The words you are searching are inside this book. To get more targeted content, please make full-text search by clicking here.
Discover the best professional documents and content resources in AnyFlip Document Base.
Published by contact, 2022-08-17 01:48:40

The Shattered Axe



Mowgrog Ironheart woke to the sound of a horn blowing in the distance. He grunted,

rolled over in his bed and pulled a scratchy woolen blanket over his head. This

muffled the sound, but the horrible horn-blower seemed determined to torment him,

and continued blasting away.

‘Bugger off!’ Mowgrog growled, curling up into a ball and squeezing his eyes

tightly shut, but it was no good – he was now awake.

‘Bastard!’ Mowgrog cursed through gritted teeth. ‘Horn-blowing bastard!’

The last thing Mowgrog wanted was to be conscious. Consciousness meant that the

pounding headache he usually didn’t feel until sunrise had a chance to assault him

now – in the middle of the night. Consciousness meant he could feel how full his

bladder was – a knowledge that carried with it an onerous obligation to actually do

something about it. Above all, consciousness meant memories … and memories were

less welcome than plague rats in Mowgrog’s ramshackle excuse for a shack.

The furious dwarf took out his frustration on the blankets – kicking the

unsuspecting coverings off himself in a sudden fit of wild violence.

‘Bastard! Bloody bloody bastard!’

He set his large hairy feet upon the wooden floor and stood up. He waited patiently

for the room to finish its annoying habit of spinning crazily whenever he stood, then

he shuffled forward, feeling his way in the darkness like a blind dwarf.

Mowgrog’s headache had leapt at the chance to kick-in early and was already

bashing merrily away at the insides of his eyeballs with little war hammers. Luckily,

his kitchen bench was almost completely covered with restorative fluids in large glass

bottles. After knocking a few of these over and hurling an empty one into the corner

of his shack, he finally came across a full bottle.

‘There you are,’ he said affectionately, before he raised the bottle to his lips and


The ale was warm, stale and flat, but Mowgrog chugged it down like a starving calf

at its mother’s teat.

When the bottle had been drained, he placed it on the bench, belched enormously

and struck out for the front door. All he needed to do now was take a piss, kill that

horn-blowing bastard, and go back to sleep again.

He emerged into his front yard and navigated his way by moonlight through waist-

high weeds and piles of rubbish, to his favourite pissing corner.

It was as Mowgrog stood there, groaning with relief and looking up at the stars, that

a very troubling thought began to push its way through the half-drunk, half-asleep

cloudiness of his mind…

That horn – that stupid annoying horn – it wasn’t just some arsehole dwarf

trumpeting away for a laugh; those were warning blasts coming from Longdale’s


‘You utter bastards!’ Mowgrog swore up at the stars and whatever half-witted gods

had created them. ‘I’m not going!’

He finished his business, tied up the drawstring on his baggy night pants and

stomped determinedly towards his front door. He even managed to wrap his fingers

around the handle before he turned and squinted back towards the town.

From his front yard, on the absolute outskirts of Longdale, Mowgrog could see

nothing out of the ordinary, but now that he was really focusing, he could faintly hear

some other noises. The unmistakable clang of swords falling upon shields resonated in

the far distance, shouts of fury and pain wended their way to his fleshy ears on the

night breeze, and high-pitched screams of terror cut through it all.

Mowgrog opened his front door and stepped into his shack. He was all-too familiar

with the sounds that were coming from the centre of Longdale and wasn’t in any

particular hurry to reacquaint himself with the sights that generally accompanied


He stumbled back to the kitchen bench and groped around for another bottle of ale.

When he came across a full one, he found that his hands were shaking so badly he

could barely raise the damn thing to his mouth. Mowgrog stubbornly persevered and

managed to spill only half the contents down his chin and into his wild black beard as

he drank.

The horn continued to blow.

‘Bollocks!’ Mowgrog threw the empty bottle against a wall.

The shouts and screams were growing louder.

‘Hairy fucking balls of the Ancient Ones!’ Mowgrog turned and stormed back out

into his front yard. Halfway to the gap in the fence where his gate used to be, he

stopped dead. He swiveled on the spot, returned to his shack to retrieve his axe,

remembered that he’d sold it several weeks ago to pay for beer, and stormed back

outside again.

The skyline above the city of Longdale was now flushed with a faint red glow.

Mowgrog knew this sure-as-shit wasn’t the beginnings of a lovely sunrise – the city

lay to the west of him. Nope, that was fire … a lot of fire.

‘Perfect!’ Mowgrog exclaimed to no one at all. ‘That’s bloody perfect.’

The inebriated dwarf set off down the narrow dirt path which led to a slightly wider

path, which led the outermost houses and streets of Longdale. He cursed as he walked,

cursed and wheezed. He hadn’t marched this briskly since leaving the army, and his

fitness levels were worse than those of a pregnant sow, his talent for cursing, however,

was still prolific.

‘Grog!’ A husky whisper from Mowgrog’s right interrupted a particularly creative

string of vulgarity.

‘Who’s that?’ he hissed back.

‘It’s me, Hemmeg.’

‘Hemmeg, go inside!’ Mowgrog said, squinting at the single lantern which was

bobbing its way towards him from the front of the old dwarven woman’s house.

‘There’s some kind of trouble happening in town!’

‘Oh, is there, Grog?’ Hemmeg’s raspy voice was coated thickly with sarcasm. ‘And

here was me thinking the watchtower horn and all that screaming was nothing to

worry about.’

‘Alright, fine, you’ve heard it,’ said Grog. ‘So, what are you doing out here?’

‘What are you doing is more the question?’ Hemmeg said as she held the lantern up

to his face.

Grog recoiled from the blinding light. ‘Thrandür’s tits woman! Put that that thing


Hemmeg lowered the lantern to her side. It threw an unflattering combination of

light and shadow on her wrinkled old face. ‘So, where are you going?’

‘Well, I’m…’ Grog trailed off, gesturing weakly down the road. ‘I’m going to


The darkness didn’t hide how vigorously Hemmeg’s eyes rolled beneath her bushy

brows. ‘Help?’ she scoffed. ‘You’re drunk off your noggin, you fat fool. You were at

the Goblin’s Head from open till close today.’

‘So were you,’ Grog protested.

‘Yeah, but I’m not lurching down the street in nothing but a pair of grotty

underpants trying to be a hero.’

Grog looked down, but was unable to confirm or deny the state of his

undergarments because his prodigious – and admittedly naked – stomach got in the


‘And how do you plan on helping?’ Hemmeg continued. ‘I’m not a great ex-general

like you, but that’s the sound of steel-on-steel if I’m not mistaken. What were you

planning on fighting with? Your bad breath?’

The ridiculousness of Grog’s semi-naked, unarmed stroll into town crystalized into

embarrassment – which was further exaggerated when he looked around and saw that

a few other dwarves had emerged from their houses to observe Hemmeg telling him

off. At least eight dwarves were now standing in their doorways with candles or

lanterns in their hands and terrified expressions on their faces.

The watchtower horn – which had been blaring away the entire time – suddenly

died mid-blast. Hope flared in Grog’s chest that this signaled the end of the

mysterious disturbance, but that hope was snuffed out almost instantly, as the sounds

of battle rushed in to fill the sonic void – seeming suddenly to grow louder … and


‘We need to go!’ Hemmeg shouted to the gathering crowd of dwarves. ‘Come on,

Grog, you ale-soaked sausage, let’s make for the woods.’

‘You mean run away?’ Grog asked.

‘Of course run away,’ Hemmeg said, ‘let me grab some things and we’ll go.’

‘No!’ The anger in Grog’s shout clearly startled Hemmeg, but it startled Grog even

more. ‘I mean … I can’t, but you should.’

Hemmeg sighed and gave Grog a slow nod, ‘I understand. Just wait here a moment

then.’ She turned and tottered back towards her house. ‘I need to give you something,’

she said over her shoulder.

Grog waited, trying to avoid the stares of curious children standing in doorways

while the silhouettes of their parents could be seen through candle-lit windows,

frantically grabbing meagre possessions.

