The Rising – Part Two
By: Jeff R. Young

Cora stood on the wooden ramparts around the small town of Ravenwood, staring off into the wilds beyond, bored and irritated. Every so often, she'd lean over to steal a glance at the outer gate, only to find no one standing there waiting for entry.

"Damn it, Deall," she cursed, thumping a fist on the wooden post next to her. "Where in the five hells are you?"

She had sent him to Caelfall, Ravenwoods much larger sister city only a days ride to the west on a simple errand. He was to deliver a message to one of the cities magistrates, Lord Karam, then return with his reply. That was three days ago.

"Why I suffer such a fool as a messenger is beyond me," She muttered to herself.

She wrapped her plain brown robe tighter around her slender form as a brisk evening wind drew down from the Black Pine Mountains to the west. The gust teased the long locks of black hair flowing down below her shoulders. It was growing late, and Cora had already convinced herself Deall was not going to return that night. No one, not even Deall, would travel the woods and wilds around the region after dark without a full armed escort. Not with the various goblin tribes patroling the woods and the orc raiding parties that often came down from the hills.

She quickly slipped down the ladder to the ground and started down the road, heading back to her small but comfortably warm house. She had taken only three steps before Kenrith Fell, the large, muscular watch captain, skidded up next to her.

"No word yet, huh," he stated more than asked.

"Nope," she said, not bothering to keep the annoyance out of her tone.

Kenrith either didn't catch the attitude or didn't care. "He should have been back yesterday at the latest. You think something happened to him? Out there, I mean, goblin maybe?" he added.

"Maybe," she replied, now a little embarrassed by her irritation as she contemplated the idea. "Let's hope not, Deall may not be the cleverest man, but even he has the wits not to travel after dark."

"Come morning, I'll send a search party out to Caelfall to find him."

"Thank you, Kenrith." She was genuinely worried and could imagine the brutal horrors the goblin–kin would inflict if they captured Deall, who had, after all, volunteered to be her messenger. Kenrith nodded once before walking off, leaving Cora to her thoughts as she continued home.

***

Ever vigilant, Cora entered her house slowly, looking around for anything that seemed odd or out of place. Ravenwood was at best a decent place to live, but with all the recent goblin activities in the surrounding forest, the town had become a haven for travelers looking to escape the perils of the nighttime wilds. That, unfortunately, included cut–throats and thieves. So Cora took no chances and always entered her home with caution.

Convinced all was in order, Cora removed her heavy robe and tossed it on a chair near her dining table before bending down in front of the hearth. She gingerly threw a couple more logs on the dying fire. Satisfied with the slowly growing flames, she hoped the heat would soon consume the cold, damp air.

With a sigh, she moved to the bed, sat on the edge and bent to slip off both her soft leather boots. Her mind was adrift while she rubbed her left foot gently, wondering and worrying about Deall and the incoming message. She glanced down at her attire as her foot fell back to the floor and considered whether to change into bedclothes or not. She was dressed in a simple blue pullover shirt and black pants, the styles of which she wore daily, and always under her brown robe.

The robe was like armor against the constant stares and leering men about the town. She had been told that the men considered her a strikingly beautiful woman, with her slender and shapely figure and raven black hair cascading down around deep brown eyes and the gentle features of her face.

Though she knew she seemed delicate to most, especially with her standing only around one and a half meters tall, few knew her true self. Cora was a skilled martial artist, lethal in hand to hand combat. When she fought, she was as agile as a cat and as graceful as a dancer, and though Cora never let it show, she was always ready to pounce.

She lay back and rested her head on the pillow and pulled her legs up to get comfortable. The crackling fire played its soft tune in the background. Listening to it, she closed her eyes, again feeling guilt over her frustration. Deall was a good man, just not incredibly intelligent. At the time, he seemed the right candidate for the job. Perhaps she should have sent someone with him? But would that have compromised the secrecy of the message she was waiting for?

The plan had always been for Lord Karam to send the reply as a written note, sealed with his signature stamp, so sending Deall to retrieve it seemed safe enough as he never learned how to read. But Caelfall was home to a broader variety of disreputable characters who wouldn't think twice of stealing the letter and using the information within to their own gains, and the town guard could be paid to turn a blind eye to the various crimes committed within its walls.

The only genuine hope for the region was the Braghan Mines at the base of the Black Pine Mountains. Named after the dwarf king Braghan Battlefoot, the mine housed a host of dwarves. Though they were a fierce and irritable race, she found the few who ventured out to the towns for trade to be tolerable, if not kind. Cora knew that if not for the dwarven brigades, the goblinkind would have claimed Ravenwood and the surrounding wilds a long time ago. The thought of the goblin–kin again spurred the worry in her. Both for the safety of her messenger and the note he was to deliver.

With some effort, she forced her mind to calm, laced her hands behind her head and took solace in the sound of the popping fire as she drifted off to sleep. Tomorrow would come, and Kenrith's men would find Deall safe and in possession of the message she'd been waiting for. At least, that is what she tried to convince herself.

***

Draven sat in one of the many sparring rooms within the Temples, relaxing, one leg over the arm of his chair. He was eagerly watching Zythos and Gwent circle each other, wooden sparring weapons at the ready. Neither Elf nor dwarf seemed willing to make the first move, but Gwent had his shield raised at the ready. The elf twirled both his practice swords around in his hands, then lunged, striking out with a stab of the right sword followed by a sideways swing of the left. Gwent quickly used his shield to catch both attacks before they could land a hit.

