A Marienburg trading galleon set sail for the Bretonian coast, laiden with riches and supplies. Suddenly a warp storm engulfed the ship. When the storm cleared they were surrounded by icefloes, each appearing to be full of frozen screaming bodies and contorted faces. There was a sickening smell on the salty wind.
The ship creaked as it’s tattered sails pulled it through the frozen sea. Everytime a chunk of ice slamed against the hull, it sounded like a hammer blow on an anvil, and reverberated like dark booming voices chanting dark runes. Where the ice broke it was reminiscent of chittering teeth and screeching hosts.
The crew that survived the storm were terrified, save for the implacable captain. He swiftly ordered the old sails removed, and damages repaired. His crew snapped to action, knowing hesitation paid with lashings and time in the stockade, biting frozen salt wind licking the fresh wounds on your back.
Maintenance on the ship was slow. Metal turned brittle and snaped in the cold. Fingers were lost to the frost, turning swollen and black with horrible frostbite. Night encroached as the ship continued to drift aimlessly, to the increasing frustration of the severe captain. Several men found themselves in the stockades already, stricken with terror so great that the captain no longer held sway over them. They would’ve gladly consigned themselves to the icy depths if only to make horrible sounds of the ice cease.
An unnatural gloom settled over the sea. Silence smothered the scene like a Nuln nursemaid would smother a beast touched babe. Every hair on every man stood on edge. Even the ice was still.
Without warning, the deafening calm was shattered by the sound of furious flapping and the screams of men. The captain roused what men were left with their sanity to arms. Sickly caricatures of what appeared to be short stocky women borne aloft by tattered clawed wings with fanged jaws and ice blind white eyes descended on the ship, raking flesh with their taloned feet and gouging eyes with their terrible tusked mouths. Their plumage resembled that of a gull, stained rust red by the blood of their victims no doubt. Their screeches echoed in unison with the screams of the helpless punished men into the night, sounding like a blasphemous psalm to some horrible bloated ancient diety. The night echoed back “Trogg! Zan! Uzkhul! Walhut!”
With what sounded like the screams of ripping steel, what appeared to be a massive goresoaked berg of sharp iron and ice appeared beside the crippled Marienburg trading ship. Covered in fading runes that pained the eyes to gaze upon, the monstrous abomination of a vessel seemed to be as vicious as any hunter’s barbed javelin, and as massive as any dwarf dreadnought.
On the deck were scores of stunted savage forms, all rhythmically pounding their wicked spears and gaffs, chanting in that twisted dwarf tongue. Some seemed to be mounted on large bloated beasts, bodies slick with an oily sheen, massive tusks protruding from their bewhiskered maws. The beast’s eyes glowed with a malicious hunger and malign intelligence.
Before the terror-stricken crew could react, a deafening salvo was fired from the frozen black iron beast. Ballista bolts twice the length of a knight cleaved men in two, and buried themselves deeply into the wood of the wounded trader. Massive chains trailed the projectiles, linking the ship’s fates together. Slowly, the mysterious attackers began to reel in their catch, link by link.
Men began to panic. Some abandoned ship, willing to risk it in the frozen sea than become prey for whatever these horrible being were, or begging for a quick death from hypothermia. Those bloated tusked monstrosities slid effortlessly off the deck and down into the sea, bearing their riders with their mean hooks and chains. Those that weren’t savaged by the monsters were gaffed and dragged upon the floes, to be chained and counted.
The Captain stood in frozen stammering shock, unable to act. Heroically, his first mate roused the dwindling crew to action. As some men worked on dislodging the ballista bolts or cutting the chains attached, the rest manned the swivel guns and took up defensive positions. The effort, though valiant, proved futile, when the head of the first mate was caught in the talons of one of the dwarf harpies. Savagely, as he screamed and flailed, his skull was degloved as strips of muscle and flesh were rent from the bone in a fountain of blood.
The boarding was swift and brutally efficient. Any still willing to fight were subdued with clubs and hooked polearms. When the Marienburg captain regained his awareness, he knew at once they were outmatched, and as his courage leaked from his pants, he demanded to parley with his attacker’s Commander. He offered his cargo, his ship, even his crew for safe passage for himself. At the last offer, he was afforded some attention, but only fleeting.
Clapped in irons, he was brought to what must be the captain’s quarters of the strange vessel. Clockwork mechanisms whirred and ticked as a portaculus opened in the blood stained ice mounded on the deck of the dwarfen ship.
A blow to the back of the head sent him reeling to the floor of the cabin. His consciousness swimming in darkness, he tried to make sense of his surroundings. A bright light flared and dimmed as a huge rune shimmered to life on the floor beneath him. Richly dressed in furs and polished Ivory scrimshaw with golden inlay, this placed seemed more at home in one of the northern dwarf holds or Ulrican temples.
The chill of the outside was gone as runes glowed along the perimeter of the door. Dim lighting hid most of the rooms contents, but the captain could make out the glowing cherry of a cigar, and the glint of gold on the desk before him. Raising himself to his knees, the captain tried to compose himself.
