"Shields at the ready men! Hold the line!"

The standard bearer galloped down the row of Paladins, their white armor reflecting the full moon as it bathed them in its pale glow. His spear held aloft and the flag of their noble company flying proudly, he rallied the villagers behind them, the heavy hooves of his steed sinking into the wet mud. They were a disorganized rabble, impoverished farmers and woodsmen, their clothing ragged, and their weapons merely repurposed farm tools. Axes, hoes, and scythes, coated in rust and too blunt to pierce anything but a sack of grain. They were here to defend these people, and their remote village, from a band of roving Orcs who had been sighted nearby. Orcs did not congregate near human settlements without good reason, and as they had suspected, the warband had moved into position and was preparing to launch an assault.

Orcs were savage, evil creatures, hulking masses of brawn and violence who preyed on the helpless and raided defenseless towns on the outskirts of the kingdom for plunder and slaves. Paladins were sworn to protect the weak, and counter the forces of evil wherever they might be found, and so the two dozen knights steeled themselves for battle.

The rain began to pour, fat, heavy droplets clattering on their winged helmets and steel shoulder plates. Bevan peered through the slot in his visor, his eyes straining to make out shapes through the darkness and the storm. He clutched at his spear, keeping it level over his heavy shield, interlocking with those of his brothers to his left and right. Together they formed an impenetrable wall, ready to skewer anything that dared to attack them from the front. Behind him he could hear the horse snorting and its heavy footfalls as it stamped impatiently, along with the apprehensive murmuring of the villagers. They were reluctant, some far too old to fight, others too young, but those that fell on the battlefield in defense of their loved ones would be looked upon favorably by the Divines, Bevan was certain of it.

A flash of lightning illuminated the field before them, and for a moment Bevan could see the silhouetted shapes of the Orcs, lining up on the hill to meet their challenge. They were taller and wider than a man, great, hulking beasts, their features obscured beneath a layer of crudely hammered iron and animal pelts. There were dozens of them, a hundred maybe, too many. Bevan felt a twinge of fear rise in his belly, but he quickly banished it, murmuring a prayer of purity under his breath as the standard bearer marshaled the troops.

"Stand your ground, give them no quarter! Auxiliaries, hold back unless the line is broken!"

"T-this is folly! We're done for!" One of the villagers dropped his rusted scythe in the mud, turning to run back towards the wooden shacks.

"There is no place in heaven for cowards!" The standard bearer called to his back as he fled.

The other villagers muttered, a low chorus of frightened voices. Bevan worried that more of them might flee, not that they would have been of much use in battle anyway.

The piercing call of a horn carried over the field, loud and clear against the rain and the thunder. The Orcs were declaring a charge. The Paladins braced, driving their metal boots into the mud for leverage and calling their readiness down the line. Lightning flashed again, and the horde of Orcs rolled down the hill like a tide, a mass of tainted metal and cruel, hooked weapons. Their roar conveyed a lust for battle that shook Bevan to his bones, but he stood ready to meet them, confident in his blessed armor and his righteous purpose.

"We will hold this village," the standard bearer called, his voice rising over the storm, "or we will meet on the shores of Paradise!"

The knights yelled their approval, their voices echoing through Bevan's hollow helmet and filling his heart with the warmth of courage.

The Orcs covered the ground quickly, growing in size as they approached the waiting Paladins. They had looked large in the distance, but as they drew closer Bevan could truly appreciate their sheer mass. If they were to impact the line at full speed, throwing all of their weight into the charge, would the knights hold? Of course they would hold, for their purpose was a righteous one, remember the scriptures Bevan, have faith.

The beasts came into range, raising their brutish weapons above their heads, swords like giant fish hooks, machetes, cleavers, war axes and maces, tools designed to butcher, not to dispatch their enemies with any dignity or grace. Their armor was made up of heavy, thick plates of iron, stitched together with leather straps and decorated with fur and bones. Crude, but the sheer weight that the Orcs were capable of carrying without being overburdened made it effective.

