The Dwarf slumped to the ground with a loud thud. The twins stepped back from the prone Runepriest, slight gasps escaping their lips. Nethri’s chest heaved as his lungs reached for air, expanding as the sensation of life reentered his body. Luc, standing nearby, shook the Dwarf’s shoulder.
“Sir Nethri? Are you alright?”
“Ay,” he replied, “what happened?” Nethri began to stand, wobbling slightly. “Ugh, how long was I –”
Luc interrupted the thought, “I’ll explain later. We got the Monk, but he didn’t have much for us.” He paused for a moment, closing his eyes and calming his heart. “Unfortunately we have angrier things to worry about. My mother – she wasn’t at the camp.”
“Huh, what,” then a thought struck Nethri. “What’re you doin’ with me then, boy? Best get to camp and wait. Don’t need to fuel that fire.” With that the Dwarf took off through the valley, determined to make it back to the campsite before Syral. Striding into the camp, the Dwarf made a quick inspection, took a quick stretch, and then plopped down on the ground.
Luc ran up to Nethri, eyes wide, “What are you doing?!”
Cooly, the Dwarf responded, “Not pissin’ her off more than she is.”
Adasunu, disguised again as Oaks, apparently agreed and took a seat next to him.
Syral found it! She brought the Hammer of Gond back from some Ice Barbarians or some such. We were lucky enough to have her searching for Luc, well, except for him, as he is grounded for life. And she is the one volunteering to enter Raven’s Tooth, leaving Luc to watch over the sword. Not only this, but they are willing to conduct the ceremony within House D’Orinda! The others will be in attendance, so it may be tricky, but I am confident. The forgemaster has agreed to supply an anvil for the ceremony, and the mages have crafted some circles of warding, so it seems everything will be in place.
It will be a glorious day for knowledge.
Nethri strode in, his house robes flowing behind him. The Hammer of Gond rest on an anvil placard in his arms, the formalities of the Dwarven house in full form, as his escort showed him to the center of the room. Standing before him was Syral and Luc within one circle of warding, the forgemaster’s anvil in the other. Pain raced through Nethri’s chest, the onyx gem radiating a eerie black glow beneath the armor he wore. “So close…”
Nethri stood, lost in the moment, not heeding the obvious conflict taking place between Syral and Luc. He watched only the sword as it plunged into Syral’s breast, siphoning her life. He focused on the blade as Luc sobbed, clenching the hilt, his knuckles white. He gazed at the hammer in his possession as Luc slowly walked to the anvil, ignoring the scores of eyes upon him. As he gently released Luc’s fingers from the sword, he took his own grip and held the blade on the anvil. Raising the Hammer of Gond high over his head, one last thought passed through the Runepriest’s head, “What will happen once this strikes?”
As Nethri’s arm swung down, the hammer eyeing its mark, a voice echoed through the vastness of Nethri’s mind. “Nothing, because you can not destroy it. Now, bring it to me!”
A loud clang rang out in the room as the hammer struck. Most of the Dwarves shielded their eyes, not knowing what to expect. Luc, completely focused on the blade, saw what the others did not – the hammer cleanly strike the anvil.
“No! What are you –,” bellowed Luc, but Nethri had already started to move. Panic erupted within D’Urban and he leapt for the blade, startling the Dwarf. “Nethri, why?”
The Dwarf didn’t respond, instead he brought the hammer in his hand down on the Fighter. Luc winced and caught a glimpse of Nethri’s eyes. The Dwarf’s pupils were solid black, small wisps swirling within. His face was stoic, unwavering, unflinching, as he stared blankly ahead. Yanking at the sword, futilely trying to break Luc’s grip, he struck D’Urban’s armor.
Luc’s armor started to flake and crumbled under the power of the runes. Confused, he tried to wrench the sword from Nethri’s grip, but the Dwarf’s hand seemed to become one with the blade, an unnatural power wrapping around the hilt of the weapon. Reaching down with a free hand, Luc withdrew one of his swords and struck the Dwarf, hoping to break him of his trance. Cutting him across the face, Luc’s hopes shattered as the Runepriest barely flinched beneath the blow.
Nethri countered, filling the room with a blast of lightning that crackled with the Hammer of Gond. Luc recoiled from the blast, adrenaline suddenly racing through his muscles at the prospect of battle. He struck out again with his blade, cutting the Dwarf once more, but Nethri held his position.
