Chaos Dwarves Do the Multiverse: Elder Scrolls Edition

I know it’s been a good long while, but such is the life of a doctoral student/father/husband/employee/terrible model painter. I just moved past a big milestone in my studies, however, and I’m rewarding myself by pursing a plot bunny which hopped through my head on many a night, on many long drives in the country, through many lunch breaks, and even when just daydreaming. With my son’s interest in battling against the grey as well as my own displeasure at the creative direction of many fantasy/sci-fi franchises, I’ve found myself called back to Warhammer Fantasy Battle - though I hope that this narrative can fit with fans of Lost Kingdoms, Russian Alternative, the 9th Age, and any other similar story settings.

I’ve spent too much time planning this and not enough time writing anything, so I finally decided to post the first chapter of this. My updates might be sporadic, but unlike my previous story, this one will be finished, God willing - of that I’m certain. Feel free to give me a kick in the rear if you actually enjoy this drivel and feel I’ve neglected it for a spell; I won’t mind.

I’ll make multiple posts eventually as the narrative shifts from one dimension of fantasy to another. I don’t own Warhammer or, for this first leg, Elder Scrolls; this is purely a work of fan fiction and admiration for entertainment purposes only. I’m back, fellas.

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From the top of jagged crag beneath burgundy skies, Darbakh Smokestack peered through his brass looking glass across the ashen plain between his squad’s trench and the foreign camp built against a porous rock formation just under a quarter of a mile away. Minutes ticked by while he stared patiently at the movement of bodies, mostly humans, amidst an unfinished fort which was walled off by ramparts made from - of all things - wood. One of his hobgoblin lookouts, fidgeted anxiously next to him.

“Wood…where did they bring wood from?” Darbakh murmured while still staring.

The hobgoblin cleared his throat. “I think the humies ain’t from around here, boss.”

Darbakh snorted roughly, shushing his scout into silence, and then handed the looking glass to him. “They’re trespassing. Take your boys to Malund and await his instructions.” He didn’t even wait for the hobgoblin to reply before kneeling at the edge of the crag and sliding deeper into it. Below them, nearly a combination of thirty dwarves and goblinoids awaited his orders. “Raggrund, the ramparts are twenty feet high and made of wood.”

One of the older dwarves assembled behind the cover of the crag met Darbakh in a circle formed by their warriors. “Wood?” Raggrund said while scratching his balding head. “They couldn’t have brought that much with them. Not without notice.”

“Unless they conjured it here.” Darbakh waited a long moment, ignoring the hobgoblin who finally scampered off while eavesdropping for information. He ran a circular comb down his reddish beard while thinking. “We need to keep their leaders alive, whoever they are. I want to know what they’re doing here and who sent them…everything.”

Raggrund pulled glass goggles over his head by the strap, but he paused before taking his leave. “Should we be gentle with the fort?” he asked, with the faintest hint of a smile on the dwarf’s centuries-old stone face. They both smiled without laughing out loud before Raggrund walked among the assorted troops in their skirmishing force. “Drag it up here,” the older dwarf ordered the others while Darbakh continued combing his beard.

Down in the deep trench the crew had carved into the rock, a shrill hiss emitted from among the throng of dwarves. Malund, the only bull centaur with them, directed the hobgoblins onto the surface where they formed a half circle to both protect - and cut off the escape of - the crew’s heavy weapon. Snarling and struggling, a flamer of Tzeentch was dragged in a mutilated mess, its limbs severed and the remains of its torso barely visible in trapping of chains, bands, and plates. Raggrund set up the sentient light mortar on the nearest level spot of ashen rock and took measurements of the distance and angle to the target. What would have taken Imperial engineers minutes to calculate took him a matter of seconds, and by the time the moving bodies at the fort stopped moving and took notice, the weapon’s aim had already been refined.

The entire crew moved behind the mortar and covered their ears while the junior engineer shoved a gunpowder-laden skull down the flamer’s throat with a ramrod. The demon choked and cried, belching sulfur as the trophy from a slain foe burned in its gullet. Raggrund lit a fuse injected into the demon’s back, covering his own ears just before the mortar fired. Shooting into the sky, the skull wove a high arc of sparks as it soared to its maximum range, covering the quarter of a mile and landing inside the ramparts of the fort rather than directly against the walls. The explosion reached their ears a few seconds after the even larger explosion of a flammable object inside. Screams faintly reached their position, signaling that the light mortar had found its mark on the trespassers in the Darklands.

The dwarves all nodded in approval, and Darbakh’s hobgoblin lookout even reached up for a high five before being shoved away by the despot. “We have two more, right?” he asked.

From an ammo bag, Raggrund produced another skull and a dried heart. “Will do,” the engineer replied, already understanding the point.

Two more shots from the light mortar fell on the trespassers, one landing within the fort again and another directly striking the front gate of the ramparts. Whatever portions of the wood hadn’t been destroyed immediately burned brightly, illuminating the silhouettes of the trespassers as they scrambled inside. A few arrows shot in similarly high arcs flew out from the plumes of dark smoke, and the entire crew - dwarf and goblinoid alike - all murmured in subdued joy.

Darbakh turned to his crew, facing his black orcs and more heavily armored dwarf brethren first. “We’re moving in. Shields out front, guns behind them.” His main force saluted and assembled for their march, and he turned to Malund next. “Have the crew and ammo brought up behind once we clear out their archers.”

“Leave some for us,” the bull centaur replied, voicing the closest sentiment to talkback any of the crew would dare to try.

“That’s a maybe,” Darbakh replied, ignoring another high five attempt from the hobgoblin lookout as he joined his infantry in the front.

Their march was slow and deliberate, with the black orcs screening out incoming arrows with their shields. Whoever was behind the smoke and flames seemed desperate, as the arrows flew with little to no coordination, landing sporadically in the ground. “Load the ass bazooka,” Darbakh ordered.

Two of his gunners behind him knelt down, one of them carrying yet another bound demon on his shoulder. Similarly shorn of its limbs and encased in metal trappings, what remained of a bloodletter of Khorne groaned deeply as its organic parts were aimed backwards at the enemy. One of the crewmen loaded the innards of a former sacrifice into a barrel leading up the demon’s rear end while the gunner braced the weapon.

“Aim,” Darbakh said while plugging his nose. The others did the same, save the two crewmen who had to use clothespins. “Fire!”

The crew lit the bazooka’s fuse, causing the barrel to spark with chaotic magic. “Haayungeeaaarrgggh!” the demon screamed as a loud, flatulent pop burst out of its rectum.

A trail of green smoke streaked in a straight line, mixing with the black plumes of the destroyed ramparts as the hellish projectile. The explosion wasn’t visible, but it was audible, and the outline of the wooden watchtower which had been built against the sheer face of the rock formation behind the fort collapsed into a pile of debris. More shadows wavered in the bright flames behind the smoke, displaying the flailing limbs and pumping legs as the trespassers panicked. Most of the shadows grew smaller in front of the light.

“They’re making a last stand; load the blunderbusses!”

The bazooka team knelt down behind the rest of the infantry, leaving the black orcs out in front and the remaining chaos dwarves in the middle. After a few seconds spent loading the guns with gunpowder, ball bearings, and bone shards, they took aim with their weapons in between the shoulders of the orcs. Although the uniforms and visages of the enemy weren’t clear, the first few of them charged out of the smoke, weapons in hands.

