The following is an excerpt from my third draft of Iron Fist of the Oroqs, the sequel to Wings of Twilight. In it, you meet Edwinna Bouldercrusher, a dwarven trader from Ironkrag who crosses paths with Delilah and plays an important part in the future of the draks and minotaurs living under Sarvesh.
The dwarf looked up as a rumble shook the ground under her feet. Her eyes searched the sky as she walked up the path toward Ironkrag’s main gate. Smoke was pouring out of Bloodplume, the nearby volcano, and she could see spurts of lava. Edie Bouldercrusher shrugged; Bloodplume was two days away by foot and never proved a threat to Ironkrag in the past; the inhabitants, on the other hand, almost always caused trouble.
She hoped the volcano incinerated every godless inhabitant of the so-called Twilight Dungeon. Edie didn’t know if the denizens of Twilight Dungeon were actually godless, but she knew for certain that they often raided trade caravans carrying ale. In fact, she noted they seemed solely to target caravans with ale. Maybe they were thirsty, or mean. She always thought it strange that oroqs, whom she heard were led by a fearsome demon, should be so concerned with stealing ale.
Her mule brayed in fear, eyes rolling white. The beast tugged at the rope, and Edie tugged back. Bad enough the volcano’s eruptin’. Now I gotta deal with this dumb mule, too. She dug her heels into the gravel and yanked on the rope, whipping the mule’s head around.
“Come on, now. It ain’t gonna hurt us. Let’s just get to the gates, yeah?”
Edie wrapped the rope around one hand, and she dug around in her pouch for a bribe. Producing a carrot, she waved it under the mule’s nose. Keeping it barely out of reach as the mule snapped for it, she led the beast up the mountain.
Dwarven guards decked out in dark plate armor stood at Ironkrag’s main gate. Over their armor, they wore tabards with a chevron set over two gauntlets clasping hands in front of a tower on a background of a green and white gyronny shield–Ironkrag’s coat of arms. They all watched the volcano’s fury with trepidation and held their halberds at the ready, as if that would stave off any dangers from the volcano. Edie approached the twin guard towers with her mule, clearing her throat to get the guards’ attention. They ignored her until she stepped back and kicked her heel up in to the mule’s belly, causing him to bray in protest.
“Oy, Edwinna! You see old Bloodplume?” While she was well-known to the guards, they insisted on calling her by her full name. She gave up trying to convince them to use the short form of her name, as they had silently ignored her requests for the past couple of years. One of the guards walked over to Edie’s mule and gave the packs a cursory inspection, patting them lightly. The guards never gave her any grief over her imports and exports.
Nodding, the trader pressed a talon into the guard’s palm. “The bastard’s belching up a storm today. Hopefully, it’ll burn all those oroqs to a crisp.”
The guard slipped the coin into his pouch. “With any luck. Hopefully, whatever else is in there dies, too. You hear about that elf and that human who came out of there last year?”
Edie shook her head. “I didn’t know anyone ever came out of there, other than the oroqs stealin’ our beer.”
“About this time, last year, five of ’em went in. Four humans and an elf. Only the human female and the elf came back out. Said they lived only ’cause they swore a sacred vow to never speak of what they saw. Then they skipped their merry way back down toward Celtangate.”
“Odd lot, those surfacers.” Edie tugged at her mule’s rope and walked toward the gate.
“Welcome home, Edwinna.” The guard returned to his post to watch the erupting volcano with his peers.
Edie grunted a reply and led her mule through the gate. It took her many months to train the mule to go into the underground city, but it was a hell of a lot easier than carrying all her goods by herself. Traders without mules were set up near the gates, hawking their wares.
Winking at a dwarven merchant who offered decorative trinkets for hair and beards, Edie promised she would be back soon to peruse his wares. Of course, she didn’t need trinkets, and those weren’t the sort of wares in which she would be interested anyway. She didn’t expect much from the merchant, though. He was probably married, but the game was fun, nonetheless.
The city’s trade guild hall was down the main road from the gate. Edie made her way there, noticing that even within the protective caverns of Ironkrag, she could feel Bloodplume loose its fury upon the world. It was the first time in her lifetime the volcano did anything more than vent steam and sulfurous fumes, but she supposed these things had to happen from time to time. The winds would keep the fumes from the eruption from reaching Ironkrag, and the terrain would protect the dwarven city from the lava flows.
The trade guild master greeted Edie as she entered the hall. “Ho there, Edwinna!”
Edie grunted in reply and dug her log book out from one of the mule’s pouches. She handed it to the guild master.
Flipping through the log book, the guild master grinned at Edie. “You see what’s going on outside? I haven’t felt this much motion since the bed shook on my wedding night!”
“Bloodplume is blowing its top,” Edie dug around in her belt pouch. Producing a hard candy she procured in Celtangate, she began sucking on it.
“Hmm…I’d say ‘good riddance’, but it might clog up Deep Road. It’d be a shame to have to dig all that out again.”
“Aye,” Edie nodded. “Still, if it got rid of all the oroqs, no price would be too steep, eh?”
“You’ve obviously never been a digger, Edwinna. By the way, your name came up.”
“Soul Forge. Then Deep Road Patrol.” The guild master grinned at Edie.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Edie tugged on her braids in frustration. Every able-bodied citizen of Ironkrag was required to spend time each year serving in the city’s militia. For some, that meant guard duty, for others, patrols. The most dreaded assignment was Soul Forge.
Ironkrag was a city powered by magic. Dwarves practiced a different type of magic than surfacers. Connected to the earth by ancient, powerful magics, dwarves changed as they aged. They became more and more rock-like until they died. Their bodies resembled stone so closely, many surfacers mistook them for statues, which, of course, they weren’t. After death, the bodies would be taken to the settlement’s Soul Forge, where the bodies would be burned and the souls released to go dwell with their ancestors and gods. It was an honorable assignment, but was taxing for those who did it. Most dwarves were only assigned Soul Forge duty for one or two days out of the year.
Soul Forge duty was always difficult, while Deep Road Patrol meant days on end of slogging up and down a portion of Deep Road, a vast underground thoroughfare connecting Ironkrag with other underground settlements. For Edie, the combined duties of both meant at least a week without profit.
“You’ve been out in the surface world so long, you don’t think you’ve gone soft. Do you? Think you can still handle it?”
The dwarf shrugged. The guild master signed the log book and handed it back to Edie. Traders like Edie didn’t have to actually sell their wares. They brought them to the trade guild, and the goods thus imported were distributed to the purveyors of that particular type of merchandise. The guild would then disburse profits to the traders, minus a small percentage for the guild, of course. The guild master pulled a small coffer out of his desk. Opening it, he counted out several dozen silver coins, talons, and gave them to Edie.
Edie ignored the guild master’s question and weighed the coins in her hand, “Pretty good cut this time.”
“You keep bringing in the good stuff, and the money will keep flowing, my friend.” The guild master put away his coffer. Edie nodded her thanks and led her mule over to the storage area. As she unloaded her mule’s packs, she smiled. Maybe I’ll buy something from that merchant after all.