The Hammer of Hu'Mod Part 1



 By "Splatter Joe" Solmo

Part 1




             The wind whistled through the barren limbs of the Pyros trees, its bright red leaves long since fallen to the earth below as those same winds grew colder, blowing the coating of snow on the ground up and under the elf’s cloak. Many cycles has the Pyros Tree seen pass during its very slow climb to the heavens above, and below on the forest floor many things have come to pass. Once a haven for a small Forest Elven Clan, this grove has long since been abandoned by humanoid inhabitants.  The loss of the forest dwellers allowed other things to move into the forest, slowly, creeping, like a disease making its way across the land. Heinous things now dwelled where once the nature loving Elven race of old got its start, according to some scholars.

             The chilling weather was cold even for this place of death, the elf was sweating from the strain of moving through the unnatural woods, but her thoughts were far from her people's ancestors.  One slender hand held aloft a small lantern that threatened to extinguish at any moment from the biting wind, the other held a short sword, fragile looking with its long skinny blade, but made of elvish steel, one of the toughest metals, second only to weapons of the Dwarves, of course that’s debatable if you’re an elf.

            For three days Birell had been traversing through the Wood of the Damned in pursuit of a villain so vile, the price on his head was astronomical.  Four thousand gold pieces!  Such a bounty was unheard of. It was enough to retire on, even at such a young age even for an elf, Birell thought to herself as she watched the flame flicker and die on her lantern, and concentrating on not letting her own hope follow that flame into oblivion.

            She stopped and waited for her eyes to adjust to the seemingly unnatural darkness.  Although elvish sight was better than most races, in this black forest another force made it hard to see, a force that Birell tried to push out of her mind as not to upset herself as she struggled to see the path in front of her. She dropped the lantern in frustration, it making a loud clanking sound on the hard ground under her feet, and continued, a little more slowly through the woods following the narrow path between the trees. 

            No sounds of the forest could be heard, no birds, or wildlife of any kind, which unnerved her, and soon her eyes began to play tricks on her, seeing shadows moving in the distance.  Birell gripped her sword harder, even though her fingers were cramped from the cold, her knuckles white.

            An hour passed as Birell continued through the wood searching for Karnak, the murderer.  She found some tattered cloth, and the remnants of his meal a few minutes ago bringing new hope in her search. She must have caught up to him while he rested and ate, he had recently passed this way

            Once again her eyes began to play tricks on her she could see a light through the trees.  As she drew nearer she saw the angry flickering flames of a campfire through the low underbrush.  If her eyes were playing tricks on her then her nose was too, she could smell the sweet burning wood smoke, and a hint of some kind of cooked meat.  Her mouth began to water at the thought; she hadn’t eaten in two days, she didn't want to be slowed down by stopping to eat.   

            Rational thought took over and she asked the question to herself, who would be camping in the middle of the Wood of the Damned, A cursed forest of unspeakable evil and horrors.  No one in their right mind would ever venture through, let alone camp in such a place. She wondered if it was her prey, erroneously stopping for the night. The thought of finally being within grabbing distance of Karnak and that fortune started her heart pumping. The adrenaline making the ache in her hand from the cold fade.

            Birell cautiously approached the fire, sheathing her sword so it didn't get hung up as she climbed in the underbrush to examine the campsite before revealing herself to whoever was there.  Her eyes panned over the small clearing, seeing what appeared to be some left over hare on a tin plate next to a snoring lump wrapped in blankets so tight it resembled a stubby worm.

            “A dwarf,” she whispered to herself. The dwarves and elves have a fragile truce now, but a few hundred years ago the bloodiest war known to the lands of Arain was raged between to two races.  Most of the other races stayed outside the war as best as they could, selling supplies to both sides for a profit.  Old hatreds are hard to smother and Birell felt ashamed as racial insults came to her mind. Still she couldn't help feeling disappointed it wasn't her bounty laying there asleep, but then again even her prey would clean up his dinner before drifting off to sleep, no one else was as sloppy as a dwarf.

