[align=center]The Fate of Death Rocketeer Ukkad Firebrow[/align]
The Dark Lands. A wide swathe of desolate, volcanic landscapes where savage Greenskin tribes, restless Undead and the malevolent empire of the Dawi Zharr wages war upon war on each other and nations beyond for slaves, booty, dominance, religious revelations or just for the sake of war and cruelty itself. These are ash-strewn lands, a realm of fire and smoke, and of brimstone and obsidian where the weak perish and the spirits and bodies of the strong are broken if they cannot triumph. For it is an unforgiving realm, akin to its inhabitants. In fact, it is hell on earth.
It is here, in this part of the world between two massive mountain ranges, where the Chaos Dwarfs have carved out a dominion of their own. They have done so through force of arms, cruelty, terror and vile Chaos magic. They have done so through sinister schemes, industrial might and inventions that are as ingenious and ground-breaking as they are demented and labile.
One of the Dawi Zharr’s hallmark artillery pieces are their rocket launchers. Whether mounted on wheeled gun carriages like the Death Rocket and Deathshrieker Rocket, or fired from titanic ramps like those of the Thunderfire Battlebarge, these warheads have brought shrieking devastation and painful death to the warriors on countless of forgotten battlefields. Some of the rockets’ victims have been the slaves of the Chaos Dwarfs, or the Dawi Zharr themselves.
For these infamous rockets are not accurate or predictable projectiles, despite their power and versatility. They are bringers of death to friend and foe alike, and in the mysterious mindset of the Chaos Dwarfs, these hazards of rocketry are all living reminders of the fickle power of Chaos, and of the contemptuously low value of creatures’ lives. Like high Hashut in His shape of the Great Thunderbull tramples anyone in His path, so does these spears of destruction tear apart both battlefields and combatants without discrimination.
Such is the reality, and such is the testimony offered in Chaos Dwarf songs and stories. The shrieking of rockets is ever a welcome hymn to their uncaring ears. It is a blessed harbinger of carnage and death; a promise of lasting domination for their race, and the mere retelling of such devastation is usually a failsafe way for a Dawi Zharr storyteller to catch the attention of beardlings and veterans alike.
For they are bloodthirsty stanzas of destruction and disaster unimaginable to the lesser races.
Such are the stories told about rocketry by the Blacksmiths of Chaos.
This is one of these stories.
The March: Once upon a time, the Grim Host of Sorcerer-Prophet Ghakur-Zin Sootbeard marched out to war from the gates of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the great. It was a grand procession. Hundreds of Immortals, Acolytes, Ironsworn and even dozens of sacred Bull Centaurs stomped out from the ziggurat city, followed by some thousand Chaos Dwarf warriors and warmachine crew, and tens of thousands of slave troops. There were Hobgoblins in their soft hats, on foot or mounted on snarling and lice-infested giant wolves. Above it all flew a few of the holy spawns stabled beneath the Temple itself.
And there were hordes upon hordes of slave rabble from every race and nation within the Dawi Zharr empire’s ravenous reach. These chained slaves were whipped and kicked by gangs of Hobgoblin slavedrivers, overseen by the unspeakably cruel Chaos Dwarf taskmasters. These were not all of the slaves marked for Ghakur-Zin’s campaign. Scores of them had already been burnt on the altar or sacrificed in cauldrons of molten metal. Scarification, flaying, eye-gouging, maiming and torture were commonplace parts of the sacrificial rites. Many smoke plumes rose from the cauldrons and pyres, and Hashut knew that this was good.
In the baggage train, the army carried with it chains and shackles enough to make new thralls out of more than three hundred thousand two-legged creatures. Some simpletons said the total length of chains in the baggage train was enough to encircle the whole Great Skull Land, the infamous Zorn Uzkul where high Hashut had first come to the Chaos Dwarfs’ ancestors and delivered them from extinction. The baggage train included supplies and munitions to last for years, and it was made up of dozens of trains pulled by Iron Daemons; hundreds of flesh-drawn carts and wagons; and the backs of tens of thousands of burdened slave porters, who one by one would collapse when their backs broke or their strength was wasted, only to be served as the next meal to the surviving slaves.
Amongst those trundling objects pulled by smoke-belching Iron Daemons were the many artillery pieces and their even more numerous ammunition wagons. As a rule, the crew travelled upon the trains of carts pulled by Iron Daemons, or at least kept as close by as possible. Amongst the latter group was an unmarried artillery officer named Ukkad Firebrow. He was in charge of a Death Rocket launcher, and he was determined to carry out his duty to the fullest.
