The Deep City - A Short Story

Updated: Feb 15


Snoigri the dwarf and Razzle the goblin
Snoigri Cadalsson & Razzle the goblin in their forge and research space

[Continuing our Ordinary People of The Empyraeum series, we present to a part of the story of Snoigri Cadalsson and his 'research assistant', the goblin genius Razzle; a pair who were between them responsible for some of the greatest innovations and inventions of the modern Empyraeum. Oddly enough, neither got close to the amount of credit they deserved.]


The Deep City.


He saw the amazing machine that would kill him seconds before he saw his little hammer, rested on its metal skin, apparently waiting for him.

Tap! Tap! Tap! Gently does it, gently…. using the back of his heavy glove to wipe dust from goggles, the heavy mask and suit was making him sweat like a choì on heat and that in turn was fogging up his dratted googles from the inside too! C’mon now, Dathi, yeh can do this, ‘tis like diggin’ anywhere else!


The stone was very different here, he admitted, it was dry and quite brittle in places, though flinty and sharp in others. That many said Sèlene may once have been part of Gaia struck Dathi as possible, although the rock was much older than anything he’d delved back at home and, being more exposed to the kòsmos as it was, it was different too. The dratted dust was everywhere and stuck to everything like iron filings to a magnet.


With a slow release of breath, Dathi the dwarf gave one last tap with his small silver hammer as was right and needed. The rocky barrier before him crumbled and a feeling remarkably similar to love suffused him. Were it not for the complete lack of air down here, he’d have shouted in celebration, as it was, he allowed himself a satisfied smile and an extra suck from his air tanks. He reached through the hole in the rockface and crawled forward. His hand touched nothing. As his questing hand carried onward, he sought a way to gain purchase and arrest the motion. The heavy glove on his other hand snagged a small spur of rock and he stopped, a little more abruptly than he’d have liked, but he could now pass his masked face through the hole.


Absolutely nothing, even to his dwarf eyes, adapted as those were to the great night-time far underground, this was dark. He saw nought but a near-uniform, scratchy grey lacking in detail. He could sense a great emptiness, though, even in this airless tunnel and with several layers of heavy, restrictive material swaddling him. Big, big emptiness…a void. Curiosity tickling at his innards, Dathi wriggled forward a little bit more, hoping his eyes would grow used to this new darkness and let him see wonders no dwarf had before him had. Instead, he saw something small and shiny tumbling downward in slow motion.


Me hammer! The small hammer of silver was a dwarf explorer’s most important tool and his was doing quite the opposite of plummeting in the low gravity of Sèlene, more of a quick downward float it was. It was almost like it was mocking his carelessness. Growing darker, the little hammer tumbled end over end with agonising slowness as Dathi watched helplessly. Down and down, it fell and then…well, then it stopped.


He didn’t hear the sound, but he felt it, through the palms of his hands, his thighs, even his toes vibrated with the deep bass growl that could not have been made by a tiny silver hammer striking anything Dathi knew about. The dust cascading around him should have worried him and, after a disoriented moment, it did, right before the ledge he had been leaning on crumbled like rotten ice and sent Dathi down to collect his hammer.


He found the fall curiously relaxing as he descended at least three times more slowly than he would have on Gaia, almost leisurely it was. He was able to analyse his surroundings and think about them as his wonderful dwarf eyes finally compensated for the gloom. He saw the amazing machine that would kill him seconds before he saw his little hammer, rested on its metal skin, apparently waiting for him.

****

A knobbly hand with those uncomfortably long fingers goblins were known for rubbed a pointed chin, watching his colleague with great, perhaps even exaggerated, care

Snoigri Cadalsson, dwarf engineer and researcher, closed the book with a dusty poof and drew a shuddering breath, dislodging much dust from his beard, not ever the heavy-duty extraction fans the dwarves had installed everywhere could remove all of the invasive, somewhat magnetic stuff entirely. It was everywhere and one either simply got used to it or went quite mad. He was glad that the goggles he had designed kept it out of his eyes at least. Ineffectively wiping dust from the heavy leather cover of the book, he caressed the treasure of words it contained.


