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Returning to the Stone

Near the centre of the Underqueendom of Narakinb, buried far below ground, lies a series of natural caverns known collectively as the Nuled-Uzund, the Heart of the Stone. Unlike the other caverns found throughout Narakinb, the caverns making up the Heart have been left in their unfinished, natural state. Stalagmites and stalactites are common. All of the caverns are haphazardly filled with rough stone plinths that grow naturally from the rock.
When a dwarf of the Queendom dies honourably (or for some other reason deserves this special honour) their body is brought to the Heart and laid upon one of the plinths. Over the next month or so the body is drawn gradually into the slab until it is entirely consumed by the stone. In the vast majority of cases this is all that happens, and the plinth is then ready for another honoured body.
Rarely, perhaps one time in a thousand, the slab instead cracks open, revealing inside the dwarf it just absorbed remade as a Stoneborn. The Stoneborn retain most of their memories and the bulj of their personality, and are considered inspiring symbols by the dwarves of Narakinb. They also gain fragments of memories from the other dwarves who have been absorbed by the same plinth. After such a rebirth the plinth takes a few months to reform itself ready for use.
The Heart is cared for by a secretive sect known as the Keepers. They rarely speak with outsiders (indeed, most of them never do, with only certain Keepers being designated as envoys), and dress head-to-toe in concealing clothing. Access to the Heart is restricted to the Keepers alone, with the exception of a few religious days.
Deep within the maze of tunnels & caverns making up the heart is a small chamber, this one lined in crystal growths of all colours. In the centre is a slab like the ones in the rest of the heart, but made of red crystal. According to legend, one day a great queen will be laid on the slab and will be reborn in crystal. The Reborn Queen is prophesied to lead the queendom to greatness (which at present is normally interpreted to mean "destroy the Dominion"). Every queen is laid on the slab after their death, but as yet none have been reborn.


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