“STOP!!!” bellowed the robed mage, his hands outstretched as a tidal wave of arcane command swept through the hall.
Everything came to a halt. The swarm of buzzing fey creatures froze in mid air, expressions of anger carved into their motionless faces. Lanth was instantaneously suspended a foot off the ground between strides of his sprinting. Ignacio was immobile, clutching “The Eldritch Fragments of Duli” to his chest, his back against the bookshelves and fist raised in aggression. Stevil’s whips came to a dead stop, poised like cobras ready to spring as they cracked through the air. Nobody spoke or moved a muscle as the echoes of the battle faded through the lofty chamber until the only sound that remained was the dim humming of the alchemical lamps that hung from the walls.
Once the energy of the room was neutralized, the mage who had bellowed the command motioned to a few of his fellow spell casters who stepped forward from their circle and focused their efforts on the swarm of fey. With a firm tone, one of the robed mages spoke a command and the collective anger seemed to melt from the cloud of winged creatures. Just like nothing had ever happened, the whole swarm calmly began to file out of the corridor back towards the grand central chamber.
With order restored and the fey evacuated, the first mage turned to the trio, his hands steepled in front of his lips. After a long moment examining the three companions with a discerning eye, he turned to one of his companions and said, “Summon Master Gemheart.”
He then turned back to the trio and with grave severity in his voice, asked, “Who are you and what is happening here?”
He flourished one hand in the air, and the trio suddenly found their speech restored and their heads free from the spell’s hold.
In a moment of frustration at being toyed with so easily, Ignacio, a slight smirk pulling at the corners of his mouth, quipped “I am Ignacio and I just want to read this book.”
The mages expression darkens in a scowl.
“Son,” the mage said, “The fey of this institution don’t attack people who are just here to read. We’ve summoned the master librarian, and I suggest you look in your mouth for an honest tongue and find it before he gets here. I’ve met less patient dwarves in my life than he, but you are going to want to have a reasonable explanation for why you were causing a disturbance in his library and threatening the safety of his books…he treats them like a mother bear treats her cubs. Get in between them and there’s no telling what could happen. Now I’ll ask you again: WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?”
Attempting to smooth over the slowly rising hackles in the room, Stevil quickly related the story of their arrival at the Atheneum and the events of their battle against the fey of the institution.
The mage listens with narrowed eyes. As you finish the telling of your story, a bustle from the grand chamber can be heard, and another small contingency of folks enter the hallway.
Leading the pack of robed elf and human mages, is a dwarf. Bald headed with an icy white beard, his skin has an almost ashen gray hue to it. On his belt swings a massive tome, he carries a short scepter with an emerald at its end and spectacles balance on the end of his small round nose. Pinned to his robe are what appear to be dozens of small scraps of paper, all with various scribblings in all manner of languages.
“Master Gemheart,” the head mage says with a polite bow, “these 3 here were involved in the disturbance.”
Still frozen in place by arcane holdings, the three party members watched as the mage relayed their story to the Dwarf.
After pondering for a moment, he speaks with an authoritative voice both rich and oddly cold, “Release them and bring them to my chambers”
A few minutes later, the trio finds themselves in a small but comfortable chamber, sitting on 3 overstuffed easy chairs in front of a stone fireplace with a small fire blazing in its hearth. Kurgi Gemheart, the master librarian of the Supreme Atheneum, paces in front of it, casting his shadow on the trio as he circles. After a few moments of niceties and small talk, he stops his pacing and turns to face the group directly.
“Your story intrigues me, for many reasons. In my time as Master Librarian, I’ve seen many odd things and learned some very bizzare things about our world. But this situation stands out to me for a very odd way that I refuse to believe is simple coincidence. The reason I have summoned you here to my private chamber is because of the book our fey servants seemed so desperate to keep you from obtaining. You see, The Eldritch Fragments of Duli was written by me. It represents my life’s work of researching the legend of an arcane gem so powerful that it had to be broken into shards to prevent the destruction of the world.” Kurgi produced a pipe from a strap on his belt and busied himself with packing and lighting it. Once he was satisfied with the plume of smoke rising from it, he lowered himself onto a small couch and began to speak with the slow and intentional pacing of one who truly understands how to tell stories.
“In centuries long past, a grand civilization of Dwarven kind existed in the frozen north reaches on the continent of Brimskogar, in a region of the TrØllendon Mountains known as the Duli Pinnacles; it was an unforgiving and viciously cold environment with towering spires of rock that covered the mountains with a massive forest of stone pillars. Any who came to this land seeking the rare minerals and riches that lay beneath the surface learned very quickly that those who could not delve into the mountains would be forced to deal with all manner of foul things that the surface world holds…ferocious Yeti, brutal Dire Wolves, monstrous bears, murderous Orc warbands and…worse. But the company of Dwarves who arrived to make their home in this savage land were Dwarven to their core, and if Dwarves understand anything, it is the rock and stone.
