A short distance from the gate to Sundabar, Rangrim made his camp. He had chosen a shaded spot, just off the road, but still within sight and earshot of the gate. His thoughts wandered as he made camp, the motions being so automatic that he no longer needed conscious thought to complete the task. How long ago, he wondered, had been his life previous, that which he lived with his brothers within the walls? How long since that dread day?
Sparking a small fire, for he was outside the walls after all and held no certainty the guards of the city would come to his aid if attacked, he set about preparing his dinner. The meal was meager, consisting of a few items remaining in his pack, and he ate slowly. His thoughts swirled through his mind as he thought back to that day, twenty years ago. Memories flooded back to him, the battle and his foe charging becoming nearly as real as the meal he ate.
The dust had hardly settled from the last skirmish as the orc hordes charged the line of dwarves again. They had held off many such charges that day, but the orcs seemed smarter than usual. The hordes of orcs were not giving the dwarves time to rest, or to fortify. They charged with no regard to their losses, seemingly lost in the desire to kill the dwarves.
Rangrim wrung the handle of his axe, and chanced a glance behind him. The walls of Sundabar stood there, strong and unyielding. For two days now, the dwarves had held the line against the marauding orcs. For two days, they had waited for the Shieldsar, Sundabars main military force, to amass from the vale and join the battle. In their absence the Vigilant's, the elite dwarven sentries of the Everfire, had left their posts underground to defend the city.
Turning his attention back to the battle, he prepared to meet the oncoming charge. Orcs streamed toward him, in numbers defying counting. As the first orc reached the dwarven line, the sounds of battle began to echo all around him. The disciplined dwarves waited until the last moment, maintaining the formation perfectly, before charging to meet the foe yet again. As one, the dwarven line sprang forward, cutting down the first lines of orcs before they knew what had hit them.
Rangrim found himself thrust quickly into chaos. An orc charged forward, and he swatted it aside with a quick turn of his axe. Setting his feet against the charge of another orc, the sturdy dwarf shouldered his way through the charge and quickly dispatched the foe. All around him, dwarves fought hard, and orcs fell in droves.
The losses still did nothing to deter the orcs, and they pressed forward. Rangrim's axe swung this way and that, his practiced movements seeming almost graceful. Orc corpses began to pile around the dwarf, yet still they came. Far from tiring, the surly dwarf merely increased the speed of his movement and therefore the speed at which orcs died around him.
Always before, the orcs had charged in numbers and been repelled. This time was different. The orcs kept coming, and the solid formations of dwarves began to fall apart. The hordes pressed forward, forcing pockets of dwarves away from their allies. Those pockets formed smaller defensive formations, and dug in for the fight of their lives.
While most of the dwarves now stood in several groups, Rangrim found himself in the dangerous position of being alone. Orcs surrounded him, and warily began tightening the circle. Rangrim brandished his axe fiercely, and no orc dared stray too close. Finally, after several excruciating moments, the orcs charged forward.
Swinging his axe full circle above him, Rangrim slew several orcs in the first few seconds. Orcs pressed him from all sides, and it took all of his training and expertise to fend off the attacks. The sound of steel on steel rang all about him, as he parried and blocked for his life. Despite being pressed so severely, the skilled dwarf found time to riposte and slay many a foe amidst the storm of blades.
A warhorn blasted across the field of battle, reverberating off the walls of the city. Many of the orcs paused at the sound, while dwarves cheered. The Shieldsar had come at last. Charging out of the south, the mounted army closed to the orc hordes with speed, and the dwarves fought with renewed strength. Outflanked, much of the orc horde panicked and turned to flee but found themselves cut off from escape.
Rangrim still fought on valiantly, the orcs surrounding him caring little for the new arrivals to the battle. Though skilled and trained well, the dwarf could only hold the needed level of speed for so long, and blades began to slip through his guard. One orc scored a glancing blow, leaving behind a thin scar of blood on his arm. Another struck out at his torso, only to have its weapon turned by the dwarfs gleaming mail.
The sight of blood drove the orcs into a frenzy, and they attacked thinking to slay the dwarf and move on to other prey. Parrying another blow, Rangrim knew he would not survive without aid. His eyes searched for some advantage, even as he continued to block and parry strikes. He knew that the Shieldsar would likely move to assist the larger groups of embattled dwarves, and would be no help to him. Seeing no other choice, he set his determination and fought on.
The Shieldsar crashed into the flank of the orc forces, driving all before them. They had cut a swath through the horde, nearly to the trapped dwarven pockets. Their advance slowed, and finally stopped, and the battle began again in earnest. The humans of the Shieldsar, while certainly not Vigilants, were skilled, and orcs fell in large numbers. Soon, the humans had fought to the groups of dwarves and joined them. The lines were repaired and strengthened, and the forces of Sundabar threw themselves into the counterattack.
Even as salvation came for his friends and battle brothers, doom seemed to come for Rangrim. Far away from the newly reformed lines, he would soon be overwhelmed and slain. Even knowing this, he refused to surrender, and continued to fight viciously. Vowing to take as many orcs with him as possible, he once again brought the full force of his focus to the fight. Swinging his axe high, he lopped the heads off several orcs and caused the companions to the fallen creatures to pause.
