The Rise of Takk
By Stuart Thaman
The forty-second year of the reign of King Arias
“Faster!” an orc slaver yelled. Spit flew from his mouth. He cracked his whip, tearing an angry line down Takk’s back, and bellowed into the sky. The goblin slave yelped and scampered forward, searching the ruins for artifacts to please his master.
The glint of metal caught Takk’s eye, and he dove his hand through the rubble until his fingertips scraped against something that could be valuable. He had to dig through a layer of dirt, broken wood, and shattered stone to get deep enough to pull the object forth, and his hands ached from the effort.
Finally, after several minutes of digging, Takk lifted an old metal helmet from the ground and scraped a chunk of grim from the visor. With a smile, he ran back to his overseer and held the piece aloft, hoping it would bring a smile to his master’s face.
The orc scrutinized Takk’s find, turning it over in his hands and knocking against it with his knuckles. Slowly, a grin appeared on the orc’s face, but it terrified Takk and made him shrink back in fear. “This is junk!” the orc roared, throwing the helm aside and balling his hand into a fist.
“I’ll find more!” Takk yelled, running from the overseer before the orc could hit him again.
The small goblin threw bits of rubble aside and searched, desperate to find something to appease his master’s wrath. It had been days since his last find and his overseer was not an orc known for patience. He searched near the spot where he had found the helm, digging frantically with his bloody hands, until he found more pieces of rusted armor buried in the ruins.
Takk shook his head and threw the pieces aside. His frantic digging had made a small hole in the debris and he jumped into it, pulling more stone and wood aside as he went. After several minutes of digging, he felt the top of a banded piece of wood he knew must have been a door. It took all of his strength, but he cleared enough debris from the front of the door to reveal it, and the rotting wood gave way easily when he pushed.
Behind the door, a relatively clear passageway presented itself, angled sharply into the ground. Takk peered behind him, but he couldn’t see over the debris enough to spy his overseer. With a sigh filled with trepidation, he lowered himself into the passageway to stand on the top stair, which gave way almost instantly under his weight.
Takk fell through the darkness, shattering the rest of the steps painfully against his body, and landed with a thud against the stone at the bottom. Above him, Takk heard an orc yell and crack his whip. He hoped the anger wasn’t directed toward him. Painfully, Takk stood in the lightless tunnel, allowing his beady eyes to adjust to the darkness.
Every part of the goblin’s body hurt. His hands were raw and bleeding, several of his fingernails had broken in the rubble, and his back felt as though a boulder had fallen on it. Still, he was alive, and he was out of the overseer’s reach, if only for a few minutes.
The goblin stretched his weary muscles and peered through the narrow passage. A few empty sconces still clung to the stone wall to his left, and iron bars were set into the floor and ceiling to his right. “A dungeon,” he whispered, shuddering at the memory of his own capture at the hand of orcs. He moved farther into the underground structure, but it was empty. Not even rats scurried under his feet.
Takk’s hope faded altogether when he reached the end of the dungeon without finding a single item of value. He turned back toward the entrance, torn between returning to the surface and trying to hide in the dungeon in order to escape his captivity. As if to answer his question, an overseer’s whip cracked above, and he heard his name being called by his master.
He ran back the way he had come, thinking of nothing but his own imminent punishment, when his bare feet caught on something and sent him tumbling to the ground. When Takk finally untangled himself from the ruined staircase, he had a splintered piece of wood lodged in his leg. Blood oozed from the wound, shooting pain through his entire body with every movement. He tried to pull the shard free, but it would not budge. Takk knew if he returned to his master injured, he would be killed without a second thought. A goblin who could not dig was just a corpse.
Takk sat down with a sigh, letting what little hope he had clung to evaporate. Trying to find a position in which his leg would throb just a little less, he rolled to his side and saw what had tripped him: a curled wooden staff. Oddly, the object was not covered in grime or crusted with decades of dirt like everything else. In fact, the staff appeared to glow and pulse with a palpable darkness Takk’s eyes could barely detect.
He reached for the staff, and somewhere deep in his mind, the staff called to him. Takk’s small, bloody fingers wrapped around the center of the staff slowly, like a thief attempting to steal a precious gemstone without being seen or heard.
When he finally lifted the staff from the ground, Takk felt all the pain in his body drift away. His multitude of wounds did not close, but he no longer seemed to feel them. “Magic,” he gasped, feeling a sensation of power surge through his body. He rose from the ground, and though his leg was still impaled by wood, his blood did not run and his muscles felt stronger than ever.
Takk emerged from the dungeon and shielded his eyes from the bright sunlight, the staff still clutched tightly in his hand. Several paces away, his overseer roared his name and brought his whip above his head to strike.
Takk froze. He could feel magic begging to be released within his body, but he didn’t know how to harness it! The burly orc strode forward and cracked his whip, hitting Takk squarely in the face. The goblin’s jaw burst apart, sending fragments of bone flying in all directions. Somehow, his face did not bleed, and his body did not feel pain.
“You will die,” Takk tried to say, but his face was as ruined as the city in which he scavenged. The overseer’s expression turned from cruelty to horror when Takk took a step forward. The goblin raised his staff before him, calling to the magic within, and the world darkened. Though the sun still shone brightly in the cloudless sky, its light could not penetrate the darkness emanating from Takk’s staff.
Power filled the goblin’s mind and body. He felt the presence of magic as surely as he felt his own hands and feet. He urged the magic to strike, and it obeyed his command. A spike of pure shadow shot forth from the staff, skewering the orc where he stood. Other nearby overseers began to yell and crack their whips, stalking toward Takk like wolves. Faster than they could react, Takk obliterated them with shadow.
When the magical darkness finally lifted, the band of orc slavers no longer existed. They had been destroyed completely, their bodies and minds shattered under the weight of Takk’s power. After a moment, a timid goblin slave emerged from the ruins, his face covered in soot.
“You’re free,” Takk said, but the slave did not move.
“Go,” Takk yelled to the goblins emerging from all over the ruins. “Our masters are dead! You’re free!” One by one, the goblins gathered around him, their eyes full of hope for the first time in years.
“What are you doing?” Takk asked, suddenly afraid. He held his staff in front of him, ready to defend himself if they attacked.
“We fight for you,” one of them said proudly. “There are more orcs to kill!”