Posted this a good while ago for the Nemesis Crown, but felt I might as well put it in its proper place now that it’s finished.
The mountain rumbled with sound. Animals had fled from the place, leaving it deserted for miles around. They might not have known the sound of an army on the march, but the smells that followed it were darkly familiar and screamed of danger. The stench of oiled metal, of blood, fear and poisonous smog hung over the steadily moving force.
Zharkon Revlid spat, clearing his tusked mouth of flem, darkened by the ash in the air. Turning, he stomped up the side of the mountain path to better survey his force. Following him were his Immortal bodyguard, elite warriors clad in black plate and wielding great curved axes, their heads protected by faceless steel helms.
Behind them stood disciplined regiments of warriors, clad in heavy leather and bronze armour. They wielded an eclectic array of weapons, from curved shamshirs to spiked bludgeons, and held shields of beaten brass and cast iron, evil runes and symbols etched onto their metal surfaces.
Some were equipped with leather-rimmed and polished goggles of thick glass, or wore masks fitted with grilles and cloth filters. They walked heavily, weighed down by the cannon-like blunderbusses that hung from their shoulders by heavy straps.
Following in a wide formation were a huge regiment of chanting dwarfs, garbed in heavy black robes, beneath which the glint of armour could be seen. The Ziggurat Guard. The guardians of the dark temples dedicated to the Bull God, Hashut. Daemon-like masks covered their faces, and sacred glaives from their formation like a viciously bladed forest.
In their midst was a great litter of marble and gold, borne by the veterans of the cabal. Slouching on an ornate throne decorated with golden bulls and iron daemons was High Sorcerer-Priest Ghorth the Cruel, of the cabal of Azakku, accompanied by many of his acolytes. Their presence signified the blessings of the Father of Darkness, something Zharkon was infinitely thankful for.
Casting his gaze further afield, the Overlord of Vorag Tower smiled. There were slaves, bedraggled and branded workers of all races, forced to a marching pace in huddled groups by leather-masked dwarfs wielding hooked whips and serrated blades. They would be enough to build initial fortifications and serve as sacrifices to fuel the daemon engines and sate the Dark Father, but less than half of them would survive the journey West. Revlid was hoping to replenish his supplies as he went along, so to speak.
Behind the pitiful slaves and their brutal enforcers followed, at a careful pace with constant slight adjustments, slaves and enforcers of a very different kind. Daemonic engines of war, metal and magic and tortured flesh forged together in the bloodily consecrated forges of Zharr-Naggrund and Daemon’s Stump. Squat Earthshakers, their blocky shells stacked high on metal carriages pushed by chained Ogre slaves. Hellcannons, vast and terrible, were dragged along the path in single file, the daemons within forced into uneasy hibernation by rituals, brands, and liberal application of boot. Dwarfed by these monstrous constructs were the smaller Death Rockets, strange platforms from which rune-cast explosives would be launched, and the Doomblasters, warmachines whose barrels of dark iron channelled blasts of chaotic energy.
Guarding the artillery train from an enemy attack (and the crew from an artillery train attack) were more constructs, monstrous automotons powered by daemonic energy and oiled cogs. Though each Iron Golem differed in shape and materials, there were two camps of design obvious in those present: Arcane Engineer Baalzehn of Daemon’s Stump, whose automotons were squat, ogre-like humanoids, relying less on daemonic engines and more on a hideously complex system of cogs, gears and chains.
On the other hand there was Daemonsmith Ghanaz, who hailed from Western Zharr-Naggrund and had brought golems cast in the form of holy bulls, with horns of polished steel and hooves of brass.
The Overlord’s smile quickly soured as one of Baalzehn’s golems “accidentally” bumped into a bull-construct of Ghanaz, sparks scraping from their iron hides. Fiery Razeph take them, they were acting like surly beardlings! The engineers in question were saved from a rollocking by Despot Bhavar, mounted on one of the great iron chariots that were guarding the Chaos Dwarf rear, rumbling up to the golems and cracking his orc-hide whip angrily. A crude point, thought Zharkon as he watched the engineers piloting the metal monsters hurriedly directing them back into position, but one well made.
Returning his attention to the front of the column, the Chaos Dwarf commander’s good humour was restored by the return of his scouts, a contingent of gorg-mounted Hobgoblins, led by Khan-Boss Zhanthillar of the Sneaky Git tribe. Zhanthillar was a living legend (or “target”) among his tribe, a slaving boss of such ruthlessness and efficiency that he had been granted a Dawi Zharr name by Zhatan the Black himself.
They came to a stop a few feet from the Overlord, and Zhanthillar pushed back his charcoal-black hood to speak. He brought good news: the released and armed slaves had done their job, and the roads ahead were clear of all opposition. A quick detour to the South-West would yield an unguarded farmstead’s worth of slaves, should the Chaos Dwarf supply be running low. Most importantly, the vast area of wood known by the human slaves as the Great Forest was no more than a few days march away, and would soon be in sight.
The Overlord acknowledged the Hobgoblin’s words before sending him back on patrol. The Great Forest, he thought, as he settled back into a march. The location of High Prophet Astragoth’s prize. A crown of legendary power, forged by one of their western kin in a moment of genius, hidden in a deep, dark woodland. A deep, dark woodland? Such places did not exist in the Darklands, or in the surrounding mountains, and certainly not in the dead desert lands across the Straits of Nagash. It would be the first true forest Zharkon had ever seen.
He could only imagine how well it would burn.