Living Greyhawk Redux
Jarik is a tough, plainspoken, socially awkward, dwarven knight who is his own harshest critic.
Jarik talks very little about his origins: when he joined the party, he had no family, no clan, and no no home. He also had no real ambition beyond a vague desire to fight for good, to make the world a happier place than it was. Though he would never have admitted it, idealist that he is, he was also looking for some revenge for whatever tragedy had overtaken his family. If asked, Jarik normally will not talk about what happened to his family and clan, though he recently told his story, for the first time, to his companions, when he and his companions were imprisoned by demons in Castle of Foul Breezes:
Jarik grew up and apprenticed in his parent’s nameless weapon-smith shop along a small, cobbled street in the Schwarzenbruin market district. The time he spent there gave him an intuitive appreciation for weaponscraft, which he would hone to his advantage later in life. There was always something to do: chop wood for the fire, haul water from the well, polish the wares on display. But eventually, Jarik tired of this work: wanderlust led him to leave home to seek the life of an adventurer. At the age of 21, he signed up to join a team of mercenaries escorting a caravan from Schwarzenbruin to Exag. His first trip into the mountains and his view of Lake Quag from their heights filled him with a sense of wonder and magic, and he knew he was meant to become an adventurer. He couldn’t wait to tell his parents of his experiences, and he raced his horse almost to exhaustion in his haste to return home. But when he turned the corner down that familiar alleyway, he found his parents’ shop burned to the ground, lifeless. Guards guessed the forge’s fire must have somehow gotten out of control, either accidentally or deliberately, but the truth was never found. The only relic of Jarik’s old life there is a well-worn, brown, stuffed bear, which he had carried on his journey to Exag.
Jarik passed the next 40 years or so as a wandering mercenary, honing his skills as a fighter. After meeting the crafty (if not treacherous) Illene, dwarves druid Brottor, cleric Kendrik, and Oak, (in a tavern, no doubt), Jarik soon found all the battles he was seeking…but he soon found something else. He found that the battles left him feeling empty, and he realized that he was looking for something more than just the fight itself—-he wanted to be part of a story, a quest, something larger.
Then, one day in Schwarzenbruin, a dying knight gave Jarik the mighty sword Vaukieper but also laid a charge on him. This involved first heading to Ingolt Weisspeer’s manor to dispatch invaders, but ended with a confrontation with a mighty Vrock. Unable to resist Vaukieper’s will, Jarik attacked the Vrock, managing to distract it at the crucial moment so that Ingolt could contain it. This experience left Jarik changed: here he found the greater adventure he was looking for. Inspired by this first quest, Jarik began slowly reading whatever religious tomes he could buy in the towns the party went through. These gave him several ideas: he began to have a goal for his life: he aspired to someday become a Pious Templar, such as those heroes he found in the stories he’d been reading, righteous defender of a sacred site. He also began to focus his reading on tales concerning Moradin, the Soul Forger. Jarik eventually chose to become a worshipper of Moradin, and Moradin’s example played a role in Jarik’s moral alignment changing from Neutral Good to Lawful Good.
After the dwarves returned to Khundholm and Jarik fought in a battle to defend Moradin’s Forge there, Jarik had found a new home and clan and also his sacred ground. He promised himself to return here one day to formally become a defender of Moradin’s Forge. After many more months of travel and adventure (including a fight with a dragon in which Moradin himself intervened, leaving Jarik literally owing Moradin his life), Jarik kept his promise: he returned to Khundholm and took his oath to defend Moradin’s Forge.
Jarik has a bit less than the average helping of common sense, to the point where he once got captured by some obviously evil miners whom he actually thought were serious about giving him a “tour” of the place. He has a literal, guileless mind: when offered a quest or a job, he asks the straightforward questions (what did the kidnappers look like? what did you see?) and then single-mindedly strives to carry out the mission. His companions don’t let him barter.
