The Rise and Fall of Idenber
It was the Age of the Dwarves. The bustling Dwarven Kingdoms were prosperous, wealthy and powerful. Brave homesteaders were sent out on a regular basis to tame and conquer new and dangerous lands. This is the tale of one-such venture.
The expedition was led by a young, inexperienced dwarf. His beard had yet to grow to any length of note, and there was much grumbling among the party, but, a dwarf is nothing if not loyal, and they followed their orders, and this young upstart, to what was to be their new home. They arrive in good health and towing a cart laden with foodstuffs and seed stocks. Stopping at a promising rock-face, they sketch out plans for initial excavation and name the place Idenber or "Paddlearthen" in the human tongue.
The first year goes well. Rooms are carved, storerooms defined and workshops created. A general feeling of excitement fills the air and the dwarves scurry about with purposeful movements. Into the first winter, the population stands at eighteen dwarves. The larders are full and the discovery of a large copper vein has led to much activity as the smelters are fired up. A small raiding party of frogman climb from the cold, swift underground river and are quickly defeated.
The lone fisherdwarf of the group unwisely decided to nap by the underground river right as the spring floods came along. He woke up as the water lapped around him, but it was too late and the river washed him away, not even leaving a corpse for the others to mourn over.
With the thawing of the land, a fresh batch of eager immigrants, including two replacement fisherdwarves arrives, bringing the total population of Idenber up to thirty. Construction of the halls and workshops continue, but a series of strange, fey moods begins to afflict several of the more skilled crafters. The first two so afflicted simply holed up and muttered undecipherable things to themselves, eventually falling into such a deep melancholy that they did little besides sit on the floor of the dining hall, refusing to even partake of food or ale. The third's eyes light up with a fevered glint as he gathers various materials and then locks himself inside the masonry shop, emerging many days later with a legendary table, which he carries with him everywhere. But his mood seems to have passed, and his skill with stone has increased in an unnatural way, making some of the dwarves apprehensive. But none can argue with the quality of his work, as he churns out a steady stream of amazingly crafted furniture, from weapon racks to statues to doors.
Perhaps it is the fame of this mason that brings notoriety to the fortress, for the next group of immigrants includes no less than three dwarven nobles! These nobles are not content with the typical small, plain room that most dwarves consider home, so special instructions are given to carve out a spacious area for the Nobles' quarters. Plans are also drawn up for a large mead hall, new barracks and carefully arranged quarters for the commoners. Coupled with the progression of the crafting corridor near the chasm, life in Idenber looks to be taking a turn for the better.
But things were not all well. An undercurrent of tension and violence lurked just out of sight, but soon it would be at the forefront of life within the mountain.
It started simply enough. Another ratman ambush, led by one known as "Kenilon", attacked a peasant in the depths of the caves as he was gathering rocks. Miraculously, the dwarf managed to flee, his stubby legs pumping furiously as he barreled through the corridors, six bloodthirsty ratmen right behind. His flight lead them right into the lone hammerdwarf who was on guard duty at the time. The guard and his war dog fought valiantly, briefly holding back the invasion. But, alas, after slaying one ratman and grievously injuring another, his faithful dog lay a bloody heap at his feet and a heavy blow to the head left him unconscious on the ground, where he bled to death soon afterwards. The ratmen then moved towards the bridge over the river, sending all the dwarves nearby into a confused panic. Smelling blood and death, several war dogs eagerly pushed past the teeming masses and quickly tore the vile ratmen apart.
As the dwarves dutifully began hauling the ratman carcasses outside, leaving a trail of blood behind them, it became apparent that the dining room was covered in blood as well! Had there been a second attack there? No. Instead, it seemed that the dwarves' tempers had been quite short lately, resulting in numerous fistfights around the wells. The food and ale supplies were alarmingly low. Things take a turn for the worse as the food supplies run out (rendered fat, despite its appetizing sound, is apparently no good for eating by itself), more and more dwarves sink to hunting for vermin throughout the fort.
As the hunger increased, one dwarf became deranged, seizing the only butcher shop and strangling a nearby metalsmith. Cackling insanely, the murdering dwarf dragged the corpse back to the shop and proceeded to work frantically on his gruesome construction, eventually emerging with a newly crafted Dwarf-bone spear (called, appropriately enough, 'Murderturmoil') and the title of Legendary Bone-crafter! Though the other dwarves were rightfully nervous, he gave no further signs of violence and instead eagerly set to the task of crafting and adorning with dog and ratman bone, ignoring the misery and death permeating the fortress.
But, despite the availability of incredibly crafted bone items, the dwarves were still hungry. Once the Nobles began hunting for vermin, the dissolution of civilization was not far behind. The onset of mass starvation was quick, brutal and fatal. With many dwarves dropping dead around the fort, a hasty graveyard was assembled outside and the bodies unceremoniously dumped.
In the midst of this mass starvation and rioting, a human caravan arrives. They would have food! The kingdom might be saved! Unfortunately, the caravan is beset by kobold thieves along the way, and by the time they reach the trade depot, their wagons are completely empty! The hopes of Idenber are smashed upon the unforgiving mountainside.
As a last gasp attempt, the young dwarf leader calls for the wholesale slaughter of any dogs and cats that aren't considered a pet or trained as war dogs. The butcher shop and kitchen had been destroyed during the riots, but they are quickly rebuilt and a second set assembled further into the mountain. The animals were rounded up, and seemed to eagerly follow the butcher-dwarves, not realizing that they would be the next meal!
