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Word Count: ~8500
Many years before Fal’raikath’s birth and even the founding of the Thunderjaw tribe, a family of two elves wandered along the coast. They fled from a terrible enemy, a demon that ravaged their woods and blighted it for years to come. It tore through the homes carved into their great trees and made their trunks wither away until they collapsed into each other. It killed the ground too—made it dry, dusty, and impossible for sustaining plants and flowers. It drank the river that ran through their woods until nothing was left but dirt and pebbles and the skeletons of small fish. Everything dead, they had no choice but to escape while they still could.
As they looked for a new home, they lost themselves in a mountainous stretch of Veiadokuur. They wandered through rocky crevasses and high cliffs, but found nothing suitable for settlement. Weeks passed and their supplies—what little they could carry when they left—ran out.
Now, listener, please keep something in mind before I tell you what happened to this family. Elves, like orcs, valued family above all. Also like us, elves were practical and knew that sometimes, to survive, people had to make great sacrifices. These elves were not cruel nor heartless, nor selfish or greedy. They were dying. They were desperate.
And, these two carried an additional burden beyond their own lives: An infant. This child could only eat and sleep and cry, and could provide nothing but more hardship and danger as they traveled these unforgiving lands. More than once, his wails attracted wolves, and his mother’s back ached from carrying him for miles and miles.
Already weakened—poisoned by the demon after drinking from water it stepped through—his mother died. Without milk to provide and losing his own strength, his father was left with a horrible choice. Should he keep the child until they both died of starvation, or exposure, or thanks to the hungry maws of creatures in the night? Or should he leave his son and move on so he might live?
I will not deceive you, listener. This elf loved his son, but also blamed him for his wife’s untimely death. In terrible times, the will to survive sometimes overpowers the want to love, and this elf fell to that. He left his child between two curved stones, wrapped in a beautiful swaddle made from warm, soft cloth. His son cried as his father turned and left him behind. He wept and tried to keep his son’s sobs from his ears, but they pierced his chest. Glancing back once more, the elf prayed to his family’s patron god, whose image decorated his son’s swaddle: “Please, let someone find and care for this child,” he whispered. “And please—forgive me, my child, for being as weak as I am.”
Hours passed. The child—cold, hungry, scared, and lonely—grew still. His sobs, once loud enough to echo off the rocks surrounding him, were now mere sniffles. He’d been crying for too long, and his little breaths shattered his lungs with every intake. At the very least, the sun warmed his pale skin just enough so he did not freeze.
Now listener, you surely know of the sibling gods’ love for our people, the orcs. But they also love every other living creature in different ways, and this elf child was no different. They took notice of him, weak and helpless as he was. Rek’gor wept for him and told her brother to please, please just end it—take him peacefully to his next life. So Geldorg came to the babe’s side and reached out to collect his soul. Just as his fingers brushed the elf infant’s skin, Rek’gor cried out.
“Wait!” she said, and Geldorg stopped. “I see someone coming.” So the gods waited, and a patrol of Kilverud orcs came by. The baby lied still, breathing silently. As the patrol passed without noticing, Geldorg chewed his fingernails.
“Sister, they don’t see,” he said. Rek’gor buried her lovely face in her hands and cried louder, begging the orcs to take a second look. But listener, this was a time of war, and the sounds of battle and hatred drowned out the voices of even the gods. The orcs took no notice to Rek’gor’s pleas. Neither she nor Geldorg have forgotten this, and this is why they do not bother to speak to us today.
Geldorg thought fast. Using a pointed stick, he poked the baby’s chest once, twice, three times. Only when he drew blood did the infant cry out, and get the orcs’ attention. Geldorg left a scar above his heart—yes, the same shape that we tattoo in the middle of our own chests once we turn seventeen, listener. The orcs walked over and Geldorg quickly ducked behind a tall rock to watch them closely. Even the gods feared mortals during the Long War, you see—though the siblings look so similar to orcs, they preferred not to risk being mistaken for another race and attacked. And this worried Geldorg then, too. He knew what orcs did to elves, and what elves did to orcs. Each race sought to destroy and decimate their rivals and claim the land for themselves. Geldorg feared that these orcs would see this child, this elven child, and slay him on the spot to take care of a future problem. Geldorg chewed his fingernails until they were stubs and held his breath.
“A baby,” the leader of the troop said. “An elf baby.” He scooped the child up. The babe wiggled into his great gray arms and curled into the swaddle his father left him with.
“Is she alone?” another Kilverud said. Ah—I see your confusion. I should have mentioned, at this point, the baby had not yet introduced himself as anything otherwise, and the orcs assumed he was a girl because of his appearance. They were wrong, however—this baby was a boy, to his core.
The patrol looked around and saw no one. Geldorg avoided their eyes by climbing the rock he hid behind. As tall as we are, orcs have no need to look up, so we rarely think to—these orcs were no exception to that.
“Seems that’s the case,” one of them said. “What do we do with her?” The others shared their ideas.
