Private Tales Return to Bhatairk

A private roleplay only for those invited by the first writer

Hath Charosh

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“How…” Scabhair paused, collecting her words as they marched steadily into the shadow of the Bald Mountain. “Are you alright now?”



In all the times he had imagined how their reunion would have gone, Hath had never pictured as much talking. In spite of the matter of demons working their way into his soul, he smiled at that thought.

"I think so," he said. "That piece it dug deep. A corruption spread and had to be removed with magic. It made me strong, but always so angry."

Even as he spoke he realised his words didn't begin to cover what it had been like under that Demon's spell. What was hardest to admit was that some of those whispers were welcome. Whatever that thing had been, once it rode along with him it wanted him to succeed, but at any cost. It wanted violence at every turn.

"At times now I wonder if having it removed did not stop it changing me. Bah. Enough winging," Hath said with a shake of his head. "It is done."

"He was a bit of a prick til it was removed though!" muttered Ghaavel as he skipped past them. He ran at exactly the right speed for Haths swinging hand to just miss the back of his head.

"Do you need to do much when we arrive at the city?" Hath asked. The bustling markets always made him anxious. He was more keen to get some food and to become properly reacquainted with Scabhair.

There were other subtle differences in Hath, visible as they started to reach a gentle incline towards the gates. The extra weight was obvious, but he held himself differently. Marching alongside another clan and its leaders he might have lowered his head, kept his voice low. He walked tall, met the eyes of those who bothered to cast a curious glance their way.

This was her tribe. He had never met them before. He would have to tell her what had happened with his own people. Tell her how uncertain he was of ever being accepted there again.

It was one of the mounts that reacted first. A few moments after the soft growls Hath could smell something too. A faint, rancid whiff of sulphur. He jogged out to the side of the column, squinting ahead. On the horizon, perhaps above Bathairk, was a rising column of smoke.
 
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Scabhair

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The list she’d begun compiling in her head – of all the things she might take care of upon arrival – ran to a swift stop as Inodeirr beside her let out a low grumble. Like the rolling peal of distant thunder, the sensation reverberated through the hand she had resting upon her withers, hackles raising in its wake.

The remainder of their entourage was already slowing down as beast after orc turned their noses up at the stink of char. When Hath stepped off the road to get a better look at the city rising on the horizon, Scabhair deftly swung herself onto the back of the Gathamhr.

The esteemed vantage point brought clarity, but not relief. Her brow darkened, and her fingers itched for the axe holstered alongside her bags. Several pairs of clever eyes met her searching silver gaze, and she saw a pained array of emotions flicker over scarred, frowning faces.

Much as they revered it, fire also carried with it some of the worst memories for the Aiforn. Nothing burned so easily as the drought-sapped plains of the Taagi Baara during the long summer, and no-one brought torches so readily to parched grass as the kingdoms in the south.

Scabhair straightened in the saddle and called out to Hath.

“I’ll scout ahead, see if we can perchance lend a hand.” She extended her own towards the taller orc, feeling a measure of resolve rekindle in her breast at the sight of him standing so solid despite the ash borne on the wind.

“Will you ride with me?”
 
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Hath Charosh

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Hath gave a firm nod. It had been a long time since he had first clung tight to Inodeirr to flee from a fight they could not win. He knew that it was still going to send his heart racing, leave him with an uncomfortable fear in his gut. It seemed a small issue compared to the smoke on the horizon.

He had lost Scabhair. He had lost his way. He had lost almost everything. The joy at finding her was still there, but the sight of Bathairk burning was a weight that held it down.

"Ghaavel, stay with the group," he called out. The boy could shoot and he could fight, but like a young lion he knew to keep his head down if there was serious fighting.

He grasped Scabhair tightly, eliciting a string of memories. His gaze found the horizon.

"War, it has to be war."
 
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Scabhair

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War?

“No.” She shook her head as she led Inodeirr off the road, her heavy paws sinking into the lush grass. “Battle begets noise. We would’ve heard it by now.”

Of course, they might have come only to see the coda – the fires and the bodies, but none of the men they could at least hunt and punish.

Her grasp tightened on the reins, and a decisive spur of her knees was enough to send them flying across the plain.

