Thursday, December 3, 2015

Mexta IV

Her battle axe gleamed along its edge. Mexta spent the morning sharpening it and preparing. The battle was nearing and she planned to trim lots of human heads off their shoulders. The human army was gathering on the far side of the field. They must have been marching over a week to have made it here at this time. They would be exhausted and easy to kill.
    On the other hand, the humans outnumbered the Brogdah Clan five to one. Not great odds, but their kind was weak compared to the broad-chested, hulking berserkers that were the Orcs. Mexta saw this battle going only one way. The humans would regret having started this war, cursing the day their king commanded them to attack the Orcs.
    Mexta stepped through the gathering crowd of Orcs, tusks held high, a twitch of a smile at the corners of her mouth. The battle would be the entire clan's victory, but her fight would be her own. She had waited for this day ever since the raid on that first human village. When she saw the Giant in battle she knew she had found a worthy foe. Someone it would be an honor to die against.
    Of course, she had no such thing in mind.
    Each of her steps radiated confidence and inspired awe among her fellow Orcs. They made way for her as she neared the fighting circle, closing the gap behind her. She was there and ready to face the man she had kept alive for the last couple of weeks. Today, the Giant would die by her hand.
    He stood in the circle armed with the longsword he had taken in his first fight. His armor was now a complete set of plate with a chainmail vest, having traded Skard's axe for the protection. Skard was pretty beat up about his loss, but glad to have his weapon back.
    The Giant was looking over the gathered group, not even the least disturbed by their yelling and growling. He was watching the gathered troops of his king. For the first time there was more than just defiance in his eyes. There was hope.
    He slowly turned to regard his challenger of the day, eyes widening as he understood. The shock was all she had hoped it would be. She had decided not to tell him that he wouldn't be facing one of the young grunts.
    "You knew I've wanted to fight you since the day we raided your village. Well, now the day has come. It's now or never."
    The Giant glared at her. He took a deep breath, lifted his sword in front of him and let it drop to the ground. "Then never. I will not fight you and you will not kill me as long as I don't fight."
    She had worried that he might respond that way. Grinding her teeth, she nodded her head to the circle's side at Gwarr. He stood tall, surrounded by his clan, wearing his scarred armor, a great two-handed sword strapped to his back. "I wouldn't kill you, but he would. He's wanted you dead since I brought you to our clan. If you don't fight me, he'll kill you before the battle for the entire human army to see."
    Gwarr grinned. He would finally get what he wanted. Mexta would hate not having had the chance to fight the Giant, but in the end Gwarr was still her Elder. It was his decision.
    She watched the Giant carefully as he processed the information and thought about his options. Not that he had many to choose from. His eyes darted across her fellow Orcs toward the human army and then back to Mexta and down at his sword. He sighed and picked it up.
    "I'll fight you." His voice was void of emotion, the strength and vigor that had built up over the last days was drained in an instant. "But if I win, I want to be let free."
    Mexta smirked at that. "If you win you'll have to kill me. This fight is to the death. Either you die or I die, there can be no other ending."
    The fire in his eyes that she had grown to relish faded. His hope of survival dwindling away. "If I kill you, your clan will kill me."
    Mexta shrugged, hefting her axe into both hands. The Giant's shoulders slumped and she realized this was not the Giant she wanted to fight against. It would not be the challenge she had hoped for.
    The defeated Giant slowly turned his body into a defensive stance. He was waiting for Mexta to attack. As she stepped forward she saw that he may have lost the fire in his eyes, but the fire in his heart still smoldered. He would fight to live, even if only for a bit longer, all she had to do was show him how serious his situation was.
    She took one slow step at a time, closing the gap between them. The Giant waited for her to strike, unmoving. Mexta lunged forward, swinging her axe over her head and bringing it down in a diagonal slash. The gathered Orcs shouted for blood.
    The Giant's eyes darted between the edge of her weapon and the movements of her body, anticipating the arc of her blow. He dodged aside, a renewed spark lighting up in his eyes, just as she had hoped.
    His sword darted out at her, thinking she had given him an opening, but she spun around with her axe and parried with a clang. Her tusks spread in a grin.
    "This is the Giant I wanted to slay." Her words were swallowed by the howls and growls of the onlookers.
    Recovering from the clash of there weapons, the Giant gritted his teeth.
    "I will not die!"
    Mexta didn't know if he was telling her, the Orcs around them or was trying to give himself strength by saying the words aloud. She didn't care. The Giant had risen and the battle blood was surging through his veins as it pulsed through her own.
    A growl built up in the Giant's throat that could be heard over the clamor of her clan. He sprung into action with speed and fury. His sword was long and nimble compared with her axe. All she could do was block the incoming blows and turn them aside with the metal haft of her weapon.
    Although Mexta was being driven back, her brethren cheered. They reveled in the action, the impending danger, the imminence of blood being spilled. Their own urge to kill would be rising and when the battle started their strength would prevail against the humans.
    The Giant repeated "I will not die!" with his onslaught. Every strike caused sparks to spring from the clashing metals. He had driven her from one side of the makeshift arena to the other, but with his next strike Mexta finally countered. She let his sword glance off the haft and drew it toward the hooked edge of the axe's blade. With a sharp twist the weapon was jerked from the Giant's hand.
    The maneuver weakened her own grip on the axe and before she could ward him off the Giant swung a mailed fist at her face. The blow knocked Mexta to her knees, but she held on to her weapon.
    A high pitched ringing sounded in her right ear. She tasted metal, seeing red as she looked up at the Giant towering over her. Deep bursts of sound pounded through the ringing. The constant roar of her clan could not be heard.
    Mexta spat blood from her mouth. Biting down on her lip, she forced herself to stand, her grip on her axe tight. It wasn't until the ringing started to ebb away that she recognized the deep sound as that of the blowing of a horn.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Rud II

A group of his brothers in arms were huddled around a cooking fire. They had caught a rabbit and were making stew. An awkward silence hung in the air as they all waited for the rabbit meat to become nice and tender. After Rud had told them not to talk about Swindon and the miracle water from the spring, a hush fell over them whenever he was near.
    It wasn't that he was disliked. They still talked to him. It was just that no one was supposed to talk about what was on everyone's mind. Him having been the one to spread the news of what Captain Bron had commanded meant that they made sure to follow the orders in his presence.
    Rud got up and stretched.
    "What're you doin'?" Erwin, who sat on the log next to him, looked up.
    "Going for a walk. Not in the mood for stew."
    "'Tis better than army rations. When's last time you ate somethin' good?"
    "Don't know, but I'm just not hungry at the moment."
    Rud waved to the lads and they grunted their goodbyes. Now that he was gone they might start talking in hushed tones, but Captain Bron couldn't expect him to always be there to put a stop to such things. He had more important things to do.
    He headed off towards camp, but as soon as he was out of sight he swerved toward the mountain side. It was going to be a long run, but he'd get to the spring and back before morning.
    He had lied to Erwin. He was hungry, but not for food. He hadn't wanted food, water or even ale ever since he took that sip from the spring. All he wanted now was more.
    He had waited a night and a day since Swindon's injury and he could wait no longer. His clothing was drenched in sweat from running, but he was in good shape and kept going. There was no need for breaks, he kept breathing strong. At this pace he would make it there a lot faster than expected.
    Three fresh graves marked the spot of the secret entry to the path. Rud came to a halt, not even needing to catch his breath. The rest of the path should be followed at a slower pace. There were many rocks and pebbles that could make you lose your footing, but Rud had no time to spare. He ran through the narrow canyon that wound through the mountains to the cave.
    His knuckles and knees were bruised from slipping several times, but he barely felt it. Once he had taken another sip from the spring the wounds would heal instantly. He entered the cave and expected to be dazzled by the springs eerie light, but instead he was surprised to see a torch and three of his comrades sprawling near the edge of the lake.
    Recognizing the bald patch on the side of  Swindon's head, he dashed over to help. With Swindon were two young brothers, Podd and Adam. All three were lying on the ground, wincing in pain with every shallow breath they took. Their faces pale, eyes unable to focus on Rud as he inspected them. Only Swindon saw him and began to mouth something.
    "What happened to you?" Rud brought his ear close to Swindon's dry lips. His breath was fowl as it wheezed from his lungs.
    "Drank... from... lake."
    Rud understood immediately. They hadn't taken the small boat to get water from the spring. They all drank from the edge of the lake. The effects were obviously quite different from those of the spring itself.
    "Don't worry. The spring water will help. It must"
    Rud got up, took every man's water flask, emptied them and then dragged the small boat that Captain Bron had left behind into the water. It wasn't going to be easy maneuvering the thing on his own, but he felt strong. Each stroke of the paddles brought him closer to the spring.
    What if the spring could not help them? The three graves in front of the mountains slipped into his thoughts, a shiver running up his spine. It had to help. It was water sent straight from the Gods. If it could not save them, nothing would.
    The trickle grew louder behind his back and he knew that he was almost there. He stopped rowing and turned to see the boat slide through the dark waters of the lake into the crystalline clear blue of the spring.
    He held up each flask, one at a time, to fill them all to the brim. The leak between the planks was worse than on his last trip, the bottom of the boat slowly filling with more and more water. It was time to get back to shore. He turned the boat around and started to slowly feel the strength leech from his arms. The black water splashed onto his scraped knees and the abrasions on his hands. Rud started to wonder if he would make it back to shore.
    In an act of desperation he grabbed one of the flasks and took a quick swig. The sensation of power returned and the slight wounds he had suffered closed up. The black water no longer mixed with his blood, allowing him to row on in full strength.
    With a thud the boat reached the shore. Quickly jumping out of the boat, Rud ran to his fallen comrades. Adam was no longer breathing, while Podd's struggled breathes sounded like a death rattle. Swindon was the only one who had managed to bring himself into a sitting position, but his breathing wasn't much better than Podd's.
    Rud gave Podd the first sip and jumped over to Swindon. They both regained their color and breathed with renewed strength almost in an instant. After that he tried dribbling some water down Adam's throat, but no matter how much he hoped for it to help, the boy was dead.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Grim IV

