With the new day having already dawned a couple hours ago and Avi having had a decent night’s sleep in a bed, which is a first for many months, and his first full meal in weeks, he squeezes through the narrow rock passage. It’s a tight fit. He wishes it was a smidge wider just so he doesn’t feel the sharp rocks drag across his body, but there is nothing he can do about it. So once the dwarf is through he breathes a sigh of relief before noting that the fog is entirely gone. It’s as if it cannot pass the threshold of the narrow entrance. Such a thing seems impossible and beyond comprehension, yet Avi isn’t about to argue the fact. Especially as it means he can see properly again.
Before this he had started to wonder whether that would ever be the case or if somehow the fog around Kerenseean would permanently affect his sight.
Sadly, a lot of the light of day is also lost to him now that he is within what appears to be an actual cave and not just some tiered rocks. This cave however is not pitch-black like you would usually expect. Instead, limited light is spearing through the gaps in the boulders illuminating just enough of the space that the dwarf feels he is not a risk as to where he may wish to place his feet while forging ahead. And that is precisely what Avi does, forge ahead.
Before long the ragged rocks give way to what he can only describe as the broken remains of something. What he does not know, but it clearly used to be some sort of structure because of the smoothness of the stones surface. Not that he has dared wander over to any of the stone blocks to feel there texture. He does not dare to. Fearful of what might befall him if he dares to stray from his path. It might not be a defined path, but it is the one that he has chosen and after Matilda’s warning there is no telling what dangers could be present. He still hadn’t discerned what the elder had meant by others during the evening before his night of rest. And it seemed no one else in the village was willing to converse with him so that he might gleam information from them either. Not that he can blame them. He is an outsider after all and it seems few outsiders visit Kerenseean from what little he could gather. Perhaps some that had passed through are the reason for the sideways stares he had been receiving.
Avi instead continues to press on, passing mounds and piles of smooth rocks, some shattered others not. Though, they are clearly not where they are intended to be as they lie scattered about without an ounce of uniformity.
Occasionally the dwarf catches sight of crude markings on some of the smooth stones. They aren’t text or murals elaborately painted as found in some historical caves and underground ruins, but symmetrical repeating patterns. Like a design of some sort but whether there is any meaning behind it Avi hasn’t a clue. It seems unlikely but without study, which he is no way inclined to partake, there is no sure way of knowing. That is not to say that his curiosity has not been peaked. It has, quite explicitly, but he has a goal and as such refuses, no matter his interest, to deviate from it. At least until it is firmly within his grasp.
Yet, it hasn’t escaped the dwarf that the Eris Hammer, his prize, might lay within this place. It seems doubtful, but it is still possible he thinks, especially with Matilda’s answering of his questions.
After some time the dwarf reaches another tight space. Again he is forced to squeeze through it, but not before having to dump the pack he has had with him along every step of this journey. The gap is narrower than the last and with it across his back he will never overcome the obstacle. However, there is little reason for the dwarf to be carrying it now. While it once held food and supplies for his journey, it is now all but empty except for the dust that has come to settle within it.
So he places it down, gently, onto the debris strewn stone beneath his feet. Making sure that it continues to reside within the limited light beamed down from high above. Then he returns to his squeeze through the gap. Without the pack it is easier yet still a struggle that forces Avi to writhe and wriggle until ultimately he pops free on the far side only for his eyes to be assaulted by a near blinding white light.
There is no doubt in the dwarfs mind that it is not sunlight. It can’t be. Sunlight is never white. It has always been and will always be yellow, warm and inviting. This on the other hand, though brilliant and dazzling, is cold. Not that prior to this Avi has ever come across a white light in all his sixty three years upon this world.
Still, following a period of difficulty in overcoming the burn of the light, Avi manages to plod past the ill angled, for his eyes, rays only for the space around him to be fully revealed. His jaw drops as his brown eyes probe at the grand opening.
Some of the walls of whatever this place had once been remain along with much of the floor, which is in part the culprit behind the white light that had reflected right into his face when he first entered. The light itself comes courteous, like the rest of the light Avi has experienced in here, from uneven holes in the cave ceiling above.
Now that Avi is passed the blaring brilliance of the reflection he can take in the beauty of the polished white surface of the floor. The redhead can only take a wild stab that it is some form of marble. Though, if it is it too is unlike any other example of the porous stone he has ever heard of.
