..by Jon Simonds..


If you missed Part One, click here.

The events of last night actually began yesterday afternoon, when the first few streaks of lightning crept across the northern sky. Commander Adnyl was the first to spot this. She drew the band of griblits to a halt and stared up at the clouds. Once scattered and few, they were drifting together in a most dark and ominous way.

Sandrell glanced at the sky and then back at the Commander. A twinge of anger flared in her soul. She was most anxious to press on with her quest of finding the wizard and was in no mood for petty delays. They had wasted too much time already.

Nee Nee Adnyl caught the look on Sandrell's face.
"Forget it," she told the sorceress. "I'm as anxious to find Medra as you are, but we're in for one hell of a storm and I'm not about to get caught out in the middle of it all without some kind of a roof over my head."

Sandrell stared at Nee and waves of disgust rose up from the pit of her belly. The two had been friends for as long as the sorceress could remember. If the years hadn't taught her anything at all, then they at least taught her how pointless it would be to argue with Nee. Nee was like a mountain filled with bubbling pools of red-hot anger. She rarely gave into the will of others, and when others tried to oppose her, she often exploded like a volcano gone wild.

"The mule," Sandrell mumbled, "could take a few lessons in stubbornness from the likes of Nee Nee Adnyl."

By nightfall, Nee and her forces had built a fairly sturdy roof over their heads. They did so by gathering branches and tying them together with forest vines. On top of the branches, they piled leaves, twigs, moss and sod; leaving a large gaping hole, in the middle of the roof, for the smoke of the camp fire to sift through.

After the roof was complete and the fire begun, dinner was prepared and served. Chunks of venison-filled wooden bowls, topped off with tomatoes, stalks of celery and pieces of pineapple. Jugs of wine were passed from griblit to griblit and were it not for the deafening thunder, the lightning and the constant rise in humidity, it might have been the most pleasant night the group had shared since first leaving Lormalorian.

Dinner was followed with the usual banter of small talk, mostly concerned with the whereabouts of Medra. Griblits don't particularly care for wandering about and they're even less fond of hostility. They were most anxious to complete their task and return home.

An air of silence encompassed the tiny group. Lightning danced across the skies above and they could almost feel the thunder. It hadn't begun to rain, yet, but it would. Each and every one of them knew that it would and they seemed to look to Sandrell for comfort.

Sandrell said nothing. She had nothing to say. They would be stuck out in the middle of a storm and that's all there was to it. There was nothing she could do about it and they were foolish for thinking she could.
Nee Nee finally snapped the silence.
"All right," she began. "It's been a nice leisurely day. Weather permitting, it'll be a bright and early dawn. The sooner we call it a night, the sooner we'll be able to get on with our business. So, let's turn in."

A short, collective groan passed through the campsite as griblits stirred, unraveling bed rolls; checking ponies and uttering good night.

"Nai," Nee added.
Nai was comfortably resting against the trunk of an old elm tree. She sat up.
"I want you and Stosh to take the first watch. Tee?"
Tee Quist was bent over her bedroll. Her shoulders slumped when she heard her name.
"What, Nee?" "You and Sire can have the second shift. Torri and Kerri can sit from the end of your shift, until dawn."
"God," somebody grumbled. "You really get off on this leadership stuff. Don't 'cha?"
"Darn right," Nee said, turning her attention towards Kerri.
Sandrell thought she caught the slightest trace of a smile on Nee Nee's face.
"Jealous?" the commander asked.
Kerri grinned and quickly climbed into her bedroll.

Before long, everyone was sound asleep. Everyone, that is, except for Sandrell.

"This is crazy," she said climbing to her feet. She spent the entire day pushing herself through her exhaustion and now that it was time to sleep, she couldn't even keep her eyes closed.

There was a chill in the wind and it pushed the sorceress towards the campfire. She glanced at Nai as she reached the fire. The griblit was slumped over and purring like a kitten.

"Some guard," Sandrell thought. She looked for Stosh, but he was nowhere to be found. It was then that she spotted Tee Quist sitting up in her bedroll, her head cocked to one side. "Are you-"
"Shhh!" Tee snapped.
"What?" Sandrell asked.

Sandrell considered the sounds of the forest. The only problem was, there weren't any. The crickets had stopped singing their nightly song. The hoot owls weren't questioning one another any more. The only thing the sorceress could hear was the snap of the fire, the rumble of thunder and Nee Nee's infernal snoring.

Sandrell knelt down beside Tee. "What am I supposed to be listening for?"
"You don't hear it?"
Sandrell frowned and then realized what had caught Tee's attention. At first, it was little more than a soft hum, but it seemed to be growing and the longer Sandrell listened, the louder it grew.
"Stosh is out there," Tee added.
Sandrell grabbed the pearl handle of her sword. "Wake the others."
Tee climbed out of her bedroll and Sandrell made her way out into the woods. The air was hot and dry and the forest was bathed in blackness, broken only by the flash of lightning racing across the sky. She measured each footstep carefully. Sweat broke across her forehead. It moistened the palms of her hands.

She could hear something out in front of her. It was coming directly towards her. There were twigs snapping beneath its feet. A breeze stirred and with it came a moaning; a mumbling as Stosh burst through the brush in front of her. He stumbled past her, covered from head to toe with large, black, flies. They were gnawing at his skin; warming their bodies in his blood and there were thousands more behind him.

Sandrell turned. She began a wild and frenzied run through the woods. The black flies swarmed all around her. They became a blanket; covering her, tangling in her hair. They flew blindly into her lips, her eyes. They were nipping her body as her hands slapped wildly at her face.

How far she had run, the sorceress could not say. She had stumbled several times over broken branches, scraping her hands and knees. She fell hard, once, into a large boulder and struggled to get to her feet. Her legs, however, were like rubber. Her arms wouldn't lift her off the ground.

Sandrell succumbed to the darkness. When she next awoke, it was in a small clearing, blanketed by leaves. The flies were gone, almost as if they were never there and a light rain fell from the sky.

* * *

Oryus grabs the reins of his stallion. He mounts the proud animal and the horse stomps the ground.
"You'll guide me to Orcon?" He asks.
"Yes," the ox like goblin replies.
"Good," Oryus says. "There is much to be done."
"So there is," the goblin adds and with a wave of his hand, the ruthless band of killers march off into the woods.

Sandrell watches them fade into the distance. When they are finally gone she turns, leaning back against the boulder.

"I've got to find Medra," she tells herself. "Maybe now, more than ever."

Sandrell wipes the sweat from her brows with the backs of her hands. She turns her gaze towards the heavens. The once dark and ominous clouds begin to break up and fade away. They no longer drip over the forest, but surrender to the lightning, even as the lightning becomes one with the blazing sun.

End of First Chapter