tagSci-Fi & FantasyA Paladin's Journey Ch. 02

A Paladin's Journey Ch. 02

byAntidarius©

*all characters are over the age of eighteen*

*Hey guys, I know this chapter was a long time coming, but I've been focusing on revising the first volume, A Paladin's Training. The first half of this chapter is largely story-based, but there's plenty of action towards the end, I assure you!*


***

***ARAN -- The Sorral Plain, between Maralon and the Karvani Mountains, Western Ekistair***

The Sorral Plain seemed to stretch on and on without end, at least at the pace Elaina, Smythe and Aran were forced to travel. Under cover of night, they trudged along at an agonisingly slow speed, Aran and Elaina leading Willow and Strider through the knee-high grass, the two horses bearing the twins, Ayla and Tavish, who had yet to regain consciousness. The boy was well on the mend, thanks to his recently awakened Gift, and his bruises, burns and cuts were disappearing by the hour. The girl was healing, too, though at a more ordinary rate, as her Gift had not awakened yet.

Aran looked up at the indigo sky, dotted with myriad stars. The thin crescent moon had passed its zenith hours ago and was now well on its way to the western horizon. Travelling by night had proved itself much safer than during the day, as the Heralds seemed to dislike patrolling in the dark. When they did, however, they were easier to spot and avoid, their torches and lanterns standing out brightly on the mostly flat plain. Being Gifted, Aran, Smythe and Elaina needed no light to see by, and so the three Paladins navigated the terrain easily.

The shadow of the Karvani Mountains loomed in the distance, the tall peaks promising an end to the journey. A short burst from Smythe's Gift came from the west, signaling that all was clear in that direction. The man had been relentless, scouting their route in a wide, half-mile circle since they'd left Maralon, keeping an eye out for any Heralds that might stray too near the small party. Aran was sincerely thankful for the fact that he wasn't on this journey alone; he had Smythe, the brawny, bold-nosed Paladin with his strange beard that left his chin bare, and he had Elaina, the stunning woman that walked alongside him.

She must have sensed him looking at her, for she turned and grinned at him, her shoulder-length fair hair shifting in the slight breeze. "What's on your mind, stud?"

Elaina and Aran were Bonded -- a mutual connection forged with the Gift of Aros -- and as such, she would be able to feel his emotions and his physical condition, but would be unable to read his thoughts, no matter how accurate she often was at guessing them. "Just feeling grateful," he replied truthfully.

She smiled in understanding, and love flowed strongly through the Bond, followed by another sensation entirely; one Aran recognised all too well. "I can't wait to be back in our bed," she said as her smile changed to something much more wicked. "You and I, and maybe a few of the Servants could join us?"

Aran chuckled. She was insatiable at the best of times, and he loved it. "Sounds good to me, my love, though a bath might be in order, first." He raised an arm to sniff himself. "Yes, a bath first, most definitely."

"I don't know about that," Elaina began in a smoky voice. Aran wondered if she knew that that husky, sultry tone sent tingles of excitement through his whole body. Through the Bond, she probably did. "I like the smell of man around me."

Aran grinned. "Well, when we return, I'll make sure you have more man than you can handle!"

"Is that a promise?" She purred, but then her eyes were pulled from Aran and ahead to the south as three short bursts from Smythe's Gift came from that direction.

The meaning of that pattern was clear; Smythe was calling them to him immediately.

*

Not far up ahead was a copse of fir and pine, and Smythe's voice carried through the trees as they entered. "Leave horses back a bit! This might make them nervous!"

Wondering what in the world Smythe had found, Aran and Elaina did as he said, leaving Willow and Strider just inside the tree line before moving further into the copse, where they soon found Smythe.

The burly Paladin was squatting beside the corpse of a huge, humanoid creature. Smythe was a big man, maybe six-and-a-half feet tall, thickly muscled and broad-shouldered, but whatever this beast was, it dwarfed Smythe by comparison. Aran placed it at nine feet tall, with tough, grey skin covering bulging muscles, and limbs as thick as three men's. Its face was downright ugly, with a wide mouth, a nose that looked like it had been smashed in, and pale eyes like saucers that stared lifelessly up at the sky in surprise. A precise cut ran across its throat where Smythe had struck, dark blood glistening where it had run down the beast's chest. Its ears were small -- at least compared to its other facial features -- and rounded, though they looked to have angular notches cut out of them, two from each ear. The monster was naked save for a ratty loincloth, which failed to hide the enormous appendage that rested across its thigh.

