Raethe knelt over the mutilated body of some nameless lost soul known only as a Bull. His wounds still pouring blood, and his lungs still burning from the exertion that ended only a few short minutes ago. The moments pass slowly and the tension around him is like an electric charge in the air. Kal approaches cautiously from behind him unsure of how to address everyone’s concerns.
Raethe stays put, hovering over the remains, trying to find some reason that this fight –and these lives- were worth all of this. All the while he can feel his skin crawl as eldritch force begins to weave his shredded flesh back together.
“You were gone there, for a minute.” Whispers Kal, with more than a hint of trepidation in his voice.
Raethe looks around as if he doesn’t know what he means, but Kal’s face told him there was no chance of getting off that easy.
“It’s the only way sometimes…” Raethe replied, not sure how else to explain without betraying everything.
The short conversation was interrupted by Khalid’s advance, he spoke words that should invoke a sense of peace and well-being, but it was not so. The powers that granted these requests for aid were anathema to the forces that Raethe had drawn upon to aid in his quest. The feeling of those powers recoiling was curious, and like so many things, just raised more questions for the dwarf. He almost wished Khalid would show the same contempt that Dorak had begun to harbor. At least then he could simply ignore them both. Instead, Raethe simply nodded in appreciation of the battlefield aid that Khalid so easily provided.
The tension was broken by the unmistakable sounds of an ornithopter in the distance. Kal did his best to pinpoint its direction, but in the damnable place that is the Bellona/Belrael he was only able to get a rough bearing. Kal, being the only one of the group who can navigate at all here, brought them through a forest of the odd slender towers that overpopulate this place. Further on, they realized there was another noise that was quickly rising above the steady whumph of the ornithopter.
The rising cacophony of voices eventually broke into full-fledged yelling as we came upon the sight of the Bulls and Scorpions posturing for a fight. The Bulls had the Scorpions outnumbered about twenty-five to ten, and the latter began to fall back toward the group’s position so they decided to hole up in an empty tower and get a better view of the area.
Kal spotted the Scorpions heading straight for them while getting slowly surrounded by the Bulls. They would certainly be obliterated, so Kal and Dorak decided that it was incumbent on the group to intervene. Raethe objected, as did Khalid. For Raethe’s part it seemed utterly without merit to interject themselves into a fight between two gangs of squabbling urchins who, by all accounts, were already dead.
Kal and Dorak would have none of it, and prepared to enter the growing battle just outside the tower walls. Raethe did the only thing a warrior can do in that position; he backed his comrades’ decision.
The fight was going badly for the Scorpions right from the start. Outnumbered, overpowered, and scared, there was little hope for them. Raethe wondered, as he did his part to even the odds, if at least the fallen would find some fulfillment in this “life” that they so obviously did not find in their past lives. Unfortunately, the Slayer quickly concluded that the same failings that landed them all here in the first place persisted. Even after watching them calling for blood and launching threats and vulgarities at the Bulls, the Scorpions began to flee. First one, then another, and soon Raethe saw half of them desperately trying to escape the fate they had wrought for themselves. It was too much. Here they were, risking their lives in a pointless fight with no more reason than it might be a good fight, and the side they were supposedly supporting was leaving their mess for the group to clean up.
Raethe was incensed. First at his comrades for putting him in this position in the first place, at himself for not knocking some sense into them, and at the Scorpions for their cowardice. Soon the battle was a blur, and anything that dared stand within reach of the Stormhammer was fair game. Raethe could feel his fury pouring forth from his heart, and the enemy was routed at the sight of him.
Kal sped into the fray with blinding speed, thanks to being ensorcelled by Khalid. Abagail and Agatha whipped through the air and found their marks with unearthly speed and precision. As Bull after Bull fell before him without even the hope of a defense, Kal quickly lost his taste for the fight. After all, it wasn’t a fight; it was a slaughter, all we did was change the side that would be hopelessly cut down.
Dorak too realized the error of participating in this bloodbath and pleaded with the gangs to end the pointless conflict. Unfortunately for one of the more headstrong Bulls, they didn’t listen, and he met a gruesome end at the edge of Dorak’s waraxe.
The fight eventually wore down, and Raethe found himself in the ever-familiar position of recovering his strength over the broken bodies of his enemies. As his mind cleared he realized that one of the fallen Scorpions was Red, a young man they had met when they first entered Belrael. A waste.
Raethe was shocked by the sudden sound of gunfire from his flank, and after a hurried conversation with Khalid, they rushed to find the source. Raethe had heard the sounds of Kamargian gunners in Deau Vere, but to find them here was somewhat surprising. They crossed the field, and found Kal and Dorak speaking with the owner of the weapon, Octavius Seebeck.
It figured, Raethe thought as they exchanged greetings, that in this backward place the name Seebeck would surface again. Octavius had all the look of a blacksmith turned big game hunter, and with the Kamarg inspired hand cannon he hauled around it’s likely he bagged his fair share of trophies. As much as his surname was enough to anger the slayer, Octavius seemed far less cryptic than his brothers. After some feeling out, Seebeck admitted he was also searching for the ornithopter, as well as its creator, the Slayer Engineer. This peaked Raethe’s interest, since he knew the dwarfs of Ruus had experimented with such machines, but were unsuccessful in creating a functioning airship of that design.