Making sure not to waste the opportunity, the dwarf pumped his powerful legs under him and charged. The orcs in front of him, not expecting such an aggressive action, were completely caught off guard and fell easily. Those he had left behind stared stupidly for a moment where he had been, wondering where their prey had gone. Rangrim shouldered through several orcs, before the bulk of the creatures stole his momentum.
The battle had turned squarely against the orcs, with most of the horde already in full retreat. Only small pockets of orcs remained, where the prospect of an easy kill overruled their limited survival instincts. With most of the horde in full flight, the combined forces of Sundabar set about the easy task of clearing the last pockets of resistance.
Rangrim, now free of his foes, thought to rejoin the friends he had been separated from. Searching for the best route back, his eyes fell on a scene not far to his right. A pocket of orcs stood, the leading orc holding a young dwarf aloft by his throat. The dwarf clawed at the hand that held him, desperately trying to restore his ability to breathe. His short legs kicked and twisted, trying to gain some purchase to loosen the death grip. Rangrim's eyes met the poor dwarf's, and all he saw was fear.
Rangrim knew the dwarf he saw, a new member of the Vigilant that had not yet seen his first battle. He struggled to recall his name, having met the lad only a time or two, and only in passing. But those thoughts passed quickly, as the reality of the situation set in. Looking back to the lad, Rangrim set his jaw and charged into the orcs' midst. The nearest orcs, fully engrossed in the spectacle before then, never saw him coming. Rangrim flew by them, his powerful arms swinging his axe as he went and an orc fell cleaved in two. Reversing the weapon, another orc fell to the ground. By now, with two of their number fallen, the remaining orcs realized their peril and moved to intercept the invading dwarf.
The orc leading this group saw at once that Rangrim meant to save the young dwarf he held. Being smarter, and more sadistic than the average orc, the orc hatched a plan to crush the attacking dwarfs spirit. The sadistic creature turned slowly, stopping so that Rangrim was side on and had a perfect view of what was about to happen. A wicked smile grew on its dark face, exposing its sharp and jagged teeth. The other orcs had stalled his advance and the furious dwarf now seemed forced to watch the scene unfold. Slowly, so as to extend the suffering as much as possible, the orc tightened its grip of the helpless dwarf youth's neck. The captive dwarf scratched and kicked, trying anything to save his own life.
Rangrim was held fast, unable to reach his comrade. The orcs before him blocked his way, and threw occasional stabs and swipes with their weapons to keep him engaged. The surly dwarf searched and tried, but could find no opening to exploit. He turned his eyes to his captured comrade, being ever careful to avoid the haphazard attacks being thrown at him. The young dwarfs eyes showed terror, even as he fought to free himself. Rangrim watched, horror rising in his chest as the young dwarf slowly began to turn first red, then purple. The fight began to leave the youth, and with a flash of the orcs malicious smile and a flex of its powerful muscles, the young dwarfs' struggles ended.
Time seemed to be still for a moment then. All sound and movement ceased, and Rangrim was left with only the scene before him. The young dwarf held limply, while the orcs head was back, extolling in the ecstasy of the kill. That moment, that horrible moment, would stay with Rangrim for all his days. But in that instant, something changed within him. As sound and movement began to resume, he felt not dread but rage rise to fill his being. In that instant, he ceased to be Rangrim, and became an instrument of rage against the unjustness of it all.
The party of orcs laughed, expecting despair in the surviving dwarf. How wrong they were, a discovery made far too late and born forth on the blade of an axe. Rangrim's chosen target fell dead in an instant, the axe resting quite far in its skull. Ripping free his weapon, the crazed dwarf hacked into the corpse with fury, seemingly oblivious to the rest of the group's presence. It was only when they moved forward, crude armor ringing and scaping, that the furious dwarf looked up from what remained of his initial foe. The orcs, even the leader, were given pause then, as the eyes of the dwarf held nothing but malice and death. Those eyes surveyed the orcs, finally resting on the leader of the group, the one who had killed the young recruit.
Ripping free his weapon once more, Rangrim strode forth to exact his vengeance. Two of the orcs engaged him then, with crude thrusts and halfhearted war cries. Rangrim merely swatted the weapons aside, with his rage fueled senses they may as well have been moving a snail's pace. After swatting the strikes wide, he reversed his weapon, and took one orc slightly below the knee. The creature howled in pain, before toppling under its own weight. The rest of the orcs crowded in then, seeking to use numbers to their advantage. To see the battle unfold was to watch a dance of death. An orc fallen, a wound received, but the enraged dwarf didn't care. He drove his axe home again and again, giving far more than he was receiving. His rage gave him power and fortitude, even as it stole finesse.