"He needs to get up and move around, dammit!" Grim shoved the flap to Dax's hut aside and entered.
    "Hello Grim. What can I do for you? Dax sat on an old tree stump, reading a piece of parchment he had unfurled in his hand.
    "Kruzz is as stubborn as a rock. Hell, he's a mountain. How am I supposed to get him back on his feet if he ignores me, sits there, does nothing and ends up yelling at me, telling me to leave." Grim paced back and forth in the small hut, gesturing wildly with his hands.
    Dax sighed and rolled up the parchment. "You must understand that the brood is still going through a period of shock. I agree, he should be moving around. It's not good for his muscles to be still all the time, making it harder for him to move once he does, but that's his choice. For now we must give him time."
    "Brood. You always call him that. He killed that huge beast, he's a grunt now and he should act like one." Grim's fist slammed down on a wooden chest. The pine split from the impact. He barely felt it.
    Dax stared at his broken chest with surprise. "I understand that you're upset and want to help him. You're letting your anger out to compensate the frustration of not getting through to him. Let's go outside and talk where you can't break anymore of my things."
    "I don't want to talk to you anymore. All you do is talk. Talk, talk, talk. You never get anything done." Grim turned and stormed out of the hut. He needed to cool off. He was seething with anger the way when battle rage was upon him.
    He didn't realize it immediately, but he was on his way to Worg's hut, his elder. Some deep anchored feeling of trustworthy guidance must have led him there. Every Orc grew up knowing that the elder was the wisest grunt in the settlement. If you had something troubling you, you could always turn to him.
    Yargol was guarding the hut and stood menacingly in front of the flap. He held out his hand for Grim to stop and usually he would have. Any other day he would have respected the elder's privacy and the guards task to protect the elder, but not today.
    Grim slapped Yargol's hand aside and backhandedly knocked his fist in his face. Yargol stumbled out of the way not knowing what hit him. Stepping through the flap, Grim found himself standing behind Traglok who was having an audience with Elder Worg.
    Both turned around as Yargol dashed through the flap shouting, spear poised at Grim's throat. Yargol's eyes darted from Grim to Worg. Worg's surprised look turned sour, tusks raised. He shook his head and pointed for Yargol to leave. He did so grudgingly, fire burning in his eyes as he watched Grim before leaving the hut.
    "Grim. What do we owe this surprise visit to?" Worg sounded tired. The disappointing look he had given Grim at his interruption had faded to drooping tusks and heavy jowls. He was old and he looked it.
    Grim wondered if he had been right to come here. From the look of him Worg didn't have it in him to give advice. The attack on his settlement had rattled the old grunt and Kruzz's injury had given him the rest. He was broken.
    "I came..." Grim didn't know what he had come for. Advice? For what? Worg wasn't handling Kruzz's situation any better than he was.
    "It doesn't matter what you came for. It matters that you're here." Traglok interrupted. "Grim, you and I have had our differences, but at heart we're both warriors."
    Grim wasn't too sure about Traglok being much of a warrior, but he was glad that he had spoken, giving him more time to think.
    "Worg, when we left our settlement at the Blacktop Mountains you pronounced me as our leader in battle. So far we've only run. I can't take it any longer. We need to fight back. Those bloody humans killed our mothers and our broods. I say it's time that we get our revenge."
    Worg shook his head back and forth gently. If it was possible, he looked even older than before. "Go. Do what you must. Less than a week ago I would have stopped you. I would have told you what to do and you would have listened, but not anymore. I don't have the energy to stop you. Lead those that will follow you and get your revenge, Traglok. I will not stand in your way."
    Worg sat down on the ground, cross-legged, defeated.
    Traglok grinned and turned to Grim. "Are you with me? We could use a fighter like you." After the attack on their home Traglok had said pretty much the opposite. They had fought about who should lead the Clan in an attack. Grim had been enraged, full of fury and had wanted to avenge those he had seen slain, immediately.
    Now though, he was relieved that Traglok had been given command. He wouldn't want that burden on his shoulders. Telling others to do horrible things in war wasn't easy, but being told to do so by your commander didn't make doing them any easier. Grim's anger had almost put him in a position of command, something he had been running from over the last few years.
    His thoughts about Kruzz still had his blood boiling and the prospect of crushing some human skulls was tempting, but reason won out. Grim would not let his anger drag him back to a place where he didn't want to be? "I don't think so, Traglok."
    Traglok shrugged and exited the tent, leaving Grim and Worg alone. "So if you didn't come here to support him, then why did you come?" Worg patted the ground, beckoning Grim to take a seat.
    With reason came some sort of peace. He still felt the frustration, but the uncontrollable rage had dissolved. He still wasn't sure if the old grunt would be able to help him, but where was the harm in letting him try? Grim could think of none and sat down. "I'm troubled, Elder."
    "Aren't we all? Is it the young grunt that's gnawing on your conscience the way he is on mine?" Worg's lips twitched into a sad smile as Grim nodded. "Life throws many obstacles in our way and we must find the best solution to each problem. I've lived for a long time and I've overcome many rivers and boulders in my path, but how to deal with a grunt that does not want to get better. That's new for me too."
    Grim's tusks sank. As expected, he would find no answers here. He shifted and started to get up, but was stopped by Worg's hand on his knee.
    "It's new for the both of us and together we will find a way. It can take some time, but with dedication we will get Kruzz back on his feet. I don't know how, but by Nature's Will, I know that we'll succeed."

