The first region of Moria to be rediscovered by travelers from the west—the region bounding on the fabled and newly reopened Hollin Gate—is both an entryway and a crossroads. Known, in whole, as the Great Delving, this quarter of Khazad-dûm links mines to palaces, academies to foundries, and the cavernous underground of Moria to all the realms of Eriador in the west. It is here that the saga of Khazad-dûm’s restoration and rescue truly begins.
Though most often regarded as a single, wide territory, the Great Delving encompasses three distinct areas. At its western end sits Durin’s Threshold, an entryway, reception hall, and hostel for travelers from Eregion and beyond. At its eastern end stand the plazas and bridges of the Dolven-view, a wide and chasmic connector dominated by grand gateways of breathtaking craftsmanship. The ground in between consists of a finely wrought thoroughfare, called Lamâb-dûm by the Orcs of Moria, and a network of loose caverns and tunnels, all of which connect Durin’s Threshold with the Dolven-view.
All these places, once meant to welcome and unify the folk of Middle-earth, are contested ground now, caught between the Dwarves’ revealing lights and the Enemy’s dark grip.
“It is time for our return to glory!” proclaims the leader of the supply post just within the West-gate.
In this space between the Walls of Moria and the Goblin-held caverns beyond, Dwarves labor to revitalize their ancient home by unpacking their gear, exploring the darkest regions, patrolling the nearer ones, and stoking the fires of their hostel furnaces. A Stable-master waits to greet newcomers. Weary yet eager Dwarves seek out brave souls and strong arms to share the burdens of exploration and defense in these early new days beneath the mountain. Here, at least, haggard adventurers from Eriador can take a breath before braving the many perils to come.
Durin’s Threshold is comprised of three halls, with the grand entryway in the center and wings of furnaces to the north and south. Each is handsomely crafted in the manner of the Dwarves but modest compared to many of the older halls beyond. The masons of Moria designed these halls to whet a visitor’s appetite before he feasts on the visions within.
Once these halls received or prepared travelers. In those days, the wings to the north and south bulged with the tents and stalls of craftspeople and vendors gathered at the feet of the furnaces’ chimneys. Today, the northern wing is lit by furnace-flames again, and Dwarves toil smiling and cheering, “The sound of hammers once again rings in the halls of Moria!” But the southern wing remains dark and cold, cobwebbed and forlorn, even so close to the West-gate.
In a way, this place tells the tale of Moria in miniature. To the south and north lay sorrow and hope, ruin and repair, and between them the stables and provisions of the Dwarf expedition stand in little pools of light. Signs of victory and defeat alike show everywhere.
Crystals and Caverns
Traveling east from Durin’s Threshold, the path quickly transforms into loose gravel and rough stone. Dwarf-bridges straddle bogglingly deep pits in the earth amid the cobwebs and stalagmites, leading to a forgotten cluster of buildings. Clefts in the rock reveal raw, uncut crystals glowing purple among the dust and rocks. Gruesome candelabras made of wax and skulls reveal the palisades at the edge of a Goblin camp—and banners bearing the mark of the White Hand.
This camp is home to strangely white Goblins who—despite their proximity to the edge of Khazad-dûm and perhaps stymied by the Dwarf-doors of the West-gate for generations—have never seen the light of the sun. This small outpost persists even after bold heroes and explorers have already borne the flags of the Free Peoples into deeper halls beyond, showing just how tenacious even such weak-willed and superstitious Goblins can be. The battle to retake Moria is waged in aching increments.
Amid this camp’s Goblins, armored and mean, are messengers brave enough to carry word to other Goblin camps in the distant corners of Moria. Their hides are weathered and rough, implying that they may even have ventured out from beneath the mountain to deliver reports to, or fetch instructions from, the Enemy’s far-off lieutenants. Some bear writs marked with the seal of Isengard.
This camp is a grim omen of Moria’s possible fate. Something is pushing the varied tribes of Moria Orcs and Goblins together. “The voice commands,” hiss the Goblins, “and we obey!”
The Thoroughfare of Lamâb-dûm
The loose passages leading out of Durin’s Threshold eventually connect to a triangular tunnel beaten down by ancient use and now choked with dust and webs. Called Lamâb-dûm by the denizens of Moria, this thoroughfare bisects the Great Delving. It runs from the Palace of Náin in the north to the Vault of Durin in the south, with breaks along its length leading out to the caverns of the Goblin camp to the west and the plazas of the Dolven-view to the east.
What was once the Palace of Náin is now a filthy nest of ferocious, many-legged bugs, the likes of which cannot be found outside Moria. Amid the mud and fog here lurk beetles the size of Men and armor-plated, poison-spitting centipedes the size of horses, with mandibles like swords. Let only the most vital quest take you there.
