The Titan's Hammer
It was cold. That was the main problem. Too cold and night was setting fast. As Mantarok looked across the snowy field, he was barely able to see the tree line because of the swirling wind and flurries of snow. He and his friends had come north in search of the Titan's Hammer, a supposedly giant hammer of great magical power. From what he knew of it, the Frost Giants of the Frozen Wastes held it in their stronghold. In the warm southern lands, it was all fun and adventure to think about going and getting it. Once they found themselves here however...He looked back at Saerah and Allen, Allen leading their horse and Saerah wrapped in warm furs sitting on its back. Looking back, all he could think was, 'I should never have listened to that damn dwarf.'
“I'm telling you it's real!” Tanlinn shouted at the gnome sitting across from him. Gimble, the gnome, simply shook his head and said, “It is a geological impossibility. No hammer of that size would ever be forged. It's impossible to exist.” The dwarf took a drink from his tankard of ale and shook his head, a small spray of ale sitting on his beard below his lower lip. “And I say what does a gnome know of forging hammers? The ancient human magi, they could have done countless different things with their magic!”
Gimble rolled his eyes, knowing that once Tanlinn started talking crazy about the “ancient human magi” that it would be a while before he could talk rationally again. Gimble generally weathered such conversations with good-nature, but before he could say anything a human approached their table. He was young and very tall, wearing nice clothing and had a holy symbol to Mithrious pinned to his shirt. His blonde hair fell loose about his shoulders and he grinned as he said, “I heard you talking about the Titan's Hammer, correct?”
Tanlinn looked up at the human and raised an eyebrow. He was slow to respond, sitting and thinking about the man's holy symbol. An open worshiper of Mithrious, even in the Akari coasts, was a dangerous man to associate with. After Emperor Broodan had outlawed the practice, most clerics and believers had either converted to that abominable new religion, The Church of Maltier, or gone into hiding. Finally, he gave a wary, “Aye, that we are.”
The young man smiled broadly and said, “Well, my friends and I have actually been looking for that very artifact. I don't suppose you've any knowledge of where it might be?” Tanlinn let out a laugh and Gimble rolled his eyes. The two had been talking about it, before beginning to argue over its existence. Tanlinn said, “Oh, we know where it is. See my gnome friend and I have a contest where he finds the location of artifacts and I have to go track it down. If I return alive and with the item, I win. If I die or return empty-handed, he wins.” Tanlinn added with a chuckle, “I'd like to point out that I've yet to lose.”
The young man extended a hand and said, “Well, it sounds like you are just the two gentlemen I would like to speak to. My name is Mantarok Kandrick, and it's a pleasure to meet you.” The dwarf shook his hand and Gimble simply placed a scroll into his hand when Mantarok opened it towards the gnome. Gimble shook his head, a loose strand of brown hair falling down across his face as he said, “It's like I was telling Tanlinn, it can't exist. It must simply be an exaggeration or a falsehood. No hammer could be that size!” Tanlinn simply snorted and muttered something into his mug about gnomes and forging.
Mantarok looked at the map and said, “Well, if you know where it is, why isn't Tanlinn setting out?” Tanlinn coughed and spluttered in his upturned mug and snatched the map out of Mantarok's hands. Pointing at a mountain range and he said, “Because it lies in the lair of a particularly brutal Ice Troll. None who attempt to kill him survive.”
Tanlinn folded the map and handed it back, saying, “It would be suicide to try to pilfer from a Ice Troll. I would be dead before I could even get to the hammer...” he looked to Gimble, who was about to interject and said quickly, “Which does exist!” Mantarok grinned and said, “Well, how much would you be interested in selling it for?” Gimble looked to Tanlinn, then at the young man sitting there. He piped up, “You are joking, right? No one could get in and out of that place alive. You'd just end up in his Ice Troll stewpot.”
Mantarok placed a large pouch that clinked as it hit the table as he grabbed the map and said, “Well, I'll be sure to stop by and let you know how it went then. Though I imagine once I have the hammer, you'll be hearing about me well before you see me.” With a laugh, he headed back over to a table where a beautiful half-elven woman was sitting with another man whose features were hidden by his upturned hood and a scarf wrapped across his lower face. Tanlinn and Gimble both shrugged and went back to their drinks. After a bit, the woman let out an excited laugh and all three got up and left the tavern. Gimble reached into his bag and pulled out another map. “This one, I think you'll find interesting. It's an ancient city from the Age of Magi. Supposed to be one of the last surviving cities left from that time period.”
