The next morning, Brometheus bob was standing in the Archmage’s office, along with Curtis and the Archmage himself.
“Brometheus never in his wildest dreams could have imagined ever standing in this place.”
“Yeah dude.” Curtis said with a nod and a smile. “You build this place up in your head, and then when you actually set foot in here, you find that it’s as boring and as big a disappointment as you could possibly find.”
“You really do want me to send to an early grave, don’t you?” Archmage William said with a growl as he looked at Curtis.
“So anyway!” Curtis said as he quickly changed the subject. “Why are you here alone? Is Izano gonna fill us in later?”
“…yeah, about that…”
BroBob went about explaining how things went the day before, and not only that, the correspondence he had received from Zuko in the small hours of the morning.
“…could you say that again?” William asked with a look of disbelief on his face.
“Izano told Brometheus that he managed to secure the Orc Leader’s help, and that he was staying there as an honoured guest until—”
“No, no, no, not the good news!”
“…Brometheus was hoping you wouldn’t say that. After the feast held in his honour, Izano was walking around with the Princess and helped thwart an attempt on her life, which possibly keep him there for longer than he had anticipated. He then told Brometheus that his bed was ‘comfortable’ and to let Curtis know that he was surrounded by the prettiest Orc women he had ever seen.”
There was a bang on the Archmage’s thick wooden desk, and Curtis looked as though he had just received the news that his entire family had been murdered or something.
“I’m gonna kill that Lord Baldimort looking motherfucker!” Curtis snarled.
“Hold up though… does this situation provide Izano with the perfect chance?”
“What do you mean?” The Archmage asked.
“Brometheus thinks that if lechon-head manages to help the Orc King’s daughter and save her from the assassins, maybe he will be so grateful that he’ll even go the extra mile to help us.”
“That is actually a very good point.” William said as he nodded his head in surprise.
“You think so?” BroBob asked.
“I do. If he bungles this up however, then—”
“Then we could be staring down the barrel of an Orc filled gun.” Curtis said as he punched the desk again.
“Stop that.” William said with a glare.
“Well…if you two would excuse Brometheus, he’s got hella shit to do, so…”
BroBob practically flew out of that office without looking back and disappeared down the hall. Meanwhile in the Orcish Enclave, seated in an empty room were Zuko, Zamah, the war Chief, and Doh, the Third Chancellor. All four of them were seated directly on the floor, with Zuko next to a futon, with Zamah next to the other. They were sitting with their legs crossed and after a quick knock on the door, a servant brought in a tray with tea and coffee. She quickly set everything down, with a cup being placed in front of everybody in the room, and then slid out as quietly as she slid in. Once she was gone, the silence lasted a little while longer, before being broken by the Chief.
“Izano Zuko… as I was saying before, I am beside myself with gratitude. You came here seeking assistance from me, yet as it turns out, you are the one that ended up helping me by saving my daughter’s life. I don’t even know how to thank you.”
“No, that is quite alright, War Chief. I suspect that I was not really needed in the end.”
“Don’t be so modest…” The Third Chancellor added.
“Yes, exactly.” The War Chief agreed, before looking at Zamah. “And you! Look at you, dress ruined, covered in blood and vomit, ripped to shreds… have you even thanked this man properly!?”
Zamah, who was sitting on a straw mat and had been silent the entire time, looked at her father and then at Zuko, who was looking conveniently looking away from her. She then sighed slightly as she closed her eyes, thinking back on the previous night’s events. She remembered how as she vomited, she could hear Zuko saying something to her, but she couldn’t quite remember what it was that he was saying. She remembered vomiting far more than any one person had any right to, before suddenly feeling something that felt like cloth wiping her face forcefully. Her gaze remained fixed on the back of Zuko’s head as she kept trying to recall exactly what happened.
“Zamah!” Her father boomed. “You didn’t even bathe and change out of the dress that is covered in the vomit of your attackers; what’s wrong with you?!”
“Huh?” Zamah said, as she finally looked away from Zuko.
“This man told us everything that happened.” Doh said. “He informed us that the damage to your dress and your wound were caused by one of the two assassins, and that you beat him so badly, that he vomited on you before running away along with his partner.”
“If Izano Zuko hadn’t have been there, you would have been overwhelmed and taken out.” The War Chief grunted. “Thank Izano Zuko properly.”
Zamah looked at Zuko, who had clearly edited parts of last night’s events and hidden the fact that she was drunk and such. She scoffed just a tad and looked away.
“What kind of thank you is that?!” The War Chief boomed as he punched the ground.
“War Chief, please!” The Third Chancellor pleaded. “Perhaps we have come to see them too early, especially considering how the Princess looks. Let us give them some time to wake up, and meet them for lunch.”
“Hmph.” The old man snorted as he and Doh both stood up slowly.
“Well then, we shall see you two later.”
The Third Chancellor quickly ushered the War Chief out, and closed the door behind him. There was a brief silence, before Zuko looked at Zamah expectantly.
“What?” Zamah asked somewhat dismissively.
“Thank me, you bitch.”
“What was that?!”
“You heard me! Do you have any idea how annoying you became after beating that damn Troll?! Vomiting and bleeding all over the place… when your servants arrived, you started beating the crap out of them when any of the tried to help you, going on about how you were not drunk and did not need help – all the while vomiting an obscene amount of vomit everywhere. I ended up having to step in and assist those accursed women in getting you here, avoiding death blows and constantly wiping your vomit covered face in the event one of your father’s people arrived to see you.”
“Bullshit, that didn’t happen.” Zamah protested.
“Yes it did!” Zuko boomed. “In fact, you were just as annoying in your sleep as well! Snoring so badly, it sounded like a constipated Tusker was trying to force the issue and take a dump! Your terrible sleeping habits made things worse because you started beating your servants again, this time in your SLEEP! You eventually burst in here, fell on the floor and started snoring again! Those damn women did not even come in here to take care of you; they just left you here and went to go lick their wounds elsewhere!”
“BULLSHIT! THAT DIDN’T HAPPE—”
“YES IT DIIIIIIID!!!” The ladies in waiting roared as they burst into the room.
They were covered in bruises, with bits of their faces swollen and such. They were still dressed as they were last night, and their clothes had droplets of blood on them as well. Zamah looked at them, her eyes scanning over their appearances and then looked off to the side.
“Don’t give us that!” The women boomed in unison. “We knew that giving you two alcohol last night was a bad idea, because we just knew this was going to happen!”
“C-Come on, guys. It couldn’t have been that bad?”
“It was WORSE!!” They boomed back.
“Wait everybody, just calm down.” A muffled sounding voice interrupted. “The entire Enclave was in a festive, party mood, wasn’t it? Let’s cut the Princess some slack.”
The muffled voice belonged to the woman the others had taken to calling Fairy, and as she made her way through the crowd, she was revealed to have apparently taken the brunt of the beatings; her face completely swollen and her white clothes stained with more blood than anybody else’s clothes.
“Don’t worry, Princess… I totally understand…” Zodwa said with a smile.
The smile on her face however was at odds with her body language, and in her right hand, a double bladed Orc Axe was held with the kind of grip that hinted at an incoming swing. Zamah noticed this, and before the Forest Fairy could do anything, she got up and leapt over absolutely everybody in the group, landing behind them, and dashing out of the room all in one move.
“After her!” Zodwa shouted, before bursting out after Zamah with the rest of the girls following after her.
As they all rushed out, Zuko remained seated in the room, sitting in silence.
“…that bitch did not say thank you.”
He sat there awkwardly for a little while longer, before getting up and slowly making his way out of the room he had been dumped in. The floor was hard and cold, the futon was thin, and in the middle of the night, it became almost unbearably loud. He started walking around the rather large building, remembering that last night; the servants had told him this was Zamah’s private residence. As was his usual practice, he just walked down corridors and through doors, hoping to find what it was that he was looking for. Soon enough, he opened a door to a storage room in which the servant woman who had placed the tea which nobody drank was busy sorting through things. She was startled by the sudden opening of the door, turning around only to see Zuko standing there.
