The Mountain Pass
Durnin didn’t hate elves. Didn’t really see the point of it, after all, elvish gold was just as good as dwarven. What he did hate, was this elf, who had paid him and his retinue for safe passage through the mountains he had once called home. He hated this elf because he knew he had cheated them. Placing a large pile of gold in front of the dwarf-like that knowing he would take it without thinking about the real cost. How did the sapling even get that much past the front gate? He grumbled to himself more angry with his own actions than the elfs. Durnin knew that like all of his kind, he suffered from gold fever. He should have let the gnome handle it.
Durnin trudged through the knee-high snow in solitude. The wind howled through the mountain pass as the sun struggled to fight through the thin clouds desperate to warm the mountainside. The frigid air felt good in his lungs, he was starting to get rock madness and a long trip on the surface was more than a guarantee to clear it.
Every dwarf knew the telltale early signs of rock madness and the dangers it held. Tales of dwarves gone mad gibbering to themselves as they disappeared into the mines forever. They were taught as soon as they could walk and speak, and his greying skin was proof of it. Guess he could thank the elf for forcing him outside.
His shield brothers took up a loose formation around him, almost unaffected by the cold like him. The elf was another story, still complaining about how the snow kept getting in his boots. Thirty dwarves escorted the elf through the barrier mountains that ranged far across the north of Kaladar. Hopefully, thirty dwarves would still be alive by the time they made it to Upon thy Shoulders. The main establishment of the Order, and good friends to the dwarves of Karak Vern.
“How much longer dwarf. My feet feel as if they're about to fall off.” The elf shouted the wind taking most of the words.
Durnin looked back at the elf. The elven man was roughly twice the height of Durnin yet less than half his weight, he looked frail as a bird. Durnin knew that appearances could be deceiving however, and an elf with the proper training could fight just as well as a dwarf. Just not this one, who after several days of traveling was still complaining about the cold.
“Shouldn’t be too far now. A few hours and the keep should be within sight.” Durnin shouted back. His voice carried much better and the elf nodded pulling his hood tighter around his head. Bormar lumbered over to Durnin, his old friend smiling with that friendly grin of his. Even if he was missing a few teeth it didn't stop him from showing off the rest.
“Sure was easy this time, eh Durnin. Not so much as a peep from any beastie.” said the jovial dwarf. His beard was red and braided with many runic beads dangling from it.
“Aye. Bit strange this time of year. Keep your eyes and ears open and well hopefully make it without incident.” he replied eyeing the ridgeline carefully. He fidgeted with his gear getting his ax within better reach and adjusting his shield so he could maintain a solid grip. It was very strange that they hadn’t encountered anything yet. The pass was the quickest way to the fortress yet was known to be treacherous and rife with dangers. He had traveled the same pass in his earlier years and spent days fighting off ravenous wolves and a few yeti who thought the dwarves would make for an easy meal. His winterized armor would stave off all but the most mortal of blows. And his ax would make quick work of any creature that dare get within reach. But yet Durnin felt concerned something was off and he could feel it in his bones.
He turned to get a better view of his group when he felt something slam into his shield. His shield brothers had pulled their weapons out and charged forward into formation. He turned round to see an orc, standing atop the hill about 30 yards away, firing another arrow his way, pulling his shield up he felt the arrow plink harmlessly off the metal. A roar of anger came from Durnin as he pulled his ax.
“Greenskin!” One of the dwarfs shouted, most likely Golly as it came from Durnin’s left.
The dwarves formed up in a semicircle around the elf a few pikes raised from within as crossbows twanged in response to the arrow. A few bolts hit their mark the orc clutching at his chest as another railed at his guts. Durnin scanned the area around them. The ridge was empty for now, he shifted his focus to the hill in front of them as ten orcs clambered over the hill determined to meet the dwarves in combat.
They held wicked cleavers and axes that more closely resembled chunks of broken metal welded together rather than finely crafted instruments of death. As they got closer Durnin could see the disgusting filth that called themselves orcs. Large brutish creatures with jutting tusks, their bodies rippling with muscles coated in what you could barely consider armor. Pieces of leather and stolen armor from dwarves and humans lay across their bodies.
Crossbows twanged in repetition as the dwarves fired volley after volley into the orcs. A few went down before they got too close to the circle. More orcs burst over the hill as the first few slammed into the dwarven shield wall. Three were impaled by pikes and the rest were cut down with brutal efficiency as the dwarves hewed with fury.
Durnin risked a quick look back. The elf had already hidden behind the dwarf Durnin had singled out for getting too rowdy at the inn and assigned him to elf duty. Bergin was fuming he couldn't join his brothers at the front, served him right for starting the brawl that got them kicked out of the tavern. Durnin laughed as he turned back to the onslaught and began his chanting. A deep voice boomed across the mountain pass as he recited the rites of war. His brothers joined in beside him as they marched forward towards the orcs keeping rhythm with their axes slamming against their shields.
The chant confused the orcs their war cries drowned out by the dwarves booming voices. Oaths songs were as beautiful as they were sobering. The second wave of orcs slammed into the shield wall more of them hit this time. It took longer for the dwarves to stave them off a few of them sustaining minor wounds. An ax took one of the dwarves by surprise, as an orc swung with all he had his dying wish cleaving through the dwarves helmet. He died before his brother could finish the beast off.
