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The Gnomes of Underyordby Nicholas Hudson
Vestland scholars from Norrvik have only just realised the extent of the gnomish culture that once flourished in the Northern Reaches. What little information adventurers have been able to bring back from kobold-controlled caverns indicates the gnomish clans that were not exterminated in the kobold invasion fled the Northlands, never to return. What the researchers have not yet discovered is that a few clans, already too deep in the caverns to reach the surface through the rampaging hordes, migrated even further into the bowels of the earth. Using hastily constructed drills and explosive devices, the gnomes opened tunnels and caves that they had never entered before, and sealed them up behind them. Harried the entire way by kobold advance forces, the invaders called off the assault when the gnomes moved through ghoul-occupied caverns. Possessing more spell casters than the kobolds, the gnomes were able to move past the ghouls, but not without heavy causalities. After several years of wandering, the migrants reached a cavern system devoid of other life. After discovering large mineral deposits, the gnomes decided to end their wanderings here, and established their new kingdom of Underyord in 386 BC.
The main cavern system consists of four oval caverns surrounding a large spherical cave, connected by large tunnels, arranged in a vertical lattice: the smaller caves are above, below, and to the sides of the larger sphere. The ovals are named Top Egg, Down Egg, Right Egg, and Wrong Egg, each about 1200 ft. in radius, while the central sphere is called Not Egg, with a radius of 2500 feet. With the exception of Not Egg, which is perfectly smooth, the caverns contain many stalactites and stalagmites, providing additional area for buildings and farming. The complex, called by the gnomes the Pentaegg, is surrounded by many smaller, irregular caves and tunnels that the gnomes use, and claim as theirs.
Agriculture is the primary concern of Top Egg. Although many farmer gnomes maintain houses here, the permanent population is few and sparse, totalling 200. Most of the area is taken up by fungus farming, and large tracts of land are kept for mule and giant ant ranching. The entire cavern radiates with a sickly green glow, given off by small obelisks strategically placed throughout. The light, the by-product of a reaction between several chemicals milked from slime limpets, encourages rapid fungi growth. The light provides enough luminescence to see by without using infravision, and is never extinguished. Every two weeks, the farmers have to replace the chemicals, a simple process of emptying the waste products by a spigot at the bottom, and pouring in the fresh batch through a hole in the top; the two-week period is staggered from obelisk to obelisk so that only a third of the obelisks need refilling every two weeks.
Production is very efficient, providing more food than the gnomes need for their population. Excess is stored in various methods, and agriculturally inclined gnomes vie amongst themselves to develop more interesting and unique ways of keeping food, with originality edging out flavour-retention as the main criterion, a small sacrifice for science.
Top Egg is very humid, with moisture from the other caverns condensing here. Rain is rare though, and limited to certain times of the year. The gnomes have built channels to funnel most of the water to the fungi and repositories for later consumption. The excess water follows small caves down to Down Egg (see below).
The seat of the gnomish government lies in Right Egg, as well as most of the population of Underyord; Right Egg has 5,000 gnomes. Most of Right Egg is given over to buildings of some sort or another. The cavern is very crowded, with stores, houses, workshops, and government offices stretching for as far as the eye can see. Continual light spells have been cast at convenient locations, and with the Underyorder disrespect for time, there is always of bustle of gnomes moving from one place to another. The streets are winding and mismatched, with street names changing at odd intervals and building number sin no particular order. Roads are a stream of activity, with gnomes, ants, and mules always rushing in both directions, often accompanied (or chased) by contraptions of all sorts.
Fountains connected to Top and Down Egg bring potable water to both the gnomish homes and public. Much of the surface of the buildings is covered with fungi that the gnomes grow for decorative value. Various ministries compete with each other to have the most audacious and ostentatious displays for their headquarters.
