“No mortal had encountered anything quite like Zera’tul. His dark, necromantic powers corrupted the very ground beneath him, salting the earth with his spells and uprooting life with his steps. His kin were not used to the comforts of the light, and indeed his every breath was in defiance of it.”
– Loremaster Urvell
Twiddling the femur in his hands, Orcus considered his options. Standing several feet tall and almost the same distance in girth, the demonic Lord of Undeath was a blood-stained behemoth. Inadequate wings twitched absent-mindedly behind him, torn in places despite never having seen use. All suggestions of amicability in Orcus’ features ended abruptly at his back – charred, scaled hide covered his chest and gave way to spiked chitin along his arms. This continued down his legs to the macabre hooves at the base of his muscular legs; a staple feature of a demon lord.
What was not a staple was the enormous ram’s head which was served as his skull. Deadly curved horns emerged from the miraculously white skeletal head and curved upwards like meathooks, lending an extra layer of terror whenever Orcus lowered his visage to face one of his minions. A long-begotten minion who had failed this lord of death so heinously had been condemned to having his soul tortured for as long as he ruled the Throne of Corpses. His skull had also been turned into a rather fashionable mace.
Skulls and bones were not merely aesthetics for Orcus – they were a very strong part of his power and purpose. His throne room was littered with them, and the Throne of Corpses held its foundations in mortal skulls. This speaks both literally and figuratively – without death, Orcus’ powers would dwindle.
But there was no fear of that happening.
Orcus cast the femur aside and rose with a grace belying his size. Many centuries had passed since he and his brethren felt the repulsive clamor of the light above. The arrogance of the Archangels to manifest an entire continent to themselves with a Worldstone made Orcus’ eyes bleed in rage. Crimson tears stained the perfect enamel skull, but it was not sadness that afflicted Orcus – it was vengeance.
He had sensed the light in all its pompous righteousness, spreading over the new found land like a sputtering torch. So enamored were these angels with their creation, yet not diligent enough to see it protected, Orcus mused. Indeed, he was acutely aware of the mountains to the northwest where the light of day was scared to tread, where no angels had set foot and where the shadows shed blood. He had not expected them to take form – at least, he wouldn’t have expected it had he not interfered – but their bloodthirsty brutality thrilled him. Orcus demanded blood – nay, the Throne demanded blood, and these manifestations of shadows were delivering souls in unending numbers.
“Orcsss…” spewed Orcus, forking his tongue like a serpent. The nepotism of naming these creatures after himself was not lost on him, but the Prince of Death was certain that it would be better that these angels know the name of their new deity as their wings were ripped from their backs.
Such blasphemy is not merely a tool of fear engineered to drive back the angels. No, by taking their wings it effectively mortalizes them. And unlike angels, mortals can be slain. Orcus smirked a most vile smirk as he relived the last war between Angels and Demons, turning his expression somewhat more sour as he remembered the outcome. The loss the demons had suffered at the hands of these divine creatures was harrowing, locking them back in the nine hells to suffer their wounds. Imperious in victory, the angels began a reign of peace in the cosmos, declaring an end to the cosmic war between darkness and light.
It was not for many years that Orcus noticed the flow of souls from Lothien dwindle. Like a leaky tap finally being seen to, the steady flow of death was beginning to drip to a halt. Concerned at the possibility of the light’s involvement in such affairs, Orcus cast his eye to the most blighted part of Lothien. Scrying was a dangerous affair, but he had grown confident that the High Heavens would not be expecting anyone nosing around such a lightless passage. It did not take him long to find what he sought.
Towering, imposing and radiating death. This was no normal creature – or Orc, as they had come to be known. Hands clasping detached limbs, the sickly smell of blood was palpable around these mountains. The figure turned and faced Orcus directly – almost at the same height – and revealed a face masked with a finely cracked skull, devoid of a jaw but marked with a blood-stained hand.
This cannot be.
