Lost Chapter #24

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                      *    THE ADVENTURERS    *
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                      *     Lost Tales...     *
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*    Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and      *
*  other terms used in these stories are the property of TSR, Inc.  *
*  However, this does not mean that TSR in any way endorses or      *
*  authorizes their use, and any such items contained within these  *
*  stories should not be considered representative of TSR in any    *
*  way, shape, or form.                                             *
*    The player characters contained in these writings are copy-    *
*  right 1991-8 by Thomas Miller.  Any resemblance to any persons   *
*  or characters either real or fictional is utterly coincidental.  *
*  Copying and/or distribution of these tales is permissible only   *
*  under the sole condition that no part of them will be used or    *
*  sold for profit.  In that case, I hope you enjoy them...         *
*                                                                   *
*                                  Thomas Miller                    *
*                                  tmiller@cimmeria.ns.gatech.edu   *
*  Date:        12/24/43 C.Y. (Common Year)                         *
*  Time:        night                                               *
*  Place:       the hills east of the town of Greyhawk              *
*  Climate:     stormy                                              *
*  "No wonder you never show your face."                            *
*  "This _is_ my face."                                             *
*                                    - from a _Boba Fett_ comic     *

                    XXIV.  Birth of a Nightmare

  Malgorth the Wicked was pleased...very pleased.  In his dark tower
hidden away within the Cairn Hills (as they would come to be known in
later centuries, anyway) the evil wizard strode triumphantly, cackling
to himself as lightning flashed overhead.  There was a tremendous storm
brewing, though its rains and winds never touched the tower's walls,
and the skybound chaos pleased Malgorth.
  Then again, _all_ chaos pleased Malgorth, for he was as insane as
he was powerful.  His deeds were whispered in hushed, fearful tales
told halfway across the world.  It had been Malgorth whose foul
incantations had wiped out the great army of Furyon ten years past,
at the Fields of Blood.  It had been Malgorth who conquered the
great ice wyrm Frost, subjugating it to his will before it vanished
from the world entirely.  And who could forget the Day of a Thousand
Corpses, when Malgorth had impaled a thousand innocents to make a
point to a neighboring kingdom?  Aye, some even said that Malgorth
had been around since the days of the Rain of Colorless Fire, half
a millennium ago.
  Only Malgorth knew the truth, and he neither cared nor intended to
share the knowledge with anyone else.  Especially not tonight, when
his latest mad scheme was afoot.  Still cackling, he gathered the
necessary things and worked a mighty spell, vanishing from his dark
tower in the blink of an eye.

Malgorth:  (appears in a large, arched cavern, its walls and ceiling
  aglow from the open veins of lava running along parts of its stone
  floor)  Aha!
dark-skinned dwarf:  (turns, irritated)  I _told_ ya not to pop in
  like that, wizard!
Malgorth:  Never mind that.  How goes the work, my dear Gothnug?

  The duergar turned away as he answered, so that the cursed wizard
wouldn't see the look on his face.

Gothnug:  Everything's goin' fine, I told ya that last time.
Malgorth:  Everything had _better_ be on schedule.  I've spent years
  planning...gathering...preparing...and now, I am at the brink of
  my greatest creation yet.
Gothnug:  (looks dubious)  Uh-huh.
Malgorth:  Besides, for what I'm paying you, you can well afford to
  have all in readiness.  (he snorts)  Where is the subject?
Gothnug:  Huh?
Malgorth:  The dwarf, you idiot.  Where's the dwarf?
Gothnug:  Over here.  (he stomps away)
Malgorth:  (follows)

  The wizard didn't particularly enjoy being here, deep beneath the
world's surface, in this subterranean world some called the Underdark.
However, there was a price to be paid for everything, and if seeing
his experiment come to fruition meant staying a few hours in a deep
dwarf city, well, so be it.
  Malgorth didn't like Gothnug either, but the duergar was the best
blacksmith of his kind.  Malgorth hadn't even bothered to find a
"normal" dwarven smith to carry out his scheme - no sane dwarf would
have had anything to do with what they were about to undertake.  The
duergar had no moral reservations, however, so here they were.

