The Old Ones
Veins of the Underdark
Postscript of Imperial Geologic Survey of Lithic Vein
Dost thou forget
From what a torment I did free thee?
Thou dost, and think’st it much to tread the ooze
Of the salt deep,
To run upon the sharp wind of the North,
To do me business in the veins o’ th’ earth
When it is bak’d with frost."
-Laments of the Vein (recovered from Dambuilder burial spire)
At the deepest point of the dungeon, behind the throne, beyond the rooms where the battles took place, after everything is done and the enemy dead, there is a crack. A black empty space where the wall joins the stone floor, a foot and a half high and three wide. A breeze comes out. You’d never notice it. You could lie on your belly and fit inside.
It never ends.
Or; Miners heard a noise. They stopped hammering, but someone else did not. Now there is a space they did not make in the wall of the mine between the props and the vein is mined out from the other side.
Or; On a distant island there is a dead volcano and no metal, but the people living there carry swords of unknown make and they know the names of ancient kings from distant lands.
Or; Beneath the city streets there are buried roads and cellars where the sewage runs through. Below those are forgotten colonnades, and under those are caverns, and right at the deepest point is a black gate and the gate is guarded, from both sides, by guards who never speak.
Or; A maelstrom in the ocean swallows ships, but once, after an earthquake, it vomited one up. A ship lost long ago, but not wrecked or sunk to the bottom of the sea, but still in use, its sails of grey silk, its broken planks replaced with shards of some enormous bone, its mast of something almost as strong as steel but lighter than wood.
Or; On the dirt-poor land where the river runs into the cave, there are walled farms. The people there are pale and rarely speak. They hunger for fresh fruit, workable wood and meat and they pay with uncut gems and slivers of gold. No-one knows where the gold comes from, no-one knows where the goods go.
A spider that walks across your outstretched hand might tell itself a tale of what you are. It does not know. There are veins beneath the skin it takes to be the whole. The world you think you know is nothing but a shell, a thin, carapace over the skin of the, deeper, unbound world below.
You have existed, up to this point, on the illusion of a plane, bordered by mountains, rivers, seas or the politics of maps, and this life has been a lie. Its borders are made up, its seas are gateways, its mountains are cradles of deep life. There is no plane.
You were raised within a history running back through recorded time, written in ink, carved in stone, scooped from clay, hidden in songs. Your primal myths are an eye-blink of the memory of that place. Your history is a candle burning out.
The real world, the deeper, more true world, is bordered only by light above and fire below, and perhaps not even by that.
It is one invisible day distant from you now. If you proceed directly down, doing nothing but travelling for 24 hours, and go a whole day without sight of the sun, you edge upon its realm.
It is where the paths cannot be mapped.
It is where the worked stone gives out.
It is where the weight of your flesh is worth more than your weight in silver. They are wealthy there, and they hunger.
It is the ocean-of-stone, and there are seas within it.
When you loathe gold for its weight and, and count your wealth by a radius of illuminated rock and think yourself lucky to do so, then, you have passed into its realm.