[Story] A Fistful of Choppas

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Dageca
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[Story] A Fistful of Choppas

Post#1 » Thu Jun 27, 2019 5:09 pm

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In Bagrash Runtchucka’s mob you didn’t have to be fast – just faster than the other git.

The snaggle-toothed goblin they called Gutslitta didn’t look like he could stand upright in the howling wind coming down off the mountains around Black Crag, much less run. But run the goblin did, his flat feet flapping on the stone goat-path and his long ears bent back against his knobby green head as he raced up the steep slope past Runtchucka’s lumbering boyz. Beady-eyed, yellow-tusked heads turned at the sound of the goblin’s approach, and clawed hands the size of platters swung idly at Gutslitta as he dashed by, but the runt ducked and dodged his way past each crushing blow. His breath misted in the frosty air, wheezing past his jagged fangs like a broken whistle.

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“Stunties!” he muttered as he ran. “Smell ‘em, I do! Down in the cracks and the hollows! Leather an’ iron and black powder! Stunties are comin’!”

The orcs paid Gutslitta no mind. There were more goblins than orcs in Runtchucka’s mob these days, and they swarmed around the boyz heels like rats; whispering and hissing, plotting and scheming, looking for a shiny to steel or an eye to stick a knife in. Not that there was much to loot off Runtchucka’s boyz these days. It had been a long, long time – weeks, maybe even a whole month – since Bagrash had gone looking for a proper fight. The mob didn’t have a fresh skull, a shiny piece of tin or a decent patch of dried gore between them, but the Black Orc boss didn’t seem to notice, or care.

All that mattered to Bagrash these days was revenge. And so, day in and day out, he’d lumber out of his lair in the caves at the foot of the mountains and drag his boyz up the goat-paths to the highest peak they could reach, hunting for wyverns. Bagrash was “gonna get dat poisonwing wot stuck -‘im”, no matter how long it took, and his boyz followed his lead. It was either that or have their heads driven between their shoulders like tent-pegs.

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They had been working their way up the stony crag all morning, pausing only to push fallen boulders out of the way or squabble over the marching order, which took place every few minutes or so. Now, with the sun starting to slip toward the peaks to the west, the mob had finally reached Bagrash’s favorite hunting spot. Here the goat-path ran beneath a jutting overhang of granite as heavy and imposing as an orcish brow, creating a shadowy shelf that was littered with piles of dusty stones. To the left, the path dropped off into a steep-sided gully; beyond rose the grim, imposing bulk of the mountain that the humans called Wyvern’s Reach. The mountain’s snowy peak looked close enough to touch in the crystal-clear air, its sheer sides pocked with the narrow caves that the wyverns loved to lair in. Bagrash stood at the head of the path, massive fists resting on his hips, and glared hatefully at the cave openings, his breath rising past his tusks in a noxious gray steam.

Gutslitta raced right for the boss, his ragged human-skin jerkin flapping in the wind. A swarm of Gutslitta’s treacherous kin were already circling warily about the black orc, careful to stay out of the boss’s easy reach. His boyz at the top of the goat-path were doing the same, clutching their heavy iron choppas and growling at the irritating little runts milling about their feet.

“Stunties!” Gutslitta wheezed, a little louder this time. The other goblins spun on their heels and snarled at him, their tiny eyes glinting with pent-up violence. One of them, a stringy little git named Buggin, pulled a rusty little saw-toothed knife from his belt and went to stab Ratslitta in the face, just on general principle. But the lean, swift Ratslitta saw the blow coming and rolled beneath Buggin’s clumsy thrust, raking his claws across the stringy goblin’s leg as he went past. Buggin yowled, but by the time he’d turned about Ratslitta was already six feet away and bounding upright before the brooding orc boss.

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“Leather and smoke!” the goblin screeched. He bared his blackened teeth in a vicious grin. “Iron and black powder! Stunties, close enough to smell! Close enough to – nnglrk!”

Ratslitta’s moment of triumph was smothered by Bagrash’s scarred left hand as the orc boss grabbed the goblin by the head and hurled him at Wyvern’s Reach with a defiant roar.

“Come out, ya flyin’ snakes!” the black orc thundered. “Bagrash is back! Come an’ get it!”

Ratslitta flew in a shrieking arc out into the cobalt-blue sky, falling short of Wyvern’s Reach by just shy of a quarter-mile. From the shadows beneath the rocky overhang, Ghurlak watched the goblin disappear into the swirling mists.

Sometimes, the young orc mused, it didn’t pay to be the faster git.

The lengthy observation earned Ghurlak a stabbing pain just behind the left knee. He snarled, lashing out with the rock in his left fist, and barely missed the cackling goblin that had stabbed him. The little greenskin scuttled away, licking the purple-red blood from the tip of his knife. Ghurlak felt the anger start to boil up from his chest, envisioning the scampering little wretch smeared into a sticky paste beneath his fist, but at the last moment he bit his warty lip and tamped the rage down yet again. The goblin wanted Ghurlak to try and chase him down, so he could lead the orc back down the path to where a score of his scrawny cousins waited. None of the mob had been eating well since Bagrash had gotten stung by the poisonwing, and the goblins were more starved than usual. Twice now, Ghurlak had woken down in the caves and discovered one of the little wretches sawing on his toes.

The goblins felt free to try and eat Ghurlak because he was the smallest and weakest of the orcs in Bagrash’s mob. At just six-and-a-half feet tall and weighing a little less than a warhorse, Ghurlak was a runt by orcish standards. He was also the youngest of Bagrash’s boyz, which meant that he’d not had the time or opportunity to get any good stuff. His best weapon was a length of knotted oak sapling that he clutched in his scarred right fist, and the closest thing he had to armor was a thick tunic of hairy, un-tanned ox-hide that hung down past his bowed knees. His tusks were short and barely curved, he still had both his eyes and there was scarcely a single notch carved into his pointed ears. When the other orcs noticed him at all it was to give him a good thumping, or to try and throw him off the nearest ledge, or to give him a good thumping and try to throw him off the nearest ledge. He’d survived so far by being just a little quicker, a little smarter or a little meaner than the others expected.

But Ghurlak wasn’t interested in survival. That was no way to live. He wanted to kill something, by Gork. He wanted to crack noggins and crush bones, split skin and splatter brains. But the other orcs were too big, and the goblins too hard to hit, and all he had anyway was a grubby stick that wasn’t much good for anything. All the blood he’d spilled so far had been his own, and he was about to burst at the seams like a goblin with a bad case of toadstool poisoning.

The goblin that had stabbed him scuttled out of sight, leaving Ghurlak fuming. He scratched absently at the stab wound in his leg, and suddenly realized what the late, unlamented Ratslitta had been screeching about.

Stunties!

