The sun beat down on the ramparts of the mighty stronghold, and the cloudless sky gave a visibility therefrom of hundreds of kilometers. It was an elven stronghold, built by their master artisans and hewn from the very living stone of the mountain itself. It could almost have blended into the gray rock face, but it was not designed to be inconspicuous, it was designed to be imposing and mighty, a pinnacle of rock hanging from the side of the mountain and overlooking the lush valley below. It was a watchful guardian, casting its shadow over the trees and streams, and blocking the mountain road with its great iron gates. None could pass without the permission of the those who held the fort.
But the elves did not hold the fort. They had once: they had built it, maintained it, defended it, and ultimately lost it. But now another force lurked behind its stone walls, ate in its halls and slept in its beds. It had come like a demon in the night, marching into the valley, and come daybreak, the stone fort of Ibistethlin had been besieged.
Of course, this was not any siege. It was an orcish blockade, and few survived those. But this fort was no ordinary fort either: it was Ibistethlin, the shining star of the western front, which held the roads and guarded the pass against enemy intrusion. No siege could lay low the gates of Ibistethlin, not even the ravages of the famed orcish army. Not even such an army under the most skilled commander would have broken such a siege.
And indeed, the siege was not broken. The fort was surrendered, the elves and scant human healers within taken prisoner and locked away in the dungeons, and the orcs admitted into the courtyards that had never seen their pale green visages before. It was a glorious day for the orcish army, for this battalion and for all of the nation. And yet it seemed almost hollow, for they has stormed the keep, or even starved its defenders from the walls, but they had been invited in by a surrender, the gates thrown open and the elves submissively capitulating. It was vaguely unsatisfying.
But soon this vague feeling of unrest faded away, giving way to the accolades which went along with the capture of such an important fortress.
The siege had been anticipated to last many moths, and thus the conquerors had the opportunity to avail themselves of the difference in time for recreation and relaxation from the continuing campaign. It was a welcome change, and would no doubt benefit the battalion as a whole once they were all rested and prepared once more to march on. But there were several months still in which they could merely laze about, or go wandering, or whatever they pleased. And this sort of freedom was both rare and valuable in the orcish armies.
The summer months were just beginning as the orcish inhabiters set up camp within the fort. The officers commandeered the rooms in the fort, leaving the infantrymen and other such soldiers to fend for themselves in the courtyards, halls, and numerous other commons of the stronghold. There was more than enough room for all, although in a some cases space was a bit tight. But many orcs elected to take vacation from the rest during this time, leaving an abundance of space and allowing everyone to enjoy their stay far more.
There was quite enough food in the fort itself, and the supply lines soon caught up with the army, and with that the set up was complete. They received shipments of food every two weeks or so, which would keep them quite sated throughout the lazy days of the summer. The elvish armies were detained on the other side of the county, fighting lycin invasions (rather unsuccessfully) and there were enough lycin nearby that the elves would surely find in them a more dangerous enemy to attack. So there was no anticipation of any attack on the captured fort.
The prisoners were by and large treated fairly well (for prisoners)--they were fed reasonably often, not maltreated (well, not as much as usual, perhaps) and in general left to their own devices. The gaolmasters' staff was greatly reduced, thereby freeing more orcs up to depart from the fort.
In the end, of the thirty-thousand men in the battalion which had entered the fort, perhaps only half, about fifteen-thousand were left after a few weeks; the rest would return at the end of the summer. But the fort was quiet and lazy, and those therein were most definitively on vacation.
Of course, for those normally accustomed to the ride of command and the ongoing sense of accomplishment of war, the enforced sabbatical over the long summer months was nothing short of a disaster. Nevertheless, troop morale was not something to be scoffed at nor taken lightly, and those who might otherwise have protested the commander's decision to stay the summer wisely kept their mouths shut.
However, few could--or would--guess that the commander who had so resolutely stood when giving those orders wanted to be moving on as ardently as the next orc. But he had not acted rashly, insensibly, or even from a desire to raise troop morale, as so many others had supposed. He knew what few else did: that the lycin-elvish conflict was escalating.
The orcish campaign was both simple and deadly: to sweep around both the east and west sides of the elvish holdings in the Duranon Vales and Owynne, and then swiftly press in fro either side, dividing the elvish defense forces and crushing any resistance. It had worked in the past, for whatever strategical or magical benefits the elves might have had, the orcs had what ultimately won the day: sheer force of numbers. Other troops might have been better trained or better equipped, but when there were five orcs bearing down on you, it did not matter how many swords you had. More to the point, orcs were sturdy, powerful killing machines. They could fight with a hand or foot forcibly amputated, and without weapons they were nearly as deadly as with. So, although orcs certainly had their disadvantages as an armed force, they were by no means an army to be discounted lightly.
So the plan had seemed sure to work: unless the elves devoted huge portions of their own defense force to the keeping of the Vales, and no one had any reasonable anticipation of that. The elves needed to keep at least a modicum of armed presence elsewhere in their lands, lest other races seize on the total lack of defense and pour in. No, certainly the orcs would be able to seize the northern lands, and, ore importantly, the gateway fortress of Ibistethlin.
Now, the fort had been seized, but the northern lands remained unwon and unoccupied by orcish armies. The simple plan of the orcish strategists had been rudely derailed by the appearance of a presence unanticipated in the planning. The lycin, who had for long (in retrospect, far too long)
festered quietly in the taiga and mountains of their lands, suddenly swarmed down from them and into the richly populated agricultural breadbasket of the Owynne Basin and the Bootstrap Plains beyond. Beyond that, they had not yet advanced, nor were they anticipated to. However, this surprise assault had thrown the eastern front into disarray. Before the orcish forces could even arrive, the area had been overrun by lycin, who were apparently quite adept at eliminating resistance and taking the elvish fortresses alike. The orcs had for long had a tacit armistice with the lycin, simply because neither side ever had had any particular grievance with the other. But now the orcs found themselves in the unenviable position of being in competition with the lycin for lands. But rather than risk aggression with the lycin, the eastern front had pulled back, leaving the western battalion of to press forward and complete their goal: the seizure of Ibistethlin.
Which had been accomplished. But the plans beyond that were predicated upon the possession of all of the northern lands, so that the back of the advancing front would be protected against attack. From the Duranon Vales the western battalion was to press southward into the Heliaspan Delta at the mouth of the 'Elia river, and to take possession of this rich agricultural lands, well defensible if both Ibistethlin and the eastern plateau of Patak rising southward of the Owynne Basin were held. But without the eastern armies moving town to take the plateau, the delta was unassailable, as armies of defense could come down from the high ground of the tablelands and crush the orcs against the sea. It would be disastrous to press forward until Patak was in their hands. And it was not, nor did there seem to be any chance of it happening so long as the lycin were in the way.
Of course, there was no use in attacking the lycin either, or trying to march through their lands. As much as they had informally at peace for many many years, neither side would have any compunction about responding to aggression in the most decisive of ways. And it would be futile to try to fight a battle on two fronts with both the lycin and the elves. So there was nothing to do except sit in the fort and hope that somehow the eastern battalion would manage to mind a different route to Patak--although that seemed near impossible, given the sheer faces of the mountains to its leeward (east) side. So even though this sabbatical was now only scheduled to continue through the summer, the commander and various other high-ranking officials knew that it would very likely last much longer.
Commander Rajenique stood firmly under the noonday sun, arms clasped stiffly behind him. The sun was high above as he stood on the edges of the parapet, gazing down over the valley below. His armor (polished as always) glowed golden in sun, scattering a million tiny reflections of light all around.
