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Valaya's Tears - The Fall Of Karak Eight Peaks - Part 1(Final Version May Have Slight Changes!)

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#1 Hero of Rome

Hero of Rome

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Posted 16 October 2016 - 06:57 PM

Here is the first part! Remember we still need someone to take the role of King Lunn for part 2! We may still make some changes here and there - we just wanted to raise attention and get this thing out there!

 

Valaya’s Tears

Karak Eight Peaks -701 IC - Part 1 - Light?

Chapter 1 - The Ironbreaker - Hero of Rome

 

Morgrim was not pleased to be woken. As a dawi, darkness was part of his life, albeit not often the most pleasant part. Morgrim opened his weary eyes to the shaking of his friend, Khazran, looking upwards was all he could manage.

“My shift is done, get yourself up and watch.”

It did not take long for Morgrim’s eyes to adjust to the darkness, despite the fact that the narrow corridor was lit only by the flickering light of a small lantern, seemingly threatening to go out at any moment it wished.

 

Morgrim brought himself upwards, he uncharacteristically shivered, it was cold down here. Even the gromril armour which covered him head to toe, though practically impervious to most weapons, the cold air in the depths of the world were a different matter. Morgrim could feel the sharpness of the cold air finding its way through the gaps in his gromril armour that no mortal made weapon ever could. Grimly holding up the lantern, Morgrim stepped forward.

  “Should be clear for now, there is nothing down here.”

  “Aye, we should be above ground, facing the swarms of vile urks and grobi.”

  “As much my axe thirsts for cleaving enemies of the dawi, I can’t say that I would like to end up in the upper levels. Being down here has its own merits.”

 “Indeed, although I doubt that this quiet will ever end, there have been reports from the other holds - vile drazh grobi swarming the holds from beneath the holds.”

“I’m not sure, the grobi would have attacked us from below already if they had had the chance. No. There is something more dangerous down there.” Morgrim replied, thrusting his axe down the direction of tunnel.

“Well, whatever it is, it has yet to show itself, now I am going to get some rest while I can, you? Enjoy the watch! Keep your guard up though. It's been too quiet for far too long.”

“I will my friend. May Grungni watch over us both!” Morgrim replied, as, in an uncharacteristic fashion, Khazran lay down on the cold rocks below. Karak Eight Peaks had held out when many other holds had fallen. Morgrim had to reassure himself of that most of the time nowadays. Taking a breath, Morgrim renewed his watch, it would be morning soon, then the miners would appear and start work, then him and Khazran could get to spend some time in the higher levels of the hold - Ironbreakers rarely got any respite for their duties - and maybe have a few barrels of ale if they were lucky!

 

Time could scarcely be noticed in the roots of the Worlds Edge Mountains. Morgrim’s sign that morning had approached came from a comforting sound from the tunnels above.

“Quick, quick! Khazran! It’s morning.”

Morgrim noticed his friend rising slowly as the undeniable sound of mining picks and shouting could be heard above. That, of course, did nothing to change the coldness and darkness of the tunnel that they were in.

“Gah! Umgak thing has gone out; Grungni’s tongs - it's a good thing that didn’t happen on our watch!” Khazran replied, as the lantern's light finally went out, plunging the pair into blackness.

 

The darkness was hard to penetrate, even for dwarfs. As their eyes adjusted somewhat to the blackness around them, the familiar shapes of miners appeared in the darkness, faces illuminated by the torches attached to the brows of their helmets.

“Our lantern went out! Trust any umgak thing though, and it’s going to be a lantern!”

“Well, soon this tunnel shall be illuminated by the lights are the dawi, and blessed by Valaya herself!”

The prospector made a couple of hand movements, and a throng of miners began descending down the tunnel, lighting the darkness as they went. More of the miners were already at work further up in the tunnel.

“I see that work has begun, now, me and Khazran should probably be away!”

“Indeed, may the Ancestor Gods thank you for your watch and guide the remainder of your journey!.”

Morgrim thanked the prospector, before walking up the tunnel alongside Khazran, miners were continuously excavating new tunnels, with glory such as this, how in the name of the Ancestor Gods could this hold fall? Morgrim tried not to think of such things, and followed Khazran into the lighted tunnels above. The world outside was getting dark, but here, the blessed hold of Valaya, was prospering.

 

(Chapter 2) Dawn - Chapter One - Thorr Budricksson

 

The sunlight shined over Brokk Ironspike’s face, signalling the beginning of a new day. Brokk sighed, taking a deep breath, and relaxed. Once again, he took the morning to reflect on the past of his 399 years as a dwarf, and a moment to be grateful for everything he had in life. And, tragically, as he slumped his shoulders a bit, to think of everything his family had lost.

 

The Ironspike Clan had struggled during the Time of Woes when the clan’s mining ventures were nearly destroyed by earthquakes. The clan nearly went bankrupt while Brokk’s family was forced to live above ground on the surface city and take up farming and herding to get by. It was during these tough days where Brokk learned hard to make hard decisions from his father, Aarok. He understood that each day brought with it an opportunity to survive, build, and prosper. The sun became a symbol of his father’s way.

 

Footsteps in the background and the scent of a good ale stirred Brokk from his memories. Dyra came by his side, snuggling up to embrace him. He grabbed the ale from her hand and smirked, trying to hide his emotions from her. He failed.

 

“Relax, my husband,” she said softly as she placed a hand on his cheek. “The world may be dark now, but the sun shines on us once more. We have each other, our son, and our home. Build and prosper.”

 

She had been here with him many times before to experience the birth of a new day at Karak Eight Peaks. She learned what sunrise meant to Brokk and, in time, his joy and sorrow during this moment. But it was her words that brought comfort back to his body and made the warmth of the sun feel more empowering.

 

“Aye, that it is Dyra, that it is,” he responded before taking a swig of the ale. Boar’s Snout Ale, a personal favorite of his. It took a sturdy dwarf to inhale this sour, thick ale, but Brokk had come to appreciate it when his family still worked as herders. He turned his attention back to Dyra, who brought out her own mug of the Boar’s Snout. He knew what would happen next. She drank. Then she began to cough. He chuckled.

 

“Honestly, I don’t know how you drink that. It tastes like goat leather,” she said.

 

“And I don’t understand why you keep trying to drink it,” he replied. “You're clearly not meady enough to handle it.” That drew her to firm her lips while he smirked.

 

“Because it’s the only thing you drink around here!”, she said. “Honestly, I think your skin has grown tougher drinking that stuff. Vondric could probably make a decent pair of mining gloves from your skin.”

 

“Thanks for the reassurances. Good to know what you’ll do to me when I eventually go to the ancestor’s hall. At least promise you’ll keep my beard and pick alone, will ya?”

 

“Perhaps,” she said, nodding her head to the side.

 

He smiled then leaned in and kissed her as the sun rose further into the sky.

 

Moments later, they returned to their quarters where Fenni was waiting. Dressed in a stone-colored garb with dark-red breeches, the younger Ironspike brother seemed anxious to see his brother.

 

“Couldn’t save a mug for me Brokk?” said Fenni.

 

“Bah! I’m done trying to turn you to Boar’s Snout! You keep saying it-”

 

“It tastes like goat leather. Every time. Because it does.”

 

Dyra laughed at his expression before heading to the kitchen to grab some food for the table. The Ironspike brothers sat at the large table in the main quarter big enough for four families. The Ironspike brothers began their morning routine of feasting for breakfast before heading out for their day's work: Brokk to the family mine and Fenni to patrol duty. Right as Dyra returned with the food - a few slabs of goat meat with peaches, cheese and nuts - Fenni pulled out two pieces of worn parchment.

 

“The first here is a report from Algar from the night before,” he said. “He says he has discovered another shaft of the iron vein that stretches east from the original site. That makes three more in the past nine months since we began. This is bigger than we could have imagined Brokk.”

 

“Aye, think what our father would think now, Fenni”, Brokk said. He placed a comforting hand on his brother’s right shoulder. “We’ve rebuilt the clan into something he’d be proud of. We still have lots to do, but now we don’t have to scrap to survive. Now we are spoken in the same breath as some of the bigger clans.”

 

“Your right, you are,” said Fenni. “I think he would be proud, but he still expects more. We still have much to do in the mines, but I need to bring this to your matter.”

His tone shifted with seriousness as he revealed the second parchment and presented it to Brokk. He grabbed the paper as he began to nibble on the sharp cheese. It was a scouting report from one of the miners, dated from the other night. “One of the overnight foreman heard noises coming deep from one of the new excavated shafts. When they investigated, they discovered nothing unturned nor evidence of disturbance,” explained Fenni. “Then last night, a different foreman reported seeing flickering torch light down the same shaft.”

 

“Hmm, could be we have stumbled upon another grobbi lair? Possibly a new hideout they set up,” said Brokk.

 

“Or perhaps it's reinforcements of the ones we didn’t find,” countered Fenni.

 

“Do you really think the grobbi or ratmen could slip under the watchful eye of the Dwarfs of Karak Eight Peaks?”

 

“I’d rather be safe than sorry Brokk,” said Fenni. He ripped a large piece of goat meat with his bare hands before ingesting it and continuing. “We’ve repelled back everything those buggers have thrown at us. Even reclaimed Karak Azul we did. But they just keep coming, brother. We have to be mindful of where and how they could try to penetrate our defenses.”

 

“Eight Peaks has endured much these past centuries, but she has recovered and shown her strength, just like us. We may be isolated from our kin in the north, but we will reconnect with them soon. The underground world is a dangerous place, but I bet my life on our fellow dawi for being vigilant to spot a threat before it comes 10,000 meters of this city.”

 

“Well I’d rather seek out that threat myself before we leave it to chance,” the younger Ironspike finished before taking a drink of smoother Eight Pillars Ale that Dyra had brought them. Fenni burped which drew a clap from his brother. He resumed, “That’s why I already sent a scouting party down there last night to investigate. We should receive word this morning on how their ranging went.”

 

“Did Algar know about this? What about Brond? He should have-”

 

Brokk stopped before turning to ask his wife something he just realized. “Dyra, where is our son?”

 

Before she could answer, Fenni explained, “Funny you should mention that….”





 

Chapter 3 - The Miner - Hero of Rome

 

Furgil felt every swing go over his shoulder and smash the rocks unfortunate enough to be in its path to fragments. Yet in these swings, there was more than just passion. More than just the just for precious metals which every dwarf felt in the back of his fiery mind. No. In every swing Furgil could feel a pang of delight -not that that was an unusual feeling for a dawi when successfully mining - as more and more gromril was discovered from its age long hiding place. Kneeling down, albeit sweating a little, Furgil grinned as he picked up a handful of gromril and gently put in his crate.

 

In just under an hour, Furgil had cleared his small opening of gromril, and took up his lantern. Placing his mining pick over his shoulder, he looked up. Time to get back up, he thought. Furgil was an adventurous lad; his father had often not taken too kindly when he had run off down into the lowest depths of the Eight Peaks and had begun to extract gromril (or other precious metals for that matter) in the dead of night; not that it was noticed down in the halls of the Norgrimlings Clan.

 

Furgil smiled as he made his way up the tunnel, carrying a crate of gromril large enough to outfit an Ironbreaker. Yes, he knew it. The Norgrimlings were not a rich clan. Indeed, centered in the deepest levels of The City of Pillars, they almost never saw the light of day and made their profits purely from mining. However, those traits gave the clan a unique identity, and, in Furgil’s eyes, that made hearth and home even more special.

 

Making his way up the tunnel, Furgil soon arrived at a more lightly lit one, the all too familiar and comforting sound of miners shouting and pick axes shattering rocks engulfed the chamber.

“Heya! Furgil! Been on another adventure have you? Well, as much you may have found something, we could use another pick axe up here.”

“Aye, Durak, I will be right there!” Furil replied, rushing up to where Durak and come to meet him.

“What did you find?” Durak asked.

“See for yourself!” Furgil replied, grinning, handing the crate to his friend.

“Grimnir’s axe! That’s quite the find. Have anything else for me?”

“Yes. That you will have to buy the barrel of ale. Unless you have found something better?” Furgil replied, smiling.

“Well, that's not surprising. However, unlike you, I don’t risk my life exploring undiscovered tunnels to win these mining contests.” Durak replied sourly.

“You will learn, friend, we are Norgrimlings! We live to mine, and I am sure that down there, there are countless, untold treasures, just waiting to be discovered.”

“Well, the new vein of gromril which you have discovered is sure to attract some attention.”

“I’m sure it will! Right. What do you and the others need an extra pair of hands for?”

 

(Chapter 4) A Smelly Discovery - Chapter Four - Thorr Budricksson

 

Brond crawled deeper and deeper through the fissure until it opened into a large chamber. The rest of the party, 30 dwarfs in total, emerged behind him. Exhausted, they rested for a brief moment before continuing on.

 

Following Fenni’s late-night report, Brond decided he would take a party of his clansmen to seek out the disturbance. Let his father sleep and handle other matters. A few grobi wouldn’t be difficult to handle. The real issue, if these reports were accurate, was how the Greenskins found their way into their tunnels. The Ironspike’s new mine did not stretch deep into the earth, but it stretched far into the northern peaks where Greenskin activity was increasing.

 

Brond knelt, reached into his pack, pulled out a rune-lit lantern, and examined the floor for tracks. Placing a hand on his shoulder and kneeling beside him was Harek Rock-bane. Both made eye contact and nodded before examining the ground.

 

“Hmmm, seems Fenni’s report has some validity,” said Harek. “Looks like the same tracks we found in the previous cavern.”

 

“How far are we from the mine?,” replied Brond.

 

“Not too far it seems, a bit too close for comfort.. Fortunately, we haven’t found any tunnels yet. Perhaps the Greenskins found an opening in the earth.”

 

Moving forward down into the cavern, Brond patted around the floor searching for more evidence. For as long as he could remember, Karak Eight Peaks had been under a constant assault from the sea of Orcs and Goblins in the surrounding areas. Brond’s upbringing was essentially with a pick in one hand and an axe in the other. However, when he could spare some time, he traveled to the Grand Library to learn about the history of the dawi. Inspired by these tales and the progress his people were making following the recapturing of Karak Azul, Brond was optimistic as ever that the tide might be turning.

 

“Aye, could be Harek. If we haven’t found any handmade tunnels, then that’s a good sign. But let us hurry lads.”

 

He turned to the rest of the party and said softly, “Form up. Who knows who or what else is down here. I will not have us caught unawares. Weapons at the ready.”

 

The hope was that the goblins’ path to the mine was merely from a crack in the earth. That could easily be sealed up with a few well-placed blasting charges and dwarf picks. But if they used handmade tunnels, than that presented the possibility that the goblins were trying an underground assault to the dwarf hold itself. Brond was not afraid to battle some weedy goblins, but stumbling into a few hundred night goblins lying in wait to attack would be less than ideal. Time was of the essence. They just had to find them before they escaped back to the surface.

 

Fortunately, Brond found what he was looking for. Or rather, unfortunately, smelling for. It was enough to nearly cause him to hurl.

 

“I smell dung.”

 

The other dwarfs in the party slowed down to take in the horrendous aroma. Some gagged while others had to hold their hands to their mouths to stop form retching. There was no denying it now. There were Greenskins nearby. Possibly closer than they originally thought. The cavern began to narrow ahead. The hollowed out chamber soon became a constrained path. It was not a tunnel, but merely a large crack in the rock itself. They could not see the other side, but the scent became stronger. The floor was also wet and became a bit sticky further along.

 

“Something is on the other side. Keep yer wits about you because we’re going to have to find out what it is,” said Brond.

 

Harek stepped up. “I’ll go first. You owe me an ale anyway from last time, so this makes two.”

 

Brond replied, “Twasn’t my fault you fell into that cesspool. There was plenty of room on the other side of that tunnel.”

 

“True, but I seem to remember a dwarf stumbling into me after I gave the all-clear. Should have pulled you in with me.”

 

“I did end up in there, to rescue you.”

 

“More like me saving you because you couldn’t swim.”

 

“Enough. We’ll deal with beer counts later.”

 

“Agreed. Be at the ready when give the signal.”

 

The dwarfs nodded as the Rock-bane lurched through the small pass. For the next few minutes, they waited, searching for the sound they were hoping to hear.

 

Dwarf miners use a rhythmic tapping on rock to communicate with other miners in other shafts in case of a cave-in. There is a standardized composition that the miner’s guild enforces, but each clan does have their own unique set. For Brond and his party, they listened for either three quick series of taps, which signaled for help, a stuttering series of four taps ment approach with caution, while two short taps followed by an elongated tap meant all-clear.

 

A minute went by. No signal.

 

A second minute transpired. No signal.

 

Three more minutes went by. A noise sounded from the other side. Four stuttering taps.

 

Approach with caution.

 

Brond and the rest of the party followed suit down the thin corridor, weapons in hand.

 

Harek was the first thing that greeted them on the other side. He stepped aside and pointed ahead to where the source of the stench originated.

 

“I think we’ve found our grobbi infestation,” Harek said.

 

There were Greenskins present in this new chamber, but none that would pose a threat. The scouting party had stumbled into a fungus den. All around, algae, mushrooms, and strange fungus Brond had never seen before covered the floor and part of the cave walls. Most of it was thick green colored, but there were spots of red, yellow, even purple lying around. Bumbling around were not Orcs, nor even goblins, but snotlings and pint-sized squigs bouncing around.

 

None of these dwarfs had ever discovered a Greenskin spore pit before. Here was where most of the accursed Orcs and Goblins are born. Brond recalled one of the first books he read in the Great Library about urk Reproduction. He remembered reading how Orcs give off spores constantly which dig into the ground. Tough to destroy unless with fire, they stay underground until the fungus gives birth to the lesser Greenskin races, who then harvest the fungus that create the Orcs.

 

And now they had discovered one of these pits this close to the dwarf mines. Who knows how many Orcs and Goblins had been born here. The fungus seemed to stretch further towards a dim light in the distance. A dangerous situation this was, but Brond assessed two positives from this venture. FIrst, the rock formation of this cavern was still intact, meaning that the Greenskins had not dug into the earth, Nor did it seem that the Greenskins had any idea how close they were to the dwarf’s underground network of tunnels. At least, hopefully.

 

Snapping out of his stupor, Brond took charge once more.

 

“Alright lads, we’ve got a job to do. Let us be about this with haste and be back in time for breakfast. Harek, you take Dalmig, Boz, and Logan a few paces down the tunnel and start setting charges. Regiment two, go with them and kill anything that comes from that direction. The rest of you, start stomping out these damn buggers and start getting to work on the walls.”

 

For the next half hour, the sounds of ironclad dwarf boots echoed across the cavern. Most of the expedition was busy crushing snotlings and squigs into the dirt, while a few more started picking away at the rock. Harek’s group, meanwhile, was making quick work setting up their charges along the wall. As the sun was rising on the surface above, the dwarfs were about to bring their own light underground. That by means of fire.

 

When everyone was finished, the ground was wet and sticky with the dead of dozens of fungus-born Greenskins. With everything set to collapse the cave, Brond ordered everyone back to the other side of the narrow pass. When everyone was a safe distance away, he took out a torch, lit it, and threw it towards the center of the pit. The fungi caught immediately and began to spread rapidly. Brond retreated to the other side and moved to the far side of the chamber with the rest of the party. They waited bit longer before their silence was interrupted by a loud explosion. The rock vibrated and shifted as the narrow pass ahead soon became a wall of rubble and smoke. Harek went to examine their work to see if it worked. When he returned moments later, he merely nodded to his kin. The dwarfs cheered in unison, then began the journey back home.

 

“Don’t get too comfortable lads. We still have our shift later today,” said Brond. “Rest up, fill yer bellies with some ale and meat, and come back ready to pick and grind.”

 

The dwarfs continued along, but Brond straddled back to chat with Harek for a brief moment.

