An Epic

Strife in Rothnog

By Ryan Torbert



Near the center of Rothnog, the mighty warlord Lechig IV stirred. The orc's thoughts were of his forefathers and their claim to the great ground upon which Lechig knelt.

With a hand the size of many orc's chests, Lechig slammed the hilt of his great axe into the floor of the tent. His voice rumbled, low and dangerous, as he knelt on the dirt floor of the tent.

"This is hallowed ground."

The cap of the axe, an alien skull adorned with sharp horns that could skewer a man with ease, quivered with the vibration of the blow. The eyes of the skull glared back at Lechig IV, as if to challenge him.

His eyes wide with conviction, Lechig IV stood, and his head brushed the top of the eight-foot high tent. With a swift turn, the warlord burst through the flaps of his tent to a crowd of gathered orc soldiers.

The warriors had been anxiously awaiting their introspective leader for over an hour, and many had taken the respite of a seat in the shade of one of the many tents. All orcs present jumped to their feet at the sight of their leader, however.

Camped high atop the rise above Dukken's folly, the orcs looked down at the wide field below, ever vigilant should their enemy show. That day, word had come that the fabled general, Karoxfang the half-fiend, had led a vast army out of Golloruk to meet the forces of Lechig IV. Immediately thereafter, Lechig had taken to the "council of his forefathers," which many outside of the camped army thought to be merely visions and delusions. Those in Lechig's army, however, having seen the wisdom in Lechig's decisions, didn't doubt the power of such council.

As Lechig's large force camped atop the rise, they realized the scope of the great conflict before them. Orcs had never had qualms about killing their own kind, but to do so on such a grand scale was unheard of. The two things that gave Lechig IV's forces the will and desire to fight their brethren were fear of their leader and the belief that he more closely represented the will of Vornoth.

Those troops stood awaiting their leader's words, and they were not disappointed. Lechig IV strode away from his tent to the ridge, from which the ground sloped down to the stream in the valley below.

Resting one hand on the pommel of his axe, Lechig IV turned to his soldiers and spoke, his deep voice booming over the din.

"We meet them here."

The very next day, in early 9,323 E.R., the forces of the Dweller in the Vale assembled in the huge valley to the east of Dukken's Folly. Early during the force's arrival, the assembled army of Lechig IV roared in triumph, thinking their victory to be a foregone conclusion. As the day continued, however, the gathered force grew silent in light of the bulging mass of enemies gathered on the field below.

The army of Eastern Rothnog, led by the great general Karoxfang, was massive, and filled the valley to bursting. The force arrayed before the Western Rothnogians stretched from the foothills of the low Vrakkan Mountains to the north to the tree line of the sprawling Deepblight forest to the south, taking up the entire field in between.

The forces of the Eastern Rothnogians were much more varied than that of the Western army. Whereas Lechig IV's forces were almost exclusively orc, the massive army from Golloruk was made up of orcs, hobgoblins, kobolds, goblins, and even a few trolls and ogres. The huge conflagration assembled far out in the valley, presumably out of range of the massive catapults that their enemies had set up on the ridgeline.

Though Karoxfang's force was only perhaps a few hundred feet lower in elevation, those hundred feet were over a steep slope that angled up from Dukken's Folly at the base, to the ridgeline ahead. On the ridgeline, six or more catapults were set, ready to hurl their destruction at a charging force. Were the force to charge up the slope, they'd be quite vulnerable to missles from above, as well as to a vicious charge from those on higher ground.

As if to contemplate this problem, Karoxfang's force stopped as its leading edge, which was mostly goblins, came within several hundred feet of the rapidly moving streambed of Dukken's Folly. The cacophony of marching boots slowed as the front line stopped moving, and the sound eventually stopped altogether as the rear lines caught up. Supply lines of wagons and mules stretched to the east as far as the dark folk eyes could see, possibly even back to Golloruk itself.

The Eastern Rothnogian army consisted of over ten thousand kobolds and goblins as its front lines. Behind them were several thousand orc shock troops, as well as over two hundred goblin Worg riders. The canine creatures barked and bit at the orcs, and their goblin riders laughed at the sight. Behind these forces gathered a large group of trolls and ogres. It was in this large group that a smaller group of robed orcs gathered around one large central figure. The figure of Karoxfang was unmistakable as the great half-fiend stretched his wings and then dipped low to heed the words of one of the robed orcs.

Karoxfang looked sternly at the orc, a priest by his vestments, and then turned to glare at the high ridgeline that housed thousands of his enemies.

"I care little for such things, priest. Our small footmen know their role in this conflict and will perform admirably. As you've said, we have the blessings of the Dark Walker himself, and I'll not waste good orcs to take that hill. Rest assured our lord and master will be happy this day."

The orc priest, adorned in heavy robes to conquer the chill wind of the northern lands, nodded to Karoxfang and turned to his charges. Necklaces of bone and tooth jingled slightly as the orc shuffled off to his fellows.

Karoxfang's fierce, slanted eyes turned from the priest to a nearby group of ogres, who stalked about in circles, agitation evident on their faces. The ogres were clad in heavy breastplates lined with chain. Their forearms and shoulders were covered in the chain mail, and they wore greaves of plated steel with spikes protruding out at various angles. Each ogre wore a barrel helmet open at the front, though with a nose guard that extended down to its curled lips. Each also carried a hammer or axe that was twice the size of any such weapon that an orc could wield.