“Leave her. We’ve no need for a burden, especially a smooth-faced, long-eared one. The wolves can have her to fatten their bellies.”
“No, we ought to kill her to make her death swift. Look how small she is, anyway—no fat on her bones at this age. She’ll never live. And besides—less soldiers for us to fight in the future.”
“Kill her, yes, but mercifully? No! Make an example of her. Show the elves that we’ll even destroy their babies.” And they laughed.
Geldorg heard this and his heart broke. He’d long known the orcs as peaceful and kind—a people who would never hurt an infant, whether the baby was orcish or elven. He hated hearing such cruelty fall from their mouths. But you must remember, listener, that the Long War corrupted many things. Kindness and empathy lost out in battles of competition and, indeed, survival. Geldorg was no fool, and he knew what the war had done. But such coldness from those he loved so dearly hurt him terribly.
One orc who had not yet spoken raised his head. He seemed to feel Geldorg’s sorrowful gaze on his back, and perhaps he also knew the same disappointment the brother god struggled with. It awakened his merciful heart, and he said to them:
“Why kill a child? Yes, she is an elf, but she is a baby. She does not yet know to hate our kind, so to hate her is foolish.” He spoke with a faltering, clumsy voice—but a true one—afraid to defend the Kilverud’s most hated enemy. To suggest that such hate was not inborn to all elves—ridiculous! The others stared at him, bewildered.
“Then what would you do with her?” one said.
“I’ll raise her,” he said after a moment’s pause. “Allow me to take her to my house, and raise her to be one of us—one of our tribe, the Kilverud.”
The orcs made their disagreements heard. They chastised the outsider, saying the elf could never be a true Kilverud, and that he would only be a future problem. In their guts, they thought that the hatred of orcs ran in elven blood, much like many orcs believed that their own loathing of other races came from something natural to their being. But Geldorg, who still watched hopefully, knew this was wrong. And we know this is wrong today. Rek’gor and Bakthua, too, knew that people must learn hate to feel it festering in the very marrow of their bones. Geldorg waited and hoped, waited and hoped. Rek’gor held her breath.
The outsider only convinced them to let him raise the elf baby by saying he could be strategically useful for the War. This orc had no intention of truly using him like some secret weapon, but listener, even the gods sometimes lie to do what is right. He took the baby elf, wrapped him in the swaddle and then in his own fur cloak, and promised to raise him like his own.
And raise him like his own, he did. He and his wife named their adopted son Kunol, for his ears were long and narrow like a rabbit’s. As he grew, he took after his namesake even more: His teeth sprouted from his gums and a gap separated his prominent front teeth. Once Kunol could walk and speak, the tribe took a liking to him, too. Despite how different he looked from other Kilverud children, he got along well with them. Yes, everyone knew he was no orc—he lacked the tough skin, the coarse hair, the body size, and, of course, the tusks—but he sure acted like one. Even when he was half the size of other children in the tribe, Kunol challenged other boys and girls to wrestling matches whenever he got the chance. He lost most of the time, being so much smaller, but he took it well, and learned quickly. One of the final lessons his adopted parents told him before their unfortunate deaths was to turn his weaknesses into strengths, and make the most of his natural abilities. After they passed in a mission during the Long War, others in the tribe took turns taking care of Kunol. He moved from house to house, growing closer and closer to the tribe itself, and they, in turn, loved him.
By the time Kunol introduced himself as a boy to the tribe, he learned how to use his lithe frame and speed to take down his foes and use their strength against them. Kunol carried all the markings of a capable warrior at a young age, and given that his adopted parents died fighting, the tribal Heads assumed Kunol would also join their military as an adult. Specifically, they preemptively trained him as an infiltrator. They planned to send him into elven territory to observe their resources and their might. For years they observed how he cleverly learned to overcome his weaknesses, and they were impressed. They had no concerns about Kunol suddenly developing some attachment to his race; through the years, Kunol proved himself a dedicated member of his tribe. As an adult, he fell in love with one of Rek’gor’s suthaks—a healer named Kil’vak, after the type of dagger he used to cut herbs for medicine. He and Kunol married just before Kunol left on his first mission. Kil’vak fretted over his husband, as you’d expect, but Kunol reassured him that he would return soon, unharmed. Kunol did not realize this himself, but on his way into elven territory, he passed the stones his blood father left him under about twenty-five years before. A chill caressed his back as he walked. He blamed the breeze.
What Kunol also did not realize was that something wicked waited for him. Though his parents told him he’d been abandoned—there was no point in lying to the boy and convincing him that he would one day sprout tusks—no one knew exactly why the elves left their ruined home in the first place. During the decades that passed, the land slowly healed, and the blight’s effects withered away. Water returned to the river, and tiny blades of grass poked out of the dirt. Tangled trees grew leaves again, and even flowers stood proudly in the sunniest spots. The elves returned to their homeland after the disaster, hoping to speed along the healing process.
