“Ow, what the hell hit me?”
What indeed. The ground was cold and dank. The air had a peculiar set of scents. Blood, metal, charred earth, assailed my nose. I felt a dampness of my own body, sticky, feeling a few new trickles as I started moving. My own blood, wounds I have suffered, started running down my body. Finally standing up, I take stock around me. Wagons, or what used to be wagons, were all broken, some of them burning. The oxen that pulled these wagons, slain by various weapons, lay strewn about. Dwarven men and women lay dead with them, along with goblins, hobgoblins, orcs, and a few creatures I didn’t recognize. I checked the bodies of the dwarves. No one was left alive. This cavernous area inside of a mountain became a tomb, a mass gravesite. Hearing small movements, I noticed that huge vermin were already moving in, hoping to get some feasting on the corpses. For some reason, this filled me with rage. Moving to one of the burning wagons, I grab a burning piece of wood and started swinging at these invasive critters.
“Get away from them, you worthless parasites! Go the hell away!”
Some scurried away, but others, smelling the blood and death, were brave and coming forth. Picking up a dead warriors axe, I started hacking into these vermin, killing them with each blow dealt. It felt good to me, it felt right to me. How dare these perversions of nature come around to desecrate the dead! They shall know what it is to anger a dwarf!
After several minutes, I get an idea. The non-dwarven bodies, I easily pick them up and toss them in a far corner of the vast cavern. Then, I carry the bodies of the dwarven men and women into the center of the cavern. The vermin, noticing that I leave them alone as long as they do not approach the center, go to the far corner of the cavern. Other parasites, seeing this, joined them. For good measure, I also surround the center with the burning wreckage of the various wagons. Some wagons, while demolished, were not burning. Finishing with macabre satisfaction, I sit down in the middle of the mass scene of death.
“Why did this happen?” Saying this to myself, I was hoping that someone, anyone, would answer. Sadly, no such answer came forth. In all, eighty dwarves were dead around me. Eighty dwarves. Of course, I take an estimate at the non-dwarven bodies. At least several hundred were there in a pile off in that far corner. “At least, my brethren accounted for themselves well”.
Checking the wagons, I noticed that some tools and weapons were spared from being looted or destroyed. Taking several shovels, I set myself upon the grim task of final rites and burials. The canons of several priests still survived, and I gathered these together. One by one, with each dwarf, I dug a grave, and performed final rites. Some of the dwarves could not be recognized anymore: some of their faces were hacked very badly, others had limbs hacked off, some burned beyond recognition because of our massive hair and beards. But, it mattered not to me. These brave dwarven men and women deserved their final rites.
Hours later, I was finally finished. I laid the large timbers over the burials in hopes that the vermin would not be tempted to desecrate their resting places. Finally, I turned to examining myself. Two large slashes and an impaled wound adorned my body. Finding some water, I drank heartily and use the rest to wash off the blood. Seeing my clothes were in tatters, I set about in finding new clothes in the goods that survived. There was a small problem. There were no clothes that fit me.
Or should I say that was a large problem. I took stock of myself. I was larger than the other dwarves, much larger. I was fully a foot taller and up to 2 feet broader than other dwarven males. What the hell was I, a freak? Maybe I truly wasn’t a dwarf, but something else. That was the problem. I don’t remember who I am. I do not remember my name, or where I am from. Funny though, I remember the names of our dwarven gods and I remember the rites. This gave me some pause and concern. I started checking my own memory. I could read; I could write. I remembered how to fight, as evident earlier by my slaying of the vermin. I could recognize each dwarf I had buried of what they were, what station they were, and even the home Stonemore. But beyond that, I couldn’t remember anything. That is when I noticed, my head was still throbbing. Gingerly touching the back of my head, I feel the dried blood and the huge welt there. That explains much; I have amnesia.
“Ok, I am not a mental freak at least. I can handle that explanation. But what the hell am I? Wait a minute. I best stop talking to myself lest I go crazy!” Yes, I was afraid of going crazy. And who wouldn’t? Waking up with no memory of yourself, in the midst of pure carnage and devastation, and most importantly, discovering that you don’t ‘fit in’.
Taking a cloth and soaking it with some more water, I clear off the dried blood as best as I can. Taking another cloth and soaking it with more water, I press it to the back of my head. After a minute, there is some relief. But, because the water is warm, the relief is soon gone. “I need a drink.”
