• Last Seen: 18 hrs ago
  • Joined: 3 mos ago
  • Posts: 10 (0.11 / day)
  • VMs: 0
  • Latest 10 profile visitors:


User has no status, yet


User has no bio, yet

Most Recent Posts

Orr'gavol: The Hammersworn - Turn 8

Summary below:

In the Hovel

Osman sat in the empty great hall commonly used for council meetings, staring into the dying embers in the centre hearth. These last few days, he had begun feeling considerably weaker. The rations had grown much smaller of late, and he was getting tired of eating bark. However, his starving body was not the source of his despair. Herim had come to him earlier with grim news - the infected seemed to be getting worse. One of the older dwarves was likely soon to meet her ancestors. He felt a cold spike through his body at the thought, and he ran a shaking hand through his black beard. At that moment, Joron Scroll stepped in through the door and dusted the snow off himself using a small brush. The old, scrawny scholar looked like a mere set of sticks arranged into the shape of a dwarf, but Osman was at least glad to see the dwarf still had some energy left.

“Foreman,” Joron said curtly. “I thought I’d find you here.” Osman beckoned him over and threw a log on the embers. At first, Joron shook his head; however, right thereafter, he came over anyway and sat down.

“That’s the spirit, Joron. No need to be so cold. You have the council meetings for that,” Osman snickered. Joron did not return the snicker, but voiced a single sarcastic “ha”. Osman frowned and looked back into the flames.

“I actually came bearing a message, foreman,” Joron said. “Herim would like you know that bark is no longer on the menu. We will officially have to turn to our leather goods for sustenance.” Osman put his face in his hands and let out a long groan. Joron scratched his white-bearded chin and stood back up with the help of a walking stick. He gave Osman a partial bow and headed toward the door.

“Do you think me a poor leader, Logmaster?” Osman voiced through his hands. Joron stopped and turned around, running his idle hand through his beard to add to his inquisitive expression.

“Not poor, Osman. I agree that retrieving our families’ livelihood was important. However, one does not have to be a magister to see that you occasionally make… Less than ideal choices.” Osman deflated in his chair. Joron continued, “I understand you, however. We all make poor decisions under stress, myself included. My imprisonment was a just punishment and gave me time to think - I realised that Popomel was right about the gods’ disgust of sin, and sin, I did.” Joron lowered his head. “To kill your parent, sibling or child - the most grievous sin. I pray I never misinterpret the will of the gods in such a manner again.” The air grew thick and greasy with shame. “As such, while I frankly despise you for what you did to me, I respect it and agree with it. However, one right does not right all the wrongs, and to answer your question, foreman, you are not a poor leader; you are a less-than-ideal leader who struggles with stress.” Osman, now having deflated to the point where he technically sat on the floor leaning against the chair, gave Joron a look that could best be described as a confused scowl. Joron nodded and headed to the door. In the doorway, the dwarf turned, his white beard dancing in the wind.

“By the way, another convoy from the Whitepeak Mine has returned. Get your bum off the floor and do something other than sulk for once.” The dwarf then stepped out and slammed the door shut. Osman sat still for a few minutes. He regretted asking Joron of all people for feedback. However, there was some solace in actually hearing some for the first time in weeks. He got back on his feet and stepped outside.

After a few minutes, Osman had gathered every Hammersworn in the Hovel. He scanned the crowd and saw that it consisted almost exclusively of dwarflings too young to venture out of the village. It had been a while since Osman had spoken to children, and speaking to a whole mass at once was going to be tough - already some had begun splitting from the crowd to play in the snow. Osman opened his mouth.

"Sons and daughters! Hear your foreman's words!" Many of the children started crying at the sudden booming voice. In the back, Erima was snickering while Joron placed his face in his palm. Herim and Golaq tried their best to shepherd the kids back in line, while Daven sat down with the crying ones and began singing them songs. Osman let out a long, drawn-out groan. Meanwhile, Daven looked up at Osman and smiled warmly.

"They are not yet workers, good foreman. You cannot ask a seed to sprout fruits. First, it must be nurtured and grow." The old dwarf patted an adjacent little girl on the head and stood up. "Let us do exactly that." Osman raised an eyebrow. "What, tell them to sprout fruits?" he muttered. Daven chuckled softly. "No, let us instead take this time to teach them about what it means to be Hammersworn. Let our fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers teach our sons and daughters a little bit about their respective unions; let the children learn about the thoughts and morals of their mothers and fathers; let them forget their rumbling bellies for a while. What say you, foreman?" Osman pondered for a bit. He then saw that some of the children began screaming and crying again. Daven swiftly shuffled over and saw to the issue. "Fine! I'll allow it. Spread the message on. I'll prepare some words on the virtue of shutting the HELL up!" His shouting caused more children to weep in fear. Daven let out another warming laughter. "Naturally, foreman," he said. "I'll tell everyone to prepare some words on the morals of our people."

Outside the strange hamlet to the south:

Makkar wrapped the furs around him ever closer. He was starting to regret telling the group not to light fires as to not draw any more attention that what, for all they knew, they'd already drawn. However, it was, in his eyes, paramount that they not be caught unprepared should the hamlet be home to creatures of malicious intent. He blew some warm, steamy air into his palms and rubbed them rapidly together. Oh, how he longed for a fire right about now. He looked up and saw Quana Forge shuffle over. She put an index finger to her left nostril and snorted loudly. She then turned to Makkar and scratched her nose.

"So... What do we do, then? It's been an hour since we agreed to wait. I don't know about you, but I'm not really enjoying this whole... Sitting in the snow and waiting-situation." Makkar frowned and stood up. "Aye, neither am I. Tell the others I've made my decision. We'll form a small crew of our, uh, kindest looking and go over to ask for shelter and supper. Can't be that hard, right?" Quana nodded slowly. "Uh-huh," she mumbled, "and what if they're more bloodthirsty than world-eyes at a Bronze Union sermon?" Makkar shrugged and gave a sigh. "The alternative is pretty clear, ain't it? Go tell them now." Quana nodded and shuffled off. Makkar pulled some icicles out of his beard, grimacing at every tug.

Mere minutes later, the whole expedition crew had gathered. Forth stepped four dwarves, all of whom had been deemed the prettiest, kindest-looking, or just the least smelly. The first of them was a young-looking lad of the Copper Union, judging from the green tattoo on his face, who was smiling from ear to ear in spite of the weather; the second was also quite young, an appraiser from the Silver Union, whose beautiful golden hair looked even paler against the snow; the third was one Makkar knew - Gomril Ash, alchemeister of the Union of Phosphorous. He had always looked the docile dwarf, almost comparable to a doe; finally, the fourth, a dwarf of the Glass Union, one who had probably used the last of the tea flowers in his ration to make some form of perfume - Makkar agreed he smelled quite nice. He then nodded and pointed to the hamlet. "Alright. You four will come with me and act as bodyguards and support should an argument arise with the host. The rest of you - find whatever you can use as a weapon and wait until I give the signal - which will be a waving torch. If no such signal is given by nightfall, you will keep moving south in search of food - is that clear?" The crew nodded, though most looked rather annoyed or angry at the thought of being left in the cold. Makkar nodded back and beckoned his band of four. Together, they shuffled through the snow towards the hamlet.

Nothing happened as they stepped out from the trees, climbed over the first fence, and began making their way through the fields. As they came up on the second inner fence, they drew close to one of the hovels around the great hall. From inside there was the murmuring of voices and the crying of a child, and a few moments later, they saw a squat figure wearing a heavy cloak step out from inside with an axe in hand.

Makkar stopped in his steps at the sight of the weapon. He held his hand on the hammer on his belt and extended a palm forward. He nodded at his companions, who proceeded to take similar precautions. For a second, Makkar wondered what to say? Did this creature even speak his language? How would he react to Makkar and his crew looking almost ready to strike at him? He tried to look a little less threatening, and proceeded to make his greeting.

"Blessings on your soil and fertility for you crops, stranger!"

A cold wind had blown to the dwarves' backs and straight into the stranger's face, so he'd held up an arm to keep the worst of it out of his eyes and hold down the hood of his cloak. And then he'd stepped to the side towards a pile of firewood as if to split it, seemingly completely oblivious to the nearby dwarves thanks to that oversized hood obscuring his vision, and then Makkar had suddenly spoken. The short person jumped nearly half his height into the air when he suddenly became aware of the dwarves with a start, and the axe slipped out from his hands. His panicked yelp seemed to echo as loud as thunder through the quiet little hamlet.

Makkar nearly jumped at the creature's reaction, and whether due to the weather or the situation, he was frozen for a split second. That second was all it took for the golden haired Silver unionist to open her mouth as well.
"No, no, no! Don't scream, please! We don't mean any harm! Honest to Ognius!" She tried to make her point by taking out her knife and dropping it in the snow, though it seemed her companions didn't follow her motion.

For his part the stranger didn't immediately stoop down to take up his hatchet again, but he definitely glanced to make sure that it was still there. "Wut're you lot doin' here?" the halfling stammered, and then a few moments later they could hear the doors of other huts opening. Soon there were other faces peeking at them from around corners, and one or two calls of, 'Shirrif! Shirrif!'

"Oh, thank the gods, you can understand us," the Silver unionist said. She tried to move a little closer. "I'm Agnez Coin," she said. Makkar and his companions eyed her up and down in disbelief and looked at each other. Agnez went on: "We are the Hammersworn dwarves, and we come from the mountains to the north. A terrible winter has struck our home, and we were sent out to bring back food and resources for our people. While it is terribly rude to ask such of you, good stranger, we ask merely that we be allowed to stay the night in your village - just so we can rest like we haven't in months for a single night. We will be on our way by dawn." Makkar grabbed Agnez by the shoulder and pulled her back to whisper her something. In the meanwhile, the Copper union kid and Gomril Ash kept surveying the settlement. The Glass Unionist kept rubbing his hands together and blowing on them in a desperate attempt to prevent the loss of another finger.

"But what are you?" the halfling asked in confusion. "An' what's that one sayin' over there?!"

Makkar put his hand on Agnez's head and rubbed it perhaps a little too violently. She suddenly looked furious. "Nothing to worry about, friend. Just needed to make it clear who's doing the negotiations here." Makkar gave a quick laugh which gathered little support from the rest of his crew. He muttered to himself before looking back at the halfling, taking note of the tiny creature's stature. "We're dwarves, good stranger! You know... Dwarves? Looking at you, actually, you ought to recognise a cousin when you see one, you know!" Makkar eyed the halfling up and down. "See the winter's left little to eat for your kind, too, aye."

By this point a rough-looking halfling in an obnoxious bright red coat had staggered out of the main hall and made his way halfway over to the assembled crowd. In one hand he'd carried a club and in the other a bottle, but to the credit of the drunken 'shirrif' he'd dropped the bottle into the snow as soon as he'd seen the dwarves, and at that point he quickened his pace. Embolded by his presence, some of the onlookers from the other huts started to follow their way closer to the commotion.

Makkar met the approaching stranger with as broad a grin as he could manage. He placed his palm on his chest and tipped his torso gently forward. "Ah, you must be the local foreman. Good harvests and full larders to you, good stranger. I am Makkar Stone, representative on the Union Council and ambassador for the Hammersworn Dwarves!" His companions frowned at him. Agnez mouthed something that looked like "ambassador" and Makkar tried to give her a well-hidden kick in the shin, but just ended up widening his stance somewhat awkwardly. The sheriff hardly seemed to notice, at least.

The first timid halfling that they'd spoken to backed up a little bit so as to visibly defer to the red-coated one. And then after a few very moments of awkward hesitation, he grabbed his hatchet once more and stepped a short ways away to start splitting the wood that he'd first outside to split...naturally, he kept one eye on the dwarves all the while. As for the sheriff, he approached closer than any of his fellows dared, but even his alcohol-fueled bravery made him stop at a few yards distance. "Well you seem frien'lier than most 'round these parts, not like we get many strangers!" He hiccuped before finishing, "That is, 'less you came for my coat! If that's the case you'll only pry 'er from me bloody hands!"

Makkar cleared his throat and looked for a good response. The lad from the Copper Union stepped forth and lifted his left palm in greeting. "While your coat is absolutely magnificent, good stranger--"

The whole crowd of halflings laughed at that line, the sheriff included. The young dwarf recoiled and gave an awkward, hacking laugh as well. Makkar pushed him back gently in a shooing manner and cleared his throat. "Aye, aye, we can all agree that it's, uh, somewhat nice. However, we did indeed not come to nab your jacket, good stranger. You see, our situation is a grim one, and we wish not bother you for too long, so..." Makkar cleared his throat, but it turned into a cough, followed by a loud sneeze. Gomril Ash sighed and looked at the sheriff. "To summarise what our 'diplomat' is going to say: we've travelled far, we're tired, and we're wondering if you good strangers have some shelter and supper to spare for the night. We-" Makkar, having regained control of his breathing, coughing and sneezing, gave him a glare and continued for him: "We don't have much to give in return, but we have good tools to trade, and should our relationship grow closer, come summer we will give back what you've given us tenfold!"

That statement seemed perfectly punctuated by the load crack of that first halfling splitting a log in half. The sheriff looked over irritably and shouted, "By golly Rory we're tryin' to talk over here, quit that!" Then he turned back to the dwarves and answered, "Too cold out here to talk, and not my job to figure out what to do with you anyways. My boss'll sort that out. The chieftain's prob'ly wonderin' what's causing all this rile anyways, so we'd best go see 'im right now." The halfling gestured toward the greathall on top of the hill and made as if to lead them there.

"Ah, very good," Makkar said and followed along for a few steps until he saw that Gomril, Agnez and Copper Union lad remained. Makkar looked at them funnily. "What're you doing? It's impolite not to follow along when you're invited in, y'know." Agnez crossed her arms over her chest. "We should tell the others first," she said. "We can't leave them out here in the cold while we're in there." Makkar rubbed his temples and let out a groan. "We -first- go in to negotiate -then- tell the others -after- we get permission? You got it?" Agnez stood as frozen in the snow, her determination manifesting in the form of a scowl.

The sheriff, meanwhile, seemed willing to break up the argument. "Wait now, there's more of ye out there? What, a dozen? Bring 'em all in here. No choice about the matter. We got the space and food, and Chief'll want to see all of you. Look you up an' down, make sure he trusts you much as I do. Then if he don't think you're liars or bandit scouts, he'll treat you fairly. But cross 'im the wrong way an' he'll crack all your skulls like treenuts! Ha!"