            Cautiously she entered the clearing, keeping to the far side of the fire from the snoring dwarf.  Her footfalls all but silent in the firelight. She sat down on a large rock and began to warm her hands as the flames licked at them.  With a look towards the dwarf she cleared her throat loudly, but the dwarf didn’t stir.  If not for the snores and the raising and lowering of the bundle, she would have thought him dead. She glanced around the Dwarf's campsite and thought to herself, disgusted, at the items strewn around it, that dwarves were messy people.

            Impatiently she cleared her throat again and this time she shuffled her small feet in the almost frozen ground.  Once again the small bundle did not stir except to raise and lower with the snores. Finally she leaned in and poked him with the tip of her scabbard gently. There was a short break in the snoring, then it resumed.   She poked again.

            “Sir Dwarf,” she said aloud, and this time the bundle became alive.  It took him a short amount of time to arc up to a defensive position wielding the wicked double headed hammer common among the dwarves.

            “Who be you?” the recently wakened dwarf asked of Birell, with narrow green eyes full of distrust.  His short stature was misleading as his heavily muscled arms held the hammer ready to swing at a blink of an eye. His large red beard was disheveled pointing this way and that from sleeping on it. 

            “I am Birell Wildwood, Bounty Hunter of the Elves of Charindril.  I am in pursuit of the Elven Enemy Karnak for the crimes of murder upon the Elves.  I have tracked him though this wood for three days now.  What is your name Sir Dwarf?” she said as politely as she could.

            “I am called Grian,” the stout dwarf said lowering his weapon a little. His eyes taking in the elf, skinny, fair skinned, brown hair, typical elf, he thought. “Warm yer self if you wish. I’m going back to sleep,” the dwarf said and curled back up into his blankets oblivious to the look of disbelief on Birell's face. Soon the sound of the dwarf’s snores once again penetrated the night.

            The chill was slow to leave her bones, and she felt the stress of the last few days catching up with her.  She added a few small branches the dwarf had piled nearby onto the fire and pulled her own blanket out of her pack.  A few hours of sleep would do the elf some good.  Her pace had been slowing as the days had added up.  She knew she was gaining on her bounty, and could afford a little sleep, she rationalized in her sleepiness.

            Birell wouldn’t have risked sleeping in this evil forest, if not for the dwarf’s presence.  Legends among her people have warned her since birth about the dangers of the forest.  The Wood of the Damned was home to some of the world’s most unspeakable horrors,  Shades,  the souls of people who were wrongfully killed, patrolled these woods to exact revenge on the living,  Skeletons seemed to randomly animate and attack any living creature they crossed paths with.  The trees themselves were said to impede travelers. Some of the researchers in the elven city of Charindril have debated the cause of the phenomenon; the most common theories is residual magic from an ancient sorcerer who made him home in the forest, after the Elves left, and something unspoken that the Elven had done before leaving the forest, but that was a dangerous theory and not much accepted among the scholars back in Charindril.

            Even though the forest was known as an elvish area, most of the races stay clear of the forest, although the occasional criminal on the run will be desperate enough to try to hide out to avoid being arrested.  This wasn’t the first time Birell has been in this forest, but it was the first time she had encountered someone else besides her quarry.  These thoughts glided through her mind as sleep began to take over her exhausted body.                                                                                   


            The morning sun rose above the mountains bathing most of the land in warmth, but not in the Wood of the Damned.  Sunlight all but failed to penetrate through the canopy of the infamous forest.  Below, on the cold ground nothing stirred as the both elf and dwarf still slumbered.  Their fire had almost burned out during the night, a few glowing embers and a feeble flame was all that remained. 

            No animals lived in the dark wood; all have long ago learned to avoid the things that lurk within.  Hatred for the living fuels these unnatural beings and nothing alive gets by them.  They can sense the living, all dead things can, and it calls to them, mocking their own being.  Destroying the living and removing the call is the only way to find momentary peace in such an existence.

