by Len


Every muscle ached as Slanter continued his climb. The dwarf could arm wrestle an ogre to a draw, but his forearms burned now more than ever. He would not give up; however, as it was further to climb back down at this point. The thought of being more than halfway up inspired Slanter, and propelled him for several moments. The adrenaline rush did not drive him to his destination, however. He would have to rely on good ole fashioned dwarven toughness to get him to the top. Slanter had plenty of that.

The dwarf found a sturdy foothold and used it to rest his tired arms. He shook each arm out in turn, loosening his stiff muscles. Slanter knew he could not wait too long or he would cramp up; so after only a few moments to catch his breath, he was back at it. The last twenty or so feet was a blur. Hand over hand, working his feet to drive to the next hold; it was all instinct at that point. Finally the dwarf rolled over onto a ledge near the summit of the mountain.

He lay sprawled on the rock, laboring to breathe. Over the next several moments his breathing regulated, and then became steady as he fell asleep. The physical exertion in addition to the thin air had completely drained Slanter. No creatures would disturb the dwarf’s slumber. He was left alone to dream.

As he slept, he was haunted by his past. His family had been exiled from Dundersnuff for many years, and only recently had he been given a chance to redeem that name. August Whitewater, in his jealousy, had ensured that redemption would not come via Slanter. After years on Whitewater’s ship as a slave, Slanter had been left on this island to die. The dwarf had almost given up and allowed himself to do just that; until he saw the phoenix. The phoenix; he had seen that magical bird.

The thought woke Slanter from his slumber, and he almost stumbled back over the ledge. After finding his footing, he started searching for the fire bird that had caused him to climb. It did not take Slanter long to find the huge nest, yet he approached it with apprehension. He was surprised as he maneuvered to see inside the great tangle of sticks and branches. The great phoenix that Slanter had seen the day before was gone, and in its ashes a gray chick blinked at the red bearded dwarf.

Slanter stood there and watched the bird with no regard for time. Finally the chick took one of the large feathers from the previous phoenix in its beak, and craned its neck; offering it to the dwarf. Over and over the small bird did this until all of the feathers were gone from the nest. Slanter stood clutching a hand full of the rare feathers. He also scooped up a small hollowed out log which came to a point at one end and charred black on one side. Slanter petted the baby who let out a tiny squawk, and then he placed the feathers in the log.

The climb down was much easier. For on that day two creatures had been reborn from the ashes.


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