Makkar groaned again and nodded. "Fine, bring me a torch and-..." Makkar flinched at the halfling's final sentence, and he turned to his companions. They, too, seemed to have gotten the threatening undertones, too, but at the same time, they looked starved and freezing. The Glass Union dwarf had resorted to sticking his freezing hands under Gomril's beard. "... And I'll summon them," Makkar continued. The dwarf received a torch and stepped a little distance away from the hamlet until he estimated that he was within line of sight of the rest of the expedition crew. He waved the torch from side to side for a good half-minute. Following his actions was nothing but wind and an occasional cough from the Copper Union lad. Then, ever so quietly, came the familiar cracking noise of dwarven boots breaking through ice and snow. It grew louder and louder until dark shapes formed in the winds that soon turned into the familiar hairy shapes of the Hammersworn. Makkar spoke, "These good strangers have invited us inside for food and warmth. We will be on our best behaviour while we're here, is that clear?" While nobody said anything, most seemed to at least not protest. Dwarves were known for their courtesy, after all. Or, well, that would depend on the union, and probably situation, and... Makkar decided to leave the thought.

And while Makkar had summoned his fellows out in the field with the impatiently shivering sheriff not far to his side, the red-coated halfling had taken aside one of the hamlet's folk and murmured something to him before the lad had ran off to the great hall ahead of everyone else. If they were to take the sheriff in good faith, that fellow was probably telling the chief to expect company, or something of the sort...but otherwise it could well have been an order to prepare some sort of trap. Agnez, Gomril and the Copper Union lad all gave the runner a suspicious stare. Agnez picked up her knife from the snow, dried and sheathed it. Then when the others had come close enough for him to make our their faces, the sheriff let Makkar give his address before he likewise spoke to the oncomers, "Yeah, we bid all you folk welcome to Heel's Hundred. The Chief's expectin' us in his hall, and we'd best not keep 'im waitin'." He certainly noticed Agnez gather her knife and seemed to note that all the dwarves had weapons, but he didn't seem perturbed and said nothing of it. Now that the dwarves looked closer, most of the halflings had at least some tool that would service as a weapon, if not for similar small knives or clubs. They were smaller and thinner, but in such numbers the halflings would definitely have the advantage should any violence break out. Makkar murmured a prayer to every god he knew in hopes that this would not happen. It was evident on the faces of his people that no one felt easy about the situation - however, empty stomachs and tired legs on top of no food in sight beyond this hamlet led most to ignore the potential dangers.

As he led them at a fairly brisk pace from the fields back into the hamlet proper and up to the hill, the sheriff heard a few stomachs grumble. "Suzy's cookin' will give you lot good spirits! Maybe she'll even put some meat in the soup tonight since you lot 'ave come to give us company!" Makkar faked a laugh and felt cold sweat form on his forehead. He called Quana over. The tall dwarf came stomping through the snow, her hand resting firmly on the shaft of her hammer. "I don't like this, Makkar," she whispered. "Don't like it one bit. We can still turn back and keep moving south. One more day on empty stomachs won't hurt." Makkar grit his teeth. "I'm starting to think you're right. Gods' curses, why did I listen to that little-..."

The little sheriff suddenly came to a stop at the base of the hill. "Aha! There she is!" he called out, stooping to reclaim the bottle he'd dropped earlier. The jovial halfling took a few great gulps then held it out for Makkar. "Warms you right up!" Makkar scowled at the bottle. "What is it? Blackberry wine?" He grabbed the bottle and gave the top a good sniff, though his stuffed nose yielded little information about the contents and more than he'd wanted about the sheriff's oral hygiene. Reluctantly, Makkar took a small nip of the contents out of courtesy. It was a dark beer, nothing that would have normally been terribly impressive to a dwarf, but a long ways better than the swill they'd been brewing at the Hovel for the past few months. Makkar felt his heart skip a beat at the flavour and took another, much larger swig before handing the bottle back. "Thank you, friend. That... That really did warm something up, aye." The short moment of joy was switfly broken by Quana poking at Makkar's shoulder, looking very concerned when he turned to look at her. Makkar's nostalgic smile turned back to a cold, hard expression that mirrored both terror and desperation.

The hill that the great hall sat upon was not a terribly steep or tall one, so it wasn't long with the sheriff's quick pace before they passed the few crude fortifications and were suddenly at the doors. There were two absolutely massive doors to the hall, each one of what looked to be terribly heavy oak, and they were both completely shut. The sheriff spat. "Gah, did that fool really have to close it behind him..." He mumbled something about keeping the heat in, and then he grabbed one of the doors and started heaving. He started to make progress, but cast a glance over to the dwarves. Obviously he didn't want to ask for their help, but he was struggling. Probably too much of the beer. Makkar and the dwarves all seemed to visually compare the huge door and the tiny sheriff trying to open it. While Makkar was not the sharpest axe on the rack, it did not take a magister to deduct that whatever was inside the great hall was far bigger than any of these halflings, and suddenly the slightly more menacing word choices the sheriff had made began to make more and more sense.

"Uh, quick question, good stranger, uh... What livestock do you keep here?" Makkar asked while slowly reaching for his hammer.

"Ah, I never introduced myself did I? Sheriff Wilret, I am," he answered as he stopped pulling on the door to take another sip of beer. "Uh, got a couple sows down in the barn...somehow Heel hasn't eaten 'em all yet..."

Right on cue, the great door suddenly swung open. Wilret leaped back before it knocked him over, and there standing in the doorway was the biggest creature any of the dwarves had ever seen before. He wore clothes and had a full beard and a head full of hair, but if weren't for that, he might as well have been a mountain of flesh.

The sight of the creature made the entire flock of dwarves jump back. Half then proceeded to pull their weapons and scream, while the other half stood frozen in fear. The sheriff fell into the snow and rolled around laughing. "Surprise! Payback for that witty remark 'bout my coat, yeah?" he asked between gasps. None of the dwarves heard him over the battle roars and panicked howling. At this point, some of the dwarves began to run back down the hill, screaming their lungs out. Makkar and Quana stood at the front of the group. Quana let out a warcry and pointed her hammer at the giant - or rather, at the giant's toes - while Makkar stood frozen and, seemingly, praying. Chief 'Heel', as the sheriff had called him earlier, looked over the closest ones at his doorstep and cast his gaze down to Wilret and the fleeing dwarves. He suddenly looked furious. "Wilret you dumb sot! Stop playin' this joke! And go bring back those ones running. Right now!"

The sheriff scrambled back onto his feet and chased after the dwarves that had fled, and then the ogre looked down to Makkar and Quana. "Welcome to my hall! Come on in, Suzy's cooking us a stew." Quana, looking like she'd just witnessed a miracle, slowly lowered her hammer and looked up towards the giant's face which, due to the angle, was hidden behind its beard. "You... You mean it, g-.. Good stranger?" she whimpered. "Yup!" he answered simply. He didn't seem at all bothered by how they clutched onto their weapons, but in fairness, to him it was probably like they were mere children brandishing toothpicks.

He turned around and began to walk into the hall, but slowly and with a heavy limp. He hardly even moved his left leg so much as dragged it on with his right. Quana let out a joyous chuckle and slapped the still-praying Makkar so hard on the back that the dwarf fell forward and landed face and beard first in the snow. This knocked the dwarf back into reality and he rocketed back up to his feet and shot glances in all directions, brandishing his hammer profusely. Quana sighed and punched him again to calm him down, shaking her fist afterwards and murmuring, "Gods, that felt good...". Makkar clutched his now bloody nose and gave Quana a glare, which she returned with a smirk. "N'aw, don't worry about it. It'll be fine after some rest." Makkar keeled his head back and pinched the bridge of his nose. "You could lose your seat on the council for that, y'know," he grumbled. "We're not in a meeting right now, are we?" Quana snickered. "Come on now. Oi! Urdo! Gather up the wimps who ran. Everyone! Follow along, now." With that, the group of dwarves slowly began to realise the reality of the situation. After the last of the stragglers had been rounded up, the dwarves were at last inside a warm hall again. After a small entryway with more than few bear pelts and stag antlers to be seen as decorations, there was a room with a huge heart off to the side of a long table. At the head on the far end was a giant chair that must have been Heel's throne, since it was the only one big enough to fit even half his bulk. He practically had an entire raised table to himself over there. Closer to the middle were a few halflings playing cards and drinking, at least two or three of which wore the same red coat that Wilret had. Judging by their state of stupor, they seemed to take their work even less seriously than Wilret. Or perhaps they simply weren't on shift. They hardly even looked up from their game as the dwarves entered.

With a groan, Heel eventually made his way to the raised table and took his place, then started rubbing at his left heel through a thick fur boot. "Messed that one up a long time ago, so I let the little ones in red run around for me," he explained in good humor. "Chief Heel Hardhand. Just call me Heel." Makkar stepped forth and beckoned over Quana Forge. He put his palm on his chest and bowed, while Quana raised her fist over her head and shouted, "Gods' and ancestors' blessings!" Makkar straightened himself back up. "I am Makkar Stone of the Hammersworn Dwarven Council, and this is Quana Forge, also a representative on the council. It is truly a great honour to be allowed into your hall, good chieftain Heel." Makkar nodded in respect. Some of the dwarves behind him raised their folded hands to the giant; some cried tears of joy. "We will not trouble you for long," Makkar continued, "but we have travelled far and through harsh weather on the quest to bring food from the south back to our village. You see, we come from the valley of Darr, the forests between the Golumnar and the Eastpeaks - and many moons ago, now, our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters all suffered a terrible catastrophe that left us unprepared for a winter unmatched in cold cruelty. We ask therefore merely three favours, if we are worthy of receiving your aid, good chieftain Heel." Makkar knelt down before the giant. Quana first looked at him funny, but when the dwarves in the group behind her knelt down one by one, she eventually succumbed to group pressure. "We ask for one night of rest; we ask for one night's supper; and we ask if you know of somewhere we can find food to bring home to our people. Know that, come spring, the forges 'neath Golumnar will once again bloom with flames and sparks, and all you may request of tools, weapons or the like shall be yours."

Some of their diction seemed to go over the ogre's head, but for his part they could tell that he was listening closely, and watching even closer. Some felt a little bit uneasy at how he seemed to be staring at their every mannerism. Anyways, he didn't immediately answer when they finished. He sat there in silent contemplation for a long several moments before gesturing to the table and chairs. "Sit, I give you the first two," he said. As they shuffled over, he was quiet again before he at last began a long ramble, "You see these tiny folk all around? The halflings? I care for them quite a bit. They toil on a hundred cropfields out there to keep me fed and Suzy is the best cook in the world. All I do is sit here and give 'em some direction, so it's only fair I also do my best to protect them."

He reached down for a keg that rested next to his chair, cracked it open, and then chugged enough to knock out or kill a smaller creature. "You made a few of them nervous, y'know. Fought and whispered among one another. Heard you gave Rory a good scare, and the weapons also didn't help ease them. All this village has got is me and these sheriffs to drive off the wild animals and any would-be raiders, so you know that we gotta stay quiet and low. Don't want others to find out we're here an' start thinkin' of us as an easy target."

They weren't especially comfortable at where the conversation was now steering, but at least they had the savory smell of a delicious stew wafting in from the kitchen to ease their nerves. Heel became quiet once again, but this time he didn't look to be thinking so much as waiting for some response from them.

Makkar grunted and ran a hand through his beard. "The weapons, good chieftain, are mere tools against possible threats. We've been walking through ice and snow for a long time, and it's been even longer since we saw something without a beard... Well, something that isn't a woman or a child, anyway. Our judgment was clouded, for certain. We all swear on every god and ancestor, on our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, that we have no intention of harming your, uh, subjects. We will naturally also keep your village a dear secret to all others."

"Subjects! Ha!" He let out a bellowing laugh and slammed a fist on his table hard enough to made the wood creak. "I'm hardly a master now, just the biggest one here and the thing that they turn to for safety. I was once practically a king, though! Never been so miserable in my life. See, I come from the ogre territories in the mountains south. Never knew there were any other mountains in the far north; just thought it was grass and the sea, honest. Don't know why anybody would live so far up there where it must be even colder...but anyways, back to the story. I know how this world works, because they kept me in a cage and made me fight beasts and other ogres, sometimes to the death. I became a crowd favorite. Usually just used my fists, didn't need anything more. I was king of the arena, never lost a match, until the day one sot sliced open my heel so bad I could hardly walk. But by that point the crowd loved me too much and they couldn't just kill me and throw my body in the river. So they set me free and gave me a sack of gold for all the profit I'd brought them, and then I bought the freedom of all these halflings or their fathers, and we marched up here and have never looked back to that shitty place since."

He only paused to take another massive drink. "Been a long time since I've seen a forge," he finally continued, and then he looked at Makkar so intently that his giant eyes might well have bored holes through the dwarf. "You do a lot of promising. More than most, but I've never seen your kind before. Fair enough, I believe you, Makkar Stone. Just know that we've come too far to give up what we have now."

His rambling only ended when a tiny halfling girl, probably the one called Suzy, peeked out from the kitchen and announced that the stew was ready. With a few assistants, she brought out a great pot and started serving the assembled dwarves and halflings. Then they took some for themselves, and then they finally brought the entire pot with all the remaining contents (as well as a giant spoon) to Heel's table. The dwarves all collectively dug into their stew as if it was a mountain wall hiding a vein of gold. Makkar paused after a few spoonfuls and nodded at Heel. "Of course," he said. "A dwarf's honour is his life - to betray a friend is to betray family. The gods condemn treachery above all. My people will never forget this, good chieftain. We owe you our lives." Quana shoved another spoonful of soup into her mouth before whispering to Makkar, "So, how long did you conjure up -that- entry speech?" She flashed him a smirk. "Shut up and eat your stew, Quana..." he muttered.

Heel grunted through a mouthful as if he'd suddenly realized something. All the eyes turned to him as he swallowed, and then he announced, "Say, you came through the grasslands to get here? Must have. You're lucky you made it through alive." Makkar looked up from his stew again. "Aye, we did. The storm was bad, aye. Gods and ancestors walked along us on those cold nights."

"No, no, it's not the weather that I'd figured might nearly kill you. It's the natives. Arpaho, they call themselves. Surprised you didn't run into any; they wander all over the grasslands. Big, horned things. Some bigger than me. Know how to treat them and they can be agreeable though; I know a few of them that sometimes come here to trade."

Makkar chocked and coughed for a while. Meanwhile, Quana licked her bowl clean and looked up. "Big, horned things, you say? Nuh-uh, didn't see anything like that. Think we would've remembered if they're bigger than you, though. Can you tell us anything else about them?" she inquired. "Also, is there more stew?"