Gothnug:  (stops before a thick iron door)  He's in there.
Malgorth:  (peers at the grille)

  There was a sudden, loud impact as the cell's occupant threw
himself into the door from the inside.  Although the portal was
several inches thick, and fashioned of strong iron, bits of dust
and rock still fell from its frame.

occupant:  Out!  Smash!  KILL!
Gothnug:  Boy, he's pissed.
Malgorth:  He should be, after what we've done to him.
dwarf:  (clawing at them from between the iron bars)  RARRGGGHH!
Malgorth:  (smiles)  Perfect.

  Twenty years ago, Malgorth had come up with his grand idea.  Ten
years ago, he'd begun searching, scrying, gathering intelligence
from worldly agents.  The object of his quest?  The meanest, most
savage, most dangerous warrior who ever lived and fought and hacked
his way through enemies.  Malgorth had begun with ogres, hulking
barbarians, even a hill giant.  But such creatures ultimately were
too fragile of spirit to survive the trials of Malgorth's mad and
twisted machinations.  Within days, sometimes hours, these powerful
creatures were reduced to cowering, mindless husks - useless.
  Furious at his failures, Malgorth raged across the world in
search of a soul strong enough to withstand the transformation that
Malgorth had planned.  It was the dwarves who finally provided him
with his first successful subjects.  Physically, they lacked the
size and power of his monstrous failures, but locked within the
small dwarven frame was the spark of what Malgorth sought:  a will
he could bend but never break.  And so, three years ago, Malgorth
had began collecting specimens.  Using dark magic and the sneakiest
methods, he had ventured far and near, to and fro, even in some cases
to the ends of the earth...and kidnapped the toughest, fiercest, most
aggressive dwarven warriors the world had to offer.  Thirteen of the
world's best vanished from sight, never to be heard from again.
  For three years, he'd subjected them to vile torture - beatings,
burnings, slicings, and worse.  He'd had their wounds healed, only
so they could endure more pain and suffering.  He'd used magic to
pry into their minds, to find and exploit their deepest, darkest
fears.  He'd made them believe all kinds of nightmares, these evil
illusions penetrating into their minds in ways nothing ever should
have.  The torture was total, the pain more than any mortal could
ever be expected to bear.
  Of the thirteen, only one still lived.  The others had given up
and died, one way or another - their hearts, minds, and bodies
broken utterly.  They hadn't possessed whatever spark it took to
survive the horrors Malgorth had inflicted.  But while twelve had
fallen, one yet lived.  Like his fallen fellows, he no longer knew
his own name.  His body was scarred, though no permanent, impairing
damage had been inflicted.  His limbs were solid and knotted, his
body thick and dense.  His mind was gone, utterly gone, now only a
shell that contained bottomless rage and pain.
  This one wanted to live - to smash - to destroy.  And this was
what Malgorth was looking for, what he desired, what he needed.
This one was ideal.  This one was ready.

Gothnug:  The armor's all done.  We just got done today.
Malgorth:  Good.

  Despite his killing mentality and monstrous strength, the nameless
dwarf was still only a dwarf (though not for much longer.)  Malgorth
had been able to subdue him with powerful magic, though it had never
been easy.  During such times, Gothnug and his helpers had sized and
fitted the comatose dwarf for a very special suit of armor, the like
of which had never been seen before.
  Malgorth had also done some things at these times, taking samples
of the dwarf's hair, skin, bone, blood, brain, and even his mighty
heart.  These bits had been combined, enchanted, and distilled into
pure essence - essence which now waited for a special receptacle.

Malgorth:  (spellcasting)  If all is in readiness, then I don't see
  any reason to wait.
Gothnug:  Right.  (he turns to his subordinates)  Pour the lava!
  Fire up the furnaces!  Get the molds ready!  We got work to do!