“Fire!” Darbakh yelled.

The tiny imps bound to each blunderbuss screamed inside as the burning splinters of bone and metal projectiles flew out of the barrels. Shields splintered, chainmail links frayed, and blood spilled as the bullets pierced armor and flesh. The first wave of the trespassers fell into the dirt, alive but crippled and slowly dying, but the second wave climbed over their bodies in desperation.

“Weapons out,” Darbakh ordered, and the dwarves slung their guns over their backs and pulled out scimitars. The black orcs stood up, shields forward and choppers ready.

Amidst the smoke, Darbakh could barely see who exactly were hurling themselves against the shields of the orcs only to be cut down in such futility, but he caught glimpses. Humans, horns, and hooves crunched beneath his boots as his troops marched forward, pressing through the bottleneck created by the destroyed ramparts. More of the trespassers waded into the smoke and began shield-to-shield pushing against the black orcs, holding them back only by sheer numbers until the dwarves started pushing against the backs of the orcs. Darbakh turned back to wave down Malund, standing many yards behind him with their supply train.

“Send the hobs up front!” he yelled to the bull centaur, who began driving the smaller goblinoids forward. The bazooka team instinctively retreated to Malund’s position with the mortar team, leaving the infantry up front.

The trespassers began jabbering in one of many mongrel languages spoken by foreigners, but Darbakh couldn’t recognize this one. He raised his halberd and began stabbing a few of them in between the shields of his orcs and over their shoulders until the hobgoblins arrived. The smaller goblinoids began pushing on the backs of the dwarves, adding to the unit’s strength and moving the line forward regardless of the orcs’ displeased grunts at their traitorous kin. The hobgoblins also stabbed their spears over the shoulders of the black orcs, who, true to their reputation, didn’t start squabbling in spite of their obvious ire.

Enough of the trespassers fell that even desperation could no longer propel them forward, and those who remained ran back toward the collapsed watchtower. Waving their hands amid the wreckage, they threw down their weapons in surrender, all half dozen of them for what it was worth, leading Darbakh to raise his fist.

“Hold and fan out” he ordered, causing the assembled goblinoids to form a perimeter around the surrendering foes. Malund brought the artillery teams into the defeated fort as well, walking through the gradually dissipating plumes of smoke. “Make sure that none of the injured survive; these wretches here are enough for interrogation.”

The bull centaur snorted in subdued approval. Malund began walking from one fallen body to another by the ramparts, stabbing each one with a sword as he performed his rounds. Darbakh left him to his own devices before turning to the surviving trespassers, pushed to the ground by the hobgoblins and finally granting a clear look at them.

Reaching for his comb subconsciously, Darbakh began brushing his beard while staring in wonderment at the groveling knaves in front of him. Seven in total, they were absolutely foreign in origin and unlike anything he’d ever seen. A few of them looked like elves, but their skin was ashen and grey just like many chaos dwarves themselves. Other trespassers were some strange cross between elves and beastmen, bearing the same ashen skin along with horns. Stranger still was what appeared to be a lizardman - or lizardwoman, he couldn’t really tell - who was wearing pants, a shirt, and shoes. The shoes in particular confused Darbakh beyond belief.

“I don’t think they’re from around here, boss,” the hobgoblin lookout said while rather presumptuously ambling up next to Darbakh, though the dwarven despot didn’t shove him away this time.

“This one, here,” Darbakh said while jabbing his finger toward the only human among their new prisoners. Clothed in rags and less heavily armed than the others, the lean human looked like some sort of diseased northman. “He looks Norscan. You, find out what languages he speaks.”

The hobgoblin saluted. “Right, boss.” He than began jabbering back and forth with the human in multiple languages, all the while confusing the ragged prisoner even more. “I don’t think he’s Norscan, boss; he doesn’t understand their language, or any other I tried. He just keeps saying his name is Havas Jargarson.”

“That sounds like a Norscan name. Ask him about Walhut, lord of our brothers to the north.”

“I already did, boss, and he doesn’t…”

Both of them turned when the sickly human known as Havas cleared his throat and began speaking. His language sounded weak and disorganized, with none of the sounds resembling one another. The human’s pallid skin strained as his voice rose, as if he were listing off his last requests.

“Shut your pie hole!” Darbakh said while grabbing Havas by the collar of the human’s robe and lifting him off the ground. “I’m not done talking!”

Havas continued mumbling, letting his head roll back as if he were mad, or in a trance. His voice began to echo against the rock formations behind the destroyed fort, growing louder in spite of the human’s half-starved, dirty frame. Only when a series of runes began to glow red on the ground all around him did Darbakh notice the similarly red glint in the human’s eyes. He swiftly grabbed Havas’ throat with his other hand and attempted to choke the words out of their prisoner.

“His eyes - he’s a vampire, boss!” the hobgoblin said just as the runes exploded with light all around the fort.

In a giant red bubble, the entire area in and around the fort disappeared into a puff of smoke. The dwarves, the hobgoblins, the black orcs, their prisoners, their equipment, the debris and corpses around them, even the top layer of soil on the ground were all dragged into the interdimensional portal opened by Havas’ chant. Nothing was left in their wake except for a plume of smoke dissipating into the air in a signal to their teleportation.

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Very well written piece, I thoroughly enjoyed that and hope for more.

Small piece of trivia: The Elder Scrolls is actually the only fantasy franchise I’m aware of that took heavy inspiration from the chaos dwarfs with the Dwemers, a for all intents and purposes extinct race of technologically advanced elves, oddly quite frequently referred to as dwarfs in the lore – here is a concept art from the third installment, Morrowind where the parallels are most obvious

Moreover, the whole Dunmer (dark elf) culture features various aesthetics and place names that look and sound Assyrian / Babylonian. It’s not far fetched that Warhammer served as heavy inspiration when you look at what one of the chief concept artists / lore writers of Morrowind, Michael Kirkbride, is spending his time on these days (also the original author of the concept art posted above).

Please don’t let this discourage you, I’m eager to see your vision of chaos dwarfs in the TES universe - I just thought it is an interesting side note. :smiley:

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On a raised, beaten path in a bog, surrounded by mushrooms the size of oak trees and guar rooting in the mud below, swirls of red runes danced through the air like parchment carried on the wind. Bolts of energy crackled on a patch of the road in front of a modest castle’s gatehouse, scaring away the guar and a few crows as the energy burst outward into a sphere, and popping loudly as numerous objects burst into existence on that plane along with it. Groans and grunts rose as bodies and debris fell, marking the dimensional shift from the Known World to the Aurbis.

Darbakh’s thirty plus men, in addition to their six captives, hit the ground along with their gear, a few corpses, and the entire top level of soil from the Darklands. The ashen grey mismatched the richer volcanic soil of Morrowind, marking them as truly from a different plane. Everyone coughed and reeled from the dimensional travel, but Darbakh leapt to his feet before anyone else and seized the pale human, Havas, by the throat.

“What was that?” the dwarven despot yelled while slugging the human in the gut with his other fist. Havas gasped as the wind was knocked out of him and fell to his knees, but Darbakh pulled the human up. “What the hell did you just do? Men, grab the other prisoners before they run!”

