[WHFB] ...Among the Wicked Dawi - Part 15 - The Master's Hound

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Once back in the forge-yard, the rigid chaos of the fortress made spotting Ashirk - even weighed down with a daemonic winch - utterly impossible. From a distance, the shambling, hunched forms of Hobgoblins all looked the same, and were drowned out by the omnipresent scurrying of goblins. I resolved simply to return to my chambers, where I surmised he was heading.

The fortress seemed to wind forever. Wherever I went, the same shadowy alcoves containing what I now knew to be the petrified remains of long-dead sorcerers would loom out of the darkness. In the passageways leading back up to the cells, there were perhaps half a dozen. I now realised that they were so dramatically posed because they were in the act of casting their malign sorceries; their hideously detailed visages not the result of artisans but of their own foul corruption.

Studying them in more detail, I noted that some were festooned with small votive candles and hanging metal charms of the type that adorned Enmerkar’s beard. Scattered about the base of one particular statue were small clay tablets covered in the triangular script of the Dawi Zharr. Unlike the ones I was used to by now, these had been fired, and in many cases embossed with bronze or inky blue-black steel. Some had ivory or bone pressed into them, others had words or phrases painted with dark, fired inks.

As I passed into the dim hallway above the cells, a shape flew out at me, knocking me violently on to the hard stone. I staggered to my feet and ran back, but the wiry, growling shadow before me circled. Seething with repressed rage, Ashirk eyed me like a wolf.

In each hand was a wickedly curved knife. In the darkness, his red eyes glowed. I felt his fury. It was far in excess of any pain. He sped towards me, daggers up, and pushed me back on the wall. His elbows pinning me, arms crossed, both blades at my throat. I gasped for air. A familiar, visceral fear had returned. This was no spiritual trial. This was the tormentor who had beaten me nightly for Sigmar knows how many months of captivity on our way to Mourngard.

His eyes narrow, blades trembling, I felt his hesitation, his own fear mingled with mine. He gave me a shove with his elbows and backed away again. I slumped to the ground, both heartbeats pounding. Ashirk turned to look at me, nodding bitterly, staring into his own soul.

You… do not think I will not kill you, manling… I will rather die than endure more of your- than to…”

My head jerked in a similar rapid nod. Our truce could only hold out for so long, we both knew that. Our sorcerous connection built no trust. It only meant shared suffering. Suffering like that we had experienced in the haunted forge was not meant to be endured. If that was what it took to get a simple winch in this place, death would be a blessing to the greenskin.

He blinked away the rage, and tried to get a grip on himself. Turning to me with a face of bitterest gall, he pointed imperiously with one dagger.

“Where we go now. I wish never for you to tread. But must go. No questions. No talking. Now,” he said, producing the familiar thin leather straps with which he had bound me for our hateful journey from the west, “you go as slave.”

There was something darkly familiar about the bonds cutting into my skin, about the knife at my back, about the rough cloth of the blindfold. Even the bitter taste of the gag that cut across my jaw and into my mouth, so tight my tongue had to rest upon it, was known to me. My sense restricted, I once again had only the sounds of Mourngard for company. Ashirk guided me with a hand on the shoulder, a tap or shove if we turned. I tried to empty my mind and focus on the golden thread connecting us. With a little effort, I could predict our route simply by attuning myself to the dim flicker of thoughts that cut through to my mind from his. I tried my best not to let this show as we wound our way through the fortress. Suddenly, I heard a great clanking, and my mind showed me the image of a vast gate. I remembered this gate from my arrival. The sound was unmistakable. A great groaning of metal and wood.

Then, in moments, I felt underfoot something else unmistakable. Earth. Black, ashen, rocky. But, earth. Not stone, not steel, not brick. Not obsidian. Earth.

The silence intensified, and I could feel that the fortress was behind us now. We turned, and began to wend our way downhill, almost treacherously so. I could hear sounds. Campfires. Arguing. A grinding wheel. This was - a greenskin encampment? Barely outside the walls of the fortress? I supposed this was where the lesser races lived.

Sigmar in heaven, the smell. I’ll never forget it for the rest of my days. As we descended from the hubbub of the camp into what seemed to be a torchlit cave, it got worse.

I knew there was some affinity between wild trolls and greenskins, so I assumed the smell would only get worse if we were to approach one. A severed troll’s leg would grow back in time, I supposed, and on that strength we might yet get what we needed. I was reassured by the notion of bargaining with a troll. The cost might be disgusting, but I doubted it to have the slightest magical or spiritual aspect.

Eventually we came to a great, echoing cavern. Stretched out before us was the smell of roasting meat, the sound of crackling fires, the music of some sort of wailing flute or horn, and the bickering - comradely and otherwise - of soldiers. Then, Ashirk did something wholly unexpected. He removed my blindfold.

