Jo’e is a Mountain Dwarf. His clan (Oakenstride) is very small, having broken away from a larger clan during a territory dispute over two centuries past. Their home is an isolated cluster of small mountains near Rheodar. At the base of the range is a walled city (Cawold) on a secondary trade route, home to a sect of mostly human wizards. This particular sect chooses to follow an obscure god and primarily focus their studies on Lawful Good necromancy. This puts them at odds with the rest of civilized society.
The wizards and clan Oakenstride have a mutual understanding that borders on friendship. The dwarves mine specialty minerals, harvest rare plants, and tend to the various farm and wild animals. In return, the wizards share their crop harvests, perform basic rituals and spellwork for the dwarves, and offer training to select dwarves who wish to join the sect.
Clan Oakenstride is largely rural working-class. Miners, hunters, gamekeepers, builders, cooks, and even a few warriors. While the region is peaceful, the walled university and trade route attract bandits and roving marauders. The wizards and dwarves maintain a small militia of sorts, but hire outside help when facing larger attacks.
Jo’e was born into a family of gamekeepers. His father and uncle maintain balance between the mountain predators and game and domestic animals. As the clan has had to travel farther and farther into the mountain range to find rare elements for the wizards, their encounters with beasts has become more common. Jo’e has grown frustrated with the current situation. The wizards rarely leave the protection of their walls, meaning the dwarves must face increasing dangers alone.
Rather than address the issues with the wizards, Jo’e’s father encouraged him to learn the magic of the wizards so that he could apply it himself. After much pleading with the wizard elders, Jo’e was allowed into training. But despite his best efforts, Jo’e couldn’t master even the most basic of spells [Jo’e has low intelligence. He refuses to acknowledge this fact, being stubborn to the point of mild delusion.]. Eventually the wizards told him that he wouldn’t be allowed to continue.
Disheartened, Jo’e volunteered to take the farthest protection assignments. He traveled deep into the mountains to defend miners, gatherers, and hunters. He encountered many strange creatures and found himself in dangerous fights against bears, dire wolves, and beasts he did not recognize.
On one excursion, Jo’e caught a fleeting glimpse of someone behind a tree. Venturing out, he recognized a female halfling.
She was a wizard from the city. Jo’e remembered that she kept to herself and spent much time alone. After sharing a meal of wild greens, Jo’e formed a bond with the woman named Phei Bei. Phei gradually opened up to Jo’e. She had been forced out of her homeland though she was vague about the details. Jo’e told her of his failure at the university and she took pity on him. They made an agreement that Phei would teach him magic.
“What can I offer you for this gift?,” inquired Jo’e.
“Offer me nothing more than your open spirit and closed mouth. I must warn you that the elders frown on this type of education. They fear the spread of magic. They want to hold it for themselves. They want to lock it away in their libraries. What I teach you, it can never be known.”
As he spent more and more time with Phei Bei, he became suspicious. Unlike the rest of the wizards, Phei rarely consulted her spellbooks and her magic seemed … different than the rest. Instead of rituals and incantations, Phei seemed to summon her magic from the world itself. Unfortunately for Jo’e, he was no more able to work Phei’s magic than that of the wizards in the university. He would recite incantations to himself during the long, arduous trips between the dwarven towns and the deep mountains. He would attempt to charm mice to no avail. He added ancient spellbooks that he “found” to his pack, so that he could pore over them by firelight. But he made very, very little progress. The most he could muster was a brief puff of smoke or shower of sparks.
Phei, on the other hand, could command animals at will. She tamed raging bears with a mere phrase. Jo’e even swore that he saw her transform into a stag during a particularly ugly fight with a pack of wolves. Finally, he confronted her.
“You’re not a wizard, are you.”
Not a question, but a statement that hung in the air like dense fog.
“No. I’m not a wizard. I follow the Circle of the Land. We draw power from Nature and our worship of the goddesses of the land,” replied Phei.
“So why are you here? Why do you live in the city?”
“I was cast out of my homeland for my forbidden love. Though we druid are in tune with nature, my village refused to see my love as something pure. They mocked me. They hurt me. So I left. I spent several years in hiding before finding Cawold. I assumed the life of a wizard and was able to hide on the margins of the city. I tend the gardens, I grow special herbs, and I am left alone. I come here to nature so that I can explore the fullness of my power and be with my gods.”
“Why do you need to hide? Isn’t magic the same no matter the source?”
“No, my dear Jo’e. These wizards will not accept my power. Their god forbids it. Their books forbid it. And they do not question their books or their god. If they learned the true nature of my magic, I fear what will happen to me.”
