From Light to Dark to Light Again

The museum was quite lovely, as museums go, and the curator was indeed there and ignorant of the fact that he should have closed the museum hours before. Any interest we showed in any one item sparked a torrent of explanation and erudition from this one little dwarf who loved the history of his people. After a few minutes of being led around we heard the familiar bamf! of a teleport depositing someone nearby and out stepped the captain of the Underhome city guards, the one who’d advised us to be here.

“Ah, good, you made it,” he said, and with that he settled into serious conversation with Adric and Rock and Badl and Dyson. I kindly distracted the curator by asking to see some huge tapestry I’d been told he had and offering to discuss with him our own historical findings. He excitedly agreed and off we went into some other room in some other wing where he showed me The Tapestry.

It didn’t have a name, he told me, because no one knew what its name had originally been. It was huge – it could have wrapped around the treehouse many times – and what it showed absolutely froze the blood in my veins. According to the curator, it portrayed an ancient battle, the conflict itself lost to history, in which the dwarves asserted themselves as a power in the world. A leader with no name or known identity had arisen to drive back the barbarian races that crowded in on the dwarves from all sides and, with the aid of a mysterious being, crushed them all. Here’s what I saw, though: a red dwarf – like the one who was so eager to specify the location of the Mulhorandi embassy in the Netherese Empire five thousand years ago – decked out in armor and shield and weapon and standing over a horde of slavering representatives of other races with a dark shape flying across the sky in the background. It couldn’t have been more clearly Stormcloud if that shadowy form had been wearing a nametag.

I explained some of this – but not all, because it was clear the curator preferred his illusions and lore to any real research – to the curator and went on to tell him that not only was the world older than ten or twenty thousand years but that at least a hundred thousand years before the insectoid ancestors had been wiped out in a cataclysm and had existed for unknown time before that. He mainly waved it off as the ravings of a tall person. I am routinely upset and fascinated by the reactions of authorities to the things we ourselves so clearly know to be true.

By that time, the captain had finished his conference with the others and they offered this summary: there are two varieties of strife currently afflicting the Gold Dwarf nobility. First, there have been a couple of abrupt cave-ins in gem and ore mines on the periphery of the city. These cave-ins have occurred in tunnels worked for more than a generation, mines that were known to be completely safe even by the standards of these highly experienced and deeply safety-minded dwarves. Second, there has been a rash of assassinations and attempted hits on the children of various nobles and it would appear that the Dwerger are being hired as assassins for these hits. This itself confirmed what we’d been told by the Dwerger between the time we captured him and the captain of the guards in turn captured us: that the Ascendeds had hired a cabal of Dwerger assassins to relocate temporarily to a location closer to Underhome than normal so that they could take a series of jobs striking at the scions of Gold Dwarf nobility.

Given that this place either was, itself, or was right next to or on top of the ancient home of the dragons, our first theory was that the cave-ins were orchestrated to provide cover while BOB and his forces dug around looking for the draconic capital itself and that the assassinations were meant to distract the nobility and create a context in which the cave-ins themselves might be seen as expressions of landed rivalries. We resolved to go immediately out to Spessarite, one of the outlying towns where a mine had caved in, to investigate. The captain thanked us for our unofficial attention to this matter and noted that of course he couldn’t authorize us or protect us once we were out of his presence. We acknowledged that warning and he showed us to a station for the major underground transport here: large, metal carriages being pulled on a chain on a track rather like those used for mining. Scrunched or spread out in tiny seats, under a roof too low to allow us to sit up much less to stand, we joined a number of dwarven equivalents of hillbillies, all gaping and gawping at us as we clambered into their tiny vehicles. The chain pulled tight and then with another series of clatters we took off at high speed, the caves and occasionally another station just sort of whizzing by as we took the express out to Spessarite. I longed for the journey to be over quickly so that I could stand and stretch my legs but it was likely to take us the better part of an hour to get there.

I got my chance to do a bit of walking around much earlier than I’d expected, however, when the chain pulling us snapped and the tracks twisted up and mangled ahead of us as a bomb went off on the tracks and two enormous earth elementals burst forth from the rock and the mud to begin tearing at the cars on the train.

In the gloom, off to one side in this somewhat more open bit of tunnel, Dyson could make out eight dwarven figures arranged in two teams of four apiece, each of them working vigorously to load enormous ballistae with what appeared to be thousands of normal bolts – crossbow bolts – tied together into one mega-bolt with lengths of rope. We all ducked down and heard a sick twang! from each ballistae as the bundles tore apart on firing and thousands of bolts riddled the train cars.

I have no idea why we keep thinking it’s a good idea to let dwarves shove us into metal boxes and then get yanked and lowered this way and that by various chains.

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