I am almost seven feet tall and the sword facing me is only a little shorter. It is held by a howling, bearded man, whose eyes are bulging and whose knuckles are white around the pommel of that sword. The blade slams into my breastplate, and I feel the chain mail shatter beneath it from the force of the blow. My ribs are moving in ways they are not supposed to, but I spit blood into the faceplate of my helm and growl.
“Is that it, precious?” My longsword flashes out once, then twice and I feel the meat of him split. My sword sings with my anger and I laugh. It’s a bit of an act – I very well could die to this howling demon – but fights like this are a race. Which one of us will pour out our life’s blood first?
How the hell did I end up here?
How the hell could I be anywhere else?
My name is The Silver Beast and this is where this chapter ends, but not where it began.
I’m sitting in, amazingly enough, a sitting room. An actual fucking sitting room. It’s a whole room just for sitting, and I’m pretty sure it’s not the only one in this castle. I’m on a couch that I imagine is for two people to sit and have an intimate conversation. It creaks beneath the weight of me and my armor. Finnegal is pacing, and winces each time the wood groans at my bulk.
“I hate it when they feel the need to make a presentation.” Finnegal was my lieutenant, the one that had been with me since the start, and one of only about a dozen that had come with me when we left the wealthier northern kingdom of Brevoy. Worries like your auntie, but can tell a story like you would not believe.
“If you were that worried about it, you wouldn’t have put the damn tusks on the helmet.”
The door came open and a servant stood at the doorway. Finnegal and I both heard the outer door open and our new employer, the Duchess of Ursundova, greeted her husband.
“I understand” she said, “that you mean to travel with Lem and the others back to this Tomb of Armag?”
“I agree you should go. But you should take this. Beast?”
I grinned at Finnegal, “Time to make an impression.”
Truth is that I get a kick out of the first time people see me. Even for an orc, I’m big. I’m not fully orc, but that’s quite frankly hard to tell looking at me. The Duke of Ursundova did what I call the “How far up does this bastard go?” His eyes started at my boots, which go over my knees, and went up past the heavy leather belt with the platinum buckle, over my tan shirt, past the green neck as wide around as his pretty wife’s waist, past the little tusks and to my fucking lovely auburn locks. He stopped on my eyes a moment and I saw the recognition that I wasn’t just an orc. Yellow and slitted, my eyes are my gift from my mother. I can’t see in pitch dark the way a lot of Orcs can, but I can see by starlight as well as if it were noon. Among orcs, my eyes are the first thing that starts fights.
“A pleasure to meet you.” He was taken aback, to be sure, but this guy knew how to keep his head. Maybe this wouldn’t suck.
It was later that I met the rest of the company – really weird to have so many folks in the government going out to personally handle danger, but what do I know? Lem is the local flag, but he’s got determination and the weirdest looking crossbow-of-death I have ever seen. Ray was the only one besides me who wasn’t in service to the state. He’s a powerful…something or other, but I get the sense Ray would likely never be in service to anything but Ray. Leilania makes you think she’s one of those useless “All will be one with nature” elves, and then her damn bird, whose mouth drips acid, eats you. The bird is scary. The elf? Well, she’s limber. Tougher than she looks too.
“So,” I said to Finnegal as we were taking watch. “What the fuck is a Derghodaemon?”
Finnegal did not look away from the spot in the darkened woods he was watching. “A demon that goes, ‘durr,’ naturally.”
“You’re going to have a harder time getting girls with no teeth.”
“You clearly don’t know the kinds of girls I do.” When I shifted my shoulders, he raised his hand in truce. “They’re bad, Beast. Spirits brought about by violent murder, usually at the hands of someone gone mad.”
“And this thing could have killed two people the last time?”
“Two of these people? By itself, I’m not sure, but they said it had help – they can summon more of their own kind.”
“It’s a weird thing to be in a sacred place for Gorum – they’re all about murder, not battle. Still, they’re popular as violent guardians, since they attack pretty much anything. They’ve also got a trick that rips enemy brains to bits. So, you know, you’re safe, but the rest of us…”
“Trog not scared of brainy-burny thing.” I put on my best grumble. We both almost laugh, but manage to let everyone else sleep.
