Beaten into the Light
It took a day for me to recover from the field trip with the little ones. It seems they all made it back safe and sound.
A Brick is still nowhere to be found. Me wondered what he was up to. Last night, I was wandering as I usually do after all have gone to sleep. I hear noises now. I see shadows. All these weird events that have been happening. No one knows these things. I dare not talk much about it. The old lady story got me into enough trouble and questioning looks. I feel like I am being shadowed. Everywhere I turn, I think I catch sight of someone just out of the corner of my eye. But I look and see nothing.
Still I wander. Up and down these streets. This is a sprawling complex. Sometimes I go down into the abandoned mine shafts and just sulk. I not good this long underground. I need to get moving again soon. I think I am going crazy.
I talk to rats sometimes. I get lonely when there is none around. I have started to carve stone, little statues of people I have met, things I have seen. Even I know that they are not too good. They just sit there, misshapen. I know I could sculpt them with the power of Kord, but that would not be right. It would be frivolous. Still, maybe just once...
So last night was hard. I actually struck out into the air and my sword clanged on stone. The noise still rings in my ears.
Today, I took the day off to devote to my studies and prayers for Kord. Ideas and notions are swirling in my head again. It happens every now and then, just before I can finally understand more ways to be one with Kord. I can feel my skills sharpening, my body becoming thicker.
After a whole day of studying and praying, it seemed appropriate to go and wrestle. It had been awhile. The usual dwarves were around and they all smiled when they saw me. They love seeing the others get thrown down so hard. But tonight they were smirking, eyes glinting. They knew something.
"Mord. It is time. You and me. Here. Now." And out of the shadows stepped a thick, graying dwarf. He was massive for a dwarf, but there was something quick about him. He had an aura that I could not place at that time.
"Who are you? Do you not know how many dwarves I have beaten? I will not risk hurting a graybeard," so said I.
"I am Core Rid It. And you will not hurt me, you insolent young pup. I challenge you truly. If I win, you will come away with me and do my bidding. If you win, I will make your little sword worthy of serving Kord. We fight, unarmed, until one of us is unconscious."
Me smiled. I have a fine sword, but it could be better. I accepted and stripped down to the basics.
So we fought. I got in a good first blow. He just stood there, smiled, and punched me with such force that I crashed into the ring of onlookers. This was a fight, and I was in trouble. I tried grappling, but he slipped through my fingers making me stumble and he slammed me in the back, felling me to the ground.
I was shaken and I got stirred up. I was raging now. He was making me look like a fool. The dwarves were going wild. They wanted to see me beaten. I did not want to oblige. But it happened. We fought for what seemed to be forever. I was bruised, bleeding, barely able to move. Core just kept smiling, barely a scratch on him. I bull rushed him and he just stepped out of the way. I would punch, kick, grapple, and nothing seemed to do much to him. I often missed even. He was fierce.
And then, I saw him jump, raise both fists, and pound me into unconsciousness. I had lost.
When I came to, he was sitting there, smiling, and offered me a drink. I ached all over. He said, "I will see you in the morning. Early. We have much to do." After drinking the ale and telling me where to meet him, he left. I sat there ashamed, hurting, and in awe. Finally, someone to match me. Perhaps I could learn from him. With one last gulp, I fell back into oblivion.
When I awoke, it was morning. I went to meet Core. His place was in with the smiths. He was a smith and from what I could see, he was doing well for himself.
"Greetings Core. I, Mord, have come to do your bidding."
"Ah, Mord. Tell me, where did you get that amulet about your neck?"
"It was an old dwarf lady's necklace. She dropped it in the river and I fetched. When me came back, she was gone."
"Why did you go after it? What concern of it was yours?"
"She was in distress, crying. I help those who need it. I only I wish I could give it back to her. I don't think it was hers, but rather someone close to her. Perhaps it was a memory."
"Tell me how was the river."
"It was cold. Something attacked me in there. It was hard to swim, it was freezing in there. I doubt many would have survived. But I hardy."
"Yes, Mord. Few could have taken the beaten I gave you last night." I grimaced. "Now tell me about the belt you wear. It looks very fine."
"I cannot say much. I am honor bound not to talk of it."
"You mean you do not want to reveal the role of the old mage. It is fine, Mord. I know his side. I want to hear yours."
