Lord of Thunder
A Tale by Michael DeAngelo
Chapter One: A Tale of Blood and Thunder
His wrists were rubbed raw, the ropes binding them lubricated in the man’s blood. Still, despite that discomfort, Bolt Thunderfury worked at releasing himself from his bonds. The wooden post that rooted him in the center of his cell was splintered and chipped, but the prisoner knew it was no use trying to tug it free or snap it in half. Those ropes became his focus, though not a single fray had been made. Tarsonians made their cords strong indeed.
The clatter and clanking of iron down the earthen halls registered throughout the concealed prison. Those other captives began mumbling and whispering, and before long, the march of the Tarsonians echoed past Bolt. The gate had opened and the Pass of Gideon had claimed more victims.
Bolt ceased his weary, painful work, resting his back against the post. He couldn’t remember a time when every one of his muscles wasn’t sore. His nerves had suffered worse in those few weeks since he’d been captured. Lying dormant, he no longer jumped at the cavern’s slithering millepedes, or blinked away the unyielding sound of condensation dripping from his earthen roof. He didn’t budge at all when one of his captors passed by – except to stop working at finding freedom. His nerves might have been dulled, but he was not numb to the hope of liberation.
He could hear the separation of the prisoners, drawn down the many paths of the Pass of Gideon. As he imagined the spider’s web of hallways, two burly guards forced one of their claimed down the long stretch. With unkempt hair and stubble covering his face, it was clear he was not given much luxury as he was brought to the facility.
The newest arrival made eye contact with Bolt, and he narrowed those eyes while he dipped his chin. In one quick motion, he snapped the rope that bound him, and drove his elbow back into the nose of one of his captors. Before the other was even aware of what had happened, the fellow spun about, and drove the heel of his hand into the jailor’s chest, sending him flying backward.
His interest piqued, Bolt labored to his feet as voices rang out from every corner of the Pass of Gideon. The newest prisoner, already freed, turned once again to the man in the cell.
“Can you fight?” the stranger asked.
“If I was out of this cell and free of these ropes, aye, I could.”
“Then let’s get you out of there.”
Before Bolt could even offer up a protest, the man threw another open-palmed blow, that impact landing on one of the iron bars. That sound resonated through the prison like an oversized bell, nearly distracting Bolt from the truth of what had happened: the bar had bent. Another blow landed, and then another, until the bar flew from the slots at the top and bottom of the cell. A disarming grin was upon the stranger’s face as he sidled up to enter Bolt’s cell.
The snap of a whip was the only warning either prisoner was given. Before Bolt’s impromptu rescuer realized that he was snared, he was tugged back out of the cell. He only saw his aggressor’s bald head for a split second before an elbow slammed into his skull from behind.
Then, all was black.
* * * * *
It felt as though he bore the weight of the world on his shoulders. As he blinked away his stupor, his surroundings came into focus. A series of iron bars were his only window into the dreary place, with torches down the way casting their light much further than they could before growing dim. Still, eh could see across the dirty cavern path, to where another cell had been badly damaged, an iron bar bent out of place.
He remembered, then. Overconfidence had been his undoing. He hadn’t taken the necessary precautions, and then…
“You found your way under their skin.” In that opposite cell—behind a trio of new iron bars that were lashed atop the bent one—the prisoner flashed an awkward grin. “I was sure you’d broken the one’s nose, but they say you may have shattered the other guard’s ribs. He was having an awful time breathing. So they took a few extra precautions with you, hence the metal mittens you’re wearing.”
The prisoner lowered his eyes, taking account of himself for the first time since he woke. Sure enough, his hands were locked inside a pair of hefty gauntlets, chained to one another, but also each to a weighted ball. His hands rested on those blackened spheres, and when he tried to lift them, he felt every muscle in his body protest.
“That explains the ache in my shoulders,” he muttered. “I am Kazin. Who do I have the honor of sharing this dismal place with?”
“Bolt, of the Thunderfury Dwarves,” the other prisoner replied.
Kazin arched his eyebrow. “Your proportions seem a bit off, my friend.”
“The dwarves were kind enough to take me in. I was abandoned when I was just a babe. Of course, my home wasn’t without its hardships.”
“Which one isn’t?” The new prisoner groaned as he attempted to lift his arms. It was no use, however. “If I could just break these chains.”
