Rite of Passage
Cycle 32, Northern plains of Utgard
It would still take 3 hours for the shadow of the water pole to reach the noon. Then, the shamans would officially announce the arrival of the Wind Season. The young Alzamag, an orc who had distinguished over his contemporaries, and his twin brother, Xaaz’al-Ungul, were the favorites of the Soth-Makar clan. The shaman Mag’Ushar guided his people through gigantic grasslands and cared about the youngest orcs until they were able to wield bows and hunting axes. Most of them loved him as a father, especially Alzamag and his brother. He had teached about divination through bones and entrails since they were kids, as his father, Alzaz-Ungul, would have done. Her mother was Agora Mul’Kar and their names were engraved in the log of memories, which was slowly being covered by the names of the departed. They would protect and guide them from the realm of the dead. Mag’Ushar educated them as if they were his sons and told them that he would tell them the story of their fathers the day of their rite of passage. The mourning of the kids was brief, and they soon accepted Ushar as a grandfather. Xaaz’al-Ungul was always bolder, with a greater sense of doing things. Alzamag was a bit more cautious, wiser, perhaps, and usually had a calming effect over his brother. The elder had noticed that, and he would have to separate them if they wanted to survive the plains of Utgard. They had to learn alone. That’s why he had chosen to make them take the rite almost 6 cycles before the usual. Each one of them promised great things, but they were not able of being alone. When they were far, far away, lost in the infinite grasslands of Utgard, without the shelter of the tribe to protect them, they would truly be alone.
When he adopted them, he knew that those kids would change the history of his people. He felt how the cunning of Alzamag and the might of his brother combined to figure out the tests before them. Being only 12 cycles old, both were expert archers and knew how to weave the sinews of the animals to create ropes. They had learned how to track their prey through the pastures to the clear streams where they fed. They were respected for both their skill and prudence. No one doubted that they would be taken as the natural sons of Mag’Ushar someday, a thing that would allow them to become shamans in the future.
But the Soth-Makar tribe was large, and there were orcs that not only had exceeded the deeds of the sons of Agora Mul’Kar, but also had the age appointed by the shamans of old in the times before the great horde left the frozen peaks of Eisgrind. Alzamag and his brother were but kids. They didn’t had the nerve to become hunters, least of all shamans. They would not convince them. Not Gokk Mor’kas. Not him, who had learned how to treat decayed teeth, how to apply leeches and how to read the future in the dust of the streets a whole cycle before Mag’Ushar himself had done so. Alzamag and Xaaz’al were a pair of spoiled imbeciles. They had lost their parents, and the tribe had pitied them. What they had achieved was not their work. He wouldn’t allow them to ruin everything when his triumph was so, so close.
Two more hours. Xaaz’al-Ungul had asked him that same morning if he remembered their mother; if he remembered how she stayed with them until they finally fell asleep. If he remembered how her and dad spoke about the ice of Eisgrind. “They always spoke about the giants, Alzamag. We will meet them someday.” He was so nervous that night that he wasn’t able to sleep. He always had the same dream on the occasions in which tiredness beat him: Dark clouds, an endless beach struck by lightning wherever he fixed his gaze on and a single, bodiless eye, dislodged from the sanity of any living creature. He spoke about his dream with his grandpa, because his grandpa was good at decoding the messages of Yog-Sothoth. He did not answer. For the second time on his life, what he got was silence.
— That is unfair, young Gokk. We all know that you are the best éshar of the tribe.
— And Alzamag is better than me planning stuff. That is unfair for me too. Besides, you know that he and his brother Xaaz’al will never separate from each other. We are all in disadvantage before them. I almost feel as crippled as my father.
— Son of Ulth Mor’kas, you owe him a greater deal of respect to him than that. Don’t worry about the kids. You know that the rite states that it is each orc for himself.
— And it also says that no one under 18 cycles would ever take part on it. You help them because the only thing Agora and her husband were good at was at dying.
— You have a long tongue, young Gokk. If you still hold any respect towards me, go prepare for your rite and leave me alone.
— Yes, elder.
— Come closer, little ones. Approach. It is time to tell you the story of your fathers.
— Don’t cry, Alzamag.
— Shut up, worgen shit.
— Alzamag, get out. I will not tolerate that language here. Did you wait so long for this? Your father would be disappointed.