"What in Aros is that?" Aran asked as he and Elaina approached.

Smythe looked up at them, his lips twisted with distaste. "This," he grunted. "Is a Troll. A cave Troll, to be precise."

Aran wanted to drop his jaw. Were the corpse of the thing not lying at his feet, Aran would have thought Smythe was having a joke. "Truly? I thought all the Trolls were long dead!"

"Aye," Smythe said, lifting one of the Troll's heavy arms to inspect its hand. "They are supposed to be."

Seemingly unperturbed by the situation, Elaina squatted down on the other side of the huge beast and began looking it over inquisitively. "Where do you think it came from?" She asked as she poked at its chest with a gloved finger. "Surely it wasn't living out here on the plain, so close to all these farms and whatnot?"

"Doubtful," Smythe muttered, dropping the hand, which thumped heavily into the brown needles littering the ground. "Who knows how far from home it is, or what brought it out here?"

Nearby was the Troll's campfire, which was still alight despite being in need of more wood, and Aran saw familiar red-lined yellow robes on the ground next to it. "Looks like this fellow was a blessing in disguise, maybe," Aran surmised, pointing at the robes, which would have belonged to some unfortunate Heralds.

"Aye, lad," the big Paladin grunted as he stood from his crouch. "He was just finishing off the last one when I happened upon him." Aran's stomach churned at the thought of people being eaten, even if they were Heralds.

"It troubles me," Smythe began. "That darkspawn are being seen in the world again, after being gone for so long. Remember the ungol, Aran?" Aran remembered all too well. He had helped Liaren save Induin from ungol -- giant spiders -- in the Emerin Forest just after he'd left the Chapel last year. He nodded grimly to Smythe, who continued. "First the ungol, then the Druids, and now a living cave Troll." He eyed Aran and Elaina seriously. "Something is stirring the dark things of the world awake again, I think."

"Could it have anything to do with these strange storms we've been getting?" Elaina asked no one in particular, whistling through her teeth when she shifted the Troll's loincloth to reveal the full size of its nethers. "Glad it didn't get a hold of me!" She muttered, staring wide-eyed at the flaccid, arm-thick length of grey cock.

"I think it's all connected," Aran told his friends. "The storms, the darkspawn, and these visions I've been having of the Demons, wherever they are. As it is, we can't stop them until we can locate them." He tried to keep frustration out of his voice but doubted if he'd succeeded; he was beginning to feel like a mountain was resting on his shoulders. Elaina offered him a comforting look, and sympathy flowed through the Bond.

"I read some of Amina's histories at the Temple," Smythe said thoughtfully, stroking his beard. "And it's said that the Druids and the Darkspawn fought for Morgeth in the Great War. If these Demons you see in your visions are indeed her offspring, perhaps it explains why creatures like this-" he paused to knock his boot against the Troll's arm -- are surfacing again."

For a moment Aran thought the Troll moved its hand, but he dismissed it as a nervous twitch from Smythe's kick; the cut across its throat was more than deep enough to sever the jugular. Aran opened his mouth to agree with Smythe when a memory crashed home; not his own, but one he'd seen before, belonging to his ancestor, Darius Sunblade. A battlefield littered with the bodies of darkspawn and Paladins, and a man standing with a spearhead sticking through his gut and a look of shock on his face, for the dead Troll behind him had not truly been dead. To kill a Troll, you needed to remove its head or burn it, and the one at Aran's feet had suffered neither.

Time slowed down as Aran bellowed at Smythe and Elaina to get back. Simultaneously, the Troll's body twitched, and its huge hand shot up to grab Smythe by the leg. Smythe reached over his shoulder to pull Lightbringer free, but the Troll simply flicked its wrist and tossed him away like a stick, sending the big Paladin sailing into the nearest tree.

Elaina scrambled backwards, snatching Shatter free from the loop at her waist as the beast sat up, as tall sitting down as Aran was standing, and began getting to its feet. Aran dashed forward front-on, a sizzling Oroth spinning in his hands, but he misjudged how quickly the huge creature could move. The back of the Troll's hand took him in the chest, and he found himself airborne for a brief second before crashing shoulder first into a stout pine.