Some of the ogres cursed and spit seemingly at nothing, while others pushed and threatened some of the surrounding orcs. Those few orcs that pushed back learned their error quickly, as a hammer or axe crushed their skulls or lopped off their limbs. The ogres were in such an irritated condition because all morning they'd been drinking Rotgut, a vile drink taken from the gland of a great bear, and had been worked into a frenzy of anger, rage, and violence. The force, though no more than two score strong, eventually drove away any and all orcs, goblins, kobolds, and even hobgoblins from the close vicinity as they roared in primal rage and thrashed violently.

Karoxfang grinned wickedly, for such was exactly the state that he wanted the massive humanoids to be in. Motioning for the cadre of dark priests, Karoxfang stalked over the level earth of the valley floor to the ogres.

The ogres, though fully enveloped in bloodlust, still recognized their leader and, to their credit, didn't attack Karoxfang. The same dark priest that had voiced his concern also stood his ground, his fierce eyes challenging any of the ogres to confront him. The other priests, however, stood behind the two more powerful leaders, out of reach of the battle-ready beasts.

Karoxfang glared at the ogres and held his arms wide. He would have beamed, were it possible for his demonic face to reflect pride. The half fiend waved his huge, clawed hands slightly, as if to beckon the ogres closer. At the behest of their master, the creatures did indeed advance to listen.

"Great bastions of strength, you've been chosen by the Dark Walker this day for a great task. The enemies of Vornoth gather on yon ridge, mocking your strength and will! These foul Westerners set to kill you this day, to give you a dishonorable death among goblins and kobolds!"

"But Vornoth's will guides our actions, and he's chosen you to strike the first blow against those who wish you ill. Your target is the flimsy wooden structures that those fools have built on the ridge to rain down their missiles on you. Go now, guided by those who embody the Dark Walker's will, and strike a telling blow in the name of Vornoth!"

Growls and cheers erupted from the contingent of crazed ogres, and from any orcs within earshot. Karoxfang nodded in satisfaction as he stepped back from the group to allow the priests to do their work.

After tense moments of chanting, the great muscles of the ogres bulged out even beyond their immense proportions. Their skin seemed to harden underneath the already nearly impervious layers of armor that they wore.

As the ogres gathered close, the dark priests began to chant in unison, praying for the Dark Walker's power to open a rift between planes. Soon enough, a shimmering wall of air appeared near the ogres, and they began to pour through.

On the ridge above Dukken's Folly and far from the center of Karoxfang's army, a shimmering wall of air appeared. Perplexed, a nearby soldier moved closer. The iron shield that the orc carried did him little good as an enraged ogre, imbued with the power of the Dark Walker, burst through the portal, swinging a gigantic hammer. The hammer crunched down on the orc's shield, and the force of the blow drove the orc to the ground, breaking his collarbone in the process. The monstrous ogre, his visage one of pure rage, merely stomped on the orc's head and charged past in the direction of the nearest wooden catapult.

The army of Lechig IV, previously calm and composed, was thrown into a mass of confusion at the sudden arrival of such formidable foes. The orcs' weapons seemed to bounce off of the creatures' armor and even their very skin! The ogres' strength was incredible, and they left paths of broken and dismembered bodies in their wake as they cut through to the massive catapults that stood ready to rain down death on Lechig's enemies.

"Arrows! Crossbows! Bring them down!"

The call came from the gigantic warlord himself, and immediately rows of archers stepped forward to loose their weapons at the hulking ogres. Many of the missiles hit their targets, but the lumbering behemoths trudged on, driven by their rage.

As the first ogres reached the wooden catapults, they began to chop and hammer away with mighty strokes at the siege weapons. In moments, two siege engines were toppled, and the ogres were still battering the remaining four.

At a call from Lechig's commanders, another line of orcs advanced in force upon the ogres, this line heavily armored and wielding giant double-bladed axes. The orcs chopped down the remainder of the ogres, though the legacy of their destruction remained, in the form of five destroyed catapults.

The remaining one weapon stood ready, though multiple cracks and chips marred its base. Even as the last ogre was chopped down, orcs of Lechig's army advanced upon the weapon to reset the aim and trajectory.

As Lechig IV's army took stock and recovered from the initial attack, the clarion call of a long stag horn sounded through the valley below.

Looking down at this new threat, the orcs of the Western Rothnogian army clenched their weapons tightly, apprehension evident on their faces. They watched as the valley itself seemed to move towards them. The thousands of troops below began their advance up the steep slope to the ridgeline like a dark tide. Their boots thundered upon the earth, and the calls of several more horns rang out from different sections of the army.

In front of the vast approaching force were the Worg riders, clad in black mail and clutching long spears atop their fearsome mounts. The Worgs, massive wolf-like creatures, galloped like heavy horses, snarling and nipping the entire way.

Karoxfang, near the center of the advancing horde, grinned at the charge. His plan had been to hit directly after the original confusion in Lechig's camp, not allowing the warlord's army to set their lines. Surrounded by trolls and orcs, the general marched forward with his force, pushing the smaller kobolds and goblins out in front of their main army.