 

“What do you reckon, Harek? Do you think the Greenskins know?”

 

“Hard to say, honestly. The flames the night guard saw might have just been a few curious snotlings. Besides, they never examined the full mine. It might just be another tunnel for them.”

 

Brond stroked his beard, deep in thought. They had achieved their goal and even done more than expected in destroying a Greenskin breeding ground. For now, he thought, a potential threat has been crushed.

 

“Aye, I think that could be it. There were no signs anything bigger than a goblin, and we did see a rather large snotling down there. Still, I’ll have to tell my father and uncle about this. But first, let's get you that drink I owe you. It’s going to be a long day and I could use one me-self.”

 

Chapter Five - Pigsear

Thunderforge

 

Shouts of dwarven voices filled his ears as Borek went down. Blood filled his mouth and threatened to choke him, darkness clouded his eyes and a terrific smack as his skull hit the floor. A booted foot came down hard on his knee in a blaze of white hot pain. He rolled himself over and out of reach, spitting blood and phlegm. Above him the slayer roared, his eyes wild, veins thick purple cables from whatever substance filled his bloodstream.

In the swirling combat Borek found a lucid moment to watch his opponent, ‘Pigsear’ he was known as. Some dwarves who took the slayer oath found a heroic death in battle, some died in the winter snowfields. Pigsear would die in the gutter, or one day he would get too slow and lose too badly. But not today. Borek pulled himself up to his knees just as Pigsear slammed his fist into his face, putting an end to the fight.

The next thing Borek knew was being thrown out of the Copper Pit into the wide stone wagon-way outside. He rubbed his face, spat out more blood and dragged himself to his feet again, once he found his feet he headed off down the stone passages and reflected on the evening. That was fifty gold crowns in the pocket, and in the good books of one of the biggest criminals in the karak. There weren’t many dwarfs who would willingly throw a fight, but Borek didn’t see anything wrong with it. He didn’t have much honour to lose anyway. He turned a corner into a narrow tunnel that led off from the main wagon-way and slid his axe out from its hiding place in the shadows. He rested his back against the cold stone and watched the door of the Copper Pit as various dwarves left and entered.

No-one knew whether the alehouse was named after the Pit or the pit was built because of the alehouse, but down in a hall beneath the bar was a round fighting pit lined with thick copper, surrounded by tier upon tier of benches, usually filled with the sort of folk who liked to bet on fights. The royal clans officially frowned on it, but it was kept behind closed doors and allowed the miners and metal-workers a chance to vent some spleen, so it went on. Clever folk like Borek could earn some money, and ruthless folk like Magni could tighten their grip. Borek felt his hairs raise at the thought of Magni, the black bearded character that appeared for a moment and was gone again. Magni had had it all arranged, and would have the payment made. He didn’t own the Copper Pit, but he owned the dwarf who did. It was rumoured the Magni owned half the wealth in Karak Eight Peaks. Perhaps if he called in all the debts. That was his trade; gold was made available, if you were in need, and provided you could pay…

But Borek didn’t owe him anything, he had always been careful. He smiled for a moment to think that - for a day or so - until his payment was made, Magni actually owed him!

Borek slid his axe into it’s belt rings and disappeared into the shadows, eventually finding his way back to the corner of the warehouse he called home for the moment. A makeshift bed had been put together out of wooden boxes, a few bottles and half finished meals on the floor beside. Borek winced as he sat down, feeling his knee joint grind with the movement, and reflected that there should be a gentler way to earn gold. He grabbed up an open bottle of spirit and downed a sizable dose before falling into a deep sleep.

 

(Chapter 6) Laihtero - Chapter Four - Thorr Budricksson

 

“Strike!” Rogni yelled. On command, Rakko brought the hammer down into the furnace. The fire roared out in pain as embers shot into the air through the ventilation shaft above. Rakko, his face black from hours of work, raised his blacksmithing hammer and took a deep breath, arms at the ready. “Strike!” Rogni screamed again. Rakko brought the hammer down once more into the fires to strike the gromril. The sound of the winds of magic being harnessed into runes was the best kind of sound to Rogni. It means his method to building the rune was working. He stepped forward to the forge to examine the gromril. He grabbed the rod holding it in place and twisted it for his assistant to begin striking the next side. Rogni stepped back and commenced, “Two strikes now, soft this time.” Rakko nodded, swiped some sweat from his brow, stepped forward, and double-tapped the new side of the metal. He repeated the same rhythm for the next hour before Rogni stepped forward to inspect. Rakko continued hammering as Rogni began to chant verses to himself. As he did so, the fire began to intensify. A strange rhythm was fused together between the runesmith’s chanting, the apprentice’s hammering, and the roaring flames. While both dwarfs couldn’t see it, they could sense something building within the furnace. Rogni’s chanting became more urgent and his pace increased. By doing so, Rakko’s hammer strikes increased as well. Rogni flipped the rune once more onto the third and final side. Back and forth the flames whipped, the same hammer strikes came crashing down again and again, and a scruffy, firm  voice grew more intense. Rogni could feel the pressure building now. More and more magic was being drawn into the rune. Rakko managed to keep up with this quicker pace, still two stoft strikes on this new side. For the next few minutes, this furious battle between dwarf and element raged.

 

Then suddenly, there was a loud sucking sound, as if all the air was pulled from the room, and the fire died in an instant. Both dwarfs stayed silent, bewildered by what they had witnessed. Only a dim light shined out of the ashes. Rogni pulled it out with the holding rod and brought it closer. The old dwarf, 557 years old to be exact, had failed an insurmountable number of times throughout his life to create something so powerful. He grabbed the crimson-glowing rune from the ashes with his tongs and began to inspect it.

 

Since he became an apprentice runesmith, he had dreamed of perfecting his own master rune, unique from his peers, and strong enough to rival the ones created by his ancestors. With the dwarven empire crumbling and his own morality not too far away, Rogni seemed more determined than ever to to finish his life’s work, or die trying.

 

The Ironspike runesmith was entranced in his creation, failing to recognize his apprentice step beside him. “Well, did it work?” Rogni turned his head slightly to meet Rakko’s eyes. Grim-faced for a moment, his fortified face was torn down by his smile and patted Rakko’s arm. “We are far from finished Rakko, for this is just the first step,” he told him. “But make no mistake: we have succeeded this first trial. I don’t know how much longer this will take to forge this rune and the weapon I intend to place it in, but for now, we can celebrate this minor victory for the rest of the day.” “But how did it work this time, uncle? What changed?” Rogni’s smile disappeared in an instant and he turned away. “A great runesmith never reveals his ways, only to a worthy apprentice,” he finished before continuing with a stern tone. “You were a great help today nephew. Your hammer strikes were precise and you were able to maintain the pace with calmness. Your skills have improved much quicker than I imagined, but you are still a beardling and have much to learn.” He turned around and looked at him. “Know this, you may never learn the Clan of Mogrim’s secrets to runecrafting. Some better apprentices have failed in the past. But I will say this. If you keep jumping at it, then there just might be hope for you yet.”

 

That drew a small smile from Rakko. “Thanks uncle. I appreciate it. I was always curious about the formula you’ve used before, but I understand that….”

 

Rakko’s words found an audience with no one as Rogni took the rune and tempered it in a barrel of water. A loud hissing sound followed and then the runesmith placed it on his work table on the other side of the room. As he looked one more at the rune, Rogni began to tear up. The challenge to replicate a master rune was difficult no matter what kind it was. Yet Rogni had always been curious about the purest form of gromril to harness for the strongest rune he could create: that being lalhtero. As an apprentice, the loremasters spoke of the different kinds of metal gromril could create. Just about all of them were either mithril or adamant, but only one known weapon was known to be created from lalhtero: the legendary sword of Arianka, Laihtendrung. Created from pure gromril, the refining process to make lalhtero was said to take a lifetime for a dwarf. Unbeknownst to Rakko or the rest of the runesmiths, however, Rogni had been working on this rune in secret for as long as he could remember. And he remembered a lot as well, mostly all the failures and trial and errors he had to endure to figure out how to properly begin the process of forging his own master rune.

 

The rune that Rogni and Rakko had completed took over 300 years, and Rakko only pitched in the last 91 when he became an apprentice. With the basic rune done, he needed three more ingredients to create his master rune. Another chunk of pure gromril to create the lalhtero, black iron form Karak Drazh, an expensive and difficult item to purchase, and the incredibly rare byrnduraz, or more commonly known as brightstone. The latter was the biggest key because brightstone’s qualities could contain the powerful master rune to the weapon, while the black iron would serve as a firm core, and the lalhtero - the purest known gromril ore in the Old World - was strong enough to contain all that power within the weapon. Unfortunately, when Karak Varn fell, so too did the greatest source of pure gromril in the dwarf empire. Yet somehow, small chunks of it still made their way across the Karak Ankor. He was working on a way to get the brightstone, but still had to figure out how to obtain more pure gromril.

 

Turning his attention back to Rakko, Rogni began to converse once more, “Ever since I was a beardling, I have dreamed of this moment Rakko. There were times where I felt this was a fool’s folly. The challenge to produce this kind of weapon for our kin is such a noble venture that I swore my life to see this through. Now I sense that we are so close to accomplishing this wazzak dream. I just pray to our ancestors that we are not too late to save the Karak Ankor.” He approached Rakko, grabbed his shoulder with his right hand, and told him, “No matter what happens, I am just happy you are here with me for better or worse. Never did I imagine family would be so critical to setting me right to find a solution.”

 

Rakko nodded, “Indeed uncle. You honor me by merely having me here. Truly, I never imagined I would be continuing the family legacy, let alone even be here in the first place. After my parents died, I feared I would swallow my despair and take the slayer oath. But I found you and you took me in. I can never repay you, but I can make you proud.”

 

“Aye lad. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the first to wield this warhammer and the Master Rune of Rogni into battle. Bah, but that’s for another day. Hopefully not too soon.”

 

Chapter 7 - The Thane and the Daughter - Hero of Rome

 

Thurgon? How on earth can you be so interested in that pit fighting. That thing is utter krunk and I can’t believe that the clans still show such a barbaric display of entertainment. In my opinion, any who show any commitment to that sort of thing should better be expelled from the hold.”

“Father. May I ask what else I have to do? You say that I am too young to fight, and as a member of such a royal clan I can’t mine or forge, can I?”

“You must honour our clans’ good name; for we are descended from Grungni himself! Not some underdeveloped and wattock clansmen who can’t even act in the manner of true dawi.”

 

Scowling, Thurgon left the chamber. He knew that his father just wanted to best for him but he did not want to be some royal dawi at the top. No. He wanted to be with his kinsmen down there, in the deeps, sharing their hardships. He noticed his sister in corner of the room, maybe she could cheer him up?

“Thurgon, you look unhappy, has Rorek been at you again?.”

“Yeah, went to see a pit fight. He is disgusted, I don’t blame him really.”

“What happend?”

“In the pit fight or with father?”

“Both.”

“Oh, well. In the pit fight this slayer - the crowds all call him Pigsear - knocked this other dawi senseless, an unloader or something. Not that his career will be improving either way, greenskins have been raiding the trade roots from here and Karak Azul for ages. For father…...well…….shall we say that he is not happy with what I have done.”

“For once, I may actually agree with him.” Helgar replied with a smirk. “Even I find those pit fights repulsive. Well, at least you have the freedom to go to one of those things.”

“What is father doing now? Oh, he wants to marry me off to one of King Lunn’s sons.”

“It does not help, then, that we are descended from the ancestor Gods, you seem to be Valaya’s favourite.”

“For a noblewomen, being beautiful and almost downright perfect is a more of a curse, really.”

“Well then, I am going down to the lower depths to get a barrel of ale. Being down watching some pit fight makes your mouth fairly dry. Besides. The Copper Pit’s ale house makes such umgak ale, it's almost as though some manling made it!”

“Alright, I will get myself an axe , not sure when I will ever use it, but it may come in handy.” Helgar replied.

“Don’t be a wazzok, Helgar, do you really think that anything of danger will get so far up in the hold?”

“Other holds have fallen, this one might. Yes, we are living just as we normally do, but that could easily change.”

“I suppose you’re right.” Thurgon replied, feeling not quite as confident as he was a few seconds ago.

 

Morgrim and Khazran made their way up into the lower chambers, as Ironbreakers even going up to the lowest civil chambers was a reward in itself. The corridors were fairly quiet all things considered, yet, unlike in other areas of the hold, this area, under the protection of King Lunn and the Angrund Clan, was growing in popularity hugly. This made the duty of the Clan Angrund Ironbreakers even more sacred.

“Right I am going to get another lantern.” Khazran said, before walking off to the trinket maker’s shop.

Morgrim, meanwhile, was left to get a barrel of ale - not that it concerned him much. The brewhouse, more commonly known as the Rune of Valaya, was one of the best in the lower deeps, as befitting an area of the hold so endorsed by the ruling clan.

“I will have a pint of ale,lad.” Morgrim said, giving a young dawi, about his age, some coins; who proceeded to pour him a glass.

 

Sitting down by the window Morgrim looked out around him, through the crowds he noticed a pair of royal looking dwarfs about his age coming towards the brewery. The female gave him an unexpected wink in return for eyeing her up. Morgrim proceeded to drain his glass; deep in thought. Quite why a pair of dwarfs from a royal clan would come so far down here was not unheard off but no means a common occurrence.

“You’re an Ironbreaker aren't you? Can I sit down?”

“Sure.”

 

Morgrim watched as the male dwarf sat down opposite him.

“My sister has gone off, says she wants to by an axe . Father is not going to be pleased.”

“Well then ,my friend is off getting a lantern sorted, I may as well have some company. Now, would you be so kind to tell me why a dwarf noble would be all the way down here?”

“Father scolded me. Got nothing better to do.” The dwarf replied.

“What clan are you from? Angrund?”

“No. Skalfdon.”

“That is some heritage!”

“Not when you’re like me, I have almost no freedom to do what I want.”

“Well, look at me, just down on watch in a dark tunnel for my entire life.”

“You’re lucky. Honestly, it’s much better than my life. You'res actually means something. Goodness! I wish I could have a simple life like you, where I feel like my role is important for the entire hold, not just for my father.”

“I guess so,sorry, my father never viewed me like that; he was a blacksmith in the service of King Lunn.”

“How did you end up being an Ironbreaker?”

 

Morgrim went quiet for a moment, before slowly beginning to speak again. “My father, he died fighting goblin raiders. He was part of a delegation sent by Lunn by to the High King of Karaz a Karak. They were attacked by goblin wolf riders on the road. Apparently, they were driven off a few miles away from the Everpeak. There, my father limped, bloodied and dying to the throne of the High King to deliver Lunn’s message and crate of treasure. He died a true dawi. I meanwhile, wish to avenge him.” Morgrim struggled to speak the further he got into his story, the ale, his only solace. Thurgon watched in sadness as Morgrim took a troubled sip a after almost every word.

“I see.” I am truly sorry about your father, I am sure he was a good dawi.”

“Yes. This is his axe.” Morgrim replied, gesturing to the axe strapped to his belt. “Lunn gave it to me when news of my father’s death reached the hold. My father’s act was handing the High King his axe and beg him to return it to me, his son. I was only a beadling, but Lunn gave it to my mother to keep until I came of age. Now it longs to feel the blood of the enemies of the daiw!”

“I am sure it will! My name is Thurgon, Thurgon Skalfdon to be precise. Yours?”

“Morgrim Steelbeard.”

“It is been good meeting you, Morgrim. I do hope our paths cross again. Now! I have to track down my sister (father won’t miss us for long!).”

 

Chapter 8. The Watcher

Thunderforge

 

Dokki stood in the shadows and watched. Over the centuries dwarves followed veins of ore into the roots of the mountain, tunnels split and converged, and were widened, smoothed and paved. Ore dumps became tool-shops, then repurposed into lodgings, workshops, and gradually became another working part of the Hold. These districts had names of their own, this was ‘Runecarve’, a wealthy place, where halls were named after runes.

  A throng of miners were returning to work, a pair of ironbreakers were

coming off duty, an engineer pushed a cart full of pipework across the courtyard. Dokki watched them all. The ironbreakers split, one entered the alehouse ‘Rune of Valaya’, the other went to Galdur’s shop. He nothing remarkable, he was about to move on but paused while a richly dressed pair of beardlings did the same split as the ironbreakers,one to the alehouse, the other to the ‘Rune of Thungni’ tinkers shop. The ancestor talismans marking them out as from the Skalfdon clan, Dokki though he might just wait a while longer…

 

  The bell clanged as a customer threw open the door, Galdur looked up from his accounts sharply.

  An ironbreaker entered, looking serious. “I'm after a lantern” he announced. “One that won't go out all the time!”

  Galdur walked around the counter and welcomed the warrior. “And this is where you will find one. I have the candle holders, oil lamps, and even one of the new Dorri-Lamps from Krag Kernak.” He pulled the lamp down from a shelf. “Proof against explosive gasses” he added.

 The ironbreaker examined it critically, twisting the knobs and giving it a shake. Galdur carefully took it out of his hands. “But for one of our guards in gromril, I have something a little better…” From a back room he got what looked like an old style lantern, instead of shutters it had gold runes on its sides.

  “A rhun-lamp!” Galdur announced, holding it aloft. His eyes gleamed. “A double tap to the marker here…” The room brightened as the lantern lit. “You can turn it down here of course.”

The dwarves shielded their eyes until the light dimmed. Khazran decided to give it a go, on condition that if it went out unexpectedly he would have his money back. As Galdur was weighing out the payment a young female dwarf entered the shop with a clang of the bell. The ironbreaker muttered his thanks and nodded to the lady before heading away hastily.

Galdur smiled widely, far more at his ease in the presence of the fairer sex.

“Welcome my dear, to the house of Galdur Orebreaker; how might I be of assistance this fine day?”

“I… My name is Helgar” she replied uneasily. “I have come to buy an axe…”

The shopkeeper raised his golden eyebrows and looked at the ceremonial axe at her belt. Every dwarf owned an axe, a gift from birth; but amongst the upper classes and especially the women it was often a highly decorated ceremonial object, the work of a jeweller, not a weaponsmith.

“A proper axe” she put in, before he could frame the question. Galdur merely smiled and pushed up his cuffs, showing the woven silver bands about each wrist.

“A proper axe, of course! Every dal dawi should have a proper axe! Now, perhaps you would follow me?” He bolted the front door and led her behind the counter into an antechamber, through a low door and into a storage room. Various weapons hung from wall mounts, many axes and hammers as well as the occasional sword, knife and spear. Picks as well she noted.

“Weapons aren’t really my thing” he said reluctantly, “but I keep a small stock to trade… I have made a few ‘improvements’ to certain items. This improves stance, this one the weight; these all bear the Eversharp Rune…”

Helgar looked at blade after blade, all too similar for her to make an informed choice. She recalled her father’s axe, which was long, heavy and covered in gold knot-work. Compared to his these poor items only looked suitable for hacking firewood. The look of disappointment showed on her face because Galdur stepped in front of her and looked sympathetic.

However” he said brightly “I would think they are little fit for such a beauty as yourself! I should like to offer you something that reflects the power in your lineage and the bloodlust in your eyes…” He pulled out a small wooden box and placed it on the table. Inside was a ornate pair of “What are they?” Helgar asked.

“You fingers go through here and here - that’s right, and make a fist” he smiled beneath his long moustache. “The are ‘knogjärn’ amongst the northern clans, but these have steel spikes between the rubies, and I have set some lesser runes on them, so give them some extra punch.” He gestured to the wooden mannequin in the corner, carved to look like a snarling orc. Helgar took a few test swipes and grinned.

