Night has fallen over the harbor warehouse in Vridish that has become Ostia’s home. This evening, as she does so many evenings, Gretchen has come to discuss the guerilla campaign against the draconic interlopers with Ostia, her seargants, and Sai. The other exiles, Bael’Sol and Jan, listen in.
But that is not what makes this evening significant. During a discussion of supply chains between Vridish and Sand Pass, the warehouse door opens, and the guards announce a visitor. An orc steps in, clad in the winged regalia of Glorg’s dragoons, and Gretchen and Sai immediately recognize Dram. But their old friend is only the vanguard. From behind him enters General Glorg himself.
“Ah,” he says, “Gretchen. It is so good to see you again.” Gretchen cocks her head. There is something unusual about Glorg’s speech, but that is not was bothers her. Her empty eye sees a glowing chain wrapped around the general’s body and stretching off into the distance. She does not know what this means, but it is still a far cry from the divine aura of Graan.
“I am glad to see that you are doing well,” Glorg goes on. “But enough pleasantries. I know that you are an orc of action.” He giggles longer than is comfortable. "I’ve come to put you back into action. Real action. I know about your sorties against the dragons in our homelands. Admirable, but misguided. All our efforts must be focused on selecting a new Warchief. Only then will we be able to muster the true might of the Orcish Horde against our enemies.
“But even so, the dragons are not our foes. They too back my claim to the title of Warchief, and once I crush the other generals, we will no longer need to war with them. Nay, there shall be a golden era of peace and camaraderie between our peoples. And who in Serinor could stand against the combined might of the orcs and the dragons? First we will finish the campaign against the halflings, then drive the elves from their isles. Not even the dwarves in their tunnels will be able to stand against us!”
Glorg laughs maniacally. “Oh, Gretchen! Can you not already feel the rush of battle? The glow of utter victory? Come! Your general has returned for you, and your orders await. No longer will you have to grub amongst the lower races. A full company of the finest orcs awaits your command. Now let us be off.”
Gretchen has eyes for only Glorg then entire time he speaks. A range of emotions play across the usually stoic face; confusion, hope, curiosity, sketpicism all paint that canvas. She squints, turning her head in subtle movements that her companions would know were her way of getting a good look at a thing from both eyes. After Glorg finishes, she is characteristically silent while thinking. She does not speak for a long time.
Ostia’s face becomes impassive. He does not care for the tone of this conversation at all. It is too convenient. A peace between orc and dragon to fight the other campaigns. It is a page out of Ostia’s own playbook. He is not happy. He fears for his people and their homeland. He cannot let this come to pass. Somehow he must convince Gretchen that this is not the right course of action. Ostia’s expression stays stern as he turns to look at his war leader. A slight gesture stops his own men from making a bloody mess of the situation. He waits for her response to Glorg’s overture.
Sai tries to catch Dram’s attention to see what he’s been up to. He also watches Glorg and Dram to see if they’re acting weird. Although Sai is characteristically bad at reading people and so when Glorg laughs Sai laughs along with him.
“General,” he asks, “Does this mean my research would be able to continue unimpeded?” But Glorg doesn’t even look at him, waiting only for Gretchen’s response.
Gretchen’s silence continues for some time as she remains leaning on the table on which they were planning. Finally, she looks up with the certainty of someone who has added 2+2 and found that it once again equals four. She looks into the face of each of her seargents, reading them with the ease of a veteran commander. She holds Sai in her vision for some time, thinking on his response. Lastly, she takes in Ostia, remembering promises made so long ago, as well as the many months since fighting and planning side-by-side. Finally, she looks back to Glorg, squinting to make out the glowing chain. She wonders briefly if Sai has noticed it.
“Sir,” she speaks in a careful voice, showing a slight deference. “You are wrong. You cannot have a company of the finest orcs waiting for me. I have the finest orcs here.” This is spoken with no hint of bragging or arrogance. Gretchen is simply stating a fact. 2+2=4.
She continues carefully, but no less directly. “I command lesser races. You deal with dragons. The dragons are our enemy. Those that bargain with the enemy are traitors.” She leaves the equation off there. Everyone knows two plus two equals four.
Heaving a sigh, she straightens up to her full height and faces Glorg squarely. Subtle shifts in her seargents posture and hand placement indicate they’ve picked up on her cue and are at the ready. “You speak the words I waited to hear. But you are not the one I waited to hear speak them.” She waits resolutely for Glorg’s reaction.
“Insubordination!” Glorg screams, froth suddenly spraying from his fanged mouth. “Treason? You say I betrayed the orcs? I will be Warchief! I am the orcs!”
