Leok earned her name when she was twelve, still a whelp by any standard out there. ‘Sides goblins, maybe? Or summa those other smaller folks out there, though most folk were small to her.
The Ferrus Lion she fought way back then was a very big bastard though, and a hell of a fun match to fight. Its steel fur and solid hide made it practically impossible to wound with any bladed or pointed weapons, and even blunt stuff tended to bounce right off.
So her beating it down, choking it out, and snapping its neck, all with her own two hands, earned her some damn high praise when she dragged the mountain beast’s carcass back, far ahead of the rest of her hunting party. But it also earned her a cuff upside the head from the chief, so goods and bads.
“Ya don’t run off from yer party, brat,” Chief chided later on in her tent as she helped Leok carve her totem for the lion, letting the young, gold-blonde orc sit in her lap as she guided the whit-knife in her hand along a block of yellow-wood, “Even if yer goin’ up a beast alone, yer gonna want yer group ta know where ya are. One good knick and ya could be bleedin’ out fast.”
“Not my fault they’re slow. If it were up ta them, we’d still be up there huntin’ the thin’…”
“Cause huntin’ requires patience. If ya keep chargin’ in head first, the beast yer huntin’ will just run off.”
“This one didn’t. I got him quick ‘nough.”
“Yeah, ya got lucky.”
That got Leok to scowl back at her chief, before pausing as Chief gripped her wrist a little tighter with one of her dark hands, keeping her from making a miscut. “…” She looked back at the on-going carving, still frowning. “Weren’t luck…”
“Hey now, no shame in luck. Luck’s important. Let’s ya know the gods like ya.” Chief chuckled, letting Leok carve on her own for a sec as she reached up and pet her short, messy hair down. “Plenty’a stuff facter inta a hunt. Strength’s important, sure, and ya got plenty’a that. Sensin’s also important. Gotta see where it goes, gotta listen close, gotta track its scents, so on.”
“And I‘m good at trackin’!”
“Yer good, but ya ain’t great. Patience is ‘portant, little lion. Sometimes ya get lucky and run inta a big, hungry beastie lookin’ fer a fight, but plenty’a times, y’ll be runnin’ fer weeks tryin’ ta track just one big, angry beastie who’s far too clever fer ya.”
“Hmph…I’m smarter than a beast…”
“Not all beasts, and it’s not always ‘bout bein’ smart. Ya can be the smartest, cleverest hunter out there, but if yer goin’ inta a new place, no idea what’s lyin’ out there, y’ll wind up gettin’ killed by somethin’ that just knows the area better’n ya.”
“…Like Tuzik Spike-Heart?”
“Oh, so ya are listenin’ ta Gran’s stories.”
Leok shrugged then, trying to focus on getting the small totem rounded right. Least that’s what she’d say if asked. Truth was, she was a proud girl, and embarrassment was painful. “…Summa ‘em. The smart ones.”
“Heh. And which ones’re those?”
“Summa ‘em. Ya probably know more’n me since yer listenin’ ta everyone all the time.”
“Probably do. Y’d learn just as many if ya listened too.”
Leok snorted. “Listenin’s fer chiefs. I’m gonna be a warrior, and make my own tribe’a warriors! Maybe unite all’a the orcs out there, make somethin’…big!”
“Ha! Really now? Ya got a conqueror’s heart in ya now?”
“I might!” Chief’s heavy hand dropped right on her head and started mussing her hair, earning a yelp from Leok. “H-Hey! Yer ruinin’ my concentration!”
“Gra ha ha! Bet I am! Can’t help it though, not when yer bein’ this cute.”
“I ain’t cute!”
“Yer a kid, kids are cute, deal with it. Also, speakin’ as an old warrior here, I’m gonna say that ya don’t have a conqueror’s heart. Ya got a warrior’s.”
“Yeah yeah…” Leok would’ve just grumbled and went on as usual, but…some little curiosity made her ask, “What’s the difference?”
“Heh. Big difference.” Chief let out a sigh. “…Real big difference. Startin’…ya remember Harvest-Maker and Harvest-Taker?”
“Eh? That kid story?”
“Yup, that’s the one. What d’ya ‘member ‘bout it?”
Leok shrugged, trying to think as she worked. “Uh…Once there were two orc brothers. Both were strong and tough, but one decided ta guard his tribe and the other turned bandit. The first brother, was the younger one I think?” At Chief’s nod, she continued, “He talked ta a lotta folk and orc as he walked with his tribe and made his people happy ‘cause he brought in food and coin by talkin’ good. Second brother, who was older, was meaner though, and got a buncha other meaner orcs t’gether ta rob folk. He was good at it and got a lot, but got the folks mad at ‘im and they dragged ‘im offa his horse and hacked ‘im ta pieces. His brother though, he lived long and happy ‘cause he made ‘is tribe happy, right?”
Chief grinned. “Close. See, Maker was a warrior. He worked fer his own good, ‘long with his tribe’s good. By bein’ smart and workin’ with folk, tradin’ with ‘em, huntin’ the beasts that gave ‘em trouble, he didn’t get rich, but he got enough. Enough ta live, not just survive. And he was a whole lot happier, cause he had people that loved him and wanted ta see him happy.
