Paragon Ablaze – Chapter 2: Whispering Truths
“You are in need more Aghm.” The soft-spoken words seeped out of the thane’s mouth; my trainer’s rasp just slightly shaping the whisper into my ear.
I had learned that an old battle wound had left her unable to speak properly. She bore a scar that traveled from her throat, past her chin and ending just underneath her left cheek bone. As I lay abed, I knew her whisper was signaling me because my thane-mentor did not like to mince words.
She moved fast. I heard the stretch of her leather first. Between clasps of my groggy eyelids, I saw a glint of metal in the air. Then, I heard steel clattering at my feet. The blade had been thrown. It was time to…
The next strike was swift. An axe cast downwards from the ceiling. Widely telegraphed as a lesson and cutting through the stone shelf above me. I didn’t have time to equip the blade. It was too far from me. Before I could ever bend down and reach up, the axe would cut into me. I would have lost an arm – had I not raised the shield I slept with.
We exchanged looks. The rival axe scraping my shield as my trainer dragged it across the steel surface. The Thane smirked and push-kicked me before I could fully recover. I flung half across the room with the wind knocked from me.
“Hear me earlier?” She asked, her voice hoarse in the space between us now.
I looked for any usable weapon between me and the blade by my bed. It was more important to think of how to survive now before I even responded to her. There. A dagger on the table between us.
“Yes master.” I said, moving for the dagger, but now she was already charging me. I had a small moment to grab the dirk before raising my shield in defense.
She struck me. Hard. Knocked me off my feet again. Then, she stood over me and rested the axe gently on my shoulder — right against my neck.
“Never your master. You are Dweghom.”
Rolled over, my shield swinging with all my strength and making contact with her axe.
“A slave nevermore!” She screamed as she brought her foot down to stomp me. Instead, she met my dirk as it slashed at her leg. It was a minor wound that wouldn’t slow her down for long.
Got up. Ran towards the blade. Jumped up and over two chairs towards my bed. Grabbed the blade by the handle. It was a sword, scorched by fire and with three notches where it had been used to catch my Thane-mentor’s blade yesterday. Preferred the spear from last week. I gripped the blade in my free hand, fastened the shield in the other, and turned around.
She was standing right in front of me already swinging. This time they were tighter slashes with the bit of her axe.
“I remember,” she said between the strikes. “I always remember.” Her strikes were getting stronger. I swung my sword to intercept. A fourth notch was made, and sparks flung into our faces.
“Burned into my mind as it is into my body.” Now, she didn’t half to try. She was speaking casually while I was heaving with each parry of the blade and block of the shield.
“I remember…when the flames of dragons licked our backs. Wounds more horrendous than any whip you’ve ever known.” Another blow. “Mneumancers make us remember every day.” Parried her attempt to hook my blade. “The wounds would cauterize too from the heat.” A downward cut this time. “Made the slaves all that ready to begin working again.”
She charged in again. I attempted to raise my shield but her axe’s glint from toe to heel had me blinded and she managed to disarm me in a matter of seconds.
“You are Dweghom.”
She didn’t relent. Body-checked me against the wall and I lay there disarmed, unable to catch my breath, and with a dull ache in both of my arms. She stood over me and scoffed.
I don’t know whether she was angry or disappointed. Her face was as inscrutable as stone and her expression remained stoic. Her body was what mirrored lava, always moving, never a moment of pause. She sauntered over to me and placed a bag of spears into my arm. Produced pieces of jerky and placed them in my pocket. Picked up my blade off the ground and sheathed it for me. Picked up my shield and tied it to my back. I felt pampered after I’d already been embarrassed. I’d just lost the fight. I was angry. So I pulled away from her and stormed out.
She followed me out and I blew up like a steelshaper’s forge running on coal gas.
“Y’know, I remember too!” I told her. “You’re not the only one the Mneumancers have worked on. I remember how you thanes cowed to dragons!”
Stupid words of a young Dweghom without the Aghm to back it up. In some holds, those were fighting words. Words you could be killed over. But my Thane-mentor? Not one response from her. Not a word, whisper, or sound. Instead, she walked over to me and said:
“Now we do the Dheukorro.” Another blow of another kind.
I didn’t even have time to be stunned at her response to my outburst. She had just uttered the words that most dweghom fear and revere the most. She had just casually stated that we were descending into the pits of the earth – far below to a point where all holds converge and where all dweghom originated. A place that is both our birthplace and hell.
The words burned a hole in my stomach; shoot a ballistae bolt through my brain; left me dazed like I’d been struck with the pommel or drank twenty flagons of mead.
I expected to prepare years to undergo the Dheukorro. Some warriors did just that. And now we were going to descend into the depth of Dweghom society and undergo the toughest challenge for Dweghom. On a whim? A challenge that even some thanes fail. Without a plan?! I communicated that much to her in a confused jumble of words. Her response?
I had no idea then of the horrors that I would soon face.