A week had passed since our induction into Samael's personal guard, and that's exactly how long it took Platy and I to learn how brutal being in his personal division can really be. Our first assignment was nothing short of cornering and killing the suspected leader of the Scions of Lok, one Platy and I were more than willing to go along for after our ordeal on the Island of Dawn. It's funny that I always thought I would only see the great deserts of Val Aureum and the remnants of the Giants' Empire in books. Now I stood behind our superior office as he read off an agreement of passage before two giants standing twenty feet tall in the hopes of peacefully proceeding to the Halls of Shadow where the cultists had entrenched themselves. Platy standing on my shoulders would not even be as wide or tall as the club the giant chieftain before us precariously balanced on his stone chiseled shoulder guards.
Still these giants looked barbaric and sullen compared to the images I had seen of the great Giants' Empire of old. Giants plated in gold and Xer metal riding upon mammoths with legions of enslaved Amani at their command. Their empire stretched from modern day Kaiator across the great sea to southern Val Aureum and everything in between. And now less than one millennium later the giants bear no greater importance on world events than that of the Naga or Tuwangi. Their great palaces mere ruins. The Amani rulers of their own domain and unafraid to kill a giant that dares look down on them.
Sure pound for pound a giant can take most any Federation soldier. But with the races united now they are outnumbered 100 to 1. I could see the bitter withheld rage in their eyes as Samael's right hand man er Castanic, Stadrian, continued reading off the scroll without flinching at the two giants' unpredictable movement. His veins were surely made out of ice to read off Samael's degrading words to the giant chieftain. Though cockiness goes hand to hand with being a Castanic, Stadrian seemed to take it to an entirely new level. His hardened leather and Normetal forged gear shone duly in the hot desert sun as he cocked his head to the side awaiting a response from the giants. As we had planned the giants turned and began to wave down their followers. I breathed the first breath in a minute as I saw the giants lower their clubs in acceptance of the temporary treaty.
Just as I let me guard down, the chieftain turned and swung his monstrous club down on our helpless platoon. The ground shook as the soldier standing between Platy and I forever disappeared into the blooded sands of Val Aureum. Seconds felt like minutes as we moved in slow motion attempting to take cover. The tribe of 30 giants had rallied at the sudden aggression of their leader and cheered his name in hopes of further destruction. As I crawled through the sand looking for cover, I turned to see Stadrian smirk and stand his ground before the enormous being. He uncaringly rolled up his scroll, tossing it into the sands, and lifted his shield with one arm over his head just in time to receive the full blunt of the chieftain's club. A cheer roared out from the giant tribe as his feet sunk into the sand, but to our surprise he stood fast and retaliated with such force that the giant's club flew back into his own face, knocking him off balance. With one sweeping motion his lance extended to slice across the giant's right kneecap straight to his left ankle. The chieftain fell to his knees before the Castanic lancer.
"You mistake me for a simple Federation fool, giant. I serve a higher god than you could ever comprehend."
As if performing an interpretive dance, he never finished his motion and swung the lance over his head to face it straight on towards the giant chieftain's face. The lance extended, skewering him through the forehead and killing the massive creature instantly.
Without waiting Stadrian strode forward, a dark aura consuming him. Before the chieftain's adviser could raise his weapon the lance shot through his sternum, knocking him off his feet and fatally wounding the hapless beast.
"Your tribe has crossed Lord Samael, Grand Commander of Velika. Run now or face the traitorous death you deserve!"
The giants gazed at each other seeking a new brazen fool to rise up as leader. When none stood the giants furthest from Stadrian rose and scrambled towards the hills. The ground shook as the remaining twenty-eight giants tripped over themselves trying to clear distance from the presence of Stadrian, leaving their weapons in the sand to maximize their retreat speed. Stadrian turned and strode towards the smashed remains of the fallen soldier.
"Weakness is repaid only with death in Samael's guard. Let this be a lesson to all of you. If any of you show cowardice before the Scion Leader tonight, I will personally slay you where you stand."
Stadrian pushed into me as he strode through the remains of the Giant encampment towards the Halls of Shadow.
"Three hours men. Rest well because tonight your worth as men will be shown."
Three hours flashed by in the blink of an eye. Most of the men rested. I dared not blink. Platy stared straight back at me from his adjacent cot. The memory of our smashed comrade had shaken something deep inside of me. This was the first time I had seen a man die I realized. Just as it started to sink in, Justicar Jesper rapped on our wall and demanded Platy and I rise to attention.
