Flintlocks & Fireballs
“From Klara Ottosdotter to Tindra Magnusdotter,
Paper is scarce, so I must keep this brief. I am safe and well – and I’m sorry. I know you must have been desperately worried, and if I could have got word to you before the Kings ordered the Gateway sealed, you know I would have.
This is what we are doing: we work long shifts and sleep short nights. We’re mining tirelessly for coal and ores, and we are forging weapons and armour in quantities you have never seen. We’re tunnelling towards the centre of Dourmoor, so we can reach our people. We mean to come soon with arms and supplies and fighting power to save all of our people from the Empire.
But you – are you safe? I can’t imagine what torments the Empire inflicts on you and our people above the ground. Oh, beloved-girl, when I am alone in the empty dark, I silently beg my ancestors and the Kings of my ancestors to keep you safe. I love you, my darling, and I will come to you, I promise. We will arise from the earth very soon. Look for me then, for no mountain and no chasm and certainly not the fucking Empire will keep me from your arms.
Greet for me your King, your parents and your sister, and my friends who are with you.
I love you,
This is not her letter, of course. I wrote it myself sixty-eight days after the Gateway was closed, carefully curling the tails of the runes as she does. But I read it every day, and I keep faith. I am fighting for the day when Netherfael rises from the earth and stands with us against their Empire, and she is at my side again.
Dourmoor is the home of the Dwarves, a grim and overcast land of hills, moors, and valleys.
There was a time when Dourmoor was a free nation, and its capital was the great mine-fortress of Netherfael, ruled by the King-In-Stone. Dourmoor even allied with the Empire as it began its subjugation of the nonhuman races: dwarves suffered at the hands of orcs as much as the next man, after all. It was only after the Empire started to turn on the elves too that Dourmoor realised what they were dealing with.
As Imperial troops massed on Dourmoor’s borders, the Netherfael dwarves acted. They collapsed their own shafts, closing all access to the fortress and placing them quite comfortably underground. With no leaders — not even a capital to protect — the remaining kings of Dourmoor surrendered, and the dwarves of the surface were subjugated.
These days Dourmoor is occupied territory, ruled by a class of staggeringly rich and staggeringly ruthless viceroys. The dwarven ways — more a set of traditions than a faith — have been banned, deemed a heathen religion by the Church of the Incarnate. The underground chambers which served as meeting-halls and places for birth, death and marriage ceremonies have been filled in. Dwarves themselves are treated as little more than serfs; while technically indentured servants, most viceroys are able to keep their workers from escaping servitude.
Nobody in Dourmoor — in fact, nobody in the Empire at all — knows what the Netherfael dwarves are up to. Dwarves are quite capable of making underground caverns their home and farming subterranean fungus and cave-wheat, and few humans have ever even set foot inside Netherfael. It’s possible that an army of vengeful dwarves is amassing underground, ready to erupt in a shower of righteous violence and restore their homeland. It’s also possible that the King in Stone has given up on the surface world entirely, and plans never to let another of his subjects set foot up there again. And it’s also possible that the entire nation has been killed by a rockfall and Dourmoor is all that’s left of dwarves. The only people who know for sure are the inhabitants of Netherfael — and they’re not telling.