Half of Down Egg is under water, a result of both the falling condensation from Top Egg and a rushing river, the Egg Beater. The roar of the water fills Down Egg at all times, noticeably loud, but not noisy enough to interfere with communication. The Egg Beater is very fast, and neither its headwaters nor its destination have been reached in all the years the Underyorders have been exploring it. Seven hundred gnomes make their home on ledges above the Egg Beater, while 200 have built a complex, anchored to the wall, about 300 ft. under the surface. This Experimental Underwater, People, Houses for, Or Really Insane Adventurers (or EUPHORIA), was built in 586 AC, and all of the leaks were finally plugged in 921. EUPHORIA can support another hundred gnomes as day researchers. Most families live in EUPHORIA for only a few decades at a time, but several have been in since the beginning. Access corridors reach up from EUPHORIA to the ledges, providing easy access from the complex to the surface, and then the other Eggs; most gnomes who live here go shopping in Right Eggs large department workshops. Egg Beater fish provide Underyord with protein and variety in their diet, as well as access to other caverns if the population overflows or there is an invasion. To the mechanical gnomes though, the Egg Beater provides a cheap source of power, and mills of varying sizes and questionable structural integrity line the walls at Down Egg's midway point, the surface between water and air, called by Underyorders The Yolk. Phosphorous algae on The Yolk illuminate much of the cavern with a purple sheen.
As far as possible from the residencies, Wrong Egg is the home of the gnomish industrial complex. At the top of the cavern vents allow vapours and smoke to rise away from Underyord, possibly to the surface, but just as likely to another cavern. Just as packed as Right Egg, large and/or dangerous experiments are carried out here; there is no official population, but more than a few gnomes will spend a couple of years effectively living here while working on a particularly unusual machine. At any given time, up to 25% of the Underyord population might be in Wrong Egg.
The air in Wrong Egg, even with the venting and circulation, is acrid and heavy, and visitors can expect to cough quite a bit during their stay. The gnomes are used to it, however, and barely notice the change. Gigantic machines of impossible complexity fill this cavern, as well as the vats where slime limpets are processed for their chemical properties. Whirring noises echo off the walls of Wrong Egg, as well as the occasional explosion, creating a unique symphony of industrial sounds.
A perfect sphere, Not Egg connects all of the Eggs through their major arteries; there are smaller tunnels that one can use to move from Egg to Egg without going through Not Egg, but large traffic always takes the central route. The walls of Not Egg are covered with runes and symbols, which were there when the gnomes found the caverns. At the centre of the sphere, a large rock floats in ominous silence. This is the home of the Underyord religion, covered below. No one gnome makes a permanent home here, and even with all of the traffic, Not Egg remains surprisingly quiet.
Underyord is ruled by a monarch, The Grand-Hereditary-Autocratic-King-of-All-For-Life (who is chosen by lot from all gnomes every four months) who has the Authority-To-Do-Anything-He-Or-She-Wants (provided that anything he or she wants is approved by the referendum of all gnomes that is required with any policy change) and is the one All-Must-Obey (if they feel like it). Underyord government is chaotic and haphazard, with most of the time being taken up by meaningless arguments. Virtually all Underyord gnomes find politics to be a favourite hobby, right after tinkering, and to accommodate the populace, the government has formed countless deliberative bodies, blue-ribbon panels, and ministries.
The roots of such a government lie in the gnomes' fortune. There has been no contact with other intelligent life for nearly 1400 years. Technology has allowed the gnomes to have an amazingly high standard of living, and there are no pressing social problems. To entertain themselves and pass the time, they developed a complicated system of rule. The monarch's title is a throwback to the survivalist government necessary when the gnomes were displaced by the kobolds. Obviously, the Underyord government is ineffective and useless, but Underyord society manages along despite it.
With the lack of real government, and the destruction of clan identity in the exodus, Underyord gnomes have only three social institutions: the family, the invention, and religion. Like other gnomes elsewhere, Underyorders take care of their own in extended families. Most gnomes live in large multi-storeyed buildings with as many relatives who care to. Excess food supplies make food easy to come by, and there is no real poverty in Underyord. When a family home explodes (a regular event with gnomish devices), other families come together to help rebuild.
