|Favorite Wonder:||Aquae Sucellus|
Capria held Sabra close as they waited near the portal. Her sister was quivering, whether from fear or excitement she didn't know. Either way, her father had told her to keep her calm. So she did.
Kneeling down to eye level, she said, "Remember what we talked about, Sabra? We're going home, so today you need to be extra brave. What's home going to be like?"
Sabra smiled. "No monsters!"
"That's right! What else?"
"The fire is just in the sky, and not all around. I can go play in the grass and run and not fall in the pits or the lava or be eaten by the shadows!"
"That's right, little one," Capria said, hoping the stories that they told the young ones were true. She herself took the elders at their word what the outside world was like. But it could not be worse than living here.
The booming voice of Sabathiel rang out as if to prove it to her. "Soldiers to arms! We are being followed!" The men rushed to the rear of their company, leaving their wives and children to await entry to the new world. Capria picked up her sister, bouncing her in her arms. "People of Braduk! Prepare to return!" Sabathiel cried out, then unfurled his wings. Capria shielded her eyes as the brilliant light flashed out from the angel, then subsided. Sabathiel stood facing them, a gateway of light behind him turning the back of the canyon into their route home. "Hurry! Your men cannot hold out forever!"
The families approached the gateway, but hesitated before entering. Capria gritted her teeth, and pushed to the front. "Come, brothers, sisters! This is what we have been living for!" Without another look back, she stepped into the light...
...and out of the fire. The heat at her back was the first thing she noticed, nearly searing her skin through the heavy leather armor she wore as a Secondline-woman. The darkness alarmed her; instead of a perpetual red haze, there was blackness above her, pierced by countless points of light. She turned to see more of her people emerging from the flames, and reacting as she had, hurrying ahead in surprise. Then she turned back and noticed the screams.
"They're free! Ahhhhhhhhhhh!" An old woman, green skinned and heavily marked was writhing on the ground a few yards in front her. Other green skinned people watched the strangers coming out of their Sacred Fire with shock.
"What have they done to our city?" asked an elderly woman emerging from the flames.
"Well, what gifts have been given to us by dear ol' Bhall tonight?" The deep voice came from an orc man who pushed past the crowd of orc children eating and playing by the flames near the humans. Unlike the smooth skinned younger orcs, long bone spikes protruded from his back, shoulders, and arms. "Metal blades on young girls? Take your spears, my clan." The burly orc hefted a massive axe and grinned at Capria. Others came forth, wielding long wooden spears.
Capria bent down to set her sister on the ground, then in a blink had an orc child in her arms and a dagger at its throat. "We don't know who you are monster, but we mean you no harm. Let us walk out of here and your child lives."
"A trade, girl? One life of ours for all of yours?" Orthus pulled a sharpened bone knife from his belt. "That doesn't sound like a good trade." Orthus' arm swung out, and the knife came flying towards Capria. She blinked, and before her eyes opened she could feel warm blood splash on her face. But not hers. The orc child went limp in her arms before it could scream.
"You love life, human. I love death." Orthus hafted his axe and started towards the humans.
Blood splattered on Donal's face, and by the burning, he knew it belonged to the demon. He gritted his teeth and ducked under a leaping Hellhound, thrusting upward with his short sword. Its snarl turned to a yelp, but it still managed to kick his helmet off as it tumbled gracelessly to the ground. Donal raised his shield to fend off a fireball hurled by a towering fire elemental, shouting over his shoulder, "Are we about done here, my lord? I do think they are sorry to see us leaving."
Sabathiel grunted. "Another... another few minutes, my friends, and the elders shall have left this accursed place. I trust you can hold out?"
"We will do what we must!" said Alessi. Donal's burly comrade swung his halberd in a wide arc, knocking a Gaersteed to its knees and unseating its rider. The Death Knight continued his charge, however, and pieced Alessi's left shoulder with a long ebony blade. The warrior dropped his pole-arm and staggered, perfectly exposed for the coup d'grace. Donal spun towards them, slicing down on the Demon Knight's arm and turning a lethal blow into merely an ugly gut wound.
The Demon snarled, and knocked him to the ground with a quick shield bash. It advanced on Donal until an arrow flew into its chest. Then another hit, and a third, and fourth, until finally he fell.
"Pull back and regroup!" said the marksman, before being set upon by a swarm of harpies.
Donal sheathed his sword and helped his friend to his feet. "You're not dying before you see daylight, Alessi, I swear it." The pair stumbled back towards the portal, as their peers closed ranks behind them.
Capria stumbled as she tried to back away from the advancing orcs. Her hand found a long spear, blackened with bits of burnt swine clinging to it. She lunged and thrust it into the throat of an advancing orc, who fell with a whimper, snapping her weapon in two as he fell. "C'mon, friends, we've all faced worse than this before!" She unsheathed her short sword. "Ring formation, boys and women to arms. Children and elderly in the center! We'll work our way towards the gate. Slay the beasts if they come, but hold your position!" An orc charged her, spear first. She prepared to dodge, but he dropped to the ground before he reached her, felled by a slung stone.
The group began to move towards the gate of the palisade, past hovels. Behind them a wounded man staggered out of the flames, clutching his chest. A pair of goblins leapt upon him, stabbing repeatedly. He managed to grasp a handful of grass before breathing his last.
"You will never escape me, humans," Orthus cried. Swinging viciously, he bowled into their formation, breaking the ranks and cleaving a young girl just below the ribs.
Capria barely noticed the death of her best friend. She did see her sister dangling from the Orc King's hand. She dropped and rolled under the spikes, coming up directly in front of Orthus, too close for him to wield his Axe. Behind her the humans closed ranks.
"Be glad I'm sick of death," Capria growled, plunging her sword into Orthus' gut up to the hilt. She slung her sister over her shoulder and kicked Orthus away. The worst of the orcs had been felled already, and the freedom was in sight.
"You're the last, Donal," said Sabathiel. The other soldiers had charged through the portal during the last lull in the melee. The ones who had survived the onslaught, at least.
"And then you'll follow, my lord?"
"Some one must remain on this pedestal to keep the portal open. I will stay behind."
"No you won't. My people need you, you must go through!"
"I cannot lead them in the next world as I did in this Infernal hell, Donal."
"It's not a leader they need, there's wisdom and strength in even the young girls, like brave Capria. They need a symbol, to stay united in the real world, my lord. You must go through. I will hold open the doorway for you."
"I cannot leave anyone behind, Donal!"
Donal Lugh stood beside the angel, feeling an enormous weight descend upon him. "There's got to be another way out of here, Sabathiel. I'll find it, somewhere, and I'll make it back, if I have to kill every demon in Hell to do it." A moaning sound drew their attention to the corpses of their friends, beginning to rise as an imp on the cliff above them giggled and danced in a circle. Sabathiel and Donal exchanged one last glance, then the angel embraced the man, and turned and flew through the portal. The instant Donal stepped towards it, it vanished, and he sighed. Then he turned back towards the shambling corpses.
"Alrighty, my friends, who's first?"