The party peered around the corner at the iron gate. No movement, no sound. The smell of burnt oil still hung in the air and they could just make out the spot on the floor where Valmont had been burned. Shadows from the party’s torches flickered and made the gate seem like clenched teeth.
“They have to be out of oil. I am going to break down that portcullis and use it to kill those Orcs.” This from Leif to no one in particular. The Elf looked around at his companions, squinting because the torches did odd things to his night vision.
The Mystic shrugged. “I am with you. Let’s go.”
Valmont stifled an argument. He knew they had to get through the gate to find the Orc chief and to rescue Stallanford’s kidnapped cleric. However, he still felt the sting of his burns despite Roderick’s healing magic. He looked over at the priest who just shook his head then looked down. Azriei, beside him shuffled his feet and closed his eyes, leaning on the wall as if about to catnap.
“Couldn’t Azriei manipulate the lock? He’s proven he has that skill, previously” said Teagan. She looked at the “merchant.”
He didn’t open his eyes nor stop leaning on the wall but did speak, “yes, I can but I do not fancy setting my leather armor on fire. I bellieve we should go the other way to explore the other passageway. But if Leif wishes to get a bath of hot oil, I will wait here to put him out.”
Teagan rolled her eyes. She didn’t quite trust the handsome human.
“That settles it,” said Leif. “Let’s go Cyllan. You too Zyass and Leif.”
Zyass unhooked his bow and handed his torch to Roderick. He followed the Elf and Mystic as quietly as he could. He stood behind them as they positioned their hands on the metal bars. He sensed Leif at his side and as if on queue, they both notched arrows and aimed for the closed first door beyond the gate. There was still no movement from beyond the gate. Leif nodded to Cyllan and they both pulled. A few seconds passed and sweat started beading on their foreheads. They tried not to grunt under the strain. Slowly, the metal bars began to pull wider apart. Then, with an almost silent “ugh” from the pair adventurers, the iron bent quickly and the gap was wide enough to permit passage. Leif rubbed his arms and Cyllan shrugged her shoulders then stepped through. The others quickly and quietly followed.
They now stood before two wooden doors. Zyass noticed that a faint knocking sound came from the other side of the first door. Not on the door but from inside whatever room lay beyond the door. He whispered his findings to the group and they quickly conferred. They would open the second door first since nothing had poked its head out of that one. Azriei examined the lock and it was locked. He looked to Cyllan to see if he should pick it but she waved him away. She nodded to Leif and they reared back to kick it down.
The Mystic was a bit quicker and more nimble so her foot alone slammed into the wood, sending it back free from it hinges. There was a loud crack like a tree snapping then a loud “oomph” as the door knocked aside a humanoid form behind it. Cyllan tumbled into the room, allowing her kick to carry her, doing a forward roll and coming up with her staff in attack position. A dark, furry shape leapt at her and without a thought she swung and knocked it into the wall. It looked to be the largest ferret possible. Not cute and cuddlly but instead as large as a Border Collie but sleek, snarling and frothing at the mouth. She also noticed that an Orc was crawling from underneath the pieces of the shattered door. She moved to engage the snarling ferret.
Leif yelled out, “Take him alive!” as he, Teagan and Roderick swarmed in behind the Mystic. Leif drew his sword and smacked the scrambling Orc on the shoulder, narrowly missing the beast’s head. The creature howled in pain and rolled away from the Elf. Unfortunately for him, Teagan was standing nearby. She had dropped her bow and had drawn her sword. She grimly swung it trying to hit the Orc with the flat of her blade. Her blow caught her opponent in the back and he flattened on the floor, the breath expelled from his lungs in a low, “humph!” She looked back at Leif and said, “Are you sure?” Meanwhile Roderick stepped forward with his war hammer raised. He brought it down right on top of the Orc’s head and knocked him unconscious.
Cyllan leapt at the ferret and jabbed her staff. The ferret jumped at her and the force of their collision was like muffled thunder. The wooden staff drove into the animal and knocked its life out. It crumpled on the floor in a ball of fur as Cyllan landed lightly on her feet, her staff again ready to strike but no opponents remained.
Now that they looked around, they noticed this was a dirty, disheveled room which smelled of Orc and ferret. There were two large iron cages along the south wall, with straw and feeding bowls inside them. Close by was a bed of dirty furs and straw and above this there was a whip on a shelf hammered into the wall. A small table was covered in dirty cracked plates and similar mess.
There were some muffled thumps and scraping from the room next door but no one came to help the unconscious Orc. Roderick cut another length from his rope and used it to tie up their captive. He left him bundled while the party huddled outside the other door. It was locked but Azriei quickly picked it. He stood back to let Cyllan open the door.
