Chapter 1: Slayer Genesis
Naud, returned to consciousness with some severe pain to his head and to discover the broken shaft of the Silverhelm's lance still protruding from his let. He touched his forehead and pulled back his hand with sticky blood on it. At least he wasn't going to bleed to death.
Naud pulled the lance out and very nearly passed out from the extreme pain. He sacrificed his formerly white shirt sleeves of his thunderer regiment uniform to make a lightly wrapped bandage over the entrance and exit wound from the lance. He took his belt off and put it over the bandage and tightened it down to staunch the flow of blood from his bandaged wounded right thigh.
Around him he saw the remains of the destroyed dark elf cavalry who had volunteered to join up to defend the critical crossroads south of Karak Kadrin. There was a burned caravan of supply wagons that would have brought the much needed food from the Empire to Karak Kadrin.
He and his small detachment had failed against the remnant high elf rebels that had stayed in the old world after the Storm of Chaos battles. But now Chaos had retreated to the north back in to the wastes. Naud had never failed in a task but he knew that he would take the slayer's oath when he returned to Karak Kadrin for his failure and for leading his fellow warriors to their doom.
He took the shattered lance and used it as a crutch as he checked out the wagons and fallen warriors for survivors. There wasn't any, but several of his warriors and a couple of his thunderers approached him as he limped up the road.
"Naud," said Bork Bronzehelm "We thought you were dead after that lance shattered in you. Our courage failed us and we fled the field of battle."
Naud waved off his companions as they were trying to check on him. "It seems we failed our mission. I'm reporting back to Karak Kadrin where I'll visit the Shrine of Grimnir to take my oath. We failed. Because of that our brothers will be hungry this winter. Ale will be in short supply. We should have fought harder and been more fearless."
"Aye," said Bork looking down at the ground in dispair for his and his companions' cowardly action. "Naud, you were our leader and we failed you. I too will take up the Oath. I will fight by your side again and this time my heart will be strong and pure like Gromril. Never again will I run from combat. This I pledge to you," bellowed Bork throwing his shield and helm away in the first overt actions of becoming a slayer in the discarding of his protective gear. Around him the other seven survivors did likewise.
"Boys, lets go do our duty. I didn't mean to lead you into this and you shouldn't have to sacrifice your honor and future for my failings. However, if you are dead set on maintaining this course we will go to the Shrine together," finished Naud with a shrug of his shoulders as he again took up his slow painful walk up the mountain leading to the gates of Karak Kadrin.
Over the next several days the remnants of the doomed escort mission trudged back up the mountain through the snow. The going was slow because of Naud Fyreberd's wounded leg. Gone was the joking and singing of their previous trips outside of the mountain stronghold of Karak Kadrin. Four days of blinding snow and the group of tired warriors entered their halls via the heavily armored cunningly wrought steel and iron gate.
"Comrades, I will report to the Council of Thanes the failure of our mission," said Naud quietly in the fortified entrance hall. "I would recommend that each of you go visit with your families this evening and rejoice with them. Tonight at moonrise I will be in the Shrine of Grimnir to take my Oaths. If some of you should decide otherwise remember that only us few know of the shame of our failure. And after tonight the memories of this life, of this time, and these events will forever be behind those of us who will give up our claim to hold and clan."
His small band of six survivors each met his gaze before coming forward to clasp his forearm in a strong hand shake. As they each shook his hand for the last time their gazed became grimmer with the weight of their decision and its everlasting ramifications. When next they met he would no longer answer to the name of Naud Fyreberd, no longer be a clansman, no longer call Karak Kadrin home because a slayer forsakes all vows of earthly bonds in their quest to seek redemption in a glorious death. He would be a homeless traveler looking for combat to ease shame that their failure brought onto him as a combat leader of his clan's military might.
The group broke up and each went his way. Naud watched them go before he limped off to the Council of Thanes to deliver his bad news. As he walked through the carved halls of Karak Kadrin Naud saw his favorite sites, some of his friends, and cousins but he didn't stop to greet them and they avoided him because of the determined look in his eye. The older clanners knew what that look meant for they had seen it in the eyes of many of their generation. To them he was already a slayer even if he lacked the orange hair, tattoos, and frenzied attitude. There was that look in his eyes that communicated to his fellow Dawi that this was a Dawi seeking death, seeking redemption for an act known only to him, an act that wouldn't share with his clansmen that he used to call family.
It was nearing mid-night on the mountain that was Karak Kadrin. Out on a cliff there was an ancient open roofed shrine of Grimnir, this wasn't the Shrine of Grimnir, just a minor shrine that for generations Dawi seeking redemption had journeyed to on their first step along the path of redemption. It wasn't much to see there were two arches on opposite sides of a round courtyard, on the entrance arch were ancient dwarven statues four times normal size holding up the base of the arch on their armored shoulders, their shield in front of them with an axe on one and a hammer on the other resting on the shield. This was the warrior gate, the entrance. The arch on the other side was the slayer gate; the statues were of naked tattooed slayers, one with a great weapon the other with two axes.
The floor of the shrine was the RAW rock of the mountain but running through it was a small vein of gold that bisected the open air temple. In the center was a large stone anvil made of black granite. On the anvil were numerous non-descript steel axes, hammers, swords, maces, and metal shod clubs. Standing on the round stair leading up to the ancient anvil was the Slayer Rune Lord of Karak Kadrin, Kaaz Zruum. He was missing his right arm at the shoulder, and thick scars covered his right side of his face, neck, chest, and stump from where he was burned by troll spittle in a battle nearly a century before. He was topless in the falling snow displaying his blue, black and gold slayer tattoos. Attached to his waist was his night black hammer, smaller than most dwarven hammers due to the loss of his arm but rumored to be powerfully runed. He wore pants made from the big horned sheep that favored the rocky terrain, the long wavy woolen fibers having been trimmed short and then dyed with more runic patterns favored by the slayers. The pants were roughly sewn with leather thongs and his boots were made much the same as the pants but with the leather on the outside.
Kaaz Zruum pointed to a spot by the warrior gate where a grey and orange haired older slayer waited standing stoically in the falling snow in woolen pants, boots like Kaaz's and a wolf skinned cloak over his bare chest. Over the next half hour as the moon rose higher into the sky nine other Dawi marched into the shrine without saying a word. Naud noticed Bork standing two spots away from him. As each entered Kaaz directed them to a spot on the warrior side of the shrine and a slayer quietly entered and took up a vigilant stance behind the disgraced.
"Shame has brought you here," said Kaaz in a gravelly deep voice that had the resonance of a late winter avalanche racing down the mountain. "The bonds of honor and duty have been broken," he continued as he eyed each of the Dawi in front of him with their brown, black, red, grey, or blond hair and beards. "Beside you is your guide. Each of us here has no reason for pride anymore. The garments and other items you wear belong to a person who no longer exists. Cast them off," said Kaaz in a commanding voice.
The ten dishonored Dawi stripped in the cold of the mid-night snow storm high up on the mountain as the winds started to pick up. First reluctantly then as they looked around at their companions they stripped with greater vigor hoping to rush the proceedings along in the cold winter night. The slayer guide beside each of the dishonored gathered the clothes as they were stripped and placed them in a flaming pit in front of the anvil where two more slayers were slowly pumping the bellows. The clothes, weapons, and jewelry caught fire and burned or melted as the bellows fanned the flames.
"Each of you arrives here under the judging gaze of Grimnir as we first arrived from the womb of your mothers. Naked. Defenseless. Into a cold cruel world. But unlike a baby from the womb we are not allowed to be comforted. That privilege was stripped from you during your moment of weakness when pride, duty, and honor bonds were broken. You ten are born again in Grimnir's eyes as a tool to defend your people against that which they have no defense against." He paused and walked near the fire pit where there were numerous metal rods sticking out it with wooden or deer antler handles on them. "You will fear not for your safety for you are already dead." He picked up a rod from the pit and walked toward Naud. The rod had a curve favored by slayers and was glowing white hot. "Dead one tell me your crime so you may begin your passage," commanded the Slayer Rune Lord.
"I failed to defend the crossroads where our winter supplies were to arrive. When the enemy charged me my courage faltered in the heat of combat. Though wounded I should have been able to continue to fight had my faith and resolve stayed strong. Because I faltered and succumbed to my wounds the crossroads were lost. My warriors and troops lost heart and fled the field of battle. The caravan was burned and now the winter will be spent on rationed meals for our hold further weakening the defenses in our time of need. I failed to achieve my mission. I failed to complete my duty," said Naud.
"Grimnir will show you the way," said Kaaz. He pressed the glowing rod into the skin on Naud's right front leg on top of the wound from the lance. Naud screamed out as the pain exploded through his body. Kaaz dropped the brand and back handed Naud cutting off his scream as he saw stars and tasted blood in his mouth. "You bring disgrace by crying out. Don't you not know that the dead feel no pain? Return to your spot," commanded the Rune Lord with anger and disappointment in his eye. Naud pulled himself up off the ground and shambled back to his spot by his guide. He began to shake as the cold sank into his bones.
Kaaz returned the brand to the fire and picked up another and walked to the next Dawi becoming a slayer. The process continued through out the night with the slayers to be confessing their sins and shames. Through out the early hours of the night the slayers were branded numerous times. Always in a spot that coincided with their continued confessions. Slowly the branded marks formed patterns that spread outward in spirals, shapes of runes, bars, and lines until the novice slayers bodies were bleeding from dozens of burns each and the sickly sweet stench of burned flesh was rich in the mountain air.
It was hours later when Kaaz spoke to Naud in a different manner. "As a baby emerges from its mother it is bald. The hair which covers your head and your beard belongs to someone of a different time in a different life. Grimnir's teaching state that the color of his chosen will be that of metal heated in the fires of adversity. Heated metal is orange. Kneel." Naud went to his shaking knees from the pain of the branding. Kaaz pulled out black iron sheep shears. "A slayers hair is a warning to his family that he Dawi they knew is no more and a site that chills your enemies. Long flowing locks are favored by the Elves, on your path you will wear mohawks in the beginning," with that he began to roughly chop Naud's hair. He cared not if he cut the scalp of the Dawi before him. He was becoming a slayer. Pain was his due. Pain was his deliverance. Pain and suffering would be his only companion on his quest for a glorious death. As the hair came off his guide collected every strand and held it.
Kaaz motioned to his slayer assistant. A small coal black cauldron was brought over and placed in front of Naud. "You will stand and place your head into the liquid and you will not come up until I pull you out. Do not drink or inhale the Blood of Grimnir or you will die right here, right now," said Kaaz in a menacing growl. The Slayer Rune Lord placed the shears into his assistant's hand and Naud saw droplets of his blood fall off of the blade and onto the thin snow that covered the stone floor of the shrine. A hand cold as iron and strong as steel grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and lifted him up off of the ground and slammed him head first in to the steaming cauldron of liquid.
Naud didn't even have time to take a breath or close his eyes as he was man handled into the cauldron up to his shoulders. His feet were off the ground and he we struggling for purchase as the Blood of Grimnir burned his eyes like strong acid and it felt like a million bees were flaying and stinging his skin. In a fit of panic he screamed and spent the last of his air into the Blood of Grimnir. He felt the grip on the scruff of his neck tighten until he thought his spine would pop. His lungs began to burn like the molten stone of the earth and he was twitching from head to toe as he felt the Blood seep into his ears and nose. He wanted to breath but knew down that path lay certain death. Slowly his struggles stopped as his oxygen starved body started to shut down. His vision was dimming as he felt himself yanked out of the keg and thrown away from the alter to lay naked on the snow covered ground struggling weakly as a baby to get a clean breath of air into his liquid blocked nose and to clear the Blood of Grimnir that was trying to run into his mouth.
"Slowly dead one, take it slowly, remember how it was in the beginning. Exhale first to clear the way and breath. Breath in the breath of life. Grimnir has given you this second chance," said his guide beside him in a quiet tone. Naud finally was able to breath and then he layback exhausted, trembling and shaking from the bitter cold and his near death experience
Time passed and he was led back to his spot as it slowly neared dawn. The trials had lasted hours and were yet to be completed. Kaaz approached him again. "Grimnir offers his servants protection through his marks." He dipped his hand into a pouch on his belt and pulled out some black mud like pudding. "Black is for death, made from trolls blood and that of dragons it hardens the heart and dampens the mind. Grimnir has determined that his tools shall know no fear," he said as he rubbed the black mixture into Naud RAW branded wounds. As the mixture hit the Dawi blood a whole new level of pain was felt by the Dawi as his wounds began to smoke from the acid and minerals mixed into concoction. Naud gritted his teeth and bore the pain, Kaaz met his determined gaze and for a split second Naud could almost swear that the Slayer Rune Lord nearly smiled.
Kaaz made the circuit putting the black tattoo base into each future slayer's brands. He then returned to Naud. "Grimnir is steadfast like the foundations of the mountains. Though the winds of change might wear the facing of the mountain down over centuries Grimnir is unshakable in his determination. Blue is the color of the stone and gems at the base of the mountain. With the weight of all of creation resting upon it the foundation knows it must be strong or all will fail. Grimnir marks his servants with blue so that they and those around them know that their steadfastness is unshakable, their will in battle is that of Grimnir's own. The teachings of Grimnir state that his tools, his axes, his servants will be unbreakable." With that Kaaz spread some blue powder over the black charred tattooed brands. The blue cooled the black like forged metal being dipped in water or oil to cool and temper the metal.
Kaaz completed his circuit and then moved up to the anvil where he placed a basket on it. Working with his assistant he pulled two mountain vipers out and milked their venom into blood red marble bowl. He returned the snakes to the basket and motioned for the next container, a clear glass jar that held what appeared to be hundreds of black widow spiders. These were dumped into the bowl and Kaaz pulled out his hammer and gently started to smash them into a pulp with the mountain viper venom. After that thirteen deadly Deathshroud mushrooms were put in as Kaaz continued to work the hammer into the pulp again.
Kaaz's assistant moved to his side holding the bowl with the black hammer still in as the Slayer Rune Lord centered himself between the anvil and the fire pit being stoked by the two slayer anvil assistants. Kaaz pointed at Naud and waved him forward. "Grimnir decreed that his chosen be schooled in the ways of death. You must be swift like the viper, patient like the widow, and brutally effective in battle like the Deathshroud is at taking life from the unwary. Grimnir stated that these tools be called what they are tasked to do," he took the hammer with the toxic mush on it and carefully traced over the fresh tattoos. "You are a slayer of the foes of Grimnir. You are a slayer of the foes of the Dawi. You are a slayer of the foes of Karak Kadrin. In battle seek out that which chills the hearts of the Dawi. Seek trolls, ogres, giants, dragons, and the undead. When your allies are frozen in fear you will attack with the strength of and determination of Grimnir. When you strike, you strike to kill. When you strike you strike with out mercy. When you strike, you strike without regard for your personal safety because this night you have died. This night you were born a slayer. Slayer I name you Sqalliq Oneleg," said Kaaz putting his hammer back into the bowl. He turned and took a non-descript set of axes from the anvil. "Sqalliq these axes are pure like Grimnir's hatred for the Green skinned. These axes have slain hundreds of orcs and were forged from the armor of Grodduk Shieldbreaker, an orc warboss that ravaged the holds to the east three centuries ago. In the time since then they have been born by ten slayers like yourself, the last one was Brud Ridgerunner; he died trying to dispatch a giant. Will you carry these axe's with the honor that the slayers before carried them? The deeds you do with them will help you on your path to redemption in Grimnir's eyes. Even a slayer may one day know honor as he awaits Grimnir's liberating kiss on the battlefield fighting the enemies of the Dawi."
Sqalliq Oneleg looked deeply in to the gaze of the Slayer Rune Lord. "Kaaz I will carry Brud's blades into combat against any foe that I meet until I am blessed with the liberating kiss of Grimnir," he said with more strength of conviction than he knew his tortured body and exhausted mind had left after the long night's trials.
"Sqalliq, I welcome you to the Slayer Brotherhood of Grimnir," said Kaaz grasping Sqalliq's forearm in a Dawi handshake. "Your guide will dress you and lead you onto the road of Grimnir beyond the Slayer's Gate," said the Slayer Rune Lord motioning to the arch behind him held by two slayer statues.
Sqalliq left the Anvil with nothing but the two unadorned axes of Brud Ridgerunner in his hands. Naked as the day he first came into the world. Naked as the day he first came into the world as a Slayer of Karak Kadrin.
As Sqalliq emerged from the arch the sun peaked over the mountains in the east and bathed him in its light. His guide stopped him with a hand on his RAW and tattooed shoulder. "Sqalliq, I am Torin Kegsmasher. There are some clothes over here for you," said Torin leading him to a pile of crudely made bighorn sheep leather boots, pants, and a cloak. "We will wait for the rest and then we set out for that pass over there," said Torin pointing off across a gulf to the next mountain over and a pass over twenty miles away in a straight line. "There in the high pass is the giant that killed Brud. Generally the first mission of a new group of slayers is to kill that which killed the slayer to receive the first weapon. In this case it is a giant; the giant is weary and knows how we fight. He has been raiding caravan's coming up the pass since summer and has survived three excursions against his territory. We are going to kill him or die trying," said Torin as he fell into a brooding silence as the rest of the new slayers slowly emerged from the Shrine of Grimnir and dressed in their novice slayer outfits.
Chapter 2: Slayer Initiates
Sqalliq Oneleg followed Torin Kegsmasher down the narrow icy trail heading down from the outdoor Shrine of Grimnir from their initiation. The weak winter sun shinning on the snow and ice sickles on the cliff above and beside them was bright in the late fall. The days were growing shorter and colder up in the mountains of the far north. But the sun provided enough warms to make the footing treacherous so the band of twenty slayers had to step carefully.
They were making good time and around noon all of the fur clad slayers were ready to stop and eat having descended several thousand feet and having traveled nearly five miles on the ice. They came around bend in the trail and noticed a small rough hill fort nearly a half mile away.
"Sqalliq," said Torin. "That is Icefang Camp," he said while pointing to the low walled fort. Unlike most dwarven holds this one only had a short shoulder high two to four foot wide stone fence and five or six small short buildings, one in each corner and another in the middle. "Icefang is an outpost for slayers," he continued as the rest of the initiates fell in behind the two as they continued to walk slowly on the widening path. "Each of the buildings in the corner belongs to a mature slayer who has been unsuccessful in his quest for redemption. When we arrive you will be broken down into smaller groups and briefly trained in the slayer way of fighting. There is more to taking down a troll than just swinging an axe. No longer will you young slayers have leather, chain, plate, helm, buckler or shield to hide behind. Here there are no handguns, crossbows or artillery."
"Torin, how long will that take us to complete," queried Sqalliq tiredly.
"Being a slayer is like forging an axe. There is always another detail to add to the blade. A slayer is never done training and honing himself to be Grimnir's weapon. We will cover all of this later," said Torin abruptly as he took longer strides and put the initiate slayer behind him.
As they neared the gate Sqalliq noticed that the wall besides having stones was lined with hundreds of skulls. There was orc, goblin, snotling, some that looked like rats, ogres, giants, minotaur, deformed dwarvish looking ones, elf and even a few humans. The small huts in the corners looked like they could hold around twenty to thirty slayers each. The building in the center was larger and had two stories with a balcony on each side on the upper level. Unlike typical Dawi construction there weren't any beautiful carvings on the RAW stone. The narrow windows were lacking the thick stained glass having only cedar shutters made from the wood that grew lower on the mountain below the snow line.
As the band from the shrine marched into the slayer hill fort Sqalliq thought it seemed weird that no one was on sentry at the open "gate" which was just a spot where there was no wall. A slayer or two could be seen moving around in the court yard going from building to building, carry firewood or water from the well in two buckets on a pole over their shoulder, but there was no sign of a guard.
Torin chuckled and punched Sqalliq in his shoulder. "Don't worry about security here. There isn't a monster or enemy in these mountains crazy enough or suicidal enough to attack this fort. Didn't ye' see the skulls out side the walls. Generally each slayer will bring back one skull from an expedition to serve as a warning to all that would be foolish enough to seek combat with us on our territory," growled the veteran slayer.
Torin raised his beastman's horn horn to his mouth and blew a long sorrowful note into the cold crisp mountain air to alert the hold that he an his new charges had returned from Karak Kadrin and Grimnir's Shrine. With in minutes there were nearly fifty or more slayers out in the courtyard. Each of the corner huts had between nine and fifteen slayers each and the only slayers that came from the central building were a few very scarred scary looking slayers, a slayer cook, and what looked like a slayer scribe or rune smith.
