Part 7 - Supremacy
He was surrounded. All around the cavern were monstrous beings, ogres and orcs filling the only entranceway. A pair of trolls sat in a corner. They were hunched, green, savages nearly as large as an ogre; guarding a host of battered men in rusting chains. The cavern was large enough, a natural pocket in the earth judging from its smooth walls and stalactites, for even the largest of the creatures to stand at full height.
Across the cave was a large cooking fire, its smoke filling the uppermost of the cave with a gray haze that slowly filtered out through the upward passage that lead there. The smell of smoke only slightly masked the stench of filth and decay in the cavern.
Sitting next to the cooking fire was a very different troll. This one stood upright instead of slouching. It wore plate armor and had a rather large sword sheathed at its hip. Its left eye was milked over and surrounded by a burn-scar. Pieces of meat cooked over the fire, but only this one troll seemed to prefer it over raw flesh. It took a bite out of a large chunk of cooked meat.
"Excellent," the creature growled, "far more tender than the older men..." The troll gestured, and the assembled monsters laughed. Likely they had no idea what was said, just that they were supposed to laugh.
"Azubal,” Khorun glared death at the troll, “you will pay for this.”
Azubal chuckled, a horrid rasping sound. “You are the second human to tell me that since I arrived.” He pointed to a pile of broken and gnawed bones sitting against the wall. “When will your kind learn?” Azubal stood, a towering figure of nothing but muscle and steel.
“Shut up and fight.” Khorun rushed the troll, and to his sudden concern the monsters in the cave made no move to stop him. Azubal didn’t even draw his sword. Skywrath slashed down across the troll’s twisted face. A deep flesh-wound was left, but it closed and faded to a thin line almost as fast as it was left.
“Same stupid bravado as the old man. Same fate awaits you.” Azubal slashed out with an open clawed hand catching Khorun in the chest with startling speed. Though it did not cut through his plate, Khorun felt the air knocked from him and his flesh bruise from the impact. Before he could recover, Khorun was smashed again by the Azubal’s other claw. He staggered back, gasping to recover his breath.
Defiantly, Khorun stabbed Skywrath at the troll’s chest, but the point merely skipped off his breastplate. His fury wasn’t enough. Azubal drew his own sword and slashed it in a wide sweep in the same motion. Though worn and with dents in the edge, the sword was as large as Skywrath and the troll used it one-handed. It caught Khorun in the side, sending him sprawling to the ground.
“Focus,” Khorun thought, “rage won’t win this... think.” He cleared his mind, letting go of the anger that had so driven him before. Instead of feeling furious about the fate of the townsfolk, Khorun instead set their fate as a clear and sure goal in his mind. It felt almost serene. He opened his eyes as he lay on the stone ground, took a deep breath, and rolled out of the way of Azubal’s next strike.
Back on his feet, Khorun studied his foe in the space between strikes. Seeing that Azubal’s armor did not cover him completely, he aimed for the gaps. A powerful thrust jabbed Skywrath half a foot into Azubal’s side. The troll roared and pulled itself off the blade before swinging its own weapon backhanded at Khorun. It once again smashed into his armor, but Khorun quickly planted the tip of Skywrath into the stone floor to brace himself.
He kept his footing and returned as slash at Azubal, cutting open the troll’s neck. Black ooze leaked from the wound. However, the gouge Skywrath had left in his side had already begun to heal. Blood stopped pouring from Azubal’s neck. Ignoring the injuries, the troll lashed out with its open claw. The blow nearly broke Khorun’s shoulder.
Summoning all his strength, Khorun thrust Skywrath again into the troll, this time sinking it deep into the monster’s leg. A pulse of power shot through the blade, arcs of lightning searing their way up Azubal’s body. He screeched out in a piercing tone and shuddered as the electricity surged. Smoke wisps leaked out through the seams in Azubal’s armor.
Khorun pulled the sword free and stepped back. “Didn’t like that, did you?” Silence fell over the cavern for a few moments. The monsters began looking between each other, muttering in their savage tongue. Khorun grinned.
A snap and the odd sound like splitting or tearing skin crept to Khorun’s ear. Azubal twitched his head forward, his limbs moving abruptly in broken motions not unlike a seizure. Then the movements smoothed out, and the blackened marks from the lightning began to fade.
