The Vandals of the Last Golden Age (More Orc Lore)

I am currently working on updating the Orcs, and I have just finished the first draft of their second bit of lore. Enjoy.

The Vandals of the Last Golden Age

The fall of Hold Ammerrack, sent shockwaves throughout all the Dwarf holds. It had been far too many passings to count since the last time a great hold fell, not since the First Dark Rising. Though many suspected and feared the cause, none dared believe it. The hold had simply gone quiet, and communication had stopped. King Arrafron sent a ‘Light Foot,’ a Dwarf spy named Haltren armed with a cloak of invisibility, to investigate what had happened. 

The fall of Hold Ammerrack seemed to mark the start of a decline in the Dwarf’s people’s fortunes. They had come to rely on Humans for trade, even supplanting trade with the Elfs. Settlements of men had sprung up around each Dwarf Hold, supplying them with wheat, barley, and clothing, which the men would trade for valuable metals and exquisitely crafted goods from the Dwarves. The trade between Dwarves and Humans had tied their fates together, so when one waned, so did the other.  

All was well until a new green menace emerged, raiding the Human settlements relentlessly. To protect their valuable trade with the Humans, the Dwarves had to intervene to drive their invaders away. The Dwarves even gave them the name ‘Orc,’ an ancient Dwarfish slur meaning ‘vandal.’ The Dwarf curse stuck, which is how they earned their name Orc. 

Orcs were hulking green monstrous warriors who would attack the Humans and wipe out their settlements, leaving nothing but destruction in their wake. If there were any survivors, they would always carry them away, kicking and screaming, never leaving a single soul behind. No one knew what their fate was. Perhaps thrown into slavery, or worse, but that was too terrible to imagine. 

At first, the Orc raids upon the Human settlements were rare, but slowly over time, they became far more frequent. Battle after battle, Dwarf Axes, Human Swords, and Orc Clubs clashed on the field. The Dwarves and Humans always emerged victorious. Still, the battles took their toll on the Men and Dwarves, and the blood they shed seemed to have no effect on thinning the green savages’ numbers. For every warband of Orcs they slaughtered, two more would soon take their place. There were also worrying reports of Dwarf outposts and trade caravans disappearing. Some believed these green-skinned raiders were to blame, but the young races attacking the Old Powers directly was unheard of. 

Concerned, King Arrafron reached out to Emperor Zatterese and Empress Zeerea of the Elfs, but they were uninterested in the plight of mere Humans. The squabbling of the creatures from the mire was of little concern to the Golden Ones. Besides, the slight of choosing Humans to trade with over their divine selves had not gone unnoticed. 

Finally, after three passings, the Light Foot Haltren completed his mission and returned to the Great Dwarf Hold under the mountain of Kharrath, the capital of the Dwarves and the seat of the King of all their great houses. 

As the Light Foot entered the High King’s Grand Hall of Kharrath, all who were able to attend the King’s council came to hear his report on the true fate of Ammerrack. 

Slowly, the murmuring died down as Haltren approached the great old King with the mighty crown of Kharrath upon his head. By the time he formally bowed to greet his lord, the huge hall was completely silent. 

“Light Foot Haltren of House Oloz, welcome back. It is good to know you are safe and well,” said the King. 

With the formalities over, Haltren raised his head and replied, “It is good to be back, my King.” 

“What news do you bring me, Light Foot of Ammerrack? Why have we heard nothing from that great hold for so long now?” 

“The hold still stands, but they are in a bad way, my King.” 

“What happened?” 

“In short, Orcs,” replied Haltren. 

The grand old hall, packed with the great and the good, erupted with gasps and chatter upon hearing the news. 

“Silence!” boomed the King’s voice, which carried to every corner of the great hall. Immediately the chatter fell quiet. “Go on, Light Foot Haltren.” 

“Yes, my King. It is a story we have heard many times before. The Orcs attacked the Human settlement, Bankside, which supplied the hold with most of their food. In response, Hold Master Ondro attacked the Orcs but was badly defeated,” Haltren explained as gasps came from all around the hall. “Our kin retreated to the hold, but they were ill-prepared for a siege, and now they are slowly starving to death.” 

Enraged, King Arrafron stood up and clenched his fist. “We will send a relief force, and the Orcs will rule the turn they dared to attack us Dwarfs!” 

“My King, there is much more,” Haltren explained that even though the news about the hold was bad, there was worse to come. While travelling back home, he heard tales of the green hordes attacking everywhere, much further than he ever thought possible for such a primitive race. The Orcs had wiped out many great civilisations of men, yet unknown to the Old Powers. The tribes of Goblins, Norks, and Centaurs were fleeing these lands to evade the green menace, and the Orcs had even burned down four Great Forests. 

All in the hall were stunned by the grim news. 

“How can this be? How have we been so blind? House Oloz, is it not your role to watch the world above?” said King Arrafron, rubbing his troubled brow. 

“We have always watched for threats that come from below, but as you know, my King, not since the birth of the Saphire in the sky have the Demons have been able to stay up on our Plain for long. Other threats from the Middle Plain itself are unheard of. As a result, funds to our once proud House of Oloz have dwindled, and now, we are not what we once were,” Haltren explained to his King. 

The King took a moment to reflect upon the Light Foots’ words. “We will put an end to your House’s decline. Your house will receive all the funds it lacks to make House Oloz great again. It would seem we have been asleep for some time, but now it is time for us to open our eyes again and look more closely at what is coming out of the mire.” 

“My King, there is still much more to tell.” 

Haltren then went on to tell an extraordinary tale. One shadowfall, he took refuge in a small Human village with a few other Sky Watchers, who were young Dwarf warriors looking for adventure upon the Middle Plain. 

As dusk settled in, the green horde attacked the village. The men and dwarves joined forces to defend themselves against the Orc raiders but were outnumbered and outmatched.  The village was burned to ashes, and most Men and Dwarves were slain in the battle. 

Haltren explained how he was captured by the Orcs and watched green savages cannibalise the dead and dying, even consuming their kin. He and the rest of the surviving villagers and warriors were thrown into ramshackle iron wagons, pulled by the Orcs themselves, and taken away as prisoners.  

Upon seeing what the Orcs did with the dead, Haltren knew what fate awaited him and the rest of the prisoners. He could use his magical cape to escape, but he could do nothing for his comrades but pray he was wrong. Thankfully, there were no children on board the wagon. Otherwise, mothers and fathers might have to do the unthinkable to spare their little ones from a truly gruesome end. Some chose to end it then and there, using anything they could find to do the job. Others plotted an escape, and the rest hoped beyond hope that they would be rescued before their end came. 

Haltren knew there was more at stake than just his own life. There had to be more to the Orcs than just mindless savages. How could a race of primitive savages spread like a plague across the Middle Plain, unchallenged and unnoticed by the Old Powers? How had they humbled so many great civilisations of men? How had they felled so many of the great forest kingdoms? Even Elfs and Dwarves were cautious about treading under their woody domain. Perhaps a great Demon from the Lower Plains was behind their sudden rise. He did not know, but as long as those questions remained, he had to stay on this wagon and bring these answers back to his king. Then, the Old Powers might finally take some action against the green horde if it was not too late already. Hold Ammerrack would have to wait a bit longer for aid. 

It was not long before Haltren got some confirmation he was right about the horrible fate that awaited the prisoners.  

To keep their livestock alive or just for fun, the Orcs would throw the scraps into the cages for their captives to fight over, and every shadowfall, the beasts would drag out the weak and injured from their caged wagon and devour them alive, tearing them limb from limb. To the Light Foot’s last turn he would never forget their screams in the shadows to the Light Foot’s last turn.  

Despite these horrors, the disk would keep turning, and the Light Foot had a job to do. In a journal, which was hidden about his person, he wrote down his observations about the Orcs and their ways. Other prisoners saw him jotting things down and would laugh at him, saying no one will ever see your notes. However, Haltren found that keeping his journal as diligently as he did helped ease his nerves and make sense of the pain and misery around him.  

Haltren observed that when an Orc ate, they could devour a Man whole, but after that, they would not eat for many turns and could consume anything, from raw flesh to rotting carcasses and even bones. They rarely ate fruits and vegetables but could if needed. 

Even savages, such as this band of brutes, had a primitive social structure, which included a strict hierarchy. They even displayed acts of camaraderie amongst themselves. They sang songs, teased each other, and formed genuine friendships. Haltren likens them to a gang of wild children.  

As brutal and as savage as they were, Haltren realised that the Orcs were simply trying to survive on the Middle Plain, and this was their way. To the Orcs, the other lessor races, and even the Old Powers, were just game to be caught and eaten. All races did this; he just thought he would never be on the wrong end of that scale. 

Every so often, more cage wagons and war bands of Orc warriors would join alongside his own. All those wagons were filled with fresh meat. It was clear to Haltren that this growing caravan was heading somewhere important to the Orcs. 

At long last, the Light Foot’s watchful eye caught sight of a massive horde of green skins on the horizon, swarming around a seemingly endless sea of black iron carts and wagons. As his caravan drew ever closer, he knew with a sinking feeling that they were about to arrive at their destination. 

Haltren had been taken so far from his original location of capture that he could no longer rely on familiar landmarks to navigate his way back. Instead, he had to rely on the faint glimmer of the Demon Eyes in the sky to guide him towards home. 

