In life I had a name. I was Alor, vaarg of the Plainsweeper clan, bastard son of Kronak who was vaarg before me. I had lived upon the great plains that we orcs call Vur, in those western lands where men had yet to gain dominance. Everything I had endeavored to conquer, I did; and everything in life that I wanted, I seized. Yet this was before my visions of Gruumsh led me from my home.
Kronak, my father, was vaarg of our clan. Neither a witch nor a shaman, a vaarg can work no magic of his own. Instead, he is touched by the gods of the orc pantheon to bear their words and omens among the tribes. All-seeing Shargaas, the Night Lord, may whisper to him of unseen threats in the darkness; wise Luthic, the Blood Moon Witch, will tell him of a fertile hunt to feed his clan; mighty Grummsh, the greatest of the gods, may reveal which rival tribes have grown weak enough to conquer; and the numerous lesser gods as well as our greatest eternal ancestors may share their wisdom in providing wise counsel. True vaargs are very rare, and there have been times in our history during which not a single vaarg has existed among any of the clans or tribes upon Vur for several generations. A vaarg, when one arises, therefore has a special place among the orcs. Although still inferior to a clan chieftan, a witch-mother, or a huntmaster, a vaarg is treated with a degree of reverence by all. It is also the only formal role among the orcs which cannot be won through deposing the previous title holder, for any clan would be truly blessed to have more than one vaarg.
My father used his rank to gain special privileges, the foremost of which was the right to keep human slaves. This practice is normally not encouraged among the orcs, due to the risk of escape or rebellion. But Kronak had an affinity for human women, and typically had several in his harem. This is how I came into the world. I wasn’t the first child to be borne by one of his slaves, but often the women would die before giving birth, or the baby would be abandoned or killed – for neither the mother nor the orcs bore anything but contempt for such children.
Yet I was different, for before I was born my father had received a favorable vision about me and thus looked forward to my arrival with a slight interest. Those present at my birth claim that I ripped my way free of my human mother, already the size and strength of a toddler at the moment I was born.
From that day on, I was raised by the unbonded females of the Boartusk tribe, which was one of the tribes of the Plainsweeper clan. Upon Vur there are a dozen clans, and in each clan there are multiple tribes. Some positions have power across an entire clan, such as the chieftan, witch-mother and vaarg, while others only hold sway within their own tribe. The erak, or huntmaster, was one of the latter, and acted as the chief of a single tribe. The Boartusk erak, Grogor, hated me but was compelled to ensure my survival due to Kronak’s influence. However, Kronak was truthfully barely interested in my welfare, and spent little time with the Boartusks, so Grogor did his best to make my formative years miserable. All he accomplished, of course, was to make me stronger.
I can scarcely remember a time during which my impure lineage brought me ridicule from my peers, since I was so much larger and stronger than the orcs of my age. Each year I found myself closer to the paragon of orcish blood. Orcs reach adulthood at the age of twelve years, and by the time I reached that age I was easily as strong as any other in my tribe. Grogor had feared for years that I would rise to supplant him, and I surely would have become erak myself if I had not started receiving visions from the gods.
Indeed, the gods found me just a few months after I was initiated into the clan as an adult. The visions had swum around my dreams gently at first, so that initially I did not realize that they were divinely inspired. But within just a matter of weeks, the first true visions had exploded through my sleep, and there was no denying what my mind’s eye perceived.
Although I suspect the experience may be different for each seer, I myself found that the visions sent to me from the gods were not all prophetic. It was as if I were somehow attuned to a vast divine undercurrent of consciousness, and my dreams were flooded by images and thoughts ere I had but closed my eyes. Most of these visions were completely unrelated to myself or my people; Ilneval’s remembrances of running through forests with his wargs, or Yurtrus lingering for hours over the bedpile of a diseased goblin many leagues away. But on occasion I did see something that pertained to my clan, and it was my duty to recognize such and to try to make sense of it.