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Bron IV

Bron looked at the flask on his desk. An ordinary flask, but the content troubled him. He'd sniffed it, given a splash to a dog to lap up and nothing had happened. Everything spoke for it being plain water, but he just couldn't shake that feeling that it wasn't. It was different somehow.
    He grabbed the flask and winced. His arm was no longer in a sling, against the surgeon's advice. It seemed he should have heeded it. He unplugged the stopper and sniffed the liquid one more time.
    It still smelled the same. Odorless. Why was he so obsessed with this damned water? He sighed and put the plug back in the flask. He knew the answer to his question. The men they had found had died of dehydration with a giant lake only feet away. There had to be something wrong with it.
     Bron slipped the leather thong attached to the flask onto a hook on his belt. He got up from his seat and took three quick strides to his door. He needed to get out and breathe. Sitting in there and thinking about all that wasn't doing him any good.
    He closed the door behind him and stepped out into the entrance of the mine. His office was no more than a hole in the mountain. The same soldier who built the boat they used on the lake had also built him a desk and a bed. The desk wasn't much to look at, but it stood. The bed creaked and was uncomfortable. He really just needed to get outside where there was fresh air.
    The men had gotten used to him and his rounds. He didn't like it when they saluted. It was better if they just kept on working, which was what they were doing now. Some of the soldiers, those that were fit enough, were training in a fighting pit they had cleared.
    As Bron passed he heard the clash of metal followed by a meaty thud. Someone screamed and several men rushed to his aid. As Captain, Bron needed to stay on top of things. He had to make sure his men were alright.
    A few brisk strides brought him to the wounded man. He was on the ground, legs jerking spasmodically, helmet dented into his skull. The man he had been fighting against had to be Tod. He was huge with bulking muscles. Tod sat a few feet away, shield and sword lying next to him, head in his hands, rocking back and forth, muttering.
    "It was an accident. The swords... they slid past each other. The hilt... it broke. I used too much force. Oh by the Gods, what have I done!"
    No one seemed to care about him. They were all surrounding their dying comrade. Bron stepped through the gathered soldiers to helplessly watch. Now he could see who it was. The man's name was Swindon and he was about to die for no reason whatsoever.
    "Captain!" Rud was holding Swindon's crushed head in his lap. He looked up to Bron pleadingly. "The water. There's something I didn't tell you."
    "What are you talking about? It can wait."
    "No it can't." He was urgent. "The water from the spring. I drank it and it healed my wound from the battle."
    Bron couldn't believe it, but his hand was already reaching for the flask. If there was a chance to save one of his men then he would take it. There was no risk involved. If it didn't work Swindon would die anyway.
    Rud took the offered flask and pulled out the stopper with his teeth. He held the lip up to the dying man's mouth and slowly let the water trickle in. With his other hand he propped up the head and slowly removed the dented helmet.
    Blood flowed freely over Swindon's face, but when his head was free a bald patch with pale white skin could be seen where his skull should have been caved in. It was a miracle. His legs stopped twitching and his eyes blinked, looking back and forth at all the people around him.
    "What happened? Why am I on the ground?"
    Nobody spoke. Bron had no words for what had just happened. Everyone continued to stare at their comrade in disbelief. The drawn out silence was slowly being broken by whispers. Bron heard his men mumble about the water and the spring. Questions were arising to which the soldiers expected answers, but he had none.
    He looked at Rud who was trying to explain to Swindon what had happened. Rud had known. He had drunk the water against Bron's orders. Bron had to do something and quick. The men were becoming more uneasy by the second.
    "Alright men. Back to your posts. Get Swindon to the surgeon to have him looked at." Rud helped him up. "Not you, Rud. You're coming with me."
    The soldier nodded and followed as Bron turned to go back to his office. They strode through the camp and when they were inside, Bron quickly shut the door and confronted Rud.
    "Tell me all you know."
    "I already did, Sir. I'm sorry I disobeyed your order, but there was this uncontrollable urge. I was fascinated by the spring the moment I set foot into the cave. When I had the chance to drink from it, I didn't hesitate." Rud stood rigid, arms behind his back, chin up.
    Bron paced back and forth in front of his man, sighed and took a seat at his desk. "How do you feel now? Anything unnatural? Sickness or dizziness?"
    "No, Sir. I haven't felt this healthy in a long time. I think the spring is a gift from the Gods."
    Bron tapped his fingers on the desk. He looked up at Rud, who was resolute and burning with vigor. There was a spark in his eyes. "You're dismissed."
    "Yes, Sir." Rud turned to leave.
    "And no talk of the spring or of the Gods. I don't want this to get out of control."
     A curt nod and he was out. Bron hoped he would keep his mouth shut, but even if he did, twenty other men saw the miracle. He didn't know what really happened. Was it the Gods or some kind of magic. It didn't matter. Bron didn't have enough information to know how safe it was. He needed to find out more before deciding what to do.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Skard

Skard twisted his hands around the hilt of his battle axe. Today was the day. His day to prove himself. He would succeed where the others had failed. Every day, since the Brogdah Clan went to march to war, one of the younger grunts had to challenge the Giant. And every day the human won.
    Not today though. Today Skard had challenged him and he was going to beat him. He was sure of it. He heaved the axe onto the plate mail on his shoulder. He was more used to wearing a leather jerkin, but a chain mail vest and plated shoulder pads and bracers were the safer choice, considering the longsword the Giant had taken from Borkin.
    After every fight the Giant claimed whatever he had managed to take from you. He now had a longsword, a leather cap, an iron gauntlet and a shield. With every day and every fight he became more daunting as an opponent, but Skard wouldn't let himself be intimidated. There was no way the Giant would be taking his beloved battle axe.
    "You ready, youngin'?" Mexta stood between him and the Giant. A crowd had gathered, building a circular fighting pit around them. Everyone was excited to watch the daily spectacle before they had to pack up and go back on the march. Even Elder Gwarr was among the viewers, although he didn't look pleased.
    The rising sun glinted off the sharpened edge of Skard's axe. He scrunched up his face and snarled at the Giant. The human didn't react. He had a solemn look, but there was a glint in his eye that spoke of wildness. He would do whatever he had to to survive.
    Skard didn't have to worry about his own survival. Mexta's deal with the Giant was that each fight could be his last. Every grunt had the right to kill him. He on the other hand had to beat his opponent and leave him alive. If he killed anyone it would be his own death sentence.
    Skard stuck out his tusks in a wide grin. He had studied the Giant in each fight and knew his strategy. He was always defensive and careful. He waited for the grunts to strike first and then when they gave him an opening he would defeat them. Skard wouldn't let it get that far.
    Mexta roared for attention and signaled for the fight to begin. Skard was overcome with yearning for glory and charged with determination. He'd attack the Giant so fast he wouldn't have time to look for an opening.
    His feet stomped the ground, his muscles burned and his eyes widened as he saw the Giant do the same. Too many thoughts raced through Skard's mind to follow. The Giant never charged, why was he doing it now? The whole clan is watching. Should he stop or try to evade the human? He had to win.
    His thoughts didn't matter. There was no more time to react and the two heavy combatants screamed for blood as they clashed together. Skard swung his axe, wedging it into the Giant's shield, his feet carrying him onward. The Giant delivered a painful blow to Skard's head with the flat side of his sword as his own strides brought him crashing into the grunt.
    Both were knocked to the ground in a tangled heap. Skard had lost hold of his axe and a long gash over his left ear was gushing blood. The Giant struggled with the straps of the now broken shield. The crowd erupted in a bloodthirsty uproar.
    Skard was half blinded by the blood covering his eye. This was not going as he had planned. He wanted to think about what to do next, but his body was forced to react on instinct as the Giant once again lashed out with his sword. The thick metal of his bracer blocked the flat side of the blade just in time to stop the blade from knocking him senseless.
    His legs were still tangled with those of the Giant and he kicked him where it hurt. The human howled with pain and swung his sword anew. This time with the sharp edge coming dangerously close to cutting off Skard's hand below the bracer.
    Luckily, he rolled to his right and the blade only scraped across one of his shoulder pads. The onlookers howled in outrage while others grunted in excitement. They were enjoying the show while dread started to sink into Skard's stomach.
    He scrabbled away from the Giant on all fours and managed to get his hand on his axe once again. He turned just in time to see the human get up and swing his blade downward. It caught on the haft of the axe as Skard lay on his back and held the weapon above him with both hands.
    With a twist he made the Giant's sword slide off to the side and the human went off balance. Quickly Skard got up onto his feet. Breath rushed in and out of his lungs. This was his moment. This was his chance. He heaved the axe up over his head and brought it down with a crushing blow.
    The Giant dashed forward, under the falling axe. With all his weight he rammed into Skard and lifted him off the ground. Together they came crashing down, the axe falling from Skard's hands and his breath bursting out of him.
    When he came to, he was on the hard packed earth. The crowd was a loud incoherent jumble all around him. He could only see through his right eye. The Giant stood over him, a smile on his bloody lips. Skard's beloved axe in the human's hands, the sharp edge hovering over his neck. The fight was over. Skard had lost.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Small John IV

