Profit and Prey

-Look what splendid merchandise I got you this time. The whore is good, beautiful. Long legs, outward hips, and look at the rest of her. That's nobleman's quality.

Said the dark skinned dwarf, with a grin, showing his almost brown teeth, bits of tobacco or perhaps some other chewing herb stuck between them. He wasn't typically ugly for an outsider dwarf, and had a trust-invoking face. He gestured invitingly to take a look inside the tent. The interior of the tent was lavish, golden frill and embroidery on the insides of the flaps, gold and oak furniture. Decorated to impress a customer.

Inside, tied and terrified was a young dark haired woman, appearing to be an elf. She was in tears, though made little sound due to a mouth gag, and the extent of her suffering could be made out by the violent quake of her chest, adorned modestly with a shapely curve of breast. She was dressed with alluring style fitting for the occasion - the clothes definitely were not her own, picked on purpose to excite and attract. The bare minimum of skin cover, so transparent she might as well have been nude, it was clearly there just to tease the customer's eye.
All in all, the young elfess was gorgeous, especially when tied to a pole.
She no longer struggled, and it was clear why - her wrists were red from too much rubbing against the rope. She was denied even the ability to sulk her head, for her neck was tied to the pole as well. So she just stood there and cried. A captive.

-What's not to like, Kar'Gub? It's a must sell beauty.
The burly orc considered the beautiful woman and looked at the dwarf, shaking his head. He knew the old fart will try to jack the price. But the goods were right, the commodity was worthy. Looks like the stumpy devil snagged a noble Highborne. And judging by the fact that the tent is still in one piece, not gifted with magic.
A safe plaything for the pits.

-How much fur her?

The orc asked in common, in a low voice with a thick accent.
The dwarf smiled pleasantly, and put his hands almost friend-like, on the tall orc's belly and gave it a careful pat, as if it was his shoulder, whichhe could not reach. Kar'Gub was a giant in comparison.

-The price is the best part! For you - just two. Only because you're you, and mind you she hasn't been trained or broken yet. Doesn't smile as you can see. Saved the best part for you, I know how much you love personally seeing them train. All the freshest tears and obedient smiles reserved for my friend Kar'Gub. I'm sure you will teach her to smile.
-Me nub tell dem tu smile. Nub slave's place tu smile. Tears be sweeter fur de pit boss.

Kar'Gub held out a coin sack, and approached the captive. He put his long clawed hands on her, and gently explored all parts and places on her body that held his curiosity. It took him a mere two minutes, but it was enough to make her shudder so violently and scream so much that tears flowed in continuous streams down her face and neck.

He made sure not to hurt her, minding his claws, and bringing no pain, so he knew for a fact that her tears were of fear and humiliation. This was a noble woman, she was insulted. That burning, dying pride in her eyes, fortified dignity, undoing brick by brick. Her reactions told Kar'Gub everything about how she was taken.

The old green skinned Pit Boss Kar'Gub had seen many in the past. He raided caravans and wrecked ships, burned villages, captured, bought, sold, and traded slaves for the Horde in the service of the Chief for many years. He knew the personalities, the reactions, the stories.
For this woman, he knew, the life as it was - just ended. Her whole world was over.
For him, it was just one of many. An old rock-solid wretched slaverunner.

He had seen the "fighters", who'd rather die than be taken prisoner. You had to keep sharp objects from the fighters, or they would slit their own throat, or yours.
The "slavehearts", who gave up instantly, because they welcomed a master, and saw no point in resistance. The "martyrs" who agreed to be taken to save their family, or let them escape. The "screamers", the "throwers", the "runners", the "wicked".
He even saw the type on occasion who came to orcs to offer themselves willingly, for whatever reason.

This one was an "ice maiden". He called them ice maidens. The proud noble women who do not fight themselves, neither do they study martial defense. Instead, they rely on their personal guard and believe them to be infallible. Of course, the salary they pay the guard for the training, doesn't really get them trained. Instead it's used for drinks and whoring, because without a firm hand of a lord, soldiers and mercenaries are just that. If you do not personally involve with your guard, they will do the bare minimum to serve you. But ice maidens just don't get it. They are near-sighted and self indulgent. Usually very young, very rash, born in a wealthy powerful family, they believe they don't need to work on themselves and their well-being, they assume they are already greater than everyone. They indulge in every sin possible, including drugs and drinking (this one here had traces of Prince's Bliss in her eyelids, the drug was still in her system, but she was already sober), and of course, studying philosophical books without any substantial useful content.

So naturally, it came quite the surprise to this flighty young lady, when she was travelling the swamps of Darkon, probably in search of hallucinogenic herbal essenses with an escort of her "invincible" guards, who were suffering a hangover from last night, that a hidden gang of dwarven marauders quickly dispatched of the guards and cleaned up all traces. You can always trust a swamp dwarf with a poisoned crossbow. But of course, she did not know this.

Kar'Gub gathered this approximate story just by touching this fragile looking creature, and that spoke for his experience and talent.

-Me take.

He handed the sack of 2000 gold to the dwarf.
-Splendid purchase, Kar'Gub, you know your business. Picked her up at the marshes, was travelling with six armed elves. All greenhorns. Barely out of school. No ranks, no guild marks. Probably Temple rejects. I sold them to the Sadakari this morning. Good thing you took this one off my hands before the Trigadi come this way to sniff around and ask questions.

The dwarf used a knife to cut the rope on the woman that attached her to the tent pole, and she lost balance, falling into Kar'Gub's arms.
The moons were high when the stud covered glove, carrying within it the strength and agility of a trained killer's hand, knocked on the oak door of the dwarf's hut, just above the label "Alchemy Solutions and Various Goods".