He stood proud and strong, and he knew that the fort was his, and reveled in it. The fort was powerful, holding the pass, overlooking the lush green valley below. A river ran beneath the fort, and cascaded from the rock ledge on which the keep sat down a white-frothed face of stone and into a pool far below. He could see the misty fog leaping into the air where the water splashed against the rocks or poured into pool. The whole bottom of the valley wallowed in the omnipresent fog, white and milky, swirling all around and obscuring the ground beneath, billowing in waves down the valley and dispersing at the end where the wind seized it and dashed it all about in its rough clutches.
Ibistethlin. Named for (as he was told) the foggy valley it overlooked, called the Tower in the Clouds in the Elvish. He was normally not one to appreciate such distinctions of language and nomenclature, but somehow, staring down from the lofty heights of the tallest tower of the keep, he almost felt as though he were floating in the clouds, looking down through them to the valley below, to the ground far below. It was well-named. It connoted a sense of grandeur and majesty, of power and exaltation. The orcs would not rename it, as they did so many of their other conquests. It would be translated into the Piruto and left as that. Fyrrekarr it would be called, then, once the orcs had left it behind another prize of the war.
But as much as he disliked the elvish names, he found himself inescapably drawn to that of the fort. It was somehow tied up with the fort itself, connected in some way that he could not fathom. Perhaps, for once, the name would not even be translated. Ibistethlin. It was the right name.
Such thoughts might be considered almost heretical. It was dogmatic that all elvish things must be perverted or changed to destroy their original nature. Some would claim it was strategical reasons: to dishearten their enemy, to make the newly captured citadels fully orcish. But in reality, this custom dated back far longer than anyone could remember. It was as old as their antagonism with elves, which any theologian would quickly remind one stretched back to the creation of the world and the races thereon. The elves were unmitigatedly evil; they were a blot on the face of the earth and needed to be removed. None could truly object to this estimation, for the elves were a stain, something which had no use but to sully the quality of the globe. The orcs had historically fought with many other races and nations, but none were so completely antithetical to the precepts of freedom and decency as the elves. The elves did not deserve to live, and the earth must be cleansed of them entirely. It was a gift to all the nations of the world, to remove this blight from among them.
It was almost a jihad, a holy war against that which was evil. No one had called it; it had gone on for all of eternity, for the elves had been for all eternity. And they would eventually be destroyed. Ever orc in every generation knew of their evil, and every orc did his part to annihilate it.
But it was a great task, for ancient evils such as the elves were not easily uprooted. They had many arms, many allies, many assets and gifts from dark powers that they would not hesitate to use against the crusading orc armies.
All that was elvish along the way must be destroyed. But forts were too valuable to demolished and rebuilt, so they were merely renamed to symbolize their capture and conversion from the elves' use to the orcs'. It was among the most sacred of doctrines that a fort such as this be made orcish. It could not remain Ibistethlin, of course. That was just wishful thinking.
But perhaps he could imagine it that way--as a castle in the flight mists of the vale, standing above the flighty whims of orcs and elves below. If only he could stand gazing out over the mundanity of the world forever!
But the sun crescendoed and shone its brightest, then began to sink and drop below the far distant horizon. The air grew cold and hard, the mists shone red and yellow in light of the setting sun, and began to seep away under the influence of the rising night. The tower still stood tall in the darkness, but the mists were invisible, gone from below him. He could hear the roaring of the waterfall, could feel the faint moisture on his dappled skin, but the sight was gone. What ken he had gained from his lofty perch was stolen by the encroaching night.
He stood long staring into the darkness, trying to see the mists. But they were not there for him, and finally he stepped down from the parapet and began to walk down the long staircase, back down into the depths of the fort.
The orcish fort.
If only to rid himself of the virtually sacrilegious thoughts of the night before, the commander slept late the next morning. It was not his practice to indulge in such things, even during vacation, but he thought that perhaps his temporary weakness was due to a lack of sleep and frustration of the orcs' designs on conquest. Anyone could suffer a momentary failing; it was only how one dealt with it that mattered. And he would deal with it. There was much time ahead of him, in which his mind might go astray, and he was determined not to allow that to happen. It would not. The tall tower from whim he had spied something... something wrong, he would not visit again.
It would be boarded up. No one would venture there, not he nor anyone else.
It was dangerous. This entire fort was dangerous, suffused with the stuff of elves and their demons. It would pervert his being; it would take from him his purity.
Not that he believed in such stuff. There were many who did, many powerful and great who did, and but they were not he, and had never infused in him a connection with the true scales of the world. He was alone, unwatched by any judge and unprotected by any supernatural aegis. He was alone, and he liked it that way. If he were to be watched, then that would make him subservient to the watcher, under this watcher's control. And he was under no control but his own. And that was the way he liked it.
But there was definitely something to be said for keeping away from such things as might make him unduly sympathetic to the enemy. And in the interest of prudence, he thought it best to avoid such things. If only he could simply leave the fort behind and march on, march on and crush the elves. That had been the plan.
He had sent communiques back to the last strategic post asking for new orders, hoping that he would be instructed to move on and carry out the original battle plan. That the orcs had triumphantly found some way to move into Patak without disturbing the lycin. That the command had decided even that Patak was not necessary. Even then he would not want to wait, he would move straight-away out. This fortress was not healthy for him. It was confining and unorcish.
But there was little to be done. He, certainly, could not take a vacation;
he would spend the summer here within these same stone walls and perhaps in the valley below. But he did not like the feeling of the mist any more, and did not relish the thought of venturing out into the billowing droves of it that floated serenely in the valley below...
He put the image firmly from his head. He did not need them tormenting him all day. Perhaps he would take another look around the fort later; see if there was anything he had missed. It would kill another day. And then there would be another, and another, and another... they would go on and on.
There was nothing. Nothing in this accursed place. He wanted to do something, to go somewhere. But it was not to be.
Angrily rising from bed, he nearly made it to the door before remembering to put clothes and armor on. In an exceptionally foul mood, he stormed out of the room to begin what would undoubtedly be one of the worst summers of his life.
* * *
Within a few minutes, the omnipresent Guerru had found him. How he managed to do so, Rajenique could not fathom. Guerru, clad as usual in his forest green coat, lumbered down the hall to find him staring out one of the narrow windows at the precipitous drop below.
"Sir," said Guerru as he approached from Rajenique's right flank, if only to signal his approach.
"Yes, Fifth?" Rajenique sounded almost as irritable as he felt, and Guerru flinched slightly.
"Warcaptain Mirkhath sent me to find you," replied Guerru quickly. "It seems that we've received word of a party of lycin coming to the fort."
"Lycin?" asked Rajenique, turning around abruptly. "From Langerhans or from elsewhere?"
"Although I do not know for certain," said the adjutant carefully, "I seem to recall that Mirkhath did say something about Langerhans." Rajenique scowled.
"Do you know when they are supposed to arrive?"
"I believe sometime tonight. However, you would no doubt be better served by speaking with the warcaptain himself."
"So noted," said Rajenique brusquely. He had no intentions of getting into any discussion with Mirkhath over the possible implications of the lycin delegation. They would come, he would deal with them, and they would be sent on their way once more. It was quite simple. There was a short pause as Guerru waited for further information, and Rajenique finally said:
"Why don't you go and find the warcaptain and tell him that I will personally deal with the delegation of lycin. He needn't worry any further about it." Guerru nodded curtly and hurried off in the opposite direction down the hall. Sighing, Rajenique quickly headed in the opposite direction, hoping to get away from Guerru for at least a short while. It wasn't as though Guerru wasn't a perfectly amiable sort of orc to be around... it was just... whatever. Familiarity breeds contempt. And at the moment Rajenique had quite enough contempt for life to go around.