"You have a shield. Use it!" Morrison's eyes were fixed on Karl as he fought against Graham. Graham had the upper hand as he was already an experienced soldier. Karl didn't have an easy time trying to dodge or block the oncoming blows.
    Small John couldn't blame him not wanting to get hit. He was still nursing his own aching shoulder after having taken a beating from Hugh, another trained soldier. Unlike Karl, he had made use of his shield, but Hugh's blows were so hard that his arm was still numb. Karl probably didn't want to end up the same way.
    "That's enough." Morrison stepped between the two fighters. He stepped up to Karl and grabbed the rim of his shield and tugged it upward into the right position. "Hold it like this. If an Orc tries to hit you, block it. You'll live longer."
    With a slap on the shoulder Morrison sent Karl back into the ranks. "Graham, well done. If you still got some fight in you, I've got someone who needs another round." His eyes wandered across the new recruits and settled on Small John.
    He had to be kidding. Small John was sick and tired of being beaten. He wanted to learn and get better. He wanted to become one of the best who could fight several Orcs at once, but that future looked dim. He felt weak and small compared to the soldier's like Hugh, who still had a big grin plastered on his face. He didn't move from the ranks.
    "John, you don't want to train?" The Guardian's jaw clenched as he ground his teeth. "Well, that's too bad, because the Orcs are coming, if you want them to or not. So get up here and fight! You still have a lot to learn and Graham's going to teach you."
    Small John suppressed an indignant sigh and tried not to wince as he rolled his shoulders. No reason to show them more weakness. He picked up his practice sword and shield, then went to face Graham. The soldier was smiling. Unlike Hugh's, it looked like a genuine friendly smile.
    "You're tired. Let's pretend you're in a battle. You've survived several clashes, but now you're losing strength. You might lose your life, but for now you still have to fight." Graham dropped his shield to the ground and looked toward Morrison. The Guardian nodded. "Come on, drop it. You'll have less protection, but more energy to wield your sword. What's the use in battering your shield anyway? We already saw earlier that you can use it."
    Was that a complement? Small John dropped his own shield and tightened his grip on the sword. Graham slashed the air diagonally in front of him. "I'm going to attack you like this. One stroke to your left followed by one to your right. Parry them."
    Small John let out a deep breath. He had expected Graham to just come at him the way Hugh had done, but he was actually taking time to teach him something. Morrison had turned his back to them and was talking to Karl. The pressure of the Guardian watching faded and he tried to prepare.
    When the first blow came Small John lifted his sword and stumbled backward from the impact. He kept his sword up and dug in his heels to prepare for the second attack. Graham swung his blade at his right, but not the way he had shown. His blow didn't connect with Small John's block, it came from the side and hammered into his ribs.
    Small John doubled over and gasped in pain. He was down on one knee, holding his side. What was that for? He tried to catch his breath. "I thought you were going to swing diagonally."
    Graham held out a hand. "I also told you to parry and not to hold up your sword to block the blow you knew was coming. You need to learn to trust your instincts and act upon what you see and not what you are told. An Orc would have taken the chance just like I did, but he would have hit a lot harder."
    Small John grasped the offered hand and was pulled back onto his feet. "An Orc wouldn't have told me how he would attack."
    "True, but you need to learn what to expect in battle, not what to expect int the training yard." Graham took a few steps back and went into a defensive stance. "Now you're also going to have to work on your footing. My first strike almost knocked you down. That can't happen in battle or you're dead. Attack me the way I attacked you and you'll see what I mean."
    "Alright." Small John shook his shoulders to loosen them up and suppressed the ache in his ribs. He strode toward the soldier and swung his sword diagonally at Graham's left. It was blocked. He didn't even budge.
    Small John could still feel his arm shaking from the clash of steel, but he drew his sword back and attacked Graham's side horizontally, the way he had done to Small John. Graham easily blocked the blade and took a side step, his own sword swinging at Small John's head. It was more instinct than anything else that allowed him to stop the oncoming blow. He was breathing hard, waiting for the next attack to come, but Graham had already taken a step back.
    "Good job. Lesson learned." Graham looked to Morrison, who had stopped training Karl and had watched the whole fight.
    Morrison's brooding stare was focused on him. The corners of his lips slid upward in a hint of a smile. "Yes, good job. Now do it again."

Monday, August 3, 2015

Kruzz V

Kruzz opened his eyes. He was in a shaman's hut. Herbs were burning next to him. His vision blurred as he moved his head. He wanted to get up, but he didn't know how to tell his body to do so. Someone sat next to him on his right.    "Hey there little grunt." Dax's voice was strong and reassuring, but also worried.
    "What happened? Why am I here?" Kruzz tried to lift this head and focus on Dax, but he didn't have the strength for it. His right hand pressed against the slab of rock he was lying on. He didn't even feel his left hand and thus couldn't manage to push himself up into a sitting position..
    "Calm down, Kruzz. You need to rest. Just lay still. Try to sleep some more."
    He gave up and lay down. He didn't have the strength he needed. "I feel like I've been sleeping for too long. What happened?" Kruzz slowly lifted his right hand to rub at his eyes. He still couldn't move his left.
    "You killed a big creature on your Hunt." Dax smiled.
    Memories slowly started to resurface. He remembered the fight. He could feel the pain in his left arm, where the creature had cut a deep gash... Kruzz turned his head to look down at where his left arm should be. All he could see was the shoulder and a bit of his arm ending in a stump.
    Now he remembered the screaming as they cut into him. He wanted to shout out in horror as the realization set in. Dax put a hand on Kruzz's right shoulder and squeezed.
    "I know, my friend. I know it is hard to take."
    Kruzz shifted to get the older Orc's hand off of him. "How could you know? Did you lose a limb?" Tears came to his eyes unbidden. He wanted to get up and scream, throw a tantrum, but he didn't have the energy for it.
    Dax lowered his gaze and let his hand drop away. "No. I haven't experienced what you are going through, but I hoped I could help you gather strength in this hard time."
    Kruzz turned his head to his left, away from Dax. His lips pressed together in an act of silence. He didn't want to see anyone at the moment, but now all he saw was his stump, so he shut his eyes.
    A rustling came from behind him as someone entered the hut.
    "Hey there, Kruzz. You're awake!" Grim's rumbling voice awoke something within him. Lately, Kruzz had been telling himself how he wanted to be just as good a fighter as Grim. As strong and as fearless. That could never be now.
    Why did this happen? What would they be able to do about it? Nothing!
    Kruzz opened his eyes and turned to the two of them. "Go away! I want to be alone." Tears leaked down his cheeks as he snarled at his friends. They couldn't help him. No one could.
    "Now look here, Kruzz." Grim grabbed a hold of his shoulder. The one that still had an arm attached to it. "Things may look bad now, but as soon as you've recovered and the shaman says you can get up. You and me, we can spar and work on fighting with one arm. I'll teach you all I know. You're a grunt now and you should learn to fight like one." His tusks rose up hopefully.
    Kruzz sniffed and turned his head away from his friends, looking straight at the ceiling. Under his breath he said, "what's the point."
    "Maybe we should let him rest some more. Give him some time." Dax sighed and got up from his seat.
    "You said that he needs to know that..." Grim turned on Dax.
    "Yes, but he needs some time to digest this first. Let him rest and we'll come back soon." Dax started to move toward the hut's flap.
    Grim smiled down at him. "You'll see. Once you have your strength back we'll still make a warrior out of you. It'll just take some more training."
    "What's the point!" Kruzz yelled. "Stop wasting your time with me and leave."
    "But..." Grim's tusks sank and his shoulders fell.
    "Get out!" Kruzz's throat burned and all the energy he had was drained out of him. He just wanted to be alone. Be alone and sleep. Forever.
    "We better go." He could see Dax out of the corner of his eye, coming back to lead Grim out of the hut.
    "I tried. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I thought I could make him look forward to training. You know? Now though, I don't know if I'll be able to get through to him. What if he never lets us help him?" Grim's voice trailed off as they walked further away, leaving Kruzz alone.
    Broken and alone.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Rud