Octavius told what little he knew of the Slayer Engineer and his fate. It seems that one of the most famed engineers and machinists in all the dwarfen karaks. The “cog-golem,” as he was called, had been working on a prototype of an ornithopter. He was presumed dead after a tragic accident, and that was the end of him. Raethe began working on the assumption that the accident claimed more than the life of one engineer, and that perhaps this was the event that turned him to the path of the slayers.
This speculation was enough for Dorak to draw the conclusion he had been looking for. It was plain that Dorak had grown increasingly contemptuous of his slayer comrade, but still lacked the understanding of what a slayer truly was. After hearing the discussion about the Slayer Engineer, he deduced that a slayer was no more than the killer of innocents, and was worthy of nothing but contempt.
The claim made Raethe bristle as he could feel the accusations behind Dorak’s realization, but this slayer had long since lost interest in the judgments of others. The world, he knew, was littered with those of high-minded ideals who crumble when those ideals are tested. True convictions, he had come to learn in the most trying ways, need no outside approval.
As always though, these contemplations would have to wait, as a dozen or so slayers marched into view, and the conversation with Octavius ground to a halt. With no introduction they moved past everyone and a battle scarred and mutilated dwarf approached Raethe and said: “Can you pay?” Raethe responded: “Yes.” With that they were off to the hall of the Slayer King.
Not far from the battlefield they came upon a cul-de-sac that housed the ornithoper that had eluded them thus far. It was a marvel of engineering (and who knows what else) crafted to look like a massive silver falcon. Octavius was mystified and immediately separated from the rest of the group. Raethe and the others pressed on and eventually down to a door that promised the Slayer King and so many answers behind it.
The hall of the Slayer King was suitably impressive for any royalty, but surprisingly so given the nature of this particular sovereign. Dwarven tapestries depicting any number of clans, and the arms and armor those clans had crafted. Perhaps these were monuments to the slayers pledged to the king of this realm, but truly it mattered very little to Raethe. The history would have to wait… now he would have answers.
Sitting at a lavish and well stocked table was Willem the artist/engineer. Raethe sat, and his comrades each did in their own time. There was some conversation, but all Raethe could think about was the Slayer King’s arrival. After several agonizing minutes, a door at the head of the room opened, and a dwarf dressed in gilded and embellished banded armor walked to the table and sat down. He took Raethe’s coin with no ceremony or explanation, and began to eat.
All was well for the time being, and though Raethe was anxious at being so close to the focus of his search, he felt assured that the answers would not elude him this time. As dinner moved along, Willem excused himself expressing a dislike for “this part” that seemed to make him a bit queasy. With that, the air in the room changed, and all those at the table of the Slayer King knew something beyond words was about to happen.
Each of them experienced the next few minutes in their own, very different, ways. For Dorak the experience was a magnificent reverie that could only be achieved while basking in the glory of Asgard itself. Khalid was quite detached, and save for the fact that he was attuned to the otherworldly aspects of what was transpiring, took little else from the incident. Kal remained fully aware, if spellbound, for the duration of the event, and except for the moment of concern afterward, said nothing.
Raethe, however, was at the heart of this revelation. The Slayer King began to change right before his eyes. Growing larger and larger all the while an unearthly light filled the room blinding all who were caught in it.
Raethe squinted to protect his eyes, but despite the pain he could not bring himself to look away. Then, the once Slayer King stepped into view, filling the massive hall from wall to wall, and hunching down even under the vaulted ceiling.
The being was perfect. As perfect as any dwarf could ever be. It was as if he was crafted by a smith of impossible talents. Every hair, every feature, every aspect… divine.
Raethe fell to his knees at the word of the dwarf lord. The sound seemed to reverberate in his very soul, and Raethe wept as he knew he was truly in the presence of the almighty Beordin.
The anger of Beordin was like an irresistible wave that even the god himself could not ignore. Cursing Raethe for exacting a vengeance only he had the right to take, Beordin slammed the diminutive dwarf against the wall. Then he made his will clear: There was one Stormforge left. One who escaped the reckoning Raethe visited on his clan. Raethe would seek him out… and save him. Just as Raethe took it on himself to end the disgraceful clan, so now would he have to rebuild it.
Finally, Beordin turned his eyes toward the Stormhammer, and with a word, forged an unbreakable bond. No more could it be brought to bear against Beordin’s children, and the Stormhammer shook on the floor, and for just a moment, it blazed with the power of Asgard.
Again his gaze fell on Raethe, still prostrated on the floor, and he spoke. Beordin bequeathed Munin, one of his ravens to be Raethe’s companion on this quest. Raethe was confused, but far to overcome to do anything but accept in silence.
Then, as suddenly as he had appeared, Beordin strode from the hall, leaving through a door far too small for his massive frame. Raethe took this a small reminder that the limits of Midgard had no hold on the divine. Raethe could hear the finality of the Divine Book of Grudges documenting the price demanded to settle his account.
The rift vanished, and the light of Asgard no longer flooded the hall. As his companions collected themselves, Raethe stood up on shaky legs and wiped the tears from his face. With unsteady hands he clutched at the Stormhammer, and whispered the axiom that had spurred the great dwarfs of his clan to victory “Honor is the Bedrock of Glory.”
The party made a hasty exit from the hall, and found themselves emerging outside of Bellona/Belrael and not far at all from the gates of Arkangyl. Even so, the toll taken by this experience was more exhausting than any battle Raethe had ever engaged in, and the decision to camp for the night was easy, though he doubted there would be any sleep for him this night.