As Haltren’s wagon train joined with the massive Orc caravan, he peered out from behind his iron bars at the thousands of Orc warriors surrounding him. Despite their fearsome reputation, he was surprised to see that many of them were simply passing the time with light-hearted activities. Some played games or playfully fought with each other, while others lounged around chatting, singing, and even drinking from the tops of broken skulls. It was clear that there was a certain level of order amongst the Orcs, and it left the Light Foot with a sense of unease. 

For the first time, Haltren saw Orc builders and craftsmen. They were putting together new wagons using scraps and junk from sacked towns and cities. 

The Orcs kept massive trolls with them, caged to prevent them from rampaging and causing mayhem. 

The Dwarf spHearger than any he had seen before, dotted within the sea of green skins. Apart from their massive size, they had a few odd features that made them stand out from the others he had seen. From what Haltren could see, there was no obvious way into them. They were covered in huge metal and wood spikes adorned with the death of their enemies and cobbled together from various brighter and shinier metals, such as silver, gold, copper, and bronze and held aloft by dozens of thick, sturdy wheels. Each one of these contraptions had hulking Orc warriors clad in thick rusty iron amour guarding them. 

Haltren wondered what important items could be stored inside the huge, spiked wagons. He discounted food as he doubted these primitives had the means to preserve it. Armouries were a possibility, but every Orc always carried their weapons about their person. The idea of riches seemed unlikely as well, as the Orcs had little use for gold coins or precious gems. That said, the Orcs did value large pieces of tough material they could fashion into new armour, weapons and wagons, such as broken doors, shields, scraps of metal, rope, skins, planks of wood and large pieces of bone, but he had already seen wagons full of that junk already. Whatever was in those wagons, Haltren knew he had to find out.

Without warning, the Light Foot’s wagon came to an abrupt halt, causing the captive Dwarf and his fellow prisoners to stumble and fall. A towering Orc, clad head-to-toe in rusty iron armour, appeared from the throngs of green skins and barked orders at the wagon drivers. It was evident that he was one of the leaders of the caravan. With a few grunts and gestures, he directed the attention of his underlings to one of the enormous metal wagons, and the cart lurched forward in that direction. The Dwarf knew that this was his opportunity to investigate the container for himself. 

Haltren knew he had to act fast if he wanted to survive. He pulled out his magic cape and quickly put it on, being careful not to draw too much attention to himself. He disappeared from sight, and thankfully, no one noticed. The iron door of the caged wagon swung open with a loud creak and landed upon the floor bang, which helped draw everyone’s attention away from him. The Orcs grunted and pointed, indicating that it was time to leave their prison. The Light Foot knew all too well what was about to happen to them and felt helpless to do anything. He wished he could save the prisoners, but there was nothing he could do at the moment. 

Battered, bruised, and starving, many didn’t resist. They had accepted their fate and welcomed the end of their suffering. Those still with some fight left in them clung hopelessly to the bars of their cage but were pried off by the Orcs and thrown in with the other prisoners outside. 

In all the commotion, no one had noticed the Light Foot sneaking out of the caged wagon, aided by his magical cape. 

The very weak, injured or sickly prisoners were thrown into the mob of orcs. Their suffering was short-lived, with their screams only lasting mere moments before they were torn apart limb by limb and devoured alive by the ravenous green skins. 

Those who were still able to walk were led towards one of the massive ramshackle metal spiked wagons.

Haltren’s magical cape may have concealed him, but at any moment, he still could be discovered. Regardless, he knew he had to take the risk of following those poor souls into the massive wagon. 

At the front of the spiked wagon, a ramp fell down. Haltren did his best to peer inside, but he could see nothing but shadows. However, whatever was in there, smelled like rotting death. One by one, the men and dwarves were forced into the massive wagon. So as not to alert any of the orcs to his presence, the watcher snuck in behind the captives, putting himself at the back of the queue. He did his best not to bump into anyone, careful not to make a sound and reveal himself. 

Just before entering, Haltren noticed that there were a number of large horizontal slits running all around the spiked wagon near its top. 

Before Haltren could ponder the purpose of those slits, he found himself inside the massive wagon, treading slowly along a narrow metal platform stained with blood and entrails. He couldn’t see beyond the two humans walking ahead of him, but he could hear hundreds of things gnashing their teeth and sploshing around below him. He also thought he could hear them ‘giggling’, but he could not be sure. As he progressed, the stench of death and decay intensified, making it difficult for him to breathe in the grim darkness of that place. 

He looked down from the platform to see what was making those dreadful sounds, and there in the shadows, he saw them – hundreds of them! Fat yellow grub-like creatures swimming around in some slurry of filth, muck, and gore. Their beady crimson eyes looked up with evil excitement at the captives, all with their oversized mouths wide open, exposing their thick, chunky, sharp teeth perfect for ripping raw flesh from bone. They had stubby arms with a single hook-like claw at their ends, which they waved in excitement. Those things were all fighting amongst themselves to get under the platform, all snapping, biting, battering and scratching each other to get the position they wanted. 

Suddenly, a huge arm swung past the platform and knocked all the captives off it. Those poor souls fell into the hundreds of gnashing jaws below and were devoured instantly by the ravenous creatures. They didn’t even have a chance to scream. 

Thankfully, the massive arm that swept past had missed the invisible Light Foot by mere inches. Haltren’s path was clear, and he could finally see what had delivered such a powerful blow. Before him sat the most hideous creature he had ever seen or would ever see again. It was so terrifying that he instantly thought it was a demon from the lower planes, perhaps even Crucksimore himself, the “Great Glutton,” or at least one of his lesser minions. However, the Light Foot would come to realize that what was before him was a “Snort,” a female Orc, and he was going to be one of the few to ever lay eyes on one and live. 

The Snort’s bloated body was half submerged in a putrid birthing pool, filled to the brim with her insatiable offspring. Despite only seeing the top half of her body, Haltren could tell that she towered over him. Her sickly green skin was covered in oozing pustules and warts of varying shades, and her grotesque body was adorned with poorly crafted jewellery, including a necklace made of beaten copper and skulls. Crude tattoos that no decent person could describe covered her body, and she had numerous copper rings and bone studs piercing her flesh. The Snort’s massive gut pulsated with hundreds of bumps caused by the constant movement of her countless offspring inside her. It was a repulsive sight that made Haltren’s stomach turn. He could only imagine the horrors that must have taken place in that birthing pool, and he shuddered at the thought. 

Amazingly, there was one other who survived the Snort’s initial attack. A young Dwarf warrior had somehow managed to hang on to the metal platform. He heaved himself up and stood defiantly in front of the green monster. 

“Is that all you have, you green piece of filth!” The Dwarf Warrior bellowed back at the huge snort. 

Surprised, the massive hideous creature leaned forward, causing some of her young to squeal out in pain as they were crushed alive as her huge weight shifted in her birthing pool. The Snort’s sudden movement caused the defiant Dwarf to stumble backwards a few steps. 

“Dwarf…you intrigue me. You have the air of magic about you, I believe,” said the Snort in a loud, raspy voice, speaking in perfect Dwarfish. 

Haltren couldn’t believe it. The Snort not only spoke his tongue fluently, and she could also sense the magic emanating from his cape. Thankfully for him, she believed the warping of the Ether was coming from the brave Dwarf warrior before her, not him. As long as the Dwarf lived, he was safe. 

By the puzzled look on the Dwarf Warrior’s face, he clearly did not have any idea what the Snort was talking about. “Stop playing your games and finish me off!” he hollered back at the Snort.  

“You know you don’t have to shout, little dwarf, and don’t worry, I will in time. Most odd,” she said, scratching one of her many chins. “That magic about you must be coming from somewhere. Who are you, little dwarf? Which house are you from?” 

Again, the warrior paused for a moment before answering. “House? How do you know so much about our ways, you foul creature?” 

The great beast laughed out loud, making the filth of her pool swish and splash around her and her young to squeal in terror, fearing another sudden movement. “Silly little dwarf, we know much about your kind because we have watched you for some time. First, we learned your tongue, then your ways, and then how to beat you. Now, what house are you from?” 

“The Great Hold of Kharrath will never fall. It will outlast me, you, and the gods permitting, even your wretched kind!” 

The Snort leaned in to take a closer look at the warrior’s armour, making her young squeal once more. “Ar, yes, you look like you from the house of the axe, House Tazhag. Silly how each Dwarf War House is divided by the weapons they carry into battle. Little to do with magic, though”. Again, the Snort scatch one of her many chins in thought. Then, in a sudden movement, which crushed many of her young to death, she grabbed hold of the warrior with both her hulking clawed hands, lifting him off the platform and drawing him much closer to her. 

The Snort’s grip was so powerful that even in full armour, she crushed the warrior and forced all the air out of his lungs to the point where he could not yell out in pain. “Listen, foolish little Dwarf,” the Snort taunted. “To us, you are no more than worms that tunnel down into the filth, but unlike worms, we do not need to dig you out to rid this disk of you. We simply have to kill the Men who live around you. Then, where will your food come from? Your great holds, which you speak of with such pride, will become your tombs as you all starve to death within them. If it were not for your arrogance, you might have realised this sooner. But I digress. Your kind has shown some signs of resistance, unlike the Elfs, who have no idea what is in store for them. Our Iron Queen Mother fears them, particularly their winged beasts that spit flame. That is why we have yet to attack them. Dwarf tongues rarely wag, but some men never stop, and we have learned your great alliance with the Elfs, the Old Powers, is crumbling. They will only come to your aid if they do not feel threatened. Yet, even now, we encircle their golden cities, slowly tightening the noose. The Golden Ones care little for what lies beyond their pretty white walls and do not see the danger building up around them. I look forward to tasting Elf flesh, but for now, I will have to settle for Dwarf.” 

