‘What are we gonna do?’ whined a sullen gragnor at his colleague. Zeft gave him a sour look and continued to pick at his teeth. A small band of orux and gragnors had formed under the intrepid orux, Scalice.
Scalice, his leader, was one of the deadliest orux of them all. But he was also the smartest, the toughest and the most courageous. He was also ignoring them while writing in his stupid diary. Zeft uttered a low growl.
The horde, consisting of orux, gragnors, skelfs, skells, skellums, wicked men, and general riff raff, had known it had lost the battle, again. Wyrren, the Horrid, fell under the hands of their enemy but escaped. It had been years since they had been close to a triumph. Wyrren had been strong and powerful, directing the hordes, coordinating attacks and building weapons and machines. What he didn’t know was that most of the orux hated him and deliberately undermined his authority. Orux around the world were sick of being used but because they were orux, didn’t know what to do about it.
Zeft’s blue eyes bore into Krud’s beady yellow ones who looked as if he was going to whine again. Zeft gave him a thud so Krud hunkered down next to his leader. He towered over Scalice but the leader’s might was not measured in height, but in cunning. Gragnors were strong and nasty but had little intelligence. Skellums, thin and bald with green tinged skin, were quick and fearsome but lacked discipline and foresight. Skells, similar to the Skellums were obedient but were derelicts, dredges from times past. Orux ranged from the dedicated worker to the intellectual planner. Skelfs, while thin humanoids were very good fighters, uncanny with thieving and had their uses.
They were huddled on the side of a rocky mountain trying to find shelter from the wind and sleet. Scalice scanned the lush plain and the majestic forests in the distance. It was all very unappealing. He then turned his gaze upon the friendly, rocky and steep mountain. His decent sized cave was just a little higher up the rocky escarpment and he grumped at his motley gang to climb up and into the cave.
It wasn’t long before he had ordered a few more fires built, food caught and cooked and weapons checked and cleaned. An orux handed him his diary. Soothing sounds of grumbling, the smells of feet exposed to the fire, and singing surrounded him. He would be worried if it were quiet. Quiet men meant trouble. Scalice rubbed at his rough face, feeling the latest scars. What little hair he had was braided down his back and the chains in his ears jangled slightly as he found himself a place to rest. His long almost triangular face was dominated by his brown eyes and long sharp nose. He grinned at Krud who was settling down near him. Krud had just evicted a smaller orux, Wryn, to another location.
‘This is my place’, the surly gragnor announced, whilst looking hard at Wryn who had narrowed his yellow eyes in anger. Knives slid out and the menace hung heavy in the air.
‘Outside.’ Scalice ordered the two, baring his razor sharp teeth.
Wryn grabbed his gear and relocated some other orux less prone to anger who, in turn, found an unused location.
With a grin Scalice scratched his balls. He counted the men in the cave, ‘How many men outside?’
Krud laid out his belongings and yelled to be served some half-cooked rabbits. He looked around and then at Scalice, ‘Sixty-five, mixed rats the lot of ’em. Zeft is watching them.’
That was a compliment of the highest order. Rats were well liked by the orux. The mix didn’t matter. To Scalice, everyone was a warrior. The cook, the medic, even the latrine workers were all warriors, bred for battle and living for war. After all, what else was there? Scalice thought deeply over such things but never spoke of them, instead he’d taken to writing it down in his diary. Krud stared at him sometimes as if guessing what was going on in his head, but then would grow bored and would fall asleep or go and boss some unsuspecting orux. Krud swaggered off, taking pride in his position as Scalice’s second in command, and nagged the now sweating cook.
Glancing around and seeing Zeft just outside the cave taking a piss reminded him to promote the killer. Scalice suspected that Zeft was an intellect but having deep discussions together just wasn’t done. They had reputations to maintain.
Scalice leaned back into the rough wall. His body ached from the icy cold winds and the long run away from the carnage. He knew when to retreat. Krud, who had now returned, sloppily ate the rabbits and passed over some juicy morsels. Scalice ripped into the flesh, relishing in the fresh taste and the nourishment that would soon be coursing through his lean grey body. A medic came by and patched up his wounds. They had limited supplies and would need to start raiding the lower villages to replenish their bags before moving on.
Scalice wondered what would have happened if evil had won and the hordes had spread over the lands. Had they won the battle they would be slaughtering those still opposing them. Next, the capture of those marked for slavery…
Krud looked at him strangely, ‘You thinkin’ again?’
