The Fall of Karak Vlag
Kergar Thunderhammer was named after one of his distant ancestors from nearly 4000 years ago, who was a great warrior of his clan during the War of Vengeance. His family name was Kergar Kendriksson, after his father Kendrik Thunderhammer. Kendrik had another son, Morgrim, who was his heir. Kendrik was the general of the Thunderhammer clan and son of Ferghar Thunderhammer. Ferghar was the head of the Karak Vlag Council of Thanes and the Thunderhammer clan, and answered directly to King Thurgrim Rockarm, the High King of Karak Vlag. He was the son of Thelgus Thunderhammer, who was the Runemaster of Karak Vlag before he was slain in battle against the hordes of Chaos. Thelgus was the son of Helgrun Thunderhammer, who was the son of Morgrim Thunderhammer, and so on for around thirty generations. The ancient Kergar died in his bed, a wizened and respected Dwarf who had defended his hold as long as he lived.
The current Kergar was aware of the great ancestry that his name held, and he knew the honour contained in the name given to him by his father, Kendrik. Kendrik was a fierce warrior with a fiery orange beard any Dwarf would be proud of. He was a giant, nearing five and a half feet high with the shoulders of an Ogre. His entire life had been dedicated to becoming the pinnacle of the Dwarfen warrior, and he was physically ideal for it. Kendrik was beyond a doubt one of the best warriors in the hold, a fighter to rival King Thurgrim himself. He had earned his position as the general and champion of the Thunderhammer clan. He wore golden armour, which was a wonder to behold, covered in dull runes that glowed bright silver during battle, and his helmet covered his thick orange hair. The helmet was also a runic wonder, with horns fully two feet protruding from the sides, adding to Kendrik’s fearsome appearance. Fully armoured at all times and always wearing a huge fur cloak, he had a fearsome and intimidating appearance He was a senior Dwarf of the Karak Vlag War Council, and few disputed him on any matter.
Kergar’s brother Morgrim was following in the footsteps of his father, as a powerful warrior. He had inherited some of his father’s powerful build, and was growing what would eventually be a very impressive orange beard. Morgrim’s predilection for war sometimes clashed with Kergar, who saw the need for politics in the Dwarfen life. Kergar dabbled in the arts of the warrior like any Dwarf, and Morgrim likewise with the intricacies of royal life, but each stuck for the most part to their own gifts. Morgrim was a warrior like his father Kendrik, and Kergar had inherited his grandfather Ferghar’s charisma.
Kendrik’s father Ferghar was not quite as physically imposing, though he was still tall, around five feet. Ferghar’s beard was turning grey, but for the most part was still orange, and his eyes still had the fires of youth. Ferghar was the Dwarf that had taught Kendrik his fearsome fighting skills, and in his old age still retained some of those abilities. Though his son had surpassed him, he was still a warrior that demanded great respect. However, unlike his son, battle was no longer his primary business. As the head of the Thunderhammer clan and the Karak Vlag Council of Thanes, his duty was to advise his King in the never-ending business of defending the hold against the ravenous forces of Chaos.
The Council of Thanes was the ruling body of Dwarfs in Karak Vlag, second in power only to King Thurgrim Rockarm himself. The Council of Thanes was in fact made up of more Dwarf Lords than Thanes, owning to the increased status of the heads of larger clans. There were fifty odd clans in Karak Vlag, and each clan leader had one or two advisors on the Council from his own clan, usually blood relatives or more commonly, children.
As the head of the Council Ferghar could over-rule any decisions made by the council and had power second only the King Thurgrim. Kergar was his advisor, as opposed to Kendrik who disliked the politics. This was how Kergar found himself accompanying his grandfather into the huge stone hall that contained the Council. Seated around a gargantuan stone table was each member of the Council. Ferghar took his seat at the head of the table with Kergar by his side, and King Thurgrim took his place on his throne overlooking the gathering. As the King was seated, the Dwarfs fell silent and waited for Ferghar to address the council. Kergar looked to his grandfather curiously. Kergar knew nothing of today’s subject matter, nor did any other Dwarf but King Thurgrim and Lord Ferghar. Whatever it was, it was serious.
Ferghar’s gaze caught every Dwarf in the room before beginning.
