The Outcast Dwarf

The dwarf's large teeth gleamed forth as he now smiled brighter.  Keeping his secrets carefully concealed, he cunningly replied, "Indeed you would be cheating me, good sir.  Oh indeed you would."

With that he heartily clapped his hand upon the officers shoulder and the two moved to a small table farther away from the distracting patrons whose unwanted attention they had attracted.  Once seated, the knight ordered them both drinks.  Khalei gladly accepted his largess as he again took notice of the officer's crest glinting through the darkness of their corner.  It consisted of a full black moon embossed upon a field of white.  Guessing that this knight had been recently promoted, the fugitive dwarf decided to further his advantage by playing up on the young man's self admiration still more.  

"I see that you are an officer with some rank."

The young man straightened.  "Indeed I do.  I am the first lieutenant in the sixth regiment of the Northern order of defense.  I am Sir Vanek Blackmoon."

Khalei took notice that his well-placed praises were having the desired effect.  This man's love of himself was more than he could have hoped for.  "That is quite an impressive title, Sir Vanek.  I was not aware that I had challenged someone of your rank.  I am honored that you would consider a game with me.  I hope I can provide you with a challenge worthy of your experience.  I was quite good with cards at one time, but that was years ago when I was closer to your age.  I may need a refresher course."

"Not to worry old one, I will take it slowly for you at first.  Of course, a game is a game.  I'm sure you wouldn't feel right if I let you win too many hands."

"Now, I'll have no charity, mind you." Said the dwarf, feigning more pride than he felt.  "I won't have you pitying a poor old dwarf by giving him anything he doesn't earn."  

Khalei scoffed at the honor and loyalty of the knights.  what had their honor accomplished for them throughout history?  Most of them had no real freedom and they usually died in some foolish attempt at glory.  common people loved them well enough and gave them the praise they so desired, but in most cases, their loyalty and trustworthiness were nothing more than tools by which others such as himself could utilize for their own gain.  People always looked to the knights of old for salvation from the forces of Balzekas, but it was he and a few other common travelers who had banded together and come closest to barring the entrance of Balzekas from the realm one hundred years ago.  

Closest yes, but successful, no.

Treachery within his party had defeated them in the end and now the world was nothing more than a growing extension of chaos.  Still, the knights with their codes did little or nothing against the Hellords and their demonic allies.  They ended up extinct and forgotten, replaced by this mocking new order run by the very power that would see everything the knights of old stood for put to ruin.  

Pathetic.

Yet, Khalei still lived.  yes, he still lived, and enjoyed the riches of life and its pursuits.  His survival instincts and his personal overriding sense of self-preservation had brought him through more than most people could ever imagine.  He had experienced his fair share of power and glory.  He had indulged in the all-consuming dark magicks and felt their sweet taint.  Yet, to surrender his freedom for such power was a price Khalei had not been willing to pay, and thus he was saved.  Oh , he knew his time would come again someday (the temptation of power was always within grasp), but he intended to take it on his own terms.  He needed freedom to exact his revenge on a few enemies first, and he knew that Balzekas would not willingly allow him to destroy his most powerful pawns.

Besides, Khalei had not come out of his encounters empty handed.  He possessed his fair share of power in the form of magical artifacts that he had acquired during his part in the struggle against the rise of the Hellords.  He also had quite a collection of spell components and knowledge to use them effectively.  This took most by complete surprise.  Except for a few rare dwarven clerics who studied earth magic, no dwarves in existence had ever been known to understand magic of any kind.  As a race, they were known to dislike and distrust magic, though this was changing with the coming of demonic influence and the treachery of the dwarven race.  Many of them were selling their souls in the service of the Hellords.

Khalei was, however, no typical dwarf.  In fact, he wasn't a dwarf at all in mind or spirit.  His were the ambitions of a dark elf.  His master had betrayed him during the last war and encased his mind and soul in this crude but sturdy body.  He had been an apprentice under the great mage "Drogath Astilan" before the coming of Balzekas.  Khalei's love for the black arts had appealed to Drogath who took him from his dark jungle home and taught him many dark and wondrous things.  He was a fast learner and picked up much before he was betrayed.

Khalei still puzzled at the reason behind his master's treachery, but in many ways he was happy for his present condition.  He hated the way he looked, and though his form was too clumsy for intricate spell-casting, the strength and durability he now possessed gave him more than enough to fall back on when his spell-casting drained his spirit.  His hatred toward his deceased mentor was long ago reduced to the smoldering ember of resignation.  Drogath was the one being in all the realms who had gone beyond the reach of Khalei's revenge.  However, Khalei did not regret the loss of his master.  Instead, he sought out the great devices and tomes of magic Drogath left behind.  These, he knew, would give him the power and the freedom he needed to exact his revenge on those of his enemies still alive. The power of Drogath was such that even the forces of chaos feared his wrath, and Khalei knew that he was the only person alive who had a chance of finding Drogath's lost lab and all of its secrets.  He would find it and be compensated for the treachery he had been victim to.  

Oh yes, his day was yet to come.

He was snapped out of these dark thoughts as Vanek finished dealing the first hand and began explaining the rules of their first game in a condescending manner.  Khalei put his musing and memories out of his mind in order to focus fully on the cunning of the game.  He was not one to be known for his patience, but he could easily be distracted from his goals by a good challenge on occasion.  This young officer, for all his brash self-focus, appeared to have some skill in this game and was sure to be just that.

The two men continued their game into the evening, both of them actually finding that they enjoyed the other's company.  So entwined in their game were they, that neither of them noticed the dark robed, slender figure who had unobtrusively entered and quietly seated himself at a nearby table enshrouded in shadow.  The mysterious persona secretly observed the odd pair with interest as he sat, sipping watered down wine through nervously twitching lips, taking in everything they were communicating verbally and visually. 

The End

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