The pale moon shone brightly down upon the snow-capped peaks of the mighty Jagged Edge... the mountains unconquered by mortal man.
Deep in the fels, smoke rose from one of many war camps of the Jötnar and their monstrous servants, the Chaos races. The stenches filling the air of the camp were oppressive, even to the giants therein. Towering over the smells did little to relieve them of having to detect the wafts of revolting stink let off by the orcs and goblins in the camp - and the blood they poured into the pulsating, moaning pits that bred more of their ilk.
"Get it moving!" bellowed one Jötnar, a Hill Giant. Truly, they looked nothing like their twisted servants - this particular commander was handsome and upright, with a great, thick beard fixed in braids and a set of armor made from the shields of a Dvergar army. His blue eyes narrowed as he watched the goblins scurrying around, trying to follow his orders to a satisfying degree.
"VRAGI!" barked one orc, and the sneering giant turned to face a muscle-bound monster with black-red skin and great, jutting tusks on his lower jaw. His narrow, hungry eyes were like burning yellow lanterns. This orc wore a suit of armor made from steel decorated with skulls of Men - and a cape sewn of Dwarven beards, with two pieces of an ancient Elven bow forming spikes on his shoulder pauldrons. Around his neck hung an amulet of ears - some rounded, others pointed, others belonging to animals.
Behind him trailed a war band of orcs clad in various suits of heavy armor, their great helms concealing their hideous faces, leaving only their lower jaws and teeth visible. One of them drooled, a string of frothy, white spittle dripping to the jagged stones beneath his feet. The one following close behind their leader carried what seemed to be his helm: an enormous bear skull reinforced with steel and decorated in the horns from some unknown dragon-kin.
Their leader was tall for an orc, towering almost as high as an ogre, with a build that would have intimidated the greatest of Nordling berserkers. He was a mere insect to the Jötnar he now stood before, yet the giant did nothing when addressed so sharply by such a pathetic underling.
The orc rested the spiked end of his wicked, blood-stained axe - which was, itself, at least the size of a full-grown dwarf warrior - on the ground beside him as he looked up at the giant. "There is new blood in this camp. Show me."
The Jötnar growled, a sound that put a halt to all production in the bustling war camp as every orc, goblin, and the second giant present turned in alarm to see what was causing the thunderous commotion. An angry Jötnar could easily mean the leveling of the entire operation, and the slaughter of all Chaos races inside... If that Jötnar was a commander. But he was not.
"I do not answer to an orc," snapped the giant.
The orcish leader laughed then. It was a terrible sound, and the orcs behind him took this as a sign that they were meant to laugh as well. The only sound that could have been worse was if someone let a pack of demons loose in the camp, roaring with glee.
"You answer to me, Jötnar!" roared the orc leader. "I, Gûldarnok, Devourer of Hope, Messenger of Surt!"
"Bah!" spat the giant, with a wave of one massive hand, that left many goblins underneath him either cowering or scurrying for cover. "As if Surt would speak through such a filthy and simplistic creature! You are our creation, beast, you would do well to remember it."
Gûldarnok narrowed his burning eyes, a smile twisting onto his hideous, scarred face. "You would do well to remember," said the orc in a low growl, "I have slain your kind when they dare to disrespect me. I serve Jötnar far mightier than you, Vragi."
Somehow, this seemed to cow even the enormous Vragi. Surely whatever giants mentioned by this orc were intimidating indeed, as Vragi turned with another growl, leading Gûldarnok and his ilk toward the northern end of the stinking, wretched camp that rang with the guttural barks of the Chaos races, the sound of splitting bones and squishing meat, and the ear-splitting clang of the smith's hammers as they worked in the light of the primitive torch stands scattered everywhere...
Of course, this entire conversation was lost on but a few of those prisoners whom Vragi now approached. Of them, only three understood the language of the giants and the Chaos races... To all the rest, every word spoken by those before them sounded like hideous barking and growling from the orcs, or a flowing, rich, deep, and terrifying language from the giants. How these could possibly be the same tongue, none of them could quite be sure.
Vragi, Gûldarnok, and their train now halted before a set of cages and chains that held a wide variety of prisoners...
One cage held a variety of humans - most were peasants dragged here from simple towns or farmhouses that dared to spring up too close to the Edge, and some were women, one of which clutched a crying babe in her arms. This seemed to amuse Gûldarnok, whose face twisted into a bloodthirsty smile.
Also in this cage stood a Venator - Agethar Twin-Axe. This amused the orc still further, and he gave a great laugh to see such a proud Nordling captured before him. This cage also held Bale Spellwinde, and the noble and beautiful Nefer Ardet, who caught the orc's eye for a moment and he lifted a brow in surprise... particularly since Bale and Nefer wore crude bindings of void iron, that looked like they were shoddily slapped together from bits of Dwarven armor.
