During the Age of Magic the dwarves were not the united nation they would become in the Age of Winter. Scattered tribes of mountain peoples, they were skilled craftsmen and engineers but had little interest in the areas beyond their lands. Amiable and welcoming, they made perfect targets for the con-men and tricksters of other kingdoms. The greatest works of their smiths and their rock-shapers were traded for trinkets and baubles, or worse, mere illusions that vanished when their creators were gone. The dwarves couldn’t win redress from the local lords through strength of arms or force of argument. They had no great armies, and the neighboring rulers pointed out that the dwarves had, after all, agreed to the bargains.
This abuse bred distrust of both foreigners and all forms of illusion and magic. It also pushed them underground. Their formerly welcoming cities built along mountain passes were slowly abandoned for safer under-hill communities. The tribes grew closer, and gradually out of many a single unified civilization was formed, the Khazad. The dwarves began to ask themselves why they had ever bothered with outsiders to begin with.
Towards the end of the Age of Magic, few dwarves were seen by other races, and it was later said that deep in their under-hill holds, they didn’t notice the Age of Winter for three generations. Though this is almost certainly an exaggeration, while the kingdoms of men and elves withered under Mulcarn’s onslaught the dwarves power and competence grew slowly but steadily. Then one day their scouts returned from the surface with reports of melting snows and lush vegetation.
Kandros Fir led one group of Khazad out of their cavernous homes to form cities and trade with the new kingdoms of men and of elves. He does not revere tradition as most dwarves do; rather, he pioneered arts new to his people: farming, animal husbandry, negotiation, appraisal, marketing. He pursues trading partners with zeal, by force if necessary, always determined to advance the Khazad’s fortunes. Remembering the insults of generations past, the Khazad are determined that they be secure as they venture out into the world. Not only the security of high walls and stout hammers, but of brimming coffers and canny merchants.
While his goals draw Kandros outward, what is unknown outside of a few dwarven circles is that internecine conflict helped push him and his followers to the surface. Both he and Arturus Thorne want the best for their people, but they are committed to different visions for achieving it. The limits of underground expansion were reached in ages past. Both leaders are committed to leading the dwarves into the wider world to prove their vision for the Khazad in the Age of Rebirth.
90% Hill Dwarf
9% Mountain Dwarf
1% Rock Gnome
< 1% Other
60% Lawful Neutral
30% Lawful Good
2% Neutral Good
< 1% Other
Adult population Lvl 1 or higher: 10%
Other: < 1%
Arturus found his friend by candlelight. Torches were forbidden in this hallowed chamber, deep in the Underhome. The soot and smoke they gave off obscured the runes carved into the rows of pillars, covering the names and deeds of the honored dwarven ancestors. The ancient dwarves who kept these sites, carving new stories and teaching others to read them, were called Runewardens officially but ‘Hand Seers’ more commonly. Squinting in the candlelight so much invariably robbed them of their sight, so they learned every word and letter by hand. Kandros Fir was at the end of his Clan’s section of the Rune Hall, chisel in hand.
“I knew I’d find you here,” Arturus said, kneeling next to him.
“I was his closest kin. I must add his name and deeds to our story.”
“Of course, old friend. But that isn’t all you are planning, is it?” Kandros bowed his head.
“I am loyal to our king, by my bones, I am loyal.”
“I can no sooner abandon family than fall on my own axe! Suppose your cousin Grunnos was missing. What would you do?”
Arturus snorted. “Speak not of that wastrel, but be glad he has many older brothers to be king before him should good Kanlore pass.”
“But… were his fate that of Luach, I should dig to Mammon’s hell if it would find him. But not if my king forbid it! I know the bonds of kinship, but what of kith? Do you abandon your duty and your friends for a mad search? The winter will take you too, and what will that accomplish?”
Kandros rose, placing the hammer and chisel back on the altar as he turned to leave. “My duty has others to attend it, and my friends as well, dear Arturus. But Luach Fir is alone. If our friendship has meaning to you, you will not hinder me.”
