“Remind me again why I always end up volunteering for these suicide missions?” Torgath said as his eyes scanned the shadows around him. Tall even for an orc, with strong shoulders and a fine bow at the ready, the young warrior struck an impressive figure. Still, there was a hint of perspiration on his forehead that had nothing to do with the humidity.
“Because,” came a voice to his right, “Like me and Kadrak here, you too find our rations of stale spiced bread and cheese curds sickening.” The orc that replied walked with a grace unexpected from someone his size. Though not as tall as either Kadrak or Torgath, he was undoubtedly broader at the shoulders and more powerfully built. He was also much older than his companions, with flecks of silver in his top knot. Both his arms were crisscrossed with scars, a testament to the many battles he had faced. He was particularly proud of one scar that ran down the left side of his face, starting from the top of the eyebrow and running down to his jaw. In his right hand he held a spear. Like Torgath, he was looking around cautiously.
“Still not a good enough reason to get killed. I must have some sort of death wish.” said Torgath “Damn these Night elves and their cowardly tactics. I hear supply lines are disrupted all the way up to Splinter Tree outpost.”
“It’s a hunt not a suicide mission.” said Kadrak. The youngest of the three, he was still well respected by his fellow warriors. What he lacked in experience, he more than made up for with prowess. It was no surprise to anyone that the officers looked at him with some promise. His penchant for tactics had quickly earned him a glowing reputation. He too carried a spear while keeping his weapon of choice, a war axe, tied securely to his back along with his trusty shield. “And it’s not cowardice if they are winning. It’s effective.”
“Striking from the shadows and running away?” Spat Kudrim “Sounds like cowardice to me.”
“He has a point Kudrim” said Torgath “Frontal assaults on Horde fortifications have either failed or resulted in a stalemate. This way, they bleed us slow. This rationing,” Torgath held up a small leather pouch, “is only the beginning brother. If we don’t get supplies soon, our warriors will go hungry.”
“Bah! You worry too much. There are supplies enough for weeks yet. I have seen the stores. No one is going hungry any time soon.” said Kudrim “I’m just here to get some meat. Boar, rabbit, deer… anything. This damn bread does not sit well with me. Whose idea was it to give us this stuff anyway? I bet it was a Blood elf.”
“It does not sit well with anyone because it’s going bad.” Said Kadrak. “It’s this heat and the humid air. The stores are beginning to rot, no matter how much they try to halt the process with spices. Ask yourself, would the captain risk sending us to go hunt if there was no need? If armored kodo caravans escorted by worg riders can’t be kept safe, what chance do we three have?”
Kudrim looked at Kadrak and said nothing.
“You call these Night Elves cowards but fail to see their brilliance brother.” He continued “Every day we send multiple hunting parties further and further away from our own lines. Every day we go deeper into Alliance territory. I’ll bet you three silvers that the elves are doing something to the game in these forests. Last week one of our scouts reported seeing a group of druids heading towards the enemies camps. Maybe they are to blame. Either way, hunger will do the work of arrows. We grow weaker and we are trapped. The Alliance knows this. They are not acting as mere warriors anymore.”
“They are acting like hunters.” Torgath said, awed at how easily Kadrak had come to the conclusion “Something we should be doing as well. We just crossed the last of our scouts you two. We are now in Alliance territory.”
Without another word, the three orcs fell silent and brought their weapons to bear as they spread out. Kadrak took the lead, moving cautiously through the brush. He knew it was his imagination but the forest seemed a lot more threatening now. The moisture leaden air seemed like a physical weight, bearing down on him and making him uncomfortable. Forcing himself to relax, he moved on. Suddenly, he froze in place, an action instantly mimicked by his companions.
Through the brush he spotted a deer. The animal had not yet realized its peril as it grazed. Turning as slow as he could, Kadrak signaled to Torgath who understanding him perfectly, slowly drew back on his bow. The muscles in his arms and shoulders tensed, standing out in sharp relief as he began to take aim. Kadrak readied his spear, knowing that Kudrim would be doing the same somewhere to his left.
Without warning, the deer stopped its grazing. Its head jerked up as it looked in Kadrak’s direction. It took all of his willpower not to curse. “No.” He thought to himself, “It’s not me it’s looking at. Something above-”
“MOVE!” Kadrak yelled as he rolled away to right. An arrow sank into the ground inches away from his head. “They’re in the trees!” Kadrak threw his spear upwards, judging the location of his target purely by instinct. His luck held and he heard a grunt of pain from somewhere above him. He threw himself into another roll, deftly bringing his axe to bear even as he rose. Risking a glance to his right he saw Torgath letting loose with his bow, the arrows a blur. An elf lay twitching at his feet. To his left Kudrim was fending off two attackers with his spear, though his left arm was bleeding profusely.