“None of ye know why we are meeting here today, I am sure. It has been necessary to keep some of this secret due to the importance of the issue, but rest assured lads, I’ll fill ye in completely”. He cleared his throat before continuing. No Dwarf moved a muscle. “I’m sure all of ye are aware of the mining operations underway under our beloved Hold as we speak?” There was a murmur of acknowledgement. “And I’m sure ye are all aware that with the increased advances of Chaos recently, we need any precious metals we can find. King Alrik has assured our King-”, he gestured toward King Thurgrim, who remained impassive, “-that if we are attacked he’ll send help, and as much as I trust the word of the High King, he cannot arrive instantly. As the most northerly of the great holds, it be our duty to hold the line against the forces of Chaos come what may. Is that not our duty?” The Dwarfs voiced their agreement vigorously.
“We have discovered the means by which we could hold against any foe. But it comes with a price”. Ferghar let the sentence hang. Many of the Dwarfs were leaning toward him, physically caught on his words, Kergar among them. A Lord of another clan could not contain himself:
“What price? What in Grungni’s name could possibly stand in the way of doing our honour-bound duty?” The assembled Dwarfs voiced their agreement, shouting oaths and banging the table with powerful fists. Kergar kept quiet, and soon Ferghar raised his robed hand. After a moment the room fell silent.
“I agree, nothing should stand in the way of doing our given duty. But the risks must still be discussed. Our mining crews have discovered a huge cavern filled to the brim with gold, gems, armour, wealth beyond our ken.” The eyes of every Dwarf in the room instantly glazed over. “We have discovered the lair of a Dragon”. The reaction was instant. Many of the Dwarfs started spitting oaths and grudges from ages past. Many leapt to their feet and began yelling furiously:
“Kill the beast!”
“It must not be allowed to live any longer!”
“We should go down there right now and slay the creature!”
“Why have we not already slain it?”
“By my ancestors…”
“By my beard…”
The noise was outrageous, and at length the King lost patience and stood. Some Dwarfs nearly choked in their effort to shut their mouth as quickly as possible. The King put his hands behind his back and strode closer to the table, his dark blue cape billowing behind him. Ferghar took his seat in honour of the King, who opened his mouth to speak.
“Not just a Dragon lads. A Chaos Dragon! A foul spawn of Chaos, and it stands between us and our prize!” Thurgrim turned to address Ferghar, and Kergar sat ramrod straight under the King’s gaze. “What do you believe we should do, Lord Ferghar Thelgusson of the Thunderhammers?” The honour of being addressed as such was great, even for one of such rank as Ferghar, and Kergar felt his chest swell with pride at the honour done to his family. Ferghar scratched his beard for a moment, and then answered thoughtfully.
“Hmm, well milord, I believe we cannot leave this treasure to the beastie. It will be sorely needed in the coming days, and the Dragon itself could awaken at any time. However, if we can avoid the loss of Dwarfen lives, then we should. Place a guard down there and prepare the lower defenses, and alert the senior Dragonslayers of the assembled clans.” Ferghar’s hand swept over the assembly, many of whom nodded. “I believe that should hold the Dragon at bay if it awakes. Meanwhile, we should begin moving the treasure into the hold and preparing for any imminent attacks.” The Dwarfs murmured in agreement, and with a wave of King Thurgrim’s hand, the assembly was dismissed. As Ferghar strode out of the hall to begin planning the removal of the treasure, Kergar fell into step beside him.
“Are you sure this is the best way to go about this milord? I mean, a Dragon is a nasty enough bugger as it is, but a Chaos Dragon? None of them have been sighted for hundreds of years! What if the beastie is superior to the normal Dragons in some way? I’ve even heard tales of Dragons that could wield magic! If those tales are true, then this Dragon must be one of them! I think we should seal up the chamber and trust in-“
“Do you have any idea lad, how much metal we need if them northern b.astards start splashing against our hold? We need new outposts, we need to reinforce the walls-“
“But this is the most powerful fortress in the Old World, apart from mighty Karaz-a-Karak! Our walls are fifty strides high, and the mountains themselves protect us! Our walls are as thick as they can be, made of reinforced iron, and there are five defensive layers before any foe can reach the central hold, and even then they have to force their way underground! We don’t need more metal, we need more Dwarfs!” Kergar regained his breath after his outburst, slightly regretting it as Ferghar squinted at him.
“The decision is not yours to make lad. More material sure as spit won’t hurt, and by Grungni’s beard I won’t have you second-guessing a decision made by the Council! In the future, temper your words with some gnollengrom for a change!”
Kergar held his simmering temper in check, nodded in respect, and stormed off. Ferghar’s eyes followed him for a while, then he turned his attention back to the huge amount of treasure within easy grasp.
