[WHFB] Casting Shadows - Chapter 7

Casting Shadows - Chapter 7

Chapter 6

“Our Father first came to us not through ancient writing or great visions. He whispered to us. He whispered in the dark.” - Words attributed to Xarathustra

The quarry and adjoining mine were understated in their appearance. They could easily have missed them, if the path did not lead directly towards here. No sign post or guard tower welcomed one here: the path simply spat them out at their destination.

The quarry was a large pit, perhaps a quarter of a mile wide, with wooden ladders leading down and wooden winch operated cranes for removing material from the bottom with greater ease.

The mine, dug into one of the walls of the quarry was a simple hole with a sign above it in Zharralid, from which tracks ran and carts were unloaded.

Slaves milled about near the ladder to the quarry. They were humans, dressed in rags and loading heavy volcanic stone blocks from a crane onto a cart. The cart was like a rickshaw from distant Nippon and would be pulled by these sorry looking beings back down the road to Bezall. These stones would, no doubt, contribute to the completion of the tower very soon.

Ash wastes stretched in all directions. No wall or gate was needed to keep the slaves from running away. The desert did that for them.

A fat dwarf dressed in tattered clothing and armed with a whip approached Mardurkarr’s entourage as they approached. The slaver gripped Beshuk’s forearm tightly.

“Brother, Beshuk,” he said with concern in his voice, “have you been injured?”

“Only by my own hand,” said Beshuk, pointing to his disfigured face, “I gave an eye in payment for looking upon our sorcerer. It was a necessary thing to prove that I was innocent of neglect and to demonstrate that we required his support. Had it not been for young Mardurkarr here, I should have lost both eyes for this.”

The fat slaver nodded in understanding and thanked the warrior for his part in this. Beshuk explained to his subordinate that troll-herds were crossing the path further south and suggested that the next delivery of stone and coal be loaded up but only sent down when the armed unit, that had just arrived, left again for the tower. There was a nod of agreement.

Mardurkarr did not bother with introductions, preferring to get straight to business.

“We have been told that the goblins have disappeared and that before this some manlings and an ogre were killed in the mine. I am lead to believe that this is not a usual occurrence.”

Beshuk explained, “No, it is not. Slaves have short lives, this is true. But to lose so many in quick succession is rare indeed.”

The slaver agreed, “it is true my lord. And since the Mine Keeper left, we have had further losses. Two more men are unaccounted for. I have taken the liberty of ceasing all mining works or attempts to clear the cave-in until Beshuk’s return.

“ However, I must warn you, we now only have the few slaves you see here and a handful more of men and orcs quarrying below. We will struggle to complete our work if more are not sourced.”

Mardurkarr clicked his fingers and the six orc slaves were pushed forward by his infernal guard. Within him, he seethed. The old fool who lead Bezall was so tied to tradition that he threw away six more strong workers that would be well received here.

Mardurkkar cared little for the completion of the tower. That was the concern of Enlil-Shazzar. But he could not abide the stupidity of sacrificing hard won gains which in turn prevented the sorcerer from achieving his longer term goals with ease. His tower would have been built three times over, had he not “paid his dues” so religiously.

It was a waste. That was what infuriated him.

That word…Waste? Had it been born of his own mind or had the seed been sown by the whisperings of Jaraz?

Mardurkarr had not wasted his life. Of that he was sure. To have continued to struggle as the student of a sorcerer when no magic flowed through his veins, that would have been a waste.

In the darklands, in the service of many castellans of many towers, he had found his true callling. Mardurkkar was a warrior and a leader of Dawi. He lead not their souls, but their hearts upon the field of battle. In the garrisons and fortresses around Zharr Naggrund, he had learned the true meaning of efficiency. Warriors were drilled into becoming well-oiled machines, adept at dealing death and withstanding attack.

He appreciated the craft of the engineers too- the great locomotives that were fine-tuned, precision engineered and well designed to carry out their roles.