He wandered aimlessly for a short while down the all-but-deserted halls, earning a quick nod when he passed the other officers whose quarters were on this level. The hall turned this way and that, here rising, here descending. Finally, he came to a stout wooden door, which opened to reveal a flight of stairs going down. Still without any particular purpose in mind, he walked thoughtfully down the stone steps as they wound around the central post. A few other wooden doors passed by, but he paid no attention to them. He was lost in thought about his musings before, on the tower, which he could not seem to put from his mind, no matter how hard he tried to think of something else. He didn't like such questions, but his mind posed them anyhow, and it was getting increasingly difficult to ignore them.
Still, for the time being, he was simply not going to deal with it.
He was halted abruptly by a wooden door, only here the stairs descended no further. He pushed open the door, which creaking loudly as he did so. The hallways beyond was dark and lamplit, clearly belowground by the fetid breath of air which wafted through the dark portal. But this passage was as good as any, and he pressed through, arms clasped tightly behind his back, eyes darting back and forth to see what day beyond.
Only more passage, apparently, it was dark and rocky, and poorly hewn:
uncommon for elven fortresses, and all the more so for such a one as Ibistethlin (Fyrrekarr!). In any case, it was odd, especially seeing as how the hall was dimly lighted despite the absence of any torches of any other thing which might have shed the light. It simply seemed to suffuse the hall, radiating from the air itself. His boots clicked imperiously on the crooked flagstones as he proceeded down the hall, though which way he was actually heading he did not know. Wooden doors passed by in on both sides now, but he showed no particular interest in them. This was a part of the fortress which he had not visited before. He knew that all elvish fortresses had extensive tunnel systems below them (he had in fact availed himself of one such system to great advantage) but he had not even begun to guess at the length of tunnels which were hidden beneath the towers of Ibistethlin
A few more turns, many more wooden doors, an suddenly fiery red light burst into the dull yellow glow of the hall. One more corner, and then he emerged into a large, oblong room. Several orcs sat in rickety wooden chairs, playing with something on a table between them, and another trio were chatting in the far corner. Several arches led from the room, one sporting a spiral staircase behinds it, the others apparently leading only to more tunnels. Torch flames danced and leapt in brackets set at regular intervals around the outside of the chamber. For a moment, all was quiet, and then suddenly one of the trio glanced his way and saw him standing silently in the archway by which he had just entered. Springing quickly to his feet, the gaolmaster nodded briskly and asked:
"Sir?" The other four took his signal and stood as well, all five sets of eyes on him. He suddenly felt out of place.
"Nothing. Carry on. I was just taking a quick survey of the lower levels." A few nods, and all sat down once more. There was still an air of tension in the room, and Rajenique departed as quickly as possible by another of the arched exits.
He knew when to make quick exits.
The corridor which he had so hastily chosen seemed, under the critical scrutiny of retrospection, to have not been the best of choices. It was lonely and deserted, small and rocky, the gleam of the infrequent torches
(the soft yellow light was gone, replaced with the harsh glare of red-orange brands) doing little to alleviate the palpable darkness of the seemingly long-neglected passageway. There were many wooden doors similar to the ones that he had passed earlier, but they were dusty and had clearly been left unopened for decades, centuries even. He had no idea how long ago these ancient tunnels were constructed, but he would not have been surprised if this wing had not been used since.
Another fork in the road, and he arbitrarily chose to go right, heading down the passage which was, at least, sloping upwards once more. He did not relish the idea of descending unchecked into the depths of the earth without guide or idea whither he went. Another torch passed by as he slowly ascended, wooden doors still marking the walls. The passage had been continuing in a relatively straight direction for the last little while, and he could see no indications ahead of any turns.
A few minutes later, he had in fact encountered a turn, and seemed now to be heading back roughly in the direction he came, though at somewhat of a diagonal. It seemed to be descending slightly once more, but at this point, Rajenique relished even less the prospect of wandering back the way he came and having to backtrack all the way up to the corridor from which he had begun his intrepid little adventure. So he was determined to see the passage through, at least to its next fork, where perhaps he might take a slightly less monotonous path.
But before another fork manifested itself, the passage itself widened into a small room, lit again by torches. A single orc sat in the single chair in the corner, and water droplets condensed on the high-vaulted ceiling above and drip-dropped in a steady pattern into the puddles below. A couple of other paths led out of the room, but they were dark and uncertain, and he could but scarcely see the light of torches down their length. Returning the way from which he had come was looking increasingly promising.
But before he could do an about face and exit via the same door he had entered, or at last peer down the corridors to the left and right, the orc who had been reclining lazily as he entered sprung to his feet, nodding as curtly as the previous one he had encountered. But this one stayed silent, waiting for the commander to say something.
"At ease," snapped Rajenique, still quite irritated. The orc fumbled to reply, apparently vacillating between sitting down once more and simply standing slightly less formally. He eventually decided on the latter, because his shoulders slumped and his hands unclasped from behind his back.
But he was still silent. From behind him, Rajenique could see a game of bones left half-finished on the table. He strode over, looking past the stranger to the game beyond. The stack was barely touched, and the tableau had scarcely a bone left on it. This player was either very good at bones--or very lucky. And as it seemed hardly sporting to fix a solitaire game, Rajenique was forced to conclude the former. Only a scattering of the blue-tinged bones sat in a small grid at the top of the oblong desk, and the stack was quite numerous enough that they would no doubt be removed in short order as well. The graveyard was well-populated, and the bones were stacked according to color and then ranking. It was a very organized setup. One worthy of himself, in fact, he thought briefly to himself. He was quite the bones enthusiast, and enjoyed tournaments and competitive gaming, But he often found himself practicing in solitaire, like this fellow here, who had no doubt been down here for far too long and needed some pastime. The commander could hardly fault him: being a gaolmaster, despite the material perks, was among the most boring of vocations when it came to stationing in forts. The conditioners were the only ones who ever even had contact with the prisoners, and they were notoriously few. This was probably just a poor soul who had volunteered to be a gaolmaster because it had seemed fun.
Though he was not too young, now that Rajenique looked more closely at him.
He must have been involved in something before service in the battalions.
Rajenique was satisfied.
"Name and rank."
"Gaolmaster eighth rank Herrar," replied the orc, tensing slightly as he was finally addressed.
"Well then, Herrar," said Rajenique glibly. "Care for a game of bones?"
* * *
The first game had been definitively won by Rajenique, and the second as well, and third he had lost--though only after insisting that Herrar not let him win again. The fourth time had ended in a draw as Rajenique's red screamer subdued Herrar's blue spy, and the fifth game (had they really played that many?) was a definitely victory for the gaolmaster, as the red corps of winged hordes swept down to ravage the commander's remaining green selectmen. The sixth game--Rajenique had insisted, to break the tie--was still in progress, though it was looking as though the commander was to emerge victorious.
"I'll advance my yellow and blue infrantrymen to your sappers," said Rajenique, grinning. "They are taken and my wall is left intact." Herrar did not look dismayed at all. He darted a hand forward and maneuvered a small bone (it looked like one of those surrounding the eye, or perhaps from the ear) in lovely crimson tones onto another red one.
"While your infantrymen capture my sappers, my red diplomat converts your red spring court. Your yellow infantrymen, brigadiers, and berserkers are mine!" He pushed the named pieces to one side. The commander chewed his lip nervously, then smiled again.
"If my yellow infantrymen defect, then my blue infantrymen unit and cavalry call a breach of honor." He reached out and took the yellow-hued bone that represented the infantrymen. "I am afraid that they are forced to kill themselves in dismay." Herrar grimaced.
"A breach of honor! You must have a orator in court to declare that!" he protested.
