No matter how hard two struggled, they could not escape the grips of their captors. Shadow looked at the vats in front of him. Was this it? Death? Has his time finally come? He who had ended so many lives before him was finally at his own end? Would his mind become completely transformed as an orc? With every step closer to the glowing orange pits, a dozen more questions raised through his head.
To his side, the Wizard was thrashing and wiggling as hard as he could against the orc holding him. The orc simply laughed at him as they reached the vats.
A strange metallic smell mixed with foul sourness went up Shadow's nose. He cringed as he looked down at the pool. A surge of adrenaline rushed through Shadow as he again began kicking and thrashing against the orcs holding him. He tried to send his hidden blade through the orc's palm, he tried to grab his dagger, wiggle out of the grip, all failed.
To his left, Shadow heard a splash. He looked over in horror, the orc's hands were now empty. Shadow screamed out in an anger he hadn't felt in years. He shook his entire body in a fit of rage. He wiggled one hand free, and his blade shot out, piercing through the orc's hand at last. He was dropped and pulled out his hatchet. The Wizard was dead, transformed. Now it was up to Shadow to live.
The sound of hissing distracted Shadow. Likewise all the orcs looked as well. Shadow turned around. The pool was violently churning and waving side to side. Splashes of orange were sent every which way as the entire pool shook. The bright orange was becoming brighter, but also changing. It was turning a bright shade of bluish white. Then the entire pool shot forth, drenching the orcs in front.
Some hit Shadow, and he felt warmer, healthier even. However, the orcs roared out in pain. Burn marks appeared wherever the liquid hit, burning through their armor like acid. Shadow continued watching the pool, when suddenly a hand shot out. An old human hand with a robe around the army. Shadow ran over and gripped the hand, helping pull it from the pool.
To his amazement, the Wizard crawled from the pool, completely unchanged. His robes were soaked and his skin wet, but he was unharmed. Then Shadow realized something. "You're glowing. Or- the liquid around you is, "He observed
The Wizard rubbed his wet eyes. He looked into his satchel seeing it filled with the liquid in the vat and thoroughly mixed with all of his personal mixtures that he had. All but one meat and piss filled jar. When the orcs regained their composure, they looked at the Wizard and the blue glow around him. One cried out, "An angel! Kill it! Kill it now!"
As the first orc rushed forward, the Wizard tossed the liquid in his satchel at it. It hissed and burnt through his armor then his torso, leaving a hole where his chest was. The Wizard gripped his staff tightly. Before more orcs could rush forward he declared, "I challenge your chief to combat!"
Everyone halted in stunned silence. The orcs all stopped, surprised that he would dare challenge him. Then Shadow asked in a whisper, "Why the hell didn't you say that earlier? We could have avoided all this!"
As the orc chief stepped forward, Shadow understood. The orc chief was a tower of brute strength. His biceps were larger then Shadow's head and his legs as wide as his body. The Wizard replied, "Because I didn't think we could beat him. But now I know we can."
The orc chief laughed. He said, "I accept your challenge. Stand back everyone! Guard for the knights. In fact, fill the caverns! Cut them off wherever they crawl in while I kill these two." A wicked smile spread over his face as he stared down at the two. He said, "However. It must be one on one. And I'm choosing him for my challenger." The chief pointed towards Shadow. He said, "I want you to see the consequences of your people's actions. All the deaths that shall follow."
"Very well," the Wizard agreed. He gave Shadow a look of encouragement and said, "You can do this. Win this fight and I'll tell you everything there is to know about me, Mr Benninghan, and your family. Because Shadow, I know everything there is to know and only if you win this fight am I telling you."
The effect was immediate. Shadow knew his words were true. His heart burned with vengeance once more. Then just in case, Shadow reached into his bag and took one more crystal. He only had one left in the bag, he wondered when he'd ever use it again. As the crystal melted, Shadow once again felt time slow. Then the chief shouted, "Begin!" And slammed his fist down at Shadow.
Shadow barely dodged the attack. The chief's hand slammed through the ground leaving a hole that Shadow could have stood up in. The chief slapped down at Shadow with his other hand, who ducked under the blow. Even with the crystal's effects, the chief was fast.