It had not been easy getting to the surface. No one had been allowed to leave since Kandros’s cousin Luach had gone to study the surface. Winter still raged, as it had for more than six generations, but young Luach was undaunted, and had petitioned Kanlore for leave to explore the harsh surface regardless of the danger. Supplies were slim in the Underhome. Their stores of black powder had been exhausted so long ago that the last dwarves who would even recognize it had passed away, and expansion of the Underhome was tedious work with pick and hammer. Spices had run out early in Kandros’s youth, and the pork and tubers his children fed on left eating a chore. So Luach had at last been allowed to take another appraisal of the state of the bleak surface, but Kanlore’s hesitancy had been proven right when Luach did not return for months. No one was permitted to leave now, meaning Kandros had to sneak past guards in the dark, and would be ill regarded if he returned at all.
The exit to the dwarven home was sealed with a massive stone door, and Kandros exhausted himself prying it open, even using his pick as a lever. He bravely stepped from the familiar darkness of his home into the unknown darkness of the Age of Ice. He emerged from the hillside, setting foot on grass. Not snow, and the night air was crisp but lacked the biting chill he had been warned of all his life. He stretched out his arms, marveling at the open space all around, and broke into a run down the hillside. Running was foolhardy in the Underhome. Low ceilings, sharp turns, and sudden drops presented challenges that demanded a careful step, but here there was freedom.
And danger. Kandros found himself surrounded by large, grey dogs. He realized he had nearly charged into the den of these animals, and they cared little for his reason for being there. His hand axe was out barely before the first leapt for his throat. It was his blade that found the wolf ’s throat first. And the skull of the next wolf to charge him. He became a whirl of axe and torch until the last beast lay dead or dying.
So many animals… how could there be prey enough for a pack of this size in the wasteland he had been lead to believe the surface was? Then he noticed something half buried in the wolves’ den. He walked over slowly, pulling the body from the debris, his breath held tight. Unmistakably the body of a dwarf, though it was a gruesome sight to see after the wolves had fed on its flesh. The pattern of the clothing marked it as a clansman of his, and Kandros knew he had found his cousin. He rent his beard and wept over the body. After a time he gathered up the body, intending to bury it within sight of the Underhome. Then he noticed… the left shoulder blade was shorn in two. Not broken, but split with a clean cut. He examined it carefully. Luach had been hit from behind by a battle axe, almost certainly by someone of his height.
“Murder…” he whispered to the night.
He was answered, not by the night, but by a cloaked dwarf holding a Mithril axe directly behind him. “He, like you, wouldn’t leave well enough alone, Fir.” The dwarf swung his axe for the kill, but then dropped it clumsily and gurgled blood.
“Kandros!” Arturus shouted from the entrance of the wolf den, his axe embedded in the neck of the cloaked dwarf. The two friends embraced.
“I found Luach, and his killer I think,” Kandros informed his friend.
Arturus Thorne went pale. “And I found my cousin as well.” The dwarf he had killed was the prince Grunnos.
The last time Kandros had been in the King’s Hall, he had petitioned for permission to search out his cousin. Now, it was with accusation that the King’s own son had killed his kin. Were it not for the well respected Arturus beside him, he would have been called a murderer, and worse, a name-killer for making accusations against Grunnos. Kanlore stood from his throne and faced the two dwarves, his beard reaching nearly his full height. His eldest son and his honor guard flanked him; otherwise the chamber was empty. “You defied the laws of your people, Kandros Fir. The surface world is a harsh land ruled by a dread god and his legion of giants. It was treason to leave.”
Kandros held his tongue until his king had finished. “The ice is long gone, my liege, and Winter has passed. Your laws made my people’s home a prison, and it was based on lies!”
“‘Tis true, uncle,” spoke Arturus. “Your scouts have surely misled you for years!”
“Not years, foolish Arturus. The ravages of Winter were real enough 10 months ago.”
“You knew?” gasped Kandros.
“Yes, but your cousin had to die to keep this secret. Even with the Winter King gone, the surface world is a vicious realm. Elves and humans wield magic that can destroy any warrior. Greed makes warfare or subjugation unending. Here my people are safe, and here they shall remain.”
“We are not your children, to be locked away for our own protection. Let the Khazad go forth and prove our worth, not cower in stone chambers like men already dead! You have stolen our spirit, and I name you coward, Kanlore, be it treason or no!”
“Enough! Guards, kill them!” The honor guard readied their axes, but looked around uncertainly.
