We could recycle new illustrations from the background & stories section and suchlike. We could also use a lot of old illustrations where we think them appropriate. This is the only meager finished colour illustration I can contribute with, if it’s of any use somewhere:
Filler illustrations are less planned out than the content itself. Do you wish me to hunt down some and ask permission, or would you rather pick and choose yourself? Most can be found here in any case.
For background story, I have four proposals out of hand, although other variants are of course possible. We’d probably better pick only one. See below for the stories in question:
1) Use story The Enemy’s Offer which I originally wrote for WoH #13. Because it’s part of the backlog.
2) Use Timothy Leighton’s A Slight Return from Scribe’s Contest III to show off Scribe’s Contest as a new part of the site. Timothy’s entry won gold during the End Times contest. Read and see why. Gives one the chills.
3) Use The Acolytes’ Progress, and the Four Slanders of Hashut. Because it shows off the ongoing Chaos Dwarf culture project, with both great story by Beloss and great illustration by Forgefire. We have other illustrated stories as well, but most texts are by me in those and I’d like to showcase the work of others. Plus the Four Slanders are among the shorter of the longer stories in the corpus.
4) For a shorter showcase of the Chaos Dwarf culture project, we have the illustrated fable The Absentminded Hatter, written by me and illustrated by Forgefire. One of the few shorter bits with an illustration. Takes up less page space.
[align=center]The Enemy’s Offer
Dozy from a long watch duty upon the roofed bastion tower, spearman Lin-Tzu of the Grand Imperial Army of Cathay jerked upright as the two hollow-head signal arrows shrieked and whined from the north-west. The tribal scout rider who had loosed the projectiles could be seen three hundred paces away, galloping hard around a rocky ridge as he made for the western gate castle of fortress Jian Xia, home to a garrison of ten thousand men and eight hundred horses on Cathay’s western steppe frontier.
Lin-Tzu pivoted around his spear shaft and relayed the scout’s arrow message with a shout towards the busy fortress yard inside the walls. It was the signal Enemies approaching, if his ear was any judge after all those drills and maneouvres. Simultaneously, a dozen other soldiers on guard duty yelled the same words. Hundreds of men suddenly abandoned their tasks and rushed for the barracks and armoury. A gong was struck in the western gate castle, which opened its triple gates to let the exhausted rider and mount inside.
The spearman couldn’t hear any of the scout’s agitated words at this distance. He held his post and stared out into the rolling, inhospitable landscape south of the Great Bastion far to the north. The titanic Mountains of Mourn towered at the western horizon. Lin-Tzu fingered nervously on his thick, red-painted paper scale armour. It was designed to stop arrows and crossbow bolts, and was massproduced in large glue-workshops as the cheapest armour available for the lowliest footsloggers.
His mind raced with fear, anxiety and thrill. It made him edgy. Speculations hunted each others in Lin-Tzu’s alerted thoughts. Who were the enemy? They were probably migrating Ogres from the inaccessible peaks, or ambitious nomad riders of either Hobgoblin, Kurgan or Hung tribes, who had dared the easternmost passes through the Mountains of Mourn to circumvent the Great Bastion.
Or could the giant wall to the north have been breached? What about the jade Tower of Ashshair? Did it still stand? Were they alone in the wasteland? Would the Dragon Emperor send reinforcements? Could they hold?
The reality of it all dumbstruck Lin-Tzu for a long time. Four dark, smoke-belching columns appeared in the distance and snaked their way towards the fortress. He stared, and stared some more as he saw sights he could not believe. As a Cathayan, Lin-Tzu was no complete stranger to mechanisms, fireworks and mystical magic in the world, but this…
Inside the fortress, alarms were sounded, orders shouted. The senior officers’ voices had taken on a different pitch as the foe approached the thick walls of Jian Xia. Weapons and harnesses clattered. Troops assembled hastily. Cannon, bolt thrower and rocket batteries were readied in a hurry. Additional ammunition baskets were moved up to the walls by men with yokes across their shoulders. Crossbowmen rushed to the battlements. Lin-Tzu was joined by twenty warriors in his tower alone.
