassment. To the minotaur it must have sounded like he was being threatened by a chipmunk. Okay, lets get this over with, the Banner-Sergeant thought to himself. These guys are going to have help on the way even if this is the North Wing.
Grod feinted right. Malic shifted his position favoring his injured hoof. Grod flashed left, winding up for a strike that was going to go through most of Malic’s inner thigh, slashing his femoral arteries.
And then the Time Dilation spell ran out. All of the exertion, all of the hyper accelerated speed and strength collected its overdue bill from Banner-Sergeant Kevo-Grod. He felt all of the strength drain out of his body and started to tremble violently. The orc took a couple of stumbling steps in the wrong direction and without warning felt fingers like steel bands wrap around his calf. The minotaur he’d turned into a monoped had his leg in an enraged death grip.
“BEAT THE ORC’S HEAD IN MALIC!”
“LOOKS LIKE IT’S PORK CHOP NIGHT AT THE VFW HALL G-R-R-O-O-O-D,” Malic snarled at him as he lifted his club for an inelegant but orc-flattening overhead swing.
Killed by a moron, Kevo-Grod thought to himself in disgust, as he tried lift his sword in overhead guard.
“Grod, get out of there!” Princess Honor shrieked at him.
Love to, he thought to himself, but then he saw why she was screaming. Saluriman had finished his prep time. He had two metal wands in either hand, one arm was pointed at the sky, the other was aimed at Malic. The courtyard was filling with the smell of ozone.
“Oh, fuck me blind!”
That lightening spell was going hit Malic, then the other minotaur and naturally the orc he had his bare hand clamped to.
The wands flashed brightly, Grod slashed through the wrist of the second minotaur and started to roll away. He couldn’t get completely clear in time.
Grod clenched his eyes tight but could still see an image of two man-beasts, their bodies silently locked in a full spasm so strong they couldn’t scream. The thunder clap hit him with a the force of physical blow and electric shocks ripped through him. Grod felt all of his hearts skip a few beats.
And then it was over just as instantly as started. Grod rolled on to his back and sighed, then wheezed sharply from the pain of the broken ribs. This was too big of a crash. Grod couldn’t move. He was in a place that was beyond exhaustion. And it was peaceful there. They could just leave him now, right? There was nothing more he was capable of doing at this point. He was down for the count. Maybe a combination of the girls and Sal could move him but they needed Duke Bryan more than Banner Sergeant Grod. They couldn’t carry both.
He lay there for a few blessed moments until he felt soft hands trying to pull him upright. He opened his eyes and saw Princess Honor giving him a ‘there’s my brave boy smile.’
“Go ‘way,” Grod slurred
He felt a bottle at his lips. “Wuz this?” Then he got a good sniff and knew what it was. He instinctively tried to get away from it. Fell back down and cracked his head on the pavement.
Healing spells were fantastic if you could get them. Not that most people could, they were damned expensive, high-level magic. Healing potions were a different matter. Cheaper and easier to come by. The magic wasn’t as complex, but it came with a huge side effect. For something alchemical to work it had to come with a price tag. Normally ribs would take two months to heal, if Grod drank that potion his ribs would be healed in minutes.
At the cost of two months aging. Take too many of those things and you would die of old age before you were twenty-five.
“Come on, Grod,” Honor said gently but firmly. “We don’t have any choice here.”
He knew she was right. He opened his mouth and drank it.