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The entrance to Eth Rjoth Kjangtoth loomed in every sense of the word, inducing a sense of breathlessness as the Striders stalked down the incline, minuscule amid an enormous avenue paved with dark granite, lined on either side by towering monuments of the “Seven Ancestors”.

The statues themselves bore the semblance of medieval metallurgists, depicting imposingly bearded Dwarven men. The foremost had the look of a warrior, being half-clad in plate mail, carrying an arcane measuring device in his dominant hand, while his offhand rested on the pommel of an enormous war hammer. The others were similarly positioned, each holding instruments signifying knowledge in one hand, while the other held weapons that symbolised martial prowess.

“Hanmoul, can I ask you an audacious question?” Gwen inquired carefully.

“Sure,” her driver replied, piloting one-handed.

“Are any of the Ancestors women?”

Hanmoul gave her a strange look. On the Commandrumm's face, a pair of finger-thick brows knitted, conjoining into a single, furry worm.

“Sorry…” Gwen apologised, realising that perhaps, she had stepped on a cultural Warding Glyph.

“O' coorse there's wimmin among them…” Hanmoul snorted when she attempted to walk back her question. “What ya think, our babes are carved from boulders?”

Gwen had indeed wondered if Dwarves were hewn from stone. After all, in areas affluent with Elemental Mana, creatures sprang out of rocks, or water, or from whatever corresponding Plane they usually hailed. Sometimes, from the chaos of the immaterial elements, obscene and strange creatures such as Chimeras came into being all on their own.

“If so.” Gwen wiggled her brows, studying Hanmoul intently. “Which Ancestor is, er… the less bearded sex?”

“Dunno.” Hanmoul shrugged.

“You don’t know?”

“Not a cog.” Hanmoul laughed. “The Clan Matrons like it that way. Who’s ter say any of the Ancestors can’t be wimmin? Maybe more than one? Maybe all of them?”

“I haven’t seen any women yet,” Gwen mentioned casually.

"Want me to get one of the lads to pop her armour?"

Gwen's brain throbbed at the poorly translated gender pronouns.

"I assume I'll see a Dwarven lassie eventually?"

“Since yer a wee lassie yerself, sure—” Hanmoul replied with good humour. “No luck fer Ollie though. Aye, I’ve seen how that lad looks at ye. He’s a willie one, that Ollie.”

Gwen grinned. “Ollie, eh? I suppose.”

“Ooo, I see em looking. I reckon that lad likes wot he sees.”

“I know, I know. Are you married, Hanmoul?”

“Now that's an audacious question!” Hanmoul's waist-length beard masked his expression. “Nae lass, old Hanmoul’s a bachelor.”

“Truly?! Surely, for someone in such a high position…”

“The Rite of Nogazen is all politics.” Hanmoul wiggled his moustache. “It’s best for the Commandrumm of the Hammer Guards not to be political. Besides, I've got cousins by the dozen.”

“I'll take your word for it.” Gwen returned her attention to the outside world. “Goodness, how deep are we going?”

“Boot a kilometre down is where Eth Rjoth Kjangtoth’s main gate lies.” Hanmoul pointed to a vague structure in the darkness ahead, made visible by lumen globes leading up to an enormous keep. “Of course, we won’t be going through the Gate of Kazhul, but our Strider's bay. I am sorry to say, lass, you’re a guest of the Guild, not a dignitary visiting the Thane.”

“That’s fine with me,” Gwen reassured her host. “I am honoured just to be here.”

On approach, Gwen did her best to internalise the operatic, Dwarven architecture in familiar terms. From a broad base, the grand gates of Eth Rjoth Kjangtoth stood a dozen storeys tall, taking advantage of an impossibly large cavern system hollowed out by its Demi-human denizens. Nearer the understructure, she judged the aesthetic to be neo-brutalist, consisting of overlapping, herringbone grids. Higher up, upon closer inspection with her Essence-empowered vision, she realised that the herringbone pattern consisted of incalculable arrays of stairs forming a teeth-like array of battlements.

The facade of the keep itself was a curious mix of art-deco and neo-brutalism, crossed with the grandeur found in neo-classical capital buildings. Holding up the multi-storey, hundred-meter deep gate, soaring buttresses the size of skyscrapers held the cavern’s expansive roof aloft, each adorned with low-poly countenances taken from Dwarven lore.

TSSS!

