The Council of Three Hammers: Fire and Iron
Fire and Iron – Matt Burns
The sky above Aerie Peak beckoned Kurdran Wildhammer like the distant glow of a campfire on a frigid winter night. After twenty long years trapped on the hellish world now known as Outland, he was home. Never once had he regretted joining theAlliance expedition to battle the orcish Horde on its homeworld, but over the harsh years there the longing to see this sky had burned in his heart. His gryphon, Sky'ree, glided above him with three of her kin, as vibrant as she had ever been over the last two decades. He craved to be up there with her and feel the mountain air rushing against his face. Fate had ordained that he would walk the earth ontwo legs, but the sky was where he felt free. That was Sky'ree's greatest gift to him. More than her ferocity during war or her friendship during peace, it was flight. For now, though, he would let her soar in the sky on her own. Kurdran took a deep breath and surveyed his home: verdant forests stretched out in all directions; Wildhammer dwarves milled about in shops and homes along themountain's slopes; and the colossal aviary, a stone enclosure sculpted in the image of one of the noble gryphons, towered atop Aerie Peak. Everything was just as he had left it. He drew a small iron scepter from his side, wrapped in strands of grass and adorned with gryphon feathers. It wasn't a weapon—his battle-worn stormhammer was hanging on his back—it was a reminder. On Outland, the scepter had becomealmost mystical in nature, a symbol of who he was and the home he was fighting to protect. Many times he had held it close and felt hope surge through him, driving him forward. Yet now that he was home, the scepter's potency seemed— A shrill cry pierced the air. Kurdran looked up, and a pang of fear stabbed him. Sky'ree was spiraling toward the ground, her wings twisted in unnatural ways."Sky'ree!" Kurdran bellowed. The gryphon slammed into the ground with a sickening thud. Jagged bones protruded from her shattered hind legs, and blood spurted from a vicious crack in her skull. Sky'ree attempted to rise, but she crumpled from the pain. She opened her beak, and a frail cry escaped from it. "Dinna move, lass!" Kurdran yelled. He was charging toward his fallen companion, heart pounding,when suddenly his hand went stiff. The scepter he held was bubbling and transforming into something chillingly familiar… crystal… diamond. Glittering tendrils shot from it and slithered up his arm, freezing his limb as solid as stone. The viscous substance reached his chest and expanded downward until it fused his legs to the ground. Kurdran struggled for the stormhammer on his back, but diamondencased his arm before he could pull the weapon free. Frozen in place, he could only watch in helpless despair as the gryphon who had saved his life countless times, who had become an extension of his own being, slowly bled out before him. The diamond prison continued up Kurdran's neck, icy and heavy, until it poured down his throat and filled his lungs. At last it covered his eyes and ears, andSky'ree and the inviting blue sky were gone. But Kurdran was denied the freedom of death. He existed in a void while dread burned through his mind like liquid metal in a forge. Eventually, he heard a faint rhythmic thud, louder and louder. 2
Fire and Iron – Matt Burns
THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. Each blow sent dull vibrations through his body, as though someone were slamming a blunt object against hiscrystal death shroud, trying to liberate him. THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. The rigidness in his body faded. Feeling returned to his limbs. Then the sound took on another tone. CLANG. CLANG. CLANG. The familiar noise was all he needed to know where he was and realize that he had merely been awakened from one nightmare into another. It was the metallic twang of hammer striking anvil that went on day and...