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Chapter 24: All is Rotten

Started by dustinrstrong, Jun 16, 2009, 11:58 PM

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Jun 16, 2009, 11:58 PM Last Edit: Jun 17, 2009, 12:15 AM by dustinrstrong
The Hunters buried the young Eldar with as much care as they could.  He had been badly mauled and eviscerated.  Sword cuts and claw marks covered his entire body, but none that would have proven fatal.  The mortal blow came from a deep bite to his neck that had nearly severed his head.  Through the girl's ramblings, the Hunter's learned that she had disemboweled him in order to survive.  The entire episode was more than even the battle-hardened Hunters could bear.  It particularly disturbed Shaelina, and worried e'Narmire.

A dilemma soon became apparent.  With the maiden now in tow, the Hunters could not possibly hope to sneak into Angband.  Her weakened state, and obvious trauma, would not allow her to return to the place of her torment.  To continue, she would have to be abandoned, a prospect that would mean her certain death; or slain outright and left, a course of action that none dare take.  The only alternative was to abandon their fool-hardy rescue of Telemire and return the maiden to the safety of her own people. 

This, too, proved to be a problem.  Who would shelter her?  She had been subjected to the Torture for far too long.  In the aftermath of the Glorious Battle, it was learned that the Enemy had freed captured Eldar, using them to spy on the kingdoms of Beleriand.  She would not be welcome by anyone.  And after spying the mark of the Enemy's Iron Crown branded on her skin, the Hunters knew that, even if someone had offered to protect her, she would immediately be executed as a spy by her keepers.

Their only choice was to take her as far south as possible, away from everyone, nurse her back to health, and hope she could then survive in solitude.  Shaelina reassured her that she and the others would routinely check on her during her banishment, but both knew that this was not to prove completely true.  Still, the minstrel's assurances did provide some comfort to the young girl, and she welcomed the kindness.

With the decision made, the Hunters turned back.  Telemire's salvation would have to wait even longer, a fact that e'Narmire was not keen to accept, but he knew there was no other alternative.  They would first get clear of the orc-infested mountains then turn south, cross the Dwarf Road, and continue on to the southern coast.

As each day passed, the maiden grew stronger.  She still remained aloof from all but Shaelina, who watched over her as if she were a child.  Slowly, the maiden began to regain her powers of speech.  Although her tongue was still heavily accented by the guttural orcish, she became more comfortable with speaking her own native language.  Her mannerism still bore a resemblance to a wild animal, often preferring to eat any game uncooked, but was soon reacquiring her taste for roasted meat.  Nightmares continued to plague her when she closed her eyes and she would often wake with a shrill scream.

There was no telling just how long she had been forced to endure her captivity, only that it must have been several centuries, but she was slowly regaining herself.  Shadow-bane began to suspect that she had only been a common slave and not subjected to the Torture that would have twisted her into a vile orc, but that was more than enough torment to make even the strongest minds to break.  Yet, she proved to be made of an unbreakable resilience.  And this worried e'Narmire.

After clearing the mountains, the Hunters entered the tall grasslands of the foothills.  Orc patrols became increasingly common, but all seemed to be driven by an unseen force.  Although great care was taken by the Hunters to conceal their presence, even Taurensil's skills could not hide every trace.  But even if such small signs were noticed, they were ignored as the orc parties pressed on.

With an uneasy feeling, the Hunters turned south toward the Dwarf Road, hoping to avoid more orcs.  For several days this strategy worked, but proved futile.  Taurensil had discovered several orc footprints leading in their direction of march.  Veering around to avoid this patrol, more tracks were found leading in the same direction.  These, too, were bypassed, only to find more orc prints, again heading to the south.  Several days were spent finding, and subsequently circumventing, signs of orc patrols.  Agonizingly, the Hunters came to the realization that they have been surrounded.  There was no other choice but to fight, no matter the odds.

Resigned to their fate, they decided to face their tormentors directly.  No more caution was taken to mask their presence.  Instead, they chose to continue south, prepared for open battle against an innumerable horde.  Taurensil and Kemeran scouted ahead of the rest so as to prevent any surprise ambush.  But this soon provided a gruesome discovery.

Coming over a small rise, the two rangers saw the aftermath of battle.  Strewn across the valley floor lay hundreds of orc bodies.  Piles of mutilated carcasses gave grim testimony to a bloody, hard-fought struggle.  Discarded sword, broken spears, and shattered shields littered the blood-smeared landscape.  The scene seemed to stretch to the horizon and the stench of the orcs' black-blood fouled the air.

As the rangers surveyed the gruesome sight, the rest of the Hunters joined them atop the rise.

"Nothing but orc bodies," said Taurensil as he scanned the valley.  "Whoever did this gathered their fallen before quitting the field."

"But there is still no sign of who did it."  Kemeran sounded nervous.  "Even if the victors carried off their dead and wounded, there would still be signs of their presence—broken weapons, shields . . . something."

Taurensil began to notice the same peculiarity.  In the chaos of battle, things are lost—armor is dented and discarded; weapons are dropped; shields are cloven through.  The flotsam of battle cannot be entirely gathered, something would have been left behind.  There should be some visible sign of what army caused such destruction.  But as Taurensil and the others searched the battlefield, nothing was found that did not belong to the orcs.

"Who did this?" asked Kemeran to no one in particular.

"Orcs."  The response was so sudden and flatly stated, that none of the Hunters realized who said it.  "Orcs did it to themselves," explained the elf-maid.

The Hunters stopped in their tracks and gaped at her in disbelief.

"Orcs are fighting each other," she continued.  "Angband is rotting."