tagSci-Fi & FantasyA Paladin's Training Ch. 13

A Paladin's Training Ch. 13

byAntidarius©

(all characters are over the age of eighteen)

***ARAN***

Aran had spent the majority of his morning learning about Maralon largely by chatting to her citizens, most of whom were friendly enough, or were at least willing to have a conversation. He had learned much thus far, about the Council, the Heralds of Dawn, and the general feel of the people.

Maralon was ruled by a Council of five, elected by the people to govern the city. Currently, the Council consisted of three women and two men, all human. The people seemed satisfied overall with the current Council, finding them to be ruling fairly and reasonably.

The Heralds of Dawn, Aran was concerned to hear, were gaining steady popularity, according to the man Aran was currently speaking with.

Dressed in the fashion of Maralon, the man wore a black cape over a black coat and trousers, and one of those strange high-topped, circular hats. His bushy sideburns shifted with his jaw as he spoke. "I did hear," the fellow said, "that the Heralds were to be granted special permissions by the Council as of this week."

"Special permissions?" Aran asked. "That's interesting."

"Indeed," Sideburns said, leaning forward as if imparting a secret. "I heard from a friend in the uppers who said that the Council is giving the Heralds access to the archives, so they can use the records to root out any family lines still connected to the Order."

Aran's stomach turned to ice. If they traced Sorla's heritage back to the Order, she could be in danger. "Tell me, friend," Aran asked politely. "How do the Heralds deal with those awful people they find who support the Order?"

"Torture," the man whispered. "Or at least that's what I've heard. The Council wouldn't allow it, I expect, so they do it in secret."

"Torture? To what end?" The more Aran learned about the Heralds, the more he disliked them.

"For a confession, of course." The fellow's eyebrows, as bushy as his sideburns, wiggled up and down as he talked. "Once they have the confession, they take the offender before the Council, who decides on their fate. We've had three public hangings so far, and there's likely to be more. Good riddance, I say!" The man continued, raising his voice a little. "Maralon is a fine city, and we don't want anything to do with that filthy, perverted religion!"

Several passers-by turned their heads at the man's rant, many of them muttering agreement.

Swallowing his anger, Aran nodded in feigned support. "Hear, hear," he said, clasping the man's hand. "Enjoy your day, sir. Unfortunately, I must be away."

The ignorant fool returned the sentiment as Aran turned away, his mind churning with the new information. He was worried about Sorla, but the Bond relayed only a peaceful, content feeling, meaning she was safe, at least for now.

So the Council was unaware of the Heralds torturing people, if what the man said was true. Perhaps if Aran could get evidence of the torture to the Council, they would do something about it. Not for the first time, he wondered who was leading these so-called Heralds of Dawn; he had asked the question many times, but was still yet to receive an answer.

There were certainly plenty of Heralds about, moving in groups of two or three, pious-looking men and women with their yellow-lined red cloaks contrasting sharply with the generally dark clothing favoured by the rest of the city. The closer Aran got to the Maralon's centre, the more concentrated the Herald's numbers seemed to become.

Aran stumbled suddenly as emotions crashed through the Bond from Sorla.

Fear. Anger. Panic.

Forgetting all about keeping a low profile, Aran bolted, shoving his way through the crowds, back toward Sorla's house.

***

***MALOTH***

Maloth sat in Shadow's saddle atop a rise, surveying the sleepy town below. The rise sat high enough above the town that it gave a suitable tactical view of the area.

It was early in the evening, and many of the windows in the thatch-roofed cottages were still illuminated by lamp light. The streets looked all but empty, most people having retired indoors.

He remembered Waterfell well, the place he had first met Glinda, and Bound her to him. It was a peaceful village, and as such had no guards, or walls, or anything else that would hinder the force gathered a little ways behind him, just out of sight of the town.

Fifty Wardens of the Dead, all mounted, and their pale-grey Risen of varying races, all with eyes of ghostly white and skin of pallid grey, were grouped together in two ordered columns under the clouded sky, patiently awaiting the order to move out. Queen Morin rode at their fore, accompanied by that stunning Risen Elf, Elegin -- who appeared to be Morin's minion -- and the two massive Orcs that Morin seemed to keep as her personal guard.