Rud entered the cavern.
    He had run up ahead to see what it looked like without a torch. He wasn't disappointed. The lake was more than a hundred paces across. The water pitch black, but at the far end of the cavern a silvery light spilled from the ceiling, trickling down into the lake.
    There was something divine about that silvery stream of water. If not from the Gods, it had to be some kind of magic. Rud longed to touch it, maybe even taste it. What would it be like?
    "Come on, men!" Captain Bron entered the cavern with a torch and like that all of the wonder was stolen from the cavern.
    Rud squinted and tried to see the silvery water, but all he could make out was a faint shimmer. He could still hear it trickle in the distance, but that was all.
    "Get the boat into the water." Bron directed the four men behind him. "I need two of you to row me over to the spring."
    "I'll do it!" Rud tried not to sound too eager, but there was no way he was going to give up the chance to be up close to it.
    Bron rose an eyebrow at him and smirked. "Alright! Rud and... Farley. You three take the stretcher and get those bodies outside. Bury them in front of the cliff entrance. That will make this place easier to find."
    The men heaved the small boat into the lake and got to work. Farley stayed put and kept the boat steady for Bron to climb aboard. Rud was about to get in as well, when the captain turned.
    "And nobody drink from the lake. I don't care how thirsty you are. If you don't have anything left in your waterskin then wait. We don't know what killed those men and I don't want it to happen to you as well."
    "What about the spring?" Rud looked at Bron hopefully.
    "I don't want to take any chances. We'll take a sample, that's all."
    Rud got aboard and Farley pushed them off. They each had a paddle and they made their way across the lake at a steady pace. Rud's left arm burned with every stroke. He had been wounded in the battle, but until now he had been able to rest. Each strenuous pull made him feel the stitches strain against each other. He hoped they wouldn't tear.
    Bron held the torch up high. It's flickering light reflecting off of the water. Rud could see the shimmering grow closer. His sweaty palms grasped the paddle and he rowed on. They were getting closer with each stroke.
    "Whoever built this boat did a half-assed job." Farley grunted with another stroke. "My boots are getting soaked."
    Rud looked down into the bilge frowning. He hadn't noticed the water sloshing back and forth. his boots were also wet and now that he was paying attention he started to feel the water seep into them.
    "We couldn't expect expert craftsmanship. Just keep rowing. It will get us there and back." The captain just kept on looking ahead toward the spring. The leak was no more than a slight nuisance to him. Rud thought they must be thinking the same thing. Only the spring in their minds.
     They kept on rowing. The ache in his arm becoming worse. The only thing that stopped him from complaining was that divine glow. They were no more than fifteen feet away and he could see how the shimmering water from the spring made a puddle within the black water of the lake. It was as if the two fluids repelled each other.
    "Slow down now. I don't want us to go through it. I just want to get close enough to have some of it drip into my flask." Bron eased himself forward over the prow.
    Farley and Rud slowed their rowing and tried to bring the boat to a gentle stop. the captain stretched his hand, holding the flask, out toward the silvery water dripping down from above. He was still a foot short.
    "A little bit closer."
    Rud and Farley stroked once. It was more than enough and the captain drew back quickly before the spring could trickle onto his arm. He carefully held out his flask and let it fill up. Rud longed to stretch out his own arm, just to feel it. He was so close now, he couldn't just turn back without at least risking it.
    "That's enough. Take me back to shore." Bron put the stopper on his flask and hid it away in his pocket.
    Farley started to turn the boat around and the captain was already looking to shore. Now was his only chance. Rud swiveled his paddle around to help turn the boat and when neither of the others could see he reached out and cupped his hand to catch some of the spring water. Without another thought he drew his hand to his mouth and drank.
    He shouldn't have acted so quickly on impulse. He should have thought about it more, but as he felt that fresh water slide down his throat his only regret was to not have savored it more. It was over and done with and he hadn't even been able to really enjoy it.
    As they rowed back to the entrance of the cavern, Rud thought about what he had done. He didn't quite know what he had expected, but he definitely thought that there would have been more to the spring than just plain water. Now that he had tasted it and nothing special had happened he wasn't so sure.
    It wasn't until they reached the shore and he jumped out of the boat to push it out of the lake that Rud noticed something. His arm wasn't hurting anymore.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Zir II

Zir sighed as he looked up the rocky hill. The trek to the Brogdah Clan was always a tiresome one. He could of course take a detour around the hill, but it would take a lot more time. He did not want to shy away from the obstacles nature put before him.
    He took his firsts steps up the hill. Small rocks dug into the callouses on his feet. Uncomfortable, but no more than a slight nuisance. The wound on his foot was already healing well. The hillside gradually sloped upward, making it more difficult to walk and more necessary to climb.
    Zir's hand took hold of a bad stone and it slipped from his grasp. A shower of some small and a few bigger rocks followed. They clonked off the bark on his arms and shins. A few bits landed on his head, but his thick hair cushioned the impact.
    Slowly, he made progress and finally managed to reach the top of the hill. The descent wouldn't be much easier, but he would make it. Nearby, he could make out the smoke of the Brogdah settlement. It wouldn't take much longer to get there.
    Zir didn't much relish the thought of talking to Gwarr. He was young and hungered for battle. It would diminish his honor to even consider peaceful actions. So why was Zir even wasting his time to go there? The same reason as always. To do nature's bidding.
    As he reached the clan's boundaries he was surprised to not be overrun by the little broods. Instead, he noticed a big commotion in the center of the settlement. A big circle was made by onlookers, shouting and screaming in delight.
    Zir squeezed through to watch what was happening. There was a human in the circle with a knife in hand, a giant of a man. Across from him a young grunt stood with a blade that shone brightly in the sunlight. The human was large, but he did not stand much of a chance. His small knife was nothing compared to the grunts sword.
    Zir tried to shout into the masses. This wasn't a fair fight. Where was the honor in this? It was the slaughtering of a human for entertainment. He could not let this happen. He shouted and tried to squeeze through the masses, but he wasn't heard and no one would let him pass to the coveted front where it was easiest to see.
    As Zir tried to get some attention, there was a loud gasp from the crowd. Zir looked up with dreaded anticipation. The grunt had charged and even though Zir had been sure that the human would be slashed down, he was wrong. The human wasn't only tall, he was strong too. He caught the grunt's sword arm in one hand and slashed across the grunt's leg with his knife.
    The Orc cried out in pain and punched the human with his free hand. Zir winced as the rest of the crowd whooped in excitement. The human still stood and began to twist the grunt's sword arm. He let his knife drop and used his free hand to punch the Orc in the face. Over and over again.
    The grunt swayed and dropped to the ground. The human had somehow taken his sword and was now holding it over the Orc. The sharp edge glinted in the sun as the tip came to rest on the grunt's throat. A hushed silence spread over the gathered crowd.
    The human had a bloody nose from being punched, but he smiled and removed the sword from the Orc's neck. He swung the blade back and forth, testing it's balance. "I think, I'll keep this." He said in the human tongue. Then he went to the stake in the middle of the circle, rammed the sword into the ground and sat down next to it, resting his back against the pole.
    Zir didn't realize how he had been holding his breath and slowly let it all out. The crowd started mumbling excitedly. Some went to help the grunt up from the ground while others just talked. No one went near the human, except for one.
    Zir recognized Mexta and decided to join her. Maybe he would be able to find out what that was all about. She was kneeling next to the human, grinning. As Zir approached she looked up.
    "Zir!" The smile on her face faded. "Does Gwarr know you're here?"
    "Not yet." He nodded toward the human. "What was all that about, just now? I was worried the clan had become prone to public slaughtering."
    The human dabbed at his bloody nose and looked up curiously. "What's he saying?"
    "I wanted to know why you were fighting the grunt." Zir answered in the human tongue.
    Mexta's tusks rose in a grin once more. "He just won his first fight. If he fights every day and wins then he stays alive. It's a deal I've made with Gwarr. Otherwise the Giant was going to be killed before the big battle. Human troops are already headed our way."
    Zir scowled. "Sounds like there isn't much time. I better talk to Gwarr." He started walking to the elder's hut, but turned around once more. "I also don't like this whole idea of the human fighting for his life. I'll have a word with you about that later."
    Mexta waved him off and he continued on his way to Gwarr's hut. He was pretty sure his talk wouldn't get him far, but he had to try. Gwarr was hungry for war and wasn't going to let an insult to the clans go by.
    A big grunt stood before the elder's hut. He smiled, recognizing Zir, but for the life of him he couldn't recall the grunt's name. He stuck his head into the hut and came back out.
    "Gwarr will see you." He stepped aside and held the flap open for Zir.
    "Thank you." Zir entered and wasn't surprised to see Gwarr polishing his sword. He always liked to present an intimidating picture.
    "Zir! You want to stop me from going to war?" He growled.
    "It's not what I want. The Earth wants that. I'm only speaking on its behalf." Zir straightened his back and prepared for his speech.
    "Tell me. What will happen if I don't do as you ask? If I go to battle the humans and kill them? What will nature do?" Gwarr put his sword aside and picked up an axe to clean next. His tusks widened into a grin.
    The air went out of Zir. "I don't know. I just know it won't be good. Not for us and the humans as well. Not for anybody." How could he make anyone see reason if he couldn't explain the consequences. "War just isn't the answer. Do you see no other way?"
    Gwarr's smile wilted. He put his axe down and got up, placed his hand on Zir's shoulder. "You are wise, brother. You know many things that I do not, but you have also forgotten things that I have not. We are Orcs and if there is one thing we are good at, one thing that we were meant to do. It is war."

