The book was gone.
Smo'dis had treasured the book ever since the first day he received it. It was a gift from Ogur, on the day the orcs took their prisoner in the catapult. Smo talked to the humie about fe-orks (since he-orks obviously don't understand the fe-ork mind) and he suggested that Smo write some poetry.
Smo wrote several beautiful, stunning stanzas, such as:
Rozez am red
Vilutz am purpur
DUMSKAH VILUTZ, WHI DEM NUB BLUU
All expressing his love for the feisty fe-ork Surjin, Ruse'Igg - albeit in a twisted orcish fashion. He had treasured the book more than his own life, even more than the lives of his fellow orcs.
And now it was gone.
He didn't remember much of what happened. He remembered clomping humies, then a charge, and then he found himself trapped by walls of shimmering mojo. Unable to escape, he went down fighting, just as the order to retreat was given. Smo knew what that meant - all of his belongings were forfeit.
He inwardly cursed himself. Why didn't he leave the book back in the Surjin hut? No, someone might have taken it. Why didn't he hide it? No, someone might have found it. In the end, he realized that the safest place to keep the book was on his own person, with only the threats of looting and thieves, such as Girm'luhk, Smo's rival.
Smo was older than Girm, and Ruse was older than Smo. So being the ruthless lover that he was, he called Girm "liddul ash" many times, especially in Ruse's presence. He would give Girm battle tips in front of Ruse, rubbing in Girm's youth and battlefield inexperience. But he stopped when that seemed not to work.
Finally, Smo decided to just use his own talents to win over Ruse. One of those talents was writing. Smo discovered he had a knack for storytelling at a Wispwood contest long ago, when he was still a young grunt. Though he didn't win any prizes, he was convinced he should've. It wasn't his fault the judges didn't appreciate a good long tale.
And so, he wrote the book on that day. And for many days, he lived and died with it, resurrected and grabbed it off his corpse. Only once was it looted, and thankfully, it was recovered. And one day, he even gave it to Ruse, who wrote a promising poem back to him telling him to "juzt azk." That was the real reason he treasured the book so much - because the book represented the possibility that one day, Ruse would choose Smo as his lairmate.
But now it was gone.
Smo'dis was devastated. That book was his pride and joy. It was his dream of becoming Ruse's chosen lairmate. When he read that book, all he could think was that she really wanted him as a lairmate. For the longest time, Smo was convinced that Ruse liked Girm better. But the book made him think otherwise, every time.
But then it hit him. It wasn't the book that made Ruse like him. The book was just a bunch of blah. Ruse liked Smo for who he was. And maybe Smo didn't have the book, but at least Ruse was still there.
If Smo hadn't lost the wood he'd been carrying in his backpack, he really should have knocked on it then. Maybe things would have turned out differently. But as it was, Smo thought he was just having a bad day. He had no idea how bad it was going to get.
Smo had no idea why Ruse was calling him over to the hut area.
The first thing he noticed when he arrived were the rags. They were scattered all around the uzg. . . no, not scattered. They were forming a crude ring of sorts. And there was Ruse, adding more rags to the ring. While he was there, Smo went to the Surjin hut and changed into a new suit of ringmail/studded armor and picked out a new head-chopper lusk.
By the time he exited the hut, Girm'luhk had also shown up. Ruse quickly explained what was going on. This was to be a straight duel. No potions, no magic weapons, no stealing. And the winner of the best dub out of gahk would become Ruse's lairmate.
Inwardly, Smo was extremely nervous. He had a tendency to die to kiggrs, especially Girm, who was younger and had more energy. However, he knew that this was his chance. He had to clomp Girm to win Ruse over, and clomping Girm was what he was going to do. The two rivals went to their respective corners.
Girm's kigg dominated Round Ash. Smo could barely move with the krimp hits, and lasted not longer than 30 seconds. He quickly found himself visiting the Wargod.
As was a typical visit, the Wargod refused to even look at Smo. Apparently he'd learned to accept these visits and gave up heckling him about it. Without a word, he sent the luskr back to the uzg to continue the bout.
The first thing he remembered hearing when he returned was "Smo hab pull off dub bictoreez en row!" That was Ruse. He frowned. With all the trouble he had with kiggrs, beating one twice in a row was going to be no easy task.
