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Taragon Arc thrust his sword into the belly of the Mantavil Orc, and it screamed, and coughed green blood. Dying, it tried to claw him. He threw up his strong left arm. Claws screamed across chain mail. The foul stench of burning rubber enveloped him. He was eye to eye with the orc, and the orc's eyes were red, red as the sun sinking through smoke.
Taragon Arc returned to the fair city of Chestarinda, the Crystal City which was the capital of Nalahash, on the very day that the evil wizard Lokarj laid waste to the Harp Tower. Ten thousand people, gathered for the Festival of Flowers, perished.
"I charge you with our vengeance," said the Drax Lord, a week later.
The Drax Lord, Pilbert Avida by name, had made his money in the chicken entrail business, and his mastery of advertising had made him the winner of the recent election.
Some warriors had little time for Pilbert, who had paid a substitute to carry a spear for him in the Yen Yegle Wars. But Taragon Arc respected Pilbert's toughness. The untested Drax Lord was holding up well in the face of an unprecedented challenge.
"The wizard Lokarj has long been sheltered by the warlords of Doomant Slares," said Pilbert. "You will march forth with an army, defeat the warlords and slay Lokarj."
"I hear and obey, my lord," said Taragon.
Six months later, it was done. True, the evil wizard Lokarj had guilefully slipped free from the pursuit which had sought to encompass his death. However, the warlords of Doomant Slares had been defeated, and their lands lay in ruin.
Once again, Taragon Arc was summoned into the presence of the Drax Lord, Pilbert Avida.
"Why do you think I have called you here?" asked Pilbert.
"I venture," said Taragon, who was a man of plain-spoken honesty, "that you wish me to finish what I have begun. The lands of Doomant Slares need fifty years of governance to subdue their turbulent peoples to a state of civilized productiveness. I am willing to undertake that task of governance, should you wish it."
"We have smashed them," said Pilbert, waving away the suggestion. "It is sufficient. No, I wish you to subdue, next, Volgo Chantra."
"The White Orc?" said Taragon, in surprise.
"The same," said Pilbert.
"But, my lord," said Taragon. "Why?"
"He is evil," said Pilbert. "Do you doubt it?"
"I doubt it not, my lord," said Taragon. "But evil orcs are many. The lands of the White Orc are far distant. He is helpless to hurt us."
"He is evil!" said Pilbert, his voice rising to a shriek. "Lokarj struck at our people! He killed ten thousand! Are you going to stand shoulder to shoulder with one who hates us, who would eat us alive if he could?"
At that, Taragon Arc was silent. Arguments welled up, but he suppressed them. The largest argument was that the evil wizard Lokarj, he who had destroyed the Harp Tower, had nothing whatsoever to do with the White Orc. Orcs and wizards were enemies, and one would kill the other as soon as look at him.
"If you hate the rat, make war on the cockroach," said Pilbert, apparently quoting some gem of proverbial wisdom, though Taragon was a stranger to the quote.
As Taragon maintained his soldierly silence, Pilbert walked to the window and looked out over the city.
"I wish," said Pilbert, "to bring death and chaos to my enemies."
Then he was silent. Waiting for a reply?
"When the pillars of reality totter," said Taragon, quoting from the Soldier's Creed, "it is for the strong to uphold the sky."
"Death and chaos," said Pilbert, licking his tongue across his lips. "Death and chaos."
And, for just a moment, Taragon smelt the faintest whiff of ... well, he did not like to think what. A soldier should not acknowledge his own hallucinations.
Pilbert Avida, the Drax Lord of the fair city of Chestarinda, the Crystal City, the city of Everlasting Light, spake unto the people.
"Our enemies have struck against us," said Pilbert. "They have destroyed the Harp Tower and have slain ten thousand of our loved ones. To put an end to the threats against us, we must march forth and do battle with the White Orc.
"Know that the White Orc is evil incarnate. In his rape rooms, he seizes the captive elven maiden. He forces her face into his armpit. He forces her to bite upon the iron nipples that lives there. The nipple swells, and out from it there spurt his genetic lances.
""She thrashes, trapped in his grasp. He flexes his arm. The iron nipple breaks her teeth. He pulls from her gums the splintered fragments of her shattered teeth, laughing at her agony.