Some time later, Jarik and his companions almost unwittingly removed the Girdle of Dian from Schwarzenbruin, thinking that Hasten Weispeer requested this to keep it safe. Based only on an anonymously delivered letter ordering him not discuss his mission with anyone, Jarik and his companions were nearly tricked into doing this. Only a last-second confession from a prisoner revealed the truth, and even then a long, bitter argument with one of his companions followed before the girdle was finally returned to the Schwarzsenbruin. This has caused some self-doubt to begin nagging at Jarik: he’s done the right things and achieved his goals, and yet on the word of a single piece of paper he almost destroyed the capital city of Perrenland. The thought horrifies and worries him deeply; if someone as “pious” as he supposedly is could do this, what does any of his supposed piety mean? He’s begun looking for ways to prove to himself that he can learn to live up to his calling.
Recently, Jarik and his companions successfully repelled the ether invasion in Tenh. The climactic battle left him exhausted but with a dim but growing sense of self confidence—-the thought that just maybe he can live up to his heroic aspirations. But doubt still gnawed at him; he worried at the Boneheart’s words to him as they haunt his sleep.
Then Jarik heard that Iuz is on the march, heading toward Perrenland. He’s been remembering that day, long ago, when the Vaukieper dragged him into battle against a Vrock. As he tried to sleep before the battle, he ruminates over how he has and hasn’t lived up to the dreams born that day, and he how things will ultimately be decided. He wondered how it will be the next time he faces Iuz’s minions, or a Vrock.
He didn’t have to wait long to find out…Soon he and his companions were fighting off Iuz’s army invading Perrenland. In one battle, When Jarik faced 3 Vrocks for the first time, he found himself in a curious mental state: he knew he was likely to die, but it didn’t bother him much, because this was his purpose in life: defending the land from evil—-especially Iuz’s army. Faced with certain death, again and again, at the last moment his temporaily blessed waraxe struck with uncanny accuracy—-4 critical hits in one battle! Jarik credits Moradin for this victory, and this more or less resolved his self-doubt. Jarik has decided he’s found his calling in life: defending the Khundholm and Perrenland from the evil that is invading it…
Life seemed simple for a while. But then, Jarik and his companions found themselves seeking the aid of Nerull, the god of death. Jarik unwittingly incurred Nerull’s wrath by attempting to steal one of his artifacts, and as a result, he received a powerful curse from Nerull, such that Jarik can only heal magically, and then only half as much as normal for a given spell. Jarik has focused all of his free attention on discovering everything he can about Nerull, the curse he’s placed on Jarik, and how it might be removed. This has led him to discover more than he ever wanted to know about Nerull and his followers, and it has also caused him to gain some new awareness of the darker side of his vocation.
Jarik’s existing knowledge of religion focuses primarily on Moradin. So, during his last visit home, he sought a priest at the Khundholm for help, hoping to rid himself of Nerull’s curse with an Atonement spell. But the priest of Moradin suggested that it was highly unlikely that Moradin would help him, but instead Jarik would likely have to deal with Nerull himself, because the curse was so strong and terrible. The priest further speculated that Jarik must convince the god that he has truly repented…but how could he do that?
Then Jarik’s heart sank as he began to remember something he’d read in a book some months ago, something about Nerull rewarding killers. Thanking the priest, he turned and walked directly home, staring at the ground the entire way. Slamming the door behind him, he ordered his Monodrone to bring every book he had acquired that mentioned the Old Kerk to his study. Some hours later, he found the relevant passage: "“All are equal in Nerull’s cold realm. Every living thing is an affront to the Reaper, and every death brings a dark spark of joy to his long-dead heart. Those who pray to Nerull to appease him only attract his attention and their own doom. Those who kill in his name shall be rewarded.” "
He shut the book and sighed. “I’m not a murderer, and I’d never serve Nerull!” he said to himself. But even as he spoke the words, he started to wonder. He wondered, for the first time, “How many people have I killed?” and realized that he had long since lost count. He wondered if the reason Nerull left him alive at all was because, in his quest to do good, defend the Khundholm, and fight Iuz, he would bring some measure of death into the world in the process.