"Don't mill around you blokes you new guys get in line and act like the Dawi warriors you used to be," commanded a one eyed bald slayer with burns over most of his body that had erased his tattoos. "I'm Qwudd slayer of the Black Chaos Dragon Slizziq and the commander of this here sorry excuse for a pit stop on your trip to your grave. While here you new slayers will do what you are told, when you are told, with no questions." He stopped and glared at the new initiates before he continued to yell at them in a frenzied deep voice. "I will train you. I will hone your fighting skills like a sharpener brings the blade back to a dinged daggers edge. I will strengthen your mind and body through exercises and drills like a master blacksmith folds the iron in a blade."
Qwudd stopped and walked from slayer to slayer looking at their physical make up. He stepped in front of Sqalliq first. "So you sure are a sorry excuse for a Dawi. I guess your pappa didn't make you work when you were a boy," he said holding up Sqalliq's arm and checking out his muscles and lack of definition. "Before every meal you will take that boulder over there," he indicated a rock two feet thick and nearly three feet long and around six inches wide. "And you will place it on each shoulder and run around the fort. After those two laps you will hold it in front of that sorry excuse for a chest with both hand and walk around the fort backwards." Yelled Qwudd into Sqalliq's face. Sqalliq shivered in the cold wind and from the warm breath on his face.
"What you never experienced any cold in your pampered life back at Karak Kadrin. If you think this is cold just you wait until you do your laps in the snow naked and with no boots," yelled Qwudd. "Torin, this worthless maggot is in your pack. Get him running his exercises with his friend over there Thane Rock!" Qwudd stepped to the next slayer in line and carried on with his welcoming of the next victim to Icefang Camp.
"You heard Dragon slayer Qwudd strip those clothes and grab your rock you snotling whelp," screamed Torin into Sqalliq's ear as he came up from behind the new slayer and pushed him out of the formation and toward his boulder "Thane Rock". Sqalliq felt his heart beating faster as he threw off the cloak and awkwardly ran towards the ice covered rock while kicking off his boots and trying to pull off his pants. He stopped at the rock and tossed his pants beside it and threw Brud's Axes on the ground and hefted the boulder onto his right shoulder.
Sqalliq felt something hit him in the back of the head as he was knocked to the ground crushing his right hand under the boulder. When he rolled over he saw Torin standing over him as his boot was coming towards his face in a kick. The kick connected with his mouth and nose splitting his lip and he felt a loud crack as the bones of his nose surrendered to the force of the kick. "You never drop your weapon grot. How do you slay something unarmed? Pick them up and carry them with you always. When you go to the outhouse they go with you, when you clean pots after dinner they are with you, when you run this god forsaken rock around this camp they are in your other hand. You and them are inseparable. Where they go so do you," screamed Torin as he rained kicks down onto the prone slayer initiates body. "Get up! Get up! Get up troll scum today is not your day to die but I will make you wish you had," yelled Torin.
Sqalliq managed to roll over nakedly in the snow and retrieve Brud's axes and pick himself up off the ground while receiving kicks from Torin. He amazed himself by picking up the eighty pound boulder and getting it to his shoulder but not without cutting his scalp with the blade of one of his axes. He tasted the copper of his blood as it trickled into his mouth from his nose and slit lip. Ever so slowly he managed to first start walking and then to job in the numbing cold wind and snow as he headed toward the gate of Icefang Camp on his first hour of training on his first day of being a slayer of Karak Kadrin.
Sqalliq jogged awkwardly around the front and side wall of Icefang Camp. The boulder, Thane Rock, was very nearly freezing to the touch and he felt his hands go numb by the time he rounded the second corner. Torin was jogging right behind him and he could hear Sqalliq labored breathing as he sucked in the freezing cold mountain air. As Sqalliq rounded the corner he was greeted with a site that he wasn't expecting the back wall was lined with half sized dwarven slayer statues.
"Keep running Sqalliq," said Torin with out a lick of anger in his voice. "Those are statues of the fallen slayers of Icefang Camp. The disgraced are buried here among their kind. In time you will learn of the deeds and deaths of each of these slayers. Below each statue is bones of the slayer laid to rest. Karak Kadrin didn't won't our dead's corrupted karma polluting the hallowed Vault of Ancestors, so we buried them here. At least here they will know peace at last." Torin finished as they came up on the far back corner from the gate.
"Torin, will all of my training be this painful," queried Sqalliq carefully to his guide who it seemed could release his anger like a keg of black powder that a spark touched.
"Sqalliq, I will be as hard on you as I have to be to ensure that when the time comes for you to die that you will take as many enemies of the Dawi and Grimnir as you can. I will not hurt you out of malice or for petty reasons." He spoke easily while running noticed Sqalliq who while he was freezing was now sweating profusely from carry the eighty pound boulder carefully but awkwardly balance on his shoulder. "I am merely using the tried and true techniques to condition you mind and body to pain and to following orders. At times we will be under the command of a Dawi Lord in battle. When he orders our unit to sacrifice itself so that his army may achieve victory we will do it with out question, quarter, or thought. Reluctance to act instantaneously will be beaten out of you. Your will is not strong enough to survive against the like of Dragon slayer Qwudd's instruction. Before his fall he was a great warrior, now he is a legendary slayer. The King of Karak Kadrin posted him here where he is unable to fulfill his destiny so that he may train people like you and me to be the weapons and the way for Karak Kadrin's success in battle. Question him not, doubt him not, and respect him always." Sqalliq heard Torin sigh, "But, to answer your question. Yes your training will be this painful and it will get worse. All this exercise is to do is to help you become stronger and to get that fat off of your frame."
They arrived at the gate and Sqalliq changed shoulders while continuing to jog. The rest of the run was completed in silence and when they finally returned to the courtyard all of the other slayers doing other physical activities in the nude just like Sqalliq. One slayer was pushing himself across the ground on his back with his hands behind his head from one wall to the other, two other were fighting with clubs, and another was pulling water up from the well by running with the rope attached to the bucket. A slayer near the well would take the bucket and wait for the runner to come back before dumping it on the runner, they would then switch. The last four were pushing a huge rounded boulder six feet in diameter around the inside of the walls. Three would push while the fourth was balancing and walking on top of the boulder. At each corner one would swap out. Along the way their senior slayers would beat the initiates for not moving fast enough, for falling off, or not pouring all of the water on the other slayer.
Sqalliq stood stiffly where Torin directed him and over an hour the rest of the naked, cold, wet, dirty, bloody slayers completed their task and fell in beside him shivering in the cold of Icefang Camp. When they were all done Qwudd walked down the line.
"You may think that this is bad. You may think that you can't go on. You may think that you will die from the cold or the pain. But that is because you are still thinking about things that have no bearing on your current circumstances. You are dead. Dead things don't think. Dead things don't question. Dead things don't feel pain. Dead things don't feel cold. You were dead as soon as you started on the path of the slayer." He said with his gravelly voice. "But in time you will learn when it is required to think and when it isn't. You will begin to ignore unimportant pains and aches so that you can achieve things that you thought were impossible before your Slayer Path began. You will be stronger and more deadly than any Hammerer in the king's guard. You will be like a handgun waiting for the trigger to be pulled. And when I pull your trigger you will learn to kill with out question, with out fear, with out the emotional baggage that you might have thought was so important in your previous incarnation. Here there is only two things you need to know. That you are dead and that you will kill on command."
He stopped and looked at the slayer initiates that were all huffing, puffing and shivering in the cold of the Karak Kadrin fall weather. "Torin, get these corpses cleaned up. Dinner is in an hour and they will learn the meaning of service by serving their fellow slayers. Send them through the pool," commanded Qwudd as he turned and walked back towards the two story building in the center of the compound.
"Alright you skaven slaves, this aint no time to gawk follow me and quickly or I'll beat you down like a gnoblar being bludgeoned by an ogre for spilling his beer," yelled Torin as he led them to a small iced over pool that was fifteen feet in diameter. A small trough led to the well where the pool was refilled one bucket at a time. "Dive on in ladies and get clean. There are no warm baths in Icefang Camp." The ten slayer initiated jumped in the frigid water breaking the quarter inch of ice on the surface. The stood shaking in the water as the four giant slayers tossed in pumice stone and rough bars of soap. "Lather up, rinse and get out. You all have kitchen duty," yelled one of the giant slayers Sqalliq didn't know. The quickly scrubbed clean and put on their rough clothes that were dirty from sitting in the mud and being walked on by the other slayers.
And so the new initiates were welcomed to Icefang Camp on a forgotten cliff on the west side of the mountain that housed Karak Kadrin. The ten initiates served chow, scrubbed dishes in nearly boiling water and ate the scraps and remains of the meal after all the other slayers had had their fill. Not much was left but some bread heels and gravy, the only drinks they were allowed was water that one of them had to fetch from the well. They all shared a ladle to drink out of from the bucket.
When the meal was complete the initiates split up into their appropriate group lead by their giant slayer and headed toward one of the barracks huts in the corner of the compound. Their first day as a slayer had been long and hard. They knew they didn't have much to look forward to for some time to come. They each were shown a cot furthest away from the one fire place in the barracks and collapsed quickly into a dreamless sleep. So ended Sqalliq's first day as a slayer.
The next morning Sqalliq was awoken by a persistent shaking on his arm that was sticking out of his rough woolen blanket. "Hey new guy," said a soft masculine voice. "New guy get up," said the voice again as Sqalliq cracked his eyes and squinted into the lantern light.
"What," said Sqalliq groggily?
"Get up and come with me," said the thin scribe looking slayer he had seen come out of the two story building that Qwudd and the Slayer Runesmith resided in. The thin slayer waited patiently for Sqalliq to slowly and painfully crawl out of his bunk. He pulled his pants and boot on and retrieved his cloak and axes while trying to make sense of what was going on. "Come on new guy, dawn is still two hours away and we have breakfast to start and chores to be done." He turned and led Sqalliq out of the Torin's Barracks with the deeply sleeping but noisily snoring slayers behind them as they stepped out into the frigid cold of the night time on the mountain.
The moon was full and peaked through clouds occasionally while a light snow fell quietly to the frozen ground that belonged to Icefang Camp. "I'm Berriq Stonehead," said the scholarly slayer as they trudged across the frozen court yard past wooden practice dummies. "I am Dragon slayer Qwudd's cook, assistant and scribe for Icefang Camp. Every morning you or one of the initiates will help me cook breakfast, muck, feed and milk the goats, collect the chicken eggs, bake the daily bread, and start the stew before the training day begins. It's a lot of work, especially when there is only one initiate in the barracks," he continued as he led Sqalliq into the central building. Sqalliq noticed right away that while the building wasn't constructed of better quality materials that it was cleaner and more decorated on the inside than the outside led him to believe. In the entrance hall he noticed that each stone on the inside wall had a slayers face carved into it a name and two dates.
"Memorial stones," said Berriq. "Soon yours and the others will join them. The first date is the day you became a slayer, the likeness is of how you looked as an initiate, and the second date records when and where death occurred. Some like this one here records a honorific of those that achieved forgiveness in Grimnir's eyes by dying from a worthy opponent. That one over there has been gold leafed because he has been exceptionally unlucky and is a Demon slayer now, but he has killed many beast and fell creatures, he just hasn't been granted Grimnir's Kiss," said Berriq wistfully as he turned and led Sqalliq through a great hall with five tables that replicated the layout of the barracks and the central hold.
Arriving at the kitchen Berriq handed Sqalliq several buckets and a basket. "We need six buckets of clean water, get all the eggs from the hen house near the barracks opposite yours near the front gate. We'll need four baskets of wood for each of the four main fire places, and I will milk the goat while you do all that. In half an hour you should be done, with that and ready for the next set of chores," finished off the scribe as he picked up his milking bucket and headed out a back door of the kitchen trough a pantry with potatoes, onions, garlic, several kegs of Bugman's XXXXX ale, numerous bottles of wine, and urns of oats, corn, and wheat.
Sqalliq grabbed the six five gallon buckets and followed. Once outside he headed to the well and started to complete his chores. The well took quite a while fill the larger buckets. The chain and heavy steel bucket held only a gallon of water so Sqalliq had to hoist it up more than thirty times to get his thirty gallons of water. He grabbed the buckets two at a time and took them into the kitchen; three trips later he was headed to the hen house to gather eggs.
The hen house was attached to the side of the barracks with a radiator type heater that connected to the barracks's fireplace to keep the chicken from freezing in the cold mountainous air. When he entered he noted that there was a sign to feed the chickens two scoops of corn and one of cracked oats. Additionally there was a two gallon bucket for water. Sqalliq fed the chickens and fetched the water while they ate and then he took the eggs out of the twenty or so nest in the stinky stone coop. He returned carefully to the kitchen with his trophies.
When he arrived at the kitchen he noted that Berriq was angrily banging around pans and bowls. "Put them over there and get the fires started. You need to move quicker or else every slayer in this frozen ((Oops)) hole will hate you today and you will regret it come training time," quipped the scribe angrily. "The wood is on the back fence. Hustle or it cold biscuits for sure."
Sqalliq went running out the pantry and as he hit the snowy ground with a wood basket in each hand his foot slipped out from underneath him and he lost his balance. He fell hard to the ground landing on his left elbow before smashing the back of his head into the ground. He laid there puffing as his vision darkened briefly and the world spun with a sickening sense of vertigo. Slowly he forced himself up off the ground and noted that there was blood on the ground from his head but he decided that could wait until after he had the fires going.
Sqalliq fetched the wood that was covered in snow and ice. Each basket weighed in at thirty or so pounds of wood and he jogged them back into the kitchen where Berriq was stoking up the fire from the night before in a large cast iron stove. "Good job bleeder now hustle and get four more for each of the fireplaces in the Slayer Hall. You need to be done with that in a quarter of an hour if we are to have all the eggs cooked and other food started for this evening," heard Sqalliq as he fled the hall with two more baskets. Eight times he made the trip in and out of the kitchen and into the Slayer's Hall. He would drop the full baskets of wood and grab the empties before racing back outside for more.
"Done," said Sqalliq with an exhausted voice after his eighth load for the Slayer Hall.
"Far from it Initiate, the day hasn't even begun yet," came Torin's voice from behind him as Sqalliq jumped and Berriq looked up from his mixing of the biscuit dough. "Berriq how is Initiate Sqalliq Bleeding Head working out for you this morning? Do I need to take outside and kick his "I swear too much" for moving so slow," queried the giant slayer.
"No but I could use some help getting the food going," said Berriq in a frenzy of activity. "Show clumsy here how to crack eggs and cook them while I set the bread aside to rise," said the scribe moving quickly but effortlessly through the busy kitchen.
"Aye," replied Torin. He walked over to Sqalliq with six eggs in his hands. "Watch," he commanded. He put some bacon grease into one of the six cast iron skillets on the hot stove. "Hold the egg like so, hit it gently on the edge of the stove and gently squeeze so as to not get shells in the pan," he said while demonstrating. "Watch again. Hold, hit, squeeze," he did the eggs effortlessly before dropping the empty shells in to a waiting bucket. He then handed the last four eggs to Sqalliq. "Your turn."
Sqalliq was much slower and he nearly totally destroyed the shells in his strong tired hands. "Gently Initiate Sqalliq, everything you do here is training. The attention to detail you exhibit in the kitchen serving your fellow slayers in the same attention to detail you put into slitting the throat of an orc when six of them are attacking you at the same time. Focus and do it smoothly, in all your actions seek efficiency and grace. For that will ensure that you have the energy to fight for hours and to not over commit yourself in battle by swinging your axe in a futile manner while giving your opponent the opening he needs to end your miserable existence." After the fourth egg Torin took up a spatula and showed the initiate how to scramble the eggs in the pan, the proper color and consistency for the properly cooked eggs. When they were done he put them in a large flat serving pan.
"Now initiate we are going to cook the rest," said Torin walking eight feet away to where the basket of forty or so eggs was sitting near the pantry. "Initate one egg goes in each pan. I will throw them to you from here. You will catch them, crack them and cook them. For each one that hits the ground there will be a set of laps with Thane rock around the camp. For each pan with shells another set of laps. Prepare yourself for battle slayer," said Torin with a serious look on his face.
With a sense of grace that Sqalliq didn't think the other slayer had in him the giant slayer quickly and effortlessly tossed an egg to Sqalliq. Sqalliq quickly and effortlessly crushed the egg while catching it ruining that one. "That's one," barked Torin as another egg sailed his way. Sqalliq caught this one two handed and rushed cracking it that resulted in the egg splattering over the front of the hot stove. "That's two," barked the giant slayer again. The eggs kept coming and quickly Sqalliq resolved to do better. Soon there were two or three eggs arching though the air at once as the giant slayer picked up the pace in short bursts to test his trainees dexterity and hand-eye coordination.
With in minutes the scrambled eggs were cooking and Berriq came by with some sea salt, chopped onions and diced garlic. "Mix that in klutz and try not to waste it, you're going to wish you had made more of those eggs in the pan," he said in a peeved tone. Sqalliq mixed the seasoning equally into the skillets and was rewarded with a savory smell that had his taste buds watering. The scribe looked over his shoulder, "Torin I see shells in five skillets, plus the eight broken eggs, looks like your initiate is going to be very tired come dinner time." The scribe walked to the other stove with several tea pots starting to boil.
"Initiate Sqalliq when the eggs are done one skillet worth goes on each table. Poor each teapot into a pitcher with the tea leaves and put one pitcher of tea per table. In the ovens are six sheets of biscuits, one per table, finally there is a vat of boiled oats and barley, fill up six bowls one on each table," said Torin walking over to where Berriq was frying up several small slices of ham.
Sqalliq set the food on the five tables in Slayer Hall. The tables were filling up with hungry slayers and he was being insulted for being a sluggard and an unmotivated orc whelp. He noticed that the slayer hall was rather cold and looked at the cold fireplaces with wood stacked beside them. He had a bad feeling as he headed back into the kitchen. "Slayer Berriq was I supposed to start the fires as well in the great hall?"
Torin and Berriq looked up with an amused look on their face. Berriq put his slender hands on his narrow aproned hips. "Torin when I was a young dwarf lad a lifetime ago before becoming a slayer my parents taught me to respect my elders. In the morning I fetched wood for the family's hearth. I fetched water so my mother would be able to cook and clean and worry about more important things. I guess you impertinent initiates don't respect their elders these days," quipped the Scribe.
"Berriq, that is true," said Torin with a grin on his face. "I too did those things in another life and in this one as a fresh initiate. If I was an initiate I would set the table ware and get those hearths stoked before Qwudd arrives. And incase you are wondering the last table worth of food stays in here for the cooking staff, but your lazy "I swear too much" might not be eating today if the Slayer Hall is unheated in another ten minutes or so," yelled Torin as he and Berriq burst into a fit of laughter at Sqalliq's expense.
Sqalliq yanked open a stove and reached is hand in for fresh log that wasn't burning on one end and ran with the flaming log into the Slayer's Hall. He put it into one of the hearths and started to heap some of the smaller sticks and kindling then several logs before racing back into the kitchen for yet more flaming logs. His hands were burned but in less than five minutes he had some fitful fires going in each fireplace.
The other slayers were patiently waiting for Qwudd to come into the hall for his breakfast. The older slayer entered minutes later and paused at the bottom of the stair that led to his personal quarters. All the slayers stopped talking and rose to their feet in respect.
Qwudd looked towards the kitchen doors as Berriq came through with his hot food. Torin and Sqalliq followed him out with fresh biscuits and butter from the pantry. Qwudd walked to his table and stood behind his high backed stone and wood chair with carvings of dragons, giants, and demons being attacked by an unstoppable horde of slayers. "Berriq, your kitchen help is slacking. When I come down stairs in the morning I expect the Slayer Hall to be heated with the fires of our fervor. Torin," said Qwudd turning to look at the Giant Slayer in the eyes. "If your initiate likes the cold so much then your barracks can go without heat for ten days. Maybe then your sorry excuse for an initiate will understand that heat is a luxury for when we aren't on campaign. Double his penalties for the day and not warm tea."
"Yes Master Qwudd," said Torin and Berriq together before backing away from the head slayer's table. Sqalliq followed them quietly to the wall beside the kitchen door where they stood quietly. Sqalliq received a quick hard slap on the back of his head from Torin. "When Qwudd is done talking to you, you will respond with a ‘Yes Master Qwudd' in the future!" Growled Torin between clinched teeth.
The three slayers focused on the head table where Qwudd was the center of attention. The Dragon Slayer looked around and then began to speak. "Slayers of Icefang Camp, let us give thanks to Grimnir for this fine food and drink that he has put before us today. We are also thankful for the warmth, mediocre that it is. Let our thoughts turn towards training our new brethren and we ask for your guidance and wisdom, give us patience not to kill these initiates when they move too slow or ask the wrong questions. We beseech thee to hasten our chance to serve you in battle and receive your promised liberating kiss. Amen," finished the slayer who then sat down and started eating with vigor.
Around the room the rest of the slayers sat down. One initiate reached for the eggs first and was rewarded with a punch to the nose that propelled the slayer out of bench seat. "Initiates are served last stinky grot maggot. Stay on the floor until you are called cur," said the giant slayer at that table. The rest of the slayer initiates took the lesson well and waited patiently for their food and drink.
