She smirked. It wasn't lovely, but it was efficient.
Behind her, a dwarf cleared his throat. "The Board will see you now."
Beulah followed her guide through the stone halls to a massive, ostentatious set of doors emblazoned with the golden sigil of the Iron Guard. A pair of armored hawken standing guard at the gates favored her with their round, radiant eyes before heaving the doors open.
Before her, the Board of Masters sat at an absurdly massive conference table, a single slab of marble carved to a perfect, glistening plane of stone. Behind it, a brass wall of clockwork flickered a constantly updating report of imports, exports, and profits. The Board was caught up in a heated debate when she entered, but her presence caused the argument to die.
At the opposite end of the table, one of the Board’s seniormost servants, Director Hobart Cragden, rose from his seat. "Emissary Beulah! A pleasure, but an unexpected one. To what do we owe this visit from Wandering Mountain?"
She took a seat opposite him, shifting her silken skirts and nodding to the other Masters on the Board.
"I would expect you knew," she began. “Director Cragden, please. How long have the dwarves of Wandering Mountain relied on your company?"
"And in that time, have we ever failed to deliver payment to the Iron Guard?"
Cragden seemed to sense her intent and responded with caution. "To my knowledge, no. You have not."
"The Lords of Wandering Mountain have seen a sudden, precipitous drop in the delivery of goods from your company in recent years. After consulting with my counterparts with the Obsidian Peaks and the Silver Legion, they have experienced similar declines. So, honored Board, I have come to ask you: why is it the dwarves outside your mountains are seeing such a sharp decrease in deliveries?"
Cragden steepled his fingers and looked at her from under his brows. Before he could reply, another Master, Weldmonger Cresthart, interjected.
"Opportunities come with costs," he said.
She spread her hands, causing the jade bracelets running up her forearms to clatter. "Enlighten me."
Cresthart continued, but Beulah noticed the glower Cragden cast at his fellow Master. "Wandering Mountain, the Obsidian Peaks, and Silver Legion are bound to us by blood and our old alliances. Even more, by the centuries of the storm. For generations, you have been our only customers. But the storm has faded, Emissary. The land above is open for business, and we would be fools to ignore it."
Some of the other Masters shuffled uncomfortably, cleared their throats, and made small, noncommittal noises. Beulah suspected Master Cresthart was speaking out of turn, but he was not wrong.
"And this comes with a cost; how, exactly?"
Cragden spoke up, "You know the stone is back, and in abundance. We aren't the only ones who seek it. We need to send out expeditions to secure our control over the stone. They need armor and they need weapons. The minewalkers need fuel. We've tripled the production of breach heads to meet the demand. All of these things demand time and effort. We can fulfill your orders to maximum capacity and lose our chance to gather the stone, or we can reduce them in the short term for a long-term increase."
"It isn't the same here as it is out east," Cresthart said. "The imperials and Orrix are making aggressive moves. The Risen dead are moving from the south. We have to act now."
Emissary Beulah considered their words, but her eyes fixed on the far wall. The display of ore deliveries ticked up. A line of projected acquisitions at the bottom showed a genuinely remarkable volume of rivenstone on a timeline of only a few decades.
She made her decision. "Wandering Mountain thanks the Board for its time, and I will return to make my assessment."
The members of the Board looked at her expectantly. Finally, the brash Cresthart blurted out what she imagined the rest were thinking.
"And? Don't leave us in suspense, Emissary."
She offered him a small, wry smile. "As you said, blood and old alliances bind us. Continue to deliver resources to us, and we will uphold our side of our agreement. And I will return, soon, on the advisement of my lords, to discuss how everyone will benefit from this strange new world."