“Damn that rotten toothed bastard!” Ürbon cried out into the still sea air. “Two weeks we’ve been sailing, with no sight of land or ship!”
“That’s what happens when you trust an urchin; you never know what you’ll be getting,” answered one of Ürbon’s lieutenants. The man was close enough to speak freely in his captain’s presence but far enough to not fear his rage.
“I know what he’ll be getting from me if I ever see him again,” Ürbon retorted. He desperately wanted to punch something but knew that giving in to that urge would be unwise. Very little could withstand a hit from the tall and fearsome Jödmun, a people with flesh made quite literally from stone, a condition arising from a calamity known as the Mountain Birth. But that was a long time ago.
The Mountain Birth changed not only the skin of the Jödmun, but freed them from the base survival requirements of human mortals. No longer afflicted with the need for food or sleep, as well as their newfound superior power and strength, they had first thought their condition to be a blessing, but soon manifested into a curse.
Unable to produce children, their numbers dwindled, even with their unnatural long life. Nevertheless, the Jödmun lived on, using their strength and tirelessness to build mighty ships able to bear the weight of the world if necessary. Ürbon’s own craft, The North Wind, was no exception.
It had taken him and his crew on countless voyages as they sought out legendary treasures. It would bear them now to a prize to dwarf all others, according to a lone urchin, who gave Ürbon and his crew coordinates to an archipelago, there they would find what they seek.
That is, if the wind would just pick up, thought Ürbon.
“Ships sighted! Starboard bow!” came a call from further down the ship.
Ürbon grabbed his spyglass and ran to the prow of the ship, the crewmen on the deck following him; they had not seen anything but open water for days.
Looking out his spyglass, Ürbon saw a beautiful ship cutting through the waves like a knife. Its white wood and elegant design could only mean one thing, for no other race crafted with such grace and beauty.
“Elves!” Ürbon shouted. “Double the oars, follow them!” the crew spurred into action, the boat gaining momentum. As if the wind itself heard Ürbon’s command, the sails filled and surged them forward through the water. Though the urchin’s information was not entirely detailed, he had mentioned elves to be the inhabitants of the island that they sought.
The Jödmun did not tire and with this fortunate sighting, their morale picked up, tightening the gap between the two ships. Ürbon closed his spyglass; he would no longer need it to keep an eye on their quarry.
The elven ship was nowhere near as fast as Ürbon initially thought. By now, the elves were visible on the deck, huffing and puffing in their frantic attempt to outsail The North Wind.
An arrow whizzed through the air and sunk into the prow of the Jödmun vessel. Ürbon clenched his fists as the elves scrambled to grab their supple and elegant weapons. It was not his intention to fight but to follow them and gain some much-needed information on their quarry. But these elves had no intention of being followed, and he’d resort to violence if he had to.
As more arrows thudded into the ship's wooden frame, Ürbon had to react quickly. He could not simply leave the elves and continue to sail aimlessly. Nor did he wish for any bloodshed, but it seemed to be their only option to get closer to their treasure.
“To arms! Ram them!” Ürbon cried out as the gap drew closer and the crew grabbed their weapons, ready to board the elven ship.
With an earsplitting crack, The North Wind crashed into the smaller vessel, dragging the boat sideways and splintering off a large chunk of the elven wood. The impact threw many elves into the water, the fortunate ones who stayed aboard, grabbing hold of whatever they could.
The Jödmun grimly jumped onto whatever remained afloat of the elven ship. There was no joy in taking on this helpless opponent, but they had their purpose—to gain information, whether peacefully or by force. The elves hacked and slashed with their slender blades, which screeched and cracked against the stone flesh of the Jödmun.
It was no use, as Ürbon’s crew effortlessly picked up the squirming elves and threw them down onto The North Wind’s deck. The fight was over as soon as it began, the elven vessel entirely pulverized, nothing but white splinters floating in seafoam.
Though one step closer to their much-needed information, the Jödmun met with yet another obstacle. The elves—defeated, quiet, and tied to the mast, had no interest in answering Ürbon’s questions.
“Where were you headed?” he asked yet again, only to be met with another silence.