“TO ME!” yelled Kudrim as he parried a glaive swung in his direction. The three bladed weapon met his spear in an explosion of sparks. He dodged under another attack that came from his left, the opponent clearly trying to target his injured limb. The move cost him dearly as Kudrim side stepped and rammed his bloody fist right into the surprised elf’s face, shattering his nose. “To me!” he yelled again as he slowly retreated towards Kadrak.
Kadrak now had his shield in place and started working his way towards Kudrim. All around him, purple skinned Night Elves dropped down like wraiths from the trees. The warrior slowly realized their situation was hopeless. Nonetheless, he swung his axe expertly, drawing blood when he could, parrying blows when needed. He managed to sink his axe deep into an opponent’s neck, the elf dropped with a spray of blood. This sent another elf, one to his left, into a wild rage. Screaming a slew of curses in elvish, the warrior commenced attacking Kadrak with renewed vigor. The sheer ferocity of the assault forced Kadrak back a step but his shield took the brunt of it. Taking another quick glance at Torgath, he noted that the orc had now abandoned his bow, fighting instead with two long knives. His skill with them giving even the agile elves pause.
Within a dozen heartbeats, the three orcs regrouped, facing different directions so as to form a loose defensive circle. Each of them was breathing heavily and bore minor wounds.
“How’s the arm?” Kadrak asked.
“Hurts but I’ll live.” Kudrim growled.
Torgath grunted a bitter laugh at that “Ever the optimist brother.” Like Kadrak, he too realized that there was no way they were coming out of this trap alive. Even with the ones they had killed, they were completely surrounded and outnumbered four to one.
“A valiant effort orcs. Truly valiant.” Though the words came from elvish lips, they were in perfect orcish with no trace of an accent. Kadrak said nothing as he saw the tall female night elf approach them without fear. She walked with absolute confidence and the slight hint of a swagger. “I am sentinel Shannara Nevtarie” She continued “As you can see,” she indicated around them with the tip of a fine blade “You are completely surrounded. Surrender now and you will live”
Kadrak looked at his companions, who had now realized the truth of the sentinel’s words.
“I count elven.” muttered Kadrak under his breath. “Six with bows.”
“There’s three more still in the trees” replied Torgath. “We won’t be dodging their arrows this time.”
Kudrim grunted in pain, drawing concerned looks from his fellow warriors. His breathing was labored and he leaned on his spear for support. “Guess that settles it then” he said, barely above a whisper.
Torgath and Kadrak looked at him, puzzled at the smile on his face.
“Loktar Ogar” he whispered, careful to keep his voice low.
His companions nodded grimly at Kudrim’s words, understanding exactly what they had to do. The phrase meant “Victory or death” in the orcish tongue. Victory wasn’t possible this day.
Shannara must have sensed their intentions then for her eyes widened. “Archers!” she yelled “Kill th-”
The forest exploded around them.
Lightning tore through the elves In front of the orcs. The last thing Kadrak saw before being blown off his feet was Shannara’s shocked expression as a bolt of electricity hit her squarely in the back. The detonation was followed by a loud unnatural bellow of some sort, a thunderous cry that froze the blood of all that heard it. Kadrak, picked himself up groggily, his ears ringing. He had lost his shield, but somehow still held his axe. Beside him Kudrim lay groaning in pain, his spear broken. Torgath seemed have recovered the quickest, though his nose bled.
All around them, lay the prone figures of night elves, some of them incinerated, others groaning as they too began to recover. Not wanting to waste the only chance they had of survival, the orcs charged into their would be captors. Torgath lead the attack screaming at the top his lungs. “Loktar Ogar! For the horde!”
“For the horde!” Kadrak and Kudrim added their voices to his cry. Kudrim slowed down long enough to retrieve a dead sentinel’s sword before charging in.
“They have reinforcements! The orcs have mages!” One of the elves yelled. “Shannara is dead!” cried out another. Then the orcs were upon them.
The three warriors fought like rabid wolves, screaming as they bore down upon the still recovering elves. Torgath’s twin knives struck with deadly precision, making quick work of anyone in his way. Kadrak’s axe added to the slaughter. Kudrim used the recovered elven blade to good use hacking away at elven limbs and heads in a near mindless rage. Panic spread though the surviving elves. The tide had turned but the orcs knew that to hesitate now still meant death.
Another bolt of lightning came screaming in towards their right.
“Sentinels! Gather the wounded and retreat!” Kadrak did not see who gave the order but was glad for it just the same. Even with the stroke of luck, they were still outnumbered; they needed to regroup with whoever had come to their rescue. Another bellow sounded from somewhere ahead. The three orcs hit the ground just as more streaks of lighting cut through the air, the arcs going out in all directions. Behind them, an elf screamed in pain.
