The Hateful Wars: Chapter Forty-Six
Hedvyg lifted the dagger, poised to plunge it into the queen’s heart. The Dengar dwarves turned their grey-bearded faces away, unwilling to watch the sacrifice. Dame Thresstone took three steps backward toward the open door. She scarcely dared to breathe.
“Hedvyg! The book for the life of the queen!” Bagbag offered. He slammed the book shut. It closed with a clap like thunder. “Take it! I keep my oath.” He latched the brass clasps and dropped the heavy tome amidst a clutter of parchments, books, and candles strewn atop a wooden table. The magical devilshine in the room flickered and faded away. The eerie swirls of color disappeared, and the all the illuminations returned to those of normal light cast by candles and lamps. The summoners circle which, until then, had slowly revolved at the center of the floor, also faded away as if it had never been there.
Hedvyg laid the dagger down upon Kristryd’s chest. The blade rested upon the finely-crafted ringlets of the queen’s mithril shirt. Moving slowly and cautiously, never taking her eyes off Bagbag, the witch rose to her feet. The expression on her ancient face indicated that she expected treachery. She edged her way to the table and warily crept up on the brassbound book. She glanced at it only briefly, lest Bagbag take advantage of her distracted attention and utter a spell. “The book should have been mine from the start,” she sniffed. “Drelnza wanted me to have it, not Gretyll.”
“Yes,” Bagbag agreed. “It should have been from the start. And now it is.”
Encouraged by that thought, Hedvyg pounced upon the book and snatched it up from the table.
“Do not delay! I have brought up a powerful fiend. Bind him and wrack him before he strikes us all,” Bagbag urged her to act. “I can teach you the incantation. I will reveal the name.”
“I need no teacher,” the witch retorted. Her hungry fingers moved quickly to unfasten the clasps. As soon as she lifted the cover, an ugly rutterkin leapt up from the pages, as Bagbag knew it would. Hedvyg shrieked. The rutterkin snarled, “Here’s a kiss from Tasha!” The ugly fiend struck the witch a terrific blow. She dropped the book to the floor and fell flat on her back, blood streaming from her mouth.
Dame Thresstone, who had watched all of this transpire, leapt on top of the witch, clutching at her throat. “Die witch! Traitor! Devil!” she screamed. Hedvyg thrashed about, trying to speak a spell, trying to reach her wand, pleading for her life, but Thresstone only tightened her grip, crushing the witch’s throat under her fingers. Hedvyg’s body flerked about. She tried to throw the dwarfess off from on top of her, but Thresstone held on tightly, squeezing until the witch ceased to thrash. The rutterkin applauded the spectacle, grinning stupidly.
“Release her, Dame Thresstone. She is dead,” Bagbag observed. He snatched up the open book and quickly turned its pages. “You have done us all a great service,” he added.
Hedvyg’s spells dissipated. The paralysis left Kristryd’s body, and she slowly sat up from the where she lay prone on the floor. She tossed the cursed dagger aside. Dame Thresstone released her stony grip on the corpse of Hedvyg and turned to help Kristryd to her feet. “Your majesty,” she said. “I have slain the witch and saved your life. If I have found favor in your eyes, pardon what grievances you hold against me.” The four greybeards of Dengar also came to their senses, confused and uncertain about where they stood or how they had gotten there. They blanched at the sight of dead witch and the leering rutterkin still perched in a crouch atop the table.
“Time enough for pardons and reconciliations when I have taken back control of the fiend. Leave me now!” Bagbag urgently flipped through the pages of the devilshine book.
“Your too late!” croaked the vile rutterkin. The cackling creature hopped across the table and climbed back inside the book, even as Bagbag turned the pages.
Thane Evrast Enters
Thane Blackaxe scarcely understood the shifting fortunes of the battle. He cowered among the warriors atop the gatehouse as the demon swooped low and passed over their heads. The appearance of the fiend frightened and discomfited him and his soldiers no less than it terrorized their enemies. The nauseous stench made the iron-willed dwarves reel about and stagger under a heavy wave of fear. The terror of the abyssal presence paralyzed the warriors. Brave dwarves dropped their weapons, their hands hanging limply at their sides. Likewise, the squealing goblins below discarded weapons and gear in a maddened flight from before the demon. They scattered in all directions. The shadow of the winged tanar’ri lord pursued. As the demon passed from sight of the gatehouse, the light of dawn seemed to brighten.
