Continued:

Quote Originally Posted by Uther the unhinged
Up ahead the smoke slowly cleared to reveal a charnel house of hobgoblins scattered before the relatively untouched Khuralshski. The enemy had not broken ranks to follow the greenskins Zelayion noted with grudging appreciation. Still they were slow to realise the threat. By the time the bolts began to fly the infernal dwarfs were a few paces from range. Zelayion saw the Khuralski lines ripple before he heard the report of the blunderbusses. The first rank knelt and the second rank fired. Again the Khuralshski lines rippled. How much would they take Zelayion wondered. The third rank fired and the Khuralshski charged. Faced with the ferocity of their enemy the infernal dwarfs broke. The front ranks dropping their now useless weapons fled. Behind them with a roar of victory the whole Khuralshski force surged forward intent on its prey. Nearly two thirds of the Khuralshski force had clambered over the barrier of dead and dying hobgoblins when Zelayion spoke.
‘Now’
A flurry of banners and the the narrow gap where the front lines had been exploded in fire and death. The magma cannons spoke and the Khuralshski burned. On that signal the Blunderbussers stopped and turned. The drill practised so many times on the parade grounds of Zalaymon Tekash now showed its use. The troopers turned and raised their weapons, their unarmed comrades in front of them threw themselves to the ground and the blundebusers fired and knelt. The second third and fourth ranks followed. To the flanks the reserve hobgoblins crashed into the Khuralshski lines followed a moment later by the infernal dwarf infantry. To the front the blunderbussers stood and side stepped as the obsidian guard rushed through them to break upon the disorganised dwarfs in front of them. Then the great mortars opened up again. No longer out of range. They targeted the Khuralshski beyond the Great Wall of fire laid down by the magma cannons.

Zelayion gazed at the slaughter for a few moments then turned.
‘I’ll be in my tent. Bring me the butchers’ bill when it is over’

The battle at the Smolkhenz pass destroyed the myth of Khuralshski resistance. The Khuralski losses were significant. Thousands of their best warriors dead. Their artillery destroyed. Their pride mortally wounded. Only their Soulbinders, and reserves, kept to the rear, escaped. Melting into the thick forests to escape the hobgoblin wolf raiders that sought them. Zelayion had lost his hobgoblin vanguard and a sizeable number of wolf riders, but their purpose was to die. The losses amongst the infernal dwarfs numbered in the hundreds.

Following the victory Zelayion pushed forward looking for Kharak Mosvk the dominant hold of the Khuralshski. As they army pushed forward hold after hold was discovered. The approaches to each were fiercely contested initially. However the resistance evaporated as the artillery approached. The Khuralshski had learned the folly of bravery in the face of such firepower. The holds themselves were deserted, stripped. Anything of value that could be carried removed. The rest smashed and burned. If the owners could not have it, no one could. Progress was slow. The terrain hard. No hold could be left intact behind the army to block its supply lines. So it was late in the year when Zelayion entered Kharak Mosvk in pomp. The great hold was deserted, as the others had been. Well nearly deserted. An aged group of Khuralshski scribes had been left behind to ‘negotiate’ . Zelayion had chuckled at this. The defeated Khuralski had little to negotiate with. Still a surrender and peace treaty leading to a vassal state in the Khuralsh had been the aim.

The negotiators did their best. Cajoling, explaining, equivocating. It was difficult to promise support from many allied holds.... Zelayion did not understand ........ theirs was was not an empire..... there would be problems if one hold felt demeaned compared to another on the agreement......... there were religious taboos against surrender..... the form of words was important. Still each day progress was made, tithes were agreed the rights and powers of the infernal dwarfs were delineated and grudgingly accepted. One by one the negotiators signed. Finally the Kharak Mosvk negotiator signed. The fabled Khuralski had bowed before the might of Zelamon Tekash. All that was awaited now was for the tribute to be paid and Alizendar the feared, Soulbinder lord of Kharak Mosvk to sign in person and kneel before Zelayion. The message ravens were sent and Zelayion waited. Two weeks later the Soulbinders’ caravan was picked up by Zelayions’ scouts and escorted to Kharak Moskv.
In pomp and oceremony the defeated Soulbinder was escorted to the grand throne room where he once sat. Bourne aloft on a palanquin by four ogres, impassive in his black plate he was escorted to face his humiliation. A hundred grot slaves carried the chests of tribute in and laid them before Zelayion. The infernal dwarf smiled enjoying the humbling of his adversary who stood impassively and unmoving as Zelayion gloated. Any emotion was hidden beneath the full helm but he stood upright even as the palanquin was lowered before the throne. The negotiators bowed their heads in the face of their final defeat. It was they whom Zelayion ordered to open the chests so that he might gaze on the blood price of the Khuralshski.

