Tales, Comics, Videos

Unbroken

by Micky Neilson

The skies wept when the orcs laid siege to Shattrath City.

It had been many long months since rain had graced the lands of Draenor, but now, almost as if in protest of the looming battle, dark clouds roiled overhead. Light showers drizzled over the city and the army outside its walls, increasing to a steady downpour as the two sides watched and waited.

There must be a thousand of them, Nobundo speculated grimly from his perch high atop the inner ramparts. Beyond the outer walls shadows moved among the torch-lit trees of Terokkar Forest. Perhaps if the orcs had taken the time to plan more carefully, they would have deforested the region outside in preparation for their attack, but these days the orcs cared little for strategy. For them there was only the thrill of battle and the immediate gratification of bloodshed.

Telmor had fallen, as had Karabor and Farahlon. So many of the draenei’s once-majestic cities now lay in ruins. Shattrath was all that was left.

Slowly the orc assemblage maneuvered into position, making Nobundo think of a great fanged serpent coiling itself in preparation to strike… a strike that would surely spell the end of Shattrath’s defenders.

Not that we are meant to survive anyway.

He knew full well that he and the others who had gathered here tonight were meant to be a sacrifice. They had volunteered to remain behind and fight this last battle. Their inevitable defeat would appease the orcs such that they would consider the draenei decimated and all but extinct. Those who had sought refuge elsewhere would survive to fight another day, a day when the scales would be more balanced.

So be it then. My spirit will live on, becoming one with the glory that is the Light.

Emboldened, Nobundo stood to his full height, his strong and athletic frame bracing for the events to come. His thick tail shifted anxiously as he settled his weight evenly between both leonine legs and ground the toes of his hooves into the solid stone masonry. He took a deep breath, tightening his hands around the shaft of his Light-blessed crystalline hammer.

But I will not go quietly.

He and the other Vindicators, holy warriors of the Light, would fight to the very last. He glanced to either side at his brethren stationed at intervals along the wall walk. Like him, they stood impassive and resolute, having reached their own peace with the destiny that now awaited them.

Outside, the war machines had arrived: catapults, rams, ballistae--siege engines of every description passing briefly through the torchlight. Their heavy apparatuses creaked and groaned ominously as they were positioned within striking distance of the walls.

Drumbeats sounded, sporadic at first, then quickly joined by more and more until the entire forest was alive with a rhythm that started soft like the rain, then grew to a persistent, thundering roll. Nobundo whispered a prayer, asking the Light to give him strength.

There was a deep rumbling and movement in the murky clouds overhead that echoed the frantic drumbeats below. For a second Nobundo wondered if perhaps the Light meant to answer his prayer with a display of power and fury beyond any he could hope to summon, a great beam of holy fire that would eradicate the entire savage, bloodthirsty army in one magnificent sweep.

A display indeed followed, but not of the holy powers of the Light.

The clouds thundered, swirled, and erupted, punched through by massive flaming projectiles that hurtled to the earth with meteoric speed and bone-jarring strength.

A deafening roar assaulted Nobundo’s ears as one of the objects passed perilously close, obliterating a nearby buttress and pelting him with flying debris. As if awaiting this signal, the multitudes outside pressed forward, their bloodcurdling war-cries rolling over the city as they mobilized with singular purpose: to destroy all within their path.

The rain’s intensity increased as the outermost walls shuddered from the strikes of massive stones slung by the crude catapults. Nobundo knew the outer walls would not hold. They had been constructed rather hastily: the wall sections extending above the depressed floor of the outer ring were an addition made in the last year, a defense made necessary by the orcs’ methodical extermination of his people and the subsequent realization that this city would be their final bastion.

Several brutish ogres went to work on penetrating a section of wall already compromised from the meteor assault. Two more of the massive beasts swung a gargantuan battering ram against the city’s main gates.

Nobundo’s brethren cast several attacks against the enemy, but wherever the draenei struck one attacker down, two more would take his place. The damaged wall section had begun to crumble completely. A flood of crazed orcs clamored on the opposite side, climbing over top of one another in a frenzy of bloodlust.

