Tale of HighHold (book)

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A Tale of HighHold
as told to the Dwarven Bard Hrakisi Viikelen

Chapter One: The Birth of HighHold and the Elven-Human War

The Dwarven keep of HighHold is a part of legend, and has been known by many names: HighHold the Indestructible, HighHold the Untakeable, the Fortress That Could Not Fall. Built many centuries ago in the northernmost tips of the Hiimarhand Shel, to the south of Ilithi, HighHold was part city, part fortress. It clung to the rockface of some of the highest and sharpest points of the mountain range -- and the Hiimarhand Shel is easily the most imposing and staggering mountain range in all Kermoria. There were no mountain roads leading to HighHold -- access to the fortress was solely through an intricate and elaborate series of lifts. It possessed gargantuan walls, part built by Dwarven ingenuity and engineering, and part molded from the mountain landscape. A combination of all these factors earned HighHold its vaunted reputation.

This truly was the pride of the Dwarven people.

HighHold was ancient. This fortress was one of the two first man-made structures to exist in Kermoria. HighHold was built during the same general time as the Sana'ati Dyaus Drui'tas Fortress of the Elves -- the two quite obviously make for a very clear contrast between these races. One ruled from a mountain keep of rock and stone; the other from a fortress of the mightiest and most ancient tree, surrounded by sacred forests. And so during the time when the continent was split between the rule of the Elves and the Dwarves, HighHold was a true center of power on the continent. As Elven civilization spread out across Kermoria, with the Sana'ati Dyaus Drui'tas as its base, Dwarven civilization likewise spread out, with HighHold as its base. The Dwarves expanded into the many other mountain ranges along the southwestern, northwestern, and western portions of Kermoria. In the end, Dwarven rule extended from the Gemfire Mountains surrounding the Velaka Desert, down through the lands we now know as Forfedhdar, and then curved southeast to encompass HighHold, and what would be later known as Adamantia. The Elves ruled everything else.

The two races warred frequently, each attempting to disrupt the even divide of power on the continent, though neither gained any true, lasting upper hand. The Dwarven- Elven Wars were many, but changed little.

What finally caused their split rule to slip apart was the coming of the other races. Humans and Halflings migrated from the west; S'Kra Mur came from the east. For untold ages, the Elves and Dwarves had controlled Kermoria alone, but that would never again be the case.

The Humans centered themselves around what today we would think of as the border between Zoluren and Therengia -- very close to the spot where Throne City, the capital of their future Empire, would be located. The S'Kra Mur, on the other hand, split into two main groups... one journeying to the north, one to the south. The northern group does not concern us, save only that they served to further disrupt the two-race rule of Kermoria. The latter group would become the Sraan T'lar, which would become located on and near lands belonging to Adamantia.

The fracturing of the Dwarven peoples came later. For so long, HighHold had been the capital of Dwarfendom, but that was changing. The Dwarven Kingdom spread across the entire western side of Kermoria, and HighHold was at the very southernmost part of it. The argument went that the kingdom could not be ruled effectively with so isolated a capital. So, there was a push for greater significance to be given to the other major cities of the Dwarves, such as Kwarlog and Garnedhren. Of course, there was other reasons for this fracturing, as well... it used to be that there was one unified Dwarven Kingdom to stand opposed to one unified Elven Kingdom. But the lands were changing, and Dwarves, they must change with the land. The Human race was gaining a greater prominence in the north, expanding their territory slowly. And fractures were occurring among the Elves. With their hostile and arrogant nature, they quickly alienated the Humans, and so they soon found themselves surrounding by enemies -- the Humans to the north, and the Dwarves to the west and south. But, we were talking about the Dwarven schism... the Dwarves found themselves splitting into four main groups: the Iron Kingdom, of the DragonSpine Mountains; the Kingdom of Kwarlog in the Arncharn and Himineldar Shel; Rendstone, in the Journelai Mountains; and Adamantia, in the Hiimarhand Shel.

Though the Dwarves had a few border skirmishes with Sraan T'lar to the south, on the whole Adamantia had a cooperative relationship with the other lands, trading with Forfedhdar, the S'Kra, and the Elothean nomads.

A key turning point in these early affairs was the betrayal of Morganae, when the Elven woman turned against the Dwarves that had taken her and her people in under a flag of truce. Through her treachery, she managed to secure an important city, Garnedhren. The Iron Kingdom, through this falsity, had fallen. This allowed the Elves to absorb the lands that would later be called Southern Ilithi. It also served to isolate Adamantia from the rest of the Dwarven lands.

Adamantia, and subsequently HighHold, played a major part in the great Elven-Human War that would come. The kingdom was in close proximity to both the Elven Mountain and Forest Clans. Joining on the Human side caused the Dwarves' hostilities with the Elves to increase drastically, and some of the fiercest fighting of the ten year-long war took place along their border. Several times the Elves and S'Kra Mur organized raids against HighHold itself, hoping to infiltrate the fortress. All such attempts ended, as one would expect, in disaster.

The Dwarves of Adamantia were the strongest supporters of Elven reparations after the wars ended, and those were bleak times for the southlands. HighHold's shadow lay across the land, and the Elves, though not fully beaten, were very much dominated after their defeat. Though the role it played at this point in history earned its status as an impregnable fortress, it was also the beginning of the end for HighHold.

Chapter Two: The Rise of Akroeg and the Empire

Not long after the Elven-Human War's resolution, a Human man was born in the Ram Clan territory to the north. In time, this man would grow to be Chief of the Ram Clan, and all know the tale of his brutal conquest of the rest of the north. He swung his hide-covered fist to the west, the south, the east, then, and sought to bring even more land under his boot.