The half-fiend's grin turned to a snarl, however, as he saw the huge and imposing figure of mighty Lechig IV atop the rise, setting his lines into place with practiced efficiency. The western warlord roared his commands at his loyal minions, arranging them to receive the charge of the approaching horde. The lines of the Western Rothnogians arrayed themselves in a standard defense, with a picket of spearmen three orcs deep and several hundred feet wide in the front. The butts of the orcs' long, barbed weapons were tucked against their boots, ready to receive the impact of the Worgs.

Directly behind the lines of spearmen were two lines of orcs that Lechig referred to as the skirmishers. These orcs were clad in light armor, mostly of hide or dark leather with protruding metal rivets. They held their javelins high, prepared to hurl them over the lines of spearmen before them. At the waists of the skirmishers were long, curved knives with heavy, full tang blades. These knives, called "Runtakkas," were made to be quite heavy and were designed to batter foes or lop off their limbs should they crash through the front line.

Behind each javelin wielder was an archer, their eyes to the dark sky to determine the best way to arc their arrows down on their foes. The archers favored short, composite bows, with a simple recurve to provide more power. This line of orcs set arrow to bowstring as the Worgs advanced. Nearly in unison, they raised their bows and pulled back the strings.

Before the arrows could loose, a creak sounded, and then a whoosh as the lone, remaining catapult fired. The higher ground favored the weapon, and the burning pitch that it launched traveled all of the way to the front of the Easterner's lines, before falling to the ground and setting dark folk aflame.

The flames were soon put out as the savage troops behind merely trampled over their burning brethren, the goal of the ridgeline always in their view. With a creak, the catapult was drawn back to fire again.

The Worg riders, racing impossibly fast, bypassed the first volley of arrows from Lechig's lines, and the archers adjusted, then loosed again.

As the second volley was released, the dangerous mounted goblins were already arcing over Dukken's Folly atop their canine steeds. A few fell to the arrows, as the second volley was well adjusted, but the force plodded on, nonetheless.

The time for arrows ceased as the Worgs thundered closer, and the archers of Lechig's lines turned their bows up to the skies and released several volleys that thudded into the kobold and goblin ranks of their enemies.

The skirmishers in Lechig's force drew back their javelins to throw, and the spearmen of the front lines tensed. The Worgs were almost upon them, when another horn sounded from the center of the massive army.

As one, the Worg charge broke ranks, and the force split and turned one half to the right and the other to the left. So fast was their adjustment that most of the javelins thrown by the skirmishers stuck in the ground several dozen feet in front of their intended targets.

As the Worg riders turned, they drew short bows and began to pepper the spearmen with arrows. The small force of mounted warriors, broken into two, continued along the main line of Lechig's force, providing a constant nuisance as their darts thudded into the shields of the spearmen.

After the Worg riders moved from view, the center of Lechig's force could see the true mass of Karoxfang's assault. Directly before them were thousands of kobolds and goblins. Most were armed, though their weapons were poorly made or had fallen to disrepair. Some carried only makeshift clubs that they had picked up on the journey from Golloruk. All of them, however, advanced up the hill at an amazing pace for their little legs.

Volley after volley of arrows streaked out from Lechig's forces, but the gigantic mass wasn't diminished in the least.

The spearmen were stunned at the assault of the smaller dark folk, as kobolds and goblins hurled themselves at their enemies, more often than not skewering themselves on the long spears. The little creatures seemed insanely driven, as if they wished to show their worth in the eyes of Vornoth.

Though they died by the thousands, the kobolds and goblins overwhelmed the line of spearmen with sheer numbers. Their charge drove the orcs back from the ridgeline and into the skirmishers behind. Soon, the spears of the orcs were simply weighed down by too many bodies, and the force of Karoxfang the Vile broke through to confront the lighter armed and armored forces of Lechig's orcs.

At the rear of the goblin horde, Babbesh pushed forward with his brothers and pushed his helmet, which had fallen to cover his eyes, up high on his head. The little goblin had been too taken with pride in his cause and the will to be powerful in the eyes of the Dark Walker to fully take stock of his situation before. He did now, and nodded grimly at his place in the army. Babbesh was a cunning goblin, and he realized that he and his brethren were meant to die. They were just a diversion, a fact that made the little creatures desire even more to prove their worth.

Now, as the massive force began to overpower their enemy, Babbesh shrugged, hoping he was wrong. He pumped his rusty short sword into the air, but his roar of defiance was lost among the thousands of other voices that rang through the valley. Gaining confidence, Babbesh hardly noticed when the call rang out from the ridgeline.

"Maintain the ridge! Heavy axes!"

The shout came from none other than Lechig himself, as the mighty warlord's axe sent three goblins flying through the air, their bodies broken.

At the warlord's call, hundreds of thickly muscled orcs, all armored and armed with massive, double-bladed axes, charged forth. The orcs hacked at the kobolds and goblins with fury, their dark, metal armor proving nearly impenetrable to the smaller creatures' weapons. As the nightmarish warriors stalked forth, they left death in their wake. Soon enough, they had pushed back the front line of goblins and kobolds and were summarily destroying the small members of Karoxfang's army.

"Skirmishers to flank, archers set!"

Lechig called again and pointed with his commands, his voice somehow carrying over the clash of steel on steel and the wretched screams of the dying.

