2007, March. Hive Ri’Tal

Deep within the bowels of the Vasar hive Ri’Tal, Merasiël, Gabriel and Dane wandered among strange company. The Huallapan they had freed a short time ago now led them unerringly through the endless maze of tunnels that seemed to continually twist and turn back on themselves at random. Merasiël occasionally glanced at the silent people, her unease very apparent. Despite the events of the earlier fight, Merasiël still distrusted them; how easy would it be for the liberators to be abandoned in the tunnels and left hopelessly lost, or worse, to be turned over to the first Vasar patrol they encountered? Yet, none of the others shared her concerns. Gabriel followed along in his usual easy stride, and Dane ghosted along behind them, his bow ever held at the ready and an arrow nocked. The few remaining Crusaders that had originally joined this mission were scattered throughout the growing pack of Huallapan. Those who were too wounded to continue had been sent back in search of the way out. There are so few of us left. Even if the Huallapan do not betray us, what good will all of these empty hands do? Merasiël had little faith now that they would succeed, but Dane insisted that his plan would work. And so they pressed on.

Occasionally they would be brought up short by a motion from Eli, the Huallapan who had overcome his fear and rallied the prisoners to action. After a brief conversation with Gabriel, he would send a pair of armed Huallapan down a side tunnel. A few minutes later, they would return, accompanied by more prisoners. Merasiël grated at each delay, however her protests were largely ignored, and they continued at their slow pace, freeing more and more prisoners as they went.

As those in front of her stopped abruptly once more, Merasiël expelled a frustrated sigh. She elbowed her way to the front where Gabriel, Dane and and Eli stood. Upon reaching the front of the group, she saw Eli gesturing at some sort of ventilation shaft in the side of the tunnel. From what she could tell, it was wide enough for a single person to pass through at a time and seemed to lead upwards at an angle. Gabriel scratched his chin and stared at the small entrance, a somewhat bemused look on his face. Eli continued to speak hurriedly to him, gesturing more than once at the portal.

“What is it?” Merasiël asked when she was within earshot.

Gabriel’s glanced at her briefly in acknowledgement, then his gaze shifted back to the tunnel. “It seems that here we are to part ways with our friends. This shaft will lead us near the main entrance and we should be able to see the gate when we reach the other end.”

“And what will they be doing?”

“I don’t know the exact words he’s using. But it seems that there is a large group of prisoners further down this passage. They are well-guarded, and he wishes for us to move on to the gate while they try to free their friends. They will be a…rivodza…whatever that means.”

Merasiël shook her head. She had not bothered to learn any of the Huallapan language, believing it too rough for Elven tongues to bother with. She turned and dropped down to a crouch before the the shaft entrance and muttered in Elvish, “That will be a difficult climb.” The walls were smooth and waxy, just like the rest of the tunnels, however the angle wasn’t too much to climb if one were careful. She buried the rest of her complaints, dropped to her hands and knees and disappeared into the small passageway. A soft grunt from behind let her know that the others had joined her in the slow, painful ascent. The silence was marred only by the sound of feet, hands and knees gaining purchase in the tunnel behind her, heaving the men onward. The sounds paused, and Gabriel’s voice drifted from just behind her.

“Lovely view in here,” he murmured, amusement fairly dripping from his voice.

“How can you say that?” Merasiël grimaced as her hand sought another secure hold to grasp. “There are no windows.”

Dane’s soft laughter drifted from below Gabriel’s feet. Merasiël stopped and glowered over her shoulder at them, beginning to suspect some sort of joke. Gabriel’s knowing smirk and brief glance at her posterior was all she needed to see and she turned back to her task. “Very funny,” she said, without a trace of amusement.

After several minutes of climbing, the dim light around them lifted as daylight filtered down from the end of the tunnel. Merasiël turned to look over her shoulder once more, a finger placed on her lips to caution the others to silence. She wormed her way up the last few feet to the end and found herself peering out of a grate into an large, open courtyard. As Eli had promised, she had a clear view of the main gate and the mechanism to open it. She also had a clear view of the large number of Vasar guards swarming the courtyard in between themselves and the gate. An iron fist clenched in her gut. We must continue, for good or for ill, she thought grimly and tested the grate, only to find it locked. She twisted herself around and planted her back against one side of the tunnel and her feet against the other to hold herself in place, allowing her hands the freedom to begin working the lock open.

The tell-tale sound of the lock opening seemed loud to her ears, and Merasiël froze. A glance out the grate showed that none of the nearby guards had heard. In fact, she saw that there were now fewer guards in the courtyard. Much fewer. Many were leaving swiftly, accompanied by the sounds of angry clicks and snarls, but couldn’t see where they were going. But now, the way to the gate was clear. She felt a tap on her boot, and she looked downward at Gabriel.

“Many guards,” she murmured low. “But they are leaving. The way is open.”

Gabriel looked as confused as she felt, but some sort of buried knowledge came to light and his face lit up with understanding. “God. Rivodza. Diversion. The Halluapan are sacrificing themselves so we can get the gate open. We need to move. Now!”

One by one, they scrambled out of the tunnel and tumbled into the courtyard. Merasiël immediately sought some sort of cover, praying to the Eternal that they had not been noticed. Whatever diversion the Halluapan were causing was working, and all of the Vasar eyes were turned elsewhere.

