The Other Things, a tale told by a Dwarven Bard.

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The Other Things, a tale told by a Dwarven Bard.

Post by Ironherald on Mon Jul 18, 2011 9:26 am

There was a competition at The Three Hammers forum to write a piece of fiction regarding Dwarves, so I decided to write this in a few spare hours. Seeing as I spent quite a while on it, I thought I may as well post it here as well! Feel free to scrutanise/amuse yourself with it!

The Other Things

It is late at night in a tavern, deep in the Dwarvish hold of Ironforge and the festivities are winding down. Luckily, there is a story teller among the dwarves and the patrons are all settling down to enjoy a good tale. For if there is nothing a Dwarf likes better than good ale, it is a good story for them to grumble at or revel over.

“The Great Wood is not somewhere we Dwarves have ever lurked, nor will again” Ugric Stronghearth, a renowned, well-spoken story-teller started, his prominent brow illuminated in the half-glow of the dying fire. “it is a ghastly place filled with trees as high as the mountains themselves and earth foul enough to turn the stomach of any self-respecting Dwarf! However; tonight’s tale tells of some of our more ignorant, foolish kinsfolk who not only forsook their ancestral homes under the mountains, but ventured into that very forest, hoping tae build new, ‘thriving’ homes on the surface!”

The dozen Dwarves surrounding Ugric gasped, muttering to each other their disgust at the sacrilege their own kin were capable of. Several stood up and left, not wishing to hear more. But all too many stayed to bear witness to the Dwarf’s tale, equal parts fear and fascination dominating their thoughts. Ugric scowled at the leavers as they barged their way out of the tavern, stroking his unkempt beard before returning his attention to the remaining listeners.

“It all begins with a minor dispute in Ironforge countless years ago, when the world was still young and unexplored. Seven young dwarves, barely past being regarded beardlings, took issue with a blacksmith. Ye see, they had paid and ordered for no less than thirty iron picks from his forge, yet when their order was delivered they found there to be no more than 28!” The surrounding patrons at the tavern shook their heads in disapproval; such bad business. Ugric continued: “Like reasonable dwarves they pointed out the blacksmith’s error and demanded another dozen picks as recompense for the inconvenience. But the chap refused!” The group gasped.

“Naturally our woeful heroes took their complaint to the King, which is where our tale gets into its full, horrid swing. The King took sides with the blacksmith!” Another gasp. “For reasons beyond our meagre intelligence, of course, but it is no less shocking that he chose thus! It is now that our dwarves committed their treachery most foul and held council within their clan. They claimed the king was unfit to lead them; for how could one who made such a grave miscalculation be fit to run their clan? Or so their reasoning was, flawed in our wiser eyes, naturally. So, fifty dwarves within the clan decided to leave forever, irregardless of their elder’s pleas and objections. Fifty young dwarves such as yerselves, simply up and left!”

The group dispersed momentarily, equally shocked at the treason and the misjudgement of the king. Some of them weren’t sure if this tale was suitable. Yet Ugric’s reputation was enough to bring them back; Magni himself had supposedly listened to a yarn or two of his.

“So,” he continued as the dwarves settled down, “these fifty dwarves set forth from Ironforge in the dead of night (where all good tales begin proper) and headed north. They continued for months into the uncharted regions of the earth, where lurked monsters more terrible than today’s wee beasties and dragons as big as castles flew! Say what ye like about them, these Dwarves were brave! With only a wagon full of ale and meat, they forged ahead, slaying what creatures stood before them and running from those beyond their ability to fight. Their journey would make an epic tale in itself, but it needn’t detain us at this juncture”

“Eventually, after what seemed like four lives, our pitiful gang reached the borders of a great wood, either long since faded away with the march of time, undiscovered due to some fell enchantment or perhaps on another world. It was in there they decided to settle.” The Dwarf named Bardur Mithrilhands raised his hand and Ugric’s stern gaze fell upon him. ‘Why did our kin decide tae settle thar, o’ all places? Dinnae they have any self respect?’ Ugric nodded slowly, a fair point.