"Back to the kitchen Sqalliq," said Torin as he turned and headed to his table. Berriq led the way back into the hot kitchen and the two slayers sat down and Berriq served Sqalliq some eggs, biscuits, and jerky. Berriq poured him some hot water in a mug, added some honey and several slices of dried apple.
"Qwudd said no tea. Before this day is done you will be needing that warmth and sugar," said Berriq with a chuckle. They ate their meal in silence and for the first time in nearly a week Sqalliq wasn't hungry or cold. "Go fetch the plates and dishes from the hall. Wash them, dry them and return the plates and mugs to the tables. When all the dishes are done and the floor mopped report back to you Giant Slayer for training, I suggest you hurry because your day is going to be very long with all those laps around the camp today." Berriq walked off laughing to check on the bread and stew that he had cooking.
Nearly two hours late the dishes were done and the Slayer Hall cleaned up. Sqalliq stoked the fires and added several logs before heading back to his barracks to find Torin. Torin was outside his barracks with his squad of slayers going through mock drills several were doing one on one sparing matches while others were doing one on two or one on three matches. Who ever scored a kill then had to defend against the others as the attackers changed up. Several of the slayers were bleeding from fresh cuts and other had wicked bruises.
Torin stepped out of his sparing match as Sqalliq approached. "Initiate Sqalliq, you owe Qwudd and Berriq twenty six laps around the compound with Thane Rock. That will take most of the rest of the day. When you are done with your corrective training, you will report back to the kitchen for supper preparation. You can keep your boots and pants today but no cloak, that is for not having Slayer Hall heated for breakfast. Finally no stopping for breaks or drinks of water initiate. Pace yourself on your laps and sound off with the count when you pass the barracks. I and the rest of the squad will continue to drill until you are done," with that he turned his back on the initiate and stepped into a one on five match with his two short swords flashing he tapped out the current defender and then took on the six slayers in a series of lighting strokes that were nearly too quick to watch.
Sqalliq dropped his cloak by the door to his barracks and retrieved Thane Rock and set out on his twenty six laps around the camp. Several hours later he completed his laps and stumbled into the camp where he deposited the blood slickened rock near the door to his barracks. The rock had rubbed his hands RAW as well as broken the skin on his shoulders from rubbing against his collar bones. His breathing was coming in quick painful hammer strokes as he put back on his cloak and staggered towards the well for water.
Ever so slowly he pulled up the bucket of water with tears nearly coming to his eyes from the pain and exhaustion forced upon him for his failings earlier in the morning. He choked back the emotion and started to drink the ice cold winter water as he surveyed the training going on in the camp. Torin was giving a class on tactics of two weapon use versus spear armed infantry in his corner. Another giant slayer and his squad were drilling with great weapons, the other squads were squared off and attacking each other in mock combat. Who ever died first then had to do one ten push up with the victorious slayer standing on his back.
Sqalliq finished his water and silently promised himself that he would redouble his efforts to be the best slayer he could be. He had let down Berriq, Torin, and his squad. He didn't want to do it again.
He reported back to the kitchen after the washed the blood off of his hands, bruised and swollen face, and shoulders. The dinner that night went off with out a hitch and after he had cleaned up the kitchen he reported back to his barracks where Torin put him to work cleaning the barracks and scrubbing the cold fireplace clean. At nearly eight o'clock that night he was done with his chores, had cleaned himself up and his clothing, and had climbed into his cold bunk furthest away from the cold fireplace. Sqalliq had never before felt so alone in all his life. He had never felt his body screaming at him with pain in every joint and muscle. He hurt in places he didn't even know existed before. He fell into a dreamless exhausted sleep still thinking about his physical pains, his second day as a slayer was complete.
The next day it was a different barrack's turn to cook which meant that Sqalliq was able to sleep until nearly dawn. He was awakened by Torin kicking him gently in his bunk. "Sqalliq bring your axes it is time for some real training before we eat breakfast," said the giant slayer before he walked outside the cold barracks.
Sqalliq laid in bed for a few more seconds feeling every fiber of his being aching from his broken nose, split lip, cut scalp from his axe blade cutting him on the first day, to his swollen bump from falling yesterday. His shoulders and hands ached from carrying Thane Rock around the camp twenty six times yesterday and his collar bones were rubbed RAW and ached every time he breathed because of his skin being stretched by the rising and falling of his chest. Finally his fresh tattoos still ached from the brands and then what ever it was that Kaaz Zruum the Slayer Rune Lord had rubbed into them.
He heaved himself painfully up out of his bunk, exhaled into the cold frosty air and noticed that inside the barracks his breath was making small clouds of condensation because of not having a fire. He quickly pulled on his boots, pants, and cloak and headed out side with his axes held in his left hand.
Torin was waiting not far from the door. "Lets go talk by the well so the other's can sleep," he said as he led his initiate away from the barracks. "This morning I will share the Slayer philosophy on axes and their use as tools of death. Do you know which part of the axe a slayer uses for killing," queried Torin.
Sqalliq let out a chuckle at the stupid question. Every Dawi boy and girl was skilled in what part of an axe was used for killing. "Torin the blade is used for killing," replied the initiate with a laugh. He wasn't laughing when he was sliding across the ground from the giant slayer's back hand that hit him in the mouth splitting his lip again. Sqalliq blink his eyes in shock as the giant slayer kept walking towards the well. Sqalliq quickly pulled himself up off the ground and jogged to catch up with his trainer.
They stopped at the well and looked out over the mountains. Far to the west the almost full moon was setting behind the mountains in a nearly cloudless sky. Torin sighed as if far away and then looked at his pupil.
"Initiate Sqalliq the answer you gave would be correct in the regular forces of the Dawi. But we are slayers. We kill by what ever means we can," said Torin in a speech he had given to many slayers. "The blade of the axe will cut through armor, flesh and bone but it isn't the only part of the axe that you will use for killing." As he was talking he was demonstrating an over arm strike and then pointed at the blade as it neared Sqalliq's arm. "An axe also has the flat of the blade; you can use it to slap an opponent's weapon away or his face on a back stroke to make him blink. That move will open him up for a killing blow." Again Torin demonstrated the axe stroke in a back hand way. "Or if you over shoot and then have to duck a counter stroke you can bring the axe back low to the ground hooking it behind your opponents foot and then with a swift strong pull you can cause your opponent to fall to the ground where he will be defenseless against a strike on his thigh which could sever his artery or you could crush his knee by using the opposite side of the axe blade or sever his foot. Either way you will have defeated that opponent."
"You can use the top of the blade to push the opponent backwards," he said while gently hitting Sqalliq in the chest with the top of his axe and heaving the sore Dawi back a pace or two. "This gives you time to size up your opponent or lop off a hand if the opportunity presents itself."
"Furthermore the axe also has a handle. You can punch with it in your fist if you are too close to swing or you can get in close where they can't swing at you and hit them with the end of the handle. That is why most slayer weapons have steel knobs or points by the handles. Finally if it gets really bad the leather thongs that you loop around your wrist can be used to kill an opponent if you should sneak up on one." He talked as he demonstrated. "See hold the handle in one hand palm downward. Grasp the thong in the opposite hand, pull the thong down over an opponents head and place it below his chin. Pull back and up quickly as you lean back while tightening up the slack," he released the slayer. "If you do this quickly you will lift them off of their feet and you might even break their neck. However if you do not all you have to do is break the bones near their larynx and they will slowly suffocate. But before you leave them to die I always like to either brain them with the back of the axe or cut the artery with a swift strike to the side of the neck."
"Finally," said Torin stepping in closer. "When you get close or the enemy is rushing you every part of your body is a weapon. You will crave death in time but you must not surrender easily. So if you have to punch, punch but then try to follow through with an elbow shot to a joint or large muscle group. Get in close and use your forehead against their nose. You can hit their thigh with your knee; it is very painful and might throw them off enough to finish them off. If you are in really close stomp on the arch of their foot and then shoulder them back. You need to not think but to react with a primal urge to kill and survive. You are a predator now. There is no flight or fight syndrome in you anymore. Now all that is left is a fight or kill syndrome. Get in close and be like a badger on a bear, like a sparrow on a crow, like an ant on a spider. Your fury will carry you through," finished the slayer before taking a deep breath.
Torin paused, "We don't fight like civilized warriors. We can't afford to. If we fight we fight to kill and to kill quickly. That being said it isn't uncommon to have to accept a challenge if you are a leader of a unit but even then it doesn't have to be a fair fight. Fighting fairly is for Brettonians, Thanes, and pretentious Lords. I'm a Giant Slayer and I fight to kill." He chuckled as he looked up and noticed all the other slayers heading into Slayer Hall for breakfast. "Let's eat and then I will start your instruction on how to use two weapons," he said as he walked his initiate to the great hall for their first meal of the day.
Breakfast was completed quickly and with out incident. When the slayers of Torin's squad got together after chow all the slayers were relaxed and informal. Most had a dour outlook on the rest of their doomed lives but one thin slayer with blondish red hair and a braded beard named Chukku seemed to be the unit's practical joker. Chukku was busy throwing snow balls at the other slayers until Torin came out of the central compound and headed their way.
"Qwudd has ordered our section to mount an expedition to go down below the snow line and bring back fire wood. So Chukku you like playing around so much you will get your chance to lead for a bit. Fetch the axes, saws, and sleds. You'll probably need to bring back two trees a day for the next four days. In five days we will be setting out looking for that giant so Sqalliq can avenge Brud Ridgerunner's death," the rest of the slayers grew quieter and a slightly crazy look seemed to glaze over half of their eyes at the thought of combat with a giant that had killed so many slayers. "Well don't procrastinate you have several miles to go get the trees."
Chukku took charge and soon the ten other slayers in Torin's squad were heading down the mountain with two sleds pulled by four slayers each. Sqalliq could see numerous axes, saws, snowshoes, skis, and other gear packed in the sled. Each slayer was also carrying his own personal arsenal of axes, short swords, clubs or maces.
"Come Sqalliq now we begin to train with two weapons," the giant slayer led him to a flat open spot in the sun. "First let me tell you that fighting with two weapons is the hardest thing to train your body to do. You will have to learn that there is no dominate side to your body, no favorite hand or foot. This requires more hand eye coordination than you are used to because in a moment of weakness or a second with out concentrating you can injure yourself or open yourself up for your opponent to finish you off."
"Now during the first half of today we will be using your left hand only," he said. For the next several hours Torin drilled Sqalliq on the proper way to use the axe left handed. Generally after showing him a specific stroke and telling him how and where to use it he would put the young slayer on a dummy to work at it until we was able to do it correctly ten times.
Torin went away and came back several minute later carrying a heavy black smith's hammer that was the same length as the axe but weighed at least five times as much and a long leather strap. "Here," he said throwing the hammer to the slayer. "From now on you will use this in your left hand to drill with. You are right handed and that left arm is slow, weak and uncoordinated. Come here. I am going to bind your right arm behind your back to also help you work on balance." Soon he had Sqalliq's arm bound behind his back and back to drilling. The hours past with out a break and finally a hour before dusk Torin led called Sqalliq away from the dummies. "You are looking tired," said Torin standing ten feet away from the sweaty tired initiate.
"I am exhausted," said the young initiate. "I thought we were never going to finish. I don't think I could swing this hammer again to save my life," jested Sqalliq.
Sqalliq looked up from the ground and noted that Torin's face was red with fury. "Defend yourself grot," bellowed the giant slayer as he pulled his two short swords from their sheaths and lunged at the initiate.
Sqalliq still had his right arm tied behind his back and his eyes went wide with surprise. In the blink of an eye Torin had gone from being nice and caring to red faced, furious, and with an angry frothing cry to a homicidal maniac seeking Sqalliq's death. Sqalliq back pedaled quickly as the two blades shot in towards him. He clumsily wielded the heavy hammer and managed to block aside the blades in a swiping side stroke.
He was rewarded with a head butt to his broken nose that made tears spring to his eyes and blood to flow from his nostrils. But that wasn't the end. Torin's shoulder followed him in pinned his left arm with the hammer across his chest. Sqalliq felt himself lose his balance as the giant slayer's body weight drove him to the ground. On the way down the felt the other slayers knee hit him painfully in the left thigh making his leg go numb. As he hit the ground the other slayers body weight on his chest drove all the air out of his lungs as punches and elbow blows were rained down upon him.
Sqalliq felt himself nearing his end and with a final grunt he gave a weak backhanded strike with all of his remaining strength at Torin's head. The hammer connected barely and Torin's body was flung off him. Sqalliq rolled over onto his right side and was using his left arm to get up when he felt Torin's foot in the center of his back push him to the ground. He heard the whistling of the short swords coming in and then they stopped on either side of his neck just barely breaking the skin.
"Initiate, you will always have enough strength to defend your self," came Torin's calm voice from behind and over his prone body. "Don't ever tell yourself otherwise. Until you expel your last breath you will fight for victory every step of the way." Torin stepped off him and sheathed his swords. "Good match. Now let's get cleaned up for dinner." He continued as he helped the initiate up off the ground and untied his right arm.
"I thought you were going to kill me," said Sqalliq incredulously.
"I could have but you are not an enemy that needs to be killed. There would be no honor in killing a fellow Dawi," said the Giant Slayer as they walked to the pool. Torin stripped down and stepped into the freezing water with the pumice stone and soap and started scrubbing himself clean. Sqalliq followed suit on the opposite side of the pool. "Words have meaning. Say what is important. If it isn't important keep it to yourself. Otherwise you will end up like Chukku."
"What's wrong with Chukku," questioned Sqalliq.
"Nothing is wrong with him. But he is hard to believe with his Elfish attitude. I don't think he is really cut out to be a slayer." His eyes went distant as he went into his thoughts. "He doesn't have the right outlook to succeed at what we do. You can't be a joker when something is trying to kill you. You have to find the animal instincts deep in side of you and tap into it. He can't do that. He is quick witted and very fast, but he lacks focus. He won't last long," trailed off the giant slayer as he ducked under the water to rinse off and then climbed out of the pool back into the freezing winter air. He picked up his clothes and weapons and walked barefooted across the snow as if it was summer time the fifty meters to their freezing barracks.
Sqalliq followed after rinsing and was shivering by the time he had picked up his clothes, two axes and the black smithing hammer. They changed in the barracks and reported to Slayer Hall for chow. After chow Sqalliq cleaned the barracks, which was eerily quiet with out the other ten slayers.
The other slayers arrived several hours after dusk. They all padded in after eating and taking a bath in the frozen pond and bedded down for the night with out the usual banter. They all knew they were in for a long hard week.
And so ended Sqalliq's third day as a slayer.
Sqalliq was awoken the next day by Chukku before dawn. "Let's go," was all he said. He tossed Sqalliq a woolen shirt and headed outside with the rest of his squad. The gathered up the sleds, put snow shoes on their feet and started trudging off heading down the mountain for the snowline and the trees.
The slayers passed around a bag of jerky and hard biscuits for breakfast. Later a skin of water was passed around, it tasted like Berriq's apple flavored sweetened water from the day Sqalliq had worked in the kitchen. Sqalliq noticed that today all the slayers were quiet and alert as the headed down the mountain to bring back the trees they felled yesterday. Torin and Chukku were near the front with their weapons out and they also carried two long heavy javelins each. Sqalliq had never seen slayers carrying javelins before and he was intrigued about the goings on of the wood cutting expedition.
Sqalliq and three other slayers pulled the second sled down the snowy and rocky slope. He looked at an old wrinkled gran-Dawi slayer beside him laboring away. He cleared his throat and then turned to him and said, "Hello. I'm Sqalliq Oneleg!"
The older gran-Dawi slayer looked at him underneath semi-gray eyebrows. "I know dang well who you are grot. You're the lazy "I swear too much" that is making me old bones hurt from not having heat in the barracks," said the grumpy old slayer. "If'n ye got enough energy to talk ye can be pullin' the sled your dang self." He finished in a huff and tossed his hemp rope line to Sqalliq as he walked off to join the sled in front of them.
A younger slayer beside him laughed. "Don't fret Ol' Jokkon, he is as grouchy as Bugman was when he discovered his brewery had been attacked. He don't like none of the new guys. If you live through your first five or six battles or ten or so years he might actually learn your name." He finished and stuck his hand out. "I'm Lorruuq. Welcome to Torin's Terrors. Well that's what we call ourselves, when Torin can't hear us. No one else really calls us anything else but Torin's Squad."
Sqalliq took Lorruuq's calloused hand and shook it vigorously. He noticed that Lorruuq looked to be about twenty years younger than he was and had thick black hair peaking out through orange hair that the Blood of Grimnir had permanently changed during the slayer ceremony at the Shrine of Grimnir. Sqalliq was happy to finally meet a happy face at Icefang Camp. "I'm Sqalliq Oneleg," he returned.
"Yeah," chuckled Lorruuq. "I heard you introduce yourself to Jokkon remember. Around here you listen to every word because there not spoken too often and you can never tell when they will be that slayer's last ones. Death stalks us like a ranger tracks a deer. Most slayers are even more dour, taciturn, and angry than regular Dawi." The sled was slowly starting to wear down the three slayer crew with its awkward weight.
"This big fellow is Tur," Lorruuq introduced Sqalliq to the largest Dawi he had ever seen. He stood almost five and a half feet tall, on par with most human males in the Empire. And his shoulders were at least three feet wide. His biceps were the size of Sqalliq's thighs and his pectoral muscles were massive and well defined. Beneath his skin individual striations of muscled fiber could be clearly seen. Tur's head was shaved bald except for a small braded pony tail in the very back of his well muscled head. "Tur is the strongest Dawi any of us have ever seen. I have personally seen him wade into Torin during a sparing session and pick up Torin one handed and throw him more than fifteen feet away."
Tur reached across Lorruuq and took Sqalliq's hand into his massive grip. "Good to meet you Sqalliq. I suggest you redouble your efforts over the next several days to accomplish all of your tasks," said the huge dwarf with a voice so filled with base from his large chest that it was hard to understand him. When he spoke it sounded like an avalanche had let loose and was rumbling towards you. He talked slow as if he thought of every word he was going to say and then said it.
"Tur I have already set my goal on net letting down my squad mates anymore," the three nodded at that and Lorruuq chuckled quietly beneath his large beard.
The slayers made their way down below the snow line into the evergreen forest that filled up the steep walled narrow rocky draw. The slayers the day before had felled several hard wood cedar and softer wood spruce trees, stripped their limbs and cut them into manageable logs between three to four feet long. The two sleds were loaded up quickly by the twelve slayers and then they set off back up the mountain.
As they traveled up the mountain in the snow the clouds opened up and a heavy snow began to fall. With in an hour visibility was reduced to the white snow covered ground in front of them. Pulling the loaded sled of wood that now weighed in excess of five hundred pounds each was wearing down the four ‘mule' slayers. Their squad mates that had been guarding them fell in behind the heavy sleds, placed their javelins on top of the wood and started pushing on the hand rails to help their ‘mule' teams handle the load.
The joking from earlier in the morning was done with as the sun overhead rose to the middle of the sky. But they couldn't see the sun because it was hidden behind thick dark grey clouds that were dumping nearly an inch of snow on them per hour. All of the slayers were heaving with the effort of breaking the trail through the snows newly formed drifts, keeping the sled on the track that they knew with their innate ability was below their feet, and with just keeping some forward momentum going while heading back to Icefang Camp. To make matters worse the wind was increasing reducing their visibility even more and taking away their ability to communicate. By two o'clock in the afternoon Torin figured they had made it half way back to the camp. On a normal day they would have been half way back down the mountain for their second load, but today was not a normal fall day.
Sqalliq felt his sled get heavier all of a sudden. He continued to fight forward for purchase while turning around to see what had happened. He could make out Torin's still shape looking behind him in the gathering fall blizzard. He was about to turn around and continue pulling when all of the slayers heard a muffled deep toned horn blast come echoing up the stone walls of the mountain in a hauntingly morose long winded tone. In unison every slayer in the twelve member squad stopped pulling or pushing the sleds, dropped the rope they were tugging on and turned in the direction of the blast that was coming from behind their avenue of march.
The squad quickly fell back on Torin's location. Torin looked at Jokkon and yelled to him across the three to five feet that separated them in the howling snow storm as the rest of the squad circled close. "Did that sound like a Slayer Horn from Gnashrak's Doom Hold on the eastern end of Peak's Pass?"
"Aye, that be one of their wyvern war horns from that slayer camp," yelled back Jokkon. Sqalliq all of a sudden gained insight that Torin looked up to and highly respected the older slayer. "But why would they be here in this weather?" The other slayers eyed each other and Sqalliq noticed that some were getting red faced, glazed eyed, and slightly frothy at the mouth. "Torin, they only blow their horn's when their doom is neigh," finished Jokkon.
