The Devil's Dominion

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Chapter 25: Hammerfall

Norrin paced through the winding stone halls of Pentalia Morschcoda, eager for news and eager to break something. He had buried himself in the drudgery of paperwork and bureaucracy that was running the city, but it only served to inflame his frustrations. Drinking, eating, smoking, and sleeping only calmed him so much, and only for short periods. He had hired courtesans from every one of the Ten Nations, of all descriptions, passions, and talents, and none could slake his needs. Briefly, he had pondered whether or not he should marry someone, that a companion on an emotional level might understand how to help him. Gelida Mectar or Leshia Dalrey would be an eminently suitable match for him. Gelida would be an illegal match, considering the laws forbidding Morschcoda from being wed to each other, though Leshia would be more than acceptable. But he knew that, no matter how much he wanted a woman, or women, or even companionship, to be his problem, that wasn’t what was bothering him. He longed for the mountains and the free plains of Eschcota, to be outside of the enchanted walls of Dishmo Kornara and out in the clean wind, or better still among the giant pines of the mountain forests. And he knew why. His mind had not turned from Elshay Cabrinda’s letter since it had arrived. She had implored him to act, and every instinct he had yearned to answer that call. His servants and advisors had done all they could to dissuade him from action when he first decided to return to Braldish, even flaunting Erygan’s orders to stay in Dishmo Kornara no matter what news he heard. It had angered him, but he had subsided. Now, the urge was growing stronger, and no amount of distraction, mental or physical, could break his mind free.

Norrin stood and rested his hands on the table in front of him, leaning on his fingertips. “I am leaving Dishmo Kornara. I intend to go tomorrow.” He let his councillors stand and shout their objections, letting them argue, disagree, and even threaten to inform King Erygan of his disobedience. When they had shouted themselves hoarse, he took Elshay’s letter, creased and yellowed from how many times already he had read it, but still almost reverently cared for, from one of his pockets and laid it on the table. “This letter was sent to me, almost two weeks ago now, by Elshay Cabrinda, the Governor of Alquendiro, and Steward to the Flowing Throne in Edya Reeshnar’s absence from Drogoda. Governor Cabrinda wrote to tell me that Guinira herself is marching to war. She is leading over three hundred thousand Deshika.” He left a heavy emphasis on just how many Deshika were following Guinira. He paused and observed the circle of dark faces as they took in the number. “And she is leading them north.” He paused again, savouring the silence that filled the room. “North, to Braldish, where she will meet with her wretch of a Morschledu-Hunter General Hialed Volkure: the man who decapitates any Morschledu he finds and keeps their heads as trophies.” He let the angry muttering continue for almost a minute, letting his advisors become emotional, letting them form a connection to his call to act. “Volkure has Vorteez’s First Legion, the Whip Crackers; another forty-nine thousand Deshika.” Norrin turned away from the table to stare at a large tapestry, a map of Anaria, which was hanging behind him. “The army that is now marching on Braldish from two directions is nearly the same size as the army that The Kindler used to crush the combined armies of the Ten Nations at Emin-Tal.” Norrin turned back to face his advisors. “With the exception of my army.” Norrin paused yet again, watching his message sink in. He was ashamed that he had used his orders as a shield to hide his people. “Eschcota did not fight at Emi-Tal. Because we were ordered to stay here. Had we been there, Anaria would not have fallen so quickly. Guinira might never have become Queen. Makret Druoth might have been killed. The Deshika could have been routed and driven back into the sea. The last two years might not have needed to happen. Because I obeyed a King whose leash is held by five eunuchs hiding in a tower almost as far from any real part of this war as it’s possible to get.” Norrin’s advisors started to whisper amongst themselves. He hadn’t won them over. He didn’t care. They were his servants, not the other way around. “It doesn’t matter what you tell me, stay or go. I am Morschcoda. I do what I say, not what you advise, unless I choose so to do. I choose to do this. Braldish has never fallen while its Morschcoda defends it.” He folded his hands in front of him and rested his chin on his tented index fingers as he sat down. “I leave for Braldish in the morning. Someone see to it that the Mountain Guard is prepared to return home.”
One man couldn’t restrain himself. “Only the Mountain Guard, my Lord? Why not the whole army? If Braldish needs warriors as badly as you believe it does ...” Norrin silenced him by cracking one knuckle at a time.
“The Remnant must hold Braldish, but it must also hold Dishmo Kornara. Braldish can receive reinforcements from the Remnant in Dothoro, Noldoron, and Torridesta. Dishmo Kornara only has the Eschcotan Army, if the Seven find the city. So, the army stays here.” Norrin nodded to dismiss his councillors. They stood up, slowly and with more than a hint of grumbled protest, and filed out of the doors opposite Norrin’s seat. A young woman, Ristan, with long blonde hair, an evenly tanned complexion, and long legs, detached herself from the wall and came over to Norrin. She stood behind him, massaging his shoulders and rubbing his neck as another servant brought him wine, leaving as soon as he poured his Morschcoda a cupful. Norrin groaned, sighed, and stretched. “I thought that that would take longer.”
“You are their Morschcoda, my Lord.” The woman’s voice was soft and silky, light and seductive as she whispered the words in his ear. “It is your privilege to command them.”
“Yes … But a Morschcoda only has so much power. Even I can’t command a man who won’t see reason. Politicians and bureaucrats aren’t usually people who see reason.”
“Maybe the Morschcoda should try commanding a woman instead.” She whispered again, and then gently licked his ear while still rubbing his shoulders.
“What kind of command should I give this woman?” Norrin half-turned his head, looking up at her out of the corner of his eye.
She walked around his chair and stood in front of him, then lowered herself to sit straddling his legs. “Whatever command my Lord desires.” She started to loosen the ties on his shirt, pulling it open to reveal his dark chest, then his stomach. She grabbed his hands and pulled them up to the ties of her own shirt, prompting him to do the same thing.
Norrin’s fingers hesitated as he looked into her grey-blue eyes. “I have many things to do tonight. Much to prepare.”
She moved his fingers for him. “And you have many people who can do those things and make those preparations for you.”
Her shirt started to fall away from her shoulders as she leaned back to slip it off, Norrin still hesitating to do any of the work. “I have to leave early in the morning.”
She started moving her hands across his bare chest. “Morning is whenever my Lord decides it is.”
Norrin started to speak again, but she touched his lips with one finger, then pulled herself closer to him and guided his hands to the back of her hips. Norrin leaned in and kissed her. He got his hands underneath her thighs and stood, lifting her easily and setting her gently on the table. She moved her hands to his belt, loosening it with speed born of a long practice of her profession. Norrin didn’t hesitate any longer.

