DC/RH Special

DC/RH BK II, CH 26: Ulak Durnspear

Chapter Twenty-six: Ulak Durnspear 

Guillaume Spiritsorrow, Amaren Kerstead, Ulak Durnspear Nunaira, Thorn Clearwing and Sarod Elaedar, The Heroes of the Grey Reaches, a legendary band of adventurers who saved a northern province of the empire from a necromantic threat that threatened to snuff out all life in the area and rule it in undeath. For this, their names were recorded in history and their statues and deeds were extolled in many a guildhall so that others might be inspired to be heroes as well.  

It is often said that heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things. It is also said that everyone has the potential to be a hero so long as they have the will and courage to make a difference in the world. If that were true, there would be a lot more of them. As things stood, ‘Hero’ was one of the most exclusive titles the will of Tignar could grant. The requirements for the feat that granted it were that stringent.

It wasn’t enough to achieve the extraordinary, many did so fairly often. It wasn’t enough to make a difference. Again, there were many whose actions affected entire nations. Few of those could claim the title. To be recognised as a hero by the will of the world, one had to go beyond their limits to save others from perdition. It required either a singular act of triumph or a lifetime of dedication to the safety of others.

Having attained that most noble title, Thorn could genuinely say that becoming a hero required not just willpower and courage but also a certain kind of madness that came with the willingness to lay one’s life down for others as well as a significant amount of luck. Which was why they really should have known that a member of their party member was never one of their number. 

That said, he was beyond overjoyed to see Ulak again even if the dwarf looked very different now than he did in their last meeting. Though it could be said that, he was lucky there was even a meeting at all. While not as long-lived as the faerie folk, dwarves commonly lived past the two-hundred-year mark with their venerables even reaching three centuries if they were fortunate. His old friend was reaching that two-hundred mark and it showed.

The once young dwarf was a formidable sight, even in his advanced age. He stood at a mere four feet tall, but his broad, muscular build and thick, bushy beard made him appear much larger. His beard was a rich brown, flecked with grey, and was intricately braided and adorned with small golden trinkets and beads.

His skin was tanned and leathery, a testament to his years of exposure to the elements on the battlefield. Thorn never did figure out how dwarves could remain so swarthy so deep underground and far from the sun. Speaking of the sun, Ulak’s eyes were a rich golden brown. ‘Bright and keen’ as the dwarves called their like. They were eyes adapted to the dark underground depths that caught the light when he surveyed his surroundings with a discerning gaze. Not cat-like since the pupils never shrank but something altogether beautiful and imposing. 

Freed from the dwarf’s tight hug, Thorn could see that his old friend wore a sturdy suit of armour, the likes of which he had never seen. It was covered with intricate etchings and designs that spoke to his long and storied career as a warrior. The dungeon knight’s dark eyes soon spotted an intricate badge that signified his former party member was now a dwarven general. 

He grinned, “You’re a general now!”

The dwarf guffawed. “Aye! Had to be punished for all my good deeds and youthful feats. I lead the Ruby Shields now!”

Thorn was impressed. ‘An imperial forward legion? That’s great. Better still, you finally learned to use a shield!”

Ulak laughed and cuffed him. “And I see your tongue is still sharp. Spindle’s match…” 

His eyes widened as he beheld the sword’s new form. “How in the… How’d you grow the sword too?” 

Thorn’s mind immediately went back to his ascension; the dark clouds, pouring flames and riotous mana as well as its results, the golden core that even now warmed him from the inside. “That’s a long tale.”

The dwarf clapped a heavy hand on his back. “Then it needs telling. But first, meet my grandkids.”

He turned Thorn to face the direction from whence he came. There stood an entire contingent of dwarves. The dungeon knight identified most of them as an honour guard which made picking out the grandchildren his friend referred to relatively easy. One of them, a youth just coming into his beard, shifted nervously from one foot to the other, his hands clenched tightly at his sides. The other, a comely maiden with fiery red hair, carried a giant poleaxe nearly twice her height. Both wore masterwork armour that had to have cost an arm and a leg. 

“Come! Come!” he beckoned the young dwarves. “Any grandchildren yourself?” 

“Just the one!” Thorn informed him, his mind following where the dwarf was leading. “I’ll see that they meet. Hopefully, their bond will be as strong as ours ever was.” 

Ulak smiled. A warm thing that split his face and threatened to turn the stern-looking warrior into a grinning loon. “Come, come. This is a guild is it not? This place has got to have a tavern somewhere. Let’s fill you up on booze.”

