The Hammer of Hu'Mod Part 9
by "Splatter" Joe Solmo
Grian grew impatient waiting for Birell and Sreg to return. He had grown fond of the elf and thought of her like a sister. It seemed Sreg brought out a more fun side of her, and he was glad she wasn’t as stuck up as when they met. That was the worst thing about the elves, is the complete seriousness they took themselves.
Zeeg also was impatient. He paced back and forth around the knee-high rocks that jutted up out of the desert sand around them. The light had faded a while ago, but the group didn’t want to risk a fire this close to Red Rock Castle.
On a few occasions they heard horsemen on patrol, but none of them had come too close. They couldn’t make out much about the horsemen, but they looked well-armed for a group of bandits. Skrat spent his time studying, which didn’t surprise anyone, even though it grew hard to read at first in the monster shadow of the protective Moose and then as the fun fell.
After darkness came Grian started to worry. They had been away for a long time. He wondered what kind of trouble Sreg got Birell into. He started to ask Skrat questions about the spell, until he noticed he was annoying the youth from the stares.
“Don’t let Skrat bother you,” Zeeg said leading the dwarf away from his brother. “He means well, he just doesn’t have the skills to deal with people.”
“It’s okay. We are all on edge waiting on Sreg and Birell to return,” Grian said and plopped down on a rock.
“Sreg will be fine. He has been in a lot of sticky situations. Your friend is in good hands,” Zeeg said.
“Aye lad, I trust all of you. You all are nice boys.” Grian replied.
“Something entered my circle,” Skrat said standing up. “It’s coming from above, I modified my spell after last time.”
“Another Wyvern?” asked Zeeg grabbing his shield.
“Can’t tell from here. Keep your eyes peeled,” Skrat said. Moose stood silently gripping his large Warhammer in his hand. Everyone had their eyes to the sky when a shadow entered their view from the direction of the castle. It was human in shape and size descending right towards their camp.
“That’s no Wyvern,” Skrat said. “That’s a person.”
The group readied weapons and faced their flying adversary. As the thing grew closer though, they relaxed. “It’s Wind Dancer,” Skrat said pointing. The Desert Folk shaman landed in the center of the camp.
“So that’s where you get your name from,” Skrat said to the shaman.
The shaman nodded towards the young mage, then turned towards Grian. “I fear your friends are in danger, healer,” he spoke.
“Birell?” the dwarf asked.
“Yes. I am afraid the magic has worn off. They are trapped and will soon be taken prisoner,” the shaman explained.
“We have to go after them!” Grian said. Moose grunted in agreement.
“Hold on a little longer,” Wind Dancer said.
“Every moment counts,” Zeeg said. “That’s my brother in there.”
“I understand, but to go in now would be suicide. I had another reason to come out this way. I was spying on the castle for another reason. Healer, you have stirred every village you have passed through so far. For better or worse you have changed our nation. About an hour from here is a small army of Desert Folk coming to help you take that castle,” the shaman explained.
“I don’t wish people to die on my behalf,” Grian said.
“They do it to end the tyranny of the Castle’s raids as well. It is mutually beneficial, but they never felt they had a chance before. You inspired them. They come to serve you whether you want them to or not,” Wind Dancer said.
The dwarf sighed and ran his fingers through his beard. This was growing out of hand. Maybe this was what Hu’Mod wanted, he questioned. He wasn’t comfortable with all the attention.
“Something else had tripped my circle,’ Skrat said.
“The army?” Zeeg asked.
“Something else, from the south,” Skrat said and cast the invisibility spell on himself. They heard his footfalls fade in that direction. Moose grew agitated. He didn’t like the young mage going off on his own, but he couldn’t find him now.
“He will be fine, Moose,” Zeeg said patting his larger brother on the shoulder to calm him. Moose paced a few steps in the direction Skrat had gone, groaned and came back. Grian swore he heard him whine.
“He really cares for the mage,” Grian said.