Members of the crew had had enough of this dead end and suggested torture or execution. Ürbon knew that if none of them would speak, it would have to come to that.
“Yes, execute us and rid us of the painful sight of you, foul creatures!” one of the elves retorted.
“I thought elves liked rocks, moss, and other such things,” Ürbon said, turning to the elf.
“There is nothing natural about you. You’re a monster, twisted and warped by magic,” said the prisoner in response, and spat on the deck.
“Watch it, elf!” Ürbon snarled. “You may find I’m the one person who’s keeping you from brutal agony.” He was almost ready to let his crew go on with their proposal. Upon hearing the elves’ insults, many of them had already decided on the best ways to get them to talk, and brought up rope and hooks from the lower decks.
But that would have to wait, as for the second time that day, a yell came down from the crow’s perch.
Ürbon looked straight ahead through his spyglass, and there it was, between the hazy mist and sea spray—hints of an island. As the mist parted and The North Wind drew closer, the first thing which Ürbon noticed was the enormity of the land. Along the shoreline, he could see a cluster of jetties where various ships were docked. This seemed to be a harbor for quite a large settlement, as elven structures could be seen stretching inland. Lush jungles with flowing rivers surrounded the village, but what really caught Ürbon’s attention was a volcano, billowing smoke up to the sky.
Ürbon commanded his crew to prepare to land and steered The North Wind alongside a port jetty.
So far, there was nobody to be seen, though one could tell that this was no deserted city. Fish, spices, and other trading goods could be seen lining the stalls, but as Ürbon and his crew stepped down from the boat to explore, they saw no people behind the stocked counters or walking down the streets.
“This doesn’t seem right,” said one of the crewmen.
“Where are the people?” said another as they got to the end of one street and found themselves at a five-pointed plaza. It looked as if amidst the activity of a busy afternoon, all living things had vanished into thin air, leaving their day half-finished. Amidst the silence, even the weak winds could be heard, gently pushing empty wicker baskets across the narrow streets.
The silence gave way to the noise of marching feet, as all the streets were suddenly blocked by groups of elves. Ürbon and his crew, seeing that they were surrounded, turned to go back to the harbor, only to find another group of elves marching forward. They were trapped.
Ürbon looked around at the elves; they were well prepared to ambush him and his crew. Behind every group were mages, each holding staves, glowing from magical runes carved into the wood. Not good, he thought, not good at all. The Jödmun had become magical creatures from the Mountain Birth; any form of magic was incredibly powerful against their kind.
But this was not all that crushed their hopes, for amongst the last group of elven warriors, four of their guards flowed forth within a blue glowing haze.
“I’m sorry, Captain, they appeared out of nowhere, surrounded us,” one of them croaked. Ürbon had left some of his crewmen to take care of the ship and prisoners, though now he saw that the elves had also captured their only means of escape.
“Be gone from our island, foul creatures!” an elf shouted, approaching Ürbon and his crew. He was taller than the rest of the elves and seemed to hold an air of authority as they parted respectfully to give way.
In a sense, Ürbon was relieved; at least he and his men wouldn’t be killed without a moment to explain themselves.
“We did not intend to capture one of your vessels, O noble one. Your elven compatriots were the first to raise their sword and then, by chance, we happened upon this island. We do not wish you any harm!”
“Do not wish us harm?” the elf scoffed, pointing to a group of cut and bruised elves, the prisoners from The North Wind. “You claim to not wish us harm, yet you splinter our boats and capture our people?”
Ürbon could not find any words to reply. Clearly, the elves would never believe that their people were the first to take up weapons, that destroying the ship was an act of self-defense, not an unprovoked attack.
The elf saw the doubt and hesitation in Ürbon’s eyes. “Mages! Take them to the dungeons!” he commanded, and with swift movements, the blue glow of the staves shot out and engulfed each one of the Jödmun, lifting them up into the air. The mages, along with a guard of elven warriors, began to walk along the path leading to the volcano, their prisoners hovering close behind them.
Ürbon could see the city slowly coming back to life as the procession made their way out of the city. Elves looked out of their graceful windows in fear; others walked out of their doorways, whispering to each other with nervous glances. It seemed they rarely saw members of other races, let alone a race from so far away, and some, overwhelmed by curiosity, even followed the marching soldiers.
