Clockwork

Year : 261

The heaviness of the crate was starting to take a toll on Quentin’s knees. The others carrying crates seemed to share in the sentiment as sweat poured down their faces and soaked their clothing. The fact that the afternoon summer sun was beating down on them only made things worse.

“Who in the Nine Hells needs a damned crate this far south?! And why couldn’t they use a damn ship?” Quentin, a short-tempered man, hated this part of the route and the heat did little to stave the temper.

Quentin and the unfortunate Dwarf with him, a young Dwarf known as Bait, continued across the barren land. It had been cleared by the mages to enhance the beauty of the tower, a testament to the power and glory held within. Quentin, however, was no fool. He recognized the need to be political, but any Dwarf worth his ale knew it was a military move. “Clear the land and you can see your enemies.”

“They’re right, it does enhance the beauty of the tower,” marveled the younger Dwarf.

Quentin could only shake his head at the naivety of youth. “Aye, Bait, it does.” The old sourpuss could not bring himself to break the rosy glasses through which Bait saw the world. “Maybe,” he thought, “they won’t ever have to experience anything but.”

The trek from the gates was finished within an hour, their carts and animals having been left outside the boundaries of Kalien’s aura. Rumors had been quick to flourish since the towers creation concerning the power of the Violet Robes, rumors that sang of deceit and betrayal and dealings in unnatural things. Few trusted those within its walls, even among the other mages. It was not a light request for the Dwarves to ship their crafts to the tower, but the pay, to those who coveted gold, was always worth it.

As they approached the tower entrance, the doors flung open and a deep, threatening voice bellowed from within the darkened confines. “I cast thee out! Perish – into the Abyss!” The groups of Dwarves watched in horror as the ground before the tower was torn asunder, a gaping maw opening into the depths of the land. As it raced toward them, some Dwarves dropped their crates and fled, not wishing to risk the horrors within. Others, frozen in fear, could only watch, their minds racing about their inevitable doom. Bait, himself, was screaming at Quentin to abandon the job and run for it. But the old Dwarf widened his stance and braced for impact.

“Boss! No, what are you doing? We need to run!” Bait’s words fell on deaf ears as Quentin managed a smile.

The ground shook beneath the Dwarf’s feet, trying to pitch him side to side, as the land cracked further and further apart. Quentin never wavered. As the land opened up beneath him, he chuckled at the shrieks of Bait. “So naïve,” he thought. Quentin looked down as the ground fell away from beneath his feet and fought back the natural reaction one would normally have of suddenly standing over nothingness. He knew better.

When the tremors were over, only a few crates were still being held by Dwarves, mostly older ones. Quentin looked around at the few new recruits who had endured and nodded approvingly. About eight crates had been completely abandoned, and, after some quick recalculating, Quentin figured he had more than doubled his take. His smile grew wider.

“Hey! How was that? I got a good amount that time, huh?” said a voice, high-pitched and excited. Quentin motioned to Bait to set down the crate, for which both Dwarves were instantly thankful. The older Dwarf turned toward the source of the voice, bounding out of the tower, and gave a greeting gesture common to the Underraces. Bait peered around the crate to see a small Gnome jogging toward them, violet robes fluttering behind him as his tiny legs scampered across the ground. The land, Bait noticed, was completely intact.

“Ya like the voice, Quentin? It’s a new spell I just picked up. Figured it would add ta the effect.” The Gnome bounded from side to side. “Imagine how good that could be at night!”

Quentin gave a slight chuckle and patted the Gnome on the back. “Aye, but at night, I think you’d get all of us and have your crafts for free.”

A smile shot across the face of the Gnome. “Now there’s an idea. Wouldn’t be so bad I bet.” A greedy twinkle shone in the eyes of the Gnome as he contemplated arranging shipments for nighttime deliveries. “Not bad at all.”

Curiosity got the better of Bait as he joined the two obvious friends. “Uh, Boss, is everything OK? How’re we gonna get the crates in the tower? I’m not sure we can handle this many.”

“Aye, but no to worry lad, that’s what the mages are for.” As he spoke, a handful of men and women in violet robes filtered out of the tower, laughing with one another and mimicking the faces of those Dwarves who had run. Wisps of white, translucent magick streamed from their arms as magical hands grabbed the crates and lifted them off the ground, much to the cheers of the Dwarves who had brought them. The mages smiled and bowed. Bait marveled in the scene before him – Humans, Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes – there were members of all of Delagraad’s races, working together.

“Boss, what’s going on?”

“Don’t worry about it, lad. We’ll talk over dinner. Oh, curse my beard, sorry Bait. Manners are flittering away with my age.” Quentin turned to the Gnome before him. “This ‘ere is Eider,” and with a gesture back to Bait, “and this ‘ere is…uh…well, we call him Bait.” Pleased with the conciseness of the formalities, Quentin excused himself and headed into the tower.

The Gnome eagerly followed up. “Pleased ta meet ya! Name’s Eider. Eider Kwikk.”

Clockwork

Delagraad Jdteen