Once we explained to Tilly’s grandma that Tilly had found a gwiber and that we needed to take it to a magical creature reserve to keep it safe, she was surprisingly accommodating.
“I knew this day would come,” she said.
“Grandma, you always talked to me about how I would take over the Cabbage and Ale. Why would you do that if you knew I was going to leave?” Tilly asked.
“You will learn one day. It is a grandmother’s job to make their grandchild feel guilty about leaving. I just wanted to make sure you knew what ye were leavin’,” she said.
She helped Tilly pack and even gave us a map that should help us cross the mountains. Gin, Dara, and I stood outside the tavern while Tilly finished her goodbyes. Watching her hug her grandma brought a tear to my eye. I couldn’t help but remember my tribe back in the jungle that I’d left behind. I was glad we could make sure Tilly’s grandma got this much. Tilly bounded in our direction, cradling the gwiber.
“Are we doin’ this?” she said.
“You betcha!” Gin exclaimed. “Do we just hike up the mountains like we did when we tracked your cave?”
“According to this map, we have two options,” Dara began. “We can try to find a passageway under the mountains or we can climb over them.”
“Under sounds easier,” I offered.
“It does,” Dara agreed. “But my dwarvish isn’t the best. I don’t know if I could talk our way in.”
“I know a bit,” Tilly said. “Every now and then, the dwarves would come to the Cabbage and Ale between expeditions. They’re pretty into my grandma’s cookin’.”
“That sounds promising!” Gin yelled.
“Sure, between the two of us, we should be able to figure something out,” Dara agreed.
We followed the dirt road out of town and stopped at the base of the mountains. The road just sort of abruptly ended when it reached the mountains. Tilly told us that some of the traders use goats to cross the mountains, but they just pack everything on the goats and ride straight up the cliffside.
“The map says the entrance to the Dwarven part of Ferreria is to the north of this road,” Dara explained. “It looks like the door should be marked with a symbol of a triangular science beaker.”
“What’s a science beaker?” Gin asked. I was glad. I had the same question. We definitely studied nature and learned new things, but we didn’t use science in the way society thinks of it. Mercifully, Dara just showed us the picture instead of trying to explain all of science to us.
“Why would they use a beaker for their symbol? Everything I had ever read about dwarves referred to them as miners,” Dara inquired.
“That’s actually a nasty stereotype,” Tilly stated. “They do mine. Most of the dwarves that swung by the C&A did a lot of mining, but they did it to study the rocks. It’s not about gettin’ it; it’s about studying it.”
“Fascinating,” Dara glowed.
We walked up and down the edge of the mountain range, closely inspecting every odd-looking group of rock formations. If there were doors there, they were awfully well hidden. Finally, Tilly started peering down an opening between two different outcroppings of rocks.
“I think I got somethin’,” Tilly said. She had since handed the gwiber sitting duty off to Gin, who was having an absolute blast trying to teach the flying snake to flap its wings to the beat of his drum. Tilly used her small gnomish frame to climb through a small opening in the rocks and was standing inside a tiny overhang.
“I don’t think this is right, Tilly,” I said. I still didn’t fully trust this girl, and I certainly wasn’t going to start trusting her instincts first. “Aren’t dwarves a lot stouter than you? They wouldn’t be able to squeeze in there like you did.”
“Of course not,” Tilly shrugged off. “They must have some science-y doohicky that opens it for ‘em.”
I approached the outcropping and started inspecting the rock cage that Tilly was now standing inside. They looked like normal rocks. There didn’t seem to be a seam or anything that showed a place the rocks would move into to open it up for a dwarf-sized user. But Tilly was convinced; I could see in the columns of light peaking through the rocks’ openings that she was fiddling with something inside there.
“I’m coming inside,” I announced.
“How? You can’t fit!” Tilly complained.
“I’ll just bust through the rocks. I can’t let you be in there by yourself. You might get hurt,” I said, trying to come up with a reason I needed to keep watch on her.
“Or you think I’ll leave you three behind,” Tilly said, accurately accusing me. “Don’t forget, your goblin friend has the gwiber. I wouldn’t leave him behind.”
She was right, but I still wanted in there to ensure she wasn’t making us wait around while she poked around some random rocks before realizing it wasn’t an entrance to Ferreria. I pulled my handaxe out of its sheath and started tapping away at the rocks at the top of the entrance.
“Watch it, Orc girl! You might trigger somethin’,” Tilly whined.
“I’m sure it’s fine,” I assured her.
I successfully chipped one rock column away when I felt the ground shake under my feet. I could tell by the unchanging expressions of Gin and Dara that it was just happening where Tilly and I were standing.
“I told you,” Tilly smugly said.
Abruptly, the ground beneath Tilly and I slid away. We began falling into the darkness below.
These stories serve as inspiration for the upcoming short story collection, Tyranny of the Fey. The collection will be released in Fall 2023. You can get a $1 preview now!