The sun's bright light shattered against the hard, red clay that comprised the soil of Durotar. The orc, a Knight of the Ebon Hold, growled softly under his breath. He did not like this land that Thrall had claimed as the center of the new Horde. Being used to the cooler lands in the north, the Knight found that the light here was...unwelcome. However, he was here for a purpose, and such discomfort would have to be tolerated.
As he rode into Orgrimmar, the guards looked at him suspiciously and gripped their axes more tightly. Orlando of the Riht smiled wolfishly at them. Last week, they had been among the ones who had thrown fruit and hurled insults. Had the Horde come to this? Flinging fruit and empty threats? In his day, the days of Grom Hellscream and Orgrim Doomhammer, the orcs would have torn apart their enemy. Mercy was for the weak. Now, it seemed, Thrall offered it to anyone- including his former enemies.
"You have grown soft." He had not meant to make that statement out loud, but out it had come. An orc soldier growled at him. Orlandoriht chuckled. "You wish to fight me, orc? Does your pride rankle? Good!"
"No dueling is permitted within the city, death knight!" The guard spit on the red soil where it evaporated in seconds. Orlandoriht stared at the guard, his blue orbs that passed for eyes spearing the orc until the guard could bear it no longer and nervously looked away. Orlandoriht slowly rode his charger past the shamed guard, "Weakling. This new Horde has become soft indeed."
Stenriht paced in impatience. His uncle was coming! He re-read the brief missive in his hand.
Sten of the Riht;
Greetings, nephew. I am returning briefly to Orgrimmar and will meet you at Gryshka's Inn in the Valley of Strength on the first day of the new moon.
Orlando of the Riht
Enthusiasm boiling over, Stenriht practically pranced around the room. Orlandoriht was coming! During his youth, after relocating to Durotar, Orlandoriht was one of the few who believed in Sten's capabilities. It was he that told Sten to beat the odds and follow the path of the warrior. "Sten," he had said, "The others believe you are a peon because of your size. I believe you are a warrior because of your heart!"
Much honor had Orlandoriht brought to the family. He had fought throughout Azeroth as a shield arm of some of the most notable generals in Orc history- including the Warchief himself! Yet, he always was in good humor. His jokes and pranks were memorable- especially to the young orcs. The life of the party, Orlandoriht could out-drink and out-party anyone around, and was always the favorite of any village where he was staying.
What adventures had his uncle been up to? Stenriht mused. The last anyone had heard, he had been fighting under the banner of the Argent Dawn, where he had earned much honor. Then, he had disappeared. No matter, Stenriht thought. With his return, Orlandoriht could take his rightful place as the Patriarch of the Riht. Then the banner of the old clan could fly again!
The blanket covering the door moved aside, and the air immediately chilled as a dark figure walked into the door. Patrons in the inn growled in annoyance at the large, black-armored figure who surveyed the room and then strode towards the young orc warrior.
Stenriht watched the dark figure warily, ready to grab his axes if needed. The figure in front of him was large, and had probably been an orc at one time, but the blue skin and dark palor was not that of an orc. Cold emanated from the creature and his whole demeanor radiated darkness. This was a Knight of the Ebon Blade, derisively called death knight by most of the populace of Orgrimmar.
"Ah, Sten, you have indeed become a force with which to be reckoned"
The voice was strange, yet familiar. It was deep, resonating, powerful and...
"Orlando..., Uncle?" Stenriht cursed his voice breaking at that moment.
A cold hand gripped Stenriht's shoulder firmly, the cold leaching into the young orc warrior's bones. A smile flirted across the dark face, "Yes, nephew. It is good to see you. Let us have a drink, shall we?"
They sat at a table near the back of the inn. Immediately, they had privacy as other patrons re-located themselves away from the warrior and his death knight relative.
"So, Sten, I trust this is not the first time you have seen one of my kind."
"No Uncle, but..."
"I had not imagined that one of our family could be taken by Arthas. How could this happen?" Stenriht blurted out the last, his shock and dismay coming out in a half-growl, half-wail.
