Part 258: Embarking on The Gleeful Hill
TremendousMajestic took a journey to the island at the center of the map. This is his story.
TremendousMajestic wrote :-
I couldn't resist embarking on that ocean island I was talking about earlier today. Here's my write up on what happened:
A Practical Guide to Settlements, ch. 76 - Case Studies and Anecdotal
From the Journal* of Ezum Shig'snish, chronicling the first attempted settling of The Gleeful Hill.
Recovered 19th Granite, 152.
From the collection of Scholarsmith Urist Gimstad
* The excerpt featured here is the entirety of what could be found of the document - U.G.
23 Obsidian 140
Only a few days now from the Gleeful Hill. The ocean has been calm so far, and I have the utmost trust in our captain. I had my doubts about the vessel. Indeed, the idea of dwarves on boats is almost absurd! But then, so is the idea of a settlement on an island, but with what's been happening in the south...well, I can't say I mind being as isolated as possible. So be it...we're told the volcano is a glorious sight, and we relish the unique challenge. My daydreams are of slaughtering approaching goblin sieges with ballistae and catapult, but I get ahead of myself. We are excited, anxious and eager!
25 Obsidian 141
Adil and Rovod have been as bored as I am, apparently. The two caught me staring off into the horizon portside. I've no idea how long I'd been like that. After a laugh at my expense, the perennial mischief makers suggested we tap a barrel to celebrate our impending arrival at The Gleeful Hill. As overseer, I should have said no, as I know that whiskey would come in handy during our early struggles, but I've never been able to resist these dear beloved friends of mine. Without their cajoling, I wouldn't have enlisted in the Expeditionaries. But then, they need me as well - they'd been assigned to Syrupleaf before I pulled them for the Gleeful Hill. They raised a quiet toast for me for that very thing as we huddled, hidden belowdecks. I didn't want to ruin the mood of the occasion, but inwardly I said a prayer for my colleagues at Syrupleaf, Armok help them.
1 Granite 141
LANDFALL! We've spent the better part of two days unloading equipment and supplies from the The Red.
The dogs are overjoyed, running from tree to tree, which are plentiful on this beautiful island, and the men are in fine spirits too...to just be able to smell dirt and stand on solid earth once again! The sea voyage was only two weeks long, but the sensation of being back on land is indescribable. One of the first things I did was reach down and scoop a clump of clay into my hands. I squeezed it until there was a good deal of it under my fingernails. "Home," I thought.
The captain departed, and we spent the first official night alone on the Hill camping near the beach. Our carpenter, Shem (who approves of the trees so far, by the way), half drunk and falling asleep, gazed up at the Hill and said it made him think of a bolt or knife jabbing up out of the ocean. By the end of the week, we'd be calling this place Boltknives.
3 Granite 141
I believe we've found the perfect place to strike out our civilization's newest mighty fortress! Ha ha! If you could see it now, reader, you'd laugh along with me...I hope and pray we will be as the Mountainhomes in several years, but at the moment, there are several kittens mewling at me from atop a pile of boulders at a ragged cave entrance. Ah, from humble beginnings...
As we broke camp this morning and headed toward the base of the Hill, we passed through a bit of flatland that led to forest. Shem remarked that the island would be keeping him very busy, but as he came into a small clearing, he blanched. As we caught up to him, we saw the matter: the rotting remains of a dog were strewn about, and the grass was covered in dried blood. Edzul the hunter said that this had happened recently, but not recently enough that this could be a mutt from our (admittedly perhaps too large) canine contingent.
Edzul mentioned that he believed there were tracks nearby, but...but if they were tracks, they were unlike any he had ever seen. The observation sobered us, and we grew cautious and kept an eye on the shadows. We were prepared for the possibility of there being wildlife here, but if an experienced hunter like Edzul was disquieted...As we stood around discussing, Adil's eyes met my own, and we both quickly glanced away. I knew what he was thinking, and I prayed it wasn't true...not here, by Armok, not here at The Gleeful Hill...
The dogs, now disturbed and upset, had run ahead, up the hill where we would eventually strike earth. We walked behind them, hands on hilts and picks, tension thick, until Rovod spoke. "Well, this won't be the last time a fortress is founded by a pack of dogs, eh?" It wasn't a great joke, but it let us all pretend to laugh, and the thought of the rotting and sundered dog was mostly behind us. I approached the stone wall near where the dogs had gathered, placed one hand flat on it's surface, and looked up. The Gleeful Hill stretched into the sky. I turned back to my men, raised my pick, and said "This is Boatknives!" I turned and brought my tool down heavy on the wall. All cheered, and Adil and Rovod fell in eagerly beside me.
"I am literally digging us in deeper," I thought, and, annoyed, I brushed the thought away. Happy for the work at hand, I lost myself to the rhythm of pickaxes on stone.
6 Granite 141
"We aren't alone here."
This was the way that weaponsmith Dakost decided to interrupt me as I was sitting at the base of the Hill, having a drink and looking out at the ocean in the distance.
Seeing the look on my face, Dakost continued "Well, we probably...well, I'm sure we are now. It's just we weren't always. See, I found something." Dakost had always been nervous and dramatic. That's probably why his hammers were as beautifully carved as they were balanced. He was a good smith, and I wanted him on the team, though right now I wished he'd get to the point.
He led me up the Hill. He told me he'd been scouting for minerals or gems, in case any were obvious in the cliff faces, when he found a hole It was halfway up the mountain. It wasn't a cave, clearly. In fact, it had telltale signs of carving and construction.
