…and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
We have barred the gates, and still they come. Drums, the drums are a constant reminder of our impending doom. They’ve taken the courtyard, their black banners fly from cruel spikes atop the Towers of Dawn & Dusk, the spikes ornamented with the severed heads of the towers’ dwarven defenders, their mutilated bodies strewn across the ramparts like discarded refuse. The archers and crossbowmen in the towers hadn’t been prepared for the din, and cold, crude blades that took their lives one by one in those horrific early moments of the assault on Nåzomoltar, still when they found themselves overrun, they had fought valiantly to the last dwarf, and accepted death with the stoicism that is a credit to their race. Asmel Degelidrath had watched on in helpless horror as the goblins swarmed atop the towers, seemingly indifferent to the hail of arrows, and silenced the defenders. She had prayed desperately to Reg, the god of loyalty and oaths, but she knew Reg’s answer when her husband’s headless body was thrown down from the Tower of Dawn onto the ramparts below, she could make out his bloodstained homespun tunic beneath the leather breastplate.
The vast goblin mob just outside this bastion of rock deep in the bosom of the earth could be heard occasionally howling for blood, our blood. Asmel bandaged Iden Kissenokzam’s foot which was missing a few toes from the clash with the goblin vanguard in the side tunnel. They had just been a few diminutive whelps, fodder to weaken the dwarves’ resolve before the goblin veterans arrived to strike the finishing blow, but they’d fought with the viciousness of mindless beasts before being put down by the axes, swords, spears, and warhammers of the dwarven militia that had held their ground in a shield wall as wave after wave of screaming, gangly, grey-green bodies poured through the narrow corridor, twisted nightmarish creatures, things of bedtime stories dwarven parents tell their children, clad in armor made of bone and iron wielding swords, knives, spiked clubs, whips, and sometimes nothing but their wicked claws and sharp teeth. Three brave dwarves had fallen, and a dozen more had been wounded. There was no time to mourn the dead while the wounded had to be tended too, not that it hardly mattered, they’d all soon be joining their fallen brothers and sisters if the pounding on the makeshift barricade in the side tunnels was any indication, soon the goblins would break through and the carved mountain halls would run red with the blood of dwarves and their human and elven guests who huddled inside, a sacrifice to Armok, the god of blood who forged the world on his anvil in the time before time, before even the ages of myth and legend. Asmel almost regretted, and not for the first time, leaving The Ponderous Mine with her husband to seek their fortune at Nåzomoltar, “Dreamgild” in the common tongue, a fledgling outpost in the foothills of the Vaulted Mountains. They’d faced many hardships in the journey, and worked hard as millers for The Lustrous Key, the small company of dwarves that founded Nåzomoltar 9 years before.
“It’s too late, Asmel, our strength has been broken. Nothing can be salvaged, and we can’t flee. The main gate and the side tunnel are the only ways out of the mountain, we are trapped. I’m sorry it has come to this.” Iden’s grizzled face was grim beneath his braided beard matted with blood, he was the leader of the expedition, the mayor elect of the small dwarven settlement, this fate weighed harder on his conscience than anyone’s. “Our time in this world is dream. Ever we seek new claims in the hills and mountains, we strike the earth, we dig, and build, and practice our crafts, we make merry and raise our families, but to what end? To what end indeed? Aye lass, it is something we dwarves never ask. When we die we sleep in the earth beneath the mountains, hopefully in cold tombs among our fellow dwarves and the wealth we’ve created in life and not skeletons strewn about our halls murdered by violence and our wealth stolen, but either way, we do not go on, we sleep forevermore. Is it all for nothing?”
Asmel tied off the bandage, looking down at the cold cavern floor as Iden spoke.
Finally, she looked up at Iden with her copper eyes and replied, “Dwarves do not ask.”
I watched grimly as the drama unfolded on the screen, having lost all hope, soon the green ‘g’ letters broke through the side tunnel barricade using the brute strength of their mountain troll and flooded into the mountain, each dwarf, human, and elf they made contact with exploded in an expanding sea of red pixels that stained the surrounding walls and floors that I had carefully carved out and designed to house the industrious inhabitants of the mountain. I watched sadly as they made their way to the hospital where Iden, Asmel, and the remaining dwarves lay hiding. Poor Asmel, she loved cows for their haunting moos, geese for their formation flying, valued family, and enjoyed a good meal of roast alpaca and fox tail millet beer; she always dreamed of creating a great work of art, but now she never would. I couldn’t bear to watch, I hit ‘Esc’ and ‘Succumb to the invasion’ and confirmed the deletion of my saved game. I leaned back in my office chair and sighed. My addiction to Dwarf Fortress (fine if you have no idea what I’m talking about) had grown in the past few months. I started a new game as soon as the old one ended in dramatic ruin (as they always did), whether from goblins, titanic beasts or horrors, starvation, flood, disease, or something I haven’t even thought of yet. I feel like each game is a learning experience, The tragedy of Dreamgild would live on in the poet’s verse and the bard’s song, and in my mind as a lesson of what not to do. I was always learning something from those simulated dwarves, sturdy creatures fond of drink and industry, listening to their thoughts, likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, seeing their simulated lives play out in a simulated fantasy world, often my decisions deciding if they lived or died and achieved their life goals along the way. I know, none of it is real, they are, after all, just flashes of electricity stored on memory chips following an unpredictable algorithm even if they give the appearance of life. Is it merely a glitch that we ascribe meaning where there is none?