‘Well we can’t just leave them out there to die.’ Cried Mit as he made for the door…

   …He burst through it, and as he stepped blinking into the morning sunlight, he suddenly wished he had armed himself with his fuldrak weaponry before coming out, the only thing he possessed was his hokhead daggers, which remained on his person at all times, but they weren’t much use alone against a horde of orcs. He would have to rely on majik for this one, but Mit knew that Orcs had shamans of their own, witchdoctors capable of maji-kal combat and defense, Mit couldn’t be sure if there were any here, but if there was, this wasn’t going to be an easy fight. He started flexing his fingers and gathering the required maji-kals from the crisp morning air.

As one, the orc platoon cast their malicious stares upon the emerging Fuldrak. Tye, the ever-faithful drog bounded out to stand behind his master, and Bull, Rek and Linkan filed out also, but they emerged staggered, and spread out, so as not to be easy targets for an orc bowman. Linkan took a quick inventory of their foe’s weapons. Nothing fancy; crude clubs and swords, barely a scrap of armour between them, only one of the orcs wielded a crossbow, and as orcs spent all their time running it was a small lightweight crossbow and therefore not very powerful.

Inside, Xsara turned to Krut, ‘I’m taking Luno upstairs,’ she announced, and did just that. Krut, sweating and swearing, turned back to peer through the window, he chose not to venture outside, while Elan vanished altogether as did Chef.

Mit, Bull, Rek, and Sir Linkan spread out, with the inn to their backs and faced the ghastly platoon defiantly, thirty feet in front of the orcs, who numbered somewhere around thirty strong. The leader spoke again, snarling and biting off the foreign words that spewed from his fang-filled, salivating mouth.

‘Anybody understand orc?’ Asked Rek.

‘I can cast a small spell that should allow us to understand.’ Said Mit, and with a subtle toss of the wrist, it was done, and the orc’s harsh-sounding words started to auto-majikally filter through into folkspeak;

‘Pathetic Folksmen! Kneel and disarm, or your accomplices will be killed.’

‘What is the meaning of this?’ Asked Mit, the spell worked in reverse too.

‘You are traitors to your ruler and overlord and you all must be brought before him to be executed.’

‘We are not traitors,’ pleaded Mit, ‘we are merely travellers, seeking the wisdom of the Unreeves Paiks.’

‘Yes,’ said the orc-leader ‘and The Great Mendova’s generals specifically forbade you.’

‘Generals?’ Asked Mit.

‘The Fuldarks.’

‘Ful-darks,’ repeated Mit, he knew instantly of whom the orc spoke – The Brothers Renegade. ‘So that’s what they’re calling themselves these days is it? They seem to be acquiring a lot of nicknames lately, and none of them flattering.’ The orc said nothing, he merely scowled, drool descending from the corners of his crooked, terrifyingly-fanged mouth. Mit continued; ‘It is not us, but they, who are the traitors. They assassinated the high-hat leader, Miij Xirdhen.’

‘That slime Xirdhen was opposed to the Great One and therefore had to be slayed. The same goes for all of you. Put down your weapons and kneel on the ground and you will be afforded honourable deaths at least.’ To emphasise, the orc let snap a long crack of the whip he clutched in his black talons, the startling sound of it cut the air between the orcs and the folksmen in two with a small sonic boom.

‘That’s not going to happen,’ said Mit, fixing the creature with as defiant a stare as he could muster in the face of such a horrific incubus.

‘Very well.’ The orc captain gave a subtle gesture and a twang and a thunk indicated a crossbow had been fired and a target hit. Mit and the others glanced to the left, just in time to see Mort flopping forward on his face, a steel-encased bolt protruding crudely from the back of his neck. At this point his wife flew into hysterics. Her wailing seemed to antagonize the bone-helmeted captain somewhat and he turned and barked at his troops in general. ‘Somebody shut her up!’ Another twang and another sickening thunk and Mort’s wife was silenced, permanently. Her dead body, with another bolt sticking in the temple of its skull, flopped over her husband’s and their blood pooled together. The orc-bowman began the laborious process of reloading the projectile weapon. Their last remaining hostage Jon, the stableboy, started to whimper at this point but was silenced with a kick from a nearby orc.

