A dwarf’s tale

Prologue – Haven

   Haven. The jewel of the dwarven empire. An imposing city to say the least; A monumental sight to behold, if you mean to flatter. Built around and inside of the modest mountain “Kul’Atoli” which is a sort of ‘drunken dwarfish’ which, when translated roughly and with very little sleep, means “Damned decent rock”. Dwarves are nothing if not to the point when it comes to names. 
Standing just a mile away from the sea, the first dwarven settlers took it as a boon to find such a proper mountain with access to the sea. Dwarves were never known to have been fond of naval exploration, but being more “overworldly” than their ancestors, they knew the value of the sea. It too had riches and opportunity to be chiseled at. 
   The first children born in this modest settlement would have witnessed the construction of the Iron Bay. The mile long, and two mile wide entry connected the would be mountain city with the cool waters of the Verulian sea. With plentiful timber found all around the mountain, docks were built, with homes around the docks and shops around the homes. Soon the settlement of “Haven” were forged. This was where the most successful dwarven pioneers of the overworld truly took the empire into a new age. 
   It would take a hundred years before you could say the city actually took hold of the mountain. And take hold they did. Stone by stone the small village crept deeper and higher into the mountain. At first the miners dug a shaft straight to the heart of it to gain it’s measure; then they expanded. Cart after cart of precious ore and stone fed the growing town. As other settlements were raided, ran out of resources or flat out failed due to infighting or other such trivial problems, Haven thrived! Such a thriving was not known in a millenia to the stumbling dwarves. War and plague had stripped them of their ancient mantle and forced them to flee, yet Kul’Atoli breathed new vigor into the old race. 
  As the town spiraled up and around the mountain, the few surviving clans that were not in participation found themselves a true home. Most had made attempts to live as the humans do. Yet within the forests and plains a dwarf did not feel comfortable. There were no walls of stone, no shadows dancing with flame along corridors of glittering ore. They could fell tree after tree, plant crop after crop and thrive in a way, but they simply could not be happy in such a place. “It’s in their bones to be surrounded by stone”, as the elves would say. They themselves are no different with their forests. If you asked the forests how they felt about it all, you would not get an answer. But, if you did, it would probably be a grumpy one full of curses. But then again, trees have right to be grumpy with anything other than an Elf.
  Once the success of Haven circled around to each of the clans, they made pilgramige to see for themselves this wonderous place. Each finding a sort of peace the oldest of them had not known in centuries. Once, the dwarven empire boasted countless clans of vastly differing talents. After the five hundred year long war with the Orken horde empire and the onset of the mysterious “Stone” plague that affected nearly half the populace, their numbers quickly diminished. Forced to abandon their pestilant fortresses, the Dwarves did the one thing no Dwarf in history ever did. They crossed the ocean. 
   At the time of the departure only a dozen clans were still in existence. Most joined together and created new clans to respect both houses traditions. Eventually you had Stone’Mals with Timberfels who would become the Timber’Mals;The Odimians with the Veneri who could not find a reasonable compromise, and the Noble House Dorin with what was left with the Royal Houses O’hara & Dumoin. To avoid any confusion, house Dorin would keep it’s noble legacy, yet would not join the royal lines. That was a blood contract that could not be altered. Not that any Dwarf would try. 
   By the time Houses O’hara,Dumoin & Dorin were joined by the others, they had already brought the modest settlement out of infancy. It had been three centuries since the great expedition took place and once the clans were together again, the City settlement of Haven transformed into the Capital of the new Dwarven Empire. 
Our new home.

-Eve of the year 400 AS
A short recollection by Assistant records keeper, Kal Dorin.

Chapter One – Old friends.

Varl Dorin was a mite annoyed, and sober – not a good combination for a dwarf.  The expedition was nearly ready to depart on a six season journey and even though he had been preparing his young niece for a season in itself,  she was nowhere to be found.
Packing the remainder of the belongings he would be taking with the expedition,  his assistant Remmie, a sturdy lad coming upon his thirtieth year, entered the shop carrying a tackle of fish he pilfered from the nearby river. He beamed a smile at noticing Varl and set the fish aside.

“You’re still here are ya?”

“Aye, I thought I’d gather a few things before I was off for good. I also wanted to be givin’ ya the keys to the ol’ place. The shops’ all yours me friend, including any hidden valuables you migh’ come across. ” he finishes with a wink.

