A Pious Stance

by Gary Weller

Marble columns were placed expertly to keep the cave ceiling from dropping onto the dwarves. The old dwarf sitting on the steps of the courthouse smiled at the craftsmanship. They alone were a wonder that a rare few other than the deep dwelling dwarves had seen. The columns were smooth, almost organic looking. The lines and form were exquisite. The pale stone seemed to stretch almost into nothingness as they reached upwards towards the ceiling of the great cavern that was the Grand Hall.

When he passed by the Founder's Column, he could see the marks he and the other founders left. The glyphs were strong and bold. They were a symbol to the dwarves of Cavehomme. Their founders had left them a legacy that would be legend for generations to come. Sloan Metaledge shook his head. Stones should not be legendary, souls should.

The sounds of the iron-tipped boots that the workers wore could be heard for miles throughout the caverns of Cavehomme. It was a constant rapping that every dwarf seemed to know and love. The tips precisely imitated the sounds of tiny gem hammers on stone. It was a comfort to hear so many hammers. The Sloan sighed in relief. It was a good day to be in the Grand Hall. He sat on the steps of the courthouse watching the denizens of Cavehomme pass by.

There weren't many performers as you'd find in the human towns topside, but there were a few acrobats plying their trade. Some of the older regime scowled at the performers rumbling about fool's work under their beards. How very like them to keep to their old standards, their old ways. Life was constantly evolving; even in the deep delve of Cavehomme. They didn't see life evolving though. They equated life to stonework that aged at an increasingly slow rate. Time and evolution meant nothing to these dwarves. The stone was still standing under the mountain, that's all they cared about.

Dwarves moved with a slight waddle to their step. It was their nature as they were so full of torso and so short of legs. It was a pleasure seeing a dwarf so limber such as the street performer. That performer was a credit to the race. He stepped outside of the norm and found his own path. The old dwarf smiled a very undwarfly smile.

Cavehomme City Center, also known as the Grand Hall was often full of life. A group of dwarven youngsters were loitering about near the fountain and the statue of the All-Father. Their young smiles and energy brought about a light feeling that the old dwarf had not felt in many years. They were the future. They would be the one's to initiate any kind of change in the dwarven society. They were the one's who were important.

The fountains within Cavehomme were the one place that all dwarves could relax. The mellow trickle of water combined with the tapping of iron-tipped boots created a melody that eased tension and brought new life to weary muscles and bones. Weary souls could rest near the fountains without the worry of the dust and dirt. Relaxing by the stone fountain sand hearing the subtle murmuring of the earth deep underground was one of the most pleasurable experiences for the dwarven population.

His undwarfly smile continued as he watched the group of dwarven youngsters relax by the fountain and the statue that he, himself, helped to carve. Sloan had been told by some of his associates that the Dwarven Ethics Council had been starting to take notice that the younger dwarves within the Grand Hall were often in the company of the older dwarf. Instead of choosing debates, they should be choosing careers; Sloan was told on more than one occasion. Having the Dwarven Ethics Council watching your actions was not the best of ideas. Sloan smiled his smile again. The youngsters around the stone fountain were laughing. The Grand Hall had not had any laughing since before the orc wars.

The Dwarven Ethics Council had been founded in the thick of the bloody war to make sure that the indomitable dwarven spirit was maintained. The proper dwarf held himself (or herself) proud and stoic. The proper dwarf did not meander about and think about what goes on topside with the humans and the elves. A proper dwarf did not smile or laugh in the harsh times of the orc war. A proper dwarf focused on mining, engineering, and of course, killing orcs. Flowers and glow fungus were not items to be appreciated in times of war, or possible war. It was against accepted 'dwarven ethics' to not comply with the social demands of the Dwarven Ethics Council.

Sloan looked down to his own booted feet. They were new boots of stretched leather and metal. Sloan reached down and touched the soles of the boots. Hard, unworn leather met his touch. A grimace passed through the dwarf's face. New boots always hurt his feet. Sloan hated the fact that he had to buy the new boots. He hated the fact that he had to stand trial against the Dwarven Ethics Council on the charges of social defiance, corruption of minors, and impiety. Impiety!

A very dwarven scowl passed over Sloan's face. Impiety, impudence, irrational behavior from a dwarven war veteran, from a founder! This is what the Dwarven Ethics Council accused Sloan of doing. Additional charges included criminal negligence and promoting illegal gatherings and social protests. These other charges were added once Sloan had began speaking out against the 500 year sanctions of the Dwarven Ethics Council. His eyes traveled up from his new boots and back to the fountain where the dwarven youngsters were laughing. Sloan's eyes crinkled as his undwarfly smile crossed his face again. They were the future. The past was just jealous.