How could he know? No one knew. I gulped. "Okay, Core. The mage wanted me to change the gems in the sky and gave me this belt to help. And a rope. The work was taxing, tiring, terrible. I climbed many times, long time. And at the end, I could not hold on. I was being attacked, electrified, and just gave in. I fell far."
"Did you yell out? Did you return the gems?"
"No I did not yell out. To do so would betray my word to keep my role secret. And yes, I returned the gems. I was honor bound to do so."
"I see. And the gloves, what of the gloves?"
"This was the most mysterious. After slaying a giant, we saw a figure the other day in the distance and we followed. We found a cave with a secret entrance. I fell again and swam again and eventually found the gloves on an altar to Kord! Here in these mountains. And then I escaped, but it was the strangest escape. The person who set those traps was, well, not sensible. I dodged and weaved and run. It was brutal."
"Why did you pursue this person?"
"We thought it might be a spy. It was our duty to find out. But I never did. I failed. And Barrel nearly got trampled by goats."
"So you have shown compassion and hardiness, honor and strength, duty and dexterity. Mord, do you know what you have just done?"
"No Core, I do not. I got some stuff, met some weird people, nearly died each time."
"Mord, you have given Kord great pleasure. You have completed your first true Kordian trials. Mord, know that it was I who was the old lady, I who was the mage, I who was the spy. I am a servant of Kord and I grant thee journeyman status. Kord, reveal the true nature of the amulet, belt, and gloves."
And a blinding light, well, blinded me. And when I could see again, the amulet, gloves, and belt all had the symbol of Kord in them. These were the gifts of the journeyman. I dropped to my knees and wept with joy. I wished that my mother could see this moment.
"Elianord knows, Mord. She is a great woman. I have spoken with her during these times. She is very proud."
I looked up at him, puzzled.
"Yes, Mord. I know your mother and I knew your father. When I was young, I traveled the continents. The one to the south where I learned the ways of Kord, the one to the east where I learned tolerance, and then back here again where I have learned patience. I was there at the colony when it was founded. I laid the first stone, forged the first sword, in those lands. I made the sword you carry, the chains you wear. It was I who first met with the tribe of your father. My comrades and I, we impressed them with our ways. And they joined us. I left before you were born. I have to admit, your mother was stunning and losing to her has always stung me hard."
I looked at him. This dwarf knew my father, my mother. He tried to have my mother. Well, good thing she was better than I at fighting. I would not be here otherwise. I would be a half-dwarf. How odd. It would not be me. I shook my head to clear it.
"This is too much. Way too much. You put me through all of that just for the trials? What about the gems? "
"The dwarf lady was my first test of you. It was to test your heart, a minor test, but an important one. I could see and hear that you tried to get the amulet back to her. That was noble. But to be sure, the gems proved it. You see, the mage form I took was the mage of old. He was in me while we spoke. Back in his days, the dwarves had gotten greedy. Some stole the gems, they mocked his ways, and tried to laugh him out of the community. So he guarded the gems, made it impossible for any dwarf to change them. And he created that guardian. Only an outsider could change the gems and only one of pure heart with no fear could succeed. And even then, just barely. So what he said was true to a point, but also a vestige of the past. It needed to be done and you did it Mord. None can know, but you have done the dwarves a great deed.
As for the last test, well, that whole area was once a secret arena for us Kordians. There are few of us left now. But there was once a secret society here. It was there that we housed some of the orcs of the colony." I started at that, my lost brethren here! "Don't get excited Mord, most of them are dead now. You see, the orcs that came here were not like those of your father. They were cowards, they followed the ways of Kord because the strong men of your tribe, men like your father, followed. These were weak orcs, craven orcs. We did not know that when we gave them shelter. They started causing trouble, minor things first, but then 'accidents' happened. So we laid a trap. We let it slip about a valuable caravan that was traveling through our lands. We planned to kill the bad ones that attacked. They ALL attacked. So we fought, many of us died, many of them died. Perhaps all. It was carnage everywhere, flames and destruction. A mess. We could account for most, but some, they may have perished, perhaps they did not. So it was that the Kordians here came to pass away.