‘You bastards!’ Cried Mit and lunged forward, his hands already coming up and framing the maji-kals needed, as he sent twin bolts of hyper-blue energy sizzling towards the orc commander. The orcs however, were prepared, they had Grakka shields*, and they activated them immediately and dived before their leader. The shimmering blue shields of energy deflected the two bolts smartly and they ricocheted back the way they had come with a sharp crackle. ‘Take cover!’ Yelled Mit and dived to the floor, his companions followed suit and the maji-kal energy sizzled over their heads, boiling the air in its wake, and slammed into the wall of the inn leaving two charred craters in the wood. They’ve brought grakka shields, thought Mit, probably no shamans here then or they wouldn’t have needed them. He got back to his feet, as did the others, and at this point all hell broke loose…

*A shield generated from majik elektri-kals, the shield can deflect maji-kal energy though it is useless against ‘real’ objects, such as arrows and swords, which will pass harmlessly through the elektri-kal field.

The orcs advanced on the party, who edged together before the oppressive wall of dripping fangs and gleaming blades and started to back towards the inn as one. The orc-bowman leased another two bolts in quick succession, but Link brushed them aside easily with his mighty broadsword. Iddav must have been working on some majik of his own as he rose to his feet, dropping his broken bonds to the floor, and approached Vikta, with a touch of his finger he scorched through the ropes that bound Vikta and then he did the same with Jon.

The three of them joined the others and everyone was backed against the inn until they could go no further. In perfect tandem, as if reading each other’s thoughts, Iddav and Mit started sending explosive, concentrated balls of majik-energy into the advancing platoon, some were deflected by the grakka shields and spiralled off across the moors in erratic dances and flashes, others slew orcs where they stood and left behind nothing but scorched flesh and boiled organs. The Fuldraks had expended about six shots each, but lamely, had only taken down three orcs, the grakka shields were proving effective. Within no time, the orcs were too close to their opponents for majik to be wielded effectively and it came down to hand to hand combat. The two Fuldraks staggered back exhausted, so Rek, Bull and Link charged forward as one, offering the sorcerers cover from the contemptible mass of savages.

Link swung his broadsword in a wide arc, he cleaved down two orcs and injured another, two more of the vile fiends swung overhead with their curved swords, but Link whirled to the side and, bringing his sword round in a complete 360, blocking both blows simultaneously and pushed the two soldiers back into the rest before smartly beheading another to his right.

‘Beware the blood!’ He yelled to his companions. ‘Orc-blood is corrosive!’ Some that had spattered on the knight’s breastplate was already sizzling fiercely as it alloyed with the metal.

Mit had never seen Rek use a weapon, but while Link was fighting he unleashed a pair of nah-chakks*, seemingly from nowhere, as the foreigner wore only hose and mask and was always topless, he started spinning them in a deadly display that broke open a couple of orc skulls effortlessly and with sharp resounding double-cracks that echoed across the moors. Some orc blood spattered onto Rek’s bare chest and seared the flesh there, causing the small mercenary to stagger back, wincing.

*A sort of two-section short staff, two sections of hard, rounded wood connected by a chain. One end is the striking stick, the other the handle, though they are both identical pieces of wood, so can be swapped from hand to hand to allow maximum spinning and flexibility – a bludgeoning weapon, that uses the momentum from the swing for maximum impact.

Bull, instead of his usual bat, was wielding an ice-pick. The weapon was making cripples out of orcs left, right and centre, blocking with the handle and slashing with the sharpened pick. He had felled three combatants and mortally wounded a fourth but dropped his pick when one of the creature’s curled blades slashed his arm and a crossbow bolt thunked into his thigh immediately after. Mit noticed the orc’s sharp blade and the bolt had no effect on the Freeman’s flesh, no laceration, no blood, and the Fuldrak considered this to be very strange indeed. Bull did stagger back from the force of the blows however, quickly replacing his ice-pick with his wooden bat, unfortunately he took too long, as two orcs pounced upon him in chorus and Link only just saved him from being swamped by running them through, in turn, grunting, as he thrust with his heavy broadsword, another crossbow bolt ricocheted wildly off the knight’s armour and spun away harmlessly.

‘We need to deal with that damn bowman!’ Yelled Link, to no-one in particular. Rek was covering Link’s back, the orcs couldn’t get near the Fernyan, his spinning nah-chakks created an impenetrable defense, dishing out fractured skulls and broken bones as Rek twirled them expertly from hand to hand and knocked opponents senseless one after the other, he had felled another four orcs in no time.

Mit had recovered slightly and he dived to the right to avoid another bolt loosed at his head, he landed flat on his belly and skidded, as he did so, he extended his hands and sliding across the grass on his front, he sent two bolts of scorching majik hurtling forth at ground level. The fiery bolts skimmed along just above the blades of grass leaving a trail of blackened earth as they went. They passed right below the grakka shields and removed several pairs of orc feet in the process. A few holding the specialised shields lost their footing, as well as their feet, and stumbled forwards, the shields blinking out as their holders crumpled.