The Queen of the Dead was dressed in her usual black form-fitting robe which was all but transparent, her slender body pleasingly displayed through the thin material, along with that strange half-wheel that splayed between her shoulders and behind her head, arrayed with a multitude of bones that clattered when she moved.

To Maloth's right rode Shenla, who had managed to find something a little more modest than a series of leather straps for this occasion; instead having squeezed herself into a dress with the skirts divided for riding, the bodice just barely containing her breasts, the two mountainous ruby orbs threatening to burst free any moment.

Grouped around his twin sister were Glinda, Barrog, Torvin, and Kreya, all garbed far more conservatively, except maybe for Glinda, who's own massive bosom -- of a similar size to Shenla's -- struggled within its confines.

Torvin and Kreya were unaccompanied by minions; Maloth had learned that their minions had been destroyed recently, and the day they'd met Maloth, they'd actually been scouting for suitable replacements.

All eyes watched Maloth, waiting for the signal.

Night having fallen, there was no need to wait longer. Without looking away from the village, Maloth raised his hand high before sweeping it down and forward, bringing death and destruction upon the unsuspecting town.

With a roar, the Wardens charged forward, led by Morin herself, topping the rise and galloping down the grassy incline, followed by their horde of the dead.

Maloth remained where he was, as did his party, all of them watching the small force descending upon Waterfell. There would be no need to fight tonight; this would be over quickly.

Screams rose from the townsfolk as Morin and her army flooded the streets, the undead tearing front doors off their hinges and smashing in windows to get at the terrified occupants.

Black-cloaked necromancers stalked the streets, their dark magic dealing with any townspeople that escaped the clutches of their minions.

*

Half an hour later, wearing a satisfied smile, Maloth heeled Shadow to a walk, slowly heading down to the town, Shenla and the others following behind. At this pace, by the time he reached the town proper, it would be done, or close enough.

Once inside Waterfell, Maloth rode to the square in the centre of town - past the necromancers and undead dragging corpses out of the houses and piling them on the paved streets - to where Queen Morin was waiting, her two orcs standing close behind her, truncheons at the ready.

"Lord Maloth!" The queen addressed him, her pretty face flushed with excitement. "You delivered quickly! There must be more than five hundred people living here!"

"This is just the beginning, I assure you," Maloth replied smoothly, reigning Shadow to a halt. "I trust your people know what to do with all these corpses?"

Morin nodded. "They have their instructions. There will be no raising until we have a clear count, then the bodies will be divided up evenly among the Wardens. After I've had my pick, of course," she added smugly. "Being a Queen has it's perks."

As if do demonstrate, Morin turned to her two orc guards. "You know my tastes; bring me any suitable candidates. Go now."

The two hulking brutes shambled off immediately, Maloth watching them warily as they passed. They were even bigger than Barrog, who was the biggest orc Maloth had ever seen, making Maloth wonder where Morin had found them.

Elegin sashayed into the square as the orcs left it, her abundant bosom bouncing unrestrained beneath her filmy black robe -- similar to the one Morin wore -- as she approached. "My Queen," she said in that strange, echoed voice. "I have had the local lord's house cleared, for your comfort."

"Excellent," Morin said. "Prepare food and drinks for myself and Lord Maloth. We will be there in short order."

Elegin curtsied and glided away.

"If it pleases you, Lord Maloth," Morin said respectfully. "I invite you and yours to join me. I'm sure that what Elegin has prepared is the best this town has to offer us in the way of accommodation, lacking though it may be."

"Indeed," Maloth agreed, looking around with distaste at the simple homes surrounding the square. How he longed for the day he conquered a city and acquired his first palace.

He gathered Shadow's reins. "Lead the way, Morin."

***

***ARAN***

Aran knew through the Bond that Sorla was already gone when he reached her house, but he wanted to check it anyway. She was moving north at a slow pace, and didn't feel like she was more than a mile away; he should be able to catch up to her quickly.

It was quite possible the Heralds had discovered Sorla's family history and arrested her, which meant she was bound for torture. He would have to be quick.

Signs of a struggle were apparent as Aran hurriedly searched the house, hoping to find Sara. In the kitchen, a bowl lay on the floor, its contents spilled next to an overturned chair. The front door had been kicked in, and the back door left wide open.

There was no sign of Sara anywhere.