Then Jarik said to himself, “To save Perrenland, or my companions, or even myself, there is no doubt that I’m going to kill any number of creatures in the future. If that could appease Nerull somehow, what would be the harm in it?” But another voice in him said that this is how one starts down the path of evil: “no good comes from evil, I’ve always said,” he spoke aloud. “Besides, Nerull might appreciate my killing, but just doing what I’d do anyway isn’t likely to convince him anyway. He’d probably want me to kill someone I don’t have to, or worse.” Even so, now Jarik regularly finds himself thinking about ways that he might turn his talent with his waraxe into a way to convince Nerull that he repented for his unwitting theft, that he wasn’t some simple, greedy adventurer only in it for the loot…before he catches himself, and resolves that he’s going to soldier on as best he can, and that he’s certainly not going to do anything for the god of death!
Some time later, Jarik and his companions made their way to Ulmt investigating the Scharztzstadt Heresy. While in the city, he made his way to the Grand Temple of the Shrine Alliance, one of the most sacred sites for worshippers of the Old Kerk. In front of the temple are the Supplication Stairs, where penitents seek forgiveness from the gods of the Old Kerk. Jarik made an attempt to climb the stairs on his knees, not knowing what might happen, but only made it 20 steps up or so before he couldn’t stand the pain in his knees. But Ilene succeeded in climbing the stairs on his knees, and in return Nerull removed his curse!
When Jarik learned of this, just before he and his companions left Ulmt, Jarik went back. He removed all of his armor and weapons, wore a plain black tunic, and climbed the stairs on his knees, determined to make it to the top, determined to settle things with Nerull. As the hours passed, his mind became hazy, but his will held. At the last step, Nerull whispered in Jarik’s mind, sounding slightly, darkly amused: “Jarik…I see and accept your penance. Would you like to know why? One reason: you can say that you worship Moradin all you like, but in your deeds you serve me. I look forward to you continuing to carve your little swath of death across the world…and to one or two deaths in particular that will come at your hand. So I accept your obedience.”
Jarik was horrified by this revelation. As he staggering back to his room at the inn, he told himself it wasn’t true, what Nerull said…definitely not true…almost certainly…Then, in the middle of the afternoon, he collapsed into his bed. He woke up around midnight, still in shock from Nerull’s words, so that it took him a moment to realize the curious thing: his knees felt better. The curse was, in fact, lifted. That meant he had had heard Nerull’s voice…
Jarik decided to head down to the tavern to see if they had any good, dwarven ale, as he wasn’t yet ready to think about what had happened. 10 minutes and 3 ales later, in the corner of his eye, he noticed a man in the corner with a solemn and somehow familiar look. As Jarik stared, trying to think where he might have him, the man beckoned him to his table. “Hello, Dwarf. Had you something to ask of me?” the man said. Something about the way he spoke (not quite noble, but with a certain dignity and proud confidence) jogged Jarik’s memory. The last man he heard speak in quite this cadence was the dying Knight of the Hart, the one who handed Jarik the mighty Vaukieper, all those years ago.
Jarik only gaped, lost in thought. Then he remembered where he was and what his quest had come to entail. Trying his best (and not entirely failing) to answer in kind, he said, “My companions and I have come to learn some of the hidden designs of Old Wicked, and we would stop him, if we can. I ask for your assistance.” With that, he began telling his story, of how he had stood against a Vrock wielding Vaukieper, and how a Knight of the Hart had changed his life, inspiring him to find a purpose, so that today he’s no mere fighter, but a pious templar, guardian of the sacred forge in the Khundholm. He also told the Knight of all of the adventures he’d had since that day in Schwarzenbruin. The Knight listened impassively, except that his eyebrows raised a bit on hearing how Jarik had come in and out of Doraaka. Jarik told him everything…except he left out the business with Nerull.
When Jarik had finished his tale, the Knight stood. “I am indeed a Knight of the Hart, and we also oppose Old Wicked. But this is the first I’ve heard of theses demon-dead armies to invade both Oerth and the Abyss. I must report this to my commander at once. Come with me, and we will offer you what aid we can.” Jarik could hardly believe it: he was going to meet the Knights of the Hart in Furyondy!
