The Hateful Wars: Chapter Twelve
Hroth’s yellow eyes narrowed as he peered heavenward. Half a dozen horse-birds wheeled about the sky over the holy city like vultures circling over a dying warrior. The nostrils of his thick blue nose flared as he sniffed at the air. “Elves!” he spat. Even at this distance from the city, Hroth and his warriors could hear the blaring alarm of the goblin war horns and the beating of the drums.
“Drop the corpses girlies!” he ordered. “Double time all the way home!”
His soldiers dropped their packages: a dozen orange-skinned carcasses, all of them beheaded, some of them also pierced with arrows, the fletching still visible in the wounds. Hroth unshouldered his own burden, a heavy burlap bag containing the dozen heads that once belonged to the bodies.
Three weeks earlier, when those heads were still attached, the priests of Grot-Ugrat dispatched missions to both Celene and the Duchy to protest the city’s innocence in the matter of Druid’s Defile, for rumor of those events had reached the temple. By then, dwarves, elves, gnomes, and men had been spied advancing into the mountains. The envoys to the west went before the duke. Grind his bones! Hroth snarled to himself as he kicked at one of the leering severed heads. Grind all their bones! The duke gave no heed to the protestations of the ambassadors, nor did he honor the custom of parley. No. Not that noble one! What did he do? Murdered them all.
The messengers dispatched to Celene received no warmer welcome from those long-haired pretty-boys. Archers in the trees dropped them before they reached Courwood. Hroth commanded an elite guard to retrieve the bodies—so treacherously slain— from the borders of the elven wood. The butchers had laid out the stinking carcasses where they could be easily found beneath a pile of bloody noggins.
“By Galtai’s strong arm! To the defense of the holy city!” Hroth ordered. Abandoning their burdens for the time being, he and his warriors fell into tight formation and launched a charge into the sacred valley. The stomp of their boots pounded out a steady galloping rhythm that answered to the beat of the war drums in the city. Despite the weight of weapons and heavy armor, the disciplined soldiers were conditioned to sustain such a pace all day and night if need be. In this case, they would need only an hour to reach the walls of Grot-Ugrat.
The troop encountered a few ranks of gnome warriors retreating, it seemed, from the city. The gnomes saw the disaster approaching and prepared for collision. They formed up defensively to meet the onrush of fifty hobgoblin soldiers. It would have been a short battle. But Hroth ordered his men to ignore the gnomes and their illusions and to circumvent their position. He would not slay them in the holy vale, not even if the little troll turds had come to undermine the sacred city. They quickly left the gnomes far behind.
The sunlight dimmed. Something felt wrong. Darkness seemed to descend from the mountain, and the air felt suddenly cold and sick like the smell of the undead. Hroth signaled a halt with a raised fist. The soldiers stopped the charge abruptly. Each one dropped to a crouch, instantly taking up positions in a defensive formation with weapons brandished and ready for action. Hroth’s yellow eyes glanced about nervously, searching sky and plain. He could no longer see the horse-birds, nor the heights above the valley. He removed the helm from his head as if it would help him to better see and understand the meaning of the sinking cloud of gloom. Some terror settled over the holy city—some evil had condensed in the air. It fell like a fog onto the ramparts, obscuring the towers, and concealing the walls.
Some claim the gods themselves built the ancient city of Grot-Ugrat. The city sat in a high valley above the Celene Pass. Massive stone blocks, some weighing in excess of twenty tons, formed impenetrable walls, towering embankments, and steep retaining walls. Who carved those blocks out of the living stone, and who moved them into place in the valley below? None can say. But what can be said is that the hoch-jebline considered the whole valley sacred. They occupied the city since before the cataclysms and boasted that it had never fallen to an enemy. Temples to the unholy deities of goblinkind filled the city, but the hobgoblins dedicated the city to their god Nomog-Geaya. They believed he had built the city, and therefore, all their kind in eastern Oerik felt it incumbent upon themselves to make pilgrimage to the holy valley at least once in their lives. Within the confines of the sacred vale, all tribes were considered equal, and no one was permitted to shed blood except the blood of victims on the altars. Nomog-Geaya and Maglubiyet kept rival temples in the holy city. The one preferred his victims burnt alive; the other competed to slurp up the blood of sacrifices. The worship of the goblin gods ordinarily inspired bloodshed among competing shamans and rival priesthoods, but not within the sacred valley. All those who came and went from Grot-Ugrat respected the ancient tradition and feared the consequences should they violate the valley’s sanctity. Goblin, orc, hobgoblin, and ogre alike revered the sanctity of the valley, and none dared to break the pax. To do so was sacrilege. There alone, in all the world, members of other races were allowed to come and go among goblinkind, and at certain festivals, half-elven merchants from Ulek could be found selling wares in the city’s markets. Even the undermountain kings of Balnorhak and Gilmorack had once sued for peace with the holy city.