To my surprise, several bottles of ale had survived getting smashed. Taking a bottle and uncorking it, I raised the bottle at my fallen brethren and bring it to my lips. The warmth of the alcohol soothed me somewhat, letting the warmth fill my body. After a minute, I finish the bottle, and look around. The ale had excited my hunger. No surprise there, loss of blood, much physical exertion, caused a wicked hunger inside of me. Wait, tossing of bodies as I recall, no dwarf should be able to do that. With my head cleared of some of the pain, I look to my arms and legs. Muscles, ripped through my skin, bulging and almost threatening to split open my skin with each muscle flex. My arms were like stout tree limbs, my legs like two massive walking trunks, and my feet. Oh my, the huge hairy feet!
“That explains it, I’m part ogre. I’m a dw-ogre!” I laughed at myself. The pain, the ale, and now, hunger and exhaustion, was causing me to be a bit loopy. “I need to find food.” Looking to what had survived, I found a sack with some breads and dried meats. I tore into this like a ravenous beast. Like a ravenous beast? I am a beast. How else can I explain why I survived and so many of my brethren died? Only my obvious physical conditioning is the sole reason why I survived this slaughter.
Sometime later, my hunger abated. Nearly all of the contents of the sack were gone. I burped loudly. With the large underground cavern, it sounded like some sick beast, actually getting the attention of the carrion and vermin with looks of fear. I chuckled, nice to see my ‘beastly’ form is good for something other than not dying. Not knowing if I had any weapons or gear of my own, I took upon the other grim task of outfitting myself. A hatchet, two handed axe, several daggers, and a bastard sword survived the conflict. A bastard sword, sometimes called a hand and a half sword, appealed to me for some reason. Maybe I was trained in this. This is not a weapon common among dwarves. Axes, hammers, yes. But this weapon, no, not common at all. Also, there was a small stash of coins that was hidden inside of a false compartment from one of the wagons along with a note and map. Stalvinport was marked on the map. Now, the 1000 gold question of the day: Was that where all of us were going, or is that where we are from? Examining the map, it looked like to be some outdoor port town. That probably means we were heading on our way there. For what reason, I didn’t have the answer. But, I could guess. It seems that in taking a route to a port, my brethren were moving. The vast amounts of wagons and ruined goods seemed logical to me. “Stalvinport it is I guess”, muttering to myself. What choice did I have? At the moment, very few options were open to me.
Picking up one of the burning timbers, I examined the cavern better. I could easily see one direction where the wagons came from. From the direct opposite direction, hundreds of various footprints arrived at this cavern and then footprints that went back through where they came. Also, with this direction, it became a much narrower area, becoming more tunnel than cavern. So, my brethren decided to camp here and then were rushed by these hordes of creatures. And now, the only way to move forward was to go in the same direction the horde left. “Well, that suits me fine. Either I’ll get out, or I’ll die trying.” Picking up my gear, I started to head down that tunnel. The farther I got away from the cavern, the air smelled less of mass carnage, and more typical of an underground setting. Also, the burning timber was actually hindering my passage in the tunnel. So, I stomped on the burning timber until the fire was out and mere embers blazed. I continued on, my eyesight quickly adjusting to the darkness. “Night sight. So, I am a dwarf after all, or at least, part dwarf.” It is funny sometimes what small bits of fact and truth gives one comfort.
For right now, I had very little comfort. Knowing I could be besieged by any number of this horde at any point didn’t give me comfort. Knowing that I awoke to such death and destruction, being the sole survivor, didn’t give me any comfort. Ultimately, not knowing who I was, what my name is, where I am from, and why I was heading to this port town, gave me the greatest of worry. But, what was I to do? Shrivel up and die. That didn’t sing with my spirit at all. I knew I had a fighting spirit. I knew I had fighting skills. So, whatever lay forth ahead of me, I choose to meet it head on.
After what I guess to be about three hours of walking, I rounded a corner. The smell of the air changed. I detected the scent of trees and various forms of grasses and shrubs. Seems there is an opening up ahead. This did give me small comfort at least. Perhaps with the sky, I could get my bearings and figure out where I am. That would help. However, rather than quickening my pace, I slowed my pace a bit. I paid more attention for sounds other than my footsteps and breathing. For all I know, this horde could be at the opening. It would not do at all to stumble right in the middle of that mess. After a few minutes, I could see faint moonlight. Night time. Even better! That means stars I could look up and try to figure out my position. Creeping up to the opening, I peered around. To my small surprise, there was nothing there to greet me other than a road leading from the tunnel mouth, lined with trees and grass. About a half mile down this road, I could see there was a way to go right and left. Still walking forward with caution, I came up to this choice. Peering close to the road, I noticed that the horde of foot prints went to the right. I looked up the sky. From the stars and the position of the moon, the direction to the right was roughly east. Remembering the map, Stalvinport was to the northwest. That would seem that going left was to head to the port. Well, that cemented my decision. I decided to turn left.
