The top three entries all got exactly the same number of votes! So we will need to have a second vote to decide this.
To all those who didn’t make the final cut great job nontheless, it was great fun reading all those. :cheers Feel free to say which one is yours (except those who made the final 3), I will publish the list of entrants when we get the winners thread.
How to vote
Now that we only have 3, hopefully we will have more votes this time as there is less to read (more than 12 people).
After 7 days the poll will automatically close and the winners will be announced. In the event of a draw we will need another vote…
To make it a bit easier here are the hyperlinks.
ENTRY 1 �?" 1377 words
The heat hung over the vast plain like a shroud. Johann looked down, watching his feet shuffle slowly forwards as he had for what seemed like an eternity. The monotony of the bleak soil was broken only by the shadows of Buzzards circling overhead.
�?oI can�?Tt believe they call this place the Darklands�?�, said Hans in his thick Ostermark accent. �?oI�?Tve never seen so much damned sunshine�?�. Under other circumstances Johann might have smiled. The surly Stirlander Hans had elevated complaining to the level of an art form, a quality which the surviving members of their wagon train found grating but the dour northerner Johann found oddly endearing. �?oAnother thing�?�, continued Hans, �?owhy don�?Tt those damned mountains ever seem to get any closer�?�? Johann glanced up and realised he could actually now make out the gash in the mountainside that was the pass that led onwards to distant Cathay, however he wasn�?Tt going to mention that to Hans.
As he lowered his eyes he noticed something in the distance. Something riding on what looked like a wolf. He moved quietly to the master of the train�?Ts side and pointed out the figure in the distance. �?oWhat do you think it is?�?�, asked the train master in his thick Brettonian accent. Sitting next to him the scholar Abelard peered down his long, aquiline nose towards the object in the distance then replied, in his clipped Altdorf accent �?oif I am not mistaken that is a goblinoid riding a wild animal of some kind, most likely a wolf or whatever passes for such in this Gods-forsaken land�?�. �?oWell, what in the name of Taal�?Ts teeth is he doing?�?�, snarled Johann, who had taken an instant dislike to the scholar the moment he had met him. �?oUnless I am very much mistaken, woodsman, he would appear to be observing us. Either he is on a hunting trip of some kind or he is the scout for a larger force, I should imagine�?�. The scholar glanced sideways at the train master. �?oI do not believe that mountain pass is too far away. We should hurry�?�. The wagon master stared off into the distance at the lone, distant sentinel. �?omonsieur, doubt not that I shall. And may the Lady watch over us all�?�.
Johann glanced around at the dozen surviving members of the train, and mumbled to himself �?oit�?Ts a pity your damned Lady didn�?Tt think to watch over us when the other wagon was captured by those thrice damned Orc bastards three days back�?�. If the wagon master heard him, he did not reply.
Johann noted with some relief that the rider in the distance eventually disappeared and night arrived without interval. As they set up camp for the evening he heard Abelard mention to the wagon master over dinner that if they pushed the horses they could make the mountain pass by late afternoon. Johann�?Ts mediocre and stringy evening meal was followed by an unpleasant night�?Ts sleep where he was being hunted by shadowy green figures on misshapen wolves. By the lack of banter over breakfast the following morning he began to suspect that he was not the only one whose dreams had been haunted and troubled. As he woke up he could have sworn he heard howling in the distance, although he dismissed that as a mere waking dream and went to partake of more of the stringy broth he had eaten the previous night.
The surviving wagon began moving before the crack of dawn. The wagon master had decided the three horsemen ought to ride out on the perimeter in case any more wolf riders showed up. The day passed uneventfully, and the mountain pass loomed ever closer. Johann was already beginning to contemplate the welcome prospect of shade. As the grey shadows of dusk began stretching out, Johann heard one of the horsemen yelling in the distance and he realised he could only see two of the horsemen now. As he looked up, Johann could see the horseman to his distant right go rigid in the saddle then slowly fall over backwards, an arrow shaft protruding from his throat like an accusatory finger. As he fell backwards a green rider on a wolf appeared in sight and fired an arrow at the remaining horseman who drew his sword and charged towards the wolf rider. As the horseman was lowering his sword and yelling �?oto arms�?� two more wolf riders appeared on either side of the rider who had shot the horseman�?Ts friend and began firing volleys at the charging man. Johann could see him being peppered with arrows just as the wagon master began yelling �?oto the pass, with all haste�?� in panicked, broken Reikspiel and then a string of words in Brettonian that Johann did not understand.
