Lilly sat back against a stump taking in the smell of the barbecue. She loved goat meat; it always tasted better somehow when it was stolen. She wasn’t quite sure why but it did. She chuckled a bit as she stabbed a piece of meat and flipped it over, the juices dripping and sizzling. Lilly silently hoped that the Blighters that they had stolen the meat from would starve come winter.
The Orkish races were all such wretched creatures. She hated them; so what did she care what happened to them? The Alliance forces had destroyed the rampaging Army of the Blight, and sent them packing back over the mountains years ago. Well that’s what her mother told her before she died from snorting too much Crystal Dream. Lilly didn’t like those memories, her father had been killed in the Blight War, and mother had sold her body to pay for her addiction. Most of the males who she had lain with didn’t treat her or mother very well. Unfortunately mother hadn’t been picky.
Well one human man had, what was his name? Bah she couldn’t remember but he had stayed for more than just one night. He hadn’t hit her or mother. He was nice to Lilly, he showed her how to use a knife for more than just gutting fish. One day a couple of months after he had started bedding with mother he had to go off to war. Just like papa he hadn’t come back.
Elves didn’t live very long, usually fifty years or so. Lilly never really understood why, she remembered mother telling her legends of long gone Elvin heroes who lived for hundreds of years, much longer than Men or Ork.
A tear rolled down her cheek as the emptiness in her soul came to the forefront of her mind.
Malorin laughed, “Are you crying? Bah, I thought you were a tough wench, was I wrong to bring you on my crew?”
Lilly was startled, how had he been able to sneak up to her? She shook her head and coughed, “Piss off Malo, I just got some onion in my eye you blasted Cut-Ear!”
Rage seethed through the older Elf man, he reached up and touched the stubs where both of his pointy ears had once been. He couldn’t let the little whelp get away with that kind of insult. “Shut your mouth you filthy daughter of a whore!”
Lilly stood up waving the meat poker at the larger male. “My mother wasn’t a whore!” She protested even though he was speaking the truth. He didn’t have the right to say such things.
“Yes she was. I even took her to bed myself!” He bragged.
Tears welled up in her eyes, and her knuckles turning white on the handle of the poker. “No, I…”
“She wasn’t bad for a filthy Dream sniffer.” Malorin was enjoying tormenting the younger girl, she wasn’t worth much to his band of ruffians, he had considered dumping her at the next Alliance town, but she might be a fun toy before then.
“I don’t believe it!” Lilly yelled. “You’re lying!”
Malorin chuckled, “No little one, should I describe to you the seafarer tattoos she had on her breasts?”
Lilly seethed with rage, she hurled the meat poker at the Elvin thugs face. He had just enough time to put his arm up and protect his eyes. The tines stuck in his skin, he roared as he yanked the cooking utensil out of his arm. Malorin ran forward and backhanded the smaller woman across the face.
Lilly fell to the ground and touched her now bleeding lip, her fingers came back crimson. Horrible memories of her mother’s harsh “suitors” came back. In an instant her rusty wind leaf knife was in her hand. She sprang up willing the knife to find the softest spot in her enemy’s chest. “Blight take thee!”
He rolled away grabbing her wrist, twisting it till something popped. She cried out as her knife fell to the ground.
“Do you dare to challenge me for command?” The Elf bandit struck Lilly hard in the stomach and she fell to the ground writhing in agony. “I should have my way with you and bury your bloodied body up to your neck in the Blight and leave you for the scorpions.”
Malorin had dealt with her kind of wretched filth before. He contemplated slitting her throat and staining the sand red, but that kind of fate would be too good for a contemptuous little backstabber like her.
“You’re worthless Lilly. I don’t even know why I pitied you enough to bring you on my crew. I knew you would be trouble. This isn’t your first offence against me. I showed you mercy last time and this is how you repay me?” The Elf bandit chief picked up the young woman’s knife. “Try and murder me with your rusty blade.”
She coughed and struggled to speak. Air which she normally took for granted was now a precious commodity. “No… Malo.” She coughed, “I’m sorry. I won’t do…”
“No you won’t do it again… because I’m not going to give you another chance.” He put a knee on her chest, crushing her small bosom. “You’re going to join an elite group of elves today Lilly.” He said as he grabbed a fist full of raven black hair.
She lay gasping words were impossible.
