An Epic

The Disappearance

By Ryan Torbert

10,002 E.R., Wawmar: The heavily armored orc snorted in contempt at his smaller companion and cuffed him on the back of his head. The larger one shook his head slowly, and his eyes narrowed dangerously.

"You'd be skinned and eaten within the walls of the keep for such talk, Ronnok!"

The smaller orc instantly growled at his larger counterpart, then thought better of it and shut his parted lips, covering green-tinged teeth that were sharpened to points. Ronnok put his head down and stepped up to walk alongside the larger orc.

"Bah, you're too loyal, Sorg! Why? You don't have the power that the others have. You can't even get outta' the stinkin' woods!"

The larger orc turned to look at Ronnok and warned him with a low, rumbling growl.

"Well, Ronnok, I've got more power than you'll ever see, that's for certain. I'm an elite guard in the biggest, most feared army on Núrion. I can get yer' stinkin' head on a pike, if you keep up yer talk. I've even seen Dantha'sule, the dark one herself. I've even had her talk right to me."

The orc's heavy banded armor puffed out as his chest swelled in pride.

Ronnok merely smirked at Sorg and shook his head. Sorg, his eyes distant, idly fingered the small, hammered steel ring of the Stor-gris elite encircling his fat, bloated finger.

The two orcs stalked through the small ring of woodland just south of the North Wood, on their way to meet up with the rest of their company. The orcs had been out of Stor-gris for several weeks, set on the trail of a troublesome group of gnomes that had sabotaged a siege engine moving north from the orcish fortress. The orcs had come to the woods early in the morning, and now Ronnok and Sorg were returning to their makeshift camp after having scanned the southern tip of the wood for signs of the pesky little gnomes' passing.

The thoughts of the two orcs were broken as they came to a small rock outcropping, directly in their path. Ronnok scratched his head in confusion and looked up to his leader.

"I don't remember that here. We lost?"

Sorg snarled and shook his head in anger. "We ain't lost, you dirty snog! We've gone through here, and we're goin' back. You just must not a' noticed it before!"

With another growl, Sorg strode defiantly towards the small rock outcropping, his expression grim. As he stepped within two dozen paces, Sorg stopped and stared. Returning his gaze was an elf. . . he thought. The elf's skin was dark as night, with hair that shone brighter than the moon. It appeared somehow male, though the tall, slender form could be mistaken for either sex. The elf's long, graceful fingers tapped a rhythm on his knee, as he stared back with bright orange pupils. The elf's long dark cloak was rimmed with silver, and he tossed it back as he stood, revealing a dark cut vest and leggings to match. With a slight smile, the form beckoned for the orcs to come closer.

"Come, Sorg, Ronnok, your reward awaits."

The elf turned his body slightly to reveal a trail of silver and copper, meandering down among the rocks.

Ronnok immediately took a step forward, but Sorg put up a heavy arm to stop him. The larger orc looked to the elf in suspicion.

"Who in the name of the Walker are you, fairy?"

The elf merely smiled and beckoned once more. "Great Sorg, your service has been noticed by those who rule in Stor-gris. These. . ." The elf inclined his head slightly, to the riches that covered the rocks. ". . .are your reward for such service, as is the right of a general in the grand army of Vornoth."

The huge orc Sorg shook his head as if to banish the image but couldn't help but believe the elven figure. He stepped forward, followed closely by Ronnok. Together the orcs climbed the small rocks to come face to face with the elf. Their gazes were drawn beyond the figure, and they stepped towards the vast piles of riches, a gleam in their eyes.

As the orcs stepped forward, the elven figure smiled. Suddenly, a deep orange smoke began to trail forth from his eyes.

"All of the riches that you could desire, my generals."

