The Chronicles of Valana Volume 2: Elaria's Bane

by AB

Chapter 9

Discovering Oghelle's Dark Truths

"Get the children to safety. Get them home if they, still, have one." Ravenered, Micraal's second in command ordered his men. "I'll take what we found here to our hideout." His men nodded and gathered the children, guiding them out of the building.

Ravenered walked to their hideout. Their hideout's entrance was in an abandoned building. The building had been left to its fate almost half a century ago. Before that it had been a brothel meant to please the sailors. Then a drunk sailor had found his favourite "woman of the night" in bed with a different client. In rage he had killed her and the other client. In the fight he had tripped over the candles above and below the bed. The bed, curtains and linen caught ablaze in an instant and before anyone could do anything about it, it was more than the brothel burning away in the night. Most of the port sector burned that night in the worst fire in the City's history.

The brothel's owner had perished in the fire. The brothel was never rebuilt and so was left to crumble away. When Micraal formed The Vaghish he had selected this building as it connected to the sewers where no one would look for them.

The sewers were not the most original of places but they ensured no one would go looking for them there. The sewers were infested with huge Oghellen rats. Twice if not thrice the size of normal rats these were aggressive and infected with a parasite to boot. If a human was bitten by one of the rats he or she had a 50% - 50% chance of being infected with the parasite. It would cause severe diarrhea, splitting headaches that would lead to insanity and bone-ache so severe many have tried to rip their bones out to make it stop. In most cases the victim would one way or another kill him or herself to stop the pain or in paranoid delusions. What was worse there was no known cure.

No one not even the city guards ventured into the sewers. Micraal had helped in clearing out and securing a large portion of the sewers from the rats to use as their hideout and base of operations.

It had not been easy and had cost a few lives but as The Vaghish grew in numbers and hope grew in the people of what they offered there were more than a few who had offered to sacrifice their lives to clear out those parts of the sewers.

Ravenered walked in silence and in pain through the various corridors, forks and turns to arrive in their true underground entrance. "This pain will not leave me alone. Have I been bitten by an Oghellen rat?" Ravenered wondered rubbing his arms, itching.

"Would you like the pain to go away Ravenered of Malchiorst?" A voice in his head asked him, dark and foreboding.

Ravenered skipped a step and his heart a beat. "Who are you? Show yourself?" He looked around left and right, behind him, frantically trying to find who was hiding in the shadows.

"Who I am is not important. I am your deepest desires and darkest fears and I can make that pain go away if you want me to."

"Yes, yes make it go away. What do I have to do?" Ravenered gave the signal knock on the entrance's door.

It creaked open, two guards inside saluted him.

He nodded and walked fast to the chamber of information, where they gathered all the clues, information and parchments regarding their targets, merchants and rich aristocrats in the Kingdom. They made connections there, and discussed missions.

"Interesting question. Answer me this, what would you do or give to not be in pain? To not die from the rat's parasite?" The voice seemed amused, almost playful.

"Anything. I do not want to die, not like this?" Ravenered was almost desperate, the pain in his bones and head growing stronger.

"Not like this? How would you like to die?"

"Stop playing with me! Tell me what I have to do?"

"How would you like to die? He who pays the piper decides the tune and right now I decide it. Answer me mortal." There was nothing playful in the voice now.

"In a battlefield with my honour in defense of my Kingdom." Ravenered answered.

"How dull and unimaginative. You have the merchants and aristocrats do you not?" The voice seemed bored now.

"Yes, I hate them with all my heart. They think their wealth means they can do whatever they want without consequence. I…we show them differently. They die by my blade."

"What if I gave you Caaran's location? Would you kill him?" The voice asked, sounding amused again.

"Yes, without hesitation or remorse."

"And if Micraal declined? He doesn't really want to kill the aristocrats you know."

"You lie! He is our leader and he hates the rich as much as we do." Ravenered countered.

The voice laughed in his head. "And if I can prove to you this is not so? Will you agree to face him and take the leadership of The Vaghish from him?"

"Yes, nothing and no one is more important than the mission."

"What is the mission then Ravenered?"

"To slay all the rich, all the merchants, all the aristocrats who plague this Kingdom."

"A noble mission, I wish to aid you in this mission so I'll give you a location. In there if your mind is sharp and your senses honed you'll find a clue which will lead you to Caaran Jutli's location. Go to Urmelond in the borders between Oghelle and Halmeran.

"Fine, I'll do it if for no other reason than to prove to you of Micraal's intentions."

The voice contented itself to a short laugh.

Meanwhile Vashka was tailing a courier. His father had assigned him this mission. He knew Vashka could protect himself and this mission would not get him in the nastier parts of town. He wanted Vashka to know his father trusted him and what Vashka did not know was that no less than ten guards were shadowing him. Micraal trusted Vashka and he knew Vashka's training was going very well but Vashka was still a thirteen-year-old boy and men were men.

The courier turned up an alleyway. Vashka looked stealthily round the corner to see him talk to a hooded figure.

It was quiet enough for Vashka to listen in to some of what they were saying.

"Yes, they'll be ready…." Some noise. "of course I'll give the documents to the Count." The courier took something from the other man, turn around and walk away. Vashka pretended to browse a peddler's wares.