Orlandoriht laughed. It was an evil sound, deep, rattling and devoid of warmth. The few patrons remaining quickly got up and left leaving the two Riht alone. As suddenly as it started, the Knight's mirth subsided. Leaning forward, Orlandoriht locked gazes with his nephew. Reaching out a thin, black finger, he jabbed at the young orc with each word. "I am not nor have I ever been anyone's slave!"
Suddenly, the knight pulled back his hand, reached into his pouch and threw an item on the table. The light reflected off the brilliant gold object that spun neatly on the surface. Stenriht gasped, "My father's nose ring!"
"Yes, nephew. I have a tale to tell of your father's death. First, what have you been told? What has your Mother shared with you?"
Taken aback and totally unnerved by his relative, Stenriht stammered, "She told me he died with honor fighting along side the Argent Dawn against the Scourge."
"Ah yes. Your Mother has always been a practical orc. A valiant fighter herself, she could not bear the truth, and certainly would not share that with her sons."
"Are you saying that my Mother lied?" The fire was coming back to Stenriht now. Family or no, Orlandoriht would not be allowed to insult her!
Again the unsettling chuckle. Orlandoriht leaned back in his chair and almost looked like a normal orc for a moment. "Steady soldier. I said your Mother was practical. The strength of family comes from its ancestors- at least the perception of such. Your Mother did not lie. She merely left out some crucial...details."
The knight leaned forward again and lowered his voice, making a hollow whisper every bit as unnerving as his visage. "It is time for the son to learn about the truth of his father. I attempted to contact your older brother, but he is off with Nesingwary- on one of his numerous animal hunts. Therefore, it falls to you to learn of the death of your father and help me to exact vengeance on the foul people that caused it!"
Stenriht growled. Now the ground was becoming more firm. Once, centuries ago, the Clan of Riht had been a large, powerful clan. The war had changed that. Numerous Riht died crossing into Azeroth until the clan was but a handful of families. For a while, a few, like Stenriht's father and Orlandoriht continued to fight under the banner of the Warsong and Grom Hellscream. Once Thrall had taken the mantle of Warchief, the Riht settled in Durotar, but continued to fight for their Warchief, garnering much honor.
The ties of family continued to be strong, however, and the Riht were always ready to give aid to their clan members. It was said that if one attacked a Riht, they attacked the entire family. Vengeance for any wrongs to the Riht usually was swift and merciless.
"Tell me, uncle."
Orlandoriht nodded. "You are the warrior I thought you were."
Tension seemed to flow out of the knight, and the darkness of the inn seemed to lighten ever so slightly.
"Your Mother chose her mate well. My brother was a valiant fighter. Together we fought with Grom Hellscream and his Warsong to free those caught in the internment camps. It was our race's rebirth, and for many of us, it was a chance to bathe in the blood of our enemies once again. Several Riht died in these battles, but they died with honor."
"After Thrall moved us to Durotar, we fought beside the humans against the Scourge. But the humans never trusted us. Thrall knew this, and soon sent your father, Mother and I to join the Argent Dawn in their struggle. He felt that if we continued to fight against a common enemy, the humans would see that we were a valuable ally. That was three years ago."
The knight paused and then suddenly slammed his fist on the table. "Have you seen the Alliance and Horde grow closer? I thought not. It is one of many gestures Thrall has made to our enemies, yet they continue to spurn us- the cowardly filth!"
Orlandoriht sat back and paused, toying with his beer. Stenriht noticed that his uncle had not even tasted his beverage, but that the stein was covered in frost.
"Working with the Argent Dawn, we hunted the Scourge wherever we could find them. Beside us were the races of the Horde, but also humans, dwarves, elves and even gnomes on occassion with their cursed inventions. The battles were glorious. We drove the Scourge back, smashing their cauldrons and destroying their taint."
"Your Mother, father and I used to patrol together- just the three of us. We knew each others' capabilities and could count on each other in even the most chaotic of fights. Many fell before our axes, and I think it was some of the happiest moments of our lives."
Orlandoriht's voice softened at the last as his ice-blue eyes dimmed slightly in memory. This was a part of his uncle Stenriht remembered- the story teller. Having been to the Plaguelands, Stenriht could visualize his family fighting the Scourge by day, and by night sitting around the campfire with his uncle telling stories and jokes to the merriment of Stenriht's parents. The next three words, ripped Stenriht from his vision.
