Into the Breach
Hot-Blooded Ex-Military Ranger
Ex-military ranger/bounty hunter, hates orcs, met at Port Skarsgaard.
Viltarn and the Orcs of Malark
There they lie’, Eldoran pointed into the far distance. We sat, crouched at the highest lip edge of the crater-like landscape. It hadn’t taken long to track our quarry, they were careless, and who could expect anything more from these primal savages. They did not think; just a pack of wild animals, no better. Plundering, tearing, burning and breeding. Orcs.
I followed his gaze, squinting toward the darkening horizon. He was right, a thousand yards out, plumes of smoke rose into the sky from the plateau at the base of the shallow crater. They were hidden behind a wide expanse of forest but I knew they were there, camping for the night. Even at this distance their vile stench wafted to my nostrils. It had helped the tracking process immeasurably but I could think of nothing more repulsive than the putrid odour of the vile, flesh-eating orcs of Malark. It offended every sense. My nose twitched involuntarily and my lips pulled back, baring my clenched teeth. I could just imagine it, packs of feral orcs sitting around campfires, arguing and fighting amongst themselves. Probably tearing each other limb from limb in blind fervour. I’d heard that this company of orcs would resort to cannibalism when food was scarce, and smear their comrades’ body fats over their armor to enhance their fighting prowess. It was their signature habit. Some said it was orcish superstition, that the orcs believed it would awaken the spirits of battle and give their weapons a taste for flesh. Others said that it was a method employed only by more savvy orc groups to bait prey. Armorer’s praised the concept for its rust reducing properties and blade masters claimed it was an ingenious method for deflecting glancing blows. But I didn’t buy these theories. I believed the orc psyche to be animalistic, forever entrenched in the barbaric nature of base creatures, and as such, that they simply relished the vile stench of their foul eating habits and used it to mark their territories. To me, these orcs were savages, nothing more.
‘Numbers?’ It was Enmor, the stealthiest of our team. He’d snuck up so close I could almost feel his raspy whisper inside my ears. It jolted me and I had to stop myself from reacting to the sudden surprise.
‘Hard to say,’ Mia responded, ‘they’ve got too much cover.’
‘We have to get in closer.’ I stated this, it wasn’t a question. I was pleased when no one objected. Standing to a crouch I started at a swift pace, tracing the lip of the crater until it cracked, parting for a smooth descent to the barren earth at its base. The squad followed me stepwise, silent and swift. We broke out into a run toward the tree line in the distance; 600 yards of unforgiving dry wasteland lay before us. We were exposed we knew, so we sprinted, single file, loping across the rough terrain. Eldoran, by far and away the fastest of our crew, took the lead. We were all quick on our feet; no average member of any race could keep pace with any one of us. But Eldoran; he made us look slow. I ran after him as fast as my legs would go, watching in awe and laughing with the others as he blistered the earth before us.
We were a highly specialised scouting team under the Elf emperor’s personal army. The few hundred soldiers amongst our ranks were those of us promoted from general service for exemplary display of honour, camaraderie, and bravery. There were other grounds that called for promotion but regardless of the reason, a call to become an emperor’s soldier was considered a high honour. From this pool of thousands, elf soldiers found to exhibit exceptional skills, knowledge or leadership were handpicked directly by Lord Veldar – the militant chief – to join the ranks of the elite; the Emperor’s Special Forces. Based on the skill sets of the individuals, this force was then split into three groups. The first was a personal guard for the emperor himself, there was maybe as many as thirty in this group and they remained close to the emperor at all times, usually within earshot. Guarding the palace and the emperor, ever vigilant, highly trained and disciplined, these soldiers rarely saw an opportunity for combat. Another two hundred and fifty made up the bulk of our numbers; these were the soldiers that specialised in military warfare. If there was a war being waged, or a battle to be won, they were the spearhead of our host. They were the ones that made the decisive victories possible; the ones who, in the midst of war, tore out the heart of an otherwise unstoppable enemy. Now camped out many miles to the east, they were awaiting our return with a report of the enemies’ progress.
The third and final group was the Special Forces Intelligence squadron; of the twenty strong, we four made up reconnaissance. That was our specialty, locating and marking enemy encampments and positions. We were a precision squad; a splinter faction of a splinter faction. The best at what we did.