            Nearly an hour passed from sunrise before Birell awoke, damp from the morning dew.  She arose from her blanket and tried to stir up the flames on the dying fire.  Her eyes studied the sleeping form of the dwarf; it was as if he didn’t move an inch during the course of the night.  If not for his snoring she would think him dead.  A few moments passed as she began to warm some water on the fire, and by adding some leaves from a pouch she managed to make some tea. A nice warm cup of tea would hit the spot on such a cold morning here in the Forest of the Damned, she thought.

            The smells of the tea awoke the dwarf, and he rose, grumbling as he did so.  Stuffing his blanket into a pack, Grian placed his hands over the now healthy fire to warm them.  He nodded once in greeting to Birell, who gave him a small smile and offered him some tea.  He took the tin cup from her, mostly to warm his hands instead of drink it.  Dwarves didn’t have a taste for herb water.  They preferred warm honey mead.

            Grian sipped it anyway, reluctantly, and gave Birell a smile, as he sat down on his pack and began to dig into his pockets.  After a few seconds he produced some dried meat and offered some to Birell.  “Here, lass.  It’s not much but it will keep you alive,” he said.

            “Thank you, Sir Dwarf,” she responded taking the food from him and nibbled on the salted meat.           

            “Call me Grian,” he said while chewing, small pieces of meat escaping the dwarf's mouth with nearly every word.  With his free hand he touched his chest as if making sure something was there and needed to be reassured. 

            “Thank you Grian.  You have been a most generous host,” Birell said and started to fold her blanket.

            “Leaving so soon?”  The dwarf asked as he took out a small knife and began to clean under his fingernails.

            “I must be off if I am to catch my bounty,” Birell said as she stuffed her still damp blanket into her small pack.  She stood up and shouldered her pack.  With a bow to Grian she began to walk off in the direction of Karnak's last known whereabouts.

            “If I may ask a question, Grian.  What brings you into this place?  I didn’t think there were any reasons that were good enough to bring a person into here.  I am here for my bounty, and some would think I am crazy to enter.  I suppose it is none of my business though, I apologize for asking,” Birell said, after hearing herself voice the question that had been in her head since the night before.

            “It is ok, Birell.  I am passing through these woods on a search, of sorts. I have been looking so long now; I have nearly run out of places to look. I thought maybe this forest would hold the secrets I search for, but I’m afraid I was wrong.  Maybe it’s time I leave this place, before it gets the best of me.  I have been here for almost two weeks and have survived.  I suppose this dwarf would be pushing his luck if he stayed any longer,” Grian explained and shouldered his own pack, dumping what was left of his tea on the fire to help put it out.  Birell thought to herself that the dwarf sounded tired, but she didn’t pry.  In her profession she had met a lot of interesting and dangerous people, it was best not to ask them about something they didn’t volunteer themselves, some secrets are better kept that way.

            Together they left the campsite and walked through the infamous wood.  Danger could be a few feet away in this evil place and both seasoned travelers knew it.  Underneath the thick canopy of the trees, in the perpetual filtered twilight, many things lurked.  With eyes alert Birell lead the way, using her keen elven senses to scan their surroundings.

            It didn’t take long before they realized they weren’t alone.  Birell sensed it first, an uneasy feeling creeping its way up her back until it raised the little hairs on the back of her slender neck.    The forest felt wrong to her, more so then the Wood of the Damned normally feels.  Something was amiss and closing in on them. A wrongness was following them and gaining!

            Grian felt it too, although he didn’t warn Birell.  He pulled his hammer from the loop on his belt and then he carried it.  The weight of the massive head felt reassuring to him.  Something was following them; it was back at the campsite now, and facing the way they had traveled.  Of course he didn’t share that knowledge with Birell; it would take too much time to explain to her how he knew that.   Everyone has their secrets, and he had been hiding his for so many years now, it was second nature.  The lies he told people were a necessity, for if it was common knowledge he would be hunted down, like many before him. 