Enlil-Shazzar, the Luddite, shunned such things. It made Mardurkarr feel embarrassed of this quarry in fact. Wooden winches pulled by slaves to move rock up the cliff-face. In Zharr-Naggrund an engineer would have crafted a great conveyor belt, fed by steam, that would complete the work of a hundred slaves and only be fed by fuel and fire. They were living in the dark ages, this far north and Mardurkarr longed to go south again soon.

Unaware of Mardurkkar’s internal irritation, the large slaver was overjoyed with the six orcs provided. He checked them over, looking at their gums and teeth and prodding their muscular arms. The defeated beasts simply stood motionless. Mardurkarr decided not to tell him that this number could have been double if not for the folly of their prophet. It was unbecoming to share disagreements between the higher castes with workers.

The entourage were lead down the ladders where, at the bottom, they found themselves in a quarry of black volcanic glass. Emaciated humans and orcs swung pick axes and removed chunks of stone from the walls. A couple more slavers cracked whips upon their backs.

There was a small stone hut, which the guard and Mardurkarr were beckoned in by Beshuk and offered refreshments.

Over a spartan meal they planned out their investigation into the mine the next day. Mardurkarr would venture in, with the fat slaver as a guide and two of his infernal guard. The mines were cramped and a full unit of the warriors would be hard to manoeuvre down there. Also, Mardurkarr was still sure that poor luck or goblin mischief was to blame. He was not expecting to find himself in a pitched battle and so did not prepare for one.

The next morning the four dwarfs set out. The slaver, who by this point had introduced himself as Sharz, held a lantern in one hand and a pickaxe in the other. The two guard that accompanied Mardurkkar had left their flintlock weapons behind and instead held darkforged axes and iron shields. Mardurkkar was armed, as always, with mace and shield.

“Lead the way,” Mardurkkar insisted, “I wish to see the site of the cave in first.”

“As you wish m’lord,” said Sharz who began waddling into the mine’s entrance ahead of them, light illuminating the way.

Dwarvern dark-vision was famously adapted to seeing in underground caves, but nevertheless the lamplight was welcome. The cramped mine was enveloped in a darkness deeper than Mardurkkar had ever seen before. It was a shadow blacker than black and it unsettled him.

Being of a high-born caste, he had spent no time in mines at all and was unsure if this was how they all felt. So, he kept his observations to himself lest he look a fool in front of his warriors and this seasoned mine-slaver.

Down they went, into tunnels only wide enough for two dwarfs to stand side by side. Mardurkkar wondered how an ogre was able to work down here at all. Perhaps a cave could be caused by it simply turning around or stretching its arms.

Finally, the tunnel opened up into a wider area. Here lamplights were already lit. This seemed to serve as a terminal to various different sections of the mine. Five tunnels spread out in different directions. A table, and some mining equipment sat in the middle of this room and various crates and barrels were scattered around.

“Where do these all lead?” Enquired Mardurkarr.

“Different ways. Old mines and new,” said Sharz, “we never use those three any more. They were dug in your father’s time. The coal veins have long been excavated. Those two though? They are in use. This one,” he said pointing at the entrance nearest them, “has a rich source of coal that should last us many more years to come. But this one,” he gestured to the side, “is new. This is where the cave in happened. It is an exploratory tunnel hoping to see what else can be found down here. It was reinforced and protected by magical wards, as all these tunnels are, but it failed and buried the slaves alive.”

“We will begin the search there,” said Mardurkarr, “lead the way, slaver.”

The corpulent dwarf nodded and moved into the opening. Mardurkarr went after him and was followed by his two guardians, their metal boots scraping on the stone floor.

After some time marching, they found the new tunnel terminated in a sudden wall of rock. This was not a smooth rock that had formed naturally and free from the bite of dwarven steel: this was the cobbled mess of broken boulders and metal lintels that had come down with such a force that they had created an impassable barrier. Protruding from the rock was a massive forearm - clearly that of an ogre’s - which had begun to decompose.