Frantic activity ensued within the fortress, yet outside the enemy spread out sluggishly with their metal cohorts and iron behemoths, their fire and monsters, their war machines and lines of large wagons without horses or oxen. He thought he saw short men with large beards beneath their full-face helmets. Lin-Tzu could not estimate the foreigners’ numbers, but even with the large contingents of chained slaves and scurrying Greenskins they appeared to be less numerous than the defenders. That was a good sign.
The fortress commander, Yen Huangshi, apparently thought so too. Noises were made as the western gate castle once again opened up. This time it let out the garrison’s elite cavalry, two hundred and sixty riders, both mount and man equipped with heavy lamellar armour. The cavalry poured out of the gatehouse with a thunder of hooves and a rising dustcloud. Banners and tassels fluttered in the wind.
Lin-Tzu guessed the cavalrymen’s purpose was to disrupt the enemy before they could close off the fortress and begin a siege. Cohorts of thickly-built warriors advanced to meet the Cathayan riders. The heavy cavalry reformed and adopted a diamond formation as the gates closed behind them. Then they started to trot. At a range of about fifty paces from the enemy lines, the riders lowered their lances. At thirty, they charged with shrill warcries which could be heard at the walls.
So too could the very loud bangs of firearms. Before the gunpowder smoke engulfed the enemy ranks, Lin-Tzu thought he could make out strange, flared handguns. Were they shaped like trumpets to amplify the noise and scare horses? If so, the strange men were in for a surprise. The Grand Army was thorough in its training of horses. If the mounts could not stand the booms of gunpowder, the animals had no place in a Cathayan battleline.
The cavalry formation collapsed in thrown men and thrashing horses. Lin-Tzu gasped and exchanged shocked looks with the soldiers around him behind the crenellations. The riders had fallen like wheat before a scythe. What kind of handguns could cause such devastation? Why had the enemy not used them at longer range, but instead risked a charge?
The attack barely hit home, but the few foolhardy or bravehearted survivors who crashed into the enemy infantry could not shatter their formations in the least. The foes stood their ground even when horses slammed into them. Axes and other weapons rose and hacked down the cavalrymen methodically. It was soon over.
There was then a large commotion inside the walls amongst the privates. Officers stomped around and barked down their subordinates’ rising panic. Discipline was eventually restored, but by then a solitary iron Daemon approached the western gatehouse on grinding wheels of steel. It belched smoke, hissed and clanked loudly as it went. No order to fire upon it was given from the Cathayan officers, but Lin-Tzu could see the fortress commander and his splendid retinue climb the neighbouring stretch of wall.
One wall cannon team’s leader lost his nerve and had his crew ignite the loaded piece. With a roar, the artillery projectile bunched into the front end of the smoking behemoth, yet only buckled it. Commander Yen yelled and ordered the artillery crews to wait for his signal.
A tall shape climbed down from the rear platform of the wagon and walked stately towards the gatehouse. No, it wasn’t a tall man. Lin-Tzu peered, and saw that it was in fact a short yet rotund figure with the tallest hat the spearman had ever seen in his life. The dwarf was followed by two metal-masked guards in heavy plate armour. Fifteen paces before the gatehouse, the trio stopped.
What happened next would haunt Lin-Tzu to the end of his days. The hat-wearing figure did not need to cup his hands around his mouth to be heard. Instead, he spoke with strong lungs and a loud, throaty voice which must have been amplified by evil spirits so that his words could be heard all across the fortress. The volume was unnatural, like thunder given a tounge. Lin-Tzu involuntarily made gestures and motions with his hands to ward off Daemons.
Yet more disturbing than the strength of the voice was the almost perfect Cathayan language which the foreign enemy spoke as he gave the garrison of fortress Jian Xia its first, last and only offer to surrender:
"I speak to the men on the walls, the men who will have to drink their urine and eat excrement behind the battlements. Cast out your leaders and surrender the fortress to us, or suffer a siege of hunger to quench all hope and end life itself in thirst and starvation.