Black Crag had been a battlefield for as long as Ghurlak could remember – which, honestly, wasn’t all that long. The mountains in the region had once belonged to the Dwarfs, until the orc Warlord, Dork gave them a good kicking and drove them out. But the stunties still wanted their mountains back, and kept sending war parties to try and drive the greenskins out – which was all well and good, as far as Ghurlak was concerned. Bagrash used to think so, too, until he’d run afoul of the poisonwing a while back.

The black orc turned ponderously about, the heavy iron plates of his armor flaring out around his enormous chest. Bagrash had legs as broad as tree trunks and arms thick enough to choke a boar. His waxy, dark-green skin was covered in scars and gouges from countless fights, and his wide belt of iron links was festooned with a garish assortment of grinning trophy skulls. A pair of massive choppas – little more than hunks of slightly curved, slightly sharpened iron – hung from a pair of looted meat hooks fastened to his rusting shoulder plates, and a crudely-forged, horned helmet covered his misshapen skull. Like his skin, Bagrash’s helmet was a mosaic of dents and rust-darkened scars – except for a single, fresh gouge that glittered brightly at the base of the helmet’s right eye-slit.

Runtchucka reached up and pulled the kettle-like helm from his head, revealing the baleful, swollen orb that bulged from his right eye-socket. The wyvern’s stinger had stabbed like a needle into Bagrash’s eye and pumped it full of searing venom, which was now hard at work boiling the orc boss’s brain. Had Runtchucka managed to kill the wyvern then, he’d have probably keeled over moments later, but instead the poisonwing had escaped, leaping skyward and leaving Bagrash howling impotently below. As far as the black orc was concerned, the fight was still on.

Bagrash glared at his boyz with one, beady eye and hefted the helmet in one hand. “Right, den!” he rumbled. “’oo wants ta wear da big hat?”

The boss’s boyz showed their enthusiasm for the idea by turning on each other with fists and blades, ready to throw the first hapless bugger they could into Bagrash’s clutches. The goblins scattered in all directions, chattering and cackling with glee at the melee. One of them capered into Ghurlak’s path and got stomped flat for his troubles, but the orc never noticed. Ratslitta’s words were burning in his brain with a virulence all their own.

“Stunties!” he shouted eagerly, his hand tightening on his oaken club. Unthinking, he stepped right up to Bagrash, his lips splitting in a hungry grin. “Boss! Dere’s stunties about!” The young orc was almost dizzy at this obvious gift from the gods. They didn’t have to go looking for a proper fight; one had come to them!

“’oo said anyfink about stunties, then?” Bagrash roared, so close to Ghurlak’s face that he could have reached down Runtchucka’s throat and had a bit of breakfast if he’d liked. Heat radiated from the black orc’s poison-filled eye like a banked coal. “I don’t give a snotling’s arse about stunties! I gots a poisonwing ta kill.”

Too late, Ghurlak realized that he’d come to Bagrash at a bad time. Before he could back out of arm’s reach the black orc smashed his fist into Ghurlak’s face, then grabbed the front of the young orc’s ox-hide tunic and dragged him close enough to cram the helmet onto his head.

Stinking, echoing darkness descended on Ghurlak. The helmet was ten sizes too big for him, and was on backwards to boot. He roared in anger and pain, flailing about blindly with his club, but Bagrash was already in motion, twisting smoothly at the hip and chucking the smaller orc into the air as though he weighed no more than a sack of millstones.

He didn’t fly nearly so far as Gutslitta. Ghurlak plunged into the narrow gully, his muscular arms wind-milling and his feet pumping, as though trying to run in midair. Dimly, he heard appreciative hoots and whistles from the boyz as they complimented Bagrash on his technique. The black orc wasn’t called Runtchucka for nothing, after all.

Ghurlak was still howling in thwarted rage when he hit the gully floor, sixty feet below. Fortunately, he managed to land on his head.

Image Ghurlak regained consciousness several seconds later. He blinked in the reeking darkness, gave a jaw-cracking yawn, and sat up. The oversized helmet shifted on his head, clanging hollowly against the back of his skull, and the young orc suddenly remembered where he was.

Shouting furiously, Ghurlak leapt blindly to his feet and pawed at the kettle-like helmet, trying to get it turned around so he could see. He managed it at last, his fists pressed against the pitted iron so he could tilt it enough to peer out one of the irregularly-shaped eye holes. The smell at the front of the helmet was even worse than the back.

He was standing roughly at the midpoint of the gully, facing down-slope. The narrow path ran before him for almost twenty yards before turning sharply to the right. Thick, yellow bones were scattered across the gully floor amid huge patches of dried, reddish-purple blood. Ghurlak turned about, spying a half-dozen rotting orcish bodies that the scavengers hadn’t yet picked clean. All but two of them were partially crushed beneath huge boulders. The gully was full of stones, piled in the nooks and crannies of the crooked gully. Most were stained with gore.

It was at this very spot where the poisonwing had swooped down on Bagrash and foolishly tried to make a meal of him. Now the black orc cunningly hid in the shadows of the overhang high above with a big rock in either hand while Ghurlak wore his big hat and waited in the gully for the poisonwing to have another go. The idea was that, while the poisonwing was busily stabbing the orc with the big hat, Bagrash and the rest of the mob would break its wings with a veritable avalanche of stones. Then Bagrash and the boys could charge down into the gully and give the crippled monster a good kicking. In reality, all that Bagrash’s plan had managed to do so far was get a bunch of boyz stabbed to death or crushed by poorly-aimed boulders.

Ghurlak knew from experience that all the noise would get the poisonwings’ attention sooner or later. He still had his rock and his knotty stick, but that didn’t seem like much compared to a monster with a stinger the size of a short sword and claws big enough to carry off an ox. He moved haphazardly from one side of the gully to the other, looking among the mangled corpses for a proper weapon.

A boulder hit the gully wall and shattered with a thunderous crack. Bagrash’s booming voice echoed from beneath the overhang. “Get back out in the middle like proper bait!” he roared. “’ow are we gonna trick da poisonwing if he can’t see ya?”

Ghurlak glared up at the sound of Bagrash’s voice, but the gesture was lost in the confines of the helmet. A smaller rock struck the top of the helm with a clang, as if to emphasize the boss’s point. Snarling, the young orc stomped back out into the middle of the gully and waited, rotating the helmet on his shoulders so he could peer upwards at the sky.

The mountain wind whistled through the helmet’s crude eye-slits. Ghurlak listened for the beat of leathery wings. The mob fell grudgingly silent for a few moments, until a couple of boyz got tired of all the waiting and started to scuffle. The meaty smack of a wide palm echoed down from the overhang, and the sounds of struggle fell silent.

The seconds stretched by. Ghurlak started to grow bored. Then he heard a new sound: the distant rattle of metal, and guttural, rumbling voices, but this time it was coming from behind him.

