Chapter 5: Sorcery
The storage rooms, where the coldstone could be found, were underneath the northeastern edge of the city. Leaving the guild and the west wall behind him, Darowyn passed through the city streets. He beheld the great columns rising to the cavern heights, even above the buildings, most of which towered above him. He gazed above until he heard, once again, enchanting music. It was not as lively as it had been. When the few musicians he had heard came into view, Darowyn stopped for a moment to listen. Others too stopped, and a growing crowd of listeners had gathered. The dwarven drummer boomed a deep and deliberate beat. The horn and lute streamed out a profound harmony, then discord, and again back to harmony. The solemn sound stirred the stalling dwarfs. Two things only could cause dwarfs to forget their work and tarry: food and music. The sorrowful music mesmerized all ears of the thirty or more dwarfs, sunk their hearts into its bitter-sweet serenade, and lulled them into silence.
The music found Darowyn as he gazed upon the cloud-cast shade lurking upon the eastern edge of the city. The melody reminded him of the music that had played at his father’s funeral. Played on a lute, it was beautiful. It did not take much to get him thinking of his father these days. That wasn’t a good thing. He looked at his hands. His knuckles were not busted, and, as he flexed his hand, his broken fingers could move once again. The cleric. Yet… maybe, it was a good thing.
The echoing sounds made their last stand at the concert’s final cadence. After the music had softly slipped away and amidst roaring acceptance, the dwarven musicians started a cheery song. It lightened the spirits of all. All spirits save one, for while many of the dwarfs began to dance, laugh, and become recklessly noisy, Darowyn’s eyes had followed the crawling shadows that had crept over the stone structures, slid down their sides, and snuck through the streets towards the far side of the rowdy crowd. Just before the shadow swallowed the screaming crowd, it neared the alleyway between the inn and the brewery and engulfed the shadow of a stranger shed into the street from within the sulking alleyway. What had waited in hiding came forth.
First came a booted foot, stepping out into the cover of shade, and was soon followed by a figure hid inside a large black hood trimmed with deep purple. A coarse grey vest spanned his chest, while similar garb and guard shrouded his legs. His cape draped over his rough, shielded shoulders hiding most of his chest and arms. Darowyn could see no face or eyes in the opening of the drooping hood, only darkness issued from within.
Darowyn sped around the large crowd while dwarfs, moving towards the crowd, crossed the tall being’s path. It was no dwarf. The figure strode into the oncoming dwarfs, nimbly dodging by them and glaring from side to side upon those soon to cross his path. Though the figure passed under their noses, not a single dwarf took notice of the strange mortal trespassing through the city streets. One female dwarf passed unwittingly close to the character, which then arched over her menacingly. His breath was nigh upon her head, yet she suffered no alarm.
The crowd now spanned nearly the width of the street. Reaching the other side of them and looking across the etched street, Darowyn spotted the figure that was better than halfway to him. The figure moved fluidly with great purpose. As the stranger moved farther into the street, light retreated off an object tucked at his belt. Unable to pull his eyes from the cloak where the object had gleamed, Darowyn saw, as the cloak swung back again, that it was pointed and metal: a dagger. The strangely-crafted dagger was unlike any he had ever seen or made. Having lost concentration discerning the item, Darowyn found he was staring at the stranger, and that stranger was drawing close. Darowyn backed against the building behind him, and, while looking towards the crowd on his left, eyed the figure with his peripheral vision. A spider crawled across the back of his neck and over his chest. He knocked it to the ground with his hand and squished it with the heel of his boot.
Why had no one seen the stranger? He was like a big black bean mounted atop a pile of white rice. Darowyn realized nobody else could see the figure. He, and he alone, could see the creep that moved ever closer. Knowing himself to be alone in seeing the stranger and knowing it was his responsibility to find the stranger’s purpose in the city, he searched his belt with his hand and, upon finding it, rested his hand upon the handle of his axe. He pulled it from his belt and laid its head upon the ground, holding the handle in his right hand.
Though Darowyn did see strands of silvery hair popping from under the hood, he still could not make out the face, which was turned and preoccupied with the dwarfs strolling in from the north. His bouncing glances would soon be obvious to the stranger, for the stranger had nearly reached the mess hall, adjacent to the building he now leaned on, and would soon be travelling directly towards him. Darowyn chose a female dwarf walking towards the crowd to use as a ruse in order to spy the stranger without alerting him that his presence was known. Upon seeing him in the corner of his vision, Darowyn saw that the figure was nearly within the reach of his ax. The female dwarf continued to lead his vision astray from that which he meant to look upon. There were only a few dwarfs following behind her.