Scrabbling and crawling over the dusty road, the amassed soldiers chased their captives as if drunk. Disorientation from the portal revealed itself in their sluggish movements, and one of the five remaining prisoners, the weird horned elf, even escaped to the modest wooden door of the gatehouse down the road, banging and shouting in his foreign language. The dwarves and orcs busied themselves subduing their remaining captives, and the hobgoblins largely pretended to remain on standby while trying to do as little as possible.

Their concentration, if the fracas on the road could be referred to as such, was broken by more foreign shouting from atop the gatehouse. Looking over the parapets, another strange elf with ashen skin glared with red eyes which glowed in the early twilight. To either side of him, skulls arose, hollow yet mobile atop bony shoulders. The skeletons, along with the elf’s red eyes, granted Darbakh’s forces pause. Until the bonebags raised their bows, of course.

“Fall to the bog!” he yelled with a hand cupped over his mouth.

He dragged Havas down into the muck with him, and his troops began doing the same with their own captives, just as the first volley of arrows struck the ground on the road. His fellow chaos dwarves were hesitant to leave the road, walking away more slowly than the black orcs who jogged, and the hobgoblins who outright ran. Arrows pelted the group irregularly, bouncing off of Darbakh’s heavy armor as he dragged Havas, outright killing one of his hobgoblins and an associated prisoner, and striking his bloodletter bazooka in the skull. The mobile ass artillery shrieked before exploding, grievously burning the dwarf crewman who’d been carrying it.

“What! What! Douse him with water, quickly!” Darbakh yelled while Raggrund carried the injured crewman amid the giant mushrooms. “Those bastards hit one of our men!”

The dwarves converged on Raggrund’s position with their burnt comrade on the other side of the raised road, exiting Darbakh’s field of view, while the black orcs dragged the three other prisoners over on his side. Cool and collected, the stared at Darbakh with their beady eyes, waiting until they were told what to do. He was quite the opposite, grinding his teeth and shoving Havas face-first into the mud while trembling with anger.

“Further down the road! Everybody converge around the bend down the road!”

Dragging their prisoners with them, Darbakh and the orcs trudged amid the forest of giant orange mushrooms until the gatehouse of the small castle could no longer be seen. Once they climbed onto the main road, tracking dark grey mud on the lighter grey of the cobbled road, the rest of the dwarves converged with them. Hobgoblins trickled in one-by-one, knowing better than attempting to flee in hostile territory. The injured crewman limped over to the middle of the group, clutching his singed shoulder and arm covered in boils and shrapnel wounds.

Darbakh growled upon seeing his crewman’s injury, and inadvertently, he squeezed Havas’ arm so tightly that he fractured the human’s wrist with a loud pop followed by a scream. “Quiet!” he said, silencing Havas with a kick to the gut.

Raggrund removed his goggles and inspected the crewman’s wounds, also irately but with more self control. “There’s time to reduce the effects with medical attention. We need more supplies than we have now.”

Malund trudged forward. “We aren’t in the Darklands. We aren’t even in the Far East or the Old World. This is someplace different. We need a lot more than just those supplies.”

“We’re going to have that and more!” Darbakh said acidically, squeezing Havas’ broken wrist again. “Those rat bastards, a bunch of elves using skeletons, they think they can injure one of us? By Hashut, I’ll tear their castle down brick by brick as a fair punishment! The whole lot of them isn’t worth a single hair on our beards!”

“Who are they, though?” Raggrund asked. The older dwarf began poking Havas, who groaned and whined on the ground in pain. “We found these foreigners on our land, and they seem to have brought us to their land. How can we get back?”

“One step at a time, old friend; we need medicine, food, water…labor.” Darbakh let go of Havas, who was a useless crying wreck, and walked over to one of the other prisoners, the apparent lizardman. The reptile cringed and groveled, displaying more wisdom than the human had. “You. Skink, or whatever you are. Find us food.” Darbakh held his hand to his mouth to demonstrate eating. “Food. Find us food, or we eat you.” He pointed to the lizardman and then his own mouth, making his point abundantly clear.

Nodding and babbling, the lizardman crawled past Darbakh as if accustomed to humbling itself in front of superiors. Further down the road, beyond the entire crew, the it stopped and squatted while pointing excitedly. The road led further into the forest of overgrown toadstools beneath a sky almost as dreary as the Darklands except more humid. The amassed crew all lined up, looking at Darbakh and awaiting orders. He combed his beard again, feeling the pressure of responsibility for his whole group trapped in an unknown land.

“We follow the skink,” Darbakh said, “and we sack any town we find around this blasted castle. I’ll see every fat fungus in this blasted bog destroyed if we have to!”

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I like the story very much, I have no idea about the “Elder Scrolls” and I like to let you lead me into this new world! :metal:

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Indeed! I’m actually looking forward to portraying all the various linguistic and cultural misunderstandings which might arise (followed by serious ass kicking, of course).

Cool, I’m glad I was able to bring something new to the table. What better way to venture into a new world than by having chaos dwarves enslave it?

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Fires had already arisen in the ash fields of strange red vegetables and purple fruit grown by the locals. The fungal flora of Deshaan confused the chaos dwarves and their thralls, and while they pillaged their way toward the remote village, they started burning any plants and killing any animals they couldn’t eat solely because they were so confounded by their alien surroundings.

Although their prisoners squirmed in sight of the destruction, the skink-like creature leading them seemed to share in their stress release at the countryside raid. The dark pinkish reptile, clad only in torn pants and a leather harness, had actually begun to grow on Darbakh. He didn’t even beat it when it pattered around inanely a few times, simply waiting for it (and his troops) to finish chewing through the marshy farmland before pushing the skink thing back toward the main cobblestone road. Eventually, a high stone spire sporting frilled awnings broke into the sky just as distant shouts and screams broke the air over the fires the group had set behind them.

Eventually, the road straightened out, and their reptilian guide came to a halt when the warband moved into view of a wooden village gate at a dead end. What appeared to be village guards in brass-colored steel armor stood atop a crude wall of piled stones, watching the raid cautiously. Darbakh walked out first, leaving his men to eat their fill in the pools of swamp produce amid the cypress trees to either side of the road.

“Those,” he said while pointing toward the brass-clad beings watching them from the walls. “What are those?”

As had been its habit, the skink creature jabbered in its language while making a series of gestures, implying that the village militia watching them wanted to fight. Then, without asking permission, the reptile yelled at the beings and performed a series of obscene hand motions related to defecation; the brass beings didn’t respond directly.

“How many?” Darbakh asked, grabbing the reptile so it would hold still for a moment. He held up his fingers. “Ten? Twenty? Thirty? Them, how many?”

Before his guide could answer, the wooden gate swung open, attracting the attention of his troops. The chaos dwarves and black orcs lined up behind him in an orderly fashion; the hobgoblins attempted to surge forward until Malund strode in front and pushed them to the back of the group. “Back, not until we have the word.”

Two of the brass beings road out of the gate on bizarre lizards with tiny forelegs. The guar looked unfit as mounts to the dwarves, but the two representatives of the village still rode rather quickly. Darbakh walked with his guide to meet them halfway on the road. Although he had no idea who the Militant Ordinators were, he recognized the carved faced on their helmets and designs on their cuirasses as signs of military discipline.

One of the two gazed down at him snidely, already stoking a fire inside the dwarven despot much like the fires in their fields. He openly grit his teeth just at the mere look they’d given him.

Dwemer?” one of the Ordinators asked skeptically.