Heel narrowed his eyes at her second question and looked greedily down toward his own pot, but finally seemed to succumb to good manners. Although very reluctantly, he gestured her over and spooned some of his own stew into her bowl. Meanwhile, he rambled, "They seem pretty dumb to me. Arpaho will tell you that they've lived in those plains forever, yet you can look and see that they still run around with stone tools. They never build houses or settle down to farm and grow their food. They herd some big animals that look sorta like them but walk around on four legs instead of two; those beasts are pack animals used to carry their tents and supplies around. They run all around the plains in small tribes and families, looking for their favorite kind of grass. You'd think that all the grass would taste the same, but there's only one kind that the Arpaho will touch, and they know all the spots where it grows. So they run all over, circling around to their favorite grazing places and then moving on to others so that the grass has time to grow back. If you ever see the Arpaho, here's the one thing you've got to do: don't stare right at 'em. You can look off to the side and watch them out of the corner of your eye, but the moment your face points towards them, they'll charge. It's a sign of aggression among them to point their horns straight at one another, and I that they look at our noses sticking out from our faces and take 'em to be our horns. Dumb, like I told you."

Quana happily took her newly filled bowl and began slurping its contents loudly. Makkar, in the meantime, had stopped coughing and looked at Heel with a mixture of fear and disbelief on his face. "Well, that's bad. Quana, relay the message on not to look big things in the eyes from now on. Oh, except the good chieftain Heel, of course." He grinned at Heel. "Do they often come up north, by the way?"

Heel shrugged. "Not sure where they go. Don't get around to talking to them much; they smell bad, aren't nearly so polite as your kind, and have all those strange customs. If they didn't bring that sweet golden stuff around with them, I'd tell them to stay away from this forest for good and not even bother coming to trade."

"Sweet golden stuff?" Makkar inquired. More of the dwarves had moved in closer to listen. "None left to share," the ogre said, "Suzy mixed the last of it into my oatmeal this morning." Something about the ogre's tone was different and he seemed to be a little disingenuous with that claim, but perhaps it was best not to push it. "Oh, well, perhaps another time, then," Makkar proposed with a grin, followed by a yawn. Quana punched his shoulder lightly. "Oi, stay awake. Rude to fall asleep by the table, you clod." Makkar snapped to and nodded. "There was one more thing, good chieftain - one regarding the third favour. Is there somewhere close by we can procure food from? Perhaps through trade or work? All options are on the table, as far as we're concerned."

"Far be it from me to tell you not to look for those grasses that the Arpaho like to eat and harvest some of it for yourselves, but they might object. Beyond that you could...fish? Look for berries in the woods around here?" he shrugged after offering those suggestions. "Hardly anything in the grasslands or this forest, though. The only real food around here is our winter stores. I wouldn't feel loathe about trading some of the halflings' grain to you in exchange for the promise that you'll bring them some of those tools from your forges that you mentioned. It's been years since their bronze tools broke and we've hardly got any way to make new ones, so they've been stuck with flint and wooden tools. But I bet you could make good bronze, yes?"

Many of the dwarves stood up and cheered. Quana and Makkar, while looking very excited themselves, did their best to calm down the warm-spirited dwarves. Makkar then nodded at Quana, who beckoned a large, chestnut-bearded dwarf over from the crowd. Even after days in the snow, this one seemed to have permanent stains of soot and ash in his beard and on his clothes: a true Steel Union smith. The dwarf pulled out a large axe from a holster on his back and handed it to Quana, who stepped on top of the bench she was sitting on and held the axe up for all to see.

"This is Hammersworn steel - one of the few of its kind after the Calamity! Urdo here spent weeks getting the layers of the axe head just right. Provided it does not rust, this axe will last for a lifetime with proper maintenance." She lowered her arm and proceeded to extend her hands holding the axe shaft first out to the nearest halfling. "Consider this the start of many great things to come."

And as that steel hatchet's head glistened in the light of the hearth's crackling fire, Heel squinted at its shine for a few moments before waving a hand dismissively. "Too shiny," he declared, "Looks pretty, yes, but your strange 'steel' must be a soft treasure metal like silver or gold. What we need is good bronze!"

All the dwarves raised their eyebrows collectively at the giant, and then burst into a deafening chorus of laughter and cackling. Quana herself had to wipe a tear or two off her face. Makkar stood up and tried to quiet everyone down as to not be insulting to their host; however, it seemed he had little luck quelling the well-spirited collective guffaw. Once the laughter finally began to die down enough, Quana shouted, "You mean you'd rather take bronze over steel?! Not even a world-eyes would do something so stupid!" She continued to laugh until she was interrupted by a snowball hitting the back of her head. She turned around in a raging fury. "Alright, who threw that?!" From the back of the crowd, she saw two dwarves from the Union of Phosphorous sprint towards the door. Quana let out a warcry, left the axe on the table, jumped off her chair and charged after them. The drunken sheriffs at the other end of the table, thus far having kept so much to themselves that it'd have been easy to forget their presence altogether, looked over and collectively winced at Quana's remark. Then when the fight began to break out they descended into the dwarves' midst to break it up, albeit not without getting in a few good punches of their own that hardly seemed necessary.

For his part Heel gritted his teeth at being called stupid by Quana, but as one of the red-coated halflings threw her down, he sat back in his chair and seemed to feel a bit better about the whole ordeal. He overlooked the slight and answered, "Bronze is a mighty metal. The Gordok Kingdom mastered it long ago, and that's what let them conquer half a dozen other ogre tribes!" That history lesson was punctuated by him scooping up one of the last bits of stew from his ridiculously huge helping that'd been half the batch. "What's 'steel' ever done?" Makkar gave the floored Quana a quick glare, while she was busy trying to get the halfling off of her. He was about to speak when the young lad from the Copper Union stepped up and gave the ogre a deep bow. "Forgive my elder sister, good chieftain, for she has not been this happy for many, many weeks, perhaps over a moon. None of us have, and for that, we are ever grateful." The young lad remained bowing. "However, while she was quite improper in the delivery of her statement, the claim stands true: Steel compared to bronze is like stone compared to bone. A plow made from steel will reap a thousand more fields than one made from bronze. While the process to make it is perhaps more sophisticated, the main component of steel, iron, can be found almost anywhere. My parents and siblings of the Bronze Union know all of their metal's strengths and weaknesses, and they can tell you that, in terms of strength, it pales in comparison to steel." The present unionists of Bronze all nodded to support the lad's claim.

"So prove it to me," the chieftain rumbled as he he offered an outstretched hand to catch the (comparatively) tiny axe. Makkar, who was closer to the axe, grabbed it and handed it to the lad, who then handed it to the giant. "Introduce yourself, lad!" Makkar whispered loudly. The lad straightened up and added, "Oh, terribly sorry for not introducing myself, by the way. I am Joron the Younger, son of Logmaster Joron Scroll." Makkar raised an eyebrow, as did many of the others. He did not know Joron had a son; although, thinking about it more, he found it hard to imagine that old heap of bones and beard thought of anything other than his logs and the gods.

The ogre nodded to acknowledge Joron, but kept his eyes and attention fixated upon the axe. When he turned it over in his hands, he pushed a finger into the edge. Nothing. Then he rubbed it up the edge and a few droplets of blood fell down as a bit of skin broke. He looked towards the sheriff that even now was continuing to restrain a struggling Quana. Halfway out of mercy for her, he beckoned for his henchman to stop. "Get me a log of firewood."

The halfling vanished to some other room to procure it, and when he returned he laid it upon the table before Heel. The ogre effortlessly used the axe to cleave the log clean in half, but considering his bulk and strength, he likely could've done as much with an axe of paper. Still, he examined how clean and smoothly the axe had made its way through the log, noted how the axe had neither warped nor lost its edge, and then he seemed satisfied. "Ha! You speak truth. Today I learn."

He made an attempt to wipe off the remaining blood on it, then passed the thing back to Joron. "This 'steel' will do just fine towards upholding your part of the bargain, even if the farmers out there might gripe about wanting the familiarity of bronze."

There came another collective cheer from the dwarves. Quana, who had gotten to her feet again with a furious glare, was once again knocked to the ground by a couple of dwarves hopping and skipping around on the floor in a festive jig. Luckily Makkar was ready to hold Quana back by the time she tracked down the culprit. The dancers soon inspired more to join, and soon, nearly every dwarf was on the floor kicking, jumping and clapping in celebration. Those that had yet to join the dancers instead broke out into song. Quana felt her anger subside at the unfamiliarity of this warm, cozy atmosphere and shortly after, she was also dancing and singing. The chieftain looked mildly entertained at the spectacle. A few of the sheriffs joined in with the dwarves, even if they were too intoxicated to understand what they were doing. The dwarves looked happy to have more join.

The jig ran on for quite a while, but one by one, the dwarves felt their exhausted bodies give in to fatigue. Quana let out a loud yawn, wiped some sweat off her forehead, and sat down next to Makkar. Some of the sheriffs were already making themselves comfortable laying down on the benches or in odd corners by the wall nearest the fire; judging by the furs and blankets strewn around, they all had their favorite spots. "Well I'll let you, uh..." Heel tried to remember what they were called, just barely managing to recall,"...dwarves get your rest. Find a spot, anywhere's fine. I'll find Suzy and ask her to bring more furs." Makkar echoed Quana's yawn and nodded. "We truly appreciate it, good chieftain." Makkar stood up and turned to the rest of the dwarves. "Alright, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters - grab some furs and lay down wherever." The dwarves lined up to get some furs and, pretty much, laid down wherever. Makkar reserved a good spot on the bench he had been sitting on by leaving his hammer there. However, when he came back with his newly acquired sleeping furs, he found his hammer on the ground and a snoring Quana on the bench. He muttered angrily to himself and rolled out his furs next to his hammer, where he then proceeded to lay down.

Orr'gavol: The Hammersworn - Turn 7

Summary below:

In the great hall of Whitepeak Bastion:

Finally, Kadol thought. It was finally his time to follow the iron shipment home and get to eat something other than mouldy bark bread and bat bone broth. Still, however, he felt that his respite could not last too long - his gaze turned west, towards the mines. He recalled the words of Godrim Thunderhowler that day on the mountain.

"The Golumnar clan?" Kadol scratched his bandaged head. "You mean the Children of the Mountain, right? The Golungyr?" Godrim shook his head, his transparent beard dancing in the wind despite its apparent incorporeality.

"Nae, lad. Ye heard me right 'n ye heard nothin' wrong. The Children o' the Mountain were, well, mere children to the Clan, ye see. Before Holek the Last, ye see, there was-..."

"Wait, what?" Kadol interjected. "Who's this 'Holek the Last'? Is he related to Holek the Misled?" Godrim raised an eyebrow and scratched his head.

"Holek the Misled? Lad, I know but one Holek, 'n he was the last. There is no such dwarf as-..." The ghost's face froze, and slowly began to contort into a furious frown. "Popomel," he snapped. Kadol raised a brow.

"What? What did Popomel do?" Godrim stomped through the snow towards Kadol. The ghost then passed by him and slammed his fist into the mountain wall with a raging roar. The resulting quake caused a panicking ruckus from inside the mine, and bells of alarm clanged almost as hard as tools of the miners slamming against the ground as their owners sprinted for the exit. Kadol stood frozen in fear at the ghost, who turned to the young dwarf with eyes like bonfires.

"That cursed filth, my lad, is the reason we're still down here..."

The ghost pointed to the far off peaks to the east, and Kadol followed his finger with his eyes and gazed upon the mighty Ancestor Mountains.

"... And not up there."

In the Hovel:

Osman walked down the soot-shaded, snow-clad streets of the Hovel. The Hovel, he thought and spat. Such a disgusting name for something so magnificent. The smithies around him were filled to the brim with dwarves working every fiber of their being into their craft. So many as six were manning the bellows, blowing air on the coals until they nearly melted the forge itself; lines stretched out the doorways with eager workers carrying lignite and iron ore to feed the fires of industry; so many as four hammers were working one piece of metal. Everyone was overjoyed at the return of their most vital metal.

Almost everyone.

An old dwarf collapsed in the middle of the line. The dwarf in front of him and the one behind him dropped the resources in their arms and each grabbed one of the fallen one's arms, but only one could muster the strength to lift. It seemed one of helpers also was too weak. Osman eyebrows hung low like cliff over his two bloodshot eyes, and the broad, muscled dwarf treaded over through the blackened snow, grabbed each of the fallen and, mustering all his strength, heaved them both at once back on their feet. They looked upon Osman in deep gratitude, but Osman recoiled somewhat. The two dwarves, one male and one female, had skin pale as the snow, and eyes encircled by black rings. The male's beard grew in patches, and much of it was missing. Upon seeing Osman's reaction, the two instinctively hid their faces in their hands, allowing Osman to see their loose clothes brush against their arms that to the eye seemed but skin and bones. Osman stepped back and took a look around. More had turned to see the noise, and Osman saw the many faces of his people - some were healthy, but many showed signs of disease and hunger. The foreman blinked and cleared his throat. He commanded the dwarves to get back to work and stormed towards the great hall.

The council meeting had yet to begin. It seemed to be supper, with some representatives sitting in their respective seats eating bark cakes and cave mushroom stew. The present representatives were Makkar Stone, Ra'ol Cave, and a coughing Khyber Tin, who was being spoonfed stew by his apprentice Roka. At the arrival of the Foreman, Makkar gave a quiet nod; Ra'ol, who looked to have grown considerably thinner during his mission to construct Whitepeak Bastion, gave a sharp grunt; Khyber gave Osman an intense look and, with the help of Roka, came to a standing position.

"Good foreman... How's winter treating you?" Osman sat down on his chair in the middle of the hall and a servant came over with a bowl of stew and a bark biscuit. Osman slurped the stew and coughed at the flavour - Khyber made a grin of all too few teeth. Makkar shot the hacking foreman a glance before going back to, seemingly, scratching lines on the wooden table with a sharp rock. Ra'ol leaned against a wooden beam, his arms crossed over his chest. After finally seizing control over his breathing again, Osman took another cringing sip.

"As well as it's treating everyone else, I reckon," Osman replied. Khyber scoffed loudly, causing Roka to jump and spill soup on the floor. "Bah, don't waste precious food, you klutz! We have little enough already! Give me another biscuit." Khyber spat. Roka gave a shivering nod and put some more bark biscuits into the lukewarm stew for them to soften. Osman felt his appetite slowly fade and he put his bowl on the nearby table. A quiet moment passed, occasionally interrupted by Khyber's lips smacking together over a limp bark biscuit. Osman turned to Ra'ol.