            He had been running a long time and sometimes the truth got mixed with the cover story, but the major facts never got confused.  He knew inside who and what he was, and even if the world wasn’t ready to find out, he was proud of the things he had done.  Holding it inside was one of the hardest things he ever had to do, especially when he met someone he truly liked, like this Birell.  She seemed to be a decent person and trustworthy, but he learned a long time ago not to trust anyone, and even though he wanted it, something inside wouldn’t let him.

            “Grian, I feel something behind us, a ways back yet, but slowly gaining,” Birell whispered to the dwarf.

            “Aye, lass, just past the campsite heading this way.  I can feel it too, the forest does that to you,” he responded, realizing he might have said too much.  He silently wished that the elf wasn’t here with him.  If his feelings were right, then they would be overtaken very soon.

            “It feels so cold, inhuman, and unnatural.  I haven’t ever felt something so…evil,” Birell said.  “What is it?

            “I’m not sure lass, but the feeling is getting stronger, let’s move a little faster, aye?” he said trying to avoid a confrontation with whatever was behind them.

            “I don’t think we can outrun this thing.  My Sight shows me a vague humanoid shape, but I can’t see the bottom half. It’s almost like it is floating towards us,” Birell said then suddenly clutched her head.  At that moment a high pitched shriek came from behind them.  “It knows we are close!” she said.

            Grian already knew that and was scanning the nearby area for a place to fight.  The branches of the Pyros trees, hung low making it hard to maneuver with a weapon.  The dwarf finally saw something ahead.

            “Follow, quickly now, Elf!” he said and sprinted into the underbrush.  Birell hesitated for only a second then followed suit through the ferns that covered the forest floor here.

            “Birell, here” the dwarf called out a little farther ahead. Birell emerged from the thick ferns into a clearing, her leather shirt dampened from the dew, brushed off from the ferns.   On the far corner of the clearing was a small lake, its surface still in the morning light.  She walked closer to the water’s edge until the dwarf grabbed her arm.

            “Careful lass, near the edge is Snatchgrass.  It will pull you under the surface and drown you.  Stay here and let’s face whatever is coming,” Grian said.

            “Snatch….grass?” she said.  This was something she was unfamiliar with and her Sight had not forewarned her at all.  She was surprised; it never failed her in the past.

            “Just stay here and you will be fine.  At least from the danger of the water,” the dwarf said and turned back towards the woods, expectantly.

            A shriek came from that direction, a lot closer than last time.  Following it was a second shriek from the left.   From the right came an answering reply.  There was more than one chasing them. Birell likened it to a pack of wolves hunting a deer.

             Grian kneeled down and began to speak softly to himself.

            “What was that, Grian, I didn’t hear you?” Birell said.

            “Nothing lass, was just talking to myself.  Prepare they are almost here!” he said.

            “Do you know what they are?” she asked.

            Before the dwarf could answer something entered the clearing on the right.  Birell’s eyes opened wide.  It was humanoid shaped, but it had no legs.  It floated off the ground like its legs were invisible.  Tattered cloth covered its skeletal body.  Whatever it was it wasn’t alive, at least not by conventional definition. Light seemed to bend around the creature, making it seem like it was in eternal darkness at all times.  She drew her blade from her scabbard and raised it in a defensive position. 

            The other two creatures appeared and together the three unnatural beings closed in on the two travelers.  A sinister hiss came from them; raspy breathing could be heard as they neared them.  Grian didn’t move, his eyes followed the creatures but other than that he could have been a statue.  Was he paralyzed with fear? Was Birell going to have to fight these unnatural creatures alone?

