Based on Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons (5e)
The door to the tavern flew open, letting in a cold blast of wind that made every candle in the overcrowded hall flicker. A hulking, brooding figure stood outlined in the doorway as a rumble of thunder erupted in the distance. A tense hush fell across the room as every pair of eyes turned toward the menacing stranger. He remained motionless for several long moments before moving purposefully into the room, muttering angrily. The tavern door slammed shut behind him, as if of its own accord. He was heavily burdened, wearing sparkling chain mail, a helm with curving horns, an adventurer’s backpack, a shield, and a heavy warhammer, which hung from his belt. As the dim light fell upon the stranger’s face, the crowd of humans gawked at his low, sloping brow, protruding teeth and grey skin, which marked him clearly as a half-orc. Nervous and angry murmurs arose among the patrons. The stranger’s frown deepened and electricity arced across his eyes as he swung his malevolent gaze from one speaker to the next, silencing them instantly. Emitting a threatening growl for good measure, the stranger walked slowly toward the bar, his heavy footsteps the only sound above the crackling fire in the hearth.
Reaching the bar, he sat down on a stool that groaned audibly under his weight, threatening to collapse. The terrified bartender stared mutely at the new arrival, his mouth agape.
“I am Uzog Stormbringer,” the half-orc introduced himself to the bartender, loudly enough for all to hear.
A new wave of muttering erupted throughout the room as the patrons recognized the name.
Uzog kept his back turned to the crowd, a slight grin spreading across his lips. He watched the bartender sweat for a moment before speaking again.
“A pint of mead!” he commanded. “And another for all of my new friends here!” He spun on his stool as he spoke, raising his arms to encompass the entire room.
A moment of stunned silence followed the announcement, followed by several hearty cheers. Uzog turned back to the bar and watched with amusement as the bartender scrambled to fill the order, beginning with the new arrival. Uzog eavesdropped on the tables nearby as he casually sipped his drink.
“… ‘eard he burned a whole village to the ground with a lightning storm,” a hushed voice said nearby.
“Nonsense! Didn’t you see his emblem? He’s a priest of Thor! He slew ol’ Backbreaker, didn’ he?” answered another conspirator.
Grabbing hold of his mead, Uzog stomped over to the table whose conversation he had overheard and sat down. The two men recoiled at the intrusion, but tried to cover their reactions.
“I did burn down that village,” Uzog began, “but they deserved it. I didn’t quite slay Captain Agog Backbreaker, if truth be told, but since you’re interested,” he glared at both men through narrowed eyes, “I’ll tell you the tale.”
* * *
The rowdy crew of orc pirates cheered as their first mate kicked the prisoner in the ribs with a sickening crunch. The impact spun the human on to his back, where he rocked from side to side, gasping for air. Grinning widely, the first mate stalked the fallen human, raising a ham fist to deliver a vicious backhand blow.
“Enough!” called a gruff voice and the first mate halted, a look of astonishment spreading across his mottled face.
All eyes turned toward a malnourished half-orc, holding a bucket of slop. The young man wilted under the hostile attention of his crewmates and attempted to return quietly to his chores.
“Got sumfink ter say, wittle man?” mocked the first mate, intercepting the half-orc before he could skulk off.
“It’s just…” the young man began hesitantly, “why not just kill him already?”
“Just kill ‘im?” roared the first mate in amusement. “What would be da fun in that?”
The orc crew jeered in approval, quickly losing interest in the human in favour of this new diversion.
“I fink me boys ‘ave earned a bit of sport,” came a booming voice from behind the first mate.
The mate’s expression became serious and he stepped back respectfully, making way for the speaker. Captain Agog Backbreaker stepped forward and leaned into the young man, who backpedalled awkwardly, spilling his bucket. Backbreaker was the only other half-orc aboard the ship, but there was little in common between him and his counterpart. At seven feet tall, he towered over everyone else aboard the Black Wind. Rippling muscle stretched his mottled grey skin, seemingly threatening to burst outward with every movement. Despite his bulk, he moved nimbly and with easy confidence. He held his greataxe in one hand, carelessly resting the blade on his leather-clad shoulder.
“But I am tired ov da ‘uman’s pathetic noises,” the Captain sneered into the young man’s face. “So why don’t you give me some peace an’ quiet? OK?”
Backbreaker gestured with his free hand and one of his crew immediately stepped forward, handing him a battered sabre, marred with dried blood. Without breaking eye contact with the smaller half-orc, the Captain took the sword and shoved it roughly into the young man’s hands.
“Go on, cabin boy,” he urged darkly.
The young man took the blade and made his way through the snorting orcs toward the human who still lay where he had fallen. He had managed to catch his breath and watched the cabin boy approaching with naked dread.
“P-please… n-no…” muttered the man, feebly holding up one shaking hand.
The half-orc took a fighting stance and slowly raised the sabre, his eyes fixed on the human’s pleading face.
“Please… please, I have a family… My family needs me…” begged the man.
The half-orc looked around, into the jeering faces of his crewmates as they howled for blood. Resolving himself, he looked down upon the human again, preparing to strike.
“Please…” the man whimpered pathetically, “please help me.”
The half-orc had begun to swing, but the man’s plea stopped his arm. He lowered the sabre, his expression hardening.
“Do it, cabin boy,” Backbreaker commanded again. “Or ye walk the plank.”
The young man turned his back on the human and squared his shoulders as he faced his captain.
“My name is Uzog,” he spat defiantly. “And I’m through taking orders from you.”
The excited jeers of his crewmates at his suicidal impertinence were drowned out by a sudden peal of thunder that shook the deck of the Black Wind. Backbreaker glanced skyward despite himself, before regaining his composure.
