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Author Topic: [Story] Fear  (Read 1975 times)
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Disembodied Spirits

Spell Energy / Taint +0/-0
Posts: 1

« on: December 16, 2007, 12:59:24 AM »

Grazn’ull was afraid.

This was not an entirely new sensation for the orc, having survived the breeding pits as a youngling and spent his life under the shadow of larger and fiercer orcs, but this was something different.  The growls and grunts of his fellow orcs were something he understood and could anticipate, but this frozen green hell was something else entirely.

   Already five of his orcs were missing or dead, killed by white-fletched arrows that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at once or simply vanished into the icy underbrush without a sound to mark their passing.

   The scar-faced orc sergeant huddled under a frost-rimed briar bush and thought back to the events that led him to what he now knew was his doom:

   His platoon had been sent to crush a village near the borders of the Elven forest that had provided succor to Dornish rebels.  The informant had been truthful, of that Grazn’ull was certain.  His corporal’s finesse with the Erunsil skinning knife he carried was the stuff of legends, and the broken Northman had begged for the fall of the vardatch at the end of it.  So Grazn’ull and his troop had set off to eradicate those humans who had the temerity to give aid to the enemies of the Shadow.

   At first everything had gone smoothly.  The orcs appeared out of the night mist in a whirlwind of steel and fire, rending and tearing every living thing in the village.  Men, women and children were cut down with equal ferocity, and the brutish soldiers glutted their feral bloodlust in a dozen different ways.

   Then an egg splattered against Grazn’ull’s breastplate, smearing the yolk across the tribal designs.  He looked up incredulously to see a small girl in worn leathers giggling as she hefted another missile.  This she let fly, sending it smashing into the orc’s face. 

   With a roar of incoherent rage, Grazn’ull charged the child with his vardatch held high.  Before he had covered half the distance, she turned and danced lightly across the bloodstained, trampled snow at a pace that quickly left the orc behind.  Grazn’ull’s bellows brought the rest of his warband at a run, and they gave tongue like a pack of wolves as they harried the girl into the ice-sheathed boughs of Erethor.  It was the last time any of them had seen the open sky.

   The mountain-bred orcs lost their bearings almost immediately as the cold branches closed behind them.  They blundered through briars that scratched their exposed flesh, and their heavy hobnailed boots crashed through the ice covering pools of water, leaving them shivering.  As they hacked their way through the boughs, puffs of snow arose and blinded them.  And then the terror began. 

   The first orc to die was a young scout named Orgrach.  He had the presence of mind to look towards the trees for a break in the frozen canopy.  The twang of a solitary bowstring brought the orcs’ weapons and shields up into fighting positions, and the meaty thwock of the arrow hitting flesh was unmistakable.  Grazn’ull quickly barked an order, and his men took cover in the frosted bushes.  No further sound broke the primeval stillness of Erethor.  Orgrach lay in the trail, a white-fletched clothyard shaft protruding from his eye socket and an ichor-stained broadhead dripping onto the back of his neck.

   For five whole minutes, Grazn’ull strained his ears and eyes for some hint of their assailant, but his efforts bore little fruit.  When he gave the command to reassemble on the trail and move out, he found that one of his troopers was missing.  Grazn’ull risked a quiet grunt, but nothing came back to his ears.  T’gruk was simply gone.  One of the others stripped Orgrach’s corpse of his dwarf-made throwing axe and the troop moved on.

   The quiet deaths continued for two days, as the orcs trudged grimly through the forest, hoping to find their way out.  Now only three were left.  Grazn’ull looked towards his remaining men, both stout fighters and veterans of campaigns against the dwarves in the Kaladruns.  The looks in their eyes told him all he needed to know.  They had resigned themselves to death in the cold shadows of the elven forest.

   And then Grazn’ull saw something that set his heart beating faster.  Beyond a copse of winter spruce shone the flickering light of a campfire.  Reverting to his training, the orc motioned his two subordinates to spread out and approach warily.  As they crept nearer, Grazn’ull saw that this was indeed the edge of the demon forest, and an endless expanse of swordgrass stretched to the dim horizon.  He had to force himself to use stealth rather than simply run towards salvation.

   Then he saw the lone figure standing next to the fire.  It was an armored man, standing as tall as an orc but wearing night-black plate armor from sallet to sabatons.  At his hip was a massive broadsword, and both axe and dagger hung from his belt.  His horse, clad in a peculiar black livery, stood nearby.  The firelight played off his armor, revealing the intricate designs engraved into every plate.  These Grazn’ull recognized as the insignia of the Bearers of Night, and his distrust of the Dornish soldiers could not compete with his relief at seeing an ally in this hellish place.

   Grazn’ull motioned to his orcs, and the three emerged from the tangled briars simultaneously.  The figure did not move, only the firelight glinting off his eyes through the slit of his visor showed that he acknowledged their presence at all.  Grazn’ull was careful not to be openly threatening, because he had no idea where the trio had emerged and needed the Dorn’s information to get back to his barracks in Steel Hill.

   “You are far from Bastion, Northman,” Grazn’ull spoke in properly accented Norther.

   “And you are far from the mines, cub.”  Grazn’ull’s eyes opened at the sound of his mother tongue issuing from the helmet.  The pronunciation was typical of the humans who tried to learn the Orcish language, and the cold blue eyes behind the slitted visor danced with more than the light of the campfire.