As the orcs stumbled among the rocks, they leaned down greedily to gather the silvers. The elf watched in amusement as the orcs cradled small sticks and leaves close to their breasts. Trails of saliva dribbled down the orcs' chins, as Sorg and Ronnok turned to look at the one who would give them such gifts. Both took an involuntary step back in horror at the sight, however, for the once graceful and beautiful form of the dark elf had contorted beyond seemingly possible proportions! Where once slender hands had been, now long, sharp claws extended from its arms. Where thin, muscular legs had carried the weight of the elf, now two huge, trunk-like appendages with fat toes covered in a glistening substance held the creature to the ground. Where a once near-perfect face had been, the elf's mouth had stretched in length and width, and fangs extended, grotesquely, from the gaping maw.

Sorg and Ronnok cried out in fear, but their screams were cut short by the terror confronting them. After mere seconds, the form of the dark elf was present yet again. A slight, smile lit his features, as he reached up to wipe a spot of orc lifeblood from his chin. With a sigh, the elf knelt down to pick up Sorg's ring, with it's hammered symbol of the great fortress of Stor-gris. The ring was still wrapped around the orc's bloated finger, though the finger wasn't connected to anything.

The dark elf smiled widely and looked up to the sky. "The Queen of Serpents will be pleased."


"Great Rockcarver, heartstone harvester and father under the mountain, watch over my boys, the greatest of our holds, and give my council the wisdom of your patronage and the strength to rule in my stead, should you decide to take me to your forge."

The weathered dwarf lifted a thin, hammered gold coin to his lips and kissed it, his touch lingering on the metal. Drawing the coin away, he breathed a heavy sigh, blowing out his long beard and moustache.

Closing his eyes, the dwarf tucked his bearded chin to his chest, and pressed the coin to his forehead. As he did, his conical steel helmet slipped forward just enough to cover his eyes. He pushed it back with a grunt and raised his grey eyes to the rock altar at the top of the dais. He got to his feet slowly, reverently, and flipped the coin into a small pool at the base of a small fountain filled from an ever-trickling stream.

The burly dwarf's gaze lingered on the altar for a moment before he turned and stomped out of the chapel. The beat of the steps from his heavy boots echoed through the chamber among the line of assembled pews. A line of light tumbled in as the dwarf pushed through the heavy, iron-bound, steel doors. With a final, parting glance at the altar, King Walin IV, lord of the greatest Dwarfhold in existence, stepped out into the midday sun.

"My king! My king, this needs your attention!"

King Walin barely had time to blink his eyes to adjust to the light, before a young dwarf hailed him from several paces away. The younger dwarf was dressed only in a loose-fitting tunic and pants, of the same color as the brown earth about him. His beard, much shorter than the King's, reached only to his chest, and showed a ruddy brown color instead of the fiery red of his peer's.

With a nod, Walin turned to the newcomer. "Remmen, my boy, what in all of Núrion's got you runnin' so? You young whippers are so full of life!"

The King smiled warmly, in spite of his surprise. He waved on a small crowd of dwarves gathered in the courtyard, concerned for their King. The dwarves dispersed, wishing their King well, and went on about their business. The "Stone Courtyard" was what the dwarves of Wawmar called the thoroughfare, as their practicality outweighed their originality. Situated in the center of the lowest level of the hold, the courtyard was a wide walk carved into the side wall of the dead volcano in which Wawmar was situated. The courtyard was the most populous and well-used area of Wawmar, being the public area that gave access to Khuldul's chapel, The King's Walk, and a multitude of shops and homes for the hardy dwarves. Carved from the surrounding volcanic rock, the buildings of the Stone Courtyard were sturdy and strong, like the dwarves that inhabited them.

Struggling for breath, Remmen took a moment to respond. "Chaplain Garen, he. . . he needs you for services today, says. . . says he's got to rule over a dispute, and. . ."

Walin patted his hand in the air to quiet Remmen. "Come now, boy, Garen doesn't need me for the everyday operation of this place."

The elder dwarf gave Remmen a wink. "Besides, I'm thinking that this'll be just the kind of experience that you'll need. Yup, you go on, and sit with him today; tell the Chaplain that I got the. . . er, measer-sniffles or something. Or, or. . . maybe I got ate by a starvin' mountain cub, eh?"