Yet it was not gold that spilled from the chests. Not yet jewels or silver. Nor anything that had been promised. The chests were filled with pebbles and the heads of those who had counselled peace with their infernal cousins. It is said the negotiators laughed as they poured the contents forth. They laughed as Zelayions’ soldiers seized them. They laughed even as they were flayed and thrown into the pyres. Alizendar did not laugh. He did not move as they seized him. He did not speak as they ripped his helm from his head. He could not. His tongue had been removed. His lips sown shut. His limbs riveted to the fused iron plates of his armour. Truly the Khuralshski do not tolerate failure. As Zelayion stalked from the palace that day the first light snows of winter fell on the ground above Kharak Moskv.

The Khuralshski had timed it well. Winter in the Khuralsh comes hard and fast. Zelayion had tarried to long in Kharak Moskv. With the temperature dropping, stores running low and none of the promised tithes likely to come he had to withdraw. The grand army was readied and left within a week. By then the snow was a foot deep.

The machines of the infernal dwarves are things of wonder. Things of power. Things of dread. They were built to bring the enemy to heel. To crush their spirit. To burn their lands. They were not built for a Khuralsh winter. Wheels stuck in snow drifts. Joints froze overnight as temperatures dropped to 30 below zero. The fires which terrified the enemy died in the cold. One by one they were abandoned as the pace of retreat slowed to a crawl.

The roads painstakingly built that summer now lay under thick snow. Snow that often hid the great logs and trees that the Khuralski had blocked them with. Each day fewer wolf scouts returned. Then one day none. Killed or deserted none knew. None cared.

They ate their meagre supplies first. Then the pack animals brought by the goblin slaves. Then the goblins themselves. Then each morning some legionaires would begin to be found overcome by the cold and hunger. Others would fall behind on the marches, struggling through the snow. Still there was no sign of the Khuralshski. Only the outline of great flying beasts in the distance. Cockatrices and preytons by the look .They fled whenever the great taurus’s approached. Yet they were always there the next day shadowing the army.

Only when the cold and hunger had truly begun to take its toll did the Khuralshski show their had. At first their were just crossbow bolts from the woods. The few firearms that still worked never seemed to hit anything in return. Then the attacks came. Great armoured bears would crash out of the forests crushing legionaires like twigs till they were brought down. The only sign of their origin the collars on their necks. The howling of skin wolves began to follow the army day and night. Few returned from forays into the forests. Stragglers did not have the luxury of hyperthermia.

As the army pushed its way slowly through the drifts of snow the attacks intensified. Trolls joined the attacks. Oblivious to their wounds, driven by their Soulbinder masters out of sight in the forests, they would kill with abandon till overwhelmed. And always the specks in the distant skies, watching, watching and waiting.

The Khuralshski have a saying. Their three greatest generals are snow, ice and hunger. Which of these took the greater toll on Zelayions’ grand army is debatable. Thot they did undeniable. Only the bull centaurs seemed relatively unaffected. They led the vanguard, breaching the great drifts for the infantry. Purposely slowing their pace to that of the army, the lesser troops struggling in their wake.

Still the pace was too slow. Zelayion knew it. All the sorcerors knew it. The army could not be saved. The castellans knew it too. Any lingering hopes they had died the day the centaurs left. They had left in the night. Their tracks half covered with fresh snow by the time the army woke. There was no one to report this too. The Sorcerors had left that night, carried to safety on the backs of great Taurus’s and Lammasu. Yet the army moved on. Crawling even slower now through the snow.

Zelayion watched from the walls of the supply fort in the foothills of the Khuralsh. The centaurs had arrived starved and weakened, but alive, 10 days after he had flown in. Now he watched the northern approaches. Day after day he watched. He saw the distant specks in the sky first. The great flying beasts of the Soulbinders. Each day they were closer, marking the progress of his beloved army. There were more of them now. Like vultures they circled over the frozen dwarves below. On the third day they stopped circling. Now he would watch the tiny specks wheel and dive to the forest below. All day he watched. In the morning they were gone. All winter Zelayion waited in the supply fort. In the spring the infernal dwarves returned to Zalamon Tekash. But it was not the grand army that had marched in pomp and ceremony out through those dark gates the year before.

The infernal dwarf invasion of the Khuralsh was a military disaster. Yet Zalamon Tekash did not fall. True for decades after its neighbours slept more soundly. Yet this was just a brief respite for he hunger of those fell creatures cannot be sated. The Khuralsh might be beyond their grasp, but their are always other lands.

As for the Khuralshski. They have disappeared back into obscurity for now. But they are not unchanged. The Great War brought down Alizendar but raised Khivaan the Terror. This great Soulbinder now claims overlordship of all the Khuralshski. What he will do with it remains to be seen.

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