"Ah, but I have the masked stranger in your blue court, under the auspices of the poor. He, in fact, is a diplomat in disguise!" Herrar swore, then snatched up the masked stranger.
"I eject him from the court with an official censure. Then, my yellow brigadiers advance your summer court." Rajenique flicked the offending brigadiers to the side.
"My summer court is protected by the cavalier of valor. He smites your brigadiers, and all of your other yellow troops are routed in fear." He removed all of the yellow pieces from the board. Continuing, he said: "Now that your winter court is no longer occupied by your royal archers, I lay siege to it with my blue and green artilleries."
"I advance them with my guerrilla troops." He laid a green bone on the table, neatly across the artillery. "Your artillery is occupied defending against my attack."
"You have violated our treat of ceremonial warfare," intoned Rajenique.
"Your autumn court is dismissed by the enraged king, for violating the terms of its own treaty. Now, I advance my guerrilla troops to yours. They are both annihilated." He removed both bones from the table. "And, without your guerrillas harassing them, my artillery's siege is successful and your winter court is taken."
"Dammit!" said Herrar. But the commander went on:
"Now that I hold both your spring, winter and autumn courts, I execute a hostile rebellion in the summer court with my ousted masked stranger." He laid the bone on the skull fragment that represented the summer court and declared:
"Your courts are all lost and your pieces scattered. You have lost."
"Good game," said Herrar graciously. "That was a clever gambit at the end, with the treat of ceremonial warfare. I haven't seen ever seen anyone use its breaking like that."
"I'm only an amateur boneplayer, " said Rajenique, affecting modesty and failing miserably.
"You play like an expert," said Herrar, although the commander did not know whether the comment was truthful or just sycophantry. Herrar was still standing--of course, the commander had gotten the only seat.
"How long has it been?" asked Rajenique, suddenly realizing how long they had been playing.
"About three hours, I would imagine," said Herrar, thinking for a moment.
"My replacement should be here in a few more hours. It was very pleasant playing bones with you, commander."
"I'm glad that you think so," said Rajenique. Guerru was probably turning the place upside down looking for him. It would be quiet, but by evening everyone would know that Guerru had been looking. But Guerru was an idiot.
Let him look. "I'm really am," he continued quickly, "because now you are going to suck me off."
"Sir?" asked Herrar.
"You heard me, eighth."
"But, sir," stammered the gaolmaster. "That's, that's--"
"Immoral? Certainly. but this won't be the first time that you've done something immoral, will it?"
"I've never done anything like that before, sir, no," said Herrar.
"Think, eighth, think! Anything immoral! You mean to tell me that you have never done anything immoral in your entire life?"
"I don't recall anything, sir."
"Then you have not lived. I'm educating you."
"Stop being so disagreeable, man!" said Enriko. "Haven't you ever wondered, at least?"
"No, not really."
"Then I suggest you start wondering very quickly." Enriko reached down and his hand slipped under the hem of his chain skirt, clinking slightly as he fumbled underneath. In a moment, there was a loud snapping sound, and then a metallic clank as the huge jockstrap fell to the ground. It rolled across the floor and came to rest against the wall just adjacent. Herrar's eyes followed it nervously, as he stared at it as it rested complacently against the ancient stone tiling. There was a faint glint on it, where dark precum had leaked onto its rough interior. It caught the firelight, and made the slimy coating seem almost like blood.
"Eighth, your attention please." Herrar jerked his head back suddenly, and saw that Enriko was staring at him with a smile across his wide lips. But the cock was still thankfully not visible.
"Since you have never sucked anyone off before, I will not expect much from you. However, there are two things which you must remember. One, the penis is a very delicate organ, so be very careful not to bite down. Second, the more tongue, the better." He looked away briefly, and then back. "I think that's just about it. On your knees, eighth." Herrar hesitated for a moment, and Enriko leaned forward, shoving his face into the intimidated gaolmaster's.
"That was an order, eighth." Herrar dropped to his knees, still looking up at Enriko's face above. There was a long pause.
"What are you waiting for," asked Enriko finally, "an act of god?"
"What do you want me to do?" asked Herrar warily. He looked rather timorous.
"Put your lips around my cock, and suck it. Now." He kicked the kneeling orc for good measure. Herrar hesitated again for a moment, but realizing that he had little choice in the matter, leaned forward. He could smell Enriko's scent very strongly: no doubt the commander was releasing pheromones by the gallon. Enriko stood very still as Herrar inched up to him. Very slowly, Herrar lifted the hem of the chain skirt, and the linen vestments underneath. It was dim, but even in that light, Herrar could now clearly se Enriko's cock, hanging limply, free of the loincloth which hung from one side of his hip, carefully tied to insure that it did not fall.
Herrar stuck his head forward, and now it was beneath the folds of the skirt. He could feel the pressure of the tiny chain links on his head, and of the heavy linen cloth pressing down on his bare head. The dark penis hung right before him now, quivering slightly in the darkness. Closing his eyes, Herrar darted his head forward, opened his mouth, and took the organ into it.
It was easy to fit the seventeen centimeters or so of the soft member into his mouth. He could feel it resting on his long tongue, and it flopped to the side as he moved the tongue to free it. Hesitantly, he moved his tongue along its length, feeling the tiny spines prick it ever so gently as it slid past. He did this a few times, but very tentatively, afraid to touch the member too roughly.
"Hard!" said Enriko suddenly, growling. "Suck it, don't clean it!" Herrar tried to do as the commander wished, but he did not quite understand the idea of sucking. The commander swore and snarled again, and Herrar tried once more.
Within ten minutes, Herrar had finally gotten used to what was expected of him. His pursed lips slid cleanly and easily over the saliva-slick length of the cock, and his tongue slipped around it and massaged it roughly in the mouth. He ran it by his serrated cuspids and carnassials, feeling the commander shudder and moan under the onslaught. Slowly, the cock grew in his mouth.
The commander shuddered and grabbed the kneeling Herrar by the back, hoisting him off the ground with a great grunt of exertion. Still sucking hard, Herrar was lifted briefly through the air, and then suddenly he heard a tingling of bones as he was thrown down onto the table which had so recently been used to play. Out of the corner of his vision, he could see pieces falling to the floor, and lumps under his back told him that there were still pieces on the table. The set would be ruined; but it wasn't a very valuable set in any case. The commander, still standing, quickly launched himself onto the table, straddling the supine gaolmaster, and reinserted his cock between Herrar's waiting lips.
He could not longer fit all of it in; it had grown to nearly thirty centimeters. His tongue darted in an out of his mouth, wetting the part that did not penetrate, and he continued to slide back and forth on the member. Enriko moaned once more, and then he felt heavy hands at his back.
The penis swelled more, and he could feel the bulb of it tickling the roof of his mouth; the foreskin was pulled back entirely to expose the huge red head. Ten centimeters hung out of his mouth, exposed to the cold air of the dungeon. Enriko growled and suddenly the hands at is back pushed him in, and he felt the monstrous cock sliding further in, past the roof of his mouth and into the throat beyond. He began to gag, but the hands at his back did not allow him to move back. All thirty centimeters were in his mouth now, much of it in his throat. He could scarcely breathe around the gargantuan member, but he managed, and slowly the gag reflex abated. He did his best to move his mouth around the cock, but it was difficult with his mouth so full.
The cock was at complete erection, stiff and huge and long, and Enriko groaned in ecstasy as he felt the familiar surge of power in his loins. A moment later, his cock spasmed, and Herrar felt a burningly hot liquid flowing down his throat. He could not taste it; it was being ejaculated into the throat itself, but he could feel its warmth sliding down his esophagus. It was an almost pleasant feeling, and Enriko gripped him even harder now, thrusting his cock down the gaolmaster's throat.