This was the birth of the Seven Star Empire. Akroeg and his Emperor successors sought to rule all of Kermoria. While the Elves and Dwarves, in their period of ruling, had brought some semblance of balance to the continent, Akroeg simply wanted it all. Unsurprising, as Human greed is legendary. Even some of the Dwarven lands acceded to his wishes, and were absorbed into the Seven Star Empire. But not Adamantia. Adamantia would oppose, and stand up to the Human tyranny, and remain a pure and proud bastion of Dwarven history, tradition, and strength.

In time, the Emperors truly did conquer most of this continent. Certainly, there were a few spots of resistance here and there, where independent peoples held out and maintained their own land, but by and large, it was all Imperial, from the Reshal Sea to the western boundaries. The Empire gained more and more land, and further increased its military strength.

But HighHold still stood strong. The Elves, now members of the Empire, were more than willing to encourage the attempts at military conquest of Adamantia, and to participate vigorously when such attempts came about.

Though the Empire did battle with the Dwarves several times, the first major offensive came during the reign of Emperor Ringth. Ringth devoted massive portions of the Imperial forces to a full-scale invasion of Adamantia. There was no way the Dwarves could ever hope to stop such a thing -- they were far, far, far too outnumbered. So, the Dwarves abandoned the surrounding Adamantian land, and holed themselves up inside their city-fortress of HighHold.

"Have the outlands," the Dwarves said. "We will keep our mountains."

And they did. Emperor Ringth 'conquered' all of Adamantia, and then attacked HighHold itself. His forces were battered away from the fortress with embarrassing ease, though. He could not even scratch it. This prompted him to dispatch diplomatic messengers, to meet with the Adamantian King. The simple gist of his message was that the King had a crown, but no land to rule -- Adamantia was no more.

"And," the Elothean diplomat continued, "it will only be a matter of time before HighHold falls as well. It would be better on you Dwarves, therefore, to simply surrender, for the laws are by design harsher on those brought into the Empire by force."

"Ringth is a fool, and his envoys are fools. HighHold will never surrender," proclaimed the Adamantian King. "This," he said, "is our land. And we are Dwarves. If you think the threat of time will scare us, you are wrong. We are as hale and strong as the mountains themselves, and we will last here for an eternity. This is HighHold the Untakeable. This is the Fortress That Cannot Fall."

The Imperial envoys were sent back to their master, their mission a failure. Ringth responded to the challenge of the Adamantian King by placing a siege upon the fortress. His fervent belief was that it truly was only a matter of time before HighHold fell.

That siege lasted twenty years. For twenty years, HighHold stood strong, despite the best efforts of the Imperials. It was when the reign of the next Dwarven Emperor, Thvasvadh, began, that the Great Siege of HighHold was at last lifted.

It was more than a century before the Empire acknowledged HighHold's presence again. The Emperor Hresoch, another Dwarf -- his family was an old one from Kwarlog -- came to the throne, and dispatched a team of Dwarven dignitaries to HighHold, attempting to convince them to join the Empire, as the other Dwarves had done.

HighHold sent them back.

Forty years later, an arrogant young Human Emperor named Hermothius placed another siege on HighHold. He also renewed aggressive offensives against the fortress. To no avail. When Hermothius died in a battle, his successor, Theksaal II, ended the siege on HighHold.

So you see, despite their best efforts, the Imperials were humiliated by defeat each time they attacked HighHold or attempted to besiege it. The fortress continually lived up to its reputation. It was Unconquerable.

Chapter Three: The Dark Hand and the End of HighHold

Not too long after the fall of the Seven Star Empire, a new Empire rose to prominence in Kermoria: the Empire of the Dragon.

Under the leadership of Dzree, the Dragon Priests cut a bloody swath across the continent, conquering each land. Ilithi was the first land to fall, followed by Zoluren, and Therengia, and Forfedhdar, and Velaka, and Reshalia.

But still, HighHold held out. It remained one of the few places to withstand the brutal attacks of the Dragon Priests... one of the few sanctuaries.

However, it was time for things to end. HighHold had indomitably withstood the greatest of challenges, the mightiest armies, the longest sieges. The Dwarves of HighHold believed themselves to be eternal, but they were mistaken. Their time was coming.

The Dragon Priests devised a new method of siege -- the Dark Hand. The Dark Hand is the name for the corruption and plague the Priests instilled into the land itself, turning the earth vile and evil. They conducted their foulest experiments there -- and from their mountain keep, the Dwarves were powerless to stop it.

Once it was done, the once beautiful lands of Adamantia and Southern Ilithi had been turned putrid, and HighHold was right at the center of it all. They lasted as long as they could. They fought the rotting of the lands around them valiantly. But it was all to no avail. The people were finally besieged in such a way that they knew would be their end.

The once pristine waters had turned to noxious poisons. Where once game was plentiful, now there were only monsters, whose meats would make a man ill. Healing herbs were transformed into deadly weeds that would attempt to kill a man that approached them. Eating them would fill the body with disease and acids. The mountains themselves were transforming into evil things -- they were being shaped by the corrupt land around them. And HighHold was all alone. The Dwarves had no one they could turn to.

After several decades, the fortress of HighHold was destroyed by the Dark Hand. It is a wretched, ghostly place, now -- truly a part of the loathsome lands that consumed it. Those who enter the Dark Hand would do well to stay clear of the once mighty fortress.

And let HighHold be a lesson to the Dwarves of today:
nothing is forever.