"Ra'ol Cave, I didn't hear your report as you returned this morning. How went the construction?" Ra'ol turned to Osman and rolled his shoulders. He walked over to his chair, sat down and breathed gently in.

"Aye, I'm afraid I didn't have the time. My sisters, brothers, daughters and sons were all exhausted from the journey back home and I had to see them fed and rested." He smiled and gave Osman a nod. Osman gave an uncertain nod.

"I see. It is just important to stick to protocol. Our council cannot function unless we are all up to date on-..."

"Yes, I get it, foreman. I will see to it next time. This time was an exception, I swear."

"I am just saying-..."

"Do you know what you cast us into, foreman?!" Ra'ol roared, springing up to his feet, his eyes matching his fiery hair. Osman recoiled, his eyes wide with surprise. "Not a minute passed that we did not look to the sky. Our sons and daughters cried themselves to sleep every night, thinking of the Abductor. We even found our sister Meghen Slab hiding in the iron mines. Later, we found Grem Wood and Egor Stone doing the same. We had to have twenty sentries at all times to ensure desertion didn't happen - that is almost a third of our Union!" The following silence was only broken by Ra'ol's heavy breathing. Osman's jaw made small movements, as if formulating words that had no sound to back them up.

"Additionally, the... The number of frostbites and work accidents were devastating, foreman. We... We won't be able to do much for a while, I'm afraid." Tears formed in the dwarf's tired eyes. "Forgive us." Ra'ol pounded his chest weakly with his fist, which Osman now saw was missing a finger, and the dwarf walked out, looking utterly defeated. Osman fell back into his chair. Makkar hid his face as he wiped his eyes, and Khyber merely stared into the empty room, while Roka sat crying beside him. Even as the other council members made their way into the great hall, the atmosphere remained just as somber. As Osman said the words and the meeting was opened, the reports from left and right made it clear that, even though the dwarves' pursuit of iron ore had finally began to bear fruits, other resources grew ever scarcer.

"With the furnaces working iron all day, we simply cannot begin development of the Thunderhorn, good foreman," said Erima Rock.

"Disease is spreading in many of the longhouses, foreman. We must designate a single longhouse for quarantine," proposed Joron Scroll.

"The roads to the west mine remain too uneven and irregular for proper transport of ore, good foreman. They must be improved posthaste," said Quana Forge.

Osman sat in the chair with his face in his hands. He felt a surge in his belly - his stew had not gone down easily, and the biscuits wouldn't do his body much good either. He let out a shivering sigh and turned to Makkar Stone, who looked back at him with his tired, racoon-ringed eyes.

"Makkar Stone of the Union of Earth, step forward." The dwarf stood up and stepped forward. He saluted by placing his flat palm on his chest. "Yes, good foreman?" he muttered. Osman grunted.

"How much food do we have left in our barns?"

"What barns?"

"Our storages, whatever. How much food, Makkar?" Osman snapped.

"You know as well as all of us how much we have left. We eat bark and bones. If we don't do something soon, we will have to make porridge from sawdust and steak from boot soles. After that, soup from our rags and pine needle tea. We have conserved all there is to conserve, foreman. We've eaten bread until the only crumbs were left, and used the crumbs to bake crackers. We must sent a large expedition to the south in search of more food."

Osman looked around the hall. Yes, every Union had their own case to make and their own points to be heard, but it was clear none had gone to sleep on a full belly in weeks.

"So be it. Every Union will dispense as many dwarves as they can. Makkar Stone, you know the surface lands the best, so I charge you with leading our people to a source of food. Bring it back here to us, and you shall be honoured beyond-!"

"I do not do this for honour, foreman. I do this for our people - and done, it shall be. By all the gods and ancestors on the Golumnar, my fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, I swear it." The dwarf saluted again and was met with the first cheer the Hovel had heard in weeks. Makkar walked out of the great hall with a crowd in tow, and from the outside, orders were barked left and right. A few of the councillors remained, among them Joron Scroll, who looked to Osman.

"A wise order, good foreman. Poorly formulated, but wise. However, there is still the question of what to do with the sick."

"With almost the entirety of the Hovel going south to look for food, many longhouses will be empty. We will put them in the warmest one and make sure they get as much food as we can spare."

Joron nodded. "As you wish, foreman. Herim Glass, walk with me, will you? We must discuss division of rations." Herim, who had stood beside Osman, nodded and followed Joron out of the great hall.

Osman put his face in his hands again. From the outside, voices calling for sleds and thick clothes. Many hundred prayers were spoken that night - the riverlands to the south were unknown territory to most Hammersworn. A mere thought was all that guided this mission, but desperation nonetheless led Makkar to lead almost three hundred dwarves onto the uncharted plains - and perhaps even beyond the Darr.
Orr'gavol: The Hammersworn - Turn 6

Summary below:

In the mountains to the west:

Kadol reached for his forehead and wiped it clean of sweat, leaving behind a trail of rapidly melting ice crystals that had formed on his raggedy goat-wool gloves. Despite the storm carving at the stones outside the mine and the freezing air inside it, the labour kept the young dwarf warmer than any hearth could make him. His mining helmet sat crooked upon his head due to the bandage on his head - one hastily tied after he was found unconscious by the troll skull. While the trauma was minimal, it would be best to keep the small wound out of the sharp wind. He shrugged some weariness out of his shoulders and picked up his pickaxe again.

"Kadol, our son." Kadol turned his head slowly and saw Qorr Coal's broad, rounded shadow in the tunnel behind him. The dwarf crouched low under the cave ceiling and waddled over. He handed Kadol a waterskin and a loaf of bark bread. The young dwarf gave a quite mutter at the ration, but a sharp snort and a stern nod from Qorr prevented it from becoming anything more.

"How's your head, son?"

"It's really nothing. I've known worse pains, our father," Kadol affirmed.

Qorr nodded in approval. "I didn't just bring the bread, you see. Godrim Thunderhowler called for you. It seems he has taken an interest in you, son. Now, eat up and come along. He's waiting outside." Kadol raised a fair brow and gobbled the stale, boring bread up to the best of his ability. At least the waterskin held ale. He joined the larger dwarf and crawled out into the icy storm. While eyes saw no further than ten metres in this storm, Godrim's ethereal presence seemed to almost exist in a plane far more diverse than what mere eyes could see - even the blind could sense his presence. The dwarf flashed a ghostly grin of teeth, a few of whose neighbours had disappeared over the years.

"Ye're no whelp, lad, I'll give ye that. Lucky or no', that was a loooong fall - and 'ere ye're right back at work. How do you do it?"

Kadol was taken aback by the statement. It was uncertain whether it was the cold or the ghost he was talking to, but he felt his body tense up. He tried to formulate a sentence. In the meanwhile, Qorr dropped a low, "I'll leave you two be," and stepped back into the mine, pickaxe resting on his colossal right shoulder.

"Did ye freeze already? I swear, I've truly lost me concept of time..." the old ghost mumbled.

Kadol snapped to. "Of course not. I'm just a little tired, is all." The ghost waited patiently. "There is no secret. I wasn't that hurt by the fall, and so I could get back to work. Nothing much, our father." Godrim chuckled to himself. "Our father," he snickered. Kadol raised an eyebrow.

"What first made me realise ye was of me own kind was ye lot callin' me that very word. It made me realise the east never really did give up on ol' king Holek's faith in the ancestor gods. That's a relief. The days grew gray and sad in the hills when those rumours reached us, aye..." Thunderhowler's eyes turned to the storm and seemed to stare beyond the veil of snow on the wind. Kadol looked dumbfounded and stepped closer, raising his voice a little.

"No, you've misunderstood. Not even the Union of Copper believes in these... Ancestor gods. No one does. The gods -and- ancestors on the Golumnar, yes, but... It's merely a title we use out of respect for-..."

"Misunderstood, have I?" Godrim gave out an echoing cackle that Kadol could've sworn shook the mountain somewhat. "Nae, this ol' man has walked this world longer than any livin' dwarf, and I know clanspeak when I hear it." Kadol stuttered, "Clanspeak, our father?"

Godrim nodded. "Aye, laddie. Let me tell ye a bit about the Golumnar Clan..."

Back in the Hovel, in the House of the Union of Bronze:

The last of the dwarves were forcing themselves through the crack in the doorway, which door was blocked by snow. They popped into the room one by one, occasionally leaving behind strands of beard and hair hanging in the wooden splinters along the planks of the door and its doorframe. The reports of the recent affairs had just been presented, and that familiar sense of impending doom hung over the crowd like a blinding blanket, resulting in a cacophony of incoherent ramblings and arguments disguised as poor debate. Osman Slag attempted to quell the cacophony, but his words were mere puffs of air against the wall of panic in front of him. Khyber Tin was absent - the old dwarf had come down with a terrible fever in the cold. In his place was a young, bark-haired dwarf, a third of Khyber's age: the Hammermaster's assistant and personal apprentice, Roka. She looked utterly stunned at the moment, incapable of silencing the ruckus as her master could. In the end, it was Quana Forge of the Union of Steel who brought the room to silence by breaking one of the longtables in half with the strike of her gavel. She had been called back, along with a group of her unionists, for a purpose she still did not know - and she grew furious at the thought of leaving her people behind at the mercy of the Abductor.

"Be silent, you oafs!" she roared. "A little bad news and you panic like sheep before slaughter. What has happened to you all? Winter is barely here, but you've grown soft like old carrots. What happened to the skin of the Hammersworn, huh?!" She struck at the table once more. A dwarf sitting by her gave a low whimper. "Let's not forget that, no matter the harshness the gods have thrown at us, we've always persevered. Time and time again, we've stood against challenges like this one, perhaps worse than this one, and succeeded. We've-...!"

"Oh, shut up with your empty words, Quana. We've had bad winters, yes, but this Abductor is a whole new factor in the ever-decreasing chance we have for survival," Erima Rock of the Union of Phosphorous hissed. "Unless the Union of Copper has been keeping secrets from the rest of us, and they certainly have..." A collective snarl came from the Copper Union. "... We've never had to face this terror before. We've no records on how to defeat it, nor any weapons with which to do so, either. We must simply pull back all our miners and try to come up with a solution here."

"Can you not see that we need iron to -make- those weapons, Magister?" Quana snarled back and struck her hammer into a poor, splintered plank of what was once the fine table. Erima's lips carved a smirk on her aging face, and she took off her appraisal goggles, giving the glass lenses a gentle polish with the hem of her azure robe.

"But, dear sister, it appears I was wrong. The solution is right there - you'd slay the beast in but a mere strike! I mean, look at the mess you made of the table!" Quana's skin grew visibly red and her teeth could have ground gravel into sand. Osman lifted a hand, but could not say anything before Daven Glint of the Bronze Union stepped forward.

"The Magister may have a point," the grey-bearded, white-robed dwarf said. Quana would have tackled him to the ground had not her fellow Steel unionists held her back, but Daven lifted a palm of peace. "I did not mean her attitude, which, to be perfectly honest, Magister Erima Rock, is quite unbecoming of you." Erima Rock turned away with a huff. Daven continued. "I did, however, notice the strength in your blows, our daughter Quana Forge. As you all know, dear fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, the scale has tipped - and not in our favour. We all feel it; we all see it. The Duality has been off balance since the Calamity, and it is time to pull luck closer to us once more." He snapped his fingers and two other dwarves, both robed in white, came forward with a thick stack of paper held together by woolen thread, forming a coverless manuscript. They set it down on the central table, which was thankfully still intact.

"I assume that you are all familiar with our Lawscript." There came a collective sigh from the crowd. Daven chuckled. "Good. Good foreman Osman Slag, we beseech you." Osman rubbed his temples and looked up. Seeing all the eyes glaring his way made beads of sweat form on his face. He started his talking, cleared his throat, and tried again. "Yes?" he voiced. Daven nodded.

"Good foreman. As scholars and debaters of the philosophies and the laws of our people, we have come with a proposal to, if not handle, at least better reinforce ourselves against the Abductor menace. We propose a change to chapter on war and military activities in times of peace's paragraph ten." Osman groaned and waved a hand. "Which regards what?" he muttered loudly. "Regarding laws of conscription, good foreman," Daven said patiently. Osman leaned forward and rested his chin on his fists, his fat nose laying on top of his dirty knuckles like a potato on rugged soil.

"Very well. What would you like to change it to?" he finally said. Daven opened the manuscript and flipped through the pages until he reached the one he wanted. He snapped his fingers again and once of his assistants brought an inkwell and a pointy stick.

"We propose to add forced military training for all adults once every week. A day shall be chosen when no hammer strikes hot metal, but instead strikes shield and hauberk. Let every father, mother, sister and brother learn how to toss a javelin or swing an axe. We're used to banging at rocks that will never move unless we make them - we must broaden our skills and use them to better defend ourselves. Such is our proposal, foreman. What say you?" There was a long silence. Golaq Gold of the Union of Gold seized the moment and stepped forth, placing his lean, toned stature next to Daven's older, frailer one. He ran a hand through his golden beard and flashed Osman a grin of teeth engraved with beautiful markings and runes.

"Good foreman. While I absolutely agree with the Great Thinker's proposal to make us do all that running in the woods and stabbing at dummies and yadda-yadda-yadda, I must raise an important point. Halting all production for one day will severely damage production speed - which already is at an all time low for our people. Of course, defense is important, but what's there to defend if not our lives' works?" He shrugged and looked around the hall. There were occasional nods among the heads in the crowd. "I propose we find a different solution," he added. Daven nodded patiently and thanked Golaq for bringing his argument into the debate, to which Golaq smirked and bowed low, almost mockingly low, before the older dwarf.

"No, I prefer the Great Thinker's idea, Golaq. We can delay the production a little. It's not as if we have tons of ore to be worked at the moment. We can resume full scale production once the menace has been dealt with," Osman declared. Golaq, turning red with a mix of fury and embarrassment, merely straightened himself up, nodded and stomped back to his union. Daven Glint bowed before Osman and thanked him dearly. He made some corrections in the manuscript before dusting the ink with fine sand and closing the manuscript. He returned back to his union afterwards, followed by the two assistants who carried the Lawscript.

"However," Osman added, "I still agree that we must find an additional solution. Joron Scroll of the Copper Union, step forward." The old, white-bearded dwarf stepped forward and bowed before the foreman. He had a joyous look in his eyes that fit none of his usual characteristics. Osman motioned for him to speak and the Logmaster took out a newly written scroll.

"Firstly, good foreman, we would like to congratulate you. We have, indeed, found a clue about how to unlock the ancient art of runesmithing. In the long run, that may be a way to defeat the cruel Abductor. This 'sorcerer-king' may be our salvation, one to bring runesmithing back into this world and usher in our next great age. However, we must first thoroughly research the 'ice king'..."