Legends of the exploits of Dathi Dark-Delver, had become the very foundation of this city far below the surface of Sèlene. The Great Reactor that powered everything here was his discovery and his grave. A growing community of dwarves lived here in the Deep City, or Dinaddwyn as the dwarves called it. It was becoming the principle dweorgach halfref or Dwarf Mine-City outside of Gaia, and its importance was increasing because it was, currently, the only reliable source of helýos-trina a rare isotope of the element which powered Apollo himself, the great helion of the Gaia system. The new science of nuclear fusion existed because of two things; the Thydd-Masia or Great Reactor that thrummed away happily far below Snoigri’s feet and the helýos-trina that powered it. The Deep City had both of them.


Named the Deep City with typical dwarven to-the-pointness because it lay far below the human city above them, the soldier city, the Silent City, whatever you chose to call it, the dwarves delved as dwarves know best far below. The great Thydd-Masia easily powered both cities, as well as the Selenar Ring that turned slowly in the black sky far above them all. Thanks to that technology, paired with dwarven ingenuity, a fleet of Kalshodar ships that’d run for aion without needing fuel were being built and given enough time, Snoigri swore he’d make the reactors small enough to carry around with you!

“So,” he began. “If’n we’re able to mek it smaller wi’out losing power…”

His listener spread his ears, folded them down, bared his sharp little teeth and appeared to grimace though with goblins it was hard to tell. A knobbly hand with those uncomfortably long fingers goblins were known for rubbed a pointed chin, watching his colleague with great, perhaps even exaggerated, care. “Ah, I dah-nah, boss.” Razzle (his choice of name, there’s a story to that) husked, not that his tone implied anything, goblins always sound like they’re husking, coughing, or suffering laryngitis when they speak, sort of a crackly, growly, consumptive whine. “I’s a-gots na idea.”

Though as clever as an oktopoùs that knew the camera was on when given a machine to figure out, goblins appeared frustratingly dense when it came to what everyone else considered normal thinking; things like conversation, discussion, or sentences were not their forte, not at all. Give them a bunch of seemingly random machine parts and a general idea, though, and they’d build something you’d never seen before. Hiding that frustration, Snoigri unrolled some scrolls onto the already overloaded table. Within seconds, the jumpy, unsettled and unsettling goblin changed, the moment he saw the green-prints – designs for machines – his eyes grew wide, his demeanour calm, his attention focussed. He started to massage his over-long fingers as they stroked the pages, muttering rapidly to himself.

“Oh yerr, oh yerrr, them’s bootiful, them’s is. Look how pretty them’s is, pretty, pretty lovelies waitings to becomes real.” His speech became less coarse, and his elocution became easier to follow. Occasionally, Snoigri thought as he watched the goblin work and calculate, that either the reduced gravity here did something weird to goblin brains or Razzle was winding him up and not in even a vaguely subtle fashion. I mean, the creature is no idiot by anyone’s measure. He reasoned. But it seems that he just acts the idiot until I give him something to do…


He needed to do more than just do well in order to reach that goal, however, he needed to do something exceptional, like find the Hammer of Dark-Delver.

He noticed that Razzle was watching him with a curious expression in his hooded eyes, it looked expectant, he thought. To Snoigri, it seemed that the goblin could read his mind. As if to prove him right, the goblin gave a soft, sniffing laugh and returned his attention to the scrolls.


While his ‘assistant’ – though he was beginning to doubt the dynamics of that relationship – was absorbed, Snoigri took some time to consider other matters. He and Razzle had improved, invented, and innovated a great deal during their time here under Sèlene. Their designs and improvements had been noticed and solemnly commented upon, which was the dwarven equivalent of a standing ovation. Snoigri could be Carrig of this growing community one day, he wanted to be because he knew his bigger projects would be much easier to green light if he were, he’d have a whole staff of dwarves and goblins at his disposal.


