Chapter 1 of the Tale of Two Kings.
All along the winding chasms and abyss’ under the human realm of Gryphon’s Crown, the sounds of war echoed. The dwarves of Coolcraig fought the undead menace in the tunnels, the bridges hat spanned across the infinite darkness that led to the core of the world and the gateways that led to Coolcraig.
The fighting was fierce as the undead horde swarmed from the dark at the defenders of the gates. It was obvious that this Blight as the Citadel started to call it, would keep battering against the doors of the children of the mountain until it was broken. If that were to happen, the humans above would have to face the undead themselves. Some would claim it is admirable of the dwarves to carry the burden of defending mankind like that…but the truth was if Gryphon’s Crown were to fall it would only be a matter of time before those undead would attack the stunted folk above ground.
“Hold the line!” Prince Thror cried. He raised his ancestral axe, Razor’s edge, in the air, already thick with Immortal blood.
No Blighter will pass this point! WE ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE MOUNTAIN!"
The dwarven warriors cried out in unison and marched forward. Thror tuned and faced the undead horde with stoic contempt. Among the undead he saw many of his former kin and goblins.
“I cannot believe those dwarves would fight alongside gobbos…” a younger dwarf muttered next to Thror. Like Thror he to wore extensive armour befitting royalty, with thick dwarven steel, a red cape and a helmet adorned with a gryphon.
“We’re all equal in death, Magni…” Thror patted his son on his shoulder." Give the Blunderbusses a volley. Then we charge."
“Aye, father.” Magni took out his horn and blew it. A heartbeat later metal pellets flew overhead and cut their way through the rotting, maggot infested horde.
The undead who fell were either trampled to death or pushed aside the bridge and fell down into the hungering dark. But even so their march was stunted. Now was the time to stop the tide. Prince Thror raised his axe in the air. “FOR COOLCRAIG! FOR THE ANCESTORS!” He cried. Together as one the dwarves charged into the Immortals, axes cleaving and hammers smashing.
“Stay close to me, son!” he called to Magni, unnerved by the putrid blood spluttering and the crunching of bone." Our kind has enough dead heroes."
“Aye, father.” Magni replied." I have no plans to die just yet. Not until I’ve seen the halls of Orangecraig for myself!" His son smashed his warpick into a Immortal’ skull." Think we can beat them all the way back to our ancestral home, da?"
“Ah you youngsters, thinking your beard is bigger than it actually is…” Thror could not help but grin regardless.
The undead tide was pushed back as dwarven steel smacked the rotting flesh and bone aside into the abyss. Things were going good.
“The ancestors are with us!” Thror cried." Stay the course!"
“Prince Thror!” A gryphon warrior pointed his gore covered mace ahead." Look!"
The dwarven prince turned to to where his soldier pointed. It was the tunnel entrance but it glowed with light. He frowned, the Immortals did not need torches and King Hadgar Dainson promised no reinforcements.
The light grew brighter as a figure came out. It was an Immortal, a former dwarf…but it was different from the others. Besides the glowing it seemed to move with…purpose. Like it was sentient. It knew what it was doing. what was worse Thror swore he saw the remnants of dwarven royal armour on him. The Immortals backed off and swarmed around the newly arrived undead lord like flies to a torch.
The men muttered in their beards but Magni was already on it.
“Steady your beards!” he slammed his warpick on his helmet." The orders remain the same! Hold the tunnel!"
Aye!" the warriors cried and slammed their weapons on their shields or armour. Thror looked back at Blunderbusses above them." ANOTHER VOLLEY!"
he ranged warriors replied with a hail of steel bullets aimed at the undead.
More of the Immortals fell before the hail…save the dwarven lord. The bullets ripped into his flesh as warm, fiery liquid fell on the floor. The lord looked at his wound curiously…and then began to laugh.
“By my grandfather’s beard…” Thror said in disbelief." It’s laughing!"
