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Chapter 1, Pride Before All


Orcs are a large representative of the Hard races. They usually have perfectly straight, very oily dark green hair. In low light, this usually appears to be black. They have a pair of jutting tusks, which vary in length and thickness by the region and genetics. Orcs have a peculiar and fairly universal art of arcana, in that they naturally stop growing at about six feet, but grow larger each time they utterly dominate another. They are a fractious race, solving most issues with their fists, though it is rare for them to kill each other. Instead, combat is highly ritualized with most disputes resolved after just one blow. Their skin color ranges from dark red to pale orange, with a few having purple or greenish brown hues.

While both men and women fight, the society is highly divided by gender. Both males and females will raise a band’s collective young, though they rarely intermix outside of coitus or incidental proximity. Both genders are highly modest in dress, feeling vulnerable if they are not fully armed with an excess of weapons, especially hand daggers and the like. They typically wear multiple layers of studded leather.

Orcs usually get on well with other races, at least so long as those races understand that they are subservient to the leading orc or Warchief. Alternately, or in villages, the lead orc may be referred to as the Hordechief, and the short form of this is just the Chief. They do not keep slaves, though the belief that they do is founded on the violence of their hierarchy. Humans and other less powerful races, generally unable to keep up in unarmed combat, tend to be pushed into menial labor within the small hordes they are a part of.

Ptielieren hit his knees hard as the wagon came to a stop. He was absolutely exhausted: tired beyond reckoning. His throat was raw, his hands and legs chafed and bled from the heavy shackles and poorly fitted brace, and his very body begged him to die peacefully and with dignity.

He would not. His ward, his oath sworn ward, pitched to the ground beside him. Ptielieren threw himself over Traisyelianiel d’Syvaeleyneextrepstre, shielding the young elf from harm. The thirty-two-year-old lay limply beneath him as the giant beast that had tormented him and his colleagues, what few that remained, made a face and walked away, unhitching the single remaining horse. Its companion had been sold to a party of the long-maned race some two days ago and this bugbear had ordered all its captives to carry, push and drag the cart over the remaining terrain as the lack of proper trail made such an endeavor very nearly impossible for the single animal.

That same party of bugbears had also taken the three dead from the trip and begun to eat them. They had killed the horse and begun to eat its entrails right there beside the trail. It was barbaric and Ptielieren had done all he could to protect his ward from the sight, offering a prayer to the ancestors of Veiphathaphailen C’pairettezca, Quevainetteleain C’pairettezca and the mutt Jordaine. He didn’t know more of their ancestry, though he hoped just the two names would be enough to help their souls be found by their ancestral munin and guided to their eternal shrines.

The dainty little monster that never stopped grinning walked down the line with a bundle of keys and began undoing the length of chain that bound everyone together. She was a young and lithe elf of indistinguishable lineage, no more than fifty if her temperament and aesthetics were to be an indicant. Of course, hardship and loss did odd things to the natural aging process of elves. It was possible she was either older or younger by up to a score of years, but fifty seemed an apt guess -- that or thirty.

The moment the primary chain connecting all his fellow prisoners was released, he began testing his fingers for proper movement. They moved well enough. He’d have tested more than just that but, as all the prisoners retained two foot long shackles on both feet and hands, he was unsure how to accomplish this without drawing attention. It was essential to his plan that, as soon as he was free of the long line, he begin plotting his escape.

The elf looked at the distracted bugbear, helped his ward up, and the two of them quickly ducked and shuffle-ran toward the nearest boulders, crouching behind them. After a few seconds, Ptielieren led Traisyelianiel yet farther away to another clump of boulders and to a bush beyond that.

The progress was slow but there was no sound of pursuit. He and Traisyelianiel staggered on through the brush. If one of his fellow captives had offered their captor some sort of distraction it was all for the best and he would not squander such a gift.

Dizziness threatened the elf with every passing step. Ptielieren had given all his food to Traisyelianiel during the journey and his body fairly thrummed with the urgent need to give in to eternal rest. He steadfastly denied it this pleasure, instead bracing his ward that the lad might save his strength for the long flight ahead of them. He was no expert on the wilderness but traversing the harshest peaks could be done. His charge might yet find safety.