“Taker though, he wanted ta take. He didn’t respect folk and he didn’t respect orc; he only cared ‘bout gainin’. Not keepin’, but gainin’. More and more, always more. What he got, he wasted on drink and feasts. He was a glutton, and his new tribe weren’t even a real tribe, ‘cause none’a ‘em really cared ‘bout each other, not deep down. They could pal, sure, but they only wanted ta have their wants. Was why none’a ‘em helped when the folk came after Taker. Real tribe, they keep ya safe and ya keep ‘em safe in return.”
“…” Leok considered that, frowning as she carved the mouth. “So…I shouldn’t make a tribe’a warriors?”
“Ya could. But thin’ is, fighters gotta have reasons ta fight. What would they do if they ain’t got someone ta fight fer?”
“‘Sides, wouldn’t ya rather have plenty’a people around ta help out? Gotta have coinkeepers ta keep track’a accounts, and yer little pal there, Bekah, she don’t wanna be a warrior, does she?”
“Nah, she likes cookin’…Sero’s good at axe-throwin’ though. He could help.”
“Ya really wanna trust yer tribe ta just Sero?”
“Nah, he’s kinda shit.”
Chief let out a bark of laughter and ruffled her hair again, grinning wide, her larger tusks almost gleaming in the tent’s lantern-light. “Ya see what I mean? Though don’t cuss.”
“Hypocrite, ya little brat. Use yer words right.”
“Yes chief…” So young Leok grumbled, got back to work, and carved her totem. It was simple enough, and worked fine for a belt buckle, but the main, most important thing was that she’d earned her name and it was a big one. Not Leok Lion-Break or Leok Lion-Hunt.
No, she was a Bane of the Beast-Bane tribe. She was Leok Lion-Bane. And every orc out there was gonna know her name.
–2 Years Later–
Chief was a weird orc. Plenty nice to Leok and all the rest of the tribe, but she stood out, partially cause of her attitude and partially cause of her looks.
Her looks were the obvious part, on account of the Chief being a High Orc.
High Orcs were a rare type of orc, like a weird thing. Not a mutation, like Gura Three-Tusk or Lurtol Six-Finger, but like a special type. One way she heard it described was that High Orcs were like Lycans were to humans, but then there were Kapros out there that weren’t High Orcs, so…
To be more clear, appearance-wise, the Chief was taller than the average orc–at around 6’8” instead of the 6’4” average–and had dark brown skin instead of green or gray, or even the pink of Sun Land orcs. Apparently it was a sign of her type being closer to the gods or something, like those old Sun Land Imperials and all.
She also had longer tusks–which, orc-ishly speaking, was a lot more of a sign of status than any skin stuff–and a tail. A longish one, with a tuft of hair at the end that she liked poking at people to mess with them, or just to play with kids, who liked grabbing at it. Not that Leok ever did that kinda thing when she was tiny.
Oh, and the Chief also had really shaggy white hair–like a ‘platinum blonde’ instead of Leok’s golden blonde–and her eyes were like a kinda…green-amber. Lotsa little flecks that looked pretty weird at times, but the Chief was weird in general, so that was that.
And she could also turn into a boar. Like, a big boar, like a kaprothrope. Was interesting and sometimes she’d let people ride on her back if they were having trouble. Chief didn’t have a lot of pride, but she did have confidence.
Least that’s how she explained it to Leok. Apparently there was a difference?
Maybe it was a “conqueror/warrior” thing, where the difference seemed small but meant a lot. She didn’t understand, not at that point, but Leok did give an effort to watch how her chief talked with people, whether they were folk or orc.
She tended to be real polite with folk, speaking nice and polite and offering help and trade, and be a lot more casual and boisterous with other orc, though she was plenty friendly either way. There was more than a couple times she’d sell hides and meat for less than it was worth when she saw a tribe or town was going through rough times, apparently because “gainin’ goodwill’s worth more than havin’ a ton we’ll never use”.
Chief didn’t care about being rich, but it was still kinda a surprise to Leok to see how much worse off a lot of folk and orc were. Gobs especially seemed to have it rougher than most–something about hobs coming from up north looking for territory–and their tribe wound up playing escort to a few of them more than a few times.
It was interesting, talking with folk that’d lost their lands. Some orcs settled in places, but most tribes in Korikal were nomads, heading to wherever game and grazing were good on the plains, so the concept of outright losing land felt kinda weird to think. It did make some sense though. Gobs and humans weren’t as tough as orcs, so they settled in places and made forts and alliances to keep out the dangers.
Didn’t feel fair though. If the dangers were too much, if folk like hobs or even orc bandit bands came after them, then they didn’t have anywhere to go at all.
Didn’t feel fair at all, and she said as much to the chief as the two rode alongside each other, following the trails to one the eastward towns.
“Yeah, it ain’t,” Chief agreed, “But it is how it is.”