"How to find out what the letter says?" Vashka pondered. "If I steel it the Count will know whatever he is preparing has been compromised…if I kill the courier is also not good…oh I know what I can do…but I need help…"

Vashka knew the courier would walk about for some time, walk in circles and backtrack to mask his true destination from would-be spies like him.

Vashka and his father knew where the count lived so learning that was not his objective, his objective was to find out what the letter said and to learn what he could of what the Count was preparing so if he could find that out he could just go and wait in the Count's house instead of continue to follow the courier.

A few minutes down the road he saw one of his friends walk about with his younger brother and father.

"Hello Donar, Radel, Radesh-Master." He greeted them, his friend, younger brother and their father, also a member of The Vaghish and the Hunters of Darkness.

"Good to see you Micraal's son, Vashka." In Oghelle it was customary until you came of age to be acknowledged as someone's son or daughter. Until you became an adult you were thought of as your parent's "extension".

"Good to see you Radesh-Master." Vashka acknowledged the man before turning to the two brothers. They saluted each other as was common amongst the boys of Oghelle, by slapping each other's shoulders. A proof of their strength, to withstand as strong a slap as possible without crying or protesting. "Guys want to help me out some?"

"Sure, what's up?" Donar asked always happy to help his friend.

"I am on a…mission from dad, can you distract that guy over there for a sec or two while I "borrow" something from his pocket?" Donar grinned.

"Radesh-Master it'll be ok…" Vashka was cut off by Radesh.

"I am not worried, go on." He nodded looking confident in Vashka's and Donar's ability to take care of themselves as well as the fact he was ten meters away and he knew Micraal was bound to have men watching over his only son.

The brothers nodded with Radel looking up to his older brother for what he was supposed to do. Donar winked at him and ran in front of the courier.

"Help me kind sir! Please, me and my brother have not what to eat sir." Donar begged in the most pathetic voice he could muster. Vashka had to stifle a laugh knowing his friend as he did.

"Get away from me child." The courier barked.

"Please sir…we…we will do whatever you ask." Donar indicated his brother with his eyes, as if trying to entice the man to something.

Vashka worked quickly almost crouching behind the courier, stretching his hand, picking out the letter and throwing a look at Donar who knew what to do.

Donar gave a loud "pleeeeaaassseee sir" masking Vashka's whispered casting of a magic spell.

Vashka put the letter back on the courier's pocket and walked away casually.

"Anything?" The courier asked, now interested.

"Not "that"! You fucking pervert." Donar yelled as if shocked and ran away with his brother before the courier could even utter another word.

Donar, his brother and their father met up with Vashka a couple of streets away.

"So, what did you do?" Radel asked.

"I used a spell to copy what was written in the courier's letter to here." Vashka indicated a parchment with writing on it.

"Now he can go back to his master thinking the letter safe and whatever they are preparing and we can know what is written in there." Vashka grinned.

Radesh read the parchment and chuckled. "Your training is going good I see but still need improvement. There are empty spots here but should be enough for us to understand what it is the other conspirator wanted to pass on to the Count."

Vashka nodded and left vowing to see his friend again later.

Micraal had travelled to the Kingdom of Limenodor. An informant there had sent him a missive he had information for him, information on the movements of the agents of Darkness in Oghelle and Elaria.

He had left before dawn so he could be back home before the next. He did not like leaving his son and Orphon alone for too long.

Limenodor city was far smaller than Oghelle. Before the trade with Valana it had existed for centuries in one form or another as a port for Oghelle to move through whatever merchandise it did not want to go through its port. Deniability was always a good weapon to have in one's arsenal.

Since the trade with Valana started it had grown and flourished but still received the trade Oghelle did not want to receive in its port, only now there was more of it."

Oghelle had three layers of walls, moats and layers of defensible positions all along the river and land not covered by the sea. Limenodor only had one layer of wall and a moat but if the Orkhavocs, or anyone else, decided to attack Oghelle from the south they had to go through Limenodor and Halmeran.

Micraal dismounted and gave his horse to the stable boy along with two pieces of silver, a high payment for a lowly stable boy. The stable boy grinned from ear to ear with Micraal giving him a quick wink. It was not the first time Micraal had used Limenodor to receive such information so the stable boy knew him and provided his horse with the best care he could muster as well as whatever rumours and gossip that came his way.

Micraal walked to the city's inn and tavern and took a place in a low-lit corner. He sat on the inside of the corner, assuring no one could sneak up to him from behind and he had a good overview of who was in the tavern and who came and left. He ordered a pint of dark, cold ale and waited for his informant to arrive.

Two hours later a man stood up from his seat and walked up to him, sat down and signaled the waiter. He ordered a pint of the same ale Micraal was sipping down leisurely.

The waiter left. After a moment of silence Micraal spoke.

"What have you for me Nisdor?" Micraal asked casually.

Nisdor did not speak, instead he slid a piece of parchment across the table. Micraal picked it up and read it. His face emotionless. He placed the parchment on top of the candle and watched it burn.