Galdur put his arm around her “And perhaps one more thing for when you don't want to get your braids all bloody…”

 

Chapter 9 - The Son - Hero of Rome

 

Ranulf Skalfdon wandered towards the Great Temple of Grungni to pay his respects. Built a few levels above the main hall of Clan Skalfdon, the place was a palace itself. His father was beside him, as he knelt down in front of Grungni’s statue, Rorek smiled.

“I am proud of you,son, you will carry our clans’ good name foreword.”

“I am honoured.”

“No I am honored to have a son such as you!”

 

Heading back down to the lower halls, the pair walked in silence.

“Father? Do think that marrying Helgar off like this is a good choice?”

“Well, son, I owe a debt to King Lunn, she is a wonderful rinn, and will do the Angrund Clan proud.”

“Yes, you must be blessed by Valaya herself to have gained such a daughter! I only hope that she is happy.”

“I hope I am doing the right thing here? I love my daughter, I have no intention of making her go through great suffering,”

“You must do what a good father would do, father, you are a good one, and I am sure that you will make the right choice.”

“Come to think of it, Thurgon and Helgar have been away for quite some time. Maybe I should go down and look for them?”

“I appreciate your confidence,son, but trying to find two errant young beardlings in a hold such as this will be a fool's’ errand!”

“What if I head down to Runecarve and come back if I can’t find them - it's a quiet district and all.”

“Well it’s probably worth a look. Go on then, Ranulf.”

“Thank you father! Don’t worry so much, what could possibly happen?”

Rorek smiled as Ranulf made his way downwards. Although Ranulf was the perfect material for a great dwarf noble, the other two, albeit far from faultless, would make fine dawi. Rorek conducted a silent prayer to Grungni for gifting him with such a wonderful family.

 

Thurgon could see the trinket maker's shop. The Rune of Thungni tinker's shop to be more precise. Going to the doorway, he noticed a runesmith apprentice at the counter.

“Aye, sir, have you seen my sister?”

“The beauty who walked in?”

Angry now, Thurgon replied (he could see why Helgar hated being so perfect). “Yes. That was probably her. Now, by Grungni’s forge, where did she go?”

“Outside.”

“Yeah, more precise, please? Outside could be anywhere.”

“She went roughly that direction.”

“Thank you, sir” Thurgon replied. Heading outside - his father would punish him enough if he lost Helgar.

 

Ranulf found his way down to Runecarve easily enough. Heading down the great steps which descended to the hall from the Arch of Kings, Ranulf just had to walk foreword for a few minutes to reach the district. Then, in the crowd came a women, a crossbow adorned with silver. She also had a wooden box. Could that be Helgar? It could not be, could it? To Ranulf’s amazement, it was indeed his sister.

“Ranulf, nice to see you.”

“Nice to see you too, now you have bought a lot?”

“Oh yeah, come to think of it, how could some old runesmith persuade me to buy all this? Oh well, I am sure that I will find a use for it!”

“Well, father won’t be impressed, but if you are happy with it, you can keep it I suppose.”

“So how did the prayers to Grungni go?”

“Fine. You?”

“Yeah, saw a handsome Ironbreaker about my age in the Rune of Valaya though.”

“Well, Helgar, that's nice, but I doubt that you will be seeing him again.”

“Of course it is nice. Well for me - especially in the knowledge that I am going to be married off.”

 

Ranulf put off arm round Helgar and whispered. “It will all be fine, little sister.”

Helgar, feeling more encouraged, hurried up to the stairs to the Arch of Kings with her brother.

 

Chapter 10 - The Assassin - Hero of Rome

 

Kreep Deathblade scampered into hearing distance of the Runelord’s chamber. Even at such a distance, the heat coming from the forgefire could be felt on his fur. Scampering forward, Kreep hid under one of the room’s air vents - spying in a hold full of beard-things was dangerous business. Clan Mors’s payment better be good, otherwise Warlord Fesqueek would be having words with Clan Eshin’s Lord of Decay!

“Well, did it work?” Kreep heard one of the beard-things ask.

“We are far from finished Rakko, for this is just the first step,” The Other beard-thing replied.

Kreep could feel some satisfaction in this - if this lalhtero blade-weapon thing was completed it would deliver untold terror into the hearts’ of the ratmen. During his spying years, Kreep had discovered that the ingredients needed to complete the weapon were, although rare, far from unattainable. The brightstone was not an immediate issue, the likelihood of a beard-merchant thing obtaining some was slim, yet Kreep always had to be ready if such a case happened.

 

The pure gromril was much more of a concern however. During his years of spying, Kreep had located a merchant from Mount Gunbad in the beard-thing section of the city known as the Runecarve. The rune-beard thing had yet to discover it, but soon would if given time.

 

“Ever since I was a beardling, I have dreamed of this moment Rakko. There were times where I felt this was a fool’s folly. The challenge to produce this kind of weapon for our kin is such a noble venture that I swore my life to see this through. Now I sense that we are so close to accomplishing this wazzak dream. I just pray to our ancestors that we are not too late to save the Karak Ankor.” Came the voice of the rune-beard thing.

 

Kreep had to somehow warn the council and stop the current turn of events, but without alerting the beard-things of their presence. Scampering away with haste, Kreep hurried away to where his group of gutter runners were stationed. Addressing them in a hushed whisper.

“We kill-slay beard-things tonight. Get ready, hurry-scamper to Runecarve place-place!”

 

It took Kreep and his party about an hour to make their way through the lower depths undetected. The voices of many beard-things could be heard as they came into earshot of an air vent above the Runecarve hall. Kreep’s whiskers twitched as he peered down the air vent. Directly underneath it, there was a trinket maker’s shop, where an annoyed, but royal looking beard-thing was leaving.

 

Thurgon left the shot feeling both angry and nervous. The runesmith apprentice had pointed in roughly the same direction as the stairs leading back up to the Arch of Kings. A good sign. Thurgon hurried along, reaching the bottom of the stairs. Nothing. After waiting for a bit he began to panic. He was already late and did not have Helgar with him. Therefore, what was the point of staying? He contemplated his options. Either way, he would get a scolding. Looking miserable, it was only expected for a pair of miners to come up to him.

“Aye, fellow dawi, you feeling alright?”

“Yes, I am. What is your name?

“Furgil Copperbeard, this is Durak Grimbeard. We were wondering whether or not we could have an extra pair of hands. It would seem as if I have found a new seam of gromril!”

“Well then, count me in!” Thurgon replied with a smile; he could finally break the bonds of nobility that held him back from everything which he held so dear.

 

Norgrimlings, although not the wealthiest Clan, were a highly respected one in the Eight Peaks. Although the clan’s proximity to the districts of the ruling clan certainly helped, the mining clan were always digging new tunnels and provided a steady stream of Ironbreaker recruits. The trio soon headed into the Runecarve to get Thurgon a mining pick, he did not have his own. Eventually, they were able to find a merchant from the Nrogrimlings Clan who was able to give Thurgon a mining pick at a fairly reasonable price. Now, outfitted, Thurgen strolled down towards to the Great steps. Not to the hall of his clan, but to that of the Norgrimlings. He could explain to his father when he got back, if he ever went back. What of Helgar - that stung - she could find her way back, Thurgon tried to reassure himself. Trying to push the guilt threatening to engulf him like a mental storm aside, Thurgon was able to relax. Was this not what he had always wanted to do? Yes it was. No, he was going to make a difference, he was going to go out and see the real world. Despite all his troubles, Thurgon Skalfdon felt a surge of excitement and anticipation flowing through his veins!

 

Keeping his poison sheathed blade carefully in hand, Kreep slowly made his way across the roof of the Runecarve hall. Coming to another air vent, he peered down to where he knew that the merchant from Mount Gunbad was playing his trade. Kreep muttered a curse to the Horned Rat. The pure gromril did not look to be on sale. From his spying, however, Kreep had discovered the location of this merchant’s warehouse. And quickly ordered his gutter runners to follow him. Time was off the essence. Kreep and his spies could not monitor every foing of the hold at once, therefore, he had no idea if the rune-beard thing was any closer to finishing the lalhtero weapon-thing; and, as far as he was concerned, he needed to back to the stronghold of Clan Mors in order to put the blame on someone else, should his mission fail. Scampering onwards towards the rune-beard thing’s warehouse, Kreep kept himself focused, he had to complete his mission and, more importantly not let it claim his life or allow someone else to put the blame on him.

 

The warehouse district which many merchants used was a ‘short’ trip past the Runecarve, and into slightly higher levels (due to the Runecarve’s popularity many merchants and stored their wares in the lower levels. Of course, this meant that Kreep’s mission was becoming even more dangerous. Was this some trick of Clan Mors? From his spying, it was easy enough for Kreep to find the warehouse that the Mount Gunbad merchant used. Signaling with his paws, kreep ordered half of his gutter runners to fan out and make distractions, drawing the few beard-things in the area away. If everything went to plan then the Skaven would remain undetected and he would find the pure gromril.

 

As the dwarfs in the area were drawn away, Kreep gave another signal, and the other half of his gutter runners encircled the warehouse. Then, drawing a piece of metal, Kreep skilfully hijacked the lock, and pushed his way through the doors. Ushering to his gutter runners, he undertook a systematic search of the building, checking every box, and always putting it back where it was initially found, as well as all the contents that it contained. Yet something was wrong. Very wrong. After two consecutive searches, the brightstone wasn’t there. Kreep could not curse his bad luck more - he had gone through all this painstaking planning to find this brightstone to find that it was not there. When one of his gutter runners asked him what to do next, in his anger all kreep could do was to reply.

“Useless minion! Pure-gromril thing is not here. Don’t pause-stop! Quik-quik! Flee-scarper!”

 

With that command, all of Kreep’s group fled the hall without leaving a trace, the dwarfs who had been drawn off were left to angrily return to what had previously been occupying them and everything returned to normal.

 

Kreep meanwhile, brooded on what had happened. Just as he was about to return to Warlod Fesqueek and place the blame on someone else, his whiskers twitched when he overheard the conversation of two beard-things.

“They say some that that zaki dwarf Magdi has got hold of the pure gromril which old Snorri had up for sale.”

 

Kreep had time to smile. His luck had just taken a dramatic turn to the better! He signaled to his gutter runners. He knew that one of Magni’s warehouses was located near the place known as the Copper Pit; it would be a good place to start.

 

Chapter 11 - A Squishy Discovery - Thorr Budricksson

 

“Dey did what?”

 

“Boom it boss. Heard da whole commotion. Stunties blew up da fungus pit where all da snotlings is.. er...wuz. Tis kinder sad though. My favor snotling wuz blown ta bits. Woulda made some nice stew he woulda.”

 

Globba  smacked the runt across the face, sending the diminutive goblin to the ground. Globba was surprisingly big for a goblin, which was a great thing to be in Greenskin society. The biggest and toughest always led, though goblins are known for their sneakniness and have cheated the system on many occasions. Despite his size, Globba was built the same way. The new warboss of the Spikey Moon Clan had disposed of the former warboss in an ingenious scheme to look like an accident. The other goblins had their hunches, but that's where Globba’s size became his advantage. But now as warboss, he had to keep his wits about him, or else suffer the same fate as Edgig Snotarm did.

 

“Why’d ya do dat boss?” asked the runty goblin.

 

“Cause ya stoofid fer bringing me bad news,” answered Globba. “Dat means da stunties know we’ze nearby. You’ze sure dere wont nobody left?”

 

“Just da juice and other squishy bits. No fungus left. All gone up in da fire. Half da cave came down so dere no way weze going dat way again.”

 

Globba pondered to himself as he paced around his boss cave. It wasn’t much of a boss cave for a warboss of one of the notable night goblin clans in the Eight Peaks area. There was just some hay and a dung pit in the corner. Plus some looted shiny rocks Globba poached from the skaven. To them, it was like gold to the stunties. It would come in handy if his scheme to take the Eight Peaks all to himself was going to succeed.

 

“Well did any oh yer runna gits make it back fore da cave went boom?”

 

“No they didn’t.” The runt hesitated. “Well, actually yes, but…”

 

“What you mean no or yes? Which is it?”

 

“Yes boss.”

 

“And?”

 

“And?”

 

“And wa did dey find ya runt?”

 

“Oh, well one snotling started squealing about some new tunnel da stunties got. We sent anova grot to check it out. Came back squealing about the same thing. Den a third but he got eatin by some squigs. An’ a fourth got stomped by one oh da trolls. Da fifth came back yappin about ratmen. That’s as high as Iz can count boss, but I fink da rest got blown up in da pit.”

 

“So youze sayin’ ya got nofin? No looted fings or useful stuff to know?”

The runt scratched his head and clawed at his long nose before remembering, “Oh. Da second git found dis here pretty rock. Says da stunties like dese rocks an’ use this to smash us wif.”

 

Globba was then presented with an ore of gromril his goblins had discovered. It felt very light for a stupid looking rock, but he could not deny he felt strong holding it. He walked to the other side of the room.

 

“Interstin. Weze gonna use this ta gabble wif da other bosses. Dere’s a meetin’ happening at Dregnog’s camp on da ova side of da pass.”

 

“Da warboss ov da Rockkleva’s? He’s here?”

 

“Ya a stoofid git. Why else ya "I swear too much" he’s here? He wants to steal da Eight Peaks from me.Dis gonna be my mountain, not some big, dumb, smelly orc.”

 

“Howz you gonna stop him boss? He’d stomp ya before he bashes ya. I ‘eard he out-ate a troll before killin’ it.”

 

While he doubted anyone could out-eat a troll, the runt was correct. Globba stood no chance in a fight. In fact, the Spikey Moon Clan may as well be food for the approaching orcs. For now, Globba thought, he would have to work with the orc. Then, when he wasn’t looking, he would get rid of him, just like he did Edgig. Although that might require a bigger hole and a few more squigs to accomplish.

 

“Iz got that covered runt. How’d da rest of da gits in their raid on da other stunties?”

 

“Da caravan? We got da surprise on ‘em at da river, but most of the wolfies neva made it back. Only got one cart and it was mainly stoofid fings like clothes.”

 

“And da stuntie with all da loot? Did anyone gut him?”

 

“Funny fing about that. All da other stunties you said had shiny stuff wuz dere, but that ova one...Von...Vondric iz fink it wuz….he wuz nowhere to be-”

 

The runt keeled over at the sudden impact of the gromril ore striking his skull. Globba had tossed it in frustration at this bad news. He knew that rich stuntie Vondric had lots of shiny stuff but was never in one place for long. He was a tricky stuntie to track down, let alone try to sneak up on. Ironic considering stunties short legs didn’t allow them to travel with haste. Still, his presence could prove prosperous for Globba, but he had to act quickly. The time to unleash his scheme to take the Eight Peaks was approaching.

 

“Find him runt! Weze cant let Vondric get away again. Iz wanna know where he is. Send yer boys out dere and bring ‘im here!”

 

The woozy runt recovered, rubbing his cranium, and ran out of the boss cave without answering his boss.

 

Chapter 12 - Dark

Thunderforge

 

Dwarves are not generally religious; charity tends to get in the way of profit, religious holidays eat into production schedules, and most gods aren’t interested in engineering. But there was one thing dwarves could put their trust in, and that was other dwarves. Particularly ones that had already proved their worth, and their stories were well documented (with tangible evidence and physical proof). Ancestor worship was the closest thing a dwarf could cling to when the candle had gone out in a gust of goblin smelling wind. Knowing your great grandfather watched disapprovingly from the halls of the afterlife was a great comfort to many.

The ancestor Gazul, it was said, helped dwarfs find their way after death, and protected their spirits from evil. Down among the tombs of Karak Eight Peaks stood a forbidding arched entrance, disappearing up into the shadows of stone. This was the shrine to Gazul.

Dokki climbed the steep steps that led up to the gateway, carved with interlocking angular faces, all beards and brows and bitterness. It was dark within, darker than most of the Hold, the pillars and buttresses picked out by the finest silver gleam from the few candles here and there. At the altar stood a twenty foot high blackstone statue of Gazul, fierce ruby eyes glared down from a mane of sable hair, a great broadsword was held before him, his obsidian armour menaced with spikes of horn. Dokki approached the altar and added his tiny shadow to that of his ancestor.

“I have returned” he announced, breaking the deep silence. It flowed back again like treacle, filling his ears.

“Tell!” snapped a voice, gravelly and broken. A white bearded dwarf emerged from a door behind the statue, bent double with age. His staff made a crack of iron against stone as he walked. “Tell me of the Hold.”

“There is unrest amongst the miners, they are eager to defend the upper levels against the greenskins, but the order stands to continue digging undisrupted. Gundrum Seam has given out, but prospectors say there is promise in the Rift Mines for more gold and silver. There are unconfirmed reports that further gromril has been found by the Norgrimlings Clan. Another greenskin nest was found and destroyed three levels beneath the North ore-vault, that’s three in as many months.”

The older dwarf scowled at the floor. “And what is Lunn’s part in all this?”

“The King is holding them back, no promise of aid from Karak Azul has come yet, but we can keep them back from the peaks at present. The new bolt-thrower battery is operational over the Great Gate, with two new cannons from Endrinkuli Thrakni. They use an exploding saltpetre and...”

“I am familiar with the practices of Endrinkuli Thrakni” snapped the elder. “There are things afoot, it feels wrong young Underdark. You only look with your eyes and you only listen with your ears. You miss so much. Feel, boy feel the Hold! There must be something we are missing!” He raised his misty eyes up to those of Gazul, the lines covering his face bunched up like netting. “As Gazul watches their fathers, we must watch their sons. And a damn fool job we are making of it too. I have watched over this Hold for over six hundred years, and I will not let it become endangered without  my leave!”

Dokki bowed his head in respect to the elder. “I had a dream, Master Grimguard, I…”

“You think I give a stoat’s "I swear too much" for your dreams, boy?” barked the old man, “Get back to the shadows and listen! This Hold is what is important, boy; every candle at the coalface, every arm behind the shield. Bugger your dreams! Get out there, back to the shadows and find out what is wrong! Feel it!” He belted Dokki around the head with his iron staff and shuffled off into the temple, growling and muttering, his beard trailed along the floor after his frayed black robe.

 

Dokki rubbed the side of his head which throbbed painfully, Master Grimguard was over three times his age and had taken the young dwarves into his charge, teaching them how to see and hear and feel the heart of the Hold. He knelt before Gazul.

“Lord Gazul, watch over us in wealth and in poverty, watch us through victory and through adversity. As Grungni guides our…” he paused as footsteps approached from behind. He began to stand when a weight of iron connected with Dokki’s head and sent him sprawling sideways and out of his senses.

 

- o -

 

“Bacon?” the dwarf proffered a heel of fresh bread stuffed with hot greasy meat. Dokki squinted in the bright sunlight and fought the vertigo of the steep precipice on which they sat. He stared at the ranger beside him.

“Where am I?” he asked. The ranger laughed and tore into the bread with his teeth. He had a short brindled beard, bright eyes, and a green cloak wrapped around his chainmail. From the high perch on the mountainside Dokki could see down into the valley below, wide and round, and surrounded by - yes, there was the familiar shape of Zilfin, Karag Lhune, Silverhorn and the others…

“There is no Great Gate? Where is the Citadel?” he asked. The ranger laughed again and pointed down to a cleft between The Anvil and Silverhorn, where a wagon train wound its way into the foothills. Their distant voices echoes in the wind.

“We are NOT lost, how many times Norgrim! I know exactly where we are…” grumbled a tired voice.