The King laughed uproariously at the look on young Remmen's face, and turned to go on his way.

"Um, King?"

Walin sighed and turned to see Remmen looking at the carved anvil of Khuldul, which stood atop the heavy, oaken doors to the chapel. "Yes, my boy?"

"You uh, you were in the chapel, did he. . . did you feel him?"

King Walin sighed, and shook his head at his trusted assistant. "No, the Rockcarver's hiding from this King, that's for certain. I just wish. . . I wish he'd let me know he's out there, I. . . ah, no matter. When the time's right, my boy. When the time's right."

The King turned again and this time stepped away before Remmen could stall him with more questions.

With another glance at the chapel, Remmen shook his head and turned to walk in the opposite direction, back towards the King's Walk.

The mundane goings-on in the great dwarfhold of Wawmar did indeed proceed without the King's overseeing them. The mountain dwarves of the hold had learned, through centuries of external strife, that the Dwarven nation was more important than the hearths or families individually and that it had to go on at all times, even when the King didn't show up.

That life, while consisting of everyday mining, smithing, and commerce, also consisted of rebuilding. The Dwarves of Wawmar seemed to have been rebuilding forever, though in reality it had barely been over two centuries. The siege of Wawmar by Stor-gris, though some time before, left lasting marks on the hold of Wawmar. The proud people, instead of seeing the rebuilding as a sign of weakness, saw it as a testament to the unity and perseverance of their people. That fact, and not the logistics of the building, perhaps made the construction last as long as it had.

The familiar drum of the forges below mixed with the sounds of everyday life in the great stronghold of Wawmar. Enclosed within the walls of a great, once-volcanic mountain, the complex reverberated with the din. Thus even the sound of King Walin's heavy, booted footsteps was unheard as he descended the great walkway to the floor of the stronghold.

The floor level, just below the King's Walkway, was the center of industry in the great dwarven stronghold. The vast rocky floor of the inactive volcano housed the government buildings, theological centers, and industrial buildings that kept Wawmar functioning. To the south was a pair of great iron doors, each as tall as three dwarves and as wide as two. Beyond the great doors was the massive slope to and from the city, which led downhill to the great gates of Wawmar, gates which had never been breached, not even during the siege by Stor-gris.

Among the great commerce into and out of the floor level of Wawmar, even a King could go unnoticed. At least Walin hoped as much as he weaved through his subjects purposefully. The King bypassed the large government buildings, the militia training center, the siege engine yard, the woodworks, and the waterworks. He darted down a side alley, in between the officer's quarters and the sewage authorities. If any of his fellow dwarves noticed him, no one addressed their King, and Walin continued unmolested through the bustle of the dwarfhold.

The sturdy king stomped through the alleyway and stepped out to the rear of the buildings. Stopping briefly, he glanced left and right, then swiftly stepped over to the large ramp that lead down to the lower levels. Walin nearly broke into a jog to get out of the public area before being seen. After trotting down the ramp, the great king stopped and sniffed the air, taking in the great scents of the dwarven forges under the earth. Nodding his head in satisfaction, Walin stepped into the great work area, to the clang of the hammers of dwarven craftsmen.

"My king! What brings you down here on a fine day such as this?" a voice boomed from the far end of the great entry hall. Carved from the deep, volcanic rock of the mountain, the great hall was set up for the utmost efficiency. The ramp was wide, with tall ceilings to accommodate the great wagons that brought goods to and from the production center of Wawmar. The wide hall was set up with several tall archways as exits at each wall, branching off into separate work centers. Crates and piles of goods were stacked in various, clearly organized formations about the room.

The voice came from a rough, gray-haired dwarf in loose-fitting robes; he was holding a large, bound book of parchment. He looked up from the book, quill in hand, as his King stepped down the ramp.

