8 - Gathering Storms
Urduuk stood atop the crest of the hill and gazed out across the grasslands to the south. The scattered orc villages that dotted the landscape were completely obscured by the legions of ogres and orcs that made up the Rallosian Army. As far as his eye could see were soldiers awaiting his command. This pleased him.
"They are ready, Lieutenant Ignara. Tomorrow we begin the march across the sands that lead us to Freeport. And when we arrive, we will burn it to the ground."
"Aye, General," she replied. "Spies sent by the Rujarkian Orcs tell us that Freeport is ill prepared for our arrival and will fall quickly. Still, I think it unlikely that Lucan knows nothing of our army's approach. He may be baiting a trap."
"Ridiculous!" Urduuk growled through bared teeth. "D'Lere is a fool, and his city will crumble as easily as Gukta did. I will defile his throne just as I desecrated the Temple of Cazic-Thule. Rallos Zek has ordained our victory and promised this world to me. I will rule over the ashes of Norrath until my father returns."
"Your... father?" she asked hesitantly.
"Of course. I am the son and heir of Zek, given the unholy blade Vel'Arek as a symbol of my power. Do you doubt my lineage and birthright, Ignara?" Urduuk drew the sword and locked his burning eyes on hers.
Ignara watched him breathlessly. She knew what fate befell those who disagreed with Urduuk.
"I have no doubt, my lord and master," she said, bowing her head. "You are the true son of Zek."
He gripped the dark blade tightly in his hand. She believed he might swing it at any moment, leaving her head on display to show how he rewarded those who failed him. Instead, he sheathed the sword.
"Order the troops to camp. We leave at first light and make our way across the Desert of Ro."
"By your order, General," she replied. "Do we march on T'Narev?"
"No," Urduuk replied. "Laying siege to the Ashen Order's mountain fortress would be a waste of time and resources. Let the Rujarkians take them when Freeport smolders in ruins."
Ignara dared not question him again, even if she thought it unwise to ignore the threat posed by the monks. "It will be as you command, my lord." She saluted and headed down the hill.
Urduuk surveyed his army again. He knew the others in the west were ready as well. "Mine," he told himself. "Soon it will all be mine."
"They're coming!" Niffet cried as he approached the gates. "They're coming!"
His horse was still at a gallop as he rode in, but the halfling pulled hard at the reigns to bring her to a quick stop. He jumped off the horse's back and yelled again. "The Rallosians are coming!"
The city guards circled him. "Identify yourself!" the captain ordered.
"I am Niffet of Surefall, commanded to stand watch over the plains. I was ordered to bring word when the armies of darkness approached."
"Ordered by whom?" the captain asked.
"By me," a voice replied.
The captain turned and saw the ranger standing before him. He was dressed in dark green chain mail, a longbow of ornate wood slung on his back. The buckle on his belt bore the symbol of the Rainkeeper.
"Avatar," Niffet said, kneeling, "it has come to pass, just as you said it would."
"Arise, Niffet," the ranger said. "Tell me what you saw."
The halfling stood. "I was camped in one of the old guard towers, watching. I saw dark shapes lurking on the horizon. It was as if the mountains themselves were drawing closer, but it was not mountains. It was a wall of giants coming from the east, and from the south came ogres with their gnoll slaves. There were so many, so very many."
"You have done well. My watchers to the north have informed me that the orcs control Blackburrow and are starting to come through. The Rallosians have begun their march toward Qeynos."
The guard captain nodded. "Lord Bayle told us you would come to lead us, Avatar. Our forces stand ready to defend the city."
"Good," said the ranger. "Seal the gates and put all your troops on alert. I will attempt to give us some more time."
"How?" asked the captain.
The ranger reached up and took hold of a pendant around his neck. He whispered an incantation and the blue gem began to glow. In the distance, thunder rumbled across the plains.
"The storms will slow them down, but not for long. We must prepare."
"Seal the gate!" ordered the captain. The giant doors of wood and steel began to slowly draw closed. The captain turned and gave instructions to his men.
"There were so many of them, Avatar," Niffet said to the ranger. "How can we hold them back?"
The ranger said nothing, listening as the thunder drew nearer.
Betrayed! it hissed. Betrayed!
It stirred in the darkness, locked away for so long. Shapeless. Lingering. Cold. Alone.
You have forgotten. You shall be made to remember. You will be taught just like the others who harmed his children.
The ritual was complete. The gift was unsealed. The lesson was coming.
Defiler! You will know Fear until the end of time!
It seeped out. Billowing. Rolling. Moving. Growing.
His gift will find you. His gift will find you all.
The green cloud arose in the temple's stale air. It moved through the corridors, slowly at first, then faster. It would touch the first of them soon.
Betrayed! it hissed again. But now you will learn.
It would have smiled, if only it had a face.