"Aye," yelled Torin. "Drop your cloaks and shirts slayers. Wood can wait for after this battle if there is one," he yelled as he stripped to the waste and lost all of the material that an opponent could grab onto him in battle. His skin goose pimpled quickly as his shrugged off a shiver. He dropped his cloak and woolen shirt in a small bundle behind the nearest sled. He then retrieved his two javelins, turned and jogged off down the snowed over trail that they had just pushed their sled up.
The rest of the slayers were quickly shedding clothes and water skins to catch up to Torin with their weapons at the ready. Jokkon took some extra time because he pulled out an eight foot long black lance that had some three skulls attached to it and some black cloth that he unfurled in the howling wind. The skulls included an a dark elf skull still in their helm, a huge orc's skull that had an axe cut slicing it half way through from the top front, through the nose and into the upper jaw causing the orc to lose most of its front teeth. But obviously it lacking its front teeth was the least of its problems. And the last skull was affixed on the old Dark Elf lance through the bottom of the skull where the spinal cord came out and a hole was punched through the top. The two horns on it declared it to be a skull from a minotaur, probably a Doom Bull judging from the size of it.
Chukku jogged past Sqalliq with a large copper horn looped over his shoulder. Sqalliq found himself between Tur and Lorruuq with another slayer behind them. He figured if it came to it that they would make up the third line of the small block of slayers that were sprinting down the mountain looking for an unknown danger. Sqalliq thinking about the oncoming potential for combat felt the butterflies appear in his stomach. He wasn't sure if he was ready for what he was getting into, he was still very sore for his initial trials and training. He hadn't mastered his axes yet especially not in a two weapon fighting style that it seemed the rest of his squad favored. But he felt his options waning when he heard the third call come from the horn come screaming up the mountain. It was crystal clear now, echoing off the steep wooded walls of the draw they were barreling down hill in search of the horn blower. They were seeking doom.
Chukku looked to his right at Torin as he raised the horn to his face while asking permission to sound their presence. Sqalliq nodded only once as he continued to sprint down the steep mountain. Chukku slowed slightly raised the shiny copper horn to his lips and his cheeks puffed out as his face turned bright red. A thunderous horn blast escaped from the horn held by the slim stringy slayer it lasted for a good thirty seconds and when it was done Chukku sprinted to catch back up to Torin and his command group. Sqalliq heard the horn echo once as it bounced of the rock face far away. Heard it twice as a bloody figure emerged from the foggy wall of snow in front of them.
The figure was bleeding from several arrows through their grey woolen cloak. The slayers didn't stop but continued to barrel down the mountain as the last echo of the horn call from Torin's Terrors bounced off the mountain. Sqalliq had only a split second to blink his eyes as the mass of goblin wolf riders and wolves burst into view among his squad mates. In the next split second his squad and the wolf riding raiders were locked in a dance of death in the snowy "I swear too much" of the fall blizzard high up on the mountainside.
A snarling wolf broke through the scattered slayers in pursuit of the grey cloaked figure. Torin spun around tracking the wolf with his eyes as he fended off a spear from another wolf rider with his flashing short swords. He noticed instantly that only Sqalliq was in position to save the figure. With his left sword he pointed at the figure and the charging wolf rider, in the next split second he was fighting off both the wolf and the spear of the angry goblin that was assaulting him.
Sqalliq sprinted towards the figure as the wolf and goblin closed the distance. His axes were gripped tightly in his hands. As he neared the figure he noticed that it was short and slender and missing the orange beard that slayers and Dawi were most readily identified by. He only had a split second to make eye contact with the deepest blue eyes he had ever seen before he roughly shouldered the cloaked figure into a snow bank. The wolf was very nearly on him, the rider's spear was leveled to charge the cloaked figure that was no where there anymore. Sqalliq leaped towards the goblin over the wolf's lunging snarling teeth filled mouth. The spear cut a line down his chest to his left thigh as he felt blood flow from the painful but shallow wound.
He twisted in mid leap as a frenzied hatred for all things green submerged his conscious mind beneath his animalistic urges to kill and to survive. With his left axe gliding along the spear he pivoted in his lung and swung his right axe at the back of the goblin's head, being rewarded with seeing the top of the pointed eared green skull explode away from the rest of its body in a black spray of blood and brains.
Sqalliq landed in the snow from his headlong dive at the goblin wolf rider. He rolled once and came up in a shower of white powder letting out a ragged yelled war cry. "Icefang!"
He spun around looking for another opponent but was surprised to see two spinning axes on delicate gromril chains come flying towards him from the most beautiful dawi female he had ever seen. He only had a split second to admire her. Her hair was cut in a long mohawk with a braided pony tail that looped over her shoulder and around her neck twice. She wore light deerskin pants of flat woven leather strips interworked with small gold studded icon of Grimnir and the Dawi deities. Her top was a lightly woven leather sports bra that kept her athletic but shapely breast from moving around to much. She had the most delicate blue tattoos over her body in long flowing bands but unlike most slayers her's had a blue and black border of roses and thorns working into her perfectly tanned skin. Around her waste was a thick belt of gromril with a gold buckle attacked to the belt was the chains that led to thick gromril and leather bracelets on her wrist with large holes for the chain to pass trough as they played were played out during the doomseeker's death dance.
He ducked backwards by bending at the knees and waist. He lost his balance and fell onto his back in the snow as the flying axes continued to pass over him. He was showered with red and black blood as a goblin wolf rider and wolf was cut to pieces and flew over his now prone body in an attack that they never completed due to the female doomseeker from Gnashrak's Doom Hold.
Sqalliq was amazed to see her spin while extending her arms and grasping the chains in her heavily ringed hands. The axes made a cracking sound like a whip when their forward motion was stopped abruptly and then as the pivoted her body and moved her arms the axes went into counter rotating circles on each side of her body. The axe in her right hand made a high pitch eerie whistling sound and the left that spun slower sounded more like an owl's hoot but it was a continuous note as she continued its vertical spinning.
"Get up and quit gawking," she said in a commanding tone scanning the battlefield. "There's still plenty to kill," she finished as she ran back into the melee that the other slayers were in. Sqalliq noticed the two goblin arrows sticking out of her right shoulder and another in her right thigh that seemed to only be a flesh wound. With the hooting and whistling axes coming closer the remaining six wolf riders bolted as she got closer. It seems that they knew what a doomseeker of Gnashrak's Doom Hold could do to them in battle.
The thirteen slayers secured the perimeter and checked on all the goblins and wolf riders inside their circle. Torin tapped Sqalliq and the female doomseeker on the shoulder as he inspected the perimeter. They followed him into the middle as the other slayers closed the circle's boundaries. Jokkon was in the middle with the three skulled standard on the Druchii lance.
"Jokkon bandage them while we talk," said Torin to the other slayer in a respectful tone. He then turned to Sqalliq. "Sqalliq you did well back there. Once you are bandaged claim the goblin's head to add to our wall. Today you are a true slayer; no one will call you initiate anymore." He slapped the young troll slayer on the back in congratulations. "However, you will still have to undergo more training in weapons and how we fight. But no more initiate chores for you. The other barracks will be stuck doing all the cooking for a while."
When he finished he turned to the thorn and rose tattooed she-slayer. "I am Torin Kegsmasher, Giant Slayer of this troll slayer squad from Icefang Camp. How may we be of assistance to our Doomseeker Sister from Gnashrak's Doom Hold," queried the giant slayer as Jokkon was wrapping some strips of white linen bandaged over Sqalliq's long but shallow wound. Blood was flowing down his chest to his leg every time the young slayer's heart beat.
"I am Fyrmaul Qwyqangst and I come with a message for Qwudd Dragon slayer, commander of the Icefang Slayers," she said in a soft but strong voice. "When I and my companions set out we were twelve slayers and three doomseekers. For the three days my fellow slayers and I fought our way through the longer trail below Peak Pass, for we were forewarned that Peak Pass was blocked by a force of Ogres with some newly captured slave giants," she said through gritted teeth at the end. "We come seeking assistance. A goblin that we captured has confessed to us that the goblins of from the Blasted Waste are in alliance and headed this way. Our hold is the first to be attacked, which brings joy to our hearts in our quest for salvation. But the Ogres and Giants in the Peak Pass are to seal us off from re-enforcements and supplies."
She paused and gritted her teeth as Jokkon started to work on her wounds. He cut the arrow head off that was protruding from her leg and then removed the arrow. Quickly he and Sqalliq bandaged her leg as she continued to talk to Torin. "Our hold is smaller in number than yours because we are the training ground for the doomseekers of Karak Kadrin. We beseech you and your hold to pass notice of our plight to the Slayer King and to aid us by destroying the Ogre and Giant force in the Peak Pass. If you can do that then we can attempt to lift the siege of Gnashrak's Doom Hold together." She stopped as Jokkon put his left hand on the arrow in her back.
"Miss, this is gonna hurt like you wouldn't believe," said the older slayer that acted as Torin's Terrors healer. He grasped the arrow with his right hand and started to push it forward through the upper part of her chest looking for a space between her ribs in the front. "Sqalliq brace her shoulders boy, she won't be able to hold on for long." Commanded the healer as the young troll slayer grasped her delicate shoulders in his bloody, raw and sore hands.
Sqalliq looked down into her eyes as she gasped for breath while Jokkon continued to push the arrow through. Her eyes were tearing up; she broke out in a sweat. Sqalliq saw her bit her lip enough to make a small stream of blood come out of the corner of her mouth as her forehead crinkled in agony. Finally the arrow poked though a couple of ribs right below her collar bone.
"Its through Jokkon," he said in excitement as he forgot his own pain.
"Snap the head off so I can pull the arrow out." He snapped the arrow head off with his hand and watched the as the arrow disappeared out of the front of her chest. As soon as the arrow disappeared fresh blood stated to pour slowly out of the wound. Jokkon tossed Sqalliq a wad of linen. "Push it on the wound to stop the bleeding," said Jokkon as he continued to treat the wounded doomseeker.
Sqalliq applied pressure with the flat of his hand just above her right breast. He heard her inhale sharply and looked down at the wound and the heaving skin just above her leather bra wrapped breast. He took a deep breath because he had never touched a woman in that way before. He quickly looked up into her face and saw an amused painful smile on her perfect lips. They parted slightly so he noticed her red rimmed teeth from the blood and her small bite mark on her lip. She chuckled slightly at his discomfort. "Your not much of a ladies Dawi are you," she joked. And as she laughed Sqalliq felt the skin and breast beneath his hand jiggle and he was even more uncomfortable now than he had been while running Thane Rock around Icefang Camp twenty six times two days before.
"No Ma'am," he stuttered his reply at long last as he looked beyond her at his squad mates. Chukku was making a grabbing motion with his hand and a kissing face. Tur had a smirk on his face but was trying to ignore his slender prankster beside him. Sqalliq looked back at Fyrmaul. "I never had time to court a young Dawi Dame before my failings put me on my current path."
Jokkon waved his hand away and started to tightly bandage her chest wound. She put her bandaged right arm up away from her body to make it easier on the healer. She rested her right hand on top of her reddish orange hair as Jokkon worked quickly and efficiently to tightly wrap her last wound. Her pose make Sqalliq look at her slender athletic feminine figure. Her thighs were large but he could see the individual striations of her well formed feminine slayer hardened muscles beneath the woven leather and gold icon britches. She wore deerskin boots over small delicately formed feet. Her stomach was flat and he could see every muscle in her abdomen. Her ribs were clear to see and her chest wide with muscles and ample athletically formed breasts. When she turned to let Jokkon tuck in the ends of the bandage, Sqalliq observed her well muscled ripped back and shapely rounded buttocks. She was easily the most beautiful Dawi Dame that Sqalliq had ever seen. Her skin while tanned had a thin spider work of scars from previous combats. She looked at him over her shoulder with a sigh which made her breast heave out and upwards even more. "Well, remember young Sqalliq. You're a slayer; you're not dead yet." She laughed a very sexy laugh and then grasped her side in pain from laughing.
Torin brought her cloak over and handed it to her. "You two lovers ready to get moving," he said brusquely. Chukku brought over a fur wrapped object for Sqalliq with blood leaking out of it. Another slayer in the squad gave Fyrmaul a chopped sapling staff to use as a crutch. She hitched her doom seeker's chained axes to her belt, put on her cloak and took the proffered staff.
In a short while the slayers had gathered their cloaks, furled their standard, and resumed their trek up the mountain while being assailed by the first blizzard of the year. It would take the rest of the day to push and pull the two sleds of wood up to the camp. Little did the slayers care that behind them following in their wake the goblin tribe was tracking them back to their base at Icefang Camp. At midnight the goblin big boss looked down from a small rise at the smoke coming from the camps eight fire places. The snow and wind were still blowing but not nearly as bad as it had been during the day.
Meanwhile inside Slayer Hall the four giant slayers, Qwudd, Berriq, and Fyrmaul gathered to discuss the current situation that the two distant slayer camps found themselves embroiled in. The rest of the slayers of the hold gathered in the hall as well listening to the talk at the head table. Not since the Storm of Chaos had the head table seated more than Qwudd.
Qwudd motioned for Sqalliq to come over to him from where he sat at Torin's squads table. The conversation at the table died down when he approached. "Torin was telling me that I might have been wrong about you in my initial assessment. I thought you were soft and fat but he told me about your steadfastness in battle with the raiding wolf riders. Good job," said the older scarred slayer. "Though you are a full fledged slayer you will still be trained and will continue to work off your punishment. However my assistant is the newest full fledged slayer in Icefang camp. You will report to Berriq each day he will assign you chores beyond what your squad leader assigns you. But tonight you will serve us and may join us. Berriq sits to my right and you sit to his right," finished the Dragon Slayer pointing out an open spot on a bench.
Sqalliq quickly sat down at the table as Qwudd spoke to Fyrmaul. "So you were telling us about the siege. Please continue," finished the Dragon Slayer.
"Aye, we have seen portions of three tribes so far. From our interrogation of the goblin captive it leads our hold's Demon Slayer to believe that the goblins are seeking to expand. Because Grimgor Ironhide didn't use them during the Storm of Chaos their numbers have grown and nothing makes a goblin braver than having several score of their brethren behind them. To date we have fought the wolf riders, some regular foot goblins, and have seen some purple clad night goblins in the distance. The other forces we have observed include trolls, squigs and snotlings. We were surprised to find no orcs masterminding the harassing assaults but their numbers are much reduced from Grimgor's folly and they are fighting amongst themselves.
"The only reason we haven't been attacked yet is they know that our hold has numerous doomseekers," she continued after taking a pull from a pewter mug of Bugman's XXXXX. Berriq it seemed was sparing no expense to entertain and to break up the monotony of the winter storm keeping the slayers inside. "Our hold is much like yours but we have six squads of ten or more doomseeker trainees with several doomseekers per squad. Our Demon Slayer Snulli Grotblight coerced the plan for the ogres' mercenaries and giants out of the captive. Unfortunately it was a lethal questioning session." She finished off with a cruel smile. When she looked around the table her manner was all business until she arrived at Sqalliq. With him she paused and took another pull on her ale, when no one else could see her she gave him a quick wink and she watched as Sqalliq blushed a deep red.
"Snulli's plan was to hold our hold until re-enforcements from Karak Kadrin could arrive. He assumed that some or all of your slayers would be willing to engage the ogres and giants up in Peak Pass before joining the forces of Karak Kadrin in lifting our siege. I and my companions were to be under Qwudd's command until the siege was lifted, I will honor that commitment no matter the decision reached by this counsel," she fell silent and returned to her bench seat. She and the rest of the slayers took a long draft of their ale while they all pondered the news and decision.
Qwudd set his empty mug down on the table. "This is a tough decision but here is my plan. In the morning Gordooq's squad will set off for Karak Kadrin to summon some re-enforcements. Malfyq and his squad will maintain this camp; we will need four guards, two at the gate and two roving to fend off those wolf riders. I will lead Torin's and Burrin's squads along with Fyrmaul to engage the forces in the mountain pass. Gordooq if you finish passing the message to the Kaaz Zruum he will send us help and inform the king. If you move quick enough link up with Malfyq here and then meet us at the base of Split Rock Falls. There we will mass our forces and then relieve Gnashrak's Doom Hold." Qwudd looked around to his five dragon slayers of which Berriq was the fifth. As he stared into their eyes they each nodded assent to his plan
When Qwudd settled on Sqalliq he smiled a devious grin on his scared face. "Looks like I get to join in the hunt for that giant of yours," laughed the old slayer with a mad glint in his eye.
"Yes master Qwudd," replied Sqalliq.
Qwudd looked around at each of them again before issuing his last commands. "Berriq, ensure each squad has the rations. Pass out the skis and snowshoes, for those that haven't used them before give them a brief introduction. Everyone can have one more mug but rest is essential." He stopped and looked at Malfyq. "Get your guards posted after their last mug." He stood up as a mug was presented to him from an initiate. "Slayers of Icefang Camp," he addressed the slayers in Slayer Hall. "Drink well, hone your blades, sleep well for tomorrow we seek combat with the Giant in Peak's Pass." He raised his mug in cheer and then drank it down with out stopping. When he was finished all of the other slayers cheered and then finished off their ale.
The five giant slayers of the hold set about ordering their squads to make ready. The twelve slayers in Torin's Squad packed ruck sacks with bandages, jerky, dried biscuits, beans and oats and a bed roll. Each slayer received an issued pair of snow shoes and Torin took Sqalliq outside with his and walked him around the camp once until the new troll slayer was used to the contraptions.
After that the camp bedded down except for Malfyq's squad which started lighting pots of oil at intervals along the wall an the gate opening. The blizzard returned in the early hours of the morning with more snow and wind. In the distance the slayers of Icefang Camp heard the distant howls of the wolf riders reminding the slayers of their presence and so ended Sqalliq's fourth day as a slayer.
The next morning Sqalliq awoke to Torin kicking his feet as he shivered in his bunk. "Breakfast in five minutes, we're setting out in half an hour." He continued walking through his barracks waking the members of his squad.
Sqalliq felt all of his wounds that he had accumulated in the last five days and wondered, and not for the last time, if it would ever get better. Breakfast was quick with some boiled oatmeal, bacon and ham grilled, and lots of hot coffee before the forces of Icefang Camp set out.
Sqalliq and his chums from Torin's squad set out with snow shoes on their feet heading along the trail that would lead them to the giant in Peak's Pass. Gordooq and his squad headed up the mountain leading to Karak Kadrin and the slayer king to let him know of the impending hostilities between his out lying camps and the forces of the Orcs and Goblins. Burrin's squad fell in behind Torin's and the raiding force set out with Qwudd and Fyrmaul up front with Torin.
The first day of the trek down the mountain hurt Sqalliq's thighs and calves as he was learning the ropes of the snowshoes. The wide slow deliberate steps was like doing squats and leg presses in an unending succession. Finally as the sun set behind the mountain to their west they reached the valley's bottom and set up camp in a snow blanketed pine thicket. No fire was lit that evening as they two squads of slayers ate cold biscuits and jerky, drank some ale. Before bedding down Torin and Burrin drilled Sqalliq and the initiates with great weapon and two weapon fighting style.
After a grueling hour of drilling Torin's squad settled into guard duty for the night. Sqalliq drew first shift with Torin and they discussed the advantages of the various types of weapons favored by their green skinned foes to the east. They were relieved by Tur and Jokkon later and so ended Sqalliq's fifth day as a slayer, but at least today he had managed not to get injured for the first time in his short slayer life.
The eighth day dawned as the slayers from Icefang Camp surveyed the Giant Hunter's camp below them. The Ogre hunter had managed to bag themselves a slave giant from the pass and had managed to starve it during its first days of training and breaking.
The giant slayers, Qwudd, Fyrmaul and Sqalliq were looking down on the ogre's camp of the giant's former lair. There was a small sheltered area at the top of Peak's Pass that the giant had pitched a hide tent in. Out side was a pile of logs for his fire pit. Nearly twenty feet away was some stacked frozen bodies of dwarves, slayers, and human caravan guards that the giant had preyed upon and then let freeze to see it through the winter. The arrival of the Giant Hunter and supporting ogres had disrupted the giant's plans for the winter. Several dead ogres and gnoblars were scattered over the site in various poses of death that the giant had put them in during their initial engagement.
Qwudd counted less than ten ogres and the giant as they observed the site from the rise. "Burrin your job is to handle the ogre bulls. Torin and his squad plus myself and Fyrmaul will go after the giant. After that we consolidate and take on any survivors."
The other slayers looked at the bald scared Dragon Slayer. He was looking for suggestions or recommendations. All he received back from his companions was confirmation that they were in the early throws of the berserker fury that troll slayers were notorious for. When the silence finally drug on long enough Qwudd looked them each in the eye. "Lets get it done." They all crawled backwards away from the ridge line and headed back to their units.