Religious fervor overcoming his fear of mortality, Bevan angled his spear down, ready to intercept the charging monsters. The Orcs impacted the line of shields like a wave crashing against the rocks. The Paladins were pushed back, their boots failing to find purchase in the slippery mud, but they held steady, their spears seeking out spaces in the Orc's thick armor and thrusting deep into their flesh. Some were felled, others merely angered, and as more Orcs piled into the fray from behind, the line began to bend under their weight. Powerful blows from hammers and machetes reverberated through Bevan's shield, and he gritted his teeth against the vibrations as they pummeled his arm. He jabbed with his spear, but it glanced off their thick armor, and as he pulled it back in for another attempt, it was yanked out of his hand. He fumbled for the scabbard on his belt, drawing his short sword and readying it.

They broke through down the line to his right, the piles of enraged Orcs overcoming the knights. One Paladin fell back, knocked down by a blow to his shield from a massive war hammer wielded by an especially large specimen, who finished him off in the mud with a bone crushing crunch as its fellows swarmed through the breach.

"Draw swords!" The standard bearer called out, skewering an Orc from horseback with his long spear. They were not routed yet, and the knights drew back, regrouping and unsheathing their swords. Combat was joined, and their bright blades flashed in the night, as if they wielded the very moonbeams themselves as a weapon, biting into orc flesh. Bevan was high on adrenaline, seeing the world as if in slow motion as he parried a blow from a cleaver with his shield and drove his blade into the unprotected throat of his assailant. It slumped to the ground, gushing black blood.

The standard bearer charged at the massive Orc who had broken the line, his spear level, aimed at its head. The Orc let out a terrible roar, and swung its enormous hammer into the horse's chest. Both horse and rider were knocked to the ground, the standard bearer thrown through the air as his steed belched blood and convulsed in the dirt. Before he could rise to his feet, the honorless horde swarmed him like jackals, hacking him to pieces with their blades and picks. Seeing this, many of the villagers fled rather than face the Orcs in battle, not realizing that it was pointless. They either fought and died here, or would be hunted like wild game, ending their lives as sport for these animals.

The knights were losing ground, for every Orc they brought down, there were three more to take its place, and they made a fighting retreat back towards the village square, hoping that the narrow streets might make the horde more manageable. Half of their company had been killed by the Orcs, and Bevan had to control his panic, muttering curses and hymns as he fought. It didn't matter if he died tonight, his corporeal form was merely a temporary vessel, playing host to his incorruptible soul. To die in service to the Gods was the fate and ultimate aspiration of all those who walked the path of Paladin. Bevan was young, and had not seen much of the world, but his immortal soul would outlive it.

One of the beasts broke ranks and charged at him, swinging a mace decorated with pointed spikes. Bevan raised his shield in order to parry the blow, but it was too powerful, the massive impact knocking the shield from his arm. It splashed in the mud, its painted white surface, decorated with the eagle symbolic of his order, stained with filth. The Orc brought the mace back around for a second strike, but it was too heavy, too slow. Bevan stepped in, driving his sword into its belly below the armor that protected its chest, and the monster shuddered, dropping its weapon and falling forward. He stepped out of its path as it landed in the mud, face first. Bevan moved to retrieve his shield, but two more Orcs rushed at him and he had to draw back, closing ranks with the remaining knights.

One of the braver villagers made a futile attempt to engage an Orc, swinging his hoe wildly. Bevan whispered a blessing as he was cut down, barely slowing the creature as it advanced. The Paladins reached the outskirts of the small village, and bunched up, using the dirt paths between the houses to funnel the Orcs. The creatures were filled with bloodlust, or maybe just stupid, and charged the knights regardless, their progress slowed by this new strategy. Even without a leader to rally them, the Paladins were of a singular mind, their training and experience dictating the best course of action.

Orc bodies piled in the street, but still they came, clambering over the fallen, no pity for the dead and dying. Bevan noticed the large Orc wielding the war hammer, standing a head above the rest as it stared him down. It waved its weapon, seeming to direct the others, what were they doing? He couldn't see them, they were obscured by other Orcs and the buildings around them. He was distracted as another one of the beasts swung at him with a machete, he countered it with his steel sword, knocking the creature off balance and slicing through its thigh. He had expected it to fall to a knee, so that he might cleave off its loathsome head, but it endured the pain, turning to strike him with its clenched fist. Bevan's helmet rang like a bell, and he fell back into the dirt, dazed and disoriented. Through bleary eyes he saw the Orc raise its machete over him, but it was stabbed through the ribs as a spear found the joint in its armor. The Paladin grasped him firmly by the hand, and pulled him to his feet, thrusting his sword back into his gauntlets.