This place was said to be impossible to find, and yet, perhaps not so impossible after all. Sagat wiped his swamp mud covered boots on the door mat, which was almost superfluous, since he was knee high covered in mud.

"To a dwarf, this would be near up to their waist. How do they travel here?", Sagat thought.

-"Triggin, open up. I have some questions for you."
The door opens and an old hunched up dwarf, covered in pimples, though not unpleasant in the face, smiled coyly.

"Oh my, oh my! I did not prepare for such a visit! Ay, ay, ay! A revered Trigadi is blessing my home as a guest and I was not informed! I had no chance to prepare my best and earnest! Forgive me! What can I interest you in, fair Elf Lord? Is it elixirs of rejuvenation that you seek? Or a cure from ailment?"
Sagat sighed and frowned, he hated everything official: names, titles, protocols. So his already low tolerance ceiling for niceness had dropped below his patience limit.

"Drop the comedy, slaverunner. You know I'm not here for alchemy. You know better than that to be afraid of us. You know well, that we don't care if you catch and sell humans, orcs, silve, or even each other. But when an incident touches a Highborne, especially a Caeril citizen...

I seek traces of a disappearance. And you better convince me very well, with concrete evidence, counter-evidence, and logic, that what I don't believe was a coincidence was in fact a coincidence. But get the tea ready, we will be up all night. Talking."
"Kargub, as your advisor, let me tell you again. Be careful with the Trigadi."

"I am NOT AFRAID of the damned Trigadi!...."


"We are seventy miles ahead, the path south is clear. They will not even catch our scent, forget catching us."

"Just telling you. Do not get Trigadi blood on your hands."

"I piss in Trigadi blood!"


"Whooo did they send?"


"Sagaaat. The cursed one eyed ranger. FOOL. If you think for a heartbeat that Kargub The Pit Boss is afraid of a one eyed elf, you shall be proven otherwise. Gladly and eagerly will I cross swords with him."

"The problem with Trigadi, Kargub, is that where there is Sagat, there is Caroon"
Purug was the slave traders clan chief headhunter. Has been for almost three decades.

There were three of his rank, but in reality he outranked them all. That made him second orc in the clan and he carried it with modesty and pride.
His lean, small posture, combined with rumors of his half-goblin heritage caused many a brutal fights in his youth, and several deaths he had caused.
His body covered in ritual cuts, marks, and tattooes, this smallish orc had areputation.

Purug was Kargub Gulush's right hand, and he was also his friend. The two did not share the commonly tyrannical boss-underling relationship. Purug acknowledged Kargub as superior, and served him as an advisor from the day Kargub claimed leadership.

For these mentioned reasons, Purug knew exactly what boss was going through. The Boss took a risky gamble, and his heart burned and trembled, and pulsed with anger and pride. Purug knew Kargub all too well. He wasn't an idiot. He wanted to keep the slave, he wanted to make a stand. But his head advised him otherwise. Kargub wanted to fight.

Ever since his appointment, since that day when Kargub the Mighty lost his duel to Ushrark Bruluk for the leadership of the Warrior clan and became Kargub the Pit Boss.
Ever since, Kargub held a grudge. He strove to prove his worth to be no less than that of the damned Darub-Dajal.

You'd have to be a fool to think that Kargub was not strong, not fierce, not brave.
Kargub, all in all, was a warrior, with a warrior's heart, a mountain of an orc, packed with muscles and filled with rage. But he was also blessed with a depth of wit and intelligence rare for an orc. Unfortunately, neither were enough to defeat Ushrark the Slayer.

Ushrark Bruluk was not half as bright as Kargub, and neither did he have the upstanding core character, but the immense skill with all manner of weapons and a special talent for violence, combined with strength and quickness balanced on technique, made him the definite victor that day. And thus, Kargub Gulush yielded to Ushrark Bruluk in a duel, preventing his skull from being split. That duel decided which of the two would go to the Warrior Clan, and the loser would rule over the slave pits. The old Chief offered Kargub a place in the Darub-Dajal under Ushrark, but Kargub preferred the pits to serving Ushrark.

Purug Kaol considered Kargub's feelings every time he tried to talk him out of rash action, because he understood what they meant.
Kargub had a clan to reign. Now, this rare elven slut would bring a good lot of prestige to the Ab'Kaushatar. The warrior clan hadn't captured a non-silve in months.
Kargub took that shot at prestige.

Kargub would never challenge Ushrark to fight again. Ushrark would kill him.
So, unable to fight Ushrark, Kargub wanted to fight everything else.
And surely, not show fear before a pack of bloody elves.

The problem with all this was, that Kargub was way reasonable for that.

They were a small party, away from homeland, in an alien dwarven land, and no indication whatsoever how many Trigadi Sagat's scouting party counted. They could not fight. They had to run. Run home, as fast as they could. Cross the Iron Mountains, and go past the Steel Canyon, sail home. If they made it to Big Island and managed to throw the elf slut into the pits of Mount Anhur, she would never be found again. She would be theirs and never return. Kargub would break her, and the "highborne" elves would not risk crossing the borders.

They had a three days march ahead.
The vast rocky deserts of the Big Island did not look welcoming. The orcs were happy on that account. They were close to home, and they were marching quickly onward, towards it. But mostly, they were in the clear, they made it to the harbour and out, they figured they were safe. Sagat could not catch them at the Darkon southern docks, because he was afraid of the orc-sympathetic dwarven spies who could send a warning, so this delayed him for a day, until his own transport arrived. He caught up with them on the third day of march.

