Author’s notes: 1) As suggested by a fan, Nightmare’s eye color is now golden, a color more befitting of a black dragon. I’ve edited the previous chapters, but if something fell through the cracks please let me know. 2) The leader orc is now 7 feet tall instead of 6 feet tall. Orcs should look much larger than humans.
Forte noticed strange, human-like skulls lining the huts, although those skulls were far too small to fit humans. The ugly orc continued to stare and grunt at Forte and Nightmare as if it had never seen a human or a dragon before. It probably had not. He let out a low guttural grunt, and more orcs emerged from their huts. Forte had seen enough. He bolted away and did not look back until there was a fair distance between himself and the orc camping spot. From what he read about the ancient races that had gone extinct, orcs were nomadic and tribal. They answered to their warlord, and constantly fought between each other and with other races. They were far from a peaceful race, much evidenced by the large amount of skulls decorating the camping grounds.
Forte surmised that this particular clan was in the process of roaming, and they had gone further north than most orcs would. He was surprised that humans had never met orcs in such a long time. And then he realized. They must have met them, and the orcs probably killed them like cattle. The ones that survived, it was safe to assume that nobody believed their fantastic tales of orckind. At least orcs were true to their nature—humans were a fickle race.
Forte’s ears sensed something approaching. He looked back. There were two orcs, dressed for war with leather armor and maces jogging through the lush landscape and past a serene lake towards him. They were not nearly as large as the orc he had first seen, but they were still a threat. Forte cursed under his breath. He knew he should have been more cautious while investigating the grass huts.
He palmed his iridescent gravitite sword encrusted with a round white jewel in the pommel, and readied himself for the fight of his life. Nightmare, who was almost as tall as Forte now, flashed his golden eyes menacingly and bared his teeth. Nightmare had grown well in the last month and a half they had travelled. His legs, torso, and neck were heavily muscled, his large black scales shone brightly, and it was clear that all the slog and kam meat he had been eating was paying off. He was beginning to look like a miniature dragon. Nightmare puffed out a wisp of smoke.
The medium sized orcs hesitated at the sight of Nightmare, but continued. Forte drew an arrow and lit it on fire with magic, and fired it at the leading orc. It hit, but bounced off. The orcs had thick skin, and a small amount of fire would not deter them. Forte cursed and drew his gravitite greatsword. The orcs charged with their maces. Forte and Nightmare locked themselves into one-on-one combat with the orcs. Gravitite met iron as Forte parried the heavy blows of the orc. Forte was quick with his greatsword, but the weight of the blade was cumbersome. The orc lifted his mace as if it were the weight of a wooden sword and continued his onslaught. Despite Forte’s swordplay, he was getting overwhelmed. With a swing from the orc, the iron mace cracked across Forte’s face, disorienting him as blood spilled from his nose and his eye swelled up. The orc landed another blow against Forte’s ribs, and another. Forte could hear something crack inside him. The pain was numbing his mind. On the other side of the fight, Nightmare had also suffered heavy injury from the flurry of mace attacks, although the orc was scorched by black fire.
“Infernus!” Forte yelled, with his left palm outstretched. A weak blast of fire shot from Forte’s palm and seared the orc, but the orc’s skin was too thick. One last blow, and Forte fell unconscious.
Forte woke up tied to a tree in the middle of the orc settlement, with medical herbs rubbed onto his bodice. The large orc he first saw continued to stare at him.
“My name Daka.” The orc grunt, surprising Forte. “I talk your tongue. Your tongue same as dwarf tongue. Daka speak dwarf.”
Forte winced in amusement at the orc’s attempts to speak his language. “Daka, would you mind letting me go old friend? I quite dislike being tied up here.”
“Friend, you have good eats.” The burly Daka pointed at the salted rations of meat and vegetables. “We protect. You give us good eats. Ok?”
Forte considered the proposition. He concluded that it was not a bad deal at all. Cooking was easy as long as the orcs did the hunting, and he would not have to worry about any beasts with the protection of these orcs. Nor did he have to worry about other orc tribes.