The stench of oil permeated this room and it was quickly apparent why. Though the floor was covered in straw, the first five or ten feet inside of the door was soaked in lantern oil. The rest of the room was in shambles. Chairs were strewn about and a very large table was overturned in the far corner. On the south wall was an ornate shield with a pair of pole arms crossed above it like a scene from a lord’s castle but above it was a grisly reminder of the Orcs who ruled here: a wooden plaque with a stuffed dwarf’s head trophy upon it. Scattered about were a couple of small boxes on a side-table and a collection of weapons. But most pressing were the three Orc guards hiding behind the large overturned table. One held a torch and a flask of oil with a rag stuffed into it.
One of the Orcs spoke in Common, “Step into the room so we may parlay. Otherwise, we will be forced to burn you.”
The next minutes were tense as the two groups exchanged insults and demands. Meanwhile one of the Orcs had maneuvered himself near the door. Neither side agreed to surrender and neither seemed to want to really start the fight. The Orcs did put down their Molotov cocktail during the negotiations and the entire party entered the room. Then as if on cue, the Orc near the door ran.
The lead Orc put one hand on the edge of the table and vaulted it, landing lightly on his feet. He drew his sword and advanced on Valmont, ignoring all others. With a flourish, he slashed at the mage who attempted to block with his dagger. One poke to the stomach and Valmont gasped in pain, He had been run almost through. Turning pale he stumbled back but remained pierced by the sword. The Orc lifted his leg and kicked the wizard off his weapon. He saw two of the adventurers (Teagan and Zyass) run out the door. He was not sure if it was in fear or to chase the Orc who had run. He hoped the Orc would be able to reach the Chief in time and without running into Zuggot, the lieutenant who was such a coward and pain in their backsides.
The rest of the party was battling the other Orc so the lead Orc turned towards Leif. “Come and taste cold steel” the Orc said in Elven. Leif moved forward and swung a mighty blow; one that would have shattered the arm of any normal creature who blocked it. But the Orc stepped into it, catching the weight by bending his legs. He powered out of a crouch and drove back the Elf. All the while he was grinning.
Leif was stunned. Never before had he met such an Orc. Not only was his Elvish impeccable, he was clearly well trained in the use of a sword. Much more so than any Orc had a right to be. He too grinned and leapt to meet the Orc’s blade.
Again and again, they clashed, sparks flying from the steel and the ringing becoming almost deafening. The Orc’s allies had fallen but Leif waved off his own. They stood by, in awe of the fight that played out before them. Neither Leif nor the Orc could gain advantage. They were evenly matched. Even when one connected and drew blood, they other also did. Both Elf and Orc, locked in fatal battle, were grinning and laughing maniacally. They taunted each other in Common, Elven and Orc; a mish mash of language that made them laugh all the more. Sweat and blood mixed with the straw and made the floor slick and ultimately that finished the fight. Leif lunged and the Orc swung to counter but his foot slipped. Instead, his body blocked the sword and it slipped into a gap in the side of his armor. Both warriors were stunned and their eyes locked. The Orc dropped his sword. He grabbed the Elf’s sword and pulled himself close to Leif. He put his mouth to the Elf’s ear and whispered in Elven, “Well done.” Then he closed his eyes and fell back dead. Leif knelt beside the lifeless body and gave praise for such a mighty opponent.
In silence the party searched the room. The priest quickly healed the mage with magic and helped to his feet. By that time, Teagan and Zyass had returned. They told the rest of the party what they had found: there was no sign of the runaway Orc though they had found a door. On the other side of the door had been voices, speaking in Orc. At least one was not Orc and had a much deeper voice. Apparently it was waiting for a meeting with the Chief but the Orc was stalling for some reason. Teagan mocked its repeated attempts at flattery and forestalling. Zyass imitated the deep, resonant voice of the other one constantly demanding to “see the Chief, now!” Despite the grim circumstances, it was good to share a brief moment of humor. The group reformed their marching order and snuck towards the door. Inside, the two creatures were still having a loud discussion. Those with bows stood ready to let arrows fly while Cyllan kicked down the door and tumbled out of the way.
Immediately, the party saw that this room differed from the others they had seen – it was large and fairly clean, with wolf-fur bedding at the far end, a table of cleaned and polished weapons, a small chest, and even a large earthenware bowl with an urn of water by it. Sitting at the table was a large, furry orange creature, a look of amusement on his face. Also, a thin Orc in leather armor was standing in the center of the room. The Orc looked surprised. As he reached for his sword, an arrow from Zyass’ bow pierced his chest. The Orc staggered back then dropped to one knee, his hands on the floor. He appeared not be able to get his breath then collapsed and was still.
