| The Convocation
„We knew not...
And so we fought, fought until in our ignorance we brought about the end of the old age. Senseless wars were waged under the reign of the Circle; so blinded were we in our constant quest for power that we did not foresee what was to come, could not comprehend the fate we had sealed for our world. As the shadow fell upon the Eye of Aonir, the Masters of the Elements, answering the call of the Thirteen, cast off their bonds and roamed free. Their power and rage unleashed, the ancient Elements once again began to fight amongst themselves, as they have since the beginning of time.
In their anger, the Elements heedlessly ravaged the face of the world. The earth burst open and its glowing blood flowed freely over the land. Columns of fire stretched toward the sky, up to the maelstrom of black clouds that seemed to swallow the horizon. Scorching storms of ash and poison upheaved even the highest mountains and ground them to dust. The oceans began to boil, greedily tearing away at the coasts.
One day and one night the rage of the Elements lasted, before the shadow passed. Then they were banished, just as they had been once before, and a deathly silence fell upon a scarred world.
Only a few of us managed to seek shelter by the Stones. There we lay; some crying to, others cursing the Gods that had let this happen. Yet we were blind, refused to accept the obvious truth… we were to blame.
For we knew not…"
Ishtar Magnus „The Darkest Hour“
For many generations before the first humans descended from the Windwall Mountains, dragons ruled the land. They soared freely through the sky above Fiara, their power and wildness unmatched and their freedom unbroken. It was during this time that a white dragon was born; a dragon more powerful than all that had come before him. From an eyrie high over Godmark he took to the skies, and beneath his wings, the land froze. His scales were of the purest white, his eyes as cold and clear as the winter skies and his breath carried the chill of eternal frost. No other dragon could match his size or power, for he was the essence of winter. His brothers and sisters fled from him, and his mere presence covered the land near him in a thick layer of ice. Soon, he became known throughout Fiara as Aryn, the Frostweaver.
But as powerful as his magic was, so great was the loneliness that tore at his soul. No living creature could survive in his presence, cold and death were his only companions. Longing for company, he searched the lands, yet all fled from him, and the more he searched, the more suffering he brought. Were he to continue his quest, Fiara would be soon covered in ice, frozen in an endless winter, but unwilling he was to end his search.
With each passing year and each beat of his white wings, more and more of Fiara was lost. Eventually, his search brought him to the edge of a gigantic forest in the south of Fiara, known by its Elven name of Finon Mir. As frost, the sign of his coming, began to cover the treetops, the Elves, then a very young race, began to search for a way to stop the Frostweaver from destroying their home. Unaware of Aryn’s quest and certain that none amongst them could hope to match his power, they called to their gods and prayed for advice. The gods, however, remained silent, leaving the Elves no choice but to prepare to flee. Soon after the first snowflakes began to fall through the branches, the Elves began to flee to the South. Only Cenwen, one of the five Elven leaders, started out fearlessly across the barren, icy plains to face to the dragon alone.
The cold chilled her to the bone, ice and death surrounded her as far as the eye could see. The closer she came to the dragon, the more the cold bit into her flesh, and soon, Cenwen felt her consciousness slipping away. To keep from falling into deadly sleep, she raised her voice and began to sing. She sang of hope, of warmth and kindness, as many generations before her had sung at the campfires in Finon Mir.
Aryn heard her voice from afar and glided down from the sky to find the origin of the song. There, kneeling in the snow, he saw the Elf queen, and though she was helpless and close to death, her song remained strong and clear, her pure and beautiful voice her only defense against the cold. The dragon touched the ground and lowered his mighty head – never before had he beheld such beauty. As soon as she saw him, the Elf queen called to the dragon. “Hear me, O mightiest of dragons! Here me, O envoy of frost and bringer of death! Your presence ends all life and brings perpetual winter to the land. Soon the ancient forest that is our home will turn to ice beneath your wings, and my people will perish. What do you ask? What can change the Frostweaver’s path and save my people?”
Aryn lifted his head, his icy stare piercing Cenwen’s heart like a dagger.
“Know, child of the forest, that I have been searching, searching since the beginning of my time, for an equal, for a companion. I have seen the pain and suffering my journey brings to this world, but your courage has opened my eyes – the destruction of others will not end my plight. I will return to my homeland and wait there, wait in the lonely mountains, wait for the end of time.
Your people shall live, but there is one thing I ask. You are the first, the only to have come this close to me, and your song has touched my heart. Accompany me and sing your beautiful song for us – and your brethren will be spared!”
Cenwen stood tall, and after a brief pause, spoke to the Frostweaver.
“I am yours, Frostweaver! Take me with you to the North and I will warm our hearts with hope for as long as I am. But spare my people!”
No sooner had she spoken than the dragon swept her up and took to the air.
“So be it then! If all your people are as a brave as you, then they are indeed worthy of life. Should your folk ever be in trouble, they can call on me and my power will be at their disposal. This will be part of our pact, I give as I take. The frost will never harm them and the power of the ice shall be theirs as long as they live in remembrance of you.”
Thus spoke the Winterdragon and turned to the North, back to the barren mountains beyond the Grimwarg Peaks. There they settled, and while Cenwen sang, he wove a shield of ice over them, to protect them from the world and the world from him for all eternity.
Only the glacier they call Frostweaver reminds us of this pact between the Elves and the most powerful of all dragons. To this day, Humans and Dwarves tell tales that the songs of Cenwen can still be heard there sometimes, in the icy wilderness of the Northeast.
Only the the children of Cenwen and Aryn know, however, that the Winterdragon still lives and gives them his power, while listening to the Elven song deep beneath the ice.
Eleyna Songweaver „The Beginning of Time“
| The Second Dream: The River of Souls|
The sun was just beginning to set when I awoke. Wisps of smoke from the smouldering herbs wafted through my chamber, the soft red glow of the setting sun basking the room in an almost mystical light. The time without time, neither day nor night, had broken. It is said that the world of the living, the realm of the dead and the spirit worlds are closer together at dusk than at any other time. It is also said to be the time when Hirin, Messenger of the Gods, collects the souls of the dead and leads them to the other side. Once again, the thundering of hooves accompanied me as my consciousness slipped away and I sank into the depths of my dark dreams.
When I opened my eyes again, I looked out upon a grey land. The sky was dark, full of black clouds, and the light was ashen. No sun, no moon, no stars. Time seemed to stand still in this barren place and the silence was almost deafening. This strange grey desert stretched out as far as I could see, and I slowly realised what my eyes beheld – I was in the no man’s land between life and death. My heart turned to stone and the sense of desperation was suddenly overwhelming… no hope can exist here.
The only sound to break the silence was the snort of a horse. I turned around, hoping to make out the source of the noise, hoping for a sign, a way out of this horrible nightmare. With feet as heavy as stones I made my way through the gray dust. Each step raised a cloud of dust, dust as fine as ash, dust that left the taste of ground bones on my tongue.
After what seemed to be an eternity, I came to a valley that opened like a wound in the barren plain. From the bottom of the valley I could hear murmurs and whispers, sounds like water flowing, or thousands and thousands of voices, babbling, moaning, calling. This was the Mor Duine, the River of Souls. From the beginning of time to its end, the Mor Duine flows between the worlds, carrying our souls until the end of days. Its surface shimmered like silver, its waters flowing through the dusky light until it disappeared from view. Down by the river bank I saw the source of the noise that had brought me here.
