Paul jumped at the chance to get a tour of the factory where Darksilver Forge’s famous metal dice are made. The dice were known all over the world for their perfect balance and superior craftsmanship. They were extremely popular among players of tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons.
The dice factory was situated on a hilltop in a secluded area of northwest Georgia, with what looked like a castle tower sticking off one end, but it was actually a large smokestack made of stacked stones. Paul watched as strings of silvery mist lazily snaked out of it and disappeared into the clouds.
The tour guide met Paul outside the front door. “You must be Paul! Welcome! I heard you requested a tour of the Darksilver Forge facilities?”
“Well, you’re in luck. You’re the last tour of the day, which means we can take as long as we want. Let’s get started!”
The guide waved his hand toward the small factory. “This building was erected originally as a military fort during the Civil War. Of course, some renovations were made over the years, like adding electrical wiring and proper plumbing, but the smokestack is the original and has been left unchanged since it was constructed in 1861.”
Inside the factory, a handful of people were sitting around long wooden tables, happily chatting away while inspecting dice for imperfections. The bad ones went into a bucket labeled “BAD DICE” and the good ones were placed in their appropriate dice cases. There were very few bad dice. Johnny Cash played through a speaker somewhere. It seemed like a cool, laidback work environment.
The tour guide introduced Paul to some of the workers as they passed, then led him to a heavy wooden door at the far end of the factory. The door seemed to go directly inside the smokestack.
“This door leads to the basement, where the forge is. Come on, I’ll introduce you to our metalsmith and show you how the dice are made!”
The tour guide opened the door, and Paul saw that the smokestack had spiral stairs leading down as far as he could see. The stairs were made of rock, like the smokestack itself, and hugged the wall. A thick rope was tied off in several places to serve as a handrail. Paul was sure he’d be using that rope because smoke swirled through the center of the spiral, and he couldn’t see through it to the bottom. It was like descending into a storm cloud.
The guide led Paul down the stone steps. After they’d been walking for a while, Paul asked, “How far down does this go?”
“All the way to the bottom I’m afraid!” The tour guide laughed, then added, “Actually, we’re going about 200 feet down. I know. It’s a long way. Unfortunately, there were no elevators in 1861! They built this fort on top of a natural cave system, which gave them some unique benefits, as you’ll soon see.”
As they got nearer to the bottom, another tour guide passed them heading up. “It never gets old,” he said, as he squeezed by them, then he turned to Paul and said, “It’s pretty incredible how it all works. I think you’ll be surprised!” He ascended into the storm clouds above and disappeared.
At the bottom of the stairs, the smoke wasn’t as thick. Paul could finally see and breathe a little better, even though it was still very hot. They were in a circular room with heavy wooden doors on each side of the circle. In the center of the room was a large round hole about five feet wide. A bowl-shaped screen sat in the hole like a giant tea strainer. It had a handle on one side and a metal lip on the other to prevent the screen bowl from falling into the hole.
“Those doors to the left and right lead into the cave system I was telling you about. They could sneak in and out right under the enemy’s nose! And this hole in the floor is where the dice are made.”
“I don’t understand, though. Where’s the metalsmith?” Paul asked.
“You’ll meet him soon enough. But first, watch this. You may want to stand back for a second.”
Paul watched with surprise as molten magma suddenly bubbled up through the screen bowl then slowly melted away back into the hole. As it receded, Paul noticed there were now roughly one hundred silver and gold dice on the screen.
The tour guide lifted the screen bowl by the handle - it looked heavy - and tilted it, dropping the new dice into a large metal bucket next to the hole. He then set the screen bowl aside, so that Paul would have an unobstructed view.
Paul stared at the dice in the bucket with disbelief. He then peered down into the hole. With the screen removed, he could easily see the red-orange magma oozing and bubbling as it slowly sank away. Hot magma produces its own light, so it took several minutes for the lava to recede deep enough for the abyss to reach total darkness.
The tour guide smiled. “It really is amazing, Paul!”
“I still don’t quite understand how it works, though.”
The tour guide laughed. “It’ll make more sense when you meet the metalsmith. Are you ready to meet him?”
“Yeah, I can’t wait! I’ve got a lot of questions.”
The tour guide smiled as Paul peered down into the black pit. Then he pushed Paul hard, so that he fell headfirst into the hole. Paul screamed as he fell, but eventually his screams faded away, like someone slowly turning down the volume. The tour guide listened to see if he could hear a bloop, but he never did. That was too bad. The bloop was his favorite part.
The tour guide hummed “Ring of Fire” as he replaced the screen bowl and waited for the process to complete. Normally he would start the trek back up already, but this was the last tour of the day; there would be no one else coming down after him today to get these dice. He noticed that soot now completely covered the pentagram etched into the stone floor surrounding the hole. They’d have to sweep up down here. He checked his watch. After a few minutes the magma bubbled up over the screen again, leaving behind one hundred gold and silver dice.