Eventually, the procession reached the end of the city, where the path leading up to the volcano was blocked by an iron gate. Upon reaching this point, those who had followed the soldiers from their homes retreated back to the town, seemingly frightful of whatever lay beyond.
The previously proud elf from the plaza now seemed frightened himself, as it conversed in hush tones with something beyond. Ürbon strained his neck to see, but all he could make out was the elf talking to the gate. Then, the gates swung open, and the procession moved on. It seemed there was a structure of some sort nearby, as Ürbon felt like he was suddenly inside, and hovering down many hallways, turning left and right. The blue glow covered his vision and he couldn’t make sense of his surroundings. Next he knew, he was tumbling to the damp stony ground and an iron door was slammed shut behind him.
The blue glow ebbed away, and suddenly he could move freely once more. The sky was still bright, and due to the lack of a ceiling, he could see his surroundings clearly. He was left within a circular pit, surrounded by slick and smooth walls he could not climb. Ürbon desperately tried to think of a means to escape. He had been put in a chamber separately from the group, and for all he knew, they wouldn’t have any idea where to find him if they were to make an escape from here.
The sudden realization of failure made his blood boil. For weeks, they had sailed with no hint of land, dead end after dead end, and when they finally did move forward in their plans, they were met with an even graver and conclusive impasse. He paced and stomped around the walls, trying to get a grip of his anger. But his rage built up to a crescendo. He saw only red, rippling over the wall in front of him. With a roar that shook the chamber itself, he let his anger loose, hitting the stone with an awesome fury. His fists felt no pain as his hand broke through; he ripped his hand out and hit the wall even harder, breaking it to pieces and revealing a tunnel of black, glasslike stone.
He punched again only to find air, the wall defeated under his blows. He took a step back, his rage abated. He felt an uneasy stroke of good luck; if only he could escape and make his way back home. That is, if this tunnel led to somewhere fortunate. If so, he could muster an army to rescue his crew, for he could not free them by himself; the elves’ magic was too strong.
With a clear and straightforward plan in his head, he took a deep breath and leapt into the tunnel. Where he thought to find ground, he found only empty air. This was not a tunnel but an entrance into a chamber, a chamber inside a volcano, illuminated red. And before he knew it, he landed into a pool of lava…
Ürbon’s head pounded as he found himself half-submerged in lava and held up only by a slab of granite. He moved to climb higher but groaned from the movement. Last time he felt this way, it was after drinking a cask of firemead, which had seemed a good idea at first, but a pain in the ass in the morning. Nevertheless, with painstaking movements, he made his way onto the firm granite and took a look at his surroundings.
The chamber consisted of only a pool of lava, with some slabs of granite still above the surface. Ürbon looked up to see shards of stalactites on the high ceiling, from which a small hole right above him showed the tunnel from which he fell. There would be no use in wasting time trying to climb back up there; besides, he’d just find himself yet again trapped.
Ürbon looked across the magma around the chamber; he could make out a small tunnel on the other side. He stepped down from the granite and waded across to the tunnel. Though he could feel the heat of the magma, to him, it felt more like a hot bath than anything else. Once he made his way across, he stepped up to the tunnel and walked along its winding path. He could tell from the rising heat that he was walking towards the volcano’s heart, but to turn back would just mean another dead end. So he continued along the winding path, across smaller caverns dotted with little puddles of lava.
Eventually, he found himself in a truly enormous cavern, illuminated by an icy blue glow filling the empty darkness. The source of this light coming from the center and some unknown pull called Ürbon towards it.
Ürbon made his way through the cavern, moving through the shallow puddles of magma dotting the surface. The wonder of the blue glow overshadowed the eerie darkness and chilling silence.
As he reached the middle, he found the mysterious object to be a block of ice. How did a block of ice come to be in the heart of a volcano? And how did it not simply melt on the spot? He could not know. Ürbon gazed in wonder and the mysterious thing, marveling at how it kept its shape despite the heat. What also gained his attention was a handle sticking out of the block, and from the transparency of the ice, he could make out the shape of a blade, the edges and hairline cracks of the icy container amplifying a certain power within.
