Chaos Dwarf Myths & Legends [WHFB]

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    • Chaos Dwarf Myths & Legends [WHFB]

      The Stormforged Axe

      In betwixt two titanic mountain ranges in west and east stretches the Dark Lands, unforgiving and cursed grounds of ash and sulphur as well as of fire and darkness. Here, molten rock from the heart of the world glow in the dark and spill forth from scars amidst the polluted wastelands and arid desolation. Feral monsters and barbarous tribes wander the hostile landscapes under stormy skies, eking out a living where softer peoples would have thought it impossible to even find food and water. Here, amid volcanic rocks and thorny vegetation, the beasts and savages clash to survive and conquer, yet no feral rabble or mindless monstrosity can ever truly compete in this arena with the cruel and mysterious empire which occupies the top of the region's food chain.

      It is the only mortal realm to have withstood the unrelenting test of time in the Dark Lands, for all others have long since fallen. It is an empire based upon mass slavery, ruthlessness, industrial might and heinous mysticism. To behold its might and splendor is to witness hell on earth. It is the malignant empire of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the Great and all her holdings. It is the worldly dominion of the dark and fiery Bull God, Hashut, bitterly carved out and ruled by his chosen tribe, the demented yet ingenious Chaos Dwarfs, who have spent millennia of hardship, struggle and toil to trample and enslave in His name.

      Given the frequent thunderstorms of the Dark Lands, it is no wonder that the Dawi Zharr asssociate these powerful and fearsome discharges of nature with their Father of Darkness, for they believe that Hashut in His guise of the Great Thunderbull rumbles across the heavens and Realm of Chaos alike, snorting and roaring, for His stampede is thunder and His wrath is lightning. To the Dwarfs of Fire, He is the almighty Cleaver of Skulls, the Lightning Father and He Who Rapes the Earth, among other titles. In other words, He who is Hashut is not only lord of fire, darkness, cruel domination and baleful crafts, but He is also lord of thunder and lightning.

      As such, it should come as no surprise that the devoted and pragmatic Dawi Zharr has sought to imitate the Great Thunderbull. Not only do their handguns, artillery barrages and noisy industry carry an echo of the revered thunder in the heavens, but some of their Daemonforged weapons and even warmachines has been wrought by dark and sorcerous arts to capture the strength and essence of lightning. Many artisans of the Chaos Dwarfs have died across the years when trying to master and enslave a wild force of nature powerful enough to fell monsters and melt sand to glass, yet others have persevered and succeeded in crafting feared artefacts imbued with the power of lightning.

      These craft objects have all been feared tools of destruction, and many a slave and foe has succumbed to their crackling fury through the centuries. Some such weapons have become legendary, for the bloody exploits of their bearers in this world, or even beyond, mimicked the lethal charge of the Great Thunderbull across heavens and Empyrean alike. These are not tales of salvation or valiant heroism, for they are chronicles of ferocious butchery and merciless cruelty. These are tales of horror and darkness. These are tales of devious crafts and carnage without limit. These are tales of bloodstained warriors gone mad with power, and their grim fates as determined by capricious Dark Gods.

      Such are the legends told of stormforged weapons by the Blacksmiths of Chaos.

      This is one of these legends.

      Birth of a Monster: It was heralded by portentous nightmares and otherworldly whispers from who knew where. It was conceived in the demented mind of a forger of metals and Daemons alike. It was prepared for with frantic hoarding of resources, ranting of mantras and ritual scarification of slaves alike. It was given due acknowledgement in advance by gory sacrifices for high Bull God's dreaded yet divine inspiration. It was prayed for and fasted for. It was begun one dark winter night when a baleful Chaos moon chased the silver orb and glared sickly green through the ashen storm clouds.

      It was the forging of the murderous axe of Daemonsmith Drazhnukul Blackeye, and it occured in a cacophony of thunder rolling, metal ringing, slaves screaming and Acolytes chanting. Sparks flew in the darkness. Muscles heaved. Smoke curled. Captive Daemons howled. Blood flowed. Incense burned. Skull-shaped braziers and a forbidden metal alloy melting in the soulfurnace cast everything around in a hellish red glow atop the crenellated ziggurat platform. Yet everything flashed white, for overhead did lightning lash out, time and time again, striking the raw matter being pounded upon the chained and cracked anvil. Every lightning strike upon the red-hot metal empowered the weapon. Yet the repeated lightning strikes did not slay the singed Dawi Zharr blacksmith, who stood working the future tool of death clad from top to toe in an armour suit whose outer layer consisted of obsidian scales.

      Begotten in the fury of a thunderstorm, invigorated by both the soul of a possessed Human and the Daemonic essence of the possessor. Forged during a series of heinous rituals to become an unnatural merger of flesh, lightning, metal and spirit. Heated in flames flickering with tormented faces of Daemon imps. Hardened in barrels of Yheti blood. Trampled upon by arcane horseshoes of stolen Gromril nailed onto the cloven hooves of a blessed Bull Centaur, guardian of the Temple. Enchanted and cursed over and over again by Temple Acolytes. Dedicated to the Father of Darkness Himself and polished in the still-living skin of flayed slaves. This was how it came to be.

      A potent and hungry weapon like few others, its forging would not be truly completed upon that ziggurat northwest of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the Great. Indeed, its creation would not even be finalized in the Dark Lands. To be born was not enough for the Stormforged Axe of Drazhnukul Blackeye, for like any living being it would have to grow in power and pass perilous trials in order to reach its full strength and potential.

      This was the forging of the Stormforged Axe.

      This was the birth of a monster.

      The Dark Gods hailed it with thunder.

      Stolen Fate: Daemonsmith Drazhnukul Blackeye recited bale incantations and anointed the newly forged axe in mystic oil of secret origin. Then he fasted for twelve days in a row, praying and thanking the great Father of Darkness for the divine boon visited upon the stormforging. Slaves were whipped, flayed, maimed and burnt in front of His mighty idols, in honour of influential Daemons of myth, and the Temple received a black iron chest filled with precious metals, gemstones, ancient artefacts and treasured tablets. So grateful was the pious man, that Drazhnukul stripped down to his lointcloth and volunteered to clean up a portion of the malodourous yet sacred Taurus stables. All the while, the Stormforged Axe lay inside a lead casket, locked and shackled and oppressed by fell wards and talismans.

      Once the period of thanksgiving was over, the Daemonsmith donned his tallest hat, bedecked himself with holy amulets and read the omens in smoke, ash, slave guts, fire and molten metal on the potent day of the Festival of Fiery Revelation. And the voracious Bull God granted cryptic revelations which were in turn interpreted by consulting mystic and forbidden scripture; and these interpretations were then subjected to a holy number of twelve different numerological processes of divination; which in turn were chanted out by apprentices sworn to an oath of silence on the hidden matter, while their master lay lifeless in a trance infused by a heady haze steaming out of Daemonic concoctions.

      Out of the conflicting secrets revealed, three predictions were discerned, though no known prophecy made mention of these events to unfold. The first prediction predetermined a blood-soaked career of dark glory and bale renown for whomsoever carried the Stormforged Axe. The second revealed the ascension of the lightning bearer to immortality in the presence of gods and their hallowed servants. The third named him who should become the storm incarnate.

      Hearing, seeing, knowing, Drazhnukul Blackeye proceeded to follow the enigmatic signs of the portents, for he hosted a celebratory clan ceremony where Drazhnukul granted the Stormforged Axe to his capable and ambitious nephew, Adad-Zherak, urging the younger man to test the limits of the powers of the axe and revealing that a great fate awaited him who held the axe. Thus it was that the Daemonsmith doomed himself to die in horrific agony at the vengeful hands of his customer, Sorcerer-Prophet Azhrakul Slagfist, for the revered Sorcerer-Prophet had offered up the wealth, slaves and materials required for Drazhnukul to forge a mighty weapon for the high lord.

      The covetous Sorcerer-Prophet sent out armed men and Hobgoblin spies to find and seize the Stormforged Axe, and incarcerate its bearer into the dreaded Infernal Guard. The sly Adad-Zherak, however, would not be trapped and deprived of his new and powerful treasure, for he swallowed his deep shame and cut his beard short to appear a mere beardling. He also coloured his curly black beard red with a mix of ochre, egg and pig's grease before donning an eyepatch and antique hat, whereupon he sneaked out of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the Great, cutting Hobgoblin throats when necessary to evade detection. He did this by descending down the noisy and dark guts of the grand ziggurat, navigating remote, dripping sewers and abandoned mining tunnels to emerge outside of the curtain walls of the vast and foreboding capital city of the Chaos Dwarf empire.

      Adad-Zherak had managed to slip past the clutches of the furious Sorcerer-Prophet Azhrakul Slagfist by defiling his own beard and slinking out like a Hobgoblin. The shame was heavy, yet his ruthless determination got the better of him. Adad-Zherak enrolled himself as a guardsman in a mechanized caravan, which headed westward across the Plain of Zharr. There, seated upon the iron platform of a trundling transport cart, the Dawi Zharr stared at the heavens as freak lightning from a sudden thunderstorm erupted above. Behind him, his close kinsmen were beaten down in Zharr-Naggrund and found themselves exiled into the infamous Infernal Guard by the warriors of a wrathful client unable to find his treasured weapon.

      The omens were clear, and the choice had been made.

      The fate of the Stormforged Axeman now awaited a young man instead of an old.

      Into the Unknown: Eventually and after many detours, the caravan of metal wagons pulled by smoke-belching Iron Daemons reached the northwesternmost line of forts clustered atop the cracked crater walls which surrounded the Plain of Zharrduk. Out here, the smog and vapours breathed by slave and master alike were less dense, and the smoke columns rising from chimneys fueled by souls or coal were less numerous. This was the outer edge of the Dawi Zharr heartland, a perilous border zone haunted by savage wolf packs, Greenskin raiders and monsters alike, all ready to fall upon run-away slaves and even armed parties of Chaos Dwarfs if they were tempted enough to risk all for a chance at looting rich pickings. Likewise, this was a staging area for great slaving expeditions heading out into the wild Dark Lands and beyond.

      The caravan which Adad-Zherak accompanied made halt at Fort Dhurguz, for a great multitude were amassing outside its sloping obsidian walls, setting up a vast camp of tents, cages and metal wagons. Chaos Dwarf warrior parties from dozens of clans were drawn to the mustering point, haggling and striking contracts with Despots and Daemonsmiths about to head into the untamed wilderness in search of slaves and riches. They were all eager for blood and dark glory earned by trampling the skulls of lesser races into the dust and shackling their throats and limbs for a life of drudgery and misery without neither freedom nor hope.

      A number of returning raiding parties would also be found here at Fort Dhurguz, sporting thousands of slaves, chained to each other in long gangs of whipped and humiliated wretches. Though a few Humans, Ogres and other races were to be found amid the masses of captives, most of the thralls were Greenskins, and these brutes and mites were haggled away to crafty merchants hailing from the interior of the Plain of Zharr or from Dawi Zharr outposts in far-flung parts of the Dark Lands. The forges, fields, mines and quarries of the Dwarfs of Fire were ever thirsty for more forced labour, more slaves and more fuel for the furnace. The slaves would toil away in backbreaking tasks amid dry coal dust and smoke, meeting their grisly ends down in dark mines and manufactories, or they would be slain by callous overseers and sacrificers alike.

      The groans and cries of suffering creatures were everywhere, as were the kicks, the punches, the lashes and the knife cuts dished out by uncaring captors. Hides were flayed, body parts were maimed and flesh was scorched to suppress riotous wastrels. These capricious punishments were also commited against mere unfortunate slaves who happened to be close by when their masters walked out in a bad temper after some unsuccesful haggling or unexpected expenditure. The spilt blood and guts of those who suffered harsh brutality were eagerly licked up from the filthy ground by fellow slaves who could no longer remember a time without hunger clawing inside their stomachs. Elsewhere, hot irons were picked from flames to brand newly sold slaves, and soon could be heard the ghastly sound of panicked shrieks and of heated metal sizzling upon naked flesh.

      Chains and shackles rattled whenever a captured being moved in the slave camp, and the crack of whips was a frequent noise in the cacophony of wretchedness which could never disappear even during sleep. Some slaves slept in their own filth and craved moisture so much as to filter ashen mud water and urine from the puddles through their rags and loinclothes, though few had been left with any semblance of clothes to shelter them from weather and shame. Numerous were those who remained shackled close by to the sick and the dying, feeling the coughs of the diseased upon their scarred skin and finding themselves soiled by vomit or worse. Oftentimes, the Hobgoblins would not even bother to lock open the shackles of a deceased slave, but would just cut off limbs and throat to steal away body parts themselves and throw into the dirt that which they could allow the lowliest slaves to devour raw. The stench of the unwashed slave masses was obscene wherever the drifting smoke blanket failed to dull it down, and flies and vermin plagued the slave pens.

      In other words, it was business as usual, and most of the thralls' captors were already loading up on supplies, fuel and munitions to venture out into the wilds yet another time to capture yet more savages, as soon as this lot of living property had been sold off for a decent price. The demand for slaves was high. Out here, stout and cruel menfolk gathered to sate this ravenous hunger of their dark empire, and they did so with a vengeance.

      It did not take long for a seemingly red-haired beardling to find his place as warrior and raider in one of the slaving expeditions. As a mere beardling, his payment would be low and his tasks the worst ones assigned to Chaos Dwarfs, yet even so he enjoyed grim privileges of cruelty and punishment to visit upon the slaves, even upon the lackey soldiers, the Hobgoblin cutthroats and wolf raiders. Adad-Zherak had purposefully sought out that warband which would venture farthest away from Mingol Zharr-Naggrund, for he wished to evade the Sorcerer-Prophet whose axe the youth now brandished.

      And so, hiding among the war caravans who each day departed the Plain of Zharrduk in hunt of primitives to shackle and subdue, Adad-Zherak boarded a large iron host, heading into the unknown.

      Growth of a Monster: Long and harsh were the travails and hardships endured by the Chaos Dwarfs and their Hobgoblin slave warriors. At first, the armed caravan would crisscross stretches of the barren Dark Lands south of Zorn Uzkul, yet these landscapes were deserted by the Greenskin tribes or otherwise exhausted from previous slave raids. The few Greenskin warparties which were encountered were swiftly crushed and dragged along in chains as fresh meat and engine fodder on the arduous journey. With little yield to be had in the northernmost Blasted Wastes, the caravan headed north, up onto the Great Skull Land where Tauri roamed in ancient times. Since the prices on Human slaves were unusually high at the time, the leaders of the warband decided to strike northwest, through the High Pass and all the perils awaiting them from beast, savage and raw force of nature itself, to descend upon the unsuspecting lands of men beyond the western mountain range.

      And as was determined, so transpired, and through many skirmishes, ambushes and attacks by Greenskin robbers were the strongly armed Chaos Dwarf slaving expedition to overcome the threats facing them, eventually striking deep into the countryside of Kislev. Walled cities shut their gates and prayed for the incursion to pass them by without inflicting serious harm. The peasants blessed by gods and fortune would flee and often abandon their possessions at the approach of this bale host from hell, and soon even the Boyars and the Ungol riders learnt the bloody lesson of staying well away from the firepower and infernal machinery of the Dawi Zharr warband, unless backed up by the might of the Czar himself.

      Unbeknownst to the Chaos Dwarfs, the Czar's armies were at the time occupied in a lenghty campaign against Greenskin tribes striking out from their warrens and dens in the World's Edge Mountains and forests to the south of Kislev, and so it was that the people were left to fend for themselves. Fields and farmsteads were put to the torch in front of the Chaos Dwarf advance, and the hardy woodsmen of Kislev escaped into the wilderness along with their families. Some even staged daring traps and ambushes in the forests, yet most ended miserably for the men of Kislev, who did not know their enemy. The sad fates of these brave men only fuelled rumours of a major Chaos invasion spreading like wildfire, and the Dawi Zharr were quick to impress stark terror upon the populace of Kislev by erecting a dozen bloody spectacles on display at visible locations. There, trembling onlookers could look at decapitated heads piled into pyramids, impaled Kislevites and flayed skins of vanquished foes strung up flat in parody of a man. Such were the tracks left behind by the Chaos Dwarf host.

      The slave yield was low even after crossing the river Lynsk, and the lumbering behemoth that was a mechanized Dawi Zharr war caravan could only trust in their Hobgoblin outriders to snatch up some of the hiding Manlings. Yet on through rolling landscapes the Chaos Dwarfs ventured, ravaging as they went, for they knew that unprepared and softer pickings lay to the southwest past the bleak domains of the Boyars. And they descended upon the periphery of Ostland like a thunderbolt, smashing all border patrols and town militias opposing them, defeating an army of two thousand men in a battle which ended in a slaughter for the losers before reaping thousands of slaves in the countryside. Men, women and children were chained behind the metal wagons, and the Hobgoblin overseers had a hard time whipping everyone into shape. The warband ran out of shackles, and had to resort to chains and fibres of binding looted from Human cottages. Even the young warrior Adad-Zherak earned a hefty amount of captive thralls, and future prospects looked good for the raiders.

      Loading up on fuel and supplies and torching everything left behind of their victims' former possessions, the triumphant raiders made their way back out of Ostland, feared banners raised high to declare high Hashut's dominion over creation and everything and everyone contained therein. The Chaos Dwarf caravan of steel monstrosities and long slave columns stretched out behind the lead Iron Daemon, wreathed in a haze of smoke like dark glory bestowed by the gods of Chaos, yet suddenly their way out was barred.

      The worshippers of the Father of Darkness would not escape the wrath of the Manlings they had so cruelly molested, for the Wizard Ignatius Hochenhelmer of the College of Heavens had gathered about himself a host of three and a half thousand men by issuing false decrees adorned by a fake Elector Count's seal. Ignatius' family had succumbed to the bloodshed of the devil Dwarfs from afar, and he would let nothing stand in his way of revenge. And so the Manlings of the borderlands of Ostland amassed to halt the wicked raiders.

      The battle which followed was bloody and turbulent, and it is said that the Eye of the Gods rested upon the scene of horror and slaughter for a while, before drifting away to larger spectacles of warfare to be found elsewhere. Imperial Huntsmen had managed to shoot down any Hobgoblin scouts mounted on giant wolves riding in front of the war caravan, and so the Dawi Zharr column approached the hastily-set trap without having received warning of what lay ahead. As the lead Iron Daemon rounded a bend in a muddy and rutted forest road, the war engine was blasted apart by a small battery of Great Cannons, thereby halting the train of wagons tethered one behind another to the great steam vehicle, and forcing the Iron Daemons further back in the column to brake hard. The forest road was covered in thick smoke and fires spread from the gutted machine, setting the trees and undergrowth ablaze as the battle raged on.

      Slaves panicked and sent their handlers into disarray as Ostlander militiamen burst from the forest and attacked the exposed flanks of the mechanized column. They managed to free hundreds of slaves bound together in long chain gangs, yet the Manlings could not match the firepower, endurance and elevated positions of the Chaos Dwarfs upon the train wagons. Even when stuck on a narrow forest road did the metal wagon caravan bless its owners with higher ground and meagre fortifications in the middle of hostile territory.

      Soon, the militias were sent packing by shredding gunfire from bands of blunderbuss riflemen, yet their assault had nevertheless managed to pin down the Dawi Zharr to their thin column formation of stuck vehicles, thus paving the way for the frontal assault of disciplined State Troopers who entered the forest and swarmed past the lead Iron Daemon, picking off the Chaos Dwarf crews one by one and conquering the caravan wagon for wagon. Captains, Warrior Priests and banner bearers cheered on their comrades, spurring them to deeds of self-sacrificing valour as they clambered up the spiked sides of the iron monsters, defying certain death and overwhelming the foe piecemeal in the forest. A few Ogre mercenaries dressed in coarse Imperial uniforms smashed Hobgoblins and Chaos Dwarfs alike to bits, and began to topple metal wagons. Behind the regimented companies paced the Celestial Wizard Ignatius Hochenhelmer, reading arcane portents in the Winds of Magic and drawing down occasional lightning bolts from the heavens themselves. Thunder rolled overhead.

      The initial force of this infantry offensive ebbed out against the dogged resistance of the slave raiders, however. The Dawi Zharr were hard to kill and would never abandon their prized machinery to filthy Human scum, so instead of turning to run away they brandished blades and shields and hewed down enemies until they were stabbed a dozen times by swords, spears and halberds. Soon, the militias on the flanks were entirely routed and ran for their lives as frothing giant wolves and gleeful Hobgoblins did what they did best; cut down those who could not defend themselves. As the militias faltered, the Chaos Dwarfs further back in the war caravan marched forward, forming shieldwalls behind lines of shackled meatshield slaves against which no handguns or crossbows could bite. Among the warriors holding a slave chained in front of his shield was Adad-Zherak, and his weapon of heinous origin tasted blood well and fully in the battle. After a while, Chaos Dwarfs armed with hailshot blunderbuss and Fireglaive formed ranks and fired away in lethal salvoes which scythed down the Manlings among the trees.

      As the brunt of the Human attack wore out, the Chaos Dwarfs advanced methodically, chanting heinous hymns to high Hashut and His dread court of fire and darkness, threatening their enemy in fell language with the vengeance of Dark Gods and Daemons alike. Then, the State Troopers turned and fled when the Daemonsmith Druzhkul Cinderbrow clambered aboard a reclaimed Deathshrieker wagon and cast dark sorcery of ashen horror and hellfire upon the Manlings. The inferno of the forest fire were only fuelled by this grim deed, and the Ostlanders could not withstand the flames as could the dour and tough sons of darkness in their Blackshard armour suits. The Human host started to rout and its captains were unable to halt the flight.

      Seeing his chance at revenge slipping from his fingers, the Celestial Wizard Ignatius drew upon more arcane power than most Manling magicians could ever hope to master, and managed to overcome the otherworldly perils through sheer force of will alone. He jumped up atop the wrecked Iron Daemon, his blue robes swirling among the fires and thick smoke, and he yelled a curse before killing Daemonsmith Druzhkul Cinderbrow outright with a mighty lightning bolt which nearly blinded bystanders. The forest flashed intensely white and lightning whipped out, and both Druzkhul and the Deathshrieker rocket wagon he had been standing atop were no more. The remaining parts lay scattered in heaps of blood and scrap among shocked Chaos Dwarfs.

      And then Ignatius Hochenhelmer struck the Chaos Dwarf host and their unwilling slave captives with the fury of the gods.

      Lightning rained down, killing trees, slaves and foreign invaders alike. Forked lightning struck from the heavens like hail, slaying Hobgoblins outright and blasting Dawi Zharr dead or unconscious to the ground. In this torrent of celestial wrath, not even the hardy Chaos Dwarf warriors could survive for long. As many muttered protective mantras or offered wicked prayers and promises of future sacrifice to Hashut, Adad-Zherak the youth barged out from the buckling shieldwall and roared a challenge to the Celestial Wizard. From the direction of the destroyed lead Iron Daemon, lightning answered his call with unerring accuracy, striking time and time again into the raider who had dared to challenge Ignatius. Bystanders could scarcely see for the repeated flashes of lightning bolts.

      Yet out of the heavenly barrage walked the Dawi Zharr unscathed. The Stormforged Axe in his hand had devoured the lightning bolts akin to how a starved creature would gulp down food. Its appetite had been ravenous, and now its deadly meal was finished off with Manling Blood as Adad-Zherak climbed aboard the gutted machine and set about to maim Ignatius Hochenhelmer, Celestial Wizard of the College of Heavens, into twelve times twelve little pieces. The arcane weapon hissed and sparked in the bearer's hand as it cut asunder the man who had fed it such power, and the remaining soldiery of Osterland turned and fled from the battlefield at the sight of the gory atrocity.

      Those Manling warriors who survived the battle and forest fire, were shackled as slaves or had their bones broken, their teeth cracked, their skin flayed and their limbs and manhood mutilated before being offered up as sacrifice to the triumphant Bull God in a great victory pyre erected by His devout tribe of followers. As part of the heinous ritual celebrations, omens were read in both flames, ashes, smoke and Human intestines, and the portents were read to be favourable. The cinders, ashes and burnt bones of the pyre were afterward buried in shallow trenches in the shape of an eight-pointed Chaos star, which was then covered by mud and slave dung before being cursed in blasphemous ways so that no green plant would ever take root there again, and this came to pass by the will of the Dark Gods, and the Children of Chaos would later flock to that hallowed spot.

      The next day, Adad-Zherak led a party of Chaos Dwarfs and Hobgoblins into an untouched border village. They killed whoever resisted, seized all precious possessions of the Manlings, stripped them of clothes and jewelry and then herded them into the local temple of Sigmar. There, the Dawi Zharr smashed the relics, tore the holy scripture to pieces, crushed the impure altar and defiled and defaced the idols of the false Man-God. Then, dark curses and dedications to Hashut were read over the captives. The church was set ablaze with due ceremony, and all the villagers succumbed to the flames in horrific agonies. Not a slave was taken, for every Human in the village had been offered up as a bloody offering to the Father of Darkness.

      This fell deed was carried out by the Dawi Zharr to honour Chaos in general and their own Dark God and lord in particular. These actions likewise served to humiliate the trampled enemy of the Chaos Dwarfs further still, as was right and proper.

      Its hunger sated by lightning and blood in the distant west, the Stormforged Axe remained silent throughout the whole ritual procedure.

      It would not stay silent for long.

      Such was the growth of a monster.

      Maturation of a Monster: The blessing of Dark Gods allowed the surviving Daemonsmith to cover the war caravan in a thick haze of ensorcelled ash and smog, and though the captive slaves suffered horrendously as their lungs were clogged by soot, the unnatural cover of darkness made the Manlings of Kislev stay away from the repaired vehicles and the long columns of shackled slaves. Behind them were left some unsalvagable spare parts, but the Chaos Dwarfs ensured they could carry with them as much of the wrecked wagons as possible , not least to hinder Human artisans from reverse engineering marvels of technology which no savage cretin should ever be allowed to understand.

      Thus it was that fear of Daemons lurking in the smoke allowed the ravaged but proud Dawi Zharr to march out of Kislev nearly uncontested. It was a well-founded fear, for malicious Daemons did indeed skulk in the arcane smoke cover, and every now and then they would snatch away one or two of those who were not protected by sorcerous wards befitting only masters, not slaves. Thus Humans and even the odd Hobgoblin disappeared in the thick smog, some without leaving a trace behind, others in the form of bare bones or empty skins discarded out of thin air by shadowy hands, tentacles and still stranger body parts. Utter terror gripped the slaves, and this was true even of hardened Orcs and devious Goblins captured by the Dawi Zharr as they neared the World's Edge Mountains again.

      Adad-Zherak was hailed by his fellow raiders as a mighty warrior touched by Hashut Himself in His guise as the Great Thunderbull, the Lightning Father, He Who Rapes the Earth; for the young man had withstood the test of lightning and survived, his axe of weird forging stronger than ever before. From now on Adad-Zherak would be known as Thunderskull, and woe betide him who dared stretch out his hand to touch the Stormforged Axe, for only the covetous slayer of Ignatius allowed himself to wear it, and some whispered that the Daemon inside was gaining influence over Adad-Zherak's mind.

      The journey back through the High Pass witnessed a Skaven ambush up in the mountains. Two-legged vermin skittered nervously out from their tunnels and warrens, swarming down in great numbers to lay waste to the Chaos Dwarf warparty down in the pass. This time, the distance between those ambushed and the visible ambushers was far greater than in the forests of Ostland, and so the Dawi Zharr artillery train fixed its deadly weaponry upon the vile ratmen and fired away, blasting through ranks in torrents of flames and Daemonic fire, tearing smoking holes in the swarm and searing Clanrats and Skavenslaves alike to death. At closer range, blunderbusses and Fireglaives opened up, sending the attacking waves into disarray and forcing Skaven to trample each other in a panicked stampede as the front ranks sought to escape while the rear ranks still pressed on. Dark sorcery joined the maelstrom of firepower, finally breaking the Skaven horde to a cost of miniscule casualties.

      This good fortune did not last, for a small battery of Warplightning Cannons were firing away at the war caravan in bursts of sizzling and erratic energy bolts. Though all but one of the Skaven artillery pieces were destroyed by the heavy Chaos Dwarf response, the surviving Warplightning Cannon still managed to destroy all three remaining Deathshrieker Rocket Launchers while its Warpstone-infused protective aura deflected the Daemonsmith's sorcery. Truly, the mad rats of Clan Skryre were masters of tamed lightning, far surpassing even the ken of Hashut's children. With most of their long-range artillery crippled, the slow Dawi Zharr and their warmachines were sitting ducks for the Clan Skryre engineer directing the last Warplightning Cannon, and soon gaping holes were torn up in the Chaos Dwarfs' ranks. A barrage like it had rarely been seen spitting from a single artillery piece, and nothing could stop it. Whipped into shape again by their overlords, the Skaven infantry scurried out of their holes for yet another attack.

      What saved the war caravan from complete devastation was Adad-Zherak Thunderskull's charge uphill, ignoring direct orders from his superiors to stay in formation. Adad-Zherak barged up the mountainside toward the lone Warplightning Cannon, despite hundreds of vermin standing in his way, blocking his path with rusty weapons and yellowed teeth. The Chaos Dwarf's slow advance allowed the nervous Skryre engineer to aim his powerful weapon at the fool who dared to attack the vaunted machine on his own. The giant chunk of Warpstone sizzled as power was forced out of it through cables, and the Skaven engineer fired.

      It was a lethal mistake.

      The overcharged Warplightning Cannon detonated, killing all nearby Skaven instantly in a halo of rogue Warplightning. Nevertheless, a burst of directed Warplightning escaped through the cannon's barrel, striking Adad-Zherak like a Giant's fist. Once again, the Stormforged Axe absorbed lightning, though hailing from fell powers it did, yet some of the Warplightning went through Adad-Zherak Thunderskull and singed the Chaos Dwarf with forces sufficient to kill a Manling outright. The weapon, however, drank these forces to become absurdly powerful, emitting sorcerous sparks of black, white and green which shielded the bearer from arrows and other missiles, whether arcane or mundane, by incinerating the projectiles. The entrapped Daemon throbbed with increased power from the Warplightning bolt, and the Skaven soiled themselves at the sight of what came next.

      Sparks flew from the Dawi Zharr's tusks and curled beard, and with a mad roar he charged into the ranks of fearful Skaven, hewing left and right. He killed dozens with each crackling sweep of the axe regardless of if it struck anything or not, for each swipe of the axe released terrible energies jolting out in lethal bolts of fell lightning. When Warlock Engineers attempted to halt the mass murderer with wicked magic, the arcane energies of the hostile spells were grounded akin to lightning passing into the ground. The power of the Stormforged Axeman was terrible to behold, and the Skaven fled in fear before him, abandoning all equipment and trampling each other as they rushed back inside the tunnels and pits from which they had emerged.

      From below in the valley, a triumphant chant which praised high Hashut was heard from the Dawi Zharr war caravan, yet it soon fell silent as they saw what walked down towards them.

      It was Adad-Zherak Thunderskull, weapon spitting lightning bolts in his hand, madness in his eyes.

      This was the maturation of a monster.

      The Dark Gods hailed it with thunder.

      Descent Into Hell: Adad-Zherak Thunderskull brusquely did away with the correct victory ceremonies and took command over the surviving warband. Even the leaders of it were awestruck by the supernatural powers apparent in the Stormforged Axeman, and all present Chaos Dwarfs viewed these powers as evidence of the Bull God's divine and unholy favour. Thus the rejection of sacred traditions passed by in fearful silence, for would really someone chosen by Hashut Himself need to commune with the dark deity in the manner of mortal worshippers?

      Adad-Zherak forced the Chaos Dwarf warriors to swear oaths of fealty to him as their new overlord. This was a stunning demand which the Dawi Zharr, ever unwilling to become oathbreakers, would only accept when the power-mad killer failed to enforce upon them an oath that would break all previous oaths and allegiences of theirs. Yet still they sealed their doom by swearing this oath to Thunderskull, for none of them would die in service of their original lords.

      The demented axeman led the war caravan back to Zharr-Naggrund on a drudging trek through the northern Dark Lands. His desire to reach the capital of the dark empire was so fierce that Adad-Zherak would not delay himself by grasping even the most opportune moments to catch Greenskin tribes unaware and shackle some more slaves.

      Indeed, the slave columns were thinning out as many died off during the arduous journey, and likewise were the coal bins running empty. Adad-Zherak at first applied his own solution to the problem, by stripping every slave of all clothes to burn, thereby humiliating them greatly. When the clothes and the dead slaves themselves had been burnt along with most of the remaining coal, Adad-Zherak Thunderskull ordered his Hobgoblin lackeys to shave off all hair and beards of the survivors to fuel the steam engines. When this was not enough, he ordered living slaves to be forced into the fires, cut up into pieces if necessary as in the case of the few Ogres, thereby carrying the war caravan into the Plain of Zharr, empty-handed and with a leader unwilling to refuel for reasons unknown and uncaring.

      On foot, the surviving war party of Chaos Dwarfs and Hobgoblins wandered over the vast Plain of Zharr, passing through a landscape of nightmare industry, mining and quarrying. They breathed the smog and the smoke. They heard the thunderstorms yet scarcely saw neither sun nor sky. They saw the ruddy infernal glare of the furnaces. They waded through streams of tar, slime and polluted water. They passed by vast slave plantations were hardy grains and other plants were sown and harvested to feed a vast population of slaves and masters. They climbed hillocks of slag and waste gravel from the mines and had to walk around large, gaping wounds in the ashen earth were Dawi Zharr open-pit mining had clawed and carved vast holes down through the rock. They passed by sinkholes and cracked rocks where earthquakes had torn and shifted the landscape violently. They passed by fields of obsidian, smoking fissures and sizzling lava pools. They passed by great monuments and ziggurat mansions of mighty leaders. They passed by fortified clan settlements, fortresses and immense manufactories where tens of thousands of slaves were worn down in backbreaking labour each and every day. They passed by scenes of bloody sacrifice and stark cruelty heinous enough to make a heart of stone bleed. They passed by soulforges where horrendous shrieks emanated from Daemons being broken and dominated just as were the mortal slaves of the masters. They passed by nightmare machinery and ingenious inventions concocted by madmen. They passed by mass graves and rotting carcasses of beasts of burden, foul corpses and the soot-stained bones of dead slaves.

      They passed by in this hell on earth, and they knew it to be good, for they were its devils.

      A Silent Murder: Upon returning home did Adad-Zherak Thunderskull enter the Gates of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the Great without uttering a word, for his greatness would speak for itself. The crowds of Chaos Dwarfs and the teeming multitude of slaves stared at the otherworldly sight of the Stormforged Axeman, and no one neither spoke nor tried to stop him. The guards stepped back and bowed low. The crowds parted before him in the street, turning his ascent up the gigantic ziggurat city into a stunned parade of silence. Close to the very top of the mountainous settlement, close to the Temple of Hashut itself, did Adad-Zherak at last enter a dwelling. It was the palace of Sorcerer-Prophet Azhrakul Slagfist, and he entered it unresisted, for the locked and barred gates opened up before him.

      All the warriors and all the court of the mighty ruler stood back, quiet and transfixed. They watched as the Stormforged Axeman walked alone through the hall of many pillars and mighty idols. They watched as Adad-Zherak paced unopposed up the richly embroidered carpet laid out over the broad obsidian stairs leading up to the liege's dreaded throne. They watched as the Stormforged Axeman butchered the paralyzed Sorcerer-Prophet Azhrakul Slagfist with a weapon of lightning which the high lord himself had paid for. They watched as he walked out again, without claiming the vanquished foe's harem, possessions or followers as his own.

      They watched the death of one of the most powerful rulers of Zharr-Naggrund unfold, and no one uttered a word.

      Deeds of a Monster: Adad-Zherak Thunderskull left Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the Great to never return, and his followers followed him wherever he went. The favour of both Dark Gods and fickle Daemons were his to enjoy, for they wished to carry him high, high like few others, and the hand of Khorne was at work.

      Thus it was that the Stormforged Axeman trekked the face of the world at random, ever in search of new champions to vanquish. He cut a swathe wherever he went, for he went on a killing spree in which Adad-Zherak slayed Orc Warbosses, Ogre Tyrants, Kurgan Warlords, Indic Rajahs and Kislevite Boyars alike. They were all grizzled and deadly warleaders of great repute, and they all fell before him. Hundreds upon hundreds of lesser warriors, beasts and monsters fell before the Stormforged Axe of Daemonsmith Drazhnukul Blackeye, the fell weapon birthed as a crossbreed between man and Daemon, empowered by celestial thunder and perfected by lightning from the Realm of Chaos.

      Lives were lost and homes lay in smoking ruins wherever the Stormforged Axeman went, and mortals trembled at his coming while the Eye of the Gods savoured every act of savage bloodshed.

      These were the deeds of a monster.

      Alone But Chosen: After several years of combat, not one of Adad-Zherak Thunderskull's followers remained alive, for they all died in his service, receiving neither scorn nor gratitude. They simply followed him, and died.

      The Stormforged Axeman was gripped by such hubris that he no longer were interested in recruiting lesser warriors. Why have others to wage his war for him? Thus he wandered alone, killing and maiming as he went, until finally, Adad-Zherak came by chance upon a cracked, chipped and weathered stele in the southwestern Dark Lands. The stele was ancient, and described the forgotten prophecy of Harzhakulnippar the Lost, written in interchangable Khaozalid and Dark Tounge script. The prophecy spoke of the bearer of lightning climbing the Thundertusk mountain far to the north to challenge the Dragon Ogres, akin to how Bhaal the Bull Centaur had climbed Blizzardpeak in ancient times, and there the bearer of lightning would ascend into the Realm of Chaos, borne upon Daemonic wings into eternal immortality.

      Adad-Zherak Thunderskull read this, and knew it to be true.

      The Stormforged Axeman had been bestowed with a higher purpose.

      Death of a Monster: Far to the north did the lone Dwarf of Fire travel, into the Chaos Wastes and hardships untold. Mortal men and beasts all fell before him, and his mortal might was never greater than up there, close to the Gate of the Dark Gods in the frigid north. His clothes and armour were reduced to rags, yet the Stormforged Axe was neither corroded nor chipped nor dulled. He became a living legend, a chosen champion hailing from the tribe of the Blacksmiths of Chaos yet fighting only for himself with lightning in hand and knowing neither god nor fear. Warriors uncounted sought him out to duel, only to die, for each and every one of them were hewed down with neither mercy nor pity.

      Yet even as Adad-Zherak's infamy grew did the prize he sought for foil him, for the ever-shifting landscapes of madness would never host the Thundertusk in the same position twice. It would appear and disappear at random in unpredictable locations about eighty leagues south of the northern Polar Gate. Thus it was that the killer stalked this mountain like a beast of prey, threatening and torturing Daemons, hags and migrating tribes alike for clues as to its whereabouts. Blood was spilled everywhere and unbelievable secrets were told, yet the task remained an elusive one.

      Adad-Zherak searched far and wide for years on end, his eyes gleaming with gross madness from the baleful energies of Chaos saturating the very landscape. He saw Thundertusk mountain in the distance eleven times, and each time did he travel for hours and even days with his goal in sight, yet he failed to reach it whenever a thunderstorm enveloped the mountain, robbing him of it like a mirage would a desert wanderer.

      Eventually, after long years of hardship and plunging insanity, the Stormforged Axeman caught sight of the Thundertusk for the twelfth time, and this time he managed to reach the nomad mountain during a terrible storm. Adad-Zherak Thunderskull climbed the steep mountain even as the thunderstorm grew worse, fighting off harpies, vultures and Forsaken Warriors of Chaos hiding among the crags and crevices. The Stormforged Axe flashed in tandem with the roiling, mad heavens, and anyone who barred his way fell dead down the precipice.

      Adad-Zherak at last reached the top of the rocky mountain, and there he found a clan of Dragon Ogres, for they were vigorously rejoicing in a dark feast and were all bathing in lightning atop the Thundertusk, arrayed around their mighty Shaggoth ancestor in a primal ritual of enormous force. In the hail of lightning did the celebrating Dragon Ogres not even notice the savage Chaos Dwarf before he marched into their midst to bellow and declare his superiority. Adad-Zherak Thunderskull claimed himself, with a strong voice, to be the lord of lightning, and he had come there to prove it.

      The lesser Dragon Ogres made way and kept their distance out of respect for the apparent raw power of the Stormforged Axe, yet the Shaggoth was unmoved by the mortal's display. Indeed, the Shaggoth insulted the puny Dawi Zharr for a fool and a weakling not even fit to lord it over sparks in animal fur.

      Thus it was, that the Stormforged Axeman charged the Shaggoth with a heinous curse upon his lips, yet no cut with the arcane weapon could even scrape the scales of the ancient monster. In response, the Shaggoth raised his brightly glowing mace to the skies, and with it he cast down the father of all lightning bolts into the Stormforged Axe of Daemonsmith Drazhnukul Blackeye. The mighty weapon that had been the bane of countless lives were there and then sundered into a thousand shards, each containing a shred of the Human soul and an echo of the former power of the Stormforged Axe. There they were left on the Thundertusk, to become treasured artefacts hunted for by Human Sorcerors and Aspiring Champions of the far north, all possessed by a ravenous hunger for power.

      Yet upon the destruction of the Stormforged Axe, the imprisoned Daemon escaped and carried the panicked Adad-Zherak Thunderskull screaming and clawing into the Realm of Chaos upon Daemonic wings to an eternal immortality of suffering.

      Thus was the ancient prophecy of Harzhakulnippar the Lost fulfilled.

      This was the death of a monster.

      The Dark Gods hailed it with thunder.

    • The Chaos Dwarfs' society is a ravenous one, ever hungry for more slaves to toil amongst its industries, mines and quarries. In order to supply all this labour, the Dawi Zharr takes to the sea in smoke-belching metal warships. This is a tale of three types of ship used by the Zharr-Naggrund navy, and a tale of the names that will linger with the vessels long after the infamous Chaos Dwarfs in question died.

      The Grappler boarding ship, and the greed of Kar-Zhul

      One of many variant vessels in the Chaos Dwarf navy, the Grappler is an ironclad ship designed for locking enemy ships in place by hammering large, clawed metal arms into their decks. With the arms in place, boarding teams of Chaos Dwarfs and Hobgoblin Sneaky Gits use the arms to attack the victim ship. Normally the arms are pulled into an upright position by heavy chains, drawn by Daemonic machines fuelled with slaves and ensorcelled coal. The Grappler also have frontal Magma Cannons and side cannons for armament, as well as Blunderbuss firing parapets at the fore. With little space to spare beneath deck, the Grappler's grand statuary shrine to Hashut is situated on top of a platform on the aft castle. From here, their god follow the Chaos Dwarfs' boarding actions with a judgemental glow in his eyes.