The orcs marched fast.
The tall rocky canyon ahead of them served a shelter from the sun to many a passerby, and its cavernous wind tunnels lasted for a good four miles. The orcs would not rest here, they didn't plan on it, it would be foolish to stop now, with their urgent escape, but they would choose to at least pass through the canyon, to save themselves some time in the burning sun. At least, that's what Sagat hoped for. And he was right.

"Ambush." - hissed one of the orcs, stopping in his tracks.

"Good sense of smell, that one." - said Sagat in his deep cool voice, leaning from behind a rock, up above the orcs. He had an arrow pointed at Kargub, and a dozen Trigadi bows behind Sagat were covering the rest of the party.

"How did you find us?!!" - Kargub shouted, baring his fangs, his eyes starting to fill with blood, and fury lashed out of his voice, out of his eyes, his very being. It shook souls of lesser men, but the cool gaze of Sagat met it firmly, and seeped its fury through the cold focused temperance.

"We all have our different talents." - answered the Highborne, "Mine are finding things and moving quickly."

"And mine - is killing." - another voice spoke from the left rock wall, opposite of Sagat, forcing the orcs to turn around and realize they are surrounded. That voice belonged to Caroon, who jumped down to the ground, to level with the orcs. His hand was on the belt, but his blades were sheathed.

Sagat continued:

"There is no dishonor in being outnumbered. We know how to forgive mistakes. The girl is not yours. Let her go, and we will forget we ever met."
Kargub produced a low deep growl from the depth of his throat; his chest rose with this growl. If that growl were simmering coals, his eyes would have been a flame and his breath - hot air.

"You now step on our lands, Trigadi."

A moment of tension. Ozone filled air. Canyon engulfed in silence. Warm wind. A lonely bird in the sky. So tense it was almost electricity between these people. Volatile.

Kargub. Clenched fists. Grinding teeth. His people behind him. His people to take home.
Purug. A cautious ear, a perceptive eye.
Sagat. An arrow notched in a tightly drawn string. Full control of the situation.
Caroon. Oh gods in heavens, he was just here to kill. He waited to take some orc skulls home. Why the hell else would Caroon be here?

Choices. To be made. Fast.


A wall of green fists rose, shields lining up side to side to make a circle. Instantly, in one motion. No arrow would have made it. The orcs became a ring of shields, with the prisoner inside. A turtle. A big orc turtle.

Sagat did not fire yet. Perhaps it was his mistake. Or perhaps he was wise. The arrows would have been blocked anyway, and there was no need to escalate. Yet.

The arrows would have been an attack.
Shields are a defensive order, this was not an attack.

"I will show you where our talents are, Trigadi."

Death sentence spoken outloud in that rumbling low growl. Kargub raised his axe.

That - was an attack.

"We All Orcs As One! We Are Abb Kaushatar!!!" - the orc turtle boomed in a unison of growling voices.

And so it began.
Time was no longer to be wasted. Caroon was down there alone.
Sagat whistled, and the archers drew blades and within another instance became archers no longer.
They jumped down, and soon - the orc formation was facing a squad of bladeweavers.

"Trigadi," Sagat commanded shortly and coldly, "take them down!"

The elves went into measure, and formed a circle of their own, around the defending orcs. They outnumbered the orcs 15 to 12, but they were on the outside of a shield wall.

It was a stalemate for about a second or three. Then, as always, Caroon broke the balance. Like a madman, he ran straight at an orc he judged either weakest or slowest in the wall, pushed his shield topside backward, forming a surface, and gods know how, bounced himself off it, propelling up, and inside the circle. He was a dead elf now for sure, unless Sagat acted this very moment. So the elf circle closed, blade to blade with the orcs. The fray began.

He knew that Caroon could take about two to three of these at once, but not more, so he had to be screened for. He was wise not to engage Kargub himself, but that meant Sagat had to.

The first elves started to fall. The orcs did surprisingly well on the outside. It was ugly. The question now became about how many will die before Caroon can do serious enough damage to their backs. The first orc fell right after the first elf. This created a hole in the turtle. Trigadi poured into it at Sagat's quick gesture. Now it was time to do the work.

Sagat put his own blades into a guard Sign, and charged at Kargub. He did not like what he felt when blades touched.
When Purug saw that horrifying elf run up a brother's shield and dive inside the defensive circle, behind the backs of his comrades, he immediately dropped his outside guard, making his two neighbors clome close together to shut the gap. Purug dropped his shield and drew his daggers. Shields, axes, and maces were a sub par choice of necessity to him. But small blades - he was good at.

He knew that it's up to him now to get to the elf as fast as he can, and his brothers' lives depend on it.

He covered the distance in two quick leaps, but in that time, two orcs were already bleeding profusely out of their backs. Purug sized up his opponent.
It was an abomination of an elf. Fit, fast, deadly. Impossible to approach.

But Purug was the fastest here, and fast is what was needed. It would be hopeless either way, so he has to try.

Purug lunged.

Just the amount of force required to meet that elven blade shook the orc's elbow and shot down in a spike of pain all the way to his shoulder. Strength wasn't the way to fight this fellow.

Purug adjusted, piruetted, volted, dodged, and eased into it. He used the elf's strength and applied weakness to it, redirecting, giving in, getting out of the way. Orc daggers met the blades at half strength, just barely enough to stop the impact, and then gave in without a fight, going around instead.

Parry. Dodge. Parry. Counter. Lunge.
Sidestep. Parry. Sidestep. Dodge. Adjustment.

Nothing worked. Nothing at all.

No time to think, Purug. But you have to think!!