Ürbon did not know why he grasped the protruding hilt. It could’ve either been an act of fate or simply an enactment of childish fantasy; the hilt being the arm of a blade of yore, and he, Ürbon, the legendary hero to lay claim to the fable.
But no amount of fable or legend could have prepared him.
As his hands gripped the leather, a white flash engulfed his vision. He tightened his grip to keep himself steady. An ear-splitting crack rang through his ears, the white flash growing stronger. He closed his eyes to escape the blinding light but it was no use. He felt himself engulfed by it, lost in freezing glare. He shuddered from the icy light and for the first time, Ürbon felt fear, gut-wrenching and heart-stopping fear.
But the flash dissipated as suddenly as it began, and Ürbon opened his eyes, still dazed from the blinding light, to find himself in darkness once more. But the icy blue glow was also gone and where once a block of ice was now an empty space and his arm, though still gripping the hilt, moved freely.
What was now in his hands was an axe made of ice and steel—the haft wrapped in soft leather and its tip a sharp point of ice. He recognized the steel of the axe’s pole, a metal used by Jödmun craftsmen, a formula of steel and a rock substrate, creating a virtually indestructible material. What was more impressive, however, was the ice sculpted atop the pole, a visage of a wyrm, whereas the wyrm’s fiery breath was of steel, forming the blade.
Ürbon knew this axe but could not believe it to be in his hands, there was only one such weapon in existence. Bjarl, the rune axe of legend, crafted by the greatest blacksmith of the Jödmun and all the mountain folk, Volstagg the Mad Smith himself.
He looked at the axe in awe. He could not avert his gaze, its wonder and beauty captivating him. This was a true legend before his eyes, nay, within his grasp. How it ever came to be here, so far from home, he could not fathom.
His eyes barely tore away from the legendary weapon as a scorching fire erupted from within the darkness. Ürbon saw red and orange flames, coiling and twirling from within and around a great horned head. It rose amidst a rumble of rocks. Two blazing eyes glared at him as its mouth opened in a snarl, the flames burning ever stronger. Sharp black scales hid behind tendrils of flame, flowing out from a large jaw lined with pearlescent teeth.
As if one legend within this cavern was not enough, Ürbon held back a gasp as yet another rose from the darkness. Any Jödmun would know well what creature this was, for only one such creature could breathe flame, and they were revered as the most terrifying yet majestic of all. Its cold-blue eyes kept its stare as Ürbon stood his ground, holding Bjarl firmly in his grip. Fear would be of no help at all against a full-grown dragon.
“You do not cower in my presence, thief?” The dragon’s voice seemed to resonate from the cavern itself. A jet of fire shot from its mouth and streamed past Ürbon, lighting a brazier at the other end of the cavern. Now Ürbon could see the true magnificence of the creature, covered in scales like shards of obsidian, its wingspan could reach from one end of the cavern to the next.
“I am no thief, great-wyrm; I merely seek that which belongs to my people!” Ürbon replied, standing his ground as the dragon stepped closer, peering at his surprise visitor and Bjarl with a keen and intelligent eye.
Bjarl crackled with lighting in his hands, giving Ürbon confidence. “I will go through whatever trial necessary to restore this axe, even if that means to go against you, dragon!”
At this, the chamber erupted. Rocks fell from the ceiling and a growling cackle echoed off the stone walls. The dragon seemed to convulse as fire rhythmically erupted unchecked with each breath.
“Your naiveté amuses me. You cannot know how long it has been since a soul has entered my home, especially one with an ounce of courage. Or perhaps it is simply lunacy that gives you such confidence. Those elves were right; you are curious folk, curious folk indeed!” The cavern shook as the dragon took a step closer to Ürbon. “That axe does not simply belong to the Jödmun, Wanderer. It was forged by the great smith Volstagg and only his descendants may wield it!”
The dragon’s attention shifted from Ürbon to Bjarl. He stared at it as if in contemplation, a gust of smoke drifting from its nose. “I suppose there is only one way to know whether you are worthy to carry such a gift.”
