Beyond the soft lands of green hills and blossoming river vallyes, in between two gargantaun mountain ranges, stretches semi-arid wastelands watered by sporadic falls of acidic rain and the floods of toxic River Ruin, and little else. Despite the many eruptions of volcanoes, the soil of these lands remain largely hostile to life, and thus this part of the world is believed to be cursed. These landscapes are ones of shadow and flame, of lightning and earthquake, of ashes and desolation, of warring tribes, savagery and one monstrous empire of harshness and cruelty that have withstood the test of time through its cunning, its brute strength, its insane crafts and its ruthless slavery. This is the realm of the Blacksmiths of Chaos.
Here, backs and minds alike are broken, and souls are shattered in a fiery realm of Chaos and death.
Here, life is lived out in a land that is nothing short of hell on earth.
Here, in the Chaos Dwarf empire amidst the Dark Lands.
Some of the most excessive works and exploits of the Dawi Zharr have become legendary even in civilized lands of men, distant though they are. For their monumental architecture, grim warfare and unspeakable cruelty have made the Chaos Dwarfs infamous in some faraway lands as devil craftsmen and death-dealers. Yet, no matter the strength displayed or the wonders erected, no empire will last without food to feed its people, whether slaves or masters.
The Dawi Zharr empire's acquisition of food is achieved through such means as the hunting for beasts, lesser races and monsters, and the gathering of roots and plants, as well as stock-raising and herding, some minor trawling for fish in the oceans, and the eating of slaves on a vast scale. Some foodstuffs are acquired as loot, or as tribute from Greenskin and even immigrant Ogre tribes in the Dark Lands (usually this tribute consists of the weakest or slowest Greenskins around). Major food production also takes place in large, underground industries usually located in depleted mines or quarries, where nutritious though distasteful fungi are grown, and where mutant cattle are raised in hellish conditions amongst arcane machinery and bloody butchery caverns lined by fiery ovens.
Perhaps the most important of all food production within the realm of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the great and all her holdings, is the agriculture which takes place on grand latifundia, primarily clustered on the Plain of Zharr close to the heavily polluted River Ruin, where large-scale systems of irrigation canals make up for the semi-arid climate of the accursed Dark Lands. Some of these slave plantations are partially mechanized to free additional thrall hands for the mines and quarries, yet even on the estates which operates the most machines, the large majority of the farming toil is still carried out by hand, by slave labour.
These plantations are scarcely less nightmarish places than the open-pit mines and smoke-belching manufactories of the Chaos Dwarfs. Farmhand slaves are often selected from the brighter specimens in the slave work force, with a sizeable percentage of Humans toiling in the fields, yet their lives too are short, brutish and harsh.
To be a latifundium thrall is to be one downtrodden soul amongst thousands other. To be a plantation slave is to toil with backbreaking and mindnumbing tasks all day, while chained to a whole gang of other slaves subject to hunger and sickness. To be a farmhand slave in the worldly realm of Hashut is to breathe toxic air and wade and work in water so polluted so as to be poisonous. To be a latifundium slave is to endure a harsh regime where Chaos Dwarf and Hobgoblin taskmasters and overseers will whip you to work harder until your heart breaks. To be a thrall in the fields beneath Zharr-Naggrund is to be a constant victim to overseer cruelty and brutality for the sake of capricious whims, religious dictates and punishments alike. It is to live in terror and agony, just as the case is for any other lowly slave in the Dawi Zharr empire.
The worshippers of Hashut are generally disinterested in the food production, for their minds are rather fixed upon such things as mining, blacksmithing, building, sacrificing and the dark arts of Daemonsmithing, than upon the dirty drudge of agriculture and pastoralism, tainted by impure water as they are. Food production is a necessary evil to most Chaos Dwarfs, a strategic asset bereft of mysteries and fit only for slaves. It is as such no surprise to find many fewer slavedrivers and other Dawi Zharr involved in food production, than are found in such areas as mining, quarrying and construction work. Estate owners are absentee masters to a man, with but one exception in the long history of the Dawi Zharr...