I speak to the men on the walls, the men who will have their bones crushed and skulls cracked upon the battlements. Cast out your leaders and surrender the fortress to us, or suffer a siege of bombardment by hellfire to strangle life itself in flames, ash and smoke.
I speak to the men on the walls, the men who will have their limbs cut and their skin flayed when we break down your battlements. Cast out your leaders and surrender the fortress to us, or suffer a siege of carnage to butcher life itself in a massacre of blood and Chaos.
Will the men on the walls surrender their leaders and their fortress to us? Or will the men on the walls suffer a siege to be feared for all time? Make your choice now."
Lin-Tzu realized his teeth clattered when the Chaos Dwarf had finished speaking. Unlike the private spearman, the grizzled fortress commander soon regained his composure and declined the offer with defiance and insults. It was a decision he would regret gravely before his backbreaking death in the slave pits of Zharr-Naggrund. As would the ten thousand men under his command.
A Slight Return
The sound of Zharr-Naggrund�?Ts great furnace exploding rang through Daemonsmith Hzzkad�?Ts private chambers. It drowned out the howls of the Greenskin horde assailing the great capital. The demented screams of the K�?Tdaai unleashed from the bowls of the ziggurat in a final, desperate counter attack. And for a second it even obscured the crack of fireglaives coming from the corridor just outside, as the handful of Infernal Guard allocated to Hzzkad�?Ts protection, made their doomed, final stand.
Hzzkad had barricaded himself in his chambers at the first sign of trouble. He had seen the end coming. Watching the skies through the thick clouds of toxic smoke that perpetually hung about Zharr Naggrund, he saw the subtle changes in the stars as the sickly sheen of chaos spread across the world. The Prophets dismissed his fears as weakness. Those same Prophets who were now in the grand chamber, desperately spilling the blood of their own Bull Centaur retinues in a hopeless attempt to summon Lord Hashut to save them in this dire hour. Hzzkad knew Hashut was not coming. He knew that the great capital would fall. Death did not scare Hzzkad. What came next terrified him.
Ignoring the sounds of battle Hzzkad stood facing the giant, polished plate of brass, screwed to the wall of his chambers. He saw his terrible reflection. The tiny horns protruding from his head. The twisted, stone stump where his left arm used to be. The single, grim tusk that erupted from his jaw causing his lips to loll open in a permanent sneer. Trophies of heresy. In his one good hand Hzzkad clutched a saw. Forged of base metals but sharpened to a surgical edge. He had used it many a time in the rituals. Sawing off the head of a still living sacrifice. Pain and terror spicing the blood for Hashut. Gritting his teeth Hzzkad began to saw at the first of the two horns. Part stone, part tissue every draw of the saw was burning agony. Hot, coppery blood poured down his face. But still he continued until with a wet, wrenching plop the horn fell to the ground. Hzzkad paused for breath. The pain worked him, exhausting every reserve he had. But he was not done. With grim determination Hzzkad hacked the second horn from his head. Blood gushed from his wounds, staining his face a slick crimson. Hzzkad inspected his reflection. He ran a hand across his smooth forehead. And in the midst of the pain he smiled.
Putting the saw down he turned to the other tools he�?Td gathered for this moment. Hzzkad picked up a pair of pliers, still mottled with the dry blood of whichever slave had been too quick to stumble or too slow to move. A slave just like the thousands who right now were exacting their well earned revenge on his fellow Dawi Zharr.
Hzzkad locked the pliers around the tusk protruding from his mouth and closed his eyes�?�
He pictured a cavern, lit by warm braziers. He heard singing and drunken boasts. He smelt meat roasting and ale, rich and hoppy. On the cavern walls he saw the shadows of comrades in celebration. Proud, boastful and true. A blood bond thicker than any incantation�?�
Hzzkad gripped the pliers and pulled as hard as he could.