"Belkast, it's good to see you this day, or any day that I can make my way down here to catch the scents of the forges and let my old bones warm by the magma. How goes business today, my friend?"

King Walin smiled genuinely at the man. Even in a stronghold loyal to and respectful of its king; a friend who smiles out of mutual respect was one that needed to be kept.

Returning the smile, Belkast tucked his quill in the book, and slammed it shut. He looked up to the king and then glanced around the great hall. "Well, these goods. . . in disrepair, disorganized. . . but we'll get it together. Just in time to get the goods out for trade, of course."

Walin's smile widened. No matter how organized the room seemed, or how efficient the Dwarven materials went out, Belkast always thought that it was disorganized.

"I'm sure it'll get out in time; it always does."

Belkast beamed at the praise, then raised an eyebrow. "I'm guessing that you're not here for an inspection, though, my King."

"Nah. You know what I'm here for."

With a grin and a nod, Belkast turned and began to walk to one of the side chambers. "This way then, my king."

Walin followed Belkast through several rough-hewn stone corridors, nodding in greeting at passing workers, each grimy and blackened with sweat and soot. The workers gave cheery greetings to their king and then continued on about their daily work, treating Walin as just another worker.

Through the meandering halls, the pair passed great, wide rooms in which dwarves hammered away at pieces of work on huge anvils, some of natural formations and some dwarf-made. Works of all sorts were stacked outside, ready for pickup by varied regiments of dwarves who pushed deep rail carts to collect the goods. The pieces were as varied as the personalities of the dwarves themselves. Only one element was permanent in the complex, the heat. The dwarves used a complex design of magma and fissures from beneath the earth to act as their forges. The forges steamed and smoked through the corridors, laying a permanent blanket of oppressive, heated air over the place. To the dwarves, nothing felt more like home.

Turning a corner to the end of a corridor, the King followed Belkast into a small room, with a waist-high iron anvil, resting beside a small, bubbling pool of magma. A misshapen metal object, that looked destined eventually to be shaped into the head of an axe, rested on the anvil.

King Walin breathed a sigh of relief at the welcome sight and clapped Belkast on the shoulder, before he stepped into the room.

Belkast smiled at the King and stepped quietly out of the room. "If you need anything, let me know."

Nodding quietly, Walin seemed too engrossed in his work to even respond. With a satisfied grin, King Walin IV picked up a heavy hammer and began to pound away at his project. The loud clang of the hammer immediately purged Walin's stress, the stress of carrying a kingdom on his shoulders.

As the mild days of summer gave way to autumn, the dwarves of Wawmar plied their crafts, creating works for trade all about Farland. The goods brought in an ever-expanding bounty of food. Dwarven weapons, tools, and furnishings were traded to elves, humans, and now gnomes, their most recent ally and partner. Several villages of each race were spread out through the great Northern wood, in which the stronghold of Wawmar held sway. This time of year was the great harvest, during which a huge amount of food was produced and then distributed to the surrounding countryside.

The dwarves of Wawmar, with little or no farming of their own, relied on their allies' abundance of grains and vegetables to supplement their own diet of meat from their own small ranches and hunting grounds. This fact was made abundantly clear during the siege of centuries ago, as the dwarves lived off food that they smuggled in, combined with the only other abundant sustenance they had at the time: root vegetables that grew under the volcanic rock about Wawmar.

Thus the dwarves' trading alliance with the gnomes came at the perfect time, allowing the proud folk of Wawmar to concentrate on rebuilding their great stronghold after the decades of siege by the armies of Stor-gris.

News related to this very fact was what made King Walin IV's visage a thundercloud as he sat in a great central hall of the King's Walk.

"Remmen, just give me the short of it. You say the little fellows of Jyuren's Hold have held, but at what cost? And for how long, damnit! We can't just sit here on our rock while the little fellows deal with a siege!"

