《Death: Genesis》24. Warlord


Zeke groaned as he stared at the creature that barred his escape. From its basic shape and characteristics, it was obviously a troll, but the monster’s physique was so exaggerated that it almost looked like a caricature of the creatures he’d been fighting for almost two years. At over ten feet tall, it towered over him. Its muscles bulged unnaturally beneath its scaly, green-and-yellow mottled skin, and its long fingers were tipped with vicious claws. Even its head was enormous, and its long, pointed ears and jutting snout made it appear even bigger than it was. All in all, it was at least as physically impressive as the Brood Mother had been grotesque.

That wasn’t to say the thing was aesthetically pleasing in any way; it wasn’t. Just like all the other trolls, its features seemed misshapen, out of line, and of varying sizes. However, its power was undeniable, and it carried the same frightening presence as a hunting crocodile – a presence it had focused wholly on Zeke.

It clanged a pair of gleaming axes together. For a human, they’d have been two-handed battle-axes, but in the hands of the enormous troll, they looked the size of hatchets. In addition to the weaponry, the troll was decked out in rusty-looking chainmail armor that covered its entire torso. Otherwise, it was attired much like its smaller brethren.

Zeke used his skill [Inspection].

Makazith, Warlord of the Caracoa Trolls – Level 22

So, it had a name. And it was a warlord, whatever that was supposed to mean. Zeke didn’t know if it was a title, or if it was just a new class of troll, but he suspected the former – chiefly because he could feel fresh air coming from the tunnel directly behind Makazith, telling him that the exit was close.

“I don’t know if you can understand me,” Zeke said, his voice scratchy from lack of use. When he had first appeared in the cave system, he’d talked to himself quite a bit, but that habit had faded as his time in the caves had stretched on. As it stood, he wasn’t certain when he’d last spoken aloud. “But I need to get past you. I don’t have to kill you, but I will if I have to.”

Zeke truly wasn’t in any condition to fight, but that wasn’t the source of his reticence. Nor was he truly afraid of the warlord. Certainly, the creature was intimidating, and there was every chance it would be his end. However, on his long trek through the Caracoa Caves, and to a lesser extent, his steady push up the ramp, Zeke had come to terms with his mortality. Around every corner, death had awaited, and it would’ve been incredibly easy to simply curl up and wait in the relative safety offered by some of the caves where he’d made camp. In some ways, that would’ve been the logical thing to do. Self-preservation was a powerful motivator, and some of those caves had been blessed with plentiful food and water. He could’ve lived there for years, surviving just fine.

But Zeke didn’t want to merely survive. He wanted to thrive. Not only had he grown addicted to the slow, upward trajectory of his power, but he’d also come to realize that he wasn’t built for a life huddling in the shadows. He was a fighter. So, as much as he might’ve accepted his own mortality, even coming to peace with it, he had no intentions of going down without a fight.


Thankfully, the troll didn’t seem too keen on charging him, so he took a moment to reach into his pack and retrieve a bit of fish. He ate it quickly, and all the while, the troll stared at him with murderous intent. The trolls had all been vicious creatures – that had made it a lot easier to come to terms with the genocide he’d perpetrated – but the warlord was on an entirely different level. He looked rabid, with flecks of foam coating his snout.


The rumbled word cut through Zeke like a knife, and not just because he’d never heard a troll speak in a language he could understand. They communicated amongst one another with what sounded like grunts and growls, but hearing a word – and in English – was more than a little shocking.

And then the implications of what Makazith said washed over him.

Monster, it had called him. And while Zeke desperately wanted to dispute the claim, he could understand the troll warlord’s perspective. The evidence lay piled on the ramp behind Zeke, and that was just what was visible. By this point, Zeke had killed many thousands of the creatures. Some, he’d fought, but others, he’d killed in the dead of night while they slept. Monster seemed like an apt description.


That was true, too. In another world, Zeke might’ve felt guilty. In a bout of introspection, he might have lamented his actions. But the fact was that the trolls had attacked him first, and if he hadn’t fought back, he would’ve ended up dead before he’d taken one step through the caves.

And then there was the larder, that massive, meat locker-like room that had been filled to the brim with butchered human corpses. Even the bag at his hip, which had been fashioned from human skin, was evidence that Zeke hadn’t struck the first blow.

But at the end of the day, none of that truly mattered. If Oberon and the hints he’d gained throughout his time in the Caracoa caves were to be believed, there was an entire world waiting for him behind the warlord. He’d spent two years fighting and clawing and scraping for this opportunity. So, being called a couple of names by a literal ten-foot-tall monster wasn’t going to dissuade him. Not now. Not after he’d been through so much.

“Yeah,” Zeke said, activating his skill [Leech Strike]. He tightened his grip on his mace. “Well, you’re in my way.”

With that, their brief conversation was over, and Zeke shot forward, already swinging Voromir with all his might. For his part, Makazith didn’t even try to avoid the blow. Instead, he simply stood there, axes at the ready. Zeke’s mace hit the warlord directly in the ribs, and the strike had enough momentum behind it that they cracked in an instant. Every instinct in Zeke’s body told him that such a blow should’ve ruptured every organ in the thing’s torso. And while it wouldn’t be enough for an instant fatality, it would certainly preclude any response.