It was Hirin, Messenger of the Gods, an imposing figure atop his black steed. He had ridden his mount to the edge of the river and behind him, on the bank, I could barely make out the shadowy contours of the dead. With a barely perceptable twitch of the reigns, the gigantic horse took a step into the water, which seemed to want to drag horse and rider into its silvery depths. Yet the animal stood firm, and soon the first souls followed, climbing down into the current. Deeper and deeper they waded into the water, passing horse and rider, until they were lost in the depths of the river. As this eerie procession continued, I realised that there was no hall for the dead, no garden of delight for the chosen few, only the river, whence everything that has been taken from it returns. The Mor Duine controls our souls, holding them captive until a new time and a new life is ready for them.
Yet there were a few who stayed back from the water, hiding, fear and hate visible in their shadowed faces as they turned and crawled from their destiny. The mighty horse reared, snorted and stamped impatiently in the water, its rider pointing the way, demanding obediance to the natural order. But these fools kept crawling, fleeing from the river, refusing the deity’s command, full of cowardice, until finally, Hirin gave up and rode off, up the ashen hill, full of contempt for these pitiful souls.
No sooner had the God disappeared when I saw the others… hundreds, thousands, emerging from the shadows along the river banks, where they had hidden from the Messenger and his anger. Now they came to welcome the new arrivals, and as they passed me, I saw the hopelessness in all their distorted, ethereal faces, and the boundless hate for the life that refused to welcome them back, hate for the order they refused to follow. Here, on the banks of the river, they had become outcasts, prisoners of their own fear and desires, captives for all eternity. This is the realm of the dead; here, on the banks of the Mor Duine, where they wallow in self-pity. And then they came for me; like animals they crept closer and closer, their loathing wafting toward me like a poisonous breath. Frozen with fear, I looked into their scornful faces and terror overcame me. No living creature can fathom the depth of their hate, the hate of those destined to stay in this place forever.
With a thundering of hooves, the messenger tore me from their midst, tore me from this dream and back to the twilight of my chamber. Only the rush of the Mor Duine still sounded in my head, the murmuring, whispering of the endless river.
Ishtar Magnus „Seven Dreams“
| Distant Thunder|
He appeared from a group of trees right in front of us and stopped, scenting the air.
Up until this moment, the day had been bleak and uneventful. After setting out in darkness before dawn, we had been trudging across the seemingly endless hills and frozen marshland for hours, the journey passing as slowly as a bad dream. Now, almost instantly, I was wide awake and sharpened my senses, ashamed at almost having been caught off-guard.
A layer of frost covered the brown grass of the frozen marsh, reflecting the red rays of the dawning sun and bathing the flatlands in an eerie light. Bushes of reeds huddled together at the banks of icy ponds, while gnarly trees stretched their barren branches to the sky. A sharp wind blew from the east, over the jagged edge of the Frostweaver, chilling us with the icy touch of the gigantic glacier and whirling clouds of powdered snow off the steep walls and across the marshlands. The abrupt end of the massive glacier ascended like impregnable wall of ice to the east, blocking our view into the land of our enemies. Grey clouds passed over the frozen cliff, driven relentlessly by the wind, forming a celestial fortress beyond the glittering rampart.
The scout moved again and squatted, eyeing his surroundings, breathing heavily, his breath rising like steam in the cold air.
Soon, he would disappear into the bushes again, I thought. My clammy fingers sought the wood of my bow, which lay on the stones in front of me. No sooner had I reached its shaft than I felt Galad’s hand on my shoulder, a silent warning to hold back. The Utran archer was older, wiser and more experienced than I, and his instincts rarely failed him. A few seconds later, three more scouts slid silently out of the bushes in front of us. One careless move, and I would have doomed us both. Trying to remain as still as possible, I mustered the four figures who appeared to be communicating silently with hand signs.
The orcs were tall and burly, with dull and dark hide. Their movements were quick and fluid, and they had little in common with their clumsy, green-skinned cousins, the Grarg, that I knew from my homelands. Known to the people of house Utran simply as mountain orcs, they call themselves the Sharok.
The scouts arranged themselves in a half-circle around a group of trees, and thankfully remained unaware of our presence. Again, there was movement behind the trees and more orcs appeared, obviously less concerned with stealth. Like a pack of wolfes they emerged from the undergrowth one by one and spread out. I counted no fewer than twelve, their bodies colored with paint and smeared with animal blood, spears and clubs gripped tightly in gnarly fists. They made a smaller semi-circle around the group of trees and squatted on their heels, their watchful red eyes glowing like embers. With quick breaths they drew the cold air in greedily, scenting for prey. I felt Galad stiffen next to me and shortly, the leaders of this small band came out of the trees. The first was a tall warrior bearing the black iron armor of a veteran. He stopped amidst his men and muttered a few commands in the growling speech of the servants of darkness. Like dogs they followed his orders, creeping further apart to make room of the second new arrival.
The shaman seemed small next the armored giant, but he was surrounded by an aura of malice and evil as only the true minions of Zarach possess. None of the other orcs so much as looked at him, the wind blowing the scent of their fear in our direction. As they cowered in the grass, even the armored orc turned away from this fearsome creature, avoiding eye contact. Then the shaman dragged something out of the bushes. At first, I could only make out a tuft of blond hair before I recognized the shape of a human. It was Dunhil, part of the first group, bound by rope and gagged with a thick strand of leather. His group had left an hour before Galad and I to scout the area north of the Icegate. Luck had obviously not been on their side.
The shaman gazed around suspiciously, then looked to the group of trees and nodded his head, seemingly satisfied with the choice of location. He threw his prisoner to the ground and knelt down beside him. With a growling singsong, he began to draw iron spikes from his belt and ram them into the earth. The other orcs mouthed the words of his song silently, like an often-heard prayer. Suddenly, the shaman grabbed poor Dunhil and thrust him down onto the spikes. Weakened, but still conscious, the scout still managed to break his fall slightly with his knees, yet the spikes penetrated his flesh an inch deep. At that instant, I nigh on charged the group, but again Galad’s hand held me back. The Utran began to retreat slowly, inching away from the orcs and their captive.
As Dunhil’s blood slowly began to cover the earth, the shaman raised his voice, his eyes glowing with power and madness. My comprehension of the dark tongue was still limited at that time, but I understood enough to know he was calling the ancient spirits of this place, asking for their power and protection in the upcoming battle in exchange for this human sacrifice.
As the orc ritual progressed, the air seemed to thicken and a cold wind began to blow, shaking the branches of the trees and sending a shiver down my spine. The shaman reached down and grabbed the dying scout’s hair, holding his head up as the orc raised his voice once again. Calling to the Blood God, he reached for his belt and grabbed the Claw of Zarach, a ritual weapon with five blades, bent and twisted like the roots of a tree. He held the claw high above his head, praying for the blessing of the Blood-drinker. His followers growled and hissed, in a frenzy of anticipation for the bloody deed they knew would follow. Their breath steamed from mouths distorted by rage and hate, their horrible stench wafting over to our hiding place. Galad crawled faster, but I was spellbound by this bizarre ritual.
A thunder rose from the heavens and the earth shook as if the Blood God Zarach himself had shaken in anticipation. The black clouds gathered quicker and quicker, streaming over the edge of the glacier and blocking out the light of the new day. The slobbering shaman gripped his weapon tighter and struck out to slit Dunhil’s throat and thus complete the ritual.