Hanmoul cranked a shaft, then pivoted the Strider hard-right. Accompanied by the thunking of the Hammer Guard’s uniform boots, Gwen’s entourage guided their guest away from the city’s principal entrance.

Once diverted from the avenue, the spacious cavern gave way to multi-storey tunnels marked by low-hanging lumen globes. These had the look of service over commemoration, for Gwen could see the oil stains, burns, and the occasional missing slab as their procession thundered through the Transmuted passageway that hinted at a less than peaceful history.

“How do your people construct all of this?” Gwen indicated to the criss-crossing passages, reminding her of subway tunnels. “Do Dwarves have Mages as well?”

“All Dwarves can meld stone in one degree or another,” Hanmoul answered. "For construction, we Murk Dwarves use specialist Golems. Our tunnellers can bore out a new shaft in a matter of days, assuming the earth permits. To achieve structural stability, we utilise our Artificers, Machinists and Engineers, and of course, we seek guidance from those with rarer talents, such as the Stone Speakers."

“And that would be the Deepdowners?”

“Not always, but aye, the Deepdowners produce the most accomplished Unrol Spakrumm. They are, after all, handpicked by the Ancestors, selected from wee lads to be custodians of our most sacred lore.”

Gwen wanted to say that the arrangement sounded awfully like the human nobles monopolising education, but kept her opinion to herself. Why should she be surprised that, other than humans, Demi-humans also built artificial social strata based on withholding essential knowledge poignant to the survival of the species?

To scoff would be hypocritical. In London, how many Humans could Awaken to become Mages? How many Mages graduated high school? How many graduates completed a tertiary education? And how many in places like Oxbridge? At the very least, Hanmoul and his Murk Dwarves seem to run their cities independent of their worshipped cousins.

CLUNK—! Hanmoul stomped a pedal into submission, filling the upper cavity of the tunnel with unspent miasma.

The service tunnel ended at a guard post carved out from a single block of stone rising from floor to ceiling. With her Detect Magic active, Gwen could see that the gate positively crawled with runic wards.

Yanking a lever, Hanmoul popped the canopy, revealing himself and his Void Mage cargo.

“Kumdael Hillbrook! Why is that gate nae lowered?” Hanmoul hollered at the guard just peeking out over the teeth-like battlements. “I’ve got important guests!”

"Commandrumm!” A dozen heads appeared like the final stage of a Wack-a-Dwarf carnival game, half of whom wore miner’s helmets with directional lumen globes. “Trouble in sector seven-three-three, Ser! We’ve got a breach in Shaft five! At the new farm, Ser!”

“Am gain fur half-a-day, and yer got britches?” Hanmoul growled. “Where’s Stonehammer?”

“The foreman's taken a crew o’ Crusher down Shaft nine ter plug a leak, Ser, got a swarm of Vannsk Sjekkliag loose in eight-two. Outpost eight-two and six-one are also occupied.”

“What’s a van-nesk-sklag?” Gwen waited for a lull in the conversation before asking. To her left, she could see Ollie crawling out of the Strider to straighten out his spine.

“A type of Water Elemental,” Hanmoul explained offhandedly. “Nae a big threat, usually. Troublesome though, if they get powerful enough, they can flood the whole shaft.”

The Commandrumm punched a few Glyphs invisible to Gwen’s eye. A burst of steam and mana miasma hissed from the Strider’s rear, then a platform lowered, revealing an empty suit of what Gwen recognised as Dwarven Golem Armour.

“Protocol is not to open the guard post until the Murk's monsters clear,” Hanmoul said sombrely. “Not to admit strangers, at least. My apologies lass, I am ashamed to say you may have to wait—“

“I’ll come with you,” Gwen interrupted Hanmoul before Ollie could get a word in edgewise. “We’re friends, aren’t we? What’s a dozen Trolls between mates?”

“Meites?” Hanmoul’s beard rustled.

“It means we’re war buddies.” Gwen quickly appended her vernacular. “Ollie, you coming?”

The Praelector sighed. “Yes, Gwen.”

“Good man.” Gwen gave the tired-looking Illusionist a thumbs up.

Thankfully, Hanmoul wasn’t the squeamish or indecisive type. Without hesitation, he barked orders for his Hammer Guards to form up, then stepped into the empty suit of Golem Armour.