Ok, I figured out now where I was, well, sort of. But who was I. As I walked down the road, I tried to jog my brain, coaxing any sort of memories from my battered skull. But, the more I tried, the more the pain increased. Ok, ok, I get it. Don’t think about the past. Blunt force trauma will do that to anyone. Boy, the physical body sometimes can play mean tricks upon a person. But worse than that, are our minds. What if I was some murderer? Well, that wouldn’t make much sense, since I would have been bound when I woke up. Maybe I was some sort of wrestler or performer, a strong man’s dwarf. That’s possible. Maybe I was a farmer? Or, maybe a miner?
“Stop it; you are going to make yourself crazy!” I actually slapped myself, which stopped my musings. This was a good thing. However, I didn’t count with my own strength, as I hit myself hard enough to have the welt on the back of my head throb again. “Good job dumbass.” Taking out another bottle of ale, I drank this one slower. The pain my head felt slowly started to ease off. Well, I could always refer to myself as Dumbass the Freak. To give an idea of why I refer to myself as a freak, I refer back to the bastard sword. This sword, longer and wider than a long sword, is typically five foot in length including the hilt. If I was to put the point of the sword down and measure up with it, the end of the hilt came up to the middle of my neck. So, that means, I was easily over five and a half feet tall, a giant among dwarves. Dwarves are typically four to four and a half feet tall. I was well over a foot beyond that.
“Well, I got to be called something. I don’t think dumbass, while funny, would go over very well with me.” In times like this, I believe in the philosophy of simplicity. Something simple, something easily to be remembered would be best. After a minute, I decided on Tor. Tor was dwarvish for something vast and big. Tor it will be then, at least, until my memory returns.
What if my memory doesn’t return? I shuddered a bit walking down the road. Whatever my past was or is I want my memory back. Few would ever think that memory is important, until you lose it. I guess it is like that for any part of us. If we lose an arm or a leg, we always wish to have it back. Any of us can cope and continue without an arm or a leg, but, the desire to be whole again should be inside of each of us. And that is what I felt like. I want to be whole again. At that point, I didn’t care what my past was. I want to know.
Suddenly, a large crashing sound, from up ahead, broke me of my thoughts. The road has been slowly inclining. About a quarter of a mile further, the horizon dips. That meant the road goes downhill from there. And, it is up ahead where the large crash came from. Curiosity, not to mention that up ahead is the desired direction, caused my pace to increase into a jog. When I came to the top of the road, I stopped and surveyed the landscape with the moonlight present. Some distance away, I hear the squawking of some sort of large bird, struggling in the upper branches of a very large tree. While creeping up to this tree, its struggles become less violent, but it’s squawking becomes much louder. Finally, at the base of the tree, I look up to survey.
It isn’t a large bird. Well, not quite a bird. It’s body was much bigger. It has the head of a hawk and the two front claws of a hawk, but the creatures body was that more of a horse with along with having haunches and hooves in the back. A hippogriff. What was a hippogriff doing here? And, more importantly, how the hell did I know what a hippogriff was? Shaking my head, I continue to examine the creature. It was fully forty feet in the tree, and I smelled blood. That means it got into a fight of some kind. It’s body was tangled in the branches too as it crashed into the tree. “Great, at this rate, this large beast is going to attract attention before too long”. Coming up with a plan, I start climbing the tree.
I came up with a plan, but I never said it was a good plan. My only thoughts were, free the beast, so it would stop all of the noisemaking. I didn’t want to have any unsavory visitors on this moonlit night. This hippogriff probably thought the same thing, except it thought I was one of its unsavory visitors. “Ow!” I fell back on the ground, straight on my back, hitting the back of my head on the ground. My head, from the welt on the back, and now, the hoof hitting me square in the forehead, was on fire now.
“Son of a bitch, Ow!” I contemplated this for a moment. Why do I not just leave the hippogriff in the tree? In a few minutes, I could get away without anyone or anything else finding me. ‘No, that’s not you.’ Huh? Great, got hit so hard, I’m hearing voices in my head now. Wait, what do you mean it’s not me? ‘It’s not your style.’ Am I having a lecture with myself? This night, just gets better and better.