The skink nodded its head, but Darbakh had no interest in polite conversation. “Your village belongs to me now,” he said, pointing to the gate and then himself while the skink roughly interpreted his intent. “Your choice is to belong to me or die.” The skink excitedly mimicked the way he drew his index finger along his throat and then pointed at the Ordinators, causing them both to mutter in offense.

One of the two temple enforcers dismounted and unfurled a scroll from his belt. Roughly a yard long, the parchment bore House Indoril’s design of the Tribunal Temple symbol, and this time, the Dunmer pointed at the symbol, then Darbakh, then the ground. The haughty display of defiance, along with a direct order, was all it took to ignite Darbakh like a naphtha bomb.

“You do NOT talk back to me!” he yelled, immediately enflamed without any escalation as his fist soared toward the Ordinator’s stomach. His blackshard gauntlet dented the Dunmer’s cuirass, bending the armor inward on the dark elf’s stomach and sending it reeling to the ground and coughing up blood.

The second Ordinator attempted to trample the dwarven despot, but Darbakh held the guar by the head and twisted its neck until it toppled over. The supposed skink leapt on the second enforcer as the man fell to the road, dragging him back toward the hobgoblins who’d swept forward and poured over the man like vultures. Darbakh didn’t even reprimand them as they beat the man to death, instead dragging the Ordinator he’d punched to the rest of his troops and standing on the man’s back like a soapbox. His compact mass damaged the Ordinator’s armor further and elicited a pained cry from the zealot.

“Raggrund, bring the light mortar up here. I need you to feed one of the prisoners to it and bombard this village.”

Battle cries reached their ears as an infantry block of Militant Ordinators marched out from the gate. Clad in mostly brass-colored medium armor, their disciplined visage was more impressive than that of the ragged trespassers who’d first entered the Darklands; they stepped in line with one another, they chanted their heresies in unison, and they numbered even more than Darbakh’s warband. They beat their shields with maces to fill the narrow space between the boggy woods and orchards on either side of the road, and one of them even bore a standard consisting of the Tribunal symbol, causing the hobgoblins to retreat for their shields.

Raggrund waved the crew to bring their only piece of artillery forward. “We’ll need cover from their troops," he said, stoic and focused in his voice despite the approaching enemy, though he made haste in pulling one of the strange little beast-elf creatures for the other crewmen to begin dismembering it alive.

“Guaranteed. Guns up front!” Darbakh waved his fellow dwarven warriors out front, pushing the orcs and hobgoblins aside for a moment to make space on the narrow road.

Somehow, five of his warriors managed to line up shoulder to shoulder, with the same number behind them loading their blunderbusses. The Ordinators marched in lockstep but didn’t yet raise their shields, not knowing what guns were and thus not realizing that they were already in range.

“Fire!”

The scattershot guns were loud, echoing more loudly than the maces banging on shields and drowning out all other sounds. Burning shrapnel and debris tore out of the smoking barrels and into the Militant Ordinators, piercing the armor of their legs and weapon arms, and even striking a few of the first rank in their faces. Disciplined or no, cries of multiple voices rose into the air in a pleasant chorus of pain, and the first row of Dunmer temple enforcers fell to the road writhing as the pellets continued to burn in their flesh. The remaining dozens of Ordinators slowed down in their march, unsure of what had happened since the blunderbuss shells were too fast to see in midair. The second row of them stumbled over the bodies of the first, granting the chaos dwarves in their front row to kneel and reload while their fellows stood behind them.

“Fire!” Darbakh yelled again.

The second row of Dawi shot their volley, similarly maiming the second row of Dunmer who fell to the ground. Before the remaining rows could react, Raggrund’s voice joined the cacophony from the back of Darbakh’s warband.

“Ready!”

The demon bound inside the light mortar fired, having eaten pieces of the sacrificed prisoner and screaming its tortured fury into the air. The fiery projectile soared in a high arc before landing within the stone walls of the village, striking the roof of unseen buildings. The deep thud of collapsing stone and crackling flames, along with screams, echoed to their location, confusing the village defenders as to how and why their ranks were falling along with their buildings behind safe walls. The third rank of Ordinators continued their march, stepping around their fallen and groaning fellows in an attempt to reach Darbakh’s troops, who were now the foreign trespassers.

“Reloaded,” one of the dwarves in the first rank said once all five of them had prepared another volley.

Darbakh ordered them to fire again, and then the second rank again; Militant Ordinators fell to the road again, and then again. More than a dozen of the fanatical defenders of Dunmer faith, so loyal and zealous to their cause, laid broken and bloody on the road, alive but unable to continue the fight. The survivors outnumbered them twice over, but their march ceased; they were falling to projectiles moving too fast for them to see, their armor couldn’t withstand the hail of blunderbuss shells, and their village behind them began crumbling as Raggrund fired another mortar within the walls. The Ordinators broke, waving for a strategic retreat - for words weren’t necessary to recognize that - and began to recede behind their village wall. Darbakh marched out in front, right behind them.

“Raggrund, continue bombardment while we handle these,” Darbakh said while waving his hand vaguely in the direction of the fallen Ordinators. He then looked to his assorted goblinoid troops. “Break their limbs and prepare them for display. We need a show of force.”

A wall of green skin hurried past him as a competition of sadism broke out. The black orcs in particular, so orderly among their kin, relished the permission to finally act freely, and they took the Ordinators own maces to carry out their grisly task. Wounded from gunshots they couldn’t understand, the Ordinators couldn’t fight back, raising their hands either in defense or to plead for mercy, though a few gained the attention of the hobgoblins by trying to crawl down into the bog. Armor broke along with bones under the blunt force trauma, and the Dunmer casualties screamed in unison with the villagers behind the wall. The chaos dwarves were content to enjoy the soundtrack to their impromptu meeting as they formed a huddle, save Raggrund and the artillery crew who continued their work.

Formed into a circle as they did in their Blood Bowl matches, the other dwarves all looked to Darbakh. “These miscreants fear the sound of heavy weaponry; you all saw it in their eyes,” he said over the loud thunk of another mortar shot landing in the village. “We could cut them down, but that wouldn’t terrify them as much.”

“Will we occupy this city?” Malund asked.

“We must, for now. We’re still lost, and our trespassing prisoners seemed to have known the inhabitants of that castle we teleported outside of. In order to get home, we’d be best off interrogating whoever lives at that castle and forcing them to send us back with the same magic.”

“That human prisoner brought us here with his damned chanting.”

“I know he did, and we could always force answers out of him, but we have a better chance by taking more prisoners from the same group,” Darbakh replied. “And if we want to invade that castle, we’ll need to lay siege to it.”

“Which mandates a supply line,” Malund said.

“Exactly. This village had decent enough crops. We’ll sack their countryside, occupy their city, and drain it of everything they have until our siege is done. These creatures possess a discipline which the trespassers on our land lacked, so in order to win this with minimal losses, we need to demoralize them. Raggrund will bombard them until our original prisoners have all been fed to the light mortar, except for Havas, and then we move in shooting. Business first, melee fun after.”

Malund clopped his hooves on the road. “Alright, let’s do this!”

“Hands in,” Darbakh ordered, and the chaos dwarves all laid their hands on each others’ in the middle. “Three two one go!”