With a deep breath, it exhaled a stream of fire, giving Ürbon barely a second to react. He ducked his head under his elbow, ready for the fire to kill him, for dragon fire most certainly can. Yet he did not feel the burning touch of fire, and after a moment, he raised his head to see a barrier surrounding him. An icy blue shield stemming from between Bjarl’s two pointed horns. The dragon, seeing his fire was obstructed, closed his jaws, extinguishing the flames.
“I suppose you do have a right to the axe after all, Jödmun,” it snorted, once again looking at him with an amused glint in its eyes. “Go, take the axe. I have no right to keep it from a Volstagg’s kin.”
With a single glance, the brazier burned out, leaving Ürbon once more in the darkness.
Not knowing whether to trust that the dragon would truly let him go, Ürbon stood there with no light to guide him except for Bjarl’s icy glow. For only a moment, the dragon’s massive head was visible once more, as an awesome fireball shot out towards the wall, revealing a new pathway.
“Will this suffice for you to leave, now? Or would you like me to carry you out?” the dragon roared.
Without wanting to anger the great wyrm further, Ürbon walked towards the opened path. But his curiosity took hold of him, and he could not help but ask.
“Why are you letting me leave with such a valuable piece of your hoard? Surely this cannot be anything more than a trick?” Ürbon asked the darkness.
“Perhaps there is a bit of foolery to you after all. How quick you are to assume I have need of tricks. You mortal races are all the same; elves, dwarves, humans… Jödmun,” it spat with contempt. “You all think yourselves so powerful, when you have no knowledge of the true sources of power in this world. You’re all little more than ants crawling on a round table, oblivious to those sitting around it. If I let you leave with this valuable piece of my hoard it is simply because I will it so… Now leave!” The dragon’s grumble reverberated through the dark cavern.
With the unnerving sense, Ürbon trudged through the mountain path. He followed it for some time, pondering the dragon’s last words. Yet his thoughts then turned to his captured crew. Bjarl, still firmly in his grip, was a formidable weapon, but he himself didn’t stand a chance against the elven mages.
After quite the trek, he made his way out of the volcano, finding himself in a dense forest. It was only just sundown, and the sky illuminated his surroundings with a deep blue glow. He walked through the undergrowth, the moonlight barely lighting his way. Still engulfed by thinking up a rescue plan, he knew he could not risk getting trapped again, for then they would all be lost forever. He would have to make his way off the island, somewhere he could get back home and recruit an army powerful enough to withstand the elves’ magic. He did not know how they would overcome the elvish mages and his puzzled and confused thoughts gave way to the loose rocks and ebbing moonlight, he found himself falling.
He tumbled down a steep cliff, crashing into rocks and foliage. He desperately tried to grasp whatever he could reach but nothing would hold. When he finally reached the ground, he was once again dazed, finding himself in another series of caves. His fists clenched once more as he was enjoying the short-lived fresh air, but at least Bjarl was still with him. He looked around the series of caves and tunnels and could swear he saw a flash of eyes peering through the darkness. He blinked to make sense of it, but it disappeared, he dismissed the thought, the fall had severely dazed him.
Taking a moment to gather himself and clear his head, he looked up the sheer wall and the night sky far above him with no hopes of climbing back up. The only possible trail was a cavern to the right, though obscured with shadows. With a determined sigh, he gripped Bjarl, its icy blue glow lighting his way, and walked down the cavernous path, taking care not to take any missteps this time.
As he continued to walk, curious markings began to dot the rock walls. The further he walked the more densely they appeared. Most of them, he could not understand, but some of them he recognized. On his travels, he had learnt bits and pieces of various tongues, and he knew at least some of these glyphs to belong to the ancient Gataran language. He had stopped to take a closer look at a portion of glyphs when a flash of movement caught his eye, and he heard a scrabble of loose rock under feet. He turned to catch the source and had almost missed it save for a white reptilian tail, scurrying round a corner.
Ürbon gave chase to the mysterious creature, following the flash of white and scrabble of claws. Turning left and right, he wounded through the caverns when at last he caught up to the creature, barely glimpsing it before it disappeared through a tiny gap in the rock walls. No use even thinking of getting through that tiny gap so he did all he could do and hit the wall with his axe. Bjarl made quick work of the solid rock. With just a few hits, he had opened a gap in the wall, wide enough for even him to get through, and found that he had created an opening to another cavern.
