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Hate. Seductive, powerful, all-encompassing. A blanket that wrapped its embrace around the orc, it seeped its warmth throughout his cold, dead bones. It gave him purpose of a sort. Since his transformation into a death knight, his ties to his Warchief and to his clan had been severed. Now, he lived for one thing- revenge.

^^^

Pale light filtered through the trees, softly illuminating a rider making his way through the forest. Wearing the trappings of the Scarlet Crusade, the youth could barely have been older than 20 seasons. The horse, a white stallion, walked skittishly, nostrils flared. It could sense the dark presence even before the rider saw the orc approach. As the orc came closer, fear and loathing flittered upon the young crusader's face. To his credit, he stood fast and mastering his voice, he addressed the orc.

"You have my sister, foul demon?"

Orlando of the Riht chuckled, the deep, raspy voice silencing the birds and causing the squirrels to seek shelter in their burrows. Looking behind him, he called forth a dark, black tendril of force from his hand that stretched forth and plucked a bound, young female from behind some bushes. In an instant, she was by the orc's side, shivering in fear, tears streaming down her cheek.

"I believe she is whom you seek, human?"

With a shrill cry, the crusader stood up in his stirrups and swiftly drew his sword. "Release her at once, in the Name of the Light!"

Orlando growled. He had no time for this whelp's posturing. This was a simple transaction. While it remained to be seen if the youth would live through the encounter, Orlando was eager to get on with his self-imposed quest.

"I will release her when you provide the information I seek. That was the deal, human."

The youth slowly sat back down on his horse, but did not sheathe his sword. "You ask what I cannot, will not, provide, demon."

The orc's voice lowered dangerously, "Bah, human. You were more than willing to provide me what I asked- for coin. You took my money eagerly, yet you then welched on the bargain. Only now, when I take your litter mate, do you come. I will have the answer to my question, or you both will die- in great pain!"

Blanching, the youth began to shiver with fear and rage, "You are a monster! You ask me to betray my order!"

"I ask what I asked before- that which you promised for the glittery coins you coveted and took from me! Where is the family of that murderer who called himself Vishas! Where is the family of the man who tortured and killed my brother?"

The youth knew. Oh yes, he knew. Orlando could see it in the panicked expression. A grin formed on the dead orc's features, curling his blue lips into a rictus grin of anticipation. Finally, a lead on the family of his enemy!

^^^

The day that his nephew, Sten of the Riht, had told Orlando that Vishas was dead, had been a dark one for the brooding Orc. It had taken days to come to grips with that reality. But then, his hatred and vengeance settled upon another focus. Since Vishas had taken his brother, his family, why not eliminate the last vestiges of the Interrogator's family?

So, Orlando set out on a mission of death. Over the past two months, the death knight had slaughtered seven of the family. Through bribes, threats, agents and torture, he pried names and locations of family members, and exacted brutal vengeance. But now he was on the verge of discovering the location of the most important members yet- the wife and son. They had gone into hiding, but now, a lead had come to light. And Orlando would not allow it to be wasted.

^^^

For his part, the young crusader frantically searched for a way out of his predicament. Just a few days ago, he had been approached by a peasant. The fellow had been dirty, unkempt, and in rags. The beggar was not the sort to approach one of the Order, and the young crusader had been ready to use the flat of his blade to teach it some manners, when the filthy creature had addressed him.

"You are Franklin of the Scarlet Crusade, yes?"

"How dare you speak my name, knave! Get out of my sight!"

"Ah, but kind sir, I bring you fortune. I trust you would not pass up an opportunity to gain funds that could change your recent set-back, hmmm?"

The crusader had been about to kick the peasant, but then paused. How could this... thing... have known about the other night? Other members of his order had invited Franklin to a card game. Being the new recruit, and desperate for acceptance, he had agreed. Hours later, after losing his family fortune, and much of his honor, he finally had ceased playing in shame.

"What do you offer, peasant, that I could possibly want?"

"The beggar had laughed and threw a purse of coins at him. When Franklin had opened the purse, his eyes boggled at the amount of gold. Licking his lips, the young crusader had made the mistake of his life, "What is it that you want?"

"Not much", the peasant had said, "Just the whereabouts of the late Interrogator Vishas's family- and your silence regarding this request. I will return in two days for the information."

It was only after the peasant had left that the young crusader had discovered that possessing the name of Vishas meant death. The family had been eliminated one-by-one, and it had been said that a demon stalked the family, but no one knew why. Through some family connections, Franklin had been able to discover the hiding place of the remaining family- a wife and child. After struggling with his conscience, the young crusader had decided to keep the money and capture the peasant. Perhaps there was a reward for turning in someone that might know what had happended to the family of Vishas.

