"Call of the Dragon, Part I"
"Call of the Dragon, Part II"
"Ruins and Hopes"
"Shield Maiden" Cornell #3
"Warrior Eternal" Cornell #4
"Childhood of a Fighter"
"The Pledge" Cornell #5
"The Rock of Discontent"
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"A Tale of the Gods"
"The Miracle of Solstice Day" Cornell #6
"The Pilgrims' Trial and Faith"
III. A New Face <=== / ===> V. A Sentence Delivered
“You must come with me to the midrealm!” Taurkémad shouted, barging into Decirius’ study.
The study was a vast room, its edges lost in twilight, with only an occasional wisp of light – from a torch? from a window? from some other source of light? – twinkling in the distance. From outside, the study was located at the top of a narrow tower, slenderly rising above the Eternal City, higher than any other building, seeming more like a thin needle when observed from the ground. No furniture could be discerned, except for a large, semi-circular desk and a single chair behind it. Both were somewhere in the study, but with the twilight it was hard to say where exactly they stood. Sometimes they seemed to change their location, even when you were standing next to them.
“Decirius?” Taurkémad asked, her urgency evaporating slightly when she saw that both desk and chair were vacated. Nervously she looked about herself, tugged the light coat tighter around her narrow shoulders. She was sure she had heard somebody speak when she came in, absolutely sure. But there should have been a sign of somebody. Anybody.
“What is it?” the strong voice of the chief god came from somewhere in the twilight.
Taurkémad turned to the source of the noise, focused her sight. And still she could not see her fellow god. Did he have to do this? she wondered. She knew his strength exceeded hers, the same was true of every other god. That’s why he was their lord, after all.
“I can’t hear you,” Decirius’ disembodied voice asked.
Of course he couldn’t. She hadn’t spoken. “Uhm, I… Could you, please, come over here, I…”
“Yes?” the voice asked patiently, and suddenly his dark frame stood before her. Clad in a dark blue robe, open at the front and revealing dark red breeches and shirt, his face was a pasty white, with eyeballs as black as darktime. As usual his face looked friendly and open, if one could ignore the melodramatic additions he liked.
Taurkémad swallowed hard. “I… You really have to come with me, Decirius. It’s… Something’s happened you need to see!”
“In the midrealm,” Decirius nodded. “Excuse me, Taurkémad, but I’m rather busy at the moment. Tell me what it is, and I will look into the matter.”
“You have to see it!” Taurkémad insisted. “It’s really, really important.”
Decirius stared at her from his black eyeballs, then he shrugged and looked off into the twilight of his study. “It seems that I must postpone my other affairs.”
“Yes, you have to!”
“Very well,” Decirius shrugged. “Lead the way.” He held out his hand and clasped Taurkémad’s. A smile flashed over her face, when she nodded and concentrated on transporting both of them to the midrealm.
The change was abrupt when they suddenly stood in the midst of a cave, lit by fire burning in niches in the wall – much like torches, but with no real source. The stone itself seemed to burn. Decirius raised an eyebrow, looked around quietly. “The cave of the dwarves, isn’t it?”
Taurkémad shook her head in frustration. This was important, and it was obvious that this was the dwarves’ dwelling. None of the walls retained their natural design – she had fashioned the original walls herself, she should better well know what they used to look like -, instead all had been worked on with tools. Statues and reliefs were carved out of the walls, the most diverse of depictions, all of them as perfect as one could wish for. The same was true of the ceiling and of the floor, the latter seeming smooth to her bare feet, yet the eye revealed intricate patterns. Patterns with no particular meaning, except aesthetics. The niches of the burning stones had been treated so that they looked like flames themselves, eternally frozen in their rocky shapes
“And where are the dwarves?!” Taurkémad shouted and waved her hands about. “Tell me that!”
“Where they are?” Decirius frowned. He took a step towards the opening to the next cave and stopped for a moment when he realized there was an abyss, with only a tiny strand of rock leading across the yawning gap to the next cavern. His gaze seemed taken up with looking down into the abyss, noting every single element that the dwarves had hewn into the stone, then he shrugged and nonchalantly walked across the tiny bridge. Taurkémad worked hard to contain her frustration as she followed him.