“I don’t understand,  are you not coming back?”  he asked, puzzled, though the grin would imply a certain amount of knowing.

“Aye,that is the way of it me boy. ” said the burly Dwarf, patting him on the shoulder,  then embracing him with a bit too much aggressiveness, taking the young man off his feet.

Remmie did not expect the hug, he never does, his appreciation of the gesture diminishes  exponentially the harder it is. With Varl it’s nearly life threatening sometimes. “I hope this doesn’t go on for long.” He thought.

Setting him down more gently than he lifted him, the color returned to Remmie’s face, as well as his smile. While having an infinite appreciation for Varl ,his hugs were terrifying.
“So this is it then boss?”
“Aye, it is me boy” his smile softened.
“She’s all yours, and don’t ye be leaving them cupboards open to the twice damned vermin, they are always trying to get at the supplies. An’ if them debtors try to come and take the girl away from ye, you show em yur boot!” flourishing a slow kick to drive the point home.
“I will do just that, Varl! I’ll turn this place into a palace by the time you come back!”

“Aye, I’m sure ye will.” nodding in approval, Varl takes his leave.

Throwing up his hands as a chuckle comes across his face, the young boy crosses his fingers, knowing full well he will indeed forget on occasion. Bidding the old man farewell, he runs his gaze over the shop and accepts the changes that will have to be made. Like building additional space. Varl and Remmie shared one thing over the years after he more or less adopted him, and that was a love for antiquities. Though Remmie had a mind to turn this humble little shop into a palace of historically valuable rarities, one to rival the “wizards college”, the “Deep find Archaeological display”, and the “Four brothers house of exotic items” all of which have resources he could only dream of – For now. But one day his dream would come to fruition, and maybe, just maybe, Varl will return to see his hard work. But first, the vermin.

Outside, the city of Haven teemed with life,  from the shop keepers trying to liberate as much gold from the influx of travelers as they could,  To the citizens sending off friends and family, for this day could be the last time they embraced one another.
Bards filled the streets from dock to the court , filling the air with jovial music & cheer. Artists busied themselves with capturing this momentous day,  painting the fields of peoples loading the massive steamer, having a last laugh with their kin; or one last fist fight, it was a day that would live in one form or another for eternity. Varl immediately busied himself with finding his niece, a task which never proved to be a simple one. in fact it’s nearly cost him his life a few times.
One of those times was when he sought Merrie out in a famed cave that overlooked the bay to the north of the city. Inside he found nothing but the charred remains of wild animals, a few bits of tattered clothing, and the biggest bear he had ever seen. It stood as tall as a troll, and had the claws of a sand cat which were quite large enough to cleave his head clean off, but inside the small space he held the advantage, which is to say, he had ample room to avoid the bear and run.
Merrie had turned out to be studying in secret with a friend of hers in the library on the subject of detection and tracking. For weeks he thought she was simply getting into trouble somewhere, and instead she was actually doing something worthy of her time. He cooked a fine feast for her & her friends soon after stating quite innocently “I did all this jus’ because I love ya.” with a quick wink, after-which she caught on to his reasoning.

“Merrie! Merrie, where are ye? Is’ almos’ time to be hoofin’ it!” Varl shouts to nothing but the air around him. “Blast it to the ten ‘orrors and back again,  where is the wee lass.” He says to himself as he peers around the train yard, appearing agitated to each passerby that gave him confused looks.

Noticing the attention, he snorts, mutters to himself a few curses,  then moves towards the conductor hoping to gather more information,  or at least postpone their departure. As he moves along the track,  he takes in the many people scurrying about to this or that task,  loading coal for the engines,  herding cattle and storing grain for the long journey ahead. Children running about playing catch the troll, laughing and playing, just having a grand time.
“Ho-ho ya wee devils,  go back to yur families before yu’r left behind for the real trolls!” He says with a hearty laugh as the children’s eyes go wide with mock horror then they scatter. Chuckling at their quick escape. “Haha cute buggers.” He says to himself.
“Why do you torment the children so, Varl? They were most likely more frightened of you! ” Turning to greet the voice he knew nearly better than his own, he smiled with vigorous surprise.
“Riel! Yu’r a sight ‘fer surely soon to be sore eyes!  Get over here ye dastardly halfling and give me a hug.” Embracing each other as though a lifetime passed since they last saw one another,  they pat each other’s back and take the measure of the other.
“You have gotten fat my friend. And i don’t mean the healthy kind that can keep a lass warm and happy in the winter. You’re a right and proper meal for the troll you scared those children with!” Says riel jokingly, laughing  & beaming that absurdly large grin Varl remembered all too well. He scratches his chin,  and slyly grins at his friends ‘ joke.
“Yu’r one to talk old friend, it looks to me as though yu’ve grown a bit ye’self. ‘Round the waist that is,  ho-ho!” Slapping his belly to drive his joke home,