"Ice king?" Osman inquired. "Is that some cryptic character your disks keep mentioning?" Joron cleared his throat and took out the disk from which his team and he had made their discovery. He read the verse aloud and clearly for all to hear. The reception was mixed, some nodding and cheering in approval, others getting very uncertain after hearing about the ice king's deceptive nature. Joron looked up at Osman, who seemed to be leaning more towards uncertainity.

"As I was saying, more research is required before we can trace the path of the sorcerer-king. There is, however, one more solution." Joron rolled out the scroll he had pulled forth earlier and revealed a drawing - or more specifically, a diagram of some sort of instrument. He beckoned over Erima Rock, who reluctantly shuffled over to stand by Joron's tall, skinny stature, and Roka, assistant to Khyber Tin, who had gathered herself somewhat from earlier and strode over with her head held high. She placed herself on the opposite side from Erima. Joron put the schematic down on the table in front of Osman and the foreman examined it thoroughly.

"We call it the Thunderhorn, good foreman. Modeled and shaped to produce the loudest possible sound any instrument can make, we shall use it in the same way as Godrim Thunderhowler shouts to keep the Abductor away from our miners. The Union of Mithril's mastery of craftsmanship will ensure that the schematic the Phosphorous Union in collaboration with us of the Union of Copper drafted, will be followed to the most miniscule detail. However, in order to work the metals required for it, we will need better forges and smithies - good foreman, we beseech you-..." Joron's proposal was interrupted by a guffaw from Osman. The Logmaster and his companions were left somewhat deflated, but Osman waved and wiped a tear. "No, no, I love it, Logmaster. It's just that your plan could not have fit my own any better. Quana Forge, Golaq Gold, get up here." The two dwarves stepped out from the crowd in a hurry - both looking to have calmed down from earlier fits of rage, at least enough that it wasn't visible anymore. Quana Forge raised her fist in greeting and Golaq Gold punched his fists together and bowed in Gold Union fashion.

"Your assignment, Quana and Golaq, will be to expand the smithies and improve the forges post-haste. Made the forges bigger so they can burn more brown coal at the same time - make the blowers three times bigger. The coals shall not have any shade redder than orange when burning, is that clear? We shall make the lignite smelt iron even if we'll have to blow on it with our own mouths." Quana's face lit up with joy. She gave a loud and honest salute and swore that she would complete her task post-haste; Golaq did not seem as eager, but he still swore his oath properly. Joron, Erima and Roka also appeared to be satisfied.

"We will get to preparing the materials, our father Logmaster," Roka said. She pulled her hammer out of her belt and raised it in Mithril Union salute and shouted, "Glory to the Heaven Smith and the Forge-Saints - and their blessings upon the Hammersworn." Her shout was met with cheers from the crowd. Joron and Erima both seemed pleased and gave each other a nod characterised by something that could almost be called respect. They said their oaths and walked out with their respective Unions.

The remaining dwarves debated and talked for a while before the rations were divided up and each went about their business once more. Every Hammersworn dwarf did, however, feel a charge in the air. This new threat in the west had everyone on edge - within everyone's heart lurked a prayer that spring would come sooner rather than later.
Orr'gavol: The Hammersworn - Turn 5

Summary below:

This was the first time the longhouse felt cold. The walls were as thick and tight as always - not even the whistles of the wind ran through the tar-filled cracks between the planks and stone. The coals in the central hearth glowed with heat and light as usual, yet the air was as chilling as the outdoors. Neither debate nor dispute rustled through it; merely frightened whispers dared venture out into the room. The full hall had never felt emptier. The silence remained even as Osman Slag came out from the back room. He scanned the faces of his people - they told different stories - some long, others short; some involving a family, others involving a life's work - but all had the same conclusion: Death. Osman sat down in his chair, ran a hand through his long, black beard, and cleared his throat.

"Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters. I, foreman Osman Slag of the Union of Steel, declare this meeting of Unions to be open. All mouths will speak, all ears will hear, all minds will think. Our agenda today is once again long and may very well decide the future of our people. Let us begin." Osman raised his fist in Steel Union salute. Each Union saluted back in their own way.

"I trust we have all heard Logmaster Joron Scroll's report. Against my better judgment, I let him take Kadol, Mehmel Flame and Qorr Coal to the western hills to investigate what many of us thought was but silly younglingspeak. I see now that I was in the wrong - let it be said once more: I was in the wrong. When even the world-eyes return with tales of ghosts, it is clear that we have strayed too far from reality. Our time in the mountain deep has made many of us blind to the world of the spirits - a world our ancestors knew well. While we can debate long and hard about whether we have angered the spirits, none can dispute one fact: We have forgotten them. This must change at this instant. I, foreman Osman Slag, lay the following suggestion before the council: The world-eyes movement is, from now on, banned." A sudden collective roar of fury shot out from the Union of Phosphorous and some members from nearly every other Union.

"Foreman, you are being irrational. Yes, we, too, were in the wrong and taunted our brothers and sisters needlessly even though they spoke nothing by truth - but there is no need to-" Erima Rock said desperately.

"You world-eyes often speak of others' reluctance to accept the alchemical truth. You shun those of your own who believe in all that cannot be seen with one's eyes. If spirits that can be seen exist, we must accept that spirits who cannot be seen, also may exist. Therefore, we can no longer allow the further existence of your movement," Osman replied. In the crowd, Joron Scroll and Daven Glint, representative from the Bronze Union, nodded in approval. Erima lowered her head and gestured for the rowdy world-eyes to calm down.

"Joron Scroll. Step forth. I asked you to take your wisest and discover for us the story of this Godrim Thunderhowler. Have you come to a discovery yet?"

Joron stepped forward. A pair of assistants each came bearing a small stack of copper disks, many of them green with age, and placed them down on the table. Afterwards, another pair each brought a bundle of parchment scrolls, one of them looking ripped and mouldy. Joron cleared his throat and runmaged through the documents and disks until he found the oldest disk and the oldest scroll. He gently removed the band keeping the scroll rolled neatly and calmly rolled it out, clearing his throat once more before reading:

"Mountain yonder, clad in snow; tell me why my city burns; Orr'gavol, the shadow spurns; taste for blood, eyes that glow."

Joron put the scroll down and reached for a moss-green copper disk. He rubbed it gently with a fold of his robe and began reading:

"When the Golumnara looked down and saw the Umnastarr, their hearts grew hot with fury and their minds black with rage. Disgusted with the arrogance of the Gol'ungyr, the Golumnara struck down the mountains in the west and in the north, unleashing a thousand days of ice and death upon the Valley of the Darr. Shards like tusks of beasts rained from the heavens on weary Gol'ungyr bodies, waves of snow and frost flushed through the valley like a tide - a tide fat with ravenous sharks."

Joron put down the disk. At this point, many of the dwarves around had leaned so far in they were figuratively lying on top of the tables. Osman drummed his fingers impatiently. Joron dug through the pile once again and pulled out a slightly newer, yet still rather green, disk from the pile. He brushed some dust off it and began reading:

"Popomel the First was right in his mission to undo the Umnastarr, but even the destruction of the stairway to the heavens could not soothe the fury on the Golumnar's peak. His line was snapped early for his ignorance - merely forbidding the sacrilege of surmounting Golumnar was a meagre attempt to please those ever-holy on high. Meagre, meagre, meagre. We saw, yes, we all felt the punishment of the Golumnara: A winter not only in the form of frost, but in fear. The demons came from the north and west - brought our every home to ruin. Eyes like kindling coals; tusks like spears of steel; mind set on naught but the flesh of us sinners."

Joron put down the second disk. He declared that there was one more document to present before he could share his conclusion. He picked up a final scroll, this one looking surprisingly new. He pulled the black ribbon sealing the scroll off and unrolled it.

"Six were chosen out of us; one of every folk; given axe, given shield; given all that they may wield; placed in hills, placed in caves; placed to guard us 'gainst the waves.
Hark, the horn of death is blown; one for every guard; ancestors, holy gods - give us all that we may wield; fight in hills, fight in caves; here we die against the waves.

Joron put down the scroll. His assistants came over and began to clean the table of the documents and disks. Joron stepped closer to the centre of the room and looked around. Half the crowd looked very confused; the other half looked to have some fear mixed in with the confusion. Joron nodded at Osman, who looked somewhat confused himself. Joron sighed and lifted his hand.

"My fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, we have studied the few texts and logs we managed to salvage after the Calamity. Our research have brought us to the harrowing conclusion that our people's history with the gruesome winters of old here in the valley of the Darr, may not only have been characterised by ice and snow. With the words of Godrim Thunderhowler as an addition to our research and the discovery of the skulls below the mountains to the west, we propose the idea that our people never fell to merely the cold - there was something else out there. This scourge that the logs and scrolls keep mentioning. This wave of death, of sharks, of demons. We cannot say for now exactly what these are, but the gods know, we must prepare ourselves. Thunderhowler's spirit spoke of 'evils of this world', and we cannot go on pretending that these do not exist. Good foreman, history's truth is that the gods are cruel in their nature, and that is the way we must see them - cruel and very, very real. Foreman, I propose we begin sacrificise of food, craftsmanship and animals to the gods, as we did in ages past. Only then-..."

"We will do no such thing, Joron Scroll," Osman retorted curtly. "Our supplies are stretched thin already, even thinner if we add the potential threat of an invasion."

"What will we do then, good foreman?" Joron pleaded. "If we do not attempt to please the gods in hopes of a lighter punishment, then we must prepare for their icy wrath."

Osman nodded. He pointed to the last of the scrolls and disks that the assistants were busy carrying back to the house of the Union of Copper.

"Runesmithing. You will take our finest scholars and you will find some way to unlock the ancient arts of runesmithing. That is sure to give us an edge in a coming conflict." Joron looked dumbfounded, uncharacteristically so. Some dwarves in the crowd began discussing whether the foreman had lost his mind, some even laughed.

"Good foreman, correct me if I heard wrong - you commanded me to uncover the secrets of runesmithing?" Joron repeated.

"And by your fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, you shall complete this mission," Osman affirmed, looking as serious as he always did, if not a little stern. Joron's brow rose in disbelief.

"Foreman, I am not certain if you understand - runesmithing has not been practiced since the time of Popomel the Second, and even then, most of the techniques of the ancient times were forgotten. Even if we had all the scrolls and logs in Gol'kharumm, we would likely never uncover anything!"

"You have been given your command, Logmaster. You shall take the Union of Phosphorous and the Union of Glass with you. Together, the three Unions will uncover the secret to saving our people. Now go." Joron Scroll of the Copper, Erima Rock of the Phosphorous Union, and Herim Ore of the Glass Union all looked equially unwilling to do as commanded, but a certain hint of curiousity glinted all their eyes. Just maybe, they thought. They said their oath aloud and left the hall with their respective unions. Osman fell back into his chair and scratched his arm. Khyber Tin of the Mithril Union stood up with some difficulty and looked at Osman.

"That was foolish, foreman. Runesmithing has been a myth for centuries, and now you set nearly a third of our people and nearly all of our greatest minds on the task of chasing a legend. I pray to the Heaven Smith and all the Forge-Saints that this produces the results you hope for. Otherwise, you have wasted the valuable time we do not have." He gave an angry grunt before he got up and left the hall, along with the rest of the Mithril Union. Osman felt beads of sweat form on his forehead. Was the stress finally getting to him? He pushed the thought away when Quana Forge stood up.

"Foreman, there is still the issue of the magnatite in the western mountains. The spirit, while bearing ill news, is a friend to our people. We can therefore finally begin mining the iron we need. However, with the snows having settled, travel there will be hard. We must plan proper, efficient routes and get that iron as soon as possible."

Osman pondered this for a second and gave an agreeing nod. "I approve of your proposal, Quana. You shall command the Union of Silver to help you plan an efficient network of paths until spring comes and we can begin constructing roads. Until then, use wooden roads and bridges where the snow gets too deep or too treacherous. Igura Water of the Union of Silver. You have heard your task. You and your union will aid Quana Forge and the Union of Steel in constructing the road to the new western mine, and by your fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, you shall complete this mission."

Igura Water, a young, fair-haired dwarf of a thin, slim build, stepped forward and courtesied in the Silver Union style. Her fingers were armoured with gold and silver rings; her neck was heavy with necklaces; her robes were wrapped in pristine pelts. "By my fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, I shall complete this mission," she repeated, flashing a grin of golden teeth, and left with Quana Forge and their Unions. The dwarves that remained looked at Osman in disbelief. Ra'ol Cave stepped forward and looked ready to give Osman a piece of his mind, but Osman was quicker.

"Ah, Ra'ol, just the dwarf I wanted to call up next. You will take your Union, along with the Unions of Earth and Bronze, and begin constructing a mountain fortress in the great cracks to the west. We must strengthen the defenses of the new iron route post-haste." Ra'ol lowered his fist, looking dumbfounded.

"Now? As winter begins? Even if we had the tools to do that, we would still be short on all kinds of supplies!" Ra'ol retorted switfly and loudly. Osman waved a dismissive hand.

"This fortress will act as an outpost for rest and warmth in the winter months to come. It will also provide protection against this new threat that may come from the west."

"But-!" Ra'ol pleaded. Osman, looking unusually vexed, waved his hand dismissively once more.

"You shall have all the resources and help you may need, Ra'ol. Now get to it. This meeting is adjourned." Osman stood up and walked into the backroom in a storm. Outside, he heard outrage and disbelief at the foreman's orders. Osman grunted quietly in pain and looked down at his arm.

He had scratched it bloody.
Orr'gavol: The Hammersworn - Turn 4

Summary below:

Osman let out a long, drawn-out groan and rubbed a finger against his right temple. Elder Calendarmaster Herim gave him an empathetic nod before walking out into the great hall where representatives and spectators from all the other Unions were making a wild ruckus of a debate. Osman glimpsed through the doorway at the raging mob that would certainly ruin his day. He took a swig of the newly tapped acorn ale - the stale, bitter flavour woke him up somewhat. He stood up, spat into a pot by the wall and walked out into the great hall.

The mob slowly quieted down, though the air was still damp with anger. Some coughs and groans sounded from the crowd. The number of spectators was greater than usual - there was no doubt that the recent news had raged through the settlement like fire in dry grass. Osman stepped over to his chair in front of the crowd and remained standing in front of it.

"Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters. I, foreman Osman Slag of the Union of Steel, declare this meeting of Unions to be open. All mouths will speak, all ears will hear, all minds will think. Our agenda today is long and dire. It is therefore imperative that we all adhere to the laws of debate. Respect the speaker or leave the hall." Osman forced a glare at certain dwarves in the crowd, but many met his with an equally, or perhaps more, threatening one. Osman pulled back somewhat and continued, "Now that we all have the same understanding, let the first matter of the day be laid forth. Kadol, Qorr Coal and Mehmel Flame, all of the Union of Steel, step foreward."

The three dwarves, each of different generations, stepped forward. All three saluted Osman by raising their fist into the air - Osman returned the salute. Qorr Coal had a broad stature and a well-fed gut, though it had grown skinnier since the days before the Calamity. His hair ran black as coal and his stunted forehead ended in a single, bushy eyebrow on his wide forehead. This dwarf was contrasted well by Mehmel Flame, who looked like a short stick next to Qorr. This thin dwarf looked to be a scholar, or possibly a prospector - no dwarf of the Steel Union could ever work the forges with a stature like that. Nevertheless, his soot-shaded chestnut eyebrows hung low over his eyes in an earnest demeanor. The smallest of the three, Kadol, looked no older than twenty winters, a mere pebble among boulders. His fair beard had yet to reach his chest, and even his lack of a worker name spoke of how little this one had seen of the world. Osman beckoned at them, signalling for them to speak. Qorr patted Kadol on the back, perhaps a little too roughly, and the young dwarf stumbled a step forward. He looked up at Osman and his councillors and took a moment to collect his thoughts, it seemed, before he spoke.

"G-good foreman," he stuttered. "Our mission was, in, uh... A manner of speaking, uh... A success. We f-found a vein of iron. It looked to be long and rich in nature. However, it's, uh... It's-"

"It's what? Speak properly, lad!" Khyber Tin of the Union of Mithril spat. Kadol recoiled a little and took another moment to reconstruct his words. "Mind not the Hammermaster, lad. Go on," Osman muttered and glared at Khyber.

"It's haunted, cursed, by an evil spirit, good foreman!" Kadol cried. A moment of silence passed, followed by a roar of laughter from the Union of Phosphorous and Silver and certain members of the Unions of Glass. It was also met with uneasy whispering from the Unions of Copper, Gold, Earth and certain members with the Unions of Mithril and Steel. "It's true!" Kadol shouted, only to be met with louder laughter from one side of the hall. Erima Rock of the Union of Phosphorous stood up and wiped a tear from her eye as she coughed up one last guffaw.

"With all due respect, young Kadol, there are no such things as spirits - no such things as haunted veins. These are all just tales we tell our young to keep them from disturbing the miners at work - perhaps nobody has told you that yet? If so, I feel terribly sorry for you, my dear." She gave Kadol a smile that somewhat warped into a smirk the longer she held it. Logmaster Joron Scroll of the Union of Copper rose to his feet, face pink with anger and beard fuzzy with rage. His brow hung so low over his eyes that his old forehead lost its usual wrinkles.

"What manner of abhorring speech is this, foreman? Listen to this one spit lines of mockery at our son - and you do nothing to quiet her poisonous words. What you world-eyes never seem to grasp is that the spirits indeed exist, and that they indeed hold a very poor opinion of our current understanding of them. The ancestor spirits see their children's minds rot away to leave nothing but cold, mechanical shadows of thoughts. The gods, good foreman, the gods are furious with us for our lack of tribute and for this one's blasphemous-"

"Hah! More empty threats from a madman," Erima said smugly.

"The only madmen here are those who blindly trust in their so-called 'alchemical truth'! We will all be slaughtered by the spirits should we attempt to mine that vein!"

A violent cacophony of a debate exploded in the great hall, with each side sticking fingers in each others faces - sometimes even exchanging blows. As much as Osman and his closest tried to shout for peace and quiet, their pleas could not pierce the thick wall of sound that formed around the crowd. A deafening gong soon brought the entire room to a gravelike silence. Khyber had slammed a nearby copper disk so hard he'd dented it in an effort to get the crowd's attention.

"What part of the Reunification did my dear sons and daughters forget, pray tell?!" he scolded. "Sit down and be good for once, by the Heaven Smith." The old dwarf shook his head and waddled back to his own seat. The rest of the room quickly followed suit. Osman put his face in his right hand for a moment.

"Are you certain this is what you saw, Kadol?" he muttered as he raised it back up. The young dwarf nodded, looking several shades paler, no doubt out of fear that someone would have called for his head during the argument. "Did you two see it, too?" Mehmel Flame and Qorr Coal both nodded. "Take my eyes if I lie, good foreman," Qorr Coal added. Osman groaned and waved Elder Calendarmaster Herim Ore over for counsel. While they discussed, the atmosphere grew ever heavier. Finally, Osman looked back at the crowd and stood up.

"These are indeed dire news. We need that iron dearly, or else our industry may not reawaken for a whole winter. That cannot be allowed to happen. Quana Forge, you will take these three and some more and go to the mountain to begin-..."

"Did you hear nothing of what the lad said, foreman?" Joron Scroll snapped. "The mountain is evil. We cannot send our people blind into what can potentially be their graves!" His words were complemented by uneasy nods from Quana Forge and other members of the Steel Union.

"Joron Scroll, I've said this before - your gods and not mine, and mine are not-..."

"That is not the issue here, good foreman. This is no debate about whether we believe the world was created by the Golumnar pantheon or by simply popping into existence, or whatever the world-eyes believe. Spirits exist and they are powerful - had the runesmiths of old been here, they could have demonstrated their power. Our logs speak of magic and power beyond what the eyes can see, good foreman. If these three truly have seen that power made manifest - in an observable form, no less, it is imperative that we send in a delegation of our greatest scholars to study and communicate with this spirit - learn from it."

"I, uh... I cannot simply-..." Osman tried to shape a sentence to counter Joron's words, but it was clear that something had to be done.

"You allow this old maniac to sway you, good foreman?" Erima Rock said, seeming a little surprised. "Fine. The Phosphorous Union agrees. Let them go and see for themselves. All they will find is a mountain with snow and a vein of iron that we will proceed to excavate - and no spirits. In fact, we will even send our own delegation with them bearing consolation gifts for when their surveying yield nothing." Her words received surprisingly little support, even from her own Union, which left the air even heavier than before.

"Foreman," Joron said, ignoring Erima, "I request permission to formally organise a delegation of our finest to go to the mountain and study this spirit. Will you sanction it?"

"I... I will allow it," Osman said. "Quana, you and the rest of your miners will remain here and await further instructions. Who will go with Joron Scroll to study the spirit of the mountain?"

It took a moment, but soon, dwarves from the the Unions of Gold, Copper, Mithril and Bronze rose up. They gathered by the door and looked to be waiting for Joron.

"You will not regret this, good foreman. We shall bring back logs upon logs of ancient secrets. Thank you, truly." The old dwarf bowed as low as his back would allow him. Osman felt a little unease, considering him and Joron never had been particularly good to each other before.

"I pray that I won't. Go now." Joron saluted Osman by placing his palm over his heart and then left swiftly. The three dwarves who had spoken of the spirit followed after him. Osman rubbed his temples once more.

"Alright... Second matter on the agenda: The communal housing. With the barrels of ale taking up so much space, we ought to have more sheds. Ra'ol Cave of the Stone Union, step forward." The red-bearded dwarf stepped forward and beat his chest in salute.

"It can be done, good foreman," he said. "However, storage space is not the only problem. Already now, some houses begin to grow too crowded to live in. We ought to construct additional huts for out people, perhaps even begin to dig mountain homes. However, with our tools still being rather limited in number, we cannot begin constructing anything that digs too deep into stone. Our best bet will be to construct a great wooden hall for now - when winter has passed, we will redouble our efforts and begin digging our homes into the mountain once more."

"I reckon you suggest we store the ale outside until the great hall is finished, then?" Ra'ol nodded.

"It'll halt the fermentation and possibly ruin the flavour of most of the brews, but it is mandatory that we have enough space to live in until we can construct a great hall. I'm certain we can find some way to make the flavour bearable." Ra'ol looked to Makkar Stone of the Earth Union, whose facial expression radiated opposition against the idea.

"I will not let our people drink frozen sewer water for the entirety of winter. Set a unit of builders on the task of expanding the most crowded homes. Until then, we will just have to even out the number of dwarves per house. Conflict between Unions will not be tolerated." Osman's orders were met with groans from some within the crowd.

"That is your task, and by your fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, you shall complete it."

"So be it. By my fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, I shall complete it," Ra'ol Cave echoed and pounded his chest in salute. He and his Union then left the hall.

Osman leaned back in his chair. He raised his hand and proclaimed that the meeting was over, before standing up and going to the back room. On the outside, he heard the rumbling mumbles of the crowd discussing the poor quality of the meeting.

"The first snows have settled, foreman," Herim said. "We are underprepared for the winter - we should send out explorers to see if we have neighbours. Trade is the only way we can survive this winter."

"Perhaps another time, Herim," Osman groaned.
Orr'gavol: The Hammersworn - Turn 3

Summary below:

The smoke once again rose thick from the furnaces in the Hammersworn settlement, but it was a putrid smoke - one that reeked of unrefined materials and desperation. The brown, muddy coal they burned now had not called a Hammersworn furnace home in many centuries, for it had quickly fallen out of fashion after its darker cousin had been discovered. It felt shameful to some to resort to this feeble, empty stone for warmth. However, many of the dwarves, especially those of the Union of Copper, the Union of Bronze and the Union of Gold, paid little to no mind to the poor quality of their fuel. They once again had tools in hand and could work their craft like in the days that now almost seemed like distant legends. The dwarves began reforging broken tools and weaponry to the degree that the circumstances allowed for. Some tools were too resistant for the cold lignite to break down in the furnace, while others could be restored. Ecstatic to once again work metal, many dwarves of the Union of Gold smelted their jewerly just so they could reforge it out of sheer joy. The thunderous roars of fires and cheers filled the valley around.

In the spirit of the seeming reincarnation of their way of life, the Worker Council, spearheaded by foreman Osman Slag, ordered the Union of Mithril, the oldest and greatest crafters among the Hammersworn, to oversee the construction of a new mine to extract more lignite coal. The demand was growing at unprecedented rates and needed to be satisfied post-haste. Khyber Tin, leader of the Mithril Union and possibly the oldest dwarf among the survivors, accepted the mission with reluctance, as he did not agree with the usage of lignite as a substitute for true black coal. Many of the metals worked by the Mithril Union were too heat resistant to submit to the cool flames of brown coal; some were too delicate to be mixed with the crude chemicals within lignite, as well. However, in keeping with their union oath to "always forward industry", the Mithril unionists, supported by the Unions of Bronze and Stone, began work on a great and intricate mining network into the lignite vein.

During the construction, however, discontent rose among the dwarves to whom lignite remained useless. The Union of Steel, back up by the Union of Mithril, were the most vocal in the Worker Council meetings. Quana Forge slammed her rough, burn-scarred fist into the longtable inside the communal house of the Union of Steel, where this week's meeting was held.

"This is unacceptable, sisters and brothers!" she shouted, her red braids shivering from the shockwave from her fist. "We cannot divert this many resources to a temporary solution. Brown coal will be of no use to us once we uncover the black. This mine will be at least twice the size it needs to be. To sink such a portion of our already draining stockpiles into this project is a waste of time, sweat, wood and stone. We urge you to reconsider, foreman!" Her plea inspired nodding and grunts of agreement around the table. Khyber Tin of the Union of Mithril planted his colossal hands on the table and, with a little help from two dwarves on each side of him, pushed himself to his feet. Quana Forge and all other who stood sat down. The old dwarf looked at every representative around the table before turning to Osman Slag.

"With... With mandate from the council, good foreman, you gave... Us, me and my kin of the Union of Mithril, a mission most dire - to supply our people with fuel for our crafts and hearths. Upon... Reviewing this project's future relevance for our kin as a whole, my sisters, brothers, sons and daughters and I have come to the conclusion... That the proportions of this project are folly. By the Heaven Smith, the mud clumps our sister Quana refers to as 'brown coal' benefit none but the crafters of weak, soft metals. While you know... Me and my kin will complete any task for our people, it is no secret that I wish, from the bottom of this old heart, to use the resources somewhere else." The old dwarf sat down, again with some help from his assistants. There came angry mumbling from the Unions of Copper, Bronze and Gold, but none rose to meet Khyber's words. Osman pondered for a while.

"Where would you rather have us divert these resources, Hammermaster Khyber?" Osman asked. Khyber looked to be struggling to his feet again, and while Osman gestured for him to remain seated, the old dwarf ignored the command and stood up after a moment.

"Quana Forge and the Steel Union bring news of great joy, good foreman. The waters and clay of the north run red with rust. Our noses... Fail us not, blessed by the Heaven Smith, they are. A great vein of iron must be nearby. Iron is the lifeblood... Of our people - a key to open the doors of every Union. We must build a smaller mine... So that we can supply the Steel Union's expedition to find this vein." The Steel unionists present banged the table in agreement. Visible discontent brewed between some of the unions, but none dared speak against Khyber.

"Your words ring true, Hammermaster. Only a subset of our people can utilise brown coal effectively in their art. I, for one, see no reason for the mine to be so big as to supply even those that see no need for it. We will divert food and water rationed for the builders to the Steel Union so they may go out to prospect once more." Logmaster Joron Scroll of the Union of Copper stood up. He had recently been released from his imprisonment and the winter cold had taken a considerable toll on him, with pale spots having formed on his face and hands.

"Foreman, if I may... While it is certainly important that the Steel Union be gifted such a generous load of supplies, it is equally important to consider resource safety for out settlement. It is true that the lakes and rivers will freeze soon, and where then will our people drink from? The earth will soon freeze and make a well too hard to dig. Only our furnaces will lead us from the purgatory of the gods. We shall use them to melt snow and ice - quench our people's thirst before it forms. Those furnaces will need several tons of coal over the winter - and where will we get that if not from the mine? Gods be good, foreman, they say that gold in the hand is better than a vein in the deep - the time for gambling and prospecting will have to wait until after the winter passes." Hums of consensus drifted between the dwarves. Khyber leaned his torso to the side and spat on the floor. Quana glared through Joron, who ignored them both and merely stared at Osman, who was being counseled by Elder Calendarmaster Herim Ore of the Union of Glass. After a few minutes of whispering and grumbling had passed, Osman stood up.