He needed to do more than just do well in order to reach that goal, however, he needed to do something exceptional, like find the Hammer of Dark-Delver.


Lost together with the dwarf himself aion ago, the little silver explorator hammer had deep intrinsic and cultural value but, considering what had happened when it was lost…secrets and knowledge incalculable could be found where both it and the remains of the unfortunate Dathi Dark-Delver rested. The dwarves of the Deep City knew, more or less, where the reactor and the lost explorator were but, in all this time, no-one had figured out how to get there. Now, though, maybe Snoigri had discovered something or, more accurately, an associate of Razzle had.


“There’s no treasure I can’t find, no place I can’ts gets inta,” clear pride in that scratchy voice. “If it exists, I’ll bring it back.”

“They calls me Powatomi in some parts,” this goblin was different in ways Snoigri could not put a finger on. For one, he was well-dressed, in that he wore a complete set of clothing; canvas trousers with lots of pockets, nice quality but well-worn linen shirt with a round collar, and a canvas waistcoat, again with lots of pockets, on top of that. He also often wore a broad-brimmed hat of a style Snoigri had never seen before, which now sat on his lap revealing an unruly patch of ginger hair that matched his neat chinstrap beard. He had several strange devices about his person, on each wrist, he wore something that resembled the common timepiece but each appeared to serve some kind of less obvious purpose, incorporating knobs and dials he could not determine the reason for. On his hip, in a rather fancy case, open at the front, was what looked like a very small Antikythera type device, all wheels, dials, and buttons. Snoigri would love a few hours to study it but something about this goblin’s stance told him that they weren’t going to part with a single item. “Been all over Gaia, walked Alexandria as once was, met folk in Amerrik, whereas I did gets me name, as it mights be.”

Snoigri did some calculations. “Powatomi…” he licked his lips. “The tribe in the People’s Nations?”

“Aye,” the goblin nodded and extracted a carefully rolled tsigàr from somewhere. With great flourish, a a rather expensive lighter, lit it and took a long taste before expelling a sweetly aromatic smoke. He considered Snoigri with eyes shielded by smoked glasses. “Took me in an’ taught me all I knows.”


The dwarf found he could do more than nod, the goblin could well be exaggerating if not lying outright but Snoigri’s mind drew two conclusions about the smoking goblin; if he was lying then here stood the very best liar he had ever met for one. For two, even hinting to this goblin that you thought him a liar was a very bad idea. He stood like a well compressed spring, all potential energy held in check but, with the right - or wrong - push…


“It’s good to meet yer, Dr. Seoin,” was a much better thing to say, though calling a goblin ‘Doctor’ was quite enough weird for one day. “Me assistant has told me much about yeh.”

Seoin blew out more smoke and nodded, tapping ash onto the floor as a casual challenge, which Snoigri ignored completely.

“Ya ‘as work for me, me shiny young fella over here tells me.” The doctor answered with the barest hint of a smile. He looked around the room, holding the dying tsigàr away from him, giving Snoigri a questioning look. Without thinking, the dwarf passed him a small pot, into which he ground the tsigàr out. “Cheers.” He nodded. “Yas gots a wee taste of uisge for me shiny mate here and me?”

There was something genuinely compelling about the chap, Snoigri would come to realise. Before he even realised what he was doing he was arranging three comfortable armchairs and a little table in a rough semi-circle. He set down three of his finest glasses on said table, together with a bruth of his very best uisge. With a nod, Seoin sat down in his chair with a symphony of sighs, groans, crackles, and creaks. Snoigri let Razzle sit and then did so himself, pouring uisge for all three of them, raising his glass in silent salute as the unsettling goblin whom many called an “adventurer” took a sip, grimaced properly, and began his tale.


It was almost impossible to believe his stories. Almost but not entirely because the goblin told his tale with a direct honesty that Snoigri found as compelling as his general nature. He had liberated artefacts and discovered hidden secrets all across Gaia; from the Temple of Mo¡ra in Indikē to The Tameìo in Bactria. He’d helped discover lost treasures such as the lost aron hab’rit of the Judamen, the only complete copy of the works of Sappho in existence, the lost Plays of Croithslèan, the mysterious Cup of Gillè Chèlios…quite the list! He’d trod the crooked wasteland where Alexandria the First once stood and come back alive. And here he is sipping my uisge and getting ash on my carpet like we’re old mates!