“Woman, I need to shower.”
Zuko said this as he looked down at the woman, looking and sounding rather frustrated. This made the smallish woman cower just a tad, however after sniffing the air a few times, the expression on her face suddenly changed, which made Zuko suddenly look slightly apprehensive himself.
Around ten minutes later, Zuko was standing beneath a torrent of cascading water which flowed from a waterfall. Thoughts of him being bullied by the small woman, virtually being stripped and then thrown into this waterfall with the kind of strength one with such a small body made him shake his head and sigh a bit. This water was hot, and was a natural shower of sorts which Zamah’s private residence had been built around. His bandages were on some rocks next to the water, which was being stained. The black liquid that flowed endlessly from multiple points on his scarred body dyed the water somewhat, while Zuko stood as his hands roamed over the more swollen or rougher looking areas of said body.
“Still tender in many places… I really should have allowed myself to heal before coming to this city.”
Zuko said this to himself as he stepped out from beneath the flow of water. He then stepped onto the grass beside the pooled water, before stepping onto the pile of bandages, which wrapped themselves around his body, climbing up each of his legs and within a matter of seconds, he was completely wrapped up like a mummy of sorts.
“Where is that damn woman with my clothes?” Zuko said as he looked around. “I do not even have Tan’Rhaka’s Cloak to cover up with.”
Zuko stood beside the steaming water that was quickly becoming clear, his bandages looking about as dry as they ever had. He stood on the grass, waiting in silence, his arms by his waist. Zuko had no idea how long he stood there, however it took absolutely no time for him to lose his patience. He stomped around in a few circles before standing in one spot and roaring.
“Woman! Servant Woman!! Where in all the Hells ARE you?! I NEED my CLOTHES!!!!”
Despite not using him mouth to speak, there probably wasn’t a person in the Princess’ residence who didn’t hear him. As if appearing due to having been summoned, the woman from before suddenly popped up. The smallish woman was carrying something in her arms, and Zuko, who looked so annoyed; it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see steam clouds forcing their way out from his head.
“Where have you been?!”
“Oh? You are already done with your bath, sir? That’s a surprise.”
The woman then set what she had in her hands down before Zuko and smiled. Zuko, who was about to rage some more, suddenly noticed the smiling face of this regular looking servant and hesitated just a bit. A flashback of just how forceful she was in ripping his clothes off and then grabbing him by the wrist, dragging him to a balcony and then tossing him directly into that hot waterfall. He looked at the skinny arm that swung him around like a ragdoll with just a hint of disbelief. He then noticed the bundle on the floor.
“Woman… what is this?”
“Those are clothes for you to wear, Sir.”
Zuko picked up the clothes and realised very quickly that they weren’t his Robes or his cloak.
“What are these?”
“Clothes.” The woman responded.
“No, I mean where are MY clothes?”
“Oh, well those black Robes were pretty dirty and smelled a bit, so I washed them. That cloak you were wearing was by far the filthiest thing I have ever come across. How those you work and live with didn’t notice was beyond me. Both of your clothes are soaking in water with as much soap as I could get my hands on. This is ceremonial Orcish Warlock Armour that I was commanded to give you to wear.”
“Orcish Warlock Armour? Who in the… who told you to bring me this?”
“I did.” A familiar voice stated, before the third Chancellor appeared. “I was also the one who suggested that you be led here to bathe in the waters of our special pool here.”
Zuko looked at this tall, thin Orc who had been the first within the inner court so to speak to meet with and welcome Zuko to the Enclave.
“I would like to speak with you, Izano Zuko. Would you mind lending me your ear for a little while?”
“…I have nothing else to do, so I may as well.” Zuko said with a shrug. “However before all that… how does one put these things on?”
Zuko asked this as he had already started faffing about with both pieces, trying to figure out which one to put on first. The servant just sighed slightly and hurried over, quickly taking the bit in his right hand and starting try and put it on Zuko as if he was a child. Zuko looked at down at the woman and found himself going along with whatever it was she was doing, stepping into the leg piece which was similar to the fur skirt type item that the men wore, except that it was armoured, and made from a combination of leather and enchanted Orcish Ore – which was usually reserved for the most distinguished of warriors. The base was leather, and there were Orc Steel plates and tassels on the leather, complete with unique designs and steel tipped tassels that hung beyond the bottom of the leather. The waist band had discs which had emblems of the Sky Clan on each of them, with the central one being the largest. These discs were also made from the Orcish Steel, and after pulling the Warlock Leggings up, Zuko spent a moment looking at it.
“This stuff is clearly enchanted.” Zuko said as he looked up at Doh.
“Yes, well, we can discuss that and more once we have settled down for our little talk. Please, follow me.”
Zuko, who was still holding the other piece of armour, he followed the Third Chancellor, eyeing him rather suspiciously as he did. The walk was actually rather short, as before Zuko knew it; both he and Doh approached an absolutely beautiful looking little garden close enough to the waterfall that it still provided a beautiful view. A table and some chairs were placed in the middle of the little garden, and after a few moments, both men sat down opposite one another. A gentle breeze blew through the garden as the two sat in silence, as if sizing each other up.
“So what business do you have with me, Third Chancellor?”
“I just wanted to speak to the man that got the War Chief to commit to helping him unconditionally after the briefest of meetings.”
“To what end?” Zuko asked.
“I am partly responsible for the wellbeing and happiness of the people that live within the borders of our land. If anybody or anything that could potentially disturb those two things was to appear, it is my duty to protect my people against such an entity, by any means necessary.”
Yet another chilling breeze conveniently blew through the garden as if to add gravitas to the Third Chancellor’s statement. The two men looked each other directly in the eyes, barely even blinking. The Orc’s demeanor was completely different to how it was the previous day, however to his credit; Zuko did not appear to be phased. The mini standoff continued for a bit longer, before the servant came back with a small platter of food and beverages, setting them down on the table. After she bowed and was about to walk off, she noticed the Warlock Breastplate on the ground next to Zuko, and suddenly picked it up. Before he knew it, Zuko’s arms had been raised and the rather heavy breastplate was slipped on over his arms and head. The moment the two pieces of armour touched, suddenly, they both seemed to tighten around Zuko’s body, as if dynamically changing size to fit him perfectly. The process was not accompanied with any sort of flourish, and was over fairly quickly.
“What the… what happened? What is up with this damn servant?! She just does things without waiting for permission!”
“She already received permission, Izano Zuko.”
“From me… I have some authority in these parts, and I gave her a number of tasks and orders. It’s as simple as that.”
“…is she not one of the Princess’ servants, though?”
“She most certainly is… however; we shall get to that in a little bit.”
Zuko looked at the woman who looked back at him and smiled rather sweetly.
“There is a disconnect between your face and your actions, woman.” Zuko said with a snort.
The servant just chuckled a bit, before shuffling off and disappearing. Zuko looked at Doh, who was stirring his cup of tea, and after taking a few sips, set the cup down.
“Ask your questions.” Zuko demanded, as he squirmed while trying to get used to this new attire.
“When I asked War Chief Nkunzi why he has practically bent over backwards to accommodate you, he told me that Treaties of the past must be honoured. When I tried to press for more information, I was told to back off rather emphatically. My question to you is simple; why is the War Chief helping you?”
“…because I asked for help.” Zuko stated simply.
“I need more than that, Izano Zuko.” The Third Chancellor responded.
“How is that my problem, Chancellor?” Zuko virtually growled. “The War Chief asked me questions, I answered the questions and then he decided to help me. If you wish to know why he decided to help, the person best suited to answer that question is the war Chief himself.”
“That’s not good enough.” The Third Chancellor warned.
“Do you think I care what you deem to be enough? I have answered this question; move on to the next one.”
