With Andruil over his shoulder Bruegon ran up the stairs of the secret passage. Within a few moments he had reached the top where the bodies of Arctos and Leptus lay, as well as the ashes of the fire elementals.
Bruegon paused for a moment, catching his breath and checking to see if Andruil has gained consciousness.
She hadn’t, but her breathing was steady and she seems to have stopped bleeding.
Bruegon nodded to himself at this comfort – small in the wake of what has just happened, but a comfort nonetheless – and continued towards the road outside Halicus with as much haste as he could muster.
He exited the castle. The large fire elemental that harassed him earlier still stands. It looks to Bruegon and takes a step back. It does not stand between him and the open courtyard gate.
Bruegon hesitated nervously, assuming a trap for a brief moment thanks to the caution that comes with a life of adventuring. He gathered his resolve quickly, however, and passed the elemental with a quick, beady glance, and continued out of the courtyard
The elemental made no move to attack him and as he neared the gate he saw the still forms of Amelia and Arkay.
Bruegon went to check on them, unsure he could carry all three, but willing to try if need be.
He checked for signs of life, finding none on Arkay. Amelia had a pulse. But just barely.
Bruegon tried to give some of his life to Arkay and Amelia, with the help of his ring.
Amelia stirred. “What happened?” she asks. “Did you stop them?”
Arkay remained still and lifeless.
Bruegon shook his head sadly. “No. No, I didn’t. I…couldn’t.” He looked back over his shoulder. “I don’t think they’re outright pursuing us, but it would be wise for us to retreat from here sooner than later.”
“…I…I have to take Arkay back,” was all Amelia replied. She quietly picked up Arkay and nod to Bruegon that she was ready to go.
“Where are we going? I doubt we can get back over the wall to the siege tower. Not with them.” She motions to Andruil and Arkay. “And the siege tower might not even still be standing.”
“I understand. But I don’t think we need to worry about getting over the wall. The enemy…they seem to want to let us leave. A cruel mercy, of the idea that they want to see us crushed a later time.”
“Very well. To the main gate then?”
“Yes. Let’s get out of here.”
As the made their way across the open area around the castle, they saw Kristoff, crawling away.
Bruegon looked to Amelia as they approach Kristoff. “What do you think we should do? I’m not sure we can carry him as well…”
“I can drag him if need be. We can’t leave him behind.”
Bruegon nodded. “You’re right. Let me see if I can pick him up.” Kristoff did not struggle as Bruegon hoisted him up onto his shoulder.
“Did we win? Is it safe?” asked Kristoff.
Bruegon answered his question the same as he answered Amelia’s. “No. We didn’t. And it’s not. It’s going to be a lot harder from now on.”
With Kristoff on one shoulder, Andruil on his other and Amelia carrying Arkay beside him, Bruegon lead the way to the city gates. Elementals and people dressed in black watch them leave.
Bruegon progressed forward, the only way he could. Now, he paid no mind to the Elementals and people watching them leave, couldn’t bear to.
Bruegon, while making their way out, said “Amelia, there’s something that bothers me. The smart thing to do would be to return to Athame and report to the Queen what has happened. But…while I was in there…Illyria threatened to destroy all the Forgehammers. I…I am honestly conflicted. I very much want to return to my people, see them to safety. But the urgency in reporting to Queen Vallana is mountainous.”
Amelia answered Bruegon’s concerns, “I must travel back to the Wulverton; to put Arkay to rest. I do not know much about your clan; but I would have faith in them. You are in no shape to travel, and I cannot take Arkay, Andruil and Kristoff back by myself.”
Amelia seemed concerned with the thought of Bruegon leaving her by herself; especially given her injuries.
Bruegon grew quiet for a moment. He understood Amelia’s words, and agreed with them, but his worries made him fearful to admit it. “You are right. I have not the strength for more hardship, and my people are resourceful, and my help is needed more immediately. I will not leave you and the others; lead on.”
Bruegon and Amelia reached the city gate, which now stood open. They exited the city and saw the carnage that littered the land outside the walls. Charred, unrecognizable bodies were scattered around. The huge fire elemental that was present earlier had vanished. They saw a few soldiers helping wounded from the field; but there are few wounded to be helped.
Bruegon looked to Amelia. “Should we regroup with the rest, and make our way back together? Or make our way as we are, and head to Athame with as much speed as possible after burying Arkay?”
“The rest of the soldiers will likely regroup at the forward camp. They will need to know what has happened. We should head there,” was Amelia’s answer
Bruegon nodded. “Very well. I’ll see if I can find Kristoff one of the healers, if any are still alive. Hopefully he can be mended enough to walk himself. I may need to carry Andruil the whole way, though.”