After a journey that seemed to Jarik to last a year, Jarik and the Knight arrived. Jarik, when invited, told his story again, asking for whatever aid the Knights could offer him. The Knight Commander thanked him for his tale, and said, “The information you have brought, even out of Doraaka itself, is certainly troubling, and we will do what we can to respond to it. But as for you, we offer you our aid we can.”
To Jarik’s surprise, the offered no weapon, armor, treasure, or ally…just a grueling regiment of training. The Knights assessed his skill in combat, and found one weakness in particular: Jarik was incredibly slow to react. The drills quickly homed in on this. But no matter how many times Jarik tried to hit the dummy on the beat of a drum, he always found himself wasting a moment just blinking. It was humiliating, and he got no faster. After one week of this, the knight training him suggested that he try something else: instead of trying to boost his reaction time, maybe he could compensate for this by acting with more haste. And the knight began to teach him a hidden technique he had mastered. He had Jarik try to bless his waraxe as fast as he could, with no shortcuts (as in the swift version of the spell). After another two weeks of practice, his mind clicked, and his eyes lit up, and in the time it took him to say, “Moradin, guide my blade!”, he was done casting.
Once Jarik has fully mastered this technique, he will have gained the feat “Battle Blessing:” a Paladin spell that would cost a standard action costs a swift action, and a full-round action to cast becomes a standard action to cast.
As he prepared to leave, to rejoin his companions, the Knight Commander spoke once more to Jarik. “While our order cannot accept any dwarf, you have shown yourself to have the heart of a knight. Let the Knights of the Hart and the dwarves of the Khundholm join together in common purpose against our most hated foe, Iuz. To seal this alliance, we ask you to sacrifice once more” (to the tune of 16k gold pieces). “In return, we will enchant your dwarven waraxe to make it worthy of one who has faithfully wielded Vaukieper. This blade will be known as the Hart of the Khund.” Jarik bowed, promised to return, and mounted his old, faithful Wiespeer warhorse. Some months later, Jarik fulfilled his promise.
Jarik began to feel sympathy for the Heretics, who only sought to discover the truth—-a truth, Jarik knew, they must never find. Jarik has learned the Great Lie, which must never be revealed, or Nerull will cover the land with undead armies. Nevertheless, Jarik identifies with their search for the truth and objects to the Traditionalists exiling them one and all. He then buried his remaining doubts and declared allegiance with the heretics, though he never intends to break his oath to keep the Great Lie secret.
Some time later, Jarik made a very big mistake: deciding to face a Night Shade alone. The Shade took one look at him, flew up and touched him, and sent him instantly to the elemental plane of air. With only Hammy (the awakened Hamster given to him by Brottor) and a bossy little archon to help him get his bearings, Jarik eventually managed to return to the prime material plane, after gaining a wish by defeating a djinn in combat. (The archon stole the other two.) But within days, Clancy the vrock and Klauss the vampire ambushed the party in camp, and they killed Jarik before he even had a chance to react. The party voted on how to bring Jarik back: the paladin Maethill voted for true resurrection, Ilene for raise dead, but Brottor said, “I can’t be objective. I’m a dwarf. And dwarves stick together.” He came back for Jarik, and Jarik will never forget that loyalty. Nor will he forget being ripped from the afterlife back into the mortal world, his lost parents just coming into his sight…
Jarik has finally atoned for stealing power from the Serpent, helping his companions end its schemes on the world. He has also recently risen to the rank of Ritter (knight) in Perrenland, but is somewhat unsettled by this, as Perren himself now seems to serve Hus. Jarik didn’t yet understand what this might mean; he only had a gut feeling that something very bad may be going on, something that might call for drastic action.
He didn’t have to wait long to find out. After Perren was magically attacked at a feast (at which Brottor, moved by their long adventuring together, invited Jarik to become his brother and take the surname Rumnaheim), Jarik and his companions rushed to find something, anything, that might save him. Even with the entire resources of Perrenland at their disposal, with only a few hours to act, they could find but one solution. Hus himself offered a deal: he would provide a poison capable of curing the otherworldly fungus afflicting Perren, and in exchange, we had only to deliver the Solar Meneliant, a creature of pure good, to him. Jarik (and Matheil) wanted to find another way, but could see no alternatives. The party agreed to wait while Maethil and Jarik consulted their gods.
