“Fascinating,” said Leanorel. A few more brush strokes revealed the final portions of the mural. “This hallways was used by the dwarves to record their entire history as it happened, from the founding of the settlement to its ultimate failure.”

Aviss, her fellow archaeologist from the Elven Exploration and Excavation Society leaned forward. “We’ve seen the years of plenty, but everyone knows about those from the other settlements. Let’s see the good stuff.”

“This panel…the dwarves seem to be triumphant over the goblins, but the runes tell a different story. They say that the overseer demanded a triumphant mural but it is only a monument to death.”

“Interesting, and not unlike a dwarf to say,” drawled Aviss. “What about that last bit there?”

Leanorel recoiled. “That’s not engraved in the same way, it was chiseled in roughly over another half-finished triumph.”

“What’s it say?”

“DWEAVAN YOU ASSHOLE YOU’VE KILLED US ALL.”

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“So here’s the thing. Elves won’t go to school with orcs. They say that, in their holy book, orcs stole the Light of the Twin Boughs and fed it to Ariachne the Star-Devourer. So naturally, that means that their kids can’t learn about geometry together.”

“And the orcs?”

“There are enough velfor tots around to show that they’re one and the same once you get past appearances, but a lot of the orcs are a little hostile on account of the fact that the elves saw fit to condemn them to an eternity of servitude after the defeat of their dark master Malktozt the Enemy. So the orc parents are likely to agree to shared bussing but their damn kids get in trouble with the elves. And of course neither of them likes the velfor.”

“I see what you mean about this being complicated.”

“And ours is an easy lot! District 12 is 15% dwarves and 5% hoblings. Now any student of history knows that they have a common origin, but thanks to the Dwarf-Hobling conflict in the Middle West, they get hysterical at any idea of shared schooling. And naturally, the dwarves believe that orcs are unclean thanks to the Dimming of the Two Bushes (subtly different from stealing the Light of the Twin Boughs you understand), while the hobbling are a bit peeved at elves thanks to the Harrowing of Hoblingshire, during the war, when 50% of their people were killed by elves for no good reason I’ve ever been able to uncover.”

“So you can’t bus orcs and elves, orcs and dwarves, hoblings and elves, or hobbling and dwarves. That’s beyond complicated.”

“Oh you can try. Many have. What you wind up with is the elves pulling their kids out to go to expensive private elf academies, the elves move away and stop paying taxes, and then you’re got a school that is 90% orcs again.”

“Makes me glad I’m an goblin and reproduce through budding.”

“You and me both, buddy. You and me both.”

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The Branding
Only the Kingdom of Mangeni resisted integration into the Realms. The result was a campaign of slaughter and terror to subjugate the land; it lasted for two decades before a native Mangeni dwarf noble managed to unify the land and submitted in exchange for certain rights, notably the continuance of the Right of Strength. The name comes from the procedure of branding cattle, and is at once both facetious and irredentist.

Crownfall
The Four Realms were mismanaged in the years leading up to the Crownfall Wars, and eventually the kings found themselves faced with a restive population. In a brutal campaign lasting ten years, the King and all three Archdukes were forced to abdicate or were killed on the battlefield. Attempted intervention by the Empire of Vachen led to further war between it and the newly declared Republic of the Realms.

War of Independence
The Empire of Vachen’s intervention, ostensibly at the behest of the rightful heirs to the crown, lasted five years. It was notable as a struggle both internal and external, as Swynwr, Mangeni, and Tavallinen all sought independence from the central administration of the Republic in Dahlgren. This led to the Peaceable Settlement, an agreement that autonomy would be protected and the Old Right and the Right of Strength allowed to continue. The war ended with the total defeat of Vachen.

War of Rights
In time, opposition in Dahlgren and parts of Tavallinen to the Old Right and the Right of Strength grew. Increased incursions into Tavallinen and Dahlgren for “unprotected” citizens led to a war of laws between the Republic and its constituents, and ultimately Swynwr and Mangeni attempted to regain their independence, aided by a significant portion of Tavallinen. Five years of brutal war followed between the Republicans (the government of the Republic of the Realms) and the Rightists (officially the Federation of Rights, sometimes called the Federals or Federalists). Eventually, the Rightists were broken and annihilated, their ancient Rights abolished, and all the Realms brought under a centralized and bureaucratic administration. An attempted intevention by the Empire of Vachen also failed spectacularly.

The Brushfire
The defeat of Vachen’s intervention meant that the victorious government of the Republic of the Realms was able to annex the Verge, an area they had long desired. Desolate and sparsely populated, the Verge was rich in minerals and other resources but had never been developed by the Empire due to its remoteness and fierce resistence from native inhabitants. After the War of Rights, though, the resources of the Republic were turned to the region and it was flooded with soldiers, refugees and exiles from the defeated armies, and opportunists. This led to a series of small but intense conflicts, some spanning months or years; this 50-year period of violence has entered history books as “the Brushfire.”

