It was still quite early in the day. The sun was just beginning to warm the valley floor as Rudvar, the Hob, slowly made his way back down to his cosy barrow, far beneath the deep red soil. He had spent the morning caring for the many plants, trees and animals that shared his valley home. He didn’t work alone either. Many other members of his clan, as was Bolgar tradition, had also been out and about, ranging across the valley floor and ensuring that everything was just as it should be. Hobs were caretakers of a sort. Instead of caring for home and hearth though, as was more commonplace throughout Hob society, the Bolgar Clan had chosen, instead, to live out their long lives giving mother nature a helping hand. His people had found, over the centuries, that there was a much better existence to be had, far distant from all the bustle and hubbub of crowded town and city life.
Many people, across both of the realms, thought of Hobs as a lazy, slow witted race. Rudvar and his people paid them no mind. After all, at the end of the day, when all was said and done, his clan had the most beautiful home in the world. Every day they did just enough work in order to keep it that way, and that sounded pretty damn sensible, at least to Rudvar’s way of thinking anyhow.
The small arched stone door to his own barrow was located just off the main clan hall, conveniently close to the kitchens too, a fact of which Rudvar never failed to remind the other members of the clan, any chance he got. Squeezing his large form through the small entrance, he walked over to the central fire pit and poked the dying embers back to life. Adding a handful of dry sticks and a couple of large oak logs to the gently crackling glow, he made his way slowly across to his soft, cosy bed. Yawning loudly, he plumped up the pile of dry grass until it was just right, before rolling gratefully into its cosy embrace, and falling almost at once into a deep untroubled slumber.
Rudvar was abruptly woken from his nap some time later, by a violent shaking and what sounded, very much, like a thunderstorm and a rock slide all rolled into one. He attempted to sit up, but the shaking just knocked him straight back down again each time he tried. Rolling to his side, he crawled from the hollow that held his bed and out into the main room, skirting the fire pit as he made his way slowly to the outer door. Soil rained down upon him as he went, making it very hard to see and breathe in the near darkness. It seemed that all of the pitch torches lining the walls of the clan hall had been smothered under the thick cloud of choking dust and debris. It was so dark, in fact, that although he could hear the muffled cries of alarm coming from other clan members throughout the warren, he couldn’t even see where his own hands were on the stone floor right in front of his face. It felt like the whole world was raining down upon them. If the shaking didn’t come to an end soon, there would be nothing left of his ancestral warren. In fact, if the shaking didn’t come to an end soon, there might be no one left to live inside of it either! Suddenly there was a huge tearing sound from somewhere above his head. Forgetting that he couldn’t see anything, Rudvar raised his eyes to try to discover the source of the horrid sound. As he did so, he felt a flash of searing agony as something heavy cracked painfully into his forehead, and then there was only darkness.
When he finally came to, it was with total confusion and the worst headache he had ever felt in all of his years. It seemed that dusk had fallen at some point while he had lain there unconscious. He could feel a light breeze upon his skin, telling him that he had somehow ended up outside of the warren. Although his eyes were still half blinded by the dust, he could already tell that the light around him was dim and nothing like the sunny, bright morning which he could still picture so clearly in his mind’s eye. He raised a still trembling hand to his pounding head, and when he brought it away again a moment later, his thick fingers were smeared with an unpleasant sticky paste of his own blood mingled with the deep red soil, which was currently covering most of his body in a thick blanket. It was very lucky that Hob skin was so much thicker than most of the other races, and that their bones were far sturdier too. A blow to the head that was hard enough to make a Hob bleed was usually also hard enough to kill any non-Hob outright.
Climbing free of the uncomfortable bed of soil and stones, he pushed himself to his feet and blinked away the last of the dirt which was obscuring his vision. The moment his eyes cleared he stared around himself in horrified amazement. The warren was gone! There was no grand clan hall in which to hold their celebrations, no kitchen left where Hob cooks could prepare their lavish feasts, and worst of all, no comfortable warm barrow with its soft grass bed and crackling fire pit. There was nothing at all left of the place that he had been proud to call his home. It felt to Rudvar that, from one moment to the next, his peoples’ entire existence had simply been erased from the world. A single fat warm tear slipped unnoticed down his dust covered face, followed a moment later by a second, leaving red wet tracks in their wake. Dragging his gaze away from the emptiness that had once been his ancestral home, he scanned the area around him, eyes searching desperately in the dim light for the rest of his clan. Had there been a cave in? No, he knew already that that couldn’t be the case. If it had been so, then he would have certainly been buried alive under several hundred tons of stone and earth now, his life journey and all of his worries at an end.
Finally, he caught a glimpse of movement over by a large pile of rubble, near to where he thought the grand clan meeting chamber had once stood. For the first time in his life, Rudvar found himself running. Hobs never usually moved at anything much faster than a slow lumbering walk, there had simply never been the need before. He felt the need now though, and fairly flew at a stumbling run over the scattered piles of debris. Finally he slid to a stop in a small cloud of dust at the feet of Galden, spiritual leader of the Bolgar people.
