Anvil Of Discord

That night, Avi, seeing no other choice, returns to Harringall. Beyond a shadow of a doubt they are hiding something and the dwarf feels it is imperative to find out what. It likely has no bearing on his quest, but he has to know for sure. That is why he has slipped back into the town under the cover of night.

He intends to use the pitch-black darkness as cover for his search. Even if he has no clue what or where within the confines of the town on the hill, that looks over the verdant lands around it, this secret he is sure exists might be.

After all, it is not like he can simply waltz right into Harringall in full view of the torchlit streets to begin his search. If he attempted such a thing it would only end one way, with him dead, and the dwarf has no intention of dying anytime soon. He has the legendary Eris Hammer to find first.

So as he slinks through the inky black of night he makes sure to keep out of view of the citizens and their brightly lit town. Ideas go through his head as he sneaks from street to street as to what Primo Callus might do to him if he was to be caught in Harringall for a second time, and that unsettles him greatly. That is why it is not out of the realms of possibility that the citizens might well do something similar themselves. They too seemed to possess a comparable level of hatred toward him as they jeered and screamed for torture, pain and bloody murder.

For that reason alone the dwarf knows he has to be on his guard, but just as he reminds himself of that he rounds a corner without properly checking it and nearly steps fully into an area bathed in light. Avi catches himself just in time and then leaps sideways back the way he came to avoid revealing himself. His heart thunders, especially as there is no telling know might be watching and from where. This place is, after all, foreign to him.

He chastises himself for almost failing, lets out a silent sigh along with a shake of his head and then peers around the corner to the area that is bathed in light. A quick analysis confirms that he is in no way going to be able to pass the lit-up section without risking being spotted. However, there is a small sliver of darkness on the far side of the same street.

Avi ducks back around the corner and into the relative safety of the darkness. He can’t become complacent and believe that night offers him total immunity from being spotted. But that is not what he must consider, instead he has to assess whether he can safely cross the street and then squeeze through the dim section to carry on.

After more than a minutes thought he concludes that the risk is not worth the gain, especially as following further inspection it seems as though this offshoot quickly terminates in a dead-end. Avi breathes a sigh of relief at having discovered that before blindly pushing forward. That is why he instead crosses to the opposite side of the main street that he is on before continuing to follow this main road as it curves around what he can only conclude is the circular shape of this town.

Following a couple dozen more turns and assessments Avi finds himself much deeper into Harringall. He still has no clue what and where he should be heading and fears now that he might be blindly navigating this town to the point that he will have to check street by street until he finds something, or can safely conclude that he was wrong. Neither option helps to quiet his discord as he had hoped to quickly do whatever he felt he must and then extricate himself never to return.

Perhaps he wouldn’t feel so on edge had he not almost been spotted twice before reaching this point. The first time he had almost walked head-on into one of the towns’ citizens drunkenly staggering about in the dark. For what reason he was fumbling about beyond the confines of the street lights, other than inebriation, the dwarf cannot say. But Avi had managed to throw himself out of the unsteady man’s path just in time to avoid a collision. Though, whether a drunken fool would have raised the alarm or been able to present a formidable challenge he cannot say. And, at the time, was not inclined to find out. The second almost discovery came when Avi had been slinking through the dead of night quite calmly, given his surroundings, when a brilliant light had come shining in his general direction. Avi had frozen on the spot at its sudden arrival and then as it started to sweep back and forth the dwarf had thrown himself to the grass blanket below his feet. That alone had deadened the sound of his impact, which assumedly went unheard, and where he stayed until the light and whoever its possessor was withdrew.

Avi does have to admit now, as he is skulking through the darkness in what he can only assume is some sort of public garden area, that he is about ready to give up. The scares have been numerous and his progress slime. So when he hears voices, a pair, conversing some minutes later, Avi feels overjoyed. He doesn’t let the uptick in his mood affect his caution however as he heads for the voices, making sure to keep low as he slowly half crawls toward it.

At any other time the dwarf would be irritated by the mud that he is undoubtedly getting over his thick woollen trousers. But seeing as he already took a mud bath today, courtesy of Primo Callus and some goons, Avi has no such issue. Instead, he drops to the ground so that he is prone and from that point crawls, on his belly, forward until the voices are loud enough to clearly hear. Thankfully, they are not only unaware of his presence, seeing as they continue chatting without pause or hesitation, but are also separated from the dwarf by a thick metre and a half tall hedge. It’s a relief to the dwarf who did not revel in the possibility that he might be forced to continue laying in what is a dirt border around the base of the hedge while he listens in on the conversation.