“Are you insane, father? These men did no wrong. You did, and you shamed yourself and your kin.” Prince Toril sliced off his braided beard and threw it in the king’s face. “You shall have no allegiance when word of this perfidy reaches beyond this hall. Nor shall any of your line.” The guards heeded his words and lowered their weapons.
“So you too turn. My son, hear this—when the last dwarf is hunted down, felled by lance or wand, be it your name that they curse with their last breath!” Kanlore staggered from the royal hall, towards exile upon the surface world he feared so much.
Prince Toril turned to Arturus. “Cousin, you are my closest living kin not of my father. It is you the people shall follow.”
Arturus turned to his old friend. “Kandros, could you not have left this alone as I so asked? Because of you I have become kin-slayer and usurper.”
“What? This foul scene was Kanlore’s doing!”
“What I must say now I say with heavy heart, but the weight of the crown. You sought the surface world, and there you must go, banished from the Underhome. Take provisions, take your clan, take all who would seek their fortune above. This is not justice, but there will not be order in the Underhome while a traitor walks its halls, and you did break the royal decree when you left.” Arturus sighed. “As did I, when I followed you. Toril, if you will not be king, then be my viceroy, and I shall take the crown to the surface as punishment for my own disobedience, with whoever will follow me.”
And so the king of the dwarves left the Underhome for the first time in over 300 years. At the same time the Fir clan and their allies forged their own Khazad nation. The two men who had been closest of fiends grew to be the fiercest of rivals as the Age of Ice gave way to the Age of Rebirth.
“Riders!” The cries of the watchmen came far too late to save his camp, for the next sound Arturus Thorne heard was the thunder of hoof-beats around him. He was to his feet in an instant, with his great axe in hand, but most of his company needed far more time to ready their weapons.
The horsemen dropped nets on the dwarven watchmen as they rode past into the camp. One managed to free himself with his handaxe, but his comrades were kept busy trying to avoid being trampled as more riders poured into the camp.
The King’s honor guard managed to ready their
halberds and form ranks around Arturus. There were not many of them, but the hedgehog of mithral-steel stopped the cavalry charge. “Thunder Company!” King Thorne bellowed, “Arm yourselves!” Given a few more minutes to prepare their weapons, the dwarven arquebusers would surely turn the tide of the ambush.
A whirring sound heralded the raiders’ new tactics. The riders circled the dwarven lines, loosing a swarm of bolas, nets and arrows. Such a tactic would have been merely annoying were not the dwarves badly outnumbered and without shield-bearers. Within minutes the King’s guard was felled and the rest of the company held at lance point.
Arturus cursed his ill luck. A shortcut through these hills had cut their travel time in half, but meant they spent days near Hippus lands. He had hoped to compensate by traveling light and moving fast, but he saw his mistake clearly now. No one outruns the Hippus.
The leader of the raiders rode up to Arturus with lance pointed menacingly. He was a tall man, with pitch black hair. His face was obscured by a mask, but he pulled it away to reveal a mouth fixed permanently into a snarl by an old scar. Unbeknownst to Arturus, this was Magnadine, general of the Hippus knights and a hero in his own right. “The Lanun paid us to bring dwarven slaves, but your treasure will be our spoils. Show us what’s in the cart, old dwarf.”
Arturus hatched a desperate plan. “I warn you, human, I am the high priest for the ancient dwarven gods. If you do not free my people, you will not see morning.” He pulled the tarp away from cart, revealing a tall stone column covered with carvings. Carefully he folded the tarp, setting it down on the ground. He stumbled in the dark as he arose, bumping into one of his arquebusers and palming a horn of powder in the process.
Magnadine was not convinced, nor was he happy to see the dwarves traveling without their famous gold. “If your gods cared for you, they would have given you legs long enough to reach a stirrup. Chain him up, boys!”
“You have been warned!” shouted Arturus, throwing up his arms dramatically. He tossed the horn into a nearby cook fire as he did so. It was near invisible in the darkness. As men approached to clap the dwarf king in irons, the fire ignited the gunpowder within the horn and for a moment there was no more darkness. Thunder followed the lightning, conjured not by gods on high or ancient magic, but dwarven ingenuity. Hippus horses reared and bolted. Some of even the best trained riders were left lying in the dust. The dwarves took advantage of the chaos to load their muskets. More flashes light the hills as a fusillade of iron shot struck down a score of horses and riders. Dwarves quickly worked to free each other from the Hippus nets and bolas. Within a minute the Hippus ambush turned into a rout.
