Chaos Dwarf Short Stories [WHFB]

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    • Chaos Dwarf Short Stories [WHFB]

      Dozy from a long watch duty upon the roofed bastion tower, spearman Lin-Tzu of the Grand Imperial Army of Cathay jerked upright as the two hollow-head signal arrows shrieked and whined from the north-west. The tribal scout rider who had loosed the projectiles could be seen three hundred paces away, galloping hard around a rocky ridge as he made for the western gate castle of fortress Jian Xia, home to a garrison of ten thousand men and eight hundred horses on Cathay's western steppe frontier.

      Lin-Tzu pivoted around his spear shaft and relayed the scout's arrow message with a shout towards the busy fortress yard inside the walls. It was the signal Enemies approaching, if his ear was any judge after all those drills and maneouvres. Simultaneously, a dozen other soldiers on guard duty yelled the same words. Hundreds of men suddenly abandoned their tasks and rushed for the barracks and armoury. A gong was struck in the western gate castle, which opened its triple gates to let the exhausted rider and mount inside.

      The spearman couldn't hear any of the scout's agitated words at this distance. He held his post and stared out into the rolling, inhospitable landscape south of the Great Bastion far to the north. The titanic Mountains of Mourn towered at the western horizon. Lin-Tzu fingered nervously on his thick, red-painted paper scale armour. It was designed to stop arrows and crossbow bolts, and was massproduced in large glue-workshops as the cheapest armour available for the lowliest footsloggers.

      His mind raced with fear, anxiety and thrill. It made him edgy. Speculations hunted each others in Lin-Tzu's alerted thoughts. Who were the enemy? They were probably migrating Ogres from the inaccessible peaks, or ambitious nomad riders of either Hobgoblin, Kurgan or Hung tribes, who had dared the easternmost passes through the Mountains of Mourn to circumvent the Great Bastion.

      Or could the giant wall to the north have been breached? What about the jade Tower of Ashshair? Did it still stand? Were they alone in the wasteland? Would the Dragon Emperor send reinforcements? Could they hold?

      The reality of it all dumbstruck Lin-Tzu for a long time. Four dark, smoke-belching columns appeared in the distance and snaked their way towards the fortress. He stared, and stared some more as he saw sights he could not believe. As a Cathayan, Lin-Tzu was no complete stranger to mechanisms, fireworks and mystical magic in the world, but this...

      Inside the fortress, alarms were sounded, orders shouted. The senior officers' voices had taken on a different pitch as the foe approached the thick walls of Jian Xia. Weapons and harnesses clattered. Troops assembled hastily. Cannon, bolt thrower and rocket batteries were readied in a hurry. Additional ammunition baskets were moved up to the walls by men with yokes across their shoulders. Crossbowmen rushed to the battlements. Lin-Tzu was joined by twenty warriors in his tower alone.

      Frantic activity ensued within the fortress, yet outside the enemy spread out sluggishly with their metal cohorts and iron behemoths, their fire and monsters, their war machines and lines of large wagons without horses or oxen. He thought he saw short men with large beards beneath their full-face helmets. Lin-Tzu could not estimate the foreigners' numbers, but even with the large contingents of chained slaves and scurrying Greenskins they appeared to be less numerous than the defenders. That was a good sign.

      The fortress commander, Yen Huangshi, apparently thought so too. Noises were made as the western gate castle once again opened up. This time it let out the garrison's elite cavalry, two hundred and sixty riders, both mount and man equipped with heavy lamellar armour. The cavalry poured out of the gatehouse with a thunder of hooves and a rising dustcloud. Banners and tassels fluttered in the wind.

      Lin-Tzu guessed the cavalrymen's purpose was to disrupt the enemy before they could close off the fortress and begin a siege. Cohorts of thickly-built warriors advanced to meet the Cathayan riders. The heavy cavalry reformed and adopted a diamond formation as the gates closed behind them. Then they started to trot. At a range of about fifty paces from the enemy lines, the riders lowered their lances. At thirty, they charged with shrill warcries which could be heard at the walls.

      So too could the very loud bangs of firearms. Before the gunpowder smoke engulfed the enemy ranks, Lin-Tzu thought he could make out strange, flared handguns. Were they shaped like trumpets to amplify the noise and scare horses? If so, the strange men were in for a surprise. The Grand Army was thorough in its training of horses. If the mounts could not stand the booms of gunpowder, the animals had no place in a Cathayan battleline.

      The cavalry formation collapsed in thrown men and thrashing horses. Lin-Tzu gasped and exchanged shocked looks with the soldiers around him behind the crenellations. The riders had fallen like wheat before a scythe. What kind of handguns could cause such devastation? Why had the enemy not used them at longer range, but instead risked a charge?

      The attack barely hit home, but the few foolhardy or bravehearted survivors who crashed into the enemy infantry could not shatter their formations in the least. The foes stood their ground even when horses slammed into them. Axes and other weapons rose and hacked down the cavalrymen methodically. It was soon over.

      There was then a large commotion inside the walls amongst the privates. Officers stomped around and barked down their subordinates' rising panic. Discipline was eventually restored, but by then a solitary iron Daemon approached the western gatehouse on grinding wheels of steel. It belched smoke, hissed and clanked loudly as it went. No order to fire upon it was given from the Cathayan officers, but Lin-Tzu could see the fortress commander and his splendid retinue climb the neighbouring stretch of wall.

      One wall cannon team's leader lost his nerve and had his crew ignite the loaded piece. With a roar, the artillery projectile bunched into the front end of the smoking behemoth, yet only buckled it. Commander Yen yelled and ordered the artillery crews to wait for his signal.

      A tall shape climbed down from the rear platform of the wagon and walked stately towards the gatehouse. No, it wasn't a tall man. Lin-Tzu peered, and saw that it was in fact a short yet rotund figure with the tallest hat the spearman had ever seen in his life. The dwarf was followed by two metal-masked guards in heavy plate armour. Fifteen paces before the gatehouse, the trio stopped.

      What happened next would haunt Lin-Tzu to the end of his days. The hat-wearing figure did not need to cup his hands around his mouth to be heard. Instead, he spoke with strong lungs and a loud, throaty voice which must have been amplified by evil spirits so that his words could be heard all across the fortress. The volume was unnatural, like thunder given a tounge. Lin-Tzu involuntarily made gestures and motions with his hands to ward off Daemons.

      Yet more disturbing than the strength of the voice was the almost perfect Cathayan language which the foreign enemy spoke as he gave the garrison of fortress Jian Xia its first, last and only offer to surrender:

      "I speak to the men on the walls, the men who will have to drink their urine and eat excrement behind the battlements. Cast out your leaders and surrender the fortress to us, or suffer a siege of hunger to quench all hope and end life itself in thirst and starvation.

      I speak to the men on the walls, the men who will have their bones crushed and skulls cracked upon the battlements. Cast out your leaders and surrender the fortress to us, or suffer a siege of bombardment by hellfire to strangle life itself in flames, ash and smoke.

      I speak to the men on the walls, the men who will have their limbs cut and their skin flayed when we break down your battlements. Cast out your leaders and surrender the fortress to us, or suffer a siege of carnage to butcher life itself in a massacre of blood and Chaos.

      Will the men on the walls surrender their leaders and their fortress to us? Or will the men on the walls suffer a siege to be feared for all time? Make your choice now."

      Lin-Tzu realized his teeth clattered when the Chaos Dwarf had finished speaking. Unlike the private spearman, the grizzled fortress commander soon regained his composure and declined the offer with defiance and insults. It was a decision he would regret gravely before his backbreaking death in the slave pits of Zharr-Naggrund. As would the ten thousand men under his command.
    • Written by: Dînadan

      "Get a move on ya laggards," bellowed Hârzrazh Coalheart, hobbling up the stairs of the gatehouse to the battlements "I'll not have those curs from the Outliers showing us up." The despot wheezed stony breaths as he ascended the black stairs. The air inside the gatehouse was cool and comfortable, the temperature maintained by wards enscribed by the hands of apprentice daemonsmiths as part of their training and when he stepped across the threshold it felt like being hit in the face with a furnace; outside the heat was searing and the air carried a hit of ash no matter where you were. Coalheart smiled with pride seeing his warriors ranking up swiftly and neatly, their crimson scaled armour neatly polished and their hats sitting perfectly straight on their heads.

      The dwarfs under his command comprised the garrison of the western tower of the Naggrund Gate, a might brass door standing betwixt two basalt ziggurats at the southern end of the fortress-city of Zharr-Naggrund. To the south, west and east stretched the Plains of Zharr, a vast desolate expanse dotted with towers, forts and ziggurats from which the lesser clans oversaw the toiling of innumerable slaves. To the north sat the city of Zharr-Naggrund, a hundred and twenty mile wide bowl at the centre of which stood Mingol Zharr-Naggrund, the immense tower that was the capitol and chief temple of the Dawi Zharr empire, less fortress than mountain in stature. Mingol Zharr-Naggrund was a colossal ziggurat carved from a single piece of obsidian sixty miles wide and sixty levels tall, each level one twelfth a mile in height and one mile wider than the level above. Some said that there were sixty more levels below ground, each growing as you descended at the same rate the above ground levels shrank, though Coalheart knew none that had gone beyond the twelfth (though each level being so vast it could contain multiple sub levels it was hard to judge how many levels you had actually descended). There was even a semi-heretical tale that deep within the bowls of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund dwelt Hashut himself, biding his time, sustained by the blood shed by slaves across the Plain of Zharr, waiting for the day spoken of in the Twelve Books of Prophecy bequeathed by Hashut to the Twelve Sons when the Dawi Zharr had pledged themselves to the Dark Father's service in the Dark Times many millennia ago, though Coalheart placed no stock in it.

      The top most level of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund was the Temple of Hashut, a mighty edifice of iron and bronze capped with a large, hollow brass bull which reared up above a fire pit that was consecrated each day by a gross of slaves, and never allowed to go out. To reach the temple there was one option; to ascend the most arduous road in the city by climbing one of the four steep staircases that rose from the ground to the top level in a single unbroken line and one of the trials required to become a priest in the Cult of Hashut was to climb by this route without faltering, rest or nourishment. There were other roads that went as far as the second highest level; the easiest was a broad road, wide enough for ten wagons to drive abreast, that wound in a spiral around the tower ascending in a series of ramps, one per level. Each level below the highest was mostly hollow, riddled with passages, halls and buildings worked into the stone of the ziggurat itself, but none of these levels above ground were restricted to the interior of the ziggurat; built on the 'roof' of each level were more buildings, towers, workshops and even smaller ziggurats, many serving as the family holdings of the city's numerous clans, and some were set aside to house envoys from the Ogre tribes of the Mountains of Mourn or the human barbarians of the northern Wastes in an attempt to cow them at the sight of the might of the Dawi Zharr.

      From the base of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund to the edge of the bowl which marked the city limits was a broad plain covered in a scattering of ziggurats, the private residences of the Sorcerer-Prophets which allowed them a semblance of privacy away from the main tower so that they could engage in study bereft of the stresses of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund. Fed by an ash fall every twelve years, this plain was fertile and had long been cultivated into gardens and plantations tended by the most trusted slaves of each estate. It was from here the best quality crops were harvested and sold in Mingol Zharr-Naggrund as delicacies. It was also here the River Ruin ran, entering the plain from the northernmost point, meandering to the base of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund where it was swallowed by an iron gate set in the side of the ground level and spewed out by another on the other side of the ziggurat's base, whence forth it swung to the east and left the plain. The lands east of the river were the poorest soil wise and invariably the estates there belonged to those clans lowest in standing. As such a millennia or so ago, the ruling council had bought up most of the estates and set about transforming it into something more useful. New schools had been built to train beardlings in the art of war and some private academies had been founded entering on the arts rather than warfare in an attempt to revive the swiftly diminishing culture among the Dawi Zharr.

      The grandest achievement of this was the Phlâzian Amphitheatre, built by Vezpâzan Plâzia, a mighty general of the time. The Amphitheatre was a vast, twelve-tiered, inverted ziggurat dug into the ground and tiled with black marble. So large was it that it could easily seat half the dwarves in Zharr-Naggrund, and many private boxes lined the arena. A sophisticated system of trapdoors were hidden under the area floor allowing slaves to be brought up from the pits below, or for sections to be raised or lowered transforming the lay of the land. There were even powerful pumps that enabled the arena to swiftly be filled and emptied with water so naval battles could be simulated.

      At the furthest extremes of the Eastern plain, in its north-eastern corner was a, relatively, small temple complex. Though the Dawi Zharr as a race as a whole were dedicated to Hashut, they were not so foolish as to ignore the other Chaos gods and it was here that they were acknowledged. The complex consisted of eight squat ziggurats tended by those few dwarfs that pledged their service to the other gods; these extremists were regarded as renegades and were only permitted to leave the complex to march to war and on special occasions at special dispensation from the ruling council of Zharr-Naggrund. Each temple was possessed of its own quirk which reflected the god it was dedicated to; the six tiers of Slaanesh's was wreathed in incense, its halls carved to resonated and magnify the sounds of the debaurcheries held within; Nurgle's was carved from wood, rotten with age and each of its seven levels slick with mould and fungii; the eight brass levels of Khorne's were slick with blood, its sides carved into leering skulls; Tzeentch's was blown from a single piece of glass, multi spectral fires flickering within and a different coloured gem encrusting each of its nine levels; Malal's, built from white and black blocks of marble, was constantly being rebuilt, only to tear itself down on the heads of its adherents; Necoho's stood silent and empty, each person to cross the threshold struck down by a single bolt of lightning; Zuvassin's was incomplete, each brick set slightly askew; finally there was the temple of the Horned Rat, who had no adherents among the Dawi Zharr, instead it was used as a breeding centre for skaven slaves, many of whom were not destined for the slave fields, nor the mines or workshops, but rather the dinner table as basic fare for the other slaves.

      At the edge of the plain that was counted as part of the city and before the Plains of Zharr were the city walls. Despite their name they were not true walls. Rather the 'wall' consisted of broken ground, huge shards of rock and tumbled monolith spearing the sky away from the city out into the Plains of Zharr. Legend had it when the ancestors of the Dawi Zharr had first pledged themselves to the Dark Father he had stamped his hoof on the earth and had declared that there was where they we're find their new home. The force of the stomp had shattered the ground in what was now the Plains of Zharr and the hoof print had formed a natural bulwark within which Mingol Zharr-Naggrund had been raised. The cyclopean shards ringed the tower and the fertile plain around it, but it was not a perfect ring, and actual walls, many yards high had been built to plug the gap. Every twelve miles stood a tower, fort or ziggurat to watch over the walls, and halfway between each the Dawi Zharr had erected statues so large they dwarfed even the mighty K'daai Destroyers. Each statue was in the shape of Taurii, Lammasu or a daemon and each constant vomited lava drawn up from the depths of the earth into channels carved into the Plain of Zharr which fed a moat, a mile wide which encircled the city walls. The moat could only be crossed in three places, a half mile wide bridge which lead to the only gatehouse in the walls, or by one of the two aqueducts that allowed the River Ruin to pass through the city.