Zuko glared at the thin Orc, who was returning the favour. The two men glared at each other, and as the glares began to intensify, the Third Chancellor noticed Mana slowly seeping out from Zuko’s body. It only lasted for as long as the glaring contest did, with Doh actually being the first to break eye contact and closed his eyes as he took another sip of his tea.
“You’re terribly intense, Izano Zuko.” Doh said as he set his cup back down.
The atmosphere completely changed when Doh said this, the hostility that came from his end dying down. Zuko took a few moments to calm down, but when he did, so too did his Mana. He didn’t cease his glaring however, and the Third Chancellor chuckled just a tad.
“Please, forgive me for antagonising you like that – I was looking to confirm something.”
“Confirm what, exactly?” Zuko asked grumpily.
“My suspicions, really. Anyway Izano Zuko, I’m sorry but this conversation is about to descend into me speaking quite a bit… I ask that you listen and save your questions for once I have finished speaking.”
Zuko did not respond to the request, and Doh took the silence as confirmation that he could continue.
“First of all, let me apologise once again for just now. I had already confirmed my suspicions as to why the War Chief agreed to help you and said what he said to me. As I stated, I wished to confirm something. Anyway, we currently have a very delicate situation on our hands, and I suspect that you already know what it is. I am just going to be very frank with you; Princess Zamah may be the oldest child, but she has been fighting a losing battle her entire life. In Sky Orc custom, there are some ironclad laws that we must follow. The Princess and Prince Kwanda are torn between the two most ironclad of these laws; the first born child is always the heir, and that only male children can be War Chief, while girl children become Shamans.”
“That certainly does explain things.” Zuko said with a nod.
“The Princess is adamant that as the eldest, inheriting the Warhammer is her birthright. Prince Kwanda on the other is standing firm that due to her gender, she is unable to assume the role of War Chief. To make matters worse, Zamah has absolutely no talent in the Shamanistic Arts, while Kwanda has talent as a Shaman so rarely seen. Yet he wants to be War Chief and is insistent on Zamah becoming his Shaman. This situation is an absolute shambles.”
The Third Chancellor then took yet another sip of tea, before continuing.
“There are currently two factions here, the Kwanda Faction, and the Zamah faction. Within the Prince’s faction, are the younger Princes Stixx and Voh. The two younger siblings had sided with Kwanda, and have committed their forces to join together with Kwanda’s, although I do hear rumbling of Prince Voh being less enthused about this alliance than Stixx. It is said that he would be more than willing to join the Princess’ faction, however she has refused him each time he has suggested it.”
“You mentioned forces.” Zuko said, completely ignoring the Chancellor’s request for him to remain quiet until the end.
“Each of the Chief’s children has been awarded personal guards which have ended up becoming Private Armies. These Armies so to speak have been deployed all throughout the grounds in different positions. My greatest fear is that if relations become any more strained, the two factions could snap and the resulting war would be extremely bloody, which is something we cannot afford to have happen; especially if things within the entire city appear to be going down the path I think they are.”
The final part of that sentence definitely caught Zuko’s attention and piqued his interested, however before he could bring it up, the Third Chancellor, who looked as though he had thrown that bit in deliberately, continued speaking.
“You may be wondering why I am divulging all this to you, an absolute stranger… that really, is quite simple; I have to find a way of resolving this, and as quickly as possible. I have watched all of these children grow, I have tutored them all, trained them, changed their diapers… I love them all as if they were my own children, and I can’t sit back and watch them kill each other.”
“I hear you… but what does all this have to do with me? I am only here until the War Chief completes his investigation and presents me with the information.”
“Oh yes, the investigation into the existence of some shadow organisation planning to destroy all humans?”
“I see… well, please indulge me a little further and listen to me some more.”
Zuko, who appeared to have been becoming impatient, just nodded with a grunt.
“Thank you. Now, last night, I was surprised to discover that you not only managed to instantly recognise the real reason the Princess had been sent to keep you company, but managed to speak to that woman and hold an actual conversation with her. I have no idea how you did it, but you also got her to the point where she was willing to drink in your company. Her being a poor drinker and an even worse drunk is the worst kept secret around here, and that stupid girl got drunk, and forcefully took you on an awful tour that was unfortunately cut short. Perhaps it was because you are a stranger and not bound by the laws of this place, or for some other reason, but you certainly made an immediate impression on her. Taking into account the martial prowess you displayed in fighting off those two Troll assassins, you could be just what the doctor ordered.”
“What are you talking about? And how do you know all of this?!” Zuko asked.
“Please, calm down, Izano Zuko. I must laud you; you did very well to detect my people within the trees behind you. That said, I still had others deployed close enough to monitor you two.”
“You had people follow and listen in on me?” Zuko said, his tone sounding slightly annoyed.
“I certainly did, and I don’t regret doing so. I have gained some rather important information, and I believe you shall gain some as well.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your suspicions have been correct, Izano Zuko, about there being a group looking to destroy the base of Human rule here in Glory City and take over. The group is known as The Association, and all I know about them, is that they have some very powerful figures within the Non-Human Nobility either backing them, or a part of them.”
“That is the extent of the information I have on the Association. That said however, I have been placed in charge of actively seeking information about them, at the War Chief’s behest.”
The moment Doh said this, Zuko knew exactly what was coming next.
“Is that so?”
“Indeed… the speed and efficiency with the investigation is carried depends solely on me.”
“…I see.” Zuko said with a slight shake of the head. “What would it take for the investigation to be handled with the utmost urgency?”
“Oh, nothing much, my dear Zuko… just a… commitment.”
“The chances are, sometime during your stay here, there may be arise a moment in which the Princess will absolutely need some help. All I need from you is your word that when that time comes, you will be on hand to provide that help.”
“I see…” Zuko said as he crossed his arms. “Fine, you have my word, however it comes with conditions.”
“That whatever machinations you have in place execute within three days, and that if I am not satisfied with the information you give me at the end of all this, I can kill you.”
The Third Chancellor looked at Zuko and for a brief moment, felt a combination of both awe and dread coursing through his very bones. He looked shocked for that moment, before smiling and chuckling a bit.
“Well, well, you certainly do drive a hard bargain… but very well. The fate of my Clan, of my Enclave, and more importantly, my children rests on this. Using my life as collateral is but a formality – you have a deal.”
The Third Chancellor extended his right hand, and without even moment’s hesitation, Zuko took the long, thin hand within his and shook it firmly.
“You know.” The Orc continued. “I was really surprised you didn’t take advantage of lounging in the healing waters of our pool over there – especially considering how clearly injured you are.”
“Wait, what are you… that is a healing pool? How did you know that I was injured?”
“Your burn scars are not old, your breathing is slightly ragged, and you are favouring your side… in fact, anybody with an eye for medicine can tell that you’re in horrid shape. How do you even sleep at night?”
“Painfully.” Zuko admitted.
“I’m sure… those bandages certainly are worth many times their weight in gold, aren’t they?”
“I have been sitting here since before you arrived. I saw you fly into the flowing water and then fall down with the waterfall. I saw everything.”
“You watched me bathe?”
“I did. It was quite the show.”
“…are you trying to get killed right where you are seated?”
“Certainly not!” Doh said with a grin on his face.
Before the situation got more out of hand, both men sensed the presence of somebody approaching and both of their heads snapped quickly in the direction whoever was approaching was coming from. The person in question was actually Zamah, who was looking infinitely better than she did earlier in the morning. She was dressed in her armour and had her swords crossed on her back. She saw the two men looking as though they were holding hands, and raised an eyebrow at both.
“What’s going on here?” She virtually barked.
“Absolutely nothing, my Princess.” Doh said with a grin on his face as he released Zuko’s hand.
Zamah eyed him suspiciously, before looking at Zuko who was also eyeing Doh suspiciously.
“You there, Izano Zuko.”
“…what is it?” Zuko eventually said, sounding rather annoyed with the way Zamah called out to him.
“Get up, we’re leaving.”
“No we are not. I have no idea where you are going, but I am staying right here.”
“No, that’s not how it’s going down. Get up.”