Three of their companions, hardened veterans from the Badlands, took out their bows and began returning fire, felling one of the green riders, who let out a string of harsh, guttural curses as he fell from his saddle. As Johann and the remaining wagon crew rushed forwards towards the mountain pass Johann heard screams and a dull thumping sound as the bodies of the three archers from the badlands hit the ground. Looking behind him Johann realised that more of the wolf riders had appeared behind them, riding forwards then fleeing, swivelling in their saddles and shooting behind them as they rode away.
As the wagon entered the pass Johann could not help but notice that the pass looked unwholesomely like a giant axe wound in the side of the mountains, as though one of the Gods were so offended by this land that they had swung down at it with a giant axe. Johann dismissed the thought from his mind and ran on.
After the heat and noise of the fight, the mountain pass was dark and eerily quiet.
From the wagon Johann heard Abelard say �?othey are not following us in, our only way is forward. They have us trapped�?�. Behind him Johann heard Günter, a tough farmer from Ostland, grunt �?otrapped? Herded, more like it. They drove us in here like a bunch of damned cattle�?�.
To his right Johann heard Hans make a surprised snorting sound. Looking to his right he saw Hans looking up the side of the mountains. On ledges and rocks above them he could see a dozen or more Hobgoblins, their unmistakeable hooked noses and beady eyes glancing down at the humans below. In their hands, Johann realised, they were holding nets.
Johann�?Ts attention was drawn back to the path through the mountains by a frightened whinnying from the horses. Looking back towards the road through the pass, Johann saw three Dwarfs blocking the way ahead.
They were all wearing chainmail, with loose fitting bits of black metal over the top that Johann did not recognise. The two Dwarfs to the left and right were carrying nets and whips, and had on masks fashioned in the shape of Skulls and made from the same blackened metal as the plates on their armour. The Dwarf in the middle was the most horrifying of all. He did not wear a helmet. His dark, greyish skin looked not much different from the rocks either side of him. His dreadlocked beard had bits of bone entwined in it, and there were tusks protruding from his lower jaw.
The worst part of all was the look on his face. Johann had seen that look before on the faces of human aristocrats; a look of utter arrogance and contempt. The Dwarf was armed with a nightmarish, hideously sculpted axe which he leaned on with relaxed disdain.
Abelard, with more courage than Johann would have given him credit for, got down off the wagon and walked a few paces towards the dwarfs. He extended his hands and, like a trained Altdorf diplomat, spoke in a calm and confident voice �?omy friend, I assure you that this situation can be resolved peacefully. There is no need to kill us�?�.
Surprisingly, the Dwarf laughed, his harsh voice echoing off the mountain walls.
As the nets fell on them from above the last words the humans heard from their new overlord were �?omy friend, I have no intention of killing you�?�.
ENTRY 2 �?" 1499 words
THE GATES OF ZHARR
Helmut cast his eyes skyward, trying to take in the vast dark arch that spanned the purpling sky. Its size defied rationality; enormous beyond any previous experience in his four decades of life. Even the great Temple of Sigmar in Altdorf would have been dwarfed beside this mighty structure. He slowly made a circuit of one of the massive columns that held the arch aloft, wider than an Imperial highway, and it took him several minutes before he returned to his starting place.
“I don’t understand what I’m looking at,” he finally said.
His companion, a wizened scholar from the College of Antiquity, held up an ornate eyepiece and carefully examined the inscriptions that covered the huge stone column. Every inch was inscribed with tiny, angular runes, stretching up the full length of the support: the contents of many hundreds of tomes must have been etched in the stone, and the lack of rain in this desolate land had ensured they were still legible.
“It appears to be a form of Khazalid.”
“Yes, but a highly deviant form.”