“Yeah, but…why? Ya said folk were tough, right? So why don’t they all join up? Like a big army?”
Chief snorted. “I thought ya said ya were too big fer stories?”
Leok shook her head, her hair longer, but braided nicely. “Nah. The gob grans have interestin’ ones. Lotta stuff ‘bout old builders’n leaders.”
“I noticed. Why ya think I asked that?” She chuckled, leaning back in her saddle and patting Strider’s white mane, earning a whinny from the huge black horse. “Yer listenin’ ta a lotta tales’a leaders then?”
“Yeah, lotta ‘em. Big ones, unitin’ towns and tribes and stuff. Like…Jee-ahnma…Ghian…” She frowned, trying to figure out the unfamiliar syllables.
“Don’t hurt yerself.”
“Ah fuck off.”
“And no cussin’!” Chief pointed at her, then sighed again, still grinning. “They ever mention how most’a those leaders got their idiot selves killed?”
“…Uh…Not really? They aren’t around, so I thought they were gone, but…what d’ya mean?”
Chief shrugged. “Remind me ta talk ta ya about ‘Demon Lords’ later.”
Leok blinked. “What, like the ones in Gran’s old stories?”
“Nah, different. Not ‘Demon Princes’, not ‘Demon Kings’. Somethin’ both better and worse, in a whole lotta ways.”
“…” Leok glanced at her chief again. She was staring straight ahead, and her eyes seemed…more tired than usual. And for a moment, Leok wondered if Chief always had such deep bags under her eyes. “…Why can’t ya tell me now?”
“Easy. Cause town’s comin’ up ahead, and looks like we’re not the only tribe stayin’.” Chief suddenly grinned, then urged Strider into a gallop, leaving Leok and Apple-Eater in the literal dust, blinking after her in confusion.
And sure enough, right outside the town of Dasloh were a number of tents set up, though they were all a bright red instead of the shades of yellow most Hayland orcs tended to use to blend into the plants around. Leok didn’t know of any red forests out in the Dark Lands, so this new tribe would probably stand out just about anywhere.
“Ho the camp!” Chief called out from a decent distance, grinning easily as a couple of the camp’s orcs glanced over, letting Leok get a good look at the noticeably gray orcs–which probably meant they were coming from further east. They were all wearing feathered cloaks and coats over their leathers too, mostly in reds and browns.
“Is there somethin’ you need, traveler?” One of the orcs asked as he raised a hand, returning her greeting. He and the other orcs around had a whole lot of red-orange tattoos across their arms and faces, marking and making it obvious which Ancient they followed.
“Just ta inform ya my tribe is going to be stoppin’ here too. Don’t worry, I’ll lead them ta the other side of the town.”
“Is that so?” The orc grinned, standing straighter. “Well, if you and yours are in need of some entertainment, we’re more than willin’ to oblige. For a price, of course.”
“That so?” Chief echoed with a smirk of her own, “Never seen a troupe’a all orcs before.”
“In that case, you can consider this a rare opportunity well worth the price of admission!” he replied, gesturing with his hands as he spoke. Real theatric guy.
“Ha! Guess I’ll have ta take ya up on that. Try not ta leave before we’re done settin’ up.”
“We’ll save you a spot in tonight’s show,” the orc said as he bowed to her with a flourish.
Staying aways back as Chief returned to her, Leok looked over at the camp itself. Seemed most orcs had gone back to what they were doing once they realized it was just another tribe. Went a lot better than how it usually did there, since most tribes didn’t like sharing spots, especially when it came to towns. One orc tribe being nearby was a good trading partner to most folk, but there were plenty who got suspicious, and those paranoid voices got a lot louder the more orcs were around.
Though, before she pulled the reins on Apple-Eater to head on back with Chief, she paused as she noticed an odd orc in particular was staring at her. A small thing, probably younger than her, but wearing full black instead of the browns and reds everyone else had.
“…” After a second, she raised a hand and waved over to the kid, who blinked, staring right back at her. Another few seconds passed, and the kid–looked like a girl, from what Leok could tell–raised a hand in return and waved hesitantly. So of course Leok smiled back at the shy kid, waving again before riding off to catch up with her chief.
And much later on, once they’d got all their tents set up and carriages set, Leok decided to seek out that kid again. She didn’t know what was up with the girl and her black feather cloak, but if she was standing out for some reason, there had to be something interesting going on with her.
The rest of the Fire-Art tribe was pretty amazing already, with all the fancy tricks they were showing off at their carnival. Lotta fire magic going off–made sense, considering the name–in big shows, like plays featuring dragons and monsters made of flames or glass sculptures made easy for folks to buy. Add in the lively music and cheerful feeling the whole place gave off, and it was hard for Leok to keep from smiling as she walked around.
Still, she had a self-appointed mission she was on–though the sight of a big lion made out of flames chasing an equally fiery gazelle through the sky was damn impressive–so she definitely couldn’t afford any distractions. Though barbecued meat at the food stands smelled fantastic…
Eventually, she did manage to catch sight of the black-cloaked kid again while she was munching on a skewer, and for the briefest moment, she felt kinda stupid for thinking the kid might be hanging around somewhere special instead of just sitting with her knees up to her chest and watching one of the fire shows with the other kids, but that moment passed quick and Leok headed right on over, taking a seat beside the kid.