‘Here!’ Hemmeg came bustling back down her garden path. She had her lantern in

one hand, a large battle axe in the other and a steel helm perched atop her head.

‘These belonged to my Davig. I’ve kept them all these years.’ She passed over the axe

almost reluctantly, then squished the helm down over Grog’s mass of wild black hair,

pressing the nose guard painfully against the bridge of his nose.

‘Thanks, Hemmeg,’ Grog muttered, ‘I’ll take good care of them.’

‘Aye, you’d better,’ Hemmeg said, ‘and while you’re at it, you can take good care

of yourself too you silly fat bastard.’ She gave him an affectionate pat on the stomach

then headed back to her house.

Grog adjusted the uncomfortable helmet, gripped the battle axe with both hands

and continued on up the street.


The Rusty Axe

Two sounds grew louder as Grog jogged towards the centre of Longdale; the clang of

weapons hitting shields and the rasping rattle of his own laboured breathing. Grog

genuinely wondered what was more likely to kill him first – the blade of some

unknown assailant, or a sudden explosive heart attack?

Despite the pain in his body and the fear in his mind, Grog was still finding plenty

of space in his brain for a sudden bout of serious self-loathing. Since leaving the army

just over a year ago he’d willfully let himself get completely out of shape, but he

hadn’t realised just how bad things had gotten until tonight. The battle axe felt heavy

in his once-mighty arms, his stomach bounced and flopped embarrassingly, and sweat

gushed from what seemed like every pore. It was as though Grog’s bodily fluids knew

the fate that was about to befall him, and were making good their escape before they

were dragged into any further foolishness.

He was deciding whether to stop for a quick vomit before he reached the fighting,

when a young dwarven woman cornered the houses at the end of the street and came

running towards him.

She was clutching a toddler in her arms and shouting wildly. Grog couldn’t make

out her words over his wheezing breath, the sounds of nearby fighting and the blood

pounding in his ears, but he was sure it wasn’t a cheerful greeting.

He placed the head of the battle axe on the cobbles, leaned heavily on the haft and

took a couple of deep breaths. As the woman drew close, he held a hand up in a

halting gesture. ‘Lass,’ He gasped. ‘What’s happening?’

‘Run you chubby bastard!’ she yelled.

‘Hey, I’m here to….’ Grog turned and watched as the woman ran past him and

disappeared into the darkness, ‘…to help.’

Pretty bloody rude, Grog thought to himself as he turned back towards the centre of

town … but then the woman’s pursuers came tearing around the corner, and he

immediately wished he’d taken her wise and excellent advice.

They were dwarves … sort of. They were the same height and build as dwarves,

but most dwarves Grog knew didn’t have glowing purple eyes or pale ashen skin, nor

did they growl and gurgle madly like a pack of rabid dogs. These ones did. They also

carried a variety of clubs, spears and maces, and were headed straight for him.

Grog felt like he’d been dropped into a frozen lake. His muscles contracted and his

breath caught in his lungs. The creatures that had decimated his army during the War

of Endless Fog and plagued his nightmares for the last fourteen months were no

longer confined to mist-filled valleys deep in the mountains, or even to his own

tormented memories; they were here – deep inside the thirteen realms– and this time

…there was nowhere to run.

‘You bastards,’ Grog whispered, tightening his trembling fingers around the haft of

his axe.

‘You utter bastards!’ he shouted as the abominations slowed and formed a semi-

circle around him.

There were six of them. They snarled as they closed in.

‘Come on then!’ Grog lifted his axe and set his feet.

The ghoulish dwarves charged.

Grog spun, his axe cleaving the air in a wide circle. It kept his attackers at bay for a

moment, but then one of them thrust forward with an obsidian-tipped spear. Grog

threw himself sideways, hitting the cobblestones hard. As he rolled to his feet, a bone

club caught him a glancing blow across the back of his shoulder.

Roaring with rage and pain, Grog lashed out with his axe. It was a wild strike

which missed his assailant by a mile. It also left him wide open to the particularly-

nasty looking spiked mace which was being swung at his ribcage by a dwarf with

deep bloodless gashes across its unliving face.

Grog threw himself to the street again, this time dropping his axe in the process and

also failing to completely avoid the blow. The spikes of the mace tore across the side

of his buttock as he fell, gouging channels of agony into his unprotected flesh.

He rolled away from a stabbing spear, looking desperately for his weapon, but the

hideous dwarves advanced on him and he was forced to scramble backwards like a

wounded shell-less crab across the cold cobblestones.

It’ll be over soon, Grog thought, as he backed into the side of a house. I’m ready to


The evil dwarves raised their weapons. Grog had time to feel ashamed that after all

he’d done, and all he’d once been … these were his final thoughts.

He closed his eyes.

A brief chorus of high-pitched whining noises sang in his ears, followed by a series

of wet crunching sounds … followed by the clatter of weapons hitting the ground in

front of him and six dwarf-sized thuds.

Grog opened his eyes. The abominations were all lying face-down on the road with

arrows protruding from the backs of their necks. A squad of Longdale guards were

running towards him with bows in their hands.

‘You alright?’ their leader asked, holding out a hand towards Grog.

‘I’ve been better,’ Grog said, reaching up and grasping the extended hand.

With a grunt of considerable effort, the dwarf hauled Grog to his feet. He was an

imposing figure, with a thick black beard, war paint covering half his face and a

jagged scar cutting across his milky-white left eye.

‘You’re a King’s Guard,’ Grog blurted.

‘I am,’ said the scar-faced dwarf, ‘and you’re a lucky bastard. Are you injured?’

‘Caught me right on the arse!’ Grog said, twisting and shoving his gut out of the

way as he tried to inspect his right buttock.

The King’s Guard sucked in a sharp breath. ‘Ooow, that’s going to leave a lovely


‘And on my finest feature too,’ Grog said, gingerly touching a finger to the wound.

It came away covered in blood.

‘Anyway, friend, hop out the way while we deal with this lot,’ the King’s Guard

gestured towards the six bodies on the ground.

‘I’d say you’ve already dealt with them,’ said Grog.

The King’s Guard shook his head. ‘Nope, afraid not. Look.’

Grog turned, looked and was horrified to see the fiendish dwarf creatures beginning

to move. Most were slowly reaching back for the arrows stuck in their necks. One was

already clambering to its knees.

‘Hold this would you, pal,’ the King’s Guard held out his bow.

Grog grabbed it as the guards stepped past him, unclasping sturdy axes from their

belts. ‘You’ve got to take their heads off,’ the King’s Guard explained matter-of-


While the scar-faced dwarf and his squad hacked away, Grog limped over to

retrieve Hemmeg’s battle axe. Take off their heads, Grog thought, trying to fight down

the waves of shame and regret rising up from his guts. We never even knew…

‘Alight dwarves,’ the king’s guard shouted, ‘let’s keep going.’

‘Where are you headed?’ Grog asked.

‘We’re to take news of this attack to the High King.’ The King’s Guard looked

almost longingly back towards the centre of the town, where flames were leaping into

the night sky. ‘We wanted to stay but … Guard Commander’s orders.’

‘Ancient Ones go with you then,’ Grog said. ‘I’ll…’ he gestured towards the

sounds of battle that emanated from just a few streets over, ‘I’ll do what I can.’

‘Don’t be stupid,’ said a female guard with a large gold septum ring protruding

from her nostrils. ‘You smell like a brewery, and that’s not just a scratch on your arse.

You’re in no state to fight, big guy. You’ll just get yourself killed.’

‘Pixidus is right,’ the King’s Guard said, sheathing his axe. ‘Try and get clear of the

city. Maybe find a place to hide.’

‘I’m not running away. I’m never…’ Grog trailed off. ‘I’ll be alright.’

There was a look of extreme doubt on the face of the King’s Guard as he looked

Grog up and down, then he shrugged. ‘Suit yourself, mate, we don’t have time to

argue. Let’s move out!’