“I know these mages are trying to help us but that nearly fried me!” said Kudrim
“That’s no mage.” said Torgath. “Stay behind me and keep low”
Before any of his confused companions could ask him about it, he was already crawling ahead. In mere moments the disappeared into the brush, the sounds of the sentinels retreat fading behind them. As they crept closer, it became apparent that Torgath was right. More errant bolts of lightning tore through the air, seemingly in all directions; there was no pattern to these attacks at all. All the while, the wild bellowing continued, a terrible sound, getting closer with each step. Kadrak couldn’t help but noticing the way the ground shook with each cry, making the trees tremble. Realization dawned on him. “Is that…a kodo?” he though out loud.
“It must be a caravan under attack.” cried Kudrim, “Sounds like they are in a scrap of their own. Torgath we must hurry. “
“Something’s not right.” Muttered Torgath. “I have hunted kodos in the plains to South. I have never heard one cry out like that.”
“What would a caravan be doing here?” said Kadrak “We are deep in alliance territory and far from any track wide enough for a convoy of any sort. Torgath is right, something is very wrong.”
“Look whoever… whatever that thing is, it just saved our lives. I’m not crawling on my belly when it clearly needs help.” With that, Kudrim angrily picked himself up and began running in a low crouch.
Torgath started after him “Bullheaded old fool. How he’s survived so long, I will never know.”
With a sigh, Kadrak followed. “Best catch up to him before he gets himself killed. That arm of his looks bad.”
“Hmph. He’s too damn stubborn to die.” Said Torgath, eliciting a grin from Kadrak. They picked up the pace nonetheless.
It did not take long for them to reach the grizzled old warrior. Something held his attention as he had come to a sudden stop, staring ahead. The three orcs stood looking at a clearing, what they saw had them stupefied.
The ground around them was littered with bodies. Most of them burnt to a crisp, the scent of cooked flesh hung in the air, almost overbearing. All around the clearing lay the wreckage of wagons. At the far end of all the devastation, six tethered horses whinnied, mindless with fear.
At the center was a severely injured kodo. A reptilian beast of gargantuan proportions, each of its powerful legs were held by many massive chains staked out in all directions. This particular creature was different from the pack beasts that the horde commonly used. Its thick hide had a tinge of blue and its twin horns were in a straight line, as opposed to being side by side. Its majestic form was riddled with dozens of arrows and three spears jutted from its flanks. The helpless creature stood in a pool of its own blood. The ground under it was clear of vegetation but was covered with strange markings and runes.
“Warlocks” Kadrak spat the word like a curse.
“Human warlocks.” added Torgath, indicating to the bodies. “This was undoubtedly some sort of ritual gone wrong. Serves them right.”
“Let us make sure the bastards are all dead” Kudrim said, his voice cold enough to unnerve even his fellow warriors.
He stepped out into the clearing. The act almost cost him his life. The kodo let out a terrifying cry, its eyes glowed bright blue and the air around it hissed with electricity. Kudrim instinctively rolled to his side even before his companions yelled out. The blot of electricity emanating from the creature’s eyes hit inches away from his foot. Even so he was thrown back. Kudrim hit the ground with a dull thud.
“Kudrim be careful! That’s no ordinary kodo.” Shouted Torgath.
“I noticed.” Came back the angry reply. The orc quickly retreated to the cover of some trees.
“This one is spiritbound” said Torgath, almost with reverence. “A Stormwalker. I thought they were extinct.”
“Can we help it?” asked Kadrak.
Torgath took another look at the beast and sadly shook his head. “Even if it let us approach, there is nothing I can do with those wounds. Look at the blood it’s lost. I’m surprised it is still standing.” He cursed “Damn warlocks. Poor thing must be in agony.”
Kadrak did not argue. He did notice something peculiar however. “Torgath, look at the way it’s straining at the chains.”
Torgath nodded “Yes, I noticed it too. Why would it try to go sideways? It’s unnatural for a beast to strain against its bonds in that manner. What is it trying to get away from?”
“I don’t think it trying to get away at all.” said Kadrak “It’s trying to get to something”
The stormwalker let out another cry, this one of agony as it helplessly tried to yank at the massive chains that held it. It was a heart wrenching sound, in complete contrast to the terrifying bellows that it had belted out so far.
After a moment’s hesitation, Kadrak came to a decision. He slowly walked out towards the beast.
“Have you gone mad?” Torgath hissed.
Kadrak did not answer. Instead he spoke out in a soothing tone to the great beast. “It’s alright great heart.” He said, laying down his axe in a slow deliberate movement. “I mean you no harm.”