“There’s no treasure I can’t find, no place I can’ts gets inta,” clear pride in that scratchy voice. “If it exists, I’ll bring it back.”

“Why?” was the only word Snoigri could force out of his mouth.

“Well, me fine dwarf, thass the easy bit,” Seoin smiled, showing sharp little teeth between red beard. “Because I can.”


They chatted for what seemed like many hours and, Snoigri had to admit, he enjoyed every second of it. Dr. Seoin was a charming and entertaining guest, he wove a truly enthralling tale too! In Dwarven culture, storytelling is a much-respected profession, and this goblin was a master of that art, he could take you right there, into the middle of the action. He took a good sip of uisge and leaned back in his chair with a sigh, this was the first time in a very long time that Snoigri had actually relaxed and simply allowed moments to pass of their own volition. Normally he was working at a frenetic pace, fighting the moments, dragging and stretching them until they were close to snapping. He knew that his innovations and improvements were needed, he knew it was his responsibility to give The Empyraeum his all, especially now. When a lull struck the conversation, he reached for a scroll, the special one.


He’d been jealously keeping this from the sight of other dwarves, even Razzle hadn’t seen it (that he knew of) for a long time. This was the reason he needed the Hammer and anything that might be found where it rested. With more flourish that he though he was capable of, Snoigri unrolled the scroll and placed a glass at each corner.


“By Nudd’s silver hand!” the doctor gasped as he drank in what was revealed. “What is that? It’s…it’s…hu…it’s…mass….gig….rather large indeed!” somehow, the more uisge he drank, the more erudite the goblin became; he was making a serious dent in the second bottle already and would likely equal Demosthenes within a few drams more.


Snoigri told him.

They would call her The Dragon’s Crown and she would be a command ship fit for a Hègemon.

If the dwarf thought that the goblin was a good storyteller, he should listen to himself now. Dwarves are often maligned as obsessive creatures, only thinking about mining, delving, and the things thereby obtained, gold, jewels, and so forth. They’ve been misrepresented throughout history as grasping, overly parsimonious, avaricious folk who’d betray a friend for a few coins or a good set of mine workings. Of course, this is simply human projection at play, together with a none too small measure of bigotry and nànofobia.


Dwarves are passionate creatures once you get past their rather reserved and callused exterior, especially when they are talking about the construction of truly beautiful things. A dwarf, so stirred, can weave such a tale that it can sweep you up against your will and drag you into the dwarf’s imagination. Wide-eyed and mouths slightly open, the two goblins travelled those rarefied halls on the backs of passionately spoken words now.


They could see it as it swept below them, the largest spacecraft ever built, the largest artificial structure Gaia had ever seen, its side a rich red the colour of a fine xinomavro wine, stretched on forever. Stelae of cyclopean size decorated these flanks, so large that they could only truly be appreciated from afar because if you got to close, you’d get lost in the crease of a horse’s eye or strap of a warrior’s sandal. Sixteen engines, each of them easily as long as one of the Kalshodar battle cruisers currently being built, were gathered at the stern and on the prow, oh the prow was the best part of all!


In brilliant gold and life-sized there She stood, her wings raised up as if to cup the solar wind, she was crouched and ready to strike the enemies of The Empyraeum, her teeth bared in challenge. Such was the likeness that those who saw her would find themselves holding their breath as they waited for the dragon to take one herself. On her back she balanced the barrel of a titanic cannon, one which could launch building-sized projectiles at incredible speed. All across the surface of this leviathan gun ports were seen to track and swivel, ten great cannons provided the broadside on each flank and others of uncommon design looked capable of obliterating entire fleets stood near the prow. On each side a pair of doors cycled open and sent paths of guiding light into space, calling Kalshodar Cruisers home to mother. All twenty of them would fit on one of three mustering decks with room to spare. A veritable swarm of support craft entered and exited the behemoth and, passing inside through the mind’s eye, it was easy to see that the entire population of Sèlene could occupy and crew this craft without even the slightest danger of overcrowding for many generations yet. As the vessel swung into a wide orbit, breaking Sèlene’s tenuous grasp, around Gaia, her shadow could be seen to pass across the surface, a wake of gloaming marked well her passage to those down below. By day, she could be seen with the naked eye and at night as a great star that crossed the sky every ninety-three minutes.