      Coalheart raised a farglass to his eye, an ingenious device created by Fûggîth, a Daemonsmith of his clan. The farglass appeared to be a simple monocle, but by twisting the rim, which consisted of a two dozen rings, gently the wearer could bring into focus object far away without the need for bulkier equipment as was the norm. Peering through it, he brought into focus the forces arrayed on the other side of the bridge. Today began the Father's Quarter, a holy period of twelve weeks that only occurred every seven score and four years and to celebrate there was to be a procession. In camps outside the city waited delegations from all the holds of the Dark Lands and even a few from outposts beyond. Coalheart watched as they drew up in the correct order as had been decided by a committee of Sorcerer-Prophets twenty-four years ago. Coalheart could see the reds and blacks of the Plainsland holds, the gold and bone of Uzkulak, the tower shields bearing an iron gate as a device of the garrison of the Gates of Zharr, the ornate hats and jewelled rings of the Tower of Gorgoth and even, at the rearmost and most shameful position in the procession, the faceless masks of the Infernal Guard of the Black Fortress.

      Coalheart turned to the sundial next to him, waiting for the appointed hour. An eternity seemed to crawl by until finally it was time. Coal heart raised a gloved hand and a dozen musicians raised bronze horns to their lips. With a swift motion he dropped his hand and the trumpets blew deeply, the blaring of their horns resonating over the Plains of Zharr, striving to outdo the horns of the Eastern gate tower. In answer, the procession blew their own horns and beat their drums in co-ordination. As the answer died down the gatehouse garrisons trumpeted again. Fifty-nine times the exchange happened, each time growing in strength until on the sixtieth the greatest trumpet sounded. From high atop Mingol Zharr-Nagrund the great bronze bull bellowed, a rolling thunder that could be heard all across the Plains of Zharr. At that signal, the gates ground open and the procession set forth.
    • Written by: Dînadan

      Bardek Cinderbeard stroked his beard, looking out from the parapet that encircled the twelfth level of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund. All around him Dawi Zharr packed the raised walkway behind the parapet awaiting the arrival of the procession that marked the first day of the Father's Quarter. First thing this morning the procession had set off from the gatehouse in the Hoofcleft, the ring of shattered stone that marked the city limits, and it was only now, in late afternoon that it neared Mingol Zharr-Naggrund, the Black Tower of the Chaos Dwarfs. Many Outliers, the name the inhabitants of Zharr-Naggrund gave to those of their dark kin who lived in the fortresses and settlements outside the capital, erroneously thought only the sixty tiered ziggurat was the city, but that properly was called Mingol Zharr-Naggrund, whereas Zharr-Naggrund also encompassed the valley in which it sat; only a complete bumpkin would call the former the latter. It made Bardek shudder to think such hicks would soon pass through the streets of his beloved city in such great numbers.

      That being said, he did take pride in the spectacle that was about to take place, and felt honoured that he had been chosen to be among those of his clan that were to represent them in the generously named 'Welcoming Committee'. Bardek was but the second son of a third cousin four times removed of the Overlord of a lesser branch of the Cinderbeard clan and thus had not expected to be chosen for such an honour. Instead he'd expected that he'd have had to spend the first fortnight of Father's Quarter overseeing one of the pump houses in the Hoofcleft that fed the lava moat around the city.

      The procession neared, marching across the Dark Causeway towards the city. The Dark Causeway, so named for the purple-veined black marble it was carved from, was a vast viaduct that stretched sixty miles from the Gateway to Mingol Zharr-Naggrund and was held aloft by colossal statues carved into likeness of long dead Dawi-Zharr. Though he would dare not speak such thoughts out loud, he thought the statues, bearing the Causeway aloft atop their high hats looked comical rather than the intended regal. A short parapet lined each side of the Causeway, and every four yards was a plinth on which stood statues. Or at least they looked like statues. In truth they were sorcerers that had fallen afoul of Hashut's curse, doomed to stony forms for all eternity. Sometimes a sorcerer was taken down from his plinth and was borne aloft by sanctified Acolytes to be carried into battle as a holy relic, a stark reminder of the price of failure and attracting the Dark Father's ire, but for important ceremonies all were returned and reinstalled on their plinths, and Bardek had heard rumours that those that had been lost were replaced by transmogrifying some poor wretch via dark rituals that not even the blackest hearted would dare speak of in more than passing and in hushed, frightened tones.

      "I'm bored, when are they going to get here," said a high pitched voice near Barek's right leg, and seconds later he felt a tugging on his robe at the knee. Bardek looked down ready to cuff the brat, peeved that his best robe might now be creased, but stopped himself when he saw who it was. The boy, who could be no older than ten, eleven at most, only had a few inches growth of beard, but it already showed the characteristic black and copper streaks that gave the Cinderbeard clan it's name, and due to his age was hatless. Normally that would be justification for giving him a hiding, but the white robe and heavy silver medallion hanging from his neck stayed Barek's hand; the Zharrling before him was none other than the Zarrik of Clan Cinderbeard, the firstborn son of Overlord Grukrum, head of the main Cinderbeard clan.

      Bardek dropped to his knee, bowing and holding a hand to his head in supplication. Allegedly the salute was supposed to be a sign of respect, but Bardek suspected it had the more practical purpose of keeping one's hat from toppling over.

      "They'll be here soon," he smiled at the child, "Look, already they approach." The child stood on tiptoes to look over the parapet but was clearly too short. "With you permission m'lord," he said offering his arm, knowing that to touch a Zarrik without permission was to sign your own death warrant. The boy looked up at him and nodded his consent. Bardek scooped up the Zharrling and hefted him onto his shoulder. In the distance the procession drew closer and soon the dark smudge on the causeway resolved itself into distinct units and then into distinct figures. The Zarrik grinned enjoying the spectacle.

      At the front of the procession the Sorcerer-Prophet Nar'dûk Bronzefist was borne aloft a mighty palanquin carried by twelve ogres. Nar'dûk was high in Lord Astragoth's graces, and as such it fell to him to represent Zharr-Naggrund in the order of march. Behind him marched the chosen warriors of the Plains of Zharr who swore direct fealty to Astragoth. Behind these were those clans that swore fealty to the other major Prophets and clans or who had managed to carve out a niche of independence for themselves, and behind them were regiments from the Outliers. Being a humble dwarf, Bardek did not know most of the banners borne by the procession and could not put names to many of the lords that lead them; to him the procession was a riot of colour - reds and black, purples and bronze, bone and gold, and many more besides - but nonetheless reinforced his view of the Dawi Zharr's superiority. Among those few he could identify were warriors of Clan Bloodbeard, whom he only knew due his mother's great-grandmother being of the clan, the Red Host of Nir-Kezhar, with whom he had once sailed on a slaving run in his youth, and warriors from Uzkulak which he had passed through on the return trip. There were a handful more he could recognise, but their names escaped him at present. Bringing up the rear in the place of lowest honour was a compliment from the Legion of Azgorh, the dread legion of dishonour that all feared that fate would drive them to and that all hoped to avoid.

      Bardek, the Zarrik and the other gathered representatives of Zharr-Naggrund watched as the procession approached them. As the Causeway neared the twelfth level, it split in two arching around like the horns of a bull to meet the level either side of the Southern Stair, one of the four great stairways that ascended directly from Mingol Zharr-Naggrund's base to the Great Temple of Hashut at the tower's peak. Bardek grinned at the sight, and along with the Zarrik and the other assembled dwarfs cheered as the procession split and marched along the horns of the Causeway, rejoining and ascending the Stair. When they had passed bared set the child down, who ran off to find his parents, and leant on the parapet heavily.

      "I need a drink," he breathed, drawing a flask from his robe and taking a swig.


      "This is definitely a perk of being from a lesser branch of the clan," grinned Nâzkuk Embertooth, Bardek's favourite cousin, so named for the black iron and brazen brass set of dentures he wore.

      "Aye," chuckled Bardek, leaning back in his seat "The Nobs can have their pious rituals up in the tower; I'll take this worship any day." He nodded, indicating the great amphitheatre they were sitting in. His cousin and friends laughed raucously at the jest.

      "I jus' wish they'd get this part over with an' cut right to tha' bloodle'ing," grunted Krovnar Steelbrow.

      "I like this part," grumbled the white bearded Dor'rek Chromedome.

      "Hush," sighed Bardek "It begins."

      They turned their attention to the area where one hundred and forty-four slaves of all kinds of races were chained up in the shape a large Hashut rune. A hush fell over the crowd as the presiding priest stepped up to the edge of his box overlooking the area floor and raised his hands for silence. He waited for complete quiet until not even a breath could be heard.

      "We are gathered here on the third day of the Father's Quarter to praise the Dark Father," intoned the priest who wore a mask fashioned into the likeness of Astragoth. So finely was it crafted that as the priest spoke it moved as if it were a living face. "We give unto Him this sacrifice. In the Dark Times when He came to us we were beset by daemons and foul spirits. We cried out to the Ancestor Gods to deliver us from the evils of Chaos, but we were forsaken. To each of the Three Great Ancestors, the twelve leaders cried out and each time were met with silence; twice more to all Three together they cried out, and silence met them; in despair they cried out a final time, cursing the Ancestor Gods, swearing fealty to whomever could deliver us from destruction and grant us the chance for Vengeance. It was then that He came to us. Glorious Hashut gathered the Twelve unto His bosom, declaring that they were to be His Twelve Sons and that their sons and daughters would also be His children.

      "It is on this day, at the dawn of a new Father's Quarter that we give thanks and praise Him loudest. In honour of the memory of His coming we give up these voices. As in those Dark Times seven score and four voices cried out, so now seven score and four voices shall cry out. But it is not in anger, fear and lust for vengeance they shall cry out, for it is not us who shall cry out. Nay, it shall be the Lesser Races who shall cry out, glorying Hashut and His children and that which His boon has allowed us to build. Look now to His Temple far atop His Tower, for the time is now!" As one all the Dawi Zharr seated in the stadium turned their gazes westward and upwards to the peak of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund.

      Far at the top, comprising the highest tier of the ziggurat was The Temple of Hashut. There were many temples dedicated to the Dark Father scattered all over the empire of the Chaos Dwarfs; many either within the capital city, but this was The Temple, and perched atop it was a colossal bronze statue of the Great Bull. At this moment, framed by its curved horns was the sun, shedding light into the centre of the arena where the slaves stood chained, straining at their bonds. To the south and east, if one of the dwarfs had looked that way hung Maanslieb, faint in the afternoon sky. But it was not Maanslieb that was important, rather its sinister twin, Morrslieb. Normally the evil moon would wander the sky on a whim, as fickle as Tzeentch, but even its capricious natured bowed to the will of a god on such sacred days. Even now it hastened across the sky. In silence, they watched as it glided north and west, heading towards the sun. Morrslieb slowed its journey, creeping across the face of the sun, and as one the dwarfs held their breath.

      Barek spared a glance at the slaves. They were chained to one another and to iron stakes that kept them in place. They were of all sapient races and all intermingled in what he presumed was some sort of order, but he himself could not fathom the pattern. All races had multiple representatives. All races, but one. Of dwarfs there was but one member and he stood at the apex of the 'V' part of Hashut's rune, his back turned on the temple, symbolically representing his unworthiness to gaze upon the temple, further reinforced by his nakedness save for an iron helm over his head welded to his flesh. Barek knew not his name but he did know his story.

      The sacrifice was a disgraced daemonsmith who had been responsible for the deepest shafts in a mine out somewhere in the Plain of Zharr. He had shown a disregard for the slaves under his purview, leaving them to their own devices provided they kept up their quota and sent food down via the chain carriages, not even bothering to properly police the slaves with dwarven overseers, merely sending hobgoblins down when they slacked, not caring or even noticing if they came back. Such disregard far beyond the contempt all Dawi Zharr had been his undoing, for when an inspection team had descended into the mines to see why production had ceased entirely and had been beset on all sides. Only a single survivor had escaped the deep shafts, bring dire news to the despot who ran the mines. The shafts under the watch of the nameless daemonsmith had fallen to the undead, hundreds of slaves raised as zombies, and even skeletons. The garrison of the mine and several fortresses and workshops nearby had been roused and descended en mass to cleanse the shafts, and in the deepest level they found a vampire lurking in a forgotten cavern in the depths of the mine. Many good dwarfs had fallen that day, and the cost of the daemonsmith's negligence was great. Even the death of the vampire had not stopped the undead horde, forcing the shafts to be sealed and the mine to be abandoned. As punishment the daemonsmith had been stripped of all titles, his family banished to the Legion of Azgorh and he himself taken into the darkest chambers within the darkest depths of Mingol Zharr-Nagrund so the proper penance so could be observed. Now he stood as sacrifice to pay the final one.

      Barek watched as Morrslieb eclipsed the sun, casting a sickly glow over the arena floor. As the foul moon fully eclipsed the sun, all one hundred and forty four slave spontaneously combusted, erupting in green flames. On cue the silence was broken, one hundred and forty three voices screaming in pain. The sole dissenter was the fallen daemonsmith who strained at his chains. As all the other slaves fell to their knees, he stood tall and proud. Taking a deep breath, even as his flesh melted from his bones, he threw his head back and gave the mightiest cry of all the slaves.


      And with that his charred bones collapsed, crumbling to dust. The crowd roared and whooped giving up their own cries and praises to the Dark Father, and thus, in the eye of the dwarfen plebs, the Father's Quarter had truly began.
    • Written by: Dînadan

      Bardek lounged back in his seat watching as a group of slaves hurried out to clear away the ashen remains from the centre of the arena, undoubtably collected for use as components is some sorcerous ritual or another or even bartered away to the human savages that eek end out a living in the northern wastes as talismans or charms. He took a sip of his tankard and pulled a face, finding it empty. Yelling curses he called over a slave to refill it. As the wretch did so, he studied her, and his lips curled with disgust. The human, a descendant of slaves taken from Cathay long ago was thin and ragged; her shoulders were hunched and she dared not lift her head for fear of the lash. Even so, he caught a glimpse of her eyes, empty dead things, less alert than even tamed herd beasts. Bardek was offended by how easily she was bent to the will of her dwarfen masters; no Dawi Zharr would tolerate such abasements; even their faithless kin from the Worlds Edge Mountains would not submit so.

      Snatching the amphora she bore from her hands, he waved her away and turned back to the arena waiting for the first match to begin. Presently, the iron portcullis to the east ground open and a large troll was herded out by a gaggle of hobgoblins. The foul creature stood five time the height of a dwarf and it's hide was covered in brownish green scales. What was most peculiar however was that it appeared to be a mutant; proportionally it seemed squatter hand most trolls, being broad of shoulder and hip and it's head was subsumed by its body; beady eyes atop, crowned by long curved horns, and an immense tusk-filled mouth that took up most of its torso; in contrast it limbs were long and gangly, ending in oversized hands and feet. Overall it put him in mind of a Pink Horror; undoubtably it had been birthed by some amusement of the trickster god.

      "I wonder if you cut it down it'll spring back up split in two an' turn blue?" jested Nâzkuk, spotting the resemblance too.

