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Wilderness: Book One - The Forest (Chapter Fifteen - Life and Death)

Colin Frayn
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The ogre warriors charged onwards, clubs aloft. Carek and Athena rushed up the tower as fast as they could, tripping on the wooden steps as they frantically scrambled to reach the battlements. Carek was the first to reach the top, and launched a volley of arrows down towards the oncoming horde. All three missiles hit their targets but failed to slay any of the enormous creatures. The ogres just charged onwards, unperturbed by injuries that would surely have killed a human.

The ogres advanced quickly, but soon noticed the moat blocking their path. They had been told of foundations built for a fortress, but nothing about a moat. They ran round the edge of the fort, looking for weaknesses, then retreated to the forest to find a suitable tree for a battering ram, out of sight of the archers on top of the tower.

Carek ran back down from the tower, and walked over the rope bridge to the hill fort. Athena stayed at the battlements, carefully surveying the trees. Tarok joined her, preparing his mind for the mental battle ahead. Doragon rushed round the courtyard, gathering anything he could find to further reinforce the door. He began to boil a pot of water just in case.

Tarok's preparations over, he began chanting the arcane words to one of his more recently learned spells. A misty haze appeared around the edge of the forest where the ogres had retreated, and began to float silently inwards. Smiling, Tarok descended the stairs to the tower and walked towards the main door, using his magic to reinforce it temporarily and seal it. He hoped that this would prevent the ogres from breaking it down for long enough. If the ogres broke through the fort walls then the battle would be over. The four adventurers would all surely die.

Tarok walked over to Doragon, and cast a spell on the halfling to protect him in the upcoming fight. "This should speed up your reflexes, my friend. Try to relax and breathe slowly." Tarok reached out his hand, and placed it on Doragon's head, channelling a small amount of magical energy through his own body into that of his halfling friend. He had not tried this spell before, at least not on other people. He wasn't sure how well it would work, but it was certainly worth a try. With some trepidation, Tarok lifted his hand. Doragon blinked a couple of times, not entirely sure how he was supposed to feel. Tarok lifted up a finger towards the halfling, and before he could speak, the halfling had swatted the wizard's arm away with lightning speed.

Tarok grinned. "That should work just fine!"

Next, Tarok climbed the steps to the rope bridge and walked over to Carek, who was hiding under the battlements. He cast the same spell on him as he had done to Doragon, and then walked calmly back. Finally, he enchanted Athena in a similar way and cast another spell that would protect her from falling. This was a spell that Tarok nearly always used himself for safety, but now it had another important use. Athena could surprise the ogres by jumping off the tower on top of them, landing safely on her feet. She had known Tarok for some time now, and trusted the wizard's magic. If the spell didn't work, however, it was a nasty fall. Tarok's spells weren't always infallible, but this time the wizard had a different look in his eyes. He was concentrating hard, determined to fight this battle without mistakes. Against such an enemy, even the slightest error could prove fatal.

Tarok was weakening visibly. The strain of casting so many spells in such a short time was too much for him, so he waited up the tower with Athena, pausing to regain his energy. Together, they surveyed the forest, only guessing what the ogres were planning from within those shadowy trees.

A few moments later, a great yell came from the forest in the direction of the ogres. Tarok smiled, they had obviously come across his poison gas cloud. There was a large rustle in the forest, and the ogres ran out choking. Carek and Athena fired a rally of arrows, and two managed to hit their targets, still causing no casualties. The chief walked out of the forest with a large tree trunk in his hands about four yards long and two feet diameter. He called to the other ogres to hold it, and use it as a battering ram to knock down the gate to the fort. Tarok gulped, looking nervously at Athena. "This is where the real tests begin!"

