The 5th day of the Balance, 5th Aeon, year 967
The city of Sár-Vordhr watched. She had stood for untold millennia, a guardian of the eastern marches of Dwerden power, hidden and secret from all but a chosen few. The wardens who walked her walls had been born there, grew up there, and would die there, without ever knowing their kindred in the west. The Dwerden of Stonedeep and other cities were blissfully unaware of her existence, by the agreement of Dwerden elders and rulers now lost to memory.
She nestled deep within the mountains, at the point where four ranges came together: the Dwerdenhome range to the west, Silverspires to the southwest, Graywalls to the southeast, and the Trollhomes to the northeast. And directly to the east, but curving north between the Trollhome and Graywall ranges, was the great maze of cracks in the earth called Heimsár, the Worldwound, over which Sár-Vordhr had kept her long vigil.
The Worldwound: a maze of bottomless chasms that descended into the rocky flesh and bone of Aerde, whose depths were hidden by shadow, smoke and flame, where even the noonday sun could not bring its light. To plumb the depths of the Worldwound was to descend into Helheim itself, where creatures out of nightmare made their homes, and hunted the darkness for anything or anyone they might find to feast upon. And there were worse things, things that did not eat flesh or drink blood, but hungered for the minds and souls of the living, and waited, patient, for the unwary to enter their labyrinthine traps.
The Dwerden knew of these things, if not from experience, then from the ancient texts which they kept, lore held from the earliest days of their sojourn upon Aerde. Every few decades, perhaps twice in a generation, some terror from the deep would rise and assault thee city’s walls, lending credence to the ancient lore, and keeping the wardens mindful of their duty. No citizen of Sár-Vordhr was allowed to be lax in their duties.
The outer walls of the city ran in a semicircle out from the mountain within which most of the city dwelt. Her ramparts were tall and thick, and no army, no creature of the deep, had ever penetrated those walls. Her gates, designed to allow Dwerden forces a means to exit the city and run sorties into the Wound, were carved of massive slabs of basalt, bound in black iron and imbued with the most powerful protective magicks that Dwerden lore-masters could conceive.
Fifty Dwerden soldiers, called wardens by her people, manned those walls at all times. And hundreds more were prepared to react at a moment’s notice, if alarms were raised. Thousands of Dwerden dwelled within that city, and all of them could be called up to fight within hours, if need be. They existed solely to guard those walls, and to protect their people to the west from the things that lived in the depths of the Worldwound and occasionally tried to make their way out.
On a late summer day, as a dim sun broke through the gloomy clouds over the Worldwound and onto the lofty heights of those walls, and the wardens walked in its light and were glad, one of those dwellers in the deep crept out by hidden ways, unknown to the Dwerden. It watched, and it waited. And then it spread massive leathery pinions, and took flight.