The Fall of Karak Zorgelam
In foreign parts, far away betwixt two enormous mountain ranges, stretches the vast and foreboding Dark Lands, hostile to life and breeding hostility in life, landscapes where only the strongest and most cruel may survive and thrive. Here, the dark empire of the Chaos Dwarfs resides, its heavy yoke cast upon the aching backs of millions upon millions of downtrodden slaves, its great mining and industry scarring the very face of the earth and defiling the air itself.
It is an inhospitable realm, an empire born out of victorious arms and the crushing of its enemies, and manifold are the tales told about the grim fate of its foes. These are legends of horror and bloodshed, of trampled hopes and viciousness without end. These are stories of slavery and despair, of fire and darkness, of maiming and slaying, and of burning pyres of corpses. Above all, these are tales of dark renown and worldly power won ruthlessly atop the broken bodies of slaves and foes alike, for these are tales of cruelty triumphant in a merciless world where the uncaring Dark Gods can do nought but laugh at the worst excesses of mortal brutality, and scoff at the most terrible of fates.
Such are the stories of conquest, as told by the Blacksmiths of Chaos.
This is one such story.
The Rising Power: In ancient times, before the Coming of Hashut, the heathen ancestors of the Dawi Zharr bred and spread themselves across the World's Edge Mountains, and many clans were lured by the hollow promise of riches to venture into the Great Skull Land, where nought but bleak despair and disappointment awaited them. Most of these settlers would make their home in the Zorn Uzkul, carving out a harsh existence as best as they could, yet some scarce few Dwarf colonists pressed on into the mountains to the east, where their long and arduous trek continued south, following a few promising veins of ore and finds of jewels, until they at last struck gold and reached a rich and defensible spot in the western outskirts of the towering Mountains of Mourn. Here, the distant Dawi settled down and founded the hold which to the future Chaos Dwarfs would become known forever after as Karak Zorgelam.
Other minor settlements existed in its vicinity, yet only Karak Zorgelam weathered the dark years following the Coming of Chaos, when Daemons stalked the earth, and where others fell, this single stronghold emerged through the travails, alive and hale. Thus began the rise of Karak Zorgelam, fueled by rich hunting grounds, the harnessing of water power and the discovery of rich deposits of iron, copper and zink. The Dwarfs of Karak Zorgelam were still true to their ancestral customs and worship, unlike the ill-fated colonists of the Great Skull Land, who survived thanks only to the divine and unholy intervention of the Father of Darkness, that fierce Bull God who demanded they cast off all ties to their past origins and enslave themselves to His will alone.
Karak Zorgelam was a small but thriving hold, an expanding settlement destined for greatness and glory; a hold which quickly recovered from the ravages of the long Daemonic invasion and succesfully thwarted its Greenskin neighbours in battle. Its growing numbers and strength were evident in the offshot clan settlements which the Dawi colony itself founded where natural resources were particularly abundant. Its meadhalls resounded with song and drinking, its miners hauled tonnes of ore to its furnaces, and its forges produced tools, arms and armour more finely crafted than could be expected from a such a young settlement. The ranks of Karak Zorgelam's throng grew with every passing decade, and the heavy ring of its marching iron-shod boots echoed among the chill mountain vallyes as strong cohorts pushed back Orcs, Goblins, Beastmen, monsters and worse.
So confident of its grand future were the proud folk of Karak Zorgelam, that their oldest loremasters composed a lenghty poem proclaiming its manifest destiny to people and tame the vast and primordial Mountains of Mourn, just like the Dwarfs' ancestors had done with the distant World's Edge Mountains. These runic stanzas of future greatness were carved into the soaring walls of the Great Hall of Pillars which was being cut out, bit by bit and year by year, from out of solid rock deep beneath the mountains. Hopes ran high among the Dwarfs of Karak Zorgelam, for had they not overcome every foe and obstacle facing them so far?
If the gods had looked down upon the world, they would have seen mortal greatness and arrogance budding in equal measure in that distant Dawi hold.
The Dark Gods sniggered among themselves, and the Eye of the Gods turned to the Plain of Zharr.
The Ascendant Tribe: Meanwhile, the chosen children of high Hashut had become a force of their own to reckon with, for they had migrated to the Plain of Zharrduk, wealthy in minerals, and there they had begun erecting the titanic ziggurat city of Zharr-Naggrund while their numbers grew rapidly and their warleaders undertook a series of wars of conquest to crush, exterminate, enslave and dominate the rampaging Greenskin hordes across all of the vast Dark Lands. They sacrificed greatly to the Father of Darkness, and He granted them success in their grand undertaking, for He saw in His children the raw will to make power over life, and He knew this to be well.