The creatures ran round to the main gate, and charged at the door with the enormous trunk. The door shuddered, but remained firm. The ogres charged again, and again the door shook violently, but again held fast. Tarok's spells were working, at least for the time being. Sooner or later, however, the spells would wear out, and the ogres would charge in. They had to be stopped before that happened. Doragon called for some help, and Athena jumped off the battlements, floating gently down to the courtyard below, thanks to Tarok's incantations. She turned back to her wizard friend to thank him, but Tarok wasn't watching: He knew the spell would work. The troubled wizard was busy working out his next line of attack.

Athena ran to where Doragon was standing beside the fire, and helped him to pick up the pot of boiling water. They clambered up to the gate as the ogres slammed the tree trunk into it one more time. There were cracks beginning to show in the bar, and they both knew that the gate would not hold out much longer. Together, they heaved up the heavy pot, and tipped the contents over the unsuspecting ogres below. The beasts yelled in pain and dropped the battering ram, running out into the clearing. Tarok's protection spells were almost gone, but he didn't want to use any more magical energy in renewing them. He had other ideas. Hopefully the ogres wouldn't try the front door again in a hurry.

Calling to Athena, Tarok signalled that the fight should start. Athena ran back up the tower, and watched the ogres roaring and charging towards the fort walls. They were going to try to batter down the side walls instead. With their enormous reach, they could stretch across the moat, even carrying a weighty battering ram. The creatures had picked up the tree trunk, and were charging towards one section of the wall. They struck it with great ferocity, and the posts shattered in the middle. Tarok's spells had not yet managed to completely convert the walls into stone, and they were still vulnerable. One of the wall posts snapped in half and two others bent inwards under the force of the blow. The wall would not survive another hit like that. Athena knew that this was her chance, so she jumped from the top of the tower into the midst of the ogres below. Carek joined in, and dropped silently from the rope bridge, attacking from the other side.

The ogres noticed the attack, so dropped the battering ram, lifted their clubs and charged into the mêlée. Carek and Athena were both astounded by the ferocity of their foes. These were specially trained soldiers, more powerful and skilful than the forest ogres they had fought before. Carek attacked first, lunging with his spear, but barely wounding his enormous opponent. The ogre then swiped at Carek with his club, smashing the poor half-elf heavily in the chest, and sending him crashing to the ground. Carek rolled swiftly out of the way, as the ogre lifted his club, and brought it smashing down from above. Tarok's 'agility' spell was already coming in useful. Carek clutched his side, breathing heavily. The ogre attacked again, and the half-elf ducked as the vicious club swung past overhead.

Athena managed to hit and wound the ogre attacking her, but was also caught by the ferocity of the creature's counter attack and was thrown backwards, scrambling to her feet quickly. Carek joined her, preferring safety in numbers as much as possible. Unfortunately, the numbers were on the ogres' side, and although they had been weakened by the group's well prepared defending, they were still more powerful than Carek and Athena in combat. Carek stabbed at his foe once more, this time managing to wound it on the arm and stepping back nimbly to avoid the powerful reply.

Athena, in one skilful move, hacked powerfully at the stomach of her foe and then parried its strike, the heavy club thudding loudly into the ground just beside her feet. It looked like all those long days practising endlessly with illusions would pay off. Another one of the ogres joined in the melee, and swung his club towards her, only missing by a hair's breadth. Two more of the creatures went to help Carek's foe. The chief and his one remaining bodyguard looked on as his troops began to take control of the fight.

Carek realised that he was overpowered and stepped back, casting a 'trip' spell to send one of his foes flat on his face in the mud. He then managed to dodge the blows of another, but was caught off guard by a third and sent painfully to the floor once more.

All of a sudden, there was a flash and a cloud of smoke to Carek's right hand side, and he felt a hand touch him. It was Tarok. Carek looked around to see the bemused ogres mindlessly hacking at thin air. Athena shouted over, "Carek, where are you?" Tarok explained, "You're invisible, now hurry - Athena's in danger. The spell is broken when you attack." Tarok stepped back and cast a 'magic missile' spell, sending the three darts at one of the two ogres attacking Athena, temporarily confusing the powerful creature. Two of the ogres saw their new target and ran to hit Tarok, but the magician vanished, reappearing at the top of the tower unharmed. Tarok loved that minor teleportation spell that he had found in Kalarr's sell book, but it only had a ten-yard range. He would work on improving that later.