Then, the elf smiled. His forest green eyes just looked straight into Purug's face. That's when Purug felt the sting, and a warm liquid coating his leg.

"Oh, you've got to be an officer." - the elf said, panting. So, he was tired after all. That meant Purug at least gave him a good fight. ""Do you simply have a smarter head on your shoulders, or is it that half goblin blood helping you be so quick?"

Purug scowled.

"Your anatomy sucks, longear. I am... a quarter goblin!"

Purug roared and lunged, quick as a cat, but this time the elf met him with force, breaking the "agility dance" and switching into brutal approach. Purug wanted to jump out of measure, but the spike of pain in the leg made him misstep. The elf judged his injury well, and knew what he could afford. This was a master fighter. And now Purug had a cut on his eyebrow. But... why wasn't he dead? The elf should have killed him by now.

"Should I kill you, like all these other grunts, or is your head worth an officer's ransom? My name is Caroon. Remember it."

"I know who you are, Caroon Karra. I am Purug, son of Pikrak Kaol, officer of the Hor..."

Purug didn't finish, as the moment he spoke the word "officer", Caroon removed his blade from Purug's neck, and turned and ran to face another orc.

Suddenly, chaos ensued and could not be stopped. Orcs, refusing to be slaughtered, dropped the shields, and destroyed formation. Arrows were no longer a threat, so orcs grabbed their battle axes and spears, and began slaughtering the Trigadi. The elf girl, their prisoner, screamed in terror, laying tied on the ground. The elves seemed to attempt to reach her in their combat positioning.

Caroon was cutting his way through to Kargub, who was engaging Sagat.
Purug didn't know what he could possibly do to aid the fight, he couldn't chase after Caroon with his leg bleeding profusely, but the pain urged his orc side onward, giving him rage and strength. He was going to fight to the end. So he took out his sling and loaded the first rock.
Kargub engaged Sagat. He had never fought this legendary one eyed elf before, only heard rumors of his skill. The blades clashed, and it felt good. The elf was strong, but not that strong. On the other hand, the first clash does not always determine the overall outcome. Perhaps he was choking up the strength on purpose? Kargub was smart enough to know that elves don't fight like orcs do. Sagat never spoke, never taunted, he was fully focused on the fight.

Still, Kargub liked how the engagement felt so far. He pressed the elf master on and on, always advancing. But what the one eyed elf lacked in depth perception, he more than made up in insight. He wasn't just hard to catch with a cut, he was impossible. It was almost like he could read Kargub's moves ahead of time. It was annoying. Kargub stopped liking it pretty quickly.

The good news was that Kargub did not have to catch Sagat. It was the other way around. All Kargub had to do was defend the captive slave, and she lay helplessly behind him. It's the elves who had to get through to her. Defending - Kargub was good at.

The bad news was that Sagat seemed to have understood that as well, and employed a whole arsenal of tricks, traps, jukes, and wound threats to get Kargub to respond and provoke him into an offensive action. Kargub did not want to fall for it, but he soon realized he had no choice. If he kept defending, the elf would go around him and manipulate him on his terms. The best thing he could do is be what an orc is - an aggressive fighter. He knew that this is what Sagat wants, but there was no other choice.
The only hope was that Kargub could give Sagat more than he could chew.

So he, finally let himself fall into one of Sagat's traps. He lunged with his axe, opening his side, and, with a smirk, Sagat plunged his Signweaver into the orc flesh, between the two ribs. Sagat's smirk faded quickly, when Kargub, through the pain of a sword being jammed in his side, rammed into Sagat's frame, and lowered the axe onto his parrying second blade. Sagat did exactly what Kargub hoped for. He chose not to fall. The elf dug his feet into the ground, taking a strong stance. The blades clashed, and the impact immediately dislocated Sagat's shoulder. With a heavy grunt, the elf's left arm hung useless, and he had to switch hands. But the time it took him to do that, allowed Kargub to swing again.
A strike of the axe, Sagat's only option was to dodge out of the way, and into Kargub's knee.
A kick to the chest, and the elf was sent flying to the ground.

Kargub roared, the pain of a bleeding wound reigniting his rage, he advanced towards fallen Sagat, but then he felt it. The twist. A sharp twist in his wounded side. He looked down, and saw a hand snaking around him, grabbing the hilt of Sagat's sword and twisting it in his wound. Caroon's hand.

Kargub quickly turned around, and saw Caroon, and before he could react, he heard his voice.


And another, much more shattering jab of pain, right between the ribs on the other side, as Caroon jammed his own Signweaver into Kargub's left rib.

Imagine how wide Caroon's eyes got, when Kargub, with two swords sticking out of him, one on each side, pushed Caroon back with the butt of his axe.

"Our strength.... IS PRESSING ON!!"

A brutal strike overhead with the axe blade, forced Caroon to step back. Without his second blade, the destructive pattern of Trigadi was disrupted, and Caroon could no longer employ the bladeweaving dance, and was limited to his swordsmanship skill. However, that skill was considerable.
Quickly judging his defenses, Caroon grabbed his remainng sword by the blade with the second hand, and raised it like a staff, in a half-sword grip, to block the incoming axe.

The clash!
Small sparks of lightning and fire, and the elven steel screamed...
A broken half of the master's Signweaver fell to the ground.

Caroon was shocked, and the new strike was already preparing. Kargub, bleeding out of his ears and mouth, looked berserk with fury. The elf retreated and drew his dagger.

But the precise shot of Purug Kaol's slingshot, knocked it out of Caroon's hand with a heavy rock. The dagger fell into the sand.

The Trigadi held his bloodied hand and cringed, and Purug dropped his sling and drew a knife.

