[align=center]The Pillar Mystics[/align]
Betwixt two titanic mountain ranges stretches the accursed Dark Lands, home to the malevolent Chaos Dwarf empire. This is a realm of cruel slavery, demented innovation, warfare and dark industry. It is also a realm of convoluted religion, fanaticism, devout sacrifices and dark mysticism. The Dawi Zharr empire is ruled by a feared Temple priesthood of rival Sorcerer-Prophets who slowly turn to stone while vying amongst themselves for power, and who ravenously seeks ever greater might, arcane forces and dire knowledge of the mysteries of Hashut and Chaos. Not all Chaos Dwarf mystics will walk this formal path, however.
Every once in a while, some Temple cult acolyte will experience a divine revelation and invest his meagre assets in erecting a pillar out in the wilderness, carved with hymns, curses, myths, frescoes, unholy symbols and dedications to high Hashut and His infernal court. The cultist will then climb to the top of the column and remain there as a hermit for a very long time, sometimes for decades or even centuries unto his death. There, the pillar mystic will fast, pray and sing, as well as spin like a top, meditate, scorch his skin in sorcerous patterns and perform all manner of painful rituals to reach a state of ecstatic trance in which he will prophesy, speak in tongues, call out curses and seemingly converse with Dark Gods and Daemons alike.
A few such pillar mystics will live to a venerable age upon their columns, their livelihood provided by local communities, and perhaps by sorcerous powers and gifts from Daemons or even the fiery Bull God Himself. Their lives will be ones of fanatic ritual observance, isolation and insane contacts with holy and unholy beings alike, whether real or imagined. The local Dawi Zharr populace and pilgrims from afar will seek them out for counsel and divination, and they will often become akin to oracles speaking in riddles. Some sects may even sacrifice and perform sacred rituals at the foot of their columns, believing the hermits to be living idols of Hashut.
Other mystics and cult initiates may at times stand by the succesful pillar mystics to record any of their utterances and prophecies so as to better understand the cryptic will of both the Father of Darkness and Chaos as a whole. Some may even win renown as holy men of Hashut when Sorcerer-Prophets or lowlier Temple cultists challenge these pillar mystics to duels of wisdom and divination, or to trials of divine and unholy protection, by forcing them to stand and survive in flames without flinching atop their decorated columns, choking them with smoke or by casting lethal Daemons at them from out of arcane flasks. Some pillar mystics will perish in these trials, whether due to chance, the kindled wrath of a Sorcerer-Prophet or because Hashut or Chaos did not protect them. Others will indeed survive unscathed, whether by divine or unholy will, or due to the ensorcelled runes of their often possessed colums. Divine or unholy favour alike may even be made manifest as everlasting flames ignite atop the column, or as glowing runes emerge on its sides, or as a shroud of ash envelops the pillar and its sole resident.
The holiest of pillar mystics may find themselves victims of their own success, or maybe victims of the capricious and cruel will of high Hashut, as the Temple priesthood recognize their mystic potential and either constructs sorcerous machinery of Daemonforging and similar hellish, arcane functions, or hoist their columns onto heavy wagons to be pulled away into the laboratories or art galleries of private palaces, or even into war so as to serve as inspiration for troops and acolytes alike, and to provide a battery of divine and unholy favour, as well as a magical node for perilous summonings of fire Daemons and other heinous sorceries. The lives of these involuntarily abducted pillar mystics will often be cut short by the extreme dangers visited upon them by uncaring Daemonsmiths and Sorcerer-Prophets alike.
Some abducted pillar mystics will accept their fate as the divine will of Hashut and Chaos, whilst others will rant and rail and rave in the face of such events, and call down dark and vile curses upon their mighty kidnappers. However, the latter hermits may find out that they will serve their purpose equally well without a tounge. Even after death, the very columns of dead pillar mystics are believed to possess a vestige of their potent unholy power, and so it is that pilgrims may continue to seek out their empty pillars in the wilderness, while Sorcerer-Prophets may continue to make use of the colums for their nefarious purposes, even decades after the death of the pillars’ hermit inhabitants.
Yet most pillar mystics are far from succesful or blessed with longevity. Some will kill themselves in wild ecstasy by spontaneously combusting, ripping their own throats or by falling head-first down from their columns, while others will die, marked as heretics, in excruciating pain, killed by members of the avenging Temple priesthood. Dire portents will often be read into such demise. Others may be struck by the Sorcerer’s Curse, and it is not unprecedented for those in the Dark Lands to stumble across a stone corpse atop a forgotten or lost pillar, and mistake it for part of a ruin or an ancient triumphal column. Throughout history, some unscrupulous Chaos Dwarf wheeler-dealers have even carted off pillars of lesser mystics in order to sell them to wealthy Sorcerer-Prophets as columns of greater pillar mystics.
Most pillar mystics, however, will die from the perils of the Dark Lands themselves. Some will starve to death because their columns were either too remote, or because curses, ill omens, natural catastrophe, roaming monsters or migrating Greenskins made the local Chaos Dwarf communities shun the dangerous location. While a few die from disease, most are however killed by lightning strikes (since they are, after all, placed atop what is often the highest point in the local landscape) or by rampaging Greenskins or predators.
Legend speaks about these ill-fated pillar mystics. One of them was Harzhkul the Ashen, who was slowly killed by a torrent of stones, spears, knives and unfortunate Snotlings thrown by a mischievous Goblin tribe, yet still he did not fall off his column. Another tale tells of Astrukur Heavybeard, who was gulped down in a single bite by a Wyvern who happened to fly by. Likewise, Urtokuz Flamefist was famous in his day for sitting in hot embers atop his column covered in the skins of flayed sacrificial victims, yet the pillar was toppled by rampaging Orcs, who subsequently forced the embers down Urtokuz’ throat and then stomped him into gory pulp. Infamy still lives on with the name of Gharkuz Ironfoot, who meditated upside-down, standing on the top of his own tall hat, for weeks and weeks, until some fickle Dark God tricked him by turning the whole column upside-down, crushing the Chaos Dwarf under its full weight.
Such are the fates of the pillar mystics of the Blacksmiths of Chaos.