Mantarok shook some more snow from the furs he had wrapped himself in and let out a sigh. His breath billowed before him as he gestured to the others towards the tree line. Once they were close enough he yelled over the storm, “We have to get to shelter until this storm is over! Saerah, can you do something about the cold?” Saerah nodded, though Mantarok recognized a slight bit of worry in her eyes. They had thought they had prepared adequately for the trip, but it seems they hadn't counted on the temperature and weather being as harsh as it was.
Saerah, however, was no coward. She was one of the most adept magic-users of their time and she was willing to coerce the arcane to bend to her will, if need be. Allen, however, was not too worried. He had survived harsher conditions, though never any as cold as this. Luckily, he knew about surviving in the wild, so if Saerah's magic failed them, he would be able to construct a hasty shelter. Mantarok was born and raised in cities, his talents were not in the outdoors.
They continued and finally found themselves under the slight protection of the trees. Allen set Mantarok to gathering wood, but dry wood was not readily found under their current conditions. Luckily, Saerah was able to dry the wood out using a spell she had learned during her apprenticeship. Swiftly, Allen set about making a small fire. Unfortunately, he was unable to get a spark to catch, try as he might with his flint and tinder. Eventually, he gave up in anger and disgust and threw the flint down. Saerah stepped up and whispered gently to the wood and suddenly a small fire bloomed forth. Allen glared at her, then picked up his flint and said, “Well, if you could do that from the beginning, why make me bother?”
She smiled sweetly and said, “It's more fun to watch you struggle. Besides, didn't want to step on your rugged, outdoors man ego.” Allen grumbled and began to set up the tent. Mantarok rifled through the pack and pulled out some trail rations they had picked up at the last town they had been in. Apparently it was some sort of smoked walrus jerky. It wasn't bad, though it definitely had a unique flavoring to it. Saerah bit into it delicately and frowned. She was not a fan. Mantarok handed a piece to Allen, who had finished erecting the tent around the fire. Allen removed his scarf and slowly chewed on the piece of jerky. Of the three of them, Allen seemed to enjoy the taste the most. Mantarok simply ate his with his usual enthusiasm and they all gathered together in the tent.
Three sleeping bags were laid out on the floor and each of them sat down upon one. They chatted quietly amongst themselves but eventually the conversation turned to the topic of the Titan's Hammer. Mantarok pulled out an old weather beaten tome and opened to a page with a picture of an ornately decorated hammer. It had a massive handle, inlaid with all manner of gems and precious jewels. But as large as the handle was, the head of the hammer was even larger. In the middle was a stylized fist, and it looked like it was holding the head of the hammer. Each end of the head had several thick spikes set into it. It was said that if one could wield the massive artifact, they wield immense power.
As morning dawned the next day, Mantarok stepped out to greet the rising sun. It seemed the storm passed in the night and he saw with his new visibility they were much closer then he had thought. As he knelt and prayed to Mithrious, basking in the warm glow of her loving rays, Allen stepped out of the tent. Crouching next to Mantarok, he said, “Saerah is still sleeping. Breakfast?” Mantarok nodded and rose with his friend. Pointing to the nearby mountains, he said, “I think we are really close to the Ice Troll's lair. Do you want to do some scouting and we can wait here for you?”
Allen nodded. Though he had an idea that while scouting ahead was certainly a good idea, Mantarok likely just wanted some time alone with Saerah. The two got along well enough, but it always seemed like there was some undercurrent of tension between the two. Allen had a feeling it was likely to blossom into love, but for now they tended to argue more then anything else. But they were young kids and emotions at that age are difficult. Allen wistfully thought back to meeting and wooing his own wife. He smiled at the thought, though it quickly turned sour as it brought up unwanted pangs of hurt at the thought that his beautiful Marianne was no longer with him. Regardless, it wasn't any of his business to be letting his mind wander when there was tracking and scouting to be done. He set out to explore the terrain.