            Nervousness set in with Birell.  She had been in battle before, but never with something like this.  She had heard of such creatures, but had never encountered anyone who had seen one.  She noted that Grian didn’t seem surprised by their appearance.  She thought to herself that the dwarf was hiding something, and if they survived she vowed to find out what it was.                            

            “I hope you are good with that blade, lass” the dwarf said finally moving a step towards the danger and raising his hammer over his head, as if he was going to chop wood with an axe. “When I strike you attack as well, let’s try to take one of them out as fast as possible,” he explained to her and raised his arms back more.

            Birell thought that if the dwarf put the head of that massive hammer any farther back he would fall over backwards, but the strength of the stocky dwarf was something she didn’t expect.  She crept up beside him to assist him with the initial attack and turned her head to see his face, which startled her.  His eyes were clouding over, almost as if his skull was filling with milk and it was filling his eye sockets, and still though, the dwarf didn’t strike.

            One of the creatures was now only feet away, sliding on the nothingness underneath their tattered clothing hanging from the bones, its raspy breathing making Birell uneasy.  Perspiration started to form on her hands, making the hilt of the sword she carried slippery. She squeezed the hilt with one hand, wiping the other on her clothes.  She turned back to face the dwarf once again.

            “What are these things?”  Birell asked.

            “Shades!  The trapped souls of those who died wrongly, forced to exist here in the forest with nothing but a hatred for life to drive them,” Grian answered.

            With a suddenness that frightened Birell, the creature lunged for Grian, but before she could react, the dwarf’s eyes turned from white to black, no iris, just black orbs inside his sockets, and with sudden force he let out a roar and swung the mighty hammer down with astonishing force.

            “Val in Kree!” the dwarf yelled as he put his power behind his swing, bringing the hammer down on the head of the creature.  A flash of brilliant light escaped the head of the hammer and for a few moments Birell was blinded.  A few seconds later she was knocked to the ground, and still unable to see.  She could hear the dwarf grunting and speaking in a language she didn’t recognize as the battle continued.  She rubbed her eyes trying to clear them so she could help Grian with the fight.  If she swung blind it was possible she could hit him on accident.

            Although Birell didn’t know, Grian didn’t need any help.  The first swing destroyed the attacking creature and instantly he turned to face its companions.  With a fury few walking the land had ever seen, the stocky dwarf destroyed the evil creatures, smashing them into little pieces of bone. 

            As he stood over the mangled splinters that remained of the creatures his eyes returned to normal.  The fury subsided and his labored breathing began to slow.  As if coming out of a trance, the dwarf suddenly looked at his surroundings, first finding Birell then looking at the victims of his wrath.  He knelt by the corpses and said a short prayer dumping something from his pocket on the bodies, which then sunk into the ground as if they were on the surface of the lake, instead of the soft grasses in the clearing of the forest. 

            He leaned on his hammer for support until he regained his breath and then glanced over at Birell. “Are you alright, lass?” he asked as if he didn’t know what had happened to her during the battle.

            She rose to her feet, regaining her vision as she did so.  She glanced around the clearing looking for the attackers, which were nowhere to be found. With a look of confusion she nodded towards Grian.

            “How about you, Sir Dwarf?” she asked.

            “Aye lass, I’m fine, and call me Grian,” he said.

            “What happened here?”  Birell asked, sheathing her sword.  She felt so helpless and dumb, not helping in the battle that obviously the dwarf won.

            “Well, it’s kind of a long story lass, and you haven’t the time to listen if you wish to catch your bounty today, and honestly I am not sure I could answer,” Grian said.

            “Something happened.  What was that light? What was that language you speaking as the battle started?  You said something like... Valin….Valin something,” she said.

            “Careful with those words lass.  If you must know I will explain, but it could take a while.  I’m afraid it would mean spending more time in this accursed wood.  How much do you know about the Dwarves?  Do you know our history?”  Grian asked her.

