Inspired by a thread referencing the Black Hammer of Hashut, I wrote this flash fiction piece with little to no context. This is story driven, not character driven, so don’t expect change or growth here…just an excuse to write a scene with a magic hammer burning stuff.
Warbling cries mixed with the braying of animals as metal clashed in a desecrated clearing in the Forest of Gloom below. For five brief minutes, the skirmishers of Beastmen and Wood Elves clashed in a disorganized mess of a fight on a carpet of bones and tree stumps. Wardancers fought back to back one minute only to find a Bestigor behind them the next, and the heroes leading each rival band had already fallen within the opening arrow volleys. A hundred troops on both sides were eventually reduced to half that number, and then a third, and then less, and the elves were willing neither to retreat nor to grant such a path to their mutated opponents. To the troops on the ground, this was the fight of their lives, but to the motley crew viewing from a ledge above, it had been clear that there would be no winners in this fight from the outset.
Darbakh Smokestack, the leader of the smaller band of Chaos Dwarfs observing the clash from a flat hillock above the canopy, watched the skirmish boil down into a spiteful brawl through a spyglass. After a moment, he retracted the handheld telescope and turned to the trio of his comrades behind him, themselves minding a troop of greenskinned wolfriders and assorted assets. “Their numbers are sufficiently thinned; the time to act is now.”
He handed the spyglass to his nephew, an overworked apprentice of a mere three decades, and accepted a fireglaive in return. “There are still more of them than there are of us, uncle.”
Paying the younger man no mind, Darbakh huddled with an engineer closer to his age as well as the group’s only Bull Centaur. “Indeed there are, which is why this will be such a profitable excursion; for they’re tired, wounded, and are no longer paying us any mind.” He slung the fireglaive over his back, letting it clang against his heavy scale armor. “Malund,” he said to the squat Bull Centaur trembling with cruel anticipation. “Take the wolf riders immediately. Have them target the healthiest among both sides…aim for limbs, not heads.”
“Aye!” Malund replied with gusto.
They watched the four-legged outrider leave with a dozen hobgoblin wolf riders, all of them armed with blunt instruments, down a curving slope and into the clearing. The engineer said nothing but looked at Darbakh expectantly. “You two bring the war engine down once we’ve subdued the survivors; let the ogre walk on foot to remove any obstacles.”
The engineer nodded, slapped Darbakh’s nephew on the arm, and walked back toward the Iron Daemon vehicle tugging a wheeled cage behind it. “It will be done.”
Darbakh only waited for the other two to take their leave toward the war engine before he turned toward the downward slope himself. Marching alone, he descended to the din of combat purposefully, taking his time to load his fireglaive when he was on ground level again. In the clearing, he found himself practically hiking over the piles of trampled branches and fly-ridden corpses, and he saw that their hobgoblin wolf riders were still outnumbered nearly four-to-one by the amassed bodies of flailing elves and beasts. The wolf riders were circling around the physically capable combatants cautiously, never striking out with their cudgels and clubs unless the chances of being hit back were zero (and the chances of being berated by Malund were high). In the center of the scrap were the tangling figures of a Minotaur and a Treekin, the monstrous pair locked ineffectually in what resembled a schoolyard tussle more than a duel to the death.
Darbakh took aim with his fireglaive. “A liability,” he said while casually, and without afterthought or feeling, blasted the Minotaur in the side of the skull from thirty paces.
The flaming bullet left a smoldering head wound, and the beast fell forward onto the Treekin, leaving a trail of smoke arcing behind them in the air as the two bodies fell to the ground. The Treekin struggled to its feet on cracked and battered legs, its righteous fury turned onto a new antagonist. Woof Elf and Beastman alike fell to the ground behind it under the blows of blunt objects, leaving the Treekin to launch a useless last stand. The woody creature lurched toward Darbakh, who slung his fireglaive again and removed an engraved obsidian war hammer. The rune of Hashut glowed like burning coals as the two opponents closed in on each other, but Darbakh maintained a steady pace even when the Treekin groaned and lunged for him.