Jarik thought if we could just talk to the Solar…but he never said anything, and never got a chance. Illene took it upon herself to put up a wall of force, preventing Jarik or Maethil from stopping him as he released two souls who would deliver up the solar. The Solar appeared, and the spirits incapacitated it and began to lead it away. As this happened, Brottor just stood there and did nothing, thinking there was no other way.
Finally crashing through the wall of force, Jarik stopped thinking. He stormed up to Illene and smashed the flat side of his axe across her face. “You said we would wait! I hate you for doing this!” he said, but as he spoke, a thought occurred to him. He was charged to defend Perrenland, and most of all the sacred forge in the Khundholm—-and without a leader to stand against Iuz, the country would surely fall. And now that Illene had put the plan of the Hand of Nerull in motion and would fight against any opposition, what else could he do? Jarik had no other plan in mind, the Solar was incapacitated, and in that moment, he made a choice that he would regret for the rest of his life: he held Maethil back as she alone tried to do the right thing, saying, “No! This is the only way.” Even Illene gasped in surprise at this. The solar vanished, and Hus kept his word, providing the poison to save Perren. In the ensuing battle to deliver the poison and save Perren’s life, Jarik was slain by an assassin vine.
Again he found himself in Moradin’s halls. And again, just as his parents were coming into view, he felt the pull of a true resurrection spell, offering to pull him out. With eternal rest, and reunion with his lost parents, in front of him, he felt strangely at peace, and didn’t want to go back. But then, a sickening thought hit him: what would his mother say, if she knew what he’d just done? Would they even let him stay?
And, at the same moment, he remembered that Iuz still planned to invade Perrenland and the Abyss with his legions of demanded. At once he knew he had to go back, both out of obligation as a pious templar to stop Iuz and for fear that he would have to tell his mother that his last earthly act had been to sell a Solar for some poison.
So Jarik, for the second time, accepted a spell that wrenched his soul back into the mortal world.
Perren showered Jarik and all of his companions with praise and gifts. But raised in rank to be second only to Perren himself, given 600 miles of tunnels in the Khundholm, and 8000 gp/year pension, and a position in Perren’s kingsguard, Jarik was at first elated as Perren sang his praises…until he heard a familiar voice whispering in his mind. Nerull said, “Jarik…Rumnaheim now, I see. Very good. I see and accept your service, once again. I knew someone who kills as much as you wouldn’t disappoint me…but sacrificing a Solar to my Hand, and just to save your petty kingdom…well, let’s say I’m pleasantly surprised. The next time you die might just have to be your last…and Moradin might not be the god with the greatest claim on your soul this time.”
Suddenly, it all felt horribly tainted, ill-gotten gain. But more than that, his entire life’s quest, seemingly achieved, had led him not to be a faithful servant of Moradin, but the sort who would impress Nerull! And Perren just kept going on about how much of a hero they all were…he couldn’t stand it.
Wordless, Jarik turned, walked out of Perren’s hall, got on his horse, and left Schwarzenbruin. He didn’t stop riding until he returned to the Khundholm, where he sat in his small home, deep in the Khundholm’s tunnels (not the new underground castle at the head of his own private tunnels), alone by the fireplace, until it was days after the fire had burned itself out. His Modron butler could not convince him to eat, or even to drink, or even to speak, or even to move. “If this is what being a hero is, and if these are the choices…” He couldn’t even complete the thought. He stared into the darkness.