It was the era of the First Kingdom of the Dawi Zharr, and it was a bloodstained age of mighty Overlords carving out fearful reputations for themselves on the battlefield. These warlords waged endless war against countless Orc and Goblin tribes to establish high Hashut's supremacy in the northern Dark Lands and beyond, yet some battles which the Chaos Dwarfs fought, were against their ancestral kin. As the armies of the Overlords spread out, hunting for savages to slay or enslave, they occasionally clashed with uncorrupted Dawi, for the Chaos Dwarfs fought multiple battles over mineral lodes and other resources against the expanding might of Karak Zorgelam in the shadow of the doomed Sky Titan race. This Dwarf hold remained a stinging thorn in the Dawi Zharr's side, yet the location of it remained unknown, for the colonists there had survived the Daemonic incursion in part by hiding themselves away from the outer world by means of powerful runic wards causing the various gates and backdoors of Karak Zorgelam to melt undetectably into the surrounding rock face of the mountain.
Karak Zorgelam remained a dishonourable smudge in the eyes of the victorious Overlords of the fiery Bull God, and they swore to destroy it in His name.
And the Dark Gods moved a playing piece on the board game of mortal fate.
The Search: One moonless night of dreadful omens did the Father of Darkness deem it well to visit upon Hashurbarnupal the Strong, the mightiest of the Overlords, visions of hell, and dreams of revelation. Before the inner eyes of the Overlord did high Hashut stride forth, great and horned, wreathed in shadow and flame, and He commanded Hashurbarnupal to destroy Karak Zorgelam and pulverize its false Ancestor Gods, or face an eternity of unspeakable suffering. Waking sweaty and panicked from his wild sleep, Hashurbarnupal the Strong became utterly obsessed with finding the hidden stronghold of heathens, and wasted away many years and much of his power and resources to uncover its location. All the while, his war against the Greenskins panned out, and his fortunes among the Chaos Dwarfs waned, and at last his fall at the hands of rival Overlords seemed imminent, and yet Hashurbarnupal had not yet discovered the elusive Dwarf hold.
In desperation, he rallied his most trustworthy men, grabbed eight thousand slaves and forced them up into the foothills of the Mountains of Mourn, scarring the thralls with blades to draw blood and bait predators and carrion eaters alike to his macabre marching column as they ascended into deadly cold, starvation and hardships without end. After one week in the mountains, his warriors had to fend off the worst Sabretusks, Great Eagles and other predators of land and sky, who not only fell upon the defenseless flesh of the shackled slaves, but even dared to nip at the armoured Dawi Zharr soldiers. After two weeks, the skies were alive with hundreds of Harpies swarming about the quickly dwindling and bleeding slave gangs, and Overlord Hashurbarnupal the Strong shouted to the Harpies to bring him their ruler, should they wish to feast upon thrice the number of slaves which he had brought at this occasion. After three weeks, provisions had run out and all but three hundred shivering Orc slaves remained, and the warband of Chaos Dwarfs were entirely surrounded by beasts, feral Greenskins and monsters, without any hope of escape. They were stuck in a death trap, for they had followed their leader, slavishly obedient till the end.
As the savages and monstrosities tensed for a massed attack upon the Dawi Zharr, the rays of the sun were blotted out from the sky as dark clouds of Harpy wings descended, scattering their rivals and falling upon the last remaining slaves to tear their flesh and gouge out their eyes in a frenzy of feeding. Now surrounded by a host of Harpies, Overlord Hashurbarnupal struck a costly pact with Izhannar the Harpy Queen, the Harlot of the Skies, the Winged Fury on High, and by expending all his remaining resources on extracting hordes of fresh slaves did the Overlord bribe the vast flying packs of Harpies to search the western parts of the Mountains of Mourn far and wide. Finally, the winged ones' scrutiny from such a high vantage point paid off, and the Harpies were able to report back on the exact location of Karak Zorgelam, for they had discovered uncorrupted Dwarfs regularly wandering in and out of seemingly solid rock within a stretch of relatively low mountains between the Black Fang and Gash Kadrak.
With a final large payment of thralls to Izhannar and a grand sacrificial pyre in front of His mighty idols to adulate high Hashut, Overlord Hashurbarnupal the Strong gathered his skeptical rival Overlords and fervently convinced them to join forces under his banner to overcome the greater rival to them all, Karak Zorgelam.
They would decide the future by writing it in the blood of their foes.
And the Dark Gods tossed the dice of fortune.