“The fellows regarded it with wonder, here they would never be found by their vengeful kin and it seemed gracefully free of monsters. I feel it was equal part cunning plan to remain undetected and equal part desire to distinguish themselves from their estranged kin. Perhaps also some form of charm was laid upon them to lure into its foul depths.” The dwarves agreed sagely, that was easier to believe; they could not imagine any dwarf wanting to live in a forest. Ugric leaned back in the padded arm chair, his face half-submerged in darkness and half lit by the embers of the fire, before continuing: “In conclusion, I don’t think anyone will ever know.”

“So, the small selection of dwarves wandered tentatively into the dark confines of the forest. The trees were huge, there were untold dark caves where even a dwarf would dare not venture and sometimes, even worse, hideous... presences, almost noises but not quite, would pass over the landscape, like the wandering attention of a hideous god too terrible to imagine, striking fear and hopelessness into even the bravest of Dwarf. That was the worst of the plagues in the forest. Our kin were wise in that they knew it would be foolish to set up camp just anywhere, especially not here, especially not with... whatever it was that could be felt occasionally. They didn’t sleep for days and days, determined to find a suitable spot for settling down. At last they found it, a great hilltop which burst above the canopy, allowing some measure of daylight to enter and which seemed defendable. With much relief and, without further ado, they created for themselves a village above the ground rather than below it because, as mentioned earlier, the earth seemed so foul that our heroes dare not dig into it.”

Another dwarf raised his hand, the guard named Grolfingir Ironherald. Ugric nodded at him to speak. ‘Bard, why do ye name them as heroes when ye’ve acknowledged their many poignant flaws? Treachery among ‘em?’ The other dwarves nodded eagerly, they too were wondering. Ugric smiled.
‘Many heroes have flaws, some of them seemingly irredeemable. But a good tale always answers the question: how do they atone for them?’ The dwarves nodded again, that seemed reasonable
.

“Anyway, the hill had enough flat land for the villagers to build their homes and also enough land to grow crops and keep livestock, of which they had brought a few. The villagers began content with their small community; they had impressive views over the woods, they felt safe and they enough food to keep the leaders relatively obese for the rest of their insignificant lives.” Ugric chuckled, “Isn’t that basically what all societies needs? However, as with all carefree societies, the lack of hard labour lead to the inevitable growth of the community as the people found more time to enjoy, shall we say, certain leisurely activities.Thus the population grew, steadily but surely, until it was clear the village would need to expand beyond the clearing if they were to be supported. There was nowhere else to go except outwards,” Ugric gazed meaningfully at his audience, “which meant venturing back into the forest.”

“The Dwarves were hesitant at first; they did not wish to go back there, with it’s terrible presences, pitfall caves and towering trees. The sentries stationed on the wall around the hill claimed they had seen... things in the woods, and indeed there was evidence to suggest that they were not alone. Often things would go missing from the village and no one could be found guilty of the crimes within the village. But the elders shook their heads at such queries from the villagers, they claimed that these were just stories to frighten the young’uns. But the villagers were still hesitant. If you had ever set foot in that hollow labyrinth of trees, you would have a clear visage as to its malice. The canopy overhead was thick and dense, bathing the territory in eternal twilight. Thick, thorny shrubs covered the landmass, providing the uncounted number of predators ample room to lie in ambush. Large luminescent fungi, which devoured small animals and exhumed poisonous spores into the air, hung from almost every gnarled tree trunk like bright booby traps. The very air was tense, as if the wood itself were poised to strike like a coiled viper. And the ever-present threat the malice which wandered the woods would fall upon them.”