A chamber had been left open air to the sky, with a staircase descending Armok knows where in the center. I grimly told Dakost to summon the rest of the men, and tell them to hurry. Hurry and be armed.
Dakost scampered down the Hill, and I stared at the hole from the edge of the 'room.' I'd never seen anything like this before, but my imagination ran wild. If...if this was indeed the worst, it wouldn't be enough for me to have this area walled off. I would damn well pump lava down into that hole and let the whole thing cool to obsidian. I was shaking. Not this soon for Boltknives, I prayed. We just got started here, not this soon...
I had to pull myself together before the men joined me. I took a swig from my flask, and picked up a rock. I threw the rock off the edge of the cliff. I don't know why, but it made me feel a little bit better. I laughed at myself. I was being ridiculous, jumping to the worst possible conclusion right off the bat.
They weren't known for their constructions anyway, were they? This was probably just some remnant of a lost and forgotten goblin or human settlement.
I cautiously approached the down staircase. It was large, I could tell, perhaps made so that many humans could move through the space at once. Perhaps this open air room was some kind of ritualistic gathering place. I peered down into the darkness to see what I could see...
Another chamber, the stairs in the center of the room leading down once more. By now, my eyes were adjusting to the darkness.
There seemed to be a twisting maze of corridors down here! Fascinating. And disgusting. Before I could go any further, an unbelievable stench of stale air and rot hit my nose. I vomited, I must admit, and I prayed this was only a tomb, and not a catacomb of animated dead. Or worse....As my imagination ran away with thoughts of skeletal humans and zombies, the hallways seemed to close in on me. I can't say I know for sure what I heard, but it was something, low and distant. It was loud, and getting closer and I panicked. Yes, I panicked and turned right around only to be grabbed at the shoulders by Edzul. He pinned me against the wall, hard, and it was only his strength that kept me from being able to raise my pick and dash his brains out.
"We have to leave, now," he said. His face was close to mine and he was sweating. "I know it knows we're here now. It can smell us. We have to leave!" He threw me in front of him, and we ran back the way we came in. I stumbled up the stairs, and out into the sun, and I tripped, and I vomited some more. Once we returned to Boatknives and caught my breath, I found myself yelling at Dakost. I told him I wanted obsidian swords, two for each of us. I screamed that I wanted doors carved, as many as possible, and I didn't care who made them, and that if there was any godsdamned metal left from the wagon that we needed bolts, and lots of them. I'm sure I looked insane, covered in my own puke and sweat, terrified and angry, screaming at these dwarves as if they weren't some of my oldest friends. I went to my meager office, slammed the flimsy wooden door, and stood in the middle of the room, shaking, scared. It took a lot of whiskey to get me anywhere close to being able to steady my hands. I feel too ashamed to go back out there until the morning.
And now, here I sit. Writing this entry. I should go to sleep.
Addendum - As I lay in bed, my head close to the rough stone wall, I heard it again. The noise from the corridors. I can't get what Edzul said out of my head "I know it knows we're here."
8 Granite, 141
The incident from two days ago blew over without a word, but things still seem a bit strained between me and my friends. The Guide does say it's nearly impossible to be both friend and overseer at once. Sadly, this seems to be true. On the plus side, we are a bit better stocked with swords, and we've been busy today installing new doors.
- later -
It's dinner and neither Shem nor Edzul have returned from hunting and feeling trees. The dining hall seems especially empty with only five quiet dwarves in it.
9 Granite 141
Dakost is beside himself about Shem. They were especially close, it seems.
I want to believe that they're exploring the far side of the island...they would have told us, though. They would have told us.
I dreamed of that rotting dog last night.
10 Granite 141
Dakost, myself, and the quiet armorer Urist set out to search today, leaving Adil and Rovod back at the fort in case Shem and Edzul returned. We're keeping to one of the lower cliff faces of the Hill, circling the spire, to see if we can spot a campfire in the distance, a line of felled trees, possibly the two of them oceanside, if we can see that far...I don't know, anything.
It's after a breeze kicks up that the dogs stop and begin to whimper. And off in the distance, just between a break in the trees, I see a figure, moving. It's large and it's slow, but I can barely make it out.
My heart sinks, and I don't say anything, and neither does the rest of the party. But I know that Shem and Edzul are dead.
11 Granite 141
We awake to discover that, sometime during the night, Dakost has run off. There's no note, but it's clear he grabbed some of his things, threw them into a bag, and left. Adil and Rovod want to go look for him. I don't want them to, but they say "What else can we do?" I make them have a drink with me first.
"To The Gleeful Hill," Rovod says, and winks.
It's so quiet. I go to check on Urist, but his door is locked. Probably best, I think.
I'm the only one walking around the fort. The makeshift kitchen barely had a chance to get messy. There's a row of turtle shells on a carved shelf, and they look so stupid and optimistic. Back in the main hall, a cat runs past my feet at full speed, the way cats sometimes do in long, flat rooms. "At least we won't need to slaughter them for food," I think. Then another cat runs by, headed for the darkness at the back of the cave. Then another, and another.
It dawns on me that they are running from something, not to something. I head to the front door, and here it is. It approaches, slowly, hands and mouths covered in gore, dragging a massive wooden club, awash in red. It moves so slowly that I am not even afraid.
I know it knows I'm here.
So be it. I am excited, anxious, and eager.
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