No more than a few months after my first dreams, I was sent my first true prophecy. In a dream from Shargass, I beheld a war party bedecked in the trappings of the Bloodhill clan sneaking into the tent of our clan chieftan, Kudush, with murderous intent. I ran for over an hour that night to reach his camp, where I had tried to rush into his tent. Naturally I was detained by his guards, but then I sought Kronak and told him of my vision. He was not surprised; I suspect that he, too, had the same vision. Yet if he did, he kept his own prophecy silent, so that only I would be seen as hero if my warnings saved our chieftan. Regardless, he cautioned me that it was rare for such dreams to foretell of an event on the same night as the vision itself.
In the morning, I was granted an audience with Kudush during which I warned him of what I had seen. He was no fool, so through the day his orcs prepared a trap. They constructed a decoy tent, complete with a deadly hidden pit and concealed trenches to hide his guards. Kudush himself would sleep in one of the common tents. Night fell and the trap was set, but the war party did not visit. Kronak counseled patience, so for eight more nights the trap was maintained. Finally, on the tenth night the rival orcs did indeed creep into our camp as I had foretold, and were slaughtered by the brave warriors of our clan.
That, then, was how I became vaarg. There was no ceremony or ritual to formalize my new station. Instead, it was known throughout the clan that the gods spoke through me, and that the Plainsweepers were the most blessed of the clans, to have two vaarg to relay divine prophecy. Years passed, and fate indeed cast great fortune on our clan.
On one fateful summer night, I received an incredible vision. It was directed at me, I knew for sure, and I was similarly certain that it had been sent to me from none other but Gruumsh himself! The dream forced its way into my slumber, driving away all other thoughts and visions until my entire soul felt consumed by the great god’s one-eye glare. The vision took on a clarity that had been unequaled before or since, and I knew that I was either being blessed with a divine quest, or warned of an incredible catastrophe. At the time I knew not which, and now that my fate has played out, I still do not know. Have I failed Gruumsh, or did I ignore his warning?
The dream began as an unnatural, pressing darkness before a dim light started to emerge until it was like the wan glow of a winter’s day. I saw before me a bloody falchion, lying in a bed of crushed brown grass. Its hilt was larger than usual, with a wide ornamented guard. Upon the guard, closest to the edged face of the blade, was a single inlaid humanoid face cast in platinum. It had jeweled eyes, and the minute visage depicted a look of horrific rage. All along the guard were depressions that could fit more such faces; ten in total, I thought. Then I felt a feeling on incompleteness, as if Gruumsh were telling me that the missing faces caused a great void that needed to be filled.
The vision of the sword faded, and I then saw a vision of human soldiers all around me. They were dressed alike, in chain shirts and matching cloaks all emblazoned with a curious insignia. I was fighting alongside them, with the falchion in my hands. Soon this vision faded, and I again saw the falchion. I felt its hunger, and watched as another face appeared on the guard. In mere moments, I felt the presence of Gruumsh slip away, and I was alone again in my dreams.
Months passed, until the beginnings of winter had encroached upon the plains of Vur. The bladegrass, normally waist-high, had fallen into dense dying mounds. On one morning, a thick frost had turned these hillocks white and the air hung lifeless under the tiny sun. I had joined a hunting party, in the hopes of finding some meat beyond the rats we were accustomed to eating once the aurochs had fled the winter plains.
As we scanned the horizon, we saw the unlikely sight of a single figure running across the frozen grasslands, constantly stumbling and falling. It was headed nearly in our direction, so we crouched down and sought to intercept it. As the figure grew closer, we beheld a human male. As he ran, he was waving a sword above his head in a bizarre mania.
He rushed even closer, and I could then see his insane face. He was gibbering in a language I could not understand. Seeing his manner of dress, I was startled, for he wore the same uniform that I had seen in my dream. The other orcs were surprised when I stood up to hail him, but the man was too mad to react to my greeting. As soon as he saw me, he cried in a most bloodcurdling fashion and leaped upon me.
Even with his full faculties, the man would have posed no threat to me. But insane as he was, I found it a most trivial matter to disarm him and cut him down. Within seconds, and before my peers had even arrived to assist me, the human lay dead at my feet. I rolled him over so that I could see his face, expecting it to have regained some composure in death. If anything, however, it was even more terrible. Every possible malignant expression, from vile hatred to complete terror, were frozen upon his countenance for ever more.
