As we fled across the snows, we saw a flame lit for us high up in the peaks. With the citadels sinking behind us, we knew at once that we still had a home.To many, the history of Argenduum begins with the Fall of the Icemen. In the collapse of the ice between Ristshan and Nalanosa and the floods and storms that followed, the Dwarves traveled to the mountains to the north. Using the knowledge gained from their servitude, they took refuge above and within them. Despite the popular accounts, however, this is not entirely historically accurate. While Argenduum could not truly have been called a nation before the empire's fall, it was not chosen by the newly freed Dwarves by chance. The first Dwarves to successfully flee from the Icemen did so centuries before the empire's fall. With much of the land still held by their would-be masters, these Dwarves hid in caves in the mountains. It is said that they guided their brethren to the same mountains and taught them how they had learned to live off the fungi and took all they needed from the stone. In return, they were taught the power of runecraft. With the newfound tools and strength of numbers at their disposal, the united Dwarves expanded rapidly across the peaks.
Deep within the earth, we discovered fire. Not the fire of wood or flesh, but a solid fire. Innelēd, the stone of the world's heart.The expansion of preexisting caves was frequent at this point, as carving out entire caves displaces a prohibitive amount of stone. They also had to be careful when building fires, to avoid both the frequent storms of the time and the noxious fumes produced by burning what little they had available to burn. As such, when spelunkers discovered the warmth in the red stone they found was a property of the stone itself, they quickly realized its potential. The desire for Corestone fueled mining operations, and their first city, Argendul, started to form around its extraction. This period came to be known as the First Great Excavation. This expansion served to unite the Dwarves towards a common goal once again, and resulted in a surplus of stone and ore. However, it would also be cut short by a great tragedy. No one is certain of who is responsible, as the Dwarves put little stock in this and any who were, or who knew, were likely lost in the rubble. What is certain is that their great city of Argendul had fallen, collapsing into the caves below and leaving nothing but ruin and sorrow in its wake. This served as a turning point in history, and would lead to the founding of the nation as it is today. Their dead already buried and their guilt shared, the Dwarven clans came to a series of agreements. The Pact of Argendul, as it came to be called, included exhaustive guidelines for managing and regulating mining and architecture to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again. As it progressed, it also came to include guidelines on what would not be regulated - the individual freedoms afforded to their people. By the time it was finished, a nation had been founded, taking the name of Argenduum.
When they first came to us, they spoke a language of trade and barter that we were scarcely familiar with. When they saw our works, however, they spoke a far more familiar tongue, one of craft and stone.The expansion of Argenduum went relatively smoothly, if slowly, for centuries after. Thomendul became the second great city-center of the mountains, and with the wealth of uncontested resources available to them, the Argends became the undisputed masters of the peaks. Goblin tribes using the caves were driven out, and monsters of the caves were easily dispatched with weapons once reserved for the Icemen. The culture of cooperation that the mountain state is known for today started to flourish. And it is in the midst of this golden age that Chal first discovered their neighbors, around the age of King Laren. The Chale were interested in mining the mountains, but when they found the signs of the Argend roads, they investigated and made contact. These men were not unfamiliar with mining, but were far less experienced and desired more than they could easily acquire themselves. At the same time, they had items of great interest and value that the Argends had little way to acquire otherwise. At the time, stone had been piling up from excavations and limited expansion, and the idea of a foreign entity that suddenly wanted it in droves in exchange for something as rare as wood seemed akin to a miracle. Without being weighed down by this burden, the Chale could build their castles of stone, and the Argends could dig their halls in peace. The mutual demand for the closeby and yet remarkably unique Chale products eventually resulted in a Second Great Excavation. Settlements started to spread across the mountains, no longer bound to where convenient natural caves could be found, and previously excess ores acquired newfound value in trade with human neighbors. Plans were drawn for grandiose mining operations as swiftly as the new regulations would allow, and this time, no tragedy of their own making would stop them. And while they would uncover many strange horrors lurking in the depths, none caused them nearly the grief they had endured before.
Demography and Population
As one might expect, Argenduum is a predominantly Dwarven nation. This is unlikely to change in the near future, as centuries of cultural inertia have resulted in a very unpleasant environment for outsiders. This is not to say that the Dwarves do not welcome them, but even if the low ceilings and dark, narrow corridors are not an issue, the thin mountain air frequently is. On top of this, the cultural expectations of Argenduum are oriented towards the Dwarves. The number of permanent residents of other races is, as such, staggeringly low, though not nonexistent. Of this number, Humans are the most common, and Orcs are a close second. Elves are even less common, having more issues adapting to the cultural struggles of mountain life than the natural ones. Goblins are, naturally, effectively not present, at least not legally.