“I said no.”
“I said get up!!!”
“Fuck you, bitch!” Zuko boomed as he stood up, having clearly snapped. “You think that having those swords on you will save you?!”
“You wanna go?! Well bring it ON!!”
Just as Zuko looked ready to charge, he remembered the deal he had just made with the creepy looking Third Chancellor. This caused him to close his eyes and force himself to calm down. Upon opening his eyes, Zuko just started walking towards Zamah.
“If you will excuse me Third Chancellor.”
“Of course.” Doh said with a bow.
As Zuko and Zamah walked, the Princess kept glancing over at Zuko.
“What is it?” Zuko growled.
“What in Seventh Level of Hell are you wearing?”
“That skinny Chancellor gave me this armour to wear while my clothes dry. That small woman called it Ceremonial Warlock Armour.”
The conversation died down as they continued to walk and soon enough, the reached Zamah’s personal stables. There were two Dire Wolves standing at the ready, having been prepared for them.
“Can you ride one of these?” Zamah asked as she climbed upon the massive; snow white Wolf in a single, swift movement.
As she looked over to Zuko, she saw him having something of a stare down with the large black wolf. Despite being black, the beast had a number of streaks that were akin to lightning bolts running along the length of its body. Zuko and the Wolf were completely silent as they stared into each other’s eyes. After a minute or two, and without a sound or any sign of struggle, the Wolf actually lowered its head, allowing Zuko to reach out and pet it briefly. The Wolf then lowered itself onto the ground, allowing Zuko to climb on easily, before it stood up again. Zamah, who had been trying her best to hide her shock at this display, quickly looked away and snorted.
“Where exactly are we going?” Zuko asked.
“We’re going on a tour.” Zamah stated rather simply.
“What? Another one?”
“Yes, well the last one didn’t end so well, now did it? Besides, this is a part of your ‘entertainment’ package that has been prescribed to you by the War Chief.”
“Very well… lead on.” Zuko said, still sounding a little miffed.
Zamah gently nudged the Wolf she was riding with her heel, and this prompted the beast to start moving. Almost immediately afterwards, the other Wolf on which Zuko was seated began to move as well, following closely behind. As the pair made its way out from Zamah’s residence, elsewhere on the grounds in a different private residence, Kwanda was standing on a balcony, carefully watching over his sister and her guest as they left. Just as they disappeared from view, he sensed the presence of somebody as they approached.
“…is that you, Doh?”
“Yes, my Prince.” The lanky Orc said with a bow.
“So? How is he?”
“Yes, he just appears to be a regular Agent, my Prince.”
“Do you think he will pose a threat to my plans?”
“Not at all, my Prince. Just as was reported, he may be formidable, however he is nothing special. I will be able to handle him.”
“Be sure to do it in a way that doesn’t lead to future issues with the Order.”
“As you command, my Prince.”
As Doh slinked back into the shadows from whence he came, Zamah and Zuko were trotting through the streets of the Enclave. Much to Zuko’s immense surprise, people were running up to Zamah’s Wolf and interacting with her. Some of them came to say hello, others reported on past events and progress at school, men dared to ask for her hand in marriage, women asked to be hired as part of her staff, and so on. What was even more surprising to Zuko was that despite her poor communication skills, she was communicating with everybody well, and even remembered each individual person’s name, what it was they were approaching her for, and even had a parting message for each one. It was painfully obvious to anybody with eyes that she was popular amongst most people, in spite of her poor communication, and grumpy looking face. Zuko on the other hand, was starting to get impatient due to having been bogged down during Zamah’s little mingling session. It appeared as if his feelings were reflected in the Dire Wolf, as it started growling as well.
“Just bear with it.” Zamah said without looking at either Zuko or the Wolf, which made it difficult to tell who she was talking to.
Around ten minutes later, the pair had broken free of the crowds, with Zamah now carrying a bunch of stuff that had been passed to her.
“You are surprisingly well liked.” Zuko remarked as he looked at Zamah.
“Were you expecting me to be disliked?”
“Absolutely.” Zuko said as he nodded. “Because you are a bitch.”
“Oi, you do realise that I am the Princess of this place? You’re casually calling the Princess of this place a bitch.” Zamah said as she looked at him.
“Being a Princess does not exempt you from being a bitch. You can be both.”
“Do you want me to kill you? Because you are en route to suffering a slow and painful death.”
“Slow and painful my ass.” Zuko scoffed. “If anything, that monstrous strength of yours would blow me to smithereens.”
Zamah looked at Zuko, and was about to respond before something stopped her from doing so. She looked at him as if she actually wanted to say something, and Zuko studied her face for a second and just nodded in understanding. Zamah nodded back, and as they traveled further and further away from the busy town like area, she looked at Zuko once again.
“We’re picking up the pace.”
The moment she said this, the White Dire Wolf Zamah was riding suddenly pushed off from where it was standing and absolutely flew through the air. The one Zuko was on was somewhat late on the uptake, but eventually ran after Zamah and her Wolf.
“You had better not lose to that one.” Zuko said, looking down at the top of his Wolf’s head. “Something tells me that will not end well for us.”
The Dire Wolf let out a bark as if it understood perfectly and picked up the pace. The thundering of giant paws on the ground below not only echoed throughout the vast expanse of land, but the paws themselves made the ground shake. When Zamah saw Zuko gaining on her, she suddenly felt the need to go even faster, and she did just that. What was supposed to be a simple journey quickly turned into a race, with the two Wolves powering through the changing landscape. The beasts were darting and leaping this way and that, as each one tried to gain the advantage over the other. The lead was also dynamic, changing every so often as the Wolves took the race rather seriously. The amount of ground they were covering at such rapid speeds meant that it took absolutely no time at all for the scenery to change completely. They went from being in a relatively developed area, to a wooded area, before finding themselves climbing up the side of a rather severe looking mountain. The closer they got to the relatively low peak, the thicker the cloud cover became until they reached a point where they could barely see beyond their own noses. It wasn’t long until they scaled the mountain, the top of which was just as rocky and harsh as the sides. As the two mounts stopped and took a bit of a breather, Zamah looked at Zuko and this time, was unable to hide her disbelief.
“I don’t believe it.” She stated simply.
“What is it?”
“You were able to tame, mount and ride one of our most troublesome Dire Wolves with far too much ease. Nobody has ever managed to mount him, only place the saddle on his back without being bitten in half. How did somebody like you do what we couldn’t?” Zamah asked while shaking her head slightly.
“There is something to said about diplomacy, Princess. These creatures are far smarter than we give them credit for, and will respond positively to being treated as intelligent beings.”
“That’s your answer?! Talk to them?!”
“Absolutely… someone like me is capable of quite a bit, you know. Besides, if I cannot tame one Dire Wolf for a short period of time, then I may as well toss my ambitions aside.”
“Your ambitions? What ambi—”
“Anyway, why have you brought me all the way out here, so far from the town?”
“Surely you can feel it.” Zamah answered simply as she looked up at the sky.
“This Warlock Armour became progressively heavier the thicker the clouds became. Would I be correct in assuming that this is a Place of Power?”
“Yes, you would be. This particular Place of Power is one that nullifies any and all Enchantments, Magic and Magic Effects.”
“And I assume this was done because you do not trust this armour that I am currently wearing.”
“You're sharper than you look. The Third Chancellor is dangerous, and is not to be trusted.”
“Your compliments are annoying.”
“That man always has something up his sleeve, he always seems to be planning something, yet is never completely forthcoming with information or discloses everything that he knows. I can’t understand why the War Chief trusted him enough to make him a Chancellor.”
“Why is he called the Third Chancellor?”
“Because he’s the third Chancellor.” Zamah said with a shrug. “There are two other Chancellors, but they are away on business.”
“Ah, I see.”
“So what were you two talking about? Did you tell him anything?”
“Like what? What could I possibly tell that man?”
“Like what happened last night?” Zamah responded, sounding a little snarky.