Blows continued between the two, with Luc’s superior strikes being negated by Nethri’s healing prowess. The rest of the Dwarven House stared down on the companions, unsure of the action to take, as the two warriors wrestled over the famed Raven’s Tooth; interference could spell doom for any involved.
The ferocity with which the two fought roared within the room, turning from a battle of power to one of endurance. Nethri took advantage of Luc’s fury and wrested the blade away. His eyes widened as if suddenly understanding. Turning on Luc, the Raven’s Tooth in hand, he swung, missing wide. The Fighter pulled back a step and removed his radiant shortsword, making calculated lunges to try to retake the blade, failing miserably. Sensing the upper-hand, Nethri unleashed all of his runic powers, intent to finish off the Fighter. However, the carelessness of exerting his power had caused Nethri to experience an unprecedented amount of fatigue and his runic magics started to wane. Luc, sensing a shift in the tide of the battle, reached into the depths of his being to exert his will over the situation – he would not lose his mothers. D’Urban became relentless in his strikes, pounding the Dwarf constantly, out-damaging his failing recovery powers.
Neither of the companions knew how much time had passed when Luc landed the final blow, knocking the Dwarf to the floor, and causing him to drop the Raven’s Tooth. As Luc started to reach out to the sword though, a blood-curdling scream rocked the room. The sound was abysmal, emanating from deep within the confines of a soul. Nethri pitched on the floor, tearing away at his chest. A black light burned beneath his armor, breaking through the metal, and shot out, blasting Luc away from the weapon. Black mist swirled around the room, causing the Dwarves to drop to the floor. Black wings fluttered open and a thin, spindly, hand reached out from the mist, making a grab for the sword.
Luc recovered to his feet and lunged forward, striking the hand with his radiant blade. It pulled back, unleashing a cry of death.
Luc, whipped to his senses, quickly found the Hammer of Gond, as the black mist continued swirling around the room. It rose to a climatic height before shifting and spearing down on the blade, making another attempt to whisk it away to an unknown realm. Luc wrapped his fingers around the shaft of the hammer and brought down the head on the thick of the Raven’s Tooth’s blade, inches before the mist reached him. A sudden light erupted, knocking back the mist with a shrill hiss, and sending Luc crashing into the far wall. Nethri’s prone body slid across the floor, settling at the base of the anvil. Blinding light filled the room as the mist evaporated beneath the brilliance. Moans could be heard drifting from someone in the room, but nothing could be seen. As the light receded, some Dwarves stood to their feet while others hurried into the room. Luc stirred and picked himself up, scanning the area. In the circle of warding lay his mother, her chest slightly rising. Running to Syral, he took her head in his arms.
“Mom? Mom? No…Was I too early?” Tears started to stream down his cheek, falling lightly on the breast of his mother.
Syral’s breath remained shallow, but she managed to slowly open her eyes. “Ugh…Luc? I, I saw her…”
Luc pulled his mother closer to his chest, tears falling steadily down his face, as the heads of the House Council gathered around the body Nethri. Gearthin was the first to speak.
“What in the Abyss were you thinking, Hallowstrike?!” All that escaped Nethri’s lips was a low groan.
Jayde knelt down and laid her hands on Nethri’s chest. “He’s still alive, but I don’t know how. We need to get him to the Healing Ward.”
“Foolishness,” exclaimed Harrist. “He’s probably brought with him the wrath of House D’Urban! They’ll instate a vendetta! Better for us all if he dies.” Turning to Gearthin, Harrist shoved a finger in the old Dwarf’s chest. “I warned you! This boy was trouble. My grand–nephew should have been sent in his stead!”
“This is neither the time nor the place, Hammerstrike! Keep your wits about you or leave. Your attitude will only bring chaos.”
“Bah! You’re useless! All of you!” Harrist stormed off through the stone doors, leaving the rest of the council watching Nethri.
Brimm turned to Gearthin, his face solemn. His eyes looked up through bushy grey eyebrows as he shifted his metal staff. “You are aware, Strongarm, that he can no longer stay. The best for all of us, no matter what House D’Urban wishes, is that we must take action. The sooner the better, too. I would recommend exile, though it pains me to see our future sent away.” The old Dwarf turned to Jayde, still kneeling by the prone Nethri.
“Ay, I agree, Brimm. But first,” and she turned to Gearthin, “can we save his life before we exile him?”
Bending down, Gearthin helped Jayde pick up Hallowstrike. Paying no heed to the weeping D’Urban, the Dwarves left to tend to their own. There would be much to do.