After twenty minutes of no pursuit, a little part of his mind declared something to be amiss. He glanced behind him and still saw no signs of immediate concern. He gave his ward a confident smile even as he hesitated, knowing something to be wrong despite the quiet. It was the part of him that had sensed the assassins at court, the duplicitous gifts, the hidden dangers when others would have marked his concern for folly.

He scouted the skyline with some difficulty. It was hard to discern just how far he had traveled, what with the horizon dancing as it did. It felt like hours but the sun hadn’t lengthened any shadows, or was it supposed to be shortening them now? He couldn’t remember but pressed on anyway.

He cautiously led his ward forward and saw smoke. He smiled. Fire was one of his twin elements, or an aspect of it, rather. Superheatrd soot, specifically, and ionized particulates as might be found in a pyroclastic thunderstorm, comprised his full range of elemental control. If he could get close enough he might just be able to fashion the flame into a weapon, and, maybe, he might be able to slay the monster that had dragged his ward across the most treacherous stretches of land these past two weeks.

He signaled his ward to wait and slunk toward the fire.

When he finally managed to get close to the flame, he found it was a four foot wide, six inch high cooking pit and not quite abandoned. Instead, a dirty blonde Halfling, green and blue haired gnome and human lass with bright red, tightly curled hair sat around it telling jokes in heavily accented Common. They appeared to be relaxing outside a large abandoned cave, taking their ease.

He stared at these three for a moment, determined that the unarmed humanoids were neither of concern nor a particularly dangerous obstacle. They did not require termination but they did call for neutralization. If termination occurred, well, they were all of inferior races, just barely a step above animals. It mattered naught. He closed his eyes and let a little of his nearly depleted energy harmonize with the flame. It danced inside his mind’s eye before he called it forth.

The fire all but exploded and he pulled its heat to wreath about himself. The trio darted back, shielding their faces. The human lass’s skirt had caught and the blaze raced up it as the two small humanoids scurried to put out the flame. Ptielieren smiled. These savages were completely preoccupied. He kept the flame he wore bright and strode confidently back toward where the monster had last been, ready to put the creature out of the world’s misery.

He signaled his ward to remain hidden. There was no point in risking Traisyelianiel unnecessarily. On the off chance that he failed to slay the beast, at least his ward would only have to flee from a wounded foe. He gathered his grace and poured it into his movements. His feet clanked somewhat from the metal and the travel wearied elf knew his ability to fight would be hindered by extreme fatigue and the heavy restraints but was confident he had enough of the lesser of his two elements wreathed about his form to prevail.

As he rounded a bend and saw the rest of the survivors – no longer bound in the least – being hustled along, he stood tall and proud in the middle of the path. The bugbear, a large dull yellow colored goblinoid with large triangular ears laid flat to the side of its head and a pair of small tusks aimed downward from a broad but protruding snout, stood suddenly tall and smiled. It dropped the child it held, Jaioeyaollaieraineilyen d’Syvaeleyne, and crossed its arms. Ptielieren swirled the fire-orange soot about his head, fashioning an impromptu coronet as he took a modified stance.

The elf advanced slowly, his focus narrowing down to just this single foe. The hatefully light hearted elf that played lackey to the bugbear giggled and flitted behind its master as Ptielieren secretly resolved to end her putrid existence as well. She was just as evil as the creature that claimed her on the simple premise that she did not fight him in the least.

As he drew closer, the rest of his comrades cleared away from the impending fight, showing barely enough strength even shift. Even Bieyshiealelleinu looked lost and devoid of a proper fighting spirit. His fellow oath sworn guardian kept looking to either side of Ptielieren, as though too overcome with shame even to meet his fellow guard’s gaze. He sneered down at the weakness of his companions and tucked his splinted arm behind him, preparing himself for this duel. The bandage on his leg began to itch and he knew the wound had reopened. His ribs all showed plainly against the threadbare remains of his shirt and his back was a mess of bruises and shallow cuts. He had fought at every opportunity and the monster had beat him and dragged him and still Ptielieren had at least enough pride to stride forth and let the fire of injustice flare in his eyes, a small lick of lightning giving soul to the heat of the flame.