He could not simply strike the stranger without a cause. It would be fit to be called murder, concluded the dwarf. Though the figure looked to be more ill than good, it would not be cause enough to strike without reason.
Darowyn could no longer see the stranger, though he listened intently for his sounds. Then, an ominous feeling overcame him. The hairs on his body stuck out like needles of a thistle, yet stiffer as if to pull out and run. A dwarf is not keen for feeling fear, but it was not for his life alone. He felt danger for all those whom danced in front of his eyes, for he now had no doubt about the sadistic nature of the being that stood a few paces behind him. His presence soiled the air about him. The urge to strike was unbearable, but failure to kill, would mean catastrophe and death. While his eyes focused on the crowd, Darowyn’s ears bent and strained behind him, listening and waiting for something to happen.
“Fools! Dancing Fools!” the harsh voice whispered. “Shall I litter these streets with corpses? Though it suit my pleasure, it fit not my plans.”
Relieved that he would not see the streets filled with the death of its denizens, Darowyn felt the heavy presence moving away. Reluctantly, he turned to pursue it. He followed, from a safe distance, the dusk-wrought cloak whipping in the wake of the wicked wanderer. What, the dwarf wondered, carnage or trickery bred in the malevolent mind of the mysterious man. Though he was alike to a man, he was shorter and thinner. The stranger continued to move through the city streets unnoticed and towards the eastern gate. He must have entered through the western gate, Darowyn surmised.
Darowyn struggled to keep up without breaking into a run, for the intruder’s pace had quickened. His longer legs gave him greater distance with each stride. They passed the chapel, a few market places, and then exited the city.
Striding between the rock walls, the stranger entered the old outpost. Darowyn halted a moment to think. If he followed the figure into the tunnel, he would surely be seen. If he climbed the staircase and followed from above, he may lose the stranger. Darowyn followed after a time when he realized his vision was not only allowing him to see the figure no one else could, but he could also nigh see the sewage chasm ahead.
At a great distance, Darowyn followed the stranger. As the stranger neared the sewer chasm, a vehement rat leapt out upon him. With incredible reflexes and strength, the stranger held the creature aloft by its throat with a gloved hand ending in claws. The claws sunk into the furry critter’s throat, and blood trickled down the figure’s gloved hand. Though the rodent wriggled about, it could not free itself from the unbending grip upon its throat. Darowyn could scarcely hear its fearful cries as the stranger strangled it.
“Vile creature!” spat the stranger. “P~iyrey deydruuh kuhkruusupreys azzyu.” With a wild blast of excruciating force and flame, the rat flew from the aloft arm, thrashed against the wall, and fell into a headless bleeding heap of fiery fur upon the floor. Darowyn stared on, deeply disturbed by the sorcery he had witnessed. The strange dialect had sounded as explosive as the result. The weak and soft smell of lavender was replaced by the pungent odor of burning fur and flesh.
“Whadr azzis seykr, krow azzis uhkruuseykr. Whadr azzwuhkruusev wuhs, kred~er azzhas beykr,” chanted the sorcerer, casting another spell. Darowyn hoped he was not the target.
The sorcerer examined the chasm momentarily. “An infestation. How convenient.” First, he plunged his hand deep into the rodent’s chest, pulling the metal-clawed hand out holding the still-beating heart. He seemed deeply pleasured as it stopped beating. All the life and blood of the heart drained from it and into him. It turned to dust in his hand.
Then, he struck at the belly of the rat corpse with his clawed hands. After carving several symbols upon its body, he chanted again, ”Buubruhd widruuhikr p~eyds k~rowdruuh .“ The blood running out of the carcass turned green. “This shall keep those dwarven dolts distracted for a long while,” hissed the sorcerer, grinning as he kicked the corpse into the chasm below. First, a thudding splash issued forth, followed by the sound of rustling, hissing, ripping flesh, and bones cracking as the creatures below cannibalized the corpse. The sorcerer turned back towards the eastern gate.
The combination of trespassing through the city, threatening its people, leaving while knowing its location, being a sorcerer, and the way he carelessly kicked the rat into their sewers did not settle well with the dwarf. Darowyn, axe in hand, charged at the sorcerer whom was not moving. He had to strike quickly and without warning, for, with a single touch, he might be scattered upon the walls and kicked into the sewers, as well. A familiar eerie sound filled the corridor. The sorcerer, back still turned, was chanting again. Darowyn wondered if his attack had already been suspected. With those lightning-fast reflexes, Darowyn knew he didn’t stand a chance if he got too close. Balls of light began to swirl around the mage. Darowyn hurled the axe forward. Spinning, it split the air and spanned half the forty feet between himself and its target.