With in minutes all the slayers gathered around Qwudd. He looked at them one at a time. "Over that hill there is a giant and several ogres. Hopefully in an hour or less the battle will be done. Grudges erased. I hope some of you are successful in your quest for absolution. May death find you swiftly, with an axe in your hand. Lets go," and with that the two squads formed up and headed up to the rise.
The twenty eight slayers went up the hill. Sqalliq was near the back of Torin's Terrors because he was the newest member. He looked at Burrin's Bashers and noted that the great weapon wielding slayers had a glazed look to their eye; the faces were turning red as they worked themselves up mentally.
The slayer forces of Icefang Camp crested the hill and three dwarven horns signaled their attack. In the next instant Sqalliq was left standing alone on the rise as he watched the Ogres dashing about below as they kicked off sleeping skins, grabbed weapons and formed up. There was only five remaining ogres alive and one of those was holding onto a large iron chain and whipping the giant into standing to face the slayers running the three hundred yards to the encampment.
Sqalliq clenched his axes in his now sweating hands and sprinted to catch up to his squad. He found himself falling into the second rank of six slayers with Torin and Qwudd in the center of the first rank. He looked to his left and noticed that Fyrmaul was pacing a few yards away covering that flank and that her axes were already spinning on their thin gromril chains.
She looked at him with rage on her face. "Look at the foes, club head," she yelled at him as she suddenly darted ahead. Her axes were changing their tones in their circling paths playing her battle hymn with their whistles as she altered their speed and angles.
With in moments the Torin and his boys had closed the gap with the giant and the Giant Hunter ogre that was in command of the giant. As the slayers neared the giant it lunged out on its chain and smashed the squad with its cedar club that impaled and smashed hunters on its shortened sharpened tree limb points that it had stripped from the trunk. Sqalliq only remembered the club screaming in from his left as he and others were knocked to the ground several yards away.
He laid on the ground for several moments trying to grab his breath. At some point the thin air of the mountains finally made it back to his lungs and vision finally cleared when he looked up he looked at his left arm and chest and notices that he was bleeding from several deep cut inflicted on him by the sharpened cedar spikes, of which one was still stuck in his chest. His left arm was nearly useless but he managed to recover his axe and look it around his weakened wrist.
He rose to his feet looked around to see two unconscious members of his squad bleeding in the snow. Burrin's Bruisers were engaged with the Bulls and the Ogre Bruiser that was smashing slayers around with a large metal rod. The Terrors were surrounding the giant but what impressed Sqalliq was the fury that three particular slayers were displaying. Fyrmaul was in between the ogre hunter and giant lashing out with her humming axes at both of the larger beast.
Torin was nearly blood red in the face, frothing at the mouth and was laying about with his lightning quick short swords. He smashed the giant on the back of his hand as he was preparing to grab on e of Torin's slayers. The giant pulled back the bruised hand and Torin stepped between his legs flicking out his swords in quick succession to slowly wear down the giant's strength and health.
But in contrast was Qwudd engaging the hunter with his now blood red glowing axe. He was as calm as a black smith meting out calculated hammer strokes on a piece of metal being formed on the anvil. He knocked aside a spear strike and then jumped the chain that the hunter swung at him. For the old dragon slayer this was just another day at the office. He was totally devoid of expression or emotion.
Sqalliq started to walk as he felt fury rise up from his gut. His buddies were fighting and dying doing his quest. Finally he could take no more. Slowly he stalked into the fray.
The giant was huge and angry it had had enough of the annoying stinging thing flaying his calves he bent his knees and jumped up. When the giant hit the top of his jump he bellowed a yell that shook snow from the sides of the pass and sounded like an avalanche in his pained rage. Another slayer pushed the giant slayer out of the way and was crushed to death because of his sacrifice, hot thick red blood erupted from the dead slayer and splashed all the troll slayers in the melee.
Torin looked at his slain comrade and raged. "Kill ‘em!" He lunged back into the fight his blades moving like lightning each hitting the same spot one right after the other like a drummer laying down a marching cadence.
Sqalliq found himself beside Tur lashing out with his axes. In his anger he didn't even notice that he had started to use his axes like those used by mountain climbers. Every time he sank the blade in with one arm he would aim the next one a little higher and climb up. His left axe was much weaker but he continued to advance up the giant's leg.
He went to swing again and was surprised in his rage to find that he could no longer breath and then discovered that the giant had plucked him off of his leg with his left hand and was holding him out at arms length over his head. "What?" Queried the surprised slayer in the next instant he was hurled with all the giant's might into his squad mates. He was buried in the snow once again unable to breath and feeling more pain than he had ever felt in his life. He rose up moments later to discover that the battle had moved further away. Tur and Jokkon were beside him but both were bloody and unconscious. Sqalliq felt like he was nearing his end as he felt right leg to discover that the standard from Jokkon had shattered at his impact and impaled him in his right thigh.
He pulled the broken standard out of his leg and looked at the battle field. His squad had been reduced to only six. The giant was bloody and slowed. The bulls fighting Burrin and Berriq and the other squad had been reduced to one bull and the bruiser.
Sqalliq saw a small ledge leading up the side behind the giant and shrugged off his pain and put himself to the task of getting to the giant. He had had enough. It was pay back time. Too many of his squad were down for him to let this go on longer. For the first time in the battle he was calm, the fear and terror of the ogres and giant was gone. He could hear everything as he crunched through the snow towards the ledge.
In moments he had flanked the giant and approached him from his back right as his squad kept the giant distracted. The giant swung his club back smashing the rock and snow right above Sqalliq showering him with rock shards and shattered ice chunks that bruised and cut the Sqalliq's tortured bleeding body. When the club went screaming towards his mates Sqalliq launched himself onto the giant's back. His left axe buried itself into the giant's back near but missing his spine. His right one landed up near the giant's unprotected neck and a fresh gush of blood sprayed out as the giant bellowed in pain. Then Sqalliq's weight hit the giant and it lost it's balance. Sqalliq climbed and continued to swing his axes in a rapid beat as he climbed. He felt himself riding the giant down as his left axe hit the giant's left side of his tree trunk thick neck his right axe bit deep into the right side of the giant's neck as arterial blood gushed out of the bone deep strike.
They were falling and then Sqalliq was flying as the giant snatched and threw the young slayer with his left hand. Sqalliq was content as he flew head over hills through the air towards the opposite side of the pass. As he spun he saw that his mates were thrashing the prone giant then all went black as he hit the deep snow drift covering the granite sides. He thought no more and felt even less as all went black. For Sqalliq the battle and earthly concerns were over with, he embraced the darkness. His pain subsided and he exhaled into the cold bloody snow.
Chapter 3: Slayer Siege
It was day twenty for Sqalliq as a slayer. It had taken the reduced remains of the two squads of troll slayers seven days to return to Icefang Camp from the former giant's lair in Peak's Pass. The trip out had taken the twenty six slayers only a few days to cover the hundred miles but the return trip bearing the six wounded and bodies for twelve other slayers much longer to complete. Some of the dead slayers were from an earlier attempt to clear the pass.
Sqalliq stepped out of his barracks for the first time in a week and noticed the assembled army that was to march to Gnashrak's Doom Hold to break the siege if any of the slayers there was still alive. He wasn't wearing a shirt and the freezing cold wind goose pimpled his skin on his hairy chest. He looked at the new pink and stitched scars from the giant's cedar club that had smashed into his left arm and chest. Brud's axes had been decorated with some one golden inlay of Sqalliq attacking a giant from behind on one side of one of the blades. They had also been attached to his share of the giant's horde of gold. He now sported lockable golden bracelets with a short one foot long gromril chain from Fyrmaul Qwykangst's doom seeker chained axes. One bracelet was able to be attached to each wrist so that he would never lose his blades in battle again. His initial quest to avenge Brud had been completed but he had been cheated out of his righteous death by the retreat of the ogre giant hunter, bruiser and last bull upon the death of the giant.
He looked out at the forces that covered the courtyard with their tents and fire pits. There was several small bands of Brotherhood of Grimnir, a few doom seekers, other individual slayers had formed into bands, and a few standard regiments of Karak Kadrin warriors. Icefang Camp was packed to its gills with bearded warriors.
During their absence the forces of Icefang Camp had been attacked by two separate goblin warbands. The wolf rider warband had pursued Gordooq's squad all the way to the gates of Karak Kadrin reducing their numbers from seventeen to four. Malfyq's squad had defended Icefang Camp from a persistent night goblin war band that shot arrows at it all day and assaulted the walls at night. There was squig heads and several new rows of goblin heads stacked neatly along the back wall. The night goblins had finally retreated when the remains of Gordooq's squad and some hasty reinforcements from Karak Kadrin had showed up. It was at that point that they had decided to await the arrival of more forces from Peak's Pass and Karak Kadrin before marching to Gnashrak's Doom Hold.
Sqalliq noticed a slender figure marching towards his barracks in the moon light and his spirits were lifted as he discovered it was Fyrmaul heading his way. She was sporting several new scars including one on her face over her left eye that ran from her mohawk hairline to her chin, but at least she hadn't lost the eye.
She stopped several feet away from him and punched him in a jovial way that sent pain screaming through his entire body as the punch landed on his left shoulder. "So I see the invalid has learned to walk like any year old baby, and it only took you two week," she quipped with a light hearted grin that because of her new facial scar now had a natural wicked sneer quality to it.
"Ouch," exclaimed Sqalliq. "Yeah, I can walk and talk like a toddler. I'll be ready to march with you and the rest of the survivors from the pass. I might move slow for a day or two but I'll keep up if I have to hobble along all night long while you all sleep," he said as he leaned against the door jam as his legs grew weaker from the exertion of standing.
"Well I have to admit that I am grad you survived that fight up there," she said stepping in closer to the troll slayer. "You need to stay focused on the foe and quit looking at all the pretty girls if you are ever going to reach your objective." She leaned in closer and her arm touched his as they huddled in the door way of Sqalliq's barracks.
"And what objective have all the pretty girls kept me from reaching," he asked.
She stepped back and looked him in the eyes searching them deeply. "you can be such a block head," she said as she punched him even harder. She turned and walked back to Slayer Hall in the center of the encampment.
Sqalliq was glad to see her go because when she was finally inside he collapsed onto his knees from the pain of her blow on his wounded body. Torin stepped out of the door and noticed his young slayer on his knees trying to suck in air. "Sqalliq, buddy not even a troll slayer would take on a mad female. You need to be careful of that one. She will surely kick your butt if you don't get your head on right and after seeing how she conducted herself in that battle while you were busy sleeping not even I am crazy enough get her mad at me."
Torin helped the young slayer up and walked him back into the barracks. The hearth was crackling with a fire to fight the winter chill. Sqalliq had inherited a closer bunk when four of his squad mates had succumbed to their wounds during the battle with the giant.
Torin set him on his bunk and returned a few minutes later with a big bowl of steaming soup and a mug of ale. "Drink up lad. You'll be needing the strength over the next few days as we move out to Gnashrak's Doom Hold. And besides no one wants to eat jerky and frozen parched biscuits when healing," said the giant slayer.
Sqalliq looked up at the scarred veteran and asked him a question. "Torin does it ever get easier burying squad mates after a battle."
Torin turned from him, looked towards the fiery hearth and started to walk away. But then he stopped and turned back around. "Sqalliq, I have buried seventy three squad mates in the last five years. I remember the jokes, jabs, training, cooking, talking and gaming with each of those lads. Generally each month I will visit their graves if their bodies were recovered." The bigger slayer paused in thought and then exhaled. "No it never gets easier but I know that with death they are finally free. We all crave death like and alcoholic craves beer and spirits, but unlike and alcoholic we are the dealers of death. While we crave death's embrace remember your training like you did on that pass and make sure you cheat it for every single heart beat you can. And in each and everyone of those last heart beats you swing those axes like you did against that giant. You bring them down on the enemies weak point with more force and vigor until you finally strike something that make them give and then you keep hitting until they are dead. Only then will you have the peace of mind to let it go and embrace the bringer of death, but you keep swinging until the very last beat of that stubborn heart of your lad. You do that and I'll fondly remember you until I to have the chance to embrace my doom."
Sqalliq took a pull of his ale as he watch the giant slayer return to the hearth and talk to some of the replacement slayers that had joined his famous squad. The soup and ale did its job soon Sqalliq was sleeping a dreamless sleep while his body was busy mending his many wounds in preparation for the march to lift the siege of Gnashrak's Doom Hold. And so ended Sqalliq's twentieth day as a slayer in the forces of Icefang Camp.
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The three goblin warlords Git Git, Gotsnot, Rudfang, four other war bosses and the ogre giant hunter Krushun Mountainstalker sat on the distant rise looking at the smoking slayer hold of Gnashrak's Doom Hold in the distance. For nearly a month the rock hard slayers had beat back the eight tribes of goblins that had been sent against them. Slowly but surely the slayers were being reduced in numbers but the green skin horde had taken many loses as well.
The wolf riders of Git Git's Fangrunner tribe were growing tired of waiting. They had pursued the messengers deep into the mountains to the frozen encampment and nearly killed the last doomseeker of that expedition after running down her slayer guardians. They had then conducted a running battle with the force from the frozen camp to the very gates of Karak Kadrin before retreating back to their current location.
Git Git looked over at the fat Rudfang of the Flamefang tribe. "Ye's boyz nedz be fir'in more arrers at demz stunties Rudfang. Yer yeller ladz hazn't beenz doin' theyz job while me and me riderz were maraudin' in dez mountainz," barked the wolf skin and scalped slayer hair covered Git Git.
Rudfang stood up from the fire with great effort. "My boyz be getting' the job done. With the ogres and giants of Gotsnot's tribe we should be ablez to break the wallz soon. Itz just demz doomiez be so ‘ard to shoot with demz whippin' axez and wallz. When the shamanz get done with their rantin' and ravin' durin' the no moon time we will crack them. Three more dayz and that hold will be ourz," said the fat goblin looking at the other war bosses gathered around the fire. The other five nodded and looked to Rudfang.
"I'llz summon up the giantz's that I'd been savin'." He looked around at his cronies. It had been his plan to bring the Goblin Great Alliance together in the first place. His two giants and numerous shaman had mad him unstoppable so far. His only opponent was the missing night goblin great shaman that was leading the ceremonies to Mork and Gork to unite all the shamanic powers for the last push to break the walls. That shaman had been working with the other in the seven other tribes to usurp his power; he just knew it in his wicked little bones. "Whenz the fingle wagglers are ready they giantz's will be herez to stomp and bawl demz orange haired freakz into the ground." He laughed and the other goblins laughed weakly and then stronger as they looked to their fellow war bosses for support and actions.
Rudfang looked around his cronies and felt power coursing through his veins as their actions emboldened him. "Ladz gather the boyz and keep them fired up. Serve dem whiskies and shrooms to keep their heartz ‘ard. We'll finish dez blokes in a couple dayz and den dem wallz will shield us for few dayz while we plunder and refit with demz stuntie axes of glittersteel. Den we move into the mountains and seek the stuntie glittering caravans." He laughed and then tossed another log on the fire.
Mean while down below in the besieged keep of Gnashrak's Doom Hold Snulli Grotblight looked through his telescope at the hill and knew that he was seeing the leaders of the siege make their plans. Snulli was a big powerful demons layer that commanded all the slayers that wandered through this way seeking absolution. His force used to encompass five squads of slayers with each squad having three doomseeker trainers. Seventy five slayers garrisoned this fort during its peak now there were only twenty slayers and five doomseekers left. His giant slayers were all dead as was his dragon slayer assistant. He knew things were grim but he couldn't help but feel that he had killed many more gobbos than they have killed slayers.
He had patiently awaited is daughter Fyrmaul Qwyqangst's return but it seemed that she had failed in her mission to summon help from the closest slayer camp of Icefang Camp or from Karak Kadrin. He had discussed with his boys torching the hold, its food, fuel, and poisoning the water well and then breaking out when their numbers were reduced to just ten. They were getting there slowly, now every day they were losing more.
A light rain started to fall and in the rainy gloom he lost sight of the opposing generals as he heard more arrows come in from the night goblins and goblins surrounding his once grand keep. He sighed and ducked back indoors as the arrows plinked in around him. The end would come soon; he could feel death's embrace closing in on his hold like a money changer clearing the counter of coins. This hold was now a tomb.
He went down to his Slayer Hall and tapped the last keg of Bugman's XXXXX that the hold had. "Drink up lads and remember our freed chums. Their debt is paid; pain is no longer their companion. They know the freedom of woes that only a cold stone tomb can bring. Drink and be merry," he raised his silver covered ogre skull mug from one of his first kills. "Hopefully tomorrow we will all die under a mountain of green skin maggots swinging our blades."
His wounded, tired and doomed slayers hoisted a mug and let out a shout of "Huzzah!" as they remembered their departed squad mates. A few of them were already frothing at the mouth at the thought of the oncoming end. The slayers of Gnashrak's Doom Hold were awaiting their end.
Day twenty one dawned with low slate grey clouds hugging the mountains over Icefang Camp. The temperature was below freezing in the gusting winds that picked up waves of snow and blew them from one spot to another in swirling mobile white walls that totally obscured the assembled army of Karak Kadrin moving to relieve the siege of Gnashrak's Doom Hold.
Qwudd talked briefly with the other thanes, lord, rune smith and slayer leaders. Soon the various drums, horns, and standards of the units were sending signals. In short order the iron shod boots of the army of Karak Kadrin were sending echoes of their stomping reverberating down the clefts and valley in a slow steady cadence.
Torin nudged Sqalliq and his squad. "Lads, we're moving out fifth in the order. Two columns," said the giant slayer shouldering his huge pack. Each of his guys were carrying spare weapons, clothes, tent, wood, oil, dried food for nearly a month. They also had their sled packed tight with other supplies for healing and large cooking pots. "Lets go," he said quietly as they fell in to the army marching out of the now muddy and tent less courtyard of Icefang Camp.
Sqalliq started out in the middle near Tur but with in a few hours he was slowly falling back as his wounds were sapping his strength. The Army of Karak Kadrin set a grueling pace. There was no breaks as this was a forced march from dusk to dawn. Occasionally a slayer or dwarf would break ranks to relieve themselves or adjust their packs. After a bit they would sprint to catch up with their units.
Near lunch time Sqalliq was watching the rest of the army pull away from him steadily as he continued in pained silence. There was no concern for a lone wounded slayer. If he died marching or in battle the Army of Karak Kadrin would mourn him not, he was dead to them already.
Ever so slowly the wind and snow picked up. Nearing dinner time the sun was obscured and the winds reaching gale force. It would seem that the second blizzard of the year was upon the mountain screaming its displeasure at the granite sides and hard as stone inhabitants of the mountain that chose to carve their hearths and homes out of the heart of the mountain.
Sqalliq squinted his eyes behind his cloth visor with long narrow slits that kept the snow out of his eyes. He felt his beard freeze and watched slowly as his world was reduced to a narrow white tunnel of vision directly ahead of him. He endured the pain and loneliness carrying Brud's Axes in his gloved hands at the ready as he had been taught by Torin. The hours passed and at some point near midnight the winds started to subside. An hour later he stomped in painfully to the cold camp made by the Army of Karak Kadrin and their allied slayer forces from Icefang Camp.
He found Torin sitting acing back down the trail as he arrived at his squads camp. Torin approached the shivering exhausted wounded slayer with a steaming pot from a small portable oil burner used in the mines to cook small meals. He led Sqalliq to a spot and helped him shrug off his frozen clothes and pack. "Sit here Sqalliq and drink this," he said wrapping the young slayer in his sleep roll and Torin's extra blanket.
Sqalliq started to eat the contents of the pot and had never tasted anything as wonderful as the honeyed coffee with pieces of dried biscuits floating in it. He at the liter pot and discovered some chopped up jerky on the bottom that was easier to eat after having been cooked for several hours.
Torin looked at him when he was nearly finished. "Each of your mates had been waiting for you to get here. Sleep young Sqalliq, well wake you when it is time to march," with that Torin returned to his bedroll and huddled under it as he watched his squad mate Sqalliq sink into a deep unfeeling shivering sleep and so ended day twenty one for Sqalliq on his slayer journey.
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Snulli Grotblight was awakened abruptly by one of his slayers carrying a candle. "Snulli the gates are being attacked," said his follower with apprehension in his voice.
Snulli swung his tired feet out of his bed and grabbed his axe. His boots would have to wait until later. At least his hold wasn't up in the mountains where he had sent his daughter to gather reinforcements. "Let's secure the gate, tell my seekers to meet me there," commanded the demon slayer.
"Aye, Snulli," said the slayer running of to gather the last of the doom seekers.
Snulli walked rapidly to the gate. He went down the stairs of the keep to the Slayer Hall and then through the gate room under the murder holes. Out over the small draw bridge that slid out as a shelf to the stairs on the other side he started to jog toward the gate as he heard the ominous cracking of his gates eight in wooden planks.