Norrin pulled himself exhaustedly to a sitting position on his bed. The Ristan girl was there beside him. He went over the night in his mind, wondering what she had done differently from other girls his secretary had hired for him. ‘Maybe I should bring her with me.’ As well as his body responded to the idea, he discarded it immediately. He wanted to travel with speed, only his guards and whatever supplies they absolutely must have to see them to Braldish. Brining along one prostitute for his own personal pleasure would be one thing if he were traveling slowly with an army, where there would be hundreds of camp followers, which by nature would include other women to take care of his soldiers. Bringing one woman along with only twenty soldiers would only upset his guards and cost him time that he couldn’t afford to lose.

He twisted and set his feet on the cold stone floor, looking for pants and other articles of clothing. The girl was still asleep, and he decided against waking her. He stood to search his wardrobe, finally finding suitable clothing for a long day of travel. His servants had already packed most such clothes and had likely taken those packs to the stables to be ready whenever their master decided it was time to leave. He pulled on the pants and shirt that he had found, then went back to sit on the bed to pull on his boots. Finally, he crossed the room to where a giant, ornately carved hammer hung on the bare stone of the room’s west wall: Riin-Dair, the Night-Bringer.
Norrin took the hammer down from the wall, lifting it easily despite its size, and slipped the handle into a special sheath on his belt. Riin-Dair was an ancient weapon, dating back over one hundred thousand years to a long and bloody war between Eschcota and Torridesta. The Morschcoda of Eschcota, Driin Kiura, had taken an ordinary sledgehammer and enchanted it, then carved runes into the head and along the handle. Afterwards, he used it to execute Torridestan prisoners that had been caught spying on Eschcota. Torridestan Morschledu cursed the entire country of Eschcota with an endless night in retaliation. When the war started, one of Morschcoda Kiura’s Generals told him that the hammer was responsible for bringing night to Eschcota, and Driin had named his hammer after the General’s words.