“Why you think a dwarf came here?” A man with a rough voice asks.

“Not a clue, but he did mention the Pilaster.” The second voice, also male, says with a nasally tone.

One of the pair gasps. Avi guesses that it is likely the first man who spoke. The one with the rough sounding voice, but can’t be certain and has no way of knowing for sure.

“Why do you think he would be asking about that?” The rough sounding male voice questions uneasily.

“Maybe he heard about the atrocities that happened here.” The other man replies with a shrug that Avi can see as he is now daring to peer through a small gap in the hedge so that he can get a view of the pair.

The dwarf can’t make either of their facial features out because of the shadows being cast by the torchlight’s beside them. What he can see are their outlines and that affords him the opportunity to read their body language as a result, which is better than nothing.

“How? That happened centuries ago.” Is the swift response that comes alongside a second, cumulatively speaking, shrug of the shoulders. It’s the first physical action Avi has seen from the man on the right who is the owner of the rough sounding voice.

“Not a clue. Maybe he’s a historian, difficult to tell with dwarves. But you asked and that’s what I have to offer in reply. Take it or leave it.”

The man on the right decides to take it and move on with the conversation by asking, “What happened anyway?”

“With the dwarf? Primo threatened him quite profusely and the little bastard, he was inclined to flee as a result.”

“Then those short shits do have some brains in those fuzz laden heads of theirs.” Is the reply that comes before both men begin to chuckle.

Avi meanwhile has a deep furrowed frown on his face. He doesn’t like the way this pair are talking about and mocking him.

“I hope the dwarf learned nothing.” The man on the right says once they have both stopped chuckling.

“He did not learn a thing. The fool likely doesn’t even realise that what he seeks stands within the town.”

Both men begin to cackle, while a wide smile breaks across Avi’s face. He now knows he is right where he needs to be. All he has to do is find and scale the pilaster so that he can be pointed toward his next destination. Where that will be he does not know. What the dwarf does know however is that he must face South-Southwest to discern where he will be heading as that should point him toward a place known as The Poisoned Swamp of Relvelin.

Apparently the swamp can only be found from the pilaster. For what reason Avi does not know and having followed the trail thus far is not about to rail against it and ask why he can’t find a swamp without learning of its position and then walking to it.

Yet, the dwarf does not depart his hiding place. Rather he is inclined to continue listening in hopes that the men, in their idle chatter, reveal something about where within this large town the column that used to double as this communities name stands.

Unfortunately, while stood behind the hedge Avi shuffles his feet, which results in him putting, carelessly, his weight onto a twig that snaps loudly in the otherwise still air.

The men hear it immediately and Avi freezes, his hand clamping over his mouth to silence his breathing as his heart stops.

Both men’s heads begin to turn this way and that as if expecting to see someone present themselves. Such a thing does not happen as Avi continues to stare through the small gap in the hedge, crisscrossed with thin leafless sections of branches, at the men who soon turn their attention toward the only place where an eavesdropper might be residing. And that is precisely where Avi is, though he makes no attempt to move. If he does there is no doubt, in his mind, that he will be spotted. He can’t afford that and so he stays rooted to the spot, hoping and pleading that somehow he is not discovered.

The pair of men advance toward the thick hedge, shorter than their own nearing two metre heights, drawing their swords as the gap closes.

Avi screws his eyes shut tightly, convinced that he has made a poor choice and that he should have at least attempted to flee. If he’d done that then he would have had a chance to escape. Now, there is not one and so he waits to be discovered and almost certainly run through with the cold steel of these men’s swords.

Then, as if by some miracle, a cat bolts from out of a section of hedge a half metre downwind from Avi. As the four legged animal goes it vocalises its annoyance with mewls and hisses.

The men stop their advance, exchange looks, curse the cat for the fright it gave them, sigh and then finally stow their weapons with shakes of their heads.

“More trouble than they’re worth those things.” One of the pair utters as he and his friend retake their positions.

“Don’t I know it. But they make excellent ratters, I must admit.”

“True. It is why we have no rats.”

They both chuckle before the nasally toned voice adds, “Yeah, that’s why.”

After that both roar with laughter, for what reason Avi does not know. The joke is lost on him yet he feels the need to continue listening in the hopes the men return to their previous topic of conversation. They don’t and so after a couple minutes the dwarf carefully withdraws, making sure not to misstep and crack another twig. The probability of fortune favouring him a second time is abysmal at best, he thinks.