So, when Makazith’s axe bit deep into his left shoulder, very nearly severing it entirely, Zeke was more than a little shocked. He was even more surprised when, after dancing back, the monster showed no signs of his injury at all. No – that wasn’t entirely true. Upon closer inspection, Zeke saw that he’d managed to rupture quite a few links of chainmail, and through that, he could see the bloody mess he’d caused. However, he could also see that it was visibly healing.


His mouth gaped open as he realized what was happening. All of the trolls were blessed with extremely high vitality. Zeke suspected that it was partially due to the troll larvae’s diet of Blue-Spotted Mushrooms, but some of it was probably natural. Makazith’s self-healing capability eclipsed anything Zeke had ever seen, so it stood to reason that his vitality was extraordinarily high.

But would that be enough? Zeke’s own vitality wasn’t anything to sneer at, and it still took him days, even with the help of the fish that gave him a surge of vitality to heal from serious wounds like what he’d just given the warlord. Given the creature’s high level, it stood to reason that his vitality exceeded Zeke’s, but he’d had ample time and opportunity to track his own healing ability. And as his stats increased, it grew more powerful at a pretty consistent pace. So, unless things changed after crossing some threshold Zeke hadn’t yet reached, the only explanation for the troll’s rapid regeneration was that it had used a skill.

Upon realizing that, Zeke just shook his head, saying, “That’s just not even fair.”

The only good news was that the wound in his shoulder wasn’t nearly as severe as he had first thought. It went deep, but his collarbone had deflected much of the force. So, while it was agonizing to move his left arm, Zeke was still in fighting condition – which was good, because the warlord had had enough of waiting on Zeke to make the first move. It had decided to bring the fight to him, and was charging at him, its twin axes at the ready.

Zeke ducked under a horizontal cut, then swayed to the side as he narrowly avoided an overhand slash. His own mace swept out, hitting the warlord’s unprotected knee; it almost buckled under the blow, but Makazith had impressive endurance to go along with his ridiculous regenerative capability. Still, it gave [Leech Strike] an opportunity to work its magic, and the resultant surge of vitality eased the pain in Zeke’s shoulder.

On and on it went, with Zeke dodging most of the troll’s strikes. It wasn’t easy, especially because he wasn’t used to fighting a foe that utilized two weapons, but he somehow managed to stay just ahead of the hulking creature. One of the problems was that, with the troll’s strength, even a glancing blow was enough to send Zeke reeling. By itself, that wasn’t that big of a deal, but it could easily open him up for a more devastating strike. The only saving grace was that the warlord, for all its strength, endurance, and vitality, was still just another troll. And as such, it had many of the same weaknesses – not least of which was that they were a heavy-footed, slow race of creatures that lacked coordination. Succinctly put, Zeke was outmanned in troll’s main stats, but in terms of agility and dexterity, he far outstripped the lumbering creature.

But Zeke knew it was only a matter of time before he made a fatal mistake. His stamina wasn’t infinite, and even though [Leech Strike] helped to heal his wounds, they were rapidly accumulating and would soon surpass his means of regeneration. No – he had to do something desperate if he wanted to end the battle, and he needed to do it soon, because it wouldn’t be long before he ended up bisected by one of the troll’s axes.

Just as the thought crossed his mind, Zeke saw an opening when he narrowly avoided a vicious, two-handed, diagonal attack that incorporated both axes. The warlord had put everything he had into the strike, so when the dully gleaming blades of his twin axes met only air, he was overbalanced.

Zeke pounced, bringing his mace down on the creature’s exposed left foot. It practically exploded, not dissimilar from the way a particularly large bug might burst under a well-aimed boot. Only instead of unidentifiable goo, it instead erupted in blood, bone, and scales. More, most of the troll’s weight was on that foot, so when it suddenly became a mass of gore, the creature tumbled to the ground and very nearly went careening to the cavern’s floor, hundreds of feet below them.

However, the troll’s title wasn’t for show. It was a warrior, through and through, and it was the best the Caracoa had to offer. So, its battle instincts were second to none. It turned the tumble into a controlled roll that displayed far more agility and dexterity than Zeke thought possible. It came back to its feet a second later.

Or foot, to be more accurate. Still, even propelled by a single leg, the warlord managed to turn the tables on the surprised Zeke and, with a shoulder tackle, send him flying toward the edge of the cliff. He hit only a few feet before, but his momentum was enormous, and he could do little to arrest his flight. Still, with reactions born from years of pitched battle – and with inhuman strength – he dug his fingers into the very rock itself, gouging deep grooves in the stone.

It wasn’t enough to stop him from going over the edge, though, and in an instant, he found himself dangling over the side of the cliff. He knew he was far more durable than any human being had ever been in the old world, but just as surely, he knew that such a fall would doubtless kill him.

The troll hopped toward him, its foot already visibly healing, and a manic gleam of bloodlust in its beady eyes. Zeke was out of options. He didn’t know what to do, and though he thought he was ready to die, a primal sense of self-preservation bloomed in his chest. But what was he supposed to do against such odds?

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