"Mister Cilob! The sparrows are hatching!"
Cilob Amudaban looked up from his engraving. The walls of his office were by now covered with carved notes. Dozens of small boxes engraved in the rock, each with the name of a dwarf neatly chiseled in it. Scratched notes in smaller lettering crowded around many of the boxes. An intricate web of lines and arrows connected the boxes, showing relationships of various types between the noted dwarves.
"Ah, Ceilan, good. Which ones?"
The eager young Swordsdwarf replied, "Bird-mothers two, three and four, sir."
"All three? Well, get the doors open quickly, before they start to fight."
Soon the training room was crowded with newly hatched giant sparrows.
"...twelve, thirteen, ... fourteen. Quite a population!" Cilob beamed with pride over the flock. "Well, need to get them trained properly while they're young. Let's get started."
Meanwhile, far below the surface, Rakust Gesisfikod crawled along a rough stone walkway, mere feet from the surface of the magma. The stonework was rough, intended only to be a temporary scaffold around the inlet to the magma works. Fumes that would have incapacitated an elf or human rose from the bubbling magma, and the heat was oppressive. Across the magma pipe, strange deep cavern plants were visible through breaks in the sheer rock walls, eerily illuminated by the red-glowing magma. Sometimes the shadows shifted, suggesting the movement of monstrous forms half-seen in the gloom.
Rakust giggled, and pried another rock loose from the scaffold.
Scaffold-deconstruction work was traditionally assigned to children. It was easy work, the pulling apart of rocks, not requiring any skill or careful placement of rocks, yet familiarizing the children with the masonry work many of them would be doing later in life. Working so deep in the caverns, so close to the magma, spoke deeply to the soul of any true dwarf. Rakust was having the time of her life.
She tossed the fragment of stone into the magma, where it vanished with a plop
, and then started pulling another piece loose.
Deep below, something noticed.
The rock was a tricky one. The fortress's masons had done an amazing job of fitting rough stone chunks together into a solid shelf strong enough for dwarves to walk on. Rakust leaned out over the edge of the ledge, trying to pull the stone from the side.
Then a blob of red-hot basalt shot out of the surface of the magma and struck her right leg. She staggered, nearly falling into the magma, barely managing to cling to the scaffold. Rapid-fire, more blobs of molten rock shot up at her.
Other dwarves working nearby in what was planned to be an artificial magma reserve noticed the attack.
"Hey, Rakust got hurt. What happened?"Thwip!
Another blob of magma struck the child in the side.
"Something's attacking here. I don't see anything."
Another dwarf spoke up, "Woah. Invisible monsters now? I'm getting out of here. Someone call the militia!"
The masons dropped their rocks and fled for the stairs. Behind them, Rakust was still being pummeled by blasts of molten basalt.
Soon, the militia had gathered near where the child was still being attacked. There wasn't much they could do. Whatever creature was continuing to attack Rakust was hiding far beneath the surface of the magma, not exposing itself to attack. None of the soldiers was quite so brave as to dive into the magma after it. Unable to fight, they fell back on an alternate method of protection: preventing anyone else from getting close enough to be attacked.
"Nothing to see here, folks. Move along."
One dwarf refused to turn back. Erush Fatheggut, master clothier, faced the soldiers who were blocking his path.
"Dammit, that's my cousin down there! You can't just leave her to die."
"Erush, you've got thirty cousins. Half the fortress are cousins of yours. Besides which, Rakust is done for. Nothing you can do to save her, you'd just get killed trying, and then who would make our clothes?"
Erush shoved past the soldier and ran down the stairs, cursing. The walkway where his cousin lay was not far.
She was horribly mangled, her body pierced in many places by burning stone. Broken bones jutted through skin in half a dozen places.
Despite her terrible injuries, she still somehow clung to life. Erush knelt on the walkway next to her. Another blast of molten rock shot out of the magma pipe, barely missing him. He scooped up Rakust in his arms and carried her back to the stairs.
Doctor Cain examined his latest patient. Her wounds are the worst I have ever seen a dwarf survive. It appears that the heat of the molten rock cauterized most of the injuries, else she would have certainly bled to death.
Despite her injuries, the patient is remarkably good spirits. Her treatment will be the most complex medical operation yet undertaken at this fortress.Despite this, her prognosis is good. We have the technology. We can rebuild her.