FROM HELL'S SCREAM
A Tale of Grom Hellscream
The infant was born screaming, as if casting its defiance to the sky. A warrior cry for certain, the warlocks said, an omen of the infant's heart and a good sign of its demon blood. For all Orcs were damned to Hell as well as their notion of heaven, their souls separated at the last with all their deeds. But it was to Hell that they devoted their mortal lives, even if it was just to endure it. Perhaps that's why they tested themselves so – to be prepared one day for the realm where suffering never ceased, should they wake to find themselves more there than not.
One day, they prophesied, he would drink of the demon's blood himself, when their masters came with their whips and their fire, and chastised the Orcs for their slovenly descent into peaceful ways. Then they would have an army to carry the true fire and darkness of true warriors across all the skies like this one.
No wonder the infant raged – for it would be a damnation to all skies.
And so they named him – "Hellscream", for the terrifying wail that made even the Orc wives go white, and the Chieftains stir their drinks of bile a touch more nervously. For they could hear an omen as well as the warlocks and dark shamans could, and an Orc never knew which side of the blade he would fall on. Such was the keen edge that separated the unworthy from the warriors, and that mark changed with every leader. The demons would be the harshest and sharpest edges of all – so perhaps this Grom Hellscream could at least make them into Orcs worth enough mettle to survive the testing of demon's fire when it came. Such a thought made even the strongest warrior quiver and quail until he smashed his body into obedience.
It was later said that it was his warriors that gave him this name after following and hearing him in battle. Which of the two tales were true? Many did not know. But many did believe that the shamans thought him a demon from birth, and raised him up with fellish honour, with him soon proving the worth of his name.
Thrall saw the odd effigy they had in the centre of what seemed to be their camp, difficult as it was to find. These giants seemed to clamber over mountains and scale rock faces with the ease one climbed a ladder or stairs. They seemed rather simple-minded, but with such great size, it was little wonder they needed little more than their simple desires and strength to take what they want. Snatching off horses and entire barns, raiding farms for food that could feed an army.
The Ettins seemed to worship Grom, but since when did they know him?
He had commanded the mighty Doomguard, given to him by the monstrous demonlord Mannoroth, to keep his "pet" in line. So had he commanded them? Thrall wondered. Setting him atop the throne of bones like a king. Perhaps a puppet-king, for the demons were fond of those, he had found. But Grom was strong-willed, perhaps enough that he had managed to make a position for himself, however tenuous.
Jaina had asked him, and he realised he did not know the answer. For all the ties his people had to the demons, there was much he still had not known about them. Secrets known only to their favoured, perhaps, their death knights and greatest of warlocks – but even then, the demons selfishly hoarded knowledge, from all that Thrall knew. Knowledge was power, and power was how the demons reigned over the lesser and weaker – neither of which would be his people if he could help it. He had fought for their spiritual strength, to reclaim their heritage and to honour their integrity he knew was lurking at the heart of every Orc, Orcs that had been unfortunate to be misled by evil masters who had taught them nothing else but the suffering they knew.
Faced with such lives, it was little wonder the Orcs had done what they could to survive, to live as they could, thrive as they could – under the flaming footstep of the secret dreadlords and pitlords that manipulated and cursed their race as a weapon against all others.
Where had the Ettin come from? Had they always been in these lands? He didn't recall seeing them before, himself.
Grom had slain Mannoroth in the end, in a good joke for that demon's end, who had left such a trail of fire and blood among his people – Grom, worthy warrior, had smote his ruin in final vengeance for the blood of his people that cried out.
He mourned his brother, but he had left a legacy that had freed all Orcs by his own self-sacrifice. As a shaman, he could think of no greater passage or sign. Grom had been their true redemption, he had purged himself of his greatest demons, and thus, their masters were no longer their masters.
No Orc would ever again have to be a slave to fire. But the mighty war drum, the beating heart – these were the things of an Orc warrior. And perhaps also, ways of peace.
The spirits stirred, he felt the breeze they brought with them, heard their murmur, always just out of true hearing, leaving whispers and riddles, so that one strained to understand them. As a shaman he had learned many of their secrets, and it had guided him and his people well.
