2. Hijan and I were getting used to being thrown to our knees. We had been taken from the hill to the battlewagon, where we were thrown to our knees in the hot, dark crew compartment, then driven to the center of Istere, to the palace of the Imperial governor, Lord Commander the Baron of Socrim, where we were thrown to our knees before one of the many Bad Moons “nobz” that served the War Boss. From his presence, we were herded into the great banquet hall that had once served elegantly dressed Imperial lords and their ladies, Space Marine commanders, and the learned scholars of so many of the Imperium’s vaunted branches. Now, the great oaken tables were gone; the fine carpets had been ripped and soiled by riveted boots; the tapestries and finery that had once hung around the hall were nowhere to be seen. The vaulted ceiling, fully four stories over our heads, was lost to darkness, as the whole of Istere had been plunged into darkness when the city’s power grid failed. In the center of the far end of the hall, which was rounded and filled by a raised dais, stood a throne, but not one of human design. This was a chair that had grown and evolved seemingly of its own accord. Whatever it had originally been, the Orkish throne was so festooned with trophies of war that it resembled... well, not a throne, for certain. I could see parts of Imperial command chairs ripped from the great ships of the Fleet, intertwined with the once-graceful adornments of Eldar construction. Upon the crown of the throne was mounted the shriveled skull of a Tyranid termagaunt, its mouth forever open in a silent, outraged scream. A dwarven axe was visible attached to one side, while a pair of Ogryn skulls capped the armrests. The throne was empty, but this did not stop us from being thrown to our knees before it. We cowered there for some time, before the War Boss stomped past us and dropped heavily into the throne, which both squeaked and rattled threateningly. I risked a look up, my spectacles again askew, and was rewarded by a piercing stare from the War Boss. At length he spoke, and his voice was like volcanic gasses escaping the earth. “So. Yoo’s uh scribe, eh, hoomie?” he asked, and the stench of his breath, like rotting swamp trees and dead burrow-pigs, nearly knocked me over. I gagged for a second, until Hijan elbowed me and hissed, “He wants to know if you’re an archivist!” I looked up at the War Boss and, knowing that even a second’s delay could cost me my life, nodded emphatically. “Er, yes, er… sir. Yes.” I drew myself up a little. “I am a historian, your … eh, sir. I maintain the Imperial Archives here on Sorcim. Er, maintained,” I added, somewhat lamely. He just stared at me, and I realized that I had most likely taken too much liberty, and would soon occupy an honored place in this Ork’s upper intestine. The War Boss took a minute to work through what I said, and I feared that he might kill me out of sheer frustration. “Den yoo’s uh scribe? Youse writes dings down, make books an’ scrolls an’ stuff?” Grazl shifted his ponderous bulk and began picking at something in his teeth. I nodded emphatically again. At least he was asking me something I knew about, although it would do me little precious good if he was, in fact, a hater of literature and histories. I began to pray that I was too scrawny to be considered worth eating. The War Boss just looked at me for a while, what must have been minutes but felt like hours, and then nodded, once. He jabbed a huge, gnarled finger in my direction. “Good. Cuz yoo’s gunna write down da hist’ry o’ dis here war. Yoo’s gunna write da books o’ da bes’ War Boss dis clan e’er got.” He sat back with an air of self-satisfaction. “’Yoo gunna write dis about me. Cuz dis is da start, see, da start of da end of da Impies and all dere filth. And when da uvver clans know what I’s dun ‘ere, dey’s gunna flock to me like… dey’s gunna flock like… like flocking dings, you know, dings dat flock.” He sat for a second, mulling this over. “And dis books dat you be writin’, day’s gunna make your Impies have a fit. Cuz day’s gunna know dat dere’s a new Boss in town, and he ain’t goin’ away. “In a few days, we’se gunna drive souf and squash da hoomies in dere fortresses, cuz dis ‘ere War Boss is plannin’ to take da war from ‘ere right to da Emperor. An’ youse’s gunna write da hist’ry of it. Now git out dere now and write down sumfing, and come back ‘ere anuvver time so’s we can talk an’ stuff. Now git out.” Our audience concluded, he dismissed us with a wave of his huge mitt. We were hauled to our feet and dragged from the great hall. The Stormboyz quite literally dragged us through a dozen rooms, some of which could not be recognized, as pertained to their intended purpose. We were followed by the scores of eyes belonging to large, brutish Bad Moon nobz, not to mention the smaller Gretchen, those loathsome feral runts which would one day grow to be full-sized monstrosities, unless they were first excised by Imperial flame or eaten by their older brothers for hors