      "I hope not," spat Dor'rek, "I worked in Cousin Valzek's Helforge a century back. He tried binding horrors an' they got loose. Took us five years to shift the buggers. An' I'm still not convinced me got them all." The friends laughed at the whitebeard's outlandish tale.

      "What 'ave they go' ta fight it? Tha's wha' I wanna know," spat Krovnar, scratching at the iron nails hammered into his forehead that gave him his Ironbrow moniker (and accounted for his crude speech patterns thought Bardek). "Mah money's onna Ogre."

      "Maybe it's another troll," grinned Nâzkuk, "But one in the shape of another daemon."

      "Why not just get an actual daemon?" spat Dor'rek "Would save on clean up afterwards."

      Bardek stayed silent, watching as the western portcullis rose, but was distracted as the crowd erupted in cheers and laughter. One of the hobgoblins had gotten too close and had been plucked up by the troll. The abomination swung the greenskin about, dashing it's brains on the ground before tossing it into its mouth and biting down with a sickening crunch that reached Bardek halfway up the arena seating. The other hobgoblins scattered and scurried back into the dark tunnel they'd dragged the troll from. The troll looked around, misshapen eyes blinking as it surveyed the area it was in, sniffing the air and grunting and growling in frustration.

      Bardek looked over at the opposing entrance, wondering where its opponent was. Cautiously, a squat shape edged from the shadows, taking everything it saw in with the stoic gaze that could only belong to a dwarf. All around there were gasps and confused mutterings, which swiftly turned into laughs and jeers as the realised what it was. The dwarf worn nought but rough-spun britches and heavy iron manacles around his wrists and ankles. His beard was short, a mere few inches long, but from the way he stalked, sticking to the edge of the arena it was clear he was no beardling; even from this distance, Bardek could see the beard was filthy and stained red with blood. Curiously, his head was bare save for a strip running from front to back which was also blood-stained and from the rawness of the scalp and the many nicks and cuts Bardek surmised that the dwarf had shaved his own head with whatever sharp objects he'd been able to get his hands on.

      "A Trollslayer?" ruminated Dor'rek mournfully, "Suppose that's apt."

      Bardek nodded. He'd never seen a Trollslayer before, but he had heard tell of them in hearth side stories as a zharrling and camp fire tales as a warrior grown. Truth be told, he was disappointed by what he saw, how could this sorry specimen be one of that forsaken brotherhood? As he stared at the self inflicted wounds he realised this wasn't a true slayer. He guessed that it was a regular dwarf, taken as the spoils of war after some recent raid of the westlands; one of the few similarities the Dawi Zharr shared with their honour less kin was an inability to self terminate, to both races being captured by such a hated foe and subjugated by them was a great shame, an almost unerasable blot on their honour; even those dams abducted to serve as concubines for the wealthy Dawi Zharr had to be chained up or regularly drugged to keep them under control long enough for the deed to be done and at the birth of any ensuing progeny. Driven mad by his captivity the dwarf had clearly sworn an oath to his vile gods and taken the mantle upon himself, making up for the lack of the proper rituals by conducting them himself. He was no true slayer, but that would not disused him from trying to expunge his lost honour by following that path in hope that Grimnir would forgive him and bestow upon him the reward of the slayer.

      The troll caught his scent and turned in his direction. Letting out a deafening roar it lollopped towards him, the chains still bound to its arms flailing around. The dwarf dropped to a low crouch, waiting for the right moment. The troll swiftly closed on him despite its ungainly stride, and still the slayer waited. The troll roared again and lashed out a few yards away from him, confident that its stretched limbs could reach, but at the last moment the slayer took a single step back and the blow missed by a hair, or rather hit by a hair, for it clipped a single strand from his beard (not that Bardek or his friends could see that detail from where they sat). But more unexpectantly the chains on that arm lashed out, wrapping around the pillar the dwarf had been lurking near, jerking that arm to a stop. That was why the blow had been short, and the troll had been too stupid to see it coming.

      The dwarf darted in, inside the creature's reach, swinging his axe and biting deep into the troll's flank. The troll howled with pain and frustration as the dwarf rolled aside. It twisted trying to keep the dwarf in view and swung its free arm trying to grasp him, but he'd already skipped back out of reach. Roaring again it tried to run after him and fell flat on its face, tripped up by the chains tying it to the pillar. The dwarf saw his chance and rushed in, putting his full strength into an over arm swing aimed at the back of its skull hoping that it would be a death blow or at least lasting, unlike the first wounds inflicted which had already knit together. The axe bit deep and wedged in its skull, leaving the dwarf straining to dislodge it.

      Spluttering in the dirt, the troll reached up, plucking the dwarf and tossing him halfway across the arena. Laughter echoed all across the amphitheatre at such a humiliating sight. As he bounced and skidded across the ground the troll twisted and turned, clambering to its feet, pulling on the chains trying to break them. Roaring in frustration it hawked and gagged, vomiting over the chains with acidic bile, gave them one more tug, severing the links an turned to face the dwarf who by this point had skidded to a halt, sprang to his feet and was sprinting back across the arena, axe raised high. Dimly the troll studied the chains hanging from it's other hand and a moronic grin spread across its face. While the dwarf was still a dozen yards away, it lashed out, striking him in the face with the chains, spinning him around and knocking him to the ground.

      The troll bounded forwards, pouncing on its opponent in one leap, but as it's clawed feet touched the ground the dwarf rolled aside between its legs and in one swift motion brought the axe up that made every male in the stands wince and cross their legs in sympathy. The troll howled in pain, falling flat on its face once more and yanking the axe from the dwarf's grasp. The dwarf backed off, glancing from side to side for a new weapon, not wanting to risk darting back in to retrieve his axe and getting thrown across the arena again.

      As the troll finally clambered to its feet, the slayer gave up on finding a weapon and ran over to the pillar he'd used to trick the troll and leapt up, grabbing the hanging chains, using them to scale halfway up the pillar. The troll bounded towards him and he quickly shimmied to the top, but was unable to climb up onto the top due to it being occupied by a large bowl shaped iron braiser. Unperturbed, the dwarf waited, craning his neck to watch the troll who swiftly reached the pillar. The troll swept its claws at him, but he was out of reach. Howling in rage, the troll wrapped its arms around the pillar and tried to shake it, but the fine dwarfen craftsmanship held firm.

      The dwarf laughed manically and reached up with one hand, grasping the braiser and pulling hard, toppling it over and spilling the flaming coals all over the troll. Or rather, tipping them into the gaping maw of the troll, and causing the braiser itself to hit the troll square in the face. Hastily, the dwarf clambered up on top of the pillar and, taking a deep breath, leapt off, bouncing off the head of the troll and landing with a roll on the arena floor. Panting he, backed off watching the troll writhing in agony and stumbled on something. He glanced down, then stooped to pick up one of the chain links, twisted by the troll vomit, wincing as his hand closed around the still acid coated scrap. Dazed, the troll rounded on him, stumbling forwards, skin blistering and half blind. With all his might, the slayer hurled the link, piercing the troll in its good eye, fully blinding it.

      The troll moaned, clawing at the fragment, ruining its face even more. The dwarf used this distraction, running past it and over to the braiser, righting it.

      "Over 'ere ugly," he shouted, taking advantage of the fact that denied sight that the troll would be forced to rely on it's other senses, mainly hearing. The troll immediately turned round to face him and bounded towards him as he took hold of the baiser and braced himself, waiting for the right moment. The troll closed, mouth gaping and as it was about to reach the slayer, he heaved the spiked braiser into its mouth. Instinctively the troll bit down, driving the spiked tips of the braiser up through the roof of its mouth and into its brain, the damage done by the flaming coals not long before preventing any chance of regeneration. The troll gave a whimper and keeled over, dead.

      The dwarf backed away slightly, waiting to see if it was really dead, and when it didn't move, sighed, exasperated. As he began glancing around wondering what was going to happen to him next, hatches in the arena floor were flung open and a hush fell over the crowd. Twelve armoured wardens brandishing fireglaives marched out from the openings, fanning out around the dwarf who crouched low, preparing to fight them. All eyes turned to the box as the presiding priest stepped up to the rail and suddenly the silence was broken as everyone called out at once, some to spare the dwarf, and others calling for his death. The priest stroked his beard thoughtfully, taking in the cacophony. Casually he raised a hand, calling for silence.

      "Twelve talents of bronze says he let's him live," whispered Nâzkuk.

      "I'll take that bet," smiled Bardek, not taking his eyes off the priest. The priest stretched out an arm, palm flat and horizontal. He took a breath and closed his fingers, turning his hand so the thumb pointed up. As one, the wardens lowered their fireglaives and gripped the the firing mechanisms. Jets of fire spurted out before the slayer could react, roasting him. Howling he ran forwards defiantly, but only managed three steps before he keeled over. The wardens kept up their attack for a whole minute, before shouldering their weapons and turning on their heels, marching back to the hatches.

      Bardek smirked and held out a hand for his payment.

      "I'll give it to ya latter," grumbled his cousin, pouting.

      "Slave," roared Bardek, "More ale for me and my friends, Nâzkuk's paying all night!" Nâzkuk grumbled but didn't countermand the order, there were plenty of games left to bid on; by the end of the Father's Quarter he could easily earn that bet back and then some.
    • Written by: Dînadan

      Krazk tilted his head back trying to drain the last drop of ale from his goblet and gave a grunt of annoyance as it stubbornly refused to budge. Giving up, he plunged the golden vessel into the open cask and took a swig. It was a rare cask of Bugman's taken in a raid long ago and seasoned with spices from Ind taken in a much more recent raid. Resting the goblet on his broad paunch, he reclined back and peered out the open sides of his palanquin and the slave fields outside.

      The empire of the Dawi Zharr was a vast enterprise built on the backs of industry and slavery. Across hundreds of miles of wasteland that was the Darklands from the cold barren plain of the Zorn Uzkul in the north to the fiery ashes of the Desolation of Azgorh in the south countless slaves of numerous races toiled in service of their dwarfen masters, and each and every one required food to continue their tasks. In a land beset by frequent volcanic eruptions and where vast ash clouds blotted out the sun for weeks or more at a time, arable land was hard to come by, and meat from dead slaves and cave grown fungi could only stretch so far; as a result, long ago in a half forgotten time near the founding of Zharr-Naggrund the Dawi Zharr had turned their minds to mastering nature and by might of sorcery and industry had pushed back the desolation of the tainted Plain of Zharr, leaving a small sliver of land around the great ziggurat able to support life.

      The crops planted in the new slave fields had thrived for the volcanic soil was fertile. To oversee their slaves who toiled the fields, and to give them a quiet retreat away from the prying eyes of their rivals, the sorcerer-prophets had started to build smaller ziggurats out in the plain and soon quarrels broke out over who had the rights to farm what and where. To avoid civil war, the High Prophet Tammuz, later mockingly nicknamed Tammuz the Gardener, had laid down strict rules governing the division of the lands. Great stone causeways had been constructed, crisscrossing the plain in an arcane pattern and dividing the fields into plots. The plots immediate to each clan's personal ziggurat were bequeathed to that clan and the rest were at first divided amongst them with the choicest plots going to those in highest favour.

      However, after decades of strip farming, the soils grew poorer and the priesthood quickly realised that ironically their forefather's actions to allow them to farm had inadvertently doomed them, for it was the volcanic ash from the regular eruptions that had granted the soil it's fertility. There was much debate over the course to take until an elderly Tammuz had again devised a solution. Under his instruction, a great ritual had been performed and a covenant had been signed with Hashut and Slaanesh to refertilise the land and every twelve years the ritual had been conducted again. Soon it had evolved into a festival; for the sorcerer-prophets it was a somber time that could alter the fate of their race, while for the common dwarfs it was an excuse to get drunk on the first new casks of ale brewed from the grains of the previous festival.

      Krazk begrudged having to participate in such an 'elfy' affair as a harvest fertility festival, but he acknowledged its necessity so had dutifully set out that morning on the road from his clan's ziggurat to the temple of Hashut high atop Mingol Zharr-Naggrund. Normally he would have traveled via the tunnels carved deep below the plain that joined the lower levels of each clan's ziggurat to one of the many subterranean levels of the mountainous capital, but currently they were packed with slaves baring the harvest to the numerous granaries and storehouses and lesser dwarfs on their way to the various festival halls. Still, traveling by the causeways did have its benefits - as he traveled he could eye his rivals farms, marked out by the banners planted at each corner of every plot, and see who was behind on this years' harvest, and he let out a smirk noting that his immediate rivals were far behind in both quality and quantity. Combined with the boon of slaves and gold his clan had taken in raids these last few years, he would rise in status this year.

      A shadow fell over him, sending a shiver down his spine and disrupting his musings. He turned and peered out the other side of the palanquin and saw he was passing the ziggurat of the Bonebeard clan. The pyramid was cold and silent and the farms around it were choked with weeds and bracken. All who lived in Zharr-Naggrund knew the tale behind that thrice cursed clan. Centuries ago they had been one of the middling clans, not powerful, but nowhere near the bottom of Dawi Zharr hierarchy either. In secret their chief prophet Gallû had delved into shunned necromantic knowledge and had revealed his treachery on the Night of the Restless dead. When Nagash had arisen, for a whole night all over the world the dead had walked the land and the capital of the Chaos Dwarfs was no different. Legions of dead slaves had lurched to their feet and burst forth from the cold houses where they were being kept awaiting the butchers. Seizing the opportunity it provided, Gallû had played his hand and had cast a ritual to take control of the dead in the city and a bitter struggle had broken out. Setting aside their grievances, the disparate clan's of Zharr-Naggrund had banded together and had forced the dead back into Gallû's ziggurat. Cursing him, the irate High Prophet had ordered the ziggurat sealed and rune encrusted cap stones and plaques and be chained over the doors and windows of the ziggurat, trapping the dead inside. Ever since then the ziggurat had been shunned, and the farms immediate to it had been abandoned as no clan wished to claim the tainted land and every slave refused to toil in its shadow.

      Krazk breathed a sigh of relief as his palanquin passed out of the shadow and drained his goblet in one swig, followed by a second and then a third. A more compassionate soul would have been concerned about how the warrior escort marching along side him were holding up, but Krazk was a Dawi Zharr and only cared about the welfare of others in so much as it benefited himself or his clan. With a grunt, he settled back into his seat, there were still many miles to go before they reached the base of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund, and from there was the long climb up the mountainous pyramid to the temple of Hashut at its summit.

      The sun was setting as Krazk reached the foot of the great ziggurat and he bellowed for fresh slaves to be brought forth. He would ascend to the temple of Hashut by one of the four staircases carved into its sides and the slaves that bore his palanquin would need to be strong and healthy to make the climb. Stoically, his guards brought forth four slack jawed ogres from the slave wagon that had accompanied them on the journey from their clan's ziggurat. The ogres hoisted the palanquin onto their shoulders and at the prodding of the taskmaster lumbered towards the foot of the stairs.

