The Darkness of Dael-Inor: an Umbra tale, by Caleb King

“These poor bastards never stood a chance.” Kai mused aloud.

He was there, sifting through the remains of this Dwarven outpost, looking for his fallen

brethren. Their armor, blackened and still warm to the touch bore the evidence of the intensity

of the fire that brought upon their ruin. He removed a blackened support beam that had fallen

and crushed the poor fellow at his feet, and attempted to gently pull the body from the rubble.

The armor broke apart easily as he slid the remains free. Additional pieces of armor fell from

the body as he moved it into the street where the other reclaimed dead lay.

The outpost of Dael-Inor, one of many Dwarven outposts south of the Borderlands, lay

in ruins. Small fires still burned from the recent attack, smoldering coals catching fresh wood

aflame as old pieces crumbled into ash. The entire settlement was razed, all buildings knocked

down and burned, and stone watchtowers toppled. Everything, including the stone and

ground, was charred and burned, like a ball of fire had fallen upon this place and scorched it

black. For all the destruction, there were no bodies of any enemy attacker, nor any signs of a

struggle, just the chaos of a settlement engulfed in flames. No signs of survivors, either.

Kai was a young dwarf of 54 years. His beard was full and brown, his eyes blue, and his

build, muscular and stout. Like all dwarves of his clan, he stood around five feet tall and was

built for life in the mountains. He trained as a warrior, preferring two-handed weaponry, to

hammer and shield, like many of his brethren; but today his duties were to help clear this

outpost of the dead, and assist in defending should any trouble arise. So far, no signs of any

trouble had surfaced.

The day proceeded as expected. Bodies were gathered and placed in rows, the dead

were identified if possible and committed to the fire as was their clan’s custom. Any and all

weapons, armor, and other salvageable goods were collected and loaded into wagons for

transportation to be distributed to other outposts. By nightfall, the bodies were all cleared, the

dead were sent on their way, and the supplies were loaded. The outpost now looked like a

charred and vacant husk, a haunting reminder of the threat they faced.

Just what was it they faced here? A fire that came from out of nowhere? A fire magus?

Dragon? Raiders? None of those seem likely given that there appeared to be no struggle. No

looting, no gold or silver taken, nothing. Just death. Kai pondered this while sitting beside his

brethren around the fire that night as they ate and drank and celebrated the lives of their fallen

companions. The dwarves made their encampment a few hundred feet outside the outpost. No

one wanted to spend the night inside that ruined place.

“Rheis Flintspark was a damn fine blacksmith, he was.” Offered Anver Ironbrow, their commander. “Made hammers that cracked skulls better than any I ever wielded. His laugh was loud, his beard was singed, and his heart was big. I’ll miss the bastard. May he drink and feast with his ancestors in the Mountain Below.”

The dwarves all hailed Rheis and raised their ales in the air to salute to their dead comrade. After he

spoke of Rheis, Anver sat back down and yielded his voice to the next dwarf. It was quiet for a while when Kai finally stood.