The time had come. Nobundo raised his hammer to the sky, closed his eyes, and cleared his mind of the overwhelming cacophony of battle. His mind called out, and his body felt the familiar warmth of the Light wash over him. The hammer glowed. He focused his intentions and directed the blessed, purging holy powers into the ogres below.

There was a blinding flash that briefly illuminated the entire battle scene, accompanied by a startled bellowing from the front line of orcs as the Holy Light seared through them, stunning them into silence and halting them long enough for several draenei warriors to focus on bringing down one of the giant ogres.

Nobundo’s momentary relief was crushed by the sound of splintering wood: the final successful thrust of the battering ram against the main gates. Nobundo watched as the Lower City defenders raced to meet the incoming tide of orcs and ogres and were immediately cut down. Nobundo called upon the Light again, directing his healing powers to whomever he could, but the opposition was simply too great. As soon as he healed a wounded draenei, that same warrior endured repeated, brutal attacks mere seconds later.

More ogres had gone to work on the weakened section of outer wall and were now succeeding in pushing through. The defenders, hopelessly outnumbered, were beset on either side.

The orcs were crazed, drunk on their bloodlust. As the outer ring filled with their number, Nobundo could see their eyes: they glowed, burned with a crimson fury that was at once mesmerizing and terrifying. Nobundo and the other Vindicators switched tactics, from healing to purging. Once again the city was bathed in brilliant radiance as scores of orcs were struck by the Light, the crimson glow dimming from their eyes momentarily as they slumped forward to be dispatched by the remaining draenei warriors.

Kra-koom!

The wall shook, and Nobundo’s hooves slid on the rain-slicked stone. He steadied himself and looked down to see one of the ogres pummeling away at the base of the buttress to his left with a tree trunk-sized club. He raised his hammer to the sky and closed his eyes, but his concentration was quickly broken by another sound….

Kra-KABOOM!

Not the ogre this time, but an explosion that originated from somewhere below but out of sight, knocking Nobundo off balance. He rolled to his side and glanced over the edge to see a fine red mist billowing out into Lower City. The few defenders who were left immediately began choking and retching. They doubled over, many of them dropping their weapons. The barbaric orcs made quick work of the sickened warriors, reveling in the carnage.

When the slaughter was finished, they glared upward, rabid in their desire to tear the defenders on the wall limb from limb. Several orcs climbed on the backs of the ogres, attempting to scale the sheer surface by hand. Their aggression and unbridled ferocity were staggering. The mist had spread throughout the entirety of Lower City and was now beginning to rise, slowly obscuring the bedlam below.

Nobundo heard a commotion behind him. Several orcs who had somehow broken through the inner circle’s defenses now stormed onto the rise.

Kra-koom!

The wall shuddered again, and Nobundo cursed the ogre below, who had undoubtedly returned to pummeling the buttress. A second salvo of flaming meteors fell from the sky as Nobundo readied to meet the oncoming crush of attackers.

He directed the fury of the Light into the first orc head-on. The green beast’s eyes dimmed, and he crumpled. Nobundo brought the crystal hammerhead down squarely on top of the orc’s skull, then yanked upward and swung left, feeling a satisfying crunch as the orc’s ribs shattered. He twisted and brought the hammer across at a downward arc into the side of another orc’s leg, shattering its kneecap. The beast howled in pain and fell forward off of the rampart.

The mist had worked its way onto the rise now, where it rolled out and covered the stone like a carpet. Nobundo and his fellow Vindicators fought on as the mist rose to chest level, then finally to their faces, stinging their eyes and burning their lungs.

Nobundo heard the death-cries of several of his companions, but he had lost sight of them in the dense red fog. Mercifully the attacks on him seemed to have abated; he stumbled back a step, stifling the urge to vomit. It felt as if his skull was about to burst.

Then he heard a horrific battle cry from out of the mist that chilled him to the bone.

A shadow approached. Nobundo struggled to see as his body wrenched in spasms. He tried desperately to hold his breath as out of the dense crimson mist stepped a tattooed, fiery-eyed terror… a massive orc covered in the distinctive blue of draenei blood, out of breath, twisting a wicked two-handed axe in his grip. His raven-hued hair clung to his thick chest and shoulders, and his lower jaw had been colored as black as pitch, lending his face the countenance of a skull.

