Two disheveled humans and an elf adorned with shining golden armor made an odd party, but nonetheless, that is the group that found themselves marching into Galgol two days after their encounter with the Gal’Areau. In that time, Luca had learned that not all elves were stuck up, entitled brats, at least their prince wasn’t. Luca genuinely liked Maronir. He regretted that they never did find the horses, but there was little that could be done about it now.
The city of Galgol was a fortress, built by the dwarves long before the elves expelled the demons and unified Sarin under a single crown. The older part of the city was underground, built into Mt. Gauseng itself. The mines there had been churning out gold and iron alike for longer than History cared to remember, and from there the Dwarves had built a series of walls and fortifications around the south side of the mountain to keep the demons away from their precious horde. In the centuries since the demon threat was removed, those many ramparts and bulwarks had served as a foundation, on which a monstrous city had been built. Its factories belched smoke into the air constantly, burying the area for over a mile around in a cloud of fumes. The once white mountain stone of the city was now as black as the coal the dwarves burned in their furnaces day and night.
With the rise of the elven monarchy, however, came a new influx of elven settlers to the city, who lived among the dwarves in peace. Even after a thousand years of cohabitation, it was still illegal to mix races. The elves were, after all, the relatives of Mar’Or who had dispelled Sybilis. No human or dwarf could be worthy in the eyes of the law. That wasn’t always enough to stop stop the city-dwellers, though, so from time to time, a particularly stocky, red-haired elf might walk by. The dwarves shunned them completely, but the elves mocked them openly, using the slur: Leprechaun, which is the elven word for mongrel. That said, neither race bred with humans, as that sort of dishonor was grounds to be killed by one’s family long before the child saw the light of day.
One thing that always amazed Luca about the other races was their uniformity. Where there were humans of all different shape, size, and coloration, the other races were almost monolithic. Dwarves were short, with hair in shades of red and rich golden skin. Elves were about a head taller than a human on average, with greenish skin and bright white hair. Garron had once suggested to Luca that all of them were descended from ancient humans, with a thin, lithe, magically inclined tribe isolating itself in the valleys to the west and becoming elves, while a shorter, red-haired clan had begun burrowing into the mountain and had become the dwarves, and the remaining human tribes had remained on the plains south of the mountain, and in the desert to the north, and remained diverse by continuing to comingle. Luca looked around at how different the races seemed now as he entered the gates of Galgol, and concluded that Garron spent too much time thinking. Clearly these races had always been separate, he concluded.
The outermost, and newest, gate to Galgol was built out of metal, and could be closed in seconds by a system of gears and pulleys the dwarves had devised. Luca did not know or care how it worked, but when Micah had brought him here in his youth, he had seen the gate open one morning, and it was the most magnificent thing he had ever witnessed. Within the first gate were short buildings, no more than two stories, and aimed at catering to brief visitors. Inns and brothels lined the broad thoroughfare Luca and his companions trekked along as they made their way deeper into the city, toward the second gate.
The second gate was older. This one was called the Legend Gate, as it was this profound slab of granite that had held Sybilis himself at bay while Mar’Or ventured off to find the Aetheroot and save Sarin from the scourge once and for all. Within this second gate were massive structures built jointly from steel and stone by some miracle of the Dwarven architects building on top of the old city. Luca could scarcely make out where these building ended. Surely, they must pierce the clouds.
These buildings were factories, and they produced all manner of things, from simple weapons, to enormous walking machines, which carried the short-legged dwarves further and faster than a horse at full gallop. Within the second gate, a significant share of the traffic on the stone street was composed of those monstrosities, and ordinary pedestrians had to take care they weren’t crushed. The largest of the walking machines stood as tall as two grown men, with a small cockpit for the Dwarf pilot, three powerful metal legs that propelled it along, and in some cases, an attachment for carrying cargo.
The machines were a recent development, and occasionally suffered from balance issues. Right before Luca’s eyes as they approached the third gate, one of the machines took a corner too sharply and tipped over, nearly crushing a street vendor selling apples, and giving the cows the machine was carrying quite the scare. It took two other walking machines with claw attachments close to fifteen minutes to set the poor thing upright again, and another ten minutes passed after that wherein the pilot was cursed at length by the two older dwarves who had saved him.
Finally, once that spectacle had concluded, the city guards allowed traffic to resume normally on the main street, and Luca, Garron, and Maronir approached the third gate, which was, in fact, hewn from the face of the mountain itself. Within the stone behemoth before them lay not only the tunnel through which they would pass to reach the desert, but also leagues of mining caverns, and the artisan district, which was home to the finest smiths in all of Sarin. The dwarves had little magical ability, but they were ardently superstitious, and they believed that metal worked into shape before it left the mountain would be harder and stronger than metal worked out in the open air. It seemed silly, but no other blade could rival the ones forged in this mountain, so the rest of Sarin accepted the Dwarven eccentricity as fact, and paid immense fortunes for the weapons forged here.
The outer city had the appearance of a Dwarven stronghold that begrudgingly tolerated the elves, but within the mountain, the oldest and wealthiest sections of the city were the most willing to accept the elven influence, or at least, their magic. Gone were the days when these caverns stank of soot from oily torches burning every few feet. Maronir’s grandfather had made a gift of magical light to the dwarves two centuries earlier, and the dwarves had used it to renovate their underground network. Vines hung from the ceilings of the passages, with their shallow roots sunk hard into the stone above. These vines were a species enchanted and cultivated by the most powerful elven mages to glow brighter than a flame and guide elven long ships up river at night. They cast a majestic golden glow throughout the inner workings of Galgol, a permanent reminder to the most elite dwarves of the benefits of remaining in the elves’ good graces. Politically, the gift had proven to be a masterstroke. The previously reclusive dwarves had responded by coming out in force to help the elves crush the next several human rebellions, and it was the combined might of the two superior races that had since driven the humans near extinction.
Maronir paid these glowing vines no mind. They were ubiquitous in the capital. However Luca and even the normally stoic Garron were amazed.
“How do they work?” Garron wondered aloud.
Maronir smiled at his childlike curiosity and repeated the same lines his tutors had heaped upon him in his youth. “A mage takes the seeds and weaves a spell over them that tinkers with the plant’s Aether. Instead of absorbing sunlight, as normal plants do, these emit light. It is a damn good thing the dwarves have their mines so well ventilated, as these vines can quickly turn the air bitter in a confined space.”
“Bitter?” Luca repeated.
“Yes,” Maronir answered, “something about them going backwards, shining light instead of absorbing it, they also consume air rather than restore it. What they release is not good to breathe, like the breath coming out of a man, it is stale and will leave you weak if you take too much of it in.”
Luca was still confused, but Garron nodded his understanding. All magic has the same central limitation. If you create something, you have to consume something else, and your Aether just fuels the change, so if the mage reversed the natural behavior of the plant, it would reverse everything. Garron remained amazed by the ingenuity of it.
After a few more minutes of walking, the narrow cavern opened up into a massive hall, with smaller sections notched out of the sides. It looked to Luca as if every army in Sarin could fit within this cave with room for all of the men to lie down if they wished.
“Gentlemen,” Maronir announced, “welcome to the Artisan District.”