Ghurlak spun, staring back down the gully. There was no one there, but he could clearly hear more sounds of movement echoing from around the corner. It was the stunties, by Gork, and they were coming his way!

The young orc forgot all about the poisonwings. His thick blood sang with the prospect of a proper fight at long last. He glanced upwards, rotating the helmet to match. “Oi!” he hissed. “The stunties is comin’!”

“Shut up or I’ll hit ya wiv anuvver rock! See if I will!” Bagrash snarled.

The sounds of movement were growing louder now. It sounded to Ghurlak like an entire war band, their mail shirts rustling as they marched. He pointed down-slope with his club.

“But the stunties –” he began.

Another rock, much larger than the others, whistled through the air above Ghurlak’s head. He ducked at the last possible moment, and the boulder crashed into the gully wall beside him. It rebounded, skittering down the gully and bouncing around the corner. Out of sight, a deep-throated voice let out a startled shout.

Moments later a veritable tide of short, stout armored bodies came roaring around the corner towards Ghurlak. The dwarfs carried shields of burnished steel and wore heavy scale hauberks that hung down to their feet. Steel spangenhelms, ornamented with gold and silver and decorated with horns or upswept wings, covered the tops of their heads and the upper half of their faces. Their grey beards were forked or braided, and wound with golden wire. Eyes like polished gemstones glittered coldly as they caught sight of Ghurlak.

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The dwarfs raised gleaming axes or fearsome war hammers and gave an exultant shout as they caught sight of their hated enemy. As one, they bore down on Ghurlak, each warrior racing to be the first one to spill the young orc’s blood.

Ghurlak let the oversized helmet droop onto his collarbones and raised his knotty stick. Roaring his thanks to Gork and Mork, he charged straight at the oncoming dwarfs.


CHAPTER TWO:

Ghurlak waded into the metal-clad tide of dwarfs with a bloodthirsty roar. The stunties swallowed him up at once, racing around the flanks of their fellows to try and get a shot at the orc’s unprotected back. In the space of a moment Ghurlak was completely surrounded by a sea of shouting, chopping, wild-eyed foes. Hammers thudded into his ribs and pummeled at his thighs; axes chopped at his arms, leaving deep cuts in his thick, waxy skin. The pain set his blood on fire. For the first time ever, Ghurlak felt truly alive.

A dwarf pressed in close at Ghurlak’s left and chopped his axe into the ork’s left shoulder; his thick leather. The keen steel blade sliced through the ox-hide tunic like paper and thunked into the thick flesh and knotted muscle beneath. Ghurlak roared beneath the blow, pain and anger flaring into burning battle-lust. He brought the rock in his left hand around and smashed it into the side of the dwarf’s spangenhelm. Metal crumpled and bone shattered beneath the blow; blood spattered from the eye-slits of the stunty’s helm, and the warrior toppled like a felled oak.

By Mork, he’d finally gotten to kill something! This was what being an ork was all about, he thought, as the air shook with battle-cries and blows rained down on him from every side. A dwarf in front of Ghurlak struck him in the chest with a warhammer; a pair, breaking a pair of the orc’s ribs like kindling. Ghurlak gave a wild laugh and brought his stick down on the dwarf’s weapon arm, breaking the bones of the warrior’s forearm, then caved in the stunty’s skull with another blow from his rock.

Ghurlak spun about, sweeping his knotty stick in a wide arc through a thicket of weapons and rounded shields. Everywhere he turned he saw a savage, bearded face, eyes burning with anger and mouths baying for his blood. He bellowed back at them, picking one burly dwarf at random and hurling his rock at the warrior’s face. The foe reacted swiftly, bringing up his shield and deflecting the heavy missile, but in that split-second, while the dwarf’s vision was obscured, Ghurlak dashed forward and brought down his knotty stick. His timing was perfect; the dwarf was just lowering his shield, and the thick, oak club struck him right between the gilt eye-slits of his helm. The warrior’s face disappeared in a welter of blood. He was dead before his metal-clad body hit the ground.

Furious orcish shouts were now echoing up and down the gully as Bagrash’s boyz caught sight of the unfolding battle and forgot all about the Black Orc and his poisonwing hunt. Brandishing their choppas and smashas, howling orcs leapt from the high rock shelf and plummeted like living catapult stones into the melee below. Bagrash howled in fury at his mob deserted him, hurling huge stones after them that only added to the carnage below.

With a chorus of angry cries the dwarfs pressed in around Ghurlak once more. An axe thudded into his right hip, and a mace glanced painfully off his left knee. Something hard clanged off the back of the kettle-like helm, knocking it forward and obscuring Ghurlak’s vision. On impulse he reached up and snatched the heavy iron pot off his head and used it to brain a dwarf who’d gotten his axe stuck in Ghurlak’s thigh. The helm rang like a bell as it struck, knocking the dwarf off his feet.

Each blow fanned the fires of Ghurlak’s bloodlust. As his berserker rage increased, so too did his strength; the pain of his wounds and the thunder of the battlefield coiled his muscles into steel-hard springs. The harder he fought, the more powerful he became.

A great axe thrust deep into Ghurlak’s stomach, disturbing his reverie. The strength behind the thrust was enough to stagger him, and he looked down to see a broad-shouldered dwarf with an ornate, horned helm snarling up at him. The warrior was clad in a heavy, ankle-length scale shirt inscribed with angular runes, and had a steel-rimmed shield of lacquered wood on his left arm. The iron boss of the shield had been cunningly shaped to resemble an orc’s severed head.

Ghurlak spat a gob of blood in the dwarf’s face and aimed a blow with his stick right between the horns of the champion’s helm. The stunty blocked the blow easily with his shield and tore his sword free of Ghurlak’s torso with a jerk of his thickly-muscled arm. Rather than retreating from the orc’s attack, the dwarf charged forward, dropping the point of his broadsword and thrusting it into Ghurlak’s left leg, just above the knee.

Roaring, Ghurlak kicked at the dwarf with his right leg. He hit the champion’s shield squarely and managed to knock the burly dwarf backwards several feet before his mangled left leg gave way. Ghurlak fell heavily onto his wounded knee with an angry grunt, and the dwarf champion’s bearded face split in a savage grin. The stunty bellowed something in his guttural tongue as he raised his shield and charged right back at Ghurlak.

Cold winter sunlight shone on the edge of the dwarf’s broadsword as he chopped at Ghurlak’s thick neck. The orc parried the blow with Bagrash’s helm; sparks flew as the dwarf steel raked along the crude iron helmet. Ghurlak followed up with a sweep of his knotty stick, but the champion blocked the blow with his own shield and thrust his sword at the orc’s face. Ghurlak felt the keen steel edge score his right cheek and then slice a notch out of his ear. Laughing, Ghurlak swung Bagrash’s iron helm and smashed it into the dwarf’s right elbow. The champion’s iron scale sleeve absorbed most of the blow, but the warrior shouted in pain and faltered for a brief moment.

