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Damon Dane

Ragnarok Fantasy Part Eleven

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A horde of mind-boggling abomination was marching down through the Nothomir Pass, the jagged passage slicing through the mountains separating Barbary from Gehenna. Tramping through the hard-packed snow were legions of orcs - seven feet tall with dark grey skin and massive muscles rippling in their arms and legs. They wore black boots, black loincloths, black leather jerkins sewn with rows of iron plates like the scales of a fish, and studded black belts with iron buckles cast in the shape of skulls. In their gnarled fists were heavy iron cleavers, five feet long and spiked at the end like the head of a pick, and shields bearing the symbols of black suns or horned demon skulls. Besides being strong brawlers, the orcs were sophisticated military specialists, divided into well-drilled legions of regular infantry, heavily-armoured stormers, and the fearsome doom orc thugs - the elite of the armies of Gehenna.

Alongside the orcs swarmed vast legions of their gibbering cousins the goblins, also grey-skinned, though lighter in colour and much smaller, with hunchbacks and wicked faces dripping with hate. Then came the souldead damned - lost souls whom the Destroyer of Worlds had twisted to reward their evil acts: to some he had bequeathed an extra pair of arms, or an extra head, or the heads of vultures, wolves, goats, bulls, or elephants, while others had snakes growing out of their torsos, or spider or even octopus legs sprouting from their hips. One had eight glittering black spider eyes down the length of his face, bloody hands where his ears should have been, and an extra set of arms, monstrous and muscular, that had sprouted from his armpits, while his old arms had withered to pale and skeletal abominations, frantically twitching as they formed secret symbols of the Destroyer.

The more twisted souldead damned were not even recognisable as human at all: one was just a perverse human sabre-saw centaur - two pairs of human legs joined by a leprous headless torso and topped by a curved sabre and a wood saw chopping back and forth, attached by fleshy tendrils of gristle and sinew.

Discipline in this army of hell was enforced by the hobgoblins: huge lumbering brutes, eight feet and half a ton of muscle and bone, wielding tree-branch clubs and barbed whips with which to control and direct the lesser darkrons, and indeed their minions feared the wrath of the hobgoblins so much that even the most cowardly fainthearts and holdbacks would willingly charge against any army that men could muster, rather than flee and face the wrath of their merciless overlords.

The Barbarians had always believed the Dragon’s Back Mountains to be a natural shield against Gehenna, and, centuries before this dark day, had built Castle Ironheart to block the Nothomir Pass through the mountains. But now Gothia saw that mighty fortress blackened and burned by the invading hordes, and the legions tramping onward.

His consciousness flew south to a wild and beautiful land of rolling hills blanketed in verdant forests of oak and pine, where deer and elk roamed, eagles soared, and Kodiak bears fished for salmon in icy streams. He knew this place, for there was only one place on all Xanadu quite like it; it was the forested north of Barbary, a glittering jewel bordered by the North Sea and the Dragon’s Back Mountains.

Nestled on riverbanks among dappled patches of sunlight were little villages of Barbarian huts, with sturdy walls, thatched roofs, and stout chimneys puffing smoke. Fur-clad Barbarians happily went about their business: tanned hunters fletched arrows, screeching children chased each other around gnarled trunks, old men fished, and pink-cheeked women plopped meat and vegetables into stewpots while gossiping with their neighbours.

The village malemutes started barking so furiously that they foamed at the mouth.

The villagers stood and looked northward into the forest - fear in their pale blue eyes. To the north was the pathway to the land they all feared, to the north lay cold, darkness, chaos, and an insatiable evil beyond understanding.

An orc cleaver flew out from between the pines, spinning end over end until it struck one of the dogs and sliced its head clean off. Blood spurted out from the neck-stump, and the body staggered drunkenly while the severed head looked on, wide eyes rolling in incomprehension. Nervous, it licked its lips.

A rumbling mob of orcs poured out of the forest, their belly-deep battle roars startling the birds from the treetops and striking terror into the hearts of the villagers.

A blond hunter picked up his bow and fired in rapid succession - one arrow - two - three. A goblin and an orc went down - were trampled by others coming up behind. The hunter nocked a fourth arrow - tried to fire, but the gibbering mob swarmed all over him and cut him to pieces. A goblin picked up a piece of his corpse and committed an obscene act.

A greybeard dashed in and out of his hut in moments, donning his chainmail and grasping axe and broadsword. His eyes were steady and set as he walked out to face certain death, as calm as if he were strolling through the hills on a fine summer morning, neither rushing nor hesitant, the epitome of the unyielding Barbarian warrior.

The darkrons rushed him.

He swung the axe - sliced away the top of an orc’s skull in a spray of brains and bone shards, while punching his sword through the chest of a two-headed souldead damned.

A goblin swung a scimitar, hacking into his thigh.

He staggered, recovered, and kicked the goblin in the throat with his good leg. The goblin dropped its scimitar and fell back - choking.

Goblins, orcs, and souldead damned swamped the greybeard. He went down beneath the frantic mob and was lost. The hideous human-centaur souldead damned chopped and sawed him to pieces.

A patch of undergrowth trembled.

‘He comes! He comes!’ one of the goblins squealed, jumping up and down with great excitement. ‘He smells meat and wants to feast! The Soloth comes!’

The darkrons parted.

A black spider skittered out of the forest; shiny, spindly, and unbelievably huge - bigger than a horse, almost as big as an elephant. It began to feast on the dead Barbarians, sucking and slurping and pulsing, shuffling its bulbous abdomen back and forth in pleasure: if it were a cat it would have purred.

Some of the darkrons kneeled in reverence, but then a no-nonsense hobgoblin barged through the mob with the air of a cranky sergeant-major catching his men slacking off, and ordered them to get to work rounding up “da meat”. Already this company had harvested hundreds of sacrifices, but the Destroyer needed more, many more.

Those of the villagers who had not been slain in battle were rounded up by wolf-headed, bull-horned doomhorses, which ran down and seized any who tried to flee into the forest. They were all women and children, but for an old man too weak to fight, carrying a great-grandchild in wiry arms. He would never survive the long march to Molothsothboloth, but would begin the journey anyway, and when he faltered, would provide meat for the others.

The captives were marked - kicking and screaming - by rusty daggers, the gibbering goblins holding them down to carve pentagrams right across their faces, from ear to ear and chin to forehead, marking them as the property of the Destroyer of Worlds. Even the dead were marked in this way, though whether this was merely an act of desecration or served some darker purpose, Gothia knew not.

The freshly-marked sacrifices were manacled to a long iron chain, squeaky with rust, and led away by a pair of souldead damned, including the sabre-saw centaur. The other darkrons, who were never happy at leaving humans alive, but who were under strict orders to take live captives, vented their pent-up rage by smashing and burning the entire village and killing every living thing they could get their hands on: cows, pigs, chickens, and a wailing, golden-haired infant - the old man’s great-grandchild - who was tossed from hand to hand like a ball, and dropped more than once.

Once the baby was almost dead, the hobgoblin grumpily broke up the game by swinging the baby by its legs and smashing its head against a stone wall, before nonchalantly tossing the remains to the Soloth, which gobbled it with slurpy gusto.

‘Form up for march!’ the hobgoblin bellowed. ‘South us go! Destroyer need meat! Fast! Fast!’ He cracked his whip, tearing open a bony goblin back.

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