Remmen, standing at the side of Walin's great stone throne in the King's Hall, sighed deeply and rolled his eyes when his King wasn't watching. He leaned in closer, to speak to his King and his King alone. The other dwarves in attendance, mostly functionaries and officials, looked at each other and shrugged

"My King, it's. . . well, it's just a couple of goblins. The gnomes of Jyuren's Hold do have a militia, or at least some semblance of one. I'm sure that they can handle the incursion without any help."

Remmen understood his King's aggravation, though he didn't necessarily agree. King Walin IV, much unlike his father and previous King, was a bit of a wandering soul. While many of Walin's fellow dwarves were quite happy living out every day and night of their lives in their great stronghold, their King treasured his time outside of Wawmar. He took advantage of every opportunity to make a journey out of his home, and this particular time was no different, except maybe for the fact that the gnomes of Jyuren's Hold were a new and valued trading partner.

King Walin looked his aid directly in the eye and turned up the corner of his mouth in a sneer. "Bah! What kind of allies would we be, not to come to aid them at a sign of trouble? The people of Jyuren's Hold value our goods, and we theirs. We've got to show the little fellows that we're to be trusted!"

Remmen merely sighed and shook his head, fully aware that his King would do whatever he damn well pleased, no matter the argument.

"Very well, my King. I'll get the boys together; I'm sure your friend Goran is a bit stir-crazy as well."

King Walin smiled, his eyes already distant at the prospect of donning his armor for adventure once again, though this time not for the pomp and ceremony to which he had grown so accustomed. The King stood and looked at his gathered aids and the two outlying guardsmen who had come bearing news of the woes of Jyuren's Hold.

"Friends, we march. . . to save Jyuren's Hold!"

The dwarves about the room raised a cheer, though not as rousing as it might have been had the entire assembly joined in. Some merely clapped politely,and shared knowing smirks with their colleagues, as if to say, "Here we go again."

It's said that, once provoked, a family of Severbound Ants assembles with the utmost precision, with soldiers arrayed in lines, protecting the queen. They'll attack in unison, moving on a single thought, shared among them all.

The industrious dwarves of Wawmar acted in much the same way. Once the order went out from the Kings' Walk, dwarves stomped about the grounds of their hold with purpose. The stern expressions of the warriors spoke volumes to the perseverance of their people, or their willingness to go to war.

In the matter of hours the arrangements were made, and a force of two score battle-ready dwarves stood at the gates of Wawmar, ready to strike out in the name of their King.

In the mid-morning sun, King Walin IV led his kinsmen, hardy dwarves all, out of the great gates of Wawmar and down the mighty slope of volcanic rock that bordered the outlying trees of the North Wood.

The trip from Wawmar had an ominous beginning, as grey clouds moved in front of the early sun, darkening what sky the dwarves could see through the canopy of leaves overhead. In no time at all, the heaven opened and rain began to fall on the marching dwarves.

The weather didn't break in the least, and for many dwarves the first night out of their hold for many years was spent under a woven canopy, huddled about a small fire. As morning broke, the dwarves started out again on their great journey, sloshing through the mud of the day before. For days they plodded inexorably towards the gnomish hold, their determination unbroken by the elements of Núrion.

The morning of the third day found King Walin IV standing atop a small crest, looking through the trees beyond. His hands rested on his hips, and he shook his head in consternation.

"My King?"

The voice came from directly behind, and Walin turned slightly to look over his shoulder and then looked back to the dense forest beyond.

"Yes, Goran?"

Goran, gulped slightly and looked out into the trees beyond, as well. "I'm sorry, my King, but you look troubled. What is it?"

King Walin IV sighed as he looked out into the trees, and his shoulders slumped visibly.

"Goran, my boy. It hasn't been quite the adventure I remember, striking out of Kibil-gund. Rain, darkness, and now this." He shook his head again, and sighed. "We've seen this place before, my boy-yesterday morning."

King Walin looked at the younger dwarf, an eyebrow raised. "We're going in circles. . . "

During the days of wandering through the North wood, the weather showed no hope of breaking, and the dwarves showed no hope of finding their destination. The path to the gnomish village of Jyuren's Hold was typically a four-day excursion. At the end of the sixth day, however, the dwarves from Wawmar found themselves no closer than they had been the day before, or the day before that.