To be so adopted by the spirits of these lands… it had been a cool water that had refreshed his own spirit. If they could see him as one of them, then perhaps there was truly a place for his people here.
The spirits were wise, he knew – and he trusted them.
Cairne had taught him much as well, expanded his understanding of the land, and the connection to it.
He had used it to scout out springs, find places of bountiful lumber and grasses and plains to grow food. Roaming herds of pigs that sounded like thunder in the earth. Thrall stood upon a precipice and saw a grand land stretching out before him, beckoning golden and earthy red with promise of richness and a strong settlement. Here, away from the lands of humans, the Orcs would have a chance to become a people. Perhaps like they were long ago, before the demons had enslaved them.
It would be a difficult road, but one that Thrall looked forward to. For the first time in a long while, he saw hope for his people, no longer ringed by the knives and whips of fel masters – his vision was clear.
And, he laughed, his people were strong – they would have plenty enough war taming this land. Settlements required strong labour, and all his warriors would be a part of it – many of them were still tense and wild after this harrowing war, and it would be a good use of their energies, lest they grow bored and stir up trouble with the horse-men or something foolish.
Thrall readied his hammer, and spurred his mount to go and meet the first Ettin.
Some time later.
The warlock laughed darkly and looked at him from under his hood, his eyes glittering, with power, dimmed, and something else. Madness. Thrall dropped the large object he had been carrying. The size of his arm, but no more than the smallest of one of the Ettin's finger-bones. He had learned less than he had wanted to – but he had a quest more than a simple riddle involving his dead brother-in-arms.
"Come to seek us out?" the ancient warlock said. "You abandoned us and our ways, if I recall…" he hissed, drawing his finger forth, a thick gelume falling off it in a syrup.
"You are a part of the Horde too. Renounce the demons and help me rebuild our people's legacy."
Again, that laugh, almost croaking. And the warlock turned away. Thrall could already sense his offer would be fruitless. The only question was, what would he do when the warlock refused.
"And what do you offer me in return for the power I would sacrifice?"
"There in no power in what you do. Not anymore, and not ever before. It was a trap of the demons – the more power you command, the less of your soul is left to command it."
"I have never noticed the difference."
"Because you have never experienced the difference."
The warlock looked up. "I see that the spirits are with you." It was true, the wind raged, and the storm seemed fitful and about to throw sparks of lightning.
The warlock sighed. "I am old. Too old to change. If this path offers nothing, then I am nothing. I will not join you."
He looked up again. "But neither will I fight you, or stand against your purpose young warchief."
"If ever you have need of my gifts, what of them remains and profitless as you claim, regardless, I will aid you. Perhaps there will be some small purpose to it after all. Some knowledge for the destiny of Orcs."
He sighed. "Often I have peered into fortune, prophecy and the future – and never did I see this vision come to pass. Too blind in the ways I thought I was seeing – asleep when I thought I was awake. Soon, the demons will come for my soul, I think – slain and defeated or not – I have made a gateway in my heart that even you cannot heal, I believe."
Thrall did not believe so – but did not interrupt. Perhaps this was the beginning.
He would wait upon the spirits, listen to their call, listen for the approach of demons – and he would do battle with them and save the soul of this Orc, twain though it may be. He did not know how much stock he put in that legend, but if an Orc had two souls, conjoined, then he would save both. Or the one, as it may be. This was his mission, why he was now the spiritual leader of the Horde, and not just of war. A role that had been difficult and odd at times, but yielded immeasurable hope.
The wind howled, just once – and the sound brought thoughts back into his mind.
He paused once, before leaving, the shadow still not leaving his shoulder. His eye was just a red star in the dark as he looked back at the warlock.
"So tell me, old Orc. You were once there at the birth of Hellscream. Tell me… will I ever see my old friend again?"
The old creature laughed and shuffled. "We see all, in time, young Warchief. Only the way in which you will see him again should you fear."
Thrall said nothing for a moment. Then nodded and left. The old orc hadn't even bothered to cast any bones.