"Well, let's to it," Sloan said to himself and stood up stiffly from the carved steps. His feet hurt. "Damn boots."

"Metaledge?" came a grizzled voice from across the courtyard. "Sloan Metaledge?" the approaching dwarf had a sour frown upon his face, but was waving his arm rather frantically. "That you?"

"Ethan Stoneforge," Sloan smiled. Ethan's scowl turned a bit deeper underneath his beard.

"What brings you to the Council Courts?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing Sloan," Ethan paused, "but I do recall hearing something about your recent troubles." The younger dwarf looked to his own new boots. "Butting heads with the Ethics Committee again?"

"Yes, yes, it seems that nearly everyone has heard of my 'recent troubles.' But they seem to be my responsibility and my sole obligation to bear." Sloan grinned at his friend. "So tell me what is bringing you here today? Hopefully not to join the team of prosecutors from the Dwarven Ethics Council." Sloan chuckled has he brought his hand up to Ethan's shoulder.

Ethan smirked at the older dwarf as he brought his own arm to mimic the sign of friendship. Sloan had fought in the orc wars with Ethan's father, Madras. The two had been engineers in a special unit using the smoke powder that Ethan's father had perfected. The powerful explosive brought about a great success in fighting the orcish invaders from the deep realms. The success of the Smoke Powder Brigade had led Madras Stoneforge into the position of Chief Research Scientist under the Clan leader in Cavehomme. Ethan's face soured again. Ethan wished that his father had never researched and perfected smoke powder.

"No, I'm not here to join the Dwarven Ethics Council against you. I'm here to testify against a murderer." Ethan's face drew up into the typical dwarfish mask it once was; stoic, brave, full of non-descript emotion.

"A murderer!" Sloan exhaled in shock. There hasn't been a murder here under the mountain in over a hundred years. What kind of criminal could perform such an action? Surely it was a foul topsider sneaking into our caves to try to find our riches. Tell me, who was it?"

"My father."

Sloan's mouth opened and then closed. The older dwarf's eyebrows drew together in concern. "Are you certain Ethan? Your father?"

"Yes, I am certain." His proud mask was starting to crack.

"Tell me how this happened. It is almost inconceivable that Madras took a life in cold blood. I knew him well," Sloan guided the younger dwarf to sit back on the marble steps of the courthouse. "He just couldn't have snapped just like that." Sloan snapped his rough fingertips.

"It wasn't in cold blood, Sloan," Ethan paused, drawing upon his own pride and will to preserve the stoic mask. His eyes were rimmed with red. Sloan knew he had been crying, a very undwarfly thing to do. "It was his own folly and negligence!" Ethan finally exploded with all the rage and loudness of a properly angry dwarf. "It was his sheer negligence with his foolish smoke powder research. My father's lab exploded during one of his experiments and took Pode Steelhammer's life!"

Sloan sat with his hand on Ethan's shoulder. The two sat for a time listening to the water gurgle out of the fountain. Sloan looked to the statue of the All-Father. "Surely the Chief Justice and his Seneschals understood that the death was an accident?" It was more of a statement than a question. Sloan couldn't believe that the stuffy conservative dwarves serving on the Council Courts couldn't see past their eyebrows and see what truly happened.

"You know the laws as well as anyone Sloan," Ethan sucked his teeth, "murder is murder. It doesn't matter if it my father, an otherwise unknown dwarf, or scum filtering down from topside. A life given from the All-Father has been taken. The taker of this life must pay retribution to the All-Father by standing trial and accepting the sentencing of the jury."

"True enough. This is the law that all of us live by. These are the laws that we fight for and believe in." Sloan smiled at Ethan. "These are the laws your father and I fought to defend for you and the other youngsters. You should be proud that you have enough conviction in your beliefs to stand up and make the accusation," Sloan paused, "even if it is against your own father." Sloan's smile twisted into a smirk.

"You are mocking me Sloan." Ethan growled from underneath his beard. "This is hard enough for me because it was my own father who took a life. The law states that no dwarf should take what the All Father has given to us all. Life is as precious as the veins of gold that run in the deep delve. Life is as brilliant as the polished gemstones that we sell to the humans and elves topside. I do not need your sarcasm. It would not only be impious to not stand with the prosecution against my father, but it would also be unethical. If I weren't to stand up with the prosecution, I would be condoning my father's murder of poor Pode."