“However, after an increasingly large amount of shouting emitted from the bulbous throats of the elders, our heroes began the arduous process of creating more living space. After a slow start, the denizens eventually laid into the woodland with an ever-increasing vigour. Trees were felled as if they were twigs and the land was quickly built upon. The villages were all too aware of the the visible dangers, the endless chasms one could fall into, the poisonous thorns which killed in seconds, yes all of these our kin could identify and handle. But what they were not aware of, however, was the ‘Other Things’.” As the words left Ugric’s mouth, the last of the embers died out, plunging the tavern into darkness. After much swearing and bustle, a new flame is lit, but kept low so as not to break the atmosphere.

“They first made their presence known on a clouded afternoon in January; only a few months after the villagers began levelling the woodland. Thick dark clouds hung like threatening creatures in the sky above the village. It had been pouring with icy water for most of the day and it was threatening to open up again at any moment. Therefore most of the village had taken up residence within their homes, entertaining themselves as the day wore on. But Grunhildebrand Skypeak, the village herbalist, was outside harvesting spices for the next day’s winter feast. However, something stopped her dead in her tracks.” Ugric wraps his hands around his throat and makes a loud gurgling noise. “The screams summoned the entire village, but upon arriving at the source they instantly regretted their concern. For, strung up high upon the village claim standard, were the mutilated remains of Old Skypeak.” The dwarves shift uncomfortably in their chairs, all grateful they are safe deep underground. Ugric continues, voice gaining momentum: “Her facial features were the only vaguely recognisable bit of her body, the rest a bloody, pulpy mess. Her chest appeared to have been ripped open and the insides removed. A few organs lay at the ground beneath her, decaying at a seemingly unnatural rate. The smell was acrid and brought bile to the throats of all but the most impassive of the Dwarves.”

“A vigorous investigation followed, every Dwarf was questioned ruthlessly. But each and every person had an alibi; most of them had been indoors with their families when the sacrilege had occurred. This is when it first dawned on the elders that they were not alone in the forest. Deciding that they should watch to see things unfold, they hid in their halls and prayed that whoever, or indeed whatever, killed the herbalist would leave the village alone. But it was not to be. A few long, frenzied days later the next victims were selected. Our heroes rose to the sound of alarm bells and hesitantly they gathered to meet the new terrors. For, impaled upon the iron railings outside of the village halls, were the rotting torsos of each and every elder. They were only identifiable by the bright robes that hung loosely around the remains. What shocked the village was that whatever was killing them off, left no signs of their existence. It seemed impossible that anything could enter the village, kill all five elders and make their escape without altering anyone. That was enough for the survivors, who hastily elected a new leader named Brynjar Stonewall and left him to make the decisions. He was their best fighter, their best tactician and their stoutest Dwarf.”

“Brynjar, who was a feisty beast of a Dwarf, was quick to act upon the impending threat. He ordered the villagers to bar every window and bolt every door and hastily organised the construction of a fortress in the village centre where all the villagers could hide together, reducing the risk of anyone being taken away without the other’s knowledge. In their frenzied state, the villagers managed to half finish the place within a week, using the plentiful wood they had collected from the woodland. For a few days after its construction the villagers believed that they were safe, however, the Other Things were not so easily repelled. On the ninth day of Brynjar ‘s rule, no less than twelve bodies, all but one of the guards stationed on the half-built walls of the fortress were found impaled upon the sharpened stakes, which the villagers had previously trusted to keep them safe. The bodies stank with an odour so awful that there could be no question that whatever had killed them had left the smell behind. No body smelt that awful. On further inspection, the first evidence of the murder weapons were found. Huge slices in the bodies could be seen, whereas before the remains were too mutilated to make out. There were also several limbs cut of, as if by a huge pair of shears. Whatever was killing these people, they murdered with a deadly precision.”

One of the dwarves, whose name nobody had bothered to ask, broke the ensuing silence, aided mostly by copious amounts of ale. ‘Why dinnae they march out’n meet tha bastards!?’ he cried, startling the other dwarves whose attention had been fixed on Ugric. The storyteller frowned at the drunkard, who subsided under his steely glare. “Because, who would protect the beardlings if they left? Who would bear witness to their slaughter while the fools seeked glory and fame?” The nameless dwarf grunted, but the others were not so sure that was the case. The others felt it was probably fear which prevented them from marching out into that terrible forest.

