<The following is an excerpt from the personal journal of the third Dimensional Sensing Project team lead>
What an exciting development! Last night, after weeks of fruitless attempts at reconnecting to Bronzebanners, we suddenly got a full-strength signal! It would appear that a new sensing locus has developed around a Dwarf named Tekkud Sirabkol, whose journal we were able to decode and translate. As we were decoding his words, his signal merged with the remaining data from the Bronzebanners site and restored full sensing clarity!
I must say this is a rather lucky development for me – my supervisor was dissatisfied with our apparent lack of progress and was just now preparing to have my team reassigned.
Without further ado, I present to you the journal of Tekkud as we interpreted it:
17th Granite, 253. After fleeing through the woods for days, I found myself in the human hamlet of Ininbemta. I was fairly sure that all the other dwarves from Bronzebanners, all of my friends and family, were dead. I had been out hunting when the goblins attacked, and seeing that I could do nothing against the fiends, I fled as quickly and quietly as I could.
I had hardly any food left, and no booze. I asked the humans where I could find some, but all they wanted to talk about was me helping them kill a bunch of local bandits. Two of their complaints did interest me – they claimed that a night creature called Ani Stoppedtwilights had killed several dwarves and there was also a nearby group of goblin bandits led by Nako Plagueblind. I welcomed any chance to kill goblins. I practiced swimming for a while in the nearby stream, as it had been very difficult for me to cross the many rivers between here and my home. I then spent the night in the town of Jamasrane.
18th Granite. Seeing that the humans wouldn’t help me, I killed a river otter for food. I also helped myself to a few bolts in the forts Lasivonu and Jamasurde. Those greedy bastards wouldn’t miss them. I spent the night in Cilbakosha.
19th Granite. I found the goblin camp, and pelted them with bolts while remaining safely hidden. While I killed all of his followers, I ran out of bolts before I could kill the leader, Nako Plagueblind. I “acquired” some more bolts from a nearby fortress killed him the next day. It was quite satisfying to dispatch these foul creatures, even if my tactics were not very dwarf-like. I reminded myself that I was the last survivor of my fortress, and I had to be careful to ensure that I lived long enough to avenge my comrades.
After this section was translated, I assigned one of our interpreters to investigate our previous records and determine if we had any other records of this goblin, and surprisingly enough we did! It would appear that Nako is in fact from the same tribe as the goblins which destroyed Bronzebanners the first time.
20th Granite. I moved west towards Belrokgom to kill the night creature Ani Stoppedtwilights.
22nd Granite. I found the lair of Ani Stoppedtwilights. I fired several copper bolts at him, and then beat him to death with the butt of my crossbow after he fell over.
He had murdered at least two dwarves, and I found a steel chain mail, a bismuth bronze helm and an iron war hammer. I would put the gear of my fallen brothers to good use. I went to Belrokgom to report my success, and decided that some more bolts and a large gem would be fair “payment” for my deeds, since the humans offered me nothing. I recruited Mistrum Duquehnabsiz, and Ersi Rakfilwisho, Bowdwarves, Jalew Thratpingugir, Lasher, and Rimtil Rithatra, Pikedwarf to help me reclaim Bronzebanners. They were horrified to hear of the fall of the fortress to goblins, and understandably were not very happy working for the humans.
23rd Granite. Our group traveled north towards the mountains called the Teeth of Jade. We stopped in several human towns, but encountered nothing of consequence.
26th Granite. After crossing through the pass in the Teeth of Jade, arrived at Acikasna. While crossing a river outside town, we were ambushed by dingos. The dingos were dispatched easily, but sadly Mustrum Duquehnabsiz drowned in the river during the fight.
27th Granite. We searched for Mustrum Duquehnabsiz in the morning, hoping he had survived, but could not find him. We tried to recruit more help from the humans in the fortress Mumaithbi, but they refused. I took some more bolts instead. The probably would be more useful anyway. We went to sleep early as we will leave before dawn. There are no more settlements between here and Bronzebanners.
This is where our first batch of translation concluded, and we used the time it took the translation team to decode the second half of the journal to examine and correct our maps of the region. A minor discovery that came out of this investigation is the sheer stamina of these Dwarves. They seem to be capable of travelling overland at full running speed indefinitely, without suffering from the effects of fatigue or muscular exhaustion!
We also obtained more data on the Dwarven physiological processes, and we have concluded that their constant consumption of alcohol is what makes this amazing feat possible – apparently, rather than metabolizing alcohol and becoming inebriated as humans do, they store the vast majority of their alcohol intake. These stores are used as energy reserves, powering some form of anaerobic energy production process. We have yet to determine the chemistry behind this effect, and it may be that the physical rules of our universe differ enough from the Dwarves’ home that we will need to develop an entirely new theory of Dwarven Chemisty.
For the time being, I have deemed these pursuits as secondary to our mission of observation and translation.
