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Goretyns are a nasty breed. Standing between eight and ten feet tall and weighing in at easily three to four hundred pounds -- all of it muscle -- they sport long, almost snout-like heads and thick, leathery skin. They are a warrior race, bred for battle, and if there is one thing they love, it’s violence. If you have ever faced off with one, you’ll know what I mean when I say that it’s a life-changing experience.
The one I was fighting was a particularly large specimen, towering over me at a hair over ten feet tall, wearing a sleeveless leather tunic that showed off his huge shoulders and the massive, corded muscles on his arms, as well as the intricate, blood-red tattoo scrawled across his right shoulder and bicep. His left eye was nothing but a mangled mass of scar tissue, and he held a broadsword in the manner of someone who knew how to use it. By comparison, my hand-and-a-half sword looked positively small. With a battle roar, the Goretyn warrior charged, bringing his huge sword down in a two-handed overhead swing. Parrying it would be suicide; it would likely break my arm and my sword, rendering me utterly defenseless to further attacks. So instead I sidestepped out of the way, leaving the sword to bury itself in the sand. Lashing out with my own sword, I scored a long -- but unfortunately not deep -- gash along his arm, which he proceeded to completely ignore. His sword flashed out like lightning, the harsh desert sun catching the blade and setting it ablaze with glittering light. Ducking beneath the swing, I lunged forward and up, but the Goretyn dodged out of the way. While I was extended outwards, my momentum forcing me to complete the thrust, the Goretyn brought his left fist up and slugged me across the jaw.
It was like being kicked by a horse. The punch spun me around, threw me to the ground, and damn near broke my jaw. My sword fell from slack fingers and stuck point-down in the ground, and for several moments I lay unmoving, stars wheeling before my vision. I felt more than saw the Goretyn move to stand over me, and knew that he was preparing to deal the final strike. Forcing life into my deadened limbs, I rolled out of the way as his sword fell, leaving the huge blade to impale nothing but the ground and throw up a cloud of sand. I sprang to my feet, ignoring the pain in my jaw and a pounding headache, whipped a knife out of my boot -- I always keep one there, in case of emergencies -- and flung it with practiced skill at the Goretyn as he struggled to free his sword of the ground. The knife struck home in the side of the Goretyn’s neck, and blood spurted as it severed a major vein or two. Roaring in pain, the Goretyn ripped his sword free of the ground, took two shaky steps toward me, then collapsed, his one good eye lolling back in his head.
I stood for a long moment, staring at my fallen enemy, breathing hard. Rubbing my aching jaw, I walked over and unceremoniously tugged my sword free of the ground, wiping the blood and sand off on the dead Goretyn’s tunic. Pausing briefly to salute my dead foe, I slid my sword back into its scabbard and turned, surveying the landscape.
Sarkroth, the home of the Goretyns, is a brutal and unforgiving place. It’s northern half is a sweltering, barren wasteland of rocks and sand, a twisted landscape full of jagged outcrops and sheer-sided valleys. Perhaps one of the most inhospitable places in the world, it serves as a proving ground for Goretyn warriors, a melting pot in which, in their culture, a youth takes that last step in becoming a full-fledged member of his -- or her -- tribe. Right now, it was also the site of one of the most important battles in human history.
The Goretyn God-King, Tharkast, had invoked a grudge against humanity for our assaults and tomb-raidings on Sarkroth centuries ago. A rather bloody-minded and vengeful individual -- as most Goretyns are -- Tharkast had used this grudge as a reason to attack. A Goretyn war-fleet was at that very moment preparing to launch, and I was taking part in an assault on Tharkast’s capitol, the city of Karah’maz, to try and cut the invasion off at its head. If that fleet set sail, with its lethal payload of ten thousand Goretyn bruisers, our homeland would be in the worst danger it had seen in over a millennia. I was the third in line to command the mission; my rank was technically ‘Master of Arms’, but what that really meant was that if the Commander and the Captain both died, command of the regiment would fall to me, which was not a prospect I was particularly keen on. And to make matters worse, the Commander had been killed not five minutes into the raid by a lucky arrow from a Goretyn archer, leaving only one man between me and unenthusiastic command of the regiment.
Stepping over the corpse of the Goretyn I had just killed, I surveyed the battle unfolding around me. We were scattered across the plain, fighting in small, brutal knots of flashing steel. I saw two men working together to bring down a Goretyn with twin battle-axes. I saw a hulking Goretyn brute pick a man up and literally tear him in half. The battle so far seemed to be a bloody stalemate; neither side was gaining ground, and both sides were suffering heavy losses.
I was suddenly snapped from my reverie as a Goretyn charged me, swinging a two-headed battleaxe in both hands. Ducking beneath his first, wild stroke, I whipped my blade around one-handed, slashing open the tendons of his right knee. His leg crumpled beneath him, and he fell to one knee. Even on one knee, however, a Goretyn is still a fearsome opponent. He brought his axe up in a cleaving arc that would have cut me in twain had I not thrown myself backwards in time, bringing my sword up in a desperate attempt to deflect the blow. The axe glanced off the blade, ringing my sword like a bell and almost shaking it out of my fingers. Cursing, I rolled to the side as his axe came whistling downward, dodging the lethal strike by inches. Springing to my feet, I flicked my wrist upwards, aiming for the throat. Quick as a serpent, the Goretyn ducked beneath the strike and, letting go of the hilt of his axe, sprang forwards, tackling me to the ground. Pinning my sword arm with one huge hand, the Goretyn straddled me, raising his other fist in preparation to strike and snarling something in his barbaric tongue. In desperation, I rammed a knee up into the Goretyn’s groin with a battle cry.
