Bloody Solstice

Reinforced by members of Willen Ironmaul’s elite guard, Colin Stonetooth and the Ten held the human onslaught at the gates for long minutes, while the lower keep households, pavilion workers, and a hundred others who had survived the first rush fled toward Grand Gather and the city beyond. Then with the corridor behind them clear, the chieftain and his fighters wheeled and raced away, past the stairways to the keep, into the winding, rising corridor that led to Grand Gather. Behind them, growing numbers of invaders stumbled over their own dead at Thorin’s gaping portal.

It would take the humans’ eyes moments to adjust from the sunlight beyond the gates to the dimness within, and Colin needed that time to spring his next defense. There was nothing he or his warriors could do about the keep, except to hope that those within could hold out long enough to escape. Tolon was there … Tolon with his dark moods and his devious mind. He had been atop the keep when the attack began and had not emerged with the refugees.

Colin prayed to Reorx for his second son, at the same time baring his teeth at thoughts of the sort of havoc “Tolon the Muse” might dream up for those humans unfortunate enough to face him.

He did not know where Handil was, or Tera Sharn. Somewhere in the city, he hoped, away from the invaders. The chieftain feared for them. Tera — thoughtful, logical Tera! Faced with murderous enemies, Tera might try to reason with them. It would be her way. He understood well the reliance upon reason and logic that guided his daughter. It was her legacy from himself, and now he cursed the tendency. Tolon had been right. Colin should not have counted on reason and logic. Because he trusted his friends among the humans, reason had told him to trust humans. He had been wrong, and now Thorin was paying the price.

And Handil! Where was Handil? Colin did not doubt his oldest son’s courage, or his ferocity in battle. Handil was a fighter, for all of his indifference to rule. But what could one do against invaders, with a drum?

Within moments, the humans would be after them, and Colin Stonetooth cursed his own stubborn naivete as he spurred his horse on. There had been warnings. There had been ample warnings. But he had chosen to believe that Balladine would be respected. Pools of lensed daylight showed the path ahead, where the entry to Grand Gather was now in sight at the end of the big, rising tunnel.

The tunnel ahead was empty, except for a company of Willen’s guards at the arena portal. Just beyond, large, square shapes, surrounded by workers, were slowly moved. Those who had made it past the keep would be there now, and Willen would be setting his trap for the pursuers. It had seemed an excessive thing when they had first discussed it — eight-foot cubes of stone on low rollers, in place to block the portal. Now Colin realized that it would not be enough. The stones would delay the humans, but not stop them. The invaders were simply too many to be held.

Colin glanced back for the first time since passing the keep. Jerem Longslate rode just behind, his bearded face grim beneath his polished helm, and behind him came the Ten.

But they were no longer ten. At a glance, Colin saw that Chock Render and Balam Axethrow were missing. They were dead, then. Only death could separate any member of the Ten from his chieftain.

Abruptly, the chieftain’s tall horse shied and spun half around to lash out with its rear hooves. Colin clung to his saddle and raised his blade, peering around.

There was no one there, just himself and his escort. But the other horses were excited, too, as though they could see an enemy that their riders could not. Colin gave his mount its head and muttered, “Schoen, attack!”

The big horse turned, reared, and lashed out with front hooves, slashing at empty air, its ears laid back. The scream of its battle cry echoed from stone walls, and beneath the sound was another, like scurrying footsteps … like someone scooting away, trying to escape the flailing hooves. And for an instant, two bright orbs, like glowing eyes, turning away. Then there was nothing. Schoen pranced and bristled, the golden hide beneath his white mane quivering. But whatever the horse had seen, or thought it saw, was gone.

“Did you see anyone here?” Colin asked. “Or anything?”

“No, Sire,” Jerem Longslate said, as the others shook their heads. “The horses did, though.”

Behind them, the sounds of pursuit grew. The invaders were in the tunnel, and some were now in sight, rounding the bend a hundred yards back — a howling, kill-crazed torrent of humans filling the big space from wall to wall. There were hundreds of them, and more behind.

“To Grand Gather,” Colin rasped. He spurred Schoen, and the horses thundered to the portal, past the guards there and into the vaulted space of the great assembly hall. Behind them, guards’ slings whistled. There were cries from the charging human mob as thrown missiles scored hits there. Colin Stonetooth drew rein and wheeled, pointing with his bloody sword. “The stones will not hold them! There are too many! Willen!”