“Hey there!” she greeted, grinning. Then she paused and tried to get some of the beef out from between her teeth with her tongue.
“Nn…I get it?”
“Nice!” Leok grinned again, moving her skewer to her left hand then leaning over with her right to shake the kid’s. “Name’s Leok Lion-Bane!”
The kid blinked. “Y’have a surname?” Then once that sunk in, she finally shook Leok’s hand, her face turning a little red. “Sorry. Uh, my name’s Crow.”
“I sure do! And nice ta meetcha Crow. Were ya named that fer yer coat or did that come later?”
“Came later. Gramma Col said I was all small and dark when I was born, like a crow.”
Leok nodded, continuing to grin. “Makes sense ta me. My tribe’s Gran named me Leok cause that’s like a lion’s name, and I got all this gold hair like one.”
“Huh…Lions’re named Leok?”
“Nah, they’re named Leo. No ‘K’, cause they’re not orcs.”
Leok giggled at the smaller orc’s nod of understanding, then leaned back, watching the show for a minute or so. “So how old are ya?”
“Yeah, that makes sense too. I’m fourteen!”
“Makes sense ta me,” Crow echoed, nodding again and earning another giggle from Leok, who really couldn’t help it. The smaller orc was just too serious sounding, it was cute. “Why’d ya look fer me?”
“Cause you were lookin’ at me. Made me curious.” Leok glanced at her. “So why were ya doin’ that?”
“…I got a feelin’ when I saw ya.”
“A good feelin’?”
Crow shrugged. “…Somethin’ like one? Just saw ya and thought…’she’s important’. Jus’ that thought…Might’a saw somethin’ too.”
Leok was trying to seem casual, still leaned back, but her attention was fully on Crow. “And what’d ya see? Other than me, a’course.”
“Nah, was still ya, but y’were…bigger. Adult, I think. And ya had this armor on, all gold and…big, fancy. And I was followin’ ya, along with a lotta other orcs…Not just orc, also other folks.”
“…Like a lord?”
Crow tilted her head, obviously thinking, and apparently not noticing…whatever was in Leok’s tone there. She herself didn’t really know what it was. Eagerness? Fear? Something. “Maybe? Ya were a leader though, that I’m sure.”
“Or could be nothin’, sorry.” Crow seemed to shrink in on herself, maybe mistaking Leok’s thoughtful tone for skepticism. “I’m still just learnin’ from Gram in the fortune stuff, I haven’t-”
Leok clapped a hand to her back, earning an abrupt squeak from the younger orc. Once Crow’s attention was on her again though, Leok grinned wide. “Thanks fer tellin’ me that. Ya just gave me a lot ta think about.”
Then Leok studied Crow for a moment, a slow smile creeping up her face. “Hey. When yer older, I’m gonna be even bigger and better than I am now. So when I’m at that point, and I find ya again, do ya wanna become my shaman?”
“…” And with wide eyes, Crow slowly nodded. “Y-Yeah. Yeah, definitely!”
“Good! Then work hard ta be the best ya can, because when I come back, I’m gonna be more than worthy’a bein’ yer boss.”
–Four Years Later–
Even at eighteen, Crow’s words from that one evening burned in the back of Leok’s mind. They stuck in her head, sounding out like echoes in a valley. Sometimes louder, sometimes quiet, but always there.
It’s what drove her to improve. If she was gonna be any kind of leader, she’d have to be stronger and smarter. The type who would never lose in any fight, physical or magical, and smart enough to know how to lead.
Those words–that promise that she’d be great–was why she was sitting on a lake island, completely naked with her legs crossed on the cold grass. Gran sat opposite her, her own darker, scarred body just as bare, letting Leok see the deep blue tattoos that crossed her old, weathered skin. At two hundred and sixteen, she was the oldest orc Leok knew, but she still looked damn strong, her green skin wrinkled and leathery but her muscles as solid as ever, same as her tusks. Though a few of her teeth had been replaced with iron ones over the years.
Sure, she looked all saggy in places and her white hair had thinned to the point that the half-blind elder just chopped it short, but there was no mistaking the power going through her. A different kind of power than the chief though. More…wise, instead of strong.
The tribe had stopped in a nice spot on the plains, nearby Tarkus Lake, some kinda sacred place. She didn’t really know why it was sacred, but when she went to Gran, telling her she was ready to earn her colors, Gran went right to the chief and told her to divert their course thataway. And the chief didn’t argue at all, so it was definitely an important thing.
“…Well I’ll be damned,” Gran finally spoke, her thin lips cracking in a grin as her eyes opened up again, one a deep green, the other a milky white, “Ya really are ready.”
“What, ya doubted me?” Leok almost grinned back, but this was a sacred thing. She had to take it seriously. But one thought did nag at her. “Why’d ya have Chief head here if ya weren’t sure?”