The sound of a battering ram crashing against the door brought Hzzkad to consciousness. He lay on the floor, his mouth filled with blood, the ugly tusk lying beside him. There wasn�?Tt much time left. Scrambling to his feet Hzzkad rushed to the sealed chest he kept in pride of place in his chambers. A chest without seams or joins. Even the mightiest giant could not pry it open. But with one touch from Hzzkad the lid gently lifted to reveal its secret.
Hzzkad lifted up the solid, double headed axe. He admired the runes upon it. Runes he could no more understand than he could alter the fate of Zharr-Naggrund. The doors were beginning to give way but Hzzkad was ready. His horns and tusk gone and in his hand an heirloom passed down through his bloodline for generations. A secret shame held by his kin. A reminder of a long forgotten past. As the doors began to splinter Hzzkad became aware of the corrupted, stone stump of his left arm. A final mark of guilt. With one mighty strike Hzzkad brought down the axe down on his deformed arm, shattering the limb in a hail of stone and blood. And finally, he was whole.
Axe in hand, a half remembered song about drink and kin and glory on his lips, as the horde outside surged through the doors, Hzzkad stood his ground and prepared to die like a dwarf.
Written by: Beloss
Illustrated by: Forgefire
[align=center]The Acolytes Progress, and the Four Slanders of Hashut[/align]
Once upon a time there was a band of five Acolytes who, through the reading of many portents, determined that it was their appointed destiny to depart from their clan and journey out into the wasteland to find the house of High Hashut. Long they wandered together in the wilderness navigating all kinds of treacherous terrain and seeing all manner of wonders, but Hashut’s holy dwelling was ever out of reach.
One day as the wind blew across the waste the five companions heard a great din approaching and turned to see a horde of Orcs rushing up from behind. The Acolytes drew their weapons and began hacking and hewing the grobi to pieces as the green savages surrounded them.
Now among the five companions there was one who was especially bold and strong of arm, but undisciplined as he despised the constraints of proper formations. While the other Acolytes formed up back to back the undisciplined Dawi fought alone, laying all about him on the left and on the right and slaying many foes. Before long however he was hard pressed on all sides by the mob of Orcs and his resolve wavered.
“Hashut you have abandoned me!” He whimpered. "If there be some other God or Great Spirit who can rescue me from this clamor, may my beard wither and daemons hound me to the end of my days if I do not swear my soul to them at once!"
No sooner had he spoken than they saw a looming shadow and looked up. Before them was a towering figure of ruddy horned flesh shaking the earth with its stride, and around it piles of blood soaked corpses of every race in every direction.
“I am Arkhar, the Lord of Carnage!” The monstrous God bellowed. “Worship me and your foes will be as rye before your axe, for in ruinous might there are none who surpass me or my favored! Your lowing Calf God is nothing more than another ox to slaughter! See what resilience he gives you in your moment of need?! No doubt he intends to send you to the meat hook in his stead!”
Straight away the undisciplined Dawi swore himself to Arkhar and was filled with new vigor. Turning then he cut his way free of the press of Orcs with terrible oaths and great slaughter, throwing their chieftains down and pursuing the rest into the hills.
The band of faithful Acolytes, astonished at the bloody departure of their comrade hefted their packs and journeyed on. “Hashut still awaits us!” They told one another. "We will not abandon the search to fight Orcs in the hills for the rest of our days!"
They marched on and came after a time to a vast plain of dusty desolation greater than any other. Soon they despaired for no food or water or shade of any sort could be found, and they were weary to the bone.
Now among the four companions there was one who foolishly stored up more gear than he had need of in his march, for he could not bear to go without his costly liquors and sweetmeats that he enjoyed at home. As they crossed the plain his supply at last ran out and, growing vexed with the unbearable conditions, his resolve wavered.
“Hashut you have abandoned me!” He moaned. “If there be some other God or Great Spirit who can respite me from this suffering may my phallus shrivel and daemons hound me to the end of my days if I do not swear my soul to them at once!”
