This short story was written as a high school English assignment years ago. I still enjoy it. I hope you do too.
Ash fell as it always did and always would. Every day it was the same scene – ash falling from the sky, blanketing an already drab landscape in a depressing gray. Only the occasional rains helped clear the ash falls and, more often than not, just aggravated them by turning the gray substance into mush akin to the snows of the north.
Yes, it was a day like any other. Ash always fell in the city Quorn and always would. It was one of the by-products of the city’s industry after all, and most knew that without the ash, they would all soon wither and die. Like the plants that said ash had already killed. Well, that statement is only partly true as the ash did indeed kill plants, but only if plants had already been growing there in the first place.
Quorn was situated in a wasteland, an area called the Blight of Chiid, an inhospitable land where no sane man would settle – and that was true, no sane man did live there or anywhere in Chiid for that matter.
Quorn was a city of orcs, but not just any orcs. Quorn was a city of orc industrialists, industrialists who were the principal reason for the ash.
After Warlord Grugon-Zot answered the Alledonian declaration of war, the need for weapons and supplies became greater than any one small confederacy of city states could handle. But the Warlord did not fear, as he knew his people and their insatiable hunger for development.
So, as any good industrial-era monarch would, he sent the weapon and mining guilds up north to oust natives from their territory and replace tribal lands with towering factories and ash-spewing refineries. Quorn was one such city that was founded as a result of this and it is in Quorn that our tale begins.
Rez’targ squinted into the downpour of rain and ash as he trod down the inappropriately packed streets of Quorn. The presence of rain disappointingly did not do much to thin the torrents of ash and Rez’targ found himself sighing, realizing it would be one of those winter days which would best be spent lying next to the warm hearth of the inn which he had, in fact, previously inhabited, armed with nothing but a mug of ale and some good thoughts.
He knew the world didn’t work that way, and just grudgingly continued on his way down the street, preparing himself to be armed with a pick, opposed to the more desirable beverage. Rez’targ’s days were simple. He would awake in the morning – he didn’t really note the time as it was always gray and dull in Quorn – head to the market to buy some imported bread for breakfast and then head to his job at the mines. The monotony of his existence would have bored even the most optimistic person, but Rez’targ knew the alternative and was thankful for it. He was by no means an underprivileged orc.
Sure, he wasn’t born in a Great Clan or as the heir to a rich guildsman, but he knew how to work and what to expect in life. Yes, the monotony bored him, but it also comforted him. He would much rather be working and eating than the alternatives of either slacking and starving or fighting and dying in the south.
The market was somewhat like the street, crowded, but today, the reasons for the crowd were different. Rez’targ tried to ignore the new addition but it was hard to avert his eyes as he tried to haggle with the bread merchant for a fairer price.
Erected (seemingly overnight) in the middle of the large flat expanse which was the public market, was a stage and, upon that stage stood, in Rez’targ’s view, one of the most majestic looking orcs he had ever seen outside of the Great Clans. Yerla-Gozt stood upon the stage, flanked by two guards armed with nothing but banners.
The banners were blue; contrasting against the usual red of the Chiid government and upon the banners read the text: “Durb ob Hai” – Rule of the People.
Yerla-Gozt was yelling something inaudible to Rez’targ but by the looks of the people surrounding the platform, it was something they liked and Rez’targ found himself being drawn closer towards the centre of the market area, chewing his newly purchased breakfast.
Yerla-Gozt was utilizing a cone-like device to amplify his voice, allowing people from all around the market to hear. The crowd itself was what got in the way of the seemingly ingenious public speech tool as the shouting and cheering interfered with hearing the reasons for the shouting and cheering.
Rez’targ found himself enthralled nonetheless with the words he could hear. He heard words like ‘democracy’ and ‘equality’, concepts he had heard much about before but had never dwelled on; the Crimson Hand made sure people didn’t ponder things they weren’t meant to ponder.
The speech went on and sometimes Rez’targ found himself cheering with the crowd but as it went on and people began to show a little too much enthusiasm, Rez’targ knew he wasn’t safe. Glancing around quickly he saw what he had suspected. Lining the roofs of the surrounding buildings, just out of sight of the political rallyists, were soldiers. Armed with rifle and baton they surrounded the large conglomerate of people, only now being noticed.
Rez’targ had prepared for this, however; he was always prepared. He knew it was illegal and typically stayed away from anything that could endanger his life, but he knew he would need it one day and the opportunity when he was offered it was just too great to pass up.
Shoving towards the soldiers barricading the eastern entrance, he withdrew his illegal document – a perfect forgery indicating his obviously fake position as a civic official.
He had gained the document from a friend who ran in the underground, a strange orc who had spent most of his life in Sirdovia, among humans. This orc was named Kurt and was a photographer. He possessed one of, if not the only, non-government camera in Chiid. With the camera, he had taken a flawless photo of Rez’targ and then utilized it to make a document that would get Rez’targ out of almost any trouble.
The deal had cost him very little in the short term but Rez’targ felt it would bring something bad upon him sometime in the future – the Crimson Hand always knew these things, even if later rather than sooner; they always found out. Flashing his papers to the officer, he was allowed past and just in time as he heard rifles fire and smelt the scent of gun powder and sulphur mix with the acrid odour of the wet ash.
