One: Ordered by Gods
The Dirty Half Dozen
The Final Parting of the Dirty
An account by D’en Waterslough
Trees whipped by as the elf ran through the wilderness. In the woods he felt at home and he knew that the Brutes would be hard pressed to find him. He felt depressed. Well, more than usual. He had witness his share of death and had caused enough of his own. Their suicidal mission had been a success from a certain point of view. They had done what they set out to do even though they likely caused more damage than good in the end. D’en cared little for humans. He cared even less for the orcs and worse creatures that pursued him. He imagined that most of the others were dead. The last he had seen of the rest of the Dirty Half Dozen, they had been arguing amongst themselves over the fate of Victor. He hadn’t waited. His life meant little to him but he cared even less about his fellow convicts fates. His keen elven ears had known that a Brute horde was closing in on them, eager to exact revenge for the destruction they had caused. D’en left them to their deaths.
It had been curious truth be told. Explosives, zeppelins, magical spheres, the stuff of heroes really. But D’en wasn’t a hero. He was a murderer, sentenced to death. He tired of his long centuries anyways. The only thing he cared about anymore was Arrow, his falcon, now the captive of those wretched human zealots. He imagined he would never see his companion again as he would likely not survive. Assuming Arrow was even still alive. What curse immortality could be! To live out his remaining centuries alone. He could take solace in that he would once again be within the dark embrace of the forest but even that cycle was drawing to a close. The Brutes pushed from one side, the humans from the other. How he hated them all.
He tensed. Orcs! Six of the filthy beasts were about to cross his path. D’en lept to a mossy rock, readied a pair of arrows to his bow, and waited only a moment. The beasts loped into view and the elf didn’t wait more than a second. His first pair of arrows killed their commander. The lower arrow passed through his throat while the upper arrow entered his face, more for decoration than anything else as it was already dead. The beast slumped to its knees as it bled rapidly from the throat, its underlings unsure what to do with their commander slain and unable to find their attacker. His next three arrows killed the three orcs with bows, lest they get a chance to raise them against him. The final two spotted him at last and ran at him, raising their halberds high and uttering guttural calls to battle. D’en felled them both so quickly with his arrows that he charged towards them as he fired, eager to keep moving ahead of those that pursued from behind him. He dropped his first empty quiver as he ran from the battle. The weight would only slow him down.
D’en pushed onwards. He ran for an hour east across the wooded slopes of the Amagwa range. He didn’t really intend to meet his accusers. There was no point. He had accomplished his mission, so he was pardoned. Meeting them would only see them charge him with some new crime or ensure that he died like he was supposed to. They had no reason to leave either him or Arrow alive. The best he could hope was that, mission accomplished, the zealots of Heironeous wouldn’t bother to hunt him down. Perhaps he could find a patch of forest somewhere unscathed by the wars of beast and man? Perhaps not.
To the south he could hear his pursuers moving, attempting to flank him with their war dogs. He would not be able to outrun them all. But as the dawn turned to early morning he spotted wisps of smoke on the horizon from several campfires – cooking fires. He could smell human food. And so he adjusted course and ran at the humans. Perhaps whoever was ahead would slow his pursuers down. Those blasted orcs may not be light of foot, but to the Nine Hells were they persistent and driven creatures when they could sense a battle ahead.
Closing with the human cooking fires, the war dogs found him. He conserved his arrows, felling only the ones that dared get close enough to nip at his heels. He used the trees to cut down on their angles and dropped his pack to lighten his stride even further. With twenty arrows left, D’en burst into a cleared slope on the side of a hill. Stretching up the hillside were Federation soldiers, perhaps survived from Sunfalls, perhaps a patrol, perhaps something else. It didn’t really matter. He led the war dogs into their midst and they survived long enough to ensure that humans were awake, roused and ready for battle. D’en rushed through their encampment, attempting to escape. When he reached the far side, he realized he was trapped in the camp. From the far side, another group of Brutes emerged – more orcs with a trio of Amagwa forest giants. D’en altered course again, running up the hill through the humans and away from the Brutes. Perhaps he could get up and over while the Brutes and Federation killed each other. Orcs burst into the camping area now from the behind him, his pursuers finally within sight of him after an hour chase, nearly encircling the human camp.
D’en loosed an arrow into a human guard who attempted to grab him. He loosed another pair into a war dog that had kept on his scent. Seventeen arrows. He scampered over some wooden supplies and leaped over a campfire. Several orcs from the pursuing group were now in front of him. He paused, and loosed arrows into each of them. Fourteen. From the top of the hill, D’en saw the human cavalry forming to meet the giants. He recognized the blue pennants and silver decals of the Order of Gordonnicus, mercenary cavalry of the highest caliber whose enchanted frost lances had been the bane of many a beast. They rode down the slope towards him and the Brutes, forcing him to readjust his course once again. The entire camp was now engulfed in a wild, chaotic combat. D’en was unsure which way to go. The hilltop seemed to break into a broken, rocky ravine – too far to jump. A heavily armoured ogre charged him. An ogre? Which side was that on? He shot an arrow between its leg plates to slow its charge, an arrow under the arm to shift its stance, and two more through the now-exposed throat as the ogre roared skywards in pain from the first two hits. One dead ogre, ten arrows remaining.
D’en cursed and scanned the battle for an escape route. Perhaps through the melee near one of the forest giants he wondered? Few dared get too close so they had a great deal of space around them. At the price of one arrow to fell a human who nearly broke his stride, D’en ran within a giant’s reach just as it clutched a Gordonnicus knight from his steed and tossed him thirty feet in the air. D’en kept running, loosing three arrows into the orcs on the far side of the giant’s war path. He failed to kill two of them, but he couldn’t spare any more arrows to do any more than ensure they got out of his way. Only six left. He burst through their line and into the woods beyond.
The elf bounded over a log and pushed on. Another clump of orcs stood in his path. Having nearly nothing left but his surprise and his speed, D’en engaged. He felled the commander first, but with only one shot. Five left. He hit the archers; one, two, three, four – damn, not all dead. Last arrow. The halberdiers rushed him in a slavering burst of rage and aggression. He rolled, and fired upwards pushing the first creature’s leather helmet strap upwards through its skull and into its brain. He finished his roll and broke his longbow over the face of the next halberdier stunning it. In one smooth motion he drew his scimitar and met the remaining the orc halberdiers. He parried an orc’s roaring downward chop, his arm nearly broken by the force of its tremendous blow. Damn were these wretched orcs strong! He spun, attempting to keep the encroaching halberdiers from flanking him, fearing that he could not keep track of so many enemies swirling around him. The remaining orc archers notched black-feathered arrows to roughly hewn bows. D’en ducked under a halberd swing and buried his scimitar in the belly of an orc. Pushing off the creature with a foot, D’en rolled backwards and withdrew his blade from the orc’s body. It kept coming though, and managed another attempt at hacking him before it expired. D’en spun to face his next opponent but his elven ears heard it coming first. One twang, two, six twangs. D’en’s eyes traced back towards the archers as the arrows started entering his body, one after another. His wrecked form lurched awkwardly through the air under the impact of the arrows and landed in a twisted clump on the forest floor. He vaguely felt a halberd enter his abdomen with a spray of his own gore as an orc dealt him a final blow, just to be sure.
D’en stared upwards at the early morning sky as blood slowly trickled across his face, pooling in one of his eyes. With his remaining eye and his last breath he stared silently upwards and saw a single falcon calmly circling far overhead on the morning breeze. D’en imagined it was Arrow. He imagined how it must feel for the falcon to be free on the wind, to feel the warm morning sun on his feathers, to be at peace.
Tiberio in Cauldron