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The Pit of Nak

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Shûl-nak View Drop Down
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    Posted: 16 Feb 2015 at 10:05
Rather than spam up the place with multiple threads I'll just keep any future writings in here.
This one was for my own profile.
____________________________________________________________________________

For hours, the sky ahead had been stained grey by the smoke of distant fires. Rising over the crest of the last hill on the barren road, your eyes finally settle upon Gruz'ak Shûl-nak.

Like a rash of fungus, the squat huts of the Orcs have sprung up over these hills, their inhabitants quarrying cliffs, tearing down trees and carving apart the earth itself to feed the hungry fires of expansion. At a glance, the impression is of a brown smear across the fair green earth, a patch of disease that has consumed the life around it to grow ever larger.

Beginning your descent, you pass brawny haulers who treat you to a sullen stare and hunters with hungry eyes. The town only looks drearier as you approach the outer huts, where a muddy figure emerges from within. His clothing is ragged and tattered, red-rimmed eyes gleaming from a forest of beard and hair.

"Good day, my lords and ladies," he shouts, half-staggering towards you. "Welcome, welcome! Hello! But why? Why have you come here? To gape at the greenskins? To ogle the orcs? Is it for conflict? Business? Entertainment? Ah, Malkom, it is none of your business, this is the truth! But let me be your guide, friends. Welcome! Welcome!" The man is abuzz with energy, shushing away any questions and ushering you ahead.

Cattle and horses compete with jostling soldiers and goods-laden workers for room in the muddy streets. Wolf-herders drag their charges on tight leashes, savagely yanking them away from the skittish beasts to yelps and howls of pain. Boisterous orc-wives herd their offspring through narrow alleys, cuffing heads and shouting as they pass. The older children stare at you fiercely, bristling and growling, no doubt imitating the warriors of their clan. The smell of wood-smoke, mud and unwashed bodies hangs thick in the air, and all around are the cacophonous cries of orc and beast.

"So, my gracious guests," Malkom asks when you find yourselves in the town square. "Where to?"

 

The Consulate

"Ahh, so this is an official visit, eh? Striking up a few arrangements, are we? Bit of wink, wink, nudge, nudge? Don't worry, you can trust me. O, diplomacy, the game of kings!

Step this way, then. I'm sure they'll be happy to receive you..."

A short walk eastwards and you arrive outside a ruined two-story hall. It looks like this existed before the Orcs arrived here, perhaps as part of some Lord's manor, but much of its grandeur has been lost. All the windows are smashed, its doors broken, clay bricks and rough planks used to patch up collapsing roofs and rot.

Upon entering, several goblins scatter from the small reception hall and disappear into the dark recesses of the building. You wait while your eyes adjust to the gloom, unsure of whether to advance further, when you become aware of a presence in the corner of the room. A hooded figure steps into the half-light, sniffing the air from inside his cowl. He doesn't seem inclined to speak until you attempt to breach the silence, at which points he growls "It wasn't us."

On your way out, a pack of short, burly orcs push roughly past you, their arms full of goods...

 

The 'Mage Tower'

"A wizard, are you? Well, fancy that. The shamans here are definitely magic. They do some very inventive things around the full moon in there. You know, the last spell they cast, I saw it myself, there were some bandits coming at the town and these cows just dropped out of the air, right on their heads. Fantastic! I wouldn't mess with them myself, so you be careful."

Despite its proximity to the centre of the town, there is an unusually large berth given to this cluster of huts. From a distance, you can make out three figures clad in wolf-skin pelts, covered in jangling trinkets with staves made of bone and skull. The shamans look the picture of primitive mysticism.

Though they immediately notice you, they pay you no heed, apparently more engaged with arranging sticks in a very particular pattern in the mud. Fascinating as it must be, you decide against offering your input lest they take offence and drop a cow on your head.

 

The Library


"Don't look so surprised. Yes, even the orc has erected these temples to knowledge, for he must if he wishes to do more than scrabble for worms in the dirt! The texts inside have mostly been reappropriated from gracious donators, but there are a few that they have written themselves. Oh, the orc language is quite simple, but it has such a thrilling, guttural voice to it, don't you think? Gruk va mush rik za fem! It's a shame they haven't got around to writing for the stage yet.