“He’s done it!” Thane Blackaxe declared. “The old wizard has done it! Gods be damned! He’s unleashed the Abyss against our foes. Look at them run.”
Big Gilvgola’s mace smacked Thane Blackaxe across the back of his helmeted head so hard that the dwurlord dropped to the floor. “What the Nine Hells did you do that for?” he cussed.
“If you blaspheme again, you’ll feel it again,” the Sacred Heart scolded.
“Nothing good can come of devilshine,” Peralay observed. “This is bad business, and we will yet pay the price.”
“Here’s what I know,” Blackaxe said as he lifted himself back to his feet. “Up until that demon came, we were losing this fight.”
As the goblins fled, Thane Evrast and the last survivors of the Dengar dwarves broke through and arrived at the gatehouse. “By Moradin’s forge, have mercy,” Evrast pleaded. “Give us leave to enter lest we perish outside your walls.”
“Enter brothers,” Blackaxe called down from the top of the gatehouse. “Durin’s sons are all welcome within these walls tonight. Help us hold this gatehouse fast, for some enchantment prevents us from raising the bridge and sealing the gates.”
“By Clangeddin, we shall stand here and die here along with you if the gods will it,” Evrast promised.
Gilvgola peered over the edge between the gatehouse battlements and looked down on the old king. “Tis no light matter to swear by the gods,” she warned. Thane Evrast had no intention of keeping his oath. He left the dragon’s share of his greybeards to help hold the gatehouse, but he himself took seven of his best and slipped away into the fortress.
Some short space of time later, Hedvyg perished and with her perished her spells. The wizard locks which barred the bridge from raising and the gates from closing also failed. Gilvgola, Thane Blackaxe, the three elves, and all the dwur with them descended into the gatehouse, hauled up the bridge, closed the great gates, and dropped the bar.
“We are indeed saved!” Thane Blackaxe exclaimed. “Never again will I doubt that old wizard.”
“Salvation from the Abyss is no salvation,” Gilvgola warned.
Where is the Queen?
Bamadar crashed through the austere halls of Hoch Dunglorin, calling out for Kristryd. “We saw the queen carried to the tower. Dame Thresstone went with her. Surely her majesty has been sorely wounded,” they told him.
“Nay! Treachery is afoot!” Bamadar bellowed as he raced for the high tower and the queen’s chambers. Alas! He found her chamber empty. Where have they taken her? Panic gripped his heart and tears clouded his vision. He sat down on the donge and wiped the tears away. Think, you young fool! he scolded himself. I must warn Bagbag that Hedvyg is here and that she has taken the queen.
Leaping back to his feet he hastened toward Bagbag’s chamber. Around the corner, down the hall, the door stood open. He shouted as he tumbled through the open door, “Bagbag! Hedvyg has the queen!” He stopped short, nearly tripping over the dead body of Hedvyg which lay inert upon the floor before his feet. The old wizard paid no attention to the corpse nor to the entrance of the young dwarf, so engrossed he was in his magical tome.
“Bagbag! Where is the queen!” Bamadar insisted.
The old wizard did not lift his eyes from the page, but with one hand, he waved the brash young dwarf off.
“To the hells with your spells!” Bamadar tried pulling the book away from Bagbag, but the old wizard snatched it back.
His concentration broken, he would need to begin the spell again. He scolded the dwarf, “Not now! Leave me! I have no time!” The wizard lifted a hand and an unseen force pushed Bamadar out through the door he had entered. At the same moment, the door to the chamber magically swung shut and locked. Finding himself suddenly in the hallway, Bamadar tried the door but could not open it. He kicked at it angrily, then turned to resume his search for the queen.