Where I had been frozen by fear, something else took hold of me now. Even today I am shamed by the foolishness of my actions that dismal morning. Despite Galad’s warning grip, I rose as if in a dream and drew my bow. With frostbitten fingers I pulled back the bowstring and in the blink of an eye unleashed an arrow straight into the shaman’s forehead. The orcs froze, their chant interrupted, but it was only an instant before their surprise turned to rage. The armored veteran was on his feet in a flash, lept over his comrades and thundered toward me like a raging bull. Paralysed by fear, I could only stare at the charging warrior, the jagged edge of his sword ready to split my skull, when a arrow from Galad’s bow shot into his throat just above the cuirass. He fell and skidded to a halt mere inches from my feet, his eyes glaring at me with hatred and bloodthirst as he drew a final breath.
With a blood-curdling scream, the other orcs arose and took their weapons.
“Run, you fool!”
Galad’s voice broke my paralysis and I turned and ran. Another arrow from the Utran’s bow zipped past me and I heard a thud close behind me, followed by a gurgling scream.
“Run! Run! Hurry back the camp! Tell them they’re coming!“
Again, the bow sang and another orc dropped to the ground. I ran to the west, stumbling over the rough terrain, heading for the safer ground on the slopes of the mountain. The orcs’ screams became louder and louder, and I saw them coming from every direction. From north and south the fearful screams of an entire army sounded, rising from the marshes. Like a wave they rose, a sea of fearful creatures, throwing off all secrecy and joining their comrades, smelling blood and prey. Growling and slobbering, the orcs started to chase me. Now the first of their war drums started to beat, louder and more threatening than the rolling thunder of a coming storm. The thundering that washed over the marshes was overwhelming, driving me forward like a leaf on the wind. And then the heavens opened and rain began to pour down from the grey clouds that had followed the army from the east. I stumbled on through icy winds and hail, and as much as the sleet and rain hindered my progress, so they also hid me from the horde of orcs that followed me. I ran and cried, cried not just because of the bone-chilling cold and pain in my limbs, but also for Galad, who had sacrificed himself to spare me.
Only when I felt rocks under my boots did the rain begin to slow and the clouds lighten, and I made out the familiar silhouette of the mountain peaks. In the distance, at the foot of the cliffs, I could see the banners of the Utran camp. The guards had already seen me approach, and had signalled the main camp. Only now, close to the relative safety of the camp, did I dare to slow and turn around. My message was no longer needed. Through the clouds and fog, the fires and torches that the approaching army had ignited after the storm appeared as a glowing red line along the eastern horizon. The Sharok had come through the Icegate, were invading our lands, and tomorrow the Blood God would hold a feast.
And the powerful, pulsing beat of the orc drums rolled like distant thunder, a thunder that bode ill from the east.
Angar Arandir „Thirty Days on the Border“
| Guardian in the Mountain - Part 1|
that the bridge?“
For an instant, I stopped and enjoyed my moment of solitude. Before me, a huge
canyon opened up, allowing for a spectacular view of the snow-covered peaks of
the western Windwall mountains. As far as the eye could see, the peaks stretched
out as a massive ocean of rock, covered by the spray of eternal snow, frozen and
unchanging to the eyes of mortals. Wisps of cloud were driven by the wind across
a steel blue sky and cast subtle shadows on otherwise immaculate planes of white.
The crunching of snow under boots behind me hailed the end of my short rest.
„What other bridges would you expect to find in such a forsaken place,
Skjalf stomped past to me, bearing the load of his pack and innumerous axes.
Not that the weight really seemed to hinder him, in fact, as we had learned
the last few days, hardly anything bothered the Dwarf. He sneered at me and
started the descent down to the bridge that we had been searching for days.
Like a small strip of perfectly formed rock the bridge crossed the dark chasm
of the canyon. The supporting pillars that disappeared into the unfathomable
depths below seemed almost too thin and elegant to support its weight. Truly,
this was a prime example of the architecture of the empire of old, a testament
to the skills of the Dwarven masters, whose ancestor now descended the slope
Now, the others began to pass me, the exhaustion leaving no room for other
expressions on their faces. Caele, a lock of whose red hair always managed to
free itself from the bonds of her hair-bands and whip her face rebelliously,
slowly unpacked her bow from the protective fur as she strode toward the valley.
Joshua, who still bore the same expression of disgust as the first time he had
set foot on the snow, pulled the gloves from his elegant fingers and brushed
snow and ice from his sword and quiver, cursing under his breath as he followed
Caele. Gunthar was the last, his bald head uncovered despite the cold and his
heavy arms crossed over the shaft of the huge axe that rested on his neck. He
rolled his dark eyes as his gaze passed over me and he followed the others down
through the snow. In the last few days, we had all cursed each other many a
time for so easily following the Dwarf’s tales and gold. This was no place
for humans. But at least we were able to get away from the war for a while.
I took my shield from my back and joined the others.
We crossed the endless abyss on the narrow bridge. Over five hundred paces
long, it spanned the canyon to a snow-covered slope that was visible between
the harsh cliffs in the west. This narrow path of stone was the only way to
reach the white rise that opened amist the vertical rocks, the passage to an
unknown mountain which we were to climb.
We met neither the traps nor the ancient magic that Skjalf had warned us about
and reached the other side of the bridge unharmed, but chilled by the icy winds.
Our boots dug into the virgin snow and the cold air carried the noise across
the glittering surface of the steep slope that led up into the clouds. Wisps
of snow blew over the the shining surface like ghosts. It appeared as if no
living thing had ever set foot here before.
“We’re going to climb the whole mountain with our weapons drawn?
“Not the whole mountain. Look!“
Skjalfs armored hand pointed up the ravine and silenced my half-hearted protest.
With each step we took, the silhouette of an imposing gravesite loomed more
and more clearly out of the fog of the cloud cover. Into the face of the cliff,
Skjalf’s ancenstors had carved a gigantic doorway, narrow and tall, surrounded
by a wall of statues that stared down at us sternly with their cold, stone eyes.
Silently, we looked up with awe to the massive gate that, surrounded by the
fine fog of the clouds, seemed to be as far off and as huge as the mountain
itself. Skjalf quickened his pace as he strode ahead.
“This is the grave of Torgen, the last of the Dragon Slayers. It was
built in his honor by Urgrim, the greatest of the Dwarven master builders. Many
years and many lives did it cost, including that of the builder himself.”
The Dwarf’s voice sounded grim.
“Urgrim never left this place.”
“What is this Lördir that you seek? An heirloom?”
Caele tried in vain to shake a lock of hair from her frostbitten face, her clear
gaze fixed suspciously on the armored back of the Dwarf.
“What does it look like? At least tell us this!”
Oblivious to her questions, the Dwarf strode on, but his hand reached out as
if by reflex to check for the heavy double-edged axe her carried under his pack.
It looked to weigh at least three times as much as Gunthar’s huge weapon,
and none of us knew why he had brought it here to the frozen peaks of Windwall.
“You’ll know soon enough. Let’s go!”
Onwards and upwards through the knee-deep snow we waded. Our heavy breathing
rose like white flags to the north as we fought our way through the white sea
until we finally reached flatter ground. The gate was not far now, and to the
left and right statues of fallen Dragon Slayers rose out of the snow. The sun
was just starting to set and drew golden-red streaks across rocks and sculptures
as we approached the grave in the blue shadow of the mountain. Around us were
many smaller monuments, some hardly recognisable under the blanket of snow,
others showing fierce dragons and raging demons. A battle, frozen in stone here
in the endless winter. The wind blew fiercely amongst the creatures and whistled
between their claws, creating an eerie, surreal song.
We started to slow.
Like a thin veil, the threat of danger lay upon this place. Even the Dwarf moved
cautiously, his armored fist not leaving the handle of his axe. Suddenly, Joshua
drew a sharp breath and we followed his gaze to the mountain. Only a few paces
separated us from the door, where the snow had recently been disturbed. Bones
lay strewn there, the carcasses of what might have been mountain goats, ripped
and disemboweled as by wild beasts.