Not more than a generation had passed until the great halls of Duli were completed. Their way of life was an isolated one, but safe, secure and in its own way, rather merry. The mighty walls of the mountain that made up their realm kept all manner of creatures at bay. They delighted in the advancement and protection of their home, in the education and knowledge of their kin, in all things that sparkle and shine in firelight. Great forges worked day and night, crafting mighty weapons and armor. They were unparalleled miners and dug a mighty wealth from the roots of the mountain. They cared little for the affairs of the surface dwelling folk, they did not allow traders from any foreign land to enter their domain, and no Dwarf of Duli was EVER documented leaving the realm to start a new life elsewhere. They were a tightly knit and solitary people, and liked it that way.
But it is impossible to delve as deep as they and not feel the primal power that the earth holds. They felt it, and their ambition drove them to seek control over it. To harness this power, some commonfolk may say, is ‘magic’ but the Runesmiths of Duli understood it differently…very much in the way the mages of our surface world understand when they utter a word of Command. By using the True Names of things, reality shifts to comply with those names and the command that is joined with it. And thus, once they discovered the True Names of the materials they worked, they were able to craft runes of mighty power. Inscribe a pick or shovel with the proper runes, and even the hardest stone would crumble to dust at its touch. Cover a set of armor with the correct insignia, and that armor would be as hard as Dragon Scales. Etch certain symbols along the blade of an axe and any Dwarf who wielded it could cleave a yeti in twain with a single blow.
It is no surprise that, in time, The Dwarves of Duli thought themselves invincible.
That is, until they discovered the Gem of Duli. Then they KNEW they were invincible.
But at first, the Dwarves of Duli didn’t understand. The gem was dug from deep in the depths below the mountain. A seemingly simple green gem, about the size of a melon, with little about it that seemed extraordinary aside from its extreme clarity and translucency. As they began their Runecraft, they thought it a simple gem of amplification, albeit a powerful one. But the more they worked it, the more runes of Focus and Direction they inscribed on its glittering green surface, and the more they shaped its form to allow the power of their runes to flow into each other, the power it manifested from its wielder was so vast that soon it became clear that this was not magic like they had always understood it.
Before I continue, I must remind you of a fact of our world. Magical energy cannot be created or destroyed. All the magical power that exists has always existed and always will exist. An arcanist simply directs it; sculpts it; moves it from place to place as they shape it to their whim. This is what Mages have understood for millennia. But the extent to which the Gem of Duli amplified its user’s power was so great that they eventually came to their chilling and startling conclusion: this Gem, which came from deep in the heart of the mountain, was its OWN source of magical energy completely separate from the field of Arcana that we draw from for all known magic. When one used the power source of the Gem in conjunction with their already existing power, the results could only be described as God-like.
The dwarves celebrated. They believed they held the key to immortality.
But power this strong cannot stay hidden. It called to the hunger in every living thing, drew the darkest parts of all existence to it. Begging to be claimed, to be taken.
When the Yetis came, they shrugged it off as a “migration.” When the wolves came, they called it a “coincidence.” When the Orcs came, they claimed it to be an “invasion.” Even when the goodly races of Men, Elves and fellow Dwarves came for the gem, all of whom had a long standing agreement of peaceful non-involvement with the realm of Duli, they called it “jealousy.” They could not see it for what it was: that the gem was drawing all who lusted for power to it.
When Luma The Full Moon came, they saw it for what it was: their doom.
The Dwarves of Duli had used the power of the Gem to repel all those who sought to take it from them. Armies were defeated or forced to flee before ever setting foot inside the halls of Duli. But Dragons…well, dragons are something else entirely.
She came on a moonless night. It is written that the guards on the wall were keeping a watchful eye, but the dark void of the night that lay across the wilderness in front of them was like a blindfold. But suddenly, on the horizon was a light! “Surely that cannot be the rising moon,” the sentries puzzled to each other, trying to understand how there could be light on a night of a new moon. But the moonlight grew brighter…and brighter…much too fast to be a rising moon.
She burst into view, her white scales so radiant even in the dark of a moonless night that is said she seemed to glow from within. Her wings so massive that she swayed the trees hundreds of feet below with every beat. Her roar so violent that it was said even those down in the depths of the mines below the mountain felt its tremor. Luma, The Full Moon, had come.
The Dwarves of Duli felt despair. Even with the Gem, they knew they stood little chance against such a foe…but worse, the realization of what was to come brought them great shame and fear. The understood that should Luma control this Gem, the entire world would be in peril and the Dwarves of Duli would be cursed by all of creation, for the blame lay with they who had created such a powerful artifact. There was much arguing, but they eventually decided on a plan. They knew the power of the gem was too mighty to be destroyed by any means they possessed. Therefore, they decided they would split this gem into fragments and send the pieces as far away from each other as possible, in the desperate hope that by being so far removed from each other, the power of the Gem would be lessened enough to keep the world safe from the threat of destruction should any single shard fall into the hands of those who mean the world ill.