      There is much of value to salvage at sea. Especially for the Chaos Dwarfs, whose hunger for slaves, mine props, metal and other materials is never sated. Destroying ships would ruin their boarding value, so many Chaos Dwarf captains instead seek to claim victim ships by force and terror through boarding parties.

      The Grappler is built for this task of capturing ships, and few vessels have ever escaped its massive arms without them being winched back. The force of the arms' impact, however, is great enough to damage the Grappler's hull despite dampening timber blocks. The renowned Dawi Zharr enslaver Kar-Zhul once prowled the seas in search of coastal-sailing Indan dhows. During his long voyage, Kar-Zhul gathered a whole fleet of captured large merchant dhows, manned by their enslaved crew and commandeered by Chaos Dwarf and Hobgoblin taskmasters.

      The opulent Rajah Salihindi's royal dhow was amongst the captured ships, the Rajah's favourite elephant crushed beneath deck by the clawed arms of Kar-Zhul's Grappler Zhargon's Legacy. Having amassed dozens of captured dhows, Kar-Zhul set course for the mouth of the River Ruin. The Chaos Dwarf Grappler's metal hull was so weakened by the grappling arms' repeated impacts that it cracked during a monsoon storm, and was swallowed by the roaring waves. Seeing their enslaver drowned in the Lizard Sea, the Indan crewmen attacked their taskmasters, throwing the Hobgoblins and Chaos Dwarfs into the depths of the ocean.

      The Hellbarge, and how Itshnik was maimed

      A cheap, mass-produced ship, the Hellbarge is a simple freighter with a Daemonic ram at the fore, filthy slave pens beneath deck and a thoroughly chained Hellcannon on deck. Introduced lately into the Chaos Dwarf navy, the Hellbarge is used as a small but powerful artillery platform, well suited for bombarding fortified harbours or for battles in the narrow confines of archipelagos. Some Hellbarges include rocket ammunition that is fed into the Hellcannon's furnace just as the slaves are cast into it, providing the Hellcannon a greater firing impact but also higher risks for the Hellbarge.

      Despite some very heavy chains and powerful runes of control, the Hellbarge is a gamble, a short-sighted investment aimed at reaping great profit before its destruction. Perhaps all the ship's crew and slaves will be killed when the Daemon break loose, or perhaps it will thrust forward toward the enemy. In case of the latter eventuality, the Hellbarge is equipped with a Daemonic ram capable of capturing the Hellcannon's forward momentum to propel the vessel straight ahead at the foe. Sometimes the Hellcannon bypass the ram's grip, running through or even jumping over it into the ocean to thrash through the waves in search of prey. Indeed, the expendable Hellbarge is sometimes used as a boarding vessel, which rams an enemy ship and lets loose the furious Hellcannon.

      Since the Hellcannon is expected to eventually tear its fetters and run amok, the Hellbarge has but a skeleton crew of low-caste Chaos Dwarf cannoneers, mariners and warriors. The warriors' task is to provide a backbone to possible boarding actions. Most of the crew consist of Hobgoblins, wicked jailers who does not shy away from slashing the live Hellcannon fuel with their curved knives, often letting the slaves bleed half dry before a battle. As long as there is no unexpected shortage of ammunition, their even more cruel Chaos Dwarf overlords do not bother with noticing the agony games of the Greenskins.

      One Hellbarge captain was Zakuresh the Harsh, who almost got to join the ranks of the Infernal Guard after slaying a rival in an unorthodox torch duel. Zakuresh barely escaped disgrace by taking to the sea in the Hellbarge
      Bloodcast in search of plunder and slaves to appease his sorcerous master. An unforgiving captain, Zakuresh was known to regularly subject slaves to water torture and roast Hobgoblins alive at the merest hint of disobedience or slow wits. Apart from ordinary physical punishment, wrong-doing crewmen were forced to bear not a high hat or a metal mask, but instead a low hat of humiliation. Truly, Zakuresh was unforgiving like few others.

      It was Zakuresh who blasted apart the great Bretonnian Galleon Heart of Valour, saving much of its crew only to reload his Hellcannon with it for some high shots against determined Pegasus Knights. It was Zakuresh who denied the Dreadfleet the rich loot in bodies aboard the Dark Elf Death Fortress Nilyran's Claw by unleshing the Hellcannon upon the Sea Hydra's towers to devour the whole live cargo while barely escaping Count Noctilus' pursuit with his Hellbarge. It was Zakuresh who let steer Bloodcast and two other Hellbarges into a closed Nipponese harbour during night, capturing the great Marienburger vessel Aterdhame whilst simultaneously causing havoc amongst the armoured turtle ships that rowed out to stop them.

      Through brutality and lucky recklessness, Zakuresh became infamous for carrying through suicidal attacks and surviving them. He also survived several rampaging Hellcannons, once even destroying such a bloodthirsty warmachine by cutting off its heavy wheels with his Daemonic rune axe before rolling the struggling barrel into a raging sea. There, the wounded Daemon and a blood-crazed Megalodon fought each other to death.

      The Chaos Dwarf captain's most daring act was carried out at his demise. He was searching for warpstone, a dangerous material often mixed into the coal bins of the Dawi Zharr. With only
      Bloodcast and the Hull Destroyers Chaos' Fury and Death's Gaol at his command, Zakuresh knew that the chance of successfully completing his mission in time was nil unless allies were found. Striking a pact with the Skaven of Clan Tyzzkrafft, Zakuresh made Warlord Itshnik the Backstabber agree to supply him with warpstone in exchange for the Chaos Dwarf warships' services.

      During a three-year long naval campaign across the seas, Zakuresh's squadron earned its payment twice over. Rival Warlord fleets were teared asunder as the brunt of the Dawi Zharr onslaught was released, spearheading Clan Tyzzkrafft's strikes into the enemy's heart. Sleek Elven ships and dozens of merchant vessels were caught, and several vengeful man-things flotillas were sunk by the Hull Destroyers and pulverised by the Hellbarge.
      Death's Gaol was lost during the great hunt for the Black Leviathan Sindra, swallowed whole by the sea monster yet buying time for the Skaven Warpraiders to broil her.

      Zakuresh's single-minded determination to fulfil his mission was demonstrated when he once had to return to Zharr-Naggrund to replace his lost Hellcannon. During the voyage, his ships boarded the great Cathayan merchantman
      Zin-Lao close to the High Elf Tower of the Sun, finding a treasure of jade, spices, ivory and exotic furs in its vast cargohold. Most importantly, however, was the thousands of high-quality Cathayan cast iron ingots discovered in the junk's aft section. Such a load of valuable raw material would have fetched thousands of slaves and plenty of prestige in Zharr-Naggrund, yet Zakuresh sent Chaos' Fury to escort the Zin-Lao to Clan Tyzzkrafft's secret harbour. No sacrifice was too great to fulfil his assigned duty.

      When the three years of settled service to the ratmen were drawing to their end, Warlord Itshnik led his entire fleet against the rival Clan Skiss' rocky coastal bolthole. Zakuresh the Harsh's warships played a pivotal role in the part siege, part sea battle. Loading the Hellcannon to the maximum with slaves, the Hellbarge
      Bloodcast roared and rocked as a mighty shot of shrieking souls cracked the heavy wooden gate to Clan Skiss' sea cave open. The gate, which had been fashioned by Greenskin slaves to make the fortress appear Orcish as a way of feinting, collapsed into the sea as tormented souls broke every tree log and iron nail in it. Through the cave opening, great portions of the recently expanded fleet of Clan Tyzzkrafft moved in for the kill. However, as Skiss and Tyzzkrafft ships made battle in the gloom inside, Warlord Itshnik released his trap in the open day outside.

      Not wanting to part with any precious warpstone, Itshnik the Backstabber once again upheld his name by turning on his allies. As seven Deathburner warships hired from Clan Pestilence simultaneously turned against the two remaining Chaos Dwarf vessels, Zakuresh realized that he had been double-crossed. Fuming with black wrath, the Dawi Zharr captain reacted instantly.
      Chaos' Fury was sent toward the assailants, sinking one with its great ram before all of the crew lay dead from the poisonous gasses secreted by the Deathburners. This sacrifice won enough time for Bloodcast to escape the toxic air. With its Hellcannon already heaving with anger and bloodlust after the massive shot, Zakuresh ordered all remaining slaves to be shuffled into its furnace. This produced an outburst from the Daemonic warmachine, who broke its schackles and crashed into the Hellbarge's reinforced fore. The Daemonic ram caught the Hellcannon, sending Bloodcast dashing across the waves, aimed at Itshnik's flagship, the Doombringer Itshnik II. The force of the ramming attack sent the huge Skaven vessel careening portside.

      With every Chaos Dwarf and Hobgoblin from Bloodcast rounded up behind him, Zakuresh the Harsh led the charge onto
      Itshnik II. With axes, blunderbusses and knives in their hands, the ten Chaos Dwarfs and twentyeight Hobgoblins carved a bloody path to the Skaven warship's command deck. Skavenslaves and Clanrats were massacred in the cramped confines until they turned tail and trampled their comrades. The Chaos Dwarf boarding was vicious in the extreme, and even expensive Moulder creatures proved insufficient to stop Zakuresh's advance. Meanwhile, the Hellcannon was on a bloody tour of its own, smashing its way below deck and slaughtering everything as it went.

      As the few surviving Chaos Dwarfs and Hobgoblins reached the command deck, they found Itshnik hiding behind a massive throne of bone, iron and wood, a masquerading Clanrat sitting on it in his place. The Hobgoblins spread out and knifed down the Eshin Nightrunners hiding about the command deck. Cutting down the Clanrat, Zakuresh pulled out Itshnik by his tail, severing it from the ratman's body and forcing him against a wall. With his axe to the Skaven Warlord's throat, Zakuresh asked his former ally:

      "Do you wish a swift death, Vermin?"
      "Y-yes-yes, by the Horned One I do," replied Itshnik.
      "Such is not the punishment for your crime," Zakuresh informed him.

      The four remaining Dawi Zharr crewmen seized Itshnik by his arms and legs, and stretched him out between them. With savage swipes, Zakuresh severed the Skaven's feet from his legs, then his lower legs from his knees, and then his thighs from his hips. Then Itshnik was cast down onto the wooden deck, whereupon the Chaos Dwarf captain first cut off his hands, then his elbows, and then his shoulders. By the time Zakuresh had finished cutting up the Warlord's torso, Itshnik the Backstabber was long dead.

      A single Chaos Dwarf warrior escaped the bloodshed and managed to return home to Zharr-Naggrund through years of hardship. Limping on one good leg, he told the Sorcerers of how Itshnik was maimed. He told them how the frenzied Hellcannon eventually sank Clan Tyzzkrafft's flagship, and how Zakuresh the Harsh disappeared beneath a tide of Giant Rats on the open command deck. With a nod, the Sorcerers accepted the disgraced survivor's story and sent him to the barracks of the Infernal Guard.

      The Chaos Dwarf tugboat, and the wonder of Azhnerek the Visionary

      Traditionally, there have been few if any dedicated tugboats in the Chaos Dwarf navy. When large, salvaged vessels or sea monsters had to be tugged, the warships anchored chains and tugged the booty back to port. Occasionally, this could be hazardous if enemy flottillas appeared, or if the sealing work done proved insufficient.

      Once, fully half of a Dawi Zharr battleflett was sunk during a major towing operation after a raid against Cathay's southern navy. As the Chaos Dwarfs tugged hundreds of junks filled with slaves and plunder across the ocean, a Dark Elven fleet appeared at the horizon. Though vastly outnumbered and outgunned, the commander of the Dark Elf force, Lokhir Fellheart, seized the golden opportunity to strike when most of the Chaos Dwarf ships were locked in towing service. Sinking many ships, both Cathayan and Chaos Dwarfen, and capturing one quarter of the junks, the Dark Elf captain left the battle as rapidly as he had entered it.

      In response to this audacious act, Hellsmith Azhnerek (the husband of three, the father of twelve and an ambitious engineer) constructed his tugboat, which found a place in most larger raiding parties since few Sorcerers wanted to be caught off guard at sea again. Amassing slaves, prestige and metal as payment, Azhnerek the Visionary began his next work.

      Having observed the need to resupply fuel and ammunition as a hindrance to the Chaos Dwarf navy's long range capabilities, Azhnerek let construct a mobile port and storehouse of immense size. It is built upon a mighty Daemonic rock calfed from the Southern Wastes, and it is shaped akin to Zharr-Naggrund itself. As an engineer's sacrifice to Hashut, the floating base is intentionally oversized and lack mechanized transportation for all but the largest of supply wares. Its battlements bristles with weaponry, and thousands of slaves labour day and night to transport wares up and down its great stairs. A fleet of tugboats is required to move the naval fortress, and it is constantly watched over by at least two Battlebarges plus escort ships. Beneath the water line, docking caves for submersible vessels have been created. In the skies, Great Taurus riders can be seen flying. Through a great investment of slave lives and materials, Azhnerek the Visionary's plans have seen fruitition. Although its practical value for the navy is disputed, the Ziggurat of the Seas is one of the true wonders of the Chaos Dwarfs.

      The Ziggurat of the Seas

      Key list for Ziggurat top surface overview map
      1 = Great Leveller Cannon
      2 = Thunderfire Rocket Launcher
      3 = Minor artillery battery
      4 = Crane
      5 = Railroad
      6 = Stairway
      7 = Surface storehouse
      8 = Barracks
      9 = Great Taurus stables
      10 = Shrine of Hashut
      * Battlebarge, for size comparison

      The post was edited 1 time, last by Karak Norn Clansman ().

    • Written by: KNC
      Illustrated by: @forgefire

      A choice number of Human warriors of Chaos from the north have been honoured with the legend of the Cursed Ore throughout the ages. After hearing this vile Dawi Zharr myth, none of them could ever again trust those invaluable Chaos Dwarf artefacts which they had come into possession of by barter or by payment for service. Yet such is the reward for the lost and the damned, and amidst the laughter of the uncaring Dark Gods they might just make out a deep background sound, as if from rolling thunder and the snorting of a great bull...

      The Curse: It all began long ago, when the ascendant Daemonsmith Grimdur Gutwrencher led a contingent of the Infernal Guard in pursuit of the fleeing horde of Orc Shaman Jark Facestompa. The hunt across the vast nightmare expanse of the Dark Lands was long and arduous, and many times the Chaos Dwarfs seemed to have lost track of their faster yet lazier foes. Yet every time this occurred, Grimdur would curse the ashen earth upon which he stood, sacrifice a slave on the spot, and the Father of Darkness would grant him a vision to follow.

      So it was, that Grimdur Gutwrencher pursued his prey across blasted landscapes and down tectonic cracks, deep into the bowels of the dead volcano Azgorh. After weeks of unrelenting stalking, the Dawi Zharr cornered the hiding Greenskins, who were all sleeping out of exhaustion in an ancient magma chamber. Even when a Snotling raised the alarm, most Orcs and Goblins were too worn out to care. Grimdur's Infernal Guards butchered the leaders and the largest of the Greenskins before enslaving the rest and putting them in rusty chains that would slowly eat away their wrists and ankles.

      However, Jark Facestompa woke up in time to rally his bodyguard of ash-covered Savage Orcs. Fighting off the Infernal Guards at first, Jark hastily retreated with his warriors further into the desiccated magma channel. There, he began chanting and dancing in an exhaustion-induced trance, dragging his followers with him in a ritual that shrouded them in pungent and poisonous green gas.

      Seeing Chaos Dwarfs and fresh slaves alike succumb to the Orcish gas, Grimdur Gutwrencher ordered the retreat, yet before leaving he unplugged a Daemonic flask and threw it into the roiling gas cloud, reciting the names of Daemons and cursing the very rock upon which the Orcs stood. Daemons of shadow and flame erupted from the flask, flailing and wailing madly. Orcs were ripped apart and turned into iron ore moments before the magma channel's roof collapsed.

      Grimdur Gutwrencher returned home in triumph, and the cursed ore lay forgotten and untouched for centuries, deep within Azgorh.

      The Forging: One day, the Tower of Gorgoth opened up a new mining shaft, leading into the magma chamber. Chain gangs of Greenskin slaves hacked away at the fallen rocks, until they came upon a vein of iron ore. The taskmaster whipped their backs and had them redouble their efforts to mine the ore. He sent a message back to his overlords, yet neither he nor the slaves under his command ever returned from the tunnel. Their remains were never found.

      A taskmaster with a second chain gang was sent in, yet they too went missing after reporting of the exhaustion of the short iron ore vein. Their corpses were never retrieved. A third chain gang managed to haul a train of mining carts filled with ore to the treadmill elevators before they dropped dead simultaneously, their husks visibly being eaten away by some invisible force until nothing remained.

      Two more work gangs of slaves were expended in this manner before the ore had been lifted up to the surface and put into a furnace. There, the five sons of Daemonsmith Engineer Arrazkrulim Flamefist assisted their father in the melting of this ensorcelled iron ore. Yet no matter what he did, Arrazkrulim was unable to melt the ore.

      The Daemonsmith envisioned the power and riches to be had, could he only melt the ore to forge weapons and talismans, and thus he invested more and more in the rituals to appease Hashut. He ruined his household by sacrificing herds of bulls to Hashut, yet the iron ore did not melt. Then Arrazkrulim threw himself into the furnace out of despair, and the cursed ore finally melted. The slag was dumped outside the Tower of Gorgoth.

      The forging of the iron proved tricky as well, for it would not yield to any force unless hardened in Orc blood, not water. The names of the Father of Darkness, His Sacred Consorts and scores of potent Daemons were invoked as the five sons of Arrazkrulim toiled to forge the metal into objects.

      Eventually, after months of labour and arcane rites, the brothers emerged from their forge, each wielding a magic item that awed anyone who looked upon it. These objects were a flagon, a chain whip, a shield, a hammer and a tall hat, all shaped into terrifying and intricate forms. And the curse of Grimdur lay heavy upon them all.

      The Flagon: To celebrate this great success of the craftsmen sons, the Sorcerer-Prophet Khaldrun Without Tounge hosted a grand feast in view of a mighty idol of Hashut. Ash-covered flesh from slave and monster alike was served at the banquet, sacrifices were held and man and maid alike praised both Hashut and the objects forged from the cursed ore.

      By nightfall, thunder and lightning rocked the skies, and this was seen as a good omen for the feasting. It soon turned to revelry, and a drinking contest was arranged. The contestants heaved barrels of blood and beer, and kegs of still stranger brews, yet none could beat the youngest son of Arrazkrulim, Kharzyg the Red.

      His thirst could not be sated when he drank from his magical beer cup. Wagonloads of barrels were emptied by Kharzyg, and the whole Tower of Gorgoth marvelled at the sight. Khaldrun Without Tounge declared through his acolytes that this great deed of drinking truly was a sign from Hashut foretelling the never-ending domination of all creation which the Chaos Dwarfs were destined for.

      Yet the height of the feast was cut short as a large creature, dark as night, climbed the high walls of the Tower of Gorgoth and cast himself into the crowd, killing no less than four with his body weight alone. Dozens of Chaos Dwarfs were crushed as this monster set about smashing and kicking the garrison denizens into gory pulp.

      This was a golem made out of the slag from the cursed ore. Realizing its nature and wishing to avert divine wrath upon themselves, four of the five sons of Arrazkrulim attacked the slag being. The oldest brother, adorned with his ensorcelled hat, barked orders to the others, and managed to lead them past the slag golem's swinging arms. The shieldbearer took the brunt of several strikes upon his shield whilst the whipbearer ensnared the creature, allowing for the hammerer to destroy their enemy with savage blows.

      The victorious brothers claimed the slag as booty for their clan, to be used in nefarious crafts. Their triumph was short-lived, however, as the Sorcerer-Prophet Khaldrun Without Tounge deprived them of their prize by confiscating it for Hashut. At this, the youngest brother Kharzyg, who did not fight the slag creature, cursed Hashut under his breath.

      Kharzyg the Red then took the flagon to his lips and began to drink again. Yet Hashut punished the young Chaos Dwarf through the cursed metal, and the beer cup drank Kharzyg dry, leaving nothing but desiccated bones inside a sack of skin. The flagon was duly claimed by Khaldrun, and thus ended the first of the five brothers.

      The Whip: The second youngest son of Arrazkrulim Flamefist was the slavedriver Rukharg the Strong. His piece of the objects forged from the iron of the cursed ore was a magical chain whip. It shrieked like a Daemon when used, and the wearer could never tire.

      Rukharg put this to good use, and became a renowned and feared taskmaster in all of the deep mines of Azgorh. He whipped countless slaves and the blood-sucking whip enforced vigorous toil from out of the most exhausted wretch, and the dead even rose again to return to work.

      The chain whip grew all the more bloodthirsty the more it was used, and its desire to strike flesh only increased. Rukharg used this to the fullest extent, patrolling the mine shafts day and night to keep up the mining labour. Yet one day, his fame as a slavedriver made Sorcerer-Prophet Khaldrun Without Tounge set up an audience. High up in the Tower of Gorgoth, the humbled Rukharg was praised by the stony Sorcerer-Prophet, whose words were sign language relayed by the voice of an acolyte.

      Rukharg was questioned at length about his whip, his work, his beliefs, his religious practices and his tireless devotion to duty. This went on for many hours, and Rukharg showed his lord all the proper respect whilst hiding under his cloak the impatiently writhing chain whip. Then, Khaldrun honoured Rukharg greatly by inviting him for the sacrifice of a subdued Ogre Tyrant, Murg. Naturally, there was no alternative but to accept.

      The rituals began immediately, and through many hours of bloodshed and horror Rukharg attended it faithfully. Yet the whip became angry and agitated at being denied all the blood and suffering at the fire altar. At the height of the sacrifice, the whip lashed out from beneath Rukharg the Strong's cloak, struck itself around his throat and strangulated the taskmaster, who fell head-on into the flames and was burnt to cinders in the Ogre's fat.

      The whip was duly claimed by Sorcerer-Prophet Khaldrun Without Tounge, and thus ended the second of the five brothers.

      The Shield: The third son of Arrazkrulim Flamefist was Kulnikambul the Mad, he who received the shield from the crafted objects of the cursed ore. Through a whole year of omens in insane nightmares, he deducted that the ensorcelled shield made him invincible to Daemons. Unbelievably, he was right.

      Kulnikambul armed himself, picked up his shield, and joined a group of grizzled Humans in the far north who were on a warrior pilgrimage to the northern Polar Gate of Chaos itself. A retinue of Hobgoblin household slaves followed him wherever he went, daring not to abandon their infamously vengeful master. Though the shield offered no invulnaribility to worldly and mortal threats, Kulnikambul the Mad and his companions managed to stave off the worst winter, the worst hunger, the worst tribes and the worst monsters who stood in their way.

      Only a handful of Humans and Hobgoblins remained when they eventually made it to the great northern Polar Gate, situated in a landscape utterly corrupted by Chaos magic. Here, Kulnikambul did the unthinkable. Instead of sacrificing at this great monument to the Dark Gods, he charged headlong into the portal, followed by his unwilling Hobgoblin thralls. The Humans shouted curses, threw spears and spat after the desecrator, yet they could not stop him. No mortal threat would ever bother Kulnikambul again if his mad plan succeeded.

      Daemons of every kind and size assailed him from all sides inside the Realm of Chaos, yet Kulnikambul's shield made him and his closely-following slaves invulnerable to their efforts. Soon, he attracted the attention of legendary Heralds and Greater Daemons, who challenged him yet could not harm Kulnikambul the Mad. Even they had to give up their efforts, though he only slew a few of them.

      After a long time, only one Hobgoblin remained by Kulnikambul's side. The others had died of insanity and terror at the nightmarish Empyrean all around them. Eventually, the Daemon hosts halted their assaults on the lone Chaos Dwarf, and soon Daemons fled before him. Though there existed no guarantee for the shield's invulnerability against one of the Great Four, Kulnikambul was willing to risk everything to become the sole ruler of Chaos himself.

      The shifting landscapes of the Realm of Chaos led him astray. Perhaps the machinations of Tzeentch lay behind this, because Kulnikambul the Mad finally came upon the fortress of Khorne the Blood God. Enraged Daemons tried to kill him from every angle, yet none could even reach him or his last Hobgoblin slave, Jerz Khan.

      Kulnikambul marched through the titanic brass gates of Khorne's palace. In the gatehouse, he caught a glimpse of the great god of war seated upon his mountain of skulls amidst a sea of blood, and then he died. Jerz Khan's treacherous nature made him backstab his master, for the Hobgoblin wished for himself to be the bane of gods.

      This was not to be. The cursed iron shield darted out from Kulnikambul the Mad's grasp, made a turn in the air and cut the Hobgoblin's head clean off his shoulders. The corpses of the two mortal intruders were torn to shreds by the army of Khornate Daemons, and the shield itself became a stud on one of Khorne's leather straps. Thus ended the third of the five brothers.

      The Hammer: The second oldest of Arrazkrulim Flamefist's five sons was the Hellsmith Bharulik Anvilchest, a great craftsman whose item of the cursed iron ore was the hammer. The hammer of Bharulik was marvellous in the hands of a Daemonsmith. It could reshape any material and Daemon with ease as if they were clay, and the wearer never tired when wielding it.

      The hammer could work any substance, whether solid, liquid, gaseous or magical. It was one of the prides of the Tower of Gorgoth, and with it Bharulik Anvilchest created wondrous and ensorcelled idols, warmachines, amulets and weapons, as well as armour and Daemonic monster constructs. Each one of these crafted pieces were treasured more highly than gold, and Bharulik turned out thousands of them in his Soulforge, where he worked day and night in the sight of Hashut's mighty idol.

      Bharulik knew of the fates of his brothers, and resorted to avoid it. Wise from the wrath of the idle chain whip, he devoted every day of his whole life to Daemonsmithing, sacrificing and praising Hashut in his Soulforge without missing a beat with his hammer. He constantly quenched the metal's thirst in buckets of slave blood, for the Hellsmith knew of the other cursed items' bloodthirst, and his clan secured him a steady supply of victims to fill his workshop's cages.

      Yet all these precautions was for nothing, for contrary to the whip, the hammer tired. After years of ceaseless toil it started wailing a horrific dirge out of exhaustion. This was interpreted as a favourable omen from Hashut, and Bharulik Anvilchest persevered. This wailing grew in strength, day by day.

      When Bharulik was working on his masterpiece, a possessed Iron Daemon war engine of fearful power, the wailing turned into a vengeful roar. The hammer shaft snapped, and the loose hammer head flew through the air and pounded Bharulik, body and soul, into the Iron Daemon. The Hellsmith screamed in terror as the twisted hammer head forged him into his own creation. His frozen face and struggling limbs stood out like a relief from the Iron Daemon's hull.

      Yet the hammer wished to escape any future toil, and so it dove into and merged with the machine. The Iron Daemon Bharulik's Folly has been cursed ever since. It is feared by its own crew, yet it remains too powerful to be turned into scrap, left unrepaired or ignored for transport and war. Thus ended the fourth of the five brothers.

      The Hat: The oldest of the five sons of Arrazkrulim Flamefist was the warrior Thuruk the Grey. He was a scarred veteran, and his part of the cursed iron ore's items was a magnificient, high hat. It was the sign of a great leader, and everyone showed Thuruk respect or even admiration. This was especially true for the Dawi Zharr womenfolk.

      Thuruk's cursed hat granted its wearer a malicious intelligence and unnatural knowledge of the world. This was used to great effect, as Thuruk the Grey led his men to victory after victory. His warband grew into an army, and the slaves he captured numbered in the tens of thousands. The Greenskin hordes were defeated time and time again by the most daring tactics ever attempted by a Chaos Dwarf general. Every time, uncanny luck and insidious cunning seemed to carry the day.

      However, wise after the death of his youngest brother in particular, Thuruk took care to show the Father of Darkness due respect and adulation. Even though his pride grew, he continued to sacrifice and humble himself before the idols, never once faltering in his devout practices. Thuruk believed that fortune and victory would never leave his side if he was true in his worship of the great Bull God.

      And so it was, that after a bloodbath of a victory against the Orc Warboss Ghurzak Skullbasha, Thuruk the Grey arranged for a grand sacrificial feast to be held in honour of Hashut, the Temple, the priesthood and His mighty idols. At the height of this feast there was a devout speech held by the warlord. In it he attributed all his success to high Hashut, never once mentioning his hat.

      The ensorcelled hat became enraged at this insolence, and devoured Thuruk the Grey from skull to heel before the altar flames. Thus ended the last of the five brothers.

      Thereupon the tall hat was duly claimed by Sorcerer-Prophet Khaldrun Without Tounge, who confiscated no less than three of the five magical objects created by the sons of Arrazkrulim Flamefist. Khaldrun became fully petrified centuries ago, and the whereabouts of the artefacts forged from the cursed iron ore of Grimdur Gutwrencher remains a mystery.

      One of many mysteries of the Chaos Dwarfs.
    • Written by: KNC
      Illustrated by: @forgefire

      This is but one of many stories, whether truthful or filled with falshehoods, as told by the Chaos Dwarfs about those horrific masks worn by demented megalomaniacs, insane craftsmen, madmen, killers and torturers alike. For though the price is high, ravenous ambition festers in many a ruthless heart among the Dawi Zharr, and what true son of Hashut would ever balk at the prospect of overwhelming power? The tales of these willing slaves to darkness are legion in number, and dreadful in nature. For they are narratives of bloodshed and might, of horror and unrelenting oppression. They are tales of malice triumphant and of backs broken, of bloodied blades and fell deeds. They are accounts of the fallen, of mortals driven over the edge in their hunger for power, of names and lives plummeting into the abyss of infamy. Above all, they are legends of Dark Gods rejoicing at souls lost behind darkness, and though you might ask why anyone would be insane enough to wear it, you might find yourself at the end of temptation to hide your face and put on the mask...

      Such are the stories of the masked ones, as told by the Blacksmiths of Chaos.

      This is one such story.

      Birth of Slaughter: One dark night of ill omens did a craven Daemonsmith Engineer known as Muzharruk Halftame forge a baleful facemask out of hellish essence and a trapped servant of the Dark Gods. The resultant device was undoubtedly powerful, yet the Daemon within was barely contained, and its foulness leaked from the hideous horned visage of the metal mask akin to tendrils waiting to snatch any vulnerable mortal flesh and soul if could find. Thus did the headgear known as the Mask of Madness come into being, conceived in a stoking hot Soulfurnace and birthed by wicked hammer upon a cracked anvil carved with forbidden runes and sorcerous wards which glowed and glared in the darkness of the Hellforge.

      It was soon discovered during forge trials, at no small cost in slave life, that the Mask of Madness gradually seemed to possess or even consume its bearer while worn. Yet the fearsome combat prowess garnered within the sorcerous item made it an irresistible treasure to some Chaos Dwarfs, and thus it was that the perilous wargear wandered from hand to hand. For death, unwillingness to suffer the mask any longer, hunger for power and greed all conspired to constantly shift the face under the Mask of Madness, and owner and bearer never remained the same for long.

      Never, ever, except for once.

      Life of Slaughter: One day, a strong and ambitious Dawi Zharr warrior donned the mask prior to a routine battle somewhere in the vast Dark Lands. His name was Zhugallur of clan Munzuk, and he immediately became so exhilarated by the experience of wearing the mask, that he never took it off. In his first masked battle, Zhugallur became a ferocious murderer of otherworldly lethality, for he rampaged almost single-handedly through a whole Goblin tribe, and his kinsfolk were forced to restrain the bloodthirsty man from butchering all enslaved captives which were their spoils of battle. After the fight, Zhugallur would not remove the Mask of Madness, and neither would he listen to any such advice. Instead, he guarded it jealously and aggressively against any thief, lashing out and barking at anyone who dared approach him. Zhugallur became a figure to loath, hate and fear in equal measure.

      Nevertheless, this lonesome brute was a most valuable asset to his Overlord, and thus he participated in multiple raids and campaigns over the years without ever again showing his mortal face of flesh which hid under the Daemonforged visage of metal. Zhugallur of clan Munzuk struck terror into the hearts of foe and slave alike, and he never ceased to unnerve his brethren. On the battlefield, he was a fury from hell, a frothing maniac and a whirlwind of frenzied destruction. Yet off the field of battle he was seldom himself, for Zhugallur lapsed into bouts of apathy, gibbering insanity, coma and spasms.

      Likewise, he would occasionally engage in hollow-sounding conversations with unseen and unheard beings known to none other than himself, and Zhugallur would even stoop to the depths of bestial stupidity, whereupon he ran around on all four, baying and howling to the skies with a long chain leash around his thick neck to keep the crazed warrior with the army on the march. Sometimes, masked Zhugallur attacked the chained slave gangs and ripped them apart when behaving like a predatory animal. Once, when in garrison, he was found hanging upside-down from the roof beams of a fort, akin to a bat, where he remained stock still and silent, staring into nothing for twelve times twelve heartbeats. Then, he somersaulted around the tangle of roof beams, jeering and sounding to all the world as if he was hunted by fell spirits. This went on for a full sixty heartbeats, before he frozw upside-down once more. This unusual procedure was repeated sixty times in a row in sight of confounded companions, never to be performed again.

      The utter depths of the corrupting influence of the Mask of Madness may be gleaned from how Zhugallur lost his worldly greed and forgot to collect his payment and loot. He ceased to ask for his share, and soon his calculating Overlord stopped handing it out to him. Truly, it was a piece of monstrous equipment, and fellow Dawi Zharr made hand gestures and warding motions in the air whenever they passed by Zhugallur of clan Munzuk.

      Whenever the permanently masked warrior became too dangerous to his kinsmen and surroundings off the battlefield, he would be drugged by his companions, who shackled him inside a tight black iron cage, which on the march was dragged behind a blind ox led along by a deaf Hobgoblin thrall. Gripped on end by insanity, Zhugallur was deemed unfit for any ritual worship other than bloodletting sacrifice at the fiery shrines and mighty idols of the Father of Darkness, and thus other Chaos Dwarfs came to fear ever so little for his soul out a of sympathy which they never had expected to find within their own black and cruel hearts.

      As he was kept away from most of the proper worship, Zhugallur was likewise isolated from any Dawi Zharr womenfolk, though he was thrice let loose upon unfortunate captive Dwarf dams, who remained traumatized from the event and never truly recovered their state of mind. As time went by and less and less remained of Zhugallur's identity, all but a few ceased to call him by his actual name, for from now on he became known as the Defaced One, and the Defaced One did not object in the slightest to this change in practice.

      In combat, the Defaced One slayed mighty champions, cunning rangers, sly spellcasters, hulking monsters and great leaders alike, and he would stomp untouched through magical barrages which would have seared the flesh off the bones of other mortals. His battlecries consisted more often than not of obscenities, blasphemies, Empyreic curses and the forbidden names of Daemon Princes, lesser Chaos deities, the Great Four and even the twelve unspeakable names of the fierce Bull God Himself. Sometimes, Daemonic bodies seemed to flicker and materialize out of the Defaced One's dreadful breath, and these transparent limbs and faces from out of the Realm of Chaos may bite and rip apart anyone unfortunate enough to stand before the crazed killer, but at other times they would merely pinch and taunt and give off catcalls.

      Thus it was that the Defaced One won dark renown and bloodied glory behind his Mask of Madness.

      Death of Slaughter: Unstoppable he seemed, yet nothing lasts forever. Even the butchery of the Defaced One came to a halt at last, down south in distant parts of the world. For outside the Fortress of Dawn, the the Defaced One partook in a piratical skirmish wih an Asur patrol group, yet the frail High Elves fought like vengeance itself, and they killed many a Chaos Dwarf and Hobgoblin slave soldier before succumbing to death or the dreaded shackles of slavery. At the conclusion of the clash, the Defaced One had been severely wounded in his right side by High Elven arrows and spear thrusts through his armourr. In mute triumph he stepped forth wordlessly, holding the severed head of the Elven patrol leader in one hand while raising his thirsty battleaxe to the skies, whereupon the feared warrior collapsed in a pitiful pile of flesh without strength or will.

      As his wary companions drew close to investigate the injuries of the fallen madman, they discovered an ugly head wound on his right side, fresh from a flimsy but sharp High Elf blade. The weapon had somehow pierced the edge of the mask, and since the wound ran deepest under it, the Chaos Dwarfs decided there was nothing to it but remove the reeking Mask of Madness from the the Defaced One and treat the head injury as best as they could. The youngest raider was chosen for the unlucky task of unclasping the head strap and lift off the Daemonforged visage from Zhugallur.

      As the youngster did so, a shocked silence settled over the band of grizzled killers on that foreign shore. Beneath the Mask of Madness, the naked face of a white skull grinned at them, its bearded jaw clenched shut despite lack of muscles and sinew, its unseeing sockets nothing but hollow cups of bone. The flesh at the front of the Defaced One's head had long since been devoured by the insides of his insane piece of headgear, yet the rest of his head and body was untouched. After this glimpse of the the Defaced One's real visage, Zhugallur's head slumped dead to his chest, his soul more than likely taken far away by the Daemon inside the mask. His companions took the Mask of Madness with them and left the Defaced One for carrion eaters to feast upon.

      No one truly knows what became of the dreaded mask, wrought by Muzharruk Halftame, after the demise of Zhugallur of clan Munzuk, yet this is for certain: The Mask of Madness has showed up time and time again on different faces of various Chaos Dwarf warriors foolhardy and power-hungry enough to wear it throughout the centuries., and at each occasion it soon vanished for some time as the scarred possessors of the Daemonforged mask traded it away to save what remained of themselves, and if possible escape the infamous fate of the Defaced One. Yet the hideous headgear always resurfaces, its bearer reaping insanity in mind and dark glory in blood alike, and it seems as if high Hashut Himself has destined it to become one of the lasting heirlooms of the Dawi Zharr.

      Such is the nature of the mask, according to the Blacksmiths of Chaos.
    • Written by: Beloss
      Illustrated by: @forgefire

      Once upon a time there was a band of five Acolytes who, through the reading of many portents, determined that it was their appointed destiny to depart from their clan and journey out into the wasteland to find the house of High Hashut. Long they wandered together in the wilderness navigating all kinds of treacherous terrain and seeing all manner of wonders, but Hashut's holy dwelling was ever out of reach.

      One day as the wind blew across the waste the five companions heard a great din approaching and turned to see a horde of Orcs rushing up from behind. The Acolytes drew their weapons and began hacking and hewing the grobi to pieces as the green savages surrounded them.

      Now among the five companions there was one who was especially bold and strong of arm, but undisciplined as he despised the constraints of proper formations. While the other Acolytes formed up back to back the undisciplined Dawi fought alone, laying all about him on the left and on the right and slaying many foes. Before long however he was hard pressed on all sides by the mob of Orcs and his resolve wavered.

      "Hashut you have abandoned me!" He whimpered. "If there be some other God or Great Spirit who can rescue me from this clamor, may my beard wither and daemons hound me to the end of my days if I do not swear my soul to them at once!"

      No sooner had he spoken than they saw a looming shadow and looked up. Before them was a towering figure of ruddy horned flesh shaking the earth with its stride, and around it piles of blood soaked corpses of every race in every direction.

      "I am Arkhar, the Lord of Carnage!" The monstrous God bellowed. "Worship me and your foes will be as rye before your axe, for in ruinous might there are none who surpass me or my favored! Your lowing Calf God is nothing more than another ox to slaughter! See what resilience he gives you in your moment of need?! No doubt he intends to send you to the meat hook in his stead!"

      Straight away the undisciplined Dawi swore himself to Arkhar and was filled with new vigor. Turning then he cut his way free of the press of Orcs with terrible oaths and great slaughter, throwing their chieftains down and pursuing the rest into the hills.

      The band of faithful Acolytes, astonished at the bloody departure of their comrade hefted their packs and journeyed on. "Hashut still awaits us!" They told one another. "We will not abandon the search to fight Orcs in the hills for the rest of our days!"

      They marched on and came after a time to a vast plain of dusty desolation greater than any other. Soon they despaired for no food or water or shade of any sort could be found, and they were weary to the bone.

      Now among the four companions there was one who foolishly stored up more gear than he had need of in his march, for he could not bear to go without his costly liquors and sweetmeats that he enjoyed at home. As they crossed the plain his supply at last ran out and, growing vexed with the unbearable conditions, his resolve wavered.

      "Hashut you have abandoned me!" He moaned. "If there be some other God or Great Spirit who can respite me from this suffering may my phallus shrivel and daemons hound me to the end of my days if I do not swear my soul to them at once!"

      No sooner had he spoken than they heard the sound of beautiful laughter and looked up. Before them reclined a huge languid figure of sensuous flesh, and around it a scrumptious banquet of every kind of delicacy born on glittering trays by dam's of surpassing beauty.

      "I am Loesh, the Goddess of Pleasures." The shining Goddess sung. "Consummate yourself to me and you will never want for luxury and satisfaction, for my chosen indulge in every delight. Your bellowing Bull God promises you harems and days of ease born on the backs of slaves, but he drags you through dust and ash, submitting you to drudgery for a hundred days to every one of joy! See what refreshments he offers you on this dusty plain? No doubt his idea of pleasure is a barn with hay to eat and cows to bed!"

      Straight away the besotted Dawi swore himself to Loesh and began to swill from every glass and gobble up every delicacy in reach, smearing his beard with streams of gravy and wine while the giggling dams surrounded him, fawning over his fine hat and tusks.

      The trio of faithful acolytes, aghast at the indecency of their feasting comrade, hefted their packs and journeyed on. "Hashut awaits us!" they told one another. "We will not abandon the search to fornicate with harlots on this plain for the rest of our days!"

      They marched on and came after a time to a vast bog of fetid water and rotting thistles. Slogging their way across the reeking mud they soon despaired, for the water was to noxious to drink and the stench was so great that they could hardly force down the merger provisions that were left in their packs.

      Now among the three companions there was one who was especially prone to melancholy mood. As he sat to take his stale bread and oily water he began to think of home, and to reflect on every hardship and tragedy that had befallen them on this journey, and of all the terrible fates that had befallen various unfortunate members of his clan. As he sat he sunk into the mire till the rotten slime of the swamp soaked him to the bone, befouling the remainder of the food in his pack. Seeing this he felt suddenly as if all the weight and tragedy in the world was bent against them and his resolve wavered.