Dokki watched them wind down the pass and set up a camp at the valley floor. Slowly the camp became a ditched encampment, stone wall were raised. A raid of greenskins were pushed back, and a round tower was put up. Dokki could see beneath the earth where shafts were dug, and widened. What was once a camp became a village, a town; a dozen dwarves became fifty, became five hundred. Karag Lhune belched red hot death in a river that killed many, but like ants, tombs were dug and work went on. The proud warriors were armoured in hammered iron where once was copper, and slowly the Citadel was raised in a shape that Dokki could recognise. A dragon attacked and caused terror for many years; ogres and trolls, giants and beastmen battered against the walls. Then the sound of war horns, and legions of armoured warriors marched out from the Great Gate, armed with broad axes and armoured with gromril dug from the deeps. They marched out to the West, and did not return. The sky darkened and the ground throbbed. Deep in the earth caverns crashed down and lives were lost, but still they carried on. From between the peaks there ran a foul tide; every kind of greenskin flowed in from every crack and crevice in the mountains, but with fire and gunsmoke they were held back… Noisesome engines buzzed overhead bringing aid from the Clans; slowly the steel ranks of the Karak forced the greenskins back, inch by inch. With blade, bolt, bullet and blood.

Things attacked from beneath, unknown things with claws and cunning, hiding in the dark, ambushing, murdering, stealing babies from their beds. The dwarves were caught from underneath, the vermin ripped at their bellies, causing untold damage before they could be stopped. The warriors were pulled in from the surface, down down into the darkness, where they battled against shadows and half truths, every corner became a heroic struggle for life, every hall became a killing ground. But as slow as a glacier the dwarves turned the tide, keeping them back both above and below. Dokki’s heart rose, feeling hope for his Hold. Then the gas came. A thousand dead in one night, five hundred the next. Warriors couldn’t fight smoke, nor shield against it. They locked flood gates and sealed districts, but still it came… Forced into a narrowed and narrower band, until there was no-where else to go.

Dokki wept at the death and tore at his beard. He made to stand and put a hand to his axe, but the ranger’s hand pulled him down.

“There isn’t anything you can do” he said simply, “you might as well enjoy the bacon, there isn’t much left.”

Dokki spun around and gripped the ranger’s shoulders, mad with rage. “Can’t you see what’s happening?!” he cried.

“I see everything” the dwarf replied gravely. Dokki turned back to see his beloved Hold was empty of stout dawi hearts, where ale had flowed and joyful song been sung a brutish monster raised a blood red flag. The greenskins bayed and howled and defiled the dead.

Dokki turned back to the ranger in desperation, but he had got up to leave.

“But… where shall I go?” he asked. The ranger looked puzzled for a moment, then pulled Elder Grimguard’s iron staff out from a fold in his cloak. Dokki ducked too slowly to avoid the blow to his head, and fell against the stony ground.

“Warn them, Dokki Underdark, warn them. And I will see you all too soon” the ranger said under his breath and walked away.

 

- o -

 

Chapter 13 - Negotiating Terms - Thorr Budricksson

 

The Mining Guild of Karak Eight Peaks, home to some of the greatest dwarf miners in the Old World, is also famous for their extraordinarily long meetings. Even to a dwarf, these can be tedious gatherings. But with numerous clans stretching the roots of the hold deeper and farther  into the earth, it is necessary to track their progress as well as settle any disagreements.

 

For Algar Cragfist, he had two things to look forward to in this particular meeting: the ale, and negotiating an extension on the Ironspike Clan’s new tunnel. It helped that Brokk would be in attendance to help argue their cause, though he figured the ale might be easier to put down than the likely bickering they were about to walk into.

 

The guild’s meeting hall itself though was always a sight to behold. Built in the remnants of the first ever mine when Karak Eight Peaks was merely a settlement, the hall was deep, tiered with a seat for every mining clan to be represented. Its earthly appearance featured four pillars carved into the walls, banners with all the clans draped along them, fire pits built into the walls to heat and illuminate the hall, and a large dais at the center with a circular table and stand in the middle for the speaker to address the audience. On the side of the room, Algar noticed there was light finger food available and only enough ale for two rounds per dwarf. This never happened often, but it appeared this meeting was not destined to be long. The better for Algar and Brokk to return to their mine once they got their permit.

 

After grabbing some aged goat cheese, a piece of mutton, meat bread, and a mug of Firestorm’s Inferno Ale, Algar and Brokk took their seats in the lower tier. In the past, the Ironspike’s were near the top as their status amongst the Mining Guild was in poor standing. However, in recent generations, their status had risen once more, which saw their place at meetings go lower and lower, close to the floor. They weren’t up there with the Ironhelms, Craghands, and Copporbacks, but things had been going well for the Ironspikes all things considered. Now, they had to be ready for rival clans who sought to edge them out.

 

“Do we have everything in order?” Brokk said.

“Yes, I have been thorough in all our preparation. We will be challenged to present our claim Brokk. Our recent run-in with the grobbi breeding pit will no doubt ruffle some beards,” said Algar. “Bah, there’ve been worse run-ins than that. My father told me a tale when the Copporbacks were digging for copper and accidentally discovered a bat chamber. Oh the poor dawi that got stuck cleaning up that mess when those creatures were exterminated.” “Well I wish bats were our biggest concern. We have to be weary in case one of the bigger clans makes a case to confiscate our new shafts.” “Aye, those Craghands have not been happy since I outbid them on a new smelting machine. Since then, we’ve been rivaling their output in iron and have taken some of their business in exports. In fact, we just took orders from the Orgrin Clan in Karak Azul.” “The Orgrin?” “Yes, and I have a meeting with representative from the Firehands and Flinthands as well. That’s why we need this new stretch of tunnel validated.” “I’ve talked to our prospectors Brokk. They tell me we should be fine if we continue to trek parallel and refrain from going deeper. Do not be surprised if we receive warnings when we go to speak.”

 

Their conversation died as Henkil Grimstone stepped to the center table and called order to the meeting. His skin was aged and his skull-white beard was braided. He wore an old mining helm, as if it was the first one he wore as a beardling and had refused to take it off. Next to him were two other representatives of the Grimstone Clan. As the top prospecting clan of Eight Peaks, they oversaw the agenda of the Guild and the meetings. The three of them wore grey jerkins with the symbol of the clan on the front and ivory green capes behind them. All the dwarfs in the hall stood and began roll call. Once that was over with, everyone took their seats and the meeting began.

 

“Today won’t be too long so you can put the chaf you’ve all got back in yer pockets,” said Henkil. As he continued, a few chuckles and ruffling dwarfs in the upper tier were jostling with their bags.”First order of business today is a representative from the engineers guild, Tharornin Stonebeard, who brings word of a new invention his guild is working on to help the miners.” Tharonin approach the table and then stepped onto the center dais. He had active hands, as if he was tinkering with an invisible contraption in front of him. Aside from his unkempt brown beard, he wore glasses that covered his eyes and wore some sort of jumpers one would see a prospector wear when he had to make a dangling excavation along a cliff wall.

 

The eccentric young dwarf cleared his throat and began. “Yes, thank you Henkil. Greetings my fellow dawi. Tis a pleasure to see everyone here. I bring word from my  guild of new methodologies we have been working on to help make breaking through solid rock more accessible and the cleanup much more manageable.” Tharonin was swinging his arms around like a drunken miner wielding a pick, Algar thought. The Miners Guild and Engineers Guild had recently began to make headway on building a better relationship after generations of silent enmity for one another. With engineering on the rise however, the miners, stubborn to change for ages, just like dwarfs in general, had realized they needed to give them a chance and try out some of their toys, as some miners referred to them as. Tharonin’s assistant approached the dais and presented him with a large sort of drill, bigger than many family kegs, but no larger than a dwarf himself. There seemed to be some levers and a source tube attached to a portable pump. Tharonin resumed, “This here is a steam drill. Capable of cutting through any known substance other than gromril, this little thing here could become your new best friend,” his voice trailed off as he started the contraption. The pump began moving up and down as the drill started to spin. As a demonstration, the engineers brought a large pile of rocks to demonstrate. Tharonin stepped forward and began drilling away. Brokk seemed unimpressed. He always felt dwarf hands and tendencies were the best for their craft, not new confangled technology. Algar, on the other hand, watched on with curiosity. Tharoninn chewed away at the rock with purpose. The drill was spitting up rock and making it through rather quickly. Tharonin moved around the rock to demonstrate the different speeds, showing off its fast and slow capabilities. He then turned off the machine and reached inside the rock pile, which looked more like rubble now. Tharonin pulled out something that glowed in his hand. A lavender gemstone. Many of the dwarfs stood from their seats. Only the gem-miners of the Silvenback and Thunderheart Clans delved to find the rarest stones in the hold. They were on the bottom tier and they too were focusing hard on the gem in Tharonin’s hand. Many dwarfs were swatting their beards attempting to calm themselves. The other dwarfs seated, most of them the older miners and prospectors, seemed unimpressed. Or at least were stubborn enough not to show their curiosity.

 

“This could be the future of mining,” Tharonin announced. “Soon we will be able to mass produce these, and you, my fellow dawi, will have first hands on it. Fill out the paperwork after the meeting to request a hands-on demonstration in your mine.”

 

With that, the young engineers bowed and left. Some servants came to clean up the rubble and collect plates from the dwarfs finished with their food and ale.

 

Henkil retook the dais. “Alright, next order of business is to settle the dispute between the Felgids and the Lockkssons. The Felgids argue that the Lockkssons intruded into one of their coal mines, hopefully by mistake. The Lockkssons, however, disagree, claiming the Felgids never applied for permit and thus it was not on their maps.”

 

One of the other Grimstones rose and read off parchment. “The Felgids claim that they sent markers to the other clans nearby, including the Lockkssons, to let them know their location. The Lockkssons have denied receiving such a notice, but two more clans, including the Flintgrips and Opalfoots. Can representatives from both confirm this?” Three chairs from the upper tier scratched the stone floor above as the dwarfs rose to confirm the report. “Very well. Based off our prospector reports of an unmarked tunnel previously not recorded, we have decided the Lockkssons were in violation. Are there any disagreement to this decision?”

 

Only one clan rose, the Lockkssons naturally, but with no support, the representative sat back down. He knew it would take a wazzok to continue on. “As recompense, the Lockksson will be required to deliver three shipments of coal and 300 gold to the Felgids within the next year.” Algar noticed the Lockksson representative chewed furiously on his beard at this news, while at the corner of his eye, noticed the two Felgids toasted their mugs together.

 

“Now with that out of the way, the final order of today’s meeting focuses on the Ironspike Clan and their request for an extension on a new iron mine. We have also received application from the Craghands to halt the Ironspike Clan’s progress for irresponsible progress. What say you, Ironspikes?”

 

Both Algar and Brokk rose from their seats in unison and began their argument. “Many of you dawi knew my family, especially my father. Our clan struggled for a time, but we have recovered and prospered in my reign as thane. Iron production and trade exports have accelerated. We have a certain threshold we must stay above or risk potential strife from lack of work. But now, we have discovered a new vein, one that our prospector says may contain more than just iron.” Algar was about to continue Brokk’s statement, but the Cragfist representative, Uldar,interrupted. “Ah yes, more than just iron. We know of your recent run-in with a grobbi fungus pit. Your expansion is running perilously close to our enemies. It’s not just you, Ironspikes, but we’ve now had three separate accounts of miners stumbling into goblin breeding caves. Some prospectors even report hearing scratching on the other side of their tunnels. With enemies all around us, who is to say you aren’t making a backdoor for them to attack us?” Brokk lashed back, “Are you claiming we would carelessly allow the enemy into our homes because of gold fever?” “Yes. Your recent success has made you blind to your surroundings. You think you can continue burrowing without thinking of the consequences. The Cragfists at least know when to proceed with care. In fact, I think you lack the responsibility to continue on with your newest venture.” Furious at that accusation, Brokk roared back, “And I suppose you’re the one who feels should have this new vein to themselves, Uldar? What are the Cragfists if not a clan of opportunists? We Ironspikes have come a long way to return to these seats in the guild, while yours has galled over those poor miners who couldn’t continue on and snatched up their ventures like an opportune elgi.”  A silence flooded the hall at the accusation. Even the Grimstones  were awestruck. Brokk immediately regretted that last part. His pride had gotten the best of him, even if he felt it was partly true.

 

Sensing the tension was about to boil over, Algar stepped in. “With respect, Uldar, Brokk is under a lot of stress lately. The grobbi pit was a concern for all of us, but especially him. He cares for the protection of the Eight Peaks and he would not allow gold fever to overwhelm his senses.” That seemed to work so Algar pressed on. “Yes, it is true that the underworld holds many perils for us dawi. It is also true that we do not know if we will encounter more goblins or rat-men. Then again, I recall some dwarfs who also discovered the largest gem deposit in Karak Eight Peaks history during my great, great grandfather’s time. Or what about the Ironhelms locating enough gromril that every dwarf in the city could use. Of course, there was the Copporback’s run-in with the trolls as well, but the point is that there is always risk and reward for what we do. We always must push forward, but with caution. Just like the steam drill that wazzok introduced before, so too must we continue on mining.” This drew some commotion across the Guild Hall, most of it in agreement at Algar’s wise words. Uldar Cragfist, still bitter over Brokk’s words, had none to dispute Algar’s claim.

 

“Very well,” chimed in Henkil. “If the Cragfists have no argument left, we will award the Ironspikes their expansion. But make no mistake, thane. Your clan has the guild’s attention. We agree with Uldar’s concerns and believe you may be moving too fast. However, if what you say is true, this new vein might benefit us all. We will have one of our prospectors monitor your progress for the time being, but consider your new venture approved. If there is nothing further to discuss, then I call this meeting adjourned.”

 

Brokk breathed a heavy sigh of relief and patted Algar on the back. Algar himself took a heavy swig of ale. He could still see Uldar Cragfist upset. There would be another confrontation with him someday, but for now, they had a new mine to open. Before that, Algar figured he would check out this new steam drill. Perhaps it could be useful.

 

Chapter 14 - The gromril - Hero of Rome

 

Kreep’s whiskers twitched as he smelt the ground. There had been a fight here, even though it had happened at least a day ago, the smell of dried blood could still be smelt, albeit faintly. Getting down to the Copper Pit had been easy enough, at the very bottom of dwarf society, the place was not particularly well guarded and it had been comparatively easy for Kreep and his group to find their way into the Copper Pit through it’s decaying sewer system. Additionally, dead beard-things would not be missed here, killing one quietly and dropping it into a gutter was a rare, but satisfying prospect.

 

Kreep could feel his paws on the ground as they made their way into the streets of the district, emerging in an open, but broken down, sewer which system’s had long since failed to work. Moving through the streets, Kreep kept calm, the longer that he remained here the more danger he was in. Furthermore, Kreep also knew that time was also working against him; every moment it took him the chance of the rune-beard thing acquiring the pure-gromril grew longer, as would keeping their presence unnoticed.

 

In the street, Kreep spotted a pair of drunken beard-things emerging from the Copper Pit’s tavern. With a signal, two of Kreep’s gutter runners had silently killed the two drunks with their throwing daggers and were already retrieving their daggers from the bodies;whilst another three gutter runners had joined each apice in order to place the corpses into a sewer or gutter. Path clear, Kreep and the other pair of gutter runners advanced through the silent streets. He knew where the warehouse was, spying had seen to that.

 

Appearing round a narrow end, Kreep located where the beard-thing building was located. Unfortunately, Kreep ushered a curse when he noticed two of Magdi’s heavies at the entrance of warehouse. Killing them would be easy, but it arouse too much suspicion. Yet, Kreep knew that the warehouse was rarely guarded like this - the pure gromril that the rune-beard thing had to be there. The great Horned One was surly playing tricks on him for his luck to always take a turn for the worse just as he thought that he would (finally) complete his mission. Then Kreep’s luck changed for the better, again.

 

From his shadowy hiding place, he suddenly noticed a beard-thing barmaid emerging from a nearby tavern. Pricking his ears, he heard her state that the guards’ ale was in tankards outside of the building, and she just needed to prepare another client’s meal before bringing them to them. Acting quickly, Kreep produced a small flask from his clothing. Although Clan Eshin had not yet returned from the East, they had sent Kreep as there spy to the Under Empire to observe the going of the Children of the Horned Rat; one of the ‘gifts’ that Kreep had been given was a small flask of powder from Nippon; when applied to a drink the powder would blend in, preventing its discovery, the consumers would then drop into unconscious stance, forgetting all that had happened when they awoke. Scampering to the wooden table outside of the tavern, Kreep dropped a small pawful of the powder into each cup and waited in the shadows.

 

Sure enough, the bar-maid soon returned and brought the ale to the two heavies. The beard-things then proceeded to stroll over to small table and consumed the ale, in a matter of minutes they had fallen from their chairs, into a state of unconsciousness. Knowing all too well that the powders’ effects would wear off in a matter of hours - he had only put a small amount into the mugs as to not waste it - Kreep acted quickly. Ordering his gutter runners to keep watch around the area, he broke into the lock and ordered a group of gutter runners inside. Moving from box to box seemed to take an eternity, Kreep could only watch in frustration as the pure-gromril remained elusive. Then, suddenly, right in the back of the warehouse, Kreep spotted a glowing light; pushing the boxes aside, he noticed a small wooden crate clamped with a glowing rune. Carefully opening the lid, Kreep felt a sense of extreme relief and satisfaction. The pure-gromril  was finally in the paws of the Under-Empire.

 

Making sure that the warehouse had been left exactly as it had been before, Kreep ordered his entire group to leave with well practised paw-signals, Kreep led his gutter runners out of the realm of the beard-things and into Skaven territory. He, had finally succeeded in his mission -  Warlord Fesqueek and Clan Mors would have little choice to not repay him now.

 

Furgil hurriedly reached the gateway of the Norgrimlings’ clan hall. Finding a new pair of hands had taken longer than expected. Nonetheless, Thurgon, although not a dawi born into being a down to earth type was friendly and passionate. He will be a great help, so long as his lineage does not get in the way at least; Furgil told himself. Coming into the hall, Furgil found Durak and the Thane of the Norgrimlings, Alrik, Norgrim sitting at a desk, with many of the Norgrimling miners sat around.

“Aye, Copperfist, sit down so that we may begin.”

“Now, we have just heard news from the Mining Guild -  the Ironspike Clan will indeed be getting a shaft expansion.” This news did much to secure groans from the audience.

“Fortunately for us, being in the lowest levels of the hold and our relationship with the ruling family, we should be able to keep our operations to ourselves. If you notice on this map here, the Ironspike Clan should be unable to penetrate into our section. Additionally, that ore of gromril which young Furgil discovered is well out of their reach.

“They can mine just as deep as us though.” Came a voice.

“Yes, but unlike us, they won’t find nearly as much gromril or silver, additionally, anything down there will also be dug up by both us of as well. I have heard that their clan is also at the forefront of many greenskin expansions, so if they go on covering a nest of thaggoraki or grobi then I can;t say that they will be able to secure their gains for long.

Murmurs of approval came from the crowd before Alrik could continue again.

“Now then, I think that it is time that we go and start excavating the vein that young Furgil discovered. What do you all say?”

A great cheer off approval could be heard from the assembled dawi, and miners became clasping their prized picks and preparing their gloves. Yes, a new steam drill had apparently been invented but there was no way that the Norgrimlings would resort to that sort of technology when they could just be using their own, well practised methods!

 

“Its all sorted. Time to find some gromril!” Furgil said with a smile.

“Because we’re all in one place maybe you might actually have to buy the ale, for once.” Durak replied.

“Wouldn’t count on it!” Replied Furgil with a grin.

 

Throughout the conversation Thurgon had remained silent, the guilt from what he had done was threatening to engulf him like an invisible tide. His father did not deserve this - yes he was prideful and passionate, but he just wanted the best for his family. Swallowing the knot in his throat, Thurgon clasped his pick. He was here now, he had made his choice, there was no going back; not now, anyway.

Descending down the tunnel in the unknown, the roots of the Worlds Edge Mountains, Thurgon suddenly felt excitement building up inside him. This was what he had always wanted to do. He smiled again. What did his father need to worry about? Down here, surrounded by friends and other dawi, what could possibly go wrong?

