I figure it’s about time I wrote a wee bit more about what’s been going on. After our trip down the oubliette we made it to my place of birth, Netherhearth. I’m finally among my own kind.
We’ve been down here now for two weeks waiting to meet with the council, and, well, I cannae say it’s quite what I expected. The settlement inhabits a large natural cavern, made bigger over time by the crafts-dwarves and filled with dwellings, workshops and patches of farmland. The dwarves are divided into various castes, kept apart by prejudice and divided into separate villages, not united in pride and boisterous merriment as dwarves should be.
The folks here are suspicious of outsiders. My three pals haven’t been allowed to see much of the settlement. As a dwarf, I have more freedom, though the council still likes me to have someone minding me. I’ve explored various parts of the place. There are villages dug into stalagmites and cut into rock walls. In the middle of the cavern sits a high tower, and at the top o’ the tower is a huge stone called the Life Stone, which bathes the cavern in light each day. There’s some impressive sights, but after reading so many times about the grand city of Heidelheim, its warriors and mead and great halls o’ stone… well, I suppose they’ve made a go of it down here in Netherhearth, but I must admit I’m a wee bit disappointed.
This is a place plagued by problems. As time goes on, the ground becomes less and less fertile, food harder to come by, and the local beasties have become bolder. Life has become hard for my kin down here, and unrest is the order of the day. A growing faction in the settlement believes that for our kind to prosper once more they must leave this cavern, make their way to the surface and find a new life from there. Those in charge insist that they are to stay and carry on with life in Netherhearth, and that to leave would mean the end of our kind. I am inclined toward the latter. Life in the necropolis is brutal if you don’t know how to handle it, and the sudden appearance of hundreds of dwarves would not go unnoticed.
The other day we were approached for help. A wee baby had been snatched up by some local ratkin. My pals were champing at the bit to have something to do after being largely confined to the makeshift guesthouse, and I suppose I was too, so we set off at once.
We made our way through some tunnels until we reached a mid-size cavern with a bunch of large pillars. At the far end were some filthy ratkin huddled in a group. Between them was the baby, unharmed — for now.
Cat crept forward using her rat form, while the rest of us positioned ourselves for battle. She got close to them, then changed to her new Nug form and unleashed its power, a stink so powerful it’s capable of incapacitating foes for a time. It must be pretty bad, because even the ratkin who live in filth and squalor couldn’t withstand it. She snatched up the baby (which is becoming a running theme for us), and retreated toward the cavern entrance.
It wasn’t long before they started coming after us. The foul beasties started appearing from holes in the wall, coming straight for us. We fought them off and raced back to the tunnel. Just as we were arriving, out of nowhere something caused a thunderous explosion, bringing rocks crashing down ahead of us, cutting off the tunnel.
As we stood in the tunnel wondering what to do, the ratkin came for us. We held them at bay until they lost interest and left, though not before biting Cat and Celeste. At least we’d foiled whatever nasty plan they had for the baby. We set our attention to digging through the cave-in, which blocked our way back to Netherhearth. I pounded away at it with my bone weapon until there was a hole big enough for Cat to get through in her rat form, and she went to fetch help. Before long, digging from both sides, we cleared enough of the rubble to get through.
Later, the time came at last for us to see the council. All we really knew about why we’d been sent here was that we were looking for some kind of artifact, but we didn’t know what it was. Celeste was also keen to inspect the Life Stone, and try to learn its secrets. But we knew the council would be cautious about allowing such a thing.
We were taken to the tower in the middle of Netherhearth, to the council’s chamber. At the table were the leaders of the settlement: Viceroy Quill, the frail but shrewd leader; Energ, Mayor of the Soldiers; Gillack, Mayor of the Masons; and Yorrin, Mayor of the Farmers.
The council were suspicious of my friends, especially Ash. Evidently he has an uncanny resemblance to one they call Abraxis or “the deceiver” — a demon who is believed to have caused the downfall of Heidelheim. This has caused a great deal of fear among the dwarves, who think Ash’s presence will spell the end of Netherhearth. I tried to explain to them that he’s my friend and has no interest in such a thing, but my protests fell on deaf ears. They wanted Ash gone.
I asked the council about the fate of my parents. The unanimous line I’ve received since I arrived was that they were murdered by a channeler named Griselda. I asked the council about the memories I have of a shapeshifter which I believe was the real killer. They dismissed the idea immediately. The Viceroy in particular was adamant that I was wrong, but as I peered at him from across the table, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was hiding something. I don’t trust him.
Finally Celeste made a request to the council to inspect the Life Stone. They were having none of this. Although she made a compelling case, and they seemed convinced of her good intentions, the fear that she may cause damage to the stone was too much for them to consider.
Suddenly we were interrupted as Cat’s animal instincts got the better of her. Some insect or something skittered across the table and Cat leapt after it, damaging and ancient light artifact that had been rescued during the fall of Heidelheim. This brought the meeting to an abrupt end as the furious council ejected us from the chamber.
Later, as we sat in a sombre silence at the crude guesthouse, some dwarves arrived to speak with me. They were part of the faction who wished for the dwarves to leave Netherhearth, and they wanted me to take their side. I told them that I couldn’t support them. This angered them, but they were quickly ejected by the guards. Soon after another dwarf arrived with a message for me. I was invited to dinner with Gillack, the Mayor of the Masons. I accepted, and we set off to the Masons’ village.
The village was built into a collection of stalagmites. Each of the mighty spikes was hollowed out providing space for various houses and workshops. In one of the larger formations was the home of Gillack and his wife Elka.
They welcomed me into their home, and I learned that Gillack was my cousin. We had a fine dinner, and an enjoyable conversation. For the first time in two weeks, I felt genuinely welcome. I thought of my friends, back at the guesthouse, who enjoyed none of this hospitality.
After dinner, Gillack told me that he wished for me to remain in Netherhearth. I felt conflicted. On one hand, these are my people. But on the other, I am loyal to my friends, who would not be allowed to remain, and probably would not wish to anyway. After some hesitation I had to tell Gillack that I could not remain. He was disappointed, but accepted my wishes.
I asked him again about my parents. He said the same as before, that they were killed by Griselda. I confided in him that I believed the Viceroy was hiding something.
As soon as I said this, Gillack’s demeanour suddenly shifted, and every trace of warmth and hospitality left his voice. He stated coldly that the Viceroy was a highly respected member of the council, and that I would not win any friends my making such accusations without any evidence. He then ejected me from his home, and I walked silently back to the guesthouse.