Smo looked at Girm. He had a sort of smirk on his face, whether he meant to or not. Girm was feeling confident - a bit too confident. Smo noted that as he gathered his things and returned to his corner.
Round Dub began. Girm apparently decided to show off a bit. Smo timed his movements, ducking and weaving from the kigg, but it caught him and drew first blood. Girm paused to savor the moment - and Smo struck!
Ash, dub, gahk hits! Girm was losing blood, and falling back. Smo chased after him, fueled by some force he hadn't felt since his Shadowquest. This was the force that came out when Smo was backed in a corner - the force of true desperation. The last time this force came over him, he had brought a human in full plate armor nearly to her knees in only two swings of his shardie lusk. This time was no different, and Girm soon toppled from the onslaught.
Girm Ash, Smo Ash.
As he healed Girm, he saw the glint in his eyes. Round Gahk wasn't going to be as easy. Girm wasn't overly confident anymore, and he was out for blood. Smo was still fueled by his desperation. This was going to be the momo of all clomps.
He nervously chewed on some cooked ribs as he waited for Girm to gather his possessions. He thought to himself about the battle to come. Both of the fighters lost stamina fairly quickly. If he tried to conserve his stamina earlier on, it would come back to aid him in the end. Sounded like a plan.
Round Gahk began. It was very back and forth. First Smo would nearly die, then his rag would kick in and Girm would nearly die, then they'd both be at full health. At one point, both Smo and Girm were about to fall.
Smo was sticking to his strategy. While Girm ran around in circles and wasted his breath, Smo stood still and conserved it. This strategy began to pay off, and Girm noticed it too when he said, "Gah, Smo hittin fastur den Girm!" Smo grinned to himself. The cornerstone of the kigg's power was speed, and now that Girm had lost it, this match was going to him.
Then the paralyzing blows came.
If there was one thing Smo hated, it was paralyzing blows. The feeling of being stunned, rooted in place while the opponent took shots at him, made him feel not only helpless but weak. Worse yet, it allowed his opponent to hit him while he couldn't even move his lusk. And Girm had just landed two in a row.
Smo had lost a lot of blood, and nearly fell. But everything seemed to stop. He saw an image of Ruse. The image quickly faded, and he saw Girm, celebrating like a drunken fool. He saw himself, standing off to the side, heartbroken, watching the celebration.
And he knew what he had to do.
"SKAH!" Smo screamed as he struggled to break the stunning effects of the kigg. He brought his paws up above his head and sent them crashing down. Girm was caught completely off guard and soon found himself retreating from the furious juggernaut which had come after him.
"Nub dis time, Girm," Smo thought to himself. He was winning - it was time to finish it.
With all the energy he had, he weaved through the ring, cutting Girm off at every turn. Everywhere Girm went to run, Smo was already there, lusk in hand, hacking furiously at his rival. And finally, the fatal blow.
Girm'luhk, the kiggr who fought like an ox, fell at Smo's feet. Smo Dub, Girm Ash. It was over, and Smo had won.
He turned to Ruse, his new lairmate. . . but Ruse was in some sort of trance. He heard a cry for help from the fort and ran to investigate. He had a feeling it wasn't going to be that easy. And was he ever right.
Smo'dis's enraged scream split the air as he charged through the back of the fort. A half-weakened human sat in the front, on horseback. This would NOT be tolerated.
Still somewhat caught up in his bloodlust, Smo leaped at the human and left him unable to move in one hit. Helpless to do nothing but die, that's exactly what the human did. Girm chased off the other human, but not before getting his thieving paws on one of his bags. For a moment, it was as if nothing had changed. But they had.
Smo returned to Ruse to ask her what was to happen now. But Ruse only walked away. Smo chased after her, and behind him he heard the saddened Girm asking the unborn Paul Atreides for a mojo hole to Wispwood. Apparently Girm was going to drown his sorrows in cider. Smo felt bad for him, but at the same time, he couldn't help but feel overjoyed after winning over Ruse.
Smo followed Ruse to the Surjin hut, where he sat down with her and began to talk.
"Lat uki wif all dis?" he asked.
