The next day, Leguna received a notice from Oljharok right after he finished breakfast. The inheritance ritual’s preparations were complete and they would begin in the afternoon. Oljharok would personally conduct the ritual.
Leguna was impressed that the orc wasn’t just the great chief of the empire, but the high priest as well, given his abilities as a high-order shaman. In human terms, the orc had power over the administration and the religious, he had complete power over orc society.
He responded curtly. He didn’t tell Annelotte about this, mainly because they were still mad at each other, and also because it hadn’t been set in stone yet. It was far from certain that the ritual would succeed. Telling the girl about it didn’t have much meaning. He also felt that he needed to keep it a secret since Annelotte was clearly prioritizing her work in the party over her personal involvement; the moment she found out about this, she would tell the guild. He may himself also be high up in the guild’s hierarchy, but he had no intention to reveal his hand completely. He still harbored suspicions and cautions of the guild, which were the source of the current rift between the two.
Leguna was secretly lead to the altar by an orc servant in the afternoon. It used to belong to Earth-shaking Hammer but after Oljharok stabilized the race, he’d had Ogrimma built where Earth-shaking Hammer’s main settlement had once stood. The tribe’s ancestral altar was completely preserved, it didn’t have to be dismantled or moved. It sat now in the deepest reaches of the great chief’s palace. The ground on which it stood had been sanctified, it was holy and normal individuals could never set foot on it.
Leguna had imagined the dimly lit altar would be surrounded by torches, whose flames would dance around like will-o’-wisps. Their only use would be to fill the air with an odd smell of rot that would hang thickly in the air. The presiding witch doctor’s body would be panting with a number of colors and he’d be all solemn. Around him and the altar, naked assistants would be jumping around and chanting or grunting in some unknown half-language. With the ritual’s beginning, the witch doctor would take out an oddly shaped, blood-stained knife and a sacrifice — some beast or perhaps a sentient being, orc or human maybe — would be brought out by elite warriors. The great chief would chant and carve out the sacrifice’s heart and use various spells to harness Gahrona’s Heart’s power before infusing it into Leguna’s body.
He had heard quite a few stories about barbaric rituals from the old guy when he was younger. While they varied in scale, the common trappings such as an eerie atmosphere or fresh blood were always there. He had told himself repeatedly that, even if Oljharok carved out a human heart, he had to suppress his anger. Everything would be done for his sake, after all.
However, when he finally saw the altar for real, he was dumbstruck.
It was exactly the opposite of what he’d pictured. The altar was immensely majestic. A building tens-of-meters tall was incredibly rare in the orcish world. It took Leguna a few minutes just to climb up the ladder. Oljharok had already completed all the preparations by the time he finally got to the top. Basking in the strong winds, the great chief’s robes flapped about, further adding to his prestige as orc-kind’s high priest.
The great chief wasn’t covered in body paint. He was, instead, clad in a long, deep blue robe that looked rather similar to the robes human magi wore. It had its unique feature, though. He had guessed at least the high priest’s mood correctly. Oljharok was very solemn.
“Shall we begin?” asked Leguna.
He had thought the ritual would be incredibly troublesome. It might involve him taking a bath and changing clothes beforehand, maybe eating some special food. Reality, being the disappointing mistress she was, proved less complicated.
“If you’re ready, we can start immediately.”
Only Oljharok and Leguna were present. There were no other orcs around, no one was summoning the ancients.
After receiving Leguna’s confirmation, Oljharok pulled an intricate jewel case out of his robes and chanted a few verses. It opened. Inside lay a round egg-sized jewel. Black as ink, glinting, almost glowing, in the sun.
“This is Gahrona’s Heart. Be careful, it’s really heavy.” Oljharok carefully lifted it with two fingers and handed it to the human boy with the same pained expression he had worn the day before.
Leguna received the jewel. The great chief was right; while the rock was pretty small, it weighed at least five kilograms and felt quite substantial on the palm.
“Why give this to me?” asked the boy curiously as he toyed with it.
A hint of schadenfreude crept into the orc’s voice.