But oh, listener, it was a sorry sight. As Kunol slipped into the elven lands, his heart beat and his throat pinched at all the suffering he witnessed. Roots had not yet firmed the ground, and the slightest gust lifted dirt into the air and spilled it elsewhere. The water ran muddy. Elves boiled it under small fires before they could drink it, and they all possessed hungry, tired eyes. Any fruits or vegetables they tried to grow came off the tree or out of the grown shrunken and thin, and game avoided the area. The dusty air dried out peoples’ skin faster than the cold air in the mountains, and their flesh cracked and bled if they stayed out too long. Kunol could not imagine living here in such misery. He heard no laughter, saw no smiles, and felt no hope for these people. All of them—every one—hardly ate, and empty stomachs make for empty lives, listener.
Worse still, Kunol stood out among these people. Though his race let him pass by without much suspicion, the orcs’ attempt at making elven clothing was a bit lacking. They used his old swaddle as a model for elven clothing, and it ended up being far too fancy for these people. The flowing robes looked nothing like the more practical garments of the elves, and people stared at him like they would a noble. Kunol looked right back, nodded his greeting, and part of his mind wondered if he shared blood with any of them. He hid his face in his old swaddle to keep dust from bothering his nose—though too small to use as a blanket anymore, it still made for a fine scarf. He thought little of it.
You already know this, dear listener, but our world has a way of twisting events and circumstances to suit the whims of the gods and our ancestors. Perhaps Kunol’s blood ancestors made him take a particular turn so he could experience their essence, or perhaps Rek’gor saw parts of his potential and wanted to make them real. If you suspected that his old swaddle was more than just a piece of cloth, you thought right. Elves were fond of leaving meaningful marks on their clothing, just like orcs are fond of recording our identities and histories on our bodies. The scarf Kunol wore was embroidered with a prancing stag, but one horn jutted out from between its antlers. It also had fetlocks, like those on the hooves of the horses the Blackskulls are said to raise and ride. This creature represented the elven ancestor goddess of protection; coincidentally, Kunol’s blood family also claimed her as their patron deity. Now, we can argue all day long whether this stag goddess exists or not, but I, listener, believe that Kunol’s ancient elven ancestor went through many lives, as all creatures do, and was eventually reborn as an orc. This god must have been deserving of moving on to the divine realm with Geldorg and Rek’gor and their resting father, and helped pluck the strings of luck and coincidence until Kunol came face-to-face with his father. The older elf saw Kunol, and recognized the scarf about his neck immediately.
Of course, nobody remembers their lives as infants, and even the long-lived elves were no exception to this. Kunol recognized nothing about his father’s face; he only wondered why this old man approached him with an expression bordering on regret, joy, and deep sadness all at once.
His father called Kunol by another name—one unfamiliar to him, a word that echoed familiarity but hovered just out of reach. But as he stepped closer, arms open and hands outstretched, Kunol realized why this elf looked at him the way he did. And he hesitated, felt a pain press against his chest, and struggled to even just touch his emotions. Listener, do you know what it’s like to have a word stick to the tip of your tongue, or get caught in your teeth? That is close to how Kunol felt. Yes, in the past he wondered if his parents lived, and what sort of people they were, but he explored these thoughts with no consistency. In some, he yelled at them, called them heartless for leaving him for dead. In others, he simply turned up his nose and moved on. And in others, Kunol paid them no mind at all. They were, after all, unimportant to him now. He loved his orc family, and he loved his orc husband, and he loved his orc people. The Kilveruds considered him as much their own as he cherished them. Besides that, he expected that if he were to ever meet his blood parents, two would stand in front of them, and not one aging, old man.
But now, standing in front of his father, Kunol did not know what to think or feel. At the very least, he spoke the elves’ language, thanks to translators in his tribe. He talked with confidence, having started learning the language from a very young age.
Kunol looked at his father cautiously. Yes, they looked familiar. They had the same red-tinted, golden hair, the same light skin. The same cheeks and the same noses. Looking at his father was like peering into a magic mirror that showed his face in a future world. He gestured at the older elf.
“You… are you my blood father?” he said.
“I think so. I hope so,” the man said. He looked up to the sky and closed his eyes. “Ancestors—did you answer my prayers? Please, do not hurt me again. Not like this.” Kunol watched him and touched his scarf. He pulled it out, showing off the design.
“They found me wrapped in this,” he said. “In a rocky valley, not far from here—about a week or two out.” His father moved to put his hands on Kunol’s shoulders, but stopped himself. His hands floated in the air as if dangling from strings.
“Then it is you,” he said with tears in his eyes. “That is where—that is where I had to—after your—” He stopped and shook his head. “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” He hung his head, eyes shut.
“After—after what?” Kunol said. His father looked away, eyes downcast and filling with tears.
“Your mother passed,” he said. “She was very ill. I carried you for days, but—I’m sorry.” He moved to cover his face with his hands, and Kunol felt his shame. Without thinking, he took his father’s hands in his own, before the man could hide himself.
“What’s your name?” he said. His father looked up again. He squeezed Kunol’s hands.
