Tuesday, 7 April 2015



The bulwarks of Clan Garn's Hearthold didn't look quite as Phlothos remembered. Perhaps it was the passage of time, the inevitable creep of stonesplitting ivy and lichen that had eroded the features of the embossed guardians. Perhaps his mind was playing tricks.

Perhaps it was the gaping holes where his sorcerers had conjured rains of sour venom, leaving nothing but dead earth and burnt stone.

Phlothos flapped his ghastly wings and settled on a nearby outcrop of rock to gloat over his handiwork.

The dwarves were on the other side of the devastated fortifications. The conjuration had taken over a week of careful preparation. True to form, Clan Garn had bunkered down behind their walls, happy to assume they could shrug off any assault. Lucky for me, Phlothos thought. If they'd attacked during the build-ups of the ritual, they'd have gone through the tranced mass of cultists like a hot needle through a stye.

The morning would bring the final assault. Or so he hoped. The Garn had a mass of deep tunnels under their hold, deep places under the mountains that linked up to the main networks of the Everpeak, a handful of leagues away. If they decided to abandon their outlying fort and head for the safety of the Dwarven Capital, his vengeance would be a long time coming. Unlikely. But despite their bullish natures, dwarves were pragmatic folk.

As he knew well, having once been one.

And so a few taunts before the end, he thought. Just to make sure the King of Garn would take this all as personally as he did himself.

"Your Majesty!" he bellowed, his unnatural voice spoiling the night like a wound on its face. "One of your own returns to the Hearth! Shall we take ale together and parley? Drink deep and twine beards as once our fathers did? Or have the Dwarves of Garn truly no regard for their kin?"


King Helgvist Stonehammer set down his mug, wiped the foam from his lips and unleashed a long belch. It echoed around the small anteroom, signalling their meeting could begin.

"Who has attacked us?"

The old ranger bent his knee before the ruler of Clan Garn and unbuckled his knapsack. There was a lot of beer to be drunk, so there was no need to rush his answer.

"It began many months ago in the Forest of Gloom," he said, reaching into his bag and producing a broken antler. "We found evidence of a clash between a marauding warband of Kazaki'dum and the elves that dwell within the wood. The encroachers were turned aside, but the elves did not pursue."

"Cowardly elgi!" Helgvist wanted to spit with disgust, but felt that would be a waste of good beer. And this beer was exceptionally good.

"The warband moved south into the Badlands," the ranger fetched out a fistful of crude bone amulets and spread them on the flagstones. "You recall we were warned of a great migration of savage orcs in the late autumn? Those tribes were scattered and destroyed when they encountered this warband. It was then we learned they were being led by a captain of great will."

"And then we had cause to hope," the ranger continued. "For the warband was challenged by a rival faction of Kazaki'dum. They fought to seize the bridge over Howling Chasm, and were able to cross over, though something huge and otherworldly was destroyed in the conflict. The grass had rotted away where it fell."

In his stone char, Helgvist shifted his weight uncomfortably. The chasm was the last barrier to the World's Edge Mountains, and the roots of his own domain. "What then?"

"And then, the trail went cold," the ranger admitted. "Though the warband was little diminished in strength - indeed, they gained many followers of the Dumal - they disappeared from sight. We saw the trails where they dragged their fallen daemon, but these led to the mines of Grung Angaz, which we have long since lost to the goblins."

"Cursed grobi!" now Helgvist really did spit, good beer or not.

"The Kazaki'dum may learn to share our hatred," the ranger gave a wry smile. "Whatever they encountered beneath the earth, very few of them were left alive to see the sunlight. Only their war-captain and a handful of ragged survivors emerged on the far side of the mines.

"By the East Gate?" Helgvist asked, aware the journey was now getting close to home.

"But a few leagues from the bounds of your realm," confirmed the ranger. "It was then that you received our first warnings about the warband. But, as your majesty recalls, with the war to the north, there were no warriors to spare."

"Indeed no," thought Helgvist. "And even fewer now."

"And so we resorted to other means," the ranger once again reached into his knapsack and unfurled a cloak of sea-green scales. "By chance, a raiding party of Elgi'drazh had sailed to the very source of Skull River, hoping to find easy pickings in the mountains. With false trails, we engineered a meeting between our two enemies. hoping they would fall upon and destroy one another."

"And did they?" Helgvist asked the bottom of his beer mug, already knowing the answer.

"Alas no. The elgi were victorious, but they initiated some kind of transformation in the Kazaki'dum captain. He escaped from their clutches in the form of a great prince of chaos. We subsequently captured an elgi and put him to the question, learning the name of their foe: Phlothos Orgmeier."

"This is the Phlothos that led the warband from the beginning?"

"The very one. No matter what befalls his followers, it appears that Phlothos is indomitable."

"At which point, I authorised the use of the royal treasury," Helgvist picked up the story. "Hiring those Tilean mercenaries to stand before these Kazaki'dum and make an end of them. Do you bring news of them?"

The ranger upended his knapsack, empting out the last of the contents: gold coins, dwarf-minted and thick with dried blood. "This was all we could find of them."

Helgvist picked up one of the coins, examining the stamp of his own likeness, covered with blood. "It appears Phlothos was uninterested in plunder."

"He has only one hunger," the ranger said. "With all that I had gathered, I went to your runesmith and bade him strike the Rune of Exposition."

"And what did you learn?"

"That Phlothos was once a dwarf, once of your own clan. He and his family were part of the disaster of Gallery #114."

"Gallery #114!" Helgvist's broad shoulders slumped in the memory of grief. "The foul air came in and we had to seal the tunnels. Eighty tonnes of copper ore and a brand new seam of quartz were lost to us that day."

"Sixteen dwarves also," the ranger added.

"I believe so, yes, it was many years ago," Helgvist sighed. "Best damn quartz I've ever seen."

"All the dwarves in that gallery perished but Phlothos. He made covenant with the Ruinous Powers and has sworn eternal vengeance."

"Once a dwarf, eh?"

"Quite. He is the monster at your gate, it is his magicks that have brought down the walls. They will attack as soon as they have recovered their strength."

"We are prepared to meet them," Helgvist admitted. "The High King's summons has drawn away most of our strength. I need time to call in the outposts."

"I can give you that time," the ranger packed up his knapsack and slung the portable beer barrel onto his back. "The fortifications are in ruins, but the brewhouse still stands. We'll fortify there and delay the Kazaki'dum while you prepare the defences."

The dwarf king looked up at the mysterious ranger, realised he did not even know his name. "The brewing vats will be unstable. If they don't explode, you'll be overrun in minutes."

"My lads would like to die in a brewery," the ranger smiled. "Never fear, we'll laager the wagons around the brewhouse and hold them up until the end of times."

King Helgvist got to his feet and raised hi mug in salute. "Make the defences strong, a solid laager."

The ranger Bugman smiled. "Probably the best laager in the world."


Phlothos waited for long minutes. No reply was forthcoming. Anger curdled in his foetid breast.

"I am here for you, Helgvist! I came back! Have you nothing to say to me?"

The broken wall didn't even throw back an echo.

"So be it!" Phlothos boomed. "I have come. I am your personal..." he screwed his brow up. It was a long time since he'd spoken Dwarvish, and there was no precise translation for 'End Times'. Last Period? Final Epoch? With a snarl, he did his best.

"Behold, Helgvist! I am your Menopause!"

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