The librarian is a dear, but if you make any noise, well... she's always looking to craft some more of that fine pink-skin parchment."

The library, though crafted in the same roughshod manner as the rest of the town's buildings, is actually much the same inside as one might expect of any other across Illyria. The weighty silence and cool air of the main hall bring a welcome reprieve from the heat and racket outside. Many shelves lie empty, still waiting to be filled, but those that are hold an eclectic mixture of titles. One in particular catches your eye, bound in what you hope is cow leather: "Orcish Poetry: A Collection, Vol I."

At the front of the room sits the librarian, watching over the desk-bound slaves who appear to be copying or reading themselves. She offers you a toothy smile and raises a single finger to her lips.

 

The Tavern

"Working up a thirst, are we? Yes, it is getting a little late. The chief lets visitors drink for free in the tavern, which is very kind of him, don't you think? Although, perhaps not when you consider the local brews. If they haven't got any foreign stuff in then I hope you have a strong stomach."

By far the busiest building in town by the evening, the crowds outside the shanty tavern are impenetrable. Apparently the chief's Fangs had returned to town after a misunderstanding with some nearby dwarves, and were celebrating their victory with some stolen casks of ale. Horns and drums boom as the sun begins to set, the orcs shoving, brawling, dancing and roaring in a heaving mass of bodies.

Malkom wisely leads you away from the most violent areas of the crowd, managing to corner and 'persuade' a goblin to procure some overlooked bottles of elven wine from the tavern. He toasts your good health, and turns to watch the spectacle.

 

The Castle

"You want to see the chief? Hmm... his business does usually conclude around this hour. But you still must not waste his time. Temperamental, is he. As many moods as phases of the moon, each more terrifying than the last, I'd say. I hope you're... qualified to speak with him, or he'll eat you alive."

The sun has already cast its dying rays over the sky. The streets, mostly deserted of the boisterous orcs, are now given over to their smaller cousins. Goblins, kobolds and things unnamed scuttle like rats through the shadows, striking deals and blows, bargaining and pleading, their shrieks mingling with stranger noises erupting from elsewhere.

A chill wind rises to meet your neck as you ascend the exposed path leading to the great hall, far above the last of the orc-homes. It sits like a great black toad in the twilight, spiked fortifications forming a menacing silhouette.

For now, its gates lie open, and through them passes a group of particularly rowdy and uncouth persons of all races who seem to be shouting something about krimpets. They descend into the town without a glance your way, their voices receding and becoming one with the festive din.

Behind them comes the chief, an orc of small but bullish stature with piercing red eyes, flanked by two hulking clanguards. He turns to get a better look at you and approaches with a swift stride. "A visitor," he grunts, eyeing you up and down. You cast about for Malkom, but he, too, seems to have disappeared into the night.

"Do come in," he smiles, eyes locked upon yours. "We shall dine well tonight..."



Edited by Shûl-nak - 21 Feb 2015 at 14:33
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Story I wrote for the Broken Blades alliance.
__________________________________________

From the journal of Wulfhirst Kurtz, writer, explorer and diplomat of King Sigurd's court.

'After the captain of our bodyguard was discovered in bed with at least two of King Ulharadd's wives, we fled the port of Belgorrian with all due haste. The morn's earliest rays illuminated the sun-bleached skeletons that hung in cages along the coast, leaving no doubts regarding our fate should the black-clad vessels on the horizon reach us; but fortune was kind, and as the days passed we made good our escape.

Yet all was not well: once clear of pursuers, our ship was under constant assault from the notoriously cruel winds of the middle seas. We had hoped to put the Pirate Isles far behind us and voyage north to the Brother's Haven, but the wind bore us ceaselessly to the southwest, past the Newlands coast towards Almenly.