A stranger knocked at his door. The dwarves had all stopped knocking days ago. Whoever it was, he didn’t care…but something, maybe the remains of his curiosity, couldn’t let it pass this time. As he had the Modron light the fire, Jarik stood, walked stiffly to the door, and opened it. There stood a man in a black cloak and hood, with the the only Coat of Arms Jarik could recognize: here was a Knight of the Hart. “Sir Rumnaheim,” he began. The title felt utterly false to Jarik’s ears. “I have heard that you plan to infiltrate the Abyss soon, and I believe that it is in my, our, collective best interests that you succeed in your task. Despite the traditions of the Knights, a number of us have pooled together to give you what blessings of the Hart we may. Please accept our gift, and speak not of it to any else. May cold iron avail you.” Without letting Jarik speak, he left a wrapped tome on the table, saluted him, and left, not even acknowledging the thanks Jarik said by rote.
Jarik turned to the tome, unwrapped it (the Modron took the wrapping), and studied it. It had no title. It was bound in leather with gilt lettering, and a platinum spine. A good 3 inches thick. Jarik laughed bitterly as he remembered the last time someone told him to keep a secret and save Perrenland: he almost unwittingly gave that gird, guarded by the Schwarzenbruin himself, to Iuz’s forces, and thus almost doomed Perrenland to destruction. “Only a fool would open that,” he thought to himself. But Jarik could never resist a secret, locked doors or unopened books, so after pacing for a few moments, and muttering to himself about being a $
#% idiot (the $#% a spontaneous curse in Infernal), he opened the book to the first page and started to read.
He found himself reading the story of a Paladin of the Hart. The story was strangely engrossing. Intrigued, Jarik stopped muttering as he read. The book appeared to be written in Dwarvish, and while it wasn’t illustrated, the description was vivid. 80 pages later, the story just seemed to stop at the present day, with no conclusion. “I wonder why it was a paladin and not a knight,” he thought. The next story told the tale of a small boy. Now utterly engrossed by the book, he continued to read, as the boy became a Squire, then a Knight, and then a Knight Commander of the Hart. But this tale also was incomplete, finishing at the present day. Jarik figured he must already be about a quarter of the way through the book, when his Modron poked him again, offering him food. Jarik, for the first time in days, took the food, eating as he read. He suspected that each story was that of a currently living Knight of the Hart.
As Jarik read, the book never seemed to end, and it seemed to contain far more pages than its size suggested. He lost track quickly (the pages were not numbered) but found himself reading thousands of pages, far more than he thought the book could contain. Jarik began to suspect that the book was magical. He lost all sense of the passage of time as he read, stopping only to eat and drink as the Modron provided food. 15 days later (as it turned out), he thought to use his scout’s headband to cast true seeing, to see if the book changed in any way. (It didn’t.) He tried, for the first time, to turn the page back, and found that he couldn’t: when he tried, the book closed, and it always opened to the last page he had read.
Each book told the story of a Knight, a Paladin, a Squire, or a Knight Commander. Each lacked a conclusion, as if the story were not yet finished. The stories are full of battles (which Jarik especially enjoyed reading), but more full of battles of mettle, of faith, and of inner demons…also a sort of battles Jarik was well acquainted with. Some are written beautifully, and in some the writing is just terrible. As he read, he felt that he’d walked a hundred miles in the boots of each person, though he couldn’t remember the details well afterward; it was as if they were memories long forgotten, or only half remembered. He started jotting notes on scraps of paper, hanging them on the walls when the table and the floor were full.
At about this time, Jarik looked up and saw Hammy staring at him, looking worried. (“When did he come in?” Jarik thought.) “What’s wrong?” he asked. Hammy replied, “O, it’s nothing…it’s just, are you sure you’re, you know, OK? Mod has let me in to look in on you every day for the past week, and this is the first word I’ve heard you say, and the first time you’ve looked up from that blank book.” Jarik wondered, briefly, that Hammy couldn’t see the writing, but he had no time for such trivialities…"It’s obviously a magic book, with a message just for me. If you’re so worried, go get a wizard to cast detect magic." And he turned back to the book. Some time later, Jarik was dimly aware that Hammy did bring a wizard, and Jarik stopped while the wizard cast detect magic. The old dwarf shook his head. Turning to Hammy, he said quietly, “The book is completely ordinary. Should I get a priest, to try Greater restoration?” Jarik turned: “I’m not crazy! It’s magic. Mod, show him out.”