That was all the opening that Ghurlak needed. He surged back onto his feet, feeling bone and gristle crackle beneath the skin above his left knee, and began to rain a flurry of heavy blows down onto the dwarf champion. His first stroke rang off the dwarf’s helmet, snapping off one of its tall, pointed horns; the second thudded powerfully into the champion’s right shoulder. Something cracked; whether it was the dwarf’s collar bone or his knotty stick, Ghurlak didn’t know and didn’t care.

The dwarf staggered beneath the powerful blows. Ghurlak pressed his advantage, swinging at the champion’s face, but the warrior managed to block the stroke at the last moment with the edge of his shield. The champion fell back, shaking his head to try and clear it, but Ghurlak was on top of him the entire way. Each blow was stronger and swifter than the one before it as Ghurlak’s battle-rage increased. Cracks appeared in the wooden surface of the dwarf’s round shield, and part of the metal rim had been torn free. Ghurlak’s stick was notched and battered in a dozen places, but the orc didn’t notice. He could think of nothing but battering down the dwarf’s guard and crushing his skull, and each blow the champion managed to knock aside only stoked Ghurlak’s bloodlust even further. With a bellow of rage he hurled the iron helmet at the dwarf; it crashed into the champion’s shield and buried itself into the curved face with the sound of splintering wood. The sudden weight pulled at the dwarf’s shield-arm, dragging it downward and exposing the champion’s head. Ghurlak’s knotty stick whistled down in an overhand blow and caught the dwarf on the forehead, smashing the helmet to pieces and snapping the orc’s club in half.

The dwarf reeled beneath the blow. His helmet fell away in pieces, and blood poured down his forehead and into his deep-set eyes. Ghurlak saw his opening and pressed forwards with a bloodthirsty snarl. He was so fixated on finishing the fight that he failed to see the great, black shadow spreading across the gully floor around him until it was far too late.

The noise of battle and the scent of spilled blood had succeeded in stirring up the great poisonwings of nearby Wyvern Peak in a way that shouts and hurled runts never could. As the fight raged in the gully, a half-dozen of the leathery-winged beasts had taken flight from their mountain caves and circled high overhead, searching for likely prey. Now one had settled on Ghurlak, falling out of the sky like a hawk and seizing the orc’s shoulders in its claws.

Ghurlak had no idea what had hit him. One moment he was about to finish off the dwarf champion and the next he was face-down on the gully floor with what felt like a full-grown aurochs standing on his back. Stabbing pains lanced into his shoulders; something like a sword-point raked against the side of his leg and sent waves of molten pain pulsing through his upper thigh. Then he felt a sharp jerk and watched the gully drop away beneath him as the wyvern leapt back into the air. Ghurlak howled in frustration as the beast snatched him away from the fight.



The orc twisted in the wyvern’s grip, trying to turn about and give the monster a good kicking. Ghurlak managed to tear his right shoulder free, but the wyvern let out a hissing screech and clamped down even harder on his left. Bone crunched as the monster’s thick claws punched through Ghurlak’s chest; the orc dangled from the wyvern’s grip, high above the gully, but now Ghurlak was able to peer upwards at the monster’s bony, v-shaped ribcage. Bagrash’s iron helm was gone, but Ghurlak still clutched the splintered end of his knotty club. Without hesitation he pulled himself upwards with the muscles of his pinned shoulder and drove the pointed end of his stick into the wyvern’s chest.

The Wyvern let out a furious shriek and seemed to stagger in mid-flight, is wings beating furiously. Hot, red blood spattered onto Ghurlak’s face, and with a snarl he yanked the stick free for another thrust. That was enough for the wyvern, however; it opened its claws and shook the orc loose with a hissing screech, its wings beating frantically as it struggled to remain aloft.

Wind whistled past Ghurlak’s ears as he plummeted back to the gully floor. He rolled over as he fell, looking down at the swirling, struggling figures below, and tried to aim for the largest knot of dwarfs he could find as he crashed back to earth.

***

Cruarc came upon the battlefield just after sunset, as the pale moon rose in a frosty crescent above the peaks of Black Crag. The Druchii glided soundlessly over the icy stones of the mountainside, his hooded black cloak and blackened armor rendering him nearly invisible in the deep shadows of the winding gully. The Druchii was so preoccupied with the perilous situation unfolding around Black Crag that he didn’t notice the hacked and bloodied corpses until he was nearly standing in their midst.



Cruarc hissed a silent curse at his carelessness and faded back into the deeper shadows of a large boulder, his hand going instinctively to the sword hanging at his hip. He listened for several long moments, straining his keen hearing for the slightest sound of movement, but heard only the faint keening of the mountain wind. When he was convinced that there were no scavengers lurking about, Cruarc edged forward and surveyed the chaotic tableau spread across the gully before him.

The Druchii counted the mingled corpses of more than two dozen combatants: a mix of orcs and dwarf Oathkeepers, from what he could determine. It looked as though the dwarfs had stumbled into an actual orc ambush; several of the warriors had been slain by heavy stones, no doubt hurled from the rocky shelf some sixty feet above. Of course, several of the orcs had been slain by the boulders as well, but it still amounted to tactical brilliance coming from the greenskins. He would have hardly credited them capable of such a thing.

Cruarc was one of a handful of Druchii abroad in the orc-infested lands south of Thunder Mountain, keeping an eye on the Witch King’s interests in the region. Malekith had gone to great lengths to unleash an overwhelming orc Waaagh! against the dwarfs, and it was a crucial element of his plan to conquer Ulthuan. Prodding the orcs to war wasn’t difficult, as the Druchii knew; the trick was keeping the greenskins fighting only the dwarfs, rather than lashing out at anyone within reach.

So far, Cruarc and his fellow agents had been successful in keeping the Waaagh! moving in the right direction, but as the orc horde grew and its victories mounted, the challenge of keeping the warbosses in line grew more difficult. Already, several powerful orc warbosses where scheming to challenge Warlord Grumlok as leader of the Waaagh!, including one of his most powerful enforcers, a fearsome Black Orc by the name of Skargor. Operating in the valleys and ravines around Black Crag, Skargor was busy pressing every orc he could find into his service, building a powerful warband to topple Grumlok. Cruarc doubted that Skargor would succeed at the attempt, but its success or failure hardly mattered. As soon as he tried, other warbosses would see their opportunity and make their moves as well, and the entire Waaagh! would come apart at the seams.

And Skargor was close to challenging Grumlok, Cruarc knew. He’d watched as the enforcer had sent emissaries to a number of the most powerful warbands in the region, summoning their bosses to a gathering at his camp. Unless Cruarc could figure out a way to derail the meeting, he felt sure that Skargor would win over the warbosses and have the strength he needed to openly challenge Grumlok. So far, however, the Druchii didn’t have much in the way of ideas.