Now that Gwen could see the suit up close, she could begin to appreciate why the Magisters marvelled at the Dwarve's signature mechanised infantry. The interior, so far as she could tell, was alive with Glyphs, etched onto velvety leather crawling with Mandalas. The suit itself resembled a beetle-like exoskeleton, adding enough elevation to Hanmoul that, when equipped, he matched her height. The exterior of the armour consisted of mould-injected interlocking plates that reminded Gwen of archaic dive-suits. As wide as it was tall, the lumbering, hunch-backed Golem armour sported a Spellsword under the wrist of each massive gauntlet, one of which possessed an articulate hand, while the other held a tool-attachment that resembled a drill. Alone, a suited operator could be impervious to lower-tier creatures, as a squad, five units could hunt monsters that would occupy a Mageflight.

Once occupied, the armour’s hermetic seals slid into place. It’s mana-engine roared, spewing cobalt jets of mana-exhaust from two cyclonic vents below the rear shoulder.

“Squad One, yer with me,” Hanmoul hollered. “Squad Two, yer guarding our guests.”

“No need.” Gwen raised a hand. “Ariel! Caliban!”

"EE!"
"Shaa!"

While the Hammer Guards cleared some space for her Familiars, she completed another set of spells. “Hound Pack! Blood Hound!”

Eight Void Dogs plus "Buck" slinked into existence.

“… Squad Two, form up on me.” Hanmoul nodded. “Lass, we gonnae go a wee bit fast.”

“I’ll keep up.” Gwen switched over to Lightning. “Flight! Arcane Sight!”

“Mage Armour! Mirror Image!” Ollie buffed up a little himself. When Gwen addressed the four Ollies standing side by side, her House-brother answered as a sheepish quartet. “I am not a combatant like you, Gwen. I’ll do what I can as support…”

Hanmoul nodded, his movement fully articulated through the full-faced visor caste in the visage of a war-like Ancestor.

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

As one, the Hammer Guards marched in lockstep. At first, the Dwarfs’ speed was as Gwen had anticipated, slow and ponderous. Gradually, the procession upped the pace so that the assembly stormed forward with the momentum of a freight train. A tunnel-length later, the troop of Dwarves was moving faster than Gwen could run, and it was only because of Flight that Gwen and Ollie could keep up.

“There isn’t a troop transport we could take?” Gwen Messaged Hanmoul as the Commandrumm opened the way. “Surely you can’t be running from one fire to the next. What about the Rockcrusher suits?”

“The shafts are unstable and narrow, far too unpredictable for us to send a Crusher or a Vularm. If there's a breach, it usually means somethings' happened to the Repelling Wards.”

“A caterpillar?” Gwen caught the strange translation of Vularm.

“Segmented, multi-limbed transports with carriages.”

“Don’t tell me our people stole the design for trams from your folk as well.”

“Could very well be.” Hanmoul’s voice sounded deeper from inside the Golem plating.

"So, what are we expecting?"

"The farm lost contact a few hours back. It happens, our Echo Glyph nodes bleed intae the Planes an' the signal goes unanswered."

Nodding, Gwen made a note to investigate the Dwarven variation of Divination Towers. For now, she had poignant questions that needed answers.

"Did your men delve too greedily and too deeply, thereby disturbing something large, fiery and angry?"

“Nae, Murk Dwarf donnae dig that deep, we mine for ore and groan our scran in the Murk, just belaw the surface. The resources are soond, but danger and reward come in twain. The richer the seam, the nastier beasties it attracts.”

“Oh." Gwen felt almost disappointed. "What manner of monsters do you get here, in the Murk, I mean?”

“Yer’ve seen the Red Knobs and the Trollies.” Hanmoul slowed the cadence of his men’s sure-footed march. Perhaps by design or through something like an internal gyroscope, the cumbersome armour was surprisingly agile while moving through the increasing non-uniform tunnel. “But our grudge with the Scarred King is ancient history. The war is seasonal. On the other cog, monsters of the Murk obey no such tradition. There’s an evil intelligence lying belaw, lurking in the deep dark, sending out its feelers to taste our defences, ambush our caravans, or massacre our outposts.”

“Intelligence, as in...” Gwen wondered if she should mention the Elder Gods. Perhaps Nyarlathotep had a hankering for Dwarf? "Ancient things?"