      As they did so, Krazk noted the approach of the Prophet Khorr, patriarch of the Coldhand clan and nodded a greeting. The Coldhands were a queer clan. Unlike all other clans, the scions of that bloodline had no aptitude for Fire magic but instead possessed an innate affinity for ice magic. As such they had no holdings outside of Zharr-Naggrund, and only meagre ones within, but had still carved out moderate prestige by selling their unique services to those seeking to raid colder climates such as Kislev and Norsca or wishing to raid during winter. Krazk grimaced at the thought remembering how he'd had to sell one of his great grandnieces to be married to Khorr's grandson in exchange for the services of a Coldhand Icemage three months ago, only for the raiding party's ironclad to be sunk by an iceberg a week out of port. Of course, as a Dawi Zharr Krazk had to much decorum to open accuse the Coldhands, instead opting to attack the rival clan indirectly and subtly.

      He took another drink from his goblet, now savouring a fine Bretonian red, the Bugman's long drank, using it to hide his smile of malice from his rival. He had thought long and hard about how to exact his revenge on the Coldhands and to his chagrin he'd had to enlist the aid of cult of Nurgle. Though the Dawi Zharr venerated Hashut as supreme, they were wise enough to know not to risk angering the other gods of Chaos. Though Hashut's temple stood proudest atop Mingol Zharr-Naggrund, they had built an entire complex of lesser temples to the other gods as way of respect, and shrines to them could be found throughout the main ziggurat in hidden halls and chambers. Even the duplicitous Horned Rat had a ziggurat, though very few attendants. Most Dawi Zharr paid respect to the other gods to avoid drawing their ire, but not so much as to draw their attention either, but there were those who gave themselves wholly over to the worship of the other gods and it was they who formed the priesthood and temple guards of the lesser temples. For the most part mainstream society shunned them and only came into contact with them when paying the other gods respect or when they marched to war alongside their sane Hashut-worshiping brethren, but sometimes they could be valuable allies in the constant power struggles between the Prophets and the clans. Weapons blessed by the priests of Khorne were more deadly, sorcerous components by Tzeentchians more potent and so forth. But just as they could be a boon to your own assets, they could also be a curse upon your foes. Such was Krazk's plan; in his aspect of the Plaguebringer, they were to taint the lands the Coldhands were allowed this festival so that they would wither in the coming years and bring great shame upon the clan.

      Composing himself, he lowered the goblet and raised it to Khorr as the latter started to ascend the stair ahead of him. The ziggurat that formed Mingol Zharr-Zaggrund was as large as a mountain and though the ascent was far less arduous than that of an actual mountain, it still took a considerable time to traverse and by the time they reached the penultimate level the sun hung low in the sky. The final level was Hashut's temple and only those consecrated could enter. Cursing his half petrified limbs, Krazk alighted from his palanquin and continued on his journey up into the black marbled edifice, leaning heavily on his skull topped staff.

      He entered in through the southern portal, joining in the procession of the other Sorcerer Prophets as the passed through the Avenue of Kings, the great hallway lined with the petrified bodies of all the High Prophets were placed in high honour. Dawi Zharr were a long lived race and as such many of the plinths had yet to be filled as all the prophets eyed the empty ones jealously. As he passed through the open brass gates at the end, the heat from the furnaces hit him in the face like a wall. The hall could have swallowed even the grandest of manning palaces but even at this distance the heat from the pillar of flame that ran through the centre of the ziggurat singed his beard. Making the sign of the bull horns, he shuffled off to his allotted place and knelt on the warm stone floor.

      The Dawi Zharr were a proud and arrogant kind, loath to submit to anyone and any sign of supplication to another was seen as weakness, but even they were humble enough to submit before the Dark Father. Not even the mightiest were crazed enough to place themselves as equal with a god. Bowing his head he began chanting a prayer to Hashut, awaiting the last few prophets to arrive. At the appointed time the temple doors would be sealed and for eleven days the prophets would fast in silence in preparation for the Harvest Ritual. On the dawn of the twelfth day, the doors would be opened and young Astragoth, the new high priest would lead those that survived the fast outside to take up their positions around the bronze bull statue atop the temple.

      This year only three prophets fell to the fast, a good sign and fortunately for Krazk, Khorr was not one of the three - Krazk wanted him to know the misfortunes that would befall his clan these coming years. Singing his appointed hymn, Krazk took up his position on one of the stone benches and broke his fast with a loaf of stone bread baked from this year's harvest. When the sun reached its zenith, as one the assembly turned their gaze north and a silence fell over them. On cue, herded by masked acolytes of both Hashut and Slaanesh, ears of corn and barely woven into their beards herded up twelve times six slaves up the stairs, dragging a statue of the Dark Prince followed by a second group of slaves numbering six times twelves. Each and every slave had been mutilated, its hands and feet cut off and iron shoes shaped like hooves hammered in their place. Half the slaves were daubed with the rune of Hashut in blood and wore bronze masks fashioned in the shape of a bull while the other half were daube with Slaanesh's glyph and wore silver goat masks. Under the whips of their twelve overseers, the slaves cavorted around the pyre of wood and harvested food that had been set between the two gods' statues. A horn blared twelve times and was answered by six trumpets and as the last clarion faded away, twelve acolytes of Hashut marched forth from the temple, each baring a torch lit from the flaming pillar while six attendants of Slaanesh baring flasks of oil sprang up the stairs. The eighteen priests took up their positions and the assembly began to chant once more as the slaves continued to dance.

      Astragoth rose from his throne below the bull and took his hammer. Turning to a great gong he struck it six times and with each strike a flask was thrown onto the pyre. Twelve times more he struck the gong, shouting Hashut's name each time, and on the twelfth, as one the torch bearers tossed their charges onto the pyre. The oil soaked wood and food ignighted with a whoosh, driving the slaves back. If they hadn't had their tongues torn from their mouths and their eyes gouged from their skulls, they would have screamed in terror. As it was they could only cringe away from the sudden heat as it bloomed, and then towards it as their handler whipped them for their impudence. Given the choice between the fire and the whip, the slaves all chose the fire and one by one threw themselves onto the pyre.

      The assembled prophets started a new chant as the twisted bodies started to burn, and setting aside his hammer, Astragoth took up a scythe. Ordinarily he would never have touched such a tool, but as it was required for the finale part of the ritual he bore it stoically and without complaint. The twelve handlers stepped up to the pyre, so close that their beards started to smoulder. Uttering a dark chant in a voice too low for any save the gods to hear, Astragoth stomped from one handler to another, striking each with a single swipe of the scythe, beheading them.

      As the final blow fell, he screamed one last word and the whole ziggurat started to shake. There was a colossal boom, and from the temple sprang a pillar of fire, spewing ash that darkened the sky. The whole valley in which Zharr-Naggrund sat shook and Krazk and the other prophets turned their gazes outward to see smaller ziggurats, ritually placed throughout the valley answer Mingol Zharr-Naggrund with fire pillars of their own. An almighty crack echoed throughout the valley and on cue ash clouds billowed over the crags known as the Hoofcleft than ringed it, blotting out the last of the sunlight and plunging the land into darkness.

      The ritual complete, Astragoth cast the scythe into the flames and turned back to the temple, leading the prophets back inside to the customary feast that followed the ritual. As he took his place in the procession, Krazkh smirked, looking forward to devouring this year's bounty to end this festival's fast and as he passed under the bronze bull he offered up a silent prayer to Hashut that the great deeds of his clan would be recognised with the appropriate land tithes and the feasts end.
    • Written by: Dînadan

      Zântrôm stomped up to the bow of his hull-destroyer the Varvarfaz and stared out at the sea and cliff before him. They were returning to port after a successful slaving raid an the hold was bursting with captives taken from the villages of Nordland and even the crew of a Cathayan junk they'd lucked upon leaving Marienburg. The captain smiled, thinking about the price he'd get for them on the slave exchange in Uzkulak, a tidy sum even after the lords of the tower took their customs charges. The better part of the voyage was behind them, but even here, a hundred leagues from Uzkulak it paid to be careful. At this point the Sea of Chaos was narrow enough that dark cliffs loomed either side of the ship; Norsca to the west and the Chaos Wastes to the east. Though they looked desolate, Zântrôm knew very well that all manner of beasts lurked in the shadows, waiting to pray on the unwary; chimera, manticore and wyverns all nested in caves high up in the peaks while sea trolls and leviathans made their homes on the sea bed.

      He gripped the rail tightly, half wishing for an attack; humans were all well and good, but such creatures fetched a higher price, both in gold and renown. A screech drew his attention, and he turned just in time to see a manticore take flight. Solemnly he watched as it wheeled in the air and glided southwards, away from the ship. He frowned, frustrated that it was now out of his grasp, but any thoughts querying why it would fly away were answered before they were asked by a low rumble from the north. He turned aft ward to see a dark smudge on the horizon indicating a storm brewing. A vicious storm in his expert opinion. Grinding his teeth he stomped back to the aftcastle and when he arrived at the upper sanctum gave a smile of satisfaction that his seasoned crew had already leapt into action. They'd dragged two slaves from the hold and chained them to the floor before the priest's dais. The captain, bowed his head and tilted his hat in respect to the two graven images that hung on the walls wreathed in shadows.

      Chanting in an arcane tongue, the priest stepped forwards and drew a bronze dagger from his robes. Spitting syllables that hurt to listen to, he grabbed the first slave, a seven foot tall Nordlander who'd been captured after splitting the skulls of three Dawi with his smith's hammers, by the chin and cut out his tongue, tossing it into a braiser followed by the man's eyes. The slave tried to struggle, but the heavy iron chains bound him too tightly and a swift steel shod kick to the kidneys doubled him over. Though none of the assembled dwarfs held any sympathy for the mailing wretches they enslaved, all of them nonetheless gave a collective wince as the blade cut low for the next offering to be tossed into the flames. With the slave know longer able to fight back, the priest loosed the chains and dragged him up onto the dais and slit his throat, spilling his life blood onto the coals.

      With the sacrifice to Hashut finished, the priest sheathed the dagger and still chanting, turned his attention to the sacrifice to Stromfels, the plump merchant that had owed the Cathayan ship they'd captured. At the priest's gesture, a barrel of salt water was brought forth and hefted by two burly sailors. The priest stepped behind the whimpering slave and yanked his head back, forcing his mouth open. The barrel was tilted and the water poured into the slave's mouth. Zântrôm watched silently as the slave slowly drowned, and when the blubbering mess slumped lifeless lay, the priest released him and gestured for him to be taken and thrown overboard. With a nod, Zântrôm raised his hat to the gods' images again and left the sanctum, heading to the bridge to order full steam ahead, hoping yo outrun the storm.

      The next three hours were tense, but eventually the wind picked up and the clouds blew westwards towards the Norscan mountains. Settling in his raised command throne he returned his attention to studying the landscape in front of the ship. Eventually the unbroken cliffs gave way to fjords and he watched tensely, waiting for some foolhardy marauder tribe lurking in one to sail out and try to ambush them. Disappointingly all he saw were a few longships returning home; the lands around Uzkulak were barren and lacking in wood and thus the fortress relied on Norscan traders to ship mountain pines to help fuel the furnaces of its industry and outfit the ragtag hobgoblin fleets under its sway. Normally the Dawi Zharr would take what they wanted and enslave the local populace, but the lords of Uzkulak had long ago decided on the mercantile option as the trinkets traded to the Norscans for the wood cost them less than an occupation force enslaving the Norscans and logging the lumber themselves. He was tempted to attack anyway, but he knew if he did then someone in his crew would rat him out for endangering the trade agreement; if he was lucky he'd be flayed alive and his skin stitched into some hobgoblin's sail. If he was unlucky, then he'd be shipped off to the Black Fortress. He suppressed a shudder at the thought.

      The ship steamed on and a few hours later they reached the outermost defence of Uzkulak, seventy or so miles north of the fortress, not that non-Dawi Zharr would know that. From this point on, the cliffs harboured concealed watchtowers and weapons platforms. Any attacking fleet would be spotted long before they reached the fortress and warnings would be relayed along tunnel networks to the city. As the attacking fleet passed, the cliff faces, in actuality doors and hatches indistinguishable from real cliff side to any but keen dwarf eyes, would slide aside or towers would rise from the ground of the cliff tops and rocket batteries and magma cannons would unleash a barrage of fire. These concealed emplacements lined the way all the way to the fortress and after ten miles were joined by hidden doors at sea level that concealed hidden passages from which attack craft would issue to take the attackers midsips or even encircle them and cut off their escape route.

      Zântrôm passed the time trying to spot them all, but knew even his keen eyes missed some. Eventually the ship reached the next set of defences. At fifty miles from Uzkulak, on either side of the route stood two towering statues of stoic dwarf warriors. The two statues each held aloft a mighty axe and their axes crossed above the gap between them. To an attacker, they looked like mere grandiose statues, erected by a vain and proud race, but in reality they were weapons themselves. If an attacker reached this far, then the statues eyes and mouths would open, revealing cannons; anyone getting closer would find that many of the scales in the statues' armour were actually hatches which would open to allow blunderbusses to open fire; finally, any ship that managed to pass between them would be shocked to find that the arms holding the axes were hinged, and the giant blades would be brought down upon them.

      In the past three millennia, only once had an attacker gotten beyond this point, and even then it was largely due to the bulk of Uzkulak's forces being tied up trying to repel a landward attack by a horde of Khornate warriors during the last great Chaos incursion. Since then, the lords of Uzkulak had spent much effort on improving the defences, adding more of the concealed watchtowers and entrances and pouring fortunes into updating the navy. Zântrôm scowled as his ship was forced to let an example of this modernisation pass through the statues. The ship was a low, sleek, wedge shaped prow destroyer and in his opinion didn't have the soul of a four century old girl like his Varvarfaz.

      Beyond the statues, the solid cliffs once more gave way to fjords, although these were all under the control of Uzkulak. Many were abandoned, but most contained either a dockyard, dry dock or hobgoblin village, and many of them contained more concealed passages back to the main dockyard at the fortress. From here the going was slower as strict laws governed the movement of ships along the main waterway to avoid collisions, but before long the ship rounded a bend, revealing Uzkulak in all its glory.

      The waterway widened out into a large cove, and high atop the rear cliff stood the tower of Uzkulak. During the last great Chaos incursion, the tower had been overrun, it's walls shattered and cast down. When the forces of Chaos had retreated at the end of the war, the displaced clan's of Uzkulak had returned in force and retaken the ruins. Since then they had raised the tower up higher and stronger. It's walls had been built from black granite and then clad in sheets of ivory magically transformed from the bones of mighty beast long dead collected from all over the Zorn Uzkul. At its peek the twelve sided tower widened out, shaped into a four-faced skull, each face gazing in one of the cardinal points and atop them sat the colonnaded rotunda of the Temple of Hashut. Around the tower, hidden from the vie workhorse down in the bay, the tower was shielded by layers of curtain walls and trenches to the south and west and by a river to the east.

      The river cascaded down from the tower into the cove in a mighty waterfall which concealed the entrance to the docks of the tunnel that connected Uzkulak to the River Ruin, and from there to Zharr-Naggrund. Either side of the waterfall the cliffs were hollowed out into immense caverns where the main fleet sat at port. The roof of each cavern was supported by many mighty pillars carved from the parts of the cliffs that hadn't been dug out, and each cavern extended back for miles via a network of tunnels.