“Ok.” Forte replied.
Daka grunted and pulled the strings tying Forte, releasing him.
“Good eats, now.” Daka said, pointing at the rations.
“Now.” Forte answered, taking out a pot from his caravan.
Nightmare was laughing.
Forte began cooking a stew of salted boar meat and vegetables, slowly simmering the stew above a fire as he prepared bowls. The orcs looked at him working in fascination. It was evening. Nightmare lounged on the lush grass, as Forte continued to cook. He finished the stew after the sun had set for two hours, and then beckoned the orcs to eat with him.
“Daka, good eats are done. Come, come.” Forte beckoned.
Daka and a dozen or so orcs sat in a circle around the fire, and Forte distributed the bowls, ladling a hearty serving of stew to each of them.
“Eat, friends.” Forte encouraged them.
The orcs ate their share and then some.
“Good eats!” Daka said.
“Good eats!” The orcs echoed.
They asked for more servings, and Forte happily obliged. He thought it prudent to get on the good side of these beasts of war.
“I have to ask, what are the skulls lying around your huts? They look human, and yet not entirely. Are they human children? If so, how and where did you meet humans?” Forte asked.
“Skulls are dwarves.” Daka replied.
“I thought you spoke the dwarven language. Why do you fight?” Forte inquired.
“Sometimes, orcs make peace with little dwarves. Sometimes, orcs make war with little dwarves. Orc life is hard.” Daka responded tersely.
“That sounds like a complicated diplomatic situation.” Forte said.
“We raid dwarves, dwarves raid orcs. Such is orc life.” Daka said. An orc nudged Daka and grunted into his ear, then pointed at Forte. Daka nodded.
“Orcs have question. What is black beast with you? Breathes fire beast?” Daka questioned.
“Friends, that is my dragon Nightmare. And I have a question for you. How come fire doesn’t work on you guys?” Forte questioned.
Daka laughed. “Slog fat on orc warrior’s faces. Slog fat on orc warrior’s bodies. Slog fat in orc warrior’s hearts. Orc no burn.”
Forte was amused. It was a simple and yet extremely effective tactic. Suddenly, the sound of a trumpeting horn rang through the settlement, accompanied by the sound of marching. The orcs immediately rose up and grunted to each other.
Daka stood up and grunted. “Dwarves. Help, friend.”
Forte understood and retrieved his greatsword. Nightmare hissed and got ready for battle. They could conduct diplomacy with the dwarves at a later time. Today, they threatened his safety, and so he would kill them.
The dwarves were a little taller than half of Forte. There looked to be a contingent of 24 dwarves. Four of them were archers, and the other 20 were armed with an assortment of shields, swords, maces, hammers, and axes. Their weapons and armor were made of finely smithed steel. The fifteen orcs and Forte and Nightmare clashed with the 24 dwarves in an awful din. The dwarves seemed surprised at the sight of a human and a dragon alongside the orcs, but fought them with increased vigor. Forte killed a dwarve with several blows of his gravitite greatsword, but a dwarf landed a denting blow to his torso iron plate armor with a steel hammer.
Thankfully, his wyvern scaled gauntlets held up well, protecting his critical arms and the tender veins. Forte realized that the dwarves’ smithing was so good that regular piercing weapons would not work against them. But his gravitite greatsword Blothe made quick work of the dwarves, denting and destroying the armor with large blunted blows. Forte’s own plate armor could not protect himself from the blunted damage he was taking, which effectively pierced his armor.
“Get this ‘un!” A dwarf shouted, attacking Nightmare. Nightmare shot into the sky and rained down a torrent of black fire. Unforunately, it seemed like the dwarves were also coated with some sort of animal fat. It made sense. In these lands where beasts roamed, fire was a common deterrent tactic. Both dwarves and orcs must have used fire against each other, and developed countermeasures. Thankfully, Nightmare was undamaged.
As the fighting took course, a drop of rain fell from the sky. And then another. Before long, a storm had begun.