Into the Maw

Hi, folks! This poor thing has been gathering dust and quietly withering away, but I reckon it’s high time to resurrect it. My first act of necromancy, then, is trying something completely new: fanfiction about my favorite legendary characters. To the pedants: start clutching your pearls now, because I’m not one to follow canon very closely, partly because I like exploring my own possibilities, and partly because I’m interested in exploring unreliable narrators, as well as viewpoints that haven’t been treated sympathetically in Magic canon.

Don’t expect anything above pulp fantasy levels of competency in my deathless prose.

And now, without further ado: the inaugural Magic: the Ficcing, featuring everybody’s favorite Orc Shaman.


Orc by Pierrick

Orc art by Pierrick

Sek’Kuar ran through a perfectly dark tunnel, the tough pads of his feet flinging up dirt and grit. Behind him, he could hear the snarling of the dogs and the shouts of humans, getting just a bit louder every second. He could smell the blood on his skin, still damp and tacky in patches. His grief sat in a tight ball in his stomach, but he could not afford to stop and weep.


His mother had stood with her back against the wall of their invaded keep and mowed soldiers down like spring grass with her battle-axe while he clung to her back in his sling. His father had lost an arm early in the fighting, but his battle-fury kept him going for a long time. He stood next to his mate, guarding her flank as best as he could, biting out throats and crushing skulls with the grip of his one remaining hand, still terrible in its strength.

But the soldiers kept pouring in, small and weak by themselves, most of them barely taller than his father’s waist, but there were many of them, and they steadily carved out pieces of Sek’Kuar’s father with sword and axe and glaive, until he roared one last time and collapsed. The soldiers surrounding him yelled in triumph and swarmed on top of him, bludgeoning and hacking at his limply twitching body.

Sek’Kuar’s older brothers and sisters were out there in the fight, too, and his aunts and uncles, his cousins, his entire clan, but he couldn’t see them, all he could see was a sea of screaming human faces, wave after wave that smashed against the bulwark that was his mother.

And then came a surge that made her shriek and falter.

Sek’Kuar’s stomach plummeted. Deep inside, despite his father’s fall, he had believed his mother was indestructible.

“Run,” said his mother, voice hoarse with pain as she shrugged him out of his sling. He landed on the floor, his eyes on the same level as her knees. They were a wine-colored pulp peppered with white splinters of bone, but somehow she still stood upright, swaying. As she shielded him with her arms and axe, she gave a great howling berserker-cry, a scream loud enough to crack rock, her last resort. The humans directly in front of her dropped dead, ears and eyes bleeding. Those for several feet around dropped their weapons, stumbled and clutched their heads like drunkards.

Sek’Kuar’s head rang, but the scream never affected orcs the way it affected other creatures. The lull in the battle gave him enough of an opening to scramble for the secret passage, ducking between human legs, scrabbling on all fours on the stone floor slick with gore.


Sek’Kuar ran until his legs burned and breathing felt like agony. He had played in these tunnels for as long as he had been able to walk, knew them as well as a seven-year-old orcling could know anything, but tonight, all he could see were his father’s blood-filled eyes and the dark ruin of his mother’s knees, and he flung himself into side-tunnel after side-tunnel at random.

He thought at first that he might be able to hide until the humans left, and the orcish ability to see even in complete dark would give him enough of an edge. Then he heard the dogs, and knew it would be only a matter of time.

He realized he was lost when the air began to smell different, and the ground changed from carved-out rock to something rougher, more damp. The catacombs beneath their keep were ancient, the remnants of an abandoned underground city carved into the Karplusan mountains, and the elders had warned him about straying.

catacomb

It wasn’t merely the danger of becoming hopelessly lost. “Old ones live in the tunnels,” his grandmother would say, though Sek’Kuar couldn’t imagine anything older than his wizened grandmother, her eyes milky from cataracts, the points of her ears limp and folded over. “Things sleep down there that should never be disturbed. The shamans have placed wards on many of of the tunnels, to keep the old ones out, or to keep them asleep. Make sure you always stay on the safe paths.”