The Derghodaemon was a nasty bit of business, but didn’t have a buddy this go-around, so we were able to defeat it._
The party had sorted through many of the art objects, finding the icon of the sword in the mountain, sacred image of Gorum, on a lot of it. I was feeling a little uneasy – this was starting to cut a little too close to home, even though it couldn’t be said that I’ve ever been what you’d call devout or even particularly religious (although Finnegal says, in my way, I’m one of the most devout Gorumites he’s ever met). His Grace had given us an estimate of the gold value of all the treasures, because of course he had, and we came a big set of double doors. I gave them a shove and they slid open easily.
A massive, circular chamber with thick pillars. In the center, the biggest Gorum item thus far: an enormous set of spiked armor. It was perfectly still, but still gave the impression that it watched, waiting. When we started entering, the armor started moving. I felt a grin creeping over my face.
Finnegal looked at me. “Don’t…just don’t.” He might as well have been arguing with a fire not to burn.
I raised my sword, “Will you fight?” I asked the metal monstrosity. It answered, though not in so many words.
The battles with the iron golem and even the bloody skeletons turned out to be most foreplay. I suppose Finnegal saw my face when they told me about the slain warriors’ sigils, how they bound the warriors to the cave, and how they got erased with a wave of the Duke’s hand, because I saw him etching those sigils on the cave entrance later. Undeath is no one’s idea of a good time, but neither is being erased from memory and time by the whims of the banker’s god.
The divine guardian looked at us, appraising, and it was like every time I’ve had to go through an appraisal to join up with some sellsword band, only 1000 times worse. Who were we to tread into this argument between gods for one warrior’s soul? I wanted to fight or run or…well, I don’t fucking know. But one of us knew what to say.
“Who will undertake the test of faith?” the old spirit-warrior asked. While the rest of us wondered at our resolve, Lem simply answered.
We all stood behind him as best we could, but I got see why he’s the damn flag. Under the scrutiny of thousands of years, the ginger beanpole didn’t flinch, didn’t give an inch. For all I know, he could have been a mess inside – Gorum knows I would have been, but that’s courage for you: it’s not fearlessness, it’s mastering your fear in the moment. In that moment, Lem was as strong as we needed him to be.
And that brings us back to me getting my ribs busted. Armag the Twice-Born was as fierce a fighter as you’d expect a Numerian chieftain to be, but he was, at this point, guarded only by the dead, which is usually a bad sign. He glared at Lem, but that crossbow ain’t for show, so I knew my job – keep this guy busy. His allies turned powerful blows on us, and even, so Finnegal tells me, nearly killed Ray. My allies cursed and blinded this new Armag, reducing him to a mess barely worthy of that name. I just did the butchering.
When he fell, something in me…no, not something, my anger…exulted. I snatched up his enormous sword and looked at it, something like lust and anger and more potent than both pouring into me like a cold ale of evil. That was when the sword spoke to me. It told me I could burn the world, that I could put nations at my steel-shod feet and see every useless human noble that ever paid too little coin for my life’s blood quail at the sight of my banners, hurling tribute of gold, women, and anything I damn well wanted at me. I could have all of this. All I had to do was kill the men and women behind me.
I take some small pride in that I told it to fuck off.
When the sword hit the ground, I told the others what the sword had tried to tell me. His Grace secured the thing and said he would consult with Abadar on what to do with it. I wanted to tell him that anything that didn’t show the sword some respect would probably piss off Gorum, and this little nation has enough trouble without an angry God of War, but that’s the kind of advice no ruler welcomes from his Orc bodyguard. I’m not, Finnegal’s protest notwithstanding, an idiot.
As we gathered the treasures, including the wealth of the original Armag, I could not shake the feeling that had chased me out of the Hall of the Slain earlier – that I could have been any of these poor bastards. How easy would have been, when I was younger, to whisper into my ear about power and glory and watch me join their ranks. It took the River Kingdoms and rotted out old Brevoy to beat into me how transient those things are.
So I picked out a nice house in the capital, which keeps Finnegal happy and makes recruiting easier. I decorated it with the objects of Our Lord in Iron. Armag thought that Gorum would make him invincible, but invincible people don’t need to fight. Pharasma thought that she could take what Gorum had without a fight, but for Gorum the reason to fight is never as important as the fight itself. I’ll spend this gold like water and keep looking for the next moment that needs my sword.
Because I fight.