"Stoneheart in Jocalia"
A Darkestorme Short Story by Jaffa Holland
The Dwarf Stoneheart, believing himself a hero for his previous task, is banished by the Dwarves and sent on another quest. This time to Joccia of the Darke Age... Jocalia as it was known. Home of the Rat Tribes and much, much worse...
The first chapter of Stoneheart's tale can be read here on Orcs in the Webbe.
My life as a slayer had just begun.
My life as a slayer had just begun indeed. What arrogance.
I felt that there was nothing that I could not do. I had been seriously injured, I barely survived, but I had killed a troll. I awoke back in my cell and knew an event such as this demanded a feast. A feast with plenty of deep dark ale dwarf ale and songs sung of my heroics. I got up and tried the door of my cell but found it securely locked. I couldn’t figure why. I shouted in anger and lashed out at the solid iron strapped wooden door. I called for my father’s hammer so that I could smash down this hellish door. My shouts were met with nothing but silence.
Two whole days went by. My wounds throbbed and, once again, a fever came over me. I dreamt of a falling star and deep black water. Of creatures that looked like rats only much larger that spoke in a foul language that I could not and did not want to understand.
I woke, suddenly, still in my cursed cell but this time the door was open but blocking my exit was Kardna, the chief priest. He looked as old and hard as a block of iron. Time seemed to slow and stretch, he did not move. Eventually he left and, although much weakened, I followed. We walked for some time and I marvelled at the intricacy of the detail on the walls, the carvings were like nothing I had seen before, such clarity, it seemed like the history of my race was laid bear on those walls. I noticed that the very air was bone dry and that there was no smoke from the burning wall mounts. With a start I noticed the light cast no shadows on the walls.
We arrived in a circular room, seven chairs forming a circle with a stone step to stand on in its centre. Six of the chairs were already occupied. It was clear to me that some sort of debate had recently taken place as some of those present seemed very unhappy indeed. Kardna finally spoke, indicating that I should stand on the stone. I did as requested.
Kardna, addressing both myself and the assembled Dwarfs spoke of my deed against the troll but also that I had eaten it’s flesh. A sense of anger at this seemed to fill those present, then Kardna spoke of my fever and words that apparently I had spoken but I had not known I had even ushered. This brought stony silence. Then the questioning began. I was questioned long and hard. As time went by and similar questions kept being asked I knew then that I may never leave this room and my blood boiled. Who were these old Dwarfs to judge me, the beast within me reared. I wanted to leap forward and attack them. I resolved that if I was sentenced to death before this ‘council’ my life would not come cheaply, oath or not.
After an indeterminable age I was asked to enter a small stone room to one side of the chamber and await their decision. An entire day past but at least food and water was brought and even, to my surprise, ale. With nothing else to do I eat my fill all the while my anger grew. Eventually a bell chimed and the door opened. All the priests were present wearing robes of deep purple and the room was thick with. Where the simple stone had been a great totem was now in the centre of the room, my hammer was standing next to it along with a suit of finely crafted chain mail.
Kardna spoke quietly but his words hit me like a hammer and I dropped to my knees.
“Flesh eater. Your fate is tied up with the Rat Tribes of Jocalia. You need to travel to the Western Highlands. There is a lake there, Varn Drazh, created long ago by a meteor from the stars. There you will find the source of your dreams. Alone you must travel, entering no town or village. You will carry little and hunt for all you need. You are not permitted to join any groups for protection and must not go by any route but the most direct path.”
My mind was reeling. Jocalia was a lawless land full of Trolls, Harpies and countless other horrific creatures. Pure seams of glowing Magicke struck forth from the ground corrupting all around. Kardna continued.
“When you arrive there you must enter the hidden passageways of Varn Drazh, the lost city, on the northern shore of the lake. “
He drew forth a map and indicated a series of ancient letters on the edge of the oiled parchment.
“This map will lead you to a secret door which can only be opened touches certain runes in a set order. You are not allowed to return until you have mastered your flesh eating ways and rid the world of the evil within. Know that at this time your name has been stripped from our records, replaced with the name of your crime, Flesh Eater. Know that no Dwarf will provide you aid from this point on or they too will have their name replaced with that of your crime.
“If you return then you will be tested once more to see if your may have your family name restored. Know that by the rule of law you should never have left this chamber. You are being given this single chance due to your father’s memory. He was one of the very few that become demon hunters and was counted as a great champion against the forces of evil. Perhaps that bloodline has not yet passed. Do you accept all that I have spoken today?”
I could not believe it my father a demon hunter. My family name struck from the records to be replaced with Flesh Eater. What option did I have for although I was a slayer I still had a family and was oath sworn to protect them. To have their name changed to Flesh Eater was simply too much. I accepted the challenge with the oath that my name would be cleared. I accepted their conditions, but added that on my return there would be a reckoning. I took my hammer but left the chain mail. I wanted nothing from these priests that was not already mine.
I would like to say that my travel to Varn Drazh was eventful but that would be a lie, for the most part it involved forcing my body through snow up to my chin and hunting what little I could. Along the way I was skilled enough to catch deer and dry some meat, also turning its stomach into a large container for water as I was shown when I was young. The pelt I used to deaden the sound of my cast steel boots. I knew I was going underground where silence was an equal ally to my axe. I damn well made sure I didn’t eat or drink anything I had prepared myself too for that very same reason. I made sure I had enough flints, twigs and dry powder to make fires. Only because it might be cold and wet, luckily my Dwarven eyesight was as keen as an eagle’s keen in the dark. I also made sure I had fifty foot of good rope too, I’d been in dungeons before.