            “Not much really, I admit.  Just what we learned about the wars our people had and the stories of the old days.  I never was much into the history of the world.  Boring if you ask me, I’d rather live history then read about it,” Birell explained. 

            “Have you heard the story of the battle of Kis Fal?  The great battle between the dwarves and the giants?” he asked.

            “No.  I have never even heard of the place Kis Fal,” she replied.  “Where is it?”

            “Well I don’t really know if it exists today.  That is what I am searching for.  You see the Battle of Kis Fal happened over four thousand years ago.  The giants destroyed town after town, city after city of the dwarves, plundering our homes in the mountains, under the mountains and in the hills surrounding them. No one today is sure about what set them off, but the giants invaded the dwarven homeland of Kis Fal, driving us from our homes and decimating most of our armies.  My people retreated but it was only a matter of time before we would be wiped from existence.  In a final attempt to save our people, eight of our greatest warriors fled to a temple near Kis Fal and prayed to Hu’Mod for a way to defeat the giants and take back our homeland.  It is said after a few days Hu’Mod the Father gave a small piece of his power to each of the warriors, who were known from that day on as the Hammers of Hu’Mod, and with their power were able to drive the giants back out of the dwarven homeland;”  Grian explained.

            “But after the battle, Kis Fal laid in ruins and most of the dwarves had fled far away, it was decided that they would abandon their ancient homeland and build somewhere else, where defenses could be stronger in case of another invasion in the future.  That’s when we built our home near the elves, and became enemies so many years ago,” Grian finished.

            “So what became of this Hammers of Hu’Mod?”  Birell asked.

            “They were made into kings and over time became corrupt.  Hu’Mod took back the powers he bestowed to the Dwarves, saying they were not ready for it yet.  Filled with shame the dwarves deemed magic to be evil and banned anyone from ever practicing it, basically turning their backs to Hu’Mod, who waits for the day when the dwarves, his children are ready to explore the mystic side of life again.  Anyone caught practicing magic in any way is executed right away,” Grian explained.

            “So you are searching for this temple near Kis Fal?  Apparently you already have the magic, why would you search for the temple,” Birell asked.

            “Some dwarves are born with a small bit of power, I was one of them.  When my father caught me using my magic he disowned me and told me to run and never return.  I guess he figured it would be better to disown me then see his son die to the mob.  So I ran.  From time to time I have had to use my power to survive, and I believe I grew a little stronger on the way.  I feel that if I can find this temple and speak to Hu’Mod the Father myself, he may bestow me with his power and make me a Hammer of Hu’Mod, and by achieving that maybe I can restore the honor to the Hammer’s and bring magic back to the Dwarven people.  It’s a dangerous path for me to take, because if I run into any dwarf out here and he finds out who or what I am then I am as good as dead,”  Grian finished his story and sat down in the grass.

            “That is some story, Grian.  As you know us elves also are a magical people.  I can’t imagine them turning their backs on the gift of magic or one of our Gods.  How stubborn headed can dwarves be!  Oh, I am sorry Grian, I meant no offence,” Birell said.

            “Ha! None taken.  I have asked that same question myself many times, lass.  It is a sad story, but I will spend my life trying to fix the mistakes of my bullheaded ancestors.  It’s what I feel I am meant to do,” Grian said.

            “So why are you searching in this evil woods.  Surely your god’s temple wouldn’t be here!”  Birell said.

            “At first I wouldn’t think so either, but I have traveled most of the lands and through my searches I discovered some records and maps from times lost, and by the geographical references it appears that the Dwarven home of Kis Fal was somewhere near here.  Just have to pinpoint the area.  Everyone steers clear, traveling days out of their way to go around this Wood.  It could be anywhere between here and the Grynn Mountains.  The map I saw showed the temple in a forest, that is why I am here searching,” Grian said.

