Paragon Ablaze – Chapter 1
No Pain without Pursuit
No one talks about the pain. The searing heat that snakes up your arm as you take the flame into yourself. The wrenching agony as your skin cracks open and plumes of smoke emanate from the white-hot glow in your chest. No one talks about any of the fiery transformations that Dweghom undergo because there would be no Aghm in it for the few who have achieved it. I want to change that.
This journal is transcribed by my thane, Varro, on the eve of battle. It is a journal for the sorcerers and the berserkers, the fireforged and the heralds but it is also a journal for any dweghom, no matter the clan, to know what it means to earn true Aghm and to know why its pursuit is so sacred.
I’ve lived my entire life by Aghm — that tangible value that determines strength and worth all at once. My clan was consumed by the pursuit of it and I was raised by two hold warriors who cared nothing more than acquiring more Aghm. Unfortunately, they struggled to attain it. Like all dweghom, they would openly fight their clansmates. They brawled amongst each other. They challenged their lessors. They waged war against other holds. Dweghom against dweghom. Just so they could get more: stronger weapons; better armor; further respect. And all of that would translate into more Aghm.
I was not sheltered from this desire for Aghm as a child – in fact, I was draped in it. I was taught from the moment of birth to fight for what I want. Earn the rank I seek. I was raised with the expectation that I would surpass those who raised me. The warriors who raised me taught me how to walk by pointing at a location with calloused hands and shouting orders for me to move. Their scars would glisten in the forge’s flare as they taught me language through stories of enemies they had slain. Their sweat would cast onto me as they lifted axe over shield, ordering me do the same as a chore. I remember often looking at their hands and comparing them to my own, thinking I was a freak for having more fingers than them. It took me ten years to even realize that their hands once had the same amount fingers!
The two warriors who raised me had the goal in life to earn the rank of thane through Aghm. They cared about nothing else and I felt as if I had a part in it. At first, I believed my purpose was to help them. I would carry their shields out of battle, clean their hafts, and whet their blades. Then, as I began to best the other younglings around me, I slowly realized that no one my age could compete with my strength and I began to feel that I was more important. I felt as though I was their conduit for Aghm. I felt like they were moulding me into a weapon, training me to be a warrior capable of fighting alongside them. I felt stronger through their hymns of battle, their exercise of crashing blades, and their lessons from the back end of axe-shafts. And even as they fell in battle, I felt gracious to them for I had become their shining accomplishment.
Battle was everything to me then. With three battles under my belt, I had earned enough Aghm to lead a small regiment of warriors. With my ballistae, I would lead the vanguard against other holds of dweghom. My shots were accurate — once piercing through the eye of a warrior who had peered over his shield — but I was much better when I got in close. With my axe, I could hold my own against any two dweghom. After all, I had honed my dueling capabilities by sparing daily with two warriors. I’d fly first into any fight and challenge anyone who had better weaponry. It’s a wonder I’m still alive honestly. More naïve was my belief that the small amount of Aghm I had earned was even close to allowing me to become my hold’s thane.
It wasn’t until several years after my mentors fell in battle that I realized how much my caregivers fell short in society and how little they had prepared me. It did not happen right away. Not even as an invading Raegh and his dragonslayers made short work of my clan’s greatest warriors. Not even as he offered me the chance to survive by fighting unarmed against one of his brutes. Not even as I was forced to fight tooth and bone through a veteran’s armored hide to beat that defeated brute grey and blue. Not even as my new Raegh’s clansmen defamed my old clan and claimed everything they owned. Not until I was trained by my new Raegh’s thane. Not until her…did my respect for the warriors who raised me wane.
How could warriors compare to the tenor of the Thane. Her weapons were the pinnacle of her hold’s forge, not even chipping as she cleaved through my mentor’s axe with ease. Her body was solid as metal, attested by her kicks against my shield that rattled my brain. Her technique was flawless, seemingly allowing her to fight endlessly without rest.
I don’t know what she saw in me. I was a young dweghom less than half her stature and twice as overconfident, but she decided to take me in anyway. She never formally said that she was training me. She never said those words. She simply threw an axe at my feet and proceeded to charge with her own. She forced me to defend myself until my arms gave out and my body collapsed from exhaustion. Woke me up the next day and repeated that painful regiment again until well . . . until I concluded that she must’ve been training me. Why else would she spend time on someone with such inferior Aghm?
In my many years I’ve heard many different whispers and calls of goals other than the pursuit of Aghm. I’ve heard cries for vengeance, for control, and for unity. I aim to ignore these rebellions – for the Ardent have the right of it. Aghm is the only true salvation. It is blood of our people, the will that broke the chain, and the strength that ended our draconic overlords.
Don’t think I’ve forgotten about you, my reader. You must be wondering how I went from thane’s apprentice to a Warlord sorcerer leading my own army of thanes. Well…that story requires a few more entries. Its breathe is too voluminous and its scars are too deep for me to denigrate it to a few more minutes ranting to the thane under my command, who I’ve ordered to act as my scribe. I will just say that it begins with a whisper, ends in the sound of hoofs upon plate, and culminates with an inferno forge-high.