"Don't think I will miss your head, Caroon. You should have killed me when you had the chance."

Kargub raised his axe once more over Caroon's head and stepped into measure.

"Not today". Said Kargub, a need to kill in his eyes.

But then, he stopped where he stood, and froze. His chest cavity opened a small gash, like a tiny mouth, and a steel tongue emerged from that clean cut, before twisting and exploding it into a gaping wound, bursting with blood. This was Sagat's second blade reaching him from behind, as Sagat held it in his only functioning hand, reaching from a stretched, extended crouch almost to a splits, his other shoulder hanging limp.

This was endgame for the massive orc. The third blade reached his lung.

His only thought at that point was which way to fall to avoid lethal damage. Forward, or backward. And yet, he still did not fall.

Instead, he grabbed Sagat's blade by the tip, and slid it forward, further into himself, and out his own chest, sinking it into his back all the way up to hilt, yanking it out of Sagat's overextended reach. Then, Kargub took a step towards Caroon. And then another. And then he raised his axe. Slowly, more in defiance than for a strike.

Sagat's only functioning eye was open wide. He's seen everything now.
An orc walking after three swords being jammed in his torso.

Caroon, disarmed and wounded, still had victory in his eyes.

"Look around, Kargub."

Around them, three orcs were left standing with 4 elves circling around them.

"You've created a slaughter of several orcs over one captive slave. Who are you after this. but a beast? A foul beast."

"Just give the order, Boss." Said Purug, his knife aimed at Caroon's temple. "We can finish off the rest. Sagat's wounded, and it will be five against four."

New decisions.

Purug, with a bleeding leg and face, holding a knife prepared to throw at Caroon.
Caroon, unarmed, having killed half his orcs alone, and now holding his bleeding hand with a smile. Oh, how he hated Caroon.
Sagat, stretched on the ground behind him, now struggling to load his bow with only one functioning shoulder.
And he, Kargub himself, an ocean of pain. He did his best to look unstoppable and tough, but he was bluffing, badly bluffing. Three swords were seeping strength like venom, he would not last long. Would he last long enough to win this? Did it even matter? Or did the honor of the Pits matter more?

"We are orcs of the Pits. All as one. We fight for the pits. The slave is ours."

Twitch. Blink. Clenched fist. Flexed muscle of a rising foot. A tuned elven ear. A grinding orc fang. Exhale.

Are you really going to do this, Kargub Gulush? Kill two master Trigadi for a slave girl? Will you be reasonable, or will you be.... an orc?
Orcs all as one.

"Kill them."
"So be it, my friends. It seems the dreaded Trigadi are defeated this day. We fall with honor," - said Caroon and proudly raised his head, clenching his bleeding hand with a strained expression.

Purug threw his knife, and at that moment Kargub may have realized that Caroon was bluffing.
His eye pupil dialated to trace the spinning knife mid air, he side-stepped like lightning, and caught the knife with the good hand, darting towards Purug, and knocking the wind out of his lungs with a punch of the bloodied fist, then a punch to the face, leaving a fresh blood imprint of an elven hand on Purug's jaw.

A quick struggle, and Caroon held Purug in a submission grasp with the orc's knife at his own throat.
Kargub reached down to grab wounded Sagat, but the captive slave girl was making her attempts to roll away. Kargub chose quickly, and snatched the girl.
Sagat was able to get up and move towards Caroon.

All the elves disengaged and now formed a protective circle around Sagat and Caroon, who held Purug hostage. Now the elves were a turtle, except this was more of a porcupine, with elven Signweavers sticking out on the outside, like spikes.

The three standing orcs growled at it, their axes probing, juking, aligning. They were ready to engage on command, like hungry sharks, looking for an opening to plunge their blades into.

"Forget my life, Boss, kill them all!" - Purug growled, until the pressure of Caroon's hold didn't force him to gargle.

"Let him go or she dies here!" - said the Pit Boss and lowered the girl's head by the hair, onto the axe's blade. She squirmed and cried in terror, her tears dropped onto the bloodied steel. The sight did not seem to have moved Caroon much.
"Life as a slave is not much of an alternative."

Kargub may have understood at this point, that he chose the wrong hostage. He should have grabbed Sagat.

"Do you think I value him more than you value her?"

"An orc slave is not much use to us if you take her. Even if you take her alive. We are here to take her home. Our mission can either fail or succeed. If it fails, it fails either way. In that case, we do not care for her life."

"On the other hand, if you kill this girl, then you do not get your slave either way, so you have just killed your orcs for nothing. And of course, Caroon will kill Purug in any outcome other than you giving the girl back to us. That's the only way you can keep him and your remaining people alive." - Said Sagat, stepping out from behind Caroon.

"If I have to give her up, then we have bled and died for nothing anyway. This fight has no winners. I call your bluff, Trigadi."

Kargub raised the axe to cut off the girl's head.
"Mm. Don't think so."

The sound came from somewhere above, and all who had enough quickness to look up in time, could now see three robed figures with lowered hoods standing on top of a canyon cliff above the fight. The figure in front was dressed in red, two figures behind him were dressed in purple and gray. The Trigadi quickly recognized the symbols on their robes. And then, before anyone could properly react, the power word came.


The red figure stepped aside.
The tall figure in gray stepped in front of him, to the edge of the cliff. He put his hands to his temples. The gray one's eye lit up with a slight dim glow, and suddenly Kargub Gulush could feel the pressure of this glance, and almost see this zoomed in pupil dialating to glance into his mind.
The orc commander flexed his muscles, but nothing came from it. No motion.

