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Revlid
10-09-2009, 23:42
The hissing of the steam was like a thousand ashland snakes, organised into a cold-blooded chorus of disapproval.
Ghorth watched dispassionately from his place above the proceedings as it rose, tinted with pink, from the white-hot
brand. The slave’s blood running over the heated, v-shaped metal left a black residue that cracked and crumbled off,
but that mattered little – it was the symbolism, the magical energies harnessed by the ritual, that were important.

For my children shall be as gods within their domain, and they shall bathe their works in the blood of slaves. From
the sixth sacred tablet of Hashut, engraved by the first Sorcerer-Priest of Azakku. As it had been carved then, so it was now.

The slaves cowered, eyes wide and watery. Some wailed, with a noise that sounded to Ghorth like the bleating of
animals raised for slaughter. It might as well have been, for all the regard he gave them.

The hissing faded as the flow of blood slowed to a trickle, and then started again, rising in pitch, as the brand met
skin. The dwarf on the floor below gritted his teeth, glaring in futile and indirectable fury at the facelessly helmed
priest holding the brand before him. His beard, bound in rings of plain iron, shook ever so slightly, but that was all.
No other sign of weakness would have been tolerated – not by Ghorth, not by Hashut, and certainly not by the
daemonically-masked dwarfs holding his arms, sacred blades barely concealed under their thick robes.

The noise was higher-pitched than before, as skin bubbled around the metal, but finally stopped, and the brand was
withdrawn. The dwarf – Ghorth realised he had not bothered to learn his name, and snorted – did not slump in relief.
He knew what awaited him, and that the burning mark on his chest was only the beginning of the pain. He stayed
firm, holding himself as a slaver would hold a recalcitrant goblin, and Ghorth felt a stirring in his chest that felt
almost like respect.

He raised his flesh arm, slowly, and gestured toward the dark shape that dominated the latter half of the chamber,
stray rivulets of sacrificial blood guided toward it by grooves in the floor. At his gesture, the robed dwarfs to either
side of it reached forward, and fire erupted at their fingertips, blood-red and edged with a black that wasn’t smoke.
The flames swirled forth, looping once before striking the two curved spikes protruding from the shape.

The tips ignited at once, the sudden illumination revealing the shape in all its majesty – a grand furnace, constructed
from black stone and tempered steel in the shape of a bull’s head, its mouth opened in a roar, its lower jaw fused
with the stone floor. The brass horns of the bull were taller than any dwarf, topped with the braziers
the young priests had lit, and its eyes were hollow, covered only by a metal grille.

Another gesture from the dwarfs traced a burning rune in the air beside each. They lingered for a moment before
imploding, fire erupting inside the mouth of the furnace like the breath of a Taurus. The fire danced, before spreading
along the inside of the construct, as though following lines of lamp-oil or fine alcohol. It spread even to the roof of the furnace, dancing impossibly upside-down, ignoring the laws of the mundane world with a hungry glee.

The ziggurat guard released their grip on the branded dwarf, and he rose, before sucking in a deep, shuddering
breath. He raised his head, eyes shadowed as the other light sources were dutifully extinguished, leaving
the crimson-orange light of the furnace dancing across the shapes of the chamber. It gave the huddled and sprawled slaves a daemonic air, their lanky limbs and manic expressions thrown into silhouetted exaggeration, as the dwarf stood firm, his shadow cast backward almost to the foot of Ghorth’s palanquin.

After a long moment, the dwarf strode forward, his shadow skittering and sliding off the columns of the room, his bare feet thudding against the stone, his breathing quietened to the point of nonexistence. It was a suitable metaphor,
Ghorth thought. The slave sees the fire and cowers from it, while the dwarf walks forth into it, to be reforged and
made anew. And in the fire he finds- the Sorcerer-Priest’s eye strayed to his hand, clenched into an eternal fist of stone - his salvation.

The dwarf crossed the threshold of the furnace without flinching, and a hidden door slammed shut, preventing any
escape from the flames that danced within.

Ghorth had seen a hundred – no, a thousand dwarfs walk forward into that furnace. Some had gone with confidence,
with faith in their own worthiness and Hashut’s favour. Some had moved with trepidation, knowing full well the
consequences of rejection. Still others had shown no emotion at all, more numb than the drugged slaves readied
for sacrifice before them.

All had known the price of failure. To be rejected by Hashut, to fail to gain his mark, would leave the aspirant
unprotected against the crushing heat and searing flames of the sacred furnace. All that was ever left were ashes,
and the echoes of screams.

Perhaps this one would succeed, perhaps not. The Sorcerer-Priest thought it unlikely. He showed all the burning
fanaticism Ghorth encouraged in his own acolytes and guard, and had a string of glories to his name, each catalogued in the great stone tablets that lay end-to-end in the archives of Zharr-Naggrund. Slaves taken, foes executed,
territory pacified... It was impressive for his age, but therein lay Ghorth’s fault with the aspirant – he lacked age.

He lacked the experience, the weight of years, the patience. He had anger, but he had failed to achieve the real,
burningly acidic and casual hate that could only be beaten into a dwarf by time, like heat and pressure and years
compressing bones into coal, and from there into diamond. Flawless and unbreakable, thought the High Priest of
Malice-Born Azakku, daemon-child of Hashut. That was what his hate should be.

The shadows twisted as a sudden, fierce heat lit the eyes of the bull-furnace, with a whoomph of rushing air. Old
ashes, unraked and dusty, burst from the mouth of the furnace in a cloud as the chained slaves flinched, a warm
wind agitating their bare skin and reminding them of what was to come. The fire that had all but exploded from the
eyes of the bull faded, and the door retracted back in the roof of the furnace’s mouth.

There were no screams, and Ghorth’s anticipation rose. The flames died down, flickering slowly, allowing the shadows
pre-eminence over the room, and the only sound was the despairing sob of a young slave. The silence was broken
with a clang, the noise rippling like a disturbed lake, and Ghorth knew the acolyte had succeeded.

Another clang followed the first, echoing along the steel floor of the furnace, before deepening and dulling into heavy
clops as the source of the noise reached the stone outside. Pushing out from the smoke and swirling ash like an
eater-lizard from the depths of the swamp, the silhouette of the acolyte was changed almost beyond recognition. He
stood more than twice as tall as before, and his legs seemed mangled, splayed and stretched.

As he emerged fully from the cloud, and the braziers around the chamber were relit in silent celebration, his form
became clear. His lower half had become that of a bull, thickly-built with skin of black leather, the colouring broken
only by an angry red mark on one haunch, a shape like an agitated V with a solid base – the mark of Hashut. His
muscles bulged, more defined than even before, and the iron rings that had clasped his beard has melted, fusing with
the bristles to produce wild dreadlocks that seemed to be made more from steel wool than natural hair. His face had
been altered, brows thickening and lower incisors growing into thick tusks reminiscent of an orc’s, and vestigial horns
protruded from his forehead.

The newly-formed Bull Centaur looked up at Ghorth, arms raised as though in supplication, eyes burning with
unnatural flames, and the Sorcerer-Priest knew his name was not important. He was Hashut’s now, as he had ever been.

vforvenator
14-09-2009, 00:18
Good intro to the Chaos Dwarves, we don't hear enough of the little scumbags anymore, but just a couple of things: the title 'Hashut's' could be better, and the grammar on some of the paragraphs is a bit screwy.