Ürbon stepped through the entrance and found himself surrounded by carved hieroglyphs, and the reptilian creature cowering in a corner, holding its shaking tail with thin, spindly fingers. Its white scales and ridged spine, along with its thin and wiry features made it look sickly, like its strength had long since seeped away. It did not meet Ürbon’s gaze, instead looking at the fragments lying at the Jödmun’s feet, hieroglyphs carved into the wall he had just knocked down.
Ürbon looked at the shattered rock shards; though fragmented, he could still make out the images—a black-winged shape much like a dragon surrounded by flowing lava. Another one was dotted with white and icy blue specks like a blizzard, an axe in its center. Another fragment showed a bolt of lightning, or something alike to it, there seemed to have been more of the image, but it was too shattered and broken to discern.
He turned around to find himself now surrounded by reptilian creatures. They stared at him inquisitively; most of them were smaller than the one he had followed here. Yet three significantly larger figures stepped forward on webbed feet, they towered over their smaller brethren, who bowed and parted respectfully to give them way.
They stood there simply staring at Ürbon as if waiting for something. But the Jödmun’s patience was thin as it was and, judging from the language of the hieroglyphs earlier on, he was sure these creatures would speak some sort of Gataran.
“What?” Ürbon said to the crowd of curious reptiles, who jumped back in surprise. Only the three larger ones held their gaze, though their eyes seemed to light up in excitement.
“At last, he has come!” one of them answered, raising its spindly arms. Ürbon knelt to be level with the old wrinkled reptile; clearly it was not in its right mind.
“Show me the way out of these caves,” he said, in as gentle a tone as his annoyance allowed.
“Long have we waited for the savior from above! Long have we Geck’tek’s hidden in these dark burrows, waiting for the day he shall break down this wall, its painted image turned into one of reality! And now he has appeared and shall raise us out to walk free upon the land once more, and help us take back our rightful place and rulers of all the Gatarans!” it spoke, its arms still raised, more of the Geck’teks had joined the crowd, though some had lost interest and were speaking in their hissing tones amongst themselves.
Ürbon tried to comment that he was certainly not interested in anything but getting out of these caves, but it was of no use; the frail elder kept to its long and drawn out speech.
“The time has come for those inferior Gatarans to rue the day they turned on their masters! They shall pay tenfold for their insolence! Their homes shall burn for they shall only live in chains! For the savior from above has come, and the Geck’teks shall rise up…
Ürbon was done paying attention, his thoughts wandering back to his purpose, to get out of the cave and off the island, back home to gather more men to rescue his crew, but how would they overcome the elves magic?
His thoughts were interrupted as the elder finally stopped talking, and beckoned sharply to a distant Geck’tek, who hurriedly scurried over. This one was much larger than the rest, and carried two spears crossed between his shoulders. Vast arrays of small jars were strapped across his chest, and a tiny dagger of jagged black stone upon his waist. The Geck’tek leaned in to listen to the elder’s whispering into his ear, but his gaze never left Ürbon, who looked back at the reptilian creature with a stare as cold as ice.
The elder whispered a final word and turned back to Ürbon “Behold, Tlupic! One of our most prized warriors; he will be your guide! Now go back to the surface and fulfill your destiny!” The elder spoke as the cavern erupted with noises of scrabbling feet. Small Geck’tek’s scurried away, disappearing through tiny holes, emptying the cavern. Tlupic gave a final nod to the elders, walked past Ürbon and beckoned him to follow. Ürbon followed the Geck’tek warrior, simply wishing to get back to the surface, even if it meant playing into the frail elder’s mad fantasies.
After a long walk through the winding caves, they made it to the surface. The sky was brightening as dawn broke; the air was filled with the sounds of the lush and humid forest. Indeed, it almost felt like they were in a jungle. Ürbon looked at the awe-struck Geck’tek, frantically moving to a fro, observing everything from the trees to the grass. Its stupefied gaze up looking up at the sky covered in hues of purple and blue.
