The blade sizzled as it was dropped into the cold, filthy water. Logan raised it slowly, looking for cracks and other imperfections. He smirked as he noticed a fly had become charred into the hot metal, near the tip. Clearing it away with a brush from his thick leather gloves, he then laid the sword out flat on the weapon rack to cool.

That was number thirteen today. For 21 years, Logan had been doing the same thing nearly every day: slaving away in a forge, learning the arts of weaponsmithing from the Dwarfs. He was treated like a lame mule by his hosts and paid just enough to get by, but Logan stayed for one reason: his home country, the Empire, needed quality weaponsmiths. Of course, his apprenticeship with the Dwarfs should have ended 11 years ago, but it seemed his superiors forgot about him. Eleven years ago, they should have sent for him, and they did not. So he stayed, working harder every day, driven by a newfound anger towards his former kingdom.

Logan thought back to a time when he was a young man, leaving the Empire and preparing to do his country an honorable service. There was a great feast held in honor of Logan and the other men who volunteered to train in smithing. Their services would be needed soon, said the Elector Count, who commanded these brave souls to go forth and bring back knowledge from the ancient forges of the Dwarven race. Little did Logan know that he would never return.

"MANLING!"

Logan's memories were broken by the harsh call of his master smithy. Skorri Spangerhelm was one of the most irritable creatures to ever face the world, but he was also one of the best smiths to ever pound iron and steel. Logan admired him, though today Skorri seemed in a foul mood, and Logan knew to listen quickly for when Skorri summoned him.

"Manling! 'ow many times must I call ya! Me legs are half as long as yours, yet ya is always slow like a troll!" Skorri was definitely irritable today.

"Yes sir," replied Logan. "I am sorry. What is it that you need me for?"

"Me brother Grangor is a ranger, remember?" Skorri asked.

Logan nodded quickly. Grangor was a ranger in the king's army. Dwarf rangers were an odd breed; Dwarfs did not like to go above ground, and considered it dangerous. Rangers, however, were above ground nearly all day, and sometimes through nightfall, scouting out terrain and functioning as intelligence for the Dwarven holds.

Skorri continued. "Well, he never returned yesterday. His group 'o scouties was up in them trees near the Four Rock Pass(1), and we heard lots o' noise from 'em, but they never reported none of it."

Logan looked into Skorri's eyes, and for the first time he thought he caught a glimpse of fear. Skorri was always everything but afraid.

"Anywary, we gonna get a party of folks together to get out there and look for 'em. You're gonna go with me."

Logan's heart jumped. This was the first time in over a year that he would venture further than the hold's main doors.

"We leave at nightfall. Best bring your best axe or what have ya. If you'se as smart as you smith, you'd bring a proper weapon like an axe, and not your manling-craft swords or what have ye. Can't cleave a grobbi(2) in two with a toothpick."

The day passed quickly, and Logan put on his gromril armor which Skorri made for him years ago. Gromil was as hard and strong as any metal known in the world, but was also very heavy, and required a strong being to bear it. Thankfully, years in a forge gave Logan the physique he needed.

Axe in hand, Logan jogged to the gates of the hold. Skorri was there, speaking in Dwarf tongues to his comrades. The other Dwarfs there noticed Logan, and welcomed the man as though he were kin.

After the dialogue had ended, the group left the gates and took an hour hike to the end of Four Rock Pass. The forest of Nuln(3) started there, and was a place the Dwarfs greatly hated. Elves lived near these forests, and as a proper Dwarf would say, "Never trust an elf."

Logan walked cautiously, as did the rest of the party. As they approached a clearing, Logan's eyes picked up a glittering in the near distance. A shield, surely of Dwarven craft, lay on the floor of the forest. Upon further inspection, the party noticed heavy scratches on the outside of the shield. It would take a huge beast to scratch a shield made of gromril.

They continued on, finding more traces of their fallen comrades. After a few more lost weapons and armor were found, the group concluded their decision: the Rangers were obviously ambushed.

Logan stared up to his home, and sat down on a large rock. The mountain peak loomed in the distance now. The great solid metal doors of the hold were now invisible to the eye, and only Logan and his party knew the great kingdom that flourished inside of that mountain.

The sun set behind the peak, tinting the clouds a beautiful purple. The sky was alight with beautiful colors, and Logan admired the place where he now resided, regardless of his lifestyle. He was a lucky man, indeed.

"MANLING, GET DOWN!"

Logan whirled around only to avoid an arrow piercing his neck. He immediately jumped to his feet, sprinting for the nearest cover. A huge Great Tree(4) blocked his field of view, and he heard the rest of his party scrambling for cover. Arrows clinked off great links of gromril and solid shields.

Logan readied his axe. He peered around his cover, and his eyes widened. A group of Orc raiders appeared out of the depths of the forest, riding huge boars tamed from these very wildlands. Stories were told of these groups of raiders, though this was the first time in nearly two decades that the raiders came this close to the hold.

They charged the party. Arrows continued to whizz by from behind the boar riders. One arrow struck a boar in the rear, causing it to panic and fling its rider into another Great Tree, breaking his neck upon impact.

The Dwarfs knew immediately what to do. They formed a line, readied their axes, and prepared for the charge. Shields up, they recieved the first of the blows with a parry, and struck back at the mounts of the riders.

Solid steel pierced through flesh, and boar blood splattered the flora of this once-serene forest. Logan gathered his wits, and charged a dismounted orc.

Logan struck first. His great axe cleaved the wooden shield of the orc in two, and the force of his blow carried the axe down through the forearm of the greenskin(5). The orc howled in pain, and responded by clanging his weapon off of Logan's helm. The sound stunned Logan, reverberating through his head and knocking him onto his back. The orc caught his opponent off-guard, and raised his sword to kill Logan where he lay. The sword dropped, though Logan rolled in time, so that the blade of the sword pierced soil and rotten leaves, leaving his precious flesh intact.

As the orc's blade was lodged into the ground, Skorri came up from behind and cleaved the horrible creature's arms clear off his body. He finished by nearly severing the creature at the waist, kicking the corpse aside and offering a hand to Logan. "Best if ya stick with me, Manling," said the Dwarf smithy. "I won't lose two friends in one week."

 


(1) - Four Rock Pass was the former site of the discovery of the great Dwarven hold known as Karak Azmak. It is a common route for traveling Dwarfs to use.

(2) - Grobbi is the Dwarven speech for "goblin."

(3) - The forest of Nuln is a former battlesite between the great armies of the Dwarf Lord Karik Highhammer and the Elven forces of Price Alrion, Lord of Nuln.

(4) - No one really knows what type of tree a Great Tree was. The term "Great Tree" was started by the humans, and passed along the other races. Elves called the trees by their Elvish name "Lilathalai," meaning "trees of the old world."

(5) - Greenskin was the common name for all manner of Orcs, Goblins and Trolls, and any other near relations to these vile races.

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