      "Hashut you have abandoned me!" He quailed. "If there be some other God or Great Spirit who can revive me from this mire, may my tusks rot away and daemons hound me to the end of my days if I do not swear my soul to them at once!"

      No sooner had he spoken than they smelled a foul stench and looked up. Before them sat a massive bloated figure of ruined flesh. From its dangling innards sprouted a forest of putrescence so foul it beggared belief, and around it, great hills of excreta, the product of a thousand army's dysentery.

      "I am Onogal, the Ancestor of Pestilence." The putrid God muttered. "Devote yourself to me and I will take on your every sorrow, for in depth of affliction there are none who understand as much as I. Your trampling Thunder God reigns from on high, delivering harsh judgments from up above, heedless of the suffering he causes to his children. See what redress he sends to you in this mire? No doubt he laughs in secret at your pain and grief, despising you as rival males."

      Straight away the the sodden Dawi swore himself to Onogal and, slogging forward, collapsed in a stupor amidst the Gods foulness, throwing great globs of muddy offal over his head and beard as he wailed in loud misery and sunk down under the dung.

      The pair of faithful acolytes, aggravated at the indignity of their wailing comrade hefted their packs and journeyed on. "Hashut awaits us!" they told one another. "We will not abandon the search to wallow in filth under this mire for the rest of our days!"

      They marched on out of the swamp and after a time came to the mountains where they found their way blocked by a great maze of tall standing stones. Winding their way together through the impenetrable tangle they quickly despaired for they had become confused and lost in the labyrinth from where there seemed to be no escape. Tired beyond reason and with the last of their provision gone they came to rest at the foot of a great monolith.

      Now between the two companions one was a prone to idle turns of fancy and possessed of a suspicious mind, and as they sat in weariness in the heart of the maze he began to retrace his steps. Sitting and musing he thought of the God that they were searching out and of the Gods that they had met in their travels, and of the maze, and of prophecies and of the schemes of kings and priests, and it seemed to him that all the world and all his words and deeds were the product of plots and powers beyond his control, and his resolve wavered.

      "Hashut you have abandoned me!" He quaked. "If there be some other God or Great Spirit who can relieve me from this maze, may my hat crumple and daemons hound me to the end of my days if I do not swear my soul to them at once!"

      No sooner had he spoken than they felt an aura of strange energy and looked up. Above them perched on the monolith was a stupendous figure of morphing flesh. On its cruel frame coiled every conceivable form, fair or foul or fantastic, the fantasies of a thousand fanatics twining together between a coat of cobalt feathers.

      "I am Tchar, the Tzar of Schemes." The changing God chirped. "Sanctify yourself to me and I will show to you every shift and shuffle of the great game played by persons mortal and immortal under the ceiling of heaven, for in wisdom and knowledge of hidden things none rival I. Your tampering Fire God trundles over field and fallow sticking his dull snout into this or that affair to trample or teach on whim. See what realization he sends you in this maze? No doubt he makes his plan blindly, caring not if it fails!"

      Straight away the befuddled Dawi swore himself to Tchar and began to dance and caper before the great monolith, turning this way and that as he began to change and waver weirdly before he wandered once again into the web from which they had come.

      The last faithful acolyte, agape at the insanity of his last remaining comrade, hefted his pack and journeyed on alone. "Hashut awaits me!" He told himself. "I shall not abandon the search to meander in a mountain maze for the rest of my days!"

      He marched on, working his way again through the portions of the maze that they had not yet searched until at last he found his way through and came out on the other side to the foot of a great volcano. High he climbed up the side of the fire mountain, determined to gain the summit and see at last the house of High Hashut, or else plunge into sacred fire and end his life as a holy sacrifice, for he was weary beyond measure and heavy of heart after the apostasy of all his companions.

      And lo after trial by battle and thirst and hunger and befuddlement and fire and long long weariness the last Acolyte came to the house of High Hashut, the Father of Darkness.

      The great Thunderbull stood before the brazen doors of his house and gazed down upon the Acolyte and was much pleased, though he showed nothing, but his servants progress he did check, for no weakness could be allowed into the holy dwelling.

      "My Lord, what weakness is left in me that you would expunge? For I have left behind every care of spirit and body on the road to gain the place where I now stand, and to behold your house."

      "One weakness only!" The Thunderbull roared. "That you mourn your faithless companions and traitors to my covenant! They who were your brothers all the days of your journey have become mine enemies and stains upon the name of my children! Soon their ways will cross your own and you must treat them harshly!"

      Straightaway the faithful Acolyte swore a terrible oath of vengeance upon them who he had once journeyed with and considered close as kin, for between the faithful and the apostate there can be no softness or sentiment or longing for better times, but only hatred and righteous cruelty.

      Having sworn his oath and banished this final weakness from him Hashut bathed the Faithful Acolyte in his scorching breath and the Acolyte was heartened as one who has slaked their thirst and hunger and given rest to their weary limbs. And Hashut ushered him into his sacred house whereupon he was bathed and tended by faithful dams of surpassing beauty and loveliness. His wounds were bound up, and his beard was washed clean. Then did the Great Hashut take the Faithful Acolyte into his confidence and instruct him in every manner of art and industry and secret ritual till the Acolyte was an Acolyte no longer but a great Lord indeed and a Prophet and a Sorcerer to bend all the world to his will.


      Now as it happened the great Hashut marked the arrival of his favored with an eruption of fire and magma from the volcano in which he made his dwelling, and the mountain sent vast plumes of ash and fire across the land in all directions. The magma flowed down into the lower peaks and swept through the maze of standing stones forcing the apostate Acolyte of Tchar to flee for his life.

      "Who has ruined the maze of my God?!" The Acolyte quaked, pulling his hair. Following the trail of the volcano's desolation he reached the fire mountain and picked his way unsteadily up its side to find the culprit, confidant that his God would give him victory over any foe.

      But the Sorcerer-Prophet saw the mad one coming and journeyed out to meet him with an obsidian headed mace. With a powerful blow he struck the worshiper of Tchar in the mouth, halting his senseless ramblings and laying him out. The Apostate cried for his God to save him and smite his adversary, but Tchar was far away dreaming of the schemes of ravens in a faraway land, caring not what misfortune befell his chosen. The Sorcerer-Prophet then seized the Apostate, bound him with chains and dragged him back to the house of High Hashut, where with brands and blows he set him to work with a pick in his quarry, to toil his life away in dust and drudgery.

      Again the Volcano of Hashut erupted sending fire and ash over the land. The wave of destruction crossed over the mountains descending upon the mire. It boiled the fetid water and burned away the corruption of the place, forcing the Acolyte of Onogal to lift his beard from his bed of excrement.

      "Who has ruined the mire of my God?" The Acolyte of Onogal quailed. Following the trail of the volcano's desolation he reached the fire mountain and picked his way querulously up its side to find the culprit, confidant that his God would give him victory over any foe.

      But the Sorcerer-Prophet saw the unclean one coming and journeyed out to meet him with a brace of red hot irons fresh from the forge. Nimbly avoiding the worshiper of Onogal he took him off his feet and set to cutting and searing away all the corruption that infested his body. The Apostate cried out for his God to save him and smite his adversary, but Onogal was far away sniffing over the sorrows of Manlings in a faraway land, caring not what misfortune befell his chosen. The Sorcerer-Prophet then seized the Apostate, bound him with chains and dragged him back to the house of High Hashut, where with brands and blows he set him to work in tending his forges to toil his life away in smoke and drudgery.

      Again the Volcano of Hashut erupted sending fire and ash over the land. It reached over the mountains, over the mire, and rained down upon the plain causing the Acolyte of Loesh to look up from his feasting, for the rich food and drink had all been polluted. "Who has spoiled the banquet of my God?" The Apostate moaned, wringing his hands. Following the trail of the volcanoes desolation he reached the fire mountain and picked his way delicately up its side to find the culprit, confidant that his God would give him victory over any foe.

      But the Sorcerer-Prophet saw the depraved one coming and journeyed out to meet him with a hooked blade. Easily weathering the feeble assault of the worshiper of Loesh he pinned him, cut out his tongue and gelded him. The Apostate cried out for his Goddess to save him and smite his adversary, but Loesh was far away listening to the cry's of fornicating Elves in a faraway land, caring not what misfortune befell her chosen. The Sorcerer-Prophet then seized the apostate, bound him with chains and dragged him back to the house of High Hashut, where with brands and blows, he set him to work in cleaning his stables to toil his life away in dung and drudgery.

      Again the Volcano of Hashut erupted sending fire and ash over the land. It reached over the mountains and mire and plain, to smash down upon the hills, and caused the Acolyte of Arkhar to look up from his slaughter, for the tribes of Orcs had been engulfed in ash and smothered. "Who has ruined the battlefield of my God?" The Arkhar worshiper whimpered, gnashing his teeth. Following the trail of the volcanoes desolation he reached the fire mountain and picked his way clumsily up its side to find the culprit, confidant that his God would give him victory over any foe.

      But the Sorcerer-Prophet saw the berserk one coming and journeyed out to meet him with a staff of potent sorcery. Sidestepping the worshiper of Arkhar's wild charge he summoned the winds of magic and beset him with cunning spellwork. The Apostate cried out for his God to save him and avenge him upon his adversary but Arkhar was far away watching the blood sport of Ogres in a faraway land, caring not what misfortune befell his chosen. The Sorcerer Prophet then seized the apostate, bound him with chains and dragged him back to the house of High Hashut where he loped off his hands and hammered in his nose a ring of brass, and then with brands and blows set him to work in turning a great millstone, to toil his life away in pain and drudgery.

      Then High Hashut was pleased indeed with his servant and ushered him into his innermost sanctum. He was bathed three times by the pure dams, and his beard was washed clean and and oiled with costly perfumes. Rich clothes were presented to him along with fragrant incense and gold and gem encrusted articles. The attendant dams were wedded to him in a great harem and a lordly feast was held with the Sorcerer-Prophet seated at the right hand of Hashut. And Hashut put in his hand a scepter of basalt set with garnets and lapis lazuli and every kind of precious gem, that all might see the device and know that he and his descendants forevermore were given stewardship over all the world and every creature in it, from the lowest of Grobi to the mightiest of Daemons.

      Long he reigned and lorded over all the earth and filled it with his children and his riches and his labors of craft and spellwork until the end of his days had come. Then did the great Father of Darkness cause the flesh of the departed lord to become as stone, that all might look on the sacred body of the faithful and witness his glory for all time, for Hashut is not as other Gods and he does not forget those who earn his favor, either in life or death, but lifts up his faithful as the rulers over all things.

      - The Acolytes Progress and the Four Slanders of Hashut, Largest remaining fragment of the lost Epic of Annunachizedek by Sorcerer-Prophet Utnipishzim the Proselytizer, venerable instructor during the ordaining of the second priesthood.*

      * The Epic of Annunachizedek, besides being a parable on the fickle nature of the other Chaos Gods, is also an early attempt by the Dawi Zharr to construct an alternate history which would have been imposed as a replacement for the abandonment of the Dawi Zharr by the Ancestor Gods. In this alternate history, the story of the Dwarfs is essentially inverted, with the Dawi Zharr being the original Dwarfs, and the worship of Hashut having begun from the earliest times. The Dwarfs in this false history were a rebellious group of youths to weak to survive in the original and divinely appointed homeland of the Dawi Zharr, and migrated south, boosting their numbers by allowing weak and degenerate children to live. In the climax of the Epic, the newly born Ancestor Gods forever mark the Dwarfs as degenerate slaves to their worship by forbidding the use of tall hats, straightening the beards and pulling out the tusks of every Dwarf.

      Unfortunately for the proponents of this plan the Dwarf psyche, chaos worshiping or not, rebels at the prospect of historical revisionism on such a blatant scale.

      The Above version is edited to be presented as a simple parable, however the original was intended as a history, and edited from the story were the final passages intended to establish a line of succession for the purposes of establishing Zharr Naggrund as the latest in a line of countless ancient cities in the region leading back to the earliest days of civilization. A mad and desperate lie even for a one as deluded as Utnipishzim the Proselytizer.
    • Written by: KNC
      Illustrated by: Hunter

      The Dark Lands nest in fire and desolation betwixt two mountain ranges. Like slave brands and scars, the fortresses and outposts of the Chaos Dwarfs defile these ashen landscapes with their towering walls, their open-pit mines and their smoke belching furnaces. Such is the malevolent empire of the Dawi Zharr upon the face of the earth. It is a cruel realm of slavery and constant sacrifice, ruled over by a devious caste of unthinkably powerful Sorcerer-Prophets, whose words are law yet whose judgements might be anything but intelligible or even sane.

      Still, even these absolute rulers of the sons of Hashut are not always infallible in their choices or wisdom, and where the reports of scouts and intelligence of mundane affairs cannot suffice, they must turn to the mysteries. Aside from their own prophecies, which are frequently attained through such means as occult trances and self-declared sudden revelations, these Sorcerer-Prophets sift through ancient prophecies and carefully read omens revealed in bloodshed, fire, ash, lava, molten metal, tectonic upheaval and much more besides. Many seek portents in the innards of sacrifices or in the roiling smoke from the pyre, yet amongst the more exotic forms of divination is to consult the ancient K'daai Oracle.

      To presage the future in omens is a very common activity for all members of the Temple's sacred priesthood, yet it normally takes extraordinary urgency or opaque prognostication for a Sorcerer-Prophet or one of his lackeys to confront the legendary soothsayer being known as the K'daai Oracle of Daemon's Stump. Other names include the Red Predictor, Breath of Hashut, Timeflame and the Fire of Riddles. This is not an ordinary bound fire Daemon, like those found burning on the battlefields and even in Chaos Dwarf forges for the sake of their dark overlords' material and military needs.

      This entity is shrouded in mysteries, not least in the tales and songs of the Dawi Zharr. Yet it is known that the Daemonic fortune-teller can only be invoked on special days of dire meaning to the Father of Darkness. It requires a bloody and meticulous sacrifice of many lives to ignite, and once aflame it will burn out quickly, yet not before offering riddling answers, prophecies or flashbacks to the past. The respect and even gratitude heaped upon the K'daai Oracle is evident in its very form, for its metal frame of elaborate armour and chains have grown over the centuries as Sorcerer-Prophets have added to it. Yet at the same time it is feared and shunned.

      Its advice is much sought after, for few things in existence are truly hidden from its searing gaze, yet even so few Chaos Dwarfs would trust its counsel completely. To interpret the words of this flaming entity is fraught with peril as the fate of so many Sorcerer-Prophets will attest, yet these are potential hazards few Dawi Zharr would shy away from.

      Their souls are already shackled and caged by high Hashut, and their servitude to Chaos has damned them for eternity. Deep down, they all understand that success for themselves and for their Bull God can only be achieved in this world, for torment alone awaits the Dawi Zharr in the afterlife, no matter what promises the fickle lies of revered Sorcerer-Prophets may contain. Then why wouldn't they gamble and risk everything they have, to win everything there is? Disaster may wait around the corner, yet the temptation of ultimate triumph is sometimes too strong.

      Such is the hunger for power festering at the heart of the K'daai Oracle stories of the Blacksmiths of Chaos.

      This is the story of how it all began.

      Portents: During one cycle of the hale moon did half the Dark Lands stand in flames as the Great Thunderbull roared across the underworld. Molten rock poured out, shot up glowing from the hot depths below, and ash fell like driving rain across the hellish landscapes. Day and night became as one, and night triumphed in the Dark Lands as volcanic smoke clouds overcame even the pollution of the heavens wrought by the vicious Chaos Dwarfs. Monsters and Greenskins cowered in their holes and caverns, and even the Dawi Zharr barred their doors and locked their gates against the dark and fiery torment of the world outside.

      It was during this simultaneous eruption of sixty lesser volcanoes all over the Dark Lands that Balhutti-Zhurekar was born. The seventh son of a Daemonsmith, he was a sickly boy even as a young child, and it was only by the age of sixty that he could grow a beard. His disgusted parents considered to sacrifice Balhutti-Zhurekar to high Hashut in the Temple, yet first they consulted a shunned Chaos Dwarf Hellseer-witch who dwelled in coalbins and slag piles amongst the forges and furnaces deep below Mingol Zharr-Naggrund's great ziggurat city upon the surface of the plain of Zharr.

      Had they not done so, then Balhutti-Zhurekar would have died in the altar flames before mighty idols and a choir of doom-singing acolytes. Instead, his mother and father took the runt of a beardling to the Hellseer-witch, who divined his future in a trance after swallowing burnt Orc guts, narcotic ash and slag from tin ore. What she saw stunned the hag enought to cast her out of the trance. She laid herself flat on the ground before the confused child and proclaimed him to be the coming Knower of All and the King of Fire, chosen by Chaos and Hashut for great deeds. Yet he would have to choose between Chaos and Hashut in the end, and only then could he fulfill his destiny. Until then, he would rule with an iron fist as both sorcerer and prophet.

      The delighted parents paid the Hellseer-witch sixty Goblin slaves (who went on to strangle and eat the hag in her sleep) and spared Balhutti-Zhurekar's life from the Temple flames. He was introduced into the priesthood as an acolyte, and over the decades his influence, malevolent wisdom and power grew as much as his cruelty did. He became a Sorcerer-Prophet in the end, through arduous training, studies of the mysteries, arcane forging, warfare, sorcery, intrigue and not least prophecy.

      It was he who prognosticated the fall of Great Bray-Shaman Rurkor Ungorthrower at the hands of Zoat tyrant Barakek far south in the Haunted Forest. It was Balhutti-Zhurekar who foretold the Great Decade Maelstrom, a freak ocean occurence that drained the sea floor outside the Straits of Nagash and uncovered a sunken city of the Old Ones, which some daring Chaos Dwarf expeditions partially looted against insurmountable odds. It was he who foresaw the coming of the new god Sigmar of the Humans and the slaughter at Blackfire Pass. All this he did, and Balhutti-Zhurekar boasted about his deeds and the blessing of Hashut. He had his prophecies carved into plates of silver and into the backs of imprisoned Fimir.

      Everywhere he looked he saw a dark omen, and it was true.

      Success Upon Success: Sorcerer-Prophet Balhutti-Zhurekar the Decrepit's capabilities as a predictor of the future of the world and of the turbulence within the Realm of Chaos made him wise and influential beyond his years. He was soon sought-after by older and more powerful Sorcerer-Prophets, whose bodies were already more stone than flesh, for they wished him at their side as an apprentice or ally, and for invaluable aid in unspeakable secret projects that they initiated him in.

      This took Balhutti-Zhurekar to the Daemon's Stump, a fortress stronghold and slaving centre where a great many Sorcerer-Prophets and Daemonsmiths to this day toil and study in secret chambers and forges, undisturbed by the hectic activity at the capitol. Daemon's Stump is known to the Chaos Dwarfs as Mingoldhaos-Dragh, Fortress of the Daemon Slavers, and it is an aply chosen name. The skill and magnitude of the Daemonsmithing taking place in this stronghold rivals that of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund itself.

      Besides unholy industry it is also a place of cryptic libraries and otherworldly study chambers. In Daemon's Stump, Balhutti-Zhurekar both read the works of others and wrote his own treatises, prophecies and instructions in the arcane upon parchment of flayed hide from Ogre, Human or Greenskin, as well as upon obsidian and metal tablets. His works soon gained infamy for their piercing uncovering of Empyreal dynamics, and so did the Decrepit's participation in ritual projects of possession and Daemonsmithing of the most heinous kinds.

      Balhutti-Zhurekar was wise according to twisted Chaos Dwarf standards. He became rich and gained a large harem of many consorts and offspring. He gathered a great many followers and apprentice acolytes. He discovered and took for himself the truth of thousands of mysteries. He crushed enemies far and wide and strengthened the dark empire's iron grip. He was a Daemonologist without parallel amongst the Dawi Zharr. Yet above all Balhutti-Zhurekar had a ravenous hunger for power rivalling that of Hashut Himself.

      For this, he would pay dearly.

      Flesh to Stone: One night, the ascendant Sorcerer-Prophet Balhutti-Zhurekar the Decrepit awoke with a scream. A vision of horror had come to him in nightmares, and he had seen himself petrified into a statue out on a dark plain. Mischievous Daemons had built a pyre around him and ignited it, then they had poured icy water and vinegar upon his statue. His stone form had cracked and fallen apart in a thousand pieces into the fire. The renowned seer prayed, fasted and rambled dark mantras over and over again as he locked himself alone in his chambers for two weeks. Then he emerged, with a maniac glow in his eyes.

      Balhutti-Zhurekar chose his hardiest and most able acolytes and warriors, and hired mercenaries of both Chaos Dwarf, Human Marauder and Ogre stock. They took with them a large caravan of slave porters and draft animals. They gathered supplies, arms, mysterious tablets, flasks and evil talismans and set off up into the soaring Mountains of Mourn. The Sorcerer-Prophet suffered not from the Sorcerer's Curse at the outset of his journey, yet that would not be the case at the end of it.

      The party negotiated their way through Ogre Kingdoms as best as they could, yet the hazards of nature, Ogre, Greenskin and monster were great, and many fell prey to the cold or the jaws of the mountain's crude inhabitants. These casaulties, especially amongst the slaves, did not concern Balhutti-Zhurekar the Decrepit, yet the challenges he faced most certainly did. His sorcerous powers were tested beyond breaking point by avalanches, howling mountain storms, monsters and enemies. Many died, yet he survived whilst his body bit by turned into stone through this torrent of hardships.

      Grinding his teeth and calling upon Daemons and Bull God in all His holy aspects, Balhutti-Zhurekar pressed on to the northeast, until finally he reached the Hissing Pits with his followers. These are the lairs of Cockatrices, fell monsters whose very eyes petrifies men and beasts alike. This was the target for his expedition, to his followers' dismay. With an arrogant word of command, he made his loyal Chaos Dwarfs and Hobgoblins draw blades and shackle up the surviving Human and Ogre mercenaries, who struggled in vain against their superiors. Solemnly, Balhutti-Zhurekar dedicated their souls to the Father of Darkness and set his men to work.

      They planted mighty idols, carved runic wards of dark sorcery, sacrificed, made Daemons possess stone and generally performed secret rituals at certain locations around the Hissing Pits. These preparations took weeks to execute and cost the lives of many slaves who found their fate at the end of a Cockatrice's gaze, yet they were carried out without failure. Thus it was that the Decrepit Sorcerer-Prophet created a great laboratory where he could observe the deadly Cockatrices in every detail. He wielded all his mystic knowledge, mastery of Daemonology and demented wisdom to this task, and he remained awake day and night as he oversaw and watched what unfolded.

      Balhutti-Zhurekar had turned the criss-crossing valleys and rocks of the Hissing Pits into a grand arena, into which he sent his frightened or defiant slaves one by one, or in small groups. They were given no weapons or shields, for the purpose of this game was not to determine how best to slay a Cockatrice, but to observe the workings of the petrification of flesh down to a frighteningly exact level. As such, they were deprived of even their loincloths, for no subject was allowed any equipment which could block or avert the lethal Cockatrice eyes from the outset of the experiment.

      Many Gnoblars, Goblins and wretched Humans from the soft civilized lands soon met their end in weak despair without putting up much of a fight, yet the same could not be said for the other slaves. These were hardy, sneaky or outright devious men, Greenskins, Ogres and more exotic creatures who would survive at any cost. They turned on each other or they cooperated, set up traps and bait and tried to lure Cockatrices and stray beasts into their traps. Some showed the most ingenious cunning and managed to survive by the most primitive of means, clad in the furs of some poorly flayed creature, yet survive they did. The veteran survivors often turned on the newcomers as more slaves were released into the arena, and blood stained the mountain sides.

      The most defiant of the experimental subjects shouted out curses upon Balhutti-Zhurekar's god, name, lineage, wives and offspring. Surprisingly many of the unfortunate slaves eked out a meagre and harsh living for weeks, yet they were never able to get out. The strong wards arranged by their treacherous former master would last for several months more, and they ensured the correct observation of petrification as well as the arcane imprisonment of sapient beings within the Hissing Pits. They could not find their way out, for their minds and senses lied to them, and Daemons whispered honeyed promises that led only to damnation. It was possible to find your way in, however, as the bewildered refugees from a massacred Ogre tribe found out to their cost as feral slaves and Cockatrices descended upon them.

      The scenes which played out up here in this corner of the Mountains of Mourn were horrendous. Most Chaos Dwarfs and Hobgoblins in Balhutti-Zhurekar's retinue watched it with ravenous glee. This was a high form of entertainment to them, yet their master was not amused. As the last slave, a scarred Norscan shieldmaiden, was turned into a statue when charging at an angry Cockatrice mother, the Decrepit Sorcerer-Prophet threw down his hat on the ground, raised his fist into the air and cursed his own soul to eternal captivity. He did this out of pure wrath, yet he could not have foreseen how prophetic his words had been.

      The experiments had been a great success, for they had worked better than anyone could even hope for. The intricate workings of petrification had been documented in detail, and even hitherto unknown omens from Hashut and other Chaos deities had been discovered when flesh turned to stone. Yet the experiments had been a grave failure, for what Balhutti-Zhurekar and his acolytes had discovered meant that there was no escape for him from the Sorcerer's Curse. His body would continue to transform into stone until death, unless he managed to unlock the secrets behind Zhargon the Great's fickle immortality.

      No other mortal than Zhargon had even come close to that, and so it was that Balhutti-Zhurekar struck out with his surviving minions for a bold if not outright insane plan. For he would not baulk at anything to survive. He craved power above all, and power was worthless if you were dead.

      And the Dark Gods laughed.

      Stone to Fire: No one knew how they managed to do it, least of all the survivors themselves, but Sorcerer-Prophet Balhutti-Zhurekar the Decrepit led his followers out of the Mountains of Mourn against insurmountable odds. His had not been deeds of bravery, but desperate deeds of bloodlust and sorcerous savagery. Death followed in their wake, and madness lurked in his eyes. Eventually, the battered and ragged survivors climbed down from the Mountains of Mourn and collapsed at the banks of the River Ruin.

      They could have been beast food there and then, had not a squadron of Hull Destroyers steamed down the filthy waters for acts of piracy far to the south. The naval contingent took Balhutti-Zhurekar aboard, intent on taking the slaves for themselves and demanding a ransom from the Chaos Dwarfs' clans, until they discovered that a Sorcerer-Prophet was among the captives. Fawning to the Decrepit, they loaded his survivors with fresh supplies and unloaded them quickly on the other side of the River Ruin before steaming on south. The crew of the vessels made dire finger gestures to ward off Daemons when the haggard party disappeared beyond the horizon, for they had known in their cruel hearts that dark events would unfold, and they wanted no part in it.

      Balhutti-Zhurekar the Decrepit counted his surviving followers and calculated the best course of action now that he had reached the Dark Lands at last. They had been unloaded an equal distance from Daemon's Stump and the fiery lava wound in the earth known as the Bubbling Pits, yet the Sorcerer's Curse had ravaged his body and soul so that his followers had to carry him on a stretcher. This lacked all dignity for a Sorcerer-Prophet, yet it did not bother the power hungry Balhutti-Zhurekar. Impatience got the better off him in the end, and he set out for the Bubbling Pits right away.

      First, however, his veteran followers took a detour to the Red Maw Ogre tribe, north of Daemon's Stump. They managed to overcome and enslave several Ogre Bulls, one Ogre female and a hundred Gnoblars before wandering north west to the Bubbling Pits. The group had to fight off giant wolves, ash condors and Goblins on their way, yet still they pressed on. What they didn't know, however, was that they were hunted by the vengeful members of the Red Maw. These angered Ogres had declared a blood feud on Balhutti-Zhurekar and were out to kill and eat the kidnappers. Alive, if possible.

      One moonless night of ill omens, the Dawi Zharr and Hobgoblins arrived at the vast lava pools of the Bubbling Pits and prepared the sacrifices meticulously. They had to carve new idols from lava rock, for the portable ones were either left back around the Hissing Pits, or abandoned in the Mountains of Mourn. Altars were constructed quickly, and pentagrams and mysterious circles of runes in both Dark Tounge and Khaozalid script were carved into the blackened ground. Sorcerer-Prophet Balhutti-Zhurekar the Decrepit knew that the Hissing Pits had been part of the mass eruption at his birth, and this ominous connection to himself was to be ruthlessly exploited by heinous rituals and vile magic.

      As the sacrificial rites started amidst smoke and dirges, half the Red Maw tribe climbed over the top of a lava rock ridge, and bellowed in fury as they saw the haggard group. They had tracked and pursued Balhutti-Zhurekar, and now they were out to get him. They charged with the sound of thunder down the slope, straight at the trapped Chaos Dwarfs and Hobgoblins. The cunning Sorcerer-Prophet, however, changed plans in the blink of an eye and used this to his advantage.

      Balhutti-Zhurekar roared and ordered his subordinates to counter-charge. With a battlecry to Hashut on their lips, they stormed into their own deaths against an avalanche of tonnes upon tonnes of fat, muscle and iron. Balhutti-Zhurekar could barely walk, yet he performed the sacrifices himself in rapid order with two axes, skipping several time-consuming rites and drawing upon sorcerous power to trap the escaping souls of the dead. He then trapped the souls of all his followers and a few Ogres that died in the combat close by to him, and quickly chanted words of malevolent power. As the bloodthirsty Ogres rushed at him, he clumsily dove into the Bubbling Pits, and the lava devoured him.

      The Ogres mocked the sorcerer's cowardice and laughed. The Red Maw collected the corpses of the fallen and roasted them on iron spits above the lava pools. Much mirth, laughter and rowdy song was in the air as the tribe celebrated its nighttime victory on the spot. Suddenly, the Bubbling Pits erupted in a cascade of molten rock that scorched Ogre and Gnoblar alike. Out from this inferno rose a Chaos Dwarf swathed in flame, who breathed fire over the Red Maw and cut down anyone before him with flaming blades. The Ogres were terrified at this seemingly Daemonic fiend and soon fled as their casaulties started to ramp up.

      Behind them, the vicious laughter of Sorcerer-Prophet Balhutti-Zhurekar the Decrepit crackled like fire in the night. He had risked everything and won. He had bore the brunt of the Curse, yet now he invited it. He had never been able to avert the Sorcerer's Curse, that much was clear from the experience of the Hissing Pit events, yet he had been able to transform it. His former stony flesh were now flames, and his flesh would turn to fire not stone. Since he had also made his body immune to the touch of searing flames, he had tricked the Sorcerer's Curse.

      Now, nothing would stand in the way of his rise to power.

      Had it not been for his own crackling flames, Balhutti-Zhurekar might have heard the guffaw of malicious deities at the edge of his hearing.

      Grasp of Dark Gods: Sorcerer-Prophet Balhutti-Zhurekar the Decrepit returned in unholy triumph to Daemon's Stump. His very appearance as a fiery son of Hashut made Dawi Zharr fall to their knees before him and praise the Father of Darkness. A new sacrificial feast was established in this stronghold, and his harem consorts were auctioned off since he could no longer touch them. With prophetic knowledge of others' actions, brutal campaigns of war against feral Greenskins, and cunning political maneouvres, he made himself the most powerful of all Sorcerer-Prophets. This position was confirmed when Balhutti-Zhurekar was anointed as High Priest of Hashut. And the Mark of the Bull God was upon his flaming brow.

      For some decades, the so-called Fire Prophet ruled the Chaos Dwarf empire in a way not seen since the days of Zhargon the Great, although he did not attain the same level of absolute power as Zhargon had. Clad in nought but metal, the Decrepit ruled with a hunger for power that saw the establishment of many lesser outposts on the outskirts of their territories, and he ruled with a might that saw any enemy warlord crushed when they opposed Balhutti-Zhurekar with their filthy hordes. The Fire Prophet's resurgence of Dawi Zharr conquest seemed enough to satisfy any ruler's ambitions.

      Yet the appetites of High Priest Balhutti-Zhurekar the Decrepit had only been whetted by his near-kingship, and upon the pinnacle of power he craved for more. He saw that Hashut was only a minor Dark God, and even His mighty empire in the Dark Lands was as nothing compared to the combined might of Chaos Undivided, in which Hashut was only a small fraction of the whole. Thus the High Priest plotted the unthinkable heresy, but kept it hidden from the watchful eyes of Bhaal of the sacred Bull Centaurs.

      After many secret dealings with northman Sorcerers of Chaos and endless study of forbidden mysteries, the Fire Prophet divined the opportune time to become the next Everchosen of the Dark Gods. And when the appointed year arrived, he was prepared to fulfil the prophecies.

      He attempted it, loaded with potent talismans and Daemonic flasks about his fiery person, yet he won something else as the capricious humour of the Great Four made them grant him immortality instead. Balhutti-Zhurekar the Decrepit forsook his lordship as High Priest of the Chaos Dwarfs and entered the Realm of Chaos in triumph. For now, he was content to plot from within the Empyrean to overthrow the Great Four, even if it would take aeons. And what need had he for Hashut? He could be his own god now.

      And the Dark Gods fell silent with expectation, as if waiting for the punchline, and their Eye fell upon Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the Great.

      Dark Vengeance Time: When the High Priest's betrayal and heresy were revealed in the visions of every Sorcerer-Prophet in the Dark Lands, the scheming Dawi Zharr elite united for once. A cabal of the strongest Sorcerer-Prophets in the Temple of Zharr-Naggrund took it upon themselves to bring down high Hashut's vengeance upon the arch-traitor. With thousands of sacrificial slave victims at their disposal, they scryed, divined and prognosticated the tumultous planes of the Realm of Chaos for years until they managed to pinpoint the Daemon Prince Balhutti-Zhurekar. He may have been the only Dwarf ever to attain Daemonhood, yet he would suffer for his transgression.

      A massive amount of mystical scripture was both read and written in preparation for the rituals to come, and the Dawi Zharr empire geared much of its industry and slaving expeditions into supplying the Temple with the incredibly complex yet potent arcane artefacts required, as well as a stupendously large supply of lives. Devious pacts with Daemons were sealed, and other Daemons were forged into pillars, braziers and icons, as well as hammers, masks and hats. Sorcerous machinery was built and transported to Daemon's Stump, where it was installed in the very best position to trap a Daemon in the mortal realm.

      With all this equipment, and a titanic amount of other preparations which were all meticulous to the smallest detail, the sworn cabal of Sorcerer-Prophets initiated the largest possession and Daemonsmithing rite ever carried out succesfully. Blood ran in rivers and the smoke from live bodies sacrificed in flames and molten metal formed clouds that blotted out the sun. Greenskins and other creatures were killed in their thousands, and then thousands upon thousands more slaves were slain upon the altars before His mighty idols.

      These sacrifices were all part of a vast and complex ritual involving dozens of Sorcerer-Prophets and hundreds of acolytes and Daemonsmiths. The lives of a sizeable chunk of the Chaos Dwarf leadership hung in the balance as they risked all in this dark vengeance time. The whole Dawi Zharr population of Daemon's Stump, Zharr-Naggrund, the Tower of Gorgoth, the Black Fortress and northerly Uzkulak simultaneously undertook mass sacrifices, and the chanting to Hashut flowed out over the Dark Lands. It sounded otherwordly, like the choirs of Daemons. And in the lands of Daemons, fell sorceries hunted the renegade across the Empyrean.

      Night turned to flaming day at Daemon's Stump. The bloodletting was immense, and the new High Priest, Arkozor the Bale, made the whole event culminate when he sacrificed his own son in flames, just as Balhutti-Zhurekar's parents should have done. The rituals reached their climax, and the traitor Daemon Prince was summoned as he tried to claw his way back into the Realm of Chaos. This was to no avail, and a rune-inscribed obsidian cage slammed down on him.

      Now, the Decrepit was trapped. Faced with the thoroughly undertaken vengeance of an empire, he could not escape Hashut's judgement. It is said volcanoes erupted all across the Dark Lands and both Taurus and Lammasu alike bellowed in cruel triumph when the Sorcerer-Prophets reforged Balhutti-Zhurekar's Daemonic essence and power into a shackled metal frame deep beneath Daemon's Stump. Ensorcelled hammers and cursed molten metals brutally worked themselves upon the Daemon Prince and subdued him. The torture and agony in his fallen soul was carried across much of the Dark Lands and Mountains of Mourn as the former Fire Prophet howled in pain, and the Dark Gods laughed like madmen at it.

      He was enslaved, broken and reforged into the K'daai Oracle. Balhutti-Zhurekar's fiery being would forever more be imprisoned within a chained metal armour frame, yet its blaze would only be awakened after complicated and very bloody sorcerous rites. The rest of the time it would lie locked for eternity in metal, a torment in a small pocket of hell for a Daemon Prince promised immortality and free-roaming power within the Realm of Chaos.

      High Priest Arkozor the Bale and all his allies and minions inscribed fell runes of arcane power to control the imprisoned Balhutti-Zhurekar, for the mysterious Chaos Dwarfs are ever a pragmatic lot and won't let anything useful pass by. Conscious of the former Dawi Zharr's prophetic powers, they forged him into a burning oracle bound to answer the most dire questions truthfully. Yet even so the fickle nature of Chaos ensured it enough independence to give cryptic responses that could be so convoluted they might as well have been lies.

      The K'daai Oracle is undeniably capricious in its ways of relaying messages to those who ask it for counsel. One common method (besides spoken words sounding like a furnace given a voice) includes dozens of mixed, live slaves branded with runes, yet to extract the correct meaning one have to put the slaves in the correct order to uncover the hidden message. One slave out of order might cost you your life as some devious nuance of the oracular reply is lost on you. Another way of answering is for the K'daai Oracle to shoot out winged fire imps, akin to lethal fireworks, who splash into the walls of its heavily guarded chamber, wards and all. The recepient of the answer must then catch a glimpse of each flaming rune which forms upon the imp's impact, lest it is lost and crucial parts of the message with it.

      But at that moment, when Balhutti-Zhurekar was forged into the K'daai Oracle, its words were the worst of curses on its captors. Since it could only speak in prophetic riddles, these curses turned into a horrific foretelling of the End Times, predicting the rise of Nagash, the Glotkin and much more concerning the coming doom of the world. These enigmatic words were eventually decoded, although the final interpretation of them will never be reached before the prophecy is fulfilled.

      From then on, the K'daai Oracle have been kept captive for all eternity in secret chambers deep beneath that vile fortress, never taken out of its prison and only seen for the occassion of oracular consultation. Or so the Sorcerer-Prophets lording it over Daemon's Stump would have us believe...
    • Written by: KNC
      Illustrated by: @forgefire

      Idolatry lurks at the heart of Dawi Zharr religion and superstition. Monumental statues and images of the Father of Darkness tower above people and slaves in the strongholds of the Chaos Dwarf empire. The visage of Hashut is everywhere in this infernal realm, and the multitude of lesser figures of mythology (whether cult founders, great men, Daemons or the consorts of Hashut) are also represented in carvings, paintings, statues and household idols.

      These images are not only found in the Temple and its subservient shrines, but are found everywhere in architecture, machinery and other crafted objects. Their intricate purposes varies immensely, for the Chaos Dwarf mindset is meticulous and enigmatic in its mysticism. Some of the simpler purposes of these images of gods and evil spirits include averting curses and fell Daemons; inviting winds of magic; gaining the Bull God's favour or soothing His wrath; acting as potent guardians and taboo signs; and reminding the living of perils and duties exemplified in legend.

      Whatever the specific aim of these images, producing them is in itself an act of worship to the Dawi Zharr. No wonder that some of their warmachines and K'daai Destroyers are forged to resemble visions of the great Bull God. Furthermore, each likeness of high Hashut and the lesser religious figures is believed to possess a connection to the higher being, and even a small fraction of that entity's power. To praise, sacrifice and call upon the Bull God or some Daemon for aid in front of their idol is as such not only rational behaviour to the Chaos Dwarfs, but a powerful act of worship involving bribes, adulation and even trickery in order to convince the capricious divinity to return the favour as wished for by the worshipper.

      This is a harsh gamble at the best of times, because it involves Chaos. At the worst of times, it is a deadly hazard, and the songs and stories of the Chaos Dwarfs are filled with cruel punishment dealt by the very cult images offered blood and praise by the victims of divine wrath. For life is never safe or easy to the Dawi Zharr, and they know that their actions are being watched and judged by the mighty idols of the Father of Darkness, to whom they sacrifice in flames and molten metal.

      They fear them, for the vengeance of the idols is the stuff of legends.

      Such are the stories told of sacred images by the Blacksmiths of Chaos.

      This is one of these stories.

      Harnessing the Wyrdstone: Long ago in Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the Great there lived a stone carver, unmarried, harsh to slaves and hard-working as were so many other Chaos Dwarf males. His commoner's lineage stretched back but three generations, to the eighteenth son in the harem of a Sorcerer-Prophet, yet he was as lowly as the most simple of Dawi Zharr. The stone carver's name was Kebuzhar.

      One day, Kebuzhar chipped away at a stone block and uncovered a huge and ancient chunk of wyrdstone embedded within it. Its glare and glow had not diminished by age, and so he hid the warpstone inside his hat. Later that day, he offered it up in flames, with hymns to Hashut before his household idols, yet the flames could not consume it.

      Then he offered up the wyrdstone to his god's image in a cauldron of molten spelter, yet the glowing stone would not melt. Out of piety, the stone carver bought, on the spot, two Goblin porter slaves from the street outside and performed the same correct rituals enhanced by the potency of sacrificial scarification, bloodletting and the screams of the vanquished weak ones. But still the warpstone would not be accepted by the flames of the household altar. Kebuzhar read this as a sign of the Bull God's wish for him to take the wyrdstone for himself, and so he did.

      Kebuzhar the stone carver wrapped the wyrdstone in layers of Greenskin hide and cunningly hid it inside his second best hat. Then he brought with him most of his savings and paid the Hellsmith Barr-Gukesh Copperchin to secretly rivet on a bronze plate on the inside of Kebuzhar's hat. This plate was carved with ensorcelled runes that channeled the warpstone's power into the bearer as per the customer's specifications.

      The stone carver's hands twisted and hardened to clawed talons over the days. Soon, Kebuzhar Darkclaw's fingers could cut through any material like butter, be it stone or metal. Yet this only made him tear his clothes to rags and ruin both furniture and tools. He had half by half killed himself after a sleep of nightmares and constant turning in the bed. Kebuzhar collected all the valuables he had left and stumbled into the Soulforge of Hellsmith Barr-Gukesh for a second time. He was still bleeding and covered in bandaged and cauterized gashes.

