Chapter 1: Glacial Progress
"Why are we travelling to Certain Death again?" asked Taffer shivering in the back of the wagon.
"It's not Certain death!" replied Magnok wearily, "For the last time it's just a terrifying glacier"
"I fail," said Taffer blinking and yawning, "to understand how that reply did anything apart from confirm what I just said"
"Exactly. I knew you'd begin to see reason" laughed Magnok and patted Taffer on the back.
But it was too late to probe further Magnok had already leaned out of the window to chat to the dwarf on whipping duty, "How's it going laddie?" he shouted snow and ice smashing against his face. The icy mountains moaned wearily as if their very existence was a blight upon the world.
There was no response. Magnok frowned irritated that he didn't respond.
"Laddie?" he called again. There was no sound apart from the wind howling against the glacial mountainside like a heard of skeletal banshee zombie skeletons. Magnok focused his eyes and wiped the snow off and squinted. The wind groaned and it was impossible to see further than a couple of feet. He stroked his beard as a shape appeared just visible slumped over the animals.
"What's up?" asked Urist rubbing her hands. She was shivering , "Is he okay?"
"Most of him is," said Magnok, "I think you're going to have to take over though Taffer he looks a bit sick"
"Well what's wrong with him?" asked Urist looking concerned.
"Well," began Magnok a little nervously, "to be exact his head is… 'gone'"
"Well where did he put it?" laughed Lumpy, "I mean it's kind of hard to lose"
"I don't know. Maybe he forgot to bring it with him?" shrugged Magnok, "For Armok's sake Lumpy I'm serious. He's dead!"
"I thought you were joking," whispered Lumpy nervously, "You are joking right?"
"No! His head is gone. For some reason the Zebras are still pulling the wagon without his whipping encouragements. We're probably completely lost; Armok save us!"
"Phew!" said Taffer wiping the frozen sweat of his brow, "Guess that means we can head back to Dwarfcity now eh?"
"No we're going to make an outpost don't be stupid," replied Magnok, "just think of the riches that must be buried underneath all that ice!"
"More ice?" suggested Taffer sarcastically.
"Keep digging and eventually you'll hit magma, that's what my father always used to say," chuckled Magnok.
"Why didn't you take him with us?" asked Lumpy.
"Him? Oh he died when I was a kid poor bugger. Magma related accident"
"So where are we then?" asked Lumpy, "we better get out and have a look"
"Gerome can you get out and have a look for us?" asked Magnok to a broad nosed sharp eyed dwarf with a large axe. Gerome smiled and nodded calmly, "because you're too scared to go out and look yourself is that it Magnok?"
"Yes that would be why," replied Magnok as if it were a simple question with a simple answer.
"Gerome don't go!" whispered Melia his wife, "it's dangerous out there. Make one of the others go!"
"You weaklings!" spat Gerome and gripped the handle of his iron battle axe as if it were the throat of a dying goblin, "I'm not afraid of death Magnok. Its you that's afraid of life all of you! Let me show you how a soldier does things!"
Gerome opened the door. With a growl he jumped out brandishing his axe. He disappeared vertically downwards into the snowstorm. There was a long trailing whooshing sound followed by a loud resounding crack that echoed through the mountain range.
"That didn't sound good," murmured Taffer
"Gerome my love!" shrieked Melia and leaped out after him.
"NO!" roared Magnok trying to grab her but it was too late. His hand touched hers briefly but she was gone in an instant. There was another whooshing sound followed by a loud crunch this time slightly softer as if it had landed on something.
Magnok looked out wearily down into the abyss, "Okay. Dwarves, we're on top of the mountain. Armok knows how we managed to get up here but I suggest nobody else exits the wagon from this side"
Magnok crawled across the others and stepped out carefully through the other door and helped the dainty Urist down. The others got out shivering in the freezing cold stamping their boots.
"Okay Lumpy you got your pick ready?"
"Sure thing boss," he replied a little uneasily, "Where'd you want to dig to?"
"Down," he replied, "Strike the earth!"
Lumpy was certainly a grumbler but he was good at his job and soon had dug through the ice layer into some nice rock. At Magnok's orders he carved out a huge food stockpile and they carted in all the edible supplies into that magic dwarven room where nothing ever went rotten. To be safe Lumpy dug a long passageway into the main part of the prospective fortress and a small hall that would sort of serve as an entrance. It was here that Magnok constructed a mason's workshop and started on building the first thing that came to his mind: stone coffins.
When they had scooped up the remains of the other three and buried them Magnok constructed a few doors out of lumps of stone and they shut the door for the night. They sat in the darkness of their hall rubbing their hands and shivering. Urist was crying at the pain of the world.
"Ha! Fun times eh?" said Magnok with a grin. Lumpy was already asleep completely exhausted from the day.
"We're going to need food and booze," said Taffer munching on a purple mushroom, "This stuff won't last forever"
"How can you eat those things?" asked Magnok raising his eyebrows, "They taste horrible!"
"How can you not like mushrooms?" replied Taffer, "Every dwarf worth his own beard loves mushrooms right Urist?"
"She's crying leave her alone," shrugged Magnok
"Shouldn't you attend a meeting with her or something?" said Taffer irritably, "I mean you are the expedition leader for what that's worth"
"I'm okay!" whimpered Urist in floods of tears
"See? she's okay," said Magnok with a grin, "Meeting over"
"You are terrible at this." grumbled Taffer
"Hey chum!" glared Magnok, "Four of us are still alive on the first day... Nobody thanked me for that!"
Taffer said something inaudible.
"What was that?"
