An Unlikely Alliance
By Ryan Torbert
Boggur wiped sweat away from his brow and then took the opportunity to wipe his dripping nose with the back of his hand. He blew a lock of damp hair away from his face and looked down at the pick upon which he rested a calloused hand.
Rogan nodded with the unexpressed sentiment and stopped his hammering briefly to grin at the Wawmar dwarf.
"You've got the right of it, my friend. Many hands mean light work. Too bad we've got more work than hands."
The two hefted their tools again and slammed away at the massive rock wall that stood behind the cascading waterfall. The pair made up a half dozen of the industrious Clan, each of them hammering away at the stony surface. Chunks of shattered stone and clouds of dust billowed out from behind the water, and the dwarves worked on through the early afternoon to dusk. Carraig even lent his own strong arms to the cause, singing in a deep baritone as he worked.
"Hardy Khazak, strong as stone, whose will is one with the Rockcarver's own. Hammers and picks, axes and such; turn the very earth to shards and dust. Beat brothers beat...smack, bash, boom! For beyond yon stone lies the Rockcarver's boon.
Beat brothers beat...smack, bash, boom! And I ask ye join in, with my Rockcarver's tune."
Beat brothers beat...smack, bash, boom! For beyond yon stone lies the Rockcarver's boon. Beat brothers beat...smack, bash boom! And we'll have this great rock turned to rubble 'fore the moon."
The mighty Carraig's kin joined in with laughter, and soon a dozen voices hummed through the clearing, their baritone cadence sounding in time with the beat of hammers and picks. Carraig sang on with his kinsmen, and the dwarves beat away at the rock well into the night. The gnomes, having set up camp at the outside perimeter, merely rolled their eyes. Their grins betrayed their true feelings though, and even the corner of Palurbol's mouth turned up in a smile.
The dwarves worked well into the night, as gnomes lit and smoked their corn pipes and set cauldrons bubbling away with a dark stew atop wood smoke fires. Though their jobs weren't finished, the dwarves eventually called it quits for the night, and watches were set for the first night in a strange place.
Though the night went by without occurrence, every dwarf and gnome alike told of a feeling like they were being watched. They spoke of slanted eyes that glittered in the moonlight of the glade.
The elves of the Ranarim, wary of the strangers in their glade, kept a careful watch and a wide berth. They didn't fear being heard in their scouting, as the dwarves made the noise of what seemed like a hundred barded elephants headed to war. Sorolian listened to the reports of his many skilled scouts of the forest; scouts that ranged from this northern section of forest to far in the south. The elf's gaze was steeled and strong as he pondered events of late. He stood at the edge of the small camp of the scouts, looking at the eerie silhouette cast through the trees by the full silver moon above.
The Ranarim's dark visage showed an equally dark portent, as ill news had come that day. Evil forces of goblins and kobolds, orcs and trolls, and even a new, powerful race of orcs had come to the Ranarim forest. The force was massive in comparison to the number of elves in the Kingdom, and it poured through the woods to the south, trampling brush, felling trees, and blighting the land that the elves had cherished for so long.
Though the elves had watched the forces' movement for some time, they hadn't believed that the force would dare to step foot into the sacred elven forest. For that transgression, Sorolian decided, they would pay dearly.
Swift riders had been dispatched that very day to muster an elven response to the incursion of the vile enemy of ages. Only, Sorolian feared that they might take too long to gather, and would prove too few.
It was that very night, in the light of Núrion's metallic orb, that the elven captain deemed his own response to be necessary.
The scouts numbered few, no more than a hundred. But, their knowledge of the woods was unmatched, and more than half among them were masters of their treated wood longbows and their slender swords. An, more than a dozen were Balal, the most feared fighters among the elves when in close combat.
It was thus that the warfare began, as elven scouts and rangers took the fight to their enemy, launching a sort of hit and run warfare that used all of their advantages. And the dwarves of the Clan of Kain, not far to the north, hammered away at stubborn rock, oblivious to the gathering storm not a day's travel to their south.
Boggur found himself tired beyond imagining nearly every day. The brown, craggy stone behind the cascading waterfall proved just as stubborn as the broad-shouldered Khazak, and it weighed a thousand times more.