‘What’s your name?’ Grog asked, as he handed the bow back to the King’s Guard,

‘I need to know the name of the dwarf that saved my life.’

‘Coppermantle,’ the scar-faced dwarf said, clasping Grog’s forearm with an iron

grip, ‘Duristral Coppermantle.’ Then he turned and jogged off down the street.

Grog watched them go, then he lifted Hemmeg’s axe and tried giving it an

exploratory swing. As he’d suspected, his left shoulder protested with a surge of pain

from where the bone club had hit him. The battle axe was no longer an option. On the

bright side, the agony in his shoulder briefly made him forget about the searing fire in

his buttock.

He limped over to the headless corpses, averting his gaze as best he could, while

looking around for a weapon.

‘You,’ he said to the spiked mace which had injured his bottom, ‘I’ll take you.’

He leaned Hemmeg’s axe against the wall of a house and picked up the mace. He

gave it a swing with his good arm. ‘I’m calling you arse-ripper,’ he said to the

weapon, then he rested its handle comfortably across his good shoulder, adjusted his

steel helm and began limping towards the sounds of battle.


The Town Square

It was clear to Grog that the worst of the bloodshed and chaos was taking place in and

around Longdale’s large town square. This seemed to be the epicentre of the fires that

were spreading throughout the town, and it was definitely where most of the horribly

ominous noises were coming from.

He approached the square from a dark laneway and – in what he felt was his first

sensible decision of the evening – he didn’t go charging straight out into the centre of

the square with arse-ripper raised over his head, but stayed flattened against the

smooth stone wall of the town’s central post office and peered around the corner of

the building.

It became immediately evident that things were not going well for the dwarves of

Longdale. At least fifty of the ghastly undead dwarves were gathered in the square –

their hideous faces illuminated by the flames which leapt from dozens of burning

buildings. Some of these dwarves were continuing to set buildings aflame, some were

hurling spears and throwing axes at the few brave defenders who remained, perched

on rooftops and firing arrows into the howling mob, but most of the undead dwarves

were gathered in front of the town hall and were bashing upon its mighty doors with

maces, clubs and fists.

Grog could hear screams coming from inside the hall. Even above the roaring of

the flames and the guttural snarling of the undead, these high-pitched wails of terror

cut through the cacophony and knifed into his guts like shards of ice, for these were

the screams of children, and if the only help coming was a fat, drunk, injured fool like

Grog, then these little ones were as good as dead.

Grog cast his eyes around the square, searching desperately for a solution. What he

saw instead were the scattered bodies of town guards and other unfortunate dwarves

sprawled on the bloodied cobblestones. He also saw a dwarf in a black hooded cloak,

stooped over one of the corpses furthest from the town hall. The hooded dwarf was

moving the glowing amethyst head of a staff back and forth over the inert body.

No. Not inert…

The dead dwarf was rising, its head and shoulders lifting off the ground as though

pulled by invisible hooks.

Grog pressed a fist against his mouth and fought down the hot bile that surged up

his throat as the reanimated dwarf gained its feet and opened its eyes; even from

across the square, Grog could see them glowing with a sickly purple light. The

creature turned its head towards the town hall, paused for a long moment and then

staggered away to join the attack on the doomed families of Longdale.

The black-robed necromancer moved on to the next corpse. As soon as he’d knelt

down with his back to Grog and extended his staff over another body, Grog emerged

from the inky blackness of the lane.

He didn’t run. He didn’t bellow a war cry or issue an honorable challenge, he just

walked with brisk and even steps towards the robed figure. His bare feet made no

sound. He wore no armour to rattle or creak, he just walked with his jaw set and his

weapon slung over his shoulder.

Despite Grog’s stealth, the robed dwarf turned and looked up when Grog was just a

few paces away.

Perhaps it was some wizard’s sixth sense, that had alerted the evil dwarf to Grog’s

presence? Perhaps it had been Grog’s leaping shadow – painted across the

cobblestones by flickering flames? Whatever it was, the warning came too late for the

necromancer, who had just enough time to open his eyes in stunned surprise before

arse-ripper fell and caved his skull in.

‘There’ll be no more of that!’ Grog shouted, gesturing with arse-ripper towards the

fallen guard. ‘Now,’ Grog turned towards the town hall, ready to die at the hands of

the fifty fiends that were now doubtlessly aware of his existence, ‘who’s next?’

The undead dwarves didn’t answer. They didn’t raise their weapons or start

sprinting towards him. What they did do was collapse like boneless puppets cut from

their strings.

All of them.

‘Well,’ Grog looked down at arse-ripper, then back up at the mass of inanimate

bodies crumpled in front of the town hall, ‘that was fucking easy.’

Shouts of jubilation echoed in the far distance and, through the billowing smoke,

Grog could make out the shapes of dwarves standing on rooftops behind the town hall.

They were jumping up and down and cheering.

This doesn’t make up for anything, a voice in Grog’s head informed him. This was


The bastard voice in Grog’s head wasn’t quite enough to ruin the moment all by

itself, but it soon had help from another sound – one that was external and coming

from the opposite side of the square, one that had previously been drowned out by the

gurgling and groaning of the undead abominations, but now grew louder with each

passing moment. It was the sound of boots on cobblestones.

Lots of boots.

Grog turned and immediately realised just how right the bastard voice in his head

had been. His efforts had amounted to nothing. Everyone in Longdale was still going

to die.

Scores of grim-looking dwarves were marching towards the square. Not glowing-

eyed undead, but dwarves – real, living, armoured and cloaked, armed to the teeth,

murderous-looking, scary-as-fuck dwarves.

Grog began backing away. The surge of hatred and fury which had overwhelmed

him and driven him out of his hiding place in the alley was subsiding. Now his

survival instincts were being given a chance to have a say, and they were telling him

to put as much distance as dwarvenly possible between himself and the small army

that was bearing down on him.

‘No!’ he shouted aloud at no one in-particular. His cowardly legs stopped retreating

and – as ridiculously futile as it was – he settled into a fighting stance, spat in the

general direction of the advancing dwarves and gave arse-ripper a satisfying little


Then something happened that made Grog wish he’d just charged straight into the

mob of advancing dwarves and died quickly. At least then he wouldn’t have seen a

few of the advancing dwarves enter the square and break away from the main group.

He wouldn’t have seen them raise their purple-headed staffs and point them at the

mass of bodies sprawled in front of the town hall.

He wouldn’t have seen every last one of those bodies begin to twitch, spasm … and

rise again.

‘Now that,’ Grog muttered, almost dropping his weapon, ‘is some bullshit.’

‘Time to die, surface scum!’ These words were shouted by the dwarf leading the

attackers into the square. He had an obsidian helm perched atop his bald head and a

trio of jagged scars raked across his malevolent face. ‘But do not despair, for soon you

will rise again and join us.’ The evil dwarf grinned.

‘Or,’ Grog countered, ‘perhaps we could just sit down and talk this all out over a


The scarred dwarf’s smile widened as he raised a commanding hand and pointed at


I have to keep him talking, Grog thought, trying not to let his eyes flick to what

he’d just seen in the street behind the evil dwarves. Keep their attention on me. ‘Well,

if you kill me now,’ he blustered, ‘you’ll never find out where all the gold is hidden!’

Four dwarves in black leather armour advanced on Grog with maces and clubs at

the ready.

‘You think we’re here for gold?’ the dwarf scoffed.

‘Well why the fuck are you here?’ Grog shouted, trying to drown out the sound of

more dwarven boots hammering on cobblestones.’ What do you want?’

‘Revenge!’ the dwarf hissed, ‘nothing more, nothing less; just revenge.’

‘You want revenge?’ Grog roared. ‘Well, that makes two of us pal!’ He raised arse-

ripper above his head and roared as long and loud as he could.

It did the trick.

The dwarves in black leather hesitated, just for a moment, and in that moment one

of the most fearsome warriors Grog had ever known exploded out of the dark street

behind the cluster of evil dwarves.