      In front of the port caverns, a stout bulwark stretched from the middle of the eastern cliffs to the centre of the bay where the Thunderblast tower stood. The tower had been one of the earliest defences built at Uzkulak and had served the fortress's inhabitants well in the early centuries after the coming of Hashut. It was an ingenious design, a round tower of six levels, with each level having twelve cannon at evenly spaced points, and each level being built such that it could rotate independently of the others; not only did this allow the defenders to attack multiple directions, but fresh cannon could be brought to bare as the one just fired was reloaded or in the event one were to be destroyed, either by misfire or enemy action. Such was its efficiency that the design had soon been adopted for the tower's landward defences and had even spread to other parts of the Empire.

      West of the tower the cove s open, or so it appeared. A second bulwark stretched from the tower to the west cliff, but it was kept lowered. When under attack, it could be raised creating an almost impenetrable barrier to all ships. Zântrôm glanced west to where the hidden bulwark met the cliff and sneered. There stood a small ziggurat, half buried in the cliff side at the mouth of another fjord. Looking down the fjord between the ziggurat and its twin which sat at the other side of the opening he could spy the ships of the lesser races. The fjord housed the Outsiders Quarter, a port where Sartosan buccaneers, Norscan marauders, Arabayan raiders and even Naggarothi corsairs could come to trade slaves and captured goods. Zântrôm didn't trust any of them, but begrudgingly he had to admit they had their uses. Like the lumber traders they could be palmed off with worthless trinkets in exchange for valuable slaves and goods such as Indish spices or Cathayan silks without the risk to Dawi lives and it was said more than a few were spies for the lords of Uzkulak, paid to provide information invaluable to Dawi Zharr raiding parties seeking to attack the various manling lands to the west and south. Still, that cut both ways; anyone willing to sell out their kin for gold would easily take coin from them to return the favour and Zântrôm was sure they were all secretly trying to figure out the fortress's defences for the Dawi Zharr's many enemies.

      Shaking his head he turned to his crew and started bellowing orders for them to prepare to dock - they had a valuable haul to unload and he was itching to get them on the sales block as soon as possible; after all, the sooner they sold, the sooner he could set off for a fresh batch.
    • Written & illustrated by: @forgefire

      A slight breeze rustled the sparse grass across the great plain. The heavy steamwagon trundled slowly along the road pulling a large cattle or slave wagon behind it. A short stocky driver with a tall helm at the front steamwagon and two Hobgoblins armed with bows on the roof seemed to be the only guards.

      Scaldr smiled to himself and climbed down the cliff he had been watching the caravan from. His band of raiders were already mounted and armed, their round hide-covered shields painted with the ruinous symbol of the Dark Gods. With scalps and leering skulls dangling from their saddles they looked fearsome and eager for blood and loot.

      The Chaos Dwarfs were dangerous prey Scaldr knew, notoriously well armed and stubborn creatures. But this lone wagon would be no match for his warband of fifteen battle hardened raiders. Mounting his hardy Norscan steed, he drew his blackened steel blade, its edges sharp and deadly as always. Ironically those stunted and twisted Dwarfs had crafted it for his tribe generations ago at the steep price of a dozen healthy slaves. Spurring their mounts the raiders raced down the cliffside down to the plains and the hapless caravan.

      The caravan driver glanced west seeing a cloud of dust coming from the cliffside and started in his seat, his smoking pipe dropping from his tusked mouth. Scaldr laughed as the driver turned the steampropelled caravan wagon slowly, facing it away from the approaching warband. The very thought of escape was ludicrous, the wagon moved barely as fast a walking man!

      Hooting and bellowing battlecries the raiders drew ever closer. A lucky shot from a Hobgoblin sent one of his men crashing to the ground, a black-shafted arrow jutting from his throat. Cursing the cowardly swine Scaldr spurred his mount forward even harder, riding up alongside the caravan. Scaldr suddenly saw the caravan driver up close as he peered back at the raiders from the steamwagon in the front. His warcry stopped short when he saw the driver's evil grin.

      Why was he smiling?

      The Chaos Dwarf gave him a little wave and pulled a lever next to his seat.The door-ramp of the cattlewagon at the back slammed down. He heard his men shouting warnings as six roaring and heavily armored Bull Centaurs charged out from the wagon. Their greataxes cut through the raiders and horses alike as a scythe cuts through wheat. Such brute strength!

      Roaring in frustration, Scaldr turned his attention towards the driver, shield raised and sword ready to carve. A deafening blast blinded him and almost threw him from the saddle. The driver smiled smugly at him holding a smoking blunderbuss. Scaldr looked down. The blast had wrecked his shield, pellets and shrapnel shredding his shield arm and torso. Stunned, he coughed blood and slumped from his mount.

      Karrzul Varr, caravan driver, bent down and retrieved his still smouldering pipe next to his seat. Such fools, these damn Manlings, he thought to himself as he heard the last of them being slaughtered. Did they really think they could raid Dawi Zharr lands so close to mighty Uzkulak without consequenses? He chuckled to himself and pulled the steamwagon to a halt. Time to see if there were any usable slaves or sacrifices still alive.
    • Written by: Ikkred Pyrhelm

      The hearth was cold and the kegs drained of their dark elixir. How long they had sat in the darkness, none of those present knew. They were as one caught in the siren’s call of the story teller who weaved them tales of glory and death. Each felt weary but all listened with rapt attention, for the ancient had more tales to tell.

      “Take this humble stone,” the storyteller began, showing a small pebble in the dim candle light that he had pulled out from nowhere. “What has this stone seen on its travels, what has worn away at its skin as it made its journey to this very room? Each of you are this stone. But what of the stone that is cursed to forever journey without an end, slowly worn down to nothingness?”

      He paused and gave a savage smile that seemed almost Daemonic in the candlelight.

      “Rirdeg, lord of the Mouth of the Screaming Fire was arrogant even amongst those that call themselves lords of the Dawi Zharr. He believed himself to be the epitome of our race.” For a moment the listeners thought the storyteller had spoken with two voices, one having said “your race” and the other “our race,” but this momentary ripple was forgotten.

      “One night a stranger arrived in Rirdeg’s realm and demanded a trial of strength. The stranger seemed to be a fellow Dawi Zharr and yet not an inch of flesh showed on it. Rirdeg without pause accepted the trial, of which there would be three tests of endurance, strength, and skill with axe and hammer. The first test the two were bid to grasp a starmetal dish that was slowly filled with Hashut’s rage given form in liquid. Rirdeg clung onto the dish even as his flesh smouldered; the stranger said nothing and held it as if it were cool. Finally, with a cry, Rirdeg’s grip faltered. The second test, once Rirdeg had recovered, was to throw a statue of a stone-cursed Sorcerer as far as they could. Rirdeg again went first and threw his statue further than any mortal Dawi Zharr should. And yet the stranger shook with mirth and threw its further than the sharpest eyes could see. At this Rirdeg snatched up his axe and swung it at the stranger in fury at being bested a second time.”

      The storyteller picked at a tusk.

      “And the stranger caught the blade with a gauntleted hand. It held the blade still as Rirdeg turned purple as he sought to move the axe. Then the stranger broke the blade with the slightest pressure of its hand. “You boast and preen like you were an equal to the Gods,” the stranger said in a voice like burning flame, “but you are but a mortal and just as weak as they are.” Rirdeg however was not cowed. “I will prove my strength, Daemon” he growled, “I shall run the length of our empire in but two sunsets.”

      The storyteller smiled. For a moment to the listeners it was as if a Daemon was wearing the skin of the storyteller or perhaps the storyteller was wearing the soul of a Daemon.

      “The stranger distorted and revealed itself. Hashut.”

      The hearth flickered back to life.

      “Then run you shall,” spoke Hashut. And so Rirdeg ran the length of our/your empire and encroached the end just as the second sun began to set, but before he could prove his boast, he found himself back to where he began. He continues his eternal run to this day, bloodied and weary. Whenever he nears the end, he is whisked back to the start to begin anew. Some claim he has worn himself away to a whisper on the wind that echoes throughout our/your empire. Such is the fate of those who pretend to be anything but mortals.”

      The listeners nodded dumbly, but the storyteller had already vanished.
    • Written by: Fuggit Khan

      Just a young beardling coming of age, Sin-shar-Ashkad was now allowed for the first time to accompany his father and the other patriarchs of his clan to their family mausoleum in Zharr-Naggrund. His clan was preparing again to march to war against the lesser races of the west, and per tradition for the past 400 years, the leaders of his clan would visit the great ziggurat mausoleum of their clan, in order to reclaim a mighty token of war. It was the family heirloom of the mighty Ashkad family, and tradition was that this heirloom was the reason that their clan had never lost a war.

      The numerous petrified stone statues of long dead Sorcerer priests from other clans lining the streets in Zharr-Naggrund had made an impression on the young Sin-shar-Ashkad... and while ascending the 666 steps to the top of their family mausoleum, he asked his father about them. His father, an undefeated veteran of numerous wars against the weaker races, laughed in contempt.

      “They would have you believe in an afterlife,” he said. “I will tell you this: there is no afterlife. No heaven, no God, no paradise after death.”

      Sin-shar-Ashkad was puzzled. ”But there are Gods! Hashut, Khorne, numerous others!”

      With a grin that reflected pragmatic wisdom, his father replied: “They are not true Gods in any sense of the word... They are beings of immense power when compared to us. Nothing more. If you were marooned on a small island, and the only other inhabitants on the island were ants, you would be the God of that world. One stomp of your foot would devastate their anthills, killing thousands of them in a single whim. A swipe of your hand would topple their great forests, but just mere weeds to you. They would fear you and offer you any sort of appeasement that they could muster, to gain your favor. And they would only want to buy your favor, so as to promote and strengthen their own wants and needs. With their needs fulfilled, does that make you a God? Or does that make you easily bought with mere words and their pittance of offerings? Are you so weak that you need smaller beings offering prayer and appeasement to you? That does not make you or anyone a God.”

      Sin-shar-Ashkad could not find fault with his father’s logic, and asked: “So there truly is no afterlife?”

      “Perhaps you should reflect more on what happens to you after your life, as opposed to the idea of an afterlife itself,” his father replied.

      Sin-shar-Ashkad thought about this as they reached the top of the 666 steps, and watched his father unlock the massive stone-cut doors to the mausoleum with an ancestral key made of obsidian and copper.

      Looking to his father, Sin-shar-Ashkad asked: “If I am dead, and there is no afterlife, then what choice could possibly happen after my life?”

      His father looked at him, and replied: “Wealth is fleeting. It cannot be taken with you once you die. Let the weaker Dawi Zharr clans covet wealth. Let them line the streets with stone statues of their dead kin, only to be shat upon by the black ash pigeons that perch atop them. Ask yourself... how do you want to be after your life?”

      Sin-shar-Ashkad thought for a moment, and then answered: “The weaknesses of our enemies are an affront to my family, I live now only to see them killed. So my wish after my death would be to continue to see them killed by my kin and descendants.”

      His father smiled approvingly.

      His father then unlocked the mighty obsidian casket of their family founder, the great warrior Zharr-Ashkad himself. Reaching into the casket, Sin-shar-Ashkad’s father lifted out the family heirloom... the skull of Zharr-Ashkad himself.

      The skull gleamed with inlaid runes of copper, the eye sockets stared contemptuously with pupils of polished obsidian. Mounting the skull atop the family battle standard, Sin-shar-Ashkad’s father and the other clan patriarchs all read aloud the runes embossed upon the skull, the final words of their founding father: “To see my enemies slain before me, in my life, and after my life.”

      And Sin-shar-Ashkad knew then the true meaning of “afterlife.”

      There was life after death, it was the memory of your life and deeds, carried forth with honor by your family.
    • Written by: Ikkred Pyrhelm

      Dark whispers and even darker promises. Our kind has fallen prey to these time and time again. I know the truth of these whispers and promises; I have seen what awaits all of us.

      It was only meant to be a simple ritual. My master Drekkfra had only recently perished in battle against a migrating tribe of Ogres. As his adept, I was meant to take his place as Sorcerer. Yet the old coot had fed me precious little knowledge and his tomes were locked by a rune I could not fathom. In my lust for knowledge and trusting not to consorting with daemons yet, I decided to cast my spirit into the fabled Halls of the Dead. If I could find my master then maybe I could learn how to unlock his rune, even if I had to torture his spirit to do so.

      Ten slaves and a young bull carved with runes of death and afterlife were sacrificed within my master’s altar room, the dying bull’s blood pooling into a goblet that I drank whilst invoking the words engraved on the gates of Hashut’s Halls. What happened next, I do not know, but I must have passed out for I awoke in darkness.

      I rose to my feet and looked around warily as my eyes began to adjust. I was within a stone chamber marked with the runes and dark signs of Hashut. I muttered an incantation and a small sphere of light grew from my hand to float beside me. I knew I did not have long before my spirit would be drawn back to life.

      There was a large stone passageway that opened up and I passed through it. Of the souls of my fellow Dawi Zharr, I at first saw nothing. I have heard tales of pits of fire and flame where the weak of my kind are eternally tormented, and I have heard other tales of great halls with warm hearths where our greatest eternally feast and toast our lord Hashut. None of those tales hold truth. The oppressive stone around me was dark and cold. There was little sound, as if these halls were truly empty.

      I then heard a pained gibber. I turned quickly at the sound, words of destruction forming within my mind. A face had appeared on the stone wall. It was the face of one of my fellow Dawi Zharr. It gibbered, eyes slackly turning. It did not seem to notice me, too lost in agony and madness. I took several wary steps away and continued down the tunnel, noticing more and more faces appear and disappear upon the walls. Males, females, and children. Some were nobleborn, some Sorcerers, some guards, and some mere underlings. They gibbered, gnashed, and groaned as they painfully crawled across the walls. I tried to entreat some of them whom seemed familiar to me, but none answered.

      The tunnel grew colder, ice crystals seemed to form upon the walls. Still the faces swam.

      Finally, a stone portal loomed ahead and I quickly passed through without looking back. An ancient and haggard Chaos Dwarf leant against the back wall, muttering and shaking. It was my master. Not five days had passed since his death, yet he had aged so much. I strode to him with purpose, though my heart was already chilled with what I had seen. He looked up with confused and distant eyes.

      ”Lost...lost...lost...” he murmured in a faded voice.

      “Master. Drekkfra. It is I, your pupil” I replied. He looked at me strangely with unfocussed eyes.

      “Lost...lost...lost...Hashut...It’s so cold...” he gibbered.

      “What is the rune you used to hide your secrets? Tell me!”

      “Cold...cold...cold...” he whimpered.

      Snarling, I seized him. Yet I was unable to move him. He was becoming one with the cold stone. He dragged a finger nail across a slab of stone beside him, almost absentmindedly. I looked on, brow furrowed. It was the rune that I didn’t recognize. I reached out to touch it but on contact it burnt worse than any flame that has licked my flesh. I reeled back in pain and turned angry eyes to my master.