"We were betrayed!"
Orlandoriht's attention once again focused on his nephew, pinning him with his impossibly blue orbs that passed as eyes. "We were riding our worgs along the road from Darrowshire, when we heard a cry for help. Knowing it could be a trap, we entered the underbrush and circled around the call- wary for any Scourge ambush. As we came to the source of the call, we saw a young human female lying in the clearing, her leg caught in a large animal trap."
"In the days of old, we would not have cared about such petty things, but in this new 'enlightened' days of the Horde, we knew our duty was to lend aid. But we were not green recruits. First, we established a perimeter, ensuring that there were no hostiles around the area. Then your father went in to free the whelp. It is then that the trap truly sprung."
Stenriht growled, "Damn the Scourge!"
The deep hollow laugh rang out mocking the young orc. "Yes, nephew, 'Damn the Scourge'. But it was not the Scourge that sprang the trap that day. It was humans. It was those who call themselves the 'Scarlet Crusade'. Through means of magic, the humans appeared in our midst. But they did not realize who they had cornered. Fully a score of the bastards died under our axes before we were captured."
The knight paused again and under his breath Stenriht heard, "Would that we had died that day."
Stenriht still had many questions, but held his tongue in check, knowing that his uncle would continue the story- one that contrasted sharply with that told by his Mother years before. Soon, his uncle continued.
"They took us to their town where we were stripped down and beaten. Not a whimper did those cretins hear from us. Instead we laughed at them. Knowing that our execution was near, we taunted those pale-faced traitors and endured their whippings and beatings with the courage of our clan."
Orlandoriht looked up at Stenriht and the young orc could almost see the fire and warmth come back to the dark knight. "I have never been prouder of your Mother and father, Sten. They were the epitome of our race and clan!" Swelling with pride, Stenriht grunted, acknowledging the compliment to his family.
"The scum decided that they were not going to break us, so they took us to separate rooms. There, we were tortured, and asked about how we were aiding the Scourge. Imagine, nephew, these humans," Orlandoriht spat, "thought that we were aiding the Scourge!"
"The torture continued for several days before the screams started. At first, I could not tell who the screams were coming from, but after the first few minutes, I recognized the voice." Stenriht dreaded the next words that he knew would come.
"It was my brother, Sten- your father. They broke him."
The young orc gasped as if he had just had the wind knocked out of him. His father, broken? How? He remembered his father- the imposing monstrous-sized orc known as Marrow. Always stern, he had been the opposite to his brother Orlandoriht's easy-going nature. Marrow had never lost a fight and was considered a Champion of the Horde. How could one such as he be broken?
Orlandoriht stared intently at the range of emotions- pain, shock, sorrow- that crossed his nephew's face. When Stenriht was ready, his uncle continued.
"After a day of this, your Mother and I were taken to some chambers where your father was being held. He was not manacled or restrained in any way. Instead, he lay on a table within the chamber of torture. Water came from his eyes and he babbled incoherently. The skin had been largely flayed from his body, and there were small metal devices impaled throughout his body. Magic energies played upon the tips of these devices. Your father was no more."
"They manacled us to the walls, and to my shame, they did it easily. We had not eaten in days and had been beaten often. We had become weak enough that eight of the humans could manage us. After we were thusly bound, one of the humans approached us. 'You think you are strong, yes?' He pointed at your father. 'He thought he was strong too. I shall rip the secrets from your flesh, just as I did him.' Sten, his name was Interrogator Vishas, and I shall never forget him."
"Seeing your father in that state, your Mother and I could no longer take it. The blood fury overtook us and consumed by rage, we broke our chains and killed all of the humans within- except for Vishas who managed to escape. We then killed that which had been your father and ran from the compound. No one stopped us, because just then their town was attacked by the Scourge."
Orlandoriht looked towards the bar in thought. "Ironic, isn't it? The Scourge were our salvation. A day later, we were found by a patrol of Argent Dawn, who took us to Light's Hope Chapel. It was shortly after our wounds had healed that your Mother and I were ordered back to Orgrimmar. Your Mother heeded the call. I stayed behind."