The Gun Carriage: So it was, that when Ghakur-Zin’s army was about to engage the noisy hordes of Black Orc Warboss Bashak da Big Basha near Toppled Idol in the Blasted Wastes, Ukkad Firebrow was ready to decapitate the Greenskin leadership. Behind him there ran ammunition runt slaves to and fro, whilst he barked to his apprentice to pivot the artillery piece and angle the firing tube. Then he fired the Death Rocket himself. Wiosh! The first missile flew wild and gouged out an ancient lava stone.
The second rocket veered off course, and landed amidst a Goblin mob with a deafening pang. Tiny bodies were sent flying and screaming by the explosion, maimed and bloodied. By the third Death Rocket, Hashut was on Ukkad’s side. It shot straight as an arrow, hitting its target flat in the chest. The cone-tipped projectile stuck in Bashak da Big Basha’s black armour and threw the hulking Black Orc leader several steps back before detonating. Half a dozen of his mates fell over dead, and Bashak’s entire torso disintegrated in gory chunks that showered other Orcs, just as the rocket’s shrapnel did.
At this, confusion and even panic spread amidst the Greenskins. Ukkad Firebrow merely muttered praise to the Father of Darkness and had his apprentice reload. The Orcs and Goblins started melting away in fleeing mobs at odd places in the Greenskin battleline, and the Chaos Dwarf artillery bombarded the steadfast Orcs to smithereens in order to send them packing as well. Hobgoblin Wolf Raiders already waited, hidden behind the rear of Bashak’s hordes, where they sat ready to pursue, stab and enslave at leisure.
An unnamed Orc Big Boss would not let Gork and Mork down this day, however. He smashed fleeing Greenskins in the face, strangling an unruly Boss and overtaking a bound Wyvern by force. He cut loose its ropes, and off they went skywards. The Chaos Dwarfs were unprepared at this turn of event, and both their guns and sorceries missed the Wyvern. The enraged Orc gained height until he was right above a Death Rocket battery. There, he dived. Ukkad was right under the seemingly crashing Wyvern. He frantically tried to angle his Death Rocket upwards, but the gun carriage was too clumsy to allow for such a steep angle. Realizing this, he drew a hand grenade crafted with the face of a leering Daemon and tossed it into a nearby stack of Death Rocket ammunition.
Ukkad had barely time to dive for cover behind the wheels of his artillery piece before the Wyvern landed atop it. Its heavy bulk crushed it and pressed the stuck Dawi Zharr into the ground. Then the hand grenade exploded, and both Wyvern, Orc, five Chaos Dwarfs and thirty artillery slaves were torn apart in an inferno of flames, lethal pressure and shrapnel, as well as randomly fired Death Rockets that killed further Chaos Dwarfs and Greenskins all around the demolished battery.
The Wyvern was then only a heavy mess of gore and blackened flesh. Its rider had been torn apart completely. Corpses and wreckage lay everywhere around. Yet Ukkad Firebrow dug out from under the monster’s corpse with a mad cackle. He was dirty, charred and scarred when he rose to survey the damage. That was when he got the bright idea, but first Ukkad had to survive.
When a nearby Despot ran up to him in person and demanded an explanation, Ukkad lied and told him his late apprentice Arkazh had mishandled the volatile Death Rocket. The Despot cursed fools and Daemons alike and complained bitterly at the losses. He had the clumsy apprentice’s corpse left behind unburned and unburied for the vultures to feed upon once the quick battle was over and the Greenskins had been brutally subdued and enslaved in view of Hashut’s mighty idols.
Then, Ukkad Firebrow went to work.
The Bazooka: Out from the portable field smithies came a being clad in scalemail armour and a large hat. He was an artillery engineer, and he carried his artillery piece on his shoulder. Ukkad Firebrow had crafted a lightweight barrel and shorter Death Rockets to load it with. It was a bazooka, and Ukkad got his chance to test it out in the next battle, far to the east in the foothills of the towering Mountains of Mourn.
There, the malevolent host of Sorcerer-Prophet Ghakur-Zin Sootbeard lined up in dark ranks to enslave the migrating Moonbiter Ogre tribe. The blue and green-painted Moonbiters bellowed and belched towards the Chaos Dwarfs, and set off in a gret stampede down the rocks into their enemy. It was a murderous clash of hacking weapons and pounding fists. The Chaos Dwarf artillery had few good chances to bombard the Ogres, all save one Death Rocketeer.