The axe blade was pressed against the neck of the Highborn slavegirl-to-be, drawing a bit of blood, but unable to sink deeper in. Both the red figure and Kargub stood motionless, as if in trance with each other. Kargub's glance dulled, his posture lowered, docile, the rage in his eye dying, as if he was suppressed.

The red figure continued to speak.

"I mean, you look like you are having a lot of fun, and we certainly do not mind..."

"Shut up!!" - one of the three soldier orcs growled and threw his axe towards the head of the gray robed figure. He threw without even aiming, yet the axe headed dead on for the hooded face. The gray one did not react to the threat as he seemed completely focused on his dominating connection with Kargub. Death seemed certain.

But within half a second, as the axe was still mid flight, the purple robed figure, (a petite female by the shape of her tightly clad robe), with a trained and quick motion stepped in front of the gray one and spread her arms wide, exposing the curve of her chest.

"Santus Infernum Tiabulus" - she pronounced with the tone of voice that could be classified as something between a desperate painful war cry and a determined order. She was strained, but plenty competent to handle it. Her voice confirmed she was a female.

The air in front of her folded in two, unfolded, and pulsed like a wave on a flat surface. The axe reached within a foot of her face, and got stuck midair, sunk within the invisible barrier. Then, it fell to her feet.

"...Thank you, Oksanna. That was rude. As I was saying, we certainly do not mind if you slay a few orc grunts or Trigadi scholars, for they are cheaper to train than magi adepts, not by a lot I might add... But, we see that this business here has come close to knocking heads off some officers, on both sides.
That falls out of the normal boundaries of a friendly killing skirmish and would potentially result in a threat to create a wide conflict between our people, and we cannot allow it. In addition, we cannot allow the loss of Trigadi Signweavers."

Caroon cringed and Sagat frowned. They somewhat hated this elf's arrogance.

""Which is why intervention was deemed necessary, and I, Neil Mallus of House Magi Ermaedril, Rianiel Yaevynn of House Magi Ermaedril, and Oksanna Yaevynn of House Magi Ermaedril, upon authorization from the High Council Emraedril and Headmistress Trigadi Grandmistress Tehlin Gutair, on behalf of the family of Elder Scribe Lothar Celendil, are enacting arcane mediation protocol and conducting a rescue of captive Raissa Celendil."

In a fit of hopeless and desperate anger, Purug Kaol, being held in Caroon's death grip, through the pain the pale elf's fingers inflicted upon his throat, roared out a response:

"You can't do that!! We took her by fair bargain! We did not capture her on Caeril! We did not invade you! How dare you invade us! You can't cast magics against the Officers of the Great Horde!"

The gray robe stood silent, his hands on his head.
The purple robe kept shielding him and breathed quickly, staring at the remaining two orcs who were smart enough not to throw their axes, and eyed them suspiciously now.
The red robe smiled.

"Oh, I cannot? I apologize: Pardon me, my bad. Was I mistaken? Is this group - an elite dispatch of Darub-Dajal? Does your raiding party carry political authority of the Chief Warlord? Are those marks on your faces in the shape of a bloodied axe? And is that indeed the rune crafted elite guard armor you wear, enchanted by the Great Shaman himself to protect you from magic? Hmm... wait a minute, no. You're a band of low-lives dressed in rags, and instead of a bloodied axe of a warrior, you sport the whip mark of a slaver."

Purug clenched his teeth so hard his gums started to bleed. Kargub's muscle veins promised to pop in a motionless rage, somewhere deep within.

""That's what you get for wearing your clan marks on your faces."

The orcs growled as one in blind fury, and rushed toward Kargub, axes raised, to kill the helpless elfess.

The red one spoke fast, loud, and perfectly clear.
The sheer power of the spell electrified the air and shook the ground.

Kargub felt it first. Three swords that filled him like a pin cushion, warped into nothing, disappearing. All the Signweavers of the dead elves laying on the ground, vanished into thin air.

"Well, that's our ride." - said Caroon. "I hate teleportation."
"Better than this nonsense." - replied Sagat drily.

Then, both of them, and the remaining four Trigadi Scholars warped into tiny balls and self-folded to non existance, vanishing and leaving glowing blue jump scars in the air. It was a mass teleportation spell. Only a powerful mage could muster something like that.

"NOOOOOO!" Cried Purug as his throat was let go and he fell to the ground. He drew his knife and threw is at the captive slave held in Kargub's paralyzed hand.

As the knife near reached her head, she began warping, folding, and vanishing out of Kargub's grip.

And at that very moment, that orc who lost his axe to Oksanna's barrier, was aiming one of the elven bows left behind, dead on at Neil Mallus's chest.

What a clever bastard. Some of the most disasterous outcomes happen because of a random grunt suddenly being clever.

Perhaps it was the speed of the arrow let loose from a high quality Trigadi bow, or perhaps it was the immense amount of concentration Neil's spell required, but he could not react in time to multitask.

Normally maintaining two spells was a mundane exercise for his mind. Teruviel and Velsevul often trained him in doing so. But that arrow caught him truly off guard.

Oksanna, whose task was protection, did not rotate her barrier in time to meet the arrow, as she was mostly shielding Rianiel, that was her primary mission, because Rianiel was helpless, having dominated the mind of the orc pit boss.

As a result, Neil was forced into a stressful situation. He had a split second to make a choice - to maintain the teleportation spell, or to protect his life. Not being a devoted Trigadi, he chose the second.

He flicked his wrist and extended his fingers, burning the arrow to crisp with a "BURN", as it already touched his fingers.