The Snort’s huge mouth, ringed by dozens of yellow-stained teeth, already full of rotting blood and guts from her former victims, opened wide as she bit the warrior’s head clean off. Despite the warrior’s struggles, his warm blood spurted from his headless body under the immense pressure of her grip, drenching the Snort’s fat face, which she revelled in.” 

Haltren, still hidden by his magical cloak, knew it was only a matter of time before she realised the bend in the Ether was, in fact, coming from him and not the warrior, as she first supposed. So, he left before he might become her next meal and escaped. 

“And that, my King, is my tale.” The Light Foot concluded. 

The Great Hall was silent. Not a single murmur, cough or shuffling of feet could be heard in the vast hall, crammed full of hundreds of Dwarves. Finally, the King stood up again and clenched both his fists hard. Due to the unnatural powers granted to him by the Crown of KharrathIn and his great age, the gold rings, one by one, popped off his thick fingers as he made his fists. 

“Dwarves, all Dwarves of the Middle Plain, we are at war!” The King’s voice boomed out across the hall. “Send out the word. All houses, great and small, must return home and prepare for war!” Cheers erupted across the grand hall as soon as the King finished speaking. 

So it was the Dwarves ready themselves for war. Not since the First Dard Rising had the Dwarf peoples united and marched under one banner to crush an enemy. 

Relations between the Elves and Dwarves had grown cold, but their great alliance still stood strong. The Dwarves knew they must make their golden brothers understand the dangers mounting beyond their white walls. 

To press home the danger the Orcs posed to the entire Middle Plain, for the first time in a long time, the Dwarf King, Arrafron, visited the divine Elf Emperor, Zatterese, and Empress Zeerea in their Golden Tower at Arrasirren, the capital of their Golden Empire. 

After the Elfs had thrown much pomp and ceremony, befitting King Arrafron’ visit, the Emporer and Empress finally gave the King an audience within their great Golden Tower. 

Despite King Arrafron’s best efforts, the royal couple largely dismissed the King’s claims. How could the savage Orc or any lowly creature from the mire pose such a threat to the Golden Empire, the First Ones, the High Children of Winsill? That said, they did not want to insult the Dwarf King. So, for the sake of their ancient alliance, the Emperor and Empress sent one of their many Princes to investigate the King’s claims. 

The Prince’s scouts reported that they had found an Orc warband. The Efs tracked the Orcs to a flat grass plain to make the best use of their mounted forces. When the Elfs attacked the horde, they easily destroyed them. The Prince boasted that the Orcs simply scattered before them in terror upon seeing the Golden Ones. 

As far as the Elfs were concerned, their easy victory confirmed their beliefs about the green savages. They posed no threat to their Golden Empire. Declaring war on these primitives was a joke, akin to declaring war on rats. Creatures that had crawled out of the mire should be left to squabble amongst themselves and did not warrant their attention. Besides, the golden ones’ believed all the filth upon the Middle Plain would eventually be burned away with Winsil’s Sapphire.  

The Elfs closed their pearly white gates and retreated back into their own business. So not to insult their young brothers, they did formally declare war on the Orcs. In reality, the Elfs’ laughed at the notion and carried on with higher pursuits once more, such as poetry, music, art, and dance. 

The Dwarves were no fools; they knew all too well what their golden brothers really thought. However, they would not plead with the Elfs anymore; their pride could not withstand it. Instead, they readied for war and left them to their own frivolous devices. 

Blades honed, oaths sworn, and banners unfurled high, the Dwarves marched forward to wage war against the green savage upstarts, as they once did long ago against the Demons of Chaos. 

At first, the war went smoothly, with the Dwarf warriors decimating one Orc warband after another. However, the green hordes showed no signs of slowing down, and the Dwarves’ losses began to pile up. The Orcs’ numbers seemed infinite, while the Dwarves’ were finite. To make matters worse, every time a territory was cleared of the Orc scourge, it would quickly be retaken once the Dwarf forces pulled back to resupply. 

The Dwarves knew they had to change their strategy, or they would lose the war due to attrition. The King decreed that all Orc caravans should be hunted down and destroyed, but this was easier said than done. The Dwarves found that the Orcs would move their caravans away from their forces as soon as they approached. The green skins would even use their caravans as bait to draw the Dwarf armies deep into their lands before attacking and picking them off. 

King Arrafron came to the grim realisation that they could not win this war against the Orcs without fast-moving cavalry or flying monsters to catch the caravans and kill the Snorts, which was the key to defeating the green hordes. The Dwarves’ stout build made for excellent infantry, the best upon the Middle Plain, but they could not mount beasts as the Elfs did. The Orcs had planned this from the beginning, playing on the Old Powers’ division and arrogance. They had singled out the Dwarves, and they played into their hands, and when they were gone, only then would they move upon the Elfs. 

King Arrafron swallowed his pride and sent another envoy to the Elfs, but they never returned. Most likely, those brave souls were killed by the Orcs, and that meant the green skins now overran the roads. Once upon a time, word could be sent through the great Underway, but those vast tunnels had largely fallen into ruin long ago due to the Plain Worms. 

The only way to warn the Elfs now was through the Light of Marrasayer, which could be seen from the highest mountaintop of the Middle Plain. If the Golden Ones saw the light upon that mountain, they would come. 

To activate the great Light, King Arrafron had to light the lesser beacons, which were linked in a chain. King Arrafron ordered that the first beacon be set ablaze. The King watched as one after another beacon was lit across the chain of mountains. The King waited and waited, but the great mountain of Marrasyer did not light up. The Old Power’s great chain of light that ringed their disk had been broken, and the King had little doubt about who was to blame, the Orcs. The Elfs would not come. 

As dire as the situation was, the Dwarves could go on fighting for many more passings to come, but the King knew that is what the Orcs wanted, to slowly whittle them down until they are nothing. The Elfs must see for themselves how much the Orcs are a true threat! Quickly; a plan started to appear in the King’s mind’s eye. 

King Arrafron ordered a retreat of all his forces back to their great mountain holds, gathering whatever supplies they could from the surface world and storing them in their understand fortresses. They would return to eating pale mushrooms and drinking fresh underground river water, as they did in the beginning. All Dwarves would seal themselves away in the holds and repair the great underground roads to each hold that caved in due to the Plain Worms and many passings of neglect. Lastly, the King sent out envoys to parley with the Snorts, or even the mythical Iron Queen, whom none had ever seen, and sue for peace. 

King Arrafron knew all too well that he was sending those Dwarves to their deaths. He needed the Snorts to believe the Dwarves had been defeated and had left the service world to its fait and would slowly parish deep underground, as those foul creatures had intended. To relieve their suffering, each member of the envoy carried a small vial of fast-acting poison to take at their end. None returned. 

After the Dwarves’ great retreat from the world, they did indeed completely vanish, and for over two hundred passings, they remained sealed away in their mountain holds. Many feared they were no more, wiped out by the relentless Orcs, but the Dwarves were far from defeated. Deep underground, they toiled tirelessly, repairing their Great Underway and fortresses and preparing for a new kind of war, one fought on their own terms. The Dwarves were patient, determined, and unyielding, and they knew that when the time came, they would emerge from the shadows stronger and fiercer than ever before. 

Without the might of the Dwarfs holding back the Orcs, they spread like a green plague throughout all the lands of the Middle Plain, practically unchallenged. They swept aside all the other young races, bringing death and destruction in their wake. However, the Orcs were always careful not to disturb the Elfs’ merry-making behind their pearly white walls. 

Only when the Orcs started burning the Great Forests did the Elfs finally stir from their pleasant dream that something was amiss upon their Middle Plain, but it was too little too late. 

With the Dwarves believed to be all but lost, the devious Snorts became emboldened and began to hunger for Elf’s flesh. Finally, the insidious creatures made their move against the Golden ones.

The grand golden city of Dillee was caught off guard when they awoke to find the green horde at their gates. Despite the impending siege, they couldn’t believe the insolence of these creatures from the mire and did little to prepare for an attack. It was only when the horde’s massive Trolls began battering down their gates that they finally rang the alarm bells, many of which broke due to neglect, as they had not rung since the First Dark Rising. The Elfs scrambled, but tragically their weapons and armour were blunt and falling to pieces. 

By the end of the turn, the Grand Golden City Dillee was engulfed in flames, and its people were mercilessly slaughtered. The few survivors who remained were taken captive by the Orcs, crying out for mercy. After years of waiting, the Orcs had finally sated their hunger for the golden flesh of the Elfs. It tasted good, and they wanted more! 

The sacking of Dillee sent shockwaves across the Golden Empire, but it was too late to act now, as the golden ones’ cities fell in quick succession, one after another, to the rampaging green hordes. The Orcs had coordinated all of their attacks within just a dozen turns, giving the Elfs no hope of preparing their defences in time. 

At first, the Elfs called out for their grey brother’s aid but were utterly stunned, only to discover their departure from the Middle Plain. Their outposts were ransacked, their mountains overrun, and their great doors to hold all sealed tight and silent. It was almost as if the mire had bubbled up and swallowed up the entire race of the Dwarves. 