After weeks of the slow trot dictated by a caravan’s pace, the wind was like a long lost friend, his fingers running soft through her mane. Scabhair set her jaw, and though she did not smile, she resolved not to waver in spite of what they found.

Easier said then done when they finally came upon the gates of Bhathairk, splintered open like a seed dehisced. She urged Inodeirr off her gallop, bringing them sideways with the remainder of the proud walls.

“In the name of all the Spirits…”

She’d been right, at the very least – no war left the earth itself cracked open in its wake.
 
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Hath Charosh

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Spirits. Hath had thought so much of their mystical power. That was before he had met demons. Seen and felt their power first hand.

Hath slid down from Inodeirr. It slowly dawned on him that the world seemed darker. Like dusk. The smoke billowing overhead tried to extinguish the sun.

Two orcs ran out through the broken gates. Hath called out to them. They both had cloths covering their faces.

"What is going on?" Hath demanded.

"A lot of buildings are still burning!" replied one of the orcs, as if that was an answer.
 

Scabhair

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Burning?

Scabhair followed the trails of smoke with her gaze, tracing them to collapsed roofs and kindling thatch. Were Bhathairk still and proper, she would’ve only seen its intimidating oaken walls. But now… the venerable trees lay strewn into charred splinters, some of them burst to expose their burning centre to the billowing wind.

An ugly, unholy sight. And beyond the ken of even the strongest among the Dreadlords.

Her brows furrowed, the lines on her forehead drawn into sharp relief as she observed what damage she could from their compromised vantage point. The only way to ascertain what had happened was to set foot into the heart of the flames.

With a quiet murmur to the great beast, Scabhair slid off Inodeirr, watching her lope off back to the waiting Aiforn. The rest of her clan had moved off the road in the meantime, dismounting and encircling a quick camp on the bank of the river. Out of range of the flames but close enough to lend a hand if needed.

The taut line of her shoulders relaxed at the sight, some of the urgent tension draining from her expression as she joined Hath at the gates of Bhathairk. Or what remained of them, at any rate.

Her bow, now strung, was tucked snugly into the quiver on her hip, and she’d relieved the gathamhr of her axe to boot. Curiosity and concern warred insofar as her reasons for entering, but she was not so foolish as to cross the threshold defenceless.

Whatever had caused this swath of destruction might yet return.

“Shall we?”
 

Hath Charosh

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Hath's gaze turned skyward, following the dark, billowing smile that coiled overhead. He craned his neck back as far as it would go. Hath swore quietly under his breath. It was like standing beneath the majesty of the spine. He felt very small.

He left his bow unstrung, but slid his axe from his back. It made him feel safer to have something in hand. Biter had been with him through some dark months. Hath tried to convince himself that what was ahead couldn't be worse than what was behind.

It felt as if he was being toyed with. Reunited with Scabhair, he had mentally mapped out a few days of reunion that didn't include any cities on fire. Just new memories that rekindled old ones of flames dancing on flesh. Hath knew that he was too small in this world for any of this to revolve around him. He was just caught up on ill winds like so many others.

"You'll need to cover your faces!" shouted one of the orcs. "They need help on the south side."

"What caused this?" Hath cried back. He had some blankets he could cut to cover his face with in his pack.

"A dragon!"
 

Scabhair

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“A dragon?” she mouthed, gazing after the fleeing orcs with wide eyes. That couldn’t be right. In all her travels, she’d only ever encountered ageless stories of the beasts, but never one of flesh and scale. Surely this was… something else. Fear driven to conjure spectres of fireside cautionary tales, not… whatever else might render a city of thousands into rivers of lava and kinding.

She swallowed.

Scabhair turned her disbelieving eyes to Hath, who’d taken the advice to heart and was already cutting strips of cloth to fashion a quick mask. “Let’s help on the south side first,” she asserted quickly, sliding her axe back into its sling for the time being. Much as curiosity pestered her, aiding her brethren would always take precedence.

Between the heat and the scarf she was quick to start sweating, but it beat having the black smoke clog her lungs as they picked their way through the ruins. Small fires hissed in collapsed longhouses at every corner, eating up centuries of careful wood construction. Her heart ached at the histories turning to ash before their eyes.