Here, then, we hoped we could make our way into the calmer waters of the Almenly Bay, or at least find some sheltered cove in which to rest and repair. But the fickle sea had other plans, and our undermanned and anchor-less vessel was powerless to resist them. At the utter mercy of the waves, the thrill of our daring escape was soon forgotten, our hopes of salvation fading with every splintered plank and torn sail. During those dark hours I am sure I overheard even our scholar of reason praying to the Gods for mercy, though he was none too pleased by my later insinuations.

It was after countless days of sickening chaos that we finally ran aground. My beleageured stomach was gladdened by the prospect of stepping onto solid land, so I emerged from the stinking cabins in relatively high spirits, though they were soon dampened by the sullen humour of the crew.

Fate had seen fit to sweep us onto the shores of the Orken Coast, a region infamous for its savage and hostile natives, the orcs of the Drek-Hhakral. The land itself was harsh and barren; windswept coastal hills and cliffs immediately gave way to vast dry plains, while grumbling jagged-tooth mountains quaked and cracked in the distance, wreathed in ominous volcanic clouds.

We gathered what little supplies remained and settled in to weather the chill night. I need not repeat the gruesome tales that the sailors recounted of those whose remains had been found on that accursed shoreline, though the tales became so extravagantly grim I could not help but question their authenticity.

The day being all but spent, I was left the unenviable task of the first night watch. As the moon made her way into the sky the beasts of the land howled their mournful chorus, and the wind bit all the colder for the chill of fear it instilled in me. My restless mind saw hungry warbands and long-forgotten creatures lurking in every shadow, but soon the smothering tide of fatigue overwhelmed my weary eyes...

“You're not very good at keeping watch, are you?” growled a voice by my ear. “I could've gutted you like a fish, worn your skin as a hat and you wouldn't have noticed a thing.”

I should have sprang up and about, but my sleep-hazed mind decided instead to laugh at the ludicrous proposition.

“Maybe I still will...” it continued, as a hand grabbed me by the collar.

“Enough.”

This voice belonged to a woman; tall, red-haired and regal; yet her hands were bound in bandages, and even the darkness could not conceal her black eye and broken nose. She appraised me with a searing stare, looking decidedly unimpressed.

“These ones couldn't put up a decent fight if they tried.”

“There is no honour to be had in killing shipwrecked travellers,” agreed a third. Undoubtedly an orc, he towered over the others, bearing a long, cruel spear and a commanding tone. “Let them be.”

With a sullen grunt I was released. The squat orc by my side returned to his comrades, red eyes glowering. On his right hand he wore a bizarre golden gauntlet that shimmered in the night. He began to polish it obsessively with his filthy fur cloak, treating me to the occasional murderous glare.

I was still unsure if I was dreaming.

“I think it's time for a drink,” offered the fourth, a stern green-eyed man with a knightly bearing and a long blade by his side. With that simple suggestion, the four apparently forgot their hostile introduction and produced a barrel of fine red wine from the shadowy recesses of the night.

Though the hours we passed together were long and full of drinking, I can recall them with perfect clarity. These were no four brigands as I had first suspected, but rather the first pioneers of this wild land. Each as raucous as the last, they recounted tales of bloody daring, of epic deeds and ingenious exploits across battlefields near and far. Each boasted the number of warriors they could send to certain death on a whim, of riches they had daringly plundered from the unwitting and of victories snatched from the jaws of defeat.

As the night progressed I could not help but feel that this savage Orken Coast was deserving of such rulers. What sane leader would forsake the golden shores of Elgea to tame a land such as this? And what men and women would follow them here, to the hellish ends of the earth?

Truly they were mad, but each radiated such magnetism and will that I was left wholeheartedly taken by their endeavour, that they earned my respect and fear in equal measure.

I must have fallen into slumber ere long, for the next morning I awoke alone and with a pounding head. The sight that greeted me was a potent cure; trundling across the distant hills were caravans bearing supplies and hands enough to see us shipshape within days.

It was as we left the Orken Coast on the horizon that we came across our final gift. Amongst the bins and barrels of the hold lay four shattered swords, rusted and worn from ancient use, bound together with a parting message.