— Why did he die then? — Alzamag left Mag’Ushar’s shack cursing himself. How could he ruin that moment? Even worse, the grandpa would tell Xaaz’al and he would make him swear not to tell him. He had been acting odd lately, as if he did not love them anymore. He sent them to tend the few worgens they had captured over the cycles at different times. While Xaaz’al worked at day, when the hunters took them to explore, he was tending them at night, when they were especially short-tempered. Removing the feces from the cells was an almost impossible task. He had to throw some food on the other side of the cell and plead Yog-Sothoth that they did not kill themselves over a piece of flesh. He had barely enough time to take a few steps, remove a portion of the manure, and then he had to throw in more meat. He did not understood why. They had never failed him or yelled at him. But he knew deep inside that the grandpa was old and tired, and that the age was starting to take a toll on his character. Well, he wanted to know. He went to the back of Mag’Ushar’s tent and soon he was listening.
— I know that you love each other, Xaaz’al, but promise me that you will not help Alzamag on his rite.
— Why not? I thought that you wanted us to take care of each other.
— I do indeed, my child, but it is time for you and your brother to go each one his own way. You can’t go together through life. This tribe needs a strong leader, not two children that won’t give a step without the other.
— But we have always done so, dad, and look, we are about to go through the rite.
— That is exactly what I wanted to talk about. Each one does his rite alone, Xaaz’al. You can’t do it together. Do you know why?
— Well, let me tell you. The story of your fathers is quite complicated, Xaaz’al-Ungul. They were brother and sister. They loved each other so much, as Alzamag and you do, but once they loved too much. Ulth Mor’kas was betrothed to Agora since they were your age, but when he heard that she was pregnant of you, he decided he wanted to know nothing more about it. Your father changed his name, but they had already dishonored their family. They were exiled and wandered aimlessly for weeks, until they found me. I sheltered them. Why? Maybe because they never tried to deceive me. They told me their history since we met, and I was not able to kick them out, to tell them that what they had done was impure, even though tradition told me otherwise. Now that I see you and Alzamag I know I was not mistaken. Some cycles later, we found the remains of a tribe and some survivors wandering nearby. Yes, Ulth Mor’kas was amongst them. Their tribe had been ravaged by feral worgens. He brought his son Gokk, which was 7 cycles old, with him. The meeting was not pleasant. Do you understand now why Gokk hates you so much? Well, as I was saying, the cycles passed and one day, Ulth tracked down the worgens that had destroyed his tribe. He asked for volunteers and most of the survivors joined. Your mom and your dad joined to avenge their families. What? Oh, yes, they had dishonored them, but they wanted to prove their worth avenging them. That’s why they left. Agora told me to look after you if something happened to them, and for a long time I have wished that she hadn’t said those words. The hunt was a complete failure. The worgens annihilated the group and just a few survived. That’s why Ulth doesn’t have legs and an eye, and that’s why you lost your parents. If there was any glory that day, I don’t know about it. Since then we decided that each one would have to do his or her own things. Each one would have to survive alone. — They kept talking for a few minutes, but he was not listening anymore. Alzamag left his hideout without a noise. He understood that day why his grandpa had tried to separate them. He feared that the story of his parents could repeat itself. It seemed that Xaaz’al had also understood. They saw less each day, as if they had agreed that this distance was to be kept until the rite had passed.
Just a few minutes. The sweat in his bracers and the straps of his shield was unpleasant. At his left were a pair of orcs older than him, and a bit further away was his brother. He had Gokk at his right. The rite consisted in 3 parts: the first one was a demonstration of physical strength and basic combat skills. The second one was a medical knowledge test, which was supervised by the tribe’s best healers and the third one was always a secret. On the past cycles he had seen a group of orcs crossing a river and making a bridge together. He knew that the huntress Meshak An’mokar had suggested the idea of the bridge and she joined the explorers since that day. That time everyone succeeded on their rite, but there were some times in which they were asked to heal the sick and only those who were quick enough to find the treatment made it. Many failed on those occasions, since they had to approve two medical tests one after the other. Those that delayed too much or didn’t find it would have to wait for an entire cycle to try again. Alzamag knew that he had no chance on the physical test. Xaaz’al might do it, but he wouldn’t. A young woman smiled at him with a smile that might have said “Go on! Have faith!” He suddenly realized his age. He was 12 cycles. Everyone else was at least 18. He didn’t want to look at his brother. Both were terrified, alone, as they had never been before.