      “Lost...lost...lost...” he murmured again, unaware of me. I turned to leave and as I did so my master and the cold stone walls seemed to fade into the darkness. I heard a laugh. The laughter of Hashut.

      I awoke.

      We are fools. In our greed we have surrendered our souls. We are the building blocks for Hashut’s Hall. There is no reward for our service, only the cold stone. It is our fate and something we shall all face.

      Even now, I look to my hand and the rune burned into it. I realize now what it is, forlorn, misplaced, or impossible that it may be.

    • Written by: Carcearion

      In the roiling hell of The Realm of Chaos amongst a miniature tempest of pain and madness a single cohesive thought consolidated: “I”. It was a simple but powerful revelation amongst the writhing miasma of insanity which changed the whole form of what before was but a trivial swirl in the tides of chaos: “I am Dawi Zharr! I am Sorcerer-Priest! “. The will of The Blacksmiths of Chaos is mighty and the will of their sorcerous overlords many times so. Thusly the devastated spirit, becoming somewhat whole, looked out again from its own eyes barley able to focus through the heinous pain which wracked his body. He beheld the great sacrificial chamber, the alter of his mighty god, and the brazen podium from which he had stood many times and conducted unnumbered unholy rites on behalf of his Sorcerer-Prophet whom… whom he hates! Whom he must destroy! To stone with him! To stone with Bharvrhak! Stone!

      He stood mightily upon the podium, brandishing blooded rod and smoldering staff, conducting the ritual and calling the favors of Hashut. Too many times he had called the dark powers standing in for the aged Sorcerer-Prophet. Streaks of stone had finally begun to pain his footsteps and the Sorcerer-Prophet's secret was now known to him, Bharvrhak’s time now waned.

      The vision melted from his mind as he tried to control the pain which wracked his body, he tried to pull himself back to that moment but failed. Of all things Bharvrhak’s greatest transgression was his heretical vanity. Where idols of glorious Hashut should blaze upon the adjoining wall of the Prophet's throne instead glowered five huge ugly busts of Bharvrhak’s face, his head repeated again and again as big as a giant’s across the vast stone wall. The five great stone faces offended him even more then the Prophet's own mediocrity as a sorcerer. It was only by the secret of his dreaded Mage-Bane Petrification curse that Bharvrhak rose to glory; a insidious version of The Curse of Hashut which targeted enemy wizards and was devilishly difficult to counter or resist. However, he had deftly plundered the Sorcerer-Prophets secret…

      He crept carefully through the hidden labyrinth, timing his incantations and the sliding of secret doors with the noisy work of the Daemon-Forge above him. He toiled in constant dread knowing were he discovered with a stolen tablet of Bharvrhak’s own arcana he would soon meet a cruel death. The thrice warded tablet was laughably easy to clear of obscuring enchantments, another testament to the Sorcerer-Prophet's unworthiness of his title. Concealed amongst the sliding secrets of the maze were the petrified bodies of failed acolytes, secret and cunning runes were carved into their stone-flesh and with his pilfered lore he deciphered them whist avoiding the nameless and faceless Seven Times Mutated Thing which haunted the maze.

      Once again pain overwhelmed his memories and returned him to the unbearable now. Great rents and masses of flesh where gone from his body. In the soaring pain he knew most of his torso and some portion of his heart had been sheared from him, much of his face was sliced from his skull, terrible furrows of pain covered his legs and arms. He had been kept immobile and upright, unable to see what tortures had befallen his body. He gazed across the familiar chamber unable to fathom his vantage point, grateful he could not see the Prophet's pompous throne, for the last time he had looked upon it… the last time…

      Coming to the crescendo of the sacred and unholy rite he stood now surging with the powers of fiery darkness. Hours had passed and countless slaves had been sacrificed as the Sorcerer-Prophet gazed on from his throne. He soon came to the pinnacle of the spell, burning with the raw stuff of chaos as he conducted the ritual that the aged Prophet no longer could. Where he was meant to bestow upon his master blessings and vitality he denounced him! He cast upon the vain fool his own secret and signature petrifying incantation! He cast… He cast…

      The reflection in the vast basin of sacrificial blood recently filled by the ritualists snapped him harshly into the present and into maddening epiphany. As his mind and soul howled and shattered unable to bear the black revelation he knew that the spell he thought he had so cunningly discovered was but a trap of that dark labyrinth. He knew the nature of the horrible pain which assailed his body. He knew his suffering was to be eternal. He knew why he could see in the crimson reflection not five great stone faces of his hated enemy – but six!
    • Written by: Slavemaster Hod

      The wind tore through the tight valley, whipping needles of ice against Heinrich’s exposed skin. His bare-feet burned in the frigid snow, and the blackness seeping across them filled his mind with dread. It’d been eight days since they left the Ogre camp, and eight more until they reached their destination, a hellish outpost called the Keep of the Three Kin. Heinrich didn’t speak the guttural tongue of the foul Dwarfs that had dragged him halfway across the world, but when he’d been sold in the flesh markets of the Black Fortress, his new owners had used Reikspiel to tell him this name.

      Heinrich had been a merchant before - a life which was never safe, but to fall into the hands of the dreaded worshippers of Hashut, was the worst of all fates. ‘Luckily’ for Heinrich, his skill in Engineering had saved him from the fire pits of their ziggurats - but not from slavery.

      He had hoped to die on the journey. Even now, he could just lie down and submit to the snow’s icy embrace. He would have done so days ago, had it not been for the fair Lady Maribel. The Bretonnina noblewoman was cursed to the same horrible existence as he, and without Heinrich, would die in the arms of the giant Kurgan shackled with them.

      Heinrich glanced at the barbarian, pulling some joy from this blasted land at the sight of his broken nose - a gift from Heinrich the first time he’d tried to have his way with Lady Maribel in the dead of the night, when their masters were asleep and wouldn’t hear her cries.

      In front of the Kurgan, Lady Maribel’s long blond hair cascaded down a pale back covered in goosebumps. He wished he could wrap his arms around her and offer her some warmth, but even that had been sucked from him by these frozen peaks.

      Heinrich’s mind was as numb as his body and he didn’t hear the howling at first, but quickly it grew until it filled his ears with a demonic chorus. He’d never heard the feral call in person, but its high-pitch wail had been repeated by many travelers warning of the perils of the Mountains of Mourn. Of all the things to fear while traversing this frozen wasteland, the war-cry of the Yhetee was to be feared the most.

      The four Ogres the Chaos Dwarfs had hired to protect the caravan were already forming a perimeter, their giant heads lulling back and forth, scanning the snowy hills with rusty blades. The Chaos Dwarf holding the chains that shackled the slaves, threw them to the ground and drew his blunderbuss. He ran the stout barrel along the drifts beside the path, the moon glistening off his long black beard woven into tight greasy ringlets. The dwarf was half Heinrich’s size, but wore a heavy hat that almost doubled his height. Down the length of the mighty crown were skulls - some decorative, other in various states of decay.

      The howls stopped, leaving only the wind and the beating of Heinrich’s heart to gauge the passage of time, then the Yhetees attacked. They burst from the snow like Daemons of frost and ice. Claws slashed out and carved grooves across the Ogres' blades. There were three Yhetee and four Ogres, but instantly Heinrich knew it wasn’t enough. The first Ogre went down in a burst of blood, his head flopping backwards. A second Ogre cried out before vanishing into a swirl of snow.

      The Chaos Dwarf’s blunderbuss fired and its muzzle exploded in a rain of gunpowder. There was a cry and a Yhetee collapsed. The Chaos Dwarf sped to reload, but not before another beast emerged from the snow behind him. In its giant claw it held an ax of pure ice, and with a quick swipe, it separated the Chaos Dwarf’s gigantic hat from his shoulders.
    • Written by: Carcearion

      In Zharr-Niggrund the Tradesmith Azhrikul sat brooding. His Prophet’s distant Fortress Tower required another infusion of the cities Hashut given mineral wealth and more importantly the delivery of secrets won by spies and acolytes about the sacred plots and machinations of the temple. It had been agreed sixty and four weeks prior that their two caravans would meet halfway across the vast desolation at the infernal guard outpost of Albakhar’ri, exchange cargo and return – but in the last fortnight Orcs had overrun the far western roads of the desolation, Zharr-Niggrund itself paid little heed. Azhrikul scratched worriedly upon his tablet, if he guessed his Lords course of action wrongly it would be his head.

      Far west of Zharr-Niggrund Drakesh gather his counselors beneath the great Fortress Tower.

      “As you predicted the Immortals declined, protecting The Prophet while forces are away is paramount.”

      “They think it’s beneath them, they wouldn’t dirty their tall hats. What is the word from the Hashut’s Eye wolf riders who encountered them?”

      “I met personally with their Khan. He says the Orc forces are immense and claimed he rode four score wolves against their host and lost his eye and half his forces in the melee.”

      “Hrm! I’m sure, he and his score of riders probably fled soon as they saw the bulk of their forces.”

      “He did have the scar to prove it my Lord, his eye was missing.”

      “Fuggit Khan has been missing that eye since before I can remember – I’ve heard more stories about how he lost it then you have teeth. But if even he wouldn’t ride his wolves into their flanks their numbers must be vast. What word from our envoys to Nir-Khezhar and Rhan-Ghanor?”

      “We believe they still haven’t reached them.”

      “If we attached a full artillery train we could simply blast through.”

      “Is this caravan truly worth risking our war-machines? The steel is best from Zharr-Niggrund but it can be got elsewhere – and we have barley five score slaves to send back.”

      “We are too far and too long away from home, The Prophet cannot let his presence be diminished. We send not merely his spoils but his will.”

      “We could circumvent their territory, meet further north… of course we would lose months to the greater distance, sending new orders, and to waiting for confirmation.”

      “I don’t expect Azhrikul to wait for new orders, I expect him to make the right decision…”

      In Zhar-Niggrund Azhrikul poured over maps and the most reliable news he could purchase, steal, or black mail about the Orc tribe which troubled their plans. It was a mere swell in the desolation, a leaderless mass of filthy Orc flesh. He could practically hear Ezharr’s counsel, imploring Drakesh to simply avoid the rabble – and Drakesh did not keep advisors merely to ignore them. The Orcs where a problem which could escalate drastically where a warboss to arise, but even than the threat was more likely to migrate into someone else’s territory then assault the Fortress Tower. Aha! There was the ideal outcome; the Orcs are driven from the western roads and troubled one of the Prophet’s rivals, but Drakesh would not leave it to chance…

      “Halubar! Ghartan! Procure a dozen more hobgoblins guards and three times the extra wagon wheels. Thank Hashut for the desolation, we move as scheduled.”

      Many days later deep in the dark lands Azhrikul sweated in his scalemail shirt and prayed to Hashut to stop himself cursing the weight and heat of his hat. When they first laid eyes upon Albakhar’ri they turned left, and broke from the roads out over the barren cracked earth, for days they baked as the caravan jostled across the wasteland. Drakesh would certainly have lured the green skins away to other territories in the south… certainly out here they would meet and exchange cargo… certainly they would share and redistribute supplies... certainly... certainly…… or else-

    • Written by: Ikkred Pyrhelm

      “Now this, this is the way to live.”

      The dark bearded dwarf was lying back on a mound of verminous corpses and took another mouthful of dark liquid from a small metal flask.

      His gangly companion was still peering nervously into darkness of the tunnels and did not answer right away. The dwarf snorted and dug a blackened fingernail around one of his tusks and prised out a scrap of meat. He inspected it for a moment as if trying to remember what he had eaten in the past few days; he shrugged slightly and flicked it away.

      “I said, Nibtrik, this is the way to live. Don’t ye agree?”

      “Sure boss” muttered the hobgoblin, not taking his eyes from the darkness. The rough camp fire that the two had made crackled slightly in mirth. The site of the Skaven ambush was twisted with ghastly looking shadows from the light of the fire, not that the Dwarf of Chaos seemed to mind.

      “Boss? Yer sure we shuld stay ere? Wot if more of ‘em show up?”

      “Then we kill them too.”

      The dwarf lifted one of the fallen weapons and casually inspected it by the light of the fire. His meaty fist tightened and the metal of what possibly was a sword, crumpled. He threw the ruined weapon aside.

      “Tsk, ye would think these rats would grasp simple forging? Even ye could make better swords than Hashut...I can’t even think of a word to describe this excuse of a weapon.” He snorted and poked at the fire with the remains of what might have been a spear. “We should only be worried if their weapons glow green” he said at last, “the ratfolk seem a mite bit addicted to solidified magic, Warpstone wasn’t it?”

      Nibtrik muttered an affirmative, his thin paw still close to his blade. The dwarf had resumed picking at his teeth. “I doubt we’ll see much Warpstone weapons for a while, probably more dangerous to their wielders anyway. Knowing these Skaven even they shouldn’t give us too much grief.” As if for emphasis the dwarf rapped a knuckle on his heavy plated armour.

      The hobgoblin wondered for a moment if he should point out that he wasn’t anywhere as well armoured as the Chaos Dwarf was, but decided against it. Staying on the dwarf’s better side was the only chance Nibtrik had to make it out alive. The thought of red eyes still lurking in the shadows was one of the main reasons Nibtrik hadn’t abandoned his master. Most of the other reasons were what the dwarf would do to him when he inevitably caught him again.

      The dwarf took another glug from his flask. “I suppose we had better head on soon,” he chuckled, “not that I have much hope for this...survey. The metal seams thus far have been...disappointing. But we’ll see. We’ll see.”

      He turned his gaze back to the fire that continued to dance as it consumed what wood still lingered within its flame.

      “But for now, this is the way to live.”
    • Written by: Dînadan

      Grazkh Coaltounge stared into the hot coals and casually tossed the blade shards into the crucible.

      "Why bother?" sneered Drazkha Brassfist, "The axe is broken, throw it aside."

      Grazkh shook his head, not taking his eyes from the furnace. "Symbolism is lost on you," wheezed the Daemonsmith as the metal heated up.

      "Symbolism?" snorted Drazkha, rolling his eyes.

      "Look into the flames. Tell me what you see."


      "Nay. I see the future and the past."

      "So now you're a seer?"

      "Hashut has granted me this vision," explained Grazkh, pouring Taurus blood over the molten metal. "It is always the same and always when I reforge a troubles me, and reassures me at the same time."

      "So what do you see?" sighed the other Daemonsmith, as he set up the mould, impatient to know where this was going.

      "A corrupt, broken world dying, consumed by the fires of war."

      "Comforting," sneered Drazkha as his friend poured the metal into the mould.

      Grazkh did not reply, instead murmuring incantations over the blade as the metal cooled. Satisfied, he opened it up and grasping brazen tongs, removed the blade, plunging it back into the fire, before withdrawing it again and starting to hammer at it. "I see the world die, but from its shattered remains a god forges it anew, a new world made from the old, just as from those shards I have forged a new blade." He plunged the sword into a bucket of blood, gathered from the crucified body of an overlord that had dared turn on his clan's ruling family and had failed. "But just as this is not the first time this sword has been reforged, so to in my vision do I see an older world re shaped into ours by the gods, and six more times before that. And just as one day this sword will be reforged, so too will the new world."