“Mayhap,” Hanmoul replied evasively. “We Murk-dwellers don’t rightly ken fer sure. The Deepdowners say that something awoke in the deep dark when the Black Dragon stirred three cycles ago. Others say that they dug too deep and angered something long entombed in the Elemental Plane of Earth. In the end, all we ken is that monsters appear throughout the Murk, disrupting our trade and our passages. Every time we exterminate a warren or pit a nest ter fire, two seem ter sprin' up.”

“Sounds like the surface,” Gwen remarked. “Our biggest problem is probably the Mermen. They breed fast, have fish for brains, and invade our cities at every opportunity.”

“We too get Mermen where there are large bodies of water,” Hanmoul said as he slowed his pace. “Muck-men, we call them—

The Commandrumm raised a fist.

"—Alright lads, scouting formation. Tordrum, Grimgal, take the lead.”

The troop of Golem Armours plinked and whined as their mana-jets cooled. Hanmoul's soldiers had arrived at a network of newly bored tunnels extending every which way, including up and down. Gwen had a strange feeling that if she were to get lost in these passageways, she might very well transform into the tourist in Lovecraft’s “The Beast in the Cave”.

“You may use my dogs.” Gwen fought down her fear of orienteering in the dark, then offered the faceless, salivating head of Buck, whose jaw took up almost forty per cent of its body length. “If you recall, they’re rather resilient.”

Hanmoul raised a fist. “Yer our guest. Allow my men to protect you when we find the beasties.”

“Gwen, please let the Commandrumm do his job.” The chorus of Ollies begged her from the back.

Gwen nodded. She drew Buck, Ariel and Caliban around herself, but willed the pack to take up an unobtrusive perimeter. Unlike her new friends, the dogs were consumables.

Tordrum and Grimgal received the nod from their Commandrumm and moved out, their Golem plates thrumming as they lowered their profiles. The Hammer Guards appeared identical, with the only discernible difference being the numeric markings on their shoulder pauldrons.

“Ariel, Invisible Familiar,” Gwen incanted the spell under her breath. “Move up and keep an eye out.”

“Ee!” the Kirin replied though their Empathic Link.

“Deploy the Krawluroz Eyre,” Hanmoul commanded.

Up ahead, the two Hammer Guards moved their hands across the wall, materialising from their Storage Rings half-a-dozen spider-constructs. With a clang, wound-up sprockets sprang into gear, after which the palm-sized crawlers scattered like lemmings.

“You have drones?” Gwen was beyond impressed. How did that even work? She had seen no real indication that advanced electronics existed in her present world, much less AI. There were no modern creature comforts, not even in the six-figured, palatial sedans used by the state.

“Imbued Machines, not male bees,” Hanmoul carefully explained, as one might to a slow novice. “The Eyre is a type of Golem. They're made to be very irritating.”

Just as Gwen was about to ask how exactly the mechanical spiders hoped to be irritating, one of them began to unleash an ungodly wail, all the while blasting beams of light in a shotgun pattern directly ahead.

“Contact!” Hanmoul barked into his suit's communication device. “Two O’Clock, three hostiles, large size!”

With complete obliviousness, the drones charged forward, skittering across the walls, the floor and even across the ceiling. One of them ran straight into what Gwen supposed as a large boulder, then exploded into globules of slime with the luminesce properties of Faery Fire.

“KARRAK!” Said bounder fell from the ceiling, striking the ground with a bone-throbbing thud. For a moment, Gwen wondered if she had finally encountered a Drop Bear.

“HOOKA AZKHORN!” Hanmoul hollered something about a "horror" with hooks, then ordered his men for ranged engagement. “Penetrator Spells! On my mark— Karaad!”

Mana engines whirled into life, as did the protruding Spellblades. A near oppressive volume of Elemental Earth filled the tunnel; then the Dwarves fired their payloads.

THUNK— THUNK! THUNK! THUNK!

The stone-like creature unfurled itself just in time to take a dozen metallic bolts to the chest. The majority was deflected by its carapace, though three shards thankfully overcame their target's resilience.

“KARR-GARRGGGH—!” The monstrosity stumbled backwards, vomiting up black blood.

A chimaera? Gwen’s glowing eyes focused on the creature’s physiology. The Hooka was a turtle, a leatherback of some sort standing on two stumpy hind legs. Up top, its forearms were twin scything claws the size of Ollie. Remarkably, its head resembled that of a drake crossed with the likeness of a snapping turtle.

With one swing, the armoured horror broke off the spines embedded in its body. Its bloodshot eyes rolled in its sockets, filling with rage. With a grunt, its head lowered, readying a charge.