“No? Well I’m going to tell you anyway.” He smiled as he sawed into the tip of her ear with her own rusty knife. “You’re joining the Cut-Ears!”
She couldn’t scream, tears ran down her cheeks as he began to steal her birthright. Blood rolled down her cheek mixing with her tears. Why had she joined these brigands, why had she trusted them?
“Malo?” A voice called out. “What in the hells are you doing?” It was Raquel, she would protect her, wouldn’t she?”
Malorin ‘s second in command wouldn’t like his taking the girls ears. “Nothing.”
Lilly screamed as he lifted the pressure off her chest, “Raq… Raq, help!” She sobbed.
In the waning light of the sun Raquel saw the trickle of blood running from the girl’s ear. “Malo… give me one reason why I shouldn’t slit your throat and leave you to feed the crows?”
“Raq, she tried to stab me with her pig sticker, and did this to my arm.” He held up his forearm where two trickles of blood were dribbling down.
Raquel shook her head; it was too bad she couldn’t yet challenge her master for command of their little band, maybe in a couple years she would poison him in his sleep. “So the mighty Malorin wasn’t Elf enough to take on a half grown female?”
“Careful Raq, remember your blood debt.”
“Leave the girl alone Malo.”
“Fine.” The brown leather wearing thief got up and tossed the knife point down in the dirt. “But she’s not coming with us when we leave in the morning.”
“What?” Raquel asked squinting. “Leave her alone in the Blight? You might as well kill her now!”
“I’ve made my decision.” He said as he headed for the cave.
As soon as he left Raquel knelt down next to the sobbing young woman. “Lilly?”
For a long time the only thing she could do was lay in the dirt crying. A while later she recalled being held by Raq rocking her softly like mother used to do. The older woman wrapped Lilly’s head with a bit of clean linen.
When she regained a bit of composure she asked the older woman, “Raq, did he cut it off?”
She lifted up the makeshift bandage, the cut was deep and ragged but with proper care it would probably heal but she would bear the scar for the rest of her life. “No he didn’t. I’m not going to lie to you, your ear will never be beautiful but it will be whole.”
Lilly sobbed again, “I’m going to die out here aren’t I?”
Raquel really didn’t know, being an inexperienced elf girl barely old enough to be taken in marriage all alone in the rugged wasteland her chances weren’t good. “No little one, you’re a good bowman, and scout. I also can tell you have the potential to weave.”
“Really?” Lilly asked, weavers were rare even among her people. “Why didn’t you say…”
The older woman hesitated, “I… I don’t know how to teach you to weave; I barely know how to keep from killing myself. But I can see you will be strong with the lines someday. If you were of a noble house…” she stopped. The one to blame was the girl’s mother. Had she not been a Dream addicted prostitute she would have been able to take care of the girl. Lilly would have gone to the Alliance Academy and learned how to weave the lines. She would probably be a third class Magus by now, but she was stuck living with a bunch of outcasts, thieves, and murderers. Such was the hand fate dealt.
“Lilly, you need to be gone by daybreak. Don’t try following us, Malorin will kill you if he sees you again.”
The younger elf nodded, “Why don’t you come with me?”
Raquel sighed, “I’d love to beautiful flower but I… I can’t break my debt to Malo… If I do my life is forfeit.” She choked back her own tears. She picked up the girls rusty dagger where it had stuck in the dirt, “This is a piece of Jundam! A true elf scout wouldn’t be caught dead carrying such trash. I want you to have mine.”
The older woman unbuckled a well worn belt and slid off a deeply tanned leather handled knife. She handed the weapon to Lilly, she had never really paid attention to it before. At the center of the sheath a faded symbol of the warrior clan was still visible. A ships anchor lay behind a strange ball, with an eagle perched on top. Underneath were four large blocky characters.
“What are these symbols?” Lilly asked, “They aren’t of Men, Ork or Elf.”
Raquel shrugged, “Nobody I’ve talked to knows what they are or what it means, but my uncle gave it to me. He said he found it somewhere near here during the Blight War.”
“I can’t take this from you.” Lilly protested.
“No sister, since I failed in my promise to your mother, it’s the least I can do.” She pointed at the knife “Try it out.”