Still, the lives of orcs still trapped mattered more. Scabhair averted her gaze and pressed on, navigating around showers of cinder erupting from blackened beams cracking apart in the heat.
 
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Hath Charosh

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A dragon. An actual fucking dragon. He wouldn't have believed it, but what could have done this? Perhaps the ground had split apart, raining fire on the city and they had decided it was a dragon. The shamans of his tribe told stories of mountains that could spit fire.

Hath rounded a corner and came to a sharp halt. A stream of magma bisected their path. It was dark and lazy this far from the centre of Bhatairk. It hissed as the front of the wave continued to roll forwards slowly. A bright orange glow escaped through cracks in its dark surface. The heat emenating off it at this distance told him they could not cross it.

Hath turned towards a building that straddled the street. Further down the road there were houses on fire. The town was quite spread out, with so much wood that a fire could spread quickly. It bought them time, but how much he did not know. Could be a one way journey and they would need another way out of the city.

He drew his axe and broke down the door.

"Up and over?" he asked. The idea of being over this slowly moving river of fire didn't appeal to him at all.
 

Scabhair

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Scabhair spared a dubious glance for the sluggish stream of hissing heat rolling through the cracked street. Suffice it to say she shared his concerns – and his frown – but the river of fire wasn’t going away any time soon.

With a shallow nod, she moved past him into the longhouse, brushing her fingers along the charred wood. Every once in a while a beam snapped into a riot of cinder, washing over them both in a sharp wave of heat as they advanced up the creaking stairs.

The second floor of the house gaped up into the open sky, the roof opened up like a ribcage cloven by the deep cut of an axe. Something large could’ve swept the thatch and scaffolding right off.

Something large that could take flight.

Scabhair averted her gaze and picked a careful path across the uncertain footing, one hand following along with the remains of the outer wall. The earth below them shook and sighed every few steps, and the house trembled with it, the screaming of its supports heralding an imminent collapse.

She hastened across, halfway into a breath of relief— only to realise the rest of the longhouse was… missing.

There was simply nothing there. Empty air where there should’ve been walls and a broad stairwell leading back to the safety of the ground. Below them a chasm; behind them a house rapidly falling apart. Scabhair exhaled, spitting out the soot that had found its way into her lungs.

“How far can you jump?”

The nearest building wasn’t that far.

Right?
 
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Hath Charosh

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"Hopefully that far," came his reply. They did not have much of a choice.

Just that reply led to a brief coughing fit. Hath backed up slowly as he tried to clear his lungs. A deep breath would have helped before the coming burst of speed, but there was no clean air left.

The endeavour started to seem foolish. This wasn't trying to rescue other orcs from a fire, it was navigating a city that the world itself was trying to swallow whole.

Hath dropped his shoulders. He tensed. Starting with the arm wound back he exploded into motion. The floorboard groaned in protest as he ran across them, building as much speed as possible with the limited space he had.

In an instant he was in open air. The air at least cleaner outside. He slammed into the wall of the opposite building hard enough to force any air in his lungs out. Hath had missed the window, but with fingertips he found a grip on the wall.
 

Scabhair

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Even as the smouldering timber screeched behind her, Scabhair hung back long enough to see Hath scramble through the window to safety. Only then did she take the few wind-up steps herself, claws digging into the splintering wood as she launched herself across the divide. She’d had better teachers than her companion, for the gathamhr possessed grace in repose as they did on the hunt.

Her leap came to a hard stop against the charred masonry, and she flexed quickly upward to clasp Hath’s proffered hand. This was no time for bravado.

She rolled across the windowsill and into the dusty interior – this one absent any fire, thank the spirits. Scabhair found her feet and dusted off the ash, invisible though it was against the hue of her skin.

“I’m no carpenter, but I reckon Bhathairk isn’t long for this world,” she muttered as they made for the stairs and the open air once more, emerging on the other side of the river of fire.

Would that she had the time, Scabhair would have surely put pen to paper and sketched out the sight.

Her distraction was cut short when cries rose up in the west, short and high-pitched from pain. Scabhair paled, head snapping left.