            They sat in silence for a while.  Birell was digesting the story she had just heard from the Dwarf.  Part of her wanted to get going and find her quarry, yet another part of her wanted to help this dwarf find the temple.  Maybe it was just the conviction of the dwarf that made her feel like helping him with his cause, she didn’t know, although she wasn’t a bad person it wasn’t like her to help someone like this.  Most of her life she lived alone, and preferred it that way. 

            Grian didn’t ask her to come with him, and as they ate a midday meal in silence he didn’t bring it up again.  They sat in that clearing.  It was obvious that Grian wanted to continue looking for his God’s Temple and she didn’t want to impede on that, but still she hadn’t decided what she wanted to do.

            “How do you know what direction to look?” she asked him as they shouldered their packs and it was time for her to make up her mind.

            “Well, when those Shades attacked.  The power that flowed through me was more than I have ever felt before.  I think I am close, I think it is in this forest somewhere, it has to be.  I felt close to Hu’Mod when I struck that first creature.  It was almost like he was inside of me, guiding my blows.  I really can’t explain it, it’s just a feeling I have inside,” he said.

            “How about I help you find this temple, if it’s close then it shouldn’t take long, and it’s the least I can do since you saved my life,” Birell said.

            “What about your bounty?”  Grian asked.

            “There will be others.  Besides I have heard stories about how grumpy you dwarves can get and thought some companionship might do you some good,” she said with a smile.

            Grian smiled back and waved her over as he began to walk around the small lake, giving enough room to avoid the snatch grass. 

            Together they wandered the dense forest, passing countless trees and streams on their search for the hidden temple.  Birell was astounded at the size of the forest, it was huge, but it seemed the only life was the trees, and the two companions.  Nothing stirred in the branches above them, or on the ground around them.  The forest floor was void of even insects.   With her elven eyes alert she scanned for any sign of life, or danger.  Even though she traveled with the dwarf now, and spent most of her time alone, she had never felt this alone before.

            The forest was a border of sorts, beyond to the south was unknown to Birell, but she knew it was some kind of wasteland, arid and dangerous.  Most folks wouldn’t travel the forest so beyond was mostly unexplored.  On the other sides of the Wood were grasslands and populated areas.  But with the nearby mountains all travel had to funnel through the forest to the south. 

            When Birell was growing up she heard stories of terrible monsters that lived in the wasteland with no name, but most of the stories she took as just that, stories, fiction.  When she grew older she found it hard to believe in such a place and the monstrous inhabitants that are said to dwell there.  These memories wandered through her mind as they continued south.  She didn’t know how far south the forest grew, and thought that at any moment they might find themselves in that wasteland.

            Grian had other thoughts poking around in his head.  He was close to Hu’Mod, he could practically taste it.  The excitement was almost unbearable.  Several times he had to slow himself down to let the elf catch up, and he had the shorter strides being a dwarf.  He pondered on what happened back in the clearing.  It felt as if his god took over his body and he looked through a window as his body destroyed the shades.  It was the strongest he had ever felt the connection with his God.    He thought how easily his foes were defeated and although the power was exciting, it scared him a little bit.  He didn’t like the feeling of being out of control like that.

            He wondered how the Hammers felt, fighting for their homeland with shards of the God Hu’Mod inside them, giving them the strength to defeat their enemies.  Nowhere did he find an account where they had lost control.  He read all he could about them before leaving his homeland. 

            “Grian, ahead!”  Birell said pointing excitingly ahead through the trees.  The stout dwarf looked up in time to see something large dart farther into the forest.  Larger than a man and moving twice as fast.  With the filtered sunlight through the canopy above he couldn’t make out what it was.

            “I missed it lass, what did your eyes see?” he asked shifting the weight of his hammer from one hand to the other.

            “I’ve never seen anything like it before. It was large; the size of a large bear, but it had extra limbs and didn’t move like a bear.  I only saw it for a second before it ran off farther into the trees.

            “Keep your eyes open.  There are many things that dwell here, all of them dangerous.  I must admit I haven’t been this deep into the forest myself,” the dwarf said.