      "Sounds like you're just bad at reforging weapons," laughed Drazkha, "For this to be the ninth incarnation does not bode well for it."

      Grazkha shrugged, "All things die given time, what matters is whether they do their job in the time the gods allot them. I would far rather reforge this sword a hundred times in as many years and have it slay a thousand foes each life, than reforge it once in that time and only slay a single foes once a decade." He smiled a dark smile and without warning plunged the blade deep into Drazkha's broad chest.

      "All this has happened before, and all it shall happen again," he cackled madly, as the life seeped from his friend and into the blade.

    • Written by: Miasma

      The Kul Champion reached the peak of the mighty mountain, lifting his axe and bladed copper shield to the heavens as he bellowed his victory into the wind and snow that lashed at his muscular frame. Thunder returned his challenge and lightning streaked across the black clouds. He lifted his gaze to the Obsidian Obelisk and dipped his head in reverence, the statue stood 15 feet tall at the highest point of the peak, the snow did not settle at the base of this monument and the air seemed somehow warmer the closer he came. Finally he strode onto the bare rock of the mountain free at last from the snow and ice that had accompanied his climb to the summit.

      “I, Kul De’Lakk, Chief of the Kul Kurgen, Champion of the Steed, and Bloodletter of the Baersonlings answer the Clarion Call of the Gods and seek to claim my prize!" Silence greeted the battle scarred chieftain punctuated only by the moaning of the wind between clefts of rock.

      “I, Kul De’Lakk, Chief of the Kul Kurgen, Champion of the Steed, and Bloodletter of the Baersonlings have defeated the guardians of the peak and seek to claim my prize!" Silence once again greeted the grizzled man, maybe one of the guardians has escaped for mounted upon their ferocious wolves the Hobgoblins where a swift and deadly foe the warrior considered for a moment.

      “Your champions are dead or fled, none are left to oppose me, I, Kul De’Lakk, Chief of the Kul Kurgen, Champion of the Steed, and Bloodletter of the Baersonlings demand my prize” Something changed then, the wind blew stronger and the warmth emanating from the Obelisk seemed to waver for a moment as malignant whispers could be heard on the wind. He steadied himself and axe in each hand ready to receive his gifts, the Obelisk seemed to pulsate and a faint humming could be heard over the winds, the air tasted suddenly like iron and the smell of sulphur assaulted his senses. The whispers grew louder and louder until fragments of words could be heard amidst the wind and mocking laughter that accompanied them.

      “Foolish, foolish, foolish” The words echoed as if whispered into a cavern “Foolish Mortal, our Champion is not defeated, he watches you with eyes of fury, born aloft on pinions of leather” The sibilant words were accompanied by more mocking laughter and the wind once again whipped up snow into the face of the Warrior. Raising his shield and testing his axe in his hand he crouched slightly and peering into the blizzard before him, loud laughter followed by a hiss made him spin quickly to face behind him, he just glimpsed a mighty beast flying out of sight and hiding itself from him in the snow.

      “Show yourself beast, for I Kul De’Lakk…” His challenge was cut short as a massive bulk crashed into his back knocking the warriors weapon from his heads and sending him sprawling face first into the snow, a giant claw placed itself on his back and he felt himself getting pushed further into the snow, the cold seeping into his bones and face threatening to suffocate him, he could feel the warm breath of the beast on the back of its neck as it brought its face close to the Kurgen.

      “Kul De’Lakk” A voice said in a mocking tone, “Chief of the Kul Kurgen, my master will enslave your people, he will hobble your steeds and sacrifice them to Him of fire and destruction, your puny Bloodletting does nothing to appease your masters or mine” Bellowing laughter echoed across the mountain peaks as the Lammasu mocked the warrior pinned under his feet. Lowering his head and opening his tusked maw the Lammasu bit deep into the Kurgen warrior and spreading his wings took to the Skies accompanied by the screaming warrior in his jaws.

      * * *

      The Battle barge and Slave Ship the Black Leviathan steamed through crushing waves and driving wind, the black smoke that billowed from its smoke stacks immediately dissipated in the high winds. As waves crushed against its prow and washed the metallic deck clear of any items that were not securely fastened a single forlorn note sounded from the Hobgoblin Spotter lashes to the tallest point of the mast, their prey had been sighted. Again the Hobgoblin blew the horn announcing the presence of another ship that had decided to brave the waves on this accursed day.

      Rockets shrieked over the Sartosan ship, the explosions sending plumes of water high into the air as the crew desperately fought to gain any advantage of speed or manoeuvrability over their attackers and escape the black metal ship. A huge swell battered the ship as another volley of rockets landed ever closer, the water falling steaming from the sky over the crew of the rigging and the human strapped to the ships wheel. Finally a rocket crashed into the ships mast the explosion ripping massive fissures into the sails and sending burning tangles of wood and canvass and living beings crashing to the deck below. Seeing the destruction wrought upon his ship the captain desperately fought to bring some order to his crew forcing the panicked sailors to form units prepared to sell their lives in protection of their cargo and plundered riches.

      With a mighty crunch of splintered wood the armoured ram of the Black Leviathan crashed into the smaller craft, through a feat of ingenious engineering the armoured prow lifted up, followed instantly by flames and loud cracks like the maw of some dread sea dragon, sailors died as the shots whittled down their numbers and armoured bodies belched forth onto the deck of the ship, their two handed axes felling men like saplings as they cut a bloodied swath through the defenders.

      The Captain was felled by a mighty black handed blow that knocked him crashing back into his cabin door, the armoured gauntlet had taken its toll on his Tilean features, teeth missing and nose and cheekbones smashed. An armoured boot landed on his chest cracking ribs and collarbone another stamped hard on his elbow reaching for his sword. Spitting forth vile curses of his opponent’s birth he was rendered unconscious by a well aimed armoured boot to the temple.

      He awoke shackled by his wrists and ankles suspended off the floor of iron beneath him, under his feet water mixed with blood and other bodily fluids sloshed lazily back and forth to the movement of the ship; he could hear screams and cruel laughter echoing down the corridors surrounding him the sounds mixing with the crack of whips and the roar of flames, in despair he gazed about him and saw a giant Lizard larger then a man chained opposite him, the beast’s eyes stared into his and he could feel the violence and predatory instinct of the creature opposite him. Filled with despair his cried joined those of the others in the cursed belly of the metallic beast as the Black Leviathan turned and headed north skirting the coast of Estalia the Hobgoblins restocking the Rockets on its armoured prow preparing for more raids on unfortunates on their way back to Uzkulak.

      * * *

      “Dey sez dat you can’t catch dem ratz, dey sez dere too quikk!” That was Snikrot again he thought as they skulked further into the caverns and tunnels under Uzkulak. If he wasn’t careful he’d give them away and then they’d be smothered in the Ratmen. He spat a glob of phlegm into the dirt and growled through his needle like, sharp pointed teeth

      “Shut it Snikrot, your whinge and wine will give uz away” he gave the Hobgoblin a punch in the shoulder to punctuate his point, the Hobgoblin growled at him and made a move to grab his knife when he stopped suddenly “Boss, summink elz iz down ere” Eyes darted nervously around in the darkness, the near silent sound of blades being pulled free as the Hobgoblins huddled nervously together. “Of course dere’s summink else ere, dats why we iz ere” He was surrounded by fools he decided and stepped forwards further into the darkness. His feet moved deftly over the rubble and spoil of the mining tunnels, moisture crept along the walls and floor, their breath “C’mon yous lot, we gotz Rats to catch”

      They heard scuttling sounds and chittering noises as the crept deeper into the darkness, the sounds of rocks falling made the party stop short in their tracks, the sound was behind them, or was it? It was impossible to tell in the darkness where the noises started and what noises were echoes. Taking a deep breath Razgob took a steel and put spark to a nearby torch, the flame slowly took hold and acrid black smoke slowly drifted up the tunnel to the exit where they had come, the torch light illuminated only a small space making the darkness at the edges of his visibility seem much more dark and foreboding. “Ere Snikrot, hold da torch” he thrust the spluttering brazier into the Hobgoblins eager hands and watched as the fool waved the flame around making it roar as it was fed more oxygen. “C’mon Ladz, back up wez go!” They trudged back up the tunnels, holding daggers tightly. Movement and chittering ahead signalled that they had managed to flush some of the vermin out into the main tunnel and the Ratmen were now trapped with the Hobgoblins blocking off their retreat.

      Suddenly Snikrot screamed and dropped the torch, glancing down Razgob noticed that a metallic star was protruding from the Hobgoblins throat; interestingly the wound was bubbling and smoking as well as bleeding. “Youz gits get up there and get dat Rat.” He watched as the group of Hobgoblins rushed forwards, smiling to himself he made the signal and heard the sounds of the metallic cage drop from the tunnel roof. Satisfied he turned around and began to whistle as he walked deeper into the tunnels as his lads and the Ratmen fought it out. His face smashed into the cage, “No!” He screamed realising his betrayal “NOOOOOO!” The scraping of the cage and clinking of gears could be heard as the trap slowly enclosed the combatants. Dawi Zharr appeared in the light from the tunnels, slipping nooses over the necks of Hobgoblins and Skaven alike. “Take them alive” a mighty voice boomed over the din, a finger pointed his direction “Especially that one!” Razgob’s heart sank, he knew the Skaven were wanted by a Sorcerer Prophet and he recognised that Sorcerers mark on the Dawi Zharr’s armour; he spat into the dust, drew his daggers and charged into the melee.

      * * *

      Kul De’Lakk awoke, pain flared in him as he regained consciousness. Every part of him hurt, the wound of the Lammasu’s tusk in his side hurt the most sending waves of nausea through him making him retch. He opened his eyes half expecting to see himself miles above the ground, still carried by the leathery pinions of the beast that had captured him. He was alone on a small area of jet black stone that seemed to suck all heat from the air. Slowly, painfully he crawled to the edge of the platform, every inch that he gained sent a shock of pain through him once again as he clamped his hand down hard over the wound. He stopped once to vomit but continued his quest to the edge of the platform. Feeling victorious for completing the small feat he took a deep breath before looking over the edge. The view that greeted him made his heart sink further; he was atop a tower many hundreds of metres above the ground. Every inch to gain this view had felt like he had pulled himself slowly over burning coals and now the Gods had abandoned him on this perch, alone and aloft. He had heard of tales of these places, where nothing grew much like the Tundra that he was raised upon, however they had told him that instead of snow the land was covered in sand, tiny particles of rock that had been worn down by the heat of the sun and the land and the wind. They had said that these tiny rocks could make the land look like a sea and travel mighty distances, he felt ashamed that he had mocked them, those traders who he had robbed and tortured in a sacrifice to the Blood God Khorne, what had they called these places? The word came to him then Desert. He was alone in the middle of a desert of smouldering rock and scorched black sand, the tower that he was stranded upon had sheer sides that offered no hand or foothold, even now he could admire the construction of his prison. He took another deep breath and peered once again over the edge, surrounding the base of the tower on all sides were smaller towers of a bizarre design, although they were huge in comparison to anything that he had seen constructed in his life they were still dwarfed by the tower that he had been abandoned on. Further from the towers base he could see fortifications that were constructed in bizarre angles, the walls were lower then he had expected and thick but it was their pattern that disturbed him. He lay on his back and closed his eyes, imagining the pattern that the walls make from his perch upon this mighty obsidian tower; he had seen this pattern before. It was the Symbol of Eight.

      When he opened his eyes, he saw the Beast that had took him, perched upon one of the four parapets that sat at each corner of the tower. It watched him with an expression of interest upon its face, its eyes locked on the Kul Warrior’s. He spat at the beast, the phlegm landing scant inches from his own boot “[i]What is this place?” He said, his voice sounding weak and hoarse, his throat ravaged by thirst and heat and his own screams. The Lammasu regarded him momentarily before laughing dismissively “This is my home mortal, this is Minas Uzkul.” The Beast let his words sink in before it continued “To the North, past the Skull Road, past High Pass, across those distant peaks and through the gates of Uzkulak is the land of your forefather from whence you have been taken. To the West is the Lands of Dwarfs, Men and Elf. To the South is Zharr Naggrund, The Blasted Wastes and The Plain of Bones. To the East is a land of Ogres and Mountains and other Beasts that live in their lofty towers” The Lammasu fell silent once again and stared at the Kul Warrior Chief. “You are in the Lands of the Dawi Zharr, those who worship Hashut in all his Dark Glory, some call them the Chaos Dwarf., I see by your reaction that you know of what they are and what will become of you?” The Kul Warrior nodded his head and once again winced in pain. “Is there no hope of escape?” He knew the answer before he had asked the Question, but he needed to keep the Beast occupied to regain his senses and gain time to think, bellowing laughter mocked him once again as the Beast heard his plea. Stretching his Leathery wings the Lammasu took to the air, hovering in front of the Kul Warrior blowing hot and acrid air into his face with each beat of his mighty wings. “There is always hope mortal, it is what feeds the furnaces of the Dawi Zharr before Hope is snuffed out to be replaced by Terror” Still Laughing the beast flew higher and higher in tighter and tighter circles until it was just a tiny black speck in the dusk sky.

      The Night was far worse than the day Kul De’Lakk decided as freezing wind battered him on his exposed position, he could see the lights of braziers below him and camp fires scattered across the plains, far to the South he saw a sight that made his blood freeze quicker then the biting wind had managed, it looked as if the entire horizon was on fire. It took him a while to find the words but this must be the Zharr Naggrund that the Beast had mocked him with, it must be like the mighty towns of the Lands of The Empire and Kislev. A City. A City of Fire. He wrapped his tattered cape tightly around him and settled back against one of the parapets to gain what little shelter he could from the wind. He closed his eyes and battled the cold and the pain for sleep.[/i]

      * * *

      Niccolo T’Asta awoke in the same situation that he had passed out, shackled by wrist and by ankle, suspended painfully over the pool of filth underneath him, a disgusting parody of the waves that rocked the ship’s hold that held him. His ankles and wrists were bleeding where the cruel iron was cutting into his flesh from his weight and his vain attempts of struggle from his current situation and the vicious attentions of the gaolers that goaded him. The Hobgoblin’s were bad enough, taking perverse glee in watching him try and squirm away from the points of their blades, making bets about which blade would inflict the most pain. The one that truly terrified him was a Dwarf unlike any he had seen before. Horns protruded from the temples and tusks stood atop its braided beard, it had simply stood their studying him. An unmoving statue amongst the roiling sea of filth that lapped and crashed around its shins with the rolling of the ship. It held a black metal club in one hand a long iron girder with points and teeth along one side, he was in no doubt that this was designed not only to break and brain but also to rip and tear a tool to inflict a sickening amount of pain on the wielders behalf. He had heard tales of these depraved fiends, the Dwarfs of Fire, Chaos Dwarfs, the Dawi Zharr.