“That’s a child, Hath.”
 
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Hath Charosh

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"At least this bit of it is not, going to survive" Hath replied. "I've never seen rocks on fire before."

He was used to the dry, arid heat of the savanna. Had been forced to run in the middle of the day when the heat of the sand was intense enough to burn his feet.

This was worse. It felt as if another step towards the river of fire would burn the flesh from his bones. There was no humidity in the air left at all. Each breath burned his throat and lungs.

The sound of a child crying for help was the motivation to keep moving. His people were tribal creatures; they looked after their own. The sound of a young one crying for help in the midst of this chaos transcended that.

He bolted down the stairs to the next left. Thundering down the street. It was cracked right down the middle and he had to keep himself from imagining the world itself swalling him up.

Several houses were burning, their entrances cut off by the rolling magma. He wasted no time in taking Biter to the wall furthest from the flames. The first swing didn't go deep enough.

Hath took a breath. He did not like doing this, but there was no choice. There had not even been time to tell his full story to Scabhair, of the demon that had tried to take him. It had been expelled with the help of Pern, but part of its power remained.

He tapped into it.

Darkness spread through his veins from the scar across his shoulder. He raised the axe and with unnatural strength carved a deep gash through the wood from head height to almost the floor.
 
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Scabhair

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The ground shook and grumbled underneath their feet as they navigated the shattered streets. A part of Scabhair lamented to see the greatest orcish city in such an abysmal state – who knew when, if ever, Bhathairk could recover from this devastation?

But with Hath to lead the charge, her step didn’t falter, and she caught up to the taller man only moments after he’d begun taking his axe to the problem. Vehemently.

Her brow furrowed as she watched him split the hardened oak, the Biter slicing against the grain like a knife through butter.

“By the spirits…”

The wood cracked, the heat from inside rushing out, and Scabhair abandoned her questions in favour of a swift kick to the splintering planks. Their way inside collapsed into a cloud of soot and cinder, the sparks swirling skyward in the rising funnels of heat.

She hesitated only for a moment before gulping down a lungful of air and rushing into the oppressive inferno. Using the front of her shirt to cover her nose and mouth, Scabhair squinted her antikathri eyes at the dark shapes and clouds of ash dancing through the charred interior.

There.

Her voice cracked as she called out to Hath and rushed forward, where a single flailing hand was grasping for purchase against a broken beam.

“Lift it for me,” she hissed as the orc joined her next to the struggling child. Her gaze scoured the room until she found her quarry and dashed to grab the sheaf of unfinished spears from the ground. Used to be this was a smithy – its stone reinforcements were probably the only reason the fire had taken that long to spread so far.

The hand had fallen worryingly still by the time she made it back, but Scabhair steeled her stance, wedged the hafts under the beam, and levered the bastard out of the way.
 
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Hath Charosh

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Tapping that dark power that lingered beneath the surface did not come for free. Despite his desperate determination to move the beam and free the child he could feel his strength waning. It wasn't just the lack of air.

Scabhair's lever moved the beam. He grabbed the child around the forearm tight and used his bodyweight to pull them out. Scrapes and broken bones were the least of their worries now.

The girl coughed and spluttered. Hath took that as a good sign. Between the two of them their maneuvered the child out into the fresh air. It was a cold wash across his skin, and Hath inhaled deeply.

They stumbled far enough away that he could take a knee. He had only drawn that power for a few seconds, but he would feel the toll for minutes. A lack of oxygen combined with the price of that demonic strength and had his hands trembling.
 
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Scabhair

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Back under the open sky, the lot of them descended into coughing fits. Scabhair spat out soot-black saliva, scratching at her throat as if she could tear out the ash that made her eyes water now. It didn’t matter. She only spared a glance for Hath to see whether he would live, then fell on her knees beside the child.

The girl couldn’t have seen more than eight summers altogether. The daughter of the local blacksmith, if the hints of bound muscle under her olive skin were any indication. Likely that being used to the scorching heat had kept her alive thus far.

Scabhair turned her to her side, then helped her up to a half-crouch so that her lungs could expand properly. Didn’t work. The girl was still scrabbling her fingers through the dirt, wheezing for breath.