When the peasant returned, The young crusader had attempted to arrest him, only to find that the seemingly old beggar easily had eluded the younger knight. The next morning, a note had been pinned to Franklin's pillow: "If you wish to see your sister alive, you will head southeast of town until you meet my master. Any tricks, and she dies."

Now, he was here, addressing not only an orc, but one that was also a death knight. There was no doubt in the resolve of the orc, nor in the orc's ability. This was evil in its purest form- something the Scarlet Crusade was chartered to fight. His honor demanded that he fight the orc, even if it was futile. But... The orc was too powerful. And his sister. What about her?

Looking at his younger sibling, he remembered the happy times when their parents were alive. Franklin and Maria had been close despite their five year difference in age. She was to be married soon, and Franklin had been saving for her dowry. Although he had lost it playing cards, the gold provided by the peasant had more than made up for it. Right now, his heart ached for her. Shivering in fear, tears flowing from her eyes, she seemed to fold in on herself.

^^^

Orlando watched the play of emotions over the knight. Cynical to the core, the death knight inherently knew that the young crusader was a coward. Now, all that remained was which tactic his cowardice would take. The pull was obviously strong to his sister. Could he abandon her and attempt to flee?

The answer came quickly. With a cry of despair, the young crusader wheeled his mount and galloped back whence he had come. With a laugh, Orlando summoned his death charger and pursued, the speed of his mount leaving no doubt that the knight would be caught.

^^^

Left alone in the small clearing, Maria felt, at first, a rush of relief. The cold that emanated from the death knight was gone, a warmth began to fill back into her body. But then, the realization of what was happening took hold. She loved her brother, despite his failings as a knight. Yet, with cold certainty, she knew he would not survive a fight with the orc. Praying that Franklin would outrun or out-maneuver the death on his heels, she looked for some way to free herself.

Suddenly, she felt a presence beside her. Shifting quickly to one side in renewed fear, she saw a figure, dressed in rags, casually sitting on its haunches looking at her. A chuckle broke from the swaths of clothing. "Never fear, girl-child, your usefulness to my... friend is at an end."

With a twitch of the shoulders, the rags fell from the figure, revealing an female elf of light complexion. Green eyes danced merrily. "My disguise is good, yes? Your brother thought I was a broken old beggar."

This was not like the stories of the elves that Maria had heard as a youth, Such creatures were not to be trusted, and many stories had them eating children. This one seemed jovial, and Maria could not help but relax- just a bit.

"Now girl, I am going to take out a knife and cut your bonds. Hold still, and I promise you won't be hurt." Stifling a small gasp, Maria watched the elf produce a blade from seemingly out of nowhere. Hands moving faster than her eyes could follow, the elf quickly cut her bindings and freed her. Whereupon, a sob did escape her as the blood rushed back to her starving extremities.

"Will...will he kill Franklin, my brother?"

The elf shrugged, "Probably. If Franklin fights well, he might be spared. But, given what I have seen, that's not something I would bet on."

The girl stood up, anger flashing in her eyes, "Then your friend is truly a monster, and you are no better. I hate you both!" Maria was proud of herself for not breaking into tears at that statement. In truth, her tears had all been shed, leaving a void of emotion. The green eyes of the elf still twinkled in amusement. "I would expect nothing less, little one. My friend and I are quite used to hate. In fact, I believe he revels in it."

"And you? How do you handle being hated and despised?"

Bitterness and irony laced her reply, "I accept it as a condition of being me." As quick as it came, the bitterness was gone, replace by the irrepressable humor that characterized this elf. "Come, girl, cheer up. You escaped death this day. When you are ready, I shall point you back to your home."

^^^

The chase lasted all of a minute, before the orc knocked the knight off his mount. Roughly falling to the ground, the knight frantically attempted to grab his sword. And then he felt it. His skin started cracking. A black, vile ooze began to fill his veins. Above him stood the deathknight, smiling as he laced the young crusader with fearsome disease.

"You have but minutes to live, young fool. I will stop the death that consumes you, but you must tell me what I want to know first."

Wailing in fear and pain, Franklin told Orlando all that he knew. As the deathknight rode away, the sobbing voice followed, "But... but you said you would stop this."

"I did indeed. And indeed I did. I suggest you go back to your home. If you survive the journey, perhaps one there can complete your cure. I give you.... one chance in five."

With that, the death knight was gone.

Authored by Stenriht. Originally published on the Obsidian Squad guildportal.com on March 16, 2009

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