A sturdy wooden conveyer was drawn from under the tarp of one wagon and set up by the gnomes at the entrance to the now yawning cavern. A rough leather tread ran the length of the device, and a crank was set up at one end, with several gears to make moving massive rock possible for one of smaller stature.
Boggur marveled at the sight and looked at Palurbol in a new light. The dwarf couldn't be certain, but he thought that he caught the hint of a smile in the surly gnome as he saw the great conveyer at work, drawing stone from below to be carried away from the work area.
Boggur caught sight of another device under the wagon's tarp, a strange, standing barrel set on its side with cranks, valves and gears all about it. Stepping away from the conveyor, Boggur caught the arm of a passing gnome, Togapol, whom he had befriended and found to be much more likeable than surly Palurbol.
"Tog, what's under the tarp? I've seen it, so you might as well let me know." The little gnome glanced at the wagon and smiled.
"Oh, that old thing. Why, it's just a little something that Palurbol there got a hold of. See, it's a crossbow that works off of steam...ya' know, boiling water and such?"
Boggur gave Togapol a wry smile.
"I know what steam is. We lived in a volcano, you know."
Togapol's grin widened.
"I figured, but sometimes you dwarves are pretty thick-skulled, case you hadn't noticed. So, anyway, Palurbol might tell you different, but the original design for those babies came from your kin! Coupla' generations ago, we traded for the designs and some materials. See, we were beset by the big and dark ones...trolls! Still are, as a matter of fact, but that's a different story. Anyway...."
Boggur's eyes grew distant, and he began to regret asking the question. The gnome continued, not noticing.
"See we got the drawings and such from your folks, and we started using these bad boys against the big trolls. Soon enough, the big weapons had the bad greenies on the run, and's been the like ever since. Now, though, we got a new enemy, the dark forces of Stor-gris. They been tryin' to get the trolls out of the hills and runnin' all over us little gnomes for some time, and I'm afraid they're winning. That's why boys like Palurbol an' me decided to take the fight to Stor-gris itself. It's the only way."
Though he was dizzied by the gnome's way of speaking, Boggur could do naught but agree with his conviction.
"Indeed. Well said, my friend."
Boggur seemed about to elaborate, and then a call came from behind his back, from the mining team that toiled behind the waterfall.
"We got in! Way's open!"
In a rush, Boggur and Togapol, among many others, sprinted back to the opening to stand tall and look over the shoulders of their brothers in an effort to see. Down below, in the dark of the yawning cavern, Rogan and Carraig stood pointing into a dark opening in the broken rock. Through the opening, a fell wind stirred, bringing upon it the wealth of ages, and ominous portent.
Karalnaih's short-handled spear darted forth again, its barbed point driving through the dark leather armor on an orc's torso. Her practiced hand twisted and withdrew the weapon, its barbs leaving a wide and gaping wound, pumping dark blood. The orc roared in anger and pain and stumbled slightly to fall to one knee.
The Balal warrior, fierce beyond belief, brought her other arm to bear, whipping her heavy, spiked chain over and down. The results of the attack proved fatal as a wide and ragged wound left a gushing grin under the orc's chin.
The elves, bolstered by the fierce attack of their Balal kin, pushed forward, and arrows whizzed in from every conceivable angle to plunge into the dark skin of the Stor-gris faithful. In seconds, the battle was a rout, and the worn dirt path was turned to mud with the blood of orcs and goblins.
The force of scouts, nearly a hundred strong, stopped only to pick up their dead before darting off into the forest. The entire force was gone before the next contingent of the Stor-gris army was even within sight of the tall surrounding evergreens.
Not far from the scene, Sorolian took in the reports of it all. Though he was saddened by the deaths of over a dozen of his kin, the elven captain was bolstered by the knowledge that they'd delivered a fatal blow to one arm of the massive force that ushered forth from Stor-gris.
The golden-haired elf steeled his gaze at each report, hoping that his visage maintained its strong appearance even when his insides were in turmoil. The immensity of their enemy was lost on warriors like the Balal, who refused to give in to any foe. Only one responsible for the lives of those in his command need think about such things.
Try as he might, Sorolian's gaze did show emotion at the next report, for a young scout brought word of the next force that traveled north. Sorolian's crestfallen look was amplified as his jaw went slack; this contingent numbered in the hundreds, and they were different: the new race of orcs marched upon them.