As sure as the figure’s back had been turned moments before, he now was turned completely around while lit globes whirled about him. Darowyn’s enhanced vision was fading, yet in the darkness he could see silver hair around two red eyes, split in the middle where the axe hurtled towards them. The sorcerer stared back at him while the axe drew closer and closer to his face. An eternity, it seemed, Darowyn stared into his soul through his red windows. He could see only hate. The axe swooshed slowly and rotated like a full-circle pendulum. Around the mage’s body, more and more globes spun. As they spun faster and faster, the sorcerer waved a single hand, and the axe reversed course at double speed. Engulfed in orbs, the stranger and orbs suddenly disappeared. Darowyn threw himself to the ground just as the axe grazed his hair and disappeared into the tunnel beyond him.
He had failed his father, had failed his family, and, now, had failed his people.
“Calm yerself! We mean no harm!” echoed a rough voice from the darkness into which the axe had disappeared.
Darowyn strained to see the owner of the voice, but the Truth of Sight vapor, that had burned his eyes and allowed him to see the unseen, was spent. He sat upon the floor, leaning against the wall exhaustedly, and watched two dwarfs emerge from the dimness of the corridor.
“Darowyn? Are ye alright?” asked one of the dwarfs.
“Aye, Khadrin. I am. Most that trifle a mage find death. I only find myself exhausted.”
“A mage in the city? You tell the tallest tales,” responded Rhadrin, the younger brother of Khadrin. Both shared the same hue of red in their hair and beard. Khadrin was softer of face.
“Not the time for tales. I followed him from the city.”
“And we followed thee, but saw nothing of what you speak,” stated Khadrin.
“For shrouded in spells was he. Deathly real he was, as certain as blood hath been spilt near the sewer.”
“I see the blood,” remarked Rhadrin, “yet it has little cause to explain throwing thy axe at us.”
“My trifle unto the mage which he hath returned promptly.” Darowyn clambered to his feet. “The only trifle of concern to me now is my empty belly.”
“Mage or no, let us find a bar.”
As Darowyn and his companions travelled back towards the city, Darowyn recovered his axe which had sunk into the wall near the entrance to the outpost. When they reached the city arches, they turned left and entered the second building, the bar.
Several tables filled the softly-lit room, each surrounded with half-barrel seats. Dwarfs sat around all the tables, except for a few empty tables at the far corner of the room. A soloist played a warm melody in the other far corner. Darowyn and his company took seats at an empty table. The room smelled of meat, baking bread, and, of course, rum. The inaudible noise of thirty dwarfs talking filled the room. From one table came much of the noise, as they held a drinking contest; yet another favorite dwarven past-time. Waiters scurried down the rows of tables and served food and drink.
“How comes your smithin’?” asked Rhadrin, kindling the first flame of conversation in the sound-cluttered diner.
“Business is good. I’ve requests from Tanock for my next journey thither,” answered Darowyn as he watched the waiters shuffling about the bar. “My son forged a blade while I was away. Coming around to be a great smith one day he is. What news have ye of yer mining affairs?”
“Excavation moves right along. Khadrin and I deepen the corridor, while dwellings are hewn by the construction band.” He lazily eyed an argument across the room. “Of our jobs, we’ve all done well. I wager we’ll be needin’ further expansion plans from the council ‘fore long,” answer Rhadrin.
“Killed a dirty old rat yesterdays back. Poked he’s head with a pickaxe I did and served him right well sneakin’ up on me like that.” Khadrin gave a smirk.
“No good sneakin’ up on Khadrin, for he’d stick a pickaxe in any that doth just so. With that wild swing of his, he’d stick a pickaxe in any that stood behind him,” Rhadrin teased.
“Ought to stick ye just for speaking so.” Khadrin slapped his brother on the back. “Dug out the common minerals iron ore, copper, tin, and the like. Found a few lowly gems, but nothing all too rich.”
“I’ve enough dealings with the vermin myself. Rats aside, have ye any new structures to be hewn out of the stones?” Darowyn questioned while he watched a waiter coming towards their table.