Meanwhile, Carek ran around between the two ogres attacking Athena, and thrust his spear into the back of one of them as hard as he could. The ogre yelled in pain and collapsed heavily to the floor. Athena slashed the creature in the stomach with her glistening sword, and then fell back. The ogre gave out one last low growl before it finally collapsed, the first casualty of the conflict. This attack had broken the spell, and the rest of the ogres could now see Carek, standing behind their fallen comrade. They charged to attack him with their clubs aloft.

Another one of the ogres let out a yell as Doragon stabbed it painfully in the back. The halfling had managed to sneak round unnoticed, but his invisibility was also broken now. He began to run, knowing that he was heavily outclassed, but glad that he had managed to help in some small way. Tarok's agility spell helped him to out pace the ogre that was following him, and hurdle the moat in one bound, grabbing hold of a rope that Tarok had let down from the tower. Doragon scrambled upwards, and the wizard hauled him up just in time, evading an ogre's club with a nifty dodge to the left.

Athena and Carek were now mobbed by four of the remaining ogres, who had begun to grow angry at their puny foes. Athena missed with her attack, but Carek managed to hit, enraged with ferocity. Carek hit the ogre in the stomach, but then was struck painfully himself with a powerful blow to the shoulder from the side. Carek fell down to his knees feeling weak. He remembered the scroll of Kalarr; "The power of the jewel lies not in death, but in life." Carek touched the gem, and felt a warming feeling in his body, just as he had done before in the monolith. The powerful gem had some kind of potent healing power, one last gift from the wise, but unfortunate old wizard.

Carek watched as Athena bravely attacked another of the creatures, wounding it deeply, but was hit viciously from behind by another. She limped painfully out of the way and then collapsed weakly to the floor. Tarok and Doragon could only watch in horror as one of the foul creatures approached her, picked her up and hurled her at the wall of the fort. She smashed painfully into the timbers, and then fell limply into the moat. Carek looked round to see the unconscious body of his friend disappear beneath the murky waters. Enraged, he span round and caught the ogres off-guard. He hacked hard at them, slashing the face of one, and hacking another ferociously with blow after blow of his spear. He struck relentlessly, drawing a flow of dark blood from the creature's injured side. The ogre fell back, shocked by the half-elf's sudden strength. Another ogre stepped into the fray, and Carek was forced to retreat to avoid being surrounded.

Tarok saw what was going on, but was powerless. He had used up almost all his magical energy, and would not be able to summon any more without fear of doing himself some permanent harm. He knew Athena had one last chance. Bracing himself for the impact, he dived off the side of the tower and into the moat. He hit the water with a sharp shock, and managed to regain his concentration, swimming off underwater to where Athena's numb body lay. He fumbled around in the murky water, barely able to see, until eventually his hand rested on a cold sheet of metal; it was Athena's armoured gauntlet, still grasping solidly onto her sword. Tarok was running out of breath, but knew he couldn't risk going up to the surface or the ogres would surely kill him. Every moment he feared a club striking down from above, condemning him to a watery grave. He grabbed roughly onto his friend's arms, then dragged her back underwater towards the base of the tower and surfaced, gasping for breath. He called up to Doragon to throw down a rope, and the halfling quickly did so. Tarok carefully tied it to his unconscious friend, then climbed up it himself, knowing that the halfling would not be able to haul her up on his own. Together they heaved with all their might, trying to pull up Athena's limp body. Her armour weighed more than they had imagined, and even combining their strength, they could barely move her.

