|Allegiance:||Clan of Embers|
|Favorite Wonder:||The Dragon's Hoard|
The population of Braduk the Burning had swelled to ten times normal. Orcs were here that Pugg hadn't seen in the last year. They gathered around the Sacred Flame, more for shelter from the raging blizzard than as worship. Pugg squeezed in between two burly orcs in front of him, who grunted but let the goblin pass. Finally he was warm enough, and could hear the priestess as well.
"Oh great Bhall, goddess of fire, shield us and guide us! Listen to your daughters! Give strength to our spear-arms, and let our enemies feel the searing heat of our hate!" The Orcs and goblins hushed their rowdy conversations, leaning closer to participate in the ritual. "Let your fire follow in our wake!" they intoned, rattling their spears.
The priestess continued her petition, with the orcs repeating their part as prompted, awaiting the climax of the ritual. Soon it came, as the priestess called out, "Bring forth the sacrifice!" The crowd around the fire parted, allowing the priestess' servants entrance. Grown male orcs, they were nearly naked despite the unending winter and painted from head to toe in mystic symbols. Between the three pairs they carried the sacrifice: three human soldiers. Striped of any valuables, their tattered rags still showed bits and pieces of the Bannor emblem. Despite the constant conflict, it was rare for their hated foes to be taken alive.
Pugg jeered and yelled along with the rest, tossing a clod of dirt at one human. His aim was off, and he hit one of the Bhall-Orcs instead, who looked down at him as he passed and hissed at him, showing off his tongueless mouth. Pugg recoiled.
"Here, Oh Goddess, taste our devotion!" One by one the human captives were thrown into the large fire-pit, started by the sacred flame itself. They writhed as they cooked, shouting muffled screams until their gags burned away. Then their screams drowned out even the Orcs raucous cheering. "Oh great goddess, show us your wishes!" shouted the priestess, bowing low before the flames. The assembled crowd did likewise.
As had happened at the previous sacrifice, and the one before that, they waited and watched. Finally, the priestess stood and turned to the assembly. "Bhall has given us a sign, in gratitude for our sacrifice of the hated humans. She blesses our plans, and gives consent to the will of her priestesses."
"That's not what I see, hag." Orcs gasped to hear such a word used here, at the sacred circle. A heavily armored and battle scarred Orc approached the priestess while the rest bowed. Or most of the rest, as here and there in the crowd, and especially around the Bhall-Orcs, a few hearty Orcs stood with spear in hand. They wore deerskin cloaks matching the speaker's. "I see the old Crone giving no signs. I see a people full of courage and fury being led by an old woman, who sacrifices the spoils of others."
"Jonas of Three-Spear tribe," hissed the old woman. There was no need to shout now. The crowd, hundreds strong, uttered not a word. "How dare you blaspheme at this-"
"At this what? Sacred Fire? Braduk is not the sign of Bhall's power, it is her pyre. And you, witch woman, can join her in her death." A quick shove and the ancient Orc was in the fire-pit by the remains of the war captives. She died quickly and silently. At the same time, Jonas' allies quickly dispatched the Bhall-Orcs. "You see? It was not blessings that gave the women authority over the warriors, but lies!" As he was speaking, a tremendous thunderclap was heard from far to the north, and the blizzard ended suddenly. "See? Bhall resented having her voice only spoken by weak women." He grabbed the arm of a small girl huddled wide-eyed by the fire. "The priestess' apprentice. Being trained to dominate the strong Orcs with women's lies.
What do you say?"
Caught up in the revolution, the crowd chanted "Give her to Bhall!" And Jonas did. Into the flame went the girl with a scream. Unlike the human soldiers, her scream did not quiet as her flesh was consumed, but intensified, shrieking ever louder. Her thrashing slowed as her body burned, and her voice grew deeper. Finally, her eyes, rolled back in pain, turned to face Jonas even as the flames licked them.
"Jonas Endain!" She roared. The feared warrior went pale and sank to his knees. "My daughters have made their sacrifices... but what of you?"
"My... my Goddess..."
"Take me from the flames, Jonas."
The Orc chieftain stepped into the fire with teeth clenched, and took the girls head in his hands. Her body, nearly ashes, fell away. His cloak caught on fire, and his skin began to darken and blister, but he walked back out slowly, holding the head with both hands. "I have been... inattentive to my people in the mortal realm, Jonas. But this does not excuse your blasphemy."
"Take my life, Bhall," whispered Jonas.
"I shall," spoke the head. The flames continued, but the head was not consumed. "But not to bring to me. You shall be my instrument, Jonas. My first Priest. You will lead my people as you intended, but your glory shall fall to me alone. Lest you forget that your life is my tool, this head, and this girl's scream, will follow you to your death. Now prepare, my people. My foe is gone, and winter is over. It is time for the new age to begin. And to begin in flames."
Five thousand Orcs raised their spears and roared.