His name was Brotun Gruntlog. His face was covered in the white full-moon war

paint which marked the finest warriors of the thirteen realms, his beard and cloak were

already splattered with blood, and in his hands was a Direforge sword – one of the

most singularly devastating weapons ever devised by dwarvenkind.

The evil dwarf closest to Brotun was given the privilege of a close-up – albeit brief

– look at the legendary blade as it cleaved him in half at the waist – slicing through his

leather armour as though it was water.

A robed dwarf suffered a similar fate on the backswing.

More dwarves were rushing down the street behind Brotun.

Shouts broke out amongst the invaders. The four brutes bearing down on Grog

turned to see what was happening.

Two years ago, he could’ve killed them all before they’d known what had hit them,

but the lunging strike he now aimed at the nearest target was slow and clumsy.

The leather-clad dwarf turned in time to dodge the attack. He then kicked Grog in

the stomach, punched him in the face, and swung his weapon.

Grog cleverly blocked the blow … with his head.

There was an unholy clang as the enemy’s mace caught Grog on the side of his

steel helm, then the world tilted sideways and grey cobblestones came rushing up to

meet him as Grog plunged down.



Into total darkness and painless oblivion.


A Pal with a Pipe

When it came to headaches, Grog was an experienced connoisseur; in fact, he’d

woken up with some kind of headache almost every morning since quitting the army

and hitting the bottle. He’d had dull headaches and throbbing headaches, headaches

that sat behind his eyes and ones which dug into the back of his cranium, ones that

went away when he drank … and ones which didn’t. Grog had long-believed that he’d

experienced every sort of headache a dwarf could feel. This belief evaporated when he

regained consciousness in a dim unfamiliar room and felt like the sharp side of an

invisible axe was being pressed into the side of his skull by an invisible mountain


‘Oh gods,’ he groaned, as morning sunlight snuck in through the slits of his barely-

opened eyes and stabbed him in the brain

‘Oh shit!’ he moaned as the ruthless non-existent giant shoved the invisible axe

through the bandages that enveloped Grog’s noggin.

‘Take it slow, Grog,’ a vaguely familiar voice said from somewhere nearby, ‘no

sudden movements.’

Grog wanted to tell whoever this stupid dwarf was, that he couldn’t have made a

sudden movement for all the ale in the thirteen realms, but all he managed was a pitiful


‘You’re one lucky dwarf, Ironheart,’ the deep voice said. ‘If I’d arrived one

moment later, you’d have been a goner.’

Being a goner sounded far preferable to the torture Grog was currently enduring.

Apart from his headache – which was almost all-consuming – his left shoulder hurt

and a searing hot pain sliced across his right buttock.

Why? Why did his bum hurt so much?

Grog tried to remember.

‘Invaders!’ he cried, as images of undead dwarves and memories of battle flooded

his mind.

He sat up abruptly. He had time to notice that he was seated on a low cot in a small

room and that there were no evil dwarves in sight, then he leaned over the edge of the

bed and vomited onto the straw-covered floor.

‘What did I say about sudden movements?’ chided the smart-arsed voice.

‘Piss off,’ Grog said, spitting on the floor, wiping his beard with the back of a

ragged sleeve and gingerly lowering himself back down onto the bed.

His headache was now even worse.

‘Well, if you’re going to be rude, I won’t let you have any of this...’

Despite the extra pain he knew it would cause him, Grog opened his eyes a fraction

and tried to locate the source of the voice.

A small spot of red blossomed in a shadowy corner. Grog focused on it, and the

spot resolved into the hot glowing chamber of a long walnut pipe. The owner of the

pipe exhaled a languid cloud of smoke, and through that cloud, Grog made out a pair

of onyx eyes set in a white-painted face.


‘Welcome back, old friend. I was worried about you.’

‘Is that nesin weed?’ Grog asked hopefully.

‘It is.’ Brotun stood up, walked across the room and held out the smouldering pipe.

‘I expect you’d appreciate a bit?’

‘You’re a fucking paragon,’ Grog said, taking the pipe and turning its mouthpiece

towards his lips.

‘Go easy on it,’ Brotun said. ‘That’s from the town healer’s physic garden;

medicinal grade – very strong.’

Go easy my arse, Grog thought, as he sucked mightily on the lip of the pipe. He

filled his lungs with smoke, held it there a moment, then exhaled with a long blissful

sigh. ‘Oh, that’s the stuff,’ he said as his hands and face began to tingle, and a warm

pleasant melting feeling crept through his arms and legs.

‘It certainly does the job,’ Brotun agreed, his voice strangely rueful.

Grog looked up. With the nesin weed already numbing his headache, he was able to

open his eyes more than a crack and saw for the first time that beneath his moss-green

cape, Brotun’s left arm was supported in a sling and heavily bandaged.

‘Hog’s balls, Brotun! What happened to you?’

‘Same thing that happened to you, except I wasn’t lucky enough to take the blow to

my head and spend the rest of the fight snoozing peacefully.’

A small wave of embarrassment washed over Grog. He lowered his eyes and

suddenly became very interested in the walnut pipe. He took another pull while

Brotun continued speaking.

‘I took the heavy end of a particularly nasty mace right here,’ the old Lore Keeper

patted the bandages over his tricep. ‘Shattered the bone, pulverized the muscle.’

Grog kept his eyes downcast as smoke billowed out of his nostrils. ‘I’m sorry I

wasn’t more helpful. I…’ He shook his head. ‘I’m not the dwarf I once was.’

‘You’ve certainly changed since I saw you last,’ Brotun said.

‘That’s a nice way of saying I’ve turned into a fat bastard,’ Grog took a final hit

from the pipe and offered it back to Brotun.

‘Aye, you’ve gotten fat,’ Brotun took the pipe and wiped the lip clean with a white

handkerchief, ‘but that’s not the change I mean.’

‘Well, I’ve got a few more grays in my beard and –’

‘You know I’m not talking about your beard, Mowgrog.’

‘Well who gives a rat’s rectum about me anyway,’ Grog said, rolling his virtually

pain-free head around on his now strangely elastic-feeling neck. ‘Tell me what

happened last night. Tell me every single detail. What are those things, Brotun?

Where did they come from? You know they’re the same things that attacked us in the


‘We thought as much,’ Brotun said, taking a thoughtful puff on his pipe, ‘they

certainly fit the descriptions given by all the survivors from the Battle of Algan’s


‘It was no battle.’

‘As for what they are,’ Brotun continued, ignoring Grog’s interjection, ‘and where

they come from – that’s something we’re hoping to ascertain in the very near future.

We have prisoners, although it’s proving rather difficult to loosen their tongues.’

‘And where did you come from?’ Grog asked, as more and more questions bubbled

up in his mind. ‘What the shit were you doing in Longdale last night? And how did

we win? We were outnumbered twenty to one.’

‘I was here for the Telling,’ Brotun said, his voice laced with disapproval. ‘You

know, dwarves travel from all across the thirteen realms to celebrate our story, but you

– not only did you not bother to haul your arse up to the Hall of Legends for this

sacred ritual, but you didn’t even know it was taking place.’

‘Alright, sorry, I forgot about the Telling, but I’m here now, so maybe you could

tell me a little story about what happened last night?’

‘Do you think you could walk now?’

‘Maybe,’ Grog stretched his hairy legs and felt no twangs of pain, ‘but I’m pretty

comfortable. Why don’t you pull up that stool and tell me what happened?’

‘Because it reeks of chunder in here you great pillock. Is there something wrong

with that big red nose of yours?’

‘I thought the nesin smoke was sort of – covering it up,’ Grog said sheepishly.

‘No, Grog, it isn’t.’ Brotun walked to the door and pulled it open. ‘Come on, let’s

get some air.’

Grog wasn’t sure whether it was because of the town healer’s ultra-strong nesin

weed, or his nasty head injury, but standing up proved to be a formidable challenge.

As he sat on the edge of the bed, he was dismayed to see that both his feet had grown

to an enormous size and were rhythmically pulsing like a frog’s throat sac. Despite

their great size, however, he was unable to place them on the floor, since its straw-

covered surface kept impertinently moving further and further away from him.