They met up with four other soldiers making their way back to the forward camp. Bruegon could tell from their demeanor that the battle did not go well for them. One was carrying a clearly dead man across his shoulders; he did not meet anyone’s eyes and stared blankly at the ground. One was leading a riderless horse.
Upon seeing them, Bruegon was unsure of what to say; as if all ideas and thoughts of comfort had abandoned him, he struggled to find any words that would brighten the shadow looming over their spirits. “I…..I am sorry.” he says to them.
Kristoff asked to be put down and another soldier gave him a supportive shoulder to lean on. The soldier with the horse offered to let either Arkay or Andruil be on the horse. Amelia politely declined, preferring to carry her friend the whole way.
Bruegon considered putting Andruil on the horse, but declined as well, offering to let one of the other wounded ride instead. He still had the strength in him to carry Andruil, the whole way if need be, and he was almost certain the others did not share his reserves of fortitude. Whatever can be done for others, he thought, must be done—too much has been lost to afford otherwise.
Kristoff got up on the horse, since no one else seemed willing to.
Bruegon, now free from both carrying a second body and the haste of escaping that captivated him before, shifted Andruil so that he may carry her more comfortably.
“Let’s continue on our way, then. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover before we see Athame again, and much to do once we get there.”
They make it back to the forward camp and Kristoff thanked Bruegon for helping him escape as he went to the healers’ tent. Amelia went to make arrangements for Arkay’s body.
Bruegon decided to take Andruil to the healers’, then quickly proceeded to look for the Princess. He found her in one of the command tents.
She seemed surprised to see him. “Bruegon? You are back? What news do you bring?”
Bruegon bowed before the Princess. “I am, my lady. And I bring only grave news. Our quest was a failure. Illyria has risen in power and strength, and promises imminent destruction. My allies….were taken. We…..I failed you, your highness.”
Princess Alanis paled a bit at this news. “My city is truly lost then…there are preparations to be made. But in honesty, we thought this a likely outcome. Dark days face us Bruegon. We are likely facing a war that none of us could have prepared for.” She paused. “What do you mean your allies were taken? They are prisoners? How did you escape?”
“I have thought as such the entire trip here, Princess. But rest assured – however you or the Queen may have need of me, you have my unwavering help. I will not abandon this fight now that war approaches.
“As for Ria and Lohr, they were taken by persuasion, I am sad to say. While we faced Illyria and Grigori, I experienced a vision. In it, Illyria made great promises of incredible power and the realization of personal goals, in exchange for allegiance. Ria and Lohr certainly experienced similar visions, and though I staunchly denied Illyria and her offer without a doubt in my heart, they…were not so defiant.
They are now aligned with Illyria, my lady.
I myself only escaped for Illyria’s amusement. She allowed me to pass unscathed by her minions when we fled, promising that it was so I could live to see everything I care for undone by her."
The princess takes a moment to process what Bruegon had told her. "That is most disappointing. Unfortunately, those who would put power above all else are not uncommon. I will have to send out several messages alerting our allies to their betrayal. "
She takes a rolled piece of paper and burns it. Ria’s will is engulfed in flame, as was Ria herself.
“Hopefully, Illyria will come to regret letting you live. You may go Bruegon, you may take a well-deserved rest. Unless you have something further to discuss?”
“Hopefully Illyria will regret many things in the days to come. But yes, I think I’ll rest a bit. Will we be returning to the Queen soon, though? I would very much like to speak with her.”
“I will be remaining here for some time yet. But you may have leave to return to the Queen as soon as you see fit. And what of the Queen’s Sword? Does she live?”
“Very well, and thank you. And yes, she does live, though she is weak at the moment. I carried her from Halicus myself, and I left her with the healers in the camp before finding you.”
“Good. She will likely leave for Athame as soon as she is able. You should travel together. It is hard to tell what new dangers we now face.”
“I will most certainly do that. One last thing, my Princess, if I may?”
“Please, speak your mind.”
“Ria and Lohr, in the battles to come…try to show them some mercy. I know they are the enemy now. And I know that we may very well need to kill them. And I know that the heat and havoc of war often do not afford mercy. But if at all possible…please try. It may seem as though they simply gave in to power, but if their vision was anything like mine, power itself was not the motivation for their betrayal. The promise of the safety of loved ones is….most captivating.”
