When Zuldane finally woke up, he was lying flat on his back staring up at rough stone. He lifted his head and looked around. He recognized it as a dead end tunnel outside the seediest bar in this particular mine. It wasn’t the first time he’d woken up here. With a groan, he let his head thud back to the stone floor. The pain from the hangover was exquisite. How drunk had he been?
That was when he noticed his right hand was clutching at something. Squinting against the darkness, he brought it up to his face to inspect. It was one of Ostia’s contraptions. What had he called them? Compasses. Always pointed north. Amazing things, really, all things told, though not of much practical use in the mines. Leave it to one of the exiles to come up with something like that.
Then he frowned. This wasn’t like any compass he’d ever seen. Groaning again, he pushed himself up to sit against the wall of the tunnel. The compass was composed entirely of the unfamiliar dark metal that they’d found in the mine under Lake Amunash. Zuldane slapped at the pouch he always carried on his belt, but it was still full of the scraps of the metal he’d lifted from Ostia’s mine so many years ago. He knew that was the last of Ostia’s supply of the metal. So where had the material for this compass come from?
With a grimace, he tried to think back to what had happened last night. He’d been drinking, that much he knew for certain. Everything else, though, was fuzzy. Had he been in a fight? He felt his face, but there were no tender spots, so either nobody had tried to fight with him, or he’d trounced them all without taking a hit. No way to be sure.
No, wait. He remembered a dwarf. It had been after the barmaid had cut him off. How did he remember that when nothing else would come back? He’d never seen the dwarf before, and the style of his clothes marked him as one of the exiled wanderers. But there he was in the heart of a mine. An admittedly rather poor mine, but still. “I’ve made a place I need a dwarf to find,” the dwarf had said. He pressed something into Zuldane’s hand. “You don’t have a place yet, so you’ll do.”
Then he was gone, and Zuldane was waking up in the tunnel outside the bar with a compass made of a metal that didn’t exist. He frowned again and looked at the needle of the compass. It pointed resolutely at the wall of the cave. When he rotated the compass, the needle did not so much as wiggle; it stayed pointing exactly in the same direction. Zuldane looked at the door leading into the bar, estimated where the mine’s entrance was, and tried to push through the hangover to gather his bearings. His mind was fuzzy, but he knew he was right. “That’s not north,” he told the compass. “Where are you pointing?”
His thoughts began to swirl. “I’ve made a place,” the stranger had said. A dwarf needed a dwarf to find it. An impossible compass…
For some reason, Zuldane’s mind jumped back to the odd encounter with the fairy and the werewolf the last time he’d resolved to leave the mines. “It couldn’t be,” he muttered. But the compass did not disappear, and the needle did not move. He stared at the wall it pointed to, and a familiar restlessness began to reawaken within him. He wasn’t much of a religious dwarf, he thought with a shrug, but if the gods were making a place for dwarves, well… Chances were good a dwarf could get quite rich off something like that.