"Joron Scroll's words ring true. Water will be an issue come winter. The Darr runs shallow along here - its streams will shift into empty ice, unusable unless melted down. We will direct much of our coal flow to this very purpose should the need arise." He nodded at Joron, who looked dissatisfied with the answer, but Osman had expected little more. "However, we should not let the fear of disaster steal away the soul of our people. My decision remains firm and true - the Union of Steel will take the rations meant for the mine workers and set out to find iron post-haste. Quana Forge of the Steel Union! I, Osman Slag, foreman of the Worker Council, charge you and your union with this mission, and by your fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, you shall complete it."

"By our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, we shall complete it," Quana echoed and saluted Osman with a fistbump into the air in traditional Steel Union fashion. She and the other Steel Unionists left the hall.

"Hammermaster Khyber Tin of the Union of Mithril. Your mission will remain much the same, but make due with the resources you have left. The mine must support our current industry, with possibilities for growth. However, you are no longer expected to exploit the whole vein. I trust you understand this correction?"

The old dwarf nodded. "By my sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, I shall see it through, foreman." He struggled to his feet and waddled out the hall, followed by his kin. Osman looked around the hall and set his eyes on Makkar Stone of the Earth Union.

"Makkar Stone, stand." The racoon-eyed dwarf stood up and gave Osman a tired, yet firm nod. Osman nodded back and voiced a simple "report".

"The earth was good to us, foreman. The forage brough a good hoard for now - while not all is palatable, it is nutritious and rich in energy. Our bigger problem, as master Joron Scroll already mentioned, will be water come winter. I agree with the Logmaster that the best course of action is to build several furnaces dedicated to melting ice and snow, and expanding the mine to supply these. However, there are ways we can bolster our beverage stores." Makkar paused briefly to untie his field flask from his belt. He uncorked it and passed it along the side of the table until it reached Osman, who took a wiff and grunted.

"That, foreman, is from the first batch of blackberry wine. Got a bit strong for some of the children, but we can make it weaker to substitute water in days scarce of snow." There were collective grunts of approval, even some words of praise and laughter. Osman took a small sip and rolled it around in his mouth. He let out an approving grunt, as well, and passed the flask back along the tableside.

"Makkar, my brother, you are a gift to our people. Have your union commence mass production of blackberry wine, applejack, mulberry brandy and rootbeer. Make sure to water it out come serving time - we wouldn't want any accidents. You will command one of your own to decide the rations, and these will apply to every dwarf of the Hammersworn." Herim leaned over to Osman and whispered something to him. Some dwarves leaned in to listen, but it seemed not to yield results. Osman nodded at Herim and looked back at Makkar.

"To specify, Makkar, you will use only the ripest, least palatable of ingredients. We much preserve our edible rations as best we can. Worry not about the flavour, you will not be blamed should batches sour. Your mission stands. I, your foreman, charge you as such, and by your fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, you shall complete it."

Makkar put his flat palm to his chest and bowed. "By my fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, I shall complete it," he echoed and walked out the building, followed by his companions.

Osman sat back down. "This meeting is ajourned. Back to work." The dwarves around the longtable stood up in an orderly fashion and walked out the building. Osman remained a little longer to debate today's decisions with his advisors.
Orr'gavol: The Hammersworn - Turn 2

Summary below:

The familiar scent of smoke and the logs spitting sparks seemed calming to the dwarves. To feel true warmth again, without the sour wind cutting at the skin, brought with it an emotional warmth that none of them had known for a time. The borders between the Unions grew faint around the hearth, where the dwarves spoke, debated and rested between the shifts. All that remained now were the finishing touches on the great, partially-buried long houses. While the discontent had spiked momentarily at the suggestion that all the Unions should sleep in as few houses as possible to shorten the construction time and conserve resources, no one could deny the convenience of communal housing. Ten had been built, one for each Union, but even then, most of the dwarves feared not to mix. Working closer together than they ever had in hundreds of years, they began to interact with one another - albeit it sometimes involved insults and fists. Regardless, there was a collective feeling among the dwarves that to survive, old bridges would have to be rebuilt.

Osman called a meeting of the Worker Council. The issue of shelter was solved for now - none would freeze come winter.

"... At least, that is if we haven't all starved before then," said Makkar Stone, speaker of the Earth Union, with a sobriety that recently had become all too characteristic of him. The councilmen regarded him thoroughly, and whispers demanding solutions arose within the crowd. The light from the dancing flames in the centre hearth licked at the grim faces of the dwarves present. The wooden walls near the entrace whistled as the wind blew by, but the earth walls in the very end of the building made no sound at all - a familliar silence that Osman found he had missed terribly since the Calamity. Ra'ol Cave stepped forward, his long, fiery red beard and queue full of splinters and bark from the woodcrafting and construction work. He beat his chest with his fist twice in traditional Stone Union greeting.

"Makkar Stone raises an important issue. The construction of our homes went well, even with the tool shortage. However, it is a fact that every dwarf who worked on them went to sleep with an empty belly. Our larders are nearly empty - we have storage buildings that have yet not tasted food. We cannot continue without sustainance."

Osman ran a hand through his braided black beard and looked to Makkar, who nodded in agreement. Herim Ore of the Union of Glass, Tottu River of the Union of Phosphours and Quana Forge of the Union of Steel all nodded to each other and stepped forward. Osman raised his eyebrow at the trio and gestured for Makkar and Ra'ol to step back and let the others speak. Herim was the first to do so.

"Foreman, while our brethren of Earth and Stone are both right to raise this concern, we believe there is a more urgent matter at hand. We are the Hammersworn - we live to craft. We believe the most urgent task at hand is to put hammers, axes and tongs in our people's hands again. We have spoked to many of our own - they miss their craft, some more than they miss their supper." There were some grunts of approval among the dwarves present. Tottu spoke second.

"The Darr has been good to our people, foreman, as has the Golumnar. It is imperative that we revive our industry post-haste. We must survey the minerals of the earth and the mountain. We need to know if our tools with be sufficient to dig new mines and pits. If we start now, it is certain we will make it before the winter claims what food may be around. The larders will certainly hold - our noses smell coal; our tongues taste silver; our ears hear rusting; our eyes see gold. Nature cannot claim those whose spirit is does not starve." The grunts turned to words of agreement and nodding in the crowd. Makkar stood back up and opened his mouth, but Quana Forge of the Union of Steel was faster.

"The Union of Steel can get twenty furnaces working within a week if we find coal. We haven't wandered too far from Gol'kharumm. The Mothervein should still be close. If we find it, our people's lives can return to normal. We must send every man, woman and child out to find materials once mo-...!"

"Impossible! The rationing is already taking its toll on the people, and now you will reduce it further? Our people's lives are at stake, Quana!" Makkar spat at her. Quana's eyes stabbed at Makkar, followed by Tottu raising her voice and starting a counterargument, back up by ever-loudening rumbling from the crowd. Osman yelled for silence and stood up. The speakers all sat down and the crowd went quiet.

"We have had peace for many days now. It shall not be broken again over a petty dispute. Makkar of the Earth Union, Ra'ol of the Stone Union, step forward." The two dwarves rose up and stepped towards the hearth. "You two are to gather your unions and walk out into the wilderness. Gather whatever the earth and trees have that we can eat. Search the stream for fish, and go beyond in pursuit of game. Bring more with you should you need it. This is the foreman's order, and by your fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, you shall complete it."

"By our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, we shall complete it," the two echoed and left the building. Osman turned to the other three speakers.

"Herim of the Glass Union, Tottu of the Phosphorous Union, Quana of the Steel Union, step forward. You are to gather your unions and survey the land. Every rock, every stock, every grain of sand and soil, all the cracks in the mountain wall - all shall be recorded and evaluated. We shall revive our people's purpose once more. This is the foreman's order, and by your fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, you shall complete it."

"By our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, we shall complete it," the three speakers echoed, and brought their unions with them as they left. Those who remained awaited Osman's orders.

"Double the nightshifts. If we are attacked while they are away, we cannot afford to be taken by surprise. The foreman adjourns this meeting. Back to work." The crowd dispersed out the doorway. Osman remained by the fire for a little longer before he too returned to work.
Orr'gavol: The Hammersworn - Turn 1

Summary below:

Osman stood with one foot on a rock, leaning on his elevated leg as he scanned the vast plains of grass to the south. It was strange. The acres that had once been full of trees around Gol'kharumm looked very similar to these plains, only not as green - and with far fewer shrubs and far more soot. Behind him stretched the Ancestor Woods for miles and miles, down to the bank of the Darr, and continuing on the other side.

Neither he nor most of his people had ever been this far south of Lake Darr. The air felt more open here - emptier. Osman grunted in disapproval. He turned around to his councilmen of the Union of Glass and the Union of Earth to discuss further action. The recently appointed Elder Calendarmaster, Herim Ore of the Glass Union, was the first to speak:

"Foreman, I fear the stars and clouds tell of grim tidings ahead. I fear we cannot make accurate predictions without our longseers and our charts, but the feathers of heaven all fly south at ever greater speeds. The waters of the Darr grow colder by the day. The snow creeps ever further down the Golumnar. All the signs point to a coming storm - one of horrific and destructive magnitude. It will surely obliterate us all should be meet it unprepared."

Osman bit his lip. He nodded somberly and voiced a cold, simple "I see" before turning to Makkar Stone, speaker for the Earth Union. He looked back at Osman with an equally somber expression, almost a guilty one, as if he felt regret for having to share their findings.

"Foreman, the Elder Calendarmaster speaks true. The nature around us senses it - prepares for it. The berries grow sour and overripe; the last leaves are falling off their branches; the fish are swimming ever deeper. The soil is, luckily, still soft enough to dig through for roots and nuts, but we cannot predict how long it will remain like that. The autumn will turn to winter, and that very soon. We must fill our rucksacks and pockets with all the food we can find before the frost takes it all."

Osman's hope dwindled. While he had gathered himself somewhat after the Calamity, his mind could not help but occasionally stab at his confidence as the foreman. In the meantime, Herim of the Glass Union raised his voice at Makkar, constructing the argument that the roots and nuts could remain fresh and edible under the ground for weeks, whereas the storms would bury all who did not hide behind walls in layers of snow, to which Makkar argued that no creature, not even dwarves, could build homes on empty bellies. The argument grew into a debate, then into a dispute. The voices grew more and more aggressive for every spoked word. Osman's thoughts were soon buried under the layers of insults and threats his councilmen hurled at each other. "SILENCE!" Osman roared, and his councilmen quieted down swiftly.

... But the cacophony of conflict could still be heard, albeit quieter. It came from deeper into the forest. Osman's eyes flared open. His councilmen also turned to look into the forest, unrest fomenting between them. Osman ran towards the woods, beckoning the others to follow him as he sprinted back towards the camp.

Upon arriving back at the clearing they had set up camp in, he and his councilmen stopped and stared in horror at the scene in front of them. In one of the many trees that formed a natural barrier against wind on the northern part of the clearing, hung a rope - tied in a noose - and below the noose knelt three dwarves of different unions, all tied up and wriggling in terror. One of them displayed wounds and bruises on her face, recent in appearance. Before them, a furious mob stood chanting curses and accusations of sacrilege. Osman and his followers stormed over to the crowd and began shoving their way through the mob, whose cries grew louder and angrier at the arrival of the foreman. Once through, Osman walked over and inspected the three accused - their eyes glinting with tears of joy at the arrival of their leader. Osman's black-haired brow hung low with rage and he turned to the crowd, his voice like a hammer striking steel.

"Who is responsible for this? Why would you do this, Unions?! What have these dwarves done?" he bellowed. The mob fell silent. One of them stepped forward. Osman knew him well - it was Joron Scroll, Elder Logmaster of the Union of Copper, and a member of the Worker Council. Osman had never liked Joron - he was more stubborn than most dwarves; he had little to no respect for dwarves of other Unions; and he held to the ancient beliefs of king Popomel. Joron ran a shaking hand through his ashen beard and glared deep into Osman's soul. Osman felt beads of sweat forming on his forehead, but he made an attempt to rise and meet the burning eyes of the elder dwarf.

"Joron Scroll, I see you have stepped forward. Speak before your fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters - what are the crimes of these three?" Osman tried to say calmly, but ended up partially stuttering. Joron flashed a grin of yellow fangs and grey gums.

"The orders from heaven remain vital - perhaps even more now than ever before, foreman. The gods spoke through the mountain - their words brought death, destruction and the loss of the greatest civilisation this world has ever seen. We are all that is left. It is evident we displeased the gods on high, and shamed our ancestors deeply, in our arrogant quest to measure up to them. The heavens decree that such arrogance must be quelled with blood."

Osman turned back to the three, one of whom was now keeling over in tears, whispering desperate apologies to whoever was listening. Sure enough, the three dwarves consisted of one from the Gold Union, known for their ambition to craft godly artifacts; one was of the Phosphorous Union - this one in particular was councilman Erima Rock, an outspoken "world-eye" and well known for her hatred of all religious thought; and one from the Union of Stone. She was the most bruised of the three. Osman did not recognise her at all, and could not think of a link to why she would be accused. Osman's brow fell low once more and he turned back to Joron, who met his eyes with a stern glare.

"Your gods are not mine, Joron, nor are they the gods of those you have accused. The laws of the Reunification are clearer than any order heaven could cast our way! One union's laws are not another's. Your gods are mute to me, just as mine are mute to you. The only crimes you have the right to punish these for are theft, rape, murder and mutiny. Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, you stand before your foreman and all of whom you call family and all who call you family - speak truth, or be forever cast out. Have these three broken any of the Hammersworn collective laws?"

The crowd was silent. Even Joron Scroll kept his words to himself. Osman scanned the crowd, and was met by eyes that glanced away from him as his and theirs met. An oozing aura of shame and discontent flowed through the Hammersworn like oil through a rag, and left a greasy, bitter taste in everyone's mouth. The foreman knelt down and untied the prisoners. Once the prisoners where free, their families, who had either been cowering away from the crowd or fought them until bloody, ran up to comfort them and help them down. Osman followed them with his gaze for a while before turning back to the crowd, specifically to Joron Scroll.

"As for you, Joron Scroll... You may have the favour of your false gods," he said, words which were immediately met by disapproving cries from the Union of Copper, and a furious expression from Joron himself. "But the laws of your people, you have broken. Seize him!" Dwarves from either side of Joron grabbed hold on him and forced him to the ground, much to the protest of Copper unionists, who who pulled at the clothes of those holding Joron and demanded his release.

"For your attempt at sacrificing your fellow sisters, brothers, sons and daughters at the pleasure of the heavens, you shall spend a month in a cage. For your sake, I pray the winter nights are far off." Joron, face white with terror and eyes red with rage, merely lowered his head. The other Unions had begun to push the protestors away, making it easier to bind Joron and escord him to his temporary cell.

