Shattered hunks of granite littered the grand hall of the Unyielding Hold, one of the five Dwarven mountain republics. (There are six Hill Dwarf Holds but they don’t count to the mountain Dwarves. Don’t ask them unless you want to hear a lot about what constitutes a ‘Hold’. Consider yourself warned.) Back to the matter at hand.
Abominations oozed, squelched, slithered, and flopped into the grand hall and immediately began to make a terrible mess, accompanied by a putrid stench. Perhaps not the most germane issue during an infestation of Outer Realm monstrosities, but it is worth noting.
A squad of stout Dwarven warriors grimaced as the intricate carvings of their ancestors were eroded with foul-smelling acids. Dwarves are a sturdy and reliable folk, who pride themselves on leading a well-ordered existence. Schedules were followed to the second. This allowed them to build their magnificent Mountain (and Hill) Holds. Couple that with the legendary Dwarven stubbornness, and stuff gets done. Make a plan, and stick with it. Disruptions to said plans are intolerable and upsetting.
On the other side of the coin, they are almost all terrible improvisers. (Those who choose the freewheeling life of adventurers are, of course, the exception.) The rest can’t think on their feet to save their lives, as we are about to see.
Wearing a steel helmet with brass details and a bright red plume on top, the Squad Leader shouted, “Form up! Arms out!”
With a near machine-like efficiency, the Dwarven warriors assembled into a neat square formation, shields on all sides and spears positioned betwixt each shield. They resembled a War Turtle, without the ability to spew a localized tsunami. (If you want to know more about War Turtles, read Vontos’s ‘1,000 Things You Didn’t Know about the War Turtle.’ But only if you are serious about the subject.)
As they marched towards the horde of Abominations, they began to sing a Dwarven battle song. While there are many excellent Dwarven battle songs, ‘Hammer Strike’, ‘Battle-Axe Blast’, and ‘Hit With A Mountain’, the one they belted out was ‘Forward, March, March.’ It has an excellent beat but it’s mostly about marching in unison, which makes it somewhat uninspiring. Unless you are in a parade. Which these Dwarves were not.
Initially, they killed a lot of Abominations. This squad was comprised of well-trained warriors. They knew their business. However, it very quickly became a numbers game. Given too many Abominations and even the most tireless of fighters will eventually be overcome.
The drummers and pipers, who were accompanying the singing, from a safe distance, retreated. In 4/4 time, in case you were wondering. Once behind the tall iron doors, and safely in the second great hall, they stopped playing and reported.
Busepholus Bronzebeard, Marshal of the Unyielding Hold followed the well-established protocol and ordered his Rune-Masters to take their murder holes. On the count of three, they traced the mystic symbols with their battle staves and the grand hall erupted into an inferno. On the count of ten (the previously agreed upon count), then the Rune-Masters peered out of the murder holes.
Everything was blackened and piles of ash fell like snow, except for being hot and made of incinerated Abominations. As they watched, each Rune-Master thought about all the work that needed to clean up this huge mess. As schedules were being mentally constructed, more Abomination arrived, uninvited. To be fair, few beings invite Abominations to anything, and those who do are not the sort that you might have round for an evening of casual supper and cards.
Again, as the great hall filled with these monstrosities, runes were traced, fire filled the room, and Abominations were flash fried. All was done with extreme efficiency, except for the Abominations who were as sloppy, which was their whole thing.
This happened seven more times, which might not have been a problem except the iron door separating the rest of the Unyielding Hold from the assault was beginning to smolder and was very hot to the touch.
Marshal Busepholus Bronzebeard called his captains to his side to discuss their plan.
“My friends, it appears we are in trouble,” said the Marshal.
“But we followed the protocols to the letter,” said Shasar Silverboot
“These creatures should have retreated by now!” declared Fruden Fireback.
“Clearly our foes are doing this incorrectly!” added Ignaz Ironbottom.
There was a general agreement amongst these officers, after all, what else could it be?
“Have we somehow, missed a crucial step in our plans?” asked Gerta Granitehands?
This statement caused a flurry of checking, cross-checking, and confirming details from books, scrolls, and other records. In the end, they could find no fault in their actions. Additionally, three more waves of Abominations had repulsed and the edges of the iron doors were now glowing a dull red color.
A call out to the Rune-Masters confirmed that more of these Outer Realm monstrosities were even now, pouring into the great hall.
With great solemnity, the Marshal removed an old leather scroll case from his belt, where it had rested since he was elevated to this post. His Captains said nothing but their nostrils all flared.
“Here is the Ultimate Protocol. Written by the first of our people when this Hold was carved. This will tell us how to defeat these invaders that make no treaties, accept no parley, and know no honor.”
Clearing his throat, Busepholus Bronzebeard read this near holy protocol. Afterwards, everyone nodded with agreement and then began the preparation.
First, the secondary great hall was evacuated. For a sense of the visuals of this, the great hall was deep and wide, suitable for grand celebrations. The secondary great hall was more of a hallway, still deep but not nearly as wide. It led deeper into the mountain and to the inhabited portions of the hold. But before that was the Chasm of Jarac-Kram. Discovered by the early Dwarven stone-masons in the early days of the hold, it was a wide, underground canyon that stretched in a wide circle for miles. A perfect natural defense, since it was considered to be bottomless.
Now in the interest of accuracy, no one could say if it was truly bottomless. Some stone scholars argued that everything has a bottom and those who opposed this asked if these smart guys thought it didn’t have a bottom, why not climb down and prove it? Of course, the other ones said, ‘if you really think it has a bottom, it seems like it’s up to you to prove it!’
What followed was a lot of insults about academic qualifications which, as often happens, followed by disparaging comments about each other’s mothers. This was the source of many scholarly feuds that have not been resolved as neither side is willing to climb down and prove things either way.
So, in the end, the Chasm of Jarac-Kram was considered bottomless or close enough to make no difference. There was but one way to cross, a mighty bridge, known as the Span of Goldpick (named for the Dwarf who engineered it), that spanned the nine-hundred-foot distance from one side to the other.
Once they had evacuated the secondary grand hall and crossed the Span, it was destroyed. A moment of great sorrow for those involved, for this was a part of their heritage. It passed rather quickly when the sight of countless Abominations poured down the secondary great hall.
More armies would stop still at the sight of this impassable pit. Not these guys. They began to pour into the Chasm of Jarac-Kram like there was treasure at the bottom. It was an astounding sight. Such a vast and terrifying host, plummeting to their demise with absolutely no regard for the concept of either gravity or death.
After hours of this, Marshal Busepholus Bronzebeard ordered most of his troops to the inner hold. Leaving a squad to keep watch. It was, at the time, considered a victory. Both against the Abominations and for Dwarven pre-planning.
Everyone felt safe. There were vast stores of food and access to fresh water, so that wasn’t a concern. Common sense told them that it had to end soon. It’s not as if there were an unlimited number of Abominations. Also, clearly there was nothing in the deepest, darkest parts of the mountain that might be disturbed. They would know that. Right? Right…