“Not yet. Construction band carves dwellings of late. Further along yet, we’ve to start a guild building. Rumor speaks ‘twill be the Miner’s Guild. We’ve nearly sixty dwarfs, ‘twould serve us well.” Khadrin turned aside as a waiter stopped at the table.
“G’afternoon. How might I serve ye?” she asked
“What has the Day’s special?” asked Khadrin.
“Hogwurst. ‘Tis beer-fried and spiced, giving a twinge of burn, and served with a sweet sauce. If thou dost enjoy the burn, I give ye the highest regard for it.”
“The very one with slaw and rolls will settle the score,” Darowyn confirmed after receiving two nods. “And ale for all.”
While they waited for the food, Darowyn recounted to them his experiences that day, from his contact with alchemic concoctions to the moment they found him. The miners spoke naught, neither showing belief or disbelief, and listened intently.
The fact that they were late to lunch became obvious, for when the meal was laid upon the table, they devoured it without even a single spoken word.
“’Tis a strange story, and though I believe ye, I’ve only questions and no answers,” Khadrin shrugged as he rocked back on his barrel. “The question at hand is what purpose had this mage to venture through our streets and to ‘distract’ us?” He emphasized the mage’s speech with as much evil and raspy sound as possible. His attempt fell far shy of the disturbing tone of the mage. So far in fact, that it sounded more humorous than serious.
Rhadrin leaned forward on his barrel. “All I know of matters of the arcane, is a mage rarely travels his path alone, unless he is either a fool or holds skills beyond measure. I fear that the latter is true, though I rather hope him a fool. If he utters ‘distract’ as my brother hath, we’ve naught to worry about, for he must be a fool.”
“I cannot deny ye those statements, Rhadrin.” Darowyn turned to Khadrin, “nor can I deny yer lack of answers, Khadrin. As to the question, I can only say this. We did not seem his purpose, or he’d have struck when his advantage was known, even to me. His purpose seems not to trap us in, but to keep us out of his affairs. Mayhap his plan brews upon lands under the sun.”
“That leaves us neither knowing his interest in the land outdoors, nor what connection the dwarven people have that threatens his plot.” Rhadrin rubbed his beard as he concentrated. “What of the so-called ‘distraction’ this stranger cast into our sewers?”
“No knowledge have I to know this spell,” Darowyn admitted. “All too soon we may find its nature. Our fortified city remains undefended from its sewer. My only resolve is to ensure the city gates are closed this night and inform the council as daybreaks on the morrow.”
“I shall see to the gate,” volunteered Khadrin and Rhadrin at the same time. Rhadrin, who had barely spoken first, interjected, “Fairies! Ye owe me a beer.”
“Thou owe me more. I shall subtract it from thy debt.” Khadrin smiled at his brother. He continued to twiddle the brass of the candle on the table while a silence fell over the group. A dwarf at the contesting table had fallen out of his chair, filling the room with loud laughter. After the excitement had subsided, Khadrin ended his fiddling and looked up. “How did the mage find his way into the city?”
“The western gate it seems,” Darowyn conjectured, “Mayhap slipped in with incoming dwarves. With the cowl of his cloak pulled low, he seemed a little sensitive to the light.”
“Did he marvel our great structure?” Rhadrin questioned, after emptying his mug. “Mayhap to poison our waters or crops, or cave in our walls or tunnels.”
“Never that I saw. More drawn he was to the actions or numbers of our people,” Darowyn answered. “As for our waters, it is nigh impossible to surmise the location of our fresh water from merely the city structures. A greater task ‘twould be to poison them all in so great an amount to be certain the task was done. And if that was his purpose, to poison our water, he poisoned only our sewers.”
“’Fools’, he says.” Khadrin watched the liquid wax escape the fire down the shaft of the candle. “Perhaps he expected us readying to make war against his malice.” Eyeing the clock on the wall, Khadrin found it was nearly three o’clock. “That is all I have for now, and I had best find the city watch before they abandon their post.”
“I’ve only one advice to ye,” Rhadrin said, standing up from his seat, “Seek ye the knowledge of one gifted in magic. A single great mind may hold a wealth more of knowledge than three of our heads. I shall see ye another day.”
Darowyn thanked them and prayed them their safeties. Sitting alone at the table, he slurped at his dwindling mug of ale. The taste danced on his lips, promising him freedom from his cares. The liquid stared back at him, offering a trade: oblivion for control. Control, though, was the very thing he needed. A downward spiral into his cup had done little good the last time. His people and his family needed him. His mug was dry. It offered a good taste and nothing more. The lone dwarf paid his dues and left the bar.