“Baithal,” he said, voice shaking. “I thought I had a daughter, but it appears you are my son—a more dynamic one than most. Please—what’s your name?” Kunol smiled, then it faded just as quickly. His name, an orcish word. It pained him, but he gave his false one—the one the orcs assigned to him for his mission.
“Call me Kolaro. A group of elves from the south found me and raised me,” he said. “I travelled to find you.”
“Kolaro. Kolaro,” his father said. “The ones who helped you, who saved you—what was their family name?” Kunol bit the inside of his cheek.
“They have since passed,” he said. Baithal frowned and shook his head.
“Then… at least, tell me what their names were, so I can give proper thanks to them in an offering,” he said. Kunol looked away. He understood, vaguely, the elves’ religion. We do, after all, give respect to our ancestors so they may protect us once they reach the divine realm. Elves believe in something quite similar. He could lie, yes, and give the names the orcs came up with, but the idea of Baithal offering heartfelt gratitude to people who never existed made his stomach twist.
“I don’t know if…” Kunol trailed off. His father looked hurt. Yes, this older elf left him for dead, had no hand in raising him, and was, by all definitions, a stranger. Kunol felt he should hate this man, something moved in his blood and his heart beat. Bringing himself to hate someone who so visibly, so openly regretted his decision—an impossible task. Kunol hung his head.
“I understand if I don’t deserve to pay respect to them,” Baithal said with restraint. Kunol shook his head and held up a hand.
“I—I fear it would reveal too much about me if I tell you,” he said. “And I fear what would happen if you knew. I—I’m sorry, but with the war…” A pathetic excuse. Baithal stared at him, expecting to find words but only tasting dust. He took in a breath.
“Your secrets matter little to me,” he said. “I’m just grateful—so very, very thankful—that you’re alive, and that I could see you again, even just once.” He squeezed Kunol’s hands again. “If you have the time, if you have the desire, would you join me in my home? If you can’t speak of your life, I would at least like to know about you—the things you enjoy, what sort of person you are. But please—I understand if you’d rather not.”
Kunol looked to the house his father gestured to—closer to a hut, or a shack, constructed from a massive fallen log. Charred bark made up its outside, and a flat piece of wood covered each end. A small curtain served as a door. Kunol wondered how cold it got in the winter, and how Baithal stayed warm. He saw his father’s clothing, so worn and rough, with patches and repairs all over, and looked at his own outfit. Yes, he did look like a noble compared to everyone else here. And thinking back on it, he lived like one, too. All the homes he lived in with the Kilverud tribe were made of stone or brick, and always had real, wooden doors and space to spare. I ask you, what could he really say to his father’s humble request? Kunol agreed, and followed Baithal to his tiny, cramped home.
There, Baithal served him hot tea brewed from sweet fruits and mint leaves. Kunol recognized the taste and, seeing Baithal scoop it from a small tin, wondered if he dried and prepared it himself. In this land, collecting the ingredients must have been painstaking. With scarcely anything growing, getting enough cuts of fruit or leaves for even just one cup must have taken ages, and Kunol felt a bit guilty drinking it. But it did taste delicious; it coated his tongue, and its fragrance left his nose tingling. Baithal sat across from him and watched Kunol’s face. As you can imagine, listener, he wanted nothing more than to learn about his son, and perhaps even make up for time passed. But Kunol held his tongue and hardly said a word. Finally, Kunol sighed and turned the conversation around. Though it pained him, he wanted to glean something from Baithal for his covert mission.
“So… how is life here?” he said. Baithal sighed and shook his head.
“Very hard,” he said. “Tremendously so. When that attacked, it left our land ruined—you can see it all around you, I’m sure. We keep trying to bring the plants and the earth back to how it used to be, but I fear that that thing’s magic had more… long-lasting effects.” Kunol’s ears twitched.
“What was it?” he said, voice low. Baithal closed his eyes.
“Thank all our gods that you don’t remember,” he said. “It was huge. Everyone must have seen it, even you.” He paused, searched for the word, and bit his lip. “It was a demon. It killed most of our people in just one day, and even those who escaped could not avoid its poison. That… that was how it took your mother.” His voice softened as he spoke and Kunol clasped his hands together. He thought of words to say, comfort to give—but he offered nothing. He had nothing to offer.
Baithal smiled after a moment.
“Yes, life has been hard here, but you—you look as though your, your family was well-off. Perhaps you could even tell me just a little about what they were like? What they taught you?” he said. Kunol swallowed, smiled, and nodded.
“Of course,” he said. “I anticipated staying here longer—while I’m here, I’ll tell you about them.”
Baithal’s face brightened. He thanked Kunol, and happily offered him his bed to sleep on during his stay.