 

Chapter 15 - The Warlord and the slave - Hero of Rome

 

Warlord Fesqeek could watch in grim satisfaction as the rune inscribed box was delivered to him. The question was, what to do with the pure-gromril? This dilemma had come to mind plenty of times throughout the previous years. The first thought was the destroy the gromril, yet, despite the fact that it would deprive the rune-beard thing any hope of creating the weapon-thing destroying such valuable material could well be a massive waste. Wanting to keep his relationship with the Council of Thirteen at its best, however, Fesqueek ordered his must ‘trusted’ stormvermin to store the gromil away, deep in the Clan Mors stronghold. If the Lords of Decay wished to have this pure-gromril then they could have it.The other pressing issue was that of Clan Gnaw. Warlord Vecteek Sneakwhisker had ever been a difficult rival to overcome. Although Fesqueek was a far more cunning leader and fighter than the Warlord of Clan Gnaw, he did not fancy his chances in a duel considering that Vecteek had been able to purchase a rat ogre mount for himself, albeit at large expenses. Out of the two warlord clans, clan Mors was the stronger of the two, but Clan Gnaw’s strength was only just a little lower. Additionally, Fesqueek had admittedly come to the conclusion that it would be better to aid Clan Gnaw in capturing the stronghold of the beard-things. This was not the most pressing concern, however, that was to repay Kreep Deathblade for bringing the pure-gromril to him - he had no intention of making an enemy of him!

 

Riket Fansnapper felt the barbed lash of the Skaven slaver onto his back.

“I kill-slay you one day.” Riket muttered to himself.

The strain was huge, he had no idea how long he had been digging for, but his arms and paws were aching all over, yet stopping would be his death warrant. No; he needed to survive. Gritting his teeth in frustration as he splattered with dirt and pieces of rock, Riket continued his labour. Toiling had been excruciating work - indeed, Riket had little idea how he had survived for this long. Every inch of rock that they chipped-hacked away they would come ever closer to the beard-things. The thought was not an appealing one, yet perhaps Riket could use it to his advantage? Feeling his ache at the strain once again. Riket frowned. He, despite lasting longer than most of the last batch of slaves, could not take much more. If sheer bloodymindedness determination would not help him out of this, then what would?

 

Suddenly, he heard hisses and growls around him. Looking up, he could make out the imposing figure of Warlord Fesqueek, addressing the slavemaster.

“Halt-stop work yes-yes! A group of clanrats have just reported beard-things about a mile above us. If we continue to dig-burrow we shall scamper into beard-things soon-quik.”

Riket could feel the other slaves spread the musk of fear around him. Not wanting to be cowed by some arrogant Mors-warlord, Riket held his nerve.

“Therefore, I want a volunteer to scout-look up ahead.” Fesqueek continued. “Return to me if you see-find beard-things.”

 

A deathly silence went up from the assembled slaves. Suddenly Riket raised his paw without hesitating. It now was or never. “I look-scout sir, will return when I seek-find beard-things!”

 

“Obedient minion, good-good! Now, go seek-find beard-things.” Fesqueek replied.

 

Handing his shovel to the slaver, Riket scampered up the tunnel, his aching limbs filling with energy once again. Had he been blessed by the Great Horned One? Riket reassured himself that he would find out sooner rather than later.

 

Coming up half a mile, Riket began to hear the distinct sound of mining picks against rock. Coming further up the tunnel, beard-thing voices could also be dimly heard. It took quite some for Riket to make anymore progress, yet he soon reached a narrow opening where he saw a group of miners hacking at chunk of rock. There were three of them, Two of beard-things looked the same, yet one looked different, the beard-thing seemed out of place here, but a beard-thing was still a beard-thing, and Riket knew that he had to report it. Making an abrupt turn, Riket hurried back down the corridor, this group of beard-things were much closer than the initial discovery suggested. As he began to scamper away, he felt his paw hitting a rock. Moving away, Riket saw that he had not cut himself, yet he could see something under the rock. Picking it up, he saw that it was a letter, the seal of a rival clan could be seen on. Riket could not read, but he cleaned it with his paw and put in the folds of his cloths, this must have been the place where the scouts had initially been driven off; and this must have been dropped here. Whatever it was, Riket decided that he would hand it to Fesqueek, it might be something important.

 

Reaching the fringes of Skaven territory, Riket could feel the sweat dripping down his chestnut fur. Pausing only for a brief moment, he hurried towards to the stronghold of Warlord Fesqueek of Clan Mors. A pair of burly stormvermin stood guard at the gate. At first Riket thought that he would be told to get lost, but the guards actually admitted him. Through the gates, Riket could see the banner of Clan Mors adorning the walls, whilst Warlord Fesqueek sat in his chair.

“Ah, slave-slave as retuned yes-yes. Did you find any beard-things.”

 

Bowing obediently, Riket replied. “Yes-yes, beard-things are still mainly a mile away as you said-told but I saw-found a group of three much closer-nearer. It also seemed to have been place-spot where scouts were driven off - I found-discovered this, they may have dropped-lost it.” Riket replied handing Fesqueek the letter.

 

Fesqueek was pleasantly surprised when the pitiful slave handed him the letter so obediently. After all, considering the fact that the three beard-things that the slave had seen probably were not there when the scouts fled, this could be something of value.

 

The letter read:

Addressed to Chieftain Skree Blackfang of Clan Mors.

 

Scouts are reporting that beard-things are getting closer to our tunnels, yet this also brings us many opportunities yes-yes. Come to the Clan Gnaw Stronghold soon-quick and we shall make arrangements for you to become Warlord of Clan Mors!

 

Fesqueek cast the latter into the warpstone fire in the corner of the room. He could be fairly sure that Vecteek Sneakwhisker was behind all this, yet striking now would be folly. A plot had been uncovered, yes, but it would be foolish to feel like it had been foiled. Turning to Riket, an idea suddenly came into Fesqueek’s mind - how had he not thought of this before? - Riket was still a slave, yet if he were freed and made to serve as a stormvermin in Fesqueek’s bodyguard it would secure the Skaven’s loyalty to him. Trusted guards would be important than ever now.

“You have done well-well! Therefore, under promote-advance you to the rank of stormvermin, if you vow-promise to serve me as master. Fesqueek could see that he wouldn't regret this - the expression of the slave’s face assured him off.

 

After having Riket promoted and armed, Fesqueek sent for Kreep Deathblade - his services would be more important than ever now.



 

Chapter 16 - Salted Fish

Thunderforge

 

The Grand Urbaz Trade Halls were never truly quiet, even with tribes of greenskins encamped in the surrounding hills there were always caravans coming and going. Iron incoming from Karak Azul, food from the highland farms, and in recent years refugees from other mountains less fortunate than the grand Karak Eight Peaks. It was chaos to the casual observer, a hundred voices shouted, calling out prices, orders, curses and laughter. Sweating labourers hauled crates and barrels, drovers dragged beasts on chains, wagons of ore and stone moved out, bristling with armed guards.

  Undulf squinted at his slate, fifty barrels of salted cod for the Ironshin clan, nine crates of greenwood for an N. Axehandle, five gross of grain sacks for Thundercrust Bakery… “None of which have been unloaded and the twelve wheelers can't get out until that lot’s got in” he growled. “Fenrir’s Teeth where have you been Borek - it's past five bells already!”

 Borek sauntered in with half a loaf of bread in his hand. He ducked as the arm of a crane swung past, and climbed the stone plinth from where Undulf tried to manage his section of the yard.

  “Ran into something,” he looked uneasy for a moment. “Down at the warehouses at the Pit…”

  “You with the goat! Move!!” Undulf spat with venom. “Clear the way there!” He looked sideways at Borek “Just get the wagons unloaded, be late again there's plenty of beardlings wi’ broader backs than yours!”

  “Undulf…”

  “Stow it Strongbrew!” the overseer snarled and returned his attention to the goat drover. “So’s your mother! Now take that thagging goat out of my road or I'll plant this fist in yer face!!”

  It was obvious to Borek there was no point in trying to push it, but he needed to get some lads down there soon to have a closer look. He climbed the iron rungs of the cart and began untying the canvas, looking out across the hall. How was anyone going to notice a shadow in the shadows in a hold like this? For a moment he doubted himself, he hadn't seen anything clear, it could have been a… not a greenskin, it stank, but a different stink…

  “Borek! Not dead yet?!” came a cheerful shout above the rest. Borek looked up to see Vondric Firefist crossing the hall ahead of a loaded cart.

  “Gazul couldn't keep me locked up anymore than Kazad Thrund could!” he yelled back. Vondric passed beneath an arch and out of sight and Borek returned to his work, wondering how the outer world was faring while the dwarven clans buried themselves in rock.

  He hefted a barrel onto the plank and rolled it down to the stone platform. Salted fish, who ordered salted fish?

  His thoughts were interrupted by a pair of armed dwarves who came up closely and spoke harshly into his ear. “Borek Strongbrew… if you would kindly step this way?” The speaker made a mocking bow as the other firmly propelled him towards a side exit.

  Minutes later Undulf looked down at Borek’s loading bay and saw no-one. He swore loudly and scored a line through the name on one of his slates. “Boy! You with the bale of straw! Clothears! Yes you! D’you wanna job?!”

 

 

Chapter 17 - Brightstone - Thorr Budricksson

 

Walking through the pillars of Karak Eight Peaks always brought a smile to Vondric Firefist. It had always been his favorite part of the hold because it represented the strength and ingenuity of his kin. His own ancestors helped create these pillars and Vondric could look up with pride trying to find his family’s mark upon the hundreds of columns that lined the hall. And yet, as he exited the hall, walking towards the Ironspike’s Clan hall, he pondered how whether his ancestors would be proud of him, that he turned down the axe and the pick for the art of trade and penny-pinching.

 

In fact, Vondric wondered if he could consider himself a true dwarf anymore. Ever since he turned to trade, he was rarely underground with his fellow dawi for long. He was always on the move across what remained of the dwarf empire. On the one hand, he was experiencing adventures and meeting new dawi all the time. He had managed many dangers and even bartered his way out of a few sticky situations. And yet, he would never be remembered for building something great to rival the pillars of Eight Peaks, he would never lead an army into combat or take part in settling grudges, nor would he be known as the greatest drinker in the Old World (although he did try for a time during his travels). What he knew he could do was manage goods and barter effectively. If merchants from all across the Old World wanted a piece of him, to trade with or to kill, then he figured he was doing something right, and that was enough to stoke his pride as he pushed the doors open to the hall.

 

Inside the hall were five dwarfs seated at a high table conversing in the empty hall. They turned at once to the front of the hall and jumped out of their seats. “Vondric! You’ve returned!” shouted Brokk Ironspike. The merchant strided up towards the table and shared his greetings with him as well as Fenni, Brond, Rogni and Algar. Brond pulled over a seat for him at the table as the conversation changed immediately.

 

“Bout time you returned Vondric. Seems you’ve been gone longer than usual,” said Fenni. “Where did you travel to this time?”

 

“Oh Fenni. There isn’t much that this old dwarf’s eyes haven’t seen,” replied Vondric before being interrupted by Algar.

 

“You’re only 343 years old Vondricm” retored Fenni. “That’s barely enough to consider you a longbeard. Plus your beard is too thin and barely long enough to wrap around you. My daughter would have an easier time braiding a goat’s beard than yours.”

 

Laughter erupted from the table. Even Vondric had to chuckle at this. He gathered himself before continuing.

 

“Aye well I have traveled far this time. To the northern holds of our kin in Karaz-a-Karak and Karak Kadrin. I made some good deals with my contacts and brought some of my wares back here to share. Nearly ran into a bit of issues with some goblin wolf riders while crossing the river. I was in the rear but heard all the commotion. Thankfully my friend Kimril Argorsson and his rangers took care of that trouble. Makes me swallow my ale easier knowing good gold is being well spent”. He chuckled to himself as he finished his sip of ale.

 

“Vondric, we heard rumors a drakk may have been spotted around Karak Kadrin. Is that true,” asked Brond. “Aye lad, I was there when it happened. Couldn’t leave for a while since that beast was terrorizing the mountains. A few mines were destroyed, as well as an army of slayers that marched out to bring down the dragon. None returned. Fortunately, the underway was still cleared so I took that south to escape.” “A shame,” Rogni chimed in. “I hope our kin can bring down that beast. Dragons are good when they’re dead. Lots of uses for their corpse. Plus, I’m the only one at this table that’s had dragon meat, a rare delicacy any dawi would die for.” The dwarfs all nodded in agreement.

 

“What news from the high king’s court? Is there any progress being made by our northern cousins to reconnect the empire?” asked Brokk. “Yes my thane, but it is with great effort and difficulty that progress has been slow. The underway between us is too badly damaged to repair. Apparently, our tunnels have become magma chambers, or at least that’s what one drunken prospector told me. The surface roads between us remain too dangerous for anything but a throng or well-guarded caravans to traverse. The Silver Road is secured once more. I made a quick visit to Karak Drazh before I came here as well. They report increased Greenskin activity in the area, but they appear disorganized and remain bickering amongst themselves. Let us hope that continues until we are ready.” “King Lunn hasn’t said anything about more Greenskins in the area,” said Brokk. “We’ve had our issues with grobi pits underground, but nothing that signifies them or the skaven are attempting an attack. We cleared the night goblins out of the area when we reclaimed Karak Azul.” “I don’t know of any either Brokk, but keep yer wits about you. Kimril told me he had never seen so many Greenskin tracks on this side of Death Pass. The Greenskins are always out there, and the skaven are never too far behind.”

 

The next several hours saw Vondric catch up on news surrounding the Ironspike Clan, including their rise amongst the Mining Guild despite some pushback by the other clans. He learned of their new mine they were about to start, as well as new technology Algar had convinced Brokk to purchase from the Engineers Guild. A steam powered drill that could chew through rock faster than five dwarfs with picks. Traveling for a living had made Vondric appreciate the advancements in dwarf technology. He himself now carried a brace of dwarf pistols as did many of his hired rangers. Despite it’s short range, the pistol could penetrate orc hide better than a crossbow bolt. The blunderbusses he still needed more convincing over because of a nickname some elder dwarfs had given them, “boomsticks”, and he did not want to find out how they earned that dubious distinction.

 

After a few more laughs and stories shared, the meeting ended and each dwarf went about their way. Before he left, Rogni pulled aside Vondric for a private conversation. “It’s good to see you once more Vondric. but I must ask while you are still here. Were you able to find my ingredients?” “How could I forget, Rogni? You asked me enough times that an orc might actually remember. Come with me.” The two dwarfs entered Vondric’s old chambers near the clan hall. It had rarely been visited by any dwarf in years, but the Bargorsson Rangers had already settled in and brought all of Vondric’s wares inside for safekeeping. He and Rogni made it to his room where he had his special items waiting. “My visit to Karak Drazh proved most successful. I had to barter a bit to get the price down, throw in some extra silverware as well, but my client proved to be true to his word.” Vondric handed the large crate to Rogni, who put his ear onto the wood, shook it, and listened. He suddenly beamed up and ripped open the top with a rune-chisel he carried with him. His eyes illuminated as he pulled the metal ore out of the box. “By Grungi’s beard! Black Iron. Vondric, you have no idea how happy you’ve made me. Once again I am in yer debt.” Rogni now had his second ingredient needed to craft his runic weapon. While he needed the pure gromril still to create the laihtero to form the bulk of the weapon, the black iron would serve as a cast for the warhammer. Only the dwarfs of Karak Drazh knew how to forge it and only traded it for either to a wealthy buyer or a well-skilled trader like Vondric. Black iron was ten times stronger than normal iron since its core was superheated and cooled from the lava of the volcanos near Karak Drazh, but it’s greatest property was its endurance to runic magic. Only under the most extreme circumstances would the black iron fail in runeforging, but Rogni was confident it was the missing ingredient to hold his master rune. Well that, and the other precious item he desperately needed to finish his life’s work.

 

Vondric, meanwhile, smiled, held out his hand and rubbed his two fingers together. Rogni took a second to recognized what he was symbolizing and he pulled out a heavy bag of gold. Vondric nodded and put the bag inside his large fur coat. “As for your other item of interest, it is here in the Eight Peaks, but first, I must acquire it.” “It is?” rogni said dumbstruck. “You mean I could have found it this whole time without leaving the hold?” “No, you couldn’t. It is not in some mine waiting for an unsuspecting miner to discover. No, Rogni, your item is in the hands of a dwarf, and he will not part with it  unless he gets what he wants. I must take a trip to the Copper Pit to see an old friend. Hopefully by morning, I will have what you need.” Rogni bowed and clasped his friend’s hand. As he was about to exit, Vondric called to him, “And Rogni, I pray to Valaya that this weapon that you are building is as grand as you say it can be. Acquiring these items for you over the years has taken a tremendous effort and dwarven lives. I’d hate to see the consequences for all of us should you fail.”

 

Chapter 18 - Your Problem

Thunderforge

The candle flame wavered in an out of focus as Borek’s vision blurred. Twice in two days he thought, and this time he wasn't being paid for it. His wrists were roped to the arms of the chair and his face ached from the bruises. His lip was swollen and split. One of Magni’s henchmen cracked him across the back of the head with the haft of his hammer. “Answer the question” he grunted.

  Borek spat and looked up at the figure seated across the dim room. Magni didn't stand out from the crowd in the way his reputation would lead you to expect. He had rounded shoulders and a ropey black beard, his clothes were workmanlike if well made. His eyes were rimmed with red, making him appear tired or in grief. Borek had known him for years and always manage to keep a certain distance, but now it was finally his turn.

  “You think I'd still be here if I did take it?” He answered. “I'd be in Norsca by now…”

  “Who has it then?” Magni asked in a low voice. Borek scowled at the henchman, daring him to raise his hammer an inch more.

  “No-one I know, no-one would be that stupid.” He lied, he knew people who were that stupid, but also knew he wouldn't be sat here if they had.

  “So who has it?” Magni repeated.

  “This morning I saw something…” Borek began, he wasn't sure how this would go, especially after the response from the trade foreman, Undulf. “In the shadows, I didn't see clearly, just red eyes and a shape, hunched and… black.”

  He realised he had almost described Magni himself, and changed tack quickly. “There were no dwarves in those tunnels, the mines east of the warehouses were abandoned after the collapse. There was a stink of … something. If you want your gromril it's down there!”

  Magni frowned. “Eyes in the shadows” he snorted. “You expect me to follow some wild goat’s chase into the shadows? This is your problem, Borek. You know where my property is; you will return it to me.”

  Borek stared into the stone floor.

  “I've always been good to you Borek, I like you” Magni said. “I don't want to make it hard for you, so just be good for me; I know I can trust you.”

  Borek didn't really know what to say, if he refused Magni was capable of anything, and no-one would blink at a missing face from the trade-hall floor. He just nodded.

  “Here’s your pay” Magni said, tossing him a bag of coins. “You fought well. Maybe I'll need you again sometime.” He nodded to his henchmen to cut the ropes.

  “You've got six days ‘til the next fight, let’s hope Pigsear doesn't get ‘carried away’ with himself.”

  Borek gripped the coins and left the room with as much self control as he could muster, his axe lay on the stone quadrangle outside. He dragged it up and fought the temptation to go back and use it. Magni paid the best fighters in the mines to guard him, and after the last hour he doubted he could kill a tortoise, let alone make it through to Magni. He slunk off down the tunnels towards the nearest ale house to drown himself in alcohol. At least until he could think clearly and come up with some sort of plan.

 

The Copper Pit was open round the clock, there was always someone coming off shift needing food and drink. He looked a sight, several drinkers stared at him as he walked to the bar. He pulled out a gold coin and asked for a bottle of cheap brandy and dragged himself off to a corner table.