Emperor Zatterese and Empress Zeerea realised they stood alone against the Orcs. No matter, they would crush them easily and show their brothers there was nothing to fear from the mire.  

The Emperor and Empress sent out their Elf armies, led by their Princes upon their Great Gold and Blue Dragons, to crush the green savages once and for all. 

One such Prince was Exittin, who, upon his mighty Golden Dragon, Grunk Snap the Gold, spotted a huge horde of green skins heading to attack another Elf city. From the winged beast’s back, the mighty Prince led a huge host of Elfs into battle against the rampaging Orcs. 

Prince Exittin faced the Iron Queen’s favoured Daughter, Gutter the Head Taker, in battle. The two sides met in a once beautiful valley nestled between the White Mountains of Hdore. The Queen had instructed her Iron Daughters to choose places of battle that suited their forces and denied or hampered the Elfs’ use of their cavalry and winged beasts. 

The challenges of fighting in such terrain were not lost on Prince Exittin, but he rode atop Grunk Snap the Gold, one of the greatest Golden Dragons to ever take flight across the plains. The Orcs had only fought against inferior Candles, the lowest of the low amongst his kind and barely considered true Elfs. “Really, what could these savages from the muck of the mire hope to achieve against the full might of the Golden Empire,” thought the Prince. 

As Exittin surveyed the enemy lines from his great dragon, for the first time, he spotted bands of blue orcs among the green ones. They had very primitive weapons, even for their kind. Unlike the green orcs, who wielded metal and wooden arms, their rarer blue kin’s weapons were a mash of bones, claws and teeth. They seemed like a ragged and savage lot, hardly worth his notice. But a great danger lurked within their ranks, one that he would soon regret overlooking. 

What Prince Exittin would soon discover was that blue orcs were completely immune to magic and insane, even by Orcish standards. Not only had Gutter brought blue grunts, but he had also hidden their sapphire queens, otherwise known as the hags, among them. These blue females were natural-born magic users who often dabbled in chaos. Most wizards avoided using chaos magic because of the random ill effects it could have on the user, such as turning their head inside out or their organs into stone. But as hags were immune to magic, they had no such worries when using this dangerous discipline. 

Exittin spotted Gutter the Head Taker’s massive spiked battle wagon protruding from the front line, almost taunting him to attack. “Foolish dumb creature”, he thought. The Golden Prince believed that if he took the initiative now and charged forward on his mighty dragon and killed the orc leader, the horde would scatter, and a quick and decisive victory would be his. 

The Golden Prince, on his mighty Dragon, raised his magnificent white lance and then lowered it, signalling the charge. Prince Exittin dashed towards the green horde, flanked by the rest of his army. 

Iron Mother Gutter had been waiting for this very moment. As the huge dragon hurtled towards them, four hags emerged from the orc lines and hurled their deadly chaos magic at it. Suddenly, cracks, in reality, opened up around the great beast. Two missed, but two did not, and huge chunks of flesh were torn from Grunk Snap the Gold and lost to oblivion, mortally wounding the great beast. The dragon gave out an almighty roar in pain and came crashing down. Prince Exittin was thrown off his huge mount. Thanks to the prince’s cat-like reflexes, he survived his fall unscathed. As for Grunk Snap the Gold, the once mighty beast lay dying on the battlefield; his great might be wasted in a petulant charge. 

Upon seeing their prince and great mount fall, the Elfs’ charge faltered while the orcs gave out a mighty roar in celebration and charged the stunned golden ones. 

In a state of panic, the Elfs were no match for the savage ferocity of the green horde. Even their famed speed and agility could not save them against the Orcs’ brutality. 

The green skins swarm over the Elfs, casting their nets over them and clubbing those they caught to a bloody golden paste. The Elf Cavalry fled in terror, but the mountains hampered their escape, and soon they, too, were all slaughtered. 

Hight-born Prince Exittin shared the same fate as his low-born Elfs. Amongst all the bloodletting, he lost his nerve and tried to escape, but he was caught in an orc’s net and beaten to death by crude weapons made of bone and stone.

Prince Exittin had once thought he would turn the White Mountains red, but now they were forever stained gold. 

Gold and green clashed across the Middle Plain and, with just a few exceptions, had a similar outcome to the battle of the White Mountains. The Elfs would underestimate the Orcs and be swamped by their much greater numbers in battle. 

When the news of the Elf defeats came flooding in, only then did Emperor Zatterese and Empress Zeerea realise their folly. What’s more, reports of the biggest war caravan ever seen were heading towards the Golden Empire’s capital, Arrasirren, their seat of power. If this, the first of all cities, were to fall, the Middle Plain would fall into darkness forever. 

The Elfs mustered their city’s defences and even sent more envoys to the Dwarves, pleading for help. If they were still around to answer or not, no one knew, as hide nor hair of one had been seen for over two hundred passings. Even if they did come, they would not come in time to join them in the battle against the Orcs.  

Not all was lost, Arrasirren’s great white walls were formidable and had once held back the torrents of Demons during the First Dark Rising, and they would hold again against the Orcs.  

More Great Dragons, too, were called. However, many stayed away, as they were angered by their kins’ squandered lives so far in the war. These ageless beings planned to simply sleep out the green plague and emerge after they had passed.  

With their doom marching upon them, the Emperor and Empress had no choice; they ordered all the slumbering Immortals under their city to be awakened! 

These powerful warriors are seldom deployed in battle as they are irreplaceable. During the first Dark Rising, when the pure-blooded Els were being slaughtered by the demons from the Lower Plains, the Immortals were the first to take up arms and fight back. After banishing the demons and sending them back screaming to the Lower Plains, the Immortals pledged never to take a spouse, master the art of combat, and serve the golden bloodline until they perish in battle. 

Each Immortal wears exquisite, brilliant white full-body armour enchanted with powerful anti-magic protections. They wield magical double-bladed crescent staffs, which they whirl around in battle at incredible speeds, far faster than the eye can see. As the blades of their staffs gain momentum, they burn brighter and hotter, allowing the Immortals to slice through the toughest hide and metal armour with ease. 

The Emperor and Empress took personal charge of preparing the defences of their capital city. Emperor Zatterese would lead the warriors, while Empress Zeerea would cast powerful arcane magic upon the green skins. If their light were to be snuffed out from the Middle Plain, they would make it costly for every drop of golden blood the Orcs dared to spill. 

Finally, the wait was over as a seemingly unending sea of green appeared on the horizon beyond the great white battlements of Arrasirren. The Eagle Scout Riders that returned had only reported one message about an Orc caravan, but it turned out to be one of many heading to siege the Elf Capital. The caravans had merged into a vast horde of green skins, the likes of which the Middle Plain had never seen before and would never see again. The Iron Queen was taking no chances in this coming siege and had mustered the combined might of nearly all the caravans under her banner for this battle. She had even come out of the shadows to lead her forces into this final battle against the Elfs and was carried in a great golden spiked battle wagon, much grander and bigger than any other upon the Middle Plain. 

The bright eyes of the Elfs looked down from their purley white walls and were met by a sea of countless yellow and red Orc eyes, which hungered for murder and destruction. In their Orcs’ excitement, the loud and filthy beasts bashed their bone and wooden shields with their crude clubs, readying themselves as they shouted and cursed at the Elfs. The Elves prayed for deliverance from their creator Winsill, but in their hearts, they knew they did not deserve it. Their arrogance had blinded them to the growing threat of the Orcs. Winsill, in his divine wisdom, had already gifted them with their stout brothers, the Dwarves, who they had laughed at and sent away. 

The Empress and her sorceresses were undoubtedly the most powerful magic casters on the Middle Plain. However, when the Empress reached out with her mind to sense the enemy’s magical prowess, she was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of Dark and Chaos magic emanating from beyond their battlements. The Orcs clearly did not share the golden ones’ mastery over the arcane, but their vastly greater number of magic casters would be difficult to hold back. If not for the anti-magic enhancements upon their walls, the Elfs would soon crumble under the Orcs’ magical might. 

The Empress shared her frightful concerns with her husband. Against the dangers of foul Chaos magic, the Great Dragons would be vulnerable and would have to be held back until a solution could be found. The remaining Dragons had reservations about fighting alongside the Elfs, and if one were to fall early in the battle, many could take flight and leave the Elfs to their fate. 

The green horde aligned their forces just out of range of the Elf’s famed archers. Despite their caution, the distance the Orcs deployed did not save them from the Elfs’ war machines that shot out their bolts, stones, and disks at the enemy. The Elf engineers worked frantically, and their fine war machines did their damage, but it was like trying to empty an ocean with a thimble, so they did little to thin the great horde’s numbers. 

Suddenly, the Orcs gave out a great roar, which could only single one thing, the start of the battle! 

All of the green skins surged forwards, like a great flood of green terror, holding their shields high and waving clubs, axes and nets, whooping, yelling and shouting as they ran towards the white walls. Some carried great and long ladders to scale the Elf battlements with, made from wood and bone, somehow held together with knotted leather straps and bone and iron bolts.  

Following the unending tides of green skins, the Elves watched in horror as slave Trolls pushed forth a truly massive machine. The Orcs had constructed a huge battering ram; its wheels were twice the height of an Elf and had to be pushed by twelve Trolls due to its size and weight. The machine was made from a mishmash of bone, wood, and metal and covered in blue skins. The huge weapon of war was not a pretty sight at all, but it looked up to the job of smashing down Elf’s gate. 