d’oeuvres. After innumerable twists and turns we wound up on the carpet of the governor’s library, where we cowered on the floor while our handlers turned and stomped out. The great doors closed behind them, and we shivered together in the darkness, the last vestiges of sunlight drawing back their warming touch. It was Hijan who recovered enough wits to make an assessment of our surroundings; I was too busy assessing a future as Ork dung. I sat nursing a melancholy mood while my acolyte starting rummaging through the desk, shelves, and wardrobe that stood relatively unmolested in the room. I was finally distracted by his mutterings and joined in the search, until it became to dark to see what it was our hands were upon. We sat back in the dark. In front of us was a small pile of books, pads, styli, and other implements one would expect to find in a library. We also found, and we both rejoiced that the rumors about the Baron were true, a small copper flask of especially potent spirits. We sat and passed the flask back and forth, enjoying the liquid warmth as it burned down our throats. My eyes watered, for I was not one who imbibed even casually, but Hijan was an acolyte, and by some universal law acolytes always have an appetite for an illicit drink. We mourned the rape of our fair city. We raged against the vile Ork horde that had invaded during the night and laid low so much of what humanity had achieved upon this world. We plotted dark fantasies of revenge, imagining the wrath of the Imperial armies as they blotted out the Orkish infestation, and specifically what fate they would dole out to Grazl and his minions. But mostly, we talked about why we weren’t dead, about what the War Boss might be expecting us to write about him in his “books an’ scrolls.” Was he able to read Imperial script? Or would we have to learn the bizarre cuneiform of the Orks? Did he want us to tell the truth about what we saw, or write an epic ballad about his greatness, laced with exaggeration and half-truth? In this, we were as much in the dark as we were literally, and only the march of the days ahead would reveal the answers. We slept, wrapped only in the fine, thick carpet for warmth. Dawn arrived, reluctantly, shining cold and pale through an atmosphere choked with the smoke of warfare and the dust of destruction. It was early in spring, and although warmer temperatures were certain to come, this day would hold no warmth for the displaced children of the Imperium. Two days before, this city had boasted a thriving population of over two million, but today many of those were dead and the rest fled to the surrounding hills. Istere had the feel of a mausoleum, but one that has been overrun by the most nauseating vermin that the universe has ever squeezed from its bowels. We could hear the tramping of steel-shank boots in the streets, the rumble of battlewagons and Gargants in the distance, and the occasional report of missiles and artillery in the countryside. We unrolled ourselves and tried to get the best view possible out of the high windows along the west wall, but they were little help in assessing the damage. So we gathered what we could in the way of journals, styli, and carryalls, and found that we had one good canvas shoulder bag, about five hundred pages of good tablet paper, and a small arsenal of styli and ink refills. We also had an appetite, for we had not eaten in a full day, and I, for one, had left most of that on the floor plating of the battlewagon the day before. The huge doors did not relent in their mission of keeping us imprisoned, however, and so we sat and waited for whatever would befall us next. We did not wait for very long, for down the hall came the noise of heavy boots. The doors slammed open, and we were ushered -- I use this term loosely – into the servant’s kitchen. There the Ork who had brought us sat heavily and began picking his teeth with what were probably the most expensive kitchen knives on the planet. He glared at us for a moment, then grunted. “Yoo hoomies look fer da food wot yoos wants to eat. Dat’s wot da War Boss tol’ me, so’s ta keep – “ he scrunched up his face here, a considerable feat since it looked as though someone had stepped on it several times already – “ta keep yoos healf up. Yeah, dat’s wot he dun said ta me. So if yoos don’ start eatin’ I’s gonna hafta shoot ya.” He sat back, with a vaguely smug look, and it was obvious that this amount of Standard was both the limit of his vocabulary and also extremely taxing. The butcher’s knife disappeared between his teeth once again. We looked at each other, Hijan and I, and then set about foraging in the Baron’s larders. It was a queer feeling, for we knew that some of the delicacies here were more expensive than our entire temple, while the hands that had stocked the pantries and the mouths intended to receive the delectables were now most likely ashes, or perhaps Ork guano. We found some delicious meats and cheeses, which had not yet begun to spoil thanks to the well-insulated