   Then Grazn’ull noticed something that had escaped him until he closed with the Dorn:  behind the dim blackness of his breastplate, something glimmered in the firelight.  Then he saw that the sigils on pauldrons and tassets were defaced with scratches.  Lastly he saw the hilt of the war sword, a plain black iron crossguard and pommel and a grip wrapped in worn leather. 

He had seen that sword once before, when the Bearers of Night had come to Steel Hill to gather weapons for the campaign against the dwarves.  It had belonged to the leader of the Bearers, a Dornish traitor-prince known as Skeld Nightbringer.  But word had come to Steel Hill that Skeld had been killed by rebels, and the Dornish slaves said that he had died on the blade of his own son, who had taken the sword Nightbringer as his own and embarked on a guerilla campaign of slaughter against the forces of the Shadow in the north.

With a grunt, Grazn’ull tore at his vardatch, but the Dorn was ready for him.  As the notched blade ripped murderously upwards, the black blade danced from its sheath and parried the blow.  The Dorn ducked as a hurled axe glanced from his gorget and swung the sword with both hands into the maille-covered thigh of the nearest orc.  The knee buckled and the orc went down, but the iron blade reversed course and parried another blow from Grazn’ull’s vardatch.  The blade flashed again, and the stricken orc’s blood spurted from the stump of his neck.  The plume sprayed into the sergeant’s face, and his momentary lapse of vigilance almost undid him. 

The Dorn’s great blade was stopped by the orc’s close-meshed maille, but the impact snapped two of his ribs and sent him to the ground.  He turned to see his last trooper groan and fall to his knees, blood gushing from his nostrils.  As the corpse fell forward, Grazn’ull saw the child he had chased into the green hell, a pair of bloody knives in her hands and an innocent smile on her face.

Knowing his life was finished, Grazn’ull resolved to take the Dornish rebel with him into the blackness of death.  He lashed out with his vardatch as he rolled to his feet, and tensed his legs for a final spring.  But he underestimated the sheer ferocity of the Dorn, and was pushed back by a blinding series of hacking strokes that taxed the orc’s defenses to their utmost.  Grazn’ull was soon bleeding from a myriad of minor cuts, and his bruised muscles began to slow. 

The Dorn seemed tireless and unaffected by the weight of his harness; his blade repeatedly gouged armor and flesh and yet somehow changed direction in mid-stroke to deflect the orc’s own blows.  The few strikes that Grazn’ull was able to land seemed ineffective against the armor and sheer ferocity of his opponent.  Within seconds, he was being backed towards the tree line. 

Before he reached the edge of the forest, he found that his legs would no longer respond to his commands, and the ground rushed up to greet him.  A pool of ichor began spreading from a rent in his maille, and a soft rustling from behind reached his ears.  He saw a glimpse of a pale, thin figure with a thin-bladed sword walking around him.  Then the Dorn’s black blade came crashing down, and Grazn’ull knew no more.


Telanis wiped the orcish blood from his thinblade with a scrap of cloth as Nora sawed the head off the axe thrower with one of her fighting knives. 

“There will be more soon,’ the Erunsil said.  “They breed faster than we can kill them.”

Hrothgar Skeldsson growled his reply as he shook clots of black ichor from his sword.  “Then we’ll just have to kill them faster.” 

In the background, Nora giggled and cleaned her knives.  The elfling’s lighthearted innocence was somehow unaffected by the slaughter the three of them had wrought over the past months.  She looked up at Hrothgar and smiled sweetly as she sheathed her blades.
    Hrothgar shoved Night’s End back into its scabbard and turned to collect his mount.  Telanis gave a whistle that brought both his horse and Nora’s ribbon-bedecked goat from the bushes.  The three of them mounted and rode eastwards under the star-strewn night sky, towards their destiny, whatever that would prove to be.

I wrote a very similar story on the old forums, some time ago, and never thought to save a copy on my hard drive.  So, I had to go back and re-write it.  I'm not as happy with it this time around, but the basic elements are still the same.

This is based on the campaign in which I've been playing for the past few years.  The party originally consisted of Telanis, an Erunsil Fighter/Rogue/Wildlander/Erunsil Blood; Nora, an Elfling Rogue/Fighter/Aradil's Eye; and Hrothgar Skeldsson, a Dornish Barbarian/Fighter/Wildlander/Exotic Weapon Master.  We've since added a Dornish Defender/Channeller, though he was not in the party at the time the original story was written. 

The Bearers of Night were conceived by our DM.  They are an organization of Dornish soldiers who pledged their loyalty to the Shadow in return for the right to practice their traditional Dornish customs unmolested by the Orcs.  Like the Legates, they are neither trusted nor liked by Izrador's chosen people.  The Legates see them as a threat to their own power as well.  The Bearers were led by Hrothgar's father, Skeld, until Hrothgar killed him in single combat and took their ancestral blade, a covenant cold iron bastard sword which Skeld had named Nightbringer and Hrothgar renamed Night's End. 


Spell Energy / Taint +12/-3
Posts: 715

« Reply #1 on: December 18, 2007, 12:34:38 PM »

I don't remember seeing the original, but I like the story.  Matching the Shadow with brute strength and a straight up fight is suicide.  The story thins out the warband to allow the characters to have a grand finale where the odds are significantly in their favor.

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Against the Shadow  |  Forum  |  Midnight & RPGs  |  Games and Stories (Moderators: Kane, Bleak Knight)  |  Topic: [Story] Fear
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