Immortal Blood

Mark Belt (Stars)

Barren Realms Mud

Part 1

A New Story

A brilliant light flared across my vision as I sat in my study that winter night. Almost immediately following the dazzling illumination, a piercing blast of frigid air blew through the room. For a moment, I was left blinded and shivering, hugging my arms around myself and wondering what terrible fate had overcome me. Goose bumps broke out on my skin, more from the eeriness of the unexpected event than from the cold wind itself. Where had this all come from? What was happening? It wasn’t long before I found myself in a near state of panic, clinging to the edge of my desk, and praying for some god, any god, to come save me. I don’t know how long I sat shuddering in the cold, but it felt like forever.

But nothing else happened; no laughing ghost came to steal my life, and no evil demon had come to steal my soul. I blinked my eyes and I finally began to calm down a little. It looked like the world was not going to end after all.

After I had recovered my sight and my wits, I turned my head to stare at the open shutters of the only window in the room. I had thought that I had shut and locked it long before then, but apparently I had not. I shivered again as a couple of errant snowflakes fluttered haplessly through the portal, happy, perhaps, to get out of the cold and rest upon the warm stones before the fireplace. Gingerly, I stepped through the melting snow and eased the shutters back to their original position. After locking them securely, I walked back to my large desk, shaking my head in nervous amusement. It was only the wind, I reasoned, just the bitter winter wind that forced open the window and stirred the embers of the fire. That explained everything, I thought, and I felt more than a bit ashamed of my initial reaction. I was able to relax once again as I settled back down into my chair, pleased to have solved the mystery. But it was a while before the goose bumps left my arms.

This little room was (and still is) my favorite place for quiet study. It may be small and somewhat humble, but to me it feels like home. Yet, as simple as this room is, the building in which it resides is a truly magnificent construction. Famous throughout the Realms, it is known only as the Silver Veil. Its masterful stonework is so smooth that it glimmers in the moonlight like silver through a fine mist. It lies near the base of a huge mountain, and is rumored to have been the work of ancient Dwarves who dwelt in deep underground caverns. The mountain is empty now, and the master craftsmen long since departed. Whatever purpose the building was originally intended for had long been forgotten with the builders. Today, it is used partly as a school, but mostly it is a library where scholars and historians from across the Realms come to study and learn. And there could be no finer place for it.

The surrounding valley forest is known as Lillindale, and it is the very center of all the great nations: that of my own Elves, along with the Humans, Druids, and Dwarves (no known ties to the ancient masons). The Avian realms are actually located far to the south among the cliffs of the Kyrii Mountains, but with powerful wings, their trip is a relatively short one. The only other people that frequent the Silver Veil are the Illithids. A mysterious folk, who have no apparent kingdom, they simply pop in and out as they please. (The last major race is that of the wandering and carefree Halflings, a thieving, pickpocket sort. They have little interest in history, so they pretty much avoid us. We don’t mind…)

Where was I? Oh yes, I was sitting in my study when I was nearly startled into a coma. Having decided that I was in no danger, I set about to achieve the only goal I had set out for myself that evening. And that was simply to study a new book—reading being my favorite pastime—that I had found on my latest expedition. I carefully laid my hand on the worn and tattered cover of my new book. A smile slowly, but contentedly, spread across my face. I had stared at that battered cover so many times that I could picture the faded title with my eyes closed.

W r Of Des la ion:

Ba tle Of T e Gods

This was no ordinary book of course. This was an ancient tome that contained much of the history of the War of Desolation (the fiercest war ever fought between Chaos and Order, which took place during the Age of Fire). It was generally believed that no records had survived that brutal time (little else did), so it was more than a treasure, really; it was a historical prize of unequaled value. The quest to find that book was an incredible story in and of its own. But what is an exciting collaboration of research and excavation to me is—I have discovered—not quite so interesting to others. I will not bore you with the details of that adventure.

Of course I wasn’t thinking about how I got the book as I held it in my hands. Indeed, I forgot about everything else as I opened the cover to reveal the first page. What mysteries had lain hidden within those yellowed leafs of paper? What untold stories of valor and sacrifice would be unveiled to me, stories that none alive today knew? Needless to say, I had never been more excited in my life. Oh, what pleasure I felt as I carefully read the first line, slowly drawing my eyes over the ancient lettering and savoring each word like the finest wine.

I never got past the first page.

Even before I could get to the next sentence, another odd event disturbed me.

I began to feel a warm sensation that ran across my skin, gently smoothing the goose bumps that the cold had brought moments ago. The feeling grew warmer, seeping into my flesh and settling comfortably deep within my body. Warmer and warmer, the sensation grew. It was not unlike the warmth that exuded from the fireplace, but this strange new heat was more intense somehow. More intense perhaps, but it was without the hungry all-consuming fury of fire itself. No, this non-fire heat brought joy and mirth instead of burns and pain. There is simply no other way that I can describe it.

Then he appeared.

