An Epic

Strife in Rothnog

By Ryan Torbert

Approx. 9,320 E.R.


Rolt's eyes widened in surprise at the scene before him. The light of a full moon shined on the orc's bald plate and ample belly, which protruded from underneath his patchwork hide armor. The big orc carefully pushed aside a few hanging vines to gain a better view of the clearing beyond. The area was bathed in moonlight, which cast eerie shadows from the tall trees that ringed the glade.

The fat warrior's mouth hung agape at the sight of a pair of young female elves dancing about in the clearing without a strip of clothing between them. The fair creatures were pictures of perfect beauty to Rolt as the orc had taken to the physical appearance of the female elf as pure and untainted. A faint line of saliva trickled from Rolt's mouth at the thought of defiling such a creature's benevolence.

The orc pulled his britches up to just under his round belly, a habit he had taken to, as genuine leather belts were hard to come by in the bellicose land of Rothnog. Typically, a cord or rope was used to tie one's pants up, but Rolt had lost his in a foolish card game.

Rolt stepped through the trees of the wood and into the moonlit clearing beyond. Instantly, the elven women stopped their dance and looked to the newcomer in stunned silence. Each party in the clearing observed the other, as palpable tension carried across the eerie silence of the night woods.

Soon enough, one of the elven maiden's faces split in a grin, the corner of her mouth turned up in an enticing way. She arched an eyebrow seductively and stalked across the clearing, slowly and deliberately. Rolt looked down in astonishment, having fully expected the females to run at the sight of the orc. As she reached Rolt, the elven woman spoke, and her voice sounded much like the purr of a feline.

"Look at the specimen we have here, sister."

She allowed her finger to trace about Rolt's shoulder blades as she circled around the orc's form.

"So big and strong, this one. Would you fight for me, warrior?"

Rolt stammered at the attention, taken aback by the woman's outgoing attitude, especially while in the presence of an orc. He was so confounded that he failed to inquire as to why the elven woman spoke nearly perfect Blackspeech.

"Ah, a quiet one."

The elven woman spoke again, teasingly, as she moved to stand directly in front of the bewildered, fat orc. Her sister stalked forward in much the same manner; and both stared at Rolt in wonder as their platinum hair reflected moonlight away from their wide, green eyes.

The more verbose sister stepped forward, her eyes always locked with Rolt's. She laid a hand on the big orc's chest, and Rolt grinned wickedly. The elven woman moved closer, and her touch on Rolt's chest grew hot. The orc closed his eyes, pleased at the sensation.

"Squirm, Dweller-lovin' scum!"

Rolt's eyes jolted open, and he snarled as the elven maidens took on the features of dark-skinned, armored orcs. Tusks protruded from their mouth at odd angles, and scars grew visible on their pockmarked faces.

Now awakened from his pleasant dream, Rolt felt only agony. He looked down to the hand on his chest...only to find the blade of a long spear! The fat orc grabbed the head of the weapon, and blood spurted up in a fountain from his chest as the orc above twisted the weapon with glee. Rolt writhed on the ground, any images from his dream vanished. His writhing slowed and then stopped as the orc above twisted the spear one final time and wrenched it free of his enemy's chest. Rolt's vision faded, slowly but inevitably replaced by...darkness.

Thus began the battle for Rothnog, between two sides split by the view of what the fate of the orc race should be. On one side, the west, the great orc warlord Lechig IV spurred his fellows on with promises of great glory and the rightful rulership of Rothnog by the orc race. On the other side, the east, the forces of the Dweller in the Vale fought for the Dark Walker, either for the Dweller's glory or for fear of its wrath.

The civil war began in the night, with the forces of Lechig IV murdering in their sleep those whom the day before had been their brethren. In a matter of minutes, a thousand of the Dweller's orcs had shaken in the final throes of their deaths.

Those few orcs loyal to the Dweller who remained in the camp ran from the oncoming doom, but to no avail. The orcs of Lechig IV were focused and efficient in their killing, and soon only a small percentage of the Dweller's forces in the camp still drew breath.

