As they hike out to the mine entrance, Hepalonia tells her cousin about all the different sources of iron she learned about in the refinery. After she exhausts that topic, she wonders aloud about whether undead also pollute water. “Are they too unnatural to rot?” Tric Manu suggests that they are already rotten, and Heppa mulls over what the walking corpses smelled like.
“What’s this aboot undead?” Daven asks. The elves tell him that there is a swarm of undead in the bog above them. Like Almarin did, Daven brushes off concern about a far distant swamp.
Hepalonia warns the dwarves, “If the water comes down, they would too.”
Tric tries some reverse psychology. “The bog really is not that far away, but Trigadur said it wouldn’t be a problem. You fellows can handle it. Yes, I’m sure you could handle a little undead watery invasion into your fortress, couldn’t you?”
“We handled it last time,” Daven agrees. “There were some undead here a month or so ago. Ye think they came from yer bog? Why would they come through oor tunnels?”
“Who knows what undead do or why?” Tric asks rhetorically with a shrug.
“Do you?” Heppa asks the dwarves eagerly. “Do you know what undead do and why?”
Daven tells her that his people have no experts on that topic and then points out the mining zone up ahead. The site is considered too dangerous for the elves to actually enter, but they are allowed to speak with workers at the entrance. Some of the dwarves are moving barrels around. Heppa asks Port what is in them, but he just shrugs. A dwarf with a small barrel up on one shoulder moves past them headed away from the mine, and Tric Manu speaks up. “Oh, is that the ale for tonight’s dinner? What’s the vintage?”
The porter keeps going, his only response being, “Who keeps ale in a mine?!”
Rare dwarf who doesn’t want to talk about drink, Tric thinks. He turns to Port. “Don’t you keep ale everywhere? I’m pretty sure no dwarf is ever caught more than four hours from ale.” The quiet dwarf has no comeback to offer.
Hepalonia lets the mysterious barrels go, concentrating instead on movement she sees farther back in the dim recesses of the tunnel. She points it out to her cousin. “It is kind of dark up ahead, but I think that is a troll!”
Tric nods knowingly, then steps up to one of the workers. “Hey, are you the dwarf who invented the new experimental technique?” Heppa listens in, curious. “I heard that it brings in literal tons of iron.”
Norfur sets aside her work for a moment to speak with the visitors. “I’m pretty sure Trigadur got the idea from me. When we were oot on the range practicin’ together, I said some things aboot adaptin’ mah thunderstick fer other uses. I think that’s what gave Trigadur the idea. He is smart and all, but he could nae have thought of all of this by himself. And he is a little prickly. If it had nae been fer me interfacin’ with oor liege…”
Tric Manu nods along, inserting words of agreement and support here and there. Hepalonia cannot contain her curiosity any longer, though. “What is the idea?”
“Ye take the powder from the thunderstick, and ye pack it up intae barrels.”
“That’s the barrels.” Heppa nods to herself. “What is the thunderstick?” Once again, Tric is grateful to have his cousin along. He does not know what a thunderstick is, but he is not about to admit ignorance. Norfur reaches down behind an outcropping and pulls out a long thin tube much like the item that was on Trigadur’s back. “What is the powder for?” Heppa asks.
“It’s the propellant fer the missiles. Ye set a fire, and the propellant explodes. That forces the missile forwards. And so ye dae the same thing in the rocks.”
Tric speaks up. “You’re launching missiles at the rocks?”
“It’s more like ye take all the powder and ye set it aff, and it explodes all the rocks. So much faster than just pickaxes! It’s great!” Hepalonia comments on how dangerous it sounds, and Norfur agrees, “Aye, I would nae want tae be the one who lights them.”
“Do you have trolls do the lighting?” Tric asks.
“Aye. Way safer!”
“If you had to guess, what is the survival rate of trolls for these explosions?”
“They’re usually well enough by the next week.”
“Oh, they heal quickly? The trolls?” Heppa interjects.
“Aye. It’s one of the most annoyin’ things aboot tryin’ tae root them oot of these tunnels.”
Tric returns the topic to the mining, lest his cousin get carried away on a fresh new subject. He wants Norfur to understand the dangers posed by this mining technique. “Have you ever set these explosions to go and then had a cave in due to them?” That is how the system is designed to work, according to Norfur. Everything around a charge site turns to rubble, and then they cart it out of there. “Have you ever had any water leak through?” The dwarf has not encountered any wet ore, so Tric continues, “These explosions, we feel them on the surface too when we’re right above the mine.” Rather than be alarmed by that, Norfur is excited by the news. Tric tries one last time. “The whole area trembles. It’s so loud that it wakes the dead.” He pauses dramatically. “Literally.”
“Wow! Ye think the explosions… Hunh. Ye dae nae think that the human was tae blame fer the undead that showed up last month?”
Tric has a sinking feeling he knows the answer, but he asks anyway, with a casual air, “Oh? What human was causing trouble?”
“Well, I was nae there personally,” Norfur admits, “but there was a wee scuffle with undead back in the fortress a month or so ago when a human who sometimes comes by tae trade with us was here. There was some talk that maybe he was responsible.”
“But surely he wasn’t a necromancer, right?”
“I certainly would nae expect Lord Knutan tae offer hospitality tae a necromancer!” Norfur insists, which Tric takes as support for his point. “It was just a wee bit suspicious hoo dwarves got attacked but he did nae, and he was right there.”
“Maybe the undead thought he was easy prey and followed him here,” Tric suggests. “But who knows how the undead work!”
Heppa asks whether the human fought, and Norfur once again states that she was not there personally so she did not see what happened. Maybe he just wasn’t in the front, so he didn’t have the opportunity, Heppa rationalizes.
They return to the topic of the water and the mines, and Norfur explains that they have a weekly schedule because that is about how long it takes the powder trolls to recover. She heads back to work, and the elves talk over how the bubbles rise to the surface and what they know so far about the tainted water. They are not entirely sure how the science of it all works, but the evidence undoubtedly points to the dwarves being responsible. They decide to present the evidence to Lord Knutan at dinner.