"Keep fighting! The Divines are with us!"

Bevan shook his head, trying to clear his mind as the chaos continued around him. He returned to the line, the strategy seemingly working. When their numbers were limited by the confined space, the Orcs were unable to best the Paladins, they were consistently out-fought as they stacked up, filling the street with a clamoring, clanking mob.

Suddenly he noticed orcs moving to his right, they had gone around the building and were charging through a side street. The Paladins moved to block it, weathering the assault as the greenskins pushed against them. To the left too, they were being surrounded. The knights were being stretched too thin, and they only had one exit, the southern road behind them. If the Orcs circled all the way around the village, they would find themselves trapped. He slashed at an Orc, his blade glancing off its armor. One of the knights to his left was pulled forward and into the crowd, they trampled him underfoot and cut him apart, his screams abruptly silenced.

Bevan heard clashing metal behind him, his worst fears realized as the Orcs raced down the street to their rear and into the waiting Paladins who had turned to face them. The four defensive lines were buckling, there just weren't enough of them to hold back the horde. Another Paladin fell, and another, with only a handful left standing they were in danger of being overrun.

"Into the houses!" One of them called, and Bevan turned to see him kicking in a wooden door. Before he could break it down, the left flank caved, and Orcs swarmed into the town square. Assailed from both sides, the knights fell into chaos, swinging and thrusting in all directions, trapped in a brutal melee. One after another they were brought down, their pristine, white armor now soaked with filth and blood. Bevan warded off a blow from one of the hooked swords and met its wielder with a stab to the gut, it fell screeching. He ducked under a swinging mace and drove his sword up through the chin of another. As he yanked his blade free, he noticed the battle around him had come to a standstill. His comrades were dead or dying, and the Orcs were moving away from him, clearing a circle as if they were afraid of him. Was his faith in the Divines rewarded? Had some miracle of heaven come down to drive the beasts off and save his life?

No, they weren't afraid of him, they were afraid of the massive Orc with the hammer, who was barking at the rabble in their ugly, guttural tongue as it walked towards him, the massive weapon resting across its broad shoulders. This one had to be the leader, the only thing Orcs respected was strength and fighting prowess, and none could be stronger. The crowd parted to let it pass, and it stood before him, towering over Bevan as he raised his sword, defiant. In his mind he was already long dead, his fate sealed, what mattered now was how he met his end, and if it would please the Gods. The creature watched him curiously, its helmeted head cocked.

"I am Bevan, son of Henwas, and I am not afraid of you."

The Orc chuckled, its crude armor bouncing on its massive frame. Did it understand him? It raised a hand to its helmet and pulled it loose, dropping it into the mud with a wet splash. It shook its hair free, long and as black as the night. It peered down at him with yellow eyes embedded in its dark green face, its features somehow less brutish than he had predicted, oddly feminine. Was it a female? Its two tusks, like those of a wild boar, protruded over its lips and it opened its mouth, speaking his language with an odd, halting accent. Its voice was deep, but unmistakably that of a woman.

"Well Bevan, son of Henwas, what will ye do now?"

The other Orcs kept their distance, watching eagerly, waiting for his response.

"You might succeed in taking this town, devil, but we will be rewarded in the afterlife for standing against you. What will be your reward for the paltry spoils you take from this village? A handful of slaves, unfit for sale? Barely enough gold to feed yourselves for a day? The Paladins have cost you dearly, you shan't profit from this raid."

"Aye, ye have cost me." She replied, appraising the piles of dead Orcs blocking the streets. "Quite a pain in my arse, hitting me in the wallet. Orcs win the day though, all yer friends are fucked."

"My comrades wait for me on the shores of Paradise. I intend to join them, now have at you!"

He took a fighting stance, pointing the tip of his short sword at her.