Kergar stormed into his father’s chambers, knowing that Kendrik would be fine-tuning his martial skills there along with Morgrim, Kergar’s brother. He walked into the training room as he saw Morgrim land a solid hit on his father with a golden mace, the head of the finely crafted practise weapon sliding off of Kendrik’s magnificent armour. He always insisted on practising with his real armour. If it failed him in the practise room then it would fail him in battle he always said, and he was an advocate of making training as realistic as possible. Of course that didn’t extend to using powerful runic weapons, which could cut through even his magnificent gromril plate.
“Good!” Kendrik’s voice boomed in response to his son’s hit. “Land one of those in a real battle, and you’ll a broken foe whimpering before ye! Now lad, let’s see if you can do against a foe that’s actually trying!” Kendrik lashed out with a fist just before he finished talking, forcing Morgrim to duck into his boot. He was knocked off his feet by a powerful swing from Kendrik’s mace, leaving rocks dancing around his head. Morgrim grinned.
“Always got to be ready lad, always got to be ready.” Morgrim climbed to his feet without assistance, trying to hide his pain. Kendrik smirked, then turned to his other son.
“What can I do for me blossoming politician today?” Kendrik had a tendency to speak rather louder than was necessary. His sons were well accustomed to that, but some could find it rather intimidating. Kergar hid his grin at seeing his brother humbled so, and cleared his throat before responding.
Yes, I was wondering if you had heard anything from Ferghar concerning his plans for the newly discovered treasure?” Kendrik shook his head, and Kergar went on to explain all that had transpired during the Council of Thanes meeting. Kendrik looked ready to explode by the time he had finished, and began speaking even louder than normal. Which was rather loud.
“They must be kidding ‘emselves! How dare they not consult with the War Council over something this important! This is a direct threat to the safety of the fortress, INSIDE our defences!” Kendrik built up force as he launched into his tirade. “How can they be so careless with the lives of the Dwarfs who live here!? It’s a Chaos Dragon for Grungni’s sakes, doesn’t anyone remember the tales? How dare they!? How many Dwarfs are down there in preparation for the Dragon to awake?” Kergar thought for a moment, then replied:
“The lower defences are mobilized, and there is a guard in place in the chamber. Dragonslayers are supposed to be overseeing the operation.” Kendrik snorted.
“There should be an entire battalion of artillery trained on the creature should it stir an eyelid!” Kendrik roared. He gestured for Morgrim and Kergar to follow him as he made for the hallway adjacent to his chambers. “I’ll not have the safety of this fortress gambled upon like this! My father must be reasoned with, but not before I personally oversee the security in and around the cavern! How long do we have?”
“I would assume that with the volume of treasure in the chamber, they would begin retrieval operations immediately.”
“Then we’d best get moving, there’s no time to waste!” Morgrim stated. He could not have been more right.
Ferghar watched with a smug expression as untold riches were piled as carefully and as highly as possible on iron carts to be pulled out of the cavern. The treasure retrieval operation was moving smoothly, and Ferghar again marvelled at how quickly he had set it up. Barely an hour ago had he been given the order, and he was already carting the gold and gems away. He shivered involuntarily as the slumbering Dragon took another deep, echoing breath. The entire cavern shook along with the rumble of its stomach, and Ferghar gulped as he eyed the creature. Kergar did have a point; there was great risk operating under the nose of such a powerful creature. He readjusted himself and took heart in the presence of over four score warriors, each one with Quarrels trained on the creature. Five experienced Dragon fighters sat at different positions around the Dragon, fingering their axes menacingly as they watched the beast.
But by Valaya, the Dragon was something to behold! It was obviously greatly mutated and extremely old. It had two heads and the entire creature was covered in bony protuberances, misshapen scales, and obvious mutations that did not belong. It was a riot of black and purple with other colours mixed in around the scales on its back. It was gigantic and every part of it was incredible to behold, but it was the heads that were most curious.
The heads almost seemed to be from two different Dragons. One was contorted into a permanent snarl, jagged and cruel teeth protruding over it’s lips, horns and spikes protruding all over its head. It looked a right evil b.astard, Ferghar thought. But the other head was different. It looked more peaceful and noble, less mutated than the other head and without the snarl. It was of a lighter colour than the other and was generally less offensive to look at. In fact, it was similar to the White Dragons that the Elves flew in the War of Vengeance thousands of years ago. Ferghar spat. It was still a Dragon head, and was impressive and fearsome nonetheless.