Above all, the four of us were close friends. I was the tallest and strongest between us. I have already mentioned Enmor; ever a jokester. Eldoran, he was the fastest, and the voice of reason. And Mia, the last of us, was the sharpest of mind and most agile, she’d see everything, hear everything; the acuity of her senses was nothing short of amazing, and she was a beauty. She slinked alongside us as we crossed through the tree line, keeping to the shadows. Her two short blades swung in their leather loops, swaying gently in time with her shapely hips. I’d loved her, though I hadn’t the courage to tell her as much. But I’d promised myself that I would do it one day soon.
Eldoran darted between the trees, sweeping left and right as he advanced; leaving a wake of floating leaves behind him every time he dashed from one trunk to another.
I had lost sight of Enmor.
I climbed a nearby tree, the further apart we stayed, the less chance there was of all of us being discovered. Keeping an eye on Mia I bounded from branch to branch amongst the treetops, following her lead. It was getting dark, the sun would dip below the horizon soon and I was conscious of the need to sight the orcs’ camp before nightfall. We needed information, enemy numbers and positions. Within minutes we reached the outskirts of the camp. I could hear the vile creatures now, grunting and shouting at one another, loud and boisterous. Slinking through the treetops I pushed through the last bits of foliage as quietly as I could, looking over the camp I could see them now, the area was teeming with them further out, they’d cut out a massive clearing for their stay. Hundreds of tree stumps peppered the area, black and jagged; I was taken aback the sheer size of the group. The clearing was blanketed with filthy makeshift beds, shoddy tents, bubbling cauldrons and campfires. Their stench hung in the air like soup, clinging to our bodies and I couldn’t help but feel tainted.
I was startled suddenly when a voice whispered into my ear. ‘Numbers?’
It was Enmor, ’You’ve got to stop doing that,’ I chided, sighing relief. ’I’m not sure, but they must be seven hundred strong at least’.
It wasn’t long after that the sun set, plunging us into darkness. The campfires kept burning though. We kept a watch on the enemy host as most of them lay down to slumber for the night; soon they were grunting and snoring loudly while they slept. There remained a few that stayed awake, a half dozen orcs. They sat around a bonfire near a great tent, laughing and arguing. They were distanced from the main group and within earshot of our position. As we watched I glanced at the forest floor below looking for the others. Mia stood leaning behind a tree just below, Eldoran was just a few meters from her, crouching in the shadows.
’I’m off’, Enmor whispered and disappeared before I could respond.
I sat there waiting for a good while, when suddenly a thundering roar erupted from within the great tent. The orcs sitting outside turned to look at the commotion. The ones sleeping in the main camp stirred in their beds, they still had their armor on and they jangled like bags of pots and pans.
I looked closer at the entrance to the tent, it faced the great bonfire. The largest and most impressive tent in the encampment, six imposing orcs outside; I knew this tent had to be the commanders quarters. This was the heart of the encampment, the head of the evil that led this army. Suddenly an orc flew out from the tent screaming, his screams became even more agonised when he landed into the great fire and he lay there struggling helplessly as he burnt to death. His tormentor stepped out from the tent snarling menacingly, it was the chief orc; a hulking brute, he stood two heads taller than his guards, towering over the lesser soldiers and bursting with a grotesque musculature. He was a bonafide barbarian and he roared angrily again, beating at his chest plates with his giant fists, it shook the leaves around us and I could feel the rumbling in the earth below. He turned and went back into his tent after speaking a few brusque words with the guards in their own foul tongue. The screams from the burning orc soon gave way to the grunts and chuckles of the six guards who went back to playing their dice games on the tree stump that they used as their table. The stench of the burning flesh turned my stomach and I found myself repulsed by the savagery of these foul beasts once more.
I slid down to the forest floor to meet up with the others.
‘Ok,’ Mia whispered, ’let’s head back’.
Eldoran sped out of the darkness at full pelt and came to an abrupt stop beside us. ‘Ok,’ he said, ’I’ve scouted the borders of the encampment. They’re spread out quite far; we’ll need to come at them from all sides. Where’s Enmor?’
Mia bobbed her head to the left, smiling. Eldoran and I looked at the same time to see Enmor materialise from the shadows.