What he needed was a catspaw; an unwilling pawn who could interfere with Skargor’s plan without revealing any involvement by the Druchii, and he needed to find one before dawn.

A grating rumble echoed through the gully; for a moment Cruarc thought a boulder had come loose from the slopes above and was grinding its way across the stone, but then the sound tapered off into a deep-throated sigh. The Druchii crouched, blending once more with the shadows as a misshapen figure stirred atop a pile of flattened corpses.

Cruac watched in amazement as an orc rolled heavily off the bodies of a pair of dwarf Oathkeepers and came to rest on the gully floor. The greenskin was fairly small for one of his kind, weaponless and clad only in the ragged tatters of an ox-hide tunic. His muscular body was covered in gruesome-looking wounds, and both his legs were twisted at odd angles relative to the rest of his frame, yet the warrior still lived. The Druchii knew that he shouldn’t have been all that surprised. In his experience, orcs were too stupid to actually succumb to their wounds; they either died outright or their broken bodies stubbornly managed to knit themselves back together.


He started forward, edging his sword from its sheath to finish what the dwarfs had started, but a sudden thought gave him pause. The outcome of the battle had clearly been a draw. Had the dwarfs triumphed, they would have carried away their dead for burial; if the orcs had won they would have dragged off the corpses for the stew pots. That meant there was a small band of orcs somewhere nearby that might just suit his purposes.

Cruarc drew back deeper into the shadows and studied the orc runt with narrowed eyes. After a few moments, he had put together the beginnings of a plan. All he had to do was sound like a greenskin to pull it off.

***

With a grunt, Ghurlak tensed the muscles of his neck. Vertebrae popped dully as they were forced back into place. He felt a throbbing sting in his midsection; fumbling about with his right hand, his fingers encountered the rim of a dwarf spangenhelm. Growling, he pulled the spiked helmet free and tossed it across the gully.

The moon was just rising, painting the mountains with icy radiance. Belatedly, Ghurlak realized that night had fallen, and worse, the battle was over. The last thing he remembered was the shocked look on the faces of the two Dwarf warriors as he crashed into them. The memory made him chuckle – and then a strange, garbled voice spoke to him out of the darkness.

“Runt!” the voice said. It sounded thin and reedy, almost like the voice of a half-starved goblin. “Get up! Mork commands you!”

Ghurlak’s eyes widened. “Mork?”

“That’s what I said, didn’t I?” the reedy voice replied.

Ghurlak frowned. He tried to sit up and find the source of the voice only to discover that both of his legs were broken. Gritting his teeth in concentration, he started with his right leg, tensing his muscles and pushing at the broken bones with his right hand to force them back into place.

“You don’t sound much like Mork,” he growled suspiciously. “You sound more like a gobbo with his head fulla snot.”

A rock crashed into the side of Ghurlak’s head. “How do you know what I sound like?” the voice snapped. “I’ve never talked to you before, have I?”

Ghurlak had to admit that Mork had him there. Mork was the cunnin’ one, after all – cunnin’, but fighty. “What you want, Mork?” he said, popping his right ankle back into place and working his foot in a slow circle.

“Go get your boss, runt,” Mork commanded. “Tell him there’s going to be a big fight up at Broken Knife Pass at first light. If he and his mob aren’t there, I’m…” the voice hesitated. “I’m gonna smite him.”

“Smite?” Ghurlak frowned.

Another rock smacked into the back of his head. “Like that, only bigger,” Mork answered.

Ghurlak went to work on his left leg, shaking his head slowly. “Bagrash ain’t gonna do it,” he said sullenly. “He don’t wanna scrap no more. He just wants ta kill poisonwings.” As he said it, Ghurlak felt his blood start to boil again. A big fight at Broken Knife Pass? The idea burned in the hollow space behind his eyes.

Suddenly he whirled about, looking for the source of the voice, but he saw only darkness. His eyes widened. Could it be? Was Mork really talking to him?

Slowly, he drew his broken legs underneath him and tottered upright. Ghurlak’s scarred hands flexed eagerly. “Bagrash won’t scrap, but I will,” he said, his lips pulling back in a bloodthirsty snarl.

“You and what mob?” Mork said. His reedy voice echoed from the stone walls of the gully, seeming to come from every direction at once. The words dripped with scorn. “You’re just a runt.”

Ghurlak’s eyes narrowed. “Izzat so?” he growled. “You wanna see how Ghurlak scraps?” Belatedly, he realized he didn’t have a single weapon to hand. He looked about hurriedly and saw a pair of Black Orc bodies splayed face-down nearby. Ghurlak stomped forward and snatched up their choppas. The feel of the iron hilts in his hands set his veins afire. He raised the two weapons skyward and bellowed with

rage.

“You watch me, Mork!” he thundered. “I’m gonna show you a scrap like you never saw before!” Ghurlak whirled and dashed off down the gully, heading for the caves at the foot of the mountain where Bagrash and his boyz could be found.

Cruarc watched the runt disappear out of sight and smiled, taking a drink from his water flask to ease his aching throat. This was going to be easier than he thought.

CHAPTER THREE:

The pounding of Ghurlak’s flat feet along the canyon floor sounded like the beat of a war-drum as the runty Orc came thundering down the mountain towards Bagrash Runtchucka’s cave. The choppas he’d looted after the fight with the stuntie war party felt good in his gnarled hands; Ghurlak slashed at the air as he ran, exulting at the hungry, whickering sound they made. He hacked at the scraggly trees growing from the canyon walls, just to feel the solid thunk of impact and hear the splintering of wood as the crude weapons sheared through trunk and limb. When the rock walls pressed close he swiped at them as well, striking arcs of orange sparks from the stone. By the time he reached the fire-lit cavern at the feet of Black Crag, the edges of the iron blades were jagged and bright.


Bagrash’s cave was a low-hung seam carved deep into the side of a canyon wall, its granite brow stained black and yellow with the greasy smoke of Orc cook-fires. Filth of every description covered the rocky floor, pounded into a squishy carpet by the tread of dozens of heavy feet. Squeals and angry shouts echoed from the noisome depths of the cave, as packs of Goblins squabbled over scraps or tried to stuff one of their weaker kin into the stew pots.

Bits of old bone crunched underfoot as Ghurlak came stomping into Bagrash’s lair. Burly shapes stirred in the shifting shadows. Bony heads turned away from the guttering cook-fires, their heavy jaws still grinding away at boiled gristle and bone as the survivors of Runtchucka’s little mob took note of Ghurlak’s approach.