"I see. You will receive your new orders in the usual second spot in three days from now in the borders between Oghelle and Halmeran." Micraal told the man and left leaving a few copper coins on the table for his ale.

"Things are not good." He told himself, paid the stable boy one more silver coin and left for the farms in the outskirts of Oghelle.

"Things are not good at all." He whispered under his moustache.

Aer'andil could not believe how much fun it was mounting a boar. It was a completely different experience to riding a horse, far wobblier and difficult to maintain one's balance but also by far funnier than a horse. Horses felt nobler, something he'd ride to a state visit while this now, riding a huge boar felt like something he'd do with Norion for fun, to pass the time and die from laughing.

It had taken him a bit to find his balance and stop falling from it at first, and then some to get used to it, but now two days later he boar-back rode as if he had for his whole life. They would travel during the very early dawn, before the sun was even up yet up until early noon, rest and continue after the sun would not be blistering hot until nightfall. Then they would spend the night with Gughekren around the fire telling stories from their lives and traditions of their people.

Two days later they stood in front of Agteldosh's gates. Agteldosh was a smaller City-Kingdom allied with Glogak's Kingdom. Gughekren's mother was the King's younger sister.

The King met them in the City gates with open arms. He slapped Gughekren's shoulder so hard Aer'andil thought he had broken it. Gughekren did not even flinch as he slapped the King's shoulder right back. They hugged roaring and laughing.

"Uncle! Long have I to see you. I have missed your strength." Gughekren greeted his uncle.

"My nephew you have grown since the last time I laid eyes on you. You will be a great warrior and High-King to our people. How is your father?"

"My father is well and sends his greetings, my mother as well, she sends her love and courage." Gughekren replied.

"This must be the Elven High-King. Good to make your acquaintance your Highness." The King of Agteldosh hailed him. "I would slap your shoulder but I am afraid I'll break it." The King teased him waiting for Aer'andil's reply.

"Ah, your loss my King although I am afraid if you did slap my shoulder it might hurt your hand, break it even." Aer'andil quipped back without batting an eyelash.

The King gave a roaring laughter. "I like this one, he has spunk."

Gughekren laughed. "Yes, I would not though want him as my enemy." The King walked them to his Palace of stone and sand. Later on they ate dinner with some casual conversation. As with most Palace feasts the conversation was casual but the "between the lines" meanings were not.

"Is it true my nephew? Sagathlond prepares to oppose your father in open conflict?" Gughekren's uncle asked them at one point.

"Yes, as you must undoubtedly know. My father will send you for your warriors if he has not already. Although I do not think he will spill the blood of our misguided kin." Gughekren replied as if talking about the weather.

"He will not? He is not a coward…last I saw him anyways." The King replied shocked.

"I said nothing of cowardice my Lord, only cunning. Why spill their guts in civil war when you can spill them against the Humans?" Gughekren remained calm. His parents had taught him well.

"Oh? The Humans are preparing for yet another war against us? Please do tell me more." The conversation continued.

"Where are you heading flesh of mine?" Gughekren gave Aer'andil a fleeting look. Aer'andil nodded.

"We are heading due east, past the Shifting sands if we can master them."

"Due east? What the fuck do you hope to find in that dune-land?"

"Legends and History, the High-King of all Elves searches for the place of water." Gughekren's uncle gave a loud laugh.

"As you please, you are both heading to your death. You may sleep here in the Palace tonight and leave at dawn.

"When I return uncle, I want to challenge you to Makrogosh-valorsh. The rite of strength." The rite of passage as Aer'andil knew was not to the death, it was a challenge for the younger male Orkhavoc to prove to his elders he was ready for more, he was no longer a child and could be perceived as an adult, as a warrior who can wage war against the enemies of his people. The combatants would fight until first blood, usually from a leg or arm.

"Return, my sister's son and I'll gladly accept…to humble your ego some." Gughekren grinned.

"Or I shall more likely bruise your ego a lot." The two men laughed and continued drinking. "Yes, he is a man now." His uncle thought to himself looking at his nephew full of pride.

Glogak stood in the war room surrounded by his Generals.

"Send the combined Orkhavoc army to the north-west. I shall head due west, south-west with my Honour Guards." He told his generals who knew better than to try and oppose his plan if they had not had a better one.

"If Sagathlond wants to attack us, let them attack me, not slaughter our kin. I will face them head-on." He told his Generals. They nodded and headed outside. One by one the Orkhavoc Kingdoms allied to Glogak were arriving.

"Nasjohogoc take this." Glogak gave his General a closed envelope. "You will lead the army until we meet again. Open this in one week from now. Seven days from now you are to open this letter and read it. Walk slowly upon the sands Nasjohogoc, walk cautiously. I'll see you in seven days."

Nasjohogoc nodded. "Yes, My Liege." He bowed and left.

Feldon sat on his knees in seemingly deep meditation. In front of his bent knees lay his spear, the one given to him by Liandras and a single, wet piece of parchment.

His eyes closed, his breathing steady and long. His hands on his knees. His back straight.

He heard the change on the wind before she even spoke.

"I have been expecting you…my wife of yore…long have I waited to settle this score, Doom of Udala." He said in barely above a whisper.

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