C-CRASH!

Two more half-painted horrors landed from the murky height of the cavern, triggered by the light and sound.

“Gilthok!” Hanmoul swore. "Pin those down!"

“Need help?” Gwen’s dogs were already whining. Not far, Caliban was salivating at the seams.

“No, not that,” Hanmoul growled. “If Hookas are guarding the entrance, I donnae 'ave much hope we’ll be finding the farmin' team in one piece.”

“Oh.” Gwen grimaced.

“KARRAK!” The injured horror began its charge.

“Tordrum, Grimgal! Slow 'em down! The rest— FOCUS FIRE!”

The leading Hammer Guards spell-shaped the ground just in front of the creature as it charged, warping the floor so that the monstrosity reared off-balance, running head-first into the wall. Meanwhile, a mixed volley of magma, steel, and pure force struck the horror’s armoured hide, burying it in an avalanche of spellfire.

“KARRAK!” The remaining two horrors, now fully unfurled, began their charge.

“AXES AT THE READY!” Hanmoul barked. “Torrigg! Banmur! To the fore!”

Gwen was happy to leave the fight to the Dwarves, but even she could see that one unlucky swipe from one of these king-crab looking turtle-demons would peel the armour from her new mates like a bowie knife popping a chilli can. If she was to do something, anything, now was the time.

“Ariel! Chain Lightning!”

Her spell manifested in the nick of time, with Ariel positioned just so above the scythe-clawed fiends. With a mighty “EE!”, the tunnels came alive with hysterical electricity, bouncing from horror to horror, the spell's potent energies maintained by Ariel’s unparalleled access to the Quasi-Elemental Plane of Lightning.

“GAOK—“ On its third retina-searing revolution, the channelled lightning turned the embedded spikes still sticking from the wounded horror’s chest into molten slag. Its eyeballs exploded in a burst of bubbling, milk-white juices while smoke spewed from the creature’s beak.

Its remaining companions took far less damage but were stunned long enough for the lightning to singe their hide.

“Buck! Caliban, Onslaught!”

Her contingent of Void-hounds surged forth as a dark tide, silently slobbering as they converged on the horrors. “Sorry, Hanmoul, better safe than sorry.”

“Lower your swords!” Hanmoul halted his troops in response to Gwen’s creatures swarming past the howling Golem-plated warriors.

Buck was the fastest among them, making no sound but the splatter of gooey drool leaking from its enormous mouth. It bit into one of the horror’s claws and hung on, corroding the creature's resistance. The other deerhounds followed suit, swarming over their enemies so that momentarily, two writhing mounds slick with dark oil was all the Dwarves could make out.

Caliban, resembling a great black spider drone, arrived just in time as the larger of the two horrors broke free. A corroded limb threw two of Gwen’s dogs from its back with such force that one brained itself against the rough-hewn cavern.

“SHAA—!” Caliban repaid the insult with a blur of forelimbs, each a segmented spear glimmering darkly with motes of Void. Soundlessly, it tore into the horror’s chest, puncturing the turtle-demon from neck to the chops.

“KARRAK!” The horror pushed forward while Caliban’s legs were still fast-stuck inside its body, uncaring that an eight-foot spider was dicing its innards. As one, Gwen’s dogs retreated while spider and horror embraced like lovers.

“Consume!” Gwen agreed that if the Hooka Azhorn had a death-wish, then she would oblige. Additionally, assuming there was a bigger foe than these walking harvesters for enemies, she would need the life-force.

By now, through borrowed vitality, her damaged dogs had recovered. All nine then piled onto the remaining horror, tearing and ripping at the armoured beast to disassemble it piece by piece. The horror’s response was to enrage itself into a frenzy of blurring claws and gnashing beak, splattering the walls with deerhounds.

Gwen shook off the slivers of ice that haunted her innards whenever vitality fled from her body. Caliban was now devouring the horror wholesale. What was interesting to see, she noted cooly, was that the monsters were fearless. Usually, when mundane creatures encountered her Void beasts, their first reaction was an existential fear that paralysed muscle and sinew. These fiends fought her monsters tooth-and-nail.

“Ancestor’s Cogs…” Hanmoul held his men at bay while Gwen’s creatures finished up. Caliban burped just once after swallowing an adversary twice its size and dozens of times its weight, then proceeded to scatter the dogs so that he could finish the ravaged remains of their final foe. “Yer a true terror, lass.”

