Fallen Comrades



World News

Kneeling down, Gebrek felt the body of a bloodied orc and stared in a moment of confused silence at the disarray before him. More than twenty of his comrades’ corpses lay around the campsite in patches of blood-soaked soil, some still clutching the long pole weapons that had slain them. The tents were undisturbed, as was the campfire. His hunting party had hardly been gone long enough for the day fire to move in the sky. He sat still, thinking, trying to comprehend what could slay so many warriors so quickly. It wasn’t until he heard his hunting party behind him mumbling to each other that he remembered his new position of leadership as a poweruser and began barking orders in his guttural tones.

As the party spread out over the camp, Gebrek breathed a grumbling sigh. Orcs always obeyed a user of the power, no matter what their age, but Gebrek was still nervous. Not many day fires had passed since he had been considered too young to use the power without guidance from an elder poweruser. And he had many seasons left before he would be powerful enough to be recognized as a mage himself. Or so he thought. Now he was a mage and in command of his own party. That is, what was left of it.

Why was this happening? More and more of the young were being named as mages and fighters. Did the clan need the young so badly? Had so many orcs been lost that children were needed to defend the clan? For the first time he could remember the mages had even resorted to bestowing the power on helmets for the warriors. Gebrek couldn’t remember the mages ever putting the power into something for a warrior. Nor could he ever think of a time when a warrior would ask for a way to use the power. Usually both were too proud. Usually one did not need the other.

Half of the orcs in his party were too young to be warriors, too young even to be away from the fort. No warrior would be named when he was still so inexperienced that he feared battle, much less run from it as many of the new warriors had. Of course it was hard to blame them. Many of the battle lords who had known great glory as warriors were using the new helmets for an extra advantage. Most of those that had remained with the camp wore them. Now they were dead. And whatever killed them did it quickly and easily, despite the new helmets.

He walked around the perimeter of the camp observing the others as they checked their dead comrades and rummaged for anything useful, hoping the sight of orc corpses would not escalate their fear. Slowly small piles of supplies started to form by the campfire and Gebrek began considering his options. Whatever had killed the battle lords would make short work of the younger warriors, with or without the helms. As much as he wanted success on his first outing, he knew that this weak, inexperienced group of fledgling warriors would not be able to make the first strike to find new homes.

One of the young orcs lumbered up to Gebrek and grunted, holding out before him what looked like an orc face. Gebrek turned and tilted his head in curiosity. None of the dead had been missing a face. Reluctantly he took it with a scaly hand and almost dropped it in the same instant. This was not flesh! And it held the power! A false face that contained the power... no orc would make such a thing.

Again he looked over the campsite. Their best warriors were all dead. No sign of a struggle. False faces that held the power. An unseen killer. Gebrek could feel his youthful fears creeping into him again. Something was destroying his kin. The orcs were running out of time.



From the Britannia News Network - The Journal of Ultima Online, May 24th, 2001.