Ürbon stomped past the reptile; he didn’t have time for this…
Tlupic wallowed in his freedom, in the fresh air, the sounds of life and the beautiful colors of the world. Leaving the burrows was a punishable offense for the Geck’teks, only allowed when a sacrifice is needed for the gods, and even then, only for a short period of time was spent on the surface. But sometimes he would sneak out of the caverns, to catch a glimpse of the world’s beauty. There was a time when all of the Geck’teks lived out in the open, under the eternal sky. They were an elite class of their race and would rule over the lesser clans. That all changed when a sacrifice was made of an important Gatoran who had their leaders despite being ruled over by the Geck’teks. And now Tlupic and his people lived underground and were hunted by the lesser clans if ever they ventured out.
He did not know much of the surface and the races who lived there. The elders only spoke of such things when a sacrifice was needed, or when a raid would be organized to strike against wielders of magic. Magic belongs to the gods and any mortal who used magic was a thief. For magic did not belong to them, and only by sacrificing them would that magic be restored to their rightful owners. Tlupic would occasionally be a part of these raids, capturing a user of magic and taking them to the altar. Like a sixth sense, the Geck’teks could find magic from miles away, and their base instinct was to return this gift back to the gods, an instinct devoid of hesitation.
It was this sensor that had drawn him to the cavern. Others of his brethren had already made it there and stared at the stone monstrosity standing in front of the elders. The strange creature had a truly impressive stature. Taller than any Gatoran he had ever seen, it had no scales or tail and was armed with an impressive axe. Resembling a roaring dragon, it seemed to be made entirely out of ice, yet it showed no signs of melting. The elders called the golem Azmekui, the “savior from above.” A sacred figure, shrouded by myth, but this creature of stone would only be a half, for the Azmekui was not a single entity but a pair linked by fate itself.
The elders saw Tlupic approach and beckoned him forward.
“Tlupic, guide him on his journey, for he will need your aid,” the elder said in hushed tones.
“But an Azmekui is not one, but a pair! What of our own bringer of light from among our people?”
The elder silenced him with a gesture, “You are the second Azmekui, young Tlupic, together you will guide our people out of these caves, but for now, your journey begins on the surface.”
With no room to argue and a duty to obey his elders, Tlupic walked over to the golem, “Fellow Azmekui, I am Tlupic the Sky Seeker; I will be your guide and companion.”
The stone golem scoffed and eyed the cavern trail impatiently.
And so the pair made their way through the lush forest, carrying the supplies the elder’s provided. At first, Ürbon had been going his own way. If he kept walking in one direction, by all logic, he would eventually end up at a shore. But he was stopped by Tlupic multiple times, who, though new to the terrain, knew the territory better than Ürbon, and steered him onto better trails. Heading east was their wisest option, as to the north and west lay Gataran territory and to the south were the orcs. All that mattered to Ürbon was getting to a shore as fast as possible and avoiding all confrontation, and though he was initially stubborn to take the Geck’tek’s advice, eventually he gave in.
Ürbon walked through the forest with long strides, eager to get to the shore. Though the Geck’tek had trouble keeping up with the taller and faster Jödmun, Ürbon did not seem to care enough to slow down their progress. Indeed, he barely noticed that Tlupic had fallen behind or that he was completely alone when a group of Gatorans had him surrounded.
The creatures were taller than the Geck’teks and looked much more vicious, with a long and scaly crocodilian snout and long sharp teeth protruding from their jaws. They stood on two legs and brandished various weapons of crude metal, their backs supported by their strong tails.
Ürbon looked around to find Tlupic but the Geck’tek was nowhere to be seen, and so he turned to meet the Gatoran’s vicious glare as the circle tightened. The Gatorans were talking to each other in what sounded like snarls and hisses. It was much more guttural than the Geck’teks more refined tongue; Ürbon couldn’t understand a word.
He brandished Bjarl and prepared to meet a charging Gatoran, the creatures moved faster than anticipated and he barely met the blow of its halberd in time. Occupied by parrying and dodging the attacks, Ürbon hadn’t noticed the circle tighten and the Gatorans behind him had come closer. He felt a weight upon his shoulder and realized his mistake, catching his current opponent off guard and killing it with one might blow; he turned to meet the Gatoran who was bearing him down.