His eyes do not linger on the surface or the other examples of beauty these ruins, he has no other word for them, offer. Rather, they settle on three figures some distance ahead of him.
Reflexively Avi grabs a hold of the hilt of his stowed blade, ready for it to be drawn if needs be, when an echoey voice demands, “Who be this that dares to trespass here?”
Avi freezes on the spot having felt the air chill as the words reached his ears.
Shortly after that, a chill ripples across his back, quite unnaturally and he begins to see his breath visibly before him. Yet, the dwarf does not respond to the query. Instead, he prepares himself for a fight he believes is destined to come no matter what may or may not be uttered.
“Speak ya heathen or be felled!” The voice roars loudly.
“A-Avi.” The redhead stutters unsure as to why he is obeying seeing as there seems to be no benefit in conversing with whomever it is that it speaking.
Nothing else is said following the dwarfs’ utterance of his name as silence hangs in the air.
During that period of unnerving quiet Avi realises that two of the figures are facing toward him. Not away as he is sure they had been when he first spied them. How that is possible when he hasn’t taken his eyes off the forms he does not know. It should not be possible and yet he cannot refute it, the proof is before his very eyes.
He pushes the thought aside and studies the forms. One is shorter than the other and appears to his trained eye, as Dwarves are used to gauging such things, to be of a similar height to his own. That likely means only one thing and why Avi blurts, “I am a Dwarf, like you friend.”
“There are no friends here.” A different voice says in response. It is a colder tone than a dwarf or human could manage and comes a moment before the central figure rises from its bended knee and then turns.
Avi’s eyes go wide. He had not considered that the form on bended knee might be an elf, but there can be no mistaking that that is what this middle figure is. The figures pointed ears in clear view for anyone with eyes and sight to be able to glimpse. Yet, what is not explained is why all three are green in colour. They should not be. Unless…Then it hits Avi, they are dead, spectral. He can see, marginally, through them to get a view of what lies beyond. At the distance he is from them it took squinting to discover this but now that he has he utters, “What are you?”
The dwarfs voice was little more than a whisper, soaked in fear and trembling as the words passed his hidden lips.
“We are the Knight Shriekers. We guard this place. Trespassers are not welcome here.” The spectral elf informs as he unsheathes his sword in a single clean fluid motion. It’s the type of movement only possessed by skilled warriors.
“I seek only the Eris Hammer.” Avi blurts hoping his words will placate these…things. He hasn’t a name for them. Are they the others Matilda spoke of? He does not know and would rather not find out.
“You will not steal that prize from us. Xanus, we must stop him.” The spectral form on the left, seemingly a human, exclaims.
“Worry not brother, we will fell this invader, this betrayer, like we have all those before him.” The Elf, Xanus, assures.
“Will it be a fight against three or…” The spectral figure, that Avi is sure is a Dwarf and is indeed correct, begins before being interrupted by Xanus.
“As Grand Paladin I will remove this rot.”
And with those words uttered, Grand Paladin Xanus of the Knight Shriekers drifts, at speed, toward Avi who pulls his sword. His hand trembles as he raises his own short sword, all the time wondering how he can fight a spirit. If that is what this elf, Xanus, truly is.
Perhaps Xanus’ weapon will be able to do as much to him as he believes his own weapon will be able to do to Xanus, which suffice to say is none. That is what Avi hopes anyway as he stands there.
Before the redheaded dwarf can consider how Xanus would be attacking and be able to have engaged them in battle, Xanus is on Avi, attacking.
The dwarf is forced to leap back to narrowly avoid a jab that would, if the sword in the spectral figures hand is as dangerous as one forged of steel, have skewered right through his chest.
Surprisingly the elf does not curse or twist his face with annoyance but rather erupts into roars of laughter. The roars come just as the green shape disappears from view only to re-emerge a couple seconds later behind Avi.
Without delay the elf delivers a quick swipe that tears through Avi’s clothing and into his flesh. A howl of agony passes the dwarfs lips as flesh is rended.
The dwarf however, is unwilling to admit defeat as he spins around swinging his sword. Unfortunately, Xanus is already gone.
The two other spectral figures cackle in response to Avi’s failed attempt, while Xanus re-appears ready to unleash another vicious strike.