"Nothing I just bit my tongue that's all"
Magnok rested his chin on his fist and glared at the rock floor. Taffer rolled over and pretended to instantly start sleeping. Magnok sighed and turned to Urist. Her head was in her hands.
"Urist," he sighed.
"Yes Magnok?" she asked choking on tears
"I'm sorry life is so crappy"
"That's okay It's not your fault"
"No it kind of is. I mean this expedition to the glacier was my idea. ALL my idea"
"Don't be so hard on yourself"
"I'm not I'm just saying it's all my fault and I'm sorry. It's just it's the fashion to embark on evil glaciers these days ever since that Ironblood person did it"
"Captain Ironblood," said Urist dreamily and smiled.
"I'm just happy that we're all still alive that's all. Well those of us who are alive I mean discounting the dead ones"
"Magnok shut up I'm trying to sleep," groaned Taffer who had been disturbed by noise recently.
"Sorry," grumbled Magnok and rolled over onto the cold stone floor, "Won't be so plucky when I'm mayor and order you hammered," he whispered.
"What was that?"
"Nothing I just bit my tongue"
Morning resulted in the inevitable hangover that would have left any normal human bedridden for a week. Taffer yawned drowsily his arms clenched round an extremely large half eaten purple mushroom. Magnok groaned and sat up, "Where am I?" he growled unable to use his voice properly.
Taffer opened his eyes, "Oh god… it wasn't a dream"
Urist glanced over at the three coffins propped up vertically against the wall and felt her stomach lurch. Tears started welling up in her eyes but she held them back.
Magnok stood up, "Dwaves! Today we can further our work in praise of Armok god of blood! The first thing we need to do is dump all this stone somewhere. However there is no need to dump the stone in this room; I'll make it into doors and chairs and tables and things. But the stuff in the bedrooms and corridors has got to go"
"Where do you want us to put it?" asked Taffer wearily
"Lumpy can you carve us out a dump?"
"Sure thing boss," he nodded, "Where'd you want it?"
"Make it a diagonal passage and we can dump dead bodies there and the smell won't reach us. Put it near the potential mason and craftdwarf workshops"
"Magnok," interrupted Taffer, "we need Urist to start planting some crops"
"Why's that?" asked Magnok
"Well if she doesn't we'll all run out of food and die," he replied trying not to sound angry.
"Oh…" said Magnok scratching his chin through his beard, "Yes I see. Okay Urist can you start a farm in here?"
"Not really," she replied still a little out of her mind.
"Why not?" he inquired
"Well its rock Magnok," she replied sadly, "I can't grow anything on rock. We have to irrigate the ground with water"
"Great! So lets do that," said Magnok clapping his hands together. There was a long silence as he looked to the others for reassurance.
"There is none," said Taffer irritably, "It's a frozen glacier where do you expect us to find water that isn't frozen?"
Magnok looked at the floor as if he'd been hit by a thunderbolt.
"Geez this is more difficult than I thought," he said vigorously scratching at his beard, "How on earth do dwarves survive in these situations?"
"Generally they don't," said Taffer, "In fact the last thirteen embarks to this glacier failed"
"Failed? How badly?" asked Magnok biting his nails
"As in the traders had to eat the dead bodies of their friends to make it back to dwarf city alive," replied Taffer solemnly
"Okay smart-bucket why'd you come on this trip then if you think it's so suicidal?"
"A: I didn't know where we were going. B: I tried to sell a wooden bin of Gold Goblets to the elves and the mayor of dwarf city ordered me to be hammered with the captain of the guard's best silver ware. It was either come with you guys or get killed"
"So you do carpentry?" asked Magnok confirming an earlier conversation.
"Yes…" replied Taffer unimpressed.
"On a glacier…" continued Magnok deep in thought.
"I can see where this is going and the answer is most definitely no"
"You didn't know what I was going to ask"
"You were going to ask me to go and cut down some trees"
"So why can't you?"
Taffer slapped his hand against his head, "Because Magnok, we're on a glacier. There are no trees. For that matter I don't think I've seen anything alive since we came here. ANYTHING" he added as if it were written on his tombstone.
"Okay…" sighed Magnok sounding a little disappointed, "I guess you'll have to help me haul stone then instead"
"You know…" said Urist a little shyly, "I heard that there's soil deep down in the caverns? We could, you know, mine down and start a farm in there"
"Okay lets do that!" said Magnok "nothing could possibly go wrong"
"In the caverns?" said Taffer, "Are you out of your mind?"
Lumpy had been following the conversation a little half-heartedly and unsure as to whether or not he was supposed to go off and start mining again. He wasn't the brightest of Armok's creations, "How do you know there are caverns?"
"There's always caverns," replied Taffer, "just as there's always magma. Thing is both of them are filled with dark horrible creatures with slime fangs, poison and tentacles, large sharp pointed razor teeth that can chop a dwarf in two!"
"Its fine we'll wall it off," shrugged Magnok, "I'm a mason I'll just build a wall how hard can it be?"
"No you won't you'll get distracted by a plump helmet man or something," grumbled Taffer, "Look if we're going to do this, which by the way is a really dumb idea, lets at least do it properly. Lumpy will dig into the caverns then all of us! And I mean ALL of us will help build a wall to stop the dark creatures of the depths coming in to feast on our fleshy bones"
"Bones aren't made of flesh," said Lumpy
"Just…" said Taffer tightening his hands into fists, "You, but ,IT, Do, fine…"
"Okay so let's do it that thing which he just said!" grinned Magnok.
"Armok save us," whispered Taffer as they headed down the passageway, "at least things cannot get any worse"