      The Hellsmith agreed to install a second bronze plate inside his hat, but the stone carver's fortune was too small. Thus Barr-Gukesh Copperchin forced Kebuzhar to secretly swear fealty to him. Once done with this, the scarred man left the workshop and went to work himself. Now, the Darkclaw's talon-hands could only cut through stone and obsidian with ease. He abandoned tools altogether and mastered stonecarving with his bare hands. His claws sheared through granite and volcanic glass alike, and Kebuzhar knew that the wyrdstone's powers had at last been harnessed.

      Divine Warning: The fast work of the stone carver Kebuzhar Darkclaw soon made him infamous and widely sought after for all number of constructions involving stone. Kebuzhar was allowed to set up his own business by his Despot, and the master stone carver always wore his second best hat during his waking hours. His specialty was the carving of idols, and in this trade he prospered and turned out magnificient pieces. The people thought Kebuzhar to be blessed by Hashut, and his renown grew.

      One day, Kebuzhar Darkclaw was called to an audience with his overlord, Sorcerer-Prophet Azhorn Bloodsmith. The stone carver anticipated Azhorn's questioning of him, for Kebuzhar donned his very best hat, left the warpstone hat at home and attended the audience with all the respect and adoration to be expected by a man of the lower castes. Yet even so he sinned, because Kebuzhar lied to his Prophet and told him he knew nothing of where his new abilities came from. For were there not many mysteries in the world, and were not the ways of high Hashut obscured to mere mortals such as he?

      The Father of Darkness must have known of Kebuzhar's profanity towards His sacred hierarchy, for that very night did three vile ratmen creep up unseen from the depths of Zharr-Naggrund. They were warpstone hunters from Clan Eshin, led by a low sorceror, and somehow they bypassed all the fearsome wards and guards and climbed the step levels of the grand ziggurat city. The sorceror of these Skaven had somehow detected the stone carver's wyrdstone from a far-away distance, and now they were out to get it.

      Silently, they raided his dwelling. One of the intruders almost killed Kebuzhar in his sleep with a rusty knife, yet the Chaos Dwarf was saved when the ratman lost his nerve close to the warpstone hat and chittered excitedly. A wild fight ensued. Kebuzhar Darkclaw fought furiously with the Skaven over the hat, and somehow he managed to rip them to pieces one by one with his talon-hands. He then burnt their corpses at a street shrine's altar right in front of Hashut's mighty idol, and limped back home while bleeding on the street.

      Yet Kebuzhar would neither heed this divine warning, nor did he see it for what it was. Instead, he would sin yet again.

      Betrayal: Twelve years later did the master stone carver Kebuzhar Darkclaw receive a mustering tablet, calling him and his clan to join the host of Sorcerer-Prophet Azhorn Bloodsmith in a campaign of war. Dutifully, Kebuzhar packed all his equipment and rations before sacrificing a hen to the household idols whilst vowing unyielding endurance in combat.

      Before he could leave, however, Kebuzhar was intercepted by Hellsmith Barr-Gukesh Copperchin, who did not serve the same lord as the stone carver did. Barr-Gukesh insisted that he needed Kebuzhar more than Azhorn Bloodsmith did. When Kebuzhar Darkclaw protested, the Hellsmith demanded his services at once with the fury of the Great Thunderbull in his voice and eyes. So it was that Kebuzhar broke his sacred obedience to his Sorcerer-Prophet by instead following the Hellsmith. At this, all the household idols in the traitor's house fell to the floor.

      Kebuzhar marched down the streets, loaded with equipment and baggage, yet he went into the Soulforge of Barr-Gukesh instead of meeting the muster call. Two dozen slaves already stood loaded with equipment and necessities in the workshop when they entered it. The Hellsmith spoke a long line of convoluted words in the Dark Tounge, and a door to a secret stairway opened in a wall. The pair of Dawi Zharr and their band of thralls descended the dark stairs.

      They would not live to see the face of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund again.

      Punishment: The workshop of Hellsmith Barr-Gukesh Copperchin had been secretly connected with hidden staircases in the massive walls of the ziggurat city through years of slave labour and quiet nighttime sorceries.

      Now, he led his burdened followers deep beneath the surface of the Plain of Zharr, into the very guts of Zharr-Naggrund. They came to a realm of sewers, aqueducts, cisterns and warehouses. They wandered past secret tunnels, mysterious tombs and sealed chambers. Strange sounds from some Daemonsmith's hidden forge-laboratory occassionally echoed down in the catacombs of the Chaos Dwarf capitol.

      Hellsmith Barr-Gukesh followed a dubious copy of some ancient map, inscribed on Ogre hide. His band travelled for days and days, and soon they left behind them tunnels with masonry walls and vaults to trek down natural caverns instead. It was a long journey which took a full week to complete on foot for the Chaos Dwarfs. It took them through hot places of brimstone and exposed magma. Eventually, they reached a truly thick masonry stone wall, which was carved with ferocious curses and the visages of guardian Daemons.

      Here, Barr-Gukesh ordered his vassal stone carver to claw a large hole through the wall in front of them. Kebuzhar Darkclaw was apalled at the very thought of invoking the curses and watchful Daemons by tunnelling through the wall. He protested, yet the Hellsmith forced him to carry out the order by reminding the craven Kebuzhar of his oath and the expensive ensorcelled bronze plates in his hat.

      Thus it was that the master stone carver carried out his third sin. Kebuzhar chanted a dirge to high Hashut as he clawed through the stone. The curses on the wall were vile indeed, for his flesh mutated and became twisted whilst he toiled. The flesh of Kebuzhar grew sinewy and became stony grey. Its surface cracked. His feet were twisted into talons like his hands already were, and his nose became a beak whilst his beard coils changed into yet more talons. This did however aid him in the tunnelling work. Finally, Kebuzhar's hat sank into him, and the wyrdstone melted halfway into his head.

      He managed to carve out a small opening through to the other side of the stone wall. Then the stone carver collapsed and seemed dead to everyone around him. Hellsmith Barr-Gukesh Copperchin sent in his slaves to cut away the last remaining stones. They left the discarded Kebuzhar on the ground and proceeded into the chamber behind the wall.

      It was a dark place, yet the torchlight from the slaves shone in the gold hull of a mighty bull statue in the centre of the room. It was one of the very oldest idols of Hashut, and it possessed true power that still lingered in its untarnished metal frame. Barr-Gukesh laughed out loud when he saw this, and chalked out a summoning circle on the floor around the bull. Then he ordered his Hobgoblins to cut the tendons of twelve screaming Goblins, who were then placed in separate positions in the circle.

      Hellsmith Barr-Gukesh began chanting. He channelled bale sorcery and went about sacrificing the Goblin victims with knife and flames. His mystic rites were aimed at enslaving a Daemon within the gold bull. In this, he succeeded.

      The ancient statue sprang to life. It bellowed fire and trampled the Hellsmith and his Hobgoblin lackeys in the chamber. Panicked shrieks and the thunderous steps of the gold bull echoed in the darkness when stone carver Kebuzhar woke up from unconsciousness. Dizzy, he realized that divine punishment was being dealt by Hashut through the enraged bull statue. The Chaos Dwarf realized that his doom had come. He ran for it.

      He ran back through tunnels and caverns to escape, yet soon the pounding charge of the furious idol could be heard behind him. The wretched Kebuzhar Darkclaw was struck and impaled by the gold bull, who then went on to a tour of rampage through Zharr-Naggrund's subterranean levels. There, it killed thousands of slaves and made the whole Plain of Zharr quake at its holy wrath.

      Restoration: Eventually, the priesthood performed a mass sacrifice of a whole enslaved Hung Marauder tribe, who had been tricked into riding all the way to Zharr-Naggrund by the false promises of mercenary work relayed by Hobgoblin messengers. Then, and only then, was the sacred anger of the mighty idol soothed. The gold bull fell silent and its fire died down. It went still once again.

      The Sorcerer-Prophets read the portents in the guts of an Orc, and declared that the statue must be restored to its ancient position. It was transported back to its chamber, in which the corpses of Hellsmith Barr-Gukesh Copperthroat and his slaves were left lying unburnt in eternal dishonour. They were left as a warning to future intruders, and the breach in the wall was sealed off.

      As for the late master stone carver Kebuzhar Darkclaw, his mangled corpse had fallen outside of the idol's chamber. Thus, Sorcerer-Prophet Azhorn Bloodsmith had it brought to his palace, where he looted the wyrdstone and placed the corpse on the floor like a puppet. Together with his apprentices, Azhorn Bloodsmith carried out heinous rituals that petrified the corpse of Kebuzhar.

      And to this day it stands in plain view to everyone as a warning unto others who would commit blasphemy against the Order of Things upheld by the Father of Darkness. Azhorn installed the statuesque corpse amidst a monstrous fresque adorning the walls of one of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund's great ziggurat step levels. The Chaos Dwarfs claim that vultures still land upon the stony remains of Kebuzhar, waiting in vain for a meal they can never have.

      For such is the fate of those judged unworthy to live by Hashut's mighty idols.

    • Bale enslavers. Torturers. Insane craftsmen. Demented builders. Fanatical sacrificers. Adulators of Dark Gods. Jailors of Daemons. Murderers. These are the Dwarfs of Fire, the Dawi Zharr of the Dark Lands, where they have carved out the only empire to stand the test of time in these cursed landscapes of ashes and desolation. These mysterious creatures are known to the world as the Chaos Dwarfs, and their infamy stretches far beyond their strongholds, for both their fell deeds and great works are the stuff of legends, however unbelievable these raving stories of aghast travellers and foreign madmen might seem to the simpletons of lesser races.

      The Dawi Zharr rule over a dark realm of massive slavery, oppression and heinous cruelty for the sake of insane crafts, ritual and malice alike. It is an enduring empire, set amidst the Dark Lands and surrounded by hostile Greenskins, restless Undead and migrating Ogres on all sides. No matter the calamities which has befallen it, the long-term survival and success of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the Great and all her holdings in these volatile conditions have oft times been interpreted as a miracle bestowed upon the Chaos Dwarfs by Chaos and the Father of Darkness Himself. Perhaps they are right in this view.

      Yet the endurance of the Dawi Zharr realm has also always been one dependent on hiding behind strong walls in order to escape the worst of foes to sweep across the Dark Lands, for the conquering hordes of Greenskins, Undead, Ogres, Chaos followers and nomadic Ungols may occassionally wax too large, too strong in number and arms for the Chaos Dwarfs to confront directly upon the field of battle. Zharr-Naggrund and her daughter strongholds would never have grown slowly into its current high ascendancy without a stark understanding of when you may and when you may not fight and win.

      The slow strategies of the Dawi Zharr has spanned millennia of terror tactics, slave raids, conquest, calculated diplomacy and neverending toil. These have been ages filled with dark industry and demented ingenuity, yet also ages punctuated by brutal challenges to the very survival of the tribe of Hashut. Some of these existential threats have come from within, as the civil war at the end of Zhargon the Great's reign and the devastating Black Orc Rebellion demonstrated, yet many of the greatest perils have come from without.

      The Chaos Dwarfs could never have survived and expanded into a thriving dark empire without their hard-won insights into the nature of victory and defeat. Sometimes, it is better to retreat behind strong fortifications and endure the ravages of siege and accept the destruction which the besieging forces visits upon the lands outside your walls. Sooner or later the storm of steel will abate, whether due to it marching elsewhere in search of easier lands to despoil, or because it grinds itself down against your walls in bloody yet fruitless sieges of misery and death.

      All Dwarfs, whether fallen to Chaos or not, have a strong desire for long life and protection of their kin. Coupled with their inherent cleverness and untiring craftsmanship, this primal drive to survive and endure in a dangerous world has led both uncorrupted Dwarfs and Chaos Dwarfs to construct some of, if not the most indomitable fortresses which the world has ever seen. Perhaps only the Great Bastion of Grand Cathay could rival or even surpass these Dwarfen fortifications. To the Dawi Zharr, the titanic walls of their vast ziggurat capital city is a monumental achievement and a source of malignant confidence and pride. It would seem impossible for mortal hands to breach these strong fortifications, yet Mingol Zharr-Naggrund is far from the only stronghold of the Chaos Dwarfs. Several major strongholds exists, such as Daemon's Stump, the Tower of Gorgoth, Uzkulak of the north and the Black Fortress of the dread Infernal Guard. All of these are bastions of unimaginable strength.

      Beside these main centres of population and power, many minor outposts, clan settlements and forts dot the Dark Lands in both strategic and less advisable positions. Some of these have fallen or been abandoned as the dictates of distant rulers or the constantly shifting demands of war, mining and slaving expeditions have deprived them of their usefulness, seeing the defensive structures declining into ruins and the lairs of monsters and primitives alike. Yet most of these fortified outposts still stand tall, manned by Dawi Zharr warriors and slave troopers alike. Though some of these forts have occasionally fallen, their reconquest have allowed the Chaos Dwarfs to test their experimental artillery pieces and subsequently improve upon the oppressive fortifications.

      These are strongholds of thick and high walls bedecked with skulls, the skins of flayed enemies and other gruesome trophies to strike terror into the hearts of slaves and besiegers alike. Grim centres for maintaining power and control over the surrounding country, these are dark bastions of a heinous empire, illuminated only by the fiery glow of lava, braziers and torches. These forts are built to withstand overwhelmingly strong attacking forces, and to allow the defenders to reap a high death toll among their assailants. Many are the stories and legends surrounding these often far-flung outposts and their precarious fates. They are accounts of backbreaking toil and brilliant engineering of lethal intent. They are also tales of starvation and misery, of hellish bombardments and brutal stormings of the battlements, and of merciless bloodbaths and darkest desperation.

      Such are the stories of abominable fortress walls as told by the Blacksmiths of Chaos.

      This is one of these stories.

      The Prophecy: Centuries ago, the promising Temple Acolyte Karunezharr had risen through the ranks to at last be elevated to Sorcerer-Prophet and become initiated into the deepest mysteries of Chaos and the fiery Bull God. He had always been an ambitious and daring man, not shy of putting himself in danger to achieve greater power, influence and secret knowledge. Yet Karunezharr's seventh blood-soaked augury in front of an oracle fire and Hashut's mighty idols would change his character profoundly.

      The dark omens were clear. Karunezharr would escape any major baleful petrification of flesh which the Sorcerer's Curse would doom his rival Sorcerer-Prophets, and furthermore the Dark Gods would grant him such longevity as if they seemed to wish for him immortality. However, the catch in this revelation was that he must keep from being slain, lest the newly initiated Sorcerer-Prophet's promised fate would elude him. For should he die, no afterlife in any divine or hellish realm could ever await Karunezharr.

      Long days of solace and meditation upon these predictions transformed the arriviste daredevil into a paranoid poltroon, a craven lord fearing treachery and sudden death at every turn. The Sorcerer-Prophet became known as Karunezharr Steelbeard, for he took to wearing a masked helmet with a sizeable scalemail beard guard in order to better protect his neck. Yet the prophecy also bestowed Karunezharr with megalomania to rival his sharpened ambitions. He was utterly determined to survive, for long life could grant him the means to unlock the secrets of immortality, and from there, ascension to godhood might be only a matter of ages' worth of exploration, of the deepest mysteries of Chaos, away. Yet to the outside world, Karunezharr always maintained a pious and devoted facade which betrayed nothing of his long-term ambitions to surpass and maybe even subjugate the Father of Darkness Himself.

      But to survive unharmed for that long in the perilous Dark lands and amidst the world of volatile Chaos Dwarf Temple politics, the Sorcerer-Prophet first needed a safe hideout like few others.

      The Undertaking: Sorcerer-Prophet Karunezharr Steelbeard gathered about him some of the finest Daemonsmith fortification experts to be found throughout the Dawi Zharr empire. Between them, these demented geniuses came up with groundbreaking innovations for defensive structures. Together, these engineers toiled day and night to sketch out the magnificient fortifications requested by their client, and then proceeded to find him the best location to construct this monumental fortress. Eventually, their search parties and prospectors found a suitable position, to the south just outside the crater Plain of Zharr, which perfectly suited Karunezharr's selfish purposes.

      It was a remote area of rugged terrain, close to scarcely anything of value. It was a forsaken backwater, yet its geology of solid rock fit a peculiar criterium of Karunezharr's, namely the absence of old and forgotten mining tunnels or natural cave systems lurking beneath the surface of the fortress, which could possibly allow assassins or enemies to undermine or sneak inside the walls unseen. The chosen build site lay atop a rocky hill, surrounded by no other heights for leagues around which could allow attackers cover or good vantage points and firing positions for magical spells and artillery alike. Nevertheless, there were some fresh water sources beneath the hill. The place was obscure and hard to reach, but it was perfect.

      Much of the building materials for the fortress complex were quarried on the site, simultaneously extracting building stone and carving out tunnels and halls in the virgin underground. The first building to be constructed was the heavily fortified residential ziggurat, which would act as both palace and citadel, for the owner wished to move away from the dangerous capital of Zharr-Naggrund as fast as possible.

      Sorcerer-Prophet Karunezharr Steelbeard spent lavishly on his expanding keep and its walls, yet the ravenous man's power and influence grew but slowly as he concerned himself little with the outside world. He came to rely on indirect rule over his clans through delegated Daemonsmiths and other trusted subordinates, for Karunezharr locked himself away in his new residence, where he studied the mysteries of Hashut and Chaos intensely in search of wisdom, power and eternal life. On those few occasions when Karunezharr Steelbeard was seen outside his infamous home, he was always accompanied by a cohort of devoted bodyguards, carrying talismans of protection and other ensorcelled wards about his person.

      Soon, Karunezharr became known amongst the Dawi Zharr as the Hidden Prophet. Even so, he outlived all of his contemporary rivals and allies of the elite Temple priesthood of Hashut.

      The Stronghold: Karunezharr Steelbeard's ambition for the fortifications of his dwelling was to rival the walls of Zharr-Naggrund itself in defensive power, albeit on a decidedly smaller scale. To this end, his Daemonsmith Engineers directed the toil of hundreds of Chaos Dwarfs, thousands of Hobgoblins and tens of thousands of lesser slaves toward constructing a unique fortress capable of withstanding long sieges and the worst of assaults. They eventually succeeded in this task.

      The grand fruit of all their labours became known as the Chaos Star Fort, built around the Sorcerer-Prophet's palatial ziggurat in an eight-pointed star formation of high, sloping walls that jutted and zigzagged. All the angles of these thick and imposing walls were built to exactly calculated plans which would allow the Fort defenders' artillery pieces optimum firing fields to kill and burn any assailants. At the base of the fortress walls' glacis were set bristling masses of rusty iron spikes, surrounded by a wide moat which could be filled up with cursed lava by an ensorcelled pump system which kept the hot lava molten for an unnaturally long time of many years on end. The terrain outside the moat were in turn equipped with a scattering of concealed iron stake pits and planted with razor-sharp thorn bushes.

      This Chaos Star Fort was, and remains to this day, a mighty structure of obsidian, brick, stone and metal. Atop its tall battlements are stepped crenellations akin to miniature ziggurats in relief, frequently accompanied by braziers and spikes adorned with skulls or the desiccated corpses of impaled foes. Furthermore, numerous Lammasus and Tauruses carved out of stone and obsidian were built into the walls at vital positions, standing stock-still like statues only to emerge as golems to quash any nearby foes, sending most attackers fleeing in panic at the horrifying sight and the crushing blows born from the very sides of the massive bastion.

      The only entrance into the Chaos Star Fort goes through its strong gatehouse, which is nothing short of a castle of its own. In this huge gatehouse, the way to the heavy gates snakes through a thick stone maze lined with murder holes, fireslits, malicious traps and various dead ends. The gatehouse is equipped with sacrificial altars and small dungeons of its own, from which slaves can be taken for quick, ritual mass sacrifices dedicated to awake the K'daai guardians lurking in the wall niches of the gatehouse tunnel maze, trading mortal blood for Daemonic fire to fall upon enemies at the gates.

      Every twelfth brick and stone of the Chaos Star Fort were painstakingly inscribed with vile curses upon any enemy daring enough to besiege or assault the walls. These curses were accompanied by fell runes in the Dark Tounge, Khaozalid and more mysterious scripts, which were carved into stones and idols at important locations to be invoked in order to provide sorcerous protection or shackled Daemons to beset the foe. Moreover, the Fort contains very large stores of ammunition, coal and raw materials, as well as oil and sand to be heated and poured onto assailants. The whole stronghold, both outer fortress walls and the ziggurat citadel, were constructed akin to a bunker in order to withstand bombardment from artillery and magic alike, as well as aerial assaults from monstrous creatures and machines.

      However, large parts of the defensive complex is subterranean, as should be expected from anything constructed by Dwarfs, corrupted though they might be. Large underground tunnels and halls for accomodation were carved out from the hard rock, forming a network of defensive hallways connecting armouries, forges, vertical hidden air shafts and storehouses, as well as barracks, dark shrines, Taurus stables, fresh-water sources and large fungus plantations to keep the defenders fed for decades on end. Furthermore, this underground fortress is turned virtually impenetrable by its ingenious, multi-level defense system of rolling stone doors, Daemonic traps and much more besides, everything fit to have been thought out by a devil.

      In short, the Chaos Star Fort is several strongholds in one, a bastion which is a massive state-of-the-art fortification. Curiously, most of its innovative design have only rarely been copied since Chaos Dwarfs seldom face foes in the Dark Lands who sports powerful artillery. In the lifetime of Karunezharr Steelbeard, capricious fate or the machinations of the Sorcerer-Prophet saw this remote fortress lure and repel a migrating Ogre tribe. It also saw a nascent Orc Waaagh! bleed itself dry upon its strong walls, as if to prove the Fort's superiority. Curiously, following the death of Karunezharr, no seriously threatening enemy armies ever again ventured into this rugged backwater region to lay siege to the stronghold.

      Yet this safe hideout could not save the life of the man whose paranoia and megalomania had sparked its construction.

      The Treachery: Sorcerer-Prophet Karunezharr Steelbeard lived for centuries, but not forever. He was succesful without a doubt in his convoluted studies and hunt for mysteries and clues to greater power and immortality. Naturally, Karunezharr did not reach the end of his obsessive quest, yet the dark secrets he managed to uncover were invaluable and those pieces of otherworldly wisdom have been objects of conflict and negotiation between rival Sorcerer-Prophets ever since.

      In the end, the craven Karunezharr's outstanding cruelty cost him his life, for his heavy-handed and sadistic manners in the harem sparked the undying hatred of one of his concubines, Takurta. Seeing her husband live on, unnaturally healthy, at odds with his age, and with little else than flecks of surface petrification upon parts of Karunezharr's skin, the downtrodden Takurta realized that she would continue to serve her current master until her death, with no hope of escaping to a less malignant household through the Temple Marriage Market. In desperation and vile rage, Takurta backstabbed her man to death like a lowly Hobgoblin would do, and managed to violate the corpse by cutting off his beard and maim its hands, feet and manhood before crushing Karunezharr's shaven head with a household idol carved from black marble.

      Upon discovering this atrocity, Karunezharr's guards proceeded to maim the assassin Takurta, for she was yet a fertile Chaos Dwarf woman and thus too valuable to execute out of hand. The concubine's hands were cut off, and her teeth, tusks and horns were pulled out to prevent her from ever inflicting damage again. Her neck, arms and legs were shackled tightly together behind her back to restrict movement and induce endless pain. Fell runes were carved into her flesh to curse Takurta forever, and finally her nose was cut off in order to destroy her beauty. Then, she was not brought out to the Temple Marriage Market as would have been the case for an honourable consort, but rather she was bartered away to the Infernal Guard of the Black Fortress, for the price of a loaf of bread.

      In the Black Fortress, the murderess suffered gravely during her remaining days, locked away as she were in dark dungeons where callous Infernal Castellan owners would forcefully overpower her and father a full dozen of children upon the exhausted woman. This dread misery went on until Takurta's womb lost its fertility, whereupon she was discarded alive upon a trash pile like some rotten carcass. There, a Hobgoblin Khan discovered the wretch, and stole her away to be tortured and eaten, bit by bit, by his tribe of cruel Hobgoblins. These mischievous Greenskins managed to keep the bleeding Chaos Dwarf outcast alive for a full year of soul-crushing agony and pain, until merciful death finally claimed Takurta, bane of Karunezharr Steelbeard.

      The Waiting Walls: With the death of the Sorcerer-Prophet who built the Chaos Star Fort, the stronghold was largely abandoned, while the ziggurat citadel at its core was walled shut and locked with Daemonforged wards. Karunezharr's vengeful spirit was indeed denied an afterlife, and now wanders the rooms and corridors of his palace, ever on the lookout for something capable to bring him back to life or let him escape to the Realm of Chaos. Or, fail that, he searches for living creatures to fall upon and tear apart to slake his rage for a short while.

      To this day, the Fort remains of miniscule strategic value. The fortress has passed hands as a prestige marker between various Dawi Zharr overlords through the centuries. These shifting masters have maintained a skeleton garrison inside the Fort to act as watchposts and maintain parts of the underground plantations, as well as to keep the bastion from falling into disrepair or hostile hands. Occasionally it has also served as a minor base for slaving expeditions into the northern Howling Wastes.

      By far most of the massive fortifications lie empty and silent, save for the occasional sweeper slave, inspection party, work gang or patrol. Monsters are said to have found their dwellings within forgotten nooks and corners of the defensive complex, both above and below ground, and some ambitious young Chaos Dwarfs have indeed disappeared without a trace while searching for lost treasures and secrets believed to lie deep within the heart of the Chaos Star Fort.

      Over the centuries, several high-ranking Dawi Zharr of the elite priesthood, initiated into the inner mysteries of the Cult of Hashut, has planned to fall back with their surviving followers to the extraordinarily well-fortified stronghold and use it as a last holdout should the worst befall the capital city within their lifetime. For these power-hungry Sorcerer-Prophets all know of the feared End Times prophecies, which speaks of the bloody fall of the huge city of pillars and pits. Should the centre of Chaos Dwarf civilization be lost, the waiting walls of Karunezharr will provide a strong position of retreat for whichever Sorcerer-Prophet who happens to control it, and possibly his allies and rivals who offer a valuable enough payment in return for presumed safety.

      Though the Chaos Star Fort is akin to an anthill beside a mountain when compared to Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the Great, it still possess fortifications like few other strongholds in the world and remains to this day one of the wonders of the Dawi Zharr empire.

      Such are the hideouts of the Blacksmiths of Chaos.

      The post was edited 1 time, last by Karak Norn Clansman ().

    • Between the towering Worlds' Edge Mountains in the west and the titanic Mountains of Mourn in the east, there exists a stretch of volcanic desolation and wasteland so hostile its inhabitants are scarcely more than infighting Greenskins, roaming monsters, restless Undead and malevolent slavers hell-bent on crushing life, nature and even reality itself under their cruel yoke. These are the Dark Lands, and the only empire that have stood the test of time amidst its unforgiving landscapes and horrors is that which legend knows as the infernal realm of the Blacksmiths of Chaos.

      It is an empire of immense size, yet filled with uncontrolled emptiness between the strongholds of power. It is an empire of industry, slavery and gruelling oppression. It is an empire of mysteries and heinous magic. It is a realm of cruelty and suffering, of ash and smoke, of fire and darkness.

      Some claim it to be hell itself.

      Such is the world of the Dawi Zharr, a world governed by the devious will of a Dark God and the decrees of His ruthless priesthood of Sorcerer-Prophets, an elite caste of rival, absolute rulers, all vying for power whilst their flesh turn to stone. This is a world of myths and secrets, of hidden truths and lying Daemons. This is the cavalcade of legends that explains this world to the Chaos Dwarfs.

      And this is one of these stories.

      It is said, that long ago when lightning split the sky and flames burst forth from the depths of the earth, Chaos ruled. Magic poured into the world as the weak races of old were beset by mutant beasts and Daemons alike. Chaos ruled, and the ancestors of the Dawi Zharr were close to extinction. Yet in the caves under the Great Skull Land, these lost Dwarfs of old were saved from destruction by the Bull God, Hashut, the Father of Darkness. And He made them His tribe that they might conquer creation itself for Him.

      This was to be achieved through ages of neverending toil and war, and thus Hashut in His wisdom granted His servants the gift of magic and the gift of the bull. Not only did the Great Tauruses and their Lammasu offspring come to the Chaos Dwarfs, but the bull entered the very blood of the Dawi Zharr, and they were marked for greatness.

      Those marked most strongly by this blessing were born two-thirds bull and one-third Chaos Dwarf. Thus were born the first Bull Centaurs and Minotaurs of Dawi Zharr stock. Yet Hashut soon tested these two bull-spawns by pitting the strongest and most devout Bull Centaur, Bhaal, against the most prominent Minotaur, Karul-Hizzar, in a contest to prove who was the better servant of the Father of Darkness.

      This was to be a trial of twelve tests.

      First, Hashut laid out a vast banquet, and ordered the bull-spawns to consume as much as they could stomach. They both set about it with great fervour, yet in the end the Minotaur Karul-Hizzar was victorious by virtue of appetite.

      Second, Hashut ordered the bull-spawns to prove their piety by fasting, praying and singing hymns. The Bull Centaur Bhaal was awake day and night and rambled through the holy verses, over and over again before the shrine, yet the bestial nature of the Minotaur betrayed Karul-Hizzar, who fell asleep and jumbled the verses. Bhaal was victorious by virtue of piety.

      Third, Hashut took the bull-spawns to two gigantic boulders, and ordered them to shatter the rocks with a single hit. Bhaal charged across the whole Dark Lands to ram his boulder and managed to crack it severely. The Minotaur, on the other hand, charged just as long as Bhaal did, but succeeded in pulverizing his boulder entirely. Karul-Hizzar was victorious by virtue of strength.

      Fourth, Hashut led forth a female of the bull-spawns' respective kind, shackled them to the ground and ordered the contestants to remain chaste for sixty times sixty nights in the females' presence. Bhaal's devotion carried him through the ordeal to the end, yet the Minotaur's beastly nature betrayed Karul-Hizzar, and he fathered a whole race of illegitimate offspring. Bhaal was victorious by virtue of obedience.

      Fifth, Hashut placed the rivals at the bottom of a chasm shaped like an inverted cone, and ordered them to make the world tremble with their voices. The Bull Centaur yelled and made landslides crash down slopes all across the world, crushing everything in their path. The Minotaur, on the other hand, roared like the Dark Gods themselves and scarred the face of the earth as the land cracked open and swallowed the living. Karul-Hizzar was victorious by virtue of voice.

      Sixth, Hashut rent open a gate to the Great Realm Beyond, and declared the Daemon Prince Kharr'zixya to be His enemy. The bull-spawns trekked the Realm of Chaos far and wide for years, slaying Daemon and hunting their fickle prey. Eventually they found Kharr'zixya, a lithe Slaaneshi being with the speed of a viper. Bhaal attacked and fought for weeks without rest, yet the skill with blades of his enemy was superior to that of any mortal being and carried Kharr'zixya through unharmed. Bhaal did not give in to the Daemon's taunts. The Minotaur, on the other hand, became enraged by the Daemon Prince's barbed words, and charged straight through the sweep of Kharr'zixya's razor-sharp blades. He received horrendous wounds all over his bovine body, yet slew the Slaaneshi foe and limped back to the mortal realm. Karul-Hizzar was victorious by virtue of hatred, and had thus won two tests more than his opponent had.

      Seventh, Hashut ordered the two bull-spawns to race each other from the northern Polar Gate to the Ash Ridge mountains. Great were their stamina, yet in the end the Bull Centaur won out as the Minotaur's two legs proved futile against his four. Bhaal was victorious by virtue of speed.

      Eighth, Hashut named two Orc warleaders who had soiled his mighty idols, and ordered the bull-spawns to dispatch of them in as terrific a way as was possible. Bhaal stormed into the warcamp of the Orc Gurnak, scattered his followers and trampled Gurnak into nothing but a gory mess. The Minotaur, on the other hand, caught the Orc Magg when out riding his prized boar, gouged out the Greenskin's eyes, flayed him with horns and claws, made whips of the green hide and whipped the bleeding body before feeding Magg alive to the warboar. He then ate the boar. Karul-Hizzar was victorious once again, this time by virtue of cruelty, and laughed Bhaal in his grizzled face.

      Ninth, Hashut ordered the two bull-spawns to build a mighty fortress each. The Bull Centaur climbed the dead volcano Azgorh and laboured without sleep for twelve years to build, with his bare hands, what would one day become the core citadel of the Tower of Gorgoth. Yet the Minotaur's bestial nature betrayed Karul-Hizzar, who piled a small mound of stones and bones atop Crookback Mountain, before lazily strolling off to sleep and hunt whenever he felt like it. Bhaal was victorious by virtue of toil.

      Tenth, Hashut chose His best warrior from amongst the Chaos Dwarfs, Azharkul the Slaughterer, and told the two bull-spawns that they must endure pain. Blessed by the Sorcerer-Prophets, Azharkul went over to Bhaal and cut his gut wide open with a massive axe swipe. Bhaal stood stony-faced without uttering a sound or blinking his eyes as Azharkul the Slaughterer then went over to the Minotaur, whose beastly nature betrayed him. Azharkul heaved mightily into Karul-Hizzar's right shoulder, and the Minotaur roared with pain as he reached out and devoured Azharkul whole. Bhaal was victorious by virtue of endurance, and the score was even.

      Eleventh, Hashut ordered the two bull-spawns to capture and shackle the cowardly Gryphon twins Dhar and Vhar, who rather flew away than face danger. Fearing divine wrath, Karul-Hizzar stalked the more cunning Bhaal and learnt from the Bull Centaur's ways how to track and ambush his prey. Bhaal waited for the winds to blow against him, and then jumped the craven Dhar from a precipice, crashing the creature to the ground before chaining him. Yet the beastly nature of the Minotaur betrayed him, and he charged off his precipice before the wind turned, thus failing to capture the alarmed Vhar. Bhaal was victorious by virtue of self-restraint.

      Twelfth, Hashut tasked the two bull-spawns with performing a flawless sacrifice to Him. Bhaal tortured a Human as per ritual, stringent in every detail, then flayed the man and tossed him into a cauldron of molten gold. Yet the beastly nature of the Minotaur betrayed Karul-Hizzar. Hungry from the previous hunt, he would not offer the Father of Darkness His due, but instead ate the sacrifice raw, goring himself on Human blood and shaming his kin for all eternity. Bhaal was victorious by virtue of sacrifice.

      And thus Hashut recognized the sacred qualities of Bhaal and his Bull Centaur race, and declared them His rightful sons and temple guardians. Wise of Chaos, however, the fiery Bull God did neither curse, nor strike down Karul-Hizzar nor order a final duel to take place between the two bull-spawns, but instead denied his parentage and cast out the Minotaur and his race to roam the wilderness of the world as Chaos willed it.

      And to this day, no mortal knows the number of Minotaurs with drops of Chaos Dwarf blood running in their veins.

      The post was edited 1 time, last by Karak Norn Clansman ().

    • Madness. Riddles. Secrets. Myths. Prophecies. Lies. Know of the Dark Gods, for they already know your innermost desires. Their very power stems from it. Their kingdoms are built out of it.

      To the Chaos Dwarfs, the Realm of Chaos is an ever present parallell to the real world. It is not a false abyss, neither a distant hell nor a far-away source of magic to them. To the Dawi Zharr, the Realm of Chaos and its Daemonic inhabitants are all real and powerful beyond the boundaries of the Empyrean, yet the sons of Hashut constantly challenge this might of Chaos by trawling its depths in search of Daemons to enslave and use in heinous rites of forging.

      Of the other Dark Gods does the Chaos Dwarfs know much but speak little openly. Some minor worship of the Great Four and the wider pantheon of Chaos is ever present in Zharr-Naggrund and all her holdings, and a few cursed Dawi Zharr even forsake Hashut and devote themselves to other Dark Gods. They are shunned by the common folk, because while the other powers might currently be important and even greater than the Father of Darkness Himself, what value are they truly to Hashut's chosen tribe? Come doomsday, come domination of all creation to Him and His loyal servants for all eternity. Or so some sects believe.

      This ambivalent relation to the wider pantheon of Chaos runs like hot iron through much of their mythology and religion. For the Dawi Zharr knows that they are part of a greater whole, yet their souls are alone in the shackles of Hashut. This insight inspires them to strike alliances and toil to benefit Chaos as a whole, as much as it inspires them to enslave and to exploit their brothers in arms.

      For these are the Blacksmiths of Chaos, to whom everyone and everything is a tool or raw material, and to whom not even the Great Four themselves takes precedence before high Hashut.

      Their stories involving other Dark Gods are legion. Their unforgiving ruthlessness, their contempt and their greed even extends to the portrayal of the Great Four themselves at times. Or perhaps this is just the truth? Perhaps this is a true testimony of the malignant conflict and deceit festering at the heart of Chaos, as witnessed by the souls of the damned?

      This is one of these stories.

      The Thunder Quarrel: Long ago, when Hashut had delivered the Chaos Dwarfs from destruction yet before the construction of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund, the skies erupted. One night of fell omens under bale moon's green glow did the heavens tear themselves apart at the northern Polar Gate. Beasts and wildmen hid and cowered as the storm raged and spat lightning across the northern lands. South it moved, into the Eastern Steppes where giant wolf packs and horse herds fled before its wrath.

      These boiling storm clouds slammed into the northern range of the Mountains of Mourn after a few days, where they showered the mountain peaks in lightning, scared mammoths and made the Sky Titans tremble in their lonely castles. Creatures fled and hid at its advance, yet there were one race who followed and savoured the fury of the storm. Hundreds of Dragon Ogres trekked the lightning-stricken landscapes on a warrior pilgrimage that took them to Blizzardpeak.

      Here, the anger of the skies reached its height, and the night drowned in flashes of pale brightness as lightning struck Blizzardpeak and the Dragon Ogres who had climbed the mountain to worship Chaos. Yet as they gloried in the moment, a dust cloud rose from the Dark Lands in the west, where volcanoes answered the call of the storm. It began in Gash Kadrak, the Vale of Woe, and then rumbled east up into the Mountains of Mourn until finally the Bull Centaur Bhaal reached Blizzardpeak to worship the Thunderbull in the midst of the storm.

      Bhaal was the mightiest and most devout of the old Bull Centaurs. He had already proven himself worthy to the Father of Darkness, yet the other Dark Gods and their servants knew nought about him. Even so, the young Dragon Ogres dared neither halt nor speak to the mighty bull-spawn who climbed straight to the very top of Blizzardpeak amidst the rain of lightning. Instead, it were the ancient Shaggoths at the summit who stopped Bhaal in his tracks.

      In anger, they cursed his insolence, hefted their titanic axes and asked the Bull Centaur how he dared interfere in a holy ritual of worship of the very gods who had made their race immortal. Bhaal stood undaunted, however, and before he answered them, he performed a full sacrifice by cutting the throats of three Greenskin slaves, fresh from the Dark Lands, which he had carried in shackles upon his strong back. Then he answered the enraged Shaggoths.

      Bhaal told them of high Hashut in his divine aspect of the Thunderbull, the mighty creature that stampedes and tramples across both skies and Empyrean. He told them of the portents which had made the nascent Dawi Zharr sorcerers discover this sacred storm, and of his holy quest to sacrifice to the Thunderbull amidst the thunder and lightning. Now that he had done so, Bhaal would fast in prayer for twelve days and twelve nights atop frigid Blizzardpeak, no matter the weather or foes that might stand in his way.

      The threat in his words did not escape the old Shaggoths. Yet they checked their wrath at the mention of this "Thunderbull", and asked Bhaal for more details. Such they received. Then they all laughed out loud in a great uproar that overpowered even the noise of the mighty thunderstorm. The younger Dragon Ogres joined in the laughter and gloating, telling each other of the ignorant's beliefs.

      This commotion amidst the lightning bolts ceased suddenly, when Bhaal stamped hard with his hooves and made the whole of Blizzardpeak quake. Avalanches crashed down the sides of other mountains. The Dragon Ogres fell silent. Bhaal yelled with bloodshot eyes and demanded an explanation for the mockery and scoffing. He got one. The Dragon Ogres knew of a similar god of a different name that they worshipped in the lightning, yet this god was not a bull. Such nonsense had they never heard of before! Bhaal fumed, and soon he was exchanging insults that echoed across the whole Mountains of Mourn with the Dragon Ogre horde.

      The Decrees of Dark Deities: By now the thunder quarrel had attracted the attention of all the Dark Gods of Chaos, whether weak or great in power. They all enjoyed the ruckus, and agreed to test the mettle of Bhaal and the foremost of the Dragon Ogre Shartaks, Rulek Strongscale. The two centaur-spawns had no choice in the matter, and thus the contest began upon the summit of Blizzardpeak. It was to be a competition of eight trials.

      First, the Dark Gods agreed to let the two contestants stand upon the summit of Blizzardpeak in the shower of lightning to see who was truly blessed by their thunder god. There, the storm emptied itself in a torrent of lightning bolts that blinded anyone who looked upon it for too long. Hundreds of times did it strike the two creatures. After one hour of bombardment, Bhaal eventually sank to his knees, his whole form blackened and burned by the wrath of the Thunderbull. Rulek Strongscale stood strong and unharmed amidst the lightning, and raised his axe to the skies in victory.

      Second, Hashut the Bull God spotted, in His wisdom, a forest of burning conifers just below towering Blizzardpeak. It had been set ablaze by the lightning storm. He ordered the two centaur-spawns to charge down into the valley and prove their worth by standing in the flames sparked by the Thunderbull. The two warriors did so, yet after one hour Rulek Strongscale could not take it any more. He cried out and threw himself out of the flames, rolling like a dog in the snow. Bhaal was scorched badly by fire, yet calmly strode out of the forest fire while muttering praise to the Father of Darkness.

      Third, Khorne the Blood God demanded the two centaur-spawns to batter each other unto the point of death. Amidst the ash and the snow, with thunder rolling overhead and strong winds whistling, Bhaal and Rulek charged each other and wrestled for eight days without pause. Their muscles bulged and their sinews strained as the two combatants rolled on the ground, clawing, kicking, biting and throwing each other left and right. The power on display was immense in both creatures of Chaos, yet in the end the greater strength of the Dragon Ogre won out, and Rulek Strongscale won his second victory and roared as Bhaal admitted defeat.

      Fourth, Tzeentch the Trickster challenged the two contestants to remember the most ancient of times. The two centaur-spawns searched their memories, yet Bhaal stood no chance. He could remember the first decades after the coming of Hashut whilst Rulek Strongscale's memory stretched back to a distant age before the Old Ones had come to this world. Rulek won for a third time and led by two victories, yet what value are the memories of ages even more distant than the coming of the Father of Darkness? What was truly there before Him? Beware the trickery of Tzeentch!