Seconds later, Azubal roared and stretched as though waking from a nap. His head shook and then settled, and he glared at Khorun with his one good eye. Azubal grinned, a yellow and foul smile.
In a terrible barrage of fury Azubal lashed out. With claw and sword he assaulted Khorun, who could only barely manage to block a few of the blows. Each hit bruised and ached, driving Khorun back. No matter where he moved to try and gain a better position, Azubal matched his movements. A backhand from the troll’s claw slammed into Khorun’s face. Blood began to pour from his nose, and he couldn’t see clearly. Azubal followed it up with a punishing slash across the gut, denting Khorun’s plate. He doubled over and fell to the floor.
“You see human?” Azubal hissed, “Do you see just how weak your kind are?” The troll turned away from the fallen Khorun. “You are nothing.”
Khorun’s breathing was labored, and he ached on every part of his body. But still he held an image in his mind: Nella, defiantly brave for one so young and unpracticed, the other survivors with her. All the horrors that had befallen Riverford, he had promised them he would help. He couldn’t give in.
“No...” Khorun coughed out, “...we, are not, weak...”
With that, the dwarven runes etched into the edges of Khorun’s armor flared to life. As their light shimmered in the shadows of the cave, Khorun felt his strength returning. Bruises faded, blood stopped flowing, his vision cleared and his breath came back. Azubal turned back toward the fallen warrior, who rose quickly to his feet.
Not waiting an instant, Khorun charged the now snarling troll. Skywrath’s point skipped along the cold stone of the cavern floor, sparks erupting with each contact. With a loud battle cry Khorun swung his sword in an upward arc. It slashed into Azubal’s side, then diagonally up across his body with enough force to send the giant figure reeling.
Khorun didn’t slow. He smashed his whole body into the troll, knocking Azubal back into the cooking fire. The troll landed on its back atop the burning wood. Khorun went with his momentum, landing on the fallen troll amidst the flames. Azubal screamed in rage and pain.
“Bet this feel familiar, doesn’t it?” Khorun snarled at Azubal as he rose to a kneeling position on top of the giant. He plunged Skywrath down through Azubal’s howling maw and out the back of the troll’s head, pinning it in place. Though the fire licked at his armor, Khorun was shielded from most of it by his foe.
Azubal gurgled out his hate around Skywrath but could not pull free. Ferociously he lashed out at Khorun with his claws, struggling to push the human off. Khorun took the blows. Though they battered him, he did not lose his grip or his footing. Azubal burned, flesh sizzling and wounds no longer healing. Both combatants neared death; Khorun from the heat and barrage of claws, Azubal from the fire and blood gushing from his impaled neck.
After what felt like an eternity, Azubal finally ceased struggling. Khorun held Skywrath in place until the flames burned away the flesh of the troll’s face, leaving charred bone exposed. He withdrew his sword from Azubal’s cooking body and stumbled away from the fire. Barely able to stand, he dragged Skywrath behind him. Turning toward the assembled monsters, Khorun awaited his death. “Maybe you can help fight off the rest...” he whispered to himself, still thinking of Nella.
Not a creature moved. They stood, wide-eyed and motionless, staring at Khorun. He stared back for a while, then took a step forward. The monsters cringed, each taking a half-step back. Khorun hopped forward another step and shouted, “Rah!” They all stepped back and began to cower. He smiled. Though he wanted so desperately to mess with them more, Khorun didn’t press his luck.
“You!” he pointed to one of the orcs that had escorted him in, “you understand me?” The orc nodded. “Anyone else want to fight me?”
“No,” the orc grunted, “you kill boss. You boss now.”
“Really?” Khorun muttered, the orc nodded. “Alright, then I want to you all to get out of here, leave this place and never come back! And if I catch any of you raiding anywhere else, I will kill you all!” The orc managed to go pale, an ashen color, and repeated Khorun’s orders to the rest of the monstrous army. They nodded and began to pour out of the cave in terror. Khorun waited until the creatures had all left and he had unchained the captive men before he dropped to his knees in exhaustion. Khorun looked up at the freed men.
“Well, that could have been worse...” and then he passed out.