Ptielieren hit the ground hard again. He snarled and surged up and forward to be met with yet another punch to his shoulder. The two bugbears that had stepped in to strike him from behind said something to each other in their evil language of grunts and growls, laughed, and made a mockery of the honorable challenge he had implied was offered his captor.

He stayed down a fraction of a second longer than honor decreed proper and reassessed his opponents. The long shackles reduced his mobility, true enough, but they had seemed reliant on that, not expecting that he would strike with both feet and both hands; that he could adjust to any parameters and still rise victorious One was smaller and somewhat clumsy. Smaller was a relative term as the creature still stood at about seven and a half feet tall. His fur was decidedly yellow but his skin was an earthen shade of red and his mane matched the other two with a dark glossy brownish red. This one was resting all his weight on one leg. Ptielieren smiled and took the opportunity to strike at said appendage with both of his own, putting the fall and landing behind the blow.

His kick he amplified with an ionized charge, letting the current flow through his soft shoes and into the joint. His dominant element had not garnered any chance at recharging but, even so, it added just enough force to the blow to achieve the desired effect. The sharp snapping sound was reward enough, proof that overcoming these foes was not beyond hope. His ecstasy climbed at the sound even as the remaining two bugbears pulled out large wooden clubs and beat him nearly beyond the questing reach of hope.


Ptielieren struggled massively against the bugbear that dragged him along. Consciousness, fleeting thing that it was, had returned somewhere between having his foot bindings struck and being dragged bodily along. The hand on the back of his neck held him such that he was bent slightly more than double. It might have been easier to just let himself be dragged but pride forbade he humiliate himself to any such degree. Instead, he struggled and writhed and bit and struck out with his feet. The shackles and laced rope bindings on his hands and forearms had been tightened and cinched into place from the elbow down behind his back. He was unable to cast what little arcana he had left but this did not forestall his protests in the least.

As he was pulled back into the same clearing he had left, about thirty large bugbears and six very small, almost furless bugbears emerged from the woods and watched him before one strode forth with an aura of command. Its fur was orange yellow with a sienna mane and the unmistakable pull of authority. His height was difficult to determine as he moved with a cultured grace and his posture made him taller than his stature, but eight feet would not have been a poor guess. Ptielieren noted then that Traisyelianiel dangled from this creature’s hand. His ward was held aloft by the throat and Traisyelianiel held tightly to the beast’s wrist with both arms to minimize the downward pressure.

Ptielieren froze, staring at his ward. He was dragged to the beast and his knees kicked suddenly out from under him. His entire weight landed on the deep bruises that had formed during the journey but pride kept him from acknowledging this in the least. He glared up at this monster with unyielding hate, forcing himself not to flick his gaze to his ward.

The beast spoke calmly in the same thick accent the halfling, gnome and human had shared, though it was more resonant and seemed proper for this monster. It was impossible not to attend to his every word. “You will yield now, xiezjiit, or your little friend will die and we will force his flesh into your stomach.”

Ptielieren’s gaze flicked to his ward now and he forced his head to lower in a gesture of temporary defeat. The bugbear dropped Traisyelianiel and his ward crumpled, grasping his throat and coughing hoarsely. Ptielieren stood and placed himself bodily between this monster and his ward. The bugbear studied him for a moment before backhanding him such that his lip split in two places and he hit the ground hard some seven feet away. The authoritative bugbear then reached down and snapped Traisyelianiel’s thumb.

He saw this transpire as the world spun and turned black.


Ptielieren awoke to a small, inconsistently furry face studying him. He arched a brow and tilted his head in inquiry. The creature backed up and screeched something in its native tongue. Ptielieren pulled himself half up and moved a hand to his head. A chain kept him from reaching all the way up and he sighed, taking stock of his surroundings.

He was staked at the base of a massive rock facing a large cave entrance. To the side was the same cooking fire he had seen before. A goblin and a human female with mouse brown hair in a single braid were tending to the fire. He mentally corrected himself. The human female was tending the fire and the goblin was heckling her. A bit of rage at this injustice burned in his eyes.