“The mystic thoughts of an elder can only be understood by reachin’ that age yerself,” she replied, closing her eyes and nodding serenely as though that answered things. It didn’t mean much to Leok, but since the wisest of her tribe had said it, it probably meant a lot.
“Right, so since I’m ready, come on! Let’s go ta the next step!”
Gran shrugged. “Alright, if ya want.”
“Come on, I–Wait, really?” Leok blinked. “Yer not gonna say somethin’ about how ‘patience is good’ or somethin’?”
“Course not. If yer ready, yer ready.” Gran smiled, a few of her iron teeth glimmering in the noon-day sunlight. “Takin’ a step like this means becomin’ an adult, Leok Lion-Bane. It ain’t somethin’ ya get inta if ya really aren’t ready fer it, and everythin’ about yer soul says yer ready. Sure, Rishak would probably prefer if I waited two years so ya get there the same as everyone else, but that’s cause she worries easy.”
“…Ya were talking about the chief there, right? She worries easy?”
“Course she does. Chiefs worry. They need ta. It’s part’a their responsibilities, and I’ve told ya plenty’a stories’a those chiefs that were so confident in themselves, they didn’t even think’a worryin’ when they really shoulda.”
“Yeah, ya have…So…What comes next?”
Gran cracked another grin. “First, yer gonna needa center yerself. Ya remember how ta meditate?”
“Ah, right.” Leok nodded, then took a breath and clenched her hands into fists, pressing them together in front of her stomach, at her core. She took another breath–in and out, slow as could be; five in, six out–and let herself fall into that rhythm.
“Good good, yer doin’ good. Keep up that breath. Now, I want ya ta think back ta my lessons. Not the stories, but the theology. Who are the gods?”
“…” Leok wasn’t sure if she was supposed to answer at that moment, but she gave it a try. “The Ouza?”
Gran chuckled. “Yeah, that’s one answer. But we’re lookin’ fer a more complete one. And not fer the lower ones. Fer the Ancients. Who are they?”
Their creators, the ones who formed all demons, all dragons, all leviathans, all– “They’re the mothers of us all.”
“Right. Now specifics. What are their Names?”
Leok took a deep breath there. She needed it to help focus, to remember lessons she knew by heart, but kept in the back of her mind in favor of more immediately important things. “Rupture, the Ancient Eruption, Grandmother’a Molten Flames. Fathom, the Ancient Deep, Grandmother’a Kaz…Chasmic Seas? Uh, Tempest, the Ancient Sky, Grandmother’a Ragin’ Squalls. Stygian, the Ancient Thought, Grandmother’a…uh…Bound…” She grimaced, sure she knew the answer, then nodded firmly once she got it. “Boundless Minds.”
“Hmmmm…Yup, that’s all’a ‘em. Nice work rememberin’. Now, hold out yer hands.”
Leok did, and tried her best not to open her eyes when she felt heavy weight settle in her open palms.
“Y’know ya can open yer eyes now, right?”
She did not, but open them she did, which let her see the chunk of clear quartz in her hands. “…Huh. What’m I doin’ with this?”
“Yer holdin’ it.” Gran chuckled as Leok frowned at her. “That little jewel there’s gonna help ya figure some stuff out. First, I want ya ta look at it. What color would ya say it is?”
Leok blinked, then stared at the jagged crystal, small points jutting up from a smooth base like trees on a hill. “…Uh, like…white? It’s clear, mostly, but kinda towards the bottom…?”
“That’s a good ‘nough way’a sayin’ it. The white there isn’t exactly white though. It’s more like ‘absence’.”
“…’n that means?”
“Means nothin’s in there yet. Like yer marks.”
Leok blinked, then glanced at the white lines going up her right forearm, connecting straight from the circle around her elbow to the one around her wrist, kinda like a painted bracer. She’d gotten it done years ago as a way to practice magic, like the other kids her age. “Huh? What’s wrong with my marks?”
“Nothin’ wrong with ‘em, they’re just not complete yet. Ya haven’t found yer type yet, yer ‘affinity’. Ya wanna do more’n just make light balls and signals, right?”
“Well yeah, course. Just…How does this thin’ let me do that?”
“Easy. Ya already know how ta make light. Just push that same power out here, inta the crystal.”
And when Leok did exactly that, she saw what was easily the most beautiful sight she could’ve ever seen.
In that one chunk of quartz–which had gone from its pale, clear, white, to a burning, vibrate mix of molten reds speckled with black–she saw the fire she’d felt burning in the back of her head for all those years.
And with that beautiful sight, her fire burst free, and lit her soul alight.
–Eight Years Later–
Leok panted, her breath coming heavier than it ever had before. Sweat ran down her face and mixed with the blood leaking from her busted nose and split lips, soaking down her bare chest like it would mix with the crimson flames tattooed into her bruised and scraped skin.
“C’mon. Get up,” she commanded, like her arms didn’t feel like dead weights at her sides. She’d cut her hair short for this match. It was that damn important.