The tide finally reached the hill and 34 orcs lead by a much larger and imposing chieftain stood before the dwarves. He raised his wicked ax the handle adorned with the beards of dwarves. Beside him, a frail-looking orc coated in strange markings raised his staff and chanted a few words. A ball of energy formed above the orc as swung the staff around in an arc above his head.
“Dark magic!” Shouted Durnin. “The bastards have a shaman!”
The ball of light grew to the size of a head before it was suddenly launched towards the dwarves. One of them cowered as they watched it approach with haste screaming in fear as death came for him. Still screaming as he opened his eyes to see the ball had been tossed aside. The elf pushed past Durnin his robes opened revealing the marks of the arcane. His eyes were blazing white as energy pulsated through the elf’s body. Without much effort, the elf gestured with his fingers and a blast of hot energy shot towards the shaman, the snow melted under its heat as it raced towards its target. You could hear the beast cackle as it hit the energy blast with his staff dispelling it as easily as it had been conjured and began to chant his own spell.
“Protect the Elf!.” Durnin commanded his voice steady. “Should he fall it would mean the death of us!”
The dwarves pushed forward chanting oaths of battle while crossbows twanged flinging bolts at the small Warband. Arrows fired back in return both sides hitting marks with orcs and dwarves being struck. The two arcane beings continued their duel both dispelling as quickly as they could cast spells towards each other. Durnin had his sights set on the war chief. They exchanged looks before the chieftain uttered a single guttural command. The orcs descended from the hill in a frenzy the chieftain leading the way.
“For the clan!” Durnin bellowed.
“For the gold!” the rest shouted.
The lines met in a fury. Orcs slammed through the shield wall as they were cut down. Dwarves were being cut down in a frenzy of orcish rage. The wizard directed a blast towards an orc about to impale Bormar from behind. The orc exploded as the ball traveled through him. The line was lost as the fight became a frenzy axes chopping, blows meeting shields. The dwarves were sturdy when together but the orcs had the advantage in this open space.
Durnin cut down an orc attempting to swing an oversized sword, his ax taking the orc’s leg off at the knee as he cemented his shield into the beast’s skull before finishing it off with his ax. as he made his way to the chieftain who had just cut a dwarf in two with a weapon almost twice his size. Durnin seized the advantage and charged forward his beard bristling with fury. Feigning a blow from his ax he swung his shield into the orcs side feeling ribs crack under the force of the blow. The orc returned with a fury of swings, Durnin’s shield bearing the brunt of the attack. As he slammed his ax into the orcs unprotected foot the axe shearing several nasty toes. The orc roared as Durnin slammed his shield into the beast knocking the orc off balance. He rushed to finish it off the orcs eyes fearful as the sight of the axe coming towards his face.
A spell took Durnin from the side throwing him off the orc entirely his shield exploded into a shower of splinters and burnt metal from the energies. He landed a few feet away on his back in a daze. Looking up at the sky as the sun finally poked through the clouds. Durnin felt the warmth of the suns rays as he struggled to get up. The chieftain firmly planted a foot into his chest and with a powerful kick slammed the dwarf back down. He raised his mighty axe and before he could swing, was thrown off balance by a dwarf who charged into him roaring a mighty battle cry. His axe cleaving a mortal wound into the wretched beast as he knocked it to the ground. Bormar reached down and pulled Durnin up smiling that toothy grin of his.
“Found a few beasties did ya Durnin. Always had a habit of finding trouble you did.” The dwarf was still as jovial as ever even surrounded by the death of his companions. Durnin looked around the two forces were evenly matched. He spotted the wizard just beyond the melee. The elf was losing his duel the shaman proving to be too powerful, barely being able to match the intensity of attacks the orc threw out. The dwarves turned their attention back to the chieftain as he swung viciously taking Bormar by surprise as the axe split his shield in two and wedged itself firmly in his skull.
The death of his friend sent Durnin into a rage he grabbed the orcs axe with an iron tight grip, as he swung his own severing the hand at the wrist. He swore in every tongue he knew. As he hacked away at the chieftain who without the use of both hands could not remove the axe from the dwarf’s skull. He tried to remove it once before he found an axe buried to the hilt in his forehead. Durnin ripped the blade free as he slammed it home once more. The orc fell the life leaving his body.
The shaman faltered as his bond was destroyed. Failing to dispel a missile cast at him the magic ripping through his shoulder severing his arm staff still in hand as it fell to the ground. He looked at Durnin who held the chieftains head up high screaming as he charged the nearest orc taking it by surprise as it was about to kill a fallen dwarf. The shaman turned back to the elf who was suddenly in front of him a dagger of elvish make plunging into his chest as the elfs hand glew white electricity surging from his grip as he grabbed the shamans face. One last look at the elfs eyes could show the orc the intense hatred the elf felt towards his kind. Entire generations worth of lives lost to his kind. For once in the entirety of this orcs life, it felt fear, and then intense pain as one billion volts of electricity surged into the orcs brain. A charred corpse was all that remained.
With their leaders removed the few remaining orcs were easy for the surviving dwarves to cut down with the help of the elf. Durnin looked around so few of his kin had survived. He had left with twenty-nine brothers and would be coming home with only eight. The remaining trip was uneventful if only it had remained that way from the start. Durnin really hated this elf.
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