“We all do,” Zeeg said with a nod.
A minute later Skrat returned, no longer invisible, and no longer alone. Floating in the air behind him was a dark haired dwarf, his long black beard nearly dragging on the ground.
“I found a spy,” Skrat said waving his arm which made the floating dwarf move. “He won’t speak.
“I recognize him. I have seen him in the village,” Wind Dancer said. The dwarf stared up at the shaman with anger. “He hung around the magic tent.”
“Why are you following us?” Grian asked. The dwarf just stared back at him. A weird sensation started to grow in Grian. He began to get sick to his stomach. “There is something wrong with him.”
“I noticed it too. A sense of wrongness about him,” Skrat said.
Grian took a step closer and reached out towards the dwarf. The black haired prisoner recoiled from Grian, avoiding his touch. Moose put his foot in the dwarfs back pushing him forward until Grian made contact.
A flood of darkness entered Grian. His vision faded to nearly black and he fought not to throw up. Every part of him told him to break contact with the mysterious dwarf, but he had to know where the wrongness came from. He asked Hu’Mod for help.
He started to see a vision of fire, of madness. It pulled at him, drawing him in from the outside world. He could hear Wind Dancer calling him from what seemed like a mile away. He started to pull back, but it was harder than he thought. It scared him. Where was Hu’Mod? He pulled harder, in a near panic, and finally came back to the real world.
Grian fell back on the sand, panting, covered in sweat. The black haired dwarf started to laugh. “You can’t stop the darkness. It comes every night,” he said, finally breaking his silence.
“Hu’Mod will shine in that darkness,” Grian said.
“Hu’Mod turned his back on the dwarves, but there are other gods,” The black haired dwarf said with a cackle.
“Whom do you serve?” Grian asked, gaining his feet.
“I serve the one who never turned his back on us. I serve the true master of dwarven magic. Your weak god can’t even free himself and the other gods from their prison. My god put them there,” the dwarf said.
“Who are you,” Skrat said to the dwarf.
“I am Lod’rum’s prophet. I am His voice in this world until He comes,” the dwarf said.
“That’s quite a long name,” Skrat joked.
“You may call me the Oracle of Lod’rum,” the dwarf said.
“Why are you following us?” Grian asked, placing his hand on his hammer and wondering why Hu’Mod hadn’t come to his aid.
“I am supposed to watch you, and to stop you if necessary,” the Oracle said.
“I say we put a blade in him,” Wind Dancer said.
“Let’s not be too hasty,” Zeeg said. “He might have a lot of information for us.”
“I will tell you no more. My God protects me. Put a blade in me and I will rise again. Much like the moon at night,” the Oracle spewed.
“What do we do with him?” Zeeg asked the group.
“The army approaches. Multiple breeches of my circle,” Skrat said. “Maybe they can take him prisoner until we have time to question him further.”
A minute later the scouts from the army approached the group. They said the army was only twenty minutes behind. They were ready to march straight to the castle.
“How big is this army?” Skrat asked.
“Over three thousand spears have decided to follow the Healer,” the scout said.
“That’s three thousand souls you condemn,” The Oracle said and laughed.
“Quiet,” Zeeg said.
Moose grabbed the Oracle and lifted him with one hand. He raised him to eye level. “Don’t…like,” he said in a low growl.
“A little slow, are ye?” the Oracle taunted. Moose let go and the dwarf fall to the ground with a thud.
“Take him to the army as a prisoner,” Wind Dancer said to the scout. “Before we kill him.” The scout nodded and grabbed the dwarf, a moment later they bound his hands and had him gagged. They led him off towards the army that they could now hear approaching.
Grian walked away from the group deep in thought. This was getting out of hand. An army following him and a spying dwarf. What if the dwarf went back to his village and told his family what he was doing? He could never face those people again. Was this dwarf really a spy for Lod’rum? It made sense that if he was a follower of Hu’Mod that The Oracle could be the same for Lod’rum.