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As the wooden roofs of stone hovels and terraced shops burned, littering the muddy elven village’s walkways with even more debris than usual, the high double doors which had sealed the brick walls of the settlement broke and fell forward, slamming into the mud with a subdued thud beneath the onslaught outside. The chaos dwarves had used the corpse of a dead Militant Ordinator like a battering ram, mutilating the dead body until they finally broke the rusty hinges off the poorly crafted doors. They flowed inside with their forces, followed by the hobgoblins and black orcs who dragged their varied assortment of prisoners through the streets.

Darbakh marched out in front of the group, following the sound of screams amid the crackling of flames all around them. He waved for the weird lizardman creature and then pointed to one of the Ordinators they’d captured. “This one. Where did the others go?” he asked, rotating his wrist toward the sky in a questioning gesture. When the skink-like being looked confused, he swept his arm across the narrow streets and rundown huts in front of them. “Where? The other ones like this wretch, where?”

The weird lizardman’s eyes lit up, and it hobbled forward and pointed down one of the roads. A few more gestures evoked a fortress or other structure around a bend, which the warband walked down cautiously as they passed more and more bombed out devastation. Walls had collapsed, basements had caved in, and the streets were lined by the bodies of villagers who hadn’t managed to escape the artillery shots. One of the carcasses was at least partially intact, revealing the ashen grey skin possessed by the foreign elf they’d encountered at the wall of the nearby castle.

“Look at that…they have a nice grey complexion to them,” Raggrund said while the rear of the marching column passed by the body. “I’ve never seen an elf like that before. They’re almost not ugly.”

Leaving the troops to talk amongst themselves, Darbakh remained quiet as they wound their way through the crowded, unsanitary village’s remains. They approached the center of the miserable little hamlet ringed by uneven stone walls quickly, guided by a single vimana tower rising above the one story hovels which were largely on fire. Around a bend in the muddy street, they reached a courtyard full of burning debris in front of a stone temple, obvious in its architecture, into which the locals were fleeing. Ordinators were ushering the tattered, bereaved villagers inside the temple’s doors, shouting orders even more loudly once the chaos dwarves entered the courtyard from the village streets. Even more screams echoed in the center of the village, but Darbakh held out an arm for his troops to wait.

“Hang their troops from these two trees,” he said to his hobgoblins, sending the malicious goblinoids to tie the battered, broken bodies of the Ordinators they’d shot to the low-hanging branches of two trees lining the sunken walkway leading to the temple. Still clad in their pierced armor, the prisoners of war strained to avoid crying out as they dangled from their bound wrists, their knees dragging on the ground. “Beat whatever parts of them aren’t broken yet,” Darbakh said while the hobgoblins were still tying the Ordinators with rope they’d scavenged from the village. “I want the dregs in that temple to hear.”

While the dwarves all lined up behind Darbakh, the hobgoblins beat the legs and arms of their victims, now suspended from the branches of the two trees. The orcs practiced football with the heads of the prisoners who were on the ground, for the tree branches couldn’t bear them all, sending a chorus of cries into the air. Up the steps of the tower-topped temple, the remaining Ordinators turned toward the courtyard, shouting at one another and pointing at the display of their comrade’s public humiliation. The last few villagers shut the doors to the stone structure, leaving the morally outraged Ordinators as their last line of defense. Darbakh gave his back to them while only thirty yards away, incensing them further.

“They only outnumber us two-to-one,” the despot said to his amassed brethren, who were wielding the maces they’d taken from their previous victims outside the village walls. “I rescind my earlier command to take prisoners; do as you wish.”

That frivolous permission motivated the troops sufficiently, and the ten chaos dwarf warriors followed Darbakh up the steps as they marched in unison. Their steel boots thudded loudly on the stone steps leading up, but they made no threatening displays like how the Ordinators had banged their maces on their shields; instead, the dwarves advanced stoically, silent and prepared, while staring down their enemies.

The discipline of the Militant Ordinators was broken. Frightened by the unfamiliar technology in guns and artillery, demoralized by their swift loss to the less numerous invaders, and incensed by the sight of their fellows being beaten, the brass-colored warriors charged down the mossy steps of the stone temple bereft of their previous discipline. Their ranks dispersed and their files faltered, leaving them to throw themselves against the heavy armor of Darbakh’s displined dwarves like a disorganized horde. The berserk tactic didn’t suit the Ordinators, neither in training nor in build, and the chaos dwarves marched straight through their ranks like a wrecking ball. The bodies of the Ordinators were battered and broken as they were beaten down to the steps or sent fleeing back toward the temple proper. Darbakh’s men sustained only a few minor injuries and no casualties in the mace-to-mace melee, and they followed the seven survivors to up the steps just in time for the doors to swing open.

Within, a pyramidal idol sat at the end of a long hall lined by sniveling villagers, poorly chiseled pillars, and pews which must have been carved by amateurs. Fear filled the villagers’ eyes when, as soon as they opened the door for their protectors, they saw the chaos dwarves there in their red and black armor, heads covered by either helmets or hats (or a hat helmet in Darbakh’s case) and maces swinging into the backs of the Militant Ordinators. The village’s last line of defense fell to the floor in a heap as the soldiers wept for forgiveness from whatever the idol represented, and the villagers crowded to the back of the long temple like piglets in a corner as they watched in horror.

Darbakh spoke casually while stabbing the tip of his halberd beneath the belt of an Ordinator. “Kill them slowly while our guide comes…you!” he yelled over his shoulder toward the weird skink thing, leaving his troops to slowly beat the Ordinators to death. “Get up here!”

Scurrying like a skink, even if it wasn’t one, the reptilian guide pulled its ragged pants up and ran to Darbakh’s side, its eyes shining in joy at the sight. “Stop gawking and get to work. Can any of these weasels talk normal?” Darbakh pointed from his ear to the skink creature, then to the villagers, then back to his own ear. “Can any of them speak a language other than gibberish? Talk, I need one of them who can talk.”

Screams range out at both ends of the hall while the reptile began jabbering at the unwashed villagers. The Ordinators threw their hands in the air in defense, and a few even prayed toward the idol while being struck with maces, and the villagers wept and held their hands out to their former protectors even while crowding, maybe a hundred strong throng of civilians, against the far back wall. Eventually, one of them wearing the burgundy vestments of a cleric stood up, slightly more stoic than the others and catching Darbakh’s eye.

“Him,” the despot said while beckoning for the cleric to approach. “Figure out what he speaks.” The cleric stepped forward nervously, his long brown hair matted in sweat and his ash grey skin covered in mud and blood. Gibberish spilled from the cleric’s chapped lips, garnering a sneer. “Don’t give me that gobbledygook. Speak like a sentient being, or at least a valid language of darkness. I’m already in the mood for more beatings, and your blah blah blah noises are bothering me.”

As if translating Darbakh’s rather obvious demeanor, the skink thing began jabbering at the weird grey elf, granting the despot a glimpse of the social dynamic in that weird land. In spite of being under siege, the cleric recoiled from the reptile’s speech and scowled, a deep, scornful resentment marked on his sullied face. As the taskmaster over serfs and servants himself, Darbakh recognized the sentiment fast: the cleric regarded the reptilian guide as some sort of a peon barely worthy of his attention. Embarrassment and subdued outrage were written into the cleric’s tense shoulders and flexing fingers. And then, the cleric gave him the shock of the whole bizarre day.

