(In which we meet Minotaurs and other nasty obstacles)
Right then, since everyone else was off fighting with some leftover renegades, I was left here to write the next chapter of the chronicle. However, before I bring you all up to speed, I suppose a bit in the way of introduction is in order.
My name, as you know, is Amras. I was the second of five children born to my parents in Icetae, a port town in the northwest corner of Granorda. My parents were high in standing within the elvish society; both were Chief Librarians in the Great Library of Icetae. This library held all of the manuscripts of the books written by our greatest scholars and was the High Temple to Orodreth Narmolanya, The King of the Heavens. As the daughter of the high priests, I felt a compulsory urge to do the exact opposite of what they believed. As a result, I fell in with a wrong crowd, which brought me into the brouhaha that led to this whole mess.
Now, introductions aside, where were we? Ah, yes, the trip north. After we broke out of the Mines, we began to pick our way northward. We were able to have one night in a proper bed before news of the escape and the subsequent warrant for our arrest dead or alive were distributed. Once this occurred, we were forced on a wide eastward tangent that put us smack dab in the middle of the Minotaur hunting grounds.
I suppose that now would be a good time to explain a few things about Minotaurs. A Granordian Minotaur stands at about ten feet tall, with two foot-long horns that curve away from his head. Its hands are blunt and clumsy, but skilled enough to wield a cudgel or a mace. Their brains are barely large enough to tell them to mate and to kill things for sustenance. They roam about in large packs of twenty or more, which will often kill stray travelers or fugitives like us trying to hide from the authorities. These Minotaurs had become so dangerous that criminal fugitives had taken to calling them “occupational hazards.”
This was what we were running toward on the twenty-third day of Hraddarin, the seventh month in our year system. We had just been chased away from a small town about two day’s run south of Vrielorn. After we had outpaced our pursuers, Curufinwë decided that we had to risk an attack by Minotaurs and make our way through the hunting grounds. This decision was met with relish from Collin, who wanted a chance to kill one of the beasts, and silence from Avriel. Not surprisingly, she had visited the hunting grounds once before, and warned that there were odd things that could occur.
“There is a reason people that go in usually don’t come back out,” she cautioned. “Minotaurs are the least of our worries.” As was usual, I discounted her fears as groundless and paid no attention to her until it was nearly too late. We all shouldered our packs, filled with items we had either stolen or traded for along the way, and headed into the unknown.
When my siblings were small, we used to live in a house in Icetae that was near a tannery and a butcher’s block. The place we settled to camp smelled about the same, and looked a lot worse. There were scattered ribcages from various animals and femurs and such from larger creatures. Avriel picked one up, fingered the teeth marks along the bone, and tossed it over her shoulder, announcing that there had been no Minotaurs in the area for at least a week. The assumption then made was that this place was safe to camp at for the night. As it turned out, the exact opposite was true.
When we finally turned in that night, I was plagued by strange dreams. My parents were building a house on our campsite with the help of Angrod and Caranthir. My siblings were playing tag with a Minotaur, and there was some sort of strange clump of fog drifting around. Then I turned around and the guards from the Mines were standing in front of me, stabbing downward with curved blades.
I awoke with a start. A low-pitched roar was reverberating across the plains, along with several screeches. Curufinwë and Avriel were already awake, stringing a bow sharpening a knife on a rock respectively. “Minotaurs,” was all the explanation Curufinwë gave me when I asked about the noise. “We’re lucky it’s nothing worse.”
I was about to ask what she was referring to when the first of the pack of Minotaurs appeared about seventy-five yards away from our camp. I ran to where my sword was lying, detouring along the way to awaken Collin. While slightly groggy when first awakened, another roar from a Minotaur woke him up swiftly. Collin grabbed his spear and I grabbed my sword. Avriel was already attacking the first Minotaur, which fell swiftly to the ground with a moan as a dirk pierced its heart. The rest of the pack, hearing their comrade die, came loping up with surprising swiftness. Curufinwë killed two before Collin, Avriel and I got at another one and sliced it open. Collin then spun around and stabbed his spear through a Minotaur that was meandering toward Curufinwë. I jumped with a heavy downward slice toward a Minotaur on my left, while Avriel began fighting with one on my right. The numbers of the dumb, semi-sentient beasts were thinned swiftly and with alacrity. Soon, there were only seven left in the pack alive. Realizing finally that being killed was not worth a meal, the Minotaurs abruptly turned around and fled.
“Is that all?” Collin asked.
“If we have good fortune,” Avriel muttered, “It will be.”
Almost immediately after the attack, we broke camp and moved on. The dead bodies of the Minotaurs would soon be stripped clean, and that was a ritual that none of us wanted to experience. We continued in a northerly trajectory across the fields until we reached a ring of standing stones on the barren plain. The stones formed an almost-perfect circle and enclosed a stone altar. Upon seeing the formation, Avriel’s brow darkened. “Well,” she said, “good news and bad news. The good news is that you get to find out about the other hazards in the hunting grounds. The bad news is that we could very well not survive.”
“Are those rocks that bad?” Curufinwë asked.
Avriel nodded. “All that, and more.”
The first sign that things were going amiss was the unnatural fog that was beginning to gather around the area. Sibilant, serpentine voices snaked along a cold breeze. When they heard the voices, both Avriel and Curufinwë paled. Curufinwë swallowed hard. “Please don’t tell me that is what I think it is.”
“Sorry,” Avriel answered, “It is.”
The fog congealed into several indistinct forms somewhat akin to shadowy warriors in chain mail and peaked helms. They held in their hands sharp falchions with razor-like spikes on the dull edge. “Wrinthrakei,” muttered Curufinwë. “Cursed spirits. Not a good thing.”
“Are they killable?” Collin asked.
“Is that spear blade made of Wrathsbane?”
Collin stared at it. “No idea. Is it?”
Avriel grabbed the spear and struck it against a stone. The metal made a dull clinking noise, but there was no other effect. Avriel handed it back to Collin. “Nope.”
The Wrinthrakei moved toward us with a measured pace. Given the fact that they were made of mist, they probably had the advantage of speed, so running wouldn’t get us anywhere. Fighting seemed pointless, at least for the others. I had my sword, which was inlaid with the luminescent steel known as Wrathsbane, but no one else was packing for demon apparently. I stepped forward. “Let me handle this.” I jogged slowly toward the first spirit, spinning my sword in practiced circles. The Wrathsbane inlaying began to glow as I drew near to the daemons, using its ability to sense the consciousnesses of the fallen beings. The spirits saw the blade and quailed slightly, but they came forward regardless of the sword.
Almost in slow motion, the first Wrinthrake slashed downward at me. I countered with a parry and a slice that cut through his misty mail. The daemon glowed bright green before exploding in a cloud of smoke, a wretched scream left in the air. The last two tried coming at me from two different directions, which would have neutralized whatever advantage I had, which already wasn’t much. If I hadn’t stabbed the one quickly, then together they would have sliced me to bits. Even with the two dead, the last of the three was the best swordsman. We went at it for several minutes before I slipped through his guard and stabbed him through the heart. The last Wrinthrake screamed in agony and dissolved just like his brethren, and the night descended once more into stillness.
Avriel smiled slightly. “Well done. Where did you come across a blade with Wrathsbane in it?”
I shrugged. “It was a gift.”
Curufinwë stepped forward. “We should probably think about moving on. These standing stones could attract more Wrinthrakei.”