The Vault of Durin, at the southern end of the thoroughfare, is crumbling, its floor littered with broken crystals and loose stones. Dug out of the rock within the vault, now, stretches a back passage into the mineshafts of the Silvertine Lodes. Goblins and giant cave-claws wander the area, but at least one Dwarf is nearby too and intent on doing something to restore the Vault.
The path leading east out of the thoroughfare, near the Vault, passes by an elegant, abandoned square dominated by a huge, cracked geode. Its surface is cut like a globe and etched with runes. Its exposed inside glitters with uncut crystals. This quiet place seems purposeless now, haunted by the memories of livelier times, but look up to the warm glow amid the spires overhead. Those are the lights of Free Peoples camped above.
Refuge in the Dolven-view
At the top of many dizzying stairways, in the highest halls of the Great Delving, lies one of the Free Peoples’ great footholds in Moria. Among the bold columns and warm lamps of this rooftop refuge, the expedition to reclaim Khazad-dûm has created a retreat from the Goblin-prowled plazas all around. This may well prove to be the central base for questing heroes in western Moria.
This outpost offers a grand view out across all the Great Delving, from which the new defenders of Khazad-dûm can take in the heartening vision of magnificent gates and maintain watch over the disheartening sight of ugly, smoky Goblin camps. From here, it’s easy to see the heart of the Great Delving for what it is: a single, enormous cavern cut into plazas and palaces, all perched above a winding chasm of impossible depth, all gathered beneath a sky of looming stalactites. This is Khazad-dûm: beautiful and precarious.
A long bridge capped with a coronal half-star of crystalline rods leads from the Dolven-view refuge to a corner of the Great Delving where obelisk-topped Dwarf-manses stand mysteriously untouched by the Orc-kind below. The greatest of these houses a masterpiece of Dwarf engineering known as the Cooling Chamber: the hall of a roaring, indoor maelstrom. Look nearby for the passageway that runs along the edge of the Great Delving’s cavern wall and emerge at the gateway to Zelem-melek to the east.
The Crossroads of Khazad-dûm
The core of the Great Delving is a wide cavern of libraries and plazas located at the crossroads between three monumental gateways. Each one towers as a work of art that leads off in a cardinal direction to another, deeper region of Khazad-dûm.
In the north, the Dwarf-lord’s Gate leads to the shining gardens of Durin’s Way. In the south, bordered by the Dolven-view, the Stone Council watches over the formal passage to the Silvertine Lodes. In the east, a host of proud, bearded faces look down on the lamp-lined boulevard that connects to the Lonely Span and the regal halls of Zelem-melek beyond.
These magnificent gateways were once the icons of the Great Delving, representing the generations of family, honor, pride, and memory that made Khazad-dûm and shaped not only its boundaries but its character. Now those faces look down on intruders. Now the places between these lordly gates are trodden and claimed by vandals. By the work of the Enemy, the history of Moria is forever stained.
The Great Delving’s libraries are tragic ruins. The Chamber of Wisdom has been smashed and plundered by Goblins, and the towering shelves of Katúb-zahar have become but a backdrop for the lairs of Moria’s strange breed of bullish cave-claws. Books lay moldering in the damp, crystal shards are ground into rotten rugs, and rubble has buried artifacts and tomes once dear to the scholars of old. There’s no greater symbol of Moria’s decline in the Great Delving than this.
In a plaza called Gazatmur, where the three paths out of the proud gates meet, a Goblin totem stands foul and obscene, like a head on a spike. Around it, filling the plaza, squats a camp of Goblin shamans and warriors decorated with skulls and bloody graffiti. Rows of filthy tables wait for Goblin mealtimes, for this is their home now. These creatures wipe their mouths with the pages of old tomes and scrawl Goblin legends on the walls of their camps.
Among these common Moria Goblins, be on the watch for the eerie-eyed and black-armored lieutenant that oversees the region’s teeming minions. He holds a wicked axe and a bladed shield in his hands, and he doubtless carries the will of the Enemy in his thoughts. These stones are his now, he thinks.
The sorry truth of Khazad-dûm is that the victory of the Enemy cannot be denied. Goblins and Orcs won Moria. It is now their city.
But at the center of Gazatmur stands a towering statue of a Dwarf-lord heaving a hammer above his head for an overhand blow. The Goblins’ time in Moria cannot be ignored, but it may be overcome. For as long as Goblins and the Enemy have laid claim to Khazad-dûm, that statue has stood, hammer up, ready to strike back.
Hammers smash. Hammers forge and re-forge. And the sounds of Dwarf hammers once again ring in the halls of Moria.
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