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Serah III

"Are you sure that you feel strong enough, my Princess?" Serah was worried, watching the frail girl climb the steps to the crenellations.
    All Serah had wanted to do was take a short walk in the gardens. It did the poor girl good to breathe the fresh air, but within minutes Princess Theowenna exclaimed her delight in hearing the new battalion training in the courtyard behind the garden walls.
   The Princess stopped going up the steps and turned around to look Serah in the eye. "I haven't seen Small John in days. I want to see how he's getting along."
   And that was that. She turned around again and kept climbing the steps. Serah followed, sweating from her brow. She watched each step that the Princess made, her hands always ready to dart out and catch the girl if she faltered.
   Serah sighed with relief when they reached the top. The Princess was breathing heavily, but she could now lean against the parapet and rest while watching the soldiers train below.
   "Can you see him?" The Princess scanned the gathering of men. There were five groups. Each group had a Guardian as a leader, except for the first. That was lead by Captain Jason March.
   Serah recognized him below immediately. Not by the wavy gold sheen of his hair, but by the arrogant stance he always had. Feet apart, elbows outward and fists pressed against his hips as if he were the hero come to save the day. She still remembered him running around the courtyard as a little boy. It was tragic what happened to the boys when they grew up.
   "Oh! There he is! Small John! He's right over there!" The Princess was pointing and leaning over the parapet with such vigor that Serah was frightened that the girl might fall over and drop off the wall or that she would collapse at any moment, having spent all the energy she had.
   "I see him, Princess. Now calm down. No need to get so excited." Serah held on to Theowenna's waist to make sure she would stay upright. The Princess kept pushing herself to get a better look, but at least she had a good hold on her.
    "He looks magnificent. Sword and shield in hand. He's taller and stronger than any of the others below."
   Serah couldn't help grimacing, but the Princess wasn't paying attention to her anyway. The boy, John, had nothing but a tourney sword and a battered shield in hand. He was wearing padded linens and looked much like the others. Small and inexperienced.
   Sure, they were high up and everyone looked small, but he definitely didn't look any taller or stronger. Especially, compared to the man he was about to fight against. Now that was a man. A soldier. He was wearing mail and armor and had to be John's Guardian.
   "I think it best that we return to your rooms, Princess. I wanted you to get some fresh air and not to become breathless from excitement."
   "Oh, Serah." The Princess pouted. "I just want to watch Small John a bit more. I think he is about to fight. Look he's raising his sword."
   Serah winced as John's attack was easily blocked and he himself was knocked to the ground by his Guardian's shield. He lay there dazed until some of his comrades helped him back to his feet.
   The Princess was outraged. Seemingly, lost for words she stood there watching until she finally let out a little huff and turned away. "I can't believe how that man treated him. No one should be allowed to beat Small John so."
   Serah grabbed ahold of the Princess's arm to guide her back down the stairs. "My Princess, John is being trained. He needs some harsh lessons so that he can learn. He is only beginning to learn the way of the sword and shield. Soon he will have made much progress and I'm sure if we come to watch him again, he will be the one knocking another to the ground."
    "You think so, Serah?" She looked at her, hope shining in her eyes.
    "Watch out where you're going now!" Serah reprimanded her and held on tight to her arm.
    The Princess looked back to her feet and kept taking one step at a time.
   "Yes, I'm sure he will get better." A dark thought crossed Serah's mind.
   John would have to get better and the others too. They would all have to get better soon. The King's army was already on its way to fight the Orcs. The new battalion was going to be sent next, but would they be ready soon enough.
   "Oh, I can't wait to see him again. Won't it be possible to have him visit me again?"
   They reached the bottom and Serah started leading the Princess through the garden, back to the palace. At a slow pace, not to exhaust the poor girl.
   "I honestly don't know if he has the time. John will be training as much as he can. He has to, to get better. You want him to get better, you said so yourself. So, i don't think he'll be able to visit you anytime soon."
   The Princess's smile wilted. The poor girl wanted to spend time with her friend, Serah understood that. She even understood that John might mean more to the Princess than just being a simple friend, but he was now a part of the King's army. It wasn't suitable for them to spend time together.
   Serah took the Princess back to her chambers and brought her to her bed. It had been an exciting walk. She needed to rest now. Maybe she could at least spend time with John in her dreams, if not during her waking hours.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Dax II

The shaman's hut was filled with herb smoke. Dax could tell that some of the herbs were being burned to dull the senses, but others just made the room smell better.
    Kruzz still lay on the slab of rock and Vorg was seated next to him. A frown was on his face as he studied the putrid flesh of the young Orc's arm. The brood was unconscious. Dax should be calling him a grunt, he had proved his strength after all, but seeing him in such a weak state reminded him of how young Kruzz still was.
    Vorg looked up at Dax, eyes red and brow furrowed. Even with the plugs in his nose he was bound to inhale some of the herbs. He should go out and get some fresh air, but he had been trying to help Kruzz any way that he could. To no avail.
    "I've dissected the creature he killed. It's poison glands were mostly full, but I couldn't make an antidote in such short time. It's spreading too fast."
    Dax clasped his hand on Vorg's shoulder. "You have done all that you could. Nobody expected more."
    Vorg shuddered. "I'm going to have to take his arm off. At least that way he'll have a chance at living. If I don't do that the venom is bound to spread all the way to his heart."
    Dax sighed. Poor Kruzz. It seemed like he was going to have a bright future ahead of him. This changed everything. Maybe he hadn't been ready for the Hunt. But who could have foreseen such a huge creature as his animal. What was the meaning of that beast coming to him for the Hunt?
    "I better get things ready. The sooner we do it the better. I had just hoped that my treatment would work, but it's too late now." Vorg got up with a grunt and headed towards the flap. "I'll need your help when it's time. You and that other big fellow. Grim was his name?"
    Dax nodded. "I'll go and get him."
    They both left the hut, leaving Kruzz behind.
    It was still early and the sun blinded him when he stepped outside. Dax went to look for Grim in his tent, but he wasn't there when he looked inside. He took a look around the fighting pit where some of the grunts were training and some of the broods were watching and imitating them. Grim wasn't there either.
    Nor was he bathing in the stream. That would surprised Dax anyway. Grim probably hadn't bathed even once in the last month. It was far more likely to find him where there was something to eat. But even the burning meat on the spit hadn't lured the big brute over.
    There wasn't much else he could do, but ask around. Someone must have seen him. Who better to start with than their elder. Elder Worg was in his hut, but he wasn't alone. Dax was asked to wait outside by his guard while he went in to ask permission for Dax to enter.
    The guard came back out and grunted with a nod towards the flap. Dax went inside and was surprised to have finally found Grim, who was standing next to where Worg sat. "There you are. I've been looking for you."
    "Then you've heard. Your shaman wants to take the little grunt's arm off." Grim scowled. "I guess it's better than letting him die, but what will his future hold now. You said the Hunt had meaning. What does this outcome say about Kruzz's fate?"
    Grim's eyes were ablaze. Not with hatred for Dax, he could see that. It was frustration and anger at the world. Maybe there was more to Grim than he would have thought. Not just a lazy, strong, brute who did whatever he wanted. He genuinely cared for Kruzz. That was clear.
    Worg's head sagged on his chest and he looked old and weak. Not like the strong leader that a clan should have. "It's my fault. I thought he was ready. I thought he had greatness within him. The Hunt was going to be his first triumph of many more to come. My plans for him have failed."
    Dax watched Grim grind his teeth. He probably wanted to yell at his elder, but he had too much respect to do so. Did he think it was Worg's fault? Worg was taking the blame, but that didn't make it true. What the two of them needed was something to keep them from despair. They needed hope.
    Dax took a deep breath and slapped his fist into the palm of his other hand. "Don't you two see what this is? This is a decisive moment not only for Kruzz, but for us. It will be hard for him to get used to only having one arm, but with our help he will be able to learn that not only strength matters. It will be our task to make him what he can become. Losing an arm does not make him less of an Orc. Losing hope will make him less than he can be."
    A slight grin spread over Grim's lips, his tusks thrust upward. "You always know what to say, don't you?"
    "I don't know if this will work." Worg still sat on the ground, his body slumped. "But we should at least try to help this young grunt. He will need us in the hard time to come."
    "Good!" Dax crossed over and gently laid his hand on Grim's shoulder. "Then there's only one more thing to do, before we can help Kruzz on this hard path. Vorg asked me to get you, so we could help him do what needs doing."
    All of the good vibes he had just spread were sucked away in an instant. Grim's smile turned into a frown and a deep rumbling growl came from his throat. "We'd better get it done then. The sooner the better."
    Together they stalked out of Worg's hut and walked silently through the settlement. Inside the shaman's hut, Vorg was waiting. He had his tools laid out before him and fresh herbs were burning.
    "Here, take these." He handed them plugs for their noses. "You'll need all the strength you have to hold him down. He'll struggle as soon as I start."
    Grim held on to Kruzz's legs and Dax held on to his arms. The brood winced when he grabbed the wrist of his left arm. It's light green coloring had become increasingly blue over the last few days. It was getting high time to remove it.
    "I'll make the cut up here." Vorg indicated a spot slightly below the shoulder, well above the infected flesh. "You two just keep him restrained."
    Vorg lifted the saw from his collection of tools and placed it where he was going to cut. "Hold on tight now."
    The brood looked peaceful as he lay there. His eyes were shut and his breathing was calm. Then Vorg began to saw. Kruzz's eyes burst open, his limbs struggled and he screamed. Oh, how he screamed.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Damien III