“…so annoying.” Zuko growled. “Anyway, that man already knew everything we discussed, and everything that happened last night.”
“I thought that taking precautions against his spies in the trees was enough, however he had other ones close by. He even knew about the attack.”
“Shit… this can’t be good.”
“Why are you so concerned?”
“Tell me Izano Zuko, have you noticed anything about the Third Chancellor that is… different compared to the rest of us?”
“His build.” Zuko responded immediately. “That man is taller and thinner than even the least muscular Orc Warrior that have I have seen.”
“He also has a rather big head, doesn’t he?”
“Come to think of it, he does.”
“Kind of reminiscent of a Troll, wouldn’t you say?”
“Reminiscent of a… wait, seriously?”
“Yes, seriously. I remember seeing a few Trolls tending his land when I was younger, and whenever I look at him, I just get the sense that there is Troll blood running through his veins.”
“Even if your hunch is correct, is that such a problem?”
“Well, we were attacked by Trolls last night, weren’t we?”
“We were, however… do you really suspect him of sending them?”
“I know I do.” A voice in the fog declared boldly.
“…you’re late.” Zamah scolded.
“No, you two are early.”
The voice was soon revealed to have belonged to Zodwa, as she approached on her mount. She looked at Zamah and smiled, before looking at Zuko and looking absolutely shocked. She was absolutely flabbergasted, and she even did a double take.
“Zamah… you actually had him ride this guy?”
“And he didn’t die?!”
“He’s right here, isn’t he?”
“I would appreciate it if you two would refrain from talking about me as I am not present.”
“Ah, I’m sorry!” Zodwa said as she shook her head. “I am Zodwa, Zamah’s second in command, best friend, sister, childhood friend, advisor, punching bag—”
“Enough already!” Zamah barked. “What an unnecessarily long introduction!”
“Izano Zuko.” Zuko said simply. “Order Agent and stuff.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” The rather pretty Orc said with a smile.
Unlike Zamah, her face had make up on it, her nails had been done and she was still dressed in clothes similar to the ones she was wearing last night. She had quite a few facial piercings from which gold jewelry and studs glistened brightly, in spite of them all being within that extremely cloud Place of Power. Zuko appeared to smile back from behind the bandages and nodded.
“The pleasure is mine, Zodwa. Could you explain what exactly we are doing here?”
“Well, from what I’ve gathered, you have arrived at a bad time and might already be caught up in a situation that’s about to come to a head.”
“What do you mean?”
“Tensions between the Zamah and Kwanda Factions have become incredibly tangible, and the attack on Zamah’s life last night was actually the first assassination attempt ever carried out so brazenly. Usually things have been shot at her from behind corners, or from the shadows and such, however last night; it was a full frontal attack. Not only that, they didn’t seem to care that you were there and they just attacked.”
“There is also the chance that the Princess’ actions spurred them into action.”
“I think that’s a very real possibility. She got drunk and made some bad decisions, namely taking you on that stupid tour. But we were also to blame for not following you two closer.”
“We? Do you mean you and the rest of the servants?”
“Yeah, we aren’t just servants…”
“I figured as much.” Zuko said with a shrug. “That fancy clothing does not do a perfect job at hiding your muscles, your stance, and the way you move…”
“Okay, I get you.” Zodwa said with a slight shake of the head. “Anyway, we were too busy having a debate over whether or not you and Zamah here were gonna—”
“Say another word, and I’ll kill you.” Zamah threatened as she looked visibly annoyed.
“Oh right, you’re still here. Sorry about that.” Zodwa said with a smirk and a shrug.
“Look here, Izano Zuko.” Zamah said grumpily as she ignored Zodwa. “I brought you here because I wanted to show you something. I wanted to show this to you without prying eyes or ears, which is why we are here. The nullifying effect of this Place of Power will last for close to an hour, so I would like to do this quickly. Be sure to follow.”
Zamah looked down at her Wolf, and within an instant, they were off again, and Zuko’s and Zodwa’s mounts setting off after Zamah quickly. They began descending the mountain and this time, it was Zodwa’s turn to marvel at how well Zuko was riding the Dire Wolf. In fact, he was just sitting on the Wolf with his arms crossed, and it was following after Zamah itself without any instruction or direction. The journey was relatively short, as after descending the mountain, they ascended the one directly opposite the first one. It was neither as tall, nor as rocky and harsh as the previous one, and they reached the top fairly quickly. Upon reaching the top of the mountain, Zuko found himself looking down below with absolute shock. On the ground, there was a massive mining operation, with a large amount of both open cast and underground pits, and Orcs, Trolls and Ogres alike were all busy with their work. There were Ogres single-handedly pulling large carts filled with lumps of ore, Orcs carrying particularly large lumps to the carts, and Trolls dual wielding pickaxes while hammering away at rock faces with ore in them. The guards comprised of Trolls and Orcs that were stationed around the perimeter of the mine, dressed in armour that looked different from that worn by regular guards.
“This is where pretty much all of our Steel comes from.” Zodwa stated.
“Even the Steel that is currently on your body.” Zamah added.
“Well it certainly is impressive looking.”
“It only becomes more impressive as the process continues.” Zodwa said, and just as she looked like she was going to continue speaking, Zamah interrupted.
“The ore you see being extracted down there is just plain Steel ore. What makes it Orcish Steel is the process it undergoes at the hands of Smelters as well as Shamans.”
“That was mentioned to me in the past, but not in great detail”
“That’s because the process itself is secret!” Zodwa quickly blurted out. “What happens is—ouch!”
Zodwa cried out as Zamah’s Dire Wolf hit her with its paw, causing her to stop talking.
“The Shamans take part in the smelting process, using special Spells passed down within a certain family. Most don’t quite know what the Spells are, and fewer still are able to witness the process itself.”
“Alright…” Zuko said, still confused.
“This mine is right on the border of our lands, Izano Zuko. The Enclave’s borders actually end where the mountain range begins, and beyond the borders live Tribes and Clans that refused to live under the laws and rules of our Sky Clan. They chose to live in terrain that is harsh and requires so much more effort to work just to make ends meet. This harsh lifestyle has made them unbelievably strong, and they could be a boon to our Horde, yet because we are so rigid…”
“What the Princess here is trying to say, is that she wants to become War Chief, change things and unite all the other Clans and Tribes under the banner of our Horde.” Zodwa said, seemingly losing patience with Zamah’s talk.
“I see… I still cannot see why you have decided to share all this with me.”
“We don’t know why, but you have managed to get the War Chief to treat you the way that he has, gotten the attention of Chancellor Doh, as well as Prince Kwanda.”
“Huh? The Prince and I only spoke briefly last night. I would not say that I have gotten his attention or the like…”
“And he’s barely been here for a day; stop overselling him.” Zamah said with a snort.
“That’s rich coming from you.” Zodwa said with a shake of the head. “This one was kicking up a fuss last night and went looking for—”
The white Wolf’s paw suddenly made contact with the back of Zodwa’s head once again, cutting short whatever it was she was saying.
“Like it or not, you are here as a Special Guest, and you are also an Agent. Your arrival resulted in a feast and an assassination attempt in the same night, so whether you want to admit it or not, you have captured attention.”
“The attempt was on your life though.” Zuko interjected. “You cannot put that on me. You were likely a bitch before I came along, so those Trolls probably tried to kill you because you treated them badly.”
Zodwa could help but burst out laughing as Zamah glared at Zuko intensely.
“So you want to take over the Horde and incorporate all of the inhabitants of the Enclave in it?”
“That’s our plan.” Zodwa said, forcing herself back into the conversation. “The problem we face is that Kwanda, Stixx and Voh are all together, and that in itself adds more gravitas and weight to the notion that the law that supports Kwanda’s claim to being Chief is stronger than Zamah’s claim as the first born child.”
“Would having the other Princes in your faction help matters?”
“Probably not.” Zamah said with a shrug. “The Sky Clan is particularly skewed towards men, after all.”