Without a word, we readied our weapons and made a circle. Watching, waiting,
we heard only our own breathing and the strange song of the wind. Above our
heads, stony faces looked to the east, oblivious to our presence.
Then he jumped right in front of me and landed on a monument, a club of stone
and wood in his hairy paw. For a split-second, I saw a huge, human-like form
with a great, goat-like head staring down at me. With a ear-splitting roar,
he launched himself into the air and his club slammed down on me. I only just
managed to raise my shield to try and ward off the blow of the weapon.
A blow from the hammer of the Smith God himself could not have been worse. My
shield rang like a bell under the force of the stone club and I dropped to my
knees, my shield arm numb to the shoulder. Snow flew into my face and half-blind,
I ducked under the shield and sought my sword which the blow had knocked out
of my hand. Again, the club crashed down on me, banging the shield against my
head, almost knocking me unconscious. In my desperation, I supported the shield
with both arms and forced my knees to support me – but alas, my numbed
limbs did not obey. As if from a great distance, I heard the sounds of battle
behind me, snow blowing around me like a white storm. Once more, the mighty
weapon rushed towards me, striking the edge of my shield, breaking the leather
straps and sending it flying like a leaf in the wind. The force of the blow
knocked me to the ground and the Brute, half human, half animal, roared in triumph.
To be continued…
| Guardian in the Mountain - Part 2|
roar struck me with almost as much force as his club, his putrid breath showering
me with spittle and carrion. In a daze, I crawled away from the monster and as
I saw his club raised to the sky, ready to deliver the killing blow, all I could
do was stare, paralysed by fear. Suddenly a shadow danced across my face and one
of Skjalf’s axes flew past me, embedding itself in the Brute’s skull.
For a instant, we both held our breath, then the Beastman dropped dead into the
snow like a falling tree.
I forced my numb limbs to move. Three other Brutes lay dead in the blood-red
snow. My companions were breathing heavily, but I saw no wounds.
“What took you so long?”
“Should I have split your skull as well, human? Next time, just play dead
and stay out of the way!”
The Dwarf’s strong hand reached out and pulled me to my feet. Without
a word, Joshua handed me my sword and the sorry remains of my shield. My shameful
smile disappeared as we heard another fearsome roar. Our weapons raised, we
looked about, expecting another onslaught, but no attacker was to be seen, only
the stony faces of the sculptures staring back at us. The roar could still be
heard, dull and seemingly coming from the rock itself. Skjalf tore his axe free
and pointed to the rocky gate.
“They’re coming through the gate! Stop them at the stairs, if they
get out in the open, we won’t stand a chance!”
Driven by the Dwarf’s stern voice, we jumped up and rushed to the gate.
It towered above us like a cliff, and I wondered how these beasts, who were
without a doubt extremely strong, would ever be able to move such huge doors.
Yet they began to shake, frost and dust raining down on us. With an unearthly
grating sound, the first door opened enough to let out a stream of huge, horned
creatures, at least two heads taller than Gunthar, but still almost human, carrying
axes and clubs of wood and stone in their hands.
Two fell at once and tumbled down the stone stairs, struck by arrow and bolt.
The others were upon us in an instant, Gunthar’s axe striking out and
biting into flesh and bone. I ducked under the blow of one of the Horned One’s
clubs and rammed my sword into his open flank. With a gurgling scream he pulled
me down as he died, and we both struck the hard stone of the stairs so that
once more I saw stars before my eyes. At that moment, the portal thundered again
and began to open further, the huge doors scraping over the rock, pushing stone
and snow aside.
For an instant, the battle stopped, as if dulled by the thundering of the doors.
Faster and faster the doors opened and finally, we saw the great power that
moved it. Never before had I seen a Giant, and so I lay paralysed with despair
on the blood-stained stones. Taller than many a tower this beast loomed in the
open gate, his massive arms swelling at the effort of pushing a weight than
not even a hundred men could have moved an inch. Wild eyes glowed down at us
from between a black beard and mane, and despite his barbaric appearance, it
was clear how old and powerful this beast was.
While we humans were paralysed by this appearance and the word that it uttered
in our language, the Dwarf stood fast. “Your deathsman, Lördir! Many
years you have gone unpunished, now you will reap the wrath of the sons of Urgrim!”
The Giant lowered his hateful gaze and fixed the Dwarf. The ancient enemies
stared at each other for a heartbeat, then the Giant stormed out of the gate
with a roar.
The very mountain seemed to tremble under his thundering steps and, thrown
into the air by the shaking rock, I tumbled helplessly down the stairs. For
an instant, the sky was black as the giant strode over me, crushing creatures
and stone under him as he bore down on the Dwarf. Humans and beasts alike struggled
to get out of the path of this moving tower of blind rage. Only Skjarf remained
motionless. The Dwarf had removed his backpack and reached for the heavy axe
strapped to his back. Just as the giant raised his fist to squash the Dwarf,
Skjalf threw the axe. With all his might, he launched the weapon toward the
giant, its twin blades glittering in the twilight like a deadly butterfly.
A surprised groan escaped the Giant’s throat. As if swatting an insect,
his huge hand moved to his bloody forehead. Then he began to fall, for a seemingly
endless instant seemed to teeter like a rotten tree before he started to tumble
forwards. Skjalf turned and ran from the impending disaster, but the Giant’s
hand reached out and closed around the fleeing Dwarf, crushing him as he thundered
to the ground, dead.
For an instant, there was silence. The wind blew the huge cloud of snow that
the Giant’s body had flung into the air to the east and with a quiet rustling,
dust fell from the open gate. Then the growling and snarling around us became
louder as the Beastmen shook off their numbness. We looked around and each of
us saw the same thought in the others’ faces. Our journey was over, there
was nothing for us in this place. No matter how much gold or how many treasures
lay in the Dragon Prince’s grave, the price of retrieving them would be
death. And so we took our weapons, grabbed our belongings and started to run.
Through the deep snow we half ran, half slid back toward the bridge. The beasts
were close behind us, growling and roaring. They were able to move through the
snow faster than we, and as we reached the bridge, they were almost upon us.
Finally we started out across the narrow, rocky path that spanned the bottomless
canyon as fast as our boots would carry us. The Brutes hesitated for an instant
and as the first stepped out onto the bridge, Caele turned and dropped him with
quick flash of her bow. With an arrow in his skull, the body of the Beastman
fell silently into the darkness.
None of the others followed us and we reached the other side in safety. As my
companions continued to run, I turned and looked back. They were climbing back
up the white slope, back to the grave that they had made their home. As unwelcome
guardians, they would secure the final resting place of the Dragon Slayer and
the Master Builder until the winds of time had carried away the mountains themselves.
Our tracks would soon fade and with them the memory of us and this day’s
events. The beasts, however, will still be here. Northwind blew softly down
the slopes and brought fresh snow.
| The Lance of Kings|
A stormy wind blew that day. It toyed with the fallen leaves of the old forest
and whipped the trees into a swaying sea of autumn foliage. Through the rustling
boughs, the golden light of the setting sun danced across the armor of the attackers,
as if to court the dark figures. The forest itself seemed to welcome this triumphant
procession with the red and gold leaves that swirled around them, beckoning them
further. We waited.
came out of the forest and stopped. I viewed their ranks as they stood at the
edge of the wooded area and looked across the tournament grounds to our city,
which they hoped to take by the end of the day. From North to South their ranks
extended, shoulder to shoulder, a wave of iron and steel that would soon crash
over us. Their banners fluttered in the wind and the long bands flew the colors
of the rebels over the heads of this massive army. The grey wolf of the House
Wulfgar, the Feather of Iskander, the white axe banner of Hallit and, at the
center of the army, the purple banner with the black shield of the House of
Utran, with whose men I had once fought side by side. Only a few remained here
to protect the Queen, and her banner of blue and gold flew above our heads in
the evening sun. Only one house remained true to the Queen and the realm of
Nortander. The Leonidar had marched so far with their armies and would follow
the line of kings, either to death or into exile. It seemed the Queen had decided
upon death. We waited.