“Brynjar did not waste time. The remaining villagers were set to finishing the small fortress. It took only two days to finish, the fear of the attackers putting an unnatural vigour into the villagers. The fort had two rows of walls, four towers and a safe room to hide in, built with the last of the stone they had packed from Ironforge. For his final act of defence, Brynjar armed every villager with spears and bows, whatever weapons could be forged from wood leaving them on a twenty-four hour watch, while he set about preparing the women and children for what should happen if the men were killed. But the other things did not waste time either. The very night that the keep was finished, bells awakened Brynjar. His hand shot to his sword as he leapt out of bed, but there was something wrong. He and everyone else had been sleeping in the safe room, the strong stone walls and door would keep them safe even if the guards were slain; the door could opened from the inside, and you would need a battering ram to knock it down. But everyone was gone. He was alone. Had they left? It seemed unlikely. Was this a dream? The chill in the air voted to the contrary. Warning bells rang within Brynjar head as it would in all of yours and he slowly got into his armour. The glinting steel chain mail and sheet iron plate armour had been handed down through the community for centuries; it was rumoured that they had been worn by their former Thane and it was the most precious of the things taken from their Clan Halls that faithful night almost two years ago. When he was elected leader he took natural possession of it. He also took the last of the battleaxes. When he was fully geared up, he hesitantly made his way through the pitch-black room towards the entrance. But as the safe room door came into view (about an arm’s length away) he was struck dumbfounded. The door had been rent from its hinges as if it were nothing more than cardboard. That would certainly have woken him; the sound would be tremendous. Brynjar knew then that something was seriously wrong.”

The dwarves trembled at the story teller’s words, but he continued: “Mustering all of his courage and rage he made his way out of the safe room, keeping his axe held firmly in front of him.” He looked at the trembling Grolfingir, “If that doesn’t make him a hero in itself, I don’t know what does. Regardless, he crept slowly down the twisting corridor, making his way to the courtyard. Large beads of sweat began to form on his forehead, as the tension grew larger and larger. Would the things, or thing, have honour enough to face him in fair combat? Or would they dispatch him silently as they did the rest of the village? Brynjar didn’t know and he tried not to think about it, the fear of not being able to face his opponent disturbing him.”

“’It all boils down to this,’ he muttered under his breath, bracing himself for whatever was to come. Brynjar pressed himself against the wall as he prepared to shoot through the entrance and into the courtyard, if there was to be a final battle it would be fought there he resolved. With one last breath he leapt through with a roar. He regretted it instantly. For what stood in the courtyard could be described as nothing else but a pure, and utter monster.”

“The thing was at least thrice Brynjar height, and he was tall among most Dwarves. It was encased in a thick and bony shell, which likened it to some sort of humanoid crab. For it could have passed for a human, or more likely an elf, were it not so hideously mutated. It was a dark shade of green and its body was covered in cruel, barbed spikes. It had no less than three arms, if you could call them arms. One arm was a sort of scythe made of the chitin that encased it. Another was a huge pincer, again, likening it to a crustacean, and the final appendage was hook. Where it’s eyes should have been unnatural fires burned like torches in the night. No fouler thing had he clapped eyes on and I doubt no other Dwarf would have stood his ground in its terrible visage.”

Ugric rose to his feet dramatically, his voice rising in volume and tempo, his fists miming Brynjar’s actions. “He didn’t wait for it to move. Brynjar catapulted himself through the air, using all the rage and anger he could muster. What right had this thing to kill his clansmen? In mid air he retracted his axe arm and thrust his weapon forward. It hit home, piercing the things torso, which seemed to explode in green ichor. The thing shrieked and swatted Brynjar away as if he were a fly, before retreating to the other side of the courtyard, Brynjar clattering to the floor. It gathered itself, still shrieking like a deranged insect before inspecting its wound; clearly it had not expected such a violent assault. Clearly it had not fought a Dwarf fairly!” The listeners subconsciously rise to their feet also, would their hero succeed, or would the monster feed?