“Before you even say it, we are all servants and Zamah’s armour and weapons are purely ceremonial. We are not warriors.”
“…I thought that might be the case.” Zuko said with a nod.
“Anyway… look down there; do you see some of the guards and the Overseers? Notice anything about them?”
“That’s right… and not only that, they are all part of Doh’s… I guess, his Clan? Anyway, he has been entrusted with the running of this mine, and that family of Shamans that take part in the smelting process is loyal to his Clan… in fact, we may as well say that they have become part of it. Every bit of Orcish Steel we produce passes through Doh’s fingers.”
“What you are wearing is no different.” Zamah added.
“This armour clamped itself around me the moment it was put on, and I doubt I will be able to take it off.”
“The Enchantments and passive effects have temporarily been suspended, so you can probably take it all off.” Zodwa said.
“They still have my Robes however. They likely have not found my belongings; however even then, I need to get my belongings back. That damn servant woman…”
“Huh? Which servant woman?” Zamah asked.
“That short, kind of mousey one with gorilla like strength.”
“Ah, her – I know the one you’re referring to.” Zodwa said. “When we get back, I will talk to her about your stuff.”
“We should probably head back to town.” Zamah said. “Despite my saying the Silencing effect would last an hour or so, I wouldn’t put it past something created by Doh to get back to normal in less than half the estimated time.”
With that, the trio and their mounts made for Zamah’s private residence. The trip devolved into a race between Zamah and Zuko once more, and Zodwa moved quickly enough to keep tabs on the race and see who it was that would end up winning. Unfortunately for Zuko, his Dire Wolf started breathing raggedly just before reaching town, and by the time the group got there, Zamah had built up a substantial enough lead. By the time they reached the stables, the black Wolf was no longer even trying to keep up, and when they stopped, it actually looked up at Zuko with an expression that simply said ‘get off’. Zuko actually cackled as he dismounted the beast, and once he was on the ground, he petted the Dire Wolf.
“Appreciate it.” He said simply. “Try to avoid biting anybody in half on your way back.”
The Wolf snorted before closing its eyes and laying down to rest right there and then.
“Or just go to sleep right here, either one.”
“You really are full of surprises.” Zodwa said with a shake of the head. “That Wolf is ridiculous, and problematic. I’ve seen it almost cleave an Orc in two with its paws, and you were riding it like it was nothing. What crazy technique did you use to tame it?”
“I spoke to him.”
“It’s true.” Zamah added. “They stared into each other’s eyes, and after what has now been revealed to have been a conversation, he was able to mount the Wolf.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“All creatures are not the same, Zodwa. Some are smarter than others and identifying the smart ones can be the difference between life and death. This Dire Wolf is very smart, and that allowed me to have a discussion with it.”
“This guy talks to animals.” Zodwa said with yet another shake of the head and a chuckle. “I have some other things to do, so if you two will excuse me… oh, before I forget, watch yourself, Izano Zuko… the reason for this little excursion was to show you how much influence that man has. What you saw today was only the tip of the ice berg. Nobody can say for sure what his level of influence is, but it is deep. Anyway, I’m off! You two should get something to eat, I’ll see to finding your clothes a little later, Izano Zuko. Later!”
Zodwa dismounted her mount and quickly disappeared, leaving Zuko and Zodwa alone. Zuko looked at the Orc Princess, and she looked back at him.
“What is there to do around here?”
“This isn’t a playground… we aren’t here to keep you entertained.”
Zuko just sighed and walked off, looking around as if he was trying to decide on what to do next. The remainder of the day was spent doddering about, with Zuko mostly waiting for Zodwa to return with his stuff. Later that evening, Zuko had found himself a nice spot on the bank next to the top of the waterfall, contemplating whether or not jumping into the water with the armour on was a good idea. Zamah soon appeared, dressed in armour that looked far more worn and used than what she had been wearing earlier. She had a slight sheen of sweat, and looked down at Zuko.
“Come, let’s train.” She demanded.
“Train?” Zuko asked as he looked at her. “Princess, I am an honoured guest here, and am also nursing injuries here… watching you train could be hazardous to my health.”
“Who said anything about watching me train? Come train with me; I want to see what an Agent is capable of.”
“Do you not listen to other people when they speak? I just told you that I am nursing injuries. I am in no shape to—”
Zuko, who had looked away from Zamah and waved his hand dismissively, was suddenly forced to evade, diving out of the way. A large weapon zoomed past the top of his head, and after completely a few rolls, Zuko leapt to his feet and stood up straight.
“What the fuck was that?!” He boomed. “Are you actively trying to kill me?! I told you that I am –”
Again Zuko was forced to dodge, this time swaying his torso as far back as it was possible. The weapon from before swung past his torso and face with such force and speed, it actually hurt. Zuko fought the urge to get blown off of his feet, straining every sinew to remain on his feet. Suddenly, a second weapon threatened to take his head off and caused Zuko to duck down as quickly as he could manage. No sooner had the second weapon zoomed past the top of Zuko’s head, and painfully so, that the first one was looking to turn him to paste. Zuko managed to evade by the skin of his teeth, standing up straight and watching it swing past his face and body. The ground below suddenly cracked and split in two. Almost as quickly as that happened, both weapons were spread high and wide, and just as Zamah was about to bring them together and crush Zuko’s head, the ground beneath her feet vibrated as Zuko stomped on it twice. His arms extended completely and his hands grabbed hold of the weapons, and he held the position for a few moments as things calmed down. When they did, Zuko glared directly into Zamah’s eyes with a look that made her skin crawl, much like it had the night before.
“It would be best if you stopped looking down on me.”
As if for effect, Zuko’s fingers all simultaneously dug into the heavy weapons with a loud crunch. Zamah, who was still having her skin crawl, suddenly grinned at Zuko and just as it looked like things were going to proceed further, they were interrupted.
“Is that really how you treat father’s esteemed guest, Sister?” A voice familiar to both asked.
They both looked down to see Kwanda, flanked by Stixx and Voh, standing down by the pooled water. Prince Kwanda was dressed in attire which looked similar to the Third Chancellor’s, while the younger Princes were clad in armour, with the larger Stixx in almost ridiculously heavy armour, and the smaller Voh in leather armour. Zamah looked at her younger siblings and then at the small group of personal guards that had accompanied them, while also noting that two of her staff were there as well.
“You weren’t trying to break the War Chief’s guest were you?” Kwanda asked semi-facetiously.
“I don’t think that’s what he meant when he told you to look after him.” Stixx added with something of a smirk.
“We were just having a friendly spar.” Zamah said with a shrug as she pulled her weapons back.
Zuko’s fingers were forcefully popped out from the weapons which Zuko was finally able to confirm were clubs. They had been moving so briskly before that he was fully concentrated on evading them. His bandaged arms returned to his side, and the tense moment that had been interrupted had well and truly passed. He looked at Zamah in silence, trying to gauge her reaction to being confronted by her brothers; however neither her body language nor her face gave anything away.
“You’re being rude, Stixx.” Kwanda rebuked. “She’s still our older sister, so show her the necessary respect.”
“What brings you all by?” Zamah asked, seemingly not caring about what Stixx said.
“We figured that we would use the Order Agent as an excuse and come have dinner with you.” Kwanda said with a smile on his face.
Zamah looked at them silently, before nodding slowly and then looking at Zuko.
“Will you be joining us, Izano Zuko?” Zamah asked.
Zuko, who had been looking Zamah in the eyes when she asked this, quickly glanced at the three Princes and their heavily armed and armoured entourage, before looking right back at her.
“Absolutely… I have yet to eat today.”
“Give us a few minutes to get ready, and we will join you all in the main house.” Zamah said as she looked at her brothers, before looking back at Zuko and nodding.
They both made their way towards a smaller building which had bathhouses. Zodwa suddenly popped up and without a word being spoken, whisked Zamah away and led her into the female bathhouse.
