The face faded as quickly as it appeared. His father's voice whispered quietly in the darkness. "You're not done yet..."


More words whispered, and more strange voices. The noises became ominous and angry, unfortunately pulling the unconscious man into nightmare. His father's face reappeared, but this time the eyes were red and glowing. The face split down the middle as a monstrous form pushed it's way out, like an overgrown black maggot. Huge jaws appeared and grew larger and closer, engulfing him as he slid deeper and deeper down it's dark gullet. Then he was falling, until snagged by something, He felt momentary relief till whatever had snagged him began tugging, tearing at him. Small creatures, insects he'd never seen before crawled from the limbs that grabbed him and began tearing chunks from his chest as he tried desperately to thrash free, beating at his chest to dislodge them. He felt himself suspended in the air, moving slowly towards a gaping maw the size of a large cave,  with row after row of dripping teeth,  a maw that opened and shut  with increasing rapidity as he approached...He could hear what sounded like screams within...


Something touched his brow, warm and soothing. A voice whispered to him, soft and low, as comforting as a mother's voice, or a lovers. He flailed his arms, and actually felt them move this time responding to his will. He was falling again. But he was falling away from the gaping maw, and he laughed in desperate relief. He heard his own voice repeat this time..."You're not done yet..." He saw what seemed to be a large bed beneath him, and he laughed as he hit, this time out loud, and full of joy and relief. His eyes snapped open, and he snatched quickly at the hand which had just been upon his brow.


She had pulled away as soon as she had heard the strange sounds emanating from the man's throat. She leapt backwards, tearing from his grasp and falling over her chair. She stumbled, running towards the door, but stopped as he croaked something at her, still laughing softly. She realized now that it was laughter. There was a hysterical note in it. None of the Vorst laughed so long or so loud. Was he insane? His eyes were soft, intelligent, but had a haunted look. They weren't the eyes of a madman, however.


"Wha...What's the matter, d-dear? Did I scare you?"  He tried to focus his eyes, squinting. He noticed her hand reach involuntarily for the door as he spoke, her deep brown eyes obviously frightened. He struggled to a sitting position wincing in pain. "What happened? My name is Ragnar. Was my mind fevered?"

 She was slender, tall, and quite pretty, he noticed, but had a somewhat frail quality. No dwarf woman had arms as small as hers. He was in a human encampment then...but where? Her dress was plain and sturdily constructed, with very little adornment, but they were cut fairly tight to the body, accentuating her curves in an appealing manner...her facial features were somewhat exotic to the dwarf, and though her nose was far too small and she had no beard at all, he found her very attractive. Her hair was pale blonde, almost to the point of being white, lending to the somewhat frail, wispy  appearance. He looked about. The room was carved from rock, but somehow still warm and quite cozy. To most humans he'd known, the room would seem a little spare in comforts. The bed though was soft and luxurious. He knew he was underground, and that caused a twinge of fear he did not understand. He had lived under stone in the Mountains of Throal all his life. Why did the stone walls seem ominous now? Like he might never see the sun again?


The woman made a ritualistic arm gesture and stammered something, possibly a sort of apologetic goodbye, as she then made a hasty exit. There were some quick words, then some shouting in the hall. They did not speak Dwarven, these folk. Where was he that Dwarven was not understood by anyone? The door reopened and two men entered. Both looked ominous, wearing studded leather in varying colours, and large, barbed, vicious looking swords at their sides. At first glance the blades looked alike, but Ragnar's practiced eye noted differing lengths in the hilt, and that the sharp barbs protruded in different angles. Both held their hilts as they entered, and Ragnar bristled. He looked around and was surprised to see his own sword beside him. He took the sword up, and used it to raise himself to his feet. He swayed, dizzied by the pain that constricted his chest, but with the sword he managed to stand. One of the men, whose armor was stone gray and who had a face to match, stepped forward and pulled his blade half out of the scabbard. The other, wearing armor of deep black, barked a reprimand, and stepped between, staring the first in the eyes till he looked away, angered and embarassed.


The non-violent one,  turned and raised his hand purposely from his sword,  barked an order at his grim-faced companion, who reluctantly did the same. The man motioned for the dwarf to sit, or calm himself, he was not sure which. The man in black fished inside his armor and pulled out a pouch. He held it as an offering to the short stranger. Ragnar took it, curious. Immediately upon opening it, he threw it on the floor, and stomped on it in disgust. It was a claw, or tooth, completely black. When it would not break, he kicked it at the two men, spitting in disgust. The claw or tooth skittered across the floor, and hit the scowling one in the foot. The scowl turned to a snarl, and the man started forward, only to be halted once more by the man in black.


"Volgra", he said, tapping his companions chest, as he ensured the fellow did not advance. He then tapped his own chest with the other hand. "Vamir".


Ragnar was intelligent enough to recognize an introduction, even in tense circumstances. "Ragnar" said the dwarf, taking his cue, but then unfortunately tried to bow as well, but his knees gave out, and he fell. Vamir rushed to help, but Ragnar hissed and moved his sword up towards the man. Vamir stopped short inches from the blade. Ragnar quickly lowered his blade, bewildered and mortified by his actions. Volgra's look could kill, but Vamir seemed unperturbed. Ragnar smiled sheepishly, and put up his hand for assistance.