‘What has happened here Galden, why is this happening to us?’ His voice was even more gravelly than normal, in part due to the dust still making his lungs feel heavy, but more so because of the vast well of despair that had sprung into being deep within his soul. Galden, he saw, had several small cuts and bruises over his heavily lined face and arms, but aside from those few marks, the clan elder seemed to be otherwise uninjured.
‘I do not know the why my son, but the what I can shed some light upon, I think’ He pointed a single gnarled finger skyward. Rudvar’s gaze followed in the direction to which the old Hob pointed, desperate for any answer at all that would help to quieten the panicked questions screaming inside of his mind. What he saw up there, high above them, only added to his despair and confusion. About ten metres above their heads and still rising, he could clearly make out patches of the decorated stone ceiling that had for centuries been the pride of the clan. The ceiling had been created over too many generations to count, with each generation adding something new to its intricate design, telling the proud story of his people. Up until today its beauty had graced the great hall, where untold numbers of feasts, celebrations and meetings had been held beneath its magnificent arches. His own coming of age had taken place below it, as had the worst day of his life to date, when he had tearfully carried the broken body of his father to the high dais for the gloaming rites. It seemed that his entire life thus far had passed beneath that ceiling, and now, along with everything else he had ever known, or had ever wanted to know, it was gone.
Seeing the unstoppable tide of emotion rising within the young Hob, Galden laid his hand upon Rudvar’s shaking shoulders.
‘All will come right Rudvar. You must place your trust in the ancestors now. They will ensure that our people will rise again, as and when the tides of fate allow’ Galden’s words would normally have set his mind and soul at ease, but today Rudvar just couldn’t find the same comfort in the elder’s unshakable faith and calm even tone. He couldn’t help the flash of anger inside of his chest at the knowledge that someone or something had done this to his people, nor the bitter realisation that the ancestors, who he had put his faith in his entire life, had been either unable or unwilling to do anything at all to stop it. It shook the very foundation of everything he thought that he knew, as if the ceiling of his own inner faith had too been ripped from him, sent soaring skyward along with the home which he knew deep in his heart that he would never again be able to set foot in. He tried to mask his inner turmoil, but his words as he replied to Galden sounded clipped and tense even to his own ears.
‘As you say Galden. What do you require of me? Is every member of the clan accounted for?’
Galden got slowly to his feet waving away the instinctive offer of Rudvar’s arm to steady him.
‘Thank the Ancestors, yes. No clan member will face the gloaming this day’ He walked over to the edge of the large ledge that Rudvar hadn’t even noticed that they were stood upon, and gestured down into the expansive almost bowl shaped crater that now fell away a handful of centimetres in front of their feet. The crater was huge, giving a clearer visual scale to the vast mass of rock and soil, which was now floating somewhere high above them. It blocked out the blue sky completely, casting a dismal shadow over all of the land below it. He swallowed back the sour taste of bile, realising, that that area now comprised almost the entirety of the beautiful valley which he remembered. No wonder it had felt like dusk, Rudvar thought bitterly. Beneath the floating island it would always be dusk. There would be no more sunny mornings, no more wildflowers or rolling meadows of sweet smelling grass. Even the handful of animals and birds, who had not fled the initial wave of destruction would be forced to leave. The lack of food and others of their kind would see to that soon enough. Oh, how he wished he could be just like one of those birds, able to spread his wings and leave all of his sadness and heartache behind him, in favour of new lands, far from the reach of such an evil as this.
Even if he could leave this place somehow though, he knew with certainty that his people could not follow him. Before this day the clan had lived the same simple lives as all of those Bolgar who had come before them. If there had ever been a pioneering spirit within his clan, then its flame had long since been extinguished. Even now he could see some of his people far down in the bottom of the crater gathering what little they could from its rough, uneven slopes in a vain attempt to try and build some form of shelter from the cold, dust laden wind. In a week or two those crude muddy shelters would become more substantial dwellings, and not long after that they would become homes of a sort. To be just so, was intrinsically bound up in the very nature of the Hob race, after all. Yes, his people would adapt to their new bleak surroundings, and without a single grumbled complaint, they would make what they could of their new very different existence.
Not Rudvar though. He had known, somewhere deep within his soul, as he stood watching his beloved home disappear into the clouds above, that he was changed now. What that would mean for him, he didn’t yet know, but whatever happened now he knew two things for certain. Firstly, he would never abandon his clan, especially in the face of the evil that they now confronted. Secondly, from this day forth he was going to spend every single moment in an effort to find some way to restore his people, and the future generations of Bolgar Hobs, to the unspoiled way of life that they had earned, and worked so diligently to protect since the very founding of their people.
Yes, today would mark the first new beginning of many for Rudvar the Hob.