Meanwhile, Carek was bravely fighting off the ogres, but being pushed back all the time. He was forced to defend himself against an increasingly ferocious barrage of attacks, each one closer than the last. The four remaining soldiers were chasing the half-elf round the side of the fort, trying to surround him. Carek's reactions saved him time after time, but Tarok's magic was beginning to wear off and Carek could feel himself slowing down. The chieftain and his bodyguard were now closing in too, having decided to help their soldiers defeat the puny half-elf before returning to the fort.

Tarok and Doragon eventually managed to pull Athena up a few feet and got into a rhythm, swinging her lifeless body left and right at the same time to help them. It was then that one of the ogres turned round, noticed what was going on, and chased towards the dangling body of Athena with the intent to finish her off before the other two could heal her. Tarok saw the ogre rushing towards them and summoned one last mighty burst of strength, managing to heave Athena to safety just in time as the ogre's club smashed heavily into the wall of the tower below. They pulled her lifeless body up over the battlements, and dropped it to the wooden floor, dripping wet. Tarok and Doragon hid carefully out of view, and examined their friend. Tarok's magical energies were waning, and his body was aching and tired. He knew he couldn't summon any more power now, but he would recover if he rested for a few moments. Athena had left her crossbow on top of the tower, so Tarok picked it up. It was loaded. He stood up over the battlements, aimed towards the ogres and shot off a quarrel. The missile shot through the air, completely missing the intended target, but striking another of the ogres in the back of the neck. Tarok ducked down beneath the battlements as Carek saw the opportunity and charged at the injured creature, thrusting his spear into the ogre's thick hide twice, then jumping over the beast's falling body, and running off towards the forest. A second ogre now lay dying on the floor, but five remained.

Carek by now had realised that he would not survive for much longer away from cover. He only had one chance left, and that was to turn the odds slightly more in his favour. Dodging the ogres' blows, and fleeing into the forest as swiftly as possible, he ran towards the trees, and was soon lost in the shadows as the remaining ogres stormed after him into the undergrowth.

Carek was weak, but somehow managed to summon the energy to outrun his foes, climbing a tree and reaching a safe height before resting and casting a few healing spells on himself to rejuvenate his energies. He tried to use the Eye to heal himself once more, but it seemed that the mystic jewel had used up its powers for now. Carek was going to have to rely on his own strengths instead.

Tarok and Doragon didn't see Carek run, as they were too busy trying to help Athena. She wasn't breathing, and had only a very weak pulse. Suddenly, the ogres all charged off towards the trees, and Tarok peered over the battlements. He knew what had happened: Carek was leading the creatures away. He was leading them into his forest, where he was most comfortable and most deadly. Tarok looked back down towards Athena, then back to Doragon. Only two ogres had been killed, and four injured ones remained plus the chief who was currently in perfect health. He looked down at the lifeless body of his friend, then back to the fierce ogres pursuing Carek into the trees. He watched as the last of the creatures disappeared into the forest, and softly spoke under his breath, "Good luck my friend. Fight bravely or I fear we shall all be dead before we see another day."

Tarok turned to Doragon. "Will you look after her? I'll go back to my room and search out a healing potion. I'm sure I have something there that will help. I think I must go after Carek. He's not strong enough to take on those ogres by himself, though he might think that he is."

Doragon nodded. He respected the wizard's opinion. Carek was growing weak, and even in the trees, he was not totally safe. One wrong move and the ogres would pounce on him and they wouldn't leave him alive like they did with Athena, albeit barely.

Tarok jumped off the tower, landing softly on his feet thanks to his magical incantations. He ran towards his hut, and rooted around in his potion chest, eventually finding the jar he was after. He ran back to the tower, quickly scaled the steps and handed the bottle to Doragon. "Try to get her to drink it, a little at a time. There's no more I can do here. Good luck, my friend."

Doragon smiled, and uncorked the magical vial. "And good luck to you, Tarok. Kill a few for me!"

Tarok smiled, and then jumped off the battlements, ran across the clearing and disappeared quickly into the forest.