The great ram was flanked by smaller wagons filled to the brim with stones and rubble and nothing else. It was clear that the Orcs planned to fill in the moat that ringed the Elf city so their great ram could reach the gates. 

If the ram failed, the Orcs had dozens of massive Trolls to herd into battle, all armed with huge clubs made from tree trunks and boulders. These weapons were good for bashing down walls and gates and would be just as effective at smashing Elf warriors into a pulp. 

The extremely agile Immortals leapt upon the battlements and greeted their fellow El, the Emperor and Empress. Upon seeing the Immortals, all the lesser Elfs bowed their heads. So shocked was one lowly candle that he dropped his spear. 

The El warriors looked out upon the battlefield and saw the countless green savages rushing towards their walls. Even they were shocked by the Orcs’ numbers. Not since the First Dark Rising, when they fought the unending tides of Demons, had they seen an enemy so numerous. 

The Immortals turned to the Emperor and Empress and breached their minds. In a flash, the El warriors saw their children become idle and self-obsessed as the Orcs multiplied and readied themselves for war. The Immortals were shocked that the caretakers of their golden empire had ignored the warnings of their brothers, the Dwarves, and had allowed themselves to be swallowed up by the green tide as it swept across the Middle Plain, all without a challenge from the Elfs. 

The Emperor and Empress had failed, and now all were about to pay the price. The Immortals made their feelings toward Emperor Zatterese and Empress Zeerea’s stewardship known, and they hung their heads in shame before their peers. 

Finally, the candle’s spear hit the floor. 

As the horde advanced into the range of the Elf archers, the Elfs released scores of arrows into the air, darkening the skies and raining down upon the Orcs. But the floods of arrows did little to slow the tide of green savages charging towards Arracerren’s walls. The Orcs’ ramshackle shields blocked most of the arrows, and those that found their way through often failed to penetrate the tough hides of the Orcs. To the horror of the Elfs, they watched as the Orcs continued to charge forward even after taking five to seven hits before finally falling in battle. 

When the Orcs reached the city’s moat, the Elfs had hoped that the horde’s advance might be slowed, but they were sadly mistaken. Despite the Orcs’ heavy hulking bodies, even ladened with their weapons and armour, they seemed quite at home in the water and soon crossed the moat with little effort. They even seemed to enjoy their short dip. 

At least the Orcs’ great ram would be unable to cross the moat so easily, but as the Elfs had feared, the green skins wheeled their wagons filled with stone and rubble and ran them straight into the water. The Elfs could do little to stop the Orcs’ cunning plan from being put into action. The Elfs shot bolt after bolt at the load-bearing wagons, and the Empress and her lesser sorceresses focused their magical attacks on the crude machines. Some of the wagons were destroyed, but there were too many to stop, and teams of Orcs appeared around the broken wagons and hurried the stones and rubble to the moat by hand. 

It was not long until a very uneven rocky path emerged across the Elf’s moat. Groups of Orcs, all carrying massive stone hammers, ran to the bridge and began to smash it down to smooth the way for their great ram to cross. Other green skins behind followed them and filled in the holes left behind by the hammerers to smooth the path further. Those Orcs did all their work under showers of arrows and heavy magical attacks. As one worker would fall, another would soon take their place and continue their mission. They paid a heavy toll in blood, but they finished their path across the moat, and the Iron Queen gave the command to wheel forward the battering ram across it. 

Most of the Immortals had already left the battle and retreated back down beneath the city to protect the Time Tombs, which held their sleeping brethren. If the city fell, those Immortals would collapse the passages leading to the tombs, sealing themselves in with their sleeping people and wait out the green plague sweeping across the Middle Plain, as time itself was their greatest ally after all. 

As for those Immortals who remained upon the battlements, they knew it was time to enter the fray before the Orcs took too much ground. The Emporer and Empress warned them not to make the same error as they did and rush into battle against the Orcs. Only one heeded their warning, the Immortal with one green eye, known as the Wounded One, Kel. The rest held high their magical crescent-bladed staffs and leapt off the battlements onto the battlefield. Before the warriors were countless green savages charging towards them, waving primitive clubs and axes and screaming their war cries at the top of their lungs. One by one, at unbelievable speeds, the ancient El warriors spun their bladed staffs, activating the magic within them. With each turn, the magical staffs grew hotter and hotter until each Immortal had a ring of bright white, burning fire around them. The El warriors charged into the great horde themselves, spinning and whirling around their magical bladed staffs. Each Immortal cut deep into the green savages’ ranks, cutting them down as they drove ever deeper into the horde. Neither bone, hide, nor metal could shield the Orcs against the might of the Immortals’ weapons. In their wake, the El warriors left only streams of blood and dismembered limbs. 

Upon seeing the Immortals score a victory against the green horde for the first time, the lesser Elves cheered from the battlements. The Emperor and Empress did not rejoice. By now, they had learned not to underestimate the Orcs. They reached out with their minds and begged the Immortals to return to the safety of the walls, but none heeded their warning. 

Within the endless sea of green, the Immortals sighted the Iron Queen’s monstrous battle wagon, which was wisely hanging back behind the safety of her horde. Instinctively, they all knew what they must do. If they could reach that Queen and slay her, the horde would shatter, and they would win the battle without another drop of golden blood being spilt. The El warriors began to battle their way towards her huge Iron Battle Wagon after nothing less than her head. 

From high atop her great golden Battle Wagon, the Iron Queen Mother saw the danger and ordered her Hags to cast their deadly chaos magic upon the Immortals who were battling their way towards her. But even their wicked curses failed against the El warriors’ magical armour, which completely nullified the spells. Infuriated, the Iron Queen unleashed her monstrous Trolls against the El warriors, but these lumbering beasts were no match for the lightning-fast ancient warriors. The Iron Queen watched in dismay as the Immortals darted around the huge monsters, easily evading their attacks. Like a swarm of blades, the El warriors cut and sliced the beasts to pieces. Although Trolls can regenerate entire limbs, the intense heat from the El’s bladed staffs cauterised their wounds, making it impossible for them to recover from the attacks. Since the Iron Queen’s forces could not match the El’s skill, speed, and agility in combat, she sent in her grunts armed with war netters. If she could not match them, she would bring them down to her boys’ level and then see how they fare in battle. 

In their epic history, the Immortals had slaughtered hordes of Demons beyond counting and slain the greatest servants of the Lords of Destruction. Yet, they were brought to their knees by the simplest of weapons – the War Net. The El warriors could easily shred one or two thrown at them, but the orcs threw dozens and dozens at them at once. All it took was one to snag an Immortal spinning around, and they would become instantly tangled up in a knot and fall to the floor, helpless. The orcs would then fall upon them and batter them to death with their clubs. 

After a good number of them fell, the Immortals fell back to the safety of the walls.  

Once again, the green savages cheered upon seeing the El warriors retreat. However, the Immortals were not out of the battle by any means. They simply laid down their crescent staffs and re-armed themselves with bows, spears, and swords, and joined those defending the walls. 

The Elfs rained down arrows, bolts, and stones and blasted the Orcs with deadly magic. But with the retreat of the Immortals, there was nothing they could do to stop the green savages’ advance to the city’s walls. 

Ramshackle bone and wood siege ladders smashed against the white walls of the city. Against barrages of arrows, falling stones and boiling oil, the Orcs climbed up their ladders. Trolls hit the battlements with their huge stone clubs, some even attempting to scale the walls. The Elfs fought hard, holding back the savages from the mire. They sent them tumbling back to the ground, crippling or killing those they landed on. 

With little trouble, the Orc’s massive battering ram slowly crossed the rubble and stone bridge and headed straight towards the Elf’s gates. 

The purely white gates of Arracerren, which had stood against the endless hordes of Demons during the First Dark Rising, would not hold for long against such a monstrous ram. 

The Emperor and Empress knew that if they were to stand any hope of fending off the mighty green horde of savages that smashed against their white walls, they must destroy the Orcs’ battering ram. 

The Empress and her lesser sorceresses threw powerful bolts of destructive magic at the ram, which had little effect against the huge contraption lurching towards them. The Orcs had covered their massive ram in the skins of their blue brothers, which made it nearly impervious to magical attacks. 

The Emperor ordered that their batteries of bolt throwers and catapults target and shoot the monstrous ram, but the missiles which hit the machine had little effect against it. The rocks would just bounce off its tough roof, and the bolts would just get stuck in it like arrows in a target board. 

Upon seeing every effort thwarted to stop the monstrous machine, the Emperor knew what he must do. Despite his wife, Empress Zeerea, pleading with her love to stay behind in safety by her side upon the battlements, where they were relatively safe, Emperor Zatterese called his Great Dragon, Golden Death and mounted the awesome beast. In a desperate bid to put an end to the battering ram for once and for all, the Emperor, along with two other princes and their Dragons, flew straight towards the massive contraption, still slowly making its way towards the city’s gates. 

The great ram was well protected; it had dozens of Trolls and scores of the Orcs’ best fighters, known as the Saws, that circled the massive machine. Perhaps more worrying were the Hags, who hurled their deadly chaos magic at the Dragons and their mounts that headed towards them. Trolls threw boulders at the Drakes, hitting one of them in the wing, sending the beast tumbling to the ground. Then a crack, in reality, appeared in front of the other Dragon mounted by a prince, just in front of the great beast’s head and its rider, and they flew straight in. The rider was immediately lost in oblivion, and the headless beast came crashing down. Only the Emperor and his mount remained. 

