Gromley led us through to a chamber that had clearly once been a temple. The wall paintings had ben obscured with black paint and the altar had been smashed. I looked around at the desecration and felt anger for the dwarfs. I called to Gromley: “Are we not in danger from the guards?”
Gromley paused. “The guards at the cell won’t bother checking on the prisoner and the other guards rarely come to this level.
“There seems to be very few guards for such a large mine.” I observed.
“A single guard with a gun can dominate a whole tunnel.” replied Gromley as we walked across the vandalised temple. “And even if we did re-take the mine we would be essentially trapped with no food. If we somehow broke out of the mine we would still need to take the bridge and even if we did that Hardy was many more armed men in the town. We are dwarfs, we regard war as favoured solution to complex problems and yet we find ourselves dying by degrees with no way to fight our enemy. Ah! This way.” Gromley motioned to yet another secret door that had opened from the inside. A younger dwarfish acolyte signalled for us all to follow after him.
“I am sorry your temple was ruined.” I said to Gromley as we walked down another passage.
“The priest of Embran died there trying to protect the relics.” He replied mournfully. “With the temple desecrated we could not call upon Embran to help us.”
“So you are not a priest of Embran?” I asked, puzzled.
“Of Embran? No, no. I only survived this long because my cult prefers secrecy to open worship.” We turned a corner and before us was a proper stone door, clearly marked with a rune chiselled into the rock. I gasped in recognition.
“Durston, look! That is the rune I saw made of blossom just before you appeared! But I was told it was the rune of Embran.”
Gromley turned towards us. “Oh an easy mistake to make. This is the rune of Ofron, the consort of Embran. The two runes are similar except for the additional stroke near the foot of the main stem.”
“:Ofron? What is he the god of?” Asked Durston.
The door seemed to dissolve before use, revealing a tall woman standing in the centre of a painted chamber. He hair was long and an orange read and spilled in great locks over her naked skin that was the colour of ochre.
“What am I the god of?” the woman asked. “I am the god of passion, of wildfire and of chaos.”
She fixed us with a star that seemed to peer into all our eyes at once and her own eyes seemed to flicker with yellow sparks. Rather than sensing her soul I felt her soul envelope the whole room as if she was nothing but soul and nothing but some abstract essence of herself, as if the solidity of the rock about was nothing but a mist and the weight of our lives nothing but the passing shapes of clouds.
“:Oh, hello.” said Durston.
——— :: ———
I don’t recall walking into the temple of Orfon but I must have done. I don’t recall speaking but I knew that we conversed for some time before I could pull my own wits back together.
I gasped for breath as if I had been overcome with smoke and grasped hard onto my spear for support.
“Stop.” I begged. “Stop, you are overwhelming me. You need our help. I understand but you must let us talk with clear minds.”
Orfon seemed to retreat as if she had stepped back and yet she remained in place at the centre of the small temple. “Speak then little elf. I will assent to your questions.”
“You brought Durston to my woodlands. Why?” I asked.
“To bring confusion to my enemies. Those who would hurt my children will feel my wrath.”
“:I really don’t know how this god business works ~ but can’t you just smite your enemies with lightning or something?” Durston asked.
“To be a god is to be the essence of a thing. I do not plan or scheme or plot. I do not cogitate on my actions. I just am and to act is to be. I answered the prayers of my servant and interceded on behalf of his clan. You were my act of will.” Orfon replied.
“But you must have thought there would be some consequence to summoning Durston?” I asked.
“I hoped my enemies would encounter strife.” The god seemed to shimmer as he spoke. “The lightning that strikes the forest in summer does not consider where its fire will spread to. All that it knows is that there will be fire and that it will consume what it encounters.”
“:I’m not sure that is actually how it works.”
I made a shushing noise at Durston and continued. “So your idea was to just throw Durston from his own time and see what happened when you stirred the pot?”
“Your people needed to learn, the humans here needed to learn.” Orfon replied.
“My people? What had my people done to you?”
“Did you mother not die under their care? Had she not become one of my children in her madness?”
I went to leap at this god creature with my spear and cut a hole into Orfon’s gut but Birchall and Gromley grabbed my arms before I could skewer her.
Birchall took her turn to speak to the god. “I trust that Green-bark’s people passed the test you set them. They let the stranger go free and granted him a companion. But what of the metal man himself. He is an innocent in all this.”
“Look to his base. Elf girl, you have a gift with reading foreign symbols. Read how he angered me.”
I had to stoop low to see the base of Durston’s shell and the task was made harder as Durston himself was trying to turn and tilt his head to try and see what was written on his bottom.
I used my sigil shield and concentrated on the tiny characters. “Bushfire Advanced Response Reconnaissance Unit” I read.
“:Oh! Yes! I remember! They drop me into burning forests and I help direct the rescue effort! ~ That is why I have all this telemetry and targeting equipment!” Durston seemed please to recall that much about himself. “:So the god is angry because she is a god of fire and I fight fires. ~ I don’t know, but it all seems a bit partisan and arbitrary.”
Orfon ignored him. “I will offer you a deal then. Destroy this enemy of the dwarfs and I will return your metal friend to his right place.”
I looked back at her. “There is no point in offering a deal. Even if you meant what you say, by your very nature you cannot be trusted. We will fight Boss Hardy regardless because it is the right thing to do.”
“Then, for what it is worth, you have my blessing.” and with those words the god departed.
“:Well the good news is that I have a plan.” said Durston, apparently unfazed by having met a divine essence. “:The problem is this. The dwarfs can take the mine ~ but if they do then Hardy sends more men from town. ~ Hardy can besiege the mine and starve the dwarfs out.
“:Now Birchall, am I right in thinking not all the townsfolk support Hardy unequivocally?”
Birchall agreed and explained that most went along with Hardy out of fear.
“:So we need to break Hardy’s authority. ~ If Hardy is challenged in town ~ and he loses then the town can be turned against him.”
I nodded as I thought through Durston’s plan. “So we need to fight him and his men in town and show that he isn’t unbeatable?” I asked.
“:Yes, and I think you and I can do that Green-bark. Birchall, I need you to get back to town. First warn Hardy that you have heard I have escaped and that I intend to challenge him to a duel at dawn outside Polk’s Tavern.”
“A shoot out?” said Birchall.
“:I have good reason to believe I may be at least the second fastest gun in the west.” said Durston “…and Green-bark may well be the actual fastest.”
“I’ve never shot one of these guns before.” I said, surprised.
“:Then we don’t have long to learn! Birchall, once you’ve spoken to Hardy see if you can get away and speak to sensible heads in town. ~ We don’t want a full fledged war between the dwarfs and the town else the dwarfs will end up starving. Bromley? Can you prepare your people to take-over the mine?”
“Aye, we can try but the guards will hold up behind their fortifications.”
“But these rifles need bullets!” I said “And if reinforcements don’t come from town they will soon run of out ammunition!”
“:Quite so. That will be our job and I have a few tricks that will help us.”
——— :: ———