 

“For when the final night falls,

and our enemies abound,

we shall rise with bloodied grins and broken blades to meet them,

and forge our names as legends eternal.”' 




Edited by Shûl-nak - 21 Feb 2015 at 14:33
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Story I wrote for Shogun no Yari.
_______________________________________

The retreat was well underway. The orcs had turned their backs as soon as the first cavalrymen were sighted. They shouted and roared and squealed as though the very daylight was burning their flesh, the sweeping wind carrying their pathetic cries straight to the ears of the enemy.

Away from the the teeming rabble, their warlord merely stood and watched the battlefield, waiting.

In the distance a noble figure impatiently raised its sword, shining magnificently in the dying light of the day. Immediately, the surrounding lines of cavalry eased into their advance, eager to crush the cowardly horde so terrified by their appearance. The muted rumble of hooves grew and grew until it was a thunderous roar, their armoured steeds now racing across the plains. Flags and banners fluttered proudly in the wind, and the earth itself trembled beneath them.

The time had come.

The growling boom of the black horn cut across the battlefield like a knife. The warlord watched as the orcs instantly turned, formed up and closed ranks. Where there had been a streaming mass of cowards only seconds before, there was now a bellowing, bristling beast, all spears and fangs, braced to face the charge. Not a moment too soon.

With a crash like the breaking of the heavens, the charging knights were upon them. Horses cried, shields shattered and screams of pain and rage engulfed the field. Bodies were violently flung through the air to be lost amidst the chaos. Across the line, each warrior painted the bloody madness of war with sword, spear and lance.

The knights' momentum now lost, the orcs now surged forwards to isolate each man before he could disentangle from the mass. They were swarmed by the heaving tides, pulled from their steeds by powerful hands and poached by cruel spears seeking the gaps in their armour while their wounded steeds buckled beneath them.

Within minutes, the struggle was over. Only a handful lived to retreat across the field. The glorious charge had been utterly broken.

The warlord once again sounded the horn, to the exultant cries and roars of his orcs. Victory was theirs, but the battle was not quite done.

Surrounded by his dead or dying bodyguard, Lord Uldir was slumped against the body of his fallen horse, blood dripping from his mouth. The light of recognition flared in his eyes when he looked upon the young orc emerging from the ranks. It was the face of an orc his scouts and spies had recently etched into his memory; a name that shadowed his fitful dreams. Shogun no Yari.

“You...” he coughed. “I should have expected... your honourless tricks. Go on, then, spear me. Finish me, you savage,” he spat, his face bitter with resentment.

The surroundings orcs laughed and jeered, urging their leader to stick the old man who had hounded their people so relentlessly for years. The blood of hundreds, even thousands of their kin was upon his hands.

But the warrior did not move. “Stand and fight,” he demanded.

Lord Uldir bared his teeth. He groaned and snarled as he rose. It was abundantly clear to the laughing orcs that his arm and leg were broken, yet still he managed to stand in defiance. His pale and shaking face spoke only of cold resolve even here, when his death was all but certain.

The warlord flared his nostrils, his gaze never leaving the crippled commander. “You do not face death like a dog.” He briefly glanced away, over the field to where his few remaining knights had regrouped. They seemed to be preparing to charge once more. “And your men are loyal.”

“They will see you cut asunder. Even if I do not,” said Lord Uldir calmly.

Even the warlord laughed this time.

“There is no honour in killing a wounded dog,” he growled. “I will show you the mercy that you could not show our children, Uldir Child-slayer. Fetch him a horse!”

The orcs growled and grumbled, though none loud enough to draw their lord's attention. After he was stripped of his armour and clothing, and bound at the hands and feet, a skittish warhorse was dragged to the Lord's feet, across which he was gracelessly thrown like a hog.

“These orcs are mine. My people. We are leaving your cursed lands for the south, where we will forge our own kingdom.”

From somewhere near the horse's behind came Lord Uldir's fuming response. “I will follow you. You and your filthy creatures, you are nothing. All the free and good people of Illyria will remember the day I purge the last of your kind from this world. You'll see!”