Ruse replied, "Dat wuz zuppuze mak id eeziur. . . "
It was clear to Smo that although he won the clomp, Ruse was still not clear on what she wanted to do. Smo was torn. On one hand, he clomped Girm fair and square. But on the other hand, if Ruse wasn't sure that was what she wanted, it wasn't his place to tell her it was.
Shortly after, Girm returned, as drunk as a mob of orcs that broke into Wispwood's secret stash. "Lat guin wunt sum ub dis," he said as he tossed a rather large amount of cider on the ground. But as he bent down to pick them up, he heard the sound of a kigg whistling over his head.
"SKAHIN BAKSTABBUR!!" Smo thought to himself as he brought his lusk deep into his opponent's side. But to his surprise, it was not Girm'luhk who had attacked him. Ruse'Igg stood there, bleeding badly from the lusk wound. And then she turned to the unwitting Girm, who also acted out of instinct. And then Ruse toppled to the ground.
Smo and Girm, both quite intoxicated, attempted to resurrect Ruse. Under any other circumstances, the sight would have been enough to make Brugh laugh. But none of the orcs present felt like laughing.
Girm came up with the idea that they needed chairs. So Smo, being the lumberjack, went out to gather wood and make some. Girm stayed with Ruse.
He had gathered about twenty logs when he heard a strange noise. He went to investigate, and soon realized that he shouldn't have. There, standing in front of him, was the biggest, meanest-looking lich he had ever seen. And it was coming towards him.
Smo was paralyzed with fear. Laffur. Mojo. He was allergic to mojo, and he was all by himself. Worse yet, he still couldn't see clearly. And to top it off, in his drunken state, he could barely stand up, let alone get away.
It looked like Ruse's decision was about to become a lot easier.
Smo'dis stood, drunken face to peeling face, with his worst nightmare. He'd gone rounds with laughers before, but usually with someone else to heal him, and never when drunk. He knew that in his state, he wouldn't be able to escape, so he really had no choice but to face the laugher by himself.
It started normally enough. Smo got a couple hits in, then reacted with a coughing fit when the laugher returned with mojo. But then Smo somehow sobered up enough to aim at the laugher's head. Success! The laugher was dazed and couldn't cast as well. Smo finished it off with a couple of brisk strokes.
The near-death experience seemed to put things in perspective for Smo. He recalled a scene from his grunteehood, where he first saw the Shadowclan fort, while hidden in the bushes in front. He was both frightened and in awe at its amazing structure and the way it dominated over everything around it. He was thrilled at the thought of meeting other orcs like himself and his cousin F'ru, yet he was afraid they wouldn't accept him. In the end, he flipped a coin. Heads, he'd go in and say ug; tails, he'd turn around and go back to his cave, and never mention it to his cousin.
Smo flipped tails.
He turned around, a bit saddened, to go back home. As he started to walk back, he thought to himself, "Whi me guin? Whi me nub du bezt dub owt ub gahk." And then it hit him. The only reason he wanted to redo the flip was because he really didn't want to go. He put his coin away, turned, and walked into the fort. And the rest was history.
He walked back to the ring. He saw Ruse taking Girm's monkey from him, and though he wasn't sure what it meant, he knew that Girm wouldn't give up Munki to just anyone. He knew that Girm really cared for Ruse; that Ruse would be happy if she were with Girm. And he knew what he had to do, and why he had to do it. He was going to hate it, but he had to.
"Ruse, du lat likee Girm bettur den Smo?" he asked.
"Whi lat azk dat?" Ruse replied.
"Luuk," he said. "Me wun da clomp, agh lat nub wan'd tu gu wif dat. . . "
He explained a bit about his method of making tough decisions to the two.
". . . su, in senze, lat am azkin fur bezt dub owt ub gahk.
"Lat reeli likee Girm muur," he continued. "Me alwaiz grukd it, but me huped dat me kud chanj latz mind. Gezz nub. . . "
Girm was still very drunk, and said to Smo, "Nub boddur, it nub mattur."
Smo turned to Girm. "Shaddab agh let me blah! Dis impurtunt." He continued to explain how Ruse would be happier with Girm, and finally, he said the words he never thought he'd hear himself say: "Lat shud be Girm'z layrmate."