Both separated a few steps and again began circling each other. Halfway through the second trip around, Gwent growled viciously and lunged forward, swinging the hammer from right to left, aimed for the elf's midsection. But Zythos was no longer there. In a quick move, the elf twirled around to the right, dodging the hammer and slapping Gwent's wooden weapon out to the side while the sword in his right hand flashed in to spank the dwarf on his buttocks.

"Damn!" Gwent yelled, arching his back and hopping from foot to foot in response to the sting. Draven knew from personal experience theses wooden weapons were blunt and weren't meant to kill, but getting hit still hurt. And since neither combatant wore their armor, it hurt that much more when a blow connected.

Draven laughed, which added insult to injury.

"Laugh it up, boy," Gwent fumed, tossing the Ranger a wicked glare. "Yer next ye know!" Draven smiled as he waved away the comment and laced his hands behind his head, sliding down into the chair a little further.

Gwent spun back toward Zythos, who stood calmly holding the wooden blades, their points to the ground. He banged his mallet against his shield. "Alright elf, ya got one on me'self," he said, frowning against the lingering sting.

"Your moves are predictable," Zythos stated evenly, twirling the blades absently. "Your strategy places too much emphasis on power, with no finesse. This makes the nimble fighter difficult to hit. Which is a significant disadvantage to using the hammer."

"Aye, tis true," Gwent replied thoughtfully, staring at the wooden weapon in his hand. "But, there be advantages too. More so against armor then ya swords," he countered.

"True," Zythos admitted. "Your hammer can crush metal plate and shatter the bone beneath as easily as a sword cuts through flesh."

Gwent dropped his shield and marched over to Zythos, reaching out for one of the mock swords. As he grew into adulthood, he had worked as a smithy for clan Clubthumper and had crafted all sorts of tools of war like axes, hammers, maces, and swords, to name a few. In doing so, he learned the details of what made a good weapon great. One such aspect was weight, or more importantly, balance. He was constantly reminding himself that the hammer carried its weight at the head, creating more momentum behind the swing.

"Power versus control," Zythos stated. "Once you learn a quicker and more precise control over the hammer, you can parry your opponents attack, and create the opening for your favored powerful swings."

"Aye," Gwent agreed with enthusiasm as he tossed the wooden sword back to the elf then turned and scooped up his shield. "And this be cover'n me arse as well."

Gwent thumped his weapon against his shield, letting the elf know he was ready for another round. Zythos nodded as both began to circle with a short distance between each other.

With a sudden flurry of swinging blades, Zythos stormed in, stabbing out with a left, right, left combo. Gwent intercepted the first two attempts with his shield and managed to catch the third with his hammer, swinging it out to the side in a well–performed parry. The dwarf took advantage of the opening and jabbed his weapon forward, aiming for the elf's stomach. Once more Zythos proved faster, jumping back a step and bending some at the waist to create distance between the hammer and his midsection. But his evasive move caused his arms to go wide to each side, forming the opening mentioned during their discussion.

Quickly raising his left arm and furiously pumping his stout legs, Gwent dashed forward, throwing all his weight behind his shield. Surprise crossed Zythos's features at the unexpected move and the realization he was helpless to stop the charge. His attempt to back step failed as the shield collided violently against his chest, throwing him backward. The hit was so hard, the elf's feet left the floor, and all the air was forced from his lungs when he crashed to the ground squarely on his back. To Draven's horror, Gwent followed, crushing the elf beneath the shield.

Draven sat up straight, his mouth gaping open in shock. He suddenly jumped up, sending the chair he occupied flying backward to crash against the sparring rooms wall as he darted toward the pair. He slid in on his knees, stopping next to his two friends.

"By the gods, Gwent," Draven yelled, "are you insane?" His emotions went from anger, to worry, and then relief as Zythos's eyes fluttered open.

"Yield?" The elf groaned, trying to force air back into his lungs. But with the full weight of a dwarf resting upon him, the task wasn't easy.

"Ya sure?" Gwent grinned in the face of his friend's defeat.

Draven sighed and tapped the dwarf on the shoulder, "You might want to get off of him before he suffocates."

"Oh!" Gwent barked, eyes going wide. He rolled off the elf and grunted, "Apologies, me' friend!"

Zythos gasped as the air rushed back into his lungs.

Draven crossed his legs and sat as he leaned forward to stare down at the elf, grinning. "Well," he started, "bet you didn't see that coming!"

Still weak, Zythos propped himself up on his elbows and shook his head. He looked over at Gwent who sat off to the side, studying his shield. "That was unexpected," he allowed, still breathing heavy. "Using the shield to attack, nicely played."

"Huh?" Gwent muttered, looking up with an unfocused expression.

"I'm congratulating you, on your win," Zythos said, then collapsed again. "And by the gods may that never happen again!"

Draven chuckled, but Gwent just looked back to his shield. "Aye, thanks."

"What's with you now?" Draven called over to Gwent.

The dwarf pulled himself from his thoughts and looked over at Zythos and Draven, grinning wickedly. "I have me'self an idea," then added, "Must see the blacksmith!"

He hopped up, and without saying another word, threw the wooden hammer over near the weapons rack against the wall, snapped up his shield and ran out the door, leaving Draven and Zythos staring blankly behind him.

-

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