At last, Jarik came to a story about an elvish girl. Her father, a ranger, died while she was young to an assassin vine, and her mother, lost in grief, left the girl to look after herself for the last 80 years of her childhood. She was captured by Iuzian orcs, and endured unspeakable horrors (told in plain Dwarvish) at their hands, until the Knights of the Hart saved her. Now a squire, she has sworn an Oath to destroy every last orc in Old Wicked’s lands. Jarik felt her pain and determination and resolve. A footnote at the end noted that she was currently in the Bandit Kingdoms, searching for a relic.
Jarik decided to take a rest before reading on. He cleaned up the room, burning most of the notes he’d written. (“It’s a secret,” he thought.) But he kept the stories of the paladin, the knight commander, and the elvish girl.
At last, ready for the next tale, he turned the page. He saw just two words, embossed in High Dwarven script:Jarik Rumnaheim
He wept at the sight of it. Here he was, listed among these brave Knights of the Hart! The Knight’s he’d met in the stories may not have always been the noble, decisive, righteous people that he’d imagined knights to be. But though they were from all walks of life and all manners of culture, none were infallible, all were mortal, and all, at the crucial moment, were brave. And here he was, Jarik Rumnaheim, among their number.
Jarik turned the page, awestruck, smiling at the wonder of reading his own life story—-but the next page was blank. “Maybe the magic needs time to work.” He put it away for the day, but in the morning, the page was still blank, and he couldn’t even turn back to the page with his name. He took a pen and began to write, starting with his earliest memories, in the weapons shop, his parents smiling from behind the racks full of waraxes and shields, as he hid between them. As he wrote, the book absorbed his words. He wrote, in his own plain, blunt, rambling style, his story, through his first adventure at that tavern in Laughgen. He left nothing out, not his triumphs (from that first blow he struck with Vaukieper through defeating more dragons and demons than he could remember), and not his failures, from his horror at realizing that the serpent stone he’d given to the kobolds—-just trying to help them better themselves—-was now useless for the blinded children, to what he’d just done trying to save the world. He arrived at the present day. He paused, smiled for some reason, and thought to himself, “A story for another day,” and closed the book.
That night, the first in his memory, he had no nightmares of tortured solars. Instead, the same mysterious Knight of the Hart visited him. “You have read our tales, our collected experience, our wisdom. Use your knowledge wisely, Sir Rumnaheim. While you are not one of ours, strive to be a twinkle in Moradin’s eye. And follow your heart to your dying day.” Jarik wanted to ask him his name, but the man walked away, fading from vision, leaving Jarik with a dreamless sleep.
When he awoke, Jarik got a slow start. He cleaned last night’s dishes, swept the floor, and repacked his pack (with his stuffed bear right on the top, as always). He began to muse on the knight’s words. “It’s the striving that matters,” he said to himself. Hammy and Mod looked up at his voice. “Follow your heart. Follow your heart.” An idea began to become clear. He started looking around the room. “Follow your heart to your dying day.” Hammy looked genuinely concerned; Mod was obliviously cheerful as always. As his eyes circled the room again, Jarik smiled again, as his eyes fell on his waraxe, the Hart of the Khund. “Follow your Hart to your dying day,” he said.
And suddenly images and ideas filled his mind, the forgotten memories from the book all trying to surface at once. “Come on, Hammy! We have work to do!” Not quite sure what the work was, the first stop was the Khundholm’s Great Library. Jarik was full of energy, everything falling into place. He’d visited the library any number of times, so it wasn’t hard to find the book of lore he suddenly knew he needed: “Moradin’s Priest,” which told the story of a priest, long ago, who bound his soul and personality into the first Axe of Ancestral Virtue. There was a footnote there, that he had to find…and there it was: legend has it that a few master craftsmen among the Khundholm dwarves had once been able to forge copies of this first axe, magically calling the unnamed priest’s personality into the weapon.