There weren’t many Orcs left after the wild fight with the stunties just a few hours before; little more than a dozen all told, but for the first time in a long while Bagrash’s boyz were at least eating well. The Orcs had snatched what meat they could before both sides had withdrawn from the confused melee, and the smell of boiling Dwarf tickled Ghurlak’s nose. The Orc’s stomach rumbled so loudly the surrounding boyz bared their teeth in challenge, but Ghurlak had no time for food. He had a mission.

“FIGHT!” Ghurlak roared, the bloodthirsty note in his voice rebounding hungrily from the stone walls. “Big fight at Broken Knife Pass! ‘Oo’s wiv me?”

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Ghurlak’s bellow was so loud and so vicious that even the Goblins shut up for once. Scores of beady little eyes widened at the news, and Ghurlak watched as the snarling expressions of Bagrash’s Orcs lengthened into narrow leers of anticipation. But then a huge shape stirred at the back of the cavern, and a rumbling voice answered from the darkness.

“You,” Bagrash Runtchucka growled. The Black Orc Boss rose to his full height in a clatter of rusty iron plates, until his broad shoulders and the back of his craggy head brushed the cavern’s grease-stained ceiling. The leaping red glow of the cook-fires danced across the pitted surface of Baghrash’s breastplate and shone dully from the tips of his curved tusks. His swollen, poison-filled eye gleamed like a baleful green moon high above Ghurlak’s head.

“You ruined everyfink,” the Boss rumbled, his voice rising in volume like approaching thunder. Twin choppas rose into the firelight, their edges dull and rust-red from disuse. “Worst bait I ever seen, you is,” he snarled, lurching towards Ghurlak. The Black Orc kicked a heavy iron cook pot out of his path, smashing it to shards against the rock wall. “’Oo said fight da stunties, den? ‘Oo said let da poisonwing get away? ‘Oo said lose me big hat?!”

Bagrash bore down on Ghurlak like an avalanche of iron and green skin, and on any other day the sight would have sent the Orc runt scampering for his miserable life. But not today. Not with the taste of stuntie blood still on his lips and a pair of good choppas in his hands. Ghurlak held his ground and tightened his fists. “Mork said – ” he began.

The rest was lost in an ear-splitting roar as Bagrash charged across the cavern, his crude blades poised to turn Ghurlak into paste.

Ghurlak met the charge head-on, the Boss’s shout rattling his bones and setting his blood to boil. Goblins scattered in all directions, squealing in terror, but to Bagrash’s surprise, Ghurlak leapt right at him, hammering at the Black Orc’s chest and arms with his choppas. Iron met iron in a furious clatter, striking sparks as the choppas’ rough edges bit into Bagrash’s crude armor. Purple-red blood, thick as paste, welled up from a half-dozen minor wounds, and the Boss’s one good eye widened in momentary surprise. Ghurlak snarled in triumph - but the cry was cut short as Bagrash’s left-hand choppa smashed into his side.

Had he not hurled himself at Bagrash, the blow would have torn Ghurlak apart. As it was, a combination of Runtchucka’s fist and the lower quarter of his blade stove in a half-dozen of Ghurlak’s ribs and carved a deep cleft into his side. He was flung through the air much like the ill-fated cook pot, crashing into a trio of Bagrash’s boyz and sending them sprawling. Pain sang along Ghurlak’s veins; his muscles bugled like cables and his vision narrowed to a joyous, red tunnel of fury as the Boss chased after him.

Once again, Ghurlak surprised the maddened Bagrash, leaping to his feet and charging to meet the Black Orc. He ducked inside one ponderous swing and smashed both his choppas into the Boss’s right knee, nearly severing the massive limb. Bagrash toppled onto the wounded limb with a furious shout and snapped at Ghurlak with his gaping jaws. But the Orc runt was already pivoting on one broad foot and chopping his blades deep into the Boss’s neck. Bagrash’s knobby skull bounced like a boulder across the cavern, managing to bite a chunk out of an unwary Goblin before finally fetching up against one of the cavern walls.

Ghurlak continued hacking at Bagrash’s twitching body for a full ten seconds before he realized that the Boss was dead. He continued chopping for a full ten seconds more, just for the sheer fun of it, before rounding on the rest of the Orcs in the cavern. They stared at Ghurlak with a mix of shock, bewilderment and fear.

“MORK SAYS FIGHT!” he howled, brandishing his dripping choppas. “Broken Knife Pass, at first light! ‘Oo’s wiv me?!”

The mob answered with bloodthirsty howls and the iron clatter of weapons. Bagrash Runtchucka’s severed head seemed to stare incredulously from the cavern floor as the last remnants of his mob finally deserted him.

***

Cruarc reached the lip of the narrow ledge at a dead run and launched himself into the cold, predawn air. The Dark Elf highborn leapt across the narrow gully like a hawk in flight, his cloak billowing behind him as he landed nimbly on the opposite side and raced swiftly northward, following the echoing sounds of Orc footfalls. His plan to use the Orc runt to sabotage the Orc Warboss Skargor’s rebellious schemes was working better than he’d imagined; so well, in fact, that he was hard-pressed to keep up with the bloodthirsty beasts as they’d raced through the night towards Broken Knife Pass.

The highborn had only expected the runt to deliver “Mork’s” message to the mob and spur the rest to action; he’d never dreamt that the stunted beast would kill the mob’s Warboss and then charge northward with the rest hard upon his heels. He had little doubt that the small band would be chopped to pieces by their foes, but he felt certain that the attack would sow enough havoc and suspicion among Skargor’s would-be allies that the Warboss’s plan to overthrow Warlord Grumlok and seize control of the growing Waaagh! would come to naught.

Providing, of course, that the runt and his band made it to the pass in time. Dawn was less than an hour away, and Cruarc had lost count of the number of times that the Orcs had taken a wrong turn along the twisting mountain paths and been forced to retrace their steps.

The highborn raced along the narrow ledge, heedless of the long fall that waited less than half a foot to his right. He reckoned they were less than a half-mile from the pass, approaching from the southwest.

He dashed nimbly around a broad curve to his left and saw the winding gully continue northward, aimed more or less straight at the pass – but the runt and his band were nowhere to be seen. Cruarc skidded to a halt, his narrow chest heaving, and heard the faint sound of angry shouting somewhere off to his right.

Cursing under his breath, the highborn turned about and retraced his steps, until he saw the narrow defile that branched off from the gully, heading eastward. Cruarc gritted his teeth. At least this time the runt had figured out he’d made a wrong turn before he’d gone too far off-track, but this was cutting things a bit too close for comfort…

Another faint sound echoed off the rock walls – this time coming from off to the northwest. The Dark Elf froze, his eyes narrowing as he strained his keen sense of hearing to the utmost. After a moment, the sound came again; it was the rustle and chime of fine steel. Mail and plate, the highborn realized. He knew the sound all too well. There were Dwarf warriors marching through the canyons near the pass.

