“Sixty-one, sixty-two, sixty-three, sixty balls!” Pain wracked his cramped up joints as the tiny fountain pen dropped from his stubby fingers and into the trodden dirt with an unceremonious thlop. Ezekiel scrambled to snatch it back up but it was too late—the pen was right in the path of a Pureblood. He could sense the air shifting before the inevitable conclusion: Head-over-heels-over-head Izzy went, and he, too, made a thlop.
“Watch yourself, dwarf.” Snapped his attacker, with his hands on his hips. It was a very furious look made less frightful by the fact the Pureblood before him wasn’t even old enough to shave. Just a boy. Probably some muckety-muck’s aide or batman.
On his feet in a flash, with as much grace as a dwarf could muster (he only slipped once in the slop), Izzy doffed his helmet and bowed his head several times. “Yessir. Too right. Won’t do it again.” The wisp of a child got an evil eyeful as soon as he turned around, haughty nose in the air. Damned if it didn’t piss him off but good. A Chief Engineer one day, kowtowing to babes without beards the next.
He sighed and scooped up his pen, scraping away the mud as he scraped away those dangerous thoughts from his mind. That was the third time today he had cramped up trying to get his big hands around this infernal contraption. ‘Oh no,’ they said. ‘All inventories need to be taken using standardized, regulation pens,’ they said. ‘We shove them up the arse of every Captain or better just for this very purpose,’ they said. That last part might not have been true.
There was a pinch on his chin as Izzy suddenly realized he had been tugging at his beard with enough oomph to near rip it right off. That would never do. Focus, focus. The job at hand. Setting up the garrison in Gulanadur had proven to be an impressive lot of work, and after Lord Marshall Howe abandoned the plane it seemed like the camp work only intensified. Every day, more and more of these pallets and crates kept zooming in from planar transit. Even the Gatemaker, that snotty little fellow with the peacock crest helmet, was starting to look like death warmed over, the bags under his eyes growing blacker every time he cried, ‘Clear the zone!’ and in came another shipment. More than was proper, to his figuring. Maybe the blokes up top didn’t want to come back for a long time.
One of those pallets made a perfect perch, apparently, as a dwarf was at this very moment dangling his stumpy legs from one, humming a cheerful song between massive bites of an entire pie. “And where the hell’ve you been, Dodd? T’ain’t seen ya since the mornin’. Near enough sundown now, you buggering git. And what’s with the pies, now? You hiding a bakery up your ass I don’t know about?”
“Hullo, Izzy.” Unfortunately, every insult just made Dodd’s grin get wider, too used to his kin’s way of greeting, he was. “It’s a berry pie they done gave me.” No new information there: Dodd’s shaven baby face was an absolute mess of purple stain.
“And who was it going about giving away pies?”
“Oh, the men in the camp over there.” He points to a Pureblood tent in the distance, next to Howe’s old cabin. “I come up when they were having supper and they just gave me one. They’s nice people. Not like those redcoats.”
“You got it from where?!” It took every bit of patience not to smack that pie-eating grin right off Dodd’s face. “Are you absolutely daft? You took charity from an Imperial type? They never forget that, no sir. Right rotten penny-pinching geezers the lot of them. Oh, they’ll give you whatever you damn want now no questions asked but when it comes time for review? They’ll be all, ‘what? What ho? What’s this then?’” He puffs up in his best impression of a Pureblood, accent and all. “’Why, old chaps we were going to consider putting your race up for promotion if it weren’t for all the pies you knicked.’ You dumb ox and your pies. Be the death of us all, by my eye teeth.”
Dodd looked entirely horrified, shrinking visibly under the tirade. A child who didn't know what he'd done but knew he did wrong. By the end of it, he was staring dumbly down at his pie-stained hands, and such a look of guilt on his face as turned Izzy’s stomach. “But I…”
“Ach.” Izzy sighed and went on in a more gentle tone. “I’d curse yer ancestories if they wasn’t the same as mine, Dodd. Come on, now, come on. Never you mind. Let’s just get back to countin’, awright? Come on, come on.” He reached a hand out to Dodd but the act of dismounting was easier said than done. The pallet was perilously lopsided and in a minute it all went to pot, crashing over with the tell-tale crack of wood packing being snapped.
“Oh, bloody hell.” Once they had gotten to their feet, they could stand to survey their wreckage: Not much damage, but one of the pallets had split open.
“What’s that, Izzy?” Dodd’s finger was stretched out at the contents. Inside was a curious thing, a dozen slabs of what looked like iron, molded into the oddest of patterns like a blacksmith’s puzzle all undone.
There was no good way to say it, so Izzy said nothing. It wasn’t worth troubling the poor lout. Dodd had never seen the fighting on the surface—he was a tunnel runner during the War of Cinders. Bad for him: Dodd was one of the first casualties once the Reshalians began deploying ground pounders. Tunnel collapsed right on the lad’s head, taking half his skull clean with it. Beneath that helmet, Izzy knew, was half a brain and a testament to dwarven fortitude. He was still one of the lucky ones, to never see these things in action.
“Just some rocks, Dodd. Just pack it back up and we’ll count it. Sixty-four, I think we’re at. Awful lot of them, too, for some reason. Sixty-five, sixty-six—“
“Clear the zone!”
A flash of gorgeous light, and the transport came in. More pallets. Dozens. Hundreds.
The pen made an unceremonious thlop.
Outside the city of Drache lies a number of cities, towns and provinces of varying size and populace. Most of the people living outside Drache are natives who speak Arangothian and observe the native customs and rituals. Click here for a list Arangoth's locales, and here to view a map.
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