Durkon stumped along, making no pretences of stealth. It was a labyrinth that twisted and turned back on itself and stretched onwards seemingly without end. Without ryme or reason, the tunnels varied between worked and unworked stone. It seemed clear they were not made by any thinking, being – or at least, not a rational or sane one. The tunnels were rarely level, plunging and ascending, curving, intersecting and re-intersecting themselves again and again and again for no evident purpose beyond simple misdirection.
The maze had seemed simple and straightforward on the outside, he thought darkly. ‘An excersise of the mind,’ according to Vaarsuvius. Right. More like a death trap shaped by the insane sorceries of a peerless illusionist completing his lifeswork. Progress was so slow he suspected he had in fact wove his way further from his eventual goal.
Durkon had yet to run into the actual illusions or sorceries, but the maze was no less daunting for that. And the dwarf didn’t delude himself into thinking it would be long before he did.
The tunnel he was following came to an abrupt end a door of carved ebony that stretched open at the slightest touch. Taking a deep breath, the dwarf steeled himself and stepped into the room.
There was no bottom. He was standing at the edge of a great chasm, surrounded by staircases that led down to gallery’s and deeper still, as far as the eye could see.
Gritting his teeth, Durkon chose a staircase at random, and started upwards. It was a narrow, twisting stair, without rails or supports, columns or even supporting walls to anchor it, but the stone was steady as bedrock beneath him anyway. It led down to a gallery, then turned left, branching of into four tiny rooms, each with a further four staircases leading down, deeper into the chasm.
Stay consistent. Durkon told himself sternly. These things have a pattern to him. Make the same choice every time so you don’t lose your place.
Thus reassured, he picked the leftmost room, and the leftmost staircase. A niggling voice reminded him that it was probably and unreasonable assumption to believe the engineering of this place would be consistent, and for all he knew, the architecture rearranged itself, but good old dwarven common sense bulldozed over the top of it. If he spent all his time worrying about things that might be the case, he’d never get started. Stick to what you can see, and deal with problems as they arise.
He made his way lower, grumbling under his breath. The stairs made their way through a mist that smelled like incense, and ended in a wall. Durkon felt himself drawn to it, as if by gravity. He took one more staggering step, and walked onto the wall. He swayed with vertigo, shook his head and closed his eyes, then opened them as his perspective realighned.
…He was exactly where he had started. He could even see the doorway he’d come through.
Taking another stairway with bad grace he stumped along, trying each of the staircases. Sometimes he would make it as far as two galley’s before being thrown back. He had been right, he realized. The staircases were moving, without any reason or order.
“This be madness.” He muttered, trying again
Part of him wondered what would happen if he simply jumped over the edge. He’d probably die, hundreds of meters below the surface, but part of him wondered if that might be the only way down. Another part of him thought he’d probably just find himself back at square one again.
He was once more on the second gallery, about to pick a staircase at random, when a mist swirled around him, moving on some breeze he couldn’t feel, through the still, dead air.
He closed his eyes desperately, humming loudly as he forced his thick, blunt fingers in his ears.
Dinnae look, Durkon. Dinnae look.
Dinnae dae it. Ye’ll be sorry.
Joost ae quick yin. Ae willnae believe it anyway…
The magic roared past him, as though he was flying at a tremendous speed.
And then calm.
He was in Azure City once again. The city was whole, as though the war had never happened, brilliantly, radiantly blue as the waters of Sapphire Bay (Beautiful as it was, their department of Nomenology desperately needed funding).
Beside him was a women he recognised, and his heart leapt. Her pale skin glowed, her short blue hair cascaded to her shoulders like a waterfall, her eyes still gleamed with intelligence, wisdom and mischief. Perhaps he remembered more mischief and less wisdom, but her full lips still seemed to contain more smiles then most elves would experience in a lifetime.
She was wearing that dress she’d worn on their first date, cut to emphasise the perfection of each curve. Her stomach was flat and athletic, and her build was lean and strong, yet she had a build most women would only dream of.
“You’re back.” She said, resting a smooth arm around his shoulders. The heat of her flesh warmed him to the bone. “I thought you’d be gone for much longer.”
“Sae did Ae.”