The Dwarfs filling their carts to the brim grinned constantly, and even the guards kept looking back to the gold and treasure. Some went into trances for minutes at a time, forgetting the Dragon completely. One such entranced worker reached up as far as he could to retrieve a large winged helmet, likely Elvish. He grasped it with his right hand, his feet planted firmly into a pile of gold pieces and diamonds. One of the diamonds rolled under his booted foot, and he fell forwards into the gold. He lost his grip on the helmet, which went clattering down over his back and along the rocky floor. A treasure chest was dislodged and fell from higher up in the pile, spilling precious gold and rocks all over the ground. Compared to the silence of working Dwarfs a moment before, the noise was horrendous. The embarrassed Dwarf retrieved the helmet and placed it in his cart, and went back to work. Only one of the Dragonslayers noticed the Dragon’s left eye twitch, and he simply squinted suspiciously at the creature and continued tapping the haft of his axe. A Dwarf as experienced with these dirty beasts was not easily intimidated by them.
Kergar, Morgrim and Kendrik marched briskly through the great stone halls of Karak Vlag. They didn’t stop to admire the fine Dwarfen craftsmanship everywhere they could’ve looked; the statues of Dwarfen heroes carved into the walls, the gilding on the mighty pillars, or runes crafted intricately into the walls, many of which had some magical properties. They were headed for the defence perimeter around the cavern in the bottom level. Kendrik was "I swear too much"-bent on making sure there was no way the Dragon could cause any damage if it awoke. Kergar worried for the safety of his grandfather, who was as much his mentor as his own father. Morgrim also worried, but less so.
Ferghar was watching the Dragon curiously now. It seemed to have stirred a couple of times now, moving its head ever so slightly. These movements were not lost on the Dragonslayers, and they were prepared to hack into its weak points as soon as it opened it’s eyes. Every Quarreler in the room was aiming at the Dragon’s head. This was not lost on the Dragonslayer standing vigil at the head, who shuffled further down the body to a safer spot, much to the relief of a few twitchy Dwarfs. The Dragon growled; a sound it had not made while it was sleeping. The Dwarfs piling the carts stopped working, and watched the Dragon nervously. Some of them began taking half-empty carts out of the cavern.
Kendrik arrived at the outer perimeter of the cavern guard. The guard captain, an average sized Dwarf with huge forearms and black hair under a bronze helmet, saluted as he saw the Dwarf Lord approach. He shifted his chainmail and stroked his plaited beard thoughtfully.
“What brings ye here milord Thunderhammer?” Kendrik scowled in reply.
“The Dragon bloody well brings me here! I demand in Valaya’s name to know the full extent of your preparations here!” The captain scowled back, but answered with more respect than he showed.
“We be prepared sir, there are almost five score armed Dawi in that there cavern, ready to tear the thing to shreds should it move.” Kendrik’s face began to go red, but he kept his voice level, appreciating that the captain was not responsible for this disaster-waiting-to-happen.
“That’s not nearly good enough lad! I’m sure I don’t need to explain to ye the ramifications of a Dragon stomping down the hallways of Karak Vlag! If that Dragon gets through your preparations here, it’ll have free reign of the entire lower fortress! Our defences are not designed for such a situation, and at the very least there will be a lot of dead Dawi! Let alone the fact that this Dragon is no normal Dragon, by Grungni’s beard…” Kendrik bit his tongue and stomped past the chastised guard captain. He approached the entrance to the cavern, and Ferghar turned to meet him. Kergar and Morgrim stayed at the entrance as their moody father approached his own. Ferghar and Kendrik grasped each other’s forearms, but before either of them could say a word, a cry of alarm rung out as the Dragon opened its eyes. Before anyone in the room could react, one of the Dragonslayers was bodily crushed by a colossal spiked tail.
Panic enveloped the workers as they scrambled for the entrance. They left their carts where they were, or in some cases lay, knocked over in the mad rush to vacate the room. A flurry of crossbow bolts filled the air and impacted on the Dragon. The unholy resilience of the creature protected it from most of the bolts, but enough penetrated to make its head look somewhat like a pincushion. None went into its eyes, the bolts bouncing off the large, dark orbs. Galrauch opened his maw and loosed an earth-shattering roar of incensed fury, successfully intimidating most of the Dwarfs in the room. As another volley was loosed from all sides toward the Dragon’s head, a cloud of orange and yellow flames enveloped the creature and stopped almost every last bolt in its tracks. Several more embedded themselves in the Dragon’s face, but these were mere annoyances. The Dragonslayers stationed around the Dragon found it near-impossible to penetrate the magical barrier with their runic weapons. One of them was able to force his axe through the barrier and cut into the Dragon’s hindquarters, which were less protected than most of its body. The weapon bit deep, drawing black ichor from the wound and drawing another loud screech from the creature. With another sweep of its tail, the Dwarf was thrown bodily through the air to land on a pile of treasure, his life’s blood spoiling the rich gold. The Chaos Dragon growled as he staggered to his feet, nearly slipping off of the mountain of gold he was sleeping on.