Ptielieren cast his gaze about for his ward. He spotted him at last, along with some of the other prisoners. His ward had some kind of sling holding his lower arm immobile and a large bugbear female was holding him down while a little bugbear poked at his face. Bieyshiealelleinue and Niequesyllaine were being similarly treated while Tieregre was being roughly handled by a pair of large bugbears. Ptielieren struggled suddenly against his bonds. This had to stop; he refused to sit idly by while his compatriots were so abused. “Hey, Cowards, why don’t you pick on a creature with the spirit to strike back!” His words were in Elvish and he knew the inferior race would not comprehend a single syllable of the most dignified tongue.

They did, it seemed, understand his tone. The two larger beasts playing with Tieregre punched the elf mutt in the abdomen, dropping him to the ground to point and laugh. Ptielieren glared and shoved arcana he didn’t have the strength to control through his wrists and into the chains on each arm. The energy traveled all of one link before it shattered the metal. The shards dug into his back and side and he stood and began to stride forward.

He hit his head hard as he came to the end of the chain on his foot and pitched sharply forward, his arms not fast enough to brace his fall.


Ptielieren came back from oblivion to the sensation of liquid being forced down his throat. He sat up sharply and coughed once before glaring at the human who had held the broth-filled waterskin to his lips. It was the same mouse haired female from before. He glared at her, noting the absence of chains or collar and hating her instantly. A willing slave was beneath lowly. His rage mounted as she leaned forward with a bit of moist cloth. His hand struck out and caught her sharply across the mouth. She fell back with a hand to her lips. When she withdrew it there was a smattering of blood and Ptielieren felt a sense of superiority and justice.

As she retreated, he noted that he was at the back of the cave he’d first seen. He was no more than forty feet from the entrance but a sudden sense of desperate claustrophobia hit him. He checked his bindings and found his hands and feet were both loosely staked into the sandstone and a long lead dragged loose from his neck. He tried shooting energy through his bindings but he was tapped out. He needed to rest and eat and recover before he would be able to call his twin elements. Unless there was a thunderstorm or he was in the midst of a great conflagration, he was only as good to his ward as his martial training.

Of that he had a great deal, but it also was difficult to call on at present. He tried standing and found the bindings kept him down, in a position similar to that of a crab. It was a loose spread eagle, with enough movement to allow him to sit or squat. He could even kneel and still reach his face, but standing without a serious slump was impossible with his hands and feet staked to the stone as they were. He glared at the stakes that bored into the stone and immediately began trying to wiggle them loose. The human stared at him with wide eyes from a dozen feet away and fled to a large, vaguely female bugbear. This monster petted the human’s hair and checked her lips before striding over to Ptielieren.

The creature began beating him with an open hand. For all that a part of him knew the blows would do no worse than bruise, he felt the pain cut deep. He put his hands up in defense and tried to fight back. Bound as he was, the conditions for such struggle were less than ideal but he managed to get a few blows in before she rattled his head and began kicking him in the ribs and legs. He curled into a ball to guard his core and called her every kind of low in his native Elvish.

Another two bugbears pulled her off and she screamed at them in their native tongue. Ptielieren spat blood at the monsters. Surely these feral creatures could understand at least that insult. One said something in its native tongue and the two dragged the irate bugbear away. She said something sharp and stalked off once they dragged her to the mouth of the cave.

The two returned to look down at Ptielieren and smiled, cruelty singing in their eyes. One pulled a dried vegetable out and absently tossed it at Ptielieren’s feet as they turned away. The elf grabbed it and hurled it at the retreating figures. The two turned slowly back and looked at him before approaching, menace heavy on their forms. One said something to the other and the larger of the two paused, then grinned. He scooped the dried vegetable up, masticated it perfunctorily, and spat the mashed pulp into a hand. The other walked to Ptielieren’s far side and knelt, catching the elf by the hair with one hand and pushing on his throat with the other. Ptielieren did not bother to waste time fighting the hands, instead reaching to try and grab a dagger shoved casually through the monster’s belt.

