Fantasy Fiction posted April 17, 2021 Chapters:  ...16 17 -18- 19... 

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Tali learns more of her god's absence in the Deep.

A chapter in the book The Gemcutters Daughter

A Hopeful Plan

by K. Olsen

Tali and her companions have escaped Lagarra and joined with a rebel faction fighting the demons and their minions, finding a new kinship with old enemies.

Iolur carefully arranged loose chunks of quartz into an impromptu map, using clefts and fissures in the cavern floor to represent rises and chasms. “These are the four corners of the world,” he explained gruffly, indicating to each in turn. “Each runs deeper than the last. Lagarra is furthest from the Maker, then Kuldath, then Narghaasa, then S’rindarr.”

“What is this?” Tali asked, pointing to the furthest point on the map. Instead of quartz, a solitary lump of iron ore marked it.

The old, scarred deep-dwarf furrowed his brow. “That is Dzverin Ta’al, the Forbidden City,” he rumbled, the dread in his tone sending a shiver down Tali’s spine. “The seat of the Maker, where only the elder things can pass.”

“Elder things? Demons?” Tali still remembered how Lekt had spoken of the demon Haurus when they fought him. A sudden chill gripped her soul. It made sense, of course, but she felt foolish for not considering it already: likely, the Maker was a demon himself. “Iolur, what can you tell me about the one you call the Maker?”

Yari sat down beside the young dwarf, working on fashioning a new fishing hook out of a slim piece of iron and sinew. A deep and abiding grimness seemed to claim her as she considered Tali’s question.

“It is better not to speak of that one,” Iolur cautioned. “He has many ears, even in the wilds. He is a thing that does not sleep, does not die.”

“He whispers in the heart of every one of us,” Yari admitted, fingers still working away at her current task as she carefully knotted the sinew line and then set to work shaping and sharpening the hook.

Iolur tilted his head as if he was listening intently for some hidden eavesdropper, clicking harshly to send sound cascading out from their little group. It echoed and distorted off the many crystalline growths, but revealed no one except the other deep dwarves. “Some hear him more clearly than others.”

Tali worried at her lower lip for a moment, brow furrowed as she considered that. “Do the Chosen hear him better?”

Yari nodded, the movement easily perceived in the echoing sounds of voices. “That is all they know,” she said in a low voice. “I was almost one of them. I is so very loud at times.”

The young dwarf’s face creased in sympathy. “That sounds very difficult,” Tali murmured. “I’m sorry.”

“It is not a fault of yours.” Iolur’s tone was almost grandfatherly, if a bit growling.

Jarek stretched his lanky limbs to Tali’s other side, humming pensively for a moment before speaking. “A tangent, if you will.”

Tali nodded, aware that Iolur and Yari both looked to her when the necromancer went to speak. She was more than willing to accept any help that Jarek might have to offer at this point, particularly if it was wisdom that could help in this.

“I find it surprising that you and your kin think so well of dwarves, Iolur,” Jarek said.

Iolur picked up the lump of quartz that symbolized Lagarra, turning it over in his hands like a worry-stone. “Tali is not the first we have known. There have been...others. Pieces of another world. Bring together enough, they show a pattern.” He cocked an ear at Tali. “You are different. You chose to come to us. You are...whole.”

“For the moment,” Jarek agreed. “Though we all may be rather less than that if your Maker finds his way here.”

The deep dwarves shuddered almost in unison at that thought. It was Yari who first broke the dreadful silence. “He does not leave Dzverin Ta’al often.” Her tone was so hushed that even to Tali it was barely audible. “When he does, all things die in his wake.”

“I do not think it wise to be near him, then,” Jarek said almost breezily, his customary way of dealing with anything incredibly dangerous, as far as Tali could tell. “Shall we take your lovely crew of stalwart warriors and return to the Lands of Tek?”

Iolur shook his head. “He will not let us go.”

“We will break our chains whether he likes it or not,” Yari snapped fiercely, punctuating her thought with the click of her tongue against her teeth that meant determination to a dwarf. “I will fight until we are all free or I am cast into fire and unmade.”