Rage flared in Aran at the thought of Sorla and Sara being harmed at the hands of these zealots, before he calmed himself, knowing he could not think clearly when consumed by anger.

He had a distinct advantage; he could sense where Sorla was, so there was no way they could hide her from him. He just had to hope they'd either taken Sara as well, or she'd fled. He hoped for the latter, but something told him wherever they were taking Sorla, he would also find Sara.

Despite himself, the anger crept up inside him again; not the hot fury this time, but a slow, pulsing fire, sharpening his mind, lending him focus.

Pulling up the hood of his cloak, Aran stepped back out into the street and started toward Sorla, slipping through the crowds, unaware of the people quickly stepping out of his path when they noticed the dangerous light in his eyes.

***

***SORLA***

"Where are you taking us?" Sorla demanded for the tenth time as the Heralds dragged her and Sara through the streets. Strong hands gripped her arms, and her hands were bound behind her back with enough rope to hold a giant. They had also placed a thick, white cloth bag over her head, rendering her effectively blind.

They'd taken so many turns through the city that she wasn't sure she could find her way back, hooded as she was. The direction felt like it may be northeast, but that was a guess at best. She was unable to see Sara, but knew the girl was there from the complaints she frequently issued.

"Silence, harlot!" One of the female Heralds barked, prodding Sorla sharply in the back with something hard.

Sorla grit her teeth, refusing to give them the satisfaction of hearing her cry out in pain.

Further turns were made, right and left and left again, until Sorla felt well and truly lost. She took solace in the presence in her mind that was Aran; he was drawing closer by the second, and the Bond carried focused anger and steely determination from the young Paladin, which in turn gave Sorla strength. Judging from the emotions Aran was feeling, Sorla pitied anyone who crossed him today.

Hopefully he would get here quickly enough to help.

She was brought to a stop before she heard a squealing of rusty hinges, then felt a rude shove as one of the Heralds pushed her forward. The ground disappeared suddenly, giving way to a set of stairs, which she would have fallen down had her escorts not had such a tight grip on her arms.

There was a loud bang behind them, sounding like heavy wooden doors being slammed. Had they just entered some sort of cellar? There was certainly a musty, dank feel to this place, as if fresh air was rarely let in.

She was led down a long corridor and brought to a stop again, before another metallic squeal echoed through the corridor, making her think of an old gate being opened.

Suddenly the hood was pulled roughly from her head, the bright torch on the nearby wall making her blink a few times as her eyes adjusted.

The man who had knocked on her door stood before her, those cold blue eyes fixed on hers. They appeared to have brought her to an underground hold, a long, stone corridor lined with iron-barred cells.

"Sorla Kargen," he said gravely. "You are to be interrogated on the suspicion that you are associated with the Order of Aros, on the grounds of your family history."

Sorla thought she might vomit. Interrogation? What did they mean to do to her?

The man's eyes dropped to her chest, his eyes lingering on her cleavage. She expected to see a light of lust in his eyes, but instead she saw only contempt.

"You wear the clothes of a harlot, a whore," he said, raising his eyes back to her face as he gripped the fabric of her neckline, making her shudder as she felt his knuckles brushing her breasts.

"One such as you does not deserve the dignity of clothing," he said as he ripped her dress open, her breasts spilling free as the fabric tore.

With her hands bound, she was unable to cover herself, so she stood, defiantly meeting his gaze as his lackeys tugged the rest of the garment down her body until it pooled at her feet.

"Bring the other one forward," the man said, his eyes traveling over Sorla's nudity. Once again, Sorla saw no sign he was enjoying himself; rather he seemed like a man with a distasteful job to do, like clearing a blocked drain.

The Heralds brought forth a protesting Sara, the skinny girl struggling feebly until they ripped her hood off.

Sara glared hotly at the blue-eyed man for a moment, before spitting in his face. "Let me go, you bastards! I've done nothing wrong!"

In response, the man slapped her hard across the face, his expression never changing. "You were found keeping company with a woman who is involved with a perverted, filthy religion. What is your name, girl?"

Sara said nothing, staring back defiantly despite the red handprint glowing on her cheek and the tears brimming in her eyes.

"Very well," the man said, wiping the spit from his face. "Failure to cooperate indicates you have something to hide. You will endure the same fate as your whore friend, here."