And then suddenly there a million tiny pinpricks of pain. Herrar felt the spines on the cock rising inside him, all poking into the flesh. He could not speak, could not yell, as he felt them dig into the tender flesh of his throat. He was being pressed down onto the table, held down by the commander, as the red-hot needles dug into his flesh. He could still feel the cock spasming and ejecting semen into his throat, but now all that mattered was the burning pain, the pain which swelled before him. It was like a blanket; his throat burned, he could not get any air. White dots swam before his eyes, and from far away, as if infinitely distant, he heard a voice.
"Time to go now. Thanks for playing with me. And remember: we've all done something immoral, haven't we?" Then the pain multiplied; he could vaguely feel the needles ascending, ripping and rending the flesh of his throat. There was an explosive popping sound, and a rushing of air, but he still could not breath. He could scarcely feel the pain any more now, and he could not see at all, for all there was was whiteness, whiteness spreading all around him, and his head briefly spiked with pain one last time, and then there was nothing...
Enriko stood back for a few minutes, making sure that Herrar was dead. It was not too difficult to figure out, seeing as how there was a gaping hole in the gaolmaster's throat where the orc's spines had ripped it open, but Enriko was not in any great hurry. He retrieved the jockstrap from the wall, carefully stashing it in his suit of armor, and tucking his still-erect cock into his loincloth. Blood was pooling on the table now, and dripping onto the floor. He smoothed out his linens and made sure that his chain skirt was in good order, then walked back to the body.
Herrar's eyes stared straight up, looking at nothingness. The table was quite smeared in blood, as was Enriko's cock (although that evidence was carefully tucked away). He thought for a moment as to what to do with the body, and quickly came to a conclusion. Snatching up one of the torches from its wall bracket, he touched it for a short while to the body, which yielded to crackling flames with great reticence, as if reluctant to leave the mortal coil. But slowly the red flames crept up its length, and soon smoke filled the room, along with the sickening nidor of burning flesh. He waited a short while, until the body was mostly consumed, and then he ran off down the hall from which he had come, hurrying off to report the tragedy of the loyal gaolmaster's death to the guards in the last chamber. Behind him the fire raged for a short while longer and slowly died, leaving behind the charred remains of the bones and a few blackened remnants of the game of bones which the two had so recently been playing. The blood was caked onto the table, so much so that one could scarcely see the single piece to escape the fire's ravages, buried under a thick layer of blood.
The red commander.
* * *
By midafternoon, Rajenique had finished going over the scene of the incident with the coterie of guards that he had acquired the moment that he had mentioned the mishap. There was very little left by the time they all returned to the room, just some smoldering bones and the congealed blood all over the table and on the floor. It was not a pretty sight, though it was far better than many of the things which the average orc infantryman sees in his career. What was more arresting was the sheer enigmatic nature of the scene. How, reasoned the bystanders, could this poor soul possibly have been both so grievously injured to have let loose the amount of blood which caked the table, and then have been utterly incinerated by fire. It seemed almost too terrible.
Rajenique's armor, of course, was streaked with blood, but he explained that he had tried to pull the burning orc away, only to find that his throat had already been slit. How had the throat been slit? Rajenique did not know. Perhaps a prisoner had escaped?
This idea sent tremors running through the entirety of the gaolmaster's crew, and every available gaolmaster in the fort was mobilized to do a complete search of the tunnels and account for the whereabouts of every prisoner. Each person was catalogued and their cell marked down, so that future escapes would be impossible. When, by midafternoon, no prisoner had materialized, Rajenique imperiously decreed that "he must have escaped from the fort," and laid the blame at the foot of the gaolmaster first, who sent the fault down the line of subordinates, until it was scarcely recognizable who, if anyone, had in fact done anything wrong. The actual fault in the incident was sufficiently diluted that no one (at least by official standards) had done anything wrong, but everyone was sufficiently embarrassed at one of their own having been killed by an escaping prisoner that no one wanted to revisit the matter.
And, of course, no one would ever think that the commander had actually been involved. In fact, had he not been dutifully conducting a survey of the underground passages, the body might not have been found until the end of the day when the watch changed. Others asked why gaolmaster eight rank Herrar had even been assigned to the deserted junction in the first place--especially alone. Clearly, replied their opponents, it was an important intersection, for it had been in the path of an escaping prisoner.
It was correct to have orcs stationed at every turn; the fault was in that only one guard had been stationed there. Administration declared that so many orcs had been granted leave that there were not enough to comprise the normal duty pairs, and at this most feel silent lest their leave be revoked.
And Rajenique said that the gaolmaster first rank should have done a better job, no matter how few people he had. The gaolmaster, already mortified by the incident, only mumbled some sort of apology, and then launched into a tirade about how he needed more people. The commander promised to look into the matter personally to see if leaves could be shortened, and the gaolmaster stormed off, dissatisfied and ready to cast about his anger everywhere. Virtually everyone in the fort was affected by the incident.
Of course, no one autopsied the body either. It was clearly dead, and the commander said that he had had his throat slit, and the body had clearly been burned. It wasn't as though there was foul play involved. Moreover, the commander had demanded that a heroes funeral be arranged posthaste, to commemorate the loyal solider who had given his life in the line of duty.
Certainly, thought Rajenique silently as he watched the funeral in the courtyard, noting was more revered than dying in the line of duty. He had given to Herrar what he would never have secured himself: honor. While many perhaps speculated about how he had been taken off guard, none could deny him the respect that was due his fallen self. Perhaps he had done the man a favor. Perhaps not. At any rate, what was past was past now, and there was little else to do but watch the bones slowly wither under the influence of the dark glamour which consumed them. No one would forget Herrar now; he had become a piece of history. His name would not be mentioned in the account of the taking of the fort, but every orc stationed there would remember him.
Perhaps he had done the gaolmaster eighth a favor after all.
Guerru, of course, had found the commander directly after he had reported the incident. Mirkhath descended to look into it, and Guerru ran back and forth between them, relaying messages. By the time the funeral was over and Rajenique had returned to his rooms, Guerru was exhausted, and a pale semblance of his former self. Rajenique was pleased at the change.
"Commander," puffed Guerru as he finally stumbled into the room. "The warcaptain says that everything is fine down with the gaolmaster, and you need not worry."
"Good," said Rajenique. "Anything else?"
"Not from warcaptain Mirkhath, sir. However, there are several other things--"
"You said that you would schedule an appointment with the conscriptmaster, to discuss the possible shortening of leaves. I would suggest perhaps tomorrow at--"
"Not important. Schedule it sometime next week. Next?" Guerru scribbled something, and the commander lay down on the heavily quilted bed. It was twilight already, and getting cold. The blood smeared all around his loins was dried and congealed, and very unpleasant to feel. He wanted to wash and change, and sleep.
"You were supposed to receive a brief from informations today, but with the funeral and all, everyone was a bit too busy. When..."
"Next week," muttered Rajenique.
"As I understand it, this material is supposed to be fairly important,"
said Guerru quickly.
"When can Warcaptain second Dhermik meet?"
"Tomorrow would be good," said Guerru.
"Fine," growled the commander.
"Then there's the matter of pay: you need to decide what to do with the pay for those orcs on extended leave."
"I'll discuss it with the conscriptmaster when I meet with him..." Guerru opened his mouth. "...next week." Guerru nodded and scribbled something else down on the dog-eared pad of papers.
"Is there anything else?" asked Rajenique after a long silence.
"Just one more thing," said Guerru. "According to current reports"--he shuffled through a mass of papers tied to the ratty pad--"the lycin delegation should be hear within the hour. Where do you want to meet with them?" The commander groaned. He had completely forgotten about that.
