Image by Ethundering
The Defiance of Urukkesh
Part 1: The Stump Hill Hag
By Mitchell “Lazzamore” Phelps
MidgardStump Hill was named this for the view; It overlooks the petrified stump of a once glorious, massive tree, and everywhere else: the rothenian steppe’s signature nothingness. Ever the destination for traveling Fey, and more often for those bearing an association with Grandmother Baba Yaga, Humanity (even most Kariv) keeps a healthy berth.
It was Early dawn. Urukkesh furrowed his heavy brow into his beady eyes so he would avoid the sun’s blinding power as he walked to the stump from Wardine the Hag’s yurt. Urukkesh One-Foot, like most Orcs, feared the sun and was therefore unaccustomed to it. Urukkesh grunted and trudged farther still, nimbly managing the wooden leg mounted below his right knee. He had become adept at travel with it.
He continued in his mind the argument he had on that previous dusk with his father. His father was wrong to coddle him; Wooden Leg or not, Urukkesh was strong. Gravely, and to himself, he vowed that his father would come to know this too.
Urukkesh approached the mighty Stump near Stump Hill. It was truly impressive, mountainous in stature and old enough to have long petrified into a permanent staple of this desolate countryside. The Hag feared this Stump. For whatever reason, she could not enter the cave that lay beneath it to retrieve the artifact herself, and thus coerced Urukkesh into “braving the artifact’s guardians” to collect it for her. Urukkesh prepared his soul and blade anxiously for attack; but as he entered the cave beneath the stump, he was sorely disappointed. The cave was nice and dark, as Urukkesh was used to, but devoid of life. colorful river stones were purposefully mosaiced for the floor of this small, high cavern carved out of the earth by petrified roots.
At the end of the pseudo-natural hall, a circular pool of clean water shimmered the light of the entrance, and floating in the water was a branch, which Urukkesh assumed was likely druidic or magical in nature. “This has to be a joke.” Urukkesh said allowed. He stood in a moldy, reeking, forgotten cave, which was obviously not guarded, to retrieve a stick.
The Branch was milk white, and the grain was fascinatingly complex: it seemed to shift so that it was different each glance, making Urukkesh believe it must be useful in the Hag’s magic. Or maybe this was an idiotic joke. That rotten coot will regret this game... – thought the Orc – I was promised combat and trophy. I will get what I am due!
Returning to the Yurt on the Hill, Urukkesh steeled himself, but entered quickly none-the-less. Less time in the sun was better, so he would want to accomplish this confrontation fast. Wardine, the squalid fey creature, stood in waiting inside on two bowed, brittle legs with swollen knees.
“You Return, and unhurt! And with the branch!!” the small, mottled hag croaked “But how?!”
“Enough games, Toad. What is this... stick?” Urukkesh snipped, unamused, giving the branch a wave. The movement made Wardine wince.
“What does it matter, Orc? It’s mine, and that’s what you need to know. Anyways, answer me: How did you escape the guards unharmed?” A look of impatience crossed her, but Wardine remained fixed on the branch.
Urukkesh huffed out the corner of his mouth. “There were no guards – Unless I caught them in some Fey version of a morning tea-time...” He approached menacingly, yet still he never raised his stern voice “I do not like being an errand boy. You told me you couldn’t do this yourself. You owe me answers.”
“All you need to know, you animal, is that branch is MINE.” Wardine stomped a flabby, bare foot, and then extended an emaciated hand “Now give it over.”
“No.” Urukkesh said coldly. A crooked smile stretched over his face as Wardine glanced frantically between him and the branch he was pulling away.
Wardine gasped for air “No? What... What in the unholy name of the Twelfth Layer do you mean by ‘no’?!”
“You know what that word means!” Urukkesh smiled wryly “Way I figure it, I got the stick – and you couldn’t – so it’s actually mine, fair’s fair!”
Wardine screeched from the top of her rage “You have no idea what it even does!!” she hopped up and down as though to stomp the life out of an invisible foe on the floor.
“Oh, it does something, does it? I’m glad: I’m often too easily amused.” Urukkesh chuckled, moving toward the door. Urukkesh paused for Wardine’s reaction for just a split second, hoping she would fight him or otherwise give him excuse to prove he is superior to even a fey spirit such as her. He would not be disappointed, for the hag was incensed. When she opened her mouth to utter an incantation, Urukkesh felt a pang of uncertainty, but brushed it away. He would prove his worth as an Orc.
Wardine pointed a withered finger; reality shrank in a line between Wardine’s finger and Urukkesh, and like elastic rebounded into a rush of pain and force into his being, throwing him against the wall. He still held the branch.
As he stood up, Wardine shouted incoherent ramblings as over her lifted arms came to appear a bubble of heinous chemical, perfectly clear like glass but with an unnatural burning haze. With cartoonish effort it was pitched onto Urukkesh... First there was a chill, like cold water, but then a tinge of pain like citrus fruit over raw skin. Then the smell of burnt flesh arose, accompanied by quivering and agony – Burning on every inch of the Orc’s body.
Urukkesh screamed, howled and tears burned racing down his neck. But he held fast to that wretched branch.
There was a pause as Urukkesh came to realize that Wardine closed in now, inspecting the branch to ensure she did not damage it. A look of loathing crossed him, and by reflex he struck the witch with the branch, and in the other hand dropped his gear from his back and drew his sword, bringing it down as well.
Wardine lifted her hand to the sword, having caught glimpse of it out of the corner of her eye. By the time the blade would’ve connected to her head, the sword was red hot and Urukkesh’s palm sizzled touching it. He had released it, launching it across the room.
But the branch remained, and twice Urukkesh bludgeoned the fey with it, which caused Wardine to retreat to the opposite side of the room. She stumbled to the ground as Urukkesh pursued and brought another blow with the branch onto her. As it came down, she raised her palm to create an apparition of a shield in front of her but hesitated and the blow passed through. “Wait! No more!” she screeched “I relent!”
The fight subsided. “You’re insane! You’re an idiot!!” she bellowed with tears in her eyes “You’d use that as a weapon... Moron!”
Instead of responding verbally to this beratement, Urukkesh just chuckled and reached for his sword.
“Wait! I’m sorry! Mercy!” she corrected. Holding his sword in one hand and the branch in the other, Urukkesh collected his pack and turned back to the hag. “You made a wise choice today, Wardine...” He began, satisfied with his victory.
In the next second – Wardine shouted an incantation, as a bolt of raw plasmatic energy hurled toward the Orc. With her other hand she magically yanked the branch closer. But Urukkesh held on still, even after losing his balance.
In the next second – The Branch tore through the space in front of Urukkesh with blinding power and light. He heard the universe peel away as he fell into the light, Wardine calling out “What—NO!!”.
For a moment, all was white. Not as a blinding light, but rather, as a void without even the concept of dark. He could have sworn he saw the words “Thank you for saving me” written in the distance, though.