After a fruitless night of travel, the group camped once again, and the mood of the stalwart dwarves was dark indeed. Having taken to camping in a tent to battle the chill of the rain, King Walin IV found himself once again alone.

The faint flicker of his lone candle created pools of light in the small, mundane abode. Walin, the dwarf and not the king, sat and wrote in his journal by the flickering light, his eyes heavy: "I don't understand, father! In the light of your great will I've tried my best to lead your children to glory. This could be all in your great name. Trade with the gnomes can usher in a new era of wealth for your people. I fear I've failed you, Rockcarver. I've lost my way. I can't even find my way through this blasted forest. My faith is strong as ever, but you won't show me the way! I beg of you, Father under the mountain, please show me the way; guide your boys to succeed in your glory. . . "

The last words of King Walin's writing trailed off as the King's eyelids grew heavy and finally shut. The last, waking thought of the great dwarven king was that he'd failed his very own people-and his god.

The great king awoke to screams outside his tent. Snapping to alertness, Walin blew out his moustache with a snort and wiped the trail of saliva from his lips. Shaking his head, the dwarf pushed himself up from his small writing table and quickly grabbed his axe from its resting place by his bedroll. Bellowing in anger, the powerful dwarf burst through the opening of his tent and onto a scene straight from the dreams of the Dark Walker himself.

Huge monstrosities strode about his camp, creatures born of nightmare! Standing a full three times as tall as any dwarf, the red-skinned creatures were huge mountains of muscle. Their long arms, complete with claws over six full inches long each, dangled down past their knees. Their hoofed feet crunched the ground of the forest, causing a thumping cacophony about the small clearing. The faces of the creatures were even more hideous, with glistening black horns studding their red cheeks. They had elongated chins and massive foreheads. Long, forked tongues flicked about the immense fangs of the great creatures, as they stomped about the clearing.

King Walin looked on in horror as his fellow dwarves were decapitated, disemboweled, and partially eaten by the nightmarish creatures.

"My King, I. . . gollll!"

The young dwarven soldier Goran ran toward Walin, only to be stopped in his tracks by the heavy hand of one of the creatures. His words were garbled as the creature slowly and steadily pulled back on the young dwarf's head, ripping it in half at the point of the dwarf's jaw. In no more than a second, a hideous parody of the former young Goran stood before his King, the top half of his head gone.

"Ruuuuuuaaaarrrrggghhhhh!" Walin charged at the gigantic creature, swinging his notched axe in a powerful horizontal arc. The axe cleaved completely through the creature's arm and into its muscular chest. The thing leaned its head back and roared in anger at the mighty strike. It fell to its knees in pain, and King Walin IV finished the creature off by taking its head completely from its shoulders.

"Infernal beasts! Go back from whence you've come; these are dwarves you've attacked! We'll not be taken lightly!"

Walin rushed at another of the beasts and took it down with three mighty chops of his axe. In mere moments, the great King had forced out all of the behemoths with his axe and his rage. He looked about the clearing, empty of life save himself, and fell to his knees. The body parts of King Walin's entire contingent lay about the area, bathed in their deep red blood. The grass was completely soaked with the life of the dwarves of Wawmar, and King Walin IV knelt in it, looking up to the stars glittering in the night sky above Núrion.

"Why, father? What were these beasts?"

Of course, no answer was forthcoming from the dark skies above the clearing, and Walin merely knelt and wept.

Moments of eerie silence passed before a faint glow emanated from the edge of the clearing just past Walin's view. The beleaguered King looked to the end of the clearing, tears still streaming down his hairy cheeks. As he watched, a form coalesced in front of him. A grey-haired dwarf stepped from the outlying forest, and he stalked steadily towards King Walin. The dwarf walked with the help of a sturdy cudgel, which he leaned on with every step. His plain grey robes formed around his ankles as he strode purposefully towards King Walin.