He tried to take her hand, but there was something interfering with the motion. It didn’t matter. She was here, and she was perfect.
“I missed you.” She said with a giggle, a sound not the least bit girlish, but both husky and womanly at the same time. Not ladylike either, but that wasn’t really what he was looking for.
“Ae missed ye to, lass.” He replied quite honestly.
She raised an eyebrow and gave a coy smile, which made him take a deep breath in an attempt to control his suddenly pounding heart.
“Really?” She said, her voice breathy. “Didn’t meet anyone else?”
He shook his head, not trusting himself to speak. But she didn’t relent. She wouldn’t be herself if she did.
“No pretty dwarven women with blond braids?” She said, leaning over. “No nymphs knocked head over heels by your polite chivalrous nature?” She continued, her lips barely a foot from his. “No one at all?”
It took Durkon a few moments to remembeber he was supposed to answer.
“Maybe next time then.” She whispered, and kissed him as he leaned forwad.
It was a few moments before he noticed a feeling. Wind was whistling around him, and he felt light.
He was flying…
No. He was falling.
In the grips of the vision he’d stepped of the edge of a staircase, and was plummeting into oblivion. The walls were a blur, and while he still couldn’t see the bottom he knew the rest of his life could be measured in a matter of seconds. And then he stopped, hanging motionless for a moment before being released to sprawl on the ground in an undignified heap.
“You’re brave, and strong. The sort of man I want beside me, when fimbulvinter blows.” A deep voice answered before he could finish his question. “Wouldn’t have you die this way. Someone like you needs a death with meaning. And you don't have long left.”
Durkon pulled himself upright quickly, reaching for his hammer. “Ah’d thank ye, but Ae dinnae ken who ye are joost yet, an’ if ah hae tae kill ye it would be a waste, sae…” He said, leaving it hanging while taking the measure of the figure.
He appeared an old man, stooped with age and time, but strong enough to have gotten that old despite plenty of people trying to see to it his natural lifespan was unduly shortened. He had a long grey beard any dwarf would envy, and a heavy fur lined cloak that masked the majority of his features. He was leaning on what looked like a staff, although it was hard to tell in the dim light.
He seemed out of place, realer then his surroundings, though Durkon wasn’t sure why. He supposed it could be Girard, but that was unlikely. Everyone they’d asked said he was dead.
“You know my name.” The hooded man said softly. “Just as I know yours. I’m an old friend of yours, Durkon Thundershield.”
“Ae cannae claim tae hae seen ye before.” Durkon said, more then a little confused.
The man turned slowly, and Durkon could see a single blue eye, beneath a heavy brow that glittered with unknowable wisdom. “You claim not to know me.” The apparation said, pushing away from the wall to stand over the dwarf, and he suddenly seemed very tall, even to a dwarf who’d grown used to looking up at people, and in his eye burned a keen and commanding light. “Yet you call me often. You swear by my beard, beg my son for favours and ask me to take your soul if you are lying.”
A terrible suspicion entered the dwarf’s mind. Suddenly he felt unsteady, and pressed his shoulder against the wall for support.
The figure moved across the floor in four quick strides and stared down at Durkon “You know me.”
Durkon knew the figures name as well as his own, but the realization was so stupefying he couldn’t wrap his head around it, so shook his head instead. “You can’t be…”
“You know I am. I am Allfather and lord, wizard and fool, and I have as many names as there are ways to die. I am called Father of Men, and World Builder, Terror and Evil Worker, Chieftain and Wanderer, and Lord of the Earth.”
“I am called Glad of War, and Father of Victory, Singer, Deceiver and Father of Hosts. I am called Grímnir and Highest, Mighty One and Battle God, and many other things.”
A dark shape formed behind him in the shadows, slinking over behind him, a lean, grey shape with burning, yellow eyes. It’s twin loped behind it, catching up and resting on it’s haunches, it’s gaze not wavering from the dwarf for so much as a second.
“My wolves are Geri and Freki, my ravens are Memory and Thought, and my horse is Sleipnir.” Two enormous, scruffy carrion eaters alight on each of his shoulders, pressing their sharp beaks in his ear, their red eyes fixing on the dwarf.
“I am Odin.” He said, his chin jutting as though proud at the very mention of his name. "And I have a proposition for you."