The Emperor and his mighty mount would have landed on the great contraption, crushing its structure, had it not been for the huge spikes that protruded out of it. The cunning Iron Queen must have anticipated such a move. No matter, they would land next to the great ram, crushing many foul Orcs as they landed, and Golden Death would burn the machine down, reducing it to nothing more than cinders, ash and melted metal. 

As the Great Dragon landed upon the green skins, the ground beneath the massive beast shook, and many Orcs were crushed. 

The Emperor knew his old companion would only have moments to strike their target before the enemy fell upon them both. Through the mind link they shared for many passings, the Emperor commanded his mount to blast the Orc ram with an inferno of fire! The Great Dragon heaved back to draw in breath to huff out its epic flame at the war machine.  

The mighty Dragon opened its jaws to release its fire upon the ram when a boulder thrown by a Troll smashed into the side of its head. The blow was strong enough to knock Golden Death off its mark. Still, all were incinerated instantly in the beast’s flames, but the Drake had missed its target, and the ram stood unharmed. 

A Dragon cannot fly without fire in its belly, so the Emperor and his Drake would have to fight their way out of the horde. Through their shared mind link, the Emperor send visions of Golden Death fighting their way back to the safety of the battlements, tearing apart and stomping upon hordes of Orcs as they go. 

The great Drake knew what it must do, but it was still dazed by the bolder, which gave the enemy enough time to rally and fall upon them both. Grunts plunged their spears into the Dragon’s scaly hide, the Saws, with their long iron rusty blades, hacked and slashed at the beast, and Trolls, one by one, leapt upon Golden Death, dragging them both down to their doom.  

The Emperor’s fate was tied to his companion Golden Death, and his turn would follow soon. He could feel his friend’s pain as the brave beast was torn apart, limb by limb, by the horde. The Emperor placed thought of humbling honour deep in the beast’s soul before its magnificent light finally faded to darkness. Then, Emperor Zatterese simply closed his brilliant white eyes for the last time and sort out the beautiful mind that he knew so well. Zatterese shared with Zeerea his feelings of utter and true love for her and the sorrow he felt for their parting ways. 

Upon feeling her beloved husband’s elegant light snuffed out by the foul savages, Empress Zeerea physically screamed out loud and fell to her knees for the first time. Streams of tears escaped her golden mask. The El never made a sound, as they were mind speakers. So hearing the Empress scream stunned everyone around her into total inaction. For a moment, no lesser Elf dared to make a move, as only another El was permitted to touch another El. 

After heeding the Emperor and Empress’ warning, Kel hung back and was fighting nearby her when he sensed her collapse. The Green-Eyed Warrior broke off from fighting and came to her aid, and helped her back up to her feet. 

The Empress’ sorrow was soon replaced with a burning rage for her loss. She rose up in anger, and a pillar of magical fire roared around her, killing two Elf guards posted near her and incinerating them instantly. Kel, too would have been burned to ashes had it not been for his magical armour, which protected him against such destructive magic. In the Empress’ grief-stricken rage, she threw fireball after fireball at the horde, burning hundreds of Orcs to a crisp. Robbed of love eternal, she would have her revenge upon the green skins, no matter the cost! 

Behind a thick wall of rusty metal, the Iron Queen smugly smiled to herself, safe in her war wagon. She believed that slaying the Emperor and his Great Dragon had robbed the Elfs of their only chance to hold back her forces in the battle. She ordered that her creat ram hurry to the Elf gates and smash them down so that her horde could storm the city. She hungered for the Elves’ golden flesh and was tired of waiting for her dinner. 

As the great ram approached the city’s gates, the Elf defenders did their best to stop it, but their ballistic missiles and magic still proved ineffective against it. At closer range, the Elves were able to shower down fire arrows upon the ram. Little pockets of fire would spring up upon the ram’s roof and then quickly die out again. 

When the battering ram reached the gates, the Elves could pour oil upon it and ignite it with their fire arrows, but by then, it would be too late. 

The ram crashed into the gates, causing the nearby walls to shake and shudder under the weight of the massive contraption’s impact, causing a few Elves to lose their footing on the walls and fall to their deaths. 

The Elves poured all their oil upon the ram and lit it ablaze with their fire arrows. The roof roared up in flames, but it was so tough and thick it would take an age to burn through. 

The Slave Trolls powering the machine heaved back the massive ram’s head and then ran it into the Elf Gate. Bang and bang, again and again, the ram battered the gate! The mighty white gate may have held back tides of Demons once, but the Orcs’ ram was its match. Bang, bang and crack. Suddenly, splinters went flying out of a crack that had appeared. One Elf was struck by a splinter and was killed outright. 

A small group of Immortals broke off from the fierce fighting on top of the battlements and leapt down in front of the gates. One of their number called forth an elite unit of Enforcers followed by two divisions of Elf warriors armed with spears and shields to take up position behind them. They were to hold the gates with them, no matter what horrors burst through. 

Each hit from the Orcs’ great ram sent more splinters and bolts flying off the gates, wounding and killing more defenders. Despite the casualties, the Elfs had to hold their position and braced themselves for what was about to come. They held their shields high and gripped their spears tight, pointing them down towards the countless green savages who were about to charge in. 

Finally, after one more great bash from the ram, the gates burst open and the enemy stormed through. The defenders clashed with the invaders at the battered gates. 

The Empress knew it was only a matter of time before her warriors were overcome at the gates. The Orcs were too numerous to hold back. Once her defenders fell, the city and she would fall with them soon afterwards. She turned her attention skywards and began to weave a very powerful and extremely dangerous spell. She would have her vengeance, even if it meant the destruction of her city, her people and herself. 

Kel, who had returned to fighting upon the battlements, suddenly sensed great magical forces swelling up around the Empress. Her mind was like an open well of despair and hatred, so it was easy for him to see into, and what he saw alarmed him greatly! 

Empress Zeerea was attempting to cast the forbidden spell, known as ‘Tumbling Sky’, the ‘God Slayer’. This very spell had been used to end the reign of mighty Fallax, the great Black Dragon, the Mortal God. Once the spell was set in motion, even with all her power, the Empress could not hope to control such magic. The spell allowed the caster to tear off a piece of the sky from the Higher Plain and send it plummeting down to the Middle Plain, causing utter devastation wherever it landed for at least a league around the impact site. 

Suddenly, a sound of a loud horn bellowed out across the battlefield, the likes of which no one had heard for at least two hundred passings. Everyone turned to see where the sound had come from, and there on the other side of the battlefield, was the largest horde of Dwarf warriors anyone had ever seen, including all the El present. 

The Dwarfs had returned! 

Over the two hundred passings, the Dwarves had not sat idle. No, they have been busy, very busy indeed. 

During the Dwarves’ absence, they had consolidated and replenished their numbers, restocked their armouries, rebuilt many of their holds and repaired much of the great Underway their ancestors had created so long ago. However, perhaps their most impressive feat was dealing with the Plain Worms, which were responsible for much of the damage to their mines and the Underway. Instead of seeing them as a pest to wipe out, the Dwarfs found they could be tamed, or at least the smaller ones could. The deeper they dug, the bigger they got and the more wild they became. Also, the Dwarfs discovered the bigger they were, the more intelligent they became. Many Dwarfs even took them as pets or beasts of burden and started using them to dig out their tunnels. 

No one may have seen a Dwarf for over two hundred passings, but that did not mean they had completely left the Middle Plain. When the Dwarf King, Arrafron, had promised the Light Foots to restore their house to greatness, he had kept his word. In fact, they had become one of the most prominent houses in the Under Empire and had proven crucial to the war effort. The Light Foots had sent many invisible scouts to the surface to keep an eye on the war and spy on the Orcs. The information had been vital for their plans to strike back at the green skins. Even now, the Dwarves had despatched their other forces to unguarded caravans to destroy them across the Middle Plain. 

Upon seeing the Dwarves, fear ran through the Orcs’ ranks. They had thought the Dwarves had perished long ago in their holds, but they stood there like an army of ghosts from the past, clad in shiny grey metal armour, their weapons gripped tight, and their banners held high. The Dwarves had returned from the dead and were ready to take their revenge. 

The Elfs on the battlements rejoiced and cheered. Invigorated, the Elfs fought much harder and started to push back the Orcs, who were hobbled by panic. It was not long before the Elfs took back the walls and the gates of the city. 

Unlike her children, the Iron Queen’s strong resolve was unstirred by the return of the Dwarves. Her army may have become trapped between the Elfs and the Dwarves. No matter, her forces still far outnumbered the combined might of the Old Powers upon the field. From her massive spiked Iron Battle Wagon, she bellowed out orders: “What are you doing? Do not stop the slaughter; there is just more good eating to be had now. Those ahead of me Fight on and take the city, and those behind turn to face the hairy ones!” 

Upon hearing their beloved Queen’s roaring voice, the Orcs quickly snapped back their attention to fighting and killing their enemy. With a roar of their own, her boys did as their Queen bid them do. Half of the Orc horde reorganized themselves to face the Dwarves, and the other half continued their siege of Arrasirren. 