At the orc's gesture, Babbesh glanced to the side. The little goblin grinned in understanding, as he saw the Worg riders assembling for a charge on both sides of Lechig's flank. A brilliant plan, the cunning goblin noted, though he resented his playing the part of fodder for the dark army. The Worg riders were never meant for the charge, but were meant to take flank while Lechig was busy with the main force. With the Worg riders flanking the force, the ridge would be taken easily by the main strength of Karoxfang's army: orcs, trolls, and the dark one himself.

Babbesh glanced sidelong at his brethren-thousands of the little ones charging for one purpose, to make their god take notice and accept them. Babbesh smirked as he charged, mocking the little ones' devotion. He had no hopes that they'd be accepted; he only wished to fight to stay alive.

Looking to Lechig's skirmishers and to the massive contingent of archers and crossbowmen in the center, Babbesh knew that the only way for him to survive was for the Worg riders to take the flank and crush the archers before they could begin to pepper them with arrows.

Emboldened by the sudden realization, Babbesh pushed his brethren even harder. He shouted as he charged forward at the axe-wielders.

"Get da ridge! We killz da' archers, we winz!"

Though the smaller dark folk charged forward with Babbesh, they were no match for the brutal orcs. The axe-wielders swept through them like the spreading shadow of a winter storm. Those few kobolds and goblins that weren't hacked to pieces by the mighty axes were trampled under the booted feet of the heavily armored orcs of Lechig's infantry.

Babbesh cursed to himself as the orcs cut through his brethren like they were no more than ribbons. The little goblin glanced about for some sort of assistance from the Eastern force's own orc lines, but none was forthcoming. As the behemoths strode closer, Babbesh was confronted by an armor-clad orc of considerable size. The orc wore the pleased, anticipatory smile of a hunter whose kill had just entered his field of vision.

Without a second's hesitation, Babbesh surprised the orc by charging in low. With a desperate lunge, the goblin thrust his short sword up, into the joint between the plates of armor covering his leg and groin. The blade slid into the orc's upper thigh, and he roared in pain. The orc's axe fell to the ground, and his eyes went wide.

Squealing with glee, Babbesh twisted his rusty sword and thrust it in even further. He nodded in satisfaction as the orc's eyes rolled back in his head.

Only too late, Babbesh realized that the orc was falling...forward.

"Aaaahhhhh, wait!"

Holding his hands to stave off the falling body, Babbesh's shout was cut short as the armored orc fell over him, thrashing in the throes of death.

Babbesh's world went dark, and the infantry of Lechig's army trampled over kobold and goblin forces with impunity. The skirmishers, now set back, split to face the Worg rider contingents on each flank of the now halted Eastern army.

Lechig's skirmishers, having released most of their javelins upon their defense of the initial charge, took up whatever weapons they could find to confront the vicious mounted riders before them. Some wielded spears while others only held their Runtakkas, though they did so with outward confidence, as they outnumbered the mounted riders considerably.

The Worg riders, on the other hand, held no such confidence. They had witnessed the deadly advance of the orc axe-wielders through their fellow Easterners, and held back their charge. Out of desperation, some broke ranks and fell back as deadly arrows and bolts arced out of Lechig's army to fall upon them. Others stood their ground, their breastplates unstrapped and held above their heads as shields.

Near to the center of the battlefield, a body stirred as Babbesh tried to crawl out from under the orc body. Seeing the boots of another axe-wielder nearby, the goblin thought better of it and, therefore, huddled even deeper under the body in the hopes that he hadn't been noticed.

Suddenly, the goblin felt a vibration, and the boots were gone. Peeking out from his bloody hiding spot, Babbesh saw the lines of Lechig's axe-wielders pressing through the main force of Karoxfang the Vile. That meant that the goblin was now stuck behind enemy lines, a fact that didn't sit well with him.

The orc infantry hacked away mercilessly, and Babbesh marveled at the fact that they could still lift their arms while wielding such heavy weapons. The orcs held to no strategy as they pressed forward, merely killing or being killed. Soon enough, they realized their error as they came close to the heart of Karoxfang's force.

Babbesh grinned at the sight, as he could see towering behemoths over the heads of the tall axe-wielders. The newest force to enter the battle was marked by green skin, pockmarked hollow cheeks, hooked noses, and beady black eyes. Babbesh's smile grew even wider at the orc's surprise, as they now stood face-to-face with massive trolls.

Karoxfang drew his mighty falchion, and the sword burst into flame. Orange fury danced down the blade and flicked over the hilt, but Karoxfang paid the flames no heed.

Leading his trolls, the half-fiend slammed into the orc axe-wielders with fury and set to cutting down their ranks with ease.

The elite warriors of his army, trolls and orcs primarily, formed into a wedge with Karoxfang and his flaming sword at the head. Directly beside and behind him, branching out in either direction, were trolls. These massive green creatures, armed mostly with huge clubs and maces, were battering their foes with sheer strength. Where the axes of Lechig's orcs hit the trolls, the wounds healed just as quickly as they had been inflicted.

The first few trolls stood several paces back from Karoxfang, fearing the flames of his blade. This only served to give the half-fiend more room to enact his dancing death, with his flaming sword weaving from enemy to enemy with deadly efficiency.

The great general slammed an axe to the side with the flat of his blade and cut back impossibly fast, taking an orc's head from its shoulders. He stepped into the next enemy with a thrust, lifting the dying orc completely off of his feet before throwing him from the blade.