Having natural defenses from every angle by virtue of existing in the mountains, Argends rarely need to defend themselves from external threats. No army wishes to cross the mountains, the rocs have no interest in the locals, and few other predators will stray near the rocs. As such, Argenduum does not have a formal military in the sense that other nations do. However, it still has its reasons to prepare weapons and combatants for battle. The natural dangers of mining would pose little threat to the populace if not for the creatures that lurked in the caverns below. When any mining operation can potentially breach a cavern and its dangers, soldiers and mercenaries learn to use the confined spaces to their own advantage. Argend tactics involve blocking passageways and cornering their opponents, forcing them back so openings can be sealed to regroup. The Argend shield wall has been used to hold mountain passes, tunnels, and city gates to great effect. As such, Argend's fighters are highly experienced in close quarters combat, allowing foes to come to them. These methods are deeply rooted in the racial strengths of the Dwarves, their stout figures holding ground with impressive ease. Any Dwarf in Argend who learns to fight learns to hold a shield and maintain a strong stance first. There is a considerable uniformity to this tactic, though the weapons it is used with vary depending upon the foe. Hammers to shatter the brittle and dent armor, axes to sever tough hides or throw, blades to cut flesh, and even crossbows to overwhelm and deter approach. Runecasting, a rare but prized profession, also finds a place in military duty. Typically reserved for supernatural threats that shield walls cannot handle on their own, runecasters can turn the tide of a battle in moments, flooding an entire tunnel with flame or rearranging it to trap or cut off foes. These casters are highly prized by Argenduum, and frequently pressured to remain in the service of the state. While there is no legal requirement to do so, this pressure can leave mercenaries and wanderers capable of runecasting ostracized and dishonored. The opposite can also occur, however, with Argends being pushed out of communities for practicing the craft.
The greatest advantage Argenduum has over other nations is the stress it places upon public planning. While this bureaucracy does result in some inefficiency in time, it allows the creation of Argend roads, channels, and underground settlements with minimal waste in other regards. Architectural and engineering knowledge allows settlements to pack together without risk of collapse and guarantees that water reaches down through the rock to where it is needed. Vaulting ceilings, arched bridges, and hewn load-bearing pillars are common sights in its halls. In many other regards, however, the proud nation has little advantage over neighboring Chal. Watermills, while substantially more vertical, do see common use in the mountains as well. Handcranks and footcranks of various sizes are frequently uses as labor-saving devices, to power bellows, drill through rock, lift heavy products, and power grindstones. Some advances come from dwarven knowledge of runic magic, allowing for gravity-defying stones that reduce the load upon ceilings, production of light without heat or smoke, and, conveniently, an invention commonly called 'Eraser Stones' by humans. These have made writing at length in stone and clay nearly as convenient as paper, sacrificing low weight and thinness for much-needed longevity.
Argenduum has little in the way of religion. The Bearer does not answer prayers, and dwarves do not expect them to be answered. This is not to say that its tenets do not shape their culture, however. Those who know their history know that they owe their freedom to the Lord of Earth, and that their struggles honor it. Many Argends take pride in this, treating The Bearer more as a respected historical figure or philosophical idea than a god. The Chale Church of Still Water has wormed its way into some settlements in the peaks as well. The discipline and mental fortitude required of The Maiden are familiar to them, after all. This foreign philosophy has resulted in some pushback, however, as it conflicts with various dwarven traditions. Some towns have even gone so far as to erect formal temples to The Bearer for the explicit purpose of preventing this disruption. These unadorned but meticulously crafted stone edifices stand in sharp contrast to the stained glass and flowing water of the buildings they seek to displace. A major cultural phenomenon that could be called religious relates to the creation of these temples as well. While runesmithing and runecasting are valuable Argend professions, some settlements and groups firmly deny these practices. The two main reasons for this are firm belief in The Bearer's tenets (refusing to rely upon the supernatural) and the historical origins of the language. How stringently any given group follows this principle varies, and few go so far as to stop using Corestone, instead claiming it as a natural occurrence when challenged on the matter.
Argenduum has been in a fairly stable alliance with the Kingdom of Chal for a few centuries. It has limited, if any, direct contact with other nations. Nalanosan Dwarves have started to make more contact in recent times, however, in tandem with increasing trade. Constructing a port on the southern end of the Dwarven Peaks to avoid needing to go through Chal to contact other nations has been considered, but this massive endeavor would likely take decades at best.