The gall! There sheer audacity! How DARE these mortals disturb his rest, and steal his treasure! Never had Galrauch felt such rage. Well, he had felt such rage numerous times, but it never lessened. Mortals never ceased to amaze him in their stupidity. Because they were ignorant, he would only slay those in the room, and would spare the rest. Surely that would teach them to never again disturb his rest. Yes, there was no need for mindless slaughter, only a simple lesson. Galrauch was merciful. The hundred or so Dwarfs in the room would serve as ample-
Galrauch shuddered unnaturally, his entire body coursing with evil energies. The flames around him doubled in intensity, and his eyes began to glow a baleful red. The spines and horns and mutations covering his body lengthened, and his tail whipped frenziedly. Memories came flooding through him as his second head, the evil one, began to roar. This noise was not simply powerful like Galrauch’s, but it had unnatural, mind-altering power and echoed in the deepest recesses of the minds of everyone present, none more so than Galrauch
Elves gritted their teeth as they pushed forward with all their might against the daemonic horde, but to no avail. The front line of Elven spearmen was pierced, battered, torn and blasted apart, and another rank stepped forward. Spears and shields glittered along with brilliant mail coats, light in the all-consuming darkness that covered Ulthuan. An Elf pushed his spear as hard as he could through the flesh of a Tzeentchian daemon, splashing daemonic blood all over his silver chain before it turned to mist, a mist that filled the air and mingled with the blood of the firstborn. The daemon’s form burst apart as one of its brothers, a completely different form, leapt forward onto the Elf and immolated him with a blast of energy from its distended jaws. The daemon was swatted off of the corpse by a sword-wielding warrior, who was himself torn bloodily apart by a crazed Horror.
These scenes were commonplace in the incredible carnage taking place on a massive scale. Hundreds of thousands of Elves bravely held back the tide against a never-ending horde of daemons, millions and millions of which stretched back across the plains of Ulthuan. From Galrauch’s point of view, the battle was both beautiful and horrifying. From so high up no individual detail could be picked out, even by the keen eyesight of the Dragon or its noble, gold-bedecked rider. What could be seen was a sea of silver and blue, the hordes of the Elves. The front of that sea glittered from the thrusts of spears and swords, and clouds of white fletched arrows flew over the heads of the desperate warriors. The last of the Elven resistance was gathered here, and it was dwarfed by the size of the horde assailing, an offensive riot of purple, yellow, blue, mists and magical flames, flailing tentacles, and flying creatures. Magical blasts flew from the Tzeentchian horde, and it pained Galrauch and his rider to know that each one of those blasts claimed the life of yet another noble Elf.
On top of a cliff overhanging the battle could be seen Aenarion’s desperate battle against the Khornate horde, the frenzied blood-skinned daemons tearing bloodily into the impressive but battered ranks of Aenarion’s soldiers. Galrauch knew that similar battles raged where he could not see, against the followers of Nurgle and Slaanesh. The hope of the Elves lay with Aenarion and his magnificent steed, but every Elf had to do their duty if victory was to be achieved, as impossible as it seemed. Galrauch growled as he saw the form of a mighty daemon, the Lord of Change, not much more than a pinprick from their height, causing bloody carnage in the ranks of the beleaguered Elves who were powerless to fight back against such a creature. At the command of his master, Galrauch flew down to meet it.
The terrified Elves cheered heartily as their fearless leader landed astride the mighty Galrauch, second only in power and majesty to Aenarion’s legendary Dragon. The Lord of Change pointed its huge staff at the Dragon and loosed a bolt of coruscating red energy, bouncing harmlessly from Galrauch’s mighty hide. The Dragon roared in defiance as its rider nocked an arrow on his magical bow and loosed it at the Daemon. The arrow glowed blue as it penetrated the magical defences of the Lord of Change and wounded the creature such as no mortal weapon could do. The Elves cheered once more as they fought with renewed vigour, and the daemonic horde lost some of its impetus as Horrors and Flamers began dissipating, their hold on the mortal world slipping. Galrauch’s maw opened to launch a burst of flame at the Greater Daemon, who held out his staff and deflected the blast of flame into the battle below, immolating numerous daemons and soldiers.