“Dane? Are you ready?” Gabriel asked curtly.

Dane had already returned his arrow to the quiver on his back and had withdrawn a new one, the point of which was wrapped in cloth and coated with oil that would burn in a bright flash. They would give a signal to the army camped outside that they were in the courtyard and would open the gate soon. Dane nocked the arrow and took aim as one of the elves lit the cloth with a spark from a flint and tinder.

Outside the gate, the Crusaders waited. Rainald, Magnifico and Brother Mendel stood just ahead of the lines of warriors, their eyes trained on the Hive walls. The setting sun made it difficult to see, but they shaded their eyes as best as they could and continued to keep vigil.

“Have faith, my friends,” Brother Mendel broke the silence. “The LORD is with them. They will succeed.”

“Is strong, yes,” Rainald agreed.

A flash briefly lit the sky above the Hive, and Brother Mendel smiled as cheers began to sound out around them. “And the scriptures say, ‘Arise, shine; for your light has come, And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.’”

Within the hive, Merasiël kept to the shadows as much as she could and moved swiftly to the gate’s locking mechanism. Their time was short, she knew, as the Crusaders would begin their march as soon as the signal was sent. Dane’s arrow, while bright enough to be seen by the approaching army, was also bright enough to alert the Vasar that something was amiss. In the confusion, she and one of the other elves with them were able to reach the gate and begin the slow process of opening it. The sounds of fighting broke out behind her, but she tamped down the urge to join them and stayed at the gate.

She heard the elf next to her cry out in pain and she then realized that she was alone. He lay in a pool of blood by her feet, felled by a hurled vasar glaive. But still, she worked the gate as quickly as her strength would allow.

A black blade nicked her shoulder and she stumbled to the side, narrowly avoiding a thrust through the center of her back. A huge Vasar towered above her, poised to deliver a spear strike into her heart. Instead of delivering the killing blow, however, it shuddered oddly as the tip of a rapier thrust through its body, and the spear fell to the ground with a clatter.

Merasiël heard the song of the Crusades echoing over the wall. The army would be at the gate in moments.

“Merasiël! Get that gate open!” Gabriel called out as he turned away, holding his blade ready. He joined Dane to stand against a large, writhing black mass of Vasar.

With as much effort as she could muster, Merasiël threw herself on the mechanism and forced it to move. As the gate opened, a blow from somewhere behind her left a loud ring in her ears and a film of hazy darkness roiled around the edges of her vision.

The last sight she saw was that of Rainald barreling through the opened gate, bellowing his trademark, blood-curdling war-cry, and then everything went black.

“…will be fine, she just needs to rest. That was a nasty blow she took to the head.”

Merasiël stirred as voices disturbed her slumber. Her eyes flickered open and her vision swam as she focused on Brother Mendel and Gabriel standing nearby. No, not standing, lying down?  Are we dead?

The ever-patient Brother Mendel tended to Gabriel’s many wounds. Gabriel, for his part, was not happy about his situation. “I should be out there. Fighting. There are still bugs to kill!”

“You’re exhausted and have more holes in you than our LORD’s brow as it was pierced by thorns. You will go nowhere until I am done with you!”

Not dead, then.  Merasiël smiled at the idea of Gabriel’s discomfort, but the effort sent pain shooting through her head and she groaned.

“Ah, she’s coming to. How do you feel, my dear?” Mendel approached and settled down with a sigh. He looked exhausted, but he didn’t pause, laying a cool hand on her forehead. He then held up his other hand with all of his fingers extended. “Tell me. How many fingers do I hold before your eyes?”


“Beg pardon?”

Gabriel’s answered for her, his tone impatient. “Ten. It’s Elvish for ten.”

Mendel frowned down at her. “Still need some time off your feet, I see.”

“What happened?” Merasiël forced her eyes to focus on the two Mendels that swam before her.

As Mendel spoke, he lay hands on her bloody shoulder and blessed it with healing power. “Well, after you three opened the gate…ah, I won’t bore you with the details. While you slept, the Crusaders took the Hive, Magnifico danced on the wall and the Vasar have been routed. Those that escaped have fled towards Hive Ves’qal. Although it will take some time to clean out the tunnels beneath us, I’m afraid.”

Gabriel interjected, “It would go a lot faster if I was there with them.”

Mendel glared over his shoulder, but Gabriel was spared the priest’s rebuke by the tent flap flying open. Rainald entered, Radskyrta’s arm draped over his shoulder as he drug the warrior to one of the empty spots beneath the tent. Radskyrta’s leg was twisted at an odd angle, and it didn’t seem to be working properly. Both of them were covered nearly head to foot in insectoid goo.

Gabriel sounded somewhat bitter when he spoke. “Having fun Rainald?”

“Hah! Yes, lítillbróðir! Killing much bug-mans today.” With that, he departed, the tent flap snapping closed behind him.

Mendel rested his face in his hands as Radskyrta began to curse from where he lay. “LORD help me, it’s going to be a long night.”

In the days that followed, the Crusaders solidified their hold on Hive Ri’Tal as the last of the Vasar that hid in the tunnels beneath were flushed out. The Huallapan that had provided the distraction that allowed the opening of the gates had suffered grievous losses, including the brave warrior Eli. There was little time for sorrow or rest, as the Crusaders soon turned their sights on the last of the Vasar strongholds.