The beast growled angrily, though its eyes did not glow. As he got closer however, it was obvious that the orc was far from trusted. The growling became louder, a clear warning. Kadrak stopped and looked towards his left, the direction where he guessed the beast wanted to go.
“There is something there isn’t it?” Kadrak said, his racing heart belying his calm voice “Something you want.” Keeping his arms out to his sides, Kadrak changed direction, going left. The beast suddenly went still.
“Yes” said Kadrak “Yes there is.” He kept walking, taking slow deliberate steps, all the while talking in soothing tones. Behind him, Torgath and Kudrim stood absolutely still, realizing that something special was happening. The stormwalker’s growls turned to pitiful cries again. It began straining at its chains even harder, though its strength was quickly fading.
It was then that Kadrak suddenly heard something else. What it was, he wasn’t sure, but it was definitely coming from the left. He looked around for something out of the ordinary, seeing it almost immediately. About thirty paces ahead partially hidden by some bushes, was a large box like structure, covered with thick canvas. He started walking directly towards it, keeping his pace slow. Behind him, he sensed the beast grow agitated. As he got closer, he slowly realized why the great beast still clung on desperately to life. He quickened his pace a little, closing the last few feet. With a jerk, he pulled off the canvas confirming his suspicions.
It was a cage. An in it, with its legs and mouth bound, lay a young kodo calf. Like its mother, it too tried to cry out but its bindings would not allow it. Kadrak felt his heart break at the sight. Behind him, the stormwalker, undoubtedly its mother, let out another agonizing cry.
“Torgath!” yeled Kadrak, “I need help here.”
Torgath ran but not before he had sheathed both his weapons. “Stay here Kudrim”
The orc grunted in agreement. He was too tired to move anyway. He sat down and began binding his wounds. Thankfully, the cage door was a sliding type, secured with a metal peg. It did not require a lock. With Torgath’s help, Kadrak lifted the heavy door upwards and secured it in the open position. The calf was understandably distressed, and began thrashing about. Behind them its mother cried out with increasing frequency. Kadrak’s voice did little to soothe the terrified creature but with its bindings and the strength of two orcs bearing down on it, the young one could not do much. Using precise cuts, Torgath cut away its bonds. With a nod, he signaled Kadrath to get off the calf. Young as it was, it was still the size of a small cow and strong enough in its terror to push both orcs away violently. It made a bee line for its mother, crying pitifully as it did.
Within moments, the calf was at its mother’s side, shaking like a leaf. The stormwalker’s strength was all but gone, but there was an obvious sense of calm about it now. It had ceased its cries, replacing it with a sort of soothing croon as it nuzzled with its calf. Carefully and with great reverence the three orcs made its way to the pair. The stormwalker laid its eyes on the trio, its gaze settling on Kadrak for what seemed like an eternity. Before he realized what he was doing, Kadrak walked right up to her, laying a hand on her neck as he bent down on one knee.
“I know it was not your intention, but thank you for saving us great heart.” He said, not knowing if the words made any sense to the majestic beast. “Your young one will be safe. I swear it.” Kadrak wasn’t sure, but it seemed like the beast gave him a slight nod. “Go and be one with the spirits now.”
The mother nuzzled with its calf again and with a long sigh, closed its eyes. Its flanks stopped heaving and its legs way. The orcs stood in silence.
The calf suddenly realized something was very wrong and started to grow distressed. Kadrak immediately began to talk to it. “Calm, young one, calm.” This time, the calf seemed to respond to his voice.
“We can’t raise it back at the camp Kadrak” said Torgath.
“I know. I was thinking of the caravan driver that usually brought us most of our supplies last winter. What was her name?”
“Gorka.” Said Kudrim.
“Yes, good thinking brother. She has a way with kodos.” Agreed Torgath. “Now all we have to do is get him back to camp. We also need to report the presence of these warlocks in the area.”
“Not just any warlocks.” said Kudrim “I rummaged through some of their belongings. These are Twilight’s Hammer cultists. I have dealt with their kind before.”
“First things first” said Kadrak. Going for his ration pouch, he held out the contents to the young calf. It ate it all in one gulp.
“Well at least he likes spiced bread.” Kudrim snickered, reaching for his own pouch. “He will grow to be a strong one I’m sure. Just look at those tusks” he reached out to touch one. The young calf tried to bite his hand with an angry snarl.
Torgath chuckled. “Spirited little brute is he not?”
Kadrak smiled, his odd expression eliciting a question from Kudrim “What? Something I said?”
“Something both of you said actually. I believe we have a worthy name for our young friend” he patted the young calf on the neck.
“Welcome to the horde Brutusk.”[This is a piece of fiction inspired by Blizzard’s MMO, World of Warcraft. Anyone that has leveled through Kalimdor as a Horde character will recognize a couple of names here.]