Standing before me was an elderly-seeming dwarf with a grin on his face. So sudden was his appearance that I had no time to be really surprised (which was just as well, I suppose). I could only raise my eyebrows in question towards him.

He ignored my inquiring look and kept grinning as if he had heard a good joke that only he was aware of. Then he plopped down into one of my chairs without asking, and put his feet up on my desk. How impolite, I thought. Strange occurrence or not, I almost began to lecture him about manners. Yet there was something that kept me from acting out my impulse. I lowered my eyebrows and took a more careful look at my unexpected guest.

He was rather short (even for a dwarf), but apparently had made up for it by being rather wide (even for a dwarf). He clutched a tankard of ale in his fist, which he casually sipped at from time to time. His two bushy white eyebrows twitched as he observed me in turn. Then his mischievous grin turned into a warm innocent-appearing smile that completely belied the manner with which he had seated himself. But he appeared so fatherly and kind at the moment that I couldn’t help but feel regretful for being angry with him. What an odd character to visit me in my personal study…

Despite his outwardly harmless appearance, I still couldn’t help but be a little disturbed at his presence. After all, I had left specific instructions that I was not to be disrupted that evening. I even went so far as to hire guards to watch my door. How could this little dwarf have gotten into my room unnoticed? (It didn’t occur to me until later that I never heard the door open or close). I would have politely asked him to leave, but one last feature of his stood out and froze the words on my lips: His eyes.

Bright as a summer sky, they ran over me and through me, devouring my thoughts and brushing my soul. Power and majesty were the feelings that exuded from them. And as I looked into those shining blue orbs, I knew that any command of mine would have little meaning to him.

Then I understood. It was he who had been the cause of the flashing light and gusting wind that had so startled me earlier. Perhaps he had thought to make a grand entrance, but had noticed my distress and waited for me to calm down before showing himself. Yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he had been amused at my discomfort, and had arranged the whole thing as some sort of practical joke. I didn’t bother to ask him which scenario was true. The truth is, it didn’t really matter.

Then he laughed. It was a merry laugh that immediately put me at total ease. Whatever fear left in me vanished instantly, to be replaced by peace and happiness. Believe me when I say that no one could have remained unhappy or afraid in the presence of that joyful sound.

After a while, he stopped laughing and took a long swallow of ale. He slipped his feet off of my desk and then leaned forward, the smile never leaving his crinkled face.

"Hello, Stars," he said. "Ye have been expecting me, yes?"

I was dumbfounded. Why would I expect such a strange creature (surely he was no ordinary dwarf) to come visit me? I’m just a lonely old scholar; the only things that I have come to expect in life are reading old books and writing down my notes in solitude. Nothing else is… unless…

The dwarf could see the sudden comprehension in my face. "Ye understand now, lad," he said, "I came to tell ye a story. A story that no one alive today has heard. Would ye like that?"

"Who are you?" I asked.

His wrinkled eyes squinted in mirth, and he chuckled quietly for a moment before answering, "Ah, yes, perhaps you've heard of me. My name be Brodgar."

I could hardly believe my ears. Surely this was not the Brodgar, immortal warrior of legend and myth! This small dwarf was the great warlord who conquered armies and battled with the gods? This was the legendary hero of song and fable, a dwarf so powerful that no mortal could understand the limits of his strength? Couldn’t be… But one more look into his piercing blue eyes and I knew that it was true. My mouth dropped open and I stared in awe. Sitting before me was the great Brodgar. And he had come to tell me a story. I was speechless.

More heartfelt laughter escaped from my guest, and the ancient dwarf leaned back once again. "Now that we be knowing who we are, we can be getting to the telling of me story. That is, if ye want to hear it."

I nodded my head. What else could I do? I brushed aside the forgotten War of Desolation and brought out a new book, one with empty pages. I dipped my pen in ink and waited for the small dwarf to begin.

He spoke in an archaic accent that was difficult to understand at times, and he rarely stayed on the same subject long enough for me to finish writing. He would periodically stop and drink ale from his apparently bottomless mug, and then he would skip on to some other topic without finishing the last. The beer was obviously quite strong, and the pungent odor filled the room (he offered me a taste once; I politely declined). Between his jumbled style of speech and powerful brew, I could hardly maintain my focus in the beginning. I was forced to jot down a series of awkward notes that I had to sift through and ponder over later. But even through the distractions, I began to realize that I was hearing a story unlike any that I had heard before. It was a story of gods and war, a story of power and destruction, and a story of love and sacrifice. My hands began to shake as I recorded the ancient dwarf’s words. Indeed, I was forced to rewrite several lines throughout the evening. But one thing remained clear; I would never forget that night for the rest of my life.

Beyond all hope and prayer, this new story was better than any book written in the Age of Fire. For this new and ancient story came from one who had experienced the Battle of the Gods firsthand.

Here now is my narration of Brodgar’s Story. It is the collection of old legends, written histories, and, of course, the disordered notes that I recorded from the Immortal Dwarf himself.

Part 2