For the next few days, Kunol lived with Baithal. They woke with each other, ate together, explored the elven settlement together. Baithal proudly introduced Kunol to his friends. They congratulated him on reconnecting with his son who was so, apparently, well-off in the elven town he came from. He learned their names and met their families, and sometimes watched the children while the parents went out to work. Kunol even worked the fields with his father and helped him tend to small, sprouting plants each day. He learned more and more of the elves and how they lived, what they were capable of. He tilted his ear for rumors about their military and found plenty to bring back to his tribe. All the while, Kunol fed Baithal lie after lie. He talked about his fake father, and his fake mother, and his fake siblings, and his fake life with such confidence that he believed it himself. He carried these lies, and they weighed on him.
I’m sure, listener, that there are some of you who have once broken bread with someone you disliked. Think back—did you learn more about them? Did your heart change when you knew them as people, and not as what they represented in your thoughts? For Kunol, he arrived in this village with an idea about the elves and, indeed, his father. And he learned that these things he believed were incomplete images. Sketches.
Images of his family back with the Kilverud ran through his heart. He owed his life to them for taking him in and treating him as their own. Without them, this life would have snuffed out slowly and pathetically, an insect drowning in a shallow pool. And now, someone who shared his blood sat not an arm’s length away from him, totally alone. Kunol felt no obligation to him, and yet the guilt became too much. He sat down one evening with Baithal as they finished the last of his tea together.
“Father,” he said, his throat tight and his face downcast, “I’m a rotten son, and I don’t deserve your kindness, or your trust.” Baithal’s eyebrows knotted and he tilted his head.
“Why should you say such a thing?” he said. He smiled to try and comfort Kunol, but his eyes revealed his true concerns.
“I lied to you. The ones who found me and raised me were not elves—they were orcs. My real name is Kunol. They brought me up like their own, and they are my family. I love them dearly.” Baithal’s face turned pale and he widened his eyes.
“Orcs… saved you?” he said. Kunol nodded and felt tears seep from his eyes.
“I thought I should hate you for abandoning me, but—but I know why, now. I know you didn’t want to. And the way you’ve treated me, these past days—I can’t bring myself to feel anything but love for you, too. Father, I want you to be a part of my family again. But I don’t know—I don’t know how that can happen,” he said. His voice broke and he shuddered. Baithal stared at him for a long, long time. He rubbed his forehead and finally shut his eyes.
“If you were raised by orcs, what are you doing here? What’s the truth, Kunol?” he said. Kunol glanced away. But he told Baithal everything—about his role as a spy, and how he intended on giving the orcs the elves’ secrets. Baithal listened with a deep frown carved into his face, shaking his head sometimes, sighing others, but feeling miserable throughout.
This hurt the both of them, listener. Baithal for having been deceived, and Kunol for deceiving. But after seeing all the desperation around them—the death, the famine, and the loss of everything once lively and beautiful—they wondered whether war and holding such deep grudges for their enemies was worth it. And they wanted to know how to escape it all.
The answer laid in front of them, visible but not tangible. Neither saw how they could get away—not while they lived in his land, at least. Nor could they see how to convince everyone else—elf, orc, human, dwarf, and goblin alike—that perhaps life offered many more things to be enjoyed and embraced.
Kunol got an idea. A wily one, a desperate one. But Kunol took after his namesake in a multitude of ways, and he knew tricks of all sorts to get out of a corner.
He promised Baithal that he would return as quickly as he was able. Kunol hurried back to the Kilverud and once there, he explained the elves’ plight and his encounter with his father to Kil’vak. His husband shook his shaggy head and pressed his forehead. Even during the war, Rek’gor’s most dedicated followers still felt pain for their enemies. They made for shoddy warriors, but their healing magic was said to raise the dead, so the tribal Heads tolerated their over-empathetic outlook. Kunol described how, against all he was taught he could not bring himself to hate the elves. He tightened his hands as he spoke and looked to Kil’vak with trembling eyes.
“Does this mean I can’t be a true member of the Kilverud? Because I can’t fight our—your—our enemies during this war? Because I think they don’t deserve to live the way they do now?” He sighed. “Was I even a part of this tribe to begin with?”
Kil’vak, like most Suthaks, had a way with words. He touched Kunol’s pale face with his large hand and wiped tears from his eyes. He spoke tenderly and in a soft voice.
“I was also raised in this tribe, same as you. Despite all I learned about orcs and elves, humans and dwarves and goblins, I chose you, Kunol, as my husband. Perhaps things aren’t as simple as people would have you believe,” he said. “If you want to invite your father and even the other suffering elves, I will accept them as part of our family and of my tribe.”
Kil’vak and Kunol spoke openly with the tribe, saying the war they fought brought nothing but destruction. What territory or influence they did gain, Kunol said, never lasted longer than a generation. Most of the tribe disagreed. They saw the bounty, land, and riches war provided—many Kilverud orcs grew wealthy as the war burned on. But a smaller section disagreed. Yes, listener—those who only saw futility in warfare were our ancestors—the first of the Thunderjaws.
Our ancestors met in secret with the dying elven village and wrote up an agreement of sorts with them. It took much work over a long, long time for Kunol, Baithal, and Kil’vak to even make the meeting possible, given how little most elves and orcs trusted each other, and with the language barrier. But through careful diplomacy, they birthed their alliance. They decided that the orcs and the elves would support each other and exist harmoniously in their new land, wherever that place was.