The rally had turned into a protest and then a riot; the Crimson Hand couldn’t let that go on for longer and had opened fire, no doubt killing Yerla-Gozt in the first pull of the trigger. This is what happened when someone opposed the Crimson Hand, it’s what always happened, and so what was the use of resisting? To Rez’targ, there was no use – to him, life would always be monotony, a boring and unpleasant routine. He was just thankful to be alive.
He didn’t look back as he continued his way to the mines but, along the way, he wished he had. Every morning he passed this building, and every morning he regretted it. The Crimson Hand office was imposing to say the least, as it stood towering over the neighbouring buildings, casting a long shadow over the already dark and depressing city.
Crimson Hand agents and soldiers always congregated around the building and if Rez’targ had his way, he would always avoid those two types of people. Those weren’t the most unsettling things about the building. Inlaid upon the entire wall, creating a living image upon stone, were the screaming sculptured faces of the now dead.
This was the wall of Blight, a reminder to all orcs that no matter how bad they think their lives might be, it’s not the state’s fault but the fault of elves and humans. Rez’targ didn’t really care about the historical connotations but did feel that the wall did its purpose of creating fear.
Hastening his pace, he tramped onward towards the mines, avoiding the suspicious glares of guards and soldiers as he crossed over a military base line, marking off the area between the mining and workers districts.
Upon entering the small checkpoint, Rez’targ was not surprised to see many familiar faces from the protest lined up against the wall. He averted his gaze but could still see the uncovered faces stare at him hopefully, pleadingly, as he passed and they were shot down. Rez’targ forced down pity, anger and all emotions. Death happened, killing happened, nothing would ever change that.
The coal mines were as they always were – a doorway into a mountain which was supposedly filled with black rocks which made fire hotter. Rez’targ had been working at this mine for most of his life. He had worked there, grown up there, lost friends and family there. His years of work and surviving said work had paid off and he knew it as he received one of the rare promotions seen in Quorn.
Miners were typically all the same, orcs who went underground to go chip at rocks and hopefully get something useful out of them, but through showing himself as useful, the Overseer had decided that Rez’targ’s unusual intelligence would be better suited for other things.
Rez’targ was the quarter master, if you will, of the mines. His job was to count what was needed and make sure it reached its desired recipient. It was a tedious job but much more useful and safer than that of a delver – Rez’targ was thankful for that. Signing in with the Overseer, he noted how many of the coal miners were absent, most probably shot at the protest. Fighting down any sort of emotion at the loss of colleagues, he continued to his work station where he began sorting through the tools necessary for the miner’s daily work. After outfitting the correct kit, he placed the supplies upon a sleigh which he then shoved off into the tunnel to be retrieved by some hot and thirsty miner.
This routine normally went on for hours without break but it was better than the back breaking labour of the mines; most things were. Sometimes miners would come up early and ask for a lessened wage in exchange for leaving earlier. Depending on the Overseers mood, it would go through or not.
Today, however, something strange happened. The Overseer sat in his usual seat, overlooking the gray and dull industrial complex which was Quorn and as usual, orc miners came up from the mines to speak to him. What was particularly bizarre, was that not one or two miners appeared, but all thirty of this hour’s shift. Hubris kept the guards blissfully arrogant but Rez’targ knew better – something bad was about to happen, something which he didn’t want to be a part of.
Edging nondescriptly around his workstation, he prepared to take cover as the miners continued to advance towards the outside office of the Overseer to eventually surround him and his guards who were only now starting to notice that something was amiss.
It happened all at once but, as the Overseer opened his mouth to deliver a snide comment to the supposed leader of the miners. He was shot. The previously unarmed miner had been carrying a pistol, gods know where he found it, but regardless, he had just killed the Overseer, Rez’targ’s employer. So did this mean the work day was over?
The guards fell as quickly as their boss, dying agape as their haughtiness was crushed by the heavier substance of a lead shell. Rez’targ could see everything as it unfolded, workers killing oppressors and oppressors killing workers. More guards charged in but the workers, now armed with the weapons of their previous rulers, fought back. Blood sprayed and bullets flew, as cartridges emptied, so did the life of its owner. Some turned to close combat, utilizing their rifle or pistol as a club but only few succeeded in that endeavour.
Eventually, the conflict trickled down as the fighting poured over into the military camp. Rez’targ took this opportunity to leave the now abandoned coal mine, gliding cautiously over the now corpse-covered ground as ash continued to fall, moulding with the puddles of blood to create a slimy red mush. Stepping carefully along the way, he finally passed the now slaughtered military camp.
The city burned as he walked, houses crumbled and people screamed. Gunfire sounded in the distance and both rebels and soldiers fought in the streets. Rez’targ ignored both as he made his journey home.
He didn’t concern himself with the conflict. He didn’t concern himself with the fact that the now burning Crimson Hand building was being draped over by the blue banners of Yerla-Gozt, now a political martyr. He didn’t concern himself with the fact that chanting could be heard all around the city, “Durb ob Hai!” – Rule of the People.
As he walked, Rez’targ knew that Chiid was changing; he knew that the world was changing but he also knew that people would never change. This ‘democracy’ would still be murder, equality would still be slavery. The ash would still fall and blood would always be spilt to paint it red. Rez’targ knew that things never really changed.