“I know they were your friends, but I can make no such promise. Their fate is not up to me and they have chosen their path. But you should ask yourself if they would show you the same mercy that you would show them…but I suppose, that may be why you are here, and they are servants of the flame. "
Bruegon nods. “You are right. Their choice must carry with it the consequences. And you are right, they would likely not show me such mercy. But maybe that will be what separates us from Illyria in the end. Thank you for your time, my lady. If you have no need of help, I think I will take you up on that rest now. Though please, if you do need help with anything, feel free to wake me.”
Bruegon took his leave from Princess Alanis and walked back to the healers’ to check on Andruil’s condition. He is told that she will live, but needs her rest. The healers ask Bruegon to come back in the morning, if he need to speak with her. Being smited by a Blackguard is quite traumatic for a Paladin.
Bruegon understood completely, and promised to return in the morning. And, with that, he went to find a comfortable place for some much needed rest
Bruegon laid down to sleep, in the relative safety of the camp and fell asleep quickly, exhausted from the events of the day. His mind however, was restless.
He sees the mountain of the dwarves. Though it is not how he knows it to be. It seems younger. The rocks are scorched and heavily damaged. Soldiers and beings of fire surround the perimeter; their frustration evident. Smoke chokes the air and loud cracking booms echo through the mountains.
Within the mountain he sees a dwarven commander; Bruegon does not recognize him and his apparel is completely unfamiliar. He stands weary, but resolute, at a war table covered in maps and figures.
Someone brings him a message. “Morale falters, but we are still holding; we are still strong. And we have gotten word from the outside. An alliance has formed and promised aid; we just have to hold until they break the siege.”
The commander picks up a figure from the table and turns it over in his palm. “We will hold as long as we need too. Moradin willing, nothing shall break our mountain. “
Bruegon was now standing at the base of a different mountain. One he has have never seen before; one that climbs higher into the sky than anyone could see. The air was damp and the forest behind is filled with birdsong. In front of him was a long set of stairs that spans the base of the mountain and rises to a set of large stone doors standing ajar.
At the top of the stairs stood a dwarf in gleaming gold plate armor. A shield rested weightlessly on his arm; a Warhammer hanging at his side. His stern gaze fell upon Bruegon. Long black hair fell out from under his helmet and a magnificent black beard falls to his knees.
He turned from Bruegon and went inside the mountain.
Bruegon raced up the stairs in pursuit. There was no one there when he reached the top. Carved upon the ground was an anvil with a hammer overlaying it. The doors stood open.
Bruegon inspected the carving upon the ground. It was far from simple. The lines were carved with impossible precision. Bruegon recognized it as Moradin’s.
Bruegon stood in awe of the carving and its beauty and craft. Still, he was compelled further, and stepped inside.
He traveled through the winding corridors, always seeming to know which way to choose, letting his heart guide him.
He came to a door which lead back outside; into the hollowed out heart of the mountain. The mountain extends skyward in a circle around him. Torches lit the way with impossibly white light, as dim sunlight tried to find its way downward. A gentle slope of stairs lead upwards. Statues of dwarves lined each side of the stairs, three on each side; they held their warhammers straight out; crossing the path and blocking Bruegon’s way.
He could see the same dwarven figure from the stairs standing at the top. He stood beside a large, beautiful anvil. Behind him and the anvil was a large forge, filled with ethereal fire.
The path behind Bruegon had vanished, leaving nothing but a white abyss. Bruegon got the feeling that, if he so choose, he could walk into the light and leave this place.
Bruegon banished the thought of leaving this place – he is drawn to this, compelled to be here. He feels his place here in his heart, though he does not know quite why. He does not try to force his way past the guarding dwarven statues and their blocking warhammers. Instead, he looks to the Dwarven figure, fell slowly to his knees, bowed his head and asked “Am I worthy to approach?”
The dwarf at the top of the stairs spoke with a voice so thunderous it could split mountains. “Your worth is the reason you are here. Approach the first stone guards."
Bruegon is physically shaken and impressed with the magnitude of the voice that has addressed him. He stands to his feet, however, and approaches the first stone guards as instructed.
He comes to the first set of hammers blocking his path. Written upon the top hammer in glowing white dwarven letters reads “Uphold Order”.
“Shall you uphold the order and laws set forth, as long as they are just and fair? Even when they are inconvenient? And they will be inconvenient.“
Bruegon nodded. “I shall.”
Light raced along the statues holding the hammers and they raised their hammers upwards; allowing Bruegon to pass.
He came to the next set of hammers and these read “Maintain honor”.
Again he is asked a question, “Shall you live a life of honor and valor?”
“I shall, always.” Again, the statues allow him to pass.
The next hammer read, “Protect the Innocent”.