Goretyns have amazing pain tolerance, and will shrug off most non-debilitating injuries like nothing. What would have been a crippling blow -- probably a fight-ender -- to any human only affected the big brute atop me for a few seconds. However, those scant few seconds were enough.
Taking advantage of his slackened grip, I withdrew my arm from beneath his thick fingers, bringing my sword upwards in a quick thrust in-between two of his ribs and straight into his heart. With a bellow that trailed off into a gurgle as blood clogged his throat, the Goretyn reared to his feet and staggered backwards, clutching at the sword-hilt that protruded from his chest. Then, without a sound, he toppled over forwards like a felled tree, landing face-down in the sand.
As the sun set that day, what remained of our army made camp atop a large hill overlooking the city of Karah’maz. We had been reduced from five hundred to a little over a hundred and fifty, and we still had a hard fight ahead of us if we wanted to get to Tharkast. To make it even better, the Captain had been felled by a huge brute, leaving me in unwilling command of our little army. The much larger army of Tarandis, led by Royal Commander of Armies Johnath Steelforge, should arrive to support us… but would they be too late? We needed to get in there as soon as possible to forestall this invasion, and a delay of a single day could be fatal, not just to us, but to Law-only-knows-how-many back in Tarandis and the surrounding countries. A fell smile tugged up one corner of my mouth as I stood, arms akimbo, staring out over the lowlands, over the soaring stone ramparts and clustered dwellings of the Goretyn capitol. A hundred and fifty of humanity’s best warriors pitted against an entire city of Goretyns. Well, I had always wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. Looks like I’d have my chance.
We attacked before sunrise the next day. Our small army, built for infiltration and ambushes rather than pitched battles, had come with grappling hooks and siege ladders, and we managed to reach the wall without being noticed thanks to the pre-dawn gloom. With a mighty heave, I lobbed the grappling hook I was carrying up and over the parapet, giving it a good, sharp yank to make sure it was securely in place. When the coarse rope stayed taut and firm in my hand, I took a deep breath and ran towards the wall. Using my momentum to carry me up the first ten feet, literally running up the wall, I slowed to a more sedate pace as my inertia bottomed out, leaving me climbing slowly, hand over hand, the corded muscles in my arms standing out as I hauled myself up the knotted thirty-foot length, supporting myself with my feet against the wall.
Reaching the top, I quickly hauled myself up and over the rampart to make way for the person behind me, landing in a fighter’s crouch with my sword drawn. My gaze flashed about, but there were no Goretyns patrolling this section of wall, so I allowed myself to relax just a little. I could hear other grappling hooks clattering into place, and dashed forward, sliding up against the doorframe of one of the many towers that lined the wall. As my men gathered behind me, I reached over and pushed the door open, rolling in through it, keeping low, beneath the field of vision of any of the towering Goretyns that might be inside. Springing up, sword flashing up into a defensive stance, I took in at a glance the two guards in the room. One of them was sitting on the floor, a mug of frothing brown liquid in his hand, his battleaxe on the floor beside him. The other was leaning casually against a nearby wall, huge arms folded over his barrel chest, broadsword sheathed on his back.
The sitting one was my first target. Whipping out a throwing knife, I flashed it through the air while my two foes were still taking in my presence. It whirled forward and struck true, straight in the neck of the startled Goretyn. Letting loose a strangled, choking bellow, he started staggering to his feet, clutching at his bleeding throat. The other Goretyn charged forward, reaching up to the swordhilt at his shoulder and roaring a war-cry. Stepping forward to meet him, I stabbed up and forward, slipping beneath his guard and burying my sword to the hilt in his chest. He stopped mid-charge as if poleaxed, looking down dumbly at the sword sticking out of his chest. Then he collapsed. The other one was on his way there as well, supporting himself with one powerful arm, the other at his throat. He was coughing and wheezing, and before long slumped over, falling to the ground to lay beside his unused axe.
The first guard tower had fallen easily, but the rest of the city would not be such easy prey. Goretyn warriors patrolled every street, were garrisoned in every building, and stalked every rooftop. Getting to the palace was going to be nigh-impossible; killing Tharkast even harder.
One step at a time, I thought, gently pushing open the door at the base of the tower that led out into the street, my men at my back. Stepping carefully into the dim street, feeling the leather-bound grip of my sword reassuringly firm in my hand, I glanced around, looking up and down the dirty cobblestones. Seeing no opposition, we started down the road in the direction of the palace, swords and daggers glinting blood-red in the flickering light from the wall-mounted torches around us.
A scant few seconds after we had entered the main causeway of the city, a blood-curdling roar split the pre-dawn air, echoing off the stone walls around us. A shadow fell over our group, and I leaped out of the way just in time as something large and heavy plummeted from the sky, landing with an earth-shaking crash where I had been standing moments before. Turning my dive into a roll, I tucked my legs beneath me and sprang upwards, spinning around in mid-air and landing in a fighter’s crouch, sword held in a two-handed grip, glinting point aimed at the huge creature that stood before me.
It looked vaguely like a dragon, with a powerful, scaly body, huge wings unfurling from its shoulders, and a lizardlike head that swung back and forth as it surveyed our group. It pawed the ground with huge, clawed feet and hissed, its beady black eyes narrowing to slits.
And then I noticed the rider atop the beast. He was a Goretyn, easily twelve feet tall and garbed in ornate armor made from the finest metals. Gold and silver gleamed in the torchlight, red-orange light rippling across the mirrored surface like water. And then he laughed, a harsh, unpleasant sound. “You came to kill me, did you!?” he bellowed in surprisingly good Common, and drew from his back a broadsword, inlaid with gold and ivory, the fist-sized diamond in the center of its crossguard sparkling like a star fallen from the heavens. “Come, then, and kill me if you can.”