28th Granite. We traveled west through Udast Zadkel, “The Forest of Corridors”, crossing several rivers. We arrived at Bronzebanners at dusk. We approached quietly from the east. Rimtil stabbed a goblin spearman to death. Ersi Rakfilwisho was struck down by another goblin spearman, who I dispatched with a blow to the head from my iron war hammer. We retreated temporarily as Jalew was also injured. We rested briefly to allow him to heal and the sun to rise.
This entry was accompanied by a sketch of the described event, and its contents were quite puzzling – it would appear that our sensing of images is actually a subjective observation through the individual to whom our sensors are attuned, rather than an objective reading of the physical surroundings. I have endeavored to make the sketch as understandable as possible, but it seems that Tekkud’s mind works quite differently from the Dwarves through whom we had previously observed Bronzebanners.
1st Slate. We return to Bronzebanners, and I dropped most of my supplies in the middle of the moat-lined path leading to the gate. We caught a goblin thief hiding along the path, and visciously beat him to death, but not before he somehow managed to rip off one of Jalew’s fingers. Jalew took out his anger about the finger by lashing most of the flesh off of another goblin spearman. After this we withdrew again, and were ambushed by giant dingos. The dingos killed Jalew, and injured Rimtil.
We rested until dawn, and then attacked yet again. Rimtil charged at a goblin spearman, who literally disarmed him. I shot the goblin in the arm, causing him to drop his spear, but was unable to defeat him before he bead Rimtil to death with his sheild. I smashed in the goblin’s skull with my next blow.
Now I am alone. Sadly none of my brave companions would see the inside of Bronzebanners. I could not take any chances now. I fired two bolts at another speargoblin from hiding, and then bashed his head in when he fell unconscious. I then made my way into the dining room, and took a sip of whip wine from the still. I hadn’t had a drink in far too long.
Following this are several entries detailing the painstaking search that Tekkud made of the fortress proper, to ferret our the last few goblins left unaccounted for. After satisfying himself that the area was at last rendered safe, he retired to a nearby human village and sent word to the Mountainhomes that Bronzebanners was ready to live again.
I will leave you with several other images gathered during our survey of Tekkud’s mission, and we hope that very soon transmission of Bronzebanners will resume.
Anna first found her tree on her eighth birthday. By the end, she had forgotten who was there, which friend delivered which object of ephemeral value, or who ate what, but she never forgot finding the tree.
Hours after the party had ended, after the paper was torn and the secrets revealed, when her friends had eaten their fill and exhausted themselves with their games, her parents tucked her into bed and turned out the lights.
She often wondered, later, what would have happened had they drawn the blinds before wishing her goodnight. Perhaps it would have made no difference; the stars were old, older than the very bones of the Earth which supported and nourished her tree. They were so old that many of them had died long before that night, and yet they were still strong enough to reach across the void and touch her mind.
Like the will-o-wisps of old, these ghost-lights in the sky reach out to her. What their purpose was, none could say, for ghosts keep their own counsel. They reached their light into her room and into her mind, as unimpeded by the thin membranes of her eyelids as they were by the glass of her window or the trackless space between. They reached deep into her, caressing her thoughts with their twinkling music, and she dreamed of a forest.
It was a forest in the same way that a mountain is a stone… its trees ancient, gnarled, and heavy with moss. The clawing branches could have been sinister and terrifying in the darkness, but she felt no fear. Instead, she was drawn to them, as if their gently swaying was beckoning to her.
So deeply was she dreaming that she was unaware of her physical body rising from her bed, slowly crossing the room, opening the window. As she picked her way through the bracken at the verge of the forest, she also climbed out the window. She worked her way deeper and deeper into the forest, a path always present before her but always quickly curving out of sight. She had no idea how long she walked before she came into the clearing.
The tree was there.
It spread out above her, filling the sky. Its ancient, clawing branches divided again and again, until trying to find where one ended and another began made her mind reel. Dizzy, she forced her eyes away from the heavenward tangle, looking to the ground for stability.
There was none to be found. Reeling with vertigo, she realized that she could see through the earth at her feet as if it were the clearest crystal. The roots of the tree multiplied and spread below her, as infinitely dense and complicated as its branches. The longer she looked, the more the spreading tendrils began to fill her vision until, blinded and disoriented, she slowly toppled against the tree. She could feel the rough, weathered bark catch her, biting into her exposed skin as it eased her to the ground. Through the bark, through the earth, through the very air around her, she could feel the warm pulse of life rising in waves from the finest root-tendril to the smallest new shoot in the spreading canopy.
With each pulse, she could feel herself being lifted out of the fog of panic which had threatened to engulf her. She could feel her thoughts slow and calm as the ancient tree’s essence reached out and engulfed her own, a small, bright flame nurtured and shielded with a parent’s tenderness. As her mind’s eye slowly closed and the depths of sleep claimed her, she saw clearly for an instant into the tangle of roots and branches and she knew that at the tip of each and every tendril lay a star, and that every star had a place amongst the chaos.
And then she knew nothing more until the morning, when she would awake far from home.
And the tree would still be there.
It would always be there.
It always had been.