The Folly: The man known as Aku-Lu-Zharrubar Darkbreath was once a Sorcerer-Prophet of meagre influence and relatively weak magical powers. His talents for the crafts and arts were limited, as were his skills as a Daemonologist and Daemonsmith. His knowledge in the mysteries of Chaos and Hashut was not at all deep or profound, yet Aku-Lu-Zharrubar did display some prowess as a strategist, warrior and battlefield general, and these abilities were to be exploited to the hilt as the Sorcerer-Prophet increased his power through the centuries. His drive was that of eccentric ambition, a trait not uncommon among the demented elite of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the great and all her holdings. Yet that very drive would manifest itself in a way that was entirely unique among the great Chaos Dwarf men throughout the ages.
During its first overseas campaign, the host of Aku-Lu-Zharrubar Darkbreath defeated two Human armies in rapid succession and came across the palace of a wealthy Rajah ruling over a long stretch of Indic coastline and some hinterland areas. As the newly-elevated Sorcerer-Prophet stormed the marble complex to plunder it and put it to the torch, he came across the luxurious gardens and menagerie of the Rajah. Confused by the wide variety of beasts and plants on display, the curious Aku-Lu-Zharrubar briefly tortured the chief gardener to make the man explain the purpose of it all. Surely, that snow leopard could not be living in the same climes as the lion tailed macaque, out in the wilds?
The imagination of the Dawi Zharr warlord was ignited when the lowborn chief gardener explained that the wealth and extent of the ruler's power was put on display in these gardens, where disparate plants and animals from across the realm and beyond were collected and kept alive, even during years of starvation when the fields of the peasants dried up outside the palace walls. What better way to show off your control over nature and the lands of men alike, than by treasuring samples from all over your provinces in your palace?
Mesmerized by the story, Aku-Lu-Zharrubar Darkbreath absent-mindedly cut the man's throat and only remembered to torch the palace because his victorious warriors eagerly asked for his permission to do so. His fleet and army would travel much of the world and raid many distant shores in the coming four years, yet the Sorcerer-Prophet's mind would always wander somewhere else, except in the thick of battle, where he would instead undertake some insanely daring attacks and yet always claim victory by the grace of high Hashut.
A new fire seemed to burn in the maniac eyes of Sorcerer-Prophet Aku-Lu-Zharrubar Darkbreath, and he sent for more cargo ships to carry the loot back to the Dark Lands. Though his warriors and Daemonsmith subordinates hailed their numerous petty victories across the world as great triumphs, they were more than a little perplexed and reluctant at their new orders, yet still carried them out slavishly as befits he who serves under a master. Why, they asked themselves, why did the sacred decrees of the Prophet include an order for the slaves to dig up a whole shipload of fertile topsoil from several of their raid targets? Why did he capture old peasants and landlords, and then torture them to make them point out a patch of fertile earth close to the coast or river in which the fleet had anchored itself?
Why did Aku-Lu-Zharrubar take the very land of others with him as war booty, when there were so many more slaves and valuables which he could have plundered and carried off instead? Why limit the precious cargo hold volume by filling so much of it up with mud and clay? How could the capricious will of Hashut and His mighty idols call for such an act? This was more than a symbolic, ritual humiliation and r@pe of the raided land, this was outright soil theft. The question was raised in hushed voices, time and time again, beneath the decks of the Dawi Zharr warships:
The Ridicule: After several years of raiding out at sea, Sorcerer-Prophet Aku-Lu-Zharrubar Darkbreath returned with his victorious forces in a great naval procession which steamed up the River Ruin. The sustained losses had been unexpectedly small, and already many cargo vessels had arrived at Zharr-Naggrund well in advance of Aku-Lu-Zharrubar, some carrying slaves, raw materials and valuables while others carried a secret cargo which was kept concealed and guarded over constantly in the docks lining the River Ruin south of the great ziggurat capitol. Rumours had abounded for years as to the hidden contents of the locked-down cargo ships, and many a skulking Hobgoblin had paid with his life as he tried to break into and enter the cargo holds of the guarded vessels.
Strange rumours of Daemonic sand dunes, molten metal which never cooled, possessed beasts in hibernation and slimy mud ridden with disease and omens, all inside the locked cargo ships, made several thousand Chaos Dwarfs wager objects of value and gather at the docks with their attending slaves when Aku-Lu-Zharrubar Darkbreath returned home in petty triumph. His spoils of war were paraded past the people, in a stream of both riches and prisoners from distant lands. Sacrifices were undertaken and rituals of thanksgiving and appeasement of Hashut and His mighty idols were carried out in front of a large crowd. At last, as dusk set in, the returned Sorcerer-Prophet revealed the secret of the locked cargo ships.