The younger woman unbuckled the strap and pulled the large knife from its sheath. The large black blade was covered in scratches but it was very sharp. With this blade she could take Malorin’s life. “It’s not like any dagger I’ve ever seen before. It only has an edge on one side.” It had more of the strange letters near the handle, but like the others they were strange and alien. Not like the curved writing of her people, or the jagged scribbling of the Ork.
“Now little sister, gather your things and be gone before sunrise. We will meet again after Malorin is dead.” As she turned to leave she held her hand, “May The Eternal Mother Elorin protect you.”
Without another word Lilly sheathed the strange knife and snuck through the camp to where she had stashed her bags and her mother’s, no her own Recurve bow. In a few minutes she was ready to go, she stole a bag full of jerky and a couple extra wineskins of water. She grabbed the largest piece of roasting goat off the grill and scrambled away from the camp. She vowed to one day shove her new knife through Malorin’s ribs.
Gral was getting tired of this. They had been following the Elf bandits for over a week now, and there seemed to be no end in sight. Their chain mail chafed, but he would be glad they had it in case of an ambush. They found the abandoned wagon a couple of days ago but nobody to kill. They continued following footprints and goat tracks all day today, night was coming and wandering around the Blight after dark was a bad idea. There were some nasty nocturnal creatures out in the wasteland that would make even an Ogre take pause.
The little band made camp at the mouth of a rocky canyon. A little stream trickled out of the mountains; it could easily be stepped over by all but smallest Gobs. Chub was busy building a campfire from a pile of scrounged Sage wood.
“Hey, Chub, we’s gonna gets fire sometimes today?” Gral asked.
Chub looked up for a moment from his flint and knife, shooting the Ogre a look that probably could have made his hair smolder. “Fire buildin’ aint no simple thing. Tis art!” The pinky Gnoll replied as he smacked the flint on his blade sending a couple of sparks into the kindling. A fury of sparks later and the Gnoll had a weak flame flickering among the sticks.
The little band of part time warriors hadn’t brought a large amount of rations, but Grum had managed to take down a wild Tusk-Boar earlier that day so they were going to eat well tonight. After the meat had been cooked they did what all Ork-kin did around the fire. They told jokes, stories, and lit as many things on fire as possible.
Nog took a bite of piping hot piece of swine meat right off the roasting stick. “Mmm good shootin’ Grum. Dis is muy tasty!”
The dark green Ork nodded as he took another bite. Freshly killed meat always tasted the best. He was glad to keep their little band well fed. He was a brick maker, and layer by trade but he enjoyed hunting on his days off. The back breaking work he did every day had made him one of the strongest Orks in their little village. He still couldn’t quite take on an Ogre in a test of strength but he could move much quicker.
Wretch stole Wonky’s shish kabob and the younger male Gob chased his pale green companion around the fire. Normally Nog wouldn’t care, but if one of them fell in the fire it would reduce their combat strength. They didn’t really know how many Elf bandits they were chasing but he wanted as many Ork-kin as he could get. Nog picked up Wretch by her oily black hair as she ran by. “Cut dis Jundam out!” he bellowed, “Want’s to be burned?”
Wretch squealed, “Me juss havin’ a bit o’ fun!”
“No today ye’ dont!” He said as he pitched the scrappy little Gob out into the darkness away from the fire. Wonky ran after the flying Gob trying to get the meat she had stolen from him.
Katan-Jeet caught him by an ankle, “Sit yer but down ‘n shut it!” both heads said at once. Being yelled at by two Ogre heads in stereo was rather intimidating. The skinny little creature curled up in a fetal position and stopped his squabbling.
Later that night as the fire died down to a few smoldering coals the rainless clouds departed and the stars came out in all their brilliance. Nog stared up at the twinkling lights, and began looking for the constellations that gave the Ork-Magi their power. Right away he found Rah-Ka’s night fortress, where he hid his chariot when the sun went down. From there he could trace the lines to the great boar, the lesser boar, and Chak-Te the mighty snake. As he connected the points of light together he could feel the stars blessing him with their power.
All the other Ork-Kin were asleep, including his brother Gral, which meant that half his body would be paralyzed until he could wake him up. Ah the disadvantages of having two heads on one body.