“Can you understand me now?” the cleric said in the Dark Tongue.

The dwarven despot’s thick eyebrows shot up, and the enlightenment swept over all three men like the fires of a forge. “So you can talk like a being with a brain,” Darbakh replied to the furtive glances of his troops, some of whom understood the Dark Tongue. “You know the language of demons.”

“What?” the cleric asked, overemphasizing his pronunciation of the H-sound in the word. “Demons? I’ve not known the Daedra to be referred to as such-”

“I could write a book about what you don’t know, mongrel.” Darbakh’s reply as swift and hard, and the skink thing laughed so hard that he realized it understood the language too. “You can talk normal, so hear me now: I want to know who the hell is in that castle in the direction of the sun, beyond your fields; I want to know why they were trespassing on my land; I want to know how they cast that spell to bring us here; and I want to know how to reverse it. I don’t want any other details, including whatever the hell this pissant place of yours is, so answer what I’ve asked if you want to live much longer.”

Recalcitrance etched into the cleric’s sour face, confirming that these elves were used to ordering others with impunity. Even with no protection and foreign invaders, the cleric hesitated to an extent which bordered on defiance, but he answered all the same.

“My name is Tabdreth, and I’ll answer to the best of my knowledge. I assume you’re referring to the castle of Lady Paranya, for that’s the primary landmark around our humble region of Deshaan.” Tabdreth paused to see if he’d be allowed to speak further and then continued. “She’s a vampire, and an outcast of the noble House Indoril, known for strange experiments. She’s our enemy, and from what you say, I believe she’s also yours.”

“Then she’s good as dead. Answer my other questions.”

“Right, very well; I can only hope that my honest answers will earn the safety of my flock.”

Darbakh laughed out loud. “Don’t hope; do as I say. Now.”

“Alright. You asked why she was trespassing on your land, yet I don’t know which land you mean. If you truly are the Dwemer, then I can only imagine that you’re present due to a ripple in time.”

“Stop calling us Dwemer; I’ve never heard of these Dwemer,” Darbakh said, much to Tabdreth’s visible surprise. “Wipe that look off your face and any association of us with whatever people you’re talking about from your mind. We’re the Dawi Zharr of the Darklands.”

“Then I really can’t say what Lady Paranya’s forces were doing in your lands because I don’t know of them. I’m assuming that you came from outside Nirn.”

Granted pause, Darbakh stood silently for a moment. The whimpers of the villagers echoed more loudly now that the chaos dwarves had beaten the last Ordinators to death, and while the sound was music to the despot’s ears, the cleric’s words weighed heavily on him. He knew neither Nirn nor the Dwemer, and he began to wonder just how far he was from home.

Anxiously, he began to comb his beard again. “They had a human cretin with them, a Norscan named Havas. He chanted in a sort of mongrel language, causing red winds of magic to sweep us here, near the castle. Do you know anything about such a teleportation spell?”

“Only that such magic exists. If you must know about the spell, then I suggest you interrogate this Norscan - I assume you’re referring to the Nords. I’m prepared to do so on your behalf if you can guarantee my people-”

“You’ll do so whenever I tell you solely because I tell you, and if I didn’t need you intact, then speaking out of turn like that would have incurred my wrath, Badbreath.”

The skink snickered, causing Tabdreth to scowl at it, but the cleric soon returned to his previous plea. “I can help you. We have the same enemy: Lady Paranya. She trapped you and your men here, and she demands a tribute of our citizenry to satiate her bloodthirst; she’s a vampire. We know when we’re defeated; I don’t appreciate the killing of our temple’s enforcers, but let us look past that and work together toward defeating Paranya. Our village possesses two forges, fertile fields, and a considerable stock of slaves in the form of these Argonians.” The skink hissed at Tabdreth acidically, garnering another scowl. “Quiet, you.”

As with the upstart Ordinators outside the village gate, the cleric garnered immediate anger without escalation, and Darbakh backhanded Tabdreth hard enough to send the spindly cleric spinning. “Only I give out orders here!” He then stepped on Tabdreth’s back, pinning the grey elf to the floor with a boot as the villagers began to weep more loudly. “And my orders will be translated by this skink.”

For a second, the Argonian looked as if it would correct Darbakh, but it decided against the act while watching Tabdreth struggle to breathe on the floor. “You say, I tell,” said the Argonian - or skink, if that’s what it had to be called from then on.

Darbakh turned to face the hundred or so villagers crowded at the back of the stone temple. His ten brethren lined up behind him, unmoving and unspeaking as he delivered a sermon of his own in the temple.

“This town, and all that grows in its fields, are now property of the Ziggurat of Mordigath. What was once your resources and labor are now my resources and labor.”

The Argonian began to translate Darbakh’s instructions into Dunmer. “Bakka dakka trakka lakka,” it said, or something which sounded like that, as the temple was filled with the gasps and lamentations of the grey elves.

“Your defenders have been slain, your households broken, and your properties seized. Whatever deities you believe in have failed you, and you’ll demolish this temple and that very idol you huddle around with your own hands. The luxury of death isn’t an option for you.”

“Abee deebee doobee,” the Argonian began to translate, and as it spoke, its voice raised in volume and filled with excitement, as if the chaos dwarves were some sort of prophecy. The grey elves shrieked and held each other, and a few pulled at their own hair and clothes.

“And these lizard skink things are no longer your slaves; they’re our vassals, and you’re their slaves. Your every move will occur under their watch and at the behest of their whips. I take your entire social order and cast it in the trash.”

The Argonian’s eyes lit up, and it turned its whole head to gaze upon Darbakh beatifically. Unappreciative, the dwarven despot cast a glance in the Argonian’s direction, prompting the reptile to pull its tattered pants up again, take a deep breath, and translate with pride. When it began translating the last edict, however, the shrieks and cries became harsh and angry. In spite of their miserable condition, the ragged, bereaved villagers stood on wobbly feet and stepped forward, wagging their fingers in defiance and cursing the Argonian translator. Moral outrage at being commanded by their own slaves propelled them, and without instructions, the dwarves marched forward like a solid wall. Aiming to punish rather than kill, they waded into a crowd of villagers who outnumbered them ten to one, swinging with impunity as the unarmed yokels failed to harm them through their heavy armor. Blood was spilled and even the very young and very old were thrown to the floor of the temple as the Dunmer villagers, once so haughty and self-assured, watched their pride ripped away from them and handed to the Argonians.

Tabdreth crawled toward the pyramidal idol amid the crowd and reached out to it, his hand shaking, fingers trembling, as he called out the names of the Tribunal. His body slid away from his imagined salvation as Darbakh grabbed him by the collar and lifted him up.

“You’ll not be with the common rabble, wretch; I have need of you and Havas.” Darbakh stopped by the temple door while dragging Tabdreth out, the Argonian in tow, for a final order. “I declare one full day of rapine and terror, followed by a week of preparations. Preserve the lives of our new acquisitions!”

Screams continued to ring out from the stone temple as the dwarves disciplined the elves one time, as an introduction, with such a roughness that they’d never forget. Down the moss-covered steps, Darbakh dragged the cleric, but he still listened to the sweet sound of misery behind him.

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Where a temple to the Tribunal had once stood on a muddy knoll, a ziggurat fashioned from the former building’s rubble now sat. Open to the air and the light rain which drizzled on Darbakh’s appropriated chitin coat, the newly minted ziggurat had not only served as a marker of chaos dwarf domination, but had pleased the new Argonian leadership of the village too.