Amidst cheering, the captain the guard came up to Arturus. “Do we turn back, my liege?” he asked.
Arturus shook his head. “No, we cannot. This is too important. But break camp, we’ll get no more sleep tonight.”
The rest of the journey was calm enough, though Arturus grew nervous for reasons of his own as they neared their destination. They reached the open city gates, but Arturus stopped his group. He turned, whispering to his companions, “I have no right to enter.” Merchants and other travelers streamed past them into the dwarven city. He turned to the captain of the honor guard at the gate, an old friend. “Would you please let him know I am here?” The captain nodded solemnly and entered the city, heading for the castle.
Soon Arturus was looking into a familiar face he hadn’t seen in many years. “Hello, Arturus,” Kandros Fir said.
“Kandros…” Arturus didn’t know where to begin. He cleared his throat gruffly. “You’ve done well for your people,” he said, gesturing towards the city.
“Why have you come?”
“Ah, ‘tis hard to say it, but I wronged you so. I was young and foolish, and resented the burden of authority. I’ve no right to ask your forgiveness, but you should have this.” He revealed the stone pillar in the cart.
Kandros rushed to it, mouth agape as he ran his fingers over the ancient runic script. “The ancestral Fir clan history!” He knew almost every word by heart, but it filled a void in him to see the history of his people again. The last words would have been carved in his own hand, the disappearance of Luach the Wanderer. Except…
“I hope you do not object. I added the last fifty years myself. The founding of Hallowell, the battle of Destrier Hill, the goblin wars, the births of Gridmok and young Kandros…you’ve done well for your people.” Kandros rose slowly, and, at long last, embraced his old friend. The feud was over, and the Khazad would be one again, in truth as in name.
Many dwarves consider Maros, who was to be their greatest champion, their greatest disappointment. His father was the Umberguard, the Keeper of Keys, Micah, the King of Stone. Micah was never beaten in battle, and his honor remained untarnished until the day he died.
But die he did. The Underdark is a cruel place and only the most cruel can hope to survive there. For centuries the hold of the dwarves had been surrounded by wild cities of deep goblins. Together they could have overrun the dwarves, but they were uncoordinated and without leadership. Then one day a mob of goblins came flooding toward the gates. The dwarves stood to defend their hold; they slaughtered scores of goblins, many of which didn’t even defend themselves. They weren’t attacking, they were running.
The following day, a balor approached the dwarven gates. Flush and crooked, the demon consumed the goblin corpses still lying outside the city. When it finally hailed the city, it offered a deal: instead of a war with the goblin tribes united under their new demonic leader, they could settle the conflict with honor. A battle between their champions: if the demon wins, the dwarves abandon their city; if the dwarves win, then the goblins will leave them be.
Micah accepted and a thrall was brought forward to fight on the balor’s behalf. The thrall looked to have once been a Svartalfar elf, now possessed by something darker. Unwilling to leave the city vulnerable, a small sidegate was opened and the thrall entered. The possessed elf wore only an ill-fitting chain shirt and bore a thin sword. The fight was brief and fierce, but King Micah was victorious. The demonic thrall had managed to inflict only a few minor cuts before falling to Micah’s powerful hammer.
That night incurable fire coursed through the great king’s veins. Micah died, for the demon-blade had been dosed with a poison from beyond the walls of the mortal world. Maros’s uncle was crowned king. The new king made another deal with the demons. He claimed Micah was a hero, that the demons had been underhanded, but they must now honor their pact: they had lost the duel and must keep their promise. And that seemed to be what they did.
But Maros didn’t believe it. He warned his people about the demons’ treachery, told them that the demons must be fought, not compromised with, that his Uncle wasn’t a dwarven hero, he was a pawn of the demons. Then he left the Underdark to enlist in the ranks of The Order and fight alongside races of all nations who opposed Agares and the other fallen angels.
Maros was supposed to be king one day, but he renounced his crown to fight evil. It is said that the final Umberguard will be the champion of Kilmorph and the dwarves when all else has fallen. It is a birthright passed from father to son. Maros is the last of the line, and he will have no children. If there truly is such as a thing as the Umberguard, it lives and dies with Maros.