Bastian Dalemont pulled his cloak closer as he stepped out onto the parapet. His breath fogged as he rubbed his hands together, taking in the view from atop the northern keep. There, somewhere across the Cappahellan and far afield, a small band of Borderlanders was fighting an entire army of orcs hell-bent on ravaging his homeland. Dalemont stood lost in thought for a moment, before a tall, broad-shouldered man limped out onto the windy wall beside him. Baloc Nightspear took a moment to catch his breath, leaning his walking stick against the wall before speaking. “They’ve finished tallying the harvest. We gathered all we could before the frost hit, but it’s not good. We’ll be lucky if last year’s stores get us through the winter.” Baloc gazed out, letting his words drift away in the wind as the pair stood in silence for a moment.
“It will have to do,” Bastian said. “Without that forewarning, we wouldn’t have reaped what little we have. Besides, I imagine the orc army is feeling this early chill quite a bit more than us.” Baloc smiled a bit at the thought. “Let the bastards freeze. They’ll be eating their own dead before long.”
Bastian nodded in agreement. “Orcs are tough. We can’t count on this cold stopping them. What of the messengers?”
Baloc shrugged. “Time will tell. We’ve sent them east to Orinth and Tarsell, and south to Antegar. We’ll see if the archmage or Hammerhand hear our call for help. And gods only know what this Iron Fist of Bane will want in return for his aid.” He traded a glance with Bastian, who grimaced. “Based on what I’ve heard, his price will be complete fealty. I don’t want to trade the headsman’s axe for the plowman’s yoke. Still, we may not have a choice.”
Baloc shook his head. “Nothing is certain yet. Only time will tell … and more waiting,” he scoffed, kicking the wall idly. Bastian grinned. “For a hunter, you aren’t very patient. Ninety percent of a soldier’s job is waiting, and your types are supposed to remind us that ten percent isn’t so bad.” Baloc smirked, then gestured to his leg, growing somber. “Things are different now.” Bastian nodded in agreement. “I agree, waiting is hell. Gods willing, we’ll be waiting forever for a storm that never comes. Let’s see what those adventuresome folks out west can do with a little land magic.”
The orc chieftain stabbed his crude dagger down onto the table. “Fuck these mewling cunt-eared scum and their damned bitch horse-humpers! They hit us again!” He spat the words with barely restrained anger, drawing growls of agreement from the other orcs in the room. The chieftain turned to Zoroxes, fuming. “They came after the storm, and hit us from downwind, just as you said they would. We had spears in hand, but they still ass-fucked us like a bunch of whimpering goblin whores! We’re fighting blind in this snow, and my warriors are so cold they can barely lift axe! Are we just going to stand here and freeze our nuts off while these half-wit forest fairies pick our teeth for us?!” The chieftain paused momentarily in his tirade, drawing in a breath as he fought off a hacking wintry cough.
All eyes in the room turned towards Zoroxes, who stood regarding the ranting chieftain with calm serenity. The blue tattoos and glowing white-blue eye made Zoroxes a strangely alien figure as he gazed levelly at the chieftain. The chieftain, seeming to sense the room’s attention, blinked and grimaced, realizing his error but too impassioned and prideful to lose face by backing down. Zoroxes let the chieftain stew uncomfortably for a moment, then spoke:
“How many did you lose?”
The chieftain fumbled for a moment with his fingers. “Nine fists and three, nearly a half band. Many died like scum, too cold-addled to heft their weapons.”
“And their casualties?”
“We count three dead horse-men and … two cunt-ears.” The orc chieftain averted his gaze shamefully. “Their spear-tip was again the Red Man, on that demon horse. He and the wild one slew many. Arrows from the dark slew many more.”
Zoroxes stepped closer. The chieftain flinched, but Zoroxes smiled benevolently, extending his gaze to the entire room. The expression was terrifying. “Do not fear the forest ilk, my captains. I have beheld their doom written within the bones of the land and decreed by the stars. Our crusade will shatter the heavens and stretch to eternity’s gates. These pests will bother us for precious little longer.” The orc leader’s guttural voice resonated as he spoke, filling the room and imbuing his listeners with equal parts conviction and unease. Zoroxes returned his attention to the offending chieftain and spoke softly. “Dench, if your band is not up to the task of killing frail elves and clumsy horse-men, then I will stock the downwind trench with orcs that can. Send the bodies of the horse-men to the tents of my warriors. Distribute your dead amongst the front ranks – my orcs will not feast on the bodies of weaklings. Then cut your left hand off. If you can fight and kill while maimed, perhaps you can regain your band’s honor back.” All eyes in the room turned to Dench, who looked as though he briefly considered arguing before wisely turning and stalking out of the command tent. But Zoroxes had already turned, seeming to forget the chieftain instantaneously as he began to pore over the map in front of him. A low mutter escaped his lips as he ran his hand over the crude parchment, searching for incomprehensible truths hidden somewhere within the ink and grime. Outside, the blizzard howled.