The young Ristan woman finally began to stir, just as Norrin decided that he would wear his armour, at least for the first day, riding through the city itself. It was always good to be seen as a great warrior in Dishmo Kornara, especially with the war that raged beyond the walls. She sat up, letting the blankets fall away from her as she watched him pull a long chainmail shirt over his head. A servant then helped him buckle a breastplate over the mail. Two pauldrons of black steel, each with a row of short spikes, fit onto his shoulders, followed by matching, spiked bracers on his wrists. Greaves, also with rows of short spikes, were belted onto his shins, cinched tight over his leather boots. Then, a heavy leather belt went around the chainmail below the breastplate. Riin-Dair, which he had removed from his other belt, went into a similar sheath on the armour-belt. This sheath had silver-steel inlay that matched the carvings in the hammer’s handle. Finally, Norrin picked up a heavy full helmet of black steel, which had several rows of spikes, one curving row on either side around where the curve of his ears would be, and another row of longer spikes over the crown of his head. He carried the helmet instead of putting it on, and walked out the door of his room with only a passing glance for the woman who had most recently shared his bed.

Not even one full hour after leaving Dishmo Kornara behind, Norrin was already wondering why he’d done it. The armour was heavy and hot, and he was exhausted just wearing it. He didn’t like to think how sore and tired his horse probably was, having to carry not just the armour, but Norrin himself and his packs. Still, they had made good time. Lake Miliish was already in sight, and they would camp on its southern shore. Norrin remembered the Ristan girl with mixed feelings now. She would have made that night much better for him, but he was also already stiff and sore, too stiff and sore to enjoy her company. And he didn’t want to lose a night of sleep that he desperately needed, no matter how enjoyable the reason.

Leaving camp the next morning, Norrin made the wise decision to not wear the heavy steel armour, though he still wore the chainmail. He and his men rode west and north, following the curve of the lake for two more days until they reached a long beach of white sand. When they broke camp the next morning, they headed north-west, into the heart of Eschcota, aiming slightly north of Braldish, instead of directly at the city, in hopes of finding one of Erygan’s armies. After three days of uneventful travel, his guards saw a Torridestan patrol riding to meet them.

Eildar Dalrey was still getting used to being the Morschcoda of Torridesta, and he found when he met Norrin Shrevneer that he was still uncomfortable with his relatively new title. Eildar felt like the Eschcotan Morschcoda towered over him, even with Norrin sitting down. Eildar coughed and finally spoke. “I know that you were hoping to find my father, Morschcoda Norrin, but I will help you in any way that I can.”
“In any way that you can?” Norrin pulled out his pipe and cleaned it, knocking the bowl against his boot. He then filled the bowl and lit the pipeweed. “Good. I need your army.”
“I can’t give you my army, Morschcoda.”
“Look, son—”
Norrin spoke around the pipe stem in his mouth. “I know that I’m a Morschcoda, you don’t have to keep addressing me formally.”
“I meant that I’m Morschcoda. My father stepped down and named me the Morschcoda of Torridesta.”
Norrin stared blankly for a minute, assessing Eildar again with the benefit of the new information. “Fair enough. Now, I need your army.”
“Norrin.” Eildar ground his teeth in frustration. “I can’t give you my army. I may be Morschcoda, but my father is still the King. I have to keep my men in between Hialed Volkure and Braldish. I’ve already failed in letting him cross the Baan-Taar,” Eildar sat down, not quite facing Norrin. “I just didn’t have the men to stop him.”
“So why fight him on his terms? Why not fall back to Braldish, defend strong walls? Level the field.” Norrin took a long draw from his pipe and took it out of his mouth, blowing the smoke towards the chimney hole in the top of the tent.
Eildar leaned on the table, his left side to Norrin and his right to the flap of his tent. “I wish it were that simple, Norrin. Lasheed knows I do.”
“If it isn’t, I might be able to make it simpler.” Norrin pulled out Elshay’s letter and handed it to Eildar. “Read.”
Eildar shook his head, but took the folded pages. Norrin figured out when he reached the description of Guinira’s army by the trembling of Eildar’s hands as his grip tightened to the point where he almost tore the papers and by how white his face turned as the blood left it. “Three hundred thousand? And that’s just Deshika, not Armandans?”
“Just Deshika. Plus the other almost fifty thousand that this Volkure bastard has.”
“Thirty thousand. And that may not mean much to you right now, but before this new army, that meant a hell of a lot to my men.”
Norrin nodded his head. “It still means a hell of a lot. It—” Norrin didn’t get to finish his sentence. A soldier burst in through the tent flap. He had an arrow sticking out of his shoulder that he didn’t seem to notice. “Morschcoda, Volkure is here …” He collapsed to his knees as blood-loss from his shoulder caught up to him.
“Morschcoda Norrin, if you intend to get to Braldish, you had better go now.” Eildar picked up a helmet from his desk and drew his sword.
Norrin pulled Riin-Dair out of its sheath. “Order a retreat to Braldish. It’s the only way any of your men get out of this alive.” Norrin forced himself passed the younger Morschcoda and left the tent.
“Where are you going?”
“To kill the Armandan bastard. Where else?”