Snulli was sprinting when he heard the gate bang open and saw the horde of snotlings and night goblins pour into the courtyard in front of the giant that had cracked the gate. Snulli was proud to see ten of his last twenty slayers holding the line and dealing death to the unskilled masses of green skins that poured in like the tide coming in on the beach.
"Borq and Jorg to me," commanded Snulli in his horn blast battle voice. He was calm and could count every single beat of his slow heart as he surged towards the gate. Two of his last five doom seekers sprinted to his grey-orange bearded naked form.
Borq was short and fat with thick club like doom seeker gear that just bludgeoned the enemy into submission with numerous hammer-like strikes. Jorg used typical doom seeker gear of axe blade on counter weighted chains wrapped around his body. They came in on either side and Snulli crashed into the fray using the skills that he had gained fighting skaven and dark elf assassins.
Snulli used two light hammers with flat heads on one side and a wicked spike on the other. He didn't believe in using runed items but he was one of the most proficient dealers of death that the dwarves had seen in years. With his two doom seekers flanking he stemmed the green skin tide pouring in on the right flank of the slayer line. His axes were flashing in like jack hammers and his ability to deal efficient death blows by striking at the neck, temple, or spine was racking up more kills than the two doom seekers flanking him or the three doomseekers on the opposite flank that was slowly pushing the green skinned horde back to the foundation of the shattered gate.
"Jorg seal the gap," commanded the demon slayer. Jorg looked back at his leader and surged through the open gate into the night goblins pouring in. Snulli was causing a wave of panic by dropping between six to ten goblins per minute with no goblins getting the ability to strike at him.
For a few seconds the tide was stemmed as Jorg held the flow back beyond the gate, the other four doom seekers and Snulli eliminated the remaining fighting foe in the gate alcove. "Slayers seal the gate," commanded Snulli.
Jorg looked back over his shoulder for a split second before the gate was to be sealed behind him and spiked close. Snulli looked at his former student and fiancé of his daughter. Jorg was furious but he winked back at his lord and then the gate was slammed shut with a final "Boom" of the wood hitting the raised stone door stop.
Snulli watched as his slayers labored to brace the door of Gnashrak's Doom Hold. Beyond the gate he heard Jorg bellow as he attacked single handedly into the assaulting night goblin tribe. "I am Jorg, dealer of death, champion of Gnashrak's Doom Hold come grobi and meet death on my blades."
Snulli placed his head against the door and listened to what was to have been his future son-in-law. Again he heard the repeated challenge as he heard the roaring whistling of Jorg's axes. "I am Jorg, dealer of death, champion of Gnashrak's Doom Hold come grobi and meet death on my blades."
Snulli heard the heavy steps of a giant coming towards the gate and the screams of goblins still dying. He could feel the effects of a shamanic spell being disrupted by his doom seekers. For the third time he heard Jorg's chant. "I am Jorg, dealer of death, champion of Gnashrak's Doom Hold come grobi and meet death on my blades." The axes were still falling but he heard Jorg sign and one of the axes went silent. The foot steps of the giant were near.
Snulli could picture the horde surging over the lone doom seeker striving to hold the dark tide at bay while the giant moved in. Jorg spoke again but in a tired, strained, and pained voice. ""I am Jorg, dealer of death, champion of Gnashrak's Doom Hold come grobi ... uggh!" Snulli heard the tree like club crack the stones outside the gate as it crushed his would be son-in-law into the ground in the middle of his challenge.
Snulli looked at Borq and passed his command. "Burn them all," was his quiet command.
Borq raised a horn and blew three short rapid blast. Above the gates six slayers poured two vats of boiling oil and cinders onto the horde of night goblins and the giant below them. Two torches followed and Snulli was driven back away from the door as the heat wave hit him and some of the burning oil seeped below the blood slickened stone from all the slaughtered night goblins. Snulli smiled wickedly as he heard the nigh goblins outside running around on fire and the giant retreating rapidly and bellowing in burning pain.
Snulli was happy that his young friend had earned his glorious death. But his sacrifice had kept Gnashrak's Doom Hold safe for another day. Another day for his daughter if she still lived to bring the much needed reinforcements to his besieged hold. "Borq hang this trash over the gate for the next batch to see if they choose to meet their death here. Ensure their entrails are exposed so the vultures, crows, and flies can feast on these maggots of grobi kind."
Snulli walked back to slayer hall still coated in stinking grobi blood. He found a mug and poured himself a mug of cheap ale. He held it in the empty hall and then raised it in salute. "To Jorg, a fine dwarf, a fine slayer and a dang good doomseeker. May your heart travel freer the glorious death you achieved is my desire. Till we meet again my friend," with that Snulli downed the cup and none were there to see him place the mug down with solitary tear in his eye.
The lone old demon slayer walked slowly and painfully back to his room to clean up and go back to sleep, dawn was still and hour away.
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Three hours later Sqalliq was awoken by Torin. "Lad its time to shoulder your pack and push on," said his giant slayer by gently nudging the wounded former initiate.
Sqalliq crawled out of his bed roll and noticed that his squad had already broke camp and was moving along. Torin handed him some breakfast and then the giant slayer packed some of Sqalliq's gear in his own pack to lighten the load. When Sqalliq was done eating the soaked warm oats with honey and bits of jerky he cleaned his bowl in the snow and then placed it back in his pack.
"Lad," addressed Torin to his young squad member. "I have to march with the boys. Do your best to keep up today. Me and the lads will be waiting for you at the next camp," Torin clapped the young slayer on his broad shoulders and then moved out.
Sqalliq set out and as the day before was quickly passed by most of the Army of Karak Kadrin. But he didn't falter; failure was never an option for him as a slayer as long as he drew breath. And so he continued to march all through the day snacking on bits of jerky and rationing his water. Two hours after dusk he arrived at the camp. His warmed food and travel mug of ale was waiting for him. His squad members cheered him on especially Chukku and Tur.
He sat down still wearing his pack, tired and exhausted. After the food and ale he fell asleep where he sat never noticing that out beyond the circle of the dim fire light from the tunnel stove that he was being watched by a certain doomseeker traveling with the forces from Icefang Camp.
The same routine was repeated over the next three days and so ended days twenty two to twenty five for Sqalliq. On day twenty three the army of Karak Kadrin dropped below the snow line and on day twenty five they were only a few miles from Gnashrak's Doom Hold. But the high point of the journey for Sqalliq was that on day twenty five he finished the march with his mates, the exercise had toughened his mind to the pain and speeded his healing.
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On day twenty four for Sqalliq journey the siege took a turn for Snulli and his forces. It was one in the morning when the sound of several giants were heard approaching gates. Three times the forces of Gnashrak's Doom Hold had held the gates. But now there was only twelve slayers left, Snulli and three doom seekers. They all knew the end was coming.
Snulli huddled with his doom seekers under the murder holes of the outer gate waiting for the tide behind him five slayers held the line, the rest either above the gate with the last barrel of oil or scattered on the towers to detect any feints. And so they waited in the cold darkness listening to the giants slowly approach.
Snulli who had been a decorated general and lord for Karak Kadrin before taking his vows had already exhausted all of his counter siege skills on this numberless foe. His boys had been trying to bleed the enemy white but against a goblin foe that was just impossible. He figured that his and his seventy five lads had killed at least ten times that number in the last month of the siege but they had culminated. Now their dwindling numbers were like the last remaining sands in an hour glass; they just seemed to fall quicker than their foes.
"Lads, we hold until the last moment then Borq, Khuzziq, Kroog and me will fight the rear action to the keep," said Snulli to his slayers behind him. "Make them grobi vermin pay for stepping into our hold with their lives," commanded the Demon Slayer.
He heard a "Huzzah!" from behind him as he felt the giants near the gate. He could also hear goblin gibbering and other heavy breathing that was foul scented. "Careful lads," said Snulli. "They have committed their trolls for the first time." He grimaced. A quick look behind him showed his lads frothing at the mouth, rage filling their faces, as his lads were entering into their slayer fury at the mention of trolls.
Then all grew quiet except for the wind. What was this thought Snulli? Even the Grobi were quiet. Snulli crept closer to the gate and listened, he was a keen general and had survived many battles and wicked traps by the enemy but nothing had ever made a goblin horde go quiet or still the breathing of stupid trolls. He felt the tingling of magic near the gate and knew this was a trap. His hair stood on end like it had never done before. Snulli couldn't even hear himself breath. Magic most foul.
For the first time in years he felt a slight twinge of fear. He turned and sprinted from the gates as he felt more than heard gates shatter behind him as he broke through the dome of silence. "Pour the oil and retreat," commanded Snulli.
In that instant all manner of things happened. Parts of the shattered gate flew past him, goblins poured through the opening, squiq riders dropped in off of the walls and he saw his two oil pourers bodies tumble from the top of the gate. His trap for the foe was foiled. The foe was numberless around him and he was drug under by their sheer numbers being trampled and then he heard the whizzing, whistling, humming and singing of the doomseeker tools coming towards him and the foe covering his body like lice.
"I am Borq and this wall of Gnashrak's Doom Hold you will not cross," came Borq's challenge as Snulli heard panic in the gibbering goblins over him. Blood and limbs were hitting him as the doom seekers went to work stemming the tide pouring in through the gate.
"I am Khuzziq, killer of foes of Gnashrak's Doom Hold. Come meet your peace that only the grave can bring," was Khuzziq's challenge.
Slowly Snulli made it off of the ground and then his hammerers went to work it was like Moses parting the Red Sea all of a sudden there was a gap in the masses as bodies of Grobi started falling in a circle limited by the Demon Slayers reach with his weapons. "And I am Snulli. I have killed so much that death is my mistress if ye' want this hold ye' will be takin' it over me dead body," bellowed the now angry demon slayers. "Krooq, trip the oil and light it. We will hold the stairs over there and then fight back in a box formation," commanded Snulli.
In an instant Krooq was sprinting to the stairs leading up to the oil on top of gate house. He was issuing his challenge as his went. "I am Krooq smith of Gnashrak's Doom Hold on the anvil of my body I break my foes." The squiq hoppers were still dropping in randomly. He mounted the stairs and took them three at a time with one axe continuing to hum all the way to the top.
Snulli, Khuzziq, and Borq were wading through the tide of goblins when they each smelled the stench of trolls. The slayers were surrounded by goblins and squig hoppers when the five trolls closed in. Soon all three were ducking club strikes, dagger and sword jabs and slices, and the large fanged mouths of the rabid squigs.
"Deal with the masses," commanded Snulli as he stepped in between two trolls. "The trolls are mine." And then he began to dance. The troll on the right was large and swung a shattered road sign. Snulli ducked below it, dodged the swift left handed grab and the kick that the troll lashed out at him with.
In return the demon slayer aimed a blow at the inside of the right ankle, knee, groin and base of the troll's neck. Each hit landed and the troll crumbled. Snulli spun to engage the troll beside and behind him. He turned just in time to catch the troll spitting it's acidic vomit at him. He felt dread in his heart. There was no way to avoid an attack like this.
The vomit hit his left arm and it was like all the fire of the chaos waste of favored by Khorne was engulfing his left arm and side and dripping onto his leg. His flesh of his fingers melted and fused around his axe and the stench was most foul. Then fury took over. He rained four quick blows about the tall beast's head with the last being the spikes of his left and right hammer penetrating from each temple seeking the dim creature's diminutive brain. Snulli was rewarded with a glazed look on the trolls face as it fell towards him.
Snulli stepped aside and let the troll fall and then hopped up on its prone back. The troll on the right had regenerated some of its wounds and it was coming back at him although not at its full potential. Another troll was closing in as well from his left. He smelt his flesh still boiling from the remaining acid in his system and continued his dance while his doom seekers mowed through the squiq hoppers and goblins that were starting to flee.
The troll on the right watched dumbfounded as the little burned orange haired blue tattooed dwarf launched himself at the larger troll. Eight hammer strikes dropped the troll into an unrecognizable mass of punctured and crushed chest and misshapen head. Snulli spun to his troll on the left and once again the vomit came in.
Then he knew. The trolls had been commanded to use this type of attack. He felt the cold fingers of fate start to creep in as once again the acid was received on his left side. He saw some bone protrude through on his finger and the acid was caught on his chest and face this time. His left eye lost it's sight and he bellowed with rage at the pain.
He crumbled to the ground for an instant and felt a strong arm lift him; "Snulli stand steady," Khuzziq had lifted him from the ground while continuing his assault. "The foe retreats under the wrath of our rage."
Snulli steadied himself with all the intestinal fortitude that he could summon. "How is Krooq doing," queried the severely wounded demon slayer.
"The fire burns but he is engaged up top," answered Khuzziq.
Snulli focused on the burning gate through the retreating bodies of the goblin and troll horde. Then he heard multiple club strikes from the giant's onto the top of the gate house and looked up in time to see a body trailing two chains with axes attached sail towards him. Krooq's shattered body landed not far in front of him, Khuzziq and Borq. His face was smashed in and his left torso crushed in a mass of shattered bones, leaking blood, and internal organs escaping from his broken internal cavities.
"We can do no more here. Get me to the keep and pull in the gate," commanded Snulli in a weak voice. With that the demon slayer passed out into Khuzziq's arms.
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Sqalliq awoke the next morning when a messenger was sent to summon Torin and Qwudd for a war council. Torin looked at Sqalliq before he jogged off, "Sqalliq you are in charge until I return." The big slayer and scarred veteran dragon slayer went to the council meeting. An hour later they were back with all the other leaders returning to their units.
Torin rounded up his lads. "Listen up slayers. There are at least parts of eight tribes of goblins over that hill. They have breached the walls and appear to be besieging the keep of Gnashrak's Doom Hold. We don't know if how much help the survivors of the hold will be able to help us," he paused. "Now here is the plan," he continued to explain that the war machines were being deployed on the crest of the hill and that the slayer part of the army would lead the way as the rest of the Army of Karak Kadrin would advance under war machine and thunderer fire as the slayers cleared the way.
Torin then went into bad news of the enemies' deployment. "Slayers there are at least three giants, two or three bands of trolls, and snotlings. To make maters worse there is a tribe of wolf riders that we will have to advance through to gain the gates. Good news is that the gates are shattered. Bad new is that is a tribe of archers manning the wall firing arrows at the keep, soon those arrows will be headed towards us."
Torin paused and then continued. "Here is Qwudd's plan. You will be the forefront of the army. We will push directly through and not stop until all of us are either in the keep's courtyard securing the stairs leading up to the keep or we will die trying," Torin stopped.
Jokkon sneered and then laughed as he unfurled the banner of Torin's Terrors. "Heck I've been waiting years to die in battle. I always hoped it would be against a giant or a troll not a sea of grobi," barked the cantankerous old slayer.
Tur laughed at the jest as he dropped his cloak and pack near the side of the trail. His rumble of a voice spoke next, "Death in battle be honorable no matter what foe it be against. Even a groblar can slay a dragon if there be enough of them."
Chukku chuckled and added his gear beside Tur's as he loosened his horn. "Can we get this over with," queried the impatient skinny slayer. "I haven't had a good meal in days and when I am done with these maggots I plan on finding Berriq and making him cook me up a big pot of something. And besides its not our squad's day to help cook or do dishes." He turned and headed up the hill.
Sqalliq and Torin followed suit with the rest of their squad. Behind the rise three cannons and four bolt throwers and their crew were hiding behind the crest waiting to push their machines over the rise to see the enemy. The slayers of Icefang Camp, some Brotherhood of Grimnir, and a few random doom seekers were waiting with a glazed frenzied look. Kaaz Zruum walked to the top of the rise with Qwudd.
"Qwudd, sound the charge!" Came the command from the Slayer Rune Lord of Karak Kadrin.
Qwudd looked to Torin and nodded and then to his other three giant slayers. They turned to their musicians and soon four horns were sounding the charge, they were joined by several more Brotherhood of Grimnir and troll slayer horns and soon the mountains were shaking with the sound of slayer feet beating their way over the rise and into the valley. Each slayer sounded off with his own personal challenge and the air was thick with the loud dwarven voices.
Before them the several hundred yards away was the enemies' camps forming a ring around the keep three hundred yards from its scarred and damaged walls and shattered gates. A reply to the challenge was heard from three giants, more than twenty trolls, and over two hundred wolves raised their heads to the dawning sun and let out their deep throated howls as their Grobi riders raced to their mounts. The battle of Gnashrak's Doom Hold was about to commence in earnest.
Sqalliq felt the oncoming tunnel vision of his slayer rage constraining his vision as a squadron of wolves broke out the camp and headed his way. He was oblivious to everything until he heard the eerie hum of a doomseekers whirling axes beside him. He turned and focused on Fyrmaul who was sprinting ahead now bare footed and nearly naked except for her gromril belt, wrist bands, and axes. Her face was a mask of frenzy and hatred. And then all at once the axes were quiet at they lashed out and a wolf yelped and his rider died. The battle had begun.
Sqalliq and his mates received the charge of the wolves as he hear the twang of bolt throwers and explosions of cannon shot from behind him on the rise. The wolves pushed the slayers back and flowed around them until axes spilled wolf guts and freed goblin heads from goblin bodies.
Sqalliq was swinging his axes in a blind fury of action beating off the attacks of two wolf riders and the snarling attacks of the wolves and then they were dropping to his counter strikes. First the goblin on the left lost his spear hand, and then the goblin on the right was beheaded as his wolf sprinted around the angry slayer and right into the naked doomseeker's spinning axes beside Sqalliq. The last wolf bounded away as its guts spilt out of its slashed side yammering like a pup looking for the first milk from its mother.
Torin's Terrors was back to sprinting forward as the wolf riders fled, a few were drug down but most made it away into the goblin camp. The Terrors were in front of the rest of Karak Kadrin's army and their speed was keeping them safer. Sqalliq looked behind him and noticed that a giant was closing in on some slayer from the right flank with a weird snotling wheeled machine and on the left flank more wolves and some night goblins in ranked formation were forming up in a line and firing arrows. Several bolts and cannon balls zoomed in to the goblins from the rise with the artillery battery of Karak Kadrin unleashing their fire.
Sqalliq turned around again and closed the gap with his squad mates. They burst into the tents and ran right into a unit of night goblins heading their way with nets and clubs. But what was worst is that three crazy frenzied night goblin fanatics were kicked out right in front of the terrors. "Get em," bellowed Torin and soon there were slayers being knocked around by the madly spinning balls of the three fanatics.
Torin's Terrors had been plussed up with extra independent slayers. When the battle started there was twenty of them unlike the usual twelve from Icefang Camp, eight after the battle with the giant and ogres. But the goblin fanatics had suddenly cut that number in half. The rest of the terrors piled into the night goblins and two were trapped under nets and beaten with clubs but the rest of the Terrors shrugged off the nets and received the initial charge.
The goblins weren't great fighters but they were numerous. There were forty goblins to the ten slayers that made it through the fanatics that were still spinning with their unwieldy iron balls near by. The goblins flowed into the slayers and attacked with club, mace, sword and dagger. Three Terrors went down leaving seven. And then the slayers unleashed their pent up rage into the mass. Arms were separated from bodies, heads cleaved, guts spilt, spines shattered. Three goblins died and then they flowed around the slayers.
The goblins attacked first again because they were so fast. But their blows were deflected by the now focused slayers. Then the counter attack happened. Torin, Sqalliq and the rest of the Terrors shrugged off the nets and dropped nearly one quarter of the goblins that now turned and fled from the meat grinder before them. The terrors surged after them slaughtering the goblins as they pursued their foe slaying each of the cowardly night goblins as the Terrors rampaged partially through the camp.
The remaining seven slayers pushed through the camp and entered the open space leading towards the keep and stronghold beyond. The sun was rising in a clear sky and the sun was the brightest Sqalliq could remember since before he had become a slayer. Torin looked around at his diminished squad, "Lads there be plenty of enemy behind us and still more in front. Let's trust in Grungni that the rest of the army will make it through. Let's go stir up some trouble in the keep. Watch for arrows, don't travel in a straight line and then we will rank up in front of the gates and unleash doom on what ever we meet inside." He paused. "Let's get it done."
They were off sprinting across the bodied strewn plains. Then a mass of arrows were launched into the sky from the goblins manning the walls. The distinctive twang of bows could be heard to echo. "Now sprint," roared Torin.
The seven slayers sprinted forward and each zig zagged to try and avoid the arrows. Tur took one arrow to his foot that pinned him to the muddy bloody ground as he tripped. When he stood up another series of twangs of bows was heard coming from the walls. The goblin boss up there had focused their fire on the prone struggling slayer.
Sqalliq watched helplessly as the arrows arched and then descended towards the giant of a dwarf. His unarmored slayer body took three more arrows and then another flight was sent his way as he stood and ambled forward. Two more black arrows hit the big slayer and then Sqalliq saw the doomseeker Fyrmaul's axes cutting arcs over the big slayer as he walked and then jogged with the six arrows protruding from his body.