‘What in the thirteen realms are you doing?’ Brotun asked.

Grog looked up to see his friend’s white face creased with frustration.

‘It’s the floor!’ Grog protested. ‘It keeps on moving. And my feet are…’ he trailed

off. ‘Oh, I think I might have had too much of that pipe.’

Brotun looked down at the pipe in his hand. ‘Ancient Ones, save me.’ He walked

over to Grog and grabbed him by the upper arm. ‘Come on you ridiculous dwarf.’

Grog was hauled to his feet and Brotun guided him across the room.

They emerged into a long, enclosed walkway which was also covered in straw, and

as Grog looked around, he realised where he was.

‘You put me in the stables? Like a common boar!’

‘Should we have left you half-naked and bleeding in the middle of the town


‘Yes.’ Grog said, haughtily pulling his arm free from Brotun’s guiding grip. ‘I’m a

very dignified dwarf, don’t you know?’ He walked toward the sunlight, trying to

ignore the fact that the straw all around him had made the odd and rather off-putting

decision to turn itself into a million little wriggling yellow worms.

Grog’s hope that he’d feel better once he was outdoors and away from the

immaturely behaving straw was dashed as he stepped out into the town square and

was faced with a scene of utter carnage. Collapsed buildings still smouldered on the

opposite side of the square. Grim-faced, soot-covered dwarves were picking through

the rubble and passing buckets along a line from a large water wagon. Other wagons

dotted the square, these ones were loaded with a far grislier cargo. Clouds of fat

mountain flies were already buzzing above them, and above the few remaining dwarf-

sized shapes that lay – covered by sacks and sheets on the cobbled ground. Thin

columns of smoke still rose from a number of places in the distance.

‘It wasn’t just Longdale.’ Brotun had come to stand beside Grog and was looking

around the square. ‘Riders arrived this morning from the south and from Hembrook in

the east. No word at all from the west…

‘I need a drink,’ Grog said. ‘Let’s go find some ale, then you can tell me how in the

netherworlds you managed to win this little dust up.

‘Lore Keeper!’ The shout came from Grog’s right and he looked over to see a

young dwarf wearing a clean grey jerkin striding towards them. ‘We’ve been looking

everywhere for you, sir. Burgomaster Adrig, requests the honour of your presence


Brotun glared at the young dwarf, took a long pull on his walnut pipe and exhaled

slowly. ‘Does he now?’

Grog enjoyed watching every ounce of pomp and self-importance drain from the

young messenger’s face, like spilled beer squeezed out of a tavern mop.

‘Well … yes, I’m sorry, but he does.’ The dwarf looked back and forth between

Brotun and Grog. ‘You see we’ve received word that the king is on his way here

and –’

‘The king?’ Brotun asked, taking a step towards the now-trembling youth.

‘Yes sir.’

‘Well why didn’t you say? Let’s go.’

The messenger took off across the square. Brotun followed, then turned around

when he realised that Grog hadn’t moved.

‘Come on, Mowgrog! What are you doing?’

‘I’m not going to see the bloody burgomaster,’ Grog said. ‘Look at the state of me.’

He indicated his ripped and filthy night pants, the shapeless brown tunic someone had

kindly put on him while he was unconscious and the bandages wrapped around his

skull. ‘I’m off home to bed, via the pub I reckon.’

‘Oh no you’re not,’ Brotun said, and his obsidian-dark eyes flashed with anger.

‘You’re coming with me. The kingdom needs you, Grog.’

‘It needs a fat, concussed old fool who’s off his head on nesin weed?’ Grog blurted.

‘That’s who it needs does it?’

‘No,’ Brotun closed the distance between them and reached out with his unbroken

arm. He grasped Grog’s shoulder with a strong hand and gave him a little shake. ‘No,

we need Mowgrog Ironheart – chosen champion of High King Oahn the Wise and

general of his armies.’

Grog looked down at the cobblestones and tried to keep the trembling out of his

voice. ‘Oahn’s gone, and the least wise thing he ever did was make me a general.’

‘Grog, no one blames you for –’

‘I said no, Brotun!’ Grog shook his shoulder free from the Lore Keeper’s grasp. ‘If

there’s fighting, I’ll be there, but I don’t want to talk to a Burgomaster or a king, I

don’t want to be part of any decisions. I don’t want to lead,’ he began storming across

the square, towards the road that would lead him to his home, ‘I just want to be left in

peace!’ he called over his shoulder.

‘I know what you want, Mowgrog,’ Brotun shouted after him, ‘and you won’t find

it in the bottom of a bottle.’

‘Wanna bet,’ Grog muttered under his breath as he passed a cart full of dead


‘Redemption!’ Brotun’s shout echoed around the smokey square, causing many

dwarves to stop what they were doing and look up. ‘Come and find me when you’re

ready to seek it!’

You can take your redemption you white-faced bastard, Grog thought, as he entered

the welcoming shadows of a side alley, and you can shove it up your arse.



Smoke rose lazily from the charred remains of what had once been The Goblin’s Head

Tavern. It drifted skyward, mingling with the smoke from the hundreds of other

burned-out husks that Grog had passed on his miserable walk through the broken town

of Longdale.

Grog’s impulse to drown his sorrows in ale was so overwhelming, that he

momentarily considered trying to force his way through the blackened beams and

rubble to reach the cellar. As he shuffled forward, however, it became clear that there

was still far too much heat radiating from the piles of glowing ash for him to attempt

this shameful task … at least for now.

So he stood on the road, staring balefully at the debris, not caring when smoke

wafted into his eyes and filled them with stinging tears.

The Goblin’s Head had been Grog’s second home for more than a year. It had been

his refuge and his escape from the torment of his own mind. Now it was gone, taken

from him by the same bastard evil dwarves who’d caused the torment in the first

place; the same bastard evil dwarves who’d taken everything from him.

‘I need a drink,’ Grog said to the cinders of the dead pub, then he turned and

continued on towards his home. Between all the dregs in all the bottles scattered

around his little shack, surely there’d be enough ale to take the edge off. Maybe he

even had a couple of unopened bottles left? A dwarf could hope…

As Grog trudged through the eerily quiet streets, he felt the throbbing in his skull

gaining strength and a sting returning to his injured right buttock. The nesin weed was

beginning to wear off.

He quickened his pace.

A surge of relief flooded through Grog as he approached the narrow dirt path that

led from the edge of town to his shack and saw the top of his chimney. There’d been a

very real possibility that his house – like so many others – had been burned to the

ground, but apparently the invading dwarves hadn’t made it this far, or simply hadn’t

bothered to put the torch to such a squalid hovel.

However, as Grog made his way along the path, and drew closer to his little home,

the feeling of relief was swiftly replaced with a blend of anger, confusion and


A large ram with a fine leather saddle was tied by a rope to Grog’s fence and an

exceptionally strange-looking dwarf, who Grog assumed was the beast’s rider, was

standing in Grog’s front garden.

Grog approached cautiously – unable to decide what he found most bizarre about

his unwelcome guest. The dwarf’s face was covered in white full moon war paint and

he had an angry scar across his left eye. He was clearly a warrior of great renown, but

instead of armor and a helm, he wore a simple, brown woolen shirt and a floppy

burgundy cap. He would have looked almost comical, were it not for the horrific

weapons strapped to his back.

Grog had spent nearly forty years in the army; he’d been stabbed, whacked, sliced

and clobbered with pretty-much every weapon imaginable, but he’d never seen

anything like the grotesque clubs this dwarf carried. They were fashioned almost

entirely from the bones of male mountain goats. The head of each club was a blood-

spattered skull, complete with protruding teeth, gaping eye sockets and a pair of rock-

hard horns. The whole mess was held together with strips of leather and iron clamps.

They were horrible. Grog really wanted one.

To top off the peculiar scene, Grog’s visitor had an extremely large rock in his

hands, which he was repeatedly lifting over his head with raucous grunts of exertion.