Carek looked down as the ogres began to enter the trees. They were clearly searching for him, not wanting to leave any survivors from their brutal attack. He drew his bow and fired two arrows into the midst of the creatures. They both struck one of the soldiers, drawing a ferocious roar and much commotion. The more that he could injure them now, the easier it would be to defeat them later. The ogre pulled the arrows painfully from his hide, and then they charged into the trees, shaking them and almost uprooting the smaller ones with their enormously strong arms. Carek jumped away through the trees, fleeing the ogres until he was out of sight once more.

After firing two more arrows through the branches, Carek climbed down into the undergrowth. He was too vulnerable up there, and besides, he needed to pick the ogres off individually, not all at once. That way he only had to deal with one attack at a time, not four or five. Carek whistled at the ogres so that they could see where he was, and then disappeared back through the trees, hiding in a sufficiently dense area of undergrowth. He took off his cloak, and threw it over on top of one of the bushes a few yards away, walking away out of sight again so that the ogres wouldn't find him.

As the ogres reached the bush, the chief spotted the cloak and ordered his group to split up into two sections. Three ogres went straight on, while the chief and his bodyguard went to examine the area to the right. Ogres weren't the greatest of tacticians, but that normally didn't matter, as their battles never usually lasted longer than a few minutes. This was different: Carek was tired of fighting them on their own terms.

Carek was splitting the creatures up. This was just what he wanted. As soon as the chief and bodyguard were out of sight, he ran over towards the other three creatures, and began throwing twigs and branches around, keeping out of view. The three ogres split up, yelling at each other in their strange, crude language.

Carek smiled from the bushes. His plan was working. He followed the ogre that was alone, carefully stalking in the undergrowth. As soon as the other two were out of sight once more, Carek dived out in an ambush, thrusting his spear into the ogre's abdomen. The beast fell over, its face contorted in pain. Carek had squeezed the juice from some poisonous berries onto the end of his spear. Enough to kill several men, or perhaps one badly injured ogre. He looked over at the pitiful creature, writhing on the floor. This was to be his revenge. Carek swiftly put the creature out of its misery. Three down, four remained.

Thirty yards away, the other two soldiers stopped in their tracks, half hearing their comrades last few painful cries. They convinced themselves that it was nothing, and then carried on walking through the trees, without seeing the shadows moving up in the trees above them. Carek was planning his next move.

Tarok had spotted the ogres in the distance. He was still very weak, his powers almost gone, but he had other weapons that he could use. He ran through the undergrowth, trying to move as silently as possible, but not really succeeding. Several branches crunched underfoot as he ran from one tree to another, sheltering out of sight of the giant ogres which he could see a few hundred yards away, hunting in pairs for his elusive half-elf friend. Tarok breathed a sign of relief. At least Carek was still alive, and it looked like he had managed to kill one of the creatures. Tarok crept onwards, desperately trying to think of a sufficiently cunning plan.

Carek looked down towards his prey. The ogres were searching around, but didn't manage to find any trace of their target. They turned to each other, argued briefly and then decided to go and find their friend again. Carek drew his bow. Yet another opportunity to wound the creatures some more. He was about to fire when he spotted some more movement back towards the fort. The ogres had heard something too, and were turning away from the half-elf and staring towards a patch of undergrowth twenty yards away. These bushes were embarrassingly far from any cover, and in totally the wrong place for anyone to hide from eight-foot tall club-wielding monsters. Carek grinned. Tarok was following him.

The ogres wandered towards the source of the disturbance, then spun round as a barrage of small flasks flew towards them from off to one side, tied together with vine and swung overhead by a cleverly camouflaged wizard. The flasks smashed on the heads and shoulders of the two beasts, dousing the creatures with oil. Suddenly, Carek saw what his friend was doing. He drew back his bowstring, readied an arrow and then concentrated on the arrowhead. It burst into flame, and Carek let the missile fly. The flaming arrow shot through the trees, striking the nearer of the two ogres, and lighting it up like a torch. The flames soon leapt onto the second ogre, burning fiercely. Tarok wasn't as foolish as he looked.