The sound of horns signalled their ranks to advance. With a thundering of boots,
the army began to stream out of the woods and out onto the meadows of the tournament
grounds. A signal rang out from the first wall and resounded up over the three
large ramparts on the slopes of the Allen Gor, that would protect the fortress
and the city of kings. Around me, the archers raised their crossbows. Soon,
the waiting would end.
Like the drumbeat of an execution, the sound of thousands of boots washed up
to us. With each step, our death came closer and closer, only our pride on the
executioner’s block would be left for us. Then, finally, came the long-awaited
signal and from our ranks a black cloud of crossbow bolts was unleashed that
climbed into the evening sky and then descended like a swarm of insects onto
our foes. Even on the windy heights of the third wall could I hear the sound
of the bolts crashing through armor, shields and flesh of our enemies. They
would have no lesser price to pay. As the command to reload was issued, a voice
sounded over the battlefield, surreal and unimaginably loud.
Following the thundering command, everything stopped. A silence descended upon
us, the insistent flapping of the banners in the stormy wind the only reminder
of the imminent battle.
A figure emerged from the ranks of the rebels. “Wife of a dead king,
men of Leonidar. Listen to me!”
Isamo Tahar, Mage of the School of Westbrandt, once aide to the King and the
torch that had set this kingdom on fire, opened his arms as if to embrace us
as brothers. Only now, so close to victory, did he dare to show his real face
and his smile was sour to those of us that knew his real intentions.
„Today, on this battlefield, men of a kingdom divided face each other!
It is up to you, woman, to end this slaughter and heal the wounds of your land!”
Only the wind seemed willing to reply to his taunts.
“You husband is dead, and with the demise of your son, the bloodline of
the Imperials has ended! Release the throne, your family is no more!”
Many of us looked up to the royal castle and the stony balcony from which the
King had spoken to his people, and where the Queen had spent many a long night
waiting for her son to return. But it was and remained empty.
Again, the Mage’s voice rang out.
“Do you want a woman as your leader, Northmen? A woman without imperial
blood, old, weak, and broken?”
In silence we stared down at him.
“Then I shall show you the power that is worthy of reigning this realm.
No dragon slayer will be your leader. Dragon masters will rule!”
Even before he had finished speaking, we saw a shadow pass the sun and dread
of what was to come sank down on us. With great wings, the gigantic lizard swooped
down out of the golden red sky, as big as a castle, its black body scuffed and
scarred. It was an ancient dragon, and in the beating of its wings echoed eternity.
It hovered over the rebel army and each beat of his leathery wings sent a sulphuric
blast of wind across our fortress. We could all sense the age of this creature,
and its very presence threatened to defeat us as we stood paralysed with awe
and fear. A murmur made me look up.
The Queen had stepped into the light. Alone, she stood on the stony outlook
in the wall of the King’s Keep and her tall, slender figure shone in a
white gown like the light of the moon. In her hand she held the Lance of Kings,
that great weapon from the time of Dragon Slayers that many a warrior could
not even lift. Yet her slender, white hand held the weapon steadily as if it
weighed not more than a stem. Her eyes were clear and burned hard and bright
Her long, thin hair and gown blew in the stormy wind like a banner as she lowered
the tip of the great lance, kneeling before the ancient dragon. Not loud, but
clear and light her voice sounded down from the castle.
“Will you forgive me, o master of the skies? Will you forgive what must
Every ounce of stone, every inch of steel and every man’s heart shook
with the mighty voice of the dragon, a voice that carried the weight of the
ages and the pain of endless loneliness like a distant thunder.
“And will you forgive me, Queen of Mortals, for what I will bring upon
you under the ban of this curse?”
No answer came, only an instant of silence. Then the dragon swung his head
down and a stream of flame burst forth from his throat. A storm of fire rained
down upon the castle walls, devouring wood and flesh in an instant. Screaming,
our ranks broke and the flames continued, destroying everything in their path,
higher and higher to the woman kneeled there. With her slender arms, she held
up the mighty lance that divided the flames, protecting her from a fiery death.
No matter how long the dragon rained fire down on the Queen, and though the
very stones around her began to melt, he would not be able to break its ancient
the fire stopped and the dragon let out a roar. His claws ground into the walls,
pulverizing stone, armor and flesh like rotten wood. Great gusts of wind from
his wings blew us down and the castle began to buckle under his weight. The
lizard clawed into the wall and its great mouth shot out toward the Queen, capturing
her. Back and forth the dragon threw the slender figure until he finally tossed
her into the air, her body crashing into the stone of the wall. If the dragon’s
teeth had not crushed her body, that blow surely must have, yet still her hands
held tightly the shaft of the lance. In falling, just before she plummeted down
to the stony pedestal, her body arched and with all her might she launched the
massive lance into the dragon’s throat.
With a gargling sound the dragon let go of the wall. Gasping, he showered us
with deep red blood, and two beats of his massive wings took him backwards out
of the city. In the eyes of the beast, it seemed that humility and pain had
been taken from him and with a murmur that almost sounded like relief, the dying
dragon fell from the sky and buried his former master and the leaders of the
rebel army under him. Like waves on a pond the army of attackers broke apart,
leaderless and confused.
We all looked in dismay up to the stone upon which the broken body of the queen
lay. Then, in a seemingly impossible act, she stirred and an outcry rang out
amongst both armies. Slowly, she got up, willing her body to rise inch by inch,
until she stood before us, her white hair billowing in the wind. No words did
she have for us, nor for our enemies, yet her clear eyes gazed down upon us.
Like a great thunder, swords, lances, banners and shields were dropped to the
ground as both her followers and the rebels sank to their knees, like a wave
of humility crashing over the ranks of men. And so, on this day, ten thousands
of soldiers of the Northern Realm kneeled before their rightful leader. The
line of Dragon Slayers had been restored, and even without the traditions, no
leader would ever dare to rebel against the will of this first Queen of Nortander.
Even the dwarf guards of Hallit and our elven allies kneeled down before this
mortal, whose willpower had defeated the dragon, the pain and even death itself.
Angar Arandir „Dove and Sparrow“
| The 6th Dream|
The Sixth Dream: Red
Silhouettes as black as the night crept at the edge my vision through the smoke-filled twilight of my chamber. They spun their web of fear in my mind and whispered promises of what was to come. I sought to escape the dream that awaited me, to jump up from the sweat-stained sheets, but fear lay like ice in my veins and pressed me to the bed. And so I lay paralyzed and clutched my frozen soul until finally, I heard the sound of hooves and it began anew.
Red half-light breathed around me like the inside of a smouldering body. The stench of decay and blood strangled my throat and the heat bit into my numb flesh. A hissing, snorting and shouting reached my ears, dull and distant, yet omnipresent and perpetual like the sound of a huge fire.
