WARNING: WALL OF TEXT IMMINENT!!! For those of you who (understandably) do not have the patience to read my long-winded rambling story about what Hroggek did on his summer vaca- I mean, to get his paragon path, I have provided the following brief summary:
With no way to locate the other members of the Brotherhood of the Well and not wanting to start over completely, Hroggek returned to the dwarven city from which he was originally exiled to ask for clemency. The council appointed to decide his fate, which included the High Priest of Moradin, decided based on his account of events since he had left the city that they could not simply decide whether or not to pardon him. Instead they presented him with a vial of ichor, the blood of a god, Moradin. If he survived the experience of drinking it, then they would see it as Moradin’s will that he was worthy to rejoin their society. Upon drinking it, Hroggek entered a deep trance during which he communed with and learned from Moradin. It seemed to him to last only a couple weeks or so, but when he finally awoke, he found he had slumbered for close to two years, much longer than any other who had ever taken such a test before.
And now for the full account:
I clutched my simple robe around me with one hand and hoisted my heavy pack with the other. Where I was headed, it was not a good idea for someone in my situation to go armed and armored, and the extra weight of possessions I would normally wear on my back made my steps ungainly and threw off my balance. I shivered. It was not winter, but this high up the weather was cold regardless. I was so wrapped up in putting one foot in front of another on the trail that I almost didn’t notice when I arrived at my destination.
I rubbed at my smooth upper lip in what seemed to be becoming a nervous habit as I stared up at the huge, iron gates of the mountain city I had once called home. That stretch of bare skin was a reminder that the time for petty defiance was long past. I winced and brought my hand down as I brushed one of the many small cuts that lay scattered across my face. I never had quite gotten the hang of shaving. I think it just isn’t in my blood. At that thought I laughed. Now that I was here, on the brink, I was proving I’d think about any foolish thing to stall just a few more moments before I did what I had come here to do. Still, even reminded of my purpose, and even with all the harrowing experiences I’d had recently, taking those few steps forward and raising my hand to pound on the door was one of the hardest things I’d ever had to do.
A pair of guards flanked me as I walked through the stone halls of my home city. I had longed to return here, but now that I had, I could hardly enjoy it with thoughts of my destination filling my head. The disapproval on the stern faces of the statues we passed seemed no less real for the fact that I knew I was imagining it. Besides, the contempt on the faces of the guards was real enough. Finally, after winding our way through countless corridors, we came to a pair of massive stone doors heavily carved with symbols of Moradin and scenes of dwarven glory. I swallowed and tried not to fidget as the guards pushed in the doors, which swung easily despite their apparent bulk.
One guard went inside while the other stayed and eyed me with a mixture of wariness and disgust. I could hear muffled voices from inside the room and then someone spoke up in a deep voice and said “Send him in.” I walked in, passing the guard heading out on the way. The doors swung shut behind me and came together with a final boom. I tried not to imagine them closing on me and looked around the room. I had been here only once before, and it was not a pleasant memory.
The room was not big, and what space there was was dominated by a large stone table. Behind it sat several aged dwarves. Off to the side there was a clerk recording the proceedings and attendants stood in corners, waiting for someone to need something.
“So, Hroggek,” said the dwarf in the center of the table in the deep voice that had called me into the room, “you have come to ask us for clemency in your sentence. Not something often done, and even more rarely granted. On what grounds do you attempt this?” He was the oldest of the dwarves assembled here, his long hair and beard were pure white, but his voice was still strong despite his age. I knew him on sight. He was the high priest of Moradin.
For a moment, I couldn’t speak. I had come so far and was so terribly nervous of the outcome of my journey. I struggled to work some moisture into a mouth that seemed to have gone as dry as dust. “Well, out with it, boy!” snapped an irascible old dwarf off to my right, “We haven’t got all day!” At first I was indignant at the way he spoke to me, but then I remembered that he was probably five or even ten times my age. To him, I truly was little more than a boy. With that humbling thought in mind, I opened my mouth and told them my story, everything important that I had done and that had happened to me since I was banished.
