They will cut cities from bare stone, tear up every vein, embellish every surface, then, when there is no unworked spot or unplanned gap, when every single piece and thing has become a channel for planned creation, when even the pebbles stare up from the floor with idly carved eyes, then they move on. — excerpt from treatise, Veins of the Earth, learned scholar unknown.

There are few surface-dwellers who know of the duergar. Of those who do, the vast many spend their days porne over manuscripts of the older, wiser days; missives from far-off places, passed hand-to-hand and never more than a sentence away from falsity; and indistinguishable from either, rankest fantasies penned the week before. The vanishing minority, those not scholars, bescarred and often as not staring into the middle distance, are those who have made their way through the earth and reemerged.

These people say that there is a race of work-obsessed dwarves, what used to be dwarves, which ply compulsive labors in the casket-black darkness of depths where dwarves find themselves claustrophobiac. Who touch every speck of the stone, who make all in their image, only moving on when all is complete. Who have been doing such since there have been dwarves. The men under the mountain, those who will speak of it—never to toplanders—make it clear that some dwarves go mad and go down, or whisper of a lost expedition sent to harvest a resource or fight a desperate sortie, or of darker things that bubbled up and drained down and took good dwarves to an unending fate.

That is so much bullshit.

Those who are invested in such stories don’t know they aren’t true, but do know—somewhere deep within—that it’s really, really important that people believe them. Everyone believes that those twisted creatures below are degenerate things, hunched by time and dark and compulsion, of being prey and predator, of bodeful energies and cannibal desperation. Good things went too far into the earth and became bad things.

All things come from the earth. Duergar are the dwarves, and the dwarves are duergar who fought compulsion and by slow prudence made mild a rugged people, and through soft degrees subdued them to the useful and the good. A dwarf is a driven creature, goals met and grudges held tight and lifeworks completed. Where does that—usually admirable—drive come from? The dogged follow-throughedness, to achieve, to complete?

From duergar compulsion. Dwarves have found how to work and not be consumed, to create and not (re-, re-, re-, re-) recreate, to set down hammer and tong and eat and drink and fellowship with other dwarves. Duergar do none of these things, but dwarves do. It isn’t dwarves who went, off—it was duergar who shook loose their defining aspect and opened themselves to something else.

To lose some to the Rapture, that some will end up wrong, this is the admitted risk of all who travel the shaftmines and squeezes and black cataracts of the land below. It is to be rued that you could degenerate to such a creature. But it is a shame so vast, incomprehensibly devastating, that the ancestry and ancient kings and received wisdom and such a painstaking genealogy could spring forth from the monomaniacal drive of the twisted toilers below, workmad and insensate.

Best not to spend too much time thinking on that.


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