"Do I have to meet with them? Couldn't we just send someone else?"
"You told the warcaptain this morning that you would deal with it yourself."
"Can't I change my mind?"
"I could go down and tell the warcaptain that he needs to deal with it after all, but I doubt that he would be pleased, and I think that in this case--"
"All right, I understand. Within the hour?"
"They've been sighted at the base of the valley. They'll probably be here in far less than that." Rajenique did a quick calculation in his head. He wouldn't even have time to change. Perhaps...
"Perhaps they wouldn't mind waiting?" he asked aloud, almost rhetorically.
"I don't think it's a good idea to keep lycin waiting, commander, if I may say so. We're not on the best of terms with them, and they have been known to become... agitated easily."
"I see." The commander's voice was flat and dangerously quiet. "Perhaps you could entertain them for a short while, fifth."
"With all due respect, sir, I would not want to put in the position of explaining to them why they are only meeting with a pitiful ombudsman."
Rajenique nodded thoughtfully.
"Do you know if there are any higher-ranking officers available? First or seconds?" Guerru did not even shuffle through his voluminous load of documents.
"The warcaptain and the gaolmaster I know are both indisposed. The conscriptmaster could conceivably be roused, but I doubt he would prove to be a good receptionist. Warcaptains second Dhermik and Anatolle are both negotiating as we speak with the gaolmasters seconds as well, trying to resolve the shortage of personnel. Warcaptain second Matok and Drillmaster first Orethu are on leave, and Drillmaster second Jedrak was sent with the last embassy back to Command to speak on your behalf. If you recall."
"There isn't a single high-ranking officer available except for me?" asked Rajenique incredulously.
"You run a tight fort, sir." Guerru restrained the urge to smile. The commander only growled irritably. "You'll probably want to leave soon in order to greet them when they arrive, commander."
"Yes, I probably will." Rajenique was seething. "Get out; I need to recollect myself before I go downstairs."
"Absolutely, sir." Guerru walked quickly out of the door, and waited until he was nearly all the way down the hall outside before bursting into sudden laughter.
By his calculation, he had about five minutes before he would have to leave.
No time at all really. It had been a rather hectic day. No doubt the next day would be better. Hadn't he just been wishing for a more active schedule? Less recreation, more action? It just went to show that getting what you wish for won't always satisfy.
He fished about in the pile of laundry in the corner, looking for something he had dropped there the other day. He kept on meaning to call for someone to take away the sullied clothes and wash them, but there had been so many things to distract him. So the pile just grew, and his stock of clean linens and the like diminished. Perhaps later tonight he could find someone to do it.
Finally, he found what he was looking for. His ceremonial sword had been haphazardly tossed in the pile the other day as he came back from yet another idle tour around the fort. He had decided to carry a real sword, if only because the thought of dragging around the gem-encrusted one just irked him. It seemed a bit too ostentatious, silly. Wearing the armor was bad enough; he didn't need to carry around a sword which probably was worth more than his own sorry hide.
But now, for a delicate diplomatic situation, he decided that ostentation was perfectly acceptable. Besides, the lycin didn't even use swords, so they wouldn't care one way or the other. Rather savage things, when one thought about it. Then again, no one really knew all that much about lycin civilization: people didn't exactly go on pleasure trips into their lands.
People who did go did not return. This tended to dissuade more from following that path.
Formal contact had not been established with the lycin for over a decade;
likely his visit to their fort on the way to Ibistethlin had been the first contact since. And now a delegation! It was rather strange, seeing as how no formal overtures had been all that time. Perhaps the newly launches offensives of both the orcs and lycin had convinces the latter than it was in their best interest to coordinate with the orcs. Perhaps... perhaps the lycin could even be convinced to allow the orcish army to march (quickly!)
through their territory so that the campaign could be continued. Suddenly, the meeting took on a far greater importance than merely seeing a few lycin.
This was an opportunity to forward the entire war effort! It was conceivable that he could remove the impasse which had so stymied Command and his counterpart on the eastern front. He could single-handedly solve the entire problem that had arisen. How clever that would make him look!
He would be acclaimed as the one who had won the war, the one who had brought to bear the full force of the orcish horde against the elves! All pretense of sympathy with the plight of the beleaguered elves fell away at the thought of leading the charge which firmly trounced them. Whosoever might lead the charge against that great enemy would gain adulation and praise from all sides. And he might now lead that charge, he might if he were to solve the problem. Command would certainly allow him to move onward, so press forward, down and into the delta. He would be the one to lead the attacks on the pitiful elvish tons of the fertile lands, and he could crush their defenses, take them all prisoner, and march they and their misbegotten treasures back to the homeland. He would! He would!
With visions of grandeur dancing wildly in his head, Rajenique exited the room, shutting the door firmly behind him.
* * *
The commander strode down into the gateroom, still caught in his dreams of glory. But quickly, his attention returned to reality, where all five members of the staff of the gateroom were quite busy.
The keep of Ibistethlin had a great many defensive features, but one were as devastating to the attacking army as the sheer face of the cliff which dropped down directly before the rocky walls. There was no path winding up this face, and no apparent way to gain access to the wall above, which indeed did not even have a gate in it, to allow access even if one were to breach the cliff face safely. It was a truly unassailable setup, with one minor problem: if one indeed wished to admit a visitor, then how did one enter the fort?
The secret was buried in the cliff itself. A massive shaft had been bored in the very rock of the cliff, descending the fifty meters down the ground below. It was smooth on the sides, and perfectly straight: how this had been accomplished none knew. But it was essential to its proper functioning, for hanging in the shaft was a wide platform of sturdy wood, completely filling the shaft. It was suspended by eight braided ropes, all of which snaked up the dark tube to the gateroom far above. By means of a complicated system of winches and gears, the ropes could be lowered or raised in unison, thus lowering or raising the platform correspondingly. It could not move very quickly, for the platform was unstable, and quick movements might upset whomever was on it. It took about two minutes to get from top to bottom or visa versa, which was singularly annoying, alleviated only by the fact that it was rare that anyone actually needed to leave the fort from the valley side. When they had first taken the fort, though, the elevator had been in use twenty-four hours a day for four days before the entire battalion could slowly be raised, even accounting for those who had departed immediately on leave. It was an unwieldy apparatus, but it presented the most effective defensive mechanism which any of the orcish conquerors had even seen.
But it required a great deal of work to operate properly. Even as he watched, the five orcs darted from levers on one side of the room to the other. The gears in the ceiling turned and stopped, turned and stopped again, ropes twisted and moved through pulleys and wheels, crankshafts and winches moved to and fro and levers were thrown, wheels rotated, and pistons thrown. It was a constant cacophony of action, and this was only to cause the lift to descend. When it was coming up, the process was even more detailed, as the apparatus had to support the entire weight of the occupants of the lift besides merely raising it. On the way down, gravity was an ally; on the way up, an enemy.
Rajenique stood for a minute, waiting for the lift to reach bottom. All of the soldiers in the room were grunts; this duty was among the most distasteful and excruciating. No doubt everyone here had fallen on the wrong side of some low-ranking superior, who had spitefully assigned them here. It was rare for there to be a shortage of such misfits, and so the gateroom was generally populated by the dregs of orcish society.
"Is the delegation here?"
"They're just coming up the end of the valley now, sir. We're sending down the lift to greet them." The one who answered was no less in command than any of the rest, but had merely taken the initiative to answer the commander's question before anyone else. Still, the commander liked initiative.
"Name and rank, soldier, and CO," demanded Rajenique.
"Infantryman fourth Ruhambra, under the direct command of Warcaptain sixth Salis. Sir." Although the infantryman did not stand at attention, he had god reason not to, for he was speaking as he tightened a massive gearlock.