Behind him scores of orcs rushed onto the rise. Nobundo knew that the end was near.

Kra-koom!

The wall shook once more. The nightmarish orc charged. Nobundo arched back. The blade carved a gash across his chest, rending his armor and numbing his left side. Nobundo answered with a swing of his hammer that crushed the fingers of the orc’s right hand, rendering it and the axe he held useless. Then, to Nobundo’s horror, the terrifying creature smiled.

The orc gripped him with his good hand, and the twin furnaces of his eyes bored into Nobundo… bored through him. Nobundo was forced to gasp for air. As he did, he felt the veneer of his will being stripped away. It was as if some manner of dark, demonic magic was at work, as if a part of his very essence was being obliterated, and it was an assault he had no answer for.

Kra-koom!

Nobundo vomited thick blood onto the orc’s face and chest. He closed his eyes and frantically, desperately hailed the Light, beseeching it to neutralize the orc long enough for him to mount a defense. He called out…

And for the first time since he had contacted the Light and been graced by its blessed radiance…

There was no answer.

Terrified, he opened his eyes and looked into the manic, fire-pit orbs of the orc, who opened his great mouth and bellowed, drowning out all other sound and threatening to shatter Nobundo’s eardrums. It seemed as if he was suddenly plunged into some kind of terrible, silent dream. The beast reared back and slammed its head into Nobundo’s face. Nobundo reeled backward, his arms flailing, the rain pounding down, those blazing eyes searing into his own as he fell… down, down, down through the mist, crashing into something large that grunted as it gave beneath him.

Still trapped in the silent nightmare, Nobundo saw the orc disappear from the edge of the wall. Nearby, the ruined buttress gave way, and a massive section of the upper ramparts fell, blocking out the rain and the sky and trapping Nobundo in a world of quiet darkness.

As he lay there, he thought about the ones who had gone into hiding, those he prayed would escape slaughter, those he loved and respected, those for whom he had given his…

Life. Somehow, he still clung to life.

Nobundo emerged from the black pit of unconsciousness only to find himself trapped in a choking, sightless confinement. His breath came in ragged, shuddering gasps, yet he still lived. He had no idea how much time had passed since… since the wall fell, since…

He reached out with his mind. Surely in the tumult of battle he had simply failed to concentrate hard enough to reach the Light, but now, now he could make contact, now surely he could…

Nothing.

There was no response.

Nobundo had never felt so helplessly lost and utterly alone. If the Light was out of reach and he died here, what would become of his spirit? Would the Light not receive him? Would his essence be condemned to an eternity of drifting through the void?

He had lived his life honorably. Yet… could this be some kind of punishment?

Even as his mind reached for answers, his hand reached out and immediately brushed against cold stone. He slowly became aware that he was lying in a very awkward position, that some softer but still formidable mass was packed tightly next to him, and that his left leg was most certainly broken.

He rolled to his right and took in a deep breath, trying to ignore the pain in his ribs and leg. Without recourse to the Light he could not heal himself, and so he would just have to live with the pain for now. At least the feeling had returned to his left side. And… he could hear the muffled noises caused by his movements, so his hearing had returned as well.

The fact that he was breathing meant that air was reaching him from somewhere. As his eyes continued to adjust, he spotted a pinhole, not of light, but simply a lighter shade of darkness than that which surrounded him. He reached out farther, and his hand landed on a familiar cylindrical object: the shaft of his hammer.

With what little strength he possessed, Nobundo gripped the handle just under the head, lifted and thrust in the direction of the pinhole. Chunks of masonry gave way, vaguely revealing a cramped passage created by the massive stone blocks and the angles at which they had fallen.

His ears were immediately greeted with the sound of muted screams, wails of pure terror issuing from some distance away. He used the hammer to pull his upper torso through the hole he created and into the tight space. As he did, he heard a deep moaning sound from the depths of the rubble behind him.