The poor captive women, still warping in space, flew up in the air over Kargub, twisted, screaming, and it was as if an invisible hand was jerking her up and down and to the side.
"Rianiel, help me! Maintain destination! It's going havoc!"

The gray one weavered in his stance.


Kargub roared, raised his axe, looked up, and threw it at the teleporting elfess.

"Just send her! Now!"


Both elves chanted in unison.

But it was too late. The girl darted up, towards the sky, and burst into a million jump scars, teleporting to an unknown location, somewhere in this world.
Kargub's axe flew through the air, where she hung a moment ago.

"I will KILL YOU, NEIL MALLUS. I SWEAR on my BLOOD! I will KILL YOU!" - roared Kargub, and passed out from blood loss.

The purple figure faded, the gray figure faded.
The red figure looked straight at Purug Kaol.

"Take care of him. For your own sake. And think carefully. For the rest of your life."

And then the red figure faded.

"...And that's when I had to make a deal with the Ermaedril."

Tehlin glanced across the camp table set up in the training yard at the two Masters. Forest green eyes moved from one to the other taking in the various healing wounds of Sagat and the bandage around Caroon's hand. The encounter had cost much more than it was worth, she reflected, without even the captured woman returned to show for it. The request for aid from House Ermaedril alone would be difficult to live with, mages were not the sort to forget an unpaid debt the Trigadi would pay in blood and lives on some mage's errand for this assistance.

"Sorry we got here so late. The damned healer wouldn't let Sagat go until he patched his shoulder."

"I've heard the report. What in the hell did you encounter?"

Sagat looked down and said nothing, though his face said everything for him. He was apologizing for failure. Caroon spoke.

"Tehlin, it wasn't a regular orc dispatch. It was Kargub, the Pit Boss himself, and his second. You had to have been there."

"Perhaps I should have! Eleven Scholars dead. You both wounded. Raissa Celendil's whereabouts unknown, even the mages are having difficulty in finding a trace of her. What is this, Trigadi Blademasters?"

Caroon frowned and opened his mouth, but Tehlin's look shut down his impulse to talk back. Much more restrained, he said:

"Kargub Gulush, Tehlin. Second strongest orc in the Horde after Ushrark Bruluk. He took three Signs to the ribcage and he was still walking. You should have seen Sagat."

"Are we singing the pity song already? Should we retire to become farmers? It is not proper of Trigadi to make excuses. If three signs were not enough, then strike four, five, ten. Eleven dead, Caroon. Eleven students we will not bring back. They are not toys."

Now Caroon as well looked down.

"Arrogance, Caroon. Your problem is arrogance. You should have kept them at arrow point. Your strife to prove yourself in battle costs us. We are already at a shortage of recruits."

She sighed.

"The only positive points I can surmise are that: first, the Horde will not soon underestimate the cost of taking Highborne as slaves. Second, wherever she may be, Raissa is not a captive. Third, at least you did not kill Kargub, so we do not have a raven flying to us with an immediate declaration of war over a death of a Warlord. Finally, your injuries are not debilitating, I'm told you, Sagat, should be able to return to duties within the week given proper rest, and you, Caroon, within a fortnight.

I'm sure I do not have to point out to either of you how near to disastrous this mission came."

Caroon lost it, a strained plea in his voice:

"There was nothing we could do! This is me saying it."

Caroon slammed his palm softly into the table. Tehlin placed her hand on top of his and squeezed.

"I don't care who is saying it, student or master. I know you are skilled and fast, but don't just use that as a justification. If we were overcome, then that tells us that we must train harder. Yes, harder. Because clearly, the orcs are on our heels. We three and Sigiel are the only proper training partners for our level. When one fails, it means we all failed, because we did not train enough. You fail, I fail. I mean, should we go back to first day of school? Should I start asking you two to write a summary of tactics used and lessons learned?"

"Tehlin..." - Sagat spoke timidly.

"No, you let me finish. We have an incident we failed to remedy quietly. They will not let this slight rest of this I'm sure. It may not be within this generation of their species but they will attempt to strike back again. When that happens I want less Highborne blood spilt, and less Highborne lives wasted. So, if that involves bringing me along, I want to be informed and brought in. Am I clear?"

"But the Temple must always have a master present..."

"Sigiel can stay and keep an eye. Am I clear?"

The ice cold tone of her voice did not leave room for Sagat to offer any ponderous ideas nor Caroon any glib comments. That voice she used when she was angry, that had the charismatic power to extinguish fire with discipline and ignite ice with shame. Caroon had the grace to grimace. Sagat downcast his one good eye. The two Masters both spoke in unison.

"As you command."

Tehlin may have smiled were the occasion not so serious, for these two near opposites to do anything as one was a moment to remember. She gave instead a brisk nod. For a moment none of the three spoke and the sounds of students hurrying toward the training yard registering on the edge of her senses. They were just leaving the dorms now, it would be but the space of five or so minutes before they arrived.

"You both have leave to rest. Reflect and heal. We will no doubt have need of your skills again soon enough. On a personal note, I'm glad you've both survived. Sigiel makes a horrible drinking partner."
Day switching with night, and night with day. Red dawn and pink dusk. Red streams of blood along the veins outlining the insides of the eyelids. Dark green curtains. Awakening to the scent of verbena tea and the healer's chanting. Fever? Is this fever? Orc warlords are not supposed to have fever....

Kargub's recovery was long and unusually difficult. When he drifted back asleep, spinning elven blades in the shape of a curved serpent haunted his uneasy restless dreams. Face of mage in red, it haunted him.
He looked at his clan marks, the whip, changing into a bloodied axe. A desired reality substituted an actual one. No, not Darub-Dajal. A slaver. A pit boss.