"His hand!" the Wizard cried out.
Shadow looked at the palm of the chief's hand and saw it was filled with dirt he had scoped up from his first attack. As the chief used his magic the dirt morphed into jagged spikes. He flung them all at Shadow. Shadow had to constantly move back as both the dirt spikes narrowly missed his body, and the chief charged him and swung blindly; simply trying to make him stagger.
After the spikes all slammed into the cavern wall, Shadow stopped. He turned around and realized his back was to the wall as well. Shadow pulled out his dagger as the wall behind him sprung forward. Rock slammed against Shadow's back, sending him through the air. Was it not for the crystal, Shadow had the feeling he wouldn't have been able to move.
The chief stomped his foot down as Shadow rolled out of the way. He stomped at him over and over as Shadow kept rolling and crawling away from him. How the hell was he supposed to beat this thing?!
Shadow finally had enough distance to get back on his feet. He looked forward to see the chief's fist less then a few inches away. Shadow had no other choice but to block. He put both hands in front of himself like an x.
The fist collided with his arms and punched straight into his chest. Shadow's arms crumpled and cracked as he was flung several feet on his back. Even if Shadow couldn't feel it, he could hear the audible cracking of his ribs and sternum. Shadow coughed up blood into his mask uncontrollably as he struggled to get up. When he held his dagger in front of him, he saw his arms were contorted and bent.
The chief waited with amusement as Shadow struggled to bend his arms back into place. He could see a horrified look on the Wizard's face. Shadow looked at the Wizard and remembered why he was here. Shadow remembered a family that had been taken from him. He remembered a city that the Wizard had lost. Shadow shot his hidden blade out in one hand while his dagger was in the other. Shadow would not lose!
Once more the chief came charging at Shadow. Shadow charged as well. He sprung his dagger forward, tossing it at the orc's eye. The chief swatted it away like a toothpick, and Shadow gripped his wrist. Shadow pushed himself forward and wrapped an arm around the chief's neck and his legs around his chest. The chief slammed his knuckles into Shadow's back. Shadow felt his entire body stiffen and lock up. His movement became incredibly tense and difficult, yet Shadow didn't stop.
The chief dodged as Shadow tried to slam his hidden blade into his throat, but this was what Shadow wanted. As the chief moved his head, Shadow slammed his hidden blade into his eye. It only went halfway as Shadow felt his misplaced shoulder joints lock onto each other. Still it was enough as the chief fell backwards. Shadow simply collapsed on his chest, unable to move. He could only briefly hear the Wizard's screams as he ran up to him.
The effects of the crystal had worn off. Shadow could feel the joints in his arm crushed, he could see bones popping against his skin. He couldn't move, he couldn't even tilt his neck. Two hands reached under Shadow's chest. He was slowly lifted into the air, an extremely painful procedure. With every step the person carrying him took, a surge of agony flooded through Shadow's body. Shadow looked at the bright robes on the arms, but could not recognize them. A strange fuzziness had completely filled his brain.
Up ahead, an orange pool glowed. Shadow remembered it was bad, but he couldn't remember why. A lot of the liquid looked like it had been thrown around, but most of the liquid was still there. Shadow felt himself getting closer and closer. A fear was welling up inside him that he could not place as the hands dropped him.
He fell into the bright blue pool instead.
For a second Shadow felt nothing. Then he felt his bones bending back in place. He started feeling lighter. His joints suddenly seemed to loosen up.l. Several strange feelings rushed through Shadow's body as he soaked into the bright blue bath. He looked down at his hands, now suddenly able to properly move. They were hard to see through the liquid.. Then the fuzz faded and Shadow realized where he was, he realized who had thrown him in. He did not totally understand what was occurring to him. A strange energy had filled Shadow's body as he looked back and forth. He began feeling very well rested as small cracks and pops were heard.
A hand grabbed Shadow and yanked him from the pool. It was the Wizard. Before Shadow could say anything else, he realized that all the orcs surrounding him. They were bowing. "What the hell is going on?" he asked confused.
"Well you killed their chief. So now you're the new chief. Orcs are very battle centered people," the Wizard explained. He asked, "What's your first command?"