“As I had hoped,” the orc snarled. “Go now to your people. See to your wounds, gather your men, and then come find the death that awaits you in the south.”

With a mighty blow, the horse was sent packing towards the waiting knights. As Lord Uldir looked back across the field, he saw his family's tattered golden standard raised high in the air, its flowing weave stained red with the blood of his men. And beneath it, the ominous silhouette of the Warlord of Spears.



Edited by Shûl-nak - 21 Feb 2015 at 14:33
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Story I wrote for the short SHORT story contest.
__________________________________

Azurrok inhaled deeply. The cloying air was thick with smoke, ash, fear and death - the raw scent of war. In his heart he could feel the primal spirit of the Always-Chiefs raging and roaring, exulting in the bloody madness. His teeth ached for more flesh to tear, and his hands longed for more soft elven necks from which he could wring the pitiful life forever.


The last of El'tirisel's defenders sent a volley of humming death from the keep's final spire; a swathe of kobolds collapsed squealing in the courtyard. Azurrok snarled and grabbed a dying runt to hold aloft. His newfound shield quivered with caught arrows as he sprinted towards the stairs.


Many Elven wardens blocked the winding ascent, but their fluid fighting style suffered in such cramped quarters. The stocky orc used his bullish momentum to barge, grab and hack, pushing and shoving them to fall to the tower floor below, dealing bone-rending blows with his cruel scimitar.


The thrumming of loosed bowstrings filled his ears as he reached the summit. He discarded the kobold, now bristling with arrows, and leapt into the ranks of the unwitting archers with vicious glee. Wielding his blade with both hands, their soft leather armour could not save them as he split limb from limb in great cleaving arcs.


His savage laughter was cut short when a blade scored a deep slash across his shoulder. Azurrok's eyes flashed as he recognised the wielder; a wardancer captain, a fellow death-walker he had fought before. A worthy opponent.


They circled, carefully stepping over the bodies of the fallen, the floor slick with blood. The elf's blade sang as he gracefully adjusted his stance; the orc snarled and growled impatiently. Then the first clash came. The orc swung; sparks flew, his scimitar deflected with ease.


Azurrok saw the counter-attack too late. His left hand sailed over the edge of the tower as it was severed by a deft swing, but he was already ducking to avoid the blade sweeping for his neck. Yet the elf had overcommitted to his strike. The orc screamed, surging forwards to grapple his unbalanced opponent. They collided in a blur, sent sprawling over the balcony and into the air.


As the wind howled around them, the orc bit, clawed and struck the captain in savage fury. With fist and fang he battered the life from his adversary; by the time they hit the waters of the lake below it was over.


Winded and wounded, Azurrok unceremoniously dragged himself to shore, finding his severed hand already on the banks. He seized a passing orc: “Take this... to the chief. Tell him... the city... is ours.”

He raised his black warhorn and sounded the growling victory call. He bellowed and stomped as the howling roars of his horde erupted from the streets below, their celebrations beginning in earnest.


But even as he claimed victory, his eyes were already fixed upon the gleaming cities of the horizon...

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The Orc in the Library

Musings by Malkom Zweistirn, Fool of the Court of Nak

 

Far from the fires of war, in a hushed and untouched corner of a once-grand library, a brute sits poring over a book. Its fragility is magnified by his callous, scarred hands, unused to handling the delicate, and his sharp claw-like nails that scrape across its pages. He gazes unhurriedly at the strange figures: a rudimentary knowledge of his clan's script, more like a simple series of pictures than a true language, is his only experience of the written arts.

 

A tantalising familiarity niggles at his mind as he turns the book this way and that. Some say Orcs were once Men, or Elves; maybe it is some ancient inkling of such blood that, for a moment, brings him knowledge of things that once were. The need to record, write, share, create. The call of the open page. It might inspire some morbid laughter, or pity, then, had those ancestors the means to see the orc staring intently, as if on the torturous verge of realisation, at the word 'forget.'