The creature startled and caught his hand, grabbing it and the other and moving these to hold in addition to his hair. His broken arm seemed to have mended significantly in the past week but the added pressure still brought beads of pain induced sweat to his brow. The pressure returned to his throat as the other bugbear began to kneel down. Ptielieren shot a foot forward and out to catch the beast in the genitals. He felt a solid connection as the soft flesh gave under his thin boot.

The bugbear stood back, glaring with undisguised rage. Ptielieren matched him in ferocity, his eyes burning with raw hate. The other bugbear, the one behind him, changed his grip to a binding choke hold. “Be still you xiezjiit, be still or I’ll butcher that baby elf Kroorrijk brought along.” Ptielieren continued to struggle but the lack of sufficient blood flow was making him grow dizzy and weak.

When the pressure finally let up, the other bugbear had a palm full of food again. Ptielieren’s jaw was forced open and the food was shoved into his mouth. The hand clamped down and Ptielieren tried to bite anything he could reach. The bugbear behind him tightened its grip and, as the elf’s vision grew blurred, he felt the beast in front of him reach under its cohort’s arm and massage the food down his throat. Ptielieren gave one last massive struggle before the vegetable matter slid down.

This process was repeated an almost innumerable quantity of times. Ptielieren held his head high as the two finally withdrew but he felt much more exhausted than he had at the onset, his core bruised and whimpering against his pride.

The two gave a satisfied chuckle and Ptielieren felt the blush of shame start to manifest. This would not do. He tried to induce vomiting and the two turned sharply, their features growing stern. They moved faster than the elf had predicted they could and caught his mouth and nose. The smaller of the two brought its face in close and forced him to swallow the food back down. This time, once his stomach had settled, they held their pressure until Ptielieren blacked out.


Ptielieren came back to the light of a few torches as a little bugbear stepped on his foot. He sat up quickly and stared at the creature. The creature stared back. Ptielieren did not take his eye off of the little thing. It was perhaps three feet tall with large yellow eyes and a softness to its features. It was very nearly completely hairless about the face and seemed almost rubbery. He realized with a start that the little bugbears were in fact children and, thus, subject to the same protections he would extend to his little niece and nephew. He determined they must grow furry with age. Though the creature would grow into a monster, he would never forgive himself if he willingly did harm to a child.

The two of them stared at each other for a full five minutes before one of the bigger ones noticed the two at their studies. The creature barked something sharp and the little creature scurried away as though burned. Ptielieren watched it go, his eyes almost curious. The overprotective bugbear walked over and shook a larger bugbear awake. The creature wore no armor and Ptielieren marveled that it was so comfortable with its nudity. He also noted that he himself was clean in a more bodily respect and wore somewhat clean, coarse woolen garments. Someone had stripped and washed him while he was actively embracing oblivion.

The large creature stretched mightily and donned some thick leather pants and a heavy hide vest before rousing another of the creatures. The whole mess of them seemed to have just sprawled out inside the cave on various piles of branches and seemed to use their packs as pillows. Most of them slept either nude or only wore thin leather pants. The attire seemed tactically unsound, save for one crucial detail; the sod foolish enough to take on an entire den of bugbears likely wouldn’t much care that they were nude.

The thought brought dry humor to Ptielieren’s eyes. Any such fool would likely be ruled by the insanity that waltzes in when fear fails to take a stand. The fact that proper attire to accentuate and conceal was of no concern seemed a trait wholly given to the shortest lived races. The art of adornment had been mastered by his race, naturally, but even those bloodlines that had fallen from the righteous path were still capable of indecent though impressive flair. This absence lowered his estimation of his foe yet further. The depravity of the savage races knew no bounds.

Ptielieren noted that the other prisoners were chained about the neck and all pinned to a single peg much closer to the cave entrance. His ward was awake and holding his broken hand close to his chest and Niequesyllaine was staring listlessly at the cave entrance. For a hand servant, she had proven remarkably brave and he looked on her with fondness. When the kalutai had run her husband through, she had almost felled one with a kitchen knife before standing over the little Jaioeyaollaieraineilyen d’Syvaeleyne, her stance defensive. Had the raiders fought with honor, he and his might have prevailed.