A few miles before my arrival at Black water my head started to hurt. Something was wrong but I could not explain what. Despite this, my feet seemed to need little guidance from me to find the entrance to the secret cave. The runes on the other hand took a whole two days of fasting and thinking before I was able to work them out. It had not been a simple matter of tapoing the runes in sequence as those damned fool priests had suggested. It was a complex smiting rune pattern, one only a master smith such as myself would know. A chill of excitement ran down my spine as I pressed the runes in the right order. I expected them to glow or move, but nothing openly changed at all, there was no sound that I could pick out even when the door before me swung open. Truly the work of a master stone mason.
Before long I understood why the runes were those of the forge. The ground and walls were thick with seams of iron and gold ore. Why had we stopped digging here. My head still hurt but regardless, with my boots covered in deer pelt and my father’s hammer in hand, I headed off into the darkness. No more than five paces in the door closed behind me, complete blackness descended as did fear upon me. The fear was replaced by anger in an instant, the anger seemed to make my eyes sharper and although it was pitch black my Dwarven senses told there were differences within the blackness that allowed me to make out the wall, the iron ore seemed to glisten very slightly.
I descended deeper and deeper. I felt, rather than saw, passages open up but something was guiding me down the steepest path. Water ran freely down the walls and puddled at times up to my waist. By now I reasoned that I must be under the lake, perhaps it was time to rest. A cold started to inch its way into my bones but I decided against lighting a fire. All of a sudden pain flared in my left arm, a bolt had bitten deep in to my flesh, the urge to cry out was almost unstoppable [.]
I pushed the bolt through and had no choice but to make a small camp, I needed to make a fire and boil water to clean the wound. This I did and was able to use needle and deer gut to stitch my arm up. I examined the walls and found that I had walked very nearly to my death two more steps and a hail of bolts would have been triggered. Using my hammer I hit the floor in front of me, a cloud of bolts shot out the sound like thunder in the tunnel rang out.
I had announced my presence and soon herd a feet running towards me. Although wounded I would face whatever was coming head on. Two humans filthy and all skin and bone came at me in a rush, they seemed to be completely mad, for they threw themselves at me but it was a mindless attack, still they had swords and some armour, all I had was my hammer, I was regretting not taking the chainmail. The fight was soon over with both lying on the floor neither dead, I walked over to the first who just spat at me and opened his mouth showing that he had no tong, I hit him once to head with my hammer and he lay still, the second was the same and ended in the same way his skull smashed. I did not want to touch these creatures but had to search for clues, both had nothing on them but one had a small pouch which when opened delivered a true Dwarf treasure, a rune ring. I could not tell what it did but nonetheless put it on, nothing happened, but the words inscribed on it flared, stating that understanding will happen.
With much more caution I walked deeper, my arm ached but I had already found some treasure and maybe more could be found, I had now proven again that I was a slayer. What force could stop me. Not more than 500 meters after the attack I turned a sharp bend and saw a scene that to this day still causes pain. Seven Dwarfs, all slayers, alive, but very badly beaten and staked to the wall of the chamber. An eerie glow was coming from them and my head started to ripple with pain. A monstrous machine was making a strange but somehow warming noise that wanted me to go to sleep. I fought this and as I did a rat like creature shot at me, its speed unbelievable, I was knocked flying, a deep set of cuts on my chest, It was laughing at me. "So you are what has been sent to stop me." it said. Somehow I understood this creature, I did not know how and screamed at it to dare to attack me again. I knew that more of these creatures must be about, again and again it came at me. A dozen cuts raked my body. I had one last attack in me and I charged. Blood dripped from my body, but my hammer was rock solid in my hand. I swung with all my force and caught the rat on the side of the body I heard a crack of bones breaking, I did not stop and swung again this time hitting the rat square on the chest. It collapsed, and stopped moving.
I walked up to the first Dwarf, he was still alive and moved as I approached, it was Kazaung the dragon killer, I knew his face, I knew them all, not one was less than a dragon slayer and most were demon slayers, all thought to be dead. My family name would be returned with their rescue. Kazaung spoke, "You. You need to kill us all, the rat has linked our very sprits to that machine, it will warp all Dwarfs and creatures that carry weapons made by Dwarfs. Kill us and take our weapons back to our priest so that they can be used to carry on our work. Great is the evil. Your choice is one that has already been made by the gods."
The machines sound was getting stronger, a light was getting brighter coming directly from the slayers to the machine, each was starting to call out in pain, which for these mighty warriors was no mean feat. With horror in my heart I smashed the head of each and every slayer
The machine exploded and a deep shock knocked me to my feet and my head stopped hurting.
I went to the slayers and although I could not carry their bodies back, I could bury them. So it was, with a sense of great loss, I buried these mighty fallen warriors. I did as asked and took their weapons of legend, along with their armour and rings of power. I bound my wounds and eat my dried meat and I created a sled of sorts. Dragging this behind me I set off back to see Kardna.
I will be honest and say that I paid for travel back, upon my return the priests were amazed by my story and sent runners to collect the fallen. My name was returned to me, but I could tell that the fact that I had killed seven of our mighty legends did not sit well, I heard tale that I was becoming known as Slayer Killer.
How true this name was to become...
Stoneheart's tale will continue here on Orcs in the Webbe in 2013.
The above short story is an Orcs in the Webbe original and was first published on December 22nd 2012 as part of the 2012 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 second story here on OITW as much as I did.