I always found fascinating what people felt when faced with the prospect of battle. Some get so nervous they empty their stomach of the contents of their previous drink or meal. Some succumbed to fear and run away. Some allowed their hate for their opponent fuel their battle fire. Some held onto hope so tightly in their hearts that they would believe victory was on their side.
I tried to feel nothing.
To me, emotions were a tricky beast. In the right conditions, they could work as a great motivator, but left unchecked and unleashed, emotions can turn on you. They make you vulnerable. They take over your thinking. They deceive. Emotions had no place in a battle like this so I locked them away behind prebuilt walls constructed from years of practice.
A rhythmic beat raged in my head like a thundering herd of centaurs. I winced from the pressure working its way from my ears to the back of my head as I looked over to find Dee staring intently at Grenth’s Door. Her hazel eyes narrowed and every muscle in her body tensed as if she were holding back a rampaging beast from tearing its way out and rushing into battle. Molson may not have been at her side, but Dee still had the heart of Bear.
I led the way, following the tracks into the decrepit corridor. The hard wood frame groaned as another breeze swept through and I could smell the faint, sweet scent of blood again. Why I could all of a sudden smell blood still had me bewildered, but it was a puzzle I would have to put together later. Silently, I pulled my axe and dagger free from their holsters while continually sweeping the darkened way for anyone who hoped to get the jump on us. I pushed my senses out to where my eyes couldn’t go, which was approximately fifteen feet away from me, but the only beating I heard was from Dee and myself. Alec hadn’t placed any men in here from what I could tell, but surely he knew we were coming.
Carefully, I stepped over a sleeping grub. Its green bio-luminescence glowed gently while it slept, lighting a small spot around it’s bulbous body. “I don’t like this,” I said barely above a whisper to Dee.
She shook her head. “I don’t either. It’s too quiet.”
Suddenly, there was a quick rush of a breeze and third heart beat quickly joined ours but then it was gone in a fleeting instant. I looked around but didn’t see anything. “Wait,” I warned, holding up my axe in front of Dee.
“Let us welcome our guests!” A voice sung out and the sound echoed around us and down the dark corridor.
I froze and gripped my axe tighter at the sound of his voice and almost instantly, a thunderous cacophony rose up that echoed down the old corridor. Swords clanged against shields, daggers struck against blades, rifle buttstocks thudded against armored chests. It was their battle taunt meant to be intimidating and rile us up. I refused to play into such cheap tactics.
Dee however wasn’t handling it as well as I was.
Norns were hot blooded, quick to anger, and passionate. Many thought that a Norn’s hot blood kept them warm in the frigid north and I was inclined to agree considering Dee’s current state of dress. However, I knew first hand that their heated blood made them some of the best fighters. Passion driven violence was one of the most powerful weapons in a battle, but also the most untamed and unpredictable.
I reached for her stiffened arm, which was primed to strike, and I gripped it firmly. “You okay?”
Her jaw clenched tight, Dee gave me a curt nod.
“Come on now,” Alec called out to us. On the surface his tone was playful but underneath there was a sinister quality that assaulted my ears, revealing his intentions to be nothing other than antagonistic. “It’s impolite to keep a gentleman waiting.”
I rolled my eyes. So this was how it was going to be.
“Since when did gentlemen make a habit of kidnapping a lady’s friends?” I challenged Alec as I emerged from the corridor and into the moonlit snow covered cove.
A large stone cut image of Grenth with a crown of horns and sitting on a throne of dead souls loomed behind Alec and his people as they waited for us to join them. Despite how long it had stood there, it barely looked worn. I wondered if He was watching. Were any of them watching? Did any of them care what happened to these people?
Alec had at least twenty-five fighters at his back, all armored with weapons in hand, and right in front were our people. Alec had them on their knees and all neatly lined up in a row. Each of them were bound with their hands tied behind their backs and collars at their throats. Sweeping my gaze along the line, I took a quick head count to find that despite being bruised and bloodied, our people were all accounted for. However, no pets were to be found.
And interestingly enough, the way hadn’t been open yet. I guessed that my blood had been too tainted with Molson’s on that blade and Alec was unable to unlock the sigils in this place.
“Since said lady has something I need and won’t let me have it,” Alec replied stepping forward from the side and around a large case resting on the ground. The dark blue ornate longcoat he wore fluttered around him with every step. It didn’t belong to him and I wanted to rip it right off.
“Some things aren’t meant for sharing,” I replied sternly. “It would be wise to leave it alone.”
“What is this?” Dee demanded as she gestured sharply at our people. Her booming voice echoed throughout the cove. “Why are they lined up like that? Is everyone alright?”