With Avi having fully extricated himself from the vicinity of the pair of chatting citizens, he returns to canvassing the town in search of a goal he now knows is nestled somewhere within the confines of its streets.

Yet, he cannot bring himself to cast aside contemplating what atrocities the men had spoken of. It is not why the dwarf is here even if they believe that it is. And unfortunately that is why Avi, thoughtlessly, lost in deep thinking steps right into an area bathed in torchlight.

The dwarf realises his mistake a moment too late as a scream erupts, shattering the silent air. Avi turns his attention in the direction of the screams source only to see a woman pointing right toward him.

Panic sits in and seeing no other option Avi breaks into a sprint. As he rushes off the town bursts into life. House doors fly open as if the populace had been waiting for the clarion call that has now roused them.

Cries and shouts, angry and thirsty, fill the air as Avi races headlong deeper into the town unsure of where he is heading or what he hopes to achieve, besides losing his pursuers. There are dozens of them, most armed with torches, a few brandishing weapons. They are baying for blood, his blood, and it is unlike anything he has ever glimpsed before.

Still, the sight helps to propel him forward as he takes turns down this street and that to avoid more crowds of ravenous citizens attempting to cut off his escape. Each new addition to the mob just as bloodthirsty as the last and yet somehow he manages, to his surprise, to stay ahead of those chasing him. How he does not know and is not inclined to question it as he dives down a side street.

His attempt to lose his pursuers does not work however, as they quickly swarm after him. Only the first few who had been at the head of the mob are caught out by his sudden divergence from his prior heading.

That is how the chase continues with the horde neither catching nor being lost by the fleeing dwarf, whose legs are starting to ache from the relentless pumping they are being forced to continue. That is until Avi takes a random, seemingly reckless, and sudden left that funnels him down a narrow back alley.

Where it will lead the dwarf he is completely unaware, but he cannot keep up this pace much longer. That is why he is daring; risking his life in the process, to take a punt in the desperate hope that he may be able to open up the gap between him and his mass of angry stalkers. Still, they continue to roar and scream profanity and hate in his direction.

Before too long Avi takes the chance to look over his shoulder in hopes of finding that they are slowing, but they are not. They are still hot on his heels and might even be starting to close the gap. That sends a new bout of panic flashing through him which only intensifies as he turns his attention forward again only to spy that the alley does not have an exit. His eyes go wide in response of this discovery and the dwarf is forced to counter a natural instinct to grind to a halt in disbelief. It succeeds and somehow Avi manages to not only keep going but maintain his pace with barely a single misstep.

How he will get out of this alive though he does not know and studies, at a distance, the obstacle ahead of him. It’s a high wall of stone, topped with wrought iron only adding to its towering stature. Avi will in no way be able to climb it, not with the citizens chasing him as ravenously as they are. So as he approaches and the layers upon layers of darkness thin he is relieved to discover that there is a gap near the base of the stone. It is small, perhaps too small, but he has to attempt it. What is his alternative? Death, of that he is sure. So he takes a deep breath and orders his legs to give him everything they’ve still got. To his astonishment they comply and send the dwarf hurtling down the remainder of the alleyway right toward the gap.

Avi dives at the last conceivable moment, unwilling to slow even a couple steps encase it is all that is needed for him to be caught.

He sails through the air, at first fearful that his altitude loss is not enough, and then he slams to the hard stone street. Pain floods throw his chest and knees as a result of the impacts, but Avi keeps his focus and slithers, like a snake, forward into the gap. It is small, perhaps even smaller than he considered previously. No human, at least grown, would have hope of following him, if, of course, he manages to wriggle through it himself.

With that in mind the dwarf does not pause as he continues to squirm and writhe until his widest point, his broad shoulders, are fully through the overly narrow gap. A sigh of relief passing his lips a breath too soon as someone, or maybe several someone’s, grab a hold of one of his booted feet and begin to pull.

Avi slides back the way he came a good ten centimetres before managing to throw out a strong, desperate kick that slams into the gut of the rabid citizen who has hold of the dwarfs boot. The citizen reflexively releases their grip allowing Avi to wriggle the rest of the way through the gap and to safety.

The citizens on the other side screech and shriek their dissatisfaction at the dwarfs escape even as Avi scrambles back to his feet, ignoring the pain points all over his body. Following that he continues now with a much slower sprint, more a jog, down the street. As he goes the dwarf takes frequent glances over his shoulder. He is sure that his foes will suddenly appear behind him once more and resume the chase. They don’t, but Avi cannot stop dwelling on the fear and so continues to hurry with his gaze still firmly fixed behind him as he looks over his shoulder. He doesn’t get far before he rushes headfirst into something solid and unrelenting.