But when he turned around again, Ruse'Igg was gone.
Smo'dis couldn't remember much after that. He had a vague memory of himself, Girm, and a runtee getting VERY drunk in the keep, then he remembered the same group collecting tribute in the Surjin hut.
Suddenly Smo heard a moaning. He looked up to see the spirit form of Ruse'Igg haunting the Surjin hut. He quickly applied bandages and resurrected her. He couldn't resist smirking a little bit at Girm as he healed her.
When Ruse recovered, she told Smo and Girm how she went to Moonglow and fought with five humans at once, and even managed to kill one of them. The story was very impressive, but Smo had more important matters to discuss. He looked at Ruse and said, "Me tink lat shud pik Girm."
However, Ruse had plugged her ears. Smo, a bit confused, turned to Girm for help. However, Girm was still drunk out of his mind. Smo was on his own, with no idea how to help out Ruse by giving her up to Girm.
He thought about when he first started to like Ruse. Glekun had just told him how, as a priestess, she was planning to never have a lairmate. Smo was very depressed, but then he realized that he was changing himself to suit Glekun. Smo told himself that he was too aggressive to be satisfied with Glekun. He didn't think about whether or not the only reason he told himself that was to make himself feel better, and he didn't want to think about it.
He realized that Ruse was the more aggressive type that he was looking for. Girm'luhk became very angry with Smo for it, and at first, Ruse even thought that Smo just picked her because there were no other fe-orks to pick.
That gave him the idea.
He leaned over and whispered it to Girm, but Girm was still too drunk to understand a word of it. Smo sadly turned to Ruse and said, "Ruse, remembur wen lat azked me ib me wuz pikkin lat bekuz der wuz nubash elze?"
Though Ruse didn't remember it, he finished with, "Me li'd, me wuz pikkin lat bekuz der wuz nubash elze. Dat whi Girm dezurbz lat beddur."
"Soh," Ruse asked, "lat nub reeli lik meeb?"
Smo started fidgeting. He didn't like lying to Ruse, but he knew that deep down, she wanted to be with Girm. And even if it hurt him, he had to make sure that she was happy. "Nub," he answered.
It was clear that Ruse knew Smo was lying. She looked into his eyes, and he turned away. Finally, he shouted, "JUZT PIK GIRM!"
"Whi?" Ruse asked.
"BEKUZ," Smo answered, "ME NUB WAN LAT ANIMUUR! DAT WHI!"
Teary-eyed, Smo raced out the door, but soon walked back in with a strange calmness. "Me juzt wan tu get sumting," he said as he walked to the chests. Girm and Ruse both thought it was odd that Smo opened up the mojo chest, but didn't think anything of it until they heard the sound of him opening the tap of one of the kegs.
Also, both of them caught a glimpse of something green that Smo tucked into his backpack.
Smo'dis turned away from the small crowd and pulled the green mojowater out of his pack. He stared at it in a sort of unconscious trance. He wasn't sure why, but he had a nearly uncontrollable urge to drink, despite the fact that he was allergic to mojo in general, and poison wasn't good for anyone. He slowly brought the bottle to his lips. . .
Perhaps it was fate, or a sobered sense of what was going on, or just dumb luck. But Girm staggered over to Smo and handed him a jug of cider. "Drink it," he slurred.
Smo stashed the poison in his pack, and turned his attention to the cider. After getting drunk, he staggered outside and set up chairs. Girm thanked him, and he and Ruse took seats. Smo opted to stand.
"Latz dub be habbi, uki?" Smo forced out of his mouth. Girm nodded, and he and Ruse both wished Smo good luck.
Then Smo bent down to Girm. "Ib lat EBUR miztreet Ruse," he snarled, "me guin clomp lat su hard latz KUBBIZ will feel it! Kleer?" Girm nodded, and Smo added a "Guud."
"Nub furget uld Smo wen latz am inbitin geztz," he muttered, "agh sabe me sum kake." They talked for a bit, and then Ruse decided to clomp both the he-orks for no apparent reason. Which she did.
After receiving flesh, the orcs joked a bit more. The last thing Smo picked up while recovering his items was the bottle of poison mojowater. As he eyed it, it seemed to cast a spell over him, inviting him to the Wargod, to a place where he would never have to worry about lovesickness and emotions again. He yearned for the freedom, for the end to his pain. . .