No sooner had he spoken than they heard the sound of beautiful laughter and looked up. Before them reclined a huge languid figure of sensuous flesh, and around it a scrumptious banquet of every kind of delicacy born on glittering trays by dam’s of surpassing beauty.
“I am Loesh, the Goddess of Pleasures.” The shining Goddess sung. “Consummate yourself to me and you will never want for luxury and satisfaction, for my chosen indulge in every delight. Your bellowing Bull God promises you harems and days of ease born on the backs of slaves, but he drags you through dust and ash, submitting you to drudgery for a hundred days to every one of joy! See what refreshments he offers you on this dusty plain? No doubt his idea of pleasure is a barn with hay to eat and cows to bed!”
Straight away the besotted Dawi swore himself to Loesh and began to swill from every glass and gobble up every delicacy in reach, smearing his beard with streams of gravy and wine while the giggling dams surrounded him, fawning over his fine hat and tusks.
The trio of faithful acolytes, aghast at the indecency of their feasting comrade, hefted their packs and journeyed on. “Hashut awaits us!” they told one another. "We will not abandon the search to fornicate with harlots on this plain for the rest of our days!"
They marched on and came after a time to a vast bog of fetid water and rotting thistles. Slogging their way across the reeking mud they soon despaired, for the water was to noxious to drink and the stench was so great that they could hardly force down the merger provisions that were left in their packs.
Now among the three companions there was one who was especially prone to melancholy mood. As he sat to take his stale bread and oily water he began to think of home, and to reflect on every hardship and tragedy that had befallen them on this journey, and of all the terrible fates that had befallen various unfortunate members of his clan. As he sat he sunk into the mire till the rotten slime of the swamp soaked him to the bone, befouling the remainder of the food in his pack. Seeing this he felt suddenly as if all the weight and tragedy in the world was bent against them and his resolve wavered.
“Hashut you have abandoned me!” He quailed. "If there be some other God or Great Spirit who can revive me from this mire, may my tusks rot away and daemons hound me to the end of my days if I do not swear my soul to them at once!"
No sooner had he spoken than they smelled a foul stench and looked up. Before them sat a massive bloated figure of ruined flesh. From its dangling innards sprouted a forest of putrescence so foul it beggared belief, and around it, great hills of excreta, the product of a thousand army’s dysentery.
“I am Onogal, the Ancestor of Pestilence.” The putrid God muttered. "Devote yourself to me and I will take on your every sorrow, for in depth of affliction there are none who understand as much as I. Your trampling Thunder God reigns from on high, delivering harsh judgments from up above, heedless of the suffering he causes to his children. See what redress he sends to you in this mire? No doubt he laughs in secret at your pain and grief, despising you as rival males."
Straight away the the sodden Dawi swore himself to Onogal and, slogging forward, collapsed in a stupor amidst the Gods foulness, throwing great globs of muddy offal over his head and beard as he wailed in loud misery and sunk down under the dung.
The pair of faithful acolytes, aggravated at the indignity of their wailing comrade hefted their packs and journeyed on. “Hashut awaits us!” they told one another. "We will not abandon the search to wallow in filth under this mire for the rest of our days!"
They marched on out of the swamp and after a time came to the mountains where they found their way blocked by a great maze of tall standing stones. Winding their way together through the impenetrable tangle they quickly despaired for they had become confused and lost in the labyrinth from where there seemed to be no escape. Tired beyond reason and with the last of their provision gone they came to rest at the foot of a great monolith.
Now between the two companions one was a prone to idle turns of fancy and possessed of a suspicious mind, and as they sat in weariness in the heart of the maze he began to retrace his steps. Sitting and musing he thought of the God that they were searching out and of the Gods that they had met in their travels, and of the maze, and of prophecies and of the schemes of kings and priests, and it seemed to him that all the world and all his words and deeds were the product of plots and powers beyond his control, and his resolve wavered.
“Hashut you have abandoned me!” He quaked. "If there be some other God or Great Spirit who can relieve me from this maze, may my hat crumple and daemons hound me to the end of my days if I do not swear my soul to them at once!"