The Siege: Encircled, trapped, isolated beyond the edge of the world with no friends to turn to for aid, the sturdy Dawi of Karak Zorgelam salvaged all resources from outside their hold and locked their runic gates, casting lines upon lines of great barricades and crafting deadly traps behind the strong doors which barred the way into their beloved hold. Their forges rang day and night as the besieged Dwarfs created powerful tools of destruction, impregnable pieces of armour and devious runic charms and traps to withstand and crush their enemies. Men, beardlings and womenfolk alike armed themselves and toiled upon barricades, counter-mines, pitfalls and crossbow galleries. Food and fresh water was rationed, and the denizens of Karak Zorgelam tightened their waistbelts and looked to their Ancestor Gods to deliver them from this moment of hardship and peril.
Mighty were the deeds and labour of the trapped Dwarfs in defense of their kin and their promised future greatness, yet mighty and cruel were likewise the fell deeds and unceasing toil of the Chaos Dwarfs in their relentless efforts to breach the stronghold and slaughter all within. For twelve long years of hardship and heroism lasted the siege. For twelve long years of bloodshed and battle lasted the siege. For twelve long years of hope and despair lasted the siege, and the Overlords of the Bull God threw themselves at the beleaguered Dwarf hold in all their fury and with all their power. Hundreds of thousands of Greenskin slaves dropped dead from cold, hunger, exhaustion and taskmaster brutality as they marched up into the Mountains of Mourn and carved out tunnels to penetrate into Karak Zorgelam. Many such attempts at mining into the defenders' realm were thwarted by countermining, whereby ferocious clashes broke out as the stout Dwarfs fought off their foes long enough for their sappers to collapse the hostile tunnels and crush any enemies left within. No one knows how many Dawi Zharr and slaves died beneath the fallen roofs of siege tunnels, crushed to death or suffocated in darkness where none could hear them wail and yell out in pain and mortal terror.
Great deeds and feats of villainy were carried out during the long siege of the lonely Dwarf hold. Among them were the great charge of Bhaal's Bull Centaurs against the serried ranks of Thane Durek Grimbeard's Ironbreakers in the Guild Hall of Masons, the grand crash of the Pillar of Ancestry into the close ranks of fifteen hundred slave soldiers, as well as the last stand of Dragonslayer Karragrim Goldthumb who on his own, and despite grievous wounds, staved off the Dawi Zharr advance long enough to allow others to evacuate his helpless and crippled kin from the Shrine of Valaya before the devious enemies could despoil them. The Chaos Dwarfs expended vast numbers of Greenskin slave warriors, who were all whipped into the lethal jaws of Karak Zorgelam's fortified army in order to slowly exhaust the Dwarfs' stores of ammunition and eventually exhaust the defenders themselves in combat against mere lowly thralls.
And the Dark Gods savoured the slaughter.
The Fall: Eventually, a full dozen years of misery and slaughter had passed, and yet still the throng of Karak Zorgelam stood strong, having retreated little by little to yet further lines of fortifications with advantageous bottlenecks and firing angles for slaying incoming attackers en masse. The majority of the hold's population and defenders had succumbed, yet a sizeable remnant survived, holed up within a seemingly inexhaustible supply of heavily fortified rooms and tunnels. When the great halls fell, the Dawi retreated into the mines and quarries, and eventually they had withdrawn to a newly erected citadel deep beneath Karak Zorgelam, which had been carved out tirelessly by Dwarf Miners during the duration of the siege to provide an unparallelled death trap for any besiegers daring to storm it. Here, the beleaguered Dwarfs at last halted their retreat, for no assailing parties ever made it back alive, and the defenders thought themselves at last secure. The Thanes and Runesmiths of Karak Zorgelam yelled oaths and hurled insults and severed heads back at the Dawi Zharr, who seemed powerless to breach the granite citadel.
After three bloody months of high costs in life and no yields, Overlord Hashurbarnupal the Strong sank into desperation once more and began to see treacherous glances and questioning looks from his fellow warlords. He understood that the defenders could withstand their assaults for years on end within that citadel, and feared the foe had already dug secret tunnels of escape and resupply to the distant surface world. Their supply of fresh water was no longer in jeopardy, and his scouts' reports bore witness to the dreadful possibility of the defenders bringing in fresh provisions to feed their starved guts. Likewise, they seemed to have established a reliable air supply by drilling hidden ventilation shafts, by which means they could nullify any attempts to smoke out the stout Dwarfs. Worse yet, the solid granite strata made the digging of tunnels to undermine and breach the citadel an extremely laborious and lengthy process, winning the remnant of Karak Zorgelam yet more precious time to defy the fierce Bull God's wrath.