Iddav seized the opportunity and sent four shafts of majik, one after the other, smashing into the ranks of the orcs, incinerating five soldiers as he went. Suddenly the remaining grakka shields fizzled out, this was a good indication that all the local maji-kal energy had been drained, and Mit verified this as he attempted to fry two orcs but found nothing coming from his outstretched fingers, save a few misspent elektri-kal sparks.

‘Why has all the maji-kals ran out so quickly!?’ Cried Iddav, as he ducked another crossbow bolt. Mit now had no choice but to use his daggers, inferior in the face of the orc artillery. He brought the daggers from the recesses of his robes and they emerged spinning and glinting on his fingers, this distracted his two assailants slightly and he used this moment’s hesitation to jam one dagger into an orc throat, the second he aimed for throat also, but the orc sidestepped and the weapon embedded itself in the monster’s shoulder blade instead, painful, but not fatal. Howling with blood-curdling ferocity, the orc slashed out at Mit with his spiked club and caught the sorcerer a heavy blow across the shoulder, felling him to the ground.

The orc, with acidic blood spurting from his shoulder wound and burning Mit’s ankle, towered over the cowering Fuldrak and raised his club in an overhead death-blow. Mit cringed and closed his eyes, but when the bludgeoning didn’t come he looked up to see Jon the stable-boy clinging to the creature’s back. The orc tossed the boy off easily and went to deliver a similar blow to the defenseless young folksman. Mit tried to react but as he rose his injured shoulder gave way and he stumbled, he was too late.

Tye however, was not, and he clamped onto the orc’s forearm with his teeth and held on for dear life, the orc turned to shake the drog off and Jon used this moment to deliver a smart kick to the thing’s testicles from where he lay on the grass. The orc buckled over, his black-scaled face turned a greenish hue as he clutched at his aching groin. By now, Mit had regained his feet and he stuck his hokhead dagger right through the miscreation’s green eye and into its soft brain which gave way to the blade as a ripe fruit would have. The orc slumped to the floor with Tye still hanging fervently from its arm.

At this point the numbers game started to take a toll. The company were flooded with enemies. Iddav had his whip-chain out, but Mit could tell the sorcerer had not kept in practice with it over the centuries as he had failed to deliver a fatal strike yet, only just managing to keep his aggressors at bay and deflect a few crossbow bolts and no more. Mit executed a smart roll, avoiding two attacking orcs, one of which ended up with a drog attached to its behind, and he came up running, ducking a spear as he went, once he was next to Iddav Webio he snatched the whip-chain from the old Fuldrak’s hands.

‘Give me that!’ He growled and immediately sliced open several orcs with a deadly overhead propeller-spin, four of them went down and did not stand again. Vikta, who had been armed only with the tiny scythe he had used for gathering herbs, had remained relatively unchallenged so far, this changed however, when a particularly large orc, bearing spiked shoulder plates, came forth with a long battleaxe and swung a heavy blow at the doktar. All Vikta could do was scream, and this was immediately silenced as the huge axe sliced him in two, from the head to the groin. Mit and Iddav had been nearby and were instantly covered in a drenching wave of the doktar’s blood. The rubescent shower blinded them temporarily and Iddav caught a club to the side of the head and collapsed to the floor – he did not get back up.

The orcs proceeded over the Fuldrak’s body and pressed in on the remaining folksmen – Mit, Link, Rek, Jon and Bull had their backs firmly to the wall by now. Tye circled round the back of the orcs and nipped at their heels, dodging kicks and clubs as he did so. Between Mit’s long whip-chain, Link’s awesome broadsword and Rek’s whirling nan-chakks, they temporarily stopped the orcs from crushing them against the wall completely. Jon cowered in behind the frutescent Fuldrak, estimating his whip-chain to be the best line of defence. The chain was unable to defend against the crossbow bolt though, which passed Mit, ripping his cloak as it skimmed by, and secured itself firmly in the young boy’s chest. Jon’s face turned alabaster as he stared down at the projectile jutting from the top of his ribcage, then, after vomiting profusely, he slouched forward into a prostate position and did not rise again.

They had slain many orcs and wounded many more, but orcs were a notoriously hardy bunch, and those with injuries were rising again, dripping their caustic blood and rejoining the battle. The bodies of Mort, Mort’s wife, Vikta and Iddav lay scattered between the orcs who had merely marched over them. The remaining folksman were close to being finished off.

