I had to compose myself, so I got up and paced the closet. The shelves held books that I would’ve loved to read, if I were alive, and the trinkets, cloaks, magic items and Tim’s special collection of hats were very eye catching. There was one hat which Kithri informed me was a fez that was particularly appealing. I especially liked the round single eyed floating head with teeth and tentacles that had been painted on the hat. It was whimsical. I paced the room three times before coming to sit back with Kithri and finish my tale.
Of course, she knew Thunder Jack. He was one of two major dwarven deities whose followers had been destroyed in the first Merric’s crusade. The second was an elderly dwarf named Old One Eye. She said he was very funny, but she hadn’t seen him since she had to abandon her paladin stronghold thirty thousand or so years previously.
I asked her how she hadn’t gone totally crazy in all those years and her only answer was a shrug. I guess the subtext was that maybe she could be totally crackers and who would know the difference. Once I was settled back down next to her and we’d chit-chatted about frivolous things, I returned to my tale. The reprieve had given me the time I needed to find my footing once more.
When I left that great spiraling tunnel and stepped out into one of the many caverns that dotted the unknown level in Hell that I had found myself, the devils fled from me and I walked through the turgid light of burning bodies and flowing magma.
Out over the lake of fire hung a cage, and in that cage, naked and scorched sat Thunder Jack. He was the first dwarf I had ever seen naked and the only one I had ever seen hairless. I won’t go into details, but the lack of beard threw me off. He didn’t have a very strong chin, but his broken toothed grin upon seeing me made up for his decrepit state.
“You again, Merric,” he croaked through split lips. “Come to torment me at last?”
You can imagine my surprise at him calling me Merric. That was before Kithri had named me such, back when the only name I had ever known was Useless Lump.
We bantered , he and I, until I grew thirsty and paused to take out my wineskin. One swallow is all I allowed myself, but that mouthful was enough to make Thunder Jack wail with grief.
He was mad, for truth, mad and lonely, physically tortured yet undying. He had nothing with which he could bargain for my wine, of course. Frankly, I would have gladly shared the watered best of Kithri’s golden draught, if only I could’ve reached his cage. The lake of molten stone was enough to keep me from wading to him, and the fact the cage hung twice my height above the frothing and burning miasma put done to any thought of sharing with him.
So, while I periodically pulled on the wine skin, Thunder Jack told me his tale. I will not go into the details of his ascension or the minutia he regaled me with around his lustful conquests, the drinking and the battles. He had once been proud and hale. Perhaps I will draft a history of the gods at some point. His tale is thrilling, if a little off topic for this telling. Suffice to say, I will document here the relevant bits in answer to Kithri’s entreaty.
Somehow, as a final bargain with one of the princes of the nine levels of Hell, Thunder Jack traded his freedom for the reprieve of the world. As long as he remained caged over a great lake of fire, ever burning, the demonic hordes could not use the tunnel to invade our plane. It was a noble and generous act on his part. But after so many long centuries he had grown weary of his plight. Thrice he had been visited in the first thousand years after the fall of the pantheon. Each time by a different lord of this foul plane. Devils are a betraying lot, each vying for the power of others. After the third devil lord’s visit, it struck Thunder Jack that his bargain had been struck with one who was deposed and destroyed.
Since then, twenty thousand years went by before his next visitor. In that case it was a mighty warrior of his own people. He pointed and I followed his indication, walking into the shadows and finding a long dead dwarven warrior propped against the wall, his armor filled with beard and bones, but nothing more of him remained.
Another twenty thousand years slipped away before his next visitor arrived. Here he could not point to a broken body as this visitor had managed to escape the fires of this place. She had been an elven sorceress who thought to plumb the very depths of hell in her search for forbidden knowledge.
I paused then, dumbfounded by the synchronicity. I had freed a trapped sorceress once, an elven woman who valued knowledge greater than her own life. A woman who bound herself to Illitharad, the Psy-Flayer in hope of expanding her already prodigious hoard of secrets. Could this be the same? I wish I had Thunder Jack to ask.
“What happened next?” Kithri asked, her impatience growing distracting to my quiet thoughts. Perhaps I did drift a bit, lost in my memories, but I thought she exhibited a bit too much irritation at my pace.
When I emptied my wine skin Thunder Jack grew distraught. Apparently while I drank, he had hope of somehow acquiring a sip for himself. He grew angry and sullen, cursing me through tears of anger and despair. When I pulled out the second wine skin he nearly collapsed.
Knowing of Kithri’s growing frustration, I skipped the parts where Thunder Jack and I discussed ways of freeing him. I could not reach the chain that kept his cage above the burning lake and I had no way to reach him in any case. I had just decided that perhaps I would return to the surface and find something there to help him when Brother Charles arrived.