It was an awe-inspiring devotion to Tali, something so very familiar even in the Deep. Dwarves valued their artifices and their people as though they were made of the rarest gems. Master Geim had said many times as he supervised her earliest attempts at gemcutting that Tek’s true treasures were the lives of the dwarves that the God of the Machine breathed life into. Inside Yari, despite all the pain she had endured and callousness of the creatures that lorded over her, there was that same intense reverence for life.

Tali found no small amount of hope in that. She reached out and touched the lump of iron ore. “We will have to fight him, then,” she said, trying to infuse a fraction of Yari’s courage into her tone.

“You are not a fighter, Tali,” Jarek pointed out, putting a hand on his dwarven companion’s shoulder. “It is not in your nature.”

Tali found an anchor in her heart, thoughts turning to the horrors of Lagarra and the evil of the demons who orchestrated the cacophony. “I won’t leave them to face the Maker alone. Not if he’s as powerful as they say.”

Jarek was quiet for a moment before asking, “And what would you do against him?”

The young dwarf’s shoulders slumped slightly as she realized she had no good answer to that. “I don’t know.” Tali sighed deeply. “We should ask Rhesis. She knows more about demons than any of us.”

“I expect she is with the others, plotting something,” Jarek said as he clambered to his feet. “Allow me a moment to fetch her. I leave you in the capable care of our new friends.”

Tali nodded in agreement. She needed a moment to collect herself anyway.

A clawed hand touched her shoulder delicately, almost hesitantly. The young dwarf turned, catching tentative clicks from Yari. “What’s wrong?”

“Why did you come here, Tali?” Yari asked. “Why would you leave a world without whips and chains?”

The young dwarf saw no reason to lie. “My artifice, my home, is dying. The spark that Tek gave us fades every day, and soon it will go out.” Her stomach knotted into a tight ball. “Maybe it has already. Our heartforge said that Tek’s gifts still exist in the Deep, that the spark of Thuumdolahr would rekindle our own.”

Yari inhaled sharply at that. None of the deep dwarves seemed to like the mention of Tek still, though their response was less openly hostile than Lekt’s had been. “Tek is gone. The Maker made certain of that.”

Tali’s brow furrowed. “Remember that I’m not from here, Yari,” she said quietly. “You have to explain for me.”

“I leave the telling to you, Yari,” Iolur said, lifting himself up off his haunches. Even old and wizened, he had enough muscle to unscrew a human’s head from their shoulders with ease. His claws and teeth were anything but dull despite a lifetime’s worth of use as well. “I will speak with Lekt. He knows the paths between the four corners better than most.”

Yari nodded and kept her peace until Iolur was out of earshot. “Iolur lost many children to the Maker’s forges,” she explained softly. “Some he did not even get to hold.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It is the way of things now,” the deep dwarf said. “We will make certain that it is not the way of things to come.”

Tali nodded, pulling her knees up to her chest. She wrapped her long arms around them, hugging her legs thoughtfully as she looked at Yari. “What story do you tell about Tek? Why do you hate him?”

“The Maker teaches that he created us, that the mocking of dwarven lives so angered Tek that the furious god destroyed all connection between us and the children of Artifice,” Yari explained. “It is said that Tek turned the hearts of the kinslayers cold and cruel, unfeeling stone to our pain. He is the reason we are trapped.” A hint of shame colored her voice when she added, “So long I believed this to be true.”

“Yari, please believe me when I say that no one in Dhuldarim knows what has happened in the Deep,” Tali said. “We lost so much when Tek disappeared and took his song with him.”

The deep dwarf hesitated. “Tali, would Dhuldarim care what happens to us if they knew?”

Tali squared her jaw. “They would,” she said. “Even if I had to pound on every rooftop and batter down every door to rally them together.” She clicked her teeth encouragingly. “At least, I’d make them. We’re not going to let this continue. I promised.”

A wave of relief seemed to wash through Yari. “You should know, then,” the deep dwarf said. “They say that Dzverin Ta’al was once the seat of the God of the Machine, his most perfect work. Now it is shattered halls and twisted power haunted by the Lord of All.”

“Thuumdolahr?” Tali breathed. The idea of a demon corrupting the very home of dwarven artifice, the origin of her entire race’s life, made a sickness like no other well in her stomach. A resolution formed in her heart. “Then we’ll go there and fight him and find Tek’s spark. We can save our people, both in the Deep and above it.”