“Yer a sight fer sore-eyes,” said a voice from the table to his left. “You’d probably fool a troll you were an urk the way you look.”

“Vondric!” Borek’s old friend sat at the next table. He looked comfortable sitting along, his feet on the table, which likely angered the bartender. His bronze beard was woven into four thick braids, a dark green cloak with a hood covering himself head to boots, although he could spy a burgundy tunic underneath with a rune-crested symbol in the middle: a hammer and chisel crossed in a circular emblem, the Firefist sigil.

“Tell me how you’ve been” Borek said, his face suddenly bright, despite the swelling and bruises. “How are the other holds faring?”

“It goes well, Borek. I spent some time in the high king’s hold. Karaz-a-Karak remains as strong as the mountain itself. There was chatter of another reclamation quest in the feasting halls, but support has not been strong since the last failed march to Karak Ungor. But the enemy is at bay and the Silver Road remains clear. Karak Kadrin, too, fairs well...except for the dragon that’s terrorizing the surrounding peaks. Took me some time to return to the Badlands”

“No-one’s done for it then?” Borek grunted. “Too many heroes, not enough thinkers.”

“Indeed,” Vondric agreed as he took a swig of ale. “Many brave dawi and slayers never returned trying to seek the glory of taking that beast’s head.”

“There’s no glory in being burnt to a cinder; you can’t kill a dragon with a bright axe and a famous name. Takes poison, cunning and patience. But they never sing ‘bout that in the sagas!” he laughed.

“Haha, right you are. So what has you all weak and wobbly? Did you drink a sour ale or something else more potent and fall down a mine shaft?”

“It’d take more’n drink to trouble a Strongbrew” Borek said and slapped his chest proudly. He winced and rubbed his ribs. “You remember Magni Slogramsson?”

Vondric’s smile disappeared from his face and a grim face replaced it. “That ungrim? Aye, what about him?”

“I…” he paused for a moment, looked around and lowered his voice. “A half ton of Gromril went missing from his possession, the proper stuff, the pure gromril.I was akip in the hall across from in, outa the way like. But this morning I saw something. Listen Vondric, I know I’m no deep-guard, but trust me when I say I saw something down there that didn’t ought to have been down there. Something else took that metal; it weren’t no dwarf and it weren’t no greenskin neither.”

Vondric brooded over his mug and held it closer to himself. He stared into the foam, pondering what his old friend had just told him. “I stopped by Karak Drazh on the way here for a quick trade, but my friends there told me some things.” He leaned back closer so the conversation was close to a whisper. “Something is stirring the Greenskins north of us in Death Pass. Rangers say they have spotted more of their tracks on the west side of the pass in recent months than they can remember. My caravan was also ambushed by wolf riders trying to ford the river. Now I’ve been ambushed before Borek, but never that close to Karak Eight Peaks. Also, I stumbled across a journal from an old contact we went to meet. But he was nowhere to be found, only the hollowed remains of the now-ruined keep. He wrote of something similar to what you speak of, of certain precious items disappearing, and that was the last entry before the keep’s inhabitants disappeared a few nights later. I don’t know if both your robbery and the activity of the Greenskins is related, but make no mistake, something is brooding underneath our beards. I intend to tell Magni the same thing when we meet.”

“Tell him? Magni isn’t the same dwarf you knew, he’s done as much to destroy this hold as the greenskins have up there. He did this” he raised his face. “Nothing good can come from meeting with him. All he has done is tighten his stranglehold on the desperate dawi down here.”

“I really wish I didn’t have to see that wannok ever again, but sadly, we have a business proposition to settle. It is why I have returned. My sources have shared similar tales of Magni’s reach within Eight Peaks, but I had no idea he would resort to something like this. Thank you for telling me my friend. I must go see him now, but I will look for you before I leave Eight Peaks. I do not intend to stay long this time.”

 

Chapter 19 - The rival - Hero of Rome

 

Vecteek Sneakwhisker cursed as he crunched his letter from Skree and ripped it apart. How had his minions failed? Now the letter would never reach Skree. Forgetting his troubles, Vecteek rose from his throne and headed towards the gateway. Although his anger was palpable, he was no fool. Skaven scouts from all the warlord clans in the area had reported that the beard-things’ mining operations were getting deeper and more common. Soon, it would only be a matter of time before either the Skaven or the beard-things would break into each other’s tunnels. Nonetheless, Vecteek rubbed his paws together gleefully, and ordered one of his slaves to send him a scroll. Maybe he could use this to his advantage. Through threats and bribery, Vecteek had secured the loyalty of most of the other warlord clans dwelling underneath the City of Pillars. Additionally, through even more expensive bribes, he had secured himself an alliance with Clan Moulder - although very much a young clan, Clan Verms, the other producer of creatures was beginning to fall behind in proficiency. The new prototype rat ogres, although extremely rare, were proving masterful creations indeed.  However, this, naturally, had its drawbacks: the Clan Gnaw treasury was practically empty. Not that this in itself was a huge issue, all that Vecteek needed was a swift victory against the beard-things. Then he could remove Fesqueek and Clan Mors, then, finally, could gain the right to make the beard-thing city his stronghold.

 

Chapter 20 - Missing Piece

Thunderforge

 

Behind the door in the Shrine of Gazul was a small network of chambers, the stones worn smooth with the centuries. Scrolls, books and carved slates filled the shelves in every room, the stories of every death, every dwarf’s doom written in neat runes, gathering dust in the dark.

  Grimguard’s iron staff clanked on the flagstones as he walked the Vengeance Gallery. The iron sound echoed of the empty helms; a helm for every dwarf from the Karak that died during the great elven war centuries ago, mounted in the walls of the corridor. Grimguard turned a side-door into his office, filled with over half a millennia of clutter. His wide wooden desk was piled with paperwork, a suit of silver armour leaned drunkenly in the corner, above it a stuffed scaled beast gently mouldered into dust.

  He sat and pawed through some notes, turning the lamp up slightly.

  “What have we got then…” he murmured to himself. He had a map of the upper mountains and another of the lower hold, new mine workings drawn in ink, strange incidents marked with runes. “Rockfall; disappearance; greenskin pit; disappearance… “

  He pulled out a silver pen, gave the clockwork a few turns, and started to trace lines between the runes, around the dwarven tunnels. “T’ain’t the greenskins; but there's something…”

  The lines converged at a place beneath some old mine works, long abandoned. “It's not just ghosts, Young Lunn needs to hear about this, get it dug out…” He resolved to make a visit to the King. It had been several years since he had made it up to the higher levels, even more since he had been ‘up top’, but the senior keepers of the ancestor shrines could command the King’s ear. He knew his peers, Thegna of Valaya’s Hospice, Bronzebeard at Grimnir’s Fist, and the rest, would be too occupied with their own tasks to care for a few strange happenings. He turned down the lamp and rose.

  “Don't think I haven't heard you!” he barked at the shadows suddenly. His parchment hands gripped the iron staff tightly. “Show yourself!”

  Red eyes blinked in the shadow of the doorway, Grimguard raised his staff and cut a warrior’s stance. Strength showed where moments ago was just age. With a sure backstep he flicked the lamp off completely, plunging the office into solid black.

  “I have spent centuries with my eyes in the darkness.” Taking a step forward he cracked the end of his staff against the stone Crack!

  “I am dawi; born from the dark.” Crack!

  “I am dawi; forged in flame.” Crack!

  “I am dawi; stone in heart.” Crack!

  “I am dawi; Kaz’uk! Baruk’Khazad!!” He roared and swung out the staff in a fast and deadly arc, to the left of the door arch, causing a dull crunch and a sickening squeal. The shape skittered around in a death-dance before falling heavily against a stack of books. Grimguard took a breath and tried to calm himself before turning to light the lamp, but as he took a step the back of his knee was torn open by a blade. He gasped and fell to the floor, as another blade lanced down into his collarbone.

  “Scum!” He gasped, as his life ebbed away. “I am dawi…”

 

  A clawed hand clicked the lamp alight, warm light spilled across the map. The claw dragged across the papery surface, across the silvery lines, which converged at an area of warehouses near an abandoned mine. Marked “KRVK-IZOR-DVK”.

 

Chapter 21 - The discovery - Hero of Rome

 

Kreep Deathblade made his way over the arch and peered down into the throne room of Clan Gnaw. There he could see several Clan Skully agents handing the warlord the severed head of an old beard-thing. From his spying, Kreep had discovered several packs on Clan Gnaw clanrats garrisoned in the lower tunnels, ready to overrun any mine workings that came too deep. The warlord was clearly planning for a quick victory, yet the death of the old beard-thing was still an annoyance. For the Gazul priest-thing may have discovered some of the Clan Gnaw mine workings, this, if told to the beard-king-thing, may cause the beard-things to counter attack into Clan Gnaw territory, giving Clan Mors the advantage. Sneakwhisker was more cunning than Kreep had first imagined, his pockets were also deeper than expected. Yet, Kreep knew that unless the beard-things were defeated quickly, Vecteek’s spending would soon become more of a liability. Either way, Fesqueek must be warned of this. With such deep pockets, Vecteek could be up to anything.

 

Heading away, Kreep noticed several tunnels steadily growing, getting closer and closer to the Copper Pit. It would be impossible for the beard-things to miss this, provided that it continued at this rate. As kreep got closer to the Clan Mors tunnels, he could hear the distinct sound of mining picks, the beard-things were closer than he realised. Pricking his ears, he could make out that it was about three beard-things only. Kreep doubled the pace, and ordered his gutter runners to shadow the trio. None of the beard-things would get out alive.

 

Furgil heard his pick clashing against stone, as he held it up for some respite, he heard Durak coming down the tunnel.

“Anything?”

“No. Not for you.” He said, turning to Thurgon. “I just heard a dwarf talking to Norgrim up in the mine workings. He said that a son of the Thane of Clan Skalfdon has gone missing, and his father is frantically sending messengers to every corner of the hold. Be honest here, is it you?”

“It…..is, yes it's me,” Thurgon replied anxiously.

“Well then, Thurgon, you have two options: stay with us, or go back. I would think that you would like to stay with us?”

“Yes I would, Durak, thank you.”

“Well then, that's settled, staying down here, and going on one off Furgil’s adventures may keep you hidden after all!”

“Right! This section is finished, let's head downwards!” Furgil declared.

“Wait, what the?.....Grimnir’s beard! You two! Come and look at this!”

“What is it Furgil?”

“Something very, very bad, Durak.”

 

The pair watched as Furgil’s gloved hand cleared away a layer of dust, covering a mysterious green light on a slab of rock. It revealed a glowing, green, triangular symbol.

 

“This is bad, this is bloody bad.” Durak muttered.

“Still, we have no idea how large this expanse of tunnels is. I say we go down and check it out?”

“I say so to!” Thurgon declared.

“Well, I can’t say that reporting something when we have no evidence is a good idea.” Durak replied grimly.

 

The trio shared a few grim glances, before hacking down the wall of rock in front of them, then, they stepped through the opening, into the lair of the Clan Mors.

 

Chapter 22 - Dead Herring

Thunderforge

 

Borek gripped his axe and looked up at the carved letters over the decayed arch; ‘KRVK-IZOR-DVK’. There were many places like this beneath dwarven holds across the World’s Edge Mountains, where promising seams of ore had given out suddenly, or yield was so scarce as to make it unprofitable. The miners back-filled them with rubble, boarded up the entrance and moved on to the next dig. This mine had barely even had that, the rubble had collapsed, the wooden boards stolen for firewood. Borek wore a candle in a leather cap, and steeled himself as he climbed over the uneven stone, using the handle of his axe as an aid.

  Dwarves have a lot of care for the things they do, a wheelwright knows his reputation goes with the cart, if an axle breaks in the mountain pass it will be his name remembered in a grudge, and to ‘last a lifetime’ for a dwarf meant much more than that of a manling. The majority of dwarves never have children, so their lasting legacy would be the carven door or stalwart anvil that was given life by their hands. The same went for the miners; Borek walked down a tunnel cut to a geometric square, level and with regular carvings in the wall to give information about stone quality, porosity and such. It was familiar enough to Borek, being the same design as a hundred other tunnels in the Karak Ankor he had visited. The candle cast flickering gold light, the shadow danced away as he moved, and closed in behind him with subtle menace.

  He followed the mine along for several furlongs and down three levels before he found it; a collapsed wall jammed with stones where another tunnel had broken through. He stopped to listen for many minutes before edging up to the stones and beginning to remove them as quietly as possible. Once he had cleared an area big enough he thrust his head into the hole to see.

There was a terrible shriek and a sleek brown shape covered its eyes and fled. Borek knew then what he had to do, and it was one of the most dangerous things he could. He hauled down the remaining rock and pulled himself into the strange tunnel.

  No greater could the difference be to the dwarf mine, this looked ‘chewed’; Borek saw claw, tooth and pick marks in the uneven surface. It wound in tortuous curves, in places so low that Borek had to crawl and drag his beard through the filth. It eventually led to an opening, Borek edged up to the entrance. A natural cavern in the rock where several passages diverged, several of the things scuttled back and forth in a fast, alarming way, a stench filled the air of rotten flesh and wet fur.

  “This is about fifty fathoms beneath the new Skalfdon Smeltery” he thought, for dwarves have an unerring sense of distance and direction underground. He eyed where the various burrows led. “That must lead right up to Runecarve!”

  He needed evidence before he returned, but how could he bring one of them down without alerting them all to his presence and being overrun? The frantic movements were no doubt because of the smaller...rat?...escaping to alert the others. He guessed he would have minutes, if that. He downed his candle-flame and roared a dwarvish battle-cry, then ducked and ran along the shadows to the next opening. A dozen angular heads shot to his previous position, the dwarf hefted a chunk of rock which he threw over the opposing side of the cavern, causing echoes and chaos below. The rat beasts swarmed in every direction, more and more poured in like a river, climbing the slopes toward Borek's hiding hole, but he had moved again, heading toward the Runecarve direction.

  A thin voice screeched a command and the horde picked up purpose like metal shards to a magnet. Borek realised with an inner revulsion that he understood the voice, it was common tongue, though forced through a misshapen throat. He knew he couldn't outrun them, but he had to get away and take one with him… Having stowed his axe in the loops at his back he took his chance and ran for the opening while they were busy with their snouts all over the spot he had come in.

  Without a backwards glance he tore into the darkness. His iron shod boots made no sound tucked under his arm, his socks beat a muted thwum-thwum-thwum on the ground, earning him a few seconds head start. He ducked and dived and swerved around the awful tunnel, even grobi made better tunnels than these!

And there was his prize! Ahead of him was a same small wretch of a thing as he had scared away in the first tunnel, a lookout? A slave? Whatever it was, it didn't expect a fast moving and angry dwarf charging up from the wrong end of the passageway. Borek didn't even bother to use his axe, but, with a boot in each hand, boxed the thing’s head, breaking it's neck. The next moment was more of a problem as he tried to juggle two boots and a filthy rat carcass and not to stop moving; the boots didn't make the cut and were left behind. He ran on. In it's death throes the rat slave lurched, Borek lost his footing and smashed his head against the rock. Blood blurred his vision and he struggled against blacking out, knowing that if he stopped now he would never make it out. The leather cap didn't do enough to protect against the force… he cried out as the darkness engulfed him.

 

Chapter 23 - Steaming Ahead - Thorr Budricksson

 

Algar took a deep breath, wiped the sweat from his brow, and continued on with his favorite new toy. The steam powered drill continued to eat away at the earth in front, exposing many minerals from their hiding spots faster than half a clan of dwarf picks in motion. But it was not the speed which Algar appreciated, but the precision that it allowed for such a hunk of metal. Maybe Algar had it wrong about the Engineers Guild, even if they were not far off from being considered wazzoks.

 

Since Algar had introduced the steam drill to the Ironspike, the clan had made tremendous progress in their new mine expansion. They had gone so far that they threatened to interfere with the Norgrimlings operations. Both clans were starting to develop competition between each other in the past few weeks. The Norgrimlings were close to what they felt was a large cavern of resources, and the prospectors of the Ironspike Clan had the same inkling.

 

With the drill now in their possession, they were closing the gap. The fast pace of the drill compared to picks allowed the Ironspike miners to create a more proficient process. The drill would go first to create a long shaft, then the dwarfs would follow behind to fortify the tunnels to allow them to work on obtaining the resources. And this was just in one mining shift. Now they were able to produce more iron than they ever imagined, which brought a few extra coins to Algar’s bag. He didn’t mind. He loved being underground in this kind of environment. He had even taught others like Harek how to use the new invention. Yet, many of the longbeards of the clan still refused, swearing by the old adage that a dwarf just needed his pick and senses to get the job done.

 

In fact, Brokk had to defend the clan’s new methods twice already lest they be stripped of their new venture Algar had not been able to attend both due to the progress they were having underground, but from the meeting notes, Algar could piece together concern growing from the other clans.  Some rival clans claimed that they were moving too fast and not putting enough onus on checking ahead for danger. Algar knew they were mining earth at a nearly alarming rate, but the amount of resources they were bringing back to the hold, he felt, was enough to hold off the Guild from investigating further. Plus, with the news of a potential gromril vein close, he hoped the discovery would be enough for the guild to forgive the clan’s rashness. With a little incentives thrown in of course.

 

Heavy steam hissed behind Algar as the machine continued its task to eat away at the earth. With every piece of rubble hitting the ground, the Ironspikes moved closer to their unknown reward. Algar could sense it and pushed the machine on. The steam drill continued to buzz. More steam hissed from the pistons that retracted while the crackling of rocks added to an odd symphony of sorts. Before he could push on further, Algar was patted twice on his shoulder, a sign from his drill assistant to stop. He turned off the machine and turned around. Brokk and Brond were there examining the progress. During a usual day shift, only one of them was down in the mine to oversee progress while the other attended the clan’s duties back in the heart of the keep. It seemed this was a special occasion that both chose to be in attendance.

 

Brokk began, “Greetings Algar. Fine work I must say you have done here.”

 

“Thank you Brokk. Progress had been great. We are on the verge of something beyond this bedrock here, perhaps a few meters more,” said Algar.

 

“Aye, indeed. I must admit, I had my doubts that your new contraption would do anything of sorts. But you and Brond helped convince me otherwise. You beardlings continue to prove this longbeard wrong.”

 

“Not wrong, father,” Brond butted in. “We have just shown what progress out people are making. We were the first to use the steam drill. Now other clans are taking notice and are using them themselves. We are starting to perfect a new, simpler method to mining that is aiding all of Eight Peaks. Now we are close, as Algar said, to something big.”

 

“Our prospectors say there might be a deposit of gromril on the other side, and it might be the pure stuff,” said Algar. “The Norgrimlings had a headstart on us, but now we made it close enough where either of us could reach the cavern first.”

 

The clansmen who happened to overhear their conversation all began to stroke their beards in delight. The potential to bring in pure gromril would bring untold riches to the clan. Even the high king might be curious to obtain some if the report was true.

 

“Well since we are this close, I figured we should bear witness to this occasion. Algar, as you were. Algar nodded and started up the drill once again. The next 15 minutes he continued eating into the earth as more and more dwarfs pressed behind to reinforce the tunnel. The scent of the nearby cavern was getting stronger...but it’s vile stench too began to sting the dawi nostrils. Perhaps it was the machine adding to the confined room, Algar thought, a sign of overwork by the contraption. Suddenly, the drill stopped biting the rock in front. It would not dig deeper. Algar tried to keep restarting it and pressing, but this was for naught. The rock itself was something different. Brokk stepped forward to examine.

 

“Hmm, something’s odd about this rock,” he said, as he placed his ear to the wall and began tapping different parts to examine its density. After 30 seconds of investigating, Brokk quickly stepped back. “There is some kind of source behind this wall. It could be a giant vein of some kind.”