      Fifth, Nurgle the Plague God told the two centaur-spawns to climb Blizzardpeak yet again and reach the very summit. The exhausted rivals did so despite their weariness and wounds. This time, the climb up to the top was long and harsh, and the fiercest of storm winds threatened to toss the contestants out into thin air. Yet still they endured, and onward they climbed until finally Bhaal almost reached the top. Suddenly his hooves found no footing, and he crashed down the whole mountain into the same valley from which he had started his climb. When Rulek saw this, he laughed with triumph and cruelty in his voice, and ascended to the very summit of Blizzardpeak. There, Nurgle told him to tumble down into the bottom of the valley the same way as Bhaal had done. The Dragon Ogre gaped and stood dumbfounded on the peak for a short time, and then he threw himself down the sides of Blizzardpeak rather than face the wrath of the Dark Gods. At the bottom of the valley the two centaur-spawns fell and rolled down the rocks and glaciers like corpses. Their flesh was torn, gashed and raw, and broken bones made them unable to rise. Yet they were not dead. The Bull Centaur still breathed if only barely, and his heart beat more steadily than the Dragon Ogre's did. Rulek was in an ever-lasting coma, and only the eager will of the Dark Gods to see the contest fulfilled saved him. Nurgle declared Bhaal to be the toughest and the winner of this round, and the Dark Gods restored the health of both with malicious magic.

      Sixth, Slaanesh the Deity of Decadence filled the beastly mind of a nearby Stonehorn with perverse lust, and the hulking monster charged at the two centaur-spawns. Bhaal was quicker, and managed to throw himself out of the stampeding Stonehorn's way just in time. Rulek Strongscale, however, was not agile enough to avoid the beast's horns. He was thrown into a rock and had to butcher the stony creature to a pile of gravel bafore he was safe from its depravations. Bhaal won, and the score was even.

      Seventh, the Dark Gods of Chaos all agreed to have the contestants strike a blow on their brother anti-god, Malal. Thus it was that they opened a portal into the Realm of Chaos and ordered the two centaur-spawns to slay the Guardian of Contradiction, Xorox Without Name. They stalked this Greater Daemon for unknown years and unknown leagues before they found it. Xorox Without Name defended himself visciously, yet to no avail. In the end, it was the Dragon Ogre Shartak Rulek Strongscale who proved his superior lethality in combat, and Bhaal shuffled back in shameful defeat to the world of mortals. Rulek led by one victory.

      Eighth, Malal the Doomed Renegade came to the two centaur-spawns just as they were about to leave the abysmal Empyrean. The vengeful Dark God halted them, and decreed them to each enslave one Daemon Prince from each of the Great Four gods' hosts. The two fighters were caught up in the contest, and never thought once of defying Malal. Rulek Strongscale forged shackles of iron and lightning, and went off hunting. He was victorious against each of his four Daemon Prince foes, yet their power and essence always escaped through his shackles. Bhaal, on the other hand, was more dominant. He forged shackles of bronze and obsidian. With these he broke the will of four Daemon Princes and held them in contempt before the Lord of Paradoxes, who devoured them on the spot. The contest was over, and the two centaur-spawns returned to the mortal world. The final score was even, and Malal had his revenge.

      Thus it was that neither Bull Centaur nor Dragon Ogre proved themself superior to the other when the Eye of the Gods were upon them.

      The post was edited 1 time, last by Karak Norn Clansman ().

    • Written by: KNC
      Illustrated by: Raul Gomes @knightinflames

      The outside observer might note how the history and mythology of the Dawi Zharr blends without distinction, for how could it be otherwise to a people devoted to Chaos in a world where gods and magic hold sway? In such an existence does the Chaos Dwarfs excel in their heinous arts. They are craftsmen and creators even more than they are killers, torturers and slavers.

      Though the insecure peoples of the world might fear their cruelty and ravenous appetite for slaves, the Dawi Zharr have become legendary not for deeds, but for their works. Daemonsmiths without peers, monument builders with but few equals, infamous weapon forgers. Brilliant yet demented engineers, artisans and builders. Madmen and geniuses, all in one. These are the Blacksmiths of Chaos, yet everywhere you turn, there lies a mystery hidden inside their works.

      A mystery waiting to be revealed, like a trap set for prey.

      This is one of these mysteries.

      The Cursed Gift: It all began with a clash of titans, as the sixtieth battle for Daemon's Stump was fought between Dwarfs and Daemons, both loyal to Chaos. And by Chaos, they fought. The armies clashed and ravaged each other in a nightmare orgy of destruction. Atop a hillock did the Dawi Zharr Sorcerer-Prophet Kalgaruk Firetounge lie sprawled and unconscious after casting an ill spell, whilst his mount fought the enemy general. It was a duel of bodily might, and it was a duel of magic.

      The devious Lammasu Grezhakimbul faced a towering Tzeentchian Daemon Prince, Yrzh'lukkar the Deviate, head-on in a monstrous struggle that sent warriors close-by from both armies flying. They were roaring and biting, clawing and fighting, cursing and kicking, dashing and lashing, howling and growling under the blackened skies where thunder and lightning held sway. Tearing gory wounds they went at each other in fury, and the eyes of the Dark Gods were upon them as worldly and unworldly storm winds battered the combatants.

      The savagery and sorcerous cunning on display cowed all but one nearby mortal. It was a Dawi Zharr warrior of lowly stock. His name was Ashubar of clan Zhirrukur, husband of one and father of three. He was an axeman in war and a bricklayer by trade. His blind loyalty to his Sorcerer-Prophet and high Hashut Himself made the man overcome his fear and charge the three-armed Daemon Prince in the midst of the fight, for Yrzh'lukkar had gained the upper hand and swung his sickle all the closer to the throat of Grezhakimbul.

      Thus Ashubar rushed at the Deviate, grabbing his axe in both hands and cleaving into the backside of the wingless Daemon Prince. Blood and mist coloured blue, teal and purple gushed from the wound, and Yrzh'lukkar whirled around to punish the insolent wretch who dared interfere in their duel. The eyes of the Daemon were stronger than the will of Ashubar, who collapsed like a slave before even a blow had been struck.

      The cunning Lammasu, however, grasped this chance and flew at his foe, catching two of three arms in a steel grip and twisting them hard. Tendons snapped, and the Daemon Prince was pounded to the ground and ripped apart without mercy in view of his own army. Grezhakimbul did not let the Daemon's essence escape back into the abysmal Realm of Chaos, for his heart was vengeful and hatred flared in his eyes.

      The Lammasu vomited forth its magical breath upon the vanquished foe and cursed Yrzh'lukkar the Deviate eleven times. Grezhakimbul the Lammasu shackled the Daemon Prince of Tzeentch to this world and ate his raw head whole to imprison its essence. The ripped-off head chittered and cursed as it was gulped down into the bowels of the monster.

      At a whim, the victor tore out the nine-chambered heart of the Daemon Prince and tossed it to the lone warrior who had distracted the enemy. The Lammasu spoke one word and made Ashubar the axeman devour the still-beating heart. Grezhakimbul cursed the Deviate one last time and enslaved its power in the single Chaos Dwarf. Then the Lammasu carried off with its unconscious rider in its jaws and flew through the storm to Zharr-Naggrund without a parting word. Below him the Daemonic host dissolved into nothing whilst a few of their number were locked in flasks and trinkets by greedy Daemonsmiths.

      Thus ended the sixtieth battle of Daemon's Stump.

      The Gifted Curse: Back in Mingol Zharr-Naggrund no one knew about Ashubar's deed. The Lammasu Grezhakimbul claimed all the glory for himself and returned to his sacred kin's dark stables beneath the Temple of Hashut. A stele was erected to commemorate his deed. The mustered host of Sorcerer-Prophet Kalgaruk Firetounge paraded with torches to solemn hymns and sacrifices through the streets of the great ziggurat city, and then the warriors returned to their trades and crafts.

      Rumours spread like wildfire as soon as Ashubar of clan Zhirrukur returned to work on dwellings and storehouses. The people spoke of a man who toiled like a devil with the bricks and had the hands of a Daemon. They said he was blessed by Hashut, or they said he was cursed by a Daemon or one of the Great Four themselves. They said he could take on the work of sixty times twelve slaves alone. It was not long before his skill and renown had made Ashubar's household and clan wealthy.

      Ashubar Daemonhand was allowed by his Despot to set up his own business. His apprentices and cousins lorded it over a multitude of slaves to supply him with all the tools and materials he needed. Ashubar soon invented a unique way of making bricks.

      Each ashen clay brick was stamped with his name and a dedication to Hashut, and then fired in arcane kilns built by Daemonsmith Engineers where bewildered flame Daemons were summoned from the Realm of Chaos to fight each other until someone among the apprentices banished them with a secret ritual. Other mysteries unknown surrounded the mortar production, and Ashubar gathered hills of ensorcelled bricks for storage which he quickly reduced to piles. No man in Zharr-Naggrund and all her holdings knew of a better brick than Ashubar's.

      Yet such tampering with Chaos is fraught with peril. One day, the summoned fire Daemons in the ninth kiln were all Flamers of Tzeentch. They united instead of battling each other amongst the bricks, and with cursed fire they turned the whole kiln to flesh and wood and burnt their way out. The Flamers sensed the power of one of their master's Daemon Princes and ran amok towards it. Hundreds of brick-making slaves and Hobgoblin taskmasters were turned into living torches by the gliding Flamers, or else mutated beyond all recognition.

      The fate of the lowliest slaves was sealed by the rusty chains binding their legs together. When one fell, the others had to drag his corpse and could no longer run. Some Hobgoblin slavedrivers flinged knives into chained slave gangs to get ahead themselves in the flight. The best of Ashubar's apprentices, Khazek Tongueripper, heard the fire and panic outside and rushed out from his workshop. He was met in the doorway by the seven Daemons, whose flames turned his beard coils into tentacles that ripped off Khazek's arms and legs.

      At that moment, the bricklayer Ashubar Daemonhand entered the workshop's back door with a big load of ensorcelled bricks on his back. He spotted the screaming apprentice and the Flamers, and frantically built a brick barricade in the blink of an eye. The Daemons attacked, yet the bricklayer hid behind his wall and managed to take down the Flamers one by one by throwing ensorcelled bricks on them like a madman. All around him, fire destroyed the workshop, yet the bricks withstood the magical flames. The last remaining Daemon was banished by a brick projectile, but not before its flames had hit Ashubar in the chest.

      Cold sweat ran down the man who thought himself dying, until the Chaos Dwarf master bricklayer realized that he and his beard were unharmed. Ashubar Daemonhand praised Hashut sixty times on the spot and sacrificed sixty slaves by throwing them into an empty iron cauldron made hot by flames, so that their torment and his sacrifice might last all the longer to glorify Hashut and His mighty idols.

      Yet even as Ashubar adulated his Bull God, his heart started to throb violently and took on an unnatural pulse without rythm or likeness in this world. This throbbing did not stop. And in the lair of Grezhakimbul, something stirred in the guts of the sleeping Lammasu.

      Thus began the vengeance of the Daemon Prince.

      The Blasphemy: The eyes of Ashubar Daemonhand were changed after his encounter with the Flamers in his workshop. They started to glow red, enabling him to see in pitch-black darkness and to spot cracks inside bricks. It is also said that his mad workpace as a bricklayer now combined with the streak of a demented genius which Ashubar hadn't had previously.

      From now on, all he built was monumental in scale. The overlords of the Chaos Dwarfs flocked to Ashubar with thralls, riches and even enslaved Dwarf females to pay him to build monuments, fortifications and wonders for them. Ashubar began experimenting with the magical properties of the bricks for his various works and produced some of the most bizarre, well fortified or cursed buildings that remain to this day in the realm of the Dawi Zharr. He was a wizard of bricks.

      So it was, that Ashubar Daemonhand during one night of fell omens were summoned to an audience with the partially-petrified Sorcerer-Prophet Kalgaruk Firetounge, the victor of the sixtieth battle of Daemon's Stump. The cunning and avaricious Prophet committed blasphemy against the Father of Darkness in his greed, by offering Ashubar's soul a place at the right side of Hashut if the bricklayer was to make for him a private ziggurat away from Zharr-Naggrund for secluded meditation, study and experiments.

      The pious Ashubar was overcome by such a fantastic offer, and readily accepted without need for any further payment. He swore to build the ziggurat out of the best bricks he could ever make, and sacrificed generously to Hashut. Yet He did not accept these false offerings from a heretic, and the altar smoke did not rise but sink heavily to the floor.

      Thus would the Father of Darkness punish the blasphemers.

      The Insanity: The master bricklayer Ashubar Daemonhand toiled fervently day and night whilst thousands of slaves and dozens of Iron Daemons hauled ensorcelled bricks to the building site on the Plain of Zharr. The exacting demands of the Sorcerer-Prophet were met in every detail. Kalgaruk Firetounge wished for a labyrinth layout inside the ziggurat to thwart intruders. Ashubar obeyed.

      One day the client arrived for inspection of his finished laboratory and meditation dwelling. He arrived upon the very back of a sacred Lammasu, the same Grezhakimbul who had carried him into battle and saved Kalgaruk's life. The Prophet, though partially turned to stone, could still walk if only barely. He accepted Ashubar's deep bow and brought with him the bricklayer and a large retinue of slaves for the inspection. They entered the open gate of the ziggurat leading to the labyrinth.

      At this very moment, the capricious Lammasu tired of having the chittering Daemon Prince head inside of him, and Grezhakimbul thus vomited it through the labyrinth entrance in a cascade of magical fumes. Ashubar Daemonhand saw this, and rushed in panic to pick up the wet head of Yrzh'lukkar, yet it was too late. The head laughed with an insane cackle, and the very bricks and mortar in the walls of the ziggurat began to move and shift. Within seconds, the entrance to the labyrinth had been sealed off and become a brick wall. There was no way out.

      The Lammasu sat outside and witnessed this with amusement, and flew back with a cruel laugh to Mingol Zharr-Naggrund, where he told no one about it.

      The walled-in Chaos Dwarfs and their slaves attacked the bricks in the darkness, but no tool or mortal force could neither damage nor move them. The powerful sorceries of Kalgaruk Firetounge shook the whole building, yet it and its bricks were indestructible. The head of Yrzh'lukkar the Deviate rambled a lot of gibberish words and rolled away. From then on, it would follow the Chaos Dwarfs from a distance, always out of sight behind some corner, mocking them and laughing.

      The walls started to move inside the labyrinth. The two Dawi Zharr and their slaves were forced to run further into it, amidst a maze of walls sealing them off. Despite their maps and arcane tricks, they were unable to find the way through the labyrinth to the internal spiral staircase in the central study chamber. Weeks passed as the trapped creatures wandered the living labyrinth in total darkness. Their thirst was barely kept at bay by filthy moisture seeping in through corners, yet their hunger could not be sated.

      Kalgaruk and Ashubar butchered some of the slaves to eat, but this only scared the rest to run off wildly into the maze. For days and days the Chaos Dwarfs hunted the frightened slaves, and the bigger slaves started to hunt the smaller slaves, or even attempted to stalk up on their owners and strangle them in their sleep. A nightmare of hide and seek ensued, and no one saw anything except for Ashubar Daemonhand, yet what he saw was of little use. The shouts of the walled-in victims echoed throughout the shifting labyrinth whilst the Daemon Prince head followed with giggles and taunts.

      Occasionally Yrzh'lukkar the Deviate would open a tempting entrance to the outside world and tease the trapped creatures with it, only to seal it off with a mad laugh just before they reached the opening. Some of the run-away slaves turned insane by this teasing and their hunger, and stalked the moving walkways like rabid animals. Their insanity made them dangerous enemies whenever the other slaves or the desperate Chaos Dwarfs found them. Sometimes they would find slaves who had been crushed to death between two brick walls. Gnawed bones and skulls littered the labyrinth, and were pushed around by the ensorcelled walls.

      One unknown day or night, the Chaos Dwarfs became separated by the moving walls. They had survived for weeks and weeks in the dark maze, yet they were slowly dying. Then, suddenly, Ashubar rounded a corner and saw a whole facade of the ziggurat lying wide-open to the outside world. Yelling to Hashut for guidance, he ran for it. The bricks moved out of the walls to form new walls in front of him, yet he dodged left and right and almost managed to make it out of the ziggurat. Almost.

      Then the brick walls closed all around him, and master bricklayer Ashubar Daemonhand wailed in terror as he became completely walled-in. The head of Yrzh'lukkar the Deviate rolled by briefly, and begged him to enjoy eternity in his own room before disappearing into the labyrinth with insane jeers and catcalls. To this day, the wailing of the walled-in bricklayer can still be heard by travellers when the wind blows from the ziggurat.

      The slaves died off one by one, yet Hashut had one final punishment to visit upon the blasphemous Sorcerer-Prophet Kalgaruk Firetounge. Eventually, Kalgaruk managed to catch and bind twelve of his starving slaves. He even made it into the central chamber of the ziggurat with them, where he enacted a sacrificial ritual for a spell of immense power that would make him escape his labyrinthine prison. Yet Hashut willed it not to be so. Instead, the sorcery backfired and turned most of Kalgaruk to stone, at the exact centre of the ziggurat.

      As for Tzeentch, his Daemon Prince enjoyed his new funhouse so much that Yrzh'lukkar the Deviate decided to stay there. To this day, his head rolls around the labyrinth, forever hiding inside it while waiting for new intruders to enter through one of the temporary entrances that appear every now and then.

      Desiccated skeletons are pushed around everywhere inside the ziggurat by its moving walls. These are mainly the remains of adventurers, run-away slaves or Hobgoblin outriders who saw one of the spontaneous openings in the walls. They all entered the ziggurat in search of a safe hideout or riches, only to be lost forever inside the labyrinth of madness whilst the Daemon Prince head laughs like Tzeentch himself, always stalking the intruders but only on rare occassions revealing itself for a conversation or practical joke.

      Madmen throughout the centuries claims to have escaped the ziggurat of living bricks and to have seen the Sorcerer-Prophet Kalgaruk Firetounge, somehow kept alive by the power of Yrzh'lukkar the Deviate's head yet petrified up to his chest and unable to move an inch. There, in the inner chamber of his own labyrinth, the head mocks Kalgaruk by constantly reforming the walls, creating corridors visibly leading straight to the outside world right in front of the Prophet's eyes.

      For such are the whims of Chaos.

      The post was edited 2 times, last by Karak Norn Clansman ().

    • The Dark Lands. A wide swathe of desolate, volcanic landscapes where savage Greenskin tribes, restless Undead and the malevolent empire of the Dawi Zharr wages war upon war on each other and nations beyond for slaves, booty, dominance, religious revelations or just for the sake of war and cruelty itself. These are ash-strewn lands, a realm of fire and smoke, and of brimstone and obsidian where the weak perish and the spirits and bodies of the strong are broken if they cannot triumph. For it is an unforgiving realm, akin to its inhabitants. In fact, it is hell on earth.

      It is here, in this part of the world between two massive mountain ranges, where the Chaos Dwarfs have carved out a dominion of their own. They have done so through force of arms, cruelty, terror and vile Chaos magic. They have done so through sinister schemes, industrial might and inventions that are as ingenious and ground-breaking as they are demented and labile.

      One of the Dawi Zharr's hallmark artillery pieces are their rocket launchers. Whether mounted on wheeled gun carriages like the Death Rocket and Deathshrieker Rocket, or fired from titanic ramps like those of the Thunderfire Battlebarge, these warheads have brought shrieking devastation and painful death to the warriors on countless of forgotten battlefields. Some of the rockets' victims have been the slaves of the Chaos Dwarfs, or the Dawi Zharr themselves.

      For these infamous rockets are not accurate or predictable projectiles, despite their power and versatility. They are bringers of death to friend and foe alike, and in the mysterious mindset of the Chaos Dwarfs, these hazards of rocketry are all living reminders of the fickle power of Chaos, and of the contemptuously low value of creatures' lives. Like high Hashut in His shape of the Great Thunderbull tramples anyone in His path, so does these spears of destruction tear apart both battlefields and combatants without discrimination.

      Such is the reality, and such is the testimony offered in Chaos Dwarf songs and stories. The shrieking of rockets is ever a welcome hymn to their uncaring ears. It is a blessed harbinger of carnage and death; a promise of lasting domination for their race, and the mere retelling of such devastation is usually a failsafe way for a Dawi Zharr storyteller to catch the attention of beardlings and veterans alike.

      For they are bloodthirsty stanzas of destruction and disaster unimaginable to the lesser races.

      Such are the stories told about rocketry by the Blacksmiths of Chaos.

      This is one of these stories.

      The March: Once upon a time, the Grim Host of Sorcerer-Prophet Ghakur-Zin Sootbeard marched out to war from the gates of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the great. It was a grand procession. Hundreds of Immortals, Acolytes, Ironsworn and even dozens of sacred Bull Centaurs stomped out from the ziggurat city, followed by some thousand Chaos Dwarf warriors and warmachine crew, and tens of thousands of slave troops. There were Hobgoblins in their soft hats, on foot or mounted on snarling and lice-infested giant wolves. Above it all flew a few of the holy spawns stabled beneath the Temple itself.

      And there were hordes upon hordes of slave rabble from every race and nation within the Dawi Zharr empire's ravenous reach. These chained slaves were whipped and kicked by gangs of Hobgoblin slavedrivers, overseen by the unspeakably cruel Chaos Dwarf taskmasters. These were not all of the slaves marked for Ghakur-Zin's campaign. Scores of them had already been burnt on the altar or sacrificed in cauldrons of molten metal. Scarification, flaying, eye-gouging, maiming and torture were commonplace parts of the sacrificial rites. Many smoke plumes rose from the cauldrons and pyres, and Hashut knew that this was good.

      In the baggage train, the army carried with it chains and shackles enough to make new thralls out of more than three hundred thousand two-legged creatures. Some simpletons said the total length of chains in the baggage train was enough to encircle the whole Great Skull Land, the infamous Zorn Uzkul where high Hashut had first come to the Chaos Dwarfs' ancestors and delivered them from extinction. The baggage train included supplies and munitions to last for years, and it was made up of dozens of trains pulled by Iron Daemons; hundreds of flesh-drawn carts and wagons; and the backs of tens of thousands of burdened slave porters, who one by one would collapse when their backs broke or their strength was wasted, only to be served as the next meal to the surviving slaves.

      Amongst those trundling objects pulled by smoke-belching Iron Daemons were the many artillery pieces and their even more numerous ammunition wagons. As a rule, the crew travelled upon the trains of carts pulled by Iron Daemons, or at least kept as close by as possible. Amongst the latter group was an unmarried artillery officer named Ukkad Firebrow. He was in charge of a Death Rocket launcher, and he was determined to carry out his duty to the fullest.

      The Gun Carriage: So it was, that when Ghakur-Zin's army was about to engage the noisy hordes of Black Orc Warboss Bashak da Big Basha near Toppled Idol in the Blasted Wastes, Ukkad Firebrow was ready to decapitate the Greenskin leadership. Behind him there ran ammunition runt slaves to and fro, whilst he barked to his apprentice to pivot the artillery piece and angle the firing tube. Then he fired the Death Rocket himself. Wiosh! The first missile flew wild and gouged out an ancient lava stone.

      The second rocket veered off course, and landed amidst a Goblin mob with a deafening pang. Tiny bodies were sent flying and screaming by the explosion, maimed and bloodied. By the third Death Rocket, Hashut was on Ukkad's side. It shot straight as an arrow, hitting its target flat in the chest. The cone-tipped projectile stuck in Bashak da Big Basha's black armour and threw the hulking Black Orc leader several steps back before detonating. Half a dozen of his mates fell over dead, and Bashak's entire torso disintegrated in gory chunks that showered other Orcs, just as the rocket's shrapnel did.

      At this, confusion and even panic spread amidst the Greenskins. Ukkad Firebrow merely muttered praise to the Father of Darkness and had his apprentice reload. The Orcs and Goblins started melting away in fleeing mobs at odd places in the Greenskin battleline, and the Chaos Dwarf artillery bombarded the steadfast Orcs to smithereens in order to send them packing as well. Hobgoblin Wolf Raiders already waited, hidden behind the rear of Bashak's hordes, where they sat ready to pursue, stab and enslave at leisure.

      An unnamed Orc Big Boss would not let Gork and Mork down this day, however. He smashed fleeing Greenskins in the face, strangling an unruly Boss and overtaking a bound Wyvern by force. He cut loose its ropes, and off they went skywards. The Chaos Dwarfs were unprepared at this turn of event, and both their guns and sorceries missed the Wyvern. The enraged Orc gained height until he was right above a Death Rocket battery. There, he dived. Ukkad was right under the seemingly crashing Wyvern. He frantically tried to angle his Death Rocket upwards, but the gun carriage was too clumsy to allow for such a steep angle. Realizing this, he drew a hand grenade crafted with the face of a leering Daemon and tossed it into a nearby stack of Death Rocket ammunition.

      Ukkad had barely time to dive for cover behind the wheels of his artillery piece before the Wyvern landed atop it. Its heavy bulk crushed it and pressed the stuck Dawi Zharr into the ground. Then the hand grenade exploded, and both Wyvern, Orc, five Chaos Dwarfs and thirty artillery slaves were torn apart in an inferno of flames, lethal pressure and shrapnel, as well as randomly fired Death Rockets that killed further Chaos Dwarfs and Greenskins all around the demolished battery.

      The Wyvern was then only a heavy mess of gore and blackened flesh. Its rider had been torn apart completely. Corpses and wreckage lay everywhere around. Yet Ukkad Firebrow dug out from under the monster's corpse with a mad cackle. He was dirty, charred and scarred when he rose to survey the damage. That was when he got the bright idea, but first Ukkad had to survive.

      When a nearby Despot ran up to him in person and demanded an explanation, Ukkad lied and told him his late apprentice Arkazh had mishandled the volatile Death Rocket. The Despot cursed fools and Daemons alike and complained bitterly at the losses. He had the clumsy apprentice's corpse left behind unburned and unburied for the vultures to feed upon once the quick battle was over and the Greenskins had been brutally subdued and enslaved in view of Hashut's mighty idols.

      Then, Ukkad Firebrow went to work.

      The Bazooka: Out from the portable field smithies came a being clad in scalemail armour and a large hat. He was an artillery engineer, and he carried his artillery piece on his shoulder. Ukkad Firebrow had crafted a lightweight barrel and shorter Death Rockets to load it with. It was a bazooka, and Ukkad got his chance to test it out in the next battle, far to the east in the foothills of the towering Mountains of Mourn.

      There, the malevolent host of Sorcerer-Prophet Ghakur-Zin Sootbeard lined up in dark ranks to enslave the migrating Moonbiter Ogre tribe. The blue and green-painted Moonbiters bellowed and belched towards the Chaos Dwarfs, and set off in a gret stampede down the rocks into their enemy. It was a murderous clash of hacking weapons and pounding fists. The Chaos Dwarf artillery had few good chances to bombard the Ogres, all save one Death Rocketeer.

      Before the battle, the crafty Ukkad had brought with him his new apprentice and a mob of porter slaves hauling rockets up a cliffside. Ukkad had positioned himself most cunningly in a crevice that hid him from the Ogres' view and gave him clear fields of fire. Not even the Gnoblar Trappers had spotted the Chaos Dwarf. Ukkad fired his new shoulder-mounted rocket launcher at frenzied speed. Yet without the gun carriage his unpracticed shoulder aim was off more often than not, and most Death Rockets shrieked into rock or some worthless horde of Gnoblars or slaves.

      As the two sides clashed and killed each other in hate and fury, Ukkad spotted his opportunity, whirled the bazooka about and finally hit home. His projectile buried itself deep in the back of an Ogre Bruiser carrying a large rag-tag banner. The Death Rocket killed the Bruiser instantly and ripped huge flesh chunks out of nearby Ogres. The Moonbiter tribe wavered when they saw their prized standard fall, and the Chaos Dwarfs won the day when the Grim Host's Bull Centaur reserve counterattacked and trampled their foes in a chaos of hooves and limbs.

      When Ukkad Firebrow turned around, he found his new apprentice, Thurukizambul Thundertusk, lying flat on the rocks together with the porter slaves. They were all badly burnt and black as coal, and only the Chaos Dwarf loader had survived, if only barely. The exhaust fire jet from the bazooka had claimed them. Disgusted, Ukkad read this as the Father of Darkness' judgement and sent his shamed second apprentice into the ranks of the Infernal Guard. Then he sacrificed a Gnoblar slave on the spot to high Hashut, and sang hymns to the Bull God. The bazooka was more mobile and easier to hide than the gun carriage Death Rocket had been. The Great Thunderbull was with him.

      The Daemon Rocket: The Grim Host of Sorcerer-Prophet Ghakur-Zin Sootbeard marched on into the Mountains of Mourn. For the most part the threat of their hellish strength and the allure of their gold and gifts made Ogre Tyrants friendly enough to let them pass. A few times they fought savagely against monsters and ambushes from Ogres and Black Orcs in the roaring mountain winds. Behind them were left more than twenty thousand slave corpses, frozen stiff and soon eaten by Gnoblar, Ogre and Sabretusk alike.

      At last, the Chaos Dwarfs reached the toxic desert separating the Mountains of Mourn from Grand Cathay. The desert was crossed at great hardship and death amongst the slaves, both Hobgoblins and lower thralls, yet the Chaos Dwarfs cared little for it. They knew, that if they succeeded in defeating the local armies they could raid part of the Cathayan heartland for numerous peasants that were already both hardy and subservient to authority. Several Cathayan fortresses were either besieged or bypassed.

      Before the incursion into Cathay proper, however, Ghakur-Zin Sootbeard overcame a large hill Goblin tribe that surrendered to the malignant invaders. The Sorcerer-Prophet had them all killed by Hobgoblins and piled into a giant pyre. Forbidden oil and the steaming contents of strange alchemical flasks were sprinkled over the corpse hill, and finally it was set ablaze by summoning K'daai fire Daemons in the midst of the pyre. Convoluted verses in both Khaozalid and the Dark Tounge were chanted by the assembled Daemonsmiths, and the army's leader cursed the wind and the smoke from the pyre. Then they crossed into Cathay.

      The Grim Host advanced under the cover of Daemonic smoke that roiled across all the countryside. The native Humans thought this an ill omen inhabited by spirits from the underworld. They were quiet right. With whips and chains and shackles did the Chaos Dwarfs and Hobgoblins fall over the peasantry. At least hundred thousand Human thralls were captured with but few skirmishes for resistance, and the Dawi Zharr retreated whilst their luck lasted under the gaze of Hashut's watchful idols. That luck ran out all of a sudden.

      The banners of a whole Cathayan army appeared over a ridge line to the west of the Grim Host, and ranks upon ranks of Human soldiers marched forth to punish the intruders. Poorly-trained peasant levy stood shoulder to shoulder with disciplined career soldiers, mounted tribal mercenaries, warrior monks, stone lions and wizards as mysterious as their Chaos Dwarf counterparts. The armies cursed each other and attacked. They clashed in a flurry of projectiles, sorceries and ferocious close combat.

      After four hours of fighting it was apparent that the Chaos Dwarfs would gain the upper hand. Yet this army that blocked their way might very well be a strategic hindrance to buy time for massive reinforcements to arrive. As such, Sorcerer-Prophet Ghakur-Zin Sootbeard ordered his schock troop reserves over to the left flank, and signalled for them to charge by sending up a short-lived ashen howler Daemon from out of a small crystal flask. The artillery on that flank were ordered to support the charge.

      Amidst the batteries stood Ukkad Firebrow. He had bribed two twin Hellsmiths to create a stockpile of Daemonic projectiles for his bazooka. With these Daemon Rockets he could overcome the weapon's inherent inaccuracy and hit his target, but not always where he wanted to hit. The possessed missiles had a life of their own, and that became apparent when the Cathayan general sent in his last reserves to bolster his wavering right flank against the Dawi Zharr onslaught.

      Those troops were led by a mighty Human warlord atop a serpentine dragon. It started ravaging the Chaos Dwarf and Hobgoblin cohorts when Ukkad Firebrow found his mark. The Daemon Rocket shrieked as it shot out of the barrel. It somersaulted in the air, flew zig-zag sideways and flashed away unpredictably. The dragon rider thought such a distant rocket to be no danger. Suddenly it made a sharp turn in the air and gave a maniacal, metallic laughter as it speared right through the Cathayan dragon's chest, killing the noble monster outright.

      That was not the end of the Daemon Rocket's trajectory, however, for it went off beyond the immediate battlefield to cut off the heads of three mounted Hobgoblin Khans before returning with a scoffing noise. It darted right into a petrified Sorcerer-Prophet of old standing atop a richly crafted palanquin, and detonated. The statue became nothing but grey sand, and the dishonour was great amidst the unfolding triumph.

      The Grim Host won that battle and made their escape out of Cathay with a rich booty in Human slaves that had only been bolstered by the new prisoners of war. They would all die horrible deaths in a nightmare realm of fire and desolation, and so would their few future children that were born there. The Chaos Dwarfs sang a victory hymn and adulated Hashut and His idols generously with slave blood offerings.

      As for the fell Daemon Rocket, Ukkad Firebrow complained on his knees to Ghakur-Zin Sootbeard himself, and convinced the Sorcerer-Prophet to exile Ukkad's accused third apprentice into the feared Infernal Guard.

      The Demise: The trek back across the Mountains of Mourn was long and harsh, and many slaves froze or starved to death once again. Gnoblars and Ogres were bought or captured to take their place. Sacrifices were committed when the Grim Host reached River Ruin again, and the polluted waters ran crimson with Greenskin and Human blood, for such is the fate of the weak receiver of cruelty. A stele was erected to commemorate the attack into Cathay, and the army crossed the river.

      Back in the Dark Lands, Sorcerer-Prophet Ghakur-Zin Sootbeard still had shackles left for yet more slaves, and thus he ventured to the Wolf Lands to capture Orcs, for so many such Greenskin slaves had already died. He found what he was looking for, in a detestably small army led by Big Shaman Grak, who had ripped off the skin of his own face to bedeck a dung effigy of Gork (or possibly Mork). Grak instilled his three conquered tribes with toxic fungus brews and infusions made from thorny Dark Lands vegetation, and soon the entire Orcish horde flew into a frenzy that made them howl like wolves and scare off the mounted Hobgoblin scouts that observed their primitive camp.

      The encounter between the two armies was just an afterthought in the Grim Host's four year long campaign, merely a last bite to fill the slave pens. The Greenskins stood no chance. To Ukkad Firebrow, however, it was an excellent opportunity to test out his stronger, high-explosive Blackflame Rockets. This ammunition was volatile, but he had prayed and sacrificed to the Bull God for guidance, strength and protection, and so Ukkad thought himself invulnerable.

      His aim had improved during the arduous campaign, and now every shot of his hit home! First, his Blackflame Rocket blew up a large Rock Lobba in one fiery instant. The next missile landed in the midst of a mob of Orc Big Uns and killed half of them in one ferocious blast that sent the survivors packing like frightened Goblins. The Chaos Dwarf laughed at this with cruelty plain in his face and voice. There was also a hint of madness in the laughter, but surely one must be crazy in the first place to fire a Death Rocket from the shoulder?

      His new and fourth apprentice Harkun loaded the weapon for a third time this battle. Ukkad Firebrow raised it and aimed for the head of the insanely dancing Big Shaman Grak, who was involved in some kind of magical duel with a minor Daemonsmith. Ukkad's laughter bubbled up again from his throat, and this time it truly sounded mad. He gave a tusked grin, and fired.

      A huge, black fireball erupted in the midst of the Dawi Zharr lines. Ukkad was blown to pieces by the misfire, as were his loader and porter slaves. Only a charred crater remained where he had stood at the moment of his death. The Death Rocket bazooka had claimed the life of its owner at last, and Sorcerer-Prophet Ghakur-Zin Sootbeard had it inscribed with one death rune, the first in a row of many, before honouring a new artillery officer with the weapon.

      And to this day, Ukkad Firebrow's rocket launcher has changed hands more often than slaves have had hot meals in their worthless lives.

    • In betwixt two enormous mountain ranges stretches the vast Dark Lands, inhospitable wastelands roamed by savages and monsters; choked by smoke and sulphuric gases; clad in but scant and thorny vegetation; rent asunder and reshaped time upon time again by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. These forbidding landscapes should be anathema to all but the vilest of beasts, the hardiest of plants and the brutest of tribes, yet still here resides one of the truly great civilizations of the world: The dark empire of the Chaos Dwarfs.

      A monstrous realm maintained through neverending terror, slavery and nightmarish industry, it is an oppressive and strongly hierarchical society which is at the same time ferociously cruel and mysteriously refined. Above all, the civilization of the Dwarfs of Fire is a highly advanced culture whether you measure it by its engineering skill, artistry, writing system, military accomplishments, craftsmanship, technology, scientific lore, mastery over sorcery, organizational skill or sheer ability to crush any and all opposition in order to ruthlessly extract the slaves and resources it desires.

      To the Chaos Dwarfs, the success and sophistication of their society is proof in and of itself of high Hashut's favour and of their supreme right to conquer and rule both nature itself and the lesser races of the world, and in the long run even Chaos and all of creation, Bull God willing. Their megalomania is only further fueled by the truth this hubris is based upon, namely the truth of their unrivalled mastery of the volatile and lethal Dark Lands. For theirs is the only realm of the living in these ashen landscapes to endure the eroding hardship and plight of long ages of neverending warfare and violent turmoil. Indeed, the Dawi Zharr thrive under these dire conditions.

      They thrive where no others could have withstood the test of time to uphold a mighty empire through bloody force of arms and relentless feats of engineering. Here, they have carved out a realm in their own image to honour Chaos and their Father of Darkness alike. Here, they have truly created hell on earth. Here, they have brutally imposed their advanced, sedentary civilization upon the enslaved tribes of barbarian nomads.

      The Dawi Zharr worldview is permeated by this imperial perspective. To them, it is only natural and befitting to see themselves as superior, for what evidence to the contrary could there ever be presented? Their myths and legends reflects this dominon which their civilization enforces upon savage brutes, for their stories are more often than not narratives of elevated Chaos Dwarfs trampling inferior races into the dust. Indeed, some of the tales at the very core of their mythology are of this character. As such, many of the Dawi Zharr's stories explaining the very origin and order of things make up a body of blood-soaked sagas featuring divine and unholy Hashut (or some important Chaos Dwarf figure) deceiving, exploiting or destroying those less advanced, less cunning or simply weaker than Himself, all to further His own ends.

      These are tales of conquest and subjugation, of ruthlessness and utter malice. These are tales of vanquished foes and triumphant villains lauded as nothing less than ideal beings, or even deities to be worshipped. These are tales of darkness and despair, of just causes lost and of Chaos ascendant. Above all, these are tales of slavery and oppression, of cold cunning and of such stark cruelty as to make a heart of stone bleed.

      These are the tales of the enslaved savage, as told by the Blacksmiths of Chaos.

      This is one such tale.

      The Gods Decree: In the beginning, there was struggle, and struggle shall mark all of existence until the end of days. In the beginning, there were many gods both known and unknown, from both before and after the birth of time. In the very beginning, there was Chaos and there was Order, and the gods of Order wrote down the first written words on indestructible tablets to build Order from Chaos. These were the Mez, the Godly Decrees, the supernatural documents containing the plans for civilization itself, and without them, these designs of Order could never have existed.

      These Godly Decrees were the blueprints of elevated culture and advanced society, for the Mez tablets fathomed everything which makes up ordered life. The Mez could be abstract, for some were victory, domination, vengeance, judgement, hospitality and wisdom. The Mez could also stipulate arcane lore such as occultism, the reading of omens and portents, ritual sacrifice, Daemonbinding and the subjugation of raw, wild magic into sorcerous spells. Likewise, the Mez were technologies and crafts like weaving, forging, pottery and writing. The Mez were also the fabric of ordered communities, including law, heraldry, clans, caste hierarchy, priesthood, slavery and prostitution. The Mez were many things, for among their number were the destruction of cities, libel, falsehood, enmity, eunuchs, purges of the undesired, ostracism and exile. They were the arts and sciences, the lores and the crafts. Without them, organized society could neither function, nor exist.

      The gods of Order poured their powers and essence into these potent objects, for the Godly Decrees were laboriously written down shortly after the creation of the world. Yet the Mez were quickly stolen and spirited away by the Dark Gods of Chaos and their myriad minions, who kept the Godly Decrees as playthings, trophies or hidden secrets to be corrupted, if possible, or teasingly used as bait to lure the vengeful gods of Order into the Realm of Chaos. This came to pass time upon time again, for numerous times did the gods of Order carry out divine incursions into the Empyrean in order to secure their lost Decrees.

      Yet ultimately, all these invasions failed and instead saw the ranks and power of the gods of Order decimated, thereby cementing the ascendant supremacy of Chaos over all creation for long ages of turmoil, until the gods of Order had regained enough strength to dare yet another offensive attempt to retrieve the indestructible Godly Decrees. The tactics, weaponry and otherworldly powers of the gods of Order varied immensely over all the various invasions, but in the end they were all crushed by the guiles and forces of Chaos.

      Upheaval: Then, after uncounted aeons of strife and anarchy in the world, the Far Ones appeared as from out of nowhere, to join forces with Order. Then, the combined forces of Order managed to rescue the lost Mez tablets by binding down most of the Dark Gods' might in horrendous meatgrinder battles of titanic proportions, while heroic raiding parties of Order struck deep into the Realm of Chaos aboard a radiant Ship of Light. From this holy vessel were they able to track down and recapture the now lightly defended Godly Decrees, collecting all retrieved documents aboard the vessel, until finally they had found every single Mez. Yet as the Ship of Light set sail to leave the Realm of Chaos at last, the wily Keeper of Secrets known as In'kari had transformed itself into a false tablet of perversion in order to join in an unholy union with the tablet of love, and so the sly Daemon had tricked himself aboard amidst the treasured Godly Decrees.

      Thus it was that the forces of Order's costly triumph was spoiled from its onset, yet for a while the Far Ones managed to impose a true Order of Things upon the mortal world thanks to their possession of the Mez. Yet at the most opportune moment, In'kari the Keeper of Secrets grabbed all Godly Decrees and fled unnoticed with the tablets back to the Empyrean, thereby ruining the great works of the Far Ones and plunging all creation into an unprecedented upheaval of rawest Chaos. The Dark Gods and their hosts were ascendant once again, and so In'kari devised a malevolent plan to forever keep the Godly Decrees away from the grasp of the assailed gods of Order.

