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"Stoneheart"

A Darkestorme Short Story by Jaffa Holland

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Before Wylde Magicke was lost from Valon and clouds of smoke arose from weapons powered by Blackpowder, monsters roamed the land. So did heroes. This is the start of one Dwarf's story, the first steps that led him to the road to legend.

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As a race, we Dwarves are known to have the greatest sense of honour, our word is our bond and to be an oath breaker is to be an outcast. I grew up learning of all the great battle stories; the victories against the Orc tribes of the great plains, the conflict with the Cities of Men that damned near brought civil warre to my people and the many darker stories featuring foes much much worse. My father, Ironheart, was a smith of legend. Dwarves from the other great citadels came to buy his weapons but, like most true masters of his craft, he was just as happy making nails as he was arms. He was a Dwarf born to the hammer and anvil.

Back then, before the Fall, within the mountains North of the Elvish city of Ocamé, lay the ancient citadel of Ureke. Despite being far older than the Dwarves who lived there it had become the home of my people, our main stronghold in Alevia. So great was Ureke it was the citadel chosen to home one of the twelve mighty Dwarven tomes, the Great Book of Grudgesmise.

It was not long before the tenth anniversary of my nameday when everything changed. We were staying for a few days at one the villages near Ureke, a few miles South of the main citadel, working their forge.

When the Group of Ironhelm Goblins arose from the marshes my father was, of all things, cutting wood. He was spared by a twist of fate. The Goblin’s butchered everyone, even the females and the young. It was wanton destruction, they didn’t take a single thing. They left me for dead and it was only the fact that my mother had thrown herself on top of me that I was not slain with my kin. Fairheart, my beautiful beloved mother, had died in a seemingly senseless attack by the bastard Goblins. She had given her life to protect mine. Even with her sacrifice one of their vicious barbed swords had sliced down the entire length of my back. When my father returned from the woods I heard his cry of rage and responded with my own, although mine was mostly one of despair. He followed the sound of my wails and upon finding me stitched my wounds himself, saving me, but leaving me very weak. He made as many temporary cairns as he could and carried me back to the citadel.

He changed that day. Something… Something deep inside him… shifted. After the apothecary stabilised my condition he left my bedside and visited the Shrine of Grimnyr and made a pledge, a pledge that he would avenge my mother. Only he and the Gods heard everything he swore that day but when he next came to see me he looked… different. Stronger yet somehow frail. He took my hand, and met my eye. There was no apology, just that combined look of determination and loss that one only truly knows once they’ve seen it. He told me my care now lay in the hands of Kardna, the chief priest at the Shrine, and he left Ureke, his smithing hammer in his hand.

I did not see him for ten years.

The decade I spent with the priest had a profound impact on me. I had been young and did not truly understand why my father had left. My emotions were shattered, I thought myself betrayed. I too had lost everything that day and, overcome by the rash decisions the young so often make, I gave up the one part of him I still carried with me. I publically denounced my birth name, Ironheart, and took the name Stoneheart. I even forsook the craft he had taught me and followed in the ways of the Slayer cult. I dedicated myself to ways of bringing down the Monsters of legend that lay in the wilds and that some foolish warbands actually thought they could control through self titled ‘handlers’. I took the Slayer’s Oath - if there was ever a deep and true need and if runes spoke my name, that I would come and nothing would stop me.

A decade later, when my father returned, our first meeting did not go well. He was back in Ureke but he was so very different to the father I remembered. After the initial… discussions… things did settle down between us though. My time with the Slayers had given me an insight into what he must have gone through and of what he might have agreed to. He did not speak of his travels, or of the deeds he had accomplished, but he did tell me he had kept his oath. He showed me the necklace he wore around his neck, the chain bore a tooth of every creature he had slain. The weight of the chain would have bent a Man in two. He started working metal again and slowly people began to seek out his work, slowly his name and skill was remembered by the Dwarves.

It was around this time that the Krautan League was being undermined by the Crystal Elves. Ureke seemed to be the place where we might, as a race, hold on to our racial claim to Alevia. However, my father moved us to the citadel of Barlinstatte where he set his forge. He had become quite wealthy in the time he had travelled and the move was not difficult. At first I thought him afraid of the battle that would surely encompass Ureke soon but I was wrong. I heard him you see. At night, when he set down his hammer and thought that I was sleeping he would drink his fill of mead and talk to my mother’s spirit about his long journey. He had longed for death since the day he left, but he kept killing the things the fates threw him against. Eventually he reasoned it was his need to see me become an adult that was keeping him alive, who knows, perhaps Grimnyr kept an eye on him for that very reason. That was why he came back to me, and why we had left Ureke. He needed me to learn his trade, the skill of Ironheart. Thankfully I was old enough to realise what he was doing… and why.

For the next sixty years, a mere moment in the life of one of my people, we worked together day and night. He taught me the art of making weapons, the secret of which was not how best to fold and temper metal, although I learnt that as well. No, the true secret to smithing, creating a weapon that would go on to be sung about, was to know how to use them. War was what he taught me, and I was good at it.

I found out years later that in doing this he had fulfilled the second oath to my mother that he had sworn that day. Now I was an adult he could finally leave and fullfill his third and last oath. It was time for him to leave and head North to the Realm of the Dead to hunt his last hunt and let Grimnyr take his soul.