Mantarok went back into the tent after Allen left and looked at the sleeping form of Saerah. He smiled and thought to himself how extra-ordinary she was. The youngest wizard to have attained her level of ability, she had been training from an early age to be the best at it. That is, until Broodan had won the war and set into place several laws forbidding any of the Academies to train any students who weren't human. Saerah's teachers had snuck her away under cover of darkness and with Mantarok's aid before any harm could befall her. She had been holding up remarkably well considering her academic training had ended so abruptly and early. Saerah took a pragmatic view of it though, always saying that “her schooling may have ended, but it was simply because she was so good they needed her to go to her practical training immediately.”
She stirred and began to wake. Mantarok stepped outside and rubbed his hands together. Eventually, she stepped out of the tent. She was wrapped in her winter furs and holding her spell-book as she studied the pages. Looking up briefly, she saw Mantarok looking over their baggage and she smiled. He was very handsome and very brave, to be sure. 'It's a pity he isn't as smart as me.' she thought as she went back to her studying. It was sometimes frustrating for her to try to have conversations with him and he couldn't keep up with her pace.
Still...he was pleasant enough to have around and she certainly did like him. She just wasn't sure if she liked him well enough to invite the absurdity of romance into her mind. She disdained romance and had tried to avoid it through most of her life. Many of her fellow students, male and female, had expressed interest in her but she had rebuffed all of her would-be suitors. Romance simply distracted from study and reading, her only true loves. But ever since she had met the handsome and quick-witted paladin, she had been finding herself sadly distracted. It was only through her immensely well developed iron will that she refused to allow him into her heart.
Once finished with her studying, Saerah looked over at Mantarok and said, “By the way, where is Allen? I miss his cheerful demeanor and optimism.” Mantarok chuckled and said, “He is just looking out for us 'kids'. I've known him for many years and he's never forgotten that we met by him saving my life. I sent him out scouting, we are much closer then I thought last night and I don't want to approach this cave with no warning or come across an Ice Troll by surprise.” Saerah nodded in agreement. She wasn't willing to admit it to herself, but she was very nervous about facing a full-grown Ice Troll.
Allen returned about midday, and said, “I found the cave. It's not too far from here, which is a frightening thought. I think we are well-within it's hunting range. We have to be careful, because I'm sure it will be more then happy to have us for dinner.” Saerah nervously swallowed and said, “Well, I suppose I should be glad then that I studied up on my fire spells for today. I did some research and from what I hear Trolls are remarkably sturdy creatures. It will heal itself and regenerate any wounds unless you burn them with fire.”
The two men nodded and Mantarok loosened his sword in its scabbard. Allen as well strung his bow and strapped a fresh quiver of arrows to his back. Saerah looked at him and said, “Here, I have an idea. Let me see your arrows.” Allen acquiesced and she spoke a few words of magic while gesturing over the arrows and pinching a small piece of sulfur over the quiver. She handed it back and said, “Now they should burst into flames after your shoot them. Will definitely be helpful.” Allen nodded and strapped the quiver on his back again.
Allen stepped forward and said, “I'll lead you to the cave. Once there, I think we should see if it is home or not. Hopefully it may be out raiding and we can go explore it's cave.” The other two nodded and followed his lead as he moved deeper into the forest. After several hours of marching, they found themselves at the entrance to a small cave. The entrance was littered with the bones of vaguely human looking skeletons, as well as the carcasses of rotting beasts and animals. Saerah wrinkled her nose in disgust as Mantarok retched quietly behind her. Allen motioned for them to wait there and whispered, “I'm going to investigate the cave. If it is in there, I'll attempt to sneak out. I'd be prepared though...just in case.”
With that, he began to sneak into the dark cave mouth. The smell of rotting meat and unwashed flesh was staggering. As he moved deeper into the cave, the dark started to become too deep for him to see through. Luckily, right before the light ran out, he saw the slumbering bulk of the Ice Troll. It was a massive creature, stretched out at least ten feet in length. It had on a crude loin cloth of what looked to be human flesh and had a polar bear hide as a blanket with the head of the bear resting upon its own head. Allen paused, unsure of what to do. They would have to draw the creature out to claim the treasure that lay deeper in its lair, but he was unsure as to what the best method for that would be.