Standing up, Shadow ordered, "All of you! Allow the knights safe passage and get the hell out!" His voice resonated louder then he remembered. His voice was firmer as he ordered, "Stay away from cities and towns! You will live in the highest points of the mountains for as long as you live! If any of you ever return, I will kill you." Soon the orcs began scurrying throughout the caverns.
As the orcs began leaving, Shadow asked, "What did you do to me? I feel… different."
"I dumped you into my pool," he responded. He then added, "It could have easily killed you."
"Why?" Shadow asked, now even more confused.
"Inside that pool is a crockpot of well… just about everything. A mixture of all the concoctions in my bag, my own dna, you, and the enhancement crystal I gave you. Such a ball of different remedies would either kill you or save you. Since you're still standing here, well I'd call it a win."
Shadow looked down at his body again. He did feel more energized. Likewise several pains that had been accompanying him for weeks had faded away. His skin looked slightly clearer, but had not gained any color. His clothes however were shredded. Likewise The hole on the back of his cloak had also been torn to twice the size. Shadow said, "I feel faster, stronger. It's odd."
"Probably the enhancement crystal.," the Wizard offered, but he was clearly guessing. He added, "I have a feeling you'll be twice the assassin then you were before now."
Before either could get another word in, the knights came rushing in. Shadow and the Wizard looked across the cavern as the knights filled the cavern. Some had dented armor while others had smears of blood across their weapons. It seemed that Shadow's command had come a bit late. Overall the knights still looked in good shape.
From the front of the group came Sir Remmington. He moved at a steady pace as he moved towards the two. He sheathed his weapon and asked, "Where did all the orcs go? Suddenly they started shouting at one another then began going this way. Yet, they're gone." The surprise in his voice was clear.
His eyes moved to Shadow. "What in the good king's name happened to you? You look as if someone beat you half to death!" He looked up and down Shadow's blood stained and torn cloak with worry. He then asked, "Yet… there's not a single scratch on your body!"
Shadow shrugged and said, "Magic." He pointed to the orange vat which still glowed menacingly. He asked, "So what exactly are we supposed to do about that? Fill it with rocks? Drain it? Doesn't seem like we can just forget about it."
But the Wizard was already running over. Between the two pits was about four feet of space. The Wizard dug his stick directly against the blue hole, and drug it to the orange hole. A small moat had appeared. The Wizard dug again and again until a well developed river had formed between the two pools. As the orange pool began hissing and transforming, it turned the similar bright shade of blue.
With the transformation completed, the Wizard began collecting a small vial of the blue substance. He remarked, "I wish I had more containers…"
At the remark, Sir Remmington ordered, "Bring me any seal-able container you have!" He shouted to the men behind him. A few ran up with jugs, jars, cups, and vials. The Wizard gladly took them and began filling as much as he could carry with the liquid. The Wizard stopped, satisfied. He thanked the knights then returned to Shadow.
"So orc piss and a weird concoction of a liquid you made by accident is what's in your magical arsenal?" Shadow asked, amused.
The Wizard nodded, shaking one of the vials with glee. He set it back into his satchel. Then a loud roar brought him out of his fiddling. All looked over to the source, and their blood turned to ice.
A dead orc chief was lying across the cavern floor, but it wasn't dead. It began shaking its arms and legs against the floor and roaring in anger. The chief managed to get himself back onto his feet and looked at the groups of knights around him. He roared again and the knights aimed their weapons at the behemoth in front of them.
Before any could charge, the Wizard screamed, "Wait! Wait!" He rushed in front of the orc before any blows could be made by either party. The Wizard looked at the orc in confusion. His left eye was nothing more then blood and mush with a deep hole in the center.
An idea formed in the Wizard's head. He called out, "Remmington! Bring me my cards!" Sir Remmington may have been confused by the command, but he still rushed forth with the cards. The Wizard took them happily and began performing card tricks! While all the knights watched in confusion as the Wizard began folding, tossing, flipping, and swapping cards, the orc chief watched with delight. He howled with laughter as waves of saliva pooled from his lips and onto the floor.