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“We’ll need a couple of people,” Hiraul said, adjusting his hat to clip his long, pointed ears to the sides of his head. “A horse thief, for one. Can’t have anyone at the livery seeing us on a poster and putting two and two together.”

“Already done,” said Votal, harrumphing through his beard. “My boy Nvar. Sister’s son. Family. We can trust him, and he’s already stolen enough horses to equip a cavalry division.”

Hiraul arched a delicate eyebrow. “A dwarf horse thief?”

“He’s a quarter human on his father’s side, he can reach the stirrups,” snapped Votal. “Lithe as a willow too.”

“Someone who can deal with explosives next,” Hiraul continued. “Got to stop the train. I think I know someone. Neridi. She was in artillery during the war and her father owes me a favor.”

It was Votal’s turn to scoff. “A woman and an elf?”

“You remember how hard-pressed we were for troops as well as I do,” snapped Hiraul. “And if nothing else, no one will believe her story.”

“All right, all right,” Votal said. “But that’s not all, is it?”

“We need someone on the inside, on the train. A human, or somebody that can pass as one.”

Votal pondered this a moment. “One of Quint’s Raiders? They clipped their own ears after all.”

“The train will have an escort. Military. You’d better believe that they’ll have an etherometer and be checking everyone that boards.”

“So where does that leave us?” said Votal. “My boy Nvar isn’t passing an etherometer. You won’t pass muster on one of those if you’ve got so much as a great-grandparent who isn’t as human as President Graham.”

“I know. It’s a tough proposition…a human working for us when the old war means nobody trusts anybody else. But I think I know just the guy.”

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Much as Vallis was founded by humans after the catastophe that created the Caldera, so too were Morinth’s Delving and Welkor’s Light founded by dwarven and elvish colonists, respectively.

In the north of the Caldera, the dwarven colonists stumbled upon a warren of volcanic caverns and subterranean steam vents created from empty magma chambers. This ready-made dwelling also had access to veins of precious metals, plenty of room for growth, and many avenues of access for trade with both the surface and the Underdark. Within a generation, a powerful line of dwarven dukes had arisen, and for many years they were the primary power within the Caldera. While many of the mines have closed, and other colonies have since eclipsed Morinth’s Delving, Morinth IX still rules over a wealthy and potent kingdom.

Welkor’s Light was an aboveground settlement dedicated to studying the potent magical aftereffects of the calamity that created the Caldera. A fortress set on a wooded crag, it clowly grew to encompass a full-fledged community of elves despite its beginning as a mere research outpost. There was continual tension between Welkor, the leader of the settlement, and the various members of Morinth’s line, each accusing the other of a variety of misdeeds. In time, though, Welkor’s Light became a powerful fortress, capable of withstanding a lengthy siege and a powerful producer of artifacts in its own right.

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Lapur Xianuende, an elven engineer formerly in the employ of Baron Hecoran, and Sustrai Xianuende, a dwarven mercenary hired to protect Hecoran Keep as the Baron consolidated his forces for a confrontation with his neighbor Baroness Ioxus. They met and fell in love, which resulted in the expulsion of Lapur from his family and the blacklisting of Sustrai from her unit. Forced to make ends meet as they could, the pair ended up fleeing into the wilds of northern Hecoran where they fell in with the bandit leader Mtos. Despite their circumstance, they managed to have seven children in four sets of twins:

Mailu (age 15)
Favoring his father, Mailu is already taller than all of his siblings at 15 but has inherited his mother’s incredible swarthiness with a growing beard that will one day be the envy of many a full-blooded dwarf. His strength and height have found him work as a longshoreman on Pexate’s rivers, felling trees even at his young age. He harbors a dream to become a soldier, though he lacks the money and martial skill to do so.

Harro (age 15)
Mailu’s twin, Harro favors his mother and has never grown any taller than her. Despite this, he has the slim build and features of an elf, and appears very like a rare halfling of Daqin, a people like the ogres and trolls on the verge of extinction. As such, he has joined a treveling carnival under the name “Arqin the Last Halfling from the East” and currently tours Pexate. His parents consider this a phase that he will grow out of, failing to see the unintentional pun therein.

Gezi (age 20)
Gezi favors his mother, being of average dwarvish height and build but with his father’s dazzlingly blonde and straight hair and delicate ear-points. Even so, he lives as a full dwarf in the settlement of Noaad near the Pexate-Layyia border and writes only occasionally of his work there as a miner and prospector.

Alkate (age 20)
Gezi’s twin, Lantza is between her parents’ heights, on the short side of the elven norm, with ears that are semi-pointed and wavy brown hair. Unable to fit in with anyone but her parents, she serves their band of bandits as a scout and a courier, gathering supplies and passing messages. She finds the work quite thankless and is rather desperate to find another elf-dwarf hybrid of similar appearance so that she can feel a greater sense of belonging.

