Border Conquest

The Mountain Breaks

On the Skulls of Black Fire Pass

From Imperial Historian Gustav Priscus’ A History of the Storm Legion, Volume II “The Border Princes”

I was in my accustomed place in the back of the Tyrant’s tent, just far enough away from the door to avoid being smashed by the rapid comings and goings of his soldiers. At present, several massive Ogres occupied thick stools that formed a semi-circle around the dais where the Tyrant’s indoor throne rested. While the conversation had been calm until this point, tempers and voices were beginning to rise.

“The Dwarfs will never simply let us go through the pass, my Lord.” Arash, the tribe’s hunter, had a rasp to his voice from a lifetime of disuse. I periodically suspected that he spoke quietly in order to force his fellow Ogres to pay attention to him. It usually worked.

“They had best not dare to stand before the Children of the Storm!” Div’e Sefid was in high dudgeon today. The tribe’s successes had stoked his messianic devotion to Tyrant Akhvan and the other Ogres now, if possible, regarded the shaman even more warily than before. “Let us fall upon them like an Avalanche from the highest peaks and they shall be crushed into dust and forgotten.”

“’Tis a simply said matter.” said Jamshid, the captain of the Mournfang Cavalry, who was given the appropriate combat title of “Crusher.” “But the passes through the mountains are few…”

“Only one that we could send an army through without difficulty,” interrupted Arash. “Black Fire Pass is the only road through those mountains and don’t think those Dwarfs don’t know it.”

“Then we use a stratagem.” The Tyrant’s voice was not as loud as the shaman’s, but it had a sonorous quality that made it carry without having to raise his voice. “Arash, go get “Ma” and bring her here. The rest of you prepare to march for the pass. I need to think.” The Tyrant’s dismissal, as ever, brought all conversation to a halt and the monsters filtered out of the tent. I could hear Jamshid and Div’e Sefid immediately begin a heated discussion, though they did wait until they were on the other side of the flap to get started.

Two days into the pass, Arash halted the advancing army to give the Tyrant a report: the Dwarfs had established their Defense Force on a massive rock outcropping adorned with carved skulls. The rock jutted from the valley wall and cut the defile down to half its normal width. Any force attempting to march past would face a terrible fusillade of crossbows and cannons. The Tyrant ordered a halt and waited for nightfall. I confess that my own exhaustion overtook me and I was just as shocked as the Dwarfs at what happened the following dawn.

The defile was long and I could see the skull-adorned outcropping in the distance. Near the Ogre battle line, a set of rocky barricades had been set up, though much of the army had lined up in multiple rows behind a thin copse of ragged-looking trees. They seemed to be preparing to make a run for the open space next to the hill of skulls. Two rather large blocks of Dwarfs stood ready to intercept them. I could not see how this could end in aught but disaster for the Tyrant and, I confess, my heart was cheered by the thought of such stalwart Imperial allies finishing these corpulent raiders’ rampage of terror.

Then “Ma” Oghul showed up.

She and her Maneaters emerged from a cave across from the hill of Skulls and behind the principle Dwarf battle line. The Dwarfs were immediately aware of the threat, but found themselves badly out of position to respond. The Mounrfang musician sounded the general advance and the battle was on.

The Dwarfs drew first blood with a thundering cannon shot that rendered the Ogres’ massive Ironblaster into a pile of wooden and brass scrap. The Ogres responded with firepower of their own. While the Leadbelchers did comparatively little, Hushang, the Firebelly, summoned a terrible conflagration, burning away the supporting ranks of the doughty crossbowmen that made up the Dwarven center. Even as the dwarven infantry turned to face the threat of the Ogre Mercenaries in their odd international panoply, a band of Dwarven miners burst up out of the ground. Their arrival could have been fortuitous, save that they were facing the wrong direction and in the midst of the dust and smoke of their arrival, did not realize the Ogres were there until the monsters were laying into their flank. Arash’s massive and hideous cats prowled the flanks, looking for easy kills, but found only death by axe and bolt.

With a discipline born of the mountains, the Dwarven artillery focused their fire on the massive threat of the Mournfang Cavalry and even Jamshid, who had survived a previous similar encounter with the Elves, succumbed and was forced to withdraw from the terrible fire. Unfortunately for the Dwarfs, the concentrated fire needed to repel that monstrous cavalry allowed the tightly packed Ogres to close the distance to the Dwarfs and it became clear then what Akhvan’s strategy was: By diverting their attention and giving them a large target to worry about, the Ogres had reached the Dwarven lines with most of their soldiers still in fighting order. Moreover, the maneuvers to engage the outflanking Maneaters had left the Dwarven Lord and his honor guard badly out of position. Hushang led his Ogres, along with the bellowing Stonehorn, into the flank of the flower of Dwarven nobility. I could not bring myself to watch though I shall never forget the sounds of dwarven warcries, monstrous howls, and the crunch of bone and steel all my days. When I dared to look again, the Dwarfs were flowing away from the field of battle, banners fallen and weapons dropped.

The Ogres stopped to make a feast of the fallen at the hill of skulls. Beards decorated many of the Ogres’ gutplates and the hammers of the Lord’s honor guard were used on the captured and slain to make a horrific paste that was either served as a garnish or chilled into a gelatin. I retched over and over again. Black Fire Pass was the link between the world of Men and the world of the Dwarfs. It was the only road that led from Altdorf to Karaz-a-Karak. Sigmar had fought on this land and the legendary brewmaster, Joseph Bugman, maintained his brewery in this valley. Several cases of Bugman’s brew, with its instantly recognizable long series of “X”s on the barrels, were being guzzled along with the main course of barbecued Dwarf. I did not sleep for many nights after that horrible turn of events and suspected I would never sleep again at the time.

As I hid in a crevice created by one of the skulls, I was discovered by no less than the Tyrant himself, who smirked at me as his lone baleful eye drank in my weakness. “It must come to this, chronicler. Even were I not sworn to show my strength to any who would question it, there is a larger strategy at work here.”

“It is, your Largeness, a strange strategy that sees you move your sacred shrine to a human city even as you lead an assault on the Dwarfs to their north. I am afraid my limited military education does not afford me such insight.”

The Tyrant laughed. “Even now, you seek to pry my secrets away! Chroniclers tell of what has gone before. Spies tell of what is to come. Remain a chronicler, Gustav, you will live longer.” With that, he dropped a wrapped package at my feat, the scent of roasted meat wafting and aggravating my desperate hunger. With sobs, I opened the package and ate, wondering if I was now damned for all time.



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