After research and learning each other’s language and planning and careful consideration, they set off for their new home. They realized that as long as they lived in Veiadokuur, they would never find peace—not while the rest of the region warred away. So they came up with a mad plan, a desperate one, and decided it was their only shot. When the weather cleared and the sea calmed, the elves left their homeland to join the former-Stonehearts on their pilgrimage. And they left just in time, too. Perhaps it was the sudden movement of many feet, or perhaps enough time had naturally passed, but either way, something slumbering under the surface of the elves’ homeland took note of the sudden silence. You probably see where this is going, listener. Yes, the demon the elves summoned so many years ago did not merely disappear never to be found again. Demons never just died or left of their own accord.
The demon blinked, and the floor shuddered beneath the pilgrims. Kunol and Kil’vak stopped and listened. A moment of quiet passed; even the birds had nothing to say. The rest of the travelers whispered among themselves and wondered if an earthquake was about to hit. Kunol gestured with his hand to calm their fears.
“Let’s continue. It’s best if we get out of here quickly, if something is about to happen,” he said to them. So they continued.
The demon twitched and stretched. Its root-like limbs retracted and snaked back into its body. The ground trembled beneath them, and some small saplings suddenly got pulled by their roots into the ground. The travelers halted. Their children sobbed and parents feared the worst.
The demon woke up.
Its massive, hulking body shook the earth and split the dry ground. Even as it slept, the monster still sapped the land’s life to keep its heart beating. But it was awake now. It hungered. Those who saw it said it had no mouth, and yet it roared deafeningly loud before it broke through the surface. Its stomach’s grumble warned everyone of its existence mere moments before it burst free and shook dirt from its thick hide. The demon, covered in roots and thorns and brittle leaves and cracked bark, crawled out of the ground with its massive, shovel-like claws. It sniffed and tendril-like vines squirmed from its back and its face, and it found its target: The elves, and their new companions, the orcs. With a second roar, it dug through the ground, shredding homes to pieces and ruining the land once more as it rushed towards them. Poisonous pools dripped from its feet and killed every plant the liquid touched, making them wither and die. The vines coming from where its nose should have been curled around the ground and it felt and listen.
The pilgrims ran, and it followed them wherever they went. Kunol yelled for them to break up, scatter so they wouldn’t all be taken down at once. He saw the demon’s size, and he saw its power. He knew that avoiding death might be impossible.
The demon chased down the largest group, which broke apart as it got closer. Then it turned, and chased the next largest group. Kunol, even as he ran, paid close attention. He watched its behavior, and realized—the demon had no eyes. It had no ears. It moved with its vines constantly touching the ground, feeling around for the vibrations of footsteps.
“Stop! Everyone, stop moving!” he cried. His voice carried further than he anticipated, and the travelers stopped. The demon, too, halted. Its gut growled and it felt the ground once more, searching, searching. It got closer to a group of two parents and their children. The child fell to the ground and sobbed. The demon dashed forward.
Kunol stomped the ground. He jumped up and down and dropped all he held. The demon stopped, turned. Faced him. Kunol kept smacking the ground with his feet. Kil’vak watched helplessly from afar as his husband turned himself into bait for the horrible being. As soon as the demon rushed after him, Kunol bolted. He sprinted away with heavy steps, and yelled to the others: “Tiptoe as you walk! Take it slow, be gentle as possible!”
“Kunol, stop! You’ll die!” Kil’vak cried, reaching for him. Kunol looked over his shoulder and cupped his hand over his mouth.
“Don’t follow me—just take the rest, and get out of here!”
And he disappeared into the undergrowth. The demon followed him, its poison seeping into the land and leaving the forest dead in its path. The pilgrims looked to Kil’vak, who stared, and wondered if he should ever see his husband again. He looked to the other travelers, gritted his teeth, and waved his hand.
“Let’s go—and do as he said! Step lightly!” he said. And they did. The demon did not return, and they headed for their new home. As Baithal followed the rest of the tribe, he looked over his shoulder, at the tracks the demon left behind. He stopped, and stood with his hands fisted. Kil’vak looked back at him with a raised brow. “You’re staying?” he said.
“I will not abandon my son a second time,” Baithal said. Kil’vak gazed at him.
“You should trust Kunol,” he said. “He knows what he’s doing.” Baithal shook his head,
“Then I will show Kunol the way when he returns, or help him if he gets lost on his way back,” he said. Kil’vak, the only leader for this group of ragtag elves and orcs, reluctantly left both his stepfather and his husband behind to take the rest to safety.
But what of Kunol? He ran and ran, the demon mere yards behind him in some cases. Its tendrils reached out to him and prodded the backs of his heels. It tried to burrow its horrible vines into his skin, into his feet to stop him, but its touch only made Kunol run faster. All the while, it picked up pieces of dead plants and dry earth, adding to its size along the way. The poison reeked and stung Kunol’s nose. His heart rapped against his chest as it gained on him. He was but one small elf, up against a monster that could, if it had a mouth, swallow him whole and not feel the slightest bit satiated.