And about three hours into it, her Chief was lying in the sand, flat on her back for the first time Leok had ever seen. For the first time most of their tribe had ever seen, if she was right.
And everyone was seeing it. All the adults of her tribe waited outside the ring they’d formed, distant enough for respect, close enough to see. To see their Chief, the greatest beast of their tribe, down in the sand of a lakeside beach.
“Come on. Get up.” Little more insistently that time. Even years later, she’d wonder why she was so insistent there. She knew this was a step she had to take. She knew she would have to beat her own chief to reach that point. But a part of her, on that sunny day, had insisted that the Chief never lost to anyone. Not even her.
It wasn’t like the Chief hadn’t fought her hard. For the first time, Chief had let her beast slip in a fight. She’d let that thick fur cover her, let her feet harden into hooves, let her tusks get longer and curved like blades, and Leok had still laid her flat. Not without injury, not without effort.
But one of them was standing, and the other was on the ground, and in the eyes of the world and its history, that was the only thing that would ever matter.
“…hgh…ghh…ghh-hh…” Chief lifted her hand–slowly, painfully, like she was trying to lift the sky–and let it fall against her face, her shoulders shaking as she covered her face.
“…Don’t…Don’t cry ‘cause ya lost,” Leok said. She didn’t beg there. She couldn’t. She was the chief now.
“N’t…d-dun’t…f-f’ckin’ f-fladder yerzelf…b-brat.” Her voice was made of broken things. A broken nose, broken teeth, broken jaw, broken ribs and collarbones, but it all held together strong, and there wasn’t even a hint of a broken spirit in it. “Gh hh hh…’m zo f’ckin’…zo f’ckin’ prowd.”
And that was the breaking point for Leok. Tears fell from her eyes as she fell to her knees, a little laugh that sounded like a sob sounding out over the lake, before strong arms wrapped around her and helped her up, a wide grin on Gran’s face.
That seemed to be the signal for everyone to immediately start crowding, shouting congratulations, cheering the ‘awesome match’, and helping Chief…helping Rishak up to her feet.
That night, they had a feast to fully swear her in, and Leok Lion-Bane–sitting at the honored spot among all her tribe, all laughing and cheering her name, with Rishak’s voice easily being the loudest–became the newest Chief of the Beast-Bane Tribe.
–Five Years Later–
“Yup. Soon enough, I will be,” Rishak replied, grinning at Leok in the lights of her tent. Of Leok’s tent. The Chief’s tent.
Still felt weird, sitting on the chief’s pillow. It was a simple thing, large and yellow, like the fields of Korikala. Felt comfy enough. Made her seem taller than she was. “…Why? I mean…I know ya weren’t born in the tribe, but…”
“Yer my family,” Rishak confirmed, even though Leok should’ve known it would be her answer, “And don’t get all insecure, yer better than that.”
Rishak’s eye twitched. “…I swear ya told the kids ta start callin’ me that. Rulak ain’t even dead yet and yer already settin’ me up ta take her over.”
Leok snorted, ignoring the little pang at the idea of her Gran dying. She was getting older by the day and all… “I can’t help what the kids call ya. Besides, is it a bad thing?”
“Nah, it ain’t. It’s kinda cute.” Rishak shrugged. “Still. I’m thinkin’ yer set here. Y’ve got a good handle on the tribe, y’ve got a good feel fer the folk around, yer good at talkin’, and yer damn good at fightin’. Ain’t lost a fight yet, right?”
“Only ever lost ta ya, and ya know it.”
“And ya won against me.”
Leok nodded. “And I won against ya. And y’still stuck around afterward. So why now?”
“…Yer movin’ the tribe east, ain’tcha?”
She raised an eyebrow. “Yeah. I ain’t been keepin’ it a secret. Thin’s sound bad down south. Folk and orc say some crazy shit goin’ on in the swamps.”
“Sayin’ more’n that.” Rishak scratched at her neck, stretching it a little. “Hm…Ya know what they’re sayin’, yeah?”
Leok’s eyes narrowed. “That there’s a Demon Lord risin’ up.”
Rishak nodded. “Last one’a those…think it was back when ya weren’t even crawlin’ yet. Name was Orast. Kinda a prick.”
That was the moment it all fit together for Leok, truth hitting her like a rock to the head. “So why’re ya stayin’?”
Rishak winced, let out a little sigh, and stared at her much more evenly and seriously. “Cause not everyone can just up an’ leave their homes. So someone has ta make sure they’re safe.”
“Then-Then we’ll sta-”
“No, ya won’t. It’s yer job as the chief to protect the tribe. So keep ‘em safe, and keep ‘em movin’.”
“…Only if ya stay safe too.”
“Ha! I lose one fight and ya think I’m just a pushover?”
“…Look, Lee, I’ll be alright. I’m the second strongest orc on all’a Estus, I won’t go down that easy.”
“Why d’ya need ta do this? Just tell me that.”
