40d:Stories/Mouthsmouldered and Logem Cattenromek
The Outpost Bimbâsen - the Dumbzeber saga
From the Chronicles of Reg Shem.
From the Journal of Logem Cattenromek, Undertaker
In the summer of 202, I arrived with a group of migrants in Bimbâsen. When we left the mountainhomes of Reg Shem, they told us it was a settlement of great potential. A wonderful place for a fresh start. We were a little concerned when we first looked at the map; could we Dwarves really be happy settling in the grasslands? But they told us that there was a magma pipe there, that it would provide unlimited energy for a smithing industry. That the column of igneous rock gave us a way to tunnel beneath the aquifer and mine untapped layers of the earth. And that with a nearby trading route, the humans would bring us all the longland beer a dwarf could ever want in exchange for our obsidian trinkets.
But on the journey there, my fellow migrants and I started exchanging rumors. The bits and pieces we put together painted a very different picture. Apparently this outpost had already failed once. The current leader, Zuglar Fikodbecor, was an axedwarf chosen to reclaim Bimbâsen after the inital settling party didn't report back. Nobody knew what happened to them, but travellers told us that a fire had swept the plains.
So it was no surprise when we started walking through the ash and burned shrubs. But I should have turned around as soon as I saw that charred dwarven skull.
Bimbâsen was a mess when we arrived. Fikodbecor's party hadn't finished cleaning up the remains of the first settling party, bones of dwarves and livestock alike were spread across the landscape. I'm not sure what they'd been doing since they got there, running around with their axes and crossbows. They didn't even have beds for themselves, let alone new immigrants. There were no trade goods, no trading post, and no plans to replace their nearly exhausted food supplies.
One thing they had done was connect the tunnels so we could get around without needing to surface. I would be grateful for that later.
The liason from Reg Shem arrived with the caravan a season or two later. We hurriedly threw together a trade depot. Fikodbecor, thinking of military strategy first and economics second, had us dig out a moat for it rather than find things for us to trade for much-needed food and drink, but we did manage to trade a few silk items that hadn't been burned in the earlier fire.
Then we saw the smoke. While our marksdwarves were occupied keeping the rhesus monkies away from the trading post, a fire imp started taking shots at a peasant and caught the grass on fire. Just enough of the undergrowth had grown back to support a new wildfire, and soon a wall of smoke and flame was sweeping across the landscape.
The peasant was lost, but it could have ended there, if only everyone had come inside. But the smoke created confusion, and some of the other dwarves ran into the flames to try to help their injured friends.
I was blissfully unaware of what happened next. Safely underground, surrounded by damp sand, I only heard the muffled crackle of burning brush as the fire swept overhead. I was later told the story by a woodcutter, who standing safely on the other side of the brook from the flames, saw the tragedy unfold.
It was Kumil Dasëludil, the liason from Reg Shem. He'd finally caught up with Fikodbecor, and was intent on getting on with business.
"Greetings from the mountainhomes!" said Dasëludil.
"Can we do this later?" the expedition leader replied. "I have a fire to deal with."
"Surely your people can handle that. Let us discuss your situation." The liason's back was to the flames, but Sodel and Lor, Fikodbecor's marksmen, were eyeing them with increasing alarm.
"Can't we do this inside?" asked Lor. "Where things aren't burning?"
"Since the expedition leader has no office," the liason said stuffily, "we must conduct our business where we can, and I will not chase you through that sandy hole you call a mine in order to do so. Now, about your situation."
Fikodbecor's temper exploded. "My situation is that my dwarves are on fire because you sent untrained civilians to me to stumble through a field of tinder and fire imps! Now get out of my way!"
But Dasëludil was unruffled, and an ultra-mighty dwarf can not be moved when he is unwilling. "I am referring to your economic situation, Mr. Fikodbecor. Reg Shem has high hopes for our outpost here at Bimbâsen. Your trading post was sadly empty, but perhaps you have something in development? A galena vein? Some platinum nuggets, perhaps?"
Fikodbecor saw a change of tactics was required. "Ah, most of our capital investment this quarter has been in infrastructure," he said. "This bridge, for example. Wide enough for any wagon and made of smooth alunite, I'm sure there's not another like it along this entire caravan route. If you'll just come this way," and with a note of panic creeping in to his voice, "to the water?"
Sodel and Lor took this as permission to break formation and they dashed for the brook, but it was too late. The smoke choked their lungs and they fell, along with their capitan and the liason, to be burned alive in the flames.
The rest of the expedition party took the loss of Fikodbecor and his squad pretty hard. We newer immigrants didn't really know them, but life looked no less bleak to us, with little food to go around and no alcohol to wash the taste of ash from our throats. We each responded in our own way. Zasit and Sazir each went stark raving mad, drowning themselves in our pool.
Mestthos the carpenter threw a tantrum and started smashing stuff up. Not a bad way to get the anger out -- I do it myself -- but the difference between he and I is that I didn't smash a bridge while standing on it. The drop into the moat cleared his head, but he couldn't swim.
Before long, it was just me, Cog Litastasol, and Iden Enshallikot. Iden had come out with Fikodbecor's reclamation party, but he wasn't good for much anymore. He refused to eat or drink, spending his days wandering the surface, staring up at the charred branches of the oak trees.
We could have left then, Cog and I. Followed the brook upstream until we got back to the mountains, back to land that doesn't burn. Maybe find a coal mine someplace. That's good, honest work. Don't need a magma pipe to run a forge. Never need to see another fire imp or magma man again.
But there was something we needed to take care of first. I couldn't leave them like that, their bones up there on the surface to soak in the rain and be picked at by birds. We'd build coffins and lay them to rest. Even that stupid, stupid lughead Dasëludil.
I've never been so hungry. I'm willing to eat anything. Rats, purring maggots, brussel sprouts... Cog and I actually found a barrel with some raw turtles left in it, but they're surprisingly hard to get out of their shells. If we ever make it out of this, I'm never making fun of a fishery worker again.
The bodies are starting to rot before I can get them in coffins. I'm setting up the site where the trading post was -- before Mestthos smashed it -- as a temporary graveyard. There's enough ventilation there that the miasma should dissapate fairly quickly.
I lost Cog today. He was on the surface while I was building a coffin. I think he was gathering the remains of one of the peasants when a fire imp got him. I wonder if it was Dumzeber. They say he's the one that burned out the first group of settlers here. "Mouthsmouldered" they call him.
I guess, now that it's just me and Iden, that makes me "expedition leader." May the goddess Ók preserve us.
Iden's dead. I'm not surprised. Or rather, I'm surprised he lasted as long as he did out there. I had a betting pool going with the fire snakes. The one I call Larry won. I gave him five of my best obsidian chips.
Today I heard the strangest sound. I wondered if it was Dumzeber come for me at last. Turns out it was something entirely different. Have you ever heard a camel giving birth? To twins?
I think Larry and I are having camel veal for dinner tonight.
Felsite, year 203.
I think I'm almost finished. I built Dasëludil's coffin today. I'm not sure which bones are his anymore, but there's a place for him. But I still need more, at least for Cog and Iden, they weren't in the original count.
Wait, I think I hear something. Someone. Speaking dwarvish. Iden? Is that you? No, wait, Iden's gone...
Immigrants. Those poor, poor fools -- even after Dasëludil never reported back, they sent us more dwarves. Young hopefuls to this prosperous outpost Slingsprays.
I hope they brought a horse. And a chef.