Two more orcs stood in front of the general, and Karoxfang's sword slashed across to sever one's arm where he stood. The orc's arm and axe both tumbled to the ground, even as Karoxfang's sword was reversing direction to parry the other orc's axe. Turning his shoulder, Karoxfang battered his second opponent with his heavy wing, distracting the orc long enough for the general to deliver a wicked slash that cut him from neck to waist. Karoxfang merely turned to find more enemies as the dying orc tried unsuccessfully to hold in his entrails.

The advance of Lechig's army was halted as they confronted Karoxfang's wedge formation. Unused to the savagery and power of the half-fiend and his trolls, Lechig's axe men split and were soon confronted with a fresh army of orcs that advanced on the flanks of Karoxfang's wedge.

Though Lechig's axe men fought with ferocity, they fell before the onslaught like thin reeds matted down by a flood. The orcs of the Eastern army, armed mainly with swords and spears, found it easy to dodge past their opponents' heavy axes, and they scored telling blows with their lighter and longer piercing weapons.

In no time at all, the axe-wielders were demolished, and Karoxfang's army advanced to the ridgeline.

Babbesh smiled at the effect of the great general's charge, in spite of his somewhat dangerous position. The goblin peered back the other way toward Lechig's skirmishers and archers who were now joined by the Westerner's infantry reserves.

The Worg riders still remained at the flanks, though they had moved back several hundred feet to provide a target nearly impossible for Lechig's archers to reach. Perhaps realizing that, the archers stood, waiting and conserving their arrows.

As the remaining infantry joined the fight, Lechig's force, still several thousand strong, turned to face their enemies. The beat of a drum echoed from behind their lines, as the Westerners' force began to march... directly at Babbesh's position!

With a start, Babbesh realized that he was about to be crushed under a mighty press of bodies as the two armies met. No longer caring for the nature of his concealment, the goblin pulled and tugged on the armored corpse on top of him, eventually working himself free. The sight of the little goblin's struggle elicited a chuckle from some on both sides, though the majority of the potential combatants were too focused to take notice.

Glancing about the carnage of the battlefield, Babbesh took note of a nice place to sit back from the fray. Sprinting to the north, the tiny goblin made it to a battered ballista, with one of its wheels missing, and its mighty missile pointed directly at the ground. He ducked under the contraption immediately and turned to watch the coming battle.

With an appraising glance, Babbesh noted that the firing lever was still armed.

The thunder of thousands of boots echoed through the valley and over the ridge as the two huge forces charged at each other. The deep cadence of Lechig's drums sounded in the background, adding their own bass beat to the press of bodies.

Karoxfang charged near the front of his army, surrounded by the mighty trolls. Opposite him, the massive form of Lechig IV charged at the head of his army, surrounded by his heavily armored infantry.

Babbesh gave thanks to his insignificance, as the warriors on both sides merely dismissed him as beneath their notice. The goblin hunkered down even more under the broken ballista, trying to make himself invisible to the approaching armies.

As the goblin watched from hiding, the two armies met, and the battlefield turned to chaos. The front lines of both armies simply cut through the others, until uncoordinated, fierce battle stretched for hundreds of feet in any direction. Orcs killed orcs and trolls alike, and the trolls freely stalked through the lines of Lechig's orcs, crushing their foes with their unnatural strength and savagery.

The flanks of both armies, consisting of orcs with various types of weaponry and armor, slammed into each other with similar force and also fell into immediate chaos as hundreds of small battles erupted across the field.

Small, pitched battles occurred around Babbesh, and the little goblin was jostled more than once as someone stumbled over the ballista, but none tried nor cared to search underneath for him. From his vantage point, Babbesh had a clear view of the fighting to the south, which just so happened to be the center of the battle.

Watching intently, the little goblin caught sight of mighty Lechig IV pounding through his enemies. The warlord hacked through orc and troll alike, his great strength severing limbs and breaking bones as he strolled through the battlefield.

Babbesh noted that the warlord and his axemen fought in much the same manner, their axes a dance of swipes and slashes. The axemen fought as if Lechig IV had taught them himself, and perhaps he had.

Lechig, confronted by a pair of trolls, seemed overmatched, if only for a moment. As one troll struck out with a gnarled, wooden club, the warlord spun away and twisted his axe around to catch the weapon under its blade. Lechig used the momentum from his spin to draw the troll's weapon down even as he lashed out with a heavy boot to crush his second opponent's knee. As the troll stumbled and fell over, Lechig pulled back up on his axe, reversing the mighty blade to swing at the first troll's face. Because the troll had been leaning forward to keep its hands on its club, its face was in perfect position to be the target of Lechig's swing, and the warlord's axe split the creature's face in half, from chin to forehead.

Continuing with the momentum of the swing, Lechig's axe followed in an arc over his head to come crashing down on the troll with the shattered knee. The axe took the creature directly in the chest and dug so deep that the warlord had to put a boot on the creature's body to tug it out.

Babbesh's wide-eyed gaze drifted as the warlord turned to face his next opponent, and the goblin found general Karoxfang not too far from Lechig. The general was engaged with a trio of orc axe-wielders, and the three surrounded the general. The orcs, spurred on by the sight of their ultimate enemy, charged as one, their axes held high for a finishing strike.

Knowing that only disaster awaited him should he hesitate, Karoxfang charged at one of the orcs. The charge would have been foolish by anyone save the general, as he used a stroke of his mighty wings to pull his massive form off of the ground. His orcish opponent, taken off guard by the speed and ferocity of the charge, tried to skid his advance to a halt. Unfortunately for him, Karoxfang proved faster, and he barreled through the axe-wielder, delivering a nasty cut to the orc's shoulder on the way.

Blood fountained from the orc's wound, as Karoxfang now stood behind the wounded warrior. With a quick turn and thrust, the half-fiend impaled the axe-wielding orc on his sword, and the body quickly began to smolder around the heat of the blade. With another quick motion, Karoxfang hurled the body to the side and now faced only two enemies.

A series of feints with his flaming falchion kept the orcs at bay as Karoxfang circled, bringing his back in line with more friendly forces. Suddenly comfortable with a defensible position, Karoxfang smiled, and his fangs curled over his lips. With his darting sword, the general pressed the attack.

Babbesh marveled at the speed of Karoxfang's weapon as the flaming sword left bright spots in the center of his vision. The blade slammed aside the bulky weapon of an axe-wielder with ease and delivered a series of deep cuts to the orc, though they were immediately cauterized by the flaming sword.

A few more cuts and the orc fell, a mass of bleeding wounds and smoldering blood. The acrid smell of the burnt and dying orc drifted on the breeze, adding to the already pungent odor of the battlefield.

Karoxfang turned as the last axe-wielder that he faced slashed across with his heavy weapon. He ducked under the blow with ease and came up hard, jamming his massive, clawed hand under the orc's chin. The orc's head snapped back with the strike, his teeth shattered and his jaw hanging limp. With little save a groan, the orc's broken body slipped to the bloody grass of the hillside, where he lay motionless.

Karoxfang the Vile turned to find new opponents, even as his last enemy struggled and jerked in the throes of death. The general found a worthy opponent, however, as he now stood face to face with the great warlord of the Western army, Lechig IV.

Babbesh watched the coming conflict closely, his breath coming in ragged gasps and his eyes wide. The little goblin marveled at his luck, for even to bear witness to such a battle was worth a thousand tales in the alleyways of Golloruk.

The little goblin sucked in his breath involuntarily and held it as Karoxfang the Vile and Lechig IV squared off against each other. The surrounding battles seemed to drift away, as if no one from either side desired to get in the way of the powerful figures.

Each of the leaders stalked closer, and the battle was ready to be joined...when an especially ugly orc stooped down into Babbesh's view.

"Whadda' we have here, eh, a sewer rat?"

The orc smiled as if he had found lunch. He reached in with a mailed hand towards Babbesh, drool dripping from his bared teeth.

"Come on, ya' little snog! Get out here to die with yer kin!"

Babbesh squirmed back from the orc's grasp, crawling deeper under the large body of the ballista. He drew his rusty short sword and held it out for a meager defense.

"Nope....ya' gotz it wrong....I'm on yer side. Westerners, woot!"

The little goblin pumped his fist in mock victory, but the orc, perhaps too filled with bloodlust to notice, saw right through the lie.

"Bah! Ain't no sewer snogs in our get out here, and I'll make it quick!"

The orc reached in again, but this time Babbesh was ready. The little goblin lashed out with this short sword, slamming it down on the orc's mailed hand.

"Damn! You rotten little rat!"

The orc retracted his hand, spitting curses at the goblin, and he glared at Babbesh as he sat back on his haunches.

"Fine, then. If you don't wanna' come out, I'll stick ya' and pull ya' out!"

Babbesh drew back even further as he saw the orc stand. Now just looking at the creature's legs, Babbesh cursed to himself as he saw the butt of a spear plunk down next to the orc's heavy boot.

No more than fifty feet from Babbesh's position, Lechig IV swung his gigantic axe at Karoxfang the Vile. The two traded blows back and forth several times with neither warrior gaining any advantage.

Karoxfang darted forward with his much quicker falchion, but Lechig merely held his axe blade high, defending his body and not reaching out to swat at the obvious feint.

The two circled each taking measure of the other as battle raged about them. Each commander thought his cause to be righteous in the eyes of Vornoth, a fact that made them each that much more dangerous.

Karoxfang's feet were almost a blur as he charged forward several paces to attack. His muscular body lifted into the air slightly as he added a flap of his wings to propel him even faster. Karoxfang's falchion was aimed directly at Lechig's heart as he charged, and the speed with which the half-fiend attacked made it seem impossible for his enemy to parry.

But parry the warlord did, as the head of Lechig's axe twisted like the weapon of a fine swordsman in his arms. Knocking the blow aside, Lechig countered with several thrusts of his axe, pumping his arm to attack and recoil, then attack again.

Karoxfang was hard pressed to parry the heavy blows, and he backpedaled as the spiked head of the axe angled towards his chest.

Setting his back foot to stop his retreat, Karoxfang's sword met Lechig's axe, and both of the combatant's pushed away, once again coming to even ground.

Deciding to pursue another tactic, Karoxfang weaved his sword in a series of slashes, hoping to find an opening in his skilled opponent's defense. Lechig, seeing the plan, twisted to the side to avoid a downward slash and thrust out with the head of his axe, the blunt end thudding into the chest of Karoxfang.