Hialed Volkure had been moving his Deshika little by little, every night, maneuvering to surround the Torridestan army that stood between him and Braldish, the last true stronghold of the Morschledu Remnant. If he could have bypassed the Torridestan army completely, he would have done that, but he knew that with portals, they could put themselves between him and Braldish no matter how fast his army moved. Destroying Eildar Dalrey and his army would rip the heart out of Torridesta, destroying their will to fight, and likely taking Erygan’s entire false kingdom down with the prince.
Volkure had already decided that he had waited as long to be prepared as he could reasonably expect the Torridestans to give him, when something strange happened. Twenty or so men rode into the Torridestan camp with a Torridestan patrol. Deshik scouts had been watching the group of knights for the last day as they approached the soon-to-be battlefield, but only when he saw them with his own eyes did he bare his teeth in a feral, bloodthirsty smile. He had seen the hammer hanging from Norrin’s belt.
He gave orders to his War Chiefs as quickly as possible. “There is a large man, wielding a large hammer. Under no condition is he to be killed. Surround him. Keep him alive. Stay out of his reach. Protect him, if you have to, but make sure that he survives long enough for me to get to him. The honour of removing his head is mine and mine alone, and I will make whatever nightmares you might suffer at the hands of Vorteez seem the most pleasant of dreams if I am denied that right for any reason.”
The War Chiefs all bowed, but one spoke. “What if he is going to escape? How do we prevent that if we cannot attack him?”
Volkure’s feral grin didn’t falter. “I would rather he escape knowing that I let him go than die by any hand but mine.” He walked up to each of them, still grinning his wolfish smile, and pulled their faces close to his so that, one by one, they had to stare into his eyes. “Am I understood?”
“Yes, General,” was each one’s answer in turn.
“Good.” He released the final War Chief and turned away from them to face south-west, towards the Torridestan camp. “Have the archers practice their aim on anything that moves inside that camp. Then prepare the main force. We will end Torridesta here, today.”

Norrin pulled on pieces of his steel armour over the chainmail he had been wearing, but buckling the breastplate was difficult without help. He decided against it after struggling for a few moments, and strapped on the greaves and bracers instead. He put the helmet on and picked up Riin-Dair just as a group of Deshika found him and his guards. Almost immediately, Norrin noticed something strange. Though the Deshika would attack his guards without question, very few even came within striking distance of his hammer. Norrin took that personally. He had been waiting for a good fight since the Deshika had returned to Anaria. He had been late to Toredo, and had been left behind at Emin-Tal. He was not going to deny Riin-Dair the chance to taste Deshik blood this time.

Time after time, Norrin and his guards ran across Deshika, and time after time, Norrin had to surprise them if he wanted Riin-Dair to taste blood. But he was killing, and he enjoyed it, despite how easy it seemed. Then, he saw an Armandan man walking slowly towards him, and he understood his mistake.

Eildar savagely sliced through a Deshika Death Stalker that had sprung up out of nowhere. He hadn’t even known that the Whip Crackers had Death Stalkers with them. He had done what Norrin had advised and ordered a full retreat to Braldish, but now, as he flailed around him with his sword, cutting down or wounding Deshika with practically every stroke, he wondered where the Eschcotan Morschcoda was. Then, he looked up long enough to survey the battle, already mostly over. His camp was in flames, his men were deserting in droves, running for their lives either south or west, and the Deshika were already in complete control of the battlefield, except for a shrinking ring near the camp’s eastern edge: Norrin’s camp.
All the Deshika were moving in that direction, ignoring the fleeing Torridestan army.
“Sir … Morschcoda. Should we try to help Morschcoda Norrin?”
“No,” he replied, shaking away tears that were still trying to form. For Eildar, it wasn’t even a question. There wasn’t help to give.
“But Morschcoda, what would King Erygan say?”
Eildar turned to the man at his left. “Which would my father rather me do: save the lives of my men at the cost of one Morschcoda, or fail to save the life of one Morschcoda at the cost of all of my remaining men?” Eildar was shouting, the tears in his voice if not falling from his eyes. This was his failure, and he knew it. “We cannot save Morschcoda Norrin. Retreat to Braldish. We regroup there, and I will inform my father of Morschcoda Norrin’s death.”