“Wait”, Thorn protested, finally remembering what he had set out to do. He scanned the corridor for hazel but the faerie was already gone having slipped out as he caught up with his friend. The dungeon knight’s face fell but he had no time to reflect on it as the dwarf dragged him away.

The tavern was warm and inviting, the fire roaring in the hearth and the scent of roasting meat filling the air. The room was filled with a raucous energy, as patrons laughed and chatted over tankards of ale. Many had come straight here from the dungeon or wilderness and tore readily into their meals even with the dirt, sweat and blood caked on their gear. It was everything Thorn remembered a guild tavern to be. Thankfully, they were able to obtain a private room for themselves away from the general floor.

A good time was had by all. Thorn got to speak with Ulak’s grandchildren Atur and Sybeatr as well as the other dwarves in their contingent. Bellwhispers and Nettle made fast friends with the dwarves over roasted mountain goat and cider and as the night wore on, the two heroes began to reminisce about their past exploits, recounting tales of foes slain and treasures found. They laughed and joked with each other, their eyes twinkling with mirth as they recalled the glory of their youth. 

The others in the room listened intently, their own tankards forgotten as they hung on every word. The old adventurers were legends in these parts, their exploits known far and wide. For many of the dwarves, this wasn’t a new tale though they were pleased to hear them all the same. Atur and Sybeatr got to hear of the heroics of their grandfather from his own mouth while the two faeries were exposed to a side of their lord, they never knew. 

“Oh! I remember that one”, Thorn realised as Ulak finished a tale about an iron golem they were contracted to deliver to Alittheus the Enchanter. “That was around the time Guillaume choked on that bite of veal.”

Even as he said it, Thorn grimaced hoping he hadn’t ruined the merry mood. Still, hadn’t that been a harrowing event? He nearly got kicked off the party for that since it was believed his negative aura triggered it on account of the argument they had before it happened. 

“Aye!” Ulak affirmed also thinking back to that incident with a small frown. “Really shouldn’t have saved him then should I?”

“Probably not”, the dungeon knight conceded. 

“Would have saved us a lot of trouble and headaches that!” Ulak nodded. 

‘I think you mean heartache’, Thorn thought to himself, knowing better than to utter such words out loud. Corunda had been a lovely woman but he doubted that Ulak wanted to spend their first meeting in decades reminiscing about the giant he had been betrothed to or her undeserved death. It wasn’t just him either. There was also Sarod.

“What happened to him in the end?” he finally asked his friend.

“Nothing”, the dwarf stated with a deep and resigned hatred. “Nothing like he deserved at least. The golden throne decided his actions were not worth starting a war over so only sanctions were ever employed. Onelel remains impoverished and distrusted but Guillaume was able to live out his days with a crown on his head like he always wanted.

“The bastard’s son had the nerve to invite me to his funeral”, Ulak added, his grip white on his tankard. 

“…and Amaren?” asked Thorn, inquiring about their healer.

“Took her own life about fourteen years in going by the rumours”, Ulak informed him with great disdain. “Guess that gilded cage was not pretty as she thought it would be.” 

“Oh!” Thorn exclaimed softly.

“Don’t give me that”, the dwarf said with a disdainful snort. “She chose her bed.”

The dungeon knight sighed. He knew better than to defend her. He once felt the same anger and betrayal. Amaren was the one who chose to stand by Guillaume even after everything; the lies, the betrayal, the murders. ‘For love’, she said. The younger, angrier Thorn did not understand but the current Thorn? He could empathise a lot better. Not enough to forgive –never enough to forgive– but enough to understand. 

“… official missive from the palace claimed it was a short but sudden illness as if a cleric couldn’t…” 

“How did Sarod take it?” he asked, cutting off his friend’s vindictive rant to ask about the party mage.

“I don’t know”, the dwarf confessed. He took a long slow sip from his tankard as he thought it over. “I like to think he moved on but…” here his expression changed into one Thorn recognised as worry. “When news of Amaren’s death broke, I feared he’d do something stupid but there was not a peep. He stayed in his tower and ignored everyone.”

“Is he?”

“Don’t worry, he’s still alive. Gloomy but hale.” the dwarf said, calming his fears. “At least, he’s achieved mastery so I’d say he channelled it productively.”

Thorn choked on his mead. Mastery? he didn’t even have to ask what in. Sarod was a consummate mage. There was no way, that mastery wasn’t in magic, likely in conjuration or evocation. Nevertheless, a mastery in magic. That was at least rank eight. Still coughing, he was unprepared for what came next.