The similarities were undeniable. Orcus, the Prince of Undeath, was staring at his mortal counterpart. Orcus failed to stifle his snort as the monster walked through Orcus and seated himself – upon a seat of skulls, no less.
This was no snort of derision, however. On the contrary, Orcus knew that this being – so versed in death – was exactly who he needed to lead his minions on this plane. “No…” Orcus refused such miniscule ambition, “to lead my army.”
In a puff of smoke, Orcus emerged from the sheltered darkness of his scrying orb and stood before the creature. His wings spread wide, striking the spiked pillars to his left and right and shattering them as if they were made of dust. His hooved feet manifested atop enamel and bone which covered the floor like pebbles, crushing them. He reached down and collected one of the fewfully-formed skulls which he could see, and attached it to his belt.
The Orc was unfazed. It was difficult to make out what he was looking at through the shadowed cavity of the skull which adorned his face, but Orcus was certain that he had the beast’s attention. “Death. Decay. Slaughter! These are the tenets you live by, are they not?” barked the demon lord. “Kneel before me, and I will grant you powers of unlife the likes of which you have never known. Your people-“, Orcus hesitated, contending with the idea that perhaps these creatures were not motivated by kinship at all, “-rather, your subjects, will follow your every whim and sweep over this righteous land!”
The Orc remained stoic, and seated.
Fine. Words were no use to a beast, but actions were. Turning slowly, Orcus spread his chitinous hand, spurning forth a gauntlet of eldritch shadow. It floated seamlessly through the air, spreading into the night. Rising, the mist disappeared over the spiked mountaintops…
Screams echoed through the night. Tens, hundreds of desperate howls. Orcus lifted his palm to the sky, and in the same motion a plethora of Orcs filled the sky. Orcus’ shadow magic grappled with their throats, leaving the orcs to clutch and claw at thin air. Orcus turned back to the lone Orc, only to see a sharpened shin bone thrust at his own throat.
Squeezing his palm shut, a shrill snap resounded through The Orcblight. Cadavers soared towards the ground, windpipes crushed. A resolute sense of fulfillment washed over the Prince of Death as the souls of his victims washed towards him. He was a drain in the center of the bloodbath, and the shrieking cries of spirits did nothing to stop their descent into his maw.
With a deep breath, Orcus consumed them all. Then, his eyes rested on the Orc.
The shin bone did not shake. With a precise movement, the Orc lowered it – slowly at first, before casting it aside just as Orcus had many years before as he contemplated these creatures and their place in his plans. The creature widened its arms and bowed its head. Orcus closed his eyes, and thrust his arm forward.
The sound was deafening.
Orcus’ hand passed through the mortal flesh of the Orc as if it was air, grasping at its very soul. Rather than seeking it for his own, Orcus sought to imbue it with his own essence. Thousands of souls, from dragons to gorgons, mortals to liches and anything inbetween surged through the Prince of Death and utterly drenched the Orc in their power. Around the pair, a tornado of souls began to strip away the rock. Eons of existence and experiences flashed around them like a storm, drawn against their will into Orcus’ chosen champion.
Stumbling back, visibly exhausted from the effort, Orcus beared his teeth expectantly.
What stared back – for what can only have been a split second – frightened him.
The skull which had served as decoration for this Orc was now bound to his head, and piercing horns curled upwards. His entire body pulsated with eldritch energy, visibly greyer and somehow stronger than before – veins covering the entirety of his skin. What truly drew attention were his eyes – in the mesmerizing pool of black that resided in each eye socket of his skull, a golden iris appeared in each. Crystal, radiant gold. This gilded feature did not praise the High Heavens, however. It mocked it.
“Rise, Zera’tul – the first Deathlord of Lothien – and gather your forces-”
The voice echoed, almost as if other beings behind Zera’tul spoke when he did. The gravely, hoarse call was as clear and chilling as ice:
“The angels will fall.”