Sharz explained what had happened: that screams were heard echoing through the tunnel and then there had been an almighty crash. By the time he and Beshuk had arrived, the tunnel had looked like this and the slaves inside were crushed.

Mardurkarr saw that attempts to remove stones and excavate had already began but work had not progressed far. He asked why this work had not been completed. Sharz explained that the goblins sent to do this work had all disappeared and more recently the men sent to find the goblins had vanished too.

“And that’s not all,” he said quietly, “they were all going mad before they disappeared too. Frightened to dig they said they were, but none could say why. We beat them and sent them back down. Still… they haven’t been seen since and there’s only one way in or out of this mine…”

Perhaps it was the slaver’s words but Mardurkarr felt the darkness even more so here than he did elsewhere in the mine. It was as if something close by caused the darkness to be darker. He noticed, as he spoke, the slaver’s lantern flickered and seemed to struggle to illuminate in this place.

Mardurkarr thanked the dwarf for the information and then ordered them all to spread out and investigate: to look for signs of structural weakness or slave-error.

However, something was silently calling to him….

While the others worked, Mardurkarr felt drawn to the wall of collapsed rock. It was a strange feeling of fear and curiosity. He placed a hand upon its surface.


Mardurkarr drew his hand back. He looked over at the three other dwarfs who were tapping the intact lintels with their tools and looking for a source of the cave in. Did they not hear what he heard?

He placed a gauntleted hand on the rock once again.

The whispers were clearer. Some intelligence spoke to him. But its words could not be understood.

Shadows seemed to leak from between the rocks and curl around his hand like the tentacles of a great sea beast.

He blinked and there was silence. The shadows had retreated.

“Dawi,” said Mardurkkarr, “we will remove the rubble. I believe that something may still be alive within.”

The work of moving the stones, broken metal and ruined corpses was not enjoyable. It was grim and back-breaking work. The only injuries on the corpses of the men and the ogre seemed to be blunt-force trauma from the falling of stones. No signs of goblins could be seen.

After some time, there was a space large enough for a dwarf to fit through. Taking the slaver’s lantern, Mardurkarr went first. Moving through the rubble, only darkness greeted him. He held the light high but it could not quite reach the walls or ceiling.

There was a sense of dread within him as he stepped further into the darkness. The closeness of the shadow grew oppressive in his mind.

There was a sound like the waves of the sea upon a shore. Deep, rhythmic breathing. With each inhale the lantern lit a little more and the sense of unease was lifted. With each exhale shadows reached out and sent shivers down the spine, threatening to snuff out their only source of light.

He could sense that the other three had now passed through as well, though none of them dared to speak.



A wave of darkness washed over them all.

Mardurkarr could not bear this any longer, “Show yourself…” he whispered.

“Very well,” whispered the voice in his mind - now completely intelligible. It was a well-spoken voice, devoid of any warmth and as sharp as a winter’s wind.


The shadows retreated further than before and the lantern’s light reached out. They had come to a natural cave. This was not created by the hands of dwarfs. Stalactites hung from the domes ceiling.


This time no darkness came forth but the sound of heavy footsteps could be heard.

Loping into view on all fours was an enormous Lammasu. Its back half was bovine yet its front half like a great badlands lion. On its shoulders enormous bat-like wings were folded.

Most remarkable however, was its face. A red curled beard framed a demonic leering visage. Its tusks were enormous and its eyes burned white-hot with malign intent.

“Now you see, son of Bezallakur,” the voice in his head whispered.

Mardurkarr could hear that the guards beside him were tightening the grips of their shields and raising their weapons to fight.


The creatures eyes widened as it stared deep into Mardurkarr’s soul.


Tendrils of shadow crept forward and engulfed them all.

The lamp light died. All was shadow; all was black.

Chapter 8


Hooooly shit! Masterfully crafted!!


Niiiiice! Didn’t see that coming. Love it!


Wonderful, especially the twist at the end.