Suddenly, boiling water rained down from the sky and burned five orcs, who screamed in anguish as their scalded scales steamed, one of them was the orc-bowman, who had just finished reloading and taking aim at Rek’s bare torso, he dropped his weapon as the blistering, hot water gushed down on him and he screamed long and mournfully, grasping at his searing flesh.

Two figures dropped seemingly right out of the sky and landed among the fetid orc-platoon. It was Elan and Chef, they had went up to the roof with a cauldron of boiling water, which they had poured onto the enemy, and now they dived from the rooftop and landed among the fearful foe, spinning and slashing as they went. Well, Elan was spinning and slashing, Chef did not land well. He buckled over on his ankle and an orc immediately bore down on him, snarling, spitting and swinging.

Chef launched his only weapon, a meat cleaver, at the oncoming nightmare, and it embedded itself smartly in the forehead. The dead orc stumbled forwards and landed on top of the chef. The orc was dead, but Chef was pinned beneath its weight. The commander of the monstrous multitude, who lived still, though with corrosive orc-blood gushing from a wound in his side, stalked over to where Chef lay pinned and rapped him smartly on the head with a bone-club which he wielded now in place of the whip that was coiled up on his shoulder. Chef’s head slumped, his eyes flickered shut, and he did not move again after that.

Elan, however, had landed neatly, rolled, and come up throwing what looked like black eggs into the face of two orc-fighters. Whatever was in those ‘black eggs’ obviously hurt because the two victims staggered back ululating with agony and clawing at their face and eyes. No sooner had Elan performed this manoeuvre before he unleashed a khazkha* and embedded the sickle-end in the side of an orc’s neck. Using the chain attached, he yanked the sickle back out, caught it, then swung again and slashed another orc across the face.

*A sickle attached to a long metal chain with an iron-weighted ball at the end. The weighted end for bludgeoning and the chain for entangling, allowing the user to rush forward and finish off his opponent with the sickle-end.

The slashed-orc recovered quickly, then lunged at him and hurled a hammer at his head, Elan sidestepped the wind-milling hammer fluidly, and reversing the khazkha he held the sickle-handle and wrapped the weighted chain around the throat of the hammer-thrower, pulling him in and skewering him between the eyes with the lethal curved blade. He did not have time to uncoil the chain to retrieve the khazkha, so he left it stuck in and threw another two ‘black eggs’ blinding two more orcs. Next, he launched two throwing stars, they spun glittering through the air and embedded themselves in the barrel-chest of the leviathan-orc with the spiked shoulder-pads that had slain Vikta. The orc glanced down at the two gleaming, jagged discs that punctuated the black of his flesh and let out a low, harsh laugh.

The assassin was on him however, leaping into the air and landing astride the beast with his short-sword coming down in a stabbing motion that took his victim in the shoulder. Using its good arm, the abnormally powerful orc launched Elan over his head, but the assassin back-flipped elegantly and landed on his feet. He had left his sword in the thing’s shoulder however, and orc and assassin turned to face one another…

Link, Rek and Bull had not wasted the distraction – with renewed vigour, trying to ignore the pain and fatigue, they surged forward as one. Nah-chakks bludgeoning brains, broadsword beheading beasts and bat beating and bruising bones. Mit, meanwhile, was trapped in a struggle; he had lassoed an orc with his whip chain, the barbed links wrapped around the black being’s bleeding body and pinned his arms to his side. The captive still managed to get a hold of the chain in one of his clawed hands though, and he pulled against Mit, who pulled against him, locking the two in a dangerous tug-o-war.

Usually Mit would have discarded the chain and reached for his hok-head swords but again a sharp pang of remorse reminded him he had entered the fray unarmed and was using Iddav’s chain. As he struggled with his antagonist, another orc stealthily crept up behind the Fuldrak, and floored him with a cracking blow to the head from a heavy, wooden cudgel. As Mit fell, Tye lunged, but the orc merely swiped the drog aside with a backhand flick of its truncheon. The drog rolled to the ground and ceased to move.

Suddenly things started to calm down as the orcs took a step back, six of them remained standing, all wounded, and bleeding their toxic blood from various damages. Only four folksmen stood against them. The battlefield was littered with body parts. The stench of burned flesh, scattered intestines and cooling pools of brain-matter, was almost overwhelming. The air was filled with a chorus of groaning, dying orcs. Link had just finished running through his last fatality with his immense broadsword, when the impaled orc took a dying-swing at his leg with its club. The blow caught the knight in the knee and, loosing grip of his impaled weapon, he tripped and fell, landing at the feet of the orc captain, who raised his bone-club and poised to bring it down on the renegade knight’s exposed skull….