“Deviant?” Helmut adjusted his sword in his scabbard and shivered inwardly. His troops, two-score Imperial soldiers, were all standing idle nearby, trying not to look too hard at the immense arch that had dominated the horizon for weeks as they approached it from the south. Up close, it was even more mind-destroying in its vastness. The team of explorers and scientists they were protecting were all investigating the structure in different ways, depending on their respective fields. Only the old professor, Doctor Schalzenbourg, was squinting at the writing.
“It’s clearly recognisable as Khazalid all right,” he murmured, "but I see the influence of more…heathen tongues…upon it. There is something of the northman’s speech in this language, I hazard."
Helmut grew even more uncomfortable. He had hated this stark land since they had crossed the mountains, and the possible presence of creatures that could have erected this arch did little to assuage his fears. Schalzenbourg had assured him that the only inhabitants of the Dark Lands were Greenskin tribes and that none of them had the ability to construct something like this. Whoever had built this awesome feat of architecture was long gone.
“Gunter, could you assist me?” the doctor asked, and presently he was joined by the mysterious Professor of Astromancy in his elaborate robes. The bearded wizard peered at the script for a long moment.
“Languages aren’t exactly my speciality, Hans…”
"But you know the Tongues of Magic, do you not? I think you can fill in the gaps in my knowledge here."
The Astromancer looked dubious, but set to the task with a will nonetheless and, as the weakling sun that shone wanly over the Dark Lands began to set and band began to make camp, they made quick progress.
Helmut’s curiosity eventually got the better of him and he walked over to the two academics. “So what does it say?”
“It�?Ts very interesting, my boy,” Shcalzenbourg told him, “this line is repeated often, and seems to have been given some importance by the builders. Let me give your our translation �?” it is imperfect, but adequate. It reads thus: ‘My name is Zhargon, king of kings: Behold the Gates of Fire. Look upon my work, ye Mighty and despair.’"
Helmut felt another chill run down his spine. "Gates of Fire?"
Schalzenbourg shrugged. "I don’t understand the significance either."
Helmut looked out across the horizon, feeling that inexplicable shudder again. Were his ears deceiving him, or could he hear the distant beat of drums? Perhaps it was just thunder.
3,305 years earlier…
The wind howled across the vast expanse of arid land that stretched on for a thousand leagues to the north and another thousand leagues to the south. This place was nowhere; the heart of the bleakest land on the face of the world, which was precisely why it had been chosen. A team of groaning slaves laboriously dragged a block of stone across the desert floor until it was in the marked position.
“We have laid the foundation stone, Lord,” Drakaz said, his voice muffled and hollow behind his iron skull-mask. Idly, his armoured fingers ran across the haft of the Hammer of Zharr that he held close to him at all times.
“There is much yet to do,” Zhargon said, his voice as quiet and calm as ever. He was shrouded in black robes, his face hidden from his followers, though none were in any doubt that the High Priest was amongst them. Reclining on a palanquin of black Gromril borne on the broad shoulders of four mighty Immortals, he could be no one else.
“This task may consume generations,” Drakaz continued.
"Is it not written in the Tablets of Law that the Father of Darkness’s task will take our lives, the lives of our descendants and the lives of all our clans in perpetuity?"
Drakaz shifted his shoulders uncomfortably. One did not need to be reminded of Lord Zhargon’s knowledge of the Tablets of Laws, but the way he recited the exact wording and always seemed to know how to use them to answer any doubts chilled the Banelord to his bones. He was as devout as any Dawi’Zharr, but even he wondered if Zhargon was descending into madness with this project.
"Think of it, Drakaz: an arch of such colossal proportions that it will strike fear into the whole world. Massive beyond any obvious need, vast beyond the imagination of anyone save a Dawi’Zharr, it will survive as a testament to the power of Hashut for a thousand thousand generations and perhaps beyond. These columns will be of such girth, cemented with such materials and constructed with such skill that they may outlive the foundations of the earth. Mountains will fall before the Gates of Zharr even tremble.“
Drakaz lifted his gaze skyward, trying to envisage the arch that Zhargon described. He could not begin to image how it could be built, nor how long it would take. Surely it would, as his master said, consume them and all of their descendants and, while it would no doubt be an object that inspired terror in lesser races, he wondered at the price they would pay for that. To build a huge stone arch in the middle of nowhere, with no wall and no gate, was surely madness…
The slaves that had positioned the first block were driven back to the great pile of stones that were waiting for them. More gangs of captives toiled to move the blocks onto rollers along with the dozens of other logistical tasks that the construction effort required. Though there was already a huge pile of blocks ready, they would need many hundreds of times that number to build what Zhargon had devised. And so much more material required thousands more slaves �?” the Plain of Zharr would be emptied.