"Listen closely, Dizzy. Above all else, at any cost, you are to kill the Black Hood suspected of leading the Cultist of Lok uprising. We have reason to believe he is an insider. A high ranking officer of the Valkyon Federation. Kill him regardless with no questions asked. They're a threat to the foundation of the Federation. If Samael wasn't watching out for us, they'd probably have half our enemies encamped outside Velika's gates."
"We've killed their men and forced them into the deepest depths of the Halls of Shadow. There are three routes the Black Hood may escape. Do your duty soldier. Take these five and cover the eastern tunnel. Kill anyone you find!"
As we marched into the eastern tunnel I prayed we would be the lucky squad. No I don't mean the ones who would slay the Cultist leader and return glorious to Velika. I wondered if we even stood a chance. In my mind I prayed we would find nothing and report back to base camp to learn that the Black Hood was dead, killed by Stadrian's spear while covering the western tunnel. As we searched room after room of their makeshift subterranean camp I was relieved to see no signs of life.
"Just one hall left Platy and we can report back" I whispered nervously. Platy said nothing but nodded in agreement.
I marched into the final marked room on my map with glee that it had been an uneventful mission, yet my heart stopped as I gazed at a massive and powerful looking Elf in a black hood rushing a small group into an opening in the wall. He turned to face me and my fear suddenly turned into hatred.
It was an unnatural feeling. As if I was looking down upon myself from a third person perspective. Darkness clouded my eyes as it became difficult to distinguish one member from another in my five man team. They all looked back at me with similar sinister faces, waiting for orders. I tried my best to formulate a plan but when I opened my mouth, someone else's words erupted from the depths of my belly.
"Kill...Kill..Kill..Kill!" I lifted my spear and, as if one body, my followers prepared for battle as well.
"Who.. who are you?" The surprised Elf responded.
My burning desire for bloodshed had yearned long enough. I charged forward at the Elf in hopes of slaying him before he could raise his famed twin blades. Just as our clash seemed imminent a flash of red shot in front of me. It was Jelena! My passion subsided as she stood with a bemused look on her face as her eyes locked with the hooded figure. I attempted my approach again but a swift back kick met my round bunny nose and knocking me away.
She turned and approached with swords drawn. The possibility that Jelena had been a part of the conspiracy all along made perfect sense. She was keeping close to Leander the same way Fadora had stayed by my side to take me out should I discover damning evidence against the Cult. I raised my shield with one hand and my open right paw with the other to motion my followers to attack. Before I could make a move Jelena flipped between my shield and body and pressed her sword hard into my chest.
I fell forward expecting blood to spill from my mouth, but instead found shards of emerald and glass floating through the air before my eyes. My senses returned and the need for bloodshed began to fade. Jelena turned and nodded to the hooded figure and he nodded back his understanding. In one fell swoop the hooded figure shot through the room, dodging blades and balls of fire as he broke the Mark of Samael from each of my soldiers' necks. One by one my soldiers stumbled to the ground and recovered their senses. All but Platy seemed genuinely disoriented and unsure why they were even inside the cave. At last the hooded figure removed his cloak and glared back at me. Jelena chucked as the realization of his identity dawned on me.
"You... Elleon? Here?! Elleon is the Black Hood? No that makes no sense!" My thoughts dribbled from my mouth without filter
Jelena shushed me, her mood far more light hearted then I had ever witnessed before. "Of course Elleon isn't the leader of the Cult. Samael is pulling the strings and trying to use the fear his organization is spreading to trick good soldiers into killing anyone that stands in his way."
I looked to Elleon and he approached me with something in his hand. He held out his hand and dropped a small trinket into my open paw. I looked down to see a thin bracelet with the cartoon faces of two chubby bunnies and a fox girl between them.
"Surmun speaks highly of his disciple, Dizzy of Pora Elinu. Wulynn also assured me you wouldn't sit idly by until she was safe. I trust we have much to discuss but first we need to get out of here."
My mouth fell open. Not only had I discovered that the Federation's greatest hero was alive, but that he had information on both of my family as well! I looked back to Platy as he let out his goofy high pitched laugh and we quickly scurried into the hidden tunnel along with our 3 bewildered colleagues. Elleon assured us they were as good as dead if we left them there so it was necessary baggage.
As I emerged atop the great mine and looked out over Val Aureum waiting for our evac pegasus ride I felt the world had become a little brighter. I tied Wulynn's bracelet around my shield grip and grinned in satisfaction. I couldn't believe that a little bookworm like me could have set out on a dangerous rescue mission and become part of a group fighting to save the future of Velika. With Elleon at my back I boarded my pegasus with renewed confidence. Hold on Surmun... Wulynn.. help is on the way!