Before the battle, the crafty Ukkad had brought with him his new apprentice and a mob of porter slaves hauling rockets up a cliffside. Ukkad had positioned himself most cunningly in a crevice that hid him from the Ogres’ view and gave him clear fields of fire. Not even the Gnoblar Trappers had spotted the Chaos Dwarf. Ukkad fired his new shoulder-mounted rocket launcher at frenzied speed. Yet without the gun carriage his unpracticed shoulder aim was off more often than not, and most Death Rockets shrieked into rock or some worthless horde of Gnoblars or slaves.
As the two sides clashed and killed each other in hate and fury, Ukkad spotted his opportunity, whirled the bazooka about and finally hit home. His projectile buried itself deep in the back of an Ogre Bruiser carrying a large rag-tag banner. The Death Rocket killed the Bruiser instantly and ripped huge flesh chunks out of nearby Ogres. The Moonbiter tribe wavered when they saw their prized standard fall, and the Chaos Dwarfs won the day when the Grim Host’s Bull Centaur reserve counterattacked and trampled their foes in a chaos of hooves and limbs.
When Ukkad Firebrow turned around, he found his new apprentice, Thurukizambul Thundertusk, lying flat on the rocks together with the porter slaves. They were all badly burnt and black as coal, and only the Chaos Dwarf loader had survived, if only barely. The exhaust fire jet from the bazooka had claimed them. Disgusted, Ukkad read this as the Father of Darkness’ judgement and sent his shamed second apprentice into the ranks of the Infernal Guard. Then he sacrificed a Gnoblar slave on the spot to high Hashut, and sang hymns to the Bull God. The bazooka was more mobile and easier to hide than the gun carriage Death Rocket had been. The Great Thunderbull was with him.
The Daemon Rocket: The Grim Host of Sorcerer-Prophet Ghakur-Zin Sootbeard marched on into the Mountains of Mourn. For the most part the threat of their hellish strength and the allure of their gold and gifts made Ogre Tyrants friendly enough to let them pass. A few times they fought savagely against monsters and ambushes from Ogres and Black Orcs in the roaring mountain winds. Behind them were left more than twenty thousand slave corpses, frozen stiff and soon eaten by Gnoblar, Ogre and Sabretusk alike.
At last, the Chaos Dwarfs reached the toxic desert separating the Mountains of Mourn from Grand Cathay. The desert was crossed at great hardship and death amongst the slaves, both Hobgoblins and lower thralls, yet the Chaos Dwarfs cared little for it. They knew, that if they succeeded in defeating the local armies they could raid part of the Cathayan heartland for numerous peasants that were already both hardy and subservient to authority. Several Cathayan fortresses were either besieged or bypassed.
Before the incursion into Cathay proper, however, Ghakur-Zin Sootbeard overcame a large hill Goblin tribe that surrendered to the malignant invaders. The Sorcerer-Prophet had them all killed by Hobgoblins and piled into a giant pyre. Forbidden oil and the steaming contents of strange alchemical flasks were sprinkled over the corpse hill, and finally it was set ablaze by summoning K’daai fire Daemons in the midst of the pyre. Convoluted verses in both Khaozalid and the Dark Tounge were chanted by the assembled Daemonsmiths, and the army’s leader cursed the wind and the smoke from the pyre. Then they crossed into Cathay.
The Grim Host advanced under the cover of Daemonic smoke that roiled across all the countryside. The native Humans thought this an ill omen inhabited by spirits from the underworld. They were quiet right. With whips and chains and shackles did the Chaos Dwarfs and Hobgoblins fall over the peasantry. At least hundred thousand Human thralls were captured with but few skirmishes for resistance, and the Dawi Zharr retreated whilst their luck lasted under the gaze of Hashut’s watchful idols. That luck ran out all of a sudden.
The banners of a whole Cathayan army appeared over a ridge line to the west of the Grim Host, and ranks upon ranks of Human soldiers marched forth to punish the intruders. Poorly-trained peasant levy stood shoulder to shoulder with disciplined career soldiers, mounted tribal mercenaries, warrior monks, stone lions and wizards as mysterious as their Chaos Dwarf counterparts. The armies cursed each other and attacked. They clashed in a flurry of projectiles, sorceries and ferocious close combat.
After four hours of fighting it was apparent that the Chaos Dwarfs would gain the upper hand. Yet this army that blocked their way might very well be a strategic hindrance to buy time for massive reinforcements to arrive. As such, Sorcerer-Prophet Ghakur-Zin Sootbeard ordered his schock troop reserves over to the left flank, and signalled for them to charge by sending up a short-lived ashen howler Daemon from out of a small crystal flask. The artillery on that flank were ordered to support the charge.