“Brynjar leapt to his feet, taking advantage of the situation, but the creature was prepared this time. In an instant it had crossed the distance between them before leaping on him, crushing him with its heavy body and piercing him in several places with the spikes protruding from its chitinous carapace, as Dwarven armour were no more than paper! It was all Brynjar could do to hold it back, yet somehow he managed to grasp his fruit knife with his spare hand. He brought the weapon up and, with a roar, he began to stab the creature repeatedly, its foul blood showering him as he did so! It howled in pain and frustration, but continued to press its body down on Brynjar with an ever-increasing vigour. But alas, Brynjar did not have endless strength. Eventually his arm gave way and the thing landed heavily on top of him.” The surrounding Dwarves fell to their knees in anguish, surely it was over? “With a triumphant roar the beastie was readying to sink its teeth into Brynjar’s neck. But our hero had one last trick up his sleeve. With a burst of adrenaline he freed his arm from the crushing weight of the creature and pulled his knife out of the creature’s back and stabbed the thing through it’s fiery eye-sockets. The knife sank deep, into its brain presumably; as the creature gave a final screech before expiring.”

The Dwarves once again rise to their feet, cheering all the world as if it were they themselves who had just triumphed. They embrace each other and raise their empty tankards, long since drained. Ugric grinned, but it seemed the tale was not over.

“Brynjar pushed the carcass off him and triumphantly roared. He did it! He killed the monster! Bruised and bleeding he roared into the night sky, the soft night rain soothing his cuts and the dewy grass of the courtyard cooling his feet as he removed his boots; the fight had left him sweaty and tired. Never had the freshness of the night felt so peaceful. It was all he could do to stay awake and not drift into a peaceful sleep. But,” he said, silencing the jubilations of the surrounding dwarves, “his success was short-lived. Brynjar’s voice trailed off slowly; for all around him dozens of creatures, identical in all but their colour to the one he had just slain, surrounded him. There wasn’t just one after all!” The surrounding dwarves sat down, despairing.

“Brynjar sank to his knees and waited for the deathblow to come; he had not the strength to fight anymore. Who would? But nothing happened. He opened his eyes to find one of the creatures standing over him. It was making an insane clicking noise and it took Brynjar a few seconds to realise what was happening. It was laughing at him. After all his efforts to save his people, after all his toil and after all these miles they’d travelled from home. Now that they were all undoubtedly dead and it was just him left, they were laughing. Then the creature above him spoke, its voice like a thousand screams.”

“‘Run little Dwarf. Run to your holds in the south. Tell them of us Dwarf, tell them of us in the forest.’ The voice echoed in Brynjar’s mind as he turned to see the creatures clearing his way to the gate. And Brynjar did run, he ran back out of the forest and did not stop running for three days. Many years later he returned to charted lands, his beard now gray and his flesh wrinkled. His last act upon returning to his home was to bequeath to a single dwarf, none other than my Many-Times-Great-Grandpappy the tale the monster had bid him tell. He used his dying breath to finish the last words. So that he would tell his children and in yesteryear I would tell King Magni himself and today I am telling to you. Remember Brynjar’s tale, children of Ironforge, remember it.”

The dwarves filed out noiselessly into the night of Ironforge, feeling the mixture of elation, poignancy and melancholy all good tales demand. None of them forgot the story.

Ironherald

Posts : 61
Join date : 2010-08-08
Age : 24
Location : England

Character sheet
Name: Grolfingir Ironherald
Title: Goroth

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Re: The Other Things, a tale told by a Dwarven Bard.

Post by Ironherald on Mon Aug 15, 2011 6:59 am

Came second place in the competition, thanks for the votes of those involved!

Ironherald

Posts : 61
Join date : 2010-08-08
Age : 24
Location : England

Character sheet
Name: Grolfingir Ironherald
Title: Goroth

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