Finishing this, he dashed over the master levers for speed control and adjusted them downward.
"The lift was descending too quickly," he appended of his shoulder to the commander, almost as an afterthought. He was already dashing over to the gear again to unlock it and allow the lift to continue downwards once more.
The commander waited in silence as the five orcs sprinted around the room.
Finally, with a thump that could be heard dimly even there at the top of the passage, the lift hit bottom, and the gears, screws, levels, wheels, and ropes came to a sudden halt, hanging motionless in the air. There was a long pause. Four or five minutes passed, and the gatekeepers availed themselves of the opportunity to sit down in the sparse wooden chairs that were heaped in one corner. Ruhambra remained standing, and looked as though he was going to say something to the commander. But then he turned away, studying one of the gearlocks intently.
After a short while, a bell in the corner of the room began to ring wildly.
The five gatekeepers leaped up and back to the gears. For another minute or two, the commander watched as they repeated the process in reverse, the ropes winching up, the gears turning backwards, and the pulleys straining under the weight of the lift and its occupants. Rajenique stepped out of the door to watch the shaft outside.
After a few minutes, the commander could see the heads of his visitors appearing over the brink, and then the entire lift rose into view. With a ponderous clanking sound, it stopped just at the level of the stone floor, and Rajenique could hear the scrape of the metal bolts that shot out from underneath to secure the lift in place. The delegation had arrived.
* * *
The point man immediately stepped forward as the lift came to a halt, striding toward Rajenique with purpose. The other two, standing just behind, followed dutifully.
"Commander," the leader said. "How good of you to see us on such short notice."
"Jet Pyritt," replied Rajenique genially. "It's good of you to come."
There was a pause, and then the commander continued: "If you'll just follow me, he can all be seated." The three lycin walked just behind him in silence as he led the way down the intricately carved walls of the hall.
There were frescos of great elvish heroes, murals of the legendary tales of folklore, etchings of the sayings and idioms of the most revered of the elvish philosophers. Rajenique made a note to himself to have it stripped.
It was only a very short way to the door that he led them through, a stout oaken affair with iron bands and a small doorknocker in the shape of a lion's head. But Rajenique did not knock; he merely entered.
The room inside was large and capacious, and held a long narrow table down the center. The light from torches set along the sides of the room threw dancing red and orange lights all around, and the wooden chairs seemed to almost gleam in the moving pattern of darkness and light. Rajenique proffered to the chairs, but the jet shrugged and gestured that he would rather stay standing. Rajenique did the same.
"So, why have you come all this way to see us?" asked Rajenique, a little of his own curiosity mixed in with the political question.
"You made quite an impression on use the last time you stopped by our fort, commander. We though it only fair to do the same. And besides, your accommodations are so much more... extravagant." The lycin's eyes swept up to the ceiling, upon which a colorful mural of the elvish court was painted.
Rajenique made another note to himself.
"We didn't design the fort," replied Rajenique. "We just captured it."
"Of course. But we still wanted to pay a visit to our new friends."
Rajenique's ears perked up. New friends?
"We, of course, welcome you to our humble abode... as friends."
"Thank you, commander. That is most gracious."
"I am afraid that I cannot offer you anything to eat. We do, you know, have rather strict rules regarding the treatment of prisoners."
"Yes, I recall such rules," replied the jet. "Really rather barbaric."
"Well, like the fort, I didn't write them," said the commander. "But I still have to follow them."
"I understand all too well. Besides, I have left some foodstuffs below.
We will not be staying the night, and have a long road back to our lands."
"I see," said Rajenique. "In that case, I would not want to detain you any longer than absolutely necessary. Let's get right down to business shall we?"
"Commander, I could not agree more."
The business which the lycin had come about took about three hours to conclude, and by the end of it, Rajenique was feeling very pleased indeed with himself. He had negotiated for a possible advance into the flanks of the lycin-captured elvish territories, and exchange of ambassadors, and broached the possibility of a formal mutual defense treaty. He had probably set forward the orc-lycin relations by centuries. But as the jet had pointed out, they had to begin their journey back that night, and Rajenique did not want to keep them late. So after three hours, he finally declared that he was very satisfied and would look forward to meeting with them in the future. Perhaps, he even mentioned, he could visit them once more next time. The jet seemed in fine spirits, and affirmed that such a visit would be eagerly awaited. It had been a most productive evening. Rajenique offered to accompany them out, and the four of them stood on the lift as it slowly descended down the shaft.
A minute later, the cave at the bottom began to come into view below them, and a moment later, with a loud thumping sound, the bottom of the lift struck bottom and halted. There was a short wait while the platform settled itself, and then the three lycin disembarked. A short way off, in the darkness of the cave, Rajenique could see another lycin waiting, and dimly behind him the commander could see the faint shapes of humanoids--no doubt the foodstuffs to which the jet referred.
"Once more," called Rajenique. "Thank you for this opportunity." He raised one hand and was about to ring the bell, when Pyritt spoke.
"Wait just a moment, please. We have something for you." Rajenique stepped of the lift and walked over to where Pyritt gestured. The lycin in the darkness stepped forward, and Rajenique was surprised to see that he recognized him: it was Kaziji. There was a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, and then Pyritt spoke once more.
"I see that the two of you have already met." He leered evilly at Rajenique, who looked visibly perturbed. "Really, commander, did you honestly think that one of my men would fail to report something like that?"
The orc said nothing. "Do not worry: I'm not here to pass judgment."
"Then why did you come?" asked Rajenique, feeling angry at the lycin suddenly.
"To arrange diplomatic exchange," replied Pyritt briefly. "And that we have accomplished."
"Then why bring him?" growled the orc, gesturing vaguely at Kaziji.
"Because we wanted to show you that you cannot merely fuck our soldiers and get away with it. There are rules, you know." The commander was suddenly aware of the two lycin guards beside him. His mind raced, trying to judge how far it was back to the lift, and whether the bell could be rung and the lift ascend before the lycin could catch him.
"We can do this the easy way, or the hard way. It's your choice."
Rajenique was about to dash, when Pyritt stepped right in front of him, interposing himself between the orc and the lift. "What will it be, commander?" Rajenique only growled in response.
"I had hoped that you would be more civilized about this. But I can see that orcs still have a certain barbarity about them." The two lycin on either side of Rajenique grabbed hold of his arms suddenly. They grip was like an iron vice, and even as he struggled, Rajenique knew that there would be no escape.
"Take him outside," said the jet. Rajenique was dragged along, feet scraping against the floor, by the two brawny guards who held him on either side. Kaziji stepped just behind, next to Pyritt, and two talked quickly in the high-pitched yelps that constituted the old lycin tongue. Rajenique could not understand it, and suffered himself to be dragged along.
In a moment, he saw the great rock gate of the cave pass above him, carved in intricate runes and words. He had never given much though to what it said, but now he looked up at the dark stone arch. He could only see the letters obliquely, but they were darkly etched into the rock, clearly visible even from his perspective. They read: "Welcome, traveler, to Ibistethlin, flighty home of the divine roc. Let all who are friendly to those within these gates pass unhindered and in joy, and let he who is an enemy perish under their rocky gaze." Rajenique swallowed at the words, and made a mental note to himself to remove the etching.
"Here," came Pyritt's voice suddenly. The orc looked down and saw dark earth beneath him, rich and heavy from the tropical rainfall here and the river's touch. The mist was all around, though he could not see it, for it was dark, and his skin was clammy and damp. It was cold. They were on the edges of the great jungle that covered the base of the valley, and the mist was all around hovering in every nook and cranny of the trees.