“…” Rishak let out another sigh and scratched her head. “… I made a lotta mistakes in the past. Teamed up with the wrong folk ‘n treated my tribe like trash. Eventually, it all caught up ta me, but I was lucky enough ta make it out alive. ‘n once I met this tribe, I made it my mission ta keep them safe. And now that they have you, I’m gonna keep others safe.”
“And what about you? Who’s gonna keep ya safe?”
Rishak snorted. “I am, a’course. Seriously, ya can’t be-”
“I could order ya ta stay here.”
Leok tried to keep her gaze steady on Rishak. “I’m yer chief. We both know I can beat ya in a fight. I could keep ya here.”
“…” Rishak sighed. “Ya could. Yeah.”
“…Rishak, as yer chief, I’m orderin’ ya not ta throw yer life away.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Lee-”
“I ain’t orderin’ ya ta stay.” Leok took a little breath. “…Ya can go out, ya can protect people. That’s fine. Just don’t die. No playin’ hero, no grand last stands, no old warrior sacrificin’ herself against a stronger fighter. Yer survivin’, ya got it?”
“…” Rishak visibly swallowed, her voice tight. “Y-Yeah Chief. I understand ya.”
“…And when yer out there, rescuin’ folk ‘n all…tell the ones that can go out that the Beast-Bane tribe’s acceptin’ any refugees. Orc or folk, long as they wanna travel with us. Even if it’s just ta the nearest safe town.”
“…Heh. Geh heh…Yer a good…A real good chief, Chief.” Rishak smiled wide. “I’m gonna meet up with ya again. Promise.”
Leok smiled back. “And I’ll be waitin’ fer ya. Promise.”
Despite their big, sappy goodbye there, it took some time for Rishak Folk-Bane to actually leave the tribe. A lotta people needed to be said goodbye to, after all, and Leok was pretty sure her old chief was putting off leaving, at least a little.
Still, the time came, as it had to, and Leok saw her mentor off with a tight hug and a promise that they’d see each other again.
And sure, it would be some time before they did, but it was, thankfully, a promise they both kept.
–2 Years Later–
So Irascagan got fucking dead after two years of being a jackass. Woo.
Some lightlander brats offed him and his band of murdering monsters–good riddance to bad garbage–and with him gone, all the tension of the last two years just melted away.
Leok also met up with Crow again in those two years. Took a little while, lots of travel time, lots of transporting people through all the marshy, rainy lands of Inrapaba–which was a real pain in the ass, especially since it seemed like everybody out there was way into the idea of “taxes” and making sure her caravan “paid their dues”–and a few moments of punching out asshole bandits–or “gangsters”, since apparently they were more organized than the normal sort–but she eventually ran into Crow and the Fire-Art tribe outside a decently-sized city called Lordsgrave.
“Holy shit, y’look awesome,” was how Leok greeted the gal she hadn’t seen in 19 years. Though it was a plenty appropriate greeting, considering how awesome Crow looked.
“Yer lookin’ good yerself,” Crow greeted in turn, her black-painted lips quirked up in obvious amusement and matching the pitch-black tattoos curving all around her taller, broader and much more muscular body. Though she was still at least two inches shorter than Leok, much to her own amusement. “Beast-Bane Chief now, huh, Lion-Bane?”
“Yup. Been it fer a good seven years now, Crow…?”
Crow’s grin took on a smugger look. “Shaman Crow Black-Art. At yer service, Chief.” And then she bowed low, her feathered, hooded cloak almost making her look like the bird she was named for. “If you’ll have me, of course.”
“Ha! D’ya even need ta ask? Welcome ta the tribe!”
And that was that. No dramatics, no big event, just a simple transfer of an awesome shaman from one tribe to another. Sure, there were more big goodbyes and such, but that was mostly the Fire-Arts just saying they’d miss Crow and giving hugs and all, and Leok did offer to join up their tribes, but their chief, Rola Red-Art, declined, saying that he and his people preferred performing and all.
Leok didn’t consider that an issue, so more fond goodbyes were said and the Beast-Bane tribe moved on. And after that, things fell into a pretty peaceful routine, for an orc tribe.
Plenty of things happened, sure. Lots of traveling tended to bring lots of adventures, like hunting down deadly beasts that were bothering towns, having some sporting competitions with other tribes, and punching out some wereshark prick and his weird gang of other therians that were calling themselves the “Menagerie” for some reason, like they were some dumbass zoo, like in the bigger cities.
Speaking of, the Beast-Banes had gotten a decent reputation in a lotta cities and towns, both in Korikala and Inrapa, and that meant plenty of travel, trade, and good opportunities for growing the tribe and making sure everyone was taken care of, to the point that they’d turned into one of the biggest tribes out there.
And really, at that point, then and there, Leok thought she was pretty damn satisfied. Like she’d gotten almost everything settled, and now her life would just be one of peaceful growth, no need to worry about the assholes out there that could never beat her in a fight. Hell, she even fought an outworlder martial artist, using moves she’d never seen before, and still beat him. Granted, it was a slow-going growth, one that took a lotta time and a lotta work.
Maybe that’s why it took so long for Rishak to find them again.