I stooped down to retrieve his weapon, but stopped with my hand outstretched. There, just inches from my reaching fingers, I saw a great falchion lying on top of the trampled grass. Blood flecked its hilt and blade, but my eyes were drawn to its curious guard and the glaring face that was set upon it. It was the exact sword from the vision that Gruumsh had sent me, and as I picked it up I could feel a power stirring within it. I held it reverently, examining every inch with awe, before we carried the man back to camp. All the while, I regarded the sword with fascination and was oblivious to all else. This wonderful weapon could bear no name other than the Falchion of Gruumsh!
Meat was scarce, so the tribe made good use of the soldier’s corpse. But before they butchered it, I took his cloak in order to examine the insignia. It appeared to me to depict a bear rising from a pot, with its paws outstretched in a menacing fashion. Although the bear was smiling, there was malice in its eyes. I knew not what army wore such garb, but I realized that I would soon be leaving my home in order to pursue the quest that Gruumsh had bestowed upon me.
It is the right of a young orc to go on the Long Hunt, venturing far away from his tribe, and even vaargs are not disallowed this privilege. Although Kudush did not approve of my departure, he could not prevent it, especially since I claimed the guidance of Gruumsh. On the day that I left, Kronak caught my arm and cautioned me, saying that he feared that my journey would end in death. Yet I was too proud to listen to him, so sure was I of my most holy quest to restore the Falchion of Gruumsh. I thought that he was jealous and spiteful, since it was I who had been favored by the gods and not he. Oh, if I would only have listened to his wisdom!
With suitable provisions in my pack, I left my clan behind and set out across the plains of Vur in the direction from which the soldier had come. My path would take me across the hunting grounds of other clans, so my pace was cautious and I slept without a fire at night to keep me warm.
After four days, I came to the narrow strip of lifeless desert wasteland that separates Vur from the forested valleys that the humans and elves call the Greendells. Before long I was passing small, stunted trees growing in the cold desert that grew larger and more plentiful as I walked. Gradually the land began to rise and fall, and I was surrounded by towering trees. It was much unlike the grasslands of my home, and I felt uncomfortable under their boughs and among the strange sounds of the woodland.
I did not know in which direction I should be progressing; there were no discernible landmarks, and even if there were I would not be able to make use of them. I was not lost, inasmuch as simply without a goal.
I wandered through the woods for several days, until I finally came upon a rocky hill, barren of trees, that afforded me a great view of the valleys near and far. I beheld heavy plumes of smoke rising above the forest in several places, and knew that I would find some degree of civilization there. Whether I would fight or negotiate, it should at least afford me a chance at discovering more about the army I was seeking. I put on the soldier’s cloak and headed in the direction of the nearest smoke.
Soon I found myself in inhabited land. Narrow cart paths led to rustic cottages scattered in the woods, sometimes surrounded by small clearings in which vegetables had apparently been grown before the winter set in. Yet I saw no people, and none of the cottages showed any signs of life.
Eventually the path became a road, and I came upon a village. Here, finally, were humans. As luck, or divine prophecy, would have it, I entered the town at the exact moment that they were under attack. I followed the muffled sounds of conflict, and saw a group of soldiers wrestling a bound and collared man into a caged cart. These men were all wearing the uniforms that the insane man had worn, and that I had seen in my dreams.
Warily I approached them, and so busy were they with their abduction that they failed to notice me until I was merely paces away. I hailed them as they spun to face me, but after one look at me they drew their swords and charged. Their prisoner, who was not yet fully secured in the cage, ran off with his hands still bound behind his back.
I now faced six soldiers. I had no desire to fight them, since in my vision I was fighting alongside them, but one look in their eyes let me know that they intended to kill me. The fact that I was wearing one of their cloaks, but was not one of them, further incited their rage. They quickly encircled me, and the melee began.