The strange dwarf watched Grog as he approached, but gave no indication that he

was going to stop his exercise session until Grog had almost reached the place where

his front gate had once been. At that point, the white-faced dwarf hurled the rock to

the side, where it crushed a small patch of weeds and the remains of what might have

once been a wooden bucket.

‘Well you took your fuckin’ time,’ the dwarf said, rolling his shoulders,

‘I’m terribly sorry,’ Grog said, splaying a dramatic hand across his chest. ‘So rude

of me to keep you waiting. It’s just that I didn’t actually know there was going to be a

scar-faced, goat club-wielding lunatic lifting rocks in my front garden. If I’d known I

would have rushed home sooner!’

The dwarf grinned. ‘You always were a funny bastard, General.’

The word general sent a shiver running across Grog’s shoulders. He took a few

steps closer to the strange dwarf. ‘You know me?’

The dwarf’s smile widened. ‘Course I know you.’

Grog leaned forward and squinted, taking in every detail of his visitor’s face, from

the scarred, milky left eye, to the strands of white in his wiry grey beard. ‘Well I’m

sorry chum,’ he said eventually, throwing up his hands, ‘but I don’t know you.’

The dwarf chuckled. ‘I’ve changed a little. The last time you saw me, I didn’t have

this,’ he pointed at the scar, ‘or this,’ he gestured at his white face, ‘or these,’ he

reached back and patted the ram’s skull. ‘The last time you saw me, we’d just finished

dealing with a pretty insane afanc infestation in realm seven.’

Images of fighting demonic horned water creatures flittered across Grog’s memory.

‘After we’d driven them off,’ the dwarf continued, ‘we all got drunk and some

dwarves decided to swim naked across the Oglan river. Do you remember?’

Grog nodded. ‘I remember it was unbelievably foolish. A couple of dwarves nearly


‘Including me.’ The dwarf laughed, as though the memory of his near-death

experience was particularly hilarious. ‘But it was you that challenged the troops to do


‘Maybe,’ said Grog, who was too busy staring intently at the dwarf’s face, to argue.


The dwarf raised his white painted eyebrows expectantly.

‘Leatherbasher!’ Grog said, pointing a triumphant finger right at the delighted

dwarf’s nose. ‘Sergeant Thethem Leatherbasher!’

‘That’s me, sir, although I’m no longer a sergeant.’ Thethem puffed out his chest.

‘I’m now a full moon, as you can see, and personal bodyguard to King Gelgrum

Brewblade of the second realm.’

‘Oh shit,’ Grog’s shoulders slumped, ‘and that’s why you’re here? To try and get

me to go and talk with the bloody king?’

‘No, sir, not try – I will be taking you back with me.’ There was no threat or anger

in Thethem’s voice; he spoke as though merely stating a fact.

Grog analyzed Thethem’s smiling face, weighed up his options, and chose beer.

‘Alright fine, I’ll go with you. Just let me get a few things first, okay?’ He inclined his

bandaged head towards his house.

Thethem gave Grog a suspicious look, but moved out of his way.

As soon as he was inside, Grog started inspecting the bottles strewn around his


‘These things you’ve got to get,’ Thethem said, leaning casually against the

doorframe and watching Grog’s increasingly frantic search, you keep them in ale

bottles, do you?’

Grog didn’t answer. None of the bottles on the tables or benches had yielded more

than a mouthful, and a search of his few cupboards was proving completely fruitless.

After a while, Thethem cleared his throat. ‘General, I don’t know if you’re aware,

but the latest reports seem to indicate that the whole of the thirteen realms is under

attack. With all due respect, we need to go now. The king is waiting.’

‘Thethem,’ Grog said, ripping items of ragged clothing out of a dusty chest and

throwing them over his shoulder, ‘I’m not a general anymore, and with all due respect,

the king can go fuck himself. I’m not going anywhere.’

A loud thud from behind Grog caused him to pause his desperate search and turn


Thethem had unslung one of the billy clubs from the holster at his back and

allowed its blood-stained head to fall to the floor. He was no longer smiling.

‘Grog, you were the best leader I ever served under,’ Thethem said. ‘I’ve got a lot

of respect for you, and Ancient Ones know what a hard time you must’ve had since

the battle of Algan’s Pass, but if you don’t come with me now, I’m going to have to

knock you out and sling you over the back of my mount like a sack of potatoes.’

Grog considered getting angry, but found that he just didn’t have it in him. The

nesin weed had made him drowsy, but was now barely taking the edge off his terrible

headache. He was also seriously nauseous and his hands were shaking like branches in

a storm.

‘You’d really clobber me with that thing?’ Grog said, sitting down on the floor and

pointing an unsteady finger at Thethem’s extraordinary weapon. ‘Can’t you see I’ve

just had my head split open?’

‘I really don’t want to,’ Thethem said, ‘but my vows to the king are unbreakable. If

I’m commanded to bring you to him,’ he shrugged, ‘I have to bring you to him.’

‘But what for?’ Grog protested. ‘I’m fat, old, tired and useless. I’ve got a cut across

my arse cheek as long as a donkey’s dick and my head feels like it’s about to cave in.

What can I do?’

‘It’s not up to me to make that –’

‘Look!’ Grog interrupted, holding out his badly quivering hands for Thethem to

see. ‘What can I do?’

‘Well both the king and Brotun Gruntlog seem to think –’

‘Brotun!’ Grog cut across Thethem again. ‘I swear that bastard saved my life just to

torment me. Why in the endless pit of darkness do they think I can help anyone? Look

at the state of me!’

Thethem did look, he considered Grog for a long moment, then he rested his club

against the wall. ‘Wait there,’ he said, then he turned and walked out of the house.’

Grog was up on his feet and tip-toeing towards Thethem’s weapon in an instant. He

heard the deep bleating of the ram outside as he wrapped his trembling hands around

the bone handle. By the time Thethem appeared back at the doorway, Grog had

retreated into his shack and was standing with his feet set.

Thethem’s white face broke into a bemused smile. ‘Really?’

‘I’m not going.’

‘But I just went and grabbed this for you,’ Thethem held up a metal flask. ‘I’ll trade

it for that,’ he pointed at the club with his other hand.

Grog licked his lips. ‘What is it?’

‘This,’ Thethem gave the flask a little shake, ‘is smoulder whisky. Tapped from the

king’s personal toasted oak barrels.’

‘Deal.’ Grog marched across the room without a moment’s hesitation, and offered

the club to Thethem.

Thethem took it and handed over the flask.

Grog unscrewed the lid and took an investigative sniff. No trick had been played.

The vapors that rose from the flask were so strong that Grog felt like several of his

nose hairs had been singed off. He raised the flask to his lips and skulled. After a few

searing gulps he lowered his head, closed his eyes and, as the burning liquid poured

into his stomach, he let out a shuddering sigh, which was part relief and part pain.

When he opened his eyes again, he was overwhelmed by a wave of shame.

‘Thanks,’ he muttered, staring down at the floor, then he raised the flask and drank


‘I think this’ll be good for you,’ Thethem said, once Grog had sucked the last few

drops from the flask and was screwing the lid back on.

Grog nodded and gave a grunt of affirmation. He wasn’t ready to speak yet – his

mouth and throat were too busy being on fire.

‘I don’t mean the whisky,’ Thethem reached out and took the empty flask from

Grog. ‘I mean this … coming with me, saving the kingdom, getting away from…’ he

trailed off and gestured vaguely around Grog’s ramshackle hovel. ‘It’ll be good to be

doing something worthwhile.’

‘I do worthwhile thingth,’ Grog slurred, struggling to make his numb tongue move

as intended.

‘Like what?’

‘Like, I go to the pub … which has … burned down. But I also do things around the

house and … just loads of stuff.’

‘You make a strong point,’ Thethem said gravely. ‘I can see why your choice

between staying here, or coming with me to help serve your kingdom in a time of

desperate need is a difficult one.’

‘I’m too sick,’ Grog said. ‘I’m too tired and sore. I’m too badly injured. I’m not a

warrior anymore, Thethem, and I’m certainly not a general.’