After several minutes of delightful card tricks, the Wizard set his cards back on the ground. He motioned for Shadow to come over. Shadow asked, "What the hell happened to him? I stabbed him straight through his eye! How could he survive?"
"Well Shadow, your arms were a 'bit' broken. Only about half the blade went in and well… I think you only spliced up the parts of his brain he could live without." the Wizard explained. To prove his point, the orc picked up the cards and tossed them into his mouth. He clapped at his own display.
Shadow watched with confusion and disgust. He said, "So I gave the chief a lobotomy. Now what do we do with him? Finish the job?"
"No!" the Wizard said. Shadow raised an eyebrow as the Wizard declared, "We need to take him to the capital!"
A wave of confused and even angry gasps spread throughout the knights. Even Sir Remmington walked up to the Wizard with opposition in his steps. He said, "Look, mage. You have done nothing but good for me, my men, and the kingdom I serve. However… I cannot advocate for bringing a dangerous orc chief directly to the capital of said kingdom! Please reconsider, we need to kill this thing while we have the chance."
The Wizard shook his head adamantly. He said, "I have never felt so sure as I do now that this orc will be a major plaything in the fate of the world. My prophetic vision is like this right now," the Wizard violently shook his hand for effect then said, "This orc can be both a tool and an ally if you know how to use it. I know how to use it! I can explain everything on the way to the capital."
Shadow chuckled having heard similar promises.
Still Sir Remmington was not convinced. He argued, "The people do not even know of the existence of orcs. Bringing such a colossal one directly into the city would lead to panic and confusion. It is far too dangerous in every way. I may allow you to take him on your own journey, but not within my people's eyes."
A pleading tone attached the Wizard's energetic voice. He said, "I'm a master of magic for crying out loud! If you need the orc hidden then I can do it quite easily. I can make people forget they ever even saw him if you must! Sir Remmington I beseech you! Let this orc join me and my companion on our way to the capital."
With a deep sigh, Sir Remmington was at last convinced. He said, "Very well. We will leave these caverns and prepare to be out for the capital by morning. It is a five day trip and I'll have a lot of questions for you."
"Everyone seems to these days," the Wizard replied. He wrapped a hand around the orc's finger and said, "Come on Henry. This way." He began leading him towards the back of the cavern where he guessed the exit to be.
Shadow caught up with him and asked, "Henry?"
"My orc needs a name! Those beasts usually just call one another ugly or stupid. Either that or they're just too stupid to say anything at all."
As they continued through an ascending tunnel, the orc made a few unintelligible grumbles. Shadow remarked, "It seems yours isn't much different."
Henry grunted in response. They begin following a bend through the earth as they made their way through the tunnels. While they went up, Shadow asked, "So did we even succeed in your mission? We only killed a handful of the orcs and the chief, or Henry, is still alive. You have the monster responsible for the death of your friends holding your hand. Unless you're walking him to his execution."
The Wizard replied, "If I was going to kill him then I would have done it already. Vengeance or not I'm not a cruel little killer. Unlike some people…" he offered an accusing glance at Shadow. Shadow just shrugged as the Wizard continued, "I told you that there was more to my mission then just killing off some orcs."
Up ahead the sight of an exit could be seen. Light came in from far in front as the three hurried to a large opening. The Wizard turned and shouted, "We've reached the exit!" A voice from behind them called out in return, "Understood!"
At last they were on solid ground once again. They found that the exit lengthened into the entrance of a cave. When they left the caverns they looked around to see they were on a hill near Forkstead. The camp was on the other side of the city.
After a few minutes the rest of the knights came out of the cave as well. They all kept a good distance from the chief, still worried for their safety. Sir Remmington took a good view of the surroundings. He approached the Wizard and said "You've travelled far and wide I'd imagine. Must have seen quite a lot of sights like this."
The Wizard nodded. "Indeed. I've stood on mountains overlooking miles of river, ventured coast to coast, and trekked through entire jungles." He motioned to Shadow and added, "My companion has seen quite the sights as well."
"Well we had better get you a strange lot to the capital. I can only pray everything goes well…" Sir Remmington muttered. He turned to his men and said, "Begin a march to the camp! We leave by dawn!"
And with that they made their way back to the encampment.