Now a sobbing sounded from the red fog and I saw a girl in a red-stained shirt, not far from me, cowering over a blood-covered bird that lay there. Again, she sobbed and her whining cut into my heart. I reached out, wanting to hold and comfort her, but claws dug into my flesh and dragged me away. Hundreds of limbs took hold of me, covering me like worms, their claws ripping the very flesh from my bones and dragging me down to the ground that opened up like a bloody wound. From the twilight grew shapes, fangs flashed like daggers and gigantic bodies unfolded, bodies distorted and disfigured as if mocking the natural order. A breath of heat and blood lay in the air, heavy like oil yet still intoxicating in its promise of power and death.
Still I strove to reach the crying child, to give her solace and hold on to the spark of humanity that I believed to see in her. But suddenly, she turned to me and I saw her face as I stared into empty holes from which bloody tears flowed over ghostly-white cheeks. Her whine was no longer a crying, it was a demented giggling that escaped between small, sharp and bloodied teeth from her small throat. She grabbed my hair and forced me to look to the ground.
As I looked down upon the bird that crawled there, I realized I was looking at myself, the grey dove of my soul, its feathers heavy from the blood of slaughtered dreams, old and weak, caught in the senseless dance of perishability. Now child and beasts alike began to scream and rejoice, as if mocking my pitiful existance. In that instant, I wanted to scream with them, wanted to leave my old, grey flesh behind and like them, become strong and immortal, craving only the pleasures of the flesh. For here, they were gods, each and every one an arbiter of life and death.
Yet Aonir’s Star still glowed inside me, a small pinpoint of hope and faith, reminding me of my human soul. Recognizing my doubts, they spat at me with disgust, clawing my flesh and sinking their fangs into my body as they began their meal, a horror of which I cannot tell while awake. When they were done, they tossed my ravaged body aside and I began to fall.
I fell into the bloody lap of the earth, down an endless abyss, between small bridges of red rock, down, and still further down. Massive chains of dark iron spanned the walls of the chasm, black links covered with rusty hooks to which the bodies of the damned were slung, hanging for eternity over this pit of endless despair. And I saw the Red Horde, crawling up from the glowing depths. On stone towers they climbed up, an endless stream of red bodies. A mass that grew like a tumor under the surface of the world, and slobbering, they shouted and screamed in their craving for flesh and souls. The fires of the earth inflamed my mangled body and like a screaming torch I fell past thousands of them, praying for the merciful release of death.
Then, finally, the sound of hooves brought me back to my chamber, but only when the next day broke and my throat was raw and hoarse did my scream end. To this day, the very memory of that scream still threatens to plunge my mind into madness.
Ishtar Magnus „Seven Dreams“
Morning began to break. We had allowed the followers of the sun their pathetic sleep and gathered our strength in prayer until the first rays of morning shone down upon the ruins of the holy sanctuary. The time for their execution had come.
I knelt upon a ledge in the wall and looked down to the sun-believer’s camp. They were humans, although this time they were not soldiers. They were either scouts or thieves, judging by their torn leather garments and simple weapons. Between the ruins, wisps of morning mist drifted like ghosts in the golden light where the humans cowered together in their pitiful campsite. The stench of their unwashed bodies and their fear was overpowering, even up on my perch high above their heads. I stood to give my servants a sign and sprang down amongst them.
The weight of my armor was soon forgotten as I whirled among them, my blades flashing and their steaming blood surrounding me like a red cloud. Effortlessly, the shimmering moonlight of my swords bit through their pathetic armor and stinking flesh. They were so weak, paralyzed by useless fear and confusion, that I was almost angry at them. I always preferred a good fight to senseless slaughter, but these ones allowed themselves to be butchered like cattle. Distorted faces rushed by me and their screams merged with the tearing of flesh. Soon, only a last one was left standing and I remembered my duty. My sword stopped at his throat and he froze with fear, staring at me over the silvery surface of the blade with his watery eyes, breathing his fear into my face. And so we stood for an instant as the dying fell to the ground around us.
Shain Tal’ ach, a battlemaster of my group, stepped out of the fog. His armored fist held the black braid of a skinny, dirty excuse for a human woman who cried out shamelessly in fear.
“She was hiding in the ruins.”
I lowered my blade from the man’s throat.
“Put them in chains. Both of them.”
The battlemaster let go of the human and shouted out his orders. Instantly, the humans began to cling desperately to each other, pressing their dirty faces together before falling to their knees, crying. My men turned away, repulsed by this open display of weakness. The disgusted gaze of my warlord wandered further, looking out over the ruins to the East where in the halls of obsidian, the Master of Ceremonies awaited us.
“Only two sacrifices tonight. The Archon will be angered.”
I stared at the human campsite, only a few daggers, and a bit of food – what a pitiful existence.
“It will have to do. These were not warriors, only farmers and fugitives. They died too quickly.”
Then I looked to the crying pile of human misery at my feet and sought the feeling of disgust that so many of my kin felt. But there was only a strange, unique sensation that at that time I neither understood, nor did I want to.
„Get them moving, night comes quickly at this time of year!“
When we reached the city, it was already dark. Without cleansing ourselves, we dragged our offering to the great hall where we were eagerly awaited. We strode through the ranks of our relatives, our breathing heavy from the quick march, barely able to keep the rhythm of the tubular bells that had begun to sound upon our arrival. Under the high ceiling of the hall, our procession continued endlessly, lined by a wall of silent faces, mirrored in the shining floor of obsidian. My wife nodded to me from the crowd and I returned her gaze respectfully, yet I felt so out of place, with my dirty armour and bloody weapons, as if I myself were a barbarian.
The high Archon awaited us as the end of the hall under the round window, where the silver disc of the moon was moving into place.
The cold light of our lord appeared as a shining ray and shone down on the Archon and the Book of Sermons that lay on its massive pedestal of silver. The beam was so bright that the white pages of the book seemed to glow, bathing the book and the pure skin of the Archon in a surreal aura. This was the holiest hour, the brightest of the full moon. Murmurs of prayer floated like a fog of sounds from the hall.
My battlemaster passed me and knelt before the Archon on the polished obisidian while around me, my men fell to their knees in reverence. Only I remained standing.
“The Dracon Craig Un’ Shallach comes before the Archon with an offering!”
The Archon came out from behind the book, his long robe flowing around his slender figure and seemingly merging with the floor. His eyes measured us and his hard gaze punished us for the unworthy sacrifice.
“You bring us a meager offering, dracon.”
Then he looked at me and in our eyes, the old fight for power flared up, a fight that my caste had long lost. I remained silent and with an almost invisible smile, he turned away.
“First, the man.”
Full of expectation, the hall murmured as the Archon stretched his left hand to the face of the human, a face distorted by fear. He dug the nails of his right hand into the palm of the left, opening his flesh in three wounds, from which dark drops of blood began to drip onto the human’s skin. At first, they persisted as black pearls. Then, as so many times before, it happened – the black drops began to twitch, to slide left and right. Legs appeared and turned the drops into black spiders, a legion of greedy servants of our lord that at once began to burrow into the human’s flesh. Screaming, the faithful servant of the sun began to squirm, while the Archon watched over his victim’s suffering with silent glee.
”Your flesh will decay, the price of your gods’ sacrilege. Your blood will flow as a sign of your weakness and for our lord’s pleasure!”
I gazed down upon that which I had seen so many times before and waited silently for the end, turning toward the within and seeking the pleasure and satisfaction, but could not find them. I looked into the eyes of the woman, saw her look at her dying husband, a desperate look filled with the full power of her senseless emotions, cutting his pain like a dagger and deep as the almighty sea of mourning.
Those eyes paralyzed me. Then, as in a dream, I drew one of my blades and severed the screaming man’s head from his torso. A quick step, and the woman also fell to the ground, her throat slit.