The fight raged for a short while, until only one foe remained. The sadistic orc looked to the broken corpses of its lessers, then strode in toward the dwarf. While smarter than most orcs, it still was too stupid to realize its peril, and truly believed it could win. Rangrim, his body covered in blood, began to feel his senses return to normal. He looked to the broken corpses around him, several orcs and one dwarf. Sorrow for his lost comrade began to well at his eyes, and he looked up to the advancing orc. The orc brought about his own demise without realizing it, by merely smiling. As Rangrim looked up, his eyes found that sadistic smile, and the rage came again, more furious and red hot. In his mind, he saw the last moments of the young dwarf again and again. That raw memory only served to fuel the fires of his rage each time, and soon his soul burned with a thirst for battle and vengeance once more. No more was he aware of his wounds, and he charged the lone orc.
If the last battle was a dance of death, this battle was the waltz. Back and forth the two combatants danced, weapons flashing across and steel ringing out. For all its stupidity the Orc was skilled, and for a time managed to equal Rangrim. That time ran out suddenly when Rangrim howled and threw himself at his foe. The orc, thinking his foe had made a fatal error, attacked with an overhead chop. Halfway through the motion, Rangrim changed his direction and shot out sideways. Digging his feet into the ground, he stopped his movement and turned, bringing his axe before him in a wide arc. The blade severed the orcs sword arm, and the creature howled in pain.
His foe now disarmed, Rangrim looked upon the creature. Somewhere, deep within his mind, a small voice called out to him to finish the creature. Unfortunately that voice was not in control. The fires of his rage were not satisfied, and he raised his axe once more. The ensuing moments Rangrim would live to regret, as not even an Orc deserved the pain that was dealt to this one. But Rangrim's rage demanded satisfaction and the fallen demanded revenge. Soon enough, his work done, Rangrim stood over the mangled remains of his foe. Blood dripped from him, both his own and his foes, but he felt no pain.
A sound behind him, chainmail clinking, caught his attention. His rage flared again, and he spun leading with his axe. Even before seeing his foe, he felt the axe bite deep, and heard the thud of a solid hit. His foe spun into view before completely falling to the ground, and horror welled somewhere beneath the roaring rage. Before him was not another Orc, but one of the Vigilant, a friend.
The struck Vigilant was a dear friend, and a clan-cousin. Thykum Stoneviper he was called, and now he fell before Rangrim's blind fury. In that terrible moment, memories flooded back to Rangrim, memories of late nights spent in the tavern after guard duty and the laughter shared together over the last two decades. Now all that remained was the final turn of the dance, crimson blood staining pale skin, as his friend fell to the ground.
Behind the fallen dwarf some few other dwarves stood, mouths agape, nervously fingering the handles of weapons. Rangrim, his despair overcoming even his mighty rage, hardly registered them at all. In what Rangrim would later count as a blessing, the Shieldsar thundered past just then, affording an unseen Vigilant the opportunity to get close behind him. An explosion of light erupted in his skull, as the strong blow connected squarely with the back of his head, and in an instant Rangrim fell into the calming embrace of darkness.
Rangrim struggled to return fully to his senses, with the darkness clinging to him as a morning dew might cling to leaves. It was quiet, with only the occasional drip of water to break the silence. There was a chill in the air, almost as if death itself hung about him. Then, in a flash of memory, all returned to him. He remembered the battle, remembered the youth and remembered his fall. His sight now clear, he glanced around, and found himself in a dungeon. He was alone, chained to the wall, bereft of arms and armor, left in rags and treated like the animal he had displayed himself to be. Sorrow welled in him then, but not for himself. His sorrow was for the one he could not save, and the one felled by a blow from a friend.
The sound of boots on stone roused him from his sorrow then. The scraping of metal heralded the door opening, and through that portal strode two figures. One Rangrim recognized as the commander of the Vigilant, the other an unknown human. The events of the battle still ringing through his mind, Rangrim hung his head in shame, not wishing to meet the gaze of his visitors. " Ah, I see you have finally awakened." Said the human, "Tis well you should be conscious for your trial. The tribunal, and the Ruling Master, should be most interested in your explanation."
Rangrim looked up then, to the smug expression of the human and the pained expression of the dwarf. "Thar's to be a trial?" Rangrim asked incredulously, his voice cracking as though it had not been used in some time. The dwarf stepped forward then, shaking his head, "Aye, thar's a trial to be had. Ya need be held to account fer yer actions." The human snapped his fingers, and two human guards stepped into the cell. "Prepare him for travel, then bring him before the Tribunal." the human said to the guards, who responded with curt nods. Then the human and dwarf left the cell, and left the guards to collect Rangrim.
Escorted by the guards, Rangrim shuffled through the halls of the prison. The shackles binding him allowed little movement, and the progress was slow. Finally, the guards paused before a set of large iron doors. Nodding to the door guards, they pushed through and Rangrim followed as quickly as he was able. Beyond those doors lay an ornate chamber, one which Rangrim had not seen before. Before him sat the tribunal, the Ruling master placed high above him. To the side, some distance away from him, stood a dwarf holding an axe. An executioner he wagered, should that be his sentence. He shuffled to the center of the room, and stood waiting for someone to speak.