When you have a hammer, everybody looks like a nail.
The night before the tournament, Bartertown.
The fire crackles loudly in the Broccha’s Head Pub, a worn but respectable establishment on an alley not too far off the Royal Road. The crowd is riotous tonight, with characters from every walk of life enjoying the revelry only found on the eve of an event such as the Great Tournament. Semi-noble heirs rub elbows with the greasiest of the street urchins. A pair of t’skrang sitting at a low wooden table in one corner swat at a pesky windling buzzing amidst their empty flagons. From the dizzying flight of the fairy, it appears he’s had plenty of keesris and perhaps darted a bit too close to the coin purse on the table between the disgruntled rivermen. Amidst the din Kormak sits at the heavy oaken bar, a cheerful elf merchant named Aywin on one side, and the mighty hammer Arok’tor resting at the other. One new friend and one old.
“But I thought your name was Kengo?” the young elf piped up, “At least that is what was written on the Royal Scroll of entrants for the Tournament.” Aywin pointed out as a group of overbearing trolls bumped past him, splashing a bit of his ale across the bar. “Ha!” chortled Kromak, one hand on his goblet of hurlg while the other fingered the dagger concealed under his tunic. “Never reveal your true name to an enemy until you know his measure young elf, for you must protect your True Pattern. Soon enough, the name Kromak Darkthread will be revealed and remembered in Bartertown,” Kromak answered, easing up as the trolls shoved their way to a waiting companion across the room.
“Then who is Kromak?” retorted the confounded elf. Kromak turned to him his smile across his fanged lips. “Boy, you must have never traded far from Bartertown, for Kromak is a name known and feared from Death’s Sea to the Blood Wood. I have raided from the Twilight Peaks to the Serpent River. Fought alongside the greatest of the sons and daughters of Hrak Gron, feasted at the table of Terath, made passionate love to the most seductive females of more than one race, and brought swift justice to those who wouldst hold another Name-giver against his will. Aye, but we’re not here to boast, tomorrow the measure of each challenger will be taken, and should Blork whisper her blessing in my ear tomorrow no ujnort will stand in my way.” Kromak downs his flagon of hurlg and slams it on the table. “Barkeep, another round for me and my young friend!”
Kromak is enjoying himself immensely, there is more fulfilling than sharing a flagon with a new friend on the eve of battle. Aywin has proven to be quite the story teller himself, recounting his own misadventures as a merchant travelling the Serpent River with the T’skrang. He can hear snatches of stories drift across the pub from the various peoples of Barsaive. Opposite the bar, a group of female city orks and humans, perched on high stool share a laugh over a game of dice. Amongst them one particular lass was seated, the torchlight playing lightly across her fine features. She was dressed in a white robe, a healer of some sort judging from her garb. Kromak had caught her more than once eyeing him over a glass of white Throalic ale, and he generously returned the favor.
As the evening wears on, the torches on the wall burn brighter, more stories are traded, and Kormak watches at the women-folk are approached by a rather rough-looking group of orcs dressed in black and red. Lancers of the clan Therok, he thinks to himself. And much too rough for fine city ladies.
“…but the Bleeding Tongue,” the sound of the hated name bringing Kromak back from his thoughts. “I thought they were nothing more than a bunch of scurrilous badlanders, no honor or skill amongst the lot of them?” “Aye,” growled Kromak, a flash of rage passing briefly across his dark eyes, “so they have become. But there was a time when the Bleeding Tongue were known as the fiercest raiders west of the Tylon, and the most respected as well. That is until my cursed uncle Mogtar ruined the lot of them.” Kromak spits to the right, narrowly missing an angry dwarf, who had been wrestling in jest with his mate over the bar tab, while the none to amused barkeep looked on. “What can I say of Mogtar, that wicked turgma? Aye he was touched by Raggok, the Mad Passion. The bruunda to him.” Kromak downs the remaining hurlg in one gulp. “You want a story for your riverboat friends?” Kromak asked, nodding to the barkeep for another flagon, “Let me tell you about a little town called Kelna.”
Suddenly a chair crashes across the room. All eyes turn to the group of city women as a particularly gruesome looking orc encroaches on the girl Kromak had noticed earlier. She appeared to be fighting off his loutish advances, to the amusement of his clansmen. “Hey now,” Kromak smiles to Aywin as he pushed back his stool and wrapped his hands around the familiar leather bindings of his great hammer. “Looks like someone wants to start the party early.”
In the alley outside the pub, Kromak squares off against Sturlock Bearcrag, as the brash orc had so declared himself inside the pub upon Kromak’s interruption of his ill-fated assault on the lass. Now Sturlock’s deteriorating armor and battered shield gleamed in the moonlight, painted red and adorned with bits and bones in a grisly pattern common to the rabble of Herok’s Lancers. His token spear tracing lazy circles in Kromak’s face as he moves slowly to the left, avoiding the anticipated path of Arok-Tor, which Kromak rested calmly over his shoulder. This was not his first encounter with a drunken orc, emboldedned by hurlg and the lust of a young lady. Although, with the remainder of his orcish comrades filtering out of the back door of the bar, and only Aywin at his back, he was rethinking his position on the whole affair.