‘I don’t think they want you to be,’ Thethem said. ‘I’m not sure they even want you

to fight. The king and Brotun were talking about you being one of the only dwarves

who knows how to find The Faithbound. I think they want you to guide a group into

the mountains.’

‘Oh is that all?’ Grog actually staggered backwards at the absurdness of Thethem’s

statement – or possibly because the smoulder whisky was hitting him like a heated

iron sledgehammer. ‘Well why didn’t you say? If all they want me to do is lead a

group to the absolute peaks of the most treacherous, beast-infested, freezing fucking

awful mountains on the face of Iriddas, well that’s no problem!’

‘I’m sensing a little sarcasm, Grog.’

‘Sarcasm? Ancient Ones forbid! No, no, no – this is enthusiasm. I love visiting the

Faithbound! They’re a wonderful bunch of dwarves, and not at all the cult of fanatical,

humourless, psycho nutters that everyone makes them out to be.’

‘Well, I’m glad you’re so excited. Let’s get moving.’

Grog jabbed a single thick finger out towards Thethem. ‘Give me one good reason

why I should!’

‘I’ll give you two,’ Thethem said, ‘the first is that back at the burgomaster’s manor,

where the king is staying, there’s a vast quantity of fine whisky and also some very

potent nesin weed.’ Thethem held up his gruesome hammer and pointed to its head.

‘The second is that –’

‘Forget the second reason!’ Grog waved Thethem’s imminent threat off like he was

swatting at a fly. ‘Stop wasting time with your chatter. Let’s go.’

Thethem grinned as Grog lurched unsteadily towards his front door, but his grin fell

away as Grog suddenly stopped and frowned; his eyes narrowing in deep and serious


‘Oh come on, Grog, no more bullshit!’

‘One second.’ Grog retreated back to his clothes chest and began flinging clothes

over his shoulder again.

‘You don’t need to dig around for some secret stash of flat old ale, Grog!’ Thethem

yelled. ‘We’ve got that covered, okay?’

Grog grabbed a final tattered shirt from the bottom of the chest and surrendered a

loud sigh as he gazed at what lay beneath it. ‘Remember this, Thethem?’ he asked, as

he reverently lifted his most prized possession out of the chest. ‘I sold my axe, my

shield, my helm and even my boots, but this…’ he held up a blackened steel chainmail

shirt. ‘This was crafted by the finest armorsmiths in all the thirteen realms, and given

to me by High King Oahn himself. This saved my life so many times … I just

couldn’t part with it.’

‘Blade Blunter,’ Thethem said, with a touch of awe in his voice. ‘That’s what it’s

called isn’t it?’

‘Aye lad, that’s what it’s called.’ Grog nodded somberly as he ran his eyes over the

perfect interlocking rings. ‘Now,’ he looked around his house and instantly decided

there wasn’t a single other thing worth taking, ‘let’s get out of this shithole and go see

the king, shall we?’


Council with a King

Even with an entire flask’s worth of smoulder whisky in his guts, numbing his pain

and filling him with fiery bravado, Grog still found the trip to the burgomaster’s

manor on the back of Thethem’s giant ram to be an exquisitely uncomfortable


Thethem urged the beast onwards at a terrifying pace. It bleated and snorted, and its

hooves clattered on the cobblestones in a way that would have given any dwarf a

headache, let alone one who’d recently been cracked on the noggin with a dirty great


Grog sat behind Thethem, clinging tightly to the full moon warrior and muttering a

constant stream of curses as his injured buttock rose, fell and hit the hard leather

saddle with each rhythmic gallop.

Between the frantic movement, the whisky and the pounding headache, Grog also

found himself fighting down waves of nausea. He decided that if he did need to throw

up, he would do so all over the back of Thethem, who was shouting encouragement to

the speeding ram and clearly enjoying himself.

Luckily for both dwarves, the grand stone manor belonging to Longdale’s

burgomaster was located on the southern outskirts of the town, not too far from

Grog’s shack as the crow flies, or even as the unpleasantly bouncy ram gallops.

Thethem slowed his mount to a trot as they approached the gates to the property. A

small contingent of grim-faced King’s Guards were stationed there. They let Thethem

pass without a word. He guided the ram right up to the front of the huge house and


‘You need help?’ Thethem asked, extending a hand towards Grog.

‘Nope,’ Grog said, wincing as he swung his left leg over the ram’s back and slid to

the ground beside Thethem. ‘I need a pipe.’

Thethem grinned, secured the reins of his mount to a pole, and began climbing the

wide staircase which led to front door.

‘I notice that the burgomaster’s bloody mansion didn’t get burned down last night,’

Grog said as he followed Thethem up the steps.

‘Neither did yours,’ Thethem countered.

Grog tried to think of a clever retort. It hurt his head and he came up blank, so he

contented himself with growling a little and swearing under his breath.

Once inside the house, Grog followed Thethem past more guards and into a large

opulent room. It had low bookshelves all along one wall, high windows and a variety

of fancy furniture, including two round tables. One of these was covered with platters

of food, the other with an enormous map. Around this map stood three very important

dwarves: the burgomaster of Longdale, Brotun Gruntlog, and Gelgrum Brewblade –

the king of realm two. There was also a fierce-looking dwarf with black battle paint

smeared in thick stripes under his eyes, standing by the windows, looking out over the


‘Thethem!’ roared the king, raising his hands in greeting. ‘You’re back, and you

bring with you the great Mowgrog Ironheart! Scourge of mountain harpies, slayer of

marauding giants and trusted general of our beloved and much-missed High King


If it’d been anyone other than a king mentioning Oahn and calling Grog his “trusted

general,” Grog would probably have punched them in the face, but it was a king, so

Grog just dipped his head in the merest of bows and mumbled, ‘your majesty.’

‘Come in, you two, come in,’ the king’s hands were wildly animated as he gestured

for Grog and Thethem to join them at the large table. ‘Come and help us save the

kingdom. Wait!’ The king froze, clearly struck by a sudden and important thought.

‘Food! Drink! You must be starving! Come and have some of this spread.’ He walked

over to the other table, his titanium chainmail clinking softly. ‘You can’t save the

kingdom on an empty stomach, can you? Here, there’s cold meats, relish, cheese,

bread, fruits and even some pastries here – all straight from the personal pantry of our

gracious host.’

The burgomaster – who was even rounder than Grog and had gold rings adorning

his elaborately-groomed blonde beard – smiled a smarmy simpering smile and bowed

with a flourish. ‘Everything that is mine, is yours, your grace.’

Grog headed for the food, making sure to give Brotun a look that said you’re a

bastard for dragging me into this while the king was busy pointing out different sorts

of mustard.

‘And this one is particularly hot,’ the king was saying, ‘make sure to have a pint of

ale handy if you want to try this one.’

Grog cleared his throat. ‘Actually, your majesty, I sustained a few injuries in last

night’s battle and Thethem here did promise me that there’d be some … medicine here

to help out with the pain.’

‘Absolutely!’ said the king, standing up straight and adjusting the silverlink crown

which had fallen over his dark grey eyebrows. He stepped towards Grog, reached out

and placed gentle fingertips on either side of Grog’s head, then he tilted it left and

right while he ran his eyes over the bloodstained bandages.

Again, if this had been any regular dwarf, Grog would have told them to bugger

off; he may even have thrown in a knee to the goolies for good measure, but, as it was,

he tolerated the king inspected him like a mother might inspect a hurt child.

‘Luckily seems to have caught you right on the thickest part of the skull,’ the king

said. ‘A bit lower and you’d have been in serious trouble.’

‘Oh I think you’ll find that Mowgrog is extremely thick-skulled, your highness,’

Brotun said, not looking up from the map. ‘It would take more than a clumsily-

wielded mace to get through that impenetrable head of his.’

The burgomaster chuckled.

Grog considered throwing a cold chicken at the pompous bureaucrat, but settled on

a filthy look.

