As the wooden roofs of stone hovels and terraced shops burned, littering the muddy elven village’s walkways with even more debris than usual, the high double doors which had sealed the brick walls of the settlement broke and fell forward, slamming into the mud with a subdued thud beneath the onslaught outside. The chaos dwarves had used the corpse of a dead Militant Ordinator like a battering ram, mutilating the dead body until they finally broke the rusty hinges off the poorly crafted doors. They flowed inside with their forces, followed by the hobgoblins and black orcs who dragged their varied assortment of prisoners through the streets.
Darbakh marched out in front of the group, following the sound of screams amid the crackling of flames all around them. He waved for the weird lizardman creature and then pointed to one of the Ordinators they’d captured. “This one. Where did the others go?” he asked, rotating his wrist toward the sky in a questioning gesture. When the skink-like being looked confused, he swept his arm across the narrow streets and rundown huts in front of them. “Where? The other ones like this wretch, where?”
The weird lizardman’s eyes lit up, and it hobbled forward and pointed down one of the roads. A few more gestures evoked a fortress or other structure around a bend, which the warband walked down cautiously as they passed more and more bombed out devastation. Walls had collapsed, basements had caved in, and the streets were lined by the bodies of villagers who hadn’t managed to escape the artillery shots. One of the carcasses was at least partially intact, revealing the ashen grey skin possessed by the foreign elf they’d encountered at the wall of the nearby castle.
“Look at that…they have a nice grey complexion to them,” Raggrund said while the rear of the marching column passed by the body. “I’ve never seen an elf like that before. They’re almost not ugly.”
Leaving the troops to talk amongst themselves, Darbakh remained quiet as they wound their way through the crowded, unsanitary village’s remains. They approached the center of the miserable little hamlet ringed by uneven stone walls quickly, guided by a single vimana tower rising above the one story hovels which were largely on fire. Around a bend in the muddy street, they reached a courtyard full of burning debris in front of a stone temple, obvious in its architecture, into which the locals were fleeing. Ordinators were ushering the tattered, bereaved villagers inside the temple’s doors, shouting orders even more loudly once the chaos dwarves entered the courtyard from the village streets. Even more screams echoed in the center of the village, but Darbakh held out an arm for his troops to wait.
“Hang their troops from these two trees,” he said to his hobgoblins, sending the malicious goblinoids to tie the battered, broken bodies of the Ordinators they’d shot to the low-hanging branches of two trees lining the sunken walkway leading to the temple. Still clad in their pierced armor, the prisoners of war strained to avoid crying out as they dangled from their bound wrists, their knees dragging on the ground. “Beat whatever parts of them aren’t broken yet,” Darbakh said while the hobgoblins were still tying the Ordinators with rope they’d scavenged from the village. “I want the dregs in that temple to hear.”
While the dwarves all lined up behind Darbakh, the hobgoblins beat the legs and arms of their victims, now suspended from the branches of the two trees. The orcs practiced football with the heads of the prisoners who were on the ground, for the tree branches couldn’t bear them all, sending a chorus of cries into the air. Up the steps of the tower-topped temple, the remaining Ordinators turned toward the courtyard, shouting at one another and pointing at the display of their comrade’s public humiliation. The last few villagers shut the doors to the stone structure, leaving the morally outraged Ordinators as their last line of defense. Darbakh gave his back to them while only thirty yards away, incensing them further.
“They only outnumber us two-to-one,” the despot said to his amassed brethren, who were wielding the maces they’d taken from their previous victims outside the village walls. “I rescind my earlier command to take prisoners; do as you wish.”
That frivolous permission motivated the troops sufficiently, and the ten chaos dwarf warriors followed Darbakh up the steps as they marched in unison. Their steel boots thudded loudly on the stone steps leading up, but they made no threatening displays like how the Ordinators had banged their maces on their shields; instead, the dwarves advanced stoically, silent and prepared, while staring down their enemies.
The discipline of the Militant Ordinators was broken. Frightened by the unfamiliar technology in guns and artillery, demoralized by their swift loss to the less numerous invaders, and incensed by the sight of their fellows being beaten, the brass-colored warriors charged down the mossy steps of the stone temple bereft of their previous discipline. Their ranks dispersed and their files faltered, leaving them to throw themselves against the heavy armor of Darbakh’s displined dwarves like a disorganized horde. The berserk tactic didn’t suit the Ordinators, neither in training nor in build, and the chaos dwarves marched straight through their ranks like a wrecking ball. The bodies of the Ordinators were battered and broken as they were beaten down to the steps or sent fleeing back toward the temple proper. Darbakh’s men sustained only a few minor injuries and no casualties in the mace-to-mace melee, and they followed the seven survivors to up the steps just in time for the doors to swing open.