It was apparent from the very first minute of combat that these men, although far superior in numbers, were almost inept with their swords. Once I realized that I was in little danger, I chose to parry their blows instead of cutting them down. I wanted to join with them, so killing them would be of no value. Eventually, when their attacks failed to subside, I began to assault them with non-lethal blows. The flat of my sword met their foreheads, and my punches and kicks fell all about their bodies. They fought me until every last man lay unconscious at my feet.
Still hoping to make a favorable impression, I ran after the man that they had been attempting to capture. Due to his bindings he had fallen several times, and I found him on the outskirts of the village. I dragged him back to the cage and locked him within it.
After more than an hour, the first of the soldiers began to stir. I welcomed him back to consciousness, but he glared at me resentfully. One by one the soldiers awakened. I told them that I wished to join them, and pointed out the recaptured prisoner. All the while, they regarded me warily. Once they had finally recovered, their captain cried out an attack and once again they jumped me. Yet I was still fresh, and once again I beat them into submission.
This unfortunate cycle happened several times, and each time I stressed my desire to join them. Eventually, after enduring such a sound beating that they had daresay never encountered, they agreed to let me accompany them to their army and their superiors.
The small group I had joined was part of a larger contingent of three units. When they rejoined their peers, I once again was forced to prove my prowess by defeating all of them; this time, it was much more difficult due to the presence of a priest and a wizard who assailed me with their spells as I beat the warriors to the ground. I was also forced to contend with omnipresent crossbow bolts from the soldiers that I had not yet engaged in melee. I expended all of my healing draughts during this fight, but it was well worth it. After many minutes of fighting, the last combatant fell and there were twenty bodies around me. I cautiously revived the priest, who seemed to be their leader, and explained my intentions to him. By the time the rest of his men awoke, he and I had come to an understanding.
I then traveled with them through the human lands, assisting them where I could. I soon discovered that they had two primary missions. First, they intended to subjugate the peasant population and cause them to swear fealty to an entity known as the Overlord. It was he, in fact, whose insignia graced the back of their cloaks. Those men who agreed were brutally branded with his symbol on their forehead, and those who disagreed were slain.
Their second purpose was to capture all spell casters, whether divine or arcane. Such were locked up in cages with silver collars around their throats. I was told that these collars prevented the casting of magic. The soldiers could not tell me the reasoning behind these abductions, only that the mages and priests were being delivered into the hands of the Overlord.
Once the wagons were full of spoils and prisoners, we converged on to a wide highway and began to meet up with other parties that streamed toward a port on the sea. In less than a week, the Overlord had easily captured the Greendells and had stolen away its great treasures.
When I arrived in that far harbor, I knew not what fate awaited me. I had served my little group of soldiers well, but they were not in charge of the policies of engagement, and could do little other than vouch for my prowess and faithfulness. I half expected to be attacked as had happened when first I met those six warriors, and I knew I would not last long against an entire army. But Gruumsh favored me that day, and I was brought before a general of the army who barely glanced at me before handing me a commission.
We stayed in the captured city for weeks, enjoying the fruits of conquest, but I itched to return to a martial life. My vision, after all, had shown me locked in combat alongside these men. I desired to restore the mighty Falchion of Gruumsh and knew it to be my destiny.
Finally, a fleet of great black boats returned to the city. I had seen the last of them leave shortly after I arrived at the port, as they were used to ferry the captured prisoners and treasure across the sea. Their holds were now empty, and so the Overlord’s men boarded them to begin our long journey.
The days and nights seemed to roll on endlessly as I floated on that vile ship. At one point we were blown off course during a sudden storm, and the next morning’s light revealed no sign of the other boats. The ship’s navigator was inept, and we lost several days before we were sure to be headed in the correct direction. I was accustomed to the vast plains of Vur, and thus found my entrapment on the boat to be most uncomfortable. The sea, too, seemed entirely unnatural, and I was most relieved when finally a far-off coastline began to creep toward us.
We followed the coast for a day until an impressive city grew out of the woods and farmlands. Its harbor already held other black ships, and it was evident that the city had already been overtaken. We stepped off the boat to face a population that had already been beaten, and the only tumult was the disorder of our own army. I had rushed from the boat, anxious for orders, but so late had we arrived that we had not been considered in any of the army’s plans. War parties had already departed with empty wagons and were doubtlessly destroying the feeble opposition that still remained after the capital had been taken.