Avi bounces backward only to land on his backside. His head throbs angrily as he brings his hand up to cradle the lump that is already beginning to form on his head. He rubs it for a short while and then feeling capable casts his eyes in the direction he had been headed before the collision. His first thought is that he hopes he has not collided with the Primo or one of the other citizens of this deranged town. He hasn’t and the dwarf instead finds that his counterpart in the collision is in fact the towering mighty remains of what once must have been an astounding column.

With the state that the column is in, it is clear that it has seen much better days, especially as it lists, about seven degrees, to one side. The angle is not enough for the column to be at risk of coming crashing down, but evidently not what its architect would have intended before, during and after its erection.

Still, Avi feels the need to cast his eyes about the empty space around the column just to ensure that it isn’t the sole remains of some once grand structure. It isn’t, and once the dwarf is sure a smile splits across his face to physically show the flood of joy that is now filling his body. After all it is not every day that you find an ancient pilaster which is mentioned as a point along a journey that should lead to a legendary weapon no longer believed to have ever existed in the first place.

However, Avi’s joy does not last as screams fill the air, shattering the silence that the dwarf had become so accustomed to.

The redhead with the thick beard turns in the direction of the screams only for them to be confirmed as what he suspected and feared most, the citizens of Harringall as they rush toward him. They are too close for him to attempt to flee and be successful. So the dwarf does the only thing he sees as an option to him, he begins to climb.

His fingers dig painfully into the deep cuts of the stone columns layered sections. Along with the limited but vital purchase the pointed toes of his boots offer the dwarf is able to haul himself higher and higher up the pilaster.

Yet, as Avi dares to look down to assess his progress, which is roughly a third of the columns modern height, he finds that the base is surrounded by the mob. They continue, unabated, to chant and spit their vitriol toward him.

Without a shadow of a doubt want his blood and also probably why numerous individuals leap and swipe hoping to somehow grasp a section of the diminutive man’s clothing to then drag him off the column and to his demise. The attempts are unsuccessful as he is outside of their grasp, not that such a reality seems to be dissuading them from their attempts however.

Avi has never before witnessed the kind of rabid, salivating behaviour that this group are exhibiting, but such thoughts are lost in an instant when he notices something far more disturbing. Everyone’s eyes are the same and in no way natural for humans seeing as they are a sea of deep black broken only by tiny pinpricks of yellow. A shiver winds its way down Avi’s back as he wonders what they could be until suddenly rocks begins to sore through the air all around him.

In response Avi weaves from side to side, making sure his purchase is still considerable so he will not fall, to avoid them. Most miss, but one he sees too late slams right into his forehead. The dwarfs’ response is immediate as a shrill cry of pain erupts from between his nearly hidden lips.

The citizens, with their yellow pinprick eyes surrounded by black, cheer in response to his outcry, apparently fuelled by his pain. Its further proof they are sick as they bare their teeth as if they can taste victory.

Avi is terrified by what he is bearing witness to. However, his fear does not stop him as instinctively he begins to climb once again. Anything that will put more distance between him and these ‘people’ is a good thing. Sadly, his fortune does not continue as a number of the rabid crowd begin to attempt a scaling of the column themselves. A couple slide down too weak to meet the challenge presented but others do not. They are slower than the dwarf for no other reason than dwarves of Avi’s age are all muscle. That is something very few humans, perhaps none, can boast. Not that dwarfs boast such things.

The return of the pursuit has not escaped Avi as he keeps up his ascent. What he will do once he reaches the zenith of the column he does not know. That is a consideration for another time, once achieved. Yet, there is no doubt that he must do it not just so that he can continue living but also to point him wherever it is he must go next. Whether he survives this town is irrelevant, again a consideration for another time. A time further beyond the previous consideration he forced aside so as not to succumb to defeat.

With four fifths of the column now conquered, Avi dares to look below to see what progress his foes have made. A small, miniscule really, sense of relief slaps him across the face as he notes that his pursuers are nowhere near as adept as he at scaling this pilaster. The dwarf thanks his lucky stars that he is young. Had he waited until later in life there is a good chance he would not have been able to so expertly clamber up this well-worn stone tower. Still, he is not inclined to delay and so returns to his now remarkably pain infused ascent.

Several tense minutes later Avi reaches the wide lip that flairs outward above him. It’s awkward to counter without being reckless but after several moments of thought and a few mental calculations the dwarf deftly clears this final obstacle.