Amidst the batteries stood Ukkad Firebrow. He had bribed two twin Hellsmiths to create a stockpile of Daemonic projectiles for his bazooka. With these Daemon Rockets he could overcome the weapon’s inherent inaccuracy and hit his target, but not always where he wanted to hit. The possessed missiles had a life of their own, and that became apparent when the Cathayan general sent in his last reserves to bolster his wavering right flank against the Dawi Zharr onslaught.
Those troops were led by a mighty Human warlord atop a serpentine dragon. It started ravaging the Chaos Dwarf and Hobgoblin cohorts when Ukkad Firebrow found his mark. The Daemon Rocket shrieked as it shot out of the barrel. It somersaulted in the air, flew zig-zag sideways and flashed away unpredictably. The dragon rider thought such a distant rocket to be no danger. Suddenly it made a sharp turn in the air and gave a maniacal, metallic laughter as it speared right through the Cathayan dragon’s chest, killing the noble monster outright.
That was not the end of the Daemon Rocket’s trajectory, however, for it went off beyond the immediate battlefield to cut off the heads of three mounted Hobgoblin Khans before returning with a scoffing noise. It darted right into a petrified Sorcerer-Prophet of old standing atop a richly crafted palanquin, and detonated. The statue became nothing but grey sand, and the dishonour was great amidst the unfolding triumph.
The Grim Host won that battle and made their escape out of Cathay with a rich booty in Human slaves that had only been bolstered by the new prisoners of war. They would all die horrible deaths in a nightmare realm of fire and desolation, and so would their few future children that were born there. The Chaos Dwarfs sang a victory hymn and adulated Hashut and His idols generously with slave blood offerings.
As for the fell Daemon Rocket, Ukkad Firebrow complained on his knees to Ghakur-Zin Sootbeard himself, and convinced the Sorcerer-Prophet to exile Ukkad’s accused third apprentice into the feared Infernal Guard.
The Demise: The trek back across the Mountains of Mourn was long and harsh, and many slaves froze or starved to death once again. Gnoblars and Ogres were bought or captured to take their place. Sacrifices were committed when the Grim Host reached River Ruin again, and the polluted waters ran crimson with Greenskin and Human blood, for such is the fate of the weak receiver of cruelty. A stele was erected to commemorate the attack into Cathay, and the army crossed the river.
Back in the Dark Lands, Sorcerer-Prophet Ghakur-Zin Sootbeard still had shackles left for yet more slaves, and thus he ventured to the Wolf Lands to capture Orcs, for so many such Greenskin slaves had already died. He found what he was looking for, in a detestably small army led by Big Shaman Grak, who had ripped off the skin of his own face to bedeck a dung effigy of Gork (or possibly Mork). Grak instilled his three conquered tribes with toxic fungus brews and infusions made from thorny Dark Lands vegetation, and soon the entire Orcish horde flew into a frenzy that made them howl like wolves and scare off the mounted Hobgoblin scouts that observed their primitive camp.
The encounter between the two armies was just an afterthought in the Grim Host’s four year long campaign, merely a last bite to fill the slave pens. The Greenskins stood no chance. To Ukkad Firebrow, however, it was an excellent opportunity to test out his stronger, high-explosive Blackflame Rockets. This ammunition was volatile, but he had prayed and sacrificed to the Bull God for guidance, strength and protection, and so Ukkad thought himself invulnerable.
His aim had improved during the arduous campaign, and now every shot of his hit home! First, his Blackflame Rocket blew up a large Rock Lobba in one fiery instant. The next missile landed in the midst of a mob of Orc Big Uns and killed half of them in one ferocious blast that sent the survivors packing like frightened Goblins. The Chaos Dwarf laughed at this with cruelty plain in his face and voice. There was also a hint of madness in the laughter, but surely one must be crazy in the first place to fire a Death Rocket from the shoulder?
His new and fourth apprentice Harkun loaded the weapon for a third time this battle. Ukkad Firebrow raised it and aimed for the head of the insanely dancing Big Shaman Grak, who was involved in some kind of magical duel with a minor Daemonsmith. Ukkad’s laughter bubbled up again from his throat, and this time it truly sounded mad. He gave a tusked grin, and fired.
A huge, black fireball erupted in the midst of the Dawi Zharr lines. Ukkad was blown to pieces by the misfire, as were his loader and porter slaves. Only a charred crater remained where he had stood at the moment of his death. The Death Rocket bazooka had claimed the life of its owner at last, and Sorcerer-Prophet Ghakur-Zin Sootbeard had it inscribed with one death rune, the first in a row of many, before honouring a new artillery officer with the weapon.
And to this day, Ukkad Firebrow’s rocket launcher has changed hands more often than slaves have had hot meals in their worthless lives.