The rite of passage began with the sound of a horn. 60 young orcs were thrown into a circular arena, surrounded by the entire tribe. Alzamag was almost knocked down by the girl that had smiled at him a while ago. He knew that he would be out if he fell, but he didn’t have the strength to face anyone. He would have to cheat. It would not be the most honorable path, but he was sure he could at least disarm someone. Xaaz’al, at the other side of the arena, had reached the same conclusion. He aimed at the lower parts of his opponents. He was bleeding from the mouth. Someone had hit him with a shield. Alzamag barely had time to react. An orc around the 20 cycles of age ran towards him. He jumped to one of the sides and the orc tripped. He only had to push him. He heard the roar of the crowd at his back. The pup had knocked down someone. Gokk had an impressive strength. Any orc who stood against him was quickly subdued. He was an impressive foe. The rest of the orcs noticed that a few moments later. Two, even three orcs attacked him at the same time, but Gokk dissolved them attacking the leader first. The survivors retreated and engaged in combat with anyone but him. In less than eight minutes, 48 of the future warriors had already been eliminated. Alzamag brought down one with a kick between the legs and Xaaz’al had found a nice weapon in his shield. Dehka, the orc which had smiled at him, fought on. The shamans paused the combat for a few seconds so the fallen could leave the arena.
— You taunt it and I kill it. — said Xaaz’al, while both spied over the boar. Though it wasn’t the first time they did it, it was the first time they had met one so large.
— Why not the other way around?
— Because I am stronger, you moron, and besides, you run faster than me.
— But I shoot better.
— Then let’s kill it from afar.
— No, go and run. It’s your turn. I ran the last time.
— Boar’s upon you, Xaaz’al! — His brother, from a distance, nodded. He started taunting Gokk and he grew overconfident. He ran after Xaaz’al-Ungul without noticing that Alzamag had flanked him. Dehka also noticed this and ran along the child. Gokk did not wait for the child to react. He smote him with the border of his shield and knocked him down with a push. Blinded by pain, Xaaz’al was not able to see how Alzamag and Dehka tackled Gokk from the back. However, he did not fall. The orc turned around and floored her with a single hit. He finally had Alzamag before him, alone and dazed. He hit his face twice, thrice, even a fourth time with his shield. While he was staggered, Gokk crossed a leg behind him and finished him off with a single move. The test ended some seconds later, with the surrender of the three remaining warriors. Covered by sweat and sand, Gokk was the best of them all during the first test. The next phase would come the next day, after treating the wounded. Xaaz’al-Ungul and Dehka had it easy. They were bumped and had a lot of bruises. Xaaz’al had to be sutured where the shield had hit him. Alzamag got stitches in his forehead and the left side of his face, where Gokk’s shield had struck with special wrath. He had an hemorrhage on his eye; the shamans said he didn’t lose it by pure luck. He couldn’t sleep that night. The swelling of his eyelid and the pain he felt on his face kept him awake for most of the night. Dehka slept near him. She hugged him as if he were his little brother and Alzamag cried. He didn’t want to be there the next morning. He didn’t want to face Gokk again.
The young orcs were summoned to the arena some hours before the noon. The people had placed a big piece of fabric over them to shelter them from the sun. They had also brought several tables, leeches and plants. There were several wounded and the shamans of the tribe were also there. Alzamag knew that they would have to cure someone before everyone, and though he knew he could do it, he didn’t want to. The rite of passage was a show for the young ones, but it held no meaning. They could have killed them all and nobody would have done nothing. On past cycles, some orcs had died, but it was an “everything goes” event. If the wounded died, there would be no consequences. Yog-Sothoth had chosen them. They could try the next cycle. It had no sense they were there that time. They had not the age, nor the practice nor the strength.
The test began when the shadow of the water pole reached the base of the arena. They took turns in groups of 10. Each one of the orcs had the freedom to do whatever they thought was the best. Some just checked the wounded and instructed them how to take care of their wounds. Some others mashed some herbs, cleaned and massaged the wounded area, applied the salve and bandaged the area. However, none had tried an amputation for cycles. None of them wanted to cripple someone for the rest of their lives without holding the title of shaman. Those had the protection of their names, but they were mere kids. No, none of them would have dared to amputate the day of the rite. The last someone tried that, several months without food and scarce rain followed. Since then, every cutting instrument had been removed from the rite. Those who had gangrene or necrosis were treated by the shamans, not by the young ones.