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He paused for a few moments more, listening to the rhythmic echoes and estimating distance and direction. It sounded like a large force of Dwarfs, working their way roughly south and east. Cruarc cursed his luck. Within a few more minutes they would be marching right across the Orcs’ route to the pass; if the two groups collided, the runt and his meager force would be wiped out.

Off to the east, he could still hear the Orcs bickering with one another. Cruarc rolled his eyes in exasperation. He had to get the beasts pointed in the right direction before it was too late. With an aggravated hiss, he got a running start and leap back across the gully, following the line of the narrow defile and the sound of the runt’s furious voice.

***

Ghurlak whirled about, lashing out idly with his choppas and striking sparks from the rock walls. Goblins squealed and scampered out of his way, but he paid them no mind. Dawn was not far off; he knew the pass was somewhere close by, but the cursed walls blocked it from view. The thought that he might miss the big fight drove him mad with frustration, but at the moment he had no idea which way to go. Ahead of him, the path narrowed even further and then split; one went mostly east, while the other went kind of north, but kind of east as well.

“Which way?!” he bellowed, to no one in particular. He turned about once again, his choppas hissing through the air.

One of the Orcs raised his smasha and pointed to the east path. “’dat way?” he said tentatively.

Buggin the Goblin shook his warty head. “No!” he spat, and pointed to the northerly route. “’dat way!” A dozen of the Goblins agreed, jumping up and down and pointing with their sticks and knives. The Orcs snarled at their smaller kin, instinctively distrustful of the treacherous little gits. The Goblins hissed back, brandishing their knives. Ghurlak was on the verge of killing every single one of them when a familiar, reedy voice echoed down out of the fading night.

“Runt!” squeaked the voice of Mork. “What are you doing? It’s almost dawn, and you’re going the wrong way!”

Orc and Goblin alike turned their heads and frowned up at the sky. Buggin scratched the side of his bulbous nose. “Who’s that?” he asked.

“Mork!” Ghurlak cried, his heart leaping. “Which way to da big fight?”

“Mork?” Buggin snarled incredulously. “Since when does Mork sound like a pointy-eared pansy?”

A rock the size of a bird’s egg struck the Goblin between the eyes with an audible crack. Buggin was dead before he hit the ground. There were no further questions.

“Stupid runt,” Mork snarled. “Why should I tell you? You won’t make it there in time.”

The very thought of missing the fight nearly sent Ghurlak into a paroxysm of bloodlust. “Show me!” he demanded, brandishing his choppas at the sky. “Ghurlak’s fast! Faster dan a poisonwing!”

“You’ll just get lost again,” Mork sneered.

“No!” the runt shouted. “Show ‘da way! Ghurlak won’t turn wrong again!”

The reedy voice paused, until Ghurlak’s brain was seething with thwarted rage. Then: “Go back, runt,” Mork said. “Go back to the gully and run north, as fast as you can. Don’t take any more side paths! Now hurry!”

Ghurlak bared his teeth in triumph. He turned to the mob. “Da word of Mork!” he declared. “Back, you lot! Back to da gully! We go north, and den we fight!”

The Orcs shouted their approval, and the Goblins capered with evil glee. Ghurlak shook his weapons at the sky and roared a challenge – a cry that was answered moments later by the deep, resonant bellow of a Dwarf war-horn.

***

The sound of the horn galvanized the Orcs. Cruarc watched the runt shove his way through the band and charge back down the defile howling at the top of his lungs. Within moments the rest of the beasts were hot on his heels, waving their crude weapons over their heads.

Off to the north, the Dwarf-horn sounded again. It was closer now, definitely angling southward. Cruarc buried his sharp-angled face in his hand. Goading the runt had seemed to make sense at the time, he thought ruefully.

The Dark Elf took a thoughtful breath and looked off to the north. The Dwarfs were closing steadily, and were certain to intercept the Orcs well south of the pass. Unless…

Cruarc glanced back at the course of the defile, gauging the Orcs’ speed. Fast as they were, he could cover ground more quickly, leaping across the canyons. With a groan, he rose to his feet and started to run once again.

***

The Dwarf Oathbearers marched in a tight, disciplined formation, their heavy, measured tread and the clatter of their steel armor blending together into a rhythmic, martial beat that reverberated from the canyon walls. Tromp-tromp-tromp-tromp, like the cadence of the Ancestor God's own battle-drums. Somewhere to the south, they could still hear the wild shouts of their hated foes, but this band of Dwarfs were determined not to make the same mistake that their scouting party made the day before. The survivors of the Orc ambush up near Wyvern Peak were still smarting from the blow to their honor, and were eager to revenge themselves. They marched at the head of the column, their axe-blades gleaming faintly in the pearly light of false dawn.

Cruarc raced northwards to meet the oncoming war band, scrambling up steep, rocky slopes and leaping from one ridge to the next as he tried to get ahead of the bloodthirsty Orcs. After several tense minutes – and more than one hair-raising moment when he feared he wasn’t going to make it across a particularly wide ravine – he reached a fairly wide canyon that angled down from the northwest. The sound of the marching Dwarfs rolled down the canyon like a menacing wall of sound. Cruarc raced forward along the ridge-line until he found what he’d been hoping for – a narrow ravine that branched off from the canyon and cut back northwest. He crouched at the junction, gasping for breath, and readied his crossbow.

The Dwarfs were upon him in moments. Cruarc watched them come tromping around a slight bend in the canyon up ahead, and felt a touch of dread as one rank after another marched into view. There had to be two score of them, he reckoned; a virtual battering ram of flesh and steel. The warriors in the lead rank were wild-eyed with the prospect of battle. From the looks of the bright scars on their weapons and armor, Cruarc suspected that these were some of the survivors from the pitched battle the day before.

One of the Dwarfs in the center of the front rank had no helmet. A brutal, jagged gash ran down from his sloping forehead, almost to the bridge of his nose, hinting at the blow that had sundered his helm. He was one of their champions, Cruarc knew, judging by his ornate scale armor and the finely-crafted broadsword held at his side.

Just to the south – less than a hundred yards away, and just out of sight – Cruarc could hear the runt and his Orcs charging towards the sound of the tramping feet. He was only going to get one shot at this.

When the Dwarfs were little more than ten yards away, Cruarc rose from cover with a blood-curdling war cry. The Dark Elf saw the wounded champion’s eyes widen; he picked the left one and put a crossbow bolt through it.

The champion’s body collapsed in a clatter of steel. His comrades staggered in shock and dismay – then turned their faces up to the ridge line and howled in fury. Cruarc gave them an obscene gesture and ran for his life, dashing along the ridge up the branching path towards Broken Knife Pass with the Oathbearers hard on his heels.