As he stood there thinking, his ears twitched as he caught the sound of snuffling. The Troll's eyes were opening and it's nose was flexing as it sniffed the air. Allen started to creep out as he heard the thunderous crash of the creature standing up and moving about the cave. It rumbled a growl and spoke something in a language that Allen didn't understand. The intention was clear enough though, as the Troll started moving quickly towards the entrance of the cave. Allen forwent all attempts at stealth at this point and broke into a run, yelling out to Mantarok and Saerah, “Troll! It's here! Troll!”
As soon as Allen ran, the Troll's head whipped about and let out a bellowing roar amidst a spray of spittle. It reached over and grabbed a uprooted tree that it used as a club and charged towards the puny human attempting to flee. It let out an almost malicious laugh as it slammed the make-shift club towards Allen. Allen luckily dived out of the way of the club and it crashed into the ground he had been standing on only moments before. The troll let out a disgruntled growl and lifted the club again to smash the human. Allen rolled to his feet and started running again, only to be swatted at again and again. Allen, however, was light on his feet and good at dodging such ponderous and slow attacks.
As he burst out of the cave, He saw Mantarok standing off to the left and Saerah hiding behind a low ridge. Immediately, the troll burst out of the cave and made a grab for Allen. As it did, Saerah finished her incantation and pointed at the troll. The troll let out a pained roar as it's flesh burst into fire and blackened. It swatted at its body, attempting to put out the flames that were consuming it. Allen quickly pivoted and launched two arrows at the Troll, which lodged themselves in its arm, after they had burst into flames. Mantarok quickly leapt off the rock he had been standing on and drove his sword into the neck of the burning troll.
It roared in pain and anger and grabbed onto Mantarok. Wrenching the sword out of the man's hand, The Troll threw him off and away from itself. Mantarok landed with a loud crunching sound against a tree trunk and lay still. Allen grimaced and launched two more arrows as he tried to stay out of the way of the Troll's grasping hands. Saerah let out a scream at the sight of Mantarok getting tossed like a rag doll and stood up out of her hiding spot. The Troll's head immediately turned to this new movement and let out a crude laugh. It recognized a magic-user when it saw one and knew they were easy to kill and eat. Ignoring the peppering of arrows and attempts of Allen to get its attention, it moved towards the young half-elf.
Saerah began speaking in strange words and her hands suddenly burst into flames. As she continued to recite her spell, a strange symbol began to form on the ground before her. Suddenly, the symbol collapsed in on itself and revealed a fiery portal. Out of it, a gigantic serpentine creature made entirely out of fire burst forth and bellowed a challenge to the Ice Troll. The Troll's eyes widened in fear as it attempted to stop its charging momentum. Allen let out a gasp at the sheer power of the elemental that Saerah had summoned forth. The being was composed entirely of fire, birthed from the very plane of flame and heat. Its very touch withered and charred the flesh of the Ice Troll. Soon, the Troll let out a strangled cry of agony as it burst into flames and collapsed, slowly burning till nothing but the skeleton was left.
The Elemental then turned towards Saerah. She wavered slightly on her feet, but she maintained control. But clearly her strength was fading and Allen could see that the Elemental knew that. It longed to consume her as well and only needed her to falter once for it to destroy her. Allen shouted out, “Send it back!” but she shook her head and cried out, “I don't know how...I've never summoned anything like this before without a controlled environment.”
Allen raced over to her as the creature of fire loomed over her, testing her will and finding the chinks in her mental armor. It was like an inferno when he reached her side, how she could stand the heat Allen was not sure. “You have to send it back! It will kill us all if you don't!” Saerah glared at him and shouted, “I know that! You think I don't know that? I don't really know how I summoned it in the first place!” Allen rolled his eyes and looked around. Maybe if he could somehow get it to go back onto the portal it might be sent back. It seemed to be avoiding it as it moved closer to Saerah. Allen looked at the distance and let out a breath.
