As the party rested, Erik read over the scroll’s contents carefully. His brow was furrowed as his blue eyes scanned the pages. “This isn’t going to be easy, Vimak. I’m not really used to this sort of thing.”
The goliath shrugged. “I’m not asking you to work a miracle, here; just follow the damn directions.” For emphasis, the barbarian jabbed his finger towards the rolled up parchment in Erik’s hands. “I have questions and that scroll is the only way I can get them answered. It can’t be that hard.”
“Shouldn’t we wait until we have more time? Or at least some less-stressful conditions?”
Unslinging his weapon, Vimak presented the axe to Erik. “This is the key to everything. I know next to nothing about my past, and this is all I have that links me to it.”
The cleric smiled. He understood Vimak’s point; he wished he could just ask an object to tell him who he was. Erik took the axe and went back to reading. “I’ll need a bit of time to make this work, but I think I can get it done. According to this, though, you can only ask a limited number of questions; based on my limited experience and lack of knowledge regarding the magic involved, you may only get a couple.”
“That’ll have to do. One answer is better than what I have now.”
It was another hour before the cleric felt comfortable enough to begin the ritual. Though the scroll made sure the prep time was significantly shorter, he was not taking any chances. The actual casting only took a number of minutes, but the magic involved was complex.
Moving off to a more secluded area, Vimak and Erik began the incantations. Laying the axe on a relatively flat rock, Erik practiced a few more times as Vimak arranged the necessary consumables around the weapon. As he did so, he glanced at the elaborate chiseled design in the blade of the axe: he could have sworn it had been glowing a split-second earlier. Vimak backed away, and tried to focus on his questions, and then nodded to Erik.
As Erik’s mouth formed the complicated syllables, the scroll began to glow. Brighter and brighter it became, until Erik spoke the final words. In that instant, the scroll erupted in a flash as it disintegrated. The small fire they had set up seemed to dim significantly. A quiet chilling whisper echoed through the small cavern, raising the hairs on the backs of their necks. “Ask your questions of this object…”
Erik nodded towards Vimak.
“I wish to know who crafted this weapon!”
The voice was raspy and calm. “Very well.” Both Erik and Vimak involuntarily shivered from the sound.
Everything around them disappeared as if it were a mist. Before their very eyes, things swirled, shifted, and changed. Suddenly, the pair stood inside a dark smithy. They could feel the heat from the forge behind them, and hear the constant clang of a hammer on steel. As their vision cleared, both Vimak and Erik could see their surroundings clearly. In front of them stood a dwarf; his arms were corded and thick, and his hair and beard long, black, and tied back. Vimak felt a sense of familiarity from the long hours he’d spent in Modyom’s forge working the bellows and trying out new weapons.
The dwarf’s arm pumped in a hypnotic cadence as the loud ring echoed through their whole bodies. The weaponsmith’s black hair was streaked with white. His face was old, yet somehow familiar. The dwarf stopped his hammering, and held the weapon up in front of him. “You shall be a fine weapon; one of the best an Ogreender has ever made.” Moving to a small workbench, the dwarf drew out a small chisel and minute hammer. Carefully, the craftsman set to carving out an intricate pattern into the axe’s face. After a few minutes the dwarf stopped and picked up a dusty book; he flipped it open to a marked page and began to read complicated and incomprehensible words. The glyphs carved into the axe began to glow. As his incantation came to a close, the dwarf walked over to the axe and held it up once again. “You are henceforth known as Talon, may you serve your master well.”
Their sight blurred and Erik and Vimak were back in the cave.
“Ask your question…”
Vimak called out his second question. “I wish to see a significant event in this axe’s lifetime!” Immediately, everything around the pair changed again. This time they were immediately chilled by the coolness in the air.
A petite human female with alabaster skin, emerald green eyes, and a head crowned with ringlets the color of flame, stands at the top of a stairway. She wore an exquisite russet gown and a supremely haughty, sneering expression.
Directly in front of her, two muscular, savage, seven-foot-tall humanoids stood menacingly. They watched with undisguised hatred and loathing as a hulking goliath stepped forward. Coarse hair covered their bodies, and they carried vicious-looking morningstars. The goliath moved carefully towards the beasts. The female stared at the male goliath. She uttered only two syllables. “Kill him.”
The bugbears rushed ahead. It was over nearly faster than Vimak and Erik could see. After a quick step and two hard slashes, the heads of both monsters had been removed from their respective bodies with a sickening sound. The goliath stood between the bodies as they crumpled to the floor. The axe in his hands was dripping blood; it was Vimak’s axe.
“Well done, Magnir Stormcrow. You honor your clan with your prowess. Unfortunately, your physical strength will not save you.”
The goliath’s voice called out. “I’ve come to stop you. The very primal spirits of the cosmos demand that you stop these experiments, witch.”
“You demand?” The woman chuckled. “You come alone, and that is foolish of you.” The woman turned her back to the barbarian. “Come, young warrior. I have something to show you.”
The goliath began to climb the stairs cautiously, axe at the ready.
The woman’s voice echoed over her shoulder back to the goliath. “Do you know what it is I’ve been experimenting with? No? Let me show you.” As Magnir reached the top of the stairs, he saw horror for the first time in his life. What must have been nearly a hundred bodies lay each on their own separate table in a huge expansive area. The woman was walking towards a table covered in books, reagents, and various other items. “I’ve been trying to discover how transferable the soul is. You can understand the concept of a soul, can’t you Magnir?” The witch paused slightly. “The soul is a funny thing; it is so very hard to grasp.” The woman turned suddenly, eyes locking with the goliath’s. “And I mean that literally.”
Magnir stopped short. “What have you done to my captured warriors? Have you killed them?”
The witch’s laugh was shrill and evil. “I was not the one to have killed them. You, my friend, had that honor.” She nodded her head towards the staircase and the slain bugbears. The woman turned back to the table and quickly did something.
The barbarian looked shocked. “You transformed them…?!”
“No, you idiot. Think bigger! I took their every being and MOVED it.”
“You’re a monster.”
“Think of how powerful that could be! Kings could be replaced; spies could easily infiltrate enemy camps. Don’t you see what I’ve uncovered?” The woman turned to face Magnir once again. She held something barely noticeable in her left hand. “Unfortunately, I had one last test I needed to perform before I perfected my ritual. That is, before you came barging in here.”
Magnir was confident, but a small amount of fear came through in his voice. “Your vile acts of desecration end here, witch.”
“Kill me and be done with it, then.” The woman had seemingly given up; her were shoulders slumped and her head was down. The goliath, let out a vengeful cry and rushed ahead to attack. Just before his axe sliced through her neck, the woman’s right hand lashed out, and caught the haft of the axe in mid swing. Magnir’s eyes grew wide in surprise. The witch’s left hand threw a kind of dust in the goliath’s face.
Immediately he began to cough. “Yes, fight it! Fight hard, you stone-skinned fool! You are the last piece of my puzzle, my dear Magnir. I think you will be my most enjoyable specimen yet. I’ll be curious to see how you take to your new home: I can’t imagine an axe being a very comfortable way to exist.”
As Magnir choked, he sputtered, “You may kill me, but my rage will live forever.”
The witch smiled. “Yes, my dear. Of that, we can both agree.”
The images around Erik and Vimak vanished once again, and they were back standing in the cave. The fire was low and the party was snoring. Erik looked at Vimak. The goliath was staring at his axe. The axe’s blade was glowing a soft red color. Erik couldn’t tell it, but inside Vimak’s head was a cacophony of screams.