Rise of the Thrall Lord
Gnogen - The Dwarf - Part 1
“Gnogen, look at this,” Joggren said with a hint of excitement.
“What have you, Joggren?” Gnogen replied rolling his eyes. He’d heard that tone from his younger brother at least ten times today. Each time it was for some little nugget of something an experienced miner would have just chucked into the buggy without stopping to look at it, let alone admire it. But this was Joggren’s first time on an expedition, so his excitement was one of the great amusements for the veteran crew.
“I’ve got an even bigger one this time!” Joggren said. “It’s almost as big as my thumbnail.”
“That’ll buy you a wink from Miss Bognivka,” joked Gruppelo, their cousin.
“Aw c’mon,” said Joggren, “it’s my first time down here.”
“You wouldn’t be Bognivka’s first, not by a long shot,” continued Gruppelo.
“Hey, I spent two years on the surface earning my place here. Give me a little respect for that at least,” Joggren complained.
“Relax, Joggren,” Gnogen said. “Any dwarf that’s earned the right to come down here and dig with us has our respect. And we’ll back you up in any fight you get into. But you have to respect our right to a sense of humor or you’ll have us treating you like one of those tree-hugging elves you wandered around with up there. Now hammer that spike and dig us up a real nugget.”
In the dwarven culture, mining was an elite trade. Only dwarfs who had sufficiently proven themselves in battle, and who had earned enough wealth in another trade would be awarded their kjilder, a magical hammer, and be allowed into the mines. The kjilder was a hefty one handed warhammer with spikes that fitted into the rear and top by threads. Because of the magic infused by the great dwarven smiths, the metal of the kjilder never wore down, and neither did the threads. Therefore, the spikes served the dual purpose of weapon and chisel. The threads were also of sufficient length that the spike could be used as a dagger, but only the toughened hands of a dwarf could use it ungloved without severe pain.
Joggren had in fact spent several years up on the surface as a fighter for hire. He had found employment with a group of haughty elves whose casual insults brought many to blows with their guards. The elves themselves rarely fought. They did, however, enjoy hunting in their forests. They were always seeking out unwelcome travelers and beasts in their lands. Joggren had learned from one of the elves how to fight with a weapon in each hand and how to throw hatchets with deadly accuracy. But it was only after Joggren himself felt ready that he went back to face the tests to become a dwarven miner.
Joggren knew that he would face severe trials in order to earn his kjilder. The elders of Gravenhold had little respect for the fighting that happened on the surface. “It’s not like up there, boy,” the proctor would taunt him. “There’s no place to run down here. There’s no place to dodge. You take punishment and you dish it out. The beasts that live in the caverns and tunnels know this. They give no quarter and neither can you.” But Joggren had known what to expect, and had over prepared as his brother Gnogen had recommended, and he passed the exams and earned his kjilder.
“Gnogen, you hear that?” Gruppelo said holding up his hand to caution silence for all.
“Brother Hjillik, start casting your protections. Formation, we’ve got rock to mud behind that wall. Lock spike to hammer, and raise your bucklers.”
The dwarfs made a row four wide in front while behind them Joggren was to the left of Hjillik, and Mikhlin, Gruppelo’s father was to the cleric’s right. Hjillik cast spells to protect them all from poison and from magic. Rock to mud could only mean one thing and the looks of disgust could be seen on the older dwarfs’ faces. When Hjillik was done they all fell completely silent. They listened and stared at the rock wall before them. As it softened and melted they waited to counter-strike. They knew the first round would belong to the enemy’s darts and magic missiles, but the cleric’s spells nullified the poison on the darts and their bucklers had magic that blunted the damage from a magic missile. As they saw the elfish eyes appear through the opening hole they stood their ground firmly. The mud would be slippery if they tried to rush the drow first.
As expected, the hand-crossbow darts and magic missiles flew through the opening doing little effective damage against the battle hardened dwarfs. The dwarfs watched their enemy’s eyes still, because that would tell them everything. The widening was all they needed to see. With practiced precision the dwarfs jumped through the opening each impaling a young drow fighter on the point of his spike. From behind, both Joggren and Mikhlin launched hatchets at the wizards. The drow panicked and looked for a way out, but that just gave the dwarfs more time to crush their skulls with ferocious hammer blows. Only the leader escaped, as they always did. He cast a fireball at them as a parting shot, but Hjillik had protected them against magical fire as well. The drow that had survived the dwarfs were burned to cinders as were the bodies of the dead.
“Check the ashes for anything magic or of dwarven make,” Gnogen said. “Put it all in Hjillik’s bag of holding. We’ll clean the curses off of it when we get back home. I’m going to get started caving in their tunnel.”
“Gnogen,” Joggren said walking up to his brother with a smile. “Is it always that easy? I’ve always heard that drow were tougher than that.”
“Get that fool grin off your face,” Gnogen chided his brother. “They were babies. The whole purpose of that was for the older one to see how we fight so that he knows better how to fight us next time. The younger ones had their heads filled with a bunch of lies about us. When they saw the truth, it was too late. The older one killed the survivors so that no one will know what he did. Drow are vile scum. Every one is better off dead, but that doesn’t mean I have to like being the one to exterminate them. Any time I fight them I feel like I need two cakes of soap and a day in the baths to clean the filth of them off.”
“Won’t their families try to find them? Won’t their mothers want to know what happened to their children?” Joggren asked.
“All drow are evil. A drow grandmother is evil. A drow priest is evil. A drow baby is evil, traded by its mother to their demon gods before it’s even born for some trifle of magic or power. The babies are raised by the covens where they are taught their disgusting trades. The ones that survive the covens are then turned out to find their own way. More experienced ones hire them and test the tunnels with them. They look for treasure and they test them in battle. If any look promising, they are taken in as protégés, thus increasing the power of the older one. If things go badly, they make sure no one survives to ruin their reputation. But don’t take them lightly, boy. If Gruppelo hadn’t heard them and Hjillik hadn’t cast his protections, the fight would have been much tougher. Their poison will knock you out for hours and their spells can tear you up and burn you to cinders. Never travel without a cleric, and never in a group smaller than we are now. And use your ears, boy. The rock will tell you what’s behind it if you listen properly.”