And listener, it looked bad for Kunol. He ran through the dying underbrush, leapt over big, fallen logs and skipped through puddles and a stream, only to realize he had been running blindly. He tripped and fell, right in front of a sheer cliff—the remnants of a mudslide from ages ago. He flipped around and saw the demon, looming over him, poison dripping from roots sprouting from its back, from its face, from its feet. Instinctively, he ceased his breaths. And he waited. And he waited.
The demon stopped and felt the ground. Its roots did not touch him. But it did, now, hear the footsteps of the pilgrims, even so far away. And it turned its back on Kunol, and took a few steps back to where it came from.
Kunol jumped to his feet and stamped the ground once again.
“Get back over here, monster!” he yelled, fisting his hands. He threw stones and bashed them against the ground. And indeed, the demon noticed. It stopped moving, and it turned back towards him. Its tendrils reached out, slowly, slowly snaking towards him. Kunol thrashed and thumped as they coiled around his ankles. Nothing could silence him. He only prayed that he could distract it long enough, or satiate its hunger so it would leave the rest of his family alone.
And Rek’gor saw. Overwhelmed in her heart by Kunol’s self-sacrifice, she cried. And oh, listener, she sobbed. The rain fell, and fell, and fell. Her tears completely covered the land in water—the first rain of a long, long time for this part of the region.
Can you guess what Rek’gor’s tears did for Kunol?
Not only did they give him newfound energy—droplets wet his dry tongue as they fell into his open mouth—but they also confused the beast. It spread out its tendrils, trying to find something—anything—that would hint at the location of the larger prey surrounding it, a thing that would satisfy its hunger for years. A much more appealing meal than the noisy elf it held. Its poison pooled at its feet, but the rainwater washed it away, and it dissipated into the soil. And its tendrils retracted as the mud coating its body washed away with the rain.
Kunol sat perfectly still. His heart beat rapidly, even as its roots loosened from his legs and pulled back into the demon’s body. As the ground turned to mud beneath his feet, he realized that he could walk once more. The demon was blind already, and now it was deaf. Kunol approached it cautiously and watched closely. He stood just barely out of reach of its vines, and the demon reacted to nothing but the rain. It slashed at the ground where water trickled in a heavier stream off a lonely leaf, but otherwise, it was harmless. And then Kunol noticed—it did not stop shrinking. As its vines snuck off and spread out to search, it left nothing behind to hold its dirt body together. Rek’gor’s tears took it all away, and the mud sloughed off to return to the ground where it came from.
By the time Rek’gor’s crying ceased, all that remained lied naked and helpless in a pile of mud. Kunol tiptoed over, passing between vines with the grace of a cat. He stood right above its true form—a tiny, humble mole with thin roots sticking from its body—and looked down at it.
The demon was almost too pathetic to strike. But with a heavy heart, Kunol killed it with a small knife. The rain returned for a moment, and Kunol prayed that in its next life, the mole would be happier. He splashed mud from his face and his bare skin with the water that fell.
Now, listener, Kunol had work to complete yet. With the demon slain, he felt invigorated. He rushed back to where he came from, and found that the rain also took his family’s footsteps with it. He searched desperately—and found his father, standing perfectly still below a tree with hanging branches. Kunol stopped, watched Baithal spread his arms, and approached him with a growing smile. They stood in front of each other a moment before Baithal cupped his hand around his shoulder.
“Your husband took your tribe this way,” Baithal said and pointed. Kunol took his father’s hand.
“No—our tribe, now,” he said. “Let’s catch up.”
The two elves hurried to reunite with the rest of their tribe. Once they escaped the wasteland the demon left behind, they ran into the rest of the travelers. Healthy trees with sprawling branches protected them as they moved now, and helped mask the sounds of their feet as they walked. Even as such a big group made of young and old, orc and elf walked together, the tunes of the forest never ceased. Kil’vak led the group still, hanging his head and dabbing tears from his reddened eyes. As Kunol and Baithal met with them, a murmur spread through the crowd. It grew into open speaking, then to shouts of jubilation. Kunol’s continued existence was all the evidence they needed that the demon was no more.
As the group parted for Kunol to meet with Kil’vak again, Kil’vak looked up and turned his head, only now noticing the happiness in the air. His eyes widened once he saw Kunol’s gap-toothed smile and he immediately rushed to touch his husband’s face and run his big hands through his hair.
“You’re alright,” Kil’vak said, his lip stretching over his tusks as he grinned. “What of the beast?”
“It’s slain,” Kunol said. He looked up at the cloudy sky past the tree branches. “Thank Rek’gor for that.” Kil’vak hugged him tightly and wept.
“Thank the gods,” he whispered. “Thank the gods!” The tribe cheered and their joy pulsed through the forest. Even the animals stayed nearby to watch and listen and share in their success, and of course, the gods and our ancestors looked down from above with hope and optimism.