With a burst of strength he pulled himself the rest of the way into the passage, stifling the urge to cry out as his broken leg raked across the jagged stone threshold and sent lances of pain throughout his body. The labored moans continued. The stones around him shifted, and sand and dirt filtered down through the cracks. Quickly he dragged himself toward an irregularly shaped egress, where he spied the faintest hint of light.

Judging by the increased moans of the thing in the rubble, Nobundo guessed it was an ogre, and it was trying desperately to dislodge itself. Nobundo rolled onto his back and crab-walked with his elbows out into the night air while the ogre made another determined effort. Nobundo could see the full mound of debris now. The ogre bellowed in rage one final time, and the entire mass collapsed fully, sending a cloud of dust in all directions and cutting the outburst short.

Another cry immediately followed, however, from some distance away and above: the sound of a terrified female.

Nobundo turned and was greeted by a sight he would never forget, no matter how hard he tried from that day on.

The entire expanse of Lower City, lit by the moon and ambient firelight from above, had become a dumping ground for the bodies of the butchered draenei. And though the rain had stopped, the corpse mounds were still slick with vomit and blood and every manner of waste.

Nobundo’s heart withered at the sight of children among the dead. Despite their youth, many of them had bravely volunteered to stay with their parents, who knew all too well that the orcs would be suspicious of a draenei city where no children dwelled and would hunt the last of their kind to extinction. Still, a part of Nobundo hoped and prayed with all his might that the remaining children could be defended, that they would stay safe in the hiding places that had hastily been dug into the mountains. A foolish hope, he understood, but one he clung to nonetheless.

Could anything be more senseless than killing children?

Again his ears were assaulted by the screams of a female, accompanied by taunts and jeers. The orcs were celebrating, reveling in their victory. Looking up, he pinpointed the source of the noise: high above, jutting out from the cliffs of the Barrier Hills, the draenei had built Aldor Rise. There the orcs were torturing some poor female draenei.

I must try to stop them.

But how? Alone, with a broken leg, one against hundreds… one who had been abandoned by the Light, armed with only his hammer. How could he stop the madness unfolding above?

I must find a way!

Frantically he crawled over the corpses, slipping in the fluids, shutting the putrid stench and raw viscera out of his mind. He worked his way around the outer circle of Lower City, toward the base of the cliffs, where the wall met the mountain. He would find a way to climb up there. He would…

The screaming stopped. He looked up to see shadows silhouetted by moonlight. They carried a still form to the edge of the overlook and then swung, tossing the lifeless cargo down into the depths. It landed with a dull thud not far from where Nobundo lay motionless.

He crept forward, looking for any signs of life from the female… Shaka, he determined her name to be when he drew close enough to see her features. He had seen her many times before, though they had only spoken on brief occasions. He had always found her pleasant and engaging. Now she lay battered and bruised, her throat cut, her lifeblood drained. At least for her the pain was over.

Another scream issued from above, the voice of another female. Rage welled within Nobundo. Rage and frustration and an overwhelming desire for vengeance.

There is nothing you can do.

Desperately he gripped the hammer tightly and tried once again to call upon the Light. With its assistance maybe he could do something, anything… but once again his only answer was silence.

Something within urged him to get out as quickly as he could, to seek out the others in hiding, to live… to one day fulfill some greater purpose.

That is cowardice. I must find a way; I must.

But deep inside, Nobundo knew that this battle was over. If indeed some greater destiny awaited him, he must leave immediately. He would only die a meaningless death if he tried to make his way to the rise. Cries of anguish once more pierced the night air. Nobundo looked over to a section of the outer wall that lay partially ruined. It was a perilous obstacle, but not insurmountable, and it was not guarded.

The time is now; you must make your choice.

It was a chance. A chance to live and to someday make a difference once again.

You must make it through this. You must go on.

That long wail sounded again, but this time was cut mercifully short. Then the sound of orcish voices just around the bend of the inner wall drifted to him. It sounded as if they were rooting through the corpses, looking for something or someone. His time had run out.

Nobundo took up his hammer. Though it cost considerable time and effort and sapped what little strength he had left, he made it over the remaining bodies and through the gap in the wall.

As he shambled slowly, painfully into Terokkar Forest, female screams atop Aldor Rise began anew.

Unbroken