Several long and scary seasons pass. The population drops to thirty-four. All the Nobles have perished due to starvation. The dog meat is eaten as quickly as it can be cut. Only the barest of furniture has been placed in the newly mined areas while the old section of the fort, honeycombed with ill-conceived passages, lies drenched in blood and the wreckage of various shops. Dwarves crowd around the wells, willing to fight with their clanmates at the slightest provocation. The wounded huddle in their rooms, unable to find nourishment for themselves and afraid to venture out. The butchers, covered in dog blood, go grimly about their task, pushing past dwarves of all ages and professions who scurry about, looking for roaches, rats and whatever other vermin they can find, desperate for any sort of nourishment...
After the Great Food Riots of 1053, daily life in Idenber slowly returned to a semblance of normality. The cooks busied themselves making dog meat stew (consisting of dog meat and cat meat) and other delicacies (which all seemed to contain at least some dog meat). Slowly but surely the rotten corpses and meat are dragged to the chasm and thrown in (though I can never seem to get rid of the rotting stuff fast enough). Tantrums still occur, but with much less frequency. Several injured dwarves lay immobile with serious head injuries, including one unfortunate fellow who was unable to make it to a bed and instead spent his days nestled amongst the bejeweled trade items in the finished goods storeroom, moaning and crying to himself. Not even the small creatures were spared during the horror of those dark times, for the fortress is also now home to numerous crippled animals, including a poor cat who lost both of its front legs!
The insane craftsdwarf who made the legendary dwarf-bone spear churned out many fabulous dog and cat bone items which were traded to a Dwarven caravan for all the food they had. There was much rejoicing.
Many seasons passed with nary a sign of any immigrants, and the leaders began to wonder if news of the terrible riots had spread far and wide, dissuading both visitors and migrants. Then, one spring, no less than 20 new arrivals appear! This batch included a new sheriff, who immediately set out dispensing dwarven justice on anyone who committed any sort of crime during the riots. Many beatings ensued, sending at least two dwarves to their beds and resulting in the death of another who bled his life out upon the stone floors (I guess the sheriff got a little overzealous)!
A steady stream of ratman attacks from the chasm wears upon the inhabitants. Every dwarf has felt the sting of losing a family member or close companion, though the limited number of soldiers perform admirably in defense of the tunnels (one novice recruit knocked out no less than 5 ratmen, including a named leader, by himself, before his reinforcements arrived).
The cavernous halls are extended deeper into the mountain until a river of magma is reached. Taking advantage of the raw heat and power, a magma smelter and forge are set up. The noise of the foundry stirred up creature of flame from the depths. Though it appeared to be wounded, three unlucky dwarves were incinerated before the creature could be brought down.
A trade agreement had been reached previously with one of the nearby human settlements. It was spears they required, so it was spears that were created upon the anvil while the vast amounts of gold ore that lay throughout the compound began to be smelted into gold bars. An attempt is made to create farmland, though it produces limited success. The amount that needs doing far outstrips the available dwarf-power. Too many dwarves lie abed, stricken with grievous wounds and unable to feed themselves, much less contribute to society. One was so distraught that he dragged himself to the river and drowned his worries underneath the icy water! Some begin to suspect that this rock is cursed, as two more dwarves are seized by insanity and have to be put down.
Let it not be said that the Gods have no humor. For with the arrival of spring comes the hoped-for immigrants. The initial sighting is greeted with cheers as a half-dozen dwarves make their way out of the wilderness onto the road. They are followed by another group, and another, and yet another, and the cheers quickly fade to stunned silence. No less than forty-two migrants arrive, doubling the population to eighty-five! The welcoming of new and old friends is layered with an odd tenseness. It was only in the last year that Idenber began to recover from the Great Food Riots and many fear a repeat of those dark days. Shaking off their doubts, the dwarves take stock of the food stores and eagerly set to work, determined to make the best of the situation.
But, despite the best efforts of the farmers, fisherdwarves and trappers there just isn't enough food. The caravan wagons, usually a saving grace in the autumn months, complain about potholes in the road and refuse to bring their wagons in for trading (those pansy humans!) With so many new mouths to feed, the remaining stores are rapidly consumed. The dog and cat population has been much depleted and the food riots are again imminent. Already a significant portion of the population begins to scrounge for vermin...
As the first hunger pains begin, the Noble with the job title of 'Manager' decides to throw a party. Sadly, no one came. Then the Sheriff throws his own party and only the Manager shows up. Finally, as things really begin to disintegrate, the Manager threw another one-dwarf party. Apparently it was his way of dealing with the trauma. Though booze is plentiful, all of the peasants, soldiers and craftsdwarves alike are too busy chasing rats and other vermin through the cluttered hallways. Ratman corpses piled up near the chasm began to rot in a decidedly unhealthy manner and the skulls of their brethren from previous attacks lay scattered down the hallways...
It is done. The Dwarven Fortress of Idenber has been abandoned. The vast stores of gold lie largely unsmelted, though the great vault that was built in the final days is about half full of gold coins. The farms, which had just started producing a good quantity of food, were too little and too late. Starvation and disease were running rampant, and the dwarves chose to leave their new home rather than endure another winter of food riots, chaos and death.
Now the magma forges and smelters lay dormant. Gold and other precious ore clogs the hallways nearby. The underground river churns along, occasionally overflowing and covering the remnants of small fields, trickling into smooth stone hallways and lapping up against the bases of elaborately carved statues. The warren of caverns that was the original settlement lays strewn with the debris of dwarven living. And, as the cold wind of the depths whistles up from the bottomless chasm, the faint ghostly echoes of dwarves crying out in pain, hunger and misery seem to waft through the eerily empty corridors.