“As Captain of the trading ship Fairlady, I demand parley!” the captain stated abruptly, voice ever steady.
Seering pain flowed through the captain, voiding his bowels and clawing at his sanity as the rune beneath him pulsed feverishly.
Through sweat and tears, the Captain could see the cherry of that cigar in the dark approach him from around the Desk. The pain stopped instantly as the rune beneath him dimmed once again, and for the first time the captain was able to get a good view of his tormentor. It was a dwarf, or close to one. Stunted and muscular, the mountain kin was layered from shoulder to foot in thick branded leathers and plate. His black beard was long and braided, capped at the ends with what appeared to be the skulls of some diminutive race of humanoids. The thick pleats were streaked with silver and maintained as only a dwarf could.
Strange runes were etched onto every metal armor surface the captain laid eyes on. From the dwarfs lips protruded two steel capped tusks, curving up and out. The dwarfs eyes were old and scholarly, but with a sadistic gleam to them. Upon this dwarfs head sat a majestic (helm/hat/mask), both awesome and terrifying to behold at once.
The dwarf chewed his cigar as he studied the soiled captain with cruel amusement. Removing the cigar from his mouth, the dawi spoke in a low grinding tone.
“Making demands is a good way to become fuel for my throng, manling. Keep in mind who’s in control here, or I’ll have your flesh flayed for tonight’s feast and your soul consigned to the ship’s fuel reserves.”
“Parley!” Stuttered the captain “Please I beg of you! I am willing to trade anything for my safe passage back to Marienburg!”
“Yes, I’ve heard,” grumbled the dawi plunderer. “You would willingly abandon the lives and souls of your own kind to protect yourself? Your ship is already kindling, and your cargo is already mine.”
The dwarf took a long drag of his cigar, muttering to himself as he walked back around the desk and opened a drawer.
Ashamed, the captain laid in his filth. Yes he would trade the lives of his crew. He would trade the lives of a thousand crews if it meant his safety. His family were of the wealthy merchantile class! His life was worth so much more than the peasants and deckhands that clambered over his ship. His shame turned to righteous indignation.
“Yes, I would.” stated the Captain, once again rising to his knees. He was bleeding from his mouth, as he had bit his cheek against the pain caused by that terrible rune that glowed dimly underneath him. “I am from a very wealthy and powerful family. Name a price and you shall have it! My life is worth a countless number of these lesser men.” Said the Captain, making certain to remain as deferent as possible while asserting his blood right.
Slamming the drawer shut, the malicious dwarf carried a large coal-black weathered book and laid it on the desk with what appeared to be reverence. Flitting through the pages, the dwarf seemed lost in thought. Abruptly, the dwarf stopped, his finger on one page.
“You are Ottmar Grothmann, are you not?”
“Yes! Yes! That is me! My family has wealth beyond imagining! We own trade settlements across Lustria and the new world, and have extensive contracts with all the major houses of the Empire and Bretonia!”
A stern look from the dwarf signaled Ottmar to silence himself.
“Your family also had holdings and trade with Kraka Drak, correct?”
“Yes, ages ago my great great grandfather pioneered the trade lanes north. Our supplies were critical to the dwarfs of the north, where nothing grows and pillagers and plunderers prowl the wastes of Norsca. Those trade routes have long since withered up, however. There was no profit in it. The risk outweighed the reward.”
Slamming a mighty fist down on the desk and howling a deep gutteral khazalid curse, all the runes in the room exploded into sickening radiance, reflecting the dwarf’s hatred and anger.
“And so it comes to this, manling!” roared the dwarf, his beard bristling. “Your deeds and the deeds of your ancestors doom you to an eternity of suffering beyond your comprehension! The first of which is your likeness to our accursed cousins!! The dwarfs who ally with your empire are sniveling cowards and ufdi unbaraki, not worth the shit in their bowels! You would leave your kin to die so you could slink off to count your coin! The second being your ancestors abandonment of their oath to those in the north! As mine screamed and died in the frozen dark, your ancestors grew fat and weak. Those of us that survived became stronger! We no longer cower in our holds, begging useless gromthi for deliverance! We found our place of strength, in Walhut! And your terror, your pain, your soul will be his nourishment! A thousand curses on you manling! When we find the rest of your kin, they will suffer the same fate! A mark has been made in my Kol Kron this day! We will right the wrongs, and the weak will fall prey to our rage! This I swear or my name isn’t Longran Hooktooth!”
Longran reached a mailed hand out over the quivering Ottmar, who had soiled himself again. The terror struck captain would have recoiled, but the now searing runes held him immobile. Longran’s eyes rolled back as he began chanting in corrupted Khazalid, the whites turning bloodstreaked black .
The form of Ottmar Grothmann convulsed and shrieked. Bones splintered and blood flowed from all his orifices with each jerking motion. His body began to blur as the speed of the dwarf’s chanting increased . With an other worldly crack, the man and any trace that he existed, vanished from Captain Hooktooth’s quarters. The runes faded into darkness as the Captain retired to his desk. His latest walrus tusk scrimshaw had another screaming face in it, and he smiled cruely to himself.