“Okay, I'll see what I can do.” he said as he ran up to the giant fire snake. It looked at him and hissed something in the language of the elements. Allen simply waved at it and yelled loudly as he danced around. It let out another hiss and slithered closer to him. Allen kept backing away towards the portal, hoping the creature wouldn't see what he was attempting to do. Suddenly, he felt the ground give way beneath his heels and he knew he had reached the edge of the portal. The fire snake reared up for a lunge and Allen dived out of the way at the last second. The lunge propelled the elemental into the portal, where Saerah let out a final yell and it snapped shut.
The danger gone, the strain and toll of the magical energies she had summoned forth threatened to bring her to her knees, but Saerah refused to collapse. Weary as she was, she moved towards Mantarok's still form, quiet tears falling down her cheeks and freezing from the cold. She knelt beside him and felt his face. It was so cold and it didn't seem like he was breathing. Blood seemed to ooze from a wound in his side, likely a spot his armor had bent in and hurt him from the crash. She touched his cheek and whispered, “Please don't die, Mantarok. I...I...” she let out a cry of surprise as his eyes fluttered and he let out a groan of pain.
“You what?” he said, his voice heavy with pain. He managed a smile and said, “I'm not too hurt...” he winced as he attempted to sit up and was unable to do so. Saerah let out a laugh and called Allen over to help her get his armour off. Once it was, she saw that indeed the armour had buckled in and cut his side. The wound wasn't too grievous though and they were able to dress it adequately enough with some bandages and healing herbs that Allen had gathered. Once standing, he gestured to the cave and said, “Well, that wasn't too hard, was it? Looks like our treasure awaits inside.” and started towards the cave entrance.
Allen and Saerah grinned and followed after him. They lit a torch and moved past the sleeping area of the monster. Saerah made a mental note to check it for anything of value that the Trolls previous meals may have left behind. Moving past it, there was a large tunnel that led deep underground. It felt like they had been marching for hours, and the whole time the temperature inside the tunnel seemed to be increasing with each step. Finally, they saw a light glimmering in the distance and Saerah pointed out that the tunnel seemed to be changing from a rough-hewn rock to worked stone.
Eventually, it opened up to a large room that was lit by massive torches. It looked like there had been several other entrances to this room at one point, but they all were collapsed and full of rubble. But sitting in the center of the room was a massive altar. All along the walls were ornate friezes, depicting giant human looking creatures smithing and forging a massive hammer. Statues of perfect looking men of gigantic proportion stared silently down on them as they struggled to move up the stairs that led to the altar.
Finally they reached the top of the stairs. The altar looked to be made out of pure obsidian, carved somehow to depict a raging battlefield. And perched atop it, sitting in a golden stand was the Titan's Hammer. Saerah let out a giggle of excitement as Mantarok clapped Allen on the back. “We found it, my friends. We found the Titan's Hammer.” The hammer looked exactly like the picture that Mantarok had been carrying. It was massive in scale and they could hardly believe that anything could have ever been large enough to wield such an item.
Staring in awe and reverence, they were startled when a booming voice called out, “Those who would seek to use the Titan's Hammer, beware! For those that created it were cursed for failing to remember this simple law. Power is meant to protect, never to harm. Those who would dare to use the Hammer of the Titan's must remember that its strength is not in destruction, but in protecting others.”
With that, the altar sank into the ground, leaving the Hammer even with the floor. Mantarok stepped forward and took hold of the handle as he called out, “I swear upon Mithrious that I will only use this Hammer to defend and protect!” With that, the hammer quickly began shrinking down in size until it was the appropriate size for Mantarok to wield comfortably. The voice boomed out again, “Then go forth, young paladin. You have a fate none will envy, but if you keep to your oath, it may work out in the end for good.”
With that, a low rumbling began. Soon, the entire room was shaking and pieces of rubble began to fall from the ceiling. The trio of friends quickly ran back to the tunnel, dodging large rocks and pieces of stone as they made their way across the room. Once in the tunnel, they stopped as the last of the rubble fell and tumbled down, leaving the room blocked off forever. Saerah let out a sigh and finally said, “That is amazing, Mantarok. I can't believe you were able to get it! I can't wait to see the look on that gnome's face when he bring this back!” Allen and Mantarok grinned and nodded. As they made their way out of the cave, Mantarok linked arms with his friends and smiled.