“Shall you do everything in your power to keep the innocent from harm? Putting the lives of others before your own?”
“Such has been my motivation for all my life. I swear to do so from now on as I ever have.”
The hammers lift and Bruegon stepped to the last set of hammers blocking his way.
“DESTROY THE WICKED” glows upon this last hammer.
“Above all else, do you swear to relentlessly hunt evil in all its forms? To root out darkness and restore the light? To stand against what others would flee from, and have no fear in your heart for you know Moradin stands at your back?
What say you Bruegon Forgehammer? The dwarf that stared into the fires of one who would be a god. Do you pledge yourself to me? To be the hammer that strikes down the wicked and the shield that keeps others from harm. To fight in my stead and protect our people? To protect all people?”
Bruegon stepped past the final statues, and raised his right fist to his heart in salute.
“I swear to fight against evil, wherever it shows whatever face it bears.
I swear to undo darkness, and bring your light to those that have none.
I swear to stand unyielding against whatever adversity may threaten myself or others, confident, fearless, and proud to stand with the strength of Moradin within and around me.
I pledge myself to you, Dwarf-Father Moradin, now and forever. I pledge to act as your hammer against the evils and wrongs of the world, and as your shield for the innocent and helpless. I pledge to fight and protect for you, for all Dwarves, and all who do not align themselves with evil.”
Moradin gave a slight smile under his beard as he beckoned Bruegon forward.
“Come, my child. Place your hand upon the anvil and affirm your choice. That you, Bruegon Forgehammer, accept the power of a Paladin of Moradin and all that that entails. Swear it here, upon which the first dwarves were forged. “
Bruegon stepped forward, unable to restrain the joyous smile that had taken over his face, rising up the steps, he glanced back and forth with awe at Moradin and the anvil. As he reached the top, he stood staring at the anvil.
“To touch the anvil the Dwarf-Father made us with…..there are no words for such an honor.”
Bruegon placed his hand reverently upon the anvil, and turned to Moradin.
“I swear to be a Paladin of Moradin, and accept the power and responsibility that comes with it.” Bruegon bowed his head before the Dwarf-Father. “I swear this with all my heart and soul.”
“There are few worthy of the calling, but there is greatness in you Bruegon. You have already shown me as much. Now, show me more.”
With Moradin’s final words, Bruegon awoke abruptly. It was morning. Gently flexing his hand, Bruegon savored the lingering feel of the anvil upon his hand.
“I promise to make you proud, Dwarf-Father.”
Bruegon stood and readied himself for the day, before making his way to the Healers.
He entered the healers’ tent and found Andruil. She was awake and donning her armor.
“Andruil! It is great comfort to see you on your feet and well again.”
“I hear I have you to thank for that. You saved my life. I am in your debt.”
“Ah, you owe me no debt. I could not leave you behind; Forgehammers do not abandon those in need. But, even if you choose to acknowledge such a debt, I’m sure you would have the chance to repay it soon enough. There are dark, hard times ahead, and I’m sure we’ll both be facing danger many times over in the days to come.”
“Yes. Princess Alanis briefed me earlier. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry about your friends. Though I can’t say it surprises me that your wizard would be swayed by power; those who stand for nothing are easily tempted by the dark. Not you though. I can sense a change in you.”
“Thank you. Their betrayal is…difficult to bear. But, you are right. And methinks I may just have to summon the resolve to defeat them regardless, in light of recent understandings. For you are right. There is a change in me. As I rested, I had a vision. An incredible experience, where I witnessed dwarves I have never met nor known – yet were strangely familiar somehow – banding together in a time of struggle. Where I found myself before a great entrance, bearing the symbol of the all-mighty Dwarf-Father, and standing before a godly Dwarf and his anvil and forge. He spoke of resolutions to his cause, of loyalty and unwavering strength in furthering his light. He invited me to stand before him, and I swore to him my allegiance.
Moradin has charged me to be his Paladin, and I have accepted the responsibility proudly."
Andruil smiled. A sight Bruegon had not seen before. “I thought you carried yourself like someone with divine fire in their heart. It is a great honor to be called. It is a difficult path. But one with reward beyond measure. Tell me, the Princess said you wish to travel back to Athame. Is this still the case?”
“I do. I would very much like to speak with the Queen again and tell of her this news, and there is certainly much to prepare.”
“I too must travel back. The Queen will undoubtedly have need for me. Unless you have other business to attend, I say we depart within the hour.”
“I do not, I’m free to leave whenever you’re ready.”
Andruil and Bruegon made their preparations to travel back to Athame, and deliver their news in person.