Standing at the crest of the hill, their hearts dropped at sight of the battle before them. Avalar’s wall had been breached but it appeared that the Keep had not yet fallen. Fire had spread throughout huge portions of the city and thousands of orcs surrounded the city. Far in the distance they could see reinforcements coming from the main road traveling towards a small encampment blocking the road to Cross Roads; the Aegian flag flew high over the camp.
Cyrek grew somber as he watched his home burn before him. With a slight catch in his voice, Cyrek was the first to break the grim silence. “I think it’s important that we go the camp. I don’t know where my father is and I must find out.” Marcus asked Cyrek if he knew what the box was. Cyrek informed him that he had no idea, but believed it was crucial that they all stay together and go the Sentinel’s camp. Cyrek started to walk toward the camp and the others followed his determined strides. Trying to remain hidden from the orcs, their journey took several hours and finally they arrived just as the sun began its ascent. Marcus sensed a voice at the back of his head warning them to stay together. About a mile away from the camp, they heard a commanding voice call out, “Stop. Who goes there?” They all looked at Cyrek and deferred to him to respond. “We are allies of Avalar who are you.” In response, two heavily armored Sentinels stepped out from the shadows, “Identify yourselves,” demanded the same deep voice. “I am Cyrek Peariner of Avalar. We are returning and I wish to speak to whoever is in charge at the camp.” The guards’ demeanor turned less severe in response to Cyrek’s answer. They returned their swords that were at the ready to their sheaths. “Hello sir, we will take you to Commander Hycera right away. Please, keep your swords sheathed and your hands off any other weapons. The situation is very tense and we can’t guarantee someone won’t react should you cause any suspicion.” Glancing at the half-elves, the Sentinels made wide birth, weary of their presence in the group. Leading the way, the guards escorted the group to the camp.
As they arrived at the camp, they realized that there were very few soldiers in number and many of the people at the camp appeared to be people who had fled Avalar. As they drew closer to the headquarters of the camp they saw more soldiers, and in the midst of them they spotted Sacagawea. Though a welcome sight, they noticed her disheveled appearance, an obvious result of many the battles she had fought during her separation from the group. Cyrek greeted her and Sacagawea responded as warmly as her battle worn self could manage. Interrupting the groups reunion, one of the sentinels shared that only Cyrek could join them in Commander Hycera’s tent. Offended, Cyrek demanded that his companions all join him. Conceding to his demand, the sentinels said the half-elves at least must disarm and hand over their weapons before entering the tent. Accepting their compromise, Percy and Marcus handed their weapons over to Drakon.
They entered the command tent and the guard announced the arrival of Cyrek of Peariner to Commander Hycera who was brooding over maps laid out on a table at the center of the tent. Commander Hycera, an older full-blooded elf with pure white hair, decked out in heavy armor with a massive sword at her side, was an intimidating sight. Looking up, she greeted Cyrek, apologizing that their first meeting was at such an unfortunate time.“I wish we were meeting under better circumstances. We are doing everything we can, but we are outnumbered. The human army will be here but not for several days. We can’t do much at this point. The orcs came out of nowhere. Up till now, we didn’t even know this many existed.”
Motioning towards Sacagawea she said, “Sacagawea has been a great help doing reconnaissance for us, but we all found out too late what their plan was. We do suspect that Malegore Nine-heads is present which has changed our battle plans.”
At the mention of his name, various reactions rippled through the group ranging from anger or fear to blank stares. Ryo appeared to recognize the name, while Drakon’s hand immediately went to the sword at his side. Cyrek stiffened. Confused, Percy watched as the others responded, as the name was completely foreign to her. Noting some of the confused stares, an explanation was given as to who was Malegore Nine-Heads.
As no actual sighting was ever documented, only frightening rumors existed telling of Malegore Nine-Heads, king of the orcs who was supposedly one of the oldest living persons of the known world. According to bone-chilling legends, he could not be killed. He gained the name "Nine Heads when, generations before, he united the orcs under his command and every race sent a champion to fight him. One by one, Malegore defeated each challenger and forged the nine skulls of the nine races into a battle hammer. Rumors had spread for over a thousand years of his existence.
