The journey from Vag Todur to the dwarven capitol of Verngurum took almost a week. It would have been over more quickly, but we were delayed by frequent monster and bandit attacks, causing us to go slow, but pushing me to Level 56, so it was not all bad.
Now here we were, in front of the main temple of Moradin in the capitol of the Brudrinen Empire. Brylres, who had traveled with us with a couple of her retainers, said, “All right, lad. Now is the time to go and prove yourself to the gods. When you use the key, the portal will open, and your party will be transported to the plane where the trials will be held. I cannae tell ye much about what you will face, only that you will face at least one trial for each diety represented in your party, as well as Moradin, since one of his servants gave the key to ya.”
“The trials may be combat, or they may be tests of character or puzzles you have to solve. Whatever the case, they will have something to do with the portfolio that the diety in question rules over. Complete the trials, and you’ll be rewarded. Impress the gods, and you may be given divine favor, or quests not available to most mortals. Fail, and you’ll be dead, or worse. Understand?”
I nodded to her, and the paladin backed away, while my group gathered around me, and I activated the portalkey. As it crumbled into dust, a portal opened, and with one last wink at Brylres, I stepped through, followed by my party. There was no point in hesitating. We had a unique dungeon to conquer!
The walls of this dungeon were made of carved stone, beautifully done as one might expect of a godly dungeon. There were stairs in front of us, leading to a raised dais with a group of dwarves in shining armor, armed with spears that radiated power, standing there. Behind them, I could see more steps, leading to another dais, with more dwarves, and so on, until the fourth dais, where a golem made of what looked like mithral was standing.
Celestial Dwarf Male
Level 65 Aegis Lord (Paladin) / Phalanx Master (Fighter)
Titles: Godkin, Blessed of Moradin
Stepping up to the dais, the dwarves moved into a phalanx formation, two rows of five blocking the stairs to the next level. One dwarf, the center of the second line, had a helmet that was painted red, rather than the steel of the others. That would be the leader, I guessed, and I was proven right when she spoke a moment later.
“Those who wish to pass the Trial of the Gods must prove their worth before the gods themselves! As a servant of Moradin has given you access to this place, we have been chosen to judge your worthiness. You have two choices before you. Force your way through by strength of arms, or answer the questions of those upon each platform. What choose ye?”
“Will the choice I make be the same for all the platforms, or can I choose for each platform?”
“Each platform is a different choice, but your choices will affect the later choices.”
“Then ask me your question.”
“Your soul is black from the atrocities you have committed in this world, Zayn Darkmore. And yet you did not hesitate to throw yourself into the fire when faced with the undead horde at Ullelone Village. What say you to this?”
I chuckled. So the gods could see what I’ve done in this world, but not why, unless I told them? Well, they could probably use magic, but that kind of thing would get noticed, especially if there were competing gods involved, so maybe it was something they didn’t use on any but their own followers? Finding the limits of the gods was a puzzle for another time. For now, I needed to answer the question.
“I may be black-souled and evil, at least in this world, but when I am in this world, I am a part of this world. Why should I wish the destruction of the world, when this is where many of my favorite possessions are?” At that I made a show of pinching Severa on her rear, causing her to yelp. “Destroying the undead and preventing them from spreading earned me great experience, as well as brought me favor with the Wyrmwood.”
The dwarf in the red helm looked like she could spit nails, clearly not impressed with my answer, but issued a command, and the phalanx broke apart into two columns, with room for us to pass between. “You are a vile man, but you have spoken the truth, and so I must allow you passage.”
We stepped through the space between columns, and walked up the stairs. The next platform was much the same as the last, only there were three rows of five Dwarves, and the one with the red helmet was male this time. Like the last platform, he spoke to us.
“Your soul is black from the atrocities you have committed in this world, Zayn Darkmore. You have stripped many living creatures of their pride and their freedom, turning once-proud warriors of the gods into your servile playthings. How are you any better than the thrice-damned Kindag Chainhelm, who corrupted the members of Moradin’s Hammer, and betrayed a Blessed of Moradin?”
Oh, it was going to be like this, was it? Fine, I could play this game as well as any. “Because I am honest about what I am. Most of those I have under my power were enemies, or the property of my enemies, that I have captured by right of conquest. The rest were purchased or obtained by legal means in the realms where I obtained them. Not once since I have entered this world have I betrayed a promise or broken a vow, once given. Betrayal is not something I will tolerate in myself, or those who follow me.”
Grudgingly, though with a better spirit than the last commander, the order was given, and the phalanx split, with two rows on one side, and the third on the other, giving us room to pass. “You are a wicked man, but you have acted true. You may pass.”
The third platform, predictably, had a phalanx with four rows of five, armed and armored as before. The red-helmed one in the third row spoke, as the others had before him. It was getting to be a standard refrain, honestly. “Your soul is black from the atrocities you have committed in this world, Zayn Darkmore. You have consumed the flesh of other thinking creatures, often taken from them while they were still suffering upon the fires you cooked them in, for nothing more than sport. You are like a Terror, and yet you fought against Terror cultists, eliminating their whole group and taking their leader as a slave. Why is this?”
“Why not? Honestly? If they had kept out of my way, then I probably wouldn’t have bothered with them unless someone gave me a quest or something to take them down, as I had when I first came to this world. I am not some champion of justice seeking to right wrongs and purge evil. I am a bad man who does bad things. If you come to me as friends, then we can be friends. If you come to me or my allies as enemies, then I will be your enemy, and I will crash down upon you like a thunderbolt. And when it is done, the lucky ones will be amongst the dead.”