refrigerators, and also some rich, dense bread and assorted spreads. We gorged ourselves on sandwiches and fine wine, then stuffed our shoulder bag full of what would keep, such things as some hard, bitter chocolate, crackers, and dried fruit. Pleasantly full now, we waited quietly while our host finished with whatever could bother an Ork’s teeth. He seemed to notice us once again. “Good. Yoo hoomies kan come wif me den. Weez goin’ ta see da War Boss ag’in, unless yooz gets et on da way dere.” He guffawed at his own humor, which struck me as being funny only to maggots and, possibly, the former Vice Chancellor of the Archive, and prodded us through the door. We wound our way through the abused palace and eventually wound up before the great monstrosity of a throne where Grazl sat, eyes closed, head resting on hand. He looked more moldy than regal, to be frank. Spared being thrown to our knees, we stood anxiously while waiting for the War Boss to open his eyes and acknowledge our presence, and the minutes began to pile up as we waited uncomfortably. Finally, the Ork who had led us in stepped up to the throne, paused, then tapped the War Boss on the same forearm that his head rested upon. An Orkish tap is nothing less than physical assault to a civilized being, and Grazl’s supporting arm was knocked out from under his head, which was too heavy to easily check its downward plunge onto the arm of the throne. Upon contact with the throne, Grazl’s eyes sprang wide open in all their hideous yellow glory, but now there was no stopping his momentum. He tried to lunge indignantly to his feet, but as his body was already twisting over the armrest, he only succeeded in vaulting himself off the throne, over the armrest, past the Ork who had brought us, and onto the floor face first. Hijan and I just stood, frozen. Grazl pulled himself upright, snarled once, and then brought a bolt pistol up level with his underling’s nose. “Whazzat yoo jus’ dun?” he demanded. The other Ork shook his head, eyes rimmed with white and nostrils flaring. “Di’nt mean ta, Boss.” Grazl, slowly, nodded his head once, as if digesting this. Then the bolter fired, sending a spray of greenish goo and white bone across the great hall. The underling toppled over backwards and lay in a heap, smelly ichors running from what had been his head. Satisfied, the War Boss tucked the bolt pistol into his belt and turned to face us. “So. Yoos dun start da hist’ry yet?” Heart racing, I summoned by best archivist’s voice. “We have gathered the appropriate materials, sir, and are ready to begin. But, we aren’t quite sure what you want.” The butterflies in my stomach felt a though they were warming up for a wrestling match. Grazl pointed a finger as thick as my wrist at the center of my chest. “Dis is wot youse gunna write: dat War Boss Grazl is da greatest Ork wot ‘as ever given dis yooniverse a kick in da teef. Dat’s me, and I is da best. Da Number Wun Hoomie gunna see jus’ how bad it gets.” Now he leaned down closer, and his finger became menacing, like a loaded weapon waiting to wreak violent mayhem. “Dis is only da furst. Dis Mob got big planz for da Hoomie Empire. Yoo’s boss-man gunna know wot it is to be ‘fraid. Yoo fink dis is all we’s gunna do? Uh-uh. Dis is da start o’ da Big Wun, and it ain’t gunna be over ‘til da fat Ork is singin’ on da hoomie home world. It’s gunna be a WAAAGH!!” he thundered, and all about the great hall and down the corridors Orks howled and raved and stomped their feet and even fired bolters in the air. It was a terrifying din, and my bladder nearly voted unilaterally to get out of the situation. The butterflies in my stomach were locked in hand-to-hand combat. As the echos died down, the huge Ork turned and remounted his throne, causing that unnerving jangle of squeaks and groans. “Yoos’ll be komin’ wid me, and togevver we’s gunna see some shit. Yoo’s gunna write down wot I say an’ do an’ who I eat an’ who I gives da dakka-dakka.” He raised his hands in a grotesque mockery of a child’s pantomime, pretending to spray bullets through Hijan and myself. “An’ den we’s gunna send da whole fing across all o’ hoomie space and dey’s gunna be more ‘fraid den dey ever been.” He laughed -- a noisome, gurgling thing that held visions of cruel, wanton destruction and suffering. “Soon, we’s gunna go fin’ some hoomies and krush ‘em. Yoo’s gunna write it all down. Now,” he waved over one of his Stormboyz, “yoo’s gunna go wiv dis Stormboy. ‘E’s gunna take ya fer a toor uv da town, now dat we’s all dun redec’ratin’ it.” He waved us away, and the Stormboy at our backs shoved us towards the great doors leading outside. We stumbled out, shivering. As we walked down the steps, the Ork nudged Hijan, nearly knocking him over, and gestured towards a pole driven into the ground at the bottom. Impaled on the top was the rank, rotting head of the Imperial governor, the Baron of Sorcim. © 2004 ~ Andreas Udby Let me know if you'd like to read more by posting some kind of feedback -- positive and constructive both. Thanks!