“Fine then!” I start climbing back up the tree. This time though, I am on the opposite side. I wish to stay away from those hooves and claws. I already have enough in wounds to show for this night. Getting pelted again in the head or having my chest torn open by those vast claws is not my idea of a good time. Finally, I get above the hippogriff and look down. It looks like it’s left wing was broken, having part of twisted in nearly an one hundred and eighty degree angle. Well, I cannot blame this creature for squawking. I can only imagine my own arm twisted at that angle and caught in branches.
“Easy fella. I’m not going to hurt you. I’m going to try to get you out of this.” It stopped thrashing and looked up at me, cocking it’s head to the side. “That’s right...easy fella.” I eased myself down to its level, bracing myself for that beak to attack me. But, strangely, this hippogriff was not moving. Could it understand me? Or at least, understand my intent? Slowly moving towards it’s broken wing, and as gently as I could, I broke off the branches that pinned it’s wing. The hippogriff tried to move both of the wings, but squawked softly when moving the left one. A yelp of pain. I get it. It realizes that it is in a bad spot. Moving underneath the beast, I maneuver its hind quarters up on the stouter branches. There, it is at least standing in the tree. But now, a new dilemma. It is forty feet to the ground. Just how in the hell am I going to get this oversized flying hawk horse to the ground?
The hippogriff must have been a mind reader. It jumped, clamping that large beak onto a larger branch, swung around, dropped a lot further, clamping its beak on another large branch, and then, dropped the last ten feet to the ground. For the size of being a horse, it is really a nimble creature. It shook its head, and started examining the hurt wing.
I climbed my way down. Feeling the earth beneath my feet, is always a good feeling. I approached the hippogriff. It stopped the examination of the wing and was looking me over. I stopped a couple of feet before it. Amazingly, it lowered its head a bit. I slowly walked the last few feet, reaching out, gently rubbed it’s feathers. The hippogriff actually started a cooing sound. Cooing, if you can call it that, a beastie that weighs over a quarter ton. Moving slowly on its left side, I gently put my hand over the twisted part of the wing. Yeap, it was broken. “We got to get this mended my friend. If not, you won’t be able to fly again.” Taking my hatchet, I cut several saplings. I pulled out some rope from one of the sacks, and started putting together a makeshift wooden cast. Now, as it is ready to be applied, the hardest part of this misadventure-putting the wing in place. It isn’t something I really relish-I didn’t want to feel those talons ripping me apart or that beak impaling my body. “This is going to really hurt Griff. It is really going to hurt. But, if we do not do this, you may never fly ever again. I truly hope you can understand me.” Taking a deep breath, I put my hands on each side of the wing, test it a bit, and then, in one snap, righted the wing.
The hippogriff screamed in pain. That was the last thing I heard for about a minute. Surprisingly though, my body remained intact. I felt no talons, nor large beak assailing my body. Looking back at the hippogriff, it actually went down on its claws, it’s large body quivering. Yeah, I bet that was painful. Slowly I approached the wing and applied the wooden cast, securing the ropes in place. I did this in a way that it could still extend the wing, or put the wing against its body. However, flight, was out of the question. When finished, I attempted to stroke its massive feathered head. After a couple of minutes, the quivering subsided, and it went back to the weird cooing. “Thank you for not tearing my body apart Griff.” Upon saying that, it took its head and started rubbing against my chest. I swear this hippogriff understands me on some level! Well, isn’t that something. I took the last bit of dried meat that I had and offered it to Griff. It readily accepted, softly squawking at me. “I understand Griff. It is kinda like I felt some hours ago as well. Come on let’s get to someplace a bit safer.” With that, Griff got up, and looked at me. Surveying around, I notice a small rocky hill not far from us. I walked there, and Griff was in tow. Within a couple of minutes, I saw a small coral with shallow walls. This is as good as place as we are going to get. I coaxed Griff to the back of the coral and for him to lie down. That is when I noticed, that Griff, wasn’t a he, but a she. “Sorry about the fella comment girl.” As she lay down, I sat back against a large rock beside her. After another minute, her large beaky head was in my lap. Yeah, she was tired. And actually, so was I. I felt myself drifting off into a bone weary sleep. As sleep took its hold on me, I recounted what happened to me. First, waking up among the dead, then realizing I have no idea who or what I am. Next, walking through a tunnel for hours, struggling not to feel lonely or to be desperate, opening out into the countryside. Finally, finding this hippogriff, helping it, getting a hoof in the forehead for my troubles, just to have befriended a fellow beast falling asleep in a rocky coral. In all, I count myself fairly lucky for all of this.