A Burden Long-Borne
Haggrax ached from the joints of his toes to the bond between his skull and neck. His precious burden had cooled his shoulders when he first hoisted the boulder across his leathered back, but lately it had become… a challenge. The elder rememberer of the Undissons had traversed alpine trails across Skaddi’s own range for well over four centuries and had padded his way from the tree-kin nurseries that grew mighty Sylvaneth guardians to the towering Ironwood kingdoms to the South. Images flickered alongside reality in his rummy eyes. Ethereal duardin shields repelled a torrent of misty bile launched from a tentacled demon itself being unmade by the sun beams penetrating the pine canopy. In other places, heroes forgotten to time nodded a greeting from where their fogged forms had settled on stump and stone. But lately, his visions were brighter. They were loud. At times his sight darkened all around the scene until he wasn't more than a frozen audience as skeletal figures tore unsuspecting duardin from the ancestor halls and into an empty darkness. Meanwhile the kinstone rocked and shook with what could only be described as a fever.
Day and night glaucous, ghostly images of battered and beaten duardin overwhelmed his vision and screams clawed at his mind. “They say all livin’ creatures have a place in Allarielle’s gardens. Guess the dawi’s is luggin’ out skree from Skaddi’s tinkerin’ “ grumbled Haggrax aloud. He had lost reverence long ago for the minor-deity who served as neglectful patroness of his clan. Powerful, she might be, but there were many powerful beings in the realms. Whereas the Everqueen grew and trimmed her creations alongside the cycles of Ghyran, Skaddi was always seeking more. It was not enough to bless her worshippers with the senses of wild beasts, she had to visit them in their dreams until they thought themselves oracles. She was not satisfied with a mountain sanctuary, instead tasking the Undissons with turning it to a living temple. At least her greed proved her nature that of a duardin.
The crackling energy speared down the back of his neck, through his lung and across his bowels before scattering its shocks across his right thigh. Dropping to one knee, Haggrax almost shrugged the menacing load from his shoulders and allowed it to fall to the ground in a rune-inscribed heap, but he dared not. This stone was nothing short of a messenger to those feasting in the heavenly halls on the unreachable side of the mountain. He had been tasked to bear it passage into a distant land where it would connect a seldom-rumored duardin prophet with his lost kin, and he would not be the rememberer his babes and rin told tales about for shirking his duties. “One foot in front’ah the next, aye ya overgrown pebble? Couple more days ‘til we’re at the gate.”
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His students were overzealous the lot of them, but they weren’t witless. To see his prized pupil in weather-torn tatters, ranting about the manipulators of fate and Shyshian necromancers reaching out to all the realms, as though he understood the gravity of such things… Even the wise rememberer was left uneasy. Maybe the lad had consumed too much of his homebrew, but Haggrax feared the madness that gripped him had more celestial origins.
Wide-set nostrils drew in a gust of unseasonably damp air and rejected it with a snort. Rains tonight, maybe before the sun had crept below the earth even. “Guess we dropped further’an I’d thought,” grumbled the greybeard with a voice rough as a landslide. “Gate oughta be half a day off now, jus’ low enough for the streams t’be babbling free of the cold…” His musings drifted off, unable to focus on anything but his mistrust in Skaddi. Why send him away now, and with an object of such power? Why fill the warrior-priest’s mind with apocalyptic images but not share any such fears with Haggrax? There had been one truth the wild-eyed warrior had stated though - Skaddi was lost. Whatever schemes were afoot in the background, she could not see nor comprehend them. What this meant for her most devout clan, he was not sure.
His dreams now reeked of death, and left a sour film on his tongue when he awoke each morning. It was not the stale sort found in old tombs or which clung to the relics he studied as a youth. Rather this was the stench of spoiled meat, where the remnants of corpses cooked in steaming crags and crevices, unfound or unwanted by scavengers. With each bare stomp into the snow, Haggrax the Rememberer relished the freshness of snow between his toes. An age ago he had learned to control his own thoughts as he navigated the spiritual flood that visited him in his travels. But the stone never relented, never ceased. The crackling energies that scrambled across its surface had begun to leave searing marks not only on his skin but across the stone surface itself. Haggrax thought he even had noticed a small crack this morning. Hourly meditations had preserved his sanity thus far, but he was not sure the pain coursing through the kinstone wouldn’t overwhelm him eventually.
Summiting the narrow path between the steep ridge sides, Haggrax was suddenly looking down at a barren ravene floor, something akin to a natural mineshaft amongst the mountains, only lit by what little sun reflected down from the snow above. The smell of sulfur was nearly erased by crisp winds fluttering snow through the taller pines of this altitude, but his veteran senses were not tricked. Tomorrow he would carry the stone into the realm of fire, though he couldn’t entirely explain why. The persistent crying out of the kinstone had not ceased, but he had noticed a shift in it’s demands and was attempting to shift his own plans to meet them. Whereas at first he recognized the faces of the Undissons crying out as the were dragged into the darkness, more and more Haggrax had been shown lands he had never visited and duardin he did not know. It was in the oddly familiar eyes of a beaten, naked dwarf curled in what must have been an underground cell that he understood his purpose.
As it lost its connection to his clan’s ancestors, the stone had begun searching for others. If his mad student was to be believed, all of the living, wherever they might be, were under assault by the dead and the souls of those passed on were guaranteed no safe rest. The kinstone was showing him brethren separated by ages, possibly when the dark powers had overrun the realms. “An yer sure this is the job, huh? Y’want my old bones to carry you ‘round the realms to find all your friends,” Haggrax chided the vessel. Inside though, he felt a warmth spread from his center. He wouldn’t presume to understand the full purpose of this journey, but the salty mystic was grudgingly honored by the possible scope of this task.
Resting the stone alongside a tall trunk, the elder took a deep breath of the cold mountain air. Tomorrow, he would walk into the fires, a land of peril where he hoped to find those the stone yearned for. “Hardly the escape Skaddi had planned,” he chuckled to himself, but she did not have Haggrax’s perspective of the ages after all. With a grunt, he drove his staff into the ground and smirked as vines and creepers erupted and swirled round themselves at his feet. But first he’d get some rest he thought as he nestled himself in to commune with his visions.
Haggrax the Rememberer of Clan Undisson