“He’s on the shortlist for the ten most likely to reach the legend tier”, Ulak announced as he watched the poor unseelie struggle to draw breath.

‘Approaching legend? That’s a rank ten’, Thorn realised. “Sarod’s a tenth-rank mage?”

Ulak grinned. “Not sure. We only know his prospects because the Mages College announced it. Few have seen him lately, myself included. If we’re lucky, they’ll do to him what they did and then we’ll see him around here soon.”

Thorn decided to take a critical look at his old friend. If Sarod was rank ten mage…? He doubted Ulak would have made no progress all these years.

As if he knew the thoughts running through his head, the dwarf preened. “Made rank eight twenty years ago. Sadly, my strength has begun to decline with age. If not, maybe I’d give Sarod and your new Warden friend a run for legend.”    

“The warden too?” 

“Of course, he’s number 2 on the list, two spots above Sarod incidentally.”

Enough about them, What have you been up to?” Ulak asked.

“Nothing”, Thorn confessed, feeling left behind.

The old dwarf shot him an incredulous look forcing him to defend himself.

“I’m telling the truth”, the dungeon knight said loudly. “I was retired.”

As he spoke, he reminisced on those peaceful days when the only times he was forced to take up Spindle was to face a goblin or cheshire. 

“It was peaceful”, he admitted to his old friend. “In time perhaps, my magic might have been purified. Who knows? In truth, I grew weak. I’m sure you’ve heard the rest.”

Ulak nodded solemnly, proving his suspicion that the dwarf had been briefed about the dungeon and himself.

“I’m sorry Thorn. I wish I had been there to help”, came the mage’s voice.

“Not your fault Sarod!” he told his friend only to doubletake. 

“Sarod!?” he asked in stunned confusion.

“WHY YOU SNEAKY BASTARD!” Ulak yelled reeling in surprise.

The wizard was a smiling old man with a long, flowing white beard that reached down to his chest. He had dark crow’s feet lined eyes that sparkled with a deep intelligence and a weathered face etched with lines of wisdom and experience. His face was framed by a wild mane of long, white hair that fell in tousled waves around his head.

Sarod wore flowing robes of deep blue that shimmered with an otherworldly light to his senses. His sleeves were wide and his collar was high, adding to the air of mystery and power that surrounded him. The wizard’s gnarled fingers were adorned with a variety of mystical rings and amulets, and his weathered face was wreathed in a large smile at having surprised his friends. 

Any who saw him would be able to tell that he was a powerful figure, one who had spent a lifetime mastering the arcane arts and who was not to be trifled with. Which again begged the question of how he missed his entrance in the first place. 

“When did you get here?” he asked the mage.

“Not too long ago actually”, the man admitted. “I arrived at the Guildhall only to be told you were throwing a party. How could I resist?”

“A party?” Thorn murmured before looking about the room to see that indeed. There was a party going on. 

Their private room was practically full to bursting with more people than they had started out with. So much so that the door was left ajar to let people mill in and out. A quick glance around the room revealed the Warden, Count Allerton and many of the other council members meaning the people he couldn’t recognise were likely their entourages. The dungeon knight stared into his tankard with suspicion. How had things spiralled so far out of control?

As if to prove that they were too drunk to be sensible, the dwarven general came up with a proposal, “I’ve got a great idea. Now that we’ve got the old party back together, how about a dungeon dive?”

Thorn groaned and pushed his drink away.

“What? Why?” asked the drunken dwarf.

“It’s my dungeon, Ulak!” he pointed out.

“So what?” the dwarf shrugged. “That just means we’ve got an inside man. Think about it, we grab the young ones and then we show them the ropes.”

“Dungeon fae, Ulak?” Thorn said pointing at himself. “I cannot go attacking my own home, can I?” 

“Come on, you could just be our guide”, his friend begged. 

The exasperated dungeon knight turned to Sarod for support but the old wizard actually looked intrigued by the idea. “I confess that half the reason I came was due to curiosity about the dungeon.” 

Thorn took a deep breath preparing to refuse when he received a message from his master. 

“Alright, Fine!” he said agreeing. “I can be your guide!” 

Author’s Note:

Heroes united! I hope you like this chapter. It took a lot of work and I found myself rewriting it often. Anyway, what do you think about Thorn’s backstory? I know I’ve teased the Heroes of the Grey Reaches a lot. Here they are finally.

Please expect updates to be a bit slow. I have made the mistake of injuring myself again. This time, my right hand. I was forced to wait for my brother to get off work so he could help me get this chapter out. I’ll see about getting a beta/proofreader to help out on the site to prevent this sort of thing from happening.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.