They contained robbed soils from across half the world, ripped from fertile land and carried back to the worldly realm of Hashut, to cover the fields owned by Aku-Lu-Zharrubar. Slowly at first, a great laughter rose from the multitude, and it is said that even some clansfolk subservient to the returned Sorcerer-Prophet joined in the guffawing, even though they would have to fear for their lives for as long as their master lived. It is said that the Dark Gods laughed with them. Unique in Dawi Zharr history, this was an event when the populace laughed in the face of one of the feared and revered Sorcerer-Prophets, so foolish did the megalomaniac appear at the docks. The crowd dispersed quickly before the victor's wrath was turned upon them, and soon all Chaos Dwarf settlements rang with scoff as both high and low ridiculed Aku-Lu-Zharrubar for his folly. Henceforth, he would be forever known as the Soil-Prophet, though none of his minions dared speak this moniker aloud.
The Works: Sorcerer-Prophet Aku-Lu-Zharrubar Darkbreath was undeterred by the abuse heaped upon him. He had not really expected anything more, and he would let the idiots who could not see his grand scheme remain blind in a world where he had eyes. Over the decades and centuries to come, the arrogant Aku-Lu-Zharrubar sent out or accompanied his fleet on expeditions of plunder and pillage, to capture slaves, loot riches and carry shiploads of fertile topsoils back to the Dark Lands.
These soils were then distributed on his growing agricultural estates in the Plain of Zharr, clustered close to the River Ruin. Here, new irrigation systems were created and new techniques and crops were invented or introduced by the visionary Sorcerer-Prophet. The slaves on these plantations toiled hard to cover fields with the different types of soil, and many slaves were buried under the new topsoil as they collapsed on the spot out of hunger, disease and exhaustion. In between the lava rifts, manufactories, open-pit mines, quarries, chemical waste pools and slag piles in this landscape did the thralls labour and die to realize their master's vision of a garden of conquered earth and crops.
Akin to how foreign imperial rulers collected wildlife and plants from all across their empires in menageries and gardens to show the width of their power, so did Aku-Lu-Zharrubar Darkbreath exhibit his far-ranging raids and conquest of slaves and resources by the plethora of various topsoils found on his core latifundia. On the fields of these slave plantations were found loess from northern Cathay, Bretonnian clay, peat from Albion, black earth from Kislev and red soil from the ferrous plateaus of Ind. Likewise, alluvial soil deposited by the River Mortis of dead Nehekhara could be found here alone in the Dark Lands, as could tough, grassy prairie soil from the Grasslands of the northern New World, as well as the artificially created black soil of Lustria, which is created from organic waste in the outskirts of the Skink barrios in Lizardmen cities.
There were even special fields of mud infused by corrupting energy from the northern Chaos Wastes, and a single patch of land covered by a sickly mud layer from the Marshes of Madness, dotted by the bones of Skaven and sharp shards of dangerous Warpstone. Toxic silt desposited by the River Ruin periodically covered these outlandish topsoils, as if to illustrate the predominance of Hashut. These fields of foreign soil were but the core parts of Aku-Lu-Zharrubar Darkbreath's expanding estate, for he purchased fields and water sources from other Sorcerer-Prophets as he sought power through control over both food and water supply. Most of his land expansion were to the north of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund, where the River Ruin is not so heavily polluted by Chaos Dwarf industry, for the original fields owned by the Sorcerer-Prophet were downriver, to the south of the titanic ziggurat capitol, and he jealously craved for the more productive northern farms.
The great plan of Aku-Lu-Zharrubar was to use his military skills to accumulate more might and wealth to become the master of foodstuffs in the Chaos Dwarf empire. Strange enough, he was eventually succesful in this life-long endeavour of his. At the height of the so-called Soil-Prophet's power, immediately prior to his death, Aku-Lu-Zharrubar Darkbreath controlled over half the grain supply, one third of meat production and one quarter of underground mushroom plantations supplying Zharr-Naggrund with foodstuffs. This was a feat unrivalled even by Zharrgon the Great.
Still, none of Aku-Lu-Zharrubar's rivals could take him seriously, for such despise held these elite Dawi Zharr at his power play and vested tampering in agriculture and water systems. The rest of the Temple Priesthood viewed it as amateurish, soft behaviour and as an outright weakness. What did it matter that their eccentric rival held power over the food production when their proverbial muscles of industry, Legions and sorcerous power could rob Aku-Lu-Zharrubar of it all in a matter of weeks? They could neither hate nor fear someone they all held in contempt. Still, the plantation overseers of these very Sorcerer-Prophets imitated many of the new developments on the Soil-Prophet's estate (though not the import of foreign soils), and some of the new crops and techniques introduced by Aku-Lu-Zharrubar are still grown and used by the banks of the River Ruin to this day.