"No offense was intended Ethan," Sloan raised his hands in apology and leaned away from the younger dwarf. "You are truly following your beliefs, and for that, I do respect you." Sloan looked deep into Ethan's eyes. "My belief that all dwarven life is precious above all is why I fought so hard in the orc wars. The orcs from the deep dark wanted to extinguish our light for no other reason but to fight. They invaded just because we existed. This is why I believe in the thought that all dwarven life is precious. For a light that the All-Father created to be snuffed out of existence is a terrible violation to all dwarves. It is a spot of darkness that makes the All-Father less divine. It is a terrible criminal act."

Ethan looked at Sloan. The strength of his convictions was evident. The lines in the older dwarf's face were deep. The pain that Sloan suffered in the orc wars could be seen in the ancient brown eyes. Ethan saw the almost imperceptible tremors running through Sloan as he spoke about the All-Father.

"Thank you, Sloan." Ethan spoke softly.

"You're welcome. You are a fine upstanding young dwarf of what, a century?"


"Oh," Sloan smiled, "One hundred and fifty years. Tell me, why do you think that standing with the prosecution of your father would make you more pious?"

"By standing as a witness for the prosecution I am being a productive and useful citizen. By abolishing the light of life that the All-Father has given, even accidentally, my own father has likened himself to our God. Like it or not Sloan, my father is not above the law. He has committed murder." Sloan waited for the younger dwarf to finish. "Again, if I were not to st

and with the prosecution in this matter would be an unholy, unlawful act against the All-Father."

"Explain to me," Sloan thrummed his fingers against his chest, "how you think that by standing against your father in this matter is pious and following our holy scripture. This is a serious matter, and I am not taking your feelings, or the law for that matter, lightly. Please explain how you think your actions are pious. Define piety, please."

Ethan's face turned into a proper representation of a pious and lawful dwarf. His beard and mustache shivered in response to his facial muscles. The young dwarf fiddled with the cuffs on his pants, just like his father Sloan noted, and spoke abruptly, as if quoting scripture.

"The Divine Metalsmith created the All-Father and the Earth-Mother. Together with his son and daughter, the Divine Metalsmith created the dwarves, elves, gnomes, and humans. These four races were the pure stock. These four races were the Name-Givers. Scripture states that there was peace with the Name-Givers for nearly 10 eons.

"Throughout the 10,000 years, the All-Father and the Earth-Mother ruled the days and nights with peace and love. These were the glory years. These were the years that the topside and the deep delves traded wealth, art, and culture. On the first day after 10,000 years, the Divine Metalsmith stoked up his forge again to create new life on his own, without the help of his two children. The dark tide began when the Divine Metalsmith, creator of time and space, struck his anvil with his dark intent.

"The Name-Takers were created on that dismal day. These dark creatures -- the ogres, orcs, goblins, and trolls were given the breath of life from the Divine Metalsmith. The twisted need of balance is what caused the Divine Metalsmith to create the Name-Takers.

"As soon as the All-Father found out about the creation of the Name-Takers, he set out for the Divine Metalsmith's workshop. Deep down in the earth, the All-Father surged. The fetid pits where the Divine Metalsmith created the Name-Takers erupted with black fire as the All-Father stripped the Divine Metalsmith of his Celestial Hammer. The All-Father then crushed the life out of his father on the Anvil of Life with the Celestial Hammer for creating such monstrosities as the Name-Takers.

"The All-Father could not destroy the Name-Takers as they had dug up to the surface and deeper into the darkness of the earth during the great battle. The All-Father would expect no less of we dwarves. In order to remain pious, we must do as our All-Father does. Even the All-Father stood against his own father when the path of righteousness stood evident."

Sloan sat silently for a moment to make sure that the young dwarf was finished. Ethan's cheeks were the color of rubies. His moustache shook revealing Ethan's emotional attachment to the old stories.

"Ethan," Sloan spoke softly, leaning into the young dwarf so that only he could hear the words, "I do not give much credence to the old creation myths. Perhaps that is what makes me the criminal that I am. I did not ask for an example of piety in our old legends. I asked you simply to define piety in order to understand your point of view."

"Do not play me the fool, Sloan. You full well know what piety is and is not, in your case. I know that you and my father were dear friends, but your trickery and word play will not sway my decision to stand with the prosecution." Ethan frowned more darkly than before.