It would seem the Dwarves had squandered the element of surprise, which confused their Iron Queen. She spied the Dwarf King walk out in front of his host with a hammer, which was too big and unwieldy for combat. An eerie feeling of dread washed over her as she knew something was amiss. The Dwarf King smashed his great hammer upon the ground three times. Suddenly the ground around the Orcs began to shake violently, and massive caverns opened up underneath them. Countless Orcs, Trolls and even lesser Iron Mothers fell into freshly hollowed-out caverns teeming with Plain Worms. If any of them survived the fall, we will never know, as they were devoured immediately by the ravenous creatures. 

In an instant, over half of the Iron Queen’s horde was swallowed up by the earth and countless worms beneath them.  

Once more, the Elfs cheered from high upon their battlements. With a new wind, the Immortals picked up their bladed staffs again and leapt off the walls to lead their golden children to join their long-lost brothers in the battle against the Orcs. The Elfs poured out of their city’s gates, killing scores of green skins as they charged forwards. The Orcs fled back to their Iron Mothers in disarray. 

The tide of battle had turned. Still, the Empress did not care. With the loss of her love, the battle was already lost. The only thing that could console her now was vengeance. Such was Empress Zeerea’s rage that she would incinerate every green skin on the field, burn away all those who had failed her and melt away her suffering with a single spell. 

With haste and purpose, Kel made his way to the mad Empress and stepped into the shroud of swirling fiery magic that encircled her. If it were not for the protection his enchanted armour granted him against harmful magic, he would have been incinerated instantly. 

Kel calmly put his hand on her shoulder and forced a mind link between them. The Empress understood his mind instantly as he thrust the image of her death into her thoughts at his hands if she chose to continue weaving her spell. Powerless to stop the ancient warrior’s threat, she stopped her incantation. She may not have cared to live on, but death would deny her vengeance, which she so desperately sought. 

What remained of the Iron Queen’s horde had fallen into utter chaos. All around her, her grunts were cowering at their mothers’ feet. To make matters worse for the horde, the Dwarves’ horns sounded. The Iron Queen knew that could only mean one thing, and she was right. The Dwarves raised their weapons, gave out their mighty houses’ battle cries and charged the Orcs. 

At the other side of the battlefield, the Elfs had reclaimed the ground just beyond their city’s moat and were forming into divisions of infantry and cavalry. The Elfs’ riders were legendary, and the Iron Queen knew if they were allowed to charge, they would sweep what was left of her horde off the field. 

To add to the Orcs’ woes, huge ferocious Plain Worms would shoot out of the ground and, with rows upon rows of gnashing teeth, fall upon the Green Skins and drag them down kicking and screaming beneath the earth, never to be seen again. 

The Iron Queen had shown the Old Powers no mercy in battle, and so she knew she could expect none from them in return. Therefore, there was only one thing to do, and that was to fight her way out of this carnage. 

Suddenly, there was an almighty bang of heavy metal hitting metal! All the Orcs on the field turned to see their Iron Queen’s Golden Royal War Wagon metal panels swing open and slam down against her wagon. Bang, bang and bang! Up until now, the thick metal panels had protected her Highness from ballistic missiles, spells and even prying eyes. Every Orc on the battlefield, most for the first time in their lives, turned in utter disbelief to see their great and beloved Queen emerge from her Battle Wagon. 

Iron Queen Dyerguts Gold Eater had joined the battle, and she was ready to fight alongside her boys. She was huge, even for a Snort! Her massive green body had rings of repelling fat bulging out, which pulsated with the throbbing of countless young inside. Spots and warts covered her entire hulk that wept pus into the slurry of her birthing pool, which teemed with her children, ever ready to devour some poor soul she would toss in for them. The Queen was adorned with unbelievable amounts of jewellery of skulls and thick copper and gold. Her decorations were so numerous that they acted like armour along with her already thick hide. To any other, she was monstrously hideous, but to all her grunts; she was the most beautiful creature in the entire Middle Plain and beyond. 

A huge worm then burst up from out of the ground in front of the Queen’s battle wagon. The beast opened its mouth parts, revealing its hundreds of sharp teeth and was clearly ready to lunge at her. Unfazed, Iron Queen Dyerguts grabbed hold of her massive metal forked gouger and thrust it right through the beast’s body, ripping it in half. Then she yelled at the top of her lungs, her cry echoed across the battlefield, “Mothers and Wives, onto me, to me, your Iron Queen, and boys, onto your wives and mothers, fight and make me proud of all my children”! 

Upon hearing their great Iron Queen, the Snorts unlocked themselves from their battle wagons, and their panels burst open, to join their Queen and their boys in the fighting. 

The boys had been shamed by their Snorts’ act of valour. With tears in their eyes, the grunts pulled themselves together and stood ready to lay down their lives to protect their Wives, Mothers and Queen. 

“Drive my wagon right through the Dwarven scum! Smash them all down under my wheels, and do not stop for anything! This time will make sure they stay dead!” the Iron Queen bellowed out to their best sons, pushing her wagon. 

Iron Queen Dyerguts Gold Eater and her best sons crashed into the charging Dwarfs. She drove her battle wagon deep into the Dwarves’ ranks, crushing many metal-clad warriors under her spiked wheels, but it was not enough to break through. The Well-disciplined ranks of the Dwarves held, and eventually, her great golden war wagon grind to a halt and could go no further, and she and the rest of her sons got bogged down in the melee. 

The Orcs fought ferociously to defend their treasured Snorts, but one by one, they would fall. Lost to Dwarf axe and hammer. The Plain Worms, too, did their part to devastate the Orcs. The larger ones would rise out of the ground and snatch up Orcs, sometimes biting them in two. Smaller molluscs would coil around the green skins and their highly corrosive mucus, dissolving them into little more than bloody goo. 

Even in the chaos of battle, Iron Queen Dyerguts Gold Eater heard a faint rumbling sound, which sounded like distant thunder. All of her stomachs sank, filled with the bitter heavy feeling of dread, as she knew all too well what she was hearing. She turned her huge fat head the best she could and saw thousands upon thousands of Elf riders charging behind her. The Elfs were mounted upon brilliant steeds, their golden banners flying, with great white lances pointed down, ready for the impact. Their best warriors were mounted upon Unicorns, clad in shiny steel armour. The Knights’ mythical beasts all bowed their golden horns down, ready to plunge them deep into her boys. Leading their thunderous charge was A fireball of hatred and rage, which was Empress Zeerea herself. She was hurtling towards the horde, all too eager to exact her revenge upon those who had robbed her of her love. The Iron Queen watched as her boys did their best to brace themselves for the Elf charge, but she knew against such might, they stood no chance and would be all slaughtered. 

As the Elf cavalry slammed into what was left of the horde, scores of Orcs were run through by their white and golden lances. The rest were sent tumbling to the ground and trampled under the Elfs’ steeds’ gallant hooves. 

The Elf charge had decimated the Orcs to such an extent that only a fraction of them remained. Battered, bloodied and with no hope of escape, still, the Orcs fought on. The sight of their beloved Iron Queen skewering Dwarf after Dwarf upon her forked gouger, tossing them into her birthing pool, where her young would devour them alive, inspired her boys to fight on, even to the bitter end.

The battle raged on, and many brave souls were claimed by the black waters of death that turn. Eventually, the Old Powers, after much bloody hard work, whittled down the Orcs’ numbers until only the Iron Queen, two of her husbands, and a handful full of her best sons remained. 

Iron Queen, Dyerguts Gold Eater’s husbands were two great Orc Bulls, Bronk Skullcrusher and Morg the Smasher. Both bulls were towering hulks of muscle, clad from head to toe in thick iron armour. 

Morg carried a massive spiked club and war net. The great bull would cast his net and catch half a dozen Elfs or so and then bash his wiggling prey to a yellow pulp. Morg roared out loud, “Can none beat me?” waving his spiked club around in the air. 

The Orc’s boast caught the green-eyed one’s attention, and he gave him a swift reply. At a distance of thirty feet or more, Kel through a spear at the great bull, which slammed into Morg’s smug gaping jaws and severed his spine, killing Morg instantly.  

Bronk spun around a huge iron ball and chain, which kept the Dwarf warriors at bay. The Bull would swing his mighty weapon high and bring it crashing down, smashing it into the Dwarfs. Even clad in steel armour and with their shields up, ready to receive the blow from the Bull’s ball and chain, once it slammed into the Dwarf warriors, it sent them flying back with broken bones and deep internal wounds. 

King Arrafron would not have his brave kin fall in battle against such a beast, and he held up his gold axe, challenging Brong the Smasher to single combat. Laughing, the Bull accepted and began to swing his ball and chain once more. 

Bronk smashed down his iron ball upon the King. However, the Orc was surprised to see an old white Dwarf such as the king, move quite as fast as he and sidestep his mighty blow. Brong’s heavy iron ball slammed into with an almighty thud, and he was about to reel back his weapon when the King grabbed hold of the weapon’s chain and entwined it around his arm. Once more, Brong laughed. “If the old little Dwarf wanted a game of Pull, he would give him a one and rip his arm clean off,” thought the Bull. 

Had Bronk known who or what he was facing in combat, he might not have been so overconfident. As Dwarves age, they only improve, both physically and mentally, until they reach their ‘Last Turn’, where their great age suddenly catches up with them and they decline rapidly, and within the space of a turn, the black waters will claim them. To make matters worse for Bronk, being the King, Arrafron wore the Crown of Kharrath, which magically amplified his abilities many times further. 