‘How many? I asked him
’Thousand plus,’ he said pensively. ‘but most of them are congregated on the far side.’
‘Ok, let’s move. They’ll be expecting word back at camp.’ Eldoran made to set back but I stopped him. Holding him by the arm I spoke. ‘See that bonfire over there?’
‘What about it?’ he asked
‘There’s six guards outside it, what do you presume their guarding?’
‘Plundered loot.’ he answered with a tone that told me he was just guessing.
‘The orc chief,’ I corrected. ‘We’ve located the chief of the entire force’ I said to emphasize its importance.
‘So we should inform the militant commander when we get back to camp’ Enmor suggested.
‘No, I said. That would be a waste of time and resources. Besides, we might not be able to locate him again’
‘So what are you saying?’ Mia asked.
I winked at her, ’I’m saying, let’s take him out.’
‘What?’ She seemed genuinely surprised.
I shrugged, ‘we know most of them are spread out on the far side, and as you can see they sleep like logs. Besides, their numbers are too large for a direct assault anyway.’
‘So we rush in, butcher six guards, kill off that chief, and steal off into the night? What then?’
’Don’t you see?’ I asked, ‘This is our best chance to end this thing before it starts. Once the chief is dead, there won’t be a leader to keep this army together. They’ll tear each other apart’ I grinned gleefully.
Eldoran considered this. Then with a warning tone, ‘ok, but if this goes bad, it’s on you Viltarn.’
I grinned, ‘Go bad? Come on, they’re animals, probably can’t even think beyond their next meal. They don’t stand a chance’.
No one said anything. I smiled, satisfied.
Mia whispered to me as we turned toward the camp. ‘Be careful.’
We crossed out into the clearing, following after Elondar. He flashed past the group of six in a blur of movement, seconds later the head of one of the guards rolled on to the ground, the stump of his neck spurting blood as his wide torso slumped lifelessly onto the table. There followed a moment of confusion as the guards looked around baffled, prodding their dead comrade as if to make sure they weren’t imagining it. Then one of them began to gurgle, grasping his neck with both hands in panic as he bled profusely from the deep slash Enmor had opened up. None of them had noticed him approaching. Mia and I came in from quarter angles. Finally one of them yelled out but Mia cut him short landing a twin flying kick to his chest, it knocked the wind out of him and he stumbled backward. She kept running at him as he swung a clenched fist at her, she was expecting it and rolled right under his legs slashing at his knees as he did this. His knees buckled and he crumpled to the floor, grunting as she stabbed both her blades into his back, killing him instantly.
Three left, I noted to myself. They would be short work for the others, so I headed straight for the tent. The chief would be my kill, I would slay him myself. He was the one responsible for the deaths of a thousand innocents that had been in the path of his army as he marched across the lands, laying waste to every place they passed. My hometown had been one of those places. My family and friends had burned in the wake of this vile army and this was my best chance of stopping it; and my best chance to avenge the deaths of my loved ones.
I marched forward, drawing my sword as I got nearer. I was perhaps four feet from the tent when I heard Mia cry out, ‘Viltarn, stop!’ It barely registered, I kept going and as I took another step the ground shifted out from under me. I remember being disorientated at first, and then a thud. I blacked out.
When I came to I realised I was hanging upside down in a net. It was fashioned from rope and I struggled but realised there was no escape. The net swung and the bonfire came into view. The chief orc was pacing in circles near me, grunting and growling, pawing at a wound on his chest. Near him lay a body; dead. It was Eldoran I realised with a heavy heart.
I looked around when I heard more voices. Two orcs held a badly beaten Enmor between them. Another dragged Mia away from them, she was struggling but couldn’t break free from his grip. He threw her to the ground at the chief’s feet who grinned, chuckling menacingly as he placed one giant foot on top of her. She struggled more now, barely able to breathe.
I heard Enmor then, he looked weak but his voice belied his physical condition. He sounded resilient, defiant.
‘Let her go, Orcus!’ he demanded.
The chief looked up from Mia suddenly, snarling viciously as he fixed his gaze on Enmor. I could sense his anger. He produced a sickening, guttural sound from deep within his trunk and made a slicing motion across his chest with one hand, he did this deliberately and slowly, making sure that we all could see.