He turned to find a Gatoran crying out in pain as a spear was dug deep into its chest. This weight upon his back was no Gatoran, but Tlupic, who had killed the Gatoran before it could strike at the unsuspecting Ürbon.
As Ürbon realized his mistake and the value of Tlupic’s aid, he watched as the Geck’tek jumped swiftly around with agile movements. Ducking and dodging every blow against him, Tlupic dispatched one more Gatoran before jumping back onto Ürbon’s back, a spear in each hand.
The two of them continued to fight the Gatorans, Tlupic lunging with his spear and Ürbon’s Bjarl, trailing an icy blue glow, wreaked havoc upon their enemies. The crude metal of the Gatorans’ weapons often broke during a parry or shattered against Ürbon’s flesh. Gatorans sprawled upon the ground, either dead or heavily wounded as blood sprayed and pooled around them. Both were consumed by rage as arrows whizzed past, narrowly missing Tlupic and bouncing off Ürbon. With long strides, the Jödmun caught up with the Gatoran archers. Tlupic’s spear pierced their chests with powerful throws, knocking them back through the air. Ürbon caught up with the other two and with quick blows, dispatched them both.
Seeing their companions dealt with which such brutality, the rest of the Gatorans let up the fight, and disappeared into the trees as quickly as they had appeared. But not before Ürbon cracked the skull of a few more, their brains splattering across the undergrowth.
As the Gatorans fully disappeared through the forest, Tlupic and Ürbon found themselves alive and unscathed amidst a sea of Gatoran corpses. Cheering and clapping each other’s backs, they collected the armor and trinkets of the dead Gatorans and set off towards the shore with a newfound sense of camaraderie.
Ürbon no longer let Tlupic fall behind; from now on, the Geck’tek was always welcome on his shoulder. He sprawled there day in and day out, discussing his culture and traditions as the Jödmun repaid in kind by teaching Tlupic the common tongue.
It was during one of these conversations that Ürbon asked what Tlupic could sense between Bjarl and himself.
“We are both warped by magic, of course, my people are under the power of a spell, which is why my flesh is like so,” Ürbon asked.
“You, yes, gods have given your people their gift, it is not of your own choosing. The axe, the axe is strange, strong magic, much power, too strong for Tlupic, gives me headache. But I can tell that this is not its true power. No, the axe is asleep!” the Geck’tek replied.
“The dragon spoke of the axe as if it was a living thing, like it chooses or prefers certain people over others.”
“The dragon speaks true, you and the axe are bound, like a chain.” Tlupic uncurled on Ürbon’s shoulder and looked up to the sky, there were large white birds flying across with black-tipped wings, “Where are we going, Ürbon?” Tlupic realized he hadn’t asked before.
“To a port, to catch a ship headed to Maldora, from where we’ll sail further north to home. There, I can get more men to rescue my crew from the elves,” he replied.
“Elves!” Tlupic said “Magic wielders! Let’s go kill them now!”
“Alas, their magic is too strong even for you, Tlupic,” Ürbon giggled. Though he was wary of the dangers ahead, the readiness of the Geck’tek amused him. “We cannot do it alone. We will need more men.”
Eventually, they reached the shore and luckily had to look no further for a port, for they were in the renowned port city of Servialdes, a major trading center in the area. There were ships harbored on the jetties and many traders who stopped to stare at the seven-meter tall Jödmun and the Geck’tek upon his shoulder.
It was a good thing they had decided to carry the slain Gatorans weapons, the steel fetched a good price and added with the gold given to them by the Geck’tek elders, they had enough to bargain for passage over the sea.
Most of the ships were either too small to carry Ürbon or too large to be discreet, yet one ship in particular caught the Jödmun’s eye. The Swift Eel was written on its bow, and a woman called Amuliea was its captain. She was a keen-eyed woman, and clearly a good bargainer from the large sum she was able to get for giving them room on the ship.
And so the Jödmun and Geck’tek boarded, bade farewell to that fateful island, and sailed off into the ocean.