However, this time Avi feels the presence, which is why without hesitation he swings his sword for what will be only the second time during this fight.
The blade hits its mark but does no damage. Rather, it passes harmlessly through the Elf’s green form.
Avi’s eyes go wide in response as his jaw literally drops.
Xanus chuckles to glimpse the look on the dwarfs face before he promises, “You cannot best me. Instead, you have come here for no other reason than to die!”
As the words drip from the elf’s mouth with venom he drives his sword forward. It’s pointed tip punching through Avi’s gut as a result. The chainmail beneath his doublet having offered no resistance to the strength of the blow inflicted upon him.
Avi lets out a gasp right after but nothing else until Xanus retracts his sword from the sliced innards of the dwarf, who topples over and slams full force into the white floor.
The pain in his gut is overwhelming and so an appropriate scream of agonising pain passes his lips.
To make matters worse Avi is unable to grab at his ruined stomach now that he is splayed out on his front on the floor.
The trio of green spectres laugh, uncontrollably, their heads thrown back as they howl and screech in a way that only the sick and demented would find appropriate.
Avi though refuses to admit defeat and with his sword still in hand he begins to crawl. He’d try and stand if he thought that he would be able but he does not. He doubts that with the wound to his abdomen his legs will obey, and even if by some miracle they did the likelihood of him staying upright for more than seconds is astronomically low.
Still, the injured dwarf makes more than decent progress crawling before Xanus appears ahead of him, cutting off his route.
“You won’t need this.” The elf utters a brief period later and just as he kicks the sword loosely held in Avi’s hand.
The weapon scuttles away now that it is free of its masters grasp, clattering along the stone as it retreats to somewhere it does not truly belong.
Avi tries to speak, hoping to come out with something witty and defiant, but nothing comes out. Instead, his lower lip quivers as a cold sensation continues to creep through his body.
Feeling the unarmed dwarf on his belly is no threat; Xanus turns to his comrades with a smile plastered across his face, and questions, “How do you think we should handle this one? Pionus, Berefus?”
The Dwarf, Berefus, replies, “If we were still living I’d say cook and eat him.
The Dwarf then slathers his lips with his tongue while Pionus remarks, “Do Dwarves eat their kind?”
“This wretch is not my kind. I am a Knight Shrieker.” Berefus replies proudly.
Avi ignores the chatter. If he listens to it he may be inclined to accept defeat and await his fate. And while he is certain that death will claim him soon, not because of his wounds but because of these monsters, he cannot deny the fact that he has come too far to simply give in. That is why he has blocked out their voices and resumed his desperate crawling.
The dwarf does not know where he is heading or what he hopes to achieve and yet he does not pause. His mind is addled. Nothing that could be called coherent thought comes to him. It’s a first for the dwarf and he despises it. The disdain he feels made worse by his inability to be rid of it.
“Now now little piggy, don’t you know it’s rude to flee.” Xanus says in the seconds before he phases through the floor, right before Avi’s eyes, until the elf is again blocking the injured dwarfs path.
Avi looks up, having not listened to their violent chatter, the dwarf hasn’t a clue what it is that this trio intend for him. If it were not for the cold sensation continuing to spread throughout his body he might be terrified, but he can’t feel much of anything other than pain right now.
So when Xanus delivers a kick that sends Avi up and into the air about half a metre where he does almost two full rotations before finally slamming hard onto his side, the dwarf is not surprised.
Still, Avi cannot stop himself from grunting as he flops back onto his front. His vision filled with tiny pinpricks of light and though he cannot see, at least in any meaningful way, he resumes his crawl.
“Xanus, he is almost to the boundary!” Pionus exclaims with a raised arm and a pointing index finger.
Xanus spins about having not considered the trespassers location when he’d issued the kick that he can now see has aided this foolish wretch.
The Elf bares his teeth and growls a second before he launches himself toward Avi screaming, “Stop him!”
In response, Avi looks over his shoulder only to see the three green spectres flying toward him as he continues, instinctively, to crawl.
The injured dwarf manages two metres before they are so close Avi cannot help but scrunch his eyes shut to wait for death.