The Daemon renewed its attacks, pushing Galrauch back with sweeps of claws and arcane blasts as it magically assaulted the Elf with the magical bow. The Lord of Change faltered along with his army as another arrow struck him. The birdlike form of the Daemon flickered in and out of existence for a moment. The Dragon renewed its attacks, tearing great gouges in the form of his foe. The Greater Daemon screeched with unholy rage, unleashing the full chaotic power granted to it by Tzeentch on the Dragon and its master. His master gritted his teeth as unnatural flames enveloped him, and screamed as his form was obliterated. His bow fell from his hands to be lost in the battle below.
Galrauch bellowed in rage and despair, and a collective moan rose up from the Elves. The daemons began making headway through the wall of spears, swords and shields, and the Lord of Change cackled evilly. With a glow of insane fury in his eyes, Galrauch closed his jaws around the head of the Lord of Change, tearing it apart and letting the body fall, its form unravelling as it fell. The head burst into a multicoloured mist and enveloped Galrauch, twisting his mind, body and soul. The Elves cheered heartily.
The Dragon thrashed his wings powerlessly as his form mutated, his once noble form sprouting ferocious spikes and mutations. His jaws were open but no sound came out. An incredible pain wracked him as his body began changing shape, and to his horror, among the mutations he sprouted another head.
With an evil glow in its eyes, this evil head took control of every part of Galrauch but the deepest recesses of his mind. He whimpered inwardly as he turned his new, mutating breath weapon on the confused and terrified Elves, slaying hundreds of them. Galrauch could see the despairing, unbelieving faces of his friends looking up at him as he killed them, but was powerless to stop himself.
After the battle, Galrauch flew away to avoid being slain by his brothers. He managed to temporarily gain some measure of control, and spent many nights ferociously battling with himself, biting at the other evil head. He could not win, but the pain he inflicted upon himself dulled the pain inside.
Galrauch’s thrashing began to abate as his Chaos possessed self continued to take control, leaving him to watch helplessly. The Quarrelers kept firing to little effect, and the surviving Dragonslayers were now attempting to direct fire to the vulnerable sections of the Dragon. Ferghar and Kendrik began ordering the Dwarfs to fall back as the guard captain sent for reinforcements. Kendrik turned to Kergar and Morgrim.
“Alert the King! We have to be prepared, there’s no way we can stop the Dragon here!” Morgrim opened his mouth to protest, but his father interjected. “There’s no time for objections lad, ye have to go now! By Grungni, I say NOW!” With that, Morgrim and Kergar left the brave warriors to stall the Dragon for as long as possible.
The Dragon still appeared to be struggling with itself, though less violently. The main head was biting half-heartedly at the more chaotic one, but it looked as if whatever battle the Dragon was fighting, it was losing. Kendrik and Ferghar continued organising the retreat of the Dwarfs in the brief respite they had. As brave as they were, both of them wanted to leave as soon as possible, and as the last of the Dwarfs were leaving the room, Kendrik and Ferghar followed. As they made for the exit the Dragon came to its senses, or lost them completely. Ferghar turned to the Dragon, to his son, and with a sad, knowing nod from Kendrik, Ferghar drew his runic weapon and charged at the Dragon. Kendrik withdrew from the room, leaving his father to die bravely under the watchful gaze of the ancestors.
Morgrim ran ahead of Kergar as they made for King Thurgrim Rockarm’s throneroom. They passed countless Dwarfs, some of which gave curious looks, some of which payed no attention, but none who knew the danger they were immediately in. The carnage in the lowest level of the Karak had not yet carried to the upper levels, but that would soon change. Guard captains and the few Thanes who knew of the danger were working as fast as possible to organise the Dwarfen defences, including the war machines.
As they reached the throneroom, the Hammerers guarding the door halted them.
“Halt Dawi, what is your business here?” inquired a burly Dwarf clad in magnificent gromril and holding a huge hammer effortlessly in one hand. Kergar answered between great sucking gasps of breath.
“Dragon…lowest level…awoken…hold in danger!” Dwarfen court society is not overly impractical, and the two Dwarfs were admitted entrance. The doors were opened, and four more Hammerers flanked them as they approached the King as fast as was polite. Thurgrim eyed them curiously as they prostrated themselves before him and began speaking hurriedly, still out of breath.