Tuborg offered a quiet nod. Green sap oozed from a wound over his eye where he had been struck on the head. Liliana knelt quietly next to him. Her shoulder had been bruised up and blood from a cut on her biceps trickled blood down her arm. A steady low growl emanated from Clarkus’ throat as he stared at Alec. Some of his fur along his head and neck looked wet and matted. Next to him, Alena huddled close, her crystalline eyes wide with fear and her long ears were poised back. She had a little bruise on her forehead and her twisted rows of chestnut locks had been violently tousled. Hunched over, Artis intently watched every step Alec took like a hunter watching prey. It was apparent he was in pain but I couldn’t see any wounds on any exposed skin. Seren knelt next to him, both of her winged pauldrons gone, and a cold look in her eye. Despite his dishevelled appearance and a bloodied lip, Quint was the only one who appeared calm and collected. He offered Dee and I an assuring nod before turning his attention to Alec.
“Oh this?” Alec replied, casually gesturing to the lineup of our people. “This is to make sure I get what I came for.”
“And the new accessories are to prevent them from using any god gifted magics to escape,” Torx added proudly. Pushing against knees and calves, the Asura made his way to the front of the group. In his small hand, he held a rectangular contraption that looked very much like a controller of some sort. “And if they so much as sneeze in a way we don’t like, they’ll receive an electric shock to the neck that could quite life changing if not stopped,” the Asura grinned, revealing two rows of pale sharp teeth.
Silently, I seethed and shot Torx a murderous glance before turning my attention back to Alec. One cracked person at a time. “I’m serious Alec,” I began, trying to appeal to any sense that might be hiding inside him. “It’s safer for everyone, including you, if we all just walk away now and let it be.”
“Walk away?” Alec scoffed and then cocked his head to the side, shaking it in disbelief. “Walk. AWAY? Did you give my brother that option? Do you think my fiancé was given that choice? To just simply walk away.”
“I’d like to walk away if that option is on the table,” Artis quietly quipped but was swiftly met with Alec’s boot in his rib cage. The hunter fell over with a loud groan that slowly grew into a pained chuckle.
In the corner of my eye, I saw Dee start to move. I reached out to her and firmly gripped her arm, flashing her an assured glance. “Wait, what are you talking about?” I asked, probing for answers. If I could get him talking, maybe I could find a way to get us all out alive. “What happened to your fiancé?”
His angered visage turned solemn immediately. “They took her from me,” he said sadly as his cold glance fell to the snowy ground. Then in an instant, he clenched his jaw as his brow narrowed. “And then you took my brother from me. But that doesn’t matter anymore. You will open the way and give me this piece. A balance needs to be struck. You of all people should know that,” he spat. “Your god is one of justice, is he not?”
With a determined look in his eyes, Alec turned and walked his way to the end of the line where Liliana was on her knees. He held out his hand and a tall hooded figure placed a pistol elegantly wrought with iron and violet magic into his hand. Pulling back the hammer, Alec pointed the barrel directly at Liliana’s head and voices rose up in protest which were quickly silenced by a series of electrical shocks as Torx pushed a button on his controller. Cries from all the others rang out as their bodies tensed but Liliana, whose head came up to Alec’s shoulders as she knelt, merely looked him straight in the eye as her body tensely shook from the shocks. She never cowered at the sight of the weapon.
Immediately, my heart started racing and although my entire being wanted to lash out, I fought to maintain my composure. Alec had upped the stakes with a simple gesture. He stood there and locked his cold gaze with mine, flashing me a wicked smile. My hands started to ache from the tightening grip on my weapons.
“Apparently, I need untainted blood,” Alec said. “Your blood, dear lady, since it’s the only kind that will open the way. Your departed friends weren’t very specific about that.” He shook his head and rolled his eyes. “Blood necromancers and your magics,” he muttered, annoyed. “Can’t drain you dry though. I’ll need a guide in case there are any fun traps waiting inside.”
“Nienna,” Dee said as she turned to look at me, but I ignored her as I studied Alec. Could he be bluffing? His confident stance told me he could be serious but one could easily manipulate their outward appearance to tell whatever story they wanted to tell if they wanted to. Gods, I did for years.
“I believe you’re smart enough to know that if you harm any of them,” I began, looking Alec straight in his eyes as I built my own confident exterior. “I won’t help you and you’ll never get what you need. So let’s just leave them out of this.”
The corner of Alec’s lips curled upwards. “And I believe you’re smart enough to know I hold all the cards in my hand and can see right through your bluff.”