A twig snapped out in the darkness and Nog turned his head toward the sound. All was still, only the chirping of insects broke the cloak of silence. A few moments later a Sage shrub branch rustled. Something was out there. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a bit of movement. It was too dark to see; so he closed his eyes and began to weave. The stars in his mind shifted and danced as they always did when he began to channel the power of the lines. Seconds later he completed the weave. The eye of the Puma was now his. It always took a moment or two to adjust to seeing only in black and white, but he could now clearly see a humanlike shape out in the distance.
Silently he put his hand on his workers knife, and grasped the handle. The shape moved again, this time he could tell it was a female, small and thin. He casually looked around trying to keep from alerting the intruder. He didn’t see any other bandits so it seemed that this one must be alone. Normally he would have yelled to wake the others but since the intruder was by herself he figured he could wait and see what she was going to do.
She wasn’t bad at moving silently, but she didn’t stay in one spot very long revealing she wasn’t very experienced, or patient. Two things that could get thieves killed. A few moments later she was almost on top of their little camp. Katan-Jeet mumbled something in her sleep and rolled over pulling her too small blanket up around one neck. The intruder hesitated; Nog could tell she was contemplating bolting away, which would be a shame. If this was one of the murdering goat thieves maybe Nog could get her to lead them to their hideout.
He noticed the intruder had a bow and quiver slung over her shoulder, a knife on her belt, but her hands were free. She approached the temporary spear tripod where their bag of food hung. Nog began to weave again; Chak-Te the mighty snake could stun the intruder. He wove the lines into the blade of his knife, just enough to temporarily paralyze the lithe little elf.
As her hands touched the food rope Nog silently cocked back his arm to throw his blade. “Don’ move ya lil’ thief.” He hissed. The elf girl froze when she heard the Ogre’s deep voice. “You run ‘n I kill ya.”
Lilly fought back tears, she stood in the middle of a camp of sleeping monsters, if they woke up she couldn’t imagine the horrible things they would do before they killed her and roasted her body on a spit. “Please sir, I was just trying to get some food.”
“Don’t be a talkin’ elf.” He noticed that she spoke Ork-Kin with a bad accent. “Drop yer weapons.” She paused, “Now!” he hissed.
Lilly thought about making a run for it, but with a flick of his wrist she could have a knife buried in her back. She took off her bow and quiver and laid them down at her feet. Maybe being a prisoner of these… things could keep her alive long enough to escape.
“Dagger too.” He said gesturing with his knife. “Slow like. Me knife gots poison on ‘im.”
Slowly she removed the black alien knife and dropped it in the dirt. Would they eat her alive or cook her first she wondered.
“Turn ‘round, hands on yer head. Knees in da dirt.”
She complied and did as she was told.
“Gral, wakes up ya lout!” He said as he smacked his forehead into his brother’s ear.
“Owww, what ya do dat fer?” Gral asked as he shook the cobwebs from his eye.
“Look over ‘dere.” Nog grunted.
“Why is me eye seein’ all black ‘n white… oh, a lil’ elf gurl.”
Half the band had been roused by all the noise. In a few minutes Lilly had been tied up.
After dawn Gral-Nog held a cold shish kabob of boar meat just out of reach of the girl’s mouth. She didn’t say anything.
“Listen gurlie, you is gonna take us to yer band ‘o thievin’ friends.” Gral demanded.
She shook her head, the meat smelled good, Lilly hadn’t eaten anything in a couple of days. “I told you they kicked me out. I’ve been lost in this wasteland.” She would have been salivating if her mouth wasn’t as dry as this horrible place.
“Girlie, we can leave ya tied up ta dat rock.” Gral said as he pulled the meat away.
Nog took the meat and put it up to the elf’s mouth. “You gets one bite. Den you do talkin’ if ya wants more.”
She was too hungry to let her religious rules get in the way; she took as large a bite of the boar meat as she could and devoured it. The Eternal Mother wouldn’t damn her for eating pig flesh to survive would she?
“Never figgered I see un pointy ear eat boar.” Nog said. “No’ you is gonna tell us, where dey is hidin!”
Lilly’s mind was racing. She would love to see Malo run through with an Ork’s spear, but Raquel had been a better mother to her than the woman who had given her life. She swallowed the meat it did little to fill the hole in her stomach. “I already said, I don’t know where they are, but I do know where some of their hiding places are.”
Now they were getting somewhere. Nog gave her another bite. “You shows us ‘n we no kills ya. You gets me?”
Lilly nodded, “I gets you.”