“Drakaz, I have a further task for you.”
“I will be returning to Zharr-Naggrund soon, but you must remain here.”
"You wish me to oversee this project? Do you not think I would be able to serve you better in command of your armies, Lord?"
Zhargon chuckled, a dry, papery sound from within his dark cowl. “No, Drakaz, it is not as an overseer that you will serve me. I wish you to take a detachment of Immortals south from here.”
“To what end, Lord?”
“To take slaves.”
“But we have slaves already…”
“We require more for this task. Thousands more. Millions more. I wish you to scour the Dark Lands for them and bring them back here in chains. I wish you to bring all the tribes between here and the Desolation of Azgorh to heel.”
“Such a mission…”
“The purpose of these Gates, Drakaz, is to symbolise our lordship over all these lands. If we do not have such lordship, they are merely arrogance. I wish them to be a demonstration of fact. We will enslave every Greenskin within three-thousand miles and put them to work in our service.”
“So we enslave so that we may boast of that enslavement?”
"But that serves no purpose, Lord…"
Zhargon’s tone grew dark. "I told you earlier what the Tablets of Law say, Drakaz. Hashut has commanded that we labour to His glory until the End of Days, and so shall it be. We will reap the glory of the earth for Him, we will take captive all the creatures of the world for Him and we will make war for Him. We will do these things to sustain further labour so that all of creation will be consumed by the Dawi’Zharr and remade by our hand and the lives of our slaves into a form more pleasing to the Father of Darkness. So I have commanded, and so shall it be."
Drakaz nodded and bowed low so that his beard touched the ground. "Yes, Lord. I will leave at sunrise.“
ENTRY 7 �?” 1306 words
Armour of Gazrakh
Far to the east in the Dark Lands, just west of the Mountains of Mourn, lies the plain of Zharrduk, home of the tower of Zharr-Naggrund, a dark city of fire and destruction. The countless smelts, forges, and machinery within the tower continually belch out thick, black smoke that blots out the sky. Their by-products pollute the River Ruin till it runs red and yellow, and endless digging and mining has lain waste to the plain. An ordinary dwarf would be filled with rage to see such corruption, but Zharr-Naggrund is not the home of ordinary dwarfs, it is the home of chaos dwarfs. The chaos dwarfs are twisted by the power of chaos and their god Hashut, and to them these are signs of power and prosperity.
Deep within the heart of Zharr-Naggrund master armoursmith Gazrakh laboured in his forge, the sound of his hammer ringing loudly and echoing off the obsidian walls. With each swing of his hammer a shower of sparks erupted, the red glow from the forge reflected off the sinewy muscles of his arms and caused the beads of sweat on his brow to glisten with an eerie, red light. Gazrakh paused for a moment to inspect the coals in the forge.
�?oHotter!�?� he barked.
�?oYes, master.�?� hissed the goblin as he began to pump the forge bellows faster.
The armoursmith turned back to his work and returned the armour scale that he had been beating from his anvil to the forge. The goblin working the bellows was pumping with all its might, but its master had been long at work and it was growing too weary to keep up the pace. Gazrakh, his temper even shorter than normal for lack of any significant rest in weeks, yelled �?oHotter!�?� and swung at the goblin with the back of his mighty right hand. The goblin’s reflexes were too slow and the blow connected with its head, sending it flying across the room and into the wall, its limp body sliding to the floor. Several other goblin slaves stopped the work they were doing and rushed over to the crushed body, not to bind its wounds, but to feast upon the greasy flesh.
Gazrakh stepped over to the huddle of goblins that were gorging on the body and grabbed the largest one by the scruff of its neck and growled �?oPump!�?� as he thrust the goblin towards the bellows. The goblin hastily complied and began to pump the bellows with vigour fuelled by having just witnessed the demise of his predecessor. The coals of the forge soon began to glow brightly, the armoursmith grunted with satisfaction as he repositioned the armour scale within the forge.