Instantly, Willen Ironmaul was there, beside his leader’s horse. “Aye, Sire!”

“Turn the stones, Willen. Face the rollers outward.”

A lethal grin spread across the big dwarf’s face. Willen understood instantly, and the idea pleased him. “Aye, Sire. Workers! To your prys! Turn the stones!”

Spotting Frost Steelbit among the milling crowds nearby, Colin shouted, “Frost! Take charge of the wounded and the weak! Get them out of here, into the concourse. We’ll make a stand there, at the inner gate!” He swung down, and Jerem Longslate and the others also dismounted. The horses were led away, toward the far portal of Grand Gather and the city beyond. There would be no further need of horses now. What must be done would be done afoot.

Wight Anvil’s-Cap, the old delvemaster, appeared at Colin’s side. “Has it come to that, then? Must we close the inner gate?”

“I am afraid we have no choice,” Colin rasped. “This is no barbarian attack. It’s an invasion. Nothing less will keep those people out of Thorin.”

“Reorx help us,” the delvemaster muttered. “No one knows whether that thing will even work. It has never been tried.”

“I know that, Wight. Pray that it does, because if it fails, we’ll be fighting that mob in the streets of Thorin itself.” He turned away, toward the portal. The second of the two huge blocks of stone was just being steadied in place, pointing outward. Beyond, the howling of the human tide was deafening. Arrows were flicking through the opening, between and around the stones. “Willen, is it ready?”

“Ready, Sire.”

“Then let them go and close these doors.”

At Willen Ironmaul’s command, burly dwarves stooped behind the stones, heaved at prybars, and the stones moved. For an instant they seemed to hang suspended in the portal, then they pitched outward and began to roll down the corridor beyond, their rollers rumbling as they picked up speed, twin juggernauts bearing down on the packed masses of humans charging upward.

“Close and bar those doors,” Colin ordered. The oaken gates slammed, dimming the screams from beyond, where tons of polished stone paved trails of carnage through the human ranks. Colin Stonetooth didn’t stop to listen. “Retreat!” he shouted. “To the inner gate!”

By the hundreds dwarves ran, around and across Grand Gather’s arena, some stopping to help the wounded littering the area. The barrage of arrows from the invaders had done damage. Everywhere, people were down. Abruptly, Colin Stonetooth spotted Handil in the crowd, coming toward him against the flow, carrying his drum. Jinna Rockreave was with him, her eyes wide and a web sling clasped in her small fingers.

“I heard, Father,” Handil said. “In the city they say a thousand humans have attacked us.”

“A thousand?” Colin shook his head. “Many thousands, I’d say. Too many to fight off. Thorin must be sealed.” He turned as a resounding crash echoed through the great chamber. The doors from the keep tunnel had burst open, and wild-eyed, howling humans were pouring through. “To the inner gates!” he snapped. “Hurry.”

An arrow whisked past his head and sank into the back of a fleeing stone-mover. Other arrows followed, and Jerem Longslate and his men pressed around the chieftain, shielding him. One of them gasped and fell, a shaft protrading from his exposed side. He had used his shield for the chieftain, not for himself.

“Come, Sire!” Jerem Longslate urged. “There is no time!”

“Come on!” Colin shouted at Handil as the guards hurried him away, their shields at his back.

Handil turned and hesitated. Beside him, Jinna Rockreave spun her sling and released it. The stone — the size of a fist — sang across the arena and took a bearded man full in the face. He fell backward, carrying others with him.

“Jinna, come on!” Handil shouted.

“All right,” the girl nodded. “Just one more …” And then she was on her back on the stone floor, an arrow standing from her breast.

Handil dropped to his knees beside her. “Jinna!”

At the touch of his hands she shuddered and gasped. “Don’t … don’t move me, Handil. The pain …”

With a cry of agony, Handil the Drum crouched over his beloved and raised stricken eyes toward the far portal. His father was there, beckoning to him, and workers were chipping out the stone at each side, where the stops of the inner gate were concealed.