“We suspect he is present,” Commander Hycera gravely shared, “but we have been focused on trying to stem the tide and keep the orcs from heading into Cross Roads. As far as we know, the Keep has not fallen and Lord Hector is still alive, fighting for his people and his city. We cannot get to him. But Cyrek,” her voices softens, “I regret to inform you that we have received confirmation that the rest of your family has been killed.” Cyrek gripped the table before him and turned his face, his watery eyes stared off into the distance. Still not making eye contact, Cyrek requests that Commander Hycera confirm that she did say his father was still alive. Commander Hycera replied, “We assume because they are still fighting that your father is still at command. That is all I have to report on. You are welcome to set up camp, we could use reinforcements.” Clearing his throat, Cyrek ignored her offer to set up camp and insisted that he had to get to Lord Hector. “I must get to my father. Do you know of any way I could make it to him?” “It’s probably a suicide mission to try to get to him. I understand your desperation Cyrek, but again, I urge you, this would be one of the most foolish things you could do.” A moment of silence passed and as Cyrek’s look of determination did not change, Commander Hycera sighed. “But if you are determined, I would recommend you enter through the northern breach as it is closest to the Keep. I cannot spare any of man to go with you. If you go, you are alone in your foolish choice.”
Cyrek asked for a moment alone with his friends and with a nod of approval, Commander Hycera stepped out of the tent, leaving them to discuss their plans alone. “I have to get to my father,” Cyrek adamantly said. “I can’t ask more of you, but I must try to get to him. “ Drakon asked Cyrek if Miquesh could help Lord Hector get out if they needed to, to which Cyrek affirmed, but then reminded them of the boxes that were all in Lord Hector’s possession in the Keep. “He told us it was important to get this this last box to him. I can’t ask anything more from you, but I must get this box to my father and see that he is still well. I’m going to go, and I think we may have a chance if we stick together, but I have nothing to give you should you join this mission. I have nothing to pay you, that is all I have,” Cyrek despondently said as he pointed to the city of Avalar. The group remained quiet, giving Cyrek time to regain his emotions.
Drakon broke the silence first. “This Malegore, he killed my master, the man who raised me from childhood.” “You’ve seen him? “ asked Cyrek, shocked. “I have,” replied Drakon. Still dumbfounded, Cyrek said, “No one has ever seen him before. Can you describe him?” Drakon proceeded to describe how he did indeed have a war hammer made out of nine skulls. At a height of almost 9 feet tall, Malegore appeared was massive and threatening. “So if I have an opportunity to get anywhere near the battle and face him, I vote for that option,” scoffed Drakon. “If there is a chance we get anywhere near Malegore, that would probably be the worst thing that could happen to us. All the rumors and legends say he cannot die. No one has ever seen him wounded before,” responded Cyrek. “I would love to be the first to do so,” Drakon grumbled. “I can’t guarantee I wouldn’t try to face him, but either way, I will join you in this mission to get to your father.”
“Are there no other rumors of how he could die?” asked Persephone. “None that I have ever heard of,” answered Cyrek. “The fact that Drakon saw him and lived is remarkable.” “How did you survive, Drakon?” asked Persephone. “My master commanded that I hide. My master, Kyrex, battled Malegore who came in with a wizard named Arris who faced off with my master. It appeared that Arris was actually in charge of Malegore, that he was the boss. He spoke with my master, and before he left, Malegore killed Kyrex. This was right before I came to Avalar and met you.” “Have you ever seen or heard of Arris?” Ryo asked Cyrek. “I’ve never heard his name before,” said Cyrek. “That’s the name I heard my Master use” said Drakon, “and then they killed him.” “Did your Master seem to know them?” asked Malva. “Yes,” said Drakon. “They said they had been looking for him for some time, but I don’t know why. My master had promised to tell me some history, but was never able to. He even asked me to bring a box to Avalar to Lord Hector, it was just like the boxes that we were searching for.” “Did you ever look inside it,” asked Persephone. “I wasn’t allowed to,” replied Drakon. “My master asked that I wouldn’t. Are we with Cyrek?” asked Drakon, ready to get past their questions and make a decision. They all agreed.
Cyrek shared that there was a back entrance into the keep, but they would need to stay near the wall. “There’s a gate behind the keep that is very well protected but is our best chance to get into the keep. We should try to get there as soon as we can before the sun rises.” Cryek warned everyone to watch each other’s back.