Day of Vengeance
On the fields around Hoch Dunglorin, Hroth’s fleeing forces experienced an abrupt change of heart. Hroth focused his yellow eyes upon the bat-winged horror in the sky. “Yes!” he exclaimed. “We are sent a savior!” A thrill of joy coursed through his body. From all across the field of battle, a mighty shout rose from the throats of goblinkind. “Unto me! Unto me!” the joyous words sang in all their heads. The hobgoblin lord shouted orders and took control of his no-longer fleeing army as best he could. War horns sounded again, and the host turned itself about to resume the siege.
“It drives us back then summons us to its side?” Hroth’s lieutenant asked.
“The lord of Dregrach the Cruel. We are sent a savior at last!” Hroth thundered. “This is the day of vengeance!”
Blood on the Anvil
Inside the walls of Hoch Dunglorin, another battle raged. Thane Evrast and seven of his most loyal Dengar dwarves, now inside the fortress walls, fell upon the two guards Durgeddin entrusted to protect the Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains: Kristryd’s brothers Orin and Olin. Indeed, Kristryd herself had commanded that those two should remain within the safety of the fortress, guarding the anvil, for she feared her father’s reproach should her brothers perish on the field of battle. Heavily armored in the best of Durgeddin’s craft and wielding the sharpest of his arms, the two sons of Prince Corond were not to be easily slain or overpowered. They raised the alarm and shouted for help, but in the midst of the calamity all around, none heard the shouts. Evrast and his men hammered at the brothers from all sides and slew them both. Then sank Evrast to his knees before the anvil and lifted his bloodied hands to Moradin in gratitude.
“What now, lord?” his most loyal greybeard dwarf-at-arms asked.
“Take up the holy anvil and bear it to the place it belongs. The halls of Dengar!”
That loyal greybeard looked askance upon his master. “How should we carry such a treasure away in the midst of battle? Will we not be captured and put to death as thieves and murderers?”
Evrast dismissed the objection with an unconcerned shrug. “The witch has promised to open an eldritch portal through which we will travel to our halls in an instant. In like manner, she and her sisters stole this anvil away from our hallowed halls by the power of their magic book. Now, she returns us thence and the anvil with us.”
“Else we perish. But for what purpose does she tarry?”
Before Evrast could offer a reply, a wave of abject terror and nausea swept over him and all his greybeards. Vlixipur returned, hurtling through the air like a comet. Hope and light and goodness and beauty scurried away before him. Despair of heart choked every breast.
The besiegers that had scattered in reckless retreat now returned rushing back together like a returning wave that washes again upon the rocks. They shrieked in delight and ecstatic frenzy. Their enthusiasm diminished only slightly when they found the open gates they had abandoned now closed fast against them. The barred doors of Hoch Dunglorin could not stop Vlixipur. In the blink of an eye, he stood within Bagbag’s high tower chamber, seeking the summoner that had brought him up from the Abyss.
Vlixipur did not find trueheaded Bagbag completely unprepared. The circle of protection was gone, but the old dwur wizard had wreathed himself in spells of protection quickly gleaned from the devilshine book. The moment the demon appeared, Bagbag began uttering an incantation that would banish the fiend from Oerth. Before he could finish reading the spell, the grinning tanar’ri lord struck him a terrible blow with his long-clawed paw. The brassbound book flew from Bagbag’s hands. The old dwarf crashed against the chamber wall; his weary bones shattered like pottery.
The tenar’ri scooped up the book from the floor and secreted it away as a souvenir. With merely a nod of his horned head, he opened a gate to his native plane. Bagbag had studied the brass-bound book for many years before he could open such a gate. He had spent long hours in recitations and incantations to create the portal through which Vlixipur had come to Oerth. The tenar’ri lord could accomplish the same trick without effort or the assistance of spells written in a book. Up from out of the Abyss came leaping into Bagbag’s chamber three more terrible fiends, each as vile as the first. They gathered around his crumpled body, leering and cackling.