It is said they withstood the onslaught of Luma for 3 days and nights before she broke through into the mountain, a feat both highly revered and decried as mere rumor to this day. But it is also said that the fragments of the Gem made it out and escaped the region. There are legends, myths, rumors and whispers from all corners of the Known World of Dwarven envoys arriving from Duli with the fragments. But how many fragments were there? How many made it out of the Halls of Duli and where were they hidden? None of this can ever be confirmed by the Dwarves of Duli, Luma The Full Moon saw to that. Since then, not even the smallest sign of life has been seen from the realm of the Dwarves of Duli since Luma entered (including Luma herself), and none dare to call on the mountain, lest Luma still inhabit it.
But if this tale is true and the fragments do exist out in the world, woe to us should they ever be restored into a whole. If even a fraction of the magnitude of power the Gem was told to hold is truth, bringing just a few of the fragments together could produce enough power to make the wielder nigh-unstoppable.
I have made it my life’s work to track down these fragments…follow every trail, every rumor, every whisper of their legend. It is my duty to the world, for the shame of my people rests on my shoulders. Yes, I am a direct descendant of the Dwarves of Duli! My very existence proves the legends and stories must be true, for I very may well be the last living Arctic Dwarf in the Known World. I’ve never met another of any race that is immune to the chill of ice and winter as I am, proving my lineage. I am proof that some of the Dwarves of Duli did indeed make it out before Luma could slaughter them all. This hope has fueled my search."
Kurgi paused, took a final puff of his pipe and knocked the contents of the bowl out onto a small silver ash try with the heel of his hand.
“It is my belief that somebody has possession of one of these fragments and is trying to keep you from learning more about them. With even one of the shards, magical abilities thought impossible become possible. Your telling of the ability to posses creatures from across continents is one of those things that is within the scope of the power of the Fragments of Duli.” He paused, leaned forward with his hands on his knees staring very sternly at the trio.
“You must seek the Fragments of Duli.”
The room was silent for many moments. Finally, Ignacio spoke in his collected tone.
“How are we to know that you aren’t just looking to find some eager lackeys to search out these stones you revere? Further, if they have been hopelessly lost for such a time, what chance would we have of tracking them down now? We have our talents to be sure, but none of us have experience with such things.”
Emboldened by his companions questions, Lanth was next to speak up. “Why uth? What chancth do we have againtht a powerful thortherer? Ethpethelly one in pothethion of one of the Lotht Fragment-th?”
Kurgi Gemheart listened to the lithping bards questions with ferocious intensity, and answered with vivacious enthusiasm the instant Lanth had spoken his questions.
“Why you?!? My lad, look at the signs, look at the omens! Don’t you see?!? These fragments are barely more than a children’s bedtime story to most of the known world, and yet you three stumble not only upon MY telling of their tale, but you are met with some force of opposition that clearly seems to be trying to stop you from learning any more about them. While whatever party that doesn’t want you to learn of them may potentially be strong (though there is no way to be certain they DO possess a fragment), they are acting hastily and have used rather obvious and clunky methods to try to stop you. They have played their hand very fast and have shown EXACTLY what they don’t want you to know. And as fate and the Gods would have it, that very subject is my life’s work. Now ask yourselves…does this feel like mere coincidence to you? My lad, the World is a mystical thing and contains deeper knowledge and power than we mortals can possibly comprehend. These fragments, if brought back together by the wrong person could un-make the world. I believe the world has shifted fate to bring you to me so that you may be better equipped to find them.”
Giving a quick snort of a chuckle, he continued and stood up from his chair to pace hurriedly around the room again.“Why you?!? If you were incapable of threatening whomever else I believe to be seeking these stones, would they have gone to these measures to stop you? You are not the first humanoids to read my book, I’ll have you know…and never before have any of those readers found themselves in mortal peril! So clearly, you three most certainly DO stand a chance if you were deemed dangerous enough to try to eliminate. That in and of itself gives me hope!”
“Of course,” mumbled Ignacio under his breath, “being almost murdered by a swarm of annoyed insects is definitely good news…”
Kurgi chuckled again and waved a thick finger in Ignacio’s direction. “It most certainly is, my lad, for it tells us we’re on the right trail.”
He stopped his pacing to face the party, a look of stern solemnity floated across his face.
“You three must ask yourselves…search deep within. ‘If I was the only one able to stop this force of evil, would I?’ I am much too old to take on a quest of this magnitude, I have not the strength to travel as far as one who seeks the fragments will, nor can I abandon my commitment to the Atheneum. But my years have not been in vain and you have my word that should you decide to take up the burden of this task, I will help in whatever way I can. I have a VAST understanding of the legends surrounding these fragments, as well as access to financial assistance to help you on your way.”
His expression grew even more serious as his voice fell to a near whisper, “What say you? Will you do what I cannot? Will you seek the fragments of Duli before someone else does?”