–Around 5 Years After That–
“What the fuck happened ta yer leg?” was how Leok decided to greet her former chief and mentor who she hadn’t seen in seven years. Though it wasn’t exactly like she decided to say that. More like it just slipped out the instant she saw the brass prosthetic replacing her mentor’s right leg all the way up to the thigh.
“Is that how ya greet yer elder ya disrespectful little shit!?” was how her loving ex-chief and mentor decided to greet her back.
“It is when yer damn leg’s gone! And I’m only two inches shorter than ya!”
“Yer still shorter, and yeah, it is. It’s what happens when yer tryin’ ta get folk outta town and ya get pinned by rubble.”
Leok blinked. “…Oh. Ah, sorry. It’s just…” She paused. “…Is that what really happened?”
“…” Rishak glanced to the side, staring at the lounge’s wall as she scratched at her cheek. “…Well, uh…ya see, sometimes, someone loses a leg when they get pinned and it just gets wrecked beyond fixin’. Other times…they might pick a fight with a beastfolk general and wind up gettin’ their leg torn off by a direwolf when they weren’t lookin’…”
Leok just sighed, then hugged Rishak tight. “I missed ya.”
“…Missed ya too.”
“…Hn.” Leok paused, remembering that there was someone else still in the room. Two someones.
She glanced over at the young, dark-skinned human woman in all white who’d made that small, conflicted noise, who just looked away and took a sip of her tea while her way paler and blatantly vampiric friend chuckled at his own chair. “Oh no, don’t mind us, please! Enjoy your reunion!”
“…Right.” Leok let go of Rishak and took a seat at one of the remaining chairs around the tea table, which was in the lounge–or a lounge–in Bleaksky Manor, which was in Blekhon County, which was a county in Inrapaba. Noble territories worked in some weird ways, but all Leok really knew was that they hadn’t had to pay any taxes while in the county, so she was already pretty damn sure these nobles hosting her reunion with Rishak wanted something. “I think we’ve been ‘reunioned’ enough here, and I’d like ta get down ta business here. Why’d ya put this meetin’ together?”
Turned out, the answer was a really simple one. The young lady, who was apparently Countess Valondrac–which was weird, because the vampire was the actual Bleaksky there–wanted Rishak to join her household as some kinda commander, but Rishak decided somebody else would be better suited for the job.
“…Yer kiddin’, right? Rishak, I got the tribe ta take care of-”
“No no, see, that’s the nice part. In exchange fer becomin’ Claire’s general here, she’s gonna give our tribe free reign ta go wherever we want in the County.”
“That I will,” Valondrac added with a grin, “No travel tax, no worrying about permits, you’ll have complete freedom to go wherever you feel like, and even settle down if you want to.”
“…Yer willin’ ta give us that much?”
“Yup! It’s part of the price I negotiated with Miss Folk-Bane, so transferring it over your way should be fine, no?”
Valondrac blinked. “No?”
Leok shook her head. “No. That’s a good deal, but I ain’t lookin’ ta join up with some noble’s guard. I appreciate the offer, but I’m gonna hafta decline.”
“…” Valondrac studied her for a moment, then smirked. “I’m not looking for a guard. I’m looking for a general. After all, I need strong people by my side if I’m ever going to take over the world.”
“Look, I appreciate what yer-…” Then it was Leok’s turn to blink. “…Take over the world?”
“That’s the plan! Though you may want to keep it a secret for a while. Jonny pointed out that I’ll need to build up my base a lot more before I go all out and declare myself the newest Demon Lord.”
Leok looked at “Jonny”, who grinned and waved, then over to Rishak. “…Did ya know about this?”
“…I thought ya didn’t like Demon Lords?”
Rishak grinned. “Most’a ‘em. But her honesty appeals ta me, and…well, let’s say she reminded me a lot’a some other proud brat I know.”
Leok paused there, then looked at Valondrac, who was frowning at Rishak for the “brat” comment. “…Hm. Alright, ya got my interest. But. I ain’t workin’ fer someone weaker than I am. Protectin’, sure. Guardin’, sure. But if ya want me ta call ya my boss, my actual, full superior, ya gotta prove yer worth it.”
“Huh…Alright, you’re on.” Valondrac grinned. “Don’t go easy on me. I want this to be fun.”
Leok snorted, grinning back at the arrogant kid and definitely seeing why Rishak liked her. In that moment, the thought crossed her mind that, when Claire lost to her, she might just stick around anyway. She could train the brat up, like her chief did for her… “Don’t go cryin’ when ya lose, ya got it?”
Claire’s yellow eyes gleamed. “Got it~.”
And that’s how Leok met the second person out there who could consistently kick her ass, along with the only one she still couldn’t beat in a fight. Not that she minded. Working with Claire gave her tribe a good chunk of land to live and plenty of opportunities to try again.
And hey, it wasn’t like her Boss was a bad person to work for. Hell, considering everything she knew about the world, maybe it needed someone powerful enough to take charge.
Still, she couldn’t help laughing when she realized Crow’s vision had come true. Her shaman just made one little mistake about who was actually leading that army.