— It’s your turn, Gokk. Mend Alzamag.
— Elder, please.
— Will you relinquish your test, Gokk Mor’kas, and dishonor your father and your family?
— Then go. You have until the shadow of the water pole disappears.
Alzamag saw the wrath inside the eyes of Gokk. He guessed that his grandpa saw that too, but he wasn’t able to guess why he had left him at the will of the one who hated him the most in the entire Utgard region. Gokk grabbed a pair of leeches and placed them on the most swollen zones. While they sucked out the blood, he got a mortar, gentian, red clover flowers, and garlic and crushed them. He was doing his job with a resolve and determination he had only seen in his grandpa. Even though he hated him, Gokk knew what he was doing, and that annoyed him even more. He did not know how to prepare such salves. He knew that gentian was used to help the healing process, but he ignored what the other two ingredients were for. Gokk pushed him against the table, knocking him, but soon he felt the hands of his enemy working in his wounds. He was unstitching him and removing the leeches. He was using their saliva to remove the pus that had formed overnight. Then, he cleaned the area. He applied the salve with a greater care than he had expected. He also chose the best fabrics they had on the arena and patched him up good. He finished quickly. Ten minutes after Gokk had begun, Alzamag was already heading towards Dehka and his brother. He would be in the fifth round. His brother surrendered on his test. Dehka made a simple remedy. Alzamag knew that Gokk had also beaten them on that test. When his turn came, he decided to emulate the recipe of his rival. He crushed two small pieces of garlic, a piece of gentian and some clover flowers. He put leeches on the affected zones, cleaned and applied the salve. Then he cleaned again and bandaged him. He was not as fast or precise as Gokk, but he didn’t feel insecure either. The shamans sent everyone to rest that afternoon. None of them left the arena feeling comfortable: if there were any infections or complications, they would appear several hours after their intervention. The medical test usually lasted for two or three days.
— Follow me, Alzamag. — The young orc could tell that something happened just by the face of his grandpa. Some other orcs had been called to check on their patients, but most of them had returned a short time after, saying that the shamans congratulated them and had made minor corrections. But none of them was called by the leader of the tribe that late. At least, the pain in his face and the bruises had disappeared. Maybe he would be able to remove the bandages in the morning.
— Draw the curtain, son. Your patient has had a terrible fever for hours. Can you tell me what happened?
— I followed Gokk’s recipe.
— He has been practicing his doses and procedures for cycles. The death of one of our own can’t be taken lightly.
— I thought I could do it.
— You were not only reckless, but also prideful and idiotic, Alzamag. If you didn’t feel ready, you could have done the same thing as Xaaz’al and asked for a later date of examination. But no, you had to be the best. Your brother will keep his honor and the chance to prove himself, but you will never remove this stain from yourself. The first patient you ever tended to is gravely sick. The ravings of fever are horrible. The shamans have said they won’t grant your blessing unless you explain what happened through your head. It is either to explain and humiliate yourself or to ask Yog-Sothoth with all your might for his recovery. Anyway, you have until the end of the rite to choose. I am so very sorry, son.
Alzamag left Mag’Ushar’s tent. The elder knew that he was responsible for the mistakes of his young pupil. He forced him beyond his capacity. They were children. They were the best of their generation and maybe better than many older than them, but they lacked expertise. Yes, it had been his fault, but he was too old and tired to admit it. Sometimes the world turned its back on you. That lesson could save their lives at some point.
The next morning was tense. Everyone knew about Alzamag’s error by then. He was the chosen one of their leader. They would humiliate him at the end of the rite. The doctor kid. They gathered this time after the sunset. The third test usually dragged a lot of people out of curiosity. Alzamag saw a lot less orcs this time, maybe around twenty, which meant that they had been eliminated in both tests and had no right to be there amongst them. He saw Xaaz’al-Ungul and their friend Dehka near him and he felt somewhat relieved. He didn’t fear the test, but what would come after if he didn’t succeed. Gokk was also there, with a smile that deformed his face. He was staring at him. Several older orcs lit torches all around the arena. A shaman spoke about the value of the rite of passage and how they were about to leave the protection of their fathers to turn into orcs worthy of the name of the tribe and some other stuff. It was then when he saw the worgens. They had tried to hide them, but they had already torn the fabrics over their cell.