Shaking his head, Aran got to his feet, thanking Aros he hadn't broken a bone on that tree. Smythe was also pulling himself up nearby. In the meantime, the Troll had turned to Elaina, the lumbering hulk reaching for her with a massive hand even as she swung Shatter. There was a sickening crack as the mace impacted the Troll's outstretched fingers, instantly shattering every bone it touched, the weapon true to its name. With a bellow of rage, the beast kicked forward with a monstrous foot, catching Elaina in the side before she could react, sending her cartwheeling across the small clearing.

"Elaina!" Aran roared, charging forward again, mirrored by Smythe, this time coming at the Troll's back. With shocking speed, the huge beast turned, sweeping its good arm around as it did and collecting both Smythe and Aran, sending them crashing back against the trees, knocking them off their feet once again.

Aran kept his eyes on Elaina as he picked himself up for the second time. She was groggily pushing herself up from the ground when the Troll snatched her in its fist. Somehow, she'd managed to hold onto Shatter, but with her arms pinned to her sides, she couldn't swing it.

The monster may have had smashed fingers on its other hand, but they obviously still worked well enough to reach out and tear Elaina's shirt open, the laces coming apart easily and exposing her opulent breasts to the cool night air. The Troll uttered a guttural groan as it raked its greedy eyes over the struggling Paladin, and a sickening bulge began to grow beneath its loincloth. Again, the hand descended, this time aimed for Elaina's waist, no doubt to remove her breeches.

"Let me go, you ugly fuck!" Elaina roared, kicking at the Troll's fingers as they approached.

Again, Aran and Smythe rushed forward as one, but this time they were ready.

Somewhat distracted by a half-naked Elaina, the Troll turned and lashed out with a foot, but the two Paladins flowed to either side, judging the speed correctly. With a smooth stroke from Smythe, a brilliantly glowing Lightbringer hamstrung the Troll, bringing it to one knee, while Aran struck out with Oroth, the searing blade taking the monster's hand at the wrist and sending dark blood spraying into the air.

Elaina tumbled free as the hand fell, pushing herself up immediately. Some of the Troll's blood had hit her, painting her hair, half of her face and much of her body a deep, dark red. Her shirt was in tatters, leaving her effectively nude from the waist up, the pale skin of her breasts and midriff spattered with more claret.

"Stand the fuck back," she said quietly, staring down the Troll, but addressing Aran and Smythe, who obeyed immediately. Aran had never seen Elaina furious before, but here she was, somehow beautiful and frightening at the same time, her face a thunderhead. Aran did not want to be a Troll, right now.

Bellowing in rage and probably fear, the beast swung its remaining hand threateningly, but the Paladins were out of range of its grasping fingers. Elaina strode forward, Shatter gripped in her fist, and when the Troll reached for her, she swung the mace with both arms, screaming wordlessly.

The crunching of bones echoed through the copse as Shatter connected with the huge, grey hand, and the Troll roared in pain as it recoiled from the angry Paladin. With another wordless howl, Elaina jumped forward and struck again, this time burying the spiked mace in the beast's skull, instantly silencing it.

Breathing hard, the beautiful warrior left the mace where it was for a moment, then pulled it free as the Troll slumped forward onto the brown cones and needles littering the ground. She turned to the men, looking like a painting done by an artist who couldn't decide between erotic or violent. "I hate killing," she began, leaning on her weapon. "But that thing deserved it."

"You alright?" Aran asked, stepping over one of the Troll's arms as he approached her. There was hardly any moon or starlight, among the trees, but Lightbringer and Oroth provided enough to illuminate the immediate area. Either way, he could sense her just fine, with his Gift as well as the Bond.

She nodded. "I'm good, though I may need a new shirt," she said, clicking her tongue as she fingered the tattered cloth hanging from her arms and shoulders.

"You need to remove the head, or burn it," Aran said quietly. "Otherwise it will heal itself and get back up." Taking his own advice, he turned and did just that, severing the Troll's head at the neck with one clean blow from Oroth before kicking the head away from the body, just to be safe.

"How did you know that, lad?" Smythe asked, his dark eyes catching the light from Lightbringer's long blade. "You yelled out right before the Troll grabbed me, as if you saw it coming."

Aran met the bigger man's gaze. "I saw something similar happen, once, in a memory that belonged not to me." Elaina and Smythe looked confused, so Aran elaborated. "I saw memories from my ancestor, Sunblade, through a glass orb at Amina's Temple. The same thing happened to him; a Troll killed his friend because the body wasn't destroyed properly. Had I realised in time, that whole scuffle could have been avoided."