The large creature stood to his full height, hands up, the smile still on his face. If he were not almost eight feet tall and covered in clean, dark orange fur, he would have looked like a goblin. He had the same pointed teeth and pointed ears. He was wearing black enameled leather armor and looked almost noble. He spoke in Common, “Greetings, adventurers. I believe you are looking for the Orc chief. I imagine if your meeting goes well, mine will be of little consequence. I had better be leaving.”
“Wait!” said Valmont. “Who are you and what are you?”
The creature smiled. “I am but a diplomat with no more reason to wait here. As for my name, well, some things must remain secret.”
“He likely works for the Iron Ring,” said Teagan . The creature looked at him and grimaced.
“No, not for that nasty outfit. I work for other parties interested in the fate of the northern lands.” The creature was now gathering items from the wolf-fur bedding and packing the chest. Cyllan was eyeing the items as he stuffed them in the chest.
“How much for one of those furs?” said the Mystic. The creature tilted his head towards her, smiling. “How much are you willing to spend?” They negotiated lightheartedly and when they were done, Cyllan was the proud new owner of a beautiful wolf fur rug. It was mostly black with streaks of tan and gray.
The creature hefted the chest onto one shoulder. “Good luck in your . . .uh . . . negotiations with the chief.” With that he quickly but silently left the room.
“I think he was a Bugbear,” declared Zyass. Roderick agreed. Cyllan shrugged. She had not wished to fight it so she was a bit relieved. Azriei turned his attention to the remaining contents of the room, searching for treasure.
After their search, the group moved back the way they came. Zyass stopped. “Hey. Anyone notice that?” He was pointing at a very faint set of parallel vertical cracks in the wall near the corner. He prodded it with his sword and it became apparent it was a concealed door. Beyond it, a torch lit passageway continued.
The party moved quickly but quietly ahead. As Leif rounded the first bend of the passage, he and an Orc nearly collided. Both leaped back and the Orc slightly stumbled. The party saw that dripping blood coated the Orc’s sword and fresh spatters of crimson covered his clothes! Without giving it a second thought, Leif stepped forward again and swung his sword at the Orc’s neck. With a sound like a butcher making chops, the Orc’s head was cleanly lopped from his shoulders, a look of surprise still on its face. Leif, turned to the rest of the party and said, “Let’s keep moving.” He was unfazed by his kill. The party was too stunned to argue.
The group followed the hallway (and small drops of blood on the floor) down the passageway. As they gathered around a door where the drops led, Zyass shouted out, “Whoa!” He stepped back and a fraction of a second later, a pit appeared where he had been walking. Valmont, who was behind him, grabbed his cloak and pulled him back from the edge. The group peered down and saw a ten foot deep pit. Surely, that would have been disastrous for Zyass if he had fallen. Everyone avoided it and huddled around the door. Azriei found it locked but picked this one too. Cyllan opened it cautiously.
Continuing further down the passageway, they eventually reached a door at the end of the north passage. It was made of stout, dark wood and had a forbidding symbol etched in blood on it. Leif and Teagan looked at each other and smiled grimly. Turning to the group, they both mouthed the words, “great chieftain” and the party understood. Clearly, this was the area for which the party was looking. Everyone stood back except Cyllan who kicked in the door.
The large room was dominated by a heavy wooden throne that stood on a raised area at the eastern end of the room. The party saw doors on the north and south sides at the far end and a heavy black wall hanging covered part of the north wall, with Orcish runes and symbols smeared in blood on it.
By the throne stood a huge, battle-scarred Orc, wielding a heavy axe. By his right side, behind a heavy table, was a smaller Orc, waving his hands and muttering something. Between the party and the smaller Orc were large Orc guards (Shordun’s lieutenants) blocking the way to their leader. They were armed with swords and with their chief, they were prepared to do their best to bludgeon and slash the invaders to death!
The Orc chieftain was huge. Muscles rippled under his chainmail, straining the links, as he hefted his battle axe. It was stained with the blood of his victims and both the chief and the axe seemed to grin wildly, no, maniacally, as he stepped down the dais. “A few more victims to feed my blade,” he thought.
His lieutenants walked casually towards the door, confident in their strength. They had good reason to be brave. The raid last night had been successful; this group could only be a ragtag lot from the town and the four of them were proven warriors. Besides, they were the vanguard for the chief himself and Crulxux, his shaman. Right now, Shordun, out of the corner of his eye, caught the glow around Crulxux which meant he had cast his Shield spell. The magic casting Orc was an odd fellow and he slightly unnerved most of the Orcs. But he was useful. Shordun knew the next spell would be that never missing Magic Missile.