Head of the Wyrm
While Kristryd Olinsdotter was at diplomacy in the Pomarj, her father the prince convened a war council in Gyrax. Thane Bolor Blackaxe of Hoch Dunglorin spoke first, saying, “If you want to kill the cussed wyrm, cut off its head! For seven centuries, nay, for eight, the dwarves of Dunglorin have defended the pass from those devils. What thanks do you think we have received? But if you would show us your grate, put an end to that wicked city.”
Likewise, trueheaded Bagbag stood in the midst of the council and declared in the hearing of all, “The Prince Consort of Celene was slain not twenty miles from that fell city.” The truth was otherwise. The Prince Consort had been slain in Druid’s Defile, near Courwood, many days travel from Grot-Ugrat, but no one at the war council seemed to know the truth better, and those who did know better deemed the error not worthy of correction. Even Onselvon of Celene let the statement stand without bothering to correct the record. (So it is recorded in the annals of the proceedings in the royal library at Gyrax. Until today, the histories still contain discrepancies on this matter, some claiming that the Prince Consort was slain in the Celene Pass and others stating he was slain in Druid’s Defile.)
The Royal Army marched out before the snows had yet melted from the peaks. They came up through the Kewl Way to the Duke’s Road through Tringlee. The main host of the Ulek states went up with them. The heavily armored ranks of Dengar and Gilmorack joined the muster at ancient Hoch Dunglorin. Gnomes from the Kron Hills joined soldiers from Celene and halflings from Prinzfield to converge from the east.
As all these forces converged on the sacred valley, the priests of Nomog-Geaya dispatched their ambassadors to plead their innocence. The mission to the west fell into the hands of rangers from the County. They brought the hobgoblins before His Noble Radiance Gallowagn, the Duke over the Duchy of Ulek. In tribute to the Prince Consort of Celene, the duke ordered the emissaries put to death by hanging them from the walls of Tringlee. The mission to the east met no kinder welcome from the elven watch on the borders of Celene.
The Suel Spell
Despite the bitter reception of their ambassadors, the goblins felt secure behind the enormous stone-block walls of Grot-Ugrat. The city had stood for many centuries, survived many sieges, but never fallen. Was not the holy city defended by the gods themselves? They knew their enemies were not prepared to lay any extended siege. The goblins only needed to hold the walls until snows flew again when the attackers would surely fatigue and the armies would return to their homes.
Bagbag had a better plan than direct siege. In a secret counsel of the warmages, he revealed his strategy, “The battle cannot be easily won with sword or spear or sling or bow. But I have brought a worthy weapon.” Obviously well-satisfied with himself, the old loremaster tried to suppress a proud smile as he withdrew an ancient scroll from its tube and unrolled the artifact on a table in the sight of all those spellbinders. “It is written in Old Suel letters,” he explained. “It contains the necessaries. The spell may be used but once. It needs to be translated and transcribed, then memorized for the casting. No one caster should wield the power alone. Each of us must learn a portion of the whole spell. Then on the day of battle, we will knit them all together.”
The high mage of Enstad leaned over the table and regarded the scroll warily, “How came the dwarves by this ancient deviltry, and what will be the effect of it?”
“How we dwarves come by what is ours is our concern alone and none of yours,” Bagbag snapped. “The effect of the spell will be the defeat of our enemies and the conquest of that cursed city.”
Onselvon still demurred, “This magic was written before the cataclysms. I will not dally with devils.”
The trueheaded loremaster retorted, “If the spell is evil, so be it! But if evil be employed to saves the lives of free folk, then I no longer name it evil but good.”
Even with such persuasions, Onselvon and the warmage from Tringlee could not be persuaded to participate in the cabal until they received a directive from Enstad.
“I shall fetch your directive,” Kristryd told the warmages when she heard of the impasse. She summoned Darrion and Emolas. Not many days later she returned with the orders, sealed with the impress of Her Fey Majesty.
The warmages sequestered themselves in the academy tower of Tringlee to prepare the weapon. Even with so many great minds committed to the matter, the spell took several weeks to translate, decipher, transcribe, divide, and memorize. When the warmages emerged from their sequester, they warned the allies to draw back their forces from the valley. “Let them draw back completely. Leave off the siege!” Onselvon commanded.
A Colorless Death
The elite cavalry of Celene mounted the spellcasters upon the backs of hippogriffs in order to convey them to a high summit above the scared valley. Even old Bagbag consented to the ride, for there was no other means of obtaining the height they needed to safely cast the spell. “Boccob blast it!” he exclaimed as they hoisted him to the back of Emolas. He took the position behind Darrion’s saddle to which Kristryd had become accustomed. “I shall be grateful if this creature does not drop me to the rocks!” Emolas reared back her eagle’s head, snapped her beak impatiently and pawed at the ground.