"Me guin gu sleebi ur sumting. . . " he mumbled.
"Gug'ye Smo," Girm called out, in much better spirits. "Cee lat awn baddulfeeld!"
"Gug'ye," he returned, though he never said gug'ye with as much purpose or permanence as this one. He walked away from the setup in front of the mojo hut. Standing on the porch of the Surjin hut, he turned to look at the couple. They looked so happy, and yet he felt so miserable.
Smo once again let his paw stray to his backpack. This time he would not delay. He pulled the bottle out of his pack, making a bit of noise in the process. He popped the top off of it and brought it to his lips, then tilted his head back and swallowed.
"Habbinizz. . . at. . . lazt," a delusional Smo thought to himself as he stumbled through the door of the Surjin hut and collapsed on the floor.
Coughing, sneezing, vomiting and twitching, Smo'dis lay on the ground and waited to return to the Wargod for good. There was nothing left for him now that Ruse was promised to Girm. Things would be better with the Wargod, he figured. No fe-orks to worry about, no rivals to fight for their attention. . . Smo could find peace.
But it never came. First, the twitching stopped. The vomiting eased to nausea, and went away. The loud coughing slowly died down while the sneezing fits stopped. The potion had worn off.
"Tupid mojowaturz," Smo muttered, even as Ruse raced into the hut (though a bit late) to alleviate his pain.
"Sum tings, Ruse," Girm said, "rags nub heel."
Smo felt worn and beaten. In one night, he had won Ruse - an achievement he had been striving for months to accomplish - and given her up - an action he never expected to take. Yet he was convinced Ruse was happy, and he was doomed to be sad. He decided to just get some sleep and forget about everything.
He woke up with a terrible hangover the next day. Part of this was not his fault - he would have slept longer, if not for the noise level in the hut. The Surjinz were having a meeting to discuss uniform changes. Apparently, they were trying to distinguish themselves, which was tough to do when every gruntee and even some grunts wore shadow-colored armor.
Smo was drunk out of his mind, but somehow managed to offer the idea for bronze as a new color. He was still feeling terrible, and reached for his cider, but had a quick second thought. He was still near the chests.
He quickly pulled out a bottle, filled it with more poison, and swallowed. However, if the poison didn't work while he was alone, it certainly wouldn't work in a room full of trained professionals ready to cure him. Ruse healed him up and told him to stop. Smo, too drunk to argue, just downed more cider.
Then it hit him. The poison wasn't strong enough. He needed the best poison he could get. So he thought about it and recalled stories about a poison so strong that there was no cure. Strangely enough, not even the best poisoners could duplicate this type of poison. Unsure what to do, he remembered stories about a creature made up purely of poison that lurked deep within Shame. Smo had never seen it before, but he figured now was as good a time as any.
"Heer tokshun shwirli, Shmo guin clomp lat," he murmured in a drunken fever as he half-staggered, half-ran out the door and into the woods.
Smo'dis crashed through the woods in a drunken rage.
All rational thought was gone from his head. All he could think of was clomping the tokshun swirli so that he could find the strongest poison, and end his suffering. Nothing else mattered, and anything that stood in his way would regret it.
The first creatures to learn this were a pair of harpies. They quickly cornered Smo in Shame pass, and were attempting to have him for dinner. What they didn't know was that they would end up being the main course. Smo quickly took them down, and instinctively de-feathered and looted them.
Then he heard a noise. Footsteps! He was being followed. He couldn't be stopped, he had to get his hands on that poison! Smo raced off at top speed for Shame hole.
The dark, dank atmosphere of Shame seemed to sober Smo up a bit. Just the same, he raced in, hoping to outrun the sluggish earth elementals on his way to the ultimate prize. However, he noticed that one of the earth elementals was already dead.
Smo was no fool. He vanished into the shadows and sniffed at the corpse. Humans - two of them. He would have to be careful.
He slowly made his way a bit deeper into Shame. He heard a pathetic whinnying sound. Looking up, he saw a tame horse wandering the caverns. Though he was drunk and delusional, Smo was also a very instinctive orc, and the urge for "fuud" soon cost the steed its life.