“Alas my friend, a good wife will do that to any fellow as fine as I, you end up wanting to sit around and play, if you catch my meaning.” Winking for effect,  before that grin steals across his face again. Sidestepping the boisterous crowd, they take a pair of emptied seats on an all but abandoned shop’s stoop. Dozens of passersby not paying them the softest attention,  too busy with the festivities and
“Speaking of such a brave lass, would luck have it that she be nearby so that i can honor her courage? ” Varl asks.
Riel sucks in a breath and exhales with a light chuckle, then pauses for just a moment as though considering his words. Waving it off he says.  “..Ahh, no my friend, she is with the children back home. I’m quite sure she would have loved to hear your many tales,  though she would have left me with a blackened eye long before you were finished speaking! ”
They both shared a laugh in reminiscence of younger days. “Ho-ho she migh’ve done you in mor’n that me friend! Oh the things i know. ” Varl says with a grin of his own, Riel returning the good-natured joke with a playful scowl.  “And children ye have?  You rascal,  I’d have never guessed. How many o’ the sprites have ye spawned?” Varl asks enthusiastically,  now sitting at attention,  eyes filled with joy, face full of smile.

“You’re right of course,  though you aren’t aware of her talents with a simple walking stick. We have three children; Anna the eldest is fourteen, Jace who is just shy of his eighth, and my little fairy Neea who just turned three last winter-”

Confused, Varl shakes his head. “What do ye mean fourteen?  It’s only been eight years since the blasted war,  And ye telling me you had a child for six of ’em that you never mentioned to yur old pal? ”
Smiling as though he expected the remark Riel says. “I had no knowledge of her, my friend. It was only after going home after the dark years that followed that twice damned war that I even learned of her.” pausing, as though in deep thought,  Riel straightens his back and says at last. “They saved my soul, friend. After the war I wandered, lost, confused,  and so very angry. I returned to find a sort of salvation. Yet, i have interrupted something. A search by the looks of it, but for what, or is it a whom?” he asks, quickly changing the subject.
Varl started to inquire further,  but decided it was best to listen rather than pry. No sense in bringing up dark thoughts on a day so bright
“Lookin’ fer me niece, Merrie. ” He says.  “She’s become a young woman since last ye be seein’er, and a mite too adventurous for me constitution to withstand. She’s probably frolicking about with some lad, yet me gut be knowin’ otherwise. ” he says.

“What do you mean, Varll? Surely a young woman cannot get into much trouble within these walls.  ” Riel asks, his brow raising to one side with intrigue.

Varl takes a moment before saying. “Ne’r has there been a child so taken with findin’ things out , and I’d gamble my entire fortune she’s creepin’ about this here train lookin’ fer trouble. She’s noh even seventeen, Riel, and she fancies herself an inquisitor.  Yet, at the age we were sent off to do some killin’ ,  she ‘as built ‘erself a wee investigation service.” he says, and quickly waving it off.  “Is’mighty successful I admit, but she is so head strong at times it gets her into trouble. I just worry too much she says. To think I be having a child to worry about,  ho-ho, it’s madness to be sure!” he throws his hands into the air in exasperation.
Smiling at his friend’s frustration,  Riel stands and clasps Varl by the shoulders, catching him off guard.
“Another adventure before we’re off then. Let’s find the young inquisitor!”he beams.

Catching the idea,  Varl smiles at the notion.  “Ho-ho, aye it may be our last at that,  knowing the scamp we be trackin’!” he says.

The two men stepped the cobblestones towards the rail yard, leaving the market place behind them hoping to catch the trail of their headstrong quarry. It’s colorful shops & people to be sighted one last time.