“W-w-w-w-what?! S-s-s-swallow it?!” exclaimed the boy, his mouth agape, Don’t mess with me! This thing is at least five kilograms! It’ll fall right through my stomach! Even if it didn’t fall right through, I’d be nailed to the ground! More importantly…
Leguna’s face greened as he inquired gingerly, “I recall that others have used this before, right?”
“Yes, but they all failed.”
The orc’s expression remained unchanged, but his eyes beamed with schadenfreude.
“So you mean they tried it by…” Leguna’s voice shuddered as he spoke. He prayed they hadn’t done what he suspected they had.
“Oh, they swallowed it,” the answer came, “But it didn’t work, so they spat it back out.”
I knew it!
The boy’s stomach knotted. He could see the chunks of meat and leaves stuck on the jewel as it emerged from their stench-gripped mouths. His lunch wanted out.
“Enough, don’t look at me with those eyes,” Oljharok said, somewhat annoyed, “You have to pay the price for the power you want. This can barely even count as a price.”
Leguna glared at the orc hatefully.
“I get the feeling you’re trying to make me lose my lunch.”
“You can give it back if you don’t want it!—”
The great chief stretched out his hand.
“—I don’t mind if you want to go up against Hladik as you are now. Do you think I want to give you this jewel?”
Leguna pulled back, hiding Gahrona’s Heart in his pocket quickly. He was disgusted, utterly mortified, but, horrible as this was, it was still better than death. This was something good for him.
“Then swallow it quickly. Stop dallying.”
Oljharok furrowed his brow. It was quite apparent that even the great chief felt quite unhappy after losing such a precious treasure.
“I hope the orcs clean their mouths regularly!” Leguna stared intently at the jewel before swallowing it with the courage of someone attempting to castrate themself.
The jewel wasn’t as small as he thought. It got stuck halfway down his throat. He slammed his chest furiously hoping to dislodge it.
Olhjarok was dissatisfied with how easily things were going for the kid.
“Hmm, what did you mean by cleaning our mouths? Is it something you can do regularly?”
Leguna’s left hand continued to hammer is chest while his right flared at the orc. It appeared he wanted to say something, but nothing came out. His face soon turned purple and finally black. In the end, his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he collapsed.
Looking at the unconscious boy foaming at the mouth, the orc smirked.
“I have to gross you out at least a little bit for taking something so valuable from me.”
He lifted the kid up and placed him on the altar before getting into position. He took two seconds to clear his mind and take up the correct posture before he started chanting.
Consciousness slowly returned to Leguna. His eyes opened unwillingly and he inspected his surroundings dazedly. The place was really odd. Everything was pitch black. Despite the clear lack of any light, he could see his body clearly. He could see himself, and nothing else.
He couldn’t tell up from down, or left from right, besides by using his own orientation. Yet, somehow, he knew he stood on flat ground. The slight pressure on the soles of his feet told him so, at least.
“Where am I?” shouted he.
He couldn’t find a gap in his memories, so this had to be the moment after he’d swallowed the jewel but the space was too odd. He couldn’t help but voice his thoughts and hope someone, anyone, could answer.
“I don’t know,” Oljharok’s voice rang in his head, “I’ve used a secret art to connect our minds. That’s the only reason I can talk to you. All items containing an expert’s legacy contain a trace of their will. Lady Gahrona’s will come find you soon. I have no idea what you’ll have to do to gain her recognition but I’ll stay to help you figure it out. It shouldn’t be too hard.”
“Haven’t others tried this before? Why don’t you know anything about this? You guys really aren’t good at your jobs!”
Leguna was rather discontent.
“They only swallowed it, nothing else happened. No one has ever been sent into a strange space,” Oljharok explained, “Don’t worry. The fact that you were sent wherever you are means you’ve already gotten further than anyone else. The jewel thinks you’re worthy, now just have to convince Lady Gahrona’s will as well.”
Before Oljharok’s voice stopped, a sexy, hoarse female voice echoed out of the darkness in common tongue.
“There will be no cheating on my turf. Get out, priest!”