“Be you challenging me, boy?” the captain sneered with a grin, hefting his greataxe.
“Aye,” answered Uzog proudly.
Backbreaker charged forward, swinging his axe into the deck where Uzog had stood a split second earlier. The orcs spread out, forming a wide circle around the duelling half-orcs. Lightning forked across the sky, forming crazy shadows across the deck and a light rain began to fall.
Uzog darted in, slashing his sword, but only managed to bite into the thick leather pants protecting Backbreaker’s left leg. The pirate captain planted a vicious right hook on Uzog’s head, sending him stumbling. The young man recovered just in time to duck under another axe blow powerful enough the cleave him in two. He tried to counter but received the haft of Backbreaker’s axe across his nose, shattering it and throwing him to the deck. His sabre slipped from his grasp and spun away, while stars danced in front of his eyes.
The rain intensified, becoming a heavy downpour. Uzog struggled to his feet but lost his balance and collapsed. He blinked furiously, trying to clear his eyes. Backbreaker laughed vociferously and the rest of the crew joined him.
“Parfetic weakling,” Backbreaker screamed. “I ‘ad such ‘igh ‘opes fer you. But no longer.”
He towered over Uzog and raised his axe over his head, poised for an execution. Suddenly, a blinding bolt of lightning struck the tip of the weapon and ripped through the captain’s body. His howls of pain were drowned out by the accompanying boom of thunder. Uzog had just enough time to notice the wind suddenly intensifying before the Black Wind was rocked by violent waves. Uzog slid across the deck and slammed into a bulkhead.
“Secure the rigging!” screamed the first mate, as the ship swayed crazily. “Move it, ye bilge rats!”
Forked lightning struck again, dropping a pair of smoking orc corpses from among the mass of crew rushing to deal with the unexpected storm. Uzog looked up to the heavens in wonder, unafraid of the sudden elemental assault. A heavy thud drew his attention to the deck next to him and a flash of lightning illuminated the warhammer that lay there. A sense of purpose filling him, Uzog grasped the weapon by its hilt and rose to his feet.
Backbreaker was picking himself up off the deck, already shouting orders. Uzog shouted a wordless challenge and surged forward, brandishing his new weapon. The captain pivoted to face him in an instant and met his crushing hammer blow with his axe, which rang like a single note from a funeral toll. The first mate and a handful of others took notice and drew their weapons, ducking under wildly flailing strands of sail and rigging.
Uzog pressed his onslaught, raining relentless attacks on his former captain from every direction. Backbreaker parried or sidestepped most of the strikes, but grunted in pain as several found their mark. He finally countered with a brutal axe stroke, but Uzog ducked under it and slammed his warhammer into the captain’s knee, visibly shattering it. Backbreaker cried out and fell heavily, dropping his greataxe.
The first mate immediately slashed at Uzog with his cutlass, but he spun in time to avoid it and retaliated. The mate parried but the hammer blow sent his sword spinning out of his hand. Another orc darted in, but was stopped in his tracks as a blinding bolt of lightning struck him. Uzog turned his face skyward and exulted in the storm for a moment before focusing on the first mate once again, who had pulled a serrated dagger from his belt. They sparred for a few moments, until a rogue wave crashed across the deck, throwing them both across the ship. Uzog held on to his warhammer and quickly found his feet again. Another orc came at him, but Uzog sent him over the side of the ship with an uppercut swing of his weapon.
“Rocks!” came an orc’s terrified scream from across the ship. “Rocks ahead!”
Uzog felt his stomach drop just before the Black Wind crashed into the shoals. The half-orc felt himself tossed into the air as the ship destroyed itself. He felt a painful collision and then nothing.
* * *
Uzog drained the last of his mead and slammed his mug on the table, rattling the four identical, empty mugs already on it. The two men at the table watched him with rapt attention, eager for the tale’s conclusion. A small crowd of others stood or sat around the table, having gravitated toward Uzog as the story had progressed. The rest of the tavern was now deserted, save for the exhausted bartender who was half-heartedly cleaning up.
“When I regained consciousness at last,” Uzog continued. “I found myself floating on some debris from the Black Wind. Surprisingly, the human prisoner had survived and was also floating nearby. We were surrounded by the wreckage of the ship and by bloated orc corpses. I checked the bodies, spitting on each one in turn.”
A chuckle ran through the audience and Uzog smiled.
“I was only too glad to be rid of my crewmates. But Backbreaker’s body wasn’t among them.”
“He must have sunk!” exclaimed one of the listeners.
“Yeah, dragged under by that greataxe,” added another.
Uzog shook his head slowly and waited for silence before continuing.
“No,” he said softly. “As sure as I know that it was Thor who called me to his service that day, I know that Backbreaker is still out there somewhere. In fact,” he added dramatically, “I’ve heard rumours of him in this very area!”
The crowd collectively gasped and the bartender dropped a mug that shattered on the floor. Uzog nodded seriously.
“And that, my friends, is why I’m off,” he said, slapping the table and rising to his feet. Uzog made his way to the door, giving and receiving spirited claps on the back as he went. With a final wave, he closed the door behind him and was gone.
Most of the patrons began filing out behind him, saying their farewells. One man headed over to speak with the bartender.
“That was some story, wasn’t it?” the man said jovially. “Can you believe that was the Uzog Stormbringer? Didn’t seem like such a bad bloke after all. By the way, how did he manage to pay for all those rounds of mead? Pirate gold? Gemstones?”
The bartender looked up from his cleaning and gave the man a sour look.
“He didn’t pay,” he growled.