“What kind of house has facilities like this?” Zuko asked as he entered.
He playfully tried to remove the Warlock Armour, however it had long become form hugging once more, and he knew that this prison-like armour was no longer easily removable. After doing what he could, he made his way out to see Zodwa standing there as if she had been waiting for a bit.
“Ah, you’re out! Look, we can’t have you seated at the table with our Royalty dressed only in armour! Please come with me, Izano Zuko!”
Zuko was suddenly grabbed by the wrist and dragged off with a ridiculous amount of strength once again. Before he knew it, he was in what could only be described as a walk in closet HUT, absolutely filled with clothing of fine make. Zodwa was picking out things that looked like robes and overcoats, trying to find something to mask the armour. She was quick to pick out what she thought would be a good fit, and started tossing them onto Zuko’s shoulders.
“This can’t be good.” Zodwa said as she pulled what was only recently thrown on. “What the hell are all three Princes doing here?!”
Zuko stood in silence as he waited for the next item of clothing to be tossed on, but only got silence and a stare instead. He looked down to see Zodwa staring at him expectantly.
“…wait, you actually asked me that expecting an answer?”
“Yes!!” Zodwa responded somewhat desperately.
“How in the Hells am I supposed know why they are here? Go ask the Princess… or better yet, go ask them!”
Zodwa continued tossing and pulling things on and off Zuko’s shoulders, which annoyed him really quickly. He glared at Zodwa before reaching for and grabbing something at random. He slung whatever it was over his shoulders and almost immediately, the Warlock Armour started glowing. Both Zodwa and Zuko stood in stunned silence and watched as the armour became brighter and brighter. The glow was accompanied a weird type of shape shifting and after a minute or so, it died down, revealing what had actually happened. The expensive and formal Orcish robe that Zuko had picked out became one with the Warlock Breastplate, turning into a rather lavish looking cape, which was nestled around most of Zuko’s body and was only split down the middle. Zuko and Zodwa watched everything happen in silence, before looking at each other
“Is that really ceremonial armour? I’ve heard of Orcish Armour that morphs and changes shape, but that usually happens under strict conditions – conditions that have to be stipulated by the blacksmith that forged it.”
“That is crazy.”
“It is! But is that even possible with ceremonial armour?”
“Even if it is, does that not illustrate just how frightening that Third Chancellor is?”
“Shit…” Zodwa said, still somewhat stunned.
“Where are my belongings, by the way?” Zuko asked as he seemingly had moved on from what had just happened.
“I was told that they are still soaking in soap filled water. Anyway, you need to go out there and join the Princes! They’ve used you as the excuse to come here; it would be rude to keep them waiting!”
“Those three are not my Princes… what do I care about being rude?” Zuko grumbled as he was being pushed from behind.
“Yes, yes, but they are my Princes, and that is enough.”
Zuko eventually stated walking using his own strength, and as he and Zamah’s aide approached the main house, something caused Zuko’s skin to tingle – something he would sometimes feel when approaching a dangerous situation. Apparently Zodwa noticed this, because Zuko felt a tap on his shoulder just as he they were about to enter the house.
“What is it?” Zuko asked as they stopped at the door.
“You had a really scary look in your eyes.” Zodwa stated simply. “Like a warrior about to go to war.”
“What? You mean you cannot feel it?”
“Feel what exactly?”
“If you cannot feel it, my talking about it will not make a lick of difference.”
Zuko then opened the door and powered his way towards the source of whatever danger he was feeling. His normally rotten sense of direction seemed to be working perfectly as he navigated his way through the main house. The closer he got, the more his skin tingled and the thicker the air became. Zodwa was walking behind Zuko and couldn’t help but notice that he was exuding some kind of… quality that she couldn’t quite identify, but made him seem a lot more impressive than he had since his arrival – even though said arrival wasn’t all that long ago. The large wooden double doors to the room that the three Princes had been waiting in seemed to be rattling a tad, as if whatever energy that had been building up within the room was bursting to get out. Undeterred by this, Zuko raised an arm and virtually punched the doors open, causing them both to swing rather violently apart. Three sets of eyes all suddenly landed on him, and Zuko literally felt the individual gazes smash into him like a tidal wave of sorts crashing into his body. The trio of Orc Princes all gazed at Zuko, with Stixx’s gaze particularly aggressive and even slightly hostile. Having been seated, they all stood up as they momentarily blinked or looked away from Zuko. As they looked back at him, they were met with eyes so unbelievably intense, that it actually stung. Zuko stared at the three men with large, unblinking eyes. His eyes seemed to dominate everything, and his body, the room and even Zodwa faded from sight, with only the ever growing image of Zuko’s eyes in their field of vision. Just as Zamah had the night before, each of the brothers instinctively reached for their weapons without even knowing it, however Zuko blinked and immediately afterwards, the staring contest filled with intent was brought to a momentary end.
“Gentlemen.” Zuko said with a slight nod, before entering the room and making his way towards the table where the three men were seated. “Apologies for keeping you waiting.”
“Not at all.” Prince Kwanda said, having quickly pulled his hand away from his bladed staff. “We are the ones who showed up unannounced and interrupted your friendly scrimmage.”
“Is our sister not with you, Izano Zuko?” Stixx asked with a thinly veiled sneer.
This drew a quick glance and glare from Zuko, who immediately knew that he did not like the second brother.
“I am not her keeper, Prince Stixx. Besides, you know how women can be when getting ready.”
“Obviously you don’t know our sister, Agent Zuko.” Voh said, speaking for the first time. “She might even walk in here with her dress on backwards.”
“Goodness, I just realised that Voh is the only one amongst us to have addressed you by your title. Forgive us, Agent Zuko.”
“Please, I have not been an Agent long enough to care about being referred to as one.”
The four men had yet to sit down, and just as they were about to, they suddenly heard heavy steps approaching them, also prompting Zodwa, who had been a quiet spectator, to turn around and look at whoever it was that was approaching. Her eyes suddenly grew wide and her mouth hung open just a little bit. The heavy steps drew closer, until in walked Zamah, absolutely covered in the heaviest of heavy armour, from head to toe. She paused for a brief second as she walked in, and looked directly at her brothers with a gaze every bit as intense as the Zuko gave them. It didn’t last nearly as long however, as she suddenly felt a finger jabbing at a bit of exposed skin on her body.
“What is it?” Zamah asked in a particularly loud whisper.
“What in the Seventh Level of Hell are you wearing?!” Zodwa asked in an actual whisper. “What kind of Princess attends a dinner with her brothers dressed like that?! I thought we picked out a decent looking dress!”
“Oh hush, what’s done is done.” Zamah said with a dismissive shrug before clunking her way over to the table.
When she reached and stood next to Zuko, there was the briefest of silences as the Princes looked at them both.
“When is the food arriving?” Zuko virtually barked as he pulled out a chair and sat down.
Zodwa almost fainted as the one who was not of Orc Royalty was the first to be seated. Considering how clued up he was on Orcish culture, Zodwa couldn’t help but think that it was a very deliberate move on his part, and it was a move that received no reprimand whatsoever. Zamah followed suit, sitting down with an extremely heavy sounding bang. Her twin swords were on her back, and even this was a form of subversion from the norm as it was usually a grave offense to sit at a dinner table with Royalty while carrying any form of weapon. As the Princes all sat down, it became perfectly clear to Zodwa that Zamah and Zuko had not approached this as a dinner table, but as a battlefield. She looked at the brothers, and they neither made a sound nor a gesture indicating any type of offense – they just sat down and looked at her.
“Zodwa.” Prince Kwanda said as he addressed the servant. “We actually came here with a gift, so please see to it that it is brought in.”
“Of course, my Prince.” Zodwa said with a bow. “What sort of gift is it?”
“The drinking kind.” Stixx declared.
“It shall be brought in along with the snacks. Please excuse me.”