“My Lord Thurgrim…the Dragon is awakened…too powerful to stop.” Kergar began. Morgrim continued, less breathless than his brother:
“Our father Lord Kendrik and his father….Lord Ferghar are down there trying to buy…time. We don’t have long, we must prepare our defences imm-“
“The Dragon somehow knows Chaos magics, the Runesmiths must also be notified!” Kergar interrupted. No more needed to be said, Thurgrim stood from his throne and beckoned to his gatekeeper. Curiously, the news that the Dragon wielded magic did not surprise him.
“Summon the War Council and alert the custodians-“The custodians were the watch captains of each level- “Until we have prepared a response to take care of this problem, it will be the responsibility of the custodians to keep Galrauch contained”. Kergar raised an eyebrow.
“Galrauch? How do-“King Rockarm waved him away and the two Dwarfs retreated. When they were clear of the throne room, Kergar raised his suspicions.
“Did you hear that Morgrim? King Rockarm knows the name of this beast! Maybe he knows more about this he appears!” Morgrim shook his angrily.
“Aye, maybe, but I should hope ye are not suggesting our King is not doing his utmost to help Karak Vlag! Might I remind ye-“
“I’m not suggesting any such thing, but if he knew the capabilities of the Dragon then he should have organised more stringent defences! It matters not, we’d best be heading back down to help our kin. Lord Ferghar and our father will need our help!” Morgrim nodded and they both began the run back to the lower levels. Back inside the throneroom, King Thurgrim sat on his throne with his chin on his fist. His gatekeeper and a few Hammerers had already left to carry out his orders. His remaining Hammerers shifted nervously. The King looked more worried than they had ever seen him.
Kendrik ran. He could hear the ghastly sounds of Dwarfs slower than he being consumed by the Dragon’s magic and torn apart by huge claws. It took all of his willpower not to turn and face the Dragon with his runic axe to avenge the death of his father and the Dwarfs that had died so far, but he kept running. He had to rally the surviving Dwarfs in the lower levels and organise the defences while the King summoned the War Council, who would amass an army to face the Dragon. At least, he hoped they would.
The Dragon was taking its time, killing any Dwarfs it saw, chasing some down who evaded him. He thundered down the bottom level’s main hall, pausing only to fill adjacent chambers with fire or enter those that the flames could not efficiently scour. Many of the Dwarfs attempted to resist, firing at Galrauch with old and trustworthy crossbows and handguns. The magical, flaming barrier around the Dragon still burning strongly, adding to the creature’s terrifying visage. The Dwarfs who attempted to face the Dragon with ancient family axes and hammers were left unburnt by those flames but were still unable to wound the creature. The ineffectiveness of the protective flames against flesh was of little consolation to the warriors who were crushed, roasted or spitted by Galrauch’s fearsome array of weaponry. The Dragon bled from a few minor wounds and there were still bolts sticking out from its face, but its strength had not diminished and hundreds of slain Dwarfs were left in its wake.
Galrauch was not sparing any of his magical power in subjugating the lower levels, and though the walls of the fortress were reasonably protected against magical assault, the very air was becoming saturated with RAW magical power. The Dwarfs still alive in the lower levels could feel unnatural winds ruffling their beards and stinging their eyes, despite there being no wind blowing so far underground. Despite the obvious unnaturalness of it all, it was the last of the problems of the Dwarfs in the lower levels. They were concerned with escaping to the more heavily defended upper levels, or in fewer cases, buying time for their kin to escape by sacrificing themselves. The only Dwarf who paid much attention to the winds of magic inside Karak Vlag was Grundus Blackhelm, a Runesmith who was busy maintaining the anti-magic runes in the walls when the Dragon awoke. He feared that if the magic saturation in the lower levels kept increasing as they were sure to do, the energy could be used in the form pf a portal to the Realm of Chaos, which could be opened by a skilled magic user. The Dragon was a skilled magic user, and it would turn out that Grundus’ fears were fully warranted. Grundus knew he had to get to the other Runesmiths as he could not fight the Dragon’s magic alone. With that in mind, he used his knowledge of he runes in the fortress to open enough hidden doorways for him to evade the Dragon and head for the upper levels.
The Dwarfs gathered around the map. The Karak Vlag War Council had acted quickly, and some of them had not even answered the summons in favour of preparing their troops immediately. Those that had come were anxious to leave, so King Thurgrim was brief.