‘Now, now Lore Keeper,’ the king chided, ‘we’re all friends here, and we’re all

meeting with a common goal, so eat up Mowgrog, and you too Thethem.’ He turned

to the burgomaster. ‘Have your staff fetch the general everything he may need to dull

the pain of those nasty wounds, then we can get down to business.’


A short while later, after Grog had smoked enough nesin weed to sedate a sword-

toothed dire bear and eaten five large custard nut pastries, he found himself leaning

unsteadily against the map-covered table with a mug of whisky in his hand, trying

very hard to follow the intense conversation being held by the other dwarves.

‘Raven reports are coming in constantly,’ Brotun was saying. ‘The most recent

attacks have taken place here, here and here.’ He stabbed at various places on the map

with his unbroken arm.

Grog attempted – with a profound lack of success – to follow Brotun’s movements

through blurry squinted eyes.

‘Realms ten and eleven report heavy casualties,’ said the dwarf with the battle paint

– who seemed to be some kind of military leader. ‘They were hit hard two nights ago,

and even harder last night. I predict a full-scale evacuation from the outer realms to

the inner realms within the next few days if these attacks keep up. They just don’t

have the dwarves out there to withstand these onslaughts.’

‘It’s like the fog all over again,’ the burgomaster said, wringing his hands


‘Only this time the mountains aren’t saving us,’ said the King. ‘These buggers are

suddenly everywhere, outer and inner realms.’

‘Which is why I say my theory is the most likely,’ Brotun said.

‘And I say it’s impossible,’ said the military dwarf.

‘I agree with Major Hammerbuckle,’ said the burgomaster. ‘The under realms

completely caved in nearly fifty years ago. None of those revolting mining dwarves

could have survived the earthquake! Gods! We barely survived it even on the surface.

And even if some of them had survived, where have they been for the last fifty years?

What have they been doing, and how in the name of the Ancient Ones have they

stayed alive without food, water, warmth or sunlight all this time? It’s just not


‘I know it sounds unlikely,’ said Brotun, but I think all the alternatives that have

been offered are even more preposterous.’

‘Why is the thought of a secret necromantic cult living among us so very

preposterous?’ asked the burgomaster. ‘At least I’m talking about real dwarves, not

some ghosts of the past suddenly springing up out the ground.’

Grog wasn’t exactly sure what the others were talking about, but he thought that he

covered this up well by sipping his whisky in an extremely thoughtful manner and

nodding from time to time.

‘Maybe they come from beyond the outer mountains,’ said Thethem. ‘Personally, I

don’t see why it matters, what matters is that we beat every last one of them into a

bloody pulp!’ He reached back and patted the head of his billy club.

Grog’s eyes lingered on the grotesque weapon, which was a mistake, since the

skeletal ram caught him looking and gave him a funny look back.

‘It’s looking at me!’

Grog held out hope for a moment that he’d just thought these words and not blurted

them out loud, but all the other dwarves turned and stared at him.

Grog bought himself some time by taking a long pensive sip of whisky, then he

pointed at the map. ‘It’s looking bad to me,’ he shook his head, ‘looking very very


‘You’re right, Mowgrog,’ said the king, placing a hand on Grog’s shoulder, ‘this is

a crisis and it’s only going to get worse, that’s why we need your help.’

‘You want me to find the faithbound?’

‘You were a member of the northern mountain battalion for a good many years,


Grog nodded.

‘There are few dwarves who’ve ever come into contact with the faithbound, let

alone dwarves who’d be able to find their way up to them if they needed to. Brotun

says that you’d be one of the dwarves that could.’

Grog glared at Brotun. ‘Oh he did, did he?’

‘He did.’ The king reached down, took the mug from Grog’s hand and drunk the

remaining whisky in one swallow. He then shook the mug in the general direction of

the burgomaster, who scurried forward to take it and refill it. ‘These fuckers are

coming for our homes, Grog,’ the king said, putting an arm around Grog’s shoulders.

‘They’re killing families. Worse – they’re killing them and then bringing them back to

life as unholy ghouls.’

‘I’ve seen,’ Grog mumbled.

‘They’ll come again tonight, Mowgrog,’ said the king, turning to look Grog

squarely in the eyes. ‘All across the thirteen realms they’ll come back, and you know

better than most how badly the ranks of our warriors were thinned by the War of Fog.’

If there was any statement that could have snapped Grog temporarily out of his

whisky and weed induced stupor, it was this. ‘Of course I know!’ he shouted.

Brotun stiffened. Thethem even took a meaningful step towards Grog, but the king

just smiled a kindly smile and smoothed his dark grey beard. ‘No one blames you for

what happened, General. There’s not a dwarf alive or dead that could’ve claimed

victory that day. The fact that there were any survivors is a testament to your


Grog looked down at the floor. The sounds of battle echoed through his mind, the

sounds of dwarves screaming, panicking, crying out for help. The sound of dwarves

and kvinna dying by the thousand. The sound of his own cowardly voice bellowing

the words that no dwarven general had ever uttered in battle – Run! Retreat!

‘Ah, thank you my good dwarf,’ said the king.

Grog looked up to see the monarch taking an almost full mug of smoulder whisky

from the burgomaster. He took a generous swig, breathed out a loud ‘haaah,’ of hot

whisky breath and offered the mug to Grog.

Grog took the vessel, stared at the potent golden liquid sloshing around inside it

and found, to his amazement, that he didn’t actually feel like any more.

‘You think the faithbound will actually come?’ he asked.

The king’s ebony cloak rose and fell as he shrugged. ‘I certainly hope so, my

friend. High King Ruenthor has personally written messages to be sent to all four

priories. I believe he’s offered the archons any number of enticing reasons to bring

their paladins down from the mountaintops to help out with this mess. If they refuse,

I’m afraid we might be seriously fucked.’

‘If only we knew what these dark dwarves wanted,’ Major Hammerbuckle said. ‘If

only we could reason or negotiate with them.’

‘They want revenge,’ Grog said, as he looked out the window at the sinking sun

and lengthening shadows. ‘Nothing more, nothing less.’

Despite his inebriation, Grog was still aware enough to notice the energy in the

room shift. When he turned back to look at the other dwarves, they were all staring at

him with furrowed brows.

‘What are you talking about?’ Brotun asked. ‘What do you mean revenge? Revenge

for what? Why do you say that?’

Grog held up a hand to try and calm the exasperated Lore Keeper.

‘I don’t know what for. It’s what one of those mad bastards said last night.’

‘You talked with them?’ Major Hammerbuckle exploded, his face reddening.

‘When exactly were you planning on sharing this minor fucking detail?’

‘I just shared it.’

‘We’ve had eight prisoners under interrogation for hours on end,’ the major was

shaking so much that his azure cap was in danger of toppling from his head, ‘we

haven’t gotten so much as a word out of them, but you – you actually had yourself a

nice little chat with one of these bastards last night and you didn’t even think to tell


‘I didn’t really think of it till just now,’ said Grog. ‘I don’t know whether you

noticed, but I had my head half caved in last night.’ He turned to face the king. ‘Sorry,

your highness, I just … forgot.’

‘How in the endless pit of darkness did you get one them to talk?’ the king asked,

reaching absently for Grog’s mug and taking another hefty swig.

‘Well, I think he was certain I was about to die, but then this direforge maniac came

along,’ Grog nodded at Brotun, ‘and kind of ruined his plans.’

‘And what else did he say?’

‘Nothing really, just that they were going to raise me up to be one of their undead

things. It was a pretty short conversation.’

‘Speaking of undead things, sire,’ Thethem said, I think it’s really time for us to be

heading back to the citadel. We’re only a few hours away from nightfall.’

‘I’d better go,’ the king said, handing the mug back to Grog. ‘My faithful

bodyguard frets like a first-time mother if he thinks I’m putting myself in any danger.’

Thethem was indeed looking nervously back and forth between the king and the

setting sun, his white painted face twitching with agitation.

‘But what do we make of this revelation?’ the burgomaster asked. ‘These invaders

are here for revenge, but what does that mean? Do they simply intend to wipe us all

Click to View FlipBook Version