Meanwhile, the oversized orc, with the spiked shoulders and the assassin’s short-sword still-stabbed in its shoulder, where the blade smoldered in acid-blood, charged at Elan Veil at a hefting run. Elan had already let fly two ‘black eggs’ but the orc was an uncharacteristically quick-learner and it blocked the trajectory of the ‘bombs’ with its broad limb shielding its face with its good arm, as the other hung limply at its side, and though it must have smarted the flesh, the eyes remained unharmed. Closely following the ‘black eggs’ were two more throwing stars, one joined the others by sticking in the creature’s ribs and the second stabbed into its forehead and stuck there, the spikes of the throwing-discs were not long enough to penetrate the thick hide or dense bone of the attacker, and the brute was on top of Elan, swinging its immense battleaxe in a devastating overhead swipe…

…The orc captain’s bone-club was just about to finish Sir Linkan off, when some sort of glass vial smashed against the club-wielder’s face and within seconds he was engulfed in yellow flame and running around screeching and flailing. Sir Linkan rose, he had already swapped his misplaced broadsword with his ax-staff* and as the captain came running back in a circle, blinded by the pain and flames that overwhelmed him, the knight casually clothes-lined him with the hammer-edge of his formidable weapon. The captain hit the ground and lay there ablaze, and very dead.

*A long wooden staff that ended in a spearhead, below which, the right hand side sported a hammer and the left hand side bore an ax. A versatile weapon with a long reach.

It was Bull who had thrown the firebomb*, and having saved the knight he returned his attention to the two orcs who circled him warily. They were both particularly small, but evidently agile, as one sprang into the air and landed perfectly astride the giant’s back. It tried to slash the Freeman’s throat but he blocked the attempt with his forearm and swinging his bat backwards he rapped it against the orc’s face and the wiry-beast fell back, staggering and dazed.

The second one came in fast, Bull had no time to respond, it caught him shoulder-first in the mid-section, spearing him with its own body. This winded the Freeman badly and he fell to the floor. The orc was upon him, straddling his chest as it plunged a dagger for his eye. Bull caught the orc by the wrist just before the tip of the blade punctured his eyeball, the orc started to push down but Bull’s immense strength held it at bay.

As this eternal struggle developed, the first orc recovered its senses and approached the two. It too grabbed hold of the dagger and thrust down. With the weight of the two orcs combined the dagger slowly lowered, but still did not pierce Bull’s eye, the first orc grabbed a nearby rock and slammed it down on the hilt of the dagger, this drove the weapon deep into the folksman’s eye socket and Bull ceased kicking and struggling, emitting a few dying spasms before finally coming to rest. The two orcs stood up, pleased with their victory, but not for long, as Sir Linkan approached from behind and with the pointed, then the blunt side, of his ax-staff he stabbed, and then hammered the two orcs respectively, and they both rolled to the floor, dead.

*A secret weapon invented by the Freemen. A glass vial filled with Naphtha, it is lit and thrown, exploding on impact.

…Elan rolled to the side, the incoming axe caught his calf slightly and shed some blood, but the wound was not deep. The nimble folksman tucked in his shoulder and rolled, coming up to his attacker’s left. He vaulted atop the orc’s unusually well-muscled back and wrapped his garroting wire round its neck tightly. He began to choke out his prey, and it didn’t take long before the orc slumped to its knees. At this point Elan stuck his boot between his captive’s shoulder blades and still with the wire wrapped round its neck he pulled with all his might. The thin sharp wire bit into the thing’s thick neck and sliced it open at the throat. The cascade of orc blood that ensued dissolved the wire with a hiss of putrid steam, but the orc-warrior was dead, slumping face-first into the grass, a pool of green blood quickly forming a bubbling, burning puddle round its head that changed the surrounding grass brown instantly.

Rek defeated the two remaining orcs easily, caving their heads in with a couple of smartly-executed twists and flicks of his weapon, some of the blood caught his shoulder and stung, but he was alive and suddenly the battle was over. A near-silence descended, paradoxically, after the god-awful din of the last five minutes. No orcs remained, those that did, lay groaning on the floor with no feet, or staggering around blind still clutching their eyes from the effects of Elan’s ‘black eggs’. Those that were left alive but incapacitated were swiftly and mercilessly dispatched by Elan and Linkan. Then the three remaining fighters collapsed to the floor as exhaustion and pain swept over their bodies in a great wave.