The great dwarven King looked up in awe and reverence at the form. He leaned his head down to look back to the ground, afraid at the wrath of the being. Thus the King only saw the heavy boots of the form as it stepped directly in front of him.

"Stand, great King."

The voice boomed throughout the clearing, transferred by unnatural means. "Stand, and speak to me of your people."

King Walin IV stood, indeed, though it took him several tries to raise his head, and looked at the figure directly. The king saw a tired dwarf, a face once young, now fraught with concern. Grey eyes looked back at the King, and he sniffed away tears at the fate of his lost brothers.

"My lord and father, you. . . why. . . how could this happen to my. . . no, our people? They've only lived and died in your name, and you. . . you let this happen?!"

The glowing figure only sighed and nodded. "No, my King, 'tis you that have let this happen, and only you who can fix it."

King Walin's shoulders slumped visibly at the proclamation of his patron. Could it be that Walin had set his fellows on an impossible chase, one fraught with danger, with the possibility of their demise? The great King could do naught but reflect on his own actions of the past few days or weeks, thinking of how he'd convinced the council to take on this mission. Indeed, there was no one else to blame.

King Walin sighed in resolution, and he looked at the form of his patron, questioningly.

"What do I do, my lord?"

With a sigh, the great form of Khuldul Rockcarver, Lord of Dwarves, looked at his sorrowful King. "You've one way, and only one way, to bring back your fallen brothers, King. You must give in to your faith; your belief in me has not been true for some time; am I right?"

King Walin IV sighed and nodded knowingly.

"Then, King, the only way for you to provide safe passage for your own is to trust in your faith and walk into the light of the forest."

The form of the Rockcarver stepped aside, and King Walin saw a light beyond, a light soft but somehow strong. The light permeated the wood about it, creating shadow where there was none. With a brief nod, King Walin IV stepped toward the light.

"If that is what must be done, father, then so be it." The King stepped past his patron and strode relentlessly toward the light. In mere moments, Walin reached the edge of the clearing, and the light surged, shining brighter through the trees.

With a final look back at the nodding form of Khuldul, King Walin IV turned and strode into the light of his patron's might.

The form of Khuldul smiled grimly, and its eyes flared with an eerie, orange light.

Goran turned his gaze from the depths of the fire and looked to his King's tent. Shaking his head, he turned to his fellow dwarven soldiers.

"He's been so quiet. He blames himself, you know. We can't let our King think so; he's led us through all our lives, guided us through our rebuilding."

Goran, still shaking his head, stood. He turned from the fire and stalked towards the tent of King Walin IV.

Walin felt the warmth of the light, then the warmth turned to heat. The heat increased, flaying skin from bones. Walin looked back to the clearing, and saw. . . an elf! Where Khuldul Rockcarver had stood now the beautiful, tall form of a lithe, dark-skinned elf glared back at the king. The creature's silver hair fell down its shoulders, in stark contrast to the deep, midnight blue of his cloak, vest, and leggings. Orange eyes burned in the creature's head, and a thin stream of smoke issued forth to dissipate into the soft night breeze.

Walin panicked, and the dwarf King clawed at his prison of light and heat, ineffectually, as if he were clawing at a prison of glass all around him.

The once great King fell to his knees under the power of the intense heat of his prison and wept.

With a flutter, the flaps of great King Walin's tent were thrown aside. In strode Goran, the devoted soldier, in search of his King. The young dwarf looked about the interior of the tent and then kicked a small pot aside before striding out of the tent in frustration. The dwarven soldier glanced at the ground as he put an arm up to push his way through the tent flaps. Goran's brows furrowed in confusion as he knelt down to pick up a ring. The devoted soldier turned the small ring about in his weathered hand, his face becoming darker with each passing second. Through gritted teeth, the dwarf uttered a harsh whisper as he looked up through the tent flaps to his fellow soldiers: