Refuge was a town on the edge, and the man tasked with keeping it from tipping over paced the streets with an impatient watchfulness. A cliff face protected the rear of the town. On the other side of it, a forest that few dared to tread. In front, stout wooden logs, reinforced with steel. Beyond those walls had once been human territory, but now only ruined farms and homesteads remained, littering the landscape for miles around.
Safe territory ended at his gates, and Kyvril was doing everything he could to keep the border from pushing inward on his town. Chimeras, hybrid animals with strength and size greater than the sum of their parts, had ventured nearby in the last few weeks. They’d come close enough to need his archers to see them off. He trusted his walls against most of them, but some chimeras grew to fearsome sizes, true titans.
And now the orcs were visiting his town. Once fearsome raiders themselves, but never had much interest in conquest. It was his town’s shipments of steel they’d struck in years past. But one day, an ambitious chieftain had decided that trading for these shipments would yield more of these metals than raiding. This newfound cleverness worried Kyvril more than the raids had.
But he was used to them now. They often came to trade. Most wanted pure iron, some wanted human trinkets, and a few only wanted alcohol. But the current group of four were unlike other groups. Their leader was a nine-foot tall giant wearing full iron armor and a jade-colored mask. Two bodyguards wearing full suits of bone-plate armor accompanied him closely.
The last was curiously dressed, wearing a long mustard-colored coat with green lapels. A tall pair of boots that almost reached his knees completed his outfit. This one was talkative for his kind and seemed intent on finding a pair of gloves that could match his boots. He kept far from the other three, but Kyvr knew all four of the orcs had arrived at roughly the same time. The other two stayed together and traded only for minor items.
The giant in the mask seemed disinterested in trade, wandering around the main gate instead. Kyvril had never seen such behavior from an orc. Something about this orc’s mannerisms was off somehow. He strode down the streets with the tall posture of a king. Orcs usually walked with feet wide apart with a kind of natural swagger.
Eventually, the chief turned to face him, striking red eyes visible behind his mask. “Strong walls.” he stated.
He was used to orcs speaking in brief sentences. Not that they struggled with long words, but they hated wasted time and air. So they kept their thoughts brief. Kyvril couldn’t shake the feeling that this individual wasn’t speaking this way out of long habit. He was speaking this way because a human expected it. He decided to talk with him for a while.
“Yes, they are strong walls. Have to keep ourselves separate from the frontier somehow.”
“And if the frontier wanted to come in?” the giant orc asked.
“We put people on the walls to prevent that.”
“The orc lands aren’t protected by walls. Each hill has a chief. Each chief builds a tiny kingdom on this hill. They shelter inside tiny castles with their kin. Are you chief here?”
“We have several chiefs in this small kingdom. I am one of many,” Kyvril answered.
“Troublesome. Would make challenging for control difficult.”
“That hasn’t come up yet. Nobody seems to want my job, I guess.”
The big fellow laughed at that, an unsettling sound to Kyvr’s ears. He wasn’t used to them joking around. Although they were more prone to it with a belly full of ale. The other two of his party approached, having finished their trade. The orc with the mustard colored coat drifted towards the gate as well, keeping his distance from the rest. The Warlock nodded down to the human. “Farewell, little chief. Perhaps we will meet again.”
Kyvr couldn’t get the strange meeting with the orc out of his mind. He’d never met one so tall or dressed to cover all his skin. It occurred to him that the only features that identified him as an orc were his red eyes, deep voice, and height. A height so tall was well beyond a normal range for even an orc.
He slept poorly that night. His wife, Cataline, complained about his tossing and turning. She was his opposite in many ways. A blond, fair woman with blue eyes. He was born of pure Qismat stock, copper-colored eyes, brown skin, and the mustache that his people preferred.
He woke early that morning and couldn’t help but patrol the walls. His house was built along the walls. It was most efficient for those involved with the town militia to have their homes against the wall. It made it quicker to respond to an emergency. He climbed the wooden stairs to the top of the pallisade and paced the top. The overnight crew were still in their positions and idly waved to him as he passed. His house was nearest the north side of town. So he began by strolling southward. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for in particular, but he scanned for anything that seemed out of the ordinary.
When he found nothing, he left the walls and started pacing up the street, running along the inside of the wall. He scanned the inside of the walls from this street as he walked back north.
From the north, an explosion of flame and splinters erupted in his town. It had come from close to his house. He had come armed. Kyvr always brought his enchanted cleavers with him. They were endlessly sharp and very durable. He felt his pouch and realized he had brought his mushrooms as well. Those he rarely brought, but some instinct had warned him to bring them.