      The Keeper of Secrets, In'kari, could not destroy the potent documents of ordered existence, yet In'kari could hide them away to defile and corrupt them by appointing the most unnatural guardians ever conceived. And so it was that In'kari carried out a heinous act to baffle even fellow Slaaneshi servants, for In'kari bred with eight Daemons from each of the uncounted powers of Chaos, before giving birth to the eight hundred and eighty-eight Allspawns. These were loathsome and corrupt Daemonic creatures, for their impurity and infectious insanity encompassed all of that which is Chaos, yet their forms and character could shift from incarnating the nature of one Dark God to that of another in the blink of an eye. And so it was that the whole register of dark emotions and destructive behaviours came to life in the Allspawns.

      And even the Great Gods of Chaos were disgusted, for they saw their own specific domain of power and personality made manifest in the Allspawns for one moment, only to be replaced by the face of another Dark God the next moment, and then another, as though the dark divinities were nothing but a deck of cards to be riffled through capriciously. Thus it was that all the Dark Gods of Chaos, paradoxically, for once joined forces to cast the appointed guardians of the Godly Decrees into the remotest corner of the dreaded Nethercaves deep within the Realm of Chaos, and all the dark divinities laid heavy curses, traps and hexes upon this prison, and none of them bar one would ever again speak of neither the existence of the Mez nor their location. This they all did because none of the Dark Gods could stand the others in their heart-of-hearts, and such mutual hatred may unite in the bewildering Realm of Chaos.

      Hidden away and forgotten, the abominable Allspawns infected each and every single one of the Godly Decrees with their myriad natures, and they gnawed at them and played with the Mez tablets like hounds. In'kari's grand plan had worked perfectly, yet the Keeper of Secrets were doomed to wander the Realm of Chaos on his own from now on, for the Prince of Pleasures cast out the Greater Daemon in a pang of acidic envy over his servant's depraved deed, which Slaanesh could never invent himself now that another had come up with the original idea before him. As a final humiliation, Slaanesh transformed In'kari into a silver cow and destroyed the exiled Keeper of Secret's precious androgynity in a stroke which has since been mimicked by certain extatic Slaaneshi fanatics, before anointing In'kari with imperishable musk, perfumes, lusty pheromones and other alluring odours which would arouse every bodily appetite imaginable in mortals and immortals alike.

      Thus it was that the once-proud In'kari became the Hunted Cattle of the ever-shifting Realm of Chaos, and she would never again find neither rest nor peace, unless a higher power saved her from the torment.

      Twelve Times Twelve: Meanwhile, the almighty and unimaginably wise Father of Darkness foresaw the future necessity for His coming tribe of chosen worshippers to couple Order with Chaos in order to carve out His worldly domain and make Him greater above all the other Dark Gods. Hashut, who tramples the impure when on high, needed the Mez, and knew in His exalted mind how to acquire the lost Godly Decrees.

      And so it was, that the fiery Bull God forged twelve ensorcelled shackles, twelve ensorcelled locks and twelve ensorcelled keys, and He forged them in the hot flames which burst snorting forth from His black muffle. Thereupon, He easily captured and broke both the body and will of a Fury which happened to fly by, and He then reforged the wretched Daemon into a cage-like creature without any sense of smell. Next, the Ruler of Flames cast out His powers and beckoned to fleeing In'kari to seek out His stronghold, for there, He promised, she would at last be secure and find a safe haven. She heard His words and took heed, and followed them desperately.

      At the first gate to high Hashut's forge citadel stood a cage-like gatekeeper, an enslaved Daemon without any sense of smell, who thus did not know of the enthralling odours emanated by In'kari the Hunted Cattle. And the ever-panicked mind of the silver cow calmed with a brief sense of security, for the gatekeeper did neither wish to harm, nor eat nor mount In'kari. Here, surely, she must be safe from the predations of others.

      In'kari the fallen Keeper of Secrets ventured through the twelve gates, and for every one of the twelve gates, the gatekeeper would produce a shackle and lock it onto her, explaining that it was merely the custom of this place, and that her new bonds were symbolic of her current hardships, but that they were to be removed once beyond the twelfth gate. And In'kari accepted these words, and went willingly into slavery, for her essence was weak.

      Once the twelfth gate was shut, locked and barred behind her, In'kari found herself in the inner sanctum of her saviour. It was a chamber of fire and darkness. Wreathed in shadow and flame stood the mighty Bull God, and His deeds made the slave realize the betrayal and lies, for high Hashut violated her like no other Daemon or Demigod before Him. The Father of Darkness demanded the Godly Decrees of Order. In'kari refused Him six times, and for each refusal new torture and carnal agonies ensued. After the seventh session of pain, In'kari's feeble will broke, and she agreed to take the Godly Decrees to Hashut, yet the overpowering Bull God continued to violate and torture the Hunted Cattle before releasing her by the twelfth time He demanded the Mez. For the sixth time did He receive In'kari's agreement, and Hashut saw that this was good.

      The wicked Daemon harboured plans of treachery and escape in her heart, yet this disobedience was crushed underhoof before it could ever come true, for the wise Father of Darkness revealed to the devastated In'kari that her dozen shackles were too strongly forged for anything but the Dark Gods themselves to shatter or unlock. Indeed, each of the twelve shackles contained a twelfth share of In'kari's Daemonic essence, and with her unnatural soul shards firmly in His grasp, Hashut ordered the slave to gather all the Godly Decrees and take them to Him. The wise Lord of Lords calculated that it would take In'kari twelve perilous journeys back and forth to bring all eight hundred and eighty-eight Godly Decrees of Order to Him.

      The Father of Darkness ordered In'kari, the thrall, to carry as many tablets with her as she could possibly overburden herself with, and He threatened her with vile torture, for He possessed all the twelve keys to the twelve locks of the twelve shackles, and thus He needed only to drop one key into flame in order to engulf In'kari the slave in blackest suffering. High Hashut then demonstrated the consequences of failure at once, as any wise master would. One key fell into fire, and In'kari writhed and screamed and wished herself permanently snuffed out from all existence. Yet the cunning Bull God did also promise her to unlock and remove one shackle for each time she returned fully laden with Mez tablets. Indeed He swore an oath in raging fire to release In'kari the Hunted Cattle once her final journey to transport the vaunted documents to Hashut was completed.

      And In'kari the outcast believed the mighty Bull God's words.

      Descent Into the Nethercaves: The three times four shackled In'kari ran across the roiling Realm of Chaos. Mountains of infinity shot up to bar her way and valleys of despair opened up gaping before the chained silver cow. Daemons of all shapes and temperaments stalked and chased the Hunted Cattle and clawed wounds into her flanks. Yet on In'kari ran, claws pumping to escape torment and pursuit, until finally she reached the shunned Nethercaves, which the Dark Gods themselves do not visist. Indeed it is said that In'kari did not so much as find the gaping entrance to the howling Nethercaves, but that the Nethercaves found her a dozen times in a row, lured by her scents.

      The labyrinthine Nethercaves contained dangerous secrets untold and unseen, too excessive even for the Dark Gods to enjoy or tolerate. Here, the lowest of outcast Daemons and hunted Demigods hid and preyed upon each other amid the dust and the gloom. Here, vile reflections and caricatures of the ghastly dead from the mortal world flickered and blinked amidst the darkness. Here, the scum of creation reigned and roared as they fought each other or were impaled by the suddenly growing, suddenly declining stalactites of crystallized terror and stalagmites of frozen insanity. Here, the worst ones of existence drank dirt and ate stone, and both wise and mad ones claims them to be the unwitting guardians of all creation, for deep within the Nethercaves lurks the forbidden Seam of Creation, where the fabric of existence, both real and unreal, was sewn together as everything there is came into being long ago in an ancient age. And should ever the Seam of Creation unravel, so too would the mortal world, and the Realm of Chaos, and the afterworld all come apart in a great cataclysm.

      Down into these unspeakable depths of doom did In'kari venture, and uncounted were her hardships and suffering at the hands and claws of monstrosities, at the beaks and talons of ethereal predators. Yet In'kari did not only risk her own eternal essence by plunging into the turbulent maze, for each time the Hunted Cattle descended into the Nethercaves, so too did all bodily appetites of the living cease in the realm of mortals. Thus each terrible trek risked the extinction of all life in the word through starvation or lack of procreation. The omniscient Hashut knew of this, yet still He insisted on In'kari undertaking the twelve hazardous journeys.

      A dozen times did In'kari travel to the caverns of outcasts and the rejects of creation, and a dozen times did she nearly drown in floods of the dirt of ages, and was nearly crushed entirely under rushing avalanches of the stones of inevitability, and she was impaled nigh to the end of essence by the rocky spikes shooting out from the walls, the roof and the floor of the Nethercaves. A dozen times did In'kari run while spectres rattled her chains and Daemonspawn tore at her veins. A dozen times did In'kari press on through grievous suffering, to at last reach the remotest corner of the Nethercaves. There, she did a dozen times deceive, bypass or nullify the hexes and evil wards set up by the Dark Gods to guard this prison, yet a dozen times did she also fall into the pitfalls and became a victim of the curses, and horrendous were her agonies, yet nevertheless the slave persevered, for she was ever fearful of the still worse fate to befall her at the hooves of her master and owner, high Hashut the fierce Bull God and Father of Darkness, should she ever fail him on a single trek in this murderous endeavour.

      Each time In'kari the Hunted Cattle traversed the Nethercaves to reach the lair of the hideous Allspawn, she faced a problem. How would she carry as many Godly Decrees about her as she could possibly overburden herself with? During each trek, the sly In'kari devised new methods and brought with her new means of carrying the Mez tablets, yet each time they were undone by impossibility or by the torrent of strikes landed upon her by her own children, the ever-shifting Allspawn. Each time, In'kari had to subdue herself to the only option left, and thus she gulped down tablet after tablet to store as many of them safely in her guts as the silver cow could ever possibly stomach.

      Her flanks heaved in torment and threatened to burst from inside, and all around her, she would each time during these twelve descents into the Nethercaves be assaulted by all the eight hundred and eighty-eight Allspawn. For the curse of Slaanesh was the only gift she had to distract the guardians of the Godly Decrees from their playthings. As In'kari entered the demented prison of the Allspawn, she succeeded in collecting the treasures because the Allspawn would all turn upon the alluring scents and rend and tear In'kari's flesh to consume it. Claw and fang sank into the fallen Greater Daemon, and for each time she descended, In'kari became ever more gouged and shredded, yet still she persevered out of fear for the wrath of her high master. And Hashut knew that this was good.

      The return journeys were only more perilous than the treks down into the Nethercaves, and it seemed as if the torment of In'kari the Hunted Cattle would never end. Yet a dozen times she limped through the twelve gates into the inner sanctum of the Father of Darkness, and there she delivered the founding documents, which contains the blueprints of civilization, in wet dung heaps in front of Hashut's fiery eyes. This sacrilege greatly kindled His wrath, and thus did the vengeful Bull God punish His slave severely upon each delivery, yet He would not provide her with any other means to retrieve the Godly Decrees for that was beneath His station and dignity. The slave would have to fend for herself. For all In'kari's resourcefulness, she could not devise a means to carry more Mez tablets than if she swallowed them, and so she endured in her impure actions and defiled the future customs, laws, arts, sciences and all the other lores of civilization with the spirit of degeneration. High Hashut was in turn forced by this filth to attempt a grand purification of the eternal and divine documents in the fires of severity, but he seemed to keep his word and removed the shackles, one by one.

      Thus transpired enslaved In'kari's descent into the Nethercaves.

      Whims of the Master: By the twelfth and last time In'kari the Hunted Cattle returned from her journeys and travails, she was nought but a mangled wreck. Limping and stumbling and bleeding blood on the floor, she delivered the last and most important of the Mez tablets to the Father of Darkness, who in His capricious superiority betrayed His promise (for His will alone overrules all oaths, even His own, and thus only Hashut may lie when swearing upon the divine and unholy name of Hashut). The mighty Bull God grabbed the last chain of In'kari's last remaining shackle between His sharp teeth, and with a mighty tug He flung the silver cow into the flames of damnation, where she will be roasted alive for all eternity until the Father of Darkness deems her sufficiently grilled to consume, come the End Times. By keeping the last shackle in place before throwing the Hunted Cattle into the fire, the cruel Bull God did ensure that In'kari the Damned's excruciating pains would be doubly acute in her torment.

      Thus did vile Slaanesh's curse upon In'kari the fallen one doom her without any hope of salvation, for it was her appetizing scents which aroused every bodily hunger imaginable in both gods and mortals, that not only drew high Hashut to violate her, but the scents also caused the ravenous Father of Darkness to will Himself to eat In'kari, and this shall come to pass before the world comes crashing down and everything descends into darkness.

      To this day In'kari the Damned is turned upon a spit above the fires of damnation, by the mightiest of bound K'daai Daemons to ever have served Hashut and His appointed tribe of conquerors and builders, in both the Realm of Chaos and the world of mortals. Thus did she who brought the gifts of ordered society, come to see her name become a spat curse amongst the Dawi Zharr, and her fate remains a lesson of the capricious cruelty that will befall those who dares to anger the Dark Gods of Chaos. In'kari the Damned is known to all Chaos Dwarfs as the shackled slave Daemon who was ruthlessly exploited by the Father of Darkness to carry back the fruits of civilization for the benefit of His tribe and His dominion on earth, for so below, so above, and a mighty enough empire of devout mortals may yet come to shift the balance of power in the Realm of Chaos.

      In the Dawi Zharr mindset, In'kari stands as the archetypical slave who is callously discarded once her usefulness has come to an end. Indeed her treatment by divine and unholy Hashut remains a worthy ideal example which pious Chaos Dwarfs seeks to emulate in their own lives and codes of conduct.

      And during the arcane ritual to summon a bound fire Daemon into the scorched chains and armour plates of the K'daai, many a Daemonsmith through the years have sworn that amid the crackling fire of the invoked K'daai did they hear an echo of the bellows of In'kari the Damned throughout the Realm of Chaos.

      There, the roasting slave remains, howling in torment.


    • Between the World's Edge Mountains in the west and the Mountains of Mourn in the east stretches the vast and foreboding Dark Lands, violent realms of wasteland in volcanic upheaval which are roamed by monsters and savages alike. Yet in these Dark Lands nests a mighty and malevolent empire the like of which the world has never seen. It is the dark empire of the Chaos Dwarfs, high Hashut's worldly realm of fire and darkness; oppression and exploitation; industry and slavery; ingenuity and mysteries; obedience and sacrificial worship. Its activities of callous mining and manufacturing scar the face of the earth, and its chimneys blots out the sun in heaven with a cover of darkness.

      The scale of production in this devious realm defies the imagination of lesser races fit only to be enslaved or sacrificed. For while Humans may toil away in small mines, village smithies and mills powered by water wheels and charcoal, the Dawi Zharr has created entire landscapes of gaping mine pits, infernal industry and towering machines where coal is burnt day and night for fuel, and where uncounted millions of slaves toil unto death while enduring miserable hardships and carrying out mind-numbing tasks of backbreaking labour to the lash of barbed whips and the cruel whims of Hobgoblin and Chaos Dwarf taskmasters alike. Such is the material nature of the dark empire.

      It is an enigmatic realm of uncounted secrets and uncounted smoke-belching machine monstrosities and bizarre constructs, for the Dawi Zharr are builders and craftsmen even more than they are conquerors and torturers. The sheer scale of their dark industry may be gleaned from the humble metal heads which studs their steel plates and girders, and prevents hulls and steam engines from falling apart. Be they mundane or ensorcelled, the bizarre machinery and constructs of this powerful entitity which is Hashut's realm on earth, are fastened and made whole by uncounted billions of rivets which holds the numerous parts of these objects together throughout the whole dark empire, just like countless acts of severe cruelty holds the Chaos Dwarf empire itself together.

      These rivets may be seen in their hundreds on each and every warmachine built by Dawi Zharr craftsmen and their hordes of downtrodden slaves inside workshops which are nothing short of hell on earth. Iron Daemons could not function without rivets holding their myriad parts together. Hellcannons would disintegrate in dismembered Daemonic metal without cursed and ensorcelled rivets keeping the insane constructs intact. Even the mighty Thunderfire Battlebarges would come apart and sink in a thosand pieces had it not been for the tens of thousands of rivets which groups of Chaos Dwarfs and slaves grabbed from hot forges with iron tongs, put through drill holes and hammered into shape to join together every steel plate of the hull and beam of the framing. Likewise, the mighty skeletons of framework girders of ziggurat manufactories and mining cranes would fall to the ground in heaps of scrap had it not been for the simple rivets swarming about their metal, and only walls of brick and stone would be left standing.

      It may be seen as a testament to their nature as nefarious craftsmen and demented engineers that the Dawi Zharr actually tell stories and fables about bolts and nuts, nails and rivets. Most of these tales are short moral narratives carrying some important lesson of durable design, meticulous labour and the hazards of sloppiness, yet some such stories are veritable legends, spanning great deeds and mindboggling feats of engineering, featuring the will of Dark Gods at work through sinister villains and fell intrigues galore, all centered upon the pivotal importance of humble metal fasteners which every day are pounded into drill holes in manufactories throughout the whole dark empire. Some such tales are even real.

      They are tales of red-hot metal and the din of hammers shaping destiny with every strike. They are tales of devils in the details and the trampling of lousy slaves fit only for the furnace fires. They are tales of broken backs and of minds shattered by the starkest cruelty. Above all, they are tales of utter wickedness and insane ingenuity, of unrelenting toil and the bloody creation of metal behemoths that will either tear themselves apart or go on to terrorize the world of the living for unknown years of bloodshed and horror. For they are tales of steel, and they are tales of blood.

      Such are the stories of fasteners as told by the Blacksmiths of Chaos.

      This is one of these stories.

      The Place of the Skull: Travelling upstream the polluted River Ruin, a traveller would find its waters less defiled after passing the hellish industrial landscapes of the Plain of Zharrduk. Further upstream, he would find that the River Ruin ends close to the Falls of Doom, yet the waterway would be found to stretch on for miles upon miles of solid darkness inside the great tunnel carved out at great expense beneath Zorn Uzkul, the eternal night broken only by ruddy lanterns of ships and barges, and the odd sacrificial altar fire. An innocent traveller who emerged from the tunnel in the north would however wish to remain swathed in darkness, for all around him would lurk yet another glimpse of hell, barring his route of escape into the volatile Sea of Chaos by line upon line of coastal defences, both hidden and visible to the naked eye.

      It was here, in this northern sliver of hell, that the majority of the Chaos Dwarf navy lay moored inside the walls of Uzkulak, Place of the Skull. This mighty naval force was comprised of steaming flotillas geared for raids and warfare and plunder, and little else. And all around the docks and the quays and the artillery bastions strectched the shipyards of Uzkulak, unrivalled even by the grand shipyards of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the Great to the south. Here, beams and girders jutted forth akin to the broken ribcages of iron monsters, while a teeming multitude of slaves and masters toiled in drydocks to cover the frameworks of future vessels with a hide of overlapping steel plates both unadorned and decorated with grim fresques or inscribed with fell curses and sorcerous incantations alike. Seagoing vessels were not only built here, but taken in for repair and maintenance.

      The vast industry of Uzkulak engaged hundreds of thousands of slaves who laboured among the cranes, the drydocks, the machines, the ironworks, the foundries, the workshops, the depots, the slave barracks, the canals and the rails, all under the watchful and unforgiving gaze of Chaos Dwarf overseers and wicked Hobgoblin slavedrivers.

      Dotted among these nightmarish production facilities could also be found a multitude of sacrificial shrines and brooding idols, dedicated both to the Father of Darkness in His various guises, as well as to His dark and fiery court of shackled and enslaved Daemons. Some of the lesser shrines would be erected for deceitful worship and extraction of fickle favours from the great Dark Gods, as well as from personages of myth and a host of capricious Daemons, not to mention shrines dedicated to a number of shunned but grudgingly tolerated oceanic monstrosities bespoken of in both mythology and sailors' tales. Likewise, numerous guard towers and palatial fortress ziggurats of the great and the mighty arose from the smog and the teeming shipyards, where Daemonsmiths calculated and scribbled away at ever more ambitious and demented shipbuilding designs, naval weapons and new arcane technologies.

      Nowhere among the shipyards of Uzkulak could the cacophony of metal ringing upon metal be escaped, for the din rumbled all day long in a barrage of noise rendering slaves, who were unfortunate enough to survive for long, either deaf or insane. Though chill northern winds often swept in from the seaside, most of the shipyard areas were nevertheless blanketed in an oppressive haze of heat, ash and smoke enveloping the slipways and clogging the lungs of the coughing masses of slave rabble, for ruddy lights of fire glared through the smog wherever soulfurnaces, foundries, forges, torches and altar flames could be found. Here, coal dust covered everything in a dark layer like an epidemic skin disease, and those rare slaves, who managed to clean themselves by licking their hides or dipping their bodies into cold, salty water before dozing off to an exhausted and troubled sleep, would awake only to find their scarred and emaciated frames once again darkened by soot.

      Great tracts of Uzkulak's shipyards lay underground, where these subterranean production facilities were connected by waterways to the port city's main harbour and the immensely large Zorn Uzkul naval tunnel leading down to the River Ruin. These facilities who lay hidden from the eyes of the world would often produce the most secret, ingenious and insane constructs ever to be launched onto the seven seas, and their canal tunnel mouths were all jealously fortified and guarded against the prying eyes of rivals and Sneaky Git spies.

      Yet even these sophisticated though oppressive shipyards of the Dawi Zharr were not all of the sites of ship construction to be found in Uzkulak, for some scrap slipways were in operation amidst the filthy shanty towns of the Hobgoblin huts. These slums lay outside of the inner ring of city walls, yet often lay inside a weaker curtain wall to keep out the marauding Human tribes from the north. Sometimes these curtain walls were of Chaos Dwarf construction, featuring riveted metal, bricks and stone, yet a few slums were fortified by little more than wooden pallisades erected by the backstabbing Greenskins themselves.

      Here amongst the squalor were Hobgoblins at work in their shoddy shipyards, where the lackeys of the Dwarfs of Fire remained barely overseen by their Dawi Zharr masters, who primarily only ventured out into these shanty towns to confiscate stolen materials and press-gang both Hobgoblins and lower slaves into service whenever constant attrition made the labour force run low in number. The smaller Hobgoblin shipyards were places of tumultuous activity, where Hobgoblins whipped lesser slaves and even worked themselves, at best at rickety vessels of scrap metal, bone and wood, yet often their efforts produced but inflated hide rafts and reed boats caulked with bitumen. Still, most of these Hobgoblin vessels surpassed anything floating which other Greenskins could build, save perhaps for the very best of the mysterious Snotling Pump Rafts.

      Such was the shipyards of Uzkulak in all their dark splendour and vile misery. From their slipways were launched everything from Great Leveller Battlebarges and bizarre submersible vessels fit for the nightmares of madmen; through Hull Destroyers, pleasure galleys and Grappler boarding ships; to humble tugboats, cargo ships, salvaging vessels and rusty Hobgoblin tubs. It was in Uzkulak that Azhnerek the Visionary let build the infamous Ziggurat of the Seas, a wonder and an unfathomable horror of the world.

      And all of these ships required tons of rivets to build.

      Industrial Accident: In the Black Hoof shipyard and ironworks worked a middle-aged Chaos Dwarf man, wifeless and childless as was so many others of low status. His daily life had for more than one and a half century consisted of laborious riveting work, a profession in which he had drudged on for most of his life, broken only by bursts of warfare and religious community festivities involving gory sacrifices and praise of the virile and divine bull.

      Like so many other riveters, this Dawi Zharr worked as the rivet hammerer in a riveting squad, and his task was to manually beat the tail of the red-hot solid iron rivet, which was held in place with tongs in the drill hole by a holder-on slave. By pounding the tail end of the rivet with a large hammer, the riveter deformed the hot rivet by rolling an edge around the tail, in effect creating a second rivet head to hold steel plates and beams together. In this work he was assisted by a team of slaves overseen by a trained Hobgoblin, who mischievously made sure the lesser thralls heated the iron fasteners to the appropriate temperature in a rivet forge and handed them on by tongs to the riveter. There was also a strong slave, usually an Orc or Ogre, whose job it was to push against the rivet head with a handset to prevent it from escaping the drill hole when beaten by the hammer.

      The man's name was Ardibal, of clan Zhimtrak, and such was his dreary life of joining hundreds of metal plates together on ships, until that fateful day when the accident befell him by the will of Dark Gods, and everything changed irrevocably.

      It took place during a dark night of ill omens, when the Chaos moon hunted balefully across the starry sky. It happened fast and without warning, for a Daemonic summoning and binding ritual conducted by a cadre of Daemonsmith Engineers miscast on top of a ship being constructed. The Daemonsmiths would have been sucked into the Realm of Chaos or seen a Daemon materialize in front of them, had not the convoluted ritual preparations secured them against all but the worst of mishaps. Instead of harming the Daemonsmiths who failed to possess an artillery piece at the top deck, the Daemonic essence was channeled into the frame of the ship, unable to truly escape it but fully capable to wreak havoc by slaying slaves with iron arms, popping holes through steel plates and twisting girders like straw.

      The metal structure heaved and groaned, and the slavedrivers barely kept the thralls' panic in check as the ship revolted around them. The Daemonsmiths stabbed three dozen slave victims to death in a hastily carried-out arcane ritual, yet their attempts to bring the evil spirit to heel and shackle it to their will failed. The rogue Daemon Ghal'bzur ran amok along the length of the vessel, yet unexpectedly it was caught mid-flight through the metal by a mere riveter, Ardibal by name, who happened to strike fast a hot iron rivet through a couple of steel plates in just the same moment as the Daemon passed by.

      Pinned down by a mundane pin, Ghal'bzur lashed out feebly with its trapped powers to break its bonds and slay its captors. It failed to do so, yet its horrific and otherworldly energies surged into Ardibal like a thrust spear, throwing the Chaos Dwarf unconscious and bleeding from nostrils and mouth to the hard deck. Inside his head, the cryptic Daemonic words rang like hammer blows before darkness claimed him: "You who will live by the rivet, shall not die by the rivet, for you shall live eternal by the rivet."

      The nearby slaves in Ardibal's rivet squad were torn apart by a hail of shrapnel bursting form the hull. Finally, the frustrated Daemon roared in defiance, and managed to suck in the Hobgoblin taskmaster into the metal by getting an arcane grip on his whip. There, the slave lackey stood out like a part steel, part flesh fresque on the hull, yet now the rogue Daemon had expended its shackled powers.

      The Daemonsmiths inspected the damage, put fell wards around the rivet which had trapped the Daemon and ensued their heinous rituals of Daemonforging below deck. It had been just yet another industrial accident in Uzkulak.

      Or so it seemed.

      Blessed Curse: When Ardibal awoke, he was a changed man. His appearance remained the same, yet somehow the rogue Daemon's outlash of Empyreic energies had been confined inside the riveter, and it soon became apparent these fell forces manifested themselves when Ardibal took to his craft which had bound the Daemon Ghal'bzur.

      The Chaos Dwarf had gained an uncanny and unparallelled knowledge of riveting far surpassing his long working experience, indeed twisted powers were at work whenever he worked on a rivet, for Ardibal Ironwalker could now move through metal as though through thin air when fastening his metal connections by clinching, without even thinking about it. A rivet must be reached from both sides of a plate, yet the twisted riveter managed to do so on his own. Whenever the man worked on rivets, the ordered laws of nature bowed to the forces of Chaos, and thus Ardibal became the only being in the whole world able to keep a rivet in place with tongs and handset on one side of metal sheets while hammering the rivet tail on the other side, despite the barrier of the hull and his limit of only having two hands.

      Rumours started to spread about a riveter walking through walls and shaping metal like clay, of a workman doing the labour of eight in the Black Hoof shipyard while a rivet squad of twentyfour whipped slaves hurried to assist their master and keep up with his frantic work pace. Soon, Ardibal became an object to be studied from a distance by both Sorcerer-Prophets and Daemonsmiths, who used potent talismans and arcane equipment to decipher the secrets of Ardibal Ironwalker's Daemonic gifts, yet none were truly able to explain or replicate the phenomenon of the blessed curse.

      The Black Hoof shipyard had to double the slow pace in its plate-cutting and drilling workshops to keep up with the weird efficiency of the Daemonically afflicted riveter. Ardibal likewise sped up the construction of ships' hulls, furnaces, steam engines, boilers and funnels, and the production of propellers and shafts had to be increased. There was no part of a ship's hull which he could not rivet on his own, be it shell plating, framing, decks or bulkheads. The fame of Ardibal Ironwalker grew while he toiled away to rivet ships together in Uzkulak, yet benificial though dangerous mutations were nothing new to the Chaos Dwarf workforce, and for the moment Ardibal remained but one industrial asset among others to his masters.

      The Daemonsmith's Tale: One evening after work, the Daemonsmith Engineer Hurzhalk Redeye visited Ardibal Ironwalker in the riveter's humble dwelling without explaining the purpose of his visit. Ardibal had scarcely seen Hurzhalk before, and even less had he ever been honoured by such a vaunted visit. The Chaos Dwarf of lower rank bowed low in front of the Daemonsmith and offered up everything which his little household could treat the revered engineer with, including a sacrifice of a hen to celebrate the occassion. Hurzhalk declined the hospitality, seated himself on the rugs of a stone bed without allowing Ardibal to sit, and told him a story.

      Several hundred years ago, a legendary grand ship called the
      Sea Bull was launched by the efforts of eighty thousand slaves and strong machinery from a giant slipway in Uzkulak harbour. The vessel was spectacular in every way, its outside being ostentatiously ornamented with hundreds of idols and fresques lining its hull. Twelve anchors did it have, and twelve tall chimney stacks spewed forth smoke columns, and the engines and boilers of the vessel dwarfed not only those of lesser ships, but the lesser ships themselves. The Sea Bull was armed with a full dozen enormous artillery pieces, and a proud bronze bull burnt feverishly at its fore.

      Yet for all its power and splendour, the
      Sea Bull managed but a single short journey, for the monstrous bulk of the wrongly designed vessel capsized in the midst of the very deep and highly polluted main harbour of Uzkulak, dragging with it hundreds of Chaos Dwarfs, thousands upon thousands of slaves and several dozens of tugboats into the dark and watery depths. The flames of the large bronze bull at its fore were extinguished in a huge gush of steam.

      The shipsmaster of the
      Sea Bull, Sorcerer-Prophet Mutaggilzur Flametounge, tried to halt the unfolding disaster, yet his exhaustive and panicked efforts were in vain, for the bale sorceries backfired and turned him into stone up to his shoulders, sending Mutaggilzur Flametounge tumbling over the railing as the legendary grand vessel capsized. The Sorcerer-Prophet screamed curses at himself and his folly as the water engulfed him, whereupon his petrified body sank him to the bottom like a stone.

      Meanwhile, inside the ship, Dawi Zharr, Hobgoblins and lesser slaves in chains trampled each other in a stampede of panic, and as the ship rolled over and water rushed in below deck with the fury of the sea gods, the masses of fleeing crewmen swung weapons, tools, buckets and Gnoblars wildly at each other to cut a way out. Primal rage and fear reigned supreme, and brief fires flared up to incinerate unfortunates before the sea claimed them. Crowded bottlenecks formed in doorways, at ladders and in stairs, and the unrelenting force of the inpouring salt water made any escape impossible even for those who could swim. As the titanic mass of the construction which was the
      Sea Bull was dragged down under the waves, a boiler exploded inside it, blowing out scores of steel plates and pushing up hundreds of corpses and dismembered body parts to the surface for the carrion birds, Harpies and even worse creatures to feast upon.

      Some of those on the upper decks managed to abandon ship and could actually swim or find floating materials to hold on to, yet many of them were also doomed as the heavy
      Sea Bull sank below water, sucking any survivors and tugboats in its vicinity into the depths. It was said that sharks, monster eels and worse feasted upon the flesh of both the dead and those who remained alive in cold and dark air pockets, trapped inside the labyrinthine innards of the gargantuan vessel. It was a complete disaster, and it shocked Uzkulak to the core.

      Unbelievably large and expensive projects to salvage the whole ship from the sea bottom were undertaken by two entire generations of despairing Sorcerer-Prophets in the Place of the Skull, who viewed the vessel's doom as a grave punishment dealt out by the fiery Bull God Himself. Indeed, many Chaos Dwarfs saw the demise of the
      Sea Bull as a sign of high Hashut's disappointment in their enterprises at sea, for the Dawi Zharr worldview always held that water, and especially salt water, was a polluted element parametrically opposite to the purity of fire.

      The cost in slave lives was particularly high during these failed attempts to salvage the wreck, for they paid with their lives in the thousands during both the salvage operations themselves and at the grand sacrificial penitence rituals which involved all of Uzkulak, and even emissaries and traders came to attend from the whole realm of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the Great and all her holdings. Yet for all their bitter endeavours, all the Dawi Zharr of Uzkulak had to show for their lengthy efforts were a few salvaged steel plates, minor artillery pieces and broken idols, plus whatever trinkets which were occasionally retrieved from the guts of sea beasts both harpooned and trawled up from the forbidding depths of the harbour.

      The shame and loss of prestige to the stronghold of Uzkulak took several hundred years to be replaced by new confidence, and the salvaging of the wreck of the legendary grand ship would remain an unrealized dream until the End Times of all creation, for so spoke the K'daai Oracle of Daemon's Stump when questioned upon the matter by the lords of the great port city to the north.

      Yet a new chapter would now be added to the tragic tale of the
      Sea Bull, and Daemonsmith Hurzhalk Redeye would reap the profits or die trying.

      Deeds in the Depths: The Daemonsmith Engineer hired the riveter Ardibal Ironwalker to perform a special task deep under the waters of Uzkulak's main harbour. As a preparation, Ardibal was trained for a whole week in the sea water to become accustomed to a clunky Daemonforged diving suit. When finished, the riveter boarded one of Hurzhalk Redeye's bizarre submersible vessels, and through the armoured glass cockpit he saw himself descend into a dark and unknown world under the waves. On the surface, a crane ship winched down three large diving bells.

      As the small flotilla of submersibles and diving bells dove, Daemonsmith Hurzhalk explained things to Ardibal. Years before, the Daemonsmith had conjured up a groundbreaking idea deemed crazy if not impious by his peers. He would not salvage the whole
      Sea Bull, but would reach inside the wreck of the legendary grand ship by means of submersibles and Daemonically possessed armoured diving suits, in order to plunder potent arcane artefacts still lurking in the depths. Yet the enterprise had met with constant problems, and the last of them had seemed insurmountable, for Hurzhalk Redeye's divers had found out that the main hallway inside the wreck had been infested by a fiercely aggressive young Sea Dragon which none of his dark sorceries or weapons had been able to kill or neutralize.

      The Sea Dragon would not abandon its nest, and the Daemonsmith Engineer would not abandon his plans. Deadlocked, Hurzhalk had plotted and schemed in vain, for all his efforts had been wasted against the monster. Yet upon first hearing of Ardibal Ironwalker's unholy gifts, Hurzhalk had received a mad idea for which vision he had thanked the Father of Darkness and some lesser divinities of Chaos through adulation and bloody sacrifice in front of His mighty idols. Hurzhalk had then invested substantial wealth in thorough preparations, for he needed materials and tools crafted to meticulous specifications. Then, he had contacted Ardibal, who now received detailed instructions for the task ahead. Survival was not assured.

      After some searching on the bottom of the harbour, the Daemonforged lamps of the submersibles lit up the vast wreckage of the
      Sea Bull lying like a hillock among the forest of sea plants and the flickering schools of fish. Gas bubbles streamed up from volcanic vents who had yet gone dormant, and the garbage of many centuries of Uzkulak's existence littered the seabed. Large creatures swept past the submersibles as most of them entered the shipwreck through the rift in the hull created by the exploded boiler. A few backup underwater machines remained outside the large vessel to haul back troubled companions with chains and hooks if need be. Yet everyone in the crew knew that this safety measure was futile should the Sea Dragon attack.

      Inside the
      Sea Bull, the submersibles disgorged Dawi Zharr in their clumsy diving suits. They carried weapons and all necessary materials and equipment for the riveter to perform his work. Soon, the diving bells stopped their descent inside the rifts, and armoured Chaos Dwarf divers forced out fifty Hobgoblins without suits from the diving bells. Drowning tests carried out by Hurzhalk Redeye had revealed that Hobgoblins trained at diving were better at swimming and holding their breath than were other Greenskins similarly trained, and thus they would be sacrificed for the task at hand.

      Daemonforged lanterns lit up the main hallway inside the ship, into which the unwilling Hobgoblin divers were herded. Daemonsmith Hurzhalk then cracked a Daemon flask of enigmatic content against a bulkhead, unleashing a Daemon of terror which killed some Greenskins who let out all air from their lungs in a silent scream as beastly panic seized their minds. Most of the Hobgoblins were however sent fleeing in a clawing frenzy, swimming as far away from the fear Daemon as they possibly could. This took them right into the jaws of the young Sea Dragon in the dense darkness, or else their lungs ran out of air, or their bodies could no longer stand the frigid water. Whatever their fates, they all met them inside the wreckage of the
      Sea Bull.

      The Hobgoblins were but a diversion, cast out to buy Ardibal and the other Chaos Dwarf divers time to drill holes and rivet fast thick steel plates and girders in the crucial spots to lock the Sea Dragon inside the main hallway. The diversion was succesful, yet Ardibal Ironwalker barely escaped with his life through the steel plates when the young oceanic monster darted forth through the haze of Hobgoblin blood, and snapped its jaws after the Dawi Zharr just as the last rivet was fastened. Thus Daemonsmith Hurzhalk Redeye imprisoned his lethal foe.

      The Chaos Dwarf divers then found their way to the shipsmaster's cabin, fighting through lesser sea beasts to reach the inner sanctum of the long-dead Sorcerer-Prophet's private study. They proceeded to loot all the remaining valuables found inside the quarters of Mutaggilzur Flametounge, and the riveter was set to work hammering off the heads of rivets holding a Daemonic idol of fell energies fast to its pedestal. Hurzhalk claimed the heinously powerful prize of cursed gold and pulsating warpstone for himself, yet Ardibal Ironwalker cunningly gathered up all the destroyed rivet heads from the pedestal as he worked, and hid them about his person.

      Most of the Dawi Zharr emerged from the shipwreck alive and well, and the triumphant Daemonsmith Engineer boasted as his submersibles ascended to the surface, telling his crew about his own brilliance and giving due adulation to Hashut for granting him such ingenious intellect. As an afterthought, Daemonsmith Hurzhalk Redeye gave Ardibal an insultingly modest payment for the riveting service once they were back in Hurzhalk's laboratory dwelling, for must not the greater due be offered up to the Father of Darkness Himself instead of to a lowly mortal? Even Hurzhalk's sworn and loyal crew became uneasy at the arrogant conduct of their leader, yet Ardibal the riveter merely thanked his employer, kept calm and left the Daemonsmith's rich home in good stride.

      He had already claimed his share.

      The Price of Greatness: Ardibal Ironwalker travelled the backstreets of Uzkulak to find a young and ambitious Hellsmith by the name of Rebopalazzar Blacktusk, whom he contracted to carry out an arcane act of forging, and to keep quiet about it in exchange for Ardibal's life savings of minerals, slaves and property. And so it was, that under secret circumstances did the Hellsmith melt down the rivet heads which had held down the gold and warpstone idol inside the wreckage of the Sea Bull. Rebopalazzar carried out bloodsoaked and mysterious forging rites under much chanting and cryptic ceremonies, which resulted in twelve cast black rivets soaked in the corrupting powers of the idol and the sorceries at the Hellsmith's disposal.

      Rebopalazzar Blacktusk then conducted a bloody and abominable operation against all the laws nature, for he managed by hidden means to fasten the black rivets both on the outside and on the inside of the skull of Ardibal. This was done in order to enhance the man's already unnatural riveting abilities, yet it sent Ironwalker into a feverish coma lasting twelve long years, during which time he lay close to death and heard the whispered promises and threats of a choir of Daemons and Dark Gods through the still darkness of his mind.

      Eventually, the mystic and malevolent forces inside Ardibal Ironwalker had joined together and ceased their struggle for his soul, and so it was that the gifted riveter survived and woke up, shackled inside an open obsidian coffin in the Hellsmith's laboratory. Here, Rebopalazzar Blacktusk had milked the strongly corrupting powers of the twelve skull rivets for potent forces which acted as both fuel and focus in the Hellsmith's business of hunting down, trapping, breaking, enslaving and forging Daemons into matter.

      Hellsmith Rebopalazzar was appalled to see his source of power come to full consciousness, but before he had reached Ardibal with a sedative elixir of otherworldly origin, the riveter had gained a mad gleam in his eyes, and had torn himself from his enchanted iron shackles as though the chains were nothing but paper to be ripped apart. The supernaturally strong riveter hurried over to a heated rivet forge used by the Hellsmith in his ongoing forging of a Deathshrieker Rocket Launcher. He gripped the tools of his trade, and Ardibal Ironwalker became a blur of motion as he moved quicker than any Elf or Slaaneshi fiend could ever hope to match, for the riveter had become nigh perfectly atuned to his craft, so that now few laws of nature could any longer hold him down when riveting metal, or even when arduously drilling holes for the metal fasteners.

      Ardibal slammed the Hellsmith to the floor, and in the blink of an eye he drilled ninetynine holes right through the young man and his bronze plate floor. In the next moment, the Daemonically infused riveter had hammered rivets through the holes to nail Hellsmith Rebopalazzar Blacktusk in place. There, the Hellsmith was left to bleed dry and die in horrible pain, unable to move or even speak. While Rebopalazzar lay dying, the riveter drank every precious and forbidden elixir which could be found inside the Hellsmith's laboratory. As though by a miracle or by the will of Daemons or Dark Gods, Ardibal Ironwalker did not succumb to any of the elixirs, not even to those lethal concoctions containing finely trapped and distilled Daemons of Nurgle.

      The slaves of Rebopalazzar Blacktusk attempted to flee the workshop, yet its heavily armoured and warded doors and windows were barred shut and left no escape route. As such, they were hunted down, one by one, and were eaten both raw and alive by Ardibal to compensate for nourishment lost during his twelve years near death. This gave him a taste for raw slave flesh. He proceeded to plunder the laboratory of Hellsmith Rebopalazzar Blacktusk before breaking up the doors with his bare hands. Then, Ardibal Ironwalker left the workshop and its slowly dying occupant with a grim curse upon his lips, spoken with a hollow, echoing and altogether otherworldly voice fit only for Daemons or nightmares of the insane. He did not realize that the riveted Hellsmith was a mirror image of Ardibal's own fate to come.