“You really think we are the same?” Yari said hesitantly.

There wasn’t a shred of doubt in Tali’s voice when she answered. “I know it.” She inclined her head towards Yari’s brothers off to the side, who were currently playfighting and taunting each other, though Zuth carried Prideep on his shoulders. The frog-like goblin had taken to his new perch with the air of a conquering champion, chest puffed out as he enjoyed suddenly being the tallest person in the area, just a few inches taller on top of the deep dwarf than Jarek was standing on his own two feet. “I see so much of what I know in you.”

The squeaking laughter of the goblin was audible even from a distance, matched by the gruff sounds of the twins’ amusement.

“Your words are soft things,” Yari said. “So many of our own are cold to us, stripped of the warmth of hope by the cut of claws. Thank you.”

Dwarves spoke often in terms of texture and temperature, given their heightened sense of touch. Tali understood perfectly, even with the thickness of Yari’s accent. “I have faith in you,” the dwarf said firmly. Her confidence was a fragile thing in most areas, particularly her own abilities, but in this it was as steady as a lodestone pointing north. She could spin her thoughts any which way, but they returned to this direction without fail. “Jarek is right, I’m not a warrior, but I’ll do everything I can to help.”

“There is a way you could help,” Yari said. “You can read the scratching, yes?”

Tali cocked her head curiously. “What do you mean?”

Yari made a few crude, script-like symbols on the crystalline floor beneath them, miming the act of writing. “The shaped sounds held in stone.”

“I can read,” Tali confirmed.

“There is a place that holds many secrets, voices of the dead trapped in symbols,” Yari explained. “It may have much to teach us both about the art of crafting and the masters holding the whips, but it is locked from us by the unknowingness.”

“If you get me there, I’ll read every bit to you,” Tali said. If Yari was right, and there was anything even vaguely related to metallurgy there, it could make a huge difference in battling the demons. Dwarven steel could pierce their hides and do them wounds in a way that no amount of iron ever would. Tali was no expert in steelworking, but she had handled hot metal for a long time. Besides, dwarves were nothing if not masters of learning. Yari and her people were worth every ounce of time and effort.

“Then we can do more than die,” Yari said, her voice almost trembling as hope crept into her tone. “That would help us more than another spear.”

“Then that’s what I’ll do,” Tali said as she rose to her feet. “Where is this repository?”

“East of Lagarra, surrounded by tar pits,” her newfound friend explained. “Tek’s wrath haunts it even now. Any of our people who step within are struck dead.”

Tali drummed her fingers against her leg. “It might be trapped or puzzle-locked. Sometimes the far-flung outposts are, to keep wild things from straying inside and damaging anything. I know a bit about that kind of thing from Geim’s stories.”

The deep dwarf nodded more staunchly. “We should tell Iolur what we mean to do. He will not like it. Too much risk for you.”

“I have Rhesis, Jarek, Eiv, Prideep, and all of you,” Tali said with as much confidence as she could muster. As long as she kept saving Dhuldarim and helping the deep dwarves in the center of her thoughts, the fear didn’t quite strangle her. “I think we can make this work. Do you have smiths who could use the knowledge?”

Yari nodded. “Near Kuldath, there are others like us fighting the Chosen. A few know iron very well.”

Tali found a certain amount of relief in the idea that this little band wasn’t alone in their fight. “Then we’ll get the knowledge to them as fast as we can, if it’s the right thing. If not, maybe there’s something else of use there. The sooner we get moving, the better.”

It was good to have a plan.

Tali Khondurahl - dwarf protagonist venturing into the Deep to save her home city/artifice, Dhuldarim.
Prideep Wraaka - goblin warrior joining her on her mission.
Eiv - a stone golem guardian from Tali's home city.
Rhesis - a siren freed from imprisonment far beneath the surface of the earth by Tali.
Jarek Vrana - a human necromancer rescued from the hands of the forsaken.
Lekt - a twisted deep dwarf befriended by Tali and company.
Yari - another deep dwarf met in the escape from Lagarra.
Iolur - leader of the Lagarran rebel deep dwarves.
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