With a grunt, the great general reeled from the blow and fought to regain his breath and his stance as Lechig advanced with a horizontal swipe.

Faster by far, even with his breath taken, Karoxfang ducked under the blow and twisted to use the only weapon that he had in line: his boot. Turning into the motion of the twist, Karoxfang lashed out with his boot, hooking Lechig's front leg just behind the ankle and pulling it out from under him.

Already overbalanced by the miss, Lechig tumbled over his leg and fought to hit the ground in a controlled fall. The mighty orc managed to swipe at Karoxfang with his axe even as he tumbled over his lower half.

Karoxfang, forced to dodge the blow, could offer no final strike to finish off the falling Lechig. Even as Karoxfang dodged and moved back to take the offensive, Lechig had rolled over his head and was back to his feet.

Undaunted, Karoxfang initiated another barrage of attacks, the flames of his blade undulating in a hypnotic pattern as its wielder launched it into a stunning dance of slashes and thrusts.

Lechig, in turn, blocked every one with the flat head of his axe, holding it much like a spear. After one such thrust, Karoxfang slightly overextended, and Lechig turned the head of his axe horizontally, catching the general's falchion for only a second. The second turned out to be all that Lechig needed, though, as he swung a powerful backhand, his meaty fist taking Karoxfang full-force in his face.

Karoxfang, taken off-guard by the power of the strike, turned with his head's momentum. Realizing that he'd be yielding his back to his enemy, Karoxfang continued into the turn, bringing his falchion up in a horizontal swipe to keep Lechig at bay.

The defensive maneuver worked even better than Karoxfang could have hoped, as it caught Lechig stalking forward, hoping to finish the general. Lechig sucked in his breath as he tried to stay back, but he couldn't get enough distance to avoid the slash. With a grinding hiss, Karoxfang's blade cut a slice through the mailed armor of Lechig's chest.

The acrid smell of burnt flesh immediately followed as Lechig stepped back and looked down at the gash. Suddenly, before a stunned Karoxfang's eyes, the wound began to close! The flow of blood slowed to a trickle, and Lechig IV looked up to the general with a grin.

Babbesh turned as much as he could in the confined space, and the spearhead jabbed by just inches from his body. The orc chuckled from the side of the ballista as he watched the goblin squirm.

The goblin had run out of space to hide in, and both of the combatants knew it. Babbesh's head was pushed up against the bottom of the large winch that was used to pull back the heavy cord of the ballista, and there was no more room for him to move back.

The orc's last strike had hit with enough force to turn the mighty weapon slightly, and Babbesh now looked down the long shaft of the loaded bolt, which was pointed to the south, towards the heart of the battle.

Babbesh looked about desperately for an escape, but the base of the weapon was too large for him to squirm under. The goblin cursed the size of the base, an obsolete design that Lechig's army had used to target the bolt up and down.

Hoping to slip out without being noticed, Babbesh propelled himself to one side, but the orc saw him and moved just as quickly. Again the spear came in, thrusting wildly to find an enemy from which to draw blood.

Babbesh cried out as the spearhead grazed his shoulder, indeed finding a target on the little goblin's body. He fell back underneath the weapon, and his head thunked against the bulky base, further frustrating him.

Blinking through tears of pain, Babbesh glanced up from under the thick bolt of the mechanism and again took notice of the wooden release lever that had somehow remained armed in spite of the orc's barrage of spear strikes.

From outside of the ballista, the orc chuckled again.

"Gotcha, eh little one? Yer blood's just startin' to flow an' my arm ain't near tired! Ha!"

Karoxfang was hard pressed to defend himself against the rejuvenated warlord, as Lechig IV stalked forward with fast, controlled swings of his mighty axe.

Between every blow, Karoxfang thought to move in and find an opening, but it closed too quickly as Lechig threw another.

Backpedaling, the general snarled at Lechig and bared his fangs in frustration. The mighty warlord was unstoppable, and his arms didn't seem to tire. If only there was a way to slow him down, Karoxfang thought.

Time seemed to slow for Babbesh as he moved to act. The lever was close, but if he moved, his left arm would be an open target for the orc's spear. Weighing his options, the goblin realized that he really had no choice.

Reaching up, Babbesh pulled the lever and immediately felt a crushing numbness in his hand. Thinking himself speared, the little goblin instinctively withdrew his hand but was surprised to see only a few split fingers, bleeding from where the tightly wound string of the ballista had clipped them.

Looking out from under the mechanism, Babbesh howled with glee at the effect of the weapon. The orc's spear fell over to the ground with a thud, its wielder gone. Looking beyond the weapon, Babbesh saw the heavy orc falling through the air over a dozen feet away.

The orc's body hadn't stopped the bolt's flight, however, as the massive projectile ripped completely through his body and continued to sail through the air. The orc, a bleeding hole in his chest, fell to the ground, quite dead.

Lechig IV grinned as he pressed his attack. The mighty warlord had found an advantage in the surprise of his opponent. In reality, Lechig's supernatural healing was the benefit of a ring given to him by one of his devoted priests.

Lechig allowed Karoxfang to believe whatever he wanted and kept up his devastating barrage of attacks. The warlord's arm never tired, as it was spurred on by the orc's feeling of righteousness and the belief that his destiny was to rule Rothnog in the name of his kin and his ancestors.