      The price of greatness had been paid.

      Work of Marvels: Henceforth, it was said that the riveter Ardibal Ironwalker was superior to every other practitioner of his craft in the same manner that demigods were superior to mortals. Ardibal would even outperform a dozen rivet squads consisting only of trained Chaos Dwarfs equipped with newfangled rivet guns. There was always a palpable terror arround wherever the riveter worked, and he would toil through day and night, for he no longer slept. Frequently he would do completely unreal things when riveting, which even the most convoluted daemonologists could not explain, yet the excellent results spoke for themselves. The people spoke of Ardibal Ironwalker as an ominous and fearsome being who would rivet everything together, and he was employed for great construction projects throughout the whole Dawi Zharr empire. Some simpletons even took to offer up small sacrifices to homemade idols of Ardibal.

      It was said the the marvellous yet cursed riveter built the scaffolding of the Zharruk pit mines in but one afternoon. Rumours spoke of the riveter touched by divine and unholy powers constructing a cobweb of beams and girders in the great meat caverns of Fellhole Cleft at the outskirts of the western Plain of Zharr, which was followed up by an ingenious system of catwalks, pipes and platforms between the beams of the framework, which helped to greatly increase output of meat production until the caverns became infested by Arachnarok spiders hiding among the network of steel beams. Clan Hardakul south of the Plain of Zharr insisted on the truth of a story they told about Ardibal the riveter, whom on his own constructed a towering metal spire in the course of one week, which however toppled during a freak thunderstorm as the Great Thunderbull would not allow any construct to stand which was high enough to rival the colossal ziggurat city of Zharr-Naggrund.

      Stories abounded about the demented riveter, toiling away with his tongs, his hammer and thousands upon thousands of red-hot rivets. His own clothes and armour plates were covered in studs, and even Ardibal Ironwalker's flesh was heavily studded with piercings in the ears and nose, among other areas. And strangest of all, he even invented durable clothes held together half by seams, half by rivets, yet that invention never caught on.

      Ardibal the riveter became a living legend in no time, even among a people so unusually blessed with mutated and twisted master craftsmen as the Chaos Dwarfs were. In Uzkulak, Ardibal riveted together entire ships on his own, while hundreds of slaves toiled away to produce more and more hot rivets for the outstandingly cruel and capricious man which was their master. For lunch and dinner breaks, Ardibal would eat slaves raw, and so great was the terror of the thralls that they would stand stock silent in line, waiting without shackles around their throats, wrists or ankles to be consumed by the bearded monster.

      The large constructs of Ardibal Ironwalker were the very best wrought ones in the entire worldly realm of Hashut. As an act of worship he riveted together a horrifying steel bull in the middle of the Outsiders' Quarter, a port in Uzkulak for foreign pirates and clandestine traders alike to conduct business in, and he did this to put the fear of Hashut into the heathens. This worked unnaturally well. Ardibal the riveter was offered fertile daughters to marry, but to everyone's astonishment he denied their hands since his work consumed him day and night, and he would not idle away in the married bedchamber even for a minute. Some said that not a mortal, but a Daemon looked out from the eyes of the riveter.

      His fame grown immense, Ardibal Ironwalker became a man both feared and sought after.

      Cursed Blessing: One day, the renowned shipwright and Daemonsmith Engineer Napharzuk the Bleak approached Ardibal Ironwalker and wished to employ the riveter to construct an entirely Daemonforged ship for him. Ardibal's memory was intact though his mind had become shattered like a kaleidoscope, for he knew that Napharzuk had been one of the Daemonsmiths who had failed to control the summoned Daemon Ghal'bzur.

      Ardibal grew wary and declined the offer, suspecting a trap or yet another fiasco that might ruin his powers. At this, the greying shipwright did away with all formalities and ceremonies of rank, and taunted Ardibal the riveter for cowardice, for was he not backing down from the greatest challenge of his life? Napharzuk spoke like a decrepit old man, not a strong and confident Daemonsmith, and his words were like hooks in the mind of Ardibal, for they made the middle-aged man bristle with fury and accept the task, snorting like a bull and frothing at the corner of his mouth. Napharzuk the Bleak walked out and smiled for himself with golden teeth, leaving the enraged madman to vent his anger by flaying and slaying a full dozen unfortunate Goblin slaves who happened to stand close to their infamous master.

      Terrible atrocities commenced in the ritualized manufacture and construction of the vessel, which took place inside a cavernous shipyard. Whatever the flaws of the Daemonforged ship, Napharzuk the Bleak had chosen well when contracting Ardibal Ironwalker for the task. For where lesser men would have failed and succumbed to the revolting and inherently hostile nature of the Daemonforged metal, the riveter endured and overcame the lethal and mysterious obstacles. Not only that, but Ardibal attacked the heinous beams and bloodsoaked plates with a raging and indiscriminate fury which cost many a slave its life.

      Whenever twisted faces formed out of flesh and ensorcelled bronze or iron, the riveter locked them in place with red-hot rivets cursed by Daemonsmiths to never cool in a thousand years. When horns and grasping talons emerged from the floor and bulkheads, Ardibal Ironwalker bound the errant evil spirits in place with malevolent curses and yet more fell rivets. The demented riveter waged a war against the unwilling Daemons in the metal which made up the entire Daemonforged ship. The vessel was completely hazardous, and scores of thralls turned corners during work only to turn up half sunk into walls and decks, whether dead or alive, or found scattered in pieces all over the decks. Sometimes, a shriek was heard, and no one ever saw the lost slaves again. Yet Ardibal persevered, and met each offensive move by the Daemonforged materials with a rabid assault of his own.

      The Chaos Dwarf riveter laboured for so long on the ship, that during the last night as the vessel was to be completed, all of Ardibal's exhausted slaves dozed off, leaving their wrathful master alone inside the monster ship. At dawn, the Daemonsmith Engineer Napharzuk the Bleak arrived at the shipyard with his Chaos Dwarf overseers and three dozen Hobgoblins to act as bait for any eccentric outbursts from the ship's side. On the building site, the inspection party found all the thralls sleeping while the sound of riveting echoed from inside the hull.

      Napharzuk the Bleak stood silent as his followers enraged and woke up the worthless slaves with whip lashes and knife cuts. They went on to kill some slaves, maimed others and flayed yet more. The Dawi Zharr and Hobgoblins roared and herded the lesser slaves onto the deck of the nightmare vessel to let them find their truly horrendous punishment at the hands of the merciless riveter. Yet no matter where they looked, they could not find him, even though the noise of riveting continued to echo from inside the ship.

      The inspection party searched every nook and cranny of the wailing decks without success, and yet still the sound of hammer upon rivets could be heard. Finally, as the followers of Napharzuk the Bleak gave up all hope of finding the lost riveter Ardibal, they found him, and in that moment the sound of riveting ceased.

      Ardibal Ironwalker was found inside the steersman's hall, riveted to the ceiling with spikes of warpstone. The legendary riveter was still alive, yet without a tounge, and as his blood dripped down from eight times eight riveted wounds, his eyes hunted wildly in their sockets for an escape from out of his torment. Ardibal's cursed blessing had finally turned upon himself, for he and not the ship had riveted himself fast to the ceiling in an impossible bout of frenetic insanity. Upon witnessing this, the Chaos Dwarfs, Hobgoblins and lesser slaves all fell silent as they beheld Ardibal Ironwalker for the last time.

      As if on a given signal, the guts of the ship erupted into a frenzy of attacks and random turbulence. The inspection party and the herded slaves were assailed from every corner by the wild Daemonforged ship, which dealt out bloody vengeance for all its suffering at the hands of Daemonsmith and riveter. They ran through a ship of insane decks, where Daemonic limbs of flesh and metal stretched out from bulkheads to snatch victims to their doom. It was a vessel of Chaos, where maws opened up beneath the fleeing mortals' feet, where claws rent down from the roof to blind and stab slave and Dawi Zharr alike. Blood flowed, and shrieks of terror echoed throughout the ship.

      Both masters and slaves ran wildly, separating into small groups which quickly dwindled under the unholy onslaught. Some fleeing mortals even made it up to the top deck, where they threw themselves over the railing, only to fall hard and break bones and even necks as they hit the stone floor of the cavernous shipyard. A few hardy Chaos Dwarfs survived the horrors and afflictions of the gauntlet run, and it was they who witnessed the Daemonforged ship grow unnatural appendages to break its chains and launch itself down the slipway while yet unnamed.

      The nightmare ship was still alive with panicked screams echoing below deck when it set out on its maiden voyage. Hellcannons and even more heinous naval artillery pieces blasted away as the unnamed vessel escaped from Uzkulak through a ferocious chase of random twists and turns. It took a voyage of bloodshed to circumvent or strike through all the many layers of strong naval defences, yet somehow the Daemon ship managed to pull off the flight and escape into the shifting mists of the deadly Sea of Chaos.

      Despite all the carnage, shipwright Napharzuk the Bleak stood alive and hale back on the empty slipway. He gave a wicked smile of golden teeth and went home, guffawing all the way, and the Dark Gods laughed with him.

      And to this day, the Daemonic ship still haunts the oceans, ramming, bombarding and even boarding vessels on seas all over the world during the dreaded Witching Night and Night of Mysteries, when the Dark Moon waxes particularly strong. Sometimes, the Daemon ship will conceal itself as a merchant vessel of wood and sails, and drift with the currents from out of fog and darkness, inviting curious and greedy crews to board it and search for riches.

      Some crazed sailors, from Nippon to Norsca, have even claimed to have seen a harrowed Dwarf riveted to the ceiling inside the Daemon vessel, unable to utter a word as his mad eyes fix themselves on the intruders. There, his gaze can only witness yet another bout of the Daemonic ship's insane assaults against any mortal who dares to walk its tormented decks.

      Such is the suffering of the damned riveter, according to the Blacksmiths of Chaos.
    • Written by: KNC
      Illustrated by: Raul Gomes @knightinflames

      In foreign parts, far away betwixt two enormous mountain ranges, stretches the vast and foreboding Dark Lands, hostile to life and breeding hostility in life, landscapes where only the strongest and most cruel may survive and thrive. Here, the dark empire of the Chaos Dwarfs resides, its heavy yoke cast upon the aching backs of millions upon millions of downtrodden slaves, its great mining and industry scarring the very face of the earth and defiling the air itself.

      It is an inhospitable realm, an empire born out of victorious arms and the crushing of its enemies, and manifold are the tales told about the grim fate of its foes. These are legends of horror and bloodshed, of trampled hopes and viciousness without end. These are stories of slavery and despair, of fire and darkness, of maiming and slaying, and of burning pyres of corpses. Above all, these are tales of dark renown and worldly power won ruthlessly atop the broken bodies of slaves and foes alike, for these are tales of cruelty triumphant in a merciless world where the uncaring Dark Gods can do nought but laugh at the worst excesses of mortal brutality, and scoff at the most terrible of fates.

      Such are the stories of conquest, as told by the Blacksmiths of Chaos.

      This is one such story.

      The Rising Power: In ancient times, before the Coming of Hashut, the heathen ancestors of the Dawi Zharr bred and spread themselves across the World's Edge Mountains, and many clans were lured by the hollow promise of riches to venture into the Great Skull Land, where nought but bleak despair and disappointment awaited them. Most of these settlers would make their home in the Zorn Uzkul, carving out a harsh existence as best as they could, yet some scarce few Dwarf colonists pressed on into the mountains to the east, where their long and arduous trek continued south, following a few promising veins of ore and finds of jewels, until they at last struck gold and reached a rich and defensible spot in the western outskirts of the towering Mountains of Mourn. Here, the distant Dawi settled down and founded the hold which to the future Chaos Dwarfs would become known forever after as Karak Zorgelam.

      Other minor settlements existed in its vicinity, yet only Karak Zorgelam weathered the dark years following the Coming of Chaos, when Daemons stalked the earth, and where others fell, this single stronghold emerged through the travails, alive and hale. Thus began the rise of Karak Zorgelam, fueled by rich hunting grounds, the harnessing of water power and the discovery of rich deposits of iron, copper and zink. The Dwarfs of Karak Zorgelam were still true to their ancestral customs and worship, unlike the ill-fated colonists of the Great Skull Land, who survived thanks only to the divine and unholy intervention of the Father of Darkness, that fierce Bull God who demanded they cast off all ties to their past origins and enslave themselves to His will alone.

      Karak Zorgelam was a small but thriving hold, an expanding settlement destined for greatness and glory; a hold which quickly recovered from the ravages of the long Daemonic invasion and succesfully thwarted its Greenskin neighbours in battle. Its growing numbers and strength were evident in the offshot clan settlements which the Dawi colony itself founded where natural resources were particularly abundant. Its meadhalls resounded with song and drinking, its miners hauled tonnes of ore to its furnaces, and its forges produced tools, arms and armour more finely crafted than could be expected from a such a young settlement. The ranks of Karak Zorgelam's throng grew with every passing decade, and the heavy ring of its marching iron-shod boots echoed among the chill mountain vallyes as strong cohorts pushed back Orcs, Goblins, Beastmen, monsters and worse.

      So confident of its grand future were the proud folk of Karak Zorgelam, that their oldest loremasters composed a lenghty poem proclaiming its manifest destiny to people and tame the vast and primordial Mountains of Mourn, just like the Dwarfs' ancestors had done with the distant World's Edge Mountains. These runic stanzas of future greatness were carved into the soaring walls of the Great Hall of Pillars which was being cut out, bit by bit and year by year, from out of solid rock deep beneath the mountains. Hopes ran high among the Dwarfs of Karak Zorgelam, for had they not overcome every foe and obstacle facing them so far?

      If the gods had looked down upon the world, they would have seen mortal greatness and arrogance budding in equal measure in that distant Dawi hold.

      The Dark Gods sniggered among themselves, and the Eye of the Gods turned to the Plain of Zharr.

      The Ascendant Tribe: Meanwhile, the chosen children of high Hashut had become a force of their own to reckon with, for they had migrated to the Plain of Zharrduk, wealthy in minerals, and there they had begun erecting the titanic ziggurat city of Zharr-Naggrund while their numbers grew rapidly and their warleaders undertook a series of wars of conquest to crush, exterminate, enslave and dominate the rampaging Greenskin hordes across all of the vast Dark Lands. They sacrificed greatly to the Father of Darkness, and He granted them success in their grand undertaking, for He saw in His children the raw will to make power over life, and He knew this to be well.

      It was the era of the First Kingdom of the Dawi Zharr, and it was a bloodstained age of mighty Overlords carving out fearful reputations for themselves on the battlefield. These warlords waged endless war against countless Orc and Goblin tribes to establish high Hashut's supremacy in the northern Dark Lands and beyond, yet some battles which the Chaos Dwarfs fought, were against their ancestral kin. As the armies of the Overlords spread out, hunting for savages to slay or enslave, they occasionally clashed with uncorrupted Dawi, for the Chaos Dwarfs fought multiple battles over mineral lodes and other resources against the expanding might of Karak Zorgelam in the shadow of the doomed Sky Titan race. This Dwarf hold remained a stinging thorn in the Dawi Zharr's side, yet the location of it remained unknown, for the colonists there had survived the Daemonic incursion in part by hiding themselves away from the outer world by means of powerful runic wards causing the various gates and backdoors of Karak Zorgelam to melt undetectably into the surrounding rock face of the mountain.

      Karak Zorgelam remained a dishonourable smudge in the eyes of the victorious Overlords of the fiery Bull God, and they swore to destroy it in His name.

      And the Dark Gods moved a playing piece on the board game of mortal fate.

      The Search: One moonless night of dreadful omens did the Father of Darkness deem it well to visit upon Hashurbarnupal the Strong, the mightiest of the Overlords, visions of hell, and dreams of revelation. Before the inner eyes of the Overlord did high Hashut stride forth, great and horned, wreathed in shadow and flame, and He commanded Hashurbarnupal to destroy Karak Zorgelam and pulverize its false Ancestor Gods, or face an eternity of unspeakable suffering. Waking sweaty and panicked from his wild sleep, Hashurbarnupal the Strong became utterly obsessed with finding the hidden stronghold of heathens, and wasted away many years and much of his power and resources to uncover its location. All the while, his war against the Greenskins panned out, and his fortunes among the Chaos Dwarfs waned, and at last his fall at the hands of rival Overlords seemed imminent, and yet Hashurbarnupal had not yet discovered the elusive Dwarf hold.

      In desperation, he rallied his most trustworthy men, grabbed eight thousand slaves and forced them up into the foothills of the Mountains of Mourn, scarring the thralls with blades to draw blood and bait predators and carrion eaters alike to his macabre marching column as they ascended into deadly cold, starvation and hardships without end. After one week in the mountains, his warriors had to fend off the worst Sabretusks, Great Eagles and other predators of land and sky, who not only fell upon the defenseless flesh of the shackled slaves, but even dared to nip at the armoured Dawi Zharr soldiers. After two weeks, the skies were alive with hundreds of Harpies swarming about the quickly dwindling and bleeding slave gangs, and Overlord Hashurbarnupal the Strong shouted to the Harpies to bring him their ruler, should they wish to feast upon thrice the number of slaves which he had brought at this occasion. After three weeks, provisions had run out and all but three hundred shivering Orc slaves remained, and the warband of Chaos Dwarfs were entirely surrounded by beasts, feral Greenskins and monsters, without any hope of escape. They were stuck in a death trap, for they had followed their leader, slavishly obedient till the end.

      As the savages and monstrosities tensed for a massed attack upon the Dawi Zharr, the rays of the sun were blotted out from the sky as dark clouds of Harpy wings descended, scattering their rivals and falling upon the last remaining slaves to tear their flesh and gouge out their eyes in a frenzy of feeding. Now surrounded by a host of Harpies, Overlord Hashurbarnupal struck a costly pact with Izhannar the Harpy Queen, the Harlot of the Skies, the Winged Fury on High, and by expending all his remaining resources on extracting hordes of fresh slaves did the Overlord bribe the vast flying packs of Harpies to search the western parts of the Mountains of Mourn far and wide. Finally, the winged ones' scrutiny from such a high vantage point paid off, and the Harpies were able to report back on the exact location of Karak Zorgelam, for they had discovered uncorrupted Dwarfs regularly wandering in and out of seemingly solid rock within a stretch of relatively low mountains between the Black Fang and Gash Kadrak.

      With a final large payment of thralls to Izhannar and a grand sacrificial pyre in front of His mighty idols to adulate high Hashut, Overlord Hashurbarnupal the Strong gathered his skeptical rival Overlords and fervently convinced them to join forces under his banner to overcome the greater rival to them all, Karak Zorgelam.

      They would decide the future by writing it in the blood of their foes.

      And the Dark Gods tossed the dice of fortune.

      The Siege: Encircled, trapped, isolated beyond the edge of the world with no friends to turn to for aid, the sturdy Dawi of Karak Zorgelam salvaged all resources from outside their hold and locked their runic gates, casting lines upon lines of great barricades and crafting deadly traps behind the strong doors which barred the way into their beloved hold. Their forges rang day and night as the besieged Dwarfs created powerful tools of destruction, impregnable pieces of armour and devious runic charms and traps to withstand and crush their enemies. Men, beardlings and womenfolk alike armed themselves and toiled upon barricades, counter-mines, pitfalls and crossbow galleries. Food and fresh water was rationed, and the denizens of Karak Zorgelam tightened their waistbelts and looked to their Ancestor Gods to deliver them from this moment of hardship and peril.

      Mighty were the deeds and labour of the trapped Dwarfs in defense of their kin and their promised future greatness, yet mighty and cruel were likewise the fell deeds and unceasing toil of the Chaos Dwarfs in their relentless efforts to breach the stronghold and slaughter all within. For twelve long years of hardship and heroism lasted the siege. For twelve long years of bloodshed and battle lasted the siege. For twelve long years of hope and despair lasted the siege, and the Overlords of the Bull God threw themselves at the beleaguered Dwarf hold in all their fury and with all their power. Hundreds of thousands of Greenskin slaves dropped dead from cold, hunger, exhaustion and taskmaster brutality as they marched up into the Mountains of Mourn and carved out tunnels to penetrate into Karak Zorgelam. Many such attempts at mining into the defenders' realm were thwarted by countermining, whereby ferocious clashes broke out as the stout Dwarfs fought off their foes long enough for their sappers to collapse the hostile tunnels and crush any enemies left within. No one knows how many Dawi Zharr and slaves died beneath the fallen roofs of siege tunnels, crushed to death or suffocated in darkness where none could hear them wail and yell out in pain and mortal terror.

      Great deeds and feats of villainy were carried out during the long siege of the lonely Dwarf hold. Among them were the great charge of Bhaal's Bull Centaurs against the serried ranks of Thane Durek Grimbeard's Ironbreakers in the Guild Hall of Masons, the grand crash of the Pillar of Ancestry into the close ranks of fifteen hundred slave soldiers, as well as the last stand of Dragonslayer Karragrim Goldthumb who on his own, and despite grievous wounds, staved off the Dawi Zharr advance long enough to allow others to evacuate his helpless and crippled kin from the Shrine of Valaya before the devious enemies could despoil them. The Chaos Dwarfs expended vast numbers of Greenskin slave warriors, who were all whipped into the lethal jaws of Karak Zorgelam's fortified army in order to slowly exhaust the Dwarfs' stores of ammunition and eventually exhaust the defenders themselves in combat against mere lowly thralls.

      And the Dark Gods savoured the slaughter.

      The Fall: Eventually, a full dozen years of misery and slaughter had passed, and yet still the throng of Karak Zorgelam stood strong, having retreated little by little to yet further lines of fortifications with advantageous bottlenecks and firing angles for slaying incoming attackers en masse. The majority of the hold's population and defenders had succumbed, yet a sizeable remnant survived, holed up within a seemingly inexhaustible supply of heavily fortified rooms and tunnels. When the great halls fell, the Dawi retreated into the mines and quarries, and eventually they had withdrawn to a newly erected citadel deep beneath Karak Zorgelam, which had been carved out tirelessly by Dwarf Miners during the duration of the siege to provide an unparallelled death trap for any besiegers daring to storm it. Here, the beleaguered Dwarfs at last halted their retreat, for no assailing parties ever made it back alive, and the defenders thought themselves at last secure. The Thanes and Runesmiths of Karak Zorgelam yelled oaths and hurled insults and severed heads back at the Dawi Zharr, who seemed powerless to breach the granite citadel.

      After three bloody months of high costs in life and no yields, Overlord Hashurbarnupal the Strong sank into desperation once more and began to see treacherous glances and questioning looks from his fellow warlords. He understood that the defenders could withstand their assaults for years on end within that citadel, and feared the foe had already dug secret tunnels of escape and resupply to the distant surface world. Their supply of fresh water was no longer in jeopardy, and his scouts' reports bore witness to the dreadful possibility of the defenders bringing in fresh provisions to feed their starved guts. Likewise, they seemed to have established a reliable air supply by drilling hidden ventilation shafts, by which means they could nullify any attempts to smoke out the stout Dwarfs. Worse yet, the solid granite strata made the digging of tunnels to undermine and breach the citadel an extremely laborious and lengthy process, winning the remnant of Karak Zorgelam yet more precious time to defy the fierce Bull God's wrath.

      With their worldly and mortal forces exhausted in the face of a masterful defense, Overlord Hashurbarnupal turned to the divine and unholy powers of otherworldly Chaos and high Hashut Himself, for he conducted a grand sacrifice whereby seven thousand Goblin slaves were roasted alive in a grand underground pyre within the overrun Great Hall of Pillars. Much chanting and an enigmatic array of mysterious rituals accompanied the mass burning of flesh, and at the height of the ceremonies, a volunteer champion named Bhazzrak Fouleye stepped into the flames and sacrificed himself to the Father of Darkness, who embraced the worthy offering and caused the Chaos Dwarf to become engulfed in Empyreic flames, whereby a mighty fire Daemon possessed the doomed Dawi Zharr warrior, who would burn brightly and ferociously for a short while before succumbing as his soul was consumed by the flames.

      Bhazzrak Fouleye stomped out of the pyre, a small behemoth of fire and darkness, a mortal creature beset by a Daemon within, a living force of Chaos on earth. Directed by the trembling Hashurbarnupal, Bhazzrak charged a solid granite wall some distance from the Dawi citadel, and stone turned to ash, smoke and cinders before his blazing claws. In a matter of minutes did the frenzied monster carve out a curving tunnel into the very heart of Karak Zorgelam's citadel, taking the defenders by complete surprise as the possessed Chaos Dwarf emerged in a roar of flames and jumped into their midst, slaughtering all before him before the Daemon took him. In his footsteps of molten rock did cohorts of heavily armoured Chaos Dwarf warriors follow, spilling into the stronghold and howling in dark triumph while the stalwart defenders wailed.

      The young Dwarf hero Tarrek Goldbrow, grizzled veteran of a hundred clashes, rushed forth to stop the malevolent advance, and he fell upon smoking and sputtering Bhazzrak Fouleye with an oath to defend the honour of his ancestors and descendants alike, and hacked apart any Dawi Zharr who dared venture close as he took on the faltering flames of the possessed one. Yet his runic hammer and shield could not long withstand the mad Daemonic fury of the self-sacrificed Chaos Dwarf, for doomed Bhazzrak burnt brave Tarrek to cinders in his wild death throes, sending eight unnatural arrows of fire spreading across the cold stone floor and incinerating all who stood close by.

      The chosen tribe of Hashut stormed the inner citadel of the isolated stronghold and sacked Karak Zorgelam in an orgy of flames, r@pe and murder. The triumphant sacrificers and worshippers of the Father of Darkness carried much loot back with them to Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the Great, and likewise did they burn grand pyres of living and dead offerings to their Dark God, and many a false idol of the treacherous Ancestor Gods were defiled and defaced. The fall of Karak Zorgelam was one of the greatest triumphs of the entire First Kingdom, reaped through hard labour and massive expense in blood at the very apex of the Overlords' power, before their catastrophic fall. Much boasting of this victory was carved into monuments and tablets, and the tale of Karak Zorgelam's demise is still a historical source for new legends and epics, which Dawi Zharr authors have continued to write throughout the centuries.

      And the Dark Gods smiled.

      The Curse: Yet the uncorrupted western cousins of the Chaos Dwarfs have also come to learn about the baleful fate of lonely Karak Zorgelam, for unbeknownst to the Dawi Zharr did a small band of survivors escape the pillaging through a hidden backdoor of the hold. Through Dark Lands filled with mortal perils did these ragged Dwarfs press on, stubbornly refusing to succumb in the face of impossible odds, until eventually a single survivor struggled up to the massive gates of Karaz-a-Karak in the far west, the fabled Everpeak, capital city of the Dwarf empire. Here, the lone clansman stumbled into the throne hall of the High King, his hands still clasping the corpse of his father hard to his shoulder, while he told of what had befallen his home. Upon hearing these dire tidings born from the lost stronghold in the east, the High King uttered a damning curse like few others ever spoken out loud since the dawn of time, and the ruler of the Dwarfs threatened distant and wayward Zharr-Naggrund with a final doomsday to make a heart of stone bleed. For its decreed fate of total domination over all creation would not come to pass, come the End Times, but all its greatness and dark glory would come crashing down when the gods at last would pass judgement over the denizens of the world.

      A particularly hateful section of the Great Book of Grudges was dedicated to the fall of Karak Zorgelam, one of the many bitter woes of the Dwarfs, and still, to this day, it is a celebrated triumphal conquest of blood and cruelty to the Dawi Zharr. Nowadays, Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the Great climbs high and strong into the skies, whilst its ancient rival is nought but a gutted ruin where hideous monsters and foul Greenskins make their lairs at the edge of the untamed Ogre Kingdoms.

      Not all buds of greatness may bloom.

      Such is the nature of the Blood Grudge according to the Blacksmiths of Chaos.

      The post was edited 1 time, last by Karak Norn Clansman ().

    • In ashen lands of slag, open pit mines, industry and fire, the Chaos Dwarfs reigns over the only empire in the Dark Lands to have stood the test of time. Theirs is a realm of unspeakable cruelty, toil and hardship, of demented ingenuity and horrific inventions breaking the laws of nature in the mortal world. Theirs is a realm of devout worship to their Father of Darkness, a whole empire willing and able to sacrifice no small portions of their resources at the fiery altars in front of His mighty idols. These are the dark domains of Hashut, known to some as Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the great and all her holdings.

      Though the worshippers of Hashut are fanatically obedient to their Bull God, they pay some respects to the Dark Gods, Daemons and demigods of the wider Chaos pantheon, and not only because they exploit them as a source of raw material for insane projects in the arts of Daemonforging and sorcery. They may rule over an empire of their own, yet the Dwarfs of Fire truly are Chaos Dwarfs. They worship a Chaos god and do not deny it. They trade with, and may ally themselves to mortal, beastly and Daemonic forces of Chaos alike. Through high Hashut, their deeds and destinies are all entwined with that of the greater Chaos.

      Few sects in the Dawi Zharr world are unwilling to recognize these facts even in rituals of cult worship, and those who are unwilling must still bite their tounge and swallow their pride to tip their hat to the wider Chaos pantheon, lest terrible calamities may befall them. For it has happened before and may happen again.

      The mysterious relationship between Chaos and Chaos Dwarfs may to some extent be gleaned from the myths and legends of the Dawi Zharr. These are not stories of love and kind helpfulness, but rather tales of cold calculation, brutal exploitation and untamed ambition. More often than not, they are sagas steeped in raw fear and subjugation to the cruel whims of Chaos, akin to sailors who must travel upon the stormy seas and trawl their depths, even though the oceans may swallow them and their vessels whole. Whatever the themes inherent in the varied myths about Chaos amongst the worshippers of Hashut, they all agree on the inescapable bonds between their labouring race and the greater fate of the Dark Gods and all their realms.

      These are the stories of exposure to gods mightier than their own, as told by the Blacksmiths of Chaos.

      This is one of these stories.

      Secrets of Jealousy: It is said, that in ancient times, Tzeentch was the ultimately strongest Dark God of Chaos, before his brothers united and cast him down, shattering his might into innumerable shards that would become magic spells. To gather all these wayward sorceries and restore himself to full power, the Changer of Ways created the Blue Scribes, P'tarix and X'iratp, who would hunt all lost spells through time and space and catalogue them for their master. Their work is a neverending one, for magic in its myriad forms multiplied in the hands of mortals, yet the Blue Scribes bent to their task without ceasing or tiring.

      Aeons after the great fall of Tzeentch, the Father of Darkness single-handedly defeated three independent Daemon Princes and broke their wills to His own. With ruthless might did He crush and break them, and out of the flames of domination did He reforge their once mighty forms into Daemons more akin to horned cages and fanged strongboxes than any kind of creatures alive in the mortal world. These were the Spell Keepers. High Hashut did this so that He could hoard His secret sorceries, for the Bull God invented or conquered many a unique and forbidden spell which He jealously wanted to guard for Himself and for His future chosen ones, out of righteous hunger for power.

      Into the three Spell Guardians did Hashut lock away magic incantations of the Lores of Death, Fire and Metal, and here within their bowels were the sorcerous mysteries safe, for the Father of Darkness had wrought the Spell Keepers in such a fashion that not even Tzeentch himself could see into their shackled minds. Not even Kairos Fateweaver could know neither their arcane contents, nor the number of spells kept within the reforged Daemon Princes.

      Yet the three Spell Keepers of Hashut were neither mute nor deaf, and these weaknesses would be used by Tzeentch to pry the secrets from out of their hard shells. The Architect of Fate would not suffer anyone to deny him a secret, lest of all the sorceries that he himself needed to know if he ever was to transcend the rest of the Great Four and rule all of creation anew. Tzeentch, the Master of Fortune, summoned the Lord of Change, Uzuzap Talonhand, and tasked him with depriving Hashut of his hidden spells. Uzuzap in turn summoned the ever-searching Blue Scribes to record the magic incantations, and then stole away the three Spell Keepers from the infernal realm of the fiery Bull God.

      Torment: The three Spell Keepers were locked away in twisting dungeons of ever-shifting crystal spires and maelstroms of miscast magic. Here, Uzuzap Talonhand drained the strength from out of the Spell Keepers' essence, and tortured them gravely in wells of insanity and upon lonely peaks of angst before interrogating the weakened Daemons. The Blue Scribes stood eagerly by to do the bidding of the Lord of Change.

      First, Uzuzap Talonhand demanded the secrets from the Spell Keeper of Death, yet the bound Daemon denied the Tzeentchian torturers any spell whatsoever. For this affront to the Great Conspirator, he was slowly destroyed in a torrent of random magic cast by the bickering Blue Scribes, and then cast into a maelstrom of oblivion, thereby diluting and eradicating all the precious sorceries.

      Second, Uzuzap Talonhand demanded the secrets from the Spell Keeper of Metal. The bound Daemon feared the fate visited upon the Spell Keeper of Death, and thus he betrayed his master and revealed Hashut's secret sorceries to the Blue Scribes. The Spell Keeper of Metal was released, yet punished severely by the Father of Darkness, who melted down the bound Daemon and locked him away for an eternity of agony inside a very small cage, only to be summoned and enslaved occassionally by Daemonsmiths who wished to use the broken wretch for their own nefarious ends.

      Third, Uzuzap Talonhand demanded the secrets from the Spell Keeper of Fire. The cunning Daemon lied to his tormentors, and swore that he knew but one spell, for Hashut had not deposited any more inside him. In the manner of lizards, the Spell Keeper of Fire sacrificed his tail to escape, by losing one precious magic incantation to the predations of Tzeentch, yet retaining all the other secret fire sorceries for high Hashut. The Spell Keeper of Fire was eventually released and returned to the abode of the Father of Darkness within the Realm of Chaos.

      The mighty Bull God, however, never stooped low enough for gratitude in His dark heart, but instead He punished the bound Daemon for his failure to safeguard every single spell from Uzuzap Talonhand and the Blue Scribes. So it was that Hashut ripped out the tounge of the Spell Keeper of Fire and branded the secret sorceries on the inside of the Spell Keeper's skull, thereby making it only possible to retrieve the hidden incantations by splitting the Daemon's skull without shattering it.

      Thus it is that the Chaos Dwarfs, and even the Father of Darkness Himself, must welcome the wider Chaos with one hand, while pushing it away with the other. To welcome with both hands is to kindle the wrath of Hashut. To push away with both hands is to test the patience of Chaos. Akin to the Spell Keeper of Fire, the Dawi Zharr cannot remain entirely separated from the wider Chaos, but must yield something of value to Chaos, if they are to profit from its mysteries and powers, without inviting their doom.

      Such is the balance act of the Blacksmiths of Chaos.

    • In distant quarters of the world lies the vast and accursed Dark Lands, sandwiched between towering mountain ranges to the north, west and east, and ending in a chapped coastline against the Sea of Dread to the south. These elements of earth and water have a companion in fire, for the rolling wilderness is but a volcanic desolation of ash, flames and molten rock spewing forth from the bowels of the earth, constantly reshaping the terrain to the detriment of its hardy and merciless denizens and creatures. And then there is the element of air, choked by smoke, ashen storms and thunderclouds, opening up into the endless skies above where portentuous celestial bodies may occasionally gain a glimpse of the smoke-shrouded, ruddy hell on earth below that is the Dark Lands.

      Wild though they are, the Dark Lands are not wholly untamed, for large stretches of them lie burdened and ravaged under the heavy yoke of the dark empire of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the Great and all her holdings; the worldly realm of the Father of Darkness; the forbidden territory of the Chaos Dwarfs. These Dwarfs of Fire are bloodied sacrificers and fanatical worshippers bereft of mercy and kindness in their ravenous black hearts, for they are torturers, murderers, harsh slavers and baleful artificers of the Dark Gods, wreathed in mystery and dread and believed to be little else but the fanciful stuff of horrible legends by most of the inhabitants of the far-flung realms of order who are even dimly aware of their existence.

      These enigmatic Dawi Zharr have myths and legends of their own, for their beliefs and folktales make up a plethora of weird and terrible, and often contradictory or outright insane stories explaining the world to the worshippers of high Hashut. The origins of all creation, of the gods and creatures which reside in it, are detailed in a number of parallel myths, cherished by various schismatic sects within the Cult of Hashut. These creation stories are narratives of bloodshed and of making through breaking, of unrelenting labours and monstrous deeds, of villainous figures locked in brutal contest for domination. The children of Hashut have verily crafted their sagas in their own image and that of their infernal deity, for they all speak of a world of Daemons and Dark Gods, of dire secrets and heinous acts, of ruthless cruelty and an insatiable hunger for power bordering on madness and worse. They are a testament to the demented creativity of the forgemen of hell, pieces crafted of words mirroring their nightmarish creations of matter and arcane forces which maim, slay and devastate all in their path.

      To partake of the twisted mythology of the Chaos Dwarfs is to gain a glimpse into their convoluted and malignant minds, minds which drive strong arms to undertake monumental labours and to perform misdeeds to make a heart of stone bleed. In some sense, much of Dawi Zharr lore consists of creation myths of some sort, for even the lesser tales usually details the source and roots of some custom, creature, construct or phenomenon both natural and otherworldly.

      Unsurprisingly for a race of strip-miners and industrialists, many such stories explains where minerals and rocks of the natural world come from and why they are found in their particular locations and strata, especially those seemingly out of place in the turbulent geology of the Dark Lands. These tales of ore and stone and crystal are more often than not interwoven with mythological characters, Daemons and Dark Gods, all scheming, crafting, betraying and destroying according to dark intrigues, which eventually results in some observed distribution of minerals. These stories about rock and metal feature sorcery, struggles and gutsy details, played out by figures of bloodcurdling conduct stalking each other through a primordial haze of fire and smoke, in a world not dissimilar from the real one, where might is right and mercy is for the weak.

      Above all, they are tales of ambition, shattered hope and monstrous deeds. They are tales of cruelty moulding the stuff of creation like clay and firing it in the kiln of domination. They are tales of hardships and plight, of blood and flames and fiendish triumph reaped atop the broken bodies of one's enemies.

      Such are the stories of dark origin as told by the Blacksmiths of Chaos.

      This is one of these stories.

      Conquest: It is said, that in the olden days, the dark and fiery heavens were not one and whole, for the high abodes were lorded over by a thousand and one petty Daemon Princes, seated in a thousand and one petty chiefdoms and waging a thousand and one petty wars for sovereignty in the roiling sky realms. This all changed with the coming of the Father of Darkness, for in the guise of the Great Thunderbull did He who is Hashut storm the heavens in a great stampede of lightning, sundering and scattering the wretched rival lords and their hordes, goring and trampling all underfoot, claiming their consorts for His own subdued harem and mightily vanquishing His foes. Where once there had been a thousand and one thrones, there was now but one seat of power on high.

      Thus did the lordship in heaven pass to the fierce Bull God.

      Yet four remained.

      Betrayal: Early on in His divine invasion of the dark and fiery heavens, the Father of Darkness saw fit to accept eight weaker Daemon Princes as allies and vassals under His heavy yoke, and in this role did they aid Hashut. The treacherous manners of Daemonkin rang true in their heart of hearts, for all and one among the free vassals secretely planned to side with the Bull God for the moment being, only to stab the conqueror in His back at an opportune moment. Yet so swift and ferocious was the Great Thunderbull's skyward charge, that not all false allies had time to betray Him, and thus it was that four cunning Daemon Princes serving under the Fiery One bit their tounges and bided their time.

      Outwardly, the four spared Daemons humiliated themselves and rejoiced in Him as He wisely claimed their chiefdoms for Himself, yet rewarded their services and seeming loyalty by appointing them to be His cupbearers. In this high office of exalted prestige and honour did the craven Daemonic vassals conspire to bring down the mighty ruler of the skies, yet they plotted each for himself and none trusted the others, and distrust and disunity sealed their fates. And so it was, that one of the courtly tasters, Iz'Jaenhyssch, ate part of the bloody meat, and fell dead before the cloven hooves of thunder, for the cupbearer had swallowed poisioned sustenance intended for Hashut. In high wrath did the Bull God burn the perpetrator, Khorlok, to cinders with snorting lightning bolts, whereupon He Who Rapes the Earth cast out the two remaining cupbearers into desolation.

      Thus did Daemonkin prove itself unfit for reciprocal pacts, and nevermore would the Father of Darkness take any Daemons into His service without first chaining them and breaking their wills completely.

      Yet two remained.

      Struggle: In shame did the former cupbearers crave their old power back, and in realms of oblivion did they blame each other for the loss of what rank they had left when still at His court. Spite turned to hatred, and blood spattered upon ash and rock as the two fallen Daemon Princes turned upon each other. In twilight did they struggle in vicious combat, yet the one known as Mzerak overcame his rival, Kartun, seizing him and bringing him low. And in the cruel moment of victory did Mzerak trample his foe into the dust, gouge out his eyes and cut off Kartun's manhood to gulp it down. Mzerak roared to the high heavens in triumph and praised his own strength as though it was divine. The bodily essence of the defeated Daemon drifted away at death like smog, yet the spirit of vanquished Kartun lingered and taunted his victorious rival for a fool.

      Inside the dark gut of the lone surviving cupbearer did the swallowed phallus of Kartun impregnate its devourer as if it had been the womb of a female. Mzerak tried to vomit and defecate at all costs, and in desperation did the Daemon reach down with both his arms inside his own throat to rip out the growing foster, yet the offspring eluded its host body's frantic attempts at murder by following the vehement advice of its defeated and gelded father, the spirit of former cupbearer Kartun. Fell words were whispered to the progeny, who followed the advice and ate away into the heart and lungs of the victor Mzerak, where it hid inside the ribcage and nurtured itself on bloodied innards.

      Mzerak Groineater writhed in agony and shrieked and clawed as the offspring within grew and grew until it ripped apart the fallen Daemon Prince from inside, bursting through his tortured hide and leaving nought but an empty shell of a corpse behind.

      Thus one remained.

      Dynasty: Awash in the blood of torn Mzerak did the hatched progeny of gelded Kartun name himself Karezm of Claws. The lingering spirit of Kartun offered him toxic advice as the offspring matured. The gelded one told his impure son of bygone might and splendour. Karezm listened well, and learnt from the lingering spirit of his own heritage and destiny, for Kartun's fell spirit revealed Karezm to be the sole and rightful heir to lordship in heaven. Yet to claim what was rightfully his, the progeny must first overcome this usurper and betrayer called Hashut, a brute bull. This was a monumental task, for the bovine deity was too strong, virile and powerful, and Karezm of Claws could only hope to succeed should he challenge the usurper with great allies at his side.