— It is time to reveal the third test of your rite of passage. — An old shaman, younger than Mag’Ushar, rose and extended his arms. Behind him, four large orcs, the largest Alzamag had ever seen, carried the cell he had seen some minutes before. — This worgen survived the slaughter of her pack. Her pups are now ours. You have the task to face her. You are twenty against one. No rules or consequences today, but bear in mind that we are watching. May Yog-Sothoth grant you courage and strength this day. Release Lug’Ka.
The worgen, seeing those that had imprisoned her approaching, thought that they would try to harm them. They had killed every last of them and only the three eldest worgen mothers had been spared because of their pups. She curled instinctively at the rear of the cage. Some orcs stung her from behind with some long, pointy sticks. When she noticed what was going on, she was already in front of some twenty lesser orcs. They had no animal skins over them, and most were terrified to death. She knew she didn’t have many options. If she returned she would be stung again and she would never see her pups again. Suddenly, another sting. She finally took a resolution. She howled loud and clear, as if trying to convey in that howl the message that the last one of the worgen mothers would never bend her legs or her head before anyone. They would be easy prey. They held none of the things they had used to slaughter her pack. They were alone, with a single piece of leather covering their arms.
Almost everyone retreated before the huge worgen. Xaaz’al-Ungul was one of the few that stayed on the vanguard. Gokk was on the other side. The worgen attacked him first, but he was able to hit her with his shield and she got stunned. Then, the worgen really focused on him. The remaining warriors surrounded them like an arena inside the arena, but the shamans and the people around pushed them back into the combat. Almost none dared to step into the worgen’s reach. Gokk knew how to defend himself: he was only awaiting for her attacks to counterattack. This was saving him a lot of energy and allowed him to measure her movements better. — Do we really have only one worthy of being a shaman? — Laughter and mocking followed. The sound of the laughter of the other orcs distracter the worgen and Gokk managed to hit her for a second time. Several orcs, wounded in their pride, finally advanced against Lug’Ka. When the worgen noticed that she was being surrounded, she retreated a bit, allowing Gokk a bit of a margin to recover. Alzamag was still on the rearguard. He saw that Xaaz’al and Dehka were already near the wolf. Then it happened. One of the orcs hit a distracted Gokk with his shield, knocking him down. He was about to finish him off when one of the shamans threw a stake at the center of the arena. The shamans had turned the rite into a death match. Dehka didn’t doubt it for a second and reached the weapon before anyone else. She impaled one of the orcs that had approached her without a second thought. The worgen was confused, but she took all the advantage that she could. She eviscerated an orc with a single claw attack. The screams of the orcs and the bloodlust filled each one of the assistants. Alzamag had never witnessed a fight to death. Gokk had already recovered and snatched another stake to one of the worgen’s guards. He smiled and left the arena, cheering on the young orc who had managed to disarm him. Alzamag couldn’t see Xaaz’al. He was near their friend. She had supported them since the beginning. She had smiled him and they had succeeded together in the past two tests. Or not? Would she betray them both that day? Where was his brother? The light from the torches was dazing him. He hadn’t moved since the worgen was released. He didn’t react when a hit struck him in the temple. Someone had used a stake as a stick to bring him down. Several of the fallen were bleeding. They were red, with their gazes lost, fear and life absent from them forever.
Gokk had recovered three spears and had changed his shield at least twice. He was overwhelmed by bloodlust. Dehka had also knocked down a pair of warriors. There were six orcs standing. The worgen was circling around the arena, preying on the wounded. She had killed four and had a wounded orc huntress before her. The orc was terrified. A pair of blows at the correct height and she would bleed out. A young orc, too young to be a warrior, picked up one of the wooden weapons and ran towards her. Maybe, just maybe, if he hadn’t screamed, maybe he could have harmed her. But the adrenaline betrayed him. He hadn’t the strength nor the reach of bigger orcs. She tore apart his head with a single bite. With that one, she had killed five.