Making good speed along the piers in the shipyard,  the vast fleet of merchant ships prepared for their own expeditions, each weighted to the limit with crops,  wine,  and anything from armor to simple parcels meant for longed after loved ones;  or hated enemies as is sometimes the way of things. As is most of the time. Never underestimate the value of a well written letter full of Dwarven loathing, they take great care in their pursuits of revenge.
The two men pass the idle walk with reminiscent chatter of bygone days. Riel having built a modest fortune off of his mercenary work after the war, and Varl coming back home to take over the family shop. Haven was a bit of a beacon for travelers of all kinds & any shop selling mysterious trinkets of a mostly harmless nature could do well for itself. Varl did better than most. With a talent for salesmanship & a tongue for exaggeration, Varl did very well for himself.
As they were nearing the civilian quarter a shout burst out. “Help, anyone! Please!” A woman cried. “Please anyone, me child’s been nabbed!” She wailed further.
The two men needed no confirmation from one another. They both stepped faster in the direction to offer any aid they could. In a former life this was a bit of side work for them & it has since become habitual.
Nearing the origin of the shout, many people were gathering around a simple home of wood and brick. Varl getting many nods as he pushes through the crowd with Riel quickly in tow. He spies a familiar face amongst the people, a woman named Dolly who immediately greets him. “Oh Varl, it is good you were near, I fear for the poor child!” She says hurriedly. “Ah, well wha’s happenin’ here Dolly? ”
“The poor woman’s had her child taken! It’s dreadful! And in the middle of the day no less!”
Putting his hands up in a calming sort of way. “Easy now Dolly, tell me what happened. Slowly.” He says.
Catching herself mid syllable, she composes herself. She explained about the burglaries over the past few months & the threatening letters. Since nothing was ever stolen, no one really batted an eye. As time went on, the letters appeared to be a prank as well. The guard couldn’t find anyone, and had no leads as to who was writing the letters. They simply thought it best to keep an eye out. A lot of good that turned out to be.
“Sounds like they were casing the homes, Varl.” Riel says. “Looking for a particular child perhaps?” he adds.
“Aye, that seems the weight o’ it. Come let’s talk to the mother.” He motions to follow through.

Coming out of the growing mob, they find a young girl consoling the apparent mother of the missing child.  To any onlookers, the girl might have been a dock worker or some craftsman aid. Then you might notice the brilliant avalanche of golden hair that fell atop her shoulders, further complicating the idea. She stood taking notes as the frantic mother desperately tried to convey all that she knew. Two burly looking guards hovered beside her looking as though they will have to face down a dragon later in the day. It’s normally such a simple thing to patrol the civilian quarter.
Experiencing massive relief and aggravation all at once, Varl immediately recognized his niece.”Merrie!” he shouts. “Girl, what are ye doing?”
Looking as though she’s been caught stealing cookies, she sort of half grins and motions him over.
“Oh! Uncle, come quick! This poor woman, she needs our help!” She shouts
Wearing a sour look on his face, Varl reluctantly followed suit with Riel in tow, grinning the entire way.
“Terribly sorry ma’am, please continue. You said a strange man has come by on multiple occasions. Do you remember what he looked like, what he wore, anything?” She asked.

Looking in every direction but one, the mother is obviously grasping for any memory she can whilst fearing for the absolute worst. The terrible excitement of the moment making it hard for her to concentrate.
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe.I,I, I – -remember that he had this particularly nasty looking cane, and he kept asking about our family and the families that lived nearby. Oh, please you have to find him! My boy, he’s taken my boy!” She casts every word as though they were curses meant o be rid of. Too frantic to really think of anything else.
Sympathetically, Merrie tries to make sense of everything, but this is no easy thing for a mother to assist with. There have been other children that have gone missing, some found, some not. She was not the one searching for those children, however. She would find this one. It would be her first proper case!

“Merrie! Wha’ have ye gotten ye’self into? Ya know we are bound to leave a’fore mid’day! Here ye got me and Riel looking for ya in every which corner of the city! ye gonna explain ye’self?”
Turning to meet her uncle, she begs a quick moment from the mother. It’s the Guards turn to console for now. What other use have they got when they aren’t manning the gates?
“Sorry Unc- Uncle riel? It is you!”  Fast as a bolt she leaps to embrace a man who used to make her toys and create puzzles for her to solve. In fact he might be the person that set her course to becoming an inquisitor. She had not seen him since she was no taller than he or Varl. Varl, despite himself, can’t help the grin that immediately formed on his lips.
“Ha! Goodness my girl, you’ve grown quite a bit since last I saw you. Do try not to crush me in our reunion.” He chokes out, surprise and delight trimming his voice through the mop of hair now assaulting his face.
Releasing her vice like embrace, she composes herself.
“Oh, sorry uncle, I was overcome. I did not expect to see you today of all days!” She beams.