"Then she is caged, and the pregnancies begin, swelling in her cheeks, her buttocks, her breasts - wherever the genetic lances find their rest. She endures nine months of agony, her body bloated with a dozen orc cysts, until she dies, screaming, as the newborn eat their way out."
All this the Drax Lord said, and more. And it was all true. Taragon Arc knew that. There was no exaggerating the evil of the White Orc.
It was a somber and chastened Taragon who marched forth at the head of the army. How had he been so weak as to waver in his duty? What had blinded his eyes to the obviousness of that duty? He must face the White Orc and slaughter this most absolute of evils.
Six months later, Taragon Arc slammed his sword into the belly of the White Orc. Chin to chin they struggled, the orc's eyes as red as blood, the hideous stench of burning rubber seething from the orc's mouth. Then the orc coughed smoke and died.
"Good," said the Drax Lord, visiting the White Orc's capital six months later. "Good. Very good. You have done an excellent job."
"My lord is too kind," said Taragon Arc. "I regret to say that the lands are in chaos."
So they were, so they were. During his rule, the White Orc had held the entire population in slavery, forcing obedience to the law. Now, with the oppressor gone, the people were free to do as they wished. And what they wished to do, in many cases, was to loot, kill, drink, fight and rape.
"We have defeated the enemy," said Pilbert. "That is the important thing. We have taught Lokarj a lesson. He can run, he can hide, but we can lay waste to the cities of his comforters, we can bring chaos to the lands of his allies, actual and potential. He must be suffering in consequences of our victory."
Taragon kept his face expressionless, not sure what emotion it might display if he gave it free play.
"And now," said Pilbert. "The future. What are you ideas?"
"If my lord could give me ten more legions," said Taragon, "I could bring order to this troubled land. I could build schools, discipline the people to productivity and enforce the rule of law. Inside of twenty years this land could be flourishing, a model of prosperity."
"I cannot spare you the legions," said Pilbert. "They are needed for other wars."
"Other wars?" said Taragon, confused. "But against whom?"
"We have to attack Onctus Derzavam to bring peace to Harajuku Mace," said Pilbert.
"My lord?" said Taragon, confused. "There is ... with respect, my lord, there is no common border between Onctus Derzavam and Harajuku Mace."
"The praise singers of Onctus Derzavam chant encouragements for the child-killers who trouble the peace of Harajuku Mace," said Pilbert. "The Macians have always been the most important of our allies. If we burn and slaughter in Onctus Derzavam, it will teach the child-killers to behave themselves."
"I have heard," ventured Taragon, "that the child-killers resent the imprisonment of their god, and have vowed that nothing will stop them in their endeavors to set him free."
"Force sufficient," said Pilbert, "will bring them to order."
Then, having won the argument - at least, discussion was plainly at an end - Pilbert wandered to the window, and stood in silent contemplation, watching smoke rise from sundry buildings in the White Orc's defeated capital.
"If I might venture something, my lord," said Taragon.
"Speak," said Pilbert.
"Since I have an insufficiency of force at my disposal," said Taragon, "I regret that in this city ... well, my lord ... the unfortunate thing is that rape has become very much the commonplace crime."
"Really?" said Pilbert.
"The virgins are abducted, my lord," said Taragon. "They disappear. There has been the most ... my lord ... there have been small children, girls who are not ... not yet ...."
And there Taragon stopped, unable to continue. He had been raised in the stern traditions of chivalry. He had been taught that it is the duty of the strong to protect the weak. He had been taught that the purpose of war is to bring, out of chaos and slaughter, justice and peace.
And it was breaking his heart that all his strength, all his resolve, all his warskill, was inadequate in the face of the disaster that he faced, the disaster of a society which had disintegrated.
"My lord," said Taragon, trying one last time. "A child of nine. Blood on her thighs. Screaming, my lord."
For some time, the Drax Lord was silent, and it seemed to Taragon Arc that the Drax Lord was not going to reply. Then, finally, Pilbert Avida spoke, giving Taragon the benefit of a chicken entrail vendor's wisdom.
"Stuff happens," said Pilbert.