Zodwa quickly made her way out of the room and left the four siblings and Zuko alone. They all sat in silence that was about as awkward as silence could get. Voh looked to be struggling the most with the silence, looking as though he was itching to say something. Whatever it was that he wanted to say, he was forced to wait as minutes into the silence, servants appeared with food and the gift that had been mentioned earlier. Only one woman was carrying the barrel of liquor, causing Zuko to shake his head once again at the ridiculous strength these women possessed. Once everything was set up on the table and the liquor barrel had been popped open, Zodwa remained to serve the group. She after pouring everybody a drink and serving them some snacks, she faded into the background and sat on a small stool in the corner. As she sat down, Zamah suddenly glared at her.
“Oi, Zodwa… why is my glass practically empty?”
“Oh, I’m sorry – I didn’t even notice.” Zodwa said through gritted teeth and with a fake smile.
After quickly pouring some more liquor into Zamah’s glass, Zodwa practically begged her not to get drunk with her eyes before heading back to the corner. There wasn’t any further conversation as the only sounds that broke the silence were those of eating and sipping. Zuko, who had been weary of eating since absent mindedly inhaling food the night before, had split his bandages and was eating somewhat tentatively. As he slowly nibbled on what was on the table, Stixx snorted as he glanced at Zuko.
“He doesn’t even remove his bandages when he eats.” Stixx said as he sneered.
“I could remove them, but I would bleed all over this table and all over you.” Zuko said with a shrug. “These are special bandages, and my keeping them on is the greatest respect I could show you all. That said, if you truly want me to remove them, you had best prepare yourself for what will happen.”
Zuko was unable to not make that final sentence sound like a threat, due to the fact that it was also delivered in a tone that could not be interpreted as anything other than a threat. Before Stixx could answer, a smack to the back of his head, coupled with a yell stopped him.
Prince Kwanda had quickly disciplined his younger brother right then and there, and the matter ended as quickly as it began. From that point on, Zuko became little more than a silent spectator to this sibling dinner. It all started out stiff and quiet, but as more liquor was consumed and more food was consumed, things seemed to loosen up, and conversation began to trickle. Zodwa was paying special attention to how much Zamah was drinking, especially considering how she had just been drunk the night before, and many servants were still nursing injuries or out of commission entirely. Despite this being an impromptu dinner, due to Zamah’s insistence on the chefs cooking enough food to feed an entire family of hungry Orcs, there was actually more than enough food. The main courses were brought to the table, and they were nowhere near as heavy or as hearty as the food that was cooked during the feast from last night. As everybody tucked in, Zamah – who had been quiet since last speaking to Zodwa – suddenly spoke.
“S-Sister!” Voh responded, caught slightly off guard.
“You’re a grown man now, aren’t you? Do you shave?”
“Y-Yes, I do shave now.”
“That’s right.” Zamah said in a soothing voice, before looking at her youngest brother with a look he had seen far too often in the past. “So what business does a grown man who shaves have chewing with his mouth open?”
Voh’s eyes grew wide with realisation, and then guilt. He didn’t respond, however Zamah didn’t care as she continued.
“Look at how you’re sitting at the table as well, all slouched over and sloppy… sit properly.”
Voh did exactly that and without even noticing it, so did the other two – something that caused Zuko to have to choke back laughter and play it off as though some food went down the wrong pipe. Zamah was clearly that type of sister, and as the night played out, the siblings became more and more boisterous and animated. Eventually by the third or fourth hour of this dinner, everybody was clearly buzzed on liquor and laughing, talking and just having a good time. As the final dessert course was on its way, and during a bit of a lull in the conversation, Kwanda looked at Zamah with an expression that she recognised instantly.
“What is it, Kwanda?” She asked as she swirled the last of her drink around in her glass.
“Princess – no, Sisi – please give up your pursuit of the Spear and the Warhammer. Please, I ask this of you not as a Prince or anything of the sort, I ask you this as your younger brother… please.”
Zamah looked at Kwanda, who had the most sincere look in his eyes. He was sincerely pleading with his big sister, and it clearly broke her heart when she said what she did.
“I’m sorry, Kwanda, but—”
Zamah was interrupted by the servants bringing in the various desserts, placing them in front of each person. Once the servants had cleared off, Zamah continued speaking.
“Kwanda, I’m sorry, but I just can’t give up. We need to change, the Clan needs to change – the Horde needs to change. If we keep going the way we are, we will become obsolete before we know it. We—”
“You don’t need to say any more.” Kwanda said, before smiling at Zamah with as much warmth as he could muster. As the smile faded, Voh suddenly started to cough violently as his mouth started to froth and foam.
“Voh!” Zamah cried out as concern filled her voice.
Voh looked at Zamah with what looked like regret and fear filled eyes, however he couldn’t speak.
“Guards! Guards!” Stixx boomed with a smirk on his face. “Quickly, apprehend the Princess! She has poisoned Prince Voh by mistake!”
“What?! What are you talking about?!” Zamah roared.
“I saw it with my own two eyes! Prince Voh switched his bowl with Prince Kwanda’s, and after taking a bite, ended up like this! Guards! GUARDS!!!”
Voh, who was still convulsing and coughing then lost consciousness fell face first onto the table as his mouth continued foaming. The guards that had accompanied the Princes suddenly burst into the house and made a beeline for Voh.
“Captain…” Prince Kwanda said as the warmth on his face turned to regret, and then almost instantly, became cold and unfeeling. “The Princess in trying to remove me from the picture has accidentally poisoned our younger brother instead. She has contravened the Blood Law of our Clan, and thus must be detained. On my authority as the eldest Prince of the Horde, I order you to bring Princess Zamah in.”
“Sir! As you command!” The man referred to as Captain boomed.
Zamah, who was still in shock after watching her baby brother go through what he had just went through was yet to fully comprehend what was going on. As the guards, who were clad in particularly special armour, were about to pounce, Zuko burst into life after virtually having been invisible the entire time.
“Zodwa!” He boomed. “If those who have hidden themselves within the ceilings, walls and floorboards wish to remain alive, make sure they stay where they are!”
“You expect us to remain still and do nothing as these bastards try and arrest the Princess?!”
“Yes!” Zuko roared as he stood up with so much force, it sent the chair into the wall behind him. “Just stay put, and let me handle this.”
“I would advise that you follow your own advice, Izano Zuko.” Kwanda warned. “This is Orc business… just remain calm, and stay out of it. We will find you another woman to bed during your stay if you do, however if you involve yourself in this, your status as an Agent will not save you.”
Zuko’s cape began to flutter as Mana shot out from his body with such force that it sent things flying.
“I dare a single one of you people to even try and lay a finger on the Princess.” Zuko said with a growl. “Doing so will be hazardous to your health.”
One of the guards seemed more than willing to take Zuko up on his challenge, immediately charging the Agent from behind. Zuko’s arm extended in a flash, and his hand grabbed hold of the Orc’s head, before stomping with his right foot and absolutely thrusting his hand the Orc’s head down, bending his knee and smashing the helmeted face directly into the floor below. The sound it made was akin to an explosion, and the even the heavily reinforced floor caved a bit before the limp body of the guard fell to the ground. Zuko then stood up and looked menacingly at Prince Kwanda.
There was silence as Zuko looked around at the guards, before suddenly raising his hands in a non-threatening manner and letting out a sigh.
“Actually, I surrender.” Zuko said somewhat surprisingly. “More importantly, Prince Voh should be treated.”
“Wait, what?!” Zodwa boomed.
“No, he’s right.” Zamah said as she too stood up with a shake of the head, as if banishing the last of the shock. “Kwanda, the fact that you were willing to do this…”
“I did nothing, Princess. You were the one who poisoned Voh, not me. Whether you come in quietly or after kicking up a fuss, you will be coming in.”
“I suggest going in quietly, Princess.”
“I know already, Izano Zuko.” Zamah responded calmly. “I know.”
“Hmph.” Prince Kwanda snorted. “Take them both in.”
Zuko just took a deep breath as he stood with both hands still raised, waiting for the guards to detain him.