Grudkun looked up from his kill as the fat orc's lifeblood spilled into the already damp grass of the field. He turned to look about the camp and grinned as he watched nearly two thousand of his fellows tear through the orc camp with ruthless efficiency. Grudkun swelled with pride, a somewhat forgotten feeling since the subjugation of the Rothnogians by the Dweller in the Vale. What the Dweller had taken, Lechig IV had vowed to replace, and Grudkun and his fellows had taken up their weapons at the warlord's call.

The remaining orcs that were loyal to the Dweller took to flight, and Lechig's silent army gave chase. One such retreating orc streaked across Grundkun's vision, not twenty feet distant. With a low growl, Grudkun hurled his spear, and the projectile stuck in the retreating orc's back. The orc fell and, thrashing violently, tried to reach back to extract the great weapon from its back. The unfortunate victim tried to no avail, for the weapon's barbs held fast, embedded adjacent to the orc's spine.

When Grudkun reached the orc, its eyes were already vacant. With a grunt, the powerful orc pulled his spear free and surveyed the field of the pitched battle.

Lechig IV's orcs had planned their assault well, attacking a camp atop a small rise. To the west was a shallow plain, across which Lechig's true forces lay in waiting. To the east, the small rise descended to a rolling hill, the bottom of which was cut in half by the wide but shallow stream. The orcs called the stream "Dukken's Folly," after an orc who had somehow managed to drown in it.

Now, several dozen orcs loyal to the Dweller ran across that stream to escape the vicious onslaught of Lechig's orcs. Far beyond the stream was a bottleneck of sorts as the land formed into a narrow valley with rolling hills to the north and a vast forest to the south. Through that valley lay the great orc cities loyal to the Dweller.

"If dey reach the valley, dey'll live ta' fight us later."

The astute observation came from an aged orc to Grudkun's side. The corpulent orc had a bloodstained rag tied about his head, covering one eye. A thin trickle of blood rolled down his face and dripped steadily from his chin.

Grudkun merely grunted at the orc's words and watched the retreating orcs. His eyes narrowed in anger. Lechig IV had instructed his orcs to remain on the small rise and fortify their position, but the warlord's words of command were pushed from Grudkun's mind as he watched the orcs run.

"They won't....cuz we'll run 'em down!"

"But Lechig said that..."

Grudkun silenced the orc with a growl and glared at him, his teeth clenched. His hand idly waved his spear back and forth, like a cobra preparing to strike.

"Stay if ya' want, ya' one-eyed snog! I'll not let the stinkin' Dweller's forces get outta' this fight alive!"

Grudkun turned from the orc and started towards the retreating forces, with an all-encompassing wave of his arm for his fellow warriors to follow. Nearly three-dozen of his kin picked up the chase. The remainder of Lechig's force remained atop the small rise, choosing to heed the words of their powerful warlord.

The one-eyed orc growled to the others, taking charge in Grudkun's absence.

"Bah, let 'em go! Lechig said fortify the rise, now fortify!"

With a parting glance at the pursuit below, one-eye turned and began to direct the orcs atop the rise, as the orcs created a small war-camp just behind the lip of the rise. Several dark folk had begun creation of wooden engines of war, hauling up great timbers from the West to erect catapults and ballistae. With the massive weapons being built and the community of tents erected, the orcs became entrenched atop the small, defensible position. They picked their border well, one that would act as the eastern front of Lechig IV's western Rothnog.

Grudkun's orcs followed the retreating force, pushing them to keep pace. Their quarry, without their heavy armor and weapons and with a sizable head start, reached the small copse of trees well ahead of their pursuers.

Grudkun glanced back from where he and his men had come and smirked. The small camp was barely recognizable in the distance, though small fires dotted the rise that Lechig's orcs had taken. Grudkun shook his head at the one-eyed orc and his crew of cowards. The glory for this night would be Grudkun's alone, he promised himself as he trudged towards the trees.

The orcs of Lechig's forces plodded forward methodically, watching as their quarry flowed through the tall pines of the copse. Suddenly, the orcs stopped as a call rang out.