They crossed the field, managing to dodge all the orcs, and were able to cross the break in the wall into the city. Managing to enter quietlt, they were not spotted by orcs in the street. Aiming at the first orc he spotted, Ryo attacked first; his arrow hit its mark and the orc fell to the ground. The others followed suit and attacked. Marcus used arcane energy and a bolt of light blue energy shots out of his hand and killed the orcs in his path. Cyrek also shot fire bolts and hit his marks. As their element of surprise passed, the orcs started to attack back. Malva and Marcus both took a hit in the orcs counterattack, but the orcs were no match to the groups determined and swift attack. Momentarily regrouping, Cyrek healed Malva of her injuries before they headed towards the keep.
Taking what he knew to be the shorter route, Cyrek lead them through a path, but Ryo warned that he could see more orcs ahead. Marcus took the lead, letting everyone know he had a plan and told them to hide until he had accomplished his task. While Marcus was talking, Malva noticed bodies of mages nearby. She and Marcus searched the bodies and found a bag filled with a few healing potions and dispersed them between everyone.
Ready to face the orcs, they repositioned themselves to attack. Marcus told them that they when they heard yelling, they would know it was time to attack. Disappearing from their view as he cast invisibility over himself, Marcus walked out into the opening where they orcs were stationed. Though Marcus was invisible to all, the group was able to see the sudden arrival of an orc chief carrying a great axe. They all gripped their weapons tighter. Marcus cast Darkness on the great axe and the orc chief and several orcs surrounding him began to cry out as an orb of complete darkness enveloped them, blinding them and masking them from the others. As the darkness came crashing down, Marcus’s invisibility dissipated.
The group ran out to attack catching the orcs who were not enveloped in darkness off guard as they stared in confusion at the black orb that had suddenly appeared. The angry yell of the orc chief was soon muffled by the noise of battle. A large orc walked into the clearing, joining his associates in their fight for their lives. Proving to be harder to take down, the group attempted hit after hit. After several failed attempts at taking out the large orc, Marcus had to release his concentration spell and the darkness dissipated, adding the orc chief and the other orcs who had been blinded to their enemies ranks. Wielding their deadly weapons, the group managed to kill the orcs and creatures that kept them from getting to the keep. As the last orc fell to his death at the hand of Saca, the battle dust settled and they could see the keep was within safe distance. Cyrek said, “lets get to the keep quickly.”
They approached the gate and see soldiers were still present, guarding the Keep’s entrance. The guards cannot hide their surprise and exclaim, greeting Cyrek, “we didn’t think we’d ever see you again! Do you wish to be escorted to Lord Hector?” Cyrek confirms their query, and with desperation in his voice urges them to lead the way quickly.
The guards escorted the group into the main room where Lord Hector and Miquesh are surrounded by mass chaos, franticness in his eyes. Seeing the guards enter the room, he double takes as he realized his son was following closely behind. His arms open to embrace Cyrek, “You got through?!” he exclaimed! Marcus handed Lord Hector the case, which Lord Hector hand then passed to Miquesh. “Miquesh, take this.” Turning to speak to the group, he says, “I hate to tell you this but Avalar has fallen and we cannot save it. We have been preparing a way to get out and I thought you’d be outside to meet us. I’m really glad you got in. Grab what you need-“ Lord Hector starts to say but is cut off as the doors burst open and the Dark Stranger ran in frantically calling out, “Hector, they’re here.” Miquesh looked off into the distance, his eyes glazed and said with resolve, “I will hold them.” As his eyes readjust, he turned to Lord Hector, “It has been an honor. May our souls find one another soon.” Lord Hector placed his hand on Miquesh’s shoulder, his eyes brimming with tears as his voice broke, “The honor is mine Miquesh. My family owes you everything.” They embraced and Miquesh headed for the door but before he stepped out he turned back around and looked at Cyrek. “Alfwin, live well.’” Cyrek called back “Live well Miquesh.” Miquesh turned and walked out the door.
As soon as Miquesh was out of their sight, Lord Hector took off his ring and handed it to Cyrek and embraced him. His voice shook, “Son, trust them,” he said, “Aid them, they are the future of this world. I love you.” Releasing his hold on his son, he turned to the group, “Friends, thank you for coming this far. I can’t ask any more of you but I can tell you that the fate of Ultana rests with you now. Your choices will shape history. Follow Rith, “ he said, pointing to the dark stranger,” he will guide you. Do not interfere with what happens next. “
Rith gave them no time to digest Lord Hectors words as he pushed them forcefully towards the back wall and then cast an illusionary wall that they could see through but blocked them from being seen by those on the other side. “Do not make a sound,” he hissed. “If you do, you will doom us all. Trust me.”