"Pull! Pull, by Khuldul's fiery forge!"
Boggur marveled at the fact that Carraig could still shout orders as he himself pulled a great deal of the load.
Many of the dwarves, Carraig, Boggur, and Rogan included, had weakened spots about the rock wall that guarded the promised secrets of dwarven ancestors and the answers to the questions of the present. They now pulled on a massive rope that connected to a network of poles and pikes set to bring the wall down.
The gnomes had helped to build sturdy wooden trusses that served to bolster the strength of the rocky cavern ceiling and had helped to weaken the wall at several break points that would keep the dwarves from harm when it tumbled down.
And tumble it did, for the strength of arm of the sturdy dwarves proved too much for the rock under the cliff. The dust and debris took several moments to settle, and Boggur could do little save shield his eyes from any remnants of the mighty barrier. Soon enough, the dust did settle, and Carraig looked back at his fellows in pride. He motioned for a torch.
"Ain't for seein' what we need in the dark, right?
That was all he said before nodding and turning to delve into the darkness behind the waterfall. Boggur was about to follow when a shout rang through the glade.
Sorolian's elves put up a valiant front against the mighty Oluks, an abnormally powerful race of dark folk bred from a mix of orcs, humans, and ogres which seemed to take the best attributes of each. The elves were outnumbered and overwhelmed, first by orcs, then by the Oluks that came behind. Their Balal warriors fought side-by-side with elven swordsmen as archers peppered the dark folk line with pinpoint accuracy. Though the missiles proved to have some effect, the orc forces were far too numerous to be thinned by the elves.
Sorolian's hit-and-run tactics were sorely tested as the hundreds of marauding dark folk crashed through the dense forest that marked the outskirts of the Ranarim lands. The elven captain issued orders from the rear lines as his warriors fought valiantly along the cleared dirt path that led north.
The Balal warriors began to falter as they met the Oluk lines. The Oluks charged with axes, thick straight swords, and barbed pole arms swinging through the air. The elves, the height of their opponents but barely more than half their mass, had no choice but to fall back from the onslaught. It wasn't long before the retreat was sounded, and the elves fell back in full.
Though the elven retreat was well orchestrated and the rear lines sent long feathered shafts thudding into the orcish ranks, the elven scouts still fell by the dozens, losses the long-lived and slow-breeding elves could ill afford.
Sorolian uttered an oath to Tal-Alustiel as he saw the carnage. Tears rimmed his bright blue eyes as he watched his brothers and sisters fall before the dark mass that marked the northern force of Stor-gris. Slowly, his eyes turned to the north, for there was one place left where his force could make a stand.
"Shore up, boys! Set the wagons end to end! Form up between; bring up ranks! Axes to the ready, dwarves; we've got company a coming!
Carraig bellowed commands to his loyal dwarves as he and Rogan charged from the deep and damp tunnel beneath the falls. The clan leader followed his own commands as he ran, bringing his axe to bear.
All about the clearing, dwarves and gnomes took up weapons and formed lines, using the two large wagons as a barrier. Palurbol and his gnomes took out their small picks and hammers before pulling the heavy tarps off of the wagons.
Boggur's eyes widened at the sight of the gnomish weapons that were revealed. Togapol's description didn't do the massive weapons justice. Large barrels of hollow tubes were formed up and set on a sturdy wooden base. Beneath the barrel, a series of tubes and valves were set up, where gnomes set their fuels to flame.
In seconds, steam billowed forth from the tubes, and pressure began to build inside the weapons. The gnomes, three to a weapon, began to aim the mighty weapons in the direction from which the calls had come.
Carraig looked to the gnomes, and Palurbol nodded his head and held up a few fingers. Carriag cursed as he turned to his fellows.
"Okay, boys, we need a minute to get 'em rolling. Let's give 'em the time they need!"
Boggur shrugged to Grimsley, who stood nearby with a small hammer that somewhat resembled Boggur's own. Nothing further needed to be said between the two long-time companions, and they both turned to rush after Carraig and Rogan as they led more than a score of battle-ready dwarves through the clearing.