Osman let out a groan of exhaustion. With Joron gone, the mob quickly grew less agigated. The bloodthirst, while not quenched, was at least suppressed for the time being. Osman's people looked to their leader for guidance. Osman felt his throat tighten up, but he swallowed and beckoned Makkar and Herim over to stand at his left and right side, respectively.

"The heavens and the earth both have spoken - the winter will soon be upon us. We will need shelter as soon as possible. All of you will work, from oldest greybeard to youngest skinchin. Go out into the woods, find sticks, stock, stone - whatever can be used to build huts and tents. Take whatever pelts you have and fashion them into covers. Build storages for food, tools and materials. Go now, let us show the gods that the Hammersworn never will fade into the dark!"

Osman's words were met with cheer and roars. The crowd quickly dispersed and soon after, every Union's members had begun rebuilding Hammersworn society anew.
Orr'gavol: The Hammersworn - Turn 0

Nothing. There really was nothing left. Osman Slag, foreman of the Worker Council and leader of the Hammersworn Dwarves, could not seem to stand up. Around him were men, women and children, some howling in agony, others in despair, some not howling at all - merely staring. The dust had not yet settled; the air was still ripe with the stink of industry - now complemented by the stench of death. Some dwarves grabbed whatever tools they had managed to evacuate and began beating and hacking at the boulders that now covered what had been their home about an hour ago. Others used their rocks, sticks or their fists, screaming at the cruel gods and hateful ancestors who had allowed this to happen. Some dwarves of the Bronze union sat down at began to debate whether this loss would upset the balance of the world, to which a gang of Steel unionists reacted with outrage and violence, quickly followed by Mithril unionists looking to vent some emotions. Gold Union dwarves and Silver union dwarves lamented their colossal monetary losses, and what few remained of the Unions of Phosphorus and Glass stood there like statues of stone. All the knowledge that they had gathered - every scroll, every carving, every log - all lost in the matter of minutes. A few of them collapsed to the ground in horror.

The foreman did not mind the chaos breaking out between the survivors. Currently, he thought of little more beyond his people, trapped within what yesterday had been their home. It was autumn now, he thought. Come winter, we will all be like those within. The thought sent a shards of ice through him. The Hammersworn civilisation, a people with almost a millennia of history - wiped out in less than a single year? He tried to dismiss the thought, but its roots dug deep into his mind, whispering wicked words of doom for his people.

"Foreman!" Osman snapped back into reality. He looked at the source of the voice. He recognised the elder woman, her hair like rusty strands of iron, her face overripe with wrinkles and now flaming red with tears. She looked to be mustering all her will to not keep shedding them. Her left eye was surrounded by a tattoo shaped like a golden plate with hints of green - a mark of the Copper Union. She gestured to fighting that had broken out between the hapless survivors - many of whom were now on the ground in pools of their own blood or clutching their wounds. Osman, having not completely broken out of the shock, merely glanced over, just in time to see a Bronze unionist be blinded by a rabid Steel unionist. The blind dwarf clutched his bloody, empty socked and his screams momentarily deafened all others'. He fell to the ground, and then his groans were all the sound that was heard through the valley - the wind was gone; the water, silent; not even the stone rubble in front of the dwarves groaned anymore. Osman held his breath. The hacking breath of the brawlers grew quieter as they looked at each other, then the results of their recklessness. Many of them once again felled tears, and the blind dwarf's kinsmen stormed over to help him.

"We are all dead," an Earth unionist said. "All our crops-... All our crops were inside. There is nothing left out here!" His words blew through the crowd like a disease. Families began to flock together, then into their respective unions, forming phalanxes with whatever tools they had, pointed at the others.

"That cannot be true! You soilers certainly have a hidden storage somewhere! You will dig it out while the rest of us starve to death!" a Steel unionist spat back. Her kinsmen backed her up with a barrage of shouts and threats, to which the Earth Union responsed with their own defensive cacophony. The Glass Union and the Phosperous Union both backed the Earth unionists with arguments about the quality of the local soil in terms of food storage and how it would be impossible for them to store so much food in the hard ground without anyone else knowing about it. A Silver unionist, in a fit of stress, caved in and joined the debate by saying that his union had several thousand coffers of gold hidden away in caches around the valley. His kinsmen, appalled that one of their own would spill their secrets, immediately subjected the lad to severe beatings, until he was within an inch of his life.

Osman could not seem to muster the courage to break through the ever-thickening wall of words between him and his people. The councilmen who hadn't joined their own stood around him, begging him to say something and end the chaos. However, he had not prepared for this - not a single day in his fifty year long lifespan had he thought he might have been forced to lead his people through a crisis. Herim Ore, his closest companion and apprentice to the now late Elder Calendarmaster of the Glass Union, fell to his knees before Osman and grabbed him by the leg, shaking it in a futile attempt to break through to the stunned foreman.

"... We... We cannot remain," Osman finally managed to say. His councilmen heard him, and in mere seconds they all spread out to the various Unions, breaking up the chaos through any means necessary. Upon hearing orders, the people quickly quieted down and turned to the foreman. Osman swallowed.

"We cannot stay," he said again. "Our cities are no more. Our way of life is-... Is at the mercy of the gods once more." His words were met with a defeaning silence and empty glances.

"Winter is on our heels, Unions. We have no choice but to move south to the very edge of the Ancestor Woods. Perhaps there, we can gather what the season can offer and wait out the winter, so we may one day return to dig our home out." Osman's breath was ragged. Many of the dwarves looked at each other in uncertainity.

"Leave the valley? No one has ever done that before save the soilers!" claimed a Stone unionist who was clutching his head after a previous brawl. His words were met by disapproving hollering from the Earth Union. Osman bit his lip and looked down the river Darr, and into the horizon far beyond, where nothing but vast plains stretched for miles.

"As I said, it is only temporary. We will one day return to Gol'kharumm and rebuild. However, for now, we have no choice. By the power of my mandate as foreman of the Worker Council and leader of the Hammersworn, I declare that we are to migrate further south and wait out the winter before we come home. Does the council agree with my decision?" The counsilmen, with the exception of a few, nodded and grunted in agreement.

"Then may the gods be good," Osman said.
Orr'gavol: The Hammersworn

"The souls of the Hammersworn are like the fires of industry - everburning, never fading."

Nation/Clan/Kingdom/Tribe Name: Orr’gavol: The Hammersworn.
Represented Color: Orange
Race: Dwarves
Breed: Ironbeard
Capital: Gol’kharumm
Ruler: Foreman Osman Slag

Type of Government:
Worker Council. The nation is divided among ten crafters’ guilds, which each specialises within a single region of metalcraft, called the Unions. Each union has one representatives on the Worker Council, which is overseen by an elected foreman, the current one being Osman Slag of the Union of Steel. The foreman themself rules for a period of ten years, and holds executive power on the council - while the Union representatives have the ability to check the foreman should they disagree. However, this form of checking power is rarely exercises due the dwarves' natural value of respect for authority.

While the nation as a whole does not hold a standardised religious belief, several of the unions hold on to ancient traditions, many of which feature gods and spirits. The faith of the Union of Bronze, for example, constructs a world image based on balance between two elements, whether it be copper and tin, wealth or poverty, or life and death - leading many of the other unions to critique them for being indifferent to the world at large. The Union of Gold worships all that glitters, so to speak, channelling their faith into adorning the armours and weapons created by the other unions with decorations that rival even the work of the gods - all to one day win the favour of the very gods they challenge.

The many religions within the Hammersworn have on numerous occasions spawned conflict among the Unions; however, due to a fear of rebellion, the council is reluctant to forbid the practices. This has created a generation-long divide on the council between the traditionalists and the “world-eyes”, so called for their denial of anything they cannot empirically observe and their stark hatred for anything abstract.

Geographical Location:
The Hammersworn have long lived at the foot of the Golumnar, “the Ancestor Mountains”. As the centuries passed and many conflicts, but internal and external, took their toll on the earlier civilisations, the Hammersworn were forced further down towards the lake of Darr and the Darr river. The event known as the Calamity, which ended the period of great prosperity after the Reunification, lead to a colossal population collapse and the loss of almost all infrastructure. The capital of Gol’kharumm, now a mere shadow of its former self, carves a fading black scar of soot and ruins from the foot of the southern Golumnar, through the Ancestor Woods, and into the Darr river. The dwarves moved further south, to the edge of the Ancestor Woods. They founded the Hovel, a temporary holdout until spring comes once more.

To think that such a system of compromise would arise from a people so stubborn is truly a truth we all accept too lightly - a day did not pass that our forebears did not plot each others’ deaths. Now, we are united.
Calendarmaster Yosof Rust, Union of Glass.

In the beginning, there was the Golumnar, the Ancestor Mountains. Taller than any other, they stretched into the clouds and seemed almost like great stone beams that grounded the heavens to the earth. While the calendarmasters and several of the unions disagree today on how the Hammersworn first came to be, they agree that one day, a tribe of dwarves settled by the foot of the Golumnar, claiming a small patch of land in the river valley of Darr beneath the mountain. These dwarves created a culture of mountain worship, believing that the very gods of this world lived among the peaks of the mountains. This faith soon led to an event that would shape the dwarves’ culture for centuries to come.

At the time, they were known as the Gol’ungyr, the children of the mountain, and the philosophy of the time was that their very purpose in life was to reunite with their forebears at the highest peak of the Golumnar, and their daily routine revolved around mining and carving in the mountain to build the Umnastarr, the ancestor stair, a pathway up into the world of the gods. Under the guidance of the then-ruling monarch, who has later been referred to as King Holek the Mislead, the children of the mountain dug and built an elaborate system of roads, stairs, ramps and tunnels up and through the treacherous mountains, all to reach the pinnacle.

The project was, however, never completed. Fifty years after the king had ordered the project to start, a winter unmatched in cold and storms ravaged the river valley of Darr. The crops were devastated, and the animals that didn’t freeze to death were soon slaughtered and eaten by the starving dwarves. In the chaos, an insurrection against king Holek resulted in a thousand of deaths, roughly half the population at the time, as well as the execution of the king. The following monarch, Popomel, declared the Umnastarr project an unholy sacrilege against Golumnar, and that the winter was a warning to all who dared climb too close to heaven. Any attempt to surmount Golumnar was declared heretical and punishable by death, and the children of the mountain remained in the river valley of Darr, attempting with great difficulty to repair their decimated civilisation.

Popomel’s line did not rule for long, either. The dwarves were stagnating, for without a greater purpose in life other than to survive, they grew agitated and restless. Fights and large brawls grew more and more common, and merely a decade after Popomel’s grandson, Popomel the Second, has been crowned king, a rebellion once again raged through the nation. The king and his family were slaughtered and replaced by an unstable dictatorship ruled by ever-changing strongmen. The kingdom soon split into two, then four, then finally ten. Each faction migrated throughout the river valley of Darr, settling in the many ridges and caves at the foot of Golumnar and the forests around the Darr river. From here, some factions found great mineral wealth in the mountains - they began working the metals and minerals into tools, armour and weaponry. These factions soon became prosperous crafters’ enclaves, forming great industrial towns. Other factions discovered the minerals and gems of the earth and in the waters of the Darr river, and began to shape these into intricate jewelry and tools of research and science, forming hubs of alchemy and craftsmanship. To make room for the growing towns, the dwarves levelled many acres of forest, which left them with heaps of wood. This was soon used to dabble in ship crafting, and soon growing settlements of trade formed along the Darr. The relationship between the river dwarves and the mountain dwarves remained sour for hundreds of years, sometimes escalating into skirmishes in the forests and acts of sabotage against infrastucture. However, this also applied to the river and mountain dwarves among themselves.

This age of division, yet prosperity, ended when yet another gruesome winter surged through the river valley. The dwarves who held up inside the warm forge-towns, half of which were often built partly inside the mountains, survived the winter without sustaining any losses to their populations. The river dwellers, however, were nearly annihilated by the storms. The Darr froze and made trading for food impossible; the woods were nearly chopped to the last tree to feed the dying embers in the dwarven hearths. It was at this point that the river dwarves, in their desperation, returned to the mountains to seek refuge with their long antagonised brethren. Among the five mountain cities, none would accept river dwarves into their homes.

Desperate, the river dwarves banded together and laid a suicidal siege to the smallest of the forge-cities, Gol’kharumm. The mountain dwarves, drunk with hubris and arrogance, decided not to fight back against the attack, nor to post sentries at night, stating that to waste arrows on their brethren would be like stabbing a butchered boar. The river dwarves used this to their advantage and used their knowledge of alchemy to craft explosives that blew the gates of the city open. Once inside, they overthrew the local strongman and quickly assumed leadership of the city. The other forge-cities quickly heard the news and mobilised against the river dwarves.

When the entirety of what had once been the Children of the Mountain were locked in a battle against itself, the winter, as if by the gods’ command, turned to the warmest, lushest spring ever seen in the valley of Darr in but a few days. The dwarves, awestruck by this seemingly divine gift, laid down their arms and came together in the centre of Gol’kharumm to discuss what the future of their nation should be - should they split up and live as they now had for centuries? Should they band together and take over the whole valley? Should they migrate further south in search of new lands to settle?

A council with representatives from every city of the old nation formed to oversee the restoration of what the winter and the war had taken away. This council quickly became more organised and efficient as time passed, taking more and more power away from each individual city. After merely five years, the council had gathered so much power than it effectively become a new centralised government. In order to make itself even more effective, once every ten years, a member of the council would be elected to rule as a leader and make the executive decisions in the name of every major city. As the cities grew ever closer, the borders faded, and the citizens of these former cities started to refer to their kind as a Union, as they were only united in culture and specialisation. As there had once been ten cities, so spawned ten Unions. These were named according to a major mineral component of their crafts. As the leader then became the head of many workers, and was supposed to be a leader among equals, and not a king, their title was changed to foreman.

Everything seemed to indicate that the now dubbed Hammersworn were developing into a nation to rival the continent's greatest. Tools, weapons and armour flowed from the forges and anvils like water through a lake, and the calendarmasters and alchemists mapped the stars and the properties of the earth. However, as quickly as it had grown, the Hammersworn civilisation suddenly faced great losses. The calendarmasters speculate that an alchemical catastrophe occurred in one of the underground universities, which led to a colossal cave-in that demolished all the dwarves had built over the last centuries. The outside cities relied on the materials from the inside, and the few who survived knew they would be beyond saving when the winter would strike again. What remained of the Worker Council gathered the survivors and put them to work, for whatever it was worth.

They are at the mercy of the mountain now.

Below is a list of the ten current Unions.


© 2007-2017
BBCode Cheatsheet