"Please humor an old dwarf war veteran. I intend not to make you look a fool, however, it is also said that a fool will soon know he is foolish if he looses his temper in a conversation." Sloan smiled softly at Ethan, who crossed his arms in response. "Please define piety, define holiness."

"Holiness is what is near to the All-Father." Ethan touted off, causing some of the youngsters at the fountain to look his way. "That which is dear to the All-Father is holy. Those who follow the All-Father's actions and scriptures of law are pious." Ethan glared at Sloan underneath his bushy red eyebrows. "That which is unholy is impious. Those who do not follow the edicts laid out by the All-Father are impious. That which is not dear to the All-Father is all-together unholy." Ethan seethed, nearly lunging at Sloan.

"Calm, friend." Sloan urged Ethan. "I only play as a contrarian to open up other paths and avenues that you may not see because you are a most stubborn dwarf - much like your father." Sloan raised one of his own bushy eyebrows waiting for Ethan to understand his intention.

"My father's involvement in this murder is weighing very heavily upon me and the rest of my family."

Sloan nodded in understanding as Ethan calmed his voice and nerves. The two dwarves sat there on the steps of the courthouse. Sloan took out his pipe, loaded it with tobacco imported from the topside. The sweet, pungent aroma soon permeated the immediate area around Sloan. Soon, the younger dwarf was open for discussion.

"Now, by your own definition," Sloan started, smoke billowing out between words, "piety is that which is dear to the All-Father. That which is dear to the Gods."

"Yes." Ethan nodded. "I agree with that statement."

"The mountain halls are dear to the All-Father. The deep delves are dear to the All-Father. Are these places holy? Are these areas of piety?"

"No, these are not places of piety. The All-Father holds the life of dwarves in holy regard. Living our lives in the way that our All-Father did is our path of holiness." Sloan puffed on his pipe and let out a blue billow of smoke.

"Well spoken. What if I told you that the orcs have their own Gods that they worship? How would your definition of piety fit into their devotion of their dark Gods?" Sloan asked Ethan between puffs of his pipe.

"That would be a perversion of piety."

"Would it?"

"Well of course it would be. The Name-Takers are an abomination to all of creation. They, above all are impious." Ethan locked eyes with Sloan.

"However evil, their devotion to their dark God of the Eye does not constitute impiety." Sloan grabbed the bulb of his pipe and pointed the stem at Ethan. A slight waft of smoke floated out of the mouthpiece. "It constitutes a difference of religious beliefs and relatives views."

"Such blasphemous talk from a once-heralded hero."

"If independent thought is blasphemy, then so be it." Sloan drew a long breath on his pipe. "Independent thought seems to make me a criminal." Sloan looked out to the fountain again to watch the young dwarves playing in the water. "But enough of my faults, we were talking about defining piety. As I was saying, the orcs have their own religious beliefs and their own code of laws."

"They are lawless."

"Now listen, that is your stubbornness showing through. That is the stubbornness of all dwarves. That will be our undoing. Our whole existence will be dead because of our stubbornness and unwillingness to see other points of view." Sloan took another long pull of his pipe. "You were raised better than that Ethan, I know."

Ethan looked down at his boots. The tips of his ears showing through his hair were red with shame. The young dwarf looked up to Sloan. The older dwarf saw the tears welling up in the chestnut colored eyes.

"Growth is painful and without it, we die. Please let me continue my point." Ethan nodded to Sloan. "Good, now where was I?"

"The Name-Takers have their own religion and laws."

"Yes," Sloan smiled to the young dwarf. "They do. I learned that fact during the war. An advanced scout group captured your father and me in one of the deeper delves. It took us some time to understand their language. It's a little different from ours. It's not just guttural snorts and barks, there is a complex pattern in their verb conjugation, but, I digress," Sloan pulled on his pipe again sensing that Ethan was getting more disturbed hearing even the smallest praise for one of the Name-Taker races.

"There in the slime-pits that they had dug for their prisoners of war, your father and I finally dissected the language and found out that they were praying to their dark God of the Eye. Granted, they were planning our sacrifice to their dark God. We were none too pleased about that." Both Ethan and Sloan chuckled as the older dwarf poked the younger dwarf in the ribs.

"It was there in that dank, dark hole that I found that we dwarves, we Name-Givers, were not the only pious beings under the earth. Albeit that I don't agree with the orcish beliefs to overrun the darkness and spread their seed to the topside, that in and of itself is their most holy vow to their dark God of the Eye. That is what they consider piety."