“Believe me, even their ropes are sturdy. I’ve been working on mine for days, and all I have to show for it are burn marks on my wrists. Not so much as a single fray.”
“That’s discouraging,” Kazin said. “Still, I’d wager your freedom against mine in a heartbeat.”
“With the way you broke that bar? I doubt it. And snapping through those ropes and knocking around the guards… you sure you don’t have dwarven blood flowing through you?”
Kazin shook his head. “I’m a monk from Numasa. Every one of us has learned to channel energy through our bodies.”
“I can relate,” Bolt said.
“You said you’ve been working on your bonds for a few days now. Have you anything to show for it?”
“Every time I get any real momentum going, the pain in my wrists becomes too unbearable. I feel like I’ll work through my arms before I get loose of these damn ropes.”
“That’s disappointing. It looks like we may be here a while then.” Kazin sighed, and attempted to lift his arms once more, to no avail. Dejected, he laid his head back against the wall. “Tell me about these dwarves. I’ve heard of them, of course, but in my travels, I haven’t run across any of them. They’re also masters of martial prowess from what I’ve heard.”
Bolt let out a weak chortle. “My father was the storyteller of the family, not me.”
“Indulge me. Time is the one commodity it seems we have in abundance here.” The monk leaned forward, his brow furrowed in anticipation. “Surely you have that one great story that you’re proud to speak of.”
The other prisoner took in a deep, steady breath, and he let his gaze find focus on bars of his cell. “My father is often asked why I travel with the dwarves, and he always tells the tale of our battle with the harpies. But I’ve always been fond of the time when I was able to strike out on my own for the first time…”
* * * * *
A spring shower cascaded over the thatched roof of their cottage, and a distant rumble of thunder carried out over the land. A breakfast feast sat before the two young ones, and had Dorn and his family not been held in such high regard, the dwarven patriarch would have gasped at the pace in which his two growing lads gorged themselves. His family was known for their heroics, though, and it was a certainty that there would always be food upon their table.
One of those sons grew a bit faster than the other—no small thanks in part to his true lineage. Bolt was a human, mysterious delivered to the dwarves nearly two decades before. His parents were never found, but they, they were never sought after either.
Eli was Dorn’s trueborn son with his wife, Rena. What the young dwarf lacked in height, he certainly made up for in breadth, and appetite. With broad shoulders and toned arms, Dorn was sure his son would have aspired to joining Jor’s company of the Lightning Guard. He was instead inspired by the loss of one of their champions who had fallen in a venture to the far north. Uolo was one of the Thunderfury Dwarves’ most renowned clerics, and his death had surely taken a toll—one that was noticed by every dwarf about the Goldenscale cliffs.
While the lads tore into their hearty breakfast, their mother remained in the bedroom at the rear of the cottage. A winter cough lingered with her, stretching into the following season, and she was certain that rest would lift her spirits and cleanse her body. Still, it seemed odd to Dorn not to have Rena sitting at his side.
That rain outside subsided, bringing a smile to Dorn’s face. The musty smell meant repairs in the dwarven warren beneath them, but it also meant the wildflowers in the fields to the west would have an opportunity to grow. If anything could lift Rena’s spirits, it was the sight of those beautiful blooms.
Trading one pattering for another, those enjoying their breakfast heard the rapid footsteps that neared their door. Dorn was out of his seat before the first report of a fist on that sturdy entryway.
“Mister Dorn,” the fresh faced lad huffed. “Mister Dorn, they need you at the statue.”
“Easy there, youngling,” the older dwarf said, raising his hands to placate the visitor. He took note of the new arrival, his beard only a little longer than Eli’s. He was probably still too young to work in the mines. “Which statue are you on about?”
A great many statues speckled the Goldenscale Cliffs those days, memorials to the heroes and friends they had lost. The statue of Zeb stood in front of the mine, one for Thurgan was just at the entrance to the hall, and still another for Ingus watched the east road…
The way the young dwarf cocked his head was enough to reveal the truth.
“Vaulen,” Dorn said. He stepped outside the cottage, past the visitor, his bare feet landing upon the muddied path. A sideways glance showed the statue of their ancient king, towering over the cliffs. Even from that distance, he could see the odd shape upon it. “What is it lad?”
Before the young dwarf could offer a response, Dorn’s adopted son stepped out of the house, and followed his father’s gaze. “Is that another one?” Bolt asked. “Is there another one like me?”