All about the cave, flickering in the firelit darkness, were groups of large, bulky hobgoblins. Their distinctive peaked caps were always on in the fortress, but not so down here; bald, narrow heads and lengthy beards seemed more common here. Many wore furs and riding boots. In the corner of the cave there was a large row of spacious kennels in which were penned thick-limbed wolves. Most of the meat on spits seemed to be that of enormous boars, the dense fur still on the hide. Knife still to my back, Ashirk pushed me on. He was glad to be down here. Wary, but glad.

“Do not move. Or speak. Except, I tell. And I will not. So.” There was menace to his voice, beyond the ordinary spite. It seemed the proximity of his kin was bringing out the old, familiar captor who had first clapped me in irons back in the Border Princes.

What came next transpired in a hideous, chewed dialect. I must stress, reader. It was not the debased Khazalid that Enmerkar’s sorcery bound me to converse in. Nor was it a language I to this day can reproduce. My understanding was sparse and came entirely from the wretched, sorcerous connection between the assassin and myself. I could not so much understand their brittle, spitting chatter as feel the meaning come through his mind to mine. What I present below is my best attempt to record it.

“The master’s hound comes,” spat a lanky hobgoblin, lurking in the dark, the glowering embers of his eyes fixed on Ashirk. “Make way,” he called over his shoulder to the dozen or so of his kind loitering near the wolf-pens. “He scents carrion… and brings fresh meat.”

The urge to violence surged in Ashirk’s soul, but he pushed me forward into the light of the central bonfire, kicking aside two squatting goblins, one knife still to my back, the other now cradling my throat painfully in the crook of his elbow, contorting my back.

“I bring --”

A sharp convulsion ran through him and he dropped me, spinning me to the filthy cave floor which I hit with a hard thump. I saw a red-eyed shape struggling with him, wickedly curved knives flashing in the dim firelight, felt the surge of excitement and satisfaction in my captor’s heart as the curve of his blade caught on the bulbous stomach of his opponent and slashed through it, spilling writhing intestines on the group in front of my face. With a crunch, Ashirk snapped his opponent’s spine in two and tossed him, screeching his final breath, into the flames of the firepit. The assailant wailed as he burned, and the assembled hobgoblins hissed, some clicking their teeth together, some tapping their thighs rapidly, some rattling bags or shaking cages. I realised it was some sort of feral round of applause, or mark of respect. Their scowls and grimaces suggested grudging respect, but it was not enough for Ashirk, whose chest heaved in great gulps of air.

Whirling on his heel, Ashirk leapt with knives drawn and fell upon another Hobgoblin whose roll out of the way was barely sufficient to keep him alive. The crowd reacted more strongly to this - excitement, vigor even, in corners I saw hobgoblins casting weapons, coin-purses, efigies on to the ground. Wagering on the outcome, even as Ashirk’s quarry backed away, snarling. I saw he was a taller, well-built hobgoblin, wearing a taller straighter hat than their usual flopping caps. It was adorned with wickedly curved bones. This beast backed himself towards a haphazard weapon rack, and pulled down a grubby axe whose blade curved gently, a work of artisanship I had thought beyond any greenskin.

As the combatants sized one another up - and a surge of excitement and fear flooded Ashirk’s mind - I felt a cutting point come to rest on my ankle. It pushed gently, and I recoiled, but knew better than to kick. Two further pushes of the point into my flesh seemed designed to confirm that I was making the right choice. I felt clammy hands closing around my ankles, and start to pull. Bound and gagged, there was nothing I could do except struggle against my bonds in vain as I was hauled into the darkness, the sounds of violence receding into the distance as I slid across the dank cave-floor and into pitch darkness.

Next part

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@chitzkoi great continuation of the story and again, what a cliffhanger! I’ll have to re read a few stories to get all the subtleties.
Thanks for sharing it!

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Indeed! Top continuation. Great showcase of Hobgob animosity. Some exquisite violence.

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I agree. Nice to see hobgoblins get some of the limelight

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Thanks guys! Ive always felt that the greenskin slave-society of the Hobgoblins would be complex in its simplicity. Amongst habitual traitors, social norms are radically different. What makes a hobgoblin the best he can be is his ability to weather the betrayals of others while getting away with his own.

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So glad there’s more to this story and yes as the others have said it’s great to include the hobbos in there a bit more

Once again hooked and eager for more :clap:t2::clap:t2::clap:t2:

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Thanks man! The positivity gives me a big boost. The story is all plotted out, and is quite long; someday, I’m sure it will make a more satisfying story taken all together.

It’s like any long term project. When one gets the time…

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And remember than you can always find time to slot in an episode featuring a… Daemon cannon. :tongue:

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I’m just waiting for the first victim to be strangled by a crotch-rope garotte.

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