After more than a week, we finally received our orders. We were to head inland along the kingdom’s only major thoroughfare, skirting a deep river, until we reached the town that the humans called Riverside. There had recently been rebellious banditry in the area and it was deemed crucial that we hold the river, as the rebels were known to use it for transit. We were to both erect a barricade as well as guard the road.
I was not happy to receive such mundane orders, but I had vowed to serve the army and it still suited me to do so. With a dozen men placed in my charge, we rowed a longboat against the slow current up the river. This proved to be faster than walking, and we were without horses.
The first town we passed was known as Easton, and it spread around us on either side of the river. I beheld the sad faces of its residents, utterly beaten and without hope, but it did not concern me. Our destination was further up river, and we reached it without incident. The people of Riverside, much like the inhabitants of Easton, paid us little mind and made sure to stay out of our way as we determined the best location for a barricade of boats. Before the day was out, we had set up our camp along the river and had also stretched a line of boats across the water in order to block any use of the waterway without our consent. We guarded both the river and the road day and night, and posted a sentry in the woods nearby to raise an alarm if any party attempted to sneak past us.
It was on the second night that a vivid dream came to me. It was powerful and pressing, but seemed nothing like the prophetic visions that I was accustomed to having, but which had become increasing less common as my distance from my homeland grew. In this strange new dream, I once again held the falchion in my grip, and I could feel its hunger. With a level of sentience, it demanded to be fed, and asked me for my promise. Being that this was the very quest that I had undertaken, to restore the sword and bring glory to Gruumsh, I wordlessly pledged to it that I would do so. I expected to then feel any kind of acknowledgment from Gruumsh, who had set me upon this path, but I could not even feel his presence here in the peculiar dream.
Suddenly, I felt the flash of heat and flame all around me. I awoke from my slumber to discover that my sleeping tent was on fire. Of the men sharing my tent, they looked to be badly burned and I alone appeared to have escaped, without harm, whatever calamity had befallen us. Even as I sat up to collect my sword, the air exploded once again. Angrily I pushed my way out of the collapsing tent and into the night.
Across the river, I could see three guards watching our camp in horror. The tent to my left had been destroyed in the same manner as that which stood behind me, but the tent to my right was still standing and I could hear the sounds of soldiers awakening. Two men had sitting by the campfire in front of my tent, and they lay dead on the ground.
I peered into the night, but the light from the fires around me spoiled my excellent night vision and blinded me to the danger. Great balls of fire exploded around me, and my squad was decimated before I could act. In frustration, I drew an invisibility potion and quaffed it so that I could better seek my enemies, and perhaps surprise them.
Within seconds, a sturdy dwarf stepped from the treeline and strode toward our camp. His gleaming armor bore the symbol of St. Cuthbert, the lawful god of retribution. He held in his hand a strange rod, and the Falchion of Gruumsh began to throb as soon as I laid my eyes on the dwarf’s weapon. It was this dwarf that I needed to fight, for he was the bearer of some great relic of Cuthbert while I was the avatar of Gruumsh!
I rushed down the road at him, hoping to strike the first blow unseen. But as soon as I drew close, my invisibility faded away. Nonplussed, my great sword met his cudgel and we two champions began to battle.
Yet his challenge was nothing but a ruse. For as we fought, his companions sprung forth from their hiding places, ruining our epic contest. A spry, robed human rushed from the campsite where he had been secretly slaughtering my remaining soldiers. He was quickly joined by a sneaky half-man, and the two of them jumped into flanking positions around me. From the woods an elf emerged, cracking a whip and grinning foully. And from some distant hiding spot, so far that I could barely hear his spells being cast, a wizard threw spell after spell at me.
I traded blows with the entire group, growing more sure that I could best them. There were many of them, but they were weak, poorly trained, and unlucky. My strikes dealt much more serious damage than did theirs, and I knew that they could not last forever.