“All in a day’s work,” Gwen replied sweetly, circulating both Essence and Mana. If Caliban’s happy mewling was correct, there was likely going to be a significant volume of vitality incoming. “I need to meditate, do you mind if I rest at the back?”

“I insist.” Hanmoul’s tone was stoic.

Gwen retreated beside an ambivalent Ollie.

“You should have let the Dwarves handle it themselves.”

“I wouldn’t want us to return to base sans a member of our entourage. Do you think we'll be in the mood to tour the city after that.”

Ollie sighed.

“Anyway.” Gwen batted her long lashes. “Could my Praelector conjure up some privacy for his House-sister?”

Ollie blinked, his eyes growing wide and his face turning scarlet. “Aren't you wearing… the er… magical intimates?”

“Not for that, ya dirty dope!” Gwen berated her House-brother. “I need to manage my vitality feedback! If you got something, do it now, else I am going to use Void Shield.”

“Will you be immobilised during this… feedback?”

“I should be able to walk it off.”

Ollie exhaled. “Dissonant Blur!”

Gwen’s form instantly grew hazy and indistinct.

“Nice,” her voice replied from the general vicinity. “I should pick this up for myself. I’ll tell you when to dispel it.”

 

 

“I am gonnae to need a stiff bevvy efter this.”

Hanmoul swore when they found their first suit of shattered Golem Armour. Like an opened can of pear, the interlocking carapace had parted at the seams. Near the back, a rent as wide as Gwen’s thighs exposed the cobalt coolant, which had erupted with such pressure that the wall became pock-marked with caustic reactions.

Presently, Gwen's former entourage was assembled in a shaft that didn’t so much resemble a mine, but a vertical hydroponic farm. Though ravaged, Gwen could make out the lattice-climbing legumes being fed a diet of nutrient-rich solutions, neatly arranged in an endless array of parallel aqueducts. Up top, near the ceiling, the levitating lumen globes had been crushed, casting the tunnel into pitch-blackness.

“More of those Hooka things?”

“A Shale Wyrm, by the looks of it.” Hanmoul's grimness matched the low rumble of his armour. With a finger, he pulled a length of silk-like saliva from the emptied armour. “Looks like its brooding.”

“Wyrm as in…” Gwen mimed a wingless drake swimming through the rocks.

“Aye lass, but not what you’re thinking.” Hanmoul clambered back into his armour. “This time of year, the eruption of Earthen mana is strong near the Red Peak. Just as we rush ter harvest the crystal growth, the Wyrm’s come ter spawn, and just sae happens, it’s found a warren full of scran.”

“Is it related to those Hooka things we fought earlier?”

“An elder Wyrm will use lesser creatures as servants in return for scraps and protection,” Hanmoul explained. “As for the Wyrm itself, it hails from the Elemental Plane of Earth.”

“Sapient?”

“Not intelligent like you and I, but capable of reason, aye.” Hanmoul placed a hand over the empty suit of Golem Armour. A second later, the shattered armour rested in the Commandrumm's Storage Ring. “They’ve more instinct than reason. Eyeless, foo ay teeth an' scrabblin' claw, mair worm than wyrm.”

"We'll follow you."

"Aye, we need to follow the trail." Hanmoul’s mana engine roared into action. “There should be four more Hammer Guards, including their Foreman, as well as two dozen labourers. We'll neeta brin' buck their armour if naething else.”

Gwen straightened her back. With the lumen globes gone and the hydroponics smashed up, the darkness seemed to stretch on forever. Acutely, she made herself aware that this was the world of the Dwarves, a place of fortresses, tunnels and shafts embedded in subterranean strata, choked full of danger far different from the surface. Up there, in her world, there was space to run, room to flee, an open sky full of possibilities provided one’s enemy wasn’t a flock of Furies or a pissed off Dragon. Here in the Murk, every confrontation was the survival of the fittest. Every engagement was a fight to the death for what little space nature or labour could carve out.

From the darkness, her dogs slinked into view, each as sleek as missiles, appearing in the dim like malevolent drops of semi-solid crude. In the dark, her invisible Caliban reported a mass of delicious vitality existing some distance from their entry point.

“Don’t worry Hanmoul.” She patted the thrumming armour, careful to avoid the vents. “We’ll find your mates, or we’ll find the Wyrm. And with any luck, we’ll find both.”

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