The party of dwarves ducked their heads as they traversed down the narrow brick and mortar corridor, the throat of the dragon whose mouth they’d just entered. They didn’t have much light, but they didn’t need to see to know they were travelling down a path that had not been graced by anyone’s presence in a very long time. They spat out ancient dust that was ash-like and quite distasteful, even for a dwarf.
The party continued in the darkness until they felt the ground beneath them start to level out. It didn’t take long for their eyes to adjust to the circular room they’d just entered with the smooth domed ceiling. In fact, the shimmering column of light in the center of the room helped to illuminate things quite nicely.
There was a brief thought toward drawing weapons when they saw a black dragonborn sitting cross-legged in front of the column. His eyes were closed, and judging by the amount of settled dust in the room (not to mention his lack of breathing) it was quite likely that he was dead. Ever so cautiously moving closer, the dwarven adventurers could make out the dirt-covered cloth wrapping the dragonborn wore. Closer still, they could see that the dragonborn’s ink-black scales all had a ridge of brown around the edges, like a slowly dying leaf.
“Guess he got tired of waiting for… whatever it was that he was waiting for.”
There might have been more to look at on the corpse, but the craftmanship of the hammer hovering inside the column of light was a bit distracting.
The dead became an afterthought as the dwarves surrounded the column, and the hammer within.
The hammer bobbed inside the glowing column of light like a cork in the river. The handle appeared to be thick, studded gold bands encasing a shaft of crystal. The bands wound tight around the grip, spaced out closer to the head of the hammer, then wrapped again around what appeared to be the glowing head of a platinum dragon.
“What are your intentions?” croaked a voice so raspy and dry it was as if the dust itself had learned to speak.
The dead-looking dragonborn, who was very much not, stood behind them with his hands folded in front of him. His eyes were still closed, but he seemed to regard each dwarf individually with a slight turn of his head.
“Kind of a fan of the hammer floating there,” Duerias said.
“Yeah,” Brolan said. “Fine piece of craftsmanship.”
“My name is Nagalax,” wheezed the dragonborn. “Humble member of the Order of the Whispering Shadow and guardian of the Zal’anyr.”
“The hammer has a name?” Duerias asked and looked at the weapon once again. “Fancy.”
“I assume then that the weapon is both powerful and with a purpose,” Brugan said.
“Yes.” Nabalax bowed his head slightly. “Zal’anyr is the weapon that will destroy the shard of Io.”
Vangar pulled his gaze from the hammer and focused it on the dragonborn. “Shard of what?”
Duerias nodded at the hammer. “Think it’s a dragon thing.”
Nagalax turned his plam to the ground. With a twist of his wrist, his palm righted with a small crystal in it. “Allow me to show you as best I can,” Nagalax said as he held the crystal to his forehead.
Brolan pointed a finger at the dragonborn. “It doesn’t look like you’re giving us much ch-”
Light flashed from the crystal, and the group watched the image of a large, multicolored dragon as it flew around the room. It’s scales shimmered with the illumination of a rainbow. “Io, Lord of the Gods and Shaper of Worlds, existed in the time of the primordials. During the birth of the world, Io created dragons to be the pinnacle of the mortal form and imbuing them with the power of the Elemental Chaos.”
Brugan was transfixed. “That’s one big dragon,” he whispered.
“During the time of the Dawn Wars, Io was cleaved from head to tail by the adamantine axe of the primordial known as Erek-Hus, King of Terror. No sooner had both sides of Io fallen to the ground, than they reformed into the two gods Bahamut and Tiamat. The drops of Io’s blood covered the world and rose as the Dragonborn.”
The crystal’s lightshow ended. Nagalax did not. “However, not all of Io’s divine might was captured by the newly formed Bahamut and Tiamat. Tiny fragments of Io’s divine power escaped. And it is this Shard of Io that has been foretold to wield the power to return Io back to life once again.”
Brugan considered what he’d just heard. “What of Bahamut and Tiamat?” he asked. “They can’t be pleased with that.”
“Bahamut is said to be cautious in regards to the prophecy. Tiamat wanted to leave nothing to chance and created Zal’anyr to both find and destroy any Shard.”
“So why are you guarding this thing?” Vangar asked as he stuck his thumb in the floating hammer’s direction.
I am waiting for the guardian of the Hammer to arrive. I can only assume he has arrived.
One of us?
No one has been down here in a very long time. The fact that you succeeded is evidence enough. One of you were meant to find the hammer.
The dwarves looked at each other. “So are we going to draw straws or something?” Vangar asked.
Brugan withdraw a sack and held up his hand. An unseen force plucked the hammer out of the light, the Knight’s hand guiding it across the room and setting it within the sack. “We can figure that out later. Let’s get going.”
Brolan looked at the dragonborn. “You coming too?”
Nagalax smiled. “I think I’ll rest her for awhile.”
Duerias shrugged. “Your choice.”
The group made their way back up the corridor, through the dungeon, and back up into the basement of the Keep. “So are we Shard hunters now?” Vangar asked out loud.
Brugan opened the doorway into the courtyard. “Only time will tell.”
The first thing the group noticed was the large amount of blood on the brick walls of the courtyard. The second was the two dozen men clad in matching chainmail, aiming crossbows at the dwarves. A single man sat atop a giant snarling wolf. “Little dwarves,” he said. “Your time has run out.”