The two guards suddenly let the orc fall, and he landed on his knees, which grew immediately cold from the wet ground. They still held his arms out, spread-eagled, but now he kneeled toward the forest, staring out the abjectly dark depths of its leafy entanglements. He could hear more speech behind him, and then Pyritt said:
"Prepare him." At once, hands fumbled at his armor, but only for a moment, expertly finding the clasps and unhooking them. Within a moment the great plates of his armor were removed, and dropped haphazardly to the side. The hands returned, only now they tore, and his gray linens fell asunder beneath their claws, the shreds of the garb falling useless to the ground. He was clad now only in loin cloth and boots, and finally the hands retreated, returning to hold his arms. He head footsteps crunching in the dark earth behind him, very soft but ominous. He felt a hand slip beneath the back of his loincloth, and rip it off as surely as his other clothing had been torn.
He could feel the chill wind on his member hanging loosely, shriveled from the cold; his testicles had shrunk and retreated into his body. There was dried blood still smeared all about his loins, and is cock crackled slightly as it swung gently in the wind.
The he felt harsh breath on his back, and a sibilant voice whispered:
"What can I say: I've always wanted to fuck an orc, and I'm glad that it's you, you buggerer." With the hissing condemnation echoing in his ears, he felt a sudden pressure at his ass. Just like every orc, he had a small asshole, and the bulb which pressed up against it was clearly too large.
But, he knew already that would not stop this retribution. There was a long pause, during which the only sound that could be heard was the whistling of the wind, and then the cock surged into the hole.
Enriko had known pain before, pain greater than most men or orcs would ever feel, but this pain, this most exquisite pain was somehow greater than anything he had experienced before. It was ripping out is insides, tearing at the sides, bloodying the hole already. There was no resistance from him;
he knew better than that, and the lycin behind him was too powerful in any case. He could feel the power in the furry body which pressed against him, feel it in the cock, feel it in the very words which has been hissed just a moment before: this was a powerful creature. There was no sensation of the cock within him, though: the pain was too all-encompassing, it blotted out anything else.
But he did not scream, did not whimper, did not cry, did not even grimace.
He shuddered stoically under the onslaught, screaming inside with the awful pain, but not even cracking a frown to indulge his tormentors. He bore the red-hot lance of pain, staying steady under its inexorable onslaught.
Another few moments passed, and still the cock surged onwards. The pain flared again and the shaft rushed and tore past new depths of his ass, his entire body seemed to be afire, and he felt his reserves of restraint seeping away under the pain. He was sinking into the pain, falling, falling fast, and soon not even all his willpower could prevent him from... from...
And then finally the cock stopped; he could feel the shaggy testicles nestled up against his butt. His ass still burned, but he knew that it had gone as far as it could go; that this would be the worst of it. New resolve swelled with him, even as the cock slid out of his ass and plunged in once more. He rode the cock, bucked his ass beneath it to meet it. It could not beat him; could not subdue his spirit. He would triumph.
His participation only seemed to make his assailant more angry, for now the cock surged in an out with an almost manic rhythm, scarcely staying in for a moment before it emerged once more. Dark ichor was expelled with every outward pull, spilling onto the ground below, running down his legs and coating the long length of the cock. But he did not flinch, did not move to show his discomfort, only thrust his ass backward onto the raging cock.
They would not exact their vengeance from him.
Minutes passed, and his store of energy began to wane. His bucks became less frenzied, his flailing less enthusiastic, and he began to flag under the unceasing attack. More minutes passed, and he slumped, slumped from exhausting, and yet still the lycin cock pounded in his asshole, driving in and out like a piston. He was too tired to even stand, and he fell forward, his two guards bending down to keep their hold on him. This seemed to encourage the lycin even more, who increased his rhythm to recklessness, pounding himself onto the prostrate orc, throwing his entire body against him. He could feel the full weight of the lycin pounding onto him, although his ass had lot all feeling some time ago. He was pressed into the loam as the lycin climbed on top of him, still battering his body mercilessly. The earth was right before his nostrils, and he could smell it all around him.
It was damp and wet, but still the rich scent of loam filled him up.
Everything seemed very distant now, the clamminess of his skin seemed almost far away, and the pressure on top of him and in him were all gone. It was only the loam now, the dark earth, the dark earth which stretched down, down, far down into the ground. That was where the bodies went, where the worms gnawed at their flesh and rats ate their bones. Deep down in the dark earth. Deep down, down in the darkness, down where none could find you, and none could terrorize you.
* * *
Rajenique woke to brightness shining in his face. There was soft light on him, and the equally soft touch of blankets all around. His eyes blinked open, and a stone ceiling floated into view. His head slowly swiveled back and forth, and he saw quickly that he was elevated off the floor, on a wicker table. All around the room there were other such wicker tables, and at the sides there were long counters, bearing all manner of unguents and medicines.
He was in the infirmary. It was only the work of a quick shout to summon a medic (an orcish medic), who hastily hurried over.
"What happened to me?" growled Rajenique.
"Don't you remember?" asked the medic rhetorically. "You were showing out the delegation, and there was an accident with the lift. Two of the lycin brought you back here to be treated."
"The lycin?" asked Rajenique incredulously.
"Yes, sir. You were completely bloodied; crushed by the lift. For some reason, the bell was rung to come up and then right down again... I suppose that you were standing under it when it came down. The lycin dragged you out and brought you here; if it weren't for them you'd be dead right now."
If it weren't for them, thought the commander, I wouldn't be here right now at all. But he said nothing.
"How long have I been out?"
"Several weeks, sir. You were injured severely. You probably won't be healed for another few weeks, and that's only because of the poultices that the lycin provided. We didn't think you were going to pull through, but one of them had some unguents that he claimed would heal you completely."
"Even miracles need time, sir. Both of your legs were completely shattered, as was most of your upper body. Your head thankfully, must have been outside the platform. With this poultice, you'll eventually regain the ability to walk, and even to fight. There shouldn't be much permanent damage at all."
"How much longer have I to convalesce?"
"At least a month longer; both of your legs are still in very bad shape.
But they're slowly healing. It's really quite amazing."
"Which of the lycin was it that supplied you with this wonderful stuff?"
asked Rajenique, a though suddenly occurring to him.
"The ambassador, of course. The other three left shortly after the accident."
"The ambassador?" asked Rajenique incredulously.
"Yes, I understand that you arranged to have a permanent ambassador travel with us to represent the lycin people. I hear that we might be able to move out by the end of the summer." Rajenique looked even more surprised.
"And who, praytell, is this ambassador?"
"Ambassador Kaziji, of course. You selected him yourself."
* * *
Rajenique recovered by the end of the summer, and indeed his discussions with the lycin proved to be instrumental in the establishment of formal diplomatic relations and opening of dialogues between the two races later that summer. He was awarded several medals for his heroism in capturing Ibistethlin (Fyrrekarr) and his work in establishing ties with the lycin.
Ambassador Kaziji continued to be an ambassador, ratified by both his people and by the commander himself. He proved to be quite an asset around the fort, although there was a strange pattern of missing prisoners which developed once he arrived. By this time, the gaolmaster had troops searching the entire underground tunnel system to look for hidden entrances and exits, and were finding new rooms every day, so it seemed highly plausible that they were escaping into the depths of subterranean maze. And it was this highly plausible story that went down on paper.
The fort was quiet that summer, hot and lazy in the long summer days. It was a really a vacation from war, and Rajenique spent most of it in the infirmary, recovering from his accident. But he would recover, and he would go on to lead his troops out of Ibistethlin once the summer was over. The sun would be beating down on the ramparts of the mighty stronghold when they left, and Rajenique would think back briefly on the summer days there.
It would be autumn by the time they finally departed: autumn, a new season and a time of change.