“It’s quite all right Mar’, I am just as pleased to see you. And so grown!” He says, catching his breath. In fact, to a not so worldly halfling, she might have been a giant.
“What has Varl been feeding you? You’ve sprouted like a tree!” He jests. Clear delight spreading across his face. the girl never failed to make him smile, not once.

“Oh, ha, well you know, little children and the like. Uncle must make the troll happy! And you, you appear a bit rounded. Have you become lazy in my absence?”
She followed with a smile. No more than just a few seconds and they were quickly trading jabs as though nothing had ever changed. These two were thick as thieves during her childhood. Riel was lost in drink & work, while she was an orphan brought back by Varl towards the end of the war. He spent a handful of summers lost to such vices, yet through her was saved from himself. This girl might have been the maker of the fellow he became before going home to  his own family. In fact, one might say that she was his first child. Varl would argue that she saved them both. His temperament at the end of that bloody campaign was not one fit to care for a child, but he made an oath, and dwarves do care for their oaths. The three somehow found the light out of such darkness.
Despite the overwhelmingly happy distraction, Merria had a mission; And she would not allow herself to lose sight of such an important task. “Oh! You two have come just in time!” She blurts. Turning back to the distraught woman, and the even less composed guards, she returns to her questions. “Thank you Gents, but I must continue. Now Ma’am, you were saying?” She says swiftly, not missing a beat. The guards not at all unhappy about being relieved.
Settling down a bit, the woman calms now that she once again is speaking to the authority of the group.
“Ahh, I don’t know what else to tell ye. The man was dressed quite smartly if you ask me, very mannerly, of medium build, his accent unknown, yet…” She trailed off.
“Yes?” Merria asked quickly, closing the distance between them so as not to miss a single bodily sign or vocal tone.
Appearing to struggle with her next words, the woman continues slowly.”Well, I don’t know how else to describe it, but I could not help but feel a sort of doom in his presence. Not enough that I reacted, it was more of a discomfort, you see. Such  piercing eyes as well, beautiful in fact, in a somber sort of way.” She looked away like she was trying to net a distant thought, but could not fully capture it. “He also questioned about my family, our history, our-”

“Your bloodline.” Riel cut in like a stone mallet, his face a confusing mixture of knowing and abrupt surprise. Both Merria and Varl looked on in confused interest.

“Yes, exactly. How did you know that?” The woman asked incredulously.

“My dear, that story is long and difficult, but I do believe I know the measure of the man. I will say that all that you have described is known to me, and I would not be afraid to wager in favor of you & I sharing his acquaintance.” Riel says. A stone frozen expression on his face could speak volumes, but as to what material, no one knew.

“Uncle, are you saying you might know this man?” Merria inquired, unsure of what to expect at this point.
“Aye, what are ye on about, Ri?” Varl added.
The tension in the group has changed, now all eyes have turned to Riel, his expression resolute.

“Not now. Miss, would you say the man was almost too smartly dressed? As though his dress was freshly tailored?” He asked directly.

“Why maybe, yes, I don’t know. He was awfully well-kept. Like he was conjoined with the garments he wore. Oh please, do you know something, anything about where my boy is!” She belted, the worry returning in full fury no longer calmed by the interested forces attempting to allay her plight.

Turning on his heels, he replied simply. “We need to find a Wizard.”

Chapter two – The drunken Siblings.

Dwarves are never fully drunk unless they want to be. They are never fully sober either. The latter is a personal choice and no good dwarf chooses so unless anger and clarity of thought are needed. Even the most lightweight of the lot will carry a bottle of gutbuster in dry times. An axe can settle an argument for good; A decent bottle of ‘buster however, can at least make the fight worthwhile. Might even make a friend out of it!
Something of the sort was happening in the Ragged Bottle Tavern, a wicked sort of place famed as much for it’s brawls as it’s Gutbuster booze. Built from the wreckage of a dozen ships to resemble something almost seaworthy, nestled between two boulders, the Ragged Bottle was an interesting sight. The owner boasted that the tavern could float if a tide strong enough ever pulled her to sea, yet it has not happened in the hundred years since it’s construction. Much to her dismay.

-Continued

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