Jarik wondered how to do this, and suddenly it was all so simple…he’d done it, hadn’t he, back when he was Knight Commander? No, something wasn’t right there, but whatever, no time to waste. He grabbed Hammy (who registered his displeasure at being swept off the table where he’d been reading “Tales of the Sword Coast”) and was off to Moradin’s Forge, the sacred place he’d sworn to protect, named after the true Forge in Moradin’s halls. On the way, he passed the wizard who had looked in on him earlier. Without thinking, Jarik cast a Righteous Aura on himself and said, “Don’t worry, I’m fine! Probably just a bit of a head wound from my last battle there. Staring at a blank book. Now what was so fascinating?” He wasn’t sure the wizard bought his bluff, but he didn’t stop to find out.
The craftsmen nodded to him as he entered, but they one by one began to stare as Jarik began working, quickly at first, then feverishly. He found himself placing the axe in the fire, then on the anvil, then saying magical words he’d never heard before (since he’d last said them, he corrected himself), softly at first, then louder, as the axe began to glow. Then back to the fire, then back to the anvil. He worked for three days and nights, never losing focus, never resting, never thinking about anything but the drive to finish the work, to find and call him, whoever he was, that ancient priest, back into the world, for the need was great. On the fourth day, the words began to change. He began casting spells that the blade absorbed, faster than even he had ever cast them before. Bless. Cure. Bless. By the fourth night, he found himself casting spells he’d never been able to cast before (except back when he was a Mage of the Hart, maybe): faerie fire, haste. A crowd of dwarvish craftsmen were staring now. The room was now full of fire and magic, and he found he could pour some of his own life into the magic swirling into the blade. Finally, he held up the blade in both hands, fell to his knees, and cried out in dwarfish the first prayer he had ever learned: “O Soul Forger, you burn the dross from me, but the iron remains!” And the room fell quiet, lit again only by the fire of the Forge. Jarik smiled weakly and fell asleep.
He slept there until the next morning, with Hammy seeing to it than no one disturbed them. (“The forge is closed until tomorrow,” he said, ushering them out as “Sir Rumnaheim’s squire in the name of the Voorman.”)
Jarik awoke, and stood up. The room was silent and empty, except for himself and his hamster. He had a foggy memory of what he’d done for the past days, weeks, months, but he had no idea how he’d done any of it. He’d had another nightmare about Meneliant, the way he looked, so innocent, just before the end. But then his eyes fell on the shining blade at his feet. He noticed a holy symbol of Moradin that didn’t used to be there, right between the head and the haft. He picked it up. And he heard its gentle, grave voice speak aloud and in his mind, slowly and with great formality: “Sir Jarik Rumnaheim of the Khundholm, you have cried out to Moradin in your darkest hour, and he has heard your cry. I have answered your summons, Sir, for I saw that your need was great.”
Before Jarik could answer, the voice spoke again, in a quite different cadence. “OK, that’s the big speech. Straight from the Soul Forger. Cool, yeah? Enough of that then. Let’s find some vrocks and kick their unholy arses back to the Abyss. Then maybe we’ll follow them there and back so we can kick them again. How about some vrocks. Seen any vrocks? Or Giants? I really hate giants. OK, we’re in a sacred forge, maybe not. Forge. Hmm. How about evil fire elementals? We could kill some of them, yeah?” Jarik felt the axe pulling him toward the forge. “Yeah, probably not. Sacred fire. And elementals are usually not evil. OK, then: Jarik, get your coat. Time to go. Evil to slay.” The axe started pulling him toward the door, as Hammy followed behind.
Jarik, with some effort, stopped walking, and looked straight at the axe. He worried that somehow, in his delirium, he cast the wrong spells. This didn’t sound like any priest of Moradin he’d ever heard. “Just wait. Who are you?”
The axe fell back into the grave voice it had used earlier. “I am a priest of the Soul Forger, sworn to his service. But you should well know, Sir Rumnaheim, that a weapon functions best when the wielder thinks of it as a part of himself. And I have never shared my true name with any mortal. You may call me simply the Hart of the Khund.” A beat. “So can we go? I really, really need to smite some evil or something. Sure you haven’t seen any vrocks?” Jarik said, “Yeah, I know where we can find some vrocks,” and followed the axe out of the room.