Approximately one month after the death of Thain Dukragiirn, Gurrk Arrak Gutshaker found himself knocking on the door to the rooms of the trapspringer Diessa.
“Gurrk!” the dwarven rogue exclaimed when she opened the door. “What is it?”
“Hi, uh … I’m, uh, not disturbing you, am I?” the battlerager’s gravelly voice warbled with concern. His spiked breastplate clinked as he shifted awkwardly, the movement releasing a waft of unwashed-dwarf-and-blood smell.
Diessa grimaced at the smell, but was thankful Gurrk didn’t seem to notice. She had noticed that his feelings were sometimes surprisingly easy to bruise. “No, no, it’s just that you’ve never visited my rooms before.”
“I, uh, I guess you’re right. Can I come in?” Gurrk nervously looked up and down the stone halls.
“Sure, I guess so. Gurrk, what’s going on?” Diessa had never seen the armored warrior nervous before, and she couldn’t imagine what had unnerved him.
Gurrk passed through the door, and stood in the center of Diessa’s sparsely decorated sitting area. Diessa took a seat on a stool, but Gurrk paced about the room.
“So, uh, Diessa, I have a question for you,” Gurrk began, not looking at her.
“Well, I mean you’re a dwarf woman, right? See, I need a wife to start my own House, and we could all die at any time, so I figured–”
“What?! Gurrk, I am NOT marrying you!”
“What?” the battlerager stopped pacing and looked, blinking, at Diessa. “I don’t wanna marry YOU. I mean, no offense, Diessa, but you’re not exactly wife material.”
“And just what is that supposed to mean?” the trapspringer demanded.
“Aw, crap, this isn’t going right at all,” Gurrk sighed. “Lemme start over. I need advice about courting a woman, a dwarf woman.”
“I think you should start from the beginning. Sit down, take a few breaths, and calm down. Where is this all coming from?”
Gurrk sat, as she’d suggested, and tried to sort out his thoughts– a task which had never been easy for him outside of battle. “I guess it mostly starts with Thain’s death. But maybe it starts when my father died.”
“I’ve never heard you talk about your father, except that he named you by belching.”
“Yeah,” Gurrk sighed wistfully. “What a guy. Sometimes I wish I had more of him than the mug I carved from his skull.”
“So what does he have to do with this?” Diessa asked, ignoring the reference to Gurrk’s favorite drinking vessel.
“Well I guess you wouldn’t know why my father died,” Gurrk’s eyes grew brighter as his mind organized. “The how is pretty obvious; he died in battle, like any Gutshaker should. And that’s the thing– we’re really good at dying. I mean we’re good at killing, too, but we’re the chosen children of Clanggedin, right? So we throw ourselves into battle, throw our lives away in battle, ’cause death has no fear for us. We know we’ll be welcomed into Clanggedin’s arms, and we’ll fight by his side for eternity. So, uh, we don’t usually have long careers, if ya understand. And that’s the problem.”
“It would be a problem,” Diessa nodded. “I may have grown up in exile, but my family still taught me the way of the Delvers. If you don’t survive long enough to educate the next generation–”
“The Gutshakers aren’t Delvers, not originally. My family’s only been here for two generations. We came here ’cause there wasn’t anything worthy of our rage back wherever we came from. But then my clan heard about the Shit-Dragon, and they moved here.”
“How many of your people moved here?” Diessa asked. “I haven’t heard of any others, besides you.”
“My grandfather, his three brothers, their wives and kids. I dunno how many exactly. My dad was never big on history. You’ve never heard of any others ’cause they’re all dead. They charged in, like all good battleragers should, and they didn’t come back out again.”
“But then, how did there get to be a you?”
“Because we scared the Delvers,” Gurrk grinned, but it was not entirely kind. “So before they let us fight, we had to join the clan. We swore on Morradin’s Forge that if we died before ensuring the next generation could fight, we’d suffer a year of defeat in the afterlife for ever day the fight couldn’t go on here.”
“And I thought the regular Delver oath was harsh,” Diessa said mostly to herself.
“Even with that, they got impatient. Like Thain, most refused to wait until they had children of their own to go into the mountain. My dad waited, but he died while I was still an apprentice. Right now, he’s being swarmed and cut down by goblins, orcs, kobolds, and Gods-know-what-else. He can’t win ’cause he died before I could fight. He’ll keep dying for more than four hundred years. Unless the Shit-Dragon dies.”
“Is that why you’re so focused on destroyed Goradrend?” like Gurrk, Diessa didn’t share the other Delver’s fear of uttering the dragon’s name, but she hadn’t developed a taste for the title Gurrk gave him instead.