 

“Perhap gemstones?” inquired Harek. “They didn’t say your drill could cut through diamond, Algar, did they?”
 

“They didn't say it could not, but it could make some sense,” he replied.

 

“Well fortunately, I am the only one here with experience in mining gemstones, so let me see what this could be.”

 

Brokk, Brond and Algar all looked at each other, along with the two other prospectors with them. They agreed to let Harek do his work. Harek placed his pick to the side and took out a special tool kit roll from his satchel. He also grabbed a smaller, finer pick from his sack, which specialized in cutting precious rock from mines. Harek began his chiseling up and down the wall, ordering his clansmen to open up the edges with carefully placed strikes with their picks. That gave him more room to operate to discover the extent of the vein. It always amazed Algar how focused Harek could be at his craft. Many dwarfs knew the Rock-bane was a fine warrior, but only Algar knew of his secret passion for gemcrafting. His soft, precise strikes on the rock, the way he examined the shapes, angles and curves. It seemed strange to any dwarf who was unaware of the art of mining gems. But Algar had known of Harek’s efforts to study this form of mining and hoped to earn the full fledged title of a gem prospect. In fact, both of them had long discussions on travelling for a time to find such minerals in a new hold once their current venture in Eight Peaks was complete. Perhaps Karak Azgal would be a nice place to call home.

 

Algar snapped back into reality as Harek’s short pick struck something through the rock. When he pulled back, a light shined through as the rock began to crumble around. Normally, diamonds would give some glow of their color like blue, red, or white. This was green. A venomous looking color green. Soon, more of the wall began to crumble, and the warpstone that was buried in front of them began to emerge.

 

“Get back you lot!,”  shouted Harek has be jumped back quickly to avoid the falling rock. The clan members moved back quickly as the wall in front collapsed. The warpstone broke into many pieces on the ground. Pockets of dust swept up in the air, but the ventilation deeper in the mine shaft sucked it away for the dwarfs to breath. As they regained their senses, they saw nothing but darkness where the wall once was. Brokk walked up and lit a candle to investigate. The stench was now overwhelming. One miner in the back of the group was overcome and turned towards a corner. Algar inspected the warpstone shards on the ground. It appeared to be an ancient piece, never touched by dwarf hands, but on another large chunk, there appeared to be scratch marks. “Don’t get too close to this lads,” warned the miner. “This is some nasty stuff you don’t want to be exposed to for long.”

 

As Algar and the prospectors inspected the vile mineral, Brond, meanwhile, stepped forward through the opening with his father, along with a few other clansmen to investigate the cavern. Their hopes to uncover the long-sought out gromril vein quickly fleeted to the discovery of a skaven barrow. Brond stood wide-eyed, unable to count how many of the thaggoraki were blow. Their intrusion came atop an overwatch where the warpstone had been. From his observation, the warpstone served as some kind of marker in this den overlooking the skaven in the lower league of the cavern. The skaven themselves were mostly slaves,put to work by a handful of slave masters and clan rats. They appeared to be working on something intricate within their dirty dugouts and fractured architecture., but Brokk couldn’t make it out. While the stench was overwhelming, the sudden wave of squeaking rats was nearly deafening. In an instant, the rat-men down below turned as one to the intruders above. Bells tolled and the dark piles of fur soon became a raging ocean, the waves rising higher and higher to claw at the dwarfs.

 

“To arms!” shouted Brokk, barely audible through the cacophony of squeaking. “Brond, Harek, take positions up front. Set up ranks. Don’t let any of those thaggoraki get through!” The thunder of boots charging down the mine shaft alerted Brokk to the reinforcements of his clansdwarfs arriving to meet the threat of the rat-men. The thane had little time to formulate a strategy. Their overview had one solid path they could easily defend, but a rickety bridge on the left threatened to flank their position. Another on the right offered the skaven more forces to greatly outnumber the dwarfs. “Harek, take two miners to take down that bridge on the left.” “Aye, thane,” replied Harek. “Baligrid, you take two as well and take out the other one down the path.” The prospector nodded and went off. “Algar! Grab what charges we have left and prepare to blow the entrance!” “On it!”, he replied. Brokk then turned back towards the entrance to the cavern. “Zorri! Where are you?” “Here, my liege!” “I need you to hustle back to the way station. Alert the ironbreakers. Bring more explosives if you have to.” The beardling did as he was told and ran back through the shaft. Brokk then turned back to address his clan, blood pumping as the swell of battle was about to overtake him. “The rat-men threaten our hold and homes. We cannot let a single thaggoraki through! We hold them here until Algar is ready to seal the entrance!” The Ironspikes replied,  “Kazuk! Kazuk! Kazuk!” The enemy was in shooting range of a crossbow, close enough to see their dirty patches of black and brown fur. The slaves in front weren’t charging forward but merely herded by their slave masters. Brokk took a deep breath and recited a quick oath to himself, “By Valaya’s blessings, let us slay these skaven to preserve dwarf life. Let me have a chance to atone for my greed.”

Brokk opened his eyes to see the skaven were close to the cliff and gave the signal. Harek and Baligrid’s groups immediately began picking away at the bridges. The skaven traversing their rickety work realized their doom was at hand and feebly tried to run in the opposite direction. Too late. Harek’s group brought their picks down and destroyed the support for the bridge, collapsing it and the skaven on it into the pits below. Squeaks cried out as dozens of rat-men fell to their deaths. Brokk’s smirk quickly vanished as he turned right to see Baligrid’s group overwhelmed, unable to pick through the thick rock quick enough. They fought off numerous skaven, but were soon brought down by the swarm and dragged back screaming into the shadows. The dwarfs cursed under their beards, unable to pursue with the skaven charging. Brokk gave the order and the dwarfs counter charged.

 

The Ironspike Clan rumbled into the skaven ranks like a boulder rolling downhill into flesh and fur. Over 100 slaves were either trampled or gouged by the miner’s picks in the initial charge. Picking out the scrambling slaves was easy enough for the miners, but their large numbers made the regiment of dwarfs remained focused. Brokk had made his way to the front ranks, swinging his pick laterally to kill two slaves, then he felled two more with a reverse swing. One tried to sneak up on him with a weak spear thrust, but even working underground, Brokk’s heavy armour was too tough for flimsy stick spears. Out of the corner of his eye, Brokk gazed his son fending off four slaves throwing themselves at the young dwarf. He was nearly hardpressed to the edge of the cliff, but he was able to sidestep a lazy attack and kick two skaven off into the abyss. Brond spun, skewering a rat head onto his spike. He did not have time to remove it as more furry vil pressed on. While Brokk, Brond, and most of his clansdwarfs were determined not to let the skaven get around them, Harek seemed to be enjoying himself. He had managed to get back into the regiment and began to tear chunks out of the slaves ranks. In fact, Harek kept shouting numbers of the kills he was racking up. “Nineteen! Twenty!”, he shouted back towards the tunnel. Algar seemed to understand the meaning and replied, “You’re still nowhere my record, and I was swinging away in the dark that one time!” “At least you had an az with you! Twenty-one! Twenty-two! Worse comes to worse, I’ll burn ‘em with mi candle!” “Don’t do that. I’ll be needing that soon,” said Algar.

 

Despite heavy losses, the skaven continued to press on. The Ironspikes were starting to give ground and slowly fought their way back towards the tunnel. There were simply too many of them and the slave masters were now pressing the slaves on. Morale might have been low, but the fear of retribution was the slave’s overriding motivation. The skaven, desperately stabbing at anything to appease their masters, found flesh in two miners’ legs and brought them down. Before they were warded, their clansdwarfs came to their aid brought them back inside the mine shaft. Brokk kept moving his clan back towards the mouth until they had the tunnel entrance at their backs. This, he knew, was where they had to make their stand. Minutes went by and the dwarfs continued to stand firm. Harek by now was at 48 and counting. The amount of skaven corpses was causing many issues for boths sides to find their footing. As the dwarfs were starting to get weary, the skaven’s morale had finally broken and they retreated back towards the pits. This moment of reprieve gave the dwarfs the chance they needed to pull back inside the mine. Brokk was the last one inside as the rest of his kin returned. Once on the other side, Algar approached him. “The explosives and fuses are all set. It should be enough to seal this end, but I fear we will need more time.” Brokk interjected, “More time?” “The miners have to loosen the rock more. The danged warpstone warped the rock and it won’t budge unless we further weaken it.” “But they’re going to be back for another assault once they find their courage again. We don’t have that time.” “Well we better start working then.” The clan quickly began picking away at the tainted rock with haste and strength. The squeaks from the bottom of the cave began to sound furious. The skaven’s courage had returned, or at least fear had inspired them to try again. With little time to spare, Brokk was prepared to make a stand to save his clan. But he wasn’t quick enough as Algar strode towards the gap in the wall, not with a pick, but with the steam drill. “Algar, what are you, mad?”  screamed Brokk. He replied, “No thane, just stalling for time. Don’t hesitate to detonate when it's ready.” Suddenly the skaven were about to charge Algar. The dwarf grinned and turned on the machine. The awful sounds of the squeaks were soon replaced by the horrific cacophony of drill biting into living flesh. The skaven had never seen this technology before and were immediately startled. Limbs and blood splattered everywhere. Algar swayed the drill left and right, unable to miss from the sea of fur descending upon him. He was turning rat-men into rat-goo. Behind him,, the rock wall finally gave a loud sunder, signalling it was ready to crumble. Brokk could detonate at any moment, but he wanted to give Algar a chance. “Algar!” he shouted his name. He called out to him again but the drill was too loud. Fortunately, Harek was his drill assistant and tapped his shoulder. When he wouldn’t budge, he started to drag his best friend backwards, drill still spinning in his arms. The skaven paused for a moment, fearful to pursue, creating the gap Brokk needed. “Clear!” he shouted before hitting the detonator. Harek and Algar were blown back towards their kin as the force of the explosion ruptured the rock wall. Many skaven were blown back into the cave as rocks began to tumble. When the dust settled, the end of the shaft was nothing more than a massive pile of rubble separating both sides.

 

Brokk coughed harshly before he began to take count of all if his kin. Other than Baligrid and the two miners he was with, everyone else was present. Harek and Algar were covered in dust and rubble, but Algar’s distress was soon audible. “Help! Someone look for them!” He was referring to the steam drill, which appeared destroyed by a large crushing rock, ironically saving Algar’s life. But the miner would not settle for that if he could find a way to save his toy. Harek came over and helped pull him off his feet. “S’no worries lad. Twas just a tool. There’s bound to be another, Besides, at least my competition is now gone!” “That drew a laugh out of Algar. “Ha! Well maybe I’ll get my own nickname now to match yours! If I reckon, I think I surpassed you with 43.” “43? Impossible. Even if so, I killed 44 of those thraggoraki.” “Where did you get that number from?” “When I killed that rat-man that was about to climb all over you as we pulled back.” Brokk intervened, “I hate to come between the squabbling between you two, but we have more urgent matters at hand. Algar, I fear we will need to call the guild together for an emergency meeting.” That was something Brokk was not looking towards. He looked back one last time at the end of the shaft to confirm that the path sealed, for now, from the skaven menace. “Get an order of Boar’s Snout Ale on me. I feel we all need a round to cleanse the sour taste from our mouths.”

 

Chapter 24 - Oathholder - Thorr Budricksson and Thrang Thunderforge

Most merchants Vondric had encountered in the Karak Ankor were honest dwarfs who journeyed the trade routes of the Old World for noble reasons. Unfortunately, in the world of trade, gold and valuable wares, you were bound to deal with merchants who looked to extort and take advantage of any deal they came across. Like it or not, Vondric worked with some of these undesirables, but they were a necessary evil to deal with. Then there was Magni. The itchy feeling he felt towards that dwarf brought back memories Vondric had to work hard to recall, or try to repress when his name came up. In fact, Vondric and Magni had been friends and worked together on a few early caravan rides across the Karak Ankor. The ores and metals of the south were always in demand by dawi from all over so they found no trouble finding customers wherever they went. Borek happened to be a guard on one of those rides and quickly became friends with both of them. Vondric had always known Magni to be clever, maybe overly ambitious for his own good, but he was a good vithang when it came to getting a deal. That is until…

 

He shook his head to forget the memory as he approached the warehouse. The building seemed shanty, even for Magni’s standards. Then again, from what he had recently learned, perhaps this fitted his deteriorating reputation. The area was dirty, unkempt for any civilized dwarf, and the lack of light this deep in the hold meant an ambush or unwarranted enemy could be watching, and waiting. Outside the warehouse were what Vondric assumed were Magni’s hired guards. They seemed a bit different from the last time he was home. The

old guards had a more professional aura around them. These guards appeared intimidating only by appearance. So much so that Vondric had little fear approaching the front door, which stirred both guards to attention.

 

“What kind of wazzok are you for coming up here unannounced?,” said the guard on the left. “Who do you think you are, anyway?”

Vondric sized up the guard to try to look intimidating. The guard was slightly bigger but Vondric had the longer beard and adjusted his body to make it appear longer. It seemed to work as the guard appeared to hesitate when the merchant spoke.

 

“I am an old friend of your boss. We had a business agreement that I have complied with and wish to confirm he still holds his end of our bargain,” he said with rough elegance.

 

The guard stared at Vondric pondering what to say before his companion stepped in for him. “And what, do tell, would you have business with Magni at this hour of the night? He’s probably sleeping if you haven’t figured!”

 

“I know your boss too well to know he would let sleep overwhelm him so easily,” countered Vondric. “He is probably still up, reading his books and counting his coin.” The guard stepped seemed to have lost his patience and began walking towards Vondric. “Or, perhaps,” as he took a step back, “he is trying to find guards that would not let a regiment of rangers sneak up on their hideout.” The guard kept his angry face, but turned left and right to see the sudden appearance of Kimril and his rangers emerge from the shadows. Kimril was the last to come into the light, his crossbow at the ready. The other two guards emerged from the other side to confront the situation. They were all dumbfounded, none of them sure what to do next.

 

“Now then, if you lads don’t mind, I have a friend to catch up with,” said the focused Vondric. “But don’t worry, while I’m catching up, my friends here will keep you company.” Kimril smirked for a second as he took a seat at one of the tables nearby and started to prepare his pipe to smoke. Vondric then picked up his bag of wares and strode forward through the guards. He opened the door, uncertain what he expected on the other side.”

 

The room he entered resembled a simple shop a dwarf would find on a busy street. A long stone counter was to his left, with barely stocked shelves behind it. To the right, crates and barrels stacked on top of each other, with stools and tables dispersed all around. It was dark, but a light illuminated the bottom of a door on the far side of the room to Vondric’s right. Finding his pleasantries, he knocked on the door. No response. He knocked more assertive this time on the wooden door. Frustrated footsteps followed as the inhabitant of the room opened the door.

  “Who…” Magni grumbled, then caught sight of Vondric. “Ah. Vondric Firefist.”

“Magni Slogramsson,” replied Vondric. He was above average height (for a dwarf) and had to arch his head down towards his former friend to meet his eyes. “Seems I might be disturbing you from something, am I?”

  “Nothing that cannot wait” He replied, carefully locking the door behind him. “How did you fare? How blasted and broken is the World Above?”

  “The Karak Ankor continues to crumble. Many of the old dwarf towns we used to visit are gone, claimed by the Orcs or the thaggoraki. The High King’s hold remains intact, as is Karak Kadrin, aside from a little incident with a dragon. And around us here, the Vala Azrilungol remains strong, although I’m sure you are well aware of the proceedings of the southern realm.”

  Magni grunted noncommittally “All we can do is cut enough to live by before it falls to ruin. Look after our own.” He talked in a clipped awkward way, defensive but self assured. He pulled his jerkin as if to protect himself from the cold. “Business, Firefist.” It was halfway between a command and a statement of intent.

   Unfazed by the sentiment, Vondric entered the room as Magni stepped aside. While the business room seemed unappealing, here is where Magni’s influence showed. A roaring fireplace along the far wall, prized trinkets and other memorabilia adorned the shelf above the fire. These included an elf vase, a piece of wyrdstone inside a glass bottle, three small hand-made statues of dawi, an odd looking base filled with orc teeth, and a strange looking jar of an oddly disturbing liquid which contained an unknown hand. In front, a stone horn fur rug adorned the floor in front of the fire, with two fine chairs on either side. All around the room were well stocked shelves of accountant books, papers, and other precious boxes that only Magni had access to. Vondric took a quick stare around the room to also notice four heads mounted on each wall: a Gor head, an Orc skull, three skaven heads on one, and an ogre head, which took the honorary place above the fireplace.
   Quite the unique collection he has displayed, thought Vondric to himself, though he pondered where the rest of his other treasures might be. Especially the item he was searching for.
   Magni watched as Vondric took in the room and its contents. Fewer and fewer people were admitted to his private chambers these days, he preferred to conduct business elsewhere, usually through his ‘operatives’. His fists clenched subconsciously, but he swallowed his anger and offered Vondric a seat.

“These are all negotiable” he stated. “If you have a buyer.”

    “Hmmm, you do have some interesting items here,” said Vondric. “I know where the elgi vase is from. It’s one of the few items retrieved from the ruins of Tor Alessi. I believe it belonged to one of the elgi’s high princes or somefin’. And that,” pointing to the beastman head behind Magni, “that, if I am not mistaken, is the head of the Gor beast that threatened Karak Azgal. They killed him after a clever trap set by a thane, Vorr St-”

  “Steelhorn” interrupted Magni. “The provenance is of little interest to me, Vondric.”

‘But that’s always fascinated me about you Magni. You’re good at your craft, acquiring prized items like a vaunted enemy’s skull, or even the vase. Grungni knows how you were able to get the stone horn rug we’re sitting on. And now I hear you are the third most wealthies-”

  “Have you come here to bring me the payment or have you come here to exercise your teeth Firefist?!” Magni demanded. “Unless you want to trade I don't see why you need concern yourself with these items or the contents of my meagre coinpurse!” He had half risen in anger, and slowly sat back down. His broad hands gripped the armrests with white knuckles.

   Vondric starred grimacing at Magni for a moment before continuing, “Well I figured it be good to catch up with old acquaintances, but I see you are a busy dwarf these days, so let's get straight to it and settle our affairs.” Vondric stood up, pulled over an empty table from one side of the room and placed it in the middle of them. Magni watched him with darting eyes, frown solid like steel, keeping an iron grip on his temper. “Ten years it took me, Magni, to track all of these for you. I hope this has been worth the trouble for both of us.” Vondric reached down into his bag for the first of three items and placed it onto the table. The small barrel, barely the side of a dwarf’s chest, made a soft thud on the wood. Magni’s expression softened as he realized what was in front of him. “The gunpowder you asked for from the engineering guild of Zhufbar. It is runescribed and waterproof, also volatile some say, but the dwarfs of Zhufbar give their guarantee it will do the task it is needed for.” Of the three items he needed for trade, Vondric had always pondered what Magni had planned to use it for. That, unfortunately, he would not discover the answer to until it was used.

   “Do you have the guarantee signed?” asked Magni.

Vondric reached back down into the bag, pulled out a parchment with the stamp of the Zhufbar Engineers at the top right, and presented it to him.

  Magni scanned the runes closely muttering under his breath “Endrinkuli Gunrodd Spannerhand, excellent…” He tucked the paper into his jerkin and returned his attention to Vondric.

   The Firefist merchant nodded and continued. He reached back into the bag and disploayed a small, well-designed locket box. He placed it on the table and opened it up. A small light escaped as the cover opened to reveal a gemstone from the Everpeak. Vondric did not have to say a word. Magni knew all too well of the beauty of gems from Karaz-a-Karak, but never had he seen a full stone, carved by the finest craftsmen in the Karak Ankor. His face opened to one of astonishment and reached out for the box to examine the stone.