Finally, after a few days, he started coming about. He was back in his room, on the bed. The meal was steaming, and a silve slave girl was servicing his quarters, cleaning the furs and changing the cloth sheets. Kargub sent her away. She smiled, surprised, and hurried off. He sat up on the bed.

Steps outside. Fast and skipping. The door opened, and Purug came in quickly, grinning.

"Glad to see you come around, Boss! Came in as soon as I heard."

"Did you tell anyone? Narobi...?"

"Nobody knows yet. Narobi either. Figured you'd want some time. The onca girl won't tell."

Silence, a low growl of discomfort.

"How many days?"

Kargub rolled his sore neck, and hunched in pain, which is when he noticed thick bandages on his ribs.

Purug frowned and answered glumly:

"Eight days, Boss. You lost a lot of blood, you had fever. I think the blades were venom coated."

"Trigadi blades. I will remember."

"How do you feel?"

"Like shit. You don't look bad."

"I lived."

Then Purug filled Kargub on the business with the slave and other happenings within the clan that the boss had missed. Purug recovered quickly and took temporary command of the pits. The insulting news, the ones Kargub did not care to hear, was that the slave was lost, and Chief Kraadash did see it as a failure on the Ab-Kaushatar's behalf. What was more disheartening, is that nothing were to be done about it at this time. Which meant their orcs had died for nothing. And Urshark of course had not much to say but "Their own punishment for being stupid. Trigadi weaklings are a game for the Black Fist. Not for shit eating whip whackers." Kargub and Purug laid a few juicy curses in the Warlord's address, and firmly decided to start working on obtaining magical protection from greater effects of magic, such as paralysis. And then, they shared a jar of tea. Then a keg of ale.

"Next time I lay my hand on that mage, his neck will be crushed so thin, you won't hit it if you piss on it."

Kargub spoke in a deep low bass.
Purug had many options to reply with. He did not like any of them and stayed silent, just sighed and took a drink.

"So, there is something I wanted to ask ya, Boss."

"Grml... What's that."

"When that mage cast a spell on ya, you fell under some kinda sleep stupor. And you were almost smiling. We were in the midst of battle, and you just... relaxed. Never seen anything like that. Were you awake at all?"

"Don't remember much. Don't know."

"Well, if you try? I mean, you know I was always scared of those mages. I'm not trying to make fun of you, Boss. Just maybe if you let me know what it's like, it will prepare me for it."

"Mmgrbl.... Well. Can't move a muscle, can't feel the pain. A cloudy mind. I saw his face. The one in gray. I felt him... touching me. It's hazy. Awake, but like a dream."

"A dream? Was it at least a good one? What did you see?"

"Hrmm." Kargub smiled. "Honestly?"

"Yeah, Boss."

"I saw Rashiki."
*Laying back against the hard earth his eyes on the stars above Dinerrb found his mind again wandering. Yes this latest raid had been sucessful but not nearly so sweet as the gossip he had picked up while stalking the Horde cities.

It had begun. The fool Pit Boss Kar'Gub had purchased a slave it was said. An elven female. He was proud of his new trophy until the Trigadi, famed fighters of the elven lands, had fallen upon his party decimating his numbers. The final blow, the salt for Kar'Gub's wounds, had been when mages, not warriors had taken the elfess from his very hands, and for further insult left him ALIVE!

Dinerrb laughed to himself, a low grumbling sound deep in his broad chest.

Every Silve in the Horde lands would hear of this. The news would spread like wildfire. An orc who was spared by mages. Dinerrb could not have dreamed up a better battle cry. This was the orc who held so many in silent terror. Who had once broken the spirit of prideful males with just a glance, who sent females weeping into their tents with one harsh word, now brought low by hands which never touch steel nor whip nor mace. Dinerrb could almost taste the orc blood already.*

"The hunt is on."

*He mumbled to himself, the stars his only witness*
"Oh is that right, Master Brolin? That is curious indeed," said the old dark skinned, hunched up dwarf, covered in pimples, though not unpleasant in the face, smiling coyly with a twinkle in his eyes. He was talking to an even older looking dwarf, though that one did seem a good bit healthier, a finer skin, and straighter hair, more groomed and refined air to him. Indeed, it would make sense, for Brolin was a librarian and archivist, and unlike Triggin, did not indulge himself in sinful pleasures of copious amounts of drugs, smoking, and alcohol, and maintained a good shape otherwise. But the two were closely acquainted.

"Yes, yes, my friend," Brolin continued, "and the way I know of this, is because of the scholar I mentioned, who was present in the Ermaedril library hall. Hurrying back to replace a book he borrowed, he stopped to look at a manuscript, and overheard the archmages. To him, it made no sense, but I am sure to you, it does."

"Oh yes, Brolin, my good chap. This indeed is a tasty soup that has come to brew here from my little combination. Is your scholar certain about the vision the telepath described?"

"As certain as I am of my hearing, and as he is of his. Like, I said, he said that the gray wizard mentioned seeing Rashiki Bruluk in Kargub Gulush's mind. Not entirely dressed, and not entirely faithful to her husband."

"So... the Ermaedril know that the orc Pit Boss is sleeping with the General's wife. And now so do we."

"And now so do we. Or rather, so do you."

"Ah yes, of course, thanks to you, my friend. Here, a fair compensation, don't you think?"

A sack of coins was passed, and mushroom tea was sipped.

"Now Triggin, if I were you, I would sit on that information very quietly, or I'm afraid no oaken door will save your little alchemist ass. Don't bite a wild green dragon's tail. Let the angry tiger do it."