“But I thought they were just…meat puppets!” Magni added.
“Aye…” Thror steadied his nerve." Hold the line! Nothing comes past! We are the mountains themselves! IMMOVABLE!"
The dwarves, including Magni, stood shoulder to shoulder and awaited the new undead wave. Thror glared at the undead lord. He promised King Dainson he would protect the entrance to Coolcraig with his life, to amend for the debt his father left him.
Were it one, two or a hundred waves, he swore none would pass.
There were no dwarves left on the bridge after the second wave.
The gate was burnt open as the undead swarmed through, led by the dwarven lord as it’s dark chuckles echoed through the tunnels as a dark warning.
Thror awoke from the burning rubble, his head ajar and filled with pain. When his eyes steadied and fell upon where he stood just a few moments before his heart stopped. The smell of cooked flesh churned his stomach as he saw the smouldering remains of what once was his men.
A molten mess of steel and flesh and hair came together In a big blob.
He did not know how long he remained motionless as the undead passed him by or when the forces of Princess Freya found him, still on his knees with his ancestral axe by his side and his son’s warpick in his hands.
All he knew was he failed Coolcraig, his bloodline and most important of all…his son, whose dead terrified eyes stared at him still from the flesh mob.
A shake awoke Thror from his slumber. The concerned eyes of his orcish lover put him at ease.
“You were crying in your sleep again, little man.” she said as a matter of factly. Or as kindly as a orc could do. " Bad dreams?“
It took him a moment to steady his heart.” Aye…bad dreams.“
She strayed his cheek with a softness only reserved for lovers before she kissed him.” Sleep, we have a big day tomorrow…" With that she turned her bare back to him and soon enough was snoring again.
The dwarf laid his head back on his pillow. His head turned to left where his warpick was leaning against the wall. The same pick he used as a miner and as a warrior who defended Dawnfort. In a way his son was still with him…and in a way he would still see the halls of Orangecraig. One way or another.
The large group of bandits jeered and shouted as their leader stepped forward to meet the mercenaries.
“I am Jella.” she glared at the blue haired sorceress." I demanded to speak with Lord Vorin, why is he not here?“
The blue haired woman spoke.” He hired us instead to kill you." she replied honestly.
The bandits growled at this with some even drawing their sword. The large bare chested orc next to the blue haired woman leant on his two handed axe while the other mercenaries barely bothered to react to the bandit’s bravado.
“You shouldn’t antagonise them, Indigo…” the orc muttered.
If she heard the orc she did not reply to him." I’ve come instead with a compromise. You leave now and we will not chase you. We have food we can spare and water so you can feed your families. We can recommend work in Park for you if you want to leave Sanctuary."
Jella, the grim faced leather armoured glared before she spat towards Indigo." That is what I say to your mercy.“
Indigo blinked.” That wasn’t so much as a reply as a bodily function.“
The orc groaned as the other Wrekers looked away awkwardly.
The bandit picked up her axe from the tree stump that served as the border.” My men outnumber yours thrice over, if you’re smart you leave now and tell your Lord he owes us land and coin for treating us like dung before and during the Blight!" This got more cheers from the other bandits.
“And my men are better trained and armoured than yours. It will be costly yes but we can and will kill you to the last man.” Indigo said which got more jeers." Might I suggest another compromise?“
Jella frowned.” What?“
Indigo opened her arms.” A duel of champions. Your best man to ours."
Jella rubbed her chin in thought. She snarled at her men once when they got to rowdy. She nodded." Very well, one versus one. Losers leave.“
She motioned to her lines as a large half-giant walked forward. He had a large shield that was roughly the size of a door and held a club the size of a small tree.
“Tom, Tom, Tom, Tom!” the bandits chanted.
Jella folded her arms with a smirk.” Tom killed fifty Blighters himself before my group took him in. He’s our best fighter. Name yours.“
The orc smirked and was about to speak when Indigo shook her head.” No, Torv. Get Johan."
