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The Rampage of Acathi

02 August 2016, 00:12 Rating: 5 [+]


I slammed myself against the door to the training facility, but it wouldn’t budge. Molten rock had crystallized and sealed the door, and now frozen tears of stone adorned the iron-reinforced wood. The heat drove me
away from the doorway, and Oslanzanos appeared at my shoulder, coughing from the heat and soot. His knuckles were white around the handle of his axe.


“Kulinerib, sir! We have to get through this door,” he said.

“I know, soldier. What of Captain Uzolabir?”

“The marksdwarves report that they are trapped. Two doors are melted; the third collapsed,” Oslanzanos replied.

“Damn. Grab Cilo and Renu and see if your axes can open up –“

My order was interrupted by a shuttering tremor from below
us. Deep below us. In the heart of
the fortress.

“NOW!” I screamed. As Oslanzanos moved back into the billowing smoke, yelling for his comrades, I heaved my great Warhammer at the
door. My arms tautened as the exquisitely tempered steel, forged in this very fortress, met the iron bracings of the­ door. No avail.

Our entire military was trapped in these rooms!

In a matter of moments, Oslanzanos had returned, with the other axedwarves in tow. The door was beset by the glimmering edges of that
renowned steel.

To allow myself to breathe, I sat down on a toppled column, under the billowing smoke.

How could this have gone so wrong? When the first reports of a dragon had come in from a band of hunters, they had been laughed all the way to the butcher’s workshop. The residents of Gildpasses had grown accustomed to occasional visits from Forgotten Beasts, but they always remained in the great caves. A
few years prior, a Roc had attacked, but the mayor had insisted that it was after the Dwarven caravan that was trading at the time. The caravan guards had dispatched it easily enough, and Gildpasses had feasted on Roc meat for months.

But dragons! These
were creatures concocted to scare children. We dwarves are necessarily grounded, our roots placed firmly in the hard rock of reality. Our knees trembled not at old wive’s tales.

When the first plumes of smoke blossomed over the walls of the surface keep, and it became clear that our wives may have been onto something, after all, the mayor scrambled to issue orders. The animals were charged to their underground siege pen, citizens were confined to safety underground, and the moat bridges were ordered raised. The elven traders who occupied the Depot looked down their noses at the dwarven panic, and sneered.


For some reason, the bridges were never hauled up. Three marksdwarves were sent up to the surface keep to grab some additional bolts and report on
the situation. Two of them never returned. Seeing the bridges open and the dragon on the stoop, they had valiantly, and vainly, charged. Not trained or equipped
for such combat, they were felled in two swipes of the dragon’s mighty claws. The third marksdwarf fled back into the fortress.


I received my orders to position my elite infantry squad, “Granite,” in the entrance training rooms, where we were now trapped.

We knew nothing of dragons, but we knew our own strength. In
the open, we would surely be destroyed, but the hallway outside these training rooms was designed for one purpose: defense. Arrow slits ran the length of the
hallway, and hidden traps abounded. Our best hope was to engage this beast in the confines of our entryway.


I think our defenses would have held, but for the ire of
whatever god we had angered. We heard the enormous whoosh of dragonfire from the surface, followed by the shrieks of elves. I imagine their sneers melted away. A second blast of fire sounded much closer, and the cry of a lone donkey mixed with it. Knowingly or not, the dragon had melted the first level of traps and defenses. Two more steps, and the donkey would not have attracted the fire - the dragon may have been trapped.

Smoke trailed down the stairs at the opposite end of the hall. We prepared our weapons, and marksmen took aim through the fortifications. Before we had time to react, the dragon leapt down the stairs. Black, scaly, and massive, its jowls bounced as it unleashed a sweltering wall of dragonfire. I slammed the door shut to avoid certain death, and could only listen as the marksdwarves yelled that they couldn’t see anything. The dragon ignored us entirely, and crashed down the staircase just outside our door, intent on something deeper down – gold? Death? Destruction?

With a great creeeaaak, the door finally sagged and splintered. Blinding waves of heat poured into the room.

“Through the door and down,” I yelled.

Kulinerib behind me, I crawled to the stairwell and slid down the first few steps. Glancing at my knees, I saw that the leather pads below my greaves had blistered and cracked. Another rumble from the deep, even more powerful this time.

We proceeded down through the fortress – past storage areas and craftworks enveloped in flames; past a smoldering temple; past an abandoned barracks.

I gagged on the stench of burning hair, cloth, flesh, and bones. A scorched dog padded past, looking confused.

As we emerged from the staircase into the heart of the fortress, where the residences, throne room, library, and arena could be found, I hefted my great hammer, preparing for mortal combat.

I saw the last thing that I expected to see: blurred by the haze of smoke and heat was a massive, crumpled shape. Crawling from under the beast’s limp claws was a lone dwarf. He dragged with him a shattered, simple spear and partially-melted shield. On his armor was the blazon of a hen – the symbol of the fortress cadets.

We ran to his side, and I seized his hand. He looked into my eyes, and said the motto of Granite, the elite squad that he had not yet been permitted to join.

“Never broken.”

He closed his eyes and didn’t reopen them.

As I sat there with this fallen dwarf, the residents of
Gildpasses gathered around us. Shock still prevailed, alloyed now in equal measure
by relief and sorrow. I could only sit, drawing short, stinging breaths. The
sudden calm and steadiness of the ground left me open to echoes of the last
hour.

 

I find myself sitting now, far beneath the bustle that has returned to Gildpasses. The cold stone of this crypt reminds me of the heat of death. This is my refuge from my duties, from the petty politics, and from the
flood of visitors that have flocked to Gildpasses, with its famous steel and roaring economy. Many have forgotten. Some never knew. We came so close to oblivion by fire.

Outside this chamber are rows of coffins and memorial slabs, the resting places of the casualties of the dragon. But this inner sanctum has only one golden sarcophagus. A memorial slab is carved with the following words:

“In memory of Cadet Kerdastot

Born 55

Bled to death, slain by the Dragon Acathi Swelterflickered the Glow of Taxes in the Rampage of Acathi in the year 121

Slayer of the Dragon Acathi, standing alone against its might

Savior of Gildpasses

Devoted husband”

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