Brog's hands shook when he entered the cavern Groumont used as his command post. No one ever knew how the orc general would act when given bad news.
"How goes weapons production," the huge general asked at once.
"Not well. Only half of our warriors are armed. It will be two months before we have met our goal." Brog prepared for the worst. He witnessed the instant beheading of his predecessor over a similar problem. He would run, he decided, and damn the boars that would surely gore his legs and rip into his back. "Did you shift the miners to metal smith work?"
"And the armorers?"
"Also refocused. We forge only weapons now." Brog's eyes went to the great axe that sat at the arm of Gromount's throne. It was almost as tall as the goblin slaves who worked over a table of food to the west of the cavern. A huge bone handle carved with wicked looking runes protruded from a wide axe head notched and scratched from contact with a thousand enemies.
The axe had been given the name "Kneesplitter" when his troops had seen Gromount charge a hill giant on his favorite boar mount and cut off the giant's leg at the knee in one swing. On his return charge, the orc general cut off the top of the giant's massive head just above the bridge of the nose.
Gromount's fingers gently stroked the tip of the bone handle.
"Well done, Brog. Increase their rations and tell them the great leader smiles upon them."
"Sir. We are limited on rations already."
"Take the rations from the slaves that dig into the mountain. Have a team slaughter them and have the cooks add them to our food stores. We no longer need their services."
Brog was disgusted with the thought of eating goblin meat but the logic from the old general was flawless. He turned and after one last look at the axe he left.
For weeks Wayfarer spies had returned with new findings of the orc activities in the western mountains of Ro. Hundreds of orc-filled caves had been discovered. These were not the same tribes that called the baking desert their home, these were larger, smarter, and far better organized. For every new cave they discovered there were two more they hadn't found. There was no known number of the orc army but it was indeed an army. Freeport was in danger. The caves were only a few miles from the city.
Loral's mind showed him a vision of a plague of orcs, thousands of them, flooding out of the caves of the Commonlands and tearing through the corrupt and disjointed city of Freeport in a matter of hours. Freeport wasn't known for its stability but it was the largest trading port of all of Norrath. Defeat to the Rujarkian orcs would mean instability for everyone else. And there was no negotiation.
Loral had been researching the travel of the Grozmok stone and his clues had brought him here. He didn't know if the Rujarkian orcs had possessed the stone or still did but he had seen what the stone had done to the Troll shaman and knew its power would feed an evil such as the thick-skinned orcs. These orcs were far more powerful than any he had seen and the twisting magic of the stone was a simple explanation. When it was offered to him, Loral accepted the job of clearing out one of the smaller orc tunnels and returning with any clues of invasion he might find.
The cave was almost invisible from the outside. Stonehewer, who had little need or desire for subtlety or stealth stepped into a gathering of three large orcs circled around a fire and a particularly foul smelling stew. He impaled one of them on the sharp points of his double-bladed sword. The other two reacted at once. One of these orcs, armored under thick plates of iron, drew a huge jagged sword and the other, cowled in runed leather, fell back and began chanting in a dark guttural language.
Following the dwarf's lead, the rest of the party rushed into the melee. The fair-skinned enchantress, Kaylessa, chanted her own magic and covered the runed orc priest in dazzling lights. The orc's hands stopped and its dark magic fizzled. The other orc attacked with the strength and fury of an enraged bear. He launched a huge two handed cut. Stonehewer, agile even for a dwarf, sidestepped. The blade cut deep into the stone floor. Two arrows from Llyan's bow stabbed deep into the orcs shoulder. Stonehewer opened up the orcs throat with a horizontal cut and black blood sprayed across the cavern walls.
Reports came to Gromount every minute with the progress the troublesome adventuring group had made. Twenty of his soldiers, six of his prized war-boars and a dozen goblin warrior slaves had been cut down. Gromount's orders were clear. He must destroy the intruders himself.
Gromount reached for Kneesplitter, the runed bone handle fitting his hands like a natural extension, and with a roar to Zek (whichever Zek god was listening, the general wasn't picky in his prayers) Gromount stormed down the sandstone halls.
Stonehewer was calmly wiping the blood of his latest victim from his shining blade when the roaring Rujarkian general burst into the room. The dwarf just had time to raise his shield before the massive axe would have split him in two. Even defended, the blow sent Stonehewer skidding across the stone floor and smashing into two crates of questionable rations. Llyan's eagle eye aimed and he fired two arrows at the rampaging orc. With amazing dexterity the orc general dodged one arrow and cut the other in half mid-flight with the great axe.
Vamcill, the fellow dwarven paladin of Brell, rushed forward and smashed his sturdy shield into the orcs chest. The orc didn't move but responded by punching the dwarf's shield and sending the second dwarf skidding into the boxes of rations. Both dwarves were up and rushing back into battle as Juror the barbarian shaman finished casting his own spell. A cloud of stinging insects flooded over the orc general but the general, wise to such tactics, closed his eyes and mouth and waited for the cloud to pass before breathing again. Juror cursed.
The delay was enough to turn the battle. Llyan fired three more arrows and all three hitting their mark. The orc wheeled around in fury and faced the lithe ranger. With his flank open, Vamcill swung low and cut deep into the rear of the general's knee with his black bladed scimitar. The blade flashed red as it cut through the skin, muscle, and tendons of the orc's leg. The general, howling in pain and continued rage, fell to one knee. With a cut he was getting more and more used to, Stonehewer sent the general's scowling head high into the air on a geyser of black tainted blood.
Two days later Loral had returned to Felwithe to research the dusty tomes and flaking scrolls he had collected. Each scribbling of the puzzle floated, formed, and broke apart in his mind. Exhausted, Loral put out the large yellow candle that had dripped over his wooden desk and onto the floor below. Still clothed, he fell onto his bed and was instantly asleep. Loral did not find the answer to his puzzle in his conscious mind. He found it in his dreams.
It was the stone. It filled his mind all at once in a rush. The Grozmok stone stood out in a void of blackness. Its power radiated out from it like black sunlight. Sparks of energy traced over the ancient dark runes carved on its surface. It growled low in his mind, calling for beings of evil to unite in an old and horrible language. Beings of evil, vampires, orcs, demons, and the minions of the undead bubbled up to the surface of Norrath like infected boils.
Loral shot awake but the vision was not broken. Three thoughts became as clear as glass. The stone was alive. The stone was near. The stone must be destroyed.
On the chair across from Loral's bed, the burning shield sat quietly.