The Stone-Hearted

44 Oontrom, Pass of 3820: The Scorched Earth

A thought that always helps - See, even in darkness

The Dwarf holds of Dalarrak are never entirely at peace. Too many denizens of the dark encroach on their borders for them to simply put down the axe in exchange for the pick. Still, sometimes the dark of their realm is quieter than normal. Sometimes the army has little to do. In these moments, the regiments gather and exchange stories. They share their hopes with their brothers in arms and look to their golden futures. Some dwarves tell tall tales of adventures from when they were young. Some though, tell tales of the future in the hope that it will inspire their fellows. Maybe, if they are lucky, they will remember a quiet word in the darkest of times. Maybe that will help them push through. Certainly, that’s the reasoning behind the tradition. To Orlof, there is always one tale he remembers. He’s not certain when he first heard it, but it always gets him to the other side of his madness. Helps him focus and put aside the voices when he’s at his lowest.

The recounting of the tale is always the same, whether he tells it or someone else does. Picture a small campfire surrounded by dwarven friends. Huddled close, with the dark pressing around them. One of the crowd shuffles forward.
“Our people tell of a time when the dark presses in and a foulness rears out of it clawing at our eyes”.
The crypt is cold and oppressive. The slow drip of water off in the distance keeps time with a small band of dwarves shuffling footsteps. Then, movement. Off in the dark. From behind, the sallow yellowed skin of a ghouls hand lashes out scoring one of the party. A scuffle ensues. Chaos everywhere. When the dust settles, the band of dwarves take stock. One of them speaks hurriedly, and then charges off into the darkness.
“Our people tell tales of the longest journeys, always scarred by insanity and torture”.
The small band of dwarves are in a different place now. Searching, one of their member missing. They come across a scene of madness. One Dwarf strung up; bloodied and burned; eyes rolling in his head from unspeakable torture.
“Our people tell tales of unstoppable retreat from unwinnable fights”.
The band hurry down tunnels of unworked stone. Off the sides of the tunnel are small offshoots. Scurrying about inside are critters and creatures with far too many legs.
“Tales of falling or flying, of crashing into the earth below”.
One dwarf plummets into the dark, tumbling through the air. Above him others fall but their descents are arrested by thick sticky webs. The one plummeting is slowed but never stopped. And then he is, slamming into a muddied pond. The water ripples out from his crumpled body.
“They tell tales of slaying villains and doing right”.
The dwarven band reunited; they stand against a horrid fetid toadstool like fiend. They slay the foul thing and flee, as the world around them begins to collapse in on itself.
“Our people tell tales of journeys spanning countless leagues of fire. They tell tales of delving deep into ancient tombs. They tell tales of defeating fiery foes and slaying hellbeasts. Our people tell tales of friends felled in such battles. They even tell tales of foolishness such as Marduk the Kinslayer. I tell you this though friends. Our people do not tell small tales of cowardice, for there is none of that in us. Our people tell tales of determination because we do not give up. Our people. Your people. We tell tales of our lives; they are vast and great because we are vast and great. Because we never give up”
_The band of dwarves stand. Bloodied and battered. Clearly at the end of their rope. Stuck in a small, burning hot room. Outside, the sound of slithering and crackling. The hissing of a speech they cannot understand. Each looks about desperately. Slowly, each one’s eyes turn to the only feature in the room. A small grate in the ceiling. A grin spreads slowly over each of their faces.
_

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