Sorolian's heart raced at the sight of nearly two-dozen armed and armored dwarves bearing down on his elves. Sorolian grimaced at the thought of the dwarves crashing into his own line. He could only hope that the stunted folk were coming to the aid of the elves and not to that of the massive force of dark folk.
He parried a blow as he fell back, his sword being tested now that the retreat had turned into a chaotic rush. No more than two-dozen elves still stood, and many were weary, bruised, and bleeding. Near Sorolian's side, the fierce Karalnaih thrust her spear through an Oluk's throat.
Alas, she lost the weapon as the Oluk continued to fight on! The mighty orc crossbreed gurgled blood as it slashed down with a thundering blow of its axe. The axe stuck in the ground as Karalnaih dove to the side, and it trapped the Balal fighter's chain under its massive shaft.
Even weaponless, the fierce elf stood her ground as the Oluk drew a long, curved knife and raised it high above. Solorian, to the side of the fight, was driven back as another Oluk advanced. The elven captain looked on in dismay as he awaited Karalnaih's final moments. He even found himself screaming out for the elven woman, using the Balal call for their warriors.
The Oluk's curved knife reached the top of its upstroke, and the mighty crossbreed plunged his hand down. Time seemed to slow as Sorolian looked on, hard pressed to keep his own enemy at bay.
Suddenly, from the corner of his vision, the elven captain saw a welcome sight indeed! For, directly above the head of Karalnaih, a small but sturdy hammer flew end over end. The throw was perfect, and the hammer thudded into the throat of the Oluk, driving the spear of Karalnaih even deeper. The Oluk, his knife now forgotten, fell to his knees to gurgle through the last of his lifeblood as it spilled onto the worn dirt path.
Sorolian took his opponent's obvious surprise to his own advantage, swinging through with his gracefully curved sword. The Oluk's head toppled from his shoulders, and his body fell away.
Sorolian took the moment to turn and look over his head. A wide smile graced his smooth features, and bright twinkle shone in his eyes.
For not far behind the retreating elven force, a relatively tall and bald dwarf stood, flipping another of his lethal spinning hammers end over end. The dwarf's smile was shared by a fierce dwarf at his side, a dwarf as wide as he was tall. Behind the pair, nearly two dozen armed and armored dwarves roared forth, hurling curses in the language of the Nowgul.
The wide dwarf's voice bellowed out above the others as they charged.
"Mind yer butts elves! The Clan of Kain's got dark folk to kill; so git yer' pale arses outta' tha' way!"
The rush of the ferocious dwarves proved just enough to break the first line of dark orcs and massive Oluks. Hammer and Axe smashed and hacked at the evil forces of Stor-gris, fighting the beasts to a standstill. With the forces of the dwarves driving into the lines, the elves were left to regroup, and they took merely seconds before plunging right back into the fray.
Dwarf and elf side by side fought as elven arrows zipped by overhead with unerring accuracy. The axe of Carraig chopped away at foes, often hacking off Oluk legs as the powerful dwarf swept through. Rogan, never far from his leader, struck with his massive long-handled hammer at those who remained standing. The two cut a swath through the force of Stor-Gris, and soon enough the dark folk forces were set on their heels.
Outfought, the orcs and Oluks drew back from the battle into a full retreat. Elven arrows followed, but the front lines did not. Cheers of dwarves and elves alike rose up in victory as they watched the trailing orcs fall, arrows thudding into their backs. The cheers were short-lived though, as those dark folk that made it back to their lines found fresh forces waiting. All in all, the northern arm of the Stor-gris army numbered over two hundred! And, no more than fifty dwarves and elves still remained.
A grim look on his face, Sorolian addressed the small and powerful Carraig and the taller Rogan, not quite sure which was the leader.
"Well fought, and many thanks, good Nowgul. Alas, I fear we've more enemies to tend to... have you a defensible position in yon glade?"
The taller dwarf, Rogan, looked to the shorter one, and Sorolian smiled as he took the hint at who was the leader. Carraig spoke in the Elven tongue, which served as the common language, though his dwarven brogue made his words so very different than the elf's charming lilt.
"Aye...I'm thinking' we kin manage something."
With a smile, Carraig signaled the retreat, and Sorolian mimicked the order for his own troops. With speed born of desperation, the combined forces of dwarf and elf retreated from a thundering horde of now maddened orcs and Oluks.