After struggling against and alongside the strange actions of the dwarf Doruan Ironhammer, the Chosen of Phaestus and other adventurers in Achaea managed to open the vault deep in the earth and find the key to sending on the lost souls left adrift by the death of Lord Thoth and His ancient pact with the DwarfFather.
Darkness. Silence. Confusion. These things overwhelm me. I was mauled. I am bleeding and hungry. I close my eyes to rest, only to wake in this strange, twisted place. Time stretches on, silence overtakes me, and then the weeping begins. As I begin to mourn, I hear the others, and together we revel in our sorrows.
My confusion grows. Pain joins to my mind, my eyes changing, adjusting to this unseemly, harsh light. A strange figure stands before me. Cloaked, obscured, absent. Barely distinguished from the stone. A single word echoes in my mind: “Dig.”
I don’t know what happened, only that I am covered in blood. A stranger has come. He steps past the corpse. He calls me Doruan. Doruan… yes. That was my name. He offers me rest, he offers me peace. And now I am hunkered down in Ashtan’s barracks, left to face the madness. It watches me. Waits for me. Hungers for me.
I do not hunger. I do not thirst. I do not tire. I do not grow weary. I see my wounds, and they do not bleed. They do not heal. Nothing changes. It is all monotony, it is all boredom. I cannot go on. I will not go on. This will be my end. But I do not breathe. I have tried. I cannot. I do not know why.
Perhaps I should have thought this through. How long has it been? Hours? Days? I swing from my neck, able only to think, to wonder, to question.
Why? Why me? Why now? Why there? Just… why?
At last one comes to release me, perhaps a wanderer like myself. My binding shall be broken. Binding? Why does that word intrude so upon my mind? This singular question consumes me, drives me, pushes me forward. I move, I leave the Seat of Chaos behind. I return to the Vashnars, my pickaxe in hand. I will find what secrets lie beneath this mountain.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
As news of Doruan Ironhammer’s death reached the dark caverns of Iskadar, a lone priest set out on a journey, his destination the distant northern climes of Sapience. For despite the mockery and scorn hurled in his face by his fellows, he held faith that the absent dwarf deserved to rest with his kin, no matter his reasons or crimes. Through bears, sharks, and bandits did he journey in search of his goal, only to find a dwarf inexplicably not deceased. Confusion warring with concern, the offering of Ashtan as a source of silence and ritualism was both provided and accepted to the unsettled cleric.
Moving in the wake of the one called Jy’Rakym, an ominous silence stilled those gathered as the priest worked his will upon the spirit of the lost Ironhammer. Manifesting as a spark of incandescent luminescence, the expanding aura would soon grow to envelop all of Achaea and even the vast expanse beyond the borders of the Prime Material Plane, revealing countless spirits seemingly wandering without purpose. Fearing the repercussions of adventurer and dwarf alike, the priest beat a hasty retreat to his homeland to begin anew his search for understanding. Unamused yet curiously unsurprised, the less-than-living dwarf returned to the mountain in which he had been found, once more tending to his carving of the rock.
It was months later when Doruan’s pick broke through the final wall of earth barring his way forward, the ground beneath collapsing into a grand, hollowed-out chamber. His passage now restrained by a massive disc of unknown rock and stone, he had at last discovered the object of his unspoken desire.
As the days passed, however, none proved able to discern a way into the mysterious vault, not the Nihilists of Oblivion’s Lord, the Caefir of Deucalion, or the Chosen of the Smith. Meanwhile, the lone priest, abandoned by his fellows, continued his research with dogged determination. Many came and went, but only one deigned to assist his foreign brother: Sir Eril Rian-Moonshadow. After much searching, the beleaguered pair discovered a charred missive that spoke of the earth’s bounty, as well as the descendants of the Orcsplitter Clan. With hardly a word to his devout companion, Eril departed to gather his fellow adventurers, heading for the Siroccians to confront the remnants of the clan named within.
The words exchanged in the meeting that followed shall remain unknown. A short while after their arrival, the Smith’s Chosen emerged from the dwarven encampment, bearing with them a small, strange disc. Rushing to the Vashnar Mountains to place the key within the doors of the great vault, they looked on as the stone gave way, the very earth trembling beneath their feet. At last, the grand portal stood open, and with it came a warning to the curious adventurers, one that would resound in their minds and the minds of all whom they came into contact with:
“Woe betide those who enter this place, lest the earth itself rise up to protect her bounty.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Delving into the vault, those gathered soon found themselves victims of the earth, and returned to the tunnel with some hesitation. Taking more care this time, they found their way deeper into the shifting passageways, discovering numerous crystals that sprouted from the walls.
Almost accidentally, one of the soft crystals was crushed into a powder that filled the air, prompting Eril to rush to the first soul he could find. Trepidation filling his voice, he spoke to his compatriots of what had transpired, sharing the words revealed to him by that first spirit before it at last faded:
“Kill me… Please… Just let me die…”
Moving as one, the adventurers scrambled desperately to release the wandering souls from their tortured half-life. Yet, despite, the best of efforts and intentions, the grief of the damned was magnified as each was returned to the land. As the dead wept, their cries grew louder, culminating in one final cry that echoed across the planes, before silence fell.
With bated breath, they waited. They hoped.
Heat rolled across the firmament, the anger of the Smith made known. His children suffered, and it was Lord Ugrach, the Finality, who was to blame. Yet, despite His threats, the Curator of Death was unmoved. Only a Father’s plea would grant succour to those wayward dwarves lost in death. Though what transpired between the two may forever remain a mystery, shortly thereafter Lord Phaestus departed Death’s halls, returning His fallen children to their rightful rest.