Within, a pyramidal idol sat at the end of a long hall lined by sniveling villagers, poorly chiseled pillars, and pews which must have been carved by amateurs. Fear filled the villagers’ eyes when, as soon as they opened the door for their protectors, they saw the chaos dwarves there in their red and black armor, heads covered by either helmets or hats (or a hat helmet in Darbakh’s case) and maces swinging into the backs of the Militant Ordinators. The village’s last line of defense fell to the floor in a heap as the soldiers wept for forgiveness from whatever the idol represented, and the villagers crowded to the back of the long temple like piglets in a corner as they watched in horror.
Darbakh spoke casually while stabbing the tip of his halberd beneath the belt of an Ordinator. “Kill them slowly while our guide comes…you!” he yelled over his shoulder toward the weird skink thing, leaving his troops to slowly beat the Ordinators to death. “Get up here!”
Scurrying like a skink, even if it wasn’t one, the reptilian guide pulled its ragged pants up and ran to Darbakh’s side, its eyes shining in joy at the sight. “Stop gawking and get to work. Can any of these weasels talk normal?” Darbakh pointed from his ear to the skink creature, then to the villagers, then back to his own ear. “Can any of them speak a language other than gibberish? Talk, I need one of them who can talk.”
Screams range out at both ends of the hall while the reptile began jabbering at the unwashed villagers. The Ordinators threw their hands in the air in defense, and a few even prayed toward the idol while being struck with maces, and the villagers wept and held their hands out to their former protectors even while crowding, maybe a hundred strong throng of civilians, against the far back wall. Eventually, one of them wearing the burgundy vestments of a cleric stood up, slightly more stoic than the others and catching Darbakh’s eye.
“Him,” the despot said while beckoning for the cleric to approach. “Figure out what he speaks.” The cleric stepped forward nervously, his long brown hair matted in sweat and his ash grey skin covered in mud and blood. Gibberish spilled from the cleric’s chapped lips, garnering a sneer. “Don’t give me that gobbledygook. Speak like a sentient being, or at least a valid language of darkness. I’m already in the mood for more beatings, and your blah blah blah noises are bothering me.”
As if translating Darbakh’s rather obvious demeanor, the skink thing began jabbering at the weird grey elf, granting the despot a glimpse of the social dynamic in that weird land. In spite of being under siege, the cleric recoiled from the reptile’s speech and scowled, a deep, scornful resentment marked on his sullied face. As the taskmaster over serfs and servants himself, Darbakh recognized the sentiment fast: the cleric regarded the reptilian guide as some sort of a peon barely worthy of his attention. Embarrassment and subdued outrage were written into the cleric’s tense shoulders and flexing fingers. And then, the cleric gave him the shock of the whole bizarre day.
“Can you understand me now?” the cleric said in the Dark Tongue.
The dwarven despot’s thick eyebrows shot up, and the enlightenment swept over all three men like the fires of a forge. “So you can talk like a being with a brain,” Darbakh replied to the furtive glances of his troops, some of whom understood the Dark Tongue. “You know the language of demons.”
“What?” the cleric asked, overemphasizing his pronunciation of the H-sound in the word. “Demons? I’ve not known the Daedra to be referred to as such-”
“I could write a book about what you don’t know, mongrel.” Darbakh’s reply as swift and hard, and the skink thing laughed so hard that he realized it understood the language too. “You can talk normal, so hear me now: I want to know who the hell is in that castle in the direction of the sun, beyond your fields; I want to know why they were trespassing on my land; I want to know how they cast that spell to bring us here; and I want to know how to reverse it. I don’t want any other details, including whatever the hell this pissant place of yours is, so answer what I’ve asked if you want to live much longer.”
Recalcitrance etched into the cleric’s sour face, confirming that these elves were used to ordering others with impunity. Even with no protection and foreign invaders, the cleric hesitated to an extent which bordered on defiance, but he answered all the same.
“My name is Tabdreth, and I’ll answer to the best of my knowledge. I assume you’re referring to the castle of Lady Paranya, for that’s the primary landmark around our humble region of Deshaan.” Tabdreth paused to see if he’d be allowed to speak further and then continued. “She’s a vampire, and an outcast of the noble House Indoril, known for strange experiments. She’s our enemy, and from what you say, I believe she’s also yours.”
“Then she’s good as dead. Answer my other questions.”
“Right, very well; I can only hope that my honest answers will earn the safety of my flock.”
Darbakh laughed out loud. “Don’t hope; do as I say. Now.”
“Alright. You asked why she was trespassing on your land, yet I don’t know which land you mean. If you truly are the Dwemer, then I can only imagine that you’re present due to a ripple in time.”
“Stop calling us Dwemer; I’ve never heard of these Dwemer,” Darbakh said, much to Tabdreth’s visible surprise. “Wipe that look off your face and any association of us with whatever people you’re talking about from your mind. We’re the Dawi Zharr of the Darklands.”
“Then I really can’t say what Lady Paranya’s forces were doing in your lands because I don’t know of them. I’m assuming that you came from outside Nirn.”