Only a few moments passed when suddenly the doors burst open and through it walked the biggest orc they had ever seen. He stood over 9 feet tall and carried a battle hammer made of 9 skulls cast in bronze. In his other hand he carried the dead and broken body of Miquesh. “Hector I presume,” he bellowed. “This is the best you could throw at me,” he boasted, tossing the dead body of Miquesh at Lord Hector’s feet. “After all the effort they put me through to take you down I expected better…I hate being disappointed.”
Hector attempted to retain his composure as he snidely responded to Malegore. “I see they’ve finally let you off your chain.” Malegore chuckled, a deep menacing laugh, touched a magical earring and said, “I have secured Hector.” As soon as he finished speaking, a portal opened in the door way and in walked a grey bearded human wizard in black robes who took his place standing next to Melgore.
“Ah, Hector Peariner” said the wizard in a deep, pretentious tone. “I don’t believe we have been properly introduced.” Hector glared at him, “I know who you are, you bastard. Tell me Arris, how do you plan to explain an Orc army to the council?” Arris arrogantly stared at Hector, folded his arms in front of him and, raising his head high, he proudly replied, “I wouldn’t worry about that as you won’t be attending the next council meeting. You have much more important things to think about now.” He nudged the dead body of Miquesh with his foot, a snide smile on his face.
Hector, his voice fierce and determined, said, “You’ll pay for this.” Arris’ maniacal laughter shook his shoulders, “Hardly. Well on to business. You know how these things go, Hector. I have evidence against you, you’ve been sneaking around, you’re a traitor, blah blah blah, let’s just cut the formalities. Unless of course you want to tell me what you’ve been planning behind my back, I might extend mercy.” Hector’s shoulders tense, “ you don’t know what mercy is. “ “I do actually,” Arris rebuts, “the Octoma has taught me a lot about mercy, but you have refused to accept their lessons and instead have tried to thwart their mission to guard Ultana.” Hector replied with icy resolve, “I do not worship false gods.” Arris became visibly angered by Hectors reply and his voice grew deeper and harsher as he growled back, “Where were your gods when the Kraytians fell? Did they help pick up the pieces of a broken empire? Did they restore villages and towns and homes? No! Of course not! It was the Octoma, the same Octoma whom you have refused their ways, the same Octoma that has decided that your days of heresy are over. I will give you one more chance, Hector, bow before me. “ Lord Hector stood straight, unsheathed his sword and calmly but determinedly proclaimed, “Long live House Pro-“ as Arris’s voice yelled over Hectors, Arris cast a spell and raised his arms as a bolt of energy released from his hands, slamming Lord Hector; Lord Hector’s body crashed to the ground, lifeless.
Arris commanded Malegore, “Take his head and claim your city.” Malegore obeyed, “Yes, sir,” as he ripped Lord Hector’s head from his body with his bare hands. Nodding to Arris, he left the room to claim his victory. Arris touched a magic earring as he stared victoriously at the beheaded body of Hector. “Calcima, we have dealt with Hector and Avalar is now in the hands of the orcs. Tell Hycera to pull the Sentinels back but make sure they leave some behind to die. Tell the others to help Lathar, Selene, and Stormfist to draft speeches. We need to use this to our advantage.”
Shaking on the other side of the wall, both with fury and fear, they heard a voice reply back through the magic earring. “It will be done sir. Was there any sign of Cyrek Peariner? Hycera said he went into the city.” Looking around the room, Arris responded, “No he is not here,” he laughs, “At this point I assume the orcs have had their way with him.” Casting a portal, Arris glanced around the room once more and as a deep maniacal laugh once again escaped his lips, he walked back through the portal and disappeared.
Seconds felt like hours to the distraught and weary group till Rith raised a hand and removed the illusion. They all watched his moves mechanically, as he then opened a portal, turned to them and with tears in his eyes, he said, “I am not going to beg you to follow me because I am not that man. All I’m going to say is your only hope lies through that portal. You can follow me or not, that is your choice.” Cyrek, visibly shaking, his voice barely above a whisper, replied, “My father trusted you, so will I.” Picking up the boxes, Rith looked at the group once more before walking through the portal. Marcus walked over to Lord Hector’s body and retrieved his sword and sheath and followed Cyrek and the others through the portal.
As they entered through the portal, they all wondered was it just the light or did Rith’s eyes suddenly become slits? The question faded as the portal enveloped them in darkness, taking them away Avalar and into the unknown.