“S’part of it. The other part is that THERE’S A HELL-DAMNED SHIT-DRAGON LIVING IN OUR MOUNTAIN! That’s what gets me about Farlin, and Thain, and all the others. Maybe it’s ’cause they grew up here, maybe it’s ’cause they don’t have Clanggedin’s anger, I dunno, but so many of the Delvers think so damned much that I swear they forget to feel,” Gurrk was on his feet again, the fires of rage burning behind his eyes, every muscle in his body tense. “It’s like they wake up in the morning and they say ‘Well, maybe we should do something about that dragon — if it’s not too dangerous.’ Do you know what I think when I get up in the morning? ‘Ah, what a lovely — OH FUCK, THERE’S STILL A DAMNED SHIT-DRAGON LIVING IN OUR MOUNTAIN!!'”
“Gurrk!” Diessa barked. “Control yourself!”
Instantly, the blazing fire in Gurrks eyes dimmed into the smolder that was their norm.
“… Are you finished?” Diessa asked, her arms crossed, her face not amused.
“Yeah. Yeah,” Gurrk was breathing deeply, relaxing himself and sitting down again. “Sorry. I got carried away.”
“I noticed. You don’t have to shout at me, Gurrk. I came here BECAUSE I know Goradrend needs to die.”
“Yeah. Sorry. But then you know, eh? The other Delvers, it’s like they’ve given up sometimes. That’s why I refused to be named Eldest of Vengeance.”
Diessa shook her head. “But Gurrk, that’s why you SHOULD be Eldest. You have that passion, and a lot more experience in the mountian than I do.”
“No, see? I realized it can’t work that way. We battleragers can’t be a normal part of the House of Vengeance, or we might end up being leaders, and that doesn’t work. And we sure can’t be part of the House of Memory. So we need to do something else. I’m going to found the House of Fury.”
“The House of Fury?”
“Yeah. The House of Memory keeps the lore of the old ways, the House of Vengeance leads the quest to retake what we’ve lost, and the House of Fury will make damn sure we never forget to hate those who’ve wronged us. Farlin’s already agreed to it.”
“S-she has?” Diessa was shocked that the Eldest of Memory would have agreed to this.
“Yeah!” Gurrk was grinning. “Trick is, she says that only a full adult can found their own house. That means I need to get married.”
“And to live long enough to father a child,” Diessa nodded.
Gurrk nodded as well. “I’ve been careful. I’ve listened to Thain, I’ve reeled in my rage, I’ve studied tactics. I’ve done things no Gutshaker has ever done. But that bodak, it taught me the most important lesson. We weren’t doing anything reckless. We’d opened more than a hundred doors, same formula, no extra risks. But when that undead thing’s gaze fell on Thain, that was it. One instant ended his life, one instant no different from any other. There was no reason Thain died that day. Just as easily, coulda been Lanni. Coulda been me. That bodak taught me that all our plans and caution ain’t worth a thing. Each moment could be the last for any of us.”
“And you’ve found a woman you want to spend those moments with?” Diessa couldn’t help but smile.
“Well, not ALL of ’em. I mean, she’s not gonna come with us into battle, but –” Gurrk was cut off by a sudden pounding pressure in his head, like every hangover ever Gutshaker ever had was rammed into his skull. His vision blurred, his ears popped, and then everything went dark.
It was a beautiful summer day in the foothills. The sun shone brightly on Gurrk and Thain as they walked the path up to the mountain. Unspoken anticipation was thick between them, exciting and anxious. This was the day their apprenticeships ended. By the end of the day, they would have killed their first Valgiirn beasts, and they would take the names of adulthood they’d chosen for themselves. Gurrk swore he could smell new beginnings in the air. This day would see a change, the end of the Shit-Dragon’s domination, and the beginning of the Delver’s reclamation.
Something didn’t seem right to Gurrk. The longer they walked, the more the feeling grew. Gurrk began to think he wasn’t seeing straight, that somehow his vision was blurred, and he had a feeling of deja vu. He was trying to shake the feeling as a pair of kobolds jumped them. For a moment, the joy of battle replaced any worries he might be feeling. But when the dirty creatures lay dead, and Gurrk’s and Thain’s weapons were decorated with their blood, Gurrk’s uneasy feeling grew stronger. He looked at Thain’s smiling face, and all he could see was death. The sun, the rocks, everything around them seemed hollow. Even his victory and the death of his enemies seemed empty. Life had no soul.
Then a pain like nothing Gurrk could imagine pulsed into his head, and he dropped his axe as he gripped the sides of his head with both hands. All of his senses blurred, and then went dark.
Gurrk felt like he was falling, but couldn’t see or hear anything. Images and thoughts came and went, his sense of self moving with them. He was sparring with a tall warrior he somehow knew was a Klingon. He was a human barbarian seeking for the last Horadric Sage, Dekard Cain. He was a Grey Warden, preparing to venture into the Denerim Alienage seeking leverage against Loghain Mac Tir. Then there was darkness again.
“… definitely coming to.” Gurrk didn’t recognize the voice, and it spoke the Common Tongue with an accent like nothing he’d heard before. “Senor Porter! He is waking up!”