Next, Gûldarnok's appraising eyes turned to another cage: one full of dwarves. It held still more peasants, several weeping in fear, and a few battered soldiers, one of which seemed to be bleeding out at this very moment, laying prone in the corner, unconscious. But strongest of them all stood Sigmar Oathbreaker... But Sigmar was slightly distracted, for he felt a strange aura in the air, and he could not be sure from whence it emanated. But he felt as if Forseti himself was trying to warn him of something nearby... something demonic.
The final cage held the fewest prisoners - beastfolk. The vulture avian D'naaku stood within, alongside a tall centaur with a black horse body and a wild mane of dark hair, and a tall rat-man who fidgeted, his tail twitching, wearing nothing but a simple loincloth... but D'naaku was distracted as well. There were so few spirits within this encampment that it felt like a great void in the world, a soulless, cursed place - but he sensed something nearby. An animal... What kind, he could not yet be sure.
But most surprising of all was the most enormous prisoner there: Hallvard, a giant, bound in elaborate chains and staked firmly to the ground, laying on his back. He could move his head, but only with great effort, and all his limbs were bound. He lay behind the cages, with a plain view of all the prisoners within. Hallvard was an unfortunate case here, in that he had been captured only because he had met Vragi out on patrol with his army - and when Vragi took Alden, Hallvard's peaceful protesting had resulted in Vragi dragging him off, as well, merely out of spite.
Gûldarnok grunted in thought as he turned to face Vragi again, looking up at the giant.
"Kill the weak ones before sunrise," he ordered in a growl. "Feed them to the troops. Take the strong," he gestured to several of the prisoners, including Agethar, Sigmar, Nefer, and the centaur, "and drain their blood into the pits."
"Very well," grunted the giant, "but only because that is also what I would do."
Gûldarnok seemed to find that amusing, as he gave a laugh before he turned, leading his train away again, their heavy armor clanking as they went. Vragi cast the prisoners one more glance before he turned as well, stomping off.
As the creatures left, D'naaku peered out from his cage to look to the skies in search of this spirit he felt. Overhead, he saw a great eagle soaring high over the encampment. Perhaps, if he tried, he could reach out and communicate with the animal...
Each of them had been caught in different ways, at different times. For most, it was a simple case of being overwhelmed or taken by surprise. Although not renown for their intelligence, the Chaos races were crafty hunters and trappers, moving in groups like packs of rabid beasts and dragging off those they could. However they had ended up here, they were here now, surrounded by strangers... and beastfolk, which they considered monsters, but in the face of these orcs, they seemed as noble as any man.
They had been stripped of their armor and weapons, leaving only simplistic clothing for them to wear. They could see their weapons and gear thrown in an unsightly pile near the cage, but well out of reach. An orc was picking through them, throwing objects in different piles, and a goblin was already snuffling around a pile of rejected shiny things, including jewelry - but another orc came and smacked him behind the head, hard, when he tried to separate anything from the piles.
Just as it seemed they would spend what was left of the night awaiting their fate before the dawn, they heard a blast that made everyone - even an old lady in the cage with the humans - leap to their feet: the sound of an orcish war-horn.
Instantly, the camp changed. Every orc and goblin dropped, at once, what they were doing, their eyes either wide - in the case of the goblins - or squinting - in the case of the orcs - to try to see what was going on. A goblin leader charged down from some watchtower near the prisoners' end of the camp, shouting something in their language and charging toward the south end of the orcish settlement.
Only Alden and Hallvard understood what the goblin was crying as he went: "Demon! Demon! The Night Hunter!"
The orcish horn sounded again. All around them, the orcs and goblins began to gather their weapons and prepare for some kind of attack. Alden and Hallvard heard still more names being tossed around: "The Red Lion," "demon," "The Night Hunter," and other, stranger things. Whatever was going on, it was terrifying the goblins and at least irritating the orcs... though several of them looked more than a little worried, themselves.
The commotion caused the creatures not to pay the prisoners too much heed at the moment, and some of them ran right past the primitive bars of their cages. Maybe this was their chance...
Nearby, the giantess Katja, navigating the paths of the Jagged Edge, heard the commotion from afar. Behind her, she could hear a sudden rush of movement... Most likely a band of Chaos races from this camp, being summoned back to reinforce them. And, up ahead, she heard the stomping of a giant from the encampment, as he came to gather his troops.
Either she would have to gamble that this encampment did not know her and fake her way as another commander, to escape being attacked - or she could rush in, weapons swinging. Whatever the case, it sounded like there was - ironically - chaos in the Chaos camp nearby. Perhaps they were under attack. In the distance, she could make out someone shouting about prisoners.
((Note that only Alden and Hallvard, of the prisoners, can understand the tongue spoken by the Chaos races and the giants in the camp, as mentioned. No one else can speak or understand their language, and Katja was not around to hear the exchanges.))