***

Ghurlak heard a chorus of Dwarf voices bellow in fury somewhere up ahead and redoubled his pace, howling a challenge in return. He and his mob had made their way back to the gully and had been running northward for what felt like an eternity, while the sky steadily lightened overhead. More than once he was tempted to try one of the other branching paths that led off from the seemingly-endless gully, but each time he remembered the word of Mork and held his course.

He continued onward as dawn broke above the mountain peaks, following the sound of Dwarf voices and growing increasingly baffled when he failed to catch up with them. Belatedly he realized that they had to be in an adjoining gully, just off to the northwest, and somehow running away from him. Ghurlak howled in fury. If this was Mork’s idea of a joke…

Then, without warning, the gully ahead emptied into a wide gap between two imposing mountain peaks. Hulking figures were arrayed in a loose mob along the length of the pass; Ghurlak saw horned helmets silhouetted by the rising sun and crude banners flapping in the thin, mountain air. The runt stared in surprise at the Warbosses and their boyz, who were themselves staring south and wondering what all the noise was about.

Ghurlak and his tiny mob charged out into the pass, howling for blood. The Warbosses replied with a roaring challenge of their own, brandishing their massive choppas. Seconds later, a column of Dwarf Oathbearers appeared from another gully off to Ghurlak’s right, brandishing their axes and hungry for battle.

A small, black shape whickered over Ghurlak’s head, speeding from a patch of deep shadow of the ridge line to the south. It struck one of the Warbosses in the face; Ghurlak could hear the hollow thunk of the projectile hitting home and smelled the bitter reek of spilled blood. The Warboss roared in pain, and the Dwarfs roared in answer. War horns shook the air, and suddenly the pass trembled with the sounds of running feet as both forces charged headlong at one another.

Ghurlak and his mob were caught squarely between them. Within moments they were swallowed up in the thunderous crash of flesh, wood and steel.

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In the blink of an eye, Ghurlak was surrounded by a sea of foes. Howling with savage joy, he laid about with his choppas at everyone he could reach. An Oathbearer charged from his left, his axe-arm cocked back for a punishing blow, but Ghurlak stove in his skull with a downward slash with his heavy blade. Another Dwarf got in close and struck him in the chest with a warhammer; Ghurlak spat a gobbet of blood into the warrior’s face and followed up with a fearsome strike that severed the Dwarf’s shield arm at the shoulder. A Black Orc shoved him roughly from behind as he tried to come to grips with the Oathbearers; mad with fury, Ghurlak spun on his heel and buried his choppas in the huge Orc’s spine.

Within moments Ghurlak was wounded in a dozen places and spattered with steaming gore. Goblins screamed and were ground underfoot, or split apart by powerful blows. Ghurlak watched a trio of the little wretches leap at an Oathbearer. One was smashed from the air by a swing of the Dwarf’s hammer, but the second Goblin grabbed onto the warrior’s shield and dragged it downward, creating a gap for the third one to lunge forward and drive a rusty knife into the Oathbearer’s neck.

Off to Ghurlak’s right, two Oathbearers had squared off against one of the huge Orc Warbosses. The Dwarfs fought with murderous efficiency, literally chopping the Warboss apart with a flurry of blows from their deadly axes. No sooner had the Warboss’s corpse hit the ground than Ghurlak was upon the Dwarfs, catching them from behind with savage blows from his twin blades and adding their corpses to the pile.

An Orc Smasha thudded into the side of Ghurlak’s head, crushing his ear to pulp. He turned and drove one of his choppas into the snarling face of an Orc warrior; it might have been one of his own mob, but at that point it mattered little to him. Ghurlak staggered like drunkard through the churning melee, killing everything in his path. Blows rained down on him from every side, adding still more fuel to the fire.

The chaotic battle seemed to go on forever. There came a point – maybe after the fourth or fifth blow to Ghurlak’s head – that he simply lost track of time, and just focused on killing the person in front of him. After a while, he ran out of Dwarfs, so he starting hacking apart Black Orcs instead. When those ran out, the only thing left were Goblins, and by that point his legs were too hacked up to catch them. He hurled his choppas at their retreating backs and managed to kill two before the rest disappeared from sight.

Chest heaving with exertion, Ghurlak reeled amid the wreckage of the battlefield. He was dimly aware of the numerous wounds covering his body from head to toe, but that scarcely mattered. The Orc runt looked out over the field of dead and felt a wild laugh bubble up from his punctured lungs. He was the only one left. The Oathbearers, the Warbosses and their ladz, his own little mob; they’d all been wiped out, and many he realized, had died by his own hand.

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Ghurlak threw back his head and howled with joy. This was what it meant to be alive!

***

Thirty yards away, Cruarc took a careful bead on the runt’s head and laid a finger on the trigger of his crossbow. Once he’d cleaned up this one loose end, his mission would be complete.

The plan had worked beyond his wildest expectations. For a few moments, it had looked like the Warbosses would get the upper hand over the outnumbered Oathbearers, but whatever madness possessed the Orc runt had turned him into a virtual whirlwind of destruction. He’d waded through a thicket of steel, ignoring blows that would have slain orcs twice his size, and killed everything in his path. Cruarc had to admit he’d never seen anything quite like it.

Cruarc’s finger tensed on the trigger. At the last minute, though, he hesitated. It was almost a shame to kill such a beast. The runt was a force of destruction that could come in very handy in the coming months, if Skargor continued to challenge Grumlok. Controlling the Orc would be like trying to steer an avalanche, but anything caught in his way was certain to die.

The Dark Elf smiled and carefully put the crossbow away. This could be the beginning of an interesting partnership, Cruarc thought.



THE END

- A Fistful of Choppas by Mike Lee. A short story about an orc choppa.
Brenand, Engineer 40/7x
Aderat, Witch Hunter 40/6x

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Thornstroke
Posts: 9

Re: [Story] A Fistful of Choppas

Post#2 » Tue Jul 23, 2019 1:35 pm

Made for a really mega read. Cheers for writing it!

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Senlui
Posts: 213

Re: [Story] A Fistful of Choppas

Post#3 » Sat Aug 31, 2019 2:09 pm

He didn't. Mike Lee did ;) - glad to see he has acknowledged the author but you need to be careful when copying an entire Black Library story like this and sharing. You can get done for copyright infringement as it's not covered by the Fair Use clause.

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oaliaen
Posts: 560

Re: [Story] A Fistful of Choppas

Post#4 » Sat Aug 31, 2019 2:28 pm

Senlui wrote:
Sat Aug 31, 2019 2:09 pm
He didn't. Mike Lee did ;) - glad to see he has acknowledged the author but you need to be careful when copying an entire Black Library story like this and sharing. You can get done for copyright infringement as it's not covered by the Fair Use clause.
--
THE END

- A Fistful of Choppas by Mike Lee. A short story about an orc choppa.
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