Story by: Julius Eddy Kong
The lands inhabited by orcs and goblins are not for everyone. Surrounded by mountains and located at the warmest parts of Praelis, Tauris is a barren wasteland and devoid of life. Only the sturdier races accustomed to heat and dirt like orcs and goblins can withstand the climate of Tauris.
The dwarves made their homes in Tauris for a different reason. The abundance of mountains, and the materials the land provided. Tir na Nog has mountains aplenty too, of course, but it is a fact — not myth — that dwarves and elves do not get along. Their constant cheery mood and jovial outbursts were a source of annoyance to the crafting race. It was not that the dwarves particularly liked the goblins and orcs, either. The genius blacksmiths and craftsmen found the green-skins’ intellect… lacking. So they stayed away from the green-skins whenever possible, and made their homes, literally, inside the mountains. Once excavated, the vastness of a mountain provided space for their forges, and an abundant storage space for all the items they forge from their past-time. The mountains of Tauris are both a source of materials and storage space for the dwarves. The lava from Mount Ulgolt, a volcano rumored to home a lava dragon, was also a fine source of heat for their blacksmithing.
In a barrack near the border of Tauris, an orc commander is training a specialised platoon of goblins. Each goblin was carrying a bag of round, metal objects. On another side, a bald giant carried a boulder on his shoulders, and dropped it to the ground beside a platoon of goblins. He looked at the orc commander and backed away.
“You! Do only one thing,” said the commander, dragging one of them from the front row into the open. “Rope. Fire.” Then the commander lit a short rope attached to the object with his torch, and continued, “Run to enemies!” He pointed towards the boulder and gave the demonstration goblin a push. The goblin did as he told and ran towards the boulder. When he reached, he turned around with a confused look on his face. Then everything blew up. Stone fragments flew everywhere.
“There!” said the orc, pointing towards where the boulder once was. “Easy!”
“Yess!” said the platoon of goblins. And some began taking up one of the round objects from their bag and examining it, turning it over and over in their hands, looking at it with astonishment and cackling in excitement.
It was then that a large shadow loomed over them, as if a giant bird had blocked out the sun. The commander looked up, and found himself looking at not a giant bird, but a red dragon.
The commander immediately issued an order, “Sound the alarm!” and ran towards the biggest tent in the encampment. He found only the vice-commander in the tent. Panting, he said, “Commander! Th-There’s a dragon here!”
“What?” said Vylon. The alarms sounded then, confirming the messenger’s warning. The horned general dashed out to look for their chieftain. But the first thing he saw was a red dragon, larger than any he’s seen. He looked back up at a watchtower, and found Grousk already watching the red dragon’s rampage.
Grousk watched as the dragon sets his tents on fire and stomped on his army. A row of goblins with crossbows lined up, drew their bows, and launched a volley of arrows toward the dragon. The arrows flew through the air, and found their way onto the dragon’s back. But they might as well had been trying to lodge an arrow into a wall. A dragon’s carapace of scales is not so easily pierced. The arrows were so useless against the dragon that it had not even felt them. Though, in its frenzied rampage, it swiped its tail casually and sent the entire row of spleenshooters flying.
“Grousk,” said Vylon, coming up the stairs. “We need to evacuate. If we pit our entire army against it, we may just injure it enough to scare it away. But that would cost us all that we have.”
Grousk remained fixated on the dragon. It was now hovering in the air, spewing a torrent of flames to the grounds. A bunch of tents was set ablaze, and from them came scattering out a band of red goblins. Grousk has never seen them running so fast. Not being roasted was probably good motivation.
“Bring me my axes,” said Grousk.
Vylon opened his mouth to speak, but when he saw the look in his chief’s eyes, he paused. How long had he known him now? And not once has he ever managed to change Grousk’s mind. With a sigh, he said, “Immediately.”
When Vylon came out of the tent with two massive axes in his hands, Grousk was no longer observing from afar on the watchtower. He was standing five catapults length away from the dragon.
“That took long,” said Grousk, as he held out his hands.
“The axes were heavy,” said Vylon, placing each axe in the Dragolord's hands.
They both stood and watched the dragon’s rampage. One in terror, one in awe.
Then, Grousk grunted, “None interferes.”
Vylon knew from this point onwards he was no longer staring at Tauris’s Dragolord, his chief. Grousk was now merely Grousk. Stripped away of his titles, positions, identities, all that was left of him was his essence — an earnest wish to conquer his enemies. And there can be nothing more appealing to such a character than a formidable foe in front of him. His army had tried, and failed. His best advisor told him it was impossible. Even his own survival instincts was telling him to flee. But all this opposition fed only his essence.
Even from ten metres away, he felt like he was standing in the hottest dwarven furnaces. He shifted the axes in his hands for a better grip.
Sensing Grousk already in his heightened state of combat, Vylon backed slowly. Any sudden movements and Grousk’s axes would find their way into his neck. When he backed far enough, he instructed all the surrounding troops to gather their weapons and leave the immediate area. They were more than enthusiastic at this order.
Perhaps the dragon sensed the sudden lack of foes, or perhaps it just wanted to, but something made it stop its indiscriminating rampage midway and reared its head toward Grousk. From its vantage point, even the Dragolord must not had been a few blotches bigger than the orcs it was crushing confidently. Yet, he caught Eldrun’s attention, and it turned its gigantic body about to face him. Eldrun regarded him for a few good moments, and growled.
What made Vylon Tauris’s best strategist was not only his elaborate plans, but most importantly, his prowess of observations and deduction skills. And this unusual reaction from the dragon did not escape Vylon. The calamity that had descended upon them from the skies without so much a warning, letting out not even a grunt tearing through his ranks… growled at one enemy?