This scene would repeat itself perhaps a half dozen times in the next few weeks as master armoursmith Gazrakh laboured over this set of armour. The workshops of Zharr-Naggrund often employ the use of massive, steam powered hammers and mechanized forges that do not required such tedious work and the headaches of being dependent on a large, slave labour force. But the workshop of master armoursmith Gazrakh was not used to beat out cheap armour and gut plates to be traded with the ogres and certainly not to form the iron plating covering a Kollossus. Such work was beneath any respectable armoursmith and certainly beneath Gazrakh who’s skills were renown and highly sought after for the crafting of armour for the Immortals and mighty warlords.
The armour that the armoursmith had been labouring over for so long was commissioned by Warlord Gemora for his upcoming raids on the manlings and their allies in the far west. A normal set of fine armour crafted by Gazrakh would easily turn aside sword and arrow alike, but against the war machines and guns of the manlings the Warlord desired the extra protection afforded by such finely crafted armour that has been imbued with chaos by the sorcerers of the Temple of Hashut. This ritual required many slaves, both as payment to the sorcerers and for sacrificing to obtain Hashut’s favour and blessing, and nothing pleased Hashut quite like the sacrificing of manlings, their screams were music to his ears and the smell of their burning entrails a delight to his nostrils. Gazrakh kept a collection of manling slaves for just such a ritual. Keeping manling slaves in prime condition in preparation for the ritual was an unwelcome task as they are more difficult to care for than goblin salves, they are picky eaters and their frail bodies are easily broken.
Satisfied with his daily inspection of the manlings in his cages, the armoursmith returned to his forge to make his final inspection of Warlord Gemora’s new armour before taking it to be imbued with chaos at the Temple of Hashut. Upon his entrance into the forge the latest goblin slave to have been promoted to the task of pumping the forge bellows quickly leapt to his feet and hastened to bring the coals of the furnace back to life while the other goblin slaves added more fuel, none of them wishing to risk the wrath of the armoursmith by not having the forge ready for use if needed.
Gazrakh picked up the armour and began his inspection. He carefully checked the breastplate for flaws and noted with satisfaction that the folded layers of beaten metal alloy contained no defects that could cause weak areas, nor were there any protrusions or poorly fitted seams that could snag the wearer’s beard. He then ran a gnarled hand across the rows of scales, each one painted red and attached to the others with a flexible wire mesh. A poorly fitted breastplate could cause the wearer discomfort or leave chinks in the armour, but making the breastplate was a simple task compared to the skill and craftsmanship required to make a proper skirt of armour scales. He flexed the scales, making sure they slid effortlessly over one another with barely an audible whisper and without creating any chinks. Each scale was also inspected just as carefully as he had inspected the breastplate, the wire connections, shape, finish, and paint were all carefully scrutinized. With a sigh of relief and and satisfaction Gazrakh inscribed his maker’s mark on the inside of the breastplate, completing another fine set of armour. It wasn’t that the master armoursmith expected to find any flaws, in fact he had inspected the armour many times throughout its crafting, but in the armour business there was no room for mistakes, such careful inspections were the hallmark of a master craftsman.
As he picked up the finely crafted armour to take it to the Temple of Hashut, Gazrakh barked out orders to the goblins to shackle the manling slaves and bring them out of their cells. The goblins worked quickly and with fiendish glee as they poked and prodded the manlings into formation. As the goblins herded the manlings towards the temple they gibbered back and forth in the goblin tongue about the manling’s ignorance of their impending and gruesome demise. But it was Gazrakh who would get the last laugh, his favourite part of this trip to the temple (other than receiving his payment from Gemora) would be to see the reaction of the goblins on realizing that they too were to be sacrificed in the temple or fed to the mighty bull centaurs that stand guard there.
The goblins herding the manlings towards the Temple of Hashut cast puzzled glances back at the master armoursmith as he let out a very uncharacteristic, almost maniacal, laugh. His work completed, payment soon to be received, and the pleasure of seeing meddlesome goblins fed to the furnace of the statue of Hashut were very pleasing thoughts to Gazrakh, it was a good day to be a chaos dwarf, a good day indeed.