An outcry and murmur filled the hall and I felt the unbelieving gaze of my men. The Archon stumbled, stunned by the outrage of my actions.
“What have you done?”
Confused, I sought an answer for something that I could not explain. As if from another, distant place, my voice sounded, strong and clear.
“They were only peasants, their sacrifice not worthy of his hall.”
Silence surrounded me as I looked around. There I stood, my armour covered in the blood of the sun-believers, and was recognized for what I really was: A doubter, already tainted by the worshippers of the light, stained with the marking of their weakness. Rejection flowed like a wave of ice through the crowd and I stood alone.
Yet the Archon smiled his thin, almost invisible smile. I was the leader of my caste and untouchable to him, but in that instant I had given up my power.
“Pray, brothers and sisters! May the wrath of the Silverweaver pass us by!”
I started to go, still numbed by my action, hoping that which was inevitable would not follow.
“You seem to be weary of your task and unable to complete your duties.”
He said the formula, and though they were only words, not magic, he might as well have summoned the fire of Barga Gor upon me.
“You will receive a new task. You will go to our fortresses in Urgath, where a new challenge will be waiting for you.”
It had been said. Slowly, I turned to face him.
“It is a long journey. You had best leave immediately.“
There was nothing left to do, nothing left to say. So I strode on, heading for the gate at the end of the hall, and with every thundering step of my armoured boots, the crowd seemed to part further, as though they feared me and the disease of weakness that had infected me.
The slaves, their mouths sewn shut, took hold of the handles and began to open the great gate for me. I turned to face my wife who stood silently in the sallow wall of faces. In her eyes, I searched for the power of the human woman’s final look, but could not find it, neither there nor in my heart.
So I just lowered my head in respect, turned and went through the gate, leaving the hall and my homeland.
From the writings of Craig Un´Shallach
| Autumn Light|
The light wind took hold of the withered rose leaves and drove them over the calloused palm of my hand. From there, they rose on the warm evening wind, flying out over the white balustrade, joining the thousands of dark red petals dancing across the roofs of Talindar.
A sliver of the evening sunlight shone down the shaft and bathed one side of this strangest of cities in a pale red light. For the emperors, the dwarven master builders had built the pure white palaces, temples and balustrades into the sides of the massive shaft, elaborate structures connected by stairs and bridges. A gigantic work of art, made of rock so white it was almost blinding. Almost a mile deep the buildings stretched into the depths, carved into the very walls of the abyss. From the edge of the shaft, streams of water from the mighty Lake Vajar were channeled through an intricate system of pipes, canals and waterfalls down to the city, creating a fine mist over the abyss that glowed warm in the dusk. And everywhere, there were gardens full of red roses, dark and strong in colour, their smell the constant breath of this place.
The roses were all that remained of the splendour of this city. For generations now, it was only a grave, a lonely, mysterious place, where on a quiet night the ages whispered. My gaze wandered back to the trembling leaves on my hand.
“They are dying.”
Urgrim, king and priest, passed me with the steadfast marching so typical of a dwarf as he descended down the white stars.
“That’s why we’re here, human. Come on!”
The other dwarves marched passed me without saying a word, their heavy armour and axes only seemingly out of place in this lovely city that would prove to be so deadly. Only Skarvig, a Hallite from Windholme, who was closer to me than any of his less talkative brethren, knelt next to me and grasped an armoured fist full of red petals.
“Poured with dragon blood. Their red is the darkest and purest, they blossom for many generations. Only evil can taint them.”
I looked into the dwarf’s grey-bearded face.
“Evil awaits us down below?”
The dwarf stood and shouldered his axe.
“Evil will come to us. Tonight.”
As we reached the great stairs at the foot of one of the halls, Urgrim stopped. The eyes of the dwarf king gazed testingly over the steps. From here, one could see all the way down the labyrinth of stairs and bridges until they disappeared into the misty depths which lay in darkness. The king put down the head of his heavy axe and nodded.
“We will wait for them here. Bring the baggage into the hall.”
We did as we were told. Without speaking, the dwarves went about their work, stowing their packs and tying up anything that was not needed for battle. No unnecessary word was uttered in the dusty hall. These warriors had fought in wars many human lives ago, they all knew of the approaching battle and death that crept up towards us. He who had no explicit task was busy checking his weapons or knelt in prayer. Skarvig came towards me.
“You have led us well, human. But now go, Urgrim will understand.”
I looked at the silent dwaves and Urgrim, who was praying with the others further back. Right knee and fist on the ground to honour Bjarne, his head lowered, the old king was like a statue. The last light of the evening came in through the entrance of the hall and glanced off the fine decorations of his armour and the silver of his beard, so that his dark shape was speckled with fine points of light, a sea of stars. He seemed as ancient and solid as the mountain itself, and even in this humble pose, the power of the centuries that lay in his shoulders and arms made me feel weak and unworthy.
“I will stay.”
The Hallite’s gaze measured me long and hard from under his grey eyebrows.
“You do not know what awaits you. But as you wish. Get ready, they will be here soon.”
Brok nodded. The guard had come in from the steps in front of the hall and looked silently around the group. The dwarves rose and sought their axes and shields, and I followed them through the old doorway. Only the last rays of glowing light shone from the roofs at the top of the shaft. From deep below us, something was crawling up to the city, a swirling cloud of grey that streamed up over the bridges and stairs toward us. Without a word, the dwarves closed rank and stood in battle formation, Urgrim at their lead.
The grey continued to crawl and under the rain of red petals I saw the mass of creatures that surged toward us. With bared fangs and razor-sharp claws, hundreds of wolflings climbed the stairs, crawling over each other, clubs, daggers and short spears in their claws. I slipped an arrow from my quiver and drew my bow.
With a booming voice, Urgrim began to sing. His mighty bass sounded like a bell, and soon, the other dwarves joined in. In their thundering tongue, they honoured their god and forefathers. The wall of sound was enough to slow the advance of the wolflings, with many shying from the iron wall of dwarves. But the others pressed forward, and soon the growling horde washed over the last of the stairs. I shot once, twice, saw my targets fall, and they were upon us.
With the sound of a thousand hammers the grey horde crashed into the wall of dwarves like a ship against the cliffs of Ironmark. Their attack smashed into the shields, was split by the axes, the force of the following rows throwing the wolflings up and over the dwarves like a breaking wave. Axes and hammers plowed easily through the midst of them, broken weapons and crushed bodies tossed aside like toys.
Unprotected by the wall of dwarves I fled into the entrance of the hall, trying to protect my back and defend myself as best I could with my bow and dagger. But for every wolfling slain, three more came toward me and soon, all I could see was the gleaming of fangs and claws.
Three times they retreated, and three times again they began to attack. Only as the morning sun began to colour the roofs of Talindar red did they retreat, but not into the depths. A stone’s throw away, they stopped at the foot of the stairs and stared up at us, as if waiting for something. I cowered against a wall, my dagger arm covered in blood to the shoulder, my quiver empty, my bow shattered. Next to me leaned Brok, as if only resting for a moment, but he was as dead as Gundar, Durin and Graurung who lay in their blood on the white stairs.
Urgrim still stood at the lead, he had not moved so much as an inch, but his armour had been pierced in many places by the wolfling’s spears and blades. His breathing was even, but with each breath, the sounds of death could be heard, a red foam dripping into his white beard. The other dwarves had closed rank and waited for the next attack. And finally, the creature the dwarves had been awaiting appeared, the source of all this slaughter. In the morning light, it strode over the white steps, greeted by the perpetual rain of petals, and stopped at the bottom of the great stairs.