The deadliest hunter in the wilds is often silent. It made sense. When you go for the kill, you do not say it, you do not warn your prey. You pounce. You bite. You slash. Dogs bark not as a form of aggression, but as a form of deterrence. But a dragon’s growl? Vylon wasn’t sure. But it at least told Vylon that dragons hesitate.
And what Vylon knew by knowledge, Grousk knew by instincts.
Eldrun and Grousk stood in silence, no doubt each measuring the other. Grousk knew that the emperor of beasts must see him no larger than he sees an insect. Yet how still this insect stood! How deliberate his breath!
It was Grousk that made the first move. He charged headfirst toward Eldrun. The dragon swiped at him. But the battle veteran had stopped short just out of the dragon’s swipe. Continuing his dash with his axes overhead, Grousk sped through the underbelly of the dragon speedily. The blades tore through the dragon’s stomach, one of the few areas unprotected by its armor of scales. Blood dripped, and the dragon roared.
The dragon moved about to uncover Grousk, who was still slashing widly under its belly. But under such a colossal foe, it was easy for Grousk to remain out of sight. Where the dragon moved, he followed, remaining right under its belly. The dragon swiped under itself, hitting nothing. That only gave Grousk more time to carve its abdomen. Blood gushed out from the wounds, and scalded the orc chieftain, who nearly dropped his axe. But he grit his teeth, and turning his pain into fury, he cleaved, and cleaved, and cleaved.
Frustrated, the dragon roared and took to the air. Grousk felt a sweltering gust rushing past him while sidestepping the embers falling from the dragon. One fell into his woolen pauldrons and caught fire. He stripped it off immediately. Might as well, after all, what use is armor against a foe that demolishes stone columns with a single swipe?
The fire dragon spat fireballs at Grousk from the skies. But at such a long distance, it was easy for the warlord to dodge them. A jet of flames. Grousk skipped a few steps back, out of the range of the sweltering fires.
The dragon realized it could not hope to best this foe at this distance. It looked to the sky, and with one powerful flap of its wings, propelling himself upwards. Then, the dragon tucked in its wings, and let gravity take over, arcing down on a full-speed dive towards Grousk, its jaws wide open.
It was quite a sight, to be on the receiving end of an angry dragon’s open jaws. Grousk let out a roar himself, and hurled one of his axes toward the dragon’s mouth and immediately tumbled to the sides. The dragolord did not know what he sliced, but he knew it worked. There was a loud tumbling sound behind him.
Grousk recovered from his tumbling
and headed straight for the red dragon that fell to the ground. Grousk ran
towards its hind legs this time, and started cleaving wildly at the dragon’s
heel tendons nearer the ground. Grousk does not combat with tactics. He does
not look for chinks in armor to exploit. What he has is brute strength. An
immense amount of sheer brute strength, and that is what he uses. Grousk has
only one philosophy in life: Everything breaks. The supreme commander of Tauris
tears off chunks of armor along with parts of their owner. But against a dragon
of this calibre, even Grousk’s strength was being tested. He felt like he was
trying to chop through twenty plates of armor all at once. Even when he struck
against it with all the might he could muster, he made only a loud ching
On the consecutive strike, the head of his axe broke, and ricocheted backwards, spinning through the air and finding its way into a goblin’s chest at the sidelines. He was left with a splintered shaft.
But he did good. A scale plate fell off, exposing dragon flesh and Grousk felt a surge of heat on his face. Then, he jammed the splintered shaft into the exposed flesh. The dragon let out a low yelp, and jerked its leg. Grousk shirked back reflexively. But the talons were long, and drew the orc’s blood as the tips sliced grazed him. A graze from a blade would be superficial wound, but a graze from a dragon’s talons is another matter. The left side of Grousk’s abdomen bled profusely. He pressed against it, and tumbled back as far as possible as the dragon continued yanking its legs in pain.
“Grousk!” yelled Vylon.
Grousk made no replies as he struggled to his feet, his hand over the bloody wound.
As a being who relies on rationality, it befuddles Vylon how Grousk still stood up against the dragon, and wondered how his legs did not give way to fear. Courage is the ability to stand steadfast in the face of fear. In Grousk’s case, Vylon was not sure courage applies to Grousk or that if he even know what fear is. Whatever it was that allowed his chief to fight the dragon, and however slim whatever chance Grousk had against Eldrun, the elder dragon of fire element, Lord of the Blaze, must have evaporated now. Now, Grousk is exhausted, wounded, and unarmed.
Yet Grousk stood.
The dragon, too, clambered to its feet. It snorted, swung its head left and right, and coughed up a chunk of metal, blood dripping out from its jaws. Then it turned about, and fixed its fiery amber eyes on its tiny adversary. It churned out a low, continuous growl, getting louder and louder. When it seemed as if it was about to let out a ferocious roar, Grousk unleashed a deafening battle cry that seemed to reveberate through the valleys of Tauris. How monstrous, how mountainous Grousk appeared. Vylon even thought he saw the dragon winced. Grousk took a step toward the reptile. And with the speed of reflex of a hare, the dragon launched itself into the skies.
As Vylon stared at the dragon, his hands ready to hurl the weapons he grabbed for Grousk, he realized that the dragon was not coming back as it became smaller and smaller into the air, eventually becoming about the size of an eagle.
“Grousk!” Vylon said, running. “My lord!”
But the Dragolord made no movements. His fists were still clenched, but his eyes were closed. For a moment Vylon thought his lord dead but he saw the faint rising and falling of his chest. He was about to let out a sigh of relief until he saw the look of a predator who had failed to catch its prey in Grousk’s eyes.
The war was not satisfying him. Tir na Nog was not satisfying him. And the dragon came and went, leaving him with an outcome worse than death – a draw! He slammed his fist onto the dragon’s scale on the ground, and looked the direction where the dragon took off with vengeance in his eyes.