      Karezm set out to gather his might, heeding the words of gelded Kartun. The lingering spirit spoke, and caused his offspring to seek out three giant rock godesses slumbering deep within distant lands. The first stone behemoth was of diorite, the second of flint and the third of granite. All three did Karezm of Claws ravage in a frenzy, for, acting upon instructions given him by the lingering spirit of Kartun, did the Daemon imagine the rock godesses to be Daemonettes in order to kindle his desires. Thus it was that Karezm took the godesses by force, his manhood flowing into them only to become flayed inside diorite rock, shredded inside flint, and crushed inside granite.

      The violent ordeals of this b@stard begetting exhausted and mutilated Karezm of Claws. And he collapsed in a pathetic pile, groaning in agony and crying blood as he wasted away the remainder of his days, until the vengeful mothers converged, pounded and utterly destroyed the Daemon Karezm, upon waking to pain prior to giving birth to their unwanted offspring. The rock godesses wandered far and wide to put out their newborn progeny into the wilderness of the distant Dark Lands to die off, exposed to the fury of elements and monsters alike. Yet the lingering spirit remained with its grandsons.

      Thus was the line of Kartun the gelded established.

      Bastardry: Half rock god, half Daemon. Undesired, outcast. Such was the nature of the three monstrous half-brothers, who knew not how to survive on their own and would surely have perished if not for the advice given unto them by the lingering spirit of the former cupbearer. The three b@stard titans were kept alive by the remnants of Kartun, and they came to trust and venerate the helpful spirit as the titans grew up, nourished on lies. They were told, that they had been robbed of their rightful inheritance, the very lordship in heaven, by the pretender Hashut who killed Kartun, their father, and would have killed the offspring too had he not already hidden away the three titans to keep them safe. Had he not loved and nurtured them all this time? Would they not avenge the ill deeds of the usurper and claim what was in truth theirs?

      As the b@stard titans grew, their legs shot up from the ground like mighty pillars, and their hard heads touched the firmament itself. Seeing them grown strong indeed, the lingering spirit of Kartun the gelded urged the offspring to act and avenge their father. Emboldened by their ripening strength and colossolal size, the three titans climbed into the heavens and attacked the Thunderbull on His majestic throne of darkness and lightning. The onslaught of the invading titans was furious, driven as it was by the lingering spirit's battlecries, and thus a mighty battle raged which shook all of creation to its foundations and caused the skies to rend themselves asunder. The heavens covered the world in blackness and roaring thunder, striking forth lightning among the turbulent clouds and spitting forth glowing rock debris falling in flames to the ground.

      The battle for the heavens raged day and night, and day turned into night and night turned into day as gods clashed on high. The Father of Darkness was pressed hard, outnumbered as he was by lumbering titan b@stards who had been raised for this moment alone, this very combat. He charged and trampled and dove and gored, yet on the foe came and no force in existence seemed capable of laying the enemy low. The Bull God's flaming breath lit up the world and burnt everything in its path to cinders as Hashut fought the titans. He bellowed not only in righteous fury and cruel might, but also in torment, for the vicious clashes spilled forth droplets of the fiery blood of molten metal which pulses within His divine and unholy veins, and they fell as hot drops to the earth, leaving surface deposits of pure metal fallen from the sky.

      Yet in the end, high Hashut stood victorious though not unscarred, roaring in ruthless triumph after extinguishing the lingering essence of the shamed cupbearer, Kartun the gelded. In wrath, the Father of Darkness shattered the Daemonic b@stard titans, toppling their vast rock corpses from the firmament and showering them in small pieces uncounted upon the Dark Lands below. Boulders crashed through the skin of the world, tearing up fiery wounds, and smaller chunks of rock scattered like hail upon impact, cartwheeling madly before landing heavily and embedding themselves as part of the landscape. And that is how the foreign rocks of diorite, flint and granite came to be in His hellish realm on earth, while the fierce Bull God remained lord in heaven.

      Such are the violent origins of things, according to the Blacksmiths of Chaos.

    • In days of yore did the fierce Bull God descend upon wings of shadow and flame unto Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the Great, and He stood strong before the chosen tribe, and His worshippers praised Him at length and conducted great sacrificial rites and adulated the divine and unholy name of the Father of Darkness. And they humbly asked the mighty one for His bidding, and high Hashut deigned to command them to cast off and vastly surpass the last vestiges of the weak art of runeforging which their heathen ancestors had practiced, for the Dark God ordered His children to craft items with not only magic trapped in potent inscriptions, but to forge far mightier things out of the very Daemons of the Realm of Chaos itself. He commanded the Dawi Zharr to melt, mould and hammer the minions of the Great Four and of all the lesser entities of the Warp. For would not this prove the ultimate superiority of their fiery deity over the other gods?

      And thus did the Great Trampler ascend and return to His shackled court in darkness and flames, and leave His faithful with this challenge, which they arose to conquer in His sacred name. No efforts were spared in this great undertaking. No sacrifices were too great, no hardships too severe, no ingenuity was denied, no matter how insane and convoluted. Trials and experiments uncounted were conducted in a myriad of different paths to tame the servants of the Dark Gods, yet the key discoveries to unlock the hidden secrets sought after were made at a basic level, after which cunning craftsmen could work true miracles and unimaginable horrors alike upon the metal; for the breakthrough came about by His will in the furnace which heats the ore and melts out the metal from the rock.

      At first, the Chaos Dwarfs fired their furnaces with coal, which is a dead matter, and occasionally they would shovel into the flames screaming and unwilling slaves deserving of punishment and agony, and the fires would be fuelled by their flesh, which is a living matter. Yet soon a conclave of twelve arcane engineers, led by the ruthless and demented Sorcerer-Prophet Kuramupalazzar Slagfist, found out an unprecedented way to enhance the mastery of forged power from the Empyrean, an approach wholly unknown at that time to the lesser tribes and unbelievers of the world. This invention was the intricate and perilous means by which living mind could fuel the furnace, and indeed the smithy, which would enhance the abilities of the Dawi Zharr to forge otherworldly forces into matter upon their cracked and chained anvils.

      Usually the body of a slave would be burnt along with the mind, yet forge trials revealed that the proper spells could make the furnace consume the psyche within the skull without having to devour the flesh. Thus, a longer burning time of mindflames extracted from particularly strong spirits was achieved, yet the resultant wretched shell of a being, imbecille and bereft of identity and intelligence, was useless except for eating or burning.

      Yet groundbreaking and potent though the mindforging method was, it proved but a mere stopgap measure, later on fit only for the training of apprentices and the crafting of lesser talismans and other magic items. For by the supreme and unerring guidance of mysterious Hashut did the independent arcane engineer Hazhem-Durikgalzur, at great expense and at the accidental loss of his two brothers and father, finally manage to reach and cleave the shell of the very soul found within each living creature, and the exposed eternal essence within could then be ignited by the sorcerously directed and simultaneous burning of flesh and mind, thus obtaining an intense fire both mundane and otherworldly which, if skilfully harnessed, would produce metal uniquely fit for luring, trapping, containing and exposing the Daemons of Chaos, who in their hunger are drawn to vulnerable souls of mortals like moths to flames.

      The Soulfurnace was thus invented, a mortal contraption wrought in the image of the cruel Bull God's infamous armoury hidden within the Realm of Chaos, and the first of its baleful kind remains a sacred place and destination of crafts-pilgrimage to this day.

      Through neverending toil and sacrifice did Hazhem-Durikgalzur master a new craft, and he learnt and taught how to forge Daemons and Empyrean forces into objects to harness dark sorcery properly and efficiently, thus allowing the most intricate arcane artifices to be worked into items, thereby producing the most powerful and heinously dangerous equipment. Thus did he become the first Daemonsmith Engineer and founded a masterful and hazardous craft and tradition like few others ever practised in creation. And the Father of Darkness saw that this was well.

      Such is the progress of the Blacksmiths of Chaos.

    • I. Slavedriving

      "Slave, hear my words!"

      "I am come master, I am come!"

      "Tell me why I should take up slavedriving for a craft. Why should I raise whip for the thralls of others?"

      "Oversee, master, oversee! To control the will and life and labour of mortals lesser than yourself is true power, even if it is in the service of another. It is an honourable and reliable craft for respected men and women, and you need rarely if ever fear to pay out of your own purse for when slaves of others are killed for their laziness. You would hold their lives in your hands! You could vent your wrath upon them at will!"

      "Now tell me why I should not take up slavedriving for a craft. Why should I forsake such power?"

      "Do not oversee, master, do not oversee! It is a thankless and dirty task among the rabble. Ever would you be on the lookout for uprisings and assaults against your hated person, and ever would you and your ilk be surrounded by hundreds who wish your death. Only fear and chains and arms keeps them down, and the vile Hobgoblin taskmasters beneath you could never be trusted to stand when faced with strong danger. The work is petty, and the slaves you drive would fill coffers other than your own. The pay is low and rarely would you rise above your station. You would become an angry and sour man indeed, and marriage to you would be a miracle or shame. Your abilities are better spent in more worthwhile crafts!"

      "O well slave, then I shall not take up slavedriving for a craft!"

      II. Mining and Quarrying

      "Slave, hear my words!"

      "I am come master, I am come!"

      "Tell me why I should take up mining and quarrying. Why should I raise my pickaxe in toil?"

      "Dig, master, dig! To toil for wealth and search the riches of the earth sings in the hearts of your race. Ever would your wits and muscles be tested in pursuit of the fickle veins of ore, or the perfect blocks of stone. You would rise to the challenge and overcome it, and rejoice would you drink from your success. Respect and honour would be yours to sip. Fortunes could be made, glory extracted! The ores you mine will make tools and weapons and wonders, and the stones you quarry will make houses and fortress walls and towering ziggurats. Your greed would guide you. And you and your god would know it to be well!"

      "Now tell me why I should not take up mining and quarrying. Why should I forsake such honest riches?"

      "Do not dig, master, do not dig! The way of the miner and quarryman is slow and long and ponderous, and sweat and blood would you shed. Your back would bend and ache while stone dust would rasp your lungs. The yield is ever uncertain, and quicker ways to wealth there are aplenty in the world. You would dig until you die!"

      "O well slave, then I shall not take up mining and quarrying!"

      III. Crafts

      "Slave, hear my words!"

      "I am come master, I am come!"

      "Tell me why I should take up a craft. Why should I labour meticulously for the making of items?"

      "Craft, master, craft! To work with your hands and glory in your skills sings in the hearts of your race. The beasts and wild slaves do not craft, or craft but little and unwell. To forge or cobble or carpent or build or melt or blow glass or tailor or shape clay or weave basket or carve or sculpt or paint or lay pipes is to make for the benefit of community and god, to build His Order of Things and tame Chaos in your hands. Beauty would you make, and praise would you have for your fine handiwork. Respect and honour would be yours as well, and youngsters would flock to learn their craft under your tutelage. You would make the world around you!"

      "Now tell me why I should not take up a craft. Why should I forsake such fine profession?"

      "Do not craft, master, do not craft! The way of the craftsman is patient and arduous and demanding, and long would you toil beneath a master as apprentice and journeyman. The skills of yours would be sourly gained, and failures would gnaw at your heart. Your amassed wisdom would be taught to beardlings, who would in time rise themselves to rival your skills and your business. People would complain at you whenever your work is finished late, and they would curse your soul should the shafts or shoes or pipes and items made by you chafe or leak or break or fail their purpose. Your life would be difficult!"

      "O well slave, then I shall not take up a craft!"

      IV. Trade

      "Slave, hear my words!"

      "I am come master, I am come!"

      "Tell me why I should become a merchant. Why should I haggle with coin and ingot and barter?"

      "Trade, master, trade! To live by iron and silver and gold is to live by good wits. Buying and selling with goods in exchange raises us above the beasts and allow the raw materials and produce scattered across the world to reach where they are lacking yet sought for. Yours would be a welcome stranger's face in distant places, and folks would flock to you to hear of the world at large. With deft skill and luck could you fortunes make, and become soaring rich beyond your dreams!"

      "Now tell me why I should not become a merchant. Why should I forsake such easy wealth?"

      "Do not trade, master, do not trade! What is quickly gained is quickly lost, and the way of the merchant is fickle and fraught with danger. A caravan raided or a ship sunk or a store lost to fire could be your undoing, and you yourself could succumb with your wares in foreign parts, or else get lost beyond hope of returning. The world is filled with perils and savages and monsters, all hungering for travellers and tradesmen to devour in the wilds. Yet devoured too you may be within the safety of high walls and sturdy gates, for you would dance with theft and corruption and dishonesty and the whims of the mighty and divine, and all your possessions and profits could disappear in a heartbeat should ever your cunning and fixing of scales and shady deals fail to match the shrewdness of others. Your gold earned would gild the razor upon which you would balance!"

      "O well slave, then I shall not become a merchant!"

      V. Investing

      "Slave, hear my words!"

      "I am come master, I am come!"

      "Tell me why I should invest silver and slaves in a venture. Why should I risk my savings?"

      "Invest, master, invest! The man who does so keep his capital while his interest climb.The wise businessman who spreads his investments on many ventures will ever rarely find them all fail and collapse under his feet, and the gains to be had are enormous. Much would you earn from the efforts of others loaded with your gold, and power would you have over them and their kin and their enterprise. To own is to rule, and your god will view you favourably. Friends and allies are to be had among the rich and mighty, among who you yourself could enter. Don't sit on your stale savings, but invest them and watch them grow!"

      "Now tell me why I should not invest silver and slaves in a venture. Why should I forsake such position and gains?"

      "Do not invest, master, do not invest! Making loans is to hand your wealth away to others. They may fail or play you false and take away your capital and curse you for a miser. They may make you lose your interest on your investment. Who can you truly trust, and who can truly deliver?"

      "O well slave, then I shall not invest silver and slaves in a venture!"

      VI. Litigation

      "Slave, hear my words!"

      "I am come master, I am come!"

      "Tell me why I should go to court. Why should I let my lord settle my dispute?"

      "To court, master, to court! Beneath the gaze of your god and His shackled Daemons and mighty idols and Prophet surely none could speak falsely? If your cause is just, your words will be heard, and legal protection by extension of your overlord's power will you have from your rival should you win the litigation. Wealth and vengeance may be had under the wings of the mighty at court. Let justice reign!"

      "Now tell me why I should not go to court. Why should I forsake such righteousness?"

      "Do not go to court, master, do not go to court! Spells and curses and viler sorceries still will be worked against your person and hidden away in your home upon curse tablets to draw the evil eye and squander your cause. The gods themselves might fall to confusion among such deceptive malice. Then how could you ever trust the judgements of the high and mighty when fell magics are at work against you? Whenever you speak, your words will be weighed against you. Whenever you remain silent, your silence will condemn you. Your rival will play you falser still than you do him and his bribes will be more vast. Your downfall will be bitter and beyond legal revenge, for your overlord will hold sway over court and its outcome. No, better settle your grievances with armed kinsmen at your side in the dark streets. Let justice rot!"

      "O well slave, then I shall not go to court!"

      VII. Intrigue

      "Slave, hear my words!"

      "I am come master, I am come!"

      "Tell me why I should scheme against my betters. Why should I work upon their downfall?"

      "Plot, master, plot! Treachery has opened the gates to fortresses and power where honest arms have failed. The world is false and scarcely rewards loyalty. Then why should you not play the game and master treachery for your own good? Women and wealth and worldly power are yours to be had, should you but grasp them from others. Spread lies and make pacts in secret. Break oaths and make the highest overlords of your race condemn your betters to exile or degradation. Fell them to make way for your own ascent!"

      "Now tell me why I should not scheme against my betters. Why should I forsake such attempts at power?"

      "Do not plot, master, do not plot! When playing false you yourself may be played false. What co-conspirator could you ever truly trust? Who will break the pact and betray your own treachery? The gains are towering, but so are the perils. How many plotters have we not seen drenched in molten metal or flayed alive or impaled or exiled into the dread Infernal Guard? How much shame and hardship and suffering have not failed schemers endured for the sake of their ambitions? And should they reach such high positions, they will only find themselves higher up the ladder, with ever more underlings thirsting for their place and plotting for their downfall. The march of the ambitous is a dance on molten gold!"

      "O well slave, then I shall not scheme against my betters!"

      VIII. Service to Lordship

      "Slave, hear my words!"

      "I am come master, I am come!"

      "Tell me why I should offer up my services at the palace and receive honours. Why should I put my life and abilities wholly in the hands of my ruler?"

      "Serve, master, serve! The strong and the mighty will make good use of your skills and set you on a course to greatness in their service. Loot and dark glory may be had from far-away lands, and secret prospecting, sharing of confidence and important tasks of the powerful may all be part of your duties. To be a lieutnant of the ruler is to share part of his might and prestige, and plunder and harlots will be yours for the taking. Lands could be earned, and walls and seat, and your loyalty and service could gain you much in the circles of the mighty. Serve the high ones!"

      "Now tell me why I should not offer up my services at the palace and receive honours. Why should I forsake such golden opportunities?"

      "Do not serve, master, do not serve! Your abilities could be judged wrongly by his lordship, and you could be accepted as a lowly underling or worse yet spurned. The missions your ruler would send you on would many times be hazardous, at risk to life and limb, and ever would you be in his thrall. You would be his pawn and ever could the ruler sacrifice you as yet another game piece. He would send you to gods know where, take you upon a way you do not know and which you would not have chosen for yourself. He will take away your free will and make you suffer agony day and night in his service. Eschew the high ones!"

      "O well slave, then I shall not offer up my services at the palace and receive honours!"

      IX. Service to Temple

      "Slave, hear my words!"

      "I am come master, I am come!"

      "Tell me why I should offer up my services at the Temple and devote myself to my god. Why should I offer up my life and will wholesale to the priesthood?"

      "Devote yourself, master, devote yourself! The priestly order wields power and status and wealth and dread, and far is its reach and heeded is its word. To be one of the priests is to wear divine and unholy power, in the name of your most high god. Your words would please Him and purchase a finer afterlife for yourself. And if He wills it you will rise high in the ranks, and mortals will bow to you and obey your command, and worldly wealth and women alike will be yours for the taking. Those ordained as Sorcerer-Prophets ever keeps the largest harems. Your pious faith and sacrifice will be rewarded with power from on high. The gods are good!"

      "Now tell me why I should not offer up my services at the Temple and devote myself to my god. Why should I forsake such holy power?"

      "Do not devote yourself, master, do not devote yourself! You would repeat endless rituals. Only those blessed with sorcerous talent and otherworldly blessings ever rise high in the ranks of the priesthood. To serve your whole life as the lowliest of acolytes is to sing dirges and recant hymns with ashes on your tounge and bitter blood in your heart, for century upon century. Knowing neither glory nor worldly wealth, you would languish in petty servitude while gifted beardlings rose above your station, for you to obey their will. And even if you would be so fortunate as to be blessed by high Hashut, a life of backstabbing and scheming and otherworldly horrors would await you. As a leader of your people, you would risk death upon the battlefield and torment at the hands of Daemons. Should you overcome such perils, you would nevertheless succumb to stone in time, and while still alive you would suffer to the hells of despair and pain as limbs and guts and phallus and eyes and beard turns into granite or obsidian. The gods are cruel!"

      "O well slave, then I shall not offer up my services at the Temple and devote myself to my god!"

      X. Scribe

      "Slave, hear my words!"

      "I am come master, I am come!"

      "Tell me why I should become a scribe. Why should I put stylus to clay or feather to parchment in the service of others?"

      "Write, master, write! He who masters the written word is the keeper of his race's memory, the torchbearer of knowledge and the writer of history. The written word is magic, and the Dark Tounge and stranger languages still would you learn, and mysteries would reveal themselves to your thirsting mind. Mighty deeds and great wisdom will flow beneath your fingers even where you yourself would be incapable of neither. Mortals will be but numbers under your fingers, and the mighty will lend you some of their prestige, for you to shine in the eyes of those who come after. Respect and honour will be yours in the community. Write yourself to mastery!"

      "Now tell me why I should not become a scribe. Why should I forsake such status and legacy?"

      "Do not write, master, do not write! The plight of the scribe is a lonely one of bent back and sore eyes and boredom. You would become a sheep-counter, a tallyman of filthy slaves and sacks of coal, a mathematician of barley and ingots and bricks. Endless records would you keep and incomprehensible laws would you write, and mysterious cipher of engineers and sorcerers would you be required to mimic, though barely a word would you understand, and readers would curse you for errors. Likewise, endless copies would you make of the works of others, a slave to the word in a long line of slaves, each copying the other and carrying the burden of history and lore. Long years would you write as an apprentice scribe, scuffed and harried by your teacher, and garbled script in foreign tongues must you master. Even when fully learned, the scribe longs for the last line on the tablet as the sailor for the harbour. Status you may have, but what wench would ever long for the arms of a scribe when she can have herself a lusty warrior? Do not write yourself to reclusion!"

      "O well slave, then I shall not become a scribe!"

      XI. Philantropy

      "Slave, hear my words!"

      "I am come master, I am come!"

      "Tell me why I should perform a public benefit for my kinsmen. Why should I raise a finger for others without recompense?"

      "Give, master, give! He who donates wealth for the good of his community will be lifted up in the eyes of the Father of Darkness and all his shackled court, and mortals will know him for a worthy soul and bear gratitude and respect to the donator. Build a shrine, and the worshippers will pray for you. Pave a road, and the wanderers will praise you. Raise a statue in a square, and all the people will admire you. Give your slaves to poorer clans, and they will all hail you. Adorn the temple and gods and men will know of your piety for ages to come. The philantropist's name will be carved in stone if his works and gifts meet approval with the Bull God!"

      "Now tell me why I should not perform a public benefit for my kinsmen. Why should I forsake such admiration?"

      "Do not give, master, do not give! The giving of alms is for nought but ingratitude. The benefit is there one day, gone the next. So too it is with the gifts and works of mortals. Go up to the ruins and wander among the skulls of high and low alike. Can you tell apart malefactor from benefactors amongst them?"

      "O well slave, then I shall not perform a public benefit for my kinsmen!"

      XII. Marriage

      "Slave, hear my words!"

      "I am come master, I am come!"

      "Tell me why I should marry a woman and beget strong sons and precious daughters. Why should I pay the dowry and bind me for life?"

      "Marry, master, marry! Life sings for life, and few lives are as merry as those who beget new life. With a family of your own you will never truly be lone or unloved, and your legacy will be assured in blood and name. The man with a cohort of sons and grandsons are more dangerous than the man without them, and he will always have kinsmen to avenge him. His offspring will remember his name and pass it down in the clan for ages to come, and in time he will become known as a great ancestor, Bull God willing. He may even have daughters, so precious and dear, and they will guarantee the continuation of his line in many, many children of their own. To marry a woman or several is to fulfill your manliness in deed and by law, and sweet is the homecoming of him who has a loving wife or willing harem to return to!"

      "Now tell me why I should not marry a woman and beget strong sons and precious daughters. Why should I forsake such joy of heart and blood?"

      "Do not marry, master, do not marry! Many are the shackles of responsibility and worry heaped upon the married man, and his woes are legion. What of the father's household that he breaks up by forming a family of his own? What of the dowry that will ruin his savings? What of the clan he marries into, will they welcome him or scour as unworthy at sight? What if his wife would be ill-tempered and vicious of tongue or deed, a she-tyrant of the house and trampler of her husband? What if she would be ugly with foul teeth and ungodly mind? What if the marriage union proves unfruitful, and the Dark Gods and their hosts of malignant Daemons make low the couple's effort at breeding to give them nought but barren loins or miscarriages or stillbirths or dead babes? What if the children grow up to bring nought but disappointment or hatred to their parents? What if war or feud or disaster befalls a happy family, and sends the children and grandchildren into the grave before their parents' time? Strong hearts have been rent asunder and cast into madness or despair for less!"

      "O well slave, then I shall not marry a woman and beget strong sons and precious daughters!"

      XIII. Whoring

      "Slave, hear my words!"

      "I am come master, I am come!"

      "Tell me why I should grant my lusts their desire and lie with a whore. Why should I raise my manhood for a money-grubbing harlot?"

      "Make love, master, make love! As the virile bull cannot live a full life without mounting females, so surely a strong man such as yourself cannot do likewise? The male being sings out for females, and even he who may not wed for lack of gold or ladies may from time satisfy his lusts. It is worth the price. To the Barren Shrine! Follow the red blood in your body and plow the fields of flesh!"

      "Now tell me why I should not grant my lusts their desire and lie with a whore. Why should I forsake such bliss?"

      "Do not make love, master, do not make love! A short while of lust costs a long while of loss. How much precious metals and gems and iron and slaves are not paid to the Barren Shrine each day by lonely men who cannot harness their desires? How much weaker does not the breeding man become before battle? Mount a harlot if you must, but look out for daggers and thieving fingers!"

      "O well slave, then I shall not grant my lusts their desire and lie with a whore!"

      XIV. Engineering

      "Slave, hear my words!"

      "I am come master, I am come!"

      "Tell me why I should take up study of the lores of science and art of engineering. Why should I bury myself in numbers and tomes?"

      "Count, master, count! Mathematics are key to unlock the worldly mysteries of creation and work wonders within the bounds of reality with bricks and steel and stone. Vaults and cupolas are beyond the ken of wild tribes and beasts, yet the engineer knows them and makes them just as he has the ken of the inner workings of machines and the forces of nature. As an inventor, your new contraptions and groundbreaking discoveries may live forever in infamy and dark glory, and your name with it. As a buildmaster, your name may be chiseled in unyielding stone to stand the teeth of time for long ages to come, and so will your great works that tower will over mere mortals. Knowledge is power!"

      "Now tell me why I should not take up study of the lores of science and art of engineering. Why should I forsake such knowledge?"

      "Do not count, master, do not count! Engineering is tedious work and its mathematics are full of pitfalls. Everyone will blame the builder when contraptions fall apart or blow to bits or topple. Dark renown and eternal shame in exile and damning history is to be had for the failed engineer and inventor. Knowledge is dangerous!"

      "O well slave, then I shall not take up study of the lores of science and art of engineering!"

      XV. Higher Mysteries

      "Slave, hear my words!"

      "I am come master, I am come!"

      "Tell me why I should take up study of the divine and unholy mysteries. Why should I grasp for the arcane and godly and Daemonic?"

      "Learn, master, learn! A man without magic in a world of sorcery is akin to one blind and unarmed, fit neither for surviving confrontations with those more gifted and wise, nor for making real his heart's innermost ambitions, for his rivals will be better equipped at every step. The codebreaker of faith's cryptic mysteries and the sage knowing the true will of the gods will be better armed than mundane folks, just as the sorcerer and master of arcane is, and they all may work wonders beyond the bounds of reality. Unlimited power could be at your fingertips, and fame and honour and dread and respect would all be yours. The items you make would be treasured and revered and envied by mortals and gods alike. Mastering the otherworldly lets you master the worldly!"

      "Now tell me why I should not take up study of the divine and unholy mysteries. Why should I forsake such wisdom?"

      "Do not learn, master, do not learn! The higher mysteries are all enigmas and riddles and traps, a great multitude hiding snares and pitfalls no less lethal than bared steel or raw starvation. To reach for the higher mysteries is to delve in maths and lore ever more convoluted and insane than any natural lore could ever be, in layers upon layers of meanings, the one more lethal than the other. Insanity beckons should you tread that part, or eternal damnation, or mayhap both. Take the plunge if you are willing to bet your soul upon the outcome!"

      "O well slave, then I shall not take up study of the divine and unholy mysteries!"

      XVI. War

      "Slave, hear my words!"

      "I am come master, I am come!"

      "Tell me why I should become a warrior and slaver. Why should I raise my battle axe in the service of another?"

      "Fight, master, fight! Every man dies, yet most die from sickness or starvation. Pale deaths. Empty deaths. Only the warrior truly dies in glory, weapon in hand and fighting to the last breath. Long-lasting fame and honour may be his come death, yet during life he may also profit from plunder and enslavement of defeated foes and their smallfolk. To see the feeble rabble break before your shieldwall and flee before your fuming wrath is true joy, red as blood and sharp as steel. To burn your enemy's fields and despoil his maids and slaughter his cattle and sack his cities are the height of worldly achievement. The warrior is strong, and the strong does what they want with the weak. Strength and cruelty are in themselves virtues in this world, and what could be more virtuous than to wield that strength of arms in service of kin and ruler and deity? To war!"

      "Now tell me why I should not become a warrior and slaver? Why should I forsake such might?"

      "Do not fight, master, do not fight! Blind obedience and iron discipline would be whipped into you until they were second nature, and you would be little more than a thug marching for endless leagues, risking your life and limb for the sake of an uncaring lord. Campaigning and raiding are fraught with danger. Many warriors die not in glorious battle, but of foul wounds afterwards or for hardship or starvation or disease while in camp. As victory is sweet, so is defeat a bitter cup to swallow. What if you met a foe stronger than yourself, and more cunning and numerous? What if you fought and fought for hours while comrades and friends and clansmen fell around you, until suddenly your heart broke and you fled in panic? Shame and dishonour and exile into the Infernal Guard would be yours, yet only if you could flee from the quick and ruthless foe. Lay down your arms!"

      "O well slave, then I shall not become a warrior and slaver!"

      XVII. Feasting

      "Slave, hear my words!"

      "I am come master, I am come!"

      "Tell me why I should feast and glut myself on beer and meat with others. Why should I waste food and drink and wealth on a banquet?"

      "Dine, master, dine! Gorge yourself on dishes and booze like the fire gorges itself on the flesh of sacrifices. Enjoy the company of kin and strangers and friends and rivals. Honour your deity by flaunting the wealth He has granted you for your labour. All troubling burdens will He lift from your shoulders while the feast lasts, and rejoice you shall in the joy of the moment. Laugh and drink and eat and dance and cavort!"

      "Now tell me why I should not feast and glut myself on beer and meat with others. Why should I forsake such merry?"

      "Do not feast, master, do not feast! It is best for a mortal to eat but when one is hungry, and drink but when one is thirsty. Excess is a vice and a squandering of wealth, and the purchase of hollow laughter and false jolly company gains you nothing. As the evening passes into night, vomit and fists and foul words and deeds will replace the merry. After the feast, indigestion and hangover will plague you. Feast if you would sick up amongst the filth of others!"

      "O well slave, then I shall not feast and glut myself on beer and meat with others!"

      XVIII. Adulating Hashut

      "Slave, hear my words!"

      "I am come master, I am come!"

      "Tell me why I should sing His praise to the skies and pray fervently to him. Why should I offer the words of my tongue up to the Father of Darkness?"

      "Worship, master, worship! The pious devotee will honour his god and receive worldly blessings and boons in return, for such is the nature of gods and mortals. Deeds suffice, but words must come to the fore to bring Him the obedience and devotion in your heart of hearts. Pray and praise, sing hymns and adulate His strong form and His mighty idols and shackled court. Flatter your god!"

      "Now tell me why I should not sing His praise to the skies and pray fervently to him. Why should I forsake such devotion?"

      "Do not worship, master, do not worship! Words are wind and yours may be wasted. Gods are fickle and listen but with half an ear, and they rarely grant your wish in the way you had intended, but make a cruel jest in their playing with the fates of mortals. Sometimes the wrong god will listen in to your prayers, and your existence will become a lingering in a vale of woe. No, better to hide away and trouble the gods as little as possible, to neither draw their wrath nor favour. Be sparse with the adulation, and the gods may spare you too!"

      "O well slave, then I shall not sing His praise to the skies and pray fervently to him!"

      XIX. Sacrifice

      "Slave, hear my words!"

      "I am come master, I am come!"

      "Tell me why I should offer up the life and blood of my property to honour my god. Why should I give my slave to the fire or molten gold?"

      "Worship, master, worship! Nothing is more pure or true than to load your bitterly-gotten worldly wealth unto the pyre in view of His mighty idols and part with it to sustain and empower and honour the Father of Darkness. It is your duty and your privilege. A slave may not sacrifice, only be sacrificed. Honour and prestige will be yours in the community, and the miserly sinner will always be punished direly, so says the legends. The gains to be had in reward from divine and unholy hands are enormous. Load the pyre!"

      "Now tell me why I should not offer up the life and blood of my property to honour my god. Why should I forsake such zeal?"

      "Do not worship, master, do not worship! What if your sacrifice is deemed too small, or is outshone by your neightbour's offerings? Him on high may not take notice of you, and then the wealth will become but ash and nothing more. Or He may take affront at your pettiness, and punish you severely with lightning and fire! No, better to sacrifice but seldom and hide from your god. Save your savings for yourself and the life of this world. Shun the pyre!"

      "O well slave, then I shall not offer up the life and blood of my property to honour my god!"

      XX. Conclusion

      "Slave, hear my words!"

      "I am come master, I am come!"

      "Tell me what then is good under heaven. Is life good? Is death good? Why should I not break your neck and limbs here and now? Or gut you where you stand? Or grab hold of you and throw you into a bubbling lava chasm?"

      "Mercy, master, mercy! Who is so risen of height as to ascend to heaven? Who is so bloatedly fat as to cover the entire world? Who is so great as to blot out all the petty mortals from the sight of the gods? None of us ever had such perfection, such greatness, and none of us ever will. A failing mortal might spare another, for none will be the greater for the other's death."

      "O well slave, then I will slay you! Your petty words no longer hold sway."

      "Yes, but my master would certainly not survive me for twelve days!"

      XXI. Fate

      And yet again the master plagued by doubt and weak mind hesitated, and stayed his hand, as he had stayed his course and stayed his will and stayed his ambition. And high Hashut saw that this will ill.

      For the sin of holding back in apathy where the godly man would have grasped eagerly and toiled for the glory of his god, the fiery Bull God sent down a Daemonic bastard son, Mzarbhul, with sharp horns of bronze and cloven hooves of iron and cracked hide of melting stone, and its breath was fire and its gaze was torment.

      For the sin of confiding in, and seeking honest counsel to act upon from a lowly slave, He Who Rapes the World ordered His bastard son Mzarbhul to trample the slave into nothing and flay the master alive to teach the failing mortal the true Order of Things, as established by Him for high to lord it over low.

      For the sin of forsaking his one and only true deity, the Father of Darkness let His bastard son Mzarbhul impale the master and carry him screaming and wailing and bleeding into His otherworldly realm of fire and darkness, where Mzarbhul cast him off into a giant steel cauldron from which the master could not escape, and there he is tormented forever more until the end of days, for hot flames lick the cauldron's outside walls and eternally roasts the master slowly to cinders.

      And his shrieks of agony echoes through the Realm of Chaos and beyond whenever the Wind of Aqshy meets the Wind of Chamon.

      And high Hashut saw that this was good.

      The Poison of Pessimism, a nine-tablet story wedged into ashen clay by the scribe Harmukknezharr the Crafty

    • The vast crater in the northern Dark Lands known as the Plain of Zharr is both rich in minerals and poor in mountains. On the one hand, it would be expected to find some kind of Dwarf settlement here due to the wealth on offer. On the other hand, the flat terrain is not dear to Dwarfs, not least because it is too easily assailable when compared to their preferred mountain habitats.

      As such, some scholars and Chaos Sorcerers, whether mad or sane, have theorized that the Chaos Dwarf construction of ziggurats and towering fortress complexes is, to some degree, a compensation for the lack of mountains to inhabit in much of the Dark Lands. Indeed, even beside the titanic Mountains of Mourn does the size and mass of Zharr-Naggrund seem to be more akin to an obsidian mountain than an entirely artificial construct of mere mortals. Deep down, beyond all the corruption, nightmarish cruelty and demented fanaticism, the minds of the Dawi Zharr still shares many characteristics with those of their uncorrupted cousins.

      And so it was, that the yearning for mountains and highlands long ago triggered the construction of the Hanging Fire Fields, one of the many monuments of bizarre size and nature to be found in the Chaos Dwarf empire.

      Oral folk culture and old records alike tell the tale of the mighty Sorcerer-Prophet Hashuknezharr the Proud, who once bought a fine consort at the Temple Marriage Market in the Tower of Gorgoth. The woman's name was Dhaoziakzhy, and her sensuous ways and outstanding cruelty to slaves enthralled Hashuknezharr like no other wife in the harem could ever have done. As a rare honour, he took her with him on all his travels.

      However, Dhaoziakzhy soon tired of all the vast lowlands which makes up most of the Dark Lands, and raised as she was in the Tower of Gorgoth atop the dead volcano Azgorh, she confessed a longing for mountains. At short notice, Dhaoziakzhy's husband mustered his resources to build her a small mountain in the western Plain of Zharr. Caravans of Iron Daemons, slave porters and draft animals pulled wagons loaded with building materials, tools and supplies to the designated build site. Tens of thousands of slaves would die in the construction work ahead.

      Everyone could see that it was to be a high and broad, terraced tower of obsidian, stone, steel and ashen bricks. A big ziggurat amongst many in the Plain of Zharr, people said. Hashuknezharr the Proud became the laughing stock of all Dawi Zharr whilst his slaves, clansfolk and machines laboured day and night to construct the abode of his favourite wife. Who would build a monumental structure for the sake of love? Such folly! The word on the street was that surely the Sorcerer's Curse had petrified Hashuknezharr's mind first before it was to claim his body. Perhaps he would even plant a watery garden atop it in the manner of feeble Elves, and be struck down by lightning and earthquakes as the wrath of the Bull God was kindled by such impious impurity?

      Some cunning Hobgoblin Khans even became bookmakers for their Chaos Dwarf overlords, running unofficial betting business enterprises, where thousands upon thousands of Dawi Zharr offered prayers and sacrifice to Hashut before wagering silver and slaves upon the exact date when the Father of Darkness would claim either Hashuknezharr or his monument in some cataclysm or the other. Others betted on the nature of the looming disaster, investing some wealth in the firm belief of a certain catastrophe foretold by omens and outcasts. Meanwhile, a number of Sneaky Gits made small fortunes of their own as they slinked into the ziggurat build site and hid tablets, bricks, lead plates, skulls and other amulets, all inscribed with curses, into the thick walls of the rising monument. Their clients were Chaos Dwarfs hoping to ensure that their specific bet would win them great wealth, by invoking divine and unholy assistance alike. Like one man, Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the great and all her holdings guffawed at the foolish Sorcerer-Prophet, yet still Hashuknezharr the Proud would not give up, and the building rose ever higher above the lowland as decades passed by.

      The laughter of the Dawi Zharr stuck in their throats when the monumental home of Dhaoziakzhy was finally completed, and its secrets revealed, during one portentuous night of a full Morrslieb and ongoing religious festivities and mass sacrifices.

      Hidden to the eyes of his rivals, the Daemonsmith subordinates of Hashkunezharr had directed the hard labour of drilling magma channels deep into the rocky ground. A vast, arcane system of reservoirs, gates, canals and pumps ensured the circulation and replenishment of lava, which snaked across the terraces and cascaded down in hot falls to the levels below. Likewise, separate and smaller channelling systems for various molten metals adorned the whole edifice, being fed by enigmatically Daemonforged furnaces and pumps at the building's dark heart. In addition, white-hot embers painted the glowing walls with hallowed runes of Hashut and the wider Chaos pantheon, converting the whole structure into a vast dedication to both Chaos in general and the Father of Darkness in particular. Grim-faced idols and statues of figures of legend adorned the terrace roofs,their eyes glowing with baleful fire. Last, but not least, fell runes and vicious sorceries bound into the stone, bricks and metal of the great ziggurat ensured an almost everlasting dance of flames and bound fire Daemons across the walls, on the flat roofs and inside braziers and great, hollow bull heads of bronze. Only relatively small sacrifices of slaves were required to maintain the arcane mysteries of the wonder, for the magical winds of Chamon and Aqshy were drawn to it like moths to flames.

      These were the Hanging Fire Fields of Hashkunezharr, a monstrous construction of fire and molten rock and metal alike, a sorcerous edifice of volatile magic and shackled Daemons, an altar to Hashut, who when on high, was to bless the proud Sorcerer-Prophet and his favourite wife Dhaoziakzhy with lasting wealth, success, might and conquest. Such were the hopes of the monument's dark master as he ascended the broad obsidian staircase, illuminated in the flaming light of the Hanging Fire Fields. The man's triumph was short-lived, however, for he soon discovered that Dhaoziakzhy had gone barren long before her time. In black rage, Sorcerer-Prophet Hashkunezharr the Proud entombed his disappointing wife alive, deep beneath the bowels of the fiery complex, before cursing all the world and its creatures and gods, whereupon he hurled himself into the ever-burning altar flames atop the ziggurat's uppermost level. Thus ended the folly of Hashkunezharr.

      Still, it is said that His mighty idol woke to life in front of the altar, and a black, fiery bull emerged from the Realm of Chaos to trample the Sorcerer-Prophet violently in the altar flames. It is likewise said that Hashut carried them both away into His dark realm, where the blasphemer endures an eternal punishment under the hooves of the black bull. Some Daemonsmiths claims to have heard the breaking of bones, the screams of a Chaos Dwarf, a snorting bull and the crackling of flames when sacrificing to appease the Father of Darkness before undertaking a Soulforge summoning ritual to capture a Daemon of fire or metal.

      As for the legacy of Hashkunezharr the Proud, his Hanging Fire Fields still stands, for they were much more pleasing to the Bull God than was the conduct of their master. The story of the foolish Sorcerer-Prophet quickly became a popular tale to warn children of the perils of romantic love. The Hanging Fire Fields have ever since been synonymous with the names of ill-fated Hashkunezharr and Dhaoziakzhy, yet they are also a vaunted possession amongst the Chaos Dwarf elite. Whichever Sorcerer-Prophet controls the Hanging Fire Fields commands some prime sorceries in the Lores of Fire and Metal, enabling them to hold spectacular sacrificial rituals, as well as giving them access to advanced forges for the smithing of fire and metal Daemons, as well as tools for the creation of lava beasts.

      As a result, the armies of the owner of the Hanging Fire Fields are able to deploy superior Magma Cannons and K'daai Daemons, and it is rumoured that the innards of the mysterious edifice contains caches of volatile fire amulets, weapons and artefacts forged upon its terraces throughout the years. The monument remains a strategic asset in the Dawi Zharr power struggle, and to this day the large structure resounds to the ringing of hammers, the shrieking of sacrificial victims and the sorcerous intonations of Daemonsmiths hard at work, crafting ever more lethal weapons of war amidst the fire and streams of lava and molten metal that makes the dark walls glow like hell itself.

      Such are the Hanging Fire Fields of Hashkunezharr.