“As ye all know, Karak Vlag has nine levels below ground. The beast has almost complete control of level nine and there are reports that he is approaching level eight. At the rate he is moving, we cannot summon any meaningful resistance until he reaches level seven. This means we need to open all the secret tunnels and doorways to evacuate as many Dwarfs as possible from levels seven and eight. We can’t help anyone still in level nine.” The atmosphere darkened as the Dwarf Lords and Thanes absorbed this information. The Runemaster of Karak Vlag, Balgrum Silvermane, spoke next:
“We believe that this Dragon is a powerful user of magic. As such, conventional tactics concerning Dragons will not suffice. From what we know, the Dragon is physically superior to a normal Dragon, and is the equivalent of a mighty sorcerer in its knowledge of magic. The only sufficient means of fighting this creature is to summon an army, especially artillery batteries, with strong support by my Runesmiths. We can nullify the Dragon’s magic, and I trust your forces have sufficient firepower and bravery to crush this creature?” The Dwarfs gathered snorted as if the very question was foolish. Balgrum nodded, and turned to King Thurgrim.
“I believe we can destroy this creature sire. Do we have your blessing?” Thurgrim looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded. Before he dismissed the gathering, he spoke one last time.
“This Dragon poses the greatest threat our home has faced in hundreds of years. Do not underestimate its power, and end this disaster as quickly as possible. May the ancestors be with you all.” The Dwarfs stood, saluted to their King, and left hastily. When they were all gone, Thurgrim sighed and turned to face Runemaster Balgrum.
“Will this be over soon, Balgrum?” Balgrum nodded.
“Aye, my King. The b.astard has no chance.” Thurgrim looked unassured, and retired to his chambers.
Kergar and Morgrim reached the stairway leading down to level nine as their father came back up. Kendrik was sweating profusely but showed no signs of fatigue, unlike the stream of frightened and angry Dwarfs pouring up the staircase. Kendrik grabbed his sons and almost dragged them with him as he kept running.
“It’s too dangerous lads, ye shouldn’t have come back down ‘ere! The beastie’ll be here any moment!” Kergar and Morgrim didn’t hesitate to follow their father, paying no attention to the bizarre stench wafting from the lower level.
Grundus Blackhelm clutched his chest and panted heavily as he ran. His heavy hammer on his back was weighing him down, and despite being as tough as any other Dwarf he was not as fit as those whose occupation was fighting. He climbed another staircase to emerge into level five. Runemaster Balgrum would likely be with the King on level three, the most secure level in the entire fortress and home to the King’s main throne room. Whenever visitors came to Karak Vlag the King would meet them in his receiving throne room on the first level, just below ground. Grundus knew his position as a Runesmith should secure him access to Balgrum Silvermane’s chambers. He only hoped what he had to say would be heard.
In level nine, the stench of death and magic permeated the entire place, and the walls were almost glowing with magic. Galrauch had turned the place into a charnel house filled to the brim with unnatural energies, which he needed to use if he was to destroy this fortress. The power of Chaos in the outside world was waxing strong, and it would answer if called. The Chaos Dragon took a break from the systematic slaughter of the level’s inhabitants to begin the ritual. Knowing exactly what was taking place, the first head growled in impotent fury as it tried to exert some control over his evil otherself. He could not win, but he could buy time. Buy time for the Dwarfs to slay him. Death was what he craved, but would likely never receive.
Despite Galrauch’s best efforts, he still began performing the summoning ritual which once begun, could not be stopped. Arcane movements of the tail and claws accompanied complicated movements of the tongue that no mortal could ever hope to comprehend, and the winds of magic now moving freely around the area were drawn to this one place. A tear in the fabric of the dimension opened slowly, at first a pinprick but soon a hole large enough for a man to crawl out of. The Dragon’s four eyes glowed brightly as one head growled furiously and one continued performing the ritual. Chaotic energies surrounded the Dragon and flowed through the dimensional rift.
Through the rift could be see the Realm of Chaos, blackened skies with clouds that would burn the eyes to see. Misshapen forms roamed the landscape and magic flowed freely, warping everything it touched. Lightning of random colours struck the landscape as the ground cracked in places for no apparent reason. Nothing made sense and everything was corrupted. Forms began to materialize, forms that had haunted the dreams of mortals since the Old Ones roamed the world. Creatures with birdlike heads, brazen horns, cloven hooves, lashing tentacles, snapping jaws, acidic drool and twisted claws formed until there were more than could be readily counted. And more came. And more. They kept coming until there was an army of daemons that would make any mortal quake in fear. This army began to claw, climb, slither, hop and generally make their way through the portal to gather inside Karak Vlag. As the Dwarfs prepared their forces in the upper levels, Galrauch prepared his.