I was clearly not winning any friends with these Blessed of Moradin, since the red helm looked at me like I was something unpleasant on the sole of his shoe, but I had answered the question honestly, so he said, “You are a despicable man, and filth in the eyes of the righteous. But you have not lied to me, and I must let you pass.”
Finally, we reached the fourth platform, which was bigger than the other three combined, and was set up as an arena. I noticed that the forty-five dwarves from earlier were now seated in the stands, all on one side of the arena. In front of me was a golem, shaped to look like a dwarf, if a dwarf was ten feet tall. It held a great two-handed hammer in its hands, clearly not a ceremonial piece.
Mithral Golem Female
Level 60 Glorious Defender (Paladin) / Foehammer (Fighter)
Titles: Blessed of Moradin, Sentinel, Living Golem, Demonbane, Undead Bane, Evil Bane
The golem looked down at me like I was a bug, and said, “You have answered the questions truthfully, but the answers have doomed you to a greater trial. Now you face Judgement! Atone for your black heart!” And with that, the dwarves in the stands all shouted a war cry, and knelt, the butt of their spears clanging on the stone stands. And then they shone with a golden light, which was echoed by a glow surrounding the golem.
Mithral Golem Female
Level 60(105) Glorious Defender (Paladin) / Foehammer (Fighter)
Titles: Blessed of Moradin, Sentinel, Living Golem, Demonbane, Undead Bane, Evil Bane
Well, wasn’t that just peachy. As the golem began charging towards us, I called out orders, “Severa, Kamla, Kylana, Jastra, Della: SLAY THE DWARVES! The rest of you with me!” And with that, I shifted into my drake form, and used the magic I had learned from Kylana after the fight with the Queen in the Cells of the Vanquished Queen. My skills weren’t as great as hers, but I the boost to size and strength was enough that I was able to match the golem’s size, and caused my strength to be boosted by 25%!
With a draconic roar, I rushed to meet the golem. A Golem Paladin was pretty much the worst thing our party could be facing, except perhaps an Ooze Paladin. We were all evil (and thus smiteable), and most of our success relied on critical hits and sneak attacks, things we couldn’t use against golems. This was basically sealing our best strengths, and exploiting our weaknesses. Frankly, having our tactics used against us sucked.
But we had prepared for situations like this. Well, not exactly like this, but golems and holy power users working together. The big damage dealers went to take out the dwarves in the stands, who were locked in their pose while they were channeling their power to the Golem. Which was good, because even with my buff, and the buffs Hrozne and Nithroel threw on me, I was overmatched in raw strength with the Golem.
The Golem pushed me back, but it could not quite free its hands enough to swing its mighty hammer, forcing it to struggle against me while I breathed hellfire in the thing’s face. Yukiko, Hrozne, and Nithroel surrounded the creature. Hrozne and Nithroel both knew spells and attacks that worked well against Good-aligned creatures (and paladins particularly), being a Death Knight and a Blackguard. But what saved us was Yukiko. Every time the Golem attempted to cast a spell, unleashing holy vengeance upon us, a slash from her katana disrupted the spell. Her Antimagic Blade granted by the Mejikira (Mage Killer) advanced class was quite literally saving us.
As we fought, I felt the Golem grow weaker, little by little. Its level was falling from that inflated 105 back towards its normal 60! Risking a glance to the side, I gave a draconic roar of triumph as I saw the five I had sent into the stands slaughtering the dwarves. Those who tried to keep channeling power to the Golem were helpless against their attacks, and those that turned to fight denied their power to the Golem. Even so, the stands offered no chance for them to form their phalanx, and Della’s ice magic wrecked havok amongst them.
With its level dropped to a more manageable 60 (and losing the buffs it had gained), I was finally able to overpower the golem, stripping its weapon away. It was now a fight of hellfire and claws against metal, but it was one I could win. Of course, the fight wasn’t nearly as fair as that, since now it was nine against one, and no one was coming to back the creature up. I decided to make a show of things, since the gods were watching.
“NITHROEL, ALL YOURS!” With a roar, I grabbed the golem by one (now) misshapen arm, spun, and hurled the massive creature into the air. Fortunately, mithral (and thus, mithral golems) are lighter than other metals. Mithral golems use this lighter weight to increase their speed and dexterity, but unfortunately for this golem, it allowed me to do this trick.
In the air, Nithroel was waiting, her hammer in a two-handed grip. At the height of its flight, with all the force she could muster, she hit the golem square upon its back with an unholy smite attack, shattering the plate and sending the creature flying down at an impressive speed, leaving an even more impressive crater where it landed.
When the sound of metal meeting stone faded, a portal opened on the far end of the platform.
Trial of Moradin passed. Though you have proven yourself black-hearted to the extreme, you have faced adversity without fear, and struck with the resoluteness and fury of a hammer upon the anvil.
HP and MP restored to full. All cooldowns reset.
All rewards delayed until completion of the Trial of the Gods.
Be sure to read my published works!
Frozen Soul series (Sci-Fi Supervillain story):
Frozen Soul https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071R125QT
Tales of the Void Traveler https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06ZZ52G37
Rules-Free VRMMO Life (Dark Fantasy LitRPG):
Volume 1 - Tutorial https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071VPRNDB
Volume 2 - Beginning the Journey https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071VR7M41/
Volume 3 - Wyrmwood https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072QKVBYV
Volume 4 - To the Deeps https://www.amazon.com/dp/B073QSD9S4
Into the Black (Sci-Fi LitRPG):
Book I - Game Start https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071LT5WGL
Book II - Choson Ring https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071X3LL9D
Book III - Alpha Centauri https://www.amazon.com/dp/B073X8J9GF
The Kalipshae Affair (A First Contact Short Story): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0739V6R6T
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