"Sloan, their 'piety' is wholly evil." Ethan looked up to Sloan with questioning eyes

"To us, yes. To those foul beasties and their dark God, it is the most holy of crusades. It is their reason to live. It is their dark beliefs and their dark devotion that drive them to be loved by their own God."

"That goes against everything that we are taught and everything that I believe. These are very disturbing thoughts. These concepts that you are speaking about are radical and go against the values put out by the Dwarven Ethics Council."

"Yes, Ethan, I'm aware of my issues with the Dwarven Ethics Council." Sloan rolled his eyes in contempt. "The idea that I am presenting is simply that piety or holiness is defined by the society who worships the God in question." Ethan nodded slowly. "The orcish clerics of their dark God of the Eye preaches a concept that it is pious to kill and torture not only dwarves, but other Name-Givers as well. The All-Father's priests tell us that the preservation of all dwarven life is pious. The two concepts are in balance of each other. The two 'words of God' are in opposition of each other, but in their worship, both ideals are pious, are they not?"

"Conceptually, yes." Ethan agreed, begrudgingly. Sloan smiled at the younger dwarf.

"Don't worry Ethan, I'm not trying to corrupt your mind. I'm showing you that the concept of piety is as fluid as water or as hard as stone. It depends on your perception."

"It is obvious, even in my beliefs in the All-Father, that the various Gods will not agree on everything. It is up to me to be devout in my faith and my religious practices in order to live the life that the All-Father meant for me to live. Of course the definition of piousness will differ in each religion that you bring up. What are you playing at Sloan?"

"You cannot give me an overall definition of piety then. Life is chaotic in nature and we dwarves attempt to bring laws to rule our lives. I am in total agreement that there is need of laws and religion in order to benefit of the glorious gift that our All-Father has chosen to give us. If the Gods are in direct opposition of each other, then there cannot be one true definition of piety. It is not possible."

"Piety is how we mortals show love for our Gods. By showing our piety in our beliefs and actions in life, the Gods will love us." Ethan tried "The All-Father loves us because we are pious."

"Are the rocks and stones pious?" Sloan asked, again pointing the mouthpiece of his pipe at the young dwarf. "Does the All-Father love the veins of metals and stratum of gemstones because they are pious? The All-Father loves the rocks and stones because they are lovable. The smell of rock dust is enjoyable. The feeling of striking through the hard stones and clays of the deep delves and finding the raw ore is complete exhilaration." The old dwarf smiled at Ethan. "The All-Father loves the dwarves because we curmudgeon-like creatures are lovable in his eyes. He does not love us because we are pious."

Ethan's gaze drifted across Sloan's shoulder and then up and around. Sloan looked around as well and found the youngsters from the fountain joining the two dwarves on the steps of the courthouse. No longer were the youngsters content in playing in the water. Apparently the loud voices and heated debates had attracted the attention of the dwarven children.

"So what you're postulating, Master Sloan, is that something is loved because it is pious?" one of the youngsters asked. Sloan looked at her and smiled. Her eyes were green and flashed with a youthful curiosity.

"Yes, things are defined by their inherent nature, not by our reactions to them. The rocks are sturdy and wholesome not because we think that they are sturdy and wholesome; but instead it is because they are sturdy and wholesome to begin with." Murmurs of agreement echoed around Sloan and Ethan. "Likewise, the All-Father loves piety because if it's inherent holiness, not because it is loved by the All-Father as a small trinket wrapped around his neck." Again, whispering of agreement shuffled throughout the young dwarves.

"Master Sloan," another young dwarf spoke up, "based on the conjecture that you've already established, would that mean that all pious dwarves are just?"

"Of course the pious are just," Ethan answered, "although, not all just dwarves are pious." He said eyeing Sloan. "Piety is how we do justice." Ethan directed to Sloan, trying to ignore the fact that there was a crowd surrounding him. "It is how we care for the All-Father. It is a justice that attends to the All-Father. It allows us to follow his ways and follow his ideals. Piety allows for we dwarves to be just within our society." The young dwarves remained silent, waiting for Sloan to answer.

"Does our care and devotion to the All-Father make him a better God?" Sloan let out another puff of blue smoke. "Does our care for any God make the God better? Our care for our war dogs makes them better."

"No, not care in that sense, Sloan," Ethan said, looking to Sloan, "I speak of caring for the All-Father as a servant cares for his master."