The red knight was sitting against a tree as he slumbered, a large trail of drool on his shirt as he snored loud enough to wake the dead. A rock thrown to his head made an end to that.
Johan cried out in surprised pain and drew his sword clumsily." Whozit?!“
The large orc with the red paint mask picked up another rock.” It’s me, Torv." he tossed another at the knight who barely swatted it away." Indigo wants you to fight a half-giant." The orc raised his brow before he sniffed." Are you drunk?“
Johan yawned as he put his sword in it’s scabbard after three previous attempts.” Maybe a little…“
The red knight turned to the tree before he undid his breeches and answered nature’s call.
Torv sighed annoyed.” Stupid pinkskin…you knew we could be in battle today. Why would you get drunk?!"
The knight laced his breeches up as he turned around, knocking his sword against the tree, and walked towards the orc. He placed his hand on the greenskin’ shoulder.
“A challenge.” He smirked before he walked towards the commotion ahead.
The Wrekers parted for the red knight. Some reveredly, the others with disgust. He was their leader but he did not behave like it. It was either the rocks to his head or the hang-over that was causing his head to pound like a orcish war drum. It was making him angry, good.
He moved to Indigo and nodded at her." Morning, Indigo.“
The blue haired sorceress blinked.” …You are drunk."
“No, i’m hung over.” Johan drew his sword." Who do I have to kill?"
Before any could answer he turned towards the half-giant who slammed his club against the ground and roared out a challenge.
“Oh good, he might last longer than five seconds…” Johan said and moved forward, stumbling as he went.
Jella laughed as she saw the red knight move forward." This is your best man, he can barely walk!“
The bandits joined in with the laughter as did the half-giant.
Johan held up his head and motioned the giant man to come at him. Tom accepted the challenge and raced towards the knight, club aimed at the knight.
Jella expected the match to be over there and then…and it was.
Johan dodged the club with ease as his sword cut through the large door-sized shield, the half-giant’s arm and armour. Tom was dead before he hit the floor.
The bandits stopped cheering, their faces pale, as Johan looked around confused.
”…nobody else?" he asked but none replied." Good." he cleaned his blade on Tom’s clothes before he placed his sword back in it’ scabbard and walked back to Indigo." You take care of the rest of the negotiations, I’m hungry." he slapped her shoulder." I’ll spare you some of the eggs."
With that the red knight walked away, leaving admiration in his wake.
“Interesting…” Thror said as he saw the battle from afar." Seems the stories were right after all."
“What stories?” Frenza asked. Both were on horseback on a hillock that oversaw the showdown between the Wrekers and the bandits.
“About the red knight.” Thror motioned his horse onward as Frenza followed." His name is Johan. The Red Knight. The bastard of King Park. One of the children of the Firstborn, the result of a drunken night between a tavern wench and a Firstborn noble. His heritage makes him stronger than a human, faster…he served the dukedom of Park for years to try and impress his father. He fought the orcs of the Wild and Dusk tribes and the Immortals when they came"
Frenza nodded." I to hard of this one. The red wind my people called him. For the speed and the blood he leaves behind in his wake. His blade is of elven make, it belonged to the one who slew Blackbeard. Some kind of sea prince…“
Thror grunted.” Aye…his heritage and that infernal blade make him a dangerous man…and the one we need for our expedition.“
The orc female frowned.” And these Wrekers?“
Thror waved his hand.” Hangers on from Park. Useful enough in a fight. But not the reason why we’re here. If I wanted mercenaries I would’ve hired goblins.“
Frenza smirked.” You wouldn’t little man…your kin wouldn’t allow it.“
Thror paused at this.” …Point. Come, let’s go to Lord Vorin’s keep. No doubt the Wrekers are stationed there and we can ask the red knight to join us personally."
“How?” Frenza asked.
“With coin.” he looked towards the form of the red knight disappearing in the crowd." And empathy."