She grinned and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, dropping the hammer heavily from her shoulders. She began to walk around the limits of the circle the Orcs had formed, spinning the war hammer in her hands. Bevan followed suit, it seemed that the Orcs would not touch him for the duration of the duel. He doubted he could beat her, but it would be a glorious end. He dispelled the fear of pain and death, singing a hymn as she watched him.

"Songs won't help ye now, boy." He continued the song, advancing towards her. "Yer Gods aren't here, look around ye."

He moved in and lunged, striking at her with his sword, but she parried it easily with the handle of her weapon, knocking him off balance. She hooked the head of the mighty hammer under his foot and pulled, sending him crashing to the ground. She continued to circle, allowing him to get back on his feet and steady himself as the horde of Orcs laughed and jeered. She was toying with him.

"Ye think ye got nothin' left to lose? Ye got plenty to lose, kid."

He ignored her, controlling his breathing, trying to remain calm as he prepared his next attack. He dashed forward, but it was a feint, and as she moved to parry it, he ducked under her outstretched arms and aimed a thrust at her belly. Instead her knee met him in the gut, her massive limb lifting him clear off the ground and dropping him back into the mud. He rose to his knees, his emptied lungs gasping for air. This time she did not allow him to stand again, and instead caught his head with the hammer's long handle, the powerful swipe denting his helmet and knocking him on his side. His ears rang, and as he tried to push himself up, he felt a boot connect with his ribs. He rolled over onto his back, his body failing him and his consciousness threatening to fizzle out.

The Orc loomed over him, crouching so that her face was mere inches above his visor.

"Ye still got somethin' left for me to take. I deny ye death, ye zealous fuck."

Bevan blacked out.

He awoke to vibrations, the sound of cart wheels, clanking metal and snorting horses. He raised his head gingerly, he was lying down in some kind of metal cage strewn with straw, all of his armor had been removed, leaving him wearing only his undershirt and leggings. He was on a cart, and it was moving, trees on either side of the road passed him by at a snail's pace. His head pounded, and he cradled it in his hands, shutting his eyes against the lingering pain.

He started as a metallic clang rang through the cage, jumping out of his skin. An Orc ran its machete across the bars, laughing at him as it kept pace with the cart. Where were they going? Why had they not killed him? Anger and indignation flared, why had he been denied his glorious death?

"Good mornin' sleepyhead." The big Orc walked alongside the cart, a smirk on her face as she looked him over. "Ye get a good night's rest?"

He scowled at her, rubbing his head.

"What do you want with me, creature?" He spat. "Trying to recoup some of your losses by selling me to pirates?"

"Nah, I got other plans in store for ye."

She leered menacingly and Bevan recoiled a little. Were they going to torture him? Eat him? Use his pure blood in some evil ritual? His fate uncertain, he rested his arms on his knees and stared out past the bars of his cage at the passing scenery. They had traveled a ways from the village, that much was sure, and his order would assume he had been slain along with his brothers, there was no help coming for him now. He would have to formulate his own escape plan. Orcs were stupid, that much was known to mankind, and eventually they would make a mistake that he might take advantage of, it was just a matter of biding his time.

"Well don't go all quiet on me, boy," the Orc chided. "Keep talkin' yer Paladin shit, it'll make this walk less borin' for me."

"Paladin shit?" He replied sarcastically.

"Aye, Paladin shit, 'oh I'm a big strong Paladin and I ain't afraid of ye, I say, 'ave at ye, en garde and so forth', brings me no end of joy to watch ye fall over yerself, ye little idiot. How old are ye anyway? Ye don't look to be more than a boy."

"I'm not a boy, I'm a Paladin. As soon as I turned seventeen I joined the order to do my duty and slay monsters like you."

"Aye, and how long ago was that then?"

"If you must know, about a year."

"So ye are a bloody kid then?" She smirked as his face turned red and he started to fume.

"Well a 'kid' slew at least ten of yours, so what does that say about Orcs?"

"That ye ain't as smart as ye think ye are. I had that town scoped out before ye even arrived, I knew that if I threw enough Orcs at ye, ye'd retreat into the town square. All I had to do was make sure we killed enough of ye before that happened so that ye couldn't cover all the streets. So what happened, brave little Paladin? Ye got overrun, ye were fucked from the moment ye set out."

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bySnekguy© 11 comments/ 37419 views/ 106 favorites

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