Had Bronk known who or what he was facing in combat, he might not have been so overconfident. As Dwarves age, they only improve, both physically and mentally, until they reach their ‘Last Turn’, where their great age suddenly catches up with them, and they decline rapidly, and within the space of a turn, the black waters will claim them. To make matters worse for Bronk, being the King, Arrafron wore the Crown of Kharrath, which magically amplified his abilities much further. 

Bronk yanked upon his ball and chain, expecting to tear off the Dwarf’s arm. Instead, the King did not budge an inch, and it was he who stumbled forwards after pulling his chain. Arrafron smiled at the bemused beast and, with an almighty jerk of the chain, sent the massive Orc flying towards him, who landed just before the King’s feet. As Brong came to and looked up, he saw Arrafron’s gold axe fall upon him, which took his head clean off and sent it tumbling away. 

The Dwarf warriors cheered upon seeing their mighty great King slay the beast. 

With her champions dead and best sons slaughtered, only she, Iron Queen Dyerguts and her vile spawn remained. Though exhausted, the great Snort still frantically swung around her forked gouger, keeping their enemies away, who had encircled her. On one side, there were the Dwarves and their King, and on the other side, the Elfs and their Queen cloaked in a pillar of fire. 

Finally succumbing to her exhaustion, slowly, the Iron Queen stopped thrusting her heavy metal forked gouger at her enemies. They were out of reach anyway, and without her sons to push her, she had no hope of moving towards them.  

The Iron Queen had already consumed too many tears during the battle to enhance her magical powers, which put her and her unborn children at risk, but now she could feel the black waters welling up around her; she had nothing to lose. She opened her huge gullet and poured what remained of her tears down her throat. 

Empress Zeerea reached out with her mind to King Arrafron and expressed her desire to end the vile monster herself. The King could feel her burning passion for revenge and the great loss it sprang from; he could not deny her wish; it was her right. 

Within a pillar of fire, the Empress floated in front of the Iron Queen, who was now frothing at the mouth with magical energy spilling out. Dyerguts felt the immense magical power emanating from the Empress and the utter hatred she had for her and her kind. She was staring into the eyes of her Executioner. The Snort put down her forked gouger, as she knew it would do her no good against the Empress. 

For just a moment, the Empress breached Dyerguts’ mind and a torrent of horrific images flooded into her thoughts. The Iron Queen saw her children, boys, daughters, and herself all engulfed in fire, all screaming in pain until they were little more than ash. At the end of her vision was the Empress weeping, not because of the excruciatingly painful deaths she had caused but because death had ended that suffering. 

Dyerguts saw the Ether start to change around the Empress as she began to weave her magic. Even with her own magical abilities enhanced after consuming all of her tears, the Iron Queen could not stop the Empress from casting her spell; she was just too powerful. 

Empress Zeerea’s fiery shroud raged ever hotter, brighter and higher as she completed her spell. Slowly, she raised both hands towards the Iron Queen to unleash her fury upon her. 

In utter desperation, Dyerguts reached for her forked gouger beside her to throw at Empress Zeerea. She was too late, as the Elf unleashed her full power upon the Iron Queen, pouring all of her pain, vengeance and malice into her spell. She blasted her with a torrent of fire so hot that it could melt metal and shatter even stone! In an instant, the Snort’s battle wagon was engulfed in an inferno of flames. 

The huge fat Snort wailed out in excruciating pain and thrashed out hopelessly with her forked gouger at the Empress. The Iron Queen’s green skin quickly melted away, popping all of the various spots and warts on her bulky form. Suddenly, her body burst into flames, which only fuelled the fire further. The pain became too much for Dyerguts to bear, and she let out one final scream before slumping back dead. Hundreds of her young ones in her birthing pool had dived down to escape the flames, but the intense heat soon boiled them alive. 

Even though the Iron Queen was clearly dead, the Empress blasted the war wagon with her fire magic. Onlookers watched in horror as the Iron Queen’s unborn offspring burst out of her body and fell into the flames, squealing once before burning away to nothing. Soon, the Snort’s body was nothing but a blackened skeleton, with her joints burnt away. The foul slurry that had once supported the Iron Queen and her young burst out of the wagon’s banks, and the hold contraption collapsed into a mixture of melted metal and bone, creating the most horrendous smell one can imagine. 

Only now did the Empress relent and end her magical attack. 

The battle was over, and once again, the Old Powers had prevailed. The cost of victory had been high for the Elfs. They could rebuild their great golden cities and repopulate their fallen kin, but the wound to their pride would never fully heal. 

There was no time to celebrate their victory. The Old Powers knew they had to act quickly before a new Iron Queen could emerge and rally the remaining Orcs. Therefore, all the Snorts needed to be quickly hunted down and slain. Only then could the Middle Plain be free of the green menace which had plagued this disk for so long. 

The Orcs lost caravan after caravan to the Old Power’s wrath. From beneath the Orcs’ feet, the Dwarves would emerge with ferocious giant warms, wielding their sharp axes, hammers, and war machines. From above, the Elfs’ dragons would rain fire down, burning away their green scourge from the land. 

The Old Powers exterminated the Orcs were ever they found them until only a handful of them remained. The young races did their part too, but the lion’s share of the killing was done by the Old Powers, who did it with zeal. 

With the Old Powers’ crusade nearing its end, and in thanks to their stout brothers for all they had done, the Elfs held a massive celebration at Arracerren in their honour. After the formalities and ceremonies had finished, which the Elfs enjoyed, the festivities could begin, which the Dwarfs enjoyed even more.  

In the Royal Golden Palace, King Arrafron waited over two hundred years for a large mug of barley ale, which he finally savoured. The Dwarf King saw the Empress alone. She was gazing at the Demon Lights in the sky on a balcony. Even elegantly masked as her kind never showed their faces, he could sense the Empress’ sadness at her loss. King Arrafron approached her, hoping that some Dwarven wit and warm words could ease her pain. 

The King could have reached out with his mind and invited her in, but that was not his kind’s way. If he was to attempt such a communication, it would seem clumsy to the Empress, like a child pulling at her glorious amber dress to get her attention.  

“In all the commotion of war, I never had a chance to say how sorry I am for your loss. We, Dwarves, are sure-footed creations of Winsill but slow. If only we had arrived sooner, perhaps we could have saved your husband from making his sacrifice. You have my deepest sympathies and my humble apologies Empress Zeerea.” 

The Empress turned to the King, her brilliant white eyes looking down upon the old grizzled Dwarf. She nodded and opened her mind to him. He instantly understood that her kind held no malice towards the Dwarves, only great gratitude. The Elfs were ashamed and embarrassed by their foolishness for not heeding his warnings. She blamed her own kind for allowing the Middle Plain to fall into ruin around them while they lived silly lives of merrymaking. They had forgotten they were First Ones, the shepherds of the Middle Plain, as intended by their Creator, Winsill. They had allowed Noetus’ blight to run amok upon this disc and had paid the price for their arrogance. 

“We were all fools, Empress. None of us believed myself included, that such a threat could rise up from the mire. But we have set it right now, and soon those vandals will be no more. Perhaps they are already dead. My Light Foots tell me that in their desperation, the last of their caravans have been sighted heading into the Shadow Lands, and nothing can survive in those foul wastes, not even those vile beasts.” 

A vision of armoured Elf and Dwarf warriors, waving their banners high, marching side by side into the Shadow Lands, pursuing the Orcs, sprang into the King’s mind. 

“It is madness to march in there after the Orcs. Let them go to their deaths”, said the King. 

King Arrafron felt the Empress’ anger rising, and another vision suddenly appeared in his mind. He saw the Orcs as they were before, dwelling in the vast bog known as the Dire. They were once water beasts with webbed hands and feet, and rarely left their mucky squalor. Then the Dire began to dry up, and the Orcs were forced to leave their wet homes and learned to walk on land, becoming the creatures they were now.  

The Empress’ point was clear. The Orcs might survive the harsh Shadow Lands and adapt again, and what could come out could be far worse. 

“I see… as you wish, Empress. We will pursue the Orcs into the Shadow Lands. I am sure that our diplomats will make the necessary preparations. Soon this whole bloody mess will be over, and we can return to how things once were.” 

Suddenly, the Empress glared at the King, her eyes burning brightly through her golden mask. His mind was flooded with visions of fire, hot burning fire stretching across the Middle Plain, burning away all of Newus’ Chaos and all it had spawned. The King saw the horrific sight of Elfs and Dwarfs marching side by side as they systematically exterminated all those who crawled out of the mire: the Humans, Goblins, Centaurs, Drakins, Norks and the rest. They would all be purged from this disk, leaving it as it was when Winsill created the El. Never again would beasts from the muck of mire challenge the supremacy of the Old Powers, as there would be no mire left. 

The King was disgusted by the Empress’ intentions. Many of those lesser races had never harmed the Dwarfs; they were even on good terms with many of them. Thankfully, the King’s mind was capable of guarding his true feelings about the Empress’ plan. 

“Empress, the Orcs threaten both our great races, and we are hurting, but before lashing out, I believe we should allow our wounds to heal first before acting on the pain we feel.” 

The King’s words did not sway her. He could still feel her burning hatred for the things of the mire, and she would wipe them all away with steel and fire! She allowed him to feel this before she once again closed her thoughts and returned to gazing up at the demon lights. 

The King left the Empress to her thoughts, praying her fiery rage would settle and they could find another way to deal with the beasts from the mire. 

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