Avi feels nothing. No pain. He expected there would be pain. Unless they are not upon him yet to have been able to inflict pain that is. How that can be possible he does not know. It shouldn’t be and so he is inclined to believe that perhaps he is already dead. That the trio have done what they intended to him, and that as a result Avi can no longer be counted among the living. Yet, having felt nothing makes that seem highly improbably though and so the dwarf dares to open his eyes, slowly and carefully, afraid of what he might find.
To his surprise he finds that he is still alive, the space around him the same, except the three figures are absent. The dwarf blinks, a hundred questions racing through his head before a sparkling light catches and draws his attention. He turns toward it, forgetting about the green spectres instantly, and then resumes his crawl. Something about the light seems to be compelling him to seek out its source even though his body is now completely numb.
What the dwarf has failed to notice is that he has crawled across a threshold that separates the grand opening from this new area. This new space far smaller and equally less impressive than the one he had previously found himself within. Yet, Avi does not take notice of the unremarkable square room. Instead, he is fixated on what rests upright at the very centre of the space, a hammer. It measures roughly one hundred and forty centimetres in length, with the bulk of its height made from a dark shaft wrapped in equally dark fabric into which Dwarven runes, unlike any Avi has seen before, are carved. While they are exquisite their beauty pales in comparison to the head of the weapon. It’s a brilliant white colour akin to white ice and it to bears an engraving of a circle cracked in two. The crack is jagged and surrounded along the upper split by what can only be described as engraved shards that are being cast wide as if they are being thrown outward by some immense force.
Avi cannot take his eyes off the weapon until the sound of clapping splits the otherwise still air and draws his attention away from the sublime beauty of the piece.
He scans the area around him. Who or what he is searching for he cannot say until his eyes come to rest on a familiar face, Ferris. The greying dark haired dwarf stands with a broad smile across his face, his hands slapping together as his shoulder is dug into one of the bland stone walls of the small room.
Avi doesn’t understand how this can be possible and seeing the expression of confusion on the redheaded dwarfs face Ferris erupts into a soft chuckle that then becomes, “You have done well Avi. You found what was lost.”
“You. Who are you?” Avi queries without thought.
“Ferris Junin, one of the master smiths that helped to forge this, the Eris Hammer, all those many many centuries ago.” The greying dark haired dwarf answers honestly and with a smile still on his face.
“I don’t understand.” Avi utters.
“I know you don’t. You’re not supposed to. But there will be time for you to gain an understanding. First, you must claim your prize.”
“But I cannot stand.” Avi says weakly.
“I will help you.” Ferris promises as he stoops down and hauls Avi to his feet.
The pain the injured redhead dwarf feels in response is immeasurable but he manages to contain most of it as Ferris drifts over to the hammer while supporting Avi so that he can get a much closer look at the weapon.
“Touch it and all will be well.” Ferris urges and assures.
Avi hesitates and then looks at Ferris directly who smiles warmly in response.
It’s all Avi needs to feel reassured and so the injured dwarf reaches out until the tips of his fingers touch the rune encrusted shaft of the Eris Hammer. The runes react to his touch and begin to glow. Avi thought the weapon was beautiful before but somehow this has made it even more spectacular and results in a smile spreading across his round face.
“What do you feel?” Ferris asks.
“Warmth.” Avi replies shocked.
“Then you have been deemed worthy.”
“Worthy of what?” Avi questions.
“The Eris Hammer. It is yours now.” Ferris answers happily.
“But there is still so much I do not understand.”
“You will. There is plenty of time for the weapons long history to be recanted to you on your journey back to Marathankar.” Ferris’ fading voice says confidently.
“What?” Is all Avi manages before a blinding light from the Eris Hammer forces the Dwarf to screw his eyes shut and shield them against the brightness.
When the light is no more, Avi opens his eyes to find himself back at the edge of Kerenseean.
The Dwarf looks around confused and then remembering the affliction that he suffered he checks his gut. Only he cannot find the wound. It is gone, healed. How he does not know. But the contemplation does not last more than a moment as he feels a weight upon his back. It had not been there before, when he’d been in the cave, ruin, whatever it was. So the dwarf cranes his neck to look over his shoulder only to find the Eris Hammer there, affixed in place, all his.
Avi smiles, nods to himself and then starts to walk back into Kerenseean where the populace are waiting for him up ahead, Matilda included.