Ossa – Searching for Answers
She was not certain how long it had been since she had returned. Had it been days, or had it already passed into fortnights? Either way, Ossa had only withdrawn to the Deepstone Archives by necessity. Her armor and her boots chaffed at her, the braids of her hair had long before grown unruly, and a fine layer of fuzz grew along her jawline, the dwarven clandaughter too distracted to worry about grooming exercises.
She had searched through every ancient tome, even the oldest stone tablets, trying to gather up the information that she had searched for. And all along the way, she had come up empty handed.
Ossa had taken to reacting to disappointment in a peculiar way. Every time she failed to learn new answers, she plucked her hammer off the table, and slammed it back down. She hadn’t seen the damage it left on the granite fixture, but her actions were not lost to her kin. The hammer’s echo resonated throughout the Deepstone Archives, and those above had taken to calling her the ghost of the far earth.
Not long after, when the table was more parchment than stone, Ossa looked like a lass gone mad. A layer of sweat marred her brow, for her circlet no longer kept back her hair. Instead, her coif remained unkempt, and she took to breathing out precise gusts of air to blow strands of her hair out of her sight.
She flipped one last page, still not finding the information she ceaselessly scoured the library for. With a mighty swing of her hammer, she knocked her circlet to the floor, the golden headpiece clattering about and causing a discordant sound that was enough to pull her from her trancelike state.
She shook her head, and at once, it was as though fatigue had overtaken her. The god of dreams had been fought off for long enough, and he took advantage of that moment of weakness. Ossa felt her eyes grow heavy, and a failed attempt to stifle a yawn only had it stretching wider and pulling tears from her eyes. Though she was wearier than she cared to admit, she decided to take the risk of bending over to collect her circlet.
When she stood upright once more, she gasped at the sight of the old dwarf before her.
“Ye fell asleep bent over, lass,” he said, his voice deep and hoary, as though he was some kind of dwarven wizard with power she could not understand. The strange dwarf—one she didn’t recall ever seeing among the area that the Stonefist clan influenced—wore dark brown robes, with a cowl drawn up over his head, and no metal or stone about him at all. His nose looked narrower than she would have expected for someone of his age, as strands of gray hair snuck out from beneath his hood. His beard, a bushy thing with no braids or adornments, had two thin shocks of gray that came down just beneath the corners of his mouth, almost looking like fangs in the lantern light.
“Fell asleep?” she asked. “No, I…” Even as she spoke, she started to totter to her side, her eyes drifting off in that direction before the rest of her body.
The stranger held out his hand, a gentle gesture keeping her upright.
“Let’s sit ye back down,” he said, and though he said it as a gentle offer, it sounded like a magical command coming from him. He paused when she settled back into place and arched a bushy eyebrow as he took account of her once more. He hummed then and twitched his nose. “Well, nothing a potion or a morning ale will remedy. The only thing that will do ye any good now is rest, lass. Ye been down here a month?” He said it in jest, but even as the words escaped him, his brow furrowed, and his eyes went wide. “No, wait. Ye’re the clandaughter who claims to have gone missing, aren’t ye?”
That statement woke her up, and it was as though she had been well-rested for days at that point.
“Claimed?” Ossa grumbled. “Those daft fools up there believe everything they hear from a drunken wretch who had an odd dream once, but I come back from a terrible place that ripped me out of our world—out of our time—and I have the cuts and bruises to prove it, and they treat me like I’ve gone mad.”
For a moment, the old dwarf just stared at her. But then he drew back one side of his mouth and tilted his head. “But ye can understand the mountain they’re standing on, right?”
Ossa sighed and slumped so hard she nearly crumpled to the floor.
“What exactly are ye lookin’ for in this cold, dark place, lass?” he wondered.
She held herself upright again and looked at him through narrowed eyes. “Not ta be offenin’ ye, but I’ve only just met ye. I knowed most of the people of Stonefist Hall, and I never seen ye before.”
“Aye, but I’m sure there’s a bit more than just me ye’ve never met,” he said with a hum. A revelation made its way to his face, then. “Lass, I’m not here ta see ye bound in chains and tossed into a stone cell. I’m an archivist here in Deepstone. It’s my job to find information—not quite the same way ye’ve been doing it these past days, but similar enough, I suppose.” He finished his statement by taking a few steps to his side and gathering up a rucksack and bringing it back to the table.
A moment later, the contents of the bag were scattered atop the table: a new series of books that Ossa dove into at once.
The archivist just stared for a time, almost aghast that she would so fervently work her way through the pages. “My name’s Arlo, by the way,” he said in jest. But when she did not respond, he held his hand out, touching her wrist. “Lass, ye’re not going to find anything ye’re looking for in there. I’ve just been back from a pilgrimage to Gelestra, and it was mostly about the history of diplomats between our two homes.”
Dejected once more, Ossa sat back in her seat. “No, that won’t help,” she finally said. “I’m looking for information about the place I was taken to—the place I escaped from. No one has heard a durned thing about it, but there has to be some sort of information about it. A place like that? There’d be dire warnings and all.”
“Well, perhaps you can describe it to me,” Arlo said. “It looks like ye’ve combed through the library here, but there might be another city I’ve been to that sparks a memory in me.”
Ossa took a deep breath at the thought of traveling far from her home to find the answers she sought. “It’s a place that many of us who were trapped there called the Living Dungeon. It gathered up people from different places—different realities even—and pitted them against monsters and traps. I think it fed off our torment. It’s, uh… The entrance to the place shows up seemingly at random, a lure, a beckoning to adventurers that pulls them from their homes.”
That last statement seemed to catch Arlo’s intention. He brought a finger to one of the white stripes of his beard and tapped it there as though it helped him think.
“Lass, ye wouldn’t find anything to help you here,” he said, waving about to all the information on the table, and to the shelves that held the tomes and tablets. Before he allowed her to sink into despair, he clutched her shoulder. “But I think I know of a place where ye might find the answers ye seek.”
He didn’t wait for her to rise from her seat before he hurried past rows of shelves, and beyond other tables that had not been made so messy from Ossa’s endeavors. She rose, and quickly gave pursuit, until they arrived at the far wall of the chamber. There was nothing of note there that would help her with her quest, only a tapestry of an old battle hung across the wall.
“Long ago, the kings of old determined that certain chronicles were forbidden,” Arlo said. He stepped to his side then, sweeping a small set of wax candles off a tray table that sat affixed against the wall. The flames extinguished as they rolled on the floor, but Arlo paid no heed to them anyway. Instead, he reached up as high as he could, until his fingers wrapped around the lantern that hung from the ceiling there. “The kings of old didn’t know how important this knowledge might be some day, however.”
Arlo pulled the lantern toward the wall, the chain it hung from elongating. A great magnetic force took hold of the lantern as he placed it on the tray then, and together, both lowered until the dwarves heard a latch open within the wall.
A gust of otherworldly wind passed out of the new gap that opened, and Arlo pushed the way open before he stepped back and indicated that Ossa should follow him.
“Come now,” he said. “Perhaps the secrets ye look for are hidden in even older texts.”
Ossa swallowed away her apprehension and followed her new friend into the unknown depths of the Deepstone Archives.
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