“Come on, come on…” the Aiforn scoured her memory for fragments of textbooks at the college, something, anything—

She lunged forward, supporting the child with her left before raising her arm and bringing it down in a swift motion. The crack of the impact made her wince – and it would certainly leave a nasty bruise – but finally, finally the girl spat out the shard of coal caught in her throat, collapsing forward to gulp down the sweet taste of life.

Scabhair squeezed her eyes shut and rocked back on her heels with a sigh of relief. “Hath? Are you alright?”
 
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Hath Charosh

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"Will be," Hath replied.

He at least had the strength to lift his head and frown at the girl. The confusion at Scabhair striking her was clear, but went away with a subtle shrug. Apparently striking the child had helped her cough up, for a moment he had thought the lack of air had addled her mind.

Hath could not say if he needed time to recover from drawing that strength or more fresh air. Neither were in abubdent supply.

"I hear others," he said, cocking his head to one side.

Lips curled back in stubborn resolve, he drew himself to his feet.

"At least the walls are not so high. We are not getting back the way we came."

"Cos of the dragon," whispered the child.
 
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Scabhair

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The Aiforn recovered her footing first, then helped the girl up. She was so small. Was she ever this thin, this fragile?

Scabhair furrowed her brow.

“Let’s go,” she said, more edge to her voice than she’d intended. “Can you track them, Hath?” Her eyes held his for a moment, then moved to the axe in his hands. What he’d done… well, there would be time aplenty to address that feat when they got out of the burning city.

If they got out of the burning city.

Scabhair frowned again.

“What’s your name?” she asked, propping the child against her hip as they began to move deeper into the ruins of Bhathairk.

“Bláthnaid, sealgairínn.”

“Well, Bláithínn, why don’t you tell me about this dragon while we look for the others?”
 

Hath Charosh

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The people rushing in and out of the gate had already told them that this had been because of a dragon. It still sent a lance of ice up his spine to hear it out loud again.

Looking at the devastation around them it wasn't hard to believe. In fact, it was hard to believe that this was just a dragon. A dragon could easily have burned the city to the ground, but the molten rock spewing up from beneath the city couldn't have been just a dragon.

"It came up...from beneath the city..." Bláthnaid said quietly.

Hath tilted his head from side to side. He wasn't used to even something as simple as tracking a sound in a city. The air was moving from the rising heat, the buildings still standing reflected sound. They had to be away from here. At this rate this whole section of the city would be a roaring fire that they would not be able to quench with water.

"This way," he said. He set out, having chosen the direction that would take them towards the wall, if nothing else.
 
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Beneath?

Scabhair chanced a glance underneath her feet as they broke into a run. Spirits, but she’d been more at ease hanging off the sheer face of a mountain in the Spine.

Her arm tightened around the child on her hip on reflex.

They ran. They dipped into side alleys and avoided collapsed buildings, jumped across chasms and navigated the piles of wood and stone blocking the streets. Her heart wrenched at the sight of the glorious orc city reduced to charcoal and rubble. There were corpses too – legs and arms and heads sticking out of the ruins, dead eyes staring at a sky they’d never see again.

She pulled her gaze away and cleared her throat.

“Hath,” she raised her voice, lengthening her stride to put them abreast, “any ideas for our exit?”

Perhaps the dragon – or the fire-rivers – had broken down the integrity of Bhathairk’s great walls somewhere… but Scabhair was rarely that lucky in life.
 

Hath Charosh

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"Last time I was here you could get close to the top of the walls from the inside," he replied.

"Children are bouncy," he added.

As plans went it was as plain and simple as Hath himself. Hope the wall still has stairs this side, try and climb down the other side.

Orc children were robust things, if they all tumbled ten feet he knew he was going to feel it the most. He was heavier than when he had last been around Scabhair.

The next corner brought them in sight of a small crowd heading away from the centre of town. They were not going to be the first to try and solve this problem.

"We can't be far?" The smoke here was more of a haze, obscuring their view beyond a few houses.
 
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Scabhair

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“Leap of faith it is.” Scabhair consigned herself to her fate without complaint. Survival was a hard-earned reward out in the wilds. They’d not made it this far into their lives without risking a limb or two on occasion.