Carek jumped back down from the trees, charging with his spear towards the burning ogres. They were now rolling around in the leaves, trying to douse the flames. Carek jumped towards one of the creatures, and thrust his spear into the beast's thick hide, then again and again a third time. The ogre roared in pain. Tarok stood back, drawing a dagger just in case. Carek looked like he was handling the ogres just fine by himself.

The chief and his bodyguard had heard the commotion, and began to walk over to the scene of the battle. Carek was now locked in combat with the last ogre from the group while Tarok finished off its mortally injured comrade with his dagger. The creature had extinguished its burning clothes, but was clearly in some pain. Carek hacked with increased ferocity, and the ogre lasted only a short time. Carek was far more nimble than his large, bulky foe, and had managed to lead the creature far into the undergrowth. Whereas Carek was used to hurdling brambles, and swinging on low branches, the ogre was not, and this disadvantage cost it greatly, causing the bulky creature to stumble onto the forest floor, and seal its fate.

Just as Carek withdrew his spear from the ogre's lifeless body, the bushes behind him split open and the chief stepped through with his bodyguard. The powerful creature surveyed with pity the scene of destruction, then looked up at Carek and bellowed with rage. The chief stepped forward, and Carek attacked with his spear. His blow was stopped by a skilful parry from his opponent. The Chief's first attack was a powerful swing with his club that smashed into Carek, and sent him hurtling into the bushes several yards away. Before the chief could wound him further, Carek quickly stood up and ran away as quickly as his badly bruised legs could carry him. Tarok stood back, and hid behind the largest tree he could find. This was not a good situation. He had to think carefully, and quickly.

The chief ran after his fleeing quarry, followed by his bodyguard. Carek managed to hide from them, and climbed a tree to pick some more poison berries. Carek took the berries, and smeared them carefully over his last arrow, drawing his bow as silently as he could. He looked down at his quarry, and pointed his bow at the chief. Aiming carefully, he let the arrow fly. The bodyguard spun round, saw the arrow just as it was speeding towards his master and dived in its path. The arrow thudded painfully into its abdomen, and the bulky creature fell to the ground in agony. Carek saw what he had done, and fled back through the trees. The chief was still alive, and Carek had no arrows left.

The chief let out a roar of anger, and then set off through the undergrowth, after Carek. This time the half-elf wouldn't get away. Tarok silently crept up on the struggling bodyguard, and finished the beast off once and for all with a sharp blow to the head from a rock he picked up from the forest floor. Carek disappeared rapidly out of view, chased closely by the hulking form of the ogre chieftain, bellowing in a furious rage.

Carek began to slow down. His limbs ached, and his badly bruised legs could carry him no further. He wouldn't last much longer this way. He had survived long enough, and the time had come to stop hiding in the trees and to meet his adversary face to face. Hopefully he had taken out enough of the ogres to give his friends a chance, but he knew at least that he had done his best. He could run no further.

As Carek's feet hit the ground, the ogre was nowhere to be seen. He began to run in the direction of the fort, but before he had covered twenty yards, he saw a large figure step out of the trees in front of him, club in hand. Carek raised his spear, and stood his ground as the ogre approached. Carek's hands were shaking, the powerful creature charging towards him with a mighty roar. Before Carek could wound his opponent, a painful blow was dealt to him, and another, each sending him crashing back onto the hard ground, amidst the thorns. Each time Carek scrambled to his feet, facing his adversary once more, but each time the ogre was too strong for him, and caught him off guard. Carek was too weak to fight back, but just managed to turn to face the ogre as the giant beast lifted his club for the final blow.