"Isn't that the same as caring for a dog?" one of the children asked Ethan. Sloan puffed on his pipe silently.

"No, not caring as in providing meals or grooming. It is obvious that we cannot care for the All-Father in this fashion. I suggest caring in the fact that the pious are servants of the All-Father. We care in a fashion to serve his mandates. We care to follow his laws. We care to tell his stories. We care in loving service to the All-Father." Ethan responded to the group. "We care in a fashion to show our worship of the All-Father."

"And what does all of this caring and worship of the All-Father do for we dwarves as a whole?" Sloan asked the group as another puff of blue smoke expelled from beneath his whiskers. "It certainly doesn't provide us with a harmonious existence, as there is strife within every family." Sloan directed his pipe at the younger dwarf again. "It does not provide us with a universal sense of law, as there are still trials to be heard by the juries. It does not provide us with anything except a healthy sense of guilt if we dwarves go astray in our beliefs. Tell me Ethan, what do you think the average dwarf gains in their worship of the All-Father?"

"I don't know." Ethan responded. Sloan could see the young dwarf's temper rising. The tips of his ears were red again, this time from anger instead of embarrassment. There was an almost corporeal hotness coming from the young dwarf. "All right, so what do you think that the All-Father gains from our worship of him?"

"It is a feeling of gratification. It is a feeling that the All-Father did not make a mistake in crafting the dwarves. Worship is dear to the All-Father." Ethan blurted too quickly, trying to control his temper.

"Is this not what you stated before?" Sloan smiled to Ethan and then looked to the crowd. "Piety was near and dear to the All-Father."

"Then we still do not have a truly viable definition of piety." Another of the youngsters voiced.

"No, we do not." Sloan stated plainly, smiling his undwarfish smile again.

"I told you that I had no time for your wordplay and trickery Sloan," Ethan fumed as he stood up from the crowd sitting on the steps. "If you are not satisfied with my definitions of piety, then we have reached an impasse. Perhaps you and your followers," he motioned with his arms, "can go speak to a priest about piety and the significance of worship. I've had my fill of your twisted word traps."

"I had thought that we were getting to the heart of the matter Ethan," Sloan looked up to meet the younger dwarf's eyes.

"This contrarian-style of thinking has gotten you into the position that you are in, Sloan." Ethan spat. "I've no time for your folly, nor do I have time to be your fool as the crowd grows even thicker around you." He informed Sloan as more dwarves came and sat around the small crowd. "Good day to you."

Sloan watched Ethan stomp off and enter the courthouse. He had a thought as to what might be coming next. Sloan waited with the crowd of youngsters and took long pulls from his pipe. Sloan witnessed the younger dwarves branching off into groups of twos and threes and heard snippets of the same discussion that he and Ethan were having.

"Master Sloan," a new voice came to him, "I had overheard that you do not believe in the creation myths as told by the clerics of the All-Father. Why is that?" Sloan looked at the dwarf now approaching him on the steps and drew another long pull on his pipe.

"There has to be a higher good. There has to be a balance. There are not many Gods," Sloan said through clenched teeth on the mouthpiece of his pipe, "not in my opinion anyway. There has to be but one, ultimate higher God who holds the balances in one hand and an axe in the other. This God is an absolute higher good presence. Piety and worship should consist of bringing yourself into the harmony of the higher God's will."

"This 'God of higher good,' is above all?" the youngster asked. Heavily booted feet came marching down the steps from the courthouse.

"Sloan Metaledge!" a voice boomed over the crowd on the steps. The younger dwarf withdrew from Sloan. The crowd whipped their heads around towards the sound of the voice. A rugged justicar was standing near the top of the steps with his arms crossed. Behind him were an armed escort and Ethan Stoneforge.

Looking down at the crowd surrounding the old dwarf, the justicar bellowed, "You are holding an illegal assembly on the very steps of the courthouse."

"I did not call this assembly," Sloan responded.

"Yet it is here," the justicar pointed to the crowd, "and it is centered around you. Please come with me," the dwarf motioned for Sloan.

The old dwarf got up stiffly and approached the justicar and his armed guards. A trail of blue smoke followed Sloan as he went up the stone steps. More courthouse guards came out from behind the justicar and marched down the steps in order to disperse the crowd.

"Why?" Sloan asked Ethan. He could see the young dwarf was angry. Ethan's chest heaved with the deep breaths he was taking in order to retain his composure.

"It would be impious of me not to."

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