That vision would be carved inside Alzamag’s head to the end of his days. Xaaz’al-Ungul ran to protect someone they barely knew. He saw how the worgen pulled his head off and how his body, which was similar to his own, kept running until it collapsed into the sand, trembling, and how it twitched while its life faded away. The blood flowed out of Xaaz’al-Ungul, barely illuminated by the light of the torches. Had they lit them again or just added more oil? He was his brother, and now also a corpse with his same weight and height but with no face. What was he doing there? What did those bastards want? They were kids. They were not prepared for the rite of passage. He was dead. Dead. They had told them that some worgens had killed their parents. What for? What did they achieve making the story to repeat itself?
Gokk took the opportunity brought by Xaaz’al-Ungul’s death to throw one of the stakes. He pierced her left flank with ease. Dehka threw another one, which pierced her left eye. The two remaining orcs ran towards the worgen. It was badly wounded, retreating. They were brought down by two well-placed slings. The guards of Lug’Ka interrupted the match to save the worgen. The shamans ran down to mend the wounded. Alzamag wasn’t responding. He was lost inside his head. Xaaz’al-Ungul was dead. He was killed before him and no one had moved a finger. A funeral was held for those fallen in combat. That night, however, there would be no feasts. The patient that Alzamag had tended to had died. He didn’t know how he got into his house, though it was not his house anymore without his brother. He cried for hours. It was until Mag’Ushar woke him up in the morning that the reality of Xaaz’al-Ungul’s death took body and shape. He was gone. Even if his body and his soul were burned, and thought the shamans said that the ashes in the wind would reintegrate him to the grass, the flowers and the rain of Utgard, the truth, or at least the truth he saw was that he was gone. That he was broken and alone. From that day on, Alzamag would never trust anyone anymore. Dehka became the bride of the damned coward called Gokk. They would be the first ones. He would gouge their eyes out. The imbecile of Mag’Ushar would follow. He would cut his body and feed it to the worgens. Eye by fucking eye. They told him that he was a disgrace as an orc and that the humiliation of his defeats would chase him forever as long as he lived within the Soth-Makar. Well, fuck the tribe.
He abandoned the horde the following night. He took a shield and a good amount of clothes. The night following the rite he snuck into the house of those that had died and stole as much food, bracers and jewels as he could. He also stole some clothes and earth from the homes of Mag’Ushar, Gokk and Dehka. He knew that there was another tribe nearby, some days to the west. He would reach them. Even if he had to walk six, eight or ten weeks, it was better than living amongst hypocrites and traitors. He would make a name for himself. History would remember him. No one, never, ever, would humiliate him again. He placed his hand upon a stump before leaving the encampment and pulled out a knife. He might not have been a shaman, but he knew how to make a damned curse. He placed three small bowls he had stolen upon the stump and the earth from the homes he had brought with himself. He gouged out the eyes and the entrails of a frog that was passing nearby and threw its corpse on the stream. He crushed them and mixed the animal’s blood with his own. He emptied the mixture in equal parts over the ground of the traitors while he prayed to Yog-Sothoth. You are the gate, the star, he said. He made small bags with the fabrics he was carrying and placed each one of the bowls inside them. He cried and cursed. He remembered his brother Xaaz’al-Ungul and swore that he would avenge them. He placed the bowl under a stone and kept going.
Several cycles went by and the news of an extraordinaire shaman who was heading west with his tribe spread through Utgard. The things for the Soth-Makar tribe went from bad to worse. Mag’Ushar was the first one to fall. A strange fever overwhelmed him. He died fourteen days after Alzamag’s flight. He died screaming something about a king that came down. The shamans were terrified by the message. They believed it was a prophecy and that the old chieftain had gone mad before dying. Gokk died soon after he married Dehka. They tried to have children for cycles. One morning he woke up feeling very sick, tormented by the same fever that had killed Mag’Ushar. Alzamag’s curse, however, did not kill Dehka. It might have been because she smiled at them or maybe because she was the only one who had really felt any compassion for the twins. She was also stuck by a potent fever, but did not die. She survived Alzamag’s hate and became the first female leader of the Soth-Makar. She would bring her people to an age of prosperity and she would found the city of Dor’Anmak some cycles later.
Alzamag became choleric and subdued several tribes. No one doubted the power he held and no one dared to face him. He headed west, always to the west, in a frenzied race towards the sea. He was being called by a storm and a wrath which knew no boundaries.