He begins to cackle maniacally, and even Dram looks nervous. Sai, realizing something is not right with his former commander, reaches out and attempts to scan the general’s thoughts. Gretchen sees the familiar tendril of not-light that accompanies Sai’s mind reading, but is alarmed when it explodes in a painful red flare that arcs back to Sai after touching Glorg. The researcher falls to the ground, clawing at his eyes as they fill with painful visions of his own torturous death and dismemberment.
Glorg falls silent. “Like it or not, grunt, I am still your general. There is only one way to deal with insubordination.” He turns and stalks out of the warehouse. “Come, Dram. We have other matters to attend to.” Dram follows without hesitation.
Gretchen cocks her head as Glorg leaves. There is only one was to deal with insubordination in the military, so why did Glorg not try to kill them? But when Sai whispers, “It’s coming,” she hears the sudden beating of huge, leathery wings. Glorg has led the dragons to Vridish. And then the walls burst into flame.
Ostia curses in dwarven. He has to get his comrades’ attention quickly. He shouts in his best orc for Vier and Gretchen. His men know what he was telling them. Ostia had never told Gretchen about his bolt hole, but it is about to come in very handy. “Vier, Gretchen you must tell your orcs to follow me. We built a ‘bolt hole’ in the floor under a flagstone. We can escape outside without having to go through what will likely be a ‘slaughter gate’ out the front door. Will you follow me?”
Gretchen nods quickly and follows Ostia to the bolt hole. Once they have everyone safely outside and have found some cover, she turns to two of her seargents, giving quick instruction. “Run, now, to our camp. The troops will not be expecting an attack. Warn them. But do not be seen. They may not know where our camp is yet.” The two seargents nod and dash off into the darkness.
Gretchen takes a breath, and takes a little more time to give her next directions, speaking slowly so Ostia can understand. “Seargent Vier, you and Ostia guide the rest to the camp by the back way. Ready them for battle. Ready them to move quickly. We need to retreat to a safer place to regroup and organize our next attack.” She looks up at the skies, searching with both eyes for the enemy. “I am the one they hunt. Sai and me. I will take Sai to camp another way. If we are spotted, we will not give away the rest of the company.” She turns to Sai, who still looks shaky. She hasn’t had time to piece together what had happened to him in the building, but at the moment only one thing matters. “Can you run?”
“Yes,” Sai replies. “Just give me one second.”
With his head clearing, he wants to know what had happened but that would have to wait for now. He concentrates and focuses his mind’s eye on the surrounding landscape and sees the familiar blips of the wyrmkin.
“There are scouts circling the warehouse and the water nearby searching for us. They have wyverns in the sky as well. Also, there seems to be a large force coming in from the west. It appears Glorg has been planning a flanking maneuver.”
As soon as he reports his findings, Sai pulls his mind back and puts up the mental shield he had been working on. I hope this stops them from tracking me, he thinks.
“OK,” he says as he looks at Gretchen, “Let’s go.” Gretchen and Sai run off into the night.
Glorg expected everybody in the warehouse to die. Of that much, everybody is certain. That they did not convinces Gretchen even more of his complete lack of suitability to be Warchief. She and Sai lead the dragonborn following them on a merry chase until, after they are away from the city, turning upon them and slaughtering every last one of the beasts. Once Sai verifies they are no longer being followed, they hurry to the camp, where the others have fought off their own onslaught of wyrmkin. Some soldiers were injured, but none were lost in the ambush.
From the hilltop where Gretchen’s encampment is located, it is clear that Glorg achieved the true objective of his visit: Fort Vridish Vridish has fallen, and with it almost any counter claim any could make to the title of Warchief. After the destruction wrought here, it is clear that Glorg need merely make the march to the capital at Eragdush and claim his complete victory. The war for succession is, for all purposes, over.
Gretchen sets her jaw as she watches the fortress and harbors burn in the night. If Glorg is to be Warchief, she is guilty of treason, as are all those under her command. Every orc with an attachment to the military, which is every orc, will try to kill her and her men on sight. But Glorg has no right to be Warchief. He is a traitor, and should be killed. No orc will try to kill their warchief.
“We move out now,” she tells her seargants. “We already have plans laid for the defense of Sand Pass. It is time to use them. And if we cannot hold the fort, we will break through into the Great Wastes. We must begin to plan the campaign against the traitor and the dragons who now control our homeland." They nod and hurry to break camp. She stands and watches both the fires and the unseen sea of light as it too flees Vridish like the outrushing of the tide.