The battle was evolving and was slightly surprising, thought Shordun. That human priest was brave to step up and be surrounded by Shordun’s lieutenants. However, as he prayed, it looked to Shordun that he was asking for last rites. He hoped it was the case. From his limited experience with human priests, he could tell it was no spell. But then, things took a turn for the worse. The cleric and the four Orc lieutenants dropped dead to the floor and the other humans moved into the room. There were two Elves among them too. He could smell their earthy almost tree-like smell from across the wide room. He would kill them first if he could.
The human female was fast. She ran across the room headed for Crulxux. The chief thought about dealing with her but knew he had to make it to and take down their spell casters first and that included the Elves. They had obviously taken out the lieutenants with some kind of magic. They appeared to be asleep along with that human priest. He hesitated then saw that another Human (he had the same smell as the Elves) was also moving to intercept the shaman.
Crulxux was preparing to cast another spell. The female was waving a staff at him but he did not seem fazed. He instead took a step back. Then an arrow appeared in the shaman’s shoulder and he staggered. The spell went awry, only resulting in a pop, some smoke and the smell of cinders. The arrow had come from that human male.
“Good shot, Zyass” he heard the woman say. The Orc leader grunted and turned to find a male Elf brandishing a sword beside him. From the way he held the sword, Shordun could tell he was trained beyond the normal Elf scout or soldier. This would be fun. His skull would make a nice mug for ale if prepped correctly. Shordun smiled at the thought.
The Elf did not look pleased at the smile. He bashed with his sword but Shordun was able to slash it away. . “Cyllan! Look out, he is casting another spell!” A female Elf was also in the room. She had a bow in one hand and looked to be angling for a shot at Crulxux. The Shield spell would block that. Shordun turned again to the male Elf.
He should have paid better attention for it would be the last time he would see the shaman alive. The female Elf, dropped the bow and clapped her hands above her head. A glowing green arrow of light raced from them to the shaman. As it struck him, his golden glow flickered and the green bolt struck him in the forehead, sparks coming from the little round hole now present right above his left eye.
The woman named Cyllan was good. She feinted and lunged with her staff. She was strong and quick but the chief was stronger. He batted away her strikes and forced her to one knee. Breathing hard, she raised her staff with both hands, arms shaking but up to defend. However, Shordun believed she was not yielding, it was but a ploy. After all she had not yet been wounded and her eyes spoke no submission. So instead of holding back he reared back with his axe, drooping it behind his back and standing on tiptoe then, with all the force he could muster, he brought it down upon her. Only the shattering staff saved her from being cleaved in two. She spun from the force then lay silently bleeding.
From somewhere, that Human priest was back up and fighting. In fact, he was standing in front of Shordun, brandishing a war hammer. Shordun blocked a swing from the priest with an upward swing. The cleric’s front was exposed so the Chief jabbed his axe into the Human’s abdomen. “Ooph!” Shordun followed with a roundabout swing that connected the flat of the axe with the chin of the Human. Blood flew from the priest’s mouth and he crumbled into the floor, unmoving.
Shordun turned to the one called Zyass. “Now, you ‘elf-human’ shall die.’. He hefted his axe and the Forestor’s sword leapt to meet it. The Orc was growing weary. He left his right armpit exposed a second too long after a swing and Zyass stabbed him. He howled in pain and rolled away from the blade, using his momentum to swing the heavy axe. The haft caught the human on the flank and knocked the wind out his lungs. He stumbled and Shordun hit him in the face with an elbow. “See, you shall die now.” But Zyass was still in the fight and could tell the Orc had been wounded. He smiled and feinted with his sword then punched the Orc with his other hand. The surprised Orc grinned but should not have. Zyass slashed his cheek with his sword. Shordun roared and began a flurry of blows. The brute was too much for Zyass and he fell, unconscious. But as he was about to turn away from his last victim, he felt a burning sensation in his throat. It was like a bee sting in front and back and inside it was sore and hot. He gasped to gain his breath and he heard a wheezing sound from his neck. He dropped the axe and reached up. His hands stuck on something sharp and when he looked at them, they were covered in blood. He tried to speak but just gurgled. He looked around and saw the female Elf standing aiming an empty bow at him from perhaps twenty feet away. He understood. He took a step forward and tried to curse but his knees buckled. He fell on his face and his last thoughts were of the faraway Broken Lands he would never see again.
The room was silent.