He didn’t know how long he had strayed away from the warded passages, but he couldn’t stop now. His squat, powerful legs were built for digging and fighting, not for running. The humans were steadily eating up the advantage of his head start and his familiarity with the terrain. He caught a whiff of torch smoke, somehow found it in himself to add a burst of speed, and shot around a corner.

The smell hit him like a blow. Acrid, utterly alien. It did not smell like rot. Rot implied life: insects and mold and worms feasting on remains. This was the smell of something that had died so long ago that life was a sterile memory. Perhaps it had never lived to begin with. The stench swarmed into him, overwhelmed him: he collapsed on all fours, then rolled into a ball, retching, eyes watering, his lungs spasming.

As he lay there, gagging on the bitter air, a cold pressure invaded his head, unpleasant but not quite painful. Buzzing, wordless thoughts and sensations filled him: a dry, crackling satisfaction akin to pleasure, a species of excitement at finding living flesh to toy with, memories to plunder. It coiled around his mind, and he could feel it flexing, preparing to squeeze.

Sek’Kuar panicked, and he did what all orcs knew to do from the moment they took their first breath: he fought. He found himself clawing at his own head, even as something inside him gathered itself and struck out. He could feel the impact as it collided with the invader, a psychic sensation unlike anything he had ever experienced. He howled, and in his pain, a vision arose, unbidden, of a great dark flame that burned everything in its path. He unleashed it against the coils wrapped around his mind, putting all the power of his grief and panic into it. A flash of heat surged through him, and the thing felt it, too: it flinched, loosened its grip.

The reprieve was brief. He felt it gathering itself for a stronger, more focused strike, its surprise at resistance from such paltry prey turning into anger.

“Stop,” he croaked aloud. “Don’t kill me. I can lead you to more meat. Better meat.”

The thing paused. Sek’Kuar took that as a sign of interest.

“Humans are in this tunnel with me. They can’t be far behind. They have dogs, too. I’ll take you to them.”

A further easing of the pressure, then a brutal tightening, and Sek’Kuar realized it wasn’t enough. If the humans were close, it would be able find them itself.

“I can take you,” gritted out Sek’Kuar, as his vision churned and dimmed. “Past the wards. I’ll take you back to my keep. Hundreds of humans there. Thousands.”

Sweet relief as the thing released its grip. A nauseating hum of pleasure and excitement thrummed in his head.

Yes, it told him. I will ride you.

So Sek’Kuar crawled his way out of the foul air, a new heaviness pulsating inside his head. He could feel it looking out of his eyes, tasting the air with his nose and mouth. He stumbled back on his feet, and began moving towards the noise of the pursuing humans.

It didn’t take long for him—them—to find the humans. There were eight of them, and two dogs. The dogs took one look at him, howled, and bolted. The humans were much more foolish, and charged. None of them got very far.

infiniteethThe thing inside of him flexed, then leaped out. Humans and dogs screamed as one. Their bodies dropped to the ground, writhed, stiffened, then thrashed violently. Sek’Kuar could hear bones cracking and splintering from the convulsions. Black ichor leaked out of eyes and noses and burned slow tracks on faces, flaying open skin and muscle to reveal bones, teeth, tongue. One human clawed at her eyes, then rammed her face repeatedly against the ground, the wet crunch punctuated by a hoarse sound that might have been laughter, but the thing inside her wrenched her around and forced her to lie flat on her back, even as every muscle in her body quivered and shook to regain control. One by one, each human, each dog, was subdued into the same pose. They would have looked peaceful if not for the screaming, which did not relent but became more ragged, and a constant squirming—as of legions of fat worms—visible just under their skin.

The thing didn’t want the game to end too fast, Sek’Kuar realized. It wanted to savor every morsel, draw out every moment. It didn’t want to give the humans and the dogs the freedom of death. Not yet. It had waited too long in this empty blackness with nothing better than rats to play with.

Sek’Kuar sat with his back against a wall, and watched, and smiled.

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