At this point, Stenriht was numb, trying to process what he had heard. His father, broken. His uncle, changed. He dreaded hearing more, but at the same time, could not resist. "So, uncle, how did Arthas take you?"
Again the hollow, resonating laugh. "Ah, Sten, you are a Riht. You know better."
Bowing his head, Stenriht whispered, "You joined him willingly to gain your revenge."
Orlandoriht's gauntleted fist slammed down on the table. "Of course, nephew! The Argent dawn refused to wage war on the Scarlet Crusade. They only concerned themselves with the Scourge. So, I found another tool to help me. I traveled to Arthas's realm and we spoke. It was but child's play to mold his focus to the Scarlet Crusade. In return for his assistance in wiping out the red knights, I agreed to add his power to my own. Look at me now, Sten. Behold what I am! I am the incarnation of Riht vengeance!"
Sten glanced at his uncle, but didn't care about the black light emanating from the armor and weapons of his uncle. He didn't care about the runes that lit with malevolent energy playing about the frame of the once-powerful orc. He didn't care about the evil passion that dominated his uncle's countenance. No, Orlandoriht was no more. The once playful uncle after whom Stenriht had modeled his life had now become an empty shell dominated by nothing but hate.
Seeing his nephew's reaction, Orlandoriht was puzzled. "Sten, don't you realize? With Arthas's help, I killed thousands of the Scarlet Crusade. I burned their ships, shredded their families. Destroyed their towns and churches. I laughed at their misery- inflicting what they did to my brother a hundred-fold. My only regret is that I never found Vishas."
The knight leaned forward, urgently pleading with the young warrior. "That is why I am here. Join with me, nephew. Let us find him, and we will crush the life from him over days if not weeks of glorious pain!"
Shaking his head, Stenriht slowly looked at the abomination that was once his uncle. "No, Orlando of the Riht, I have a new family and obligations to uphold. Our vengeance has been realized a thousand-fold thanks to your willingness to abandon family honor. It is time for you to determine an appropriate pennance for your crimes."
The black knight sat back in his chair, amazement clearly present. "Pennance? Are you mad, Sten? We are Riht! Nothing else matters! We are Riht, and I am now the Patriarch of the clan. We shall rebuild it to the glory that it once was- upon the blood of our enemies!"
"I have found what matters, uncle," Stenriht snapped, "Remember? You once thought as I do. Thrall is the Warchief and I serve his shield arm much as you once did. I am Ani Ayastigi!"
"Orlandoriht suddenly stood up, rage contorting his features. "You are of the Riht, whelp! Do not dishonor your heritage! This new Horde is soft! I have watched the Ani for years. They are but a shadow of what they once were. The Horde and the Ani allow Forsaken, a race that openly wishes to destroy all life! How about the Blood Elves? They attempted to destroy this world once and given an opportunity will do so again! Yet Thrall and the Ani happily let them in. The Horde is an apple that is rotten from within. It needs strength!"
"Thrall and the Ani have also accepted the Knights of the Ebon Blade, uncle," Stenriht spoke quietly but with steel, "His forgiveness also extends to you if you are willing to take it."
"You are blind, nephew! How can I make you see? We knights are the most treacherous of all! Only family matters. Nothing else! I offer you one last chance. Join with me to find your father's killer. Together we shall bathe in his blood!"
Carefully, Stenriht put his gauntlets on his fists and reached for his helmet. "I mourn the loss of my uncle. I choose to believe that he died with my father. As for Vishas, death knight who wears the countenance of my uncle, I killed him six months ago in a monastery in Tirisfel. Vengeance has been met."
Orlandoriht's mouth opened and closed but no sound emanated until, chokingly, "No. You lie. It can't be! He is mine! He... will pay!" The last was a scream as Stenriht walked out of the Inn. The day was still hot and dry, and Stenriht automatically shaded his eyes as he walked to the hitch where he had left his wolf. His heart aching, Stenriht mounted the wolf and slowly headed toward the zeppelin that would take him back to Northrend.
He didn't want to think. He didn't want to remember. He would fight the Scourge and try to forget everything except his honor. Perhaps he could die with that intact...
Authored by Stenriht. Originally published on aniayastigi.guildportal.com on November 25, 2008