Only five of Norrin’s Mountain Guard were still standing with him, blocking Vorteez’s First Legion from their Morschcoda. The Deshika, though, had never directly attacked Norrin, not even in defense of themselves. They had withdrawn, forming a large circle around the six Eschcotans. Norrin knew that he was going to die that day. It was only a matter of how many he could take with him before that happened. But he knew he wouldn’t get the chance. Even if they wouldn’t kill him, they would never let him break the circle surrounding him, and they would certainly never let him escape it.
Just as he thought that, a small separation occurred, and Hialed Volkure walked into the ring, followed by all seven War Chiefs.
“Morschcoda Norrin Shrevneer.” Volkure bowed in mockery. “This is a true honour.”
Norrin wasn’t in the mood for the Armandan’s games. “Oh really. Which part of this do you find to be an honour?”
“Well, no, not honour really, I suppose.” Volkure smiled, a warm smile instead of a feral one, like he was enjoying a joke. “I mean, it isn’t this part, the meeting you and talking to you, which I find to be an honour. I mean, killing you, and taking your head. That will be a truly great honour. Your head will be the crown jewel of my collection, and Riin-Dair will be a trophy that is handed down through the future line of Kings of Anaria that will be my House.”
“Oh really. You seem so certain of that.”
“The Kindler has already promised me a princedom in exchange for twenty-five Morschledu heads. If one of those I bring him is yours … He may even give me the Queen.”
“You want my head so badly? Try and take it. I’ve killed bigger men than you!”
Volkure drew his sword. “I would say the same, but it would be in metaphor only. You’re easily the largest Morschen I’ve ever seen, let alone had the privilege of killing.” Volkure licked his lips in anticipation. “I’ll give you every chance to deny me my right. All six of you, against me. I’ll kill you one at a time, or I’ll fight and kill you all at once. The choice is yours.”
Norrin still wasn’t having the Armandan bravado. “I know enough about you to know I can kill you easily.”
Volkure crouched into a ready position. “Then just to make it fair, my Deshika will not interfere. After all, you can’t beat me. A hammer has no place on a battlefield.”
One of Norrin’s guards, outraged by the insult, leapt forward, attacking Volkure without any notice. Volkure countered, knocking the Eschcotan’s sword down with a heavy slice, then spinning through the move to bring his sword back around, slicing off his enemy’s head from his left to his right. The Eschcotan fell, and Volkure grabbed the removed head by the hair before it had the chance to fall to the ground. He lifted the dead man’s head so that he could look it in the eyes. “I killed seventeen Drogs by decapitating them. I killed and took the head of a Torridestan spy.” Volkure threw the head to one of his War Chiefs and then faced Norrin. “I will take the heads of your guards, and then yours. They will be preserved forever, a testament to the rise of House Volkure. I will be the Hand of the Queen, as well as her King. Anaria will be my plaything to do with as I please, and the Morschledu Remnant will be my slaves.”
Two of Norrin’s guards attacked him this time, trying to force him in between them. Volkure traded blows with both of them for a few seconds, but then stepped backwards to avoid one guard’s sword and ducked underneath the other. The sword that he ducked continued, biting in to the shoulder of the other guard, who dropped, dragging the other guard’s sword with him. Hialed Volkure stepped back into range and, with two strokes, added two more heads to his collection. “Those two heads make twenty-one, Morschcoda Shrevneer.” He picked them up and threw them to his War Chiefs as well. “Your men are making this too easy. But do you know the real pity? When I take your head, I will only have twenty-four. Maybe my lord The Kindler will be gracious enough to count yours twice.”
Norrin’s final two guards had had enough. They moved slowly, determined and precise. They didn’t care if they died, for there was no escape whether Volkure was killed or not. They simply wanted him dead. And they wanted to be the ones to kill him.
The first attacked from Volkure’s right, trading a flurry of blows for almost two full minutes before Volkure ducked underneath one. The missed attack left the Eschcotan off-balance, and facing the wrong way. His body fell, but Volkure caught his head by the hair and flung it to a War Chief, just in time to block an attack from the last guard.
The last guard fared well against Volkure. He had managed to get a read on the way the Armandan moved with a sword. It was just enough. He landed a blow, drawing blood from Volkure’s right hip. It only enraged the Armandan. He grabbed the Eschcotan’s sword with his left hand and swung his sword as fast as he could with his right.
Norrin reacted even faster. His hand found one of the chisels hanging from his belt, and the chisel flew straight, shattering Volkure’s right hand and forcing him to drop both swords. The guard tried to kill Volkure, but Volkure brought his knee up into the man’s groin, bringing the man to his knees. Volkure then kicked him in the head, snapping his neck.
He picked up his sword with his left hand and awkwardly hacked off the final head. He dropped his sword to pick it up and toss it underhand to one of the War Chiefs who did not yet have an Eschcotan head to hold. Volkure then picked up his sword again and pointed it at Norrin.
“That’s right. The Mason. Pity you didn’t think of it sooner. Or maybe, the worst thing is that you missed …” Volkure’s grin turned into a wolfish sneer. “That’s right, isn’t it? You never miss, do you? You aimed for my hand.” Volkure held up the bleeding wreck that had been his right hand, now smashed beyond healing. “You could have killed me easily, Morschcoda Norrin, and long before now. You could have taken off my head, Morschcoda. How ironic would that be? Hialed Volkure, the Morschledu Hunter who takes the heads of his kills, decapitated in return by Morschcoda Norrin Shrevneer.” Volkure laughed, a dark, menacing laugh. He sounded insane. “You have more of them, don’t you? Why don’t you throw one? Why don’t you kill me now? You know you can!” He was shouting now. Norrin felt each question like a slap. He could have done it. Volkure could have been dead long before this point. Maybe if he had, the Deshika would have been disheartened, possibly even afraid, and wavered long enough to escape. Norrin didn’t know these things. What he did know was that he still had his hammer, and that Hialed Volkure was clearly not capable of wielding his sword left-handed. Norrin could kill Hialed Volkure. And he was going to.