Gurrk groaned as he came more fully awake, and started to sit up. There was a human at his side, wearing the most absurd hat Gurrk had ever seen. It had a wide brim, and there was a large feather stuck into the band. As Gurrk’s vision cleared, it was clear he was in some kind of inn or tavern. He was sitting on a wooden table, his armor was intact, and he recognized the weight of his greataxe, and his maul crossed on his back.
His maul? Did he own a maul? Sure he did, he commissioned it after his first run-in with skeletons … but wait, hadn’t he and Thain just set out? Gurrk laid his face into his mailed palms. Gurrk’s mind was full of contradictions and confusion, like he wasn’t even sure who he was.
“Here, drink this,” Gurrk was startled by the new voice: he hadn’t heard anyone else approach. He lifted his head and took a better look around. He was deffinatly in the common room of an inn, and it seemed to be deserted, with the exception of the human in the odd hat, and the innkeeper. The innkeeper was standing beside the table now with a mug of something steaming in his hand.
Gurrk took the offered mug, and began to gulp down the contents. The liquid was scalding hot, darkly bitter, and not at all alcoholic, but Gurrk didn’t stop until it was gone. The burning heat spread through his body, and his confusion started to lift. Gurrk’s sense of self partially solidified. “Wow,” he breathed. “What was that stuff?”
“It’s called coffee,” the innkeeper replied. “I find that drinking something hot helps newcomers adjust.”
“Where I am?” Gurrk asked. “How did I get here? Who are you?”
“My name is Andrew Porter, but you can call me Andy,” the innkeeper replied. “This is the Crossroads Inn. I can tell you that you were found, unconscious, on the road outside. I’m afraid I can’t tell you more about how you got here.”
“And I,” said the man with the hat, “am Domingo Garcia de Soldano del Castillo. Senor Porter has been kind enough to give me food and lodgings here in exchange for helping out and providing music for customers.”
“I, uh, I am …” Gurrk paused for a moment as several answers suggested themselves, some contradicting each other. Then, suddenly, one solid answer came to him. “I am Gurrk Arrak Gutshaker.” With those words, the last of the confusion parted, and all doubt left him.
“Well, Gurrk, what is the last thing you remember clearly?” Andrew asked.
“I, uh … I was talking to Diessa? Yeah! I was talking to Diessa about founding my own House. And uh, I was just talking about getting married, and then … oh, ow, that’s where it stops being clear. It’s like after that I thought I was more than one person.”
Andrew nodded. “Tell me, had something terrible happened recently? A natural disaster? Was something destroyed? Was someone killed?”
“Thain Dukragiirn. He was killed about a month ago. He was my friend, the Eldest of Vengeance, and he lead the Long March against the Shit-Dragon.”
“It was a meaningless death,” Andrew remarked, no question or doubt in his voice.
“Yeah. It was. I –,” Gurrk blinked as several things suddenly became clear to him. “Everything felt empty without him … like it was him that held the whole thing together … and everything I’ve done since … even the talk about getting married … has been trying to ignore it — ignore how hollow everything feels.”
Andrew sighed. “I was afraid of this. Gurrk, I’m not sure how to tell you this — not sure you can understand or believe it — but it sounds to me like Thain was the Heart of your world and of your story.”
“That — that sounds right,” Gurrk didn’t understand how, but there was truth in that.
“Sadly, a world cannot live without a Heart, any more than a body can,” Andrew said.
Gurrk wanted to simply shout denial. Surely his world was more than that! Surely everything he knew, his people, its history, could not be blinked out just like that. But then, if Thain’s life could end in one pointless instant, why not a world?
“But then,” Gurrk said slowly, “shouldn’t this be the afterlife? This sure idn’t Mount Silverbeard.”
“No, it certainly is not,” Andrew agreed. “The Crossroads Inn is not part of the universe as you understand it. It’s its own place, a nexus point, a world unto itself, and yet no world at all. I don’t completely understand it myself, but those adrift between worlds often end up in places like this.”
“Then what — what do I do? My whole life has been about destroying the Shit-Dragon, retaking Valgiirn. If they’re gone … I don’t know what to do with myself.”
“I may be some help there,” Domingo lifted a finger. “I was sent to this place by a friend of mine. She told me I would be needed, that there was something that needed to be done. I have given up believing in coincidence. Perhaps you can find purpose in whatever this task is … whenever it shows itself.
“In the meantime, you are welcome to stay here,” Andrew suggested. “You look like a strong young man. I’m sure I could find work for you to do.”
“Oh, I bet I can be more use to you than that,” Gurrk grinned. “Have you got a still?”
“No,” Andrew smiled. “But I have a pile of scrap in the back. We could probbly cobble one together.”
“And if you’ve gone some spare bones, I could carve you some fine mugs.”
Andrew blinked. “What?”