“Handil,” Jinna whispered, “go now. Leave me. You must. The humans …” Gasping with pain, she held out her hand and dropped something into his.

Tears misted his eyes as he saw what it was — an exquisite ring, embedded and twined in the elven style. The gift from Cale Greeneye. Arrows whisked around him, and a thrown axe hummed past his head as he slipped the ring on, then drew its mate from his belt and placed it carefully on Jinna’s finger.

“For as long as we live,” he murmured, gazing into her stricken eyes, seeing the blood that seeped from her nose and mouth. “For as long as we live.”

Humans were rushing toward him now, weapons raised for the kill. In the distance he heard his father’s voice, calling his name, and then a crash like thunder. He glanced around. Where there had been a portal — had always been a portal, opening onto the great concourse of Thorin — now was solid stone, twenty feet thick. The inner gate had worked. Thorin was safe behind a wall of stone that no human could penetrate.

Jinna no longer moved, and he realized that she had stopped breathing. Distractedly, barely aware of the howling tide of murderous humans sweeping down on him, Handil the Drum stood, swung his vibrar under his arm, and stripped away its wraps. An arrow buried itself in his thigh as he drew forth his mallets, but he hardly felt it.

The nearest humans were only yards away now, rushing at him, but when he turned to them, they slowed, stunned at what they saw in his eyes. In that instant, a few of them may have realized that they were looking at their own deaths. Unhurriedly, standing over the body of his beloved, Handil raised his mallets and brought them down, and the Thunderer began to sing.

No Call to Balladine was this, no glad song of the high peaks. The rhythm of the big vibrar was a dirge, and it filled the great hall of Grand Gather with sound so intense that humans reeled back from it, many dropping their weapons to clap hands to their ears.

Another arrow struck Handil, and then another, but they meant nothing to him. The mallets increased their tempo, and the vibrar thundered.

And all around — above where the sun-tunnelled ceiling arched away, around every wall and in every rise and ramp of Grand Gather — hewn stone took up the vibrations and began to disintegrate. The cavern roared and bellowed, and huge chunks of broken stone showered down from above, crushing everyone and everything beneath them. An entire sun-tunnel slipped free of its collar somewhere and plummeted to the arena floor, shattering into bright, piercing shards which flew in all directions. Humans milled and screamed, many turning back the way they had come. But the entryway had collapsed, and there was nowhere to go.

A raging human, crazed by fear, ran at Handil with a raised sword and impaled himself upon the lance of another human trying to get away. An axe struck Handil in the hip, and he fell, then raised himself on one knee, never missing a beat.

The song of the vibrar built upon itself like contained thunders rolling back and back, echoes becoming great choruses of echoes.

“As long as we live,” Handil the Drum muttered to himself, building his beat to a crescendo. And the entire roof of Grand Gather collapsed inward, millions of tons of cold stone filling and forever sealing what was now only a silent tomb.

Clouds of dust and debris rose from the mountainside above Thorin Keep as a chasm opened there. The great monolith called First Sentinel, standing just at the edge of the collapse, teetered and swayed, then disintegrated and fell into the hole, raising more clouds of stone-dust.

And above it all the sun of Krynn approached the zenith of its solstice day.

Just as no human had ever guessed the magnitude of Thorin, neither had any human ever known — or even suspected — about the inner gates. Most of the Calnar themselves were only vaguely aware that, suspended unseen in a hall-sized slot above the east portal of Grand Gather, was a gigantic hanging wall of solid granite held in place by cable-braced props. Old Mistral Thrax might have remembered the tremendous task of creating this massive deadfall, had he ever had cause to think about it, but few others beyond the leaders of the Calnar had known it was there. It was plastered over and unseen, and had never been used because once released it was unlikely that it could ever be raised again.

But now, in their last moments, the invaders in Grand Gather had learned of it. And now all those beyond, in Thorin proper, knew of it. Where had stood the door to Grand Gather, now was an impenetrable wall. As Wight Anvil’s-Cap had said, Thorin would never again be the same. The keep, the outer tunnels, even Grand Gather, had always been a facade. Now they — or what was left of them — were cut off forever from the city beneath the crag.

The Calnar had removed themselves from invasion by sealing the only entry that any but themselves knew about. Within Thorin now were only Calnar — except one. Raging and unseen, one walked among them who was human … or had once been human, before encountering a dwarf imbued with wild magic from the Graystone itself.