A hideous creature it was, covered with red fur, with a skull like a great wolf, huge claws and fangs glittering like swords, eyes of black fire. Evil wafted towards us, for this creature was a mark of shame on the light of the world, a creature of hate and anger that had no place in the order of life.
I tried to get up, forcing my weak knees to work, when I saw that Urgrim was already marching toward the creature alone. Over the bloody steps he strode, casting aside his shield and taking his mighty axe in both hands. Whispering and growling, the wolflings parted and moved away as the dwarf stepped in front of the monster. Immediately, the mighty claws of the red wolf struck out to grip the dwarf in their deadly embrace, but Urgrim’s axe flashed, quicker than the eye could follow, arcing up into the monster’s chest. The claws froze in mid-strike and the creature stood silent.
The king tore free his axe and a black sickle of blood rose into the morning sky. The red one wavered, the weight of his body crushing a white railing before he plummeted, past the palaces and bridges, down into the mist at the foot of the city.
Urgrim staggered, coughing out a last cloud of blood. One last time, he held up his axe and shouted the name of his god with his dying breath. Back and forth the cry echoed from the pale walls of the city around us, resonating from windows and gates, as if a thousand fallen kings were joining his cry. It was then that the wolflings turned and fled, falling over each other, wanting only to get away from the dwarf and his voice, down into the depths. With the last echo of his cry the dwarf king fell dead on the bloodied stone.
Skarvig was the only one to break the ensuing silence.
“It is done, the roses will blossom again and she can rest. Collect the dead, we are leaving.”
Silently, I followed the warriors, not understanding what had happened, but too weak to ask.
Weighed down by the dead, we finally reached the top of the shaft as evening broke and were able to see the open country once again. Outside of this strange place, I found the courage to ask Skarvig.
“She? Who is she?“
The old blacksmith smiled his grey smile.
“The king loved his daughter very much.”
Seeing my blank look, he continued.
“Know, human, that very few women are born to the dwarves. And those few are beings of such beauty, such frailty, that a thousand warriors would sacrifice themselves for them. The people of Bjarne are a dying race.”
He looked wistfully to the horizon, as if an old friend awaited him there.
“The king’s daughter loved this place, she would dream of the roses every night. Urgrim could not stand to see her unhappy.”
I stopped in my tracks. No treasure, no ancient feud.
“All this, for the dreams of a woman?”
Skarvig stopped and looked at me. The disdain in his eyes was not directed at me alone, but to all humans, with our greed and follies.
I looked down to my hand and saw the dark red petals the armoured fist of the dwarf had put there. Then he turned away, following his brothers, marching steadily under the weight of his axe and armour over the small ridge to the west.
The evening wind took the rose petals from my hand and whirled them up and away, towards the golden light of the dying sun.
Angar Arandir “Wintertime”
| The Dark Shore|
The drums had stopped. Like on a signal our column halted its advance.
Warm, stinking rain poured down our faces as if it wanted to drown us and
the dark mud sucked at our boots. This land had been eating at us since we
had first set foot on in; it drained our bodies, spirits and mind. The land
of Urgath gulped us down like a hideous toad, only to spit the remains out
across the ocean whence we had come. Where we belonged.
Lightning shot across the sky and lit up the line of trees ahead of us. There
lay the jungle like a breathing tumor, its sweet, foul stench filling our nostrils
and sticking to our bodies and clothing, while the rain filled our mouths.
The drums had stopped, the jungle was silent. Everyone waited for battle.
Again, lightning flashed and I looked around to my comrades, saw their faces
in the pale light, numb with pain and exhaustion. As the thunder began to roll,
darkness enveloped us once more, leaving only the sound of our heavy breathing
and the perpetual noise of rain. The jungle around us remained silent. For
the blink of an eye, as the next bolt of lightning lit up the sky, I made out
a huge, hideous form between the trees; I saw the bloated body, the long, gnarly
arms, the ugly skull and the enormous club the creature held in its claw. Then
Like a curse the word spread through our ranks. None of the officers uttered
a word, there were no calls to order. We were no more than a crowded pile
of fear, fully aware that the jungle would likely become our grave this night.
The mud trembled under the onrush, only slightly at first, then like a quickened
heartbeat. I do not know if the first row had even lowered their spears, but
it would have made no difference - the short shafts were no match for what
awaited us. We were soldiers of the sea, not land warriors. Then the beasts
arrived like a thunderclap of deliverance.
With an ear-splitting noise the trolls broke through our lines, the power
of their attack crowding our bodies together like sheep at a gate. Stars danced
before my eyes as my comrade’s helmet threatened to crush my face. Desperately
I fought against the wet iron and struggled for air. Ahead of us in the darkness
I heard the ungodly sounds of battle, the cracking of the trolls’ clubs
and the death screams of my comrades. Like cattle we stood there, screaming,
wedged together, waiting to die.
Another bolt of lightning shot overhead and revealed our foes. There were
not many trolls, but they passed through our ranks like a scythe through crops.
The leaders with their leathery, scarred faces drove the others into our wall
of spears, unrelenting with their tree-long chain whips. Again and again, the
trolls’ clubs mashed into the mass of men, crushing weapon and soldier
alike, hurling them through the night like dolls. One of the others flew over
our heads, then it was dark again.
I rammed the shaft of my spear into the mud so as to not be buried beneath
the waves of corpses. The sounds of battle came ever closer in the darkness,
I could hear the roaring of the trolls, their primal screams full of pleasure
and thirst for blood. Then my comrade’s helmet was torn from in front
my face, and I stood unprotected in the darkness. Blind and shaking with fear
I raised my spear, its tip meeting resistance.
I thrust it forward.
The ensuing roar almost knocked me off my feet, and in the short light of
another flash I saw what my spear had struck. Like a tower he loomed over me.
His grey chest was wrapped in coarsely sewn leather, his dripping body pierced
by broken spears. By all counts he should have been long dead, even before
my spear had stuck into his breast, but the troll’s roars where only
full of rage, for the beasts knew neither pain nor fear of death. For a fleeting
instant of light, we stared at each other, and he roared all his anger and
wildness into my face before darkness fell. His club struck me, tossing me
aside and sending me flying through the night. For a moment, I felt the wind
around me, could not tell up from down, before the stinking mud finally engulfed
me and with it the merciful darkness of unconsciousness.
I woke surrounded by a dull sound like thunder, a sound that shook the mud
under my broken body. A new day was dawning in Urgath, the stormclouds on the
horizon were glowing in the crimson light of sunrise, highlighting the silhouette
of the jungle like a demonic aura. The tangly trees ensnared in rampant vines
and the thousands of eyes that sough shelter there were lit up by an unholy
glow, as though the land itself was satisfied with the bloody meal it had been
served the night before. In the green ponds that night’s rain had created
lay the distorted corpses of my fallen comrades. I was alone, with only the
omnipresent thunder as company. Painfully, I raised my head from the mud, seeking
the origin of the sound. At that instant, they broke out of the undergrowth
around me, grotesque shapes in the light of the rising sun. There were hundreds
of them, hundreds and hundreds storming past me, an army of trolls at full
march, and their onrush made the earth quake. Silent and paralysed I lay there,
as growling shape after growling shape passed me in the morning fog, heading
west. The fort was lost, our journey to this cursed land over once and for
Then something huge, something disgusting broke out of the forest, the sight
of which I cannot describe today, but which forced my broken legs to flee,
away from this creature and the horrors of that place. But as I fled blindly
through the undergrowth, something was always with me, mocking and taunting
me like a foul breath on my neck. And since that day, the malice and horror
of that place, the darkest of all lands, has haunted me.
Jon Dundwer „Urgath“