Damien's horse slogged through the mud. Rain was pouring down from the sky in heavy sheets. His guards looked miserable as the rain pattered on their armor. Much the same as he felt.
    Power had its benefits, but it also brought responsibilities. In these hard times Damien was forced, as Chancellor of Thecia to trudge around the countryside and see what damages had been done to the outlying villages in the north. To lend support and hope where he could. To let the common men and women know that their King is looking out for them.
    The King's army was several leagues ahead of them, on their way to battle the Orcs. There was little hope in them being able to do much against an organized and bloodthirsty band of those monsters, but they should have their superior numbers to count on. The main reason to send the army was to gain more time for the new battalion to be trained and to stop those beasts from harassing their borders.
    The little light they had on this cloudy day was starting to fade. Soon the guardian of his entourage would call them to a stop and they would make camp. Damien's thighs were chaffed and his buttocks was aching. He couldn't wait to get off this damn horse and relax in front of a fire in his tent.
    "Halt!" The guardian brought his horse to a stop. Finally! Damien couldn't take it anymore. "Chancellor Damien, Sir. Some riders are coming."
    "What!" Was there no end to his misery. "General Tarrik must have sent some of his scouts to inform us of their progress. Or the lack thereof in this damnable weather."
    "I can't see the King's standard, Sir. I'm not so sure their the general's men. Best be safe and stay behind us, Sir." The guardian drew his sword. "Line up beside me and protect the Chancellor at all costs."
    Damien drew in his reins watching as his guards formed up before him. Although they didn't know who was coming and if they were even in danger, Damien couldn't keep himself from shaking. The cold rain and the uncertainty of the situation made him uneasy as he drew in a rattling breath.
    "Who goes there?" The guardian shouted to the oncoming riders. They slowed and trotted up to Damien's protectors. There was tension in the air. Damien's mouth was so dry he could barely swallow. Funny, considering the massive amounts of rain pouring down on him.
    The figures could not be distinguished as friend or foe until they were only a few paces away. Their hoods covered them from the rain and made their features unrecognizable. They were carrying weapons, but they did not draw them when being challenged with his guards' cold steel.
    "No need to fear us, humans. We come in peace." The leader of the riders reached up to remove the hood from his head. It was an Elf. "The Druids have been discussing how to deal with the situation between you and the Orcs. I believe Chancellor Damien is with you?"
    "I am here." Damien nudged his horse forward. He was still shaking, but he contributed that to the cold and being soaked from head to toe. "Guardian, sheathe your blade. All of you, get to work and set up my tent. We make camp for tonight. The Elves and I must talk."
    The leader donned his hood again and waited patiently upon his horse for Damien's men to prepare everything. Damien lowered his own hood to not let them see the grimace on his face. Elves changed everything. This was not according to plan.
    Sooner or later they were bound to get involved, but he had hoped it wouldn't be so soon. The great battles that were to come hadn't even started yet. If they offered their support too early all his carefully laid out plans could be ruined.
    His tent was standing within a couple of minutes. He entered and was glad to get out of the rain, but he wouldn't have time to change before the Elves came in. It would be too rude to let them wait outside. His guards brought in four folding chairs and the Elves followed them inside.
    "Make sure to get a fire started. We don't want our guests to get a chill, now do we?" And he didn't want to get one either for that matter.
    "I'm sorry Sir, but with this heavy rain I don't know if we'll find enough dry wood, if any." Damien glared at the guardian and felt the wet clothes sticking to his body more than ever. How could the man expect him to be in this cold dark tent all night without a fire.
    One of the three Elves stepped forward. "Let me be of help in making the fire. The wood need not be dry, I will make it burn just fine."
    The guardian and his men exited the tent, leaving Damien alone with the Elves. "Please, be seated." Damien found his own chair with the help of a sliver of light coming through the air vent at the top of the tent. The chair wasn't very comfortable. There was no back rest, only a sheet of cloth bound over four wooden legs. Comforts were a rare commodity when traveling.
    "Nyf, some light, if you please." The leader of the Elves spoke to the one who had offered to help with the fire. The Elf pulled out a small bottle with tiny dots of light inside. He shook it, making the dots become bright little suns, illuminating the tent.
    It was like magic. Damien had never seen anything like it, but he wouldn't give them the satisfaction of knowing that. He just smiled gracefully and nodded toward their seats.
    With the new light the Elves easily found their chairs and sat down. The leader was directly across from Damien and the other two were slightly behind him to either side. They all removed their hoods and only now did Damien notice that the third Elf was a woman.
    "Chancellor Damien, this is Conjurer Nyf of the third degree." He indicated the Elf holding up the light.
    "And this is Ranger Veala." The female Elf nodded with a cool glare in her eyes.
    "I, myself, am Lorian the Whisperer. We've come to inform you and your King of what the Druids have decided."
    "I didn't expect the Elves to be so well informed about the goings on of Thecia. I am of course glad that you have come to offer help and will let the King know immediately."
    "We did not come to offer help." Lorian's face was solemn.
    Before Damien could respond, the guardian came back inside the tent with a handful of firewood. "Excuse me, Sir. Here is the wood. It's pretty damp, so I don't know how easy it'll be to get a fire started."
    Nyf got up from his seat and unburdened the guardian. He placed the wood in the center of the tent and Damien thought he saw him add some powder on the logs. With a flick of Nyf's wrist fire burst forth and the wood burned greedily.
    The guardian's eyes opened wide at the sight. Some conjurer's trick, Damien was sure. It seemed like magic and it looked impressive, just like the light from the bottle, but he shouldn't let himself be distracted. "You can leave us now, Guardian."
    "Yes, Sir." He bowed and left the tent.
    "Excuse me for not responding quicker, but I did not want to discuss this in front of my men. What do you mean by not coming to offer help? Why did you come?" Damien said this with as much shock as he could muster, while grinning mischievously in the back of his mind. No help from the Elves, meant that his plans were still in tact.
    "The Druids have talked it over for some time. We were all concerned when we heard of the conflict between you and the Orcs. Most of us still remember the Great War and we still feel the pain and loss from over a century ago. We do not want a new war to evolve, but it seems like you are on the brink of one. If worst comes to worst, we don't want to be fighting the Orcs again. That and the fact the humans seem to have been the cause of this, are the reasons why the Druids have decided that we will not help you in this war."
    Damien gave his best impression of being hurt and surprised. "I don't understand. We're allies. The Orcs used to be your enemies too." A thoughtful pause. "The King will be very disappointed when he hears this."
    "I'm sorry, but our kind is just not willing to risk lives in a war that has nothing to do with us. You will have to accept that and so will your king." Lorian rose from his seat and his companions followed his example.
    "I will inform the King at once." Damien jumped up from his seat, following the Elves to the flap of the tent. "We were hoping to have your support in this conflict, but we'll fight bravely without you."
    "I hope you do, Chancellor. Fighting the Orcs is not an easy thing. I, for one, would have gladly stood by you, but the Druids have spoken." Lorian clasped his hand on Damien's shoulder, turned and left the tent with the other two right behind him.
    Damien smiled. The Elves were out of the picture. At least, for now. There surely must also be others like Lorian that are willing to fight. They just need a little bit of an incentive and Damien already had something in mind. He would just have to wait until the time was ripe.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Mexta III