They would call her The Dragon’s Crown and she would be a command ship fit for a Hègemon.


Seoin leaned over the greenprint, his expression rapt and eyes dancing. He ran a long and elegant finger over the collection of symbols, letters, and numbers he knew to be part of the Standard Dwarven Notation. He noted the beam, the displacement, the talentage, the length. He ran the coefficients in his head.


He ran them again. He checked again, chewed a fingernail and rubbed his beard. His eyes swivelled up to seek those of Snoigri, who was watching his every move with a palpable intensity

“We’d have to mine every floating rock between here a Zeus, but we can build it, even though it could take years, even a deksàk.”

“And you need that little hammer to build this?” Tapping the paper in time to each word, Seoin’s expression showed that he wanted to joke but didn’t dare break the gravity of the moment.

“I need clout and influence to get ‘er built, my friend,” the dwarf’s tone was solemn. “Findin’ The Hammer of the Dark-Delver can help me get ‘eard.”

“Politics.” The goblin sniffed, his tone making it clear that it was neither a question nor a subject he was thrilled by.

“Aye, politics,” the dwarf sighed, indicating his equal enthusiasm, there was something in his eyes, though, that unsettled the ordinarily imperturbable goblin.

“Tha price ain’t going ter be cheap.” Seoin warned, chewing another fingernail, unable to tear his gaze away from the scroll, better to look at that than into those eyes again.

The dwarf took a deep breath and leaned forward, forearms rested on thighs, hands hung loose. “How much?”


The goblin told him and was somewhat perplexed by the war of emotions he saw fight for dominance on the dwarf’s face, the twitch he saw under one eye.


Is that all? The dwarf thought but dared not speak aloud or even show on his face. Composing himself, he nodded and held out a wide hand. “Deal.”


Seoin, still struggling to see what had just happened, extended and long and wirily-delicate hand in response. They locked eyes and shook, before the dwarf poured another, more generous, measure of uisge to seal the deal. The two clacked glasses and drank, the deal now done.


“’Splain it to me like I just left the mounds,” Seoin said after they’d each taken a long pull on O’Shanty’s Famous Ale.

It was many hours later when Razzle saw a rather unsteady Dr. Seoin out and walked with him part of the way towards the Goblin Quarter. Dr. Seoin looked distracted, disconsolate even, though very much on edge, Razzle noted. He’d taken off his smoked glasses and produced a handsome handkerchief from some pocket or another to clean the already spotless lenses. He considered the other’s dress and manner thoughtfully, here was him in his tatty blue dungers, covered in grease, oil, and other unidentifiable substances, compared to this impeccable example of a gentlegoblin, like slugs and snails they were but had been friends for years now. Razzle thought he knew something of the adventurer’s moods but was at a loss, so patted the goblin’s arm awkwardly.


“OK, now tell me what really ‘appened in there,” Seoin finally said in Gôlygû, the common tongue all goblins knew, so much easier than trying to express complex concepts in the stupid mumbling speech of the humans. “I heared ‘im giggling – or was it cacklin’, I’ve never known the difference - like a loony as I was leaving.”

“Iss sorta complicated,” Razzle would not meet his friend’s eyes.

“He’s not gonna build that bootiful ship is ‘ee?”

“Tomi,” Razzle appeared to be trying to extinguish a non-existent tsigàr with his toes, his heavy brows drawn tightly together. “Sniogri Cadalsson built that ship fifty-five year ago, finished it and went even barmier than ‘ee already was when it vanished like,” he made a loud smacking sound with his lips. “Into the black like it’d never been there.”