“Bagbagotiouk Silverstonecutter,” Vlixipur hissed as he poked at the dwarf with the dagger-sharp claw at the end of one enormous toe. “Verily! I know well thy name. Hear my voice. Long thou shalt serve thy new master in the Abyss, even as I have rendered service unto thee.” Turning to the three newly arrived fiends he had summoned, Vlixipur commanded, “Slay the dwarves, sparing none. Also elves and men tear asunder and devour. But leave for me this old fool that doth play at summoner’s arts. I make a toy of him.”
While these things transpired in Bagbag’s chambers, Kristryd, Dame Thresstone, and the four Dengar dwarves came upon an unexpected treachery in the open courtyard of the hoch.
“Fiend! Have you spilled the blood of these noble dwur?” Kristryd nodded toward the bodies of her brothers. Hedvyg’s evil runes still marked Kristryd’s face, making her visage frightening and witchlike in the thin morning light. Rage and wrath played flashed in her eyes as she realized the fate that had befallen Olin and Orin. Their blood yet seeped from their wounds and soaked the soil around the anvil. Evrast’s soldier-thieves drew back fearfully as the queen approached. Evrast himself stood unmoved atop the trophy, brandishing the blade with which he had carved open his grandson.
“In war, blood is shed, my daughter,” the maddened king replied. Addressing the four Dengar dwarves and also Dame Thresstone, he commanded them, “By Moradin’s enormous stones! Mingle her blood with the blood of her brethren!”
The four Dengar greybeards, so recently liberated from Hedvyg’s spell, hesitated. Uncertainty and fear clouded their grizzled faces.
Dame Thresstone thrust a defiant finger at Evrast. “Nay my lord,” she demurred. “We beg the queen’s clemency, for Hedvyg utterly deceived us. That sour witch now lies dead by my own hand.”
“Woe! Gods have mercy!” Evrast’s loyal greybeards exclaimed in dismay. They tore at their beards and rent their garments.
“You have ignobly spilled the blood of noble dwur. Your lives are all forfeit,” Dame Thresstone spat at them on Kristryd’s behalf. “If you want to live, swear allegiance to the queen and help us defend this fortress.”
“Fah! I do the deed myself with Moradin’s good pleasure,” Evrast declared, brandishing his blade.
Bamadar Kadarel emerged from the high tower and took in the scene from across the open courtyard. “Bandit!” he shouted. The brash young dwarf rushed to the defense of the queen. The twelve from Dengar overmatched him, but he hastened to the fight heedless of their axes and hammers. They gathered around the anvil, weapons bared, prepared to defend their king and strike down the brash interloper. Bamadar snarled through gritted teeth, “Gods blast you all!”
As if in reply to the curse, a demon descended upon them from Bagbag’s window in the high tower. It screamed like an eagle swooping down upon a rabbit. All the dwarves fell away in blinded terror. The creature landed itself upon the anvil and lifted Evrast in one terrible talon. Its horned beak tore the king’s body asunder. Blood and gore poured out over the sacred relic.
Bamadar dropped his axe, swept Kristryd up in his arms, and fled. The raised wooden dais upon which Kristryd’s throne had sat the day before stood nearby. Bamadar and Kristryd dove into the narrow space beneath the planks and hid themselves as best they could.
The fiend leapt upon the rest of the Dengar greybeards with orgiastic enthusiasm, tearing them to pieces. All was limbs and heads and entrails. The smatter washed over Dame Thresstone where she fell to the ground, limp from terror. From where she cowered with her head buried in her arms, she could no longer see the gory horror. She covered her ears, but she could not block the sound of the screeching fiend, the agonized screams of the dwarves, or the sickening sound of ripping flesh and snapping bones. Presently the cacophony of the battle fell silent. The old dwur-wife remained unmoving, praying fervently that the demon might ignore her. At length, she cautiously opened her eyes and lifted her head. It was gone. The remains of the dwarves lie strewn all about the courtyard. The anvil was gone.
Outside the walls, the host of Hroth screamed and raged in demonic ecstasy. The battlefield boiled like soup in a cauldron. Inside the walls, the tenar’ri murdered their way through the chambers and holdings of Thane Blackaxe. No one could stand in their way or stop them. They killed everyone they encountered. They unleashed unlimited spells. They tore and maimed. They created darkness and terror. Ordinary weapons took no bite against them.