“Last chance pal,” Kromak spoke clearly in the night air, “there is no reason for such quaalz amongst orcs this night.” The opposing orc cackled in delight, “Pthha! I know you… Kromak Darkthread. Son of a weakling and a jungle whore, friend of dwarves, and worthless vagabond. No clan to call home, no honor, and no chance against my spear.” At this Kromak’s blood began to boil, he could feel the gahad taking control. “Now you’ve crossed the line,” Kromak issued in a low tone, his strong arms bringing Arok-Tor to bear at his enemy, “Herok will lose more than one scorcher tonight.”
Kromak’s tale begins with his father, Zorlak Darkthread, a mighty captain of the scorcher band called the Bleeding Tongue. One of the earliest clans to raid and protect for profit instead of for the mere sport, the Bleeding Tongue travelled the wastelands of western Barsaive and built a reputation as a trustworthy ally and formidable opponent, led by Zorlak and his great hammer, Arok-Tor. During one foray into the Liaj Jungle after a nearby battle, the Bleeding Tongue took respite with the Tamer clan, a jungle dwelling tribe of peaceful orks, known for their affinity for nature and the magical elements therein. Yotza, one particularly beautiful ork and gifted Adept, drew his attention. And, as is the way with orks, a passionate affair ensued, and 6 months later young Kromak was born.
Now the Bleeding Tongue continued to raid for hire, their number increasing to 200 or so men, mostly orks but with a few elves, humans, and dwarves, who were drawn to Zorlak’s charismatic leadership. Zorlak’s respect of the ujnort proved immensely helpful in battle and winning contracts, however it displeased some long standing members of the Bleeding Tongue, including his brother and second in command Mogtar Shadowsong. Oftentimes the Bleeding Tongue would share stories of battle over great horns of hurlg, and the stories shared by the other namegivers fascinated the young Kromak as much as the tales of battle and glory of his own people.
The Bleeding Tongue continued to thrive, as did the Darkthread family. Zorlak taught his son all the manners of weaponry and through his own example the finer points of scorcher leadership. From Yotza, Kromak learned to study nature and the magical elements of the other planes of reality, an appreciation which would lay dormant for the time being. Mogtar, for his part, was happy to partake in the raids of his brother, although he often rued the Bleeding Tongues’ refusal to take certain contracts, which were considered ignoble by the righteous Zorlak.
The tension between the Bleeding Tongue leadership proved its untimely demise. The young Karak Bloodeyes, leader of the fledgling Skull Wharg scorcher tribe, had been sighted attacking small communities near the Tylon River. The Bleeding Tongue, through its local contacts, had been commissioned to protect the small dwarven hamlet of Kelna, near the Tylon River. Mogtar saw his opportunity and made secret commune with Karak, disclosing the Bleeding Tongues’ number, position, and tactics. In the ensuing battle, Zorlak was killed, and Kromak’s mother Yotza was taken by the Skull Wharg tribe and presumably sold into slavery. Kromak, a 13 year old orcling at the time, confronted Mogtar. Mogtar laughed at the young upstart, beat him nearly to death, and left him for dead.
Kromak was taken in by the what remained of the villagers of Kelna, and was put into the care of Sibabo Bitterfall, an elderly dwarven widow who had lost her only son Doram in the raid. He lived with them for a number of years, helping rebuild the city. However, he was always discontent with his life, and longed for the exhilaration of battle and opportunity to win glory as his father had before him. Sibabo passed after 4 years, and Kromak left the village shortly thereafter, joining the Metal Fist tribe, which happened to be passing through at the time.
At 17 he became known as much for his reckless manner as his expert skills in battle. He caught the eye of the tribe leader known as Bronze Eyes, a master tactician who knew how and when to raid, and also shared a deep personal hatred of slavery and the Therans. After years of raiding caravans and taking many prizes, Kromak grew restless again, seeking more glory and a chance to use his skills. So he set out again to travel Barsaive, picking up odd jobs here and there, mostly using his fighting skills to win coin as security, or more often than not in a wager. He spent some time in Kratas, where his skills were often employed, although he never became involved heavily with the local criminal element, believing that manner of life beneath him. He became a fierce warrior, so much so that he was recruited by Zarass Icethought, and became a semi-permanent member of the Charger cavalry. He continued to travel Barsaive, relishing in battle especially against the Skull Whargs.
Upon hearing of the great tournament at Bartertown, and dissatisfied with the low pay and discipline required of the Charger cavalry, he set out once again to win his fame.