Lou paused on his aimless wander through the twisted streets of the frontier town. It was a place the humans called Duri on the border of the Brandywood forest. It was a strange place, but Lou was welcomed by a familiar sight. A local pub, a wooden sign with the words “The Shattered Shield” hung low and decrepit. Lou let out a hearty sigh and pushed open the worn out door. He was greeted by the smell of piss and vomit. This was the perfect place to finally stop and take a breather, having been on the road for several weeks. He sat down at the bar and stroked his bushy Dwarven beard. How had things come to this?
Lou hailed from the great mudlands to the south. More specifically, the bustling mining town of Slopp. The largest of many Dwarven mining communities deep in the mudlands, Slopp attracted immigrants all over the world seeking their fortune. It was also known as the “Island of Stone”, the main city was constructed upon a colossal stone pillar barely protruding out of the ground. Its tall stone towers and high stone walls were found nowhere else in the mudlands.
Mud mining is a lucrative business involving diving down into the more watery ground of the “Mud fields”. The mudlands was once home to a great civilization that has since been lost many hundreds of feet under the thick mud. Mud miners make their fortune and risk their lives to bring priceless artifacts back to the surface. The vast majority of them retire after a few years, or risk having their bodies lost to the merciless muddy depths.
Lou was a miner himself once. But that was long ago, he had found his calling as a farmer and appreciated the simple life that it entailed. He tended to his rice on the outskirts of the Slopp countryside and never thought much about the hard life many of his colleagues still faced in the mud fields. But that was before The Nesting.
After a particularly dry decade, the miners were forced to dive deeper into the mud for their precious artifacts. Although plenty of young Dwarves dived to their deaths, nothing was found. The city suffered as migrants flocked off of the island. It seemed that the mud fields of Slopp had dried up until a previously unknown Dwarf by the name of Wrenn pulled up a mysterious artifact from the deep. A gigantic black egg.
The egg quickly gained a cult following in the city of Slopp. They were convinced that this egg would be their salvation. They constructed a great nest of fire hardened mud in the center of town. Festivals were thrown in its honor and the people settled back in droves. It seemed that the Gods smiled on this find.
Lou came to the island with a wagon full of rice to sell at the annual Harvest Festival. He had gotten stuck along the way, and was arriving much later than his competition. As a new moon shone through the cloud filled sky he knew the loss in sales would be rough. As he approached the great stone gates of Slopp, he paused and noticed an absence of guards. The streets seemed abandoned in a hurry. Carts and tools lay abandoned on the ground. Lou heard a great cheer coming from the center of town. He tied up his donkey and ran deeper into the stone city. He could feel something troubling in the air.
As he approached the town center he saw a huge mass of Dwarves crowded around the nest. In place of the egg was a fearsome beast. Lou shivered at the sight of it. A black dragon with jagged horns protruding from its head. It wailed into the cloudy night sky, spitting bits of acid into the air. The people cheered.
In the following months Lou was forced from his home. The newly formed Order of Black had assumed governance of Slopp with “Wrenn The Uncoverer” at its head. All able-bodied Dwarves were forced to work the mud fields. They were amassing a hoard for their draconic god the likes of which had never been seen. The mud fields once again flowed with golden trinkets and artifacts at an astounding rate.
One foggy morning, Lou reported in for work. He looked at the tally board. Five had died over the night shift. A terrible loss, but he felt nothing. He had been desensitized to the deaths of his friends. Lou donned his heavy leather suit and strapped a breathing tube to his stainless steel mask. He had only been allocated 500 feet of tubing, hopefully he would not require any more. He tied a bag of rocks to his waist and moved to the edge of one of the watery pits.
“Here goes nothing.”
He leaped head first into the muddy depths and let the rocks carry him down. He felt the stones hit the floor after a couple minutes. He went to work immediately, feeling around on the floor for anything, any reason to return to the surface before something could go wrong. He blindly felt around for a while before hitting a metallic slab with his wrist. Lou felt a wave of relief as he grabbed onto the slab and cut the line tying him to the rocks. He tugged on his breathing tube twice and let out a sign of relief as he was hauled to the surface.
When they had finally hoisted him up, they wasted no time in snatching the artifact for identification. Lou struggled to shed his suit but stopped midway at the sound of gasps. The Order of Black officer assigned to the sector took off running toward the island. The thick mud plastering the slab was scraped away, the dark brown gave way to a magnificent silvery shine. The plate was blank except for an inscription, in the Dwarven tongue. As they cleaned the foreman read it aloud.
“We accepted him with open arms. We had no idea the egg had already driven him to madness. His name was Crastor. He found it atop the great mountains to the north and convinced us to raise it and protect it. The moment it hatched we were doomed. He took power and made us his slaves. Though we did so willingly in our fervor. As our devotion faded, it became apparent his lust for power would never be satiated. We rebelled, but were slaughtered by the thousands. When the beast laid its cursed eggs we knew we could not let its evil manifest and spread to the world. The warlocks banded together and sacrificed the city so that the world could live. Mud cleanses all, and that is why we unleashed it upon ourselves. And now-”
The foreman stopped short and arched his back in pain, revealing a single crossbow bolt lodged behind his head. Several others struck home in the small of his back and he fell forward onto the mud. A company of heavily armored soldiers bearing the banner of the Order had seemingly come out of nowhere. They began yelling orders to surrender and shooting their crossbows into the small crowd.
Lou watched as many of his friends collapsed onto the muddy ground. Though he had been numbed to the sight of dead dwarves, this was different. This was a betrayal. This was a rage he had had never experienced before. A fire in his chest overpowered his senses.
Kill. Smash. Destroy. Lou picked up the silver slab and used it to shield his charge. He heard the clink of crossbow bolts harmlessly reflect off of the front. Before making impact he tossed the tablet forward, crushing a soldier in front. Then sidestepped and landed a blow on the face a particularly burly dwarf. Ignoring the immense pain in his fist, he spun the soldier around and ripped off the greataxe slung around his back. Lou leaped forward onto the crowd of Order soldiers, now cowering in fear with his axe raised high. Then it all went black.
The next thing Lou remembered was standing over a heap of corpses, many hewn in half. There was no part of his body not coated in sticky red blood. He only knew he had to run.
So he ran. He ran for weeks until the mudlands faded into the distance. He ran past great forests and mountains the likes of which he could never have imagined. His journey led him to the frontier town of Duri and the Shattered Shield. While he sat and drank there was one thing on Lou’s mind.