Karoxfang, retreating from the warlord's barrage, stumbled slightly as he bumped into one of Lechig's personal guards. Turning slightly, Karoxfang growled as the orc turned and aligned his axe to swing. Now confronted by two enemies, Karoxfang was soon overmatched. He cursed a foul oath as his falchion slipped out of his grip.

The half-fiend looked from side to side, but no help was to be found. The pitched battles had died down, and few combatants of either side remained alive near the center of the fighting. The bodies of thousands piled high around the general and the warlord, cutting them and a few others off from the remainder of the army.

Karoxfang glanced down at his falchion, which continued to scorch the blood-soaked grass at Lechig's feet. As he moved, the general caught a shadow out of the corner of his eye. Looking up, his eyes grew wide, and Karoxfang immediately dove to the side.

The general had moved just in time, as a huge ballista bolt slammed into and through Lechig's leg. The point entered at the hamstring, exited through the knee, and drove several feet into the ground. The bolt effectively pinned Lechig to the earth, and the orc warlord bellowed in pain.

Wasting no time, Karoxfang darted forth to take up his falchion. The half-fiend general rose up to his full height, though he was still dwarfed by the abnormally large Lechig. With blurring speed, Karoxfang battered away the guard of Lechig's infantry companion and cut him from shoulder to crotch. The axe-wielder fell, and Karoxfang was left confronting only Lechig.

The warlord was already tugging the head of the spear from the ground when Karoxfang gripped the shaft and shook it. His eyes lit with glee at Lechig's scream of pain, and Karoxfang circled around Lechig like a great hunter who had finally pinned down his prey.

Lechig tugged furiously with his free arm and swatted at Karoxfang ineffectually with his axe. The half-fiend general stalked behind the warlord, grinning in anticipation. After only a brief moment of basking in his victory and the fulfillment of the will of Vornoth, Karoxfang leapt forward and removed the head of Lechig IV, great warlord of Western Rothnog.

The warlord's body remained, pinned upright like a sick puppet. Even as his head fell, Lechig's ring acted to heal the wound. Alas, with no head, the orc's body just jerked and shook in violent spasms.

Karoxfang's eyes widened in bloodlust, and he visibly shook with the sensation of victory, until a voice from the north distracted him.

"I didz dat...did good, eh?!"

Babbesh ran from his hiding spot to the side of Karoxfang and looked at Lechig's body with disgust.

"Ewww.....never seen one do that before. So, Babbesh did good, right big boss?"

Karoxfang, ignoring the goblin's ranting, uttered a command word, and the flames of his falchion simply puffed out of existence. Suddenly, he looked down at Babbesh, his face bearing a stern look of reproach.

"You did this, little one?"

At Babbesh's nod, Karoxfang's eyes narrowed.

"Then Vornoth thanks you for your sacrifice and welcomes you to his pits, where you'll spend an eternity rending the flesh from your enemies."

Babbesh continued to grin with glee, misunderstanding the general's words. He even grinned as the mighty falchion of Karoxfang whipped out and cut through the tender flesh of his throat. Babbesh gurgled out his last words unintelligibly as he slumped to the ground.

As he fell, the goblin watched Karoxfang, who had already moved on to lop off the hand of Lechig. With a grin, the general stripped the hand of a ring and slipped it onto his own clawed finger.

His final breath gone, Babbesh's eyes rolled up, and he saw the great, beckoning sky, vast and endless. He smiled in resignation, and then saw the circling vultures.

With their leader and inspiration killed, the forces of Western Rothnog were quick to yield to their enemies. Unfortunately for them, the army of Karoxfang gave no quarter and slaughtered the dissenters to the last orc.

Karoxfang, though he retained barely a quarter of his original force, returned to Golloruk triumphant.

With the people of Rothnog again unified, the Dweller in the Vale departed and returned to its home in the icy reaches of the east, promising to return shortly. Karoxfang was left to rule in the name of Vornoth, but he was left with barely an army to speak of. The garrison of Golloruk was barely potent enough to keep peace within its own borders, and morale was at a low.

Less than three years later, the powerful Marshall Damal Dunhearth of Wawmar marched out of the mighty stronghold with the army of King Fandain in tow. With the King's blessing and order, Dunhearth led an assault on the orc-nation of Rothnog, starting with its most powerful city, Golloruk.

Marshall Dunhearth harried the dark folk forces and besieged the city for weeks before Karoxfang the Vile could raise a force to meet the dwarves in combat.

In arrogance or perhaps foolish pride, Karoxfang led his forces to do battle with the dwarves of Wawmar. Karoxfang fought two losing battles before his forces were caught in retreat at the high Thunder Pass as the orcs tried to flee to the east, away from the relentless axes of the Khazak. But the dwarves of Wawmar, using new advances in technology and warfare, penned the dark folk in the pass and annihilated the forces of the evil general. Karoxfang and Damal Dunhearth met on the field that day, and Karoxfang fell to the might of the fearless dwarven Marshall.

Battered and left for dead, Karoxfang's regenerative ring enacted its powers, and the general awoke. Slipping past dwarven lines, Karoxfang managed to flee and escape with a small contingent of his fellow dark folk, those few who had survived the massacre.

With hope lost and the Dweller miles away, the remnants of Rothnog took flight to the south, where they began the soon-to-be-mighty fortress of Stor-gris.