Brankan (age 25)
Living in Toan, Brankan is studying to become a Priest of the Sepulcher under the Bishop-Baron of Toan. On the short side but still rather taller than his mother, his dwarf-like thick bushy blonde hair allows him to hide his delicately pointed ears and pass for human, while his taking of the cloth as a celibate man of the Creator will serve to disguise his inability to have children. Far and away his parents’ favorite, his studious and dull personality is constatntly held up as an example for the others despite the fact that Brankan clearly wants nothing to do with his parents.

Zaldi (age 25)
Brankan’s twin, she favors her father and has an elflike height and build with her mother’s black and curly hair and semi-rounded ears. Though she could pass for human, she instead lives as an elf and works as a waitress and occasional actress in the Elf Quarter of Aiov in the Barony of Varrett. The money she sends home does not make up for her parents’ stern disapproval of her lifestyle.

Lantza (age 30)
The sole survivor of Sustrai’s first difficult pregnancy; her twin Daic was stillborn. As tall as her father, but with her mother’s stout build, she is a mercenary in the city of Simnel and moonlights as a wrestler in the city’s famous but illegal Mud Pits. Despite the fact that she is an elf-dwarf hybrid and cannot have children of her own, her lack of a husband continually bedevils her parents who are always writing her with suggestions.

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Of all the beings to interact with humans, dwarves have had perhaps the longest and most peaceful history. Unlike elves, but like orcs, dwarves established a great kingdom in their native lands to the far north. A rugged, tortured land of short summers, long winters, pine forests, fjords, and lake-filled islands with island-filled lakes, the archipelago formed the Kingdom of the Shattered Isles.

Dwarves tunneled below the permafrost to take advantage of the land’s latent geothermal heat and rich ores, while their outriggers sailed far and wide to trade (and occasionally raid) the great human kingdoms and even the orcs of the far south. Their stocky build and powerful physique made dwarven mercenaries extremely popular, and they served in the personal guard or shock troop vanguard of many a ruler.

But the dwarves’ hold on their land was always tenuous. Like elves, dwarves had extremely low population growth: females were only capable of pregnancy once every five to seven years, and the tendency of these cycles to align in the various hold across the Shattered Isles meant that serious losses to combat or disease stood to annihilate a population with startling rapidity. The fact that every dwarven pregnancy, without fail, was a difficult twin birth did not help matters; before the advent of modern medicine, many dwarven women died in childbirth.

These problems came to a head with the invasion of the Sea Peoples. Driven from their traditional homlands by the rising empire of the Hamurabash orcs, they set upon the Shattered Isles with savage fury. Their warships were less stable but much larger than dwarven outriggers, resulting in a series of lopsided naval defeats for the kingdom. Worse, the Shattered Isles had just emerged from a vicious war with a human kingdom, leaving their ranks thinned and more territory than usual to defend.

The Sea Peoples also possessed horses and heavy cavalry, which the dwarves had traditonally spurned in favor of infantry and naval warfare. They were of little use over much of the Shattered Isles but at the crucial Battle of the Two Lakes they were able to smash the dwarven army of the King Over The Isles in a charge over frozen ground. The Sea Peoples eventually gained complete control over the Shattered Isles, dispersing the dwarves that they did not enslave.

Known as the Shattering to dwarves, this event was a watershed for their culture. Many were welcomed with open arms by human kingdoms and settled within them in exchange for their service as warriors and sailors. The death of the King Over The Isles also had a profound effect on dwarven religion, which had been a dualistic faith with the king as high priest of Dvagnchi the Dayfather and the queen as high priestess of Qingvnir the Nightmother. Religious epics from the time before the Shattering emphasized the eternal courtship between the two and their shared rule over the world, each embodying opposing traits.

Such was the violence of the Shattering that the entire household of King Tsovngan IV and Queen Jinheiq III was slaughtered. Traditionally, the King and Queen would designate their own successors or leave matters to a Great Council comprised of the heads of the Great Holds. But with no designated successor, all the most likely claimants dead, and the Great Holds annihilated or in exile, no king and queen–and therefore no priest and priestess–could be chosen.

The void that this left in dwarven religious life led many of them to abandon the worship of Dvangchi and Qingvnir and take up the faiths of their new homes, from human religions to the Hamurabash. Those who remained faithful were often used as pawns by the surviving Great Holds in schemes to attain the Shattered Throne or to retake the Isles.

A combination of modern medicine and a latter-day revivial of Dvangchi and Qingvir has proved a headache for the modern lands settled by dwarves. Thanks to an innovation that dwarves refer to as tsviao qio nvrguchi, or “Homage to the Empty Throne,” the lack of an official high priest or priestess is overlooked through the support of local Twilight Courts–the traditional dwaven temple–and the setting aside of tithes to fund the reclaimation of the Isles or the official consecreation of a new homeland.

As a result, where once dwarves had been regarded as assimilated members of various states, there is a growing movement toward reclaiming their political and religious identity, their language, and a trend toward dwarven militias and armed groups that has resulted in bloodshed both in the modern Republic of the Shattered Isles and elsewhere.

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