The old dwarf stirs as he hears unfamiliar footsteps approach. Heavier than he expects, with the rustle and odors of overland leathers. Word has come to him about the strangers in town; misfits who, by luck or skill, opened the gates to Walker’s Abbey and drove out whatever filth had claimed it. He knows it is one of the strangers in front of him now, one of the larger two. She’s hidden the stench of orc well, but it still lingers about her.
“Hrmph.” The dwarf gets to his feet. “State yer business.”
“Uh, Greetings” the orc stammers, and the dwarf’s breath catches. Her voice is so fresh, she cannot be more than a child. The dwarf wonders what her parents must think about her escapades, but holds his tongue. She has her reasons for being out here, whatever they may be. “I was told you were the best engraver in the Granite Tower, and I- oh goodness.” The dwarf knows she’s seen his eyes.
Like all overlanders, her theatrics wear thin quickly. He cuts her attempts at sympathy short. “Tell me the job.” The orc pulls something from her pack, unsheathes a span of metal. There is something odd about the blade.
The orc sets it down in front of the dwarf. He runs his hands over it. It is an axe, and by the sound of its hums, Adamantine. There is something more to it, though. “Where did you get this.”
“From the Abbey,” the child says. “It’s been used for some horrible things, yes. I want to give it a good legacy again.” The dwarf harrumphs.
The child continues “I was hoping you could engrave this onto it, but, uh… I’m sorry.” She fumbles at her neck while she says this. “You wouldn’t know the symbol of Nimbus, would you?”
“Don’t know the god at all,” says the dwarf, “but that doesn’t matter. You can pay?”
Jingling. Gold, definitely. Whatever this child has been doing, it has been profitable.
“Alright. Wait here.” The dwarf retreats into his chambers, feeling for his most prized chest. Inside are vials and beakers of fluids he’s known all his life. Their odors call to him, and he picks out a small container that calls at once of peat-water and spring. Along with another pot, he returns to the child. She has not moved an inch. Impressive.
“First things first, you can’t engrave Adamantine. You’d just ruin all your tools. You’ll have to etch, which might wear thin over time. Does that bother you, girl?”
The child takes her time responding. “It’ll hold the etch longer though, won’t it? Since it’s adamantine and all… yes?” The dwarf nods. “Yes, that will do. Do you, uh…” She stretches out her hand to the dwarf, the little symbol singing its weak silver tune at him.
He brushes it aside. “We don’t need that. Just give me the axe.” He takes it when it is offered, and rubs a clay-like muck from his pot onto its surface. “A stand, I need a stand. Hold this” He returns the axe to the child, and retreats to his chambers again.
On his return, he sets up a rudimentary cross of poles. Like a tiny rotisserie, the axe is hung between them with its mucked blade faced downward. “Come here. Put your hands on the flat.” The orc does so. “Tell me about your god.”
The child is pensive. “She looks like a young woman, and she’s holding a clay pot. It’s full of the rivers, and she’s pouring-”
“No no no, stop that. You’re paying me too much for that.” The dwarf kneels down next to the other flat, his face opposing the orc girl. “Tell me about your god. Tell me what she means to you.”
“Oh! Well… goodness. Nimbus…” The orc is taking too long. “She means a lot of things.”
“Then tell me one thing. And another.” The dwarf grunts as he feels the muck shift under his fingers. “Close your eyes”
“Yes. She… Nimbus is happiness, when I’m laughing with my friends. She’s safety. Not the safety of armor, but a warm embrace from my M. That moment when I know I’m doing the right thing, the good thing. I know it’s her. She is a river. She is every river. I’ve felt her wash over me so many times and I… she is help. I couldn’t help anyone until I knew her, and now I’ve… she’s forgiveness. I’ve lost too many to evil. I cannot save everyone. Nimbus forgives me when I fail.”
The dwarf knows the orc has noticed the shifting muck. She hasn’t said a word about it. The dwarf is starting to wonder about the girl, but she continues. “And when we’re fighting, and Mel swings her sword with such might… that’s Nimbus, guiding Roderick in the haze. And she’s guiding little Cog too, he knows where the rivers of man run because of her. Even Al, I can sense a little of Nimbus in her too. Maybe that’s because of me. Am I making a difference?” Mel. Roderick. Cog. Al… the other newcomers. So those are their names. “And when they’re scared and I don’t know if I can save them, I can feel her in me. My body is her temple, my blood is her river. And I know that while I’m still bleeding I am still-”
“That’s enough, girl.” She quietens, and begins to move her hand away. "Not so fast. There’s one thing left. He produces the vial. “It will sting a little, but if you keep your hands where they are, it will look better.” She grunts, what must be orcish for yes.
The dwarf uncorks the vial, and pours the substance within over the suspended axe. It runs down the blade, sinking into the grooves that have formed between the muck. It does not drip down, but wraps around the edge of the blade. The dwarf hears a gasp and the gritting of orcish teeth, but the girl says nothing. The air is filled with the fumes of acid and burning adamantine. Even the dwarf coughs a little.
“You can let go now.” The girl does, and the muck dries and falls from the blade as if on command. The dwarf hears a gasp, followed by another display of overland theatrics, this time in the form of excitement. The dwarf shushes her, takes his gold and gestures her out the door with all the dwarvish politeness he can muster. The child’s squeals of joy take a long time to fade.
The party is invited to look upon Maul’s axe anew. Denarik is also invited, but she declines. Apparently she’s seen enough of that damned axe already.
Comparing it to Maul’s old silver symbol, the axe’s insignia is the same but completely different. The old symbol might as well have been any young woman pouring water out of a jug. The woman in the axe is something else entirely. A creature both beautiful and terrifying, she has Mel’s might and Al’s awe in her face. Even something of Cog’s slyness has slipped into her lips. From her scalp the clouds grow, and in the waters that flow from her vessel Maul can see the waves of Northport, the rapids at Bridgeford and the trickle of an underground stream. There is blood in those waters too, Maul can tell, and she knows this axe is not going to deny that part of its heritage any time soon. But when she holds this axe, Maul knows for certain that Nimbus is with her.