Carek closed his eyes and waited, but somehow the blow didn't come. Then he felt it, an agonising burst of heat surrounding him. There was a bright flash, and a loud roar. He timidly opened his eyes once more, expecting to be in some other place off this earth, but saw the familiar forest scene, blackened by some magical conflagration. In the mist a few yards away was Tarok standing shrouded by wisps of smoke, with the dying ogre chief lying beside him. Its clothes and armour were as ashes on the floor, and a petrified look covered its face. Tarok drew an already bloodstained knife, and put an end to the evil creature once and for all, then collapsed unconscious onto the forest floor. Carek lay back down for several seconds, fighting to get his breath back, before he scrambled painfully to his feet and limped over to where the wizard lay.

Tarok was not moving. He had risked his life and summoned one last surge of magical energy through his already exhausted body. Carek knelt down, and shook him by the shoulder. Tarok groaned quietly. Carek shook him again, and the wizard slowly opened his eyes, and turned towards his fellow warrior. "Am I dead yet?"

Carek laughed. "Not just yet my friend!" Tarok smiled, and shut his eyes again. Carek reached out his hand, and summoned a small amount of healing energy to flow into Tarok's body. The wizard opened his eyes once more, and slowly pulled himself up and rested against a tree.

Tarok complimented his friend, "you've learned quickly!" Carek nodded. He lifted his exhausted friend onto his feet, and together they limped back in the direction of the fort.

The two weary heroes slowly made their way back to the fort, neither one truly able to walk without the support of the other. Tarok managed to speak once more. "Sorry about the fire. I hope I didn't scorch you too much!" Carek shook his head. "Just a few minor burns. You really should be more careful!" Tarok grinned. "I didn't have many other options. I tried to leave the ogre between you and the explosion as much as possible. That's probably the only time you'll ever be glad those beasts are so huge!" Carek laughed, then stopped as a sharp pain shot through his chest. He was badly injured, but this wasn't the first time.

As they made their way across the clearing and towards the gates of the fort, Doragon ran out shouting, "She's alive Tarok! She's alive! It's a miracle!"

Tarok and Carek looked up, to see their friend running towards them in jubilation. Then he spotted Carek, who was in quite a bad state. He called out, "Carek!" Then added cautiously, "The ogres. Are they...?" Carek nodded, and Tarok spoke for him. "They're dead. All of them." Doragon cheered, and shook his weakened friend by the hand. Doragon helped Carek and Tarok limp over to where Athena was lying, her armour dented and bloody, water still trickling from her clothing.

All three watched as her eyes twitched and then slowly began to open. She slowly looked round to see three ecstatic faces looking back down towards her, and a smile slowly covered her face. She spoke, "The ogres, are they dead?" Carek looked down at her and replied, ""Yes. Yes, they're dead. We won, Athena!"

Athena smiled again, with a painful grimace. She was badly bruised and had probably suffered some internal injuries too. Tarok suggested leaving her to rest, and telling her about the battle in a few days time when she had regained her strength.

Carek spent the remainder of the day resting too, still in a fair amount of pain from the ogres' attacks. He was going to be badly bruised for some weeks now, his limbs all beginning to ache from the harsh punishment they had suffered that day. He would try to heal himself magically up to a certain point, but he knew that it would be better to let nature take its course. Tarok was too weak to help, and went straight to bed, falling almost immediately asleep. Doragon was more than happy to wait on the injured warriors who had fought so bravely and saved the fort, and everyone in it, from certain destruction.

Athena rested in her bed for the next two days until she had at least partly regained her former strength enough to walk about the fort. Carek made sure that he spent plenty of time telling everyone about how he defeated the ogres, with Tarok's help of course. Tarok spent lots of time explaining about the fireball spell, decided to perfect it so that he could use it more effectively. He had woken after seventeen hours' sleep with a splitting headache, and could barely move for several days. That was a great risk, but he had no choice. If he hadn't summoned that magical energy then his friend would surely have died, and along with him the rest of the group too.

As a distant ogre stronghold began to wonder what had happened to their best elite troops, the four adventurers declared that this day would from then on become an annual feast day, "Victory Day" when their greatest and most heroic battle ever had been won.


WILDERNESS : Book 1 - The Forest Chapter 15 - Life and Death © Colin Frayn

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