Vamir bent down and helped the diminutive newcomer to his feet, and then to a seat on the bed. He understood the small fellow's reaction better than Ragnar did himself. The man was not Tainted, merely frightened. He'd seen men with similar experiences react the same way. A Tainted man or creature shied away from light, and usually from any form of human contact, other than to attack. They would never offer their hand as Ragnar had. He wondered who the Passions this fellow was and where he had come from.


"Volgra! This man is hurt, and should not have attempted to stand. His dressings will need to be changed. Go get the woman back in here."  said Vamir, quietly.


"My lord! I don't trust it. You should not be alone with it!"


"Volgra, I understand your concern."  said Vamir in a patronizing voice. He was tired of being second guessed. "We've all become a little paranoid in the last few years. The sooner you find the healer, the less time I will be alone with the man. Now GO!"


"He's not a man, sire!"  exclaimed Volgra in frustration.


"Is he a woman then? Go, before I draw!"


Volgra bowed stiffly, and left after giving the dwarf a chilling glance. Vamir sighed as he left. He turned towards Ragnar, who was sitting on the bed, staring with mingled curiousity and suspicion. Vamir noticed the dwarf glancing often at his sword. Vamir patted it fondly and smiled. "Vors."


Ragnar looked at him quizzically. He mouthed the word and then repeated it. The word  for sword was familiar but the pronunciation different. It seemed a twisted form of Old Landissian. Ragnar cursed silently to himself. It was not a language he had much experience with. His only attempt at ever speaking the dialect had been when he and the Hunters had paused in that tiny village outside the Barrens. Oh Passions...The Hunters?!?!  Where was he? Where were they?!  His sight blackened as he bent forward and dry retched. He would have fallen off the bed if the human, Vamir,  had not grabbed him. The nightmares had been real...some of them anyway. His mind had not been fevered. He gripped the big fellow's forearm, and held himself steady while he calmed. He tried to speak Landissian and thank the human.


“Many thanks throw you, and may your boots be uncaged.” said the injured dwarf, and slumped over unconscious.


Nonplussed, Vamir gently pushed Ragnar into the bed and left the room, puzzling over the little man’s words. At least the fellow could say something. They might yet get answers. As he turned the corner, he almost walked into the healer and Volgra. Volgra was still going on about the ‘thing’ in the next room.


“It is dangerous. Any of us would still be unable to sit, let alone able to stand. It should not be here. If it moves, leave the room, and quickly.”


“Volgra! Leave the woman alone!”


“Sire, is he dangerous?” asked the healer, nervous.


“Aye he is” said Vamir, nodding.  Volgra smiled in vindication at the response, until Vamir continued.”To those with small, closed minds. To those who accept ‘fate’ rather then shaping it!”


Volgra turned and walked stiffly away. The healer offered a little bow to Vamir,  and turned towards the strangers door. Vamir stopped her. “What’s your name girl?”


Diniella, sire”


“Do you believe Volgra?”


“Nay sire....I...I’ve heard him laugh, sire.....”


Laugh?” Vamir’s eyes narrowed.  Many Tainted laughed. They could laugh and screech so loud as to make your ears bleed. Laughter had become a sign of insanity, the kind brought on by Tendris’al and his legions.


“Yes, my lord, he laughed. It scared me but it made my heart glad.”


She turned towards Vamir tears forming in her eyes. “I hate it what has happened here. Tendris’Al is winning! He’s taken our laughter. what will he take next?”


Vamir turned, unable to answer. It was true, the people had changed. The horrors attacked less, and the warriors, himself included, took pride in having held them at bay. But were they winning? The men only smiled when an enemy was killed. Men talked of ‘holding on’, of never letting the Kaer fall. But the Kaer had fallen. This was the reason they had to fight.  If the seal had remained there would be no worries. If the men spoke of the Kaer in terms of the people within, then yes...many survived. But no one truly lived.


“Take good care of him. Volgra is right. He is not human, but he has a Name.  I believe he is of the ‘Dhuar’.”


Her eyes widened. She smiled and entered the room. The patient was back to tossing and turning in the bed. However, he no longer seemed afraid, but sad and angry, frustrated maybe. She could tell he was in pain, his dressings were loose and blood seeped through. She put her hand on his shoulders and tried to hold him still against the bed. He did not react well to this, and lashed out, but she say it coming. She got behind him, pinned his arms,  then rocked him like a child, while murmuring reassurances. He whispered something, sighed and then calmed. She wondered, amused if had just called her mother.He was heavy and immensely strong considering his short stature. After he had calmed,  she changed his dressings and left to find food for him. When she had returned a few hours later he was difficult to wake. She doubted he knew what was going on, as he was running a fever now. She was certain though that his wounds were clean and would heal. She had to hold him up to feed him, and she fell asleep holding him in her lap.

The End

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