They walked through several caves. Decirius was very taken with the stoneworks that the dwarves had created, but there wasn’t the slightest sense of worry in him. Taurkémad took deep breaths and told herself that would change soon. As soon as they came to the main cavern.
Her frustration rose to new levels when not even that sight altered Decirius’ attitude. She herself had nearly jumped through the roof when she had come here. At first, perhaps, the main cavern looked no different than it had appeared the past couple of eons. Oval, the longest distance from one wall to the next some four hundred feet, the nearest distance no less than a hundred and thirty feet. Sculptures abounded in the cavern, some as tall as sixty feet, with details so intricate that a square inch could depict an entire life span. There were more burning stones, most of them arranged into works of art themselves, with every flickering flame assuming a new part in a mosaic that told a new story. There were the four beds in the center, slabs of stone that were arrayed to a square, with a stool next to each where the gad’nú axes of the dwarves were put each darktime.
“So?” Decirius asked gently. “Is this what you wished to show me?”
“No! That is!” Taurkémad said and pointed her finger up to the roof.
Decirius’ glance followed the direction, and his eyebrows rose slightly when they beheld the hole in the ceiling. One of the sculptures was right below it, the lower two thirds as beautifully worked as everything else. But the top only held steps leading up to the hole, the rest as naturally rocky as Taurkémad had created it.
Slowly Decirius clambered up the sculpture, his pace as fast on the lower part as on the steps. Finally he stood at the top, looking with interest up into the hole. It led to a tunnel, slightly sloped, with hand and footholds dug into the walls. “I assume this is where the dwarves have gone.”
“Yes, that’s right!” Taurkémad shook her head. “Don’t you find this disturbing? Don’t you – oh, Decirius, don’t you even want to know where they’ve gone? Or why?!”
Decirius reached out to take the first handhold, then reconsidered and floated himself up into the tunnel. Taurkémad quickly followed him, not bothering with any physical activity either. “Do you see how long this tunnel is? Do you?”
“Yes, of course,” Decirius nodded. “I would say it has taken the dwarves quite a little while to dig this shaft. Interesting.”
“Interesting?! They’ve run away from their cave! And they’ve –“ She caught her breath, infuriated by her chief god’s dispassion. “Decirius, they’ve gone to the mortal world! None of the dwarves is still in the midrealm, they’ve gone to the mortal world!”
“So it would seem.”
“So it – Decirius, how could this have happened? You were speaking to them all the time, you took care of them. And now you… don’t care anymore.”
Decirius stopped his floating, held out a hand to gently touch Taurkémad’s shoulder. “I do care about the dwarves. Have faith in me, please?”
“I… Decirius, they weren’t supposed to go to the mortal world,” Taurkémad insisted. “What will they do there? Dwarves – amidst the dragons, gargoyles, and the other creatures? And they’re mortal themselves now, they’ll – they’ll be eaten! If,” her voice choked, “if they aren’t already dead.”
“Well, then,” Decirius shrugged, “they would be back in the midrealm by now, wouldn’t they? And besides, I would know if one of my dwarves had died. I am the God of Death, am I not?”
They were somewhere in the tunnel. Its angle had changed, not as steep as before. A little below them, there was a niche that looked as if the dwarves had carved it from the stone to rest for a while. How long had they been carving this tunnel? And how could Decirius not have known about it? Or had he known? If so, why hadn’t he done something about it? Why hadn’t he told the others? Especially herself! This cave was Taurkémad’s creation, and she had taken a major part in making the dwarves. She should have been told!
“But if they die, they won’t be the same they were before,” Taurkémad said. “They must not stay in the world of mortals, that is – wrong.”
Decirius shrugged. “Dear Taurkémad, what could possibly happen? I know the dwarves, they are hardier than you allow them for. They will survive, and in a few years they will tire of the mortal world and return to their cave, where they belong. Really, it is not as important as you believe. And now,” he sighed, “I have kept my business waiting for too long. Until I see you again.”
With that brief explanation he vanished. Taurkémad felt that he had returned to the Eternal City, and she felt more frustrated than before. The dwarves had gone to the mortal world, and Decirius didn’t even care. Those were her dwarves, and she could not leave them alone.
Determined she continued floating along the tunnel, much faster than before, off to the world of mortals, to find her dwarves and return the little ones to their cave.
Read on in Part V!