The mountains laid deep within the grip of winter, their peaks buried beneath the thick mantle of freshly fallen snow. Everything was still, except for the lone, dark form of a traveler as he made his way up the side of the mountain. Everything was silent, except for his ragged, labored breathing and the crunching of his boots as they sank into the snow.
The journey had not been kind on Azring the dwarf. His dark eyes had sunken, his limbs ached, and his lustrous black beard had paled and frayed. The peaks of mountains were no place for a dwarf, he thought to himself. He was a creature of the underground, a digger, a miner. His was a race of warriors, not of bloody hikers! Azring spat in frustration and watched in disgust as his saliva froze solid before it hit the ground. He could have been back home in Akral by now, knocking back a pint with his brothers, rather than freezing his ass off in the mountains, lost in the middle of nowhere, searching for someone who may not have even been there. But no. He would not fail in his Duty, no matter how cold or tired or hungry he was. He was chosen by Moradin, and the Chosen did not falter. Especially not when the world was in danger. And so, shivering, he clutched his thin black cloak closer to his body as he trudged along.
Fortunately, it was not long before Azring found what he was looking for, even though he couldn’t see it. A cave. A tiny little hollow, barely twenty feet across, hidden just around the corner. He could feel its presence in his bones, just as clearly as he could see the snow and the stone around him. Yes! Yes, this was the place! He would be there. He had to be. This was it! Azring grinned with satisfaction as his stonecunning led him to the opening of the cave.
And there he was. The man Azring came to find. Sitting crouched over a small fire, his back to the mouth of the cave, was a slight young man. A thick shock of bright red hair covered his head, and his striking green eyes seemed to shine in the light of the fire. But by far, the young man’s most striking feature was his skin. Pale and milky-white, but blemished by the presence of numerous port-wine stains that stained his body with sickly red streaks and blotches. Azring smiled when he saw him.
“There ye are Hero! Ah’ve ben lookin’ all over for ye!” Azring chuckled as he spoke, trying to hide the feelings of nervous anticipation he felt swimming within his gut. It had been three years since he had last seen Hero, and these were certainly not the circumstances he would have chosen for a reunion.
“Hello Azring,” Hero did not turn. His voice was a dead monotone, all but devoid of emotion. Azring sighed in dejection. It looked like his friend hadn’t changed much since the last time they spoke.
“Hero, come on lad. Et’s time ta leave,” Azring said tentatively. “The Dark One’s armies are gettin’ stronger by the day. The world needs us now. Come on Hero, et’s time ta live up ta yer namesake,”
Hero stood suddenly and turned on Azring, his face wracked with rage.
“DON’T YOU EVER SAY THAT!” Hero screamed, his voice echoing through the tiny cave. “DON’T YOU EVER SAY THAT AZRING! I AM NOT A HERO!”
“Ye are,” Azring said sternly. He was determined to remain unphased by his friend’s behavior. He was not going to allow things to end like last time. “Et’s in yer name,”
“Damn you Azring, I am not!” Hero growled. “I’m not strong, or smart, handsome, or brave! I was just named by a crazy old farmer with stupid dreams for my future! You know just as well as I do that I just got swept up in all of this by chance!”
“The gods’d say otherwise,” Azring said. “Ye know ye were chosen,”
“DAMN THE GODS!” Hero screamed. “They have no power! Or if they do, then they don’t care enough about us to use it!”
“That’s not true Hero,”
“IT IS TRUE, YOU STUPID OLD DWARF!” Hero’s tone became hysterical. “IF THEY EVEN GAVE TWO CRAPS ABOUT US, NISSA WOULD STILL BE ALIVE RIGHT NOW!” Tears began to roll down Hero’s face.
Azring sighed. He knew this was coming. Not that the reminder of it hurt any less. Nissa was a good lass, for an elf anyway. Corellon’s blessing was strong in her, and she was the bravest, sweetest lass he had ever known. He and Addin used to joke that Nissa was the glue that held their little group together. It was amazing how right they were in hindsight, really. And she and Hero had been close. Really close.
“Hero, Ah know et hurts,” Azring rested his hand on his taller friend’s side. “But ye know as well as Ah do that there are jus’ some things tha gods cannae control. Like tha actions o’ other gods, such as tha Dark One,”
“They let her die, Azring,” Hero wept bitterly. “They let him rape her and steal her soul! And they didn‘t do a thing to help her, to save her! Not a damn thing!"
Azring had enough. Drawing himself up to his full height, he grabbed his friend by the front and forcefully dragged him down to eye level.
“Gods damn et, Hero!” Azring growled. “They tried to warn us, in case ye dinnae remember! They told us ‘e was more powerful ‘n we could possibly imagine! But we ‘ad a chance ta kill tha bastard then an’ there so we took et! HELL, ET WAS NISSA’S BLOODY IDEA, REMEMBER?” Azring bellowed, and fixed Hero with a piercing glare. The two stood in silence, staring one another in the eyes. “She was a casualty, but we need to move on now,” Azring said tensely as he released Hero. “Ah’ve tried ta be patient with ye, but Ah’m bloody well fed up! Tha whole bloody world needs our help now, an' if ye ever really cared for Nissa, ye’ll honor her memory and help finish what she started! Ye can either come with me, or stay here and sulk! Ah dinnae care anymore!”
With that, Azring turned and began to walk away, stalking out of the cave and into the snow without looking back. Hero watched him go until he was almost out of his sight. Then, wiping his tears from his face, he followed.