With their worldly and mortal forces exhausted in the face of a masterful defense, Overlord Hashurbarnupal turned to the divine and unholy powers of otherworldly Chaos and high Hashut Himself, for he conducted a grand sacrifice whereby seven thousand Goblin slaves were roasted alive in a grand underground pyre within the overrun Great Hall of Pillars. Much chanting and an enigmatic array of mysterious rituals accompanied the mass burning of flesh, and at the height of the ceremonies, a volunteer champion named Bhazzrak Fouleye stepped into the flames and sacrificed himself to the Father of Darkness, who embraced the worthy offering and caused the Chaos Dwarf to become engulfed in Empyreic flames, whereby a mighty fire Daemon possessed the doomed Dawi Zharr warrior, who would burn brightly and ferociously for a short while before succumbing as his soul was consumed by the flames.
Bhazzrak Fouleye stomped out of the pyre, a small behemoth of fire and darkness, a mortal creature beset by a Daemon within, a living force of Chaos on earth. Directed by the trembling Hashurbarnupal, Bhazzrak charged a solid granite wall some distance from the Dawi citadel, and stone turned to ash, smoke and cinders before his blazing claws. In a matter of minutes did the frenzied monster carve out a curving tunnel into the very heart of Karak Zorgelam's citadel, taking the defenders by complete surprise as the possessed Chaos Dwarf emerged in a roar of flames and jumped into their midst, slaughtering all before him before the Daemon took him. In his footsteps of molten rock did cohorts of heavily armoured Chaos Dwarf warriors follow, spilling into the stronhold and howling in dark triumph while the stalwart defenders wailed.
The young Dwarf hero Tarrek Goldbrow, grizzled veteran of a hundred clashes, rushed forth to stop the malevolent advance, and he fell upon smoking and sputtering Bhazzrak Fouleye with an oath to defend the honour of his ancestors and descendants alike, and hacked apart any Dawi Zharr who dared venture close as he took on the faltering flames of the possessed one. Yet his runic hammer and shield could not long withstand the mad Daemonic fury of the self-sacrificed Chaos Dwarf, for doomed Bhazzrak burnt brave Tarrek to cinders in his wild death throes, sending eight unnatural arrows of fire spreading across the cold stone floor and incinerating all who stood close by.
The chosen tribe of Hashut stormed the inner citadel of the isolated stronghold and sacked Karak Zorgelam in an orgy of flames, rape and murder. The triumphant sacrificers and worshippers of the Father of Darkness carried much loot back with them to Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the Great, and likewise did they burn grand pyres of living and dead offerings to their Dark God, and many a false idol of the treacherous Ancestor Gods were defiled and defaced. The fall of Karak Zorgelam was one of the greatest triumphs of the entire First Kingdom, reaped through hard labour and massive expense in blood at the very apex of the Overlords' power, before their catastrophic fall. Much boasting of this victory was carved into monuments and tablets, and the tale of Karak Zorgelam's demise is still a historical source for new legends and epics, which Dawi Zharr authors have continued to write throughout the centuries.
And the Dark Gods smiled.
The Curse: Yet the uncorrupted western cousins of the Chaos Dwarfs have also come to learn about the baleful fate of lonely Karak Zorgelam, for unbeknownst to the Dawi Zharr did a small band of survivors escape the pillaging through a hidden backdoor of the hold. Through Dark Lands filled with mortal perils did these ragged Dwarfs press on, stubbornly refusing to succumb in the face of impossible odds, until eventually a single survivor struggled up to the massive gates of Karaz-a-Karak in the far west, the fabled Everpeak, capital city of the Dwarf empire. Here, the lone clansman stumbled into the throne hall of the High King, his hands still clasping the corpse of his father hard to his shoulder, while he told of what had befallen his home. Upon hearing these dire tidings born from the lost stronghold in the east, the High King uttered a damning curse like few others ever spoken out loud since the dawn of time, and the ruler of the Dwarfs threatened distant and wayward Zharr-Naggrund with a final doomsday to make a heart of stone bleed. For its decreed fate of total domination over all creation would not come to pass, come the End Times, but all its greatness and dark glory would come crashing down when the gods at last would pass judgement over the denizens of the world.
A particularly hateful section of the Great Book of Grudges was dedicated to the fall of Karak Zorgelam, one of the many bitter woes of the Dwarfs, and still, to this day, it is a celebrated triumphal conquest of blood and cruelty to the Dawi Zharr. Nowadays, Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the Great climbs high and strong into the skies, whilst its ancient rival is nought but a gutted ruin where hideous monsters and foul Greenskins make their lairs at the edge of the untamed Ogre Kingdoms.
Not all buds of greatness may bloom.
Such is the nature of the Blood Grudge according to the Blacksmiths of Chaos.