 

But even had the Orc some grounding in the many languages of Illyria, it would be of little use to him between the covers of this book. It contains the near-incomprehensible scribblings of the ancient wizard and mathematician who first named infinity.

 

It is said that the hubris of this wizard, Mael Infinus, brought about his own demise. He sought to understand the ever-shifting tides of the universe, from the stones to the sun and the gods; the greatest simplicities and complexities, all at once. His reckless and ultimately fatal pursuit of all-encompassing knowledge is a popular fable, and a cautionary tale amongst scholarly and arcane circles.

 

Theories surrounding his exact methods are numerous. Some believe that he bound his mind to creatures of all kinds, culminating in the heinous subjugation of even humans, elves, dwarves and orcs, creating an infectious magical host that spread its masters' influence throughout the peoples of Illyria. Others that he became one with elements, able to move through the deepest earth with skin of stone, or to disperse into the waters and winds.

 

Whatever the case, it is abundantly clear across the pages of his final record that his mind became unhinged. Whether he could feel the actions and reactions of one thousand lives simultaneously, or the very movements of the earth, seas and air, or had simply lost his mind to some greater, nefarious entity, is unknown.

 

The story pieced together by Elven mages from the songs of charred, ancient heartwood, and glimpses of the guarded tablet fragments of the ancient Dwarven kingdoms, suggests that his supposed demise or disappearance coincided with an event of great and terrible ruination.

 






 

Even had the Orc been able to read, all this would be lost upon him. But the wormlike shiftings of the magical script, written in the blood of creatures foul and fey, brings him ideas and questions the likes of which he has never entertained before.

 

His lack of understanding compels him to assign these arcane symbols infinite potential; the possibility that they could bring him the secrets of the moons, mastery over flame and air, or to transform dirt into precious gold. Why else would so many soft-skinned weaklings cast their bodies in the warband's path as they storm into library halls, if they were not more precious than life?

 

And as the realisation of this dawns over the Orc's mind, a small glimmer of Mael Infinus' madness, or brilliance, is brought back into the world. The creature finally understands that it does not understand, and seeks to remedy this, though its motivations are likely tainted by violent ambitions. Reaching for another charred and blood-stained book, entitled How To Bake Grayte Big Cakes, the newly awakened drive to know sets another on the journey; one that has wholly engulfed minds far greater on all counts than this basic beast's.

 

It was not dark magic at all that was responsible for the hysterical exaggerations attributed to Mael Infinus and his consorts. It was the strength and motivation brought by a grand, yet simple, idea; one without beginning or end, binding the smallest ant to the greatest stars; perfectly sane, yet maddeningly contradictory: an acceptance of each moment's boundless beauty and utter insignificance, on the path of discovery that leads on and on ad infinitum.

 

In truth I know it, for long ago, under a different guise, it was I who broke ink on the pages of the tome of Mael Infinus in a language I can no longer decipher. That was key to its purpose; its only constant is change, its only desire to draw mortal minds down the endless path. Though it is found through many lands, it has never been copied. To its most studious researchers, it reveals contradictions and broken fragments in languages new and old. No two students ever arrive at the same conclusions.

 

Though it was my greatest discovery, nothing remains in me of the man who filled those pages. The accumulated knowledge of centuries has been discarded. The secrets of the world have been rendered useless. Such inventions we might yet make, or powers we might yet harness, if memory did not defeat me.

 

But all I have left are the whispering impressions of my immortal mind, still enthralled by the simple beauty of the infinite. That idea, and its spread throughout the fertile minds of the world, is all I can claim has come of my ancient endeavour.

 

I have seen it blossom, piecemeal, throughout countless civilisations and individuals in my long travels. Bound are we both, this book and I, appearing to some as the words in a long-forgotten tome, or as a vague idea on a summer's day, or in the words of a fool, bringing a moment's curiosity that can still even the mind of a raging warrior. For a moment, at least.

 

And should you ever seek to follow it, it will beg you know: it lives on now in you, too.



Edited by Shûl-nak - 04 Dec 2015 at 09:45
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