Hroth ascended the ruins of the barbican and looked toward the gatehouse. His nostrils flared. He licked at the wind, savoring the mixed flavors of blood and fear. Turning to his one-eared lieutenant, the warlord declared, “The plan changes! Maglubiyet has sent an avenger. Send good tidings to the tribes. No more leaving the mountains.”
“Let the altar fires of Grot Ugrat burn again!” the lieutenant prayed. Grateful tears welled up in his yellow eyes.
As Vlixipur’s great shadow rose over the top of the gatehouse, Hroth and his lieutenant prostrated themselves upon the stones, worshipping the fiend in adoration.
The Queen’s Resolve
“Bagbag has failed,” Kristryd observed. The queen sat down on the edge of the dais under which she had been hiding only a few moments earlier. Still soaked in the bloody gore of the Dengar dwarves, Dame Thresstone approached and sat down beside of the queen. Kristryd looked down on the dismembered corpses strewn all about the courtyard. Her eyes fixed upon the bodies of Olin and Orin. “I have led us to ruin, and their blood is on my head.”
“Yes,” Dame Thresstone agreed, collecting her wits. “The queen speaks the truth at last.”
“This battle is lost. I must secret the queen away to safety,” Bamadar told them as he collected his axe. “I will hide you away in the dungeons beneath the fort until the danger has passed.”
“You will not!” Kristryd scolded him. “I am a dwarfess, and I will die as one and not as a coward hiding in a hole.”
The Divine Word
Vlixipur appeared upon the top of the gatehouse sheathed in black fire. The hosts of Hroth that beat at the gates below cheered when they saw the fiend take that stand above them. Vlixipur roared and fanned his fiery wings. The whole goblin army fell prostrate before him. In an instant, the other three fiends appeared beside him. All four demons stood upon the gatehouse, flaunting their fearsomeness, seething in evil, and hissing like serpents. The stench of their presence choked the air. Darkness, sickness, dread, and fear smeared across every heart like filth.
“The fiends stand above us. They stand upon the stones above our heads!” Thane Blackaxe told the defenders inside the gatehouse. Prince Archosian, Peralay, and Xaxalander invoked the names of Corellon and Elhonna before hastening to the attack, but the Gilvgola stopped them. “This is beyond the strength of weapons,” she warned them. “I go alone!”
The Sacred Heart prayed as she hauled herself up the stone stairs to the roof of the gatehouse, “Mother Berronar, if ever you have heard me, hear me now. I shall sacrifice to you whatever is needful. Only turn these fiends away from us and spare these your sons and daughters.”
“The cost is more than you can bear to pay, daughter,” the goddess replied.
“And yet, I will pay it still,” the Sacred Heart vowed. “Whatever the cost.”
Forcing her great girth through a narrow trapdoor, the priestess emerged into the morning air atop the gatehouse. She clutched in one hand her mighty mace and in the other she held aloft the sacred braid of Berronar. Those who looked on from the walls beheld not the porknell priestess but Berronar herself. The four tenar’ri roared and raged at the goddess. Black flames burst into existence all around them, and they struck at the goddess, gleeful in the hope of slaying one so exalted. Terrible dissonance shook the whole fortress. Even the massive immovable granite stones of Hoch Dunglorin trembled in terror.
Barbed tails, razor sharp nails, teeth like swords, flaming whips, fireballs, and strokes of lightning erupted. The goddess did not flinch, nor did she suffer injury. Drawing herself up to face those nightmares squarely, Gilvgola spoke a single divine word imbued with the power that shaped the world at the dawn of creation—a word known only to Sacred Heart from the lips of Berronar. Her voice rang out clear and true and pure, a sound like a flash of bright light that dispels all darkness. For a moment all of Oerth shuddered. By the power of that word, the fiends and the archfiend vanished—banished back to the Abyss. Then came silence. The demons were gone. The goddess was gone. The rotund priestess stood alone atop the gatehouse.
Hroth’s hosts picked themselves up from the ground, blinked in the light of the morning sun, and slunk away back into the mountains from whence they came.
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