"Why don't you finally just get up and fight?" Mexta held out a bowl of gruel to the Giant's face so that he could eat out of it. "I mean, why go on living for a few more days. Maybe a week. You know your fate. Why not just snap that rope and fight? Die with honor."
    The Giant ate greedily and swallowed the moist paste with difficulty. He licked some bits from his dry lips and looked up to her. "I'd rather not die at all. I still have something worth living for."
    Mexta let out a bark of laughter. "You still have hope in your survival? You think you can escape?"
    The Giant dropped his head. He knew that his chances were close to zero. She could tell. But he still didn't give up. He would still try if he got the chance. "Let's say you make it out of the settlement. I'll follow you and bring two grunts with me. We track you and catch up. What would you do then? Would you fight to get away or would you give up and let yourself be dragged back here?"
    He lifted his head, jaw clamped shut. His eyes were aflame with hatred. He still had some fight in him. She had hoped for that. It was just slumbering under a layer of doing what was necessary to survive. She would rattle him further until it was finally awakened.
    Mexta drew a knife from her belt and cut her thumb. Blood began to well up and she smeared it on the Giant's face. He tried to lean away and she slapped him for it. He hung limp, taking the beating and not the bait. He wouldn't fight her yet.
    The fire that burned within the Giant, the sheer force of brutality which he fought with was something she respected. She wanted the warrior inside of him to come back to the surface and she wanted to beat him. She would have to wait.
    She got up and went to Gwarr's hut. The sun was setting and he would be waiting for her. Brock was on guard duty in front of Gwarr's hut. It wasn't that they were afraid of someone coming to harm their elder, the guard was rather a protection from unwanted visitors. If Gwarr were in danger he would probably knock Brock aside to fight his foe himself.
    Brock wasn't the sharpest weapon in the armory, but he was tall and strong. Intimidating to most, but not to Mexta. He smiled with his big tusks thrusting out of his mouth and nodded that Gwarr was inside.
    She entered the hut and saw Gwarr studying a map he was holding in his hands. He looked up briefly with a scowl on his face. That's what it would look like to most, but she saw a slight spark in his eye. That was the only kind of smile you could expect to get from him.
    "You were with him again, weren't you?" Gwarr murmured as he resumed his work.
    "Yes." Mexta stepped up next to him, her shoulder touching his. "I think it won't be long before the Giant bites. He still has hope of living. That will make him desperate"
    "Well, he won't live long. Scouts have reported that the human army is already on its way. This," he jabbed a finger at a large field on the map. "is where I want to do battle. We'll be marching in two days. If that Giant of yours doesn't fight until then he will be executed before the battle."
    "And if he does fight he will die before then." Mexta grinned. "Is there anything else you wanted?" She turned to leave.
    Gwarr's hand flashed out to grab her wrist and he pulled her towards him. She could feel his hot breath on her cheeks. His face was only inches away. "How much longer do you want to keep this up? I want you!"
    She leaned in towards him. Lips about to touch. Her hand shot up to grab one of his tusks and pull him towards her, giving him a massive headbutt. It hurt, but the stunned look on his face was priceless. "I'm a fury through and through. Claim me and I'll gut you like a fish and I'll use your tusks as toothpicks."
    She turned and exited the hut, her cheeks flushed and a smile on her face. If she wasn't mistaken she had even seen a hint of a smile on Gwarr's lips before she left. That would have been a first. She strode past Brock too flustered to even say a plain goodnight.
    Gwarr was the greatest warrior she knew. The youngest elder of any of the surrounding clans. He would be an excellent mate indeed. One day she might consider becoming a mother, but not anytime soon. The excitement of battle was too precious to leave behind.
    In the mean time she would focus her energy on the Giant. At first, she didn't understand him and always expected him to fight at any moment. She would have torn the rope days ago and would have fought and killed until defeated. He didn't do that though and it looked like he wouldn't fight at all. Everyone from the Brogdah Clan thought so.
    Mexta had tested him often. Trying to find the right way to challenge him. He always surprised her by not taking the bait. Their talk earlier however, had led to a new discovery and a new challenge. After she hit him, even though he probably didn't notice right away, she had dropped her knife.
    To her dismay, when she neared the center of the settlement, the Giant was still there, tied to the stake. She was so sure that he would try to escape. Was he a coward to not take the chance or was he sensing a trap? She didn't know.
    The sun had set and the settlement was only lit by torches here and there. The stake where the Giant was bound was mostly dark. Mexta was only a few feet away and he wasn't moving. He was already asleep.
    Well, if he wasn't going to take his chance, she might as well get her knife back. She bent down to look for it in the semidarkness. It was hard to see with the flickering of torchlight so far away. She searched the ground where she knew the knife should be, but couldn't find it.
    Mexta lifted her head to look at the Giant and saw a smile on his cracked lips. His wrists were free from the rope, her knife was in his hand. "I thought about killing you just now." He flipped the knife and caught the blade, offering her the hilt. "But what good would it do me? You're the only one keeping me alive. If I were to escape your clan would follow and kill me. I want to live. So how do I do that?"
    Mexta snatched the blade from him, her mouth dry, but her heartbeat eerily calm. He could have killed her without a second thought, but he didn't. She gave him a toothy grin. "You have to make yourself invaluable." She offered him the knife back. "You'll need this and will have to do exactly as I say."

Friday, May 15, 2015

Small John III

"All of you have been chosen for one of two reasons. Either you are strong." Commander Arensen was walking past the ranks of soldiers. He was tall and had wide shoulders. He was wearing his armor that shone brilliantly in the sunlight. "Or you are experienced and already one of the best."
    Small John stood straight. He was proud that he had been chosen to join the battalion, but he wanted more. He would have to prove himself against the rest of the men. Most of them were older and they looked stronger. Tough, but inexperienced like himself. Others looked just as martial as the commander. It was unusual for Small John to be surrounded by so many men that were as tall and as strong as he was, although he still had a few inches on most of them.
    "The goal of this battalion is to defeat the Orcs. To become the strongest, fastest and all in all best battalion we have to offer."
    Some of the men shouted their approval. The commander gave them a stern look and they quieted immediately.
    "It won't be easy. The training will be harsh and not all of you will make it through. Only the best can be of worth to the King. Together, when we are ready, we will march on the Orcs and will show them what we are made of. In the meantime other battalions are marching to our borders to protect your families and all of Thecia. And when the time comes we will come to their aid and will show them what the best warriors of the kingdom can do."
     Small John's heart beat faster. He wanted to be one of those warriors. He wanted to do his best and to show the commander how good he was. He wanted to kill Orcs and avenge his mother, his father and all of Duranham.
    "I'm telling you that others will sacrifice their lives on the borders so that you can train. So that you can become the best. Know this and give me all you have to offer. Make their lives worth something. So that one day we can protect this kingdom with the strongest force the Orcs have ever seen."
    Commander Arensen stopped walking back and forth and remained at the front of the ranks. A silence spread over the courtyard. Some of the men looked around unsure if maybe now was the time to shout with enthusiasm. Small John waited patiently.
    The commander cleared his throat and continued. "You will be separated into five groups of twenty men each. The groups will be filled with untrained and trained alike. Five of my most experienced men will be the leaders of each squad. Captain Jason will be in command of the first. The other four will be led by Guardians. They will be your mentors, your trainers and your only hope if you want to fulfill my expectations."
    Commander Arensen turned and left them standing at attention. A scribe took his place in front of the ranks and unfurled a piece of parchment. He held his chin up high and started reading from the list.
    "Captain Jason March. Leader of the first squad."
    A tall man stepped up to the front. He was shorter than Small John, but not by much. His shoulders weren't as wide and strong as those of many others, but he looked like he could handle a sword. What really struck Small John was that he had been called with a last name. His, must be a prominent family.
    Captain Jason turned to face the soldiers. His nose was held up high and his gaze seemed to look right through those in front of him. They weren't worthy of his attention. Small John hoped he wouldn't be in his squad.
    "Guardian Holden. Leader of the second squad."
    A squat man stepped through the ranks. He was shorter than almost everyone, but his arms were twice as thick as anyone's. He smiled broadly and took his place next to Captain Jason.
    "Guardian Morrison. Leader of the third squad."
    Tall and strong, the portrayal of what a warrior should look like. A thick scar ran over his cheek and more could be seen on his arms and hands. His jaw was hard set and not even the slightest hint of a smile crept to his lips when he took his place.
    "Guardian Robert Furrow. Leader of the fourth squad."
    Not as tall and not as strong looking as Morrison, Small John could still tell that Robert was more than a capable swordsman. The way he stood and moved with a certain ease declared his skill in Small John's eyes. He stepped up next to Morrison and smirked, a twinkle in his eye.
    "Guardian Yuseph. Leader of the fifth squad."
    His height and the width of his arms were similar to those of Morrison, but they were the least impressive of his attributes. His skin was the color of an oak tree. Darker than any tan. A scar, as white as cloth, went across half of his shaved head down over his eye. And the sword at his hip was a thick curved blade with only the front edge sharpened. Small John wasn't looking forward to being in his squad either.
    As soon as Yuseph was in position the scribe continued. "Adam of Gradford. First squad. Alon of Finnburrow. Fourth squad."
    The names went on and on. As soon as men heard their name they quickly strode forward and the scribe called the next. With the help of  his lessons Small John quickly realized that he was calling out the names alphabetically. It would take a while until the scribe got to S. He continued watching as all the called upon men took their places behind the leaders of each squad.
    "Jim of Freshire. Second squad. John of Duranham. Third squad." Nobody moved. "John of Duranham?"
    With a jolt Small John realized that he was being called. Even after Serah insisted on just calling him John, he still hadn't gotten used to it. He stepped forward and looked from one squad to the other. Which squad had he been assigned to?
    The scribe looked at him and sighed. "Third squad." Then he returned his gaze to his list and went on with his work. "John of Mirthwater. Squad five."
    Small John walked past Morrison, his guardian, and took his place in line. He couldn't help but notice the scowl on Morrison's face. So much for making a good first impression.