I tried to stop him from going, I had only just got him back, but he left anyway. He settled all his affairs in the deed hall and made sure that all his custom and agreements he’d built up were transferred to me. These, along with all his tools, wealth and, of course, his forge went to me. This decision led to many protests as quite a few Dwarves wanted his contracts and claimed that, due to my youth, I was not as skilled. But he broke no laws, had paid the necessary gold to the guilds and they accepted his will. Don’t get me wrong, more than a few heads were knocked together in the inns of Barlinstatte that week, but nothing serious. Another thing I didn’t find out until much later in my life was that the Slayer Cult had apparently sent message directly to the King that they would be unhappy if my fathers will was not carried out.

I always hated him for leaving without saying goodbye the first time but that second time he left, with me watching him head North, was much harder than anything I have gone through since.

For the next twenty years I stayed in Barlinstatte, following my fathers orders and kept his… well, ‘my’ forge going. Master smith I was called, but in my dreams the red mist was rising. I had taken a wife and had had two girls who I raised along with one bastard son from a lass when I was but young, I trained them all as my father had trained me.

I thought this would be my life, but the fates had more in store for me. One day a messenger came from the priest, Kardna, that he requested my presence. It bore the official seal and had been agreed by the King. I was to sign my forge over to my wife and children, taking only what armour and weapons that I could carry, and thus my debt for my time with them was paid. The Slayers oath I had given to Kardna so long ago still held true. The runes had spoken my name.

My wife did not understand at first. She cried and said that I was the oath breaker, that my life was hers. I explained that she was truly the only one for me but I had an older oath I had to obey. I assured her that if I did not return that it would not be because I had broken my oath to her. She was now mistress of the forge, wealthy beyond dreams and owner of my heart. I left that day.

I arrived at Ureke, it had seen better days, the fighting against the Dracci and the Undead had taken it’s toll on the ancient defences. I headed directly to the low building that was the temple of the Slayers. I was greeted with cold words and told to stay in a small room that felt no better than a cell. All my weapons were taken and no food was provided, just some dirty water. They left me there for three days whole days. When they finally came for me I was called forth to leave but a thick black hood was placed over my head.

It seemed an age that we walked, I could tell from the feel of the air around me that that we were deep underground. When the hood was removed, I found myself before, Kardna, the old priest I had known in my youth. Anger flooded my heart at my treatment and all I wanted to do was attack those that had held me, the mist nearly took me.

Kardna just stared at me with black eyes. Eyes that pierced my soul. When he spoke it was as if the mountain itself spoke, slow and clear. The words washed over me like a frozen river dampening the fire burning within me. He told me that I belonged to the Slayer cult. My life as I had known it was forfeit, and that now I had to demonstrate that I was worthy. My forced fast of three days, coupled with my lack of weaponry and armour was the final step. From this day forth no food, weapons or armour would be given to me. Anything I wanted I would have to earn. It was time for my final test, he called another priest and introduced him as Sadnor. I was to follow him, my task would become clear.

Sadnor guided me to a small village a days walk from Ureke, he barley spoke and when he did few were his words. Hunger eat at me, a slow anger had begun to grow deep inside, my thoughts became unclear, nightmares hunted my dreams and flashes of them even came to me whilst I was awake. Damned priest and their initiation, I later learned that powerful drugs had been put in my water pouch to bring out my fears.

We arrived at the village and I realised it was the village where my mother had been killed. I turned, feverishly to face Sadnor and demanded to know what was going on. He paled and told me of the War Troll. Ever since that initial attack nearly a century ago the Ironhelm Goblins had used this ruined village as a base to launch attacks throughout the region and that it now housed a War Troll they used to slay Dwarves, Elves and Humans alike.

I had never seen one but Sadnor assured me I would know it when I saw it. As I walked through the eerie abandoned buildings I tried to think of ways of sneaking up and killing the large creature whilst it slept, but I truly did not know if they slept or if they did if you could even sneak up on one at all. Fear gripped me, taking hold, but something inside changed that fear, it burned red and became something else.

Then I saw it. It was huge. It’s skin was covered in boils and pustules and it had long arms that nearly dragged on the ground. It’s massive sickly green eyes met mine, I turned asking Sadnor for a weapon but, of course, he was no longer there. It was just me and the creature… I sent a silent prayer to Grimnyr and charged.

The next few moments stretched into hours. My memory of the time is nothing but flashes of action, pain and exhilaration. To this day I only vaguely recall the broken branch I had used as a weapon and the sensation when the War Troll’s dark heartblood covered me, burning my skin and eyes, but telling something primal inside me that the fight was over. As senses came slowly back to me I realised I was very badly hurt, a large set of teeth marks covered one side of my body and were pulsating with my blood, my face was battered and my jaw hung lose from my skull. I sickened as I realised my mouth held the taste of the Troll’s flesh, in my hunger I had eaten parts of it as I’d fought. I truly had ‘earned’ my food. And with that realisation the red mist faded along with my consciousness.

I woke with a start. I still ached but I noticed my wounds had been expertly dressed. As I sat up I realised I was back in the cell. Once again there was no food, and only stale water to drink.

My life as a slayer had just begun.

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Webmaster's Notes

The above short story is an Orcs in the Webbe original and was first published on December 7th 2011 as part of the 2011 Advent Calendar.

Jaffa is a long time friend and ex-house mate of mine who has been my opponent in many battles of Flintloque and Darkestorme. I hope you enjoyed his first story here on OITW as much as I did.