As he looks down from the pinnacle of the leaning column however Avi feels a swirl of dizziness. It knocks him off-balance but somehow he manages to recover himself just in the nick of time. Had he been a second later he would have misstepped and then gone tumbling through the air back down to earth. Or more precisely right into the outstretched arms of the hungry citizens of Harringall who are still chanting and screeching menacingly.

With his balance reclaimed and the dizzy spell having passed, Avi notes that those who have attempted to scale the column are little more than halfway up the shaft that is the pilaster.

Unwilling to waste a second of time, Avi rips the compass from his breast pocket, flips it open and then waits impatiently for it to settle on the direction he is facing. Once it has he is forced to wait several more seconds as his eyes come into focus. Following such a delay Avi spins on the spot, completing almost two full revolutions before he comes to a sudden halt. A smile breaks across his face now that the compass clearly indicates that he is facing South-Southwest. A flutter of quick successive heart beats are a welcome reminder that he is, against the odds, still very much alive and well. Though, his job here is not yet done and so the dwarf lifts his head. The view before him stretches for many miles as dawn is beginning to break.

Avi had not considered before this moment that had he been a fraction earlier then he would have been faced with a sea of unbroken night impossible for him to ascertain any view worth his time, or life. A sigh passes his lips as he drinks in the sight of a distinctive rock formation surrounded by a mighty forest of densely packed trees the colours of autumn.

The rock formation, he concludes, must be the gateway to The Poisoned Swamp beyond as there is no sign of a swamp on this side of the unique jutting jagged rocks that cross one another to create duelling peaks seemingly locked like swords in battle.

Suddenly a shadow bursts up and out of nowhere to obscure Avi’s view. The dwarf recoils as it becomes evident to him that the shadow is in fact Primo Callus and his eyes too, like the others in this town, are black with tiny yellow pinpricks at their very centre.

Without thought Avi takes a step back. If he were a human or elf that would have been the end of him, but the dwarf is lucky and remains on the plinth he has staked as his. And so a second later he grabs and pulls his short sword from the scabbard that hangs off his waist. The gleaming polished razor-sharp blade glows and glistens as it is slashed angrily toward Callus.

The ‘man’ evades the vicious attempt by the dwarf on his life but does not attack yet. Instead, he watches as several others of his ilk rear up behind Avi. They grasp hold of him without the dwarf having a hope of fighting back. Still, Avi refuses to accept defeat as he wriggles and thrashes about, protesting loudly, “Release me! You demon men be damned!”

Callus roars with mad laughter hearing the dwarfs’ cries, but knows there is no chance of his demands being obliged. The Primo has other plans for the dwarf as he lunges forward desperate to tear flesh from bone and then feast upon it until there is nothing left of Avi but a memory which Callus can consider until the towns next meal comes ignorantly stumbling into their gilded cage.

Callus would prefer his meal not to be a dwarf, but seeing as the diminutive being dared to return after a fair warning was levelled his way, there can be no doubt that the blame lies solely on Avi and no one else. At least that is how Primo Callus sees it anyway.

However, during Callus’ lunge, Avi manages to elbow one of his captors and then slip out of the weaker than he would have anticipated grasps affording him the opportunity to unleash another slash of his short sword in the seconds before his captors have hope of regaining a hold over him.

It works, much to the shock of everyone, including Avi. That is not to say that the dwarf pauses, he does not and instead throws himself at Callus.

The ‘man’ is taken aback by the sudden surprise attack that leaves him open to Avi’s shoulder slamming hard into his face, thus inverting his momentum and sending the Primo of Harringall flying backward through the air and down to the ground below. A sickening crunch pierces the silence that had been hanging in the air as the other citizens of Harringall watched this all unfold from below.

But the pause does not last as the citizens who had restrained Avi previously begin to close in from all sides, ready to strike. However a cry suddenly fills the air, it’s from Callus and results in a reciprocal wave of corresponding cries from each and every one of the other citizens who pause to reply. That pause gives Avi the opening and so he unleashes a volley of wild slashes directed at the foes surrounding him. The slashes sever flesh and cleave bone and result in fingers and hands being detached from the bodies of which they had once been a part.

The attackers retreat, hissing as they go, but it is too late the sun is upon them and as it blazes across column scaling members of the strange populace of Harringall, illuminating them, they are instantly turned to stone.

Avi blinks in surprise and watches as the remainder of the towns inhabitants scurry away so as not to suffer the same fate.

It takes less than a minute for them to vanish back inside the structures of the town that they frequent, leaving Avi alone at the top of the ancient column as it sits at the centre of this octagonal open space.

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