Grayfen stalked the great concourse of Thorin, unseen as long as he shielded his eyes. Only he, of all the human forces, had got past the inner gate before it came crashing down, and the rage that boiled within him was a burning, insane fire. The dinks had tricked them! Long years of planning and intrigue had come to nothing. He was in Thorin, but not as a conqueror. He was a shadow among those he hated most, trapped with no way out.

The glowing orbs that were his only eyes burned in his head, their presence a pounding pain that never relented. He longed to remove them, even for a few minutes, but without them his magic would not work, and he would be seen and killed.

In his rage he struck out around him. A dozen times in as many minutes he touched some passing dwarf, then did the magic he had learned and watched, unseen, as the dwarf died in agony, clawing at its throat.

But that only tired him, and did no good. He could not kill them all.

The magic! He knew there was more that it would do, more than he had learned. Too often, when he had tried to devise spells, they had turned on him with painful results. Yet now, in his rage, he knew there was a thing he could do, and the magic itself seemed to tell him how. Revenge! The magic whispered it. Revenge upon Colin Stonetooth, whose fault it was that he was trapped.

The rage boiled and coalesced within him and became arcane words that molded themselves to his tongue. “In morit deis Calnaris,” he whispered. “Refeist ot atium dactas ot destis!”

As though the magic itself instructed him, he spoke the spell and knew what it meant. To the leader of the dwarves, exile. To his seed, death!

It was all he could do. Yet, somewhere ahead must lie the fabulous treasure that everyone knew the dwarves had. The subterranean city was far bigger than he had suspected, and far brighter. The radiance of the place seemed to increase with each passing second, and to eyes that could not close, that could never not see, it was intensely painful. And the place was incredibly hot. He felt as though he were in a furnace. Despite the pain, he went toward the brightness. That must be where the treasure was.

Most of the dwarves he saw now were hurrying in the other direction, and as he emerged into a great, circular chamber filled with blinding light, the only other creature there was a hobbling, ancient-looking dwarf with a crutch, who glanced his way and then stopped to stare. Grayfen shielded his eyes and went on. Just ahead, in the center of the chamber, stood a shaft of brilliant light. It seemed to come out of the floor, or from above, and where it stood the floor ended at a precipitous pit.

The treasure, he thought. The treasure of the dinks! It must be there! Agonized by brilliant light, tortured by intense heat, Grayfen approached to the very lip of the pit and heard a sound. He turned to see the old dwarf with the crutch directly behind him.

“The dream was real,” the ancient creature hissed. “You are the one Fishtaker showed me. You are the enemy!”

“You see me?” Grayfen gasped.

“As clearly as though you were alive,” the dwarf said.

“I am alive,” Grayfen snapped, starting to raise his hand. “It is you who are …”

The motion was never completed. More quickly than the man could have believed, the old dwarf raised his crutch and heaved it like a javelin. The foot of it thudded into the mage’s belly with such force that it doubled him over. Hard old hands clawed at his face, and suddenly he was blind. His eyes were gone, clenched in the dwarf’s hands.

The mage lashed out, searching, and took one step back … into searing nothingness. His scream as he disappeared into the shaft of light was drowned by a hum of vibrance as the sun of Krynn reached zenith above the central light-shaft of Thorin, and fireflash occurred — the fireflash of Balladine.

Mistral Thrax threw himself aside, face down, his smoking cloak shielding him from the instant of searing heat. When he got to his feet again, staggering, most of his beard was burned away, his clothing smoldered, and he felt as though he were one solid blister. But he opened his hands and stared at what they held. The eyes of Grayfen had been red, glowing orbs. Now in the old hands of Mistral Thrax lay a pair of black spheres, like marbles made of jet. But beneath them, on his palms, were red marks — like drawings of a fishing spear, done in glowing red.

Staggering, he picked up his crutch and turned away, not looking back at the shaft of brilliance that hummed happily now from mountaintop to the magma pit below.

He had things to do. First, a mug of cold ale at Lobard’s, then he must find Colin Stonetooth and tell him of the portent of his dream — of seeking Everbardin, and of Kal-Thax being to the west.


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