"Run Tur," came Sqalliq's hoarse yell as the gromril chained axes formed interlocking arcs over the wounded slayer's head like and umbrella shielding a maiden from the rain.
"Move you big oaf, only an idiot gives one hundred archers a stationary target," was Fyrmaul's yell to the wounded slayer. She placed one axe in her belt and grabbed Tur's arm and drug him towards the gate. Ever so slowly the Terrors reached the gate outside and saw all the burned bodies of Trolls, goblins, and a dead giant.
The battle had lasted nearly half and hour so far and Torin's Terrors was the only unit to reach Gnashrak's Doom Hold gate. Behind them near the camp units were attacking and counter attacking the assaulting dwarven forces. The Goblins were slowly bringing their disjointed defense together and they had temporarily stemmed the tide of dwarven forces flowing in to the inner ring between the camp and the keep.
Torin shook his head as him and his slayers quickly gathered their breath. Fyrmaul and the wounded Tur arrived. The big slayer was gravely wounded but looked like he would make if for several more hours if he managed to avoid anymore injuries.
Fyrmaul noticed something as they huddled to move in and dropped to her knees looking at something in the charred mass in front of the gate. "Things must be worse than I thought here," she said in a far away tone as she lifted a charred doomseeker axe and chain that was attached to a hacked up and cooked doomseeker surrounded by many bodies.
"What," queried Torin.
"This is the body of the Champion of Gnashrak's Doom Hold," she replied in a hoarse quivering voice. "He shouldn't have been out here unless directly ordered by Snulli, the Demon Slayer of this hold." She choked by tears and fought to find the voice to continue. "This is the body of Jorg, he trained me at my father's command. He was the strongest, swiftest and most accomplished warrior in this hold. He was a great warrior."
She stopped talking and looked back at Torin and Sqalliq standing behind Torin. "He and I were to have been wedded on the new year's day. Then these vermin came," she went quiet. She replaced the weapon in its original place and then returned to standing with soot covering her sweaty legs and hands.
She stood facing the gate as she took her weapons up. She wiped her eyes dry and then bellowed a challenge into the keep. "I am Fyrmaul Qwyqangst, daughter of Snulli Grotblight, messenger of Gnashrak's Doom Hold, summoner of the forces of Karak Kadrin. I am the doom of all that comes before me today. Meet me if ye' seek yer doom," with that she stalked into the tunnel leading through the gate house. Her axes were wizzing around her like two mad hornets who's nest has been disturbed. Torin and Sqalliq had never heard her axes make such a loud doom filled tone.
Torin shook the blood off of his two short swords and started to walk in behind her. "Follow me lads and stay close to Fyrmaul. She is our protection and we hers," the rest of the Terrors entered into the Gnashrak's Doom Hold knowing that this might become their tomb at any moment.
They formed up in a single line right behind the angry doomseeker. The tunnel leading through the gate house was the shortest mile they had ever walked in the shadow of doom. When the sun hit Fyrmaul's spinning axes she went from walking to sprinting and then the battle was joined.
She crashed into the goblin regiment that had formed up awaiting the slayer charge. She foiled their plan by pivoting and hitting them and the four trolls securing the left flank and braced against the wall of the gate house. Her axes was licking out like bull whips and leaving the cracking sounds similar to whips. Two trolls took light wounds. One healed almost instantly and then the goblins were dropping like wheat under a farmer's sickle.
She bellowed like a banshee again as she continued to attack while dodging the trolls two mace attacks and a wicked back hand. . "I am Fyrmaul Qwyqangst, daughter of Snulli Grotblight, messenger of Gnashrak's Doom Hold, summoner of the forces of Karak Kadrin. I am the doom of all that comes before me today. Now ye are meetin' ye doom ye' vile foes of Gnashrak's Doom Hold," she was dealing death like a figure skater doing her well practiced routine.
The Terrors sprinted forward and hit the line of goblins to the right of Fyrmaul. The goblins received the charge and watched at their entire front line was crushed under the weight of the slayers rage. Sqalliq was near Fyrmaul and to his right was the wounded Tur. Tur was fighting but weakly he wasn't killing anything but he was defeating the attacks of between two to three goblins while his flanking slayers dealt them the death they deserved.
The trolls were holding tight and Fyrmaul was continuing to engage them and the goblins at the same time. Every time a slayer stepped back from the goblins there was a series of twangs and arrows falling around them from all the archers on the gate. The dance of death continued and ever so slowly the goblins to their front were being reduced to a dead, bleeding, disemboweled mess on the stones of the courtyard of Gnashrak's Doom Hold. Then all at once the goblins before them fled and the slayer wheeled in running the remaining goblins down and wrapping around into the trolls and the newly arriving wolf riders from a distant corner of the hold.
Sqalliq watch the troll in front of Fyrmaul pull back and prepare to attack the naked doom seeker to its front. She was engaged trading blows with the troll beside it and was temporarily distracted as she was trying to tug her trapped left axe out of the quickly regenerating troll flesh. Sqalliq dived and pushed her out of the way as he rolled into a ball right in front of the now left most troll. The troll's weapons shattered stone and jarred Sqalliq's teeth in his mouth with the force of its blows that hit the ground instead of the doom seeker. In its rage it kicked out at Sqalliq and connected with the slayer but to his distress the little orange haired freak didn't fly across the courtyard.
Sqalliq had taken the blow and followed with two of his own as he suck an ax into either side of the troll's thigh. The wounds healed quickly temporarily holding his weapons there. What the troll failed to account for was that Sqalliq was chained to his axes with his gold bracelets. Sqalliq flew back one foot and then the chains arrested his flight and he came back with a vengeance.
In seconds he had pulled his axes out of the troll's thigh and rained a small typhoon of blows all over the troll's front as he began to climb up the troll's body, in much the same tactic that he used against the giants back. His rage was complete, in less than thirty seconds he had rained down one blow per beat of his heart as he slowly mounted the troll's shoulder. He continued to chop in his berserker fury the troll lost and eye, a nose, another eye, had its teeth and jaw shattered and when it finally exposed its neck to bellow in pain six quick blows freed the troll's head from its now dead body.
Sqalliq was still raining blows on the dead troll as he rode it down to the ground. Finally, when the body impacted he launched himself off of it in a jump and landed beside Fyrmaul who was standing in amazement. Sqalliq stood erect and for the first time that day or in his entire slayer life bellowed his own slayer challenge, "I am Sqalliq Oneleg, bearer of Brud Ridgerunner's axes, slayer of Torin's terrors. My blades hold the promise of your death; my fury is complete. Come to me and receive your doom," he screamed in anger.
"Well we can ask for a scald to record that challenge later there," said Fyrmaul with a sardonic grin on her scarred face. With that she whipped the axes into a frenzy and was unleashing a flurry of blows against the troll that she had been engaging at a distance. Her blows were nipping at its shoulders, elbow, thigh and then abdomen.
The troll became disoriented trying to follow the bee stinging bladed and finally bellow in agony and rage. It pulled back both of its arms and let out a thunderous roar as it sucked in air and the acidic saliva started to flow. Then its eyes went wide in fright. Fear was a new emotion that the stupid troll had never experienced before. It watched as the female doomseeker lunged in close to it and launcher her right gromril chained axe at its left side of its neck.
She missed the axe flew out wide and in an arc.
The doomseeker back handed her left gromril chained axe out. It too had missed.
The big towering stupid troll laughed deep in its acidic saliva filled throat as it prepared to cover this naked troll in its spittle. But something was wrong. The female didn't pull the chains back but lithely jumped up onto the trolls front left knee that was planted for its spitting attack and then he hear the sonic pop of the axes reaching the end of their arc and the doom like whistling began as the troll felt the chain on either side of its neck snap tight. The naked doomseeker pushed off of the troll's knee and somersaulted in the air. The two axes started to spin tight around the troll's neck as she landed on the ground facing away from the troll and planted her feet and then lunged away leaning with all of her body weight into the ground pulling the towering beast towards her.
The two gromril chains spun tight around the neck and then the big stupid oaf knew the true meaning of fear as the two shiny blades spiraling rotations kept getting shorter with each orbit. First one and then the other blade impacted on the side of the troll's neck. While the blades had bitten almost one third of the way through on either side the troll managed to eek out a small chuckle as it discovered that it wasn't dead deep inside it diminutive walnut sized brain. It started to laugh more as the acid started to bubble of its neck searing and charring its skin on the way out. The pain was exquisite; the troll was more used to inflicting pain than in receiving it but it was happy to feel pain.
But what was this. The little naked female stood up and tugged pulling the troll closer. The chains tightened and cut deeper against the rapidly healing flesh. "Keep chuckling while you can trog," laughed Fyrmaul with and angry tug.
The troll dropped its weapons and grabbed at the chains as the gravity of the situation slowly sank in. Fyrmaul had had enough, she put both hands together and grabbed the opposite hand chain pulling both tight and then spun as she lunged away from her hooked troll. Its eye bulged for an instant and then the head came free in a spray of blood and acid. With the head still attached to her axes she lunged into the next troll wacking it with the head as her bladed came free and starting singing and nipping at the troll tough hide.
Then Sqalliq, Tur, and Torin were there hacking the troll apart at each of its major joints. The last troll seeing the destruction of its buddies turned and ran away.
Torin stopped for half a second to assess the situation and then commanded, "Bound up the stairs into the archers or we are dead here!" With that the eight slayers including Fyrmaul bounded up the steps. Chukku was up front and blew a mighty blast with his horn as he made it to the top of the stairs. There was a loud twang and the archers fired in unison. The twenty arrows streaked towards him and many pierced his body. He weakly blew one last blow as Torin came up beside him.
The youngest member of the Terrors looked at his Giant Slayer and leader. He was silently trying to mouth some words as the blood started to flow out of his mouth and then Torin grabbed his horn as he dropped it to grasp an arrow in his chest. Torin had the horn and then the slayer was falling back wards dragging Torin towards the edge of the wall and down to the hard stone below. Torin heard the leather thong snap holding the now dead slayer's body to the horn and he fell back against the crenulated wall behind him as he looked at the horn in dumbfounded understanding. Another one of his slayers had died.
Tur and Sqalliq led the charge into the goblin archers of the Flamefang tribe. Tur hacked one goblin in half from shoulder to groin in a powerful blow. Sqalliq killed one and lunged into another as the goblins received the charge. The six remaining Terrors and Fyrmaul were pushing onto the wall looking for foes.
The goblins surged back against the slayers as wicked short iron swords and daggers were pulled after worthless bows were dropped. An evil scarred goblin followed by a musician and a standard bearer surged in through the horde of goblins and lunged at the pin cushioned Tur. The goblin boss was wielding a captured dwarf axe and Tur tried to block it but lost his wounded left arm at the elbow. The goblin laughed as Tur bellowed in pain and agony and Sqalliq for the first time heard the big slayer not sound like an avalanche. The big slayer was still bellowing when the death blow came in from the left side as the goblin reversed the swing and opened up the slayers mid section spilling all of his intestines in a squirming bloody mass. Tur tried to hold in the snaking sausage like mass with his right hand and the bloody stump of his left arm but it was futile. He was dying and he collapsed onto his knees and fell against the wall on his left crying like a baby as his end grew near.
The tunnel vision was back. Sqalliq was only seeing through pin "I swear too much" of black hate and rage of the green skins that were slaughtering his comrades. The fury took over and the Brud's axes were raining in the blows prize fighter smelling money. The goblin boss was still celebrating as Brud's axe in Sqalliq's left hand cleaved into his exposed right kidney. The axe in the right cleaved its head from its body as it fell dead at Sqalliq's feet.
The musician stepped in close following its leader and received Sqalliq's forehead to its nose and jaw that shattered the smaller goblin's skull as the slayer fought to pull his axe from the dead goblins body. Sqalliq instinctively threw his right axe up in a block and stopped the standard from crushing the back of his skull. He tugged his trapped axe free and then the Terrors and Torin surged in relieving the pressure on Sqalliq.
The battle on the wall continued for several minutes in a daze of strike, counter-strike, parry and feint as the out numbered slayers held of two small regiments of Flamefang goblins. Fyrmaul was guarding the rear to keep more goblins from arriving up the stairs or through the door from the gatehouse. Torin, Jokkon, and the rest of the Terrors took time surging through the regiment of Flamefang goblins that they were slowly forcing back along the wall towards a tower behind them.
In a slight pause Sqalliq looked around the keep and saw that it was still packed with trolls, wolf riders, goblin archers on the other three walls plus this one. Out beyond the hold some small bands of slayers were through the now burning camp. But was struck him with dread was the three ranked goblin tribes and an ogre tribe forming up beyond the range of the cannons. They were advancing against the scattered slayers and follow on regular dwarven forces of Karak Kadrin that was still engaged with two to three goblin tribes and a scattering of trolls and squadrons of wolf riders in the camp.
"Torin they are getting organized out there and here. We will have trouble if we don't do something heroic here soon," said Sqalliq as he bounded into the fray to relieve the tired giant slayer that was bleeding from a score of small cuts and bruises received during his attack against the archers.
Torin sucked in a few deep breaths of air. "Haven't we been doing something heroic since we arrived on this god forsaken battlefield?" The big slayer looked worried as he though ‘How many more of my boys have to die to pay the price for peace here.'
Sqalliq was blazing away with Brud's Axes spraying the goblins in the blood of their fellow goblins as he hacked first one to death and then another and another. He spoke over his shoulder in a yell with out taking his eye off the next opponent. "Yeah! We have been heroic but what have we accomplished." He ducked a blow and shouldered his opponent back and then leaned back in with his axes in a flurry of blows. "We are isolated and trapped on this wall as long as they keep throwing disposable goblins at us. We are wearing them down but we have been marginalized on this wall." He hacked down the goblin he was fighting and stepped to the side as he grew winded.
Torin surged past him with his short swords moving in a blur that killed a goblin, then another and another. Sqalliq stepped in close and pointed to the stairs leading down behind the goblin regiment, "We need to get down those stairs." He pointed to the wolf riders forming up below them, "Through that squadron of wolf cavalry." Sqalliq then pointed to the stairs leading up to the keep that was being assaulted by a giant and a regiment of night goblins lead by an old wizened goblin in a purple and gold robe that looked like it used to belong to a human wizard and had been cut down to fit the smaller goblin shaman. "And through them to relieve the garrison and get some freaking help out here," yelled Sqalliq.
Torin continued to fight as he quickly scanned the course of action outlined by the young Sqalliq. "Sqalliq! I agree! That would be a heroic course of action!" Torin bellowed and lunged in between two goblins and penetrated into the goblins milling on the parapet. "Follow me Terrors. Death to the green skins," he bellowed as he started to slice left, right, forward and backward as he continued to race forward towards the stairs leading down.
Behind him the Terrors and Fyrmaul stated to rout and then ran down the goblin archers on the wall they were battling on. The stone top of the wall became slick with spilt green skin blood as the now five Terrors and Fyrmaul reached the stairs and bounded down them. Several of the Terrors launched themselves off of the stairs and onto the wolf riders bringing them down and scattering their ranks in the fury of their hasty assault on the squadron of twenty wolf riders.
The small surviving band of slayers went from the frying pan to the fire with their hasty assault into the wolf riders of the Fangrunners goblin tribe. The slayers were out numbered but their leadership and confidence in seeking their doom was unshakable.
Fyrmaul landed in the corner and set her gromril chained axes to spinning and they began to sing their mournful tune of doom. The first goblin and wolf she targeted wasn't the one directly in front of her but one in the middle of the rolling chaotic formation. The rider was small with no helmet. Her right axe flashed out from its spinning and cleaved his skull in half. His now uncontrolled wolf leaped about the formation and tried to flee spreading chaos and confusion as it bit some of its fellow tribes' wolves that quickly turned on the wolf and tore it to shreds.
Fyrmaul didn't stop there but dropped two more before her other attacks were foiled by shields.
She looked confident at Torin. "Three for me ‘Giantslayer'!" She chuckled in her hoarse but husky voice. "Try to keep up if you can," she quipped as she lunged into the milling goblins dealing death.
"Alright Terrors," roared Torin jumping in beside the naked doomseeker. "Tis' a competition ye be wantin'," he barked at her as he drew up to her side felling a lunging wolf by plunging right sword deep into its' throat and then pulling back his bloody and slightly torn hand as the wolf died sending its scared rider over its shoulders. Torin spun as he ducked a spear from a goblin behind the dead wolf. He quickly stabbed the goblin though its exposed side ensuring its death when he punctured the grobi's lung.
"Only one Goblin Slayer," laughed Fyrmaul.
Sqalliq, Jokkon, and two more Terrors dropped two goblins as they noted the arrival of yet another squadron of wolves. But this one had a large goblin with a wolf skin and slayer scalp cloak. Torin looked up the new arrival trapped behind the other goblins and felt rage at the mohawk scalps decorating the Grobi's cloak.
Torin looked at the big goblin and stopped killing with his left sword that he kept pointing at the large older goblin in a silent challenge. He didn't stop slaughtering the goblins in front of him or their wolves; he just did it all one handed.
Git Git focused on the slayer with the two short swords one of which stayed pointed at him. "Kill demz stunties," he roared as he fought to close the gap to the big slayer.
Sqalliq was standing beside one of the replacement Terrors that fell under a wolf that latched onto his neck and ripped through the flesh severing the artery. A bright pray of blood splashed across Sqalliq's face as he watched the wolf swallow the gulp of dwarf flesh and then the tunnel vision was back.
His axes blurred into short quick interlocking slices. The goblin died then the wolf he was riding followed by his grobi buddy beside him. He felt the rage bubbling up in him like magma in a volcano. "I am Sqalliq Oneleg, bearer of Brud Ridgerunner's axes, slayer of Torin's terrors. My blades hold the promise of your death; my fury is complete. Come to me and receive your doom," he barked in blood rage.
Torin was beside him and then Sqalliq was past him unleashing vengeance as three other goblins fell as the remaining slayers fought to stay together in a tight formation. "Fyrmaul, the lad is getting blood "I swear too much"," he said when he bumped into the back of the doomseeker fending off a grobi attack against him.
"Aye, this doesn't bode well for us if he loses his head," she huffed back while killing several goblins and wolves with the scythe like swinging chained axes. She had to chuckle at her pun though. She was unable to see Torin's quick pained look that flashed across his face as he gritted his teeth.
Torin lunged into the grobi riding the wolves and the melee started to swirl with the nearly forty combatants giving and taking minor wounds. The slayers were more skilled and unshakable in their moral. One squadron of wolf riders was starting to falter as they were receiving all the blows.
Jokkon was calm like an old man on his death bed. His standard kept attracting the grobi to him but he was a canny warrior that would bash with the pole, set it to receive a charge or us it to distract his opponent. His next action was always to finish off his opponent with a short focused axe strike that conserved his energy and kept him defended.
The Terrors and Fyrmaul were penetrating deeply into the first squadron as the unit wrapped itself around the slayers. Jokkon found he was fighting the grobi unit champion when the unthought-of happened. Git Git with the slayer scalped cloak hacked him down from behind when he was focused on the other units champion.
Jokkon watched as the standard he had carried for so many years fell way from him. He willed himself to hold the standard high but his left hand failed to react. "What..." he mumbled and Torin turned to him.
They both watched at Jokkon's left arm still holding the standard came to rest of the ground with their unit's icon. Torin turned to his old friend. Jokkon looked from Torin's face down to his left shoulder that looked weird because it was missing his arm. He never looked up as the sword came through his chest for just a brief moment and then it was gone. The arterial blood came pulsing out of the long thing hole the size of Git Git's blade's width.
Torin was still watching in dumbfounded amazement when Git Git's wolf pulled the dead standard bearer to the ground and savaged his throat ensuring death. Torin felt the world start to cave in. Another of his beloved Terror's had been hacked down and he was powerless to stop it. Jokkon his friend of so many year, so many battles was dead!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Bimdib Buddub watched as his only worthy competitor the Warboss Git Git was engaging the last of the slayers that made it to the Stunties fortress. Bimdib was the nigh goblin great shaman that had taken control of the shaman and was executing a coup under the War Bosses haughty noses.
Bimdib looked at his subordinate night goblin unit commanders in his body guard units. He had sixty gobo lads in his own personal guard plus two flanking units of thirty more. "Grud and Twok flank Git Git's wolf boyz from the left and right and release yer' fanatics," said the shaman in an intelligent voice. He had apprenticed for a while to a human sorcerer as an unwilling slave but had learned to speak through his daily beatings from his failings. "Look like you are attacking the slayers," chuckled the goblin as he turned his attention back to the giant trying to break through the keep's gate.
Grud and Twok moves out their goblin quickly and soon were in place to launch their assault on the Slayers and Git Git's personal wolf riders.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Torin was slowly getting into a near blinded berserker fury and then the unexpected happened. The first squadron on wolves he and his Terrors had assaulted broke and fled.