“I see,” said the high priest, looking thoughtful after I had finished, “and on these grounds you demand we commute your sentence?”
“No,” I replied. “I only ask that you consider what I have told you and hope that it can help me in some way.”
“Hmm…” The high priest’s brow furrowed as he stared at me intently. “We must confer. We will return with our verdict.” At that, the dwarves at the table stood up and began to leave the room through a door at the back with the scribe and attendants following them.
What seemed an eternity later, I still stood in the council chamber. I knew it hadn’t been long, but it seemed like they’d been gone for hours. Just as I couldn’t stand the waiting any longer, the door at the other end of the room opened and the council began to file in. Through the door I saw the high priest speaking to one of the attendants in a quiet voice. He passed him what looked like a key and then the attendant set off down the hallway at a brisk walk.
Thoughts of the attendant’s errand were soon driven from my head as the council took their seats at the table. For a time they all simply looked at me and I felt sweat break out on my forehead. Finally, the high priest said “After much discussion, we have reached a decision. This council has decided that it cannot decide.” Reading the question on my face, the high priest raised a hand to forestall me before I could ask it. Then he continued. “We cannot decide, but there is one who can. For crimes such as yours, deeds such as yours, a life such as yours, there can be only one fitting judge.”
Just then, the attendant the high priest had sent away entered the council chamber carrying an ornately carved and decorated box, set with precious metals and gems. He hurried over to the high priest and handed him the box. I was surprised and annoyed he would interrupt the giving of the verdict even for the completion of an errand the high priest had set him, but before I could ask what was in the box that was so important, the high priest opened it and pulled out a vial so miniscule it was almost concealed by his fingers. As he held it up reverently, I could see that it contained a tiny amount of a silvery liquid that seemed to glow with its own inner fire, though it cast no light on anything around it.
“This,” the high priest explained, “is a single drop of Moradin’s ichor. His blood. Consuming an elixir of such potency is more than the mortal frame was meant to bear. Drink it, and you shall be tested by our god himself. If he judges you worthy, you will survive and be blessed as only a few in this world ever are.”
For a long moment, I was simply stunned and stared openmouthed. I had come hoping merely to be accepted once more by my people and now I was being given an opportunity the likes of which I had never even dreamed of! Recovering myself, I bowed as low as I could manage and said “I am deeply honored that you would give me this opportunity.”
“Thank us afterward,” replied the high priest, “if you still can.” His earlier words echoed in my head. If he judges you worthy, you will survive… Still, I hesitated only for a second before approaching the table and holding out my hand. The high priest placed the vial in it and I held it up before my eyes, staring at the tiny object that was to decide the course of the entire rest of my life. As carefully as I could manage, I removed the stopper and, after one more brief moment of eyeing the vial I brought it to my lips and tilted the drop into my mouth.
That one drop contained more flavor than all the food I have ever eaten in my life combined. It tasted like everything and nothing all at once, tasted like things for which words do not exist in mortal tongues. From the moment it entered my mouth, I was no longer aware of anything else around me or even of myself except a dim knowledge that I must exist in order to experience such unimaginably vast sensation. The drop burned its way down my throat and into my stomach, with me still tasting it all the while despite the fact that it had left my mouth entirely. It seemed as though my sense of taste was no longer confined to my tongue, as though it could not be and still experience that flavor. I tasted that drop with my whole body, with my soul, with the very fabric of my being.
After what seemed to be simultaneously an eternity and the barest fraction of a second, the sensation of taste simply disappeared in an instant. For a moment it seemed as though I could not be what I was before drinking the ichor, that after such an experience I must simply collapse from the lack of it. I did not, however. I realized I had eyes and that they were closed. I opened them and saw a high vaulted ceiling of stone. Standing up and looking around, I could see that I was in a vast hall with columns lining it. Recognition dawned on me and I smiled, setting out for a doorway in the distance glowing with reddish orange light and emanating heat from the forge within.