The domestic slaves were mostly curled up with various bugbears. They all breathed easily and stayed snuggled in close and held tightly, many of them holding their keeper’s arms like large furry blankets. None seemed particularly guarded, particularly alert. His nose wrinkled at the thought that they might be pleasure slaves and he hardened his resolve to either escape or murder all who willingly dwelt within this cave. It was a crime against decency that they did not resist.

The two bugbears from before approached. He presumed as much as one was bigger than the other and the two shared that same easy camaraderie, though the monsters all looked nearly alike to his eye. Ptielieren crouched as much as his bindings would allow and watched the two warily. His gaze flicked to the side as the mouse haired human lit a new torch from the guttering remains of an old one and replaced it in the hole dug into the cave wall, grinding out the old flame on the cave floor. The fire was too distant for him to channel now, but he noted that the torches remained lit all through the night. He couldn’t recall but it seemed they had been lit during the day as well.

When the duo got close, one moved to his left side and the other mirrored him. Ptielieren lashed out and managed a blow on the lighter yellow one’s nose. The other slipped in and put him in that same choke from before. Ptielieren threw several elbows but the angle was wrong and his blows lacked force. He began to slowly slip into unconsciousness. When his body no longer obeyed even his most basic commands the pressure eased. A thick broth was poured into his mouth and the familiar hand clamped in place, the thumb pinching his nose closed as well.

He was force fed about two pints of the liquid, then held in a single position for about an hour, presumably to ensure proper digestion. After that point it seemed the bugbears had reasoned that retching wouldn’t cost him any nutrition. When they choked him until he was too weak to strike out before walking off, he mused they may well be right. He was too hurt to do more than roll onto his side and glare at their retreating backs.

A few hours later, the dawn showed itself and the bugbears took the rest of his companions outside. As the morning progressed they were returned, one after the other. Each time a prisoner was returned it was with serious bruising or a limp, though Jaioeyaollaieraineilyen seemed mostly unharmed for all that she was carried bodily back within. His ward, however, showed severe discoloration about the side of his face and his fellow guard could not walk on his own. That the bugbears were beating his mostly helpless companions was not surprising, though it did further raise his ire.

Every two hours, more of the broth was forced down Ptielieren’s throat. He took every opportunity to struggle and resist swallowing the sustenance, trying to induce gagging for the entire hour he was held. Despite his efforts, he felt his body regain strength, though his mind was unable to call his elements into the pool he’d trained his soul to hold for them. The regular feedings interrupted any sort of meditation he could have otherwise managed and he understood a new kind of misery.

As the day rose to full, several of the bugbears came back into the cave. The halfling and the human with mousy hair were escorted inside, as was the goblin. The goblin kept looking over at Ptielieren and sneering, but the bugbear that accompanied it kept the little monster close. Said bugbear seemed to be the larger of the two that had held him down for all those feedings but it was nearly impossible to be certain.

When all had settled, Ptielieren noted that the red-haired lass was cuddled loosely while its elderly owner slept, though she still lay with her eyes open. The goblin was pinned under a leg and fell to dreaming at once, its greyish brown flesh giving little spasms in response to said dreams. The halfling was cuddled close and the ancient bugbear who held it nestled its nose into the little man’s pale brown and blonde hair and rubbed its cheek over the man’s head.

Ptielieren glared at these captives and despised their resigned acceptance. The halfling was smiling at the nuzzling -- smiling! His scorn grew.

The late afternoon saw everyone out of the cave again, though most of his comrades were returned shortly. The only captive not returned was Natia. The human had initially been invited to join the caravan because having a few humans along would confuse their pursuit. The idea had been sound and Ptielieren had learned to respect Natia in the days leading up to the raid, and especially in its midst. She was a steady soul and more courageous than her soft face belied. Had she not been human, he might have honored her with adoption into the least station of his household.

When the spiral throne had fallen to the nobility, many of the oath sworn guardians had sought to get their wards safely out of the country, away from the constant threat of assassination. The assault on the road had been fast, explosive and performed by feral beasts with no stake in the throne, though it was still imperative that the three heirs present survive, especially Traisyelianiel d’Syvaeleyneextrepstre and Feyaodaiazoyeeniesia d’Syvaeleyne, his and Bieyshiealelleinue’s wards. Jaioeyaollaieraineilyen, for all that she was an heir, was neither touched by fate nor yet assigned a guardian. Her presently deceased nursemaid had sent her on this trek and her safety was of little tactical concern.