"Relax, stud," Elaina said warmly. "This wasn't on you. Besides, apart from my shirt, we're all fine!"

Smythe chuckled, gesturing to her exposed skin. "I reckon that's a pretty good look, lass."

Elaina grinned wickedly, the drying blood on her face doing little to diminish her beauty. "You would," she remarked, giving the big Paladin a wink.

"Well," Aran sighed. "I'll go check on the horses, then we'd best be away." As he turned, though, a thought came to him. "Hey, Smythe?" He asked, turning back.

Smythe looked from Elaina to Aran, his bushy black eyebrows raised expectantly.

"How did you take that Troll down on your own, when it gave all three of us such a hiding?"

"Came upon him quite by accident," Smythe replied with a grin. "Think he was as surprised as I was. I got him before he got me. Lucky, really," he mused, stroking his mustache and looking at the Troll's corpse. "He would've given me quite the trouncing given half a chance."

"Lucky, indeed," Elaina said wryly, shaking her head at Smythe's good fortune. "I think Aros may have lent you hand in this, Henley."

Aran couldn't help but agree. "From now, until we reach the Temple," he began. "We travel together, and watch for anything and everything; Heralds, Trolls or anything else."

"Aye," Smythe said, reaching up to slide a now dim Lightbringer into the sheath on his back. "I'll get Thunder and meet you on the plain. At that, he vanished into the trees. Elaina and Aran went back to where they'd left Willow and Strider, thankfully finding the horses hadn't moved, despite the fearsome cacophony that took place moments ago.

The twins were still slung across the saddles, but to Aran's surprise, one of them was moving, shifting around beneath the robes. With a smile, he walked to Strider's saddle and pulled back the covering, revealing Tavish's confused face, his dark hair tousled. "I was wondering when you'd wake," Aran said kindly.

***

***RODRIC EAMES -- Maralon City***

Alarm bells brought Eames from his much-needed sleep. He'd barely had time to put his feet on the carpeted floor of his bedchamber when a sharp rap came at his door. "Come!"

Latham pushed the door open, saluting quickly. "My Lord, there has been an attack. Brend and Lora are dead, and the subjects are missing."

Eames shot upright. "What?! How? I left three guards at the basement door, three more in the alley, and no fewer than a dozen at the entrance!" Emotion was something Eames had conquered long ago, yet a spasm of anger wormed at him. He quickly suppressed it and levelled his voice. "How did this happen, Lieutenant Latham?" He asked as he strode across the room to don his red-lined yellow robe, the sigil on the back displaying the golden sunburst of the Heralds of Dawn. He put it on straight over his nightclothes, knowing he would not have time to dress.

"I'm not sure, my Lord," Latham answered, looking suitably ashamed. "The three guards in the alley appear to have left their posts. Their replacements were beaten and thrown in one of the upper cells." Latham paused to swallow before continuing. "My Lord, the men at the basement door were knocked out, but not killed. They raised the alarm as soon as they woke. They say that they were attacked by... by Heralds, my Lord."

Eames thought quickly. Could it be true? Could someone have gotten wind of his studies and committed an act of rebellion? It was unlikely; all Heralds knew the price of treason. Even so, this was a precarious situation; if word spread about that there was division among the Heralds, Eames would lose all footing he had gained in Maralon, with both the Council and the people.

It was time to test Latham's loyalty. "Shut those bells down immediately," Eames ordered. "And make sure everyone knows it was a false alarm."

Latham met Eames' gaze, understanding in his dark eyes. "And what of the men that were present, my Lord?"

"Have them all brought to me at once," Eames commanded, bending to pull on his boots without bothering with socks. "I wish to speak with them personally." As Latham turned to leave, Eames added, "and make sure they speak to no one else before me, understood?"

Latham nodded, saluting before hurrying out.

Eames was certain he'd made the right choice, here. Word of this could not be allowed to spread. The witnesses would be silenced, one way or another, for the Heralds could not afford to be seen as anything but a strong, united force.

***

***ARAN***

The boy started back as the robe was pulled away from his face. He looked up at Aran, upside down from the way he'd been tied across Strider's saddle. "Who are you?" He demanded in a proper, sophisticated accent.

"I am Aran," Aran replied simply. "And this is Elaina." Elaina came up beside Aran, and Tavish's eyes widened as they fell on her exposed breasts, obvious even in the near-total darkness.

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