Scalice ignored him…crops would have to be re-sown and livestock attended. They still had to feed themselves. Then he wondered about the future. If evil had conquered the world, they would need rules to enforce some kind of order. So went the crux of his thoughts. If Wyrren had won, what would he have done with the world? If he had laid down no law then burning, pillage, murder and uprising would have continued until there was nothing left. The orux were warriors not murderers. He looked at what he’d written in his diary and took out his quill and ink. He wrote, ‘for my world is as violent as it is brittle and besides, life shouldn’t be fun all the time.’
The good times had to end sometime, didn’t they? Scalice felt the terms good and evil had been tossed around too casually. But by applying their words, if evil ruled, then good would have been limited. Good ruled now so evil was limited; limited but not vanquished. Scalice snickered. The humans continued attempts to wipe out Aldrea’s ‘undesirables’ had failed again and again, mainly because many of the ‘undesirables’ were humans like themselves. He kicked a nearby orux who was snoring and wrote, ‘without its brashness it cannot survive.’
These humans, male and female (though the women had long since disappeared) had joined the evil horde to fight against good. They had worn their ‘evil’ status like some tacky badge upon their chests, Scalice snickered again in remembrance. So the ‘undesirables’ couldn’t be that bad, could they? Shit, sometimes his own philosophical musings would give him a headache. And he was far too weary to keep on ‘thinking’. He’d hoped his diary would stop that.
But evil existed in all the inhabitants of Aldrea, and to prove a point, the evil humans were the first ones to flee the losing battle. Scalice groaned, looking around for a diversion and scribbled instead, ‘I certainly wasn’t born to the life of a leader.’
Many days passed and Scalice remained the leader of his motley band which now had grown to one hundred and eighty four gragnors and orux. Since most of the Skells that had joined them were outcasts in their own hometowns, Scalice’s orux made them honorary members, after a rough and near-fatal initiation of course. Krud had whispered to Scalice as they had stood on the side lines watching, ‘We wouldn’t even do that!’
Scalice had growled in response, admiring the tenacity of the quick, fearless and skinny creatures. Skellums lazed around and caused too many distractions to be really useful but he kept them on anyway.
Most of the new-comers were tough, hard workers that complained mightily but got the job done. Except the skellums, who excelled in laziness but eventually proved to be fine musicians of rather bawdy songs and entertained in the local caves. A new society was formed and aside from stealing food and skins it was a respectable one. They even had tables and chairs. But it wasn’t home.
Scalice kept his troops under control and Krud was proud but still shocked at their transformation. But Scalice still kept thinking and Krud told him off the day they played Battle Rats.
‘Hasn’t your thinking gotten us in enough trouble?’
Scalice laid his piece down, a black water rat, indicating it was Krud’s move. ‘We’re not in any trouble.’
Krud shook his head and looked around the large recreation room. ‘Look at us. We’re like a bunch of the king’s soldiers, petunia’s the lot of ’em. We miss the good old days.’
Scalice looked amused. ‘What? When we were starving, wet, cold, no respect…’ he tried not to smile at the look on Krud’s face, ‘…do you miss those things?’
‘You know what I mean.’
‘It’s only been a few days…’
‘Don’t care, feels like longer.’
Scalice didn’t answer but Krud knew he understood him.
Krud pressed the point, ‘What are you up to? I don’t believe this is it.’
‘Of course it’s not you black skinned ox.’
‘Ahhh, so we can later slash the farmers and eat their innards, ‘ Krud licked his black lips with a grey tongue.
Scalice looked at him with contempt, ‘We need to learn from them so we can live free.’
‘Free.’ Krud’s tone said it all, ‘Why do you want that?’
‘Don’t you get sick of obeying a master all the time?’
‘I obey you.’
‘Never mind, but listen. If I’m free I can make decisions best for orux, see, orders that we like and you obey me and…’
‘Ahhhh…’ Krud had understood that. ‘You’re the master, you’ll be free and tell us to kill em and eat em.’
Scalice rolled his eyes, ‘It’s your turn.’ He had little problem in changing the topic to the good old days when they were teenagers. It had been Krud’s favourite time. He didn’t dare tell Krud yet that he’d found some decent fertile land that they could start farming. He might not be able to go home yet but he could make life more comfortable. He asked instead, ‘Where’s Zeft?’
Krud snorted, ‘Probably watching the stars.’