Ronnag Fragment 3
In the catacombs beneath Redspire’s proud Arena, a young half-Orc fighter stepped from bloodied shadows. His blade had perhaps known this man, recently murdered by a pack of scheming men, and it wanted to stop their own hearts in turn. Ronnag, somehow, knew this as clearly as if someone had told him outright. But he was in a dire situation now, with a similar death potentially around each corner, and his instincts prevented him from questioning this unsettling malady that allowed him to cull the dreams of steel.
The two men had gone through a large door, down a staircase farther below. Ronnag found a better vantage and waited for a bit; no other men entered the storeroom. But as he decided it was time to make a move, he heard a very familiar voice call his own name, back from the upper hypogeum. It was Lerruik, an old half-Orc with a penchant for line-crossing jokes, and one of Ronnag’s only true allies in the Arena.
Ronnag’s face sank a bit at this unexpected revelation. Entering a trap door during a large battle enactment was foolish enough – as he knew all too well – but his old friend could not possibly know of the horrors and danger this place now housed. As another boisterous “Ronnag!” echoed through the stone halls for all to hear, the folly of the young fighter’s actions began to catch up with him, and he flew from the room, running as quickly as quietly as his huge frame would allow.
The twisting hallways and rooms, stocked with boxes and clutter of all shapes…they all seemed to meld into one as he ran. Only Lerruik’s ignorant voice led him in the right direction. He whipped around a corner into the next room, where he ran straight into two half-elvish men in black cloaks, both with daggers drawn and ready.
Ronnag did not blink. Immediately his blade found itself deep in one man’s shoulder, nearly severing the arm. His sheer momentum made him unable to block the second in time, however, and his dagger went in deep above his left hip. Perhaps the only thing that kept him from screaming in pain was the blade itself. With its agonizing intimacy, it could now tell him vaguely about the guard in the storeroom – likely its first of many planned victims. Amazingly, it seemed to tell him something else: it did not wish to kill any more. The dagger was an ornamental gift, perhaps given from one noble to another and stolen sometime in the dark of night.
It all happened in that one excruciating instant. In the next, the assassin tried to pull the blade out for another attack…but he could not. Whether it was simply the half-Orc’s toughened skin, or whether the blade itself was somehow refusing to pull out, one thing was certain: Ronnag’s own blade harbored no such pacifism. The extra adrenaline was all he needed to pull the blade from the first assassin’s shoulder, and through the neck of the second.
Now he could cry out in pain. Turning with the dagger in his side only made its searing bite sharper, and he nearly fell on it. He knew the bleeding would be profuse if he pulled it out, but he did so; the blade had seemed to instruct him. He quickly gathered some black cloth from his fallen enemies and pressed it hard against the wound, hoping it would be enough…
The next thing he knew, there were four dead bodies around him. His old friend, Lerruik, maintained a ferocious pose, a bloodied scimitar at the ready as he guarded the room from any additional threats. At Ronnag’s side, there was an old elven cleric with a worried, sharp expression. It, too, was a face he remembered.
“Zede?” he managed.
“Shhh,” he responded curtly. “Try not to talk or move. I’ve tried to cure you as best I can, but magic is only going to do so much against a poison such as this.”
“A poison?!” snapped Lerruik angrily. “Why didn’t you say so before?”
“Keep your voice down!” hissed Zede between clenched teeth. “Of course it’s poison. I could have just closed up the wound and been done with it otherwise. What do you think this poultice is for?” he said incredulously, pointing out the medicine affixed to Ronnag’s side.
“Hmph,” he grunted. “Just make sure he’s going to be all right. No more dead today.”
“Believe me, I’ve every intention of getting him on his feet,” replied Zede in a distracted tone. “Ondrem’s Folly still rages above, and all three of us need to be topside before the bloody performance ends. We need to inform the guards, whatever’s left of them here, that several elvish assassins conspire in the depths below.”
He turned to Ronnag.
“The Arena-masters will probably want an answer or two from you, as well.”
“Zede…” he whispered. “I…I don’t know what happened to me yesterday. Why I parted from the others today, and flung open the door—”
The cleric was silent for a while. His face was angrily contemplative, staring at nothing as his mind reached for a way to explain.
“It isn’t your fault,” he allowed at last.
Ronnag’s gaze grew sharper and more suspicious. “Zede…if you know something about my sight…”
“Hm?” barked Lerruik. “What’s this about sight, now? What happened yesterday? I didn’t get to see where—”
“The Ferromancers did this to him, Lerruik,” he said exasperatedly. “They were…we tried to hunt them down, long ago. It would seem we didn’t get them all.”
“Say it again? The Ferrawhat?”
“They’re a band of wicked, ancient mages,” he replied, still looking at Ronnag’s eyes. “Able to shape metal to their will and imbue it with nightmare. They abhor the weaknesses of flesh and sinew; they view a steel blade as less of a weapon and more of an ideal.”
“And what did they do to Ronnag?!”
He looked aside at the downed fighter’s bloodied blade, and picked it up.
“Take it in your hand again,” he instructed. “Listen to it. What does it say?”
Lerruik watched incredulously as Ronnag wearily touched the weapon again. As soon as he did, he blinked unnaturally, exhaling a bit and pausing to think.
“The men who attacked me,” he said. “There’s more of them. Down below. There must be…it just keeps beckoning downwards.”
Lerruik’s face grew pained and worried. “What are you on about?!” he exclaimed. “How are you gleaning this from a weapon?”
And so Zede told him all about what happened to the young half-Orc yesterday. Ronnag himself remembered little of the event before his accident: there was only a dull red flash, and the next thing he knew, he felt the warmth of the arena sands on his left side, and the smell of an unnatural blood.
“But…why?” said Lerruik at last. “Why would someone do this to him? Surely he’s never angered their kind before…!”
“Perhaps it was merely indiscriminate,” said Zede. “They are known to do that. But one thing is certain: it wasn’t retribution. Wherever the foul mage was when he did this, his intent – at least in his mind – was to give someone a gift.”
An uneasy silence fell upon the room for a moment. At last, Zede removed the poultice from Ronnag’s wound and bandaged the remnants. Without a word, they managed to get the young fighter on his feet again, and out into a nearby passage.
“The trapdoor room is just ahead, I think,” Ronnag said weakly. “Yes, this one over here. I remember this archw—”
But as they entered, the three of them stopped in terror.
Well over thirty of the black-cloaked assassins filled the room. Behind the trio, several more rounded the corner, approaching from the hallway behind.