Ptielieren distracted his mind, watching as the two who would soon come to force broth or pre-chewed food down his throat idly chipped flakes of obsidian into razor sharp points. The throne could be reclaimed so long as even a single heir remained alive. As it stood, less than one hundred such souls lived. He could feel them pulsing, surviving. Less than a decade ago there had been nearly a thousand such souls. Now, however, the sigil on his left shoulder had changed to reveal the lesser number. Not two years prior there had been well over five hundred heirs and the lineage had still been well and truly secure. It was essential that he keep his ward from harm.

The bugbear that had held his ward by the throat the day before approached Ptielieren, flanked by the two regular bugbears. The beast came to kneel on one knee in front of Ptielieren. Its hand suddenly darted forward and caught the elf by the hair. He struggled and lashed out as best he could, his eyes narrow as he watched the creature smile and hold up a hand.

Niequesyllaine was suddenly grabbed and dragged outside the cave entrance. Ptielieren’s shackles were struck and the lead about his neck was pulled up such that he had no traction. It was a solid ring of metal but this seemed only to shield a kind of choke chain that tightened somewhat as the authoritative bugbear hefted him by the chain and steadied him. He reached up and continued to struggle fiercely as he was hauled out, his hands questing for weapons that remained just out of reach. The collar tightened further, choking down and repressing his ability to breathe. He struggled and fought, landing more than one solid blow, but the bugbear showed no sign that he had even noticed the strikes.

Finally, the lack of air caused his body to grow limp and he was lowered to the ground. One of the monsters flanking the apparent leader caught him and kept him on the very edge of twilight, easing the pressure only long enough for him to gasp for breath and for the pounding in his head to subside somewhat. He was angled so he could see as Niequesyllaine was dragged to the large stone he had hidden behind the the day before. The lass, an elf of perhaps six hundred years and attaining her very first gray hairs, was chained such that her feet barely touched the ground and her face was turned outward.

“Cease struggling, xiezjiit. If you so much as look at me wrong...” Ptielieren spat at the leading bugbear’s face, landing a dollop between his eyes. From the challenging angle and difference in height, it was an impressive shot, even if it would be vulgar to boast of such things. The beast chuckled and said something in its native tongue. He then turned to Ptielieren and smiled without warmth, wiping the glob of saliva away with a cursory gesture. “What happens now is your own doing.”

The bugbear that approached Niequesyllaine was a lanky adult female with startlingly yellow fur and a mane so dark as to be almost black. She seemed older but her movements were controlled and precise. The bugbear smiled and called out to her. “Please, Kyerrehr, let us start.”

The bugbear walked up to the terrified elf. “Heh, she smells of dahlias.” It grabbed Niequesyllaine’s hair and breathed the scent in. “Reeks of ’em. Almost as bad as the one you’ve got there reeks of pond flowers and lilac.” The woman ran a razor sharp claw over the bound elf’s abdomen, splitting the skin and parting the muscle beneath. She then slowly created an opening and began pulling the intestines out. When they were about six feet removed, she began to eat them. Niequesyllaine’s screams were almost deafening. The yellow furred bugbear ate and ate at the elf’s intestines as a surprisingly small amount of blood oozed from the wound.

Ptielieren screamed and scrabbled, trying to stop this. He struggled to no avail. The bugbear ate until Niequesyllaine stopped screaming, moving her jaws mutely. She ate until the elf passed into the next realm and still she ate, cracking the ribs and eating the lungs and heart, the kidneys and the liver. Ptielieren struggled and fought with everything he had until the core of his friend was an empty shell, the edge of her spine showing through the gaps in the meat.

As the female began pulling out individual ribs and sucking the marrow from these, Ptielieren felt himself sag against his captors. There was no training for this sort of thing. He stared at the remains and felt suddenly hollow. When his captor lessened the pressure and released him, he dropped to the stone and simply stared forward. A few of the bugbears made little comments in their vile tongue and he just bowed his head, acknowledging defeat.

Next Chapter: Learning Curve