Agriculture & Industry
Argend farms seem unbelievably foreign to outsiders, but this is not to say they do not exist. Able to be grown using only water and warmth and given limited room, most of them are small individual fungal plots in underground homes. Several varieties exist, some forming large mushroom caps and others climbing across floors and walls as molds. Ultimately, these are cooked, cleaned, prepared in acid baths, or otherwise made safe for consumption if they are not naturally safe. Others are fermented for use in alcoholic beverages, giving them their distinct taste. These habits tend to cause some shock to outsiders when they realize what exactly they're eating or see the mold-filled rooms that Argends intentionally keep. These practices pale in comparison, of course, to the three industries dwarves are most commonly associated with: mining, smithing, and stonemasonry. These are kept closely intertwined in Argenduum, where the excess material from mining out homes and dwarven halls is often fed directly into paving roads or being smelted down. Metallurgy is very efficient for the time, producing as much usable copper, silver, lead, steel, and gold as the Argends can wrest from the rock. Many chemical components to this process are relatively new, a product of trade with Chale alchemists. Just as connected to these things is runework, stone etchings that provide various magical effects that help keep society functioning. Runesmiths etch stone, metal, and sometimes even wood, producing properties from glowing lights to more durable and effective weapons and tools. Some of these are expensive luxuries, while others are used in public works or by large companies to great effect. Runic streetlights are a common sight in larger Argend cities, and furnaces fueled by supernatural heat that magically separate their products make some of the finest steel in the known world.
Many jobs in Argenduum require little real education, but at the same time it is a widely-held belief that knowledge is a necessary aspect of freedom. A significant amount of publicly commissioned work is stepping away from actually performing one's craft to teach others, be it stonework, steelwork, runework, or something else entirely. In these 'group apprenticeships', Argend dwarves learn both the skills they need to perform and the group cooperation that will be common in their working lives. Past this basic level, learning on the job is more common. For more intellectual pursuits, there is little formal schooling. People in training to become treasurers, architects, or public officials are typically taught directly by their successors. Individual research is also expected for these positions, spending time to pore over legal code and whatever one can find in libraries. In the absence of a successor, companies have been known to hire on experts, often those who have worked in the same profession for others. This practice, however, is relatively rare on account of dwarven longevity.
Some of the most impressive public works projects in all of Ristshan are in the Dwarven Peaks. Paved stone roads, bridges, and tunnels across and through the mountain range connect every settlement in Argenduum. Where the roads grow long, rest houses exist between them, often used by couriers to pass off messages or packages and keep them moving at full speed. Equally visually impressive are their channels built into the mountains, guiding rainwater towards their halls for use and down the mountain for transportation. These channels are crucial to dwarven livelihood as they take in water to drink, clean, wash away waste, and grow their fungal crops. As such, they have become more efficient over the centuries, incorporating Corestone into high basins and linings. These melt snow in the higher peaks and prevent freezing in winter, maximizing the amount of water the dwarves have to work with. Because of this, mountain animals sometimes sleep near the channels and basins for warmth or drink from them. Thankfully, since dwarves typically use this water for agriculture or ultimately consume it in alcoholic form, contamination is typically a nonissue. These channels serve a dual purpose as chimneys of sorts. While many dwarven halls have wide areas built above the surface to provide fresh air, these tunnels are convenient for increasing airflow. This becomes especially important when mining areas need to be quickly out-gassed for subsequent housing usage, a common practice in the Argend halls. Using them for actual fireplace chimneys is possible with some effort, but is not common practice throughout the settlements for a variety of reasons.
Despite the quality of Argend craftsmanship, raw stone is probably the nation's biggest export. Stone is often put on rafts and sent straight down the channels to Chal as part of bulk purchases, given the sheer amount that the nation produces when mining out new settlements. Apart from raw materials, however, works of steel and stone, runic or otherwise, frequently find their way into foreign markets, where they are prized for their quality. Corestone has become an export in recent times due to demand from the Nalanosan Federation, which has frantically bought out every bit that Argenduum is willing to sell since it discovered its existence.
Having little room to cultivate anything but fungus, Argenduum imports a substantial amount of Chale lumber and produce. Alchemical concoctions also prove useful, though they are not in particularly high demand due to a cultural reluctance to innovate. Clothing is also a frequent purchase, and leather is coveted for its combination of toughness and flexibility.
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