“So I’m going out there looking for nuffin’ is what yer sayin’?”

Razzle looked down at his dusty feet, taking several deep breaths and sniffing before venturing an answer, “Aye.” The word was barely audible. They’d found their way into Snuffly O’Shanty’s, a very popular goblin nightspot and walked to their usual table without conscious thought. Old O’Shanty himself came over and took their order before leaving without a word. He knew his customers well enough to read at least their basic moods and this pair needed at least one good drink before they were in a talkative one, he decided.

“’Splain it to me like I just left the mounds,” Seoin said after they’d each taken a long pull on O’Shanty’s Famous Ale. His little white moustache of froth should have been funny, but Razzle was all seriousness.

Razzle took a deep guzzle from his own flagon, big heavy pewter thing with carvings on it, and stared off into the middle distance. “Right, right yeh are,” he sucked his teeth and considered the patterns the slowly falling froth was making on the inside of his tankard.


He dived right in. Over one hundred and twenty years or so ago, when old Snoigri was a fairly young dwarf, he was considered brilliant even by his usually undemonstrative compatriots. He looked at problems from angles that other dwarves, even goblins, hadn’t even known existed until Snoigri showed them where to look. He spent long hours and days interrogating the pansabian system, printing greenprints by the ream and tweaking them. At the time, the Selenar Ring was being brought into full working order and what were at the time considered behemoths were being constructed there, fifty of them in fact. Steward Lupernikes, down on Gaia, called them Arks. He had an idea to use the new discoveries on Sèlene to send humans out across the kòsmos, to find new worlds to settle, maybe even meet some friendly exòs out there, who really knew what those high and mighty folks thought?


“I am made Perses, the destroyer of worlds!” he was heard to say before locking himself in his forge and refusing to come out.

Anyway, Snoigri, during his long trawls through that seemingly bottomless well of data, found something, something said would change everything. See, though the kòsmos is an awfully big place, full of helion and planits and all that stuff, barely two percent of them, he said, would be naturally welcoming to humans. So, what, he asked whoever’d listen, if uninhabitable kosmic bodies, planits, moons, even big asteroids, could be made amenable to Gaian life?


He called his invention Spears of Phanes, after some primordial creator god of the dwarves, or maybe even the humans and picked a big piece of rock out in the Cùbahr Belt to test it on. The idea was simple; shoot the ‘spear’ (really a massive terraforming engine that pierced the crust of the target world in order to both release and utilise deeply buried elements and minerals) into the target, fire it up, and wait for the magic, as it were, to happen.


Now, from a certain point of view, the test was a resounding and unqualified success. From a certain point of view. From Snoigri’s, it was tantamount to a war crime. “I am made Perses, the destroyer of worlds!” he was heard to say before locking himself in his forge and refusing to come out. See, someone or something had terraformed that place before, maybe, and it had been teeming with life of some kind of sort, we never found out much because it wasn’t ‘til the Spear hit that we even knew they was there. The titanic impact, the processes of the Spear’s engines of creation, and other stuff I don’t really know how to explain well, wiped them out. The Spear sterilised that rock first them built up a new ecosystem, pretty much from scratch. It was amazing and proof of concept for the highly experimental technology but, to Snoigri’s mind, he’d committed genocide on a planetary scale. He realised that his great inventions could become the most horrific weapon ever imagined if the wrong imagination ever got hold of it.


A ship in high orbit could fire off a brace of them before the locals even knew it were there and visit extinction upon the entire world without even looking one of them in the eye. Dwarves being what dwarves are, few of those Snoigri later expounded his fears to understood his concerns. A direct and sanguine race, dwarves, so they thought; hey if this is dangerous if used incorrectly, we just make sure that everyone as gets the chance to use it knows that and be’s sure to use it correctly right?


“Wrong,” Seoin had remained silent, nursing his half-full tankard for close to an hour now. “Because humans ain’t dwarves.”