The two circled around each other. Volkure had scavenged a shield from a Torridestan body around the edge of the Deshik circle. He had strapped it to his right wrist incredibly tightly. The strap acted as a tourniquet, stopping blood from leaking out of his destroyed hand. Norrin wielded Riin-Dair two handed. He knew that all he needed was one good blow. The shield was made of wood, with no iron or steel reinforcement. If he could force Volkure to block, he could land a heavy enough blow that the shield would shred like paper.
Volkure didn’t give him the chance. He had continued to circle, inching closer with each sideways step, little by little narrowing the gap between them so slowly that Norrin barely even noticed until Volkure swung and underhand cut that sliced into Norrin’s thigh.
Norrin yelled in pain and rage, whipping the hammer around with his left hand. Volkure bent backwards, underneath the blow as he had done twice before. Norrin got his hammer back in time to deflect a stab that would have killed him if Volkure had his right hand, but it still caught him in the muscle above his hip. Volkure pulled back and tried a high cut towards Norrin’s ear, as Norrin drove the head of his hammer into Volkure’s chest.
Volkure staggered as Riin-Dair broke three of his ribs, but Norrin dropped to one knee as Volkure’s sword clipped his nose. Volkure rose, heaving and gasping for air. Norrin rose, trying to stop the blood that was pouring into his mouth.
Norrin was at least grateful that the cut wasn’t to his forehead. He could still see. Volkure bitterly lamented the loss of his good hand. But, while he was down, and while Norrin had been distracted, he had loosened the strap of his shield just a little.
Norrin recovered first, raising Riin-Dair for a killing blow. He intended to execute Hialed Volkure as though he was wielding an ax and not a hammer.
Hialed twisted and whipped his right arm towards Norrin. The shield flew off the stump of his hand and hit Norrin just below his neck.
The giant Eschcotan staggered, now gasping for air himself. He didn’t look up. He didn’t feel anything as the honed edge of Hialed Volkure’s sword came down on the back of his neck.

Hialed Volkure stared at the row of heads he had taken that day. Six heads, five of which he had already preserved, floating in sealed and heavily enchanted glass jars. Five nameless Eschcotans of the Mountain Guard, and the last to be prepared, Morschcoda Norrin Shrevneer. Beside Norrin’s head lay the hammer, Riin-Dair. Volkure couldn’t even lift the damn thing; he’d had to have a War Chief carry it to his tent, along with others bringing the heads. He was tempted to just take another, random head from a corpse and claim twenty-five. But he had a perverse sense of honour, and he wanted to earn all of the heads honestly. “Maybe The Kindler really will count Norrin’s twice. He was a Morschcoda.” Satisfied with himself, for the moment, Volkure left the tent to retrieve his Ring.

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