Did all the gods have followers walking the lands doing their bidding? Maybe Grian wasn’t so special after all. There was a whole pantheon of Dwarven gods. Hu’Mod and Lod’rum were just two of a dozen. Then if you take into account the other races it seems gods aren’t so rare after all.
He sat down on the sand, just trying to make sense of it all as he heard the army approach. He knew soon enough he would have to lead them to the castle, where some of them would die, die for Hu’Mod, and die for him. Everyone looked to him for answers, from Birell to the brothers, now to the Desert Folk, it was like he was a giant magnet, attracting followers. Deep inside he knew this was the way it had to be, but he still clung to self-doubt, something he was more familiar with. He feared his god’s trust in him was misplaced, a slight blasphemy to even think it!
The noise from the approaching army became too loud to ignore anymore. Grian reluctantly stood, wiping the desert sand from his leather pants. It was more of a habit then a cleaning gesture. All of their clothes were pretty filthy from traveling. He clapped his hands and watched the puff of dust escape into the air.
“Commander, what are your orders?” Grian heard a deep voice ask. He checked his weapon over for damage while waiting to hear what they were going to do, but there was only silence. “Commander?”
Grian looked up and noticed everyone was staring at him. Great, he thought. They were looking at him for advice. If the battle went badly it was all on him. A part of him wanted someone else to lead so he wouldn’t have that responsibility.
“We need to rescue Birell and Sreg,” he said. The Desert Folk army just stared at him. “And any Desert Folk we can find. We can’t let them in Red Rock Castle run over the Desert Folk anymore,” he said.
The army cheered him. He could feel the energy from the crowd, and gave him some confidence. “Do we have any idea how it’s laid out, Wind Dancer?” the new commander of the Desert Folk army asked.
Birell looked at Sreg. “Come up with anything yet?” she asked the ranger. Sreg was tapping his bow in the table in rhythm to a song he couldn’t remember the name of.
“Come on, Sreg, your good at this,” he whispered to himself. Birell sighed.
“Time is running out,” the elf reminded him, drawing her weapons from their sheaths. The blade reflected the dim candle light from inside the guard room.
“I got it!” Sreg said pulling a flask of Desert Folk alcohol from his belt pouch.
A moment later there was a banging on the door. “Open up! You have five seconds before we come in,” came a gruff voice. The voice counted down from five then there was the click of the lock. The large door swung open and the Captain, a large man with a red cloak draped over his plate armor, and the two gate guards stood there in shock.
An elf maiden and a human lay wrapped together unclothed. The stench of alcohol assaulted their noses. “What is going on here?” the Captain demanded.
Birell rolled away from Sreg, covering herself up with her discarded clothes. She looked at them and giggled.
The Captain’s men yanked them both up to their feet. The soldier’s eyes leered a little longer on Birell. “Men, behave,” the Captain said. He separated them, pushing Sreg towards the door. “Dress quickly, before I change my mind on giving you some privacy,” he said to the elf.
“Look, it’s not what you think,” Sreg said. “Well it is what you think. We were just looking for a private place, you know how it is,” Sreg said with a crooked smile. “We are both traveling merchants and don’t find a lot of time alone, if you know what I mean.”
“Our guard house is not a brothel!” The captain roared. Birell joined Sreg near the door.
“I didn’t pay for it!” Sreg objected. “I don’t have to when I look like this.”
The Captain rolled his eyes. “What are your names?” he asked grabbing the ledger from the top of the table.
“Birell and Sreg,” the elf said.
The Captain found their names in the ledger, in fact the last entries, they couldn’t have been here long. then turned towards his soldiers. “Bring them to the cells until I figure this out,” The Captain said and left with a whirl of his cloak.
“Great plan,” Birell said to the ranger.
“Worked for me,” Sreg said looking her over with a smile. Birell smacked him in the face.
“I thought you guys were past the foreplay,” one of the guards said and pushed them into the courtyard.
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