The Infamy: To counter the widespread disdain for himself, Aku-Lu-Zharrubar Darkbreath invested some resources in a propaganda campaign of rumour-spreading and the erection of monuments and steles, dedicated to Hashut on the surface, but beneath that, to his own dark glory. The Sorcerer-Prophet claimed to be blessed by both the Father of Darkness and Ulkzhana the Golden Fertile, one of the Bull God's Shackled Consorts. Just as Aku-Lu-Zharrubar's many fields were fertile and bore rich harvests, so did he beget an abnormally high number of offspring on his moderately large harem of wives and concubines. Indeed, high Hashut even deemed him worthy enough to spare his manhood from petrification, and the Sorcerer-Prophet lived an unusually long life.
On the one hand, these accolades to himself proved partially succesful during the life of Aku-Lu-Zharrubar Darkbreath, because their point about plentiful offspring struck a chord with Chaos Dwarf views on marriage and reproduction. On the other hand, the Sorcerer-Prophet also gained a reputation as a miser, for he built almost his entire rural ziggurat palace out of slagstone. In the end, the common folk of future generations would know him only as the Soil-Prophet.
The Death: Sorcerer-Prophet Aku-Lu-Zharrubar Darkbreath had been preserved from heavy petrification throughout his long life, yet no one lives forever. Legend has it that the demented and miserly Soil-Prophet once propped up the living body of a harried old Hobgoblin Khan, who had served his master all his life as a warrior, to act as a scarecrow upon one of Aku-Lu-Zharrubar's fields, among the crops, the chained farmhand slaves and the cruel taskmasters. Though not an unusual treatment of the rare veteran Hobgoblins, this so inspired the Chaos Dwarf, that he wished to replicate it on all his fields and not just one of them. Yet it would cost many Hobgoblins or other slaves to do so, and the tightwad did not wish to spend his property.
The Sorcerer-Prophet's grasp of the arcane powers and mysteries had never been strong, yet still he pressed on by summoning a handful of acolytes to sacrifice as few slaves as possible in a sorcerous ritual to create duplicate Hobgoblin scarecrows on field after field on his slave latifundia. Few wizards in the world would dare to copy or create lifeforms of flesh and blood as if out of nothing, yet still Aku-Lu-Zharrubar Darkbreath attempted this very thing, with lethal consequences. Predictably enough, the sorceries miscast, killing everyone involved in the ritual, bar the twitching Hobgoblin scarecrow who somehow survived the magical barrage unscathed.
Morrslieb eclipsed the sun, and the guffaw of Dark Gods was heard echoing over the Plain of Zharr for a brief time, while an intesnse yet short-lived firestorm spread across a great many of the plantation fields. Slaves died in their thousands in the fields, and both Hobgoblins and lowlier slaves in Mingol-Zharr Naggrund the great faced a year of starvation and utter horror as tonnes of crops burned to cinders in the lowland. This all happened in the span of twelve minutes, and loose fire Daemons jumped like lightning bolts from field to field, seemingly at random and without burning all the crops in the fields, but rather creating twisting lines of searing flames across the landscape. When the firestorm suddenly abated, cryptic signs with a vague resemblance to the Dark Tounge script had been burnt into most of the grain fields in the Plain of Zharr. Dawi Zharr mystics and scribes still labour to translate and interpret them to this day, for it is believed they contain dire portents and vitally important instructions from both high Hashut, Daemonkin and the Great Four Dark Gods of Chaos.
Though the statuary stone corpse of Aku-Lu-Zharrubar stand guard over the Road to Zharr-Naggrund along with the other Sorcerer-Prophets, legend has it that Aku-Lu-Zharrubar Darkbreath was turned into mud not stone, forcing his surviving retinue to undertake a heinous secret ritual to dress up and petrify a male Chaos Dwarf of low breeding and status into the likeness of the so-called Soil-Prophet.
Whatever the truth, the patchwork of fields covered in outlandish soils still remain, and are still tilled where the old core slave plantations of Aku-Lu-Zharrubar Darkbreath lay.
Such is the legacy of folly.