“They will not hear of it from me, and even if they do, I will protect you. Those weak-bodied cowards who hide in their towers do not frighten me. They expect us to risk our very lives so that they may have more trinkets. I fear little of them.”
“There is more power in the wizards than you realize, Jo’e. They have might that you can not imagine. Do not cross them.”
Just then Jo’e and Phei heard approaching footsteps. It was a hunting party, returning with a fresh kill. When Jo’e turned back to her, she was gone. He did not see her for several weeks.
After that day, Jo’e stopped attempting magic. He became disillusioned with the whole idea and instead focused on his tasks. When he encountered Phei again, neither raised the topic of magic at all. They instead discussed the woods, various plants and animals, and the essence of life.
One day Jo’e was helping deliver a large haul of rare ore to the city. When they entered the gates, he dropped his pack and sprinted to the square. There, tied to a post, was Phei Bei. Surrounding her were wizards throwing fire and lightning at her. She was badly burned, unable to stand on her own, and near death.
“WHAT IN THE NAME OF THE HOLY GODS ARE YOU DOING TO HER?!?!” he bellowed, knocking wizards aside and rushing to her.
But before he could reach her, he was knocked prone by a mighty wind and pinned so he could not move. Though he struggled with all his might, he was only able to turn his head.
A wizard elder in robes of deep purple with glittering threads interwoven approached Jo’e.
“Dwarf, know you this pagan?”
“I know her as a wizard of good character. What crime has she committed that makes her worthy of this punishment?”
Another wizard spoke from behind Jo’e.
“She is a pagan. She worships evil gods and uses their power to commit abominations. She was seen taking the form of a wild beast.”
Shocked, Jo’e could feel fire burning inside. He struggled to maintain a semblance of calm but mostly failed. “You raise the dead. You command spirits. AND YOU CALL HER POWER UNNATURAL? YOU BRING SHAME TO YOUR GO…”
A sharp blow fell on Jo’e’s head. Stunned, he tried to gather his thoughts. But he had no thoughts other than anger. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the wizard in purple approach Phei. Raising his hands and muttering an incantation, Jo’e saw her life force being pulled out. She stopped moving. Stopped breathing. Stopped living.
At this, the world became a blur. Jo’e, despite the magical force pinning him, raised himself up in a fiery rage. He knocked two wizards down, then drove his axes into their heads. He grabbed a staff and thrust it through another. The crowd scattered, running in fear with some casting unaimed spells in his direction. Another gale of wind caught him from behind, but Jo’e was not to be moved. Looking around, he saw a pile of wood on the edge of the courtyard with a greataxe leaning against it. He sprinted across the courtyard, summoning speed he didn’t know that he had. He grabbed the axe and turned.
And suddenly, quiet fell. Jo’e could see wizards and dwarves not 50 feet away and they seemed to be yelling, running, and fighting. But he heard nothing. Then out from behind a shimmering illusion, the purple wizard stepped forth. In his head he heard the wizard’s voice.
“How are you doing now, stupid dwarf? You cannot win”
Jo’e couldn’t respond. He tried speaking but made no sound. Then screaming, but his voice was blocked by the oppressive silence around him. He knew that the wizard was probably right. But that didn’t matter. He was going to avenge Phei.
Lowering his head, Jo’e braced himself. Clutching the massive axe in both hands, he charged the wizard. The spellcaster threw fireballs in his direction, but his stout frame dodged each one. He closed on the wizard, who summoned a stone wall from the ground and Jo’e crashed into it headfirst. Laying on the ground, burned from the close fire, bleeding from his wounds, Jo’e looked up at the wizard standing over him. The man in purple sneered and raised his hand.
And then something unexpected happened. An enormous bear raised itself up behind the wizard, tearing his arm off with its massive jaws. The wizard spun round, raised the staff in his remaining hand, and called down a column of fire onto the bear. The blast knocked him to one knee, and Jo’e saw his opening.
Pushing up off the ground, he ran at the wizard. Hefting the mighty greataxe he brought it down with the fury that can only manifest itself in rage. The blade of the axe severed the wizard’s neck.
“No,” he spat, with the noise of battles returning to his head.
“How you doing?”
Looking around, Jo’e didn’t see a bear. He instead saw the burned corpse of a tiny halfling. Phei had sacrificed herself to protect him. Instead of keeping his promise to her, he cost her everything. Scooping up the tiny body, Jo’e ran out of the gates of the city which was now the site of several battles between dwarves and wizards. He kept running until he reached the mountains, and never looked back. Never again would he return to this place.