Underyord is a very magical society, and every gnome is either a wokani or a shaman, with some being both. This is demonstrated throughout Underyord society, but no to the degree seen in Glantri or Alphatia: the gnomes see magic as a means to assist technology, and look down upon using it as an end. Magic is fine, but the true mark of character is to use magic to help with technology. Both wokani and shamans feel that they are equals, and those who pursue both paths do not receive hostility from either end; both paths serve the machine.
Every gnome has an instinctive desire to build, and this shared interest keeps gnomish society together. All gnomes are ready to work on some odd device, and cooperation is the highest virtue for the Underyord. Indeed, working on a machine has immensely spiritual implications for these gnomes, as seen in their religion, the foundation of which is on the floating rock.
After the kobolds drove the surviving gnomes out of their ancestral homes, there developed a spiritual crisis in the gnomish community. The few remnant clans, even as they were fleeing from the kobolds and the ghouls, argued fiercely over what was to blame for the reversal of fortunes. One faction claimed that it was the peaceful gnomish beliefs that put them at risk in such a violent world, and that technology should not be pursued for its own ends, but as a weapon against the lesser races that meant only harm to the gnomes. Virulent and bitter over their exile, this view, the Way of the Controlled Explosion, attracted some gnomes, but most still believed that technology was its own end, and that inventions should be sought after for the value of the discovery. Antisocial and vicious, the Way of the Controlled Explosion parted ways with the majority, and went down another cavern.
The belief of those who remained grew and evolved, until it reached the point where it said that technological development was the path to spiritual salvation. Garal Glitterlode put the gnomes on an earth filled with raw materials, but these materials were put here so that the gnomes could learn to master their environment. But that was not the end of technology.
Once they have mastered their environment with technology, the next step is to use it master themselves, then their minds, and finally their souls. "Intelligence is virtue," is the motto of the current Underyord religion, adherents of which call themselves Tickers.
How can one use technology to master spiritual truths? Tickers believe logic, ethics, and aesthetics all lead to the same conclusion, and mathematics is the language of all three. What they need is a calculator, not just an arithmetic one, but also a philosophic abacus. After reaching what would become Underyord, the Tickers had finally discovered what they would need: The Clockwork God.
The Clockwork God
A seemingly impossible complication of artefact, machine, magic relic, and intelligent being, the Clockwork God (affectionately called the CG) is the philosophical calculator the Tickers are seeking. Originally a dumping ground for broken and unsalvageable machines and magic items, the floating rock in the centre of Not Egg began to take on a life of its own, and the gnomish shamans detected vast spiritual power emanating from it. An aged machinist, Evner Cogglewheel had a dream that this would be the place where the Tickers' dreams would come true, and the gnome shamans began blessing and sanctifying the rock. Construction of the Clockwork God began in 324 BC, and continues to this day.
Virtually every Underyorder is today a Ticker, and devote all of their free tinkering time to building new gears, wheels, and whistles for the CG. Wokani provide all sorts of magical items to be integrated into the CG, while miners offer unusual rocks and metals, with craftsmen fashioning them into works of mechanical art. The construction of the Clockwork God is indefinite and constant; it has long since begun calculating the universe, but requires immense power and constant upgrades. This construction is the focus of most Underyorder gnomes, and fully approved of by the government (for what that's worth).
It is a matter of intense religious and philosophical debate among Underyord society whether the Clockwork God is intelligent (a topic referred to as CGI). The CG doesn't communicate beyond instructions on how to upgrade it next, but gives regular updates on what it has decided via vis philosophical questions, indicating abstract capabilities, but shows a complete lack of self-awareness. But if understanding the universe is true salvation, and the CG is what will understand it, then shouldn't it be the most intelligent entity ever, even if it has no self-consciousness? These questions dominate conversation, with gnomes always trying to come up with a more obtuse and incomprehensible argument for or against than the next one.
Garal Glitterlode has considered adding Immortal power to the CG, but he doesn't know what that might do to the experiment (if other Immortals knew of the existence of the Clockwork God, they would be very interested, and quite possibly scared, for what it implies is unknown for now), and he is ecstatic that the gnomes have created something so amazing. Garal has decided to hold off on adding power to see just how far mortals can go.