  The smith's helpers leaped into action, darting this way and that
as they hastened to do their boss' bidding.  Malgorth didn't think
much of the stunted little dwarves (after all, no duergar had ever
survived his tests for long) but even he was impressed, for he could
have sworn that the temperature rose within moments.

Gothnug:  (amused, in some odd way)  We're gonna tap the earth's
  blood itself on this day!
Malgorth:  (nods)

  The dwarf in the cell was comatose now, and other duergar entered
the tiny chamber, removing the occupant.  He was taken to a large
smelting chamber which contained several forges.  Each forge was
already at full temperature, for such was the power of the lava
this far beneath the world's surface.  Within each forge was a
red-hot piece of plate mail armor, fashioned from a unique alloy
of metals that included the contents of a fallen star.
  At Gothnug's direction, the comatose dwarf was laid atop a wide
stone workbench in the chamber's center - and immediately rose
several feet into the air, floating atop the bench.

Gothnug:  (grinning)  Deep dwarf magic!

  They had to yell to be heard, such was the noise level within
the forge-chamber.

Malgorth:  The armor pieces must be at full temperature in order
  for me to work the final enchantments!
Gothnug:  Well, hurry it up then!  We can't keep this stuff this
  hot for long!
Malgorth:  (spellcasting, he produces several very rare components
  necessary for the spells he now works)

  Days ago, the wizard had already worked the initial enchantment,
the one central to all the others that would follow.  The comatose
dwarf unwittingly possessed the power of regeneration, on a par
with the strongest troll.  Wounds inflicted upon his flesh closed,
bones mended, and burns healed.  Short of total immersion in acid
or a volcano, or perhaps dismemberment, the dwarf was invulnerable
to permanent harm.
  The next step was to make him invulnerable to things he was still
vulnerable to.  The armor that waited, disassembled, in the forges
would serve that purpose.  Each piece was not only stronger than
the finest enchanted steel, but it also contained the essence of
some magical item.  The wearer of the full suit of armor would
possess strengths and defenses capable of defeating a battalion of
foes.  Malgorth had spent years (not to mention many thousands of
gold talons and countless spell components) working the various
enchantments necessary to create such wondrous armor.  And now,
it was all coming together.  Finally.
  Of course, Malgorth didn't want anyone else to use this armor -
ever - and thus, putting it on would be a one-way proposition for
the wearer.

Gothnug:  The breastplate!  Now!

  Using magically-insulated tongs (held by magically-insulated
hands, whose bodies were garbed in magically-insulated clothes)
the helpers reached into the blistering forge and drew forth a
white-hot breastplate.

Malgorth:  (works a final spell upon the breastplate, even as it
  is brought nearer and nearer to the hapless, unwitting dwarf)

  Talking to or with the wizard wasn't permitted, for he required
every bit of concentration he possessed in order to work his magic

helpers:  (bringing the back-plate out of its forge, they guide
  this piece toward the dwarf as well)
Malgorth:  (waves his hands and chants, as motes of white light
  dance about, flowing toward - and then into - the armor)
Gothnug:  (eyes wide, he watches)
Malgorth:  Now!
Gothnug:  Now!  Attach the armor!  Join the pieces!

  The comatose dwarf's body quivered as the now red-hot pieces of
armor neared his body.  With a searing, painful start, he snapped
into consciousness - but was yet held immobile by Malgorth's magic!

dwarf:  Aaaargh!
Gothnug:  Join the plates!

  In one single, terrible, burning moment, the front and back chest
plates met the dwarf's body, their clasps locking into place before
the metal cooled and made the link permanent.  The smell of burning
flesh filled the forge-chamber, and steam boiled from the dwarf's
body.  Even the duergar, accustomed to evil and terror, couldn't
help but tremble as they heard the screams of rage and pain.