He sprinted up the street, past the main gate, and turned to face his house. A smoldering, circular hole had been blasted in the wall and the house beside it, his house. Half of the building remained, but a person had been blown clear of that side, his wife Cataline. He knew immediately that she was dead. She stared towards him with unseeing eyes. But he couldn’t go to her. A mass of something inhuman had walked through the breach, blocking his way. Headless, otherwise humanoid, eight-foot beings wielding thick triangular blades. More of the monsters outside hammered the sentries on top of the wall with boulders.
Kyvr knew that these were blemmyae, but in all his years, he’d never seen more than five in a single place or so uniformly armed. Here it was twenty of them, with more pouring through behind them. He was still stunned that this was happening. Alarms rang throughout town from the surviving sentries. The first creatures through the gap separated into a line of battle. But what could a town of three hundred souls do against those thousand pound beasts? Despair overwhelmed him, but his fists clenched around the hilt of his swords. He still lived. He took a pair of the berserker mushrooms from his belt and swallowed them, a dangerous amount to take at one time. The influence of the mushrooms clouded out his thoughts and replaced it with their simple rage.
The smoke from the explosion cleared, and a gap in the invaders presented itself. The next one through the breach was not one of the headless. It was the warlord from the day before with his well-armored orcish bodyguard. There was no sign of the orc with the yellow coat. The bodyguards entered Kyvril’s destroyed home and emerged with two small children under their arms. Kyvr stepped forward alone towards the advancing blemmyae.
The giant orc turned to him with a raised palm. A giant fireball roared into existence in front of it. “Hello again Guildmaster.”
Kyvril had never seen an orc wizard before, but the battle rage filled his blood now. He didn’t let it stop him. Shouts called to him from behind. The people had awakened to the doom in front of them. They would face it with their fragile bodies, and a stockpile of twenty-foot pikes. But there weren’t enough people yet to halt the breach.
Kyvr rushed towards his enemy. But even in his madness, he wasn’t trying to die. When the orc warlock cast the spell, he dove clear. The fireball’s explosion still threw him to the ground. He scrambled to his feet quickly, expecting a second spell. But the Warlock never cast it. The giant had doubled over in obvious pain and was hauled back through the breach in the wall by his two bodyguards. Kyvr darted towards the line of blemmyae, intent on pursuing him.
As his conscious mind faded from the effects of the mushrooms, his enemies ceased to be like individual beings. They were like a wall of solid flesh. He couldn’t make out where one ended, and the rest began. All around were sharp teeth and giant eyes. And yet he dove forward into that mass.
Blades nearly as heavy as he was crashed down around him. The blemmyae were slow and easy to predict. In the midst of the berserker rage, it was as if they moved in slow motion. Kyvril charged in low, hacking chunks out of the beasts with his enchanted sabers. Their rough line collapsed in the middle as he passed their first rank. The second had even less time to react than the first. The huge brutes swayed around him like an angry forest as he cut chunks from their hides with abandon. Despite the great gouges he had cut in them, none fell. Blemmyae wouldn’t die so easily. Soon the breach itself was in front of him, and the line of enemies behind.
He knew his enemy was through this gap. As he approached it, a spearpoint flashed towards him, wielded by a green hand. In his madness, Kyvril couldn’t make out the wielder. He struck out at the spearhead, hacking off the end of the weapon. A shield loomed in front of him and was cleft in two as well. He slashed at the one behind it. Rough iron plates screeched under his blows. The being underneath howled in pain, but kept its feet. Kyvril swept his blades low, finally bringing it down.
Ignoring the fallen enemy, Kyvril charged into the wilderness. His mind was gone now. He knew he was looking for someone, but didn’t know who. The rampaging guildmaster carved into anything that got in his way. He forgot who he was, knowing only the feeling of the blades in his hands. When his city was far behind him, he finally collapsed.
Hours later he woke up, stiff limbs moved with extreme pain, and only then did he remember what he had lost. Hopelessness seized him. They had taken his children and Cataline was dead. He didn’t have the courage to even look back at the town.
He knew the blemmyae were man-eaters. He believed his children dead already. Raising his cleaver, he pressed the tip against his chest, watching the trickle of blood run down his shirt. A grunt interrupted him. A lone wounded orc stomped up the path ahead of him. It was hard to remember, but this was the one he had cut down outside the wall. It was in a hurry to get somewhere. Despite the limp, he was making good time. And then Kyvril remembered the warlock. His desire to kill himself ended there. He felt a desperate need to hurt this giant, and the wounded orc would take him there.
Comments (18)See all