Torin, Sqalliq, and Fyrmaul surged into Git Git's unit. But Torin was swept away from the slayer scalp wearing Git Git. Torin hacked down a wolf rider by slicing through a bounding wolf's neck and then his sword continued up into the goblin rider's stomach. The goblin was lifted out of the crude saddle before being dropped to the ground where he quickly bled to death.
Fyrmaul was reducing them two or three at a time. Sqalliq was frothing at the mouth. Most of his clothes had been ripped to shreds and his veins were clearly visible and pulsating under his sweat covered skin in the morning sunlight. He ducked a goblin spear and when he finished rolling he came up from the ground carrying the Terror's standard that he used as a quarterstaff.
He whipped the quarterstaff in an arc that shattered a goblins skull then unseated another goblin as it caught it across the chest sending it to the ground. He spun the standard in a tight spin then plunged the spear pointed end that was used to sink the standard in the ground into a wolf like a pig on a spit. He bellowed incoherently as he lifted the two hundred pounds of wolf and rider in an arc above him using the momentum of the wolf. The goblin was flailing like a baby as he landed head first in the ground with a sickening crack from shattered spin and neck.
Sqalliq pulled the end of the standard out of the dead mess and bellowed his challenge. "I am Sqalliq Oneleg, bearer of Brud Ridgerunner's axes, slayer of Torin's terrors. My blades hold the promise of your death; my fury is complete. Come to me and receive your doom!"
Torin was watching in disconcerted amazement Sqalliq's actions. In a detached portion of his mind he saw the new capabilities surfacing in Sqalliq. He had truly embraced the slayer ethos and values. In many ways Torin knew that Sqalliq had surpassed him and he was slightly jealous.
Torin noticed Fyrmaul reposition herself and saw some night goblin infantry moving in. He quickly scanned the battlefield and saw some heading from his way as well. Luckily they were behind the wolf riders.
In the next moment all Torin and the other two slayers saw were wolf riders and blood splattering as the six fanatics were released into swirling melee.
Git Git bellowed in pain as he took a wound and watched his wolf have its neck snapped. ‘That back stabbing shaman had stuck dez boyz on me ladz,' thought Git Git as he watched his courageous riders being reduced from fifteen survivors to only five. He hopped on a fleeing wolf as his boys broke and fled towards the night goblins assaulting the steps to the keep. His only consolation was that the two night goblin units had hurt each other with their own fanatics.
Torin and Sqalliq were knocked sprawling when Fyrmaul knocked them down after she took a hit from one of the iron ball wielding psychos.
"Fyrmaul," yelled Torin. "Are you okay?" He pulled her back to her feet.
"I think some of my rib are broke," she winced as she spoke. Torin could see through the blood and nicks that her naked ribs were displaced and a large quickly swelling bruise was on her right side.
Sqalliq sighed as he chased after the fleeing wolf riders. He let out a low growl and then noticed he was all alone.
Torin looked at his last Terror and recognized the longing to get the enemy at weapon range. "Come on lad w still have some of that heroic stuff to do," said the giant slayer in a defeated tone.
The three slayers started trotting towards the large night goblin regiment and giant assaulting the keep. Torin growled as Git Git and his boys fled out of the keep with his cowardly wolf riders. ‘That one I'll see again,' though Torin.
Else where in the battle things were turning. The dwarven artillery, crossbows and thunderers had forced a rout of the goblins from the camp near the base of the hill. The disciplined ranks or regular dwarven missile troops were bounding forward. The thunderers putting down a wall of lead and smoke as they slowly advanced. Beside the thunderer the crossbows would shoot and sprint to catch up with the wall of dwarven flesh and shield. Behind them were the hammerers, warriors, iron breakers and the ale drinking long beards.
In the semi deserted camp the slayers were breaking foes and forcing them to leave the cover. Most of the remnant forces from Icefang camp had made it through the goblin camp burning it as they went. There were still some forces tied down especially as the bumped into the reformed goblin army from the far side of the camp.
But most importantly a few small bands of slayers were rushing into their fallen hold. There they found a site of utter devastation as three bleeding blood splattered slayers, one of which was a doomseeker, was laying into the rear of a night goblin formation that was trying to advance into the keep that two giants were slowly breaching the door.
The newly arrived slayers were quickly set upon by murderous arrows fired from the walls. In true slayer fashion the slayers set about their grim task of securing the walls.
Over the din of clashing and crashing metal on metal and metal on wooden shields was the calls of wounded and dying wolves, goblins, and dwarves.
One slayer stood in the corridor leading through the gate houses gates and saw the approaching goblin horde attempting to re-enforce the beleaguered forces in the contested keep. He tapped one of his giant slayers on the shoulder and said "Seal this gate. No one get past you unless he has an orange beard or is wearing the colors of Karak Kadrin."
The giant slayer pulled his remaining eleven slayers out of the battle and hastily closed and braced the gate. They they took up their stance and waited impatiently for the enemy to come to their justly deserved death on their blood soaked axe blades.
The dragon slayer looked at the his giant slayer and the remains of one of his squads and the female doomseeker locked in combat with the night goblins. He was darn sure not going to let Torin and the Sqalliq have all the fun with the naked doomseeker over there nursing a hurt side.
"Berriq," said the old Dragon Slayer. "Grab what's left of your lads. You ensure that no other green skins pile in over there. I'm going to pitch in and help those three. It seems that being by Torin's side is the quickest path to glory."
He watched only long enough to see his scribe pull his last six slayers of his squad together and charge into the flank of a unit of goblin spear infantry. The Dragon Slayer was off seeking his doom. He eyed the giant on the left and set off at a jog. His axe glowing brighter and lighter as his anger was fueled.
The giant's club cracked the door sounding like a striker hitting a gong. There was a shower of splinters and the door gave way. Bimdib Buddub seeing the spray of blood from the slayers slaughtering his rear ranks thought that getting into the keep might be his best chance of survival. He looked at the giant to his right and shouted, "Kill the orange haired!"
The big giant was stupid but it liked combat. He turned and lumbered to the back of the goblin formation where anarchy reigned.
Bimdib Buddub turned to the giant on his left and was surprised to hear it scream in pain as a lone orange haired dwarf lunged into combat against a foe twenty times his size. Bimdib screamed "Kill him," as he released a quick spell that hit the lone slayer with pain like a great horn ram had just head butted him.
Blood dripped from the shattered blood vessels in his nose and one of his eyes clouded over as blood filled it. The Dragon Slayer looked over at the great goblin shaman and marked his face. 'You die later,' though the dragon slayer as he continued his dance against the giant.
Snulli and his last slayers bled anew as splinters from the shattered door pierced their body. One of his seven remaining troll slayers fell with a large splinter of wood transfixed through his chest. Another went down blinded in the wooded maelstrom. Their torches flickered as the wind from out side nearly blew them out. The keep Stank of death and dying slayers.
And then there was the smell of night goblins as the horde burst through the door. Borq, Khuzziq, and Snulli were there to stem the tide and instantly chaos rules in the entry alcove. The droning of three doomseekers fighting in a closed area was eerie as the goblins squealed in panic, rage, pain and anger. Then the magical bolts started to lash out and drop goblins and slayers alike as three fanatics were kicked in to the joined melee releasing more black and red blood onto the slicked stones below. In mere seconds only six goblins remained and fewer slayers.
Bodies of slayers and night goblins laid intertwined in the final stance of their dance of death.
Snulli came face to face with Fyrmaul. She gasped as she saw his tortured and scared hand and visage. "Father?"
"Aye, lass," replied the Demon Slayer as he lunged towards the goblin great shaman that was fleeing from the ruined front of his hold. "Khuzziq left giant. Borq?"
A nameless slayer replied that he was dead quickly as the Demon Slayer assessed his remaining troops. Snulli pointed at Torin and Sqalliq. "You two right giant. Daughter with me."
The remains of Torin's Terrors and his assault force broke up and scattered as the Demon Slayer and his daughter and remaining troops went to work clearing the remnants of the night goblins loyal to Bimdib Buddub from around the entrance.
Qwudd was hard pressed when two more of his slayers joined him in harrying the giant. Torin set about slicing up the left Achilles tendon while Sqalliq launched himself into his giant climbing tactic up the rear right calf.
The giant bellowed in pain and rage as the three skilled slayers set about flaying it alive. Deep inside its stone thick skull it came up with a cunning plan. Instantaneously he latched onto Qwudd and stuffed him in his smelly tunic while lashing out at the giant slayer with the lightning like swords hurting its leg.
Qwudd felt his left arm break and his right ankle get twisted into a useless position. It hurt. Bad. The sickly stench of the giant was nauseating and he felt his dinner come up as the giant lunged one way and he slid into the giant left arm pit. Qwudd gagged again and released his lunch into the giant's arm pit. At least it smelled better now.
Torin was being methodical in his dance of death. This wasn't his first giant and he was considered an accomplished giant slayer with years of skill and several large skull back at Icefang Camp back wall to his credit. But he had but a split second to react as the giant lashed out reflexively with its nearly destroyed left foot.
Sqalliq saw the leg flick out as he hacked away with Brud's axes in a futile attempt to sink his axe's heads deep enough into the giant's stinking hide covered leg. Finally, his left axe bit and he was climbing.
Torin was smashed against the stone stairs leading up to the keep and felt numerous bones get shattered. His vision was dimming as his last conscious thought went through his barely functioning brain. ‘Finish the giant's mobility.'
Sqalliq had half a second to cast a glance Torin's way. He was hurt and leaning against the wall. He looked stunned but Sqalliq had seen him shake off the shock of an attack and get back to the business of slaying. Then he watched the left sword slip from Torin's hand and bounce of the ground. Torin opened his mouth to sigh. Blood and shattered teeth poured out in a steady stream of blood with bubbles in it. Sqalliq noticed the whites of Torin's eyes turn red from the shattered blood vessels in the white part of his eye. They went distant and then Sqalliq felt his own heart tighten with resolve as hatred filled him to the point of screaming his fury. His axes were no longer hindered by the badly tanned hides covering the giant. Torin was hurting. Sqalliq resolved to finish this as quickly as possible.
Instinctively Torin threw his right short sword at the tattered remnants of the giants tendon. He was rewarded with an audible snap and twang as the razor sharp blade that he as carried for so many tortured lonely years sliced through and then continued to spin through the air and land in the snow and gravel with a tinkling sound.
Qwudd felt the giant startle and lose its balance as his chest quivered with vibrations from and ear splitting pain filled yell. Qwudd still had his one hammer and he put it to good use. In between retching he slammed his hammer into the giant's ribs and felt the bone break in a loud snap. Instantly he reversed his swing and buried his hammer's spike into the same space he just made. Like a badger he went to work tearing through his opponent's chest. In seconds he was covered in giant's blood and chunks of destroyed flesh. Qwudd was reminded of the stench of the dragon's lair and the beast that had crippled him. His fury was righteous, his hammer swift.
Torin felt his heart stop as he fell towards the ground. He collapsed as the giant came to rest beside him. He was listening to the last sounds he would hear. A giant bellowing in pain and agony as the trapped dragon slayer Qwudd fought to cut his way out of the giant's tunic. Then there was the rhythmic chanting and piston like slice of axes through giant flesh as two axes were doing their task.
He could only just barely make out the chanting. "I am Sqalliq Oneleg, bearer of Brud Ridgerunner's axes, slayer of Torin's terrors. My blades hold the promise of your death; my fury is complete. Come to me and receive your doom!"
Sqalliq could see Torin slump to the ground. His bones and joints strangely out of place. Sqalliq raced to the giants head and while standing on its back hacked of the right ear and then bit deep into the giant's left neck.
It was growing cold and Torin exhaled. He had done his best and fought to his last. Now was time to rest.
Qwudd strangely was standing inside the giant's reeking tunic hacking and smashing away with his hammer. He needed air; Qwudd could feel the giant trying to get up. Qwudd was having none of that. His pain felt better while he was swinging away. One of his strikes finally broke the crudely sewn seams of the giant's tunic and Qwudd gulped fresh air. Then he saw Torin.
And still the chanting went on. "I am Sqalliq Oneleg, bearer of Brud Ridgerunner's axes, slayer of Torin's terrors. My blades hold the promise of your death; my fury is complete. Come to me and receive your doom!" Brutal hatred filled his every thought as he saw Qwudd emerge from the giant's now shredded left shoulder seam under the giant's arm. He swung away at the back of the skull and felt the skull shatter as he was doused with hot blood and grey fatty like bits of brain intermixed with loused chunks of hair. Hatred.
Dark. Cold. Relief. "I am Sqalliq Oneleg, bearer of Brud Ridgerunner's axes, slayer of Torin's terrors. My blades hold the promise of your death; my fury is complete. Come to me and receive your doom!"
There was peace.
Qwudd fought to free his leg from the entangling giant's clothes and felt to the ground. He lashed out with his hammer's point and buried it in the ground. He pulled himself like a cripple towards his sorely wounded friend of so many tears. "Torin. Lad hang on," whispered the scarred slayer.
"I am Sqalliq Oneleg, bearer of Brud Ridgerunner's axes, slayer of Torin's terrors. My blades hold the promise of your death; my fury is complete. Come to me and receive your doom!" Sqalliq was coated with gore. The remnants of the giant's head was barely recognizable but there was still hate. Still the burning agony that needed to be seared out of his brain.
Qwudd at last reached the body of his friend and rolled him into his arm. His friend was fading as he looked deep into the hemorrhaged eyes of his friend. He could feel his body grow still.
Then there was nothing. Torin was no more.
Qwudd felt the end and knew his friend was gone. Another of his own hand picked lads had passed and still he was cursed with his own failings, his own dishonor. Some blood fell on him. Qwudd looked up and felt fear. He hadn't felt fear in decades.
Sqalliq was there holding his blood red axes. He looked like a follower of Khorne. His hair and beard looked like blood tentacles of a chaos champion. His eyes burned with hatred and as he exhaled in the warm sun his body heaved like the bellows of a black smith through gritted white teeth.
"Sqalliq One Leg, Giant Slayer of Icefang Camp your mentor Giant Slayer Torin, my friend for many years, is no more. His burden has been lifted. His death was glorious. His last thought and action was to bring ruin onto the foes of his people. On this day Karak Kadrin has lost a most valuable asset. On this day, in this place Torin earned his most glorious death. I will never let his sacrifice be forgotten," said Qwudd as tears fell down his scarred face and onto his friends. Where the tears hit the blood and grime were washed away. Qwudd's chest heaved in racking sobs as waves of grief and sadness swept over him. He was strong but his last friend was gone.
Else where the battle swirled goblins died by the uncountable scores and individual dwarves fell like heroes often time alone with a tide of green skins dragging them under. But the tide had turned. With the arrival of those crucial few brave slayers to the contested courtyard the heart of the green skin foe was broken.
The wolf riders sensing that they had been betrayed sounded their horns and then retreated from battle in good order.
The night goblins did the same. Their power was broken when their squigs and fanatics were exhausted. One of them watched the fleeing wolf riders and knew that his plans had been foiled this time. He would have to work through another night goblin warboss but the great shaman was patient. He had put this entire fiasco into effect with a few whispered words here and there. He had his network of shamans and they would come together again. But first they needed some more giants, trolls, and a host of the fearless snotlings before he would try again. Too many of his giants and fellow shaman had fallen in this battle.
The Ogres sensing that the money wasn't here for the risk fell back under the covering fire of their lead belchers.
The thunderers of Karak Kadrin finally fell back out of range and started sniping at lone goblins while the warriors and slayers cleared and then burned the eight goblin camps.
Inside the wall of Gnashrak's Doom Hold slayer were cleaning up the routed wolves and stragglers of the goblin host. A few trolls were there as well and they took a heavy toll on the forces of Karak Kadrin but at long last not a green skin was left alive in Snulli's hold.
Torin returned at the spot of Torin's demise and found Qwudd still there holding his friend. He was being tended to by some of Karak Kadrin's battle field medics. Kaaz Zruum was there was well working his medicinal runes upon the severely wounded Dragon Slayer and commander of the forces of Ice Fang Camp.
"Sqalliq," said Qwudd. "Have we a tally on the survivors from out camp?"
Sqalliq looked around the desolate hold as the flies circled the bodies of the fallen dwarves and green skins. The scavengers would have their feast tonight. "Aye, of the five giant slayers only Berriq survived the battle. I am the last of Torin's Terrors. Beyond that there are twelve other survivors of the four squads that were quartered at Icefang Camp," said Sqalliq with no expression in his tired exhausted voice.
He noticed that the old slayer seemed to sink even further into himself. His last friend gone, him wounded, and his brave slayers dead on the battlefield. Qwudd was quiet for several moments and then his spirit rebounded as he looked behind Sqalliq has his other eleven survivors.
He gently set Torin's crushed body aside and rose to his feet with out the aid of the medics or Kaaz. He graciously accepted a troll club as a crutch and walked over to his lads. Sqalliq fell in beside him.
"Slayers of Icefang Camp today you all showed your merit. Now I would ask you to scour the battlefield for your companion's bodies so we may deny these vermin the glory on feasting on the bodies of heroes." He paused. "Giant Slayer Berriq see to the recording of the departed's final glories. Giant Slayer Sqalliq I'll need you with me as my aide here with Snulli Grotblight and the rest of the Thanes, Lords, and Kaaz Zruum."
They departed to the council of lords that was held in Gnashrak's Doom Hold Slayer Hall. Snulli was there with his last two doomseekers of which one was Fyrmaul. His force slayers had been reduced to just four dwarves, including his doomseekers.
The council of lords recounted the battle for the scribes of Karak Kadrin. The three holds involved recorded new grudges and erased grudges as the tale of the battle was recounted. The dead were listed and the heroes recorded.
Near midnight the council broke and the slayers found their way to their sleeping quarters. For Qwudd and Sqalliq it was a small grouping of tents in the court yard. As they walked to them Berriq was posting the banner of Icefang Camp near Qwudd's tent.
In the back ground through the destroyed gate Sqalliq could see the large mounds of goblin bodies burning on the gathered wreckage of the eight goblin's camps. The thick black oily clouds poured high into the midnight sky and the stench of burning death was over powering, but at least it smelled better than the goblin camp.
"Berriq, tonight we draw guard for the gate. We few have been directed to leave for our garrison in the morning. The forces of Karak Kadrin will hold this site until more slayers can be stationed here. The goblin foe struck us hard here. For months there will be a shortage of doomseekers due to all of the trainees and doomseekers here being eliminated," said Qwudd.
"Aye," said Berriq. "I'll see to the guard posting tonight. Why don't you two rest? Your day was more hectic than mine it seems," said the scholarly slayer with a weary smile.
Sqalliq and Qwudd took the Giant Slayer up on his offer. Qwudd retired to his tent and drank some of his and Torin's favorite beverage, Slayer Stout. It's recipe was jealously guarded but the green beer was rumored to contain troll's blood as one of its ingredients.
Sqalliq retired to the tent with the Terror's standard and horn in front of it. It felt strange to be the last of his squad. But it felt right that he should travel back to Icefang Camp alone. He was sitting on the camp cot thinking of Torin Kegsmasher, Jokkon, Chukku, Lorruuq and the big Tur when sleep finally overcame him.
He was awakened an hour later by a knock on the tent post. "Yes," he said with a sleep filled voice thinking it was probably his turn for guard duty.
The tent flap opened and he smelled her before he saw or heard her. Fyrmaul had found him. "Sqalliq I wanted to express my joy and sympathy to you for Torin's passing. He was a honorable warrior and had become a great friend over the last several weeks." She stepped closer and he could see that she had several bandages on her wounds to include he crushed chest being wrapped.
"My father has commanded that I stay here to start training the next slayers that would choose to walk the path of the doomseeker. I will need time to heal but in a month or two I will come visit you and Qwudd at Icefang Camp. There I will pay my respects to all of your brave comrades that died to that my father and this camp could be free of the blight of the green skins. While this fortress still stands Icefang Camp and Karak Kadrin are safe."
She paused. "I couldn't ask for a better friend than you right now. I have lost much and will need time for my heart to heal before I visit you." With that she opened the flap and left the tent with out hesitation or a back wards glance.
Sqalliq felt the void she had left and for the rest of the night he slept uneasily. The next morning the forces of Icefang camp set out. The twelve wounded slayers bore four litters, one for each of the fallen giant slayers and their weapons. Torin, Burrin, Malfyq and Gordooq were going to be missed at Icefang Camp.
And so draws to a close this portion of Sqalliq's Tales. But fear not for their is a 4th Chapter: Quest for Drong's partially drafted. Additionally Fyrmaul has an interwoven tale as well in the story Doomseeker. Finally, detailing Snulli's fall from grace as a commander of the forces of Karak Kadrin is the tale: Snulli Ironfist's Tale. All of these are part of Bugman Brewery's Preachers Corner