Taking a swill from a local grog mixed with rainwater, Darbakh sighed contentedly as his gaze swept over the dilapidated ruins of what had once been a Dunmer village. Stone and brick from the homes had been scavenged to repair the town walls, and wood from the roofs had been used as kindling for the forge. The Argonians had taken over the former Dunmer homes, building filthy mud huts in their own style to the west, close enough to marvel at the ziggurat and the evil dwarves who’d elevates their status. To the east of Darbakh’s vantage point, the forge burned brightly on the overcast day. His own troops were also wearing garb taken from the locals as they worked, recasting the weaponry of the Ordinators while the black orcs assisted them. To the south, Malund led a public sacrifice on an altar of Hashut which the Dunmer had built from the rubble of their own idols and shrines; the builders were, ironically, the first to be laid on said altar. In the fields beyond the repaired walls, the hobgoblins trained the Argonians in the finer details of labor management as both groups oversaw droves of Dunmer in chains - chains which the Argonians had once worn.

Darbakh hummed in approval while shaking a cup fashioned from a Dunmer skull and taking another long sip.

“You could be harder on them.”

Raggrins spoke from the center of the ziggurat’s apex, atop a marble throne covered by an umbrella held aloft by Havas and Tabdreth. Both the Nord and Dunmer were gagged, shackled, and blindfolded, unable to do anything other than keep the rain off of Raggrund while he skimmed through the former Tribunal Temple’s books. Darbakh grunted quizzically.

“Those lizardmen, Argonians as they call themselves. They were already slaves; you could’ve just thrown the Dunmer into the pens with them.”

The two chaos dwarves were alone, and Raggrund was actually a bit older, this Darbakh allowed the expression of dissent and paced around the ziggurat calmly. “There are tactics, and then there’s strategy. We could have held this entire town in the slave pens, but there are considerations.” He walked to the north end of the ziggurat, overlooking a newly carved cobblestone road lined with starving Militant Ordinators tied to wooden posts.

“We’re foreigners here; we don’t know this land. Even in certain areas of the Darklands, we differentiate between slaves and vassals. These Argonians know the land, and they know how to scout around this Paranya’s castle.”

“I hate to say it, but the Dunmer seem more educated,” Raggrund said while tossing the book aside. It landed in a bronze brazier, catching fire and rekindling the flames. He then grabbed another book from the pile. “They might have been able to help.”

“Might? Yes. Likely? No.” Darbakh spoke comfortably even though he’d have clobbered most anyone else for open disagreement. He took another sip and folded his free hand behind his back. “They’re haughty and proud, and they wouldn’t have obeyed well enough. The Argonians hate their former masters more than anyone else; they think we’re saviors sent by their false idols. Not only have we gained local vassals, but we’ve also undermined the local social order.”

“This land is full of these Dunmer, apparently,” Raggrund said, tearing a few pages from the book and tossing them into the fire. “These Argonians will lose control in the end.”

“Probably. But if all goes to plan, we’ll be gone by then. These two cretins here, Havas and Tabdreth, broke under our hobgoblin taskmasters in less than ten minutes. They’ll open a portal back for us, and when we invade that Paranya lady’s castle, she’ll be glad to help.”

Pausing in his reading and discarding, Raggrund finally leaned back; Darbakh could feel his old friend’s look of concern on his back. “How long do you reckon we’ve been gone from our dimension? If that is what happened…and it seems likely that it did.”

For a long while, Darbakh didn’t answer. His shoulders tended up, and even the despot felt anxiety clawing at him. “There’s no point in speculating. The same time we’ve spent here? Less? A second? A year? We just need to get back. We bring in as many captives as possible from the castle as a gift and declare the mission accomplished; the trespassers on our land were eliminated.”

“And if we end up home a hundred years later?” Raggrund asked, only half rhetorically.

“Then Mordigath will already have been petrified or deposed by then. We return as a long lost expedition with tales to tell, gifts to bring, and experience to share.”

Raggrund listened quietly before turning back to the book he’d taken from the stack. “You’re never this optimistic.”

Those words cut deep, reminding Darbakh of his own doubts. He watched the Ordinators moaning below for a while before turning halfway to his old friend and changing the subject.

“Anything worthwhile in those scraps of theirs?”

Raggrund tossed another book into the brazier’s fire. “A bit. Their alphabet looks like chicken scratch, but it’s the Dark Tongue. The people of this plane are backward and ignorant, but some of their ideas on different dimensions and travel between them are okay.” He set a book down in a safe pile, away from the brazier, before picking up another. “These should make up for our absence once we return…if we return. Speaking of which, it’s been a week.”

Darbakh nodded before turning westward, in the direction of the castle. “It’s been long enough; I’ll announce tomorrow’s march once the skinks bring these grey elves in from the fields. At dawn, we ride.”

The castle wasn’t visible over the horizon even on a sunny day, and the overcast midday sky obscured the landscape beyond the farms. Fear of being stranded on Nirn caused Darbakh to fixate on the castle’s direction, however, and as he stared to the west, he could imagine every turn they’d take to return to it. The light rain drizzled on into the afternoon as the despot stood atop the ziggurat, trying not to think of how many ways their plan could go wrong.

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Dawn had only just broken by the time Darbakh’s warband reached the final stretch of that lonely road lined by giant toadstools in front of the decrepit castle. Reinforced by a score of shackled Dunmer marched out in front of them, his force of chaos dwarves, hobgoblins, and black orcs came to a halt on the muddy road. Rain from days prior caused the cobblestones to come loose, providing unstable footing as the fifty-plus troops stared at the bobbing skulls between the parapets ahead of them. Another red-eyed servant of the castle’s reigning lady hovered atop the outer stone wall of the castle, watching the approach of the same visitors from more than a week ago. Darbakh stood next to Malund and stood for a long, silent moment.

The bull centaur spat into the bog beside the road. “Both the Norscan and the grey elf drew identical maps of this place once the hobs beat it out of them. It should be accurate.”

Darbakh held his combination hat-mask-helmet beneath his arm while they watched the motionless, stalwart skeleton archers, barely visible white dots on the horizon. The morning air was damp, just like the mossy walls of the castle, and the dwarven despot wiped the sweat from his brow with his bracers. “The design reminds me of the dumps built by elves back home; their schematics seem legit.” He shook his head ever so slightly, still uneasy. “We have little else to go on; it’s time. Raggrund: no negotiations. Load the mortar and fire at will. I want that entire wall demolished.”

His trusted friend saluted, all business on the march. “Aye!” the older dwarf said while moving down the road to the back of their troops, where the Flamer of Tzeentch tortured into the shape of a light mortar sat. “You heard him; time to load!” Callously, Raggrund pulled a severed head from a sack, one of the last Militant Ordinators to die, and fed it to the sentient piece of mobile artillery. The demon mortar gnashed and belched while gobbling up the head, eating it faster than normal ammunition could be loaded. “Fire!”