  If the poor dwarf had any semblance, any shred of sanity left, it
was burned away even as the first plates of armor burned his body.
But the trial was far from over - even now, jointed arm- and leg-
pieces were being taken from their molten forges and brought over
to the victim.  As each was applied - a perfect fit, and a permanent
one, metal fusing with flesh in an unholy union - the dwarf roared
in pain, and those present (save for Malgorth, who was grinning
wickedly) gritted their teeth.  None could say what kept them at
this grisly work; perhaps they had come this far, and had no reason
to stop.  Perhaps they knew that quitting now would earn them years
of pain and suffering at the wizard's hands.  Whatever the case,
they forged ahead with this brutal work, working quickly even as
Malgorth cast spell after spell, used component after component.
He had prepared for this day for many years, and all the necessary
spell formulae were locked in his mind.  Insanity had its advantages.
  The last piece was the helm, a terrifying horned thing with two
thin eye-slits and a wicked, fanged mouth.  The latter was more for
show, as the thing in the armor no longer needed to breathe or eat.
The helm was lowered over the dwarf's blistered head, burning off
what little beard remained.  The dwarf howled as the helm locked
into place, and Malgorth cast one final spell, holding high an odd
talisman which he bound to the armored form before him.  This rod
was the force - the only force - which could control the terrible
being that now floated down to the slab.

Malgorth:  Live, my iron dwarf...live!
iron dwarf:  (quivers, its body struggling to heal the massive
  burns it has been dealt, even as its simple but brutally strong
  willpower keeps it conscious)

  The thing was a fearsome sight.  Spiked protrusions protected
(or more accurately, were weapons for) its knees, elbows, and head.
The soles of its feet were a series of sharp ridges.  The knuckles
of its hands were tipped with smaller, but equally sharp, spikes.
Its right hand held a fearsome weapon, a compact double-edged
battleaxe whose edge could cut steel.  Forged of the same metals
as the armor, this axe was fused into the grip of the dwarf's
hand, and could never be released or lost.
  The iron dwarf didn't need to eat...or drink...or sleep...or
breathe.  It no longer aged, and damage was healed at a fantastic
rate.  It was nearly immune to even the hottest fire and the most
frigid cold.  It possessed the strength of the largest giants and
the stamina of a hundred men.  Its squat legs were capable of
propelling it into amazing leaps.
  All in all, Malgorth was highly pleased.  Then again, he'd
known that this creation would be a success - he'd had his dark
god's help all along the way.

Malgorth:  Rise!  (he waves his talisman)  Rise, my destroyer...
  (he looks around, eyeing the duergar)  And destroy!
Gothnug:  What...?!
iron dwarf:  (stands, flexing its arms and waving its battleaxe
Gothnug:  (backs up, along with the other duergar, as the terrible
  armored form lumbers toward them)  Noooo...
Malgorth:  Ha ha ha!

  Gothnug should have known better than to trust the wizard.  After
all, those who knew how the iron dwarf had been created were simply
another threat...and had to be eliminated.  Malgorth watched the
slaughter, insanely elated, as another part of his twisted mind
contemplated possible places to send the iron dwarf after it was
done here.

next:      a tale much like this one, as we see how an ordinary
           man became the most feared assassin in the land:  Whisper
ftp:       ftp.myths.com in /pub/rpg/stories/adventurers
           ftp.intertex.net in /pub/users/zac/rpg/adventurers/
www:       http://www.myths.com/pub/rpg/stories/adventurers
homepage:  http://www.gatech.edu/oit/oe/design/thomas/adv/adv.html
mail:      tmiller@cimmeria.ns.gatech.edu       (preferred)
           thomas.miller@oit.gatech.edu         (emergency)
notes:     Here is a summary of the iron dwarf's momentous moments:

  epi   game date    location

  104   9/571        Cairn Hills (unearthed by Zara et al.)
  313   6/5/575      near Greyhawk (attacks Peldor and Belphanior)
  325   6/10/575     Necros' isle (showdown, buried)

  I guess I don't have to tell you that we haven't seen the last
of the iron dwarf...

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