            With her keen senses Birell tried to find the thing she had saw ahead, but couldn’t find a trace of it.  Neither could Grian, he couldn’t sense the things presence anywhere; it was almost like it didn’t exist, at least not like a normal creature existed.

            On edge they continued south through the wood, passing the rest of the cold, windy day without incident.  Finally Grian called a halt and they sat to camp for the night. The feeble sunlight fading quick under the canopy of the forest.  Grian pulled some things from his pack and began to chant in the same language Birell had heard before.  He marked an area around them with objects from his pack and then turned towards Birell, as if just realizing she was there.

            “This should bring us some protection for the night, as long as we stay inside the boundaries,” he said.  “It should make us invisible to anything that wishes to cause us harm, and send an impulse to them to walk around the camp.  That is why I wasn’t too frightened when u approached my camp last night.”

            “You were in a deep sleep.  I didn’t think you even knew I was there,” Birell said noticing the objects around the camp that she mistook last night for camp debris and a sloppy dwarf.  There was more to this dwarf then she first suspected.  She hadn’t spent a lot of time with dwarves before, she admitted to herself, unless she was escorting one back to stand trial.  Her people had their prejudices, but she found most of them unfounded, at least with Grian.  The elven society being small minded about such things didn’t surprise her; she had worked for them long enough to see the good and the bad. 

            “I slept deep that night because of this protection, and tonight we shall sleep as good.  I have never had anything strong to break the spell wander near my camp.  Let’s get a fire going and some food and ale in our bellies.  It’s been a long day.  I hope within another day we should find the temple, I can feel it calling to me now.  I had to force myself to stop for the night,” Grian said.

            “We can continue if you wish,” Birell said.

            “No lass,  I’d rather get their a day later by sleeping in our protected camp, then risk being hasty and dying to something in this forest at night.  I haven’t lost my common sense you know,” Grian said and took a long pull from his mug that he filled with some dwarven ale. “If we don’t find it soon I may have to leave the forest for supplies,” he said as he pulled up the remaining of the dried beef he had from his leather pack. 

            “There is enough there for a week,” Birell said, taking the beef from the offering hand of the dwarf.

             “Maybe for an elf!” Grian said and bit off a big chunk and chewed.

            “My people say that a dwarf’s stomach is as big as his mouth,” Birell said, and gave Grian a smile to show she meant no offense.

            “Ha! It is true I am afraid.  We do like our meals and songs.  In my land there is a saying about the elves as well.  Their brains are sharp as their ears, but used as often as a blacksmith uses a dishcloth,” Grian responded, also with a smile.

            They both had a good laugh at each other’s expense and kept the conversation light until they were both ready to sleep.  The dwarf’s protection spell did little to comfort Birell as she laid there, facing the darkness of the forest, her mind thinking of what she had seen earlier in the forest.  It took her quite a while to fall asleep.


            Whatever it was that she thought she saw the night before never showed its face during the night, Birell noticed with relief as she awoke, her arm was sore, she must have slept on a rock. Grian was already awake and boiling some water, perhaps for tea, Birell thought.  She wiped the sleep from her eyes and stretched, surveying the campsite for signs of trouble from the night before.

            “Sleep well lass?” Grian asked, offering the elf a tin cup and a small bag filled with tea leaves.

            “Once I fell asleep, I slept soundly,” Birell said accepting the cup and dumping a few leaves into her cup.  With her other hand she raised the small pot that contained the water and poured it into her cup.

            “I feel we are really close now. I can feel the power strongly. It woke me,” Grian said excitedly with a smile and took out a small knife.  He began to carve on a piece of wood, shavings hitting the ground.

            “I am glad Sir Dwarf,” Birell said and took a sip of the bitter tea. 

            “I told you to call me Grian,” He grumbled and stood, stretching.  “Are you ready to travel on?”

            “Just a moment,” she said and put her drink down to begin to pack.


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