All in all, it was the rationing of light that got to us the most.
Rationing of food was to be expected. Food was heavy, and they hadn't found much in the storehouse that could be eaten cold. Grisn was in charge of giving everybody their daily handful. He tried to keep everybody’s spirits up, but he couldn't hide the ever-smaller cavesilk sacks. And rationing of beer, regrettable as it was, was also logical. Barrels were awkward to move, and heavy, and rolling over the wrong stone too hard could splinter their fragile sides. So we drank cold water from the channel at the side of the tunnel, meant to service the quench tanks and rinses at the deepforge.
But light was hard to go without. Intellectually, of course, dark is dark. Just because you pinched off the candle doesn't mean the table stops existing. But after a while, even the strongest of us grew irritable and nervous. There was always one lantern lit, with the supplies, though whether it was to keep people's spirits up or to stop them from making off with things was a subject of quiet debate.
Very quiet debate really, because sound lingers in the air an amazing length of time, in these remote tunnels. Stone is stone is stone, true, and it would be a poor dwarf indeed who couldn't smooth a bit of earth so it would echo prettily. But in the fortress proper, it was if the wall absorbed some degree of life. The echoes were warm, lived in, familiar. Here, in the shafts down to the deepforge, the stone was... wild. Not really malicious, but cold and uncaring. Tales told by leathery elderdwarves about monsters in the dark, with clacking chitinous limbs and oozing fangs didn't help either. Nobody strayed from the safe pool of light.
The other thing we could always hear was the steady pounding of the troll drums. The tunnels were collapsed behind us as we fled down, but they were persistent. "Why?" was always a popular question. If they were after our land, why not simply take it, and let us be? Why continue to pursue us, even to the point of burrowing their painfully slow way through the rubble. Trolls weren't diggers, they were pushers and crushers, so whatever drove them was a powerful thing indeed.
Ynarn du'Konithlis, our brave queen, had told us not to fear. Even if the trolls did find their way past the blocked passages, they would be wearied, and our soldiers would be unbeatable in such tight quarters, with their wickedly pointed and barbed spears. We would repel them, she soothed. It's all been planned. But much adored as she was, nobody could ignore the quick glance of sad eyes or the momentary tremor of a weak hand.
The soldiers, for their part, were grim. I think they had resigned themselves to dying in defense of the citizens. Though the line between soldier and citizen was rather blurry, as makeshift weapons were fashioned from sharpened bones, jagged stones lashed to wooden handles, even a few whips and bolos. Nobody was ordered to arm and practice, but everybody who could fight made what preparation they could think of. The fastest and strongest were given quick training by the regular troops.
I had a dagger. More of a working tool than a dangerous weapon. But it was good steel, and held a keen edge. Never mind that a troll's arms were about three times longer than mine. A few sessions of fencing with a dim shadow utterly failed to convince me that I could manage to stab one in just the right place, but one must retain a healthy dwarven sense of stubbornness.
It seemed that stubbornness was all we had, when the trolls finally broke through. Our position was down some ways from the blockage, just beyond a place where the tunnel turned, narrowed, and steepened all at once. They would be forced into single file, and slowed as they tried to keep their balance on the slick floor then wade a small pool. So we didn't see the slither of loose stone, but we could clearly hear it, and the increased tempo of their drums.
The soldiers fought bravely. I must give them that. And the chosen terrain worked brilliantly. Four times, the trolls came at the bristled spears. Four times, they left blood, gore, and fallen bodies in the pool at the bottom of the slope. Four times, the dwarves of Marblethrone raised a fierce cry of both rage and despair. Three times, the trolls were repelled.
It was awesome and terrible to see them finally breach the spear formation, long arms held before their bodies to shield face and torso, then sweeping out suddenly and smashing the armored troop into the walls. Two of them fell to the frenzied efforts of the citizenry, stabbing, hacking and crushing with whatever they had. Then there was an unstoppable landslide, and they were past us and gone.
And shortly it all became clear. Even as we stood in stunned, panting shock and wondered what it meant, our answer came. The elderdwarves were wiser than they knew, perhaps. Long legs, pointed with chitin like sword blades; hardened bodies, glistening in whatever light hadn't been disturbed by the trollish exodus; gemlike eyes, glinting with alien intelligence. The poor trolls weren't running after us, they were running away from... these.
We fled. They hunted. We tried to stay together, but there were stragglers, and later, strangled screams. There were scouts, too, that went ahead to make sure of the way. And more strangled screams. Shortly we came upon their bodies, frozen with eyes wide, tongues thrust between blue lips, necks rigid with muscular efforts to breathe.
I don't know how many are left of us. I don't know where we are. There is nothing left to do, with hungry stirrings both ahead and behind. Some cry, but most are too numb. Even before the fangs pierce us, the venom starts to work. Grisn is tipping out the sacks of food, clearing his throat painfully, searching for a cheerful word, but nobody is eating.
Ynarn is sitting in the cart, arranging her cloak carefully, and settling the circlet around her head. She looks more like royalty now at her death, than every she did in life. We lose our individual lives, but she has lost us all. Whatever inspired this colonization, this, exploration, will end in lonely and forgotten futility.
My ink is drying out and I have no water. Should I try to get more? The light does not reach to the water channel. I have my dagger, if it comes to that.
I wonder if tears can be used in ink.
Should I continue writing? But why. Our story is told.