One of the crewmen pulled a lever impaled into the side of the sentient artillery, launching a fireball high into the air. Their mark was true, bringing the infernal projectile down onto the center of the wall. A crack one meter long was broken from the top of the wall down, breaking apart the eroded stones and smashing a skeleton archer to pieces before exploding. Several more of the skeletons flopped around, helpless and outranged by the artillery, and the red-eyed servant of the vampire lady tumbled to the ground in flames. All fifty troops stood and watched in delight as the servant rolled around in the mud in vain, almost unaware of the crewmen reloading the light mortar. Even the Dunmber slave soldiers, their heads shaved and their necks collared, looked rather pleased to see the destruction of their old enemy by their new one.

“Fire!” Raggrund called out again.

A second mortar launched into the air and landed within the castle walls, sending smoke and flames rising to the sky. One of the skeletons reached a bell tower barely visible, ringing the brass artifact with a sound which was subdued.

“The volume is low; that bell is only meant to call up more of their own troops,” Malund said while watching.

“Let them come,” Darbakh replied with relish. “They trespassed and then dragged us here. Total domination is the only acceptable response.”

A third and fourth mortar fell, demolishing the castle gate into a smoldering heap and breaking off the top layer of the castle wall’s east side. The skeleton archers had either been destroyed or knocked away, clearing an entrance for them into the rubble which was now the frontal wall of the castle. Darbakh raised his halberd in the air.

“Orcs first, then slaves, then hobs, then us. March in that order, five to a row!”

Like clockwork, the black orcs filled in the front ranks, their shields raised and refurbished heavy armor gleaming. The hobgoblins pushed the Dunmer, who were minimally armored but wielding numerous blades, followed by the treacherous overseers themselves. The chaos dwarves followed the column lest any treachery occur, pushing the line forward into the muddy courtyard of burning mangers and dismembered corpses. The bodies of a few zombies lied strewn about amidst the bones of the skeletons, but more of the ivory troops began rising from the fresh mud and debris in the castle courtyard. The castle’s high double doors swung open on their own accord, creaking ominously in a manner which frightened the Dunmer slave soldiers. In spite of the early morning light, the interior of the castle appeared unnaturally dim, partially obscuring the further ranks of skeletal soldiers which began to march out.

“Halt!” Darbakh yelled, bring his troops into formation. “Let them come to us and then lap around them! Raggrund, bombard their castle!”

“Aye!” Raggrund replied while the crewmen loaded the light mortar.

The skeletons marched ceaselessly, spears raised as they met the black orcs shield-to-shield. The bony troops were weaker but much more numerous, filing out of the castle door continuously until they outnumbered the entire warband two-to-one. The orcs held firm, pushing back rather than lashing out as less disciplined greenskins would have, but the skeletons slowly gained ground. The orcs’ heels slid backward in the mud until the Dunmer spilled out to the sides of the formation.

The ragged grey elves threw themselves against the flanks of the skeletons, flailing with tired limbs now energized by hatred. The chaos dwarves had defeated them, taken their freedom, put them in chains, shaved their heads, and dressed them in rags, yet the Dunmer still tore into the ranks of the skeletons with a fury fueled by decades of resentment toward the castle’s vampiric mistress. Slow to react, the skeletons were cut down in droves, and by the time the outer flanks had turned toward their assailants, the hobgoblins had joined in too. The skirmish seemed finished until screeches from the skies above.

Pebbles and stones fell from the upper balconies of the castle as large, dark figures took flight against the dreary morning sky. To the dwarves, the creatures appeared to be chaos furies, but Tabdreth, now shackled alongside his countrymen, backed out of the fight and looked to Darbakh.

“Gargoyles! We need to fall back-“

One of the hobgoblins shoved Tabdreth back into the melee. “Don’t talk to the boss like that!” the overgrown goblinoid said.

“Take them out!” the despot shouted to his brethren.

Large, stone creatures come to life, the gargoyles circled above the fray like vultures. When the first of them descended within shooting range, a volley of blunderbuss fire rose to meet it. Only a few of the dwarves had fired, but the burning pellets ate holes in the gargoyles membranous wings, injuriously sending the creature to the ground in a broken heap. Demonstrating relative intelligence, the gargoyles avoided the dwarves and instead descended upon the Dunmer, sending the the captive elves and a few of the hobgoblins fleeing. Swooping with an agility which defied their mass, the gargoyles began to snatch up the Dunmer one by one, pulling more than a few of them to the balconies lining the side of the castle where they were eviscerated alive. Screams lining the side of the castle’s main tower were silenced only by the explosions of the mortars, smashing apart the balconies and the gargoyles in rhythm with the symphony of breaking bones below.

The skeletons continued marching out of the castle doors, but their part in the battle was for naught; the orcs begrudgingly joined the hobgoblins in the offensive, smashing through shields and rib cages alike as the greenskin troops hacked and slashed. One of the gargoyles made the mistake of attempting to enter the melee on the ground, landing on a black orc but failing to lift the mercenary’s weight up off the ground.

“Get it!” Darbakh yelled while pointing to the gargoyle.

Three of the chaos dwarves took their turn to descend on the flying creature, grabbing the flailing monster and pulling it away. Like ants ganging up on a spider, they swarmed the rather large gargoyle and ripped off one of its wings, then one of its arms. The third dwarf grabbed it by the horns and twisted until it was pinned down, leaving it in a helpless heap while the hobgoblins returned to beat it to death. A second gargoyle landed, mauling a Dunmer for a few moments until Malund charged it with such force that its head cracked open with a single blow.

The remainder of the courtyard battle rolled down a proverbial hill. More gargoyles descended until the entire castle tower was bereft of the living statues, only for their wings to be shot out by blunderbuss fire. Large chunks of stone hurtled toward the ground dangerously close to the warband as Raggrund’s crew demolished the tower’s face; bodies of red-eyed vampiric thralls fell alongside furniture and blocks of stone, leaving the magically dimmed stairwell and guard rooms of the tower partially exposed to the morning light. Panicked cries arose from the now-exposed rooms of the tower as thralls fled into the dimmed bowels of the building in a symbol of their losing effort. The black orcs surged over the remaining skeletons, and Darbakh’s brethren butchered the last remaining gargoyles they’d shot down. A final wave of skeletal troops attempted to barricade the high double doors as all the greenskins converged.

Darbakh charged in first, wedging himself amid the sea of green and breaking reanimated bones on his halberd. “Swords out!” he ordered when a shot of vampire thralls joined the skeletons at the castle door. “Let’s cut them down!”

The chaos dwarves finally joined the front line, leaving a trail of severed gargoyle limbs behind them. Their scimitars found purchase as evidence by the screams of thralls, yet that sound was the only evidence, for as soon as they pushed into the threshold of the tower, the magical dimness overtook their vision. Even for creatures so used to working underground, the chaos dwarves could barely see the outlines of the undead creatures they were cutting to pieces as they pushed down the smooth stone halls of Castle Paranya. Unseen plinths and display cases were knocked to the unlit floor as the undead were crushed, granting the troops from the Darklands a firm position within the musty hall. Only when the double doors closed behind them did they realize how far they’d fought into enemy territory.

Stone scraped stone as the floor tiles gave way beneath their feet. Starting from the center of the hall, the floor angled downward into an unseen pit, sending bodies both living and dead sliding into the darkness.

“It’s a trap!” Tabdreth cried while scrabbling helplessly against the solid walls. “Tribunal help us!”

The same hobgoblin from earlier paused in his fearful screeching to slap the Dunmer leader. “Praise Hashut!” the shifty goblinoid said before sliding down into the dark pit with Darbakh and all the other troops.

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