Sara kicked and screamed in vain as the Heralds cut her dress away, leaving her naked as a newborn.

Sorla couldn't help but pity the girl; she was all skin and bone, with hollow ribs and protruding hip bones, and next to nothing in the way of breasts. "Please," Sorla implored of the man. "I will submit, but the girl truly is innocent. Let her go."

Icy blue eyes flicked back and forth between the two bound women as the man considered Sorla's words. "We will see how innocent she is," he replied finally. "When she is questioned."

"No!" Sorla cried, struggling against the men holding her.

"Lock them up!" The nameless man commanded as he turned away, heading to a door at the end of the corridor.

The Heralds shoved her and Sara into a cell before locking them in and leaving the same way as their leader, one man staying behind to watch them.

***

***ARAN***

Sorla's signal had come to a stop a few minutes ago, and Aran was steadily gaining ground as he worked his way through the dirty back-alleys of Maralon. This part of the city was like a rabbit warren, an unorganized slum densely packed with brick buildings and narrow cobbled streets twisting through haphazardly.

Easy to get lost, if you didn't know your way around. Easy to get jumped, too, in these narrow passages; twice now, street toughs had blocked his path with knives bared, and both times Aran had stepped over their dead bodies, focused only on Sorla, feeling no compunction at taking the lives of cowardly men who preyed on weaker folk.

The sun was just past its zenith, and it slowly descended as Aran searched, Sorla's presence growing ever closer, shadows already deepening in the narrow spaces between buildings. His best guess put her at less than a hundred yards away.

Suddenly, the alleyway he was traversing came to an end, and before him stood a building much larger than the others in the slum. This three-story structure looked well maintained, and even had all its windows, which seemed to be unusual for this neighborhood.

Two hard-faced men, red-and-yellow robes identifying them as Heralds, stood atop the grey stone steps that led to the tall double-doors; obviously guarding the place. The street was busy, enabling Aran to study the house unnoticed.

Sorla's signal was strongest, here; she had to be no more than fifty yards away, which placed her somewhere in that house. She felt scared and worried, but gladly, Aran could feel no physical pain from her. Oddly, it felt like she was somewhere under the ground; a basement, maybe, or cellar. If that were the case, perhaps there was a back entrance nearby, one that may even be unguarded.

Stepping out into the street, Aran walked the length of the building and back, unsuccessfully searching for an alleyway or side-street that might lead to a cellar door. Finding nothing, he walked back, studying the smaller houses to either side, wondering if perhaps he could climb -

A wave of ice crashed over him, tendrils gripping his heart and making him stumble as visions invaded his mind.

That tall, crimson-skinned demon riding a black stallion through a village, smiling as grey-skinned, white-eyed creatures pulled screaming people from their homes, slaughtering them and leaving them in piles on the street.

Aran wanted to weep as he looked upon the carnage. Black-cloaked figures strode through the chaos, purple light flashing as they waved their hands, cutting down any villagers who might escape.

Behind the demon was a small party of followers; a busty dwarf, a huge orc, a black-cloaked man and woman, and a red-skinned woman whose mighty breasts were only barely contained in her bodice.

Aran's eyes were drawn to this woman, with her exotic skin, that stunning face, and a body that looked built for one thing. Powerful desire stirred deeply within him as he stared hungrily at her, the other women present fading into the background, insignificant compared to this goddess. He would love nothing more than to get his hands on that body, to feel those breasts in his hands, to-

No! He would not lose his will to these creatures of darkness! Drawing deeply on his Gift, he let it fill him, the lust immediately subsiding.

Aran had seen the demons -- or half-demons, as they were -- before, but not this clearly, or for this long, nor had he felt the dark desire that coursed through him at the sight of the sister, which was concerning, to say the least.

As he watched, the half-Demon man and his party approached a mounted woman in a flimsy black robe, two massive grey Orcs with those ghostly white eyes at her sides. What did that skin, and those eyes, mean?

"Lord Maloth!" The woman said, addressing the demon in an excited voice.

So, Maloth was his name.

The woman continued speaking to Maloth, but her words were lost as the vision faded and Aran's awareness slowly returned to the street he was standing on. Feeling like his head was stuffed with cotton wool, he leaned up against a brick wall, waiting for his mind to clear properly.

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