He reared back with the black hammer gifted to him by his commander. “Weak,” he said in a tone lacking any interest or raised pitch, a testament to a heart rate which barely even increased.
The Treekin’s gnarled claws scraped over the surface of his plate mask and pauldrons without effect. Its raised arms granted the perfect angle for the black hammer to pound a hole in the woodland creature’s torso which immediately began to burn. In defiance of the natural magic which bound the forest spirit into the unfeeling wood, the Treekin actually felt physical pain, seared not by the fire which ate away at its skin but rather by the hateful curse of Hashut etched into the imitation hammer. The Treekin fell to its knees and released a creaking cry which momentarily caught the attention of the remaining combatants, their eyes fixated on the writhing wooden humanoid as an uncontrollable fire spread across the surface of its body. Grey ashes floated into the air as if to celebrate the crippling strikes of the hobgoblins, and the cinders stuck in the open wounds of the few dozen combatants as they floated around in the air.
The remainder of the fight didn’t last long. By the time the war engine had been wheeled down into the clearing, cage in tow, a grand total of thirty-four captives had been forced to kneel on the piles of bones and corpses in the clearing. Beaten within an inch of their lives but not an inch more, the mixed group of Wood Elves and Beastmen were so weak by the end that even those who struggled against the hobgoblins and their chains posed no clear threat. Darbakh finished a few calculations while the two other Chaos Dwarfs and Malund watched over their living booty.
Two Ungors knelt among the captives, flinching when the Chaos Dwarf expedition leader walked past them. “Give these two to the ogre as a treat, and then have the idiot shove the rest of the slaves into the cage. Pile them on top of each other.”
At the mention of their new legal status, the battered and kneeling combatants fell into a winded rabble, slowing down the progress of the hobgoblins who were shackling them. “Ungors!” one of the two Ungors cried out in vain, though they were too weakened to even resist the single hobgoblin who shoved them toward the hungry ogre wielding a butcher’s cleaver.
“The Asrai kneel to no one!” said one of the Glade Guards defiantly.
A hobgoblin slapped the prideful Woof Elf on the back of the head, but Darbakh only fell quiet for a moment. “You’re already kneeling,” the Chaos Dwarf leader said after a moment of bemused thought. “But can you sing?”
The Wood Elves in earshot looked upon Darbakh with suspicious dazed eyes; the Beastmen didn’t seem to understand. Darbakh picked up his black war hammer. “Can you sing?” he repeated.
“Spare me your mockery, monster!” the defeated Glade Guard said, earning himself a rougher slap.
“No; no, I don’t think I will.” Darbakh walked halfway toward the nearest patch of trees and turned back toward the captives. “Sing if you can: sing for your precious woods and for the memories you and your loved ones spent within them. Sing for the ones you’ve known, the ones you’ve lost, for the lives you all spent here. For you will surely not see this place again.”
At the nearest patch of trees, Darbakh held out the black two-handed hammer and, clinically, touched the head to the nearest tree. Smoke rose into the air along with a squealing hiss like pent up pressure, and the trunk began to flare and spark upon contact with the engraved obsidian. A fire spread across the surface, traveling up through the branches and leaves until it reached the next tree, and then the next, and then the next. The Wood Elves fell into a subdued uproar, if such a thing were possible, upon the sight of the magically-fueled forest fire which Darbakh had ignited. Wailing and raising their hands in lament, they watched helplessly as the woods which they’d been defending became kindling. The Beastmen, curiously, were enraptured by the display and offered less resistance toward the shackles of the hobgoblins.
For the next ten minutes - a bit longer than the skirmish itself - the ogre crammed the captives into the wheeled cage under the watchful eye of Malund. Fractured arms and legs hung out between the bars and bodies were piled on each other in unsanitary conditions. A total of thirty-two slaves were taken alive that afternoon, but Darbakh gave them his back while he watched the woods burn. The lamentations of the Glade Guards formed the most melodious song he’d heard in a very long time, and he savored every moment of it. By the time the war engine was ready to drive away, there was no evidence left of their presence there - just the corpses of two enemy bands which added to the bones of the burnt clearing.