I thought it would be fitting for your last trial to be there. We had set it full of traps and misdirections to ward off the outsiders. And some of it was just plain fun. You see, Mord, I needed to know that you were up for one final task. This task you must do for me, for the sake of the dwarves, and, perhaps, for you. You see, I am a great smith, but I once was the greatest of all living smiths. I used to forge weapons of exceeding power. My secret is a substance I picked up in my travels. It makes it all possible. After some of my weapons were used by the orcs to great devastation against my own people, I stopped making them. I hid the elixir, surrounded by means impossible for me to make it through. You need to get that elixir for me. You will need help. You see, I am to start forging such weapons again. The first is for A Brick should he return home in triumph."
I sat there stunned. A Kordian dwarf? He knew my parents, he a founder? My people here? My people dead? My people brutal savages? I saw how Pitter must feel. It grieves me to know what happened. Terrible deeds, terrible ways. And now, do I trust this dwarf? He put me through all that, nearly killing me? What kind of dwarf is this? But I gave my word and his words, his words, I could feel to be the truth. So I knew the course to take.
"Core, I pledge my sword, my strength, my blood to this quest. In the name of Kord, this will be done or I will die in the attempt."
"That's the spirit! Now, here is what you need to know... And one last thing, this place you are going to has an anti-magic field. Your items will not work, your spells will not work."
I sat there, stunned by what lay before me. This guy was crazy. To do this was madness itself. But I swore to do it. And so I did.
"One last thing, Core. Why the beating?"
He smiled. "You needed it. You are getting cocky Mord. You think you can beat anyone. But you cannot. You have great strength, skill, power, but you are young. There will always be others who can beat you. I have seen others like you, drunk on the power of Kord. But they are no more because they stayed drunk. And, well, it was just plain fun to beat you senseless. I follow Kord for a reason." I bowed my head, knowing the beating was easier to take than these true statements, that my ugly pride was deep in me.
I gathered my fellows. I asked them to trust me, to not ask questions. They agreed though Throw Down seemed hesitant. Still, his curiousity made him agree, me thinks. We set out. It was near the mountain lake in yet another cave. The cave was barren and empty. Core had said that only a dwarf could find the door, but no dwarf could enter it. So All Grins found it and indeed could not pass the barrier. It knocked him out cold. So the rest of us went on. Next was a door that had to be held open by sheer strength. Pitter held it open while the rest continued.
We descended far. A steep descent and it grew hot. Down at the bottom was a chasm above a river of lava. The only way across was a rope line, but the line was detached. There was a single slot on the other side for which an arrow could fit and hold the rope. This was Barrel's task. He took the arrow with the rope tied to it and strung it up. Thwack. It flew. An eternity passed. With this one shot, Barrel would make or break our journey. And he made it. I asked him to go back and tend to All Grins. What lay ahead was for two alone and I needed Throw Down. He grimaced, kicked a stone, and left.
Throw Down and I passed over the river of lava. It was hard work and Throw Down almost fell, but we both made it. And on we trudged. We entered the chamber of puzzles. I can't even begin to describe them. This was Throw Down's realm. He was turning this and that, scribing here and there. Finally, he told me to stand in a certain spot while he stood in another. He yanked a lever and his pedestal rose out of sight while mine lowered down. It stopped and I stepped off. I went through a tunnel. And there I saw the final task. My task. It was a waterfall of fire. Droplets of lava. I had to run fast and endure intense heat and pain. And at the end, there was a gate to lift that would require all of my strength and then some.
I ran and indeed it hurt. Pain tore through me, I was halfway and I didn't think I could make it any further. But calling on all my reserves I pushed forward. Scarred and burnt, I found the gate. I lifted, straining, screaming for Kord's help. But I could see that indeed I could not reach him here. And then I felt it give. With one last heave, the gate slammed into the ceiling. And there at last the elixir stood. I walked in, side-stepping the traps I knew to be there. I walked past the elixir and pushed the stones as told to me by Core. The gate slammed shut, the room whirred and I could feel it rise. It rose to the top of the mountain and I stepped out with the elixir in hand. And the room disappeared back down. Pocketing the elixir and healing myself, I clambered down to the cave and found them all sitting there watching the doorway, back to the cave entrance. They jumped when I cleared my throat.
"Let's go. We are done here." They looked puzzled and I said, "We have done what we needed to do. I cannot say more; my oath forbids it. Just know that I am forever in your debt." Them was so great that they were silenced in their questioning, though I could still see that curiousity burned in their eyes. But never mind that.
And so it came to pass that Core got his elixir and A Brick, ignorant of what all was behind it, got his Hammer.
Mords of Wisdom: Sometimes to be beaten is to succeed.