 “Well done, Vondric, well done” he exclaimed. “This truly is a prize. It will do me very well; very well indeed.”

  “That wasn’t easy to gather. I had to outbid a wealthy merchant who was the fifth cousin of the high king. I would not be surprised if I am entered into his dammaz kron.”

  “Who was that then, haha?” laughed Magni.

“Orrumlir Marblehand”, responded Vondric. Magni repeated the name quietly, then waved his hand as if to brush it aside.

  “He is a fool to barter against Vondric Firefist! Now,” he went on “about the rest.” He snapped the box shut, killing the soft glow of the jewel.

   As he closed the box, Vondric was already bringing out the final exotic item on Magni’s list: a rune-protected beastmen pelt and horns.
   “Here’s the last piece to the deal, the pelt. Had one of my rangers kill the Gor, then we found a friendly runelord in Karak Kadrin who helped lay the runes in the pelt. If I didn’t know it was you who wanted this, I would be concerned, but you have a certain...appetite for these items.” For some reason, of all the odd items in the room, the orc teeth gave Vondric a sick feeling. He was no magic user or knowledgeable of the bindings within the runes, but he could sense there was something ominous about the jar of teeth. Almost as if…

  Magni broke his train of thought with his reply. “I trade things people want, from those who can get them. Why trade ore against the mining clans? A piece like this you charge what the buyer can pay, there is no ‘going rate’. Surely as a trader yourself can understand?”

   “Just creeps me out, honestly,” said Vondric. “If it’s not made from the hands of dawi, then I am always suspicious. Yet Grobbi-skinned parchment, thaggoraki horned tools, even the skulls you keep around your walls, I can understand their uses. But living pelts of beastmen and rat-men, a piece of wyrdstone you keep on your shelf, even those orc teeth over there, it is very suspicious Magni. It gives me the willies.”

  Magni looked dark again, folding the cloak and dropping it briskly beside the gunpowder. “You need not stay to admire my wares” he snapped.

  Vondric pushed back his thoughts of concern and returned to the deal at hand. “Now that I have given you what you asked, do you have what I want?”

  Magni rose and walked to another door on the far side of the room, unlocking it with his cluster of keys.

  “This way” he nodded, holding the door open.

Vondric rose from his seat and followed Magni to the door. It led down several steps into a larger room, unfurnished and bare stone. Various stout boxes and barrels were stacked up, many with rune-seals. Magni walked over to one and carried it over to Vondric. He placed it down irreverently, but made no attempt to open it.

  “Brightstone,” he said. “Six hundredweight. It is one (item), you will make up the rest in gorl.”

Dumbfounded, Vondric asked, “Come again? My years of travel have made me deaf to a wannaz’s barter. Did I just hear six hundredweight?’ I thought our wulthrung was just for the items I retrieved for you. There was no talk of coin!”

  “Take it or leave it.” Magni simply stated. “Don't waste my time Vondric.”

Rage brewed inside the merchant. He wasn’t a warrior, but he still had a dwarf’s temper when it came to being besmirched, especially from a krut like Magni. Begrudgingly, Vondric knew he had no choice. His rage left him as he reached for his belt and grabbed three bags, two hundredweight each, and tossed them at Magni.

  Magni kicked the lid shut on the crate. “I can have it delivered to your quarters.”

“No I will take it here, right now. I can manage it,” replied Vondric.

  “Very well. Our business is concluded.” Magni moved toward the door, eager to have the trader away.

   “A moment Magni, I have something to share with you, my old friend.” Momentary anger flitted across Magni's features.

   “These last ten years have been revealing to me,” explained Vondric as he wandered around the room. “I have learned much about us dawi, our people, and the Karak Ankor itself. It is true what you say. These dark times might not get better, and who knows if our realm will ever be restored to its once glory days. But the pride, Magni, dwarven pride, can never be extinguished. It is strong and endearing as the mountains themselves, and as illuminating as the brightstone you have presented with me.”

  “How very poetic, Vondric. Our business is concluded. Goodbye.” Magni touched the open door.

“Of course, Magni, it would be completed, had it ever began,” Vondric said as he turned to face Magni, grim-faced, rage returning slowly.

  Magni's sour face became a scowl of enmity. “Speak plainly!”

“Remember that merchant that I outbid for the gemstone from the Everpeak? He actually never casted a grudge against me. Instead, we drank together to celebrate our trade battle and became colleagues. Turns out he was an old acquaintance of yours. Back when you were still starting your own business. After you betrayed me.”

  “Marlim Orehand” Snarled Magni. “There was no ‘Orrumlir Marblehand’!”

“Indeed. Marlim had some very interesting tales to tell me while I was in Karaz-a-Karak. He told me of your dealing with the northern holds, of your ransom of a merchant’s family, the threats you gave to certain customers who were either late or had something you couldn’t get. Most interesting of all, however, was the tale of an acquisition of a certain stone, jeweled like brightstone, but a fool's imitation at best.’ He ripped open the box to reveal the phony brightstone that Magni attempted to trade him. The gem was rarely seen, if at all, in modern days, that an average dawi could mistake this fake for the real thing. It’s glow was bright, but Vondric knew what a real one looked like.

  “It’s funny. When I escaped the Drakk’s siege of Karak Kadrin, I happened to take a detour east towards Mount Gunbad. It was quite the harrowing adventure, one most dwarfs wouldn’t dare. But in this case, to expose you for the krut you are Magni, I couldn’t pass the chance”

  He reached into his jacket and pulled out the brynduraz, now in his possession. Magni knew right away the authenticity of the crystal. A light blue glow illuminated the room. Once a marvelous resource that was common during the golden age of the dwarf empire, it was considered extremely rare these days to find a dwarf with it.

   “This is the end for you Magni,” exclaimed Vondric. “Your businesses are at an end.”

Magni’s face coiled in anger like the knock on a crossbow. Quite ironically, the dwarf reached behind the cabinet next to the door and pulled out a crossbow and drew it on Vondric. It was already cocked and ready to fire.

   “I will not be taken down from the likes of you, Vondric!” shouted Magni. “You have no idea who you are messing with or the powerful friends that I have made!” Anger began to boil over as Magni inched closer. His former colleague had his hands raised as he stepped behind the box of the fake brightstrone. “Now I will be taking that brynduraz from you, and you will leave the rest of your belongings here and leave Eight Peaks forever. Lest I put this bolt between your beady eyes.”

    Vondric eyed around the room looking for an escape, but realized he had to act fast. He spied his bag near the fireplace. He knew he had one chance or he would end up like a skewered orc. “That’s the difference between you and I, Magni. You are still stuck in your old ways, resorting to deception and threats to get what you want. Though I have no doubt you have gotten your hands dirty before, kinslayer.” Magni grinned and put his finger on the trigger. “Me, on the other hand, am more resourceful...” and Vondric kicked the box in Magni’s direction. It was enough to startle him that the crossbow just whistled past Vondric’s torso, the bolt embedding into the chair beside him. Vondric lunged for his bag and searched while Magni tried to reload. What took mere seconds seemed like minutes as both dwarfs scrambled with their tasks to gain the upperhand. As Magni finally knocked his crossbow into place, he heard a click across the room and looked across. Vondric had produced one of the thunder sticks from the engineers guild, except this was a smaller version, easily enough to handle with one hand. Magni froze as his counterpart finished his retort, “It’s called a pistol, Magni. It’s armour-piercing, loud, and effective. This will go through you before you have the

chance to think of your last words.” Magni tensed up, refusing to accept his predicament. “Drop the crossbow. Drop it!”

  Magni hesitated, he knew his crossbow was one of the best, but he knew little about these new fire-sticks. There were stories of explosions, fire and death, and now one was aimed squarely at him.

  “Get out Vondric” he said in a low voice. “I never want to see you again. Leave this room and never come back. If you do, that thunder-stick or whatever its called won’t be enough to save you.”

   “Fine by me, my old friend,” replied Vondric. He kept his pistol drawn on Magni as he gathered his belongings and stepped towards the door. Magni stepped aside, crossbow still in hand. Before he could leave, Vondric had one task left. “Before I go, know this Magni; Borek Strongbrew is not a cog in your machine. If he chooses to work for you, it is his choosing. We were once as three brothers, and for me that still stands. An affront to him is as one to me. If I hear you have meddled with him again, you will live to regret it.” As he was about to step out the door, Vondric remembered something else. “Oh, and just a suggestion Magni, might want to get rid of those orc teeth. There something disturbing about them. Not that anything else you do isn’t, but just a former friend’s words to chew on.” And with that, Vondric left the warehouse.

  Magni kept his former partner firmly in the crossbow’s sights until he had disappeared along with his rangers. Fierce anger burned inside him, knuckles turning white on the wooden stock.His henchmen had been roped up against the pillar in the centre of the forecourt. Magni muttered under his breath.

  “Vondric Firefist, you have made an enemy of Magni Slogramson, and it will be the end of you.”

  He turned away and locked his doors, to chisel out a vengeance on his former friend.

 

Chapter 25 -

Thunderforge

 

Borek caught a sharp blow to the face which brought him sharply round to the present. His very first thought was bitterness at being beaten up for the third time in as many days, the second was bewilderment at staring into the face of an ironbreakers helmet. Trespassing was hardly an arrestable offence! Then his situation dawned on him and he leaped up and pulled the guard’s helmet off.

  “Hey!” exclaimed Morgrim. “That's an arrestable offence you know!”

  “Rats!” swore Borek. “Hundreds of great rat beasts broken through the deeps! Get out! Warn the clans!”

  He cast around for the slave corpse, but it was gone. The second ironbreaker raised his lantern.

  “What are you talkin’ about? We heard someone shout ‘gold’ so we came running, now who are you and what's yer business here? And what d’you mean rat beasts?!”

  There was a sound of chittering, clawing evil from the dark end of the tunnel, the ironbreakers clanked with military precision into defensive stance, braced behind their shields. Borek inwardly groaned and planted a hand on Khazran’s pauldron.

  “Let me and the lad hold them off” he said. “Get up there and tell the captain of the guard!”

  Khazran nodded and allowed Borek to switch places behind his shield.

  “Grungni guide you brother!” the ironbreaker said as he hurried through the opening.

  The sound of rats filled the passageway now, Morgrim’s eyes met those of Borek.

  “Valiant last stand” he said, trying to hide the tiny trace of fear that he felt. He had trained and fought and killed, but he was still young and had no idea what was to come from the darkness in the tunnel, it made no earthly noise.

  Borek nodded, and rested the shield beside him. He drew his axe, taking a few steps back. “Double handed, see?” He explained. “Need room to swing.”

  Morgrim was painfully aware his helm lay yards out of reach, his eyes snapped back to the foe as they appeared like black breakwater out of the gloom. Borek raised the butt of his axe and aimed for the back of the Morgrim’s head. Thump!

  “Valiant last stand? Bugger that!” He muttered. As Morgrim slumped, Borek gripped him under the shoulders and hauled him through the gap in the stone. He heaved at the rubble, pulling down broken rock; using the blade of his axe like a mattock he tore down more until the hole was filled. He knew it wouldn't stop them for long, but maybe they wouldn't risk an assault into the hold proper. Borek could only hope.

 

Chapter 26 - Grimnir’s rage - Hero of Rome

 

Furgil felt a steep descent beneath him as he stepped foreword.

“Well, friends, this is what it is like going on an adventure of mine,” half said with confidence, half said to conceal his growing worry, gnawing at his mind like the Skaven themselves, gnawing into the depths of the hold.

“Yeah, this is the first time when you have had an adventure which has actually been dangerous.” Durak grumbled.

“How far are we going?” Thurgon replied.

“Until we find enough raki to prove that this not some incursion that a band of miners can put down.”

“Right, stay together.”

“What? Get lost, me, underground? You better stay close.” Furgil replied.

“Lets hurry up, before this actually does get dangerous.” Durak muttered.

 

Descending the steps and into the darkness below, the trio could hear faint rumblings beneath them.

“It seems like we have not been discovered yet, but by the ancestors, there's a lot of them down there!” Furgil whispered.

“Want to get in to get a closer look, maybe we can take a few of them down?” Thurgon asked.

“Yeah, but we have to be quick about it, but, like what you said Durak, this may be our first dangerous adventure.”

“I can’t argue with getting some evidence, make it quick mind - I have no intention of fighting the entire bloody Under-Empire in one trip if I can help it.” Durak growled.

 

Whoosh. A poisoned throwing dagger hit Furgil in the elbow, causing him to drop the lantern; plunging them into darkness, and unleashing the sound of shattered glass throughout the tunnel.

“Don’t be a grumbaki and let me bind that!” Durak said.

“Have I ever got angry about a few cuts, Durak?”” Furgil replied confidently.

“No. But the cursed raki will probably have more of those in here somewhere.” Durak replied, producing a bandage and wrapping around Furgil’s shoulder. “You’re a lucky zaki today, Furgil.” Durak replied, “most of this umgak poison has not dug in, the thing scrapped off your armour, but it undoubtedly caused a shock.”

“Well that’s a relief, now anyone got an answer to this drazh.”

“Aren't you a miner?” Thurgon replied, trying vainly to lighten the mood.  

“Well, that wattock attempt has given Furgil priority for being bandaged if either of you get hit by one of those umgak throwing daggers again.” Durak growled, less than pleased at their current predicament.

Meanwhile, Furgil removed the krut from his helmet, and lit it from the embers of the fire which still remained in the lantern. Rolling it down the tunnel, their path ahead was illuminated for them  allowing them to reach the bottom of the tunnel.

“Well, that is proof enough, the damned raki are gaining ground as we speak!” At that moment, the improvised torch went out, plunging them into darkness once again, this time, many pairs of crimson eyes were the candles, a tide threatening to drown them in teeth and rusted blades.

 

These Skaven were only slaves - probably an advance party clearing the way for the main host - yet they fell upon the trio with fierce zeal. Furgil brought his mining pick down onto the first pair of eyes when it came into reach; through the darkness, a squeal was heard, and the smell of fresh blood could be felt on their nostrils.

“Grimner’s braids, I can’t see a thaging thing!” Durak shouted.

“We're going to have to fight our way out!” Thurgon roared, as the trio’s eyes began to adjust to the darkness.

Furgil had time for another swing, the musk of Skaven fear could be pungently smelt around them, as the eyes retreated into the darkness.

“Let’s go before Gazul lets us into his halls.” Furgil cried.

“Good, I don’t want to join my ancestors just yet!” Durak retorted.

Running back up the tunnel, they could hear the cries of the Skaven beneath them. Suddenly, Thurgon heard several muttered curses. Turning around, he saw Durak with his arm around Furgil, helping him along.

“What happened?”

“What do you think happened you wazzock? Bloody vermin tossed those daggers at us again. From where? Don’t even ask.”

“How bad is it?”

“Bad enough for you to no...”

Thurgon watched in horror as Durak stumbled forward, as the shapes of clanrats could be seen, scampering up the tunnel.

“I have been hit in both legs, I can’t walk properly until I get treatment, and Durak has been hit in the arm and the leg.” Furgil groaned.

As Thurgon lent Furgil his arm, he heard Durak cut down two of the lead Skaven.

“Get out you wazzocks! There is no point in all three of us dying down here.”

More throwing daggers flew through the tunnel. Durak went down, daggers piercing both shoulders, yet still enabling him to fell another clanrat, before he struggled to hold his mining pick without threatening to drop it. Without thinking, Thurgon charged, plunging his pick into a Skaven’s head. Using the force to shove the corpse down the tunnel, he helped drag Durak upwards, as Furgil, using what strength he had left, cutting down any clanrat brave enough to charge them. A throwing dagger hit Thurgon in the arm, yet he did not give up. The sound of scampering feet became more intense.

“We are going to have to bring the tunnel down!” Thrgon shouted.

“And how do you propose that without getting all of us killed?” Durak yelled.

“Quick, Thurgon is right!” Furgil cried.

“You lads ain’t going to have all the fun whilst I am around.” Durak replied, finding the strength to hack at the tunnel roof with the others. The skaven, seeing what was happening, either lunged at the dwarfs or fled down the tunnel, yet were driven of by the heavy, Iron boots of the miners.

“The roofs coming down! Don’t wait for Gazul’s judgement, go!” Durak roared, whilst breaking a clanrats skull with a kick from his boot.

“Come on! Up here!” Furgil cried, as the three used what strength they had left to lunge forward  through a cloud of dust and falling rocks. They emerged, filthy and spluttering, a few meters from the top of the tunnel.

“Well, that was actually what I would class as an ‘adventure’. Yet the real one is just about to begin.” Furgil said gravely.

“Well, we made it out and that is all that matters in the end. Now let's get up to the priest of Valya before all of this umgak poison does the raki’s work for them.” Durak declared.

“Right! I think we all have a stack in the ale though?” Furgil replied.

“Well, what are we waiting for them?” Thurgon said

“Nothing, actually.Lets get a move on!” Durak replied, smiling for the first time in the day

 

Morgrim shook Borek off as the tunnel fell around them.

“By Grungni’s anvil what was that for?”

“We need to get out, can’t you see?”

“I can see, actually, like I would ever leave Khazran?”

“Morgrim’s right, would I?! Khazran growled, standing in the archway.

“You came back?” Borek replied.

“Standing right here. Do you really think that I, an Ironbreaker,  would leave a friend like that you zaki tradesmen?”

 

Borek knew that this was pointless, Khazran’s anger was palpable, yet Morgrim’s, less so.

“Right, let's get back to Runecarve,we only came down here when we heard that thaggoraki might be here, and, well….we were right.”

“How did you hear that raki may have been here?”

“Why should you care?” Khazran growled, not taking a liking to Borek in the slightest.

“Well, some gromril, pure stuff from Karak Varn, went missing, its owner has told me to find it for him. I saw some shadows and came down here to see what was going on.”

“Yeah, you ran into a ton of thaggoraki and almost got my friend killed.”

“Look, Borek, if this gromril has been taken by the thaggoraki then it is probably out of our reach.” Morgrim replied.

 

Ironbeard Granitehelm had his hands on his desk, feeling not too happy with the current state of affairs.

“So there are thaggoraki down there?” Granitehelm asked

“Aye, sir, seems to be quite a few, reports have been coming from other areas as well; it going to be a full blown invasion, planned for quite some time as well I would add.” Morgrim replied

“Indeed, Steelbeard, these attacks and discoveries will not go unnoticed, the thaggoraki will attack sooner rather than later, planning completed or not, our recent actions have assured of that.”

“We will defend these tunnels, there is no way that some raki will get through a shieldwall of gromril with what they currently have.” Khazran said.

“The raki will always find some way to get past anything we can muster up. Yet Karak Varn and Karak Ungor were taken by surprise,  yet I have intention of the same happening here! Get down, all units of Ironbreakers get into position, the miners will head back up to the upper levels. You, Strongbrew, may wish to join the Ironbreakers.”

“I'll let that one pass, thank you” Borek replied. “Ain't much good at takin’ orders.”

“Your problem. Now, you better leave before you cause anymore trouble.”

 

Borek left - had he done something foolish? No matter, he would have to contend with Magni alone now, although he was sure that a canny dawi like him would leave the hold if the raki gained any advantage. If he could just stay out of Magni’s sphere of influence long enough, then, maybe he could find some way out of his situation. First he would need ale, lots of ale. There would be a hard fight ahead, would it ever end? No, well not any time soon anyway.


Edited by Hero of Rome, 16 October 2016 - 07:09 PM.


#2 Hero of Rome

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Posted 27 April 2017 - 08:52 PM

After a (long) period of absence it looks like work might start to begin again. It will still take some time though, as we're all busy but hopefully within the next few months we can get back into it again!



#3 Thrang Thunderforge

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Posted 27 April 2017 - 08:55 PM

I'll raise my tankard to that, may the ancestors keep us on the straight seam!




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