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    Chapter Master Karak Norn Clansman's Avatar
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    May 2011
    Karak Norn

    The Stormforged Axe

    The Stormforged Axe

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

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

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

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

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

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

    This is one of these legends.

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

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

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

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

    This was the forging of the Stormforged Axe.

    This was the birth of a monster.

    The Dark Gods hailed it with thunder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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