A day later, Taragon received orders in writing from the Drax Lord. "You have wasted enough of your talent on this dismal city of slum dwellers," wrote the Drax Lord, in part. "I wish you to command our troops in the war against Onctus Derzam. Are you ready?"
Taragon would have prefered to answer the question eye to eye, but apparently this was not to be. Feeling, somehow, that he committed some kind of sin against the nation's supreme leadership, and was now an outcast, denied access to the inner circle, Taragon penned a letter accepting his orders.
"My lord," wrote Taragon, in conclusion. "My greatest wish has ever been to serve."
Ten years later, Taragon Arc finally marched home to the Crystal City, the destruction of twenty nations behind him.
It had been a hard ten years for the Crystal City of Chestarinda. In the years of Taragon's absence it had been discovered that many citizens, previously thought to be loyal, were in truth sympathizers of the evil wizard Lokarj, covert supporters of the Dream Cult of the White Orc's Armpit, or fellow travelers who dared give themselves to treason, bellyaching at the cost of the state's eternal war against unending evil.
When Taragon entered Chestarinda after his long absence, he saw, everywhere, the evidence of the necessary work of preserving the security of the state.
There were people slumped in the starvation cages which were build along either side of the Marble Avenue. People hanging from their thumbs on the walls to either side of the great Gate of Love and Liberty. People, many of them, wearing the iron collar of a General Purpose Slave, their liberty forfeit, their master of the moment being whoever chose to command them, perhaps to labor, perhaps to suffer, perhaps to defile themselves in obscene submission.
"I will speak of this to the Drax Lord," said Taragon, troubled by what he saw. "I do not imagine that he knows his minions have gone to such ... excess."
And, so thinking, he rode to the Drax Lord's palace, for he had been commanded to report immediately upon his return to the city.
"The Drax Lord has lately been suffering from a bad case of conjuntivities," said the Head Steward. "His eyes are inflamed. It is an embarrassment to which you will not refer during your audience."
"I see," said Taragon.
When he entered the audience chamber, he found it dimly lit and full of the scent of incense. There was incense burning everywhere, filling the chamber with a haze of smoke. On an iron throne flanked by pyramids of skulls sat the Drax Lord, who was larger than Taragon remembered him.
"Greetings, Taragon," said the Drax Lord, in a voice that was deeper and stronger than Taragon remembered, a voice of gravel. "Lay down your sword and approach."
Obediently, Taragon laid down his sword and approached the Drax Lord.
"Taragon," said the Drax Lord, reaching out with his hands, which were gloved with white. "Give me your hands."
Though puzzled at this new and unfamiliar custom, Taragon clasped the Drax Lord's hands with his.
And the Drax Lord squeezed, breaking every bone in each of Taragon's hands. The Drax Lord's eyes flared wide open, and the eyes were red, red as a cauldron of boiling blood. The Drax Lord breathed out, and the stench of burning rubbing enveloped Taragon.
"Now!" said the Drax Lord.
And Taragon was flipped, forced, manhandled, his head slammed into the cavity of the orc lord's armpit. The iron teat grated against his resisting teeth.
He. Would. Not. Open. His. Mouth.
"Defy me?" roared the Drax Lord.
And the armpit convused, and the iron teat telescoped forward, smashing Taragon's teeth, lurching into the softness of the mouth, skewering his tongue, and the genetic lances squealed out, and the Drax Lord screamed in a high ecstacy of achievement.
Later, much later, relaxed in the aftermath of his prolonged pleasures, the Drax Lord threw Taragon's limp and unresisting body into a holding cage. It would be interesting to watch him swell and ripen in the months ahead.
"I wish," said the Drax Lord, softly, treasuring the words, "to bring death and destruction to my enemies."
It was one of the Drax Lord's strengths that he knew his natural enemies when he saw them. And Taragon's fatal weakness - well, Taragon's fatal weakness was that he did not.
This story, "The Orc's Armpit", made its first appearance when posted online by Hugh Cook on 2003 September 15 Monday. Copyright © 2003 Hugh Cook. All rights reserved.
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Ibrahim was on the subway, straphanging, riding to work. He didn't realize he was standing right next door to Big Guy. As usual, Ibrahim was wearing sandals, and that was a big mistake.
At Vangoose Station, the door sprorked open, and in jumped Saint George, meat cleaver in hand.