“We called out to whatever is up there, but we didn’t receive an answer,” the visitor said. “One of the others saw wings, so we’re thinking harpies.”
“They’d be fools to come back again,” Dorn grumbled.
“Then let’s make sure they know that,” his son insisted.
His father furled his brow and lifted his finger to placate the boy, but he nodded instead. Passing a glance to his other son, Dorn offered a wink. “Stay here with your mother, Eli. We’ll be right back this way.”
Bolt was already on the move, nearly upon the bridge that crossed between the two cliffs. Even after all those years of living there, he still couldn’t keep from cringing as the musty aroma rose up from the deep crevasse. The fleeting rain always left his home reeking of sour earth.
Several moments later, the human and his dwarven father stood among the crowd, peering up at the giant metal effigy of their ancient king. Two members of the clan arrived beside them, carrying climbing gear that they knew Dorn would approve of. As he slung the coiled rope over his shoulder and grasped the grappling hook, Bolt stepped forward and held out his arm. “I’ll be upon the hammer before you reach Vaulen’s belt,” he challenged.
Dorn couldn’t keep a smile from separating his lips. “That sounds like a challenge. Maybe I’ll knock you down a peg or two and make you feel like a proper dwarf.”
The other members of the Thunderfury Clan joined in on the playful ribbing, and Dorn considered how far they had come. Bolt wasn’t just tolerated among them. He was accepted, his presence truly appreciated.
“You wouldn’t want that, Father,” the adopted son went on. “They’ll go ahead and make me king.”
“We’ll see, your highness,” Dorn said with a wink. Before Bolt moved an inch, the dwarf was spinning the grappling hook in small circles. He let it fly, and before it had even latched onto the statue, he went forth, leaping into the air after it. “See you at the top,” he cried.
Bolt stood there, at the base of Vaulen’s effigy, watching his father scale the length of rope. With those other dwarves urging him on, he finally stepped up to that perfectly forged metal representation of the king. As they pressed on with insistence, Bolt alternated between a closed fist and extended digits on each of his hands. A light tap to each of his steel tipped boots was the only action that brought his attention from his father. When he looked skyward again, Dorn was clambering into position beside the grapple.
The moment the human placed his hand against the statue, he could feel the electricity pulsing through is fingers. He pushed that energy through the surface, and put one foot into position as well, the boot clanging upon the metal. That static electricity kept him firmly in place, despite his weight. A devious smile was already on his face before he began his ascent.
Cheers rang out as the human rose into the air, climbing the statue without gear, or a tether, or even handholds. Though he was high above them in only moments, they could hear the crackle of energy every his hands or feet returned to the metal surface.
When Dorn hoisted himself onto Vaulen’s extended fist, he spun to sit on his rump while he collected the hook and the rope. When he ventured a glance ahead, he was surprised to see his son before him, offering up a pair of raised eyebrows and a mischievous grin.
Despite his diminished odds of winning, the dwarf couldn’t suppress a chortle. As his son focused once more on the climb, Dorn spun the grappling hook before him. He was in motion before the hook was thrown.
Fervor of cheers and applause accompanied the two competitors as they resumed their rise. Though Bolt’s ability gave him quite the edge, it never caused Dorn to falter. The dwarf’s momentum carried him up the statue just as quick.
While the human began the ascent up Vaulen’s upraised arm, Dorn rested upon the ancient king’s bushy metal beard, steadying his breaths. As his son reached the subtle crook of the statue’s elbow, he let the grappling hook fly one last time.
Bolt scaled around the opposite side of the arm, finding better nuances that the effigy was built with to step upon. As he continued into that final straight line that led to the hammer, he was face to face with his father, who pulled himself up the rope—without the use of his legs. Bolt laughed aloud and sped his ascent, throwing caution to the wind.
Both challengers rose over the lip of Stonemaw, their ancient king’s recreated war hammer. It was there that they saw the feathered wings that they had been warned about. Both looked on with furrowed brows as they looked upon the intruder, who had his fingers wrapped around the braided metal rope that circled the protruding handle. He looked at the pair of recent arrivals, alternating glances between each of them. With some hesitation, he let his hands slip from the statue, his posture straightening at once.
The dwarf and the human both saw his features more clearly then: his bronze feathers, wings that were separated from his arms—and a prolonged beak that extended from his face.
Dorn arched an eyebrow and crossed his arms over his chest. “Well, he sure isn’t a harpy.”