Some of the elves suggested returning to their homeland once they regrouped. After all, they reasoned, they already had historical claim to that land. Now that the demon was gone, it should be safe to settle. But Baithal shook his head sadly and spoke from the edge of the group.
“That land is barren,” he said. “I fear that returning there would only bring this new family of ours to an early death. Fellow elves—you know that nothing had improved even over the course of twenty years, and settling it again would be foolish.” The elves thought about it, and reluctantly agreed. So the pilgrims continued onwards, in accordance with their initial plan.
They finally arrived at the western coast, where the rocky shores gave way to mountains and massive, redwood pines. They grew tall, but not narrow; no, these trees’ trunks regularly became twenty feet in diameter. Perfect, they decided, for carving their homes out. They could live in private, in a location with lots of natural barriers to protect them from the ongoing war. Yes, listener—this was to become the Thunderjaw homeland.
I see you tilt your head at me, and you’re right to have questions. Indeed, the northern Thunderjaws live on an island, and you mean to ask if they moved here, to our current home, later. Were they pushed from the mainland by the Kilverud or the other races? Well, not exactly—give me a moment, and you’ll see.
In a way, our ancestors had already realized that they could not escape the Long War so long as they shared soil with other warring factions. Because of the mixed nature of their tribe—elf and orc, long-lived and short-lived—they knew they would be looked upon with suspicion. Traitors, from all sides of the multifaceted front. The Kilverud, militaristic as they were, certainly felt no empathy or sympathy for traitors, and they knew the other elves would not welcome their tainted brethren again after they allied with orcs. But where to go? The war raged worst in the south, and other factions already dominated the territory to the west. To the north, the mountains only cut into the air higher and higher, impassable even by giants for hundreds of generations.
They had only the ocean, listener. And they had no ship to carry them across the water. What they did have, however, was magic. A magic much more powerful than any we know of today. A magic that twisted and danced vibrantly when it was used, rather than simply glow passively as it does now. Kil’vak, who came from a family of mages, knew how to harness this power—but he could not do it on his own. He lined himself up with a particular spot in the land, and the rest of the tribe did the same. They spread out in pairs over thousands of feet, using torches to keep each other within their sights. Kil’vak, who stood with Kunol in the center, called to the gods and asked them to guide his hand.
Like Rek’gor brings rain, Geldorg brings lightning. And he responded to Kil’vak’s request with a bolt bigger than any you could imagine. It struck the ground in front of Kil’vak’s feet and invigorated him with crackling, sparkling energy. From his chest, magic power pulsated in time with his ever-faster heartbeat. It spiked, and pushed through his veins and out his open palms, into Kunol’s grasping hand. Their bodies jolted with rhythmic force. The magic leapt from their hands and shot through the air in jagged patterns, leaving glistening drops on the ground as it transferred to the next people in the line, and the next, and the next. The sky lit up with their shared power, and as it passed down, down, down, all the way to the coast, it cut deep into the mainland.
Finally, the two last members of this new tribe of elf and orc received the magic bolts, and they touched the land where water washed over it. Their magic spread into the open ocean, illuminating it from its surface to its floor. Shadows of great aquatic beasts dotted the water and they swam along as if nothing out of the ordinary happened. With a thunderous crack, the land broke away, taking with it all who stood on it. Kil’vak and Kunol completed the ritual by flinging their hands forward, dispelling all the pent up energy at once. Another boom echoed through the land, and the energy propelled the new island out, into the ocean, at impossible speed for such a massive piece of earth. They took with them forests and mountains, and even part of a river that still flows to this day. They had wildly-growing fruits and vegetables to eat, and animals to hunt as well. And they had their families. Their new land offered them everything the mainland did, except the threat of war.
It took a long time for the island to stop moving. As it slowed, they watched the mainland grow fainter and fainter, until it looked like only a smudge on the horizon at night. Only the indications of fires and mountains hinted that it was anything significant. They felt sad, listener, that this was how it had to be, for the Thunderjaws knew peace was possible. If people as different as elves and dwarves could figure it out and make a tribe with a culture of its own, then surely others could do the same.
The Thunderjaws named themselves for the sounds they made that night, thundercracks that heralded their journey away from Veiadokuur and let everyone know that something meaningful occurred that evening. And, of course, for the elves’ and the orcs’ shared appreciation of spoken poetry. They thrived in this new land, raising big families with elven and orcish parents. Kunol and Kil’vak had a daughter of their own, Fal’raikath, who went on to lead the Thunderjaws to a new island in the south when their population grew too large for their first home. We mingled our languages, our cultures, and our religions, and you still see this today. Eventually, as generations passed, our people stopped looking “more orcish,” or “more elven,” and we all carry the blood and heritage of both races.
And still, listener, we live in peace—away from the mainland, but in peace. The Thunderjaws will always carry that legacy; that our birth came from love, but also abandonment, and also reunification. We’re a dynamic people, as complicated and changing as the patterns of lightning in a storm.