No sooner had he spoken than they felt an aura of strange energy and looked up. Above them perched on the monolith was a stupendous figure of morphing flesh. On its cruel frame coiled every conceivable form, fair or foul or fantastic, the fantasies of a thousand fanatics twining together between a coat of cobalt feathers.
“I am Tchar, the Tzar of Schemes.” The changing God chirped. “Sanctify yourself to me and I will show to you every shift and shuffle of the great game played by persons mortal and immortal under the ceiling of heaven, for in wisdom and knowledge of hidden things none rival I. Your tampering Fire God trundles over field and fallow sticking his dull snout into this or that affair to trample or teach on whim. See what realization he sends you in this maze? No doubt he makes his plan blindly, caring not if it fails!”
Straight away the befuddled Dawi swore himself to Tchar and began to dance and caper before the great monolith, turning this way and that as he began to change and waver weirdly before he wandered once again into the web from which they had come.
The last faithful acolyte, agape at the insanity of his last remaining comrade, hefted his pack and journeyed on alone. “Hashut awaits me!” He told himself. "I shall not abandon the search to meander in a mountain maze for the rest of my days!"
He marched on, working his way again through the portions of the maze that they had not yet searched until at last he found his way through and came out on the other side to the foot of a great volcano. High he climbed up the side of the fire mountain, determined to gain the summit and see at last the house of High Hashut, or else plunge into sacred fire and end his life as a holy sacrifice, for he was weary beyond measure and heavy of heart after the apostasy of all his companions.
And lo after trial by battle and thirst and hunger and befuddlement and fire and long long weariness the last Acolyte came to the house of High Hashut, the Father of Darkness.
The great Thunderbull stood before the brazen doors of his house and gazed down upon the Acolyte and was much pleased, though he showed nothing, but his servants progress he did check, for no weakness could be allowed into the holy dwelling.
“My Lord, what weakness is left in me that you would expunge? For I have left behind every care of spirit and body on the road to gain the place where I now stand, and to behold your house.”
“One weakness only!” The Thunderbull roared. "That you mourn your faithless companions and traitors to my covenant! They who were your brothers all the days of your journey have become mine enemies and stains upon the name of my children! Soon their ways will cross your own and you must treat them harshly!"
Straightaway the faithful Acolyte swore a terrible oath of vengeance upon them who he had once journeyed with and considered close as kin, for between the faithful and the apostate there can be no softness or sentiment or longing for better times, but only hatred and righteous cruelty.
Having sworn his oath and banished this final weakness from him Hashut bathed the Faithful Acolyte in his scorching breath and the Acolyte was heartened as one who has slaked their thirst and hunger and given rest to their weary limbs. And Hashut ushered him into his sacred house whereupon he was bathed and tended by faithful dams of surpassing beauty and loveliness. His wounds were bound up, and his beard was washed clean. Then did the Great Hashut take the Faithful Acolyte into his confidence and instruct him in every manner of art and industry and secret ritual till the Acolyte was an Acolyte no longer but a great Lord indeed and a Prophet and a Sorcerer to bend all the world to his will.
Now as it happened the great Hashut marked the arrival of his favored with an eruption of fire and magma from the volcano in which he made his dwelling, and the mountain sent vast plumes of ash and fire across the land in all directions. The magma flowed down into the lower peaks and swept through the maze of standing stones forcing the apostate Acolyte of Tchar to flee for his life.
“Who has ruined the maze of my God?!” The Acolyte quaked, pulling his hair. Following the trail of the volcano’s desolation he reached the fire mountain and picked his way unsteadily up its side to find the culprit, confidant that his God would give him victory over any foe.
But the Sorcerer-Prophet saw the mad one coming and journeyed out to meet him with an obsidian headed mace. With a powerful blow he struck the worshiper of Tchar in the mouth, halting his senseless ramblings and laying him out. The Apostate cried for his God to save him and smite his adversary, but Tchar was far away dream