He searched all the bone piles in the area, but none of them appeared to be fresh. Whatever happened to the humans, it was not for Smo to find out. Deciding to return to the mission at hand, he charged into the second level of Shame.
The passages were a bit tighter, but that was no big problem for the raging Smo. He squeezed between the cave wall and a stalagmite, and was confronted by an air elemental. Smo'dis was allergic to the mojo that the air elementals used, but that wasn't going to stop him now. He launched himself at the monster, but was soon brought back to reality when he heard, in the faint, distance, a terrifying death scream.
"RUSE!" Smo realized. The scream seemed to bring him back to reality. What was he doing here? He shouldn't be trying to kill a stupid tokshun swirli. He had to help Ruse!
However, it was easier said than done. When he turned to escape, he realized that two of the air elemental's brethren had heard the battle raging and decided to join in. Smo was krimped. Swirling juggernauts of air pushed at him from every direction, sealing him in place. And there was no end to the awful mojo, the continuous horrible procession. . .
And finally, Smo'dis collapsed face-down in the dirt.
Ruse and Smo stood together and waited to be taken to the Wargod. "Whi lat folluwin me?" Smo asked.
"Nub waned lat tu clomp tokshun elemuntal," Ruse answered.
"Nuw uz boff ded."
"Soh?" Ruse asked.
"Lat wud hab been bettur uff ib lat staid bak," he replied.
"Meeb ded wiff lat," she answered.
Smo sighed. "Ruse," he began, "lat hab Girm. Dat am end ub sturi. Dat it. Nub matturz wut Smo wan."
Ruse seemed a bit puzzled, so he continued. "Me am Surjin. It mi jub tu luuk owt fur ebriash elze befur me. Dat wut me du'd - juzt mi jub." He sighed again.
Ruse inquired, "Id nub maddur wot Ruse wan?"
Now it was Smo's turn to be puzzled. "Ruse wan Girm," he mumbled.
"Nub," she replied.
"Den whi lat imz layrmate?"
"Ruse waned cee whu wuz willin tu gib Ruse ub tu releez Ruses brain pain."
Smo'dis sighed again. Sure, she said that now, but he knew she'd forget about it soon enough. Smo tried to win Ruse over by being the better orc. When she wanted to have the best clomper, he clomped. When she was still unsure, he tried to help by sacrificing his own happiness to ease her mind. And look where it got him. A corpse in Shame and a trip to the Wargod were nothing compared to having to spend each moon waking up and realizing that Ruse was lairmating with Girm.
Apparently the Wargod realized it too. He took one look at Smo, then did the last thing Smo ever expected.
He started to laugh.
"IT NUB FUNNI!" Smo shouted. Apparently, this only fueled the humor that the Wargod was finding in Smo's pain. Unable to speak through the fit of of laughter, he sent Smo back without a word.
Smo'dis awoke at the feet of a blue healer. He picked himself up, dusted himself off, and raced back into Shame.
Using the skills he had spent so much time practicing as a runtee, he dashed from shadow to shadow, always staying out of sight of the enemy. He knew that one false noise meant trouble, and in his state, death. Luckily, remembering his training as a gruntee, he knew better than to take on overwhelming odds by himself. He finally made it back to his corpse. . . only to discover that it was already empty!
He whirled around, and saw the newly grunted Surjin Og'Luzk standing behind him. He handed Smo a bag with his things in it, and Smo quickly slipped into battle gear. Together, the two grunts headed down to where Ruse fell.
When they arrived, they were greeted with a horde of earth elementals and scorpions. Nevertheless, the two grunts fought side-by-side, healing each other while Smo gathered Ruse's things. Together, they fought off incredible odds and managed to save all of Ruse's things, and drop quite a few monsters in the process.
"Letz gu," he said as he picked up the last of the items, and the two grunts raced out of the cave, scaring the wits out of a poor unsuspecting human named Matt-the-Second.
Smo and Og talked and laughed on the way back to the fort. He was feeling much better. After all, he still had his friends, and with friends like Ruse'Igg, Og'Luzk, and even Girm'luhk, he could wait for love - at least, for a little bit longer.