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Stan Nicholls

Orcs: Bad blood

How the Wolverines won their freedom

Maras-Dantia abounded with a diversity of lifeforms. There were inevitable conflicts between these elder races, but mutual respect and tolerance maintained the social fabric.

Until a new race arrived.

They called themselves humans, and braved unfriendly wastelands to enter Maras-Dantia from the far south. Small in number at first, over the years they grew to a torrent. They claimed the land as their own, renamed it Centrasia, and set about exploiting its resources. Rivers were polluted, forests stripped and elder race settlements destroyed. They showed contempt for the cultures they encountered, demeaning and corrupting the native inhabitants.

But their greatest crime was to defile Maras-Dantia's magic.

Their greed and disregard for the natural order of things began to drain away the land's vital energies, diminishing the magic elder races depended upon. This in turn warped the climate. Before long, an ice field was advancing from the north.

So it came to war between the elder races and the humans.

The conflict was far from clear cut. Both sides were disunited. Old divisions within the elder races resurfaced, and some even threw in their lot with the incomers. The humans themselves suffered from a religious schism. Some were Followers of the Manifold Path, commonly known as Manis, and observed pagan ways. Others adhered to the precepts of Unity. Dubbed Unis, they supported the newer sect of monotheism. There was as much animosity between Unis and Manis as between elder races and humans.

One of the only native races without magical powers, orcs made up for the deficiency with their superior martial skills and a savage lust for combat.

Stryke captained a thirty-strong orc warband called the Wolverines. His fellow officers were Sergeants Haskeer and Jup, the latter the band's only dwarf member, and Corporals Alfray and Coilla, the group's sole female. The balance of the command consisted of twenty-five common grunts. The Wolverines were part of a greater horde serving despotic Queen Jennesta, a powerful sorceress who supported the Mani cause. The offspring of human and nyadd parents, Jennesta's taste for sadism and sexual depravity were legendary.

Jennesta sent the band on a perilous mission to seize an ancient artefact from a Uni stronghold. The Wolverines gained the artefact, which proved to be a sealed message cylinder, along with a cache of an hallucinogenic drug called pellucid. But Stryke made the mistake of letting his band celebrate by sampling the drug. The following dawn, returning late to Jennesta and fearing her wrath, they were ambushed by kobold bandits who stole the artefact. Knowing they would pay a terrible price for their negligence, Stryke decided to pursue the raiders.

Assuming treachery by the Wolverines, Jennesta declared them outlaws and ordered their capture, dead or alive. She also established contact with her brood sisters, Adpar and Sanara, with whom she was linked telepathically. But bad blood between the siblings prevented Jennesta discovering if either knew the whereabouts of the band or the precious artefact.

During the search for the kobolds, Stryke began to experience lucid visions. They showed a world consisting solely of orcs, living in harmony with nature and in control of their own destiny. Orcs who knew nothing of humans or the other elder races.

He feared that he was going insane.

Locating the kobolds, the Wolverines exacted bloody revenge and regained the artefact. They also liberated an aged gremlin scholar called Mobbs, who thought the cylinder might contain something that had a direct bearing on the origin of the elder races. He believed the cylinder was connected with Vermegram and Tentarr Arngrim, two fabled figures from Maras-Dantia's past. Vermegram was a sorceress, and the nyadd mother of Jennesta, Adpar and Sanara. She was thought to have been slain by Arngrim, a human whose magical abilities equalled hers.

Mobbs' words brought out a latent spirit of rebellion in the band, and Stryke successfully argued that the cylinder be opened. Inside was an object fashioned from an unknown material, consisting of a central sphere with seven tiny radiating spikes of variable length. To the orcs it resembled a stylised star, similar to a hatchling's toy. Mobbs explained that it was an instrumentality, a totem of great magical power long considered mythical. When united with its four fellows it would reveal a profound truth about the elder races, a truth which the legends implied could set them free. At Stryke's urging, the Wolverines abandoned their allegiance to Jennesta and struck out to seek the other stars, reasoning that even a fruitless search was better than the servitude they knew.

Their quest first led them to Trinity, a Uni settlement ruled by fanatical preacher Kimball Hobrow, where an instrumentality was revered as an object of worship. Seizing it, the band narrowly escaped and made for Scratch, the trolls' subterranean homeland, where they hoped a further star might be located.

Impatient with her own minions, Jennesta employed the services of Micah Lekmann, Greever Aulay and Jabez Blaan. Ruthless human bounty hunters who specialised in tracking renegade orcs, they undertook to return with the Wolverines' heads.

The band's expedition to Scratch was successful, and a third star was secured. But Haskeer, seized by a strange derangement, made off with them. Coilla, giving chase, fell into the hands of the bounty hunters, who negotiated to sell her to goblin slave traders. Haskeer himself, convinced that the stars were communicating with him in some way, was captured by Kimball Hobrow's zealous followers, the custodians.

Having rescued Coilla and Haskeer, the band learned that an instrumentality could be in the possession of a centaur called Keppatawn and his clan in Drogan Forest.

Jennesta stepped up the hunt for the Wolverines, including more dragon patrols under the direction of her mistress of dragons, Glozellan. She also maintained telepathic contact with her brood sisters, Adpar and Sanara, queens of their own domains in different parts of Maras-Dantia. Adpar, ruler of the underwater nyadd realm, was making war against a neighbouring race, the merz. Jennesta offered her an alliance to help find the stars, promising to share their power. Not trusting her sister, Adpar refused. Enraged, Jennesta used sorcery to cast a harmful glamour on her sibling.

On their way to Drogan, the band several times encountered an enigmatic human called Serapheim, who warned them of approaching perils before disappearing, seemingly impossibly.

Entering Drogan forest, the band made contact with the centaur Keppatawn. A renowned armourer hampered by lameness, Keppatawn had a star which he stole from Adpar when he was a youth. But a spell cast by her left him crippled, and only the application of one of her tears could right him. Keppatawn declared that if the Wolverines brought him this bizarre trophy he would trade the star for it. Stryke agreed.

The orcs made their way to the nyadd's domain. Nyadds and merz were at war, and Adpar had slipped into a coma as a result of Jennesta's magical attack. Fighting their way to her private chambers, the Wolverines found the queen on her deathbed, abandoned by her courtiers. When the cause looked lost, she shed a single tear of self-pity, which Stryke caught in a phial. The tear healed Keppatawn's infirmity, and he gave up the instrumentality.

Stryke's visions continued, and intensified, and he became preoccupied by the notion that the stars were singing to him.

The final instrumentality was housed in a Mani settlement called Ruffetts View, where a fissure had opened in the earth and was expelling raw magical energy. Once there, the band became a rallying point for disaffected orcs, many of them deserters from Jennesta's horde. Learning that two armies, Jennesta's and Hobrow Kimball's, were heading towards Ruffetts View, Stryke reluctantly allowed the deserters to join him. A siege ensued, and in the chaos of its aftermath the Wolverines made off with the last star.

When connected, the five artefacts formed a device that magically transported the band to Ilex, an ice-bound

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