Mia’s eyes grew wide in horror as she looked at Enmor.
‘No, please don’t’ she pleaded.
I knew it would do no good, these animals would show us no mercy.
I looked at Enmor, the two orcs had him held up by his arms and we made eye contact before he shut them tight. I could tell from the look he gave me that he didn’t blame me and I felt suddenly less guilty. But then I heard him shout out fiercely as he tensed his body, fighting against the two orcs. It started low and deep, rumbling inside of him, and slowly it grew, louder and louder, until finally it rose into agonised cries of pain, they resonated in my head, tearing at my conscience. Enmor’s shouts stopped abruptly soon after, giving way to the sickening cracks and pops of breaking bones and the shearing of muscles and sinew.
Enmor had died a horrific death at the hands of these orcs and I’d been forced to watch it happen. But the thought that dominated my mind now was not of his death but of Mia. I looked over to her; the chief stared down at her with his evil eyes. To my surprise he lifted his foot off her. As he did this her twin blades clanged onto the dust next to her. The third orc had thrown it down for her to pick up.
The Chief grinned at her evilly. ‘Fight!’ he ordered her in the common tongue, pulling out a massive war axe from the loop on his back.
Mia picked up her blades and stood to her feet angrily.
‘Run Mia! Get out of here!’ I yelled at her but her tearful gaze was locked onto the giant orc in front of her.
She backed up twirling her twin blades in her hands like a metallic fan.
‘No Mia! Don’t do it, just run!’ I shouted, squirming helplessly inside the net trying to free myself.
The orc swung at her, but she dodged his weapon and came back slashing at him wildly.
The chief backed up but he was too slow. She bounded up using him as a spring board, and while spinning mid-air she cut a deep gash across his face and flipped over him.
He reared up roaring furiously.
Mia landed in a low stance but the chief postured up and rushed in for an attack. She hadn’t expected such a quick recovery, and he caught her off guard. His war axe landed a heavy blow on her barely raised blades and it knocked her off her back and she flew off her feet. He stepped up to her roaring, raising his axe up over his head, preparing to bring it down on her. But he stopped short, faltering suddenly. A wolf had him by the ankle, just a pup. It had bounded out of the forest from the nearby tree line to intervene. It growled, tugging at the brutish orc that towered above it. The chief lowered his axe and after turning, booted the pup away with a mighty kick. It flew back a few feet and lay motionless on the ground, whining in pain.
I looked back to Mia as the chief turned back for her. She was gone. The chief spun around shouting and cursing, the other orcs were yelling too. I was relieved for a split second thinking that she’d took off, but my hopes were dashed when she appeared again. She ran out from around the tent and he turned to meet her, they clashed again but Mia was unable to land a clean shot. Blow after blow, every cut and slash seemed to slip off his larded armor plates. As I watched in mounting frustration, I felt the net give way. In a rush of adrenaline I spun around trying to force my way out, and after a few twists and tugs I found myself on the dirt. I sat up with urgency just in time to see the chief swing and hit Mia with a backhanded slap. She hit the ground and lolled, unconscious. I made to help her, but someone grabbed me before I could move. It was the orc guards, they had me gripped tight in their mitts and I couldn’t move. The chief sauntered over to Mia. His armor dripping with fat and he stood over her for a moment glaring at her. He was bleeding profusely from his left eye where Mia had cut him and strings of drool hung from his filthy lips. Then he raised his weapon slowly toward the starlit night sky with both hands preparing for a final blow.
I yelled at her, ‘Mia! Get up!’
She was out cold and didn’t respond. The chief grunted again determinedly.
‘No…!’ I shouted. I realised in that moment that I had nothing more left in the world that I cared about other than Mia. My family had been killed and that wasn’t my fault, but I knew then, that I was responsible for this.
The chief roared again, shaking, spittle blasting from his gaping mouth.
‘Miaaaa!’ I screamed.
His axe fell. She died.
I don’t recall much from the rest of that night. I remember anger, fury, violence. I remember blood, lots of it. I remember orcs; I remember tearing through them, blind with rage. I remember death and darkness. I remember picking up Mia’s blades; a memento.
And just one thing more; I remember cradling it in my arms and carrying him away with me. Atlas.