Yet all at once, the tables turned! The robed human, who I had discounted since he bore no weapon and his punches were like those of a child, stepped close to me and threw his arms around me. His grasp was like that of a great serpent, and I struggled against him to no avail. My other opponents used this opportunity to catch me with my defenses down. Before I could try to strike at the man with my falchion, the elf casually whipped it away from my hand! As the man held me ever more tightly, the others brutally stabbed and smashed at me. My struggles were useless, and my life began to slip away.
Mere seconds passed, but those last moments of my life lingered for what seemed like ages. I thought of my home on the plains of Vur, and wished that I had listened to Kronak’s warning. I thought of Gruumsh, how I had failed him, and of the misery that thus awaited me in the afterlife. And I thought of the wicked falchion that had brought me to my death.
My opponents had allowed me to drop to the ground as they continued to assail me, for all knew that I no longer posed any threat. I tried to crawl, but could not. I heard my flesh tear as they stabbed at me, and also heard the snapping of my bones as St. Cuthbert’s accursed minion beat me to death. But the pain had disappeared at the point that one of my assailants severed my spine below my shoulders, so I was strangely disconnected from the matter. My head lay on the ground staring in the direction from which the elf had come, and I saw my sword lying no more than a few handspans away. With all my remaining strength, I forced my arm in its direction and lay but a single, bloody finger upon its hilt.
It was then that I died, and as my soul slipped away, my last sight was that of a second glaring visage appearing on the falchion’s wide guard. I realized then that it was holding me to my promise, and that my death and soul would feed its relentless hunger.
Wish I that this were the last of my story, but alas it is not so. For neither did I receive the blessings or punishments of an afterlife, nor did I pass into oblivion. Instead, I remain trapped inside the falchion, fueling its magic with my very essence. I am aware of my surroundings, to some extent, but am helpless to affect the world around me. No prisoner has ever been subjected to such a cruel prison: eternally trapped, immobile, and yet aware.
My murderers had callously looted my remains and those of my companions before heading down the river aboard a boat they stole from the barricade. The elf, who bore my falchion… who bore me, used a magic spell to take on my very appearance! Aided by this foul ruse, they slipped past the guards at Easton before scuttling the boat above the capital city. There, they journeyed into the woods. The dwarven priest of Cuthbert split with them, taking his relic with him, while the others carried me into the city.
They had some mission there, but I knew not the context of their quest, and it grew more and more difficult for me to retain my consciousness. I believe that I lost spans of time while the party traveled and conversed, and was only roused when there was excitement. At one point, the elf was threatening a human in what appeared to be a dirty kitchen. Once again, he was defiling my image in jest! Soon afterward, I observed the elf talking to a soldier that I recognized from the campaign in the Greendells. The dwarf had apparently been captured and caged outside the city and brought inside, but the elf was able to deceive the poor soldier into handing over the cart.
I considered perhaps that this was to be my fate, catching muddled moments until the end of time without ever again achieving clarity of thought. Yet suddenly I was keenly aware of my surroundings, and felt as if time were passing normally again. The elf, still bearing my sword, was now being confronted by three armed men. One was the man whom he had previously threatened, and the other two looked like burly thugs. I immediately longed to taste their blood, and to slice through their skin, muscle and bone! I screamed to be drawn from my scabbard, but the elf did not meet my demands. Instead, he turned himself invisible and fled while his murderous companions rushed in to fight in his stead. Once he was safe, he joined the fray from afar, snapping at them with the same whip that had disarmed me a lifetime ago.
The battle was lopsided. One of the men fled out of the room, which happened to be a tavern perched on the side of a pier, and jumped into the ocean to flee. My elf, still refusing to bare me, changed into an amphibious beast and hunted him down. After placing the thug’s lifeless body on the floor of the sea, he rejoined his companions to celebrate their victory.
Here I remain; no longer Alor, vaarg of the Plainsweeper clan, I am but a soul trapped within this wicked sword. No gods visit me here, and there is no escape. My only hope now is that someone will see fit to draw me in conflict, so that I can once again feast on the blood of my enemies. As my wielders will fall, let others pick me up, and at least let my eternities have some small worth.