Granted pause, Darbakh stood silently for a moment. The whimpers of the villagers echoed more loudly now that the chaos dwarves had beaten the last Ordinators to death, and while the sound was music to the despot’s ears, the cleric’s words weighed heavily on him. He knew neither Nirn nor the Dwemer, and he began to wonder just how far he was from home.
Anxiously, he began to comb his beard again. “They had a human cretin with them, a Norscan named Havas. He chanted in a sort of mongrel language, causing red winds of magic to sweep us here, near the castle. Do you know anything about such a teleportation spell?”
“Only that such magic exists. If you must know about the spell, then I suggest you interrogate this Norscan - I assume you’re referring to the Nords. I’m prepared to do so on your behalf if you can guarantee my people-”
“You’ll do so whenever I tell you solely because I tell you, and if I didn’t need you intact, then speaking out of turn like that would have incurred my wrath, Badbreath.”
The skink snickered, causing Tabdreth to scowl at it, but the cleric soon returned to his previous plea. “I can help you. We have the same enemy: Lady Paranya. She trapped you and your men here, and she demands a tribute of our citizenry to satiate her bloodthirst; she’s a vampire. We know when we’re defeated; I don’t appreciate the killing of our temple’s enforcers, but let us look past that and work together toward defeating Paranya. Our village possesses two forges, fertile fields, and a considerable stock of slaves in the form of these Argonians.” The skink hissed at Tabdreth acidically, garnering another scowl. “Quiet, you.”
As with the upstart Ordinators outside the village gate, the cleric garnered immediate anger without escalation, and Darbakh backhanded Tabdreth hard enough to send the spindly cleric spinning. “Only I give out orders here!” He then stepped on Tabdreth’s back, pinning the grey elf to the floor with a boot as the villagers began to weep more loudly. “And my orders will be translated by this skink.”
For a second, the Argonian looked as if it would correct Darbakh, but it decided against the act while watching Tabdreth struggle to breathe on the floor. “You say, I tell,” said the Argonian - or skink, if that’s what it had to be called from then on.
Darbakh turned to face the hundred or so villagers crowded at the back of the stone temple. His ten brethren lined up behind him, unmoving and unspeaking as he delivered a sermon of his own in the temple.
“This town, and all that grows in its fields, are now property of the Ziggurat of Mordigath. What was once your resources and labor are now my resources and labor.”
The Argonian began to translate Darbakh’s instructions into Dunmer. “Bakka dakka trakka lakka,” it said, or something which sounded like that, as the temple was filled with the gasps and lamentations of the grey elves.
“Your defenders have been slain, your households broken, and your properties seized. Whatever deities you believe in have failed you, and you’ll demolish this temple and that very idol you huddle around with your own hands. The luxury of death isn’t an option for you.”
“Abee deebee doobee,” the Argonian began to translate, and as it spoke, its voice raised in volume and filled with excitement, as if the chaos dwarves were some sort of prophecy. The grey elves shrieked and held each other, and a few pulled at their own hair and clothes.
“And these lizard skink things are no longer your slaves; they’re our vassals, and you’re their slaves. Your every move will occur under their watch and at the behest of their whips. I take your entire social order and cast it in the trash.”
The Argonian’s eyes lit up, and it turned its whole head to gaze upon Darbakh beatifically. Unappreciative, the dwarven despot cast a glance in the Argonian’s direction, prompting the reptile to pull its tattered pants up again, take a deep breath, and translate with pride. When it began translating the last edict, however, the shrieks and cries became harsh and angry. In spite of their miserable condition, the ragged, bereaved villagers stood on wobbly feet and stepped forward, wagging their fingers in defiance and cursing the Argonian translator. Moral outrage at being commanded by their own slaves propelled them, and without instructions, the dwarves marched forward like a solid wall. Aiming to punish rather than kill, they waded into a crowd of villagers who outnumbered them ten to one, swinging with impunity as the unarmed yokels failed to harm them through their heavy armor. Blood was spilled and even the very young and very old were thrown to the floor of the temple as the Dunmer villagers, once so haughty and self-assured, watched their pride ripped away from them and handed to the Argonians.
Tabdreth crawled toward the pyramidal idol amid the crowd and reached out to it, his hand shaking, fingers trembling, as he called out the names of the Tribunal. His body slid away from his imagined salvation as Darbakh grabbed him by the collar and lifted him up.
“You’ll not be with the common rabble, wretch; I have need of you and Havas.” Darbakh stopped by the temple door while dragging Tabdreth out, the Argonian in tow, for a final order. “I declare one full day of rapine and terror, followed by a week of preparations. Preserve the lives of our new acquisitions!”
Screams continued to ring out from the stone temple as the dwarves disciplined the elves one time, as an introduction, with such a roughness that they’d never forget. Down the moss-covered steps, Darbakh dragged the cleric, but he still listened to the sweet sound of misery behind him.