“You have nothing to fear,” Kristryd assured her trueheaded mentor, a mirthful smile spilling over her face. It amused her to see the dignified dwarf so discomfited.
“Fah!” the old loremaster protested as his hands sought some safe grip. He refused to hold fast to the elf in the saddle.
The sky above the valley of Grot-Ugrat filled with the beating wings of the eagle-horse steeds. Tower guards in the city below sighted the strange birds wheeling about the peaks, and they raised the alarm. The trumpeters blasted long notes on the great horns, and the drummers beat out urgent messages. The sound of horns and war drums filled the valley, echoed off the mountains, and stirred up fear in the heart of every goblin.
From their vantage atop a rocky peak overlooking the valley, the warmages looked down upon the stone city and arranged themselves to deliver the spell. The most powerful illusionist and spellbinder of the Kron Hills, a mage of Veluna, sorcerers and warlocks from the Uleks, the old mage Onselvon of Enstad, and loyal Bagbag of Ironhelm formed a circle of power, spoke words of power, and combined their formidable power to weave a spell unseen since the Suel Imperium made war on the Bukluni. The magic took the form of a cloud of darkness which coalesced like mist and slowly rolled down the slopes of the mountain, slower than a creeping fog. It filled the valley like a noxious gas. There it remained, brooding over the whole valley in darkness, vile and sickly as hatred itself.
The beating of the war drums fell silent. The bray of the horns fell silent. The war cries of goblins fell silent. The cloud began to advance out from the city, rolling across the valley floor like a billow of smoke.
Hroth felt the hair on his neck and arms bristle in terror. He pulled back his lips to reveal yellow fangs, snarling orders, “Withdraw! Retreat! Flee!” The warlord and his warriors turned and fled from the sacred valley, all semblance of martial discipline abandoned. They ran headlong, cursing the sons of Larethian and swearing oaths of vengeance in the name of the Nomog-Geaya.
Expedition to the City of Temples
By morning the spell had expired. The darkness lifted to reveal silence and death. Not a bird chirped; not a blade of grass or single leaf of tree remained unwithered. Not a single heart still beat in the city or the valley around it.
A team of dwarves from Dengar entered the dead city to verify the spell’s effect and to search for the Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains, but they never emerged. A second team, led by Glowen Granitebeard of Dengar, took oaths to Moradin and entered the city, but they too disappeared among the corpses and never returned. Then Onselvon himself, with Kristryd’s help, formed a brave party of adventurers with representatives from all the nations. Clothed with magical protections and various amulets and wardings, they entered the city and searched the temples. They found ghouls and ghasts among the rotting corpses of goblinkind. They found temple treasures, warded by deadly spells and protected by devious traps, but they found no trace of the lost parties of dwarves, nor did they ever find any indication that the sacred Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains had ever been there.
Urgush and Hroth
The massacre of Grot-Ugrat inspired fear among all the tribes of the Lortmil Mountains. Before that calamity, no single tribe held the upper hand, nor did any dark lord or fiend succeed in uniting them. After Grot-Ugrat, every goblin’s knees knocked together, every orc cut his own flesh to offer blood to Gruumsh, and every hobgoblin swore allegiance to Hroth’s oaths of vengeance. (To this day, the hobgoblins of the Flanaess hate the elves with an everlasting and unrelenting hatred, holding them responsible for all that befell them.)
In the fear and confusion of the aftermath, bold Urgush raised a new banner bearing the visage of a gorgon painted in red. “Let the sons of Durin turn back to stone!” he said. He spoke to any who would give him ear, “Hear me now ye chieftains, shamans, and clansmen. Did not the one-eyed god bequeath this jagged strip of peaks and hills to us? And when these shit-licking, rock-stomping dwur came to pluck stones beneath the rocks, did we roll over and leave them to suck out the marrow from the bones of our ancestors? No! What did we do? We washed the rocks with their blood.
“But now those gundyguts mean to cheat us even out of these miserable pits and stinking holes! What shall I do? Shall I go kiss the feet of the cursed fairy queen and beg her favor? Hump me from behind! I have sworn by the hair on my balls to serve the daughter of Baba Yaga.”
“She shall deliver us!” became the rallying cry in the mouths of goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, ogres, gnoll, and flind. Inspired by Urgush’s boasts and Hroth’s oaths, the tribes set aside their differences and united themselves against the alliance of dwarves, elves, gnomes, and men. Many recalled the old shaman prophecy about the half-blood who would unite the tribes and drive the dwur out from the heritage of Gruumsh. Many said to one another, “Let Urgush be the one!” Even Hroth took the iron helm from his own head and placed it at the feet of Urgush.
Sources: C. Wesley Clough, “Grot-Ugrat: Legacy of Hate,” Canonfire! online at http://www.canonfire.com/cfnew/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=423.
Artwork: © Seraph777, “Hobgoblin Warrior.” Used with permission.
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