      He took his first few steps after what felt like years in the hold, the bright sun burning his eyes, that had become accustomed to the gloom, over the course of his imprisonment numerous other had been driven into the hold, their screams echoing through the belly of the metallic behemoth. He and a few of the others had been fed, at first he had refused the food but after days of hunger he had finally succumbed and devoured the meat that was presented to him by the Hobgoblins, ignoring their cackling, mockery and jeers. Deep down he had known that the flesh he had consumed was most likely another captive that had perished at the cruel hands of its capturers. The wind was freezing and ice and snow was everywhere, pain lanced up his shins as the wounds caused by his shackles were engulfed in snow. Before him in the bowls of the mountain was carved a mighty fortified gate, he could spy cannons and other ballistics on the fortified ramparts, he turned his head and took in the port that he was now standing within. It was almost entirely encapsulated by thick high walls, punctuated at regular points by more ballistics. Any attempts at sieging this port would result in horrific losses on the attacking side.

      A baleful sounding horn sounded over the port, breaking the monotonous tones of the engines of the ships. He turned to face where the sound had come from and was brought to his knee’s by a vicious kick to his injured ankle “Kneel before your betters scum” The voice belonged to the Chaos Dwarf gaoler “You are to meet one of the Blessed of Hashut, Ak’Klann the Vile, show your respect.” The Dwarf kicked the kneeling sailor hard in the ribs, forcing him down onto his hands in a vain attempt to gain his breath.

      A Dwarf with an aura of arrogance and power approached the slaves, forced into a position of subjugation by the boots, fists and tools of the gaolers. He walked the lines of slaves pointing to particular captives who were pulled to their feet and roughly bundled into a mighty wheeled cage to be shackled suspended as he was upon the Slave Ship “The Black Leviathan” He knew its name now, for his captors had boasted about its prowess when they visited him and mocked his “pathetic” attempts at piracy. The Dwarf stood in front of him and he saw a shadow fall across his form, thick hands took him and led him away to become shackled once again by wrist and ankle, his screams accompanied by the laughter of Hobgoblin and Dawi Zharr alike.
    • Written by: HPN

      It's a hard task, to transcribe and translate some old tablets and scrolls i traded with a group of adventurers. I don't know how they got them, but how fool they have been to underestimate the value of such treasure, for a Dawi-Zharr atleast!. Adventurers are all the same, show them a little gold and they lose their mind.

      As far as i have translated, it should be an old myth about the fortress city of Marr-Zagib and one of its most famous heroes, or well, heroine. Being a myth, and being old, i'm sure i will find incongruences and hyperboles, but you know, myths have to be taken for what they are!

      And well, making everything more difficult, this is not even my natural language, so forgive my mistakes please...

      Here you are the first roll, i already finished the second and working on the third. I still have to venture into the old runes of the fourth, the last one.

      Bidakka stretched silently in the bed, without opening her eyes yet, but quickly escaping the tendrills of sleep, gaining more and more consciousness. A little moan reached her ears, the hint of a move there in the bed, as her handmaid turned in sleep under the thin and roughly unfolded sheets.

      Pushing herself out of the bed Bidakka rose on her feet, taking some steps to reach the small window of the room, pushing aside the dark tent and allowing a warm, reddish glow to fill the room, along with a blow of hot air and sulfur smell. She has never get used to the breath-taking spectacle of the lava stream falling down for almost 50 meters before reaching a lower pool and flow away, and she firmly requested that room of the temple for herself, to get the better view.

      Being hundreds of meters below the surface, only a complex clockwork device on the desk next to the window allowed her to know what time it was, brass cilinders and rings moving with a serie of mechanical sounds that she has learned to exclude from her mind, like the bubbling of the magma outside. She stood there, her eyes following the white-hot stream of molten stone for a time that seemed endless, unable to focus on a single thought, until something suddently requested her attention.

      "Miss, it's time already?" a gentle and still sleepy voice behind her, the Hashut Priestess barely turned her head to catch the figure of her handmaid rising up to sit at the edge of her view. "No Kashia's still too ealry, but i wasn't able to sleep anymore. Sleep, i will wake you up when it's time" answered Bidakka, but she had barely finished the phrase that the younger women had already left the bed and covered herself in a long and simple robe, walking to her mistress and hugging her soflty from behind, her forehead resting on Bidakka's dark hair.
      "Miss, if you are still serious about leaving the temple, i will have plenty of time to sleep then" she said "Until you come back, of course". Bidakka sighed, turning in that embrace to face her servant, forcing herself to smile "Kashia, i have to go, my dreams...i have to find if the Lord of Darkness is really talking to me, or if i'm just getting crazy" a small pause in the voice of the Priestess "And you will be quite busy keeping all the slaves in line, once i left!" those last words seemed to steal a little smile on Kashia's lips "Well, since we are both awake, bring me my clothes please, and then make some breakfast. I will ready my things meanwhile" she ordered, having the handmaid obey with a nod.

      The priestess shifted again her weight from the tips to the heels of her boots, standing in the courtyard of the temple and sighing in impatience, the body covered in a finely made scale armor, not heavy as those of Immortal Guard, but still providing her a good protection, in case she faced any danger. She had been there waiting for almost half an hour, trying to not look too often at the one of the upper windows of the temple from where she was sure Kashia was watching her, despite she had ordered the maid to just do her usual routine and stop being worried for her leaving; when finally she saw some movement coming from the entrance of the temple.

      At steady pace, two fully armored guards carrying large shields and obsidian axes lead the way ahead of the figure of an old dwarf wearing a reddish robe and intricated ceremonial pauldrons, along with an encumbering hat covered in spikes and runes, walking dragging his feet on the ground. He was followed by three priests of the temple, in similar but less imposing garments and behind them a dozen of hobgoblin slaves hurried in following the dwarves, with no apparent purpose. Midway, a couple of them parted from the group and ran to a secondary entrance to the back side of the temple, disappearing behind a tall stone arc.

      The little group stopped in front of Bidakka, and she bow her head in respect, some of her coiled hair falling down her shoulders. "High Prophet Neradh-Zim, it's a honour and an unexpect..." she started to salute the head dwarf of the temple, that quickly interrupted her "Cut this up, Bidakka!" he said, pushing aside one of the guards and walking to stood right in front of her, a little shorter than the priestess but towering over her due to the tall hat. "One of my most skilled priest leaving the temple and for what? For some crazy voices in this empty head?" he said, his index finger tapping on the forehead of her horned tiara "Believe me, my dear child, it's not the Father of Abyss telling you to do something so silly" the tapping continued "You probably just drunk some avariated hobgoblin spirit or something like that".

      Bidakka tried to politely interrupt the Prophet, but he didn't gave her the chance, until he stopped himself, like if he got exasperated by his own speech "Enough! We already argued too many times about this in the last weeks, i'm not going to stop you, i gave up on that!" commented Neradh, raising his hands in a sort of surrender and then dropping those down to his sides.

      "I thrust you, careful. Are you sure you don't want to bring some slaves? I brought some with me, they are good!" he said, moving his hand as he was offering her the view of the hobgoblins behind him, whose faces twisted in fear, at the thought of being sent in what they probably considered a suicidal trip.

      "High Prophet, i thank you, but i have to refuse, i want no one with me" she politely said, peeping at the greenskins figures that seemed to relieve hearing her words. "Well, in this case i have a gift to you" said the Prophet, casting a loud shout, probably calling someone from inside the temple and then turning again to face Bidakka, with a malicious grin on his lips. It took a couple of minutes, but finally a group of hobgoblins appeared behind the stone arc of the secondary entrance, pushing and pulling a small wooden chariot, impossible to spot what was on it.

      The chariot reached Bidakka and the Prophet, who announced "I prepared you some goods for the trip and provided you some company"
      "High Prophet, i said i want no one with.." Bidakka's voice died midway in her throat as she saw the figure raising from the back of the chariot. With a metallic sound, a towering figure rose to stand, taking some steps to approach her. More than two meters tall, what was standing in front of the priestess was resembling an intricated and baroque armor, feminine in appearance, but apparently with no one inside. In place of the head, there was a mask made or brass sustained by a clockwork mechanism of some sort, not an hint of life behind the empty eyes. Two large pauldrons sporting long and twisted spikes made the figure even more imposing, creating a curious dichotomy with the legs, made out of metal rods of various size and seeming weak and unprotected. The only thing betraying the hidden nature of the "creature" was the glow of a burning core, the light filtering through the chest piece armor.

      "Exactly, no one will come with you!" nodded the Prophet in excitement " just a thing. You know, to carry around heavy stuff and so on. It's really not a "one"!" he said. At his words,with a mechanical click, the metal mask moved as if it was looking down at the Prophet.

      Bidakka's eyes lowered on the two large axes dangling from the creature's hips, each of them bigger than her, somewhat making Bidakka dubious about Neradh's words, but she decided to not fight over "Well, in this case...i gladly accept" she said, making the Prophet grin with satisfaction "Now i think it's really the time for me to leave, High Prophet" she announced. "Well, child, i suppose it really is" said the dwarf "May Hashut ward you, and may you come back soon with your questions answered" he nod.

      Taking a long breath Bidakka rose her sight at the tall structure of the temple, on the top of it the burning statue of the Bull in front of a large cauldron of molten metal, her gaze then drifting to the nearby side of the large undeground cave, stopping on the dark entrance of another cave, opening in the rock around 20 meters above the floor of the main space, were the oldest lammasu of the temple lived. She wasn't able to see anything behind the dark entrance, but suddently shivered at the unnerving feeling of eyes inspecting her.

      "Thank you again, High Prophet" she said, making a deep bow and then turning to leave the courtyard of the temple. The mechanical creature picked a large bag from the chariot and then began to follow the priestess, reaching her with no effort, due to the long span of its steps.

      The couple left the courtyard of the temple, leaving behind the large gate which allowed to reach that holy ziggurat, the two guarding bullcentaurs at the gate getting nervous at the sight of the mechanical creature walking with Bidakka.

      Taking a route leading straigh out of the city, the two avoided the large fournaces and the lower docks, not taking long before leaving the light and sounds of the city behind, walking toward reaching the entrance of some old tunnels. "So, what's your name?" asked Bidakka, now focusing her attention to that unusual creature walking next to her with a sequence of mechanical and metallic sounds. As only answer, the metal mask looked down at her for a moment, before lifting again, looking in front of them. "Mmmh, i suppose you are not one who talk much..." commented the priestess, picking her axe from her own side, rising the weapon as the blade got wrapped in purple flames, allowing her to see in the cave, where the light was getting lower and lower.

      "You know, my grandfather always made little offers to a fire demon named Aruru-Sha, along with those to Father Hashut" Bidakka started to talk again "He said he summoned her centuries ago, while he was enchanting his first war-hammer, and that she was the most beautiful being he has even seen: made of pure flames and living out of an endless, burning fury. For this reason he didn't bound her to the weapon, and left her free. Since then, he believed that Aruru-Sha has guarded over our family" the priestess made a small pause, raising her sight to her towering fellower "I will call you like that: Aruru" she announced. Again, the metal face moved to watch down at the priestess for a moment, before rising, without a single sound. "Well...i hope that you atleast understand what i say..." commented the woman sighing, lifting the axe in front of her to light an half crumbled stone arc and stopping on her feet.

      "Here we are Aruru, the dead tunnels. What i'm looking for has to be somewhere in there"
    • Written by: Timothy Leighton

      The sound of Zharr-Naggrund’s great furnace exploding rang through Daemonsmith Hzzkad’s private chambers. It drowned out the howls of the Greenskin horde assailing the great capital. The demented screams of the K’daai unleashed from the bowls of the ziggurat in a final, desperate counter attack. And for a second it even obscured the crack of fireglaives coming from the corridor just outside, as the handful of Infernal Guard allocated to Hzzkad’s protection, made their doomed, final stand.

      Hzzkad had barricaded himself in his chambers at the first sign of trouble. He had seen the end coming. Watching the skies through the thick clouds of toxic smoke that perpetually hung about Zharr Naggrund, he saw the subtle changes in the stars as the sickly sheen of chaos spread across the world. The Prophets dismissed his fears as weakness. Those same Prophets who were now in the grand chamber, desperately spilling the blood of their own Bull Centaur retinues in a hopeless attempt to summon Lord Hashut to save them in this dire hour. Hzzkad knew Hashut was not coming. He knew that the great capital would fall. Death did not scare Hzzkad. What came next terrified him.

      Ignoring the sounds of battle Hzzkad stood facing the giant, polished plate of brass, screwed to the wall of his chambers. He saw his terrible reflection. The tiny horns protruding from his head. The twisted, stone stump where his left arm used to be. The single, grim tusk that erupted from his jaw causing his lips to loll open in a permanent sneer. Trophies of heresy. In his one good hand Hzzkad clutched a saw. Forged of base metals but sharpened to a surgical edge. He had used it many a time in the rituals. Sawing off the head of a still living sacrifice. Pain and terror spicing the blood for Hashut. Gritting his teeth Hzzkad began to saw at the first of the two horns. Part stone, part tissue every draw of the saw was burning agony. Hot, coppery blood poured down his face. But still he continued until with a wet, wrenching plop the horn fell to the goblinsund. Hzzkad paused for breath. The pain worked him, exhausting every reserve he had. But he was not done. With grim determination Hzzkad hacked the second horn from his head. Blood gushed from his wounds, staining his face a slick crimson. Hzzkad inspected his reflection. He ran a hand across his smooth forehead. And in the midst of the pain he smiled.

      Putting the saw down he turned to the other tools he’d gathered for this moment. Hzzkad picked up a pair of pliers, still mottled with the dry blood of whichever slave had been too quick to stumble or too slow to move. A slave just like the thousands who right now were exacting their well earned revenge on his fellow Dawi Zharr.

      Hzzkad locked the pliers around the tusk protruding from his mouth and closed his eyes…

      He pictured a cavern, lit by warm braziers. He heard singing and drunken boasts. He smelt meat roasting and ale, rich and hoppy. On the cavern walls he saw the shadows of comrades in celebration. Proud, boastful and true. A blood bond thicker than any incantation…

      Hzzkad gripped the pliers and pulled as hard as he could.

      The sound of a battering ram crashing against the door brought Hzzkad to consciousness. He lay on the floor, his mouth filled with blood, the ugly tusk lying beside him. There wasn’t much time left. Scrambling to his feet Hzzkad rushed to the sealed chest he kept in pride of place in his chambers. A chest without seams or joins. Even the mightiest giant could not pry it open. But with one touch from Hzzkad the lid gently lifted to reveal its secret.

      Hzzkad lifted up the solid, double headed axe. He admired the runes upon it. Runes he could no more understand than he could alter the fate of Zharr-Naggrund. The doors were beginning to give way but Hzzkad was ready. His horns and tusk gone and in his hand an heirloom passed down through his bloodline for generations. A secret shame held by his kin. A reminder of a long forgotten past. As the doors began to splinter Hzzkad became aware of the corrupted, stone stump of his left arm. A final mark of guilt. With one mighty strike Hzzkad brought down the axe down on his deformed arm, shattering the limb in a hail of stone and blood. And finally, he was whole.

      Axe in hand, a half remembered song about drink and kin and glory on his lips, as the horde outside surged through the doors, Hzzkad stood his goblinsund and prepared to die like a dwarf.