"Stand and fight, true orcs."

The voice was deep and raspy and ended with a sound much like the hiss of a white-hot blade being plunged into a cold basin. It was quiet, or at least it seemed so, but it also somehow managed to be heard by every orc in the vicinity.

"The first orc and the Dark Walker, your creator, command you to fight!"

Then Grudkun spotted the source. In the trees, a full thirty feet above the ground; a shadowed figure stared back at him. As Grudkun watched, the creature shifted and slipped from its perch.

Immediately, the creature spread wide, bat-like wings, more like thin membranes stretched over sharpened sticks. As the wings caught a slight updraft, the large, muscular humanoid glided from the trees and into the approaching forces of Lechig's orcs. With speed abnormal for one of such bulk, the creature unsheathed a deadly, curved blade. As the sword was extracted from its sheath, it burst into light and orange flames licked across its surface.

Before the creature finished its graceful descent, the heads of two of Grudkun's kin toppled to the ground with a thud, free of their torsos. The creature hit the ground at a run and hacked down three more of Lechig's orcs before coming face to face with the spear-wielding Grudkun.

Grudkun trembled visibly at the sight of the creature. As it stalked closer, the orc could make out more of its features in the pale light of the half moon. Its skin was a deep green, and showed thick scars, as if from the lick of a powerful whip. The creature's visage was orcish, but also somehow...different. Instead of the squat, square jaw of an orc, the creature's chin was extended and razor-sharp fangs instead of the dull, yellow tusks of an orc rimmed its mouth. Its eyes were more angular and animal-like than the typical orc's bloodshot eyes, and it strode forward with a supreme confidence, as if the orc enemies about it were beneath its notice.

The creature's bronze chain armor rattled as the seven-foot tall form stepped towards Grudkun. Its flaming sword swept back and forth, casting ominous shadows between the trees.

"You've betrayed your own, orc...and the Dark Walker himself."

The voice rasped like the drawing of a sword from its scabbard. Beyond the creature Grudkun could see his fellow orcs, loyal to Lechig IV, down and dying. The previously unarmed, retreating orcs of the Dweller's forces used branches, rocks, or even their own fists to bludgeon their enemies to death.

"I ain't betrayed no one but myself, demonkin, for livin' with the lies that the Dweller fed us. Those ain't the will of the Walker; only Lechig knows the Dark One's plans."

Though Grudkun's voice didn't break, his gaze wavered, and the head of his spear visibly shook in his trembling hands.

"Very well."

The creature's mouth turned up in an ugly parody of a smile, and it closed the remaining ground between itself and the orc with a single bound. As it came within range, Grudkun stabbed at the creature with his spear. The demonkin merely hacked downward with its falchion, and little was left of the spear but a smoking, wooden stump.

Grudkun staggered back, overwhelmed by the creature's physical prowess, but he moved too late. The demonkin grasped the orc's throat in a vice-like grip. The powerful muscles of the creature's body bulged under the weight of Grudkun, as it lifted the orc off of the ground. The creature's fangs glistened in the moonlight as it drew the orc close.

"When you pass the Walker's judgment, and he casts you from his presence like the filth that you are, tell him that Karoxfang has sent you to repent for your foolish beliefs."

Grudkun's eyes widened at the thought of being confronted with the famed general of the Rothnogian armies himself! He struggled and tried to respond, but his words came out as nothing more than a gurgle, as Karoxfang slide his flaming falchion into the orc's belly. Grudkun writhed in agony as flames enveloped his body. Blood poured from his wound, only to sizzle and steam when it hit the flames.

General Karoxfang, seemingly unaffected by the flames, held onto the orc until the writhing had ceased. With a snarl, the general, part demon and part orc, discarded the blackened husk of former life with a thrust of his arm.

The General looked beyond, to the small fires dotting the rise in the distance, the fires of his new enemy-his own kin.

As the night grew still, the lines of battle were drawn, and the forces of Lechig IV remained atop the small rise, to be called Lechig's Lip by ensuing generations of dark folk.