And children were bouncy.

“No,” she agreed, squinting her eyes at the gray plumes crawling across the ground. The wind had cleared off some of the heat from the open square at least, but there was no telling how much longer the ground underneath their feet would hold. She had no wish to further test the mercy of the spirits.

“Hold her,” Scabhair handed off the child to Hath without awaiting any confirmation, then pulled ahead with long, graceful lips. A nomadic life lent itself well to endurance, at the very least.

“An balla? Ri taobh thairr?” she called out to the group, switching to the local dialect with nary a stumble. “Is féidirad liann caibhriú.”

The leader of the group – a shaman, by his garb – considered the three of them with a brief glance, then nodded. “The western stretch of the wall is the most exposed. I fear it is the only option now, but we must hurry.”

He gestured to the tail of the group, where several orcs were doing their best to support those who had suffered the worst in the calamity. Scabhair scowled. She’d seen arms and legs chopped and torn off; splintered bones jutting out of pink meat like the icebergs of the north seas; but something about burnt flesh still made her skin crawl.

Perhaps it was the blasphemy of it; fire, after all, was the pillar of the orc.

“I understand,” she motioned Hath over as they picked up their pace westward. “We need to move faster, so we’ll carry the worst ones between us. Bláthnaid, can you walk on your own?”

The child gave a timid nod.

“Run on ahead, then. Bí cróuga, a dhuinn bheagi.”
 

Hath Charosh

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Hath watched the girl go. For an instant, he felt as if they were abandoning a charge. Then he remembered that the only difference was by virtue of them having come across her first.

There was an orc roughly the size of an ox at the tail end of the group being supported by two elderly women. With long, loping strides he made his way there. Without a word he swapped with the one on the left, grunting with the exertion of taking the weight. The two old men must have had some grit to carry this lump so far.

"Use your legs or get left to die," Hath said, matter-of-factly. To his credit, the orc tried to motor forwards with the group.

The ground shook. It felt as if the dragon's anger was now being expressed by the world itself. Hath stumbled and nearly collapsed under the wounded orc's weight. Shifting him, he threw the orc across his shoulders and carried him.

"Fuck it all," Hath grumbled, knowing they weren't getting over the palisades this way.
 
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Scabhair only stayed her step to make sure the child was scooped up by another pair of able arms. Soon as Bláthnaid was safe, the Aiforn jogged after her companion and propped up the other injured orc as the column hobbled on.

This one was younger than the one now hoisted over Hath’s broad shoulders, but his leg had been wrenched clean off in something… Scabhair clenched her jaw. Fire, looked like, but she didn’t want to look too close or think too hard. Ideas would run away from her and then they would all be left for dead in the middle of a collapsing city.

“Not quite yet,” she huffed out, palming the sweat off her brow as the heat began to encroach from the burning districts even down to the open market. Taking a few quick steps forward, Scabhair raised her voice to address the Shaman at their head “Ar féidirr leat a bhrisaid síos ar n-bhalla?”

They had but one mage between them who could strike down the palisades and open up a way to freedom. Unless… she canted her head to the side, meeting Hath’s gaze from the corner of her eyes.

Could he repeat the feat of the Biter?
 
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Hath Charosh

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They had been apart for months. Scattered to the winds. Before that they had travelled half the world alone. The wilds were dangerous enough that a single look was enough. There were times when it had to be enough.

Once was draining. Twice was going to hurt. It was going to hurt a damned sight less than being burned alive. There was no deliberating over this one.

The fighter on his back barely yelped as he was lowered to the ground unceremoniously. It was either bravery or simply that he was past the point of really feeling the pain.

Hath took up his axe. He was so exhausted it dragged it across the ground to the nearest supporting pole in the fence. It must have been at least a foot wide.

Darkness encroached. Shadows slipped through his veins, flooding him with strength. Hath snarled and lifted the axe. It came down, biting deep. Back up and down again with a thud that reverberated through the ground. With the next swing of the axe, the head passed clean through half of the beam, sending a shower of splinters across the ground. The beam cracked and started to topple. Hath dropped to a knee.

"Bring it down," he murmured towards the shamans.
 
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